Monday, May 22, 2023

Cannastock (Spring, 2023)

     Hi, yes, hello. I'm sure you're wondering a few things. Maybe along the lines of like:

  1. Where did you go?
  2. Where have you been?
  3. Are you alright?
  4. Are you Cotton Eye Joe?

    All of these are pretty fair questions (except the Cotton-Eye Joe one, that one's pretty out of left field but I'll let it slide). Trust me, I'll fill you in on what's been going on in an upcoming post. It's a doozy, so I figured I'd do something light ahead of time. Y'know, cut my teeth again on writing on this website, show you how things are changing/shift, etc. etc. I'm sure that this is also coming out of left field, me covering a cannabis event but, truth be told, my journalistic curiosity never stops and this is just one of the many things I've been tentatively feeling out to see if it's a good way to go for me. I'm not all-in on the whole cannabis thing, I'm just canna-curious, I guess is the best way to put it. Doing some marijuana mulling. I know that when I mentioned how...out of place this event coverage would be to one of my friends, they kinda laughed and said a few things. They said that nothing, and they repeat nothing, can stop my curiosity once it's piqued (true) and also that I could write this like a war correspondent. I know that sounds weird but it makes sense; I'm not in the trenches smoking marijuana all day, I'm just reporting on those that do, the culture behind it, and the burgeoning market that is New York's legal marijuana market. And, hey, you know me. If it's a legal intoxicant...I'm curious about it. So, with all of that nitty gritty out of the way, let me lay out how I arrived at this situation.
    I first heard about CannaStock on social media and I read up on it the best I could to see just what exactly it was about. It seemed to be like it was a show on the cusp of greatness. From what I could gather, it was a show where things were finally legal-legal in NY, and dispensaries were opening up. Growers were resplendent with product with nowhere for it to go (due to significant and protracted litigation by some dumb guy in Michigan). And it seemed like an event that was opening up for the first time (even though it had taken place before) with legal, easily accessible marijuana in mind. So, being the curious cat that I am, I decided to email them to see if I could get press tickets. Shout-out to Assa the marketing director for blessing me with two tickets. Yes, I said two tickets. Yes, I went with my mom. Listen, things have changed a lot and I don't wanna hear it, okay? Besides, it meant a lot to her and I kinda did it for Mother's Day so, y'know, two birds, one stone. Now, I wasn't allowed to bring a camera in and, frankly, even if I was I wouldn't want to take photos of people in this environment. I treated this like a kind of "secret's safe with me" kind of event. I didn't interview anyone high, I didn't take photos or recordings of anyone or anything, and I didn't get any booth photos. Part of this was by design of the event (they didn't want it) and part of it was my journalistic integrity (people deserve to have their shit be kept under wraps unless they don't want it). Now, let's dive in to what I saw, what piqued my interest, and what...didn't. Here we go.


    There were a LOT of growers at the event. Like...a lot. Which was weird because a lot of them were there but couldn't do anything with their product. A lot of displays of lower, cartridges, edibles, etc...but no sales due to legal limitations, which was sad. Some growers were skirting around the laws with legal loopholes (which I am all for because technically correct is the best kind of correct) so that was interesting to see. An example was that some vendors, like Flower Kingdom, would sell at hat for $50 and it came with free marijuana. I, personally, didn't partake of said sales (I'm just dippin' in toes here) but there were a lot of people that were taking full advantage of it. There were a lot of growers, as said, but I think these were my two favorites:

Harney Brothers Cannabis: Do you know the sound I made when I heard about this. I made a sound of excitement that I'm pretty sure only dogs could hear. I've been a LONG, LONG time fan of Harney. Hell, one of the first real pieces of journalism I did was the Harney and Sons Factory Tour back in January of 2010. This business was done by Mike and Paul (I've worked with Mike in the past, as well) and, so far, has products in at least a few dispensaries in NY. I am exceedingly proud of them for diversifying to the extent that they have and I really hope this venture does well for them. If I decide to get into marijuana, this might be something I'll have to try and tour (or at least smoke).

A Walk In The Pines: I was super impressed by these guys. They didn't have a whole lot of strains in stock but what they did have seemed like quality (I guess, I dunno, I'm very new to this). I talked with Mike Dulen, CEO for a bit and he was quite the affable chap to talk with. They're based in the Finger Lakes (which I am a fan of) and seemed like, while small and maybe just burgeoning, they could be up for great things. I'll be keeping an eye on them.

High Falls Canna: These guys were going absolutely bonkers and for good reason: they were giving away free stuff. And you know what stuff they were giving away. If you followed them on Instagram, you got a free something smoke-able from them of some type, judging by how many people were walking away with tubes of stuff. I signed up for their Instagram but opted not to get a free...I dunno, preroll maybe? I was trying to stay on the periphery and not actively get involved with all that jazz tobacco. I had a business to run and a media job to do so I was on my best behavior. Still though, nice folks and props to them for giving away that much marijuana.


    There we a lot of shops at the show, mostly focused on a lot of the minute details of growing, or straight up dispensaries themselves. I think the most two prominent dispensaries were both Etain and Curaleaf. Etain is a fully women owned dispensary not that far from me that's been doing gangbusters since it opened in 2015 with a lot of financial backing from a variety of groups (investment or not I'm not sure). They're pretty big and pretty widely spread across the state. It was nice to see them there, offering some serious deals for medical marijuana customers and also helping people link up with doctors that could help them start their journey to getting a medical marijuana card. I really liked that, even if the card isn't for me, and I think it was a good service done for the community. Curaleaf was there in full force, whether you liked that or not (there is some pushback for large marijuana "conglomerates" in the medical/recreational space) so whether you like them or are against them, they're here to stay. As someone that was looking into getting a medical marijuana card for a long time but decided against it, it's been interesting to see the burgeoning of the breadth of products available to medical marijuana patients. For a long time, you got tinctures and maybe vapes and that was it, you just had to deal with it. But now, it's really expanded into flower, edibles, tinctures, vapes, concentrates, what-have-you. The passing of recreational has been good for the medical marijuana field as well, which has been heartwarming to see. A rising tide rises all ships, so to speak, and it's made a large difference in things for a lot of people. Yay, compassion!


    As with any large gathering of those of the weed inclined, there's gonna be vendors. There were quite a few vendors there, ranging from glass and stickers, to law offices specializing in conforming to state law and other sticky (heh, marijuana pun) legal situations that could arise to places that specialized in seeds and plants, and even places that help you market your marijuana (or any marijuana adjacent) brand. There was a gamut of stuff for pretty much everyone there, regardless of what you needed, including me, the guy that's barely ever smoked weed in his life. My stellar find of the day was Hudson Valley Exotics, a store located near me that deals HEAVILY in...wait for it...

...exotic soda.

    Yeah, I know, I know. Leave it to the beverage guy to find the one booth in a marijuana centered event with the rare soda. IT'S A PROBLEM, OKAY. But seriously, the guys (Alex et. al.) were really cool and were doing some GANGBUSTERS sales while I was there. If you didn't see it, I managed to pick up a bottle of Blueberry Cola and went absolutely ham on it on Instagram. Here, I'll link it here:


Anyway, the dudes were really nice and, like me, couldn't drink anymore but still wanted to savor some good tasting stuff so they decided to open this business. It's located in a nearby mall (the Poughkeepsie Galleria) and I think we've got some plans in the works for doing some collaborative efforts over on Instagram. So, yes, I did manage to find a beverage booth at a marijuana festival. And I'm DAMN PROUD, OKAY.

Also, I did manage to run into Tuxedo Rolling Papers. They were a Czech company who was, naturally, giving out/selling rolling papers and wraps of all kinds. I was fairly intrigued by them because, honestly, not a whole lot of well known papers are made in the Czech Republic (and who can resist a paper made in the birthplace of pils beer, my favorite) so it was interesting to see them and what their product was about. Most papers are made in either Spain or France (or China) so it was cool to see an "alternative" paper from a rarer country. They ALSO managed to capture a video of an elusive Bacchus leaving the booth. I regret leaving the booth so soon because I didn't get the papers I wanted (they gave me king size slims instead of 1 1/4s that I like for my cigarettes) but if you want a video of yours truly lookin' like a real thicc snack in suspenders and golf pants, here you go:

Yes, I know the chub and tuck is a far more flattering look for us juicy boys but I refuse to do it, dammit. I REFUSE!

In Closing 

    Overall, I had a lot of fun at the event. If you're into the cannabis space, it really had quite a bit for just about anybody out there, even me. I consider myself cannabis-naive to the umpteeth degree so this was a whole lot of culture shock for me but I still had a grand old time. Sure, I didn't imbibe and instead watched the chaos unfold while drinking water and fanning myself next to one of the air conditioning vents for awhile but it was fun. These old bones could only hang out for about 3 hours (press was allowed in with VIP members at 12, with general admission entering at 1pm) so I was there from 12 - 3 pm. Let me tell you, it felt like I was in there a half hour. It really was a great time and I didn't get to see a third of the booths OR the food trucks outside (I MISSED YOU,EMPANADA MAMA). The retail price to get in for general admission was about $35 and the VIP (with goodie bag) was about $70 which I think were fair prices. You really got a lot of bang for your buck at the event and a good time to be had by all. There was some confusion at the very beginning as to how to enter the damn building but I was able to get in moderately quickly and get to a-reviewin'. It seems like it's a festival (festival I guess is the best way of putting it because it's not a trade show) that's starting to stretch it's legs and fully grow into the legalization of marijuana in NY but is having some growing pains. There wasn't a clear delineation between VIP getting in and Press getting in, things inside got very hectic at about 3pm when it became close to standing room only, and it was a labyrinthine effort to get out at the end because things weren't clearly marked. Those were the real downsides. But the upsides truly outweighed them. It was fun, it was funky, and everyone was there to have a good time. A far cry from the booze events I've been to which have often ended up with people throwing up in the bushes outside the venue after three hours on the sauce. Can't say I miss that aspect. Would I go again? Absolutely I'd go again and I'd recommend that, if you have the druthers and the cash, that you go too. I believe they do them every six months (spring and fall) so if you're ever in the Poughkeepsie area, I'd highly recommend attending if you can. It's fun, there's no boot and rally like booze events, and everyone is very, very chill. Dunno why everyone is so very chill but it's nice! Haha, I'm just kidding, I know exactly why, I'm not that much of an idiot. Usually. Okay, most days.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Bail Bond

It'd be pretty easy to assume that I am though. I don't Tweet much anymore. I haven't posted on here in a hot minute. But, despite life's best efforts, I'm still here. I flit and float around through the industry like the Ghost of Distilling Past. I inquire here and there. I email this and that. I am quietly recuperating, rebuilding, and reaffirming my life in the wings of the regal stage that is the alcohol industry. But, like a sleeping bear, it is wise to not poke me. And poke me someone has. Bear in mind (heh, pun), I have no-ill will for my fellow chroniclers of the Carousing Cup. I love them all and, frankly, they're all far smarter and far more educated than I. But I know what I think and what I believe in. And for this transgression, I will not stand.

Sku, of Sku's Recent Eats, shuttered his website on May 15th, 2017. I was sad to see him go as I truly enjoyed his work and admired his dedication to sifting through the absolutely chaotic morass that is the TTB filings. He managed to pry out a lot of interesting and, most of all, shocking labels for products coming down the pipeline. He still does it on his Twitter account, I believe. But little did I know did that whiskey weasel start writing for a major online (and physical) wine and spirits vendor, K&L Wines. And this little blasphemer, this unholy utterer of unfathomable unpleasantries...has recently posted on the K&L Spirits Journal a post so abhorrent to me that it shakes me to the core.

The heresy can be found here, though I am loathe to give exposure to a document that so clearly goes against the goodwill of the gods above us. But...I will brings up an interesting point. The Bottled-In-Bond Act of 1897 was necessary for a time when you could huck just about anything into a bottle and call it whiskey. As long as it got you inebriated (I'd say drunk but that'd be glossing over the Jamaican Ginger / Jake "patent medicine"), most people didn't care...until they got sick. It's all fun and drinks until you get organophosphate poisoning and can't walk or your thyroid stops working due to iodine poisoning. So the Bottled-in-Bond Act made sense at the time to preserve the safety of the American population when they tipped back a shot or two. But now that we have the FDA and the TTB...Bottled In Bond doesn't make much sense to carry on.

Sku does make some good points on the antiquated requirements of Bottled-in-Bond. In case you didn't know, the legal definition of a bottled-in-bond whiskey is (taken from the TTB whisky webinar):
  • Composed only of the same class and type of spirits
  • Produced in the same distilling season by the same distiller at the same distillery
  • Must be stored in oak containers in a federally bonded warehouse under U.S. government supervision for at least 4 years
  • Unaltered from the original condition or character as required under 27 CFR 5.42(b)(3)(iv)
  • Reduced in proof only by the addition of water to not less than 100 proof
  • Label must identify the distillery DSP number where distilled and if different must state where bottled
  • Must be bottled at 100 proof
It's true that all distilleries have to be bonded now so that's an antiquated portion. The "same class/type of spirit" is well regulated these days as well. And the proof, these days, seems relatively arbitrary (at least from my research). But the rest of it...the rest of it is still pretty useful. Let's break it down.

"Produced in the same distilling season by the same distiller at the same distillery"

This one is pretty important and ties in with the 4 year requirement as well. In distilling, especially small distillers, you have a decent stock of whiskey in different states of readiness. Sometimes this varies because of the barrels its stored in (a 5 gallon will have more "whiskey" flavor than a 52 gallon at 6 months), heat and humidity fluctuations, warehousing style, and barrel rotation. Every bottle you pick up at a store that doesn't specifically state "single barrel" on it is a blend of whiskies that fit the overarching flavor profile of that specific brand of whiskey. Bar. None. The age statement on a bottle is the YOUNGEST whiskey in it so your 12 year old may have 21 year old whiskey in it that helps round out the flavor. But with the industry trend of removing the age statement from bottlings...then there is no stopgap ensuring what you're getting is an aged product. It might be a 52 gallon barrel that's sat for two years with a dozen or so 5, 10, or 15 gallon barrels added in that have been in the warehouse for only six months. So you'd be buying a whiskey that, were it labeled with an age statement, would be something like "Bacchus' Reserve 6 month". But since age statements on bottles are disappearing faster than bottles of Pappy at a chef's conference, you'd never know that. By having this specification, it means that the whiskey in your bottle came from the same year, from the same TIME of year, from the same distillery. It's not a blend of whiskies with varying ages. What you see is what you get.

"Must be stored in oak containers in a federally bonded warehouse under U.S. government supervision for at least 4 years"First off, 4 years is fine for bourbon. I know that people always want older whiskies but 4 years is a serviceable bourbon. And the fact that you KNOW that its 4 years old is great. What it ALSO forces is "oak containers". This means barrels. Unless they've finally come out with the Whiskey Crate in which case barrel rolling competitions in Kentucky are gonna be...real interesting now. What this DOESN'T mean is: stainless steel tanks with oak chips, stainless steel tanks with oak spirals, stainless steel tanks with oak honeycombs, stainless steel tanks with staves in them, any other weird, new-fangled aging processes that don't involve barrels. So that means that every bottle of BIB is aged for four years at a distillery in a barrel. And...frankly...with the demand for whiskey still kinda soaring...that might come at a premium soon.

"Unaltered from the original condition of character as required under 27 CFR 5.42(b)(3)(iv)"
"27 CFR 5.42(b)(3)(iv): Unaltered from their original condition or character by the addition or subtraction of any substance other than by filtration, chill proofing, or other physical treatments (which do not involve the addition of any substance which will remain incorporated in the finished product or result in a change in class or type)"
This one is an interesting one because of how it could be argued. Let's say that a craft distillery puts out a bottled-in-bond bourbon. It's aged for four years in an oak barrel with new make from the same distillery, season, and year. At the very end, they start ultrasounding the barrel. Or they use any of the other patent medicines for making your whiskey taste old. That, in theory...could be altering it from the original condition of character by adding substances which remain incorporated in the finished product. Some of the processes out there (as I've discussed before) could potentially chemically alter the whiskey in a way that isn't seen in traditionally aging practices and, thus, add something above and beyond standard characteristics. I don't think anyone's fought it yet (mainly because I haven't seen a craft distillery put out a BIB offering) but the fact remains that it COULD be fought. So who knows?

"Label must identify the distillery DSP number where distilled and if different must state where bottled" 

Ahhhhh, this one is my favorite. With a massive trend towards outsourcing distillation to someone else, this is a breath of fresh air. Don't get me wrong here, I don't mind it. Well, I don't mind it as long as I'm told. I can taste an MGP aged product from a mile away these days but 9 out of 10 bottles have some long-winded story about how their grandpappy discovered this recipe after finding a magical bushel of corn and wheat that had fermented in the jungles of Peru and he brought the recipe back to turn into white lightning that he bootlegged through all of Alaska. I know it's bullshit. Most whiskey nerds know it's bullshit. But for people that are just getting into whiskey...who knows what they know? Do they know that they're paying ludicrous prices for whiskey made at a huge distillery in Illinois? Do they know that grandpappy never found a recipe because "grandpappy" was actually a meeting in a meeting room at an industrial distillery where they picked one of the four stock recipes and maybe changed it up a little? I don't know. But it's not fair to the consumer to hide behind a facade of nostalgia, Americana, and lies. I'd prefer to see distiller DSPs on bottles rather than back-country wisdom and the verbal equivalent to the smell of hot rod fumes
As you may have been able to guess from my barely coherent litany, I'm all for keeping Bottled In Bond. Sure, I don't want to part with my Old Grand Dad or my J.W. Dant or any of the other table bourbons that have been mentioned. But it's also something that I think craft distilleries should take heed of and add to their roster. The craft distilling industry, even though it has been going strong for so long and has a lot of damn good stuff coming out of it, is still very much where whiskey was in the late 19th century. A lot of the whiskey is young, is tampered with, is of unknown providence. For every good, solid distiller out there making quality product there's a hundred hucksters trying to sell America a liquid fairy tale. There's no mandatory aging period for any whiskey that isn't straight or bottled-in-bond. There isn't any laws demanding that the source of whiskey be revealed to the consumers. There's nothing on the books preventing people from snake oil aging spirits and selling them as vintage bourbon. None of the marketing lynch-pins like "small batch" or "reserve" have any legal definitions or demands on the spirit in the bottle. But a craft distillery that puts out a bottled-in-bond product...that's a way to earn trust. It's a way to say to the consumer that this bottle isn't bullshit; what you see is what you get and you can read it right on the back without any flowery prose to spit-shine it. It's a way to protect the consumer, just like the Bottled-In-Bond Act was from the get-go. Only this time, instead of tobacco juice, or iodine, prune juice or "extracts", it's misinformation and obfuscation it will shield us from.

And I'd like that shield.

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Loss of Advocacy

"Of all men’s miseries the bitterest is this: to know so much and to have control over nothing."- Herodotus, The Histories
There are moments of helplessness in my life that I have become accustomed to; fleeting but poignant instances where I can only watch as the storm before me finally makes landfall. It is my personal bugbear the past few years. I don't say this as a preface solely to garner pity in order to balance out the fact that I never write on this damnable website. I say it because, for once...for one beautiful, blissful second, there is something I can do, no matter the personal cost.

I have been smoking cigars since 2005 and reading about them for as long. Back when I started, the vast array of information pertaining to cigars was not housed neatly on servers. It was not accessible with a quick click. You got your information from magazines and the hushed whispers of store owners who knew more than you did. There weren't many magazines, either. There was Tobacconist magazine, which you could only find at a few cigar stores...and there was Cigar Aficionado.

At the time, Cigar Aficionado was...pretty good, although that may be the rose-tinted glasses. It had full page articles on cigar regions or manufacturers, discussion of trends, and the eponymous ratings everyone was so delighted to slap on any promotional literature they put out. But, as the years passed, it started to slip. The golf section went from a small page in the back to a feature. The ads for watches costing a years worth of my tuition became larger and more frequent. But most telling of all...was the cover. Older copies of Cigar Aficionado prominently displayed it's logo in large font proclaiming, to those that picked up the tome: "This is about cigars and you'll be damned if you think otherwise." But gradually...the word "Cigar" got smaller. And smaller. And the word "Aficionado" got bigger. And bigger. This is what Cigar Aficionado looked like in 1996.

This is what it looked like in 2006:

And this is what it looks like now.

By 2026, I fully expect it to look something like this:

You can even see, based on the stories featured on the cover, the dramatic shift of Cigar Aficionado's focus from the cigars themselves to the "lifestyle" that comes with it. In 1996, the big focus was famous people who smoked cigars, reviews of maduro cigars, and the latest Cuban crop. In 2016, the biggest stories are golf, Vegas vacations, and an interview with an actor.

It broke my heart to watch Cigar Aficionado change and by 2012, I just stopped buying it. It had no information in it that I didn't already know by the time it came to print and I had to stop playing golf back in 2004 when I had my spine fused from T2 to L1. I was fresh out of college, having worked only six months, and was getting ready to have my 29th surgery so the $20,000 Rolex watches they were trying to peddle were a pipe dream of the highest order. And by that time, other magazines had come out. Cigar Press was around, even if it meant I had to drive to Albany to get it. European Cigar Cult Journal was beginning to be stocked by the local Barnes and Noble. And Cigar Snob was beginning to hit it's stride in terms of writing. I was never crazy about having models plastered all over it but it was better than ads for Mercedes-Benz. So I dropped it and never looked back.

Well...I did. Sort of.

In 2010, M. Shanken Communications purchased Malt Advocate, a magazine devoted to whiskey and whisky and however you want to spell it. It was a fantastic magazine, helmed by John Hansell with Lew Bryson, who ended up becoming a good friend, doing some serious editing and journalism work. It was a smart magazine in every sense of the word. The articles delved into the technical aspects of distilling that whiskey nerds like myself enjoyed while also not overloading the reader. The reviews were some damn crisp copy, even if I never could agree with any of the tasters. And the ads...were about whiskey, just whiskey, and they were tasteful and muted. It was a daisy of a magazine and I loved it immensely. So watching Shanken purchase it had me quaking in my boots. M. Shanken Communications helmed Wine Spectator and...

Cigar Aficionado

At first, things were okay. They changed the name from Malt Advocate to Whisky Advocate which I actually agreed with. They didn't touch beer so "Malt Advocate" was kind of a misnomer. And the writing was still snappy and fresh. But by about 2012...the ads began. It was slow at first, almost imperceptible. The ad-space began to get larger but I didn't mind, as long as the writing was there. Then, the ads changed. The first cigar ads began and my stomach clenched. But it was just one ad, it will be fine! Then more came.

More and more ads came that weren't focused on whiskey. It was all cigars at first which I could tolerate because at least it was in my wheelhouse. But the quality of the articles began to landslide. Solid articles of technical interest fell by the wayside, replaced by fluffier pieces about travel and hotels. It was related to whiskey, sure, but it wasn't ABOUT whiskey.

And then Lew left.

I feel like there is no shortage of coincidence that his name rhymed with "glue" because it seemed like he was the only one keeping it together. After his departure, the floodgates opened. The last issue I flipped through, the Winter 2016 Ireland issue, had a two page spread about golf in Ireland. The thing I had loved was gone and my money with it. I didn't renew my subscription.

Yesterday on Facebook, John Hansell stated he was stepping down, after 25 years, as the Publisher and Editor of Whisky Advocate effective at the end of April. I knew this writing was on the wall but it hurt to see it. But what hurt even more was the release from M. Shanken Communications, entitled "Exciting Changes Are Afoot for Whisky Advocate." Not only did it state that M. Shanken will be taking over as editor for Whisky Advocate but also (in regards to avenues of growth):

"As everyone knows, M. Shanken is fortunate to have two of the world’s leading luxury lifestyle magazines, Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado. We understand luxury consumers in these segments. Our vision is to build a third franchise with our deep understanding of spirits and lifestyles. We’ll develop Whisky Advocate as a lifestyle magazine rooted around spirits in general and whisky in particular. That will mean more fine-tuning of the editorial content. We’ve recently added to our stable of gifted writers, aiming at a wider consumer audience." - Marvin Shanken, 2017

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Great Gatsby "the loneliest moment in someone's life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly". I can agree with that sentiment. Over the past three years, I have stared into the yawning abyss of impossible choices and floundering moments as the full brunt of life's fury has crashed upon the rocks of my soul. In every instance, the choices I've had to make and the things I've had to deal with were inevitable and unavoidable. I could just nod my head in dumb acquiescence and hope that it wouldn't tear me apart. But none of it has torn me apart quite like this, despite the fact that I CAN do something. To see a thing you love die is painful. But to think it would be a magazine is boggling compared to what I've been having to deal with.

I wish them luck in their endeavors, truly. The writers at Whisky Advocate are some of the best voices in the industry and I am sincerely glad that they are getting a wider audience who will listen to them extol the virtues of whiskey.

But I will not be one of them.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Cornell and Diehl Small Batch: The Beast - Friday, April 29th

I'm fairly sure there are eldritch gods at work. If this post makes it out, please send help in the form of sage, salt, and maybe a barrel of rum.

In my first review of the Cornell and Diehl Small Batch line, I talked about how I used a pipe to meditate. I thought it was all in good fun and not something that anyone would actually take seriously.

I was wrong.

I am not sure what cruel and dark machinations are going on at Cornell and Diehl but what I DO know is that they have a preternaturally acute knowledge of my life. How else could you explain their recent blend, The Beast? It arrived on my doorstep with no warning, no notice. Seeing that it was from Cornell and Diehl / Laudisi Enterprises, I opened it like the fool I am. What horrors were nestled in-between the paper cushioning that cradled the demonic tin? What did I release from Pandora's Box?

I tried, to no avail, to contact them at Smoking Pipes. They said that they were very busy with the Chicagoland Pipe Show but I know lies when I hear them. They had gotten their evil tendrils into my sanctum sanctorum; answering my questions, calming my fervor, and heeding my pleas didn't matter anymore. Their work done, they retreated to silence. They will watch and wait as I damn myself through my own hubris.

MY HUBRIS. Oh how my vanity bested me. To be chosen to review such a coveted blend should have struck me odd but no, I deemed myself worthy to smoke it. Nay, not just deemed, but exclaimed. I should have known by the writing on the tin. Scrawled on the back in neat font, the tin reads:

"Legend has it that Aleister Crowley, famed adept of the Order of the Golden Dawn and founder of the Ordo Templi Orientis, is purported to have made a habit of smoking rum-soaked perique as a meditative aid."
In my hubris, I failed to read between the lines. How would they have known that I required a meditative aid? These blends were months in the making, were they not? How could they have foreseen what prose would fall from my digital quill? How could they cater to my whim in advance? But pride blinds quicker than then brain can register. I assumed that it was happenstance, a mere coincidence. Now I know that they have signed deals with ancient gods to ensure my fate. Here is the date of "manufacture" of the blend:

4/11/16. The evil was sealed in steel days before it arrived on my doorstep. What a fool, am I.

My last mistake was opening the can. I fear to take a picture of it lest it's evil be transmittable but whatever iota of malice that is transferred to you can only pale in comparison to the guilt I would feel should you accidentally buy a tin due to ignorance. Here, gaze quickly and remember all you can.

Should you ever cross this can, call a priest. Call several priests. This is the blend itself. Once again, look quickly. Note it's darkness, as if it is sucking in all light and warmth.

Do you have it in your mind now? Good. Now you shall be safe from rogue bundles and bags of this tobacco intent on corrupting you and your kin. Be wary in the coming days. It will be out there. It will have no label, no markings. An innocent bag of fragrant tobacco, drawing you in to sacrifice your soul.

Oh, but the fragrance. The tin is a heady smell truly befitting an occultist's smoke. It is of rich rum and smoke, like the belly of an ancient ship. Mingling between it is a peppery spice and subtle berries. It creeps into your nose and roosts, constantly fraying at your consciousness until you give in. You will yearn for it as you have yearned for nothing else in your life. It will break you to it's whim. You will pull some out and let it dry as the Nelson's blood used in its sacrifice leaves it damp but pungent. As it dries, the aroma will continue to haunt you until your willpower breaks in twain. You load a pipe-full and seek a secluded spot to rest your abnormally weary bones. And as the flame caresses it, you are lost.

The taste is like falling down a mine-shaft of hedonism. At first, the flavor of aged rum, cinnamon, and berries comforts and consoles you, telling you that all will be okay. But as you are swaddled in it's warm and blissful embrace, the ground comes up fast underneath you. By about midway through the bowl, the rum and berry flavor becomes less prominent...and The Beast comes out. It is not a mindless, ravenous demon, no. It uses it's silver tongue and guile to charm you. The Virginia cavendish and Perique base comes alive; oak and peppercorn dance between fleeting glimpses at the rum that has left you cold and alone. The dark fired burley gives a brimstone-esque flavor of nuttiness tempered with the fires of Hell. The black cavendish finishes with a slight sweetness, leaving you desperate for another puff. And you will. Oh, gods help you, you will.

It is too late. I can feel the corruption spreading. They released The Beast today and, if luck would have it, all of the tins are gone. Do not seek out this tobacco for it will destroy you mind, body, and soul. It's succulent flavor and alluring odor are but a guise. Do not seek out the tin. Do not unleash The Beast. For the tin is a pale horse looking for a rider...and hell comes with it.

I...I need to calm my nerves. Soothe my aching soul. On͜e m̢o͜re͏ p͜i҉p҉e̢ f̷ull͢ shóu͠ld do i͢t. Yes, just one more. Gi̷v̶e͏ ͞mè t̨ime to̴ ̧re̶st̀ a͏nd ͏t͟h͝i͟nk. The tin is still full, I am not lost yet. I ̕͢á͘m ͏s̵ơ̴ ̸̨w̷̧e̡a̸̧͡ŗy.́ ̡̕Me̶ḑ͢͢i̕͡tàti̴͟o̶̷̢n̷̢͝ ̷w̵͠ou̕l̵͝d͏́ b̡e ̶̕g͟òơ͜d̸͝͠.̸̛

J̃̊ͤ͒ͭͩ̊̆͒͗̌҉̨̜̗̝̬͕̩̞̜̖̯̺̤̝ų̴̵̬̫͈̹ͨͮ̒̉̑̏ͫ͊̓ͤ͊̃ͧ͂ͩͫs̷̛̼͍̮̤͙ͫ̊̈̆̀͜ͅt̸̷̡̘̼͕̭̥̖͙͍̳ͭ̎ͪ́̉̊ͣͥ̐ͤ̀͢ ̨̙͎̲̝̰͍͔͕͓̙̯̥̖͚̗̂͋̓͗͘͡o̴̥̫̲͔͕̟̥̗͙̙̘̞̲͔͇̪̱͐̑́͋͒̓ͭ͂̔ͥ͂͡͡n͂ͬ̉̋̆ͧ̂̆̽̇ͦͤ̚҉͓̤̤͕͉̩͕̭̜͚̖̥̳̰̝͈͚̫͍ȩ̻͔͓̭̣̻̳͒̓͋̏̂ͥ͋͆̑͂ͦ̌́͜ͅ ̡̢̰͎͎͍̮̞̹͖̬̲̗ͫ̅̉́̒̎ͥ̅͒̆ͩ̅̆ͨ̇ͭ͒̚͞mͨͦ̿ͥ̑̏̐͌ͮ̈ͤ̈̉͏̺̮͙̫̪̠̹̣͔ȍ̸̡̨̮̰̳͉͕̩̣̪̘͔ͨ̍̀ͯ̉͐ͅͅŗ̢̨͕͉̣̦̣̥̰̩ͫ̑̈̎͒ͧ̎ͯ͋̄̒e̵̳͕̼̹̒̎ͫ̋̿͊́ͭ͋̀͆͜͜͟ ̷̝̻̫͉̫͓̝̀̂̔̌͗́b̛̛͖̤͈̬͊̏ͩͤͦ͜ͅoͤ̾̃ͫͫ̈́͊ͮ̓͗ͣ̎ͨ͛̈͛̃̓͜҉̷̰̦̞̟̫̖̖̻͙̝̠̟̮̜͈͕̫͔͟w̖̞̺̱̫̻͔̼̯̗͈̣̦̌͂ͭ̇͌̀ͪͤͣ̔̉ͤ̈̔̊͝l̫̝̩̥͚̝̟͚̟͉̼͕̬̮̖͙̱̬̿̑ͥ́͂ͫ͟͢͜.̡̒ͨ̇̿͋ͧ̉ͬͣͤͫ͑ͦ̓̚͏͇͚̦̟͕̺͓̩̦͖̲̣͢͡͝

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

White 2 Tea Unboxing

I never liked the phrase "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." Of all the things you could do with lemons, that's what you choose? Lemons are so much more utilitarian than that. How about "When life gives you lemons, make limoncello. Also maybe some whiskey sours. And some lemon marmalade." Much like life, don't limit yourself to just one option.

However, when life gives you a White 2 Tea Odds and Ends Weekend sale, the ONLY option you have is "order lots of tea." I'd never actually ordered from White 2 Tea before because a) I'm poor and b) shipping is astronomical. But after yelling at Paul on Twitter for awhile (several months, really), he relented and sweetened the pot for me. He told me to "go for broke" and he'd take care of the shipping because he's a fantastic person. Or he's just tired of me haranguing him on Twitter so maybe jamming some puer in my mouth will stop me from pounding away at my keyboard like a gorilla with rabies. Either way, it worked and I decided to throw enough cheddar at him to keep him in grilled cheese sandwiches for a few weeks. And since unboxing posts are all the rage right now (I actually think I missed the popularity mark by about 3 years), I decided I'd document peeling away the swaddling from my tea baby.

I put in the order on February 29th (lucky) and it arrived March 16th. I expected this, honestly. I think Paul had to back-pack to the shipping office near his tea cave in China so I figured it'd take a bit to get here. Also, ordering a plant product packed into brick form from China means a healthy perusal by U.S. Customs. But after patiently waiting (something I am not particularly good at), my cardboard crucible of joy arrived.

Kinda beaten up:

To be fair, it's actually not bad considering it traveled 11,722 km / 7283.7131 miles (as the crow flies) to land at my doorstep. I was worried that the cakes might have been cracked so I hurried to pop it open. Luckily, my fears were unfounded because it was packed VERY well:

Look at it. It's not the Ark of the Covenant so your face is safe. Cracking open the box released a smell that I have trouble describing. It was, in part, the funk of pu er. But it was also something else. It was the smell of...well...China. A smell that lingers faintly in the background at the Asian grocery store I go to. The smell of a different world, one that I can't place. Earthy, slightly spicy, a bit pungent. So, naturally, I huffed the box for awhile because I am deranged.

After a few good snorts, I pulled out payload:

Next came the scissors and began to disassemble the pile.

I ordered two cakes and four samples. Since I ordered over $50 worth of stuff, I qualified for a free piece of tea-ware. Paul also threw in a few bits and bobs as well, which were much appreciated. We'll start with the samples. Each were 25g and individually sealed.

This is probably my favorite one and I haven't even tried it yet. 2015 Milk, Cream, And Alcohol (Raw). Milk And Alcohol is TECHNICALLY a song by Dr. Feelgood. This is true. However, "milk, cream, and alcohol" is actually a reference to the lyrics of John Lee Hooker's "Serves Me Right To Suffer". And I love John Lee Hooker. A lot.

2015 Little Walk (Raw). This will be the only time I actually go for a walk.

2015 Pretty Girls (Ripe). Every time I see this one all I can do is hum Pretty Women from Sweeney Todd.

2015 Brown Sugar (Ripe). "So smooth you'll say 'Shit, Damn, Motherfucker.' " Now, on to the cakes!

2006 Old Bear Fangcha (Raw). Recommended to me by a few people (one of which I have a feeling it's named after). A supposed smoky bruiser of a tea that will hold up to tobacco pairings and cocktail usage. Probably should have bought another.

2015 Old Reliable (Ripe). Pu er is expensive. Really expensive if you decide to delve into buying whole cakes or even, heaven forbid, full tongs. So finding a cheap, quality cake is like nuclear fusion: possible in theory but borderline non-existent in practice. So I went for a cake of the Old Reliable because it was cheap and I wanted a full cake. We'll see how it drinks and, after that, if I can resist buying a tong.

Now, the miscellany!

2015 Smooch (Raw). An adorable little "travel size" cake that Paul threw in for me. I love smooches. Also, I love Hugs. Those white chocolate Hershey Kisses? I love those things. Sorry, I had white chocolate while writing this and I'm still thinking about it.

A White2Tea branded pu er cake pick. Perfect for prying apart cakes, chipping ice, and murdering Morrie in a Cadillac Eldorado.

An absolutely delightful teacup. Which makes me think he's psychic because I have a gaiwan and a pitcher but no teacup to drink from. So this was pretty handy.

All in all, pretty good haul. I'd like to thank Paul at White2Tea for putting up with me for this long and for (potentially) putting up with me even further. I encourage you to order from him because he's cool. I don't know how his tea is but if it's anything like him, it's gonna be good.