Sunday, December 19, 2010


When I first got into Heriot-Watt, the handbook for my hall said that I can smoke in my room. I was very, very happy. Banished to the cold, harsh, and deplorable conditions of a New York winter in order to smoke, the idea of smoking a cigar in the warmth and comfort of my room was heaven. Thus, I began planning. Scheming, if you will. I was hell-bent to send all of my cigars to myself over there and smoke until my face resembled a catcher's mitt. In one year, I was going to smoke so much I would start to look like Keith Richards. So I packed up 100 cigars (the customs limit) and put them in my luggage. The rest I carefully (read: CAREFULLY) packed in Ziploc bags with plenty of bubble wrap and padding. This I shipped. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control (my mom put CIGARS on the customs list form) my package got the friendly inspection from Customs and a healthy £332.84 bill (about $525). I can't afford this, let alone should I afford this for cigars I bought for my personal consumption (some almost 3 or 4 years ago). Thus, I declined. Customs said that they would return it back home after 20 days. Since I had packed it with some of my humidity beads and some disposable gel humidifiers, sealed it up good and packed it tight, I was happy to let it go home. It only took about 2 weeks to get there anyway. Wouldn't take too long to come back, right?

This was the end of September.

Flash forward to last week. I call home to check in with my parents and my mom says "I have a surprise for you. You have to guess what it is".

I asked for three clues. The clues she gave were:

"You know what it is.
It didn't weigh much.
You've been expecting it"

She told me my package of cigars had finally come home. I'd been worried (since Customs never told me if it actually got shipped home). She said that she wasn't going to open it and that I should deal with it when I got home. I got home last night and opened it up.

At this point in time, I suggest removing small children and those faint of heart from the room. If you are in any way, shape, or form, a lover of the leaf or cigars in general, I suggest purchasing a large, economy size pack of tissues from Sam's Club or Costco. You will cry. A lot. Here is a picture of what I got back.

This is what I could "salvage":

This is what I couldn't:

Some of the damage:

That's wrapper on the right.

As you can see, they apparently hired some fine, upstanding members of society to run the rock tumbler that they call "cigar inspection". All of the packing from the cigars was GONE. The only thing holding them in was the other crap I put in the box and the lone, flimsy piece of bubble wrap. They were allowed to just roll around in the box. I also say "salvage" because, despite my humidifying bead's best efforts, these things are BONE. DRY. I picked one of them up and the thing audibly cracked. The rest have wrappers (or, in some of the worse cases, binders) that flake off like dead skin if handled for more than a few seconds. What stable ones I could find I put in a humidor with a bunch of humidifying beads and whatever else I could find to hold water. But, seeing as they've been dehumidified for almost 3 months, I give them little chance of survival. In any case, I do have something up for sale. I'm now specializing in snuff:

I will DEFINITELY be contacting Customs. Granted yes, I didn't pay for them to ship it back, that doesn't mean they can beat the shit out of my stuff. Here's a picture of the box:

So yeah. Snuff is $3 for the lot of it. Gotta make some money back somehow.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Glasgow Whisky Festival

I love good whisky festivals. A good whisky festival has all the necessities of humanity; the ups and downs. It has the dichotomy that enriches life. You have the intellectuals arguing over wood finishes, ages, and tasting notes. You have the common man both getting his/her crunk on and involuntarily expanding their palate for a cheap price. You have the lovers. You have the fighters. The highs and the lows of inebriation. All collaborate to make for not just a blissful exercise in expanding my taste profile but expanding my view of humanity. All through whisky.

Whisky is a beautiful thing. Many feel, unjustly, that it is a scourge upon humanity. There are those that feel that the drink only brings about pain and loss, hardship and strife. If you ever sit down and talk to those people, you'll find in general that they have a hard time seeing the bright side of life. For them, it's all about seeing the glass half empty and trying desperately to keep people from emptying it outright. I'm of the opinion that draining the glass, the glass of life, is all that we can do with the years granted to us. Those that seek to admonish alcohol as a social ill need to see the forest for the trees, sometimes. You can take individual cases of heartbreak or you can see the bigger picture and how convivial and complementary alcohol is to life, liberty, and (certainly) the pursuit of happiness.

Glasgow Whisky Festival, organized by the Glasgow Whisky Club and Mark Connelly, securely fits into the heading of "good whisky festival." A four hour romp of whisky and merriment is precisely what the doctor had ordered for the 13th of November. Well, technically, the doctor ordered me to stop drinking and smoking cigars but what does he know. He's just jealous, I say. Held at The Arches under Glasgow's Central Station, it proved to be a wonderful exercise in ignoring the good doctor's orders. Here is the entrance to the Valhalla of whisky:

You can see that the name "The Arches" is not some post-modern, slightly facetious and more than slightly ironic, attempt at a clever name. It is literally just a series of brick arches, much like an old subway station would be. And inside these series of tubes was a plethora of whisk(e)y that made me weak at the knees. I spent the first ten minutes wandering aimlessly in a state of whisky shock. So much to try and no direction! A polite nudge from one of my friends in the program (who works at Royal Mile Whiskies) helped me solidify my position and finally hit the ground running. And, without further ado, the tasting list:

Wemyss Malts: Oh Wemyss, how you have tempted me for years. Your siren's song of independent bottled, cask strength, non-chill filtered whisky had called to me across oceans vast and deep but, alas, the good ship Bacchus couldn't brave the rough seas. Ok, that's a far more lyrical description of what's actually happening. Suffice to say, Wemyss is...difficult to find in the States. While they did release a series over there not a whole lot of places find themselves stocking the Wemyss malt range which breaks my damn heart. I finally got to have a small tipple of Wemyss at the Whisky Festival and what a tipple it was. A 19 year old Mortlach entitled "Barbeque Sauce", it was a pretty apt name. With a deliciously sherried and chocolatey nose (like those chocolate covered cherries), the taste of it opens up beautiful for a 55% ABV spirit. It's full of figs, raisins, and currants with a waft of sherry. The smoke comes out to play as well. A nice representation of, say, a fruity Carolina style BBQ sauce. They had a super secret bottle of Springbank hidden under the table that I didn't know about. Curse you Wemyss Malts, you tricksy hobbitses! Smeagol wanted to catch him a nice old Springbank.

Old Pulteney: Stopped by the Old Pulteney table to chat with the fellows over at Edinburgh Whisky Blog who were working diligently to fill glasses and talk shop. It was cool to finally meet them. Even though we live in the same city and love whisky a hell of a lot, all three of us had to travel to Glasgow just to meet up. Ah, life. You are crazy, aren't you. While we chatted, Lucas poured me a dram of the Old Pulteney 17 which an incredibly surprising dram. One would think that 17 years on mainly ex-bourbon (some sherry) would leave this a right old wood-infused monster almost drank like new make. The nose was sweet cream butter and a hint of vanilla with some cherry syrup. The taste was incredibly spirit forward. Very light and creamy with only subtle touches of oak. It tasted almost like a scone with clotted cream and jam but in 17 year old whisky form. Yeah, I dunno where I'm going with that one but it's really creamy, fruity and cereal-y for 17 years on bourbon'd wood.

Glen Grant: Here's probably a huge surprise for everyone - I really like Glen Grant. It is definitely my preferred drinking scotch. Its early expressions aren't confusing complex, overly woody, or pungently powerful. They're light, clean, and fresh. Thus, if I'm working on a paper (like, oh, I dunno, my literature review) or something of that ilk, I likes me a healthy tot of Glen Grant to sip while I work. It doesn't steal my attention, assault my taste buds, or leave my tongue tasting like a smoked leather boot. While at the show I got to try an expression that isn't available in the US which was a treat for me. The Major's Reserve, a 7 year old blend, was fantastic. Young whisk(e)y isn't given enough accord these days. With a nose of butterscotch and polished wood and a taste smacking of light oak, strawberry, orange, and plum it is a beautifully light and fragrant scotch that I will definitely have to revisit. The price? About £19. Huttah! Ben, who was representing Glen Grant, suggested I seek out last year's Glen Grant Cellar Reserve 16 year old, which I definitely will try to do. If you've got some sources out there, dear readers, willing to part with a small sample, email me.

Compass Box: This booth was my ruin. Literally. I arrived at the booth having only had the Spice Tree and Orangerie. Chris saw to it to educate me. Well, his definition was educate me. My definition was more along the lines of "watch your feet because I'm about to drop some knowledge...and whisky". I arrived at this booth moderately sober, I left this booth with a strange hankering for a Big Mac. Which I fulfilled. Fun fact: the fries over here aren't as good. Regardless, Chris walked me through THE ENTIRE RANGE. So here we go. This is an In With Bacchus Mini-Guide to The Compass Box:

  Asyla - Soft and gentle. A warm embrace of a scotch. Pears in syrup, apples, and a faint grain quality to it. Subtle and nice, but didn't blow me away too much.

 Oak Cross - Beefy/weighty and woody with a quality of polished church pews on the nose. Taste is like licking said pews. Oddly, it works. The grain sweetness keeps it from being too overpowering. It also keeps it from making you feel like a beaver making a dam.

 Peat Monster - Smells like a smokehouse bbq shack. Sea weed and brine, campfire and burn barrel full of autumn leaves. The taste is like Omberto Beef Jerky and pastrami (sans mustard). Very nice stuff.

 Hedonism - I'm pretty sure I have to like it just because of the name. Nose is almost grappa-y/grapey with a poignant gristy undertone. Taste is sweet cream butter, fresh mowed grass, and salted caramel. Good stuff.

 Flaming Heart - Nose is the classic smoke and oak (smoak!). Sooty and tarry with righteous peat influence. The taste is meaty and smokey with, amazingly....grapefruit. A dram to blow the mind.

 Double Single - Nose of Macintosh apples fresh from the tree. Almost like standing in the field picking them, the ripe apple smell mingles with the fresh smell of morning dew on a crisp fall morning. Pears too. Tastes of said apples and pears, orange peel, and delicious.

 Hedonism 10th Anniversary - My favorite dram of the entire show. The nose is mossy, earthy, and piny. Smells like a wet forest floor. Vanilla and oak peek out as well. The taste...the taste is absolutely crazy. It might have been my palate but it had a juniper flavor, along with pine pitch, tar, and rich earthy quality. A pine forest after spring rain. Fantastic dram that I'll have to re-investigate to make sure that this dram actually exists.

Thanks Chris for the walk-through. It was enlightening to say the least.

Vintage Malt Whisky Company: Hadn't heard much about these guys which is a shame as they had a huge range that (thanks to Chris) I could barely even touch. I did get to try their Finlaggan, a private bottled single malt Islay. The nose has two types of smoke to it both a rich, damp smoke of Laphroaig/Lagavulin and the milder, spicier smoke of an Ardbeg. It also had some lemon floor cleaner as well. The taste was thin and lacking body but followed the nose. If I had to imagine, this couldn't be a very old malt (maybe 6-8 years old). It just seems a touch thin to me. But, regardless, it's not a bad deal for about £23.

Bruichladdich: Ah Bruichladdich, always bucking the trend. with your Octomores and your X4+3. Tried some of the newer releases from Bruichladdich while at the table. Joanne recommended the Organic which I was happy to oblige a dram of. The nose is double cream, caramel, golden syrup, and grist. The taste follows with that double cream, grist, and a slight sherry and dark fruit influence from the cask. Not bad stuff. I like it considering it reminds me of new make spirit which I have an ungodly passion for. On the other end of the spectrum, I tried their new Sherry Cask. Nose was straight sherry and a barnyard/musty smell. Some stale grain too. The taste was sherry, cherries, and sour notes. Strong cooked barley too. Not a fan of this one, I'm afraid. Still need to try more of their stuff before I pass sound judgement.

Diageo - Stopped by the Diageo table to score me a sweet, sweet dram of Talisker. I am an unabashed fan of Talisker and I have no problems saying it. It has the best balance of sweet and smoke that only gets richer and more intense with age. I got to try a real treat at the show in the form of the Talisker Distiller's Edition which was magic in a glass. It was plummy and pruney, with that fantastic spicy smoke. It was almost like sweet and spicy ribs in liquid form. I could drink this every day and, if my student budget didn't allow it, I would. Buy some. I command it. Thanks for the pour, Donald!

William Grant and Sons - Last stop of the show was the Glenfiddich table. I've had a decent amount of the stuff at Glenfiddich (mainly their younger expressions) but the one I came here for was a super special one that I knew I wouldn't be able to get my hands on anywhere else. The Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix, a blend made up of casks located under the collapsed roof at their warehouses (which collapsed due to heavy snow-fall). The nose was potent toffee, caramel, and boiled sweets. The taste followed with a slightly minty and boiled candy taste (like those minty Christmas candies) along with Granny apple and cinnamon. A nice dram but I'm afraid that most people will let it sit on a shelf as a collectors piece rather than drink it.

And there you go, the inaugural Glasgow Whisky Festival. Sorry it took so long to get this up (finals are currently kicking my ass and stealing his lunch money). Thanks Mark and Glasgow Whisky Club for putting on an amazing show. The ONLY problem I had was the lack of water towards the end but that's minimal considering the water was free. And I drank a lot of it. In any case, if you want to join the hundreds of attendees next year, the tickets are already available here. I'd love to go but it all depends on whether or not I'm still in jolly olde Scotland(e) come next November. But hopefully I'll see you there.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Boutique Bar Show

I love booze shows. There's just something festive and delightful about going to a convention for drinking. From the Whisky Lives I've attended to the Indy Spirits Expo, showcasing different alcohol in a professional setting is something that just tickles my fancy. The Boutique Bar Show Edinburgh was no different. A rather extensive list of pours from not just the UK but from all around the world makes it almost like the Epcot of getting shit-house drunk.

Not far from Edinburgh's Royal Mile (just off of Leith Walk), it was a rather picturesque day, in a cloudy way. There was a nice breeze bustling about as I got off the bus on Prince's street and began my trek to the venue, the Mansfield Traquair. Sometimes I drink on a boat. Sometimes I drink in a convention center. This time...

 I drank in a church. Sacrilicious.

This was not lost on me. The Mansfield Traquair, originally built in 1873 and consecrated in 1876, was a Catholic Apostolic church until the death of the last Apostolic priest in 1958. After changing hands several times, it was purchased by the Edinburgh Council and, eventually, by the Mansfield Traquair Trust. Now I'm going to drink in it. Aside from the obvious, this job has some deliciously ironic perks.

Walking in, the potent blast of high proof spirits and Catholic guilt assails the senses. The walls are coated in murals, the ceiling framed in stained glass. It would be awe-inspiring if I wasn't about to wet my pants in glee over what was on the floor. Three rows, maybe ten booths deep, full of delicious beverages. Baby, I was home and read to take me a little bit of communion.

I'm skipping any more of these fancying words. Time to get down to the nitty gritty. Here's what I tried, in the order I tried it. Hold on tight, kids, it's gonna be a bumpy ride:

Fever Tree: I finally got to try some Fever Tree. I've heard from various bartenders that it's a great product to mix with but it's distribution in the US was pretty limited. I think just as I left Rochester, Wegman's got it on their shelves. Either that or it was there before but so ludicrously expensive thanks to mark-up that my Scottish Senses prohibited me from seeing it. Either or, this stuff is pretty delicious. Their ginger ale was nice, if rather plain. It did have a nice clean and fresh ginger taste to it and it was absolutely crisp and refreshing. They use only sugar in their products so the ginger flavor wasn't absolutely destroyed by HFCS. Their ginger beer was absolutely stunning though. Sweet and bubbly on the forefront, the ginger heat only reared after you swallowed; it was a pleasant warming and spicy feeling. Quite different than the fire-water some ginger beers are. While I wouldn't necessarily recommend it for a Dark and Stormy (you need that gingery aggressiveness for it), it would make a mean Bourbon Highball / Whiskey and Ginger. Their tonic was quite nice as well and would serve as a delicious partner to a lighter floral gin. I think it is too clean and too refined for the heavy juniper bruisers but I may be wrong.

AnCnoc: I was fortunate to try both the 12 and the 16.  The 12 was quite young and fruity tasting with orange peel/marmalade and lemon twist to it. The 16 was much preferred, with a heavy oak, vanilla, and brown sugar clout to it that means it's definitely hibernated in a ex-bourbon barrel for awhile. A touch of dark fruit to it means it was probably blended with some sherry butts as well. I also got to try a AnCnoc-hito which is a riff on a mojito using the AnCnoc 12 year. It was...ok. The sugar syrup, lime, and mint overpowered the spirit a bit too much. The cocktail sought to mask the flavors, not work with them, I think. It was still refreshing though, considering I was thirsty.

J. Wray and Nephews: I got to try a few of the things at their table: the Appleton 8, the Koko Kanu (Jamaican coconut rum) and the Licor 43. The Appleton 8 was pleasant in that pot still-y kind of way, the Koko Kanu wasn't as syrupy sweet as I was assuming it was going to be but the real champion of this table was the Licor 43. It is a predominantly vanilla flavored liqueur with a variety of bittering herbs in it. Only a few know all 43 ingredients in it (hence the name). It is really, really delicious. A very buttery vanilla flavor akin to melted vanilla bean ice cream coupled with the balance of the bittering herbs makes this a delicious drink. If I got a bottle of it, I'd make it into milkshakes or perhaps put it in Sprite. Very good stuff, even for it's almost ludicrous viscosity.

Marblehead: Marblehead is the UK importer for a variety of things but at the show they had Zubrowka and Kraken Rum. Zubrowka is a bison grass flavored vodka that I've heard quite a bit about but it wasn't allowed in the US thanks to the FDA.  It recently broke into the US market after a lot of wrangling but I got to try the actual stuff over here in the far less restrictive Scotland. They had a cool little walk-through for analyzing their spirit:

From left to right it was bison grass extract, plain rye vodka, and the final product. The bison grass extract (which we couldn't drink) was like nothing I'd ever smelled before. It smelled of black tea, granola, vanilla, almond, and cookies. It has this vegetable and baked good smell, almost like someone made zucchini bread with vanilla extract and served it to you with a cup of tea. I wanted to drink it really, really bad but it said not to. The rye was nothing extraordinary: slightly sweet and spicy with a fresh rye loaf and earth flavor. Together though, it made a delicious mix. The Zubrowka had the qualities of both the "neutral" spirit and the extract: it tasted like cut grass, jasmine tea, and vanilla with that scrumptious rye zing. Pretty impressive stuff.

I also got to try the Kraken as well. I say this not because I've never had it (see here) but because the product over here comes in at a different ABV. In the states (as mentioned here) it clocks in at about 43% but the UK import is only 40%. (EDIT: Jesus, it clocks in at 47%. I can't tell what's worse: that I forgot that or my palate has managed to forget a drop of 4% ABV.) For sipping purposes, I think the 40% Kraken works better because, despite my love of cask strength anything, the flavors really are more pronounced. The caramel and black pepper really pops and the cinnamon and cardamom mesh better. But for mixing purposes, stick with the 43%. Either way, everything's gravy, baby.

Babicka Vodka: This may very well have been my favorite product at the show, mainly because it was so damn unique. These days, absinthe is coming back in a big and bad way. With the repeal of the US ban, dozens upon dozens of absinthes are flooding into the market. Some are mass-market offerings which range from poor to good. Then there's the artisan stuff that ranges from okay to "will trade liver for lifetime supply". But everyone (including the FDA) always focuses on one thing: the wormwood. But it's never about the flavor of wormwood, it's always about the supposed effects. Fun fact: hallucinations and shit weren't from wormwood, they were from the copper sulfides and lead based salts used to give fake absinthe the proper color and louching properties. In order to feel anything from thujone, you'd have to drink something like 4x the lethal limit of alcohol.

Here's where Babicka comes in. An extremely simplistic idea: a wormwood vodka. Not playing on the "woo, let's get twisted" avenue of absinthe, they play to the fact that wormwood indeed has a flavor. And this stuff is good. A corn based vodka infused with wormwood, the flavor is almost gin-like. Herbal and sweet (thanks to the corn base), there's notes of orange peel, lemons, a slight welcoming bitterness. It's a great spirit. I want to get a bottle and make martinis with it. 2 oz. of Babicka with dry vermouth and a grapefruit twist would probably blow my shoes straight across the room. I like this stuff and would recommend it. Here's hoping it comes to the US.

Bitter Truth: Yup, you read that right. I got to meet the Bitter Truth guys. I spent an inordinate amount of time pretty much worshiping Stephan Berg, the owner. We chatted about cocktails and he gave me the lo-down on what they're coming out with next. He gave me a taste of the Bitter Truth Elderflower Liqueur, a direct contender to St. Germain (and better). It smacked strongly of honey and elder flower, with this oddly savory/meaty finish to it. Both sweet and slightly sour, it was a pretty fantastic beverage. Definitely a higher quality than St. Germain. He also said that they were coming out with something else but he kept his lips sealed on what it was. I have spent many sleepless nights wondering what it is. He was also pretty interested to hear about the masters program which made me feel pretty good. At least I might be able to get a job somewhere respectable (instead of passed out drunk in a liquor store).

Elements 8: Still flush from their award at the UK Rumfest for their Spiced Rum (best in category), I spent some time chatting with Andreas Redlefsen, the co-founder. I got to try their entire range of St. Lucian rum and we shot the shit about the beverage world while I tasted. Their platinum was extraordinarily fruity for a white rum; almost tasting faintly of Bing cherries. Their Gold had notes of oak and vanilla and, I swear, hints of wasabi. It was no fluke of the palate, I made sure to keep it clean the entire time. It was pretty faint but present. The Spiced was the final one I tried and it was obvious why it won an award. Very strong cinnamon and black pepper with a wallop of clove and molasses. The clove was so strong it actually made the inside of my lips numb. I'll probably be picking up a bottle of it to mix. I want to try it in a Dark and Stormy.

Fentimans: You may never have heard of this stuff despite the fact that it's available in the US. Which is a shame because they produce some of the finest all-sugar beverages in the entire world. When I first came over here 3 years ago, I got a bottle of their ginger beer at the British Library after hours of perusing famous works. I was parched and a ginger beer seemed like just the ticket. What I met was a fiery hell-broth of liquid delicious addiction. It had a potent punch of ginger fire with a deliciously sweet and mellow background. It was the best drink I ever had. Then I tried their bottled shandy. It was even better. So I was absolutely thrilled to see the Fentimans team at the show. But where they showing mixers? Oh no no no. They were showing their newest addition to the line: John Hollows Alcoholic Ginger Beer. Oh heavens it's good. Exactly like the ginger beer I remember from the British library but this time it packs a 4% ABV. An answer to Crabbie's Ginger Beer and it's mysterious ingredient list of dubious natural origins, the John Hollows Superior Alcoholic Ginger Beer is a treat. I will be drinking it regularly, you can count on that. I'm not sure it's even been released yet (I believe the woman I talked to, Amy, said that the packaging had been finalized only a few weeks ago) so it looks like I'll have to wait patiently to buy a few cases and horde it like an apocalypse survivor. Just like what I do with Irn Bru.

Sipsmith: This is actually a fault of mine but I didn't actually try any of the Sipsmith stuff. That would be because I was too busy talking about craft distilling with Sam Galsworthy, co-founder of Sipsmith. It was actually really interesting to hear about the micro-distilling movement in the UK and how it has started to blossom since they got their distilling license. Craft distilling is a personal love of mine (mainly because I like to tinker with recipes and booze). I'm actually doing a paper on the craft distilling movement in the US (which is harder than it sounds thanks to a lack of credible scientific articles) so hearing about the UK branch of it was handy for that. But one of the guys, Bryce, in my program says that they have good stuff so I'll take his word on it until I can get my hands on some.

Amathus Imports: Tried the gamut of spirits here (read: I drank everything on the table). Their tequila was eh but the truly sweet stuff was their stash of genever. In case you've never heard of genever, it's the grandpappy of London Dry Gin. Originating in Holland, it is a malt-based spirit which makes itself apparent in the taste (genever is much sweeter/maltier than London Dry). Also, the usage of pot still distillation left quite a bit of flavor compounds still in it which meant that sweetness (and other flavor compounds) ended up in the distillate as well. This meant that it could have some off flavors and they decided to flavor it with juniper. With the introduction and widespread usage of the column still in England came the birth of the London Dry gin. Since the distillate coming off was so clean (thanks to the column distillation), that malty sweetness was gone and replaced by a more aggressive spice/herbal infusion. They had two genevers at the table: Deooievaar, a 100% rye base genever and A.V. Wees Zuur Oude Genever. The rye genever (not writing that name again) was nice with the traditional rye zest and juniper fragrance but it wasn't what I was looking for in a genever. I thought the rye was a touch too aggressive. The A.V. Wees Zuur Oude was spot on though with a delicious fruity sweetness, some malty flavors, and a pretty low juniper impact which I enjoy. Too much juniper make a little part of me die on the inside.

There ya go, the damage of the night. There's a lot more I have written in my notepad but I'm refraining from using them mainly because I was so drunk my writing was illegible. Despite my state of inebriation, I was able to hold myself to the Bacchanal decorum and hold extremely pleasant and non-offensive conversations with several other reps (sorry, Patron rep). I'd just like to shout out to Ben Mclellan of Inspirit Brands for deciding I was the right person to start doing shots with. I feel kinda bad that I did a shot of Four Roses Single Barrel but it was damn tasty.

Bacchus out.

PS: Have pictures

Saturday, October 23, 2010


If you were trying to view the website over the past 4 hours, sorry for the absolute lack of content. The site was offline as I desperately struggled to install WordPress. Since I'm posting on Blogger now, I'm sure you can surmise how that went. Anyone know how to do a manual install of WordPress? I'm sick of Blogger and I want WordPress but the Computer Dieties have aligned against me in this feat. If you're willing to help for an equivalent exchange of whisky-sodden hugs and/or high fives, drop me an email.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

An In With Bacchus Guide: Collegiate Brewing

Many of you labor under the grandiose delusion that I don't do a whole lot here. I don't know how you got this fanciful idea into your heads but there are those that stick to the idealization that all I do is drink, wallow in my own filth, and occasionally stop drinking long enough to hand in something resembling work...only to commence filling my gaping maw with aqua vitae and brewskies. This is not true. Well...semi-not true. Hangovers suck and I prefer not to get them so it is occasionally warranted to just continue drinking. To me, it is easier to keep the ball rolling than to stop it and then try to kick it. It's all about the momentum. Looks better, I tell you.

In order to quell the vicious rumors that my liver has sought political asylum in Sweden, I figured it would be appropriate to document one of the exciting days of my life. I will spare you the hours of lecture that would be incredibly interesting if the room wasn't stifling hot. I will also forsake you the pleasure of describing how the department thought it would be a good idea to do tasting panel right before we had a lab working with fire and razor blades. Today...we brew.

You have two classes for Wort Boiling, Fermenting and Maturation. One involves an intro distilling where we take a fermented wort and process it through our two glass stills. The other is brewing the beer (that will later be used in the tasting panels). Both are all-day affairs where we get up at 8am and work until 4pm with the occasional break in between. So, here we go. An In With Bacchus Guide to My Life.

We start out here, at the front door of the brewery. It is festively decorated with the "International Brewing and Distilling Science Brewery", like everything inside is dipped in gold and run by butlers. It's not. It's run by grad students who need a degree.

We then enter the brewery.  It is shiny and pretty, like a penny in the sun. Oh look, our sign!

Aww, hello department of ICBD. I love you, even though you take all my money.

Hello cereal cooker!

Hello mash tun/wort kettle/whirlpool filter!

Hello lauter tun!

What's that, fermentation tanks? You're woefully empty? Be patient, my sweet. Tender loving beer is on the way.

Here at the ICBD, we take drinking seriously. We are professionals. We evaluate for taste, color...and a bunch of other stuff too. See? We even have our own tap.

And look at our bottle collection.

Oddly enough, it doesn't scream "frat house". More "my brain is suicidal and my liver is a masochist". Same thing, right?

Ok, ok, let's get down to business. To defeat...the Huns. And by Huns, I mean sobriety. We start out by forming up our mash bill. Our first beer is a "premium" lager. First we need some corn grit (8 kg).

And then some crystal malt (.577 kg).

And then we take our big ole bag of lager malt (24.4 kg) to...the mill room!

This is our 2 roll mill. Technically, it's meant for agricultural (read: cow food) use but we fudge it a bit. Our efficiency isn't so hot but what the hell, it's cheap and it didn't have to be custom made. We mix the crystal and pale malt together in the hopper and turn the sucker on. It's pretty loud and it gives off a lot of dust that leaves us all coughing. We get a pretty coarse grist out of it, due to the fact that there's only 2 rollers, but it's adequate for us. Technically, anything we make here we can't drink. It has to be dumped down the drain. But we can do quality assurance tests. To, y'know, make sure it's tasty. We then take the two bags of grist and put them into our mashing unit.

The mashing unit above consists of a variety of things. The big blue section is a hopper with a screw in it. The corn grit is loaded into the hopper on top. The corn grit then falls into the grooves of the screw which is turned by a motor in the back. This pushes the grist forward at an even rate into a cylindrical cone where it is mixed with hot liquor. Like this!

Wait, hot liquor? No, not scalding hot Jamesons. Much to my utter confusion (and slight disappointment after all the signs) liquor is water in the industrial brewing world. This delicious porridge like substance is then pushed into the cereal tank by the pump on the bottom and this hosing attached to it.

You can actually see it speed by in the clear section of hosing that they installed. We then cook the cereal for some time to break down the starches in it (we rise by 2 degrees C per minute until 85 where we hold for 5 minutes, then boil to ensure starch breakdown). We then change the hose location (everything is pushed through hoses or piping) and fill the hopper with our malt grist. The same thing happens as with the corn and we then pump this into our mash tun/kettle. This gets a delightful 48C rest to activate the enzymes (I won't bore you with this part). After, we then add the cooked cereals (coooorn) to the mash tun. We do it this way that way the extreme heat of the cooked cereals (which was boiled) doesn't kill off the enzymes we need to break down the starches in the malt. Then we  rest at 65C to deactivate the previous enzymes and engage new ones. We let it sit for 45 minutes while we go get lunch.

We come back to this.

Ewwie? Ewwie! No, sir or madame, delicious. This is the sugary sweet mash. It's been percolating for 45 minutes, stewing in its own juices (enzymes) to form a deliciously sweet liquid. It's almost like a thin porridge. Very tasty. Then we increase the temp from 67 to 71 and perform...

The iodine test. Iodine reacts with starch (which is not what we want) but not with sugar (which is what we want). So, a heavy starch solution (top left) turns squid ink black but the all sugar solutions (bottom right) are squeaky clean! This means that we've gotten all of the fermentable sugar we can out of it so we can filter out all the chunks. How do we do this?

The lauter tun. Basically it's a huge tube with a false bottom. The bottom plate is perforated so that the little tidbits of malt don't fall through. I'm sure you're asking "but there will be pieces smaller than that!". It's true...but here's the cool part about malt. It forms its own filter. We broke down the endosperm, the sugars that the plant would use to sustain itself after germination but before it has grown chloroplasts (component of chlorophyll for photosynthesis). We let the barley seed think that it's going to get to grow so that it germinates and begins breaking down all of the starches to long chain sugars it an use to fuel itself. But then we bake the shit out of it and kill it. This means that it broke down all of the sugars for us but it can't use them ('cause it's dead). The enzymes needed to do this are still in the grain so when we heat it up, these enzymes reactivate and break the sugar down even further. What's left is the hull/husk and variety of other shit that doesn't get broken down. These beautiful little bits end up forming a cake at the bottom of the lauter tun that filters the smaller particles.Here's the lauter tun filling with the chunky mash.

You can see those little particles swirling around. Those will be the filter later. In the meantime, we decided to multitask and do some quality assurance. This is a stout that we weren't sure would pass the muster.

It was good but I heard a funny tale. I heard that beers occasionally will get better the closer to the bottom of the glass you get. Something about the "awesome" having a higher density than the beer so it all sinks. Gonna have to pour another glass just to test this theory.

I think this hypothesis is correct. However, being a true scientist, a sample size of two just isn't enough. Three should do it.

Perfect. Hypothesis = delicious.

After quality control, the lautering had finished. We'd lautered first (by recycling the original wort back into the tank until it ran clear through the tubing at the bottom) and then sparged (after we drained the wort into the kettle we then started to spray hot water/liquor over the grains to get every sugary bit). Here's a good picture of the separation of the soon-to-be wort and the grain cake at the bottom.

See? Forms its own filter.

So, we've got our wort (clarified mash). Now we boil the shit out of it. It's just a hop, skip, and a jump to the finish, now. Emphasis on hop. HAHA, I MADE A FUNNY. We use two types of hop on this one: Zeus and Tettnanger.

The Zeus were our bittering hops, which are boiled for the entire duration to give the beer it's bitter flavor.

The Tettnanger were the aroma hops: added in the last few minutes of boil to provide aroma to the beer.

We boil and boil for an hour while we all go take a break in the form of a cuppa and a read of the newspaper. When we come back we finish up things. We first clean the lauter tun by removing the bottom and watching as all that crazy grain leavings fall to the floor. Here's the cake at the bottom:

And here's the cake on the floor:

The hot, hoppy wort is sent across the room (via pipes) to the plate chiller.

The hot liquid enters from one way and cold water enters from the opposite, cooling the liquid down before it enters the fermenter. We also add oxygen to it to promote yeast growth, even though you don't want oxygen after you ferment. Finally, it gets sent to the fermenter and we pitch the yeast (a Tennents lager yeast).

So, that's the day in a nutshell. For those of you who still say that I don't do a damn thing in this degree, you're wrong. So wrong it hurts me!

I take pictures.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Boru Vodka - Sunday, Oct. 10th

I'm cutting to the chase on this one: Irish Vodka. You don't really associate the Emerald Isle with vodka, do you? I don't. I associate lush green fields, sheep, pine pitch-like pints of Guinness, Murphy's, and Beamish. Some nice poitin or, even luckier, some nice Irish pot still grain or malt whiskey. Yummers. But I don't think vodka. Which, honestly, is why I was pretty skeptical about Boru Vodka when they sent me a bottle. 

Named after Brian Boru, an Irish king that dissolved the High Kingship of Ireland, which was a politically schemed royal line that ruled Ireland for hundreds of years.  You can find more of the history here. I'll be honest here. I was downright SHOCKED when I found out what it was made of. I immediately assumed that it was made from potatoes. Because that's what we Irishmen like to eat. Seriously, what's an Irish 7 course meal? A six pack and a potato. But it's NOT MADE OF POTATOES! (insert collective gasp here)

It's made of wheat.

Really. An Irish vodka made of wheat.

Yeah, I was flabbergasted too. Made from wheat and proudly announcing it's distilled 5 times, it comes in a clear bottle with an obvious Celtic motif.

Warrior chic.
I'm going to chill this and pour it over Lucky Charms.

And here's one of the whole ensemble. The whole kit-and-kavodka, if you will:

Boru Vodka: 100% Potato Cruelty Free.

Here, have some tasting notes on the house. I tried it both warm (to get a sense of the spirit) and cold (to get a sense of how most people would drink it):


Nose is clean and simplistic. Definitely a wheat based spirit; it has a grain sugar smell to it. It smells rich and slightly creamy too, almost like that dairy smell coming off of half-and-half.

Taste isn't bad. Slightly creamy, rather sweet. It ain't a slouch in the alcohol department but for 80 proof it's a bit rocky. It doesn't go down without a coup d'etat in the throat. This bastard wants freedom, damn it. Oppression by the High King of Ireland known as "the Stomach" isn't want it wants. It yearns for the free and open skies, the warm sun, and that cozy little bottle it calls home. Ok, well, maybe it's not as inspired as Brian Boru...but it has it's rough edges about it. After the fire comes a touch of chocolate too.

Warm, it's ok. When I shared some of the bottle with friends, my cameraman went "It's ok". My other friend said "It really cleared out his sinuses" but continued to drink it as we played video games.


Nose: It's pretty blank which is to be expected. A slight alcohol tinge and grapefruit. Other than that, a pretty blank palate.

Taste: Chocolate and grass. It's become pretty syrupy too at this point. Thankfully it's smoothed out some since it's been chilled. It fades to a pleasant warming sweetness. The fire on the finish is gone too.

So....summary: Drink it cold. Warm it's a touch roughshod and rambunctious but cold it's a decent vodka. Not particularly stunning but quite serviceable. Also, it's about $18 a bottle (750 mL) which is a fair price for it, if even a bit cheap. I could see this being sold at $20 and people buying it. I still think it should be made out of potatoes though. Maybe I'll make a sweet potato infusion out of what's left to give it some potato-y character. I'd do normal potatoes...but that'd just be down right vile to drink.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

State of the Blog

Following the State of the Blog(ger), I think it's time to talk about the state of the blog. I'm sure most of you have noticed that I've done...well...fuck all about the decor in this joint. Sorry folks, I'm not very good at making things pretty. I'm an engineer. I destroy pretty things.

Especially whisk(e)y. I destroy a lot of pretty whisk(e)y.

However, I am dedicated as all hell to bringing good content. I figure that decent content sorta makes up for the lack of eye-catching icons, suavely styled headers, and general spiffiness. Well, not makes up for, really. More like "helps you forget". The look of the blog has been on my mind and I may actually drop some cash into sprucing it up. First and foremost would be getting a signature representation of Bacchus, drawn by one of the coolest illustrators, Dr. Bamboo. I really enjoy his style of art and I think it would fit in with the cheeky air of the blog. So that's first and foremost.

But what I'm writing to you today is mainly about the content. I am in the motherland of booze. Everywhere I go, I could huck a rock at some sort of beverage. Beer, wine, cider. Hard liquor. It's all for the taking. I've got a few things packed away in the "things I'd like to do for the blog" annals but I'd like your feedback. What do you want to see me cover? Here's a short list of things that I'm planning on covering but it's not complete and far from finished:

UK Rumfest 2010: Mid-October (16th and 17th). This one is on the ropes but I may go. Mutineer Magazine wants me to cover it but it's gonna be a pretty penny to get to London. Unless I can learn to fly in a few weeks. Progress is slow but scientists feel that I might be able to gain flight in the next couple of years and sans a few (hundred) pounds. It is exactly as the name suggests: a pig's trough of rum. Its a toss-up between having money or acting like a pirate for a weekend. I'm thinking acting like a pirate is winning at this point.

Edinburgh Boutique Bar Show: At the end of the month (October 26th). A pretty comprehensive show with talks and lots of tastings. Not specifically whisky centered but rather a broad range of spirits, ciders, and beers. Should be a wonderful time and, best of all, I don't have to go far for it. Cheers to that.

Glasgow Whisky Festival: Mid November (Nov. 13th). I'm actually really excited about this one. They won't know but I've known them for awhile (Mark Connelly, specifically). I was on the Whisky Magazine boards when a whole bunch of them split off and formed the forums. From my interaction with Mark online, he is a great chap. I'm really happy to see that he's been able to put together a whisky festival. It is a serious festival to pull no punches. His exhibitor list reads like a who's who of fantastic whisk(e)y. Amrut will be pouring. That's really all I have to say about that.

The Coup De Grace: I have been entertaining doing the unthinkable. The nigh legendary. I'm thinking about going to Westvletern brewery. It would be difficult to pull off for one reason: you need the license plate number of the car you're picking the beer up in but I'd have to rent a car. There are overnight ferries from Rosyth (close to Edinburgh) to Zeebrugge, Belgium. From there, I'd have to rent a car to get there (luckily, they drive on the correct side of the road there). The problem is I'd never know the license plate number until I rented the car. I'd probably get a case of all 3 expressions (which would end up being about 100 euro total, plus deposit). Once I got them, I'd bring them back to Scotland. I would have a bottle of each etched with "In With Bacchus"...and then I'd give them away on the blog. I'd get them etched not for vanity, but to prevent people from selling them. The monks don't want you to sell 'em and if the beer's as good as people say...then I'll abide by that. But yeah, this is at this stage a pipe dream. It would cost a lot and be difficult to organize so it's staying on the back-burner until I can get a job over here.

So that's the short list. I'd highly encourage you to share what you want me to cover (as far as distilleries, breweries, etc.). I'm open to ideas. I'd also appreciate it if you'd spread this around as best you can. I really would like some feedback (past attempts have been weak). So, if you could do that, I'll FedEx you a hug. A huge, drunken, whiskey smelling hug.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

State of the Blog(ger)

The radio silence is deafening these days. When once my lyrically drunken mouth spewed gobs of random information, the past few weeks have been quiet. The culture shock, monetary shock, and booze shock have taken their toll on me; grounding me down into a sort of stunned, irreverent stupor. Things are, to say the least, quite different here. Since I promised I'd chronicle my journey over here, I will enlighten you on the past few weeks. Plus this helps to prove to my parents that I'm not a) dead or b) dead drunk.

If you've never taken an international flight...don't. If you must, don't travel economy/coach. If you are desperate to encase yourself in tens of thousands of pounds of steel, jet fuel, and people's crap, don't cheap out. Economy flights are just terrible. Everyone says "Sleep on the plane to feel rested when you get there". That's complete bullshit. It is inevitable that there will be at least one baby that decides to play "Human Landmine" and explode with shrill screams when someone gets too close. There will always be that person with a snore that threatens to vibrate the plane at its resonance frequency. If you can afford it, go business or first class. If you can't, buy a raft and leave really early. The Aer Lingus flight I took was, for the most part, cramped and boring. While I did manage to watch an episode of The Pacific, I also had to suffer through Cop Out. I like Kevin Smith movies. I liked Cop Out. But let's be honest here, a Kevin Smith movie isn't a Kevin Smith movie if it's the airline edit. Hearing Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis trade in "Fuck you" for "Forget you" (when it's part of the gag) made me seriously contemplate trying to choke myself with those tiny little pretzel nubbins they gave us. The meal, blissfully, was a few steps above "hog trough". Mine included what I can only pray were piece of real beef in real beef gravy. The highlight of that flight was the Magners Pear I had. It was good. Everything else was not. It also brought up the ever-present concept that I am a fat-ass. It is not a pleasant experience to pour myself into those seats and pray to the gods above that the seat-belt will buckle. Then, spending 7 hours wedged into my mom (sorry Ma) did absolutely nothing for my self-confidence. I got off the plane scared, sad, and sleepy. A piss-poor combo.

The connecting flight in Dublin (in which we had to run to the gate because we didn't have enough time) was better. We were flying on my worst fear: a prop plane. I've explained why before (I think) so I won't go through it again. But the flight itself was smooth. The best part about this flight was the fact that it was light out and that it was raining in Dublin. It is a magical experience to burst through the clouds in sheer defiance of gravity. To hurdle at untold speeds through the rainclouds only to rupture through into the clear blue sky like a breaching whale. Staring down at the cloud cover and watching it lazily drift by like some sort of higher up, fluffier ocean. It was actually quite beautiful. I might be able to see why people get pilot's licenses for fun.

We landed in Edinburgh on a slightly chilly but increasingly sunny day. We were fortunate enough to stay close to the airport (and, subsequently, close to a shuttle from the airport to campus) at the Hilton. Folks, as classy as Hiltons are made out to be...this place sucked. While the room itself was nice, you (not surprisingly in Scotland) got nickle and dimed at every damn chance. The bottle of water they provided wasn't free, it was 3 quid. The breakfast was £12  for continental, £17  for full Scottish. Internet cost £17  a day. Movies: £15. Hell, I was legitimately surprised the small tea service they provided was free. Since they kept refreshing the tea packets each day, I decided to help myself to several of them. I now have a very small stash of Twinings. And soap. Yeah, I'm that guy. Get used to it. College is expensive.

The rest of the week was spent gathering the metric fuckton (tonne now, actually) of stuff that I wasn't able to bring with me. General home goods, pots and pans, etc. I managed to outfit my room splendidly for £77 (towels, pots, pans, general groceries). Pretty proud of myself on that one. The most expensive thing, though, was the mattress topper. Since having my spine fused six years ago, I kinda need a soft mattress. My spine doesn't bend now. At all. Almost the entire thoracic section of my spine is deadlocked in a fierce battle with almost $20,000 worth of titanium and, thankfully, the titanium is winning. Thus, I need a bed that will mold to me instead of me to the bed. And the mattress provided sure as shit wasn't doing that. It wasn't a bed, it was a concrete foundation with a cloth covering. It was like sleeping on The Rack. Luckily, I was able to get one along with a phone as well. Phones over here are funny. They're not bound to just one provider. You buy a phone and you can choose from a range of providers simply by replacing a small microchip behind the battery. Pretty damn interesting, I must admit. Besides, their phones are nicer. Well...most of 'em. The one I got is an internet capable beastie called the LG Viewty. It's pretty great, aside from the relatively shitty speaker and the fact my fingers are too fat to use the on-screen keyboard.

Finally, last week was the first week of classes. Due to the fact that its early in the semester the class schedule is pretty light these days but I'm still scrambling to get things done on my time off. My days consist of four classes: barley lab, project studies, wort manufacture, and intro to biochem. Most are pretty self-explanatory aside from project studies, which is basically an intro course on how not to plagarize and how to write a paper like a civil human being. We write a 3000 word literature review which should be easy, considering we get to choose our own topics. I'm thinking I may do mine on the microdistilling boom or the no age statement / young whisky boom.

Ok, now the important stuff. First off, you can get booze delivered here. No joke. You can get groceries delivered to your door for £3, which is almost as much as it would be to take the bus out there (I save £.60 by taking the bus). Anything they have in-store you can get delivered to your room. A huge, refrigerated truck will pull up and drop your groceries off. Which brings me to my next point.

You can buy booze in grocery stores.

I'm not talking about just beer. Sure, you can get beer at a grocery store. And cider, which they handily pack in 2 liter bottles and sell for £1.37. But can buy liquor in grocery stores. And get it delivered to your room. They also have a much larger selection of pre-mixed drinks. I had the opportunity to pick up a premixed can of Bulleit bourbon and coke. It was really, really good. I think it was about a quid a pop and it was the "double serving", which meant a double of bourbon and coke. That put the can at about 8% ABV. And it was the perfect ratio too. The bourbon wasn't watered down; it was pronounced over the coke. And the cola was delicious. BECAUSE THEY ONLY USE SUGAR IN THEIR SODA. It's seriously the promised land of beverages up in this bitch. No high-fructose corn syrup in soda, liquor in grocery stores, and booze delivered to my door. Hells yes.

So yeah, stick around. I've got some pretty exciting things lined up (including some tours). A few things are in the works for my dear readers (especially those in NYC). So keep up with things here. It's gonna start getting sweet.

Bacchus out.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Whisky Live Glasgow

Alright, brief post here. No, I'm not dead despite the most earnest wishes of my arch-nemeses. I've just been really, really busy. Busy with the whole "get my life sorted out in 4 days" kinda thing. That includes buying bedding, cutlery, clothing, food, a phone, a mattress topper for my poor back, and a variety of other sundries (and by sundries, I mean the UK version which is booze). Now that life is slowly getting back to normal (yet again, another clause: by normal I mean a masters in drinking), you'll be seeing some more posts from me. I'll do a summary of what I've garnered from my trip over and time here so far and I've got a lot of reviews down the pipe.

However, I write to you today to inform you of momentous import. I will, at the behest of Whyte and Mackay (y'know...Jura, Dalmore, Whyte and Mackay blends), be covering the Whisky Live Glasgow tomorrow. Live. Yup, you read that right. I will be Tweeting my sherry butt off (tee-hee, distilling joke!), courtesy of the Whyte and Mackay company (who, in full disclosure, are paying for my standard ticket and 20 quid train fare). I'll be a motherlovin typhoon of Tweeting tomorrow as I heartily engage in the Scots most celebrated liquid: whisky. I promise that I'll stay as sober as possible, which won't be too hard considering my tolerance these days. So, pay close attention to my Twitter, InWithBacchus, or the live coverage page here for even more informative tid-bits from my far more qualified compatriots.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


A critic, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is as follows:

1a:  one who expresses a reasoned opinion on any matter especially involving a judgment of its value, truth, righteousness, beauty, or technique
    b one who engages often professionally in the analysis, evaluation, or appreciation of works of art or artistic performances 

2. :  one given to harsh or captious judgment 

I put that there to remind us all what exactly a critic is. It was, some time ago, only relevant to the newspapers or magazines. You had your wine critics, your food critics, your movie critics, and your "insert noun here" critic. With the invention of the internet, many of these established critics have gone on to flex their opinions in the digital world. However, with the advent of the internet, it was quickly surmised that anyone could be a critic as long as they were willing to shell out a couple of bucks a month for a domain / hosting and a couple hours dedicated to writing. 

Critics have always bothered me. I have been in conversations with people about what my website is about and, during which, they ask "are you a critic?" I politely tell them no. I am rather an opinionated and curious journalist. This distinction is important. The reason why I refuse to dub myself under the "critic" moniker is because of #2 above in the definition of critic. To be a critic once meant exactly what #1 states: to give a reasoned opinion on a matter. It was done with courtesy and respect on both parties. Today, being a critic means the license to kill version of being a complete fucking asshole. And, in this two part rant, I'll explain why.

In the field that I'm in (beverages and cigars), there are so many out there that will absolutely lambaste products with absolutely no regard to anyone or anything. This breaks my goddamn heart. As you may already know by now (thanks to my gratuitious ranting), I'm going for my masters in Brewing and Distilling Science. In less than a week, actually. With the rough and cursory knowledge I've garnered from talking to people in the industry (both beverage and cigar), as well as visiting distilleries and shops, I know how much work goes into making the products we take for granted. That cigar you're smoking? That tobacco isn't a week old. It's not a month old. Not a year old. No. The tobacco in that cigar is probably older than your car. That tobacco was planted when Katrina first hit New Orleans. It was a wee babe when Pope John Paul II died. That tobacco is probably 5 years old. Someone, 5 years ago, had the foresight to plant the leaf that you're burning. The one that's burning.

Right. Now.

That cigar you're furiously typing up a scathing review of? The tobacco in it is older than some people. It is older than entire maternity wards. A generation may have been born during that cigar's lifetime. But you decide to be a dick.

That scotch you're drinking with it? That introductory level scotch you decided to try. Guess what? It was put into a barrel shortly after Microsoft 98 came out. It saw Google launch. The person that put it in a cask probably saw Saving Private Ryan the night before. That scotch, the one you're mulling over giving a 79 or an 80? It saw gas at $1.25 a gallon in the States. 

Critics, for the sake of objective review, ignore these things. They ignore the work, the planning. They refuse to take into effect the struggles it took to formulate the recipe or the blend. The work it took to get label approval. The fact that the whisk(e)y or cigar chosen was #126 of #334 blends or barrels. It's the equivalent of deeming a person moral or immoral just by looking at them. You are content to barely scratch the surface of a complex person; solely judging on face value. Many feel that this disassociation is necessary. I think that's bullshit. A critic can callously destroy years of work sitting in your office. With the swift stroke of a pen (or, realistically, a keyboard), a critic can annihilate years of work and planning. Entire lines of product can become financial disasters because a critic, say, smoked only an inch of the cigar (I'm looking at you, Cigar Aficionado), tossed it, and then gave it an 85. 

You probably don't believe me. You may think "give me proof". All in due time, my friends. All in due time. Check the next portion for some hard evidence. I'm bringing critics to trial.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Illusione Cuchillos Cubanos 40 - Friday, Aug. 20th

While I am a short and fat man, the cigars I generally go for aren't short and fat. I've got enough of that in every day life. I typically go for either long and thin (lancero!) or short and thin (corona!). It's rare that I pick up a cigar over, say, 52-54 ring gauge. Any more than that and it just gets awkward to smoke and difficult to keep in my mouth when I want to flip pages on the deck.

Also, being budget minded (read: I'm half Scottish), I'm a big fan of cheap cigars. Not bad cigars, which is a completely different category, but cheap cigars. So when I found out that Dion had put out the Chuchillos Cubanos line of mixed premium filler (long and medium instead of medium and short) in sizes that really are my huckleberry, I was stunned. How did I let a budget cigar by an awesome manufacturer in thinner ring gauges slip by? Why didn't my Scottish Radar go off? Damn thing must be broken. I found out about it pretty much a week before the IPCPR and I began calling/emailing places down in NOLA to pick some up to smoke. But Dion got my back.

When I ran into Dion at IPCPR, he told me to stop by the booth because he had a pack of Cuchillos Cubanos for me. I tried to pay for them (I always feel bad) but he wouldn't hear of it. I stopped by briefly to pick them up on the first day because I wanted to smoke them at the Cigar Press party with him. I felt bad nabbing them and jetting but I got to talk to him later on anyway so I didn't feel too bad. Also, I stopped by the booth several times. Dion was busy so it was mostly to take pictures but, soothed my aching integrity. Anyway, at the Cigar Press party I burned through four out of the five in the pack (2 for me, 2 for my mooching cameraman). I really liked them at the party but at that point I'd burned about four cigars already so I didn't want to do a write-up when I got back. So I decided I'd review the last one for you now. Alright alright, let's do dis. First, some pictures!

Sweet box. I want to add tildes to the title but the Blogger ones aren't spaced right.

We're gonna need a bigger box.


I really like the packaging on these. The box got kinda squished in my pocket but it kept the cigar(s) in good condition. And the graphic on the front is cool. Anyway, review:

First quarter: This cigar is what I refer to as a "ninja cigar". When you first light it up, it starts off pretty mild and mellow. It's easy-going with relatively light flavors of leather. Then, just as you get settled in to read and you're not paying attention....BAM! The Chuck Norris of spice roundhouse kicks your tongue into a previous epoch. Your tongue is bombarded with so much zesty spice it's tasting things in the 1800s. It's so delicious. It's all red pepper and black pepper. I make it sound super heavy on the spice but it's just right, really. It's not overbearing and it doesn't overwhelm. It's just the right amount...but sneaky.

Half-way: The spice fades a touch to make way for some delicious leather. It's like smoking a spicy chamois. How can you argue with that?

Third quarter: Spice has backed off in its intensity and fervor. It's now slowed down to a more leathery, creamy, and spicy beastie. It's starting to get another flavor too...

Fourth quarter: ...and that flavor is toast. I swear to the gods above, you get to the nub and the thing tastes like toast with jalapeno jelly and a glass of milk. In...y'know...smoking terms. Whatever, I tried. It's hard to explain smoking flavors without referencing food but it makes it sound awkward.

Yeah, these cigars are pretty sweet. My cameraman liked 'em too. The consensus we came up with is that they're an all day cigar: they're easy going enough to smoke them all day but they won't leave you bored. Oh..and the price? It's about $20 for 5. Yeah, this 5.25 x 40 shorty is a favorite now.