Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Saga of the Indy Spirits Expo

I have to admit, the concept of an expo centered around drinking hundreds of samples of booze is pretty much the equivalent of Valhalla for me. When I die, the Valkyries will wing down from on high, warmly and lovingly embrace me as a lost son of Odin, and spirit me up to the Great Drinking Expo in the Sky. There will be an eternity of drinking, smoking, carousing, and playing video games. It will be awesome.

For the time being, however, I am perfectly complacent to slake my thirst for Valhalla's shores by quenching the ever-burning fires of Odin with sweet, liquid satisfaction. As you can see, I do enjoy chronicling my journey in the world of beverages. One of the things I've learned in my ever-continuing journey is my love of the micro. Microbrews, microdistilleries, microwine (if it exists); micro beverages are pretty outta sight. Unfortunately, they're hard to find. Without the clout of international corporation's huge marketing budgets and diehard PR teams, the small spirits have an uphill battle. They don't have the muscle to cram their regionally/limited/expensively produced goods onto store shelves when larger businesses can either offer insane discounts, brand loyalty, or image benefits. Thus, there are many...MANY awesome spirits out there made just as lovingly as the big boys...but they don't get the exposure that the major brands do.

This saddens me. Greatly.

I first heard about the Indy Spirits Expo awhile ago. It takes place in a variety of venues across the nation; centering on NYC, Las Vegas, and San Francisco. The man behind it, Dave Schmier, is a entrepreneur. Really, entrepreneur is a terrible way to describe it. Bad-ass with a heart of gold is more like it. Owner of Orange V Vodka and part owner of Redemption Rye, the man has a pretty sweet portfolio to begin with. But then he realized that, like him, the small guys were getting shafted by the budgets of the big and bold. So he decided to put on an expo, too.

Cojones of brass on this guy, I'm tellin' ya.

In contact with him over Twitter, he graciously invited me, my photographer, and Lindsay over at The Holy Trinity. For free. VIP tickets. Like I said, "bad-ass with a heart of gold".

Excited by the blossoming list of liquor representatives that would be there, I made sure my photographer cleared his schedule for the day and busted out the business cards. Gotta be a pro, my friends, gotta be a pro. As the day unfolded, I could see a trend beginning in terms of me, trains, and Expos.

First, we arrived to the train station a little bit late but just on time to watch the 1:40pm Metro-North roll out. Not a big deal, really. We still wouldn't be late and it would put us into the city with 45 spare minutes. My photographer and I purchase tickets and head off to the local bar to knock back a few beers. Two Guinnesses (two Newcastles for him) and we were comfortably seated on a train chugging its way to the city like a not very committed fratboy. As luck would have it, right before we hit Tarrytown, the train stopped dead in the tracks. For almost 45 minutes, the train sat on the tracks. The assistant train engineer stopped by to tell us that the brakes on the train had seized and wouldn't unseize. They'd have to unseize them by hand, travel to the Tarrytown platform, and disgorge us. Then they would shut down that track and get a train from the Croton-Harmon Train Yard to take us the rest of the way. Wonderful. I will spare you the oaths uttered in the stifling hot confines of that car (they, being the MTA, turned OFF the air conditioning on an 85 degree day). Finally, we get to Grand Central, hop the subway over to 50th street, and walk to Touch, the nightclub in which it took place.

My one and only one complaint with the event itself was the venue, really. It was kinda awkward to get around in the club and there were all sorts of tables in the nooks and crannies associated with a dance club. I'm afraid I missed shit, really. Other than that, the event was very nice. Now, to do an overview of what I tasted. Ahem:

WhistlePig Rye:  This is the first spirit I tried at the show and, honestly, I think my favorite of the entire show. A 100% rye aged 10 years in new charred American Oak, it was fiery and spicy. The oak on it mellowed the black pepper and chili powder in it and the wood itself gave it some sweet notes of vanilla to boot. Complex but easy drinking and extremely flavorful. I love this stuff and I really hope they'll think about releasing a cask strength version. I think at cask strength this would be incredible. But at 100 proof, it's not far away.

Schwartzhog: An interesting competitor to the coveted Jagermeister title. As of late I've seen a lot of herbal liqueurs arriving from Western Europe (I'll be reviewing Harlem soon) and Schwartzhog fits the bill. It's the same color of Jager but that is the only aspect it shares. First off, it's not as sweet as Jager which is my main problem. Also, the medicinal flavor of Jager is non-existent in Schwartzhog. Instead it's a strong bitter orange and ginger with a honey like sweetness to it. Also, it has "sauwurz", or hog root in it. I dunno what it is or what it does to the flavor, but the fact that there's an herb called hog root entertains the shit out of me. The table actually had other stuff (it was a representative table for The Other Wine and Spirits CY) that I didn't get to try thanks to the MTA. They had The Irishman and Deau Cognac. If anyone's got any notes on that, I'd like to see 'em.

Greenbar Collective: I gotta admit, this table was pretty damn cool. They had a really interesting range of spirits that I had never imagined before. They had the vodka (flavored and standard). I tried the lemon vodka, called Tru, and I enjoyed it because of its simplicity. It wasn't trying to be a limoncello but rather a vodka with a light backbone of lemon which I found oddly refreshing. It'd be good for making an alcoholic Arnold Palmer. I had their Tru gin which was very different. Heavier on fennel than juniper it had a very pronounced anise flavor that was balanced by the juniper and some lavender too. I had it neat and in a cocktail with their jasmine which I didn't like, actually. I thought the aggressive gin slaughtered the delicate taste of the jasmine. But that's not really reflective of the spirits themselves. My FAVORITE of the table was their Crusoe spiced rum. It had a nice rich base of dark rum and a huge punch of cardamom, cinnamon, and clove to it. I'd like to compare it to the Kraken but the Kraken is a much different beast than this. This one is sweetened so it would be ideal for cocktails while the Kraken I'm perfectly happy sipping on the rocks. Two different animals but the Crusoe rum gets my thumbs up.

P.S. Jack, I looked up the details on that cigar. The Orange Label cigar is a Dominican, long filler, mild smoke from SJ Cigars in Philly. Lemme know how it was.

Cognac Ferrand: The Cognac Ferrand had a veritable buffet of booze but, due to time constraints, I wasn't able to try all of it. They had Citadelle Gin (which I've never had but wanted to try) and a variety of fruit liqueurs but I was on a brown spirits roll so I went with their Cognac and their Rum. The Pierre Ferrand Ambre was a nice entry level cognac. It had some nice notes of fresh red apple, a slight touch of residual wine sugars, and the oak was complimentary but not overwhelming. The Plantation Rum was an interesting find as well. The 5 Year Old, which is double aged (first in ex bourbon, then in ex cognac) smacked heartily of vanilla. The oak on it was muted by the overwhelming flavor of fresh vanilla, a slight creaminess, and banana on the aftertaste. The 20 Year Old was even more intense, butting the banana out of the taste all-together and just pouring on the vanilla and oak. Lindsay and I waxed philosophic about what we could do with the rum and we came up with: reduced and poured on ice cream, Bananas Foster, and topping flan. I was pretty giddy with the culinary avenues opened with that rum.

Redemption Rye: I will be completely honest, even though Dave probably won't want to hear this. I wasn't actually that impressed by the Redemption Rye. I really like my ryes to be bold and robust but the Redemption was too mild for me. It's a 95% rye mash bill, aged in oak for 2 years. I feel it's too delicate to mix but neat or on ice it would be pretty good for someone that's never had rye before. For me, however, it just didn't have the oomph I like in my ryes. But still, as Levar Burton says, don't take my word for it. Try it yourself.

80 Strong Bourbon: Ok, we were confused with this bourbon. At first sip, it had the mild sugary/vanilla and oak taste of your standard bourbon with a touch of rye to it. Then...the weird turned pro. It tasted like fresh roasted peanuts. My photographer was intrigued as he's allergic to peanuts, so he was amazed to be tasting something (safely) for the first time. Lindsay and I were pretty confused and slightly amazed by the revelation. If you like peanuts, I'd go for it. Other than that, not bad but nothing outstanding. I'd hedge its a pretty good deal. This would be a crazy bourbon to taste at cask strength. I wonder if the flavor follows through. EDIT: Yeah, it's only about $20. I'd drink it for $20.

Calisaya: This, too, had me confused. It's  an Italian bitter but it uses cinchona calisaya, a South American bark high in quinine. It gives the drink a very bitter edge that is smoothed out by a lot of sweetener and some orange. It's a peculiar beverage and I find myself wondering what I'd do with it. The recipes on their website are pretty fascinating and I'm wondering if they'll really work. Maybe I'll try to find a bottle to tinker with at some point.

Scorpion Mezcal: A lot of people weren't trying this because of a key reason: the fact there's a goddamn scorpion in the bottle. Which is a shame, really, because it's a pretty nice mezcal. A touch rough in the earlier expressions (I had the blanco / Silver and reposado) but it has that pleasant outdoor, woody smokiness coupled with a balancing saccharinity. Not sure how much the fact that there's a scorpion in the bottle boosts the MSRP but we'll see. At some point I'll track down some of the older expressions.

Pool: Dear Pool, let's have a chat. While I appreciate the fact that you're trying to break into a huge market of fruit flavored vodkas, I'd just like to point out that you probably shouldn't serve a cocktail eloquently called "Pee In The Pool" at an event where people are paying upwards of $75 to enter. Serve something that doesn't sound like you polled an elementary school for a cocktail name. Thanks, IWB.

nadaRed:  A triple distilled grain vodka with a mission. You buy their vodka. They donate 100% of their net profits to fight for freedom and personal rights in oppressive countries. While I like the idea and the fact that, from what I can see, they're doing it...their media needs to change. Firstly, I'm a stickler for spelling. So when the brochure spells triple as "tripple", I nearly blew a blood vessel the size of Oregon. Second, the stock photos in it were...not very convincing. Finally, the website has a map that declares "nadared", "partly red" and "red" countries. Frankly, McCarthyism didn't really work out too well for us, so I'd suggest rephrasing that whole section. But, all in all, the vodka is pretty good and it's a good cause so I give it a thumbs up.

Luna Sueno: 100% blue agave tequila. Comes in your standard three types: blanco, reposado, and anejo. Oddly enough, my favorite of the bunch was the blanco. The blanco was fresh and light with the perfect balance of agave and smoke. The reposado didn't have a whole lot of that caramel-like agave taste I like and the smoke was more aggressive. Lastly, I think the anejo was overoaked as the wood notes overpowered everything. So, if you're reaching for a bottle, I'd go for the blanco. It was nice.

Orange V Vodka: While I wasn't a huge fan of the Redemption, Dave's Orange V Vodka was really good. It wasn't super sweet. It wasn't fake orange. It tasted like someone injected vodka into a ripe Florida orange. Which, now that I think about it, is a really good idea. Someone's gonna get rich off that. It was a touch thick for me but other than that, a pleasingly fresh orange taste to it.

Vieux Carre: Sorry for the lack of the accent grave but I just can't find it. I'd really been looking forward to trying this absinthe. Produced by Philadelpha Distilling, it is one of the high quality artisan absinthes made now that the absinthe ban is over. The spirit itself clocks in at a hefty, heavy 120 proof (60%) it is not for the faint of heart. My cameraman enjoyed drinking it straight but he's absolutely crazy. Diluted, with sugar, it had a strong anise taste coupled with a delicious undertone of spearmint that really made the absinthe. I was under the impression that I didn't like anise but this absinthe made me change my mind. Buy it and drink it in vast quantities. They also had their Bluecoat Gin and Penn 1681 Vodka but I was pressed for time so I only went for the absinthe. Some other time, my sweets.

Ok, I think it's fair to say at this point you need a break almost as much as I did at the event. So, go grab a bite, maybe a quaff. Here's some soothing music:

Everything peachy? Are you sitting comfortably? Good, then we'll begin.

Chairman's Reserve Rum and Castries Cream: The rum wasn't too bad. It wasn't blowing me away though. Nutty and sweet, it was a decent sipping rum depending on the price. At this point my palate was kinda shot so I'd like to try it again. I kinda tried it after the Castries Cream and the absinthe so I'd imagine that I probably missed a lot. The Castries Cream (my photographer's favorite beverage of the entire expo) is a peanut cream liqueur that was, surprisingly, pretty damn good. Not cloyingly sweet, not overwhelmingly peanut-y, and not oddly viscous like the 1921 Tequila Creme. Not sure what I'd do with it, but I'd drink it. Maybe mix it with creme de cacao and call it done.

Denizen Rum: A clear rum with an interesting taste. It had your standard clear rum "sweet and slightly burning" taste but the aftertaste was papaya, mango, melon, and mint. The craziest part? It's made in Amsterdam. Well, distilled in Trinidad/Tobago/Jamaica but blended in Amsterdam. Close enough. I'd buy it for mixing and maybe even sipping on the rocks. I'm seeing it at about $16 a 750ml which isn't too bad.

Jewel of Russia: This was actually an eye-opening thing for me. I'm normally not a vodka drinker per se but I do like trying vodka. I  don't reach for the vodka first but a good vodka tonic or the OCCASIONAL Kangaroo (that's a vodka martini) sits well with me. I almost approached this booth on pure whimsical fancy and I'm glad I did. They had the Classic, the Ultra, and the Berry but I only had time to try the Classic. Poured from the bottle, cold, it was...magical. It was silky smooth and extremely palatable. None of the harshness of some other vodkas. It was...actually delicious and extremely easy to drink. It was like a slightly tingly water. And that was just the Classic. I want to try the Ultra at some point. I would, surprisingly, recommend the shit out of this. As a matter of fact, I believe I will. It was good.

Vermont Spirits: You know my opinion on the Vermont stuff. It's excellent. Lindsay and my photographer tried the White and loved it. Just buy it already, will you?

Berkshire Mountain Distillers: Another semi-local distillery that I've shamefully never tried the product of. And by shamefully, I mean it burns like the fiery power of a thousand suns. I tried their Ragged Mountain Rum which was really, really good. Very heavy on the butterscotch and Christmas spice, even though it wasn't spiced. I'm going to investigate this brand more in the future. Stay tuned.

Harvest Spirits: Yeah! Harvest Spirits was there. They had their applejack (review forthcoming, it needs its own page), their Core Vodka, and some brandies. Collin was there and we chatted. He said there's some pretty interesting things coming down the pipeline for the Harvest Spirits line (hint: a special applejack that I will greedily chug like a pig) among other things. The other guy at the stand whipped up probably the best damn cocktail I've ever had. It was their Core vodka, some honey, some lemon juice, and some blueberries. It was so good I want it put in an IV bag and mainlined into my aorta. I want to replace my blood with it. That. Good.

Tuthilltown: It's Tuthilltown. Do I really need to put up a review of Tuthilltown. Actually, I tried their Single Malt and, sadly, wasn't impressed. It tasted kinda...musty. I'll try it again because these reviews go in chronological order so, in case you've been keeping track, my tongue was looking like a Steakum at this point.

*deep breath*

There it is, a full report of the Indy Spirits Expo. It was really, really fun despite the absolute monster of a headache I got on the train ride home. I credit this to mixing flavored vodkas, mezcal, tequila, absinthe, gin, and whiskey in a veritable melting pot of cortex searing potency. I'd just like to thank everyone at the show for the coming out and pouring generous portions of their product. I'd like to thank Dave Schmier for the tickets and the utter bemusement that I was, indeed, wearing pants. I'd like to thank Lindsay for putting up with me for 3 hours. And finally, I'd like to thank the MTA for having such shitty trains.

Seriously, a train made by Bombadier? They make snowmobiles. And not very well, I might add.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Drew Estate Dirty Rat - Monday, June 21st

Awhile back during my Stoli and Stogies post I mentioned that I got my hands on a certain cigar of ill repute. A filthy little bastard. The Dirty Rat. They came in the pack of cigars we got for signing up. I refrained from smoking it because I really wanted to review it. It was a damn special cigar and I didn't want to just hoark it down after smoking a few other cigars. I wanted to do it on a relatively clear palate. And I got my chance.

On Friday, I spent about 8 hours shooting the shit with the crew at Uptown Cigars and the man of the hour: Marvin Samel. I had met him before, from a distance, at the Stoli and Stogies dinner and he graciously agreed to take a picture with me. At this event, it was quite a bit more special. We ended up smoking and chatting for a little over an hour (with breaks in between to say hello or goodbye to people). Marvin is a fascinating man and hearing him tell the story of founding Drew Estates is nothing less than magical. We sat around telling the stories of our first cigars, of our childhood (Marvin had some damn funny stories about that) and about life in general. He could weave a story, let me tell you. He even dispensed some valuable wisdom and sage advice to me as well.

Being the idiot that I am, the entire time I was smoking cigars not of the Drew Estate lineup. The entire time we were chatting, I smoked an Illusione and a Nestor Miranda 1989. He mentioned this and I blushed. It was true. What the hell was I waiting for? One of the consensuses we reached was that life is short; enjoy it while you can. So, in a bout of crystal clear insight, I decided to burn down the Dirty Rat. And it was worth it.

I don't have any pictures because I'm dumb and forgot to bring my camera. Don't worry about the Indy Spirits Expo on Wednesday, I'll have a cameraman with me. Anyway, here are the notes:

Prelight draw: The prelight draw was oddly...not very interesting. It was pretty much just clean tobacco with a touch of that fresh, well aged tobacco sweetness to it.

First quarter: A clip of the Xikar and a hit from the lighter and it was off and running. The burn on this thing was flawless. It burned even and slow which made sense for the density of this thing. It was like a miniature neutron star.The taste was excellent too. It had a dry spice to it of white pepper and light chili. Baker's chocolate came through, along with a pleasant grassy taste. The barnyard smell and taste that everyone talks about came out of it too. And, for the first time, a cigar had a taste of wildflower honey. That was pretty impressive.

Half-way: It had evolved at this point. The chocolate faded some while very heavy leather overtones started to weave in. A nutty taste came out, maybe a peanut or almond. The white pepper taste was still present but had faded in its intensity. It was more of a background note at this point.

Third quarter: The chocolate came back in full force but this time it was a milk chocolate. The nuttiness intensified some, making it almost like smoking a nutty buddy bar at some portions. The peppery taste had almost faded completely except for a few instances where it flitted in and out.

To say I nubbed this cigar would be a lie. Nubbing means that at some point you put it down. I picked the tiny stub of a cigar out of the ashtray at least twice, not wanting to let it go. It was FANTASTIC. Whether or not it gets a release, Marvin wasn't sure. The problem with the Dirty Rat is the fact that it's a corona. If you don't know, the Dirty Rat is a cigar made by Drew Estate that isn't technically commercially released for sale. It's handed out at events and such for people to smoke but it's too expensive for them to fully produce. As Marvin explained it, the Dirty Rat is the Liga Privada line condensed into a corona. Most cigars have two, maybe three types of filler leaf. The Liga Privada (and, subsequently, the Dirty Rat) contain five kinds. However, while it's easy to put five types of filler into, say, a robusto (No. 9) or perfecto (Flying Pig) ...cramming five different kinds of filler into a corona is damn near impossible. It is extremely expensive to do (it requires an extra person to sit there with scissors and cut the leaf) and extremely hard to make (it's a tiny damn cigar, you can't have meaty mitts like I do to roll those things), so they're not sure if they can get it to work out.

I sincerely hope they do. It's amazing. I just want to thank Marvin for hanging out and chatting with me. It was a unique experience to talk with someone so keen and interested in his customers.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Indy Spirits Expo: Contest!

The same people (person, actually) that brought you tickets to the Micro Spirits Odyssey at the Manhattan Cocktail classic have struck again. I would be lying through the teeth if I didn't say that Dave (name behind Orange V and Redemption Rye) isn't a great guy. A pleasure to chat with (he knows his stuff), polite, knowledgable, and generous. EXTREMELY GENEROUS.

In his generosity, he has offered two tickets to the Indy Spirits Expo next week for my readers. He' can I put this...kind of a great guy. There are two great things about this opportunity:

A) The tickets. They are free. Everyone loves free.
B) I will be there. I will shake your hand.

That's right. Ever want to meet my portly, drunken ass? Well here's your chance. Here are the specifics:

What: Indy Spirits Expo
When: Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010. Since he has graciously offered up VIP tickets, the time is from 5:00pm until 9:00pm.
Where: Touch NY (240 W. 52nd Street, New York NY)
Why: Gettin' crunk. Tryin' new, microdistilled spirits. Also, Dave Pickerell (former Maker's Mark distiller) will be there with his Whistlepig Rye. That's a reason in and of itself.

How to win these delicious, succulent tickets: In the comments section on this very post, tell me your best drinking story. The one that you'll never forget (or alternatively, the one you forgot and was regaled second hand the next day). I'll post this on my Twitter. If you don't feel like logging in to post and just feel like posting anonymously, leave some sort of email or contact (Twitter page, somethin') so I can get a hold of you. Contest ends Friday at 9am which is before I leave for a special event at Uptown that you'll see coverage of on Saturday. So, yeah. Want to drink with me? Shoot the shit with me? Ridicule my failing liver and overinflated sense of grandeur in a semi-professional setting (with libations)? Then enter to win.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Celestial Seasoning's Sweet Lemon Iced Tea (K-Cup)

My coffee is brewed by the Keurig system. I'm not ashamed to say it and neither should you. The Keurig system really is an excellent system for coffee and makes a nice cup. From the sounds it makes when it heats and brews, it is more than likely a vacuum system that allows the water to boil efficiently and quickly. The cups themselves are decent coffee types (Green Mountain being the pinnacle) of a variety of roasts, all sealed in self-contained filtration units in a non-oxygenated environment (I'm guessing a CO2 or maybe even an inert gas to protect the coffee). Suffice to say, I'm perfectly happy of having my daily cup from a Keurig machine as opposed to the Black and Decker Shithouse Supreme 6000 my dad uses. The key here is really the operating temperature. For the Keurig, it's about 192 while the Black and Decker's temperature is about absolute Kelvin. Since the temp. for coffee is 200...the coffee from that Black and Decker tastes like...well...antifreeze run through a hobo's underwear.

That's an assumption folks. Don't read into it.

The Keurig offers a lot of other choices for the K-Cups as well. Not suffice to stop at coffee, they have chai, hot cocoa and, strangely enough, tea K-Cups. I like tea. The main company that produces the T-Cups is Celestial Seasonings and, frankly, their tea ain't bad. They even offered an "iced tea" cup: a prepacked black tea, EVAPORATED CANE JUICE, and lemon K-Cup that you brew over ice. A pre-packaged iced tea mix that doesn't use high-fructose corn sugar? Nom. Here's a picture of the little bastard:

You can see the finished product on the right.
 Unfortunately, it is far more satisfying in thought than in application. To be was pretty goddamn gross. For being "sweet lemon" it wasn't sweet but rather super bitter and tannic. The flavor of the tea was flat and actually rather gross. The hibiscus they added didn't help things either. Curiosity got the best of me and I opened up the container.


Nom nom!
Yech. Obviously the finest quality floor sweepings from the CTC machines in India are used in this cup. The flavor is definitely an Indian tea, probably a cheap Darjeeling although it was difficult to tell over how absolutely cripplingly bitter it tasted. And it wasn't like I screwed up the directions either. The Keurig I have has two settings that produce two different volumes of liquid: 6 oz. and 9 oz. I used the 9 oz. and it was almost as bitter as Bill Hicks (but Hicks is significantly more tolerable). They suggest using the 6 oz. setting but that's approaching Hillary Clinton levels of bitter and look at how that turned out. Gonna have to give these cups a significant pass.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Uptown Cigar - Friday, June 4th

Gather, one and all. Pull up a comfy chair, grab a healthy pour of your favorite beverage, and light up a cigar. Especially light up a cigar. If a pipe is more your thing, go for that. Hell, any tobacco; light it up. Folks, here's a story about Uptown Cigar.

I first started smoking cigars a month after my 18th birthday. I discuss what I had when I first smoked in my "About Me" section but I never discuss HOW I got it. My first cigar, an Arturo Fuente Hemingway Signature, came from a smoke shop in Rhinebeck, NY (now under new ownership, thankfully). It was a cold December day and I decided to pick up a cigar to celebrate getting into Cornell. If you've been paying attention to my constant complaints about my college, you know that I was...slightly wrong in assuming that I'd get in early decision to Cornell. But it was a big deal for me. I went into the cigar store at about 6:30 pm. It was empty save for the staff: a early to mid-40s woman (that clearly knew nothing about cigars and didn't care to learn) and a 6 year old, dutifully watching the security camera in the humidor. Yeah, stellar management. I enter the humidor and I begin looking. I had picked out the Hemingway Signature online and had hoped they'd have it. Being a budding engineer, I researched heavily beforehand, checking cigar forums and websites for a good cigar. I wasn't gonna screw it up on the first go with some gas station dog turd. I was throwing all the chips on the table. I find the Signature and I realize how much it is. It's pretty expensive, so I begin to dig through my pockets to see how much exactly I brought with me. Then it happened.

The way the store is set up, the back of the humidor actually makes up the fourth wall in a small room in the back of the store where the security camera and office is kept. As I'm rifling through my pockets, I hear the little girl exclaim to the older woman "He's stealing something!" My face blanched. I hear the woman get up, her two-inch heels clacking on the worn wooden floor. She bursts into the room and begins yelling at me, saying I'm a damn dirty thief. I quickly stammer out that I was just checking my pockets for my cash. She tells me, not kindly, to turn my pockets inside out. I comply. Barely satisfied, she tells me I should pay and then get out. I buy the cigar and the cutter, and leave.

What a bitch.

It was because of this that I was gunshy to buy another cigar. Were they all grumpy, middle-aged, trussed up trollops running a store they couldn't give a shit about? Or did it get worse? I smoked that cigar and fell in love. Shortly thereafter, I realized that, somehow, I'd have to buy another cigar.

Enter Uptown Cigar. I found it online (by their website almost 6 years ago. I went into the store expecting the worst. I came out knowing the best. As soon as the door opened, I was greeted warmly. I was like a long-lost friend. They asked for my ID before I went into the humidor but they were polite. They knew it was as much of a hassle for them as for me. Most places demand you indignantly to hand it over like you're perpetually trying to put one over on 'em. They let me into the humidor which was spacious...and PACKED. I kinda wandered around lost until one of the clerks came in. They asked if I needed help. I nodded. They proceeded to ask me specific questions about my tastes, what I liked, what I didn't like. My next cigar was another Fuente, a Cuban Corona. I went to the counter and paid. They asked if I'd like matches or if I wanted it cut. They invited me to stay and smoke. Perhaps a cup of coffee? Feel free to sit anywhere. The TV's on; football season is pretty exciting this year. It was fuckin' magical. They cared. To them, tobacco wasn't just a business. At the end of the day, it wasn't profit margins. It wasn't selling cigars, it was making sure the customer left with a smile on their face. Ever since, I've gone nowhere else. That's how enamored I am.

I've seen people come and go from Uptown. I've seen price changes (more on this later). But I never, ever thought that I'd see them close. It hurts me to say that I have to watch Uptown sell everything inside, dim the lights, and lock the door forever. My second home, my oasis of good conversation and a fine cigar, has gone up in proverbial smoke. But why, you may be asking?

At this point in time I'd like to extend a personal thanks to Governor David Paterson. Without him, hard working, regular Joes would have jobs and, in turn, would be supporting the local economy. Without his astute observations and brilliant political maneuvers, Uptown Cigar would be able to remain in New York and everyone knows how wrong it is for a 14 year old business to remain open where it first started. 14 years is clearly too long for a business to run. It's prestige and years of experience are preventing new businesses (for him to tax) from entering into the market. It's so blatantly monopolistic that I feel Governor David Paterson should perhaps start a monopoly case against Uptown Cigar. He would be heralded as a genius and probably be given the title "King of the World". 

I'm glad to see NY really putting their noses to the grindstone to patch up our huge deficit. With brilliant ideas such as cutting school aid, cutting Medicare, and granting a "penalty amnesty" against monetary penalties for large tax liabilities, he's sure on the right track. I'm also glad to see that Gov. Paterson clearly has read his history. Tobacco was the cash crop that saved the early Jamestown settlement from starvation and poverty. Good to see that he's still relying on it as a cash crop, only in this instance he's selling it back to the people of Jamestown and charging 146% of market price (or, soon enough, 190%). Someone get this man a Nobel Prize.

So, in conclusion, I'd just like to thank Governor Paterson for shattering my world and the worlds of many others that frequent and converge at Uptown Cigar. Because, let's be honest:

Paterson doesn't give a shit if Denise, Dennis, Zoe, Isy, and Michelle have jobs in NY. He just loves rolling around in money and destroying an industry for an entire state. Thanks, chief.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Obubu Tea: The Great Genmaicha Giveway

Being of Scottish and Irish blood, I completely respect and enjoy attempts at being frugal. My favorite dishes thus far usually involve some sort of meat that no self-respecting person would willingly choose. As a matter of fact, no self-respecting person would be able to eat it with no less than three tons of TNT and a belt sander. I'm a huge fan of braised meats, hearty stews, and lots and lots of offal. Haggis? Yes please. Tripe soup? Lay it on me. Shitty cuts of meat stewed and basted with broth until they turn into an unctuous mass of deliciously fragrant and soft meat? If you give me a serving of root vegetables with that I may die.

I also respect the need for frugality in beverages. Genmaicha is a personal favorite of mine. Genmaicha is a Japanese bancha (a cheap version of sencha), coupled with toasted rice. The theory behind the rice is, back in the old days, tea was...well...expensive as hell. What little people could afford had to be stretched as far as possible. By adding toasted rice, it imparts not just a deliciously nutty beverage but a deliciously nutty beverage that you can enjoy for a lot longer than just plain bancha. See? Frugality in beverages. Nice.

Obubu Tea has launched their 2010 Great Genmaicha Giveway, in which they will be giving away 3.5 oz. bags of genmaicha, direct from Japan, to 15 people each month this summer (June to August). I wholeheartedly recommend signing up. Their sencha is pretty damn stellar and their kukicha is delicious as well. They really care about tea and, unlike so many tea places these days, they're not just a company selling tea from the same damn supplier that everyone else has. Trust me, I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't have faith in the company. I don't endorse what I don't like. I have integrity. Dignity...not so much. I won't lie, when I first typed out 'dignity', I spelled it wrong. But integrity, yes.

To enter into the running, either join their Twitter page, their Facebook page, or sign up for their email newsletter. That's all. Fifteen lucky bastards a month will get a sweet sweet dose of frugality straight to their mailbox. Mmmm, toasted poverty.

EDIT: Sorry, their genmaicha is good. Not kukicha. That's what I was drinking while writing this. Whoops.