Saturday, September 29, 2007

Cubs v. Indians?

Coming home last night after dinner with a friend, we noticed four or five helicopters flying and hovering nearby. We speculated that it might be something for the new Batman movie, which has been filming here all summer. Instead, it was the TV stations getting shots of the crowd gathering in front of Wrigley Field to celebrate the Cubs National League Central Division Championship. All of the local stations alternated between scenes of the celebration at Wrigley and the champagne showers in the Cubs locker room in Cincinnati. Today, the Cubs announced they’re holding a rally on Monday in Grant Park.

A rally? My first reaction was that these celebrations are all terribly premature, but maybe not.

With 85 wins, ten fewer than the Indians and Red Sox, the Cubs have the worst record of the eight playoff teams. If the Cubs hadn’t won the division, they would have been fourth in the National League Wild Card hunt. Of the eight playoff teams, the worst team in the American League has a better record than the best team in the National League.

So, the Cubs are the eighth best team in baseball. Not even, by record, but they did win their division.

Celebrate while you can.

I have lived in the shadow of Wrigley Field for twenty years, but I was born and raised a Cleveland Indians fan. I believe baseball fans are born, not made. I also believe that if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with, hence I am a Cubs rooter.

I don't think the Cubs chances are very good, but anything can happen in the playoffs. Therefore, I think I need to declare now.

Go Tribe!!!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Dems at Dartmouth

Biden, Dodd and Richardson -- babbling idiots. The sports term is "pressing." The theatrical term is flop sweat. Biden and Dodd have moments of lucidity; Richardson has none. Way out of his depth. Couldn't even think up his own Bible verse, had to copy off Obama.

Biden -- 300,000 cases of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome a year. Seemed high to me. That would be like 1 in 13 births. I looked it up. The real number is, outside estimate, 80,000 (1.9%, Abel and Sokol study).

Biden -- first to say, "torture doesn't work" in response to the trick torture question. Obama missed the chance. "Torture bad" not as good an answer.

Kucinich -- funny, knows his voters. How great would it be to have Dennis Kucinich and his hot wife in the White House? What are all of those little books he has in his pocket? A tiny constitution? A St. Francis prayer card? "Strength through peace"(?) What else? Energy through kindness? Equality through faith? Freedom through hope? How naïve are his voters?

Gravel -- "Get off gas in 5 years, off carbon in 10." "Hey you kids, get off my lawn."

Obama -- smooth.

Clinton -- smoother.

Edwards -- also pressing. Apparently trying to get to the left of Kucinich on Iraq(!) Making no impression on me except as a potentially dangerous populist demagogue.

Oktoberfest

My people are from the part of Germany where you can't possibly drink more beer in October than you do every day of the year, so we don't see the point of Oktoberfest.

If I never see an old man in lederhosen again, it will be too soon.

People at Oktoberfest drink like they have either just that day discovered beer or have just learnt it's about to be discontinued.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Frank Lloyd Wright and the Rookery


In 1885, Burnham and Root designed a building for the Central Safety and Deposit Company. At twelve stories high, the Rookery was the tallest building in the world. It remains as one of the most beloved buildings in Chicago's Loop.

The grand lobby space was remodeled by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1905 and has recently been restored to the splendor of Wright's 1905 design.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the maintenance and preservation of the remaining structures designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, through education and advocacy.

You can visit them at www.savewright.org

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage Is Exciting Again.

On Saturday, October 13, Heaven Hill is unveiling its Evan Williams Single Barrel 1998 Vintage at the J. B. Speed Art Museum in Louisville. I don’t know when they announced it but I hear it’s already sold out. The ad on the web site says, "Meet Master Distillers Parker & Craig Beam and noted Bourbon experts." I’m pretty sure I’m one of the noted Bourbon experts.

Heaven Hill does something like this every year. Good for them and that's what’s so great about the vintage concept; each annual release is 'news.' True as that is, it's hard for me to get all worked up about it every year. It's always good whiskey, it's always interesting to compare it to previous releases, but let's just say it's not up there with Christmas.

This year is different. I'm really looking forward to this one, and the one after that, and the one after that, for the next few years. Why? Because Heaven Hill's distillery in Bardstown (DSP-31) was destroyed in a fire in 1996. They don't like to talk about it but I do, because it's bourbon history in the making.

EWSB always has a barrel entry date on the label. Anything entered after November of 1996 isn't DSP-31 bourbon. Some of the 1996 and all of the 1997 is whiskey made at Jim Beam to Heaven Hill's specifications and supervised by Parker and Craig Beam (P&C). Subsequently, Brown-Forman also made whiskey for them, supervised by P&C, etc. Sometime in 1999 they began producing in their new home, the Bernheim facility in Louisville, but it took maybe another year or more before P&C got the operation there the way they wanted it. Because Heaven Hill needs more whiskey than Bernheim alone can produce, they have continued to use Brown-Forman’s plant in Shively too, so who knows where the next EWSB was made. That's why these next few years of EWSB will be so interesting. They will be the only legacy of the '96 fire that you can taste and take home with you.

What we're going to see or, rather, taste is a transition. Heaven Hill has pretty much committed to making EWSB represent the best single-barrel whiskey they can produce in nine years. Each year the pool changes but the criteria doesn’t. You expected them to clear the bar every year at DSP-31 after they got this thing going. With DSP-31 out of the picture and not one but possibly three different distilleries in the mix, it starts to get interesting again.

There seems to be nothing to be concerned about, as the 1997 is good and perhaps superior to some of the last DSP-31 vintages (though '94 is still the one to beat). I'm looking forward to tasting the new one next month, much more so than I have looked forward to it in years. Heaven Hill was good about telling us that the 1997 was made at Beam and I expect they will be equally forthcoming about this and subsequent vintages.

I’ll let you know what I think after October 13.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Blending; The Scottish Influence

Among we fans of American whiskey, ‘blend’ is a bad word, connoting both the ‘imitation’ whiskeys of the past and the unedifying American Blended Whiskeys of the present day.

Even in Scotland, where the art of whiskey blending began, today it gets no respect. Real whiskey enthusiasts don't care about Johnnie Walker, regardless of label color. It's all about single malts.

But as my friend Gary Gillman often reminds me, blending gives us an unlimited variety of flavors, some of which are wonderful and can be achieved no other way. As his fellow Canadian Sam Bronfman once said, "distilling is a science, blending is an art."

What I have realized just recently is how influential Scottish blending techniques have been, especially in some unexpected places, especially the practice of combining very flavorful pot-distilled spirit with more neutral column-distilled spirit. This is, of course, the way Scottish, Canadian and Japanese whiskey blends are made, but as I recently learned it also is the way fine rums are blended in the former British colony of Jamaica by Appleton Estate. Different varieties of sugar cane are processed, their molasses separated from their pure sugar content, then the molasses is fermented, distilled in either a pot or column still, and aged in used Jack Daniel's barrels. These different, aged rums are then blended to a desired taste profile, exactly the way Scottish whiskey blends are made, except with rum.

In the United States, where we value straight whiskey above all else, and where pot stills are usually used only for secondary distillation, there are still some parallels. Four Roses makes ten different bourbon formulas by combining five different yeasts with two different mash bills. Everything is aged in new, charred barrels; i.e., everything is straight bourbon. Still, they have ten different taste profiles, more if you factor in different ages, which they combine (i.e., blend) into an ideal final product.

Most American whiskey-makers do something similar, though less ambitious. They make only one formula but they achieve different flavors through the natural process of aging, both through time and warehouse location. They then select and mix (i.e., blend) whiskeys of different ages and from different warehouse locations until they match their brand’s taste profile. The only exceptions are bottled-in-bond bourbons, which are increasingly rare, and single-barrel bourbons, which are increasingly common.

By American law, any combination of straight whiskeys of the same type, made in the same state (why this is important I can’t explain), is still a straight whiskey of that type. Therefore, a mixture of different straight bourbons, even made at different distilleries, is still straight bourbon. Which brings us naturally to Woodford Reserve.

Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select is even closer to the Scottish model, in that it combines pot-distilled straight bourbon with column-distilled straight bourbon and mixes (i.e., blends) them in much the same way as Appleton blends rum. It's no accident that Brown-Forman, whose controlling Brown family is proud of its Scottish ancestry, makes both Woodford Reserve Bourbon and Appleton Rum.

Finally, I learned recently that Brown-Forman founder George Garvin Brown, creator of Old Forester, which was originally (in 1870) a blend of straight bourbons from different distilleries, opposed the part of the Bottled-in-Bond Act that requires bonded whiskey to be from one distillery during a single season. He valued the ability to mix whiskey of different ages and from several distilleries together to achieve the best possible flavor. Old Forester Signature is 100° proof, the traditional proof of American straight whiskey, but it is not bottled-in-bond, as whiskeys of different ages are combined (i.e., blended) to achieve the desired taste profile. Taking this principle even further, Brown-Forman uses different taste profiles (i.e., blends) for its Signature and standard 86° proof expressions. Most whiskeys sold at different proofs are the same profile diluted to different strengths.

As E. H. Taylor said a century ago and in support of the Bottled-in-Bond Act, where American blended whiskey went off the track was by emphasizing cheapness. Though some of the worst practices of that era were eliminated, the typical American blended whiskey today combines a little bit of straight whiskey (about 40 percent) with a lot of grain spirit (about 60 percent). Grain spirit is vodka that has spent a few months in used bourbon barrels, to take the edge off. American blends also have flavoring and coloring agents added, which straight whiskey never does.

Considering the current size of the American whiskey industry—seven companies operating eleven distilleries—blending good straight whiskeys is a way to achieve a greater variety of flavors. Maybe the word ‘blend’ has been debased but the practice shouldn’t be. Blending may also be a way for craft distillers, still struggling with how to make a legitimate ‘craft’ American whiskey, to get into the game, by combining their aged distillate with good bulk whiskey from one of the majors.

We should all keep a open mind.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Elvira Arellano vs. Rosa Parks.

It strikes me as I have gone back and re-read my post about Elvira Arellano that it sounds less sympathetic than what I actually feel. I feel badly for her and I feel guilty, as an American, because it is primarily the U.S. government's failure to enact and enforce a rational immigration policy that is the cause of both her anguish and America's undocumented immigrant problem.

I also should probably explain why I find preposterous the claim that she is "the Rosa Parks of the immigration rights movement." If the comparison merely means that both are the personification of their movement, then although the jury is still out on Arellano, I'll say okay, maybe, but so what? I believe they want it to mean more than that. They are trying to borrow some of Ms. Parks' aura of righteousness, and that is the part that falls somewhere between preposterous and offensive. Rosa Parks stood for the proposition that an oppressed people should not be complicit in their own oppression, regardless of the risk. What does Elvira Arellano stand for? Put kindly, perhaps for the proposition that if you want something badly enough you can convince yourself that you are entitled to it.

Maybe Arellano's supporters are guilty of nothing worse than the modern tendency to overstate just about everything, the subject of one of my first blog posts.

Big News Day!

Craig files to withdraw his guilty plea, claiming that in a "state of intense anxiety" following his arrest, he "felt compelled to grasp the lifeline offered to him by the police officer" and plead guilty to the disorderly conduct charge. This is an improvement? "I'm not a closeted homosexual, but I am an emotional basket case who breaks down under the slightest pressure and, in that state, can be railroaded into doing irrational things that are manifestly contrary to my own self-interest." Yeah, that's what I look for in a public official.

Plus, General Petraeus is on the Hill ("I believe that we will be able to reduce our forces to the pre-surge level ... by next summer without jeopardizing the security gains we have fought so hard to achieve." What a gift for the Democrats!), the Family Secrets verdict is coming in ("We're not gangsters, we were just pretending to be gangsters."), implanted microchips cause cancer (No, really?), and Ronald Regan's first wife has joined him in, well, take your pick.

What a day! (And it's barely half over.)