...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The George Herman Hitchcock project, Chapter 3B: Champagne


Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2A  and  2B

Chapter 3A

continuing from Chapter 3A...

Juno and the Paycock (1930)

The less said about this film the better, but I'm going to say it anyway.

"For the love of Christ, don't watch our film."
Anyone Anything could have directed this movie.  The mildew growing in your shower grout.  Governor Rick Perry's cowboy boots.  A jar of pickled radishes.  An empty shoe box.  A broken headlight.  The only reason I know that Hitchcock directed it is because he said he did.  More on that in a moment.

It's a statically filmed Sean O'Casey play, full of barely directed actors chewing through repetitive dialogue while employing broad Irish accents to portray broader Irish stereotypes.  I think it was supposed to be a combination of comedy and tragedy, but I cringed at the "comedy", laughed at the "tragedy", and fell asleep twice in the middle.

I kept wishing that I had a liter of the rotten potcheen the characters drank, but I would have been better off reading a whiskey label for eighty-five minutes than watching this.  The DVD transfer continually chopped off the actors' heads, which became kind of interesting.  So I pretended that their shoes were delivering the terrible performances.

Ostensibly the story's about a poor Dublin family living in the slums while the Irish Civil War rages around them.  The husband is a drunken, bloviating, layabout.  The wife complains about his inebriated slothly bloviations.  The daughter shames the family by getting knocked up outside of wedlock.  The one-armed son rats on the IRA and gets murdered for it.  There's an A-hole friend.  An A-hole bartender. And a bunch of other A-holes.

I have no doubt the play itself was of interest, but the film is not.  What's most frustrating is that Hitch was just coming off of Blackmail, his most solid film yet, and then turns in this unimaginative lazy turd.

In Hitchcock's own words:
"The film got very good notices, but I was actually ashamed, because it had nothing to do with cinema. The critics praised the picture, and I had the feeling I was dishonest, that I had stolen something." (Truffaut 69)
So what we're trying to say is that it's a fabulous film.

Murder! (1930)


Herbert Marshall!


A bit of Hitchcock trivia:  Brandy makes an appearance in every single one of his films.  I don't know why.  She wasn't that good in "Moesha".


"Listen very carefully to the sound of my handsome."
(pic Source)
There's a murder amongst a theatrical acting group.  One of the actresses is convicted by a jury and receives a death sentence.  One of the jurymen, also an actor, has second thoughts after the sentencing and leads his own investigation to get to the truth before the woman is hanged.

Yes, there are considerable logic issues with the story.  But Hitchcock and company have such a great time toying with reality, theatre, and theatre-reality that I wouldn't doubt some of the hiccups are part of the fun.  Also to be considered, Hitch's previous film was a labored (to be polite) adaptation of a theatrical piece, while this film plays with themes that surround The Theatre itself.

Plus, unlike Juno and the Paycock, the camera keeps moving and the quicker editing is tight.  Hitch even shows off a bit in one scene, dollying between two rooms, back and forth a half dozen times in one conversation, only to have all of that action dismissed by the other characters.

Some more good stuff:
-- Herbert Marshall, acting!
-- The jury: 12 Angry Men?  No, 12 Foolish People.
-- Death sentence handed down offscreen while the janitor cleans up the jury room.
-- Shadow of the gallows rising to mark time.
-- An impressively gruesome suicide.
-- A lisping transvestite mixed-racial acrobat.

And if you can catch it on Netflix (Quickster, R.I.P.) Watch Instantly, you'll get treated to two versions of the ending.

Though not at the same level as Blackmail, Murder! is an enjoyable film, especially if you like The Theatre.  Makes one look forward to the next films on Sir Alfred's slate.

Spoto, Donald. The Art Of Alfred Hitchcock. Anchor Books, New York. 1992.
Truffaut, Francois. Hitchcock. Simon & Schuster, Paris. 1984.


Ruth's pitching prowess continued in 1917, as did his relative dearth of hitting.  He led the AL in complete games by a considerable distance.  He finished 35 out of his 38 starts, a 92.1% rate, 5th best in the history of the AL up to that point.  He finished 2nd in wins, 2nd in innings, 3rd in opponent BA, 4th in WAR, but led lefties in every major pitching category.

He allowed only 2 home runs, but he hit only two home runs, again.  He led all pitchers in hits, singles, home runs, BA, OBP, SLG, and runs created but not by his previously impressive measures.  He was only brought in to pinch hit eleven times.

Boston did not make the World Series, finishing far behind the White Sox in the American League.  Their pitching continued to be the best in the league, but their hitting was amongst the weakest.  Management was sitting on a offensive gold mine, something they would begin to exploit in 1918, but only after switching managers and losing a considerable chunk of the lineup to the WWI draft.  But in 1917, the team struggled.  Ruth grew increasingly moody, picking fights in the clubhouse and on the field.  This culminated in a famous/infamous game on June 23rd.

Ruth walked the first batter on four pitches, arguing each call by umpire Brick Owens.  As the batter walked to first, Ruth cussed Owens out from the mound.  Owens threatened to toss Ruth from the game.  G.H. Ruth then declared that if he were to be tossed, he'd punch Owens in the face.  Owens made good on his threat.  The Big Bam made good on his.  He charged Owens, knocked over his catcher, and punched the umpire in the head.  Ruth was suspended and fined for his actions.  Meanwhile, Ernie Shore came in to replace Ruth.  The runner on first was caught stealing and Shore retired every single batter that came to the plate.  A perfect game.  With an asterisk.

1918 was to be much different, as mentioned above.  A new lineup.  A new manager.  No umpire punching.  A restless Ruth was going to get to bat, but first he had to prove his worth, next in Chapter 4: The 39 Steps.

Creamer, Robert. Babe: The Legend Comes to Life. Simon & Schuster, New York. 1974.
Jenkinson, Bill. Baseball's Ultimate Power: Ranking the All-Time Greatest Distance Home Run Hitters. Lyons Press. 2010.
Jenkinson, Bill. The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs: Recrowning Baseball's Greatest Slugger. Carrol & Graf. 2007.
Montville, Leigh. The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth. Broadway Books, New York. 2006.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Single Malt Report: Ardbeg 10 year

Distillery: Ardbeg
Age: 10 years
Maturation: bourbon barrels
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

There have been a lot of Islays showing up on the Report recently.  That was unintentional.  They're just what I've been exploring recently.  We'll take a break from this region for a bit in order to continue reporting on a broad range of whiskies.  But before that, here's a whisky that I tried this very week...

Ardbeg is one of Laphroaig's neighbors in southern Islay.  Like Laphroaig and Lagavulin, Arbeg's malts are known for being very peaty.  These distilleries use an exceptional amount of peat smoke to dry out the malting barley at the beginning of the process.  All that smoke from a particularly intense salty peat influences the flavor of the final product.

Ardbeg is an older distillery, having started up in 1794.  They ran for almost 200 years before closing up in 1991.  In 1997 Glenmorangie purchased them, poured millions of dollars/euros/pounds into reviving the place, and have since reaped the rewards.

Ardbeg is well known for their peaty malts, often competing with other producers to create the peatiest whisky in existence.  They like to advertise the fact that their kiln and mill are amongst the oldest working kilns and mills in the world.  It helps create the PR image that their single malts are of the old school variety.

I wasn't sure how or when I'd ever get a chance to try an Ardbeg.  In the US, they're often overshadowed by those two South Islay big brothers.  But in the midst of my fantastic Sunday Night I discovered that the great little Piano Bar had Ardbeg 10 amongst its impressive selection.

The bartender started pouring it neat, looked at the green bottle, declared that it was about empty, then poured the remainder into my glass.  Never a bad thing.  It was priced reasonably too, considering Hollywood Bar prices nowadays.

The bar was dark, but using a white light background from my cellphone, I was able to somewhat eyeball the malt's color -- straw, as in hay straw.  This is fascinating because I caught some straw/hay in the nose, hidden behind some nice cream and sugar.  The elephant in the room, of course, is the peat smoke......which actually was mellower than Laphroaig's.  Or maybe I'm building up a tolerance.  It was there, but not punishing.  The ladies I was with thought it was strong, so there's that to consider.  The body/texture was oily.  The actual palate was mellow peat smoke, cereal, grass, and the straw again.  It finished calmly with light pepper.

Then I hit it with a little water; approximately 2 teaspoons.  I figured it could take it.  It was 46% ABV and it was Ardbeg's first unchillfiltered release.  It didn't cloud, but I could see the oils swimming around.  The peat smoke remained in the nose along with considerable fruit sugar and swimming pool.  Yeah, sense memories of swimming pools in Upstate New York.  The palate was all mellow peat smoke and oak.

And curiously, the finish was better -- more pepper and some bitterness.  With two teaspoons of water the finish went from early Mark Twain to late Mark Twain.

Because it sat in one of those wide-mouthed rocks glasses, it was difficult to glean anything more from the ten-year-old.  But I liked it.  I'll bet it would be great with a cigar.  Now I'm torn between the three big southern Islay producers.  I guess I'll have to give Lagavulin another try!

Pricing - Good at $40, Acceptable at $55
Rating - see note below

(NOTE: Second report and updated rating here.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Wednesday "What?"

Who’s got fleas?

We’ve got fleas.


That's messed up, right there.

By “we”, I mean our condo.  And by “our condo”, I mean our condo that has no pets and had no fleas two weeks ago.  I just emptied out an entire can of Zodiac Aerosol Spray on our carpets and upholstery.  I shut the front door behind me, yelling “Goodbye fleas! You’d better be f***ing dead when I get home!”  Please feel free to co-opt that dialogue for any of your future screen- or teleplays.  You’re welcome.

A flea spray accidental high has some pretty interesting side effects.  The world just got very loud and I keep seeing cops everywhere.  That ain’t right.

Oh.  I'm at Starbucks.  How’d I get here?

My brother is in town from the bEast Coast.  The fleas are seriously endangering the pizza-grilling and whisky-sharing that I'd scheduled.  See, nobody wins.

Someday our home is going to be AWESOME.


In blog maintenance news, I’ve made some minor tweaks to the ‘About Me’, ‘Whisky Notes’, and ‘Declaration of Principles’ pages.  The most important update is that the Whisk(e)y Reports have actual stars in their ratings now.  ★★★★★.  I am clearly an HTML god.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The George Herman Hitchcock project, Chapter 3A: Champagne


Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2A and 2B


It was an admirably busy time for Hitchcock.  He completed seven features and two short  films of varying genres, subject matter, and tone amongst the medium's most massive shift.  In the previous section, I'd covered The Farmer's Wife.  In this chapter I'll cover Champagne (light comedy), The Manxman (romantic melodrama), Blackmail (thriller), Juno and the Paycock (comedy/tragedy stage adaptation), and Murder! (a whodunit).  He also directed segments for the musicals Harmony Heaven and Elstree Calling.  AND he directed a German version of Murder! called Mary.  Sadly, these last three are unavailable for viewing.

He was wrapping up production on Blackmail when the producers came to him with the pitch to turn that silent film into Britain's very first sound feature.  So it was clear by that point, Hitch's previous films' financial successes were significant enough for the financiers to bank on him to deliver such a pivotal film.

Let's take these remaining features one by one:

Champagne (1928)

Hitchcock's next to last silent feature is a very light comedy.  Though Hitch dismisses it as "probably the lowest ebb in my output" (Truffaut 57), Champagne is much more relaxed than most of his earlier films.  Kind of goofy, a cheap sweet bubbly, a trifle that's aware of it's triviality.

A rich man is tired of his daughter's lavish partying lifestyle, so he decides to teach her a lesson and pretend that the family has lost all of their money in the stock market.  She's forced to get a job and be responsible to which she fails and succeeds at varying degrees until the ruse is revealed and she's a better person as a result.

That's the whole thing.  Not much actually happens, but some of the comedy is actually funny.  He has game actors (Betty Balfour, Jean Bradin, and Theo van Alten) whom are good with their close-ups.  The characters are all a bunch of shmoes, but they're clear and understandable enough to follow through the 85-minute runtime.  Balfour's character is much less of a coquette than any of the previous Hitchcock femmes, though she dreams up a surprise fantasy sequence wherein the bad guy physically overtakes her.

There are lovely bookend shots of champagne being emptied and action being seen through the bottom of the glass like so:
And though there's no sound, the bounty of silent dialogue spoken throughout the film shows some level of subconscious(?) yearning for audio on Hitchcock's part.  Either that or he got a little lazy with this one, which he'd almost admitted.

(On a side note, the crummy DVD had terribly matched random classical music running throughout the film.  It distracted because it never fit any of the action and overlapped scenes and shots.  "Bolero" worked really well when it randomly came up, but that's probably because Ravel's composition feels so cinematic.)

Ultimately, the movie is paper thin, but should not be completely written off as a waste of time.

The Manxman (1929)

On the other hand, there's The Manxman.  Hitch had nothing nice to say about this one either.  And neither do I.

In what the great Hitchcock expert Donald Spoto described as "this relentlessly unhappy melodrama" (Spoto 19), a love triangle forms between three friends on the Isle of Man: a sailor, a judge, and a gaspingly irresponsible coquette.  The Flirt's been hooking up with the sailor for some time, but because he's poor he's not allowed to marry her.  So he leaves, declaring that he'll return with great wealth.  She promises him that she'll wait for his return.  She then almost immediately starts shagging his best friend, the judge.  A letter arrives saying that the sailor died at sea.  She declares her undying love for the judge.  Then (for reasons unexplained) the letter turns out not to be true.  The sailor returns home a success.  He gets the coquette's hand in marriage.  Neither the woman nor the judge have the fortitude to tell the sailor.  After the wedding, the coquette reveals that she's pregnant.  But it's not the sailor's child, it's the judge's!  And they still don't tell anyone!  The baby is born.  The sailor raises the kid.  The woman runs away.  She tries to kill herself.  Then everything is revealed in an interminably drawn out court sequence.

The best thing about this movie is that the Director of Photography's name is Jack Cox.  Actually Jack Cox was Hitch's DP eight times.  Jack Cox.

The male leads are from earlier Hitchcock films, each playing similar roles to their previous ones.  Pete the Sailor is played by Carl Brisson, who was the "good guy" from The Ring.  Malcolm Keen, the paranoid police boyfriend from the The Lodger plays Philip the Judge.  Anny Ondra who plays Kate is incredibly cute, but that doesn't distract from the fact that either her character is callous and daft or she's the true antagonist, destroying everything by taking no responsibility for her whims.

The film is frustratingly predictable.  I wound up unpacking five boxes of books while the story lumped along.  I described it to my wife as "The film before Hitchcock got his sh*t together."

Blackmail (1929)

The film wherein Hitchcock got his sh*t together.

Or to phrase it less crassly, Blackmail is of great artistic and historical interest.

As mentioned earlier, this was the first British sound film.  Unlike the US's Jazz Singer, Blackmail utilizes sound carefully, imaginatively, and effectively, much like Fritz Lang's M (Germany's first talkie).  There are long periods of silence where dialogue is unnecessary.  The word "knife" is repeated as a POV audio moment as a character mulls over her crime.  A bird chirps incessantly building up suspense.

There's great Expressionist-style high contrast lighting throughout the fast well-edited opening.  And there are fantastic distorted visuals throughout the British Museum chase at the climax.


And there's this...
...from a scene (34 minutes in) where it feels like Hitchcock has first pulled everything together:  blondes, sexuality, violence, suspense, morality, and questioning innocence.  Negligee and knives. The moment just clicks.  A birth of something new, taken from elements that were already there, like Pete Townsend discovering power chords.  I recommend clicking on the image to enlarge.  Along with the murdered child's balloon caught in electrical wires in Lang's M, this is one of the great visceral visual moments in the early sound era.

Oh yeah, there's a story in this film too.  PLOT SPOILERS HERE ON IN!

Alice (Anny Ondra, again, hot hot hot) ditches her detective boyfriend for another man; a horny artist that tries to take advantage of her.  He sexually assaults her, she defends herself with the above blade.  Then he quite dead.  She runs away.  The body is found.  While combing the scene the policeman-boyfriend finds her gloves.  He pockets the evidence, trying to shield her.  But there's a criminal who had witnessed her leaving the scene.  He blackmails both her and the policeman.  The policeman pins the murder on the blackmailer.  The police chase the blackmailer, who then falls to his death.  Alice goes to the police chief to confess, but their conversation is cut off.  And her boyfriend leads her away, her confession never delivered.

The film isn't perfect (it takes much too long to get going) but it's full of so many visual and auditory flourishes that it stands a full head over The Lodger.  But Blackmail's flourishes serve to bolster the storytelling of the film.  The aforementioned "knife" scene gets the viewer into Annie's head as she obsesses over her crime.  The heightened imagery of the chase sequence illustrates the twisted moral morass of the moment.

But I must stress this because it's an important part of Hitch's cinema:  In Blackmail, he is never asking us to meditate on society's ills.  He's crafting a piece of grand entertainment.  So if you like this particular flavor of cinematic ice cream, I recommend this film.

In Part B, I'll cover the last two films from this period, as well as George Herman Ruth's 1917 season.


Spoto, Donald. The Art Of Alfred Hitchcock. Anchor Books, New York. 1992.
Truffaut, Francois. Hitchcock. Simon & Schuster, Paris. 1984.

Monday, October 24, 2011

I really gotta get out more

Can’t remember the last time I had such a lovely night as this.  Hung out with three happy brilliant beautiful ladies.  Ate a great burger.  Shopped at Amoeba Music.  Found street parking!  Walked around the neighborhood of my old drinking haunts in the neon Hollywood night.  Went to a new bar (Piano Bar) and was able to get a great seat.  Tried a new whisky, Ardbeg 10.  Shared some Oban 14 with Mona.  Caught up with friends.  Grooved to fantastic live music (Brother Sal!).  Saw an awesome award-winning TV star.  Took two freeways that I’d never travelled before and they were both EMPTY.  Saw the high rises of Downtown enveloped in fog.  Drove over the bridges of the Port of Los Angeles, the new DJ Shadow CD thundering over my car speakers.  This isn’t the literal order of events, but I’m remembering everything simultaneously.  It’s nice to get out of the condo once in a while.

[Ed.: I wrote this at 1:45am, 100% sober. Haven't edited a word. Will update with pics if or when possible.]

Friday, October 21, 2011

Single Malt Report: Bowmore 16yr 1994/2011 Signatory

What?! Two single malt reports in a row? Yep, just a little something to leave you with for the weekend...

Distillery: Bowmore
Age: 16 years 11 months - April '94 to March '11
Bottler: Signatory Un-Chillfiltered Collection
Maturation: bourbon hogsheads
Casks: 565+567
Bottle: 196 of 773
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Hope you appreciate the clean kitchen background
Here she is.  I will be sad but wiser when she is gone.  This was the first peaty Islay malt that I fully enjoyed (not just appreciated).

I purchased this bottle at the wonderland known as Royal Mile Whiskies during our May trip to London.  700mL (UK size) as opposed to 750mL.

There's no artificial coloring and no chillfiltering.  Most of the major distillers chillfilter their whiskies in order to keep them clear-looking through all kinds of temperatures.  Whiskies that are not chillfiltered cloud up in cooler temperatures or when cold water is added to them.  I love when that happens, so I'm a fan of the un-chillfiltered whiskies.

Established in 1988 by Andrew Symington, Signatory is an independent family-run bottler that pioneered single cask bottlings.  Good on 'em, because I've really enjoyed following them and their releases.  In 2002 they actually bought the Edradour distillery from Pernod Ricard, but more on that when I report on an Edradour.

Back to this Bowmore.

As you might be able to see in the picture, the natural color of this whiskey isn't gold or copper or any of the usual tinted whisky tones.  Instead the shade sits somewhere between ginger ale and chardonnay.

When sampled neat, the nose is softly peated, medicinal (but less salty/briny than Laphroaig), and has a little cowhide leather.  The palate is peat forward but smooth.  Light cream and sweet potatoes.  The finish is hot and cayenne peppery.  It takes a second to sneak up on you, but then it hangs out for a while.

With a few drips of water, the oils release but there's a minimum of clouding.  The peat and medicine almost disappear from the nose, and some menthol opens up.  Conversely, in the palate, the peat smoke is all that remains.  Everything else is gone.  The finish is cooler, but still present with some lingering black pepper.

I really recommend this with sea-salted dark chocolate.  There are only two or three more drams left in the bottle and they will all be partnered with that dessert.

You can compare this with the notes on the three Bowmores reported on two weeks ago.  But frankly, this one wins.

Sadly, I can't find this bottling online anywhere in the world (Master of Malt has a younger batch of '94).  So I guess I swiped this one just in time.  Here's how the pricing is built: (Price - VAT + Shipping) * (conversion rate in May 2011).

Heck, if you can find it, it's a treasure.

Pricing - Bargain at $70
Rating - 93

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Single Malt Report: Laphroaig 10yr

Age: 10 years
Maturation: bourbon barrels
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 43% (US)

Ah, Le-Froyg.  I had no intention of reporting on you.  Hell, I had no intention of ever drinking you again.  But I am because I did.

I'd tried Laphroaig twice about four years ago with two different sets of friends.  Both times I wanted to wash my face after sipping this Islay.  The first sensation that came to my mind was "it's like drinking piss out of an ashtray. With iodine."  Never again.  Never ever ever again.

So there I was, sitting at the Belmont Brewing Company bar last night, watching a few innings of the World Series.  I glanced at their whisky shelf......not bad considering that it's a beer place.  I didn't want the two usual Glens.  Lagavulin 16, splendid though it may be, was a little rich for my wallet.  Strathisla, interesting.  Laphroaig.  Hmmm, I'll be here for a while...maybe I could add a little water?

The bartender brought me the BIGGEST WHISKY POUR that I have ever received at a bar.  Thank you, Melissa.  I looked at the drink.

Now I'm really in for it.

I took a sip.

Hmm.  I took another sip.

Here are the tasting notes that I typed furiously into my Blackberry:

Color - Gold
Nose - Wet peat, burning plastic, wood embers, Atlantic Ocean, ash at the end of a fire, an evening in a small town on the British Isles
Palate - Menthol, cinammon, brown sugar, salty peat smoke, less iodine than I remember
Finish - Long, sweet but also dry (is that possible?)
Your burps will taste like cigarettes.

Nose - Sweetness moves to the fore, maybe even maraschino cherries?, much less peat
Palate - Menthol has vanished, iodine gone, fire put out, just wet peat and a bit of sweet, a mite of sourness too (Ed.: How lyrical of me.)
Finish - Hushed

I finished the big drink without a problem.  I'm such a big boy.

The massive nose and palate are very specific to this single malt.  As I'd mentioned in my big Bowmore report, the Laphroaig distillery (similar to its neighbors Ardbeg and Lagavulin) dries their barley out for a long period of time under salty peat smoke.  Through this peating process and the spirit's contact with the American oak of the bourbon barrels this strange chemical miracle plays out.

Laphroaig's flavor is so intense that it can mute anything else you have over the next half hour (which is really unique for a whisky at 40% ABV).  So if you want to follow it with something, don't do another whisky because you might not taste it.  I had the brewery's bitterest ale afterwards.  This big Islay cut through the bitterness revealing everything else that was going on with the ale.

Do I recommend Le-Froyg?  Unless either you've enjoyed other peaty malts or you chew cigarettes for breakfast, the answer is no.  When you do try it for the first time, add about a teaspoon of water (or more, depending on the pour).  But first, try it neat.  Then curse me for suggesting so.

Pricing - Bargain! at $35-45  (Ed. note, 1/1/14: oh, for the days when it was $35)
Rating - 87

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

We own this

In case you missed my rant two weeks ago, Kristen and I are now the proud owners of a 2-bedroom 2-bathroom condo in Long Beach.  The move has been exhausting.  As I had told my folks, this is the hardest either of us have worked on something.  Ever.  Has all of that hard work been worth it?  I don't know yet.

I'm going to avoid talking about the financial side of things.  It's sufficient to state that the loan and escrow process has been upsetting.  K and I did everything correctly, while everyone on the other side did not.  I am unable to write about it further in order to avoid rage-quitting this post.

I don't think we realized that were purchasing a fixer-upper for our first home.  It's like getting an abused dog from the kennel.  This place has been treated terribly by all of its previous owners.  We plan to be the first ones to really care for it.  And like a child (metaphor switch!), it will take over our lives for quite some time.  That wasn't the intent, but that's what we've got.  Every hour we're learning something new.

Last week we soaked, scraped, sanded, dusted, and painted the ceilings. Where they had once been crumbly cottage-cheese-looking "popcorn" ceilings, they're now smooth and flat.  Except in the second bedroom (heretofore known as The Office) where we discovered a significant mold infestation.  Speaking of significant infestations, the walls are full of termites.  Both of these problems should have been noted by our professional inspectors.  They were not.

We'll be pulling down all of the painted-over wallpaper, killing the mold, and repainting the walls and ceiling.  We're also trying to figure out how our HOA handles termite issues since the bugs don't just hang out in one place.  And the building is made of wood.  We've been told a few times, "Don't worry, now that the weather has cooled the swarmers won't come out of the walls."  Yeah, that's not really the point now, is it?

We've cleaned and cleaned and cleaned and cleaned.  Still finding chunks of food(?) from previous occupants.  We pulled out two sets of cabinets and replaced them with a fridge, washer, and dryer.  The fridge arrived without a connecting hose and the washer/dryer had the wrong stacking kit.  This resulted in multiple visits from the delivery crews.

The plumber, a great guy from Guardian Plumbing, has been here three times because there are issues with almost all of the plumbing in the unit.  But we've been lucky that the plumber has been nice.

The Verizon tech came by to install the cable, phones, and Internet.  For a one television home, he said it takes 2 to 3 hours.  It took over eight hours here.  He said that was a record for him.  The building is old, its phone box is outdated, and the cable installation had been done incorrectly and wastefully multiple times in the past.

Our actual move took place on Sunday.  We were going to move ourselves, but due to ongoing physical pain we chose to hire folks.  (Thank you, Kristen, for suggesting out loud exactly what I was thinking.)  We wouldn't have been able to haul that stuff on our own.  It took the movers all day to complete the job.

It's now Tuesday and despite hours of work, we're less than halfway through the boxes.  The great news about the place is that it's incredibly spacious.  About 50% more floor space than our apartment.  But it has very little storage.  Closets and cabinets are almost non-existant, so we'll need to be creative to figure out where everything's going.  In the meantime the place is labyrinthine, about which neither of us are happy.  It makes us feel like hoarding squatters.

The place is full of gives and takes.  The street noise is significant because the windows are poor.  But the constant ocean breeze is wonderful.  The cabinets, counters, and fixtures are stupendously ugly.  But the sunlight is so beautiful, it's the exact opposite of our dark apartment.  I have to figure out how to cook on an inferior electric stove.  But the stove works!  We overlook an Albertsons parking lot.  But when the sky clears we can see Catalina and the mountains.  The wandering junkie quotient has tripled.  But we're a 15 minute walk to the beach.  It's not Los Angeles.  And it's not Los Angeles.

We're restarting our lives this week.  Kristen's commute has been shortened by 90%, thirty miles to three.  I woke up before the sun to go to the gym for the first time in two weeks.  Today will be the first  LBC TJ's run for groceries.  And I'm trying to get a blog post out from time to time!

I'm sure that there's some advice to dole out here, but we're not on the other side of this, yet...

Monday, October 17, 2011

Getting rid of baseball cards

I gave up 17,000 baseball cards last week.  Seventeen thousand.

Let's break this down, list-style:

1. Reasoning – This massive stash had been holed up in my old bedroom in Santa Barbara.  My mom was in the process of putting her home on the market, so this had to be cleared out of the house along with other old belongings.

Then the boxes took up space in my Accord’s trunk since Kristen and I didn’t have room for them in our apartment.  When we decided to move, the cards had to go due to the sheer weight and space they took up.

2. Quantity – 95% of these cards were commons, thus the bulk.  And at least half of them were from my efforts to assemble Topps sets (1986, 1987, 1992, etc.)  The other 5% were “semi-stars” (a mixed blessing of a label if there ever was one) of which I’d already had double or triples.

3. Finance – These cards made up 67% of my collection, but less than 25% of its value.  This lot’s High book value was about $1200.  Its Low book value – or the price one should expect to sell – was $600.

I failed to sell it for $100.

One month of craiglist posts went nowhere.  My sale price started at $200 with all sorts of sweeteners: better cards, unopened packs, and video games.  No takers.  Week after week, I dropped the price.  $175, $150, $125, $100.

Simultaneously, I listed the same lot on eBay for a few rounds, starting at $150.  eBay and PayPal would take a cut but I didn’t mind.  Even at a Buy It Now price of $100, drew nothing.  I actually wound up taking a hit of a couple bucks.

4. Donation
– Long before I attempted to sell the cards, I had made a dozen phone calls and emails around Los Angeles to see what organization would accept the cards as an in-kind or re-sale donation.  Children’s hospitals?  Goodwill?  Religious centers?  Shelters?  Nope.  Nope.  Nope.  Nope.  Not only were these cards unsellable, but I couldn't give them away to a non-profit because the batch was virtually valueless and required labor to move and process.

5. Emotional value – I’d thought that getting rid of these would be difficult.  A shedding, abandoning of my childhood.  But really, most of them were acquired as I was assembling sets which was actually done in 2002, post-college.  No baby was I then, just unemployed and wasting time.

So I felt nothing.  In fact they became a burden as they blocked half of my trunk. They were always there, slamming around every time I took a right turn. When I walked to my car, I kept picturing those 3200-count boxes taking up space.  If I could only get rid of them, I would be free of ballast.

With two weeks remaining before the move, I tossed up a hail mary (or Baruch Hashem).  I hit up Collectibles With Causes California which I found via Google searches.  They were quick to respond and very friendly.  A couple of phone calls and emails later, a laid-back buzzcut guy in a big white Ford traded me 1 donation receipt for 17,000 cards.

As the pickup drove away, I was surprised that I didn’t feel wistful; just thankful that my car was 100 pounds lighter and that there was one less thing to do for the big move.

In the larger picture, the collections market is dead.  If no one even bites at $100 or makes a counter offer – hell, I would have taken $50 – for 17,000 cards AND if no donation center will take them because they know that they can’t sell them, then all of that cardboard is basically valueless outside of the $5-$10 in recycling redemption value.

Actually, while I was asking a card dealer for advice about this lot, he offered me $15 in case nothing else worked out.  A $15 offer thus establishes the actual Low bid value, not $600.  One could also argue that it represents the High value as well.

At some point I’d like to do a follow-up post about collectables.  I’ve been a collector of different kinds of stuff throughout my life.  And I know some hoarders pretty well; they're a very special breed of collector.  We hold onto things from the past, important to us but worthless to others, and I really don't know why.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The George Herman Hitchcock project, Chapter 2B: The Ring


Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2A:

continuing from Chapter 2A...

The Ring (1928)

After Downhill and Easy Virtue, Hitchcock directed another drama, The Ring.  Sadly it has nothing to do with the future horror series or vice versa.  It's a love-triangle tale about two boxers (wait, there's more!) and a woman.

Not much happens over the 89 minute cut, goodness knows how the 116 minute UK cut played out.  The events are simple.  Jack is a local boxer who fights in front of small crowds (think Rocky Balboa as a carnival attraction).  Nellie's his girl.  Bob is a world-class boxer who has a crush on Nellie.  He fights Jack and defeats him.  He hires Jack to spar with him, but really just wants to get his gloves on Nellie.  Jack and Nellie get married, but when their marriage goes sour she runs off with Bob.  Jack gets back at Bob by fighting him at Albert Hall.  During the match Nellie sees Jack getting his butt kicked, so she goes back to his side of the ring.  Jack is instantly Popeye-ed and defeats Bob.

It's edited at a good pace, but not much seems to happen.  There are no surprises or twists.  The knockout at the end doesn't make any sense.  There's a quick final scene that at best is unnecessary and at worst deflates whatever emotional/sexual tension that had existed in the film.  The long shots of the boxing matches look great, but then Hitch intercuts awkward melodramatic close-ups that don't match the action.

On the positive side, there are a lot of great double-exposure shots.  Plus there's a fantastic time-lapse shot of champagne going flat.  It not only serves to telescope time, but also serves as a metaphor for the moment when the marriage goes flat.

The male leads seem to have gotten their direction switched.  Jack is whiny, spastic, and vengeful while Bob is calm and friendly.  Nellie on the other hand is another example of an early-Hitchcock flirty destructive coquette.  She's eyeballing Bob from the first moment, but marries Jack anyway, then leaves him for Bob.  It's unclear what her character's values or intentions are other than to be a jerk.  This in turn makes it even more challenging for the viewer to care what happens next.

So what I'm saying is:  Where are the thrills, Alfred?

The Farmer's Wife (1928)

The thrills are not here.

The Farmer's Wife is, I think, a comedy.  I don't know.  I couldn't finish it.

It starts off looking like a drama.  An idyllic farm.  The farmer's wife has died.  As the farmer sits in his chair staring off into space, Hitchcock lingers on his face.  Over and over and over.  I began to wonder if this was going to be some sort of awesome Scandinavian-style film about a man pondering existence.  But, nope, suddenly it's a comedy!  Whee!  Thirza Tapper, Churdles Ash, and Dick Cooker (actual character names) run around the house mugging and hamming and falling down.  The farmer is pushed to find a new bride, so he invites over All the Single Ladies for a party at which point they all make F*** Me eyes at him.  But when he later professes his humble marital hopes, they're all offended.  He then responds by making fun of how old, fat, and ugly they are.

I fell asleep right there, 40 minutes in.  I was irritated about how this was beginning turn into a proto-Sandler film: "You're fat and ugly.  Wackety Shmackety!  Oh no, my pants are falling down!"  I was disappointed in the abrupt tonal changes.  The ending was as obvious as a turd in the pool.  And the poorly chosen film score was lulling, sleepy sleepy sleepy.

When I woke up and saw the DVD sitting there, I went back to sleep.

I understand the class themes that are confronted when he ultimately marries his housekeeper, but that doesn't negate the fact that the rest of the hired help act like they're mentally disabled.  Add to that my disappointment that Alfred Hitchcock was responsible------

It's amongst the five worst silent films that I've ever seen.  It's even worse than all of the films starring this guy:

Hitchcock achieved a certain level of attention with the artistic and financial success of The Lodger, yet followed it with four films fully outside that thriller genre.  None of them lost money, but none of them garnered any attention.  One can applaud him for the efforts, his attempts to expand his craft.  But as a viewer, one yearns to see him take on a subject ripe for suspense, twists, and the macabre.  Would such a film be on the horizon?

Spoto, Donald. The Dark Side Of Genius: The Life Of Alfred Hitchcock. De Capo Press, New York. 1999.
Truffaut, Francois. Hitchcock. Simon & Schuster, Paris. 1984.


Source: Major League Baseball

As Hitchcock was experiencing moderate box office success, while treading water (at best) artistically, after his initial successes, Ruth erupted onto the baseball scene, albeit differently than what would later make him famous.

Ruth was the best left-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball in 1916.  It really did happen that quickly.  While Grover Cleveland Alexander was decimating the NL, Ruth and Walter Johnson were nautical leagues ahead of every other pitcher in the AL.

Ruth was first in ERA, first in Opponent Batting Average, first in shutouts, and third in strikeouts.  In advanced stats, he was first in Advanced ERA+ and led pitchers in Wins Above Replacement.  This wasn't due to a small statistical sample size since he led the league in games started and was third in innings pitched.

He also won his very first World Series ring as the Red Sox beat the Brooklyn Robins four games to one.  In Game Two, Ruth pitched a 14-inning complete game, a World Series record that still stands today.  Ruth's only weakness was his lack of control.  Like everything else about him, Ruth's fastball was big.  Though he'd learned to mix in an off-speed pitch from time to time, batters were tied up by the erratic hammer.

Walter Johnson was the best pitcher of the decade and has been considered by many to be the greatest of all time.  Johnson's only weakness in 1916 was Babe Ruth.  They faced each other five times, Ruth went 5-0.  Ruth actually won six in a row against The Big Train, something no other pitcher ever accomplished.

Johnson and Ruth each allowed zero home runs for the entire season.  Meanwhile, Ruth's crowd-silencing home run feats from the previous season didn't repeat in 1916.  He did hit three home runs, which was tied for the best on the team (even though he played in only 43% of their games).  But all of his batting statistics dropped off.

His focus was on his pitching (and hookers and blended whiskey, but I digress) which now garnered attention and provided his first championship ring.  Like Hitchcock, Ruth was succeeding outside what had first caught him high regard.  But while Ruth's acclaim was much larger much quicker, Hitch would venture back to his bailiwick sooner......in Chapter 3: Champagne.

Creamer, Robert. Babe: The Legend Comes to Life. Simon & Schuster, New York. 1974.
Jenkinson, Bill. Baseball's Ultimate Power: Ranking the All-Time Greatest Distance Home Run Hitters. Lyons Press. 2010.
Jenkinson, Bill. The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs: Recrowning Baseball's Greatest Slugger. Carrol & Graf. 2007.
Montville, Leigh. The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth. Broadway Books, New York. 2006.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The George Herman Hitchcock project, Chapter 2A: The Ring


Table of Contents

Chapter 1


Like the American film industry, production and distribution at British International Pictures and Gainsborough Pictures occurred with assembly line efficiency.  Audiences turned over their nickels, dimes, and quarters at an intense rate so the supply needed to meet the demand.  Individual production budgets were smaller, sets were few and recycled, location shoots virtually non-existant, stories were kept short, and editing began the moment the exposed film was printed.

Today our favorite director's films release once every 18 to 24 months.  It's not unusual for features to take almost a year to develop, then spent many months in complicated post production.  But between 1927 and 1928, Alfred Hitchcock had a new film out every four months.  He proved to executives he could run streamlined productions that found moderate box office success.  He continued this pace right through 1931, after which he rarely made more than one film a year.

I'm sure that most artists would prefer more time to work through their creations, but it's debatable whether having that luxury would have benefited Hitch.  For instance, he pushed out Dial M for Murder and Rear Window in the same year (1954), but it took him two years to release I Confess, his only (rightfully) dismissed film from the '50s.  In 1955, he directed two films (To Catch a Thief and The Trouble With Harry) and three television episodes for a series he had created himself ("Alfred Hitchcock Presents"), while it took him over a year to complete Jamaica Inn.  Never heard of Jamaica Inn?  There's a good reason for that.  I still haven't finished it myself.

After his success with The Lodger, Hitchcock was hired to direct four films over less than 16 months.  Curiously, none of these were thrillers, horrors, or mysteries.  By this date in the American film industry, directors were assigned to specific genres per their box office successes.  Yet it would still be a few years before Hitchcock would be consistently hired for thrillers.  Instead, over this 16 month period, he directed three dramas and a comedy.

Downhill (UK) or When Boys Leave Home (US) (1927)

(This film wasn't part of the cheapie Hitchcock DVD set that I'd picked up for this study.  Instead it's available for viewing right on YouTube!)

After his friend impregnates a party girl, Roddy, a promising student from a wealthy family, takes the blame and is kicked out of his boarding school.  His father then kicks him out of the house.  A theatre's lead actress marries him when she discovers that he's inherited 30,000 from a relative.  She spends all of his money, cheats on him, then ditches him.  Roddy then becomes a escort/prostitute to earn a living.  He winds up on the docks broke, starving, and insane.  He stumbles home and is welcomed back by his father and the school who have learned that he was innocent of the original accusation.

First, the title.  "Downhill" is appropriate, kudos to the UK distributors.  There really is no story arc here, it's just downhill.  The character is completely passive, continually getting beaten down by the world.  The title that the American distributors gave it is "When Boys Leave Home", which is so wrong it's as if they never saw it before they named it.  It's not about "boys", it's about one guy: a schoolboy played by a 34 year-old Igor Novello.  And he doesn't leave home, he's kicked out of the house.  That's the whole point of the first act.  Why change it from "Downhill"?  Did they think American audiences would expect skiing?

Aside from the cloying melodrama, lack of rounded characters, and no real story momentum, Downhill is the best of these four films.  I'll focus on the positive elements.

Hitch's past experience as an art director shows.  Every set is full of dimension, depth, and detail.  Columns, arches, windows, bookcases, vertical lines, and boxes frame the continually trapped Roddy.  There are also some nice effects shots -- upside down, diagonal, double exposures.  They may be jarringly obvious, but they do serve the story.  And there are also nice visuals of descent.  Roddy rides an escalator downwards after being booted out of his house, then he takes the elevator down when he's kicked out of his marriage.

Hitch also introduces a repeating theme here: the flirtatious, scheming, backstabbing woman.  We'll see this type of character reappear often throughout his silent films.  I'm not sure what to make of it yet, it's unsettling to witness it so often.  In "Downhill" both of the female leads flirt, consume, then destroy.

In fact the only person who is nice to Roddy is a transvestite.  Yep, I'm saying it here.  There's a tranny in this film and no one writes about this, yet.  At the tail end of his male escort career, a "woman" invites him over to her table.  Hitchcock's camera focuses on her masculine face, too much makeup, huge arms, hidden Adam's apple, distinct facial hair, and labored attempts to look ladylike.  Before "she" asks him to dance, she expresses affection and concern for him.  No one else does that.  And it's actually kind of moving.  And riveting.  For a moment the film seems to poised to take risks.  Then he ditches her out of disgust for himself.  This viewer says  :(

Easy Virtue (1927)

"I'm afraid that I have no eyes for anything but you."

That odd dialogue title card is the most memorable thing about this film.

Though it's based on a Noel Coward play, the story is piffle and even pains me to type it.  C'mon Noel.

Larita marries a jerk, he catches her not cheating on him with an portrait artist.  He divorces her and she gets publicly labelled a woman of easy virtue.  Though it actually sounds like a positive thing presently, it was once shorthand for SLUT.  Larita runs away to another town, marries a rich guy who takes her home to his manipulative hateful mother (future Hitchcock theme!).  When Larita's easy virtue past catches up with her, she ends marriage #2 to allow that guy to marry the woman (Sarah) he really loves.

"Shoot!  There's nothing left to kill!" Larita exclaims at one point.  I would have shot her.

What I mean to say is, maybe if she died at the end the film would have been lent a degree of tragedy.  Otherwise Larita's somehow both passive and accusatory, whiny and sullen.  Husband #2 is constantly grumpy, dismissive, and never defends his wife.  So yes, in addition to a weak narrative, the characters are not interesting.

There is some innovative cutting between the past and present in the first act.  There are some heavy-handed eye-piece and tennis racquet effects that highlight trapped characters.  Hitchcock shows some better instincts when instead of filming the proposal scene, he shows us a telephone operator listening in and reacting to it.  Finally, there's this moment between Sarah and Larita at the very end of the film:

It's the most intimate moment in any of Hitchcock's films so far.  It's a pity that these two don't wind up with each other at the end.  Now THAT would be a great twist.

......Goodness, there are two films left AND Babe Ruth's 1916 entry...... Coming soon...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Enter Sandman

"First you get the sugar, then you get the power..."
It started last Friday.  It won’t stop until next Sunday.  We are at the new home until the sun sets every day, all while I battle it out with food poisoning (Thanks Subway! You disgusting hive of vile bacteria-infested meat product. Hugs!).  We soak and scrape the ceilings.  We spackle and sand them.  We dust, tape, prime, and paint them.  (I hate cottage-cheese bumpy popcorn ceilings.  I see them in the street, in the carpet, in the clouds, in my dreams.)  We’re pulling out cabinets.  We’re tearing down wallpaper.  We are cleaning, sweeping, mopping, vacuuming. 

Physical labor is not romantic.  You can work out at the gym every day of the week for years.  It doesn’t matter.  You will hurt in weird places.  Your hands will be sliced, papercut, splintered, blistered, bruised, and callused.  And that’s just in the first 15 minutes.  You’re going to be sanding the ceiling for another four hours.  No matter what protection you wear you will get paint dust in your eyes, your pores, your throat, and your soul.

Maybe you’ll think about what your grandfather and great-grandfathers did for a living.  Maybe you’ll consider what our country’s migrant laborers do for a week’s wage that’s less than a day’s pay for you.

And then you will go home and drink whisky.  Scratch that.  I will go home and drink whisky.  (Take that, food-borne virus!)

My brain feels different.  Maybe it’s the paint dust.  My nerves are numbed and I can't think beyond what we’re building.  Amongst the tension, there's a calm certainty.   Kristen and I will own the end result.  Whatever it may be.

And maybe, just maybe, we will report back with tips and pics.

And Single Malt Reports.

I don't even have a caption for this.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Single Malt Report: Glenfarclas 105

Distillery: Glenfarclas
Age: 8-10 years
Maturation: Sherry casks
Region: Highland (Speyside)
Alcohol by Volume: 60%

Glenfarclas, "valley of the green grass" translated, is the last of the family-owned distilleries (courtesy of the Grants, since 1865).  They're operators operators of the largest Speyside distillery stills, about a mile from the Spey River.  They are known for natural-colored big, juicy single malts.

I had the pleasure of drinking Glenfarclas 105.  Positively soaked in sherriness and weighing in at 60% alcohol, it immediately reveals why it's known in some circles as the The Sherry Bomb.

To provide some perspective, I experienced this immediately after the Bowmore tasting (posted here last week).  This was an incredible shift in the whisky spectrum.  From a bunch of peat-smoky Islays to......this.

First, I tried it neat, just for kicks.  Some cask strength whiskies can numb one's cheeks, while others have flavors that fight to the surface. 105 sits in the latter category.  BIG sherry nose.  More sherry and cream and oranges in the palate.  Creamy soft texture.  It starts off mellow in the mouth then gets incredibly hot at the finish.

Then, I added some water to see what would happen to the heat and the sherry.  Once the water drips hit, the whisky clouded quickly which meant that it was (happily) not chillfiltered.  Before the drink hit my lips, the sweets availed themselves.  Mmm, sugar and caramel scents, but softly, tricking me into thinking that it had mellowed.  It had not mellowed.  Still spicy and sweet, ripe plums and jam.  And then the finish -- my tastebuds still remember it -- a cherry lollipop.

The youth, the sherry maturation, and the high ABV make this a singular experience.  It's clearly a dessert dram.  Probably would be stellar with some fresh-baked apple pie. [Guess who just finished his Yom Kippur fasting?]  Though, I do not recommend going from an Islay directly to this one as it might come across as too sweet.  It's also not for all palates or all occasions.  And it's not inexpensive.

Pricing - Good at $85-95
Rating - 90

Friday, October 7, 2011

We are moving

Down payments, points, interest rates, buyer’s realtors, seller’s realtors, loan company, loan agent, underwriters, loan company buying our loan from the other loan company, mortgage, mortgage insurance, condo insurance, supplemental insurance, property tax, property tax credit, escrow, HOA dues, plumbers, electricians, locksmiths, inspections, appraisals, termites, bird poop, lots of bird poop, utilities, telephone lines, internet, cable, HD cable box, address changes, condo keys, complex keys, mail keys, garage door openers, intercom doesn’t work, scraping patching sanding priming painting ceilings, vacuuming, removing mirrors, de-uglifying, new appliances, escrow errors, balancing multiple accounts, multiple runs to Lowe’s, renting a moving truck, finding movers, praying for a full security deposit return, High Holidays, producer’s notes on script, generating new story ideas, broken router, scheduling donation pickups, massive stack of empty boxes, packing boxes, early start on moving boxes, avoiding injury, pre-moving injuries, new neighbors, new town, new kitchen, new bedroom, new view, more escrow errors, f**k escrow, crowded old living space, dust, carpet off-gassing, suspect dishwasher, bad backsplash, bad counters, painted over wallpaper peeling, terrible paint jobs, unwanted new flooring, pretending to be good at handiwork, shift in diet, insomnia, lots and lots and lots of money leaving aforementioned accounts, I AM FINE I AM NOT STRESSED NO PANIC HERE TOTALLY RELAXED MELLOW CALM SUNNY CHEERY MEDITATIVE I DON’T KNOW THE DEFINITION OF ANXIETY

anxiety (a ng ˈzī-itē) - noun ( pl. -ties)
a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event

Did I mention that we bought a condo?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Single Malt Report: THREE(!) Bowmores

So far I've posted about only single malts distilled in the Highlands and Speyside regions.  These regions make up 75-90% of the single malt labels you'll see at the bars and liquor stores in the US.  They're the highest producing Scotch whisky regions due to their rivers and climate.  These malts are also the starting point for most of us Scotch lovers.  Their often creamy, mellow, vanilla, and dried fruit notes suit the American palate very well -- so the distributors load our shores with the Glenlivets, Glenfiddichs, Macallans, Balvenies, and Glenmorangies.

Though most of my Reports will be on that region, I'm going to make an effort cover the other regions as well since some spectacular and unique flavors are found in their single malts.

Today, I'll start with a distillery from the Islay region.  The Islay island sits at the far southwest corner of Scotland, just north of Northern Ireland.

Islay (pronounced eye-lay) single malts are often known for their peaty palates.  Peat, partially decayed vegetal turf, can be found in bogs all over the world, but especially in Scotland and Ireland.  Many distilleries use peat fires to dry their barley at the start of the whisky making process which is where that flavor often sneaks in.  And not all peat patches are equal.  In Islay, specifically, the heavy sea air and coastal seaweed gives the peat salty, menthol, and iodine flavors.  It's those sorts of strong aromas and tastes that turn off many scotch drinkers (and their significant others).

But, dear friends, don't let that scare you away from the Islays.  They may take some time to warm up to, but those peat flavors provide a nice counter volley to the barley and wood elements in your drink.  Whisky guides claim that more that 80 aroma compounds have been found within peat, plus it's full of antioxidants!

Bowmore.  Sitting in the mouth of Laggan Bay, Islay's capital Bowmore is a little village of about 860 folks.  Its distillery produces some of the most popular of the island's whiskies.  Bowmore peats its barley malts for a lesser time than most of the other Islay distilleries.  As a result, their bottlings have less of the intense medicinal phenol flavor that hits Lagavulin, Ardbeg, and Laphroaig.  Bowmore also tends to smoke the barley rather than heavily heat it which also results in different flavors than those distilleries to the south.

Normally, I report on one whisky at a time.  But this past August I attended a free tasting at The Daily Pint, which provided the opportunity to sample three Bowmore whiskies.  The atmosphere around these tastings can get a bit intense.  There's six people per tasting shift, and about a dozen shifts.  So while one is trying focus on the free delights in a LOUD dark bar, 50+ people are waiting impatiently all around.  I'm not knocking the process.  I'll never gripe about free whisky.  The atmosphere just slightly compromises one's sensory skills, especially if one is a relative newbie.  Amongst the hubbub of happy whisky fans, I tried the following:

First tasting:

Distillery: Bowmore
Age: 12 years
Finish: unknown
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

Mild.  Mild in everything.  Color, nose, alcohol content, texture, flavor, finish.  When in the aforementioned whisky tasting situation, sussing out subtleties is a struggle when given a 0.5oz pour.  And this one was a challenge.

The color was a medium brass-like tone, the lightest shade of the three.  Mild peat (more smoke than wet seaweed) on the nose and the palate.  Otherwise, a little bit of lemon.  Sweetens up at the very end which is a nice counter to the smoke.

Frankly, it was the least interesting of the three.  But at the same time, the least peaty.  So it's a safe way to ease into the Islays and it's one of Bowmore's cheaper bottlings.  The prices are all over the place for this, as noted:

Pricing - Good at $35, Acceptable at $50
Rating - 77

Second tasting:

Distillery: Bowmore
Age: 15 years
Name:  Bowmore Darkest
Finish: Oloroso Sherry Casks
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

Darkest indeed.  Looks like maple syrup!  It's been said that Sherry casks can impart the deep shades but this is so dark that I wonder if they hit it with some carmel coloring just to make sure that it is indeed "Darkest".

Immediate sherry on the nose.  Sweeter aromas than the 12yr.  The palate starts a little peatier than the 12, then sweetness zips in from behind.  The sweetness isn't dried fruits nor caramel.  Maybe toffee?  It finishes with the same peat & sherry dance, though it sustains less than the 12yr.

These dark whiskies are always fun.  They look like candy in a bottle and are often tasty even if the whole package isn't working.  Another good way to introduce oneself to this whisky region, but more expensive than the 12.  The prices are also spread out for this one, as noted:

Pricing - Good at $60, Acceptable at $85
Rating - 80

Third tasting:

Distillery: Bowmore
Age: 10 years
Name:  Bowmore Tempest, Batch 2
Finish: First-fill Bourbon Casks
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 56.5%

Cask-strength!  Always a fan of cask-strength whiskies.  If you check out the ABV, you'll see what I mean.  Cask strength whiskies keep the alcohol content of the product sitting in the final maturation casks.  They vary anywhere from 48%-62%.

The bad news about these hefty bottlings is that the ethanol can overpower all flavors and aromas.  So most whiskies are diluted by the producer to both increase the amount of product and to make it better.

The good news is that you can play with cask-strength whiskies more, adding a little water at a time to find out what happens to the nose and the palate.  Or you can sip them neat, but beware......it can numb your face.  I know this from personal experience.

The Bowmore Tempest was done well.  The alcohol does not overwhelm.  In fact, this is like the 12 but a little hotter and crazier.  It's not sweet like the 15yr.  There's smoke and cinnamon on the nose.  A little vanilla with some smoke in the palate, followed by some citrus.  The peat remains in the background throughout.  The finish is loooooong, warm, and spicy.

Though the emcee of this tasting was prone to exaggeration, he wasn't kidding when he told us that The Tempest was limited and difficult to find.  Production was kept at 2000 cases so I'm not sure how much actually made it to The States.  Dear Scotland, please share!

Pricing - Good at $80-90
Rating - 89