...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Super Bowl Odds

So there's this thing on TV this Sunday, you may have heard of it.  It's a football game between a New Jersey team named after a pituitary problem versus a Massachusetts team full of loyalist nationalists.

My wife is rooting for the pituitary problems.  I don't know why.  I'm rooting for the partially-dressed fully-tanned people holding pom-poms and wearing white boots doing hip thrusts in the name of the team that pays them.

Second-string punters, every last one of them.
Oh wait, the pituitary problems don't have any leaders of gaiety.  So I cannot root for them.

The Vegas Odds for this battle opened as such:

NJ Pituitary Problems 55.5
MA Loyalist Nationalists -3.5

It has since dropped to:

NJ Pituitary Problems 54.5
MA Loyalist Nationalists -2.5

Surprisingly close.  Were I of the betting sort (and in LV right now), I'd put some serious money on the under.  The New Jerseys have a dynamite defense and the Massachusettses will probably be missing one of their top pass catchers.

Who am I to weigh in on odds?

Just some guy.


Just some guy who picked every single AFC playoff game correctly and is now VERY CONCERNED ABOUT HAVING TEMPTED FATE.

Just some guy who picked every single AFC playoff game correctly and is now very concerned about having tempted fate, but shouldn't be worried because he didn't put any actual money on it and also that guy missed out on some serious whisky money from the winnings he could have had that in turn would have offset any concerns about fate.

So instead, here are the odds I'm setting about the televised game:

Commercials - Over/under on nut shots - 4.5
Commercials - Over/under on someone getting hit in the face - 6.5
Commercials - Over/under on violence to animals, children, or woman played as comedy - 2.5
Play-by-Play - O/U on mentions of Broncos' quarterback who is not playing in the Super Bowl - 3.5
Play-by-Play - O/U on mentions of Colts' quarterback who is not playing in the Super Bowl - 7.5
Play-by-Play - O/U on mentions of the Pro Bowl - 0.5

I'll take the Over, Over, Over, Over, Over, Under.

If I make it all the way through the game, I'll report back on my winnings.  If not, then I'll force myself do an extra Single Malt Report as an apology.

I don't know what this is, but I approve.
Though Eli does not.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Single Malt Report: Strathisla 12 years old

My goodness, it's been a month since I did a report on a Speyside single malt.  So it would be my great pleasure to present the Speysider known as Strathisla 12 year old Single Malt.

Here's a brief history of the oldest working distillery in the Highlands:

1786 - The distillery, then named Milltown, was founded by George Taylor and Alexander Milne.  The malt that Milltown produced was named Strathisla.  "Strath" is Gaelic for "shallow valley" and "Isla" is the name of the river running through that valley.
1825 - Distillery was renamed Milton, after the nearby Milton Castle, by new owners MacDonald Ingram & Co.
1830 - Another ownership change: William Longmore & Company Ltd.
1870 - Distillery renamed: Strathisla.
1876 - Fire!
1879 - Fire!
1890 - Distillery renamed: Milton (again)
1940 - Purchased by crooked financier George Pommeroy
1949 - Pommeroy convicted of tax evasion
1950 - Distillery purchased on the cheap by Chivas Brothers (then owned by Seagrams)
1951 - Distillery renamed: Strathisla (again)
1965 - Stills' capacity doubled
2001 - Via sale, Chivas (and thus Strathisla) is acquired by Pernod Ricard
2002 - Strathisla officially bottled single malts are reintroduced into the market

Since its purchase by Chivas, the vast majority of Strathisla's malt goes into the Chivas blends.  In fact, it may be the main malt for those blends since its vistor center is centered around "The Ultimate Chivas Experience".

To be honest, I've yet to be wowed by a single malt from Chivas-owned distilleries, though I have yet to try Abelour's cask strength bottlings.  But I always have an open mind for the amber restorative, so let's try the Strathlisa 12.


Distillery: Strathisla
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: Bourbon and Sherry casks
Region: Speyside (Strathisla)
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

I had a chance to try this at the Belmont Brewing Company down the road from our condo.  As always, I got a decent pour for my money.  (Much obliged, BBC.)  This allowed me to try it both neat and then with 2 tsp of water.

The color is like a nice golden lager with a little bit of auburn in its heart.
The nose is Macallan-Sherry-Oak-lite along with lots of maple syrup, cinnamon, and apple juice.
The palate brought the big surprise:  Lucky Charms "marshmallows"!  Seriously.  Didn't trust the first taste, so I tried again.  Yep, Lucky Charms "marshmallows".  If you've had the Charms, you understand my quotation marks.  The "marshmallow" experience follows a nice bit of salt up front, then a hint of frosting at the end.
Apple cider and molasses make up the medium-length finish.

WITH WATER (approx 32% ABV)
The nose goes bland a bit.  Sort of like a generic Speyside sherry finish.  Think Chivas Regal.
Salt has now been washed away from the palate.  Mild as a blend again.  The texture and flavor is creamier.  A hint of toast, a smidgen of cherry.
The finish, all gone.  Nothing to be found.

On a side note, the bottle is very cool: dark and rectangular with a nice etching of their distillery.  Much cooler than Macallan 12's bottle.  But the whisky within can't top Mac 12, in my book.  BUT, it's still pretty good.  A reliable drink.  It won't shout nor give you bad-whisky-face.  Might even be cheaper than Mac at a bar.

So I'm not going to stomp all over this one.  I'm grading it on its neat performance because the good parts of the Strath 12 wash away with any water.

Pricing - Acceptable at $45
Rating - 82 (only when neat)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die (a book)

101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die by Ian Buxton (recently gifted to me by my brother-in-law, Andrew, and sister-in-law-to-be, Leslie) is a well designed, well written, easily consumable (at 225 pages) volume on world whisk(e)y.

On the design side of things, there's the awesome cover (see pic, left), a modernist silhouette version of my imaginary future whisky collection.  The photography within is stellar and even the paper stock is nice and thick.

Buxton has been a major distillery's marketing director, consultant to countless other whisky makers, writer for Whisky Magazine and The Malt Whisky Yearbook, occasional publisher, and runs www.forscotchlovers.com.

In creating the 101 list he polled all of the living whisky greats (writers, distillers, blenders, etc) for their desert island drams to make sure that he had solid outside opinions about the the whiskies in the book.  He notes up front that these are not the 101 best whiskies in the world, but rather well represent the entire whisky world.  He tries to make sure that most of them fall into a reasonable price range and aren't difficult to track down.  Thus, no 1964 Black Bowmores in here.

What makes up the bunch?  By my count:
Scottish Single Malts - 52
Scottish Single Grains - 1
Scottish Blended Malts - 4
Scottish Blended Grains - 1
Scottish Blended Whiskies - 14
Scottish New Make - 1
English Single Malts - 1
Irish Single Malts - 2
Irish Pot Still Whiskies - 2
Irish Blended Whiskies - 1
American Bourbons - 8
American Corn Whiskey - 1
American Wheat Whiskey - 1
American Rye Whiskey - 2
Canadian Single Malts - 1
Japanese Single Malts - 4
Japanese Blended Malts - 1
Japanese Blended Whiskies - 2
Indian Single Malts - 1
Swedish Single Malts - 1

It's a nice spectrum.  The ages range from 1 to 40 years.  The prices from 20GBP to 400GBP (but only a few expensive ones).

His one page write-ups on each whisk(e)y really shine.  He provides nice scoops on each distillery’s location and history, as well as the malt itself.  The succinct recaps also work in Buxton’s analysis of the world whisky market and some informed jabs at whisky fads.  He also freely admits when there's a conflict of interest (read: he worked for the distillery).

I was very impressed that the whisky selection was not determined entirely by his own taste.  He includes important drams that he doesn’t actually like.  It's comforting to see that sort of admission from a major whisky writer.  Sort of like a "Just because I'm not a fan, doesn't mean it's not a good whisky."  For instance, he’s the first whisky writer I’ve seen that’s lukewarm on Ardbeg and Talisker (two of the true Single Malt Grand Cru).  In fact he’s the first whisky lover I’ve ever seen who has that opinion.  Nonetheless he includes two Talis and two ‘Begs (all four of which are delicious, says I) amongst the 101.  But he loves Oban 14 (yay!), which I appreciate greatly since most whisky writers write it off and move on.

Buxton is one of the pros and a decent writer to boot.  His wide knowledge and stellar research fill every page of this compulsively readable book.  I recommend this to whisk(e)y students of all levels.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Single Malt Report: Kilchoman Summer 2010 Release (3yr)

Since I imparted so much blog love about The Daily Pint yesterday, I thought it appropriate to report on one of the whiskies that I'd tried there on Wednesday: the infant Kilchoman Summer 2010 Release.

According to the Scotch Whisky Association (a very real, very serious organization), a barley- or grain-derived Scottish spirit must age in oak casks for a minimum of three years before they will allow it to be labelled a "Whisky".  Some distilleries are selling younger products, but are calling them "new make" instead of whisky.  A lot of that new make is basically Scottish moonshine, unless it's been thrown in a barrel for a few months to a year.  Reviews are mixed about new make's quality and some distilleries do better than others, but new make definitely allows the drinker to have a chance to taste the spirit itself, free of oak influence.

But once the three years of maturation are up, distillers can bottle it, slap on a whisky label, and take it to market.  I've had quite a few great 10 year singles and a couple decent eight year singles.  I did have one failure of a seven year.  There have likely been some younger malts in the no-age-statement drams that I've sampled.  But that's as young as I've gone, especially since it's so damned difficult to find anything younger than 10yr in The States.

And now, here's Kilchoman.

Built in 2005, Kilchoman was the first new Islay distillery in 124 years.  They began distilling in 2006, keeping the production small (about 5% the capacity of the average distillery, 1% of the size of Diageo's Roseisle distillery).

What's really admirable about these folks (led by Anthony Wills) is that everything is done on site.  The distillery is surrounded by a farm that grows 100 TONS of barley for their product.  They do their own floor maltings by hand on site.  Their barley malt distillate residue is fed to the cows on the land.  And when the whisky is ready (no carmel color, no chillfiltering), it's bottled by hand right there on the premises.  This is old-school, roots whisky production.

How can a whisky nerd resist?!

Bottling: Summer 2010 Release
Age: 3 years
Maturation: First-fill bourbon barrels
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

Apparently The Daily Pint had "a glut" of these bottles so they were selling drams on special during Robert Burns Day.  The price was so low that they may have been selling it at loss.  I should have just offered to buy an entire bottle.

What they were selling, and what I so excitedly ordered, was the Summer 2010 Release.  As Kilchoman has been doing a release each season, this was only their 4th bottling.  It wasn't yet four years old when bottled, so this was by far the youngest whisky I've ever tried.

Okay, I'm going to spoil the ending up front.  This was fantastic!  I didn't want to disturb it with water.

The color is lighter than the lightest Italian Pinot Grigio you've ever seen.
The nose had a pleasant mellow peat.  Some plastic.  A little oak.  Some pork.  Dried grains.  But mostly something clean and fresh, maybe the spirit itself.
The palate was light but rich.  Some apple juice and toffee.  The mellow peat.  Very vegetal.  Then a little nutty.  And brown sugar.  Something lingered in the back of my mind, "This tastes familiar.  What is it?"  Then it suddenly hit me.  The mix of the vegetal, grains, nuts, and brown sugar......My mom's zucchini bread!
The finish stuck around for some time.  More of that vegetation, toffee, and zucchini bread.

This one was fun.  I've been checking around to see how the pros feel about it.  They've been reporting notes of wet leaves, forest, and flowers (the vegetal thing); cookies and fresh fruit pie (sensory sensations perhaps paralleling the zucchini bread?).

This is a very different whisky than any of the other Islays.  And the bottlings are still so young.  I can't imagine how incredible Kilchoman 12yrs will be, but we'll have to wait until 2019 for that.  Of course, in youth this whisky could be at its best.  If you can handle a little peat smoke, I'd say keep an eye out for any of their bottlings.

Pricing - Prices are all over the map, $60-$65 is probably the best range
Rating - 92

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Whisky on The Westside

I hope that everyone had a good Robert Burns Day or Beer Day or Wednesday or Hump Day or Birthday or however you chose to label yesterday.  I had a really good whisky day on The Westside (and at home).

The geographical make-up of The Westside of Los Angeles differs depending on whom you talk to.  I define it as such:

South of The Valley
North of The South Bay
West of West Hollywood
East of The Ocean.

Though I now live in Long Beach, I had lived on The Westside for almost eight years.  Getting in and out of The Westside is never a great experience due to the ever-increasing side street traffic, so visiting my favorite spots out there is a pain in the arse even when I just lived 5 miles away.  Now I live thirty miles away.  The roundtrip drive takes two hours at minimum.

Sadly I didn't discover The Westside's whisky potential until after I'd moved eastward.  And now it's difficult to access it at all.  But I made the trip out there yesterday to hit two great whisky spots.

The Daily Pint - 2310 Pico Boulevard, Santa Monica

I've referenced The Pint several times in this blog, usually regarding free whisky tastings.  It has a sturdy divey bar look and a very laid back vibe (except on whisky tasting nights), so it always feels like it's far from the LA Scene.  A positive.  But it has one thing really going for it.

It carries almost 200 single malts.

There's a list here, but there are dozens of drams that aren't on it.  I know that for a fact because I had two yesterday that aren't part of the list and saw many many more.  Their collection of independents - Signatory, Cadenhead's, Scott's, Chieftain's, etc - is just outrageous.

I had my first cask strength whisky here (thank you James!) two years ago and I remember it promptly numbing my face.  (To all you whisky noobs out there, please hit your first and second cask strength drams with a little bit of water in order to work your nervous system up to the point where you can do it neat later on.  Educational!)


The prices here are decent, definitely less than the outrageous rates charged by the famous downtown Seven Grand.  And I had a tremendous malt yesterday, on special, that I swear they were selling at a loss.  They've also started a Single Malt Club which will get members a 10% discount.  I just joined yesterday!

They also have about 30 beers on tap and I've heard nothing but raves about those.  Of course, my eyes rarely stray from the official malt bottlings in the upper tier and the indies in the back.

For all of their Scotch holdings, they don't have particularly good whisky glasswear.  So if you go there to try a rare or independent or expensive or dreamy dram, I recommend asking them to pour it into their little curvy tequila glasses.  Those are shaped like mini brandy copitas and do a good job at focusing the flavor and nose.

If you're looking to test out a single malt before buying a whole bottle, I heartily recommend this place. Especially if you live on The Westside.

Beverage Warehouse - 4935 Mcconnell Avenue, Culver City(-ish)

I'm almost thankful that I didn't find this place until we were about to move down South.  This place is like Candyland.

When I walked in the door, I almost had a nervous breakdown.  I almost went potty.  I am not exaggerating.

It is a warehouse full of beverages.

Here's a pic of the outside entrance:


I will not show you a photo of the liquor shelves within because they're downright pornographic (and I also can't find a pic to steal from the Internet).  Hundreds of whiskies.  Hundreds of tequilas.  Hundreds of vodkas.  Hundreds of gins.  Hundreds of rums.  And the beer selection is crazy.

Their prices are great, possibly the best in Los Angeles County.

They do tastings (wine or whisky, usually).  Their staff is nice.  And I'm really digging their selection of minis.  If you go, pick up a mini of Highland Park 18 and Macallan 18; they're priced 30-40% lower than I've ever seen, so I picked up one of each yesterday.

Like I recommend with a Las Vegas trip, leave your high limit credit card behind when you go here.  But unlike Vegas, you really need to be sober when setting foot in Beverage Warehouse.  Keep your wits about you or else you will walk out with a full paycheck's worth of liquor in tow.

I'd say that's what qualifies as "good stress".  So, stop by the Beverage Warehouse and feel free to turn somersaults in the aisles.

I had a great time hitting these two spots.  Didn't even mind the traffic for once.  Didn't spend much money either.  Now if someone could just bring these businesses out to Long Beach...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

'Tis Robert Burns Day

Source: wikipedia!
Today is Robbie Burns Day, often celebrated with a supper of haggis, dancing, poetry reading, and whisky toasts.  I would have loved to have gone to the LA Scotch Club's celebration, but it's in Pasadena and I know for a fact that I would not make it home alive.  So I'm going to have a dram or two at The Daily Pint and read some Scottish poetry at home.  I'm haggis-free this year......so far.

Widely considered in Scotland as their best home-grown poet, Robert Burns was born on 25 January 1759 and passed on a short thirty-seven years later on 21 July 1796.  Often writing in the Scots tongue, he fashioned straightforward Romantic poetry influenced by both old Scotch folk songs and contemporary social concerns.  He's held in particular fancy by the Scottish people since he'd grown up hungry and poor amongst multiple failing farms before his strong passionate artistic voice led him out of the squalor.

His "Scots Wha Hae" was the unofficial Scottish anthem for a long time too.  Here in The States, we would know him from "Auld Lang Syne."

You know what?  You should really go to the official Scotland-run Robert Burns site where an actor gives a cracking turn as Robbie himself, detailing the history of the man.  It's great edutainment!

So in honor of Robbie, please enjoy your evening.  Safely.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Also, it's National Peanut Butter Day



...if you don't have allergies and all.

Odious Oscar noms (2012 edition)

I'm going to do as little griping about this year's nominations (listed below my opines) as possible...

Best Picture - Thankfully the Academy changed the rules for this award, stating that there would no longer be ten required nominations.  Only films receiving 5% of first place votes in the nomination process would be nominated.

Be sure to note the time so that you can
fire up "Super Troopers" on Netflix instead.
So we've got nine nominees.  BIG improvement.  Why should a film that only 1 out of 20 Academy members deem the best receive a nomination?  Why should it share the ticket with the film that gets 50% of the votes?  More importantly, it would be much appreciated by EVERYONE if they released the actual voting results.  Everyone except for the producers of the film that got 5%, I suppose.

I'm a bit shocked by all of "Moneyball"'s nominations.  As a baseball stat freak and a film nerd, I enjoyed it thoroughly.  A good smart piece of entertainment.  But a Best Picture nominee?  It's good but not that good.

"The Tree of Life" is that good.  I'm very happy to see the Academy nominating non-linear avant-garde cinema.

"Midnight in Paris" is dynamic and electric in the time travel scenes yet flat and shallow in the contemporary ones.  But we fans of the film can't get those great scenes with Hemmingway and Dali out of our heads.

"Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" was liked by no one.  Not many folks are seeing it and it had the worst critical response of any nominee in HISTORY (per Metacritic scores).  Even Rupert Murdoch's New York Post thought it was exploitative pablum.

Ultimately, though it looks like a battle between "The Artist" and "Hugo", two cinema-loving pieces of cinema.  Could be much much worse.

Best Director - I love that lineup.  The Academy will never nominate Lars Von Trier out of fear of what he'll say and do.

Acting Awards - Jonah Hill?  Really?  He was quite solid but it wasn't that complicated or demanding or interesting of a role.  On the other hand, Brad Pitt was great in "Moneyball" and "The Tree of Life". 

It's nice to see Jessica Chastain nominated, but for "The Help" and not "Tree of Life"?  The Academy again proves it likes EXTREMELY LOUD rather than incredibly close when it comes to performances.

Foreign Language Films - Damn, I should watch these.

Feature Animation - Many thanks to Pixar for releasing "Cars 2".

Feature Documentary - This is where I get angry.  Breathe slowly and deeply.  Okay.

I am very happy to see Wenders's "Pina" on the list.

I'm just going to assume that "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" and "Nostalgia for the Light" weren't submitted to the Academy this year.  Or is it because they're not American docs?  Herzog's "Cave" was an enormously important piece of cinema that beautifully documented a pivotal moment in human intellectual and artistic development.  And it's the best use of 3D that I've seen yet.  And "Nostalgia" was not only just beautiful and educational, but it was deeply emotional and perfectly paced; the best film I saw outside of "Tree of Life".  Neither of these films (along with Herzog's "Into the Abyss" and Morris's "Tabloid") even made the 15-film shortlist.  I have nothing nice to say about that.

Writing - Good to see Sorkin on there because he's a ninja.  I'm glad that Beau Willimon got nominated.  It was his script "Farragut North" that Clooney's company had purchased, then tweaked into "Ides of March".  I liked "Farragut"; very Washington insidery and wonky.

"Extremely 9/11 & Incredibly Hanks" did not get a writing nomination.  Neither did "The Help".  Yet both picked up best picture nominations.  I'd go into a diatribe about them not deserving a Best Pic pick if they can't get a Writing pick, but then again "The Tree of Life" didn't get nominated for Best Original Screenplay.  Apparently a volume of poetry about God cannot compete with a woman taking a sh*t in a wedding dress.

Thanks again, Academy!

Best Picture

  • “The Artist” (The Weinstein Company) A La Petite Reine/Studio 37/La Classe Américaine/JD Prod/France3 Cinéma/Jouror Productions/uFilm Production, Thomas Langmann, Producer
  • “The Descendants” (Fox Searchlight) An Ad Hominem Enterprises Production, Jim Burke, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Producers
  • “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” (Warner Bros.) A Warner Bros. Pictures Production, Scott Rudin, Producer
  • “The Help” (Touchstone) A DreamWorks Pictures Production, Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan, Producers
  • “Hugo” (Paramount) A Paramount Pictures and GK Films Production, Graham King and Martin Scorsese, Producers
  • “Midnight in Paris” (Sony Pictures Classics) A Pontchartrain Production, Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum, Producers
  • “Moneyball” (Sony Pictures Releasing) A Columbia Pictures Production, Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt, Producers
  • “The Tree of Life” (Fox Searchlight) A River Road Entertainment Production, Nominees to be determined
  • “War Horse” (Touchstone) A DreamWorks Pictures Production, Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, Producers


  • “The Artist” (The Weinstein Company) Michel Hazanavicius
  • “The Descendants” (Fox Searchlight) Alexander Payne
  • “Hugo” (Paramount) Martin Scorsese
  • “Midnight in Paris” (Sony Pictures Classics) Woody Allen
  • “The Tree of Life” (Fox Searchlight) Terrence Malick

Actor in a Leading Role

  • Demián Bichir in “A Better Life” (Summit Entertainment)
  • George Clooney in “The Descendants” (Fox Searchlight)
  • Jean Dujardin in “The Artist” (The Weinstein Company)
  • Gary Oldman in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (Focus Features)
  • Brad Pitt in “Moneyball” (Sony Pictures Releasing)

Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Kenneth Branagh in “My Week with Marilyn” (The Weinstein Company)
  • Jonah Hill in “Moneyball” (Sony Pictures Releasing)
  • Nick Nolte in “Warrior” (Lionsgate)
  • Christopher Plummer in “Beginners” (Focus Features)
  • Max von Sydow in “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” (Warner Bros.)

Actress in a Leading Role

  • Glenn Close in “Albert Nobbs” (Roadside Attractions)
  • Viola Davis in “The Help” (Touchstone)
  • Rooney Mara in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (Sony Pictures Releasing)
  • Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady” (The Weinstein Company)
  • Michelle Williams in “My Week with Marilyn” (The Weinstein Company)

Actress in a Supporting Role

  • Bérénice Bejo in “The Artist” (The Weinstein Company)
  • Jessica Chastain in “The Help” (Touchstone)
  • Melissa McCarthy in “Bridesmaids” (Universal)
  • Janet McTeer in “Albert Nobbs” (Roadside Attractions)
  • Octavia Spencer in “The Help” (Touchstone)

Animated Feature Film

  • “A Cat in Paris” (GKIDS) Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli
  • “Chico & Rita” (GKIDS) Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal
  • “Kung Fu Panda 2” (DreamWorks Animation, Distributed by Paramount) Jennifer Yuh Nelson
  • “Puss in Boots” (DreamWorks Animation, Distributed by Paramount) Chris Miller
  • “Rango” (Paramount) Gore Verbinski

Foreign Language Film

  • “Bullhead” A Savage Film Production, Belgium
  • “Footnote” (Sony Pictures Classics) A Footnote Limited Partnership Production, Israel
  • “In Darkness” (Sony Pictures Classics) A Studio Filmowe Zebra Production, Poland
  • “Monsieur Lazhar” (Music Box Films) A micro_scope Production, Canada
  • “A Separation” (Sony Pictures Classics) A Dreamlab Films Production, Iran

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

  • “The Descendants” (Fox Searchlight) Screenplay by Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
  • “Hugo” (Paramount) Screenplay by John Logan
  • “The Ides of March” (Sony Pictures Releasing) Screenplay by George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon
  • “Moneyball” (Sony Pictures Releasing) Screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin Story by Stan Chervin
  • “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (Focus Features) Screenplay by Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan

Writing (Original Screenplay)

  • “The Artist” (The Weinstein Company) Written by Michel Hazanavicius
  • “Bridesmaids” (Universal) Written by Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
  • “Margin Call” (Roadside Attractions) Written by J.C. Chandor
  • “Midnight in Paris” (Sony Pictures Classics) Written by Woody Allen
  • “A Separation” (Sony Pictures Classics) Written by Asghar Farhadi

Art Direction

  • “The Artist” (The Weinstein Company) Production Design: Laurence Bennett, Set Decoration: Robert Gould
  • “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” (Warner Bros.) Production Design: Stuart Craig, Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan
  • “Hugo” (Paramount) Production Design: Dante Ferretti, Set Decoration: Francesca Lo Schiavo
  • “Midnight in Paris” (Sony Pictures Classics) Production Design: Anne Seibel, Set Decoration: Hélène Dubreuil
  • “War Horse” (Touchstone) Production Design: Rick Carter, Set Decoration: Lee Sandales


  • “The Artist” (The Weinstein Company) Guillaume Schiffman
  • “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (Sony Pictures Releasing) Jeff Cronenweth
  • “Hugo” (Paramount) Robert Richardson
  • “The Tree of Life” (Fox Searchlight) Emmanuel Lubezki
  • “War Horse” (Touchstone) Janusz Kaminski

Costume Design

  • “Anonymous” (Sony Pictures Releasing) Lisy Christl
  • “The Artist” (The Weinstein Company) Mark Bridges
  • “Hugo” (Paramount) Sandy Powell
  • “Jane Eyre” (Focus Features) Michael O’Connor
  • “W.E.” (The Weinstein Company) Arianne Phillips

Documentary (Feature)

  • “Hell and Back Again” (Docurama Films) A Roast Beef Limited Production, Danfung Dennis and Mike Lerner
  • “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front” (Oscilloscope Laboratories) A Marshall Curry Production, Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman
  • “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” An @radical.media Production, Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
  • “Pina” (Sundance Selects) A Neue Road Movies Production, Wim Wenders and Gian-Piero Ringel
  • “Undefeated” (The Weinstein Company) A Spitfire Pictures Production, TJ Martin, Dan Lindsay and Richard Middlemas

Documentary (Short Subject)

  • “The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement” A Purposeful Production, Robin Fryday and Gail Dolgin
  • “God Is the Bigger Elvis” A Documentress Films Production, Rebecca Cammisa and Julie Anderson
  • “Incident in New Baghdad” A Morninglight Films Production, James Spione
  • “Saving Face” A Milkhaus/Jungefilm Production, Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
  • “The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom” A Supply & Demand Integrated Production, Lucy Walker and Kira Carstensen

Film Editing

  • “The Artist” (The Weinstein Company) Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius
  • “The Descendants” (Fox Searchlight) Kevin Tent
  • “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (Sony Pictures Releasing) Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
  • “Hugo” (Paramount) Thelma Schoonmaker
  • “Moneyball” (Sony Pictures Releasing) Christopher Tellefsen


  • “Albert Nobbs” (Roadside Attractions) Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnston and Matthew W. Mungle
  • “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” (Warner Bros.) Nick Dudman, Amanda Knight and Lisa Tomblin
  • “The Iron Lady” (The Weinstein Company) Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland

Music (Original Score)

  • “The Adventures of Tintin” (Paramount) John Williams
  • “The Artist” (The Weinstein Company) Ludovic Bource
  • “Hugo” (Paramount) Howard Shore
  • “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (Focus Features) Alberto Iglesias
  • “War Horse” (Touchstone) John Williams

Music (Original Song)

  • “Man or Muppet” from “The Muppets” (Walt Disney) Music and Lyric by Bret McKenzie
  • “Real in Rio” from “Rio” (20th Century Fox) Music by Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown, Lyric by Siedah Garrett

Short Film (Animated)

  • “Dimanche/Sunday” (National Film Board of Canada) A National Film Board of Canada Production, Patrick Doyon
  • “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” A Moonbot Studios LA Production, William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg
  • “La Luna” (Walt Disney) A Pixar Animation Studios Production, Enrico Casarosa
  • “A Morning Stroll” (Studio AKA) A Studio AKA Production, Grant Orchard and Sue Goffe
  • “Wild Life” (National Film Board of Canada) A National Film Board of Canada Production, Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby

Short Film (Live Action)

  • “Pentecost” (Network Ireland Television) An EMU Production, Peter McDonald and Eimear O’Kane
  • “Raju” A Hamburg Media School/Filmwerkstatt Production, Max Zähle and Stefan Gieren
  • “The Shore” An All Ashore Production, Terry George and Oorlagh George
  • “Time Freak” A Team Toad Production, Andrew Bowler and Gigi Causey
  • “Tuba Atlantic” (Norsk Filminstitutt) A Norwegian Film School/Den Norske Filmskolen Production, Hallvar Witzø

Sound Editing

  • “Drive” (FilmDistrict) Lon Bender and Victor Ray Ennis
  • “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (Sony Pictures Releasing) Ren Klyce
  • “Hugo” (Paramount) Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty
  • “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” (Paramount) Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl
  • “War Horse” (Touchstone) Richard Hymns and Gary Rydstrom

Sound Mixing

  • “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (Sony Pictures Releasing) David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Bo Persson
  • “Hugo” (Paramount) Tom Fleischman and John Midgley
  • “Moneyball” (Sony Pictures Releasing) Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, Dave Giammarco and Ed Novick
  • “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” (Paramount) Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Peter J. Devlin
  • “War Horse” (Touchstone) Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson and Stuart Wilson

Visual Effects

  • “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” (Warner Bros.) Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler and John Richardson
  • “Hugo” (Paramount) Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossman and Alex Henning
  • “Real Steel” (Touchstone) Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Dan Taylor and Swen Gillberg
  • “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (20th Century Fox) Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White and Daniel Barrett
  • “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” (Paramount) Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Matthew Butler and John Frazier

Monday, January 23, 2012

Metaphor of the week: The baby porcupine and the mug

I've struggled with Story on many of my writing projects, but last week was terrible.  Almost terrifying.

I'd like to think I'm fairly decent at the screenwriting process.  I've been doing it for many years on many many projects.  I know that working the story through usually takes shape in the form of a puzzle.  And I work on it and work on it and work on it, then I move on to the next step.

But last week, ugh.  I woke up every day facing a project that I couldn't crack.  The puzzle had become multi-dimensional, its instructions in a language not yet invented.  Every day.  Going at the problem from multiple directions.  Deconstruct, reconstruct, visualize, literalize, simplify, expand.  Silence.  Panic.  Try again.  Try again.  Try again.  Weeks like that shake one's confidence in one's ability, skill, and general mental acuity.

But this is a new week now.  I look forward to new and better challenges.  And I can look back with some objectivity thanks to this video which clearly illustrates my last week of writing.  A baby porcupine's breakfast sits at the bottom of a mug...

(Discovered via The Daily What)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Single Malt Report: Bidding Bye-Bye to a Bowmore Bottle

My favorite new single malt that I tried last year was the Bowmore 16yr 1994 Signatory bottling that I'd purchased at Royal Mile Whiskies (London) last May.

I completed the bottle on Friday to celebrate the end of a crummy week.  There was one (sizable) drink left in it:

Because the bottle had been open for about eight months, the whisky had plenty of time to settle and because it was less-than-half-full for at least three months, there was a chance for oxidation to set in and change (some say ruin) the whisky.  So, this final drink would also be a chance to document the flavor changes caused by these chemical reactions.

Here is a recap of my notes from early October:

Color - between ginger ale and chardonnay
Nose - (neat) softly peated, medicinal/band-aids (but less so than Laphroaig), cowhide leather; (w/water) peat and medicine fade, but menthol moves forward
Palate - (neat) Peaty but smoothly so, light cream and sweet potatoes; (w/water) Peat smoke
Finish - (neat) hot stuff, cayenne pepper hot, lingers and lingers and lingers; (w/water) cools down, black peppery

I enjoyed it because the elements were so well integrated into the whole.  It actually taught my taste buds how to like peat.

Now at the tail end of the bottle, eight months after it was opened, it had clearly transformed into a whole new creature.  Now keep in mind, I only drank it neatly, but did so over a period of 60 minutes.

The color remained the same.  Thank goodness.  I'd be worried if that had changed.
The nose had grown, if you will.  It was spirity and grassy.  Sea air had joined the soft peat and band-aids.  It was oakier, some burning paper.  Around the edges there was some rotting fruit sugars as well.
But all of that did not prepare me for the flavor.
The palate was enormous.  Barbecued peat and barbecued seaweed were massively upfront.  Something like salted pork, too, and maybe maybe some weed (if I knew what weed tasted like...).
The finish was sweeter than the palate.  Some of that BBQ lingered, but there was regular peat smoke too.  It was very dry, very vegetal.

Wow, it had really changed!  It's not just my developing taste buds.  The nose was softer.  The palate was rougher.  The finish was drier.  It had developed a completely different character than any other Bowmore that I've tried.  It was like an Arbeg, but barbecue as opposed to soot.

Very complex and enjoyable.  It was an excellent final act.

(ratings remain the same)
Pricing - Bargain at $70
Rating - 93

Friday, January 20, 2012

Single Malt Report: Two quickies about a pair of sweeties

Most bars seem to come with a "Whisky Kit": Glenlivet 12, Macallan 12, Chivas, and Red & Black Label.  But sometimes on nights when I'm out and about, I'm blessed by the Whisky Spirits to find a bottling I've never tried before.  I grab that glass, head to a quiet spot, and do my best Whisky-Nerd-nose-in-the-glass routine.  I type notes into my turrible Blackberry and then try to figure them out the next day.

Eating establishments and places that serve whisky in wide mouth tumblers ain't the money spots for proper nosing/tasting notes.  But, you know, it's whisky.  No, even better, it's new whisky.

Here are two new whisky experiences that I had amidst good nights out.

#1 - Oban Distillers Edition 1993

I had this on the Westside (LA) on June 16th last year.  I'm a serious fan of Oban 14yr, so I promise to do a report on it during this calendar year.  At that point, I'll provide the full rundown on the Oban distillery.

It was nice to see this bottling.  And I really had no idea what to expect.

Distillery: Oban (yay!)
Bottling: Distillers Edition (1993/2008)
Age: minimum 15 years
Maturation: Montilla Fino fortified sherry cask
Region: Highlands (Western)
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

Oban takes their lovely malty malt and finishes it in a very rich sherry cask, creating a thick desserty whisky.  Diageo releases one of these Oban limited special editions almost every year, right now their DE is a 1996.

This is one of the darkest whiskies I've seen.  That photo above doesn't do it justice.  The color is a dark mahogany, almost cherrywood.  The nose is nutty, toffee-ish, big on the sherry.  Has a hefty texture.  The palate -- miles and miles away from the 14 year -- caramel hard candies, more sherry, lots of amaretto, and dried fruit.  A great long finish with the amaretto (with maybe a pinch of salt?) holding out the whole way through.

My notes show that I only had it neat, so I can recommend having it that way.  It's a heavier malt than the 14yr, so this would work better as a digestif rather than an aperitif.

Pricing - Acceptable at $90-$100 (oddly it's cheaper to buy it from the UK and have it shipped)
Rating - 84

#2 - North of Scotland Single Grain Whisky 1964 (bottled by Scott's Selection)

(Please note: You can find a second, updated report on this whisky here.)

SURPRISE!!! A single grain whisky.  And yes, you read that right, a 1964.

So why haven't I been shouting from the rooftops about the miraculous god I found in a class of 43-year-old whisky?  Well, there's kind of a reason why a 43yr grain whisky sells for less than 1/10th of a 43yr malt whisky.  And also a reason why I got it for EIGHT DOLLARS a glass.

The industrial continuous column still distillation process doesn't create whiskies with complex consistencies.  Nor is it intended to.  I'm not saying that grain whisky is usually filler for blends, but it's supposed to be a mellower milder fluid ready to be used in mass quantities at 3 years of age.  A micro fraction of grain whiskies turn out to be decent on their own so they're racked up in a cask to age.  (For some more whisky edjuhcation please see my recent Whisky 101 post.)

This whisky from the North of Scotland distillery was one of those deemed consumable.

Distillery: North of Scotland
Bottler: Scott's Selection
Age: 43 years (1964/2007)
Maturation: Bourbon cask
Region: Highlands (Southern)
Alcohol by Volume: 44.7%

The North of Scotland distillery was built in 1957, closed in 1980, dismantled in 1993.  It was originally built to distill malt whisky via the Coffey column stills.  Apparently that wasn't very successful because they switched to grain whisky two years later.  After its closing the distillery building became a storage house for the Cambus (also grain whisky, also now out of order) distillery.

How about this old dram?  It's like a soft sweet light-bodied bourbon.  The color is dark, though not as dark as the pic above shows.  The nose was the best part, like rich vanilla ice cream.  The palate was vanilla bean, chocolate, almonds, and (maybe?) coconut milk.  The words read more exciting than the whisky tastes, mostly because the finish was oddly brief.

Honestly, the Redbreast 12 I had that night blew this grain whisky out of the water.  BUT, this old brown stuff ain't bad.  I might even go back to the Long Beach pub that had served it to see if they have any left, then do a slower tasting.  Again, $8 for a whisky that was distilled during LBJ's first administration...

Pricing - Good at $150-$160 (a 1964 Springbank costs $2000, a 1964 Highland Park costs $5000)
Rating - 77

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The things I collect

Yesterday I had 60 T-Shirts.  60.  We have our own washer & dryer.  There are 7 days in a week.  60 T-Shirts.  I threw away 10 and that was a chore.  I won't even tell you what the sock drawer looked like.

To be fair (to who? myself?) a third of those Ts were for the gym.  For those folks who don't know, after I exercise I look like I've just jumped in the pool with my clothes on.  So I set aside specific Ts for that abuse.  About 16.

Clearly, I like T-shirts, but there's more to it than that.  I collect things, often without knowing it.  There's a genuine Hoarder gene in my family so I have to be on the lookout for signs of its prevalence in me.

The act of accumulating non-perishable consumer goods outside of wartime is connected to other existing human psychological complexities.  Don DeLillo might say that it's part of our desire to postpone death.  Freud would probably agree then loop in issues with libido.  Jung might reference a disconnection with a spiritual center.  Psych 101 would likely suggest depression or repression; holding onto physical things provides the illusion of control.  A good communist scholar could say that it's one of the end results of capitalism, the unnecessary and imbalanced accumulation of goods.

So here are some things that I may or may not have collected:

Yes - T-Shirts.  I'm now down to 50.  In my defense, 16 are for workouts only (as mentioned above).  I can't wear those out into public because after a couple of hours The Ghost of Sweat Past haunts them.  8 more are white undershirts for winter or work wear.  Another 6 are long sleeve Ts.  That leaves 20 normal-wear short sleeve Ts.  In my defense, I live in Southern California so it is T-shirt weather for seven (or more) months of the year.  Thus one T a day for about three weeks.  Not in my defense, we do have that washer and dryer inside our condo...

No - Canned food goods.  We eat them within two weeks after buying them.

No - Boxed food goods.  I don't even buy 'em.

Yes - Baseball cards.  I had 22,000.  Now I have 5,000.  See here for my considerable efforts to rid myself of the 17,000.  I started collecting cards in 1985.  I stopped in 1993.  Then a haze of depression reignited this flame from 2001-2003 as I sought something that I could control.  That was an illusion, I never had control <-- to paraphrase Jurassic Park.  I stopped collecting permanently because I wanted to be more mobile, not wanting to haul countless boxes of cardboard behind me wherever I went.

No - Toilet paper.  We may buy big packs of it, but it is used and flushed with regularity.

Yes - Books.  Every few years I go through my shelves packing a box of books to go to a donation center.  I don't buy too many books anymore, but the shelves keep filling up past the bursting point.  Maybe the books are breeding.  The thing is, I'm not reading all of them right now.  I couldn't possibly read all of them again in this lifetime.  So why are they there?  To make me look cultured?

Yes - Movies.  First it was VHS tapes.  Then it was DVDs.  I have a 7-foot shelf packed solidly with the thin rectangle cases.  It used to be something I could be proud of.  My collection is of nothing but the best.  But with digital video on the rise, and constantly getting better quality-wise, the collection is beginning to look like an anchor rather than a creative skiff.

No - Wives.

No - Cats.  But to be honest, I understand The Cat Lady.  Go ahead, walk into a pound.  See the dozens of caged little domesticated animals who are there through no fault of their own.  Dozens of clean, self-reliant little buddhas who will die if I don't adopt them all.  Go ahead, pick just one.  Or two.  Or three.

Yes, sorta - Coins.  I wasn't responsible for their collection.  They're from family and old family friends.  It's a very impressive lot.  It's swell to have stuff from the 19th century.  Money that's been in America longer than my family has.  I don't add to the collection, but I do keep it.  It weighs about 50 pounds.  It's odd and hideous to move.

Yes - CDs.  Dear G-d, I've been trying to move these things out of my home.  Every CD that has intact liner notes and cover has been shuttled out to Amoeba in exchange for store credit.  But I still have 200-300 of 'em.  They've all been digitized, but I don't have any of the stuff that came with them.  So they sit, lined up like cells in a silent organism.  I will seriously sell them all for $200 (or best offer).

Yes - Items in my Amazon "Saved for Later" cart.  Yep.  Guilty as charged.  That's more an act of sloth than any sign of neurosis.  Right?

No - Stamps.  Never understood the need to collect these things.  Probably healthy.

No - Video games.  Probably healthy.

Yes - All of my hand-written writing.  And...

Yes - Printouts of every draft of every script.  I'm sure this stuff can really be disposed of, but part of me can't let go.  I created it, now I'm going to throw it away?  What kind of parent would I be?  A parent of paper, I guess.

No - Shoes.  Can't afford to keep buying new ones.  The old ones look and smell bad.

Yes - Photos.  I think I can defend this as a human thing.

Yes - Receipts.  I can't defend this as a human thing.  More of a financial thing.  Luckily, I part with a pile every year.

No - Scalps.

No - Recipes.  Though I probably should.  They don't take up much room.

Yes - Internet Bookmarks.  Holy Sh*t!  I have hundreds of them!  What are these sites?  When did I go there?  Why did I go there?  Why did I think that I would need to go back there again?

Maybe - Whiskies.  I can't afford to collect whisky.  But if I could, THAT WOULD BE AWESOME. And...And...And in defense: Whisky can be consumed.  Whisky can be shared.  And then bottles can be replaced by new ones!  Sweet!  Oh wait, that's just my fantasy.  In reality, yes, I have twelve bottles.  Soon to be eleven.  As mentioned in my year in whisky post, I'm not trying to make money from them.  And I'm not saving them until eternity.  But I spent some good money on them.  And I don't drink to excess.  So they'll last a little while.  And occasionally gain neighbors.

I guess that's it, though I'm sure Kristen could enumerate those I've missed.  Moving from home to home puts one's collection habits in check......depending on the size of the home.  We've been living in apartments and condos, and we pay professional movers to haul our stuff, and I'm married to a woman who dislikes clutter.  Thus I have the motivation to reduce.  So, I feel like the collection gene is in control.  For now.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Single Malt Report: Laphroaig Quarter Cask

How about some whisky?  How about some great f**king whisky?  Let's talk about some Laphroaig Quarter Cask.

Laphroaig (le-froyg) and I have had a checkered past, as documented in my report on the 10 year old.  But we've been on good terms since we were reunited last year.  So I thought I'd explore the range a little further.

A quick recap of the distillery's history:
Sometime around 1815 the Johnston Brothers started distilling whisky from the barley on their property near Loch Laphroaig (the actual meaning and source of the word is disputed).  Ownership was passed down through the Johnston family for a long time.

[The Laphroaig website claims that there was a running dispute between their distillery and their neighbors, Lagavulin, throughout the 1800s.  I hope that's true, because that would be great!  I'd root for both sides.]

Ian Hunter, a relative of the Johnstons, continued running the family business from 1921 until 1954, when he died without any heirs.  So he did the unthinkable.  He left the distillery to his secretary, Bessie Williamson.  A Woman!!!  Bessie ran the place for the next 18 years, almost doubling Laphroaig's capacity and output.

She then sold the business to Long John International (real name), who then sold it to Allied Domecq in 1990.  In 2005, Laphroaig was acquired by its current owners Beam Global.

A few years ago, the distillery started to experiment with recreating the maturation process that they'd used in the 1800s.  That required the whisky to age in smaller traditional barrels called Quarter Casks.  The casks are considerably smaller than the normal casks used for maturation.  Because of their size, the whisky inside makes 30% more contact with the oak, thus changing (and possibly speeding up) the maturation process.

Here's the thing, though.  Quarter Casks weren't always used back in the 19th Century.  Why did some whisky makers choose these smaller barrels back in the day?  Well, it depends on who you ask.

Here are the top four reasons why Quarter Casks were used in the 1800s:
  1. The small size made it easier for a pair of men to lift the product when it needed to be transported.
  2. When whisky was brought to market on a mule, it allowed for two barrels to be strapped to one animal.  One cask on each side.
  3. By transporting via one mule, the seller could take smaller paths, avoid the main roads.  Avoiding the main roads meant avoiding the duty officer.  Avoiding the duty officer meant avoiding taxes.
  4. The cask size (known as "firkin" for the Old English measurement) was much easier to obtain than larger barrels.
I've seen all of these explanations.  I wouldn't be surprised if the real reasoning behind quarter casks was a mix of all of the above:  logistics, supply chain, economics, and smuggling.

No matter what the truth is and was, I'm glad they brought the cask back.

Bottling: Quarter Cask
Age: 5 to 11 years
Maturation: American Oak ex-bourbon barrels then Quarter Casks (see above)
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 48%

I bought a 3cL (30mL) sample of this from Master of Malt a few months back.  A couple Fridays ago, I opened it up, poured the dram and let it sit for about 15 minutes.  Tried it neat.  Let it sit for another 20+ minutes.  Tried it neat again, then with water.

The color is light gold with rosy highlights.  It's that rosiness that differentiates it visually from the 10 year.  The salty Atlantic Ocean hits first on the nosing.  Then an excellent merging of sweet & peat.  Some oak and cheap toy plastic linger in the background.  Palate-wise, up front, it's like drinking a meadow: fresh grass and hay drying in the sun.  Then some notebook paper followed by a wet seaweed peat.  And it is HOT, with the 48% ABV flexing its brawn.  But this dram saves its real thrill for the final act.  My finish notes are all stream of consciousness: "Whole wheat bread, whole grains, digestive biscuits (money!), smoky, cigar smoke, nice & warm, phenolic, dry, it's still going..."

WITH WATER, around 30-32% ABV
Hydrating the whisky slightly shifts its pieces all around.  The nose is now peaty, peaty, peaty.  Like Ardbeg 10 with brown sugar.  Toffee with some of that ocean brine.  The texture stays very creamy.  The palate goes from frapuccino to espresso.  Sweet to bitter.  Heavy on the peat smoke.  The straight coffee grounds linger throughout the finish, and the heat has mellowed out.

A terrific dram.  It was one of those that I knew I liked the moment it came out of the bottle.  And then it got better.  It's definitely in the Top Five of the whiskies that I've reported on (at this point in time), easily in my all-time Top Ten.  [Ed. note: as of 2014 these statements are technically no longer true; top 20 in the first case, top 40 in the second.]

It's not an easy drink, but it is less medicinal than the 10 year.  It's complex, but it's not for all seasons.  It's a colder weather whisky, probably suiting an Islay evening very well.  It would be fun to do a Taste Off between this one and Lagavulin 16.  Someday...

Pricing - Great at $55-$60 (if I ever find it at 50, I'm scooping it up)
Rating - 92

Monday, January 16, 2012

Monday's Movies (from 2011!)

I've seen very few movies this year, in fact I'm working on this post instead of watching the Golden Globes (big sacrifice, I know).  There are about a dozen films that I would have loved to have caught before they left the big screen.  Drive, Melancholia, A Separation, and A Dangerous Method are the first ones that come to mind.  None of which will qualify as uplifting experiences.

But, I would like to share with you three lighter films from this year's crop that I did view, courtesy of Qwikster Netflix.

The Help

I didn't read the book.  I didn't see the trailer.  I didn't peruse any of the reviews.  I saw this one cold.

PLOT:  A young writer, Skeeter (Emma Stone), writes a book from the point of view of the black women who serve (almost slave for) the wealthy white families in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s.

I'll start with the good stuff.  It was better than I had anticipated.  Viola Davis is AWESOME as Aibileen, a black woman raising generations of white children.  The film, swirling with broad stereotypes, feels like it's held together by her quiet reserved performance; a cinematic center of gravity.  The final emotional payoff succeeds so well because of her.  At the same time, Jessica Chastain, who gives the loudest performance, lights up the screen whenever she's on it.  Chastain, who was so angelic and serene in The Tree of Life, zips and bounces and shouts like Marilyn Monroe in a screwball comedy.

On the other side of things, the film is way too long.  A lot of the comedy hijinks feel like they belong in a different film; one that isn't trying to sell the viewers of the importance and weight of the drama.  The male characters prove superfluous and could thus have been trimmed right out -- thus giving us a film with an entirely female cast (a good thing).  Because there are so many characters, there are a ton of ending scenes.  Cutting these things back would have delivered a much tighter, more effective film.  How this got by nine executive producers, I have no clue.

As I'd mentioned above, most of the characters (black and white) are written as stereotypes.  The antagonist (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) is one-dimensionally demonic, from start to finish.  That's a shortsighted choice for any film to do that today.  Watch any successful drama on television and you'll see that the bad guys have as many dimensions as the good guys.  Without shading, The Help's antagonist comes across as a psychotic cartoon which in turn weakens the drama.

The film largely glosses over the lynchings and terrorism of the time period, which is more of a fact than a fault.  The movie isn't trying to be Mississippi Burning.  That's not the story it's telling.  But it did make me wonder if Skeeter understood the real danger of her act.  I never felt that she did.  Had she seen real blood and death, if her own life had been in constant danger, then her character's actions would have carried more weight and she would have shown courage in alliance with the ladies she interviewed.  And she would have understood what those ladies risked by telling their stories.  Instead, she's a blank slate from beginning of the picture to the end.  Her safety is never in danger, it's just her ability to hit the publishing deadline that's at risk.  As a result, the strength in the drama of Aibileen's struggle pushes Skeeter's drama to the far periphery of the story.

With some trimming and some beefed up character work this could have been a stunning work.  (Wow, that sounds like I'm giving script coverage.)  But, I guarantee you it was better than three-quarters of films with which it had shared the multiplex.

Midnight in Paris

Everyone told me to see this.  From all directions and segments of my life: family, friends, co-workers.  But because I lose interest in a film whenever one person recommends it to me (I'm a bit of sh*t), the constant "You'd love Midnight in Paris" did not inspire me to see Midnight in Paris.  On the other hand, with such an odd cross-section of folks from my life suggesting it, I was intrigued.

So now I've seen it.

I get it, y'all.  You see in me the writer who has been obsessed with other times and places.  A writer uncomfortable with his cosmic lot.  And I'm Jewish and apparently speak in Woody Allen cadences.

But that was me, 10-15 years ago.  The romanticism is gone.  The illusion of a better time is dead.  Every era is suffused with great struggle and pain.  Beautiful art isn't borne from pleasure.

Oh yeah, so the movie...

Gil (Owen Wilson) is a screenwriter who yearns to be the great novelist that he'd once dreamed of being.  He loves Paris, inordinately, especially the Paris of the '20s and the Lost Generation.  One night, during a Paris visit with his fiancee and future in-laws, an old Rolls Royce picks Gil up and deposits him in the 1920s.  He hangs out with Hemmingway, Dali, Eliot, Gertrude Stein, the Fitzgeralds, Cole Porter, Picasso, and countless other famous artists.  He falls in love with an 'art groupie'.  And he's forced to reconcile these experiences with his modern day life.

I wish, I wish I wish I wish I wish that this would become an HBO series so that Woody Allen could write up 10 hours of material so that we could hang out with Gil in the 1920s.  Every moment the film plays out in the past is lovely and funny.  It shines and glows and hums.  All of the famous folks play out according to their archetypes.  Hemmingway speaks like he writes.  Dali loves rhinoceroses.  Zelda is a manic-depressive party girl.  Gertrude Stein plays mama to all of the artistes.  Oh, but it's all over so quickly!

Conversely, almost everyone in the contemporary scenes is a stereotype.  All of the Americans are jerks.  All of them.  His in-laws are wealthy Republican tea-party supporters out of a Liberal nightmare.  The American intellectual is a dick to everyone.  While Gil's fiancee (an unforgiving role for Rachel McAdams) is shrill, spiteful, and shallow, his mystery woman from the past (Marion Cotillard) is luminous, thoughtful, and complex.  Curiously all of the contemporary French (including a great Carla Bruni!) are portrayed gentle and selfless.

As a result, the contemporary scenes come across very thin.  Allen has created so many great roles for women; why couldn't he (at the very least) have given the fiancee a three dimensional character?  It may have made Gil's final decision more difficult, but it would have struck a more honest note.

Despite these issues, the heart of the movie is fantastic.  It moves lighter and faster than anything Allen has done in decades.  Wilson's slow sleepy persona makes for an unusual but giddy match for Allen's rhythmic cadences.  Darius Khondji can do no wrong as cinematographer.

I do recommend this to all.  Even if you're also a bit of a sh*t, go see it.

The Trip

I love this movie.  Now that I've become a burgeoning Anglophile, perhaps I was predisposed to appreciate it.  But one doesn't have to be a fan of all things British to enjoy this comedy by Michael Winterbottom.  It is a deceptively well structured, acted, directed, and edited film that is above all else very very funny.

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, two characters they'd previously portrayed in Winterbottom's 2005 post-modern self-reflexive smart-silly whats-it Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story.  The Trip goes the opposite direction of Tristram, simplifying and relaxing the storytelling.  Steve and Rob travel the UK countryside, hitting a half-dozen restaurants for Steve's cuisine-based guest writing gig.  Between the dishes and quarrels, there's constant actor-y oneupsmanship.

Despite the fact that Steve plays Steve and Rob plays Rob, the film doesn't try to be a mockumentary; it's just a film about Steve and Rob.

The Trip can be appreciated on a number of levels.  Again, it's damn funny and comedy is its prime target.  (The trailer does not give away the best stuff.)  Further, if one desires to be nerdy about it, there are all sorts of great British tweaks and jabs about the Welsh, actors, Colerige, Wordsworth, and Alan Partridge.  Then if one (read: moi) desires to dig further there's an undercurrent about 40-something men emotionally adrift within their lives.  But it's NOT DEPRESSING.  Winterbottom seems to know that constant navel-gazing only results in a finger full of lint.  So he happily blends the bittersweet with the whimsical and wonderful.

And, yes, Kristen must hear me quote lines from The Trip while I'm cooking or driving or just breathing.  Luckily she likes the film too.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Whisk(e)y 101: Scotch Whisky terminology, Part 1

Let's get these first two words straightened out.  Scotch whisky is whisky that is made in Scotland.  Thus all "Scotch" is whisky, but not all whisky is Scotch.  There's Irish Whiskey, Canadian Whisky, Swedish Whisky, Japanese Whisky, Indian Whisky, British Whisky, Dutch Whisky, Australian Whisky, Tennessee Whiskey, Kentucky Whiskey, Oregon Whiskey, and Korean Whisky just to name a few.  All of them are whiskies, liquors distilled from a fermented cereal mash and aged in oak barrels, but only the stuff from Scotland (at no less than 40% ABV) is Scotch.

Within the Scotch Whisky world there are different types of whiskies, here they are:

MALT WHISKY- A malt whisky is distilled from a mash of malted barley.  Now what does that actually mean?

In the past, the distillers grew their own barley.  The large distilleries today have found it more cost effective to purchase harvested barley from the market.  Sometimes it's Scottish barley, sometimes it's not.

The big batches of harvested barley grains are spread out thinly onto massive malting floors.  On these floors the barley begins to malt (or germinate), sprouting just a little bit out of their husks.  Within this little sprout, the grain's starches are becoming the sugars that will be fermented.  But before the fermentation, the malted barley is dried in a kiln (often using smoke from peat fires).  Once the drying is completed, it is ground up, then water is added creating the "mash".  With the addition of yeast, the sugars start to ferment.  After a few days something very similar to beer has been created.  This beer-like liquid (called The Wash) is poured into giant copper pot stills where the distillation takes place.
An Old Pulteney Pot Still

(For a deeper excellent explanation, please see Johannes van den Heuvel's awesome Malt Madness page on distillation.)

The result of this distillation is something called "new make spirit".  It's clear and has a very high alcohol content, like Scottish moonshine.  This new make is then poured into large oak barrels where it then matures for at least three years.  After that point, it is legally whisky, per the Scotch Whisky Association.

The whisky producer then decides what to do next with the product.  It's usually aged for a much longer time period.  Continued time and contact with the oak changes the flavors and scents, usually for the better.  Most of this malt whisky is then sold to blenders.  But some of it is not.

Distillery companies often choose to bottle some of their high quality product as a SINGLE MALT.  Thus a single malt is a malt whisky from a single distillery.  Except in some rare cases, it's made up of dozens of casks from that distillery.  When you see a single malt bottling with a year statement, like 12 years, that number refers to the youngest casked whisky in the mix.  Master distillers do all they can to keep the product quality high and consistent, but (much like wine) the flavors and scents can change from year to year.

Examples of Single Malt brands: The Macallan, Glenfiddich, Glenmorangie, Springbank, Lagavulin, Bowmore, Talisker, Oban, Glenkinchie, Balblair, and Highland Park.

GRAIN WHISKY is distilled from a non-malted grain (barley, wheat, and maize) in a large column still.    Because it is not malted (though malt is sometimes added in for fermentation needs later) it skips the first parts of the process and the grain goes straight to distillation.  Unlike malt whisky's batch distillation process, grain whisky is distilled continuously.

Like malt whisky, grain whisky is also aged in oak barrels for a minimum of three years.  The production of grain whisky is considerably cheaper than that of malt whisky and creates a product much lighter and (debatably) of a lower quality than its malted cousin.  Its flavor profile can fall anywhere between vodka and bourbon, depending on how it was aged.

A very very tiny portion of this whisky is bottled as a SINGLE GRAIN.  If you see the rare bottle that says "Single Grain", it's simply a grain whisky that comes from a single distillery.  But almost all of the grain whisky in Scotland goes into blends.

Examples of Single Grain brands: North British, Port Dundas, Cameronbridge, and Cambus.

BLENDED SCOTCH WHISKY combines the two whiskies above, Malt Whisky and Grain Whisky.  Since grain whisky is cheaper and lighter than malts, it is used more generously (often around a 2:1 ratio) in blends to spread out the product and smooth out rougher edges in the flavor.

Blends were originally created by Scottish grocers in the 1800's.  The whisky business had been created by individual farmers doing their own distilling and bottling, and the grocers who sold the bottles in their local markets.  But because the farmers' product would vary in quantity and quality from year to year, grocers started blending the different farmers' malts in order to keep a consistent supply on the shelves.  The grocers (like the Chivas Brothers and Mr. Johnnie Walker) also learned that by blending they could wield some control over the whisky's flavor.  As these new creations were more consistently flavored and reliably stocked than the individual whiskies, the blends became big sellers.

Blends currently make up more than 90% of the Scotch market.  They are constantly engineered and tested to make sure that the flavor profile remains consistent.  So, like 200 years ago, consumers find them cheaper and of an easier flavor to depend on.

Examples of blend brands: Famous Grouse, Johnnie Walker, Chivas, Dewars, Grant's, Bell's, Whyte & Mackay, Cutty Sark, and Ballantines.

BLENDED MALT (previously known as "VATTED" or "PURE" MALT) are blends made solely from Single Malts.  No Grain whisky.  These whiskies are more expensive than regular blends due to the malt-only content.

Examples of Blended Malt brands: Compass Box and Johnnie Walker (Green Label only)

BLENDED GRAIN (previously known as "VATTED" or "PURE" GRAIN) are blends made solely from Single Grains.  No malts.  There aren't too many of these yet, but as the Single Grain market grows so will these Blended Grains.

Examples of Blended Grain brands: Compass Box (Hedonism only) and Snow Grouse.

That brings Part 1 to a close.  Have a great Friday and nice looooong weekend!

Sources: Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch, 6th Edition (Jackson); individual distiller websites; masterofmalt.com; and the grand maltmadness.com).