...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Single Malt Report: Vegas 2012 edition (Part 1 of 4)

I'm curled up in bed with a 101.4 degree fever.  Sorry, more cowbell is not the prescription needed.  Instead, I need some consistent sleep and at least a week to dry out.

In the meantime, I'm going to do a bunch of mini-reports on the whiskies sampled at The Whisky Attic.  I posted about this experience last week, but would like to expand a little about the individual spirits.

But first...

I put away about a third of a bottle of Redbreast 12 over three nights.  It's still a damned delicious whiskey, one of the greats.  Everyone in the crew put it away without a single Whiskey Face.  In fact, everyone had it neat and went back for seconds and thirds (and maybe more).  There may even wind up being a bottle or two purchased as a result of the experience.

My brother scored a free drink ticket at the Sports Book and awesomely handed it over to me.  The voucher said that it would only cover well drinks, but the GREAT bartender used Glenfiddich 12 when I politely inquired about it.  If I knew he'd be so swell, I wouldn't have asked for a highball.  But in fact, the club soda really brought out all of the sweets with the 'Fiddich.  So I recommend that to those willing to bruise their booze with soda water.

Wolfgang Puck's Postrio at The Venetian has an exemplary whisky selection.  It's all about quality not quantity in their case.  They had Bunnahabhain, Scapa(!), Tobermory, Caol Ila, and a couple independents in addition to the very good usual suspects.  I went with the Bunny 12 and happily discovered that I finally found the subtle peat note.  It was a lean and peaceful peat, contributing to a great whisky.  I've included an update at the bottom of my original post about Bunny 12.

Now, back to The Whisky Attic drink list:

Dalmore Gran Reserva
Tyrconnell 10yr Irish Single Malt, Madeira Finish
Big Bottom Bourbon
Balvenie 14yr Carribean Cask
Rowan's Creek Bourbon
Willett Straight Rye
Ledaig 15yr
Amrut Cask Strength Indian Single Malt
Laphroaig 10yr Cask Strength
Ardbeg Corryvrecken
Ballylarkin Irish Whiskey Liqueur
Tomintoul 27yr

I'm going to split this up into groups of three in order to make this easier to digest.  These will be a little smaller than the usual reports.


Distillery: The Dalmore
Brand: Gran Reserva (previously known as The Cigar Malt)
Age: 10 to 15 years
Maturation: Oloroso sherry butts and Bourbon barrels
Finish: Sherry butts
Region: Northern Highlands
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

Gorgeous bottle.  Stellar website too.  The Dalmore products are known for their luxurious design.  Their Master Blender (technically the Master for all of the White & Mackay products) is the boisterous Richard Patterson, who has dubbed himself "The Nose" for both physical and job-related reasons.  He has a great online presence and is everywhere at all times, probably the most sociable of all Master Blenders.

The Dalmore whiskies are also very much known for being very darkly colored and very very sherried.  They're also all 40% ABV which is as tamed as a whisky can legally be.  I lust after their King Alexander III whisky, which is a combination of Port, Sherry, Bourbon, Marsala, Madeira, and French red wine finishes.

Their famous flavor characteristic is orange (marmalade, juice, peel, etc.) but I didn't pick up any of that when I'd tried Dalmore 12 some time ago.  That was a little frustrating.

So now here's the Gran Reserva: matured in 40% bourbon barrels and 60% Oloroso sherry butts, then married together for six months in sherry butts.  With the help of Adam Carmer's method could I find the Dalmore character....?

Gran Reserva
Nose: Yay!!!  Success.  Fresh oranges.  Pulp and peel.  A little bit of caramel.
Palate:  The fresh oranges dominate again.  Some milky chocolate hides behind.  Silky texture.
Finish:  Brief.  Mostly vanilla.

It's very graceful.  And by that I mean pleasant rather than boring and subdued.  It's also not as exciting as most of the other whiskies I'd tasted at The Attic, and the finish is quite short.  I can't imagine that raising the alcohol to 43 or 46 percent would be that bad of a thing.

Pricing - Acceptable at $70-$75
Rating - 79


Brand: Tyrconnell
Age: minimum 10 years
Finish: Madeira casks
Region: Ireland (Louth)
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

Yep, not a blend, not a single pot still, but a genuine Irish single malt.  Other than Bushmills, Cooley is producing the only Irish single malts at the moment.  They were also the last of the independent Irish distilleries, until they were purchased by Beam a few months ago.

Tyrconnell was very popular here in The States until Prohibition crushed their brand.  Thankfully it was resurrected by Cooley, who have released four different bottlings.

Whisk(e)y trivia:  The label has an illustration of a racehorse named "The Tyrconnell" once owned by the distillery.  In 1876, they entered it in The National Produce Stakes Irish Classic and, at 100 to 1 odds, it won.

Now to its eponymous whiskey...

The Tyrconnell 10 year, Madeira Finish
Nose: floral but not perfumy, instead its an entire field of blooming flowers; fruit juices (cranberry and grape)
Palate: Fresh ripe fruit and lots of it, stone fruits and berries, all with a solid malt center that keeps it from being overly sweet
Finish: Medium, the fruits remain, and the flowers return

As I've only hinted with all the Redbreast mentions on this blog, I am an enormous Irish whiskey fan.  It has a lightness that doesn't abandon verve and explosive flavor.  And this single malt did not disappoint.  It's probably the juiciest whisk(e)y that I've ever tried, yet it wasn't candied or sweet.  Even the great Serge Valentin called it yummy.  Agreed.

Pricing - Acceptable at $70-$80 (though if Beam could lower it $20......pretty please?)
Rating - 92 (adjusted down to 81 in a later review)


The international tour continues.  From the Northern Highlands, to County Louth, to Bourbon County, Kentucky.  This one had Adam, along with the Frog's bartender and I humming the tune to Spinal Tap's "Big Bottom".

Bottler: Big Bottom Whiskey (multiple distilleries)
Age: minimum 3 years
Maturation: New white oak
Region: Bourbon County, Kentucky (spirit); Oregon (company)
Alcohol by Volume: 45.5%

Big Bottom's bottles indeed have big bottoms.  And the flavor is big and bottomless.  They take new make (or white dog) from different distilleries, then they do the wood finishing themselves to create the final product.  This one is 36% rye while a combination of unmalted barley and corn likely makes up the rest.

As mentioned in previous posts, I'm still a little new to the bourbon palate, but it's gradually working its way in.  American whiskey is something that I would love to love.  And big bottoms are worth singing about.

Big Bottom American Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Nose: some nice spiciness (maybe from the rye?), okay "spiciness" is kind of a generic term, how about "zing!" and "whoosh!", followed by more corn sweets than vanilla
Palate: the "zing" is peppery, hot cinnamon and nutmeg, and lots and lots and lots of corn sweets, Frosted Flakes perhaps
Finish: Massive finish, outlasted many of the single malts

Not a bad one.  I love the pricing (see below).  Would be great in an old-fashioned, the spice mixing with the bitters.  I would definitely order this neatly in a bar to give it a second run.  Very different than Blanton's, so my bourbon world is quietly expanding...

Pricing - Good at $28 (same price at five different locations)
Rating - 74

Part 2 to follow soon...

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Las Vegas, Days 4 & 5 - Fremont Street and departure

Final Tally:
Video Poker - UP $110.  Hit four 7s while eating frozen yogurt on Day 4.
Slot Machines - DOWN $16.  Had to tithe to the Vegas spirit.
Craps - DOWN $50.  That was one cold-ass table.
Blackjack - DOWN $50.  That was one cold-ass table.
TOTAL - DOWN $6.  I live to see another day.

Our buddy Shayan arrived in Vegas on Day 3 to bring our crew to four strong.  Then we all proceeded to destroy a bottle of Redbreast 12yr, neatly.  I always recommend pre-partying with something delicious.

We hit tons of good restaurants over the whole trip:  Postrio, BLT Burger, Carnegie Deli (okay, maybe not good), Sirrico's (yum), Noodle Asia......and I'm sure I'm leaving some out.

Thanks to the clubbin', Day 3 lasted until 4am on Day 4.  Haven't done that since......my single days?  I dunno.  Day 4 was a recovery day until we headed out to beautiful Fremont Street.

Okay, that pic is from 1986, but -- aside from the bizarro Viva Vision overhead -- it hasn't changed much.  And that's what I like about it.

The cheap glitz.  Millions of strobing bulbs.  Hot neon.  Immersion in Crayola color vomit.  Love it!  There was even some dude wailing out tunes on his saxophone.  I shouted, "I'm in the '80s!"

Unless you go to a classy joint like the Golden Nugget, $5 tables abound.  Even on weekend evenings. You can sidle up to the craps table with your Michelob.  Stand between the casino employees who hate each other's guts.  Toss your crumpled 20s onto the table.  And share dice with a dozen prostitutes, pimps, the mentally ill, the drugged desperate, and the incontinent insomniacs.  It rules.  Nowhere else in that town will you find such camaraderie, so much cheering!

And yeah, I lost some money at Fitzgeralds, but it lasted me awhile.  Plus the four of us actually got to sit at the same blackjack table, and lose money together.  By the way,  you should totally go to their website.  The photo gallery is clearly from the......you guessed it, the '80s!

On Day 5, we breakfast buffeted then went our separate ways.  No last minute slot machines.  No emergency trolling for cheap tables.  We're wiser than we used to be, in this sense only.

That drive back to LA is never the best part of the trip.  If you've done Vegas correctly, then you're bloated, benumbed, and directionally disoriented.

Barstow was almost 80 degrees, then, forty minutes later, I drove through a snowstorm.  Thus the escapade continued until I got home and passed out on the couch.

Five days is a loooong time in Las Vegas, but I didn't feel like I'd overdone it that badly.  Had there been more money at my disposal, I could foresee things getting wilder on the gambling floor.  But getting out and about (especially with Claire, the Vegas rookie) makes for a much better experience.  I've lost count of how many times I've been to LV (somewhere between 12 and 20), but I would venture to say that this, alongside my bachelor's party, may have been amongst my top two Vegas trips.

And yes, there was some significant entertainment that will remain unpublished here.  Sorry folks, but it's Vegas.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Las Vegas, Day 3: Impressions at XS, Encore Las Vegas

A delightful result coming from the questionable camera on the BlackBerry Bold 9700.

I present to you: Impressions at XS, Encore Las Vegas.

Turn up the volume.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Las Vegas, Day 2: The Pinball Hall of Fame

Running Tally:
Video Poker - DOWN $60.  Curse you, video poker!  Actually that $60 lasted for about 40-50 hands on a $1 ($5 max bet) machine.

Vegas tip:  If you choose to leave The Strip to drive around town, make sure you plan your travel carefully.  Roads change names, end abruptly, and seem to have existential crises near the highway.  When returning to The Strip, if you find yourself on Desert Inn Road, GET OFF OF IT IMMEDIATELY.

None of us (Jason, our pal Claire, and I) slept much on the first night.  Does anyone ever sleep well on the first night in LV?  I powered through the day without a nap and without lunch.  Yes, I forgot to eat.  That happens in Vegas sometimes.  That's usually due to a good run at the tables.  But for me, it was due to


Yeah, that's right, baby.  The Pinball Hall of Fame is a Must Stop for me every time I'm here.

She may not look like much on the outside, but she's got it where it counts.  [One of the many Star Wars quotes that goes seamy out of context.]

Their new facility is huge!  There are so many pinball games that......



......Sorry, I got lost daydreaming about the place again.

Here's the game list.  Oh, there is indeed 150+ pinball games.  But here's the kicker:  They're in perfect working order.  Probably in better shape than the tables you played 15-45 years ago.  The place is a non-profit, using its proceeds for the upkeep and overhead, then donating the rest.

Yeah, it's freaking sweet.

$12 lasted me THREE HOURS.  Three hours of bliss for the same price as one ugly blackjack hand.

Two of my all-time faves (Addams Family and Jurassic Park) were getting fixed.  Had they been up, I'd still be playing right now.  But it was all good.  So many of my old favorites were bumping like they were shiny and new.

Star Wars - Got reamed on it like always do.
Twilight Zone - Killed it!  Played at least 8 games.  Hands went numb early.  REPLAYED.  Possible all time favorite?
Attack From Mars - A super table.  Forgot how awesome it is.  Didn't forget how bloated the scoring system is.  I was at 6 BILLION points when I was all, "The hell's the replay at?"  8.7 billion.  Five balls!  MATCHED ONCE.
Black Knight 2000 - There were 2 credits sitting on this oldie.  So I gave it spin.  Odd and not entirely intuitive double-leveled gameplay.  But it was free pinball.
Eight Ball Deluxe - A little older than the previous table, but very enjoyable.
Star Trek: The Next Generation - Incredible how quickly the gameplay all comes back.  This is a modern pinball classic.  REPLAYED TWICE IN A ROW.  Yeee-ay-ah.  MATCHED ANOTHER ONE.  Seven games of this.  "Q, we don't have time for your games."
Bad Cats - Awesome.  Haven't played this one in about 15 years.  It's an uncomplicated but oddly addictive table.  I don't even remember how many games I played.  MATCHED TWICE.
Jack Bot - By this point my wrists were locking up and my mind was mush.  I think I played three rounds of this.  Scores were embarrassing.
Theatre of Magic - But I got my second wind here.  Must have played it for an hour, thanks to another two matched free games.  Got 92% of the way to the replay on my last game.  Then I just had to put down the pinball pipe.  My natural instincts were groaning for sustenance and hydration.

I have actual HD video footage of this experience.  It's terrible and terribly mint.  I'll edit one minute recap of this as soon as I'm able.

If you enjoy pinball, please go to the Pinball Hall of Fame.  It will refresh your pinball soul.  The games are all 25-50 cents.  The sounds will transport you to the arcades of the '80s and '90s.  And it's non-profit too!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Las Vegas, Day 1: The Whisky Attic

"I hate to travel, but that's probably because my dad used to beat me with a globe."
--Dave Attell
Okay, neither are true for me.  I LOVE to travel.  And I was beaten with a blue agave plant.  That's probably why I hate tequila.

Did the annual pilgrimage drive to Vegas yesterday.  Started bright and early yet still hit a ton of LA traffic.  But, man oh man, every time I hit Interstate 15, I get Vegas geeked.

I prefer driving here, even if it's without a car partner.  The gas expense is similar to roundtrip plane tickets, but I don't have to deal with the debaculous McCarren Airport.  I don't have to wait in the awfully long taxi line then get charged a bundle for the cabbie sitting in traffic.  And I gain some level of control over my trip.  One has very little control over everything else in this city.  Speaking of which...

Running Tally:
Video Poker - EVEN.  Was down almost $60, then made it all back.

Due to financial restraints, I won't be doing much gambling this weekend.  But I have set aside cash for some excellent endeavors.

The first endeavor......


The Freaking Frog sits just to the west of the UNLV campus.  To call it a bar would be an insult.  They have 1000 beers on the menu.  And lots of live music.  Oh yeah, and they have The Whisky Attic.

The Whisky Attic is by-appointment-only, but it's easy to set up.  There's a couple hundred whiskies up there.  Quite beautiful.  At your appointed time, the boisterous brilliant owner, Adam Carmer, leads up there unlocks the door, then frees your mind.

Since whisky nosing/tasting officially began around 50 years ago there's been one way to do it:  Look at the whisky, nose the whisky, taste the whisky.  Adam has discovered a second way.  And it's 100% legit.  I am a believer.

Sourced from Facebook
So who is Adam, exactly?  He's the Wine & Spirits professor at UNLV.  He opened the Frog first, then the Attic later as the collection expanded.  He also has a ribs place nearby.  He has a book coming out next month on his Method.  When he's not teaching he's meeting with Master Distillers and Blenders in Ireland, Scotland, and Kentucky who want in on this Method.  And he has two patents pending.

Because The Method (also known as CSTEM - Carmer Spirits Tasting Enhancement Method) is in the patent phase and I want the guy to sell some books, I'm going to avoid spilling the beans.  BUT some googling will direct you to some sites that attempt to explain the process.  There's even a video floating around out there.  These things give you a hint but they don't do it justice.

I will say this, if you go drinking with me, I'll walk you through it.  It takes some practice.  Practice with whisky.  OR you can set up an appointment with Adam next time you're in LV [check out the Freaking Frog's website and/or drop me a line].  He'll set up a "tasting" per your specific palate.  And your whisky mind will be melted.  And the price (and I am a cheapskate) is excellent, considering the spirits and two hours of the man's time and what you take with you.

He lined up a set of enormous-palated whiskies since he surmised that I would man-up and enjoy the challenge.  Mere flattery?  Truth?  Either way works for me.  Here is my worldwide sensory experience in order:

Dalmore Gran Reserva
Tyrconnell 10yr Irish Single Malt, Madeira Finish
Big Bottom Bourbon
Balvenie 14yr Carribean Cask
Rowan's Creek Bourbon
Willett Straight Rye
Ledaig 15yr
Amrut Cask Strength Indian Single Malt
Laphroaig 10yr Cask Strength
Ardbeg Corryvrecken
Ballylarkin Irish Whiskey Liqueur
Tomintoul 27yr

Yes, that's a lot of drink.  But it wasn't unreasonable.  It was glorious actually.  And due to his Method, I could easily discern and remember every whisky's characteristics.  And still can actually.  Here are my notes on the highlights:

Dalmore Gran Reserva - can FINALLY taste the Dalmore orange peel character, never was able to before, a graceful malt, one of the better sherried malt experiences I've had
Tyrconnell 10yr Irish Single Malt, Madeira Finish - never been the biggest fan of the fancy wine finishes, but this is delicious; there are flowers blooming in my olfactory bulb, and fresh fruits melting on my taste buds
Big Bottom Bourbon - best bourbon experience I've had yet; it's bourbon, but I can taste more than generic Bourbon, especially the sweets from the corn
Balvenie 14yr Carribean Cask - milk chocolate! lots of it, and cinnamon, all the sweet spices in the cabinet
Rowan's Creek Bourbon - okay, maybe this is the best bourbon experience I've had, I could nose this for days on end
Willett Straight Rye - that's it, I'm sold on rye; I have found an American whisky that I've enjoyed at first blush, it's like a havdalah spice box
Ledaig 15yr - always wanted to try Ledaig, and this was no disappointment; a little soapy and dusty around the edges, but a beautiful peat at its center, a fresh peat if that's possible, grasses and growing vegetation
Amrut Cask Strength Indian Single Malt - for all of its 62% ABV this was very easy to do thanks to the method, the layers expanded with each sip
Laphroaig 10yr Cask Strength - ah the Quarter Cask has a competitor now, dynamite, a whole different animal than the regular 10yr, no more bandaids instead replaced by coal and wood smoke and smoked fish, has one of the best finishes I've ever experienced as it keeps transforming
Ardbeg Corryvrecken - we have a winner, holy s***, despite being one of the heaviest peated malts in history The Corry's peat doesn't dominate, it's one element in actual whisky bouquet, I just used "bouquet" to describe a Scotch, Corry's a damn whirlpool enveloping this drinker, *sigh* I'm going to have to save up for a bottle of this one
Ballylarkin Irish Whiskey Liqueur - Scotch candy! Lychee and canned peaches, shows Adam's sense of humor for putting this one next to The Corry
Tomintoul 27yr - a bonus sip, wasn't supposed to be part of the tasting; very nice malty malt, more enjoyable than the 33yr, very tiered with a burst of pear at the end

Okay, so I realize that's of limited help to the reader.  But I wanted to show you that the whisky alone would cost two or three times as much in LA......if you could find a bar that carried any of them.  All of this for less than a good seat at Cirque de Soleil.  Much cheaper than a terrible 30 minutes at the tables.

And keep in mind, I violated every rule of whisky nosing beforehand.  I wore (too much) cologne.  I ate fish and chips (at his recommendation).  He cooked up a bunch of garlic and onions at the bar.  And none of that, none of it, hindered the whisky adventure that followed.

I can easily enumerate the seminal whisky experiences in my life:
Glenfiddich with Cousin Jon almost 15 years ago; Scotland and Ireland in October and November 2003; Splitting at least a half bottle of Johnnie Walker Green Label with Bernardo; Royal Mile Whiskies visit in May 2011; Peat reek finally clicking with the Signatory Bowmore; and now learning this new sensory method.

I'm still mulling over this.  It's like being able to see new colors.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Jason turns 30!

My brother Jason turns thirty years old today.  Happy Birthday J!  I wish I had a 30 year old whisky to report on. I REALLY wish I had a 30 year old whisky to report on.

In lieu of that here's my list of the Top 30 Mets since 2/22/82, by Wins Above Replacement (Fangraphs verson), and stay tuned for blackmail pics at the end...

Kris Benson doesn't make the list
but that's because he's trapped somewhere in his wife's cleavage.
1. Dwight Gooden - 52.9 WAR - Dr. K sits easily at #1.  Everyone will always ponder what could have been, but we should also embrace what was.  During Gooden's 11 years on the Mets (1984-1994), Clemens was the only pitcher in the majors who put up comparable stats.  No one in the NL even comes close.

2. David Wright - 39.3 WAR - With two years left on his contract, Wright could pull into the #1 spot with back-to-back All-Star level seasons.  Can he do it?  Absolutely.  Will he?  It would be great for New York baseball if he did.

3. Darryl Strawberry - 36.6 WAR - During The Straw's eight years on the Mets (1983-1990), only Henderson, Boggs, and Raines put up better offensive numbers league-wide.  Originally from Crenshaw (LA!), Darryl was the son of Ruby Strawberry.  Not a joke.

4. Jose Reyes - 33.4 WAR - His Mets career over much too quickly, Reyes is their all-time leader in triples (99) and steals (370), and is so far ahead of the second place guy (the Mook) that I don't foresee anyone passing him.

5. Carlos Beltran - 30.9 WAR - His high ranking is largely helped by his glovework.  He put up the best fielding stats of any NL centerfielder from 2006-2009.

6. Edgardo Alfonzo - 30.7 WAR - Wow, I forgot all about this guy.  Like the two gents immediately above, he combined great fielding stats and great offense.  If not for a rough 2001, he may have been challenging Darryl for the #3 spot on this list.

7. Mike Piazza - 30.2 WAR - He called a press conference to announce that he was NOT gay.  Sounds like Terrell Owens maneuver.  Otherwise, he's the best hitting catcher in the history of baseball.  His abysmal fielding stats during his Mets career keeps him from challenging The Straw at #3.

8. Keith Hernandez - 27.0 WAR - Baseball-reference.com says that his nickname was Mex.  Was it because he did not look anything like a Mexican?  His .297 BA is third best behind Wright and Olerud.  And he was the best fielding first baseman in the National League during his career.

9. Sid Fernandez - 26.4 WAR - Now we're talking.  El Sid has the 3rd lowest Hits-per-9-Innings ratio IN MAJOR LEAGUE HISTORY.  Only Koufax and Ryan sit above him.

10. David Cone - 24.8 WAR - A superb pitcher who really should have gotten more notice when the Hall of Fame voting occurred in '09.  He sits low on this list due to his limited Mets career.  Had he started as many games as Gooden, he'd be in 2nd place.

11. Howard Johnson - 24.0 WAR - This list would be incomplete without the man who played 3B, SS, LF, and RF, went 30/30 three times, kept a sculpted beard, put up the best offensive WAR in the entire majors in 1989, and hit the seventh most sacrifice flies in a single season ever while leading the NL in homers in 1991, all while he was running an international hotel chain.  HoJo.

12. Al Leiter - 22.5 WAR - A very good pitcher who hasn't stopped talking since he retired.  Could have won the 1998 Cy Young had he pitched the full season.

13. John Olerud - 19.3 WAR - Statistically, probably the best hitter in Mets history, but only played 3 seasons for them.  Wish they'd picked him up sooner then held onto him longer.  Should have gotten more respect in the Hall of Fame voting this year.

14. Mookie Wilson - 16.8 WAR - Mooooooook.  Next to Reyes, he's the Mets historical speedster. His hitting wasn't terrible and he was decent with the glove, but quickly faded into oblivion in 1989.

15. Dave Magadan - 16.5 WAR - Got his rookie card!  It'll be worth a fortune!  Really only had one good year, in 1990, which was also the only year he stayed healthy.  Was third in the NL in BA and second in OB, while flashing the best first base glove in the league.

16. Kevin McReynolds - 16.0 WAR - Was a hell of a power-tandem mate with Strawberry.  Finished 3rd in MVP voting in 1988 when he stole 21 bases without being caught a single time.

17. Ron Darling? Yes Honey. - 15.8 WAR - The third of the great multi-cultural starting trio of Gooden-Fernandez-Darling.  Put up almost the exact same WAR numbers between 1984-1988 as the other New York Ron (Guidry) had during the same period.

18. Lenny Dykstra - 14.4 WAR - Extortion and chewing tobacco.  Wound up finding his swing in Philadelphia.  Though his numbers swelled so high so quickly that...well, far be it from me to make behavioral assumptions about a someone guilty of sexual harrassment, sexual assault, indecent exposure  (at age 48), fraud, grand theft auto, and identity theft.  And his trainers named him multiple times in the Mitchell Report.  According to Baseball-reference.com, one of his nicknames was Dude.

19. Gary Carter - 13.2 WAR - Kid!!!  Too bad he's listed underneath Nails.  He only had four healthy years with the Metsies, thus the #19 ranking.  Thankfully in the Hall of Fame, though.  The player most closely statistically comparable is Johnny Bench.  That's always a nice thing.

20. Rick Reed - 13.1 WAR - Really?  I guess so.  He was actually the 15th best starter in the NL during his years on the Mets.  And a two-time All Star with tremendous pitch control.

21. Robin Ventura - 12.9 WAR - He played for both NY teams, but the first thing I picture is him getting punched in the head by Nolan Ryan.  He had an exceptional year in 1999 and always flashed a good glove.

22. Bobby Jones - 12.6 WAR - Another Met I under-appreciated.  Reed put up the better numbers, but Jones spent more time on the team.  Was probably at his best during his great 1994 rookie year.

23. Bret Saberhagen - 12.1 WAR - A tremendous pitcher that everyone forgets about.  He came to the Mets after his prime, but in 1994 he logged the greatest Strikeout to Walk ratio in the history of the game.  Even better than the marks set in the 1880s when it took NINE balls to record a walk.  Saberhagen struck 143 and walked 13.

24. Todd Hundley - 12.0 WAR - The Man Who Came Before Piazza actually put up huge numbers in 1996 and 1997.  His 41 HRs in '96 still stands as the team record.

25. Tom Glavine - 11.6 WAR - At the end of a great career, Glavine put up five solid seasons for New York, including 2004-2006 which matched some of his better seasons with the Braves.

26. Bob Ojeda - 11.1 WAR - Was the fourth member of that great mid-eighties rotation.  Put up some tremendous numbers in '86, when was the fourth best pitcher in the NL.  Without him there would have been no championship.

27. Johan Santana - 10.9 WAR - He'd better get his ass further up this list.

28. Bernard Gilkey - 10.5 WAR - Yes, we're getting into Bernard Gilkey territory.  His 44 doubles in 1996 is still the team record.  He was actually had the third best WAR in the NL in '96.  He put up a decent '97, then was gone in '98.

29. Wally Backman - 10.5 WAR - It's easy to forget that he only played three full seasons, then played small chunks of six other years.  His highlight was also 1986, when he hit .320, which would have been 4th in the league had he had enough plate appearances.

30. Frank Viola - 10.3 WAR - Two great years for the Mets, in 1990 and 1991.  Arguably the best in NL pitcher in 1990.  It's a pity he went to the Red Sox after that.

Honorable Mentions:
Angel Pagan:  Not only will he crack this list by late May, he could make it into the top 20 with a decent season.
Bobby Bo: #31
Pedro: #33
John Franco: #35
Tim Teufel: #44
Mike Hampton: #56

Happy B-Day JK!  See you soon.

That's J on the right.
On the right again.
And now on the left.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

30 Simple Rules of Fitness Club Etiquette

1.  Looking at yourself longingly in the mirror while the 25-lb weights sit at your feet does not count as "using" the weights.

2. Share the weights.  Thus, do not take six different sets of free weights to your corner and claim that you are "using" them all "right now".

3. Do not opine on politics with an Outside Voice while in the locker room.

4. Do not opine on politics at all.

5. Do not slam the machine weights.  The unenforced sign that reads "Do not slam the machine weights" isn't just posted to cover up a crack in the drywall.  You will break the machine, which will ruin the workout routine for hundreds of people.  Returning the weights slowly to their original position works your muscles and IS PART OF THE WORKOUT.  If you can't lift the weights appropriately, use less weight, Tough Guy.

6. Wash your jockstrap.  This year.  I'm serious.

7. When that woman says that she doesn't need you to spot her, don't force the issue.  No means no.  If she wanted you to straddle her head while she lays down, she would have provided a more overt invitation.

8. Don't smell like garlic when using the elliptical next to mine.

9. Slamming your feet into the treadmill tread while you run is not proper running form.  It slows you down.  It tires you out quicker.  It will likely bring on joint or ligament injury very quickly.  And it's loud as f**k.

10. Swinging your entire body around while using the elliptical heightens your chance of injury and wears you out quicker, but is totally appropriate if your headphone song ROCKS.

11. There's grunting and then there's Grunting.  Capital 'G' Grunting is like a tramp stamp.  It broadcasts that you didn't receive enough attention from your father.

12. If you flex and grunt at yourself in the mirror, your human being membership will be revoked.

13. Standing next to a cardio machine and using your Outside Voice to talk to an exercising individual for thirty minutes is inappropriate.  You are disrupting everyone else's workout and you are not working out.

14. If you sweat profusely, wipe down the goddamn equipment when you're done.  Sweat is the equivalent of urine and often smells worse.  Wipe the bench.  Seriously, wipe it.  I still see your nut sweat stripe on it.

15. Be judicious with the Purell.  Do not bathe in it.  Aside from strengthening the most aggressive 0.1% of existing bacteria, you are also suffocating everyone around you in a cloud of ether.

16. To women who choose to wear tight shorts that barely cover the cheeks and a boosting brassiere instead of a sports bra:  There are infinite permutations of gymwear, but you chose clothing that accentuates your sexuality.  Thank you, you've made my 7am workout much better.

17. Farting:  Cropdust responsibly.  And away from me.  Nothing ruins the last rep of a military press like a sulphuric barbecue air biscuit.  Someone's going to get hurt here, and it'll probably be me.

18. Farting:  On a treadmill, acceptable, but only if you're really running hard.

19. Farting:  Woman on the elliptical next to me......that's your eighth one in five minutes.  Go to the f**k to the bathroom.

20. After finishing your bowel movement in the restroom and before using the fitness equipment, wash your hands.  There's poop on them.

21. Don't stand outside a fitness classroom and stare at the people taking spinning/yoga/kickboxing.  They are exercising.  You are not.

22. If the equipment you are using breaks, then please tell a fitness club employee.  And blame it on the D-Bag from Rule #5.

23. If you are talking on your cell phone for more than ten seconds, every person at the gym is allowed to "accidentally" clock you with a 50lb. dumbbell until you end your call.

24. If you are spraying mucus onto your elliptical screen (because you can't bother to cover your sick hole when you cough), then you should not be in public.  Go home, but wipe down the machine before you leave, lest you desire two broken kneecaps to go with your influenza.

25. When you finish a set on a machine and see at least one person waiting to use the same machine, do not remain there and take out your iPhone to watch Two and a Half Men before your next set.

26. If someone asks, "Can I work in?"  The correct answer is, "Yes."

27. Do not sit and read the newspaper at the machine between sets.

28. If you leave your sweatshirt on the only remaining weight bench as you take a ten minute cropdusting stroll around the gym between sets, I am allowed to rifle through its pockets.  And then toss it aside.

29. My god, flush the toilet.

30. Share, be considerate of others, don't use your Outside Voice indoors, cover your mouth, wash your hands...  If your 5-year-old grandchild can do these things better than you, then maybe she should be welcomed into society and you should be ushered out.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Long Beach Scottish Festival

The Long Beach Scottish Festival ran this past Saturday and Sunday in and around the Queen Mary.  Our friends James and Jess participated, as did Kristen and I .  By "participated" I mean ate, drank, and cheered all things Scottish.

There was no haggis (thankfully?), but there were meat pies.  And a steady stream of pipers.  There was Scotch whisky, but no Scottish ale to be found.  There were kilts EVERYWHERE.  Gaelic tchotchke tents.  Dancing competitions.  Sheep herding.  And a steady stream of pipers.  There was also gelato, spicy cheese kettle corn, and street tacos -- little known Scottish delights.

Here's a hastily assembled (whisky-free) recap of the sunny day.  And a steady stream of pipers.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Single Malt Report: The Macallan Cask Strength

This isn't Macallan Cask Strength, but it's pretty close.
This is Macallan Cask Strength, though the neck is looking a little low...
Distillery: The Macallan
Brand: Sherry Oak Cask Strength
Age: 10 to 12 years (though this may be debatable)
Maturation: Spanish Oak seasoned with Oloroso Sherry Sherry Sherry Sherry Sherry
Region: Speyside
Alcohol by Volume: 58.6%

The Macallan is the third best selling single malt in the world, yet this is the first report on one of their bottlings?!  Yes.  I know.  But don't worry, there's going to be a Macallan Week here on Diving For Pearls next month wherein you'll get all of the Macallan reporting you could possibly want.

I'll get into The Macallan past and present then, but for now let us take a look at the cask strength bottling that I'd teased on Monday.

Macallan made their mark in the market through their sherry-seasoned-Spanish-Oak-matured whiskies.  As you may be able to tell by the color in the picture above, they use a dark sherry.  Known as Oloroso, it's a rich sherry that was itself matured in oak longer than other Jerez wines.  Its own palate profile is nutty and hefty (up to 20% ABV).  And it really does impart a strong character to a malt whisky spirit.

The entirety of the Macallan Sherry Oak range (even the 25yr and 30yr) is released at 43% ABV, so they've all been diluted to establish the palatable palate.  Well, all of them except for the Cask Strength.

I've seen two labels for the Cask Strength whisky.  The picture above shows the one that I sipped on Saturday night.  There's also a label that has a large 10 year age statement.  The release with the 10 year age statement contains casks that are 10 to 12 years in age.  (I'm not sure if the release without the age statement has the same ages of whisky.  I could have sworn that The Macallan ambassador that I'd met last year said that it contained 8 to 10 year whisky.  If I'm mistaken I will redact.)

But one thing is for certain, it is a very youthful whisky.

The color is crimson mahogany, like the darkest sherry itself.
Once one can get past all of the alcohol fumes, the nose is all sherry and brown sugar.
The palate is HOT and heavy.  There's no taming of the poison in this one.  Beyond that it's massively sherried, followed by a wave of sour and bitter fruits (like raw cranberries).
The finish continues to be hot stuff.  More sherry.  And the sour+bitter lingers on. Very drying.

It needs water.

No change in the color, so it's clearly filtered.  (Whisky joke!)
The nose smoothens out.  Still Big Sherry.  But more like a sherry soaked molasses cookie.
One thing to note: it does not turn into regular ol' Macallan when diluted.  The palate is different.  The water turns it creamier.  Oloroso's nuttiness sneaks through.  A little bit of the cranberry sours remain, but the bitterness and ethyl are gone.
The finish mellows significantly.  Oh, and more sherry.

Maybe I'm suffering from sherry exhaustion, but this one didn't pique my fancy the way it used to.  There are moments when it's nothing but sherry and rubbing alcohol, leaving me with a razed palate.  Water helps it out, but by then my brain wants a beer.  It is an excellently crafted muscular whisky, so I'm not going to kill it in the ratings.

But I prefer Glenfarclas 105 with its tiers of citrus and jam and plums and cherries.  Of course, that one costs more.

The Macallan Cask Strength is the best priced officially-bottled cask strength whisky in the American market.  Which is a great thing.  It's worth every dime since you're getting a lot more booze for your money.

So, if you love the Macallan Sherry Oak flavor profile then you should definitely give this one a sip.  Try it neat, try it with water.  If it's your cup o' sherry, then splash out for a bottle.

Or you can wait until Glenvomit Single Cask hits the BevMo shelves for $30.  [Ed. note: GlenVomit Single Cask prices have increased by 200% since this report.]

Pricing - Good at $55, Acceptable at $70
Rating - 82

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Happy Thursday, Time to Feel Weird

Here are three videos I've seen recently that draw specific psychological responses:

Firstly, the trailer for Beyond the Black Rainbow.

The filmmakers have clearly been watching the right movies.  Perhaps Jodorowsky meets Argento meets Kubrick?

The trailer makes me hug my screen with joy.  Could the full feature be as swell?  Can it maintain?  The reviews from the film festivals do say that it's one big bucket of oddity.  A hopeful sign.  I think we all could use some proper weird right now.  And by "we all", I mean me.

I sincerely hope this gets a theatrical release.

If that trailer did nothing for you, here's a five minute video of a cockroach giving birth.

If you have cockroach issues, sorry.  :(

Now, who's hungry?

JEEZUS, just give us a whisky post, you a-hole.

Okay, as an apology, here's a video to right your mind.

Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A post-Valentine's Day Post (aka Whisky Fail!)

I'd like to address a couple of factual errors I've made.  I thought it appropriate to do now since Valentine's Day is the holiday wherein one confesses to one's grievous errors and promises to do better in the year that follows.

Or maybe that's Yom Kippur.

Anyway, two whisky items to recount:
  1. Glenkinchie 12 year - I had originally stated that most of the Lowland distilleries distill their spirit three times, as opposed to the usual Scotch single malt procedure of double distillation.  In fact (according to this year's official Malt Whisky Yearbook), Auchentoshan is the only Lowland distillery that consistently practices triple distillation.  The original 19th-century Lowland distillery style was to use triple distillation to get that soft light texture and palate, but since then other techniques have been discovered (like extra long fermentation times) that give the spirit a very similar character.  While other distilleries (like Springbank and BenRiach) are experimenting with triple distillation products, Auchentoshan is the only Lowlander that does it consistently.
  2. Springbank 10 years old 100 proof - After delving into the relevant tangent of the difference between UK and US alcohol proofing, and explaining that this whisky's 100 proof equalled 57% ABV, I discovered that the US bottling of this whisky is at 50% ABV (which is 100 US proof).  The UK bottling is still 57% ABV, thus 100 UK proof.  Why'd they change the whisky for the American market?  I don't know.  Perhaps to prevent confusion about "proof".  (Though Glenfarclas has not changed the bottling strength of its "105" whisky for the American market.)  So, how did I make this Springbank discovery?  I looked at the new 10yr 100 Proof US bottle I'd purchased......a month after I'd purchased it.  The original report that I did, and linked to above, is for the 57% ABV UK bottling.  I will be doing a report on the American release in the near future.  The great news is that the American release is also fully scrumptious.
I have updated these reports appropriately.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Single Malt Report: BenRiach 12 year old

Distillery: BenRiach
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: American Oak and ex-bourbon barrels (?)
Region: Speyside
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

BenRiach has been an ongoing curiosity to me.  They currently have twenty-seven releases out in the market right now (and that doesn't include another twelve single cask releases), each with a different combination of aging, maturing, peating, and finishing.  For instance, Arumaticus Fumosus (heavily peated then finished in dark rum barrels) or a 16 year Claret Finish or 17 yr Solstice (peated, triple distilled, ex-bourbon barrel aged, and finished in Tawny Port casks).

That strikes me as being the result of one of three situations: 1.) They have no confidence in their regular malt so they're actively trying to dress it in pretty things in order to find a successful product; or 2.) They're banking that future of the whisky market will be these wine-skis; or 3.) They have expert blenders who are really good at fashioning these products.

They're owned by the same folks who took over the Glendronach distillery and subsequently revived that old gem.  BenRiach also is one of the last few distilleries to do their own floor maltings.  So those are two elements in their favor.

I bought a bottle of their now-out-of-circulation 16yr Sauternes Finish from a prominent UK vendor, then subsequently regretted my purchase.  It's not that the whisky was entirely bad.  The palate just didn't appeal to me.  The ultra-sweet dessert wine entirely overpowered the malt.  I should have found a way to taste it before getting an entire bottle.  I will never repeat that error; only under extreme circumstances will I blind buy a bottle.  There are so many whisky opportunities out there to try before I buy.

But that whisky wasn't an entire throwaway.  It turns out that ultrasweet whiskies make for good highballs.  Expensive highballs, that is.  Anyway, here were my two reviews of that whisky:  First and Second.

With all of this in mind, I wanted to try out their Flagship Range that was in the "Classic Speyside Style".  I wanted to taste the malt beneath the wine finishes, without the peating.  Happily, the opportunity arose this weekend while I was with my brother at The Bowery (thanks again, J!) as I'd noted in yesterday's post.  As usual, the price wasn't low, but the pour was generous.  Some of my senses may have been compromised by the nearby frying of potatoes and fish, but I did my best to focus...

The color is an orangey amber.
The nose has a lot going on.  Something halfway between honey and sherry.  Brightly sweet and a little salty.  Toffee with nuts.  Trader Joes "Super Premium" vanilla ice cream.  Fruity sherbet.  And lots of roses.  (I spent a long time with my nose in the glass, as Jason can confirm.)
The palate was a little more simple, but very silky.  Again the sweet element that was somewhere between honey and sherry.  Perhaps this is the malt shining through?  Sugar cookies and a lot of citrus.
It had a medium-length finish, a little spicy with more citrus.

Out comes that citrus in the nose.  Especially oranges.  A little less sugary overall.
The palate becomes nuttier.  Very creamy texture.  A little spicy.  And some bubble gum.
The finish becomes smooth, mild, and a little honeyed.

All of my Internet-snooping can't seem to unearth what barrels were used on this, but I like whatever they were.  The whisky feels less doctored than the Sauternes Finish and I enjoyed it even more than I had expected.  It compares very favorably with other simple (in the good way!) malts in its age range.  It's more layered than Glenlivet while less sherried than Glenfarclas and Macallan.

Perhaps I'll have a little more patience with BenRiach and their craftings going forward.

Pricing - Good at $40-$45
Rating - 85

Monday, February 13, 2012

Of Bars and Trains

Miss me?

I missed you.

These past three days away were very eventful.  My career struggles' volume has been turned up to 11.  But to combat that, my brother (who was in town on business) and I got to hang out and visit some bars.

But first, public transportation.

I rode the Long Beach Municipal buses, to and from the nearest Metro stop.  Very impressive system.  Mostly on time.  Very clean buses with nice drivers.  Possibly better than the DC Metro Bus system.  Possibly.

The LA Metro itself is a curious thing.  If one takes the Blue Line to and from LBC and LA, one gets a box seat view of the worst elements of this county.  Entire villages of the homeless, tents and tarps and garbage piles.  Abandoned industry.  Vast empty commercial districts.  Garbage swamped sections of the LA River.

But the train price is fantastic.  $1.50.  This price due to LA's subsidies because there's no way the system can run on a rate like that and...

There's no payment enforcement.  None.  I could have walked right onto the train in LBC and then walked off in LA and never paid.  I bought a TAP card, but the entry turnstiles turn without the card having to be tapped.  My brother bought a paper ticket, but there was no place to put the ticket.  He just walked right onto the train.  No one was checking tickets.

So, the system largely relies on the honor system.  That's mind boggling.  Between the economic despair running through most of this county and the ethical vacuum running through the rest of it, I can't imagine that anyone's paying for the train aside from tourists.

Los Angeles needs subsidies in order to function at all, but all of those tax dollars going to the Metro could be better spent on the rest of this broken county.  Enforcing payment of the meager Metro rate would probably double or triple ticket revenue (and possibly more, I'm just guessing here), thus freeing up some of the public $$$.

Okay, you didn't come here for that rant.  So let me climb down off my soapbox...

...and up onto the barstool.

The Edison

The Edison's a trip, not entirely figuratively.  Semi-hidden in an alley off 2nd Street downtown, it looks like it's going to be a cute little speakeasy.  But instead it's a massive multi-roomed entertainment parlor.  Two bars serve up all sorts of high quality spirits (including some decent American-style absinthes).  A live jazz band roars out period tunes, sometimes accompanied by a burlesque dancer.  At least three sets of silent films are projected on the massive walls.  Winged pixies cart around colorful bottled cocktails.

It's a fun scene.  I like the dress code -- no sneakers, or T-shirts -- though I'd thought everyone was going to be in a suit.  Luckily I didn't overdress, but I did wear pants.

The whisky prices were about half that of Seven Grand's.  We started out with Clynelish 14 (a reliable malty malt).  Then Jason had Redbreast 12 for the first time (success!) and I had a very well priced Lagavulin 16 (magnificent: smoldering peat cigar, milk chocolate, cinnamon, Sweet Jeebus I can't wait to do a proper report on this one).

[One note to the bartender:  I know that calling every female customer "Baby" is keeping with the '30s theme (and is The Bee's Knees, in theory), but when you're twenty-five with a head full of hair product and a licentious leer, it ain't classy; it's harassment.  I don't care how cool your vest looks.]

In any case, I'm definitely going back with Kristen.  She would love this place.  Plus I really want to try out some Kübler since no one else was touching the stuff.  I recommend this place to folks looking for a unique bar in Downtown LA.

The Bowery

The Edison was on Friday night.  The Bowery began our Saturday night.

Add caption
The Bowery is quite small and a bit dark inside at night, but I've never had a problem getting a seat (or seeing my whisky).  Their food is fantastic.  I've had great sandwiches, sides, and soups there.  The people I've gone with have praised the burgers.

Their liquor selection is excellent.  I've said it before and I'll say it again:  they provide excellent whisky pours.  Just ask for it neat and in a brandy snifter.  I enjoyed a Benriach 12yr (thanks Jason!) and its report will follow this week.

The food prices are reasonable for that part of town.  The whisky prices are comparable with The Edison, some being more, some less.  They have a nice selection of international ales and beers too, if you're looking for something cheaper than a single malt.  Another recommended establishment.

The Piano Bar

This one is going to need its own post someday.  I love this place.

Good drinks, nice design, non-scene crowd, and GREAT music.  All the bands are good, but seriously find out if Brother Sal is playing before you go.  He and his band are F-----g Awesome!  I have nothing but hyperbole for them.  I have repeatedly sat through hours of traffic to see their enormous Blues/Rock/Jazz/Saloon/Thunder.

Jason and I stopped by on Saturday.  He had a Balvenie Doublewood and I had a Macallan Cask Strength (report also to follow soon).  It wasn't a Brother Sal night, but were able to grab a table and chill and enjoy the evening.

But now all that has past and a week begins anew.

Welcome back, Sir Monday.  May your stay be brief.  Don't let the door hit your ass on the way out.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Single Malt Report: Laphroaig 18 year (with guest reporter!)

Going a little higher shelf than usual today, but for good reason: Laphroaig makes a damn good malt.

I've previously reported on the 10year and the Quarter Cask bottlings.  Both are strong, medicinal, phenolic, unapologetically-Islay single malts.  The 10year and I have gone from enemies to allies, from "gross" to "that's really good".  The Quarter Cask was love at first nose.  In fact, if I can find a good price on it, I'll be obtaining a bottle this year.

When you order any young Laphroaig at a bar, you do so already anticipating the peat-reek, salt, menthol, band-aids, and Islay air.  It's a reliable muscular industrial wallop, even at lower ABV levels.

As previously mentioned, I'm a newer convert to the Laphroaig palate.  My friend and fellow whiskey fanatic, Bernardo, is about five years ahead of me on that front.  In fact, he's a few years ahead of me on the whisky journey in general, though I've been drinking doing my best to catch up.  So who better to share a Laphroaig report with?

We separately sampled drams of Laphroaig 18, sharing a sip with the wives, Kristen (mine) and Suburban Food Nerd (his), in order to get a complete picture of this older single malt.

Age: minimum 18 years
Maturation: bourbon barrels
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 48%

This 18-year release began in 2009, replacing their 15-year-old malt.  Laphroaig has said that this one gets a limited release every year, though they don't slap a cask or bottle count onto the label, so no one except Laphroaig Ltd. knows the release numbers.

Like the Quarter Cask, the 18 year is not chillfiltered and I'm pretty sure there's no added coloring since it has a pale-ish tone.  Without the filtering, the whisky clouds up at colder temperatures or with added water, but it retains a large amount of the palate complexity it gains from the oak casks.  

It is bottled at a good strong 48% ABV, but thanks to its age, the rougher alcohol corners have been smoothed out.

Enough with the facts!  Okay, maybe one more.

When I called Bernardo about his tasting session, this is how the phone conversation began...

Bernardo:  "Hello?"
Me: "So did you pound that eighteen year old yet?"
Me: (laughing like I was in junior high)
Bernardo: Yes.

To the pounding tasting!

First, Bernardo's notes:

Color - Light Gold / Straw
Nose - Soft Peat, Mint, Moss, Sweet
Palate - Slow Developing, Lightly Smoky, Vanilla
Body - Light, Oak
Finish - Lingering, Candied orange

Damn, how professional and straightforward.

Now for my flowery, overwritten notes:

The color is a lovely light gold, but darker than the 10 year old (rhyme!).
The nose shows the malt mellowing with age.  Very subtle peat.  A sugary bourbon vanilla up front and maybe some dried apricots in the back.  A little bit of oak.  No band-aids.  No plastic.
The palate has some dusty peat, wood smoke, malt, and a little vanilla.  Gentle compared to the 10yr.
A graceful finish of sweet cream sneaks up then sticks around.

This brings out the sweets in the nose.  Big vanilla and brown sugar.  Peat has almost vanished.
The palate gets sweeter too.  Same vanilla and brown sugar.  Subtle smoke.  Caramel sauce.  And something mossy.
The finish is still nice and warm.  More vanilla and brown sugar.

First, the good news.  It is very very smooth.  Kristen didn't even make the whisky face.  (I think she only likes the expensive stuff.)  The sweetness is a very nice surprise.

The other news.  It comes down to palate preference.  Amongst all of the subtlety and grace, the Laphroaig character has gone into a slumber.  It was kind of surprising.  There is no doubt that this a lovely luxurious whisky, but...

I still enjoy the Quarter Cask more, with its delicious complex craziness.  And I think Bernardo (please correct me if I'm wrong) may prefer the 10year for its grand capital 'L' Laphroaigness.

Though neither of us would ever turn a glass ($25-35 in a bar) of this away, were it offered.

This malt is priced similarly to other well known singles in its age group, so I have no qualms with its relative price.  So ultimately, if finances aren't a barrier, then this a lovely gentle Islay malt that comes highly recommended.

Pricing - Good at $100, Bad at $150 (saw it going for $72 in a Arizona Costco!)
Rating - 86

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Drive (the film)

This review is biased from the start.  I love LA noir stories.  I love synth soundtracks.  I love the stillness in great European cinema.  I love aerial photography of Los Angeles at night.  I love gradual buildups of suspense and dread.  DRIVE hits all of these notes with confidence and ease.

It's a tale about an unnamed Driver (Ryan Gosling), a movie stunt driver who moonlights as a independently contracted robbery getaway driver.  He falls in love with his cute neighbor, Irene (Cary Mulligan), and her son.  But once he vows to help her ex-con husband get out of financial trouble, he's pulled into an abyss of crime and murder.

Whomever thought that the Academy was going to line this film's shelf with statues was kidding themselves.  This is a genre piece.  It's honed, sculpted, and crafted beautifully, nailing every genre mark with a cold heavy hammer.  But it's still a genre piece with no unnecessary flash nor cloying bathos.  The good news is that it was relatively successful with its box office receipts.  So maybe we'll see more of its like in the future.

Now who's kidding himself?

Gosling is great as the McQueen-meets-Eastwood meets-Hella-Handsome driver.  He emotes very little, but it's there in subtle shadings.  Mulligan is solid in an underwritten role -- though that's a quirk with the noir genre, the best female roles are always for the femme fatales and Irene is the furthest thing from the Deadly Lady.  Ron Perlman is unnerving in a grandiose simian way as one-half of a Jewish mobster team.  The other half of that team is played by Albert Brooks who hits every aspect of his character perfectly.  For those of you who always wanted to see Albert Brooks get his murderer on, here's your chance.

But it's the exemplary technics that boost this film the most.  After the opening, about forty-five minutes pass with nary an action sequence, though its suspense grip tightens and crackles like leather gloves on a steering wheel.  When the action does erupt over the entire second half of the film, it's directed and edited so clearly that's it a bit startling.  Even the very first sequence, a robbery getaway, the viewer can follow every single thing that's going on.  No tricky editing, no weird angles.  It just plays out with a (now) rare cinematic clarity, with the same cool grace of the Driver.

Of course, the flip side of having such steadily designed action means that every drop of blood (and brain) is on display.  After bemoaning cinematic violence last week, I do have to say that this film is REALLY GORY.  I can't really state with certainty the stylistic need to show crushed heads, but it doesn't come as much of a surprise from the director of PUSHER, BRONSON, and VALHALLA RISING.

That element aside, Nicolas Winding Refn does a tremendous job here.  There's a calm but precise style that runs throughout this film which he holds firmly throughout.  Its running time of 100 minutes is perfect too, getting into the story then getting out much quicker than 99% of the other films onscreen this year.

And then there's the elevator scene.

Cinema has had plenty of action/suspense scenes in elevators.  But none has ever been like DRIVE's. It pirouettes from nerve-rattling suspense to surprising delicate romance to action to gory horror all within 120 seconds.  None of it feels overdone, every piece is perfectly in place and dazzlingly executed.  'Executed' being the key word.  And it all shows (not tells, there isn't a word spoken) a necessary series of beats for the story; things will never be the same for these characters after it's over.  Style intertwined with storytelling, the heart of cinema.

I recommend DRIVE to folks who can take seeing some serious violence.  And if you like the noir genre, then this is your jam.  Think Steve McQueen in LE SAMOURAI with more emotion and the lights of Los Angeles gleaming like stars in the moral darkness.