Monthly Archives: August 2014

…back to the Bourbons – American whiskey tasting no 6.

Breaking & entering BourbonBreaking & Entering Bourbon Whiskey, 86 proof (43%).

The St. George distillery started as an artisanal producer of eau de vie in 1982, now in many ways seen as pioneers of Americas craft distillery movement. Through the years the company has diversified into gin, absinthe, rum, fruit brandies, liquers and finally whiskey. There´s a prestigious single malt that I haven´t yet tried, and now a blended Bourbon brought home to California from Kentucky.
After selecting almost 400 barrels of choice Kentucky whiskey from different distilleries, careful tasting and blending using about 80 of them with ages 5 – 7 years resulted in Breaking & Entering Bourbon. Distilled in Kentucky but born at the distillery in California. So, what do we get?

The colour is a pleasant light amber. The nose has vanilla and banana notes and some oak at the end. In a tasting glass it´s surprisingly dry for a Bourbon and you don´t get much corn or caramel notes. Initially there´s a notable alcohol burn followed by a pretty short finish of rye spiciness. In a tumbler with ice the nose shows an additional rye white pepper tone, while the palate becomes quite bland.
Sold in a pretty unremarkable bottle, high and slim and with a batch number that seems to be printed on the label slightly askew as to look stamped on.

Although almost universally lauded, I´m not that crazy about this whiskey and I don´t think there´s going to be a return match. I´m much more interested in their single malt, which will have to be a later project.

Beer barrel bourbonBeer Barrel Bourbon, 80 proof (40%).

Started as a microbrewery 1996 in Holland, Michigan, the company produces an impressive line of craft beers (none of which I believe is available in Sweden). Distillation of gin, rum and whiskey started in 2005. Already being well versed in beer, the idea of aging whiskey in beer barrels wasn´t that far off. One of their most hailed beers, Dragon´s Milk, is an imperial stout finished by a period of aging in second use Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels. After sourcing Bourbon from Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana that´s been aged in new oak casks for some years, the guys at New Holland puts it in used Dragon´s Milk barrels for three months as a finishing touch.

The colour is deep gold, with an interesting nose with some oak, hints of caramel and definite notes of beer and hops. In a tasting glass it´s light and rounded, fairly dry with some oak and a slight burn to the finish which has a bitterness I believe to come from the hops. In a tumbler with ice nothing much changes, except for a dilution of the taste.

Offered in a short, wide bottle with a frankly quite ugly label, narrowly saved by the quality wood/cork stopper.
Nothing stellar, but a fun idea and I´m definitely going to try to get hold of some more of their products.

High West Praire ReserveHigh West American Prairie Reserve, 92 proof (46%).

Started in 2007, the High West Distillery is not only Utah´s first legal distillery since Prohibition, but also the world´s only ski-in distillery and gastro saloon. As is the case for many of the new craft distilleries, High West hasn´t yet released any of its own distillates, and keeps business going by sourcing whiskey from others and blending them under their name. The practice can be discussed, of course, but let us be positive for the time being.

According to the company´s website this is a blend of two straight bourbons. The first one 6 years old and made from a mash bill of 75% corn, 20 % rye and 5% barley malt by Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana. The second 10 years old and made of 60% corn, 35% rye and 5% barley malt by Four Roses. None of the whiskeys used has been chill-filtered or carbon-treated. Nothing is said about the proportions between the two, but I would dare a guess that it´s heavier on the 6 year than on the 10 year old.

Amber colour with a nose characterized by caramel sweetness, oak and hints of cinnamon. Neat in a tasting glass we get a fairly light mouthfeel with oak, cinnamon and some caramel. The finish is dry and spicy. In a tumbler with ice the nose sweetens while keeping the oak, and the palate paradoxically increases the dryness and spicy oak. The bottle is quite stylish, high and slim with embossed glass and a wood/cork stopper. The seemingly handwritten batch and bottle numbers adds to the feeling of drinking an exclusive beverage.

I kind of like this one, but can´t help wondering what their own whiskey is going to be like when it´s finally released. We´ll just have to wait and see. Another thing, the distillery promises to donate 10% of its profits to the American Praire Foundation, aiding in the creation of the huge American Praire wildlife reserve.

Michter´s small batch bourbonMichter´s Small Batch Bourbon, 91,4 proof (45,7%).

Michter´s is by now an old acquaintance and I´ve already written about their straight rye. Learning more about this producer things starts to look a bit sketchy. There doesn´t seem to be any other connection between the original and historic Pennsylvania distillery apart from the name. Current Michter´s is distilled at an undisclosed location and bottled by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers. The company is however setting up a pair of distilleries in Kentucky, making them quite similar to other producers that are bottling whiskey made by others while waiting for their own. A very well written and informative post on this can be read here. I haven´t been able to find that much information about the production of this whiskey, other than that it´s made from American corn, distilled in small batches and undergoing an undisclosed filtration process.

It shows a sparkling deep amber colour. A complex nose with corn sweetness, caramel, vanilla, fruit and some rye spiciness in the finish. Neat in a tasting glass you get a pretty full and smooth taste with some sweetness and vanilla notes, plenty of oak and a lingering spicy finish. In a tumbler with ice the sweetness takes over, increasing the smoothness but shortening the finish.

I actually like this, and the offerings from Michter´s that I´ve tried so far are amongst my favourite American whiskeys, regardless of the hugely overblown and partially inaccurate marketing hype.

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…2014 w 34 – Album of the week is “Even serpents shine” by The Only Ones.

The Only OnesThis great English band who had a short but intense career at the end of the 70´s has often been clumped together with the nascent new wave scene, more out of convenience than actual sound. While the punk and new wave outfits of the time didn´t necessarily have to be accomplished musicians, this lot was. Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers were contemporary kindred souls, and in modern times you could probably say the same of The Libertines. Fuelled by prime motors Peter Perrett and John Perry the band managed three fine albums between 1978 and 1980, before finally disbanding in 1982. For Peter Perrett many wilderness years marked by heroin addiction followed, until the band made an unexpected comeback 2007.

Only Serpents Shine“Even serpents shine” released in 1979 neatly sums up the impact of this influential band. A sound firmly based in fairly traditional rock ´n´ roll and with a melodic sensibility distinctly different from the new wave explosion. Perrett´s drawling vocals over a backdrop of Perry´s trademark guitars, blending attack with melody in a way very much his own, together with lyrical depictions of dark romance made this a bittersweet treasure resonating well into present time. Containing many of their best songs, this album is my personal favourite of their output. Further honing the skills displayed on first album “The Only Ones” (1978), and without the slightly disappointing detours into frankly sappy pop that marred last album “Baby´s got a gun” (1980), this is a career highlight if there ever was one. If you don´t know them already, go discover The Only Ones. It will be worth it.

…Darren Aronofsky should have left the bible alone.

When I was about 10 or 11 years old, I more or less on an impulse brought down the heavy family bible from the bookshelf and read it all the way through in the matter of a few weeks. Being just a boy and not having the faintest idea of what I was in for, I still remember the surprisingly dark ride a lot of the old testament proved to be to my impressionable mind.

Not being a religious person, I think it´s permissible to see the different parts of the bible as stories and to treat them as such. That said, the many attempts at making some of these histories into movies has often caused great controversy. Many will probably remember the uproar over the extreme violence in “The Passion of the Christ”, or Monty Python´s “Life of Brian” being banned in several countries (one of them Norway!) despite not really being about Christianity at all. The latest of these attempts at dramatizing the holy book is American director Darren Aronofsky making a big production number of the story of Noah and the flood.

PiAronofsky made his name amongst critics and film aficionados with his first movie “Pi”, premiered at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival. A dark, black and white history of mathematical number theory, mysticism and the Stock Exchange, which despite it´s low budget packed quite a visceral punch. While abounding with ideas of the mathematical core of nature and reality, the science is contrasted with religious mysticism as filtered through the mind of protagonist Max, a savant of sorts eventually ending up performing a gruesome act of self-trephination and finally finding a sort of innocent peace with himself after quitting his quest for understanding ultimate reality. Quite heavy stuff, but I remember it as one of the highlights of the year.

Requiem for a dreamFor the first time with real financing and with more well-known actors, the follow-up adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr´s novel “Requiem for a dream” (2000) definitely showed that this was a talent to watch. As one story arch follows widow Sara Goldfarb as she slowly slips into addiction and madness in connection with a possible appearance on her favourite game show, the other deals with her son Harry who´s living an adventurous life with his girlfriend Marion and friend Tyrone, as heroin addicts sliding towards jail, degradation and physical deformity. Developing a style very much his own, with numerous fast cuts combined with split screen and extreme close-ups, the movie deals with the price you pay for your obsessions – be they drugs, attention seeking or the reckless excitement of youth. Very powerful and often perversely beautiful in its depiction of the main characters´ inevitable decline into their own private hells.

The WrestlerHaving missed “The Fountain” (2006) I found my way back to Aronofsky with the excellent “The Wrestler” (2008). Mickey Rourke´s depiction of professional wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson trying to find romance in the shape of a stripper and reconnect with his estranged daughter, while at the same time physically disintegrating from the hard life in the ring, was both a return to form for a slightly discredited actor and in many ways a carreer high for Rourke. You can´t help being impressed with the determination it must have taken him to put up with what he´s being put through here. A strangely moving portrait of a deeply flawed individual scrabbling to make things right.

The black swanPersonally I would consider “Black Swan” (2010) to be his most accomplished work so far, sharing an interest in the pain a person needs to endure to reach his or her goals with “The Wrestler”. In this case it´s the chance to play both the White and the Black Swan in a production of the ballet “Swan Lake”. Troubled ballerina Nina quickly enters a fierce competition with fellow dancer Lily, Nina being technically more adept but lacking passion while Lily in spite of other inadequacies has an intuitive talent for letting her inhibitions go. From the pressure of the situation Nina somehow gradually loses her grip on reality, finishing with a scene of bloody metamorphosis. Apart from the elements of psychological thriller, this movie´s depiction of the physicalities involved in ballet dancing both startles and repulses. Excellent actors doing their best in a story both dark and fascinating, with obvious connections to Polanski´s “Repulsion”, without the claustrophobia.

NoahIn the light of these two previous efforts the 2014 release “Noah”, as mentioned earlier based on the history of Noah and the flood, would absolutely be something I should be interested in seeing . As I understand it, some liberties has been taken with the original biblical story that hasn´t always gone down well in Christian circles, which is perhaps not that unexpected. The film has several good actors (Russell Crowe, Anthony Hopkins and Ray Winstone), and is a huge production with lots of CGI and other visual trickery.

However, despite all the work and money put into this film it cannot be seen as anything else than a complete and utter failure. The story is in many respects totally ridiculous and hardly coherent, with severely clichéd dialogue and worst of all shockingly bad acting. In this movie exactly everything misses its mark and splatters impotently to the ground. Even the score is grossly inadequate, mostly sounding like some inept parody of generic action movie bombast.

The only redeeming values I could find in this film are a few technically very nicely executed shots (like the beginning creation story), and some breathtaking and easily recognized scenes of Icelandic landscapes. The green colour that those mountains can show when the sunlight hits them in just the right way can´t be found anywhere else. Apart from that, it´s 138 minutes of your life that you´re never getting back.

…2014 w 33 – Album of the week is “The B 52’s” by The B 52’s.

During our vacation in a rented house near Nice in southern France, the neighbours are throwing a party. Since they obviously are people with great taste in music, it’s a pleasure sitting outside by the pool listening to the sounds spilling over the garden hedge. A lot of prime 80’s and 90’s bands, as well as newer stuff.

b52sAmongst all this “Planet Claire” by the B 52’s arrives, with a huge nostalgic kick. The opening song from their debut album released in 1979 is an exotic extravaganza of jungle rhythms, sci-fi vocalisation, mean-sounding guitar and Fred Schneider’s half out of tune vocals about a girl from a distant planet with pink air and where no-one dies or even has a head. Sublime nonsense delivered tongue in cheek complete with wonky melodies.

The album continues with pretty straight rocker “52 girls”, showcasing the power of the female singers Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson. “Dance this mess around” bubbles onto the dance floor with call-and-response vocals exploring the band’s boy-girl dynamic. First single “Rock lobster” is as much of a declaration of intent as can be expected from any band. Kitschy and catchy, rhythmic and melodic, sincerely sung absurdities to a backdrop of surf guitars and intensely quirky lyrics. “Lava” goes on to up the ante, with it´s sexy rhythms and sensual singing by the girls. Actually even better on the “Party Mix!” remix-EP released in 1981.

To listen, click this link.

Later efforts like “Mesopotamia” might be more accomplished, but this first blast of B 52´s music definitely makes up any fledgling inadequacies with bunches of charm. This is all about fun, party and happiness.

…let´s try some corn and malt – American whiskey tasting no 5.

Lincoln County LightningPrichard´s Lincoln County Lightning, 90 proof (45%).

Already having tried the rye from Prichard´s distillery , it´s now time to sample their corn whiskey. Here we have something completely different, with a name alluding to the illegal white lightning or moonshine traditionally produced in makeshift distilleries of varying quality, with a mash bill of mainly corn. This type of product from commercial distilleries are fast becoming popular, and you will find a white whiskey or white dog on offer from many of the new craft distillers as well as from the larger companies.

Distilled from a mash made from white corn instead of the usual yellow, meaning a higher sugar content. As is the case with this type of spirit, it´s of course taken directly from the still with no barrel aging. Typical for white whiskey the colour is exactly that, watery-clear. The nose shows solid corn sweetness followed by vanilla. Neat in a tasting glass you get a distinctive corn sweetness and a typical white dog character, with a fairly short, fiery finish. In a tumbler with ice the sweetness is enhanced while keeping the corn notes.

A white dog pretty true to it´s character, but as such almost always less interesting than the fully matured product. That´s not to say that this type of whiskey doesn´t have its merits, and you probably shouldn´t compare apples and oranges.

Balcones True BlueBalcones True Blue, 100 proof (50%).

Balcones is a very interesting craft distillery started a few years ago in Waco, Texas. The distillery was built from scratch in a wave of enthusiasm, all the way down to the stills themselves, the process documented in photographs on their website. All of the whiskey sold under the Balcones name is distilled and matured at the company, following the bottled in bond act. Apart from this whiskey the company produces a single malt and several other varieties of corn whiskey, as well as something called Rumble made from wildflower honey and figs.

Balcones True Blue is available both as cask strength (with over 60% alcohol content), and as this 50 % bottling. It´s made from blue corn, originally associated with the Hopi Native Americans and with it´s higher protein content and lower glycemic index considered nutritionally superior to regular white or yellow corn. Blue corn meal is often used making tortillas, giving them a different taste than other corn meal varieties. So, already in its choice of ingredients this whiskey is innovative and interesting.

The colour is light amber. The nose shows caramel and brown sugar combined with corn sweetness and vanilla. Neat in a tasting glass we get caramel laced with cinnamon and dark chocolate, with a long spicey finish. In a tumbler with ice things gets less complex but still with a distinct blue corn kick leading us on. The bottle is nice and chubby, with a wax seal and cork stopper. Nothing too fancy but with an easily recognizable graphic design of the labels of the company´s different products.

Regrettably not that easy to get hold of in Sweden, this whiskey is definitely something I´m going to want to try again. A distillery that I´ll keep on following, hopefully getting a chance to try their other products too.

Prichard´s Single MaltPrichard´s Single Malt Whiskey

Made entirely from malted American barley, distilled in copper pot stills and aged in barrels of charred new American oak for about three years.
Coming in at a beautiful copper colour this whiskey looks its part. The nose has fruity banana aromas as well as oak and vanilla. Neat in a tasting glass we get oak, caramel and a slight vanilla tone. With ice in a tumbler the vanilla and caramel notes gets bigger and takes over. Fairly short finish.

This is one of the first American single malt whiskeys that I´ve ever tried, and I must confess that this is not something I would think of as a single malt. Of course I´m being influenced by expectations awakened by the similarity in name to its Scottish counterpart, which isn´t fair. I have a few other American single malts waiting, and will return with a separate tasting.

…2014 w 32 – Album of the week is ”Hunters & Collectors” by Hunters & Collectors.

H & CMy first sweet taste of this phenomenal Australian band, which has ever since been one of my all time favourites, going through several distinct phases of excellence. This particular album was released as a way of introducing the band to an international market, and consisted of songs from their Australian debut and an early EP. Very few albums in my over 40 years of enjoying music has gripped me like this one did. A melodically complex and rhythmically unique set of songs that should have been the soundtrack to every desolate Mad Max movie ever made.

Opener “Tow truck” is one of the best songs ever made in the history of music. I love this one so much that it can´t possibly be considered normal. Over a rhythm track sounding like it´s played on empty gas canisters, the song starts with lyrics about some people buying a yellow tow truck and driving it around their neighbourhood. Slowly building through wonderful bass and melodic guitar figures weaving into each other, the song goes from sparse melody to complete chaos and back again in only a few minutes. Just about when the horns come in you´re likely to understand that you´re listening to something out of this world.

“Droptank” takes the tribal rhythms further, along with a soaring melody interspersed with choppy guitar and the best bass playing you could imagine. Some alternative take on funk gets “Mouthtrap” started, quickly mutating into a sonic world of its own mixing melodic beauty with chaotic free-form. “Lumps of lead” uses the magnificent rhythm section as a backdrop for the entire band going hunting and collecting. Great lyrics, complex melodics and a seemingly effortless flow of percussion and bass.

“Talking to a stranger” is one of their earliest and most well-known songs, combining all the unique aspects of the band. An innovative and propulsive rhythm section straight out of the dusty wastelands. Guitars both adding to the rhythms and delivering sublime melodic interludes. Mark Seymour´s singing carrying the bleak themes of the lyrics forward through a swaggering vocal performance. “Scream who” bucks and sways, while closer “Run run run” again redefines the scope of this band. Tribal rhythms and slowly building melodic codas illuminated by the chanting singing of Mark Seymour. It´s music like you would expect to hear from a post-apocalyptic band of outback desert-dwellers, just before they hop into their ramshackle cars getting ready to raid the neighbouring tribe.

I´ve always loved this early version of the band, with loads of people playing strange instruments. Their first series of recordings managed so well to blend their lust for experimentation with desolate melodies and vivid lyrical imagery. The later development into a more coventional but still brilliant rock band is a much larger part of their career, and has generated several of my favourite records. That said, those first years were really magnificent.

…it´s getting it both right and wrong – “Dallas Buyers Club”

Dallas Buyers ClubSo, now I´ve finally gotten around to seeing the much lauded ”Dallas Buyers Club”, a movie interesting in more ways than you would initially think. First let´s just acknowledge leading man Matthew McConaughey, who´s simply on fire here and one of the fastest rising character actors in American cinema right now. After spending the first decade of the noughties doing a series of lacklustre romcoms, he´s now changed course and carved out an impressive and respectable niche for himself in acclaimed studio productions, as well as independent movies and TV-series (everybody who hasn´t already should rush to see the wonderful “True Detective”).

“Dallas Buyers Club” tells the story of hard-living electrician and rodeo aficionado Ron Woodroof, a homophobic womanizer unexpectedly diagnosed with full-blown AIDS in 1985 and subsequently given 30 days to live. At the time, no approved treatment for AIDS existed, and the first candidate AZT were in initial clinical trials. Faced with the only officially sanctioned option of either receiving placebo or the active substance, Ron decides to get his AZT himself, something that succeedes for a while without apparently making him any better. Upon the cut-off of his supply, he establishes contact with an unlicensed Mexican doctor who quickly discontinues Ron´s AZT-treatment, which had caused a series of adverse effects, and gives him another option of vitamins, the protein Peptide T and a new drug called ddC.

Together with cleaning up his act and discontinuing cocaine use and other addictions, this treatment seems to be working, reducing symptoms, making Ron feel better, and most important of all, not dying. In the face of a medical establishment intent on carrying on regular studies before releasing an unknown therapy for general use, Ron decides to smuggle the drugs into the US and supplying other AIDS-sufferers with the treatment for money. This was achieved in the form of a Buyers Club, where a monthly fee gives the member access to the medications, a concept repeated in many American cities at the time. The problems with authorities that this causes isn´t really that surprising, and eventually Ron´s operation closes down.

The arch of the story gives a lot of room to the maturing influence the disease has on Ron, moving from his initial pretty narrow-minded and frankly homophobic persona to a much more understanding and even caring individual. Some of this surely catalyzed by the reactions to the diagnosis by his friends, ostracizing him completely through their ignorance and fear. In other parts due to him realizing that the persons he´d previously viewed with such contempt are actually just human beings like himself.

At the time of the HIV/AIDS epidemic hitting the western world and gaining speed, I was first a medical student and then a young physician. Primarily being primed to diagnose and treat disease, nothing could have prepared me and my comrades for the stigmatizing effect that this particular illness would have on its sufferers. Back then it was viewed by many as a disease that you´d earned through faulty living, even though the only thing the haemophiliacs had done wrong was trusting the medical industry to supply them with safe medications, the intravenous drug abusers due to repressive policies sadly failing to get hold of clean syringes and the male homosexuals making the life-threatening error of being in love with a person of the same sex.

Infectious Disease Clinics in hospitals over the world were filled with young people dying in what is now considered a chronic but treatable condition, while public discourse treated them as modern time carriers of the Black Death, worthy of isolation and denigration. At our day and age, this shouldn´t need to be said, but I think I´ll do it anyway. HIV is a virus that can be transmitted through sexual intercourse and blood, not from everyday contacts like holding somebody´s hand or being in the same room as an infected person. People with HIV/AIDS are not fundamentally different from me and you, but have through a combination of misfortune and ill-informed choices acquired a potentially deadly disease. Ostracizing or discriminating these people is unworthy of a civilized society.

During a clinical training position in the middle of my medical studies, I met a young woman being treated for advanced manifestations of AIDS. As far as I could tell her only bad decision was falling in love with the wrong man, infecting her with the virus that would eventually lead to her demise. Sitting there one single night, in the darkness of a sick room listening to her story, strengthened my feelings of the unfairness of this devastating disease. This intelligent and beautiful woman did not deserve to be killed for loving another person. Nor should anybody else be.

In many ways this is a very powerful movie about a difficult subject, managing to emotionally transport me back to those times in the beginning of the HIV-epidemic when fear and ignorance ruled. Although we´ve come a long way since then, this stigmatization needs to be remembered. That said, I really dislike how some parts of this story is told. The physicians and scientists trying to get sound clinical data on AZT are much vilified, as is the drug itself despite still being an important part of HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy). The frustration of seeing people die while waiting for the results of a new drug study is easily understandable, but doesn´t justify unsupervised human experimentation with unapproved chemicals or the selling of the same for profit.