Friday, November 30, 2007

Grandpa's Old Cough Syrup is back in style

Aww yeah.... Grandpa's Old Cough Syrup is back in style. Now we just need a story in the Globe about Lawndarts being the hot toy for Christmas and this blog will be cooler then Miles Davis.

Spirits of the Times: Bourbon’s Shot at the Big Time, By Eric Asminov. The New York Times, November 28, 2007

Bourbon’s Shot at the Big Time


In the recent history of whiskey, bourbon would seem to have had a lot going for it. It’s homegrown, for one thing. Grass-roots acceptance counts for a lot when you are battling for shelf space. Bourbon has always been right up there with college football, Nascar and canned beer — the sort of whiskey that anyone can order without fear of being labeled effete or snobbish.

Yet, awareness is not always enough in the whiskey business. The days are long gone when “Dallas” ruled the airwaves and J. R. Ewing made bourbon and branch a household term. When bourbon distillers looked up 20 years ago they saw the market moving in two directions, both away from them. Affluent drinkers were exploring the wonders and complexities of single malts while younger bar-goers were turning to vodka and rum.

The dive in sales forced bourbon producers to accept that the whiskey market had changed. They might not be able to compete with vodka, but to avoid permanent relegation to the dusty back shelves of liquor stores, bourbon producers would have to find a way to attract the budding connoisseur class.

Enter the small batch, the single barrel and the special selection, marketing terms for what the industry calls high-end and superpremium bourbons. These whiskeys are chosen to emphasize complexity and even elegance, a quality that has rarely been associated with bourbon and a word that no doubt panics bourbon marketers who still favor the rural look of bib overalls, boots and gimme hats (that effete snob thing).

If you love whiskey but haven’t thought of bourbon as being in the same league as a good Scotch, Irish and even, these days, rye, you owe it to yourself to give it another try. A well-made, well-aged bourbon offers a gorgeous spectrum of flavors, beginning with a distinctive sweetness that can, depending on the distiller’s aim, turn spicy and peppery with clear fruitiness, or mellow into a creamy caramel toffee with highlights of citrus.

Confidence bred of success has led distillers to pay more attention to their best whiskeys. Meanwhile, microdistilleries all over the United States are getting into the act. While they have not yet made their presence felt on a national scale — whiskey takes a lot of time — it’s easy to anticipate their eventually making a mark.

Clearly, the producers’ efforts to improve quality, coinciding with the rebirth of the cocktail culture, have been a big success. The resurgence in spirit sales in the United States has been led by the high-end brands, said David Ozgo, chief economist for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a trade group, and that is especially true of bourbon.

From 2002 to 2006, sales of bourbon and Tennessee whiskey rose by 12.23 percent. In the same period, sales of high-end whiskeys ($20 to $30) rose by 27.62 percent and sales of superpremium bourbons (above $30) rose by 60.52 percent.

Sales are one thing. The Dining section’s tasting panel recently evaluated 25 bourbons strictly to answer another question: How good are these whiskeys, anyway? The short answer is, very good. For the tasting, Florence Fabricant and I were joined by Pete Wells, editor of the Dining section, who has written extensively about drinks, and Ethan R. Kelley, the spirit sommelier at the Brandy Library in TriBeCa.

To begin, let’s get our nomenclature straight. While many people believe that bourbon must come from Kentucky, it’s not true. Bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States as long as two federal conditions are met. First, the blend of grains from which the whiskey is distilled must be at least 51 percent corn. Second, the whiskey must be stored in charred new oak containers. If it is aged in the oak containers (federal regulators do not seem to like the word barrel) for two years or more it qualifies as straight bourbon whiskey.

Bourbon is not Tennessee whiskey, like Jack Daniel’s, which is essentially made like bourbon until it is filtered through charcoal, at which point it becomes Tennessee whiskey. Bourbon is also not corn whiskey, which by law cannot be stored in charred oak containers. A whiskey can be distilled 100 percent from corn, but if it so much as kisses those charred oak containers it becomes bourbon.

While these laws may seem rigid, they leave a lot of room for creative distilling. Once you’ve got your 51 percent corn in the blend of grains (which distillers call the mash bill), you’ve got important decisions to make. Most distillers probably use 65 percent to 75 percent corn, blended with some proportion of rye, wheat or malted barley, and each grain provides different characteristics. The corn offers the sweetness and lush texture that are the basis of so many bourbons. Wheat adds a mellow roundness, while rye provides a spicy, peppery fruitiness and a dry quality. Barley can add a creaminess and a grainy sweetness.

Producers must also decide how long to age their whiskeys. Younger whiskeys tend to be more aggressive and fiery. Aging tames the whiskeys, rounding off raw edges and bringing out a smooth complexity.

Younger and older whiskeys have their attractions, but with bourbon long-term aging is particularly beneficial, at least in my opinion. I loved the smoothness and the added complexity in some of the older bourbons we tasted, but the combination didn’t always sit well with Ethan.

“I don’t know if bourbon was designed to be so elegant and proper,” he lamented, though not unhappily.

We all noted the wide range of flavors in these bourbons, from creamy chocolate and fruity to grassy and herbaceous. “It was not the full frontal corn assault that once dominated bourbon,” Pete said, noting that the flavors in some bottles seemed beyond the realm of what might be acceptable in bourbon.

The bourbons we tasted ranged in price from $14 to $120, and while a $20 bottle, Jim Beam Black, was our best value, there was some correlation between price and quality.

The most expensive bourbon, the 16-year-old A. H. Hirsch Reserve, was something of an anomaly. It was among the last batches of whiskey distilled at Michter’s Distillery in Schaefferstown, Pa., which closed in 1989.

The name Michter’s lives on as a brand, but it is distilled in Kentucky (Michter’s U.S. 1 Bourbon did not make our cut). The A. H. Hirsch is a fine whiskey, smoky and complex, but the $120 is mostly for its rarity.

Naturally, the bourbon industry wants to capitalize on the cocktail craze, which is fine, but anybody who makes a mixed drink of our No. 1 bourbon, Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 20-Year-Old, needs some remedial shaking and stirring. This is clearly a sipping whiskey of wonderful complexity, which would be wasted in even the finest mint julep or bourbon punch. The same goes for our No. 2, the fruity and chocolate-and-caramel-flavored Vintage 17-Year-Old.

If mix you must, I would suggest our No. 3, the brisk, spicy Knob Creek, which tastes as if it has a rye component. It might be the perfect whiskey for one of those cocktails that seem to be at home with either rye or bourbon.

Some of the biggest names in bourbon did not make our list. Wild Turkey just missed. It was good bourbon, but the panel did not find it distinctive enough in this company. We also liked the Van Winkle’s 10-Year-Old, which we thought would be great for cocktails. Maker’s Mark did not come close.

While the rules do not require it, most bourbons do, in fact, come from Kentucky. One that does not is the Hudson Four Grain Bourbon, distilled by Tuthilltown Spirits in the Hudson Valley. We liked it very much but left it off the list because it is virtually impossible to find.

Each of us also had a favorite or two that did not make the list. Ethan liked an Elijah Craig 18-Year-Old and an Eagle Rare Single Barrel 10-Year-Old. Pete liked the Eagle and the Wild Turkey. Florence liked the Elijah Craig and the Virginia Gentleman, an old brand that has the distinction of being distilled in Kentucky then redistilled in Virginia. I very much liked a Corner Creek Reserve 8-Year-Old and Bulleit.

The strongest bourbon in the tasting was Wild Turkey, at 101 proof. The final strength of a whiskey is another choice that distillers must make.

While the just-distilled whiskey can be as high as 160 proof, those pesky federal laws mandate that it must be watered down at least to 125 proof before entering those charred oak containers.

By the time it is bottled, it can be as low as 80 proof, so producers have a lot of room to find just the right strength. If you find a bourbon that seems too strong, do what the producers do and add more water. Or ice.

Taibbi Interview

A few years ago I had an epiphany, I realized that I didn't have a problem with the American Left, insomuch as I had a problem with Leftists. They were just so full it. Narrow down the axiom “all politics is local” to “all politics is personal”. This of course is unenlightened and tribalistic, but so is the nature of man.

Realizing this, I set out to find liberals who's books I could read without chewing a bottle of Tums. People who didn't give me a migraine and weren't constipated. One guy I found was Greg Palast, a corporate fraud investigator and forensic economist turned investigative reporter. Another, was Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone and formerly The eXile. Both can crack and take a joke, hit you with the facts, and write in a entertaining and accessible manner. certainly is not a site I frequent, but it currently has an interview with Taibbi worth noting.

Taibbi on journalism:

You wrote a column in the New York Press a few years back referring to journalism as “shoveling coal for Satan.” I believe you also said that journalism as a career was worse than being a worker in a tampon factory. Should any sane young person consider a career in journalism?

If you have no real knowledge or skill set and you’re lazy and full of shit but you want to make a decent wage, then journalism’s not a bad career option. The great thing about it is that you don’t need to know anything. I mean this whole notion of journalism school—I can’t believe people actually go to journalism school. You can learn the entire thing in like three days. My advice is instead of going to journalism school, go to school for something concrete like medicine or some kind of science or something and then use the knowledge you get in that field as a wedge to get yourself into journalism.

What journalism really needs is more people who are reporting who actually know something. Instead of having a bunch of liberal arts grads who’ve read Siddhartha 50 times writing about health care, it would be really nice if some of the people who are writing about health care were doctors.

Are there any journalists working today who you look up to?

Seymour Hersh is the guy I really, really admire. I met him last year for the first time—I had to interview him for Rolling Stone and I was really nervous about it because I was told that he was this famously irascible character. When I called him up to schedule the interview, he was such an incredible prick on the telephone—he just cursed me out and everything, it was awful.

He cursed you out?

Oh yeah, totally. He was busy. He was like, “Go fuck yourself.” Then when I actually went to go meet him he was the nicest guy you could possibly imagine. I sat with him for four hours. He’s old school. He’s the kind of guy who sits and pores over the newsletters of all these minor government agencies to see who retired that week so he can approach that person to see if he’s got any stories to tell on his way out of service. There are a few guys like that who are still out there, but they’re all holdovers from a lost age. I’d like to say that I’m the continuation of that crop of journalists, but I’m totally not.

On the left:

You wrote an article for Adbusters on “The American Left’s Silly Victim Complex.” Some lefty blogs were pissed off about that piece.

Sure, yeah, I got so much hate mail about that.

I think your basic critique was that the left today sort of has its priorities out of place. Have you changed your view about that at all?

No. It’s not that I’m taking issue with anything that the American left stands for or how it behaves. It’s really a class issue more than anything else. The people who are the public face of the American left tend to be people like me. They’re upper class, liberal arts-educated white people, for the most part, who come from a certain background where the things that are important
to them are these mostly intellectual issues—like the environment, or social issues like abortion, feminism, that sort of thing. The historical basis for the American left, if you go back to Roosevelt, is sort of a patrician structure where you had these upper-class people advocating on behalf of a wider working class base. What’s happened now is that it’s kind of splintered and the upper-class portion is overemphasizing the things that are important to them and deemphasizing the things that are important to their base. That’s why the party orthodoxies right now aren’t things like free trade and credit policy, for instance—like the bankruptcy bill. You would never find a celebrated lefty politician who is pro-life but voted against NAFTA, for instance. It’s always the other way around. What’s happened because of that—because the orthodoxies are all backwards—is that the American left has alienated its natural constituency, which is this vast, middle-to-working class underclass that has been fucked over by modern global capitalism.

Instead of standing up and fighting for those people, the left has gotten bogged down in political correctness and the environment and stuff like that. They’ve lost touch with those people, who are now flocking en masse to the Rush Limbaughs of the world, who are talking directly to them and who are actively courting their support. That’s all I was saying. It’s just a question of emphasis; it’s not that the stuff they stand for is bad.

His essay "The American Left's Silly Victim Complex" is excellent and worth checking out.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Strange Maps

This site: Strange Maps, is awesome. They have some crazy stuff on there.


Tea Party '07

Sibel Edmonds

An Inconvenient Patriot, By David Rose. Vanity Fair, August 15, 2005.

Let Sibel Edmonds Speak

From The American Conservative, April 26, 2006. By retired CIA operative Philip Giraldi:

Sibel Edmonds, the Turkish FBI translator turned whistleblower who has been subjected to a gag order could provide a major insight into how neoconservatives distort US foreign policy and enrich themselves at the same time. On one level, her story appears straightforward: several Turkish lobbying groups allegedly bribed congressmen to support policies favourable to Ankara. But beyond that, the Edmonds revelations become more serpentine and appear to involve AIPAC, Israel and a number of leading neoconservatives who have profited from the Turkish connection. Israel has long cultivated a close relationship with Turkey since Ankara's neighbours and historic enemies - Iran, Syria and Iraq - are also hostile to Tel Aviv. Islamic Turkey has also had considerable symbolic value for Israel, demonstrating that hostility to Muslim neighbours is not a sine qua non for the Jewish state.

Turkey benefits from the relationship by securing general benevolence and increased aid from the US Congress - as well as access to otherwise unattainable military technology. The Turkish General Staff has a particular interest because much of the military spending is channeled through companies in which the generals have a financial stake, making for a very cozy and comfortable business arrangement. The commercial interest has also fostered close political ties, with the American Turkish Council, American Turkish Cultural Alliance and the Assembly of Turkish American Associations all developing warm relationships with AIPAC and other Jewish and Israel advocacy groups throughout the US.

Someone has to be in the middle to keep the happy affair going, so enter the neocons, intent on securing Israel against all comers and also keen to turn a dollar. In fact the neocons seem to have a deep and abiding interest in Turkey, which, under other circumstances, might be difficult to explain. Doug Feith's International Advisors Inc, a registered agent for Turkey in 1989 - 1994, netted $600,000 per year from Turkey, with Richard Perle taking $48,000 annually as a consultant. Other noted neoconservatives linked to Turkey are former State Department number three, Marc Grossman, current Pentagon Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman, Paul Wolfowitz and former congressman Stephen Solarz. The money involved does not appear to come from the Turkish government, and FBI investigators are trying to determine its source and how it is distributed. Some of it may come from criminal activity, possibly drug trafficking, but much more might come from arms dealing. Contracts in the hundreds of millions, or even billions of dollars provide considerable fat for those well placed to benefit.

Investigators are also looking at Israel's particular expertise in the illegal sale of US military technology to countries like China and India. Fraudulent end-user certificates produced by Defense Ministries in Israel and Turkey are all that is needed to divert military technology to other, less benign, consumers. The military-industrial-complex/neocon network is also well attested. Doug Feith has been associated with Northrup Grumman for years, while defense contractors fund many neocon-linked think tanks and "information" services. Feith, Perle and a number of other neocons have long had beneficial relationships with various Israeli defense contractors.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


This is a file library to host some pieces that are interesting or hard to come by.


Licensed to Kill: Shadowing our Government's Favorite Arms Dealer, by Ken Silverstein. Harper's, May 2000. (PDF)

My Brother the Bomber, by Shiv Malik. Prospect (UK), May 31, 2007 (PDF)

An Army of One's Own, by Elizabeth Rubin. Harper's, February 1997. (PDF)

Israel and the origins of Iran's Arab option: dissection of a strategy misunderstood, by Trita Parsi. The Middle East Journal, 60.3, Summer 2006. (PDF)

Cocaine and Cutouts: Israel's Unseen Diplomacy, by Jane Hunter. The Link, March 1989. (PDF)