Thursday, May 31, 2007

Mystery Pollster

I know that all of you are following the latest Presidential primary polls with bated breath. The Iowa caucuses are a mere seven months away, after all. If Clinton or Giuliani are surging there now, it must mean that they are about to become unstoppable forces on the road to the nomination.

Well, okay, so Presidential primary polls don't mean much at this stage. But polling is a constant feature of the modern political and journalistic landscape, and much of what is written about or believed about polls is garbage. Enter the Mystery Pollster. He began blogging in the aftermath of the 2004 Presidential election, when there was a great deal of confusion about why exit polls in Ohio and elsewhere had been so badly inaccurate; and he provided some of the only informed, intelligent commentary that could be found anywhere about what happened. Since then, he has become much less mysterious, revealing who he actually is (Mark Blumenthal), starting a full-blown website, and getting some other bloggers to help him out. I don't read it that frequently, but I never cease to be amazed when I do. He and his co-bloggers understand how polling works and what polls do and do not mean, and what they post there is always interesting (if often fairly mathematics-heavy). As an example, consider the examination of the degree to which the Clinton impeachment coincided with a collapse in popularity of Monica as a name for female babies.

Today's Shoes


GJ Cleverley bespoke chasse made from restored Russian reindeer hides salvaged from the wreck of the Metta Catharina, a Danish brigantine that sank in Plymouth Sound in 1793. The salvage rights to this wreck belong to the Duke of Cornwall (who just so happens to be the Prince of Wales), and he issued a license to the divers who originally found the wreck in 1973. These divers have, in turn, given Cleverley the right of first refusal over the hides that they salvage, which means that Cleverley-made shoes are consistently made from the best hides.

And oh, what hides they are. Almost all leather used for the uppers of shoes today is aniline tanned, which means that chromium salts are the tanning agent. This leather was vegetable tanned in rye and oat flour and finished with birch oil. While it was still wet, the tanner applied a diamond cross-hatching pattern to it using coffer stamps. The birch oil, which was reapplied during the restoration process, is what gives this leather its distinctive pungent aroma. It was originally intended for bookbinding, but it works very well for shoes, too.

From the first time I read about this leather and saw samples of it, I knew that I had to have a pair of shoes made from it, and I knew that I would have to have them made by Cleverley. I also knew that these shoes would have to be chasses. It's a somewhat rustic pattern, which goes well with the grain of the leather; but because it's not particularly busy, it lets the leather speak for itself. They are bespoke, which means that they were made on my individual last to my specifications. Anything that I could imagine could have been done. These shoes are what I imagined. I like them better every time I wear them.


Gravati cap-toe bals with reversed seams in tobacco suede (16492, last 655). The overall effect is of a punch-cap shoe because of a leather lace running along the edge of the toe cap and at the throat. I like these shoes, but they would have been better on a less elongated last.

Last Night's Tipple

There are three bottlings of Old Grand-Dad Bourbon: the 86 proof, the 100 proof (bottled in bond), and the 114 proof. My understanding is that the Bourbon in these three bottlings differs only in proof and that the three different proofs are all bottled at the same time one after the other (ie, they dump the barrels going into a particular batch, dilute the result to 114 proof, bottle as much of that as they need, dilute the remainder to 100 proof, bottle as much of that as they need, then dilute the rest to 86 proof and bottle it). When it was originally conceived (probably back in the '70s), the 114 proof was probably around the proof that the Bourbon came out of the barrels, but it's unlikely that this is the case anymore. It's typical nowadays for Bourbon to go into the barrel close to the legal limit of 125 proof; and Bourbon, unlike Scotch, tends to rise in proof with age.

Surprisingly enough, there actually was an Old Grand-Dad. The brand has its roots in the whiskey distilled by Raymond B. Hayden in the 1840s. He needed something to call it, so he named it after his grandfather, Basil Hayden, one of the proto-distillers in Kentucky at the turn of the 19th Century. It managed to survive Prohibition, and Jim Beam bought it in the late '80s. Typically, when Beam bought a Bourbon brand, it would just take the label and the distribution and bottle it out of stock distilled using Jim Beam's standard mashbill and aged in Jim Beam rickhouses. With Old Grand-Dad, Beam also took the mashbill, and it distills OGD using that mashbill and barrels and bottles it separately. That mashbill is very rye-heavy, one of the most rye-heavy of any Bourbons.

When first poured, this Bourbon smells very, very fruity. I'm not sure if that's the rye or the high proof. With time, the fruitiness tones down a bit. Eventually, it develops a bit of vanilla, but the chief aroma is cinnamon. The taste is also dominated by cinnamon, and there's a good deal of burn (as there ought to be for a 114 proof spirit). I like it, but I wish it weren't so high-proof. After this bottle is finished, I'll probably try the 100 proof Bottled in Bond.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Generation Y

I don't put a whole lot of stock in articles like Nadira A. Hira's on Fortune Online ("Attracting the Twentysomething Worker", May 15, 2007). In it, she tries to explain how the twentysomething Generation Y job candidate needs a kind of wooing unlike that his predecessors warmed to and in so doing to explain how Gen Y-ers are fundamentally different from Gex X-ers and Boomers and the other media-generated generational labels. The problem is that this article and most like it don't even make a nod to the scientific method. The authors' methodology seems to consist of calling a few "experts" and a few of their friends for comment, then using their quotes to offer support to their preconceived notions of reality. Either that, or the entire thing is just a self-serving apologia, as it is here: the author ends the article by explaining how similar she is to the Gen Y-ers that she describes in the article.

So I'm not going to comment on most of the substance, such as it is, of the article. But there was something in it that I can't resist.
"It was Merrill Lynch. Now it's sell, sell, sell." The company holds a parents' day for interns' families to tour the trading floor. But it's involving parents in recruiting that's been a real shift. Subha Barry, global head of diversity, recalls running into a colleague having lunch with a potential summer recruit and someone she didn't know. It turned out to be the boy's mother.
First of all, unless he's exceptionally unusual, a student in college is not a boy. It would never have occurred to me to bring my mother to such an appointment in college. Heck, it wouldn't have occurred to me to bring my mother to such an appointment in high school. I find it shocking and dismaying because of the infantilism and the lack of professionalism that it bespeaks; and if Nadira Hira is right that such behavior is more and more common among today's twentysomethings, then God help us all.

Today's Shoes


Gravati side-zip plain-toe Bologna-constructed ankle boots in dark brown kangaroo (16821, last 683). Kangaroo is an interesting leather. It is significantly thinner than calfskin, but it has more tensile strength. It also shines up beautifully. Kangaroos are apparently nasty buggers, so getting unmarked hides or usable sections of hides is very difficult. Gravati managed to get some good-quality ones, though.


Gravati whole-cut plain-toe bluchers in British tan with a rubber lug sole (16368, last 640). Rubber soles seem appropriate given the crappy weather. Gravati uses nice reversed seams for the facings on these shoes, which is unusual.

Last Night's Tipple

Buffalo Trace Bourbon is the flagship product of the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky. When it's first poured, alcohol overwhelms the nose. After some time in the glass, however, the alcohol is replaced by vanilla and mint. On the palate, it big and a bit hot, with a good jolt of cinnamon and mint. I like it, and it's a very good Bourbon for less than $20 a fifth.

Never heard of Buffalo Trace Distillery? Suspect that it's just another one of these Distilleries in Name Only that abound in the American whiskey world? Well, no. A few years ago, the Ancient Age Distillery was rechristened Buffalo Trace for reasons that probably boil down mostly to marketing. Buffalo Trace now produces many of the most recognizable brands in American whiskey, including WL Weller, Ancient Age, Rebel Yell (just for you, Ben), Old Charter, Eagle Rare, and Virginia Gentleman. More importantly, they also produce the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, which is a set of four or five bottlings (depending on the year) of very old whiskey. New groups of bottlings are released either once or twice a year, and they usually include George T. Stagg (barrel proof 15 year old Bourbon), Eagle Rare 17 year old, William Laurie Weller (wheated Bourbon, not sure of the age), and, most significantly, Sazerac 18 year old straight rye. The Sazerac rye is one of the most sublime whiskeys that I have ever had. It was worth the $60 I paid for it, which is saying a lot. Buffalo Trace is probably the most interesting and innovative American distillery operating today, at least for geeks like me.

Edit: I have learned that Rebel Yell is not produced by Buffalo Trace. I had assumed that it was because it had originally been produced by the Stitzel-Weller Distillery back when it still existed. WL Weller, the most significant of the SW brands, now resides at Buffalo Trace, so I assumed that Rebel Yell went to Buffalo Trace, too. It did not. It went to a company named Luxco and is bottled from whiskey made at the Bernheim Distillery.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The South Shall Rise Again!

While at my friendly neighborhood Borders on Sunday, I noticed that William W. Freehling's The Road To Disunion, Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 has been published. It will not shock you to read that this is the follow-up to Freehling's The Road To Disunion, Volume I: Secessionists at Bay 1776-1854. This book has been a long time in coming: the first volume was published in 1991, and the publisher has been promising its publication periodically at least since 2002.

Volume I made a number of very good points about the ante-bellum United States, the most important being that it is a fallacy to view the United States of that period as being divided into North and South (or North, South, and West, as is sometimes done) or into Slave and Free. There were different sections of the North and South, and each of these different sections had its own interests, even as they related to slavery. The lower North, for example, began to abolish slavery after the Revolutionary War, but it was a gradual emancipation that allowed slave owners plenty of time to avoid the seizure of their property by selling them further South. At least until slavery was completely abolished there, they were not interested in any anti-slavery measures that might have impeded their ability to dispose of their slaves profitably. The lower South did not have much to worry about runaway slaves and were consequently not especially eager to go to the mattresses over a fugitive slave law. South Carolina was not interested in the expansion of slavery and was consequently only militant about slavery in the territories to support their pro-slavery brethren to the West. It was an interesting, informative, and useful book, and I have been looking forward to its sequel for years.

One fly in the ointment, though: I don't know if I can trust Freehling. To see why, read Michael P. Johnson's article "Denmark Vesey And His Co-conspirators" in the October, 2001 issue of The William and Mary Quarterly. Denmark Vesey's conspiracy, along with Nat Turner's rebellion, is one of the most famous cases of the violent resistance of slaves to their status in the ante-bellum South. The only problem, as Johnson argues persuasively, is that the only real pieces of evidence that a widespread conspiracy (or any conspiracy at all, for that matter) existed were the statements tortured out of the alleged conspirators by the South Carolina authorities and the misleading characterizations of these statements that the authorities made to the South Carolina legislature. South Carolinians, and ante-bellum Southern whites generally, believed in the conspiracy because they were conditioned to fear that a slave revolt was just around the corner. Modern historians have tended to believe in the conspiracy because they want to find examples of slaves resisting their status. What does this have to do with Freehling? Well, he's one of the most vociferous defenders of the existence of the Vesey conspiracy. It doesn't speak well of his historical judgment if one believes that Johnson has made a persuasive case that the evidence for conspiracy is inadequate, and I believe he does.

Nevertheless, I'll probably buy the new Freehling book (but only after it comes out in paperback) and read it with a grain of salt.

Today's Shoes

Just for you, Sara, I've posted a picture of shoes equivalent to the shoes I wore today. Not actually my shoes, mind you, but equivalent to mine. The problem, aside from my sloth, is that most of the shoes I own are one-off special orders, so pictures usually don't exist unless I take them.


Vass burgundy cap-toe bals on the P2 last with a beveled waist.


Vass cognac Scotch grain reverse-welted full brogue derbies on Budapest last. This style of shoe is called a Budapester because it is the characteristic shoe style of Hungarian shoe manufacturers. Yes, Hungarian shoe manufacturers. Largely because of Budapest's status as one of the capitals of the Austro-Hungarian empire after 1867, the shoemaking industry was quite advanced by the end of the empire in 1918. Neither the lean interwar years nor World War II nor the Communist domination of the country until 1989 managed to kill it. Vass is one of the makers that sprung up after the fall of Communism, and these shoes are the quintessential expression of Hungarian shoemaking.

Last Night's Tipple

Since I finished a bottle of Jack Daniel's on Sunday night, I figured that I might as well turn to a bottle of George Dickel last night, both because the bottle was getting low and because George Dickel is the only other Tennessee Whiskey on the market. Specifically, the bottle was George Dickel No. 12 Tennessee Whisky (notice the lack of the "e" in "whisky", which implies that the original George Dickel either tried to conjure Scotch whisky with the name or that he couldn't spell), which is the older of the two commonly-available bottlings (No. 8 is the younger). As one would expect, it is similar in character to Jack Daniel's -- sooty and yeasty. It has more apple overtones than does JD, and with some time in the glass, it develops more vanilla aromas, which I like. It's a better whiskey than JD for about the same price. It's also 90 proof to JD's current 80 proof.

George Dickel is owned by Diageo, the corporate parent that also owns the Johnnie Walker Scotch brand and several big-name Scotch malt distilleries (Oban, Lagavulin, Talisker, and Dalwhinnie, among others). Back in the late '90s, one of Diageo's predecessor companies (UDV) started the Classic Malts Collection to showcase their malt properties. It was a stroke of marketing genius because it introduced the public to distilleries that they might never have heard of before and because it allowed UDV to charge a premium price for the spirits produced by them. The most commonly-available expression of Talisker is the 10 year-old, which sells in the US for around $50 a fifth, or about $20 more than most 10 year olds. That's due to a shortage of Talisker relative to demand, but what created the demand? Sure, Talisker is great whisky, but UDV/Diageo marketing muscle had to have some effect. Anyway, because of the success of the Cleassic Malts Collection and the advent of Jim Beam's Small Batch Bourbon Collection, UDV decided to start the Bourbon Heritage Collection to showcase the best that their American whiskey properties had to offer. The BHC included special bottlings from George Dickel, IW Harper, Old Charter, WL Well, and Old Fitzgerald. Shortly thereafter, UDV merged with Grand Met to form Diageo and promptly ditched all of these brands except for George Dickel. The BHC is now defunct, unfortunately.

The George Dickel distillery was silent from 1999 to 2003, which means that the younger No. 8 bottling is in short supply and will be for the next couple of years. I would imagine that starting in 2009, there will be a corresponding shortage of No. 12.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Today's Shoes

JM Weston Perry demi-chasse derbies in tan (ref. 637). No, the shoes in the picture above are not the shoes in question. They're the ref. 598 demi-chasse derbies. I can't find a picture of the ref. 637 derbies, but they're the same basic idea: split-toe derby with a machine-sewn apron and separate side-panels and quarters. The difference between the 598 and the 637 is that the 637 has an elongated snout and a closer-cut heel and waist. Where the 598 looks solid, the 637 looks sleek.

So what's up with the terminology? Why am I talking about demi-chasses instead of split-toes? Well, the canonical JM Weston shoe is the ref. 677 Hunt Derby. It's a massive shoe: triple sole, Norwegian welting, steel-tipped toe and heel. The shoe wears you, not the other way around. It was made as a shoe appropriate to go tromping through the fields of the French countryside in, weatherproof and sturdy. But it's not appropriate to wear in less rustic settings, so Weston wanted to create something similar in conception but more citified. Since "hunt" was rendered "chasse" in French, this toned-down version of the Hunt Derby was naturally called the demi-chasse. Aside from the scale and rusticicity of the shoes, the principal difference between these two designs is the treatment of the side panels and the quarters. On the chasse, the side panels and quarters are comprised of a single piece of leather. On a demi-chasse, the side panels and quarters are two different pieces of leather.

Monday Morning Movie Review

Saboteur, released in 1942, is one of Alfred Hitchcock's first American movies. Given the title and the fact that the movie was released after the United States had entered World War II, one would probably guess that the movie has something to do about the war, and one would be correct. Barry Kane is a handsome young man working at an aircraft factory. When a fire breaks out there and Kane's friend and coworker is killed fighting the fire, the police conclude that the fire was sabotage and that Kane was the one who did it. Kane flees, trying to find a mysterious character named Frank Fry, whom Kane believes to be the real saboteur.

There are many elements of this movie that one can find in other, more famous Hitchcock films. It's got the ordinary man falsely accused of a horrible crime trying to prove his innocence. It's got the beautiful blonde love interest (here, a model named Patricia Martin, played by Priscilla Lane). It's even got chase scenes involving over-scale American monuments. Remember the famous sequence on Mount Rushmore in North By Northwest? Well, this movie has something similar involving the Status of Liberty.

I enjoyed this movie, as I do all of the Hitchcock films. I didn't think that it was as good as many of his more well-known movies, largely because there isn't a whole lot of tension here. Sure, the police are after Kane, but there never is any real doubt that he's innocent. If this had been the equal of some of Hitchcock's best films, there would have been. The viewer didn't know for sure until the end of To Catch A Thief, for example, that Cary Grant's John Robie wasn't The Cat. (It wouldn't be fair to mention that Priscilla Lane isn't as beautiful as Grace Kelly; it's true, but nobody is as beautiful as Grace Kelly.)

Edit: Okay, the quality of these movie poster pictures is really starting to annoy me. Does anybody have a better source than IMDB?

Last Night's Tipple

Jack Daniel's, you ask? Yes, Jack Daniel's. I've had a bottle (the same bottle) open for more than three years, just taking up space. This taking up space thing is becoming a problem. My liquor cabinet is actually a little Ikea tray table thingee, and I have so many bottles that I can no longer fit new ones on it. So now my counter has a bunch of liquor bottles on it. The thing is that a number of bottles on the tray are almost empty. Therefore, this week's theme will be Kill the Bottle. First up was a bottle of JD with about one pour left in it.

The full and complete name of the whiskey contained therein is Jack Daniel's Old Time Old No. 7 Brand Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey, Black Label. You can understand why most people just call it Jack Daniel's or JD or Black Jack. This is the second best-selling whiskey in the world (behind Johnnie Walker Red), and the folks at Brown-Forman, who own the distillery, really have done a fantastic job at branding the whiskey. It's everywhere. It's probably almost as well-known in the United States as Coca-Cola. But how's the whiskey? Well, I don't know how the current incarnation is (they dropped it to 80 proof a couple of years ago; this bottle is of the old 86 proof). What I had was not bad. The dominant note on the nose is soot at first. With a bit of time, I can also smell yeast, grain, and apples. I also get grain, minerals, and apples on the palate. With a bit of time in the glass, there are also hints of vanilla, but they never really become distinct. The whiskey is a bit rough and young, not appallingly so, but I can certainly notice it. Like I said, it's not bad. At $20 a fifth, though, I can get any number of better Bourbons. I don't think that I'll be buying more any time soon.

So, you ask, is Jack Daniel's Bourbon? It doesn't call itself Bourbon. It calls itself Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey. Well, the thing is that there is no such thing as Tennessee Whiskey in the liquor laws of the United States. The distillery got a letter from the Department of the Treasury in 1941 saying that Tennessee Whiskey was a distinctive form of whiskey, but a letter is not the same as a law. The fact of the matter is that Jack Daniel's does one and only one thing differently from all the producers of Bourbon in the United States: they subject the newly-distilled spirit to the Lincoln County Process, which consists of filtering the spirit through about 10 feet of sugar maple charcoal. Is using the Lincoln County Process enough to disqualify the whiskey from calling itself Bourbon? Only if you conclude that the process adds unnatural coloring or flavoring to the whiskey, which the laws prohibit for Bourbon. It's a debatable point, but I don't think that it does. Now, it's not in the brand's best interest to call it Bourbon, so they never will try. But I think that it technically is.

Oh, and why did Jack Daniel's cut the proof from 86 to 80 a couple of years ago? I don't know exactly why, but money had to have something to do with it. Spirits are taxed by the US government on the basis of the number of "proof gallons" produced. A proof gallon is a gallon of 100 proof spirits. Therefore, cutting the proof saves Jack Daniel's and its corporate parent money, to the tune of $13 million on the 9 million cases they sell per year. Either that, or they could expand their production but keep the tax bill the same. Since most people who consume JD probably don't sip it straight, I imagine that they thought that their consumers would never notice the difference.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Today's Shoes

Martegani side-lace shoe in tobacco waterproof suede (3B last). No, it's not the shoe to the left. That's a bespoke shoe from GJ Cleverley, and I had wanted a shoe like it since I saw it in Cleverley's catalogue a few years ago. The problem is that I didn't want to pay the $3000 that it would have cost to get a pair from Cleverley, especially because I wasn't sure about how I would like the shoe. So I asked around various RTW shoemaking firms that take special orders. Edward Green told me that they had a side-lace pattern but that they threw it out when they moved a number of years ago. (Why would any shoemaker ever throw out a pattern? It's not like they take up much space -- they're just flat pieces of cardboard.) Vass had a shoe somewhat similar to this, although the overall effect was not nearly as sleek as the Cleverley shoe. Gravati couldn't do it. Martegani could, so I placed an order. Eight months later, I had heard nothing. Ron Rider, the US agent for Martegani, enquired (for about the third time) and understood the order to have been canceled for some reason, probably because of the pattern. Oh, well, I thought. Then a couple of months later, he contacted me to tell me that he had misunderstood: he had the shoes. Did I still want them? Sure, I replied. And so that's how I got my Cleverley-imitation side-lace shoes. I like them. The 3B last doesn't fit me perfectly, the tongue on the side of the foot isn't the most comfortably thing in the world, and the side laces are hard to tie. But they're good-looking shoes, and you don't see others like them every day. I should know: I looked.

Sunday Morning Movie Review

Last night, I watched Stalingrad, a German movie about the battle of Stalingrad during World War II. Netflix recommended this one because I had enjoyed Das Boot, another German movie about World War II, this time about the crew of a German submarine.

I should revise what I just wrote about this movie being about the battle of Stalingrad. Stalingrad just provides the backdrop for a war movie about a small group of soldiers, here a newly-minted lieutenant and some of the men in his platoon. They just so happen to be fighting in Stalingrad, although one gets very little flavor for the overall course of the battle (except in one scene when the lieutanant demands to be taken to headquarters to protest the arrest of some of his men for threatening a medic at a hospital and overhears various staff members discussing the two Russian breakthroughs north and south of Stalingrad that resulted in the German Sixth Army being surrounded there). One does get a sense of what the battle was like for individual soldiers, with lots of scenes of street-to-street and house-to-house fighting and extreme privation, particularly at the end just before the surrender.

I get the idea that the filmmaker wanted this movie to be the World War II equivalent of All Quiet on the Western Front. The soldiers in this movie have the same alienation from non-military society and the same sense of hopelessness as do the soldiers in All Quiet; and towards the end, the viewer wonders if there is any point to any of the characters surviving their ordeal: they might as well be dead. There is a lot of tragedy in other World War II movies like Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers (I know, I know; Band of Brothers was a miniseries. It's still movie-like, though.), but there are actually bright spots in both of them. More than that, the tragedy has a point. Not so with Stalingrad. It's unremitting pain. The only scene that doesn't hurt is the opening one when the unit is recuperating from its time in North Africa in a beautiful resort town on the coast of Italy. I'd say that the filmmakers achieved what they were trying to achieve with this movie, and I'd even say that it was much above average. I just can't say that I enjoyed it.

Edit: Man, those IMDB images aren't very good, are they?

Last Night's Tipple

Ridgemont Reserve 1792 Small Batch Bourbon is Barton Brands' entry into the boutique Bourbon product category, and it is primarily famous because of the trademark infringement suit filed by Brown-Forman, owner of the Woodford Reserve brand, against Barton alleging that Ridgewood Reserve (as Ridgemont Reserve was then called) had ripped off Woodford Reserve's name and packaging. The court agreed with Brown-Forman about the name but not the packaging, so Barton relaunched the brand as Ridgemont Reserve in mid-2004. Everything that I've read about the lawsuit seems to agree that instead of being a disaster for Barton, it actually stimulated sales of the Bourbon and helped them greatly in launching the brand. I don't know if it helped Brown-Forman with Woodford Reserve as much, but the publicity that the trial generated couldn't have hurt.

Anyway, Spec's had a pretty good price on Ridgemont Reserve, and I had read some good things about it; so I picked up a bottle. And a beautiful bottle it is, too. The thick glass bottom gives it a lot of heft, and I like the wood-topped cork. One of the reasons that Barton prevailed on the packaging component of the trademark infringement suit is that the judge thought that their bottle was most similar to a decanter while Woodford Reserve's bottle was most similar to a flask. The Bourbon in side isn't bad, either. Initially, there's cinnamon and cloves on the nose; but as it sits in the glass, it develops a dominant butterscotch aroma. The cinnamon and cloves also come through on the palatte, with some caramel and vanilla on some sips. The dominant characteristic, though, is that it has an oily mouthfeel. I don't mean that to be a pejorative description -- it just feels like you're drinking something other than water. This isn't my favorite Bourbon of all time, but I like it, especially at the price.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Today's Shoes

Gravati wingtip blucher spectator in tan and bone calf (model 14843, 500 last). I bought these a couple of years ago. There's not much of an occasion to wear spectators; but if you can't wear them on a summer weekend, when can you?


Some repair guys just came by and took a look at my air conditioner. Apparently, it was just low on freon, which caused something to freeze up, which prevented the fan from blowing air. They recharged the freon, and it is now blowing cool air. I'll believe that all is well when it's still working tonight, but I am cautiously optimistic.

Desert Island Discs

Mamacita has threatened to make me watch The Girl for the weekend if I don't respond to her post about things to be stuck on a desert island with, so I guess I had better get to it. The Girl is charming in small doses, but all weekend? While Mamacita and Papi Chulo are in Red Hill? You have to be kidding me!
  • Music: Well, my initial thought was something by Social Distortion, but that would be just too depressing to contemplate after the catastrophe of being stranded. Therefore, something by Billy Joe Shaver.
  • Book: This is a hard one because the book must not only be good, but it also must be good enough to warrant reading again and again and again. Therefore, how about The Creation of the American Republic by Gordon Wood. It's long, it's one of the classics of American Revolutionary history, and it's very good.
  • Movie: The Shawshank Redemption. This is a very good movie, but it's not my favorite of all time. It does, however, have themes of hope in a hopeless situation and would therefore be useful.
  • Beverage: Iced tea. That's pretty much the principal iced beverage that I drink during the summer.
  • Alcoholic beverage: Highland Park 12 YO. I know that I've been posting a lot of tasting notes about American whiskeys recently, and I really do love them. However, I'd have to say that Highland Park is just about the most perfect whisky that I have ever had.
  • Magazine: Men's Vogue. I'm not much of a magazine reader, and this is about as good as I can do. Men's Vogue isn't spectacular, but it is an order of magnitude better than crap like GQ and Esquire.
  • Famous Female: Judith Martin (Miss Manners). I bet that she'd be a (well-mannered) blast.
  • Famous Male: George Washington. I was originally going to say Abraham Lincoln, but I bet that Washington would be more fun to have a drink with. He was, after all, one of the largest commercial distillers in his day.
There you go, Mamacita. Let the heckling commence!

Last Night's Tipple

I saw yesterday that Richard's Liquors was running a weekly special on Baker's Bourbon, one of the four Bourbons in the Jim Beam Small Batch Bourbon Collection (along with Knob Creek, Basil Hayden's, and Booker's). It was about $4 cheaper than it typically is, and I had wanted to try it; so I bought a bottle.

Jim Beam is the largest producer of Bourbon in the world, and I imagine that just about all of us were introduced to Bourbon by their 4 year old white label flagship product. I haven't bought a bottle of that in years, but what I remember is that it was decent but thoroughly unexciting. Baker's is much more than decent, and it is very exciting (if you're a geek).

To me, one of the interesting things about modern Bourbon making is how much variation distillers can get not by varying the mashbill or the char level of the oak barrels used for aging but just by selecting different barrels from their rickhouses. When Baker's comes off the still and goes into the barrels, it's the same whiskey as the Jim Beam 4. (Jim Beam claims that Baker's uses a special yeast strain. I suppose that could be true, but I am skeptical. It would be uneconomical to make unless lots of whiskey, including lots that will never be labeled Baker's, were fermented and distilled using the same recipe. Most distillers have more than one recipe, but it's rare that they use one recipe for one brand exclusively.) The difference between the two is the length of aging (7 years instead of 4) and the location of the barrels in the rickhouses. Rickhouses are these huge, 8 story warehouses filled with Bourbon in barrel, and Bourbon will age differently depending on how high up and how close to the outside of the warehouse the barrels are. It used to be that distillers would routinely rotate their aging barrels in an attempt to get all of them the same aging experience, but most, Beam included, have abandoned that practice as uneconomical.

After some time in the glass, the dominant aromas from the Baker's are butterscotch (heavy on the butter) and brown sugar. Going down, there's some minerality and burn (it's 107 proof; of course there's some burn going down), but also some pleasant graininess and spice. Not too much vanilla here, despite the deep coloration. All-in-all, a very pleasing drink of Bourbon. Good job, Jim Beam!

Tea is Still Cool

In his comment to my post about tea, Ben links to a short essay about tea by George Orwell. Thank you, Ben. I did find it both interesting to read and possessed of very good advice about tea-making. I only have a few points of disagreement with Orwell, which I gather is something of a rarity when discussing the subject. First, his blanket statement that Chinese tea has "not much stimulation in it" is overbroad and incorrect. I will admit that Indian and Ceylonese black teas taste more "normal" to me, probably because Lipton and other cheap, commonly-available blends are based on them rather than on Chinese black teas. However, that is not to say that there aren't a number of excellent Chinese black teas out there that could give the best Indian black teas a run for their money (I'm excluding Ceylonese here because the best thing I can say about any Ceylonese tea that I've tried is that it was pleasant). Hao Ya A, for example, is intense, pleasant, and excellent. Second, he says that one should not use bags or strainers of any sort because "if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly". Perhaps this was true in his day, but modern wire mesh straining baskets are large enough to let water interact freely with the tea and to let the tea expand as it rehydrates. In addition, such baskets allow you to remove the tea at the end of the steeping period, which is important because over-steeped tea gets bitter and nasty. Finally, I don't understand at all why one would ruin good tea by putting milk in it. It makes about as much sense to me as putting pepper on ice cream.

Here's how I make tea. It appeals to my meticulous side because it's very formulaic and doesn't leave a whole lot of room for crippling mistakes of judgment.
  1. Heat 1.5 L of water in an electric kettle. Some books that I've read say that the water should be filtered, and I suppose it should be. However, I haven't noticed any problems with tap water, and tap water is certainly easier and quicker to use. Since I always or almost always use black tea instead of green, this water should be heated to boiling.
  2. Scoop two teaspoons of loose tea into the aforementioned wire mesh strainer. The standard measure is one teaspoon per cup of tea, and my teapot holds two cups.
  3. After the water reaches a boil, fill the teapot with said boiling water, wait a couple of seconds, and dump it out. This has the effect of warming the teapot.
  4. Put the wire mesh strainer into the pot and refill the pot with the boiling water.
  5. Set your timer for 5 minutes.
  6. At the end of 5 minutes, take out the wire mesh strainer, empty, and pour your tea.
  7. Enjoy.
It's worth mentioning that tea made from teabags is almost certainly going to be inferior for two reasons. First, manufacturers usually use a lower grade of tea in teabags. Frequently, it's nothing but tea dust, and the resultant cup of tea will often be bitter and nasty. Secondly, there's not enough room in the bag for the tea to expand fully as it rehydrates. It's really amazing to me how great this expansion can be. But if the tea is packed in there, there won't be room for water to circulate through it, and you won't get a good infusion.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Today's Shoes

Since it's Friday, I wore the same pair of shoes all day. Imagine that! These are Mephisto Marlon plain-toe bluchers in chestnut pebble grain, purchased yesterday from Harold's, where they had been special-ordered for me. Mephisto has managed to develop quite a reputation as the world's finest walking shoes, and I decided to see how well-deserved that reputation was. Unfortunately for me, they are also the makers of some of the ugliest shoes that I have ever seen. These Marlons aren't exactly earth-shakingly beautiful, but they're not that bad. They're also from Mephisto's Goodyear-welted line, and they represent the best that Mephisto has to offer.

You can't see it from the picture, but the last that these shoes are on is butt-ugly -- it's bulbous and blobby with no shape or line. It's even uglier than Alden's Barrie, and that's saying a lot. The only thing saving these is that the plain-toe blucher design doesn't call for much sexiness (although it can be sexy). I really hate the little Mephisto tag on the quarters, but that's nothing that an X-acto knife can't fix.

The construction appears to be pretty standard Goodyear with a storm welt. The number of stitches per inch on the welt is not particularly high, but I don't get the feeling that these are cheap or going to fall apart. The stitching on the upper is regular and tightly-spaced. One feature that I particularly like is that the leather around the throat of the shoe is folded under, meaning that there are no exposed leather edges there. It's a minor touch, but it shows that someone cares about the shoes. The rubber soles are light-weight, similar to microcellular Vibram soles that one sees from time to time.

I can't say that I walked a ton today, but what walking I did do was very comfortable. The rubber sole and other construction elements provide a great deal of cushioning. I don't know if these will turn out to be the most comfortable walking shoes money can buy, but they promise to do very well. The only real complaints that I have are that the heels are lined in suede, which I hate because the suede grips one's socks and causes them to irritate one's heels, and that they run very wide. I don't have narrow feet, but I could have taken a narrow width.

Last Night's Tipple

Since I've been in a rye mood recently, I decided to break out the Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye. This one shares a number of characteristics with the Wild Turkey Rye that I had a couple of nights ago: the nose is very similar to good Bourbon with lots of vanilla and caramel, but the taste is significantly different: sharper, spicier, racier. This is significantly more polished (read: less rough) than the WT rye, and that's probably mostly due to the greater time in the barrel (13 years rather than 5 or 6). All the Van Winkle bottlings are sufficiently rare that I buy them when I see them, whether I need them or not (well, the bottlings whose prices I can stomach; the 20 and 23 year old Bourbons are too rich for my blood); the first bottle of this that I bought was back in the late '90s or early 2000s. The next time I saw a bottle for sale after that was last year. It's good stuff if you like rye, which I do.

(Incidentally, you can see from the label that this was bottled by the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery. You might conclude from this that there actually is a distillery called Old Rip Van Winkle that makes whiskey. You would be wrong. The whiskey is distilled by Buffalo Trace in Frankfort. I think that Julian Van Winkle still owns the brand and selects the whiskey, but he doesn't distill it or age it.)

What's a Split Toe?

Sara writes below in one of the comments that she was initially confused by what a split-toe shoe is, and she speculates that "that probably refers to a cut and some stitching up the leather in the front". She is correct (well, mostly). It refers to a real or artificial seam in the middle of the toe of the shoe. The picture above is of the JL Paris Campus loafer, the shoe that I was wearing yesterday (in a different color). Notice the seam in the middle of the toe, and notice that it actually is a seam: it connects two different pieces of leather. On some shoes, however, there are not two different pieces of leather that are being joined. There's just one that has been pinched and stitched through. The resulting detail looks like a seam, but it's entirely decorative. See this Alden shoe for an example of this second type of split-toe.

On Bourbon, Rye, and Wild Turkey

In response to Sara's comment about the Wild Turkey Rye tasting note below, I thought that I would pontificate for a while.

In order for a spirit to be called "straight Bourbon" in the United states, it must be made from a mash consisting of at least 51% corn, be distilled to not more than 160 proof, be aged in charred new oak barrels for not less than 2 years (not less than 4 years unless the age is stated on the label), go into those barrels at not more than 125 proof, and be bottled at not less than 80 proof (Regan and Regan, The Book of Bourbon, p. 212). Straight rye whiskey must meet similar requirements, with the exception that the mash that it is made from must be not less than 51% rye. I'm not sure if it must be aged in charred new oak barrels, but all producers of rye whiskey in the United States except Fritz Maytag at Anchor Distilling Company, who does not label his whiskey as straight rye, do age it in exactly the same manner as they do Bourbon.

So, for both Bourbon and rye, we have 51% of the mash spoken for. What about the other 49%? That's made up of what are called small grains (small because their overall percentage in the mash is low, not because the grains are actually physically small when compared to others). For Bourbon, the small grains are malted barley, wheat, and rye. The last two could technically appear in the same mashbill, but with the exception of Woodford Reserve Four Grains Bourbon, all distillers either use one or the other. For rye, the small grains are malted barley and corn. Different distillers will chose different mashbills depending on the characteristics that they want in the finished Bourbon. If they want it sweet and mellow, they might choose to use wheat instead of rye. If they want it spicy and full-bodied, they would use a big rye component. Wild Turkey likes big and spicy Bourbons, so their mashbill is high in rye, higher than most other distilleries use. Whereas most of the now-closed Pennsylvania and Maryland distillers of rye whiskey used very high percentages of rye, most of the Kentucky rye distillers use rye percentages only slightly over the legal minimum. What this means is that mashbill for the Wild Turkey Bourbons is likely relatively similar to the mashbill for Wild Turkey rye.

But is that why Russel's Reserve and WT rye had very similar noses? Probably not. From what I have read, of the five factors that contribute to the final characteristics of a whiskey (mashbill, yeast used in fermentation, method of distillation, properties of the aging barrels, and the length and manner of aging), the last two are by far the most important. And guess what? Both WT Bourbons and WT ryes are aged in the same type of barrels with the same degree of char and in the same locations. It shouldn't be a surprise that they smell similarly.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Tea is Cool

I typically drink hot tea instead of coffee. Some of my reasons for this are negative: I don't like the way that coffee makes me feel, I don't know how to make a decent cup, dealing with a grinder seems like too much mess and trouble, etc. Most of them, however, are positive.
  • Great accouterments. Sure, you could drink coffee from that Tiffany Federal teacup shown above, but to do so would be abusive. It's a teacup, not a coffee cup, after all. And the fancy dishes aren't all. You also can get an electric kettle (the better to heat your water with, of course), any of a variety of fancy scoops (horn, bone, sterling, whatever you want -- and yes, a common teaspoon would work as well, but it wouldn't have nearly as much style), and teapots galore.
  • The ritual. I like putting the electric kettle on in the morning and making myself a pot of tea. I like websurfing while I drink the tea that I've made for myself. It's a comforting routine. Sure, I could do that with coffee, but I don't really like coffee. Which brings me to:
  • The tea. There is an almost infinite variety of good tea available, either at bricks-and-mortar stores like Central Market or over the internet (I like Harney & Sons and Adagio, myself, but there seem to be lots of other options, too). Like green tea? It's easy enough to find dozens of different kinds from several regions of China and Japan. Black tea? Probably even more options. It appeals to my collector's mentality.
  • The cost. This might sound funny after posting pictures of $90 teacups, but tea really is an affordable luxury. A standard 4 oz. tin of tea makes around 50 cups, and most 4 oz. tins of really good tea can be had for less than $15. Heck, less than $10. Even when I'm drinking something very expensive like Keemun Hao Ya A, my morning's tea still costs less than a soda.
And if anyone out there really wants to give me Tiffany Federal teacups (or Assam or Keemun tea for you cheapskates), I would be more than happy to accept your offerings.

Last Night's Tipple

I enjoyed the Russel's Reserve from the other night that I decided to dip into my bottle of Wild Turkey Straight Rye Whiskey. Because it's Wild Turkey, it's bottled at 101 proof. (It's not that they always bottle their whiskey at 101 proof; it's just that they try really, really hard, especially for those bottlings that don't have other marketing hooks like the Russel's Reserve does.) There is no statement of age, but I believe that I have read that the barrels that go into it are usually five or six years old. I could attempt to track the information down, but I'm feeling lazy.

Anyway, after some time in the glass, this developed a nose very much like the Wild Turkey Bourbons that I've had: a robust vanilla/caramel/cinnamon bread pudding aroma that is very pleasing. It tastes much different, though: racy and spicy instead of big and mellow. It's not Sazerac 18 YO, but it's still pretty good.

Today's Shoes


Edward Green chestnut antique adelaide half-brogues (Canturbury model, 202 last). Well, they would be half-brogues if they had a medallion on the toe cap. The shoes pictured to the left are the same model, color, and last as mine, but that's not my couch and those aren't my shoes. These are traditional adelaides, unlike the modified numbers from G&G that I wore yesterday. These are the first Edward Green shoes that I bought (as a special order from Maus & Hoffman in Florida maybe three and a half years ago), and they remain among my favorites.


John Lobb Paris split-toe penny loafers in dark brown pebble grain leather (Campus model, 3198 last). I picked these up from Neiman Marcus on sale at two thirds off the original price a few years ago. I like the look, but the strap across the vamp is too tight. Chances are that I'll survive.

Well, shoot

I came home this evening to find that my air conditioner is broken. Apparently, the fan motor is burned out. Alas, alas. It could have been worse, I suppose: this could have happened tomorrow evening.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Today's Shoes


Gaziano & Girling half-brogue adelaide (Hayes model, DG70 last) in fox suede. Notice the shape of the cutout at the throat of the shoe. On the typical adelaide, this cutout will be U-shaped, but Tony Gaziano borrowed the contours of a traditional half-brogue for this design. Very unique, but not flashy enough to call attention to itself (at least when it isn't in the presence of other shoe geeks).


John Lobb Paris unlined Venetian loafer (Chester model, 6000 last) in dark oak calf. I has misplaced one of the shoes from this pair until this afternoon, which had prevented me from wearing these for a number of months. That's a shame because I really like these. Because they're unlined, they're perfect for summer (and let's face it: it may still be May, but it is summer in Houston); and Venetian loafers have a great deal of minimalist elegance.

Wednesday Morning Movie Review

This morning's movie review is of The Killing, Stanley Kubrick's 1956 Film Noir classic. I actually watched this on Saturday night, but I am inveterately lazy. Johnny Clay, an ex-con, devises an intricate plan to rob a racetrack with the help of a diverse cast of characters, including two racetrack employees who need money for different reasons and a corrupt cop. It's Noir, so I probably don't need to tell you that all does not go as planned and that it ends in grief for everybody. If you want the details of the many disasters, watch it yourself.

The last Kubrick movie that I watched was Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick's final film starring pre-breakup Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. It was awful: boring, pretentious, and frustrating (because it promised action but delivered practically none, at least none that was interesting). But anyone can make a mistake, and I am helpless to resist Netflix recommendations. I'm not a very sophisticated viewer of movies, but I enjoyed this one. Even though I knew from the opening credits that the whole thing would end in tragedy, the plot was clever, and it's various twists and turns kept my interest. I especially liked Elisha Cook, who played George Peatty, a mousy husband who married a beautiful, money-grubbing woman and who needs the money from the robbery to keep her. A psychologist would probably have a field day with this, but I felt great sympathy for his character, and I thought he played him very well. Anyway, it was a good movie, and I recommend it.

Last Night's Tipple

Jimmy Russell is the Master Distiller of Wild Turkey Distillery, and Russell's Reserve is the cheapest of Wild Turkey's premium bottlings (below Rare Breed and Kentucky Spirit). In its original configuration, it was 10 years old and 101 proof. A couple of years ago, Wild Turkey redid the packaging to make it look more upscale and lowered the proof to 90.

A lot of whiskey snobs claim that the reduction in proof has ruined this Bourbon, but I actually like it because it makes it less immediately and ultimately painful to drink it. I get the idea that some people like high-proof spirits because they view consuming them as a test of manliness that they can pass. Anyway, I like this Bourbon a good deal. All Wild Turkey whiskies (at least, all that I've tried) are robust, full-bodied, and very flavorful, and this is no exception. After some time in the glass, it gives off delicious vanilla and caramel aromas, and it tastes like vanilla-cinnamon creme brulee. The only complaint I have is that it has some of the minerally aroma that I noticed and didn't like about the Bernheim Wheat Whiskey on Monday night. (I think that this may be an outgrowth of the fact that both bottles had been open for several months and may have oxidized a bit, but I'm not sure.) It's not as good as WT Rare Breed, but it's also $15 a fifth less expensive. This bottle is mostly gone, and I believe that I will replace it at some point when it gives up the ghost.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Emmet Needs This Shirt

If his mother loved him, she would get it for him.

Edit: Emmet's mother earnestly claims that he already has such a shirt. I'll believe it when I see it; and even if true, she would have him wear it more often if she loved him.

Today's Shoes


Gravati side-buckle plain-toe monkstraps in Radica 01 (16042, 433 last). Radica 01 is a lovely dark brown leather, significantly less flashy than the 033 that I wore yesterday but still variegated and interesting. These shoes were a special order from Harold's in the Heights from maybe two and a half years ago. I was trying for a shoe similar to the John Lobb Paris Jermyn II (the most sublime ready-to-wear shoe in existence), but I made a couple of mistakes: the last has too bulbous a toe for a Jermyn II knockoff, and the wheeling is too big. It would have been much better on the 683 last. Alas, alas. They're still nice shoes.


Martegani high-vamp penny loafers in an English tan (pictured above right), purchased at Harold's a couple of months ago. I love these shoes. The high vamp, the square toe, and the close-cut sole all make for a very sleek rendition of the penny loafer. I may have to get these in dark brown, too.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Tonight's Tipple

Tonight's tipple is the last of a bottle of Bernheim Original Straight Wheat Whiskey, which I picked up shortly after it hit the market last year. In the parlance of American liquor laws, "straight" implies that the mash used to make the whiskey has at least 51% of a particular kind of grain. Until Bernheim Straight Wheat came out, the only straight whiskeys that I had ever seen were Bourbons (51% or more corn) and rye (well, you can probably figure that one out). I suppose that the genesis of this whiskey was the small number of "wheated" Bourbons on the market -- those Bourbons that use wheat instead of rye as the secondary grain in the mash. Wheat is supposed to make the finished spirit sweet and mellow, and the wheated Bourbons that I've tried (Maker's Mark, the Van Winkle family of Bourbons, Old Weller, Rebel Yell) have had those characteristics. Because of this, I had had high hopes for Bernheim Wheat, despite the high sticker price (around $40 a fifth).

Alas, those high hopes were dashed, at least partially. The problem is that the two dominant characteristics of the whiskey that I can discern are this strange minerally aroma and a grainy taste that I had previously associated with corn. As it spends time in the glass, it develops some vanilla and caramel aromas, which are pleasant, but those are just not enough to make me like this that much. I believe that I've read that this whiskey has been aged 4 years. If so, I think that it could benefit from more time in the barrel. I don't think that I'll be buying another bottle.

Did you know...

...that Houston had a professional soccer team? They're called the Dynamo, and by some miracle, they managed to win the MLS championship last year. If you didn't know this, I think that the sports gods can somehow forgive you. MLS teams would have difficulty playing with Italian Serie C (ie, the equivalent of AA to Serie A's major leagues), and soccer, professional or otherwise, doesn't really register on the American sports scene.

I'm all in favor of Houston having a professional soccer team, and I'm glad that the Dynamo won the MLS championship; but I'm not so overjoyed that the powers that be think that they ought to get a $70 million stadium at taxpayer expense, nor am I amused that an idiot Houston Chronicle sports columnist thinks that the only reason to oppose a publicly-built facility of this magnitude is racism:

But in reality, the deal inflated not just hopes for Houston soccer fans, nearly half of whom are Hispanic, according to ticket-tracking research by the Dynamo.

It also blew up a dangerous political futbol that city leaders will be kicking around. City leaders will be watched closely on this one by many local minority groups hoping for inclusion among the big boys of sports...

The predominantly white fan base that follows the Astros got theirs. The largely white and black fan base of the Rockets got theirs, too.

What about Dynamo fans? What about the fan base that has been estimated at roughly 45 percent Hispanic, 45 percent white and 10 percent Asian?

Public funding of extravagant sports palaces is bad policy. It was when taxpayers ponied up to build Minute Maid Park, it was when they built Reliant Stadium, and it remained so when they build the Toyota Center. Not wanting to repeat the mistake with the Dynamo isn't racism; it's stopping the insanity.

(And I won't even mention that the 7,000-12,000 people that typically attend Dynamo games in Houston are hardly the same as the entire Hispanic community here.)

Today's Shoes


Gravati reversed-seam cap-toe bal in Radica 033 (16496, 500 last). Imagine the shoe above, only in a variegated red-tan leather. Radica is a line of aniline leathers that are sponged while still wet to give them a marble-like variegation. Lobb Paris calls it "museum calf", but Gravati prefers to call it what the tannery calls it. Color 033 is the most eye-popping of the colors offered. The reversed seams make this shoe an interesting and subtly different take on the traditional cap-toe.


Gravati saddle bal with both the vamp and the saddle in nicotina (mid-brown) peccary (15578, 640 last). Peccary is a wild boar-like animal indigenous to South America, and leather made from its hide is similar in appearance and feel to deerskin but much more durable.

The Last Shall Be First

No, no, no. It's not what you think. Probably the most famous book about men's shoes is The Last Shall Be First by Brian Dobbs. It's not that it's a particularly good book -- it's the typical puff piece that many famous companies commission to promote their businesses. Rather, it's the title, which not only echoes a famous phrase from the Bible but also states a truism of bespoke shoemaking, and the subject: John Lobb of St. James, which is the best-known bespoke shoemaker in the world. Not the best, mind you, but certainly the most famous. The firm dates from 1859, when its founder (John Lobb of course) returned to England from Australia, where he had been making boots for gold prospectors. Through talent and sheer audacity, he managed to obtain the warrant as bootmaker to Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII); and his firm has subsequently held the warrants of all the important British and Continental royals. Currently, Lobb St. James is the bootmaker for Queen Elizabeth, Prince Phillip, and Prince Charles. Because of its fame and its prestigious (and rich) clientele, Lobb charges substantially more for its shoes than other British bespoke makers: ordinary calfskin shoes start at £2130, plus £444 for trees and £104.17 for embroidered shoe bags; by way of comparison, Gaziano & Girling, probably the best British bespoke maker, starts at £1650, including trees and bags. Lobb's process also differs from other British makers in that they don't do fittings: you're measured for your shoes, and 12 months later, a finished pair shows up at your door. By contrast, G&G and the rest of the British makers have at least one fitting on partially-made shoes. The results of either process can be good, although Lobb's recent shoes frequently lack the flair and the refinement of last shape that can be found in shoes from G&G, GJ Cleverley, and Foster & Son. Whether this is because they can't do it or because their clients don't want them to, I can't say; but enough talented independent lastmakers trained with Lobb that I suspect the latter is the case. Anyway, The Last Shall Be First should be among the first books that anyone who cares about men's shoes should read, although it certainly shouldn't be the last.