Saturday, June 30, 2007

Today's Shoes

Gravati four-eyelet plain-toe bluchers in dark brown Lama calf (16493, 640 last). These were a special order from about four years ago, and I waited about nine months for them. They never did get as much wear as I had intended, mostly because I made the mistake of putting a rubber sole on them. I just have a mental block about wearing rubber-sole shoes with nice clothes, so these are mostly relegated to wear with jeans on rainy days.

I did stop by Harold's in the Heights this afternoon to place another special order. These will be long-vamp penny loafers with twin-needle stitching on the apron in a medium brown textured calf on the new 701 last. Since it's almost July and since Italy shuts down for the month of August, it's likely that these won't come in until late September or early October at the earliest. I think that I'll have plenty of shoes to wear until then.

Last Night's Tipple

Bruichladdich (pronounced, more or less, like "brook-laddie") is an anomaly in more ways than one. Modern Scotch whisky-making is dominated by multinational corporations and marketing experts, but Bruichladdich is independently owned and for the most part eschews the marketing hooey that afflicts spirits of all kinds but Scotch whisky especially. Once shut down, distilleries are rarely revived, but Bruichladdich was brought back from extinction when a group of buyers including a former manager of Bowmore distillery and former representatives of independent Scotch bottler Murray McDavid bought the distillery, which had been silent since 1993, from Jim Beam Brands. And Islay whiskies are supposed to be toe-curlingly peaty, but Bruichladdich is not always (although they are capable of producing some of the peatiest whiskies in the world and do, on occasion). In fact, if you placed a glass of Bruichladdich 10 year old in front of someone who knew something about Scotch but was not intimately familiar with Bruichladdich and its Scotch, it's highly unlikely that he would identify it as an Islay. But an Islay it is, and one of the great ones. It's fresh and malty on the nose, and that same maltiness comes through on the palate, along with a mouth-watering creaminess. There is some smoke and some brine, but it is not overpowering. It is a fresh, clean, enjoyable spirit. If I were stranded on a desert island and could only have one bottle of Scotch with me, that bottle would be Highland Park 12 year old. If I could have two, the second would probably be Bruichladdich 10 year old. It's exactly what a Scotch should be. Drinking whisky should be pleasurable, not a test of one's manhood.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Today's Shoes

Gravati chelsea boot in tobacco suede (16366, 655 last). These are beautiful boots. The only problem is that the elastic is tight enough that I have to use a boot jack to get them off easily, which means that they're not the ideal footwear for flying, as I had hoped they would be.

I Love Bureaucracy

A few weeks ago, I ordered a wireless headset for my phone at work so that I wouldn't have to endure hour-long conference calls with my phone handset cradled between my shoulder and my ear. My company has some Ariba software to manage the catalogue of approved products and the order and approval process. My $190 headset was automatically approved without any humans actually looking at the order. Yesterday, I ordered a $26 handset lifter to allow me to use the headset without manually taking the handset off its cradle and putting it on the desk. That required four separate approvals, including two from the same person. That makes sense, doesn't it?

Last Night's Tipple

I read an article once that claimed that rum was unique in the world of spirits in that it was made from industrial waste that otherwise would have been completely unused. This is a little bit of an overstatement. While it is true that rum can be made from fermenting a mash of spent sugar cane, which is waste from sugar production, it can also be made from fermenting sugar (but only sugar made from sugar cane), sugar cane juice, and molasses, none of which are waste products. Most of the rum produced today is pretty close to neutral spirits: it's distilled off to a proof high enough to strip the spirit of most of its character, diluted down to 80 proof, and sold unaged. It might as well be vodka. Even most of the products labeled "añejo" really just have caramel coloring added to make it look like they have been aged in oak for a while. Fortunately, it is possible to make a quality product that has some character, and the trend toward luxury spirits has ensured that some of the good products that have always been out there can be easily found on liquor store shelves.

Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 year old rum is made in Guatemala. Yes, Guatemala. Just about every country bordering the Caribbean Sea has rum distilleries, and Guatemala borders the Caribbean Sea. Like most rum produced these days, Zacapa is distilled in a column still. Given the heat of the Caribbean region, one might suspect that a 23 year old rum would be dried out and unbearably woody, but it is not. I suspect that there are two principal reasons for that. First, it's aged in used Bourbon barrels, so there's less woody goodness for the spirit to leach out. Second, it's aged in the mountains, where it's a lot cooler. Even though it's only 80 proof, the rum is very dark. On the nose, there's a lot of molasses that gives way to vanilla and butterscotch. The palate is sweet and very spicy, with loads of cinnamon and nutmeg. There's a good deal of fruitiness there, along with a little bit of an estery candy aftertaste. This is an outstanding product. Try it next to a Baccardi Silver rum and see if you can tell that the US government considers them to be equivalent.

Thursday, June 28, 2007


Monday's Wall Street Journal had a column by Carol Hymowitz about layoffs and some of the mistakes that managers make when handling them ("Though Now Routine, Bosses Still Stumble During Layoff Process", p. B1). According to Hymowitz, these mistakes include waiting until the last possible moment to notify those being cut, failing to provide necessary information about severance benefits, blaming those laid off for their own job losses, and failing to appreciate the impact of layoffs on those who are not cut. An interesting passage toward the end of the column reads
An equally big challenge for managers at companies contemplating layoffs is figuring out the actual benefits. Numerous studies by business professors and management consultants conclude that layoffs, while perhaps boosting the bottom line momentarily, rarely yield companies sustainable long-term savings.

Staff reductions cost companies valuable talent that frequently must be replaced at an even higher cost at a later date. They also hurt morale and productivity among survivors.
I'm not exactly sure how layoffs should be handled, but I've been through enough of them to have a pretty good idea of how they should not be handled. Here are Soletrain's Infallible Rules For What Not To Do During Layoffs.
  1. Do not overestimate how much money you will save by laying people off, and do not underestimate the damage that laying people off will do to your organization. This restates and expands upon the portion of the column quoted above. Managers like to tell themselves that there are plenty of people in their organizations like Milton from Office Space who do very little except use their red Swingline staplers. Alas, this is usually not the case; and in any event, managers often do a poor job of identifying the Milton-like characters. The Miltons often stay after layoffs, while the anti-Miltons get axed. This means that layoffs will usually cut people who actually do work essential or at least very valuable for the organization (often times in ways that are poorly understood by management before the axe falls), and getting rid of them carries costs.
  2. Do not lie, and do not pretend to know something that you don't. Lying during layoffs often takes the form of claiming that no more layoffs will happen. Managers can't really promise this, and employees know it. Making statements like this destroys whatever credibility managers might have left after layoffs. It can also work the other way: insisting that no more layoffs are currently planned when it's perfectly obvious that there will be more is also a bad idea, even if your claim is technically correct because upper management has not told you about their future plans yet.
  3. Do not euphemize. People are losing their jobs. Do not sugar coat it or try to make it sound better by dancing around what actually happened. In the wake of a round of layoffs at my company in 2003, the president of the unit that I work in sent out an e-mail that was intended to announce what had been done. It did not. It was so couched in euphemism that one would have had to have known what happened to understand what it was announcing. Never once did it say that people had lost their jobs. Harvard Business School ought to do a case about it as a warning to future managers about the dangers of incompetent communication.
  4. Do not obfuscate. At the very least, you ought to tell both those laid off and those remaining how many people are being let go, specifically what the layoffs are supposed to accomplish, how management will measure whether the layoffs actually accomplished their purpose, and what, in detail, the severance benefits being offered those laid off are.
  5. Do not denigrate those who have been laid off. You'd think that this would be obvious, but you would be wrong. The same division president who sent out the worthless e-mail that I mentioned above later visited our facility. We should actually feel good about the layoffs, he said, because those of us who were left had obviously adapted to the changing global economy, while those who had been laid off obviously had not. I'm not kidding. He actually said this. He's one of only two people that I have met professionally who I think deserves to have bad things happen to him. Fortunately, he was forced out of the company earlier this year, although his despicable performance during layoffs probably had no role in his demise.

Today's Shoes


John Lobb Paris austerity brogues in tan calf (Widner model, 8695 last). This is the fourth of my four pairs of austerity brogues. 8695 doesn't fit me particularly well in the heel, unfortunately, which is why these shoes don't get a whole lot of action.


John Lobb Paris three-eyelet V-front derbies in tobacco suede (Perrier model, 8896 last). This is one of the near-perfect shoe designs. The only thing that could improve this shoe is a more stylish last.

Last Night's Tipple

Did you think that the adjective "straight" (as it pertains to spirits) could only be applied to whiskey or that only a whiskey could be bottled in bond? So did I. But I was wrong, so wrong. "Straight" can apply to any spirit type and means that the spirit has been distilled to no more than 160 proof and has not been mixed with any grain neutral spirits. In the case of straight apple brandy, I would imagine that the mash that it's made from would have to be at least 51% apples, but I don't know what else could be in the mash. Pears? Grapes? Grain? (I know: grain sounds revolting, but who knows?) And any spirit can be bottled in bond, provided that it is made at one distillery in one season, aged for at least four years in oak casks, has not had any flavoring or other adulterant added to it, and is bottled under government supervision at 100 proof. So it is thus possible for Laird's to produce Laird's Straight Apple Brandy, Bottled in Bond. The label says that it is bottled at DSP-NJ-1, Laird's Scobeyville, NJ facility. For some reason, it doesn't say where it was distilled, although Laird's website says that all distillation is now done in North Garden, VA.

Applejack has a venerable tradition in the United States, particularly in the Northeast. In colonial times, people would leave barrels of hard cider out during the winter and repeatedly skim off the ice that formed inside. Because alcohol has a much lower freezing point than water, the skimmed ice would be mostly water, which would have the effect of increasing the concentration of alcohol in the liquid that remained. This method of production is called fractional freezing. The problem with it is that ethanol is not the only kind of alcohol in hard cider that is concentrated by fractional freezing. Fermentation of apples (and of grains and other fermentable substances) does not just produce ethanol. It also produces small quantities of methanol and fusel alcohols, which are highly toxic. They're not a problem in hard cider or beer or wine, but they are a problem in a spirit produced by fractional freezing. Nobody with any sense makes spirits this way any more, and it has been thus for more than two hundred years.

The Laird family has been making applejack since 1698. Their first commercial production was in 1780, making them the oldest still-operating American distillery. Up until the 1970s, their applejack was pure apple brandy; but they have since blended it with grain neutral spirits to lighten its flavor and reduce their costs. Their bottling labeled applejack is currently about 35% apple brandy and 65% GNS. They label all the pure apple brandy as apple brandy instead of applejack. The BIB bottling that I tried last night is probably four years old or maybe a bit older. There are also 7.5 year old and 12 year old versions. All of Laird's apple brandies are aged in charred oak barrels, which brings me to my initial impression of the BIB: it's like apple whiskey. I can't claim credit for that phrase, but it is accurate. The barrels give the brandy lots of char and vanilla aromas, just like Bourbon. There's also a distinctive apple juice aroma, but the char and vanilla dominates. On the palate, it's fruit-dominated, sweet, and a little rough. It could use more time in the barrel, but it is pleasant.

Oh, and it is nothing at all like the Calvados that I had a few days ago. I'm eager to try the Laird's 12 YO to see if the age gives it more of a Calvados character. But this is enjoyable enough for what it is. *

* And before Mamacita points it out, yes, I did try this out of a plastic cup while watching fireworks at New Year's; and I didn't like it much then. Of course, drinking anything out of a plastic cup is not perfectly calculated to show it at its best advantage. It was much better last night.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Today's Shoes


Stuart's Choice plain-toe bals with a floating toe medallion, a heart-shaped throat, and a vamp/quarter seam that intersects with the heel counter to echo the shape of the throat. The color name for these was dark khaki, for some reason, even though they really are dark brown. These shoes, like a lot of what Paul Stuart does, are interesting and unique. I have never seen anything quite like them before, and I don't think that I ever will (unless I do something bespoke). The Stuart's Choice shoes are made by Grenson, another Northampton shoe manufacturer that has always played second fiddle to its bigger and better-reputed neighbors. They can, however, make very good shoes, as illustrated by the Stuart's Choice line.


Alden cap-toe blucher in walnut calf (972, Aberdeen last). Another of my earliest pairs of "good" shoes. These, like the suede wingtips from yesterday, suffer from the heels being a bit too wide. Nevertheless, when I got these out this afternoon for the first time in two years or more, I was surprised by how much wear they have gotten and how nice they still look.

Of Corks and Screwcaps

In recent years, the wine industry (or at least some portions of it) have begun to face the problem of cork taint, which is the result of cork contaminated with a certain kind of fungi that produce 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA). TCA can cause a number of effects in wine, ranging from a muting of the aromas and flavors present in wine to an overwhelming moldy cardboard smell. If a wine is corked, it will not be as enjoyable as it should be, and it very well may have to be dumped down the drain. The answer to the question of how prevalent cork taint is in cork-closed wines depends on who you ask: the cork industry swears that the incidence is less than 1.5%, while some in the wine industry cite 10% or higher. Complicating the picture is the fact that certain people are more sensitive to cork taint than others: one taster may not notice anything amiss at all in a wine, while another might not be able to drink it. I don't know whether I am particularly sensitive to TCA or not, but I do know that an annoying percentage -- probably 7% to 10% -- of the bottles of wine with cork closures that I open are bad. I suppose that the problems could stem from incompetent wine-making, but I doubt it. The flavors and aromas are just so off that nobody in his right mind would sell such a product. All I know is that if 7% to 10% of the product sold in any other industry was defective, there would be a hue and cry, with foaming-at-the-mouth exposes in the news and Congressional investigations. Not so the wine industry for reasons that I don't fully understand.

Nevertheless, a growing number of winemakers, particularly in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, are no longer closing their wines with corks. Some are using synthetic corks instead, but the most popular alternative to real cork is a screwcap. Yes, a screwcap. Screwcaps don't go bad, you see, nor do they ruin wine. But, you object, won't the lack of a cork prevent air from getting into the bottle and helping the aging process of wine along? Well, yes, screwcaps will prevent air from getting into the bottle. This is a good thing. Air ruins wine. It's not the air that causes aged wine to age. A properly-inserted cork is virtually impermeable. It is possible that there is something else about cork that allows or encourages the aging process, but Australian vintners, who have been using non-cork closures in their Rieslings for thirty years, haven't seen a degradation in aging ability from it. In any event, very little wine produced, even in the premium category, benefits from aging. But, but, but corks are prettier, you say; I like the ritual around cork removal. So do I, but not enough to pour 10% of the wine I buy down the drain. The single best thing that the wine industry could do to improve quality of their products across the board would be to replace cork closures with screwcaps. Let's hope that the Old World producers wake up to this reality sometime soon.

(Incidentally, cork taint can afflict liquor in bottles closed by corks, too. And yet the way that every producer chooses to announce that his product is upscale is by putting it in a bottle with a cork in it. Screwcaps are the domain of middle- and bottom-shelf brands. This is a pity, but it goes to show you that the consumer's perception of quality is more important than the actual quality. Alas.)

Today's Etymological Trivia

The phrase "fifth column" comes from a statement that Nationalist General Emilio Mola made to a journalist as his troops approached Madrid in 1936, which was then controlled by the Spanish Republicans. He would take Madrid, he told the journalist, because he had four columns of troops marching on Madrid and a fifth column of supporters inside the city.

(And, incidentally, Mola did not take Madrid in 1936.)

Last Night's Tipple

There's a practice in Bourbon country (and in Tennessee Whiskey country, too) called squeezing the barrel. Temperature variations during aging forces a surprising amount of whiskey into the barrel, and distillers want some of it back. They will typically pour a few gallons of water into a recently-dumped barrel, slosh it around, and let it sit for a while. A decent amount of whiskey will have filtered back into the water, and the distilleries will use the resultant liquid to dilute their whiskey down to bottle proof. A variant of this is practiced by Kentucky teenagers, who somehow manage to get their hands on an empty whiskey barrel, which they fill with a few gallons of water and roll up and down a hill for about an hour.

Why do I mention this when what I had to drink last night was Lustau Solera Reserva Brandy? Because it tastes like Lustau squeezed an empty oloroso sherry butt with brandy and sold the result under this label. The nose is all nutty oloroso sherry. The palate is exceptionally sweet and sherry-like. It's sherry, sherry, sherry. That's not a bad thing: Lustau is one of the best producers of sherry, so something that tastes like their wines is something good indeed. The sherry influences also make this brandy exceptionally smooth. The only down side to it that I can see is that it smells and tastes so much like sherry that one might be tempted to drink it like sherry, which is not a good thing for 80 proof liquor. I bought this bottle several years ago, and I didn't remember it being so pleasant. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like Spec's carries it (or any similar brandy) anymore, so I'll be out of luck when the bottle is gone.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Today's Shoes


Gravati three-eyelet wholecut bal in burgundy Lama calf (14391, last 683). This is another special order. I would have been better-served to have picked a last less elongated than 683 is, and four eyelets would have worked better than three.


Alden wingtip bal in dark brown suede (904, Hampton last). This was my second "good" pair of shoes, purchased maybe eight years ago. I just had to have a pair of suede wingtips, and these fit the bill. I don't wear them that much anymore, but they are still great shoes.

Last Night's Tipple

Armagnac is Cognac's poor country cousin. Both Cognac and Armagnac are regions in southwestern France, with Armagnac to the south of Cognac in Gascony, that give their names to distinctive kinds of brandy. But Cognac gets all the glory, and Armagnac is not well-known. Both Cognac and Armagnac are primarily based on the Ugni Blanc grape, which makes bad wine but very good brandy. Cognac, though, is double-distilled in copper pot stills, while Armagnac is (usually) distilled only once in a distinctive continuous still. I have heard this still called a column still, and I suppose that it might be. Here's the problem, though. Everything that I've read indicates that the Armagnac still was invented in the 18th Century, but the modern column still was invented in the early 19th Century by Aeneas Coffey. So reason dictates that the Armagnac still must differ in some ways from the column still. In addition, note that Bourbon producers, in an attempt to raise production and lower costs, attempted to make Bourbon with a single column-still distillation (ie, they dispensed with the traditional second distillation in the doubler or thumper). It didn't work. The Bourbon produced by this method was not good. Brandy is different from Bourbon; but if something was missing from a Bourbon produced by a single column-still distillation, it seems reasonable to think that something might also be missing from a brandy produced by the same method. But nothing is missing from Armagnac, which suggests to me that the continuous stills that Armagnac producers use differ in some important particulars from traditional column stills.

Armagnac is Cognac's country cousin in another way, too. Cognac (at least good Cognac, which is not what most Cognac sold in the US is) is polished and urbane. Armagnac is not. At its best, it's bolder and more rustic. Armagnac is subdivided into three subregions: Téranèze, Haut-Armagnac, and Bas Armagnac. Bas Armagnac is widely acknowledged to produce the best brandy. My drink last night was Grassa et Fils Bas Armagnac Cuvee Speciale. There was no age statement on the bottle, but its color was dark enough that it must have been in barrel for a number of years. It had the same metallic nose that I associate with Cognac, but there was a good bit of vanilla and soot on the palate. It had more personality than most Cognacs that I have tasted, and I liked it. Unfortunately, I won't be drinking it any more: last night's drink finished the bottle, and it doesn't look like it's imported into the US anymore. Alas.

Monday, June 25, 2007

An Etiquette Question That May Interest Only Me

Around here, men typically wait for women to board an elevator before they get on, regardless of who was waiting for it first. The reasoning behind this, I suppose, is "ladies first." Is this correct etiquette? Miss Manners has pointed out that the ladies-first policy is not always the most polite one. For example, when accompanying a woman through a circular door, a man goes first so he can push. Likewise, when a man and a woman are descending a flight of stairs too narrow for them to walk abreast, the man should go first so that the woman will fall on him if she accidentally falls. In the same vein, the ranking officer present would always board a boat last and get off first because an open boat was dangerous, wet, and uncomfortable; and it was a privilege of rank to endure that for as short a time as possible. So is an elevator the modern-day equivalent of an open boat in the Age of Sail? Well, probably not. But I have to think that men preceding women into one may be more polite than allowing women to go first. Of course, I doubt that I'm going to buck convention any time soon.

Today's Shoes


Grenson three-eyelet utility brogue ankle boots in British tan. As I have written, I have a thing for utility brogues, and I have a total of four pairs of them. These are the most unusual, both because they are bluchers and because they are boots. I would like the idea of these better than the practice for two reasons: first, they are a bit too big, and my heel slips; second, they aren't cut high enough, which causes them to dig into my ankle bones. Consequently, they are one of my pairs of rain shoes; and it was very rainy today.


Santoni rubber-soled chukka boot in mid-brown calf. Another pair of rain shoes. Like I wrote, it was very rainy today.

Last Night's Tipple

Calvados is apple brandy from the Calvados region in Normandy, double-distilled in alembic pot stills. It hasn't gotten a whole lot of traction in the United States, so the selection that one sees in liquor stores is rarely more than a couple of different brands. Lecompte is apparently one of the better-reputed producers, and I was lucky enough to find a bottle of their 12-year old version a couple of years ago, and I have been drinking it very slowly because there's little hope that I will be able to replace it once it's gone.

Calvados (at least good Calvados) smells strongly of apples (shocking, huh?). This Lecompte is good Calvados, so once the alcohol blows off a bit, one gets a big whiff of apple. But it's a bit more complex than that. The 12 years in barrel has given this brandy a deep amber color that's a little bit surprising. The barrel time has also given the spirit a good dose of cinnamon and vanilla. This isn't alcoholic apple juice: it's apple pie in a glass. The only negative thing that I can say about it is that it has that metallic twang that is typical of Cognac and that I associate with copper pot stills. I'd rather that it not be there, but it's not terribly distracting. Drinking this makes me want to go out and buy all the Calvados I can find. Unfortunately, that would only be about three different bottlings.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Today's Shoes

Mantellassi split-toe Norvegese-constructed bluchers with reversed apron and toe seams in a light tan calf. This is a take-off on the split-toe model pictured in yesterday's post. The apron and toe seams on that shoe are not actually seams. The vamp of the shoe is actually one piece of leather. The shoemaker simulates the seams by pinching the leather of the upper together and using two needles to create a molehill-like faux seam. When this is done on the top side of the leather, the result is the shoe shown yesterday. When this is done on the under side of the leather, the result is the pair of shoes I wore today. The "seams" are still visible, but they are ghosted and indistinct.

Lingerie Wars

The Wednesday Wall Street Journal reports that
Retailers including JC Penney Co., Target Corp. and Kohl's Corp. have discovered that fashionable underwear for women is a hot trend. To cash in on it, they are launching lingerie lines or giving old ones a makeover or redecorating dressing rooms and offering professional fitting services. Other companies, including Chico's FAS Inc., American Eagle Outfitters Inc. and Charming Shoppes Inc.'s Lane Bryant, have created stand-alone lingerie stores.

The retailers are hoping to steal some thunder from the Limited Brands Inc.'s Victoria's Secret chain, which has dominated fashion lingerie in the U.S. for many years.
("Retailers' Panty Raid On Victoria's Secret", p. B1). According to the story, US sales of women's underwear grew at a rate of 10% last year, making it the second-fastest growing apparel category after handbags. Despite the growth in the category, Victoria's Secret appears to be vulnerable: while net sales were up 14.8% last year, sales at stores open more than a year were up less than 2%, which indicates that Victoria's Secret is primarily fueled by opening new stores. As we have seen from other retailers (think Gap, along with many more), this is often a recipe for trouble.

Not being a consumer of women's underwear, I have no particular knowledge or expertise in the subject. I can say, however, that as one who is in a major mall four or five times a week, Victoria's Secret bags are probably the most common ones that I see mall patrons carrying. It's possible that all those bags contain token purchases, although I doubt it. I will also say that there is a fundamental difference in presentation between Victoria's Secret and Kohl's, and I doubt that the typical Victoria's Secret customer will shift allegiance and purchasing dollars to Kohl's any time soon. Of course, there is the possibility that she will graduate to La Perla, which the story says that Bloomingdale's is expanding its selection of and which I find much more interesting than any of the other ventures and brands mentioned in the story.

Quote of the Day

From the snarkolepsy blog:
Why is it the only choice consumers have is between "sucks ass" and "sucks donkey balls"?

Last Night's Tipple

I first had Young's Double Chocolate Stout at the Richmond Arms pub in Houston, which is one of the few bars that I actually like. They happened to have it on tap, and my friend Ben said that he thought it was pretty good. "It's double, it's chocolate, it's stout! What's not to like?" I thought, and so I ordered a pint. I thought that it was very good, and I ordered it subsequently just about every time they had it available. A couple of years later, I noticed it in bottles at the grocery store, but the effect just wasn't the same. There's something about the thick head that a nitrogenated tap gives a beer that a bottle can't replicate. A few years after that, I began to see it in those tallboy pub draft cans that have nitrogen capsules inside, and I tried it again. This time, it was the real deal. When poured from one of those cans, the beer has that thick, creamy head that is part of the reason that it is so good. I happened to be at Central Market yesterday and saw that they had Young's Double Chocolate Stout in the cans, and nostalgia overcame me. I bought a four-pack for $7.29. The stuff inside is as good as I remember. Despite the name, this is not a sweet stout. It's big-bodied and bitter, with flavors and aromas like strong dark coffee. Every now and then, I caught a whiff of dark chocolate. It's just delicious. It almost makes me want to go over the the Richmond Arms.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Today's Shoes

Borgioli split-toe bluchers with a short apron and Norvegese construction in tan calf. The shoes to the right are made by Sutor Mantellassi and represent the look that I was going for when I placed this special order, although the design itself is a classic Italian one that many makers produce. Norvegese construction is, paradoxically, an Italian specialty and consists of the upper leather being turned out onto the sole edges, with a row of stitching affixing the upper leather to the sole there. There is then either a single row or two braided rows of stitching attaching the upper to the insole of the shoe. This manner of construction makes the shoe especially waterproof, but that's not the reason that the Italians like to use it so much. They like it because it's flashy and it shows off the shoemaker's skill very well in a way that would not be possible with standard Goodyear construction. The Borgioli shoes are extremely well-made, almost as well as the Mantellassi model that I intended for them to imitate. The only bad thing about them is that they don't fit particularly well, a result, I think, of the fact that Borgioli does not have separate sets of lasts for European and American production. American feet, you see, are typically different from European feet: they're narrower, particularly in the heel, and they usually have lower insteps. I don't have a low instep, but I do have a narrow heel, the result of which being that my beautiful Borgioli Norwegians slip there and prevent me from wearing them for very long at a stretch. Oh, well. Such is life.

Saturday Morning Movie Review

I actually watched My Mother's Castle (the unsatisfying translation of its French title, Le Château de ma mère) one night this week, but I have been too lazy to post about it until now. This may come as a shock to some readers, but this actually is a French movie subtitled in English (gasp!). It's a coming-of-age story about the son (Marcel) of a Marseilles school teacher (Joseph) and his wife (Augustine) at the turn of the century. The family spends an enchanting summer vacation in the countryside of Provence; and the mother decrees that they will come back more frequently, returning at Christmas and other holidays until Augustine decides that they go to the country every weekend, even sweet-talking the wife of the headmaster of Joseph's school into convincing her husband to give Joseph no classes on Monday mornings to make it possible.

The movie has a predictable cast of characters, including the country-boy friend of Marcel, the highfalutin daughter of an alcoholic Marseilles newspaperman who also takes refuge in the country, the eccentric uncle, and the dull rectitude of French officialdom. I won't reveal what happens (for those who want to see the film), but the central conflict and its impact on Joseph strikes me as implausible and overblown, and the postscript detailing how life went to hell for everybody after those idyllic days in Provence seems out of place and just tacked on. Still, I can't dislike period-piece movies, and the cinematography of the Provence countryside is beautiful. Not a wonderful movie, but not a waste of time.

Last Night's Tipple

Old Charter is one of the venerable brands in American Bourbon, having been founded in 1874 by two brothers in Bullitt County, Kentucky. Its name refers to the Connecticut colonial charter, which was hidden in the Charter Oak in Hartford in 1687 to keep it from falling into the hands of royal officials bent on abrogating it and consolidating Connecticut into the Dominion of New England. The story of the Charter Oak is a classic in the history of colonial resistance to British tyranny, but it does seem to be a odd thing to name a Bourbon brand after. Nevertheless, the silhouette of the Charter Oak on the bottle's neck brand illustrates that name it after the Charter Oak the brand's founders did.

The sad fact is that most of the old-time Bourbon brands that are still around are mere shadows of their former selves. Old Crow has been reduced to under-aged squeeze-bottle stuff by Jim Beam, which now owns the brand and distills the whiskey for it. Ditto for Old Taylor. Ditto for Yellowstone. Old Fitzgerald is not bad whiskey, but it no longer is among the best that can be bought, as it was when it was produced at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery. Fortunately, this has not happened for Old Charter. It has been passed from owner to owner over the years and most recently came to rest in 1999 with Sazerac, the corporate parent of Buffalo Trace Distillery, which now produces Old Charter. Its current corporate owners are apparently committed to maintaining the quality of the brand, albeit at prices that are rumored to be on the rise. There are four different expressions of the brand: an 8-year old 80 proof version, a 10-year old 86 proof version, a 12-year old 90 proof version (also called "The Classic 90"), and a 13-year old 80 proof Proprietor's Reserve. I haven't ever seen the Proprietor's Reserve, but Spec's carries the other three, and at very good prices (around $20 a fifth for the 12-year old). All four versions are distilled from Buffalo Trace's low-rye mashbill, which contains the highest percentage of corn in the business. This makes the 12-year old relatively soft. The nose has a big dose of vanilla and especially butterscotch, with a dose of mustiness, too -- not unpleasant mustiness, but maybe the inside of a humidor or something like that. It's very sweet, too: smooth and without a whole lot of bite. A nice Bourbon at a nice price.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Today's Shoes

Gravati ankle boots in antiqued tan calf and a rubber lug sole (15950, last 640). This is one of the best patterns that Gravati makes, principally because the character of the boot can change radically depending on the detailing options that one chooses. Changing the last and the sole details can turn a boot appropriate for wear with jeans to a beautiful dress boot. I could wear different versions of this boot every day of the week, and it would never occur to the casual observer that I was doing so (not that I have seven pairs of it; but if I did, I could).

Last Night's Tipple

Sometimes you'll find all Scotches distilled on one of the many islands off the coast of Scotland referred to as Island Scotches. This seems like a logical classification at first blush, but it really isn't. The implication is that these Scotches share common traits like the Islay Scotches do, or even that these Scotches are baby brothers to the Islay Scotches. This isn't the case. Talisker, from the Isle of Skye, is known for its intense peatiness; and Highland Park, from the Orkney Islands, has a distinctive smokiness. But others, like Arran (from the Isle of Arran) and Scapa (from the Orkney Islands) have more in common with their Highlands or Speyside brethren than they do with Islay Scotches.

So it was with the Isle of Jura Scotches, which were all unpeated, until Superstition came along. Perhaps because they were trying to capitalize on the recent fashionability of Islay Scotches, or perhaps they were just curious about how it would turn out, the Isle of Jura Distillery decided to produce a peated Scotch, which they named Superstition. It's smoky and peaty and briny, all right. For some reason, to me, it just doesn't work. Where a Laphroaig or a Caol Ila has its peatiness integrated into the structure of the whisky, it tastes like it's just sitting on top of the Scotch, if that makes any sense. I don't like this whisky very much, and I will be glad when the bottle is gone.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

We Wuz Robbed!

Well, not really. The Rice Owls lost to UNC 7-4 this evening, eliminating them from the College World Series. Alas. Maybe next year.

I Wish I Were in Connecticut

The Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT is presenting through September 9 an exhibition entitled Fakes and Forgeries: The Art of Deception showing a collection of 60 forgeries of famous Western works of art. As someone who actually liked the 1999 remake of The Thomas Crowne Affair with Renee Russo and Pierce Brosnan, not least because of the (probably amazingly cartoonish) portrayal of art forgeries and the techniques used to detect them, I think that this exhibit would be fascinating. If I were going to be anywhere near Greenwich between now and September, I would be there in a heartbeat. Alas, it seems unlikely to be.

Hamilton Shirts

For a number of years, most of the dress shirts that I have purchased have been made by Borrelli, the Neapolitan manufacturer responsible more than any other for the fetishization of hand-stitching on shirts in the American luxury market. Borrelli's buttonholes are hand-stitched, and the collars, cuffs, yolks, and sleeves are hand-attached. And it's done in a manner that intentionally calls attention to itself. I liked romance of the hand-stitching, and I liked the selection of fabrics. After about five years of purchasing them, however, I was forced to admit that I wasn't particularly happy with the product. They didn't fit. Their sizing was inconsistent. The hand-stitching, particularly at the sleeve attachment, was very prone to failure. And Borrelli is remarkably poor at delivering its orders complete, correct, and in a reasonable amount of time. So I made a New Year's resolution to find another shirtmaker.

I have mentioned before that Alex Kabbaz is the best shirtmaker that I know of or could imagine. The two shirts of his that I own are miracles of design and construction. If I could afford to use him exclusively, I would. I like both of my kidneys, so I can't. I have a friend who is starting up a shirtmaking business in Chicago, and I considered him. I imagine that I'll give him a try at some point, but he's not completely set up yet. And he's in Chicago, which would make fittings expensive. And then there was Hamilton Shirts.

Hamilton has been making shirts in Houston since 1883. Yes, you read that correctly: 1883. That's something in a town where a can of Billy Beer qualifies as an antique. Hamilton remains a family-owned business, and Jimmy Hamilton, the man in the picture above, is the current shirtmaker. His two children handle the business side and most customer relations. The shop is a little place on Richmond just west of Chimney Rock, and all shirts are made on the premises. I gather, although I do not know, that the core of the business is making ready-to-wear shirts for a variety of men's stores, the most prominent of which is Barney's in New York, but Houston-based clients just stop by the shop and have their shirts custom-made. At the initial meeting, the client's measurements (and there are lots of them, not just neck and sleeve length) are taken (in my case, by David Hamilton, Jimmy's son) and styling options discussed and settled upon. The client then selects the fabrics for his initial order (a minumum of four shirts; subsequent orders can be in any number). Based on those measurements, a shirtmaker cuts an individual paper pattern for the client (those folders behind Jimmy Hamilton above contain clients' patterns); and the first shirt is cut (by hand using a knife -- shears cannot make an accurate enough cut) and made. The client then tries on that shirt, and alterations, if necessary, are made. After client approves the first shirt, the remaining shirts in the order are made. For me, this whole process took about six weeks, but I ordered in January, which is a busy time. Subsequent orders have been faster, one in as little as five days.

So how are the shirts? Very good. They aren't to the level of Alex's shirts, but they aren't priced like his, either. They have single-needle stitching, unfused collars and cuffs, a split back yoke, and pattern matching at the shoulders and pocket. The stitching is not as minute as Alex's is. The split back yoke is not chevroned, as it ideally would be. The interlinings of the collars and cuffs is a bit too stiff and lifeless. Pattern matching at the sleeve yoke is not always present. The fit is not exactly perfect. But these are still very good shirts, and Hamilton is still a very good company. I asked them to shank my buttons. The woman taking my order didn't know what that meant; but once I explained and she went and asked the shirtmaking staff whether it was possible, they did it for me. They cheerfully and immediately correct their mistakes, something that is unfortunately rare, even in the world of expensive, high-end clothing. And they let me prowl around the back room looking at the whole bolts of fabric (which are all of Italian or Swiss manufacture and are among the best available) rather than looking at piddly little swatches that you normally have to use. And the sleeves don't fall off. The best part? The shirts aren't exactly cheap, but they are significantly cheaper than Borrelli. Better, too.

Today's Shoes


John Lobb Paris two-eyelet plain-toe bluchers with V-shaped quarters in London tan calf (Tamar model, 8000 last). I don't wear these shoes much, and I was reminded why today: the last makes my feet look huge, and it doesn't fit my feet very well. This is a problem with most JL Paris lasts. They're too big in the heel for me, which causes blisters with extended wearing. A shame, really, because the V-front blucher is one of my favorite shoe designs.


Martegani six eyelet plain-toe blucher with a floating medallion in London tan calf (Lucca model, 3B last). A good looking shoe on another last that doesn't fit me particularly well, again in the heel. Alas!

Last Night's Tipple

If an American whiskey had spent fifteen years in barrel, it would be dark, dark, dark. You might have trouble seeing through it, even if it had been diluted down to 86 proof. Not so Scotch. Both because Scotch is aged in used barrels that have less color to impart and because the weather in Scotland is not as warm as it is in Kentucky or Tennessee and will consequently not force the aging spirit into the barrel as it will in the United States, it is not as deeply-colored as American whiskey. And Scotch producers, unlike American whiskey producers, can use caramel coloring if they wish; and most of them do wish, probably because the drinking public likes dark whiskeys. At 15 years old, Dalwhinnie is still only straw-colored in the glass. I have no doubt that the barrel has had a massive influence on the taste, smell, and character of the Scotch, but it's hard to tell it from the color.

Dalwhinnie is another of Diageo's Classic Malts and was the original representative of the Highlands region. It has a little label just under the throat of the bottle reading "The Gentle Spirit," and that moniker is accurate. Some Scotches will grab you by the throat and slap you around a bit. Dalwhinnie isn't one of them. There's some honey and smoke on the nose, and the taste is very, very sweet. With some time in the glass, the Scotch develops some nice vanilla aromas, which, along with the absence of any winey or nutty aromas or flavors, suggests that it's aged exclusively in ex-Bourbon barrels. A very enjoyable Scotch, although the price is a bit steep.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Today's Shoes


Gravati plain-toe double monkstraps in Radica 033 calf (13618, last 500). These were yet another special order; and, while I like the result, it would have been better if I had opted for a slimmer waist and a close-cut heel. Coulda, woulda, shoulda. I imagine that I'll live.


Crockett & Jones plain-toe single monkstraps in tan calf (Mortimer model, 330 last). These shoes are from C&J's Handgrade line, which is designed to compete with the likes of Edward Green and John Lobb Paris. They're nice shoes, but not quite on that level. The degree of attention paid to the sole and heel edge finishing is not as great, and the lasts aren't as stylish. They're cheaper than the other two, but I don't wear my pairs as frequently as I do my Edward Greens. What does it matter if one pair of shoes is cheaper than another if you don't wear them.

License Plate Holders

On August 14, 2002, the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found in US vs. Granado that evidence seized in a traffic stop was inadmissible because the traffic stop was illegal. A Texas DPS trooper had pulled Gilbert Granado over because the minivan that he was driving did not have a front license plate and because the rear license plate was enclosed in a license plate frame such as those that are commonly installed on new cars by virtually every car dealership in the United States, which the trooper contended violated Texas state law. The court of appeals disagreed, saying that the stop was illegal because Granado's minivan was not registered in Texas, which meant that the Texas law requiring a front license plate was inapplicable, and because the relevant statute, which banned displaying a license plate that
(5) has letters, numbers, or other identification marks that because of blurring matter are not plainly visible at all times during daylight;
(6) is a sticker, decal, or other insignia that is not authorized by law and that interferes with the readability of the letters or numbers on the plate; or
(7) has a coating, covering, or protective material that distorts angular visibility or detectability.
was inapplicable to license plate frames alone.

In May, 2003, the Texas legislature passed a law (SB 439) amending the Texas Transportation Code to ban displaying a license plate
(1) has identification marks that, because of reflective matter, are not plainly visible at all times during daylight;
(2) has an attached illumination device or emblem not authorized by law and that interferes with the readability of the letters or numbers on the plate or the name of the state in which the vehicle is registered; or
(3) alters or obscures the letters, numbers, color, or original design features of the plate.
Many jurisdictions in Texas viewed this revised law as rendering US vs. Granado moot and began to issue traffic tickets to cars pulled over with license plate frames, despite protestations from the bill's sponsor that that had not been the intent of the law. On February 14, 2007, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in Texas vs. Johnson that these tickets were not, in fact, contrary to the law because license plate frames clearly "obscure[d] the letters, numbers, color, or original design features of the plate" and because this change in the law after the US vs. Granado decision could be could be construed to have been made in response to that decision.

In response to the enforcement actions of various Texas jurisdictions and to the Texas vs. Johnson decision, the legislature passed and the governor signed SB 369, making clear that license plate holders were not illegal so long as they left more than half of the state name unobscured and did not interfere with reading the actual numbers on the plate. This law goes into effect on September 1, 2007. The fact that the legislature has clarified the license plate holder law has not stopped the Houston Police Department from continuing to issue tickets for license plate holders. The Houston Chronicle found, in a story published this past Sunday, that HPD has written more than 9500 tickets for this since January and that Chief Hurtt intended to continue to do so until the new law went in effect in September. The story had other interesting tidbits, including the fact that a single HPD officer was responsible for more than 1200 of the 9500 tickets written since January and the fact that Mayor Bill White's car, driven by HPD officers, had a license plate holder.

Apparently, the publicity generated by this story (and the pressure exerted by SB 369's sponsors) was enough to shame the mayor into crying uncle. The Chronicle reported yesterday that
Mayor Bill White on Monday said Houston police shouldn't ticket motorists for having common brackets around their license plates that will no longer be illegal when a revised state law takes effect in September.
Whatever White's motivations for doing this, it is good that he did so. The tickets that HPD wrote for "illegal" license plate holders were not about public safety. They were a revenue generation tool. They were an attempt to shake down the residents of Houston and Harris County and represented a de facto arbitrary tax. When real, dangerous traffic offenses are commonplace on Houston streets and violent crime is rising in the city, it is utterly despicable that HPD chose to dedicate resources to extort money from Houston drivers rather than dealing with real problems. This kind of behavior makes people contemptuous of law enforcement, and justifiably so.

Last Night's Tipple

One of the great divides in the world of Scotch is between those distilleries that age their whisky in used Bourbon barrels and those distilleries that age their whisky in used sherry butts. Used Bourbon barrels are more traditional (although the most traditional method probably would have been to put the fresh distillate in whatever container was available and to consume it as quickly as possible), and they impart the same vanilla and butterscotch flavors and aromas to Scotch as they do to Bourbon. Those flavors and aromas are much more muted in Scotch than Bourbon, of course, but they will still be there. Recently, however, more and more distilleries have been offering Scotches aged or finished (ie, aged for the last year or so) in used sherry butts. The sherry butts not surprisingly give the Scotch a sweet, grapey, nutty taste and flavor, not unlike the sweet sherries that Brits love.

Macallan is the prototype of a sherried Scotch. They take their used sherry butts very seriously, having them made to their specifications before they're filled with sherry. The arrangement strikes me as something of a rental agreement whereby Macallan owns the barrels and the sherry producers rent them for a few years, although I don't know if this is technically correct. Unlike many producers of sherried Scotch, Macallan doesn't age their whisky most of the way in ex-Bourbon barrels before transferring it to sherry butts for the last year or two: the entire aging process is conducted in sherry butts. That is, Macallan has done this until recently. Within the last two or three years, Macallan has introduced a range of whiskies they call Fine Oak. If you read their marketing fluff for the Fine Oak bottlings, you'll find that this whisky is aged in ex-Bourbon barrels, sherry butts made from American oak, and sherry butts made from European oak. The goal, I think, was to make a Scotch that was less overpoweringly sweet and winey than standard Macallan.

This isn't to say that Macallan Fine Oak Scotches don't have lots of sherry influence. They do. The 10 year old version is big-bodied, creamy, and has a big sherry nose, although not as big a sherry nose as the standard Macallan 12 year old. This was a pleasant and enjoyable whisky. The worst thing that I can say about it is that it was one-dimensional. One of the things that I really about fine spirits is the way the nose and the taste develops in the glass and changes every time one takes a sip or nose. That didn't happen with this whisky. Both the taste and the smell were the same throughout the pour. The one dimension was very good, but it was still just one dimension.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Today's Shoes


Gravati plain-toe side elastic shoes in Radica 055 (deep burgundy -- 16624, last 683). Harold's in the Heights had this shoe made up in black calf with close-cut soles for use as a formal shoe. I liked the pattern so much that I did a special order of the pattern in Radica. Side-elastic shoes are tremendously versatile, and I like them a great deal. I'll have to redo this pattern in other configurations.


Martegani Cortona penny loafers in British tan calf. Yes, I've posted about these before. Even I have to repeat shoes sometimes. It just goes to shoe that I could use some more loafers. I'm thinking of a long-vamp penny from Gravati in a mid-brown shade of some grained leather. That'd fit the bill.

Last Night's Tipple

Diageo has gone a little crazy with their Classic Malts series recently. When it started out a few years ago, it included only Scotches (Talisker, Oban, Cragganmore, Dalwhinnie, Lagavulin, and Glenkinchie) representing a wide variety of styles and flavor profiles. Within the past year or so, Diageo has expanded the lineup to include several others, including Caol Ila, Royal Lochnagar, and Clynelish. Good as these additions may be, they largely duplicate the styles that previously were represented in the collection. It seems like Diageo has noticed that they can sell their Classic Malts for more than they can their unclassic malts, so they decided to label all of their malts Classic Malts. That seems a little cheesy to me, but I might be willing to forgive them if they distributed the one new Classic Malt that I really want to try (Royal Lochnagar) in the US. Alas, they don't, at least not yet.

Regardless of the degree to which the expansion of the Classic Malt program represents cheesiness, when I saw Clynelish 14 year old at a local liquor store recently, I decided that I had to have it. What can I say? I'm both slave to marketing and constitutionally unable to pass up novelty. In any event, the whisky is, um, interesting. It's a Scotch from the Highlands, but it struck me more as a mellowed-out Islay. I get a good dose of peat on the nose and a decent amount of brininess on the palate, both of which are notes that Islay Scotches are noted for. With some time in the glass, I also started to pick up some sherried sweetness that was very pleasant. I can't say that I loved this whisky, but it was complex and challenging and ultimately enjoyable.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Ugly-ass Bruno Magli Shoes

This morning, the side-kick personality on the morning radio shoe that I listen to while getting ready for work (I know, I know, it's shameful that I listen to such a thing. Get over it. No snide comments, Mamacita, or I shall reciprocate.) told a story about his fiancee making him buy a pair of $400 Bruno Magli shoes at Saks Fifth Avenue over the weekend. The patter went something like this:
Side-kick: The salesman said that they could be resoled. I don't even know what that means.

Female lead
: You take them to one of those shoe hospital places when the soles wear out.

Male lead
: Who the hell uses those places? I mean, maybe if they were a pair of cowboy boots that you've had for 20 years or something, but I just throw them out when they wear out.

: I'm not throwing them out if they cost $400.
Any quality shoe, provided that it does not have a molded rubber sole, can be resoled. In fact, it should be resoled. Expensive shoes are only profligate if they are abused and destroyed before their time, and throwing shoes out rather than resoling them is abuse. Perhaps the male lead of this morning show doesn't realize this because all he wears are ugly, plastic shoes from Kenneth Cole, but this is a fact. A decent pair of shoes can last 20 year or more if they are taken care of and resoled when necessary. They are not meant to be ridden hard, put up wet, and tossed out when they are showing some wear.

(And, incidentally, I went to Saks this afternoon to see what $400 Bruno Magli shoes they had. There were about 4 different models, all ugly as sin, none of them worth anywhere close to $400. You might as well stick with plastic shoes from Kenneth Cole.)

Today's Shoes


Gravati punch cap balmoral high-lace boot in dark brown calf (10278, 683 last). No, not the shoes to the right. Balmoral boots are rarities: virtually nobody makes them anymore, which is a great pity because they are wonderful. I had been searching for a pattern to have made up for less than Edward Green would charge for its Shannon model when I happened to see an eBay auction for the pair of Gravati boots to the right. The auction did not specify the model number, and I couldn't seem to make the seller understand what I was talking about when I asked him for it. That's unfortunate, because you absolutely need the model number in order to get the boots made up. No worries, though: I sent the picture to Jim Pierce, who owns the shoe concession at Harold's in the Heights, and he got the people at Gravati to track it down. Three months later, the boots arrived, and they're lovely.


Gravati plain-toe monkstrap in dark brown peccary with a combination leather/rubber sole (16371, 640 last). This shoe was inspired by a 1930s picture of a bespoke pigskin monkstrap in Alan Flusser's Dressing the Man. Peccary is commonly called a species of wild boar, although that's not really accurate. Pigskin's grain is slightly different, and it takes a shine much better than peccary does. Nevertheless, I do think that these shoes are a reasonable facsimile of the 1930s originals.

Last Night's Tipple

In recent years, a plethora of barrel proof spirits (ie, spirits that purport to be bottled straight from the barrel without being diluted with water first) have come onto the market. I'm not exactly sure what accounts for this phenomenon, although it probably has at least something to do with an opportunity to sell what is essentially a novelty product to the collector population and with the knowledge that some segments of the liquor-buying population view high-proof spirits as tests of manliness that they're going to pass, by God. Barrel proof spirits are (somewhat) appealing to me mostly because of the lack of dilution. Let's face it: most of the flavor in Bourbon or any other wood-aged spirit comes from the barrel. In Bourbon's case, it's the barrel that imparts the vanilla, butterscotch, creme brulee, and bread pudding aromas that I like so much. Not diluting the liquor before it goes into the bottle means that the finished product will have more of that vanilla-y goodness that I love. I'm not crazy about the added alcohol, but it's a trade-off that I'm willing to make.

Wild Turkey Rare Breed is one of the original barrel proof Bourbons on the market, and it's more than a little bit unusual in that it's only 108.4 proof. That sounds high, but consider that Bourbon by law can go into the barrel at up to 125 proof, and it typically gets higher in alcohol with age (the reverse of what happens when Scotch ages). One of Buffalo Trace's barrel proof offerings, George T. Stagg, typically comes in at proofs in the high 130s or low 140s. Booker's, Jim Beam's barrel proof offering, is around 125 proof. That Wild Turkey Rare Breed is only 108.4 illustrates one of the things that makes WT unusual in the Bourbon world: they distill their whiskey to a lower proof than anybody else in the business on the theory that the additional congeners that this process leaves behind in the finished spirit enhance the flavor and character of their whiskey. Whatever the reason, this Bourbon is a very good one. It's typical Wild Turkey in that its body is huge, that it has quite a rye kick, and that it tends to slap the drinker around a little bit. It's older than regular old Wild Turkey, though, and more polished. There are some pipe tobacco and some cinnamon bread pudding aromas, and some yeasty brioche on the palate. All-in-all, a very enjoyable tipple.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Stand and Cheer/Drink More Beer

The Rice Owls defeated the North Carolina Tarheels 14-4 today at the College World Series in Omaha. This means that the Owls will play the winner of the Louisville-North Carolina game being played Tuesday afternoon.

(For those of you who don't know but actually care, the College World Series is composed of eight teams divided into two brackets. The four teams in each bracket play a double-elimination tournament, and the winners of each bracket play a best-of-three series for the national championship. Both UNC and UL have one loss while Rice has none, so whichever wins Tuesday's game will have to beat Rice twice in a row to advance to the championship series.)

Today's Shoes

Gravati three-eyelet modified U-thoat cap-toe bluchers in dark brown waterproof suede with a rubber lug sole (16407, 640 last). I have this shoe in tan calf with a leather sole, too; but given the thunderstorms that rolled through Houston today, waterproof uppers and soles seemed like a good idea.

Bourbon Tasting

Here's a Bourbon tasting presentation run by Dave Pickerell, master distiller of Maker's Mark, that I found interesting.

I don't necessarily believe everything that Pickerell has to say, in particular the bits about which areas of the tongue taste which kinds of flavors, which recent scientific study has suggested is a bunch of hooey. In addition, keep in mind that his primary mission in conducting presentations like this is to explain and justify Maker's Mark's distillation practices. He says that he views his primary job as to eliminate bitterness from the finished product. I don't view bitterness as synonymous with bad, though, and while Maker's Mark is good Bourbon, there's a lot more out there that is more interesting.

Last Night's Tipple

Before Prohibition, rye whiskey was the American whiskey. It outsold Bourbon, and it was the spirit that American distilling was principally known for. There were dozens of distilleries in Maryland and Pennsylvania primarily making rye. Almost all of them were killed by Prohibition. After it ended, distilleries made a conscious decision to emphasize Bourbon rather than rye for three principal reasons. First, more Kentucky distilleries survived than Pennsylvania and Maryland distilleries, and Kentucky distilleries had never made much rye. Second, most distilleries no longer had any aging stocks of whiskey, so they had to make and age new spirits before they could sell anything. They therefore had a very large financial incentive to get the new distillate to market as quickly as possible, and young Bourbon is typically more palatable than young rye. Third, Prohibition had changed American's tastes in liquor. A lot of the liquor smuggled into the country during Prohibition had been light-bodied blended Canadian Whisky, and American drinkers took to it. Bourbon could hardly be called light-bodied, but it is less massive and brooding typically than rye whiskey and was therefore a better fit with American palates in 1933 than was rye. And so rye whiskey largely died out in the United States by the 1980s.

In recent years, though, it has come back with a vengeance. It is certainly no threat to overtake Bourbon as the American whiskey of choice anytime soon, but all major distilleries now have rye whiskey products, all of which I've tried have been at least very good. Wild Turkey has Wild Turkey 101 proof straight rye, Jim Beam produces both Jim Beam rye (in the bottle with the bright yellow label) and Old Overholt, and Heaven Hill has various Rittenhouse rye bottlings. Buffalo Trace had the Antique Collection Sazerac 18 year old that I wrote about yesterday and the 13 year old Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye, but both of those are rather expensive boutique bottlings. Fortunately, they decided to come out with plain old Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey (colloquially called "Baby Saz"). There is no age statement on the bottle, but I believe that it's around 6 years old. It's a typical rye whiskey, with the characteristic rye fruitiness and spiciness on the nose, along with a bit of mustiness that I've heard described as the way a rickhouse smells. With time in the glass, it also develops a heavy vanilla aroma, but this does not predominate as it often does in Bourbons. On the palate, it has the typical rye spiciness and a little bit of alcoholic burn. There's also some bitterness, but pleasant bitterness, not bad.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Today's Shoes

Mantellassi Norwegian-constructed chukka boots in navy suede and a rubber sole. These shoes are a special order, and I waited more than 9 months for them. They look better than they fit, but such is life with Sutor Mantellassi shoes.

Three Sheets to the Wind

Have you ever noticed how many phrases in idiomatic English have their origins in nautical terms? What's that you say? You never considered it before? Well, consider it now! Here are some of my favorites.
  • Three sheets to the wind -- a sheet is a rope that is attached to the corner of a sail, so if a sail has three of its sheets unattached to a mast or anything on deck (ie, to the wind), then it is going to be flapping about wildly and uncontrollably.
  • Try a different tack -- in sailing, the word "tack," when used as a noun, refers to the side of the boat of ship that the wind comes over as the boat or ship is sailing. If it comes over the starboard side, then the boat or ship is said to be on the starboard tack; if it comes over the port or larboard side, then the boat or ship is said to be on the port or larboard tack. When a ship was trying to go in the direction of the wind, it would have to change from the starboard to the larboard tack every so often, with each course being several points (each point is 11.25 degrees) away from the direction that they were really trying to go. When a ship "tried a different tack," it would change direction by going from one tack to the other, a maneuver which, while routine, still entailed a number of risks for the ship.
  • Taken aback --in sailing, when a gust of wind hits the sails in a direction opposite of the direction of travel. This has the effect of destroying a ship's headway, or forward momentum, and if the person sailing the ship is competent at all, is typically very surprising.
  • The devil to pay -- in a wooden sailing vessel, the devil referred to any seam that it was particularly difficult to caulk, e.g. the seam in the planking at the waterline. "Paying" was the act of sealing a seam, so paying the devil was a particularly difficult task.
  • Doldrums -- a region with typically very little wind around the equator. When a ship was in the Doldrums, it would frequently be becalmed for days on end roaming aimlessly one way and another.
  • Jury-rigged -- when one or more of a boat or ship's masts and rigging were damaged by storms or enemy action, it was necessary for the crew to improvise new masts and rigging with whatever materials they had on hand. These improvisations were called jury rigging.
  • Leeway -- a ship can sail in directions other than the direction that the wind is blowing toward by adjusting its sails. However, whenever it does so, the wind will also skid the ship to some degree in the direction of the wind. Leaving yourself plenty of leeway means giving yourself plenty of room when the wind is blowing towards shore to account for this force so that you don't wreck your ship.
There are many more, of course, and I may discuss them as I think of them in the future.

Last Night's Tipple

The Four Roses Distillery was founded by Paul Jones Jr. outside Lawrenceburg, Kentucky in 1888 and was so named in honor of the bouquet of four roses worn by Jones's wife on the night that she accepted his proposal of marriage. The distillery managed to survive Prohibition by obtaining a license to sell medicinal whiskey, and by the time Seagram bought it in 1943, it produced the top-selling Bourbon in the United States. And then Seagram went and ruined it all. They decided that what Americans needed to drink was blended whiskey, so they took Four Roses Bourbon off the American market and replaced it with Four Roses American Whiskey, which was a blended product very much like the Canadian Whiskies that Seagram is famous for (the most famous being Crown Royal). Four Roses Bourbon was only sold overseas. And so the situation remained, even after Seagram's attempts at diversification ruined the company and the Four Roses Distillery passed to the ownership of Diageo in 2002. Only when Diageo sold it to the Kirin Brewery Company (a Japanese company; Japan is, not coincidentally, Four Roses' biggest market). Kirin decided to discontinue the blended whiskey and offer the Bourbon in the United States again. Alas, distribution has not reached much outside of Kentucky yet, but there is hope.

But there is one commonly-available Bourbon distilled and aged at Four Roses Distillery: Bulleit. Bulleit is a brand owned by Diageo, and it's promoted to be competition to such upscale-but-not-horribly-expensive Bourbon brands as Brown-Forman's Woodford Reserve. The label calls Bulleit "Frontier Whiskey", and the Bulleit website spins a tale about an Augustus Bulleit becoming known in Louisville in the 1830s for his high-quality Bourbon. I don't know; maybe the Augustus Bulleit story is true, although it reads like a bunch of marketing hooey to me. I can say that Bulleit Bourbon is much unlike any whiskey found on the frontier before the Civil War, and that's a good thing. Before the second half of the 19th Century, most American whiskey, particularly that produced on the frontier, had more in common with today's moonshine than with today's Bourbon. It was raw, green, and harsh, either unaged or aged only a short amount of time. It probably would not have been very pleasant to drink. Bulleit Bourbon is aged six years, and as such is pretty mellow stuff. It does have the highest rye content of any Bourbon currently being made, and that rye gives Bulleit the distinctive rye fruitiness and spiciness. The other Bourbon that I've tried that it most resembles is Old Grand-Dad 114 proof, which makes sense because OGD is another high-rye Bourbon. There's also some tobacco on the nose (something that I haven't experienced before) and some bread pudding. If it fails as "frontier whiskey," it succeeds as Bourbon. It's not the greatest Bourbon that I have tasted; but it is distinctive, and it is pretty good. And it does hold out hope for those of us waiting for Four Roses Bourbon to be available in our neck of the woods.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Sammy Leads the Way

The Rice Owls baseball team defeated Louisville 15-10 today in an opening-round game in the College World Series in Omaha, overcoming deficits of 5-0 and 10-4 with a 6-run 8th inning. Baseball is the only sport that Rice has been consistently excellent at, appearing several times in the College World Series and winning the NCAA championship in 2003. Last year's CWS was excruciating for Rice: they were the #2 national seed and won their opening game but were shut out in back-to-back games by Oregon State, the eventual champions. Let's hope that this year will be better.

Rice's next game will be Sunday at 6 PM against the winner of tonight's Mississippi State-North Carolina game. Go Owls!

Today's Shoes

Edward Green split-toe bluchers with handsewn apron and toe seams in midnight antique calf (Dover model, 606 last). The Edward Green Dover is one of the most sublime shoes in existence, and it's especially striking in dark blue. I covet them in olive antique, too. There's absolutely nothing wrong with blue shoes.

These were a special order from Tom Park at LeatherSoul in Hawaii. And yes, that's a picture of my actual shoes.

Last Night's Tipple

The original Sazerac cocktail was a concoction including absinthe, bitters, simple syrup, and rye whiskey (other liquors, including cognac, were apparently used from time to time, but rye is the one most associated with the drink). The cocktail was invented by Antoine Peychaud, a New Orleans pharmacist who operated in New Orleans in the first half of the 19th Century. It later migrated into New Orleans coffee houses, most significantly the Sazerac coffee house, from which it takes its name. In the second half of the 19th Century, Thomas H. Handy, began to bottle and sell Sazerac cocktails and quickly expanded to buying up and distributing various liquor brands. Eventually, Sazerac bought the Buffalo Trace distillery.

I would imagine that the association between Sazerac cocktails and rye whiskey explains why Buffalo Trace includes Sazerac in the names of all of their rye whiskeys. The flagship of this line is Sazerac 18 year old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey. It's a member of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, which is released once or twice a year in limited quantities. This is some whiskey. At 18 years of age, you'd expect the wood to dominate, but that's not really the case. There are pleasant butterscotch and toffee aromas, but the whiskey still has that distinctive rye fruitiness and bite. There's also a good bit of cocoa on the nose and the palate, which I haven't really experienced before from any whiskey. Like the Van Winkle 15 year old that I had a couple of days ago, one should buy this when one sees it. It's exceptional, and it's hard to find.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Something Cool That May Interest Only Me

Perhaps this is indicative of what a geek I am or perhaps it proves how easily I'm amused, but I think that the Texas Legislature's web site is extremely cool. Not because of design, but because of the information one can find there. Say that you see a news story about SB 1229 and want to know what it's about without the journalistic gloss. Simply type in the bill's number, and you can find out just about anything you want to know about it, including its legislative history, its text (both as introduced and as passed, if it was passed), House and Senate committee reports, fiscal analyses, records of votes, and much more. Too often, what one reads about pending or passed legislation has so much interpretation and simplification imposed on it when it's mentioned in the newspapers or on television that it's difficult to tell exactly what its provisions are. Well, go to the Lege's website, and you don't have to rely on inadequate news reports any more.

Today's Shoes

Edward Green split-toe double monkstraps in burnt pine antique (Fulham model, 82 last). This is a take-off of Edward Green's classic Dover blucher, which features the same pie crust-style apron handsewing and the same ghosted blind toe seam. Edward Green does this type of work better than anybody else in the world, and this is a wonderful shoe. I saw a picture of it in a Last, a Japanese magazine dedicated to shoes, and I decided that I had to have a pair. Tom Park, from LeatherSoul in Hawaii, liked it so well that he tacked on an order for himself. A friend who also has a thing for shoes decided that he couldn't bear to be left out, and he ordered a pair, too. Witness the power of Japanese shoe magazines! I have since seen the same model (also on 82 last but in cognac antique) at Venanzi in New York. I don't know if Gene Venanzi will end up making a go of that store, but he has great taste in shoes. ;->

Last Night's Tipple

Makers of Scotch would probably confirm that it is very difficult to sell their product at a premium price if it's less than twelve years old. There are exceptions, of course: Scotches like Talisker and Macallan can sell ten year old versions, but only because their reputations are so high. In the United States, at least, consumers tend to view age as a proxy for quality. To them, a twelve year old Scotch is necessarily better than a ten year old Scotch, and an eighteen year old Scotch is necessarily better than either of them.

This age-ism seems to have come to the world of Bourbon and other American whiskey. Van Winkle has 15, 20, and 23 year old versions. Heaven Hill has an 18 year old Bourbon sold under the Elijah Craig label. There's an AH Hirsch 16 and 20 year old Bourbon, a WL Weller 19 year old Bourbon, and a Sazerac 18 year old straight rye. And the number of brands that sell ten or twelve year old Bourbons is almost too large to list (Old Charter, WL Weller, Van Winkle, Elijah Craig, etc., etc., etc.). What's going on here? Kentucky isn't Scotland. It's much hotter, and the heat causes Bourbon and rye to age more quickly than Scotch. A twelve year old Bourbon is typically older than a twelve year old Scotch. Part of it is undoubtedly the overproduction of Bourbon in the '70s and '80s. Producers had more Bourbon than they could sell, so there were lots of barrels that just sat in their rickhouses aging. Eventually, the producers decided to bottle what they had and see how the market liked it. Well, the market loved it. And so longer-aged Bourbons are now a feature of the landscape. In the process, producers have discovered what Scotch producers discovered long ago: the older the stated age, the more they can sell the product for. American consumers associate older with better.

As a matter of fact, this isn't always the case. A Bourbon that has been aged too long will dry out and be overpowered by the wood. I recently had a taste of the Elijah Craig 18 year old, and it was like sucking on charcoal. It was not pleasant at all. And because of Kentucky's heat, it's a lot harder to get a drinkable 18 year old whiskey there than in Scotland. So what are Bourbon distillers to do? They want to sell old whiskey because they can do so at high prices, but they want to make it drinkable so that buyers will come back. Well, the answer is that age is not age. Whiskey ages differently depending on the kind of rickhouse it's in (masonry vs. steel-clad, heated vs. unheated, etc.) and where that rickhouse is (on the top of a hill, near a body of water, etc.). Older whiskeys like the Van Winkle 12 year old Family Reserve Bourbon typically come from barrels that are subject to less extreme temperature fluctuations, like, for example, those in the center of a rickhouse.

Originally, Bourbon bottled under this label was distilled at Stitzel-Weller. Alas, since the distillery closed in 1992, the stocks of 12 year old Bourbon distilled there expired a few years ago. What's in the bottle is now mostly distilled at Bernheim distillery in Lousiville, just like the Old Fitzgerald that I had on Tuesday. I might be imagining things, but nose of the Van Winkle shares a lot of the Crown Royal overtones that Old Fitz has. The difference is that the Van Winkle's nose develops into something else, with lots of vanilla and creme brulee and leather. Like the 15 year old Van Winkle, it's unctuous and extremely sweet. It's not as refined or as much of a dessert in a glass, though. That's okay: it's still excellent. As with any other Van Winkle product, buy it when you see it. There's not much to be had.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Wednesday Evening Movie Review

For the life of me, I don't understand why I have heard several media types call Knocked Up a sleeper hit. Anybody with a pulse who saw it before it was released could have predicted that it would make a lot of money. Maybe not Spiderman 3, Ari Gold hug-it-out-bitch money, but a lot of money. It stars a pretty young thing (Katherine Heigl) who I understand is also the star of a ridiculously successful television show. It's directed by the same guy (Judd Apatow) who directed The 40 Year Old Virgin, and it stars many of the same people (Paul Rudd, Seth Rogan, Leslie Mann, etc.). It's got a cute, feel-good plot. And it's very, very funny. As one could probably imagine from the title and the poster to the left, Alison Scott (Heigl) gets a promotion and goes out with her sister (Mann) to celebrate. There she meets Ben Stone, and the two consume an obscene amount of alcohol on the way to a one-night stand. Of course, she gets pregnant. Of course, he's an unemployed Canadian stoner illegally in the country with a bunch of similarly-situated friends. Of course, hilarity ensues. This might not be the greatest comedy of all time, but it was just the thing for a Wednesday night when I wasn't in the best of moods.