Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tuesday Morning Quarterback

Gregg Easterbrook writes a column for called Tuesday Morning Quarterback, shockingly enough about professional football. It's entertaining, and I read it every week, largely because Easterbrook doesn't recycle vapid conventional wisdom like most sports columnists do, nor does he descend into mindless fandom like even the best columnists are prone to do on occasion. For example, consider the Green Bay-Denver game this past Monday night. Brett Favre is Green Bay's quarterback, and just about everybody who likes football likes him. He's won a Super Bowl with Green Bay and been the MVP of the NFL three times. Over the past few years, his skills have appeared to deteriorate, leading many commentators to conclude that he should retire. This season, however, has been very different. The old Favre is back, and he has performed very well in leading his team to a 6-1 start. On Monday night, he threw for 331 yards and two touchdowns, one a 79 yarder to James Jones in the first quarter, the other a beautiful 82 yard bomb to Greg Jennings on the first snap of overtime to win the game. Compare what Easterbrook wrote about Favre in this game to what Peter King, a usually-excellent columnist for Sports Illustrated, wrote. First King:
Brett Favre, 38 but playing like 24, faded back to pass for the 14th time since the half. For the 13th time he completed the pass, according to Sims, a high-arching spiral to Greg Jennings down the sideline, caught in perfect stride at the Denver 40 over Broncos corner Dre Bly. He jogged in for the winning touchdown...

Is Brett Favre ever going to age? Let's just look at his stat line. He's second in the NFL -- even with a bye week -- with 2,046 passing yards, second only to Tom Brady's 2,431. Favre has completed 66 percent of his passes, nearly a percentage point better than Peyton Manning. His touchdown-to-interception differential is +5, the same as Carson Palmer's. And his rating, 92.5, is in line with the best of his career.

Now Easterbrook:

Brett Favre's 82-yard game-winning touchdown pass on the first snap of overtime was an example of the fine line between a great play and a bonehead play. Favre heave-hoed toward a guy who was covered pretty well, and the football gods, still smarting about the cheerleaders, smiled on the visiting team. J.P. Losman's late 85-yard game-icing touchdown Sunday at Jersey/B was another example: a deep heave-ho to a guy who was double-covered in that case. Both passes, as they left the quarterback's hands, were as likely to be disastrous interceptions as highlight-reel touchdowns.
Yes, it's more fun to think of Favre in the terms that King writes about him; but Easterbrook is right. Favre just threw that last touchdown up for grabs (he did on the first touchdown, too), and he got lucky. It worked out for him, but he could easily have had two interceptions instead of two touchdowns.

So I have a great deal of respect for Easterbrook. Unfortunately, he is occasionally wrong. And he's wrong in this week's column. His subject is the fight between the NFL and some cable companies about the NFL Network. The NFL started the NFL Network a couple of years ago, and the only thing on it that anyone would actually want to watch are the 8 Thursday night games in the second half of the season that the network broadcasts. The NFL wants cable companies to carry the NFL Network in their basic packages, and they charge the cable companies between $7 and $9 a month to carry it. Some cable companies, realizing the limited and seasonal appeal of NFL Network, balk at those charges, which are significantly more than what CNN charges; and they refuse to carry NFL Network except in premium packages. The NFL is upset by this and has threatened to lobby Congress to pass a law mandating that NFL Network be carried on basic cable. Easterbrook, justifiably, thinks that this is ridiculous. If he had ended with criticizing the league for their obtuseness and their begging for corporate welfare, it would have been a great column. But he segued into NFL Sunday Ticket, the package on DirecTV that allows a subscriber to view any NFL game. Since its inception, Sunday Ticket has been offered exclusively through DirecTV for a variety of reasons (the NFL wants to keep the networks that broadcast its games happy by limiting the reach of Sunday Ticket, cable companies have been unwilling to shell out money to bid on it unless they can fill timeouts with local advertising, etc.), and Easterbrook thinks that the situation is absurd, particularly because there are millions of people who don't have access to DirecTV for technological reasons and because any cable subscriber in countries other than the US can watch any NFL game while US cable subscribers can't. All well and good: I will agree with Easterbrook that I wish Sunday Ticket weren't so tightly-restricted or expensive. But the games belong to the NFL, and they can distribute them anyway that they wish, even if the ways that they wish aren't in my best interest. This is entertainment, not drinking water after a hurricane hits. But that's not what Easterbrook thinks:

The National Football League must find a way to offer anyone the chance to buy Sunday Ticket. If the league does not, Congress ought to follow the NFL's advice and intervene. Members of Congress ought to pressure the NFL to stop offering Sunday Ticket to the entire populations of Canada and Bulgaria but restricting access here. This sounds like a nice populist cause for the right senator or representative.

This is not a legitimate area for Congressional interference. People don't have a right to watch whatever football games they want. A Congressional mandate about how the NFL can distribute its games interferes with the NFL's property rights, and it's not right. Not being able to get what you want ought not to be a Federal case. Easterbrook needs to grow up.

Today's Shoes


Alden split-toe blucher in Color #8 shell cordovan with double leather soles (model 2210, Aberdeen last). Alden also makes this same model on Barrie last; and for the life of me, I can't understand why. Aberdeen is so much more shapely and attractive, and it fits better, too.


Gravati cap-toe blucher in navy blue Lama calf with single leather soles (15537, 640 last).

Last Night's Tipple

Bulleit has the highest proportion of rye in its mashbill of any Bourbon currently in production -- something like 33% rye. (AH Hirsch, made at the old Michter's Distillery in Pennsylvania, had more, I think, but it hasn't been produced in more than 20 years.) One of the aromas and flavors that I associate with another high-rye Bourbon, Old Grand-Dad, is cinnamon. Atomic Fireballs, to be exact, most likely from the rye. But I had never gotten that from Bulleit, despite the higher rye content. Well, never until last night. I still got the raisin bread pudding with caramel sauce that I have written about before with this Bourbon, but I also got the Atomic Fireball thing loud and clear. Bourbon never ceases to amaze me.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Good Hat

The story is that John F. Kennedy killed the hat. If you ever watch old movies, you will notice that all of the men always wear hats while outside. It isn't just movie fiction: through the 1950s, most men would have felt partially dressed if they ventured outdoors wearing a suit but no hat. Kennedy didn't like hats -- hats would have covered up his world-class hair, after all -- and he didn't wear them. At his inauguration, he wore a morning suit and carried top hat; but he didn't wear it, even though it was one of the coldest Inauguration Days on record. Supposedly, Kennedy dislike of the hat caused hat sales to plummet as American men imitated him, just as sales of undershirts supposedly plummeted after Clark Gable appeared without on in It Happened One Night in 1934. I suppose that it's possible that the story is true, at least to some extent, but it strikes me as being a little too, well, Just-So-like. I suspect that men's hats would have fallen on hard times in the '60s and '70s even without Kennedy's antipathy.

This is unfortunate, at least as far as I'm concerned. Baseball caps -- one of the few culturally-approved kinds of headwear nowadays -- are fine, at least if you're playing baseball or golf or something like that. In any other context, they look juvenile, inappropriate, and stupid. More than that, they really don't do what I need hats to do. I'm fair enough that merely thinking about the sun gives me a sunburn, and I'm folically-challenged. (And believe me, a sunburn on the top of one's head is not the most pleasant thing in the world.) I need a hat that will shade by head, face, and neck and one that will keep my head warm when it's cold outside. Baseball caps can't do these things. And so I decided to get a real hat.

Upon recommendations from Will from A Suitable Wardrobe (whose hat is pictured above) and others, I gave Art Fawcett of Vintage Silhouettes a call. By reputation, Art is one of the two best hatters in the United States (Graham Thompson of Optimo Fine Hats is the other). He's based in Butte Falls, Oregon and is a former master mason who developed a love for fedoras and decided to do a career change. It's clear from talking with him on the phone that hats are his passion. I decided to give him a try and PayPaled him a deposit. He in turn sent me a hat conformer, a contraption that allows a hatter to get the shape and size of a client's head. In the olden days, these things looked like top hats made out of round bar, but the modern one that he sent me is a clear plastic disc with tabs secured by wingnuts around the edge. An elastic band runs around the edge of the tabs. You put your head through the disc, which pushes the tabs into the shape of your head, then secure them in place by wingnuts. I have done this and will send it back to Art today. Right now, I'm thinking of a porkpie in charcoal beaver felt with a low-contrast ribbon. I'm not sure about whether I want the brim edge to be bound or not, but I don't think that I have to make that decision now. The hat should be ready by Christmas.

Today's Shoes


Paul Stuart Stuart's Choice plain-toe bals with a floating medallion in dark brown calf with single leather soles. Paul Stuart's top-of-the-line shoes used to be made by Edward Green. They grew tired of EG's delivery problems -- the story that I've heard is that EG could not deliver the shoes ordered in a timely manner -- and so they unceremoniously dumped EG in the late '90s. They replaced them with Grenson, another venerable Northampton shoe manufactured. Grenson is actually a contraction of William Green & Son (I don't know if William Green was in any way related to Edward Green), and the initial Grenson-made Paul Stuart shoes were labeled something like "William Green for Paul Stuart". The intent with the labeling was plainly to convince the casual shoe buyer that nothing had changed, and either Edward Green or consumers complained about the attempted deception. Paul Stuart relented and changed the label to Stuart's Choice. They no longer use that, either, although I still call their top-of-the-line shoes that for ease of communication. In any event, the shoes that Grenson makes for Paul Stuart are in keeping with the rest of Paul Stuart's merchandise: high-quality, classic-looking at first glance, but subtly unusual and flamboyant. These shoes are no exception to that. A plain-toe shoe in dark brown calf is no unusual; but throw in a floating medallion and a unique V-shaped vamp-quarter seam, and you have a unique shoe. These are on a classic square-toe last, and I like them a good deal. I just wish that they fit better.


Gravati four-eyelet plain-toe bluchers in dark brown Lama calf with combination leather/rubber soles (16493, 640 last).

Last Night's Tipple

I cracked open the Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 20 year old that I wrote about on Saturday. As you will recall, Pappy Van Winkle owned the Stitzel-Weller distillery after Prohibition, producing several different brands including Old Fitzgerald and WL Weller, both of which were known for being wheated. Pappy's son sold the distillery in the early 1970s but continued to bottle S-W whiskey under the Van Winkle label. Julian Van Winkle III, Pappy's grandson, continues to do this today. The only problem is that the Stitzel-Weller distillery closed in 1992. So you can do the math: any Van Winkle bottling with an age less than 15 years either contains whiskey older than that or is composed of wheated Bourbon distilled at Buffalo Trace or Heaven Hill's Bernheim. In other words, the 15 year old bottling being released this year is the last 15 year old that will be exclusively S-W juice. That's not a problem with the 20 year old, though -- it can be S-W exclusively for the next 5 years.

The conventional wisdom is that wheated Bourbon benefits more from extreme age than Bourbon made from a standard rye recipe. I don't know if this is universally true -- Sazerac 18 year old rye, which of course has more rye in it than ryed Bourbon, is excellent. Regardless, though, 20 years is a long time for Bourbon. To be honest, I think that it was too long for this Bourbon. The nose is the same delicious caramel creme brulee that the 15 year old version has, but the palate is dry and woody. It's not unpleasant, but I prefer the 15 year old. I'm not disappointed that I spent the money for this bottle since I was intensely curious about it and it's both good and enjoyable; but in the future, if I'm confronted with the choice of a bottle of 15 year old and a bottle of 20 year old, I will take the 15 year old and spend the extra $45 on something nice.

Monday, October 29, 2007

I'm Sorry, Ben

Ben writes:
To add further confusion to the "What Should Ben Drink" topic, I finished a bottle of Weller 12 sometime last week, and on your recommendation, I replaced it with Old Forrester.

Sigh. OF is really harsh and unpleasant.

Sigh indeed. It's becoming increasingly obvious that I haven't a clue about the attributes in a Bourbon that will appeal to Ben. More than that, I should never have recommended Old Forester at all. The only OF expression that I've had is the 2003 Birthday Bourbon; and if I've learned anything from trying many different varieties of Bourbon, it's that different Bourbons made from the same mashbill in the same distillery and aged in the same types of barrels in the same warehouses can taste radically different. The different Birthday Bourbons are intentionally different from one another. It shouldn't be any surprise that they all differ from the OF regular bottlings. More than that, it would not be at all surprising if the two different OF regular bottlings (the 86 proof and the 100 proof) differed in character from one another. It's not necessarily the case that Brown-Forman bottles them like Beam bottles the three different proofs of Old Grand-Dad: dumping a number of barrels, diluting to 114 proof, bottling, diluting to 100 proof, bottling, diluting to 86 proof, and bottling. Brown-Forman may actually be trying for different things with the 86 and the 100 proof expressions of Old Forester.

So the question is, Ben, did you try the 86 or the 100?

German Shoe Pr0n

The Japanese are the undisputed masters of shoe porn. I know of no other country that produces either the breadth or the depth of quality shoe pictures that the Japanese do, both online and in print. But other countries also put out some quality, XXX-rated stuff. The French have a few of magazines either substantially or partially about shoes (Pointure and Monsieur are the ones whose titles I can remember), and there is the fabulous website. And now the Germans weigh in with their entry: Alles über Herrenschuhe by Helge Sternke. This is a massive, coffee-table-style book, 559 pages long with lots of full-color glossy illustrations. But there is also a great deal of text, and it looks like it would be extremely interesting, if only I could read German. Here's the blurb on the back cover:
Alles über Herrenschuhe ist ein umfassendes Nachschlagewerk rund um den hochwertigen Herrenschuh. Die gründlich recherchierten Hintergründe sind für Kenner und Einsteiger gleichsam interessant, lehrreich und unterhaltsam. Der Spaziergang durch die unterschiedlichen Ledersorten, Schuhtypen und Modelle liefert wertvolle Insidertipps für die Auswahl des perfekten Schuhwerks. Mehr als 400 Fotos und Zeichnungen sowie ein umfangreiches Glossar machen den Band zum Standardwerk für alle Liebhaber klassischer Herrenschuhe. Neben den einzelnen werden auch die grossen Herstellermarken besprochen: [a list of many well-known ready-to-wear and bespoke makers]

Got that? If not, here's a Google translation:

Everything about men's shoes is a comprehensive reference work around the high quality men's shoe. The thoroughly researched backgrounds are for experts and beginners as interesting, informative and entertaining. The walk through the different grades of leather, footwear types and models provides valuable insider tips for choosing the perfect shoe factory. More than 400 photographs and drawings, and a comprehensive glossary band to make the standard work for all lovers of classic men's shoes. In addition to the individual will also be discussed big brands:

It certainly seems that, and I have never had more of an urge to learn German. It was very expensive; but it's worth it, at least to me.

Today's Shoes


Alden long wing bluchers in tan Scotch grain calf with a reverse welt and double leather soles (LeatherSoul special edition model, Barrie last). Much as I like these shoes (and I do like these shoes very much), I am forced to the conclusion that they are really only suited for flannels and jeans. They just are too large and clunky to work on ordinary wool trousers.


Gravati three-eyelet half brogue bluchers with modified U-shaped throat in antiqued tan calfskin with combination leather/rubber soles (16407, 640 last).

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Today's Shoes

Alden long wing bluchers in Color #8 shell cordovan with a reverse welt and double leather soles (975 model, Barrie last). Still some heel slippage, but they're beautiful shoes. The creases across the vamps are beginning to get the characteristic shell cordovan lightening.

Mmmm, Pumpkin!

I don't know if I actually like the taste of pumpkin or if I'm just a sucker for the spices that typically go with it. Whatever. If it has the word "pumpkin" on the label and it's a food product, I'm probably going to try it at least once. Pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, pumpkin brownies, pumpkin beer, it doesn't matter. Every fall, Central Market carries McCutcheon's Pumpkin Butter, and I always buy a bottle. It's like spreadable pumpkin pie. I happen to think that that's a good thing. Pumpkin Passion, a blog about pumpkins and pumpkin-related products that I shamelessly stole the picture to the left from, says
It’s like spreading pumpkin joy on ordinary every-day food. You can use it on toast, waffles, bagels, and even turkey sandwiches!

I can't disagree with that, or even say it better. Well, except the part about turkey sandwiches. That sounds a little strange, but I might just try it anyway. Until I screw up my courage, I'll probably just have it on English muffins.

Last Night's Tipple

It wasn't a tipple because there was no alcohol in it, and I didn't have this last night but rather earlier in the day. But I've got to maintain continuity in post titles. RC Cola is a distant third among American cola soft drinks, behind Coca-Cola and Pepsi. It was first introduced by a Georgia pharmacist in 1905, which perhaps accounts at least in part for its image as a hick soft drink. Anyway, RC's marketing claims that it "has consistently been voted "Best by Taste Test" in blind independent sampling." I don't know if I would rank it as better than Coke, but it certainly is sweeter. It's not bad, particularly as a change of pace.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Grilling Lessons

I realize that I have mentioned the Fall Festival at E&B's school about ten times now; but that's what I've been doing, and that's what I'm going to write about. If it doesn't interest you, read something else. I promise that we will return to our regularly-scheduled whisk(e)y-and-shoes focus soon. A significant portion of my time yesterday was spent manning the stand selling hot dogs and sausages on a stick. I figure that this experience makes me an expert, so here are my infallible grilling lessons:
  1. Propane rules. I'm not disputing that charcoal can burn hotter and impart a better sear and better flavor than propane can. However, we're not talking about a gourmet experience. We're talking about grilling mass quantities of sausages and hot dogs. There's a limit to how good those can be, and outstanding flavor isn't the primary concern. Efficiency is. Charcoal is messy, slow to warm up, and must be supplemented with more periodically. Furthermore, it's difficult to use the space efficiently on a typical round charcoal grill. Propane grills warm up faster, have easier temperature regulation, and have a larger and better-shaped grilling surface. Propane wins. Call Hank Hill.
  2. Sausages on a stick are supposed to be eaten without a bun. That's what the stick is for. But a lot of people want the sausage but don't like this arrangement, so you wind up giving buns away for sausages. Therefore, you need more buns than you have hot dogs.
  3. However many food service gloves you think you need, double it.
  4. However many foil squares you think you need to wrap the sausages, double it.
  5. Speaking of foil, wrap the hot dogs in foil. It helps keep them warm.
  6. You need a lot of aluminum roasting pans. A whole lot.
  7. Prime time for hot dog consumption is after noon. Therefore, while you need to have some ready in the morning to serve the early adopters, cooking too many early can lead to wastage.

Get It While You Can

I don't know what Van Winkle's release schedule is, but evidently late October is a big time for them. I wrote last week that I had found some Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye at Spec's (only the third time in about eight years that I have ever seen it for sale) and that Spec's also had a small supply of Van Winkle Family Reserve Bourbon. Well, the Richard's on Richmond just west of Chimney Rock got a few bottles of the Van Winkle Family Reserve Bourbon and around 6 bottles of Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 20 year old. In addition to Richard's, I saw the Pappy 20 year at the U P Liquor Store on 43rd at Oak Forest. The Pappy 20 is extremely expensive, and I had not intended to buy any. However, I could not resist. I rationalize my purchase by thinking that it's unlikely that I'll be able to find it again any time soon (the guy at the Richard's told me that he had sold all but one of his bottles in two or three days) and that I deserved a reward for my efforts on the Fall Festival at E&B's school. Yes, those excuses are weak, I know. But that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

In other rare American whisk(e)y news, Buffalo Trace apparently released the 2007 edition of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (George Stagg, Sazerac 18, WL Weller 19, and some others) this week. I have not seen any in Houston, but they are almost surely guaranteed to sell quickly when they do show up.

Today's Shoes

Vass split-toe bluchers in dark brown Scotch-grain calf with a reverse welt (Goyser-stitched, in Vass-speak) and rubber lug soles (Norweger model, Budapest last). The picture above is of a Vass Norweger model shoe, but mine are made on a different last with a different leather, different welting, and a different sole. These were purchased to be my New York walking shoes, so I figured that I might as well break them out to work at the fall festival at E&B's school since that would require me to be on my feet all day, walking on concrete. They performed well, although my forefeet felt like they had been pounded on with sledgehammers by the end of the day.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Today's Shoes

As I expected to hauling and moving lots of junk in preparation for the Fall Festival at E&B's school, I wore my Mephisto Allrounder Teramo sneakers. The performed adequately, I suppose, although there is still enough slippage in the heel to make them uncomfortable when worn for an extended period of time.

Last Night's Tipple

I had another pour of WL Weller 12 year old last night, and I got something new and interesting out of it: almond extract. I don't know if my mind was playing tricks on me or what, but smack dab in the middle of the finish was the flavor of almond extract. I am of the opinion that almond extract makes just about everything taste better, so I was pleased.

It's very common to read comparisons between WL Weller 12 and Van Winkle Family Reserve because both are wheated Bourbons, both are 12 years old, both are bottled at similar proof (the Weller at 90 proof, the Van Winkle at 90.4 proof), and both have the same sources (Buffalo Trace- and Bernheim-distilled Bourbon). The Weller can be had for less than $20 a fifth, while the current price on the Van Winkle is around $43 a fifth. The argument is usually that the Weller is a far better value than the Van Winkle. This is almost self-evidently true: the Weller is a good whiskey, and there's no way that the Van Winkle delivers more than twice the enjoyment that the Weller does, at least for me. But I think that most people would agree that the Van Winkle is a superior Bourbon to the Weller, and not by a narrow margin. As with clothing and shoes, you have to pay a lot of money to get relatively small incremental improvements in Bourbon (and whisk(e)y in general).

Thursday, October 25, 2007

What the Heck Is This Stuff?

The other day, while browsing the Bourbon aisle at Spec's, I saw a bottle of Michter's US 1 Small Batch Unblended American Whiskey. The back label reads thusly:
We are proud to offer you our unblended Small Batch American Whiskey. In the Michter's tradition hailing from one of America's first distillers, this whiskey is made from highest quality American grains and matured to the peak of perfection in bourbon-soaked white oak barrels. It is further mellowed by our signature filtration.

Hmmm. This is an interesting beast. What the heck is it?

Well, first note what the label doesn't say: the word "straight" doesn't appear anywhere. In order to be called straight, a whiskey has to be made from a mash consisting of at least 51% of one grain, be distilled to no more than 160 proof, enter the barrel at no more than 125 proof, be aged in charred new white oak barrels for not less than 2 years (with the age of the whiskey stated if it's less than 4 years), and bottled at no less than 80 proof. The only American whiskey that qualifies as straight that doesn't state it on the label is Tennessee Whiskey, and that's because Tennessee Whiskey distillers view the description "Tennessee Whiskey" as being more restrictive and prestigious than straight Bourbon whiskey, which is what Tennesse Whiskey could qualify as. This ain't Tennessee Whiskey; and that being the case, it's unthinkable that it wouldn't have the word "straight" on the label if it was in fact straight whiskey.

The word "unblended" is also instructive. Blended American whiskey contains at least some grain neutral spirits, that is, grain-derived spirits distilled to at least 190 proof. Since this is unblended, it doesn't contain any grain neutral spirits. Finally, look at the back label description. It's aged in "bourbon-soaked white oak barrels". That means that the barrels are used, which means that the whiskey cannot qualify as straight.

The Michter name is another one of the famous ones in American whiskey. The first distillery on the site of the Michter distillery in Pennsylvania first started producing whiskey in 1753, and it might have supplied whiskey to Washington's Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Alas, it is defunct: it closed in 1989, and the only remaining Michter-distilled whiskey on the market are those bearing the name of AH Hirsch. There's a 16 and a 20 year old bottling, both distilled in 1974 and moved into stainless steel tanks to stop the aging process. Both are extremely expensive. I've tried the 16 year old, and I didn't like it very much. It reminded me of pine resin. In any event, the Michter name is now owned by a distributer, and the whiskey now being sold bearing the Michter name is bought in bulk and bottled by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers.

I confess that I'm interested in what this whiskey tastes like. Aging in used Bourbon barrels is not done for quality American whiskeys, but that doesn't mean that it can't produce a quality product. After all, used Bourbon barrels are what almost all Scotch is aged in, and there is a lot of quality Scotch. This could be an interesting experiment, or it could be a bunch of crap that is aged in used barrels because it isn't worth new barrels. If this cost less than $39 a fifth, I might be tempted to find out.

Today's Shoes

Vass six-eyelet reverse-welted wingtip blucher in cognac Scotch grain calf with double leather soles and rubber plates in the toes of the soles (Budapester model, Budapest last). The shoes are identical to those pictured above except for two details. First, the quarter edge and counter on my shoes meet in a V, unlike those pictured. Second, and obviously, mine are Scotch grain while those pictured are smooth leather. Vass calls reverse welting "Goyser stitching". I don't know if that's specifically a Hungarian shoemaking term, if it's common to all areas of the former Austro-Hungarian empire, or if it's even more general than that.

Last Night's Tipple

The hook for Wild Turkey Rare Breed is that it's a barrel-proof bottling, meaning that it is not diluted with distilled water between the barrel and the bottle. The stated proof on the bottle is 108.2; and given the fact that Wild Turkey enters the barrel at a lower proof than most other Bourbons, it's plausible that it might exit the barrel after 6, 8, or 12 years (Rare Breed is a mixture of Bourbons of those ages) close to 108.2. What's not plausible is that the proof is printed on the neck band. Austin Nichols wouldn't do that unless they had a whole lot of bottles with the same proof. It's simply not the case that the distillery dumped a barrel of 6 year old, a barrel of 8 year old, and a barrel of 12 year old, blended them together, and bottled the result. They probably dumped hundreds of barrels of each age to do the blend, at which point printing up the labels with the proof statement might have made sense. Of course, I shouldn't be too critical: it's not as if WT claims that this is a small-batch whiskey.

In any event, I like this Bourbon. A lot. You would think that a Bourbon that's 54.1% alcohol would take your head off. This one doesn't. It's smooth, robust, and full-flavored. The distinguishing characteristic of it, as far as I'm concerned, is that it has strong butter overtones. Not butterscotch; butter. It's actually very pleasant. It's a bit like butter pecan ice cream, melted, in a glass. With a hell of a lot of alcohol added.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Today's Shoes


Cleverley bespoke three-eyelet plain-toe bluchers in Russian reindeer. This leather comes in two colors: a honey tan and a darker chestnut. These, and my other pair of Cleverley Russian reindeer shoes, are both the darker version.


Vass half-brogue bals in English tan Scotch grain calf with double leather soles (Peter last).

Last Night's Tipple

Another pour of Old Fitzgerald Bottled In Bond last night, and it wasn't particularly enjoyable this time around. It seemed hot and rough, and the Wheat Thin graininess on the finish was annoying. I guess it goes to show that one's impressions of spirits can differ dramatically depending on when one drinks it.

A bit of trivia that I learned this week that may interest nobody other than me: as you may or may not know, all Bourbon currently produced is sour mash, meaning that some of the liquid remaining at the end of the distillation process (called backset) is added to new mash in the fermenters. The standard reasons given for doing this include the desire to ensure consistency and continuity between batches of distiller's beer and to prevent bacterial contamination of the new mash (since the backset is acidic and is consequently inhospitable to bacteria). Anyway, Maker's Mark, like every other Bourbon currently sold, is a sour mash whiskey. They periodically shut down the distillery for cleaning or other reasons, which presents a problem for the first batch of distiller's beer fermented after restarting the distillery after a shut down. Where do they get their backset for these first batches? Why, from Heaven Hill! Which means that your Maker's Mark may have just a little bit of Old Fitzgerald in it.

From the Department of Movie Cliches

I was flipping channels a couple of nights ago when I happened upon Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet on Turner Classic Movies. It's a 1940 biopic starring Edward G. Robinson about Paul Ehrlich, a turn-of-the-century German physician and medical researcher who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1909. He coined the term "chemotherapy," and he is noted for discovering (along with Sahachiro Hata) the first effective drug for the treatment of syphilis. This latter accomplishment is the primary focus of the movie, and I find it amazing that a 1940 movie could deal frankly with the search for a cure for a sexually transmitted disease. In any event, this is a perfectly competent and entertaining movie, and I think that Edward G. Robinson deserves praise for his performance and that the screenwriters did an outstanding job explaining the gist of Ehrlich's scientific theory (relating to the development of "magic bullet" molecules that could neutralize and kill pathogens) without making it cartoonish or absurd. But what really stood out to me was the way th movie used newspaper headlines to advance the plot. The fact that they used this device isn't unusual -- it's a standard movie cliche. What is unusual is that all of the newspapers pictured were in Gothic font -- both the headlines and the text. I suppose that the props department thought that they had to emphasize the fact that Ehrlich was German.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Today's Shoes


Edward Green bespoke adelaide diamond-tip bals with pie crust-style throat, counter, and toe cap stitching in dark brown aniline-dyed calf with single leather soles with steel plates in the toe. These shoes are one of the original Gaziano-Girling shoes -- Tony Gaziano was the lastmaker and clicker, and Dean Girling was the maker -- but they were made when Tony was still with Edward Green. I have been wanting to have Tony make another pair for me (I'm thinking a wholecut monkstrap with reversed seams), but, alas, he hasn't come close to this part of the country since these shoes were completed. I'd like him to see these on the foot so that he can determine if any last adjustments are needed. In addition, I think that the next pair will be on a round-toe last, and I'd like to discuss the last and the design of the shoe with him in person. So maybe next spring...


JM Weston demi-chasse bluchers in dark tan calf with double leather soles (598 model).

Last Night's Tipple

I've commented on this before, but I get a lot of cinnamon both on the nose and the palate with Old Grand-Dad Bourbon. The first OGD that I tried was the 114 proof version, and I assumed that the cinnamon burn was related to the high proof. But it's present in the 100 proof version, too. It's as if an Atomic Fireball candy has been dissolved in the glass of whiskey. I've had plenty of Bourbon with a proof as high or higher than the OGD 100 proof that I had last night, and I've had Bourbon with a higher rye content (rye is the small grain associated with spiciness, and OGD is known as a high-rye Bourbon; both Bulleit and AH Hirsch have a higher rye content than it, however, and rye whiskeys would naturally have a higher rye content, too), but I've never come across the cinnamon element in any other whiskey. I need to try Basil Hayden's, Beam's upscale version of OGD, at a lower proof and with more age, to see what effect age and proof have on the cinnamon. I suppose I could try the OGD 86 proof version, but that wouldn't be as much fun, would it?

Monday, October 22, 2007

How To Sound Like A Pretentious Ass

Americans and Brits pronounce certain words differently. "Jaguar" is one such word. I don't begrudge the British their pronunciation. It's fine, for them. But when an American starts pronouncing "jaguar" like a Brit, he's being a pretentious ass. Yes, I'm talking about you, Ron Jaworski.

Today's Shoes


Vass apron-stitched bluchers in orangish tan calf (Vass calls it cognac, although it's much lighter than what most manufacturers call cognac) with a single leather sole and a beveled waist (New Norweger model, U last). The shoe to the left is the same model, last, and configuration as mine, only a different color leather. Although Vass calls the model the New Norweger, it's not really a Norwegian shoe -- it only has the apron stitching, not the toe stitching like a Norwegian does. The U last is a snouty, narrow square-toe last that Vass developed for the RTW shoes it makes for Florentine bespoke maker Roberto Ugolini. It echoes Ugolini's preferred bespoke style quite well. I like these shoes, but they are a tad too long. This causes them to break too far up my big toe for comfort, which reduces the frequency with which I wear them.


Alden wingtip bal in dark brown suede with single leather soles (model 904, Hampton last).

Last Night's Tipple

Since I managed to find another bottle of Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye on Saturday, it's safe to drink more of the bottle that I had open. And so I did. Van Winkle claims that this is the first older rye that was on the market ("Until now, most rye whiskeys were only 5 years old or younger. This 13-year rye breaks the mold. It's the original aged rye whiskey."), and I can't think of anything that would contradict that claim. It's not the oldest rye on the market today -- Sazerac 18 year old and Rittenhouse 21 year old are both older, and I think that Black Maple Hill has put out an older rye, too -- but it does predate those older ryes by at least a couple of years. I don't know if you can argue that Van Winkle provided the example for these other brands since the trend in the marketplace over the past few years has been towards older and older American whiskey. But it has been a trailblazer. And it is an excellent whiskey.

In Defense of the Regency

The modern power breakfast originated at the Regency Hotel in New York City. I'm not sure why (perhaps because of the location -- 61st and Park -- perhaps because the Regency was owned by Loews, whose CEO, Larry Tisch, was one of the movers and shakers in the business world while he was alive), but for the past twenty or more years, the Library restaurant at the Regency has been a place to peoplewatch on weekday mornings, if you think that powerful people in the business world are interesting. Saturday's Wall Street Journal has an article by Raymond Sokolov about power breakfasts at various different locations around the country, and he completely slams the offerings at the Regency:
That is more, much more than you can say about the same dish [eggs Benedict] for nearly twice the price in the city of its birth at the Regency. There the eggs were cold and overcooked. The muffin was soggy. This was true of the classic Benedict with Canadian bacon and the $29 salmon Benedict with smoked salmon. ("The Best Power Breakfasts", October 2o, 2007, p. W1).

I have had both the regular eggs Benedict and the salmon Benedict at the Regency, and both have been very, very good. The eggs were not cold or overcooked, and the muffins were not soggy. Maybe my judgment was impaired by the fact that I wasn't paying -- $29 for salmon Benedict plus $4 for orange juice would probably put me in a bad mood and make me more critical of the offerings -- or maybe the kitchen staff was less rushed and more careful on Saturdays (when I have eaten there) than during the week (when evidently the article's author ate there), I don't know. But I can say that my Benedicts there were among the best that I have had.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Today's Shoes

Vass split-toe bluchers in dark brown Scotch grain calfskin with a reverse welt and a Vibram commando-style rubber sole (Norweger model, Budapest last). The shoes above are the same model as these, but a different last, leather, and sole configuration. I wore these today because somebody promised to help me wash my car; and with the rubber sole and reverse welt, these are perfect for wet work. Well, that, and I really like them and hadn't worn them for quite some time. Of course, she didn't in fact help me but instead dragged me all over Houston looking for temporary tattoos and body jewelry (again). Not that I'm bitter. Oh, no.

Last Night's Tipple

Another difference between Laird's Straight Apple Brandy and Calvados (and American imitators of Calvados): just as Scotch and other foreign whisk(e)y frequently comes in tinted green bottles, so too does Calvados and Calvados-style apple brandy. Laird's comes in a clear glass bottle, just like virtually all quality American whiskey. And why not? It apparently is aged in new charred oak barrels just like American straight whiskey, so it has a nice deep amber color that's a heck of a lot prettier than dark green bottle glass. Just another reminder that while Laird's is apple brandy (and obviously so), it's a distinctively American approach to it.

Skinny Ties

It should come as no surprise to anybody who has seen some of the slim suits that designers have been putting out in recent years. Sixties-era skinny lapels have worked their way from the designers into the mainstream (witness Brooks Brothers' new Thom Browne-designed Black Fleece collection), and, as day follows night, ties put out by many mainsteam companies have also been getting skinnier. Ray Smith of the Wall Street Journal reports that
Neckties are moving to 3½ inches at their widest point, at least based on the latest offerings from many major mainstream labels. That's a narrowing of ¼ inch or more from the width that's been typical of conservative ties for the past few years.

That ¼ inch may not sound like much, but on a tie, the difference is more visible than you might expect. ("New Neckties Go On A Diet", October 20, 2007, p. W5)

He's absolutely right about the visual impact of a slight difference of width in a necktie. To me, a 3.75 inch wide tie looks normal. A 3.5 inch wide one will be obviously skinny, and a 3 inch wide one will look ridiculous. One of the first things that I notice when I look at an Hermes tie (aside from the content of the print) is that it's skinny, and Hermes ties are 3 9/16" wide. It's not that I'm super-perceptive, either. It's that a little width makes a big difference in appearance.

Smith identifies two major reasons for the shift. First, as mentioned, is the trend toward slimmer suits with narrower lapels. The rule of thumb is that the width of the tie should be in proportion to the width of the lapel. Narrower lapels require slimmer ties. Second is financial:

The shift also represents an attempt to inject freshness into the struggling American neckwear market. Tie sales fell 4.6% to $761.4 million for the 12 months ending July 31, according to market researcher NPD Group.
Neckties are going the way of the dodo. It's unfortunate, but it's true. Manufacturers and retailers are attempting to give a temporary boost to sales by making a fundamental change in the look of the ties that they sell, thus perhaps inducing their remaining consumers to buy more ties than they otherwise might to avoid looking outdated. It's a gimmick, and I doubt that they will get any permanent financial relief from doing so.

As for me, I will continue to buy ties of the same width that I always have. I have neither the body nor the disposition to hip and happening. It's probably just as well. I suspect that Marinella, the ultra-traditional Neapolitan tiemaker responsible for that twill print on the left, feels the same way as I do.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Today's Shoes

Alden long wing bluchers in dark tan pebble grain calfskin (Alden calls it Alpine brown calf) with a reverse welt and double leather soles (Barrie last). I know that I wore these only last Tuesday; but they're new, I like them, and I wanted to see how they would go with jeans. They go very well. They also do very well for tromping around Houston looking for @#$%ing temporary tattoos, but that's another story.

Last Night's Tipple

Jim Beam makes a heck of a lot of Bourbon. Jim Beam White Label is the best-selling Bourbon in the world, and Jim Beam Brands owns and produces many other well-known brands in the marketplace, including Maker's Mark, Knob Creek, Booker's, Old Taylor, Old Crow, Old Grand-Dad, and many more. And yet, the Jim Beam name appears in the brand name for only a very few: Jim Beam White Label, Jim Beam Black Label, Jim Beam's Choice (green label), and Jim Beam Rye. That's it. There are other variations available overseas (I've seen a picture of Jim Beam Bonded in the standard square Beam bottle with a gold label), but there are only four in the US market. Beam has gotten into the upscale Bourbon market in a big way with the introduction of the Small Batch Bourbon collection (Booker's, Baker's, Knob Creek, and Basil Hayden's) and the purchase of Maker's Mark (which markets itself as an upscale Bourbon, even though there are better ones similar in flavor profile on the market at similar prices); but they have never attempted to use the Beam name prominently in any of these upscale brands. They certainly don't hide that Booker's is a Beam product, for example, but it's not like they try to sell a Jim Beam Single Barrel Aged 13 Years in the US, either. All of the products that bear the Jim Beam name in the brand are middle-shelf or lower. I'm not sure why this is. It could be a realization that too many Bourbon snobs would look down their noses at any product with the Jim Beam name in the brand name (Jim Beam is the biggest producer of Bourbon in the world and must therefore be ridiculed), or it could be that they fear a negative reaction from the legion of consumers who make the White Label the success it is ("You've taken the good Bourbon out of the White Label and put it in some fancy-schmancy bottling!"). I don't know, but it is undeniably the fact that Black Label is the best of the three Bourbon products that include Jim Beam in the name.

It apparently is also one of the more tinkered-with of the Jim Beam products. It started life as a 101-month-old 90 proof Bourbon, then it went to a 8-year-old 90 proof, then a 7-year-old 90 proof, then an 8-year-old 86 proof. I don't have any explanation for why Beam felt it necessary to make these changes, all in a relatively short period of time. Beam Black Label was introduced in something like its current incarnation only after the National Distillers acquisition in 1987. It could have been a matter of the stocks of aged Bourbon that Beam had on hand in the early '90s, or it could have been the result of market research and brand positioning. But I do know one thing: both in its packaging and its pricing, it's obvious that Beam Black Label is trying to compete with Jack Daniel's. A few year ago, JD went from 86 proof to 80 proof, and Beam Black went from 90 to 86. Could it be that Beam was just trying to stay one step ahead of JD in proof? That is, to enable salesmen to say, "Look, it's the same price as JD, it's older than JD, and it's higher in proof than JD" while at the same time lowering the proof and saving the money from excise taxes? It seems reasonable to me, but I have no way of knowing.

And what about the Bourbon inside the bottle? It's a good product, although it isn't my favorite. There's too much wood and not enough caramel, and I think that it could benefit from a higher proof. As it is, it tastes a bit watered down. It's a good, reliable, middle-shelf Bourbon, but nothing more.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Today's Sock Review

The problem with most 100% cotton socks is that they don't maintain their shape well, and they don't stay up. As the day goes on, they tend to bag and to sag; and these tendencies are enhanced with every washing that they go through. That's why most cotton socks aren't 100% cotton; the cotton is instead blended with between 15% and 40% nylon (which also improves the durability of the sock). Facenti socks aren't in any way normal, however. They're 100% cotton, and they feel and look great. They also stay up. All day. Even after several washings. I don't understand how they manage to accomplish this, but they do. It's a miracle of technology.

Facenti is a venerable Italian company, manufacturing socks since 1923. They're virtually unknown in the United States, however, although they are apparently trying to break into the US market. Here's to hoping that they succeed. They make a sock demonstrably superior in construction to Pantherella, the mainstay of the US luxury sock market, and Facenti's design sensibility puts Pantherella's to shame.

Today's Shoes

Brooks Brothers Peal & Co. unlined three-eyelet plain-toe ankle blucher boots in light tan suede with light tan crepe rubber soles. Also known as desert boots, of course.

Speaking of Rye

Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye is both excellent and hard to come by. Before today, I had seen it in liquor stores exactly twice in about seven years, and I had bought it both times. Well, the Spec's warehouse in downtown Houston has gotten a shipment of perhaps a case of the stuff, and there are about six bottles left. Or, rather, five bottles left, since I bought one. They also have a few bottles of the Van Winkle Family Reserve Bourbon, which is also hard to come by, although less so than the rye.

Last Night's Tipple

Rye whiskey is an acquired taste. Well, all spirits are an acquired taste to some extent, at least for normal people; but rye whiskey is even more so. It's sharp and tends toward the harsh, and it doesn't have as much of the vanilla/caramel payoff that Bourbon does. When I first started buying whiskey, I bought rye. I crave novelty; and whatever else it is, rye whiskey is novel. I can't say that I enjoyed it very much. I choked down a bottle of Wild Turkey rye over a period of a few months and decided that it was vile and not worth the money or effort. It took a bad memory, an impressionable mind, and more reading about the virtues of rye for me to be willing to try it again. This time, I bought Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye, and I loved it. I tried WT again, and I loved that, too. Same with Sazerac, Jim Beam rye, and Old Overholt. It's all great stuff, although each is unique.

Another pour of the WT rye last night, and it remains as pleasantly powerful and piquant as it has always been. Among all of the rye whiskeys available in Houston, this offers probably the best balance of quality and value.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Today's Shoes


Alden high-lace wing-tip blucher boots in cigar (dark brown) shell cordovan with double leather soles (Plaza last). These are more special editions from Tom Park at LeatherSoul Hawaii, and there are two particularly interesting things about these boots. First, they have a faux counter, where the counter is traced out by brogueing but does not really exist. In other words, they're kind of like partial blind brogues. Second, the tongue is unlined shell cordovan, and it's surprising how soft, thin, and pliable it is when it is just there by itself. They're beautiful boots; and if you like them, Tom has a new shipment of the same boot in Color #8 shell cordovan in now.


Gravati split-toe ghillie-tie bluchers in tan suede with combination leather/rubber soles (13555, 500 last).

Last Night's Tipple

Another pour of Knob Creek, which was more caramel-laden and enjoyable than previously. I credit the amount of time I let it sit in the glass before I started to drink it.

Royal Mail

This spring, I received a bill from GJ Cleverley. I was confused because I had just paid them for my latest pair of bespoke shoes. Then I noticed that it wasn't for those shoes; it was for my previous pair (which I had also paid for), and it was dated September, 2005. Yes, it had taken more than 18 months to reach me. I had assume dthat most or all of the delay was related somehow to Hurricane Rita, which made landfall in late September 2005 and disrupted mail and parcel delivery in this area for months afterward. I may have to change my assumption, however, because yesterday I received the card listing the dates and locations for Cleverley's fall tour of the US. What's unusual about this is that the fall tour ended on October 13. I would think that the people at Cleverley were trying to tell me something, just like those who send wedding invitations after the fact to people whom they don't want to attend but do want gifts from, except for the fact that the envelope is stamped twice "Found in supposedly empty equipment". In light of this, I now think that someone at the Royal Mail doesn't approve of my relationship with GJ Cleverley.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Today's Shoes


Gravati reversed-seam cap-toe bal in Radica 033 calf (a beautiful red-brown variegated calfskin) with a close-cut waist and single leather soles (16496, 500 last).


Gravati plain-toe saddle bals in medium brown peccary (Gravati calls it Nicotina) on both the main body of the shoe and the saddle with combination leather/rubber soles (15578, 640 last).

Last Night's Tipple

Just like beer enthusiasts like nothing better than to disparage Budweiser and Miller products, American whiskey enthusiasts like to trash Jim Beam and Jack Daniel's. Obviously, some of this criticism owes to the fact that the main bottling from neither brand (White Label from Beam; Black Label from JD) is exactly a top-shelf product. It's possible to get better whiskeys, often for less money. But let's be honest: a good part of this disdain is due to the fact that both are ubiquitous and universally-known. A snob takes no pleasure in enjoying something that everybody else enjoys. Put Jim Beam White Label Bourbon or JD Black Label Tennessee whiskey into a bottle with a different label at $4 less a bottle, and you would have many the same enthusiasts raving about what great "value" pours they were. And this snobbery carries over into other products made by these distilleries. Beam Black Label, Knob Creek, Baker's, Booker's -- they're all crap. Same thing goes for Gentleman Jack and JD Single Barrel from Jack Daniel's.

Well, this is ridiculous. Both Beam and JD know how to make good whiskey, and JD Single Barrel is a very good whiskey. I wager that most of those that trash it on the basis of its JD affiliation would change their tune if they tried it blind.

Another Member of the All-Name Team

One of the members of the Cleveland Indians American League baseball team is named Asdrubal Cabrera, a rookie shortstop/second baseman from Puerto la Cruz, Venezuela. He is a member of the all-name team not just because Asdrubal is an unusual name but also because it must ultimately derive from Hasdrubal, the brother of Hannibal, son of Hamilcar, and Carthaginian general during the Second Punic War. Carthage controlled extensive territory on the Iberian peninsula, and Hasdrubal both commanded armies there and served as proconsul there while his brother was campaigning in Italy. Perhaps this experience in Iberia in the late 3rd Century BC is the ultimate reason why a baseball player from Venezuela was named after him. I don't know, but the name still is cool.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Shoe Pr0n

Shoe enthusiasts refer to pictures of particularly attractive shoes as shoe porn. There are shoe enthusiasts all over the world, of course, and there are many different sources of shoe porn. The Japanese, though, are the undisputed masters of the genre. They have websites that will make your mouth water, if you're a shoe enthusiast. They also put out magazines. Men's Ex The World of High End Shoes and Last magazine. There is a considerable amount of text in these magazines; but it's in Japanese, which I don't read. Therefore, I'm only in it for the pictures. In order to get Last, you have to go to a Japanese bookstore (there is apparently one in New York) or have a friend who will go to a Japanese bookstore or know someone who visits Japan regularly. It's a bit challenging, but it can be done. Men's Ex, however, that's a lot easier. All you need is for that. There, all you have to do is to figure out how to register, order, and pay for the magazine in Japanese. And even though the shipping costs more than twice what the magazine costs, you too can have it delivered to your door in less than a week. And why wouldn't you? Doesn't everyone want to see pictures of shoes made on such old-time Edward Green lasts as the 88, 33, 32, and 201? That's right, the 201. No, not the 202. The 201. If that isn't worth $40, I don't know what is.

Today's Shoes


Alden long wing bluchers in a beautiful small-grained British tan calfskin (Alden calls it Alpine brown) with a reverse welt and double leather soles (Barrie last). A Long wing in tan Scotch grain calf is one of the classic American shoes, and yet it just isn't seen anymore. You can easily find the shoe in Color #8 shell cordovan, black or burgundy smooth leather, and even black Scotch grain, but until Tom Park at LeatherSoul Hawaii decided to order a special run of these shoes from Alden, you couldn't find it in tan Scotch grain. It's a great shoe. Despite being the same size and on the same last with the same trim as the Color #8 long wings that I wore yesterday, it seems less massive; but it's still a very substantial shoe. One of the nice things about Scotch grain leather is that the peaks and valleys provide a variegated color, which gives additional visual interest to the shoe.


Alden cap-toe blucher in medium brown calfskin with double leather soles (model 972, Aberdeen last).

Last Night's Tipple

Sierra Nevada Brewery in Chico, California is one of the founding fathers of American craft brewing. It was founded in 1979 by two home brewers, it has grown into an eight hundred thousand barrel per year enterprise. Not only that, but they have been tremendously influential. They helped to pioneer the heavily-hopped full-bodied American IPA style that has become a mainstay in the American craft brewing industry. (And yes, although it derives from the British IPA, American IPA is distinct.)

And hoo, boy, are Sierra Nevada beers heavily-hopped. The Pale Ale, which is the original Sierra Nevada beer and still the brewery's flagship, is hopped to a level of 37 IBU (international bitterness units). That's pretty high. But most of Sierra Nevada's other beers are hopped to a higher level, often significantly higher. The Big Foot barleywine is hopped to 90 IBU, for example. The Harvest ale isn't quite that high (60 to 65 IBU), but it is unique. Where virtually all beers are hopped using pellets of dried hops, Harvest uses fresh hops. It could be that my nose is playing tricks on me, but I think that I can smell the difference. It's fresher, more flowery, sweeter-smelling than ordinary beer. It's bitter, but not overpoweringly so. The hops add to the experience; they don't turn it into a one-dimensional one. Sierra Nevada brews this once a year during (amazingly enough) hop harvest time. I should pick up some more of this before it's gone for the year.

A Ginger Bleg

I was considering making some ginger liqueur from this recipe:
  • 200gms hot [crystallized] ginger (the sugar coated kind, I used Buderim ginger)
  • 2 cups of raw sugar
  • 1cup of water
  • 1 liter vodka

Chop the ginger up quite finely, and simmer in the water and sugar until the ginger is tender and sugar has turned to syrup. Allow to cool, then blend the whole lot up and add to a 1 litre bottle. Top up with vodka. Let sit for a month at least. When ready, strain through paper towels. Keep the alcoholic ginger for later use in cooking, or maybe in the next batch of liqueur.

What you now have will knock your socks off, so sip gently, and no smoking in the immediate vacinity. Tastes a little like Green Ginger Wine, but more potent. Serve on ice, or with lemonade.

I know where to get the vodka (imagine that!), the sugar, and the water; but I don't know where to get the crystallized ginger. I saw some at Central Market, but it was in one of those little spice bottles and was pretty expensive. If that's what it costs, then that's what it costs; but I suspect that there's a better source. So, ginger fans, where should I go for crystallized ginger?

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Utility of Gambling

The powers that be in America's major sports, both college and professional, don't like to acknowledge it; but one of the prime reasons that they're able to sign ever-more-lucrative television contracts is gambling. Television networks sign the contracts because the games that they broadcast attract lots of the kinds of viewers that advertisers like. A lot of those viewers are watching because they have money riding on the games. Let's face it: even the most hardened football fan will acknowledge that a significant portion of NFL games are boring, and they wouldn't be watching them if they weren't wagering on them (or because the results of their fantasy football league didn't depend on them). The NCAA basketball tournament is tremendously exciting because of the potential for upsets, but would as many people watch it if most of the viewers didn't have money riding on the results through one of those office pools?

Since the 1919 Black Sox scandal (wherein eight members of the Chicago White Sox conspired with a professional gambler to throw the World Series) gambling has been anathema to sports leagues. Pete Rose was banned from baseball for betting on baseball games (including games involving his own team). Michael Vick's recent suspension from the NFL for running a dog fighting ring was undoubtedly made longer than it otherwise would have been because he was betting on the dog fights, and the NFL views gambling by its players, coaches, or officials as particularly disturbing, even if the gambling isn't on football. Two or three years ago, the NCAA lobbied heavily for a bill before Congress to ban betting on college sports. Las Vegas has been trying for years to get an NBA team to move there, and the league has always been intractably opposed because Vegas has legal sports gambling.

Well, the Wall Street Journal reports that the times, they are a' changin'.
These days, LVSC [Las Vegas Sports Consultants, Inc., a company that helps Las Vegas sports books set the lines for sports and investigate evidence of point shaving and other sorts of unsavory behavior] is working for college sports' governing body, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, to help flag suspicious activity. LVSC is also working with the National Football League and the National Hockey League, and has consulted with the National Basketball Association. The company has a deal with the NCAA's Big 12 conference, as well, to provide detailed reports on every one of its schools' football and men's basketball games.

Sports books profit when bets are balanced because they can pass money from the losing half of the betting pool to the winning half, minus a commission. LVSC and other companies that supply betting-line guidance get repeat business when they set reliable spreads.

When bets come in disproportionately, casinos move the betting line in an attempt to re-equalize wagers on each side. But if a gambler succeeds in placing a large bet on one side and then illicitly assures the outcome, casinos lose money unfairly.

Las Vegas bookies say this gives them a motivation to police against match fixing. They also say their reams of performance and betting-flow data can be used to flag unusual patterns. "We're on the same side," says Jay Kornegay, the executive director of SuperBook, the Las Vegas Hilton's sports book operation. "We're league allies." ("Oddsmakers in Vegas Play New Sports Role" by Tamara Audi and Adam Thompson, October 2, 2007, p. A1)

It's true that Vegas was built by the mob, but casinos today are owned by large, publicly-traded, multinational corporations. They have nothing to gain from illegal activity like collusion with point shaving. Rather, they have every incentive to detect it and unmask it. That means that their interests coincide with those of the sports leagues, which want fair contests. It's true that there have been a number of gambling-related scandals in sports recently (including the NBA referee who was in bed with some gamblers to influence final scores), but all of these scandals have a common thread: they were illegal. They weren't perpetrated by representatives of legal casinos; rather, the guilty parties were mostly mob-influenced. Legal gambling helps leagues spot funny business because it provides publicly-available data about how much money is being bet on games and in what direction, thus making it easier to spot suspicious moves in the line or unexplained heavy betting on a particular game. In essence, Vegas sports books are like a public sports market. Because they're public, it's much easier to spot manipulation, just as it's much easier to spot manipulation of publicly-traded stocks. Officials of sports leagues are to be commended for waking up to reality and understanding that legal gambling isn't the enemy; mob-influenced gambling is, and legal gambling makes it easier to ferret the corruption out.

Today's Shoes


Alden long wing bluchers in Color #8 shell cordovan with a double leather sole and a split reverse welt (model 975, Barrie last). You may recall that I complained about some heel slippage with these shoes on their first two wearings. Heel slippage is what causes blisters, and I don't like blisters. My hope was that the slippage was caused by the stiffness of the double leather soles: that they're so thick and stiff that they don't flex enough when they're new, which causes the heel to slip as the wearer walks. Well, after this wearing, I'm more hopeful. There is still some minor slippage with my right heel, but nothing with my left. Maybe next time, we can dispense with slippage altogether.

Incidentally, a strange but true fact: typically, one's dominant foot is slightly smaller than one's off foot. I'm right-footed, and my right foot is probably a quarter size smaller than my left foot. How do I know that my experience is typical? I asked Tony Gaziano, who has examined more feet than just about anybody who isn't a podiatrist.


Santoni three-eyelet plain-toe ankle boots in caramel brown calfskin with a rubber sole. It's a nasty night tonight.

Last Night's Tipple

I had another pour of Elmer T. Lee Bourbon last night, and there really is nothing new to report. It remains a rich, sweet, flavorful Bourbon and a very good value at $26 a fifth.

A number of distilleries now offer retailers the opportunity to hand-pick the barrels of a particular Bourbon that will be used to fulfill their order. The two big Chicago and online retailers, Binny's and Sam's, both have such bottlings of Elmer T. Lee, although Spec's, my friendly neighborhood liquor superstore, does not. It's a good proposition for both the distiller and the retailer, I think. The product appears to be more exclusive and can be sold (both wholesale and retail) for slightly more than the regular bottling, but the distiller doesn't have to dip into his truly exclusive stocks to do the bottling -- he preselects the the barrels that will be used for, say, Elmer T. Lee, and the retailer just gets to select from among those. The retailer stimulates repeat sales because each batch he selects will be slightly different -- the Bourbon enthusiast will be motivated to try them all. The retailer also gets to imply that what he selects is better than the run-of-the-mill stuff offered under the label. Is this accurate? Maybe, but I'm skeptical. The distiller wants the brand, whether bottled as a special for a retailer or not, to have a consistent profile, and it seems reasonable that all the barrels available for the brand have similar characteristics.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Powder Blue Power

Back in September, I complained about the San Diego Chargers' new uniforms. They adopted the old-style white helmets, but they kept the new-style navy blue shirts. Unsurprisingly, they got off to a very slow start and looked bad doing it. I don't know if they have seen the light or if this was a one-off throwback weekend, but they wore the powder blue jerseys and looked good in pummeling the Oakland Raiders 28-14, with LaDainian Tomlinson running for nearly 200 yards and 4 touchdowns. It's gotta be the jerseys!

Today's Shoes

I finally found a picture online of my Mephisto Allrounder Teramo sneakers. Believe it or not, they call that suede khaki in color. It's not: taupe would be a more accurate description. Anyway, they're growing on me. I have decided that they actually are both attractive and comfortable. Believe it or not, but they also make my feet look smaller.

Last Night's Tipple

I was in Spec's on Friday, and I noticed a single bottle of Wild Turkey Russell's Reserve 101 proof. You may recall that I have previously written about Russell's Reserve, but in its new packaging and its lower proof. About two or three years ago, Austin Nichols decided to reposition Russell's Reserve as a more upscale brand, appealing to boutique Bourbon-swilling yuppies. Accordingly, they hired a graphics designer to improve the label, put the whiskey in a more attractive bottle, and began using a wood-topped cord instead of a plastic-topped one. Oh, yeah: they also consulted their marketing research and discovered that boutique Bourbon-swilling yuppies liked their Bourbon with the proof in the nineties instead of over 100. Accordingly, the proof was dropped to 90. I don't know why Spec's had a singleton bottle of the old configuration laying around, but they did; and I snapped it up. It's not exactly a dusty, but it's as close as I've ever come to finding one.

I know that it will shock you, but it tastes a lot like the 90 proof version. Amazingly enough, two Bourbons of the same age from the same distillery sometimes taste alike. It other words, there's a lot of that vanilla creme brulee dessert Bourbon goodness that I like about the WT products that I've tried. The difference is that the 101 proof version has a decent amount of orange in both the aroma and the palate, as if someone included some orange zest in that vanilla creme brulee. I like it. But you probably already could have guessed that.