Labels

About this Blog

Welcome to Po'Nutrition Fax! This blog is about alcohol - it has nothing to do with health or wellness, and the only relationship between this and Edgar Allen Poe is that he was an alcoholic.

I used to work in a liquor store and developed a taste for all different types of booze. As my collection grew, I felt the need to share my knowledge of, interest in, and experiences with my purchases - from the standards (e.g. whisk(e)y, gin) to the less-than-standard (e.g. kirschwasser, raki). You'll also find a lot on beer (another love of mine).

This is not about how much I can drink nor do I promote over-excess of alcohol. As with most blogs, there is some self-reflection included with most of the reviews. The point is to encourage everyone to reflect on what they drink.

Leave comments or ask questions! Also, "follow" me if you like what you read - I am not making money from this blog but if I see more interest in this and hear some feedback, it will encourage me to write more.

Cheers!
Mike

Friday, October 28, 2011

It was a "Dark n' Stormy" night...



In honor of Halloween I am writing about, you guessed it, the Dark n' Stormy.

I have to be honest here - I am not a fan of rum. I can't smell or taste most rums without recoiling slightly. There are a few exceptions to this rule. Most rums are made from molasses and I prefer those made from sugar cane juice/extract. These latter types generally come from the French-speaking Caribbean islands (and will be labelled "rhum") or Brazil (but they call it cachaça). They tend to be lighter and have a fresher or "greener" aroma/taste - like a blend of freshly cut grass and citrus. However, because most other rums are made from molasses (a by-product of sugar production) then I can explain why I generally do not like rum. It doesn't necessarily have to do with the molasses itself but rather bad experiences I've associated with these rums.

Living in the States, under arcane policies and laws about alcohol drinking, if my friends and I wanted to get "fucked up," because that's what high-school-aged kids in the suburbs do to avoid the harsh banality that is suburban life, we had to sneak it out of the liquor cabinet. The trick to sneaking liquor is to go for bottles that are mostly full. Unfortunately, rum was always available in much larger quantities than anything else. Therefore one of us would always pour it into an empty soda bottle, throw this bottle into a bag or coat pocket, buy some "chaser" (usually Sunny Delight) and go to the woods. In hindsight, this was a boring and stupid way to pass the time but it is, in some way, a fitting metaphor for suburban life. As a consequence of all this rum and Sunny Delight over-consumption (sometimes to vomit-inducing levels) I have developed this rum aversion.

However, I can handle rum in mixed drinks - the nauseating factors disappear.

I had a Dark n' Stormy for the first time earlier this year. It was my birthday and I wanted to have a lot of mixed drinks centered around ginger beer. Now that's ginger BEER, not ginger ale. While I do enjoy ginger ale (mixing it with Angostura Bitters is a great sour stomach/indigestion cure), ginger beer has the same flavor but is also spicy. I really enjoy Goya's Jamaican-Style Ginger Beer but Ithaca Brewing Co. also makes a deliciously spicy ginger beer too. So for my birthday I was serving Gin Shandies (fresh lemonade, ginger beer, gin), Gingergrass Mules (cachaça, ginger beer, lime juice), and Dark n' Stormies (Black Rum and ginger beer). I was unsure whether I would even want a Dark n' Stormy but I knew other people liked them so I figured I would be the gracious host and serve some. Surprisingly, by the end of the night I ended up switching to drinking them exclusively. The ginger beer's spiciness perfectly masks what I don't like about rum and allows the rich molasses flavors to emerge.

My Dark n' Stormy recipe, like most others, is simple:

2 shots of black rum (I use Gosling's Black Seal Rum)
12-oz. bottle of ginger beer

This might seem like a lot of booze but this recipe is to fill a pint glass (like in the picture), not just a highball glass, because we have mostly pint glasses in our place. Adjust ingredients accordingly to whatever size glass you drink out of. However, you may as well drink it out of a pint glass because you will want to have more than one if served in anything smaller... and you won't want to chase it with Sunny D.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Whisk(e)y - Part 1

In my previous post I happened to mention my love of whisk(e)y. "Love" is a notoriously inadequate word in the English language that one can throw around to describe a relationship with someone or to something else. I don't intend to get philosophical about the true meaning of "love" but I only intend to imply that the relationship I have with whisk(e)y is not one of love. Love involves two parties and whisk(e)y cannot feel anything. If the feeling goes one way, it can't be described as "love." To outsiders, it may seem like I am whisk(e)y's creepy stalker.

I had a similar feeling about Heidi Klum at one point in my life. I had a poster of her, this one in fact:

It hung above my bed, however, there was nothing overtly sexual about my relationship with Heidi and this poster. I was bewitched by her beauty. I collected other pictures of her that I cut out and taped around the poster. My friends (Kara and Suzie - yes, I had female friends that enabled this) provided me with copies of Victoria's Secret catalogs that I would go through to find the newest pictures. I eventually constructed quite a collage. I became so familiar with some of the images that I didn't bother cutting out the pictures where the editors had just changed the color of her sweater. As the collection grew, it became a "celebration" of her beauty - but to others, it looked kind of creepy. I eventually realized this and tore it all down, including the poster. I didn't "love" Heidi Klum herself, my relationship was with the image (gender studies?) and the collage I created. There wasn't love, I never considered it love, had I said that then I would've realized the "creepy" factor much earlier. This poster/collage was more of a... captivation.

Captivation! This is the word that adequately describes my relationship to whisk(e)y. So captivated that, despite my limited income at the time, I splurged on this crystal glass to fully experience whisk(e)y:


Anglicized from the Goidelic Celtic languages translation of "aqua vitae"(uisce beatha in Irish, uisge beatha in Scots Gaelic), whisk(e)y is the "water of life." Aqua vitae was generally distilled from grapes or other fruits, but these don't grow as well or are just not as abundant in the British Isles as grains. When it comes to making alcohol, if it has sugar in it, you can get booze out of it. The people of the British Isles were already making beer (different from modern beer) so whisk(e)y is essentially distilled from beer. Teasing the fermentable sugars out of the grain is not as easy to do as it is with a fruit but it can be done - and I'm very glad someone figured this out long ago.

What fascinates me about whisk(e)y is how varied it is. I have two major categories of whisk(e)y: Old World and New World. As mentioned above, whisk(e)y is distilled from grain and this is what (besides geography) distinguishes these two categories. Old World whiskies use barley as the central grain while New World ones use mostly corn/maize. Other adjunct ingredients grains can be used (except anything labelled as a "single malt" - those only use malted barley) such as wheat and rye. Each grain provides a different attribute to the final spirit. Some distillers will make one mash bill (grain mixture) and distill that, others will make a few different mashes and blend to create a new product from each one, but this is only the first step; now it is time to age the whisk(e)y.

Most whiskies are aged in oak. However, oak is used to age nearly every other spirit so the distiller can choose to age, or just "finish," the whisk(e)y in, for example, used sherry barrels (a lot of Speyside single malt scotches use this method giving them their distinct "sweet" quality). Now the distiller/blender has to decide how long the whisk(e)y ages, where in the warehouse the barrel will sit, how often to check it, how often to move it - all of these decisions influence the final product.

As I write this I am enjoying Caol Ila (pronounced "keel-eel-a") 12-yr Single Malt (but not in the fancy glass pictured above). Like other Islay malts, it has a very iodine-rich, smoky flavor. There are also hints of thyme and orgeano on the nose and the peat flavors give way to bitter greens and brine. Its pale-straw color is misleading since one would not expect such a strong aroma and flavor from something so light in color. The fires used to halt the germinating process (which breaks down the complex starches of the barley into fermentable sugar) are fueled by Islay peat, and the smoke from this fire imparts that smoky flavor into the barley. This is how the barley is malted and part of why this scotch is called "single malt." The "single" part means that the whisky only comes from one distillery. I am fascinated about the process that got it to my hand and I ponder all the decisions made at least 12 years ago (anything with an age statement on the bottle can only include whiskies of that age or older). I appreciate whisk(e)y for what it is, the processes that made it (both its history and chemistry).

I will not "tear down" this object of my captivation as I did to my poster/collage. Fortunately, this object won't raise as many eyebrows or elicit as many whispers. Even if it did, it is (admittedly) a lot less creepy to have a collection of whisk(e)y bottles than a collection of pictures of a supermodel above my bed; I don't think Martha (my girlfriend) would appreciate the latter either. So here's to you Heidi, I apologize for how things ended but it was for the best. Slainte.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Standards


Sinatra's songs are "standards", but he wasn't. What you choose to drink shouldn't be "standard" either.

Investing in your own "drink cart" can be a bit overwhelming. My friend recently asked for some advice on what bottles are truly essential. I was going to answer only him but then realized it would be something I would think a great deal about, write something really long with an absurd amount of detail and then send it to him. I also figured it would be fun to write a post about and I would do the same thing again. So rather than write something long twice (one, answering him specifically, the other for a wider audience) I'm going to try and write this one thing.

This is quite an endeavor and I may be in over my head for one posting...

I should start by saying that I had no intention of having a cart full of booze in my apartment. I admit that someday, if I ever have house, I would like to have a full bar at my disposal. It's a ridiculous dream but I imagine myself bartending to friends and family at my own bar, saving ourselves both money and exposure to the assholes of the world who frequent bars. Some people dream of greater things for their future but spending quality time with the people whom you choose to spend your time with (and anyone important to them) is a noble idea in my mind. That being said, building this drink cart is either a way for me to live this dream now or research for what to stock at my bar in the future.

Unfortunately for everyone else who lives or drinks at my place, the most numerous item on my drink cart is what I enjoy - whisk(e)y. I added that "e" because Stateside and Irish distillers add the "e" whereas Scottish, Canadian, Welsh, and Japanese distillers do not. I currently have about 15 bottles at my disposal. To be fair, seven or eight of them are bottles of scotch my grandfather gave to me. When blended scotch became "the thing" to have in the 1970's, party guests would bring a bottle over to my grandparent's house to share - but no one drank it. They sat unopened behind my grandfather's bar (even after two out-of-state moves) until a few years ago when he told me to take them because he (obviously) didn't drink scotch. So there they sit on my drink cart now because, although it would be fine to drink (once bottled, whisk(e)y stops aging), it's a lot of scotch and kind of overwhelming. Plus, it's not all great scotch. I'm sure I'll fold someday and drink it, but where to start? This the heart of the question that Jay posed to me - what is truly essential to have on hand?

Although I would highly suggest to do what I did and slowly build up a collection, trying a lot of different things, you can benefit from my experience thus far. As I suggest in the previous paragraph, it's best to consider what you will drink most often first. If you want variety and a lot of different characteristics to choose from, then whisk(e)y is best. There are a lot of whiskies out there: Scotch (blended, pure-malt, single-malt), Irish (blended, single-malt), Bourbon, Tennessee Whiskey, Rye, Canadian, American Single-Malt, American Whiskey, Corn (just to name a few). However, such variety can be lacking for other alcohol "families." So if you like vodka best, you won't have much luck. But whatever your favorite drink is, have at least two bottles on hand (two different bottle too).

I am not implying that vodka has no character. Vodkas are distinguished from one another by the variety of things they are distilled from, how many times they are distilled and filtered, their country of origin - all of these factors contribute to how the vodka tastes. However, most Americans don't drink their vodka straight so they miss out on all these subtle notes and defining characteristics (which is disappointing). So unless you are one of these straight-drinkers, you are most likely buying vodka to mix with something else. I only say this because mixing generally just covers up these notes; you'll probably be buying vodka hoping only not to get a wicked hangover. Therefore, you have tons of vodkas to choose from, all at different levels of quality but these character-defining qualities won't be as important to you, negating the need for variety.

My girlfriend doesn't drink as often as I do. Consequently, there isn't much on the cart for her. So if you are investing in a cart for a house of more than one regular imbiber, it's probably better to have a shared bottle in addition to one bottle for each of you (if you each like a different item). If you like whisk(e)y and the other person likes gin, try to compromise on a shared bottle - brandy has similar floral aromas of gin and similar tastes to certain whiskies. It's true benefit is that it will be there longer than either of your individual choices. This is because it is something you will both enjoy but it isn't the "go-to" drink for either one. Plus, it can be enjoyed by both for special occasions.

My motto may be "Life is too short to drink cheap" but it doesn't have to be yours. Although I will always say spending a little more pays dividends you don't have to go broke. I don't mean to imply that "money is no object" when it comes to my own liquor purchases. If I could drop hundreds of dollars each time I bought a bottle of something that would be nice, but I don't live in that world. So while I will occasionally spend an extra $10-15, price is still always a factor in my choice; here is where my liquor store experience comes in handy.

I try to stay away from the big names - you'll end up paying more for name. This is not to say that they will be poor quality drinks BUT there is a standard these names have to live up to. Therefore, they live up to, but never try to exceed that standard. You should treat yourself a bit better than that.

Here I will give you my picks under each category I would consider essential starters. Keep in mind these are my opinions; however, I like to think I have an informed opinion so I hope you will at least consider what I recommend. Sometimes I'll give a brand name or I'll just give a "family" member that often gets over-looked (i.e. armagnac). This a quick list made for those eager to get started. I plan on doing very extensive posts on each alcohol"family" in the future. However, here is a short list:

Whiskey - due to my love of this family, this is mostly a "hidden gem" list, leaving a lot out. I will go into the most detail here than any other family. Scotch is left out because I will probably have to have an entire series of posts about that delicious whisky.

Rye - real rye (made mostly from rye grain), not Canadian Rye. Referring to Canadian whisky as "Rye" is a term left over from Prohibition. Prior to Prohibition, real rye whiskey was the most popular whiskey in the U.S. With Prohibition, Canadian whisky (made mostly with corn) was smuggled and called rye. Jim Beam makes a great rye for $20-25 for a liter. Best deal in rye that I've found. If you can find Van Winkle Rye - it is worth every dollar.

Old Charter Bourbon - a blend of all the best Buffalo Trace whiskies. Relatively cheap ($18-22) and very delicious. Nearly everything from Buffalo Trace is delicious so treat yourself to something in their line sometime (Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, W.L. Weller, Pappy Van Winkle, Blanton's)

Powers - An Irish whiskey. Was once the most popular whiskey in Ireland until Jameson's massive marketing campaign vaulted itself to #1. They are distilled by the same company so they just stole their own sales. Still a lot cheaper than Jameson.

Wasmund's - this is an American Single-Malt. Similar to scotch but rather than smoking the malt over peat, it's smoked over Applewood, Cherrywood, and Oak. It has a great smoky flavor and nowhere near as expensive as scotch.

Old Ezra - price of rotgut bourbon but not a rotgut bourbon. Not fantastic by any means but you get more than what you pay for. Buy the 101 proof if you can find it.


Gin - I normally just drink gin with tonic water so my opinions here are based mostly on this pairing

Broker's - one of the best gins I've had. Not paying nearly as much as you would for Bombay or Tanqueray but your getting the same quality stuff for a good $5-7 less per liter.

Plymouth - similar to Broker's (can be a bit pricier).

Seagram's - surprisingly, not horrible.

Vodka

Moskovskaya - "green label" Stoli. A big step down from Stoli in price but only a small step down in quality.

Shustoff Luxury - best vodka I have ever had. So smooth, it's like drinking velvet bunnies. A lot cheaper than most other "top shelf" vodkas.

White Gold

Seagram's - again, not horrible.

Brandy

Armagnac

Applejack - American "calvados" (Apple Brandy)...

I have to stop here or else this list is going to be way too long. I'm beginning to realize how much I have to say about this stuff. Let me remind you to think about what you'll drink most often - this is what is essential. This should be your guide to starting your drink cart.

Jay, I know the things you like to drink so I hope there is something on here for you. If not, e-mail me if you have any more questions or if you want to scold me because you think my "answer" gets far from what you were asking. The rest of you, leave comments to ask for more detail and I'll either respond directly or answer via another blog posting.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye


Rye beers can be hard to find. They are one of my favorite styles but because they aren't that popular, there aren't too many out there for me to choose from. Consequently, when I shop for beer they don't often come to mind because I don't usually see them - a classic case of "out of sight, out of mind." Flying Bison (here in Buffalo, NY) made a rye beer once but you could only get it at the brewery, and they only made one batch. You can probably guess why they only made it once - it wasn't popular. I let my lamentations be known to them but they pretty much just shrugged and said "Too bad, so sad." As much as I regret their decision, I'd rather they not waste their time (and lose potential profits) making something that only I would drink.

As you can guess from the name, Rye beers include rye with the usual ingredients (barley, hops, water, yeast). They tend to have higher ABVs (7.5-8.5%) so they are a drier beer but have a delicious spicy nose and taste from the rye grain. Maybe my Germanic roots plant a love of this grain into my being? I also tend to prefer the flavor of rye whiskey over most other American whiskies. I think I should open my bottle of rye and write about that soon too...

Back to the beer! This particular rye beer is an IPA-inspired rye, so it is a pretty hoppy beer as well. Unfortunately, I ruined my palate this evening with my dinner (a Moroccan-spiced red lentil dish) so I can only reflect on the basic aspects of this beer. However, at this most basic level, the combination of spicy rye and citrusy hops make this beer much more interesting than your "normal" rye beer. Neither aroma overpowers the other and they weave together to coat the tongue with a well-balanced flavor. The only problem is that there is a lot of alcohol on the nose - and it's only 7.5% ABV. This masks some of the other aromas which I cannot get pickup in the taste due to my previously-mentioned ruined palate. Nevertheless, a thoroughly enjoyable beer.

Keep on the lookout for this, and other, rye beers. They are often forgotten and I'm not sure why...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale


I have always had great respect for The Stone Brewery. They love to make beer and they are always trying to out-do themselves. They don't always succeed but they do most of the time. However, I haven't purchased anything from Stone in awhile because it's a beer that has to travel a long distance.

For all intents and purposes, beer is a food product that is best served fresh or needs to be preserved to prevent "spoilage." Due to the alcohol in beer, it doesn't spoil in the same way that most food items would spoil (i.e. cause gastro-intestinal distress for days if consumed) but it won't taste as good as when it was first made.

This should only be kept in mind for "craft beer." The mass-market beers will taste the same either way.

Like most consumer goods in this country, beer is shipped in truck containers to distribution centers and then to retail outlets and, finally, into your hands. For the most part, these containers are not temperature-controlled so the beer can go through extreme temperature variations. Furthermore, the beer can sit in distribution centers or on the shelf for a long period of time - and not always in a temperature-controlled environment. Therefore the longer the distance your beer has to travel, the greater the possibility that the beer will be in these unfavorable conditions. That is why I generally try to purchase regional beer (Rust Belt or New York State beers) since the exposure to these factors is smaller than those produced either across more than one time zone or across the Atlantic (or Pacific). However, some breweries employee contract brewers. For example, in Upstate New York if I buy Sam Adams, it isn't brewed in Massachusetts but rather in Rochester, NY (at High Falls - formerly Genesee). Nevertheless, it's easier to just drink local beer than to find who your local contract brewer is and what they are brewing.

However, I took a chance here since this beer is brewed in California (although they may contract brew now too - I'll have to investigate). I knew I was going to have to be really committed to this beer too (if purchased) because most Stone beers only come in the 22 oz. bottle. Although they've been offering the 6-pack option on some of their other beers (at least that is the case here in Upstate New York) that was not an option for this beer. I guess it is better to have only one bottle of beer you don't like vs. five more 12-oz. bottles of beer you don't like: the Deuce-Deuce-Only option isn't all that bad.

I decided to have it today because, like yesterday, it is another gloomy, wet, and cold day in Buffalo, NY and needed something to warm me up: a heavy beer seemed like a good idea. Beer and (American) football just seem to go hand-in-hand too. When I poured it, I was surprised at how dark it was. Had I read the description (which I decided to do after I started to drink it), it would not have been a surprise. I was expecting something like a Imperial Stout or porter and it is what one would describe as an Imperial Porter.  I guess Black IPA is another style that could be used but that's bullsh*t - everyone goes crazy for IPAs these days so I consider that style just some marketing tool.  Anyway, it has a pretty high ABV (alcohol by volume) of over 8% and dark-beer qualities, but it doesn't have the same mouth-feel as an Imperial Stout (i.e heavy). This is not to say it doesn't have any weight but it doesn't have that intense motor-oil, tongue-coating, feel an Imperial Stout would.

My initial expectations of the taste (based on the color) were fulfilled but there was something else in the smell and taste that I couldn't quite determine. The end of the sip had a somewhat sweeter quality to it. The beer was mostly very bitter but it wasn't a very citrus-hoppy bitterness: this bitterness came mostly from the dark malt that was used. At first I assumed this "sweetness" was from some residual malt sugar. However, because it is such a high-ABV beer and was pretty dry, it didn't make sense why there would be must residual sugar - at least enough to be that noticeable. The more I sipped, the more this sweetness reminded me of the sweetness one gets from exceptionally dark chocolate. It's almost as if the chocolate is so bitter, it's sweet - this beer is not different. The more I reflected on it, the more I realized that it was unlike Stone not to hop their beer. Stone prides themselves on how they can craft a beer - especially the hop/malt ratio. That's when it hit me - dark orange chocolate. This was what I couldn't quite identify at first. That sweetness was the citrus from the hops combining well with the dark-chocolate qualities of this beer style to create this lingering flavor. Satisfied with this self-discovery I decided to share this beer with everyone else.

Whenever you read a tasting review like this you have to keep a few things in mind. First, taste is entirely subjective - what I taste is not necessarily what you'll taste. Second, it's not as if this would taste like dark orange chocolate all the time - it's just a subtle note. Third, although it seems like a really pretentious thing to go into this much detail, this process helps to identify other qualities of the wine, beer or spirit for pairing purposes. For example, if I had a piece of dark orange-chocolate and wanted a beer to go with it then this would be a better choice over other beers of this style. This "pairing point" seems like it is in opposition to the first point. Not necessarily - there are certain general qualities that can be agreed upon but it's the final interpretation that is subjective. Dark and bitter with citrus notes I identify as "dark orange chocolate" while someone else may say "coffee with a shot of Grand Marnier." Furthermore, it's part of what makes drinking alcohol that much more interesting. It makes this a much more active process and enhances the experience. Finally, and related to the third point, it helps you to discover what you really enjoy about a drink. If you open your mind to new things, you might even find something you like in a drink you originally assumed you wouldn't. For example, I hated scotch at first but when I "actively tasted" it (for lack of a better term) I changed my mind and now enjoy even the smokiest of Islays.

Anyway, I'm digressing. If you can take anything from this post, remember to try and drink your beer locally but if you choose too drink your beer from elsewhere keep the above warnings in mind. Plus, you can always trust Stone to make a delicious beer.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Delord Bas Napoleon Armagnac


As posted earlier today, I decided to write about drinking. It was quickly written and I don't feel I adequately explained why alcohol is important to me. All of this sounds as though I am obsessed with alcohol but I can assure you that I am not. My love for it is an extension of my personality - it's the little things in life that are important to me. The best way for me to explain this is through a little story.

For years I was obsessed with having a perfect mug for my coffee. The way I see it, if I have to get up early and go to a job that I really don't want to go to, then I need to have something enjoyable in the morning. My enjoyment comes as a quiet morning reading the news, with a glass of juice, a bowl of cereal/oatmeal, and a delicious cup of coffee. However, I don't like to buy cheap coffee. Since I drink my coffee black, I can't cover up any of the off-flavors in bad coffee with cream or sugar. Therefore, it has to be really good coffee. Obviously, I'm not made of money so I can't purchase coffee without regard to price. However, whatever it is I'm willing to pay for my coffee, I should enjoy that coffee for what it is and not just as a nervous system stimulator. Therefore this good coffee needs a good mug. Again, this is about having a good morning - I should feel comfortable at all times. The mug needs to be an extension of myself. I shouldn't feel as though I have this thing in my hand that contains coffee. I shouldn't have to consciously think of the mug at all. It should just be there. I'll stop here and say I never actually gave a mug this much thought before but as I reflect on it now, this explanation makes sense. Anyway, I never had that level of comfort until my friend introduced me to Bennington Potters trigger-handle coffee mugs. He inherited these mugs from his grandmother and there were plenty of mornings that I truly enjoyed my coffee in these mugs. Some of the mugs were glazed, others were not but they all felt perfectly comfortable in my hands. When he moved out, I was devasted because he took the mugs with him. However, he knew how important they had become to me so he and his partner bought me some for my following birthday. I had my mornings again. I could enjoy my coffee fully once more. I still don't like getting up to go to work but at least I have my mornings to help me ease into the rest of the day and those mugs make it that much better.

How does all of this tie into alcohol? Alcohol is something we enjoy with nearly every meal, something we enjoy with friends and family, or just something we have while sitting on the porch, or reading a book, or watching a movie. For example, when you have dinner with friends, you might have a bottle or two of wine. If it's cheap wine then things are still fun, but when it's a good bottle of wine, everything is better. Alcohol is like the coffee mug - when it is right, it augments the experience. That is why I buy the "strange" liquors that I do or why I am willing to spend just a few dollars extra on others - if I can make that simple thing just that much better, it makes everything else better.

Plus, the history and science behind all this alcohol is fascinating too. That's also why I want to write about it...

This first post will be about the armagnac that rests in the decanter on my credenza.

Armagnac is a member of the the brandy family. Brandy is basically distilled wine. Most brandies are made from grapes but you also have other fruit brandies. Some of these others include Kirschwasser (cherries), Framboise (raspberries), and grappa (grape pomace). There are plenty of other finer points to address on these brandies but those are for another time. Today, I'm having some Armagnac.

Perhaps the most famous brandy is cognac. Armagnac is cognac's lesser-known but equally pretentious brother. Like cognac, armagnac is French and comes from a region of France with the same name. Both are distilled spirits and both are aged in oak barrels. However, the major distinctions between the two is how they are produced. Cognac is twice-distilled in pot stills, armagnac distilled only once in column stills. What's the difference? Distillation is what purifies the spirit. Each time the spirit is distilled, more and more non-ethyl-alcohol chemicals are pulled out of the spirit. The armagnac makers claim that distilling only once helps to preserve more of the flavors inherent to the drink, whereas the cognac makers claim the distilling twice makes the drink smoother and more elegant. While I enjoy both, I tend to agree with the amagnac makers more - cognac is slightly smoother but armagnac tastes better. However, history has been kinder to cognac so it has the current edge in popularity.

I like to look at the Russian language here for some insight into cognac's dominance. The Russian word for "brandy" is "konyak" (transliterated here). My guess is that the Russian Imperial court and their love of all things French (starting with Peter the Great) introduced brandy to their country via cognac. Cognac probably had a slight edge on armagnac to begin with, but with the Russian Imperial Court wanting it now too things could only go up for cognac. Poor armagnac. But at least the rest of us will benefit from cognac's dominance - we get something that is just as good as cognac but for less money!

It is a cold and gloomy Saturday afternoon and I opted for some brandy to warm me up a bit. Unfortunately I don't really remember which armagnac it is, but I'm pretty sure it's Delord Bas Napoleon Armagnac. It retails normally for around $35 and has won a lot of praises for its quality (relative to price). I have to agree. It has a beautiful copper color and a bouquet of dried figs, honey, and hints of marjoram. The first sip bites at the tongue slightly but that quickly subsides into the warm feeling that brandy always produces, with the flavors of the grapes and oak coming out more fully here than on the nose. The body is light so the taste disappears quicker than I'd like it to but an enjoyable brandy on the whole. I will probably step away from this computer and enjoy this brandy with a good book now.

I hope you will try an armagnac the next time you see one.

New Blog Direction

This blog has gone through a few different format changes. The first was an attempt to actually post the Po' Nutrition Fax but that wasn't engaging enough. The second format change was to (basically) a series of complaints - Andy Rooney style. I occasionally attempted application of economic theory (because I was in graduate school for, you guessed it, economics at the time), however, I don't think I applied the theory very well. It was maybe a case of blog envy. Tom, who I attended grad school with, applied statistical theory very well in his baseball blog whereas I was "half-assing" it. You can still read some of my old posts, I probably won't get rid of all of them.

I haven't posted on Po' Nutrition Fax for quite sometime and with good reason: I don't want to be Andy Rooney anymore. Although there are a lot of things to hate, I can only complain so much.

Therefore I have decided to end this blog's current format and change its direction entirely (again). Instead of complaining, I'm going to write about the booze I drink.

As you can see from the pictures below I have a lot of alcohol in my apartment:


Drink cart - this needs to find a new spot in our apartment


Wine and beer rack. Hard cider on floor, brandies and scotches in decanters on the credenza

The reason why there is so much is due to my love of alcohol. This is not me taking the first step of twelve steps. I don't drink to feel good about myself or any of the other reasons one will resort to alcohol. I am not trying to make light of a serious problem (alcoholism runs in my family so the specter looms) but I am making the point that I don't have all of this liquor, wine, and beer just to get drunk. If I did have a problem there would not even be that much in the house (since I would have drank it all) nor would I be blogging about it. In fact I have all of this because I worked for a few years at a wine and liquor store where I developed a taste for "finer" things. My motto became "Life is too short to drink cheap." So not only do I buy a variety of great whiskies and other standard bar items, like this delicious gin:


But I also I buy non-standard bottles, like this Turkish Raki (an anise-flavored spirit):

However, these bottles pile up. Not only is the occasion to drink Raki or Framboise a rare occurrence but sometimes I'll almost be out of scotch and feel it necessary to buy a new bottle. When that new bottle gets low, I'll be in a bourbon mood so I'll buy bourbon. So I'll have two nearly-empty bottles of scotch and a new bourbon. And so on, and so on...

This "new" blog will put all of that liquor to good use and give me something creative to do - write about something that I love.

Therefore I will write about these bottles I already have, as well as the new things I try and all of the interesting and delicious beers I drink. I will largely ignore wine. Although I do enjoy a fine bottle of wine, there are enough wine blogs out there. In addition, I can't write as well about wine as those people do. Basically those people love wine, I just like it. This is not to say I wouldn't occasionally write about a really good bottle but it will not be the focus of the blog.

I will not just write about how these things taste, but talk about the history, chemistry, cultural significance or whatever else is interesting about whatever it is I am drinking. I may just tell you about my day and why I felt it was necessary to pour myself a snifter of Kirschwasser. Whatever it is, I hope to show you why I love to drink what I drink.

It is too early in the morning for me to begin writing a post about a specific bottle but I will probably have a dram or snifter of something this evening and will make sure to let you know what I think about it.