Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Beer List Update and Various Musings

Hello Gang.  Long time no blog.  I was drinking a whisky I never had before, and had the urge to blog about it.  No promises that blogging will resume on any regular basis, but I just can't quite let Urban Grain die, even though, at this point, I primarily use it to store my beer list.  Speaking of my beer list, I just added 78 beers, which brings the grand total to 1,032.  What a benchmark.  I know beer geeks seek to get to 10,000, which is a rare club.  But I have no desire to get there.  For one thing, I enjoy whisky too much to focus on beer pursuits.  For another, I like to rotate in new beers, but more often than not, I find myself reaching for old favorites.  For example, is there a better IPA than Bells Two Hearted?  I find that some of the early craft brews I tried are still the best, i.e., Chimay. 

If there is a better standard release IPA than Two Hearted, it may be Jai Alai, from Cigar City, rated the 4th best brewery in the world in 2013 by Rate Beer.  Jai Alai is just so juicy and goes great with all kinds of food.  I am in Tampa right now, and recently got to taste a bunch of their stuff at the brewery.  They have a beer aged in cigar boxes, Tony Jannus, that was super interesting.  And we arrived just in time for the 2015 release of Oak Aged Jai Alai, which I grab a couple of 4 packs of.  Special stuff.  Other noteable beers I tried this year were Thai Chile Wahoo Wheat from Ballast Point, Firestone Walker Double DBA 2014, and a bunch of good stuff from Indiana during a recent visit.  Neshaminy Creek has made a run at the Philly scene, their cream ale is so simple but good, and their can art is fun, too.  At beer week, friends and I got to drink Kentucky Breakfast Stout, as well as Firestone Walker Anniversary Ale 17, fantastic beer.  But one of my favorites from this year was a new release from Yards, Lazy Hammock (Belgian IPA), it's brewed for Spruce Street Harbor park.  It's such a simple and delightful beer that pairs perfectly with the vibe over there, and it's not bad for washing down a Federal Donuts fried chicken sammy, either. 

Anyhow, the other day I checked out a local liquor store here in Tampa.  I'm always on the hunt for what bourbons are available in other markets, and the last time I was here, I was able to get a bottle of Weller 12 for under 30 bucks at this same local chain, so I was hopeful.  No such luck on the 12 year, but I did get a handle of Weller Reserve which is no longer available in PA.  And also took a chance on a bourbon called Tom Sims 6 year.  Not a lot of information about it online, though there are some rumors that it is Weller juice.  Not likely.  The fact that it says Bardstown on the label, in addition to the vague branding, scream Heaven Hill.  So what about the juice?  Good stuff.  You can't beat 12 bucks a bottle for 86 proof, 2 years older than Beam white, nice for sipping juice that also makes a decent old fashioned, too.  They sell a 4 year for a couple bucks cheaper but I doubt I'll try it when this one is such a steal.  Six years is not super old but it's nice to see an age statement of any kind these days.  Which brings me to the reason for posting.  Taking things for granted.  I would guess that Tom Sims is a staple for the bourbon community in Florida, but they could lose it at any time.  The distillery could funnel the product to other, more lucrative labels.  They could strip the age statement, send it to a different market, or stop producing it altogether.  I would guess that bourbon drinkers, as a group, prefer constancy over change.  But time marches on, and when you have been a bourbon drinker for a few years, you start to see label changes.  Jim Beam Black used to be in my regular rotation.  But I have been resisting buying it since they changed it from "Double Aged, 8 year" to "Extra Aged."  I understand the logic that Beam has a bunch of 5-7 year old whisky on hand, since they don't really sell products in that age range.  And they will probably keep the taste profile the same.  But I still feel slighted.  I like to picture the bourbon resting the in barrels, "asleep many years in the wood," as some of the Van Winkle bourbons say.  Van Winkle is an example of something I took for granted when I first purchased a bottle of the 15 year for $55 OFF OF THE SHELF.  Elijah Craig recently moved it's 12 year statement to the back of the bottle, will that be the next one to change?  Old heads post about the proofing change of Eagle Rare, disappearance of Stitzel-Weller, Wild Turkey 101 dropping its age statement, and so on.  So my question is, what in the drinks world are you taking for granted, and would be sad to see disappear?

Fortunately for all of us, there is plenty of good stuff out there, we just need slightly open minds, and palates.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Beer List Update

Just added 94 new beers that I had over the past 13 months.  A few noteables:

Amiata Contessa, beautiful Italian IPA on tap at Alla Spina.

Auchentoshan Heather Ale aged in scotch barrels

Great Lakes Chillwave IPA

Russian River-Blind Pig, Dead Leaf Green, Pliny the Elder, Perdition

Magnolia Brewing (San Francisco)-Oyster Head Stout, drank it with some awesome west coast oysters

Game of Thrones Take the Black Stout

And a bunch of beers from our West Coast trip, which included a stop at Russian River.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hoarding and Release

As you can see, for a time, I saved whisky packaging.  I thought it was fancy.  I envisioned having a cool basement bar and using them to decorate.  I even saved some bottles.  One such bottle was a gift of Prichard’s Double Barrel, signed by Phil Prichard himself.  For some folks, Prichard’s is the “high water mark" of bourbon.  I had a bottle of Maker’s Mark that my wife dipped in wax at the distillery, and one that was signed by the Samuels Family.  I saved empty Van Winkle bottles, and bottles from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.  I saved the tin that held my first bottle of Laphroaig, and a box that once held  some Tomatin, a scotch from Inverness, Scotland, a place I was lucky enough to visit while studying abroad.  A wooden box for Booker’s, a tin holding bourbon that survived a tornado, and a container for Speyburn, the first single malt I ever purchased.  But I’m moving on.  Rowhome living makes it necessary to clean out now and then.  I filled a whole recycling bin and more with my whisky souvenirs.  And it felt good.  In a similar vein, I have set out to drink some of the whiskies I have been stockpiling.  I posted about  rebottling some of your more special stuff to prevent oxidation (I got the idea from the Sour Mash Manifesto blog).  The bottles also makes for neat little gifts and trades for like minded whisky enthusiasts.  The other night, I drank some Thomas Handy Sazerac from a couple of years ago.  It was fairly well preserved, but didn’t taste as it once did, having been slightly oxidized.  It was a lesson to not hold on to something for too long, and to move forward on my quest.  I do have a couple of Van Winkle bottles that I may keep sealed as long as I can tolerate (a fear of mine is that I will move someday and have to transport them safely…) but otherwise nothing is off limits.  Life is too short. 
As far as this blog, of late I have not had time or inspiration.  For a while I shared random thoughts, mixed in with whisky reviews, movie reviews, and “what I am drinking posts.”  Should I streamline?  Maybe a weekly post of “what I am drinking” would give it focus?  There are tons of good whisky review sites, I don’t know that my voice is of much use there.  But  I am open to suggestions,  and want to give the people what they want.  Ideas?  

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

In Defense of Rocky V

Rocky V is widely regarded as the worst Rocky film, even worse than Rocky Balboa, which features a 60 year old Sly Stallone returning to the ring.  It may be the worst of the 6 films, but for me I still enjoy it.   The premise of Rocky managing an up and coming fighter from Oklahoma—or “Orlando”, as the Rock says—is a good one.  The concept of the Balboas losing all of their money due to Paulie giving away his power of attorney is a bit unrealistic, but it sets the stage for Rocky to return to the streets of Philly, where he cut his teeth in life.  It makes for a decent dynamic.  The film features the character George Washington Duke--an over the top caricature of Don King, who, though ridiculous, is entertaining.  And stars Tommy Morrison as Tommy “The Machine” Gunn, Rocky’s protégé.  
Some of the highlights
Rocky getting so involved in Tommy’s ascent to the top that he neglects his own son (played by Stallone’s real life son Sage) is a good cautionary tale.  Of course it's a false dichotomy, like there is no way to train a fighter and raise your own son at the same time?
The flashbacks to Mickey, like everything else in the film, are a bit overdone but still can fire you up: “If you ever get hurt and you feel that you're goin' down this little angel is gonna whisper in your ear. It's gonna say, 'Get up you son of a bitch 'cause Mickey loves you'. Okay?”
The “Heart and Fire” montage.  While it loses points for using cheesy newspaper headlines to speed the plot point of the decaying relationship between Tommy and Rocky, e.g. “Rocky’s Robot”, watching Tommy Morrison tear up some bums interspersed with Rocky teaching him to punch by blowing bubbles is amazing cinema.
Rocky breaking out his street fighting moves from his loan sharking days.
Some of the lowlights
Rocky lives at the end.  Director John Avildsen, who directed the 1st film in the series (Best Picture 1976), has stated that Rocky was supposed to die at the end of the streetfight.  But the studio execs said, “Batman doesn’t die, why would Rocky?”  Of course keeping him alive also keeps alive the hope of sequels.  But maybe Rocky dying would have been contrary to the film franchise’s message of hope for the underdog?  Stallone has said as much in interviews.
Take You Back “hip hop” version (just bad)
Rocky envisioning Ivan Drago when he fights Tommy Gunn at the end.  Why Drago?   I guess it’s because they are both white and it was the most recent fight, the one that causes his brain damage?  But it seems hokey.
The woman that George Washington Duke uses to seduce Tommy Gunn is not even all that hot.  I mean, don’t get me wrong…Just sayin’, they must have been able to find someone hotter?
That same woman has the single cheesiest line in the film.  George Washington Duke tells Tommy, “No one remembers second place.”  And the woman says, “I know I don’t.”  As if telling someone you would drop them like a bad habit if they ever lose is a turn on.
Also, George Washington Duke says Tommy will live in regret if he never fights Rocky, thinking he only got a shot "because of his skin tone."  It's racial commentary that is totally without any context or apparent rationale.
At the end of the movie, George Washington Duke (can't get enough of that name) is telling Tommy to get up during the streetfight, after begging him to fight Rocky "only in the ring."  Why would Duke want his asset to get further bloodied?
A minor inconsistency-Rocky's kid sees him smoking early in the film, but later Rocky tells him that as he grew up, he "wised up" about smoking and other "bad things." 
Neither high or lowlight
Tommy Morrison’s acting.  It’s not good.  But somehow I believe that this ripped boxing champ is some punk kid from Oklahoma.  Flip a coin between his and Antonio Tarver’s performance in Rocky 6…
 For all its flaws, I feel that the story told in Rocky V has a rightful place in the character’s history.  I still can’t resist it when it’s on tv.  And because you’ve probably seen it the least of any of the Rocky movies, when you do sit down to watch it’s fresher.