Wednesday, May 29, 2013

“Chug” – A New Show Funded On Kickstarter



As some of you may know, in addition to my own blog, I also write blog posts for the Web site Drinking Made Easy.  The Web site provides additional content for a TV show by the same name that was hosted by Zane Lamprey and appeared on Mark Cuban’s HDNet television network.  As a fan of Zane’s previous show, “Three Sheets” (which ran on the Mojo HD network), I was excited to help support Zane in his new effort by providing drinking-themed articles for the TV show’s Web site.  Unfortunately, the television show “Drinking Made Easy” is no more, even though its associated Web site is still around and I continue to supply it with posts (along with many other people). 

The reason for this blog post is to let you know about Zane’s new project and also to ask you for your help.  “Chug” is another drinking-related show that Zane will host – except instead of having it appear on a traditional television network, it will be available via the Web only (at least for the time being).  Since it’s not being backed by a TV network, Zane is trying to raise money to shoot the episodes by crowd-funding it on Kickstarter.  For those of you who aren’t already familiar with it, Kickstarter is a Web site that allows people to pitch their special projects to the general public in the hope that folks will be so intrigued with the idea that they will contribute some money – hopefully enough to get their dream off the ground. 

This is where you come in.  Zane needs to raise a minimum of $500,000 on the Kickstarter site by the end of May, otherwise he loses whatever amount folks have contributed up to that point, preventing “Chug” episodes from being produced.  As of this writing, he’s very close to his goal with just a couple of days left to reach the target.  If you contribute, you will receive various benefits – the more you contribute, the more (and better!) the benefits you get in return. 

Please check out the additional information below; afterwards, if you’re considering making a pledge to help “Chug” get made, please click this link to visit Chug’s Kickstarter page

Thanks … and cheers!



Saturday, May 25, 2013

Booze And Burlesque



For the third year in a row, I was fortunate enough to attend an event at The Manhattan Cocktail Classic.  This year, I went to a Cointreau mixology event called “Putting The Tail In Cocktail” at The Macao Trading Company in the TriBeCa section of Manhattan.  During this event, we were treated to a lecture about how both burlesque and cocktails thrived during Prohibition – Era Manhattan.  The cocktails part of the discussion was conducted by Kyle Ford, the cocktails and spirits expert at Cointreau; his talk also consisted of sampling various cocktails that included Cointreau in their recipe. 

As for the burlesque portion of the evening, the lecture was given by “The Asian Sexsation” herself, Calamity Chang, a local burlesque performer who also produces shows in the New York City area – and yes, just in case you’re wondering, her presentation also included a demonstration of the grand art itself by several of Ms. Chang’s expert ecdysiasts. 

With the recent opening of Baz Luhrmann’s film version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”, the theme of this evening felt particularly timely.    Ford began by stating that during the period known as The Roaring 20’s, burlesque and cocktails flourished because of the country’s environment.  The United States was experiencing peace time and the economy was good; increasingly, Americans were opting for city life and consumerism, causing more cities than farms to spring up and an increasing exodus of the citizens to these teeming population centers. 

The decade of the 1920’s was bookended by two major events:  it began with the 18th Amendment to The United States Constitution, which ushered in a time of prohibition of the manufacture, transport and sale of alcohol.  On what came to be known as Black Tuesday – October 29, 1929 – the decade unofficially came to an end when the stock market crashed and the economic era known as The Great Depression started. 

All this while, people tried to secretly make their own alcohol – such as bathtub gin – and much of it was quite bad.  Cocktails came about because they realized that the poor quality of the alcohol needed to be masked with things like juice and/or sweeteners. 

Soon, Speakeasies became popular and such cocktails as The French 75 (a Tom Collins where Champagne replaces gin) , The Bee’s Knees, The Sidecar, The Mary Pickford, Mojitos, Daiquiris, Highballs and Rickeys turned into instant classics.  Speakeasies commonly had what were known as “tipping shelves” behind the bar; these were installed in case the police raided the establishment – during a raid, the bartenders would push the tipping shelves, which would then pour all of their liquor into the sewer so the police could not use it as evidence against them. 



For the first cocktail of the evening, we had something called The Cointreau Rickey, which was Cointreau (of course) served with fresh lime juice and club soda in a tall thin Collins glass. 

The next cocktail was called The Attaboy, made of Ford’s Gin, Cana Brava Rum, Cointreau and fresh lemon juice shaken and served straight up in a coupe glass with a lemon peel floating on top. 

Lastly, we had Cointreau Noir, served neat in a wine glass.  Cointreau is owned by the Remy Martin company, so the marriage of their cognac with the liqueur was somewhat inevitable, I suppose.  Cointreau Noir has a rather nutty nose to it but is by no means overly sweet with the addition of the liqueur to the mix.  Ford characterized this as something of the French version of The Rusty Nail. 


Oh, yeah, I almost forgot – there was a burlesque demonstration afterwards.  Right, well, you know, I could probably write an entire blog post just about that alone – but since this is a cocktail-themed blog, there’s no need to bore everyone with those excruciatingly painful details.  Suffice it to say yes, that indeed turned out to be a live python. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Raise The Macallan – A Scotch Exploration



As a scotch aficionado, I always look forward to either trying something different from what I normally drink or learn about a brand that’s less familiar to me. That’s why I immediately accepted an invitation to an event called Raise The Macallan – a combined tasting and lecture about The Macallan single malt scotch. While it may be your go-to scotch, it’s not one that’s on my list of regulars, so I was extremely eager to get more information and give it a try to see if The Macallan was something I should be adding to my shopping list for the next trip to my neighborhood liquor store.

Brand Ambassador Charles Whitfield led the evening to educate everyone on the various expressions of the Speyside – based scotch. During the course of the event, we tasted a wide range of The Macallan: the 12 year old, 15 year old, a 17 year old and an 18 year old. Before doing so, however, Whitfield gave the crowd a bit of background on whisky, explaining how the various regions of Scotland produced sharply different types of the country’s premium brands. This was followed by an explanation of the word’s etymology. The word “whisky” is derived from the term “uisge beatha”, which means “the water of life”.


Single malt and blended are the two types that account for the most popular scotches. Blended scotch consists of different grains from a single distillery while single malt is a grain from a single location coming from only one distillery.

Whitfield said that The Macallan makes its scotch in small copper pot stills because they conduct heat the best and serve as a catalyst to inhibit sulphur notes from the scotch – an undesirable after effect that can sometimes occur during the distillation process. A single cask can be filled with only 16% of what comes from the distillation.


While you might think that the manufacturing process of a good scotch is Scotland-centric, Whitfield claims that with The Macallan, the process actually begins in Spain because that is the country where the oak trees grow which later become the barrels that store their whisky – a process that can take as long as 118 years. In 1895, acorns were planted to grow the mighty oak trees; at harvest, the trees are cut and made into pieces that will eventually become barrels – but first, they must be allowed to sit for approximately three years for the purpose of air-drying the new wood. The pieces are then shipped to the southwestern region of the country where they are made into barrels and charred in order to store dry oloroso sherry for the next three years. Once emptied, the barrels are then shipped to Scotland, where they are filled with The Macallan for the next 12 years before being bottled.

Second, we tasted the Fine Oak 15 year old. The first thing you notice about this expression is its lighter color making it almost look golden. This is aged in three types of casks – Spanish sherry, American sherry and American oak previously used to age bourbon. Its color comes from the oak during the maturation process. Nosing it reveals notes of vanilla and citrus. Not only is its color light, but so is its taste. While you might not think of any scotch as “refreshing”, that’s exactly how Whitfield characterized this one; he suggested that the 15 year old would make for a good pre-dinner scotch, especially during the summer months.


The evening wrapped up by tasting the 17 year old Fine Oak, followed by the 18 year old sherry oak. Nosing the 17 year old, some of the participants said that they detected honey and vanilla; depending on what part of your tongue it fell on, you might either taste wood and smoke or tropical fruits. By contrast, the 18 year old had somewhat of a cinnamon scent on its nose. Its most striking feature, however, was the rich, smooth finish hitting the back of the tongue.



Saturday, May 11, 2013

Bourbon vs. Rye: A History Of American Brown Spirits



As a whiskey fan, I’ve sometimes experienced something of a love-hate relationship with rye. Its spiciness made it not quite right for me to sip on its own and quite honestly, the only cocktail I’ve been able to drink with it is The Sazerac. Being the open-minded kinda guy I am, I decided it was about time to give it a fair shot – that’s why I attended a tasting called Brown Spirit Mixology at Union Square Wines & Spirits. The tasting, conducted by Alan Katz (one of the founders of Brooklyn’s New York Distilling), analyzed the two spirits in order to help us understand why they worked well in certain types of cocktails. However, the portion that I’ll focus on in this blog post is some of the background and technical information around American-made whiskey.


Katz began the evening with a brief review of the manufacturing process. Whiskey is made from grains – corn, rye and barley – starting with fermentation. With grains, the fermentation process takes the sugar contained in them, mixes it with yeast (which eats the sugar) and converts it to alcohol. The next step is distilling. Distilling further refines the alcohol. Very often you will hear alcohol manufacturers brag about multiple distillations of their spirits, but the fact is that the more a spirit is distilled, the less flavor it contains. A single distillation extracts a certain amount of alcohol from the mash (the cooking of the grains); it’s like wringing water from a washcloth – you may get out anywhere from 90 – 95% of the water, but rarely 100%. A 2nd distillation removes 30% of the alcohol, resulting in a 140 proof spirit; it is then diluted to get the alcohol content down to 125 proof in order to comply with the law.

As with any industry, this one tends to have its own unique terminology; very often, you might see a label that says “straight bourbon” or “straight rye”. What does this mean? “Straight” by law means United States whiskey contains a minimum of 51% of its main ingredient – this of course means rye for that spirit or corn with respect to bourbon.


Some bottles may even be labeled “Bottled In Bond”. “Bottled In Bond” refers to a government act of 1897 requiring a federal bond agent be present in every distillery to essentially audit the spirit producer’s manufacturing process. This would include checking the paperwork and ensuring that there are no impurities to verify that what is actually in the bottle is precisely what a manufacturer claims it contains. Nowadays, however, the term is generally used as a designation of the alcohol’s level of proof – 100 proof whiskey.

Since the taste of wood in the spirit is an important feature, many connoisseurs want to know when a whiskey was barreled and when it was bottled; this is considered important because the weather can impact how flavor is imparted to the spirit from the barrel. How many weather extremes – specifically, summers and winters – did a particular whiskey experience during its aging process?


With respect to aging, there are also specific regulations that must be observed by a whiskey manufacturer. In the United States, bourbon or rye must be aged in a new barrel, for example. This rule came about back in 1964 due to unions – government representatives from the states where these barrels were made pushed for this regulation in order to keep employees from these states working. The barrels are made of new American oak. Why oak? Well, to some degree, it was because of the strength of that wood, but in part, it also occurred as a result of chance because oak just so happened to be most of what was planted at the time, so it also became somewhat of a forestry issue. Since the barrels always must be new, they can never be used again to make American whiskey once they have been emptied. As a result, they are instead resold around the world to be used in the aging of scotch in Scotland and rum in the Caribbean.


Thursday, May 09, 2013

“You Will Be My Son” – Movie Review



In the final session for the Spring Semester of my movie class, we saw a French drama, “You Will Be My Son”.


When a winemaker overlooks his son for a promotion by hiring an outsider, will their familial and professional relationships survive?


Paul may be a prize-winning winemaker, but he certainly won’t be winning any Father Of The Year awards any time soon – in general, he’s just a mean old S.O.B. He constantly mistreats Martin, his only son and one of his employees, by berating him, publicly humiliating him and insisting he is unfit for this business. When Francois, Paul’s long-time trusted estate manager, is given a fatal diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, he informs his employer that the doctors’ prognosis is rather grim – six months left to live, at the very best. When Martin shows interest in being Francois’ replacement, Paul merely scoffs at the idea, informing his son that he believes Martin to be completely unqualified for the position.

Philippe, Francois’ son, leaves his job at a prestigious California winery in order to return to France so that he may spend as much time as possible with his ailing father during his last days. During the visit, he meets with Paul, who is impressed with Philippe’s knowledge of both the technical and business aspects of winemaking. Soon, Paul looks upon Philippe as the son he didn’t have but should have had and deserved to have. As time goes on, Paul sees that Philippe would be better at handling Francois’ job than Martin, so Paul eventually offers him a permanent job to replace Francois, both humiliating and infuriating Martin.

Unknown to everyone else, Paul ultimately winds up meeting with his lawyer in order to discuss the possibility of actually adopting Philippe. The lawyer advises Paul that it is legally possible to do so, even though Philippe is an adult, but there may be obstacles in the form of Martin and both of Philippe’s parents. Nevertheless, Paul instructs the lawyer to begin the process; Philippe, however is now torn – while flattered by the opportunity to eventually inherit the winery and associated vineyard from Paul, he has simultaneously been offered a very lucrative position with a wine distributor. But once Martin learns of Paul’s plans to squeeze him out of the family business, can he somehow manage to hold on to his job while maintaining a relationship with his father at the same time?


Although I described “You Will Be My Son” as a drama, its genre could just as easily be characterized as a thriller. This is due to the fact that the story takes an unusual turn later on which makes it particularly interesting and surpassing what might otherwise be considered merely a soap opera. Believe me, no one will ever confuse this with other wine-related movies, especially “Sideways”. If you’re going to make any comparisons, think of it as being like that old TV show “Falcon Crest” with a French twist.

The screenplay does a particularly good job in providing well-drawn characters with distinct personas and unique traits. Martin is seen by Paul as a total loser, but Martin is anything but – married to Alice, a beautiful and intelligent woman who sees through her father-in-law’s manipulations and knows her husband as the skilled, knowledgeable professional that he truly is; by including the character of Alice, the filmmaker is basically telling us, “Don’t buy Paul’s side of the story because Martin isn’t as much of a chump as Paul might lead you to believe he is”. Other nice touches in the screenplay include the ever-raised stakes and the distinctions between the way Paul is experienced by strangers publicly versus how he behaves with family privately.

Following the screening, Gilles Legrand, the director and co-screenwriter of “You Will Be My Son”, was interviewed by our instructor. Legrand discussed his screenplay writing process and mentioned that he was initially working out of an office he shared with other writers. At one point in writing the screenplay, he got stuck and began going over the story with one of his officemates, a woman who was primarily a novelist. After making some rather trenchant observations and contributing several suggestions about both character development and story structure, Legrand invited her to co-write the script with him; she accepted his offer and wound up with her first screenplay credit with this film.


You Will Be My Son (2011) on IMDb 6.8/10239 votes

Thursday, May 02, 2013

“What Maisie Knew” – Movie Review



This week in my movie class, we saw the drama “What Maisie Knew”, starring Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan.


When a divorced couple battle over custody of their daughter, what impact will it have on their child?


Susanna (Moore) and Beale (Coogan) are nearing the end of their marriage – a fact not lost on their seven year old daughter Maisie (Onata Aprile), who overhears their incessant bickering. When the court decides that primary custody will go to Beale, he brings along Margo (Joanna Vanderham), their live-in Nanny, to care for Maisie when he’s at work so Maisie will have some degree of consistency in her life amidst so many extreme changes. Soon, however, Beale’s business relationship with Margo turns personal and they wind up falling in love with each other, culminating in marriage.

Grass is not growing beneath Susanna’s feet, however, as she also marries – in this case, her bartender boyfriend Lincoln (Alexander SkarsgĂ„rd), who quickly gets pulled into this tug of war with Maisie. While both parents started out wanting to be Maisie’s primary caregiver, she eventually turns into an inconvenient hot potato that neither parent wishes to hold. As a musician, Susanna is constantly touring around the country by bus in order to play paid gigs. Beale, for his part, began with a more stable lifestyle, but soon his own work requires him to do considerably more business-related traveling.

When things start to fall apart between both parents and their new partners, complications develop with respect to Maisie’s care. It turns out that both Lincoln and Margo have bonded with Maisie more than her real parents have; furthermore, they appear to be more interested in the child’s well-being than either Susanna or Beale. Inevitably, things slip through the cracks given everyone’s conflicting schedules and Susanna drops off Maisie at Lincoln’s bar, not knowing he isn’t scheduled to work there on that evening. Eventually, Maisie winds up in the care of Margo, who by now has been abandoned by Beale. Thereafter, Lincoln shows up and joins Margo as surrogate parents for Maisie. But when Susanna surprises the three of them by springing up mid-tour to try to drag her daughter with her on the road, will she succeed?


Set in New York City, “What Maisie Knew” is a modernized film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Henry James. While I’ve never read any of James’ work, I have seen some of their motion picture adaptations – usually in this movie class. Generally speaking, most professional film critics seem to have been uniformly underwhelmed by those versions and were resigned to believing that James’ work was unable to be translated to the big screen. “What Maisie Knew” might just prove to be the exception.

The story is told from the perspective of Maisie herself and Onata Aprile, the young actress playing that role, does a spectacular job. In order for this movie to work, we have to believe that Maisie has the intelligence, sensitivity and maturity to get through everything that life seems to be throwing her way. Thanks in no small part to this little girl’s acting skills, viewers should have no problem doing so. The keys to this film’s success is the choice that was made by the filmmakers to tell the story from Maisie’s point of view and the acting choices made by Onata Aprile so that an audience will buy the fact that her character of Maisie is both smarter and more grown-up than either of her biological parents.

From the outset of the movie, I was curious about its title and immediately wanted to learn what it meant. Did this child have the goods on someone? One of the benefits of my movie class is the group discussion that occurs after each film, and this one was particularly helpful because it forced me to derive my own understanding of the title’s meaning. For me, what Maisie knew was how to adapt, survive and know what things she needed in life and how to go about obtaining them. She knew courage and she knew maturity – maturity and abandonment are, I believe, the central themes of the motion picture. As difficult as it may be to watch at times, I highly recommend that you see “What Maisie Knew” with friends and afterwards, ask them their interpretation of the title. They will likely have unique answers because each individual can personalize this movie in whatever manner they please – and that endlessly enriches the enjoyment of “What Maisie Knew”.