I had no idea this video existed until today. I’m shocked, stunned, and thrilled. Hound Dog Taylor was probably the first blues musician that caught my ear. It was “Give me Back my Wig,” off an Alligator Records compilation. I don’t remember when I first heard that song, or exactly when I first got hooked on the blues. But I know it was that song, and when I first started my own radio show in college, it was that song that opened every show for a year. Of course as I got into blues, Little Walter Jacobs also came onto my radar pretty quickly. I was dabbling in harp myself, and Walter is the Charlie Parker of blues harmonica. Now, both these guys are fully equipped to kick ass. Surprisingly, this track turns out pretty mellow, but it’s got a great sound, and the footage is great. Particularly, this is an interesting moment in time because this video is said to be from 1967. Walter died in ’68, and Hound Dog wouldn’t even be recorded until ’71. Here we have a dying legend sharing the stage with an underground figure, yet to be a legend in his own right. So bluesers and boozers, dig in and enjoy. Also, see if you can see Hound Dog’s extra fingers, (he was born with Polydactylyism) I didn’t but maybe you will.

Review: Lagunitas Undercover Shut-Down Ale

Lagunitas makes no shortage of good great beer, and when I saw a local pizzeria carrying this enigmatically titled brew, I couldn’t pass it up.  Lagunitas, out of Petaluma, California, has a history of christening their beers with…unusual names.  There are normal names of course, like “Hop Stoopid” and “IPA” (clever, that one), but then there are less telling names, like “Lil’ Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale,” “The Hairy Eyeball,” “Lagunitas Sucks,”my personal favorite, and “Wilco Hotel Foxtrot,” a collaboration with the band Wilco that describes it’s style as a jobless recovery ale, which from what I remember was very tasty and full of booze.  I guess that’s what you need when you’re jobless.  It’s good to note that a lot of these don’t even have a style listed on the label, as with our star tonight.  Looking at the label I know it’s 9.6% alcohol by volume, abv for those in the know, and 66.6 Ibu’s, International Bitterness Units for those not in the know.  That’s a lot of booze, and a good amount of bitter, though not too high.  Also on the label is the myth behind our puzzling name.  In tiny print around the edge of the label reads: “We brewed this especially bitter ale in dedication to all of the world’s would be astronauts, in remembrance of the 2005 St. Patrick’s Day Massacre on the Brewery Party Grounds and also in joyous celebration of our 20-day suspension that following January.  Do the crime. Do the Time.  Get the Bragging Rights. Cheers!”  Let me clear that up the best I can.  I have no idea what the astronauts are all about, but basically the “massacre” was an undercover investigation at the brewery that led to them receiving a fine and a 20-day suspension.  Something about the place being a “disorderly house.”  Wow, I’ve dedicated too much space to a label and a name—good job marketing department.

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Beer tasting, that’s what this is about.  I’m going to skip the usual tasting notes formatting people tend to use when they’re being formal and pretending they’re experts.  They’re not, nor am I.  I poured the beer into a glass, as shown in the picture, from North Hampton, New Hampshire’s own Throwback brewery.  Gotta represent.  It’s got a gorgeous reddish color, and not too much head—not surprising given the amount of hooch in there.  Smell is very malty, with a little floral hops, which is matched by the sip.  Well this is smooth stuff, thick and fluffy almost.  The hops are an earthy presence, but in no ways overwhelming as they’re beat senseless by the explosive bready maltiness which dominates this beer.  Apparently this is an American Strong Ale according to Beer Advocate.  I’m not about to refute that, as it’s certainly strong, though the alcohol hides well under that loaf of molasses bread.  Overall this is very enjoyable beer, I’d call it well balanced, but that would be a lie because, basically, this is boozy malt bomb with a generous donation of hops.  I love it.  The good and disorderly people of Lagunitas have another winner here and perhaps we have an undercover investigation to thank for that.

This song has been lingering in my head for about a week now. Perhaps it’s the pulsing rhythm and the chilling lyrics, but I don’t think that’s it. I think it’s the main refrain, “It’s a long way to heaven, it’s closer to Harrisburg.” I think it has me longing for the road, and, to my own surprise, a return to college. I went to Gettysburg College, therefore Harrisburg was always a way point. In short, I was a miserable hermit a good deal of my time at Gettysburg. I felt like an outcast there, and aside from a few good friends I pretty much was. Driven by my frustrations with the tasteless fraternity oriented culture and perhaps my own failings to make things happen, I tried to transfer out. I didn’t. I stuck it out, and I got used to it. I think I even started to thrive on my hate. I embraced my outsider feelings, I dug deeper into music, worked at the radio station, and taught myself how to drink well, unlike those natty light swilling swine. So I guess Josh Ritter’s “Harrisburg” is tapping into that fall feeling that I should be going back to school. A lot of people are, including my girlfriend, but I’m not. This version of the song taps particularly into my feelings because Ritter has added an interlude, Hank William’s “Rambling Man. ” Not only is that another song I love, it’s another song that makes me feel like I should be strapped into my seat with caffeine plowing down the highway at 5 am in my trusty truck, just approaching Harrisburg, a long way from heaven, and an hour to go until another year tests me. Well, I didn’t make heaven, and I’m not going to make Harrisburg, but maybe something else is just on the horizon.

Review: Clontarf Irish Whiskey

I have a confession to make.  Irish whiskey was my first love. In my youthful days of drunken haze I was not exactly the pickiest, but early on I found that while I could drink Canadian Club without complaint, the whiskey of my forefathers was a welcome treat.  Interestingly enough, Clontarf is the whiskey that taught me that fact.  So today I revisit the moment the dam broke. Of course memory played a strong role in this selection.  I’ve only had Clontarf once, the one bottle that set me onto Irish, since then I’ve explored the genre rather thoroughly, finding bliss in every bottle and setting into phases of which was my favorite.  Then came bourbon, and I must admit I’ve left my ol’ lass by the wayside a bit, in favor of the bolder and more rugged spirit. This bottle is, to me, almost a visit to an old familiar place.  The only question is, after all the learning I have done, will the Clontarf of my memory hold up?

            Perhaps I should make it clear that I did not buy my first bottle of Clontarf, but rather it was part of an exchange of sorts.  So wasn’t I pleasantly surprised by its sweet gentle flavor and even its name which invokes the history that a young history major like myself couldn’t resist? (The Battle of Clontarf in 1014 drove away a Viking raid on Ireland)  I was.  And how do I feel now?  Pleasantly enough Clontarf falls at a lower price point than many of the Irish whiskies I usually turn to: the reigning king Jameson is now too sweet for my tastes at its rising price, Bushmills is a standby in flavor (if Northern Irish), the best are all too expensive (although Knappogue Castle is worth it’s price point) and Michael Collins is a bit pricy and he bartered the flawed independence agreement anyways.  The great part is that the cheaper Clontarf is not a one dimensional product.  It’s gentle, yet filled with the bready complexity of the original malt, something that some whiskies strive to hide, yet I adore.  It’s almost like that moment on a brewery tour where they invite you to taste the pale malts and I take a handful like it was a breakfast cereal. Another flavor that seems to shine through is that of a werther’s caramel, not in its chewy form the hard candy.  I can’t help but think perhaps this is the result of the bourbon barrel aging on this whiskey, but who can be sure.  When it comes down to it, I can see why this bottle brought me to love Irish whiskey.  It’s not just because most of the other stuff I was drinking was probably swill; it’s because there was a beautiful simplicity to Irish whiskey.  It’s soft, there’s the malted barley and the pre-used barrel.  This creates a nuisance, which undoubtedly I missed then, and which may be even too much for me to recognize now.  Looking and tasting back, all I can say is, I understand why this stuff opened the doors for me, and thank you.  If it wasn’t for that first bottle of Clontarf, I could be writing reviews of diet Jagerbombs or something.  Image

Review: Wild Turkey 81

Another day finds me strolling through whiskey central searching for liquid gold to tell all you folks about.  I glance in the direction of an old friend—a legend really—Wild Turkey.  There’s the real Turkey, 101 proof of caramel and fumes.  Thompson fuel.  Next to that is a box, Wild Turkey 81.  It comes with a hat.  I briefly laughed as I glanced to the Beam white label.  Then I thought about it, a bit further.  17 bucks and it comes with a Wild Turkey hat.  Do I need a Wild Turkey hat? Well actually, yes, I think I really do! I don’t have a baseball cap, never mind one that shouts to the world, “screw you and your fancy drank, I drink what I want!”  It even tells you on the back what you should do: “Give ‘em the bird.”  Take that world.  So I buy, obviously.

Later, I begin contemplating what I’ve purchased, and what Wild Turkey 81 really “says.”  The original Wild Turkey is bourbon with an extra set of nads.  It’s hot, and it gets you to that special place—fast.  I was in a massive dive in Cleveland, the kind of place that isn’t often overrun with youth, and when I ordered Turkey the bartender hesitated to give it to me neat.  He explained to me that he’d stopped carrying Bacardi 151 and was thinking of doing the same to my 101.  It seemed clear why.  It’s got a reputation.  In my mind a lot of that reputation comes from the deranged swilling of one man, Hunter S. Thompson.  The sloppiest of drug addled anti-heroes, portrayed by both Bill Murray and Johnny Depp in film.  In “Where the Buffalo Roam” Murray’s Thompson struts around his hospital room with an IV of Turkey dripping into his mouth.  It’s this image, this outlaw correlation that has me almost hesitant for a softened up version.  It lies with you, Wild Turkey 81, to restore my faith.

            The first sip of 81 struck me with a realization.  This is the same as 101.  Every time I put ice in the original Wild Turkey I made cold Wild Turkey 81.  It just has more water in it, and saves you money in the bargain.  Yes, the fire is far tamer, but the flavors come through the same, caramel, vanilla, and a touch of cinnamon spice that perhaps is lost in the heat of the big brother dominate the palate.  This is sweet, clean and easy drinking.  My fears, it seems were unfounded.  Yes, this whiskey isn’t quite so “gonzo” as its kin, but it’s far more approachable, well balanced, and less likely to lead to death or severe injury.  What would Hunter say?  Well, he’d probably spout something about swine and Nixon, take a sip and say “hmmm.  What’s that you say? Well damn, that’s damn good—I could drink a case of that, two, maybe, with the right cocktail of high blotter acid and greasy hamburgers.”  Or something like that.  If you didn’t read it in his mumbling ramble than that was probably the worst piece of writing this side of Facebook.  So anyways, yes, I think Hunter would approve, because who wouldn’t want to be able to drink, and taste, a bit more whiskey while maintaining that perfect chemical balance. So I’ve gotta say, I hate to advocate a lower proof Wild Turkey, but it’s always worked for me.Image

What I have on the menu for you today is a healthy helping of haunting–that is the haunting tunes of Skip James. Skip’s style is 100 percent his own. His voice is higher and more lonesome than a Bill Monroe nightmare, making lines like “I’d rather be the devil than be that woman’s man” tremble down your ear canal with an eerie chill. His finger picking style is also unique, sounding almost sloppy by intent, and carried away by the gentle tap of his big foot on decades worth of wood floors. Skip’s songs were first recorded in 1931, and was quickly forgotten until his rediscovery in 1964 as part of the blues revival, making this 1966 Newport performance all the more miraculous. The video I’ve provided shows three sides of Skip, the slow and spooky of “Devil Got My Woman,” the rough and tumblin’ “I’m so Glad,” which you may recognize as a song Cream covered, and the third song, which is pretty standard, but I actually don’t know. My favorite side of Skip is the spooky which he does so well, so for further listening I recommend “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” and “Sick Bed Blues,” they’ll send shivers down your spine.

By the way, see if you can recognize the other folks in the video–a few legends in there.

Brewpub Chronicles: Triumph Brewing

Triumph Brewing is a brewpub of the traditional style, in house brewing for in house consumption—beer to enjoy with classic grub.  I’ve been to two of the three locations of this establishment, in Princeton, NJ and New Hope, PA.  Today we’ll focus on Princeton, because that visit occurred more recently.  The visit came as the conclusion to a busy day in Princeton with my wonderful lady companion. This included a brief sojourn to Washington’s Crossing to contemplate a winter night in 1776, an exploration of the gothic grounds of Princeton University, a fruitful record store raid, and a visit to a bookshop.  All these explorations therefore worked up a thirst in us, so off to our cause, Triumph. We are not alone in seeking Triumph; my girlfriend has also arranged to meet several coworkers for a brief goodbye of sorts before she finishes her working season.  Of course you’re reading this because you want to hear about beer, not puns of the places name, so let me slake that thirst.  We started out with a sampler, always a nice way to meet a new brewery, and found a rather standard selection of styles—a nut brown, a pale ale, an Irish dry stout, a pils and an IPA come to mind.  All pretty standard fare.  No outlandish ingredients, no sour beers or beers aged in massive barrels made out of used furniture and heated with rocks*.  Now the beer geek in me wants these crazy things, and while all these beers are balanced and okay examples of their style, nothing is whacking my palate with hops or some unusual flavor or mouth feel that excites me.  Then, our waiter kindly delivers our cheese fries (an off menu order that perfectly hit the spot).  Here’s where it dawns on me—this is eating beer.  All these are very reasonable beers that are made, not to stock a beer bar, but to stock a restaurant. They’re there to compliment the food—they want you to say, “this burger is incredible,” not “this Frappuccino Schwarz bier is insane!”  Also, please don’t make a Frappuccino Schwarz bier, please. Now, my memory and a friend who shall not be named as a manager at the aforementioned establishment have told me that the New Hope location has better beers.  I seem to remember some bigger beers, dessert-like Belgians and barrel-agers, and perhaps that’s more intriguing, more in tune with your idea of a “brewpub.” But the Triumph in Princeton is a good restaurant, with good service, that happens to make and serve a bunch of solid beers at a good price.  And I like that.  All in all, I had a great time at Triumph.  The employees went out of their way to help us when the place was packed, I had great company, I got a pleasant buzz (their IPA was my favorite, by the way,) the bill was reasonable, and I didn’t have to pay it.  There’s a good ending for a great day.

 

 

 

*Though I’m not sure anyone makes barrels out of used furniture, there are beers made using super-hot rocks, such as the traditional German steinbier or that beer I had that one time at Equinox brewing last summer.  

 

Review: Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Friends, boozers, and drunkards:  I have been privileged. When my father was tasked, once again, with the task of selecting a beverage for me to review he went overboard.  I could have expected him to take this as an opportunity to be cruel, to buy the cheapest of cheap Canadian whiskies to see what I would do. Hint: No whisky (Canadian spelling) goes to waste, no matter how awful.  Instead, as the headline indicates, he bought Basil Hayden’s.  As a poor young man a $25 dollar bottle is a treat.  Basil is a bottle reaching into the premium market.  Clearly I was thrilled.  First impressions: The bottle looks like something gift wrapped for Ernest Hemingway, aged and yellowed paper askew and held on with the manliest of ribbon and bow; a thin wood tie with metal letters riveting it together.  Image: check. The label also notes how Basil Sr. started distilling in Kentucky in 1796, so history: check.

Now, let’s tear out that cork with our teeth and take a pull.  This isn’t just any other bourbon.  On the nose there is a lot of sweetness and some brown sugar while also being a bit strangely minty—and that isn’t unpleasant. The mouth profile is clearly distinct, while holding many of those traditional chewy caramel and honey notes, a bit of oak char and some of those sweet soft candy notes from the nose.  Not insanely complex or overpowering, just sweet and tasty. What really strikes me with this whiskey is where the heat is.  I’ve been abusing my palette lately with whiskies in the magma range, so taking in some standard 80 proof seems quite tame—that is until Basil hits the back of my throat and shoots up my sinuses. That’s where all the burn is, it’s not hot on the tongue; just goes puff the magic dragon into my nose.  About a week ago I had a sinus infection (I’ve been away, hence the not posting.)  I couldn’t breathe from my nose at all.  So I took one of those baths that makes you sweat, drank 3 cups of high strength French press coffee and a few drams of Basil Hayden’s.  I came out wired, buzzed, and breathing.  Every sip cleaned my sinuses out.  Whiskey is the best kind of medicine. And caffeine. And whatever actual medicine I may have taken.

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Yes, Basil Hayden has a halo, all whiskey should.

Anyways, let’s wrap this up with a manly bow like the Basil bottle.  It’s tasty, though extremely complex, standard strength, but with an unusual burn.  It’s an unusually crafted whiskey.  I like it, and it seems like one of those whiskies that will have a cult following, devotees to whom nothing else will meet their exacting demands.  I’m glad those people have their dream whiskey.  For me Basil Hayden’s is enjoyable, no doubt, but it isn’t something I’m necessarily going to seek out at its price point.  I feel like perhaps the fancy wrapping paper is perhaps driving the price of this whiskey higher than it should be.  Of course as a young broke man I’m still going to save the last dram of this bottle for a special occasion, because this is good classy stuff, and it looks great on a bar. It’s just not going to end up in the shopping cart every trip. Then again, maybe I’ve found a great cure for allergies…