29 November 2009

Whiskey Trinity

Irish whiskey is its own thing--neither Scotch nor Bourbon nor Canadian. The third and final whiskey of my three whiskey presents was Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey. A product of County Offaly in the Irish Midlands, Tullamore Dew is a smooth and mellow whiskey with a rich malt flavor and a dry, lingering finish. The holiday package came with some hefty tumblers bearing the brand name. You can never have enough thick-bottomed whiskey glasses! This whiskey makes a superb nightcap, but I also think it would do very well in an Irish coffee. That drink is a particular favorite of mine, and a specialty of the house. One of these days I'll have to have a taste test with a stable of Hibernian spirits. Because I like Irish coffees so much, I forget that the Malts of Erin are outstanding sippin' whiskies, with their bright, clean flavors and easy drinkability. Tullamore Dew, with its subtle spiciness and muted woody notes, completes the two-bourbons-and-an-Irish whiskey trinity!

22 November 2009

Whiskey by the numbers

I received three whiskies from friends for my 50th birthday. Am I easy to buy presents for? Two were bourbons, both the latest versions of cherished favorites. In 2002 I bought a bottle of Evan Williams Single Barrel. It was from barrel no. 144, laid down on 8-27-92, bottled 4-1-02. Now that was a few years back, but I remember it being a tasty treat. Ten years is a long time for a bourbon! The 50th birthday bottle is from barrel no. 313 (dig the thirteen!), put in the wood on 8-24-99 and bottled 4-8-09. It is crisp and spicy, with a clean, bright finish, and dangerously drinkable. Another premium whiskey that never fails to please is the rich and sumptuous Woodford Reserve. I have an empty from some time ago (I can't remember precisely!) from batch no. 22. It is bottle no. 11013 (11-13 is my birthday). Interestingly, it is a one-liter size. You have to love the no. 22, an iconic pair of deuces for Giants fans as both the Clarks--the unrelated Will and Jack--wore 22. The new one is in the standard 750 mL format, but in the same distinctive shape that makes Woodford easy to spot. It is from batch no. 407 and bottle no. 05611. Tune in next week for whiskey number three. I love my friends.

18 November 2009

Water on the moon

The big ball of rock we learned about as kids turns out to be full of surprises. Like water, for example. Who knew the moon had water in its rocks? Actually, a little thought about what rocks are and what they are made of should make this recent discovery a lot less surprising. Rocks, and the minerals that make them up, contain a lot of oxygen. That oxygen is typically bound up in oxides, silicates, hydroxides, and whatnot, but it is present in great abundance. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, and free protons in the solar wind could provide a ready source of hydrogen ions capable of reacting with the oxygen in lunar minerals. In fact, the presence of water, or at least hydroxyl groups, in the lunar regolith has been speculated on since the early 1960s. Water molecules could not exist on or near the moon's surface, but they could certainly exist in the bedrock or deep within shadowed craters. (The LCROSS mission probed such a crater.) These recent findings, exciting as they are, don't do much more than confirm some long-held hypotheses about our near neighbor. The mechanisms of lunar water creation, transport, and storage are barely beyond the speculative stage, and the presence of something like large-scale polar ice is still awaiting discovery. Nonetheless, water on the moon is pretty damn cool, don't you think?

13 November 2009

Friday the 13th

I was born on Friday, November 13th, 1959. Today is Friday, November 13th, 2009. It is my 50th birthday! I'm a lucky man, I think. If you measure wealth by the love of family and friends, then I'm rich. I'll have another Friday the 13th birthday in 2015, when I turn 56. I hope I can make the same report then.

12 November 2009

Ill Wind

William Ledbetter Heath sets his 1957 novel Ill Wind in the fictional town of Morgan, Alabama. Idyllic and relatively prosperous, things begin unraveling right from the start when a leading citizen is rushed to the hospital with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. In a coma and unable to explain himself, the town's residents take up the mystery. Was it an accident? A suicide attempt? In the process, the power structure of the whole county is laid bare, with its intricate relationships among the friends and rivals of the unfortunate man, and their long-simmering conflicts burst into the open. There is no crime in this crime novel, but the repressed desires, sublimated ambitions, and buried secrets add up to make tightly-wound noir tale. In fact, Mr. Heath has crafted a brilliant work, gripping and suspenseful, with deft characterizations, masterful dialog, and an eye for subtle details. I have the 1985 Black Lizard reprint with the Kirwan cover. (I blogged about Southern Noir and W.L. Heath's Violent Saturday earlier this year.)

03 November 2009

Irish noir

Irish writer Ken Bruen's Priest features recurring character Jack Taylor and is set in the Irish coastal city of Galway. Taylor is a disgraced former cop ("Guard" in Ireland), just out of the madhouse, trying to get a fresh start in the town of his youth. Haunted by a death he was responsible for when he was drunk, he goes into pubs and orders drinks but doesn't touch them. His only contact with reality is his hard-assed ex-partner, a lesbian, who he has erotic dreams about. Jack's confusion and alienation is furthered by the appearance of his childhood tormentor, Father Malachy, who seeks his help on a murder case. The local Guard commander tries to muscle Jack out of the picture, but help from an unlikely source resurrects our protagonist's resolve and he goes after the killer. Demons from his past overwhelm events, and the coda comes with shocking finality. The novel is set in the midst of the New Ireland, flush with money and development, where the old village ways are losing out to EU immigration and American corporations. We experienced much of the city on our 2001 Ireland trip, and it was quite a bit of fun to walk the same streets again with Jack Taylor. The book has lots of quirky Hiberno-English and the dialogue is rich in Irish idiom, so be prepared for the full-immersion course. It's dark stuff, too, not for the faint of heart, just way I like it.

01 November 2009

RIP Norton Buffalo

Bay Area rocker Norton Buffalo died from lung cancer on Friday. He was 58. Norton and his band the Knockouts actually performed a free concert--just a few years ago--in Miner Street Park here in Yreka. I have an autographed CD from the event. He was a master of the harmonica, at home in blues, country, rockabilly, boogie-woogie, R&B, you-name-it. He had a long and varied career, despite it being cut short by illness. He was a fixture in the San Francisco and Northern California music scene for over 30 years, mostly with the Steve Miller Band, but also working with the likes of the Doobie Bros., Elvin Bishop, Merl Saunders, Mickey Hart, Roy Rogers, Commander Cody, and the New Riders. He was much too young.
Recquiescat in pacem.