LLF 2014-06-29 Number One Hyperactive Friendship Power

This is an episode of the Libation Liberation Front podcast.

In this episode, another recording from Balticon, we were joined by friends from Philly, J.R. Blackwell and Jared Axelrod, and their friend Ruth. John and I had been wanting to talk to Jared in particular because he did a piece for Philadelphia Weekly on Green Leaf Distillery which makes the Art in the Age series of liqueurs of which we are so very fond. The distillery is actually in LA, where Ruth was located which helped Jared and J.R. make it out to do the story. Jared pulled back the veil on how he wrote the story, in particular the tease for what has been released as Dirt, the base flavor being roasted, distilled parsnip.

Ruth explained a bit about her current situation as well as the trio talking about how they met in Philly before she headed out west. The con, a continuing touchstone of their friendship, they attended while in LA together was Anime Expo. Jared explained the weird feeling of familiarity being in LA, the first impulse being memory and the second realizing sights seen as the backdrops of so many television shows and movies.

John asked after Philly’s drink culture. Jared revealed that at the time of recording, the town was about to experience beer week. For that event, he will be the official Philadelphia Tweetporter, which will require him to attend one to three events a day during the week and share updates on Twitter.

John was curious outside of such a week, how Jared and J.R. tend to pursue their writing. They do tend to be introverted, having dedicated spaces in their home for their various creative pursuits. Having jobs in journalism does take them far more out into the world than they would, otherwise. Jared shared some of the experiences he would never have if not for the job, from a pinewood derby to a Blue, Blue and Blues event and so much more.

J.R. talked about the secretive nature of the town, the stories and places only a local could find or a visitor would need a very well versed guide. The places to get the much debated best cheese steak in town would be one example, in particular the feud between Pat’s and Gino’s. Jared and J.R.’s guidance on the best cheese steak involves a bit of fear, but it will be all right.

I was curious how the journalism jobs have affected their fiction, the writing of theirs for which I have known them for so much longer. Jared says it was the research, for example an unpublished series called Made New about making new things using century old techniques. J.R. found the act of talking to people to do the journalism revealed an amazing amount of positivity, more than you might appreciate just writing fiction where you may not have occasion to see as much inspiration and optimism by going out in the world.

The characters that inhabit Philly reveal what seems like a greater degree of genuineness, again that only going out into the city makes possible to discover. One is Allen Crawford who illustrated Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” He refers to himself as a professional bullshitter and used to write as Lord Whimsy, especially the book, “The Affected Provincial’s Companion,” about being a dandy in the modern world. A fiction writer has to make up the stories about the people they see, a journalist gets to ask, especially when able to muster a good deal of genuine interest.

Jared talked about his initial reticence in approaching journalism. His turning point was interviewing the folks behind “Welcome to Night Vale” including Joseph Fink. Fink was a difficult subject until Jared shared his favorite episode, that sincerity breaking through and greatly easing the rest of the conversation.

John asked J.R. about her approach to photography and whether she always wished she had a camera on her. Counter intuitively, she does not always want for a camera as it can often create inadvertent barriers and distance. She talked about how her photography has evolved as she has been working as a journalist, shifting from staging a shoot just so to having to capture the world exactly as she finds it, without being able to control every last aspect. It has been a tremendous learning experience, that has definitely made its way back into her more creative efforts. She has also gained amazing access to experiences she wouldn’t have otherwise, making up for journalism not being especially lucrative because they still get to live like rich people, at least or perhaps especially in spirit.

Jared explained one adjustment that was a bit stark for them, as children of the bit. So much of what J.R. has photographed before her current gig was captured for online sharing. Photos in print are so much more murky, requiring an obscene amount of over exposure, even more than you think even after seeing the difference.

We wrapped up talking a bit with Ruth about her business offering wigs specifically for people doing cosplay. John asked about the experience of people looking to take on a different look or persona, even when they may not realize that are open to that experience. Jarded prodded her into telling the origins of her business, from selling crafts at SCA events to selling out some clearance sale wigs at an anime convention.

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LLF 2014-06-22 Pepper in a Bottle

This is an episode of the Libation Liberation Front podcast.

Continuing our Balticon recordings, John and I were again joined by Jason Ramboz who first appeared on the podcast at the same convention last year. We opened and shared Game of Thrones: Fire and Blood Red Ale, brewed by Ommegang one of our very favorite breweries. This beer, the second in a series about the book and TV series, was brewed with ancho chiles and brought both heat and bitterness to an otherwise tart red ale.

Ommegang is known probably best for its characteristic use of yeast. A beer they may no longer make, Ommegadon, probably best cemented this reputation though Hennepin was another amazingly funky and entirely distinct beer.

That reminded Jason of an event hosted by Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery at National Geographic, a saison beer tasting he attended with another friend of the show, John Cmar. Not just Brooklyn beers were on offer and Oliver was apparently funny and incredibly entertaining. John describe the friendly rivalry between Oliver and Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Brewery.

Revisiting the beer, we were able to tease out more in common with saisons and other beers that manage to evoke bitterness without such a reliance on very typical America hops. John put that original passion into context, the over use arose from the end of the hop shortage. So much more went into beers at that time, both in quantity and new varieties of hops. I related that to New Albion, one of the first to use cascade when it was a new variety since he was able to got a lot of it on the cheap.

We turned to talk about one of Jason’s beers in this vein, a green chile saison. He gave us a great description of the inspiration and how he went about make this incredibly well crafted beer.

We paused to share some thoughts about our con experience up to the point we recorded this, just shy of the halfway point. It seemed like the programming got going a bit earlier than in years past. I had two panels on Friday, that superficially seemed like the same panel but in practice were distinct from each other and quite good. John had a great experience with his fellow panelists and attendees as well.

Three of us were joining a larger group of our friends to do a little local exploring, trying out a placed called Liquid Lib’s, a bar within a restaurant called Liberatores. Talking about tapas reminded John of the Parts Unknown episode in Spain. We indulged a bit in our mutual admiration for both Bourdain and the craft inherent in the show’s production. I shared my question about how locals view his show versus the rest of us, the inability rely to necessarily do more than scratch the surface of anywhere he goes.

We lamented about even as locals all of the places we haven’t been able to get to in DC–The Gibson, Churchkey, Blue Jacket, The Passenger, among others. I shared my impression of Blue Jacket as the only one of us who finally got to go. It reminded us of 21st Amendment’s proximity to a ball park, as well, and then led to listing our favorites in that town–Anchor, Speakeasy, and Thirsty Bear.

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LLF 2014-06-15 American Craft and Craftsmen

This is an episode of the Libation Liberation Front podcast.

This is the first of our interviews recorded live at Balticon. We were joined by Tom Doyle, an author we befriended at Balticon and who just recently release his new book, “America Craftsmen.” John was about halfway through this book, the discussion that follows put it at the top of my to read list. (And since we recorded I have started in and agree with everything we said in this episode.)

John mixed up Manhattans for us to share using Carpano Antica and some vintage Abbott’s bitters.

We talked a bit about Tom’s enthusiasm for doing the live readings at conventions, where we first met him capturing those readings for Balticon’s podcast. John expressed a desire to support Tom’s work even outside of the con, to combine that energy with the sorts of strengths a good director and studio can bring as well. Tom talked a bit more about how he thinks about readings, in terms of even having a strong grasp of an audio version even as he is working on text. I teased out what Tom touched on, the suggestion of an all cast take on his work, more radio drama, as another worthwhile expression of his work.

Talking about radio drama reminded John of White Mischief in London where a steam punk evening included a live performance of old time radio. He wondered if anything like this was done or could be done at Balticon. I mentioned Mr. Adventure which used to have a live performance year after year but hasn’t happened in the last year or two because Davey Beauchamp and Rich Sigfrit haven’t joined in the con recently.

John shared his appreciation for Tom’s sense of the mythic, including both his short stories as well as his new novel. Tom explained how he approaches this, including the inspiration in Baum, to consider the distinctly American and use that focus to revisit early truly American authors to fuel the themes and elements he treats so well in his novel.

John asked about the experience of long form versus short, since most of our experience of Tom’s work is short fiction. It turns out “American Craftsmen” was the second of three novel length manuscripts he has written. Tom explained about how much more research he had to do, both in re-reading early American canon as well as listening to lecture series about the same to tease out things he could weave into the uncanny and fantastic texture of his work.

In addition, Tom pointed out that the book is a thoroughly modern tale. He was able to do parallel research, especially through his friends, on military jargon, practices and culture. He travelled some as well to tour and delve into the historical and modern Providence. John explained his own appreciation for how well the city fit into the book stemming from his own personal experience living there for six months. In addition to Poe and Lovecraft spending time there, John mentioned Paul Di Filippo has lived there.

We returned to contemplate our drinks. John wished perhaps for a different rye but we all agreed the cocktails he mixed were tasty. Tom mentioned The Gibson, in DC, and we segued into the history of American cocktail culture. We touched on both sides of prohibition, from early Americana and its roots in the old world to how prohibition perhaps cemented a much more modern passion for mixing, originally to help overcome poor choice in ingredients but now elevated to something we adore. John mentioned Victor, again, and one of his teachers, Murray Stenson, who has developed into the history of cocktail mixing.

Tom had a question about this history, reminded by John’s talk of potions. He was curious if the female brewmasters overlapped with the iconography we more commonly associate with witchcraft. John and I offered more examples from infusions, tinctures and spirits given the similar appreciation for herbs and their inherent qualities and benefits.

We wrap up talking about Tom’s participation in a band, Voided by Guises, which is a cover band for Guided by Voices.

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LLF 2014-06-07 A Bitter Swill to Swallow

This is an episode of the Libation Liberation Front podcast.

John and I finally got on mic to catch up on recent travel and look ahead towards Balticon. I mixed up a Boulevardier, a Negroni with bourbon replacing the gin. I substituted Meletti for the Campari since at that time I hadn’t picked any of the latter up. I used Knob Creek 9, the Dolin sweet vermouth, and Regan’s Orange Bitters.

John made a Mr. Potato Head, a Manhattan with rum in place of the rye. He used the Appleton Jamaican Estate and Carpano Antica vermouth. For bitters he used Berg & Hauks Jerry Thomas Bitters. I asked him to clarify what he meant by fifty-fifty as a Perfect Manhattan does that just to split the vermouth, but in this instance he made a cocktail with 1 part spirits to 1 part vermouth. Doing so means you can measure simply by pouring each liquid at the same time, for the same amount of time.

This reminded me of research I had been doing on the history of cocktails. Specifically, ratios in the past were closer to what John poured in this episode. The reason is that a more equal proportion, especially during Prohibition, better hid any imperfections in the spirit. These days, the ratio of spirits has increased since the quality, and flavor, is so much better.

That research was a natural segue into how my bitter tooth led to a really great and serendipitous find when I was on vacation in New York a few weeks ago. On John’s recommendation, we stopped by Death and Company but arrived before they opened for the evening. The door man directed us to a “sister” bar a few doors down, Amor y Amargo. The proprietor, Sother Teague, calls it a bitters tasting room but what it means is that this small, ten seat bar has no mixers, just a modest selection of spirits and an amazing variety of bitters, fernets, vermouths, averna and amari.

I explained a bit more about the menu, both the set selections and the bespoke cocktails. The latter were really the highlight and with Sother behind the bar, himself, that night, we had a great treat. Even Andrea, who doesn’t care for the brown spirits, enjoyed each of the cocktails she had. The only one I could remember used a jenever, with some sort of citrate but a very Summery and bright flavor. If you want to hear him explain his philosophy and experience in his own words, he was on Alton Brown’s podcast recently, since they both used to work together.

I was very much inspired by the way he uses classic cocktails as templates to swap in any number of other ingredients to make entirely new and incredibly varied offerings. Both in person and on the podcast, Sother has mentioned many things I want to seek out, from the Rustica I’ve had to Cocchi and rose vermouths of which I had not heard before.

This all reminded John of a new book he picked up by Brad Thomas Parsons, “Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas” Surprisingly, the book includes food recipes, mirroring a trend of chefs increasingly experimenting with what using bitters in food makes possible. The author’s research inspired John’s recent adventures, such as his acquisition of a defunct, but only just being revived, bitters, Abbott’s, which lost out decades ago to the mainstay Angostura.

The book also overlapped with John’s own recent travel, to Seattle. To start, John gave a quick sketch of how much more open and laid back the West Coast is generally, and Seattle specifically, to cocktail culture. He and his wife stayed at The Arctic Club where in the hotel bar, The Polar Bar, he found a rare treasure in the form of the bartender, Victor. John clearly enjoyed this local expert’s craft, as well, painstakingly built up from very humble beginnings to an amazing pinnacle of the mixing arts.

John also relied on Victor’s expertise to send him to other local places and events of interest, including a place called De Laurenti, a little shop within the very touristy Pike Place Fish Market. They had an amazing array of wine, spirits, cheeses, and charcuterie. From there, John acquired a box of the Scrappy’s Bitters, inspired by the set of The Bitter Truth Travel Bitters I got him from Annapolis.

We chatted for a bit about the return gift I got John in New York, a wormwood bitters. I had it mixed in a couple of things, especially in a Manhattan in the bar of Row NYC (formerly The Milford) where we stayed. We continued to talk about other kinds of bitters, from some of the tinctures that come even in unusually large bottles to the variety at Sother Teague’s place, which could all be generally called amari. From the R.Jelenik Fernet, an unusual specimen of the kind, I talked a bit about a point Sother makes on the Alton Brown cast, that these liquors aren’t originally made to be mixed so they are worth investing some time to appreciate on their own.

John related this to the best drink he had made by Victor, a daiquiri. He explained how this was not the kind of super sweet, frosty concoction with which most people might be familiar but a much more historical throwback with layers of ingredients and complexity closer to the kind of unusual tastes we have been discussing all episode. Of course, the ability to craft such a libation is the very pinnacle of practice combined with amazing attention to the fine details.

I tied this theme quickly into how it inspires us, like my renewed interest in stocking my bar in a particular way and John’s increasing application to his already well developed mixing skills to events of all kinds. John deepened his appreciation for Victor as such an inspiration, offering examples of some of the bitters and other things that bartender has created, from black walnut to tobacco, and how he is continually learning both by reading and experimentation with his guests.

We closed out with a teaser of what should be coming in the next few episodes based on the folks who we managed to invite on the cast while at Balticon, from folks we’ve had on in the past to possibly some new ones, like Tom Doyle whose latest book, “American Craftsmen” John was reading (and I have started since we recorded this episode.)

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LLF 2014-02-02 The Beer Sherpa

This is an episode of the Libation Liberation Front podcast.

We were joined once again by our beer ambassador friend, Patrick Lucey. We started chatting a bit about some of John’s latest home brew but Patrick brought us beers this time from Germany. The first was from a garden we have talked about before, in Bavaria, an Andechser dunkel weisse. The other was from Berlin, Potsdamer Stange. Both of these beers are quite uncommon, even in Germany. Patrick described what about each attracted him to pick them up for sharing.

Our first beer, the simple but incredibly well made nature of the Postdamer Stange made me think of one of the beers we had at a recent trip to Bier Baron. A fellow beer enthusiast, whose cellar and knowledge is without equal, offered me a beer stating simply that it was very well crafted as a paragon of the style.

Patrick explained how Germany is going through a similar flowery of local and craft beer, much as the US did years ago. Some of this is a result of consolidation, some of the trend towards more interesting beer than even the traditional breweries offer. John asked a bit more about the overall cross section of beer, local and American, in Germany. I speculated about how it might evolve more in the coming years, just based on interest though Patrick offered what Germans consider an aggressive beer which isn’t anywhere near as extreme as even typical American craft beer.

Stouts are starting to appear in Germany, perhaps a better next step with the beer garden and beer hall culture we’ve discussed with Patrick in the past. Patrick mentioned that these are distinct from schwarz beer, a black lager, which John and I have had both imported and as interpreted by American brewers. This brought us back to consider where the Postdamer Stanger fits into the flavor spectrum of beer.

Where it fits, we all agreed it would pair well with food. Patrick shared some of the traditional food he enjoyed while visiting with his family in Germany. John asked for a little more, especially about pickling, an area of food culture that fascinates him, not in the least because of how it varies from place to place.

Patrick has talked about what he enjoys about Andechser in Bavaria, before. As we opened the second beer, from there, he explained a bit more about the history, especially of the Munich Octoberfefst but also the other festivals that happen around Bavaria. He talked about the picture and motto on the label, as well, which gave an even further flavor of from where this wonderful beer comes. As with the last beer, we talk about the style of this beer and comparable styles of beer.

John speculated about the similarities between Patrick’s two places of origin, Germany and Vermont. Patrick clarified that they are not as similar as his family loving both would suggest, other than perhaps the beer culture and passion, as distinctive as each may be from the other. We talked a bit more about the passion for local beer, including the trip his uncle made with some friends for another friend who was injured and wanted his hometown beer. I wondered if this was a broad genetic trait in Patrick’s family, one that has predisposed him to a role we certainly appreciate, as a beer sherpa. The ultimate expression would be Patrick becoming the first person to hand import a Heady Topper from Vermont to Germany in this regard.

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LLF 2014-01-26 Stout It Out Loud

This is an episode of the Libation Liberation Front podcast.

We were joined again by friend of the podcast, Patrick Lucey, for another sampling of Vermont and other beers, this time all stouts, almost entirely by coincidence.

The first beer we opened was a contribution from John’s cousin from Alaska, Kat Scratch Beaver of the Rage City Rollers. She gave John some Alaskan Brewing Company Perseverance Ale, a high gravity stout made with birch syrup and fireweed honey. For such a big beer with flavorful additions, this proved an easy drinking beer, maybe even dangerously so. Patrick asked a keen question about how beers change as they warm which allowed us to talk about our expectations of this beer as well as others that are good examples of the story a warming beer tells.

Patrick was curious too about the contribution from those other additions in this beer. I mentioned my impressions of mead making with fireweed honey. We joked about Patrick’s expertise on tree syrups though that apparently doesn’t include birch. John’s experience proved to be more as a furniture maker than using its syrup as a brewing or cooking ingredient.

John asked about a beer Patrick brought us that we sampled off mic with him, the Heady Topper. This is an incredibly well rated beer. For such an intensely hopped beer, we all agreed that this beer is smooth and very drinkable, well deserving of its Beer Advocate score. John compared Heady Topper with G’Knight, another one of our regular favorites that integrates an insane amount of hops quite well. Patrick shared the story behind The Alchemist and this beer, why it is such a rare, in demand local Vermont treat. One more reason why we consider Patrick the unofficial beer ambassador of Vermont. In addition to Patrick’s enthusiasm as a Vermont beer watcher.

Patrick again demonstrated his state pride in describing our next beer, from Trout River, a lower profile, smaller brewery, more famous for their red ale. The one we tried was the Knight Slayer, a treat rarer even than the Heady Topper. Craft beer in the state is growing to the point where brews that were once scarce outside the state are becoming more widely available and more exciting is how new, even smaller breweries continue to crop up, like Fiddlehead. Not surprising for a state that has the most breweries per capita.

We waxed on for a bit both about Patrick’s adventures as a local beer advocate and our broader interest in regional diversity, especially harking back to a sentiment expressed by another past guest, John Cmar, urging all to travel globally but drink locally.

Our final beer was one also from a brewery introduced by a friend, a past guest, and another local advocate, Chris Miller who brought us a bunch of Hoppin’ Frog including the Barrel Aged Boris. Boris is an oatmeal stout, about which Patrick asked. John and I did our best after a couple of big beers to explain what oatmeal contributes to a beer. Talking about the spent grain and the desire to do something, make bread or just eat it for breakfast, John brought up Michael Pollan’s book, Cooked, and the lessons to be learned about eating better, closer to recognizable ingredients. Patrick again demonstrated his local advocacy, noting that King Arthur Flour is a local Vermont employee owned business.

This led us into a digression of yeast and locality, not just for beer but for sourdough. John put this into context, contrasting heritage strains of sourdough with modern, heavily modified baker’s yeast. He offered examples of business and practices that have cropped up to better support more time intensive but the higher value and flavor craft pursuites that have arisen, due to the power of inefficiency, as a reaction to the ongoing industrialization of food and drink. John again put this into context, as we continued on a socio-economic tear, that we often speak from a place of privilege where this tension can arise, that there are so many more places in the world where sustenance is a struggle and there isn’t a choice necessarily between inefficiency and mass produced anything.

This brought us back to local advocacy and Vermont, exploring the pride residents express both in by and buy Vermont. Patrick also unpacked the local political inclinations for us a little, even the intersection between those and beer in the form of a beer honoring Jim Jeffords.

We returned to the beers we poured throughout the episode, teasing out the similarities and differences, as relating to the stout style, as well as how each of these so well represented our discussion spanning so many regions around the country.

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LLF 2014-01-10 Thin Mint

This is an episode of the Libation Liberation Front podcast.

Even though John and I have been silent for over four months prior to the last episode, we were not idle. The last episode was just the first of a bunch that we recorded and only now are finding the time to get edited and published.

In this episode, we sat down with a former work colleague, James Sheehan, who is definitely also a bon vivant. We gathered to taste and ruminate on a variety of odd, brown spirits we all enjoy including Art in the Age Rhubarb, Herbsaint, Amaro Averna, Fernet Branca, Fernet Leopold, Fernet Branca Menta, and Bittermens Xocolatl mole bitters.

We started with the Averna, as the seemingly softest spirit of the lot. That suspicion bore out. I waxed a bit on why I liked this now more than I might have before John introduced me to Fernet. We talked more about how one’s palate typically does tend to develop over age to better appreciate bitter as well as the more accessible flavors we gravitate towards more in our youth.

John asked James about Lillet, which he’s been drinking lately. James described to us the Negroni he has been making lately, alternating between white vermouth, red vermouth, and Lillet. He doesn’t recommend doing so with Lillet. This made John think about the trend for drinking vermouth on its own, something I spotted in a recent re-watching of Mad Men where a character asks for just a sweet vermouth.

We next lined up the three fernets we had, from the regular Branca, through the menta to the Leopold. We all noticed quite a bit more mint in the regular Branca than previous tastings led us to expect. James suggested mixing it with cola, John with root beer. I noticed that straight it is sweeter than I remembered. We chatted through a few other bespoke cocktails, using ginger beer or root beer as well as Fernet, rum and another Art in the Age, their root tea.

We stepped to a horizontal taste, settling on the Leopold next after a bit of discussion. James noticed some vanilla straight off and I found it pleasingly similar to the Amaro Averna. James further put his finger on the comparison, that his had more of the hot and sweet spice, the Branca as John put it being perhaps more savory.

The menta surprised us all by being lighter, smoother and gentler than the regular Branca. As James put it, it isn’t just Fernet with more mint as you might expect from the label. We speculated it might blend well into a coffee, with a clean mint note that we found more pleasing than the typical mint liqueurs which are so often over sweet.

I observed how the label looked like an official document of some sort, like a passport. John drew the comparison to currency, reiterating a notion he’s often suggested, that the spirits themselves would likely be a form of currency after the collapse of our modern civilization.

We tried the Rhubarb next, deciding to save the Xocolatl for last. I mentioned the rhubarb simple syrup Andrea made in the Spring with CSA rhubarbs. This spirit, like the last one, was milder than we were expecting, not being overly sweet or too tart. John wondered at mixing this with a rhubarb syrup whereas I was thinking of a fruit liqueur to approach a strawberry rhubarb pie. That put John in mind of the liqueurs he’s been making. James mentioned a few flavors he’s made up, as well, including some really unusual ones like ginger-basil. black tea, and jalapeño-lime.

John asked James about a caraway spirit, brennavín, which he saw voted as the worst spirit. James explained it was better than its reputation, often also called black death, traditionally served ice cold. He talked a bit more about his experiences drinking in Iceland, that prohibition against beer last very late, there, so craft and home brew are arriving only now. John and I wondered about how much easier fractional distilling might be in such a cold climate.

We next tried the Herbsaint, one of John’s favorites, which he likes for its earthy, bitterness over sweeter absinthes. John shared some knowledge about absinthe, both its interesting properties as well its composition and history. That reminded me of a documentary I saw recently on absinthe which offers a lot of the same info and much more.

My sudden absinthe inspired hunger reminded James of chef Fergus Henderson, who wrote The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating. He has one cocktail in the book, The Miracle, mixed from equal portions fernet and creme de menthe. The name is a nod to its apparent restorative properties, especially after an evening of overindulgence.

We finished with the unpronounceable Xolocatl bitters. As promised, it smells exactly like mole. Even tastes like it which means to me it tastes like unsweetened cocoa and dry spice. James suggested a splash of simple syrup with the bitter would be worth trying. We thought we’d try to mix with some of the other spirits we had. That evolved into adding all of the spirits we had on hand.

John kept tweaking, adding a bit more menta. He mentioned off hand it being difficult to mess up a cocktail, informed by his experience as a sense driven mixer. I offered a counter example but despite that, with some very odd and limited ingredients, he demonstrated his talent, the result of which reminded us of Thin Mint cookies, hence the episode title. I suggested the ad hoc cocktail compared to the packaged cookie, the same way that Saveur’s re-imagining of the McRib compares with its inspiration.

This made James offer up an idea, a Tumblr of beer, wine, and spirit pairings with existing McDonalds’ items, perhaps called McSommelier. This prompted John to share his experiences, as a youth, working at McDonalds, fixing what he could with the ingredients there. The experience clearly has fueled a desire for him to create an upscale version of their signature, double patty burger. I suggested that James’ idea would be improved by pairings with such upgraded menu items, rather than the existing versions.

We continued to dwell on food, from the silver linings in the McDonalds kitchen to poi and my experiences in London, trying the full spectrum of fish and chips. James lived there for a spell and spoke to the incorrect impression that British food is bad, perhaps a consequence of its nature as comfort food which is marvelous at the high end and horrible at the low end. In addition, James admitted that drinking beer in Britain taught him about balance, versus the crazy extremes that are so common among American craft beers.

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LLF 2014-01-01 The Lumberjack

This is an episode of the Libation Liberation Front podcast.

In this long overdue episode, we caught up with Alex White, of The Gear Heart and Disaster Piece Theatre. We had tried to interview Alex at Balticon but just kept missing each other. We started out on a bit of a religious note, even before introducing our guest. Alex explained a bit about his upbringing and experiences across the spectrum.

Alex didn’t bring a drink with him, an oversight on our part not to prepare him ahead of time. While he dropped off mic to grab a nearby bottle of New Amsterdam gin, John and I described what we were drinking. As John finished his Dirt in a Jar, he opened a Monk’s Cafe Flemish Sour Ale. He tried to explain what Dirt in a Jar is but we kept distracting him with speculation of how powerful his liver is and how he probably could derive something of interest from a literal jar of dirt. Dirt is Fernet Branca, Art in the Age Root, Kraken Black Spiced Rum, and Dominion Root Beer. The description inspired us to discuss other big, bold flavors like Bourbon, certain regional Scotches, and cigars.

After further meandering through movies, Alex described what he made up with the New Amsterdam, a gin and tonic using Rose’s sweetened lime juice. He expressed a preference for rougher gins, like a Lord Baltimore, as higher end expressions tend to be quite subtle when mixed. Alex explained that he alternates between gin and tonic, as his go to cocktail, and a home made concoction he calls a Key Lime Pie. I suggested it might be a drink Andrea might like, especially with New Columbia Distillers Green Hat gin.

We chatted a bit about our room party at Balticon, BYOBS, which Alex finally made it out to, in one of the last waves of an epically long evening. Naturally enough we then discussed the dangers of certain libations and ending up behind a dumpster or being homeward bound towards Baltimore. Another dangerous concoction Alex described that could lead to such a fate he calls a Lumberjack: 3oz Black Seal rum, 1oz butterscotch schnapps, and 4oz of cola garnished with bacon. Tastes just like pancakes, hence the bacon, possibly even a waffle as a garnish tool.

This launched another tangent, fueled by John’s mention of beignet. Alex unfortunately has had a series of disappointments in this regard. I mentioned our favorite place in DC for both beignet and breakfast cocktails, Founding Farmers.

Through another conversational twist, we got into Alex’s start in podcasting. John lauded Alex’s sort of naive fearlessness, his deep presentism as a podcaster. This naturally enough segued into bar etiquette, the acceptability of ordering a new drink while still working on an existing one. John also mentioned the offering of dealer’s choice at Founding Farmers.

Alex teased out a bit more about John’s observation of radical presentism. He explained how a fellow podcaster Bryan Lincoln, of HG World among others, said to Alex at this last Balticon that as much as he wanted to get into music composition, he didn’t think you just sat down and did it. Alex is existence proof of doing exactly that, and succeeding. He shared a bit more about the technical details of his craft and how it has evolved.

John asked Alex about the link between musical composition and bartending. Alex shared some interesting thoughts to the contrary, having to do with creation vs. repetition, broadening his point to the role of traditionalism and breaking with it across many pursuits.

Somehow, we ended up behind the metaphorical dumpster, again, discussing the merits of sterno. Alex related that to youthful crafts involving paraffin and how an offhand comment has fueled his chocolate snobbery later in life. Further contemplation of those crafts led us to wonder why there isn’t any kind of apocalypse preparation science show on YouTube. Stay tuned for our Kickstarter to fill that niche, with the help of Dr. Stephen Granade.

We finally got around to what I was drinking, just a little bit of the Absente absinthe. This put Alex in mind of his and Renee’s early experimentation with what is now a thing, gamer drinks. The risk with most of the cocktails in this vein is almost as much the sugar as the alcohol. That reminded John of a thankfully brief fad for Zima with just food color added, for folks more interested in appearance and alcoholic effect than taste and experience.

Not surprisingly, this put John in mind of hangover remedies, other than bacon and beignet. John prefers a good cup of coffee with raw sugar. I explained about my Balticon experiment with B vitamins that made a difference for me, allowing me to bounce back much better each morning. Alex started to talk about running as a remedy, based on how respiration helps metabolize alcohol. This reminded me of a childhood memory of my parents when they were young trying this very approach with some (thankfully mild) injury as you might expect. Mild disaster aside, we figured ending on hangover remedies made sense.

You can grab the flac encoded audio from the Internet Archive.

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LLF 2013-08-28 Holy Mole, Manhattan

This is an episode of the Libation Liberation Front podcast.

Joining us for final interview we recorded while we were at Balticon was Randy Chertkow, friend of the podcast. We mixed up Manhattans all around, a bourbon one for Randy who is allergic to rye, which John and I had. John and I revealed some of our preferences for mixing this, one of our favorite cocktails.

We talked a bit about the bitters we brought to the con, as between John and I we stocked a pretty complete bar. We dwelled on the mole bitters. I explained why I picked up that particular bitters, for a particular sour, one with rye and egg whites. Having a bottle around has led me to experiment, which is how I ended up finishing my own Manhattans with a few drops, which adds a nice little something extra.

Randy asked about the history of the Manhattan. John tried to recall what David Wondrich said in his Esquire cocktail book. Dating particular concoctions is often elusive. Some of this has to do with the way drink recipes diffuse and are responded to with local inspiration. I pulled up the Bon Vivant’s Companion on my tablet to try to help answer the question.

Anticipating the BYOBS which was later in the day we recorded with Randy, I asked about his preferences. Admitting he is not a big drinking, he did say he enjoys beer, spirits especially whisky, and even cigars. He talked through some of his bar stock: Nolan’s Mill bourbon, Macallan 18 year. The latter set us on a scotch tangent.

We diverted on a further tangent, on how ice and sugar are more than recommended or not for particular drinks, that they are rooted in status and outward trappings. We touched on themes from our belief in the power of inefficiency, that time and experience trump artifice alone.

John asked about Randy’s recent travel. He contacted John for some multimedia help while he was in Essen, hanging with friends of his from BoardGameGeek.com. On the same trip, he visited with other friends, band mates, staying in Ireland. He expanded on the experience had had at BoardGameGeek.con and how it highlights the difference between table top gaming in the US and in Europe. Beyond that excellent base experience, Randy got special access due to the live cast he worked on, getting a chance to talk to the game creators.

John geeked out about his craft as a producer. He revealed the moments when he is able to calm his beaker nature, cultivating the focus needed to do seamless, live switching of video. Randy appreciated that same experience for much the same reasons.

Randy’s most recent travel was San Francisco, on the dime of the Grammies association. They flew him and his co-author, Jason Feehan, out to talk about the material in their book, the Indie Band Survival Guide. A new edition just came out. The themes in both editions have so much driven the industry that a stayed old industry stalwart still respects the value of what allows indies, and really all musicians and creators, successful today.

Randy brought us back around to the cocktails we were finishing up, asking whether Manhattans were traditionally bourbon or rye. He and John speculated that local sourcing may have informed why certain liquors were used for certain local and regional cocktails. And on a local theme, they quickly recapped John’s Chicago visit, to tempt him and me both to come out to Chicago for a visit soon.

You can grab the flac encoded audio from the Internet Archive.

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LLF 2013-08-18 Sesquipedalian Philosophization Exclamatory Inebriation

This is an episode of the Libation Liberation Front podcast.

We were delighted after finishing our Balticon inspired science trilogy to have Jason Ramboz, fellow local homebrewer, join us while we were all still at the con. He brought some of his Sesquipedalian Philosophization Exclamatory Inebriation, a beer made in honor of John Cmar, friend of the podcast and enthusiast for large and lesser used words. Jason explained his thinking in the design of this beer, similar to Ommegang’s Three Philosophers but using my dubbel recipe as a base.

I walked us back for a moment to actually introduce Jason for those who are unfamiliar with him. Jason was one of the regulars at The Secret Lair before that project ended. John and I got a chance to try the results of has playful take on homebrewing, Abbott Ackbar a trappist style ale, last year at our annual gathering of beer geeks at Balticon. Jason put his philosophy into a bit more context, that he also enjoys cooking, which also encourages experimentation and creative play.

We returned to geeking a bit about the process that went into the beer we shared. As much as it undershot the Dye-cast Dubbel in the grain, Jason demonstrated a deft hand with the cherries (six pounds of them!) to produce a clean, fresh, delicious beer that is everything you want when you brew with fruit and nothing you don’t. He confirmed some of our impressions of the trappist style beer he shared last year.

Jason used a bit of chamonile in both beers. John picked up on it as a certain freshness. I didn’t notice until he mentioned it. Jason admitted that it had been three or four months since he had tasted it and that note had dropped out a bit. I speculated that the higher alcohol may explain why it abides more in the finish then elsewhere on the palate.

945998_10200236434536571_785070281_nWe admired the label art for this beer, designed by another alum of The Secret Lair, Natalie. She and her partner, Andy, were at the con last year and shared beers with all of us as well. Both Jason and I have been cartoonified by Natalie. John reminded us that if some day he is rendered as a carton, it must be as mirror-mirror universe Beaker.

We continued to geek about beers, both the idea of having Jason back to taste the new recipe of the Rogue Archivist since he tasted some of the first recipe previously and the stepping stones from extract to partial grain through to all grain brewing. Jason’s experiences definitely matched many of the lessons John and I have learned over the years. We especially shared concerns about temperature control, cooking over electric and more so gas.

John and Jason waxed philosophic about cooking, as a basic of life and a thorough touchstone. This animates Jason’s love of cooking shows. From there he related it to his love of craft brewing, especially what Sam Calagione has coined as extreme brewing, that sense driven, playful embrace of brewing and flavor. John reminded us all of how accessible home brewing remains, despite some of the heights to which even home brewers are able to reach. This extends to the functional and structural, the very open source nature of brewing recipes, as well as the craft and the craftsperson’s ethos of sharing knowledge.

Jason finally got around to explaining the name of the beer, which is a rather involved story in itself.

You can grab the flac encoded audio from the Internet Archive.

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