Monday, December 15, 2014

The Rollin’ Golden Pub


It began innocently enough.  Someone goes to California on business with a side mission: “If at all possible, bring back this specific beer.”  She looked.  And had someone else help her.  And via faithful sleuthing and persistence, she found it.  She packed it in her suitcase.  It survived the flight.  It was delivered as requested. And then…  Glory be!

The recipient shared.

“You.  You. and You.  Parking lot. After work.”  And this is how it came to pass that a beer made in Sonoma County, California found its way east, to Georgia, well beyond its normal distribution boundaries.  The beer was Russian River’s Pliny the Elder:

So what? you say.  It looks pretty plain? Let me offer this description from a “beer muse” out in interweb:

The best way I can describe the drinking experience of Pliny the Elder is saying that there is a taste wave the drinker experiences.  First, of course, is a hop insurgence that gives a full-bodied citrus wallop to the tongue, but not an obnoxious wallop.  There’s a moment in Pliny’s taste wave, like when a surfer first hits a big wave, where everything feels like it might go wrong.  I’ve had plenty of imperial IPA’s that start off magical only to land hard on a sour taste note.  Not Pliny.

The next part of the taste wave is a fresh bittering flavor that lingers on the back of the tongue with a clean pine taste.  It’s different than that first citrus hop hit.  What you’re left with is wonderfully different than the taste you started with.

The citrus-to-pine taste wave makes you want to go back for another flavor ride.

As everyone has opinions, websites are created to capture enthusiast feedback.  Hence, the Ratebeer score is 100.  Beeradvocate also rates it 100.  Pick a list for Imperial/Double IPAs, and it’s at or near the top.  World Class.

…but.  Some math.  12 ÷ 4 = 3.  I know. I’m not being considerate of those who learn their math via Common Core.  Trust me.  The math is right, if a bit of a let down.  What it means is that 12 fluid ounces split 4 ways results in a meager sample per eager participant. 

The obvious solution, of course, is to supplement the offering.  Hello Dreadnaught IPA from Three Floyds Brewing in Indiana.  This scores a respectable 100 and 98, respectively, from cited sources.  Not too shabby.

Indeed.  Better than that!  Two stellar beers in a tasting is inspirational.  What if four like minded people assembled each month to enjoy well-reputed beers from far and wide?  And met at the (seasonably opportune heated or air-conditioned) Rollin’ Golden Pub?   Thus the RGP experience was born.

We don’t argue about the beer.  We’re respectful of each other’s opinions, even if the others are wrong.  But they’re not, because we’ve never had a bad less than really good beer.  Still, we took note of a serious challenger only three months later. Heady Topper, the sole offering from Vermont’s The Alchemist Brewing:

Now, we return to that apt critic’s comments:

What hits your tongue first is a hop wall.  Like the brewer decided to bring in all of the artillery in the first lines.  As the flavor spreads across the tongue the finish is clean.  The hop feel at the back of the tongue lasts long, but isn’t offensive like some over-the-hop West Coast IPA’s.  Every moment of this drinking experiencing is world class.  Comparisons with other IPA’s is challenging, because this beer truly deserves the nods it’s getting for originality.

I poured my second Heady Topper into a glass.  It has a yellowish color and is filled with sediment.  I wonder if they want you to keep it in the can not to maintain the “essential hop aromas that [they] have worked so hard to retain,” as the can suggests, but, rather, to keep the feint of heart from seeing the unruly brew they’re imbibing.

After the shock wore off, because we never expected a competitor to The Champ, all four of us agreed that 1) This is better than Sr. Pliny and 2) we need more.  We’re still needing more.

But we did score, as unlikely as it was, a second Pliny the Elder the following month, and we agreed it definitely finished second.   Does it matter?  Not really.  We want more of both.

You can’t always get what you want, says The Glimmer Twins, but you get what you need. 

Over the course of the year, including 34 beers, our average Ratebeer score was 98.5 if we discount the inconsiderate rating provided for Mother Earth’s Endless River. 

If the raters at Beeradvocate are more discriminating, that would be evidenced by an average rating of 94.  That’s quite the collection of beer, and the list can be viewed by clicking on our spiffy, but not yet trademarked, logo:

image

We finished the year with a remarkable month.  One of us played Santa and converted Dollars to Euros, importing two (2) bottles of Westvleteren XII.  Click the link; it’s quite the story.  And, fortunately for all of us, it’s just as tasty as it is rare.  And we have pictures to tell the story, less the flavor:

It came well ensconced with international iterations of “Don’t break the beer!”

untitled-3

Customs inspection, eh?  These are not the droids you’re looking for.  Just a sample bottle of soda. Yeah, that’s it.

untitled-1

The unadorned bottle seems appropriate for its origin, not to mention the inferred legal smuggling.  And, yes, that is the Rollin’ Golden Pub in which it resides. 

untitled-2

December’s line-up, including the reflections of four happy patrons of the RGP:

untitled-4

Disclaimer: No rollin’ is conducted during said sampling.  The RGP serves as a bar counter.  We sometimes bring chairs. And avoid eye contact with others lest they feel invited.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Sonny Landreth Live @ Eddie’s Attic


Not every concert I go to is an “automatic” ticket buy.  This one was not, but it lay just outside the bull's-eye of “purchased,” attempting to climb over a dreaded wall of weeknight timing, finding appropriate company, and, always, price.  The wall got a little lower as travel expectations became clearer for a Tuesday night.  My concert buddy… on kid duty.  My son… doing his kid duty by studying for a college exam.  My wife… “At Eddie’s Attic?.  Hmm.  Let me hear a sample.”  Twenty seconds into a bluesy YouTube video, “Okay.”  And pricing, well, you pay what you must, but it’s not like it’s a big arena deal.  There is the x 2 factor, but the wall was low enough to step over.

Sonny Landreth is a slide guitar player who plays variations of the blues, but with a sound that is distinct and not, in an Eric Clapton comparison, commercially accessible.   He’s quite the technician, though, and one that I’ve been wanting to see for the last six years, which was when I first heard of him.

Sonny Landreth-2

Excuse the reflective window in the poster, but Eddie’s places their current concert in an enclosed glass cabinet.  As the poster says, the show also included Cindy Cashdollar, a steel guitar and Dobro player.  The concert included just the two of them, which turned out quite well.  Eddie’s is a small, long term Atlanta venue where people gather to listen to the music, and a limited number of musicians on stage doesn’t risk muddling the sound.

Sonny Landreth-10

Landreth began the show solo, playing about 5 songs.  One of these was, I believe, “Next of Kindred Spirit,” an instrumental piece that showed off his playing style perfectly (video at end).  Landreth plays with a very intent expression, appropriate for an exacting sound with a clumsy device (slide).  He plays with the slide on his pinky finger, and his other fingers keep a minimalist motion for making chords.

His right hand, in my wife’s word, is “elegant.”  He uses all five fingers, picking with his thumb, and spends a notable amount of time watching that hand, a place where most guitarists rarely look.   There’s a natural rhythm, pacing, and fluidity that he maintains that makes it look much easier than it is.

Sonny Landreth-8

He also will play all over the neck of the guitar, sometimes ahead of his slide in an awkward crossed arm posture, and very often he will brush the strings with his palm while adjusting a foot pedal to create something like a crying sound.  And other times, he’s hammering or slapping the strings.  It’s obvious he mastered how to use the slide then spent a lot of time trying to coax different sounds out of what is a fairly uniform style when heard.

Cindy Cashdollar joined in with “Blues Attack,” and the rest of the evening held the pattern of Landreth singing and alternating guitar solos.  Both her style and sound leaned towards Country Blues, but it played well with Landreth whose vocal delivery almost leans that way.  The pair sounded best when they played together rather than one soloing such as in their encore, “Seashells,” which may be a converted Hawaiian slack key guitar song.

Otherwise, the set included Skip James’ “Cherry Ball Blues,” Robert Johnson’s “Walking Blues,” Rolling Stones’ “Prodigal Son,” Elmore James’ “It Hurts Me Too,” Big Bill Broonzy’s often covered “Key to the Highway,” and Landreth’s “South of I-10,” “Hell at Home,” “Zydeco Shuffle” and “Blues Attack.”  There were others as well.

Landreth is entertaining in his commentary to a point.  Although relaxed and friendly, he sees reluctant to “own” the stage, speaking off to the side while looking at no one in particular, not that he isn’t listening to the audience.  It’s also likely he’s used to playing rowdier places than Eddie’s.  It’s a hard place to get people to dance.  

Sonny Landreth-13

Cashdollar was a quiet presence, going about her business, occasionally giving Landreth a happy look, which he probably never saw being focused on his guitar.

I’d like to see Landreth again, but with a full band and with the amplifier turned up.  Someday.

Sonny Landreth-17

3 of 5 STARS

 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

John Wesley – Disconnect – CD Review


This is a CD that I went out and found.  After re-watching Porcupine Tree’s Anesthetize DVD, I got curious about their touring guitarist.  VoilĂ , John Wesley and his latest CD.

For everything very technical or progressive rock found in Porcupine Tree, this CD is not.  But it’s also not .38 Special in its paint by the numbers song structure, raised fist anthems, or radio ready guitar solos.  Instead, this a a fairly contemplative set of songs that allows a guitarisJohn-Wesleyt to have his way.   And, if the guitarist’s name is the titular artist, then his vocals are (usually) obliged to be included.  In any case, this is a rocking CD that is built for repeated listening.

There are lyrics that could be prime Porcupine Tree material, and the first two songs would be prime candidates.   Wesley’s vocals are by no means the strength of this album.  They’re honest, he voices his lyrics well, and he ventures into some unusual phrasings on the refrains that work.  But it’s a worn voice and not one that a casual listener would expect to be in a lead singer role.   Then the guitar solo kicks in, and you don’t care anymore. 

The first two songs, “Disconnect” and “Any Old Saint” are fine examples.  Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson would deliver these with a precise sterility, which isn’t a bad thing.  There’s just no point in others doing that.  Here, Wesley sounds like a grizzled veteran, wearied from past decisions that cause him to be less than he should be and not particularly optimistic of doing much better.  So, that doesn’t sound like a very listenable album, right?  The lyrics can be obtuse, but they remain worth a read.  Here’s the lyric for “Satellite”:

When I wake to the darkened skies
I tell myself all the little lies

Lies that make us whole again
The ones that help us carryon and just pretend

When I stare into the night
I see you there as a satellite

Out of reach up in the sky
Never touching down and you’ll never try

Better just a dream you are
A satellite lost among the stars
Better just a dream you stay
Better if we just, if we just look away

Better just a dream you stay
Better if we just, if we just look away

If the cover photo suggests a questioning of the nature of morality found in war, Wesley’s lyrics often suggest the search for a corresponding faith. 

So, if judging the measure of an album is to be found in its themes, there’s some satisfaction here.  However, the guitar is why people choose to listen, and Wesley doesn’t disappoint, especially on the songs listed below.  Surprisingly, “Take What You Need” reveals an inner Billy Squier.  I’m surprised he doesn’t use that more often or feature his female supporting singer higher in the mix (or on lead vocals).

Overall, a very satisfying CD. 

Recommended Songs: “Disconnect,” “Any Old Saint,” “Once a Warrior,” “Take What You Need”

3 of 5 STARS

 

 

Friday, December 5, 2014

George Dickel Distillery Tour


The lesser known of Tennessee’s distilleries, George Dickel is somewhat more convenient for those passing by on the interstate.  And, if it’s not exactly convenient, then it’s certainly a scenic drive... one that ends up in a scenic “hollow.”

untitled-56-16

Cascade Hollow, that is.  Here it is back around 1964, when the present site was built for... (wait for it)... 1 million dollars!

untitled-56-6

It’s not much different today.

untitled-56-5

Here’s the other side of the plant.  No, not very interesting, other than a hydrant system made it all this way.

untitled-56-10

The original distillery began making whisky back in 1870 just down the road.

untitled-56-7

Dickel was a merchant and would buy the distillery in 1884.  At the time, the brand was Cascade Whisky, “mellow as moonlight.”  There is no “e” before the “y” as he is attributed with saying that as “his whisky was as smooth as the finest Scotch” he would spell it in the Scottish tradition.   Here’s George in front of his visitor’s center.

untitled-56

So, the process begins with maple logs, which are cut into 2” square lengths and stacked in “ricks.”  About 9 times per year, they burn these behind the shed seen in the left of the photo below.   A whole bunch of them.  These burn to the desired ash consistency to be considered maple charcoal.  These are hand shoveled and trucked across the street to the plant.  Old fashioned, it is.

untitled-56-3

Ingredients include 84% corn and 8% each of rye and barley.  These are milled and brought to a broil with local water forming the “mash.” Imagine big steel tanks.  Afterwards, yeast is added in open steel vats (~19,000 gallons each) where fermenting takes place, forming alcohol and carbon dioxide.  These can be seen in the tour at various stages of bubbling based on how many days they’ve been in the vats, and there is a slight odor of alcohol (~10%).  You will note explosion proof electrical fixtures in the facility, one reason, at least, why pictures are not allowed within.

Distillation involves separating the alcohol from the wort (or used mash).  Dickel has a rather striking 3 story distillation column, which has baffles throughout, in which this is done.  Essentially, boilers heat the liquid so that the alcohol boils into a vapor and is collected, while the water and solids pass through. The used mash is high in proteins and sold as livestock feed.

As the flavor of their whisky was observed to be better in winter months, they chill the whisky to 40 degrees before it enters the mellowing vats.  These vats are 13’ tall, filled with the maple charcoal but further filtered by a layer of virgin wool cloth at both the top and bottom of the tank.  As opposed to dripping the alcohol through in a regular process by their larger nearby competitor, Dickel fills the vats to smooth, mellow or otherwise make the stuff easier to drink. 

After mellowing sufficiently, the alcohol is moved to holding tanks, after which it is filled into 53 gallon oak barrels (made by others in Kentucky).  These are aged from, I gather, 5-12 years in 9 warehouses that are all nearby (~200,000 bbls).  A small warehouse is located on site.  Interestingly, these are all single story warehouses (6 rows of barrels), which provides a very uniform flavoring.  Multistory warehouses have different flavor profiles which must either be utilized or shifted during the aging years.

untitled-56-11

They show a short video to show how this is done.  Afterwards, the (now) whisky is diluted with water to achieve the desired alcoholic content, and... shipped to Illinois in unmarked tankers for bottling.  That’s kind of anti-climactic.  If, however, someone were to purchase a single barrel, as sometimes happens, then those barrels are bottled on site.

The fact is that Dickel is owned by Diageo, a British multinational alcoholic beverage company that is quite a bit larger than the company which owns their nearby competitor.   But this is a small operation, with the distillery being operated by 29 employees and no automated controls.  There’s plenty of history to be found on the web – the Prohibition years and the like, if you look for it.

Depending on the tour you take, you may get a tasting as well.  Here’s what that looks like:

untitled-56-13

untitled-56-14

The White Corn Whisky is said by some to have a flavor of corn.  I’m not one of those people.  It’s not aged in barrels and tastes like (watered down) alcohol.  No one apparently knows why they refer to their main brands as Old No. 8 and Superior No. 12.  The No. 8 is aged from 5-7 years and is considered a mixing whisky where you’re not fully concentrating on the flavor.  The No. 12 is definitely suitable for sipping, the extra years (7-=9 total) having mellowed the flavor despite 5% more alcohol in the mix.  And the Dickel Barrel Select...  better still.  Barrels are sampled for flavor and 10 are mixed to form this “small-batch” release each year.  These are matured in barrels slightly  They’re also aged between 10-12 years.  My opinion?  I’m not an expert in these things.  But the Select I would consider more complex in its flavor, and, in my limited recollection, preferable over any of the Jack Daniels products I’ve had. 

Below is their Visitor center, where you can purchase their product and the usual assortment of logo novelties and clothing.

untitled-56-4

An old advertisement posted for bathroom humor:

untitled-56-8

A light so you can read the above sign in the bathroom:

untitled-56-9

And, the afterthought comment of the tour.  The tree is outside the fermenter, where air is vented.  As a result, a blackish fungus grows on the tree (which remains perfectly healthy), but black trees were apparently tip-offs to revenuers when searching for illegal stills in them thar hills.  Or hollows.

untitled-56-15

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Rory Gallagher – Irish Tour (40th Anniv) Review


Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck pretty well defined the start of my interest in the electric blues guitar back in my prime “music exploration” days.  I would be come a fan of many other guitarists in a variety of genres, but I never heard a mention of Rory Gallagher.   gallagher

Decades later, my concert buddy loaned me a disk, the earlier version of this one, Irish Tour.  Which was followed by a DVD.  And later a biography of sorts by his bassist.  And now Rory is the benchmark that I judge blues guitarists by.  He wasn’t the greatest lyricist, but the blues doesn’t require that.  And he certainly wasn’t the greatest singer.  But as a package, you won’t hear a truer musician in translating emotion to music. 

These shows were recorded during the “Troubles” in Ireland between Catholics and Protestants.  Gallagher’s brother includes a disappointing narrative in the set that can’t hold to a timeline or subject, but the point is that there was real danger in playing at the selected venues, for the musicians and the crews that were determined to record the shows.  But Gallagher was Irish and determined.

The deluxe package, which is imported, includes all 16 songs from his Cork show (also released in the U.S. as a 2 disk version), all 14 songs from his Dublin show three days earlier, and 16 from his Belfast show 4 days prior to that.  The recording quality varies, with Cork being the best.  It would take a lot of note taking, though, to figure out which versions of the songs are the best.

rory

And that’s because, in this age of programmed lighting and special effects where nothing is left to chance, this was live music as it ought to be, where music is being created rather than replayed.   Gallagher goes where he wants to go, and it’s up to his band to watch or listen for the cues. 

As a result, these aren’t refined or precise songs.  If you want your blues played perfectly and devoid of emotion, try Joe Bonamassa or the last 35 years of Eric Clapton.   In 1974, Gallagher was at his peak, and these songs feature one “wow” moment after another from a guy who can extract any sound he wants from his guitar. 

Spotify was kind enough to include the full set for those uninitiated. 

5 of 5 STARS

 

 

 

Monday, December 1, 2014

When News is Indoctrination


The headline says, “Companies reap big tax savings from executive stock awards.”

Now, be honest.  What’s your read on this? You can take it several ways:

1) Factually.  Companies realize tax savings by providing stock awards to their leaders.  Yes, they do, and I’m certain the legitimacy of the action is buried somewhere within the IRS tax code, just as are other payroll expenses.

2) The rich just get richer.  It’s unfair that executives, who are already paid so much more than the 99%, get stock awards.  Worse, their company benefits by doing so.

3) Let them eat cake!  Companies intentionally pay their executives big bucks with the intent to deprive the citizenry from the funding that should rightfully fall to the government to redistribute. 

Sure, I’m picking this apart, but the headline was worded specifically to attract the attention of readers by inviting their interest.   To sum all three, companies reduce their tax burden by paying their executives beyond their base salary, thereby reducing the income to our deficit-challenged government.

The introductory paragraph is as follows:

Georgia’s biggest companies saved at least $2.1 billion on federal taxes over the last five years by awarding their top executives and other employees billions of dollars of stock awards, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis.

Yep, a (likely) factual story intro.  But I already know the ending.  Now, who wants to pay the AJC for the “insider” scoop on how we should be up in arms about this?  Maybe if I got a tax deduction for it, I’d go for that.  But it would be wrong to support such a large corporation who gives bonuses to their executives.

P.S. Click the picture for a history lesson.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Art of McCartney – CD Review


Fresh off the heels of Eric Clapton’s tribute to  J.J. Cale comes a tribute album to a music icon, Paul McCartney, “sung by the world’s greatest artists.”  There needs to be an asterisk pointing to a disclaimer noting “when they were relevant.”  junk

It’s not the songs, of course.  It’s not the musicianship.  And it’s not (all of) the artists.  It’s the uninspired and insipid concept and production.

On Clapton’s CD, the choice was made to make the the entirety sound like a JJ Cale album, which at worst might point people to the source material.  

It’s similar here in that the majority of songs are played by McCartney’s touring band in almost note for note mimicry.   And why not? They can play this stuff perfectly, and probably have played half or more of these songs in front of millions.   And if that makes it literally and figuratively easier for the world’s “best” to record mail in their vocals, all the easier, right?  

Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, Steve Miller, Roger Daltrey (The Who), Heart, Jeff Lynne (ELO), Barry Gibb (Bee Gees), Willie Nelson, Brian Wilson (Beach Boys), Dr. John, Alice Cooper, BB King, Sammy Hagar... KISS for goodness sakes. 

Now, do you want to hear those artists sing Sir Paul’s songs, or interpret them?  If you like Karaoke and are a big fan of one or more of these artists, then this CD is for you.

It struggles from the start, with one of McCartney’s triumphs, “Maybe I’m Amazed.”  Billy Joel doesn’t sound like Billy Joel anymore.  He can whistle fine, but despite his straining effort, his voice creaks from an old man’s bones.  Roger Daltrey attacks “Birthday” like he’s wanted to cover the song all of his life.   He should have just done it 25 years ago.  It makes me appreciate Dylan the more for reinventing his persona with a caustic charm over the last 20 years... but Dylan and pop song covers just don’t go together, friendship or not (“Things We Said Today”). 

Heart?  Well, the Wilson sisters cover “Band on the Run,” and turn a rocker into a ballad.  If I hadn’t seen the credits, I wouldn’t have known who was singing.  C’mon folks, Gretchen Wilson could have done wonders.    Harry Connick, Jr.?  And “My Love?”  Meh. How about Michael BublĂ©?  Smokey Robinson’s cover of “So Bad?”  This performance would have him booted in the first round from any reality show (and for choice of songs).   

And those are just some of the less than satisfactory examples.  A producer who carried his own weight would have told Barry Gibb that he was uninspired and pointed out to Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders) that “Mary” has two syllables, and “words” has one, not two.  And so on.  Hit the del button and move on.   

That’s not to say that there are not a few decent moments.  Brian Wilson at least manages to work in an interesting arrangement of (a great deep cut track) “Wanderlust.”  “Bluebird,” one of McCartney’s breeziest guilty pleasures, benefits from Corrine Bailey Rice’s jazzy approach, but how much better would it have been with her own band?  Otherwise, hmm.  B.B. King enjoyably covers one of Sir Paul’s few blues tunes, “On the Way,” an overlooked gem from McCartney II.  

Indictment:  There is not a single song here that sounds better than McCartney’s original version.   Where any of these songs made it to my playlist, I would not swap out the original for one of these covers.  Steve Miller, Paul Rodgers, Jeff Lynne, Cheap Trick, Def Leppard... good job, but you had one hand tied behind your back. 

For laughs, Willie Nelson, whose voice is ageless compared to his peers, chose the Beatles’ classic, “Yesterday.”    As the song goes, “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away.  Now it looks like they’re here to stay.”   I imagine this dreck will have a far briefer season than than his tax woes.

Recommended Songs:  None, as recorded here.

1 of 5 STARS