Mar 022016
 

Liquorature #081 – “Fallen Angels” (Walter Dean Myers)Fallen Angels

Date:  February 26th, 2016

Host:  Jay

Whisky:  Johnnie Walker Green Label, Douglas Laing Premier Barrel Lochnagar 11 y.o., Douglas Laing Premier Barrel Laphroaig 8 y.o.

 

Quick!  While it’s still fresh!

Unbelievable.  These event write-ups are finally up to date.  This last one you’re reading is a recap of a gathering just five days back.  Can’t lie.  Feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.  I know it is a small contingent that actually reads these meanderings, but they’re captured for posterity nevertheless.  The collective can always look back in fondness on some of these old memories.  That’s the hope anyway.

‘Fallen Angels’.  Interesting pick, this.  We were sitting around at one of the past gatherings months back and Jay had yet to make his selection.  “Hold on,” he said.  He spent a couple minutes on his phone searching the net for ‘most controversial books’ or ‘most challenged books’ or something, and voila!  This was announced then and there.

I think we all came into this one blindly.  None of us knew the title, nor the author, let alone the subject matter.  War.  The Vietnam War, to be exact.  We’ve covered war before, of course, most recently with Boyden’s ‘Three Day Road’ and Conrad’s ‘Heart Of Darkness’, but this would be a very different take.  What went down in Vietnam a few decades back was a watershed moment for many things: media, patriotism, understanding of warfare, culture, politics, on and on and on.  Vietnam was huge.  And for those reasons, it makes absolutely fascinating subject matter.  It has, of course, also led to some incredible films, music and art.

Our discussion was interesting this time around.  No real dissent.  In fact everyone really quite liked the book (conceding a few small flaws or omissions), but where it got really engaging was in our collective understanding and response to what went down in Vietnam and the state of the world that both led to it and resulted from it.  Some truly insightful opinions and, much like the conflict itself, a lot of seeming uncertainty.  This was especially evident in discussions about whether the US should have been involved and how each of us would have handled ourselves as draft-eligible (or volunteers) young men if we had been around at this time in history.  The class and race aspect was given a lot of consideration.  As was an empathetic approach to understanding the Veitnamese side of the story.  Actually, quite an unforgettable night.

Johnnie Walker Green made its third appearance as a club selection, and was even better than most remembered.  It was two Douglas Laing ceramic decanter releases under the ‘Premier Barrel’ line that had us all sitting upright and taking notice.  The first was an 11 year old Lochnagar.  Beautiful nose.  THe second was a young and kicking Laphroaig 8 year old.  I think I preferred the former, but the masses leaned to the latter.  Both awesome though.  And a real treat from bygone years.

Great night, all in.  Jay’s choices of book, malts and great Vietnamese nibbles were inspired and probably earned him just the sort of rewards he’d hoped for.

Random notes:  No Jesse, Chris or Ginger … “The sharpest thing on the table…” … “Beat you with a dildo” … Do you guys surf?” … “You can always have more kids” … a couple other great Laphroaig bottles … some membership discussion

 

– Curt

Mar 022016
 

heart-of-darkness-by-joseph-conradLiquorature #080 – “Heart Of Darkness” (Joseph Conrad)

Date:  January 22nd, 2016

Host:  Steve

Whisky:  BB&R Bunnahabhain 1987 Cask #2447 26 y.o., Arran Single Cask 1997: Sherry Cask #712, Cooper’s Choice Port Charlotte 2001Cask #1015 11 y.o.

 

Well…we kicked off 2016 – year seven for the club – in fine fashion.  While our two newest acolytes were conspicuously MIA, we old vanguard kept ranks, did this one some justice and knocked the piss out of some sexy bottles of single malt.

Our host for the evening, Steve, was kind enough to offer up a ‘warm-up’ dram as we trickled in for the eve and waiting for the others to arrive.  This early palate workout was a sexy little number from the Roughstock distillery in Montana; the very same Black Label Jay had poured us on ‘Deliverance’ night (hear them banjos, boys?).  I said it then and say it now: a two year old malt whisky out of the northern US has no business being this good.  64+% of easy drinking goodness.

Though initially I thought this book would be met with some consternation from those in our ranks who tend to shy away from the early centuries’ offerings, there seemed to be a unanimity in terms of general appreciation and further, in regards to the criticisms levied.  Not often we all stand on the same side of the line.

Let’s talk about the malts for a minute or two.  Steve poured in a complete reverse order from the way I would have done it, but he nailed it.  While we started with richer, heavier flavours and worked our way into lighter, more complex elements, at the same time we kept climbing rungs in terms of quality, ultimately finishing with an outstanding 26 year old independent Bunnahabhain.  Great bottle find, Steve-o.  Hoping time and opportunity presents itself for me to impose myself for another dram of this one.  Additionally, the indie Port Charlotte we tried was the oldest I’ve yet met, at 11 years.  Neat.  I think I prefer it younger and with a little more sass.  Maybe that’s just me.  The others liked this one a lot.  And me?…yeah, of course I dug it too.

Great ambiance and atmosphere for this one.  Cozy little circle…lamplit…a brilliant background of old blues tunes…and exactly the sort of camaraderie we strive for.  Brilliant night, all told.

Random notes:  No Jesse or Eric … Roughstock warm-up … “salty dusty ****** nuts”

 

– Curt

Mar 022016
 

Liquorature #079 – “The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale Of Christmas Stupidest AngelTerror” (Christopher Moore)

Date:  December 21st, 2015

Host:  Curt (but not really)

Whisky:  Lots and lots of ’em

 

You had me at ‘zombies’.

In what we’ve dubbed a new Liquorature tradition, this was our second annual Christmas wrap-up.  We do things a bit different for this once-a-year shindig.  No hosts…no whisky purchases…none of the usual stuff.  Instead, we hold a heels party and a bit of a potluck noshing.  Everyone is responsible for bringing a bottle (or three or four) and some sort of food to contribute to the feast.  The book is shortlisted and agreed upon by majority.

In hunting through Christmas titles to follow last year’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ selection, I chances upon this little sliver of a novel by Christopher Moore.  You may recall we read ‘Lamb’ by Moore a couple years back.  His irreverent sense of…well…everything actually was quite a refreshing little break from the more serious nature of so many of our picks.  It was like plunging into a cold pool or having cask strength come out yer nostrils.  A bit of a wake-up.  And a hell of a way to engage again with the fun side of reading.

Moore is fucked up dude.  No two ways about it.  In the vein of Vonnegut, Robbins and other intellectual, yet humour-driven, authors extraordinaire.  But it’s this fucked-up-edness that makes him instantly appealing.  His stories are absurd to the point of almost becoming believable again.  Come on…we all know some pretty colorful characters in this life If we think about it.  Now just imagine a world entirely populated by those sorts.  Then add zombies and shit.  Awesome.

The b’ys loved this one.  Not an intellectual puzzler by any means; simply a great escape and an easy read for the holidays, a time in which we all struggle to make time for the little things in life (such as books).  These sorts of discussions are more along the lines of shared laughs and recollections of favorite parts than any sort of true literary dissection.  The consensus was, though, that while this was great, ‘Biff’ was better.

So…no malts to discuss.  Though we had about 25 on the table for sipping.  And the food?  A brilliant mishmash of delish.  In a way it’s like everyone is the host, as we all get to put our personal stamp on the night.  In fact, I’m already looking forward to Christmas 2016.

And with that we close out another great year.

 

– Curt

Mar 022016
 

Liquorature #078 – “Gulliver’s Travels” (Jonathan Swift)Gulliver

Date:  November 27th, 2015

Host:  Scott (aka Ginger Buddha)

Whisky:  A.D. Rattray Strathmill 22 y.o. Cask #10310, Edradour SFTC Chateauneuf du Pape 13 y.o., Signatory Bowmore 1985 25 y.o. Cask #32211, Compass Box Peat Monster Cask Strength

 

Every one of us wanted to kick Ginger in the balls for this pick when he sprung it on us so many months back.  Most of the guys out of sheer uninformed (but speculative) dread.  Me, at least, out of a grounded and informed dread, as it was one I’d read in lit classes years back.  Alas, selections like this are the very reason this club exists.  Not a lot of ‘average joes’ out there will ever casually pick up a copy of ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ and thumb their way from page one through to the last written word.  It would be interesting to check suicide rates among those that have read it.  With the club, though, we are here to push one another.  Perhaps down a flight of stairs, in this case.

We started the evening’s discussion, sipping a 22 year old Strathmill, I might add, with a consensus to tar and feather our host before we called it a night.  Without exception, everyone in the collective found this book a tiresome, tedious, over-fucked and ridiculously dated piece of satirical meandering.  What happened as we discussed, however, was one of the most interesting Liquorature developments to date.  I had done a load of research before coming into this evening’s gathering, figuring that a bit of historical context might help the gang see this for what it was.  Or what it was meant to be anyway.

From 2016’s far-removed vantage, much of what made ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ a contentious and dangerous piece of work at the time is lost on us.  Let’s not forget, ‘Gulliver’ was originally published anonymously.  Trying to suspend our preconceptions and placing ourselves in the political, religious, educational and socio-economic clime, however, takes this novel into entirely new realms.  I think by the time we were done our discussion on topical subject matter everyone’s appreciation for Swift’s cynical and rapier-sharp societal gutting was multiplied twofold.  Granted, they all still hated the experience of having to masochistically plow through it.  In short…”Ahhh…I get it now.  Still hate you for making me read it.”

By way of peace offering, Scotty, our ginger-headed host, offered up the afore-mentioned single cask Strathmill, a unique wine-finished Edradour that was a throwback to Liquorature’s younger years, a stunning 1985 Bowmore at the quarter century mark and finally a magnum of Compass Box’s Peat Monster Cask Strength.  All right, Ginger…you’re off the hook.  For now.

All in all, it turned out to be a great night of chatter and beverages.  I think we all learned a little bit about preconceptions and as clichéd as it may sound ‘judging a book by it’s cover’.

Thanks for a great night, Buddha.  Fun one.

Random notes:  A new addition (Eric joining us) … “literary waterboarding” … “Holy fuck!” (Bauer) … Brobdignagian dildo … “Didn’t even get a chance to catch her at the back door” (Steve)

 

– Curt

Mar 022016
 

Liquorature #077 – “Under Heaven” (Guy Gavriel Kay)guy-gavriel-kay-la-rinascita-di-shen-tai-L-85P79x[1]

Date:  October 30, 2015

Host:  Curt

Whisky:  Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt, Nikka From The Barrel, Kavalan Solist Bourbon, Chichibu Port Pipe

 

A few years back Lance gifted me a copy of ‘The Fionavar Tapestry’.  The whys of this gift are a little elusive, even in reflection, as fantasy is/was far from my preferred genre of fiction.  Previous escapades being limited to mostly a dozen or so ‘Dragonlance’ books in my teens, earlier Liquorature selection ‘Wizard’s First Rule’ and one or two others (and no…not even ‘Lord Of The Rings’ at that time).  I’m not sure if he thought he could win me over or if there was an even grander design.  Either way, I came away from it after turning the last weighty pages with a great appreciation of the work, but an even more profound appreciation for the man himself.  Kay that is, not Lance.  I already loved that old chap.

I’ll not share details here, but several factors went into my choosing ‘Under Heaven’ for the Liquorature crew.  First off…a few scenes in ‘Fionavar’ simply blew me away.  Battle scenes in particular.  I wanted to revisit that magic.  A while later, and after many a word shared with GGK himself, another one of his works, ‘Ysabel’, knocked my socks off.  Kay’s mix of fantasy (very lightly and deftly applied in the case of ‘Under Heaven’ and ‘Ysabel’) and history is extremely appealing.  And in the case of the latter, Kay’s tossing in some brilliant weavings of Celtic mythology had me turning pages through the wee hours.  Finally…Mr. Kay is himself a malt lover.  The more he and I conversed on the subject, the more I came to see how sprawling his knowledge and interests really are.  Sports, literature, art, travel, politics, people, Canadiana, and much, much more.  In many instances, the points of intersection were key enough to make me aware how blessed we are to have someone like this share of their thoughts via the written – and timeless – word.

That becomes paramount when diving into a book like ‘Under Heaven’, where most of us readers will be largely unfamiliar with the time and place captured in its pages.  More importantly, the customs and beliefs of an empire (or dynasty?) as depicted herein, become a challenge for us in terms of relatability from our distant vantage.  It’s how Kay handles this and empathetically leads us into this unfamiliar terrain that is a gift from his pen to our minds.  His insights and talent for evoking vivid imagery make Tang Dynasty era China (‘Kitai’, in this fictionalized telling) not only relatable, but uniquely appealing.  And did I mention it is set against a backdrop of actual Chinese history?  I’ll say no more, lest I spoil the tale for anyone.

The lads in the club had a favorable, if mixed, reaction to it.  When I say ‘mixed’ I refer mostly to preferences for certain pieces and characters in the story.  The writing was unanimously lauded and appreciated.  The unfolding of the tale itself left some with conflicting opinions.  No one, however, contested the magnitude of the work, and a couple are, in fact, going to move on to Kay’s follow-up work ‘River Of Stars’.  Says something, aye?

In terms of playing into the theme and all that we do here in Liquorature, well…suffice it to say there really is no such thing as a Chinese whisky (locally anyway), and what I could source as a distilled Chinese beverage tasted like sweatsocks and ramen noodles.  Yep.  We had to try it, of course, and I simply have to say…not awesome.  Having said that, I branched out a bit for this one and went with a general ‘Asian’ theme.  Some Japanese and Taiwanese malts from a couple of consistently great distilleries.  The Kavalan was a favorite, but the Nikkas we sipped surprised a couple of the lads.  Seems the collective has a sweet spot for Asian malts.

Dinner was sweet Thai chili chicken over jasmine rice, bringing a mix of heat and sweet, followed by rich vanilla ice cream and lychee fruit.  All paired surprisingly well with big single malts.

There is more I could share here, but some has not fully played out yet (sorry, can’t tell), and some is simply reserved for those that were there at the time.  All in all, a special night made moreso by some help I received from the author.  Thanks for that, Guy.  Appreciate it.

Until next…

Random notes:  Lychee cocktails … Chu Yeh Ching Chiew … Danny sat in … tried the DI cask … a wee gift … sweet Thai chili chicken … ice cream with lychee …”The French of Asia” … “He yin’d her yang” … “I’m just gonna roll a a twenty-sider”

 

– Curt

Feb 102016
 

Liquorature #076 – “Where The Red Fern Grows” (Wilson Rawls)where-the-red-fern-grows-cover[1]

Date:  October 2nd, 2015

Host:  Bauer

Whisky:  Oban Little Bay, Arran Single Cask 1999: Bourbon Cask #72, Ardbeg Auriverdes, Ardbeg Ardbog

 

Ok, Bauer.  ‘Fess up.  You only picked this sorry-ass piece of sub-literate kiddie fare to see if you could make grown men cry, didn’tcha?  Bah!

Happy to say there were no tears shed by this guy (except maybe in frustration at the corn pone, inbred, yokelspeak and absolute unrelatability of both the story and paper-thin characters).  Did that sound full of disdain and animosity?  Hope so.  I was laying it on pretty thick.

I think some of the other lads were a little more generous with their assessments of this one than I was, but this is no masterpiece to say the least.  I think all conceded that without much debate.  Two things:  1) Rawls was a writer by accident.  And he was a hack.  And 2) Time has not been kind to this story.  Let’s leave it there.  After all, this is an event recap, not a book review.

Suitably enough, two crazy ass bouncing hounds were our companions for the eve.  Alvin and Captain Awesome, Bauer’s faithful furry companions were snuggled up with us for most of the evening.  Fortunately for Chris, Awesome’s paws were kept out of ‘junking’ distance from his groin this time ’round.  At a previous Bauer-led shindig, his giggleberries had been on the receiving end of a hole pile of Doberman punching power.  Thankfully he is done having kids.

Back to back events wherein we beat up on bottles of Ardbeg couldn’t possibly be a bad thing either.  Last month was the Perpetuum, while for this gathering Bauer poured both the Auriverdes and Ardbog, two limited expressions from days gone by.  I’m an unfettered Ardbeg fanboy, of course, so I’ll refrain from gushing here, but all the lads were more than enamored with these two drams.  Additionally we sipped the newest NAS Oban release, Little Bay (meh…s’ok), and a pretty damn good Arran single cask.  Arran are exciting.  Their whiskies continue to surprise and excite.

And finally…it was a treat to check out Bauer’s new digs.  First club night at his new place.  Very nice, buddy.  Look forward to many more gatherings here.

Random notes:  The new house … the dogs … “When my dog died…I cried.  When my grandparents died…I didn’t.”

 

– Curt

Feb 102016
 

Liquorature #075 – “Three Day Road” (Joseph Boyden)three-day-road

Date:  August 21st, 2016

Host:  Chris

Whisky:  Ardbeg Perpetuum, Inchmurrin 18 y.o., Glenfarclas 2002 Family Casks Willow Park Exclusive

 

Is Canadiana (or Canadian fiction, for that matter) always so depressing?  From the dystopian leanings of Atwood, through the maritime poverty of Douglas Adams Richards…from the ravages of Edugyan’s World War II era Europe to Mistry’s teeming slums of India, our truly talented Canadian authorial elite have emotionally kicked our asses throughout these early years of Liquorature.

Add another sadistic scribe to the mix, in one Joseph Boyden, hailing from the center of the universe (aka Toronto).  Boyden’s narrative skill and deep understanding of complex character dynamics are matched only by his subject matter expertise and impressive research skills.  There are simply no two ways about it, this story was about as immersive a literary experience as one could imagine.  For those of us (the entire global population now) that were not around to experience the horrors of World War I’s trench warfare, it’s almost unthinkable to question Boyden’s portrayal, so utterly believable is it.  Watching Elijah and Xavier change and cope (or not?) throughout this story was one of the most brilliant examples of character development I have ever experienced in literature.  The descent of these two men, as the story unravels, is not only believable, but harrowing.  There’s a psychological game at play here that hearkens back to other war stories we’ve all seen and read.  It sorta makes us realize that we’ll simply never understand the mindset required to survive these hand-to-hand forays into the fray.

Having said all that…everyone loved the book.  The only real division was between those who preferred the parts that pulled us into the bleakness of the European frontlines of Vimy et al, and those who preferred the less claustrophobic narrative of Xavier’s three day canoe ride through the wilds.  This is a book that is more than the sum of its parts though.  It leaves behind an indelible mark that can only be assessed as a whole.

We revisited a malt better left unrevisited, if I’m to be dead honest: a 2002 Willow Park Exclusive Glenfarclas Family Cask.  I think Chris may have forgotten we’d tried this one, but man…not good.  Solventy and with hints of Mezcal.  Shudder.  To this day I have no idea why this was ever bottled as a single cask.  An Inchmurrin 18 was a merely ‘ok’ middle act, but the Ardbeg Perpetuum we closed with was a knockout.  Pretty sure that one was little more than fumes by the end of the eve.

Random notes:  The appearance of a big, surly Scot … a rather sordid Glenfarclas encounter … an extra bottle … “drop the mic” … “you need England watching over you” … “fuck you and the unicorn you rode in on” … “that’s what Jaeger bombs will do”

 

– Curt

Feb 102016
 

Liquorature Gathering #063 – “The Dark Tower” (Stephen King)The_Dark_Tower

Date:  August 8th, 2014

Host:  Curt / Barry

Whisky:  BenRiach 1999 Cask #40043, SMWS 1.72 “Sophisticated, Delicate & Feminine” 19 y.o. (Glenfarclas), SMWS 77.28 “Tropical Nights” 25 y.o. (Glen Ord), Convalmore 28 y.o., Tullibardine 1964 42 y.o., Kavalan Peated Cask #02949 Distillery Exclusive

 

Some stories are just too big for Liquorature.  ‘The Dark Tower’ was one.  No book in the series, excepting possibly the first, was what could be (or should be) considered a standalone volume.  And, of course, asking the gang to read seven (plus) volumes, in addition to apocrypha and other works was simply not feasible or realistic.  A few years back I floated the idea of doing ‘The dark Tower’ as an offline opt-in Liquorature event for any who were willing to invest some extracurricular time to the multi-thousand page word count.  It never really gelled as an idea, though there were rumblings of interest.  We let it lie.

As you may well be aware by now, Liquorature fell into a period of slumber for a brief while; a cocoon-stage which we call The Dark Ages.  It was during this time that Maltmonster approached me, having started following the beams to the tower himself.  “This is a big story,” he said.  “We need to discuss”.  I’d read through the series a couple of times, and a few of the books several more times.  I was more than willing to crash read through all again to catch up.  MM suggested offering the former Liquorature members an opportunity to tag along on this epic journey, and make something of the night.  A meeting at the Bridlewood nexus, if you will (ahem…my house).  Sure enough, many were interested.  And so it came to happen.

At this time, understand, the club didn’t exist.  It had been nearly half a year since I Old-Yeller’d it in the back 40.  This monumental ‘Dark Tower’ event was a one-off.  A singular gathering with a central focal point.  I guess it had as a template prior Liqurature events to use as a Springboard, but event the simple fact that this was primarily Maltmonster’s event should be indicative enough of the extracurricular nature of this one.  Maltmonster was never a true Liquorature member.  As it came to be, he and I joint hosted this one.  My place, my food choices, etc…his malt selections, etc.

This was an undertaking, event and sprawling story of epic proportions.  Infinite proportions, even.  While most conceded 10/10 for scope, imagination and characters there were some criticisms for an occasionally meandering plot, some anachronistic placements of pop culture and an authorial interjection of the most intrusive sort imaginable (if you’ve read it you’ll understand).  But the greatest indignation was reserved for the ending.  Some were outright incensed; a couple reluctantly conceded its logic; and yours truly said it was perfect, beautiful and absolutely gutting.  I remember reading it for the first time and feeling like I’d been kicked in the stomach.  Remember, I’d been following these characters for probably 15 years by this point.  And even the most macho among us admitted shedding a tear and/or getting emotionally wracked at a couple of points throughout this journey.

The discussion was long.  It had to be.  We did this one justice, I’m proud to say.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that we were lubricating our tongues and minds with a stunning array of single malts.  Every bottle on the table had a reason behind its selection.  I won’t spill here (some things stay with Liquorature), but let’s just say they were as intrinsically linked to the story as the mythical numbers in ‘Lost’.  An SMWS Glen Ord and a stunning 28 y.o. Convalmore were unquestionably the highlights for me.  Both sit high in my all-time rankings now.

Taking further cues from the Ka-tet’s journey, I made my own version of ‘gunslinger burritos’.  Grilled, salted meat, wrapped in greens (with more goodies wrapped inside of course).  Quite amazing, if I do say so myself.  We’ve since made these a few times ’round my homestead.  Not bad for a concocted recipe.  Note: no bumblers were harmed in the making of this meal.

Finally…it was announced that Liquorature would be born again on the heels of this event, with this night leading the charge as the first occasion of our second run.  The faces may be different in some cases, but most of the workings would remain as they were.  We made something beautiful years back (before the world had moved on), now it was simply time to strengthen the beams.

I can’t lie…it felt good to be back in the saddle.  And hopefully this time we can keep it on the straight and narrow.

Until next…long days and pleasant nights.

 

– Curt

Feb 042016
 

Liquorature #062 – “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” (Haruki Murakami)Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Date:  March, 2014

Host:  Lorenzo

Whisky:  NA

 

And then the wheels fell off.

It was almost enough to bring a tear to my eye.  While I can look back fondly now through rose-colored glasses, taking something positive out of each of our past events, there was a cancer that had grown in the club.  A dark presence of malaise.  I wouldn’t say interest had flagged, but there seemed to be less love shown toward what we had painstakingly built up over the years.

It became harder and harder to keep conversations on track.  One or two individuals would engage in side conversations directly over (and louder than) others discussing the book.  Constant late arrivals and early exits.  An increased frequency of no-shows with little or no notice.  And a voice among us that brought a constant negativity to the table, bordering on belligerent at times.  Frustrating and derailing at all times.

I can’t now recall what the catalyst was, but halfway through reading Lorenzo’s pick for March, Murakami’s ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’, I’d had enough.  I pulled the plug.  And Liquorature died.

I was pretty forthright about what was going wrong.  I had some pleas to carry on, but the bitter taste in my mouth could only be washed away by the malts we drank for so long.  I told the guys that I had no idea what the future might bring, but as if now…it was over.

Needless to say we never did gather to discuss this book.  Most never finished, as far as I am aware.  Those that did expressed sentiments straddling the line between confusion and hostility.  Perhaps it’s best we didn’t gather on this one.  Someone (ahem…Lorenzo) probably would have died.  Murakami’s ‘1Q84’ threw us for a loop two years prior, but if that was a mindfuck this was a mindfuck while on acid.  In hindsight…some of this one was ok.  Mostly it was literary masturbation.  Hentai-style.

R.I.P., Liquorature.  You were loved.

 

– Curt

Feb 042016
 

Liquorature #061 – “The Count Of Monte Cristo” (Alexandre Dumas)count-of-monte-cristo

Date:  February, 2014

Host:  Jay

Whisky:  Whyte & MacKay 30 y.o., Adelphi Bunnahabhain 1979 31 y.o.

 

Again I have Jay to thank for picking what has become one of my all time favorite novels.  I had made it 35 years without ever tackling this monumental masterpiece.  Though I rue lost time, I think maybe I was in a better place to read it when I did.  let’s face it…this is a dense read.  It’s a story that demands undivided attention.  And deserves it.

When Jay picked this one he offered the guys the option of reading the abridged or unabridged edition, figuring that talking points about the discrepancies would make for interesting discussion in and of itself.  It did alright, but not in the way he’d hoped.  Those that read the abridged edition were utterly gutted when they realized how much of the story had been excised in the interest of brevity.  Devastating to have read so many pages, yet still to have missed out on so many more that seemed to hold some of the most poignant and interested (from our point of view anyway) bits.

One member struggled early on with this one, and gave up in a huff.  He sat there in stormy silence as we began unfolding this story, and as he realized what he’d missed out on by not persevering he tried to cut us short, asking we postpone this meeting so he could finish.  Ummm…no.  The thought was dismissed with prejudice.  Ludicrous.  This club was built on a will to betterment, not on pessimism and negativity.  anyway…

Dumas’s ‘Count’ was met with universal acclaim.  Those that read the unabridged, in particular, raved about it.  Layers of complexity, characters rich and engaging, shades of ambiguity to discuss, morality to be interpreted and debated.  So much more.  And the story…gads!  Amazing.  Simply writing this makes me want to revisit this story of justice, vengeance and redemption.  In fact, I will soon.

I have notes that we beat up on a 1979 Bunnahabhain, and I do know it was an independent release from Adelphi, but I don’t have further details.  Either way…it was universally adored.  As was a 30 year old blended whisky from Whyte & McKay.  There is a degree of malt snobbery in the club, but I like to think it is at least a well earned (and often justified) snobbery.  This W&M30, though, was a beautiful drink.  Were there others sipped this night?  Most likely, but you’ll have to forgive my foggy memory.

Yet again Jay keeps the bar held high.  Well done, mate.

 

– Curt

Feb 042016
 

Liquorature #060 – “Shalimar The Clown” (Salman Rushdie)Shalimar

Date:  January, 2014

Host:  Chris

Whisky:  Glenfarclas Family Cask 2002 (Willow Park Exclusive), Murray McDavid Macallan 1998 10 y.o., Amrut Fusion

 

I remember Lance once expressing his outright detestation of Rushdie.  I think he went so far as to threaten boycott in the event any of us picked one of Rushdie’s novels.  But how could we not?  The man is arguably one of literature’s most fascinating personages.

As you likely know if you’re reading this bit – here on a site dedicated to fiction – Rushdie was the subject of an Iranian fatwa (death sentence) declaimed by the Ayatollah Khomeini after the publication of his novel ‘The Satanic Verses’ in the late ’80s.  Perceived sleights against Islam, it seems, didn’t go over too well at that time either.  Hmmm…what to say about that?  Nothing here, to be certain.  In our closed room this chilly January night?  Well…that was another story.  Volatile, as you can imagine.  Very volatile.  And interestingly enough, somewhat polarizing in ways.  Enough said.

Suffice it to say, year six of Liquorature’s existence started off with a bang.  (That was a bad pun, wasn’t it?)

‘Shalimar’ was, I think, merely an ok story in the eyes of the gang.  The writing was highly praised, the characters lauded, but the overall experience was perceived to be somewhat lacking, if I recall correctly.  Our heated debates rages around external subject matter that was dredged up over the course of understanding culture, time and place, but wasn’t specific to opinions about the tale itself.  On that we presented a fairly united front.  Good solid…seven and a half (not really…just quoting ‘Beautiful Girls’ and driving home the mediocre, lukewarm reception).

The whiskies also left us headscratching a bit.  The Glenfarclas was an oddball, boasting notes of seventy mezcal, while the indie Macallan was top heavy with a not altogether pleasant wine-iness.  Oh well.  The Amrut was a life preserver thrown out into these turbulent waters.  In the end…we were saved.  And slightly drunk.  😉

Random notes:  Wish we’d had Lance here for this one.

 

– Curt

Feb 042016
 

Liquorature Gathering #059 – “Slaughterhouse-Five” (Kurt Vonnegut)slaughterhouse_five

Date:  December, 2013

Host:  Scott (aka Ginger Buddha)

Whisky:  Pig’s Nose, Bulleit Bourbon, Nikka Miyagikyo 15 y.o.

 

All this happened, more or less.

Man, it took is a long time to get ’round to Vonnegut.  I always thought it would be me to pick him at some point, but our Ginger Buddha beat me to it.  I’d have chosen something different (most likely ‘Cat’s Cradle’), but applying the pizza philosophy, any Vonnegut is good Vonnegut.

Like most of the author’s work, there is a jumbled and disjointed mishmash of surreality, science fiction, metaphysical, metaphorical, absurdist and appreciably literate meandering.  Though this may sound like a convoluted way of saying ‘what the fuck?’, the reality is that Vonnegut is hard to pigeonhole.  He’s equally difficult to form opinions on or analyze with any true sense of authority.  I think that’s why this choice worked extremely well for us.  In fact, I still debate doing ‘Cat’s Cradle’ at some point, simply to be able to revisit this mad genius.

The guys were non-committal in terms of expressing disdain or appreciation.  I think there was an acknowledgement of something remarkable, but a lack of truly getting on board with the delivery.  Fair enough.  I can see how Vonnegut is an acquired taste (or an unacquired taste, as the case may be).

Scott likes to play to themes with his whisky selections, often tying his choices back to the book in some manner or other, however I’ll be pickled if I can remember what (if any) ties there were between the drams listed above and this World War II era tale.  Either way…enjoyed.  In particular, the Miyagikyo 15 year old.  We’re discovering that a few of us have a rather keen appreciation for the art of Asian distillation.

So it goes…

 

– Curt

Feb 042016
 

Liquorature Gathering #058 – “The Fountainhead” (Ayn Rand)the-fountainhead

Date:  November, 2013

Host:  Curt

Whisky:  Macallan Travel Series “Forties”, MacKinlay’s Rare Old Highlands Malt (Shackleton Recreation), GlenDronach 1994 17 y.o. Cask #261, Amrut Intermediate Sherry, Ardbeg Corryvreckan

 

In the first year of Liquorature (book number nine in our queue, actually) we had a go at Ayn Rand.  ‘Atlas Shrugged’.  Her magnum opus.  A book – and worldview – that is as divisive as the border between the Koreas.

Things didn’t quite work out the way we’d hoped that night we gathered to discuss.  One or two of the Collective were MIA; one arrived late after a very long day of work; and I think another had to leave early.  There was a pervasive sense of ‘ugh, wish this event was on another night’.  Don’t get me wrong.  We had lots to say and everyone wanted to share, but it just wasn’t the best night for it due to circumstance.  We did end up in some rather heated discussion at the end of the night regarding unions and such, but as to the philosophical side of Rand’s work (known as ‘Objectivism’) we never really fully engaged.

Fast forward four years and it seemed about time to slip back into her sepia-soaked, early 20th century idealism.

Rand often gets lambasted for use of oversimplified idealistic supermen characters, hammer to the head philosophical diatribes and boxy, formal and unpoetic writing.  I can, in a way, understand the criticisms even if I don’t necessarily agree.  That’s a big debate and not one for the ‘here and now’.  Suffice it to say that some of the Liquorature boys felt exactly this way, while others were right behind her stylistic and intellectual leanings.  As I said above…divisive.  And as you can imagine, perfect fodder for book club discussion.

‘The Fountainhead’ was first published in 1943, so the opportunity to crack open a bottle of Macallan Forties was a no-brainer.  We like our theme play, aye?  The other malts, as listed above, were a smattering of neat drams and old favorites.  Quite frankly, I simply wanted to pour good drinks to compliment a novel I cherish and one that has a very special place in my heart.  And suit, they did.  Perfect social lubricant for this night.  And happy to report that we did more justice to this meeting than we did to the previous.  It was rousing, stimulating, intelligent and insightful.  The book earned much respect, if not all hearts.  If that makes sense.

On a selfish note, it pleases me to no end to share this one with others.  I first read it in high school, when it was passed on to me by a woman who changed my life.  We shared much, not the least of which was an intellectual bent and a need to push boundaries of accepted doctrine.  These are the things we’re meant to share, I think.

I should also note that as I write this, in January of 2016, we are debating tackling ‘Atlas’ again.  Only two of our current Collective was around in that first year.  Perhaps a do-over is in order.  More to come.

Random notes:  El Cid chili … salsa fresca and cinnamon buns … “blue eagle”

 

– Curt

Feb 012016
 

Liquorature Gathering #057 – “Fahrenheit 451” (Ray Bradbury)fahrenheit-451

Date:  October, 2013

Host:  Bauer

Whisky:  Highland Park Thor, Springbank Cask 450, Balvenie Single Barrel 12 y.o. Bourbon

 

Ah, Ray Bradbury.  The master.  Gotta credit Lance here for my own initiation into Bradbury’s worlds.  A few years back he introduced me to a collection of the man’s short stories by way of ‘The Illustrated Man’.  Of course I knew of Bradbury’s work, but in my naïve rejection of the genre I simply passed him over time and again.  When finally pressed to take book hand I was utterly blown away.  And frustrated with myself, I should add, for all the time wasted.

Bradbury’s shorter offerings are grounded (ironic word choice, I guess, considering a large proportion of his stories have deep space settings) more in speculative fiction with a simplistic – yet dark- bent, as opposed to any truly technical hard science fiction leanings.  In fact, the closest contemporary I can think of to Bradbury’s modus operandi is that of Stephen King’s own short stories.  The ‘get in, slit the throat, get out’ kind of brevity that makes them resonant, affecting and lingering.

So what happens when you take that concept a little further and expand to a couple hundred pages?  Quite frankly, it works perfectly.  Or at least it does with ‘Fahrenheit 451’.  This is still just a simple story, in terms of execution and imagination being more important than fact and research, but the message is utterly transcendent.  Additionally, it speaks volumes (pun intended) to an audience of bibliophiles, such as a book club.

Bauer chose this one for us.  That means malt selections were also at his discretion of course.  He hooked up releases from two of Scotland’s great producers, in Highland Park and Springbank.  The latter was an indie and slightly out of character for the distillery (but still a great malt!), while the former was a knockout.  We beat the hell out this 16 year old cask strength Norse god.  And the evening’s third dram was a single cask from Balvenie.  Balvenie rarely excites me, but this was a gorgeous drink.  Truly.  Clean and beautiful.  Oh yeah…and did you notice the Springbank was Cask 450, while the book was ‘Fahrenheit 451’?  Cheeky.

As always, Bauer offered up anything else he had open as well.  Only fitting we should be quite ‘wet’ (read: somewhat slightly affected by beverage) by the end of a night discussing fire.

I’m still hoping to tackle a collection of Bradbury’s short works in the coming years.

 

– Curt

Feb 012016
 

Liquorature Gathering #056 – “Half Blood Blues” (Esi Edugyan)half-blood-blues

Date:  September, 2013

Host:  Stuart

Whisky:  ?

 

This pick – and the story itself – really took me by surprise.  First, because it was a refreshingly unique vantage of WWII era Europe and second, because it was completely off the radar and something I likely never would have found on my own.  I’d heard of neither the author nor title before Stuart made his announcement.

Before going any further let me state that Esi Edugyan is a national treasure.  Not only that, she is a Calgarian by birth.  Helps to make for an easy emotional connection to the book.  It also doesn’t hurt that the writing is top notch.  Can’t wait to read more of her work.

This is the one event where I am at a complete loss to tell you what we drank in terms of malts.  Stuart brought a couple…I think there may have been either Glenrothes or Bruichladdich, but I could simply be confusing this with the previous gathering where Lorenzo brought releases from said distilleries.  Guess we’ll never know.  That being said…Stu also brought along a bottle of absinthe.  Yep.  It was tasted, discussed…and summarily dismissed.  Blech.  If I wanted mouthwash I could have found some under the sink upstairs.

I’m not sure the boys felt quite the emotional resonance here that Stuart hoped for (or that I felt, for that matter), but there was a sense of appreciation.  This one has the power to make you reflect on the concept of forgiveness.  And, of course, judgment.  It transcends time, borders, sex and race.  Not often you can say that about a book.

 

– Curt

Jan 292016
 

Liquorature Gathering #055 – “The Outsider” (Albert Camus)TheOutsider_Albert_Camus

Date:  August, 2013

Host:  Lorenzo

Whisky:  Glenrothes 1994, Glenrothes 1988, Bruichladdich 1992 Chateau Climens

Rum:  n/a

 

It’s hard to do Camus justice in any real sense.  Such is the nature of existential and psychologically-driven works such as this (or Kafka, etc).  I hadn’t read Camus since high school, at a time when I was voraciously devouring anything I could get my hands on, so Lorenzo’s pick of ‘The Outsider’ (or ‘The Stranger’, depending on which edition you have) arrived with a bit of nostalgic reflection.  This is a touchstone novel for sure, but in terms of proper appreciation I think I honestly prefer ‘The Plague’ a little more than this one.

‘The Outsider’ made me reflect a little on the idea of reality versus expectation.  My wife and I have had debates about this very topic (often coinciding with a remark about the definition of insanity…you know the one), but Camus himself summed it up perfectly: “I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: ‘In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.’ I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.

Those of us that take exception to the status quo often find we have to tread lightly in order to avoid the consequences that even the fiercest of assholes seem to somehow elude.  Such is life in this age of internet warriors, armchair experts, instant access to short form information and a cultural polarity that is unprecedented in our time.  So be it.  We get through it.  Let’s use another quote to sum up, this time Lebowski: “The dude abides”.  Yep.  We abide.

Anyway…Camus is never a particularly ‘enjoyable’ read, but that isn’t necessarily the point.  Some authors are more about the message than the tale.  Or maybe a better way to put it would be ‘the destination is more important than the journey’.  I think the Liquorature collective would agree.  They read, discussed and have moved on.  I honestly don’t think this book has been mentioned again since this night.

Having said that, deep subject matter requires deep drinks for intellectual lubrication.  A couple of vintage Glenrothes and an older Bruichladdich were solid accompaniment.  I’m not normally a fan of post ’70s ‘Rothes, but rather enjoyed these two.  And Bruichladdich is usually in my wheelhouse.  This one I was definitely keen on.

Oh yeah, and finally…it’s never bad having an Italian cook dinner for you.  Just saying.  Helluva good gnocchi, Lo.  Well done, mate.

Randoms:  Gnocchi and caperberries … “can we go smoke the skunk?”… the minivan.

 

 – Curt

Jan 292016
 

Liquorature Gathering #054 – “Silence” (Shusaku Endo)silence

Date:  July, 2013

Host:  Jay

Whisky:  Auchentoshan 17 y.o. (1990), Longmorn 16 y.o., A.D. Rattray Ben Nevis 13 y.o.

Rum:  ?

 

Whoa.  Ummm…if ever a book took us to a place of stuttering uncertainty, this may have been it.  There is depth.  There is questioning.  There is empathy.  There is, more than anything, enough to make even the atheists among us reflect on what it means to have a belief in something so strong you’re willing to die for it.  It actually goes further than that, asking us to contemplate whether our beliefs are so strong we could allow others to die for them.  I can’t say I enjoyed paging my way through this one, but I took immense gain from what it made me contemplate.

I’ve said it before…Jay comes up with some unbelievably random and far-reaching picks.  This was just another case in point.  It left a roomful of guys sort of speechless and inarticulate, in spite of all our fumbling to come to grips with it.

But let’s lighten the mood a little.  Every one of our club meetings begins with a formal book discussion and whisky appreciation, but after we’ve exhausted our respective talking points on the book of the month it is simply a night of guys being guys.  Hanging out…sharing laughs…making memories.  This gathering may have started out somewhat somber and riddled with ‘what the fucks?’, but it soon turned into every other event.  Exactly as it should be.

The food was good, the drinks were solid (excepting one sulphured mess of an independent 13 year old Ben Nevis) and the company was ideal.

Coming full circle to a darker note here, this was Lance’s last night with us, before his exile to the middle east for work.  We know this is not a permanent situation, but it is indefinite.  As I write this piece we are closing in on three years gone.  Miss ya, mate.  Look forward to seeing you back.

Until next…

 

– Curt

Jan 292016
 

Liquorature #053 – “The Year Of The Flood” (Margaret Atwood)yearoftheflood

Date:  June, 2013

Host:  Chris

Whisky:  Glenfarclas 105, Glen Scotia 16, Highland Park 15

Rum:  El Dorado 12 y.o.

 

An odd choice, this.  Book two in the ‘Oryx And Crake’ trilogy by Canadian treasure Margaret Atwood.  Not that it’s odd to choose Atwood – or a book on this subject matter, for that matter – but to pick this volume instead of first.  It didn’t matter to me, however, as I’d read O&C, but I wonder if the others missed out a little for not having the same informed starting point.

What it boils down to, in any event, is that all Liquorature picks have to be standalone volumes.  We set that rule in place early on, in order to ensure no one made a selection that would then require members to go back and do a bunch of pre-reading (or dive into subsequent volumes) in order to get the big picture.  Incidental here, as ‘The Year Of The Flood’ does have a solid enough base to stand on its own.  Barely.

While a few members may have been scratching their hands a bit trying to wrap their thoughts around this one, the overall reception was good.  Essentially this is a dystopian science fiction novel.  You should know by now if you’ve been reading these brief dispatches that the majority of the gang ’round here digs these genres.  There isn’t typically a lot of headbutting over these sorts of picks.  Not like when we discuss anything related to, say, the middle east, colonialism, economics or the current political climate.

We gathered in Chris’s back yard on a brilliant June eve for this meeting.  A bottle of Glenfarclas 105 was well beaten up on…a Glen Scotia 16 was actively reviled…and the now obsolete Highland Park 15 was fun to revisit.  One or two did the gentlemanly thing and sampled the rum before switching back to drinks that wee actually palatable.  (I kid, I kid!)

Just writing this makes me reflect back.  Thinking I should reread these two tales and pick up ‘Maddaddam’, book three in the trilogy.  Hmmm.

 

– Curt

Jan 282016
 

Liquorature Gathering #052 – “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep” (Philip K. Dick)do-androids-dream-of-electric-sheep

Date:  May, 2013

Host:  Scott

Whisky:  Glenmorangie Ealanta, Sheep Dip 1999 Oloroso Amaroso, Wild Turkey Rare Breed

Rum:  ?

 

You may not know this one by title, but you’d probably recognize the story.  Philip K. Dick’s sci-fi jottings here would later become the seed from which Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’ would grow.  Scott took the premise and turned ideas into striking dystopian visuals.  The latter was great.  The former, beyond great.  Do yourself a favour and read this book.

As with nearly all of the Liquorature science fiction selections that have been tabled before this discerning group, ‘Androids’ was met with very warm reception.  We are nothing if not a group with a profound appreciation for ideas and exploding boundaries.  Sci-fi is built on that very foundation, hence a match made in heaven.  Dick is not my favorite SF author, but he is canonical and this was a great gateway into his world(s).  The fact that I even have a frame of reference for science fiction is a true testament to what this club does.  Prior to Liquorature this was a genre I largely avoided.  Now I seek out the greats within.

Scott’s place is a great venue for these more in depth discussions.  His living room is tight and cozy; a small room ideal for those ‘lean forward and debate’ sort of conversations.  This adds immensely to the experience, I find.  Maybe that’s just me.  Either way…very memorable.  Especially in the dimly lit haze with ‘Blade Runner’ playing on screen behind us.

Alright.  Let’s talk drams to wrap this thing up.  Glenmorangie Ealanta.  Later names Jim Murray’s World Whisky Of The Year.  Ummmm…off your fucking rocker much, mate?  This is nothing more than an ok malt, overburdened with too many spices and synthetic sweet notes from an overpowering bourbon influence.  Moving on.  Wild Turkey Rare Breed.  Wow.  What a treat.  This was one of the most surprising whiskies of the year for me.  I was instantly enamoured.  Who’da thought Wild Turkey could make something so amazing?  Not this guy.  Definitely the standout of the night.

Was there rum?  There was probably rum.  Bah.  Who cares?

Ramdoms:  “EMP, bitch!”…”the Alan Alda of Ginger Buddhas”…

 

– Curt

Jan 282016
 

Liquorature Gathering #051 – “Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn” (Mark Twain)Adventures-of-Huckleberry-Finn

Date:  April, 2013

Host:  Lance

Whisky:  A.D. Rattray Tamdhu 42 y.o.

Rum:

 

This small outdoor gathering on Lance’s back porch is one that will be tough to forget.  This was to be Lance’s last pick before he moved on to browner pastures (Kuwait), though we didn’t really know for certain that would be the case at the time.  But that in and of itself does not make for a memorable occasion.  What made it magic was the company, the discussion and the lone bottle of single malt on offer for the night.

Like searching out the perfect rose in a bush full of thorns, we had to wait and suffer some nastiness before we got to partake of a 42 year old Tamdhu from A.D. Rattray.  And by that, of course, I mean rum.  Ugh.  Colon cleanser for the unwashed.

I jest (sort of).  In all fairness to our host, he broke out a hell of a spread of distilled cane and molasses for our benefit/punishment.  Old and rare, expensive and actually quite civilized fare.  In fact those he poured for us were closer to whisky than what the average punter thinks of when you mention rum.  Captain Morgan, this was not.  I spent the better part of an evening drinking rum and not even once did it trigger my gag reflex or give me those nasty pee shivers that sometimes happen when choking down something vile.  Well done, Lance.  I s’pose I could probably drink this again.

But it was the Tamdhu that lives on in legend, like a perfect harmonic ringing out, amplified and sustained indefinitely.  Brilliant, brilliant whisky.

Our Irish ne’er-do-well, Maltmonster, was in attendance tonight as well.  Being a fan of ol’ Sam Clemens, this was one gathering he simply couldn’t miss.  Reading Twain’s works provides a prefect insight into the gears and trappings whirling away in Maltmonster’s devious little noggin.  The influence is palpable.

And what’s not to love about Huck Finn?  Nada.  A few of us read Tom Sawyer as well, and hitting these touchstones this late in life was just what I needed for an injection of free-spiritedness in my life.  Being old is no fun.  In the words of Tom Waits: “I don’t wanna grow up.”

Thanks for a splendid night, Caner.

 

– Curt