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