Spirited Adventures: Arbeg

ArdbegI picked up a bottle of Ardbeg Ten a few weeks ago before heading over to Broadleaf in Severna Park for a Masonic cigar night. I figured it would be a good time to round out my Islay experience before moving on to darker victual pastures.  I’d heard that Ardbeg rivaled  Laphroaig, Talisker, and Oban in smokiness, so I was excited to get it open and on the rocks for further analysis.

My initial impression was ‘meh.’  I found Ardbeg’s standard offering coarse and uninteresting. It lacked complexity and personality outside of its blatant smokiness. It was like trying to talk to a horse.  It nods it’s head every once in a while, but you don’t know what it’s responding to.

I shared this bottle with my brothers, so it didn’t last long and I didn’t have to slog through the last painful gulps of wasted time thinking of another bottle.

Spirited Adventures: Caol Ila

As the weather cools and we head into the heart of autumn, I find myself called back to the warm embrace of scotch. I’d spent most of the summer cooling down with mojitos and the occasional Pimm’s cup. Now it’s time to pull out the sweaters and watch the leaves turn. For the first scotch of the last quarter, I’ve selected Caol Ila.

Caol Ila

For those acquainted with Islay scotches, Caol Ila presents with the peaty tones typically associated with scotches of the region, but doesn’t knock you over with the brusque greeting one might associate with the mighty Laphraoig or even Lagavulin, my professed favorite. Instead, Caol Ila offers restraint and balance. Imagine, you’re fumbling in the dark and you hear a familiar voice that softly says, “Over here,” and offers you a hand. You stretch your hand out to find hers except her hand that you cannot see is 43% alcohol. The point is that when unlike your old friend, Laphroaig, who slaps you on the back, Caol Ila takes your hand gently but with all the complexity and power of an intelligent and beautiful girl, but will take the edge off a hard day like you’d expect a good single malt to.

The subtlety of Caol Ila is apparent in her light blonde color. She looks good in a glass with a single very large ice cube (how I prefer scotch). A very smooth drink, she’s perfect for an autumn evening before old man winter sends his minions reminding you of the harsh winter ahead. Save those days for something more direct.

Anais Mitchell: Hymns for the Exiled

When I first heard the song Two Kids on FolkAlley, I’d never heard of Anais Mitchell, but her album Hymns for the Exiled would get consistent rotation on my music players for the next 10 years.
Hymns for the Exiled
Ten years on, the themes in Hymns are still relevant. For example, the song 1984 appears to be about the government’s efforts to identify and track its own citizens, and how Anais feels about the prospect of being complicit in Big Brother’s activities. By invoking pop themes, she makes light of a terrifying situation while warning us about it.

The song Two Kids reminds us that it’s not just freedom hating fundamentalist on the other side, but human beings as well. There are clearly a few of Anais’ personal memories echoed in Hymns, and that makes it one of the most personal albums I can recall listening to. Anais weaves a tapestry of stories and feelings that holds up thematically and artistically after a pretty trying 10 years in this country.

Mount Vernon

We decided to make a trip to Mount Vernon this past weekend. Lady S was kidless for the weekend, so it was the two of us and my two boys, The Professor and Chief Engineer.  Mount Vernon

For some reason, we ignored the weather report (and frankly the weather itself) and headed down from Annapolis in the rain hoping it would resolve itself before we hit Virginia. It did not despite a very promising radar picture and a rest stop not two miles from Mount Vernon that appeared to indicate the weather was beginning to turn for the better. By the time we reached the Mount Vernon parking lot, the rain had picked up a steady cadence once more. It increased gradually until we reached the house itself on foot at which point it was pouring.

Soaked The house itself was quite well preserved. There were many original pieces and it appears as though the significance of the figure of George Washington had good effect. Most of the rooms with really interesting artifacts were roped off and we weren’t permitted to take pictures inside the house at all. Despite, one may have snuck a photo if one were sly.
The outside tour was lovely except for the cool breeze. It was unwelcome only because of our drenched state.

 

National Treasure TourWe opted for the extra National Treasure tour because we thought it would be about the history or legends that inspired the second movie in the series which takes place at Mount Vernon. It was actually about the production of the movie while at Mount Vernon. Still, a few stories once we reached the piazza were worth the extra money to such an important landmark.

Overall we had a great time and stopped into Fontaine, a crepe restaurant in Old Town Alexandria owned by the wife of a friend.  The Berliner with a cup of French cidre is a nice way to warm up and the end of a long, cold day.

 

Monticello

Lady S and I decided to make one more road trip before the kids came home from summer trips. We’d been talking about visiting Monticello for some time, so this was our chance to make good on that promise to ourselves.

Lady S at Monticello

We walked up the namesake “little mountain” rather than take the shuttle The natural beauty of the woods surrounding Jefferson’s house was well worth the trek and before long we found ourselves standing at the obelisk marking TJ’s grave.

After paying our respects, we continued on to find ourselves in the glorious gardens of Monticello. They were filled with period vegetables and many we recognize as modern, although I admit I don’t have much expertise in which are which.Gardens at Monticello

In any case, we wandered around the grounds until it was time to go in for the house tour, for which we pay a bit extra.The house was lovely and filled with mostly period artifacts, but clearly maintained and beloved. Our tour guide (whose name escapes me) was very knowledgeable about many of the facets of the house and Jefferson’s life there. No photos or permitted inside the house.

We hadn’t any place to be the next day, Sunday, so we went over to University of Virginiathe University of Virginia to continue exploring Jefferson’s legacy. I really enjoyed seeing all the architecture of the university Jefferson designed and which I heard so much about on Clay Jenkinson’s Thomas Jefferson hour.

After all the running around, we enjoyed a fabulous dinner at Red Pump Kitchen, one of the restaurants in the downtown mall area of Charlottesville.

California Gold Rush Fare

Recently, I was doing some research on what Americans were eating before we started cramming processed garbage down our throats. An issue of Hutchings’ California Magazine published in December 1859 relates the following list as “the necessaries of life which is required for an eight day’s trip in the mountains.”  

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8 lbs potatoes.
1 bottle whiskey.
1 bottle pepper sauce.
1 bottle whiskey.
1 box tea.
9 lbs onions.
2 bottles whiskey.
1 ham.
11 lbs crackers.
1 bottle whiskey.
1/2 doz. sardines.
2 bottles brandy, (4th proof.)
6 lbs sugar.
1 bottle brandy, (4th proof.)
1 bottle pepper.
5 gallons whiskey.
4 bottles whiskey. (old Bourbon)
1 small keg whiskey.
1 bottle of cocktails , (designed for a “starter.”)

Yes, that’s 14 bottles of whiskey, 1 small keg also, accompanied by 3 bottles of brandy, 1 ham, 1/2 (individual? cans?) sardines, some potatoes, onions, sugar, 2 bottles of hot sauce, and a shit ton of crackers.  I believe that’s a diet upon which I could subsist.  

Source: Hutchings’ California Magazine, p. 185, Vol 4, No. 6.  December 1859.