The Beautiful and Damned: Intoxication

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Nothing smoothes you out like slipping off your work day, and sliding into a sexy martini. First sip to test, the second to enjoy its perfection. With the third sip, you realize that all the worries of the day that seemed so important at the time, really don’t matter. Especially now. And certainly not in the grand scheme or big picture that is your life.

After that fourth sip, ah yes. The world starts to fall away, and all that is left is sheer bliss…and you.

In his novel, The Beautiful and Damned, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a passage about how that intoxication bliss puts a golden glow, a romantic, softening haze over the sharp edges of everyday reality:

“There was a kindness about intoxication – there was that indescribable gloss and glamour it gave, like the memories of ephemeral and faded evenings.

 

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After a few high-balls there was magic in the tall glowing Arabian night of the Bush Terminal Building – its summit a peak of sheer grandeur, gold and dreaming against the inaccessible sky. And Wall Street, the crass, the banal – again it was the triumph of gold, a gorgeous sentient spectacle; it was where the great kings kept the money for their wars…

 

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…The fruit of youth or of the grape, the transitory magic of the brief passage from darkness to darkness – the old illusion that truth and beauty were in some way entwined.”

 

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All photos and Photoshopped intro image by JE Alexandria Julaton

Cognac: A Warm Beautiful (Cocktail) Memory

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It was a bright summer morning in Victoria. Mom and my aunties were in deep discussions over which beauty salon to go to. My uncle was waiting patiently with cup of coffee in one hand, and car keys in the other. I was sipping my coffee in the balcony, looking out at the marina, and watching planes skim over the water when I got a text from my brothers. They had all decided to go downtown right after an early breakfast. No doubt, I’ll meet up with one or all of them later today, after their afternoon of selfies and shopping.

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Until then, I decided to go exploring on my own. Our condo was just a five-minute walk to the Inner Harbour and Empress Hotel. As I wandered in and out of alleys along Government Street, I briefly checked out a number of trendy bars and cheery pubs, making mental notes of which ones I’ll visit later.

victoriabar baroffgovst

One shop I popped into sold beautifully-cut crystal liquor decanters imported from Ireland. I had lunch at a patio on Trounce Alley, and chatted with a sous chef from Montreal on his smoke break. He gave me his card and suggested, with his heavy French accent, that we have dinner at his place some evening. “I cook for you, we have some wine and…”, he let the sentence trail off with a nodding smile and a crook of his brow. I kept the card.

My brother Arthur texted me that he was cocktailing at a bar in Chinatown. He invited me to join him if I was nearby, before meeting up and dining with family in a couple of hours. Past the fruit stands and tea house, I found an alley that looked almost too narrow for two people to walk through, shoulder to shoulder. I took my time exploring the tiny shops and fragrant varieties of burning incense. It was summer, warm and perfect. And I had no intention of rushing anywhere.

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I found the bar just a block and a half away. Arthur wasn’t seated at the counter, where I expected him to be. I saw through a glass partition that he was sitting at a table, staring at an oil painting hanging directly in front of him.

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I wish I knew the name of the artist who did this painting

He was completely absorbed by that gorgeous painting of what appeared to be a sort of costume party, which took up half the wall. He could barely look away, even as he spoke or took pictures of it with his phone. More interesting to me was the cocktail my brother was sipping. He called it the Warm Beautiful.

The cocktail

The Beautiful is a delicious, potent and citrusy cocktail made of cognac and Grand Marnier orange liqeuer. Arthur preferred it topped with a lemon zest. Having worked part-time as a bartender while in medical school, he knew that cognac’s flavor and aroma deepened when warmed. Cognac lovers would often just cradle the snifter in the palm of their hand, warming the cognac with their body’s heat. My brother wanted something a bit more imaginative.

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The cocktail was served in a snifter. He then asked for a “heater”, a small glass half-filled with hot water. Arthur placed the snifter on top of the water-bearing glass. As my brother waited for the cognac cocktail to reach the proper temperature, he rotated the snifter now and again, still gazing in awe at the absurd yet fascinating painting across from us.

thebeautiful

Age of the cognacs

According to the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC), there are three official classifications of cognac, depending on how long the cognac had been stored in casks:
VS (very special) – At least two years
VSOP (very superior old pale) – At least four years
XO (extra old) – At least ten years

Other classifications have also been used by producers when the cognac had been stored beyond official age scales, such as Extra and Hors d’age (beyond age), which can be as much as 100 years old.

“Rules” of enjoyment

Cognac connoisseurs have very strong feelings about cognacs being used in cocktails. One forbes.com article mentioned that, whereas it is acceptable to use a young VS or VSOP cognac as part of a cocktail mix, it is considered a tragedy to do so with an exceptional-tasting, wallet-busting XO or older cognac. Those can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars per bottle.

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My brother’s Warm Beautiful cocktail was created using Hennessey VS, but a Courvoisier VSOP could have also been used, instead. On the other hand, Remy Martin’s $3,000-a-bottle Louis XVIII, which is very popular in China (along with all the other premium cognacs), is an example of one that should be showcased as a solo act.

All drinking aside (for the moment), younger cognacs should also be used for flambe, marinades, sauces, chocolates and fruit preserves.

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And if you’re in the mood to immerse yourself in all things cognac, the French town this liquid luxury was named after hosts the annual La Fete du Cognac , where you can party for three days with cognac cocktails, crowds, cuisine and concerts.

Cheers!

The Beautiful cocktail recipe

1 oz Hennessey or Courvoisier VS/VSOP cognac
1 oz Grand Marnier orange liqueur

Add both ingredients into a brandy snifter, mix and serve. Optional: Top off with a lemon zest, the way my brother and I like it.

Enjoy!


All photos of Victoria BC, Canada by Alexandria Julaton
Remy Martin shop photo by Weng lei – Imaginechina/AP
Still shot of Cognac Festival, courtesy of La Fete du Cognac YouTube video

Cocktails: How to fail at picking up ladies, and the fabulous flavored cube

austinladies_new

There are so many wrong ways to meet women.

On our way to a cocktail adventure downtown, my gal pal and I added a few more to that list. Here’s one: A dark-colored car with tinted windows pulling up alongside us. Then an unseen driver slowly lowering his driver-side window to reveal a hand, palm up, and fingers beckoning in a “Bitches, come here.” gesture.
Nope.

Here’s another: A guy stopping his car on the corner at a green light, angry drivers honking behind him, while he’s shouting lame come-ons at us with a huge, naughty grin on his face.
Really big nope!

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Yeah, nope again. But kudos for originality!

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Maybe?
I mean, what woman could resist a suave, fashion-forward icon like Austin Powers, am I right?

After that obstacle course of weirdness, we made it to the bar and grabbed seats in front of the bartender. We like to watch the magic happen.

Luc Lac bar

The Single Knight cocktail at Luc Lac’s bar was a game-changing, Whoa!-inducing twist on the Old Fashioned cocktail that made our tastebuds do a double-take. First, a large cube made of deeply smokey Lapsang Souchong tea was placed in the glass. This was followed with their sigh-inducing blend of bourbon, pho syrup, and angostura orange bitters. But wait, there’s more! The finishing touch was a lemon twist, wrapped around a blowtorched bourbon cherry and cloves! Daaaamn!

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When I order cocktails that arrive with a large, slow-melting cube, I usually leave it alone for a couple of minutes before I take a sip. This is so a little of the ice will melt into the mix and make it less syrupy. One sip of the Single Knight and MIND BLOWN! The smokiness from the melting tea cube adding to the bourbon, further flavored by zest with burnt cherry and cloves – I was caught up in a swirl of amazingness.

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Citrus with burnt fruit and spice was all kinds of nice (especially in a bourbon), but that giant cube made of smokey Lapsang Souchong tea made me realize flavored ice cubes that bring out another flavor dimension in cocktails is a thing!

Luc Lac single knight cocktail


 

Single Knight Cocktail at the Luc Lac bar

I wish I had the recipe for this cocktail. However, I do have the ingredients list:

Four Roses single barrel bourbon
Pho syrup
Angostura orange bitters
Lapsang Souchong tea ice cube
Bourbon cherry
Cloves
Lemon zest

 

 

Life as a Cocktail: Trying Something New

 

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I had a rough week – the kind of rough week that made me want to re-think several of my life and career choices.  After surviving yet another one, I was trying to put it out of my mind and get to a happy place, as I sipped my vodka lemon drop. My thoughts started drifting off randomly to paths taken, and experiences that shaped decisions made along the way as I felt, figured and clawed my way through this existence. All while trying not to feel completely overwhelmed. Or fall flat on my face.

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I meditated and thought back to choices others I knew have made, and the happiness and fulfillment those decisions brought (or didn’t). It was easy to conclude that making those same choices, walking that same path, would result in the same for anyone else. Treading well-worn paths. But if our lives become all about playing it safe, how can we know there is another path, or level of happiness, that could be more rewarding? One more unexpected, surprising, even exhilarating, and perhaps more fulfilling? We really can’t know until we…pivot.

A great idea or quest for some form of happiness had to start somewhere, and it might have been an amazing journey along the way.

A cocktail analogy.

Pivot. Twist. Zag. Change IS scary, with no guarantees of success. Then again, it doesn’t guarantee failure, either. Think about THAT for a moment!

A well-made cocktail is a thing of beauty and wonder. The balance of ingredients, one in step with another, and that with another, and so on, creating the mesmerizing dance of flavors. But is it a perfect cocktail? That depends.

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On YOU, and if you want to stick with one recipe and be perfectly happy to never deviate from it, or decide that tweaking it a wee bit would make it different, and possibly better. Perhaps the art of the cocktail can be more interpretive dance, than classical ballet – creating your own new combination of moves, instead of following someone else’s footsteps.

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The well-worn paths, the classic cocktails, have withstood the tests of time, but they haven’t always existed. Someone started with a gin, aged and smoothed to perfection, added – just for giggles – a liqueur of 130+ herbs and botanicals whose recipe has been guarded by monks in Europe for centuries, then sweetened it with the fermented juice of a thousand cherries. A few more ingredients and experiments later, one of the most famous cocktails (and one of my personal favorites) was created.

But anyway, back to the story.

One evening at home, I decided upon a vodka lemon drop. Nothing like a sweet, citrusy kiss to smooth out my ragged soul after a long week. A few minutes relaxing in my lounge chair with a cocktail, and the world was slowly obscured by a veil of bliss. I wandered over to the refrigerator to choose ingredients for tonight’s dinner. Deciding on stir-fried veggies, I reached for the fresh ginger and noticed the stalks of lemongrass beside it.

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PIvot.

Hey…what if…?

I pulled out another martini glass and poured in a couple of ounces of vodka.

I sliced off a thick piece of ginger, pounded it with a mallet, and let it sit in the vodka while I finished my cocktail. Later, I put some ice in a mixing glass, and added the piece of ginger I had used to infuse the vodka.

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Zag (Ladies and gentlemen, now for my NEXT trick…).

I chopped some of the lemongrass and dropped it into the mixing glass. After muddling and pounding the lemongrass and ginger on the ice, I added a quarter ounce of triple sec, and a quarter ounce of simple syrup, then the infused vodka.

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I poured in a wee bit more vodka (wink), shook the whole thing for a few seconds, then strained the exciting concoction into my martini glass.

MMMMM!! Ginger lemongrass martini – a delicious vodka martini with a couple of exotic twists. If the ginger is too strong, add less next time. If you like it sweeter, add more triple sec and simple syrup. The idea is to adjust it to your taste. As with life, the cocktail is all about you and your happiness, after all.

Also with cocktails, as with life, you can start over and try again – fix something, make it even better, or try something new. Who knows what brilliant schemes and cocktails you’ll dream up next!

 

Absinthe: Green Fairy Cocktail Party

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“None of which equals the poison welling up in your eyes that show me my poor soul reversed, my dreams throng to drink at those green distorting pools.” Baudelaire comparing and preferring absinthe to wine and opium in his poem “Poison”.

Absinthe has enjoyed a tantalizing reputation steeped in decadence, myth and controversy for over a century – the kind of popularity and staying power big-screen actors and rock stars would envy today. Invented in 18th century Val-de-Travers Switzerland, this supposed hallucination-inducing liquor has been rumored to cause convulsions, blackouts, visions of little green fairies, and rampant psychosis. The Fed’s ban on selling absinthe in the U.S. was in effect for decades.

In the 1990’s, its popularity grew worldwide, and eventually – around 2007 – the Fed allowed two European distillers to sell the liquor Stateside. Since then, many have attempted to tap the green fairy portal for visions of demons, angels, creative genius, and so forth. Some say a toxic chemical in wormwood, one of the main ingredients in absinthe along with anise, may have been the cause of these extreme symptoms, and not the liquor itself. According to one recent BBC article, however, “Contemporary analysis indicates that the chemical thujone in wormwood was present in such minute quantities in properly distilled absinthe as to cause little psychoactive effect. It’s more likely that the damage was done by severe alcohol poisoning from drinking twelve to twenty shots a day.”

How to Serve Absinthe

These days, many bar menus feature absinthe as part of a cocktail mixture. The two most popular methods to serve absinthe have been the Absinthe Drip and the flaming sugar cube. The Absinthe Drip, a classic method, involves the slow-drip of cold water onto a sugar cube sitting on a perforated spoon, held over a glass of absinthe.

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The water drips through the cube and into the absinthe, sweetening it.

 

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With the very stylish flaming cube method, you put the sugar cube on the perforated spoon, on top of an empty glass. You then pour the absinthe over the cube, soaking it as the liquid flows into the glass. Then, purely for the sake of showmanship, the cube is lit on fire, and the melted sugar slowly drips into the absinthe. Follow this up by adding ice cold water to the absinthe to get the cloudy effect.

Absinthe’s alcohol content of between 45% and 74% could provide a “transcendent” experience, although mainly without fairies.

I was at a bar one evening, nervously watching a very tall, red-wigged, platform-heeled drag queen in a green dress staring silently and very intensely at me through the gauzey curtains surrounding my candlelit alcove, before suddenly sprinting off into the darkness. The lesson here is, if you’re in the right place at the right time, green fairies can be seen even without absinthe.

 

Death in the Afternoon
A cocktail invented by Ernest Hemingway. Recipe in his own words:

“Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.”

 


Sources:

Photos by JE Alexandria Julaton at Raven & Rose

http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1689232,00.html?imw http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20140109-absinthe-a-literary-muse http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2031497_2031504_2031460,00.html http://www.wikihow.com/Prepare-Absinthe http://liquor.com/articles/biggest-absinthe-myths/

Cocktail Etiquette: Surviving a Chinese Drinking Party

Station staff looking after drunken businessman

 

There’s an old Chinese saying that goes: “No social ties can be formed in the absence of alcohol.” Be it networking, new friendships or strengthening spiritual bonds, a very good time can be had with cocktails as social lubricants. But if you’re in China, don’t let these moments be ruined over a clumsy faux pas, or several.

Here are some rules and guidelines in place to maintain good guanxi (relationships), and hopefully keep you from turning yourself into a pariah:

The Toast

You’re at a fancy banquet, rubbing elbows with the C-Suite and execs from a partner company. The party’s just getting started, and you want to capture the moment with a toast. Restrain yourself immediately!

There is a hierarchy that comes into play when it comes to toasts. The main host makes the first toast, which is sometimes directed at the guest of honor. Everyone then raises their glass and downs a hefty swig. When you come up for air, that glass better be empty. If someone higher up the corporate food chain proposes a toast to you, raise your own glass with your right hand, makng sure its rim is lower than theirs. If he/she drinks the entire cocktail, you should do the same with yours. Guests are then free to move about. But when away from their seats, the first person they should raise their glasses to should be the other company’s highest-ranking person.

The Drinking Game

As you run amok, making toasts to and with everyone else in sight, there are just a few more rules to wrap your cocktail-soaked brain around.

What? More rules? Yep. First of all, “Gan Bei” is Chinese for “Cheers”. Shout it loud and proud. Also, if you clink glasses with someone, it’s bottoms up! If your glasses don’t clink, you can drink any amount of your cocktail, even just a sip.

When everyone starts slamming shots of baiju – the traditional firewater in these parts – you’re in for some interesting times. One tactic to ensure you don’t end up passed out in your own vomit an hour later along with fellow “Gan Bei”-ers, is to switch to a less potent beverage, like doing shots of wine or beer, instead of baiju. You can even try sneaking some water into your wine. Yes, doing wine shots sounds nasty, but they’re less toxic than baiju, which is made from distilled sorghum and has an alcohol content of about 53 percent. Either way, you may be still be hung over and praying for death the next morning.

But what happens with guests who don’t drink, you may wonder. At an event like this, a person who does not drink while others do is pretty much regarded as an outcast with a slim chance of making any important business deals. However, an excuse like religion or health reasons may help you save face, even if it still makes you fair game for teasing. Best excuse: pregnancy, either being pregnant if you’re a woman, or taking special medication to get your wife pregnant if you’re a man.

At this point, you may be wondering if the same bottoms-up “Gan Bei”-ing rules apply to non-pregnant women. If she’s at one of these banquets, she won’t be expected to drink. But if she does partake, she’d better keep up with the boys!

Gan Bei!

Sources:

Photo by iStock

Drinking at Chinese Business Banquets: A Primer
http://blogs.wsj.com/scene/2013/06/28/drinking-at-chinese-business-banquets-a-primer/

How to Survive a Chinese Drinking Frenzy
http://travel.cnn.com/shanghai/drink/5-chinese-drinking-habits-explains-621771

Maotai auction reaps RMB 5.22 million
http://travel.cnn.com/shanghai/drink/maotai-sells-rmb-522-million-432520

The Whiskey Library

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“Whiskey, like a beautiful woman, demands appreciation. You gaze first, then it’s time to drink.” (Haruki Murakami)

I waited in line to get into the fairly new, and already very popular, Multnomah Whiskey Library one evening. According to the other customers I chatted with, there’s always a waiting list. If you wanted to make reservations and skip the lines, you’d have to purchase membership, and currently they’re full. The Library was a high-ceilinged, chandeliered modern pub of dark wood, leather and exposed brick, with two of its walls covered by shelves showcasing whiskies from around the world, along with other choice hard liquors. Jaunty Scottish and Irish instrumental classics played in the background, and yet the noise level was comfortably moderate; it never got so loud that you couldn’t hear what the person was saying to you from across your table, even with all the hard surfaces.

The Library made it a point to never exceed their maximum capacity of 50 customers in a room at a time, so there were never too many people loudly crowded into a room, bumping into each other and spilling their expensive drinks. As soon as I was seated and looked around, I noticed a majority of the patrons that night appeared to be in their late 20s to early 40s, with a slightly higher men-to-women ratio. My eyes explored the room and paused at a very well-dressed man sitting at a lounge chair a few feet away. He was slowly swirling a dark liquid in a snifter, possibly a Scotch.

According to the Scotch Whisky Association, Scotch connoisseurs recommend sipping from a tulip-shaped glass, or any glass with a wide base and narrow mouth, to improve the tasting experience. For example:

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I watched him quietly sip his beverage with such obvious pleasure, and realized I have never seen a man rush through a glass of premium Scotch, or toss it back quickly. Oh, to be a glass of really good Scotch – to be tasted slowly, savored completely, and enjoyed with complete focus.

This place had pretty much everything that will put you in a really good mood – world-class liquors, tasty appetizers (the bacon-wrapped dates and crab fritters were fabulous!), and a very attractive staff. Lovely ladies greeted you at the door, my server looked like he’d stepped out of a men’s clothing catalog, the bartender with the great smile and brawny good looks was very attentive…I could go on and on.

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I turned my attention to the menu. The prices were a bit steep, with whiskey tastings ranging from $14 to much higher. Expect to pay for the level of selection and superiority one prefers in fine beverages, as well as for the exclusivity and ambience of a place that offers them. Classic cocktails, gins, vodkas, rums, beers, wines, and so on, were also well represented. But if you’re at a place that calls itself a “whiskey library”, you order the whiskey.

I ordered a Talisker Storm single malt Scotch, from the shores of the Isle of Skye. As I raised the glass for a sip, I was pleasantly surprised by the peat-y, smokey aroma. Some people don’t like a smokey Scotch. With that first sip, a delicious warmth spread from my throat to throughout my body. I gasped softly and shut my eyes as the room swayed a bit and my cheeks tingled pleasantly.

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Wow. The boldness, the smoothness. And interestingly, the flavor wasn’t nearly as smokey as I thought it would be, considering the first fragrant impression. With its blend of new and old scotches, Talisker Storm managed to smooth out the smokiness. Nicely done!

Interestingly, there are articles online on how to properly drink and enjoy a Scotch. According to an askmen.com article, entitled “10 Things to Know About Drinking Whiskey“, the process is as follows:

Aroma: Swirl the whisky around the glass and take in the aromas as they are released. Don’t poke your nose straight into the glass, as all you’ll pick up is alcohol.

Taste: Take a nice, long sip and let the whisky feel its way around your entire mouth before swallowing.

Finish: A good whisky should linger like a fond memory, and you will still be feeling and tasting it for minutes afterward.

According to a “How to Drink Scotch” article I found online:

“Before actually drinking the Scotch, take a moment to savor the scent of the Scotch. Doing so will help to prepare the taste buds for the flavor that is about to come. Sip a small amount of Scotch. Allow the Scotch to settle onto the tongue and gently move the liquid around the mouth. This action will distribute the flavor and enhance the pleasure derived from the drink. After a moment, swallow the Scotch and prepare to enjoy another sip.”

In my opinion, as with any all-encompassing, sensual experience, I’d say the only right way to enjoy such a moment is to do so completely and at your own pace.

Cheers!

Gie him strong drink until he wink, That’s sinking in despair; An’ liquor guid to fire his bluid, That’s prest wi’ grief and care: There let him bouse, an’ deep carouse, Wi’ bumpers flowing o’er, Till he forgets his loves or debts, An’ minds his griefs no more. (Robert Burns)


Interior shots #3 & 4 courtesy of Multnomah Whiskey Library website
Articles mentioned in blog: http://www.ehow.com/how_2304608_drink-scotch.html http://www.askmen.com/top_10/entertainment/the-expert-10-things-to-know-about-drinking-whiskey_3.html