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Jack Bettridge

Fun With Words Old and New

Posted: Mar 23, 2012 12:00am ET

We place a lot of importance on the age of things. Age generally confers quality on old whiskeys and wines. However, when it comes to seafood and athletes, we usually prefer them fresher. Ever think about the words you’re using and how old they are?

All the ones I’ve used so far are centuries old and still going strong. My colleague Andrew (Drew) Nagy just brought to my attention an article from the Spring 2012 issue of Lapham’s Quarterly that presents a sampling of 15 words taken from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), together with their first known written use.

It’s an odd mix, notable to us because it includes the term tobacco, which it turns out is an old word indeed. The OED tracks it to 1585, when one William Harrison wrote the following:

In these daies the taking-in of the Indian herbe called Tabaco, by an instrument formed like a litle ladell, wherby it passeth from the mouth into the hed & stomach, is gretlie taken-vp and vsed in England.

Of course, Harrison’s spelling of tobacco (as with about a quarter of the other words he uses) differs from what we’d now consider Standard English. But the real linguistic origin of tabaco likely stretches back far longer. We (English speakers) got the term tabaco from the Spanish, who got it from the Taino Indians when Columbus visited Cuba, some 90 years earlier. How long the Taino (who also gave us another great word related to smoking: barbecue) had used it is anyone’s guess.

What makes some of the other 14 words on the list fascinating is their chronological relationship to tobacco’s emergence. For instance, the word anarchy (1539) predates tobacco. That is logical since one can imagine that a world where men knew nothing of tobacco must have been rife with the disorder and lawlessness implied by anarchy.

It wasn’t for another 13 years after tobacco’s origin that Shakespeare first wrote audaciously (1598) in Love’s Labour’s Lost. After all, how audacious could anyone have been without a smoke? Oddly, fun didn’t enter the language for quite a while (1699), while you’d think there would have been quite a bit of that once men got their tobacco.

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Non-Orwellian Smoking

Posted: Feb 21, 2012 12:00am ET

Everyday life is so full of doublespeak that I’m always surprised to encounter straightforward speech. George Orwell shined a light on deceptive bureaucratic wording in the novel 1984, in which the Ministry of Truth is actually busy falsifying history and the Ministry of Love is where you go to get tortured. Today, in real life, the concept is more pervasive. For instance, we have such institutions as the “employment bureaus,” which are really unemployment facilities designed for those who have been laid off only to be told they were “downsized,” or some such euphemism. And the examples go on and on.

So I admit I was taken aback last week when I visited the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas and read this forthright heading in its guide to dining: “Nonsmoking Policy.”

The wording was so honest that it was kind of endearing. Even while I knew I was just about to be told where I couldn’t smoke, I was struck by the author’s honesty in simply stating that fact. It’s been my experience that institutions will call out their “smoking policies” or “smoking regulations,” even while they are really informing me is that what I can do is the very opposite of smoking. Here was a refreshing bit of truth in advertising. Atlantis had decided not to sugarcoat the bad news.

My immediate assumption was that my enjoyment of cigars was about to be relegated to the resort’s casino floor. Perhaps “enjoyment” is too strong a word here, because it is difficult to take much joy in such a meditative and sensual pursuit as cigar smoking when one is confined to an atmosphere punctuated by blinking lights, clanging bells and the aroma of menthol cigarettes and decorative deodorants meant to hang on a car’s rearview mirror.

Except that when I read on it turned out that the news wasn’t so terrible. I could smoke cigarettes at all the outdoor restaurants and bars, as well as in indoor bars and lounges. Cigars were a bit more restricted. I could smoke them at indoor and outdoor bars, but not in restaurants.

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Solving Valentine's Day

Posted: Feb 13, 2012 12:00am ET

I know a lot of guys are flummoxed about what to give for Valentine’s Day tomorrow. You don’t want to buy some jewelry that might not go with her other accessories and you certainly don’t want to fatten her up with some expensive chocolate.

Here’s a genius gift idea, and the only thing that cheeses me off is that I didn’t think of it years ago. It would have saved me a lot of trouble and heartache.

Bottega Distilleria, the grappa maker, is suggesting using its blown-glass bottles as vases for delivering your loved one a single perfect rose. The idea is that you’re showing your gal your abiding concern for the environment by recycling one of Bottega’s beautiful decanters instead of throwing it away and adding it to your carbon footprint like some heathen.

(The company offers a range of imaginative bottles you could use, but the obvious choice for this job is the design it uses for its Red Rose Prosecco Grappa, shown.)

Grappa vase.

The beauty of this is that it is win/win. Your lady is gratified that you thought of her in this creative and ecologically sensitive way. And you get to drink the grappa as you empty the makeshift vase so it can accept the floral symbol of your love for her.

But why stop at grappa? There are a lot of attractive liquor bottles out there that I think about would make lovely vases. Four Roses Bourbon, for one, is a no brainer.

And Valentine’s Day isn’t the only time to show your sensitive and caring side. You can make your girl feel loved on any holiday.

In fact, I’m kicking myself right now because I didn’t get my wife a rose yesterday for Lincoln’s birthday.

One word of advice: remember to purchase the rose before you drink the contents of the vase.

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A 2012 Cigar Calendar

Posted: Jan 13, 2012 12:00am ET

Over New Year’s a friend told me he resolved to give up cigars in 2012—except on special occasions. So I wondered what such a regime would look like for me, so I decided to craft the following smoking calendar for the next month, starting today, that would indicate special occasions on which I could smoke:

January 13: Well, I am not going to start quitting today as one should always taper into things of this nature. Smoke.

January 14: NFL divisional playoffs (New Orleans vs. San Francisco; Denver vs. New England). It is impossible to truly evaluate contests of such important without the help of a good cigar. Smoke.

January 15: NFL divisional playoffs. (New York Giants vs. Green Bay; Baltimore vs. Houston). See above. Also 45th anniversary of Super Bowl I (Green Bay 35-Kansas City 10).  Smoke.

January 16: Martin Luther King Day. As this is a national holiday, it would seem almost sacrilegious to observe it without the sacrament of a cigar. Also 93rd anniversary of first day of Prohibition: necessary to strike a blow for freedom. Smoke.

January 17: Ninety-sixth anniversary of Professional Golf Association. Must show solidarity with golfers whose only respite from anti-smoking regulations is often on the links. Smoke.

January 18: Thesaurus Day, created to honor Peter Roget, the author of the foremost compendium of synonyms. What’s another way to say special occasion? Cigar? Smoke.

January 19: Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday. Ever read those stories? This guy was clearly smoking something. Smoke.

January 20: Fifty-first anniversary of inauguration of John F. Kennedy. He may have embargoed Cuban cigars, but not before he first filled his humidor with them. (Read the story in Cigar Aficionado, Autumn 1992.) Smoke.

January 21: Thirty-fifth anniversary of pardon of Vietnam War draft dodgers. If Jimmy Carter let them off the hook, can’t a guy get a pass for a cigar? Smoke.

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Bloody Heaven

Posted: Jan 5, 2012 12:00am ET

A popular line around our office is to refer to a cigar as a good “breakfast smoke." That means it's an admirable cigar, but mild-bodied—the kind of thing you light to wake up your palate in the morning. Every New Year's I'm reminded of what the best "breakfast drink" is. You can toast with whatever you want to when the ball drops the night before, but in the harsh light of dawn it has to be the Bloody Mary.

When restoration after an evening of overdoing is in order, there is but one drink to turn to: this colorful highball that combines vitamins (tomato juice), stimulants (hot spices) and the fabled hair of the dog (vodka). But, while it is the quintessential “breakfast drink,” I wouldn’t exactly refer to it as mild-bodied, given its composition.

Predictably, as soon as first light stirred the crust from my eyes in 2012, I started the year with a Bloody Mary. I advise always keeping the ingredients on hand as you never know when a bout of the Episcopal flu might set in. In fact, in the tassel-loafer panhandle of Connecticut, from which I hail, you'd have a riot if any of those ingredients were in short supply on a New Year's morning-after—or for that matter at any early-morning engagement—such as an orgy of Christmas-present unwrapping (if you happen to be visited with children) or a brunch (if you happen to be metrosexual)—at which one needs to be civil even while feeling cranky and creaky.

(However, if you are caught in short supply, certain substitutions can be made as emergency contingencies. If you have no tomato juice, try ketchup. It allows you to add more vodka for the purpose of dilution. If you’re out of vodka, use gin. If your spice cupboard is bare, repair to a bar that opens early.)

Anyway, as the weather on New Year’s Day was still rather warm where I live—it’s bitterly cold now—I decided to join that breakfast drink with a breakfast lancero (a Macanudo Café Portofino I’d cadged from the tasting for the December issue). I sat out on my deck and not only drank a Bloody Mary, but read about the drink as well. It was my first chance to peruse Jeffrey Pogash’s delightful treatise Bloody Mary, which was recently published through the Thornhill Press Libretto series. It’s a testament to both the drink and the book of the same name that I had any will to read at all that morning.

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From Russia with Gloves Off

Posted: Jan 3, 2012 12:00am ET

Not much gets a rise out of me in the way of smoking paraphernalia anymore, but I have to confess to being knocked out by one Christmas gift this year. It's handsome, it's clever, it's diabolical, hell, it may even be illegal.

No, it's not a Cuban cigar. It's a pair of cigar scissors that seems to double as brass knuckles (rather in this case, stainless-steel knuckles). On the one hand, you get a firm, three-fingered grip on the side opposing the thumb as you carefully cut your cigar. On the other hand, doesn't this thing look gnarly?

I got it from my nephew John Wilkinson, who's a sonar operator in the Navy. He spotted these scissors during leave on his last voyage, which took him to (where else?) Russia, and alertly procured a pair, knowing his favorite uncle was in dire need of such a thing.

It's not only a conversation starter, it could also be a conversation stopper. Imagine you're enjoying a cigar in your favorite legal smoking haven, when suddenly someone interrupts your reverie, saying something like: "Do you have to smoke that nasty thing around me?" You calmly slip on the Fist of Doom Scissors (not their real name, all the packaging was in the Cyrillic alphabet, so I have no idea what they're called) and "biff, bam, piyooooo...," debate over.

But, of course, I abhor violence and am not suggesting anyone use these scissors for anything but for their intended purpose of snipping the heads off of cigars. But it's nice to know you could if you had to.

Cigar scissors close up.
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Walking in a Window Wonderland

Posted: Dec 8, 2011 12:00am ET

Almost two weeks into the season, and I’m already getting the holiday spirit.

Let me preface this by saying, this is very early for me. I’m not the guy who warms up for the next round of festivities as soon the last dish is cleared from the Thanksgiving feast. In fact, it’s usually late on Christmas Eve—just after downing several Egg Nogs and sobbing while watching It’s A Wonderful Life—that I can even bring myself to say “seasons greetings.”

I’m especially scorched by the whole hit- the-ground-running approach to gift giving with its insistence that Black Friday is a national holiday that warrants arising at ungodly hours to secure so-called bargains.

So I guess you could sum up my overall holiday mood up to this point with one word: Humbug!

But today I had a transformation of Scrooge-ian proportions. And it happened in the most unlikely of venues: in front of a store window dressed for the season. I know, I know. Holiday displays are usually cheesy come-ons, but this was one was different. For me, it conveyed the true spirit of the season.

Pciture of Park Avenue Liquors holiday window.

Suspense over: It was the window at Park Avenue Liquors in Manhattan, filled with $140,000 worth of high-end spirits. I felt like a little kid again, pressing my nose to the glass to get a look at a Lionel train, a Flexible Flyer sled or “a Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time.” Only, in this case, I was taking a gander at 24 beautiful bottles, including Scotch whiskies (a 57- and 60-year-old Macallan, a Bowmore 40-year-old and the fabled Black, Glenmorangie Pride, Highland Park 50-year-old and The John Walker blend that includes whiskies from two different distilleries that no longer exist) and Cognacs (a magnum of Louis XIII Cognac, four different versions of Hardy Perfection, Hennessy Richard and Martel L’Or De Jean Martel).

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Sense of (Smoking) Place

Posted: Nov 15, 2011 12:00am ET

A blog I wrote recently about having a cigar at New York's Explorer's Club got me thinking about smoking venues and the idea that where—and when—you smoke can be as important as what you smoke.

The aforementioned smoking experience was so good because it was a) virtually unplanned (cigar serendipity is always a delight), b) enjoyed with friends and a whisky (don't get me started on the latter) and c) partaken in a classic smoking atmosphere (the clubby ambience of a venerable old institution).

Was that the perfect smoking situation? I would say, “Yes,” except that I’ve enjoyed cigars in many contexts that were far different from that and which I also might regard as perfect. (At least I’m not ready to assess the relative merits each and declare one better than the other.) Does the Explorer’s Club experience beat smoking a cigar alone on my deck? It did that night, but many’s the time I want that solitude and am unwilling to share it.

In the early days of Cigar Aficionado, we ran a column called “Great Moments” in which readers would write about their prize cigar experiences. So many of them described idyllic scenes like climbing to the top of mountain and breaking out a long-saved Cuban or one-on-one bonding (especially of the father-and-son variety) over Corona Gordas, that I wondered if I were completely insensitive because I also treasured situations that were more clamorous. As well as the philosophical smoking moment, I also enjoy nothing better than playing cards or pool with a bunch of guys who are just shooting the shit while smoking up the joint to their hearts content. Could the two truths coexist?

Years ago, I wrote a Cigar Aficionado article about what were essentially the cigar rooms of the rich and famous. I discovered that the smoke-atoriums installed at some of the great Gilded Age estates were all different. Some were little dens meant for a maximum two people to smoke in peace while dressed in smoking jacket and fez. Others were great halls where the male contingent of a large banquet would take their postprandial cigar and Cognac, dressed in white tie and tails. Obviously, both worked or they wouldn’t have built a mansion around each idea. Different strokes—or should I say stokes—for different folks.

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Re-Exploring the Room

Posted: Nov 14, 2011 12:00am ET

Back in June, I wrote in this space about missing out on a windfall cigar opportunity because I wasn’t packing heaters (as I normally would have been before all this cigar regulation nonsense).

I would have made the same mistake again last week had not my illustrious colleague David Savona saved me.

We were headed to the same venue—Manhattan’s Explorer’s Club—where I had spent an early-summer evening wishing I’d brought smokes because the society’s upper-East Side facility has a second-floor patio on which smoking was permitted. (I suppose it isn’t such a stretch that an organization that notoriously hosts dinners where such dishes as earthworm stir fry and maggot-covered strawberries are served would have an outlet for smokers.) On the subway ride there I slapped my head and said, “Doh, we should have brought cigars.”

I explained the situation, and Savona—a former Boy Scout who almost made Eagle and is always prepared—said not to worry, “I’ve got you covered.” Not only did he have me covered, he had enough smokes to hand out to other guests willing to explore the possibilities of a great smoke and a Scotch whisky, which as it happened was the theme of the evening.

Perhaps you’ve heard of how several bottles of Scotch abandoned by the Ernest Shackleton expedition in Antarctica around 1909 were recently recovered. That dram—Mackinlay's Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky—is no longer made, but there is a way to taste a facsimile thereof. Richard Patterson, the master distiller of The Dalmore, analyzed the whisky that was recovered and blended a replica of it using several Highland and Speyside malts from Whyte & Mackay (the Dalmore owner). That effort is now available for sale in a limited edition of 50,000 bottles ($175).

Bottle shot of Mackinlay's Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky.
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Of Rock Legends, Tequila and Cigars

Posted: Oct 11, 2011 12:00am ET

“Oh, good luck taking over that gig!”

Mick Fleetwood is recounting one of his initial impressions of Sammy Hagar. He had just heard the Red Rocker was to replace David Lee Roth as the front man for Van Halen, and the founder/drummer of Fleetwood Mac, no stranger to difficult rock-band dynamics himself, was understandably empathetic.

Years later, Fleetwood’s feelings toward Hagar have turned from simple commiseration to admiration: “He’s the real deal. He’s a real musician and a great singer, very relaxed.” They are also now great friends, close enough that not too long ago when Hagar visited Hawaii—where Fleetwood lives—he phoned him up and the two got together. 

Fleetwood had heard about Hagar’s latest project, Off The Record, a series of videos meant to pair rock royalty with buzzworthy emerging artists. “I felt compelled to ask him about his project,” says Fleetwood, and now he is appearing in the first of the series alongside Nicole Atkins, a singer/songwriter who performs personal material in a mix of styles. The conversations between the two, as well as musical performance, debut today on YouTube.

And that’s how that happened.

Why I’m on the phone call to Mick Fleetwood in Maui is a little more obscure. It has to do with my having gone not off, but on, the record as a fan of Cabo Wabo Tequila and my generally shameless sycophancy when it comes to rock’n’roll royalty. Cabo Wabo is a brand developed by Hagar, and it is under its aegis that the videos are being produced. When the promoters called and asked if I wanted to talk to a rock colossus, I said, “By all means.”

The video was shot in Fleetwood’s, the drummer’s soon-to-be-opened bar on Front Street, and features quite candid discussions. Atkins asks Fleetwood about the band’s first experiences on the road, and he responds, “When you’re in a band, it’s like a traveling circus.” Fleetwood then launches into an anecdote about narrowly missing being busted along with the Grateful Dead in New Orleans, when the then little-known Fleetwood Mac opened for the Dead, but got lost on the way to the post-concert party. (The Dead later recorded the incident in its song “Truckin”.) “If we’d have been in that hotel you’d have never heard of Fleetwood Mac again. We’d have been flung out of the United States,” points out the British musician.

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