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Jack Bettridge

Reunions, Reputations and Life Reassessments

Posted: Sep 26, 2011 12:00am ET

Three weeks ago I agreed to go to my high school reunion—scheduled for this Saturday—thinking that a month would leave me plenty of time to prepare. I would use those 30 days to do what I'd been putting off for decades: become a success.

It's a nice sentiment that people go to these things to catch up with old friends and relive the good old days, but let's face it, the sweetest thing that could happen at a reunion is to return triumphant—to go back to the scene of your not-so-glory years and be recognized as a screaming success by the people who ignored you when you had zits. In fact, a recent survey—conducted by me—proves that 95 percent of reunion-goers simply want to shove their good fortune in the face of the star of the football team, who is now a janitor. (The other five percent just want to hook up with the school's hot chick—the one they never had the courage to ask out.)

My problem vis a vis appearing successful is that I'm basically doing the same thing I was in high school: smoking and drinking. Yes, I have made a career of it, and I am smoking and drinking better stuff than I was back then, but some of my classmates are captains of industry now. And I smoke and drink for a living. It doesn't seem that impressive when you say it out loud. I might argue that I'm sort of a superhero, keeping the world safe from bad cigars and shoddy liquor with my very important palate, but my wife doesn't even buy that one.

No, what I realized three weeks ago was that what I needed was some great deed, gesture or achievement that would put my career in a better context. But then I found out they don't announce the Nobel Prize winners until October 3, two days late for my purposes. And besides, it turns out there is no prize in Spirits and Cigar Literature. I quickly gave up on that.

Another option would be to return rich. Money always impresses people. I could make a few savvy investmests, maybe get in early on an LBO for the next Facebook and go show up in a Ferrari sporting a big wallet. But, my rotten luck, the reunion has to happen during a raging recession. I tried looking up that fellow who's hedge fund was making people rich a few years ago, but it seems Mr. Madoff is out of business. No, a month wouldn't be enough time to secure a fortune.

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An Open Letter to a Brother-In-Law

Posted: Jul 1, 2011 12:00am ET

Dear Thatcher,

Thanks for the invitation to bring my family to your place for Independence Day weekend. It's not every brother-in-law who is so generous to his extended family, and I would like to offer some small token of my gratitude.

It is a modest gift of something I think your otherwise lovely home is in sore need of. I've observed that because of its proximity to the water your property tends to be infested by hordes of insects during this time of year. I've discovered a product that can remedy this. It comes in cylinders of leaves rolled around each other. It comes in various lengths and widths, according to your needs. Don't worry, the composition is purely organic. I'm told the product is made from specially raised tobacco leaves that have been carefully aged and cured. When slowly burned they create an exhaust that repels insects quite effectively.

Some user-participation is required, however, as the product tends to burn out when left alone. Happily, this problem can be easily avoided by occasionally drawing air through the unit's unlit end to keep it smoking. I suppose that you could use some kind of bellows contraption for this purpose, but I find it easiest to resuscitate the unit orally.

From my own observations with this outstanding product, I can conclude that if we were to dutifully keep two of them operating on your outdoor deck from sundown into the evening we would be able to lay down a smoke screen that would effectively protect your house and its inhabitants from harassment by insects.

The repellent works best when used in conjunction with a dedicated glass vessel that is held in the unused hand and filled with alcohol (and ice if the weather suggests). The liquid I use has been carefully treated through years of containment in wood casks. As fumes are released from the wide mouth of the vessel, they combine with the smoke and, for reasons that science does not yet fully understand, further ameliorate the repellent function of the first devise.

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To Pack, or Not to Pack, Heaters

Posted: Jun 22, 2011 12:00am ET

A lot of things have improved for cigar smokers in the past decade-better quality smokes, better availability. But one aspect has changed for the worse and it's had a profound effect on my behavior.

Back in the boom years, I wouldn't walk around the corner without a pocket humidor in case the opportunity for a smoke arose. When I was expecting to meet people, I'd carry a lot more than that in case some poor, unfortunate souls were without smoke.

But since the proliferation of smoking ordinances I've backed off on packing heaters when I leave the office. What would be the point? The occasion to smoke hardly arises now as the number of cigar bars and restaurants has plummeted and you can't even stroll your smoke through the park. Used to be that several pubs and one steakhouse within walking distance were safe havens. Now I have to get on a subway for a whiskey and a smoke.

One of the downsides of not carrying is that every once in a while the opportunity to smoke rears its lovely head and I'm left empty handed. That happened when I was at an event for Canadian Club in New York's Explorers Club. Normally, I would have thought of it as the perfect clubby, old boy's venue for a smoke, but alas you can't indulge there anymore. Except that it turned out the party was held in a room with an outdoor deck overlooking the city on a summer's evening. Perfect! But I wasn't packing. Hell! I had to stand by and wistfully watch cigarette smokers puffing away.

Yesterday, I was at a luncheon for the Art of Shaving at Masa in the Time-Warner Center. Once again, in the old days I would have thought: "Shaving-men-cigars." But this day, it didn't even occur to me. And as it happened I was seated with someone who expressed an interest in cigars when he heard what I did. He didn't smoke-except cigarettes-and was wondering what entry-level smokes he might try.

I talked him through outstanding mild cigar brands and discussed shade wrappers as a stepping off point. But nagging at me were shades of the old day. If I were loaded up with cigars, I might have been the hero, reaching into my breast pocket, pulling out an Avo or something and saying, "Try this on for starters." And he might have walked his newfound friend down to the Carnegie Club and gotten his smoke on right away.

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Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Posted: May 5, 2011 12:00am ET

I celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Mexican victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1861, a day early with a visit yesterday from the Don Julio Tequila master distiller, Enrique de Colsa Ranero. He came to preview his latest creation, which will celebrate another anniversary when it debuts later in the year, the 70th birthday of the founding of Don Julio in 1942.

Almost as striking as his Tequila was the method in which he revealed it, which ran contrary to most of my experience. Usually when spirits representatives unveil their lines they either start with the liquor of the mildest body and build to the fullest or they proceed from entry-level quality to highest.

Enrique did neither. He went straight to his new surprise, the anniversary Tequila. Once you hear the logic it makes sense.

One of the strongest trends in Tequila is aging. Reposados (aged more than two months, but less than a year), Añejos (more than 12 months, but less than three years) and the new designation Extra Añejo (more than three years) have been growing in popularity. Enrique argues that while this relatively new development in aging Tequila has brought rich notes to the spirit, it also tends to mask some of the raw agave flavors that are the gift of Tequila as well.

He addresses this quandary with the 70th anniversary edition by starting with an Añejo version of Don Julio and then filtering it. So, rather than pouring first his Blanco (essentially no aging) and then working to the older stuff, Enrique went to this new juice first. And it was quite the pleaser—full of rich honey taste, almost rock candy—some of the mellow caramels and vanillas that you associate with its time in Bourbon barrels and, at the end, a minty evergreen and slight yeastiness.

From there he went to his Añejo Don Julio, which was also excellent, but focused on and developed the sweet and mellow, with pronounced wood tones. Gone were the hints of agave, yeast and mint.

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Fight Fire With Drink

Posted: Apr 26, 2011 12:00am ET

As a New Englander, I never expected to feel as though I were stepping out on a limb by taking an anti-Royalist position. But even here in the cradle of liberty the pending nuptials of a future British king is fomenting so much excitement that you wonder why we bothered with the War of Independence only to slaver over every detail of the very pomp and circumstance that we fought to free ourselves of.

My wife says it's "because it's so romantic."

Which apparently trumped all the "give me liberty of give me death" bravado I could muster, because on Friday morning three females in my house plan to switch on the television at dawn to watch the furtherance of empirical tyranny walk down the aisle in guise of romance.

Well, if you can't beat them, ridicule them, I always say. So I'll be there to kibitz, make fun of the wedding gown and strike a blow for freedom in the only way available to me at four o'clock in the morning: by mixing a drink.

This is a strategy that-unsurprisingly-has occurred to a number of others, even those who don't take my curmudgeonly view of the festivities. I've just been informed that Berry Brothers & Rudd, the London purveyor of wine and spirits that gave us Cutty Sark, has joined forces with The Bitter Truth, a German outfit (after all Prince William has much Teutonic blood on his father's side) to suggest a few cocktails using-again unsurprisingly-their products. Given my for taste for gin, I normally wouldn't have a problem with Brit hooch, except this one day I've set aside for protest. So I'll be drinking neither the Ginger Royale (is that the Ginger Quarter Pounder translated for the metric system?) nor the Wedding March, but see below for recipes.

A more to the point wedding drink (especially given the obsession with the fertility of the royal lineage) is an ale apparently created with Viagra by the British brewery BrewDog. Three bottles of Royal Virility Performance is said to deliver the dosage in one of the little triangular pills. The brew is also laced with other aphrodisiacs, including horny goat weed and chocolate. Of course, that's out of the question for me as this will be a family viewing and I can't risk another incident.

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A Proper Wager

Posted: Mar 31, 2011 12:00am ET

When state colleges meet in important games it always seems to generate the sort of gubernatorial bravado in which the states chief executives wager something emblematic of their state on the game. The Washington State governor might put up a bushel of vaunted apples against a sack of the famed potatoes from Idaho. The Dairy State, Wisconsin, could bet cheese for some corn from Illinois or Iowa.

But what of the meeting between the universities of Connecticut and Kentucky on Saturday in the NCAA men's basketball semifinal? The governors—respectively Dan Malloy and Steve Beshear—in an uninspired piece of betting have put up for stake ice cream from Connecticut and country ham from Kentucky.

Are they new here?

What sort of a pantywaist gamble is that? Connecticut's not known for ice cream. And country ham for Kentucky? Maybe, but shouldn't Virginia be putting up country ham? If Connecticut bets Kentucky, the stakes have to be cigars versus Bourbon.

At least that's what immediately comes to my admittedly jaded mind. But come on, this is clearly a nanny-state-politically-correct decision. I'm a Connecticut resident and am badly embarrassed by this wager. It's not bad enough that we produce some of the best wrapper tobacco in the world and then basically ban smoking in the state, we have to put ice cream in a wager. What's next, you won't be able to drink Bourbon in Kentucky, but you'll be allowed all the ham you can eat?

Malloy! Beshear! Have some cojones.

And, "Go, Huskies!"

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Let There Be Ice

Posted: Jan 10, 2011 12:00am ET

It may be that winter just dumped another six inches of snow on me or that I received a press release from Johnnie Walker Gold Label touting its "ice pillar," which is a packaging sleeve intended to keep the whisky cold, but I'm thinking about strategies for cooling beverages this frigid morning. No, I haven't had a drink, yet!

Chilling alcohol-especially whisk(e)y-is such a touchy subject for some that you sometimes feel like you're advocating breaking one of The Ten Commandments when you ask for a few cubes in your drink. I've been chided by a certain venerable master distiller of Scotch, whose name will go unmentioned, for even suggesting the idea with one of his malts. (I responded with my standard quip that the only reason not to use ice is if you've the lost formula-to which I got a blank stare.) On the other hand, now another Scotch maker wants to enable me in my quest to bring down the temperature of its blend. So whom am I to listen?

I'm leaning toward Mr. Walker on this one. Not that I'm advocating chilling your Scotch against your will, but I feel if you want it a little frigid, you should have it that way. Then again, I tend not to be very rigid about how people have their drinks in general. If a guest-for some bizarre reason of his own-asks for root beer in his Cognac, I'll give it to him. I just won't pour him XO. When you take drinking too seriously you ruin the whole point of the endeavor.

But the urge to cool alcohol I don't consider bizarre at all. Clearly, cold drinks are a refreshing summer staple and most cocktails call for chilling-even those as "serious" as the Manhattan and Martini. So why not cold whisk(e)y?

The best argument against it is the damage that ice can reek as it thaws. We've all been over-served ice, especially the minuscule machine-type or crushed ice that you get in some bars. As the ice quickly melts, the drink is immediately diluted beyond recognition and you are left holding a sad excuse for a drink. But all ice is not the same, and certainly formidable chunks won't ruin your whisk(e)y, assuming you drink it fast enough-which I'm always careful to do. (As a member of the Maker's Mark Ambassadors program, I was mailed an ice tray as a holiday gift that makes ice spheres the size of a baseball that can outlast anything I pour into an old-fashioned glass with it.)

Johnnie Walker Ice Pillar
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Feeling Scotch

Posted: Nov 19, 2010 12:00am ET

I'm not much with digging into my emotions, yet I think I'm having one right now. My wife says it's guilt, but I'm not sure I trust her because that's what she thinks I always should feel.

Anyway, it has to do with all this Scotch I've been drinking-specifically some of the greatest single-malt whiskies in the world. It started when I toured Scotland in June, visiting Glenlivet, Glenmorangie, Glenkinchie, Macallan, Cardhu and Laphroaig, all in the space of a week. Everybody was generous with their most outrageous malts, but we had one especially idyllic experience on a boat off the shores of Islay, sipping 30-year-old Laphroaig as we looked in at the distillery on the shore, puffins flying by and seals diving off of rocks. Thank you, John Campbell.

This sort of Scotch immersion hasn't stopped since as I've written a column in Wine Spectator on the subject, my Cigar Aficionado story is in the current issue and I'm in the midst of tasting just about every malt imaginable for Wine Spectator. Not only that, I just hosted a cigar and malt pairing at the Big Smoke Las Vegas with six (count 'em, Auchentoshan Three Wood, Glenlivet Nadurra, Macallan 18, Glenmorangie Signet, Bowmore 15 and Ardbeg) single malts.

But wait, there's more: A month ago Bowmore visited with an opportunity to taste its 40-year-old and the trilogy of Black, White and Gold. These are all classics of exquisite qualities and I teetered on the verge of a psychic explosion as I tried them in succession.

Then last week Malt Advocate, our new sister publication, hosted its WhiskyFest, which offers dozens of malts and also brought on a handful of separate tasting opportunities. Richard Patterson invited me to a dinner for Dalmore's new Mackensie release and he snuck me a chance to taste the 40-year-old: a mind scrambler.

So when Michael Herklots of the New York Davidoff store called me the other day to go to a cigar and Glenmorangie dinner, including master distiller Dr. Bill Lumsden, I was feeling an embarrassment of riches. I couldn't possibly take advantage of another Scotch tasting like that. How could I justify hogging yet more malts when people are forced to drink sake in Asia?

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Martin Miller's High Life

Posted: Oct 25, 2010 12:00am ET

I rarely encounter promoters who admit they don't know much about making their product. But I did Thursday in the person of Mr. Martin Miller, who is just recently getting around to promoting his own gin.

Miller, if you don't know, is a Brit entrepreneur who is a self-described dabbler. He started by publishing Success With The Fairer Sex, went on to promote rock concerts and try his hand at photography before creating Miller's Antique Price Guide. In 1999, he turned his sights to making a spare-no-expense, premium gin, which at the time was a far crazier venture than it might seem today. Vodka was king and getting more powerful. Gin had been losing market share for years. "The perception was that it had had its day," says Miller. But he saw the vodka market as too crowded and decided gin was where he wanted to put his name down—literally. Now two such spirits, the standard Martin Miller's Gin (80 proof) and the Westbourne Strength (90 proof)—are branded with his moniker.

Of course, the popularity of classic cocktails has now turned gin into a must-have ingredient for anyone who claims to keep a passable home bar. The young mixologists who were proponents of the movement looked to the past to forge the future, and revived the traditional recipes that date past Prohibition. What they found was that most of the cocktails in which vodka is so often substituted—first and foremost the Martini—called for gin (vodka wasn't even generally available in the U.S. until the late 1930s).

So Martin Miller stepped in it at just about the right time. But what's this about his not knowing anything about gin? He claims he doesn't, and his ignorance doesn't stop there. Miller's lips part and his formidable teeth reveal themselves in a devilish grin: "I knew nothing about antiques or publishing when I started." But he and some friends had an idea: that the world needed a good gin. "I'm not really a worker," he says, "I love concepts."

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Your Scotch Aha! Moment

Posted: Oct 12, 2010 12:00am ET

As immersed in single malts as I've been lately—a trip to Scotland that has me writing back-to-back feature stories in Cigar Aficionado and Wine Spectator—it's little surprise I've become obsessive (my wife says excessive) on the subject. One of the things that fascinates me about malt (and malt drinkers) is the aha! moment.

Everyone seems to have one—anyone who can remotely claim membership in the international brother-and-sisterhood of single malt Scotch lovers, that is. It was that instant when you first really connected with malt. It wasn't necessarily your first-ever dram of malt. In fact, it probably wasn't. But it touched you and left you forever enamored. The gates opened and you saw the light, a convert.

Single-malt is like cigars in that they are a journey of discovery. You warm up to their charms in steps. And then one time, you take a sip or draw a puff and you just get it. Their depths of flavor reveal themselves to you and after that you never approach a dram or smoke the same way. You begin to identify flavor notes more easily as you have this frame of reference in the aha! malt or cigar that opened your eyes.

What's interesting is how often that change comes in one moment, with one revelatory cigar or malt. I know it did for me. I've started collecting stories for possible inclusion in the Wine Spectator story I've mentioned above. If you'd like to share, please send me an account of your personal aha! moment in our drink forums by clicking here.

 

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