November 2008 Archives

When to Drink Champagne

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"He's always quite grumpy before his first glass of champagne." -- Mrs. Emma Peel

Recently I noticed a bottle of champagne on a friend's wine rack, and upon examination found it to be a dusty old bottle of Perrier-Jouët, a very fine champagne and one that I've enjoyed several times in the past. This one was old, though, and was not exactly stored in a cellar, but in a room with a fireplace, up near the ceiling on a tall wine rack. According to our best guess, it had been up there for perhaps a decade. While the Wine Doctor will perhaps tell you that it's a good idea to cellar certain non-vintage champagnes, I am certain that this is not the sort of storage he had in mind. Realizing the seriousness of the situation, I demanded that we chill the champagne as soon as possible and drink it, before any other damage could be done.

It was too late.

While barely drinkable, the wine had a distinct hint of apple cider. Very acidic, very disappointing, and in fact we couldn't finish the bottle. It was a sad, sad day. No man of leisure should ever have to open a bottle of champagne that he can't consume.

When I came home, I eyed the bottle of Moët & Chandon White Star in my wine rack and sighed longingly. What could I do to make sure no other bottles of champagne succumbed to such a perilous fate? First, I had to save my own bottle, so I seized upon the next excuse to open a bottle of fine wine in celebration, and drank it. My task was not yet done, however, which is why I am bringing a very important message to you today. Please read carefully.

No celebration is too mundane, too small, or too unimportant for champagne. However, I'd argue that the more important the celebration, the better the champagne should be. Thank you for your time!

Oskar's Surströmming Fileer

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They say you can't believe everything you read on the Internet.  In that vein, I viewed the flurry of information that appeared regarding Sweden's prized fermented surstromming.jpgBaltic herring with no small amount of skepticism.  As I consider myself to be generally open-minded and willing to try almost anything once, I went out and searched for some of my own.  It wasn't easy, nor cheap, but I did manage to find a Swedish retailer willing to send two cans of surströmming to the United States, and they were shipped promptly.

After boiling the potatoes and chopping the onions, I set everything up on the outside table.  Trust me, you really want to be sure you only ever open a can of surströmming when you're outside, preferably when the neighbors are all on vacation for a while.  Following custom, I submerged the can into a mixing bowl full of water and went at it with the opener.  At first, I was amused to observe the escaping fermentation gasses and the bit of fish that poked around the edge of the can as I continued to open it.  My amusement quickly gave way to horror as the smell reached me.  I would describe the aroma of surströmming as a heady mixture of rotten fish, stagnant ocean water, low-rent house of ill repute on a Saturday night in midsummer, and rusty water.  It was this last bit - the metallic smell - that really stuck with me, and continues to linger on my hands several hours and many scrubbings later.  My daughter, never one to restrain her opinions on matters of taste, plugged her nose and ran crying into the house.  From there, she watched me through the window with a horrified expression as I continued my taste test.

Put simply, it was impossible to consider anything that smelled this bad as being edible.

Nevertheless, I was convinced that perhaps there was a taste reward that justified this olfactory offense, and so I carried on preparing the surströmming in what has been described as the traditional manner - on crisp bread, topped with creme fraiche, red onions, and boiled potatoes.  Honestly, it looked pretty good on the plate, and I can imagine such a dish being downright tasty.  Putting aside one last lingering concern that I might perhaps be making a horrible mistake, I picked up the crisp bread and took a bite.

Initial impressions?  It was very salty, somewhat less so than anchovies but more so than smoked fish.  Flavor was obviously very fishy, but not unpleasantly so.  The mouth feel was soft and slightly rubbery, but overall not bad.  Then that metallic-dead-fish-in-an-iron-barrel smell worked its way to the back of my palate, and any notion that this might be a pleasant experience dissolved in a torrent of autonomic nervous system responses.  That was enough to convince me to abandon my experiment, and I spent the next five seconds or so drinking the pint of hard cider in the background of the picture.

Surströmming is a truly amazing dish.  To suggest that it's an acquired taste is akin to suggesting that self-immolation is not a pastime that just anyone would enjoy more than once.  I cannot in good conscience recommend it to anyone.  On that note, I have an extra tin of this stuff, and am willing to give it to anyone who promises not to use it inappropriately.

Overall, an interesting idea, and now I can say I've tried it once.  I am, however, thoroughly traumatized by the experience and will never, ever try this again.  0 stars, fully biohazardous.

old-cherry-ale.jpgUpon pouring Old Cherry Ale from New Belgium Brewing, the scent of cherries was overpowering.  I was taken aback, as I had not expected such a luscious boutique to fill the air just through pouring.  However, once in the glass, I must say that the aroma of the beer has retreated rather incredibly, and now it smells vaguely of cherries and vaguely of that yeast characteristic of the New Belgium beer.

It has an amber appearance, with a foamy head of medium-large bubbles that has good retention even if it doesn't leave much lacing.  The color is not what I expected.  I was thinking that a cherry beer would perhaps be either exceptionally dark, like a Flanders red, or very pale, like a raspberry wheat.  It is neither.  Clear, amber, and ale-like, one would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between this and a pale ale using eyeballs alone.

This is a fruit beer, and I don't always get along with fruit beers.  I was hesitant about tasting it, but it's really quite tasty.  Smooth and malty up front, the cherry flavors blend nicely with the caramel sweetness of the malt and add a nice tartness that cuts through the sugars.  As far as fruit beers go, this one is quite drinkable and perhaps even delicious.  I think I may want a second, which is too bad, because I only brought home one of these.

It is my understanding that Old Cherry Ale is primarily available in the New Belgium Folly Pack, so keep your eyes peeled!  You may have to suffer through a few bottles of Fat Tire, but you'll be richly rewarded with some Mothership Wit, 1554 Black Ale, and Old Cherry Ale.  Go find one!


There are few breakfasts as dignified, quiet, and enjoyable as those including poached eggs.  From the simple poached eggs-and-toast to the wonderfully complex eggs benedict, the elegance of this magnificent creation is obvious.

Recently I entered into a contretemps with Mr Bertelsen regarding the proper way to poach an egg. He prefers to use an egg poacher, such as the one you see to the left, and contended that nobody wet poaching an egg could ever match its brilliant results. My position was the opposite: that no dry-poaching egg-cheater could ever come close to a well-made water-poached egg. We realized that we could not be the best judges of this particular contest, so we turned to the Breakfast Club and discovered the painfully obvious: I was right.

So, I'm going to reveal to you all my method of making poached eggs. Perhaps somebody can improve on this, and if so, I'd love to hear it. I'm not really much of a cook at all, you see.

Breweries have been releasing their winter seasonals, which are always very, very welcome.  As the weather gets a bit nippy, there's nothing like a bold, strong beer to take an edge off the chill and get the blood pumping again.  It was with great anticipation that I recently cracked open a big bottle of Bifröst Winter Ale from Elysian Brewing Company.

There are a few things I expect from a winter ale.  I expect a good level of alcohol heat, some darkness to its color, a good amount of body, and usually some sort of unique flavor.  A lot of winter ales are spiced, and I'm a big fan of spiced beer.  Bifröst started out a bit disappointing, in that it pours a very beautiful deep golden color, giving it the appearance of a very fine pale ale or IPA.  It has a healthy, modest head that didn't linger longer than it needed to and left thick lacing on the side of the glass.  It's a very beautiful beer, but it didn't match my expectations for the style.

Its smell was rather faint, but notes of alcohol and honey were certainly present.  My drinking partner for this event asked, "Why does sniffing this make my nose feel warm?"  This beer weighs in at a healthy, but not overwhelming, 7.5% ABV, and it's not shy about letting you know.

Finally, we drank the beer.  It's an easy drinker, that's for sure.  It lacks the fullness of flavor that I expect from a winter ale, but is loaded with a good dose of hops and possesses a thick, malty body that somehow does not manage to become the focal point of the beer.  It's got a sharp, crisp flavor to it as well.  Overall, while Bifröst may indeed be an enjoyable beer, I am going to continue my hunt for the ultimate winter ale.  It deserves a solid three stars.


H Upmann CoronaI just smoked a rather enjoyable cigar, an H Upmann Corona given to me by Mr Williamson. This is a nicely colored cigar, with a wrapper the color of coffee with plenty of cream in it. The wrapper was a bit blotchy, but didn't look too bad. It smelled very inviting, like all of the good parts of a barnyard on a nice winter morning.

Well, I clipped the cigar and before lighting it, discussed with Mr Williamson how my article on smoking a cigar without accidentally inhaling seems to have become very popular, and now gets far more hits than any other article on the website. This was a trick that he had originally taught me, you see, and he was rather stunned that it hadn't been mentioned more often elsewhere. Anyhow, I lit the cigar. I'd like to think I wasn't lighting badly, but it burned horribly uneven for the first half-inch. I was immediately greeted with a healthy dose of spicy flavor that mellowed quickly into a sort of creamy cedar.

Once the cigar self-corrected its poor light, it became a very pleasant smoke. It had a pretty good nicotine strength to it, but it was not overpowering. While the ash was not particularly solid nor well-formed, it was a very attractive white color. We smoked outdoors in the brisk fall air. A massive tree loomed over us dropping yellow leaves every now and again, and the sun filtered through the branches, providing a little bit of warmth. It was a gorgeous afternoon for smoking.

The Upmann had a very pleasant, easy draw and as it continued to burn its flavor grew in body and lost some of the subtleties it initially possessed, which was very nice. The fullness of the smoke was moderate and not quite as big and silky as I enjoy. And the cigar went out slightly past the halfway point, probably because I was doing too much talking and not enough puffing. It was, overall, a pleasant cigar, and I'll give it a good solid three stars. It might be worth smoking again, but I'm going to try other cigars first.

I recently learned about the Bloody Caesar, a cocktail related to the Bloody Mary which replaces the tomato juice with Clamato, a disturbing mix of clam broth and tomato juice.  It sounds odd, but odder still is that the Bloody Caesar is one of Canada's most popular drinks! I swear I'm not making this up.  Check out those links, particularly the one for the Clamato home page, which has a few very entertaining and upbeat songs about their clammy broth.

Well, instead of giving the clam-hand to our odd northern neighbors, I decided it would probably be more interesting to investigate their curious beverage.  I used Monopolowa, real name-brand Clamato, and this recipe:

  • 1 1/2 oz vodka
  • 4 oz Clamato
  • 2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 dashes of Tabasco sauce
  • celery salt
  • lemon wedge
  • pepper to taste
  • celery salt
I was surprised to find that this drink was remarkably refreshing.  It tasted a little lighter than a Bloody Mary and it seems to me that the Canadians are really on to something here!  I never wanted to admit to drinking Clamato.  In fact, I was trying to avoid it forever, but I am now willing to say that I was in error.  With enough vodka, Clamato is indeed drinkable and enjoyable.  I'd recommend that anybody looking for a Bloody Mary give the Bloody Caesar a try next time.
One of my favorite things about Big Sky Brewing Co. is all of the great names they come up with for their brews.  Moose Drool Brown Ale, Scape Goat Pale Ale, and Powder Hound Winter Ale are some of my favorites.  I'm not very familiar with their beer, so when I got the opportunity to try Trout Slayer Ale, I took one look at its awesome label and dove right in.  This is actually a pale wheat ale, which I don't think is a very common style in the States, and weighs in at 4.7% ABV, making it perhaps the weakest beer I've reviewed so far.

It pours a pale gold color with a rather wimpy, big-bubbled head that left minimal lacing.  It has a very yeasty, clean smell to it with hints of light fruit and hops.  Nothing about its appearance belies that this is a wheat ale.  In fact, until looking the beer up later, I didn't realize that wheat was used in its production at all.  I found the flavor to be unremarkable.  It's dry and clean, with hop notes about as weak as the maltiness.  There's a pleasant effervescence to it and a bit of tartness at the back of the palate, but nothing really jumped out at me.

I'd recommend this beer for hot summer days.  Its light body and low alcohol means that one could quaff quite a bit of it while relaxing by the river with a fishing pole, which is perhaps entirely its purpose.  Still, in these chilly fall months, I'd rather go for something with a bit more heat and a bit more color.  I'm afraid I can only give this beer three stars.

As I researched the Traquair House Brewery in preparation for writing this review, I realized something very disappointing: I'd been within thirty miles of this rather incredible brewery, and hadn't even known about it.  I wasn't introduced to the Traquair line of delicious ales until relatively recently.  While they tend to be rather spendy, they are certainly worth enjoying from time to time.

Their House Ale is a Scotch ale, a variety that's rather difficult to find on our side of the pond.  It weighs in at a hefty 7.2% ABV and pours a beautiful dark brown which shows tantalizing tints of ruby and sports a healthy tan head.  One's nose is greeted by notes of dark fruit and a promise of malt, and it's difficult to keep in mind that this isn't a very cheap beer, and perhaps it shouldn't be guzzled with any urgency.  Anyhow, I luckily managed to slow myself down while sampling this excellent beverage.  It has a thick, rolling mouth feel and a really strong malt flavor reminiscent of caramel and fruit.  The heat of the alcohol also makes itself known.  At first, it seems as though this beer is a rather delicate brew, and it takes a few sips for the flavors to really emerge.  When they do, they're worth it.

This excellent beer is on the pricey side, but if you're interested in giving yourself a treat, it's hard to go wrong with a Traquair House Ale.  It deserves its four stars.


(From a Private Communique, dated IX XXX MMVIII, found in memorabilia of the
Aloisius Bartholomew Reginald Masterson-Smythe collection. I report with minimal editing; the remainder of the entry follows in two parts.)

The Macanudo 1968 Caper
part the second

    Peddigrew had fastidiously scraped the palimpsest, and so my strokes lay both long and firm along the vellum:

        Esteemed Hasim,

           I have received a mysterious package from Einrich the Teuton, borne far over the sea in the hands of none other than the fastidious Chinaman, Chang. It contains a single cigar, the likes of which are puzzling to me. For, while it sports the pedestrian label of the banal Macanudo brand, this label is yet emblazoned with gold, and the cigar is moreover of promising construction! I am bewildered.

        If the traitorous Einrich is duplicitous in this, it shall bring us at last to a mortal duel; however, if he gifts this tobacco in sincerity, I must-- as a gentleman-- accept it.

        I purpose, Hasim, to try this stuff and call the Teuton's bluff! You are wise in the ways of his treachery, having overcome much in your adventures, and so I call upon you to second me: should he poison me, I leave it unto  you to scour the lands for him, and bring his reign of questionable fashion and pop-music at last to an end.

        In Fraternity, sealed,

        Lord Alocious Betram Bartholomew Masterson Wilkinson-Smythe, Esq.

    I gave the dwarf a moment to recover himself and dust his trousers.

    "Peddigrew, I trust you like no other. Ever have you been my loyal servant, though I see you suffer from your albinism and muteness. You have more strengths than man four times your height. Devoutly devoted dwarf, I task you with this, a most urgent errand: Deliver this palimpsest directly unto Hasim the Turk, and no other. Though the journey is long, I can only trust you in this. Be swift!"

    I believe I saw a tear in my manservant's eye as he slathered on his sunscreen and bore my message afar. I had saved Peddigrew from great abuse many years before, when he served the cruel Indonesian warlord Budi, whose vile plot to combine eggs and pancakes I foiled in the decisive Adventure of the Dijonnaise Ovum-- but, I have chronicled that already. I had some sherry to calm my nerve while I waited for him to get back from next door.

    Merely a few hours later, my manservant returned. He was followed by a team of large eunuchs bearing a gilt open litter upon which Hasim rode. The marmelukes placed out many cushions and spices in my drawing room, along with censers of fragrant incense. They set down the sedan, and stood facing the walls as Hasim made himself comfortable.

    "They are very loyal, but they keep insisting on treating me as an Arab, when I am a so clearly a Turk!", he exclaimed. "My friend, your letter commanded my attention. We must attend to this dilemma, and arrive at a solution."

    "Your Turkish blood does you right, Hasim", I said, "this is most vexing. I worry that an attempt is being made upon my life, for I cannot leave this gift unsmoked as it would show my insincerity, and yet I cannot smoke it lest it is poisoned. Einrich's Teutonic plot can only be foiled by your Hunnish cunning!"

    "In this, you are wise", said Hasim. The Turk pondered a while, gesturing to a eunuch for his hookah.

    I showed the 1968 to my friend. As he examined it, Hasim's mistrust grew. Looking at the mysterious Macanudo and finding, as I had, its very firm structure and well-colored moderately-veined wrapper suspiciously remarkable for a smoke of its breeding, he inhaled doubtfully.

    At long last, he rose and walked over to me with great determination.

    "We must smoke it together", he nodded. "In this way, should the cigar be genuine, it's pleasure shall be diluted, but in the sharing with a friend re-magnified: it shall be just as if you had it all to yourself. If, on the other hand, it is a devious trap, the poison shall be split amongst the two of us, and we shall both live for our revenge."

    "Fine young Turk!", I exclaimed, "That's brilliant!"

    Being far more correctly proportioned than the eunuchs for the purpose, Peddigrew was enlisted to bring long matches and sweep the ashes from Hasim's beard and my Caucasian rugs. Match was put to Macanudo.

    We steeled ourselves for the task. I put on my monocle and jacket, while Hasim swallowed the tiniest dose of his special Turkish Thunder mixture in preparation. It was a very special mixture which helped him greatly in times of dire need. The dwarf stood loyally within arm's reach, and then fire was put to the Macanudo 1968.

    "Hm", said Hasim, "Yes. This wrapper has a moderate flavor, around a fairly mild core. The draw is very satisfactory, although the taste is a shade bitter."

    My brow furrowed with curiosity, I took the cigar from Hasim, and brought it to my lips.

    "Yes, I do detect a subtle acridity on the finish. Perhaps that is Einrich's sinister poison, but if it is, then he has hidden it well beneath flavors of light wood, and every now and again a hint of slight fruit or caramel."

    It was not unusual for the Turk and I to expatiate in this strange way. We found that sometime the details mattered, and this might well be one of those cases, as our lives perhaps depended upon it...

With a leisure-based lifestyle, we have the time to write a classy and beautiful piece of personal communication that can be treasured as a work of art by the recipient.  It is important to choose good paper, a fine writing instrument, and quality ink, but the first thing someone is going to see is the envelope. An ugly 1000-for-a-dollar lick-seal envelope may be fine for the uncultured masses and for paying bills, but for a piece of art, we need something more. Letterfolding allows you to put a final personal touch on your communications, that bit of extra effort that says "I care" or perhaps, "I'm too cheap to buy an envelope."

There are many classic letterfolds and you may wish to explore every one of them. My personal favorite is the fern letterfold, mainly for it's simplicity and classic look. For simple notes, and hand delivery, it is a great way to package your thoughts. For postal delivery, you'll want to use some wax and a seal, and/or tie it with a cord to ensure your letter remains unread by all but the intended recipient. 

 You may wish to explore other more complex designs, or may prefer to fold a separate envelope. There are many letterfolds and envelopes to choose from, and I suggest you practice on something you can toss in your fireplace, prior to folding a letter you may have spent hours on. A great starting place and long term resource is "Envelope and Letterfolding".
If you have your own personal letterfold, I'd love to receive an example of it. You can address it to:

Christopher Maujean
PO BOX 133
Williams, Oregon

I wish you well in creating classier and more personal packaging for your future letter writing endeavors.


I had the opportunity to taste a very strange beer recently.  The Bayerisher Bahnhof Berliner-style Weisse is produced at the Gasthaus & Gosebrauerei in Leipzig, Germany.  This happens to be the first beer of this particular style that I've tried, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  The expert at the beer store told me that these are quite sour, so are typically flavored by adding various fruit syrups to them.  A bit of research reveals that apparently Napoleon's troops began doing this during their occupation of the city.  Well, I didn't have any flavored syrup to add, and the idea sounded pretty odd to me.  After all, if I can handle The Dissident, nothing could be too sour.

Upon pouring the beer, the most prevalent presence on the nose seemed to be pineapple and a few vague hints of sourness.  Indeed, the beer proved to be a little sour up front, but I didn't find it to be remarkably so.  In fact, though it had a pleasant effervescence to it, I cannot say that the beer impressed me a great deel.  It had a fairly empty, boring body.  I began to see why flavored syrups might be added to it.  As the beer left the palate, lingering hints of lemonade or perhaps cider remained behind.  It's hard to judge this beer really accurately without knowing more about this particular style, but at the moment I'd have to say that Berliner-style weisse is not my favorite variety of brew.

Perdomo Lot 23 Belicoso

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I wanted to return to a line of cigars which I knew I enjoyed, but still was not one with which I had a great deal of familiarity. I decided on the Perdomo Lot 23 line, which Mr Maujean and I reviewed at the beginning of September. In the mood for something more substantial, I picked the Perdomo Lot 23 Belicoso Maduro, a beautiful, dark chocolatey brown cigar that has a slightly oily sheen to it. I was quite eager to smoke this beauty when I lifted it out of the humidor, and inhaled its effluvia as soon as possible. It smelled of earth and leather with slight hints of compost.

I cut the end and lit it, tasting quickly a nice burst of spice followed by cream, earth, and a full, rich smoke that had a surprisingly cool and sweet mouth feel. Right away, however, I noticed how the characteristically broad Perdomo cigar band was a bit too large for this cigar. It overlapped the sloped end of the belicoso and sort of interfered with my lips. Upon removing the band, I noticed a few minor imperfections in the wrapper, but I did not let those deter me. Indeed, as the cigar progressed I noticed some rich, woody flavors (cedar, perhaps?) and a continuing nice fullness of body.

The cigar finished with notes of cedar and leather. It had a healthy nicotine kick and rich, beautiful smoke up to the end. Overall, this cigar was at least as enjoyable, if not more so, than the lighter Lot 23 we smoked last time. I'd probably not recommend this cigar for absolute beginners, but for those interested into dipping into the world of full-bodied, stronger cigars, it would be tough to go wrong with this beauty. I'll give it four well-earned stars.

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