Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Ashes - 2009 - A week to destiny

Now for anyone who doesn't know, love, bleed cricket then what follows may not interest you, but currently our noble chaps are taking on the Aussies (number 1 rated test side in the world) in the Ashes (cricket test series between England v. Australia). We are one week away from the 5th and final test, and it currently stands at 1 -1. After getting positively humped, to put it mildly, 5 -0 in 2006-07, we have a chance to reclaim the Ashes in a similar fashion to the heroics of 2005. Oh and Freddie's coming back, so let's send him off in style, come on lads!

Summer Daze

Following my last missive, a great summer holiday requires a smashing soundtrack, for your listening pleasure:

The Brent Flood - "Heavy Petting", "Skinny Machines", "Super Happy"

The Post War Years - "False Starts"

Vampire Weekend - "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa", "Oxford Comma", "Mansard Roof"

Silversun Pickups - "Kissing Families", "Panic Switch", "Lazy Eye", "Well Thoughtout Twinkles"

The Enemy - "You're Never Alone", "It's Not Okay"

Cage the Elephant - "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked"

Florence and the Machine - "Kiss with a Fist"

Cold War Kids - "Hang Me Up to Dry", "Tell Me in the Morning"

Andy Knox - "Feel Me"

And the eternal summer stylings of Jack Johnson - "Better Together", "Cupid", "Traffic in the Sky"

Essential Reading

Since I have been whiling away the summer months in various locales, on various beaches, and with various beverages on hand, I have had a jolly good time catching up on my reading. I submit the below as clearly some of the finest books ever published and no aspiring or confirmed cad, libertine, or gentleman adventurer should go without reading.

The Picture of Dorian Gray - Wilde
The Great Gatsby - Fitzgerald
This Side of Paradise - Fitzgerald
Brideshead Revisited - Waugh
Vile Bodies - Waugh
Jeeves and Wooster (Series) - Wodehouse
Flashman (Series) - The Immortal George MacDonald Fraser
Catcher in the Rye - Salinger
Sharpe (Series) - Cornwell

Anything to add?

Monday, August 10, 2009


“Scotch will make you charming, vodka's liquid Percocet, and beer a fount of oafish non-sequiturs and flatulence. Red wine will put you to bed, white's piss, and tequila's vomit fuel. But bourbon, well, bourbon is the cocaine of alcohol, amplifying every aggressive angle of your personality and dragging all the rotten suppressed thoughts to the surface. Your judgment isn't compromised - it's bloodied with brass knuckles, curbed and left on a sewer grate for dead. You've nothing but a mindful of terrible ideas - equal parts dumb, dangerous and malicious - and twice the energy you need to act on every single one of them. Simply, concisely, a bourbon drunk's what you'd be in the jungle. And it's simple fact to anyone who knows the stuff - you're more who you are on bourbon than you'll ever appear sober. Bourbon is liberation, but only for those willing to embrace their inner baboon.”

Happy Hour is for Amateurs, pp. 198-199.

I'd like to think that nails the subject in full. Sums up what any serious bourbon drinker understands about the whiskey - what sets it a breed apart from any other form of liquor.* But enough of that introduction. Here's the meat of this piece, the five best bourbons I know:

5. Wild Turkey 101

Don't let anyone tell you Wild Turkey is rotgut drunkard whiskey. This is as smooth as bourbon comes, deceptively easy to swill, with a deep caramel finish typically found in rum. But this is no bottle of Mount Gay or Captain Morgan's... Not the kind of liquor some sorority pledge mixes with Diet Coke, guzzles on an empty stomach and vomits all over your coffee table. The 101 is Fuel - a belligerent, obnoxious drunk. The stuff's clearly loaded with sugar and you can feel the glucose rush, mixing with and amplifying all of your "ethanol muscles." Perhaps it's that quick, cheap energy that gives the bourbon such a uniquely aggressive buzz. Or maybe it's just the bottle. Fancy bourbons tend to come in fancy bottles - ovoid, square, hexagonal, with all kinds of etchings and carvings in the glass. Turkey's in a classic round whiskey bottle. The kind William Munny threw from his horse in the thunderstorm before he assassinated a roomful of vigilantes and sprayed Little Bill's brains all over the barroom floor in Unforgiven. The kind made not for pouring, but swigging from as though it held water. It's comfortable in your hand, almost too much so, taunting you to take another pull. Come on... Hit me again, candy-ass. Like you actually have a sack. I'm obviously not one for those "Enjoy Responsibly" messages tacked onto liquor ads, but I'll offer this about Turkey 101: Careful, you're playing with highly unstable ammunition.

Recommended for: Sabbath concert tailgates, snowmobile rallies, adult competitive vandalism.

4. Knob Creek

If bourbon were India Pale Ale, Knob Creek would be the best of the Double IPAs. It tastes like it's got twice the ingredients of every other bourbon and doesn't try in the least to hide any of its 100 proof bona fides. Still, it's not overpowering. Chocolately, syrupy, but also at the same time sharp. And though it's only one proof unit under Turkey 101, it's not an aggressive buzz. Not in the least. Just an excellent all around whiskey, perfect on the rocks, and the kind of flavor you'll want to gulp and swish around the tongue. The stuff also tastes great with cigars - black maduros specifically.** A "big" whiskey in every regard, and one you don't want to dilute with water, but savor like an after dinner drink, or fix into a neat Manhattan. At first, of course, because after three Knob Creeks, the fourth'll taste like soda and let's just put it this way... The next morning, you'll feel all that "flavor" pulsating in your head.

Recommended for: Crippling yourself at steak joints and cigar bars while people talk golf, the market and the heinousness of income tax.

3. Blanton's

This is a controversial pick. Some people think this is an overpriced bourbon trading on status as the first mass produced "single barrel" brand. They're half right. Blanton's is overpriced. No way in hell it's worth $45.00 a bottle. I don't care that it's the favored julep bourbon of the The Derby crowd. And having spent more of my youth roaming around golf courses than I'd ever care to recount, I can say this of the average clubhouse boozehound: He doesn't know liquor from lacquer, let alone good from bad bourbon. You could feed half the drunks at a horse race Old Crow with a splash of Scope and they'd never be the wiser. But all that said - the silly metal horse on the top of the bottle and contrived pretense aside - Blanton's is great whiskey. It's sweet and perfect deep burgundy. Not as dark as Knob Creek, but heavier than Maker's Mark, with just a hint of tanginess to counter its sugary side. The distillers could've taken a few more chances and made Blanton's more distinctive, but I don't think that was their aim. I think their intent was simple - take a standard, tried and true recipe and execute it perfectly. Which they've done.

I must confess, however, I've a soft spot for this whiskey. I was drinking Blanton's the morning I got married, and the taste takes me right back there. That was a damn good month. If there's a feeling in this world better than getting on plane after your wedding and leaving all the irritants of the shit existence we call "office life" behind, I've yet to know it.

Recommended for: A flask in your tuxedo. (It's terrible luck - and terrible form - to get yourself hitched stone sober. Don't feel guilty. She'll be on third champagne at that point. It's all fair.)

2. Baker's

Not to be confused with Booker's, the raw, 127 proof bourbon sold in a wooden casing, Bakers is the much harder to find 107 proof variety of Jim Beam Distilleries' "Small Batch" line. Harder to find, probably, because this is an amazing goddamned bourbon, better than the rest of Beam's brands by a long measure. If Turkey 101 is the smooth bourbon with the aggressive buzz, Baker's is the aggressive bourbon with the smooth, slow buzz. Why? Because there's no good reason to drink anything that tastes this amazing fast, and considering the way the spicy, oaky flavors from the barrel jump out and bite your tongue, there's no reason you'd never want to. This is a bourbon to leisurely sip, as close as you can to neat - the $30.00 bottle that tastes as good as, if not better, than anything else out there... the one you hide in the corner of the liquor cabinet, never to be wasted on guests. Or on yourself. Drink three of these up front at most, then shift to something cheaper.

Recommended for: Nightcaps after long days at the office, when you need a fast, tasty "bullet in the head" knockout and don't have any dope lying around.

1. Woodford Reserve

Now, you might be thinking, How can he say Baker's is the most flavorful bourbon of the bunch and then rate Woodford Reserve above it? Because intensity of flavor isn't everything. If you like drinking bourbon the way people who really like drinking bourbon like drinking bourbon, when you drink bourbon, you want to drink a lot of it. And if you're going to drink a lot of it, Woodford Reserve is the bourbon you want to be drinking. The taste is gingery, sharp, and light, and it never dulls the tongue. Your sixth tastes a lot like the first and the buzz is fucking divine. I don't know what the people who make this stuff do in the distilling process, but it's clearly filtered more, or uses a far better quality of water, than any of the other brands. Every bourbon talks about how it's crafted from the essence of some pristine spring or creek. Woodford actually tastes like it. True or not, you get the sense you're drinking something made in an entirely organic process. And the next day confirms its purity. Of all the liquors here, this is the easiest on the body - an almost hangover-free whiskey. The other nice thing about Woodford is it's a fine year-round bourbon. Knob Creek, Baker's, Turkey... these are a bit too heavy for the warmer months. A Woodford on the rocks works as well in seersucker at a summer wedding as it does on the couch, watching Detroit and Dallas embarrass themselves in the usual post-Thanksgiving rituals. Adding up all the factors a person could assess in bourbon, I can this without hesitation - you can never, ever go wrong with Woodford Reserve.

Recommended for: Brunch, breakfast, bar mitzvahs, drives through the countryside, the symphony, funerals, wakes, Ramadan, do-it yourself oil changes, patching the roof of the garage, dance marathons, Take Back the Night marches, children's soccer games, Psoriasis Awareness Week, first holy communions, steeplechase, Spanish Civil War re-enactments, marriage counseling, kite-surfing, deep water competitive swimming, AA Meetings, cat shows, Flag Day, swinging parties, pre-teen beauty pageants, black masses, skeetshooting, marlin fishing, Lent, public executions, cliff diving, pottery classes, whale watching, moped jousting and exotic piercing preparation.


A Brief Guide to London's Clubland (Part I)

In looking around the internet there is a decided dearth of information on the wide world of private members clubs aka gentlemen’s clubs. Now in modern parlance the term gentlemen’s clubs has taken on a negative connotation by being associated with strip clubs and the like. Clubland is the term for the area of Pall Mall and St James in Mayfair central London. These clubs were set up for the English aristocracy and the upper classes. The first of these clubs was White’s was established 1693, in the following century numerous other clubs sprung up around the city. While clubs spread the length and breadth of the empire, from Scotland to America to India, London has always been the heart of the clubbing world.

Today these clubs still exist and established gentlemen and young up and comers of the right set still seek to join these clubs today. The process and requirements for joining varies from club to club, however in general a prospective member is required to have two members of the club to propose them and second them for membership. In essence they are there to speak to the character of a prospective member and ensure that they are a good chap and a good fit for the club in question. Now for a neophyte navigating Clubland for the first time this can be confusing and perhaps a little intimidating. Below I have compiled a list of the clubs of London, their respective character, and their relative status in the club hierarchy.

Top of the Pyramid

1) White’s:

White’s is the oldest, the grandest, the most prestigious, the most famous of gentlemen’s clubs not just in Britain but anywhere in the world. Many people, including your dutiful author, can find White’s simply too stodgy and simply too staid for a younger gentleman. It is perfect for older gents and its reputation is unparalleled, to put any club besides White’s at the top of this list, would discredit the list. That said, having visited myself on numerous occasions there are other clubs that I prefer,

2) and 3) Boodle’s and Brook’s:

The second and third oldest clubs respectively and interchangeable in terms of prestige, Broodle’s and Brook’s are each in their own right fantastic clubs. For the purposes of this list, Boodle’s is placed ahead due to my own personal preference influenced mainly due to the staff and the fact that napping is still perfectly acceptable upstairs.

Now if you know anything about Clubland than you know all three of the above clubs have lengthy wait-lists (years) and have a more lengthy admittance process compared with other clubs. Hence, we can call these the unquestioned Top of the Pyramid.

The Contenders

The Travelers Club:

The Travelers Club has the unique requirement that any prospective member must have traveled at least 500 miles from London. Beyond that, Travelers is renowned in clubland for its fantastic cuisine. In comparison to others in this category of clubs, Travelers has an older membership and is far more staid. Architecturally, along with Athenaeum it is one of the most impressive clubs in London. Overall a good membership and a striking club.

The Carlton Club:

The Carlton was began in support of the who’s who of the Tory (Conservative) Party. In that vein it has maintained this character through today, counting Conservative Party leader David Cameron as a member and the Rt. Hon. The Baroness Thatcher (former Prime Minister Margret Thatcher) as President. The Carlton still boasts numerous Conservative MPs and numerous up-and-coming young Conservative politician wannabes as members. The Carlton recently narrowly voted to allow female members into the club. The club is known for its wide-range of high quality speakers, political character, and active younger members (35 and under) social group.

The Reform Club

Originally founded in 1836 in support of the 1832 Reform Act and was intended as a centre of radical / liberal thought and became closely tied to the Liberal Party similar to the Carlton. However in recent years it has opened the floodgates of membership and now has over 3500 members and though the club inside is beautiful, it has lost all semblance of character or even recognition amongst its members. If you want a club to impress out of town visitors, the Reform is a good place to start. If on the other hand you prefer a congenial environment and want to get to know your fellow members, you would be best served looking elsewhere.

To be continued...

Brand Awareness

Brooks Brothers

A preppy mainstay since 1818, anyone who attended prep school on the East Coast of the United States over the last 75 years will have worn Brooks with pride from birth to death. Brooks boasts perhaps the finest off-the-rack suits in the world and with over 280 locations worldwide (210 in the ‘States), it is readily accessible, and the customer service is always top drawer.

J. Press

Similar in style to Brooks Brothers, however with only four stores, J. Press offers a level of exclusivity that differentiates it from Brooks. It is heavily influenced by a traditional Ivy League attitude and style and has a cache among the right circles that place it top among US preppy brands.

Vineyard Vines

Vineyard Vines is a new comer to the scene having only opened in 1998, it came onto the scene with nautical inspired ties that appealed to New England sensibilities for everyone who summered in the Vineyard, Nantucket, or the Cape in their youth. It has since expanded to include everything from polos (boasting their signature whale insignia), to blazers, to shorts, and brilliant belts.

Polo Ralph Lauren

Polo despite its strong sales has slowly been corrupted. Ralph Lauren (aka Ralph Lifshitz), ironically got his start as a tie-salesman at Brooks Brothers and was clearly influenced by this work. In recent years with the advent of the so-called “Big Pony,” Polo has become too garish, though their Black label suits are still good albeit over-priced. Stick to their basic Polo shirts, chinos, and sport shirts.


Lacoste was nearly destroyed as a brand in the United States thanks to their ill-fated acquisition by Izod, who to put it kindly ran the brand into the ground. In the UK on the other hand, due to extensive fakes on the market, have along with sadly Burberry, to become the domain of Chavs (for American readers think urban white trash with heavy drinking and violence problems). In the US the brand has recovered nicely and I personally love the fit of their polos, in the UK give it a miss.

J. Crew

Finally among the American brands, we have J Crew. Their suits and anything remotely dressy is over-priced and not worth it remotely. J Crew is a casual wear company, don’t trust any store that doesn’t have their own tailor or one nearby to do your suits. Their casual wear can be a good value, in fact I purchased a seersucker suit from them some years ago and it has held up through Henley and multiple carnage filled garden parties.

Jack Wills / Aubin & Wills

Jack Wills (aimed at teenagers and university aged persons) and Aubin & Wills (targeted at late 20-somethings on up) are British brands and self-proclaimed “outfitters to the gentry.” Their casual wear is comparable to J. Crew if not a step up. They also offer interesting Henley blazers that appeal to many and annoy actual rowers to no end.


A fantastic British brand that take care of their customers, have links with Oxford and Cambridge Boat Clubs, London Rowing Club, and Army Polo. They also stand by their workmanship and even years after purchasing a yachting blazer, they sewed new buttons free and with a smile. This is on par with any top quality brand in the UK and the quality of their product is easily on par to Brooks Brothers and Polo Black Label.


Lastly we come to Crew. Not to be confused with J. Crew, Crew is a distinctly English brand with a heavy influence from rowing culture. Their polos and sport shirts fit well and their jumpers (sweaters) are reasonably priced.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

British Universities - A Guide in Brief

(This is copied from a post I made some time ago)

It seems that a significant number of people are coming across these forums to inquire about universities (rankings, prestige, parties, culture, etc.). In an effort to provide a little assistance (and due in part to the fact that I am dreadfully bored at work) I have included a list of universities in order (more or less) taking into account three main factors: Prestige, culture, and parties. This is nigh entirely subjective but an amusing exercise nonetheless.

(Oxford eeks this out due to it's strength in social sciences vs hard sciences, the fact it is a larger city, and lastly because I studied there. Personal preference really, after all who really wants to be a 'Tab?)

St Andrews
(These next three each have their merits that group them together. Durham has the college system and is stronger for sport, boasting great intra-university competition and banter. St Andrews boasts a positively gorgeous campus on the water (albeit freezing) and has some amusing traditions like Raisins, etc. Edinburgh has without a doubt the best night-life of the three, with St Andrews students routinely coming through on weekends, but being rather spread out in the city, it does not offer the same campus feel as the other two. Overall they are all fine academic universities and rather interchangable depending on which subject one wishes to study)

(The final four here are debatable, Bristol is a good university in a city that offers a good night out and it's students much like the five preceding universities come
from a largely public / independent school background (Private school for American readers). It's strength in the arts also secure its place on this list. LSE is a bit of a curiosity. While prestige-wise it is undoubtedly second only to Oxbridge, it's students are an odd mix to say the least. The extremely international intake is likely to appeal to certain people, but not everyone, hence why it has slipped so many places. Next is Imperial, again like LSE probably a top 5 university and well known, however it's concentration on sciences and an 80-20 guy to girl ratio can be off putting to say the least. Finally King's while it is not as strong academically as the others on the list it has one of the finest Classics departments in the country, an excellent law department, and it isn't UCL. Finally honourable mentions to SOAS and the RAC both are narrow in their focus but in SOAS' case are excellent academically or in RAC's case have great parties and an eclectic intake.

Questions, comments, raging disagreement?

Gin - Magic in bottle

When I was in prep school, parties revolved around kegs for the guys, Smirnoff ice for the girls, and industrial size bottles of cheap vodka, Crown whiskey, or whatever could be lifted from parents' liquor cabinets. It was at one of these such parties at a lovely lake house that we had utterly dismantled in a week of heavy drinking, boating, and sport, that I discovered gin.

G&Ts because a staple of nightlife from then on throughout university until this day. However as anyone can attest, everything tastes great soaked in tonic, and it was not until an old Radleian introduced me to his own brand of G&Ts that I began to appreciate the great and subtle differences in gins (his particular recipe happened to be a couple cubes of ice, a lime, a near full cup of gin, and the most infinitesimal amount of tonic ever. This particular chap became a long standing partner in crime and left a wide swath of mayhem and destruction in his wake but I digress). Now this particular chap didn't care what brand of gin he put into these chaos inducing cocktails, but I began to appreciate it more and more (Note: A proper G&T should have no more than a finger of tonic for every four fingers of ice and gin. And that finger should be a pinky). Without further ado, a top 5 gins list with a special thanks to PL for his insightful descriptions...

5. Tanqueray

The old standby - as good as in a martini as it is in a tumbler of fruit juice. They call it a "dry" mix, but it's actually packed with flavor, and near sugary in its finish. A perfect drink for company get-togethers as few know the stuff packs a 94 proof wallop. Order it liberally, with minimal tonic. Throw a lime on top, to show you're the kind of person who needs one. The average upper middle management sorts will appreciate that. Nobody wants a 28 year old gin martini drinker on his payroll. It's a little much on the pretentious scale for some, a little much on the libertine scale for others.

4. Tanqueray Rangpur

I bought this hesitantly, thinking at 83 proof it'd be the gin equivalent of one of those weak fruit-flavored vodkas, infused with obvious artificial sweeteners. I was wrong. The stuff's flat out delicious, and what it lacks in punch is more than compensated for by the fact that a glass of it with a bit of tonic might as well be soda.* The best damned soda you've ever had. The lime's a bit overpowering for a purist, but on a humid, ninety degree Saturday afternoon, you understand why the British colonists allegedly drank a variant of this liquor in the heat of summer in India.

3. Bombay Sapphire

I almost hate to rate this number three, as it really ought to share the number two slot. But I don't like splitting ranks, and this is a zero sum game. It must, however, be noted - this gin is barely a shade below the number two brand, which is a tremendous compliment to that gin, as Sapphire is flat out spectacular. And lethal. The flavors in Sapphire are subtle, the closest of those here to the old school "rubbing alcohol" character of classic neutral, dry gin. But if you drink this stuff on the rocks, which you can easily do and should, as mixing it almost seems wrong, you catch a wide range of citrusy tastes mixed up with the traditional juniper. And a bonus with Sapphire is how smoothly it goes down and how sneaky the buzz can be. You can easily rip through a half a bottle of it and suddenly, surely, at 94 proof, it'll hit you at once like a train. I wouldn't swill this one in business company or even among none-too-close friends. This is one to enjoy in martini form, and keep in your own special corner of the liquor cabinet. The bottle you want to open after that truly miserable day at work, when you need a drink that's flavor is only eclipsed by its surgical grade anesthetic effect.

2. Bluecoat

There's nothing much good about Philadelphia. Bluecoat Gin's one of the few remaining exceptions. Yes, they make it in North Philly, and yes, I'm not kidding. This isn't just one of the finest gins I've ever had, it's one of the finest liquors I've ever had. Bluecoat's not for everyone. It's a ballsy, strong gin, loaded with citrus (so much so that adding a lime to a G&T with the stuff seems ludicrous overkill). It doesn't go down like Sapphire, and where the citrus hints in Rangpur cut the edge of the alcohol, the citrus in Bluecoat adds to the liquor's bite. But at five times distilled, it's as clean and sharp as the finest ultra-premium vodkas, and each of its flavors is distinct, like they're supposed to be there, exactly the way you're experiencing them. Of the bunch, this is the best gin and tonic gin. It never gets lost in the mix.

1. Hendrick's

It smells like poupourri, has a sugary finish and where most have the usual juniper, Hendrick's has hints of cucumber. And yet, despite all these seemingly strong reasons to dislike it, to not even consider it the type of liquor it claims to be, Hendrick's is the best gin I've ever had. By a good distance, too. Where the rest of the gins on this list are close to one another in flavor, Hendrick's is a total break. It's as easy as Sapphire to drink, as flavorful as Bluecoat, but where both of those stick within the parameters of traditional gin, Hendrick's lets in a whole layer of flavor none of the others even comes close to achieving. But I offer this praise with a caution. As the label of the bottle cautions, Hendrick's is not for everyone. If the scent of roses in your drink creeps you out, you probably won't like this stuff. And if you're married to the use of lime in your gin and tonic, the mash-up of competing flavors on your palate probably won't be pleasing. But if you're willing to try a truly unique gin, more wet than dry, more sweet than neutral, but at the same time every bit as defined in its meticulously crafted infusions as the best of the traditional premium brands, Hendrick's will not let you down. The only thing bad I can say about this gin is you'll want to keep tasting it, because it's nothing like anything you've had, in any type of liquor. And that leads to a rough next day.

Enjoy irresponsibly. It's not like you have any serious work to do tomorrow. Or this afternoon.

Body of Libertine, Mind of Scholar

Allow me to introduce myselfJustify Full I was raised on both sides of the pond and other places further afield. I attended international school, prep school in the 'States, did my undergraduate studies in the UK and on the East Coast of the States, followed by additional master's in the UK and France. Washington DC, Oxford, Paris, etc, you name a top tier university, chances are I've studied and gotten a degree from there. My CV / resume reads as a graveyard of all the proper or right occupations; that have in their own soul destroying way in turn bored me endlessly; Parliament, Capitol Hill, banking, and the Civil Service. So the insights or lackthereof is to be taken with this in mind whether you are impressed or dismayed by the idleness of my so-called "me" generation.