Bourbon 101: An Old Friend’s Cry For Help

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The call for help came in the form of a text message and a tweet which are words I never thought I’d type. My old and dear friend RK was in trouble and needed help. Indeed, his message was simply the word “Help” with the photo above. It appears a new “whiskey” bar had opened a couple of blocks from his home. Thankfully the “martini” bar fad has passed and whiskey is on the rise but I digress. As a good drinker, RK had immediately sauntered down to the new whiskey-themed joint and bellied up to the bar. But as often happens, he was confronted with a plethora of choices. Which whiskey to order? How do I avoid making a mistake here. Thankfully he came to the source, he came to BourbonAndVinyl.

Now I should probably take a step back for second to explain my view on friendship. I learned at an early age how valuable friends are. As a young, young man, I had forsaken all my friends for that oldest of reasons… love. Or, what I thought was love in my romantic, slightly drunken, immature heart. I had packed up all my stuff and took that leap of faith and moved to another city for a chick. After taking the leap, lets just say I landed hard when there was nothing to catch me. It was a lifetime ago, bygones and long forgotten… Embarrassed and chastened, I reached out to my friends, and to my surprise, all was forgiven. The prodigal was welcomed back to the fold with open arms. It dawned on me, that friends, true friends are some of the most important relationships a man can have. Dudes to drink and swear and talk a little treason with are invaluable. Friendship is sacred.

So when RK’s cry for help came to me, I took it very seriously. RK and I have a long history of tearing around Chicago. I seem to have a vague memory of drinking Hennessey with him and a homeless guy outside a Walgreens, but those records are mostly sealed. We’ve matured since then. I would do anything for RK… he’s one of those pals who could call in the middle of the night and I’d jump in my car with a weapon and $1000 bail money, no questions asked. And I must admit, RK is not the only one who has asked me about what bourbon to choose and what occasion to drink them. Luckily my friend Pest lives in Kentucky and took me out on the Bourbon Trail so I have cursory knowledge. What I’m about to tell you here is personal choice more than expertise. I’ve spent a lifetime drinking and frankly I don’t think there is anything better than whiskey.

My general rule – I always choose bourbon over whiskey if a good bourbon is available. Remember folks, all bourbons are whiskeys but not all whiskeys are bourbon. To be bourbon you have to have the right combination of grains, specifically a corn-mash and while it can actually be distilled anywhere, in my opinion it needs to come from Kentucky where the water is rich in minerals. It’s no coincidence they raise thoroughbred horses in Kentucky. Strong water = strong bones… and strong bourbon.

In the absence of bourbon, when it comes to American whiskeys, the one that is my go to is Gentlemen Jack, Jack Daniels’ premium whiskey. Until I discovered my love of bourbon this was my go to. I used to drink it neat because when I put ice in it, it goes down like coca-cola on a warm summer day. The next thing you know you’ll be trying to take your pants off over your head.

I tend to shy away from Canadian whiskeys because they’re sweeter. I like Canadian beer more than their whiskey. Sorry Canadians. If you’re looking to mix coke with your whiskey, and why the fuck would you do that, Canadian is probably where you go.

I hate Scotch. My apologies to my readers in the UK. Scotch tastes like whiskey gone bad. I know I’ll take a rash of shit on this. My buddy Doug has been trying to get me to drink a “good Scotch” for years but in my opinion, no such thing exists.

I love Rye as well when I want to mix it up. I actually like Bulleit Rye more than their bourbon. Rye has a more peppery finish to it. Its to bourbon what tabasco is to ketchup in my mind. I love the after taste of rye. Even in the presence of bourbon I will sometimes get a good Rye before dinner. I tend to lean on bourbon post eating.

I am very, very fond of Jameson if you’re going to with an Irish whiskey. I haven’t tried Tullamore Dew yet, but I am hearing great things about it. I tend to drink Irish whiskey on that most sacred of religious holidays, St Patrick’s Day. If I’m going to drink all day, I like a good Irish whiskey.

But again, at heart I’m a bourbon man. I drink it neat, or if I’m taking it slow I add ice. I never add mixer, to do so is blasphemy in my eyes. I don’t even add water. When confronted with a long list of bourbons, like the one photographed below, here’s my thoughts. I sorted this list based on cost:

Pappy Van Winkle: While this is not on the list above, I feel I must address Pappy Van Winkle. Yes, the rumors are true, it’s outstanding bourbon. My friend Arkansas Joel, who led me to my only shot of Pappy always warns though, anything under 20 years old isn’t worth the money. I tend to only drink Pappy when someone else is paying for it because, well, I’m poor.

Blanton’s: Blanton’s is as smooth as the ass of a high school cheerleader. It’s truly a wonderful bourbon. Again, from a cost perspective, Blanton’s is on the high end. I tend to drink it on special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries or after seeing the Stones in concert.

Woodford Reserve: Woodford is a less expensive, generally, than Blanton’s. It’s my go to bourbon. It’s what I drink when I’m sitting on my roof deck, watching the moon rise and contemplating life’s deep mysteries, which are usually something like, “when will Springsteen release a new LP.” I like Woodford so much I hide the bottle during parties so I don’t have to share it with anybody.

Maker’s Mark: I’ve been drinking Maker’s since right out of college. It’s in the middle of the price spectrum and I think it’s a great price performer. It’s a quality bourbon at an affordable price. Before going on the bourbon trail, Maker’s was my bourbon of choice. Typically I drink Maker’s now when I’m celebrating something and they don’t have Woodford. I also tend to use Maker’s as my “5 o’clock angel,” my end of day drink.

Buffalo Trace: For the life of me, I don’t know why they don’t charge more for Buffalo Trace. It’s a top notch Kentucky whiskey at a great price. I like to take a bottle of Buffalo Trace with me if I’m going to a football game and I’m going to be drinking for a couple hours prior, tailgating. And then maybe drinking for a few hours post game tailgating. Or, if I can get away with it, smuggling it into the game… I see a pattern. From a price performer, Buffalo Trace is your winner.

I generally avoid anything from the Jim Beam family… You have to draw the line somewhere.

That’s my take on the menu folks… again, season to take. Sample as many bourbons and whiskeys as you can until you find your “go to.” The journey to the heart of what your cocktail is will be one of the funniest journeys you ever take.

And, as the famous toast goes, “May we never regret this….”

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Bob Seger’s Tribute Single For Eagles’ Glenn Frey: “Glenn Song”

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Here we are this week with another reminder of how horrible 2016 was in terms of losing Rock Stars. We saw the one year anniversary of the passing of Glenn Frey, eulogized in a post on B&V a year ago. To commemorate the occasion, Bob Seger released a new single, entitled “Glenn Song,” in honor of his fallen friend.

Frey and Seger had been friends in their earlier days, back in Detroit, where they both hail from. Seger was quoted yesterday as saying Glenn was like “a kid brother to me.” I know they remained friends through all the fame and fortune. Glenn plays an exquisite guitar solo on Seger’s tune “Til It Shines.” In this era of enormous egos and “celebrity feuds,” it seems really nice that Bob would take the time to honor his friend by recording this song. Something that doesn’t get talked about much in the world is the importance for men to have other dudes to hang out with. I don’t know what I’d do if my life long pal Doug wasn’t still living in KC. All guys need a guy to grab a beer with in our lives… or a gal to grab Cosmo’s with if you’re a chick. All of which makes this ode to friendship kind of touching.

The song is clearly a deeply heartfelt piece of work. And as Seger readily admits, this will not be a hit single, nor was it intended to. It’s just a nice thing to have done for a  buddy. There’s no chorus. In the lyrics Bob just describes how he saw Glenn… “Whenever I think about you I smile.” These guys were clearly close. Bob goes on to sing, “You were young, you were bold, you loved your rockin’ soul,” which I think sums up ol’ Glenn Frey to a T. He goes on to say, “You were strong, you were sharp, but you had the deepest heart.” That’s pretty nice stuff.

I have to doff my hat to Mr. Seger on this one. It’s not a great, great song and it’s on the melancholy end, but it’s a nice tune. It’s available for free download or streaming on Seger’s website, so this isn’t some kind of cash-in attempt on Seger’s part. You can find the song here:

http://www.bobseger.com

I feel the same way about Glenn Frey as Seger sings in this final line from the song, “There was no one like you…”

It’s a long dark ride folks… Keep your friends close.

Cheers!

Playlist For My Friend GP’s Kerouac Retirement Drive

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There was a time when I was younger, when I felt like my life was going to be extraordinary. My life was going to be special, “outside the norm”. I wanted to be a rock star, but I neglected to learn an instrument, oh well. Some might say the fact that I waited so long to settle down, or the casual, gypsy-esque approach I took to life and career could be considered out of the ordinary, but in the end I’m just a working stiff punching a time clock. Some of the execs in places I’ve worked over the years behave like old-school French monarchs in advanced stages of dementia – inept and/or insane, think Louis the X, The Quarreler. I hear a lot of screaming at work. As I get older, I feel less and less extraordinary. This of course may have something to do with my good fortune to be friends with so many extraordinary individuals. My friends are an amazing collection of people – millionaires, consultants, lobbyists, architects, painters, musicians, Harley-enthusiasts, accounting partners, oil industry folks, astrophysicists, hummus enthusiasts, ex-basketball players, drummers… the list goes on. I am blessed with these friendships and I cherish them, but it certainly makes it hard to consider myself even “above-average”. These guys really set the bar high. The only thing I can point to as extraordinary in my life is my wife. I married extremely well. Thank God for the Rock Chick, she makes it all worth while.

One of the foremost of these friends of mine is my old pal GP. I usually don’t take requests here at BourbonAndVinyl, but just this once I had to make an exception when GP asked me for a playlist. I met GP (names obscured to protect the guilty), whose nicknames include Stinger, Pringle and The Mayor of Eldorado, my first week of college when we were both 18. He was one of my first room mates. I can still remember Matthew and I in the front seat of Matthew’s car driving to a freshman “mixer” with Stinger and another kid from Western Kansas in the back seat blaring Van Halen’s “Panama” with the windows down. Stinger’s face was a mask but the other kid looked terrified. I don’t think either of them were prepared for our David Lee Roth impersonations. The drunken evening ended up with Stinger holding me over his head and spinning me around like he was King Kong and I was a city bus. It was an odd beginning but it was the start of a wonderful friendship.

Stinger went on to be the “Campus Rep” for a big name beer company. During my intermittent stints of living with him, he’d drag me along to some beer event. I vaguely recall going over to Junction City to work a “Ladies Night – Male Stripper” event. My pay for the evening was all the beer I could drink, which is sadly how my current corporate overlords pay me. I did that a lot for Stinger, work for beer. We got to Junction City and these women were ready to party. The male stripper dudes were pretty lame and it didn’t take long for this rowdy crowd of drunken women to turn and start chanting, “we want the  beer guys”. Naturally Stinger ended up standing in the back of the room and I ended up on stage. The last thing I coherently remember is being ushered to the stage to the sound of Tina Turner singing “What’s Love Got To Do With It” in front of the unruly rabble of women who were out for blood. Well, at least they were out for some flesh. I seem to remember doing my “overbite, run in place” dance move while twitchily taking my shirt off. I barely escaped alive. I can say that I woke up with a few bucks in my underwear but that’s about all I can tell you about that night.

After college Stinger and I ended up in Boston for a summer working for some crazed character in a liquor store. Pretty soon I headed into exile in Arkansas and Stinger went to work for a big beer company. My father always said, “Son, marry a rich woman whose daddy owns a liquor store.” Stinger outdid us all on that scale. He rose through the ranks of the beer company like a rocket. Not only was he successful in work, I’ve always considered him successful in life because of the amazing amount of charity work he did and continues to do to this day. Eventually Stinger went to work selling the dark and murky brown fluid that gives this blog part of it’s name. And then, out of the blue, at a very young age, in my opinion, he announced he was retiring. Well, not exactly retiring, but stepping away from the rat race for a bit. He’ll focus on his vast real estate empire and his charity work and get a little rest. I’m sure he’ll end up working for somebody soon enough, he’s too industrious. But in the interim, and this is where I get jealous, he’s going on a Jack Kerouac excursion. He’s loading up the car with a camera, a small bag of luggage, some bourbon and an atlas. I trust he’ll be driving from sea to shining sea, as it were. I’ve always wanted to do that. I told the wife after a recent medical procedure, before the anesthesia wore off, we were selling everything, buying a Porsche and hitting the open road. It never quite materialized. But I can always imagine driving from the swamplands of the deep South, through the plains and climbing into the mountains while Kerouac’s jazz influenced cadence runs through my head. But alas, I gotta go to work Monday.

As part of his retirement announcement he said, “Ken, this might be a BourbonAndVinyl story”. Now, I don’t usually do requests, but he called me out in a rather public way. I felt compelled to put together a playlist to celebrate his freedom in retirement. And, let’s face it, there is no freedom like the open road. The Rock Chick is better at play lists than I am, but I put together about 2 hours of music to get Stinger down the road a piece, as the saying goes. Now putting together a list like this is tough with Stinger. He’s not a screaming rock guy, I still remember the look on his face when he was trapped in Matthew’s Subaru when we met. I seem to remember he has a fondness for country music, which I despise outside of Johnny Cash. His two suggestions were “Dust In the Wind” and “Long May You Run”, not exactly “Highway to Hell”. I mixed the well-known with the obscure, the rockers with the mellow tunes… exactly what the Rock Chick advised me not to do… but what the hell. Here’s to my buddy Stinger… and you know with friends like him, and all the friends I’ve got, maybe just maybe, I am kind of extraordinary.

  1. Long May You Run – Stills-Young Band, by request
  2. Dust In the Wind – Kansas, by request
  3. Ramblin’ Man – The Allman Brothers, “rollin’ down high 41…”
  4. Roll Me Away – Bob Seger, “I took a look down a westbound road, right away I made my choice…” My pal Dennis loves this song.
  5. Rockin’ Down the Highway – The Doobie Brothers
  6. Take It Easy – The Eagles, “don’t let the sound of your wheels drive you crazy…” RIP Glenn Frey
  7. Truckin’ – The Grateful Dead
  8. Running On Empty – Jackson Browne, it starts slow but it’s a great road tune
  9. Call Me the Breeze – Lynyrd Skynyrd, J.J Cale wrote this tune, a classic road tune
  10. Six Days On the Road – Mudcrutch, Tom Petty’s side project, if you haven’t checked out this album, do yourself a favor and do so
  11. Helen Wheels – Paul McCartney, “hell on wheels”
  12. Born To Run – Bruce Springsteen, If you know anything about BourbonAndVinyl, you know this had to be on here
  13. Road To Nowhere – Talking Heads, I hope Stinger wakes up every morning and thinks, where to now
  14. Roadhouse Blues – The Doors, this song works as a road song and a drinking song, so I get the double word score here
  15. Road Trippin’ – Red Hot Chili Peppers, mellow tune but there’s something about the lyric, “these smiling eyes are just a mirror for the sun” that I like
  16. Life Is a Highway – Tom Cochrane, “and I’m gonna ride it all night long”… hmm this might be a metaphor
  17. Route 66 – The Rolling Stones, this is a virtual travelogue of where Stinger may travel
  18. Take the Money and Run – Steve Miller Band, this could literally be Stinger’s theme song here
  19. Runnin’ Down a Dream – Tom Petty, another great Petty road tune
  20. Going Mobile – The Who
  21. Travelin’ Man – Bob Seger, I actually prefer the studio version on the ‘Beautiful Loser’ album
  22. End of the Line – The Traveling Wilburys
  23. All Down the Line – The Rolling Stones, probably more of a train song than a road song but who can resist this riff?
  24. I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide – ZZ Top, hopefully Stinger’s travels take him from Florida to Idaho, where it just so happens, we know a guy
  25. The Wild Horse – Rod Stewart, obscure gem here from the ‘Out of Order’ album about a guy who rambles about, totally overlooked
  26. Hitch a Ride – Boston, my buddy DJ feels there should always be a Boston song on every play list
  27. Midnight Rider – The Allman Brothers, Gregg Allman also does a great version of this tune solo
  28. I’m Free – The Rolling Stones, “I’m free to do whatever I want, any ol’ time…” and Stinger is free now
  29. Free Ride – Edgar Winter, I mean, this playlist really writes itself
  30. Travelin’ – Tom Petty, an obscure B-side from his boxed set, it’ll stick in your head for days

I suggest putting this on “shuffle” and nudge that volume knob up as far as it’ll go. If anybody has a tune to add to this list, please feel free to respond in the comments.

Cheers!!

 

 

“My Name Is Larry”: Requiem for a Suicide, 11/8/93, 22 Years Ago Today

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“My name is Larry, my name is Larry…” Wild Man Fischer, “My Name is Larry”

It’s early November and all the vodka has been put away for months. We’re deep into fall, or as I like to call it, the Bourbon Season. I always have this odd feeling that I’ve forgotten something as the calendar turns to November. I have two friends who have birthdays in early November but I generally remember those. It always takes me a while but eventually the memories come back. It’s like the Pink Floyd song, “The Gunner’sDream” and the line, “floating down, through the clouds, memories come rushing up to meet me now…” I can’t describe the dream-like feeling of remembering any better than those lyrics. It’s funny how music brings things back to me.

On November 8th, 1993, a Monday night, the Kansas City Chiefs, the team I’ve been cursed to follow since I was ten (I blame my father) played the Brett Favre-led Packers. It was a crisp fall evening but the Chiefs played well and the Packers were kind enough to turn the ball over 3 times that night and I returned home to my humble apartment after a big win. It was late, after midnight (Monday Night Football games are always a bear getting home through the traffic) and I had a message on my answering machine. It was from Lynnette, my friend Matthew’s wife. I will never forget the words I heard that night…”Ken, if you get a chance tomorrow you might want to call Matthew, he’s pretty upset. Larry killed himself…”

Suicide. It’s a funny sensation when you hear those words. No one ever told me if it was that Monday night, or the previous night, Sunday that Larry had killed himself. Sundays can really be hard when you’re alone, that’s what I remember thinking. Larry was Matthew’s uncle, his father Martin’s brother, but he was an “oops” baby and was closer in age to Matthew and I than he was to Martin. We’d been friends for a decade. I remember sitting down at my kitchen table, with a strong drink and shedding a tear or two. But this isn’t supposed to be a sad story, so I won’t dwell on that night, 22 years ago today. Today, I celebrate my friend Larry.

As a kid, to go to sleep I always turned the radio on. It had a “sleep” feature which would allow it to play for 45 minutes and then shut itself off. The hope for me was that I could listen to rock and roll music until I dosed off (sleep has always been difficult for me) and the radio would always turn itself off vs wake me back up. It was a shaky plan but it usually worked. On Sunday night, the rock station I listened to, and there weren’t many choices, played the Dr Demento Show. Dr Demento played comedy/novelty records for three or four hours. It was goofy shit, but I needed something to help me get to sleep. Especially on those awful Sunday nights, where I’d lay awake dreading going to school on Monday. One of the funniest songs I ever heard on Dr Demento was Wild Man Fischer’s “My Name is Larry.” Wild Man is the worst singer, other than perhaps me, to ever record his voice. In the song, after proclaiming his name is Larry over and over, he goes through the litany of his family members and their tepid reactions to him. When he gets to his Grandpa, the Grandpa says, “Larry when you want to come over you tell your mom and we’ll arrange something.” The main message of the song was that “Larry” was weird. I didn’t know anybody named Larry but my high school buddy Matthew did, his uncle in Iowa was named Larry and so he recorded “My Name is Larry” on cassette and kept it.

A few years later, Matthew and my freshman year in college, we went off to KSU. At the mid-term, Christmas break I made the colossal mistake of transferring to rival school KU, for the worst reason anyone can choose to make a life change: a chick. That worked out about as well as everyone predicted and by early April the lass did me the favor of breaking up with me. I was the devastated, young romantic. Matthew, who was still at KSU, jumped in his car and picked me up. We were going up to Iowa to visit his uncle, whose name was Larry. Larry had been in the Navy or the Merchant Marine, I forget which, and was in his late 20s and was going to ISU in Ames on the GI Bill. Having just gone through a break up, the beer was flowing for me the entire drive up to Ames. Matthew produced the cassette of “My Name Is Larry” and we laughed the entire way up. I can remember closing my eyes, later on the drive, while Triumph played “Magic Power” and hoping the lyrics were true: “I’m young now, I’m wild and I’m free.” I was putting my freshman year behind me. By the time we got to Iowa we were a wreck. I was underage so Larry let me use his military ID, we looked nothing alike, he had sandy blonde hair and was a good looking dude. I was a head taller than he was. We hit the bar with a gusto rarely seen in Iowa. Matthew and I kept singing, “My Name is Larry” at the top of our lungs. We were a complete liability that night and yet, by the end, Larry and I had become friends, well as close to friends as Larry was capable. He had also managed to produce, out of thin air, a coed with perfect posture and huge breasts. Larry was the man! It was to be the first of many trips up to Iowa to party with Larry, who was one of the coolest guys I knew.

 After college I saw Larry sporadically. He held a number of jobs. He lived in Kansas City for a while, during my exile time in Arkansas so I lost track of him. Then he moved to Dallas and got married. When Matthew got married I flew down to Dallas for the ceremony. I was the best-man. At the rehearsal dinner, my old friend Larry sat across the table from me with his wife, Hope, and we laughed the entire night. He told me, after my toast, I was the funniest person he knew. (He probably needed to get out more). He wanted to be my road manager and take me out on the comedy circuit. I was selling medical supplies at the time and thought that was a more sound career choice. We had fun reconnecting at the wedding but I could tell there was an undercurrent of sadness about my old friend. Hope seemed overly affectionate that night and I didn’t think anything of it.

I had always wondered why I had had to cab it in from the airport when I flew in for the wedding. I had assumed as “best man” somebody would send a car. “I’m kind of a big deal around here,” folks, that kinda deal. I found out years later, Matthew’s family and Hope had apparently been having an intervention for Larry the day I’d arrived. Nobody told me. Larry had gone to a bar about a year earlier to meet a friend who didn’t show, and met a lady instead. It was always the ladies for Larry, they were his Achilles Heel, even after his marriage it seems. Chicks dug Larry. This girl liked cocaine and she turned Larry on in a bathroom stall, ah the early 90s, with sex afterwards. I live by one rule, stay away from white powders people, stick with murky, brown, distilled fluids. There are no upsides in powders and pills, people. Apparently my friend Larry had a prodigious appetite. He was burning through Hope and his assets faster than she could keep up.

The “Intervention” held for a while, but like most folks I hang around with, the “dark side” is strong. Summer of ’93 found Hope and Larry in Kansas City for a weekend visit. I met them in Waldo at a bar named Kennedy’s. They were both in high spirits. Back then, Kennedy’s was located in the lobby of an old theater, which has since burned down, with cramped, small booths. We were all crammed into one of the booths in the front of the bar. I was trying to theorize why Matthew’s wife seemed to hate me. Larry was philosophical as usual. “Ken, you’re one of the most obnoxious people in the world, and she’s from the south. Chicks down there don’t dig your loud, vulgar sense of humor. You’r like olives, an acquired taste.” Gee, thanks Larry. We drank until closing time and I cabbed it back to my apartment. I remember hugging Larry and Hope goodbye. It was our typical laugh-filled evening. It was to be the last time I ever saw Larry.

By that November he had terminated his marriage to Hope in order to save her financially, and perhaps emotionally. He’d burned up all their money. He was staying temporarily at a cheap hotel. Then, that night, in early November 1993, early fall, he wandered into the field next to the hotel with a gun and as Neil Young once sang, he “touched the night.”

That night at Kennedy’s is what always sticks out in my memory. Larry smiling and laughing. I always tried extra hard to make Larry laugh because I felt the well of sorrow in him. I always wonder if there was something I could of said or done, anything to have helped him. People describe suicide as “selfish”, but I’m not sure that’s an accurate description. Larry got, as U2 once sang, “caught in a moment” and “couldn’t get out of it”. I wish I’d been bold enough to ask, “Are you OK?” or “Is there something wrong” but I never did. I’m always quick to do so now with my friends, a lesson Larry taught me. It saddens me to think of all the things Larry has missed in the last 22 years. But for me, I like to think about that first trip to Iowa. I like to put on Wild Man Fischer and sing along…”My name is Larry”…. Perhaps in a lot of ways I see myself when I was young in Larry. I pushed through the darkness and I wish I could have helped my friend do the same.

I miss you buddy. Cheers!