Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Nurse the Hate: WSET Level Four Fortified Wine Test Epic Failure

Last week I took my WSET Level 4 spirits and fortified tests.  I feel a bit dazed as to what happened.  Thank goodness I was in San Francisco at the time so I was able to walk around mumbling to myself amidst America’s most robust homeless population repeating under my breath “…I don’t know what happened…  It just got away from me…  I… I…”  Frankly, I would have blended right in if I would have had the commitment to urinate myself.  What they don't tell you about San Francisco is that most of it smells like urine.  This is because an army of urine drenched men walk around all day pissing everywhere.  That's a little something for you that Trip Advisor won't share.  I was really bummed out after this test.  I went to the bar next to City Lights Bookstore, a safe haven if there ever was one.  After I knocked back 546 beers at Vesuvio, watched the Giants and stumbled back to my terrifying hotel to sleep in my own filth was I was able to place it into some context.   

I had choked.

I could try to toss out how I had completely over committed myself during this time period.  Work had become a largely unmanageable cesspool of greed.  I had been working on the final details of the new Daredevils release (which is going to be called “The Good Fight” by the way) and also played two gigs right before these exams.  I discovered that most people that took these exams did the following for two solid weeks prior:  got together with very organized study groups, did blind tasting, and drilled the material.  Here’s what I did.  Spend 9 consecutive nights not sleeping more than 5 hours per night.  Went to NBA Finals Game.  Worked.  Played Detroit.  Slept 4 hours.  Drove back to Ohio to go to a music festival.  Then drove to Pittsburgh.  Played a gig.  Drove home that night.  Slept four hours.  Tried to study.  Brain misfiring.  Worked a full day.  Flew to San Francisco.  Got in a 10p (or 1am EST).  Couldn’t sleep.  Walked around San Francisco.  Bought expensive pen from a guy that thought I was cheap because I wouldn’t spend $2350 on a Mont Blanc pen.  Got fueled up on espresso.  Took exam.  Went down whirlpool.

I had hit that weird area of fatigue where everything is smooshy and dreamy.  I felt like I was on a tape delay as it took me a couple seconds for any question directed my way to sink in.  “Sir!  Sir!  Do you want a cab?”  Ahhhh…. What’s that?  No man… I will just walk.  Can you tell me the general direction?  There is that dull ache behind the eyes that sets in.  On the peripheral vision it always seems like a squirrel is darting around.  I sat in a room filled with wine professionals in my Vice Tricks t-shirt and Chucks.  The exam was delivered just like the SAT.  Sealed booklets and stern directions.  I should have known something was wrong when I couldn’t seem to understand the basic directions of how to fill out your name.  What's my last name?  Oh well.  Here I am so bring it on.

There is a great deal of secrecy surrounding the exams.  I think if I even whisper the questions out loud some out of work British Special Forces guy will come to my house and saw my head off my neck with a bowie knife.  At this point I welcome death so let me allow you into this exam.  The basic concept is that you have to know all of these meandering topics regarding fortified wines.  This includes but is not limited to agriculture techniques, grape types, climates, production methods, differences in styles, maturation, bottling, aging, sales pipeline and major producers.  It’s sort of overwhelming.  After you soak in all this information, they ask you three little things form it.  It could be anything, so in theory you need to know all of it.  I, of course, had a method.  As the English are oddly preoccupied with sherry, I knew there would be a question on the absurdly complicated sherry production methods.  There was.  I just somehow fucked it up.  Even now as I type this I am not sure why I didn’t slip into some rote memorization playback and discuss the voluminous information I have stored in my head about how to make a wine that no one actually drinks.  It just didn’t really come out clearly.

I thought at first that this was some sort of “test freeze up”, which I have heard about but never really experienced.  Unlike everyone else in this room, if I fail this exam it doesn’t really matter.  I will have injured my pride (which is, as you know, over inflated) but there are no real repercussions.  I should be "loose as a goose".  Then I thought that maybe my decades of abusing intoxicants had all funneled into this one moment as a cosmic payback.  What sort of God curses a man with alcohol after effects the very moment when he takes an alcohol exam?  “What a cruel and vengeful God!”, I wailed at the top of my lungs while holding my moderately expensive pen.  (Note, I didn’t really do that but considered it.)  Actually the problem was quite simple.  I was just on such an extended sleepless jag that my brain wasn’t really functioning correctly.

I worked my way through a Rutherglen question, which I had predicted those tricky fuckers would ask.  I answered that pretty well despite only having had one Rutherglen and been met with blank stares at all wine shops where I had inquired about purchasing some additional bottlings.  I will put forth a challenge to find anyone in the continental United States that does not work in the wine or restaurant business that has actually had a Rutherglen wine.  It might as well be unicorn milk.  Fear not.  I remembered how to milk the unicorn though so I did all right.

Then came a real doozy.  Discuss Madeira Shippers.  Umm… What’s that?  I had never even considered there would be an essay answer requested about a consolidated market for a niche product on a shitty little island.  I looked down at it for a minute thinking I had read it wrong.  Surely they would want to know about how to make this unique wine…  Most certainly the question would be about the varieties or methods of aging?  No.  Discuss Madeira Shippers.  This is where the wheels really came off.  My answer was something along these lines…  Madeira shippers ship Madeira from ships that are based mostly in Madeira.  These Madeira ships take the Madeira from Madeira and ship it elsewhere.

It sort of resembled my doomed essay from my college microeconomics final, but in that case I had opted not to study the material and instead engaged in deviant sexual escapades in a bunk bed with a woman where we did things that I do not believe even now have terms affixed to them.  I take full responsibility for that failure and I take full responsibility for this one as well though I have no escapades as fond memories.  The good people at WSET can ask you anything they want on these topics, and (smiles grimly) they asked me about Madeira shippers.  I am pretty sure they were laughing it up on Plymouth gin, smoking pipes, and nailing up pictures of The Queen when they came up with that one.  England 1  Miller 0.

Then you do a blind tasting of three wines.  By sight when they poured them I said, that’s a row of ports.  Looks like the one on the end is a vintage port and the middle one a tawny.  I’m sure there is a good psychological study that can explain why I talked myself into these being extremely rare French VDNs and not ports despite the obvious evidence otherwise.  I could probably meet with trained mental health professionals who could ask me questions about my mother, preoccupation with death, and why I think every Rorschach ink blot answer is “vagina”, but it still wouldn’t completely explain this.  For those of you with only a casual interest in wine (which is most of you), imagine if you drove me out to a field of zebras out on the Serengeti.  I said “Wow!  Look at those zebras!”.  Then when you asked me to write about the zebras I wrote “These are a collection of striped elk, which have obviously had the stripes painted on by a government syndicate or organized crime scam.  They are clearly not zebras.”.  This is what I did.

I limped out of the exam.  I knew the material.  I swear to you.  I just choked.  This was like when Greg Norman flamed out in the Masters.  It was the Yankees losing that ALCS to the Red Sox.  There has to be another sports metaphor…  It was embarrassing.  I considered taking off all my clothes and walking out of the Holiday Inn ballroom in full view of the others.  A single bell would be struck.  “Shame!  (clang)  Shame!  (clang)  Shame!”  The others would looked on in embarrassed silence with perhaps a few of them smirking.  There should be penance for what I did.  I might get the Sandeman port logo tattooed on my wrists like a stigmata.

It will be weeks until I receive this confirmation, but that’s all it is at this point, a confirmation.  I think I did poorly enough that a special emissary might be sent from the London office, a smartly dressed man in a three-piece suit and pocket watch.  He will knock on my door and enter my home after a painfully polite exchange.  I will then be stripped of my previous WSET Level 3 lapel pin and told never to return, even to the online campus.  “I’m sorry sir, it’s for the best.  Now, if it’s not too much trouble could you warm me up a spot of tea before the lorry gets here?”.  I will then sit silently staring at him as he sips his tea, the clock ticking loudly, as he checks and re-checks his watch.  He will then pick up his umbrella and leave when the cab arrives.  “Well…  That’s it then!”

I will have an opportunity to re-take this exam in November.  This means I will spend another 4 months drinking high alcohol, high sugar, heavy wines deep, deep in the funk of failure.  Look for me.  I will be the man at the end of the bar with the Sandeman tattoos, horribly drunk on Rutherglen.  If you manage to wake me, I will be sure and tell you in excruciating detail all about Madeira shippers… fucking Madeira shippers. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Nurse the Hate: Cavs Win

I am still in disbelief that the Cavs won the championship.  Not because the Cavs were incapable of winning the championship.  In fact, the Cavs were built specifically to bully other teams with their stacked deck of a squad.  They were supposed to win, and probably would have won last year if Irving/Love hadn't been injured.  Still, I didn't expect it.  The bad Cleveland Mojo that always rains down from above should have created some disastrous finish that was unpredictable yet totally believable once it had a chance to settle on our collective consciousness.  LeBron should have broken his wrist on that last offensive possession and then missed the free throws.  Draymond Green should have been fouled by JR Smith with a baseball bat on a last shot resulting in a little used rule being enforced of seven free throws.  So much should have gone wrong.  But this time it didn't.

It still is odd to have a team from my town win.  It has literally never happened in my life.  I wasn't even sure what to do once they won.  How does one act when their favorite team isn't embarrassed on the national stage?  I don't know.  I've never been here before, so I just hugged some strangers while jumping up and down.  I gave some awkward high fives too.  Normally I'm looking at the guys on the bench with the towels over their heads while the announcers say things like "You just have to feel for the City of Cleveland and their fans...  117 years without a championship and this time it was so very close only to slip away at the last moment in agonizing fashion."  Then it shows a wide shot of a bunch of Cleveland fans trudging out of an arena looking fat and sad. But not this time.

Now 800,000 people are expected downtown for a Cavs Victory Parade.  LeBron James has fulfilled what can only be called His Destiny and won a championship for the city.  I fully expect to see grown men weeping in front of their children without shame as the parade passes by on the streets of Cleveland.  It took 12 men tossing a ball in a hoop slightly better than 12 other men trying to toss that same ball in a hoop to bring this region together, just in time for the RNC to swing by with a healthy dose of hate and violence in a few weeks and tear it back apart.  However tomorrow is our day.

I will admit that I am a feeling a tinge of regret that I was caught up in the heat of the moment and agreed, like the rest of the region, to give a full 15% of my wages over the next decade to build a 500 foot tall gold statue of LeBron.  However, I think that in time we won't miss the Lakefront Airport where the massive statue is to be housed.  I also think that the addition of giant windmills in LeBron's outstretched arms will not only be tastefully done, but also provide much of our electrical power in the coming Age of Darkness.  They say you will be able to see it across the Lake in Canada.  What a sight it will be!  And tho the Lord might strike us down for our worship of False Gods (for he is a vengeful and just Lord), He can never take away this championship. 

Cleveland wins.  At last.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Nurse the Hate: The Uber Driver Story

I took an uber to the airport today.  I have found cab drivers to be very interesting conversationalists.  They really have no other choice.  Being thrust into an unavoidable moving talk show will do that to a man.  Maybe that type of person is drawn to that type of work.  Or does the work make you a good conversationalist?  It's murky.

Today my driver was an English teacher version of Jeff Lebowski.  He drove the uber in the summer to "pay for Burning Man", so that gives you an idea of what's doing.  The Dude and I really connected on a number of topics including baseball.  Both being Giants fans we started talking about the team and past World Series experiences.  This led us into an odd sidebar story he told me about Pat Burrell.

Now I have no idea if this story is true.  However the story is so good I feel like I should tell it.  Pat Burrell was a stereotypical jock.  He was a #1 overall draft pick, tall, and having good looks like Hollywood would cast for the role of "All American athlete".  Pat The Bat, as he was known, was a bit of a disappointment, being a pretty good player but never meeting expectations.  When you are the #1 overall pick, it is assumed you will be a Hall of Fame caliber player.  Burrell was more of a "pretty good player".  By the time he got to the Giants he was a guy that hit a little under .250 and maybe could give you a little power.  He was OK.

Lebowski goes into the story with me.  "Hey man, this is a friend of mine, so this comes first person ok?"  So The Dude's female friend is at a bar in San Francisco.  Being a fan she instantly recognized Pat Burrell.  He is probably the only 6 foot 5 athlete in the room so it's tough to fly under the radar.  Pat Burrell could walk around in Cleveland unrecognized, but in San Francisco he was part of the beloved Giants.  Pat was a big man on campus.  She walks over excited to meet one of her Giants.  She and Pat talk for about 20 minutes and then Pat promptly gives her a hotel key.  "Why don't you come by in about a half hour". It's not her normal way of operating but she thinks "Hey, I'm going to go fuck Pat Burrell."  She's a Giants fan.  What the hell?  Thirty minutes later she shows up at the hotel.

When she knocks on the door, Pat opens up.  He is completely nude holding a baseball bat.  He invites her in and still in a bit of shock at the greeting she walks in almost in automatic response to the invitation.  She went over knowing what she was going to do, but who expects that behind the door?  Pat tells her to sit down as she walks by and he gets back in front of the mirror holding the bat.  He says "give me a few minutes and I will be with you."

Pat Burrell then spends about five to ten long minutes watching himself nude while swinging the bat.  he is nude looking at himself swing the bat in slow motion.  He just stood there and went through his swing over and over again.  The woman sat completely still looking at him, not exactly sure if she should say anything.  Finally he stops, and places the bat leaning against the wall.  Pat Burrell then loudly exclaims, "All right!  You ready to fuck Pat Burrell?"

Like I said, I don't know if this is true. I sure hope it is though.

Go Giants.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Nurse the Hate: Hate the Pen

I bought my favorite pen last year in Bordeaux.  It was from a small shop nestled in a pack of wildly overpriced consumer goods.  It was a quintessential French transaction.  I walked in and grunted out a poorly pronounced “Bon jour” to the very enthusiastic “Bon Jour!” they greeted me with upon entry.  I looked at a series of pens that cost thousands of dollars until I found a sleek one that was small enough for my pocket that was around $200.  I bought it and they seemed pissed off I wasted their time buying the “cheap pen” and even glancing at the others.  

I walked out of the store that day with a real strut in my step.  Look out Bordeaux.  Here I come.  When I took notes and filled out tasting sheets, people would take notice.  “Francois!  Look at the American!  The pen!  Perhaps we have underestimated him!  He may know something, eh?”.  What confidence flowed through me that day.  I say “day” because by approximately 10pm that evening I had lost the pen, probably at a nearby bar where I was engaged in talking shit to the locals.  

Now $200 for a pen is absolutely stupid.  There is no logical reason to pay that much for something the hotel would have given me for free.  Would it have been that sleek bastard?  No.  But it would have worked just fine.  That wasn’t what I wanted though.  I wanted to grossly overpay, just like I do for haircuts, shoes, and hotels.  There is no amount too large.  My remaining hair takes 11 minutes to shampoo and cut into my skull hugging bowl cut.  $40?  Not enough!  Take this tip!  What?  These sunglasses are only $225?  Bring me the $300 so I can leave them on a train!  What?  I still have them?  Let me sit down on them so I may crush them!  Ahhh!  That’s it!

So now I’m out $200 and my confidence instilling pen.  This makes the white plastic hotel pen I was clutching even more rinky dink in comparison.  There was one thing to do…  Go back to the store and buy another one!  Bon Jour!  The disdain from the shopkeepers hit a point where the old man that owned the shop walked into the back room when he saw what I was up to.  He hated me for buying the “cheap” pen yesterday but now he REALLY hated me for losing the pen and having to get a replacement.  I just pretended it was a free replacement like some kind of warranty.  In the small print it said “if you are some kind of asshole and lose this immediately, go back to the shop where the French staff will look at you like you are a bug as they box up another one for free”.  I tried to pretend I wasn’t signing another charge slip, like it was warranty paperwork.  It didn't work.  I was now at $400 for a pen.  Yet, I was back!

I spent the next few days jealously guarding my pen.  When this one Chinese guy got too close to it I thought about impaling his throat with it, but wisely held steady as he walked by to the coffee stand instead.  That would have been difficult to explain to French authorities on why I had stabbed this young man in the throat for no apparent reason, though perhaps when they saw the sheer glory of that pen they might have understood the motivation of my actions.  There would have been much nodding and grunting followed by reams of paperwork, but in the end I would have gone free.  

I managed to get the pen back to Ohio where I have spent the last year losing it in my house for months long stretches.  I haven’t seen it since there was snow on the ground, so I have a nagging fear it might be gone forever.  My hopes are I will launch a successful search for it today so I may walk into my exam in San Francisco tomorrow afternoon and make a statement.  “Look!  Look at his pen!  He means business!  When he writes that bourbon is made from grain alcohol and crushed dreams, he must be right!  Pass this man!  Look at that goddamn pen…” 

Where is it?  Where is my pen?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Nurse the Hate: Hate WSET Fortified Wines and Spirits Test

I am completely immersed in the material for my next wine test.  In these two upcoming exams I am supposed to demonstrate a solid grasp of everything you could want to know about fortified wines and spirits.  The problem with this is that each of one the subtopics like “scotch” or “port” for example, is so filled with minute detail that people devote their entire careers to grasping the subtleties of these products.  I am attempting to do so while mixing and mastering a new album and selling high ticket NBA Finals sponsorships.  It’s a fool’s errand.  I am going to need some luck to get past this thing.  I am shoving information in as fast as possible and hope some of it sticks.

I was speaking with Krusty this weekend about this daunting task.  The problem has become now that I am so filled with detailed knowledge of wines and liquors that I can barely speak with other human beings about the topic.  What most people say about a whiskey:  “Man, that burns!”.  What I now say about a whiskey:  “You can definitely tell that they use a heavy char in maturation which makes sense because of the high rye content on the mash”.  Who likes to speak about this subject in that much detail?  You guessed it.  No one.

Krusty is getting his PhD in Political Science.  He told me grim stories about having so much knowledge about the political process at this point that a regular conversation is useless.  When on the rare occasion he does find a fellow political scholar, they are both overjoyed at finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.  They almost embrace and call each other “brother” before descending into topics so oblique that I would fall asleep even attempting to type them.  I have this vision of two Russian soldiers bear hugging outside Hitler’s bunker while all the others are drinking vodka and looting.

I have accomplished one of my core missions.  I have learned more than I ever thought possible about fortified wines.  Allow my many months spent on this topic to benefit you.  I have spent many wasted hours reading, discussing, and tasting these wines, so I can make available to you everything you need to know in a very condensed fashion.  Don't be fooled by flowery shit talk.  These are what these wines come down to once the smoke has cleared…

Port:  This is a Portuguese wine that the Imperial British wrestled away from the Portuguese back in the “good old days” (ie. When English military men in walrus mustaches killed darker skinned “savages” in Europe, Asia and Africa while still dressed impeccably).  This wine is very dark red, fruity, and strong as shit thanks to the brandy they pour in soon after making it.  No one currently drinks it now but retired sea captains, Japanese salary men, and old men in libraries that smell like pipe smoke.

VDN or Vin du Natural:  This is a French version of port when made with grenache.  You will never see this wine anywhere unless you find yourself in the company of a retired French sea captain or a wine sales guy that probably has a lot of pressure to get the cases out of his warehouse that have been there for a decade.  The place where the best ones are made, Banyuls, may not even exist.  There is another noteworthy VDN.  Sweet ass muscat wines are also fortified.  You’ll never see these either and as I noted weeks ago if you order a “beaume de venise” in an industrial town like Cleveland or Buffalo, the bartender WILL punch you in the face.  You will deserve it too (despite the fact that these wines taste really good).

Rutherglen:  These are Australian wines that are sweet like raisin juice.  No one in the United States has ever ordered one of these wines in a restaurant.  A store in New Jersey once put these in stock in 1991 but they haven’t sold yet.  The wines are so long lived that the store owner’s grandson will be the third generation working hard to figure out “how the fuck to sell these things”. 

Sherry:  Southern Spain makes these wines that everyone on the planet assumes is the sweet crap their spinster Aunt gets drunk on at bridge games.  It is that but is also a bunch of bone dry and savory wines that have been perfectly formulated to be the exact opposite of the American palate.  Every single person that has come to my house I have made try a sherry.  Every single one of them has gone “What is this crap?” while their facial expression crunched up like they chewed a dried turd.  Despite the Sherry Council trumpeting The Comeback of Sherry, I am not optimistic about the American market unless the waxed mustache crowd goes all in.  I could see a guy on a giant olde timey bike smoking a pipe on his way to get a glass of sherry, but he will just as easily get worked up about sour beers.  Fuck that guy.

Want to know about spirits?  Here’s all you need to know:

Scotch and whiskey:  The people of Ireland and Scotland wanted to get fucked up but all they had was grain.  They somehow figured out how to get fucked up on it by boiling the alcohol off the watery beer they made and tossing it in barrels.  These people later moved to KY and had to use corn to get fucked up.  That’s called bourbon.  Most of these taste terrible and when you drink them you get in fights and fuck people in trailers.  Stay away from them.  Satan lives in those bottles.  The great news is that I discovered I like peaty scotch.  Super.  Maybe I will see if I like PCP next.

Vodka:  Alcohol for people that don't like taste.  The best vodkas don't taste like anything.  That's why they cost so much.  Well, that and the expensive packaging and advertising campaigns.  It's like buying perfume that gets you all buzzed up.  I don't understand why people drink this.

Tequila:  The best tequilas are made from 100% agave.  The ones you got drunk on and barfed up by the dumpster in college are called mixtos.  That means they are 50% agave and 50% anything else like radiator fluid.  Try to avoid those.  Those Mexicans are crafty and hide that on the label.  Read those very closely.

 Rum:  There are 50 billion rums made in 154,762 styles.  You've probably only had Bacardi.  Most of these rums wind up in fruity flamethrowing tiki drinks that end up making people get tattoos of Tasmanian Devils and Flaming Skulls in warm weather climate vacation towns.   Goslings is a company that makes a class of rums called "breakfast rums" which are allegedly good "eye openers".  That last sentence is a good example of something I will write on my exam hoping it seems so confident it must be true.  It's not though.

Gin:  The hipster bartender crowd loves gin.  So do the English.  I hate gin.  That's because I barfed it up all over my bedroom in the late 1980s.  Gin is basically vodka with a tea bag of herbs dunked in it including juniper.  If you like drinking pine needles, you'll love gin.  If I become a London homeless person, I will commit to drinking a lot of gin.  I will also say the word "luv" as often as possible.  Imagine me reeking of gin saying "Got a couple pounds Luv?".  That's all gin!

Cognac:  Grape brandy drunk exclusively by Japanese upper middle class and American rap wannabees.  If you like this buy Armagnac instead.  It's cheaper and funkier.  If you decide you like cognac, get into cocaine too.  It's probably a cheaper habit.

Grappa:  When Italians are done making wine they take the skins and seeds and make booze out of it.  It's awful.  The French do it too.  It's called Marc.  It's even worse.  There are classes of grappa.  They go from "offensive" to "flesh eating".  Read the label first. 

Calvados:  What happens when you distill apple cider.  I personally like this.  You know all those ball busting hard apple cider ads you see on TV?  They pretend that this is what apple cider tastes like.  It doesn't.  It tastes like a wine cooler.  This is what men that like apples and want to get really fucked up after dinner drink.

I've got a week to get it all together.   I know these English wonks at the WSET are going to try and trip me up on gin.  Scotch too.  They love all that Britcentric shit.   They probably all got lit up on Plymouth style gin while writing the exam.  Then they'll laugh it up and come up with questions on Rutherglens.  I see how their sick little minds work.  I'm not worried though.  As you can see I have the basics completely in hand.