Ginology 9: Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin

By Michael W. Harris

Basic Info
Type: Dry Gin
ABV: 43%
Botanicals: Oriental botanicals and gunpowder tea are listed on bottle. Website lists: meadowsweet, cardamom, juniper, coriander seed, angelica root, orris root, caraway seed, star anise, gunpowder tea, Chinese lemon, oriental grapefruit, kaffir lime
Base: Grain Neutral Spirit
Distilling Notes: The tea, lemon, grapefruit, and lime are all vapor infused into the gin, while the others are “slow distilled by hand in medieval copper pot stills.”

I had never had Gunpowder Gin before moving to Virginia last year, but it was one of the first new spirits that I spied when I made my inaugural trip to the local ABC store after moving to Williamsburg a year ago in October 2017. From what I could tell, it was a relatively new addition to the state approved line-up of spirits, and I was a little worried that I might not be able to get a hold of it once I moved to Tennessee because, spoilers, I love this gin. Indeed, the (beautiful) bottle I am reviewing was purchased back in Virginia just in case I would not be able to acquire it locally. Luckily I can source it in Memphis and I can foresee another bottle in my future once this one is empty.

What I am saying is that I really like this gin. The interesting mixture of traditional botanicals and the vapor infused “Oriental” ones (god that word is cringe-worthy and taints the gin just a tad in my book, though not enough to keep me from buying it) and gunpowder tea make for a tasty experience that changes remarkably depending on how you decide to consume this gin.

Let’s go to the tape. Continue reading “Ginology 9: Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin”

Artificial Reports of the Worlds: Steven Spielberg’s Early 2000s Sci-Fi Trilogy

By Michael W. Harris

Steven Spielberg is an interesting director. Often derided by “refined” cinephiles as too commercial and mainstream, not to mention his part in the creation of the modern blockbuster with Jaws (1975), Spielberg is, in reality, a very astute and sophisticated director whose films have surprising depth when you peel back the surface layer. His works have undergone a bit of critical reappraisal thanks to many YouTube essayists and such opinions are beginning to filter into the mainstream. And with this new criticism has come some re-evaluation of films that, upon first release, suffered from disappointment critically or financially (at least in the public perception).

In my memory (which could be flawed or skewed in this respect), early 2000s Spielberg is and was undervalued by the public, that some thought he had somehow lost a step. Coming off the successes of Jurassic Park (1993), Schindler’s List (1993), Amistad (1997), and Saving Private Ryan (1998), he followed those up with the three films under discussion here: A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001), Minority Report (2002), and War of the Worlds (2005)—with Catch Me If You Can (2002) and The Terminal (2004) sandwiched in between the latter two for good measure. These are not objectively bad films, they demonstrate a master in full command of his craft. Yet, I never saw any of these three films in theatres, catching them only after the fact on DVD. In my memory, I also do not remember overwhelming praise nor box office (though the internet tells me otherwise). However, they have remained in the back of my head as films that I would like to revisit, especially when taken as an interesting grouping in Spielberg’s career. Three sci-fi films coming in relative proximity, and all adaptations at that. Continue reading “Artificial Reports of the Worlds: Steven Spielberg’s Early 2000s Sci-Fi Trilogy”

Ginology 8: Ventura Spirits Wilder Gin

By Michael W. Harris

Note: This post has been edited to reflect feedback from Ventura Spirits as to the botanicals mixture.

Basic Info
Type: Dry Gin
ABV: 43%
Botanicals: “local harvested” sagebrush, purple sage, bay yerba santa, pixie mandarin peel, chuchupate
Base: Organic Grain Neutral Spirit
Distilling Notes: Botanicals are harvested from the wild California native plants.

Ventura Spirits Wilder Gin is an…interesting…spirit. If you look at the list of botanicals above, which is copied directly from the bottle and website, you will notice something missing: juniper. While I find this decision to exclude the key botanical for the list as interesting, I have been assured by Ventura via comment (see below) that the gin does include juniper berries. However, I will say that upon trying the gin, I did not really taste it. I cannot pinpoint what is the dominant flavor of Wilder, but it does not strike me very juniper forward.

My bottle of Wilder was sent to me by an old friend from Missouri who now lives in the Bay Area, where Ventura Spirits is based (thank you!!). However, it was partially sent to me because she and her partner tried it and didn’t care much for it and were curious to get my take. And, after spending a week with the gin, I have to say…I kind of agree. While it is not the worst gin I have ever had, it is not something I’d go out of my way to get again. And seeing how they do not distribute outside of California except for some on-line retailers, there seems to be little chance for getting it unless you are in the state.

So, what did I like and dislike about the gin? Let’s get down to brass tacks. Continue reading “Ginology 8: Ventura Spirits Wilder Gin”

The Pelikan M491: A Pen History

By Michael W. Harris

My fountain pen history began in May 2013 with the gift of a Pelikan M200 in marbled green. While it took another five years for that gift to flower into a full-blown hobby, because of my first fountain pen being a Pelikan, the brand has retained a special place in my heart and mind. So much so that I hope to acquire a number of Pelikans to compliment that first M200. Call it a “flock” of Pelikans, if you will.

A Flight of Pelikans

To date, I have picked up three additional pens from the brand: a Special Edition M120 in Iconic Blue, a M200 in blue marble (a pre-1997 model at that with slightly different features), and the subject of today’s post: the M491 from the 1960s. This last pen is all sorts of weird: from its left oblique nib to its model number, the M491 is just an oddpen from the usually rather sedate and venerable German Brand.

Word of caution: this is not going to be a typical pen review. Rather, this is going to be more a history of this writing instrument, how it came about, what makes it so odd, how it came to be in my collection, and why I love it…quirks and all. Continue reading “The Pelikan M491: A Pen History”

My Personal New Year’s: The Birthday Hike and Recommitment/Reflection

By Michael W. Harris

I have never been one for going in on the hype surrounding New Year’s and resolutions. I get how some people can see the ticking over of a calendar year as an important or significant moment and a good time for reflection and making a commitment for the upcoming year. I understand the hype, but I never really bought into it. It was never, for me, a special or memorable moment (New Year’s 1989/1990 notwithstanding for entirely different reasons), and I treated New Year’s Eve like most other nights, just one with an added excuse to stay up late and maybe marathon Lord of the Rings or Star Wars.

Somewhere along the line, though, I started to use my birthday to actually reflect and look ahead. Which is entirely strange in retrospect since for so long I actually shunned openly celebrating my birthday and would even avoid telling people when it was (thanks Facebook for ruining that!). It was a slow process, to be sure, to change this mentality, but change it did. First, I had to accept getting older and to stop judging my “progress” along the path of the “life goals” checklist against my peers. And I guess that that making peace process can be seen as part and parcel with my newest and perhaps most significant birthday traditions: the birthday hike.

Not always undertaken on my birthday, but always birthday adjacent. Continue reading “My Personal New Year’s: The Birthday Hike and Recommitment/Reflection”

On the Meaning of Pens and Gins: Eros and Thanatos

By Michael W. Harris

The deeper I have delved into my hobbies of pens and gins, the more I was struck by their opposed temporal aspects. Part of this came out of my previous post about how pens do have a timeless quality to them. They are created, tools to be used, and maybe passed down to a new generation as treasured family heirlooms. They are markers of our existence. Proof of our lives and a piece that might live on to carry small part of us forward with it.

Gin, on the other hand, is the opposite of all that. It is a product that is, first and foremost, a consumable. Enjoyment of it only comes through using it up, leaving only the bottle, and a possible hangover, behind. Gin, unlike win or whisky, is also “cheap” in the pantheon of wine and spirits. There is little point in “saving” a bottle in the hopes that it becomes rare, like scotch or whisky, or improves with age, like some wines. And there is certainly no reason to acquire some gins to only save and pass on. Gin will always expire with the emptying of the bottle.

But the longer I thought about it, the more complex the reality of this notion became. Within each is part of the other. Life and death. Eros and Thanatos, as Freud might argue. In creating objects for our posterity, there is an inherent meditation on our death. And in the enjoyment of good spirits, there is a celebration of life.

Granted, drinking too much can kill you. And while the pen is mightier than the sword, I doubt it will actually kill you—unless you are James Bond, a ninja, or Marcus Brody fighting Nazis in a tank with Henry Jones, Sr.

Barring that highly unlikely scenario, or accidently drinking poisoned ink (DON’T DRINK THE INK!), pens will not kill you.

And yet… Continue reading “On the Meaning of Pens and Gins: Eros and Thanatos”

The Makings of History: Vintage and Modern Heirlooms

By Michael W. Harris

Time is a funny thing.

So often, we are enamored with thinking about the future or the past that we often don’t stop to consider how what we are creating now might be considered, in a similar fashion, by those in the future. Moreover, if we do consider the now, it is usually in terms only of ourselves or those immediately around us (i.e. our immediate family), and almost never in relation to future generations that we can barely conceive of.

The products, tools, and/or traces of the past can fascinate us, and we will rehab or otherwise bring back to life “vintage” ideas and trends. In essence, make all things that once were old new again. Conversely, we can also become fixated on the latest trends or gadgets. Dream endlessly of what is to come: the flying car, jet packs, trips to Mars, VR, and so forth.

However, lost in this dash to either recreate the past or design the future, is a lack of consideration of our present needs alongside what might be necessary or even useful to the future. And if we do think about what we might pass on to the future, we tend to overthink a “legacy” and fail to consider those who are left to reckon with that legacy.

And all of this is the long way of getting to the topic at hand: our current romance with analog and the debate of vintage vs. modern pens. Continue reading “The Makings of History: Vintage and Modern Heirlooms”

The Curated Life: Social Media, Identity, and Image

By Michael W. Harris

The word “curated” or “curation” is perhaps a bit overused these days. We talk a lot about how we “curate” our photos on Instagram or Facebook, or “data curation” for academics and scientists. Or how we might “curate” our collections for display in the home. Believe me, I am just as guilty of these things as the next person, if not more so, and I am not saying this is good or bad (yet). However, what I do believe is that the word itself, “curate,” has become one of those buzzy words, and whenever I heart it I just want to go all Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word…” Continue reading “The Curated Life: Social Media, Identity, and Image”

A Playlist of Parting -or- Mentally Leaving Virginia

By Michael W. Harris

Note: A playlist of all the songs I discuss here is available on YouTube here. It is also embedded below to listen to while reading.

A few years ago, around the time of the 2016 election, I wrote a post reflecting upon the Japanese principal of mono no aware. Around that same time, about a month before, I also wrote a post on three albums that reflect the mood of fall. In my mind, these two posts are very much linked in spirit even if I do not explicitly link them in writing. The spirit that I speak of in the “Autumnal Playlist” post, the cold fragility, the feeling of passing, is very much the feeling of mono no aware. Which, if you do not click on the link above, is a recognition of the impermanence of all things. An acceptance. And while there is a sadness inherent in that acceptance, there is also joy in it, because in ending is also beginnings. In every death, there is also life.

Such is the mood that I find myself in as I prepare to leave my home of less than a year in Williamsburg, VA, and begin a new life in Memphis, TN. And as I have been mentally reconciling myself with this change, and all that led to it (to be discussed in a more detailed upcoming post), a few tracks have entered heavy rotation in my listening. Continue reading “A Playlist of Parting -or- Mentally Leaving Virginia”

Finding Reservations in Parts Unknown: Anthony Bourdain and the Travelogue (and my own hopeful travels)

By Michael W. Harris

Better late to the game than never

It is much to my detriment that I never really encountered the works of Anthony Bourdain until after his death, but it is a process that happens to me more often than not (I had barely listened to either Prince or David Bowie until after they died). Regardless, my only prior experiences with his work was the graphic novel Get Jiro, which is really fun, and a few episodes of Parts Unknown that a friend sat me down to watch during a visit this year. I really enjoyed these dips in Bourdain’s work and gave me a lot of respect for him and how he approached other cultures. He was upfront with his background, never shied away from who he was, and approached others from a place of respect and eagerness to learn.

As a person who studies cultures other than his own, I have a lot of respect for that. And also as someone who has a healthy disdain for the type of person who adopts the stylings of cultures they study in some forced “rejection” of being American or White or Western (or whatever their background is)—it is refreshing to see someone respect, enjoy, and truly love other food and cultures while also being secure enough in their own identity to just be themselves. Continue reading “Finding Reservations in Parts Unknown: Anthony Bourdain and the Travelogue (and my own hopeful travels)”