Looking Forward, Looking Back: The Past and Future of The Temp Track

By Michael W. Harris

Pen, paper, and coffee…the beginnings of so many posts this past year.

It has been a year. While I did not go into 2018 planning on doing one post a week, that is how it ended up. It just sort of started, kept going, snowballed, and before you knew it I had a pattern established, and I am loathe to break patterns. And looking back, I am really glad I did it. It was part therapy during what was one of the most difficult periods in my life, part exercise in finding a good writing process as I try to integrate my love for the craft of the written word into my life, and part needing an outlet for some of the smaller scale projects that I want to pursue.

However, more than anything else, I just wanted to write more. I have always loved writing, and it is a big reason why I decided to do a PhD and not a DMA all those year ago. When I thought about which I would rather do, practice bassoon for eight hours a day or read and write for 8 hours a day…the decision was easy to make. And now, with (hopefully) my last degree a year behind me, another year of tumult and upheaval over, and job stability ahead, it is time to think about what the future of The Temp Track looks like.

After a year filled with gin reviews, musing on stationery, some rather personal essays that made some people worry about my mental and physical health (and I share those concerns…hence writing as therapy), and other random musing on life, the universe, and everything, what does 2019 look like?

Let’s first look back before we look forward, shall we? Continue reading “Looking Forward, Looking Back: The Past and Future of The Temp Track”

Ginology 15: Caorunn Small Batch Scottish Gin

By Michael W. Harris

Basic Info
Type: Dry Gin
ABV: 41.8% ABV
Base: Grant Neutral Spirit
Botanicals: Juniper, rowan berries, blackthorn, hawthorn, watermint, bramble, sweet cicely, rose, apple, bilberry, elderberry
Distilling Notes: Caorunn is distilled in Speyside in the Scottish Highland, a region more known for their single malt Scotch distilling.

My bottle of Caorunn gin had quite the journey to being opened. Originally purchased for my 37th birthday party in 2017, it went unused that night and eventually made the cross-country trek to Virginia two months later. It remained unopened there and the longer it remained sealed, the more I wanted to save it for a “special” occasion. Thus, it then made the trip all the way to Tennessee with me until I finally reached for it now, at the end of 2018.

Why did I wait so long? I am not sure. At some point it almost became a challenge to see how long I could postpone drinking it. Not to mention I had already tried the gin back in 2017 when I bought a small bottle of it while in England. That bottle also had an interesting journey as I brought it back with me in my carry-on luggage, through security in Manchester and Boston, through customs, before finally drinking it back in Boulder.

It seems like no matter what, my bottles of Caorunn always have to travel great distances with me before I open them. Continue reading “Ginology 15: Caorunn Small Batch Scottish Gin”

Ginology 14: Nikka Coffey Gin

By Michael W. Harris

Basic Info
Type: Dry Gin
ABV: 47%
Base: Grant Neutral Spirit
Botanicals: Four Japanese citruses (Yuzu, Kabosu, Amanatsu and Shequasar), apples, green Japanese Sansho pepper, along with juniper, angelica, coriander seeds, lemon, and orange peels.
Distilling Notes: Nikka uses a “coffey still” in the production of their spirits.

I had been wanting to try a Japanese gin for a long time, but their distribution isn’t all that wide in the States. I finally found a bottle of Nikka Coffey Gin while in New York this past May for the annual Music and the Moving Image conference and, thanks to taking the train to New York from Williamsburg, VA, I was able to transport a bottle with me that subsequently made the move to Tennessee in August.

Either in conjunction with or because of the current revival of Japanese whisky that is causing shortages worldwide, several distilleries are ramping up production of spirts that do not require lengthy cask times to age, a practice more common to start-up distillers. While this is bad news for the lovers of brown spirits, gin lovers like myself I are stoked for new gins to explore. Continue reading “Ginology 14: Nikka Coffey Gin”

Ginology 13: A. Smith Bowman’s Sunset Hills Pioneer Spirit Gin

By Michael W. Harris

Basic Info
Type: Dry Gin
ABV: 40%
Botanicals: Juniper and “other botanicals”
Base: Grant Neutral Spirit
Distilling Notes: Small batch, but no other information.

I first discovered the Bowman Distillery during my ten months living in Virginia through their whiskies. During a visit by a friend, we explored one of their offerings, which he was quite taken by, so when I saw that they made a gin, I snatched up the bottle from the local Virginia ABC store. It has taken me quite a while to get around to reviewing the bottle, but it was a moment I was genuinely looking forward to…

In stark contrast to last week’s 57% ABV “navy strength” gin, Sunset Hills is a downright water-like 40%. In addition to that relatively weak alcohol content, I also had a hard time finding any solid information on the botanicals and distilling process for the gin, so I did not have a lot to go on when hunting for flavors besides the vague information of “other botanicals” listed on the bottle.

Still, I feel confident in my final assessment of Sunset Hills Pioneer Spirit Gin by the A. Smith Bowman distillery, so let’s get to it. Continue reading “Ginology 13: A. Smith Bowman’s Sunset Hills Pioneer Spirit Gin”

Ginology 12: Hayman’s Royal Dock at Deptford Navy Strength Gin

By Michael W. Harris

Basic Info
Type: Naval Dry
ABV: 57%
Botanicals: Angelica, Cassia, Cinnamon, Coriander, Juniper, Lemon, Licorice, Nutmeg, Orange, Orris Root
Base: Grant Neutral Spirit
Distilling Notes: Bottled at so-called “navy strength,” much higher proof.

Navy strength gin is something of an odd duck. Clocking in at well over 50% ABV, sometimes as high as 57% (as in the gin at hand), it is much stronger than your typical gin. The legend is that it has such a high ABV because it needed to not prevent the use of a ship’s gunpowder should it become soaked in the clear spirit.

Whether this is true or not is not something I did research on. However, what I will say is that Hayman’s Royal Dock at Deptford Navy Strength Gin (could you have a longer name?) has booze to spare, and your mileage with the spirit will vary with how you use it and in what cocktails. There is a lot of flavor in the gin well beyond the alcohol, though, that is well worth exploring. Continue reading “Ginology 12: Hayman’s Royal Dock at Deptford Navy Strength Gin”

Ginology 11: Beefeater 24

By Michael W. Harris

 Basic Info
Type: London Dry
ABV: 45%
Botanicals: 12 botanicals, including grapefruit peel and Japanese and Chinese teas
Base: Grant Neutral Spirit
Distilling Notes: Botanicals infused for twenty-four hours, head distiller than selects their “perfect cut” of the result.

Beefeater 24 is, in many ways (though not in taste), similar to Tanqueray 10 or Bombay Sapphire. It is the more “upscale” version of their basic gin; the original with a twist. In this case, the twist is the mixture of botanicals, including some Japanese and Chinese teas, which are then infused for twenty-four hours, the result of which the master distiller than selects what they believe is the best “cut.”

It is an interesting gin, to say the least, but is it worth the price premium? That is the real question. The original Beefeater is such a stellar mid-range gin it begs the question of if it is worth paying almost double for Beefeater 24. I hope to give you some guidance on that by the end of this review. Continue reading “Ginology 11: Beefeater 24”

Ginology 10: Tom’s Town McElroy’s Corruption Gin

By Michael W. Harris

Basic Info
Type: “New Western” Style
ABV: 45%
Botanicals: “uncommon bltanicals”
Base: Grain Neutral Spirit
Distilling Notes: None

During my Christmas 2017 travels, I picked up three bottles of gin: Starlight 1794 by Huber’s in Indiana, North Shore No. 11 from Chicago, and the Tom’s Town under consideration today. Unfortunately, I’ve already finished the other two bottles, but as it turns out I saved the best for last. Tom’s Town is a Kansas City distillery (hometown represent!), whose spirits are inspired by the figures of the old Pendergast political machine. The same Tom Pendergast who, during Prohibition essentially said, “yeah…no. We’re not going to do that,” helping to fuel the KC jaz night life. The same Tom Pendergast who propelled the career of a young businessman and law school dropout that would eventually led him to being called President Harry S. Truman.

The namesake McElroy was a city manager who did not enforce Prohibition, making Kansas City an “open city” during the era. It was an interesting time in KC history, one that is intricately wrapped up in the city’s legacy of jazz, Negro Leagues baseball, BBQ, and so much more. And the bottle’s Art Deco inspired labels reflect the era’s aesthetic.

N.B.: In between starting this review and posting it, it appears that Tom’s Town has revamped their line and Corruption is no longer available. I’m guessing, however, that the “Botanical Gin” listed is similar, if not the same, as the Corruption Gin.

So, enough with the history lesson. How does it taste? Very good, indeed. Continue reading “Ginology 10: Tom’s Town McElroy’s Corruption Gin”

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”

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”

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”