Saturday, October 24

Drink Spotlight: The Bourbon Renewal

Something of a departure from what I normally spotlight, that is, classic cocktails and the proper way to make them, this drink comes to us from the great Jeffrey Morgenthaler. A bartender by trade, Mr. Morgenthaler has long been a champion against the tide of really awful bartending that has run rampant in the United States since about the mid-80's (when a Tom Cruise movie which shall go unnamed (but sounds an awful lot like the word "mocktail") forever destroyed the classic image of the professional bartender), and has invented several very, very tasty drinks, each being true to what a cocktail was originally. This, along with the Richmond Gimlet, is one of my favorites of his.

The Bourbon Renewal:
  • 2 oz. bourbon whiskey
  • 1 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz. creme de cassis
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup
  • Dash Angostura Bitters
Stir all ingredients and strain into rocks glass full of cracked ice. Garnish with lemon twist.

This is one of those rare whiskey-heavy drinks that probably fits better in the Summer or the Spring than in Fall and Winter. It's surprisingly light and refreshing, which is in no small part due to the cracked ice, which will melt a bit more quickly than the standard cube. The creme de cassis is not something that everyone has in the old liquor cabinet, but it forms a large part of the sweet component in this fancy whiskey sour, and it just works.

Upon further research, it looks like the original garnish is a simple lemon wedge or wheel, which I could definitely get behind, but as I made this one with a twist, here's a bit of bartending knowledge.

How do you make a sweet twist? By far the easiest way is to find yourself a channel knife and go to, though I've seen people with far more skill than I use a paring knife. The important point is this: when you are making the peel, be sure that you are doing it in such a way that the oils that spray out of the fruit are misted over the drink. Without this, you often don't get the point of a twist, mistaking it for something that's just pretty to look at. But when done properly, you'll notice a very bright, sharp lemon component added to the drink, both in taste and especially in the nose. While it's a bit more difficult to differentiate in a drink like this which already has a large amount of lemon juice in it, when done with a drink like a Martini (which we'll get to, don't you worry), it will blow your mind.

Wednesday, October 21

Drink Spotlight: Schlafly Pumpkin Ale

So I'm now going to say something that at the same time makes no sense and yet still makes all the sense in the world. I have never before this Fall tried a pumpkin beer. Yet, at the same time, it simply cannot be Fall until I have had myself a pumpkin beer. Yeah. It makes sense in my head, but only in a weird, paradoxical, "there is no spoon" kind of way.

I love cocktails, but my first love will always be a great beer. Not so much wine, though. I mean, the girly, sweet, tasty wines are delicious, but I haven't had enough experience to appreciate fine wine. Though I suppose there's still time. But anyway, beer is an art form. You can tell because you can order anything from Bud Light to Guinness, and all the colors in between, and you always get something different but undeniably "beer". There's beer for all seasons, beer that is dark and hearty or light and refreshing, even dessert beer, though I would probably never enjoy a beer with ice least, not without trying it first...

Like I said, never had a pumpkin beer before, but I made it my mission this Fall to try every one I could and find my favorite. Well, I'm about 2 beers in, and this one is just great. It probably helps that Schlafly is a St. Louis product, meaning that even bottled, it's relatively fresh and newly bottled. What I particularly like about this beer is, well, it tastes pumpkin-y. I guess that's what I'm looking for in a pumpkin beer.

It's medium-dark in color, but fairly light in flavor. It's got a good, rich head that smells wonderfully of jack-'o-lanterns and pumpkin pie. If I'm not sick of it by then, I'll definitely be having this as at least an option to pair with Thanksgiving dinner. And without question, Fall will not have begun without this new seasonal tradition.

Sorry, I'm not so good at finding words to fill up something that I didn't actually physically make, but this beer really is quite good. If you're looking for something different, and more importantly, something for Fall and only for Fall, I'd recommend you give this one a shot.

Saturday, October 17

New Pedal: Voodoo Labs Tremolo

In my ongoing quest to become a great worship leader, I got a new pedal today! I've developed a growing appreciation for tremolo in guitar playing, thanks in large part to MapleNeck's post a little while back that really opened my eyes to all the ways that trem is being used in music today. If you're like me, the first sound that comes to your mind when you think tremolo is surf music of the '50s and '60s, which is certainly cool, but definitely well past it's prime. Just getting some varied examples of tremolo in action really helped me think about this under-used effect in a new light!

At the same time, I already had a trem on my board: the Danelectro Tuna Melt. And don't get me wrong, definitely a gem of a pedal for the price. I think I paid a grand total of $15 for mine, and while the "hard" section is pretty useless, the "soft" side is really, really convincing, especially for the price. What I didn't like about it, and something that actually caused it to be not usable for me, is that the jacks on mine are particularly noisy. If I were to bump the pedal, not to mention actually use the footswitch with my foot, it would make a nice loud scraping sound. Definitely not a noise that is conducive to worship.

And so, after spotting this guy on Craigslist (the bane of my wallet) for a straight $50, I give you:

Like I said, I've only had it for approximately one hour. Already though, I'm impressed. I wanted this one in particular after having read a lot of reviews and shootouts for trems (many of which have also praised the Tuna Melt as a great deal) that put this one at or near the top. It's definitely nice.

The knobs are: intensity (or depth, or mix, or anything similar to that), slope (which blends between a hard and soft effect), speed and volume. This is basically all of the functionality of the Tuna Melt, except that the slope knob set to a harder setting is actually usable, and it has a volume knob, which is nice because the Tuna Melt gave a little volume boost while engaged, whereas you can set this trem to unity, or boost it, or even cut it a little. Whatever the situation calls for. And the best part is that the switch is pretty much silent, and there's no annoying or off-putting noises that come out of this pedal.

Is this my end-all, be-all tremolo pedal? Probably not. I could make any number of jokes involving me selling it tomorrow to get something better, but I'll just say that as good as this pedal sounds (and I'm only beginning to listen to it), it doesn't have one feature that I think is probably really important to a trem: a tap tempo switch. We'll see how it plays out, though. $50 is a steal for this pedal, and it's not an effect that forms the basis of my sound, so it may be good enough for a long while. I also updated my rig page to account for my new child, so check it out!

Wednesday, October 14

PS3 vs. Guitar

So I have what's called an addictive personality.

I find one thing that I love, that intrigues and drives me, and then I devote myself entirely to that thing until I either master it (if it is a task that can be mastered) or kill it. This makes me good at things, but somewhat bad at people.

It's something that's given me the drive to learn guitar well enough to lead people in worship without being a distraction over the span of a summer. Like, literally, I had never touched a guitar, and then I spent multiple hours a day over a summer learning how to chord and strum, and I came back to school, ready to lead. And even that's not all that impressive to me, because it's just one more thing that I've been obsessed with.

The impetus for this post is that I just recently got a PS3 and have been playing Fallout 3 like it's my job. It's a game that speaks perfectly to my personality: long, lots of strategy to master, an over-arching goal that takes a lot of dedication to complete. What actually sucks is that it's started taking time away from my guitar, to the point where I have to make a concerted effort to get any playing time in on most days. And since I will probably be playing it for like another month, it's going to be a tough month for guitar.

(Fallout 3. Booyah.)

I just read a post on a new blog I found, WorshipWithGuitar that talked about how playing guitar should be more fun than playing with a PS3. That really spoke to me in this particular situation, because as of right now, it's about 50/50. I still play when I feel the need to create, or when I need to get ready for a Mass, but it's not the first thing I go to when I want to have fun, and hasn't been for a while. That really, really, really needs to change.

Tuesday, October 13


This is more to get my thoughts down so I can maybe express them better this coming Thursday when I'm going to be talking to the teens at my parish. So if I ramble or go in circles, maybe it will help me not ramble then.

We've been talking a lot about Pope JPII's Theology of the Body, and about how sex, the body, everything, is so far from bad that it's ridiculous how it's been twisted by our culture. The song that keeps coming back to me is "How He Loves" which I first heard done by Jesus Culture, and that Crowder has since covered. The line that keeps coming back to me, the line that perhaps everyone knows but no one wants to sing, is "heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss". I'll admit, it's a little out there. But I've been thinking about it a lot in the context of TotB, and, let's be real. There is more Truth in that line than we're often comfortable recognizing.

And since I'm a sinful human, I've been thinking a lot about how, or more importantly, why God loves us the way that he does. I can't go 5 minutes without screwing something up. Even when I am trying specifically to love people, who I can see and have absolute, complete, total belief in their existence (yes, even after having watched The Matrix), things go wrong. I know in my head that our God is a jealous God [Exodus]. He wants us entirely to ourselves. He doesn't want us to be half for Him. He doesn't want us to put anything else above Him. He wants to know us more intimately than we could ever imagine. Or, rather, He does, but He wants us to know Him back.

We've been talking a lot about the book Song of Songs, too, which fits perfectly. It's a love poem to us from Him. It's sensual. It's ridiculously so. But that's how much God wants us, and how God wants us. I've thought a lot about passion vs. reverence; it's not something you can avoid as a music minister. And it's a hard balance to strike, mostly because you can't balance it. The paradox is that God wants us to honor Him, but wants us to know him more intimately than, frankly, is humanly possible. I think we use reverence as a shield so that we don't have to be real with God or with ourselves. God doesn't want our perfection or our grandstanding, He just wants us, right where we're at, no compromises. I get scared because all I can ever think about when I'm right there with Him is all the ways that I've screwed up. It's probably been a year or more since I've been real with Him. I've tried. So sometimes I'll go back to reverence, say things like "be respectful, you're in God's house" or try to quiet people down, or worst of all, try to bring God to them, as if I ever could, even in those times when I've felt really close to Him.

And the incredible thing is that everything that we use to keep ourselves from really sitting down and just being with God is, in and of itself, not a bad thing. For me, lately, it's been: school (a little while ago, but it's been a while since I've been really close), work, guitar, video games, relationships, time with friends, eating, sleeping, and a lot of things that maybe aren't inherently good. God's a jealous God. Even things that He loves about us, things that we do to help others, to love others, to live to see tomorrow so we have another chance to help and love others, even those can get between us and Him. And a lot of those things have to come between us. God doesn't want us to starve to death while in Adoration time. Part of being a human is accepting that you're not in heaven yet. And while God wants our everything, He loves us and loves our half-measures. He loves our trying. He is desperate for us, even when it's not mutual.

Can this familiarity with God go too far, to the point of irreverence? Can we get to a point where anything is acceptable as long as we're in love with God? I used to think there was a line. Now I'm not so sure that it could ever be sinful to love God as much as I possibly can. I need to get to a priest. I need to get some spiritual advising. I need to actually try to be with God first.

An aside to the non-Catholic Christians out there: I confess that I don't know what's in your particular bible. I know that they are different. If Song of Songs is not in yours, I really encourage you to go find a copy. It's not something that I hear anyone ever talking about, even though it is in the (Catholic) bible and is for a reason. It's also not something that they teach us in grade school, so I'm really only just now reading it. So if it is in your bible, then you probably know it way better than me and this is all common-sense. But even so, no one ever talks about it.

If you read this before Thursday, please pray for me. I don't know how it's going to go, or what I'm going to say, because I'm going to try to just be a conduit for God, try to let Him give me the words. I hope I can get out of the way and let God do great things, but it really doesn't matter if anyone comes up to me afterward and tells me how touched they were. I sure hope they are, but the fruit is probably years down the road, and likely not something anyone will ever see. And sorry for the long post at 6am. I woke up at 4:30 and couldn't sleep because it was on my mind.

Tuesday, October 6

Drink Spotlight: The Mai Tai

Fall is definitely in the air here in mid-America, and so before the leaves start falling and the long winter begins, I was looking for a nice, tropical drink to celebrate the end of a great summer and the last (hopefully, but probably not...) grass trimming that I'd just completed. So I turned to one of my all-time favorites, and one drink without which, it just would not be summer: The Mai Tai.

Mai Tai, so the story goes, is Tahatian for "Perfect" or "Out of this world", and was invented by the incorrigible Trader Vic Bergeron. As with a lot of things that Trader Vic has been involved with, it's hard to separate fact from fiction. For one, Vic was extremely paranoid that the bartenders in his restaurant would be coaxed away from him by competitors, and so as a result, his recipes were kept secret from even the people who were preparing them! Vic prepared many different syrups and mixes that were combined by his bartenders, but the true ingredients of which were kept as a closely guarded secret.

What was most unfortunate about this secrecy is that it did not stop rival bartenders from trying to recreate Vic's drinks. Before long, there were hundreds of different recipies from almost as many bartenders, all of them masquerading as a "Mai Tai". This misnaming, commonplace today in the era of the "Frozen Daiquiri", which is often little more than an alcoholic slushie, and a seemingly infinite number of drinks parading themselves around as a "______ Martini", was a real problem for anyone looking for any kind of consistency from one bar to another, and to this day has made the venerable Mai Tai into something with pineapple juice, grenadine, amaretto, and topped with club soda or, horror of horrors, sprite. In many bars, the "Mai Tai" is nothing more than a mix of random rums and juices. I'm all for improvising, but there can be only one Mai Tai. And Highlander.

So how do we have this recipe? Trader Vic took pity upon the masses and, more importantly, wanted to try to end the confusion and just came out with his recipe. You can find it on his website, or in certain good Tiki drink books. Or, below.

The Mai Tai:
  • 2 oz. rum*
  • 3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 oz. Orgeat syrup
  • 1/2 oz. orange Curacao
  • 1/4 oz. simple syrup
Shake well and strain over highball or Tiki mug full of crushed ice. Garnish with spent lime hull and sprig of mint.

*A note on the rum. A bottle of J. Wray & Nephew 17-year rum is what Trader Vic had on hand when he first conceived of the drink, but within a few years as the Mai Tai grew in popularity, the already difficult to find rum became ultra-rare and prohibitively priced to the point where Vic began experimenting with mixing different rums to try to get the same character. Rather than spending several hundred to several thousand dollars per-bottle, Vic decided that this was a fair compromise.

The rum combination that I actually used on this occasion, and my favorite combination so far, is 1 oz. Appleton Estate 12-year and 1 oz. Myer's Dark rum. The aged-Appleton is Jamaican rum is a nod to the Jamaican origins of the drink (and is a delicious aged-rum in it's own right), and the Myers adds some depth and funk that really brings the drink together. But you can use any rums that you have handy, and you will find that some combinations just work better than others. I can't recommend the Appleton 12-year highly enough, though.

The other ingredient that you likely don't have just lying around is Orgeat syrup. It took me quite a while to find this almond syrup, and until I did, I had no idea what I was missing. It's worth doing some searching for this drink alone, though several classic cocktails do use it. I found mine at the previously mentioned Lukas Liquor, though there are some recipes around the 'net for home-made, and that will be my next bottle.

And, like the Mojito, make sure you use crushed ice. It helps to tame the otherwise strong flavors in this drink and turns this potent cocktail into a refreshing one. One taste, and you'll know what those Tahitians were talking about. Perfect.

Saturday, October 3

How do you rock a small-to-moderate-sized venue full of red-necks and hillbillies?


So I was at this bar last night. O'Aces (get it?). Let's just say for clarity's sake that it was both a place I'd never been to, and they served a lot of vodka. And I was playing the "spot the wrestling t-shirt" game. What was the first thing that greeted me upon arriving? A Marshall full-stack, and this dude rocking the Ibanez. And by "greeted me", I meant from the parking lot. Inside the car. With the doors closed. That guy was LOUD.

I didn't have my camera on me, but thanks to the magic of the internets, you can now witness him in all his glory. What's worse than hearing anything by Bon Jovi? Hearing just the intro, fumbled through, twice, and knowing that even after putting on a mediocre show, the guy playing guitar still made more money last night than I did, and was getting girls on top of it. Granted, there were somewhere between 0 and 0.4 girls in that bar that weren't skanking it up, hitting on guys with horrendous mustaches, dancing on the table like it was a strip club (and these may or may not have been the bartenders) and getting into fights with the bouncers, but still. It was a hot mess. It was my first townie bar, and I can say with confidence that no place does the townie bar better than Imperial, MO on a Friday night.

In closing, a short prayer.

Dear Lord. If I ever get this cool, kill me. And then reverse time so that others will not have seen me this cool, and will instead remember me as I once was. And if I ever think that cranking a full 8x12 in any situation other than a 30,000 person stadium is necessary, called for, or even acceptable, take my hands. No, literally, take them. So that I can't harm those around me.