Tuesday, November 30

New Gear - Squier Classic Vibe 50's Telecaster

So remember way back when I posted something about this guitar? Turns out that when Guitar Center gives you a 15% off coupon and you've had your eye on something for a while, there's no stopping the brutal impulse to spend that follows in the 12-24 hours after consuming turkey.

So after trading off my ASAT, I knew it was only a matter of time before I really, really wanted another telecaster. I actually did logic this one out a little bit though. I knew I needed that Tele sound, and that I really liked the versatility that comes with a Telecaster, but I wasn't getting it from my ASAT because, well, the pickups weren't Tele pickups. And a few other reasons. It was a great guitar with a nice sound, but it wasn't what I wanted, and it was expensive to boot.

I could have gotten a 52-RI tele like everyone else, but I just straight-up liked the way that this one sounds. It sounds like rock and/or roll.

I put on the white pickguard because the coupon made it free. Also free with the coupon: tax. Oh, and for some reason Guitar Center wanted to just give me a Fender gig-bag. Now if I could just get that damn "Squier" sticker off of the headstock...

Tuesday, November 23

Adonis Cocktail

I have another confession (it seems that all this drinking is making me confess an awful lot...). I know nothing (and I repeat, nothing) about wine. For all of my enjoyment of obscure and delicious liquors, nothing. My parents drink a lot of wine. They love it. I had a roommate in college who couldn't drink beer and very rarely went for the hard stuff, but he learned a lot about wine. Even my younger sister knows more about wine than I do. It just...isn't something I can get into.

So when I do drink wine, it's either something sweet and girly, or else it's vermouth, on the rocks with a twist. Because vermouth is delicious and will forever remind me of Italy. So when I saw that this cocktail calls for "dry sherry," I went to the liquor store and stared stupidly at the rows of racks of wine. I didn't know if it was white or red, or really anything about it other than that sometimes people cook with cooking sherry. So I asked the salesman for a "dry sherry", and he pointed me towards a really small rack with just a handful of bottles. I guess it's not something people drink all the time. And while I sought all of the wisdom that Wikipedia could tell, I just ended up picking a cheap bottle that's labeled "Dry Sherry", figuring I couldn't go too wrong. So while it may not be the best, it probably tastes like sherry. Hopefully. So here we go.

Adonis Cocktail:
  • 1 1/2 oz. Dry Sherry
  • 3/4 oz. Italian (sweet) vermouth
  • 1 Dash orange bitters
Stir with cracked ice and strain into 3 oz. Cocktail glass.

This is actually really pleasant and refreshing for something that's all alcohol. Granted, I'm used to cocktails like this being a bit more potent (this is basically a Manhattan with sherry instead of Whiskey, and this wine is only 36 proof, as opposed to the 80 proof of almost any liquor), so there's a lot more room for the flavors to play. The orange bitters round things out nicely, giving it a fruity finish. Traditionally, this would be an aperitif, or something you serve pre-meal to get your gastric juices flowing, and I could see it working well there.

I grow suspicious of websites that rate things and always give everything high marks, but so far everything has been drinkable and interesting. B+.

New Pedalboard

So, after having successfully predicted that I was done re-arranging my pedal board, I've re-arranged it some more! Things really haven't changed since May though, which is a shocking amount of time considering that I play electric guitar.

This was spurred by two events: one, my recent purchase of an MXR Carbon Copy Analog Delay (which I need to play with more, but I've been looking for an actual analog delay for a while now, and I got a pretty good price on it), and two, I was watching Daniel Carson (Chris Tomlin's guitarist) take me through a song I already knew (Our God, in this case), and he finished with a shot at his pedalboard and something just clicked. He's definitely not the end-all, be-all of guitarists, but he needs to get tons of different sounds and he does so pretty simply. So I simplified.

First, I had to decide what effects I actually use. So off goes the Wah, the Chorus and the eq pedal, since I've never actually turned any of them on in front of people. I do intend to take a bit of good advice that James Duke (John Mark McMillan's guitarist) gave only to me (and anyone else who would read his blog), and that is that, just because it's not on your board doesn't mean you should sell it. I don't know how to use chorus, but that doesn't mean I never will, and my CE-2 is a really good chorus that would probably be somewhat hard to find again. And as much as tastes change with electric guitar playing, who's to say I won't want it some day in the future?

Once that was settled, I rethought my chain, mostly because I saw a cable in this video going from Daniel Carson's guitar straight into the volume pedal. And my volume pedal's always been in a loop. Which means I never turned it on as much as I'd want to. I decided that I wanted to try using my volume pedal as an always-on kind of pedal, even though it does suck some tone. If that really bothers me, I can just go find a good buffer. So here's the chain as of November:

Guitar-> Ernie Ball Volume Pedal -> Loopmaster bypass strip:
- Tuner out: Hardwire Chromatic tuner
- Loop 1: Fulltone Fulldrive 2
- Loop 2: Boss DS-1 (Keeley mod)
- Loop 3: empty
- Loop 4: Voodoo Labs Tremolo
- Loop 5: Boss DD-7 (with tap tempo, just to right of bypass strip)
- Loop 6: MXR Carbon Copy
- Loop 7: Line 6 DL4
-> Amp

With my pedalboard bypass securely fastened (via both velcro and a zip tie) to the top right corner of my board.

What I like about this setup is mostly that the volume pedal gets in on the action. I'm not very happy just setting my drive somewhere and keeping it there during the whole song. Hitting another boost or something just feels really...discrete to me. Mathematically speaking. Which, in this case, means the opposite of discreet. It was really noticeable to me when I kicked on a drive, and that kind of bothered me since I feel it should be a smoother transition from a clean part to a dirty part. Continuous.

What it all boils down to is that I've got more playing to do. I need to get a good feel for how my effects interact now. I also have an open space where I can plug in a flavor-of-the-week effect, be it a drive (I've had my eye on a Bluesbreaker for a while) or a POG or whatever. Maybe even something that can change from gig to gig. And I think I'm still on the lookout for a Trem with a tap tempo (really digging the Cusack Tap-a-whirl), and there's a good chance I'll end up with some kind of buffer before everything's said and done. But before I go all crazy and buy tons more stuff, I need to just get better with what I have! But that's not as much fun as buying new pedals...

Sunday, November 21

Absinthe Special Cocktail

Look familiar?

Absinthe Special Cocktail:
  • 1 1/2 oz. Absinthe
  • 1 oz. water
  • 1/4 tsp. sugar (1/2 tsp. simple syrup)
  • 1 dash orange bitters
Shake and strain into 3 oz. Cocktail glass

Very, very similar to the Absinthe Cocktail. The difference is a bit more water and using sugar as the sweetener, rather than Anisette. The difference is pretty pronounced, though. The flavors in this drink are much cleaner, and the orange bitters really shine. Before having opened this book I never would have thought I would enjoy the flavor combination of orange and anise, but it's really pleasant. This is a keeper.

I should have scaled back the water a touch since there is water in the simple syrup, but I forgot. The extra water in the recipe is specifically because you're making a simple syrup in the drink, so you need a little more to get the dilution correct. I will (almost) unfailingly use simple syrup in a drink rather than granulated sugar for one big reason: sugar doesn't dissolve well at a low temperature or in alcohol, two things that are rampant in the cocktail shaker. So it's way too easy to leave a drink feeling a bit gritty if you just throw some sugar in and call it good, unless you really, really shake or stir it. It's a feel thing, and there are definitely some drinks that prefer a sugar cube or granulated sugar, but it's usually for a good reason.

This being the last "Absinthe" cocktail, the Absinthe Frappe is notably, umm, absent from good Old Mr. Boston. Shame. Try it sometime.

Saturday, November 20

Absinthe Drip Cocktail

Here we go. THE Absinthe drink, mostly because, well, it's just Absinthe with a little water and sugar to balance things out. Anything you've ever heard about Absinthe stems from this simple drink, mostly because this is how they did it. Pablo Picasso. Jules Verne. Degas. Oscar Wilde. Edgar Allan Poe. And, of course, Vincent Van Gogh.

Absinthe Drip Cocktail:
  • 1 1/2 oz Absinthe
Dissolve one lump (cube) of sugar, using the French Drip spoon, and fill glass with cold water. Use old Fashioned Cocktail glass.

First, my makeshift equipment:

I don't have an Absinthe spoon, but a strainer (here, my fine strainer, but I've used a Julep or a Hawthorne before.) works just as well. There is also such a thing as an Absinthe glass, which basically just has a bulb at the bottom that measures an ounce or an ounce and a half of Absinthe, but a simple rocks glass is perfect.

A good trick: when you first start to pour, get the sugar cube wet and wait a little bit to give it time to dissolve a little. That way, you're not trying really hard to dissolve it and adding more water than you'd like. But what's not very clearly said in the directions: drizzle the sugar cube with the water, the slower the better, so that the sweetened water falls into the Absinthe slowly. Can't stress enough: Slowly.

Very important note: Do not light your sugar cube on fire unless the Absinthe that you're using is just dreadful. That's a practice that started in the Czech bars because, well, a lot of the Czech Absinthe is...just dreadful. You completely destroy a lot of the delicate flavors present in a good Absinthe when you put a large amount of caramelized sugar into it. And, actually, depending on your Absinthe, you may not even need the sugar. Kubler isn't terribly sweet in and of itself, so I use the cube.

The amount of water you use is completely up to you. I've gone as little as 3:1 and as much as 6:1, but it's completely up to your taste. Just make sure that it is ice cold, since you're not going to be adding any other ice to the drink otherwise.

The great thing about this drink is it really depends on the Absinthe you use. Much like a whiskey, where a little water opens things up and brings out all of the flavors, the water added to the Absinthe brings out all of the different botanicals and flavors that you'd never get if you were just drinking a warm shot.

Also note: Absinthe louches. That's a fancy word that means "gets cloudy when you add water." It has to do with the oils in the liquor that are released with the addition of water, and it's really pretty cool to see. As you add water, even one drip at a time, you'll see nothing, nothing, nothing, and then suddenly you'll see things starting to get cloudy (in a layer, which is awesome), followed by the liquor completely turning cloudy. Very cool effect. If mine were green, it would louche green, but since mine is clear, it louches milky white.

It's an expensive hobby to have a lot of different Absinthes, but you can taste subtle differences between the different brands in this format. So, if you can, get a good one, and enjoy!

Thursday, November 18

Absinthe Cocktail

I have a confession: I love Absinthe. And part of it might be the mystique surrounding it, the culture that it involves. Plus, it's delicious.

It's been illegal for a long time in the U.S., but recent updates to the law surrounding imports have made it completely legal. Which is great, because now we get everything, including the top-tier Absinthes that have been enjoyed throughout the rest of the world. My current one (because Absinthe is rather expensive and I can't really justify having many more than one) is Kubler, which is Swiss Absinthe blanche, meaning it's clear in color, rather than green. It's probably the most cost-effective brand out there, being really quite good for much less than some of the exquisite brands.

But enough about that.

Absinthe Cocktail:
  • 1 1/2 oz. Absinthe substitute (or, since it's legal here in 2010, Absinthe)
  • 3/4 oz. water
  • 1/4 oz. Anisette
  • Dash orange bitters
Shake well with cracked ice and strain into 3 oz. cocktail glass.

Normally don't quite agree with recipes that call for water, as most good recipes should get all the water they require within the ice, but as we're dealing with Absinthe (which usually starts out at a mild 100 proof and can range all the way up to 160 or 180...), I'm okay in this one instance. And honestly, this is quite nice. The orange bitters give you just a hint of orange at the end, though I could probably use a little more, but it's very nice. The Anisette adds sweetness without diluting the flavor of the Anise that's so present in any Absinthe. And as much as I usually enjoy an Absinthe drip, this is a nice alternative. B+

Wednesday, November 17

Abbey Cocktail

Being a (cocktail) nerd requires, amongst other things, a lot of sources. The internet has largely done away with the need to have a lot of actual, "physical" books, but I've found that once people know that you like making drinks, you get a lot of interesting gifts. One that I got recently is an old copy (probably 1948) of the Old Mr. Boston Deluxe Official Bartender's Guide from an aunt who found it in her basement. Blatantly stealing an idea from this guy, I find myself only reaching for a handful of cocktails (the Mai Tai, the Manhattan or Old Fashioned when out, the Martini when I'm feeling elegant) when I need a good drink, so I've decided to take this book in depth, and make every drink. From Abbey Cocktail to Zombie.

All that knowledge for only $2.00...

Is there likely a lot in this book that's just awful? Sure. Are there as yet undiscovered gems? Who knows. To me, at least, if I found even one great drink that I knew nothing about, it would be worth it. So here's hoping...

A few notes before beginning. First, this might take me a while. There's like 157 pages. That's a lot of booze. Kids, don't try this at home. Even having one a day would probably take me more than a year, and I have no intention of doing that, or of getting rid of a lot of my music content; after all, that's why most of you are here! But when I do something, I tend to...obsess. A bit. So we'll see. Next, I probably won't mention it too much, but unless otherwise noted, use fresh juices. It makes a world of difference, especially considering that this book was written in the late 40's when that's all they did, so the particular ratios are likely balanced for that. Lastly, because it's funny to me, this book recommends Old Mr. Boston brand alcohol, which don't exist anymore. So I'll make a note of what I use, but keep in mind that every product has a different flavor profile (man, I sound like an alcohol marketer), so I can only really say it works or doesn't work based on what I'm using. I will have a "standard" gin, rum, brandy, and so forth, but feel free to tinker! Some recipes don't sing until you've got the right spirit in the glass.

Abbey Cocktail:
  • 1 1/2 oz Dry Gin (Seagram's)
  • Juice of 1/4 orange (~1/2 oz)
  • 1 dash orange bitters
Shake well with cracked ice and strain into 3 oz. cocktail glass. Add a Maraschino Cherry.

A very simple Bronx cocktail (which is one that we'll get to, eventually).

This is going to sound exceptionally odd, but for a good, generic gin, I'm actually not opposed to Seagram's. There are certainly better gins out there, and there's been a big move towards less juniper-centric gins in recent years, but my test cocktail for gin is the Martini. If it makes a good one, it's a good gin. And honestly, Seagram's gives me everything I need in a gin, and the price is outstanding. So it's the default.

One other point I'd like to make, and this one is about technique: whenever I strain something that's been shaken, and it's going into a glass without ice (such as in this example, and as opposed to shaking, say, a Mai Tai), I fine-strain it (right around 1:20). Mostly this just keeps ice shards out of the drink so that what comes out of the shaker stays consistently diluted from the first sip to the last.

The verdict: pleasant enough. While the Seagram's isn't the smoothest alcohol ever, it's assertive enough to mix with and the water coming off of the shake tames it well. The drink doesn't really sparkle, which is usually one of my complaints when you have an orange-juice based drink that gets diluted from the shake, rather than just being built. You get a nice orange flavor, which is always fine when mixed with gin. The orange bitters don't really add much, and it always puzzles me when a drink calls for orange bitters and orange juice; it's like it's trying to get everything to play nice, but it tends to make things kind of bland.

In the eternal words of Homer Simpson: "It passed the first test: I didn't go blind."