Monthly Archives: January 2015

Fragrant Whiskey Infusion

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The plan was to go to a bar here in Denver that, from its name at least, promised to have a good selection of whiskies.IMG_0097

And indeed, the Whiskey Bar on Larimer Street had a big selection of whiskies and a strong theme of whiskey throughout. It was also just a little bit loud for the kind of conversation we were having – a visit with an old friend who we hadn’t seen in years, catching up on life. IMG_0084

So we wandered out and into the place right next door, which promised wine and cigars. The sweet fragrance of rich cigar smoke wafted through the open door (who knew Denver could be so warm and sunny on a Sunday afternoon in January?), and once inside the Palma Cigar and Wine Bar, we knew we were in one of those true local gems I always hope to find while traveling, but rarely do.

Vintage lamps hung like Christmas lights, deep leather sofas, heavy crystal ashtrays, old hats and glass cabinets, Frank Sinatra crooning over the loudspeakers, and a warm welcome.IMG_0100

Besides serving a range of local Colorado wines (surprisingly good), the shop is home to a workshop for the hand-rolled cigars that other patrons were smoking. IMG_0096

Now, what does this all have to do with whiskey?

As it turns out, some of the cigars were flavored. And one of the those flavors was, you guessed it, whiskey. So of course we had to try one.

I can drink whiskey any old day. How often do I get the chance to smoke it?IMG_0102

I do favor the very occasional cigar, especially in good company, in good surroundings and with a fine beverage at hand.

All these criteria were met, and the cigar, rolled by master cigar maker and bar owner Clay Carlton, was a treat of smoky whiskey-tinged sweetness. And yes, we bought some to take along for the rest of the trip.IMG_0093

There were these bottles of whiskey-roasted whole coffee beans, another product of the shop – we didn’t try any coffee, but the scent of the beans was heady and aromatic with whiskey.

The shop’s other potential treat which we left unsampled was the barber’s chair at the back of the shop. Full haircuts available while you smoke. Real indulgence. IMG_0088

One of these days, the barkeep (the pleasingly-named and very knowledgeable Mr. Valentine) told us, the bar would have a full liquor license, and whiskey proper would be served.

Guess I’ll have to come back to Denver.

 

Palma Cigar and Wine Bar, 2207 Larimer St., Denver, CO 80205

All photos: PK Read

One Everything With Snow

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I have a friend in New York City who sometimes calls me while she’s on her way to work. And every so often, I’ll be a long-distance eavesdropper to an order of her favorite breakfast bagel: A toasted Everything with cream cheese.

I know it’s just a bagel order, but having an Everything for breakfast has always tickled me with its notion of cosmopolitan inclusiveness. Even if the Everything is just bagel with a mixed topping of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, caraway, dried onion and garlic, and salt. No dill, rosemary, countless other herbs and additions, no waffles, eggs, tomatoes, potatoes, blinis, and so on…so technically, not everything.

But still, a lot of things.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

I was thinking of that when I took this picture on my way home yesterday afternoon on blustery day of grey clouds, rain, snow, sunshine, patches of warmth and gusts of cold. The snow line looked like it had been drawn with a ruler, clouds covered the crest of the Jura in a thick topping of white, while a light drizzle fell over our house even as the sun shone.

So here’s my version of an Everything – the French Jura mountain range on a gloriously unpredictable Saturday afternoon in January. Delicious.

Upward Spiral

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A new study published  in Nature by Harvard University researchers corrects a few measurements when it comes to changes in the sea level over the past century.

On the one hand, researchers wanted to gain a more accurate picture of how quickly sea levels are actually rising in an era of global warming.

Blue Garden, 200 meters beneath the ocean surface. The top of the sphere could be elevated above the surface for sunlight and fresh air, and retracted during storms. Image: Shimizu Corporation

Blue Garden, 200 meters beneath the ocean surface. The top of the sphere could be elevated above the surface for sunlight and fresh air, and retracted during storms.
Image: Shimizu Corporation

On the other hand, they re-examined assumptions on the speed of sea level change over the past century by re-assessing data and ‘fingerprints’ used to measure the change in sea levels between 1900-1990.

Current predictive models for how quickly glacial melting will impact coastlines are based on analyses of past sea levels showing a gradual rise over many decades.

What the research team under Carling Hay and Eric Morrow found upon re-examining data gathered over the course of the 20th century was that sea levels had risen much less than previously thought, in some cases up to 30% less, by 1990.

Which means that the current rising levels didn’t happen slowly over the course of a long century – they have occurred much more quickly over the past twenty years due to a wide variety of factors.

This may require some adjustments to coastal planning.

Good thing Japan’s Shimizu Corporation just released these drafts for an underwater town, poetically dubbed ‘Blue Garden‘.

Blue Garden, interior view. The sphere would contain homes, stores, offices, a hotel and research facilities. Image: Shimizu Corporation

Blue Garden, interior view. The sphere would contain homes, stores, offices, a hotel and research facilities.
Image: Shimizu Corporation

The proposed city would be sustainable and energy self-sufficient using thermal power generated by temperature differences between the water surface and ocean depths, as well as from methane-producing micro-organism factories.

The Corporation says it could produce the spherical abodes, which would be attached to the ocean floor and could accommodate up to 5000 people, by 2030.

The Blue Garden spheres could be connected into networks of spheres to create cities. Image: Shimizu Corporation

The Blue Garden spheres could be connected into networks of spheres to create cities.
Image: Shimizu Corporation

Toothfish Piracy

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*Update below (July 29).

There are a couple of cinema-worthy chase scenes going on right now, all located in the Southern Ocean.

The New Zealand navy is currently chasing two ships sailing under the flag of Equatorial Guinea for illegal fishing, and a Sea Shepherd vessel has been chasing a Nigerian trawler, the Thunder, since December 17. The Sea Shepherd chase, over 1000 nautical miles at this point, has already broken the record for longest documented sea chase. And it’s not over.

So, what’s at the heart of this high seas drama?

Fish Artist: Si Scott

Fish
Artist: Si Scott

A deep-sea fish that was once deemed bland, ugly and unmarketable. It got its commercial start as a base for fish sticks. Later, its lack of overtly fishy flavor was turned to culinary advantage because chefs could do almost anything to it; what it lacked in strong flavor it made up for in flaky white flesh.

The Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) was renamed the Chilean sea bass by an American fish merchant in 1977, and became truly popular in haute cuisine during the 1990s. Also known as White Gold, the fish otherwise known as toothfish can currently be found on the menus of high-end restaurants mainly in the United States, Europe and Japan.

Since luxury markets combined with scarcity usually mean high prices for a product, illegal fisheries have been chasing the toothfish for years now.

Patagonian toothfish Source: National Marine Fisheries Service

Patagonian toothfish
Source: National Marine Fisheries Service

A number of international initiatives were undertaken to protect the toothfish, an animal integral to a number of ecosystems. It reproduces slowly and has a long life span – up to 50 years, two factors that make it vulnerable to overfishing.

For me, the Patagonian toothfish, together with the Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni) also sold as Chilean sea bass, exemplify how difficult it can be to be a responsible consumer.

In the early 2000s, illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing (IUU) was estimated to account for up to 80% of all toothfish that was harvested. Recommendations to avoid Chilean sea bass in stores and restaurants have been cautiously revised because of the success of programs in fighting IUU fishing. The Marine Stewardship Council offers certification for sustainably fished toothfish, and provides possible purchase points.

And yet, we have two groups, a national navy and an environmental organization, in pursuit of industrial-scale operations fishing for what will be sold as Chilean sea bass. The poachers obviously have reliable markets to whom they can sell.

Chilean sea bass with the MSC label can generally be bought with confidence, but how often do we ask our restaurant servers or fishmongers whether the fish they are serving is appropriately labeled?

Levels of toothfish over-fishing (2013). Click on the image for a larger view. Source: Rochelle Price

Levels of toothfish over-fishing (2013).
Dark grey=quota levels, Red=estimated IUU catch. Click on the image for a larger view.
Source: Rochelle Price

 

* The Sea Shepherd’s spectacular chase only ended in April, with the crew of the Thunder allegedly sinking their own ship to destroy evidence – and then being rescued by crew members of the Sea Shepherd’s two pursuing ships. A riveting article in the New York Times provides more detail than I can here, and I encourage taking the time to read it.

The ships being pursued by the New Zealand navy have been found in Thailand and Cape Verde, respectively – renamed and reflagged.

 

A Little Perspective

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It’s been a rough start to 2015, so I thought I’d step back and look at a bigger picture.

NASA released an image of a section of one of our nearest neighbors, galactically-speaking: the Andromeda galaxy, also known as M31.

The image itself contains 1.5 billion pixels and represents the largest image ever released by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The section of the galaxy shown contains over 100 million stars and would take 40,000 years to traverse at the speed of light.

A section of the Andromeda galaxy.  Click here to explore the image using the NASA zoom tool.  Source: NASA

A section of the Andromeda galaxy.
Click here to explore the image using the NASA zoom tool.
Source: NASA

Something to remind me on the one hand, that we are part of something far more vast than the human squabbles that take place on the surface of our planet, and on the other hand, that among all these countless celestial bodies, this little planet is the only one we’ve got.

If you’ve got the time, set your screen to full-view and spend a few short minutes on this lovely fly-through video, put together by YouTube user daveachuck.

Subterranean Lines

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A fracking well at the surface. Photo: Eugene Richards/National Geographic

A fracking well at the surface.
Photo: Eugene Richards/National Geographic

The bulk of the fracking boom currently underway in the United States is not only in one of the least populated and remote states, North Dakota (population 724,000 – and it’s only that large because of the fracking boom and all the new workers there), but it also takes place mostly underground. Sure, there are the ominous towers of gas flames and the torn up ground at the extraction points, but the real action takes place so far beneath the topsoil layer as to render it abstract.

The gap between what fracking looks like from above, and what it looks like from below, reminds me of Antoine Saint-Exupéry’s drawings in The Little Prince. What everyone initially takes to be a sketch of hat is actually a rendering of something completely different, namely, an elephant inside a snake.

From The Little Prince By: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

From The Little Prince
By: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

We humans are creatures of visual dependence. Or rather, what we can see tends to make the most conscious impression upon us, ahead of the more subtle senses of sound, taste, smell and touch.

And often, what is out of sight is truly out of mind. If we can’t see it, we have a hard time even thinking about it.

Well locations around New Town, N.D. Source: Fractracker

Well locations around New Town, N.D.
Source: Fractracker

These various maps and renderings of fracking in North Dakota attempt to make the underground activity more tangible, to show us the elephant inside the hat.

Underground fracking lines, drawn from the well, with horizontal underground lines marking the extent of each well. New Town, North Dakota, from Mapping a Fracking Boom in North Dakota. Source: Mason Inman/Wired

Underground fracking lines, drawn from the well, with horizontal underground lines marking the extent of each well. New Town, North Dakota, from Mapping a Fracking Boom in North Dakota.
Source: Mason Inman/Wired

According to Mason Inman over at Map Labs, who created the map above, “Each well travels down about two miles, then turns horizontally and snakes through the rock formation for another two miles. There were 8,406 of these Bakken wells, as of North Dakota’s latest count. If you lined them all up—including their vertical and horizontal parts—they’d loop all the way around the Earth.”

The New York Times took the added step of inverting the wells as if they were above ground, the long vertical drills standing like slender trunks one or two miles high, with only one or two branches of equal length suspended in the air, a high forest of activity.

The area around New Town, North Dakota, from What North Dakota Would Look Like if Its Oil Drilling Lines Were Aboveground Source: Gregor Aisch/NYT

The area around New Town, North Dakota, from What North Dakota Would Look Like if Its Oil Drilling Lines Were Aboveground
Source: Gregor Aisch/NYT

 

Welcome 2015

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To the hundreds of people over the past 24 hours who visited my blog post on the accidental freezing of champagne: May that frozen bottle be the worst of your 2015, and may the thawed bottle be the beginning of the best.

Image: The Levity Institute

Image: The Levity Institute

To all those who have stopped by to visit champagnewhisky.com to read about champagne, or whisky, or any of the other environmental, art, history, tech, data and other sundry topics that caught my attention: Whatever your beverage, wherever you are, thank you for visiting!

Happy New Year!