The Long View

By definition, aged single-malt whisky is a product made with a long-term vision. Nothing about the process is fast. Starting with the season it takes to grow the necessary grain, to the distillation process, to the aging – this is not a short-term investment.

So it makes sense that one of the first artisan distillers in the United States,  St. George Spirits, would be asked to create whiskey for The Long Now Foundation, a San Francisco-based group that aims to provide “a counterpoint to today’s accelerating culture and help make long-term thinking more common.”

In addition to elegaic projects such as the 10,000 Year Clock and Revive & Restore, one of the ways Long Now plans on doing promoting the longer view is the establishment of a Salon space to foster discussion and collaboration.

And what does a Salon space require? Books, conversation, a warm space and beverages. Tea and coffee during the day, wines, whiskey and gin at night. All liquids known to foster conversation.

Who will supply the evening spirits? St. George Spirits, based in Alameda, California – just across the Bay from San Francisco. But they won’t be just any beverages.

The Salon will feature Long Now gin or whiskey each created exclusively for it by Lance Winters of St. George Spirits. Stored in the rafters of the Salon, members will have their bottles available to them whenever they visit. There will be the afore-mentioned whiskey, St. George Spirits Bristlecone Gin, and a number of other wines and spirits produced for Long Now.

High-level donors/members will be able to indulge in the 15 Year Founders Whiskey Bottle.  Each year for 15 years the private bottle will be filled with the new bottling of the Long Now whiskey as it ages.

For mere mortals such as myself, I would be happy just to wrap my hands around a few sample glasses of St. George Spirits product, which sounds quirky, unique and well-crafted.

There is a beautiful article on St. George Spirits  over on Handful of Salt, a publication I am very happy to have discovered during the process of researching this post. The magazine itself is devoted to any craft that takes patience, attentiveness, skill and love of material.

Given what they have to say about the distillery, it sounds like it fulfills all their criteria.

I’d love to hear from anyone who has tried St. George Spirits whiskies.

Until then, I’ll take the long view, and plan on trying some the next time I am Stateside.

St. George Spirits Photo: Regina Connell/Handful of Salt

St. George Spirits
Photo: Regina Connell/Handful of Salt

The Here & Now of the Long Now

The Long Now Foundation, San FranciscoPhoto: PK Read

The Long Now Foundation, San Francisco
Photo: PK Read

My goal yesterday was to visit the headquarters and museum of the Long Now Foundation, a project intended to extend the time perception of a global culture with ever foreshortening horizons. For those who think in terms of quarterly or even annual goals, this is not for the faint of heart.

I had expected a museum with models of the Long Now Clock, a pr0ject to build what is billed as the ‘slowest computer on the planet’, a 10,000 year clock that “ticks once a year, bongs once a century, and the cuckoo comes out every millennium”. There is a prototype of the clock in London’s Science Museum, and I did indeed find small models and tooled versions of clock mechanisms at the small museum in the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, right on the Bay.

But what I also found were two employees packing everything into boxes, some empty shelves and a place in transition for the long-term. The clock design phase, started back in the late 1990s, is over. The new phase – a phase of increased discussion and context-building – is underway. The museum will become a salon, the salon will serve drinks, all aged long-term. Potential salon patrons can buy their own named whiskies, gin, wines, all kept at the salon for evenings of timely discussions, all aged for long-term commitment. My kind of place.

They will be open until June 2013, close for remodeling, and reopen in Fall 2013.

The Long Now Foundation site.

Good Morning, Long Now

Prototype image of the 10,000 Year Clock. The final structure will be over 200 feet (60 meters) tall.Image: Long Now Foundation

Prototype image of the 10,000 Year Clock. The final structure will be over 200 feet (60 meters) tall.
Image: Long Now Foundation

It’s easy to see why we humans think in terms of years. After all, we base our thinking on the world around us, and the world around us travels around its star in what we call a year. If we lived on Jupiter, we might still think in terms of years, I suppose, but each year would last almost 12 of our current years. Assuming we had similar lifespans (and could actually survive on Jupiter, etc.), we would reach adolescence at age 1, be adult by age 2, and middle-aged at 4. How would that change our expectations?

For most people living in modern society, life is a quick-flowing, mercurial thing, and this is encouraged even further by modern technologies. Meanwhile, our world continues to orbit the Sun at its more or less stately pace and the cycles of the planet are mostly far longer than we comprehend or choose to reflect in our actions.

How welcome, then, is the project of the 10,000 Year Clock! A project that shows how we humans think:  how we keep time, how we design, our limitations and our potential. An actual clock, a massive device with gears and chimes built into a mountain, meant to keep time on a centennial and millennial scale, an attempt to think long and speak to ourselves in the future.

The undertaking is supported by the Long Now Foundation. Its president is Stewart Brand, who is quoted as saying, “Civilization is revving itself into a pathologically short attention span. The trend might be coming from the acceleration of technology, the short-horizon perspective of market-driven economics, the next-election perspective of democracies, or the distractions of personal multi-tasking. All are on the increase. Some sort of balancing corrective to the short-sightedness is needed-some mechanism or myth which encourages the long view and the taking of long-term responsibility, where ‘long-term’ is measured at least in centuries.

While I think short-sightedness is a built-in feature of human life – after all, we get hungry every single day and often our horizons don’t extend much beyond fulfilling our various hungers – it does seem that our intelligence should lead us to take a longer view of our place in vast natural cycles. If for no other reason than self-preservation.

The clock itself, designed by Danny Hillis, is funded by Jeff Bezos, founder of There is a fine irony in the founder of a company based on the rapid satisfaction of consumer needs investing his wealth in a project meant to instruct on the importance of the long term. Still, there have always been those who invest in the future even as they reap the wealth of the present.

And maybe that’s one of the lessons.

The Mechanical Chimes music designed by Brian Eno. Using a progressive algorithm, large star-shaped plates, called Geneva Wheels, running down the center of the clock will generate a different bell ringing order for each day of the next 10,000 years.Photo/Text: James Martin/CNET

The Mechanical Chimes play music designed by Brian Eno. Using a progressive algorithm, large star-shaped plates, called Geneva Wheels, running down the center of the clock will generate a different bell ringing order for each day of the next 10,000 years.
Photo/Text: James Martin/CNET