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Archive for the ‘whisky accessories’ Category

Introduction

App Icon

App Icon

Following on my first post about my Easy ABVs application for the iPhone, I’ve now completed the application and thought I’d post a few pictures and describe how it works. Easy ABVs is a calculator application specifically designed to calculate alcohol content of a spirit, and show how adding water affects the final ABV (Alcohol by Volume). In addition to cleaning up the appearance, I’ve made pretty much all of the settings user-configurable, and added an information screen. I got around my lack of artistic abilities by going with a completely text-based application icon. It’s supposed to be a take on a grade school “ABCs” notebook ledger.

The calculator (Final ABV mode)

ABV Calc (Final ABV Mode)

ABV Calc (Final ABV Mode)

The calculator allows you to enter the original ABV of a spirit, the size of the drink you’re pouring, and by default, the amount of water you want to add. Note the combination of text boxes and sliders. I find the sliders to offer a level of convenience that you don’t get with similar web-based calculators. For one, I can enter the data a lot faster with the slider. Another benefit is the ability to progress through a bunch of numbers and see real-time updates in the results pane.

The results pane (panel at the top) displays a number of relevant calculations:

  • Pure Alcohol = Spirit Volume * (Spirit ABV / 100)
  • Drink Units takes the amount of pure alcohol and divides it by the number of ml considered to make up a single “drink unit.” There are standard drink unit sizes for the UK and US. More on that further down.
  • Total Volume = Spirit Volume + Water Added
  • Final ABV is the Alcohol by Volume for the combined water and spirit.

The calculator (Add Water mode)

ABV Calc (Add Water Mode)

ABV Calc (Add Water Mode)

The above image shows the calculator after I clicked the “swap” button right below the results pane. Now, instead of entering an amount of water to add and seeing the calculated Final ABV, you enter a Final ABV and see the calculated Add Water amount in order to dilute the spirit to the desired strength. This can be handy if you’re comparing a number of whiskies and want to try them all at the same strength. Simply set the Final ABV where you want it, and adjust the Spirit ABV for each whisky. The calculator will show you how much water to add.

The settings tab

App Settings

App Settings

Pretty much everything in the calculator is user-configurable. You can set the min/max values for the sliders. I recommend setting them so that the range is as small as possible, based on your normal use. This way you can be more accurate with the sliders. The more numbers, the more difficult to land on a particular one. The default values are also configurable. These are the values for when the application starts up, and when you hit the reset button. I’ll discuss the Drink Unit size in the next section.

The information screen

Info Screen

Info Screen

Clicking the “i” button in the lower right corner of the settings screen causes the screen to flip over and reveal some information about the whole Drink Units concept. The UK and US have similar guidelines for what they consider “moderate” drinking. They use different base drink sizes, but recommend similar total limits on a daily/weekly basis. The 10 ml drink unit in the UK is based off of a 25 ml serving of a 40% ABV spirit. The ~17.6 ml drink unit in the US is based on the amount of alcohol in a 1.5 oz shot of a 40% ABV spirit. I’ve set the default drink unit size to the UK 10 ml, but of course, it’s fully configurable. You could even come up with your own drink unit size based on your own habits/preferences.

What’s next?

I’m going to try posting this to the iTunes App Store and see what the process is like. I’m not charging anything for this application. I figure the potential audience is fairly small. You need to  not only be into drinking spirits, but you probably need to be something of a geek. :-)

So…any whisky geeks out there want to give this a try before I post to the App Store and give me feedback, or see if you can break it?

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Introduction

I’ve been reading up on iPhone development, and finally got around to creating something this weekend instead of just reading about it. It’s a pretty simple application, which is good, as it will allow me to get experience with the end-to-end iPhone App Development process fairly quickly. The purpose of Easy ABVs (as in “Alcohol by Volume”) is to help me quickly calculate how much alcohol I’m taking in (and keep myself in check), and to determine how much water to add in order to bring a whisky down to a particular ABV. I got the basic application working this weekend. I still need to make it “pretty”, and hook up the settings tab.

UPDATE: I’ve posted a Part 2 with pictures and details of my cleaned-up application. I’ve handed it out to a few people, but haven’t gone through the effort of putting it on the App Store, as I’m not sure it would appeal to a whole lot of people. I do use it now and then…mainly to figure out final ABV when adding water to a cask-strength whisky, or to figure out how much water to add so that I’m comparing at the same ABV in a head-to-head tasting.

Functionality and design

Easy ABVs Preview

Easy ABVs Preview

I want to be able to enter in the ABV of a whisky and the size of a pour, and immediately see how much pure alcohol I’m going to be taking in. In addition to having text boxes for data entry, I wanted to provide sliders. This way I can do everything one-handed using my thumb to control the application. With the sliders, I can also play around with different values easily, and scan the results as they’re updated in real time. I mean really…how much am I going to use this thing if I have to set my drink down to use it, or if it takes me a while to enter the data? :-)

I started out with the original ABV and volume at the top, as these are the starting data points for the calculations. It makes visual sense to go from top to bottom, right? The problem with this is that my hand ends up being over the bottom of the screen while I’m setting the values, and I have to move it to see the results. I decided it was much more useable with the data entry at the bottom and the output at the top. I also added a “swap” button next to the “Add Water” text box. This moves the Add Water value up into the calculations panel and the Final ABV down to the data entry area. Now I can select a specific ABV and have the application calculate how much water to add.

Next step

Next weekend, I’ll look into creating a background image for the calculations panel (I wish I had at least a LITTLE artistic talent). I also need to create the settings tab view. I want to allow customization of the min/max ranges of the sliders, and the default values. I thought I’d also add support for switching between US and UK modes, with the US mode showing proof and US drink units. I also want to go through the process of trying to add it into the App Store, just to see what that experience is like. I’ll post an update when I’ve completed the application.

Video Demo

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whisky_and_jazz_coverIntroduction and book synopsis

If you drink scotch and enjoy listening to jazz, you don’t need a book to tell you the two go great together. You might, however, be interested in a book that offers up large, artistic renderings of some of your favorite jazz musicians and scotch distilleries, provides deeper insight into the connections between jazz and whisky, and imparts historical knowledge in a way that both entertains and inspires creative thought. Enter Whisky & Jazz by Hans Offringa, available by mail order from Charleston Mercury (a South Carolina newspaper) for $39.95 plus shipping.

The marketing blurb for Whisky & Jazz on the Charlston Mercury site says:

“Hans Offringa, whisky writer for the Charleston Mercury, ingeniously connects ten famous jazz musicians with ten excellent single malt whiskies. The result is a collection of ten unique blends, each carrying a blue note as well as a tasting note, presented in a sippin’ and tasting guide.”

I was willing to buy the book based on the promise of some great pictures for the coffee table, the hope that this correlation between 10 whiskies and jazz songs would be interesting, and the fact that it was recommended by Serge of Whiskyfun.com. However, the book offers much more than I expected, making for a pleasant surprise when I started leafing through it. I’d like to try sharing a little more about the book so that you can see why I think it’s easily worth the $40 asking price.

Book layout and content

Whisky & Jazz is a good sized “coffee table book” with a little over 200 8.5″ x 11″ pages, about half of which contain full-page and double-page pictures. There is a Forward by Dave Broom (prominent whisky writer) with his own take on the whisky and jazz combination, then an Introduction by Offringa, where he sets up the book and dedicates it to his friend Michael Jackson (the whisky writer, not the pop star).

After the introductory material, there is a section titled The Origins of Jazz, which, in addition to telling the story of the origination of jazz, explains the etymology (breaking jazz down into its component parts), and then details three principal characteristics of jazz music. The next section, The Origins of Whisky, is also divided into origins, etymology and principal characteristics. Hats off to Mr. Offringa for managing to tie the two topics together through history and traits, without it seeming overly contrived in order to push his blending agenda.

Next, we have The Musicians and The Distilleries, with two or three pages (and as many pictures) on each musician and distillery, telling their story, and what makes them unique. I haven’t read all 20 of these yet, but the ones I have read were informative and entertaining. This material is well thought-out and clearly presented, not just a bunch of fluff to fill in between the pictures. There are all kinds of interesting tidbits…did you know about the Glenrothes “Toast to the Ghost”, or that the Stan Getz collaboration with Joao and Astrud Gilberto ended after Getz and Astrud had an affair?

The 10 musicians detailed in the book are: Cannonball Adderley, Chet Baker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, Milt Jackson, Hank Mobley, Charlie Parker, and Art Tatum.

The 10 distilleries are: Aberfeldy, Balblair, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Bunahabhain, Glen Rothes, Isle of Jura, Lagavulin, Oban and Springbank.

Whisky & Jazz with some whisky and jazz

Whisky & Jazz with some whisky and jazz

Finally, we have The Blends, a subjective “listening and sippin’ guide”  in which Mr. Offringa concocts “blends” composed of individual musicians and individual expressions of single malts. He acknowledges that these are subjective pairings, and encourages the reader to experiment on their own (in moderation). For each jazz/whisky blend, there is a one page summary providing:

  • A creative name for the blend
  • A “Blue Note”, with a paragraph each on the artist and whisky, tying them together
  • The blend “ingredients” (a specific expression and song)
  • Tasting notes – a blend of notes by Offringa and Michael Jackson.

Conclusion and credits

As you could tell by the time you finished reading the title of this post, I highly recommend this book by Hans Offringa. Jack McCray, a jazz historian and freelance writer, is credited as contributing editor on the book. On the book jacket, it says about Mr. McCray…”aspires to present ideas in a clear, resonant and consise style that would impart information in a meaningful way to the reader.” Whatever his influence on this book, he and the author have certainly succeeded in those aspirations. Gijs Dragt, who has apparently designed a large number of books for museums, provided most of the eye candy for Whisky & Jazz, and it’s quite the photographic treat.

Links

  • Hans Offringa, guest blogger – Hans guest blogs on The Book Case blog, providing great background information on himself and the series of books that he’s working on. Check it out!
  • Hans Offringa’s web site – Hans’ official site, with links to more info about Whisky & Jazz and his other books.
  • Whisky & Jazz – A web site dedicated to this book, including a links [spoiler alert] page that lists the jazz/whisky combinations that make up his blends.
  • The Whisky Couple – Hans and his wife Becky are known as “The Whisky Couple.” Here is their web site. Right now, it includes a video from a Whisky & Jazz book signing and whisky tasting event.
  • WHISKYFUN.COM by Serge – A much more eloquent review and recommendation than I’ve offered (scroll down a little bit).
  • Accidental Hedonist review – A reminder that whisky and jazz are about enjoyment and spending time with friends, not sitting at home taking notes, and a recommendation for Offringa’s Whisky & Jazz and Taste of Whisky books.

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I survived the drought of 2009

"I survived the drought of 2009" shirt (click for full size picture)

Phase 2 of the Knob Creek “Thanks for nothing” marketing push arrived in my mailbox this afternoon…a T-shirt that states “I survived the drought of 2009″ (pictured to the right, with my half-empty KC bottle and custom label). As has already been reported by others, Knob Creek Stillhouse Members received an email last week titled “Thanks for nothing.” In it, Knob Creek announced that due to high demand, they’ve run out of Knob Creek until the next batch gets bottled in November. The stock currently in stores will be all that’s available until then. In addition to sending out these t-shirts to Stillhouse Members, they apparently sent out sealed, empty bottles to spirits journalists.

You know, I might actually wear this t-shirt. I don’t usually go for shirts with product marketing pictures and text, but this one is reasonably subtle compared to a lot of others. The back of the shirt is plain, the wording on the front is reasonably small, and the bottle looks pretty cool. Go ahead and call me a geek, or a pawn in the hands of corporate marketing for signing up as a “Stillhouse Member”, but I know you’re just jealous of my cool shirt. :-)

Here’s the text from the letter I got with the shirt (and a scan of the letter below). Apparently I’m supposed to wait until the “drought” is over before sporting the shirt:

Dear Knob Creek lover,

It seems you’ve helped cause a bit of a “situation” here at the distillery. See, because you, and many others like you, have been such loyal consumers, we’ve temporarily run out of Knob Creek Bourbon. And for that you deserve a huge thanks.

With that said, it’s quite possible that you might not be able to find us in our usual places for a bit. Should this happen, take a deep breath and keep in mind that our next batch will be fully matured and ready to go this November (we’d bottle it now to boost supply, but then it wouldn’t be aged a full 9 years and it wouldn’t really be Knob Creek).

And once you’ve weathered the storm, be sure to proudly sport this t-shirt commemorating this historic event.

Now, hang in there and cherish every drop of Knob Creek like it’s the last, because, well, it could be. Until November anyway.

Cheers,

Your friends at Knob Creek

P.S. If you can’t find a bottle of Knob Creek anywhere, visit knobcreek.com and find out which locations (if any) in your area are lucky enough to have a few bottles left on their shelves.

Knob Creek "Thanks for nothing" letter

Knob Creek "Thanks for nothing" letter

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Birth announcement package from Maker's Mark

Birth announcement package from Maker's Mark

I signed up to be a Maker’s Mark ambassador back in September.  This is similar to being a “Friend of Laphroaig” or an Ardbeg Committee member.  In other words, it’s a marketing gimmick.  Is it geeky?  Sure.  Is it lame?  I suppose some would say that (I like it so far, though).  Is it worth doing?  Yeah, why not?  It’s not like it costs anything.  Anyway, on to the purpose of today’s post:  my wife sent me an email yesterday with a picture attached showing a package that had arrived, stamped with “Historic Birth Announcement Enclosed” on the front.

One of the benefits of being a Maker’s Mark Ambassador is that you can submit your name (or some arbitrary text) to be included along with 29 others on a barrel of new spirit (names inscribed on a plaque).  In 6 or 7 years, when the barrel is mature, you’re then invited to come to the distillery in Kentucky and purchase a couple of 1 liter bottles from your batch.  You’re given your own special label to go on the back of the bottle, and you get to do the wax dipping and stamp a special seal on the wax.  [Note:  My wife actually said to me “You should go do that when your barrel is done”.  Cool!  Note that she said you, though…not “we”.]  I submitted “Arizona Hershauers” (as opposed to the Indiana or Michigan Hershauers from my extended family) in September, and received the following letter in this package:

Letter from Maker's Mark about "my" barrel

Letter from Maker's Mark about "my" barrel

Also included was a “Barrel Dedication Certificate” and a bunch of Ambassador business cards.  I attempted to earn some awe and respect from my wife by presenting one to her (like it says in the letter).  Fail.

Ambassador barrel certificate and business cards

Ambassador barrel certificate and business cards

Finally, here is a picture of the actual plaque that’s mounted on the barrel with the 30 Ambassador names.  Note that you can also order a replica plaque for $40 to mount proudly in your man cave.  You’re also allowed to customize the replica, opting whether or not to show the other names, and you can also change your own text (just in case you put something lame on the original like “ARIZONA HERSHAUERS”.

Maker's Mark barrel plaque

Maker's Mark barrel plaque

So, there you have it.  If you’re feeling alone and insignificant in the world, go become a Maker’s Mark Ambassador and be a part of whisky-making history.  Say what you will about marketing schemes like this, the crew at Maker’s Mark really goes all out to make you feel like a special part of their team.  The materials used for promotional kits like this are high quality, they maintain regular communication via email throughout the year, and from comments on their Facebook page, it sounds like they make you feel very welcome and special when you visit the distillery to collect your batch bottles.

Additional Info

  • Maker’s Mark Embassy:  The Maker’s Mark Ambassador web site link.  You can sign up to become a new ambassador from here.
  • Facebook:  The official Maker’s Mark facebook page.  5,925 members and counting.
  • Other goodies: Maker’s Mark sends out other goodies to Ambassadors at times.  I got a well packaged tube of wrapping paper, along with Maker’s Mark bottle-shaped gift tags before Christmas 2008 (note the MM Bottle snowflakes on the paper):
Note the Maker's Mark bottle snowflakes

Note the Maker's Mark bottle snowflakes

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How do the various batches of Aberlour A’bunadh compare?  What about the annual releases of Port Ellen or Brora?  How will my current (and discontinued) bottle of Laphroaig 15 year compare to the new 18 year?  I’m having trouble warming up to Ledaig 10 year because of the nose.  I wonder if that will change over time (but I won’t necessarily want to buy another 75oml bottle later to find out).

Boston Round sample bottles

Boston Round sample bottles

There are plenty of reasons to store whisk(e)y samples for use/enjoyment at a later time.  Maybe you have a large basement and plenty of space to store full size bottles.  I don’t, and I’m not sure how much more kitchen cabinet space I can take up before my very understanding wife finally pushes back.  Additionally, some would argue that it’s not a good idea to store whisky for an extended period in a bottle with lots of air in it (I’m curious to see what comes of this guy’s aging experiment).

I wanted to start setting aside some scotch for later use, and ended up placing an order from Specialty Bottle in Seattle for 15 Clear Boston Round 4 oz bottles at $0.56 each, plus another $0.04 each for an upgrade to polyseal caps.  The polyseal caps contain a cone-shaped insert that supposedly provides an extremely tight seal.  They also have 2 oz bottles for $0.44 cents each($0.48 with polyseal caps).

If you’re bottling samples to share with others, they also have shrink bands that you can cover the lid with (you shrink them with a hair dryer).  The shrink bands are only sold in 250 count packs for $5 each.  The 2 and 4 oz bottles use different size bands as well.  If you know somebody that you intend to trade samples with, you could go in with them and split the cost.

I used the first bottle to save 10cl of my Port Ellen 7th release (from a 20cl original bottle).  I suppose I could have just kept it in the 20cl bottle, but I wanted to play it safe and cut down on the amount of air in the bottle (and seal it up tight).  For the label, I used the original from the 20cl bottle.  I put about an inch of water in a pot and brought it to a boil, stuck a screwdriver in the empty bottle and held onto the handle, and dangled the bottle over the steam for about 2 minutes.  The label peeled right off, and had enough of the glue on it still to just stick it right on the boston round bottle.

[Update 6/9/09] These bottles are great!  I just bottled up some samples to exchange with another whisky fan here in town.  We’re exchanging a combination of 2 and 3 oz samples.  2 oz (60ml) seems like a natural amount to exchange for a true “sample”, so I’m getting ready to place another order for some 2 oz bottles.  I’m also going to order some shrink bands, as I’ll feel better about driving the samples around in a sealed bottle, should I happen to get pulled over or get in a fender-bender.

If you have your own tips for storing whisky, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.  Would you go with Amber or Blue bottles instead of clear?  I like to be able to see the color of the whisky in the clear bottles, and any samples I’m storing will be in a dark place.

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