Tonight, I finally get to the tin of Penzance which Jeremiah so generously sent my way. This elusive tobacco has been on my list for a long time.


I apply my pipe tool to the indents on the side and–aha!–the satisfying suck and pop of a virgin tin.

Peeling back layers of oily paper reveals a mass of almost greasy crumble cake. Perhaps it’s just the lighting, but it strikes me as having a grey hue.

penz open

The aroma in the tin is woodsmoke, yet without any sharpness–cool and mellow, something like a fireplace recently doused with water. There’s some beef jerky. It’s all very earthy: think of the rich soil floor of a pine forest after a good rain.

It rubs out extremely easily. Actually, it just sort of crumbles, but moistly.

I might let a bit dry out, first–the moisture is natural, fresh, and pleasant, but may prove problematic. Then again, nah: I’ll pack the pipe anyway and give it a try. If it isn’t ready to take to the match, I’ll just let the pipe sit overnight.

Well this is nice: after an initial char, the weed lights well enough. You know, I somehow think that this tobacco would lose something distinctive, if dry.

I’m shocked not to taste more Latakia. It’s there, but not like the tin aroma led me to expect. Virginias and Orientals are in play–Orientals are foremost–but they don’t fully account for the experience, either. The overall taste truly is more than the sum of its parts. In fact, I’m tempted to say that it’s other than the sum of its parts. It’s a fruit wood fire on a peaty moor. Yeah, that’s it. Deep, earthy, true, natural, full, rich, thick, creamy.

As the smoke gets under way, I do get a little gurgle going; but, not enough to bother me at all. This Ben Wade–a straight pot–tends to gurgle, anyway.

I just realized that I’ve been puffing too hard. Still, the leaf has not gotten hot or nippy at all. I’m slowing down to see what very slight sips might reveal. Huh, a mellow nougat flavor now wafts around my mouth. Maybe a little toasted marshmallow, too.

This is somehow more real than other tobaccos. Like the finest cakes of the most natural leaf put away in clay pots ages ago by Tobold Hornblower to ferment in a moist, earthy cellar.

I step out of the room and back in:
The note is pleasant: nutty and nougatty and creamy, with a little incense mingled in.

After smoking, I feel like I’ve just eaten a steak: heavy and sated. There are even steaky flavors left in my mouth.  Too much of this might turn my stomach; but, one pipe in the evening is just the thing.

The Most Memorable of My Favorite Beers

A word on this awkwardly but carefully named list:

I couldn’t just say, “My Most Memorable Beers,” because that would include memorably bad beers, memorably unusual beers, and beers that were memorable for situational reasons irrelevant to the beer itself. And I didn’t want to include those.

But I didn’t really want to say, “My Favorite Beers,” either, partly because I have not included on this list some beers which may be as good as or better than beers of the same style which I have included on this list. Why? Just because some beers are especially memorable for me–for instance, I had low expectations for Narwhal, so I’ll never forget the shock of its goodness; whereas, I had high expectations for Expedition and Old Rasputin, so their deliciousness came as no surprise, and they are not on this list despite being (arguably) better beers. Similarly, Ayinger Celebrator is, in the opinion of many, a better beer than Samichlaus; but, for whatever reason, it just didn’t leave much of an impression on me; whereas, to me, Samichlaus is not only unspeakably delicious, but also very special, since my second son, Nicholas, was born on the eve of his namesake’s feast day.

It’s an idiosyncratic sort of list, I know. And without further ado, here it is:

Alpha King, 3 Floyds
Flower Power, Ithaca
Sculpin, Ballast Point

120 Minute, Dogfish Head
Burton Baton, Dogfish Head
Heady Topper, Alchemist
Hopulence, Wormtown Brewing
Hopslam, Bell’s
Palate Wrecker, Green Flash

Courage, Wells & Young’s
Narwhal, Sierra Nevada
Oatmeal Stout, Samuel Smith’s

Scotch Ale / Wee Heavy
Dirty Bastard, Founders

Abbey Belgians
Gouden Carolus Classic, Brouwerji Het Anker
La Fin du Monde, Unibroue
Trappistes 10, Rochefort

Samichlaus, Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg

Olde School, Dogfish Head

P.S.  I may update this post from time to time. I can only hope that I have occasion to!

1993 Three Nuns

My college friend and favorite pipe maker, Jeremiah Sandahl of Sandahl Pipes (website, Facebook), recently sent me a tin of Penzance, a couple flakes of Stonehaven, a couple flakes of 10 year old Best Brown Flake, and a bowl’s worth of (you aren’t going to believe this) 22 year old Three Nuns.

No, really.


In case you didn’t know, Three Nuns is a tobacco of legendary import in the pipe community. It was first produced in Scotland in the early 1890s, and is most famous for being the go-to leaf of no less a man than C. S. Lewis.


“I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and pencil in their hand.” 

–C.S. Lewis

It was a Virginia/Perique blend until 1998, but perique dropped out of the recipe at time–the same time that Three Nuns stopped being imported into the US.

In 2013, and this time under Mac Baren, the new Three Nuns came to the US market. This new, Mac Baren Three Nuns replaces perique with dark fired Kentucky, and is supposedly very good (I haven’t tried it, to date), despite being an altogether different tobacco than the legendary blend of pipe lore.

But, the Three Nuns which filled my pipe, tonight, was from a 1993 tin. The real deal.

I don’t know how to express my gratitude to Jeremiah. This was without a doubt a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And it is not lost on me that this gift of so rare, so precious an incense comes to me during Epiphany.

Well, the decision which confronted me tonight was a serious one: which pipe would have the honor of hosting the one and only bowl of original Three Nuns I am likely ever to have?


I selected my Peretti bent bulldog. It may be my best smoker.

Next, I got the Richard Wagner station going on Pandora. I once heard Peter Kreeft say that Wagner “turned Lewis on.” That was the day I became a Wagner fan.

Now, it was time to pack the pipe.

The tobacco came to me mostly pre-rubbed; but, there were a couple round bits of coin center in my bag. Nifty little things.The leaf was very dry, of course–it was 22 years old, after all! But, it did not require any rehydration–it wasn’t even beginning to disintegrate, and I like my tobacco dry, anyway.

Let me tell you, it took to the match! I’m glad that I selected the bent bulldog: its shallow bowl permitted full view of the tobacco dancing to the flame as I have never otherwise seen tobacco dance. Its ribbons stretched mesmerizingly heavenward; and then, the dance turned to battle as the majestic violence of Carl Orff’s “O Fortuna” led this leaf in a charge of writhing ecstasy.

This needed to be sipped with care: it heated very easily (and, positively, did insist on staying lit!). It never bit, but I don’t mind saying that I put the pipe down several times to keep it steady.

The cherry glowed as radiantly as you like.


As the smoke got under way, I began to taste something like Tobasco sauce, especially on the sides of my tongue. It was mixed with sweet and sour sauce. There were hints of mustard and pickle juice–but not by themselves, of course: they were in a sweet hay loft. Underneath all this–and I do mean underneath, ever so faintly–there was the support of something more substantial, like mushrooms growing in a pleasant old stone basement. Then, toward the bottom of the bowl, a darker flavor began to show up, very much like the charring around the edges of a nice brisket. Still, that slight Tobasco tang toward the back of the sides of my tongue never did leave.

What about the room note? Well, a smoker never can never comment on his own–not as well as another might; but, I did think that I caught the occasional whisper of tangy ketchup lacing the pleasant smoke. Then, when I stepped out and back into the room, the note struck me as roasted nuts and dark cocoa (somehow reminiscent of Rocky Patel’s Vintage 1992).

Also noteworthy was an unusual and delightful sizzling hum which met my ears, at the bottom of the bowl, buzzing very quietly but distinctly.

The ash which this tobacco burned to was the finest I’ve seen — grey confectioner’s sugar.

I didn’t notice nicotine till I stood up. At which point I noticed more than I’d expected to.

This was an unforgettable smoke. Remarkably good. I’m sorry that it’s over. But the Resurrection is coming; and, who knows? Perhaps you and I and Jack will share the best Three Nuns yet in the fullness of the Kingdom.

Home Infused Compound Botanical Gin

Cheap gin–unlike, say, cheap bourbon–is a waste of time.  But good gin is wonderful.  Who wouldn’t want to savor liquid Christmas tree?

I recently tried to infuse my own.  Now, creating an extract of juniper berries (with other botanicals) in a neutral spirit produces what is called a “compound gin.”  Compound gins are widely regarded as inferior to those which undergo additional distillation after the extraction.  But, not being a moonshiner, I did what I could.

Here are the botanicals I used:


  • 2 Tbsp juniper berries
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 10 fir needles (from my Christmas tree)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. dried lavender
  • 4 allspice berries
  • 1/2 slice of cucumber
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 2 black peppercorns
  • 1 Tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 Tbsp. fresh orange zest 
  • 1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon zest 
I simply put all these into a bottle of Smirnoff Red:
I flipped the bottle around, stirring the contents, every 12 hours.After about 60 hours, I poured the now-infused spirit through a strainer / coffee filter / funnel, into another bottle, like this:


The finished bottle looked like this
I prepared to drink liquid Christmas tree (complemented by subtle floral, cucumber, citrus, and spice notes).  I was excited.  I nosed.  Uh-oh…very dominant citrus nose, with spice complexity.  But no juniper.  Maybe it will show up on the palate?  I sipped.  Drat.  I was drinking orange pith.  I was careful not to get any pith in the zest, but this was basically a drying, slightly bitter, off-quasi-orange liquor.  No Christmas tree.  So here is what I plan to change, next time:

  • I will increase the juniper berries to 3 Tbsp.
  • I will crush those juniper berries a bit, before putting them in the bottle.
  • I will infuse with those juniper berries for 24 hours before any other ingredients go in.
  • I will give those other ingredients just 24 hours, for a total of 48 hours.
  • I will remove the bay leaf.  I’m wondering if it’s a bittering agent, and this did not need that.
  • I will use 3 cardamom pods (crushed), instead of the ground cardamom.
  • I will increase the lavender to 2 tsp.
  • I will use the whole cucumber slice (in 4 strips).  And a thicker slice (more like 1/2″).
  • I will remove the orange zest (but keep the Tbsp. of lemon zest).
  • I will add 1 tsp. of honey.

If those changes, next time, do not produce a gin that I am happy with, I will give up trying to get a bottle of Hendrick’s for the price of Smirnoff Red!

Birthday Enjoyments

On Monday, my family celebrated my twenty-fourth birthday. I was blessed with a wonderful time with my wife and kids, as well as dinner with my parents at our place the day before. I was given a grill, which I used to grill steaks (which turned out wonderfully, if I don’t say so myself.) To top it off, my beautiful made me a delicious cheesecake, as she does every year for my birthday.

There were other birthday enjoyments that I particularly wanted to share with you, my friends of barley and briar, as they are particularly pertinent to the subject matter of this here web-log of ours.

Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA



I picked up a bottle of Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute IPA a while back with the intention of enjoying it on my birthday. I did pretty well- it turned out to be a birthday- eve beer.

Wow, what a great beer! This is one of Dogfish Head’s Imperial (or Double) IPAs. It’s continuously hopped for 90 minutes, ranks in at 90 IBUs, and the ABV is 9%. Yeah, that’s where the name comes from. 90 Minute is a wonderfully complex beer. There’s a strong hop presence on the nose. The flavor delivers a stronger malt backbone than expected, though, making this a very well balanced DIPA.

Oh yeah, the Bell's Snifter was a birthday present, too.

Oh yeah, the Bell’s Snifter was a birthday present, too.

Perla Del Mar



A cigar aficionado I am not. Nonetheless, I picked one up from an area cigar shop on Saturday, and a birthday with nice weather seemed the perfect time to enjoy a stogie. Perla Del Mar, or Pearl of the Sea, is a Nicaraguan cigar, creamy and smooth, and rather pleasant. I am normally a pipe smoker, so I am not accustomed to cigar smoking. As you can see, I had an unfortunately uneven light. Very enjoyable, though.




Finally, the Chimay Tripel. Chimay is an authentic Trappist ale, meaning it is brewed by or under the direction of Trappist monks, on their monastery. This particular Trappist monastery is the Notre Dame de Scourmont Abbey in Belgium. Chimay Tripel is beautiful. I mean, it’s just incredible. I won’t say much here, though, as I hope to offer further reflections on this one later on.

Any way, cheers to you all! More posts forthcoming, I hope.

Two Men, Five Bourbons: A Joint Post

My good friend and fellow ministerial student, Jon Herr, just returned from Kentucky, having accomplished part of the bourbon pilgrimage.  He came over to my place on Monday night, bearing five bourbons: Buffalo Trace, Evan Williams White Label, Eagle Rare 10-Year-Old, Blanton’s, and Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage 2003 :

(Listed and pictured in the order tasted.)

Jon’s gaze is piercing–almost eagle-esque–as is commonplace among those who’ve just tasted Eagle Rare.  My gaze is rather more wistful–stupid even–as I give myself to the seduction of Evan Williams Single Barrel.

Anyway, this post will be a conversation between Jon (whom we welcome to the blog) and myself, as we taste our way through Kentucky.

Scott:  Jon, give us a summary reflection on your trek down the bourbon trail.

Jon:  Thanks, Scott.  Being in the veritable backyard of the whole Beam family, as well as all the other iconic distillers of the past two centuries and even Daniel Boone himself was quite the experience.  I was struck by the unified love of the Kentucky populace for their native beverage.  Whereas in the northeast the average person might have incidentally ingested whiskey via Coca-Cola at a bar or party, Kentuckians male and female alike understand and embrace bourbon on its own merits as a drink, not a fuel for drunkenness.  Enjoying a dram at the world’s oldest bourbon bar, the Talbott Tavern in Bardstown which opened in 1779 and where Jesse James is said to have frequented, the rich heritage of America’s own spirit was thick in the air.  And as I stood beside warehouse C at the Jim Beam distillery in Clermont, knowing that some of my favorite bourbons (such as, of course, Booker’s) lay sleeping in the darkness inside, I couldn’t help but muse that I was probably standing on the navel of the Earth.

Scott:  Thanks, Jon.  Now let’s taste.

Buffalo Trace

Scott:  This strikes me as a good but standard bourbon nose.  Some vanilla, some toffee, some (balanced) alcohol, and so forth.  Nothing stands out uniquely.

Jon:  Sure, nothing spectacular.  It does promise some depth, however.

Scott:  This is really pleasant on the palate.  Better than I expected.  This is average, but in an above average way.  In other words, it’s more solid than many other unexciting bourbons.  No peculiar features stand out, making it a nice reminder of essential bourbonness.

Jon: That’s a delightfully vapid way of putting it, which really defines this bourbon for me.  The nose, as I said, promises good things, and at first you’re hit with a sizzling cinnamon note.  But beyond that, there is virtually no finish.  Nothing lingers in your mouth saying, “Hey, remember me?”

Scott:  Yes, I agree.  After a few seconds, everything has just dissipated.

Evan Williams White Label
Jon:  The first thing I smell is more alcohol.

Scott:  I was just going to say that.  Wow.  At least compared to the Buffalo Trace we just tasted, this really puts the alcohol sting forward.

Jon: Interestingly, though this whiskey touts its status as “bottled in bond”–meaning it meets a longer string of regulations–I don’t notice anything more exciting than the standard black label version.  It pretty much just tastes like bourbon.

Scott:  I’d actually take the Buffalo Trace over this.

Jon:  True, but at $15 or so a bottle, it is pretty good bang for your buck.

Scott:  Sure, I don’t disagree.  And the finish lingers very nicely, unlike the Buffalo Trace.

Eagle Rare
[a pic from Jon’s visit to the Eagle Rare bottling line]

Scott:  I last had this before I knew whiskey.  At the time I wasn’t blown away.  I’m curious to see what I think now.

Jon:  Remember, as a Single Barrel bourbon, this bottle was filled from just one barrel, and no doubt a different barrel than the bottle you tasted before.  It could have just been subpar barrel?

Scott:  Wow, there’s a ton going on, on the nose!  Lots of spice.  Many layers of complexity.  It almost reminds me of Booker’s, as far as the complexity goes, although this emphasizes spice whereas Booker’s emphasized burnt sugars.

Jon:  The ten years this whiskey spent in the barrel add a mature smell to it.  You can smell the oak.

Scott:  The palate definitely delivers on what the nose promised!  Lots of spice, lots of complexity.  Maybe not quite as sweet as I thought it might be, but still fairly sweet.  This is incredible.  At $20-something, this is easily one of the greatest values in bourbon–it tastes like it’s priced in the upper 40s.

Jon:  For sure.  Nothing else in this price range comes close in my view.  The oaky nose delivers a lot of subdued wood notes on the tongue.  Part of the fun, too, is knowing that the next bottle of this I buy could be slightly different!

Jon:  When I first cracked this bottle a week and a half ago, I was struck by just how sweet it is.  Despite being a moderately high proof (93) it is really the sweetest bourbon I have ever tasted.  Also, this is a beautiful bottle.
Scott:  I had only a small taste, once, and yes it was very sweet.  I thought it was my second favorite, next to Booker’s.

Jon: The nose doesn’t hit you hard.  As this whiskey uses more wheat as its secondary ingredient (after corn), the nose is very soft.

Scott:  Yes, definitely pick up on the soft wheatedness.  It’s almost boring after the Eagle Rare nose.

Jon: There’s the sweetness!  It’s extremely smooth, without much of any spice.  There’s really no attitude here, and there’s almost a “nectar” quality to its delivery.

Scott:  I just realized what I’ve been tasting on the finish: butter.

Evan Williams Single Barrel
Scott:  I’m in love with this nose.  I know this will sound crazy, but I think I catch banana on the nose.

Jon:  I don’t think that’s crazy.  I totally pick that up.  There’s something else, too, that I can’t put my finger on.

Scott:  Well it’s got the typical bourbon vanilla, too.

Jon:  Yeah a little bit.  Still a bit a-typical.

Scott:  Like banana pudding with Nilla wafers.  One of my favorite desserts!  Seriously, that’s what it smells like to me!

Jon:  I sure hope with all the hype of the nose that it’s not a let-down.

Scott:  No the palate is great.  It’s consistent with the nose.  And wow, how smooth!  It’s practically non-alcoholic!  There is no burn whatsoever!

Jon:  No kidding.  Goes right down.  But there’s something else on the palate instead of the generic vanilla/cinnamon/caramel.  It’s like summer fruits; apples maybe.  Not green apples, though.

Scott:  You’re right.  I think I’m getting that.  It’s like berries, maybe?  Red berries.

Jon:  Yeah, red fruits of some sort.  Though this is bourbon through and through, it’s a really interesting contrast to what I normally expect.

Scott:  I know that this is completely different than Booker’s, but I think that I like it just as much, in a different way.

Jon:  I can accept that.  It’s really all about what you are into.  Generally I look for a more aggressive palate that doesn’t back down, but if I remember that there are different categories of greatness, this unequivocally fits that label.

Scott:  I think Evan Williams Single Barrel wins tonight, with Eagle Rare taking second.

Jon:  I have to agree.  That Evan Williams even earns extra points for convincing me that my usual preferences don’t need to always hold sway.

Scott:  I also find it interesting that Mr. Williams’  White Label was my least favorite of the five (which is not to say that it’s not a worthwhile bourbon on its own), and had the most alcohol presence, whereas Mr. William’s Single Barral was my favorite of the five and had the least alcohol presence.

Review: Soft Parade

My Sunday evening ale yesterday was Short’s Brewing Co.’s Soft Parade. Soft Parade is a high gravity rye ale fermented with blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries. Short’s calls it a “fruit infused rye ale.” Soft Parade weighs in at 9% ABV.


Soft Parade from Short’s Brewing Co.

Appearance: Soft Parade pours a mildly translucent raspberry-red with a half inch of white foam. The foam diminishes soon, leaving a white lace. I was surprised by the color initially. The color seems to be making the statement that yes, indeed, Soft Parade is what it claims to be.

Smell: There’s a slightly sharp (probably from the alcohol content) fruity tartness up front on the nose. The rye malt also stands out quite in bit in the smell. The mixed berries, though, only seem to be in the background.

Taste: The berry content that stayed in the background on the nose is definitely up front in the taste. Raspberry and blueberry seemed the most prominent, but strawberry and blackberry are there. The rye malt presence provides a good balance and backbone for the ale, while the berries come out again in the aftertaste.

Moutfeel: The mouthfeel here is light, crisp, refreshing, and smooth. It reminds me almost of a pink champagne, only with lighter carbonation. Very drinkable.

Overall: Soft parade is a very pleasant, refreshing, drinkable fruit ale. It’s one I would come back to on a hot summer day. The fruit presence is strong enough while still retaining a good balance with the rye malt. Though it has a high ABV, the alcohol content is not overwhelming. While not being a beer I would consider exceptional, it is a very nice beer, especially suitable on a hot day when your looking for something with which to cool off and relax.

Soft Parade is mixed berry jam on rye toast in a bottle. And that’s a good thing.