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Entries in connecticut (4)

Wednesday
Jul172013

Hand. Made.

What does handmade mean? Why do we need to specify? Aren't all things made, literally, by hand? ...In reverse order of asking, here are some answers I thought about last night over a wonderful cocktail:

1) NO. Not all things are made by hand. In fact, I find myself avoiding thoughts like these all the time because of just how depressing it is to imagine our world dominated by, at very least, manufactured products created in factories by machines...motivated by profits.  Then, like this website, there's the "virtual world" where I'm not sure anything is made...at all.

 

2) We need to specify when something is handmade to distinguish it from the rest...to describe something as handmade may be its highest compliment. "You see, this _______ wasn't just made...it was handmade and that means..."

3) And what does it mean? Handmade means that someone, somewhere cares more than his or her colleagues, competitors, peers, and neighbors. This maker does it the right way, the old-fashioned way...and, if the maker cares more about what it is he is making...well, then, it follows that he cares more about you, the ultimate consumer and appreciator of his handmade wares.

This past Monday I took a field trip with some dear friends to Hudson Distillery in Gardiner New York. At our little Shop, The Wise Old Dog, where we do stamp each shopping bag by hand, but arguably don't really make anything at all, we've been offering Hudson's beautiful whiskey essentially since we opened. Shaking the hands of the men who make one of my favorite spirits we offer was, in a nutshell, an honor and an inspiration.

It's no secret that the story of Hudson Whiskey is charming. And, indeed, timing is everything...or is it? Hudson Whiskey was born out of a Plan B: the owners originally wanted to build a rock-climber's ranch on this bucolic Upstate New York property. When the neighbors gave them hell, they dreamt bigger and a few years later, released their very first whiskey. They haven't looked back since. How delicious is that?!

Walking the relatively modest grounds of the distillery reminded me that somewhere in my heart, and certainly on my taste buds, every time I take a sip of something handmade, I feel very different from the other times when I indulge in, say, a Diet Coke. Your local bottle shop's shelves are likely lined with a true range of "products" (a word I dislike with the same fervor with which I love the word "handmade"), that include labels, or stories, or promises of personal involvement. We see words like "small batch" and printed labels designed to look like someone's handwriting...

Well, there in the basement of Hudson distillery, I saw a man take a bottle off of a hand-crank labeling machine, pick up a red Sharpie marker, and sign off that this bottle...this particular bottle met his standards and reflected his distillery's mission to truly make something special even if the process took a little too long, cost a little too much money, and in the end didn't look like any of the other "products" on the shelf... For handmade means unique. And when I sit down at the end of a long day of taking care of customers, I want to be taken care of too. When I take pause to pull a favorite glass down from the shelf, and bottles off of my bar, and mix up that evening's cocktail, I feel like the hands that actually made this treat are stepping in to my home and reminding me of a time when everything was made by hand. That may no longer be so, but, it is at Hudson Distillery...and what a uniquely sweet end to my evening...a uniquely caring end that makes me more ready to get up tomorrow morning and go take care of someone else.

Friday
Jun072013

The Home Bar

There are a few sayings, old adages, and assumptions associated with my home bar... that is, to say, on the one hand, everyone knows that the painter's house is the last to get painted...but, by contrast, the best dressed man is probably one who sells suits.  Is there a middle ground?  Perhaps.  The analogy that comes to mind is the mechanic; for, he likely has a project tucked in that working garage of his that, while in-progress, is very special.  It might not be the shiniest, or most completely restored, but it's rare, smells good, and when he decides to take it for a spin, makes all the right sounds, and gets all the right attention.

So, what sort of bar is at my house?  Well, one telling aspect of this story is: I intended to write this brief entry almost a full year ago.  Indeed, as I logged in to what used to be a near-daily routine, I've noticed that our last entry was June, 2012!  And, the bar I had intended to write about, well, that was finally set up only just last week.  (Seems we're returning to that painter analogy.)

In any event, as we approach Father's Day next Sunday, I thought it might be helpful to share some some pictures here that reflect, at least for me, what a gentleman (or lady!) might look for in a home bar.  You'll notice that I've made almost no attempt to make it complete.  Surely there are some basics that a good host ought to have; but, most importantly, this bar is about me, my tastes, and my current interests...not for showing others, not really for entertaining...just a quiet place to which I can retreat at the end of a long day.

What's on it?  Mostly whisk(e)y because that's usually what I drink.  I've listed the bottles below for reference, but, the important piece here is that you needn't have some man cave super-varsity set up with ultra rare bottles...just, a nice little shelf with what's important to you.

For my home bar, location was everything.  In our house we have converted a small downstairs bedroom into my office.  When I practiced law, this was the place for late night billing and brief-proofing.  No more!  Now, it is more of a quiet space where I can read the Sunday Times, watch a bit of TV, and dose in my favorite chair.  We used a hotel desk from the '20s (which is nice and shallow as it was originally used in a square foot-conscious hotel room) and built a small riser shelf out of a pre-cut piece of beveled glass I picked up at the hardware store.  The glass itself rests on an antique wooden box on one end, and a stack of old books on the other.  On my bar, in addition to the bottles, are some things of personal meaning: my uncle's antique toy fire truck, the keys to my garage-project, a canister of corks from some wines I've shared with my wife, an Allison Wonderland print, a silver spoon from my father, and the like.  You see, it isn't about a statement or having the "necessaries"...it's just what I might want to drink while looking back on my day.

 

For bottles, on the bar currently: Glenfarclas 10 & 12, Dalwhinnie Distiller's Edition, Talisker 2012 Distiller's Ediition, Talisker 18 (former bottling), Talisker 18 (2012 Bottling), Hudson Four Grain, Hudson Manhattan Rye, Glenmorangie Nectar D'Or, Pinch Blended, King's County Distillers Chocolate-Flavored Whiskey, Smooth Ambler Very Old Scout 19, St Germaine, The King's Ginger, Byrrh, Dolin Dry, Hendrick's St. George Terroir Botinivore and Dry Rye, Some VSOP Armagnac, Luxardo Cherries, Bitterman's Mole Bitters, some rum, some tequila and...the vodka is in the freezer.

Is there wine too?  Yes.  Nearby (outside of the pictures here) are some wine shelves where I have the wines that I like to drink casually: Cru Beaujolias from various little villages and some older Italian wine you've, perhaps, seen mentioned in other Facebook posts and entries: a blend from Friuli called Ros di Rol.  These wines aren't particularly prosaic or fancy but they are incredibly well made, delicious, versatile, and, above all, what I love to have in my glass while I'm unwinding. 

In sum, I suppose the home bar is more like the home refrigerator than it is like a food museum.  In other words, when Allie and I entertain or host a dinner party, we drive long distances to buy the perfect ______ and spend the evening before double-checking the menu and the ingredient list...but, if you were to drop by tonight and check out the fridge and pantry, you'd see the basics: really fresh milk, butter, eggs, salad greens, chicken marinating for tonight's dinner, and a bottle of rose (also for tonight's dinner) along with excellent coffee, a box of cereal, etc.  So, while we may bring home a specific bottle for a thematic cocktail, pick up some special groceries for a dinner party, and open a bottle of wine from the cellar for guests, it's super important to focus on YOU when you're stocking that home bar where "everybody [doesn't] know your name..." because it's just you...there, to relax.