Sunday, October 28, 2012

If you were a prepper, you'd be home now

Here in the Northeast, we're about to be hit by "Frankenstorm", the side-effects of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Sandy. Personally, living a bit inland, I don't think it's going to be that terrible this far north, but it makes sense to be prepared for such an event. But why do it the day before?

If you had some basic things always around, you'd be home right now. You know, instead of out buying milk, eggs, and bread in what I just saw referred to as "The French Toast Syndrome". Like somehow those 3 items are going to be the difference between life and death. Or that they will dry up in the aftermath of a major storm.

Here, we aren't too worried. In fact, I'm scheduled to fly tomorrow morning. When I asked my wife if she was worried about my not being here, she was pretty clear she felt prepared. We currently have a few months food in the house in various forms, gas in the generator, and wood for the stove. Each winter we lose power for a few days or more, so this isn't really a worry. Though our stove is electric, we have a propane grill and camp stoves to let us cook as much as we need. The wood insert in the fireplace heats up a few rooms with no issue, so we cordon off those areas we don't need and camp out near the fire. Is it ideal? No. Comfortable? Surprisingly yes.

So, instead of going out 2 days before imminent disaster, why not plan ahead a bit and avoid the lines and rush? It's pretty easy:

1. Have a few weeks of food on hand
Stuff you eat, not MREs. Think about how long a box of spaghetti and a jar of sauce can last. I like to look at the stuff we eat that lasts a while, like soups, cereals, noodles, tuna fish, etc, and buy an extra one when I'm at the store. You can fit 3 weeks of food in your existing cabinets, if you get rid of that can of succotash that's been in there for 6 years and you'll never eat.

2. Prep for a power outage
Simple things, like having a few flashlights around and some spare batteries (because you always forget to check them). Coming up with an alternate heat source, like a kerosene or propane heater. And maybe getting something like a rechargeable backup battery that can charge your cell phone or laptop a few times. Most folks don't need a generator to get by. We use our Power Dome to run the fan on the fireplace for long periods of time.

3. Be able to get out if needed
I'm not talking about evacuation. this is more about driving to the next town to get gas or groceries if the outage goes on for weeks. If you live around trees, own a chainsaw to cut your way out should one block your driveway. Fill up the gas tank on the car regularly, always when you hit 1/2 tank (or at least 1/4). Have a snow shovel, even if you line in a complex where snow removal is done for you.

4. Talk it out
Talk with your SO, kids, roommates, pets, whatever. Get other ideas and other experiences. Everyone has been through something like this, see what they did.

Remember, preparedness is not really about the end of the world, it's about handling the bumps in the road we hit on the journey through life.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Blended or Single Malt?

When it comes to whiskey of any kind, this is really the big separator. It comes up most often with Scotch, but at this point it is something talked in all sorts of whisky. Bourbons are being made this way, a few Irish whiskies have, and those scattered brands around the world often grab hold of single malt as making them special.

Before we start with that, basic whisky making goes like this: distill base spirit from a grain, put up in oak barrels, then let sit for a period of time.

OK, that was really basic. We'll talk more on it later in separating Scotch from other whiskies. For now, it's enough.

Now, the difference between blended and single malt is very basic. A single malt comes from only one spirit being set up. Not necessarily a single cask, but from casks all put up at the same time. A blend comes from various casks set up at different times, often from different distilleries. The end results usually very different.

Blended properties

Blended Scotches tend to have a fairly balanced flavor. This means they aren't heavily smoky, peaty, hot, or any of the other adjectives thrown around about whisky. Folks who like single malts often label these as 'bland". That said, they tend to be far more accessible to people who may not otherwise enjoy Scotch. They can act as a gateway to the single malt world. For instance, years ago at a small gathering of friends, we blind tasted 5 different Scotches. The one most preferred turned out to be a blended Dewars.

Another advantage to a blend is their affordability. These often fall under $20, even for a 12 year old Scotch. For someone on a budget, this can be a great win! Or, for those of us who like cocktails made with whisky, why not keep one around for mixing, saving the more expensive stuff for sipping?

Single Malt Properties

Coming from a single instance of distilling, single malts tend to have more character, though what that character will be varies greatly. The fact is, some single malt Scotches are far, far worse than a decent blend, but each will tend to have more character. It is in single malts that you really experience the unique flavors for which regions and distilleries are known.

Enjoying single malts is often about exercising one's palate, seeking out the different notes and  nuances of each bottling. The 18 year bottles this year may taste different from one 5 years ago, though they will tend to be closer together than 2 bottled in different regions at the same time.

Or, for some, it's about finding the one they like and never letting it go. Go figure!

Which do you prefer?

I'll be honest, I'm a single malt fan. Blends have their place, but for me there isn't enough time to enjoy the single malts that are out there, so I pass over the blends. I have occasionally been presented with a single malt I wish I'd never encountered, but that is, fortunately, a rare thing. Meanwhile, I always keep an eye towards the ones I've never tried. What about you?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Scotch - less scary than survivalism

When I was in my early 20's, I fell in love with the idea of being a Scotch drinker. It seemed sophisticated in a way I knew I wasn't. The problem was, I honestly didn't like whisky that much. Oh, I could drink a glass of Glenfiddich and smile through it, but it didn't actually taste good. Enter Bowmore, the Scotch that opened my eyes.

I was working as as blacksmith at King Richard's Faire in Massachusetts when my friend (and eventually mentor) Walter Sobczak handed me a flask and invited me to sample. It turns out that Walter didn't drink much himself but knew his stuff. That first sip of Islay started a love affair with malt and how it could transform with care and effort into the mystical "water of life". The same ingredients stored in a different wood, distiller in stills of odd shape, or warehoused in diverse environments could taste so very different. I'll freely admit, there are some Scotches that are loved by connoisseurs that I find undrinkable. There are those who taste and rank and rate Scotches that I look to for insight, and others I blatantly ignore. Just as that first sip was very personal, so my journey remains.

A I build and shift this blog, I'll talk about Scotch I'm enjoying and others I don't. I might go into some details on tasting, following guidelines and proper procedures, or I might just call something "yummy". More than one distiller has said Scotch is for the drinking, so I don't think someone with an income derived from imbibing should intimidate you from enjoying the hard labor of a bunch of blokes who are, in all honestly, closer in personality and class to you and I than the folks who can afford $13k bottle of hard to find spirit.

Why wait? My current faves are those I like to pull out when I just want a dram. Mostly I drink them straight up and room temp. If you like a little water or a slight chill, I won't tell.

Highland Park 12 year - affordable, oaky, and some smoke, this Scotch from Oarkney is both affordable and smooth. Not as full and complex as the 18 year, I find it an agreeable way to chill at the end of the day. A bit of heat here, but only a bit.

Balvenie Doublewood 12 year -A nice, accessible Scotch that I love to share with friends. Finished in sherry casks, the oakiness is a little downplayed. The smoke and peat are also not very harsh, which adds in it's appeal to new drinkers. Complexity is enough to entertain the more veteran drinker. It's also around $40 and a popular gift, so I always seem to have a bottle or 2 kicking around.

So, 2 posts in on the new focus and I now sound like a drunken survival nut! Yay!

Friday, October 12, 2012


Why survivalism?
Having just changed the name and broadened the focus of this blog, I figure I'd address the more controversial of the terms heading it up. While "survival" takes many forms - and I mean for it to have that broad connotation, I will freely admit to being what many term a "survivalist". Sure, there are newer, more candied terms like "prepper", but the basics remain the same; we are folks who believe in being prepared for upcoming disaster. Why? What disaster? And aren't you just hoping for the end of the world? These are the questions you face when you embrace this attitude, so I'll lay out my thoughts on it now.  

What disaster-
I'll tackle this first as I think it informs the rest. In short, any disaster. This isn't 1953; I'm not planning to survive a nuclear attack in a fallout shelter on the back yard. I'll be honest, I have a list of things I think might go wrong, but since I began listening to the Survival podcast a few years ago, I've adopted the attitude of preparing for the likely, with the understanding that I am then better set up for the worst. The current disaster de' jour is zombies. Highly unlikely. A pandemic, on the other hand? Could be. But if I prepare for a massive ice storm, the likes of which can happen her in the north, leaving us without power for weeks on end, with gas and food tougher to obtain, then I'm better set up for the bigger problems of economic collapse, failure of the US power grid, trucker strikes, or a super-flu.  

Why -
I love my family and consider it my job to help keep them safe. Sure, I can't protect them all the time, but if having a few months of food on hand, the ability to purify water, and trying to keep my debt down put us in better stead, it's worth the effort. There are lots of disasters that affect only a family, and not having to run to a grocery store while one of us is job hunting is a way to reduce some stress. And, so it's clear, yes, I do have firearms to help protect them. Does my wife like it? No. Does she put up with it? Yes. And I hope she never has a reason to be thankful I have them. And while I firmly believe 90% of people are decent at heart, 10% are, to misquote Joss Whedon, bastard-shaped bastards with bastard filling. Those are the ones I worry about if, as we say, The Sh!t Hits The Fan (TSHTF). Oh, and as most of you know, I'm an Eagle Scout, so I take Be Prepared seriously.

Aren't you just hoping for the end of the world -
Hell no! I have a nice house, a good job, and lots of fun toys! If things fall apart, I won't be taking long vacations in Europe on the back of a motorcycle, or buying the latest toys from Apple. On the other hand, I know too much about history and pay just enough attention to the world around me to fear repetition of things that have gone wrong before. Besides, laying by a some food and keeping our debt low only helps me out day to day, so why not do it?

And the world won't end, even if we do something stupid. Earth will go on spinning, and, I believe, humans will go on living. Maybe it will be different, but we are too resilient as a species to go down easy.

So now you've got a peak into my survivalist side. Hopefully not as scary as the term implies. Expect more in the future, in the meantime, ask me questions and I'll share my thoughts.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

What's in a name?

I've recently decided that I want to blog about more than just skills. I often find myself thinking "I should blog this!" But finding it doesn't fit with the skill based nature of this blog. So I plan to broaden it out a bit. Hopefully that leads to more posts by me and more interesting things for you to read. Expands topics will be a bit all over the place, but not completely alien to what you've already seen. My thoughts on whisk(e)y and beer. Places I've traveled and enjoyed (or not) on plane, motorcycle, or foot. How I'm preparing for the collapse of society. You know, cheery stuff. And, of course, skills and how to attain them. With that in mind, I need a name. I'd thought "Skills, Scotch, and Surviving the modern world", but that seems long. Another idea was something around Renaissance Man, but nothing has popped out. So, let me know your thoughts, name or topic related. Thanks!