Whisky Live Adelaide 2015

Whisky Live Adelaide

Tasting LaphroigWhisky Live is an annual tasting event that visits the mainland capitals of Australia. This year I had the pleasure to attend in Adelaide at Bonython Hall. Tickets were $99 which include 3 hours of tastings including more than 70 whiskies from 20 plus labels from numerous locations. The event is also catered with the Small Food Catering Company providing a range of gourmet foods throughout (the best in my opinion was the exquisite cheese platters and honey, but there wasn’t a single dish that disappointed).

Bonython Hall is located at the Adelaide University, a great hall with high ceilings and beautiful wood panelling throughout. The hall was filled with vendors with a bar at the far end selling rare and vintage whiskies (at quite a price) and a few areas for catering. Water urns were placed throughout allowing you to cleanse your palate and glass with little difficulty.

There vendors included the usual suspects - Scottish Single Malts such as Glenfidddich and Laphroig, American’s like Jack Daniels and Makers Mark, Japanese providers Suntory and Hibiki, and Australian Starward to name a few, as well as a variety of smaller distilleries and newly released whiskies. The variety was such that deciding what to taste is quite the challenge.

Whiskey is a divisive topic, even amongst whiskey connoisseur, and in Australia the debate has increased as more whiskies become available. There are two main distinctions for whiskey – Malt or Grain – that are then divided into Single Malt, Single Cask (or barrel), Blended Malt, Blended Whiskey, and cask Strength – That are then divided by region of production. I’m a big fan of peaty Islay whiskies, but that doesn’t mean I will only drink an Islay. I’ll take a Speyside, highland or lowland, Irish, Japanese, American or Australian. What matters most is that the whisky tastes good to me. I understand that sipping a beverage that tastes like a smouldering English village might not be to your taste but whiskey is so much more than just smoke, there is a cornucopia of flavours available in whiskey, the same as any other artisanal product, and that is precisely the intent of Whisky Live.

Over the three hours a friend and I tasted 43 whiskies served in 7.5ml shots (1/4 standard shot). If I were to describe all of them, it would take far too long and you would get bored. As such I will offer my opinion on a few, the Ugly, The Good and the Excellent.

Appalachian Gap’s Kaffekask and Kaffevän– I was really excited to taste these, a Swedish style blend of coffee and spirit. Two handmade drinks from Vermont, USA, the end product does not match the marketing. The Kaffekask has a very simple body and conveys very little of the infusion of coffee. It tasted more mid-process than finished product, with low complexity which tastes just like cheap alcohol. The Kaffevän was slightly better, being a liquor white whiskey but still lacked the complexity and while lower in alcohol still had the same limited palate.

Bruichladdich Islay Barley Rockslide 2007The good was a distiller called Bruichladdich whose whisky had some unique flavours. Bruichladdich takes the artisanal approach to whisky, producing a single source whisky called Islay Barley, and I had the pleasure of trying the 2007 with Barley from Rockside Farm. This is the third release of the series, with the barley for this whisky coming from the single farm, slow distillation for intensity of flavour. A lightly coloured whiskey, it has a range of floral notes, much more for an Islay than I am used to, with a lightly salted edge. For a young whiskey there is a lot of complexity to the palate providing a delightful experience. While this whisky isn’t one that I would classify as a must have, it is a must try. Bruichladdich also offer the Octomore Scottish Barley whisky that hails as the most heavily peated whisky in the world. In its sixth release this is a very interesting experiment. I love the peatiness of Islay whiskies, and so I was very surprised by the mouth – it started with a heady smoke which quickly gave way to salted caramelised fruits that continued well past the last sip.

Starward is an Australian distiller that prides itself on experimenting with Australian produce and casks to produce a world class whisky. They had three on offer, so I tried them all. The Single Malt was young with rich fruit and floral notes, but a short and sharp mouth. The Wine Cask edition was a better whisky aged in Shiraz casks. It had a complex nose, was less floral and more robust malts that lingered in the mouth. The real joy was tasting their Project X – a clear whisky experiment based on the idea that you shouldn’t need colour to impress a good flavour on your audience. They were right, in my opinion it was like the best parts of the previous two whiskies had been combined into a good table whisky that is well worth a try.

Glenrothes 1995And to finish, Whisky Live offered me the opportunity to try a Glenrothes ladder. Glenrothes is a speyside distiller that provides a range of vintaged whisky. Speysides are generally full bodied sweeter whiskies and the Glenrothes range definitely fits that description. There were four on offer and I tried them all starting with 2001, a light and sweet whisky with light caramel overtones; the 1998, a well rounded good whisky, a peppered caramel that lingers; the 1997, ripe berries and spiced sparkle your senses and lightly singe the throat; and the 1995, a velvety whisky with honey notes that leaves you knowing you’ve tasted it. The beauty of the Glenrothes is that each vintage is different, and offers a great exploratory experience. It is where I would recommend a person to begin their foray into the whiskey world as it shows the complexities that whisky can achieve without shocking the system and potentially scaring the inductee.

I was so impressed by the event that I’m eagerly awaiting next years to see what else I can try. 

 

Tim Rogers and the Bamboos, Friday 3rd July 2015

Tim Rogers and The Bamboos - Rules of AttractionOn Friday night I had the pleasure of seeing the Bamboos play at the Gov in Adelaide. A little before ten the Bamboos took the stage and with very little preamble launched into S.U.C.C.E.S.S, also the opening track of their new album ‘The Rules of Attraction’. This marked the third time I saw them perform live.

The Bamboos are a (currently) 9 piece Soul/Funk bank formed in 2000 and have released 7 studio albums. I came to the Bamboos late in their career with the release of their 5th album ‘Medicine Man’ in 2012 through a performance at the Gov. That performance and Album were enough to make me a fan and enticed me to see their 2013 tour at Womadelaide with Tim Rogers (You Am I).

‘The Rules of Attraction’ is their 7th Album, a full collaboration with Tim Rogers that is very catchy with some great beats that arise hours later as you are doing something else.

Tim Rogers & Kylie AuldistThe show was excellent, with vigorous and impassioned performances. Rogers dominated the show, leading the audience through the performance with his unique style. This is a double edged sword in my opinion as Rogers often drowns out the superb vocals of Kylie Auldist. Although there were a few tracks where Rogers left the stage and allowed the audience to witness her passionate soulful voice unhindered which almost stole the show.

The Bamboos are one of those groups that engage the audience through performance, managing to keep most moving throughout without having to tell them ‘get up and dance’ or ‘clap their hands’. This is a great talent that I see very rarely in live gigs where bands seem to need to goad their audience into action. And that is why you can’t deny the fun with songs like ‘Lime Rickey’ or ‘Easy’, and when the band celebrates each member with a cascade of solos your hands just need to applaud.

One of the things that you need to get used to is that The Bamboos are a band that experiments with their sound, and collaborate with a variety of artists, so you never quite know the show you will get, but you can guaranteed it will be a good one.

 

A Thing that happens when you have been travelling for a while

I’ve been on the road now for around 5 months and I won’t be returning home for another eight months. The trip began with in Morocco with a tour, then we went to Spain and an experience living in Spain followed by an English language immersion week near Madrid. It was around this time that I started to notice a few things were changing but it only really sank in since visiting Brussels in May and has only been enhanced in the time since.

When you start a trip like this, you have all the best intentions to see as much as you can and in my case write everything on the website for the world to see. You have your camera with you at all times and you take hundreds of photos, scribble notes hastily in your battered notebook in anticipation of documenting the entire experience. Each location offers an opportunity to tell the world how wonderful it is, how amazing it is to see these incredible cities and icons.

I have walked through so much history on this trip already, let alone my travels previously. I have seen literally thousands of pieces of art and so-called masterpieces. Hundreds of cathedrals, palaces, and castles. Dozens of festivals and events. After a while, each of these becomes just another along the way. True it may be in a different country but the glow begins to fade after the twentieth gothic cathedral. Believe me.

And then it hits you, the moments that make you feel truly alive, is when you meet someone and share stories. The richest moments are not when you see a Van Gogh or walk the ancient cobblestoned streets of Toledo, it is when you stop, put down the camera, and sit a while with someone you don’t know. Recognising these moments is difficult, but when you do, the rewards can be extraordinary.

The relationships you develop along the road can be more intense than those you have with people you have known your entire life. There is only a small window of time to get to know this person, and so you dispense with the traditional conversation topics of day to day life and dive headlong into topics that you are each passionate about. You delve into the shaded corners of a person’s soul with gusto, savouring their perspective and opinion as though it were fine wine. In the space of a few hours you can lay the foundation of friendship that could last your entire life, knowing full well that this may be the only time you have together.

For a few brief moments the world becomes smaller and vastly more intricate as you glimpse life’s rich tapestry. These moments linger in your mind, enhance the experience, and provide for wondrous reflection throughout your life.

No god but God by Reza Aslan

No god but GodNo god but God: The origins, evolution, and future of Islam (Updated Edition, 2011) by Reza Aslan

No god but God is a beautifully written and thoughtfully presented look at Islam. Reza Aslan uses wonderful prose to take the reader on a journey through the tumultuous history of Islam from the Revelation of Mohammed through the development of the various philosophies, interpretations and schools of law to the modern world.

I have been fascinated by the religions of world for some time and I enjoy learning about their development and varied cultural voices. In the mid 1990's I read a translation of the Quran and found it to a exquisitely written text presenting an egalitarian, community based faith. It made me wonder how it was that this text and the society we see presented to us were related as there seemed to me a chasm between the faith and the society. No god but God helped clear this up.

What was surprising in reading this book was the level of detail and references that were used to create what feels to be a very balanced and objective approach to understanding this religion which I wasn't expecting. I think I have become jaded by a number of books being slanted toward extreme perspectives (positive and negative) that I did not expect to find a reasonable, well articulated discussion on a topic as divisive as religion and religious history.

Several times in the book Reza presents the history (sometimes conflicting versions) as understood, followed by arguments made by previous scholars from both extremes then presents further information to clarify the issues before presenting a reasonable resolution. This makes for a compelling narrative that kept me gripped to the book, going back to read each chapter again as I progressed.

If you have ever been interested in Islam, or have wanted to gain a greater insight into the supposed 'Clash of Civilisations' that permeates the media whenever Islam is discussed, this book is an excellent resource and a pleasure to read. It is a positive discussion, aiming not to tell you what is right or wrong, but to educate so that the reader can make an informed opinion on Islam.

 

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

star trek into darkness-HD

Star Trek Into Darkness is the follow-up to 2009's Star Trek by JJ Abrahms. Star Trek has a long and storied history with numerous incarnations including 5 television series, an animated series, 12 movies, video games, hundreds of novels and short stories, and comic books over it's 47 year history. It is a long running franchise that is both highly regarded and dismissed. Until 2009 there seemed to be 2 camps that Star trek fell into, those that liked it and those that didn't because it was either too camp or philosophical.

That changed in 2009 with JJ Abrahms dropping most of the philosophy in favour of increasing the pace with action and adventure. This was not a bad thing as the decrease in density brought in a greater audience.

Abrahm's used an old Star trek trope for his reboot but with a new twist – An event occurs that sends time askew and the crew of the Enterprise must right the event to return time to normal, only in 2009 they did not and a new timeline was born. The wonderful thing with the specific style of reboot Abrahm's and his team brought was that it allowed them to draw upon the entirety of the Star Trek canon and tell new stories with old concepts, characters and species with a fresh voice.

Into Darkness brings our characters into peril by pitting the Enterprise's crew against John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch - BBC's Sherlock). Added to the mix is Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller - Robocop, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, Dexter) providing a stern authoritative figure. These two actors are vocally impressive and stand apart from the Enterprise crew, Cumberbatch for his resonating voice and his rather unique head (sharp lines on an oval skull that somehow appears weirdly soft), Weller for the deep throated bass and the wonderful articulation of his lines (I sometimes think that Weller could sit there and speak gibberish and I wouldn't care).

The film draws from a great many Star Trek stories that fans of franchise will find homages throughout, the variety of which will have fans creating very long lists and debating the specifics for ages. It also reintroduces the Klingons providing an updated look to the species and their technology. The new look includes the (now) traditional forehead ridges but updates the warrior races armour, adornments and ship designs.

I saw the film in 3D, and while it doesn't need it, there are some excellent uses of the format – Engineering and the warp core, and the space battles. The 3D was done post production rather than native and feels a great deal smoother than some other 3D films, and probably the biggest kudos I can give the 3D is that it doesn't feel like decopage.

This film will garner a range of positive and negative reviews. The positive will be for the effects and grandiosity of the action. The negative will go on and on about how the plot is derivitave, filled with holes, out of character, or any of number of such things that naysayers always say, especially in regard to a big budget blockbuster (I think Hollywood leaves themselves open to a lot of abuse by labelling anything 'Big Budget' or 'Blockbuster', don't you?). To all of those people I say, why bother going to see it if you don't want to enjoy it?

Personally I found the film to be a great romp and a had fun watching. The set pieces are great, the action well put together, the plot as over the top as the first film if not more so, and while it has its flaws overall it was more entertaining than not.

The hardest thing it seems for the (re)viewer to do these days is to distance yourself from other recent films, to stop comparing what you are watching now to what you watched last week or ten years ago and try and take the present on its own merits. This is especially hard to do with fans of the source material as anything previously done is oft lauded above its merit simply because it was there first. I mentioned in a previous film review that it is hard to create something truly new and that it all comes down to the delivery. A story you've seen a dozen times before can be made fresh again if the delivery is just right. Star Trek falls into that category, unlike other recent films (cough, cough... Die Hard 5 cough).

It was worth the price of entry and I rather look forward to seeing it again in the comfort of my own home.

7 out of 10.

Evil Dead (2013)

Evil-Dead-Movie-Wallpaper

The Evil Dead is a remake/revisitation of the 1981 horror classic written and directed by Sam Raimi. The original film was a low budget (USD$90,000) supernatural horror that received excellent reviews in spite of the films rating (X in the US). The Evil Dead is widely regarded as one the seminal horror films of the 1980's and, while looking dated, that is more to do with the age and quality of the technology used than with with the quality of the storytelling, and still holds an audience today due to the (then) audacious camera work and black humour. The film spawned two sequels (each progressively more humourous), computer games, comic books and even a musical. The film's protagonist Ash Williams has become a cult icon, played by Bruce Campbell who has become a cult actor,

Here is the trailer for the original film:
 

The original film, and the sequels, are much loved and have a cult status few other franchises (let alone horror properties) possess which makes it an extremely risky remake in an era where remakes are generally looked upon with disgust and scorn. The Friday the 13th remake was an OK attempt to reconcile the various versions of that franchise into a singularly recognisable whole but failed to achieve anything close to the scares, slaughter or entertainment of the original. The Nightmare on Elm Street remake missed the mark by for the same reasons. A remake of something much loved faces the chance of even greater scorn than these other 80's franchises that had been great but not at all consistent through their many sequels.

Another thing that stands against the film is that horror audiences have come to accept different styles of horror film as the flavour of choice, films such as the Saw and Paranormal Activity franchises (the first of these films I rather enjoyed but couldn't make it through the sequel enough to go any further with the franchises), and while the original is loved for it's horror the sequels are remembered and revered for their black humour. There seems to me to be a predilection in modern horror toward torture that I don't enjoy or towards the found footage format with sub par scares (The last ones of each style that really stand out as excellent are Funny Games and REC). I have also found few characters in the last decade of horror movies that I like enough to watch them be killed let alone attempt to survive.
The film also has to contend with the excellent 2011 release of Cabin in the Woods by Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon which wonderfully pulls apart the this particular corner of the genre to delightful result.
So it begs the question, where should Evil Dead fall? Should it adhere to the modern horror sensibility of horrible characters torturing each other and being tortured for 2 hours? She it be a black comedy with horror elements? Does the film need Bruce Campbell in order to appease fans and gain an audience? Does it need to distance itself as far from the original as possible and make it on it's own merits? Should it be a shot for shot remake with modern technology? Does it need to self-aware or naïve?
Below is the trailer for the remake, which is easily the most intense horror movie trailer I've seen in a while:

Evil Dead (2013) takes the full blown horror movie route much like the original, although devoid of the black humour. It is a beast unto itself whilst also revelling in revisiting the 30 year old film.

There are a few nods to the original including a similar cabin for our little drama and a rusted out Oldsmobile (the same model as used in Sam Raimi's films), Fede Alvarez also used the same visual movement of the 'Evil' travelling through the woods with a very similar (same?) sound as the original.
The opening of the film sets the tone of all that is to follow and allows for the orginal trilogy to still exist chronologically, a approach I feel that is for the better allowing a broader tapestry to play with in the future.
Evil Dead uses a drug intervention for Mia as raison d'etre for being out in the woods, isolated from the big bad city to ensure they can get their friend clean. This also helps with the characters finding Mia's ramblings a little unbelievable and thus allow for some incredibly violent things to happen rather than just leave before its too late. The plot isn't a new one, and that's perfectly fine because in this day and age because when the jaded audience has seen it all before it must come down to the delivery. The actors carry the script well, but the true masters of this delivery lie with the Fede Alvarez and crew.
This is the first feature length film for director Fede Alvarez, and it is an excellent debut. The crew assembled to support this first time director do their job very well, each unit bringing a variety of experience and talent that is well used. The film is visually stunning for the genre with the cinematography containing a great balance of perspective shots, skewing or angling the camera just enough to add to your visual unease. The palette is very well used and the lighting of certain scenes perfect, allowing for an intense atmospheric experience. The film is extremely violent and the imagery brutal and presented up close and personal, but the real impact comes from the entrancing use of sound. Even when you know what you are about to see the audio takes you further into discomfort than you would expect. This is a testament to the Director and his crew for producing and blening the images with such a engrossing soundtrack that gets under your skin.
I consider myself pretty experienced when it comes to movies, and I've seen my fair share of them, so I can be pretty harsh with my reviewing. The Evil Dead is an excellent horror movie filled with excellently grotesque visuals and is one of the best new horror films I've seen in a long time, and it is definitely one of the best modern revisits/remakes of a horror film. It keeps enough of what Evil Dead fans want without coming across as too derivative, respecting the source material, and adding to the mythology. It has also brought a new director to Hollywood and I very much look forward to what Fede Alvarez does next (I'm rather hoping to see if he is capable of doing something other than a gore filled horror movie). The Evil Dead compliments the original 1981 horror in a way very remakes could. It does not eclipse the original but can stand on its own or together with.

Evil Dead needs to be watched in the dark with the sound turned all the way up.
This is a 8 out of 10 blood soaked ride (7 if you are a not a fan of the first films and leave without watching the entire credits sequence).