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The Nobel whiskey and Pinot rewards


Whitey chews over the elephant of literature, science and entertainment stars and the ways they work their ethanol.

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A real big whoosh of ethanol envy washed round the traps last week, when the 2017 Nobel Literature Laureate dared to release a trinity of American whiskies.

This came as the Nobel literature people, those who actually make the awards, resigned into an unholy Scando shatter of scandal about women being made to pay the professional price of their male partners’ ignoble sexual behaviour.

As the academy went into meltdown, their 2017 recipient, Bob Dylan, triggered his own wee frisson round whiskey. Yet even this seemed more about his reclusive, mystical rock star status than his literary or liquorous notoriety. Unusual in the entertainment world for his absence from the #MeToo lists, and his lack of alcohol, love and drug scandals, Dylan drives the pulp fiction gossip writers nuts.

It seemed for a day or two that his professional entry into the world of ethanol marketing might bring a scandal as big as his sudden 1965 electrification. The pious and sanctimonious proto-hippies in that Newport audience thought it was all their special folk music, but nah. It was his to play with. Dylan’s. They stayed mad at him for a generation. Dylan plays.

In contrast, the current hipster generation’s twitter-tattle at Dylan and his new distillate, pro or con, went quiet quicker than the Nobel literature committee outrage. That particular one will simmer on. Fierce Viking women. Tired of the sagas.

Anyway, the avuncular fireside style of old Bob’s recent recordings croons out for a good mellow spirit and a smoke. Which I hear his three shots offer.

Only Satan knows all the torrid devils’ brews I’ve seen under rock star labels. More than I dare risk. Iron Maiden, Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Pogues, Queen, Motorhead, Drake, Kinky Friedman, Marilyn Manson, The Police, Billy Gibbons, Megadeth, Pig Destroyer, Whitesnake and Anthrax are just a few old rock crocks that come to mind. Appetising, eh?

Such aged dainties must love licking up their labels and sticking them on tins, bottles and bags of stuff that other people make.

After having paid, as he says, “so much to the weed industry over the years,” even the ancient Willie Nelson’s “taking a little back” since joining everyone from Snoop Dogg to Cheech and Chong in wrapping his name round a brand of legal cannabis. He easily lured US$30 million to get Willy’s Reserve off the ground. Dylan raised US$35 million for his whiskey outfit.

Of course there are entertainers who’d never consider simply repackaging, reblending or refinishing intoxicants that anybody could buy in bulk. Some folks’ intense gastronomic curiosity and intelligence drive them to grow and make their own.

New Zealand actor and Pinot perve Sam Neill and his beloved Two Paddocks winery in Central Otago are foremost in my southern mind. Similarly, in the northern racket Maynard James Keenan’s probably the ultimate: a truly talented multi Grammy-winning rockstar winemaker with his own Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards up the stony mountain at Jerome, Arizona.

He even has his own wine stores and restaurants. Oh yes, and a young family. And he’s the singer in three bands. While Tool and Puscifer take a rest, Keenan’s currently tasting and touring the USA with A Perfect Circle, pumping their blistering new album, Eat the Elephant. New wineries cost lots of monery.

Truth be known, the Nobel world is as thoroughly laced with liquor as the popular music morass. While the literature committee’s taking a year off to regroup its shit before announcing two literature laureates next year, take the time to peruse Professor Dr Donald Goodwin’s 1992 article Alcohol as Muse in the American Journal of Psychotherapy. In that, he infamously reports that over 70 per cent of American Nobel literature laureates were alcoholics.

If you think that’d be enough to drive the 2018 and ’19 aspirants to drink you’re likely spot on. Which his Bobness, it seems is not. Not a wicked alcoholic driven to drink, anyway. While many believe Dylan is teetotal, Marc Bushala, the founding Heaven’s Door creative, maintains that during the long process of sourcing, selecting and buying the whiskies for the blends, Dylan was in the end quite specific about the oak treatments he wanted.

Dylan’s “Heaven’s Door” whiskeys

There was a lot of to-and-froing from the source distilleries to Dylan’s LA gate and steel fabrication business, where he spends a lot of time making stuff.

Dylan sent one blend back complaining that “it should feel like being in a wood structure,” sending them off to match the smell of an old wood barn – the opposite of his acrid steelworks whiff. Which they eventually did. Shouldna bin too hard.

From early reviews of the trio – a Straight Tennessee Bourbon, the Double Barrel Whiskey and a Straight Rye Whiskey – it appears that the smokin’ and solderin’ Dylan hooter enjoys its toasty oak.

Considering the love that chain-smoking Barossa winemakers Max Schubert, John Glaetzer and Peter Lehmann showed smoky American A. P. John Cooperage oak, there’s not much novelty there, Bob.

The Heaven’s Door Rye was finished in barrels from the Vosges forest of Alsace: the flavours and prices of this uniquely spicy, tight-grained wood vary according to its source altitude. Any lover of Australian Chardonnay or Pinot would have tasted it a thousand times. Vosges is a favourite in Burgundy.

In fact, fans of the Maipenrai and Amungula Creek wines of Brian Schmidt at Canberra will have savoured the odd Vosges stave. A board member of the Australian Wine Research Institute, vice-chancellor of the Australian National University and co-winner of the 2011 Nobel prize in physics, astrophysicist Schmidt is a self-confessing slave to Pinot, just to balance the musical rock star side of the equation.

Schmidt grows and makes his own wine, suggesting it’s a bit easier to sell with a Nobel prize. Not to mention a Nobel for helping to discover that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate, meaning it’ll end up on ice.

He’s not alone, of course, in being a scientific non-literary laureate with a penchant for a tipple.

When the beer-loving Dane, Niels Bohr, a quantum and theoretical physicist, won the Nobel physics prize in 1922, the Carlsberg Brewery rewarded him with a beautiful new home beside its distillery, free, with a direct pipeline supplying his home bar taps with fresh draft suds for life.

It is said he argued much with Einstein, who suspected that a cosmological constant, an abundant cosmic repulsive force existed. Schmidt and his colleagues and rivals eventually proved that indeed it did exist with their discovery of the dark energy that makes up about 70 per cent of the universe.

Like the rockstar booze so many of them never make themselves, this repulsive stuff is as dark, forboding and ubiquitous as Coke.

“Heard the new Dark Energy yet?”

“Nah but I love their kiddylikker and cola.”

Maynard James Keenan: vintage at Caduceus, Jerome, Az. Photo courtesy Maynard James Keenan

Praise Bacchus for folks like Brian Schmidt, Sam Neill and Maynard James Keenan who understand the special illuminating darkness that lets enough delight shine through to draw good things together. Original things. Original people. The unCoke. So you can just see your fingers through the glass.

Precisely how much enlightenment the literature laureate’s liquor will unleash remains to be seen. One thing is sure to me: Mr D has obviously appreciated the keenest value of moonshine since his recording of A.F. Beddoe’s Copper Kettle:

“My daddy he made whiskey, my granddaddy he did too
We ain’t paid no whiskey tax since 1792
You just lay there by the juniper while the moon is bright
Watch them jugs a-filling in the pale moonlight.”

That song, and Self Portrait, the double album including it, was the bard’s biggest indicator that one day he’d be hitting us with whiskey-and-honey crooning like the cosy Sinatra stuff he records today. Moody shots to match. Yeah, yeah, moody photos, sure. But I meant shots of moody sippin’ liquor.

Typically, the damn critics were more savage in their derision when Dylan released Self Portrait in 1970, which us teenaged Kanmantoo hillsbillies slurped right up with our Jack and Jim and seedy outdoor dope. We were a long way from Pinot noir.

I wonder whether our LA gatemaking Nobel literature laureate will ever grow and make one. Like a really sexy, fleshy, visceral Pinot. I reckon not. So maybe he will. Lookout, Vosges.

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