Continuing in my attempt to document the mixers and liqueurs I've been sampling recently, I will now focus on Benedictine, a French, brandy-based, herbal liqueur.

The name conjures up images of secluded monks guarding secret recipes handed down for generations (see my article about Chartreuse, another monastically themed libation, for a similar background) but according to Wikipedia the real story is a bit more prosaic: it was apparently invented by wine merchant and industrialist Alexandre Le Grand who later tried to link his concoction with the Benedictine Abbey of Fécamp in Normandy to boost sales.

So...not invented by monks, then. Oh well. I still think it's pretty good, even without the cute backstory. Like most liqueurs, it's extremely sweet, and it has a fairly subdued, herbal flavour that is not, for once, dominated by anise. In this way it contrasts sharply with Chartreuse, which is assertive and very dominated by anise.

Read more →

About a year ago, I bought a bottle of green Chartreuse. I bought it because I stumbled upon something called a Bijou cocktail and decided that I wanted to try it.

Chartreuse is a liqueur made by French monks from a secret recipe purported to be hundreds of years old. It's usually described as tasting "herbal", but I find that's about as useful as saying that something tastes like "chicken"; it's the word you use when you can't think of anything else to say. For my money, I find that it's very sweet and tastes strongly of anise (which I don't mind; I like Drambuie, which also has a strong anise flavour) but also has a kind of "vegetable" aftertaste that I find a bit off putting,

Read more →

The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, David Embury's classic, is notable for being somewhat rigid in its definition of a cocktail. He basically divides all of cocktail-dom into two camps: the aromatic ones (Manhattans, Martinis, Old-Fashioneds), and the sour ones (basically anything with lemon or lime juice in it, though never enough to overpower the main liquor).

For Embury, a cocktail is consumed before dinner, stimulates the appetite, and isn't very sweet - or it isn't a cocktail. As such, though mixed drinks like the Brandy Alexander and its cousins do show up on the pages of his book, they are (justifiably, though somewhat condescendingly) classified as desserts when made the traditional way (equal parts brandy, cream and creme de cacao) or grudgingly allowed to stand alongside the real cocktails when made according to his modifications (basically upping the brandy by four times the usual amount relative to the other ingredients) - though with a loud admonition that the result is vastly inferior to his tried and true favourites.

Read more →

Lately I've been experimenting with "mixers". By "mixer" I mean aperitifs, liqueurs, and digestifs that almost always appear as secondary ingredients in a cocktail, but that one almost never thinks of drinking on their own. The intention here is to write a series of articles about each one.

It started with the Vesper, a mixed drink well known in cocktail circles. The recipe comes from an iconic scene in Ian Flemings's Casino Royale, where Bond instructs the bartender as follows:

Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?

Read more →

After a good run, I've decided to retire YAWT for the time being. I found the workflow I set up to be a bit complicated, and I found myself wanting to concentrate more on writing rather than the nitty-gritty of publishing. I also got a bit tired of the lone wolf thing and I wanted to try using piece of software that other people actually use.

But I still liked the basics of my workflow. I still liked writing blog entries with a standard text editor (Emacs in my case). I still liked the idea of keeping my site under source control, as plain files. In other words, I did not want to switch to Wordpress.

Read more →

Evelyn and I went to Poland this past May, with her dad, uncle and cousins. Her second cousin was getting married and we were invited to the wedding.

I have to admit, I didn't know what I was going to get out of this trip. Poland was never really on my list of places to visit. The Lonely Planet guide, a book whose job is to make you excited about the place you're visiting, said that Poland "wore its charms lightly". What was that supposed to mean?

I mean...one of the main draws of Kraków is...a decommissioned salt mine? A salt mine?

Read more →

There's an Irish joke that runs as follows:

A journalist, researching for an article on the complex political situation in Northern Ireland, was in a pub in a war-torn area of Belfast. One of his potential informants leaned over his pint of Guinness and suspiciously cross-examined the journalist: "Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?" the Irishman asked.

"Neither," replied the journalist; "I'm an atheist."

The Irishman, not content with this answer, put a further question: "Ah, but are you a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist?

This joke resonates with me. I think it's both funny and profound. Funny for obvious reasons, and profound because it succinctly illuminates the importance people attach to labels.

Read more →

If you're in the tech industry, or you're just generally interested in technology, chances are you've heard of the Turing test. It's usually billed as a litmus test for intelligence in machines. The idea, in its most basic form, is simple. A judge converses with two subjects, one of which is human and one of which is a machine, via some sort of mechanism that hides the physical characteristics of the subjects. If the judge cannot tell the human from the machine, we say that the machine is intelligent. Simple as that.

The Turing test has been a major source of controversy in Philosophy of Mind circles, but the irony is that Turing intended it to be a way of sidestepping debate. In his view, asking whether a machine could think was about as useful as asking whether a submarine could swim; the answer, of course, completely depends on what you mean by "machine" and "think". These are questions with very subjective answers, so instead of going down that particular rabbit hole, he came up with his test. He thought it was a reasonable one for a very good reason: we use it to judge the intelligence of other people every single day. One judges the intelligence of another person based on conversations with said person. There's no other way to do it; you don't get to peer into their brains to watch the gears move. Why shouldn't machines be subject to the same treatment?

Read more →

I saw this headline today:

How Islamic is Islamic State?

And I started gibbering just a little. I admit, I haven't read the full article because, frankly, I don't really care about the answer. It's a stupid question.

But, like those who insist on calling the hijab a cultural artifact when confronted with the grim reality of women who are forced to wear it, many people seem to find the question pertinent.

It disturbs me how much energy is spent debating the issue. Ask yourself: if ISIS really were following the Koran to the letter, would that, in itself, make the murder somehow more acceptable? And if ISIS were not following the Koran to the letter, would that, in itself, make them somehow fairer targets? Much more importantly, why on earth should the contents of the Koran matter in this assessment?

Read more →

One time, back when I was actually semi-active on Google+, I came across a rather heated debate. Someone had posted an article telling the story of a child bride who had died on her wedding night. The post was directed accusingly at self-described proponents of "multiculturalism", an ideology which, in the poster's opinion, was in the same category as "cultural relativism", which he considered deeply depraved.

Unsurprisingly, the debate didn't center around the question of whether child marriage was a horrific practice that needed to be roundly condemned in the harshest terms possible - of course it was, and no one needed convincing - but rather around the original poster's insistence on conflating "multiculturalism" and "cultural relativism". People were insulted.

Read more →