How hip is your flask?

How hip is your flask?

Michael Jackson, on the road, With an ear for a great whisky

Musings with Michael Jackson 16 Apr 2001 | Interviews | By Michael Jackson

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A columnist in the San Francisco Chronicle, Stan Delaplane, popularised “Irish Coffee”. He introduced it to the Buena Vista bar, at
Fisherman’s Wharf, after encountering it as a warming drink at Shannon Airport. This questionable concoction sold a lot of Irish whiskey but did it also limit the application of the silky spirit? I mean, did people think it was only for putting in coffee?I was discussing this profound philosophical question with Delaplane and a couple of vice-squad cops, called Sullivan and Keneally, some years ago at another San Francisco bar in Washington Square. Jack Teagarden’s younger sister was playing the piano but it wasn’t really that long ago. We were approaching a conclusion when in walked Stan Getz. He had bad news and good. The bad news was that he had not a penny piece about his person or in any bank. This was apparently not unusual, to quote the jazz-deficient Welshman Tom Jones. The good news was that Getz had a relatively lucrative gig in Seattle. Could the cash-register lend him the fare? The cash-register, in the shape of saloon-keeper Ed Moose, advanced him the necessary but as a forfeit made him drink a cocktail involving Kahlúa and Canadian whisky.Would the man from Ipanema have preferred a Caipirinha? We shall never know. He died, possibly from Ed’s cocktails, before the Caipirinha became popular. He was a connoisseur of mind-altering substances – as many musicians are. I cannot hear New Orleans jazz without fancying a Sazerac: straight rye for Louis Armstrong, the version with Herbsaint for Sidney Bechet. If the jazz is more Chicagoan, I shall probably develop a hangover.We have already discussed Eddie Condon’s cure for that rare condition (“Take the juice of one bottle of whiskey...”). A contemporary jazz trombonist, Jim Leff, introduced me to The Hole In One, a whisky bar I much favour in New York – not all musicians are as single-minded. Admirers of classic Dave Brubeck may remember a poetic comment from his alto-saxophonist, Paul Desmond. The lyrical reedman said he wanted to sound like a Dry Martini. The giant tenor-player Ben Webster sounded much more like a Smoky Martini. Or would have done were he still here to pour us a tune or three. In case you are so unhip to need an explanation, a Smoky Martini is made with Lagavulin. This cocktail had not been invented in the days when I hung with Big Ben. People had to make do with lesser metaphors in those days. The British trumpeter Humphrey Lyttelton said Ben’s saxophone sounded like a soufflé rising. I met Ben in Amsterdam and we became drinking buddies. We seemed to find ourselves in dubious establishments around the harbour. In most of those places the idea of a stiff drink was a Heineken washing down a Dutch gin. Ben, who had studied the art of drinking in Maryland, would hanker for a straight rye which was never to be found. My preferred tipple at the time was Glen Grant, which was equally elusive. Things have changed. Near Freddy Heineken’s favourite pub, the Hoppe, you will find an outstanding whisky bar, De Still. I was drinking there one day with bartender-writer Robin Brilleman when two elegant ladies came in, ordered something unmemorable and began to chat about cellos, by which they apparently earned their livings. Being both a music-lover and a sociable fellow, Robin was drawn into their conversation. They sought his advice on whisky. “Which malt would we enjoy?” they asked. “Something darkened by age,” he proposed. “Do you prefer Stradivarius, Guarnierius or Amatius?” In his view Springbank goes down with the resounding vibrato of a Stradivarius, Macallan has the smooth, pure, tone of a Guarnierius and Auchentoshan has the fragility of an Amatius. A cultured fellow, Robin. Probably goes to the Concertgebouw. I wonder what Stephan Grapelli played?
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