All the News That's Fint

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The fact that “no pun intended” can be misparsed as “nope, unintended” combined with the fact that both work as responses to “did you mean to make that pun?” makes me unreasonably happy.

Filed under take that english

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Sometimes you meet someone and instantly fall in love. That’s me with this gif.
From the 1949 version of the GREAT GATSBY which, based on this alone, is OBVIOUSLY much better than the 2013 version.
(via @emilyhughes)


Sometimes you meet someone and instantly fall in love. That’s me with this gif.

From the 1949 version of the GREAT GATSBY which, based on this alone, is OBVIOUSLY much better than the 2013 version.

(via @emilyhughes)

(via gingerhaze)

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My thoughts, technical and philosophical, on the classification of Jack Daniel’s

For both whiskey aficionados and Kentuckians (pretty sizable venn diagram overlap there), one of the most common debates is the classification of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey, namely whether or not it’s bourbon.  There are a good number of false arguments, technical details, and philosophical quandaries surrounding this that I feel are worth going into.  Before I do, the general moral of this post:

According to the legal classification of spirits (by the U.S. and NAFTA, anyway), Jack Daniels is bourbon, and if we want to be able to say it’s not then we should amend the definition.

So let’s begin with some technical details.  The main source I’ll cite is the Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits (27 CFR 5); I’ve included the link to the original document, though the Wikipedia page for bourbon summarizes it in a more user-friendly way.  Basically, here’s the definition of bourbon according to US Law (which uses the “whisky” spelling rather than the “whiskey” spelling):

Bourbon is a whisky produced at not exceeding 160 proof from a fermented mash of not less than 51% corn and stored at not more than 125 proof in charred new oak containers (and also includes mixtures of such whiskies of the same type).   If the bourbon has been aged for more than 2 years, it may be called “straight bourbon whisky”.  The word “bourbon” shall not be used to describe any whisky or whisky-based distilled spirits not produced in the United States.  (Sections 5.22 and 5.23)

First of all, this dispels a pretty common argument against Jack Daniel’s being bourbon, namely “bourbon has to be made in Kentucky.”  According to U.S. law, bourbon can be produced anywhere in the United States, and indeed is made in many states besides Kentucky and Tennessee (Wikipedia says it’s made in California, Colorado, Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia, though I haven’t checked their sources on that).

Next, it lets us consider the classification of Jack Daniel’s from an informed approach.  The official party line of Jack Daniel’s, according to their FAQ page, is as follows:

"Jack Daniel’s is not a bourbon - it’s a Tennessee Whiskey. Jack Daniel’s is dripped slowly - drop-by-drop - through ten feet of firmly packed charcoal (made from hard sugar maple) before going into new charred oak barrels for aging. This special process gives Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey its rare smoothness. It’s this extra step - charcoal mellowing – that makes Jack Daniel’s a Tennessee Whiskey."

This charcoal filtration process, in particular the Lincoln County process, is the most commonly cited argument for Jack Daniel’s not classifying as bourbon, at least among well-informed sources.  Several points for why this argument doesn’t work:

  • Nowhere in the official definition of bourbon is such a filtration process prohibited, either implicitly or explicitly.  Indeed, the best source I’ve ever found saying that charcoal filtration is not allowed for bourbon is from Jack Daniel’s themselves, and have never seen any sort of law or official classification cited to supported this.
  • Several bourbons undergo a similar charcoal filtration process (Ezra Brooks and Old Heaven Hill), and some Tennessee whiskeys do not (Benjamin Prichard’s).  Unless we are to start questioning the classification of those whiskeys, we must conclude that charcoal filtration is neither prohibited for bourbon nor necessary for Tennessee whiskey.
  • Funny as it may seem, Tennessee whiskey is a technical term, at least insofar as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is concerned. According to Chapter 3, annex 313, Tennessee whiskey is “straight Bourbon Whiskey authorized to be produced only in the State of Tennessee.”  So the only reason Jack Daniel’s is allowed to label itself Tennessee whiskey, at least as far as North American trade is concerned, is because it meets all of the legal requirements of bourbon.

Having dispelled the charcoal filtration argument, and noting that Jack Daniel’s does meet all the legal requirements of bourbon, we conclude that, from a legal standpoint, Jack Daniel’s is indeed bourbon.

Let’s move on from technical to philosophical.  Jack Daniel’s doesn’t want itself to be called bourbon, which makes sense from a marketing perspective (build up brand loyalty for “Tennessee whiskey” over “bourbon”, things like that).  But it technically is bourbon, so there are two courses of action (besides just saying “yeah, fine, we’re bourbon”):

  • Go about redefining the terminology of American whiskeys.
  • Repeatedly say “no we’re not, no we’re not, no we’re not” until enough people believe you.

I’m totally cool with the first one.  If you realize that a definition doesn’t really characterize the property you were aiming for, it should be amended (like the development of what “compact” meant in mathematics).  If Jack Daniel’s is correct and charcoal filtration fundamentally alters whiskey in such a way that it should no longer be considered bourbon, then perhaps the definition of bourbon on the books was not the correct one to have chosen.  This could be amended on a legal level, though that might be hard to pull off; it could also be a cultural decision, with perhaps the National Association of Bartenders declaring their official stance on what they consider bourbon to be.  While this wouldn’t make Jack Daniel’s non-bourbon from a legal standpoint, it would at least provide something we can point to and say “that’s why we use this terminology.”  So long as the change is either on a legal level or from some degree of official cultural consensus (where everything is clearly laid out and everyone comes to an agreement), I’m totes on board.

The problem is that Jack Daniel’s has taken to the second strategy, and somewhat upsettingly it’s working.  Many bartenders and whiskey experts I’ve asked about this cite charcoal filtration as disqualifying JD’s from being bourbon, and the only satisfying answer I received was from the instructor at a Bourbon and Branch cocktail class (who explained that Jack Daniel’s willfully disavowed the bourbon name by citing some obscure rule requiring bourbon to “look, taste, and smell like bourbon”, which is an indefensible argument by the vague and cyclic nature of such a rule).  In essence, Jack Daniel’s has repeated “We’re not bourbon, we’re not bourbon” enough times that people go along with it, which is the same idea as repeating “2+2=5” until everyone’s on board. Now, I’m not saying Jack Daniel’s is trying to institute an Orwellian whysktopia (which would be pretty awesome, actually), but it does bug me when people take meaning away from words by declaration rather than via some organic process.

So, that’s my Jack Daniel’s rant.  If I made any errors above, do let me know; I want to be sure I’m citing things properly for this argument, since proper citations are what’ve been largely missing from this whiskey discourse (whiskourse, if you will).

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Tile Tales!

Constrained writing is awesome, so I’m starting up a Twitter (called tile_tales) of short works written using the 100 tiles from a standard Scrabble bag.  Here’s submission guidelines:

(1)  All submissions should be sent to tiletalestwitter@gmail.com

(2)  Submissions can either be text (you can include punctuation; no numerals, though), or photos of the tiles actually assembled, or, if possible, both.

(3)  Include a title and author name (initials are fine), and also the genre you’d like it listed as (story or poem or whatevs).

(4)  Whatever language you’re writing in should correspond to the tile distribution of the language found here.  If you’re writing in a language without Scrabble, feel free to use whichever distribution you’d like.

(5) Ideally the works should use exactly 100 tiles (including the two blanks, which can be whatever letters you’d like), though you’re also welcome to submit works using some subset of them.

(6) To check if your story is Scrabble legal, you can make a copy of this GoogleDoc; just put your story into the cell A3, and it’ll count up how much over and under you are by every letter.  (You should be over by a total of 2, because of blanks.) Here’s another useful website for keeping track of tiles (it doesn’t keep track of going over, but just make sure all letters are used up and that there are 100 letters).

(7) Have fun with ‘em!

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In the phrase “If I recollect correctly,” recollect and correctly clearly need to be combined in some fashion, and the best I can come up with is “recorrect,” but that sounds like “wreck erect,” which sounds like something Odysseus would’ve done if he’d been steering once the sirens showed up.  Life…