When it comes to spooks and spectres and things that go bump in the night, Prague is undeniably one of the richest towns in the world. Its bizarre history, winding streets, and jumble of architecture spanning centuries’ worth of styles make it the perfect setting for tales of the macabre and unexplained. On these streets prowled the golem created by Jewish mystic Rabbi Loew and the socially awkward Iron Knight, still trying to get a young woman to listen to him for a couple of hours so he might be freed of his murderer’s curse. Most famously, Prague was the center of medieval alchemy thanks to the obsession of its one-time ruler, Emperor Rudolf II, who invited mystics and alchemists and wizards from across the world to come to Prague. Deep beneath the cobblestone streets of this most mysterious of cities, at the Speculum Alchemiae, one can walk the secret passages and hidden laboratories where these sorcerers sought to unlock the secrets of the philosopher’s stone and the elixir of life.
My latest Frolic Afield at Alcohol Professor takes me far afield indeed, through New England, past Halifax, and up into the wild north of Nova Scotia. Malt & Moose is the tale of this journey most epic, a journey that included inadvertent weapons smuggling, attractive border guards, grazing moose, and of course whiskey since the point of the trip was a visit to Glenora, Canada’s first single malt whiskey distillery.
In another Frolic Afield over at Alcohol Professor, I take a look at the growing trend of “single grain” whisky. With the Grain explains what single grain whisky is and how it’s different from single malt, then looks at some of the brands whisky distillers are pushing onto the market in their ever more aggressive attempts to steer people away from single malt whisky with an age statement.
My latest Frolic Afield over on Alcohol Professor is an account of my September 23rd Mabon Feast. Of course, one celebrates Mabon with offerings from one’s bountiful harvest of grains, including barley, rye, and corn. Granted, in Pairing Bourbon and Cheese With Four Roses, my grains have been distilled into Four Roses bourbon and paired with a selection of French cheeses, but I assume that’s fine with the goddesses and forest folk.
There is a moment in Danish filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr, a relatively unimportant throw-away couple of seconds, where the nominal hero of the story catches sight of a couple of shadows — shadows with no physical source to cast them — creeping across a field. Either because of the particularly old source material or the specific intention of the director, the film is grainy, hazy, gauzy. And it captures perfectly the prevailing atmosphere of Vampyr and why I love the film so dearly. Ostensibly a vampire film — thus the title — the hypnotic power of the movie flows not from the more visceral terror of bloodsuckers and murderers, but rather it comes from a much vaguer, ethereal place, something to do with ancient beings glimpsed from the corner of the eye, from unnerving mysterious powers, from murky forests and glens that are at once idyllic and unnerving. There is something very pagan about Vampyr that places it, for me, not so much among the famous works of vampire film and fiction, but alongside stories like Arthur Machen’s “The White People” and films like The Wicker Man.
My latest on The Cultural Gutter is Punching Cthulhu in the Face. Pulp fiction writer Robert E. Howard is best known as the creator of Conan the Barbarian. His stock in trade were fearless, muscular super-warriors who feared nothing and loved the red rage of battle against foes both human and supernatural. He was also a friend and fan of H.P. Lovecraft and tried his hand from time to time at stories set within the “Lovecraft mythos.” But how does Lovecraft’s style of vague dread and horror experienced by perpetually terrified academics hold up when the main player is, say, a skull-cracking Pictish king who laughs at the eldritch horror of the Elder Gods?
Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy was Russia’s less internationally known Tolstoy. While the one was writing thousand-page tomes about sad people losing things (pretty sure that’s the plot of most Leo Tolstoy books) that would be forced upon generation after generation, the other Tolstoy was writing slick science fiction adventures like Aelita (1923, adapted into a movie a year later), Engineer Garin (1924), and Count Cagliostro, which American high school students did not get to read, since there was no time left after plodding through Anna Karenina — in which absolutely no one travels to Mars, builds a death ray, or practices alchemy. To be fair to Leo Tolstoy though, it’s been twenty-six years since I read Anna Karenina, and all I really remember is a chapter where two rivals for the love of the title character retire to a nearby barn to try and outdo one another in feats of gymnastic prowess, and I may even be getting that wrong. In fact, I think much of what I remember of Anna Karenina is actually Great Expectations. I am, however, quite certain there was no death ray.
The vote may be over, and while Scotland isn’t a newly independent nation (which, if nothing else, saves them having to select a new passport cover color), my latest Frolic Afield at Alcohol Professor pays tribute to the United Kingdom of Whisky. Four countries, four whiskies, one queendom.
A new Frolic Afield, back on Alcohol Professor and back in the state of my birth. This time around, we’re visiting Jim Beam’s American Stillhouse. The Jim Beam distillery used to be a waste of time, little more than a trip to the gift shop and nary a glance at the actual business of making the world’s most popular bourbon. In 2012, Beam substantially revamped the experience, and the result is now one of the must-see stops on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
I have a new Frolic Afield up on The Cultural Gutter: The Gentleman Adventurer takes a look at the BBC series Adam Adamant Lives! A swashbuckling Edwardian gentleman, quick with his cane-sword or a witty retort, is frozen in time and revived in swingin’ sixties London, where accompanied by his go-go girl sidekick, he immediately resumes his life of adventure and crime-fighting. Yes, they truly did pull an entire plot right out of my mental wish list.