GRAY MONK LATITUDE 50 (2009)—Safe from meteors, at least for now

My Fellow Inebriates,

You may be thankful that my friend Scarybear’s End of Days prognostications petered out after December 21, but the safe passing of that date threw him into a funk that’s been intolerable for everyone at LBHQ. For months he’d thought of nothing else. Despite his avowals that our annihilation would be tragic, he enjoyed the notion of Earthlings’ hubris biting them in the ass, with fireworks to boot.

Mayan calendar jokeThankfully no one will ever give Scarybear weapons or a job at a nuclear power plant. And that’s fine with him, as long as he has television. But the children’s programming that invariably knocks his shows off the schedule has contributed to his depression. He hasn’t even been able to generate any excitement about his own upcoming birthday.

So, with apologies to an entire city of Russians enduring sub-zero weather with no windows in their houses because of the sonic boom generated by yesterday’s meteor strike, the incident has given Scary a new lease on life.

“Dude, you have to see this!”

Holy crap, my fellow inebriates! And it seems Russians really dig these in-car cameras, because that meteor was captured by countless drivers as it hurtled 10-13 mps through the atmosphere with the shock-wave force of 30 Hiroshimas, setting off a sonic boom that shattered windows for miles. Over a thousand inhabitants were injured—mostly due to flying glass shards—in the most thunderous such event since the 1908 Tunguska Event.

In the aftermath, the biggest emergency is lack of windows. Chelyabinsk is on roughly the same latitude as Edmonton, with weather to match. Glaziers are being flown in for urgent repairs.

“Dude, that could have been us,” said Scary. “Or at least it could have been our Uncle J.”

Uncle J doesn’t know we call him that, but he does indeed live in Edmonton, meaning a mere lucky spin of the globe put him out of harm’s way. Which is still a vapid observation on Scary’s part.

“And dude,” Scary continued, “have you noticed these things always happen in Russia?”

Chelyabinsk impact areaWell, it is the largest freaking country on Earth. Still, Scary pointed out, by far most of the planet’s surface is not-Russia. The odds of a meteor blasting through not-Russia were much higher than the odds of the strike happening where it happened.

“So what does it mean, Scary?”

“I’m still thinking about that,” he said. “But dude, did you notice the time stamp on the video?”

I hadn’t noticed. (I was drunk on GRAY MONK ESTATE LATITUDE 50.)

Russian meteor time stamp big

“See?”

Russian meteor strike time stamp

“Whoa, Scary, either that guy’s camera clock is wrong or hundreds of Russian drivers are involved in a conspiracy to shock us with footage about a meteor strike that happened a month and a half ago instead of yesterday.”

“I know, right? Why would they do that? I have to think about it some more.” And Scary was happy for the first time since the Mayan calendar ended.

2009-gray-monk-estate-winery-latitude-50-white-20110606090751-285871Relieved that no loss of life had been reported, I continued drinking LATITUDE 50. This popular white wine blend is pleasantly off-dry with a pale lemon tint and richly layered tropical aromas. Yet another recommendation from our favorite liquor-store consultant, it coats the palate with substantial texture, letting loose mango, apricot, and sweet citrus notes. While delicious chilled, LATITUDE 50 really comes into its own once it rises a few degrees, and ends with a lingering finish. For fans of solid foods it would probably be an excellent accompaniment to light dishes such as poultry or even spicy cuisine, although those foods would of course soak up some of its 12.7% alcohol, leaving you less value for your $13.99.

“Dude!” said Scary.

“Leave me alone, I’m drinking.”

“Dude, if that wine were ‘Latitude 55’ you might not be enjoying it right now.”

“Scary, if I were enjoying a beverage from latitude 55, it would be vodka.”

Leaving aside Scary’s lack of empathy and even schadenfreude at yesterday’s meteor event, the impact is a grim reminder of the knife-edge on which our little planet exists. Just hours before, a small asteroid had squeaked by Earth with 17,000 miles to spare, and over 9,500 celestial bodies make regular near-Earth passes.

“The whole thing illustrates two things,” said Scary.

“What?”

“I don’t know yet, but one of them has to do with the time stamp on that video.” Scary scratched his ass. “Oh wait, I know the other thing: When a really killer asteroid’s about to hit, the government will never tell us.”

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Can we really trust the sun not to cook us?

My Fellow Inebriates,

The whole family went out last night. My parents had been in a funk all day; the kids were glued to Netflix and needed to be torn away somehow; and my dad had a restaurant gift card—so off they went without so much as considering letting me ride along in a purse.

When you’re left home alone with bears like Scary and Fluffy, apocalyptic thoughts are unavoidable, especially when you’re already feeling left out of an adventure. Scary doesn’t ever really stop thinking about the End of Days, and with a catatonic golem like Fluffy constantly beside him creeping everybody out, his weird-ass theories gain a little more purchase than they should.

Why Scary thought of solar flares when it was pouring outside I don’t know. He usually gets anxious about the sun in hot weather, when he’s cooking inside his fur. With his great ass in front of the turbo fan, he blasts us all with his filthy funk and his insights about Armageddon, which, when the mercury’s over 95°, tend to involve the sun.

Not that Scary’s insights are conventional. Ask him about global warming and he’s likely to shrug. Ask him about rising sea levels and he might yawn. Insufficiently dramatic for Scary, these ordinary perils fail to pique his interest. And despite the apparent stability of our sun, midway through its life with a good 4 billion years left in the tank, Scary wonders if it plans to start behaving erratically in 2012.

Photo: Casey Reed/NASA

There is some galactic precedent. In 1999 astronomers discovered explosive superflares had erupted from nine stars “disturbingly similar to our own sun,” all at least 100 light years away. Unlike regular solar flares, from which our atmosphere and magnetic field largely protect us, superflares are millions of times more powerful, brightening their stars by at least 20%, stripping planetary atmospheres (if any) and frying any inhabitants.

Bradley Schaefer, one of the scientists on the team, emphasized that “our sun does not do this, as far as we can tell.”

Scary scoffed at this reassurance, saying “It only needs to do it once. And then we wouldn’t be here to say it doesn’t do it.” He said the flares (“death flares”) could flash-fry distant Pluto, never mind us.

Throughout this Fluffy remained expressionless, a silent twin to Scary as he freaked me out, people. I thought I’d better contact someone with better credentials than Scary—maybe Bradley Schaefer.

Not one scientist or politician has ever responded to my emails. Truly, the only “official” person who gives me the time of day is Julia Gale of BROKER’S GIN. Just this week she sent a very slick newsletter full of pictures of the BROKER’S GIN tour of North America, which I do hope culminates in the reinstatement of that breathtaking elixir to our shelves. It’s just dreadful to think that if one of Scary’s death flares shot out from the sun all the gin would be instantly evaporated (along with our eyeballs).

I have to believe (and who knows, maybe Julia will agree with me; I emailed her about it too) that our sun will behave itself, although, being middle-aged like my parents, it conceivably will do something erratic. According to Sallie Baliunas at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, stars like our sun often dim down by 1% or so for a “quiescent” spell. Baliunas says 17 of Earth’s last 19 major cold episodes involved solar activity, so maybe Scarybear should think about that.

Maybe if we had an ice age Scary wouldn’t plunk his hairy butt in front of the fan and pollute the house with his funk.

BIG ROCK DUNKELWEIZEN—Drink it quickly, even if the ball won’t drop again

Score another point for the Mayan calendar: With the End of Days imminent and presumably no more Times Square big-ball drops remaining, there was no longer any earthly use for the famously well-preserved Dick Clark. Dead of a heart attack at 82, Clark leaves our little blue planet hurtling toward the apocalypse without his squeaky-clean morals to guide us.

Even though Dick Clark mainstreamed the devil’s music, he drew the line at Elvis’s public thrusts, requiring the King to be filmed from the waist up during his American Bandstand gig, and thus rescuing American teenagers from thinking about bumping, grinding, or sex. Clark’s death is a sad blow for the American right wing with which he was so proudly aligned.

James Brown is dead.
He looks happy, though. —AP Photo

Celebrity open-casket shots are rare, and if the news is correct, Clark has already been cremated, leaving the world to wonder what he must have looked like in repose. Doubtless he looked charmingly waxen, if not happy, the way James Brown did.

Caskets really creep me out. After searching in vain for a picture of Dick Clark dead or in a coffin and finding all kinds of other freaky things instead (a child’s Hello Kitty coffin, OMG), I needed a drink. Lucky for me there was one beer left: BIG ROCK DUNKELWEIZEN DARK WHEAT ALE.

As you know, my fellow inebriates, if a beer is the last beer in the house I am absolutely going to drink it, and this was the case with DUNKELWEIZEN, even if I wasn’t crazy about it being a wheat ale. I’ve never found a hefeweizen I loved, mainly because of their light citrusiness, but I thought a dark wheat beer might be different. And it was.

DUNKELWEIZEN is a lovely dark color with a garnet tinge and a fizzy white head. Billed as a blend of five distinctive malts, its aroma is rich and toffee-like with espresso predominating. Malty sweetness hits the tongue first, then unmistakable coffee, chocolate, and vanilla notes. These flavors are none too subtle, mind you; they tend to redouble with each sip and stick to the palate, making the beer less refreshing than it could be.

That having been said, DUNKELWEIZEN is drinkable. I could pound six of them if I needed to—say, if the Canucks were getting reamed and I felt sad. The mouthfeel isn’t terribly heavy, the alcohol percentage is an acceptable 5%, and the flavors are harmonious, even if they do suggest a Big Rock–Starbucks collaboration.

Like a lot of beers that aren’t perfectly right, low temperature is essential to enjoyment of DUNKELWEISEN. Give it ten minutes in the freezer prior to opening, drink it quickly, and you’ll probably love it—the deeper flavors won’t have a fighting chance to punch through the icy cold. But if this beer is allowed to sit, those heavy flavors get a bit rowdy and start behaving like coffee instead of beer.

A beer that needs to be slammed back quickly is not a bad thing. I feel a bit guilty pounding a really sublime beer fast so I can get loaded, but DUNKELWEIZEN lends itself to chugging. So I did pound the bottle, forgetting that it was the last beer in the house, which made me melancholy and prompted me to look at coffin pictures again.

Check it out, it's Elvis.

This one doesn't have anybody in it, but it is decorated with a bacon motif.

This one has Kim Jong-Il in it.

A wine-themed casket. Way to show people you loved life.

There goes Whitney Houston.

Would Dick Clark have liked this gay-themed coffin?

Going out in style, Michael Jackson.