A Dram Good Time With...
In our opinion the association between Jack Daniels and rock is old and tired and that’s why Simply Whisky feels compelled to re-introduce whisky into the music scene by profiling contemporary bands talking about their interest, opinion and experience of single malt whisky.
Pete and Ben from Oberhofer
Simon of Simply Whisky popped over to London's Shoreditch area to catch up with Pete Sustarsic and Benjamin Roth, drummer and bass player with the band Oberhofer, a dance-punk-noise pop group helmed by chieftain Brad Oberhofer. Oberhofer sometimes remind us of Glasvegas and early Weezer. Hooragh! With new album ‘Time Capsules II’ out Worldwide the band have been traversing the globe (sometimes with me in tow) playing festivals such as Coachella, SXSW and Lollapalooza, and television shows such as the ‘Late Show with David Letterman’.
“To tell you the truth I don’t remember everything that crossed my lips”— Pete, Oberhofer
Fresh off the plane from the Netherlands, and thirsty and hungry, I decide to take Pete and Ben to Pizza East for a dram and a slice (singer Brad doesn't indulge in the joys of drinking alcohol, while guitarist Mathyou is high on medication). The restaurant is busy and loud and so we bide our time waiting for a table in a quiet corner of the bar. 'Everything good?' I ask the boys. All riiight, then let's begin.
Are you in the middle of a tour, what’s happening?
Pete: ‘We are just ending a European tour, it is about a week long and this is our last date tonight in London.’
When did you as a band come of age musically?
Pete: ‘That’s kind of hard to answer because we’ve had a rotating line-up, Ben is maybe our third or fourth bass player.’ But your best I presume? ‘Third, fourth and best, but I don’t know, Ben maybe you should answer…when did you feel like everything locked in, maybe we are not even there yet?’
Ben: ‘With the band? With this current band Oberhofer, ah, I would say probably the first show of this little European tour we are doing.’ ‘Paris?’ Pete asks. ‘Yeh, in Paris, that’s when I felt that I really locked in, I didn’t have to pay attention to what my fingers were doing anymore.’
Pete: ‘So our show at Point Éphémèré in Paris about a week ago, that’s when we came of age currently.’
Was the crowd going WILD?
Pete: ‘The French do go wild, but in different ways to other countries. I wouldn’t say they went wild, they were really polite, but we played very well for them, it was definitely a good night.’
Ben: ‘Everyone was still on their first beer too that night…. the audience, I should say.’
At this juncture we have a dram. I offer up an Irish Greenore 8 year old single grain whiskey and I hand the boys their glasses asking Pete if he would like to go first?
100% Single grain Irish whisky! Sweet, smooth and delicate
Dae ye ken?
The Greenore 8 Year Old is the only is the only expression of Irish Single Grain whiskey in the World (at time of writing)
Distilled from maize/corn and and matured for 8 years in first fill ex-bourbon casks
Soft, sweet corn, appetising with delicious hints of bourbon
Rich, soft oils, melt-in-the-mouth grain and just a hint of barley
The oak returns to give a crispness
Cooley, the makers of Greenore, are Ireland's only independent distillery. Set up in 1987 they had a vision to restore some of the ancient brands of Irish whiskey to their former glory. Let the good work continue...
Pete: ‘OK. Hmmm, it has a very light smell, it’s not too powerful and doesn’t blow me back.’ Nosing the glass again he reflects on the aroma: ‘notes I’m getting…I’m not really sure, I’m trying to pick it out.’
Maybe a little bit of grass, do you smoke the hashish? (You never know with these rock n roll types, although I was of course referring to the short green stuff in the garden).
‘I don’t, no’ Pete laughs. ‘We just came from Amsterdam, and I didn’t do any of it, but grass, yeh, I can definitely smell the grass, it has an element of that.’ Nosing his whiskey deeper he confirms ‘Yeh, definitely, kind of a summery smell.’
When Pete pauses to take his first sip I suggest he holds his Greenore in his mouth, reminding him that I want to see him chew the whiskey left to right, up and down, before gently sliding it down the back of his throat.
How do you feel?
Pete: ‘I feel really good, that’s not as… I was maybe expecting something a little more powerful; I still feel it tingling in my mouth, up and down, all over actually. Erm, it is really kind of nice.’
Is there any smoke in the finish?
‘A bit, but less than I’ve had in the past. It is smoky, but I don’t feel it up in my nose or through my throat, I kind of like it actually, it's not sweet which is what I’m usually drawn to, but it still feels kind of light on my palate.’
When do you usually drink whisk(e)y? Could the Greenore be one to start an evening?
Pete: ‘I guess it would depend, although I definitely could start with a Greenore because it wouldn’t be too much straight off the bat, then maybe I’d graduate to something a little stronger or meaner on the palate. Yeh, I would definitely start a night with this’ he concludes, before we turn to Ben for his opinion.
Ben: ‘I think I’ve already tasted almost all of it.’
I’ve got more I assure him, glancing left and right at the Pizza East staff who have encircled our huddled group, perhaps aware of what we are up to. Throwing caution to the wind I tip another healthy dram into his expectant glass reminding him there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to how he finds the taste of the Greenore.
A long pause ensues. ‘It is very light’ he finally adds, obviously deep in concentration. ‘It has almost a flowery scent to me, very botanical, if that is a good word to describe it?’ ‘Floral?’ Pete suggests. ‘Yeh, floral’ Ben agrees, adding ‘it feels as though I am walking through a greenhouse.’ I always enjoying the analogies I hear when introducing whisky to people.
A second long pause ensues as Ben fully immerses himself in his tasting experience, chewing his sample of Greenore with precision.
‘It is very good, very smooth. Yeh, like Pete said, it’s not really sweet at all, and again going along with the way it smells I think it definitely tastes floral, kind of like a good salad.’
What is the best musical moment you have experienced as a group, and how did you celebrate? What did you drink?
Pete: ‘For me it was when we opened for the band Tapes ‘n’ Tapes in Minneapolis at First Avenue for, I think, about 1200 people. We had never played for that many people indoors before, but we made it feel like it was a small club. I think that was the best moment for us that I know of. That night though we were probably just drinking beer, and if anything it would have been well whiskey (an alcoholic beverage that is most commonly processed in Well Pennsylvania), because that is what you can get with a drink ticket, but I wouldn’t even know what it was. No, I think we were drinking beer; it wasn’t a whisky night for some reason. We did however drink well into the night, and you know what, to tell you the truth I don’t remember everything that crossed my lips, but there were a number of things.’
George Orwell, author of 1984, travelled to the Island of Jura for creative respite, which drink enhances your creativity and is your writing companion?
Pete: ‘Hmmm. You answer that one Ben.’
Ben: ‘I’d have to think about that for a moment…. I’d have to think of a drink that doesn’t bring me down’ he confesses. ‘You know, alcohol is a depressant but some drinks do make me feel more lively. I drank a lot of Bulleit Rye when I was bartending just because it was very cheap for me at the time, and it was an extremely tolerable if not good mid-range whiskey (which I happen to agree with by the way). That was probably my whisky/drink of choice at the time. I go to a Macallan scotch every once in a while just to mix it up, but definitely Bulleit Rye.'
Did drinking Bulleit Rye give you a mental or a physical lift?
Ben: ‘Maybe a slight bit of bravado brought on by the effects of booze.’
Does that affect your creative process?
‘Ehm, not always. I definitely become a better socialiser, that’s for sure’ he laughs. ‘Social lube’ adds Pete rather cryptically. Ben continues: ‘Generally I like to enjoy a drink after doing something creative, instead of prior to’.
As a way of rewarding yourself, or just to loosen up?
‘Yes, just to loosen up…I think conversationally I become more creative. I think that just kind of goes with the territory'.
If Oberhofer was a drink what would it be, and why?
Pete: ‘It would be a fruit smoothy,’ he decides. ‘Yeh, a Fountain says Ben. ‘No, it would definitely be a fruit smoothie,’ Pete continues ‘because the main force behind the band is our singer Brad, and that’s all you can get in to him basically. Blue Machine and Green Machine as well, and I know you like that shit’ he says looking directly at me, and you know he is right. I do love antioxidant fruit juices. You’ve got me. Pete: ‘Yes, exactly, so definitely fruit in a puree form’ he concludes adamantly. ‘I’d try sneaking booze into it later on, when nobody is looking’ quips Ben. Brad is still quite young isn’t he. ‘He’s 21, of drinking age in the United States, but you know, who knows?’ ponders Pete.
Do you have any favourite people that reference the enjoyment of alcohol; authors, actors, poets or people you have met?
Pete: ‘No one I have met, but there are certain singers or bands that maybe sing about the enjoyment of alcohol’. ‘Quite a few’, adds Ben. ‘Yes, probably most’ counters Pete going on to say: ’this is a terrible example but it’s the first one that comes to my mind; Fountains of Wayne.
They have a lot of songs about getting drunk and being depressed, and I totally relate to a few of those, not to say being depressed is all drinking is about, but they definitely have songs that are just literally about drinking.
The Pogues too, God, we could go on for days and days… forever!’ Ben: ‘What’s that New York song, whatever’s its called?’ You are thinking of Fairytale of New York. Ben: ‘Oh ok. Here comes another…. Tom Waits…. Tom Waits references a lot of well whisky, but in a good way,’ he reckons. ‘So those would all be inspirations, drink’s wise in musicians’ reckons Pete.
As mentioned, the boys recently played the ‘Late Show with David Letterman'. Here they are in action for your viewing and listening pleasure.
I decide it is time for another whisky. Pete, if you could just hold this for a second. Pete: ‘I can do that.’ Let me take this glass back and give you a fresh one. ‘OK. The tulip glass returns’ replies Pete. Ben: ‘I like his style!’ Pete: ‘Yeh, I like the vials you have (I’ve been pulling miniatures of whisky out of my pocket in the hope none of the staff notice as we still stand waiting for our dinner table). ‘You are pulling them out of whichever pocket you can find’ Ben laughs. Pete: ‘These are great, where did you get these bottles?’ I ordered them online actually. ‘Awesome’ Pete decides Ben: ‘They are fancy pocket rockets’.
I hand the boys their second whisky. Pete suggests to Ben that he starts first this time. I tell them their next whisky is from the island of Islay which has 8 whisky distilleries and that the island is regarded as its own whisky region. I explain that the overwhelming characteristic of whiskies from Islay (generally speaking) is that they are peaty and smokey (‘Yes’, nods Ben sagely) but that this particular whisky has been finished off in a much smaller cask and so the whisky has had more contact with the wood and is therefore a little sweeter than it would otherwise be.
An intense peatiness so unique to Laphroaig comes bursting through. A really terrific whisky
Dae ye ken?
The smaller the barrel used, the stronger the oak influence, due to the hugely increased oak surface contact compared to the small amount of whisky
Coopers at Laphroaig made these oak quarter casks
Ripe, new-make barley sweetness followed by a combination of a barbecue, flower, sooty chimney, apple slice and a piece of Gouda
Smoky and accented with hints of coconut and banana aromas
Full bodied, deep, complex and smokyt
Laphroaig is on Islay, a wee Scottish island off the West coast of Scotland inhabited by only 3200 people. The Johnston brothers first started (illictly) distilling Laphroaig whisky over 200 years ago
What do you think of this bad boy (the laphraoig quarter cask)?
Ben: ‘Well, initially I’m smelling that peatiness and woodiness (he breaths in), it kind of reminds me of… I’m from Washington State where it is a little bit rainy and misty, and in the Autumn the smell of wood chips and moss on the ground or in the forest is very much like this.’
Pete: ‘I can picture what he’s smelling.’ Ben: ‘I would see me walking through the forest in the mist with a little snifter of whisky…’ Pete: ‘it’s getting weird.’ Ben: ‘Fine, I’ll take a sip… mmm. One more.’ Whisky is for drinking after all, I add, and for sharing. Ben pauses and then comments: ‘Very citrusy, it seems brighter than the last one, definitely heavier and more full bodied I would say, maybe also a stringent sort of quality, like that of pine.’
So when would you normally drink this style of whisky, or would you?
Ben: ‘I would drink this all the time if I had it!’ he laughs. Pete: ‘is this one aged at all?’ It is, although it doesn’t have an age statement on the bottle. Pete: ‘Oh OK’. This laphroaig is a mixture of 5 to 11 year old bourbons which are then double matured in the quarter casks.
Pete: ‘I’m definitely getting a swampy type vibe from the smell, but maybe more mechanical. A bit like my boat in that swamp letting off a bit of exhaust (I decide to allow this analogy to run…). It’s a bit stronger than the last one’ he chuckles. Ben: ‘maybe a bit of packing grease, you know what I’m talking about?’ Pete: ‘It smells like my Dad’s hands after getting out of the garage.’ Ben: ‘yeh, like machining or something.’
Curious about the source of their aromatic references I ask have you had much experience of machining?
Pete: ‘very little, less since I moved to the city’.
And where are you from again?
Pete: ‘I’m from Cleveland, Ohio, originally.’ I told my friend Van I thought you were from Delaware. Pete: ‘that’s really close, that’s basically the same thing, just as exciting.’ I turn to Van, who has joined us and ask
Van, do you have anything to say?
‘No, but I want some of that whisky!’ OK, the lady knows what she wants and so Van is going to have some of the Laphroaig while I ask you the next question.
When was the last time you had a yearning for a drink, and what was it? (It needn’t be an alcoholic drink)
Pete: ‘Earlier today.
I have a real problem with sugar. I crave it, and I need it. Maybe I don’t, but my body tells me I do.
I really wanted a Coke earlier today, but what I wound up getting instead was 20 ft away from where we are now, at this box mall. I got an Elvis style blue energy beverage. It tasted like blue red bull, and it was awful, but it sort of filled that bubbly sugary thing that I need. More recently, sometimes coffee, and I’m not a coffee drinker at all, but sometimes I really need some cream with sugar and a little coffee on top.’
As a drummer you are the powerhouse of Oberhofer, I tell Pete. Having seen you playing I can say you are quite precise, and a heavy hitter, so maybe this is all linked?
Pete: ‘Right! We will see how it goes tonight. I am pretty versatile. Luckily you have the rhythm section here, the bass and drums.’ The very foundation of the house, I presume, that Brad wants to build in your song ‘Haus.’
Ben, given that you used to be a bartender have you had a yearning for a drink recently?
Ben: ‘Well, actually one was recently quenched when we were in Berlin. I was able to have my favourite beer Augustiner which is actually a Munich beer, a rare treat for me as I’m not often in Germany. To me it is like the American Pabst Blue Ribbon, except Augustiner is much higher quality.’
Pete: ‘I don’t like it.’ Ben: ‘Really?’ Pete: ‘I can’t drink Pabst Blue Ribbon. I will drink Miller High Life though all night.’ Ben: ‘That’s interesting, I’m kind of the other way around. It must be an East coast / West coast thing.’ Pete: ‘North coast / West coast!’
Our favourite tracks of yours are Away Frm U, and Gotta Go. The lyrics in the latter that stood out for me were: Never want you to leave, too sad for me. If you were the one leaving where would you go, and what would you take with you?
Pete: ‘I’d probably go somewhere warm and I would take a few CDs with me, compact discs, and something to play them on.’
Do you still use compact discs, and would you have any particular bands on these CDs?
‘Absolutely! I buy them off the Internet, and I go to CD stores. I’ve only downloaded maybe two full albums. Yes, that’s what I’d take. I’d have to have Radiohead in the mix, and … shit, when you put me on the spot like this… I’d have to have Rubber Soul by The Beatles, Pink Moon by Nick Drake, and some Elliot Smith, I’m a very depressed person and I need help!’
How about yourself Ben?
‘This is a difficult question. I think part of me would really love to pack up a guitar and head down to New Zealand to hang out for a while, that seems like a very interesting place, but the more adventurous side of me would pack a few things and pop on my bicycle and ride around America.’
What kind of bicycle do you have?
‘It is a 1981 Centurion Pro Tour 15 (Pete: Jesus!). I have the full panniers for doing long hall stuff.’
So having had a couple of whiskies this evening which you both commented on expertly, what is your future whisky journey?
Pete: ‘Out of these two which path would I take?’ No, just in general. Say for example that you’d never met me. Pete: ‘Oh, that would be terrible! Come on!’
OK, so with the little information I have now given you about whisky where do you and whisky see yourself going together in the future?
Pete: ‘I’d like to mature, to develop my palate so that I can taste and identify more things, because I have a very immature and underdeveloped palate. Like I said, I like corn syrup and just awful things for me. Anything a kid 10 and under enjoys I still enjoy, A LOT! Kids don’t normally drink whisky, so I’d like to develop. Typically I go to a bar in New York and I just drink Jameson because its there and I enjoy it, and it’s pretty cheap. It is an uncreative choice, and I just order it impulsively, I don’t even look at what else is going on. I need to get away from that!’
Ben: ‘Well, really I don’t have much experience with Irish whiskey, and I’m very impressed by this Greenore. Moving to the scotch, I’ve had scotch that I absolutely hate, and stuff that I really like so I think I’d like to move more in that direction and get out of my Bulleit Rye trend. But in the immediate future it is the bottle of Jameson that we packed from the last venue.’
So you have a bottle of Jameson to drink after tonight’s show?
Both: ‘Perhaps!’ Ben: ‘We have an early flight tomorrow, but you know when in Rome, which I say every night!’ And when in London we are going to eat a pizza which we are going to do now so thank you both very much. Pete: ‘No problem, thank you!’ Ben: ‘Thank you very much!'