ChristmasWindow

The BBT 2014 Christmas Gift Buying Guide

By: BBT Staff

It’s that time of year again when we all stress over trying to buy the perfect presents for friends and family. While we here at BBT encourage our readers to stay focused on the true meaning of Christmas (and Hanukkah for our Jewish friends), the fact remains that you want to get your father, brother, boyfriend, husband, or friend something he will truly enjoy and appreciate.

And if you find something you want, feel free to casually leave this list circled where a loved one will find it.

We have tried to give a mix of budget-friendly items, as well as some more expensive ideas if that’s what you’re looking for.

Blue Whale Ceramic Tray- $20

There also designs in green and red, sans whale.

There also designs in green and red, sans whale.

When I get home from work, my keys go on the hook by the door, my shoes go on the shelf, and my clothes go back on the hanger or in the hamper. Everything has its place. However, my wallet, pocketknife, guitar picks, and phone do not have a home. This tray would solve all my problems (and it looks decent enough for my wife to not hate it). -Kellen

Rustico Leather Travel Journal- $59.50

leatherjournal

We’ve written on the lost art of handwriting, and the importance of putting pen to paper. It would be easy to form a writing habit if one was writing in a journal this nice every day. With 160 thick pages sewn into cowhide leather, this would be the perfect gift for someone who enjoys journaling, creative writing, or is going on a trip in the near future. -Jason

Death Star Ice Mold- #11.99

deathstarice

An underrated part of any drink is the ice you put into it. Having one large cube allows for slower water dilution, while still chilling the drink. But why have a bland, large cube when you can dress it up a little bit? Now witness the power of a fully armed and operational battle station! However, we recommend getting two just in case some punk kid blows up your first one. -Casey

Swiss Army Hunter Pro Knife- $82.50

It slices and dices!

It slices and dices!

Every man secretly wants a Swiss Army Knife. And the older I get, the more often I find myself using mine every day. Whether it is doing work around the house or opening up toys for my kid that have a maddening amount of plastic ties, a good knife is a must. Here is a top of the line Swiss Army blade, that any man would be happy to have. -Andy

Six Great Dialogues of Plato- $5.50

plato

Amaze your friends with philosophical knowledge!

What if I told you that the you could become familiar with the foundations of all Western civilization by reading one $5 book? All great thinkers from Aristotle to Saint Thomas Aquinas to Immanuel Kant have based their works on this man. If you know someone even remotely interested in philosophy, they need this book before all others. -Jason

Cinnamon Split Key Ring- $25

The perfect keychain for a man. The tanned red looks pleasing to the eye, and the leather feels good in the hand. Add the faint cinnamon aroma and you are pleasing 3 out of 5 senses. And it repels tigers, who of course hate cinnamon. -Alan

Peterson Pipe- $92-$500

Pictured: Peterson Aran P-Lip: $100

Pictured: Peterson Aran P-Lip: $100

If you are shopping for a man who enjoys an occasional smoke, consider getting him a nice pipe. Peterson pipes are beautiful, offer a wide selection, and shipping is free. Pipe tobacco is cheap and smells amazing, plus there’s nothing quite like enjoying a good smoke on your porch to relax. -Casey

Men’s Chunky Knit Cardigan- $135

"No, it's a cardigan, but thanks for noticing!" Also available in navy and black.
“No, it’s a cardigan, but thanks for noticing!” Also available in navy and black.

There are cheaper cardigans out there, for sure. But you would be hard pressed to find one with a thicker and softer fabric than this. If you know a guy who incorporates cardigans into his fall/winter wardrobe, he will love this one. -Alan

Sydney Hale Candle- $30

Credit: Airows.com

When I first started having to buy women not named Mom presents when I was a teenager, I learned to lean on candles as a safe bet when you can’t think of anything else for your special lady. All girls love them. It took about fifteen more years for me to realize men can love candles too, and that’s thanks to Sydney-Hale. I got one last Christmas from my wife, and often light it as I sip bourbon, listen to vinyl, and write BBT articles. These candles come in awesome manly scents like Cedarwood-Vanilla, Woodsmoke-Amber, and my personal favorite, Tobacco-Sandalwood. If used sparingly, one candle can last a year. And the best part is once they are done, the left over glass is meant to be converted into a bourbon glass! -Andy

Hand-Stitched Leather Razor Sheath- $29

Hand cut, hand conditioned with beeswax and hand stitched.

This is a bit of a splurge purchase. However, any man who has ever cut his hand while grabbing for his safety razor knows it this is worth every penny. -Alan

Waxed Canvas Camp Stool- $36

CampStool

It’s sturdy. It repels water. And it packs down into a light, small package that makes it easy to pack and transport. This is perfect for the man who hikes, camps, has a fire pit, or could just use a good stool around the house. -Casey

Easton Press Books- The Greatest Books Ever Written- $45/mo

easton press
So many leather-bound books.

This is the gift that keeps on giving! Easton Press publishes quality leather-bound books, complete with gold page ends and classic illustrations. They have several series you can order monthly, but I recommend the Greatest Books Ever Written. This series includes classics like The Jungle Book, A Farewell to Arms, and The Three Musketeers. The first book is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which you can get for only $5.95. You can easily cancel, and still keep the classy leather copy of Mark Twain’s classic. However, if you give this to someone for a year, they will have a beautiful collection of leather-bound books which would make even Ron Burgundy proud. -Andy

Loden Green Wool Felt Hat- $166

Credit: Need Supply Co.

Credit: Need Supply Co.

Some people are hat-people, and some people aren’t. I am a hat-person, and since I’m officially 29, my hat game should probably mature a little. I’ll still wear my 59/50s, but I’d love to add a hat like this to my repertoire. -Kellen

Bourbon- $25-$50

Bourbon

Of course a site named Bourbon Brain Trust would include a good bottle of bourbon on this list. There is no better way to pass the long, cold winter than with a fire warming your skin and bourbon warming your belly. For the novice drinker, consider a bottle of Buffalo Trace, which retails at about $20, or Basil Hayden for about $35. If you want to go a little pricier, Eagle Rare is one of the best you can get for around $50. Of course, there are plenty of other reasonably priced good ones as well, including Knob Creek, Woodford Reserve, and Maker’s Mark,  All of these should be available at most liquor stores.

Merry Christmas!

-BBT

OilRig

The Shale Revolution: What’s the Big Fracking Deal?

By: Andy Crawford

Part of what we do on BBT is write about any topic which we find interesting. We’ve written on topics as diverse as the Delta Blues, Appalachian forestry, and spark plugs. So, allow me to come out of left field with another topic: fracking.

I recently began reading a lot about U.S. energy policy, including a series of articles in Foreign Affairs addressing fracking from many different perspectives. In short, it’s an interesting topic with far-reaching and fascinating effects that is completely reshaping the national, and indeed global, economy.

What is fracking?

Without knowing anything, fracking is a bit of a scary word. It summons images of violent cracks in the Earth that could lead to earthquakes or massive sink holes. Even the word itself is hard and violent sounding.

Fracking is a process of extracting oil and natural gas by injecting high-pressure water, sand, and chemicals into shale. Until recently, drilling technology could not efficiently reach reservoirs of oil and natural gas packed into the shale. By drilling the well horizontally into the ground, instead the traditional vertical direction, we can now reach large amounts of oil and natural gas in a much more efficient way.

Fracking vs. traditional oil drilling.  Credit: Foreign Policy Blogs

Fracking vs. traditional oil drilling. Credit: Foreign Policy Blogs

So why is fracking such a big deal?

If you recall 2007/2008 you’ll remember U.S. energy policy was at the forefront of the presidential election. It was a time of high gas prices, and chants of “Drill Baby, Drill” could be heard at campaign rallies. Some called for more oil refineries and offshore drilling, and others insisted wind and solar weren’t unicorns and could actually replace fossil fuels.

It was around this time that fracking really took off in America. All of a sudden there was a huge surge in domestic oil and natural gas production in our own backyards. In 2008 the price of natural gas per thousand cubic feet was $13.50. By 2009 that price had dropped to $4.00. Considering natural gas is 25% of American energy consumption, this was a huge boost to an economy recovering from the Great Recession.

There was a similar effect in the oil industry. The price of a barrel of oil has not been close to the $100 per barrel we saw for much of the first part of this century. The United States is now one of the largest oil producers in the world, and is expected to overtake Russia, the second leading oil producer, by the end of the decade. The International Energy Agency projects that the U.S. could eventually surpass Saudi Arabia to become the leading oil producer in the world.

It is no wonder that the two states that have embraced fracking the most have experienced huge economic growth over the last six years. Thanks to a booming energy sector, North Dakota’s unemployment rate is an astounding 2.6%. According to the American Enterprise Institute, Texas accounted for 15% of the nation’s job growth in 2013, even though the state accounts for only 8% of the population. This is largely thanks to a booming oil industry.

It’s also worth noting that the abundance of natural gas is driving a comeback of the American manufacturing sector.

Why is this only happening in America?

America has been on the front end of the shale revolution. Four million oil and gas wells have been drilled in the U.S. versus 1.5 million in the rest of the world. This is because America is one of the freest developed nations on Earth. American law respects private property owners, allowing them to own the mineral rights below the surface of their property. In Europe, Russia, and China, property owners often have no right to the resources below the surface. An enterprising company must navigate an expensive and bureaucratic process before they can begin to drill.

America also has a financial system that makes it easy for entrepreneurs wishing to invest in new technology to receive the capital they need. Fracking was not developed by Big Oil. Those companies gave up on the mainland a long time ago, and have been drilling in the ocean for decades. It was small, competitive, and innovative companies that developed fracking technology.

Lastly, America has largely left fracking unregulated (although some states and cities have banned the process). Environmentalists, particularly in Europe, have managed to restrict the practice. France has actually banned fracking all together. (This means they will continue to import oil and gas from Russia, and directly fund Putin’s aggression toward Ukraine and Georgia…but whatever.)

Credit: Center for Energy and Climate Economics

Credit: Center for Energy and Climate Economics

What about environmental concerns?

It’s completely reasonable to question the environmental impact of fracking. Drilling always leads to questions of soil and water contamination, possible seismic activity, and pollution that can come from the above-ground drilling site itself. For example, there have been recent concerns raised about planned fracking in Virginia possibly leading to a contamination of the Chesapeake.

Fracking usually takes place well below the water table, which means there is little chance of contamination. Any instances of tainted water have been isolated, and are connected to poor well construction or the inevitable surface spill. While worrisome, it is important to remember that these are complications that can come from any kind of drilling, and not just fracking. There is no evidence the action of fracking causes ground pollution. In fact, the chemicals used to break the shale are those found in toothpaste or ice cream.

There have been reports of increased seismic activity in areas of shale drilling, but they are usually too low on the Richter scale to be felt.

As for air pollution, locations near oil and gas wells have seen large increases in smog. Oil wells in Colorado, most of which have been built since 2010, are the state’s largest cause of smog. Most of this is produced by the tanks, valves, and trucks used to store and transport the gas and oil.

Ultimately, fracking becomes a risk-benefit analysis. The economic benefits are clearly substantial. The world continues to run on oil and gas, and that will continue into the foreseeable future. Fracking continues to give America an advantage over other countries in energy production, and that takes power away from geopolitical foes like Russia and virtually the entire Middle East. Furthermore, natural gas is much cleaner than coal, producing much less carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. Still, there are environmental risks of which people should be aware. Oil and gas companies must continue to develop industry-wide best practices to minimize pollution and any other hazards that can result from drilling.

Andy is reminded of that episode of The Office where Michael Scott reads one article on China and thinks he’s an expert. It should be pointed out that 90% of the information in this article was gleaned from the May/June Issue of Foreign Affairs. In particular, please see “Welcome to the Revolution,” by Edward L. More, “The United States of Gas,” by Robert A. Hefner, III, and “Don’t Just Drill, Baby- Drill Carefully,” by Fred Krupp.

A BBT suggestion for a perfect Thanksgiving turkey

Fried_Turkey_Brine_800x600

By: Casey Carpenter

After I got married, my wife and I started cooking the Thanksgiving meal for my family in Jackson, TN. My wife and I both love to cook, but this isn’t just any meal. Everyone has a different list of dishes that must be included at Thanksgiving, and we were no different. We finally agreed to green beans, corn, potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing / dressing, and a surfeit of desserts. And of course, a turkey. That was my one job – perfectly cook a turkey.

I had never cooked a turkey before, but I enjoy a good culinary challenge. All I really remembered of every turkey I’ve eaten growing up was how dry they can be. I’ve had roasted and deep fried. I’m not saying that I’ve only eaten dry turkey, but many left me reaching for copious helpings of gravy. It’s pretty easy to dry out a bird, considering the water content in their muscles are much less than other animals. Think about it – you’re eating something that used to fly. Less water, less weight, less effort required to move it through the air.

So my goal was relatively simple: don’t serve a dried out turkey. So, I made sure to brine the bird. This involved making a “marinade” of sorts for the turkey to sit in for 24 hours. There are many different recipes for brine, but they all use healthy amount of salt and sugar. I remember the first brine I made consisted of an entire pound of Morton salt, two cups of brown sugar, and a bunch of other spices that were supposed to give the turkey a unique bouquet. I don’t remember much of the minor spices, but the salt and sugar do wonders for increasing the turkey’s water content both before and after cooking. Translation: A VERY JUICY BIRD!

My first attempt - a great success.

My first attempt – a great success.

This year, I’m trying a new brine recipe. I found it the other day as my wife and I were preparing for this year’s meal. I knew I had to try it, mainly because it lists beer and bacon as two ingredients. I think I stopped after reading those two. Here is the recipe, as found on foodandwine.com, with my comments in bold italics:

INGREDIENTS:

1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds

2 tablespoons black peppercorns

8 bay leaves

1 cup dark brown sugar – dark brown sugar has more molasses than regular brown sugar, which the Carpenters will be using.

1 cup kosher salt

2 onions, cut into thick wedges

1 pound slab bacon, skin removed and meat sliced 1/3 inch thick – I’m pretty sure a high quality pre-sliced bacon will work just fine.

Six 12-ounce bottles Guinness stout

One 12 to 14-pound turkey – 20-pound turkey, it’s just how we roll.

DIRECTIONS:

1. In a very large pot, combine the mustard seeds, peppercorns and bay leaves and toast over moderate heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the brown sugar and salt and remove from the heat. Add 4 cups of water and stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved; let cool completely. If needed, put the pot back onto heat to dissolve the salt and sugar, but try not to boil.

2. Add the onions, bacon, Guinness and 16 cups of cold water to the pot. Add the turkey to the brine, breast side down, and top with a heavy lid to keep it submerged. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours. Most people (including our family) don’t have a pot big enough to hold their turkey. I’ve used a heavy duty garbage bag in the past, which seemed to work pretty well. The other issue you might have is finding room in the refrigerator – good luck.

3. Preheat the oven to 350° and position a rack on the bottom shelf. Lift the turkey from the brine, pick off any peppercorns, mustard seeds and bay leaves and pat dry. Transfer the turkey to a large roasting pan, breast side up. Scatter the onion wedges in the pan and add 1 cup of water. Using toothpicks, secure the bacon slices over the breast. Roast the turkey for about 2 hours, turning the pan occasionally, until an instant-read thermometer inserted deep into the turkey thighs registers 150°. Remove the bacon and return the turkey to the oven. If your legs are looking pretty brown, you can lightly cover them with aluminum foil to keep them from burning. Roast for about 1 hour longer, until the breast is browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted in a thigh registers 170°. I’ve stopped cooking at 165 degrees before. Remember, you can always cook it longer if it looks undercooked, but you can’t reverse the process. Transfer the turkey to a carving board. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes before slicing that bad boy open.

That’s pretty much it. No basting, and no starting the turkey early in the morning and checking it all day. There are plenty of brine recipes that do not involve bacon or beer, so if you would like to try brining but do not want the beer or bacon, do a quick Google search (Emeril’s brine is very good).

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!