The New(ish) Normal

April 3, 2020 Leave a comment

Here’s the e-mail that went out to our Free Range list last night:

Howdy Free Rangers,

We’ve been hearing this thrown around a lot: The New Normal. At this point, I take that to mean uncharted territory in every direction. Around Here, the website orders and pick-ups have been going fairly well, thanks to Derek and all of you. To get back to a little more of our usual normal, scroll to the bottom for a mini-Secret Whiskey List, of otherwise unpublished sale-priced whiskey. As many restaurants and bars aren’t ordering the volume they once did, we have access to bottles and cases that we’d normally only get a tiny taste of (or none at all), and I like to pass on discounts to you fine folks, when we can.

Now, for today’s moment of levity (and/or absurdity), which comes via Hila, who works with us when she’s not writing songs, making videos, or performing at House of Yes. Please enjoy: Quarantine Tips from Hilly & Nilly

We are still maintaining our limited days/hours schedule and are open Thursday – Sunday 1-6pm (at least). As always, please check out the web site www.FreeRangeBrooklyn.com and/or call 718.643.2250 to place orders and/or ask any questions you may have. Again, most of our staples are visible online, but much of the old and rare is not yet there.

Stay hydrated, take care of yourselves, and be excellent to each other.

Most sincerely,
Jack
Proprietor
Free Range Wine & Spirits

This week only, as supplies last!
**These prices are not online, reply here! Sale     Retail
Bowman Brothers Small Batch Bourbon        $39     $49
Bowman Brothers Single Barrel Bourbon       $49     $59
Bowman Brothers Port Barrel Bourbon          $49     $59

Delaware Phoenix Bourbon 375ml                 $28     $38
Delaware Phoenix Rye 375ml                       $28     $38

Eagle Rare 10 Year 1.75L                             $67     $85
EH Taylor Small Batch Bourbon                     $49     $65

Hibiki Harmony                                           $79     $89
Suntory Toki                                               $36     $45

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Free Range Wine & Spirits
329 Alantic Ave
Brooklyn, NY  11201
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Riders on the Storm

March 31, 2020 Leave a comment

Here’s the e-mail that went out yesterday, for those keeping score:

Hello Free Rangers,

Another beautiful day in the apocalypse. I know most of you haven’t been thrilled with the weather lately, but I spent three of my favorite years in Seattle, and I find these grey days comforting, especially yesterday while making deliveries through that misty rain that doesn’t actually penetrate the clothing. I’ve gone through phases of fairly serious anxiety over the last few weeks, as I’m sure many of you have experienced. While I stay up to date, through factual alerts from a variety of online sources, I’ve all but stopped watching the news, which seems to have helped my overall morale. The most complete and honest assessment that has made me feel like I have a reasonable grasp on the situation came from Dr. David Price, a critical care pulmonologist at Weill Corner in Manhattan. It is one of the finest medical institutions on Earth, and is currently treating a significant number of the most serious cases in our City. I highly recommend a watch: Dr. David Price 3/27/2020

Big Thanks to everybody who has been using the website, calling in orders, and generally helping us to help you, without prolonged contact. And apologies to anyone with whom I’ve been short(er than usual). We are still getting a handful of people per day coming in because they’re bored (their words), or just to look, and/or ask random questions about generic factory products that we would never carry: How much sugar is in Bacardi Limon? Do you know if Jack Daniels vegan? I am trying to reason my way around it, but we may have to move to a pick-up only policy, for the days that we are open. More on that as developments unfold.

Regardless, we are closed again this week, today (Monday) through Wednesday, and will again be open Thursday though Sunday, 1- 6pm (at least). Please continue to use the website, for reference, pick-up orders, and limited local delivery, and we will continue to keep its inventory as up to date as possible (and continue adding more of the old and rare items): www.FreeRangeBrooklyn.com And you’re always welcome to call the shop directly: 718.643.2250

I know it won’t be any time soon, but I very much look forward to being able to again host in-store tastings, and share with you, all the fun things we’ve discovered recently. Aside from everything else, it’s still an exciting time to be doing what we do. There are some wonderful things going in the worlds of vinification and distilling out there in the world, including some truly exemplary work happening right here in Brooklyn.

Stay hydrated, take care of yourselves, and be excellent to each other.

Most sincerely,
Jack
Proprietor
Free Range Wine & Spirits

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329 Alantic Ave
Brooklyn, NY  11201
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Life During Wartime

March 25, 2020 Leave a comment

This is the e-mail that went out to our Free Range e-mail list 3/23/2020 (links in this one were included in the the original e-mail), after which we’re officially caught up and Free Range e-mail blasts will be posted here, shortly after going out to our shop subscribers:

Hello Free Rangers,

On my tougher days I try to remind myself that, unlike a lot of people in the world, I didn’t wake up this morning in a war zone, or in a region on fire, or completely displaced from everything I’ve ever known. There have been a lot of days like this recently.

All told (tolled?), I am well aware that I am one of the lucky ones. While so many people are out of work and/or losing their businesses, we continue to thrive (gratefully!) amongst this wonderful neighborhood that helped us get off the ground seven years ago. I’m saying this now, as a few people have asked if they could buy gift certificates from us, seemingly to help infuse cash now for future products, rather than for gift giving. It warms our hearts to know that many of you feel this way about us, but having been deemed a necessary business, we’ve been able to stay open, and are doing quite well, by our own historical standards. And just to reiterate, while we are closed today through Wednesday, we will be open Thursday through Sunday 1-6pm (at the very least). Rest assured, everyone who works here will continue to be paid their usual full-shift amounts, regardless of hours worked, besides Derek, who will get a sizeable overtime check for his many hours of invaluable service this week.

Many local businesses are not fairing so well. Our buddy, Kareem, next door at Absolute Coffee is staying open, for take-out only. He is a hard-working, highly moral, multi-lingual immigrant just trying to live the dream, and his landlord seems uninterested in helping at all through the current crisis. So, if you need to stretch your legs, without straying too far from home, please go grab a cup of coffee or tea from him, and/or some of his delicious coffee beans to go, which he’s happy to grind for you on the spot, if you don’t have the ability at home.

You can also support our fine friends at French Louie (and Buttermilk Channel) by purchasing a gift certificate from them, and/or support their out-of-work staff(s) by donating to a fund set up to help them out: Here.

Now, for your amusement, by request from a number of you, the following were our two worst customer experiences (only two bad ones, really) since I last wrote:

1) A woman came in looking for Moscato. “Well, that’s easy,” I tell her, “as we only have one, but luckily for you, it’s quite tasty. It’s a frizzante, so it has a light bubble to it, and that quintessential white peachy sweetness. Foris was a true pioneer in the Rogue Valley of southern Oregon and have been there since 1971, when they…”
“I’ve had that one,” she interrupted, “It’s bad.”
“Oooookay,” I replied and went back to restocking our decimated shelves, not bothering to explain to her the difference between her personal taste and empirical quality. I returned from the back, many bottles in hand to find her on the phone, standing directly between all 4 of our new no cell phone signs, and pointed to the one directly in front of her, at eye level, saying as gently as humanly possible, “We have a no cell phone policy.” She rolled her eyes at me, and left.

2) Two women came in the shop, with two spaniels (whom we offered treats, but their humans neither looked at us, nor offered response). Both Derek and I offered to help, separately, and were declined. The pair walked back and forth between the fridge and the shelves, taking up space, and making social distancing impossible. We both pleaded with them to do their shopping on the wall, and assured them that if they intended to open the bottles right away, we’d be happy to get them one from the fridge. They continued doing as they pleased, and then planted themselves in front of the fridge, as a pack, completely blocking the front door. Eventually, they left in a huff, and went home to leave us a 1-star Yelp review. Naturally, I replied publicly. Although, the review was so short that it very well could have been the lady from the previous incident. Whoever it was, she has literally never left a review above 1-star for any business.

Stay strong, keep hydrated, offer help to everyone to whom you have access, and take care of each other.

Most sincerely,
Jack
Proprietor
Free Range Wine & Spirits

Holy F@ck…

March 24, 2020 Leave a comment

Here’s the e-mail that originally went our to the Free Range Wine & Spirits list on 3/18 (with a few added links):

Ladies, Gentlemen, Children of all ages (over 21 years),

I’ve said this for many years, but it is truer today than ever before: Any day you can you can walk away from is a good one. It’s getting really real out there. Unless genuinely forced to close our doors, we will remain open, though days and hours will be limited.

According to word that has come down from the Mayor’s and Governor’s offices, as long as we reduce our staff by half, and discourage people from gathering here, we can keep the business going. If cops or military show up, and inform us that we are closed, then we will be. Otherwise, going forward, we will be closed Monday – Wednesday, and open Thursday – Sunday 1-6pm.

In the name of discouraging gathering and/or lingering (and for our general collective sanity) we have instituted a NO CELL PHONE USE policy in the shop. Most people have been pretty cool about this request. And for those few who have been shocked and appalled at being politely asked to take their call outside, I’m guessing you’ve already unsubscribed and aren’t reading this. And quite frankly, if at a time like this, you can think about how put out you are by not being able to stroll around our little shop on the phone, you should probably go that terrible over-priced spot on Smith Street. You can do anything you want in there, because they don’t care about you.

Thank you all for the kind words and continued support and encouragement, we quite literally wouldn’t be here without you. Be safe, and take care of each other.
Also, take care of your shoes (if you’ve never been a Phish fan, you won’t get that one).

Most sincerely,
Jack
Proprietor
Free Range Wine & Spirits

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Free Range Wine & Spirits
329 Alantic Ave
Brooklyn, NY  11201
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When I Find Myself in Times of Trouble…

March 23, 2020 Leave a comment

At some point during the recent chaos, the email blasts from my little wine shop ended up containing the kind of stuff I used to post here. So, I’m going to start re-posting them, with links and extra pics, the likes of which I would have added, had they been in a post like this, originally. So, here’s what went out on 3/14/2020, updated, but unchanged:

Howdy Friends and Neighbors,

Toward the end of his life, Hunter S. Thompson lamented that it never got weird enough for him. Well, it’s pretty weird out there these days. I’m sure it will come as no surprise to most of you that we’ve suspended in-store tastings until further notice. That being said, I’ve always promised that you would never get an e-mail from us that didn’t include FREE booze, so any time you’re in the shop, pick a category, and you’re welcome to a FREE taste from any one of the bottles we currently have open: whiskey, gin, vodka, amaro

We’re very lucky here at Free Range, and the vast majority of our customers we see fairly regularly, and 99% of you all are wonderful to talk to and it is my genuine pleasure to be trusted with your booze needs. It was this very neighborhood that led me to put every dollar I had into this business 7 years ago, and after that first rocky, scary year, we’ve done quite well, and we continue to do so, right into these turbulent, uncertain days. As previously mentioned, Thursday was absolute chaos in here and there were only two of us working. Luckily, Derek is one of coolest, mellowest, most understanding human beings I know, and with the help of you all (minus 2), we made it through the highest volume day, per shop hand, we’ve ever experienced. Yesterday was even higher traffic, but there were 3 of us, and most everybody who came in was grateful and reasonable, and we can’t thank you enough.

I’m not sure what’s going on today, but we’re seeing a level of uneasiness and entitlement that is completely unprecedented. Again, we all know that we’re in uncharted territory here (locally, nationally, and globally), and most of us are still handling it fairly well. There are 2 favors that we’ve always asked all of our customers:

1) Please don’t let anybody under 21 years old handle bottles of alcohol.

2) Please remember that it takes an hour or less to chill a bottle of wine and only take from the fridge what you plan to open right away.

All of a sudden the latter simple request seems a bridge too far for a small few. We are all on edge, on both sides of the counter, and we’re doing our best to maintain our usual high level of product and service (while desperately trying to keep the shelves stocked), and we really need your help to meet the needs of everyone who comes through the door.

Please keep as cool-headed as possible, and take care of each other.

Most sincerely,
Jack
Proprietor
Free Range Wine & Spirits

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329 Alantic Ave
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Jeff Austin 1974 – 2019 (Travels with Jeff)

July 4, 2019 1 comment

* Editor’s Note: There won’t be much wine in this geist.

My dear friend, Jeff Austin, is gone.

Jeff & me 2003

I’m still processing, though the news cycle has moved on, but I also need to write some things down. This is how I used to process everything, before I sold booze for a living, back when people would pay me for words. It used to be a whole industry, before they started calling it user-generated content, and settled on shittier copy for free. You get what you pay for. I used to write a lot, as did my friend, Jeff, often in the same place and time. I recall a time high on a hilltop, above Nederland, CO, pounding away on my laptop (and wrestling with Sawyer the dog) on Jeff’s living room floor, while he and Todd Snider worked out some tunes.

I like Todd a lot, but he never remembers me. The third time we all hung out together was on the front couch of somebody’s tour bus outside a theater in the south (maybe the Ryman, maybe the Fox?) that one or both had just played. Todd introduced himself to me, so I reminded him of the living room writing session, and another solid hang in between. I told him, “no worries, I get it, songwriters only remember chicks and guitar players.” Without missing a beat, Todd replied, “I don’t much remember guitar players.”

Jeff Austin was one of the best friends I’ve ever had, and unlike Jeff, I’ve never had a lot of them, at any one time. I don’t entirely know the details, but I know that he is gone, and I am currently a 6’3” raw nerve in a hail storm. He had so long since survived his hard coke days, and the rehab that followed. It had been a decade since I had seen him consume to excess, and I never saw this coming.

Jeff and I certainly had some hard days, nights, and weeks of mass consumption, but the last decade or so, our parties usually involved fairly lavish meals, and reasonable bedtimes. Jeff worked much of his early work life in kitchens and food service, and became a true gourmand and a highly skilled home cook. He used to work at the deli in Nederland when he was off the road with Yonder, not because he needed the money, but because he enjoyed the work.

Chef Park’s Wagyu Carpaccio

Our youthful Vegas trips, filled with drugs and strippers (long before his marriage), quickly turned into long slow evenings of 12+ course dining events and rare Chambertin at profound eateries, most notably and often, Joel de Robuchon’s L’Atelier at the MGM. Those meals were rivaled by equally decadent, though more rustic and relaxed NY dining expereinces at Chef Park’s counter, at Bistro Petit. The visceral joy we shared at those counters, watching the deep effortless artistry that occurred in the open kitchens, reverberates through my brainstem even now.

I met Jeff and the other founding members of Yonder Mountain String Band when that scraggly bunch of skinny kids (and one full size acoustic bass) spilled out of a stuffed white minivan, onto a soggy festival field in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. It was the 3rd year of the Big Wu’s Family Reunion. Jeff was a human rubber band of life lust, Ben soft-spoken and joyfully reverent, Dave was reading The Rise and Fall of the 3rd Reich, and I thought that Adam hated me, but it turned out he’s a profoundly dry wit, moored to a stoic anchor. And man could those kids pick. That drive without drums was riveting. Through the course of that wonderful weekend, Jeff and I found ourselves in the same place and time, over and over again, and by the time those four packed back into the minivan, we were fast friends. Swimming in similar circles for then next few years, I crossed paths with Jeff and the Yonder crew frequently, both happenstance and planned.

Jeff & I once spent a couple of days looking at houses outside of Nashville, with the intent to buy, and we joked about being hetero-life-partners. And there was always music! Everywhere we went, we were always comparing notes on what we were discovering and exploring. Jeff turned me on to the Louvin Brothers, I turned him on to Yo La Tengo. Driving west from Colorado to Las Vegas once, listening to Ben Folds’ then recent release, Rockin’ the Suburbs, Jeff said, more than slightly enviously, “That guy holds the patent on every hook in the universe.”

It wasn’t long into our friendship that the Yonder van rolled up to Berkfest, and I spent much of that weekend careening

Jeff holding church in 2006

through forest and field with Jeff, his mandolin, and the Devil (a tiny, sweet, cherubic blond with a magical sack full of trouble), stopping at tents and camp sites to pick and partake. At some point during the weekend I arrived (just as Jeff, Dave, Ben, and Adam walked up) at the tented, elevated platform that served as the festival stage’s indoor/outdoor green room. At this time in my life, I was respectful (and naïve) enough to believe the sign reading ‘Yonder Mountain String Band and family’ meant the band and blood relatives, as opposed to ‘family’ in the Dead sense of the word. I was talking with Jeff as he headed up the stairs, and then he turned back toward me, noticing that I had stopped at the sign. He shot me an incredulous little smile, “what are you doing? You’re family.” It’s hard to explain how much that meant to me then, and how much it still means to me now, but it has been a long time since anybody paid me for words, and I’m a little rusty.

During those years, as a Hunter Thompson disciple, I was practicing the self-indulgent art of getting away with it, which is what Thompson said of writing for a living. In our travels, and occasionally from stage, Jeff would refer to me as his lawyer (though which of us was Dr. Gonzo was always in question), and I in turn would offer life and professional advice. My cartoonish tone would indicate whether it was a deliberately awful idea, or an actual moment of reason. Considering our individual self-destructive tendencies, we were more often than not, a centering influence on each other, which is why I feel such an abject failure now.

Through my freelance years, during which we both traveled extensively, I had more world-class times with Jeff Austin, in more cities and festival fields than I can count or detail. When he first started attaining real material success, he was proud of the pull he could muster and came to New York to join me for two consecutive small venue Jeff Tweedy shows- for which he had excellent seats awaiting us. We had a blast. And I was proud of what my friend had built, from nothing, with his buddies and his bare picking hand. Over the years, my own fortunes ebbed and flowed, while for many consecutive, Jeff’s were on a steady constant rise. Through my leaner years, he always picked up the check, without

Wrigley Field 2007

saying anything about it.

I once had the ill-conceived idea to join my friends Jeff, Ben, Dave, and Adam, on Yonder Mountain’s Europe tour, and shoot a feature on spec. It was one of the best experiences of my life, and then there was radio silence from Yonder’s then manager for a very long time. The project was going to be scrapped completely, until Jeff stepped in and insisted that my feature accompany the next Mountain Tracks (4) live release, as a CD/DVD combo. When the dust settled, and the cash was counted, I was repaid what I had spent on production and travel, and a (tiny) little bit on top. How many filmmakers can say that they turned a profit on their first feature (using the term loosely, as it’s my only feature)? The only reason I can say that is Jeff Austin.

It was also on that trip, that for 11 Euro each, at a picnic table full of Yonder cast and crew, we shared one of the most profoundly fulfilling meals of our lives, outside the otherwise sold-out tiny village dining room, two towns down the road from the American country music festival the fellas were playing in rural France. Many of the festival’s patrons didn’t speak a word of English, but they did line dance in tasseled leather, and wide-brim hats. If I could make this shit up, I’d be a better writer.

Our times were always music and food centric. But few things will ever beat the profound simplicity of those freshly picked wild morels, sautéed in butter, in a heavy skillet, over an outdoor hearth on the edge of Yellowstone. Was that before, during, or after Sandy and Stella’s wedding, Jeff?

Jeff wasn’t perfect. He once caused a huge rift between my girlfriend and I, after curtly dismissing discussion of her music (she is a classically trained string player, and a founding member of an indy band, with a couple of solid records). But she eventually threw me out, in the middle of the night, for something I didn’t do, and Jeff would always take my calls in the middle of the night, so it’s tough to hold that one- or any other- against him.

In an interview once, Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon, told me with a reverent chuckle, “On stage, Jeff is a freight train.” Hunter Thompson often said that you know who your friends are at 3 o’clock in the morning. Jeff Austin was a freight train, who would take my call at 3 o’clock in the morning. There is no replacing that. My world is a much smaller place for his absence, and I will miss him as long as I breathe, but I will be listening to his music, and recalling our adventures, fondly for the rest of my life. And you should too.

If you’d like to help out Jeff Austin’s wife and kids, you can do that HERE.

Yelp! Justice

December 22, 2017 Leave a comment

Bless me, blogosphere, for I have sinned. It has been the better part of a year since my last confession- and that wasn’t my finest showing. As many of you know, the atrophied output here in recent years is due largely to my retail shop, here in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. If you ever want to watch 5 years of your life evaporate, open a small business. As any small business owner will also tell you, Yelp! is an unfortunate part of being in today’s retail marketplace. And there is very rarely justice in Yelp! Unless you’re looking to purchase an advertising package, you’re pretty much told to go Yelp! yourself. Here is the most recent customer review for our little retail shop.

beep t Yelp review 12-16-2017

Apparently this post was a violation of Yelp’s Terms of Service, and it was deleted (surprisingly quickly- begrudging thanks!).

Below is the public response I didn’t have time to post before the above poetry had vanished into the ether of cyberspace:
************************************************
First, I genuinely have no idea what this about, or who this person might be. There aren’t a lot of clues.

Now, let me address each and every concern, as if this were reasonable constructive criticism from a fully sentient adult, completely in control of language, syntax, and punctuation.

1) Pompus. Yeah, sure, if we’re being honest. ‘Pompus’ is definitely in the top 20 1-word descriptors of me, but not in the top 5. Firm, but fair.

2) Mansplaining. As the proprietor of a specialty wine & spirits shop, I’m often asked questions about the many wines and spirits we carry. I generally respond with the facts that I have, and a fair amount of opinion (not everybody’s cup of tea, I know), though I’m also not afraid to admit when I don’t have an answer. I am still just scratching the surface in Italy. Do you know how many different varietals of grape the Italians grow? Seriously, do you know? I’ll google it. I suppose describing is another word for ‘explaining’. And I am also a male person, or a man, by birth, according to my DNA. For better, or for worse, I have chosen to identify this way. To shove two otherwise unrelated words together to imply sexist motivation is pretty low, and wholly unsubstantiated.

3) Man bun. Okay, now you’re just being deliberately hurtful. Hey, I don’t like it either! Perhaps you’d like to try working 7 days a week during holiday shopping season and see if you can squeeze in time for a decent haircut. #rude

And I’ll just let history decide the poetry of dingleberries and bun pegging.

Cheers,
Jack
@WineGeist
@FreeRangeWine
P.S. ‘beep t.’ has zero friends.

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