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Is WhistlePig’s Boss Hog Worth Its Hefty Price Tag?

Rye whiskey fans take note: WhistlePig has released the 2014 version of the vaunted Boss Hog. The ultra-premium expression will fetch upwards of $175 per 750mL bottle. Although it doesn’t take much to recognize the quality craftsmanship of this spectacular single-barrel spirit, is it worth the steep price tag? Let’s delve deeper into the glass to explore the Dram of the Week.

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Dubbed the “Spirit of Mortimer” in honor of WhistlePig’s signature swine, this year’s Boss Hog spent 13 and a half years in the barrel. Bottled at cask strength, the booze clocks in at a hefty proof of 118. The measurement is belied by the ease with which the liquid passes over the tongue. A sweet vanilla lands first, and any intimations of harsh booziness are mellowed by more than a decade’s worth of oak dominating the underlying landscape.

Purists will surely go giddy for the 100 percent rye mash bill, allowing an unobstructed interpretation of the namesake grain. It’s a gentle spice afforded here. Consider that despite a complete lack of corn, the Hog drinks much like a high-end bourbon. That’s all from the oak, of course. But a typical bourbon would have to spend many more years in the barrel to impart the rounded tones of this 13-year rye.

If you’re looking for an intimate introduction to this style of whiskey, WhistlePig’s entry-level expression would be a far more sensible starting point. The flagship is also 100 percent rye, ages for 10 years, and justifies its $70 tag. For $100 more, the exceptionally limited-batch Boss Hog is better suited to the cabinet of the connoisseur. In fact, with the bottle’s sleek presentation — stately black labeling, gently sloped lines, a Danforth pewter topper — it is befitting of conspicuous display on an open shelf.

For all its elegance, much of the added tax is owed to the luxury of the single barrel. Whereas most rye integrates casks blended from several years or even various warehouses, this juice sat together in solemn singularity for the duration of its maturation. If the purity of that distinction elicits nothing more than shrugged shoulders, the Boss Hog was never intended for you. But if you venerate this proud American grain and are willing to drop an extra bill to see what it’s capable of, at its highest levels, 2014’s Boss Hog is worth the price of admission. Its delicately crafted complexity stacks up against that of bourbons twice as costly.

A precious few bottles are currently passing their way through select liquor stores across town. If you prefer but a small taste, The Marshal in Hell’s Kitchen is doing a barrel-aged cocktail, as is Scarpetta in Chelsea. Sip on it neat at Trattoria il Mulino in the Flatiron.

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Phish

The popular Vermont quartet spend three days here, giving everyone a chance to make themselves at home. Younger fans will lap up every note of these seasoned rock stars of the weird-go-pro ilk. Older aficionados will savor the chutes-and-ladders quality of the group’s post-breakup rebirth. Expect them to develop material from Fuego, their latest and arguably most conservative album.

July 11-13, 7 p.m., 2014

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A Very Artisanal Passover: Vermatzah Is Matzo from Vermont

The cardboard-like crackers on Seder plates are a Passover requirement, but typically a dry and flavorless one. Not anymore. Vermont’s Naga Bakehouse is baking a new small-batch matzo — aptly monikered Vermatzah — by sifting locally-sourced wheat with nutty emmer, the ancient grain better known as farro. A wood-firing process renders a complex, slightly sweet piece of flatbread that retains an ample crunch, even when fried or chocolate-dipped. Unlike the squares of the Manischewitz variety that dominate the traditional matzo market, Naga’s version is hand-shaped into rounds, each one slightly smaller than a dinner plate.

Passover purists should know that Vermatzah is an “eco-kosher” food, which the Naga team defines as one that embodies the “deep well-springs of Jewish wisdom,” but not a kosher pareve one. Since observant Jews are banned from eating leavened bread during the week-long holiday, rabbinical supervision is required during the matzo-making process to ensure that it follows Jewish dietary law. By not employing an in-house rabbi, Naga Bakehouse is not producing a kosher-for-Passover product.

Still, as anyone who has bought local (but not organic) produce at a farmer’s market knows, there is often more to a small farm’s story than an umbrella group’s stamp of approval.

The company, which prides itself on using locally sourced ingredients, attaches a small bag of wheat seeds to each package of Vermatzah, giving curious cooks the chance to farm in their own homes — or apartments.

Online orders for Vermatzah should be placed by March 23. vermatzah.com

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Phish

Sort of like every classic rock act that’s played Barclays Center since it opened rolled into a single stunningly illuminated pleasure machine, popular Vermont quartet Phish continues to make a big, expertly performed noise without having broken any new ground for more than a decade. Which won’t stop thousands of bros of all ages, sexes, and creeds from packing MSG over four nights to relive the glory years and have at least as much fun as anyone else in town.

Fri., Dec. 28, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 29, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 30, 7:30 p.m., 2012

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Phish

Entering its fourth decade, Vermont‘s Phish is something greater than a jam band archetype. That its members are even together after a series of hiatuses, addictions, scandals, and ludicrous side jaunts is a testament to the adhesive power of fluid grooves at once hemp-strength and unlaced. A testament as well, perhaps, to the power of positivity and inquisitiveness: The group’s plaints rarely fail to convey a sense of wonder and joy.

Tue., July 3, 7:30 p.m., 2012

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BAKED FRESH

The collapse of the economy witnessed over the past two years has certainly been dramatic, but hardly kid-friendly. Yet the Vermont collective Bread and Puppet Theater disagrees. During their annual residency at Theater for the New City, they’ll debut a family show entitled The Decapitalization Circus, but can their juggling possibly equal that of the financiers? Will their acrobatics parallel the stunning leaps in unemployment? If you like your papier-mâché puppetry slightly more escapist, they’ll also present a much condensed version of Monteverdi’s The Return of Ulysses. At all performances, Bread and Puppet will serve up their homemade fare, so why not come and loaf around?

Wednesdays-Sundays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays, 3 p.m. Starts: Dec. 2. Continues through Dec. 19, 2010

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Greg Davis &Ben Vida

Greg Davis, the Vermont-based scholar of cosmic jams, makes a final pass through New York before impending fatherhood keeps him off the road for awhile. Joined by longtime collaborator Ben Vida, lately of Soft Circle and the Bird Show Band, the pair dive full-on into vintage synth improvisation, facing off Battleship-style in a set-up that resembles an actual battleship, peering intently through a mess of constantly reorganized wires to a shifting hydra of sound that, like much of Davis’s music, is both the portal and the place beyond.

Tue., Sept. 14, 8:30 p.m., 2010

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Annie Baker Returns with The Aliens

Shirley, Vermont, is a sleepy Windsor County town of some 14,000 souls, just off Route 7. Possessed of a storied past (a site of indignities perpetrated against Native Americans, a nudist’s paradise), it’s now best known for the annual Gourd Festival. It houses a branch of the state college and a cluster of Cambodian refugees. And it exists only in the mind and work of playwright Annie Baker.

On April 14, The Aliens—Baker’s third professionally produced play and the third set in Shirley—will debut at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, directed by Sam Gold. Over herbal tea and chocolate meringues at a Park Slope café, Baker—lively, self-effacing, and rather gorgeous in a post-hippie way—admits that she can’t say why she’s so drawn to this invented landscape. “I’m not totally sure why I keep setting them there,” she says. “It’s partly because I have an overactive imagination and have come up with lots of imaginary residents. I have a map of it in my head. It’s sort of weird and autistic.” In The Aliens, that map centers on the back alley of a coffeehouse, where two men (Erin Gann and Michael Chernus, Baker’s boyfriend) indoctrinate a young employee (Dane DeHaan) into the mysteries of Bukowski, calculus, and psilocybin.

Baker will soon turn 29, but her plays have a confidence and acumen that belie her age. She writes about unhappy, ineffectual characters with great compassion. She doesn’t gloss over their faults—one is a rapist, another a homewrecker, the men of The Aliens are losers—but she treats them all with a clear-eyed tenderness. Some of this authorial generosity may come from her working methods. She sits with each set of characters for at least a year, writing extensive histories for them, reciting all of their lines into a handheld recorder.

This munificence is especially true of The Aliens. Though female dramatists rarely conceive all-male casts, the men of The Aliens are intricate, exasperating, immediately knowable figures. Baker explains that in her previous pieces she greatly enjoyed writing the male parts, particularly the photographer in Body Awareness. As for The Aliens, she says, “I was interested in writing a white-dude play that was different from other white-dude plays.”

Though her works display ample poise, Baker is far less self-assured when it comes to describing her work, and would rather avoid giving interviews altogether. When asked about the considerable success of her play Circle Mirror Transformation, mounted earlier this season at Playwrights Horizons, she’s quick to dismiss her own contribution and praise her collaborators: “I ended up with great actors and a great director and great designers. We all loved each other. It was disgusting.”

She resists more personal questions, and recounts a recent phone conversation in which a journalist asked the seemingly innocuous question, “Why do you write plays?” Baker began crying so hard that she had to hang up. “The writing is best for me when I feel mindless,” she says, “which is so weird and so creepy and such a contradiction that it’s hard to talk about, so I always get stopped up.”

Happily, such mental blocks don’t extend to her creative efforts. Even as she revises The Aliens, she’s crafting a romantic comedy screenplay and the script for a pilot commissioned by HBO about a communal farm in Northern California. If that seems rather far from Vermont, she’s already at work on another Shirley-set play, this one featuring a doomed marriage, a middle-aged dream analyst, and perhaps the odd gourd.

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Greg Davis & Chris Weisman

Burlington experimenter Greg Davis’s trips include—among others—blissful drone-noise (his Sun Circle project with Zach Wallace, a double-LP due later this year), deft acoustic bliss (2004’s Curling Pond Woods), and peaceful music curation (as host of the “All Together Now” radio show and editor of the New Age-reassessin’ Crystal Vibrations blog). On the Northern Songs project with fellow Vermonter Chris Weisman, Davis adds gongs, field recordings, and generally orchestrated nirvana to Weisman’s Beatlefolk, their name a reference to George Harrison’s Sgt. Pepper outtake. The two will carry the vibe southward, singing about crystals under Brattleboro amid the drag queens and drunk tourists of Lucky Cheng’s.

Fri., June 19, 8 p.m., 2009

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From Robert Frank’s Beat Movies to a Nearly Unknown Staged Afternoon, at Anthology

Who is Robert Frank? The most influential of mid-century American photographers? Eternal boho and Beat Generation fellow traveler? Venerable titan of the (old) New American Cinema?

Although he’s made over 20 personal films since 1959, it’s symptomatic of Frank’s subterranean career that his best known is still the Beat family portrait Pull My Daisy, co-directed with painter Alfred Leslie and narrated by Jack Kerouac. Still, Anthology’s comprehensive retro “Mapping a Journey: The Films & Videos of Robert Frank” (November 7–16, coinciding with the artist’s 84th birthday) could hardly begin anywhere else. The first two programs are devoted to Frank’s beatnik movies—notably his faux cinema verité feature Me and My Brother (1968), which, although ostensibly a portrait of poet Peter Orlovsky and his catatonic sibling Julius, is filled with theater people and self-identified actors.

Me and My Brother, which Frank re-edited in the late ’90s, is the weightiest item in his oeuvre, but, for my money, he came into his own as a filmmaker with the first-person Conversations in Vermont (1969), which concerns his ambivalent confrontation with his adolescent children. Anticipating by several years Yvonne Rainer’s more polished avant-celebrity psychodramas, Conversations in Vermont and its successors Life-Raft Earth (1969), documenting a week-long “starve-in” organized by Wavy Gravy and Stewart Brand, and About Me: A Musical (1971), which mutated from traditional music doc to startlingly manic self-presentation, are steeped in the pungent clutter of late-’60s hippie boho life. The elusive, ineffably sad Life Dances On (1980) provides a postscript to this period, touching on the accidental deaths of Frank’s daughter Andrea and his young assistant, Danny Seymour.

Frank’s legendary and usually restricted Rolling Stones documentary Cocksucker Blues (1972) is scheduled for two rare screenings. Less sensational but more felt is the (very) quasi-commercial feature Candy Mountain (1987), a collaboration with novelist Rudy Wurlitzer. In a way, this shaggy-dog hipster road film is Frank’s ultimate work—evoking the end of the road and even the end of Endsville—but he has persevered. “Mapping a Journey” includes subsequent low-tech music videos (for New Order and Patti Smith), eccentric tributes to fellow artists (Kerouac and Alfred Stieglitz), and at least one nearly unknown gem, C’est Vrai! One Hour (1990), a single-take chunk of real time choreographed one summer afternoon in the artist’s Lower Manhattan neighborhood.

Here, 30 years later, is the (almost) spontaneous action documentary Frank claimed to have made with Pull My Daisy. Even the milieu is similar: C’est Vrai! begins in the artist’s impressively disheveled studio; the camera moves outside to the corner of Bleecker and Lafayette and into a beat-up van that drives in circles around the neighborhood, occasionally stopping to allow the camera to run out into a diner or record a bit of on-street conversation. Truth is an elastic concept: One soon realizes that Frank has salted the area with staged events. C’est Vrai! is a one-of-a-kind stunt, both street theater and an urban road movie.