Monday, April 25, 2016

Can Teachers Do What Students Are Asked

RE-POST: From Mazenglish - September 2012

Recently a colleague asked me for a copy of a practice or released-ACT test.  After a relative with a science background had taken the science section and aced it, and a math-oriented friend had taken the math section and scored a 100%, my colleague was wondering how he would do on the English and reading section of the ACT.  Because I am in charge of our grammar program and have access to many of the standardized resources, he asked for a test.

And it made me wonder.

How many high school teachers test themselves against the ACT or SAT or AP tests in their field?  How many trust themselves to do well?  How many teachers can - and do - actually write the high quality essay or research paper in response to their own questions?  And should we know if we can or not?  Years ago, while taking a staff development class on grammar instruction, I sat with a group of English teachers and took the ACT and SAT tests.  It was exciting and interesting and even intimidating for some.  But it revealed a lot.

The same type of challenge occurred in an assessment of writing class.  Our instructor put an essay prompt in front of us based on some common reading and told us to write the best essay we could.  The terror of the blank page came storming back at some people, and it was an inspired and insightful lesson.  One great activity that addresses this issue is the National Writing Project.  Writing teachers should write, and because it was promoted to me as a great opportunity, I have challenged myself twice during the summer by taking the Colorado Writing Project.  In fact, that class led to success in publishing my writing and inspired my foray into the blogosphere.  Because I regularly write on-line and occasionally publish pieces in the Denver Post, I am pretty confident in my skills and the ability to produce high quality content.  The same goes for my grammar skills because I spend so much time taking the sample tests our committee writes.

But, I have to be honest.  I am not so confident about the rest of the teacher corps in this country.  And perhaps scoring poorly on a standardized test - or writing a weak essay - has no correlation to success in teaching and inspiring students.  However, if for nothing more than a bit of empathy and compassion, I believe we should regularly challenge ourselves to do that which we ask of children, day in and day out.

Think about it.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Visiting the Kirkland Museum in Denver

As part of my son's fourteenth birthday (and Shakespeare's b-day and 400th anniversary of his death), we took the light-rail into Denver yesterday to take advantage of the Open Doors Denver program. Dozens of historic and significant Denver sights are open to the public for one day to encourage people to investigate the rich culture of the Mile High City. After a nice brunch at the Mercantile in Union Station and a casual stroll down the Sixteenth Street Mall, we made our way over to an open day at the Kirkland Museum, which is soon moving to a new Denver locale. Our excursion proved to be a most valuable experience, for I was not familiar with this unique and somewhat iconic figure of American abstract expressionism.

Quirky is good. With so many art museums nationwide drawing from the same playbooks, a numbing homogenization has set in, as they too often race to show the same artists and play copycat on many fronts, including the way they exhibit and interpret the works on their walls. If you've seen one recent exhibit of Chinese contemporary art, for example, you can pretty much predict how the others will play out. But the Kirkland avoids that trap. Perhaps because director Hugh Grant is not a museum curator by training, there is a refreshingly unbridled, free- form approach to everything the Kirkland does. He does things the way he sees fit and is not always looking around to see if his approach conforms to what every other gallery in town is showing. Be yourself. The Kirkland does not try to be all things to all people. It has established a few well-defined areas of emphasis for itself, and it hews to them. It hopes to spark visitor curiosity with at least one, but it simply accepts that not everyone will be interested by what it has to offer. In fact, children under 13 aren't allowed in, ever. While the spotlight on the decorative arts springs from Kirkland's own collecting in the field, the museum's more recent foray into Colorado art derives from discerning a gap in what other area institutions are doing and shrewdly and aggressively acting to fill it.

As part of my intent to start living the life I've imagined, I want to spend more time and energy exploring the world of art and culture. Last month, I visited the Museum of Modern Art while in New York with a school group, and I was not only captivated by the art, but I was thoroughly educated in the area because I visited with an artist, our school's Fine Arts coordinator. Seeing the MoMA through the eyes of an artist was one of the most inspiring cultural moments of my life.

I need more of that.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

It's Keep a Poem in Your Pocket Day

As part of National Poetry Month, today is "Keep a Poem in Your Pocket Day."   The idea is to keep a poem in your pocket and share with others as a reminder of the ever present art and poetry of the world. Here are the poems my Youth Advisory Board passed out at school today.

Trees – Mark Haddon

They stand in parks and graveyards and gardens.
Some of them are taller than department stores,
yet they do not draw attention tothemselves.
You will be fitting a heated towel rail one day
and see, through the louvre window,
a shoal of olive-green fish changing direction
in the air that swims above the little gardens.
Or you will wake at your aunt’s cottage,
your sleep broken by a coal train on the empty hill
as the oaks roar in the wind off the channel.
Your kindness to animals, your skill at the clarinet,
these are accidental things.
We lost this game a long way back.
Look at you. You’re reading poetry.
Outside the spring air is thick
with the seeds of their children.

Introduction to Poetry
By Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
And hold it up to the light like a color slide
Or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into the poem
And watch him probe his way out,
Or walk inside the poem’s room and
Feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to water ski
Across the surface of a poem, waving
At the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
Is tie the poem to a chair with rope
And torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
To find out what it really means.

My Teacher Ate My Homework
By Kenn Nesbitt

My teacher ate my homework,
which I thought was rather odd.
He sniffed at it and smiled
with an approving sort of nod.
He took a little nibble --
it's unusual, but true --
then had a somewhat larger bite
and gave a thoughtful chew.
I think he must have liked it,
for he really went to town.
He gobbled it with gusto
and he wolfed the whole thing down.
He licked off all his fingers,
gave a burp and said, "You pass."
I guess thats how they grade you
when you're in a cooking class.

The Rose That Grew From Concrete
By Tupac Shakur

Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature's law is wrong it
learned to walk with out having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

What Should Students Read?

REPOST from Mazenglish blog - November 2012

Is there a "sacred book" that all students must read to be considered "educated"?  Doubtful.  However, as the Common Core works its way into the nation's consciousness and the curricula nationwide, teachers are discussing - sometimes passionately so - exactly what kids should be reading.  I've heard it said that "All reading is good reading - but reading literature is sublime."  Certainly, there is an argument to be made for reading Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird over John Green's The Fault in Our Stars or a simple blog on  Basically, education is about introducing students to ideas and information that they wouldn't normally engage with on their own.  And, learning comes from being challenged - both in basic language as well as ideas.  Thus, a child may engage with great YA literature on his own, and many will read anything about sports, but the depth and quality of Mockingbird will give them that which they would miss - that's education.  Education writer Sarah Mosle weighs in on the topic of reading lists with her commentary for the New York Times on "What Children Should Read?"

The most challenging and controversial aspect of the Common Core for many English teachers is the expectation of a "healthy dose" of non-fiction.  Namely, CC advocates for access and learning from "informational texts" which worries English teachers who worry about losing Harper Lee to pamphlets and how-to manuals.  And, English teachers have clear right to protect their "content" - for the other content areas like social studies and science should be - and should have been - teaching these texts and this genre all along.  Isn't a history or biology textbook an "informational text?"  Of course it is.  But is the skill of literacy part of the expectations for those texts and teachers?  Probably not because far too many non-English content teachers do not see literacy and the basic skill of accessing content from the text as part of their job.  And there is a general, but misguided, contempt for the content of English in the world.  For example,

David Coleman, president of the College Board, who helped design and promote the Common Core, says English classes today focus too much on self-expression. “It is rare in a working environment,” he’s argued, “that someone says, ‘Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.’ ”

Coleman ought to be a bit ashamed of himself for his myopic understanding of the content of English class.  While many in the workplace don't have to write poems or short stories for their job, the emotional intelligence skills of narrative and empathy are integral to the job.  Most companies know these days how important the creating of narrative in selling products and self-expression in relating to clients are to productivity in the marketplace.  So, English teachers are going to be hit by all sides from this attack on the content of English.  And they need to be able to effectively argue for the value of their content at the same time they increase the expectation of literacy on other content areas.

What schools really need isn’t more nonfiction but better nonfiction, especially that which provides good models for student writing. Most students could use greater familiarity with what newspaper, magazine and book editors call “narrative nonfiction”: writing that tells a factual story, sometimes even a personal one, but also makes an argument and conveys information in vivid, effective ways.  There are anthologies of great literature and primary documents, but why not “30 for Under 20: Great Nonfiction Narratives?” Until such editions appear, teachers can find complex, literary works in collections like “The Best American Science and Nature Writing,” on many newspaper Web sites, which have begun providing online lesson plans using articles for younger readers, and Last year, The Atlantic compiled examples of the year’s best journalism, and The Daily Beast has its feature “Longreads.” not only has “best of” contemporary selections but also historical examples dating back decades.  If students read 100 such articles over the course of a year, they may not become best-selling authors, but like Mr. Gladwell, they’ll get the sound and feel of good writing in their heads. With luck, when they graduate, there will still be ranks of literary nonfiction authors left for them to join.

 Some food for thought.  What are you teaching?

Monday, April 18, 2016

A Race for Literacy

REPOST: From Mazenglish blog - October 2012

Ever since the Obama Administration announced its Race to the Top, the education field seems to have taken on a increased sense of urgency.  While the STEM movement seems to garner the most attention, some scholars are sounding warnings about the serious deficiencies in literacy that are making it more difficult for American students to compete for jobs in the contemporary age.  Nora Flemming - blogging for Curriculum Matters - spotlights a conference panel at the Brookings Institution that took a critical view of student literacy and proposed ideas about a national push for literacy.  In fact, the idea for a federal grant to fund improved literacy seems on the horizon.

Certainly, the issue of literacy is of primary importance in the Information Age.  However, I worry about the need for increased funding and a national program for literacy.  Isn't literacy a basic goal and primary component of education and instruction already?  Shouldn't schools already be teaching reading, writing, and math.  Of the Big Three in education, literacy holds the top two slots.  Alas, we all know that the current system isn't adequately developing literacy, despite countless movements and reform agendas.  Students simply are not reading and writing effectively on a nationwide scale - and the ranks of partially proficient readers and writers are bleeding into the higher socioeconomic circles that should be counted on for standards of literacy.

The question English teachers and English departments need to ask is whether they are teaching and developing literacy - or whether they are just reading and talking about the books they really like.  And, the question schools and school districts need to ask is whether all teachers outside of the English department are still assuming that literacy is an English class skill.  Because it's not.  Arguably, schools need to implement school-wide literacy instruction on par with the literacy initiative used to turn around Brockton High School in Massachusetts.  Until literacy skills are embedded in curriculum throughout a students day, too many kids - and teachers - will see reading and writing as something that happens only in English class.  And that will perpetuate our need for a Race to Literacy.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Reformers Harm American Education with Monoculture Focus

Standardization and a one-size-fits-all education system is antithetical to the entire history of American education, which has long been grounded in local control, autonomy, and individuality. Concerns about the myopic micro-focus are well expressed by Denver-area teacher Kurt MacDonald in his recent commentary for the Denver Post.

Through their tireless work to propagate "optimally designed curriculum" to schools across the country, they are breeding a monoculture in education and destroying the diversity of ideas that provides fuel for creative, dynamic scholarship. This trend is further compounded by state and national assessments that operate to standardize the content and approach classroom teachers take to education. When a majority of tomorrow's jobs and challenges have yet to be imagined, our students require the diversity of thought necessary to tackle them. Knowing this impending challenge, we need an educational paradigm promoting a cornucopia of educational approaches, not one that collapses down to a homogenous method, no matter how historically effective. Whether it is in dog breeding or ecosystems, the cost of limiting diversity is profound.

Sadly, innovative people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg and David Coleman are promoting homogeneous curricula, lessons, and standards in heterogeneous classes in complete contrast to the environments in which they grew and thrived. People promoting such conformity have little experience with or understanding of the incredible diversity of teaching environments in this country. And their political power serves to further reduce the scope of a dynamic liberal arts approach. Thanks to Kurt MacDonald for his thoughtful piece - but unless readers can and will assert their concerns to policymakers, we will continue to see the narrowing of education that ultimately services only standardized test and educational materials companies like Pearson and College Board.

Friday, April 15, 2016

"Best Teen Novel Ever"

NOTE: This post is a reprint from my other blog in 2012.

Last month NPR opened a seemingly simple little survey, asking for the top 100 Young Adult (YA) titles ever.  After a month of suggestions they narrowed the list to 235, which are currently up for voting on NPR's website.  Of course, nothing like a survey is ever simple - and this list is currently raising a lot of heated discussion about "best books" and "Young Adult" fiction and "teen literature."  Certainly, there are books that are written with young audiences in mind - and there are others which are about young people, but are certainly written toward mature audiences.

The problem with this list is centered around the vast array of literature, covering everything from nearly easy reader books to profoundly and historically significant works of classic literature.  There are books which are simply great stories, and their are works of social criticism written with style and sophistication.  Any English teacher - or reader, really - who doesn't see an incomparable difference between The Hunger Games and Lord of the Flies doesn't really understand novels and literature as anything other than stories.  Granted, for a consumer, maybe that is enough.  But for a serious news source like NPR, it's strangely inappropriate - if not down right wrong - to offer a list that contains both The Encyclopedia Brown book series and To Kill a Mockingbird.  From a purely prose stylist standpoint, they don't belong in the same section of the library.  And when we get into content matter, social criticism, and thematic elements, they don't even belong in the same building.

According to Petra Mayer - an associate editor at NPR coordinating the contest - the current frontrunners for the competition are the Harry Potter Series, John Green's The Fault in Our Stars about a teen struggling with a terminal cancer diagnosis, and The Hunger Gameswhich is a rather violent thriller that is written at about a fifth grade level, but contains enough violence to be more appropriate for upper middle school.  What bothers me about these "popularity contests" is the lack of critical analysis into what makes a good Young Adult novel.  Certainly, popularity matters.  However, on a purely critical level, there is little quality writing in The Hunger Games - despite an engaging story, but the work of J.K. Rowling is written well enough to be taught in high school.  In terms of these sort of lists - at least when ranked by NPR, and not E-Entertainment - the quality of writing should matter.

That said, I'd argue that John Green's Fault is, like Harry Potter, a wonderful story and a very well written work worthy of classroom study.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Earn Your Future with PwC to Celebrate Financial Literacy Month

Hope springs eternal in April, and that's probably a primary reason that April is Financial Literacy Month. What could be more hopeful than feeling good about your finances?  That's certainly true as the date of April 15 approaches, and it most definitely factors into making your summer vacation plans. As both an educator and a parent, I am a huge proponent of children and adolescents learning about finance and feeling comfortable with the idea. As a kid I received my first credit card at age twelve - probably because my parents wanted the free microwave given away with new accounts. But rather than become a recipe for financial disaster, I learned many financial lessons quickly, and I've carried them through life. Primary lesson from my father ... and Saturday Night Live? Don't buy stuff you can't afford.

But, seriously, what can you afford?

There is so much that young people could benefit from learning before they become mired down in debt and financial indecision. What's a mortgage? Can I afford a cell phone? How can I grow my money? What exactly does it mean to "play the market?" All these questions can overwhelm people, but they can also be fantastic teaching moments that young people can benefit from before they make the real world decisions. And those teachable moments are the essence of financial literacy classes and programs. The PwC Foundations Earn Your Future Digital Lab is a comprehensive curriculum for grades 3-12 with countless resources and activities for students to engage with finance. That means engage with money - and who doesn't love that?  The elementary level will not be available until the fall, but the materials for middle and high school students are available now.

I'm a bit of a finance and economics geek, so working my way through the different modules was a lot like playing video games. By working your way through modules on various isses of financial literacy, you can "earn" badges. I've gone through several of the modules already, and I am impressed with how easy, accessible, and engaging the information is. For example, the module about risks and rewards would be perfect for the unit I'm teaching this month on Paulo Cohelo's The Alchemist. I do a variety of exercises in which I ask students to imagine their future and question the things they value, including those "things" they would be willing to sacrifice, and those they can't live without. They key is for students to be thoughtful, reflective, and knowledgeable about life - and insight into financial literacy is a key to a successful life. The piece about risk and reward reminded me of the game-based research I did in making the decision to move to Colorado - and that ultimately allowed me to find my spot. I feel the same way about the module called "What's the Plan?" Because, let's face it, we all need a plan.

So, as Friday's tax day comes and goes, consider the value of financial literacy.

* NOTE: This is a sponsored post in partnership with PwCCharitable Foundation - all opinions are my own.

Engage Students with Tales of Travel

Twenty-one years ago I was living as a young expatriate and English teacher in Taipei, Taiwan, and for the first time I became caught up in the wonderful world of travel writing when someone handed me a copy of newly published expat author Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence.  Captivated by Mayle's whimsical tales of southern France, I imagined the life of an expat author, and I spent several years trying to craft similar magic set in Southeast Asia.  Alas, it was not meant to be, and I never became the Hemingway - or even Mayle - of Formosa.  But I always maintained my love of travel writing.

Now, as an English teacher, I try to foster a similar love of great genre writing by recommending travelogues whenever I can.  In addition to inspiring an interest in reading, I am also hoping to encourage a travel bug in my students.  There is nothing more important for many of our kids than to "get out of your country for a while" - get a fresh perspective, try new foods, look through different eyes, challenge yourself to be uncomfortable, learn a new language ... or a new lifestyle.

Some of my favorites for travel writing are:

Travels - Michael Crichton

Video Night in Katmandu Pico Iyer

A Wolverine is Eating My Leg - Tim Cahill

Notes from a Small Island - Bill Bryson

A Year in Provence - Peter Mayle

Objective Tests in English Class

Evaluating student knowledge in the English classroom can be quite challenging, for much of the content centers around subjective skills and knowledge.  Certainly, in essay and short  answer writing, rubrics are a key factor and nearly indispensable if a teacher wants to be as fair and objective as possible.  However, English class also centers heavily on reading comprehension and knowledge of literary works.  And at the core, teachers must meet a standard of their student reading certain works of literature and "understanding literature as a record of the human condition."  Basically, teachers assign books like The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, Pride and Prejudice or other classics, and they want the students to benefit from knowledge of the books characters, setting, and theme.  In order to do so, teachers often feel they must confirm that the students actually read the book.  And objective testing is a time-honored way of doing that.  Giving objective "did-you-read-it" quizzes, as well as cumulative objective tests at the end of the unit, is standard practice.  If a student were to "study" Lord of the Flies, yet not even know who Simon is by the end of the unit, then the teacher has a problem, and the class was a waste of time.  Thus, an obligatory objective test is a way to assess knowledge - and there is nothing wrong with that.

Some teachers like to consider themselves "above" objective testing.  They seem to believe that a teacher is "copping out" if he gives an objective test and runs it through the Scan-tron machine.  Certainly, objective testing is only one narrow measure of knowledge, and the use of objective tests in classrooms can be abused.  However, there is nothing wrong and nothing to be ashamed of in giving objective tests.  We still live in an objective world, and students know the objective tests are valued because they are constantly taking them for the state and to "prove their worthiness" for college.  ACT and SAT are not going away, and even AP and IB both use objective tests to assess knowledge.  Thus, I use objective tests regularly in the English classroom - along with myriad other ways and an extensive load of writing.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Linger - One of Denver's Best Restaurant

REPOST - As we head into spring and happy hour season, I thought it was worth bringing this post back:

The hype is not wrong.  Linger - Justin Cucci's iconic Highlands restaurant - is definitely all that the reviews have made it out to be.

Since Linger's opening a several years ago in the building of the old Olinger funeral home, Justin Cucci has been wowing Denver foodies with eclectic takes on street food from around the world.  Cucci, who is also owner of Root Down, is a true culinary artisan, and he knows how to run a world class restaurant.  Of course, all the hype has led to big crowds and long waits for people hoping to enjoy a taste of Cucci's masterpieces.  In fact, numerous people have put off going to Linger because reservations have been hard to come by.  And, during the summer months the waits are even longer as people line up to enjoy the fabulous rooftop views of the city, while purchasing drinks from the bar fashioned out of an old bus.  But true Denver foodies shouldn't wait.  Get yourself to Linger.

Happy hour at Linger is the best place to start, and that was my entry into Justin Cucci's world when I took the family for dinner following a great day of hiking in Evergreen.  We arrived early in the Highlands, so we stayed warm on a January day by sipping some tea at the Common Grounds coffee shop on Lowell and 32nd Street.  When the magical hour of 4:30 arrived, we headed over to Linger which was open and ready for business.  The tables upstairs offered a great view of the the city, and we went to work ordering nearly everything on the happy hour menu.  With small plates representing street food from around the world, Linger's happy hour menu is a lot of fun.  The french onion mussels were rich and perfect and we fought the urge to order a second round.  The pork belly and mongolian duck breast buns were succulent and filled with interesting flavors, and we complemented them with the waffle fries, which came with a great chipotle ketchup.  The sesame bbq tacos were excellent with Kobe beef and a nicely accented slaw.  But my favorite were the Wagyu beef sliders with aged cheddar and curried sour cream.  I am very careful about the beef I will eat, and Linger's Wagyu sliders were every thing a "burger" should and could be.  In fact, the smells of the beef alone were worth the wait.

Our server Rupert could not have been more helpful, as he guided us through the menu and kept us entertained, even as Linger became busier.  Being a bourbon drinker, I was intrigued by the menu's Dead Man's Daisy, but Rupert thought I'd be disappointed in the way the sweetness overwhelms the whiskey.  Instead, he brought out a Vieux Carre, which is one of the better drinks I've had.  It contains rye whiskey, cognac, Benedictine, and bitters.  Served with a single block of ice - to slow melting - and a lime garnish, it was incredibly smooth.  In fact, I was amazed at how the lime scent was prominent but almost vacant in taste, leaving the smoothness of the whiskey and cognac.  It was all that.

We finished up just as the crowds descended on Linger, but the ambience was never too much.  Despite a large crowd near the bar, our table remained warm and intimate.  We did venture beyond the happy hour menu come 5:30 for a great rendition of pad thai - though the citrus might be too much for some.  And, we had to pass on the desert menu, though Rupert satisfied our sweet tooth with some homemade sesame caramels along with the check.

All in all, an excellent outing.  We will be back to "Linger."

Monday, April 11, 2016

Bourbon Bliss in Park City, Utah

*(NOTE: This post is a reprint from my other blog from Fall 2015)

Who knew that drinking in Utah could be such a pleasure?

Coming to Park City, Utah for a nice fall vacation of hiking and relaxing, I didn't know I was going to discover a bourbon lovers delight, just off Main Street in the historic mountain town. Coming down from a nice hike up the Sweeney Switchbacks - and the ski runs above town - I discovered the High West Distillery on Park Avenue, which is producing some excellent quality rye whiskeys and bourbons, as well as a few variations I hadn't considered.  According to the local lore:

High West Distillery and Saloon started with one man’s passion to make a great Rocky Mountain Whiskey. Proprietor and distiller David Perkins married his background as a biochemist, his love of bourbon and cooking, and his passion for the American West to bring the craft of small-batch distilling back to Utah, of all places.

And the Whiskey of Wasatch is proof of a successful marriage. High West offers a tasty whiskey flight that will leave you wanting to expand the menu.  Beginning the flight with a crystal clear silver oat whiskey, I was advised to open my mouth a tad while breathing in the flavors, and the effect on my sinuses and palate was quite pleasant. The oat whiskey is more like a vodka, but the hints of banana and coconut make for a smooth, but potent, finish.  The double-rye and Son of Bourye were also rich, full of expertly blended flavors.  "Bou-rye" was a blend of bourbon and rye whiskeys, and I was intrigued enough to consider purchasing a bottle. However, I'm a bourbon man at heart, and the American Prairie Reserve was what ultimately is going home with me.  Of course, one flight is not enough, and I had to add a couple extra mini-flights to the order. The Barreled Manhattan is a whiskey experiment I've never encountered before - a Manhattan mix that is aged in a barrel. Fascinating.  Of course, that was nothing compared to the Barreled Boulevardier, which was a true whiskey lovers treat. It's not to be missed.

When I think of bourbon and whiskey, it's usually all about Kentucky and the traditional approach, which shouldn't surprise anyone. However, the whiskey magic being distilled in the Wasatch Valley of Utah is worthy of any bourbon and whiskey lovers attention.  For example, the Campfire blend is "the world's only and possibly first" mix of malt scotch, straight bourbon, and straight rye whiskeys. It was the most unique whiskey flavor I've had, with a real earthiness to the spices. While I was unsure of it on the nose and first taste, it really grew on me, and I would definitely take a chance on it again.

High West Distillery is doing some significant work with spirits, and it's worth a stop for any whiskey lover.  And I haven't even talked about the food.