The Twelve Beers of Christmas, Day Four: Ridgeway Brewing – Reindeer’s Revolt

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I don’t know what kind of operation these Oxfordshire-based brewers think Santa is running, but it sure seems like one that I don’t want to be a part of.  Yesterday we had an insanely bad elf, and now the reindeer are in open revolt!

Beer Name: Reindeer’s Revolt

Brewery: Ridgeway Brewing (Oxfordshire, United Kingdom)

Style: English Christmas Ale

ABV: 6.0%

Description: Again, I’ll just put the story on the bottle here:

“Bartender, if anyone calls, I’m not here, right? Every year it’s the same nightmare, hauling that over-sized, red-suited endomorph all over kingdom come, up to my shivering haunches in snow and muck! You call him a Saint? Slave-driver, more like. Going down in history is all well and good, but what about the here and now? My therapist says I have to start doing things for me for a change. It’s about time I had a Merry Christmas myself, don’t you think?”

Appearance: It poured a translucent copper/dark amber body with a thin layer of off-white lacing across the top.

Smell: Stereotypical “beer” smell with a bit of malty sweetness and touch of yeast on the end.

Taste: Light cracker malt with a toasty backbone. Tempered by a bit of sweetness with a mildly spicy yeast ending

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with roughly moderate carbonation.

Hype: None.  I honestly had no idea what to expect from an “English Christmas Ale,” nor had I ever heard of this brewery before.  It did look like a fun beer to include in my Christmas series this year though.

Overall: Not really a standout for me, but enjoyable nonetheless.  It was a nice beer to sip at and not think too much about, while is certainly something to appreciate.

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The Twelve Beers of Christmas, Day Three: Ridgeway Brewing – Insanely Bad Elf

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Elves seem to be a popular choice for beer names/images this time of year though, oddly enough, few if any seemed poised to make the Nice list.  I figured I’d start out on that particular theme with perhaps the naughtiest of the lot.

Beer Name: Insanely Bad Elf

Brewery: Ridgeway Brewing (Oxfordshire, United Kingdom)

Style: Imperial Red Ale

ABV: 11.2%

Description: I couldn’t find any details on this, so I’ll just give you the story the brewers put on the label:

“My goodness,” muttered Claus, recalling his visit to the Institute, “the restrictive outerwear, the padded room – even padded Christmas tree ornaments. Horrifying ! Yet the little chap seems happier than he’s ever been.” Claus took a thoughtful sip of a most warming red ale. “Perhaps sanity is over-rated… Ho,ho,ho!”

Appearance: Translucent reddish/copper body with no head either on the pour or as the beer settled.

Smell: Caramel malts with warm, boozy undertones.

Taste: Very sweet upfront, with brown sugar and the candy-like Belgian yeast coming in right from the start.  Toffee and a bit of lightly toasted malt came in around mid-sip with a warming bit of alcohol paired with subtle spice (and maybe a bit of vanilla) on the end.

Mouthfeel: The body was just shy of thick with a moderate level of carbonation.

Hype: This was one of the first beers I picked up for my holiday series, so I was a bit excited about it for that.  Beyond that I had no idea what to expect from this brewery or what this style meant to them.

Overall: This was a heavy, warming brew that really grew on me as the glass went on.  I was caught totally off-guard by the first sip, but by the third I knew I was in for something tasty.  It came close to be too sweet at times, but the light toastiness and warmth always seemed to pull it back from that edge.  I’m glad it came in a small bottle, but I would definitely look for this again on a cold night.

The Twelve Beers of Christmas, Day Two: Down the Road Beer Company – Folktour

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As I mentioned in my introduction yesterday, my daily reviews the next two weeks will be a mix of winter and holiday themed beers.  It’s been pretty cold in the Boston area lately, so finding this hot cocoa-inspired porter really got me excited.

Beer Name: Folktour

Brewery: Down the Road Beer Company (Everett, MA)

Style: Porter

ABV: 5.2%

Description: Per their release, this beer was created to celebrate the friendship between the brewery and the folks at City Brew Tours.  I couldn’t find anything on the brewing specs, but it is described there as featuring notes of sweet chocolate, vanilla, and dark malt.

Appearance: Poured a deep, black body with a thin coating of white bubbles that never quite came together to form a head.

Smell: Inviting aromas of sweet cream, fudge, and dark malts.

Taste: It started out with hints of cream, light roasted coffee, and bitter chocolate.  From there it took on a slightly yeasty presence before coming to a finish of bitter dark chocolate and roasted malts.  While none of these flavors where particularly overpowering in any way, they never quite achieved a balance with one another either making the overall experience seem a bit inconsistent.

Mouthfeel: Thin, slick body with low-level carbonation.

Hype: Just my enthusiasm for the season.  I like that this brewery is almost literally down the road from me, but I’ve had just as many misses from them as I have hits.

Overall: I wasn’t a fan of this. As I mentioned above, the beer was particularly balanced and I felt like the tastes were kind of all over the place.  Not to pile on, but I feel like this missed its mark as a hot cocoa-inspired brew as what I imaged from that descriptions (sweet and chocolately) was very different from what I got (roasty and bitter).  The smell was great, but unfortunately the rest of the beer didn’t live up to it.

The Twelve Beers of Christmas, Day One: Two Roads Brewing Company – Holiday Ale

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With only twelve days left to go until Christmas morning, I thought I’d spice up the countdown a bit by doing a series of reviews I’ll be calling the Twelve Beers of Christmas!  For each of the next twelve days I am going to review a beer that is either named for the winter season or my family’s December holiday of choice. All are welcome on this journey, so regardless of what you’re celebrating, or not, these next couple of weeks, I invite you to grab a brew and drink along with me!

Beer Name: Holiday Ale

Brewery: Two Roads Brewing Company (Stratford, CT)

Style: Biere de Noel

ABV: 7.3%

Description: According to the bottle, this is an American take on a French style traditionally brewed in the weeks leading up Christmas.  The beer accentuates notes toasted malt and caramel with an herbal presence imparted by Strisselspalt and Aramis hops.

Appearance: Translucent copper body topped by a bubbly off-white lacing that fizzled away pretty quickly.

Smell: Sweet, with hints of light, crisp malt in the background.

Taste: It began with a rich blend of malts, mixing caramel and molasses sweetness with a light toastiness.  The ending brought on a the aforementioned herbal hops, imparting a mild bitterness to the finish.  After the beer sat for a little bit, it the herbal flavors intensified a bit and the beer took on a bit of heat as well.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with right around moderate carbonation.

Hype: None I guess other than my own cautious optimism.  Two Roads is a pretty established name in my area and I was excited to review something a bit different than usual.

Overall: The initial balance of flavors is what really made this beer for me and, as such, I definitely preferred the freshly poured flavor profile over the boozy, herbal tastes it took on as it warmed.  That aside, I did like this beer, but don’t think I would ever want more than one twelve ounce bottle of it at a time.

Book Review: Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection, by Brandon Sanderson

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It took me a little while to fully gather my thoughts on this book, but I can happily say I found doing so an immensely rewarding experience.  Returning to the Cosmere had been one of my unofficial reading goals for the year and with this I certainly did so in style. Now that I am pretty well versed in the lore of its major worlds, I was looking for a deeper dive and that is exactly what I got.

This book is a collection of novellas and short stories divided up into six sections, each according to a different planetary system within the Cosmere.  Some were familiar while others were at the very least new to me. Each system was introduced by Khriss, a worldhopper based out of Silverlight, a city in the Cognitive Realm, whom careful readers of Mistborn and the Stormlight Archive (and presumably other works) might recognize.  She is also the “author” of the Ars Arcana entries at the end of each Cosmere book and takes on a similar role here, providing a brief overview on items of celestial, historical, or magical significance for each planet covered.  As an added bonus, every story also came with an outro from Sanderson describing his thoughts and motivations for writing it.

For my post today, I am going to be a bit more detailed than I usually am when reviewing compilations.  In an effort to solidify my own understanding of the Cosmere’s workings, I am going to not only do a quick review for each story in the collection, but also include some of my own notes.  These are by no means intended to be definitive (indeed there are way more thorough and authoritative options out there), but rather something I am doing for me.  These other sources certainly provide a wealth of information, but they can also be a bit overwhelming (and occasionally frustrating) since they incorporate a lot of things Sanderson says has made canon but are not officially in print yet.  And now the warnings. Spoilers abound for various books and the Cosmere in general, so tread carefully, especially in the Selish, Scadrian, and Rosharan systems if you aren’t up to date on the corresponding books. You have been warned. My reviews begin after the break and assume the reader has a slightly more than passing familiarity with the Cosmere and its terminology.

Continue reading

Merry December!

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I know I’m a few days late with this greeting, but I feel like that’s pretty unavoidable this time of year.  I’ve long held that Halloween marks the last chance to truly let loose and have fun before the mad rush through Thanksgiving, the December Holidays, and New Year’s and that seems especially true for me this year.  I’m not saying there’s no fun to be had from these things (indeed I have a newfound appreciation for these holidays upon experiencing them with a two-year old), but this time of year certainly brings with it a level of stress and obligation that can really weigh one down.

On account of this I haven’t had as much time to work on posts as I would have liked and am taking a week or so off to gather my thoughts while preparing to end the year strong.  I have one more epic book review coming up that I am very excited to share with you all and on our around December 14th I have a festive lineup of beers I’ll start reviewing. I also have some end of year type posts in the works, though I will have to wait and see whether or not those make the December cut or get pushed to early January.

It’s a hectic time of year right now, so I’ll close this with a reminder to be careful out there.  Stay warm, safe, and sane my friends!

Book Review: Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie (Book One in the Imperial Radch Trilogy)

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It sure feels like a long time since I last read a space opera, so here I am making my triumphant return to the genre!  This series first caught my attention a few years ago on account of the high praise it had been receiving since it began back in 2013.  The downside to that critical success, at least as far as I am concerned, is that it meant the e-book spent quite a lot of time sitting on my library queue before I was able to get my hands on it.

Note: For the purposes of this post I am going to refer to our protagonist as “she.”  This is problematic for reasons I get into below, but it is the best information I have to go on and it is at least consistent with the pronouns the character would use.

The story is told from the perspective of a character officially designated Justice of Toren One Esk Nineteen, though she is more commonly referred to by her alias, Breq.  This rather complicated situation arose on account of Breq beginning her existence as a being called an ancillary, a mostly artificial construct created to serve the military arm of the powerful Radchaii Empire.  As an ancillary, her physical body was part of a collective consciousness headed by the AI of a troop-carrier (the Justice of Toren) that spread itself out across a number of augmented host bodies re-animated from fallen enemy soldiers.  That existence is in the past, however, as certain events have separated the One Esk Nineteen host body from the ship’s AI, leaving her to stand alone as an individual entity.  We are first meet her on an outback planet where she is trying to locate an elusive person she suspects to be in possession of a powerful artifact. As the story unfolds, we gradually learn from a series of flashbacks what happened to separate Breq from her ship and how she intends to confront the political intrigues and betrayals that led to her current circumstances.

It took me a few chapters to really get settled into this world, but once I did I felt very rewarded for sticking with it.  The main point of confusion for me was adjusting to Breq’s habit of referring to everyone around her using feminine pronouns on account of her inability to identify gender.  While this perspective initially made it difficult to picture the characters in my head, I did eventually get used to it and was able to apply this view accordingly.  What I found particularly interesting about this was that Breq’s outlook was shaped primarily by the society in which she lived.  She doesn’t grasp the concept of gender because it is not particularly relevant in Radchaii language, culture, or mannerisms despite the fact that, to her frequent amazement, the people around her remain aware of such differences anyway.  Once I got used to it though, I found this to be a rather fascinating perspective that added a unique dimension to the novel that really gave me something to think about.

Going beyond this, the book offered plenty of other things to keep me engrossed as well.  The story was exciting, fresh, and mixed everything one would want in a space opera – action, intrigue, memorable characters, and exotic sci-fi settings – with some thought-provoking looks at language, gender, and the uses of wealth and power.  As a result, I was left facing a dilemma upon finishing it: Am I really ready to start another series with so many books already on my reading list? My answer is a resounding yes! This book lived up to the hype and with the rest of the trilogy already in print I am hopeful that I can finish it off pretty quickly.

Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project – East Kent Saison

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Hi again everybody!  Sorry that I have been fairly quiet this November, but life has been pretty hectic lately and after all the blogging I did back in October I needed to step back for a bit.  Anyway, I wanted to make sure I got this review up since this was a special beer for me. I said a little while ago that I had probably had my final beer from Pretty Things, but then some friends from out of state went and surprised me!

Beer Name: East Kent Saison

Brewery: Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project

Style: Saison

ABV: 5.6%

Description: Bottled back in October 2015, this was brewed with pale malt, English ale yeast, and Whitbread Goldings hops.

Appearance: It poured a cloudy yellow/light copper body that got topped off by a thin white foam.

Smell: Sweet malts with some yeasty notes on the end.

Taste: The sip began with sweet caramel malts.  The sweetness then gave way to some mild yeasty notes and a mild floral bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Just about medium-bodied with a consistent bubbly carbonation.

Hype: High levels of nostalgia, though more for the brewery than this particular beer.

Overall: While I think this might have shown some signs of age in terms of how the tastes all came together, I still found myself really enjoying this.  Considering how well this 5.6% saison was tasting over three years after bottling, I really wish I had more of this one when it was still rolling off the bottling line.

Equilibrium Brewery – Dhop 15

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Not sure why, but I’ve had this review sitting around for a couple of weeks before getting around to posting it.  I think with the cold weather setting in I have my sights set on some bigger beers, but I did want to make sure I got this one in.

Beer Name: Dhop 15

Brewery: Equilibrium Brewery (Middletown, NY)

Style: New England Double IPA

ABV: 8.2%

Description: The 15th entry in the brewery’s series of DIPAs experimenting with hop varieties.  This one focused on Enigma and was canned on October 2.

Appearance: Poured a golden/medium amber body with some white lacing across the top.

Smell: Opened with a burst of juicy tropical fruit and berry sweetness followed by a hazy pine background.

Taste: Sweet tropical fruits, especially mango and pineapple, mixed with melon and berries upfront with a warm piney bitterness on end that slightly warms the throat.

Mouthfeel: Medium-plus body that just a hair short of creamy.  The carbonation level was fairly moderate.

Hype: My usual elevated level upon opening an out-of-market beer from a well-regarded brewery.  The friend that gave it to said, on very good authority, that this was one of their favorites to come out of Equilibrium lately.

Overall: A very, very nice example of the style.  The beer had a nice juicy sweetness upfront combined with a warm bitterness on the end that came right to the edge of being too raw without crossing over.  If I lived near this brewery, I would definitely stay on top of this series.

Book Review: Barrel Aged Stout and Selling Out: Goose Island, Anheuser-Busch, and How Craft Beer Became Big Business, by Josh Noel

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Once again my interests in beer and books unite!  Recently published in June 2018, this book was written by Chicago Tribune writer Josh Noel who, over the course of its 400-plus pages, guides the reader on a behind the scenes look at how Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Company became one of the country’s top craft breweries and how its sale to the Brazilian/Belgian conglomerate AB-Inbev, the parent company of Anheuser-Busch, Grupo Modelo, and many, many other breweries across the world, in 2011 shook the American beer industry.  For any readers that may not know, this was huge news in the beer world at the time as Goose Island was one of the first major American craft breweries to be acquired by Inbev, and many consumers and craft brewers alike loudly accused Goose Island and its founders of selling out to the bad guys in Big Beer.

I found this to be a really interesting and informative read as Noel presented a thoughtful and engaging narrative about Goose Island and the people behind it.  I’ve had my share of their brews over the years, highlighted by a visit to the Wrigleyville brewpub before going to a Yankees-Cubs game several years back, and appreciated getting some additional background about the company’s beers and history.  In the earlier chapters that focused on the brewery’s origin story, what I most enjoyed reading about were the difficulties the owners faced introducing their brand of beer to consumers who, in the mid-80s, were for the most part conditioned to think that the yellow, mild lagers pushed by Budweiser and Miller were the be all and end all of beer.  It is amazing to think about how far the American beer scene has come in that time and it was fascinated to read about the changes Goose Island helped usher in.

As for the second part of the book, in which Noel examined the cultural and economic impact of the brewery’s sale on the American brewing industry, I particularly enjoyed how he framed the concerns about this, and subsequent acquisitions by Inbev, in the context of production and distribution.  I felt made for a very tangible and compelling argument against Big Beer. These are probably the aspects of the industry most consumers think about the least, but they are so vital to understanding what is at stake here. The threat to the craft beer industry, and by extension its consumers, from AB-Inbev is that it can use its vastly superior finances and (often borderline illegal) clout with distributors to muscle in and push smaller breweries off of shelves and taplists.  This, in conjunction with purposefully obfuscating ownership of their umbrella brands, puts them in a position to deceive consumers into thinking they have a choice of brands when in reality they might not. To cite an example from the text:

Few people would recognize a draft list of Goose Island, Elysian, 10 Barrel, Widmer, Stella, and Bud and Bud Light as the absence of choice.  Yet, quietly, that’s what is was.

And that’s only a small sampling of the possibilities, especially as AB continues to acquire new brands.  This strategy, combined with a disingenuous campaign urging consumers to focus solely on the beer in the glass as opposed to who puts it there shows the lengths Inbev will go in order to cash in on America’s love of craft beer.  While there is certainly some merit to this argument, its real aim is to distract consumers from the fact that AB is spending a whole lot of money in an attempt to be the only company putting beer in your glass.

Again, I really enjoyed this book and learned quite a bit of new information about the beer business.  It also gave me with a few things to think about next time I am out and looking for a drink, especially with the annual release of Goose Island’s popular (and undeniably delicious) Bourbon County Brand Stout lineup coming up on Black Friday.  People are, of course, free to drink what they like, though I think I personally may take a break from that beer for little while knowing what the money goes to. I know it’s ultimately not the most serious of issues facing the country at the moment, but it is one that I do have interest in.