New England Brewing Company – Peanut Butter Fudge Imperial Stout Trooper

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On the drive home from visiting family, I convinced my wife to make a quick pit stop at New England Brewing Company to pick up some beer for the new year.  While our old favorite Fuzzy Baby Ducks was the main selling point, my desire to finally get my hands on one of my most sought after brews came in a close second!

Beer Name: Peanut Butter Fudge Imperial Stout Trooper

Brewery: New England Brewing Company (Woodbridge, CT)

Style: Imperial Stout

ABV: 9.5%

Description: Starting with their “force-ful” Imperial Stout Trooper and its mix of a dozen different grains and oats as a base, the brewers then added peanut butter and chocolate to make the dark side of beer even more alluring.

Appearance: It came out of the growler thick and black.  A thin tan lacing formed around the edges of the glass upon completion of the pour.

Smell: Sweet fudgy cake batter with hints of peanut butter around the edges.

Taste: Creamy milk chocolate and fudge upfront, followed by rich, lightly roasted dark malts that carried through to the finish.  The peanut butter was subtle at first, mainly confined to the after taste, until the beer sat in the glass for a few minutes.  After that, it became a bit more prominent as notes of thick, creamy peanut butter blended with the aforementioned fudge. A light bit of heat closed things out.

Mouthfeel: Thick, smooth body with low carbonation.

Hype: High.  The regular Imperial Stout Trooper is a beer that has long been on my must try list and finally being able to get my hands on a variant of it was rather exciting for me.

Overall: Decadent and delicious, the beer very much delivered on the promised additions.  The base stout seemed very good in its own right, so I’ll definitely keep my eyes open for a chance to pick up some of that as well.

Two Villains Brewing – Origin Story

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Coming at you all with one more brew from the good folks at Two Villains, this time with a beer my wife and I took home with us.

Beer Name: Origin Story

Brewery: Two Villains Brewing (Nyack, NY)

Style: NEIPA

ABV: 6.5%

Description: Brewed with oats and a blend of malt, it was then whirlpooled and dry hopped with some of the brewers’ favorite fruit-forward American and New Zealand varieties.

Appearance: It poured a hazy amber/pineapple juice colored body topped by a thin, slightly off-white head of foam.

Smell: Burst of sticky tropical fruit the moment I opened the crowler.

Taste: Sweet upfront, beginning with pulpy citrus fruits and apricot before some more mellow melon notes set in.  A nice pale malty/oaty base poked through around mission and was quickly followed a slightly resinous grapefruit bitterness that carried through to the finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with a moderate level of carbonation.

Hype: High!  My first my time drinking an official Two Villains beer at home that wasn’t a home brew.  I also missed this one the brewery and my wife raved about it on the way back to the car.

Overall: I can certainly understand now why this was such a hit!  Great juicy flavor and just the right amount of bitterness on the end made this one a real winner.

Two Villains Brewing – Nyack, New York

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My first brewery experience of the year is also a very special one for the BeerRantsAndBooks family.  The two gentlemen who run operations and make the beer at Two Villains Brewing have been in the circle of friends for many years now and it was absolutely amazing to see them realize their dream!  They officially opened up shop in mid-November of 2019 and my wife and I were thrilled we got a chance to stop by and visit some old friends over the Holidays.

The brewery is located on Main Street in downtown Nyack, NY and sits amongst a row of other storefronts.  There is no dedicated parking, but we had no problem finding ample (metered) public spaces literally right across the street.  Walking in the door you enter a beautifully finished taproom with a very industrial and modern vibe. It was well lit and had a very open and inviting feel.  Wooden tables and benches are spread throughout a rather roomy seating area and a long bar runs along the left wall. Beyond that and behind a short barrier lay the brewing floor with all the tanks and equipment one would generally expect to see at such a location.  The bathrooms downstairs are definitely worth a visit as well. There are four stalls (including one with a changing station), and each of them are wallpapered with old comics. It was a fun touch and great play on the “villain” name.

For the non-beer drinking crowd, they also pack a full bar and offer cocktail specials and have a craft soda fountain as well.  As of this post they are not serving food yet, but that is something that will be happening in the very near future. All I’ll say is that the descriptions of the chef-to-be’s cooking style certainly had my mouth watering!

And now it’s time to bring on the beer!  I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing several Two Villains home brews over the years and have likewise enjoyed the stuff they worked on at their previous gig, so I couldn’t wait to dive into the taplist.  There were several beers pouring that day and while I wasn’t going to be able to try them all, I did get a good sampling of what they had available. First up was Gummy World, an 8.5% NEIPA inspired by the brewers’ favorite gummy worms.  This particular batch was brewed with a strawberry and watermelon puree and dry hopped with El Dorado.  The oat/malt bill gave it a smooth base atop which the beer featured a light bitterness and a deliciously sweet blending of the featured fruits throughout.  Definitely an excellent start!

Beer number two was a 5% “Hoppy Norwegian Farmhouse Ale” named Sol Eater.  It opened with a nice wheat and rye backbone, followed by orange and apricot before coming to a rather dry finish with notes of pear and yeast.  This was probably my favorite farmhouse ale in quite some time!

My final full pour of the day was a 5.0% nitro milk stout called Neighbor Cat.  It was everything you could want from the style; light, smooth body and great notes of creamy and roasted malts.  In talking to the guys it sounds like they have some big plans for playing around with this one, so keep an eye out if you’re in the area.

As a bonus beer, I was treated to a sneak peek of a Kolsch they were working on at the time.  I know it’s not really a style people tend to get worked up over, but damn this was fantastic!  Light, super crisp, and featuring a subtle fruity sweetness this tasted like a real winner even when poured from the Brite tank.  It looks like they debuted this for New Year’s Eve, so get in there and get this while it lasts!

And that rounds out a very enjoyable day at the brewery.  I know I am a bit biased on this one, but seriously check this place out if and when you’re in the area.  It’s an awesome space and the beer will most definitely give you something to smile about.

PS – I’d like to add an additional thank you here to my wife, who took on some of the photography duties this visit!

 

The Third Annual BeerRantsAndBooks Blogger’s Choice Awards

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Welcome to the Third Annual BeerRantsAndBooks Blogger’s Choice Awards!  I certainly came across many wonderful characters in 2019, and it is time now to pause and recognize some of my favorites.  We once again have an incredibly strong list of nominees, so I had to make some really hard choices in declaring a winner in each and every categy.

For a quick reminder of the rules, I am considering here all characters I came across in my 2019 reading.  The original publication date of the book for which they are nominated is irrelevant. With that out of the way, let’s bring on the nominees!

Best Leading Male Character

Orhan (Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, by K.J. Parker): An outsider on account of his race, Orhan is able to secure the respectable rank of Colonel of Engineers in the Robur Empire through skill, determination, and a shrewd understanding of graft.  When he finds himself leading the defense of a seemingly doomed city, he uses every last bit of strength and ingenuity to fight for every second of its survival.

Vasher (Warbreaker, by Brandon Sanderson): Hailing from the Shardworld of Nalthis, Vasher is a skilled swordsman and one of the Five Scholars devoted to mastering the local form of Investiture and pushing the boundaries of what it can do.  Irritable and often difficult to get along with, he nonetheless is a rather honorable man willing to help those with pure intentions.

Hamed Nasr (The Haunting of Tram Car 015, by P. Djeli Clark): A veteran detective in Egypt’s Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities, Hamed finds himself partnered with a rookie to investigate some unusual happenings in a magical tram car.

Luo Ji (The Dark Forest, by Liu Cixin): A cynical and not particularly motivated man who finds himself one of humanity’s last hopes for resisting an alien invasion.

And the winner is: Orhan.  I really enjoyed his story and the tales of his engineering feats.  His outsider status, engineering brilliance, and dark, self-effacing sense of humor made it pretty easy to look past some of his less desirable traits (and unreliable narrator status) and really root for the guy.

Best Leading Female Character

Swan Er Hong (2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson): A brilliant, eccentric artist and scientist, Swan found herself caught up in a conspiracy that spans the Solar System following the death of her grandmother, Mercury’s charismatic and influential ruler.

Elvi Okoye (Tiamat’s Wrath, by James S.A. Corey): A hard working and determined scientist whose unique understanding of an alien technology has landed her a prestigious research position.  The only problem is that is on behalf of an authoritarian regime forcing her cooperation.

Circe (Circe, by Madeline Miller): The sea nymph probably best known for her role in The Odyssey, she is given an entirely new and powerful voice in this retelling of her life.

Gen Octaviasdottir (New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson): An NYPD detective who grew up on the poor side of town, her presence in a story full of great characters looms even larger than her person: With her police boots on she was six foot four, and now she was helmeted, pistol in hand, a look that could freeze blood.  A big scary black woman cop, mad as hell and calm as heaven.

And the winner is: With many, many apologies to Gen I think this goes to Circe.  I went back and forth about this decision at least thrice, but I am pretty sure I got it right.  Circe carried her story single handed and put in such a powerful and emotional performance it was just too hard to pick against her.

Best Non-Gendered Character

Breq (Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie): Formerly the AI of a ship named Justice of Toren, Breq is presently confined to a single ancillary body that is for all other purposes mostly human.  A skilled leader and tactical mastermind, Breq also possessed a keen sense of social justice and responsibility.

Nightblood (Warbreaker, by Brandon Sanderson): A sentient sword with the unnerving ability to project its thoughts and emotions into the minds of the people around it.  Self-centered and always very eager to be of use, Nightblood was easily one of the highlights of Warbreaker.

Chimp (The Freeze Frame Revolution, by Peter Watts): The AI serving aboard a ship on a 65 million year mission building wormholes.  Despite its seemingly friendly nature, however, some in the crew suspect it is not only hiding information from them, but also starting to view significant numbers of them as expendable.

And the winner is: Nightblood, just barely edging out Breq.  I just find the story behind this character absolutely fascinating at the fact that it turns up again elsewhere in Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere leaves me wondering about the possibilities ahead for this character.

Best Supporting Male Character

Mutt and Jeff (New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson): A pair of financial coders who after years working odd jobs decide the time is right to level the economic playing field.

Daedalus (Circe, by Madeline Miller): Friend and lover of Circe, Daedalus offered both a calming and tragic presence to a rather emotional tale.  He of course has a few rather interesting inventions to share as well.

Shi Qiang (The Dark Forest, by Liu Cixin): Former detective and bodyguard to Wallfacer Luo Ji, he earned his second nomination in this category once again on account of his cunning mind and hard outlook on life.

And the winner is: Mutt and Jeff.  I suppose it’s a bit unfair to give this to a duo, but there’s really no separating the two.  Imagine fusing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with the guys from Waiting for Godot and then making them hackers with a passion for social and economic justice.

Best Supporting Female Character

Sawdust (Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, by K.J. Parker): A former slave with a renowned talent for carpentry, she plays a key role in defending her city and in the process makes several significant advances in siege weaponry.

Kizzy Shao (The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers): A fun loving machine technician aboard the Wayfarer, her side interests include video games, electronic dance music, and smoking something called Smash.

Amelia Black (New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson): Star of a viral environmental series and captain of her own personal airship, Amelia is willing to put everything she has on the line for the causes she believes in.

And the winner is: Sawdust.  She was an intriguing character and I have a soft spot for medieval siege engines.  She also made the perfect counterpart to Orhan (see above), making her one of the few people he could rely on without reservation in an emergency.

And with that I bring the awards season to a close.  I met a lot of great characters in 2019 and can’t wait to see what 2020 has in store!

2019 Year in Review

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It’s that time again to take a look back on the year that was and start thinking about the one that will be.  2019 was an interesting year blogging year for me in that I had some definite peaks and valleys in the amount of time and energy I had for posting.  I did manage to stay somewhat regular though, largely on account of mixing up my posts. This was something I had a lot of fun with, so I’ll be doing more of that in the year to come as well.  I found it helpful not just in terms of keeping me interested, but also keeping up with my posting in light of changes to an already hectic schedule. That said, let’s take a look at the two mainstays of my blog, beer and books, and see how I did.

The Beer

This was an unexpectedly challenging year for me beer-wise.  I felt a definite decline in my enthusiasm for reviewing, and I think one of the biggest factors in that feeling was that I often found myself coming across a whole lot of perfectly fine yet surprisingly homogeneous and unremarkable brews that were not particularly inspiring to write about.  To remedy this going forward, and to save my wallet and waistline a bit of stress, I will be slowing down my reviews and being more selective about the beer I pick up. Don’t worry, I’ll still have plenty of excellent brews to share and will still be checking out local breweries whenever I can.  I just felt like I needed to make an adjustment to make this aspect of my writing fun again. In that spirit, I do already have a few locations and events planned for the new year that I can’t wait to share!

The Books

I felt like I had another pretty solid year on this front.  I’ll never read as much as I want to, but upon looking back I find myself extremely satisfied with the books I did get to.  I read a whole bunch of great books, crossed a few key items off my TBR list, and managed to get almost all caught up on the Cosmere.  Needless to say, I’ll have a very interesting annual awards post coming up in the next few days! As for next year, I plan to focus more on works that are a bit shorter than my usual fare.  I have some personal and professional obligations coming up that may cut into my already scarce reading and review writing time, but, again, rest assured I’ll definitely still be reading.

And that’s a wrap on 2019.  Looking forward to blogging with you all in 2020!

The Bruery – 12 Drummers Drumming

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Good evening and Merry Christmas to all!  Whether you’re celebrating the holiday today or not, I hope everyone out there had a happy and safe day today.  Let’s bring on the beer!

Beer Name: The Bruery (Placentia, CA)

Brewery: 12 Drummers Drumming

Style: Belgian Quadruple / Old Ale Blend

ABV: 12%

Description: The final entry in The Bruery’s long running line of Christmas brews, this beer is a 4:1 blending of a big Belgian Quad and a bourbon barrel aged old ale.

Appearance: Poured a deep, dark brown body with reddish highlights and a bubbly tan head up top.

Smell: Sweet dark fruit, tart cherry, and a slight oak presence.

Taste: Complex malts upfront blend caramel and toffee sweetness with dark fruits (think plum, fig, and cherry).  As the sip went in it took on mature barrel influences, developing a slight oak character along with hints of vanilla and a light amount of heat.  Very finely blended, all aspects of the taste flowed perfectly into one another. The quad definitely took the lead on this, but the old ale was definitely there below the surface adding a really nice extra dimension.

Mouthfeel: Smooth medium-plus body with fairly low carbonation.

Hype: Elevated, out of both respect for the brewery and all the good things I’ve heard about this series over the years.

Overall: A delicious, impressive brew.  Really well executed and a joy to sip on a holiday evening (or likely any point this winter in all honesty).  This brew did not disappoint and it came at a very respectable $12 price point for the large format bottle. Totally worth it!

 

Random Tag Tuesday: Make Your Own Fictional Christmas Squad Tag

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Welcome to another not so random edition of Random Tag Tuesday!  Christmas is right around the corner now and upon finding this tag I knew exactly what I had to do.

The Gift Giver

Kaladin Stormblessed (Oathbringer, by Brandon Sanderson): I chose Kaladin mostly on account of the amusing and rather unconventional gift he gives a certain character for her wedding.  I definitely appreciate a fun gift giver!

The Scrooge

Bellonda (Chapterhouse Dune, by Frank Herbert): The Bene Gesserit are a pretty rigid lot to begin with, but Bellonda strove to be even moreso, vigilantly confronting any perceived deviations from her vision of the Sisterhood’s orthodoxy.  This stern woman would most definitely be a scrooge and at best would only tolerate celebrations as a means of manipulating people.

The Tree Decorator

Swan Er Hong (2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson): Decorating a Christmas tree might seem a bit mundane for Swan following her gigs turning asteroids into spaceships, designing landscapes on Mercury, and extreme body modifications/performance art, but I bet she could do something absolutely amazing.  Perhaps even genetically modify a tree of her own while she was at it.

The Excitable Christmas Enthusiast

Lift (Edgedancer, by Brandon Sanderson): Lift would very much embrace the Christmas/Holiday season.  While I think she’d like presents just fine, for her the food is where it would really be at.  I could easily imagine her hitting up several feasts and bakeries before gleefully making a night out of visiting people’s homes for the thrill of sampling Santa’s cookies.

The Games Master

Orhan (Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, by KJ Parker): I could see Orhan having a lot of fun in this role.  He is incredibly cunning, is great at alternately irritating and motivating people, and is an engineering genius.  He might go heavy on the puzzle games, but I bet they’d be amazing!

The One Who’s Been in their Pyjamas All Day

Kizzy Shao (The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers): She’s either hung over/strung out of from the Christmas Eve party or just happy to enjoy some done town with people close to her, but either way she’s my nominee here.

The One Who Dressed up as Santa

Freya (Aurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson): I picked Freya in large part because, well, I got stuck here.  In her time on the colony ship, however, she did display a strong interest in befriending her fellow travelers and participating in the various communities aboard the ship.  Perhaps it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch then to imagine her dressing up as Santa for the kids.

Prairie Artisan Ales – Christmas Bomb

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It wouldn’t quite feel like winter if I didn’t have any stouts to share, now would it?  That this one happened to be a festive variant of an old favorite was certainly a plus and the fact that it was bottled on Halloween made it all the more irresistible!  Ahh, Halloween and Christmas together again…

Beer Name: Christmas Bomb

Brewery: Prairie Artisan Ales (Oklahoma City, OK)

Style: Imperial Stout

ABV: 13.0%

Description: The brewery used their popular Bomb! Imperial Stout as a base and added cinnamon to its already impressive array of coffee, chocolate, vanilla, and ancho chili.

Appearance: Poured to a black body topped by a thin, dark tan foam that faded immediately upon completion of the pour.

Smell: Creamy dark malts with a blast of cinnamon at the end.

Taste: Creamy, rich malts upfront transitioned first to sweet chocolate and then towards a robust, spicy blend of vanilla and cinnamon.  Emerging on the finish were hints of roasted coffee and a distinct layer of heat from both alcohol and chilli peppers.

Mouthfeel: Thick, smooth body with low carbonation.

Hype: I was excited about this one.  I really enjoy the base brew and I was excited to incorporate a stout into my festive mix.

Overall: This was a very aggressively flavorful brew and I was immediately captivated by the potential offered by the aroma and first half of the sip.  After that however, the beer’s strong finish got to be a bit much for me. The cinnamon on its own had a pretty assertive presence, but in combination with the pepper and vanilla, the level of spice and heat on the finish was enough to really give me pause around a third of the way into the glass.  It wasn’t bad necessarily, but it was intense. Your feelings about these adjuncts and the flavor profiles they impart will very much determine whether or not this is the brew for you or not.

Brouwerij Huyghe – Delirium Noel

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For my next Holiday brew I’m checking in with something that’s been one of my seasonal go-tos for a few years now.  I was first introduced to this brewery by a coworker who absolutely adored Delirium Tremens, and from there I started checking out whatever else I could find from them.

Beer Name: Delirium Noel

Brewery: Brouwerij Huyghe (Ghent, Belgium)

Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale

ABV: 10.0%

Description: A sweet and (winter) spicy Belgian dark ale brewed for the Holiday season.  Read more about it here.

Appearance: Pours a reddish brown body topped by a finger of off-white fluffy foam.

Smell: Sweet malt and spicy yeast.

Taste: On the sweeter side upfront with hints of dark fruit and candy malt.  Tastes of herbal, winter spices and peppery yeast quickly take over alongside a spicy bitterness and carry on through to a dry finish with a mild to moderate alcohol presence.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied and surprisingly effervescent with an elevated carbonation level.

Hype: None in particular, though I have tended to make sure I have had at least one of these every Holiday season the past few years.

Overall: Obviously I like this.  It’s a bit spicier and more carbonated than I would typically look for in the style, but there’s something about it that just says December to me.  I can’t help but keep going back for more.

Brouwerij De Dolle Brouwers – Stille Nacht

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It’s now that tim of year where I start breaking out the Christmas brews!  I’m aiming for a quality over quantity approach this time around so while I won’t be reviewing quite as many as I did last year, I do hope to be able to share some real gems with you all.

Beer Name: Stille Nacht

Brewery: Brouwerij De Dolle Brouwers (Esen, Belgium)

Style: Belgian Strong Pale Ale

ABV: 12.0%

Description: A strong Belgian pale ale brewed with pale malts, white candy sugar, and Nugget hops.  There’s a pretty cool story on the brewery’s website about a pretty epic tasting event involving this beer that is certainly worth a read as well.

Appearance: Pale amber/dark yellow body with a thin and persistent white foam across the top.

Smell: Mild candy-like malts and spicy, herbal yeast.

Taste: sweet malts upfront, brown sugar, bubble gum, fruity apple and grape, banana, clove, spicy yeast end with a bit of warmth.

Mouthfeel: Medium-plus body with roughly moderate carbonation.

Hype: None when I initially picked it up, but I did come to find out later on that it’s ranked as the third best Belgian Pale Ale on Beer Advocate.

Overall: Something about the holiday season makes me think of Belgian strong ales and this one certainly did not disappoint!  This was a very good brew that initially brought to mind a lighter Belgian pale until after a few sips the heat and assertive yeasty notes on the end stepped in to slow me down a bit.  This is one tasty beer sure to keep you warm and happy on a cold wintery eve!