Somerville Brewing Company (Slumbrew) – #ThanksObama

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I didn’t plan on posting this week on account of having just returned home from vacation, but a local event caught my attention.  From January 19-21, Somerville Brewing Company is serving up pints of their limited release #ThanksObama Nitro Stout and donating a portion of each sale to the Barack Obama Foundation.  Just their way of doing some good in the world and helping lift spirits in these troubling times.  The beer is available at both the main brewery and the taproom at Assembly Square.

Beer Name: #ThanksObama

Brewery: Somerville Brewing Company (Somerville, MA)

Style: Milk Stout (Nitro)

ABV: 5.5%

Description: A nitro milk stout brewed as a thank you to our former President.  Described by the brewers as creamy with hints of chocolate and coffee.  Available on draft at both Slumbrew locations for $8 per pint.

Appearance: Solid black body with a thick, foamy tan head.

Smell: Sweet cream and dark malts.

Taste: A clean, subtle blend of cream, lactose, and chocolate with a hint of lightly roasted coffee on the finish.

Mouthfeel: Super smooth and so light it almost felt like it was floating in my mouth.  Very minimal carbonation.

Hype: After spending a week in a fairly conservative part of central Florida, I was looking forward to this release.  It seems to have been well received in solidly Democratic Somerville as well (predictable Facebook trolls aside).

Overall: I really enjoyed this.  Featuring a superb mouthfeel and a subtly delicious flavor profile, this now ranks among my favorite examples of the style.  Go on and check this out while it’s available!  And, as the event declares, we miss you Barry!

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Book Review: Barbary Station, by R.E. Stearns

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My first review of the new year!  I’ll be starting things off with a science fiction novel published in October 2017.  I came across this title in a Tor Publishing newsletter a few months back and bumped it up towards the top of my reading list after finding the initial reviews intriguing.

Barbary Station is the story of two aspiring engineers, Adda Karpe and her girlfriend Iridian Nassir.  Faced with an abysmal job market and the prospects of soul-sucking corporate contracts they make a rather unconventional career choice and decide to become space pirates.  Fortunately for them, Adda’s brother Pel just so happens to be a member of the most famous and prosperous pirate crew in the solar system.  With him as their contact, the couple hijacks a colony ship and triumphantly sets off for Barbary Station, an abandoned space station that serves as home base for the pirates.  Upon arrival, however, they quickly realize that pirate life is not be as glamorous as they thought.  Instead of lounging in luxury suites, the pirates instead live as squatters desperately trying to avoid the wrath of aegiSKADA; the station’s unpredictable and ruthless security AI that is determined to wipe out any uninvited guests.

I had mixed feelings about the novel. The story had a great premise: the AI was an intriguing adversary and there was definitely enough suspense to keep things interesting. Adda and Iridian were also quite likeable, although I favored Adda on account of her dogged aversion to people and psychedelic approach to computer hacking.  Additionally, I found it refreshing to have someone other than a straight white dude as the lead in a Science Fiction novel (the book has received quite a bit of praise for including gay women of color as protagonists).

I think where this book stumbled a bit was in failing to live up to its lofty potential in terms of both story and characters.  I found the author’s writing style a bit hard to follow at times and often had trouble following action sequences or visualizing certain scenes; both things that definitely prevented me from getting as into this as I could have.  The story also felt rather superficial at times and I found myself wishing it would have dug deeper into the world and the other people around our heroines.  It often felt like Adda and Iridian were the only sufficiently developed characters and that everyone else existed only to either fill space or provide those two with other people to interact with.  I didn’t really get a good sense of who any of the other characters were or how they fit into the dynamics of the group they were a part of.

All that considered I would rate my experience with this book as a positive one, though not without some hiccups.  I’d say this is worth checking out, but I wouldn’t recommend dropping everything to do so.

Knee Deep Brewing Company – Stoutello

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It’s always nice when Santa leaves a beer or two under the tree.  He certainly outdid himself this, though most of the offerings probably aren’t going to show up here for a little while.  This one, however, had caught my eye before the Holiday began so it got to be one of the first I opened up.

Beer Name: Stoutello

Brewery: Knee Deep Brewing Company (Auburn, CA)

Style: Milk Stout

ABV: 6.0%

Description: Per the website, this stout was brewed with cacao nibs and lactose.

Appearance: Poured the expected black body with a foamy light tan head.

Smell: Roasted hazelnut coffee.

Taste: Started out with a mix of hazelnut and bittersweet chocolate before taking on a creamy roast coffee taste.  The finish was fairly dry and dominated by a strong roasted/smoked hazelnut presence that stuck with me for a bit after the sip.

Mouthfeel: Body was on the thinner side of medium and slightly slick.  Minimal amount of carbonation.

Hype: I wouldn’t call it hype necessarily, but I did see a lot of this beer on social media, mostly from bottle shops advertising their wares.  I am guessing this was in large part due to the attention grabbing little critter on the can.

Overall: This started out promising but quickly lost me pretty quickly on account of the very strong finish.  Just too much hazelnut flavoring for my tastes and it blew away all the other aspects of the beer.

 

2017 Night Shift Barrel Society Release #4 – Hamlet

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With this review, it’s time to finally put 2017 to bed.  Released in the final days of December, this is the last ever exclusive beer brewed for the Night Shift Barrel Society.  It’s been a fun few years, so let’s see how it all ended.

Beer Name: Hamlet

Brewery: Night Shift Brewing Company (Everett, MA)

Style: Dark Sour Ale

ABV: 9.0%

Description: I present to you, for one last time, the brewer’s notes: Brewer’s Notes: pours a deep, enticing shade of mahogany; vibrant aromas of port and earthy dark fruit; flavors of fig, dark raspberries, and pale chocolate, with an assertive tannic backbone.

Appearance: Deep, dark reddish-brown body topped off by a thin, bubbly layer off-white foam.  It doesn’t affect the beer any, but worth noting is that both my bottle labels looked like the machine they used to apply them misfired a bit (the good side of the neater bottle is shown above).

Smell: Very reminiscent of red wine, it was equal parts sweet and dry with a little bit of funk going on in the background.

Taste: Started out with a berry-like sweetness that blended red and white wine influences before settling into a more earthy, dry character.  The finish brought in a subtle layer of funk and a little bit of warmth.

Mouthfeel: Fairly thin bodied with a low amount of carbonation, comparing this to wine again seemed like the right call.  

Hype: I had high hopes for this.  As I said throughout the 2017 series, I was looking for them to end things with a bang.

Overall: Overall, the beer the was pretty good.  I enjoyed it and found it to be an excellent representation of the barreling process applied.  That said, I couldn’t help but feel like they played this way too safe.  Given the number of beers Night Shift has brewed using the red and/or white wine barrel approach (going all the way back to 2014’s Farmer’s Duel) I felt like I’ve had this before.  Between that and the sloppy application of the bottle labels (which I’ve noticed in a few Untappd photos as well), I couldn’t help but feel like they mailed this one in a bit.  As such I found this to be a somewhat disappointing ending to a special release series that from its inception was designed to showcase what initially made the brewery stand out – creativity.

Brewery Ommegang – Game of Thrones: Winter is Here

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Just so happens Mother Nature presented me with the perfect occasion to dip into one of my Christmas beers.  You may have heard that my area (I’m located just north of Boston) is currently getting hit with a blizzard, so I’m at home looking for ways to pass the day.  After seeing this bottle sitting in the refrigerator, I felt inspired to go out and brave the elements.

Beer Name: Game of Thrones: Winter is Here

Brewery: Brewery Ommegang (Cooperstown, NY)

Style: Double White Ale

ABV: 8.3%

Description: You can get plenty of details from the press release that announced the arrival of this brew, but to sum it all up this was a white ale brewed with pilsner malt, white wheat malt, and soft red wheat flakes, hopped with Saaz hops, and spiced with white pepper, sea salt, coriander and sweet orange peel.  My bottle was part of a gift set that included one other Game of Thrones-themed beer and the nifty glass shown above.  Since this was a present I don’t know what the exact price was, but I saw it around my area very reasonably priced in the $20-25 range depending on the store.

Appearance: Cloudy, pale gold/straw-colored body with lots of happy little bubbles running up from the bottom.  About a half finger of thick white foam up top formed from a gentle fill, more when poured more aggressively.  

Smell: Light floral spices.

Taste: Started out spicy with notes of coriander, clove, and pepper.  That was soon joined by an underlying sweetness that combined honey, wheat, and a slight floral presence, all of which very nicely complimented the spice.  The finish was dry and gave rise to a bit of Belgian bubble-gum yeast as the initial spices faded.  Smooth and refreshing throughout, this drank like a much lower ABV offering.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied and moderately effervescent.

Hype: Moderate.  There is definitely some anticipation around Ommegang’s GoT series, usually peaking around season premiers and finales.  While that excitement seems to be a bit more measured in the show’s offseason, I was personally really excited about this gift.

Overall: It was really tempting to just kick back with this and drink it like the light Belgian pale ale/witbier it smells, looks, and tastes like.  It didn’t take long, however, to realize that this packs a bit more of a punch than you typically encounter with that style.  At least I got a chance to warm up a bit after coming back indoors!  I really enjoyed this as it blended light and refreshing tastes with a hearty and warming kick that served me perfectly on a snowy winter day.

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company – Trip in the Woods: Cocoa Coconut Narwhal

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My first beer review of 2018!  Seems fitting that I go with the beer i purchased specifically for drinking on New Year’s Eve.  My wife and I hope to spend more time hiking this coming year, so I kind of felt like this one was calling out to me from the shelf.

 

Beer Name: Trip in the Woods: Cocoa Coconut Narwhal

Brewery: Sierra Nevada Brewing Company (Chico, CA)

Style: Imperial Stout

ABV: 11.8%

Description: Part of the Trip in the Woods series featuring barrel aged versions of some of Sierra Nevada’s favorite brews, this offering saw their Narwhal Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels with coconut and cocoa nibs.  The 25.4 oz. bottle cost about $20.

Appearance: Thick, black body that generated a thin tan head of foam with the pour.

Smell: Inviting blend of chocolate, coconut, and sweet bourbon.

Taste: Rich dark malts at the very start were soon followed by notes of semi-sweet chocolate and mild coconut.  A smooth, creamy sweet blend of these flavors was joined on the finish by a bit of bourbon that brought the beer to a finish that was warm and sweet,

Mouthfeel: Smooth, creamy thickness with a low-level of carbonation.

Hype: I suppose no hype.  Most seasoned beer enthusiasts have a personal favorite or three from Sierra Nevada’s lineup, but the brewery doesn’t usually create a big stir in the hype department.

Overall: I really liked this.  It happily did not go too heavy on the coconut and instead offered a nice, smooth blend of flavors that accentuated a sweet bourbon finish.  The beer did come with a fairly significant price tag attached (at least in relation to the brewery’s regular offerings), but I do think it was pretty in-line with comparable releases.  A very, very tasty treat.

The First Annual BeerRantsAndBooks Blogger’s Choice Book Awards

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With 2017 drawing to a close, I thought it would be fun to look back on everything I read this past year and have my own personal awards ceremony!  For the back story of these awards, check out this link to see how some of my fellow WordPressers inspired this post.

While compiling the nominees below I considered only books I reviewed within the 2017 calendar year, regardless of when they were actually published.  I love to read, but simply don’t have the time to keep up with new releases and work on my TBR pile at the same time.  I also apparently read a lot of series this past year, so I limited myself to one character per universe for each category.

And so, without further ado, the nominees and winners of my 2017 best in books awards!

Best Leading Male Character

Captain Francis Crozier (The Terror, by Dan Simmons): The grim, hard-drinking captain of the HMS Terror, he was a really interesting figure in that he had a dual identity as both an outsider (an Irishman in the English Navy) and as a person in a position of power (ship’s captain and second in command of an artic expedition).  His combination of skill and determination is one of the main forces holding his doomed crew together in the face of extreme Arctic elements and attacks by an elusive monster. 

Kaladin Stormblessed (Stormlight Archive, by Brandon Sanderson): One the main heroes of the Stormlight Archive, Kaladin is an honorable man who in the course of standing up for what he believes is right discovers that he possesses some rather extraordinary powers.  

Waxillium Ladrian (Mistborn, Era 2, by Brandon Sanderson): After spending years as the Scadrian equivalent of a Wild West lawman, Wax eventually returns home to inherit his family’s holdings.  Old habits die-hard, however, and it’s not long before he starts investigating a powerful criminal organization.

WINNER: Kaladin Stormblessed.  He’s probably my favorite character of the last few years as well.  Not only does he have some really cool powers and fighting skill, he’s also a rather complex individual.  His relationship with Syl, a fairy-like creature that has befriended him, is both fascinating and endearing to watch as she pushes him to focus on his more heroic and honorable tendencies as a means to overcome both his anger and depression.

Best Leading Female Character

Vin (Mistborn, Era 1, by Brandon Sanderson): The heroine of the first era Mistborn novels, Vin rises from humble beginnings into a powerful, confident, and formidable young woman over the course of the trilogy.

Kiva Lagos (Collapsing Empire, by Jonathan Scalzi): Ship captain, heir to a powerful mercantile family, and unstoppable force of nature, Kiva has both a vocabulary and a lifestyle that would make a space pirate blush and really couldn’t give two [bothers] about what anyone might think of that.  It was certainly a joy watching her power her way through this novel.

Zan (The Stars are Legion, by Kameron Hurley):  The gritty star of this novel, Zan battles everything from memory loss, an invading army, and a whole host of strange creatures in her quest to fulfill what she hopes is the realization of a forgotten dream.

WINNER: Zan.  This category was Zan’s before I even finalized the rest of the nominees.  In my review of The Stars are Legion, I used words like brutal, intense, and uncomfortable to describe a lot of the action and arguably no one in that story had a tougher journey than Zan.  Heck, she spent a good portion of the book literally cutting her way through the innards of a living planet from the bowels on up and that only begins to touch upon the deaths, betrayal, and personal trauma she had to deal with.  That she faced down all of this in an unflinching display of raw strength and determination made her my no doubt choice despite some serious competition in this category.  I can’t readily think of any character I’ve ever come across that would top her in this regard.

Best Supporting Male Character

Wayne (Mistborn, Era 2, by Brandon Sanderson): Wax’s trusty sidekick, Wayne brings his own unique charm to series and also introduces the reader to one of the really cool new abilities featured in the second era Mistborn universe.

Wit (Stormlight Archive, by Brandon Sanderson): He’s really just here as an honorable mention, but I couldn’t leave him off.  He’s one of the most intriguing characters I’ve come across so far, offering up a mix of vital information and amusing word games.

Amos Burton (The Expanse, by James S.A. Corey): The enforcer/strongman with a heart of gold – provided you’re on his side. Amos has been consistently one of the more interesting characters in the Expanse universe thus far.

WINNER: Wayne.  From his philosophy on hats to his exceptionally liberal views on trading possessions Wayne’s personality quirks really gave the second era Mistborn books their own distinct feeling.  That he also happens to be a solid partner with some pretty interesting powers of his own makes him the clear front-runner in this category.

Best Supporting Female Character

Chrisjen Avasarala (The Expanse, by James S.A. Corey): The tough as nails Indian grandmother who also happens to be one of the most powerful and influential individuals in the solar system.  

Lift (Stormlight Archive, by Brandon Sanderson): An irreverent, young street urchin who revels in her ability to “become awesome.” Frequently uses her powers to acquire free meals.

Steris Harms (Mistborn, Era 2, by Brandon Sanderson): Though present in all three second era Mistborn novels, it was really her standout performance in Bands of Mourning that got her this nomination.  She’s a bit different than the rest of this year’s nominees in that she doesn’t have a commanding personality or abundance of physical strength; instead she relies upon her (often overly) analytical mind and careful planning to get ahead.

WINNER: Chrisjen Avasarala.  Her ability to get things done is surpassed only by her ability to offer up such fantastic quotes as: “The generals.  They’re all fucking men…I don’t mean that they all fuck men, I mean they’re all men, the fuckers.”  and “My life has become a single, ongoing revelation that I haven’t been cynical enough.”  She’s easily the highlight of this series for me.

Well, that wraps up this year’s awards.  I’ll look to do this again next year, perhaps with a few more categories.  Since this is also my final post of 2017, I want to wish everyone a safe and happy New Year!  See you all in 2018.

Cheers!

Idle Hands Craft Ales – Four Horsemen (2016)

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With the big day nearly upon us, I decided it was time to start visiting some beers of Christmas past.  This one I’ve been hanging on to since last December.

Beer Name: Four Horsemen

Brewery: Idle Hands Craft Ales (Malden, MA)

Style: Quadruple Ale

ABV: 13.0%

Description: Originally brewed to celebrate the end of 2016, the brewers describe this as featuring a rich dark fruit base topped by gingerbread and allspice.  My bottle was dated September 2016.

Appearance: Dark brown body with some reddish highlights.  About a half finger of tan, bubbly foam formed up top.

Smell: Mainly sweet, with caramel and dark malts joined by just a hint of spice.

Taste: Opened with nice notes of dark fruit; mainly raisin, prune, and plum.  Took on a bit of a Belgian-style yeast influence in the middle before coming to a warm finish that blended in a subtle amount of allspice.  Great balance of flavors and insanely smooth drinking for a 13% beer.

Mouthfeel: Medium-plus with a fairly low-level of carbonation.

Hype: I think I recall fans of the brewery being excited about this one, though Idle Hands typically doesn’t get caught up in the hype game.

Overall: it’s rare to find a beer this big that is so drinkable.  It offered a great balance of sweetness and subtle spice that I really enjoyed.  The warming effect of the alcohol was on point as well, but again it was very tame compared to what it could have been.  Don’t miss out on this next time it is available.  I’m really wishing I had another one of these.

Brewery Ommegang – Three Philosophers

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This bottle had been in my refrigerator for a little while and finally found time the other night to revisit another old friend of mine.  I was really into this beer a few years ago, but hadn’t gotten around to drinking it since I’ve been blogging here.  Time to change that.

Beer Name: Three Philosophers

Brewery: Brewery Ommegang (Cooperstown, NY)

Style: Quadrupel Ale

ABV: 9.7%

Description: The brewers describe this as a unique blend of a Belgian dark ale and Liefman’s Kriek, a traditional Belgian cherry ale.

Appearance: It had a reddish/brown body topped by a thin, fizzy layer of light tan foam.

Smell: On the sweeter side with dark fruit and cherry standing out against undertones of malt and yeast.

Taste: Opened sweet with notes of cherry, plum, and caramel malts.  These flavors carried into the finish where they were joined by a slightly spicy bubblegum yeast, a minor clove presence, and a nice little kick of heat.  As the beer settled into the glass it blended into a warm combination of cherry, caramel, and Belgian yeast.

Mouthfeel: Roughly medium bodied with a slightly effervescent finish.

Hype: Not particularly hyped at all.  Just another example of a readily available, high quality beverage that is way too easy to walk by.

Overall: I enjoyed this and once again had a wonderful time drinking a beer I haven’t had in a while.  The cherry aspect of the Kriek blend really gave the beer a delicious sweetness that makes this standout for me.