Brewmaster Jack – The Little Brother

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I always welcome the chance to pick up something new from Brewmaster Jack.  Careful readers of the blog may be tempted to read deeper into the name of this beer, but I assure you, it’s just another brew.

Beer Name: The Little Brother

Brewery: Brewmaster Jack

Style: Double NEIPA

ABV: 8.5%

Description: Listed as the brewery’s biggest double IPA, this beer was brewed with “loads of Citra hops and just a hint of Simcoe.”

Appearance: Hazy golden orange body with a thin white head of foam.

Smell: Tropical fruits mixed with a touch of spicy pine resin on end.

Taste: Not entirely unlike hopped juice.  Light tropical fruit upfront blended smoothly into a hazy bitter finish that brought on tangy orange and grapefruit mixed with bitterness from a combination of piney, spicy, and earthy hops.

Mouthfeel: Fluffy, medium body with light carbonation.

Hype: None that I can attest to.  I found these cans hanging out with the rest of the store’s new arrivals, but I didn’t know these came in as well until I got there.

Overall: Fairly mellow and super smooth, I really enjoyed this one.  It packed a lot of flavor and was an excellent example of the style.

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Book Review: Everfair, by Nisi Shawl

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This next book was written in 2016 by Nisi Shawl, an African-American writer whose literary focus centers upon science fiction and fantasy works that examine issues involving race, gender, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status.  Her first full length novel, what we have here is a steampunk inspired historical fiction about the Belgian Congo.

For anyone unfamiliar with this part of history, the real-life events that inspired this book occurred between 1885 and 1908 in a Central African colony called the Congo Free State.  Under the direct rule of Belgian King Leopold II, the colony was the scene of some of the worst atrocities of the day as the local population was brutally subjugated (even by contemporary standards) to maximize profits from the area’s abundant supply of natural rubber.  Reports of widespread killings and mutilation within the colony led to international outrage, forcing Leopold to ultimately turn control of the colony over to the Belgian Parliament in 1908. Spanning the years 1889 through 1919, Everfair looks at what might have happened if outside forces played an earlier and more direct role in opposing Leopold’s actions.  In this world, an alliance of wealthy Fabian Socialists from England and black Christian missionaries from the United States have joined forces to purchase territory in the Congo where they establish the nation of Everfair upon shared egalitarian principles.  The country’s position is tenuous, however, as war quickly breaks out with Leopold’s remaining forces and the new nation is pushed into an alliance with King Mwenda, a powerful local ruler intent on reclaiming his land from European invaders. Although their combined forces may have superior numbers and technology, the real test of Everfair’s endurance will be its ability to overcome internal divisions caused by the differing world views of its three main factions.

I found the premise and scale of this novel absolutely fascinating.  It offered an intriguing look at a particularly horrible part of history and did so in a manner that seamlessly fit Everfair into the real-world historical context.  I particularly liked how the author crossed the globe to look at how events in other countries affected decisions made in Everfair and how she incorporated other contemporary issues into the story, most notably the build-up to WWI and the spread of pandemic disease across trade routes.  Complementing this were a variety of steampunk elements and aesthetics that really enhanced the story in ways that felt quite natural.  Everything from the motorbikes and airships that gave Everfair an early military advantage to the mechanical prosthetics used by mutilated former slaves had a clear place and purpose in setting the tone of the book.  Finally, I found the theme of people with good intentions and common interests becoming divided when they don’t take the time to understand each other’s perspectives particularly interesting and relevant to today’s world.

Where I wish the story offered a bit more, however, was in how the reader was able to relate to its characters.  Given the expansive scope of the novel, I couldn’t help but feel that perhaps it was a bit too ambitious for a single 380 page book.  It often skipped months if not years between alternating POV chapters and at times I found it difficult to keep track of when and where the action was without skipping back to the chapter header.  Also, with so much jumping around I wasn’t sure at first which people to get most invested in and even when I did, it was hard to get too personally involved with them. While I really enjoyed the main arcs involving the relationship between Lisette Toutournier and her lover Daisy Albin and the politics of King Mwenda’s tensions with Everfair’s settlers, having spent such an irregular amount of time with these characters it was hard to get invested in their stories beyond just reading the facts of what happened at a particular snapshot in time.

Having said all that, I don’t want to end this review on a negative note since, criticisms aside, I enjoyed the book. I liked where the author was coming from with this story and thought she offered up some truly interesting and thought-provoking perspectives.  If anything, I wish I had more of an immersion into this world beyond the glimpses we were given.

SingleCut Beersmiths – 日本から来たネコ IPA

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I’ve been really enjoying this brewery lately.  Their combination of outstanding brews and cool can art has definitely gotten my attention.  It also helps that my favorite bottle shop gets frequent deliveries of their stuff and seems just as excited about that as I am.

Beer Name: 日本から来たネコ (Cat From Japan)

Brewery: SingleCut Beersmiths (Queens, NY)

Style: IPA

ABV: 4.3%

Description: Listed on the brewery’s website as a juicy, tropical session IPA brewed with “new age” hops from the Pacific Northwest and New Zealand.

Appearance: Poured to a hazy, golden/orange juice colored body topped off by a fluffy white head of foam.

Smell: Tropical fruits with a pine and grapefruit bitterness on end.

Taste: Light tropical fruit upfront mixed with pale malt.  The finish brought on a mix of bitter grapefruit, tangy orange, and a dry crackery presence.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with a slightly elevated level of carbonation.  Happy little bubbles were especially apparent at beginning and end of the sip.

Hype: As mentioned in the intro, I had expectations of my own for this one, but I don’t think there was any general hype around this.

Overall: Very tasty, but maybe a bit overpowered as this little session IPA packed quite a punch on the finish.  I’m probably still looking to pick some more of this up when the warm weather returns for good though.

How I Read Book Tag

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I’ve decided to try out another book tag for today.  Since I’ve having fun with these lately, look for them to become a new feature here.  I’m not really into tagging, so I’m just searching and grabbing the ones I like most. Apologies if this is some kind of major WordPress faux pas or breach of etiquette.

How do you find out about new books to read?

I find the majority of my new books/authors by either skimming through library listings, the Tor Publishing newsletter, or the ARC piles featured over at Whatever.

How has your taste in books changed since you got older?

I’d like to think my taste has gotten more refined over the years.  I also used to read a lot of political non-fiction as a teenager and I haven’t really been as into that since university.

How often do you buy books?

Rarely.  I probably only buy 2-3 a year, if that.  I am fortunate enough to live in an area with an excellent library network, giving my library card quite the workout.

How did you get into book reviewing?

A few years back I was looking for a hobby or some kind of creative outlet and after brainstorming ideas (and realizing I didn’t have sufficient time or space for home brewing), I decided upon a blog.  Blogging had the added benefit of forcing me to write more frequently, something that doesn’t always come easy to me. I initially had some trouble deciding on a theme, but here I am nearly three and a half years later still posting about beer and books.  Not sure I really fit into either the beer blogger or the book blogger world, but I’m having fun doing my thing which was exactly the point.

How do you react when you don’t like the end of a book?

Usually just feel a bit disappointed.  I suppose I have on occasion taken my frustrations to the internet, but what else can you do?

How often do you sneak peek at the ending to see if there is a happy ending?

Never!  Is this a thing?!?!

Mystic Brewery – Voltage

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I think I’ve mentioned this on here before, but I’ve had a long standing goal to try out more beers from Mystic Brewery.  Imagine my surprise them when I read that they are planning to expand into my current home city of Malden! Seems like a good time to get acquainted with what they have to offer.

Beer Name: Voltage

Brewery: Mystic Brewery (Chelsea, MA)

Style: New England IPA

ABV: 7.0%

Description: An IPA brewed with Citra, Santiam, and Perle hops. My can was about two weeks old when I opened it up.

Appearance: Poured to a cloudy golden yellowish-orange body with a layer of thick layer of white foam up top.

Smell: Tropical fruits with a bitter piney haze in background.

Taste: Mix of tropical and citrus fruit upfront with maybe some strawberries thrown in for good measure.  The sweetness carried through to the end where it was joined by bitter haze of piney, grassy, and slightly spicy hops.

Mouthfeel: Creamy medium-plus body with a moderate amount of carbonation.

Hype: This beer seems to be making a name for itself in the area and is a popular seller at the bottle shops I keep tabs on by my office in downtown Boston.

Overall: I really liked this and would rate it as a superlative example of the style.  With its great flavor and mouthfeel, I would put this up against of any of its more hyped competition.

Book Review: A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, by Jill Twiss and Marlon Bundo (Illustrated by E.G. Keller)

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As the father of a soon to be two-year old, I read a whole lot of children’s books on a daily basis.  While I have never felt the compelling need to review any of these, this one was different and as soon as I found out that it was making the rounds at my son’s playgroup I knew what I had to do.  I’m guessing most of you are aware that this story was written in response to a children’s book published by members of Michael Pence’s family about their pet bunny.  Looking to call out the Vice President on his homophobic beliefs, the creators of this particular story have imagined said pet falling in love with another male bunny.  This book has been featured prominently on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and all proceeds from it benefit AIDS United and the Trevor Project, which provides suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth.

This is the story of an exceptional day in the life BOTUS (Bunny of the United States) Marlon Bundo, beloved family pet of Vice President Pence.  Marlon’s day starts out like any other by watching the morning news with Bunderson Cooper, ignoring his boring grandfather, and hopping about the White House premises.  Everything changes, however, when he spots a dashingly handsome boy bunny named Wesley and the two fall in love at first sight.  Standing in the way of their happiness is President Stink Bug, an abrasive, boorish creature with a bad toupee that does not approve of their relationship.  Fortunately, with the help of their animal friends and a timely civics lesson, Marlon and Wesley learn that it is okay to be different and are able to live happily ever after.

I thought this was a cute, fun read that delivered an important and positive age appropriate message to children about embracing each other’s differences and the importance of our right to vote.  Given the specific nature in which it parodies both Donald Trump and Michael Pence I don’t think this will age well enough to go down as an all-time classic children’s story, but it will put a smile on your face and I highly encourage giving it a read.  So long as you’re predisposed to its political leanings you’ll enjoy it whether you have kids to read it with or not.

 

 

 

Fort Hill Brewery – Jigsaw Jazz

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I picked up this next beer on account of its cool can art and the zeal with which the owner of my new favorite bottle shop promotes it.

Beer Name: Jigsaw Jazz

Brewery: Fort Hill Brewery (Easthampton, MA)

Style: Double IPA

ABV: 9.3%

Description: Described on the brewery website as a bright and citrusy double IPA dry-hopped with Citra and brewed using Belgian-inspired techniques to limit sweetness.  My can was undated but I want to say it was probably around a month/month and a half old.

Appearance:  Golden yellow body with a thin coating of thick white foam.

Smell: Faint mixture of citrus fruit and pine.

Taste: Subtle blend of citrus and tropical fruits upfront that leaned more towards citrus.  Finish was a bitter yet subdued piney/peppery blend of hops.

Mouthfeel: Creamy and smooth with a medium-plus body and roughly moderate carbonation.

Hype: I’d heard some good things about this beer beyond just the bottle shop posts, so I was pretty interested to see how the beer would turn out.

Overall: Overall this was a pretty good beer, but what really stood out to me was how smooth and easy drinking it was despite the elevated ABV.  That said, I did feel it was perhaps a bit understated in some of its flavors. I understand that not all beers need to rock your taste buds, but this one I felt had a bit more it could have offered.  Would love to try this again from a can I know more about. Still worth the pickup if you come across it. I don’t recall the exact price point, but I do know that was very competitive for the style.

 

Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers – Mole Barrel Aged Framinghammer

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¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo amigos!  I’m celebrating tonight with a beer from local favorite Jack’s Abby that drew its inspiration from a delicious Mexican sauce.

Beer Name: Mole Barrel Aged Framinghammer

Brewery: Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers (Framingham, MA)

Style: Baltic Porter

ABV: 13%

Description: A variant of the brewery’s popular Framinghammer porter aged in bourbon barrels with cocoa nibs, chili peppers, and cinnamon sticks.  Read about how it all comes together here.

Appearance: Poured a thick dark cola brown/black body with a minimal amount of fizzly tan lacing around the edges.

Smell: Sweet chocolate mixed with cinnamon

Taste: Creamy chocolate and sweet dark malts upfront were joined mid-sip by rich grains and a hint of cinnamon.  Finish is warming in more ways than one with chili peppers blending in boozy bourbon barrels influences.

Mouthfeel: Slick, full body with minimal carbonation.

Hype: Framinghammer and its variants are all well-respected, sought after brews but hype isn’t necessarily the right word here.  Jack’s Abby has sufficiently upped its production and distribution to the point that anyone who wants these can get them without lining up or having to put in a lot of legwork.  The bottles don’t sit on shelves long, but they are readily attainable (at least in my area).

Overall: The brewers hit their mark on this one a delivered a beer that clearly brings to mind the food that inspired it.  I don’t think this is something I would want all the time but would consider it again as a novelty dessert beverage.   The chocolate notes stood out nicely against the heat in the finish and the interplay between the different components kept me going back for more.  Best you enjoy this one slowly (and, of course, responsibly).

Mayflower Brewing Company – 398

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The more beers I gave from this brewery, the more and more I like them.  I’m just about at the point where I’m grabbing anything new these guys that I see.

Beer Name: 398

Brewery: Mayflower Brewing Company (Plymouth, MA)

Style: Double IPA

ABV: 8.0%

Description: Brewed to start a countdown towards the 400th anniversary of the founding of Plymouth, MA (coming up in 2020), this double IPA features a pale malt base and an abundance of Simcoe, Mosaic, and Nugget hops.  My can was about two weeks old when I opened it up.

Appearance: Cloudy golden/light copper body through which I could just barely make out my fingers on the other side of the glass.  Up top, a foamy white head formed with the pour.

Smell:  Sweet melon upfront paired with mild fruity hops.

Taste: It started out with a sweet, creamy blend of tangerine, orange, and melon coming out on top of the pale malt base.  The finish had a subdued grassy bitterness that blended into a mild layer of grapefruit and citrusy hops.

Mouthfeel: Creamy, just above medium body with a slightly less than moderate level of carbonation.

Hype: Despite the brewery being pretty well-regarded, this release did not come with any particular hype associated with it.

Overall: Really smooth and relaxing to drink, it offered a great combination of flavor and subtlety that I really enjoyed.  Do yourself a favor a grab a can (or four) of this next time you see it.

Book Review: The Three Body Problem, by Liu Cixin (Book One in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past Trilogy)

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It was with great anticipation that I watched my place on the library hold list for this book move closer and closer to the top.  Originally published in China back in 2006, it won the country’s highest Science Fiction award that year and subsequently soared in popularity.  The English language translation was released in 2014 with much fanfare and ultimately took home the 2015 Hugo for best novel. With all that excitement and praise, I couldn’t wait to see what the buzz was about.

The story begins at a university in Beijing during the height of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.  Here we meet a young astrophysicist named Ye Wenjie who watches her father get publicly executed by Red Guards after refusing to denounce scientific theories deemed counter-revolutionary.  A few years later Wenjie becomes caught up in a political scandal of her own and avoids significant prison time by agreeing to work in seclusion on a top-secret government project aimed at contacting alien life.  The story then skips ahead to the present day and introduces another Chinese scientist named Wang Miao, a leading researcher in the field of nanotechnology. An amateur photographer in his spare time, Miao discovers a countdown has begun appearing in the background of photos he develops in his dark room.  Deeply troubled by his inability to make sense of the phenomenon, he sets off on a desperate search for answers that leads him into both the world of a highly technical online strategy game and a real-life battle being fought at the highest levels government over a decision made by Ye Wenjie decades ago.

Fascinating and full of suspense, I had a hard time putting this story down and finished it rather quickly despite some dense content.  There were a few times where I wished I knew a little (or maybe a lot) more about physics, in particular dimensional theory and the gravitational problem from which the books draws its name, but nothing was ever so technical that it lost me.  Indeed, I found the concepts and technologies explored here incredibly interesting and was even inspired to do a little outside research to plug some gaps in my scientific knowledge.  Despite this extra bit of reading, my need to uncover the connections between Wang’s experiences and Ye Wenjie’s past drove me forward at a relentless pace. Though I did have some minor nitpicks about how the story played out, most notably Wang’s family disappearing from all consideration after the start of the book, on the whole I really enjoyed this and would recommend it to science fiction fans.  I particularly liked how timely the story seemed considering recent articles covering the late Stephen Hawking’s warnings about contacting alien life and China’s recent investment in its own SETI program.  I am definitely on board for the next two books in the series.