Harpoon Brewery – The Craic


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As soon as I saw this hit the shelves in early March I knew I had found my St. Patrick’s Day brew.  Unfortunately, illness intervened and I instead spent the day recovering from a terrible stomach bug.  This review is based on notes I took from the “research” bottle I opened up last week.  I’m not quite ready yet to start thinking about drinking beer again just yet, but did want to wish you all a belated Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Beer Name: The Craic

Brewery: Harpoon Brewery (Boston, MA)

Style: Irish Red IPA

ABV: 6.9%

Description: Listed on the brewery website as a combination of a toasty Irish Red Ale and a citrusy IPA, the given inspiration behind this was extend the St. Patrick’s Day spirit to last an entire season.  Sounds admirable enough to me and at $9.99 six-pack this was relatively easy on the wallet as well.

Appearance: Surprisingly see-through coppery red body topped by a bubbly layer of off-white foam.

Smell: Sweet and toasted malts with a piney/grapefruit bitterness on the backend.

Taste: True to the description, there was a steady presence of toasted malts throughout the brew, though they were most prominent at the very beginning and end of the sip.  About mid-sip a citrusy sweetness appeared just ahead of a wave of bitterness highlighted by grapefruit and earthy hops. The hops and toasted malt lingered slightly after finishing the sip.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with a moderate level of carbonation.

Hype: Despite their history and longevity Harpoon doesn’t get a ton of attention in the local beer scene, at least in what I refer to as the enthusiast community.  I personally had some high hopes for this quietly being a standout brew since Harpoon’s sadly retired Red Squared and Celtic Red were two of the beers that opened up my eyes to Red IPAs.

Overall: My final verdict on this is pretty good, with bonus points for price.  The interplay of toasted malt and earthy hops wasn’t my ideal profile for the style, but that said I’ll have no problems finishing off the six-pack once I am back up to full strength.



Funky Bow Brewery and Beer Company – Panama Red


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Despite the stubborn tenacity of wintry weather in my area, it seems that my preferences in beer are gradually drifting away from big stouts for the time being.  Looks like hoppy red ales are becoming my go to style of late-winter/early spring.

Beer Name: Panama Red Ale

Brewery: Funky Bow Brewery and Beer Company (Lyman, Maine)

Style: Red Ale

ABV: 7.5%

Description: Listed as a red ale brewed to provide a balance of bready caramel malts and Centennial hops.  Read all about here on the brewery website.

Appearance: Poured a murky, deep-red/amber body with light tan foam up top. Some sediment could be seen floating in the glass.

Smell: Sweet caramel malt on top of a sticky hop bitterness.

Taste: Started out with a solid backbone of creamy caramel malts combined with a slight bit of citrus sweetness on the edges.  The finish brought on a slightly more than moderate amount of bitterness in the form of grapefruit and a blend of spicy and floral hops.  A mild hop presence and crackery malt tastes lingered a for a few seconds post-sip.

Mouthfeel: Medium-plus body with a roughly moderate amount of carbonation.

Hype: Another situation where any hype involved was more of a personal thing.  I’ve officially started hunting down red IPAs again and the guy in the beer store mentioned this was a good one.

Overall: I was quite pleased with this one.  Although I tend to prefer piney hops with my caramel malts, this particular blend of floral hops really worked for me.  Definitely going to seek out more.

Book Review: Armada, by Ernest Cline


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Back into science fiction we go!  Published in 2015, this is the second novel from author Ernest Cline and the follow-up to his highly successful Ready Player One (the movie adaptation of which hits theaters at the end of March).

Zack Lightman is a seventeen year-old gamer living in a small town in Oregon.  One day while drifting off in class, he looks out the window and sees a spaceship from Armada, his favorite online game, hovering in the sky.  He soon comes to discover that the game is actually a secret government training program and that it, in conjunction with nearly every major American science fiction work of the last 40 years, has been designed to prepare humanity for eventual contact with hostile alien forces.  As one of Armada’s top players, Zack is recruited to an elite force that will lead the fight against the coming alien invasion.

Honestly, I have to say that I was incredibly disappointed by this book.  In theory this was something I should have loved, especially considering how much I liked Cline’s previous novel, but sadly that was not the case.  Sure my brain fired off all the requisite happy little tics associated with catching references to our shared fandoms, but stylistically this book leaned far too heavily on its myriad of geek cultural references and appeals to nostalgia for its own good.  I love references to things like Dune and Star Wars as much as the next guy (perhaps even more so since I noticed the author mistakenly referred to A-Wings being present at the Battle of Yavin), but this story lacked any substance beyond such references.  It too often read like a literal listing of the author’s favorite things and about halfway through started getting cringe-worthy. Plot-wise the story didn’t offer anything new or exciting beyond being a mashup of Ender’s Game and The Last Starfighter and even that felt lessened by Zack giddily considering these possibilities at length.  As for the characters, they were all essentially the same person (or even Ready Player One characters for that matter), all sharing a near-obsessive interest in the exact same movies, games, books, TV shows, and music as each other despite significant differences in nationality, age, and gender.  This in particular felt like a missed opportunity as I think it would have been fun to look at how a diverse set of fandoms would intersect in this world. Alas, that was not to be.

Alright, I’ve said my piece and will stop beating up on this now, though I will say that something about letting all that out felt cathartic.  I think what bothered me the most after this reading was the feeling that this was more an uninspired, or even worse cynical, effort to sell me my own nostalgia rather than an attempt to offer entertainment. It just felt way too similar to the author’s previous book and not nearly as well executed.  Suffice to say this one was not for me and I would not recommend it, even to folks like myself who fit squarely within its target demographic.

Mayflower Brewing Company – X


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I made it a mission of mine to make sure I got a chance to try this.  Though they don’t always generate the most hype in the Massachusetts brewing scene, Mayflower consistently puts out some amazing beer and I had to see what they did to celebrate a major anniversary.

Beer Name: X

Brewery: Mayflower Brewing Company (Plymouth, MA)

Style: Imperial Stout

ABV: 11.0%

Description: An Imperial Stout brewed in honor of Mayflower’s 10th anniversary.  Apparently it’s their largest beer brewed to date!

Appearance: Dark cola brown/black body topped by a thin tan head that cleared out very quickly after pour.

Smell: Creamy and sweet, with slight hints of roast and heat on the end.

Taste: Creamy sweetness upfront, with lots of dark malt and chocolate.  Stayed on the sweet side throughout but turned towards caramel and faint light roast coffee on the finish with some moderate heat mixed in.  Heat level slowly intensified as the beer sat.

Mouthfeel: Thick bodied with a minimal amount of carbonation.

Hype: This made the rounds on social media postings from various local bottle shops I follow, but overall the hype was low-key in the sense that I had no problem going out and picking this up.  That said, this brewery has a solid reputation with many Massachusetts beer drinkers and I jumped at the chance to try out their big anniversary offering.

Overall: An excellent straight up Imperial Stout and a very worthy anniversary release.  Definitely check this out if you come across it.

Off Color Brewing – Coffee Dino S’mores


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Although I haven’t had this particular variant before, I do have some very fond memories of its base beer from a festival I attended a few years ago.  Needless to say, I was pretty excited when bottles of this hit my area a few weeks ago.

Beer Name: Coffee Dino S’mores

Brewery: O (Chicago, IL)

Style: Russian Imperial Stout

ABV: 10.5%

Description: Per the website, the Imperial Stout at the base of this beer was brewed with graham flour, marshmallow fluff, vanilla, and cocoa nibs.  The coffee influence came two types of beans; one that added floral and citrusy notes and another for chocolate sweetness and body.

Appearance: Black body with a thin tan head.

Smell: Rich dark malt, mellow marshmallow sweetness, and fresh light roast coffee.

Taste: Rich dark malt and vanilla upfront, followed by a layer of bittersweet chocolate.  Gradually transitioned towards medium to light roast coffee and a marshmallow sweetness.  The finish was moderately boozy and swirled all the various flavors into one complete package.  Not entirely unlike a slightly roasty, boozy s’more served up with coffee.

Mouthfeel: Thick, full body with low carb nation.

Hype: Elevated.  There was much fanfare when this hit the Boston area and I was very curious to see if it would live up to my memories of an all too brief first encounter.

Overall: I really, really liked this.  An excellent big stout for those that enjoy the extra flavors, I happily savored this on a cold evening.  It’s not something I’d want a lot of at once, indeed the 12 oz bottle was probably the ideal amount, but I’d readily seek this out again.

Solemn Oath Brewery – Death by Viking


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Sometimes a beer just catches your eye.  I wasn’t necessarily looking for a huge Double IPA when I found this, but when I saw this one I couldn’t resist.

Beer Name: Death by Viking

Brewery: Solemn Oath Brewery (Naperville, IL)

Style: Double IPA

ABV: 10.0%

Description: Described by the brewers as blending rich caramel malts and ferocious onslaught of bitterness and hops.

Appearance: Poured to a slightly cloudy golden/amber body with a full bubbly head of white foam.

Smell: Fruity upfront, followed by a muted pine bitterness and boozy finish.

Taste: Sweet combination of light and caramel malts upfront joined by grapefruit and subtle citrus notes.  It then took on some moderate to assertive bitterness from a mixture of piney and earthy hops before coming to a malty, boozy, and slightly hoppy ending.  Strong and flavorful.

Mouthfeel: Medium-plus body with moderate carbonation.

Hype: None that I was particularly aware of.  It was the last can of its kind on the shelf and I soon as I made eye contact with that Viking I knew it was mine.

Overall: There are a lot of beers out there these days with crazy, attention grabbing names, but I would have to say that this one definitely lived up to its label.  This was one hard core brew, more of a hoppy strong ale than a double IPA, that made me think of it as some sort of hybrid between Stone’s Double Bastard Ale and Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute.  Sweet, boozy, and packed with hops this beer is not for the faint at heart.  I liked it, and would probably get it again given the chance, but it’s not the kind of thing you just casually break out on a work night.

Pipeworks Brewing Company – Close Encounters


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Continuing my adventures in non-standard IPAs, it had been a while since I last had a Black IPA.  The style seemed like it was really popular around the time I was getting into beer several years and then fell off shortly thereafter.  Not only did this beer give me a chance to revisit a style I once really enjoyed, I’d like to hope I made Captain Kirk proud as well.

Beer Name: Close Encounters

Brewery: Pipeworks Brewing Company (Chicago, IL)

Style: Black IPA

ABV: 6.0%

Description: The can called it a meeting of rich roasted malt and aggressive hops.

Appearance: Black body with bubbly tan head.

Smell: Citrus fruit and pine resin, with undertones of roasted dark malts.

Taste: Citrusy sweetness enhanced by piney hops and a subtle backing of dark malts.  The finish brought on a bit of roasted coffee then blended nicely with the opening flavors.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with a fairly moderate level of carbonation.

Hype: None that I was aware of.  This brewery now gets pretty regular distribution in my area now and Black IPAs aren’t really trendy these days amongst hardened beer seekers,

Overall: I really enjoyed this and thought it was very tasty.  It offered a great blend of flavors and was a nice throwback to some of the brews that got me into beer in the first place.  Definitely recommend and definitely something I’d drink again when I get the chance.

Book Review: Summer of ‘68, by Tim Wendell


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Crossing another non-fiction book off my TBR list, this reading again combined history with another one of my favorite things: baseball.  I also just so happened to pick it up at the perfect time to carry me right into the start of Spring Training!

One of the things that I like about the baseball season is that it serves as a steady constant throughout much of the year, providing daily news and entertainment throughout the spring, summer, and (hopefully) most of the fall.  This is a sentiment shared by the author as well, who from that perspective looks at what happens to the fun and distraction of the game when it is being played in a time of historic unrest and change.  In Summer of ‘68, he uses the 1968 baseball season, in particular the paths of the league champion Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals, as a lens through which to look at the tumultuous events of the year and highlight some of the drastic changes occurring in society, sport, and media at the time.

I really enjoyed this book and found it very informative without being overly dense.  I’ve actually spent a good amount of time studying 1968 from various historical and activist perspectives, but never really thought about any of that as contemporary to what I knew of the year’s baseball season. Having not been there I lacked the context needed to put these two worlds together, and providing this connection was something at which the author excelled.  His use of anecdotes and interviews throughout the narrative gave clear voice to the people who were there and really drew the reader into the scene, regardless of whether that scene was stepping into the batter’s box against Cardinals’ ace Bob Gibson or watching the police riot at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.  Easily the most moving part of this book for me was the lengthy recollection of Martin Luther King’s final hours followed accounts by the outrage that erupted in streets across the country several weeks later when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated.

Setting aside the historical events, what surprised me the most in this reading was how directly the players were affected by everything that was going on in the world.  It was common for players, journeymen and stars alike, to miss games weeks at a time to train with their Army Reserve units, a frustrating distraction for some and for others a very real reminder about the potential of serving in Vietnam.  Also, in these days before free agency, players were, for both better and worse, more closely tied to their teams and cities than they are today.  This was particularly true for the 1968 Detroit Tigers, a team that featured several players who grew playing with and against each other in the Detroit area.  Hanging like a dark cloud over their season were the events of the previous summer, during which they saw their city erupt into one of the worst riots in American history while playing a doubleheader.  In scenes nearly unimaginable today, two Tigers were themselves drawn directly into the chaos.  Pitcher Mickey Lolich, the eventual 1968 World Series MVP, in the course of a day went from pitching for the Tigers to guarding a radio tower with his reserve unit.  Elsewhere, outfield Willie Horton rushed from the stadium and, still in uniform, drove out towards his old neighborhood to plead with rioters from atop his car for them to go home peacefully.  There was a very real sense in the Tigers clubhouse that the team had an essential part to play in  keeping their hometown together through another summer.

On the baseball side of things, I was really fascinated by how much the game changed after this season.  Dubbed the “Year of the Pitcher” because of the many dominant starting pitching performances throughout the league, officials were concerned that the lack of offense would drive fans away to football, a sport deemed more favorable for viewing on TV and rapidly rising in popularity.  As a result, the strike zone was tightened for the following season and the pitcher’s mound was lowered five inches to its present day height of 10 inches.  The structure of the league would change in the next season as well, as four new expansion teams were added and the American and National Leagues were for the first time divided into Eastern and Western divisions.  Finally, it was during the 1968 season that the seeds of two concepts that would revolutionize the game were planted.  The first was Pitcher Tommy John suffering the shoulder injury that would ultimately lead him to get an experimental surgery that bears his name to this day.  The second, and even more dramatic, change was set in motion by the Cardinals’ owners, who after losing the World Series, began dismantling their roster, typically something players have little control over.  However, when they tried to move outfielder Curt Flood to Philadelphia a few seasons later, he resisted and instead sued Major League Baseball for Free Agency.  Although he lost, his case did pave the way for a successful challenge shortly thereafter that would forever change player salaries and how teams were assembled.

I could go on and on about all the interesting stories and bits of information I got out of reading this book.  As it is I feel like I only managed to scratch the surface in my discussion above.  The author provided an interesting and engaging account of the 1968 season and I highly recommend this book to anyone out there with an interest in baseball or American history.



Sketchbook Brewing Company – No Parking Citra Pale Ale


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In an effort to lighten up my beer list a bit, I included in my last haul something on the lower end of the ABV spectrum.

Beer Name: No Parking Citra Pale Ale

Brewery: Sketchbook Brewing Company (Evanston, IL)

Style: American Pale Ale

ABV: 4.4%

Description: A sessionable Pale Ale brewed with Citra hops and mixture of five different malts.

Appearance: Poured a see-through golden amber body topped by a wispy bubbly white lacing.

Smell: Faint hints citrus fruits and cracker malts.

Taste: A little bit of citrusy sweetness to start, followed by light crackery malt and finally a huge rush of resinous blend of piney and earthy hop bitterness.

Mouthfeel: It had a sticky, just shy of medium body.  The carbonation level was slightly above average with a particularly effervescent finish.

Hype: I picked up (and drank) this beer during the wave of Extreme Beer Fest brews that hit the Boston area a few weeks ago, so I guess slightly elevated?

Overall:  It was a decent enough low-ABV offering overall, but I personally found the finish to be a bit for my preferences much as the carbonation served to accentuate what was an already assertive level of bitterness.  I know there are people out there that absolutely love that, so this one’s for them.

Radiant Pig Beer Company – Gangster Duck


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Coming at you all with another Red IPA.  I was recently reacquainted with the style after a long run of stouts and just couldn’t stay away from them any longer.

Beer Name: Gangster Duck

Brewery: Radiant Pig Beer Company (New York, NY)

Style: Red IPA

ABV: 6.2%

Description: On their website, the brewers mentioned borrowing from a number of styles to create this tasty red with a style all its own that is bursting with hops and smooth malts.  The beer for this review was consumed about a month after the canning date.

Appearance: Partially see through reddish amber body with a thick, foamy light tan head up top.

Smell: Sweet and malty, with a subtle layer of piney hops.

Taste: Started out with smooth malts that were soon followed by a biting grapefruit and pine bitterness.  The finish combined crackery malts and a slight yeasty taste as the beer went on.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with a moderate carbonation level.

Hype: None I guess.  All I knew about this when I bought the can was that I liked the name and style.

Overall: It was alright.  Not quite the flavor profile look for or expect in a Red IPA (I am admittedly very picky about this) so I was a bit disappointed in that regard.  Otherwise, I would say this was fine, but not something I’d pick up again.