Stone Brewing Company – Vengeful Spirit IPA

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Finally starting to make some real headway in my search for Halloween-themed brews.  This one came to me via my wife who has been helping me in my quest.

Beer Name: Vengeful Spirit IPA

Brewery: Stone Brewing Company (Escondido, CA/Richmond, VA)

Style: IPA

ABV: 7.3%

Description: A “tropically inspired” unfiltered IPA brewed with pineapple and Mandarin orange.  You can get the full spiel and some specs here on the brewery website.  My six-pack had a canned on date of 9/14/2017, and a recommend best by date of 1/12/2018.  Something tells me these won’t make it that long.

Appearance: It had a cloudy, golden-yellow body with a fluffy white head.

Smell: Juicy pineapple and tropical sweetness followed by sweet bitterness.

Taste: Loads of tropical fruit upfront, with pineapple and Mandarin orange clearly in the forefront.  About mid-sip a layer of earthy, grassy hop bitterness sets in, taking the beer to a bitter, somewhat raw finish mixing the aforementioned hops in with bitter orange and tangerine.

Mouthfeel: Par for the course, medium bodied with a fairly moderate amount of carbonation.

Hype: Not so much in the hype department.  Plenty of this one to go around.

Overall: A solid brew, I liked this a lot more than the tangerine IPAs that inspired it.  I did still find the finish a bit harsh, but that is starting to seem like the way I feel about fruited IPAs in general these days.

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Great Divide Brewing Company – Yeti

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Perhaps a bit of a stretch to include on my list of Halloween inspired beers, but I’m arguing it at least fits in with the other paranormal stuff I’ve been posting lately.  For some reason, finding a steady supply of brews that tie into this theme isn’t so easy.  Step it up brewers!

Beer Name: Yeti

Brewery: Great Divide Brewing Company (Denver, CO)

Style: Imperial Stout

ABV: 9.5%

Description: A well hopped imperial stout described by it creators as “an onslaught of the senses.” This is my first time drinking this in its canned format.

Appearance: Black body with a thick layer of tan foam on top.

Smell: Dark malt mixed with some really deep roasted coffee notes.

Taste: Started with a big hit of moderately roasted coffee upfront that remained fairly steady throughout the rest of the beer.  Dark malts in the background brought out some sweetness fairly early on and bring with them some dark chocolate notes as well.  The finish blended these malts with a rich, bitter roastiness and just a touch of heat at the very end.  I’d probably call it more bitter than roast, but both tastes are definitely there.

Mouthfeel: Thick, smooth body with a less than moderate level of carbonation.

Hype: I would call this well-regarded but not particularly hyped.

Overall: An old favorite that I haven’t had in quite a while.  Looking back, this combination of dark malt and bitterness used to be my go to flavor profile, so it was interesting to see how my tastes have changed over the years.  I still liked this a pretty good amount, but not quite as much as my old Untappd notes suggested that I used to.  Solid brew that shouldn’t be passed by.

 

Book Review: Communion – A True Story, by Whitley Strieber

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At just over two weeks into October it’s only natural for one’s thoughts to turn towards Halloween.  In keeping with the spirit of the season I thought it would be appropriate to get in at least one spooky story this month.  Since I’m not really into horror or thrillers, I decided to go with something a bit out of the ordinary.  I don’t recall the exact circumstances in which the internet led me to this book, but here we are.

The book is told from the perspective of its author, horror writer Whitley Strieber, and details his struggle to make sense of, and cope with, his extreme physical and psychological responses to two traumatic, but largely repressed, incidents that occurred on October 4 and December 26, 1985.  After a period of severe mental anguish he enters therapy and begins to suspect something truly out of the ordinary happened to him and perhaps his family as well.  As the course of his therapy sessions ultimately turns toward hypnosis, he begins to recall specific details of terrifying encounters with non-human beings he refers to as the Visitors.  Through this process, he gradually uncovers more memories of not only the two events towards the end of 1985, but rather a lifetime of such experiences in which he has been observed, taken from his home or car, and experimented upon.  The story alternates between the author’s, often disjointed, analysis of various events and transcripts of his hypnosis sessions.  For good measure, partial excerpts of his wife’s hypnosis and a transcript of a meeting with other abductees is included as well.

This is a story that would fit right in as an episode of the X-Files (though its publication in 1987 predates the hit series by a good six years).  While the author does not assert that the Visitors are necessarily aliens (he leaves open a list of possibilities including time travelers, interdimensional beings, or an as yet undiagnosable imbalance in the brain), the events he describes are more or less consistent with the stereotypical alien visitation/abduction narrative.  Regardless of one’s thoughts on these matters, the story presented was not only really creepy and chilling, but also a thought-provoking look at the human mind.  As far as classifying this as a Halloween-worthy novel, I suppose that’s also up for interpretation, but I certainly found plenty of scary moments in here.  Despite the author’s eventual assertion that the Visitors may not mean him actual harm, the experiences described in general are pretty terrifying.  The parts that weirded me out the most, though, were probably those involving the author’s young son.   Without knowledge of his father’s beliefs, the boy spoke of recurring dreams about being carried away at night by “the little gray doctors” and wrote a variety of journal entries describing other strange events he was witness to.  This led Strieber to believe he was being visited as well, which from the perspective of a new father strikes me as particularly horrifying.  More personally, I was also a little unnerved when shortly after I began this book (and finished a section wherein the author discusses strange coincidences), a lingering shot of the cover appeared in a random episode of The Game Chasers that popped up in my YouTube suggestions list.

The fact that these events are presented as true, however, adds an extra element to this read.  The story told is rather extraordinary and controversial; not to mention that the subject matter tends to inspire a great deal of skepticism as misinformation and hoaxers abound.  Not knowing the author or having been witness to any of the events, I have only the words written on each by which to evaluate his claims.  I suppose the hardcore skeptic could just say that it’s all pure fiction and be done with it, but that would make for a pretty boring post.  Besides, I am more inclined to read this with an open mind and share the author’s convictions that claims such as these should be taken seriously and subjected to the appropriate level of analysis that they merit.

I’ll start with the argument for his position.  Speaking on an entirely personal level, there’s a part of me that can’t so easily dismiss his story.  The author’s actions in his personal life support the idea that at the very least something happened and for him to be making this all up means he’s running a very long con with no clear motive other than literary infamy.  He has apparently maintained his claims over a period of many years and seems like a credible, though admittedly very imaginative, individual.  He took a very rational and analytic approach to the situation, first exploring the possibility of mental and/or physical illness as the cause of his trauma and disturbing memories.  Only after passing a wide variety of physical and psychological tests does he begin to seriously consider the possibility that the Visitors are real.  Another thing in his favor is that he has corroborating witnesses; accounts given by a pair of house guest staying with the family on the night of October 4 lend support to his claims something highly unusual happened that night, and additional insights provided by Strieber’s wife and son also support the visitation pattern he alleges.

On the other hand, despite being Team Mulder back in the 90s, there’s a significant part of me is of the opinion that I don’t want to believe this terrifying tale.  However, not wanting to believe something is not the same as that thing being false so we’ll have to dig a bit deeper.  It’s not too hard to imagine that an accomplished author, particularly one that specializes in horror, could create a compelling abduction story.  It’s always dangerous to fully trust somebody trying to sell you something and indeed the author acknowledges similarities between the Visitors and various creatures from his novels (though he offers the explanation that those characters were influenced by his subconscious reactions to said Visitors).  Again, having not been there, it’s on his written word only that I must accept (or not) his experiences, the reports of corroborating witnesses, the accuracy of professional opinions and hypnosis techniques, etc.  Even if taking it all at face value, I will say there were a few points where I heard Scully’s voice yelling in my head about certain conclusions drawn.  I would also have been interested in hearing some dissenting opinions on his views to get a better sense of perspective.  Surely he couldn’t have only dealt with medical and psychological professionals sympathetic to his story?  I also wish that we were provided with more details about what his friends perceived about the October 4 incident as well as what his sister thought about incidents from his childhood said to involve her.  Despite all the efforts to describe the scientific thoroughness of coming to the Visitor conclusion, all the data and perspectives offered were a bit one-sided.

So, what do I conclude from all that?  I’m afraid the best answer I can give is something of a cop-out.  On the subject of aliens/Visitors, I am mostly agnostic.  I do believe that life, probably even intelligent life, exists somewhere out there.  Whether or not we are in the right place or time to encounter it, however, is a serious question for me; as is the question of whether or not we would even possess the sensory or mental capacity to even perceive that life should it cross our path.  I’ll add here that I also think that UFOs are literally that – unidentified.  Could be aliens, could be military, could be something in between.  I think it is important and understandable to want to explain them, but I draw no firm conclusions I’ll put to print.  Getting back to the book, I do believe that the author’s mental anguish was genuine and caused by some traumatic event(s) I am not in a position to expand upon further.  I’ll make the leap and say that I believe that he believes the Visitors are real which is something that should be taken seriously; if not by the reader then at the very least by those caring for and about him. 

Bottom line is that I guess I believed this enough to have been seriously creeped out reading the book but not enough to endorse it as 100% true.  I will admit that despite my sympathy to Strieber’s position, he did lose me a bit towards the end in his analysis of the Visitors and the history of their sightings.  I think here he slowly crossed a fine line from valid theorizing into pure conjecture and conspiracy theory which made rethink some of the previous chapters.   If you’re into this sort of thing, go ahead decide for yourself.  The truth is out there, I just can’t tell you what it is.

New Holland Brewing – Baltic Anomaly

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This beer came to me at just the right time.  Not only did it arguably fit into my ongoing October/Halloween theme, but it also paired perfectly with my upcoming book review.

Beer Name: Baltic Anomaly

Brewery: New Holland Brewing (Holland, MI)

Style: Baltic Porter

ABV: 8.5%

Description: Named after an incident referred to as the “Baltic Anomaly” in which a Swedish team of salvage operators (specializing in “antique high-end alcoholic beverages and historic artefacts” no less!) claimed to have sonar images of an alien spacecraft at the bottom of the Baltic Sea.  Almost universally debunked as a hoax/marketing ploy, the photos did make a run through various tabloid publications back in 2012.  As for the actual beer itself, it is a Baltic porter brewed with honey.  More information and specs can be found on the brewery’s website.  My bottle was dated 08/07/2017.

Appearance: It poured a dark, black body that was topped by a with thin light beige head.

Smell: A sweet combination of malt and honey.

Taste: Light roasted coffee and dark malt up-front.  Towards the middle a creamy sweetness combined with a distinct bit of honey came out from underneath the roast.  The finish brought back the roastiness to the forefront where it was joined by a minor amount of heat.  Upon being left to sit in the glass, all the sweetness, roast, and heat combined for a pretty nice ending.

Mouthfeel: Every so slightly less than medium bodied with a light level of carbonation most apparent of the finish.

Hype: Perhaps slightly elevated?  I found out after picking up the bottle that this is part of the brewery’s limited release series so that’s got to count for something.  I also had some personal hopes that this would keep my pretty random string of beers going on a positive note.

Overall: I thought this was pretty good.  It had a slight bit more roast than I usually prefer, but the way it ended up blending in with the heat and sweetness made me pretty OK with that.  The one thing I would have liked to see from this bee was a slightly thicker mouthfeel, but all in all this a good one.

Ballast Point Brewing Company – Dead Ringer

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The October celebration continues on with another Marzen.  This one featured a skeleton on the label as an effect now that we’re one day closer to Halloween.  Speaking of, this reminds me that I need to get the decorations out!
Beer Name: Dead Ringer

Brewery: Ballast Point Brewing Company (San Diego, CA)

Style: Marzen

ABV: 6.0%

Description: The brewery’s take on an Oktoberfest lager, this one takes its inspiration from the older examples of the style which leaned more towards caramel and toffee flavors.  You can read more about that and get some of the specs here on the company website.

Appearance: Translucent dark copper body that took on a slight reddish tint when the light caught it just right.  A thin off white head formed with the pour.

Smell: Sweet malt with hints of bread crust and a little bit of yeast at the very end.

Taste: Subdued sweet caramel malt at the start gradually blended in an equally mild bready finish.  Subtle, yet very smooth and well-balanced.

Mouthfeel: Medium, creamy body with a healthy amount of carbonation on the first sip. The carbonation quickly went down to more moderate levels thereafter, but, at least initially, this was more bubbly than expected.

Hype: None that I’m aware of.  Ballast Point doesn’t usually get a ton of attention in these parts.

Overall: I liked this quite a lot, especially once the carbonation level settled down a bit after the initial sip.  Not the most intensely flavorful of brews, it was nonetheless tasty and highly drinkable.  It didn’t do a lot to grab your attention at first, but it was quietly a really nice brew to have around.  Would definitely get this again.

Idle Hands Craft Ales – Four Seam

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Another baseball brew courtesy of my neighbors at Idle Hands.  I drank a couple of these last night while watching the Yankees win a rather dramatic ALDS Game 3.  I’ll probably have a couple more tonight hoping they can repeat the magic in Game 4.

Beer Name: Four Seam

Brewery: Idle Hands Craft Ales (Malden, MA)

Style: IPA

ABV: 6.6%

Description: The brewery’s first year-round IPA offering, you can read a bit more about it here on their website.  If memory serves me correctly, the four-pack of 16 oz. cans cost $14.

Appearance: It had a cloudy, pale/straw yellow body topped by a fluffy white head.

Smell: Pretty healthy amount of tropical fruits coming out of the can and glass.

Taste: Moderate tropical fruitiness upfront, followed by grapefruit as the beer approached the finish.  It ended with a complimentary amount of bitterness, as the grapefruit gave way a grassy, almost spicy hop presence.  There was a nice light malt base present throughout that gave the beer an excellent balance and blend of flavors.

Mouthfeel: Fluffy, medium body with a moderate amount of carbonation.

Hype: This brewery doesn’t really trade in hype, but that’s not to say this beer hasn’t received some excellent reviews from the locals.

Overall: I really enjoyed this.  Easy drinking and flavorful, it’s an excellent beverage in any situation, but especially nice to watch a game with.

Cisco Brewers Inc. – Pumple Drumkin

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As a matter of principle, I limit my pumpkin beer intake to the month of October.  While I don’t plan on drinking many of them this year, there are some old favorites I’m looking to pick up if I get the opportunity to do so.  This one in particular has been a go to of mine for a few years and after seeing it in its new canned format I couldn’t resist.

Beer Name: Pumple Drumkin

Brewery: Cisco Brewers Inc. (Nantucket, MA)

Style: Pumpkin Ale

ABV: 6.0%

Description: I don’t have much to offer about this one other than to say it’s a spiced pumpkin ale.  The brewery website seems a bit sparse on this entry

Appearance: Poured a cloudy orange/copper body with a thin off white head.  A steady stream of small bubbles ran up the sides of the glass.

Smell: Sweet caramel malt and a light blend of fall spices.

Taste: Steady, mild pine bitterness throughout, though probably strongest at the start.  A subtly sweet malt base blended with a very slight amount of vegetal pumpkin roughly mid-sip.  Also present here is a distinct, but not overdone, layer of fall spices.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with slightly higher than moderate amount of carbonation.

Hype: Just my own memory.  I’ve been enjoying this for a while now and was looking forward to getting reacquainted.  

Overall: I think perhaps this was a little overhyped in my memory.  Don’t get me wrong, I still found it very good and far above average in the category of pumpkin beers, but not quite the all round all-star I had built it up to be.  I do still definitely recommend trying this out (especially if pumpkin beers are your thing), but I do want to be mindful of setting the right expectation.

Idle Hands Craft Ales – Change Up #9

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I may have mentioned this before, but one of the things I really like about Idle Hands is that the folks there seem to be pretty big baseball fans.  That they root for the wrong team doesn’t really bother me so much, especially since they keep on providing a steady supply of delicious baseball themed brews.  I enjoyed this particular one last night while cheering the Yankees to victory in the AL Wildcard game!

Beer Name: Change Up #9

Brewery: Idle Hands Craft Ales (Malden, MA)

Style: Double IPA

ABV: 8.3%

Description: The latest entry in the brewery’s rotating series of IPAs, this one featured Mosaic and Simcoe hops.  One of the brewers talks about it in a bit more detail in this clip from Facebook.

Appearance: Poured a hazy, straw yellow body with a thin white foam just barely spanning the top.

Smell: Faint sweetness, tropical overall with melon taking the lead.

Taste: Juicy, with lots of melon sweetness upfront.  There was maybe some tangerine and orange in there as well with hints of a light malt base.  The beer closed with a pretty subdued layer of bitterness, mainly grassy and tropical in nature.  On the whole, this was very well-balanced with neither the juicy aspects nor the bitterness really standing out over the other.  

Mouthfeel: Soft, juice-like body with slightly less than moderate carbonation.

Hype: These brews seem to be catching on in the area, though I can’t say that they any particular hype around them.  Personally, I’ve had some pretty good experiences with this series and was happy to have a beer named appropriately for the occasion in which I planning on drinking it.

Overall: Very solid double IPA and a nice change of pace from the extremes in taste that this style often goes to.  I continue to be a fan of these series and will keep an eye on the brewery as well for a chance to grab some more playoff brews.

Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers – Copper Legend

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It seems fitting that I begin my October celebration with a Marzen style beer.  My wife and I recently celebrated our copper (7 year) anniversary and one of my gifts was a six-pack of this lovely offering from Jack’s Abby.

Beer Name: Copper Legend

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

Style: Marzen

ABV: 5.7%

Description: The brewery’s take on an Octoberfest beer with a name that may or may not have been inspired by a plumber.  You can read more here.  Came in a six-pack of tallboy cans.

Appearance: Poured a cloudy copper body topped off by a fizzy white foam.

Smell: Slightly sweet caramel malt and lager yeast.

Taste: Faint caramel sweetness mingled with rich bready malts.  These flavors tapered off towards the finish as a mild wheaty presence became slightly more pronounced underneath the lingering sweetness.

Mouthfeel: Just a tick above medium bodied with perhaps an equally small tick below moderate carbonation.

Hype: I had fond memories of this, but there’s not much in the way of hype for this one.

Overall: I enjoyed this.  I had my first can maybe a day or two after my first Sam Adams Octoberfest of the year and would have to say that I prefer this one.  Might be time to make these a fall tradition as well.

BeerRantsAndBooks Celebrates October-fest!

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October has finally arrived and the folks here at BeerRantsAndBooks are very excited!

Fall is officially upon us, bringing with it all the wonderful sights, tastes, and smells of the season.  The MLB playoffs are about to get started and, as somewhat of a surprise, my Yankees are finally back in the mix for another championship.  Perhaps most importantly of all though, we’re now 30 days away from Halloween.  Probably the favorite holiday in our family, it arrives at the perfect time of the year and is a great opportunity to have fun before that annual mad dash through the winter holidays and end of year craziness starts to gain momentum.  It can be an especially fun if you celebrate for more than just one day!

To get into the spirit of things, I plan on spending the month drinking some seasonally appropriate brews and reading a spooky story or two.  So stay tuned for all the fun and maybe even a few scares as the month goes on.

Happy October!