Ipswich Ale Brewery – Farmhouse Ale

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, I prepared for quarantine in part by picking up a mixed 12-pack from Ipswich Ale Brewery.  I wasn’t paying too much attention when I ordered it, but was happily surprised to find that it included two new to me beers along with old favorites Route 1 and the original Ipswich Ale.  Looks like we’ve unexpectedly got some review material folks!

Beer Name: Farmhouse Ale

Brewery: Ipswich Ale Brewery (Ipswich, MA)

Style: Farmhouse Ale

ABV: 4.8%

Description: Inspired by the traditional Belgian style, this dry hopped ale was brewed to refresh and pair with a variety of meals.  You can read the official release and see some of the brewing specifications here.

Appearance: It had a cloudy golden body topped by roughly half a finger’s worth of bubbly foam.

Smell: Distinct Belgian-styled yeast that offered a light blend of peppery/spicy/floral notes.

Taste: It opened with crisp pale malt, topped by a peppery yeast presence highlighted with hints of clove and spice.  The finish brought on a slight bit of spicy hops and an underlying sweetness that brought the sip to a pleasing end.

Mouthfeel: Roughly medium bodied with an elevated level of carbonation.

Hype: This isn’t really a hype brewery, though I am particularly fond of them.

Overall: All in all I found this to be a pretty solid beer.  It’s probably not going to blow you away, but it was incredibly easy to just sit back and drink on account of how crisp, clean tasting, and refreshing it was.  Definitely a good beer to have in the fridge right now!

Firestone Walker Brewing Company – Stickee Monkee (2018)

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Time again to get back into beer as well.  Here’s a pre-quarantine brew from back when things were relatively more normal.

Beer Name: Stickee Monkee (2018)

Brewery: Firestone Walker Brewing Company (Paso Robles, CA)

Style: Quadruple

ABV: 11.4%

Description: A Belgina-style Quad brewed with Mexican Turbinado and Belgian candi sugars before being set to age in bourbon barrels.  The bottle I had for this review was from the 2018 vintage.

Appearance: It poured to a beer-bottle colored dark brown body.

Smell: Sugary dark fruits mixed with hints of bourbon barrels.

Taste: Sweetness upfront in the form of Belgian candi yeast, molasses, brown sugar, and dark fruit. The yeast really picks up around mid-sip to take over and transition the brew towards a hot, bourbony finish with some hints of toasty malts mixing in with a very refined barrel presence.

Mouthfeel: Full bodied with low carbonation.

Hype: I don’t know if hype is the right word, but this brewery and a series of small, boxed bottles is extremely well regarded.

Overall: This was fantastic!  It’s a beer you’ll definitely be taking your time with, but you will definitely savor every sip.

Book Review: The Black God’s Drums, by P. Djeli Clarke

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Now I’m really getting back into the reading spirit!  This 2018 novella is my second story from author P. Djeli Clarke and one that I had been looking forward to for some time now.  This book seemed to be showing up everywhere where it first came out and after really enjoying my last work from this author I knew I had to get it off of my TBR list. 

The magic of the Afrikin gods is part of this city, ma maman used to say, buried in its bones and roots with the slaves that built it…

The story is set in the mid-1880s in an alternate history New Orleans.  Serving as a neutral port between the United States and the Confederacy, the city is a hub of intrigue, trade, and entertainment for people from both sides of the conflict.  It is also a popular destination for citizens of the newly independent Haiti and the Free Islands of the Carribean who won their independence from the colonial powers through the use of superior technology and a powerful, weather altering weapon dubbed the Black God’s Drums that drastically altered the balance of power in the region.  It is here that we are introduced to a teenage street urchin named Creeper who lives in a secluded part of an airship dock. Resourceful and street-smart, Creeper has been touched by Oya, the African Orisha goddess of wind and storms, and often is the beneficiary of her powers in times of need. One day while watching the city, Creeper happens to overhear a conversation between a Creole man and a group of Confederate officers.  It seems a Haitian scientist is conspiring to sell weapons technology to the Confederacy, a potentially deadly development for all involved given it catastrophic side effects. Feeling the need to act, Creeper seeks to enlist the help of the Midnight Robber, an airship under the command of the famed pirate Captain Ann-Marie and a pair of Sisters of the Holy Family to prevent a tragic loss of life.

I loved this!  The story hit so many of the right notes for me I’m not sure where to even start singing its praises.  New Orleans is a fantastic, magical place in our real world, but this book succeeded in making it even moreso in a way that felt authentic to the city.  I really enjoyed the way the author mixed in the essential parts of the city’s experience, everything from the local culture, dangerous storms, and revelry, with the more supernatural elements and African mythology.  The aesthetics of this story were also quite engaging, offering a mesmerizing balance of cool and terrifying devices and imagery. Right from the start the author invoked a steampunk vibe with descriptions of a dock teeming with gas lamps and airships before moving into the darker territory of weapons of mass destruction and the gas masks used in the Confederate States to create docile slaves.  On this note, I really liked how the technology fit seamlessly into the historical and cultural context of the story, making it feel all the more real.

What brought these ideas to life, however, were the fantastic characters.  The two mains, Creeper and Captain Ann-Marie were real standouts for me. Creeper was a fun and resourceful person to follow, and the ways in which she was guided by and interacted with the piece of Oya within her gave her a depth that went well beyond her years.  Ann-Marie was likewise fascinating, fully capable of all the carousing and fighting one might expect from a pirate captain, but also with an unexpected depth that made her really memorable as well. Although they had a relatively minor part in terms of page time, I can’t leave the two nuns out of this review.  Curiously well connected and supplied, they offered some formidable aid to Creeper and Ann-Marie in their quest.

Put them all together and these elements made for one fascinating story that every bit lived up to my expectations.  The ideas, world building, and characters were all top notch and I could easily have spent another 300-400 pages more in this world.  That the author wove in an exciting blend of history, mythology, and steampunk imagery made it all the better for me. I am definitely adding more of his works to my priority reading queue and I recommend you all consider doing the same.

Book Review: The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion, by Margaret Killjoy

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Hello again, long time no post!  I’m getting back into action and taking a step into the paranormal with this 2017 novella from new to me author Margaret Killjoy.  Since the author’s bio inspired me to read a bit more about them, I found that they are, among other things, a proud trans woman, anarchist, prepper, and electronic/death metal musician who maintains a Twitter feed worth reading.  But these are all topics for another day. Let’s end my review drought and bring on the book!

So yeah, welcome to Freedom, Iowa.  For the past year, we’ve had this benevolent, murderous spirit watching over us.  Which is weird, but it’s gone fine.

The story is set in the near future in a quasi-distopian United States and opens with our protagonist, a nomadic young woman named Danielle Cain, pulling a knife on an overly friendly man she hitched a ride with on her way to an anarchist commune in Freedom, Iowa.  In going there she hopes to find answers surrounding the final days of her friend Clay, who had finally settled down there only to eventually wander off and kill himself. The town, however, may hold more mysteries than answers for upon her approach to it Danielle encounters a number of horrifically mutated animals, most notably a strange deer feeding upon the carcass of a small animal.  Upon meeting the locals, she learns that the deer creature is the spirit Uliksi, a demon they summoned to prey upon those people who would seek authority over another. Suddenly her grim quest for answers gets a whole lot more complicated.

I enjoyed this for what it was: good, easy reading fun. While I can’t say it was particularly deep, the book’s commentary on the allure of power felt a bit cliche, it did have a certain charm that really drew me in.  The main characters were an immensely likable (if somewhat one dimensional) group of punks and anarchists and the potentially rogue Uliksi provided an intriguing dilemma. I also enjoyed that the book had a very familiar-to-me feeling sense of humor mixed with just enough action to help me make short work of its 84 pages.  Upon learning more about the author, I could see how their own experiences shaped this story and I absolutely enjoy supporting these types of characters and political ideals. As such, I am on board for reading the sequel and curious to see where the series goes from here.

The State of BeerRantsAndBooks Address

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Hello friends!  As some of you may have noticed, I haven’t posted here in a little while.  Back in January I was facing the daunting task of simultaneously learning a new job while taking programming classes at night and to say I was stretched thin mentally would be an understatement.  Something (ok, somethings) had to give for the sake of my mental well-being and keeping up with the blog just didn’t fit into my schedule.

My portrait, courtesy of my wife @Ann Leonard Photography

My original plan for the past few days was to regroup a bit and work my way back into a posting routine.  My class ended the first week in March and the week after the family was going to take our annual trip down to Florida for some much needed time off.  I was going to sit back, read, and drink a few brews to celebrate the end of a demanding month and a half. The universe it seems had other plans, and facing the rapid advance of Coronavirus we made what was at the time the difficult decision to call off our trip.  Turns out we made the right choice since I am coming back here facing a drastically different world than when I left.

So what does this all mean for my posts going forward?  Hopefully, not a lot in most areas. I am feeling determined to make this comeback a success and feel like it will be a welcome distraction for me during these difficult times.  I have some great novellas lined up for review and since I primarily read e-books, I don’t see any major shifts in my reading habits once I get back into a rhythm. I also also have a few tags set aside I’ve been meaning to get to as well so Random Tag Tuesday will be making a return soon enough.

As for the beer side of things, well, that gets tricky.  Acquiring new, post-worthy beer is rather complicated now, despite the valiant efforts of my local breweries to safely stay open.  It pains me a bit to say this, but in all honesty I most likely will not be visiting them for the duration of the pandemic. I feel somewhat badly about this knowing that they need support to stay afloat right now, but I just don’t feel like even the curbside pickup options are worth it right now for something that is ultimately a luxury item.  In terms of the cost per beer and the risk of exposing my family I just can’t justify it. I pass no judgement on those who choose otherwise, but this is my personal choice based on my particular situation.

That said, I do have a few review beers left in my fridge that I am sure to get to soon enough.  I also stocked up on some more affordable options to keep me supplied over the period of isolation to come.  My beer needs for the next few weeks will be fulfilled by a dozen Lagunitas IPAs and a mixed 12 pack from Ipswich Ale Brewery.  Even after the delivery fees (thank you Drizzly driver!), they provided a relatively inexpensive way to stock up without sacrificing quality.  If these can’t hold me over until the end of this whole mess, I’ll have much bigger things to worry about anyway.

I’m looking forward to rejoining you all in WordPress land this week.  Stay safe out there and be good to one another!

Collective Arts Brewing & Donut Monster – Origin of Darkness (with Vanilla, Toasted Coconut, and Lactose)

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As some of you may recall, I had myself a bit of fun with the Origin of Darkness series of brews last year.  Of the two I tried, one was absolutely amazing and the other I found so off putting I couldn’t bring myself to drink enough for a review, leaving that “honor” for my wife instead.  After making sure to review the ingredients I felt pretty good about this one, though.

Beer Name: Origin of Darkness (with Vanilla, Toasted Coconut, and Lactose)

Brewery: Collective Arts Brewing and Donut Monster (Hamilton, Ontario)

Style: Imperial Stout

ABV: 11.5%

Description: Brewed in collaboration with Donut Monster the brewery’s friendly, neighborhood donut shop, this variation of their Origin of Darkness imperial stout was aged in bourbon barrels along with “classic” donut ingredients like vanilla, coconut, and cream.  Read more about it here.  This particular bottle was from the 2018 vintage.

Appearance: It had a thick black body with faint tan lacing that formed with the pour and quickly faded away.

Smell: Sweet and boozy with a pretty significant amount of bourbon.

Taste: Started with a mix of creamy malts and dark chocolate.  The additives came through strongest mid-sip, with moderate notes of vanilla and toasty coconut highlights.  The finish was hot with plenty of bourbon and some nice barrel notes.

Mouthfeel: Smooth, thick body with low carbonation.

Hype: I was moderately excited about this, even in light of that black truffle experience.

Overall: I really enjoyed this and think they did a pretty good job capturing the essence of donut.

Book Review: The Island, by Peter Watts (Sunflower Cycle)

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As I promised the other day, here we go with another short work from the Sunflower Cycle.  Although it was the first of these stories to be published all the way back in 2009, this is currently the third act of the series and takes place a very long time after my initial point of reference, 2019’s Freeze-Frame Revolution.

Although it came first, this work reads like it was a fresh installment of a long running series in terms of how developed the world and characters were and how cohesively it fits into with the stories that would come later.  Set aboard the spaceship Eriophora as it continues its unending mission to construct transportation gates, this 40 page short story references (or rather foreshadows) a lot of things that happen in Freeze-Frame, most notably the crew’s efforts to limit the authority of Chimp, the AI that controls the ship and mission.  In these pages, we join the eternal Sunday Ahzmundin as she is awoken to investigate an unexplained signal emanating from the area of the ship’s next construction site.  When the source is determined to be a sentient life form unlike anything conceived of before, Sun and Chimp have a profound disagreement over their obligation to avoid harming it.  Adding to the intrigue is that the only other person around is a rather odd crew member named Dix, an artificially conceived child of Sun with some very complicated loyalties guiding his view of the argument.

I found this story absolutely fascinating for a number of reasons.  First and foremost for me was the alien lifeform. It was just so far outside the scope of human comprehension and the norms of what you tend to come across in most sci-fi stories that I couldn’t help but be drawn to it, and the outcome of its encounter with Sunday and Chimp left me even more taken in by it.  Speaking of the two leading characters, it was a whole lot of fun watching their calculated aggressions against each other, all the while both fully aware of how much they ultimately need each other. This dynamic between the two also shaped my other two highlights of this story (and indeed the series in general), those being the psychological effects of a life divided up into short moments across the eons and the exploration of humanity’s place alongside advanced artificial intelligence.  With both of these topics, the author manages to create a great deal of tension in the stories that doesn’t necessarily always have a resolution which is definitely something that will keep me coming back for more of this series.

I’ll keep this post short and sweet and close by saying that this was an absolutely brilliant short and one that I highly recommend.  That this story managed to pack so much depth into such a small amount of space is truly amazing and something that must be read to truly appreciate. There are still a couple of Sunflower Flower stories out there that I really enjoyed, but in the interest of keeping things fresh around here, I might not review them for a little while.  My schedule is freeing up a bit in the near future and I have a number of other books I’m eager to get to!

Book Review: Hotshot, by Peter Watts (Sunflower Cycle)

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Alright, time to get back to the books!  While looking back on my reads from the past year, I was reminded of how much I enjoyed Peter Watts’ 2019 novella titled The Freeze-Frame Revolution and how excited I was to find out that it was part of a series called the Sunflower Cycle.  Luckily for me, the rest of these short stories are freely available here on the author’s website.  For those keeping track, this work was originally published in 2014 and marks the chronological beginning of the series.

The sun’ll die long before we do.  We’re gonna outlive the whole damn galaxy.

In the book we meet a young woman named Sunday Ahzmundin who is about to embark on a mission that will span the eons.  The product of a specialized breeding program and some rather extensive genetic and psychological manipulation, it is a role she was literally born to fulfill.  That knowledge, however, does little to curb her tendency to push back against the people running the program and mock their claims she is free to decide her fate.  Rebellious and often destructive to herself and others, she recruits her friend Kai to accompany her for an experience she hopes will provide a sense of acceptance and inner peace regarding their upcoming mission.

I liked this story a lot, though I’m not sure how I would have felt about it not knowing a little bit more of the story, especially some of the details about the mission.  Conversely, this also filled in a few things from Freeze-Frame that I had wondered about, so I don’t feel like I made a mistake in my reading order.  Chronology and understanding seem to be rather fluid here, which is perhaps appropriate given the complicated relationship these characters have with time.  Indeed, there seems to be a general consensus among readers that the order isn’t particularly important for these stories and that there is even a benefit to weaving your way through them along different paths.

Moving on from that, what I enjoyed most about this particular work was its psychological profile of Sunday and the very long view of it takes of human development from the perspective of people about to become outside observers.  There was also an interesting look at technology here as well, specifically at its uses and limitations and what room these leave for human action and agency in an age of highly advanced artificial intelligence. There was a whole lot of this content packed into a mere 23 pages and that was definitely more than enough to inspire me to read on!

Birthday Beer!  Wizard’s Burial Ground and Screenshot

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Earlier this week I officially made it through yet another trip around the sun and celebrated in part with a pair of spectacular brews I found at the Rye and Thyme restaurant in Leominster, MA.  It was a somewhat random stop on the way to our final destination, but it was certainly a welcome one.  Boasting some amazing pub food and an equally impressive tap list, this was definitely my kind of place!

Beer number one was Wizard Burial Ground from Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids, MI.  Checking in at 10%, this bourbon barrel aged Quad was certainly an eye opener!  It poured a see-through amber colored body with a thin white head and had an invitingly sweet smell.  As for the taste, it packed a huge caramel and dark sugar sweetness upfront followed by a hint of bubblegum yeast in the middle and smooth, warming bourbon notes on the finish.  The pleasantly medium-thick mouthfeel held the flavors well, making this one amazing brew and an excellent start to my special day.

My second beer of the lunch was Screenshot, an 11% Imperial Stout from Prairie Artisan Ales.  Brewed with hazelnut coffee, it poured to a thick black body topped by a layer of tan foam.  It opened with a delicious mix of rich dark malt and sweet cream that was soon followed by moderate notes of hazelnut coffee, espresso, and dark chocolate.  It closed with a good luck of sweet, roasty heat and featured a super smooth thick body.

And there you have the two brews that helped me kick off my birthday celebration.  Here’s looking forward to another year full of great beers and (eventually) books!

Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery – The Chocolate Manifesto

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I am checking in this fine Monday morning with the first review of beer coming from my Christmas haul.  I was in the mood for something sweet and this looked like it had the potential to really satisfy.

Beer Name: The Chocolate Manifesto

Brewery: Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery (Ontario, CA)

Style: Imperial Milk Stout

ABV: 10.0%

Description: The brewery’s “definitive statement about chocolate and beer is described on the label as a “triple chocolate milk stout” brewed with three kinds of chocolate: shade-grown cacao nibs, roasted cacao powder, and chocolate malt.  Many promises of chocolatey goodness were printed across the label.

Appearance: It poured a dark cola brown body that looked black in the glass.  Resting up top was roughly a finger’s worth of than foam.

Smell: HUGE cocoa powder aromas immediately upon opening the bottle and pouring into the glass.  Think of opening up a can of good hot chocolate and then at least doubling the experience.

Taste: Again an explosion of chocolate with each of the three types well represented over the course of the sip.  It opened with notes of creamy chocolate malt and decadent milk chocolate which around mid-sip gave way to a more bittersweet cacao powder influence.  The finish was dark chocolate with bits of roast and heat mixed in. This was all chocolate throughout, but it was really interesting how it managed to feature the different types so well.

Mouthfeel: Super smooth, with a moderately thick body and low carbonation.

Hype: Moderate.  I was intrigued by this one when I saw the bottle but really didn’t know what to make of it.  Based on the label alone, I went in thinking this either going to be fantastic or disappointing with very little room in the middle.

Overall: I really enjoyed this.  To my pleasant surprise, it totally delivered on the aforementioned promises of chocolate overload.  This is a must try for chocolate lovers, though it is a beer you’ll end up spending some time with. As much as I was tempted to drink quickly on account of the decadently sweet, creamy opening, the heat and bit roast kept me at a much more reasonable pace.