Revolution Brewing Company – Straight Jacket

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I’ve had this beer hanging around for a couple of months now but could never quite find the right to time drink it.  No time like the present.

Beer Name: Straight Jacket

Brewery: Revolution Brewing Company (Chicago, IL)

Style: Barley Wine

ABV: 12.2%

Description: Another entry in the brewery’s Deep Wood series of barrel aged goodness, the description on their website promises waves of dark stone fruits, bourbon, molasses, toasted coconut, and vanilla.  If memory serves me correctly the bomber cost $18, same as the previous one.

Appearance: Coppery brown body with a quick to fade tan head that formed with the pour.

Smell: Caramel and toffee sweetness mixed with rich dark malt.

Taste: Sweet upfront, with lots of brown sugar, caramel, toffee, and dark fruit.  A hot kick of alcohol comes on towards the end, with lingering bourbon notes in the aftertaste.  Upon sitting for a few minutes the sweetness and heat both intensified and blended into each other, while more subtle notes of barrel influence came out on the finish.

Mouthfeel: Silky smooth and slightly slick medium-plus body.  Carbonation level was low.

Hype: Primarily of the personal variety.  I really liked the last beer I had from this series and picked this up hoping for a similar experience.

Overall: Deliciously sweet and bourbony, this was exactly what I was hoping for.  Despite the heat and high ABV, this one left me feeling very mellow and relaxed upon finishing it which was pretty nice as well.  I’ll be keeping an eye for more from this series for sure.

Book Review: The Bands of Mourning, by Brandon Sanderson (Book Six of the Mistborn Series)

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A dreadful realization came over me as I was finishing this book.  As I neared the end it suddenly hit me that I was going to have to wait for the next one to be published before I could get closure on the series.  According to the author’s current timeline, it looks like I am going to be left in suspense until at least 2018!

This story begins six months after the conclusion of the previous book.  Mere minutes before the scheduled start of his wedding ceremony, Wax is approached by a small group of kandra seeking his assistance.  Their agent ReLuur has returned home from an investigation crippled and missing one of his hemalurgic spikes, but also bearing evidence of an incredible discovery.  Included among his possessions is information that could lead to the long-lost Bands of Mourning, the deceased Lord Ruler’s Feruchemic bracers thought to contain a considerable remnant of his power.  Feeling betrayed by Harmony and offended by the timing of the request, Wax initially refuses to have any involvement in either the search for the missing spike or the artifacts.  He comes around, however, after finding out Marasi has agreed to help and that the Set organization is most likely involved as well.  The journey takes out heroes far outside the familiar confines of Elendel to the city of New Seran and frontier beyond, where many new threats and challenges await them in their quest.

I was a bit unsure about this book after the first couple of chapters.  With Wax still reeling from the events and revelations that ended the last book, this one opened on kind of a down note.  This, in combination with Wayne’s usually amusing antics only serving to make him look like a real dick, had me worried that the series was about to take its first stumble.  How wrong I was!  Once the story got going the book recovered quickly and I couldn’t put it down.  Both Wax and Wayne redeem themselves, and we get to see some very different sides of each by the time the book ends. I also liked that Steris emerged as a strong, relatable character.  It is now very clear that she makes an excellent partner for Wax and I’m looking forward to seeing where she goes from here.  For a final thought on the characters, it was a lot of fun to have MeLaan back.  Let’s just say she is an excellent companion for Wayne and, as a kandra, brings a unique perspective to most situations.

The highlight of this book, though, was its implications for the story going forward.  With each of these novels, the world of Scadrial keeps on getting bigger and by the end of this particular installment we very clearly get a sense of how much the world has changed since Ruin’s  defeat and of how little we’ve seen of the planet thus far.  My guess is that the final book  is likely to feature a lot of new people and places; all made accessible by some pretty cool new technologies that appear.  This change in scope, in combination with the spreading social unrest and political resistance to Elendel in the surrounding cities, brought a sense of epic adventure to the story, giving it a Raiders of the Lost Arc-like feeling.  Hanging over everything, though, there was once again a lot to think about in regard to Harmony; in particular the extent and limits of his powers, his role in shaping life on Scadrial, and what, if any, equivalent forces exist.

Speaking to that last point, this novel marks the first time in the series that we see the word “cosmere” in print, used somewhat interchangeably for “universe” by some of the characters.  I am getting really curious how deep we are now into that shared universe.  Although it did not interfere with my enjoyment of the book, there were a few places where I strongly suspected that certain people or events might be part of a larger picture I am not yet privy to.  Cautiously looking into this after reading the book confirmed that was indeed the case, though not necessarily where I thought.  Since I seem to have about a year to go until I can pick up the last installment of this series, my goal now is to fill up my reading list with some books that might help me fill in some gaps.  I get the impression that some of our old friends were quite busy in the space in between the two sets of books.

Pipeworks Brewing Company – Ninja vs. Unicorn

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I’m just going to come right out and say it.  I was feeling indecisive in the store and bought this based on the name and artwork alone.  I think I’d heard of it in passing at some point, but it was the branding that got me.  Come to think of it, this is the second time in recent months that a Chicago brewery has lured me in this way.

Beer Name: Ninja vs. Unicorn

Brewery: Pipeworks Brewing Company (Chicago, IL)

Style: DIPA

ABV: 8.0%

Description: There wasn’t much on the official site about this release, though a few other sources have this listed an unfiltered DIPA brewed with over 5 pounds of hops per barrel.  I don’t remember exactly, but I paid somewhere in the neighborhood of $12-13 for a 4-pack of 16 oz. cans.

Appearance: Cloudy, dark straw yellow body with a thin layer of white foam on top.

Smell: Sweet, mostly tropical, fruits with a touch of resinous pine sap in the background.

Taste: Keeping in line with the smell there was a lot of fruity sweetness upfront, mainly pineapple, tangerine, and mango.  It finished with a dry, crackery malt base joining forces with mix of earthy and piney hop bitterness.  The initial sweetness lingered on through to the finish as well, culminating in a slightly hot aftertaste that lessened in intensity as the beer went on.

Mouthfeel: Fluffy, medium-plus body with pretty much the typical moderate carbonation you would expect for the style.

Hype: I was excited for this one.  Pipeworks in upping their distribution in my area so I was curious to try them out.  I also really wanted this beer to live up to the awesomeness on the label.

Overall: Definitely a quality DIPA.  I wish the finish was just a bit more tame, otherwise this would have been a smash hit for me.  Still a great beer though.  If I ever need a ninja or unicorn themed brew (which all things considered is actually pretty likely for me) I’ll be picking this up again.

Book Review: Shadows of Self, by Brandon Sanderson (Book Five in the Mistborn Series)

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Moving on down my reading list, I am now up to the fifth overall book set in the Mistborn universe and the second from the Wax and Wayne cycle.  I’ve really gotten into this series over the past few months and am excited to continue my journey in this world.  Although my thoughts below contain one or two minor spoilers, they are pretty tame compared to some of the other reviews I came across after I had finished reading.

This book takes place about a year after Wax’s defeat of the Vanishers and discovery of the Set conspiracy.  In it we find Elendel a city teetering on the edge of crisis as mounting social unrest over food shortages and factory working conditions is threatening to boil over into widespread protests against the nobility-dominated government.  When the governor’s brother is found murdered in his mansion along with a host of prominent criminal leaders and lesser nobility, the authorities are desperate to solve the crime before a major scandal leads to chaos in the streets.  Wax and Wayne, in their capacity as special constables, join the investigation as the killer embarks on a campaign of terror throughout the city, intent on inciting an enraged populace against both the government and the nobility.  It’s not long, however, before Wax discovers that the killer is something much more dangerous, and deadly, than even the highly skilled Twinborn they initially suspect.  Fortunately some unexpected allies emerge that just might be enough to help restore order.

Another strong entry in the series, this book was packed full of action and intrigue.  The main arc involving the hunt for the killer was exhilarating, and I enjoyed how the author mixed in a touch of urban politics as an added dimension to the story.  I am curious to see how the social unrest plays out in the remaining books and the extent to which it will be leveraged by the Set, especially since Wax and his allies are mostly sympathetic to the complaints brought forth by the protesters.  Regarding some of the other developments, I was a bit skeptical at first about (minor spoiler) the return of the kandra, but their re-emergence was handled well and my worry that this book would feel repetitive of the Well of Ascension proved to be unfounded.  The major revelation at the end relating to Wax was pretty shocking and made me really think back on how the story has progressed thus far.  Likewise the scenes with Harmony left me wondering about not only past events, but also what the extent of his powers are and what his place within this universe really is.  I can’t help but wonder when and where the larger Cosmere will come into play within this series (and if it hasn’t already).    

As for the characters, the entire cast was once again excellent.  I am really enjoying this group and how they give the series its own distinct feeling from the originals.  I like Wax a lot as the protagonist and Wayne brings a sense of levity that wasn’t quite as pronounced among Vin’s associates.  For Marasi, it was nice to see her move up in the world and become a detective.  Her character needed a clear role going forward and this suits her skill set and sense of justice perfectly.  The interactions between this trio remained one of the highlights of the book and putting Marasi on more equal footing gives her character a solid reason for her continuing adventures with Wax and Wayne.

Upon finishing this book, I couldn’t wait to get started on the next one.  This story felt like a huge moment in the series, not only impacting the current characters but also giving them some additional context in relation to the original trilogy as well.  Between these connections and the huge surprise at the end, I am very excited to see where the story goes from here!

Uinta Brewing- Birthday Suit 23

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Although my wife does not drink beer, she will occasionally pick a few bottles for me.  Sometimes it’s for a gift, sometimes just to give me a nice surprise, and other times because, well, we don’t have time for me to get distracted in the beer section trying to decide on what to buy.  I’ll let you the reader decide which category this fell into.

Beer Name: Birthday Suit 23

Brewery: Uinta Brewing (Salt Lake City, UT)

Style: Sour Ale

ABV: 6.5%

Description: Brewed to commemorate the brewery’s 23rd anniversary, the bomber was dated 3/7/2016 and cost $12.49.  We got this at a random liquor store in New Hampshire a couple of months ago, so I guess this guy spent some time on the shelf.  Not particularly worried considering the style.  I couldn’t find much about this online, but the description on the bottle says the beer bares a lambic malt base and Belgian yeast character.  Raspberries intermingle adding sweet fruit aroma and au-naturale earthiness to this frisky, tart birthday ale.  

Appearance: Body was a nice golden amber color that had a slight pink tint when the light caught it just right.  Forming with the pour was a fizzy off-white head of light foam.

Smell: Sweet, tart raspberries intermingled with a hint of wild yeast.

Taste: Again, tart raspberry begins upfront and lingers right on through to the finish.  Along the way it was joined by a moderate amount of brett.  The finish was dry, with a slightly acidic, sweet aftertaste.  Not particularly notable at first, a hay-like funk slowly descends over the beer as it settles into the glass, most prominent towards the middle and finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium, syrupy body with lots of lively carbonation.

Hype: Expectations were elevated when I learned this was an anniversary brew.  I figure anyone that’s been in the game for 23 years is going to know what they’re doing and put out something good to mark the occasion.

Overall: One of the benefits of my having my wife pick out the beer is that, while she knows generally what I like, things that catch her eye are often things that I might walk right by.  She happens tfrom the raspberries and how the brett funk gradually fell over this, tucking in the fruitiness like a nice (hay) blanket.  I would recommend checking out this, or any of the subsequent anniversary releases, if you’re into this style.

Brewery Visit: Tap Brewing Company in Haverhill, MA

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Last weekend the family took a trip up to Haverhill, MA for an event at Winnekenni Castle.  On the way home we were in the mood for a snack and stopped off at the Tap Brewing Company’s restaurant/pub.

The pub is located in downtown Haverhill, an area with the look and feel of an old industrial center on the verge of blossoming into an up-and-coming neighborhood.  The facility itself is deceptively large, especially when entered from Washington Street where at first glance it seems to comprise entirely of a few small tables out front and a bar room immediately inside.  There is, however, plenty of additional seating out back on a large patio overlooking the Merrimack River and in another dining room downstairs where the brewing facilities are also located.

Upon taking our seats outside, I got to work deciding upon a flight.  There were about a dozen beers pouring that day in a variety of styles.  After mentally culling the list down to roughly half that number, I used the beer names to make my final choices.  First up was Invisible Creatures, a 4.7% pale ale.  It poured a cloudy yellow body and struck a nice balance between light bready malts and grapefruit bitterness.  Very mild and summery tasting.  Beer number two was called Skydog.  Listed as a 5.25% American dark lager, it had brownish, cola colored body and combined subtle sweetness with mild roasted malts.  Up next was another pale ale, this one named Home Run.  A bit bigger than the previous one at 5.6%, this was also my favorite of the two.  Pouring a nice amber color, it showcased that caramel malt/piney hop flavor profile I love so much.  Closing out the flight was Intergalactic Acid, a 3.0% Berliner weisse that was the star of the day.  Smelling vaguely sweet and floral, it packed a hugely satisfying fruity, tart, and slightly funky taste.

Based on this initial sampling I would have happily done another flight had we not been traveling with a baby.  Since we were, this is where I ended my day.  Definitely check this place out if you find yourself in the area.  In my sampling the beers ranged from good to great and we all really enjoyed sitting outside.

Blatant Brewery- Blatant IPA

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Time again for another work beer.  It is perhaps somewhat telling that three people in the office, completely independent of each other, remarked at how closely the beer cans resembled our Polar seltzer.

Beer Name: Blatant IPA

Brewery: Blatant Brewery (Bondsville, MA)

Style: IP

ABV: 6.5%

Description: Probably not a great sign that it was really hard to find out anything at all about either the beer or the brewery.  Their Twitter feed seems dormant and the website I can find listed for them is no longer in existence.  Nestled in between some pretty big boasts, the Untappd description for this beer tell us that it’s brewed in the West Coast style and “(f)ull of hops and a subtle cereal grain backbone.”

Appearance: Started out with a mostly see-through straw yellow body underneath a persistent white head of foam.  At the very end of the pour a bit of sediment from the can made the body cloudy to the point it could almost not be seen through.

Smell: Sticky sweet yet somewhat reserved, hints of caramel malt and resinous pine bitterness.

Taste: A very brief moment of sweetness upfront quickly followed by a huge spike of lemon and grapefruit bitterness.  Grassy hops slowly emerged from this initial rush and mixed with light, crackery malts and peppery yeast for a finish that lingered for a bit after finishing the sip.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with just a touch above moderate carbonation.

Hype: None, I don’t think I had heard of or noticed this brewery until I found these cans in the refrigerator at work.

Overall: This was a miss.  Beyond the astringently harsh bitterness, this beer just tasted a bit messy.  The peppery yeast finish seemed out-of-place and I was caught off-guard by the malt profile that did not match what I had expected from the smell.  Given the abundance of good to outstanding IPAs available in my area, even when limiting myself to only locally brewed options, I can safely say I will not be revisiting this beer.  Unfortunately there was no date on the can to let me know if this was “old” or not so I can only judge by what I got out of the can.  Not a great first impression.

Idle Hands Craft Ales – Brunhilda

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My second (and final) brew from my recent trip to Idle Hands.  I’ve been enjoying some more traditional German styles lately, something which inspired me to select this over one or two other beers that had also caught my eye.

Beer Name: Brunilda

Brewery: Idle Hands Craft Ales (Malden, MA)

Style: Munich Dunkel Lager

ABV: 5.5%

Description: Brewed as a beer of many flavors, the official notes from the brewery list bread, nuts, chocolate, and fruit among the tastes to be encountered.  Served on draft, my 0.5 Liter stein came at a cost $7.50.

Appearance: Dark brown body topped off by a foamy light tan head.

Smell: Subtle blend of sweet and ever so slightly roasted malts.

Taste: It started out similar to the smell with a subtle, bready mix of sweet and roasted malt.  Dark chocolate and nuts came through more towards the middle and end of the beer, especially as it sat for a few moments and I got further down into the glass.  As advertised, some fruit did eventually come at as well.  By the time I finished the pour, the initial malt combo was joined by a blend of bittersweet chocolate and a hint of dark fruit on the end.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with a moderate amount of carbonation.

Hype: As stated above, I had my reasons for wanting to try this, but I can’t say that there was any particular hype surrounding this release.

Overall: I liked this a lot and thought it was very flavorful and super easy to drink.  An excellent drinking beer to chill out with and leisurely enjoy.  I loved that it was served in a large stein, something about that format really enhanced the experience for me.  I don’t think a sample would do this one justice, especially given how much the flavors developed over time.  My advice if you want to try this out: Go big and then take the time to enjoy it!

Idle Hands Craft Ales – Kill Your Idles: Pluot

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I somehow ended up with a bit of free time last weekend and took advantage of it by making a quick stop at Idle Hands, my friendly neighborhood brewery.  Of all the offerings available that day this was probably the one I was the most excited about going in.

Beer Name: Kill Your Idles: Pluot

Brewery: Idle Hands Craft Ales (Malden, MA)

Style: Fruited Sour

ABV: 5.0%

Description: Per the brewers, the Kill Your Idles series is a line of fruited sours brewed with lactose for balance.  This particular installment featured pluots, everyone’s favorite plum/apricot hybrid.  Available on tap, my 13 oz. pour came in a snifter glass and cost $7.00.

Appearance: Pinkish/amber body with a foamy off-white head.

Smell: Sweet mix of tart fruits and berries.

Taste: Slightly sweet plum and apricot notes began right at the start and continued on throughout the rest of the beer.  Along the way it picked up a mildly sour, tart funkiness to accompany the initial sweetness which give the beer an added layer of flavor.  The finish was primarily tart fruits with just a hint of lactose and wild yeast.

Mouthfeel: Light and bubbly upfront with thicker, syrupy ending.

Hype: I really enjoyed the Red Berry installment of this series a few months back so ordering this was an easy choice.  The brewery staff again seemed pretty happy about this one, and I certainly can understand why.

Overall: I liked this a lot.  Great light, fruity flavors made this very refreshing on a warm spring day.  Definitely going to keep an eye on this series and try to make it to the brewery for the next installment.  I haven’t had enough of this lineup yet to say for sure, but it seems like these brews might end up rivaling Night Shift’s family of weisse beers in the category of locally brewed sours.

Distelhäuser Brauerei – Kellerbier

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I picked up this beer on the power of suggestion alone.  I had been having a hard time deciding what to buy and then I saw it – the last of its kind, just sitting out on the staff recommendation table with a friendly $3 price tag.

Beer Name: Kellerbier

Brewery: Distelhäuser Brauerei (Tauber Franconia, Germany)

Style: Kellerbier

ABV: 5.1%

Description: A classic style, this “cellar beer” is unfiltered and naturally cloudy.  In true German fashion the only ingredients are water, malts, hops, and yeast.  For us non-German speakers, Google translate does a pretty good job with the company website if you want to find out more.

Appearance: It had cloudy, golden/straw yellow body through which I could just barely make out my fingers on the other side of the glass.  Up top a thick, bubbly head of foam formed with the pour.

Smell: Very subtle mix of sweet light malts and lager yeast.

Taste: Featured a bit more prominently the sweet malts and lager yeast noted from the smell.  The standout flavors from there were banana esters, bready and sweet malts, and light (green) peppery/yeast finish that lingered a bit after each sip.

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

Hype: Curiosity.  For all I knew this could have been an under the radar gem, old stock the store wanted to unload, or anything in between.  Since I have a bit of confidence in the store and had a good experience with my last random German beer, I figured this was worth the gamble, especially at the price.

Overall: If you had asked me to imagine a typical light-ish German brew made for beer hall consumption, I would have probably thought up something pretty close to this.  Here was another beer that made me want to be outside on a warm day, perhaps while hoisting it in a hefty stein at a festival of some sort.  On the whole I definitely enjoyed this, though if I could change one thing that would be to dial back the finishing yeastiness just a little bit.  That aside, I found this to be a refreshingly tasty, no-nonsense brew that hit the spot.