Bent Hill Brewery – Better Every Day

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Another general store pick up, I was again swayed by the packaging.  The 8-bit design really called to me, what can I say?

Beer Name: Better Every Day

Brewery: Bent Hill Brewery (Braintree, VT)

Style: NEIPA

ABV: 5.8%

Description: This New England-style double IPA was brewed with Citra, Centennial, Jaryllo, and Mosaic hops.  10% of all proceeds from sales go to support a local high school’s music scholarship program.

Appearance: A somewhat unattractive murky yellowish-brown/slightly orange body.  There was a pretty noticeable amount of carbonation feeding the beer’s white foam head.

Smell: An alluring burst of pulpy citrus and melon juice greeted me immediately upon opening the can.

Taste: The juice and melon promised by the smell appeared right away, but got rather quickly by pale malt in the middle of the sip and a warming, slightly boozy haze of resinous bitterness on the finish.  This ending bite seemed a bit assertive considering the soft sweetness at the beginning.

Mouthfeel: Medium-plus body with moderate carbonation.

Hype: None.  It just happened to catch my eye.

Overall: It was alright.  After drinking a second one, I am content to say that this falls solidly in the category of perfectly fine but otherwise unremarkable.  Yeah, the ending was a bit assertive but it is far from the worst offender I’ve come across in this area and drinking it out of the can did minimize that a bit.

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Upper Pass Beer Company – Moove on Up

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I picked this next beer up in a quaint little general store in Jamaica, VT that had a surprisingly solid beer fridge, complete with labels dating their IPAs!  I don’t want to over sell their selection since any enthusiasts out there would note that it’s missing some of the state’s heavy hitters, but it did nonetheless offer some rather enticing choiced.  I grabbed this one because I liked the name and the can art just screams Vermont.

Beer Name: Moove on Up

Brewery: Upper Pass Beer Company (South Royalton, VT)

Style: Milk Stout

ABV: 5.9%

Description: 

Appearance: Pour a dark, brownish-black body with a thin white head.

Smell: Sweet cream and chocolate.

Taste: True to the smell, the beer opened with sweet chocolate and cream notes upfront.  These were followed by a light to moderate blend of roasted coffee and bittersweet chocolate to close it out.

Mouthfeel: More or less medium bodied and super smooth. Low carbonation.

Hype: None that I am aware of.  

Overall: It was alright.  I wasn’t necessarily blown away, but it was a nice little beer to enjoy on an evening when a stout probably should have been the last thing on my mind.  Worth trying for those that like the style.

Burlington Beer Company – Peasant King

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Hello everyone!  I’m now officially back from a long weekend spent out in beautiful southern Vermont.  While we didn’t exactly turn this into one of those infamous “Vermont beer trips,” my wife and I did take advantage of opportunities to sample some local wares.  This one was not only one of our favorites from the weekend, but it also comes with a rather memorable story.

Before treating our son to his first ever fireworks show, we took him on a gondola ride up a mountain and on a short hike to a fire tower on Stratton Mountain.  At the base of the tower, my wife and I broke out some snacks for him and a beer for us. No sooner had we done so than a friendly park ranger came out of a nearby hiking shelter and started a long chat with us about the area.  She didn’t say a thing about the beverages, but that didn’t stop us from feeling a bit like chastised teenagers on the way back down the trail!

Beer Name: Peasant King

Brewery: Burlington Beer Company (Burlington, VT)

Style: NEIPA

ABV: 9.0%

Description: An imperial NE-style IPA brewed with Kohatu, Zythos, and Cascade hops and a mix of Pilsner and Vienna malts.

Appearance: Once I finally got it to a glass, the beer poured to a murky orangish-yellow body topped by about a quarter-finger of thick white foam.

Smell: Tropical fruit followed by a warm hazy bitterness hanging over the end.

Taste: Lots of melon and tropical sweetness upfront, followed by some grainy light malts in the middle.  The beer closed out in a slightly booze haze of bitterness, featuring a nice blend of tropical and pine hops.

Mouthfeel: The body was a touch above medium and had a slightly less than moderate amount of carbonation.

Hype: None.  This brewery has been hit or miss for me on a couple of occasions but I was determined to go into it optimistic.

Overall: This was a good.  It had a bit of a kick to it while still being refreshing.

Random Tag Tuesday: 2019 Mid-Year Book Freak Out Tag

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Random Tag Tuesday is a new feature I wanted to try out just to mix things up a bit.  The name is a throwback to my college days when Tuesdays were the day for, well, random adventures.  For my blog, it will mean that on any given Tuesday I’ll tackle one of the many tags I always wanted to write about but never got around to.  Please note that most of these will come from my backlog notes and that I am terrible about keeping track of where I find these. As such, I probably will rarely, if ever, tag anyone.  It is not personal.

Since we’re still right around mid-year, this is probably going to be one of the least random tags I post under this header.  I do seem to be a couple of weeks late to this party, though, so I guess I have that going for me.  Either way, a tag felt like a nice, fun way to ease back into things after the holiday.

1. Best Book You’ve Read So Far in 2019

I’ve actually been really lucky in all my selections this year so this is kind of a tough call.  The two clearly at the top list for me are 2312, Kim Stanley Robinson and Circe, by Madeline Miller.  The former was sci-fi at its absolute best, offering up a wondrous view of the future that mixed compelling scientific theory, political intrigue, environmental awareness, and told a gripping story.  The latter was a powerhouse story that provided a very moving and personal view of mythology that really flips the script on some popular stories.

2. Best Sequel You’ve Read So Far

The Dark Forest, by Liu Cixin.  The follow-up to one of my favorite novels from 2018, this one took the story of alien first contact and impending conflict to new heights with plenty of thought provoking scientific and social dilemmas.

3. A New Release You Haven’t Read Yet But Want To

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, by K.J. Parker.  I’ve seen some very positive initial reviews and both the title and concept sound absolutely fascinating.

4. Most Anticipated Release for the Second Half of 2019

This had been Mistborn: The Lost Metal, but unfortunately I found out recently that’s been delayed a bit.  I’m not sure I’m up enough on upcoming releases to have a second choice here.

5. Biggest Disappointment

My biggest disappointments this year have been rather minor thus far.  I’ll call this story a toss up between Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker and the People’s Future of the United States compilation that I just finished.  Warbreaker, despite its importance, just felt hastily put together and incomplete while the People’s Future felt a bit uneven with just as many hits as misses.

6. Best Surprise

Tough call, but probably Luo Ji’s plan to fight the Trisolarians in The Dark Forest.  I won’t ruin the surprise!

7. Favorite New Author

N.K. Jemisin.  She’s more of a new to me author since she’s been writing for several years now, but I’ve read quite a few of her short stories recently and have been very impressed.  They’ve made me think, they’ve made me angry, they’ve me laugh, and they’ve made me hungry and I am absolutely ready for more.  Photo courtesy of nkjemisin.com and photographer Laura Hanifind.

8. Newest Fictional Crush

I don’t usually have these and this year, so far, is no different.

9. New Favorite Character

Hard to pick just one since no one in particular has stood out above the rest yet.  Some of my favorites so far include Anthony Dey Craze from Lagoon, Swan Er Hong from 2312, and Circe.

10. A Book that Made You Cry

I haven’t had one of these this year.  I guess Circe probably came the closest though, as some of the parts about the fears associated with parenthood really struck a chord with me.

11. A Book that Made You Happy

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers.  While I didn’t love it unequivocally, there’s no denying that this was a feel good story.

12. Favorite Book to Movie Adaptation

I don’t really watch movies anymore so I couldn’t tell.  I am cautiously optimistic that the latest Dune reboot will good, though.

13. Favorite Review That You’ve Written

Probably my review of How Long ’til Black Future Month.  I just had a lot of fun with that book and enjoyed the challenge of picking only 5 or 6 of the short stories from it for the review.

14. Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought This Year

I haven’t bought any books this year!  Favorite cover goes to Circe.  I just really like the style.

14. Books You Need to Read by the End of the Year

In no particular order, I’d like to read the aforementioned Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, get started on Brandon Sanderson’s White Sands comics, and read at least one more Kim Stanley Robinson novel.

Book Review: A People’s Future of the United States, edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams

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I’ve probably said this before, but one of my greatest discoveries upon starting this blog was the wonders of short story compilations.  This one immediately caught my eye with its obvious homage to Howard Zinn’s famed historical text, A People’s History of the United States, and I was excited that the introduction mentioned that some of Zinn’s central ideas regarding power, representation, and inclusion were used as writing prompts for the 25 authors contributing to this compilation.

It pains me to say it, but taken as a whole I found this collection to be a bit uneven and occasionally unsatisfying.  I wanted to love it through and through, especially since I fully believe in and support both the ideals that inspired it and the voices of the authors presented, but several of the stories I just couldn’t connect with.  Some I didn’t find interesting, a couple had a writing style I couldn’t stand, and some were perhaps too thematically similar to the stories preceding them. Again, I absolutely believe that stories like these that examine issues of racial, sexual, and gender equality, civil rights, and the role of government are important, even essential, topics to cover, I was just not sold on how some of them were told.

That’s not to say I had a bad time with this read, though.  There were some real gems in here and upon looking back these far outshine the works I found less interesting.  To focus on the positive, my favorites (in the order presented) were:

Our Aim is Not to Die, by A. Merc Rustad: In an authoritarian future where conformity to a straight, white, conservative worldview is monitored through mandatory social media updates, a group of non-binary friends are forced to put their lives in the hands of an illusive AI promising to protect their secret.  I liked how this story provided both a glimpse of a social media-driven dystopia as well as a reminder that good actors can also leverage technology to the benefit of society.

The Wall, by Lizz Huerta: Secure in their position behind a border wall, a group of Mexican scientists work to re-humanize the drugged American soldiers used to instigate a brutal military coup in the former United States.  One of a few stories that depicts Mexico as the ultimate beneficiary of a border wall that shields it from the chaos of a failed US, this one just like it had the most complete vision of these stories.

Riverbed, Omer El Akkad: A Muslim diplomat from Canada returns to her childhood hometown in the Midwestern United States to collect the belongings of her brother.  Killed after escaping an internment camps several years prior, his remains are part of a controversial period of history that has left people on both sides of the camps alienated.  A thought provoking look at the limits of protest and the lengths to which rank and file individuals will go to justify and rationalize their role in abuse. It also touches upon the human tendency to shy away from that which discomforts us by delivering on of my favorite quotes of the compilation:

“You know what this country is?  She said. “This country is a man trying to describe a burning building without using the word fire.”

No Algorithms in the World, by Hugh Howley: Story of a son bringing some life changing news to his near-future Archie Bunker dad.  A fun little slice of life story, it was also notable for being the only story in which the future more or less turns out alright.  It also shone an entertaining, yet no less accurate, light on the hypocrisy behind some strongly held conservative beliefs and the extent to which Google guides us all.

Give Me Cornbread or Give Me Death, N.K. Jemisin: This story of a black female militia fighting genetically engineered dragons set loose on their community by an oppressive government was probably my favorite in the collection.  Using the power of love and food (most notably collard greens), they find creative ways to turn the tools of the oppressors against their creators. Like so many of the other Jemisim works I’ve read this year, this not only made me think but made me really hungry as well!

A History of Barbed Wire, Daniel H. Wilson: A dead body found in the haven that is Cherokee Nation raises some profound security questions and reveals the lengths desperate people will go to in order to protect their family.  I apparently really enjoy a good detective story, and this one certainly fit the bill!

Brewery Visit: Greater Good Imperial Brewing Company – Worcester, MA

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We found ourselves out in Worcester, MA this past weekend for a baby shower and a trip to the EcoTarium for our son.  Before heading home, however, my advance scouting and found yet another family-friendly brewery to check out.  Bonus points for them serving food as well!

Greater Good is located on an industrial stretch in Worcester with, thankfully, a rather ample parking lot.  Just make sure to keep an eye out for signs as the turn-in was kind of hard to see from the road when approaching from the side of the brewery that didn’t have their signage on it.  On the way inside we passed through a small outdoor seating area that looked tempting, but at the time of our visit was way too sunny for our party. That ended up being just as well, considering how much fun the place was inside.  It was quite spacious and had a cool finished warehouse vibe with plenty of seating and a performance area for live music. It also featured the requisite board games and arcade machines to keep kids of all ages entertained as well as some random other toys (more on that later).  Beyond the obvious, a big part of what made this such an alluring stop for us was that the taproom also serves food in the form of amazing looking pressed sandwiches.  They run about $11-12 each and are pretty generous in size. They’re also every bit as good as they look on the menu and highly recommended.

Moving on to the beer, Greater Good boasts to be “America’s First All Imperial Brewery” and had a draft list that, with few exceptions, matched that assertion.  We weren’t really feeling flights that day, so my wife and I each had a couple of full pours. I started my afternoon off with Pink is the New Black, a 6.0% Cascadian Dark Ale brewed in conjunction with the Pink Boots Society to promote and encourage women in the beer industry.  It boasted a fantastically smooth blend of piney hops, light roasted malt, and a slight notes of citrus fruit and chocolate that I really enjoyed.  It had certainly been awhile since I last had a good “black IPA” and this one definitely delivered just that. My second and final beer of the visit was Good Night Moon, an 11% Imperial Porter that was chocolate milk goodness in a glass.  It had silky smooth and creamy body and featured plenty of creamy chocolate notes atop a fairly moderate amount of roasted coffee.  This was the consensus favorite of the day, so much so that cans came home with us. If you see this, try this.

My wife went in a different direction with her choices, opting for a pair of NEIPAs named Shine On (8.4%) and PULP DADDY (8%).  While I don’t have any notes to share on these, both were given very positive endorsements, though the edge went to Shine On.  From my brief tastes, however, I can say that both of these beers are sure to please fans of the style, offering plenty of dangerously drinkable juicy deliciousness.

As a final note, I can’t end this post without mentioning the brewery’s unofficial mascot, Creepy Baby (see above).  My wife found it under a table while grabbing some coloring pages for our son and proceeded to carry it back to our table, holding it by the shirt.  To our amusement, it was lifelike enough to horrify everyone she passed by. There was literally even a dog that had been resting under a nearby table that looked freaked out!  Fortunately, after everyone did a double take and realized that 1) the doll was fake, and 2) we’re not horrible people that manhandle babies across taprooms a good laugh was had by all!

Seven Saws Brewing Company – Buzzsaw

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As part of our plans to celebrate the coming of summer, the family made a trip out to the Farm at SummitWynds in Holden, MA to attend the opening evening of their Lavender Farm Fest.  As a pleasant surprise, the nearby Seven Saws Brewing Company had a fairly prominent presence there, pouring, among other things, a beer they made specially for the event!

Beer Name: Buzzsaw

Brewery: Seven Saws Brewing Company (Holden, MA)

Style: Blonde Ale with Honey and Lavender

ABV: 5.0%

Description: I couldn’t find much info on this beyond what I’ve already said, but to recap this was a blonde ale brewed with lavender and honey.

Appearance: Draft only, it poured to a light orange/copper colored body, topped by a thin white layer of foam.

Smell: Faintly sweet, with light herbal and floral notes on the end.

Taste: Lightly sweet pale malt base enhanced with a bit of extra body and sweetness by some smooth honey notes.  The lavender came through mostly towards the middle and end as a slight herbal presence lurking mostly in the background.

Mouthfeel: Medium body, with a nice thick smoothness from the honey. Low carbonation.

Hype: None.  I wasn’t familiar with the brewery and I had a really not good experience with the last lavender-based brew I had.  Of course I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to give this a try though.

Overall: I was initially kind of skeptical, but after tasting it I felt like this was pretty good while my wife absolutely loved it!  I liked the sweetness and texture the honey added and, most importantly, the lavender was not over done. There was just enough to give the beer a nice aroma and subtly influence the taste, but not so much that it was overpowering.  A nice, easy drinking beer that was a perfect tie-in to the event. Well executed.

Beer’d Brewing Company & Pipeworks Brewing Company – Dogs vs. Shinobi

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I went into my go-to store by my office on a mission for IPAs the other day and snatched this next beer up the moment I saw it.  I’m a big fan of both Beer’d and Pipeworks and was feeling pretty confident a collaboration between the two would be something to experience.

Beer Name: Dogs vs. Shinobi

Brewery: Beer’d Brewing Company (Stonington, CT) & Pipeworks Brewing Company (Chicago, IL)

Style: NEIPA

ABV: 6.5%

Description: A collaboration NEIPA playing off the name of each brewery’s popular, year-round hoppy offerings.  It was double dry hopped with Citra, Simcoe, and Mosaic and brewed with an addition of guava puree.

Appearance: It poured to a murky yellowish-amber body topped by a thin foamy head.

Smell: Burst of tropical fruit with an added blast of orange and tangerine on the end.

Taste: Lots of tropical fruit juice (lead, appropriately, by guava) and pulpy citrus notes.  These were followed by a smooth, slightly creamy transition toward a mild haze haze of resinous bitterness beneath a second wave of tropical fruit.

Mouthfeel: It had a fairly thick juice-like body with below moderate carbonation.

Hype: I was pretty excited to try this personally, but I don’t think there was much in the way of external motivation.

Overall: Really, really good!  It has a delicious tropical profile and just enough bitterness on the end to fulfill that craving for hops.  Very pleased by this pick up.

Book Review: 2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson

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As an avid reader of science fiction, I feel like Kim Stanley Robinson is an author that I need to be way more familiar with than I am currently.  He’s had a very successful and prolific career, having won multiple awards over the years, along the way earning praise like “the gold-standard of realistic, and highly literary, science-fiction writing” from The Atlantic and a “Hero of the Environment” from Time Magazine.  I can’t believe how quickly the time has passed since reading my first novel from him back in 2016, but here I am finally getting into a second one!

The majority of this book takes place in and around the year 2312.  In this future, while humanity has spread out across the Solar System, it is still spiritually beholden to an Earth wracked by the effects of climate change, overpopulation, and massive social inequality.  The story unfolds mainly from the perspective of an eccentric artist named Swan Er Hong and opens with the death of her grandmother Alex, the widely respected and extremely influential Lion (ruler) of Mercury.  Shortly after the funeral, Swan is approached by a pair of Alex’s colleagues, Inspector Jean Genette of the Interplanetary Police and a diplomat from the Saturnian moon Titan named Wahram. Prompted by their inquiries regarding any messages Alex may have left behind regarding a particularly sensitive project, Swan uncovers a store of hidden communications left for her to deliver, a mission that quickly finds her swept up in a plot that spans the Solar System.

I was absolutely blown away by this book!  Though it often dove into some pretty dense subject matter, the story remained thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding throughout.  It covered so much ground and featured such a richly developed universe that I am thoroughly impressed the author managed to pack so much into a single 576 page book that still offered an intricate story and vision.  From the internal politics governing the various centers of humanity to the complex, Basque-inspired, economic system tying them together, the political and economic realities of this world told a compelling piece of the story.  Guiding this, of course, was a heavy dose of science and astronomy, with a multitude of facts and theory shaping the author’s portrayal of everything from quantum computing and space travel to patterns of climate change on Earth and the resource requirements for terraforming other worlds.  While this may sound a bit dry to some people, I can assure this book was anything but! The author’s beautifully detailed descriptions of such fascinating locations as a terraforming Venus, rugged settlements on the moons of Saturn and Jupiter, the flooded remains of Manhattan, and the rolling city of Terminator on Mercury really made this universe spring to life and make the reader feel like they were places they could actually visit.

Another fascinating part of this story were the people inhabiting this universe, for it is through them that we explore the complex social and biological changes this future brings.  The three mains, Swan, Wahram, Inspector Genette were all fascinating on an individual level, but more broadly served to explore the other frontiers presented in this novel; namely, a re-imaging of human biology, gender, and sexuality.  Inspector Genette, is what is referred to as a “small”; a person who by design is significantly shorter and lighter than the average human so that they are better suited to life in higher gravity. As for Swan and Wahram, the story got a little more radical.  Though they identified as female and male, respectively, both were revealed to be gynandromorphous, a fairly common trait among the spacers of this universe who tended to embrace treatments and procedures that often radically redefine the human experience. It was Swan, however, who pushed the boundaries of humanity more than most in this story, to the point of alarming her companions.  Her major body modifications, beyond the addition of male sex organs, include incorporating animal brain matter into her own, ingesting a suite of alien bacteria found on Enceladus, and, perhaps most notably, embedding a quantum computer in her neck. There was a very interesting balance of necessity and vanity to all of these enhancements, as well as an air of rebellion in doing things simply because one could.

As for the actual plot, well, I really don’t want to give that much of it away!  A lot of the fun of this story was watching events unfold while experiencing the wonder of traveling the Solar System with Swan.  The cryptic lists and extracts that the author added between chapters were an excellent way to unobtrusively get the reader up to speed on some of the events and ideas that shape this world, and once they started coming into clearer view, made for some shocking revelations and insights.  Likewise the gradual reveal of Alex’s project and the root of her mistrust of quantum computers made for some fascinating reading.

Put that all together and this was an impressive book that offered a thoroughly captivating look into humanity’s future while telling a fascinating story.  Needless to say, I highly enjoyed this one and found that offered everything (and more!) that I had hoped for upon embarking on another sci-fi adventure. I know I’ve said this a lot lately, but this author is definitely getting an increased presence at the top of my TBR list.  I’m even going so far as to promise myself now that I’ll read at least one more book from him before the year is over!