2017 Night Shift Barrel Society Release #3 – Macbeth

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I found out recently that this is looking like it will be the second to last Barrel Society brew ever since the brewery is taking the membership in a different direction for next year.  With the end of an era fast approaching, I took advantage of a day off and swung by the brewery to check this out on tap.

Beer Name: Macbeth

Brewery: Night Shift Brewing Company (Everett, MA)

Style: Saison

ABV: 5.7%

Description: I present to you, the brewer’s notes: Macbeth pours bright yellow and glows as it hits the glass. On the nose, it sports bold notes of grapefruit zest and Sauvignon Blanc, supported by funky Brett character. Once you sip, you can expect notes of lemon, vanilla, and ripe grapefruit pulp; with an earthy quality from the Brettanomyces, and a lingering oaky finish.

Appearance: Light, easy to see through golden-yellow body with some small bubbles lazily running up the sides.  White foam formed up top around the edges of the glass only.

Smell: Tart and (citrus) fruity.

Taste: Subtly tart throughout, the lemon was definitely the standout taste with grapefruit pith more in background.  The finish was crisp and dry in a way very reminiscent of white wine.  There was a slight bit of funk on the very end.

Mouthfeel: More or less medium bodied, with a bit that slightly syrupy finish I tend to get from sours.  Moderate carbonation towards the end.

Hype: Always elevated for these releases, though I think this one and the next will have very high expectations.  Hoping for the series to end with a bang.

Overall: There’s a small part of me that’s all  little bit disappointed that this wasn’t a Scottish ale, but I can get over that.  I really enjoyed this brew and found it refreshingly light and delicious.  This was probably as good as the style gets for me and I  was really impressed with how well the wine barrel aging came out in this beer.  Although I’d personally consider this more of a spring or summer beer myself, it would fit in nicely on any occasion where one might consider a glass of white wine as well.

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Foundation Brewing Company – Ember

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This was something of a surprise pickup for me.  I went into the store with a plan to focus on more seasonally themed brews, but then I overheard two customers talking about a red IPA they saw on the shelves.  Have I mentioned that this is my favorite style?

Beer Name: Ember

Brewery: Foundation Brewing Company (Portland, ME)

Style: Red IPA

ABV: 7./%

Description: A red IPA said to blend big, sticky hop flavors with tropical fruit.  You can get more of the details here on the website.  Canned on 10/09/2017.

Appearance: Light brownish/red body with almost a finger’s worth of light tan head.

Smell: Sticky sweet tropical fruits mixed with piney bitterness.

Taste: Aggressive, raw pine sap bitterness right from the start that was quickly joined by a tropical fruit sweetness.  These flavors lingered on into the finish where they were joined by light, crackery malt base and a slightly floral hop presence.

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

Hype: Generally elevated.  The brewery has a pretty solid reputation in these parts and it’s a fairly recent development for their cans to see distribution.

Overall: Good, but not quite what I expected from red IPA.  The bitterness level was a bit elevated for my preference, especially since it was dialed up way higher than the sweetness.  I did like the introduction of tropical fruits to the mix though, and this gets bonus points for the Emberer Palpatine pun on the bottom of the can.  I think hopheads and people less picky about red IPAs would really enjoy this; I just happen to have very particular expectations for the style.

Central Waters Brewing Company – Barleywine Ale

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This next beer is another offering from the Central Waters Brewer’s Reserve Series.  It was last Christmas that my wife got me interested in this series when she picked me up a Scotch ale and a stout that were both fantastic, so when I saw this one I had try it out.

Beer Name: Bourbon Barrel Barleywine Ale

Brewery: Central Waters Brewing Company (Amherst, WI)

Style: Barleywine

ABV: 14.3%

Description: From the 2017 vintage, this American barleywine was aged in used oak barrels.  You can read a bit more about it all here.

Appearance: Light brownish/dark copper body with thin foamy white head.

Smell: Warm aromas of sweet toffee and bourbon.

Taste: Sweet upfront, featuring a delicious blend  of toffee, brown sugar, and dark fruits. This was followed by a huge kick of bourbon around mid-sip.  The finish was sweet and hot with minor oak barrel notes coming through on the end.

Mouthfeel: The body had a medium-plus thickness paired with low levels of carbonation.

Hype: I can’t really speak for the beer community at large, but I had high hopes for this.  I’ve been getting in barleywine lately and I’ve been really impressed with this brewery so far.

Overall: Really tasty, though this one did sneak up on me a little bit, especially with the ABV not appearing on the bottle.  Warming and delicious, another excellent beer from this series.

Left Hand Brewing Company – Milk Stout Nitro

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The first Friday in November saw the triumphant return of work beers!  This time around we went with an old favorite of mine.

Beer Name: Milk Stout Nitro

Brewery: Left Hand Brewing Company (Longmont, CO)

Style: Milk Stout

ABV: 6.0%

Description:  The brewers give a pretty beautiful description of the beer here on their website.  For my part, I grabbed the best glass available at the office to watch the magic of the pour in action.  My can had a best by date of 01/28/2018.

Appearance: Thick, creamy brown body intermingled with tons of foam. Once the foam settled, the beer was left with a dark black body topped by a thick tan head with near whip cream consistency.

Smell: Primarily sweet cream, backed by a bit of chocolate and coffee.

Taste: Sweet and creamy throughout, at various points along the way it picked up notes of rich, dark malts, chocolate, and very subtle coffee.  The finish was creamy with the slightest amount of light coffee.

Mouthfeel:  The body was ultimately on the thinner side, but the nitro gave it a heavier, creamy feeling.  Minimal carbonation.

Hype: No hype, just a readily available brew that’s earned a solid reputation.  I first had one of these about five years and have never stopped liking it.

Overall: Every bit as good as I remember.  Creamy and smooth with mild amounts of all the right flavors, this beer is pretty much my archetype for the style.  Do yourself a favor and don’t pass this by.

Book Review: Radio Free Boston – The Rise and Fall of WBCN, by Carter Alan

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I picked up this next book looking for a bit of local history.  WBCN was my go to radio station during my middle and high school years and in many ways helped set the soundtrack of my youth.  On car rides, in my room doing homework, or even late night in bed when I probably should have been sleeping, “The Rock of Boston” was there.

The book was written by Carter Alan, author and former WBCN DJ.  Chronicling an oral history of the station from its founding in 1968 to the final sign off in 2009, the book’s narrative guides the reader through the history of the station by infusing the author’s own insights with a generous mix of quotes and stories from the people who were there.  What emerges is an interesting portrait of everything from the station, the evolution of the radio business, and, of course, the music.

I had a great time reading this.  The author’s enthusiasm was infectious and the story was well crafted and interesting throughout, though undeniably reverential.  For me there were two distinct parts to this story, the first of which being the history of the station from before I was alive or listening.  Going into this I knew very little of the station’s past or how it had grown into the local institution I knew it to be.  I found the idea of it starting as a fledgling experiment in freeform radio really intriguing and had no idea how political the station was originally, having taken an active voice in opposition to US involvement in Vietnam and advocating on behalf of a variety of social justice issues as part of its regular programming.

The second part of this story began for me once the book got into the late-80s and 90s.  It was around here that my own feelings of nostalgia took over as I was able to recognize more of the bands and on-air personalities.  I found myself recalling many of the sounds of those years; from vague memories of the station’s 1988 anti-Apartheid campaign, complete with on air calls to boycott Shell Oil, to the infamous “Lunch Song” parodies and even the old station IDs.  It was also a lot of fun getting the backstories of some of the hosts I used to listen to like Oedipus, Bradley Jay, Juanita, Melissa, and (my favorite) Nik Carter, which in many ways felt like catching up with old friends.  I’ll admit I even got a bit fired up recalling the mid-90s feud between BCN and Worcester-based WAAF (a big part of which was fueled by WAAF shock jocks Opie and Anthony attacking on air one BCN DJ for being gay and another for being black).

It was during this time period that I started going to concerts and I have BCN to thank for more than a few of my most memorable shows; including my very first one (Gravity Kills at the Middle East in Cambridge), an intimate evening with the Smashing Pumpkin at the Orpheum Theater in Boston, and Cypress Hill at an all day festival in the Foxboro Stadium (the predecessor of Gillette Stadium).  Unfortunately it was also during this era that the seeds were sown for the station’s eventual demise.  The radio business was changing and several programming decisions began to slowly alter the audience, tone, and direction of the station.  I can’t help but feel slightly vindicated in that the programing decisions I hated the most as teenager (namely picking up the Howard Stern Show and airing New England Patriots football games) were ultimately contributing factors despite being huge financial boons at the time.

Even though it ended with the station’s eventual demise, I thought this book was a great trip down memory lane and I read it with a smile on my face the whole time.  If you’ve ever spent any significant amount of time in Boston and regularly tuned into the station, this book is for you.

Halloween Double Feature – Lamplighter Brewing Company – Werewolves of Cambridge

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Good evening a welcome to part 2 of my Halloween double feature!  Having the best name out of my haul for the month, I saved this brew to drink “live” on Halloween night as the second half of my double feature.  I think we all know what song is playing while I write-up this review.

Beer Name: Werewolves of Cambridge

Brewery: Lamplighter Brewing Company (Cambridge, MA)

Style: Porter

ABV: 6.3%

Description: There wasn’t much about this on the company’s official website, so I had to turn to Instagram for some more information.  Calling it perfect for fall weather, the brewers promise notes of coffee, chocolate, and dark fruit.

Appearance: Black body, as expected.  A thin, light tan bubbly head formed with the pour but very quickly fizzled away.

Smell: Sweet, dark chocolate upfront followed by hints of roasted coffee.

Taste: Started out with sweet malts and then turned towards bitter dark chocolate as it approached the halfway mark.  From there it transitioned to lightly roasted coffee with undercurrents of sweetness tasting of malt and dark fruit.  The finishing taste was a combination of light sweetness and a mild roasty bitterness.  It was an interesting variety of flavors but they came together well into a smooth, subtle, and balanced whole.

Mouthfeel: Smooth, slightly creamy thin to medium body.  Very low carbonation.

Hype: I obviously had high hopes for this since I saved it specifically for my Halloween night review.  Other than that, I hadn’t really heard a lot about this.

Overall: I don’t always get excited about porters, but I found a lot to like here.  While this isn’t my typical go to flavor profile I did enjoy how all the different aspects came together.  I would love to find this on tap somewhere for pairing with a nice meal; could see this going great with some barbecue.  If you’re into porters (or maybe even if you’re not), give this one a go.

Happy Halloween to all, and to all a good night!  Awoooo!

Halloween Double Feature – Book Review: The Terror, by Dan Simmons

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Happy Halloween!  This year I’m running a double feature in celebration, showcasing a beer and a book that (hopefully) live up to the big day.  Since it’s a bit early to start in on my beer, we’ll open things off with the book.  When it came time to select a second spooky story for the month, my thoughts immediately turned to Dan Simmons, a name longtime readers and friends of the blog may recall seeing here on a few occasions.  I had been meaning to read this for a while and figured I now had the perfect occasion to do so.

This story takes place in the years 1847-1848 and is a fictionalized account of the John Franklin Discovery Service Expedition, an ill-fated Arctic expedition launched from England in 1845 with the intention of mapping the Northwest Passage.  It consisted of two ships, the HMS Erebus under the command of Sir John Franklin and the HMS Terror captained by Francis Crozier, each boasting heavily reinforced hulls and specially equipped steam engines to help force their way through icy seas.  Despite these technological advantages, the ships proved no match for the Arctic ice and became hopelessly trapped in September 1846 somewhere around King William’s Island.  In this tale, however, the doomed crews of the Terror and Erebus have more than just the harsh elements and starvation to worry about.  Lurking out in the icy wasteland is monstrous creature stalking and attacking the men with ease.  While the crews debate whether it is simply a particularly massive and cunning polar bear or the Devil itself, one thing is indisputably clear – if the elements don’t kill them the creature most certainly will.

I enjoyed this book a lot and found myself getting caught up in the story and lives of the crew members.  Simmons did an excellent job immersing the reader into this world through vivid descriptions and a healthy dose of sailor talk.  It was a bit daunting at first, but I got used to it rather quickly and it didn’t take long for it to sound natural.  The cast of characters was equally well-written and really brought the story to life.  Even knowing their fates, I was on the edge of my seat as the crews of the two crippled ships struggled against all odds to survive the seemingly endless winter.  The two individuals given the most page time, Captain Francis Crozier of the Terror and Erebus surgeon Harry Goodsir, were both really interesting and had very engaging stories in their own rights.  Crozier in particular was a fascinating character to follow and we spend a lot of time in his head contemplating issues like depression, alcoholism, and how his Irish heritage often made him an outsider in the Navy despite his elevated rank.  

In light of this, the horror elements, while a good source of additional suspense, ultimately weren’t really needed.  While I thought they offered a nice twist, I was always far more interested in the more worldly struggles of the crew than what was going on with the creature.  Cut out the monster and the related supernatural elements and this would still be a gripping, harrowing story.  Indeed, that seems almost possible since it often felt these scenes were inserted into the historical fiction at a later time.  Besides, there was already plenty of blood and gore to be had in the normal course of ship’s duties, and that’s before the graphic accounts of scurvy recorded by Goodsir and the need for, um, “alternative” food sources comes into play.

One thing this story did inspire me to do is read up more on this topic and that era of exploration in general.  I’m not sure it’s something I’ll want to do during what’s supposed to be a rough winter in these parts, but I am updating my reading wish list accordingly.  Great book that I’m really happy I finally got around to reading.

Exhibit A Brewing Company – Hair Raiser

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Only one more day until Halloween and a hair-raising good time!  Sorry, I couldn’t resist.  Coming at you with another brew from Exhibit A Brewing Company.

Beer Name: Hair Raiser

Brewery: Exhibit A Brewing Company (Framingham, MA)

Style: Double IPA

ABV: 8.0%

Description: Packed full of Galaxy, Mosaic, Azacca, and Cascade hops this double IPA seeks to raise your hairs (and perhaps even one or two hares as well).  Mine was canned on 10/5/2017.

Appearance: The body was super hazy and had an almost ghostly golden-yellow glow.  A thin layer of white foam floated across the top.

Smell: Pineapple juice upfront, followed by raw piney hop bitterness.

Taste: Lots of juice upfront, with pineapple, tangerine, and mango leading the way.  The fruits then blended into a warm, hoppy bitterness combining hops and pith.  The finish was an excellent balance of juicy fruit and bitterness that peaked a few steps before becoming overly aggressive.

Mouthfeel: On the higher end of medium with slightly less than moderate carbonation.

Hype: No hype, but I did have some high hopes after liking my last beer from this brewery.

Overall: Very big fan of this.  It reminded me a lot of Trillium’s Headroom coming out of the can with its glowing, thick hazy body and bitter juicy aromas.  Taste wise it was a bit more balanced, though, having less intense levels bitterness and heat, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  New England IPA fans need to check this one out.

Heretic Brewing Company – Evil Twin

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Halloween weekend is almost over and we’re now getting into some seriously creepy brews as the big day approaches!  This one was another surprise pickup by my wife.

Beer Name: Evil Twin

Brewery: Heretic Brewing Company (Fairfield, CA)

Style: Red IPA

ABV: 6.8%

Description: Touted as a blend of rich malts and huge hops, the brewers promise a bold, rich, and balanced taste from this red IPA.  On a side note, I wish I had come across more from this brewery.  Looking down that beer list in the link I see they really mean it when they say “don’t drink ordinary beer.”  Keeping an eye out for these guys next Halloween season for sure.

Appearance: Deep red body that had a haunting blood-red glow when held up to the light.  A thin layer of tan foam lingered across the top.

Smell: Sweet caramel malt joined with resinous pine sap.

Taste: Pretty much as advertised by the smell.  A smooth caramel sweetness at the start was soon followed by a dank, resinous pine sap bitterness that carried through to the end.  The finish was a nice combination of both flavors, leaving lingering tastes of piney hops and a caramel/brown sugar/candy sweetness.

Mouthfeel: Creamy, medium-plus body accompanied by a moderate amount of carbonation.

Hype: I love my hoppy red ales, but I can’t say that I’d ever heard of this beer or brewery before trying this out.

Overall: I really, really liked this.  With its aggressive (but not too aggressive) bitterness and equally balanced sweet caramel and malt backbone, this beer provided exactly what I was looking for in the style.  Really looking forward to working my way through the rest of the six-pack.

Exhibit A Brewing Company – The Cat’s Meow

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Having had one as a childhood pet, I have a special love of black cats.  She was named Eddie, after Edgar Allan Poe, and that cat and I had a real affinity for one another; sharing in common a healthy appetite and more than a few personality quirks.  She was never really comfortable around a majority of the people she encountered, though I rather quickly became one of her favorite humans.  Black cats also happen to be a popular Halloween image, so picking up a can of this beer was an easy choice.

Beer Name: The Cat’s Meow

Brewery: Exhibit A Brewing Company (Framingham, MA)

Style: IPA

ABV: 6.5%

Description: Labeled “catnip for humans,” this IPA was brewed with Citra, Mosaic, and El Dorado hops.  You can check out the website for more about this beer and all matters related to the brewery.  Oddly enough, this was another brew canned on 09/18 – the day of my wedding anniversary.  Considering how much my wife and I love Halloween, this must be some kind of sign.

Appearance: It had a cloudy, just barely translucent golden-yellow/pale orange body topped by a thin layer of white foam.

Smell: Fruity, citrus sweetness with a piney bitterness on the backend.

Taste: Started out with a light, slightly sweet malt presence upfront.  That was followed by a mild blend of fruits featuring various tropicals, orange, tangerine, and grapefruit.  A subtle haze of hops came over the beer on the finish, bringing in a mix of resinous pine and floral bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with a decidedly creamy feel to it.  Less than moderate level of carbonation.

Hype: I’ve been pretty eager to check out what this brewery has to offer for some time now, but for whatever reason haven’t done so until now.

Overall: I liked this a lot.  Subtle yet flavorful with a nice balance of tastes, this made for a very nice introduction to the brewery.