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.
October has finally arrived and the folks here at BeerRantsAndBooks are very excited!
Fall is officially upon us, bringing with it all the wonderful sights, tastes, and smells of the season. The MLB playoffs are about to get started and, as somewhat of a surprise, my Yankees are finally back in the mix for another championship. Perhaps most importantly of all though, we’re now 30 days away from Halloween. Probably the favorite holiday in our family, it arrives at the perfect time of the year and is a great opportunity to have fun before that annual mad dash through the winter holidays and end of year craziness starts to gain momentum. It can be an especially fun if you celebrate for more than just one day!
To get into the spirit of things, I plan on spending the month drinking some seasonally appropriate brews and reading a spooky story or two. So stay tuned for all the fun and maybe even a few scares as the month goes on.
Although I am not much of a football fan, it would have been pretty hard to miss coverage of the displays of protest and solidarity that swept the league this Sunday. Since I don’t have much time tonight to really dig into this topic (and I’m sure the internet is already flooded with hot takes from people way more invested in the league than myself), I’ll keep my own commentary brief. First and foremost, congratulations to the players for their courage and solidarity in using their position to make a statement. Secondly, shame on Donald Trump and anyone who continues to either support him or enable his dangerously petty ignorance, penchant for child-like tantrums, and overall boorish behaviour. Having said all that, I am reminded today of a section in Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail that didn’t make the final cut in my post last year. As with so many things from that book, it seemed rather relevant today so, without further ado, here’s an extended cut:
This happened to me on the last Sunday of the regular NFL season when two slobbering drunk sportswriters got me thrown out of the press box at the Robert F. Kennedy stadium in Washington. I was there as a guest of David Burgin, sports editor at the Washington Star…
…We were halfway down the ramp to the parking lot before I understood what had happened. “That gin-soaked little Nazi from the Gazette got pissed when you didn’t doff your hat for the national anthem,” Burgin explained. “He kept bitching about you to the guy in charge of the press box, then he got that asshole who works for him all cranked up and they started talking about having you arrested.”
“Jesus creeping shit,” I muttered. “Now I know why I got out of sportswriting…I barely even remember the national anthem. Usually I don’t even stand up…(54)”
Relative newcomers to the local beer scene, Lamplighter Brewing Company opened their doors in November 2016 following a fairly lengthy period of permitting and construction. In that time, their cans have gotten some pretty heavy distribution, becoming fixtures at most of my usual shops. I’ve been tempted to try them out for a while, but never got around to it until now.
Beer Name: Sound & Vision
Brewery: Lamplighter Brewing Company (Cambridge, MA)
Style: Raspberry Sour
Description: Part of an ongoing series of fruited kettle sours, this version was brewed with, you guessed it, raspberries. I couldn’t find an official link on the brewery website, a common enough occurrence but something that is starting to become a pet peeve. Moving on, the four pack of tallboys cost me $12.99 and was from a batch dated 5/5/2017.
Appearance: Poured a reddish/light brown body through which I was just barely able to make out my fingers on the other side of the glass. A thin off-white head formed with the pour but very quickly bubbled away.
Smell: Muted funk with a hint of berries.
Taste: Again rather mellow. It started out with sweet raspberries upfront and turned a bit sour/tart about halfway through. The finish brought on a moderate layer of hay-like funky yeast that mixed with just a touch of bitterness to linger on once the sip was complete.
Mouthfeel: Medium, syrupy body with a brief flurry of bubbles at the end.
Hype: Curiosity. I’ve been eyeing this brewery for a while now. Wanting something a bit different for an end of the week beer I decided to accomplish two goals at once.
Overall: I thought this was alright. Not bad, but nothing to get particularly excited about either. I wish that the berries stood out a bit more against the ending funk and that the two flavor profiles blended together a bit more. On the whole I thought this was a pretty decent pickup for a hot day, but I would go with a different style next time I try out this brewery. This one was not quite in the same league as similar offerings I’ve had from either Night Shift or Idle Hands lately.
Beer, Beercation, Coat of Arms Pub, Earth Eagle Brewings, Moat Mountain Smoke House & Brewing Company, New Hampshire, Portsmouth, Portsmouth Brewery, Portsmouth Gas Light, Sebago Brewing Company, Smuttynose Brewery, Stoneface Brewing, Throwback Brewery, Vacation
Even though 2015 is just getting started, my wife and I decided that it was time to get out of town for a long weekend. In going through our short list of places, Portsmouth, NH ended up being our destination of choice. It had a lot of things to offer in line with our interests and was only about an hour drive north from the Boston area.
Where to Stay
After weighing our options, we decided to spend a little bit more for our hotel to stay right in the downtown area and could not have been happier about that decision. Portsmouth is a small and extremely walkable town and not having to worry about finding a parking space or driving back to the hotel after having a few drinks was a definite plus. Where we ended up staying was the Mariott Residence on the west end of town. It was the most affordable option we came across when looking at places and I would recommend it based on our stay here. The room was a good size and had a kitchen area complete with a full refrigerator, two panel range, microwave, and plates/utensils. The shower was pretty amazing and had excellent water pressure and no issues with hot water. The bed and pillows were a little soft for my tastes but were by no means a major problem. The continental breakfast was provided each morning and was on the nicer end of your typical fair and had surprisingly good coffee. Just brace yourself for the lack of proper bacon (we had ham one morning and Canadian bacon rounds on two others).
The Downtown Area
The Downtown area of Portsmouth is roughly a mile to a mile and a half end to end. For our visit, things where rather snowy as the remnants of the recent blizzard were topped off by an extra 5-8 inches that fell our first day there. All that snow still didn’t stop us from walking everywhere we needed to go though it did complicate some of our photo destinations. We were snowed out of three cemeteries, a lot of the Harborwalk, Prescott Park, and much of Pierce Island but still had a fun time walking around and certainly got in our fair share of photo ops. Part of the fun here was the variety of shops we came across. Juice bars, vape shops, and the occasional book store were among the places that caught our interest and lured us in out of the snow and cold.
Another thing we encountered in our walks to help keep warm was Portsmouth’s vibrant restaurant and pub scene. More than one person we talked to brought up the fact that all told there are more restaurant seats and bar stools in town than there are people. We stopped into a fair number of places and one thing I found particularly exciting here was how widespread access to good beer was. Everywhere we went had at least a couple of local beers on tap from smaller locals and Smuttynose was ubiquitous with its street signage.
Smuttynose is also the sister brewery of local hotspot the Portsmouth Brewery which I can’t recommend highly enough. This was perhaps our favorite spot in the city and seemed to be a popular destination for others as well. Our first night in town in we sat at the bar area of the upstairs restaurant to split a plate of nachos and grab a few drinks (they have a full bar for the non-beer drinkers). I of course went for a flight of some house beers, though they did have a number of Smuttynose offerings on tap as well. All the beers in the flight were solid, but the Pale Ale and the Oatmeal Raisin Brown were the two standouts. There were also two casks being offered that I couldn’t pass up. Pouring that night was the Pale Ale with Orange Juice and their Rye Not Ale with Molasses. As much as I liked the regular Pale Ale, I think the Rye Not won out between the casks. The sweetness from the molasses really blended well with the hops and rye.
On our second visit, we went downstairs on a recommendation and stepped into a different world than what was above. The atmosphere was much more lively and fun. The main focuses down here are the bar and the pool tables in the background. Downstairs serves the same house and Smuttynose brews with a few added guest taps from popular national breweries. I couldn’t resist hitting up the casks again, this time going for the Le Chat Noir Stout with cacao nibs; another excellent pairing decision. On both occasions we had a great time, had an awesome bartender, and felt really comfortable and relaxed being there. The food was good, the beer (and drink) options were solid across the board, and the place was a lot of fun to be at. Anyone in town that doesn’t spend time here is missing out.
Another brewery of note in the downtown area is Earth Eagle Brewings, an eclectic little brewery hidden on a side street on the edge of the downtown area. Once inside the door you walk into a small room with bar area and a few tables off to the side. It offers a nice cozy feeling that somehow didn’t feel cramped even as more customers started flowing in. The beers are where this place gets really interesting.
The first question I was asked was if I was in the mood for hoppy or malty, which was easily reconciled by ordering a flight of all six beers on tap, but the follow up asking me if I was a vegetarian caught me by surprise. It seems that people finally figured out something to do with at least one of the moose up north, and the Bog Mare, an amber gruit, is brewed with moose head broth. This may be one of the most unique beers I have ever had, kind of sweetly malty start with a noticeably gamey/meaty finish. It was actually quite good for what it was but I’m not sure I’d want a full pint. Rounding out the flight that day was a more traditional gruit called Echoes which was brewed in collaboration with the Cambridge Brewing Company, a sweet and malty wee heavy called Coats and Kilts, ‘Murican Revolution an ESB, a pale wheat ale called Shepard’s Crook, and Yankee Cran-Ass, an IPA dry hopped with Sorachi Ace and brewed with 18 pounds of cranberries.
There were some really tasty things brewing and the people there were laid back and friendly. They even had grown-up (no, not that kind) coloring books to keep my non-beer drinking wife entertained. We didn’t stay for food but did see a tempting plate of nachos go by. If you’re in town you’ll want to check this place out. Looks like they tend to do a lot less mainstream styles and were well regarded around town.
There were also a few noteworthy non-brewery drinking stops as well. The Gas Light Grill is where I got my first taste of local superstar Stoneface Brewing (which the weather prevented us from getting out to). First up was the house-exclusive porter called the Gas Light Pour-Tier, a medium roasty and smooth drinking porter. In all honesty, it’s not something I personally found too exciting but it was well done and a good example of the style. It was also a $2 pint on account of the snow, and you seriously can’t beat that. The stand out though was definitely the IPA that got the brewery most of its initial attention. It has a huge juicy pineapple-orange taste upfront and a nice hoppy bitterness that certainly makes this beer worth seeking out. Opinions were split on the food here though I enjoyed my burger well enough. I think the key thing to keep in mind is that if you’re doing food here, take advantage of the wood fire grill.
The Coat of Arms (not be confused with the British Beer Company across the street that had a good tap list in its own right) is an English style pub notable in my mind for having several cask beers on hand. Between this place and the casks at Portsmouth Brewery, I am all set to do some serious sampling at the NERAX booth when I hit up the Extreme Beer Fest next month. As examples of that they had I first enjoyed a Dippity Do Brown Ale with Molasses from nearby Throwback Brewery in North Hampton, NH that was another well executed molasses cask. Next up was the Frye’s Leap IPA dry hopped with Amarillo, Citra, and Simcoe from Sebago Brewing Company just over the border in Maine. I thought the dry hopping really stood out well and added a nice dimension to the beer I’m not sure it would have had without them. Lastly came the Matilda’s Red Rage Red Ale from Moat Mountain in Conway, NH. Brewed in the style of a classic Irish red ale that tasted just right being on cask. I would rave on about this place if not for the fact that the atmosphere here was a bit colder than some of the other places in town. Good place to grab a few pints since I found the beer selection spot on, but I wouldn’t plan on settling in here.
The Thirsty Moose Taphouse was also notable, boasting 116 or so taps ranging from the usual suspects to some interesting and exciting options in a variety of styles. All the options can be a bit overwhelming but the list is solid and I’d imagine just about anyone even remotely into beer could find something they’d like there. And for those that just don’t (or can’t) drink beer, there’s always the full bar. The atmosphere here was laid back, casual, and fun and this is certainly a place I’d go back to for a few beers and a plate of nachos (yes that’s our go to when sharing food if you haven’t figured that out yet).
If you’re looking for food, two standouts for us on that front are Agave and Blue Mermaid. Agave is a Mexican restaurant on the other side of town from us that has plenty of enticing menu options and serves up a good round of homemade chips and guacamole. Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t note the limited, but better than expected tap list. They had the usual Mexican beers you’d expect but also had a few other things as well. To take full advantage of my location I went with the Moat Mountain Square Tail Stout over the Dogfish Head and Lagunitas taps. The Blue Mermaid is a “Carribean-inspired” restaurant that left us both very satisfied without our meals. They had a full bar of course, but the small tap list was well constructed with good local and national offerings. Trying to keep in the local spirit of things I continued trying things I don’t have as easy access to back home, I had a delicious Black IPA from Throwback Brewery called Hippo-HOP-amus and a Smuttynose Zinneke (Belgian-style Stout). Good food, good beer, friendly staff, and right across from our hotel, what more could you want?
On the way back home we stopped by the Smuttynose Brewery in Hampton, NH. Visitors are offered a free tour and card good for four samples from the tap area. I got to try a couple of Smuttlabs beers, Ol’ Grundy Humper and Schmutzig, I had passed on back in town (knowing that I would be ending up here on the way home) and found them enjoyable. The facility was aesthetically very pretty (even with the snow) and it is always nice to stop by a brewery and grab some samples. The atmosphere was kind of dead, though, and I get the impression that of the four employees we encountered that day two weren’t that into beer at all. One was just getting the tour guide thing down, and one was very knowledgeable. Might have been the time of day but I don’t know if I’d go back next time I was in the area unless I was with someone that really wanted to check it out.
Portsmouth was a pretty awesome place to spend a long weekend. As an amateur photographer and dedicated beer drinker, I felt that it had a lot to offer. Obviously some of the photo opportunities would have been more accessible in the spring (or without the mountains of snow New England has this winter) but even with that we were able to take advantage and enjoyed walking around. Downtown offers some interesting shops and plenty of pubs in which to take a break and relax. The local beer scene was pretty solid. Perhaps even surprisingly solid given the size of the town. It is definitely on the list of places we would go back to in warmer weather at which time I would really want to explore more of the parks and cemeteries, and try to hit some of the breweries in the surrounding area, like Stoneface and Throwback.