The Lookout Farm Taproom

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Last weekend our quest for family fun brought us to Lookout Farm, located just about an hour southwest of BeerRantsandBooks HQ in South Natick, MA.  This trip did not disappoint; the spacious farm was beautiful to behold and with two play areas and a train to transport visitors around the premises there was plenty to keep our toddler well entertained.  That alone would have made for a pretty good day, but the farm also had another treat in store for us: a taproom serving food and a variety of farm brewed beer and cider. Talk about something for everyone!

I decided to go with a beer flight to (responsibly) get as much of a sense of what they had to offer as possible.  Going in the order of right to left, the sampler offered a nice mix of styles and flavors, starting with Super Yellow Pilsner.  Checking in at 5.6% it had a nice clean, light taste and was rather refreshing after a day out in the sun.  Up next was Natick Nectar, a smooth, funky, and slightly sweet 4.7% witbier brewed with peaches.  Not sure the funk quite fit, but it wasn’t bad either and had a nice fruitiness.  Beer number three was a 6.4% hoppy red ale named Big Red Barn Ale.  I consider myself an aficionado of this style and was quite pleased by this offering.  Its sweet caramel malt base and fresh, hazy resinous hop presence hit all the right boxes for me.  Closing things out was Harvest Day, a 6.7% IPA featuring a grassy/piney hop bitterness atop a slightly sweet light malt base.  The glass behind the flight contains their Hop Up cider, which got an enthusiastic thumbs up from my wife.  

Although I am going to limit my reviews here to the beer, I do want to put in a quick plug for the food  The fried Brussels sprouts and french fries we had were both fantastic, and they served up a pretty good pretzel and cheese and sausage plate as well.  Also of note, food allergies are a concern in my family and the bartender serving us was very helpful and accommodating in helping us make our decisions.

All in all we had a great time here and will definitely be coming back during the months ahead.  There were a couple of brews on tap that I did not get a chance to try this, a stout and a triple, so for sure I’ll be checking those out if they’re still around next time.

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Trillium Brewing Company – Keytar Bear

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For those of you not from the Boston area, Keytar Bear is a beloved local street performer who appears at subway stops and other hotspots throughout the city dressed in a bear costume and playing a funky keytar.  He’s unable to perform this summer after getting injured in a motorcycle accident, so Trillium is donating some of the proceeds of this beer to his recovery effort.

Beer Name: Keytar Bear

Brewery: Trillium Brewing Company (Boston, MA/Canton, MA)

Style: New England Double IPA

ABV: 8.8%

Description: This release was originally planned to coincide with Keytar Bear playing a gig at Trillium’s beer garden, but the brewery moved up their brewing schedule to help out the injured performer.  You can find the full specs of the beer here, but to summarize it is a double IPA brewed with wildflower honey, lactose, and vanilla beans and hopped with Citra and Galaxy.  Cost is $22.20 for a four pack or $5.05 a can if you want to buy singles.

Appearance: It had murky and nearly glowing yellow/light orange body topped by a thick foam that steadily bubbled away to lacing.

Smell: A combination of vanilla, cream, and hazy tropical hops.

Taste: Started out with orange and tangerine sweetness coupled with a fruity/floral bitterness.  Honey and heavy cream came in shortly thereafter with vanilla popping up just before the finish.  Tropical fruits reasserted themselves on the end and brought the beer into a sweeter finish that packed a bit of heat in the form of alcohol and raw hops.

Mouthfeel: Thick, creamy body with a bit less than moderate level of carbonation.

Hype: High.  I thankfully didn’t have to wait in line for this (my guess based on the one case purchase limit is that they brewed a lot), but the brewery was a bit busier than I usually see it on a weekday afternoon.  Local media also picked up on this release, so there are a whole bunch of news articles out about it as well.

Overall: This was a really interesting brew that offered a wide range of flavor.  On the whole I really enjoyed this, but there were a few sips where I thought that either the vanilla came in too strong or the ending was just a bit too hot going down.  I may sit on my other can a week or two to see if any changes develop. Definitely worth checking out though.

Founder’s Brewing Company – Dankwood

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Having a fondness for both red IPAs and brews aged in Bourbon barrels, how could I not try this?

Beer Name: Dankwood

Brewery: Founder’s Brewing Company (Grand Rapids, MI)

Style: Red IPA aged in Bourbon Barrels

ABV: 12.2%

Description: Called “the perfect alchemy of wood and hops,” the brewers took a big red IPA and aged it in bourbon Barrels.

Appearance: Medium brown/dark caramel colored body topped with a thick off-white foam.

Smell: Sweet caramel malts upfront backed up by bourbon barrels.

Taste: Started out sweet with notes of caramel malt and toffee before a dank, resinous bitterness set in right around mid-sip.  A heavy barrel influence set in shortly thereafter which carried the beer into a big pine and bourbon finish. Came with a bit of heat after settling into the glass for a bit.

Mouthfeel: Smooth medium-plus body with a roughly moderate level of carbonation.

Hype: It earned a social media shout-out from a few of my local shops, but I don’t get the sense that there’s a huge demand on this.  I was excited though.

Overall: Tasty, but strong!  A delicious brew but definitely one you want to make sure you are ready for.  Tasted like a very good high ABV red IPA to start and then about halfway through those bourbon barrels hit and the beer took off to a whole other level.  Check this one out!

Book Review: Persepolis Rising, by James S.A. Corey (Book Seven in the Expanse Series)

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It’s been a little while since I last checked in on the Expanse universe, but here we go with book number seven, published in December 2017.  Any long time readers of the blog out there may recall that I’ve had a rather up and down relationship with this series, going so far as to declare that this book was going to make or break me sticking with it.

The action picks up about 30 years after the end book six, Babylon’s Ashes.  The forces of Earth and Mars have united and are gradually recovering their strength following their destructive war with the Free Navy.  Colonization through the ring gates has continued at a rapid pace and outposts of humanity are now scattered across hundreds of worlds held together by the Transportation Union that grew out of the Belt factions that opposed Marco Inaros.  The relative peace and prosperity of this new era is shattered, however, when Medina Station receives a message from the Laconia colony announcing an imminent return of the Martian forces that went into a self-imposed exile from the Solar System several decades earlier.

I’ll admit I went into this book with fairly low expectations but must say that I ended up being quite pleased with it.  Previously I had lamented the disappearance of both the protomolecule and renegade Martian fleet from the forefront of the story, but it seems like the plot has finally switched focus back to these arcs.  The book moved along a quick pace and I actually enjoyed spending time with Rocinante crew again.  I found it particularly satisfying to watch them navigate a new group dynamic that emerges and I similarly found their time spent as resistance fighters on Medina rather exciting as well.  On a larger scale, I thought the quick progression of the Laconian conquest was just a little too neat and tidy, making me to think that is how it will be wrapped up as well, but for now I am just going to be content that my interest in the series has been renewed.  The story did a really good job minimizing the things I’ve found most annoying about the series, namely how the universe tends to get held captive by James Holden’s poor decisions, while offering up plenty of what it does best by bringing the conspiracy and protomolecule storylines back to the main stage.  Also to that last point, I don’t think I’ve yet given this series credit for some of the other things it has done well throughout its run. There is an excellent diversity of characters portrayed, indeed people of all shapes, sizes, races, and orientations are well represented in this future, and it addresses certain logistics of traveling, communicating, and fighting in space in ways many other books of this genre tend to gloss over.  Beyond all that, several of the characters have wonderfully cynical outlooks, best represented here by what is one of my favorite quotes so far this year:

It’d be a better world if there was always at least one right answer instead of a basket of fucked. Chrisjen Avasarala (of course).

I’m a bit wary of saying this, but I am now officially on board with finishing the series.  With only two books left to go (one coming out at the end of this year and the finale planned for 2019), I figure I am now in too deep to stop now, especially since this book got me legitimately interested again.

Toppling Goliath Brewery – Pseudo Sue

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I happen to live in an area that sees some pretty good beer distribution, with new things coming in fairly regularly these days.  One of the latest brands to arrive here is Toppling Goliath, a popular brewery based out of Decorah, Iowa. Their wares first hit the shelves here with a decent amount of fanfare a few months ago so I waited a little bit before trying to pick any to avoid the rush.

Beer Name: Pseudo Sue

Brewery: Toppling Goliath Brewery (Decorah, IA)

Style: Pale Ale

ABV: 6.8%

Description: A pale ale hopped exclusively with Citra.  Said to feature ferocious hop aromas and a well-balanced body.  It draws its name from Sue, a T-Rex fossil that resides at the Field Museum in Chicago, IL.  Apparently this was the source of some tension at first, bit happily the two sides were able to come together.

Appearance: Poured a cloudy, light orange/amber body topped by a fluffy and slightly off-white head.

Smell:  Mostly tropical fruits to start, followed by a sweet grapefruit and pine bitterness on end.

Taste: Citrus and mango upfront followed by grapefruit and pine bitterness atop a bready/crackery pale malt base.  Smooth and balanced progression of flavors.

Mouthfeel: Fluffy medium body with a moderate amount of carbonation.

Hype: Elevated.  There was a lot of demand for this beer when it first hit the shelves, understandably so it has very high reviews on the popular beer rating sites.

Overall: Very tasty, but from my perspective I think a lot of the excitement about this came from it being new to the market.  I definitely understand why the beer has earned such a solid reputation, but with so many other excellent examples of this style already available in my area, I don’t really feel like I’ve missed out by not having had this before.

Lamplighter Brewing Company – The Upsidedown

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As soon as I saw the name and can art I knew this beer was a must buy for me.  My wife and I are huge fans of Stranger Things and I couldn’t resist trying out a beer that pays homage to this amazing series.

Beer Name: The Upsidedown

Brewery: Lamplighter Brewing Company (Cambridge, MA)

Style: Dark Saison

ABV: 7.8%

Description: Reading from the can, this dark saison was brewed with caramel malts and rye  and fermented with a Belgian farmhouse yeast. Recommended food pairing is waffles, preferably Eggos I would assume.

Appearance: Deep cola brown body topped by a fizzly off-white head.

Smell: Dark fruit sweetness mixed with a subtle hit of that distinct farmhouse yeast.

Taste: Very subdued overall, this started out with hints of dark fruit and toffee sweetness, followed by notes of creamy yeast and wheat.  The finish was earthy and featured subtly toasted malts mixed with a bit of pepper and spice.  A slight bit of heat towards the end of the glass.

Mouthfeel: Light body that felt slightly creamy on account of its low-level of carbonation.

Hype: I didn’t know anything about this going in.  I just jumped at the cool name.

Overall: Unfortunately I found the name and can art a bit more exciting than the beer itself.  It seemed a bit stuck between trying to be both a saison and a brown ale without really finding a way to stand out as either.  Super mellow throughout, but what stuck with me the most for me were the toasted malts and earthiness on the finish which just wasn’t quite my thing.  No regrets in trying this though.

Book Blogger Inside Look Tag

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Keeping things going with another fun book tag I came across while looking for things to write about.  This one gives you a peek at some of the inner workings of how things get done here over here at BeerRantsandBooks.  I don’t really like playing the tagging game, so I again offer my apologies if not doing so is some sort of no-no around here.  No disrespect is intended to the tag’s creators.

Where do you typically write your blog posts?

Wherever I can.  Usually that means my couch or dining room table, though I often write in bed, at work during lunch, and on the subway as well.  I’m currently sitting on my back deck and writing which is a trend I’d like to continue in the coming months.

How long does it generally take you to write a book review?

Depends on the book, how much I want to say, and how busy I am with work and childcare.  Anywhere from a few days to a few weeks though I’ve had some linger on for longer.

When did you start your book blog?

I started my blog back in November 2014, though it wasn’t until December 8th of that year that I got my first book review up.

What is the worst thing about having a book blog in your opinion?

Accepting my limitations as a writer/reviewer.  Despite being an otherwise fairly intelligent and capable individual, writing, even informally, has always been a bit of a process for me.  I often have difficulty pulling all the ideas out of my head and then getting them organized on a page. I like to think that I’ve improved over the years of plugging away here, but I’m still not as efficient at it as I would like to be.

What is the best thing about having a book blog in your opinion?

Going back to the previous question, I like having a book blog because it pushes me to write more.  This has on occasion been a source of frustration, but in the end I find it worthwhile as it gives me a creative outlet through which to voice my thoughts while at the same time encouraging me to constantly seek out new reading material.

What blog post have you had the most fun writing so far?

Lately I’ve been having a lot of fun searching out and writing book tags as it gives my blog more a personal touch that it hasn’t really had until recently.  Beyond that, I’ve really enjoyed my beer reviews that include mini photo shoots. Anytime I’m able to combine a beverage with some kind of prop (usually an on-theme book or Star Wars Lego) I’m having fun.

My most rewarding post, however, is one I wrote back in November 2015 about going through my old baseball cards.  Not only did looking at them bring back a ton of childhood memories, but the post ended up getting linked to on Major League Baseball’s Around the Horn blog.  That is without a doubt my proudest moment as a blogger and it always makes me happy when I see it get hits.

What is your favourite type of blog post to write?

I’m not sure I really have a favorite since what I’m into posting so often depends more on my mood and what subject matter I have to work with.

When do you typically write?

Usually either in the morning on my subway ride into work or in the evening after I have gotten my son to bed.  Time has been at a premium for me lately so I try to get my writing in whenever and wherever I can.

Do you review every book you read?

For the most part.  There have been a few I’ve skipped for a variety of reasons, but on the whole I am very selective when picking up books and enjoy writing about my thoughts on them.

How do you write your book reviews? With a cup of coffee or tea? With Netflix? Cuddled with your fur baby?

This may sound crazy, but here goes.  I typically type up a draft on my phone whenever and wherever I can; on the subway, in bed, sitting on the couch, etc.  I then print that to (*gasp*) paper and make revisions in any and all of the locations listed previously. I do final draft either on my laptop or sitting at desk.  Thank you wireless printer and Google docs!

When do you write your book reviews? Right after finishing the book? Two weeks after finishing the book?

I usually start drafting my reviews within a day of finishing the book, but depending upon my schedule it can sometimes take a few weeks for me to finish.  I do always like to at least get my thoughts outlined while the book is still fresh in my head.

How often do you post?

I generally post 2-3 times per week.  Lately I started alternating weeks were I post Monday/ Wednesday/Friday and those where I post Tuesday/Thursday and I like how that has been going.  I’m jealous of the people I see with dedicated posting schedules and thematic days, but I know that I would never be able to keep up with that and just end up getting overwhelmed or stressed in try to.

Aeronaut Brewing Company & Finback Brewery – Improbability Drive

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Happy Towel Day!  To those that may not be aware, May 25 is Towel Day, a day set aside to celebrate the life and work of English author Douglas Adams, best known for writing The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  After somehow missing Star Wars day this year, I was determined not to miss this one as well.  I wasn’t sure at first how I would celebrate, but fortunately my favorite bottle shop was there to pick me up.

Beer Name: Improbability Drive

Brewery: Aeronaut Brewing Company (Somerville, MA) & Finback Brewery (Queens, NY)

Style: IPA

ABV: 5.8%

Description: An IPA brewed with lactose and infused with orange zest and vanilla bean.  It also features some pretty awesome can art paying tribute to the book, most notably a certain free-falling whale hoping to make friends with the ground.

Appearance: Poured a cloudy, straw-yellow body topped by a layer of thick white foam that stuck around for the duration of the beer and left lacing along the glass.

Smell: Orange juice, mixed with a slight bit of cream on the ending.

Taste: Orange juice upfront, followed by citrus zest and sweet cream with hints vanilla lurking in the background with a very mild grassy bitterness.   Think orange creamsicle with a touch of vanilla on the end.

Mouthfeel: It had a super creamy, medium-plus body with a slightly less than moderate carbonation.

Hype: Elevated somewhat since this was a collaboration effort between two popular breweries, but not to the point where this was too difficult to get my hands on at the store.  Personally, my excitement level was quite high, and that would have been the case with or without Towel Day being a factor.

Overall: What an interesting beer!  Definitely a bit out of the ordinary, but that seems appropriate given what it’s paying tribute to.  I liked this a lot and had fun drinking it while looking up some of my favorite quotes from the book.

Brewmaster Jack – The Little Brother

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I always welcome the chance to pick up something new from Brewmaster Jack.  Careful readers of the blog may be tempted to read deeper into the name of this beer, but I assure you, it’s just another brew.

Beer Name: The Little Brother

Brewery: Brewmaster Jack

Style: Double NEIPA

ABV: 8.5%

Description: Listed as the brewery’s biggest double IPA, this beer was brewed with “loads of Citra hops and just a hint of Simcoe.”

Appearance: Hazy golden orange body with a thin white head of foam.

Smell: Tropical fruits mixed with a touch of spicy pine resin on end.

Taste: Not entirely unlike hopped juice.  Light tropical fruit upfront blended smoothly into a hazy bitter finish that brought on tangy orange and grapefruit mixed with bitterness from a combination of piney, spicy, and earthy hops.

Mouthfeel: Fluffy, medium body with light carbonation.

Hype: None that I can attest to.  I found these cans hanging out with the rest of the store’s new arrivals, but I didn’t know these came in as well until I got there.

Overall: Fairly mellow and super smooth, I really enjoyed this one.  It packed a lot of flavor and was an excellent example of the style.

Book Review: Everfair, by Nisi Shawl

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This next book was written in 2016 by Nisi Shawl, an African-American writer whose literary focus centers upon science fiction and fantasy works that examine issues involving race, gender, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status.  Her first full length novel, what we have here is a steampunk inspired historical fiction about the Belgian Congo.

For anyone unfamiliar with this part of history, the real-life events that inspired this book occurred between 1885 and 1908 in a Central African colony called the Congo Free State.  Under the direct rule of Belgian King Leopold II, the colony was the scene of some of the worst atrocities of the day as the local population was brutally subjugated (even by contemporary standards) to maximize profits from the area’s abundant supply of natural rubber.  Reports of widespread killings and mutilation within the colony led to international outrage, forcing Leopold to ultimately turn control of the colony over to the Belgian Parliament in 1908. Spanning the years 1889 through 1919, Everfair looks at what might have happened if outside forces played an earlier and more direct role in opposing Leopold’s actions.  In this world, an alliance of wealthy Fabian Socialists from England and black Christian missionaries from the United States have joined forces to purchase territory in the Congo where they establish the nation of Everfair upon shared egalitarian principles.  The country’s position is tenuous, however, as war quickly breaks out with Leopold’s remaining forces and the new nation is pushed into an alliance with King Mwenda, a powerful local ruler intent on reclaiming his land from European invaders. Although their combined forces may have superior numbers and technology, the real test of Everfair’s endurance will be its ability to overcome internal divisions caused by the differing world views of its three main factions.

I found the premise and scale of this novel absolutely fascinating.  It offered an intriguing look at a particularly horrible part of history and did so in a manner that seamlessly fit Everfair into the real-world historical context.  I particularly liked how the author crossed the globe to look at how events in other countries affected decisions made in Everfair and how she incorporated other contemporary issues into the story, most notably the build-up to WWI and the spread of pandemic disease across trade routes.  Complementing this were a variety of steampunk elements and aesthetics that really enhanced the story in ways that felt quite natural.  Everything from the motorbikes and airships that gave Everfair an early military advantage to the mechanical prosthetics used by mutilated former slaves had a clear place and purpose in setting the tone of the book.  Finally, I found the theme of people with good intentions and common interests becoming divided when they don’t take the time to understand each other’s perspectives particularly interesting and relevant to today’s world.

Where I wish the story offered a bit more, however, was in how the reader was able to relate to its characters.  Given the expansive scope of the novel, I couldn’t help but feel that perhaps it was a bit too ambitious for a single 380 page book.  It often skipped months if not years between alternating POV chapters and at times I found it difficult to keep track of when and where the action was without skipping back to the chapter header.  Also, with so much jumping around I wasn’t sure at first which people to get most invested in and even when I did, it was hard to get too personally involved with them. While I really enjoyed the main arcs involving the relationship between Lisette Toutournier and her lover Daisy Albin and the politics of King Mwenda’s tensions with Everfair’s settlers, having spent such an irregular amount of time with these characters it was hard to get invested in their stories beyond just reading the facts of what happened at a particular snapshot in time.

Having said all that, I don’t want to end this review on a negative note since, criticisms aside, I enjoyed the book. I liked where the author was coming from with this story and thought she offered up some truly interesting and thought-provoking perspectives.  If anything, I wish I had more of an immersion into this world beyond the glimpses we were given.