Distelhäuser Brauerei – Kellerbier

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

Beer Name: Kellerbier

Brewery: Distelhäuser Brauerei (Tauber Franconia, Germany)

Style: Kellerbier

ABV: 5.1%

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lawson’s Finest Liquids – Super Session #2

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I had been eager to get my hands on some Lawson’s since they started showing up at local bottle shops earlier in the year.  Even though it tends to move quickly, I’ve had a few opportunities to pick some up over the last couple of months that I was just never quite able to take advantage of  The funny thing then about this six-pack is that I almost walked right by it without noticing.

 

Beer Name: Super Session #2

Brewery: Lawson’s Finest Liquids (Warren, VT / Stratford, CT)

Style: Session IPA

ABV: 4.8%

Description: Per the description on the can, this version of the session IPA was brewed with “copious” amounts of amarillo hops and features a “full” malt flavor.  The Vermont-based brewers made this batch at the Two Roads Brewing Company’s facility in Connecticut and canned it on 04/06/2017 (I prepared this when they were about a month old).  The six-pack of 12 oz. cans cost me $13 at my go-to spot downtown, which I was pretty happy with considering I was expecting these to carry more of a premium price tag.

Appearance: Poured a nice golden-yellow with bubbly white foam up top and visible carbonation running up the glass.  The body was cloudy but still able to be seen through.

Smell: Sweet, zesty citrus with pine in background.

Taste: Piney with citrus sweetness upfront.  From there it turned to dry, crackery malts, bitter grapefruit, and lemon zest.  Very clean and crisp with a nice balance between hops and malts.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with a sticky, dry feeling to it.  Moderate carbonation.

Hype: Definitely elevated.  While this may not be particularly limited release, Lawson’s is still one of those popular Vermont breweries people tend to get excited about.

Overall: An excellent session beer that lived up to its reputation.  Drinking this made we want to be outside on a warm spring/summer day, which is probably about as high an indication of success as you can get for the style.  I’ll definitely be picking this up again when I see it, especially as we’re getting into the warmer months.

Book Review: The Alloy of Law, by Brandon Sanderson (Book Four of the Mistborn Series)

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As I mentioned at the end of my review for The Hero of Ages a few weeks ago, there is still plenty more Mistborn ahead of me.  Published in 2011, this novel marks the beginning of a new four book cycle set in the same universe.  Having loved the other books so much, I was eager to jump into this new set.  On a side note, my editor (and loving wife) is taking a pass on these reviews since she plans on reading this series in the near future.  Writing doesn’t really come easily to me, something that motivated me to start this blog, but I am determined to push these through on my own.  Please bear with me if my reviews are a bit disorganized the next few weeks.

The Alloy of Law is set roughly 300 years after the conclusion of the original trilogy.  In that time, our old friends have passed on into history and legend while technology on Scadrial has advanced to be roughly equivalent to the United States in the late 1800s.  Most of the action takes place in the city of Elendel, a fertile metropolis created by Harmony as a gift to humanity following Ruin’s defeat.  The main character Waxillium “Wax” Ladrian is a descendant of Breeze Ladrian and Allrianne Cett and is what is known as a Twinborn – meaning he has the ability to access one metal each in both Allomancy and Feruchemy.  Uncomfortable with life among the nobility, Wax many years prior to this story left the city behind to serve as a lawman out in the Roughs, the term given to a scattering of loosely organized settlements prone to violence and lawlessness.  After his lover and partner Lessie is killed in action, a shaken Wax returns home to Elendel to assume his role as family heir and put his adventuring days behind him.  However, when his former associate Wayne shows up asking about an ambitious gang of thieves operating in the area, Wax finds that old habits die hard and the two begin a preliminary investigation into the band’s increasingly audacious and inexplicable heists.  Things come to a breaking point when Wax’s arranged fiance Steris is kidnapped during a robbery, prompting him and Wayne to take on the case in earnest.  Teaming up with them is Marasi, Steris’ sister and an aspiring detective who spent her university years fascinated by tales of her newfound partners.  While in pursuit of the kidnappers, it soon becomes apparent that they may be on the trail of a much more menacing conspiracy as larger forces appear to be taking an interest in their actions.

Despite some initial hesitation in picking up this book, I am happy to say that round two of the Mistborn series is off to a strong start.  I had been skeptical about how the universe would play out in a more modern society, but these concerns were quickly erased as I got into the story.  It was interesting to see both the legacy of the original characters and how the author evolved and updated the magic system.  I also liked how well he blended the fantasy elements of the original series here with a detective story, a western, and even a little bit of steampunk.  These aspects combined to move the story forward at a fast pace that made it very hard to put down the book.  The shadowy Set organization is shaping up to be an interesting adversary and I am curious to see how this part of the story develops.  I was also intrigued by the prominence given to the worship of Trell, the main deity in a warrior religion Sazed presented to Vin in one of the earlier novels.  What had previously seemed rather inconsequential, now looks likely to have some major significance going forward.  As for the characters, they were all strong, and I particularly liked the rapport that developed between Wax, Wayne, and Marasi.  The comedic relief offered by Wayne’s antics were a nice touch that really gave this book its own distinct feeling compared to the others and Wax’s tendency of storing his metals in vials of whiskey was a nice touch as well.  My wife I’m sure, would be a fan of the budding love-triangle.  I don’t have anything to offer by way of criticism this time around, I’m just eager for the next book!

Flying Dreams Brewing Company – Double Bock

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On the way home from a day trip last weekend, the family made a much needed dinner stop in Worcester, MA.  Immediately adjacent to the Clark University campus (incidentally where my wife and I met) is Peppercorn’s, a seemingly unassuming restaurant that just so happens to be attached to a small brewing facility.  The space had been occupied by Wormtown Brewing Company during our last visit, but this time around it was home to relative newcomer Flying Dreams Brewing Company (est. 11/2015).

Beer Name: Double Bock

Brewery: Flying Dreams Brewing Company (Worcester, MA)

Style: Dopplebock

ABV: 9.0%

Description: Part of the brewery’s Flight of the Lager series, they brewed this rich and hearty to satisfy everyone’s inner Germanic monk.  You can read a bit more about both beer and brewery here.

Appearance: Deep, dark brown body with reddish highlights.  No head provided aside from a bit of off-white/tannish lacing on the edges.

Smell: Faint malty sweetness.

Taste: Sweetness upfront in the form of dark fruit, a touch of caramel, and rich, dark malts.  Slight hints of yeast and toasted malt on the finish before a nice, sweet heat took over at the very end.

Mouthfeel: Creamy, medium-plus body with low carbonation.

Hype: I felt a bit nostalgic to be back in that part of Worcester again, especially with our little man, but otherwise I was not sure what to expect having never heard of the brewery until we arrived at the restaurant.  As always, I was at least happy for the chance to try out something new.

Overall: I liked this, but I thought it could be improved slightly if the various flavors blended together just a little bit more.  Not a bad first impression though, I wouldn’t mind trying out more from this brewery if given the chance.

My lingering thoughts here are about the restaurant itself, which had a pretty solid taplist beyond the stuff brewed by its neighbors.  Even though this was back in the early 2000s, I can’t help but wonder what the beer situation was like while I was attending university next door.  I know I didn’t have the mindset or the money to have appreciated it at the time, I can’t help but be curious.

Book Review: The Stars Are Legion, by Kameron Hurley

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I had heard a lot of great things about this book and the author in the buildup to its February 2017 release date.  As a stand-alone novel, something of a rarity for me to find these days, I was able to squeeze it in for a bit of variety amongst the two series I am currently juggling.

Since a large part of the book’s plot involves keeping both the characters and the reader in the dark, I am going to be purposefully brief here.  The novel takes place within a cluster of living worldships, called the Legion, populated entirely by women.  These worlds, once majestic, self-contained host organisms are now diseased and dying shells of their former glory, prompting desperate battles over resources and scavenger rights.  The story unfolds through the perspective of two characters inhabiting one of the more powerful worlds.  We meet the first of these characters, Zan, as she wakes up in a hospital room.  She is the sole survivor of an attack on another worldship and has lost all memory of her past; an event made even more troubling with the revelation that this is not her first time in this situation.  Among those attending her is Jayd, the other main character, who tells Zan she is her sister.  It is apparent, however, that this may not be true in the literal sense as Zan can’t shake the feeling that something is very wrong with her surroundings and that she has a past with Jayd far deeper than what she is being told.  What follows is her struggle to make sense of her surroundings and cope with her loss of identify.

This was an intense and occasionally uncomfortable read.  For most of the book the backgrounds and motivations of the characters are an enigma.  We have one side Zan, who is haunted by things she cannot remember and on the other Jayd, who is so traumatized and guilt-ridden by the past that she can barely recount it to herself, nevermind to Zan or the reader.  Between Zan’s struggle to reconcile her current self with a past she may despise and Jayd’s numb determination to see through her plan at all costs, both characters struggle mightily for reasons that are hinted at but largely unknown for most of the story.  This not knowing makes watching the two characters make a continuous series of brutal decisions and discoveries that much more difficult and imparts a sense of foreboding over the entire novel.  Compounding this feeling was the eerie and bizarrely alien world these they inhabit.  There are constant reminders that their home is itself a creature that lives, bleeds, and makes use (through thankfully unspecified means) of its entirely female population to birth replacements parts and organs.  A lot of the other background objects were organic as well, which I found just a bit creepy – in particular the tables made from human skin and a shuttle that purrs with contentment and stares at Zan with huge eyes while she repairs its broken fuel tube.

Despite all its strangeness and the occasional brutally graphic scene, I really enjoyed this book.  In fact, it is probably one of the best new novels I have read since I started this blog.  There was a part early on (at the recyclers) where I did almost put the book down, but decided I liked everything else enough to keep on going.  I am certainly happy I did as I was rewarded with an excellent story that for all its distressing, strange, and depressing moments managed to have a stubborn sense of determination and guarded optimism as well.  The slow reveal of what was going on played out nicely, though I think it was Zan’s journey through the ship in middle of the story that stole the show for me.  It was really interesting to travel among the less privileged people living in the lower levels, a trip that often reminded me of Dante’s Inferno.  This book definitely got me interested in reading more from this author, so don’t be surprised if you see more of her works turn up here sooner or later.

Central Waters Brewing Company – Bourbon Barrel Scotch Ale (2016)

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This beer was actually the last bottle standing from the haul my wife got me for Christmas.  I kept meaning to drink it, but a steady flow of stouts and new IPAs kept jumping ahead of it in line.  With those finished off, it was finally time for this beer to get its chance.

Beer Name: Bourbon Barrel Scotch Ale

Brewery: Central Waters Brewing Company (Amherst, WI)

Style: Scotch Ale

ABV: 11.0%

Description: Another entry in Central Waters’ Brewer’s Reserve Series, they have this listed as a rich, malty brew made to showcase their barreling process.  Not sure how frequently this is released, but my bottle was a holdover from the 2016 batch.

Appearance: Dark caramel brown body.  There was a thin tan head that formed with the pour and quickly faded away.

Smell: Slightly sweet with a rush of bourbon on the end.

Taste: Sweet and malty upfront with dark fruits and maybe a bit of caramel.  Big bourbon finish with smooth oak notes and slightly sweet kick of bourbon that lingers after the sip.  Smooth, malty, sweet bourbon goodness.

Mouthfeel: Medium thickness with a minimal touch of carbonation around the edges.  Creamy and smooth.

Hype: There were a lot of personal expectations going into this one.  I really enjoyed my last beer from this brewery and scotch ales are a style that always intrigues me.  This beer had the added pressure of being a recommended purchase as well.

Overall: Wow!  This may very well be the scotch ale I’ve been searching for.  It was pretty much spot on for what I wanted from the style: smooth malts, nice sweetness, and no smoke or roast.  The bourbon barrel influence was a pretty big plus as well.  Excellent beer, I’ll be back for more of this whenever I find it next.

On a side note, the beer store that gave my wife the recommendations did an outstanding job last holiday season.   I found four out of the five beers she picked up to be in the range of very good to excellent, so I wanted to give a hearty cheers to the Craft Beer Cellar in Belmont, MA.  We used to live a few blocks away from this store and I recall being particularly excited when it opened up a few years ago.  Although we’ve since moved out of the area, service like this is why we go back when we’re in the neighborhood.

Nemesis Games, by James S.A. Corey (Book Five in the Expanse Series)

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Onward I press with book five in the Expanse series.  I had my issues with the last book, but I am invested at this point and have gone too far to stop now.

Three years have passed since James Holden and crew embarked on their diplomatic mission beyond the Ring and the battered Rocinante has finally limped home to Tycho Station.  While the ship undergoes major repairs the idle crew finds that their previous lives are beginning to catch up with them.  One by one they split off to face their checkered pasts; Alex to Mars to apologize to his ex-wife, Amos to Earth to mourn (and possibly avenge) the death of his surrogate mother, and Naomi to Ceres after learning someone from her estranged family is in danger.  Separated from his crew for the first time in many years, Holden busies himself overseeing repairs until he is approached by the reporter he transported during the events of Abaddon’s Gate.  She presents him with evidence of Ring-bound ships disappearing under mysterious circumstances and asks for help gathering information, much the dismay of his OPA host.  As the investigation suggests rogue elements within the now respectable OPA government, a series of major coordinated terrorist attacks cripple Earth, topple the Martian government, and jeopardize the future of settlements beyond the solar system.  As the destruction unfolds through the eyes of the scattered Rocinante crew, a new power emerges to challenge the existing political order.

This series confuses me.  After having mixed feelings about two or three of the previous books, I really liked this one.  The story was fast paced, gripping, and brought on another intriguing shakeup to the existing order in this universe.  That said, I am a bit worried that this book veered too far from the protomolecule story arc, but hopefully the next one can start tying some of these plot lines together.  Character-wise this book was solid, perhaps for the first time in the series thus far.  With each crew member getting their own POV chapters, it was nice to finally have a more personal view of them and learn about their lives before they ended up as a group.  I even liked Holden this time around, though apart from his detective duties (a role the authors have written well in this series), he wasn’t a major focus.  What excited me most about this book was the possibility of the Rocinante taking on two familiar faces as new crew members and one character’s realization that the fate of humanity now rests largely on Avarasala’s diplomatic skills.  These two developments give me cautious optimism for the next installment, though I do hope more time is spent on bringing the story together than drastically changing it again.

Night Shift and The North – North by Northeast

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Even though the weather suggests my unofficial stout season is at end, I won’t let that stop me from seeking out one of my favorite styles.  I caught this on draft while visiting Night Shift last week and had to give it a try.

Beer Name: North by Northeast

Brewery: Night Shift Brewing Company (Everett, MA) and The North Brewery (Endicott, NY)

Style: Stout

ABV: 5.5%

Description: Since the brewery was kind enough to offer a description I will share that.  They have it listed as a stout brewed with chocolate, salt, and raspberries.  Brewed in collaboration with New York state’s The North Brewery, whom I have admittedly not heard of before.  My 16 oz. pour cost me $6 at the brewery.

Appearance: Deep, dark brown body with a foamy light tan head.

Smell: Notes of light, roasty cocoa.

Taste: Slightly sweet bitter chocolate upfront, followed by roasted malt and a touch of caramel sweetness and salt.  There was also a mildly sweet and tart raspberry presence that drifted on the periphery of the beer when first poured.  After sitting for a bit, the beer settled into a combination of raspberries and roast, with the other elements occasionally sneaking in on the finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with a light carbonation level.

Hype: I’m always partial to trying out new stouts, but I think that’s about the extent of the hype on this one.

Overall: I’m generally not a huge fan of roastiness in my beers, but something about this one was really enjoyable.  The addition of raspberry and salt really worked out well here, cutting into the roast a bit and giving the beer an intriguing flavor profile.  Nice brew and a successful collaboration.

Night Shift Brewing Company – Rickey Weiss

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If you’ve never had a raspberry-lime rickey, you sure are missing out.  A mixture of club soda, lime, and raspberry (in varying degrees of fresh fruit and syrup), it is one of the most refreshing warm weather drinks out there.  It’s also an excellent candidate for becoming an adult beverage.  One of our summertime traditions at work is to get rickies to go from the diner downstairs and mix in vodka back at the office.  Knowing how tasty that is, I was curious to see how the drink would translate into a beer.

Beer Name: Rickey Weiss

Brewery: Night Shift Brewing Company (Everett, MA)

Style: Sour Ale

ABV: 4.7%

Description: Per the notes available at the brewery, this is a mixed fermentation sour ale aged with raspberries and limes.  Not available on draft, they were offering bottle pours at $6 for 12 oz.

Appearance: A bold reddish pink body with a fizzly white/pink layer of foam across the top.

Smell: Light hints of tart fruit and a little bit of funk.

Taste: Started out with a burst of tart lime before the raspberries came on and sweetened things up a little bit.  The finish was tangy and mixed in a subtle sweetness and just a little bit of funk.  Overall though, I would say that lime was the primary flavor in this one.  Very light and refreshing.

Mouthfeel: Light and bubbly, this felt very similar to the drink that inspired it.  A tingling of bubbles on the end mostly negated the syrupy feeling I tend to get from this style of beer.

Hype: I really wanted to try this out from the moment I saw it released last month.  Tons of potential here as the Night Shift weiss series tends to be very well done.

Overall: I liked this and think the brewers did an excellent job capturing the essence of a raspberry-lime rickey.  Since I got to try it on particularly warm day I really appreciated how light and refreshing it was.  That said I don’t think it really compares to our work concoction, though it is admittedly hard to compete with that on account of the fresh fruit and ice.  Definitely would recommend breaking this out on a warm day though.

Book Review: The Hero of Ages, by Brandon Sanderson (Book Three of the Mistborn Series)

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Here we are with the final entry in the original Mistborn trilogy.  It has been an excellent journey so far and I couldn’t wait to find out how the story ended.  As usual there are no spoilers for this particular book, but since this is the end of the series I highly recommend skipping this until you have read the first two books.

Another year has passed and all is not well on Scadrial.  Ruin, the malevolent force released at the end of the previous book, has been growing in power and is on the verge of fulfilling its desire to destroy the world.  Koloss led by Steel Inquisitors are marauding through the countryside, ashfall and earthquakes are occurring with alarming frequency, and the mists have begun appearing earlier and earlier and have begun to seemingly strike down people at random.  The only hope for our heroes appear to lay within the Lord Ruler’s hidden storage caches they discovered to exist at the end of the last book.  Desperate for the vital supplies and cryptic clues about fighting Ruin, Elend and Vin are struggling to secure the final two caches which lay in unfriendly hands.  With time running out Elend splits what remains of his forces between the two sites.  While Breeze, Sazed, and Spook travel to the city of Urteau to parlay with an erratic Skaa populist that has risen to power, Elend and Vin lead their army towards the heavily fortified city of Fadrex to secure the final store by any means necessary.

I liked this book a lot and definitely felt it provided a worthy end to the story.  Full of surprises and suspense, it also gave satisfying answers about the origins of the mists and what caused the drastic changes to the world.  I won’t give away the ending, but what I do want to say about it is: Wow, I did not see that coming!  For the book as a whole, the author did a great job in setting a tense, urgent mood, and I particularly liked the mysteries surrounding the storage caches.  I was often reminded of my favorite parts of Heretics of Dune, in particular the chapter in which Odrade uncovers the ruins of Sietch Tabr and the God Emperor’s message.

I also enjoyed that the story again explored a larger portion of this world.  It gave the book an even more epic scope than the others while allowing characters like Spook, TenSoon, and Sazed more page time as well.  There were again a few slow spots, this time on account of an unnecessary amount of time spent rehashing established information every few chapters or so.  My eagerness to read on gave me the momentum to speed through these parts, but what really bothered me was that this took away time I could have been getting more new story.  Don’t get me wrong, I thought this book was great.  I just wanted to get as much of it as possible in the pages provided!

Luckily for me there is indeed plenty of more story out there.  There are a couple of novellas associated with this trilogy and a follow-up series set a few hundred years after these events.  Further, as if all that wasn’t enough, I found out all of those works are part of an even larger collection of the author’s works known as the Cosmere, a shared universe in which some of his various other series take place (and eventually overlap).  Pretty safe to say my reading list is now well stocked for the immediate future.