Trillium Brewing Company – Stumpy Duck

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While it isn’t the Bird Series beer getting all the attention right now, this had the distinct advantage of being the one I could get without having to wait in a long line.  By no means a consolation prize, I was going to pick up some these regardless of what else the brewery had available last week.

Beer Name: Stumpy Duck

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

Style: Pale Wheat Ale

ABV: 5.6%

Description: Part of the brewery’s Small Bird Series, this seasonal wheat ale was generously hopped with Columbus, Centennial, and Citra.  More specs are available here on the company website.  Price was $13.20 for a four pack of tall boys.

Appearance: Super hazy orangish-yellow body with half a finger of fluffy white foam

Smell: Sticky sweet tropical fruit mixed with pine sap.

Taste: Juicy tropical fruits upfront blended into a mix of wheat and crackery light malts roughly mid-sip.  I want to say there was also perhaps a hint of yeast lurking underneath as well.  The finish was a moderately bitter mix of grapefruit and a combination of piney, floral, and earthy hops.  Slight bite of hops on the very end.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with just about moderate carbonation for the style.

Hype: Nothing out of the ordinary for this brewery.  The  beer is part of a well-regarded series, but there was a different release taking up all the excitement around the time I picked this up.

Overall: Great beer to sit out on the back deck with.  Although a bit stronger than your typical session brew, the slight dip in ABV is appreciated especially since this packs all flavor of the brewery’s larger offerings.  Don’t pass this, or any of the other Small Birds, up if you see them available.

Book Review: Babylon’s Ashes, by James S.A. Corey (Book Six in the Expanse)

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Here I am, all caught up on the Expanse.  From this point on I will be getting to the rest of the series at the mercy of publishing schedules and the speed with which my local library picks up the ebooks.

This book opens a few months out from the end of the previous novel.  Following its stunning attack on Earth, the Free Navy under the command Marcos Inaros is seeking to consolidate its power over the Belt and enforce its will on the movement of goods and people throughout the solar system and beyond.  The fanaticism of Marcos, however, is threatening to split the movement as not everyone within its leadership believes in either his heavy-handed tactics or his competence.  Meanwhile, having combined their remaining forces, Earth and Mars, in conjunction with Fred Johnson, are courting moderate OPA factions as they prepare for a major counter-strike against their common foe.  In the middle of all the action, of course, is James Holden, whose personal celebrity and past exploits, to say nothing of his private warship, uniquely position him as a central figure in the fight against the Free Navy.

I thought this book was pretty good in comparison to the last two, but at the same time I was hoping it was going to end up being something a bit more than what it was.  The Free Navy storyline is interesting enough, but it is also such a drastic departure from the first few books that it kind of feels like the authors are blowing things up just for the sake of doing so.  One of the things that really got me interested in these novels in the first place was the protomolecule storyline and the underlying threat of a mysterious alien menace.  Unfortunately, that arc has been conspicuously absent from the last two novels, ending rather abruptly in the final chapter of Nemesis Games.  Yes, there have been hints that there is more to come, but having this key aspect of the early story drop so suddenly has really affected the flow of the series for me.  Also notably absent are any Martian perspectives (I don’t count Bobbie since she is essentially Rocinante crew at this point).  Again, I get it that whatever the renegade Martian forces are up to will probably be a big part of the next books, I just feel like it’s a missed opportunity to have hardly any view of what’s going on inside Mars from either side.  In light of how many different people from the other factions get POV chapters this book, this feels like a pretty glaring omission.

This diversity of perspectives was probably my favorite part of the book.  It gave a great sense of scale to the action and allowed the reader a chance to check in on some familiar places and faces while showing the full impact of recent events.  On the other hand, this variety also served to highlight the thing I dislike most about the series; namely that despite a potentially engaging story and interesting locations, this vast universe isn’t populated by any characters I really care about.  I’m not going to rehash old criticisms of the main group, though at this point I’ve resigned myself to the fact that no one from the Rocinante crew is going to appeal to me.  Of the new comers who get the most page time, I just plain don’t like Marcos (which is intentional, though I do think he is a bit too one-dimensional as a villain) or Filip (whom I think was supposed to be sympathetic to some degree).  Michio Pa had potential, though unfortunately her scenes were too often focused on her polygamous marriage situation than the actual plot.

At this point I think a break from this series is exactly what I need to stay invested for the long haul.  I am still curious enough in the outcome to want to read the next book and give the rest of the series a chance, but after not loving the last few installments I would rather focus on reading other things that I am currently enjoying more.

Lamplighter Brewing Company – Sound & Vision (with Raspberries)

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

ABV: 5.7%

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.

Revolution Brewing Company – Straight Jacket

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I’ve had this beer hanging around for a couple of months now but could never quite find the right to time drink it.  No time like the present.

Beer Name: Straight Jacket

Brewery: Revolution Brewing Company (Chicago, IL)

Style: Barley Wine

ABV: 12.2%

Description: Another entry in the brewery’s Deep Wood series of barrel aged goodness, the description on their website promises waves of dark stone fruits, bourbon, molasses, toasted coconut, and vanilla.  If memory serves me correctly the bomber cost $18, same as the previous one.

Appearance: Coppery brown body with a quick to fade tan head that formed with the pour.

Smell: Caramel and toffee sweetness mixed with rich dark malt.

Taste: Sweet upfront, with lots of brown sugar, caramel, toffee, and dark fruit.  A hot kick of alcohol comes on towards the end, with lingering bourbon notes in the aftertaste.  Upon sitting for a few minutes the sweetness and heat both intensified and blended into each other, while more subtle notes of barrel influence came out on the finish.

Mouthfeel: Silky smooth and slightly slick medium-plus body.  Carbonation level was low.

Hype: Primarily of the personal variety.  I really liked the last beer I had from this series and picked this up hoping for a similar experience.

Overall: Deliciously sweet and bourbony, this was exactly what I was hoping for.  Despite the heat and high ABV, this one left me feeling very mellow and relaxed upon finishing it which was pretty nice as well.  I’ll be keeping an eye for more from this series for sure.

Book Review: The Bands of Mourning, by Brandon Sanderson (Book Six of the Mistborn Series)

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A dreadful realization came over me as I was finishing this book.  As I neared the end it suddenly hit me that I was going to have to wait for the next one to be published before I could get closure on the series.  According to the author’s current timeline, it looks like I am going to be left in suspense until at least 2018!

This story begins six months after the conclusion of the previous book.  Mere minutes before the scheduled start of his wedding ceremony, Wax is approached by a small group of kandra seeking his assistance.  Their agent ReLuur has returned home from an investigation crippled and missing one of his hemalurgic spikes, but also bearing evidence of an incredible discovery.  Included among his possessions is information that could lead to the long-lost Bands of Mourning, the deceased Lord Ruler’s Feruchemic bracers thought to contain a considerable remnant of his power.  Feeling betrayed by Harmony and offended by the timing of the request, Wax initially refuses to have any involvement in either the search for the missing spike or the artifacts.  He comes around, however, after finding out Marasi has agreed to help and that the Set organization is most likely involved as well.  The journey takes out heroes far outside the familiar confines of Elendel to the city of New Seran and frontier beyond, where many new threats and challenges await them in their quest.

I was a bit unsure about this book after the first couple of chapters.  With Wax still reeling from the events and revelations that ended the last book, this one opened on kind of a down note.  This, in combination with Wayne’s usually amusing antics only serving to make him look like a real dick, had me worried that the series was about to take its first stumble.  How wrong I was!  Once the story got going the book recovered quickly and I couldn’t put it down.  Both Wax and Wayne redeem themselves, and we get to see some very different sides of each by the time the book ends. I also liked that Steris emerged as a strong, relatable character.  It is now very clear that she makes an excellent partner for Wax and I’m looking forward to seeing where she goes from here.  For a final thought on the characters, it was a lot of fun to have MeLaan back.  Let’s just say she is an excellent companion for Wayne and, as a kandra, brings a unique perspective to most situations.

The highlight of this book, though, was its implications for the story going forward.  With each of these novels, the world of Scadrial keeps on getting bigger and by the end of this particular installment we very clearly get a sense of how much the world has changed since Ruin’s  defeat and of how little we’ve seen of the planet thus far.  My guess is that the final book  is likely to feature a lot of new people and places; all made accessible by some pretty cool new technologies that appear.  This change in scope, in combination with the spreading social unrest and political resistance to Elendel in the surrounding cities, brought a sense of epic adventure to the story, giving it a Raiders of the Lost Arc-like feeling.  Hanging over everything, though, there was once again a lot to think about in regard to Harmony; in particular the extent and limits of his powers, his role in shaping life on Scadrial, and what, if any, equivalent forces exist.

Speaking to that last point, this novel marks the first time in the series that we see the word “cosmere” in print, used somewhat interchangeably for “universe” by some of the characters.  I am getting really curious how deep we are now into that shared universe.  Although it did not interfere with my enjoyment of the book, there were a few places where I strongly suspected that certain people or events might be part of a larger picture I am not yet privy to.  Cautiously looking into this after reading the book confirmed that was indeed the case, though not necessarily where I thought.  Since I seem to have about a year to go until I can pick up the last installment of this series, my goal now is to fill up my reading list with some books that might help me fill in some gaps.  I get the impression that some of our old friends were quite busy in the space in between the two sets of books.

Pipeworks Brewing Company – Ninja vs. Unicorn

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I’m just going to come right out and say it.  I was feeling indecisive in the store and bought this based on the name and artwork alone.  I think I’d heard of it in passing at some point, but it was the branding that got me.  Come to think of it, this is the second time in recent months that a Chicago brewery has lured me in this way.

Beer Name: Ninja vs. Unicorn

Brewery: Pipeworks Brewing Company (Chicago, IL)

Style: DIPA

ABV: 8.0%

Description: There wasn’t much on the official site about this release, though a few other sources have this listed an unfiltered DIPA brewed with over 5 pounds of hops per barrel.  I don’t remember exactly, but I paid somewhere in the neighborhood of $12-13 for a 4-pack of 16 oz. cans.

Appearance: Cloudy, dark straw yellow body with a thin layer of white foam on top.

Smell: Sweet, mostly tropical, fruits with a touch of resinous pine sap in the background.

Taste: Keeping in line with the smell there was a lot of fruity sweetness upfront, mainly pineapple, tangerine, and mango.  It finished with a dry, crackery malt base joining forces with mix of earthy and piney hop bitterness.  The initial sweetness lingered on through to the finish as well, culminating in a slightly hot aftertaste that lessened in intensity as the beer went on.

Mouthfeel: Fluffy, medium-plus body with pretty much the typical moderate carbonation you would expect for the style.

Hype: I was excited for this one.  Pipeworks in upping their distribution in my area so I was curious to try them out.  I also really wanted this beer to live up to the awesomeness on the label.

Overall: Definitely a quality DIPA.  I wish the finish was just a bit more tame, otherwise this would have been a smash hit for me.  Still a great beer though.  If I ever need a ninja or unicorn themed brew (which all things considered is actually pretty likely for me) I’ll be picking this up again.

Book Review: Shadows of Self, by Brandon Sanderson (Book Five in the Mistborn Series)

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Moving on down my reading list, I am now up to the fifth overall book set in the Mistborn universe and the second from the Wax and Wayne cycle.  I’ve really gotten into this series over the past few months and am excited to continue my journey in this world.  Although my thoughts below contain one or two minor spoilers, they are pretty tame compared to some of the other reviews I came across after I had finished reading.

This book takes place about a year after Wax’s defeat of the Vanishers and discovery of the Set conspiracy.  In it we find Elendel a city teetering on the edge of crisis as mounting social unrest over food shortages and factory working conditions is threatening to boil over into widespread protests against the nobility-dominated government.  When the governor’s brother is found murdered in his mansion along with a host of prominent criminal leaders and lesser nobility, the authorities are desperate to solve the crime before a major scandal leads to chaos in the streets.  Wax and Wayne, in their capacity as special constables, join the investigation as the killer embarks on a campaign of terror throughout the city, intent on inciting an enraged populace against both the government and the nobility.  It’s not long, however, before Wax discovers that the killer is something much more dangerous, and deadly, than even the highly skilled Twinborn they initially suspect.  Fortunately some unexpected allies emerge that just might be enough to help restore order.

Another strong entry in the series, this book was packed full of action and intrigue.  The main arc involving the hunt for the killer was exhilarating, and I enjoyed how the author mixed in a touch of urban politics as an added dimension to the story.  I am curious to see how the social unrest plays out in the remaining books and the extent to which it will be leveraged by the Set, especially since Wax and his allies are mostly sympathetic to the complaints brought forth by the protesters.  Regarding some of the other developments, I was a bit skeptical at first about (minor spoiler) the return of the kandra, but their re-emergence was handled well and my worry that this book would feel repetitive of the Well of Ascension proved to be unfounded.  The major revelation at the end relating to Wax was pretty shocking and made me really think back on how the story has progressed thus far.  Likewise the scenes with Harmony left me wondering about not only past events, but also what the extent of his powers are and what his place within this universe really is.  I can’t help but wonder when and where the larger Cosmere will come into play within this series (and if it hasn’t already).    

As for the characters, the entire cast was once again excellent.  I am really enjoying this group and how they give the series its own distinct feeling from the originals.  I like Wax a lot as the protagonist and Wayne brings a sense of levity that wasn’t quite as pronounced among Vin’s associates.  For Marasi, it was nice to see her move up in the world and become a detective.  Her character needed a clear role going forward and this suits her skill set and sense of justice perfectly.  The interactions between this trio remained one of the highlights of the book and putting Marasi on more equal footing gives her character a solid reason for her continuing adventures with Wax and Wayne.

Upon finishing this book, I couldn’t wait to get started on the next one.  This story felt like a huge moment in the series, not only impacting the current characters but also giving them some additional context in relation to the original trilogy as well.  Between these connections and the huge surprise at the end, I am very excited to see where the story goes from here!

Uinta Brewing- Birthday Suit 23

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Although my wife does not drink beer, she will occasionally pick a few bottles for me.  Sometimes it’s for a gift, sometimes just to give me a nice surprise, and other times because, well, we don’t have time for me to get distracted in the beer section trying to decide on what to buy.  I’ll let you the reader decide which category this fell into.

Beer Name: Birthday Suit 23

Brewery: Uinta Brewing (Salt Lake City, UT)

Style: Sour Ale

ABV: 6.5%

Description: Brewed to commemorate the brewery’s 23rd anniversary, the bomber was dated 3/7/2016 and cost $12.49.  We got this at a random liquor store in New Hampshire a couple of months ago, so I guess this guy spent some time on the shelf.  Not particularly worried considering the style.  I couldn’t find much about this online, but the description on the bottle says the beer bares a lambic malt base and Belgian yeast character.  Raspberries intermingle adding sweet fruit aroma and au-naturale earthiness to this frisky, tart birthday ale.  

Appearance: Body was a nice golden amber color that had a slight pink tint when the light caught it just right.  Forming with the pour was a fizzy off-white head of light foam.

Smell: Sweet, tart raspberries intermingled with a hint of wild yeast.

Taste: Again, tart raspberry begins upfront and lingers right on through to the finish.  Along the way it was joined by a moderate amount of brett.  The finish was dry, with a slightly acidic, sweet aftertaste.  Not particularly notable at first, a hay-like funk slowly descends over the beer as it settles into the glass, most prominent towards the middle and finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium, syrupy body with lots of lively carbonation.

Hype: Expectations were elevated when I learned this was an anniversary brew.  I figure anyone that’s been in the game for 23 years is going to know what they’re doing and put out something good to mark the occasion.

Overall: One of the benefits of my having my wife pick out the beer is that, while she knows generally what I like, things that catch her eye are often things that I might walk right by.  She happens tfrom the raspberries and how the brett funk gradually fell over this, tucking in the fruitiness like a nice (hay) blanket.  I would recommend checking out this, or any of the subsequent anniversary releases, if you’re into this style.

Brewery Visit: Tap Brewing Company in Haverhill, MA

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Last weekend the family took a trip up to Haverhill, MA for an event at Winnekenni Castle.  On the way home we were in the mood for a snack and stopped off at the Tap Brewing Company’s restaurant/pub.

The pub is located in downtown Haverhill, an area with the look and feel of an old industrial center on the verge of blossoming into an up-and-coming neighborhood.  The facility itself is deceptively large, especially when entered from Washington Street where at first glance it seems to comprise entirely of a few small tables out front and a bar room immediately inside.  There is, however, plenty of additional seating out back on a large patio overlooking the Merrimack River and in another dining room downstairs where the brewing facilities are also located.

Upon taking our seats outside, I got to work deciding upon a flight.  There were about a dozen beers pouring that day in a variety of styles.  After mentally culling the list down to roughly half that number, I used the beer names to make my final choices.  First up was Invisible Creatures, a 4.7% pale ale.  It poured a cloudy yellow body and struck a nice balance between light bready malts and grapefruit bitterness.  Very mild and summery tasting.  Beer number two was called Skydog.  Listed as a 5.25% American dark lager, it had brownish, cola colored body and combined subtle sweetness with mild roasted malts.  Up next was another pale ale, this one named Home Run.  A bit bigger than the previous one at 5.6%, this was also my favorite of the two.  Pouring a nice amber color, it showcased that caramel malt/piney hop flavor profile I love so much.  Closing out the flight was Intergalactic Acid, a 3.0% Berliner weisse that was the star of the day.  Smelling vaguely sweet and floral, it packed a hugely satisfying fruity, tart, and slightly funky taste.

Based on this initial sampling I would have happily done another flight had we not been traveling with a baby.  Since we were, this is where I ended my day.  Definitely check this place out if you find yourself in the area.  In my sampling the beers ranged from good to great and we all really enjoyed sitting outside.

Blatant Brewery- Blatant IPA

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Time again for another work beer.  It is perhaps somewhat telling that three people in the office, completely independent of each other, remarked at how closely the beer cans resembled our Polar seltzer.

Beer Name: Blatant IPA

Brewery: Blatant Brewery (Bondsville, MA)

Style: IP

ABV: 6.5%

Description: Probably not a great sign that it was really hard to find out anything at all about either the beer or the brewery.  Their Twitter feed seems dormant and the website I can find listed for them is no longer in existence.  Nestled in between some pretty big boasts, the Untappd description for this beer tell us that it’s brewed in the West Coast style and “(f)ull of hops and a subtle cereal grain backbone.”

Appearance: Started out with a mostly see-through straw yellow body underneath a persistent white head of foam.  At the very end of the pour a bit of sediment from the can made the body cloudy to the point it could almost not be seen through.

Smell: Sticky sweet yet somewhat reserved, hints of caramel malt and resinous pine bitterness.

Taste: A very brief moment of sweetness upfront quickly followed by a huge spike of lemon and grapefruit bitterness.  Grassy hops slowly emerged from this initial rush and mixed with light, crackery malts and peppery yeast for a finish that lingered for a bit after finishing the sip.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with just a touch above moderate carbonation.

Hype: None, I don’t think I had heard of or noticed this brewery until I found these cans in the refrigerator at work.

Overall: This was a miss.  Beyond the astringently harsh bitterness, this beer just tasted a bit messy.  The peppery yeast finish seemed out-of-place and I was caught off-guard by the malt profile that did not match what I had expected from the smell.  Given the abundance of good to outstanding IPAs available in my area, even when limiting myself to only locally brewed options, I can safely say I will not be revisiting this beer.  Unfortunately there was no date on the can to let me know if this was “old” or not so I can only judge by what I got out of the can.  Not a great first impression.