Maine Trip – Part Two: Allagash Brewing Company, Portland, ME

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Our second stop along Industrial Way was Allagash Brewing Company, one of my favorite “classic” craft beer breweries.  Founded back in 1995, they’ve been consistently serving up some of the best Belgian-inspired brews the New England area has to offer.  Picking up the beer was super easy, after ordering from the road the no contact curbside pickup only took a few minutes.  We did, however, linger in the parking for a little bit longer than that to pick up a pair of delicious lobster rolls from the Bite into Maine food truck that frequents the brewery.

My first beer out the gate from them was their iconic Allagash White.  I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this one since it’s been listed here before, but if you’re not familiar with this one do yourself a favor and try it out.  Checking in at 5.2%, this Witbier is easy drinking with light notes of orange peel, coriander, and wheat.  It has been a long time goto of mine, so we picked up a 12 pack to stock the fridge with.  It was definitely a good decision.

Beer number two was North Sky, a new to me 7.5% Belgian stout.  It poured a dark brown/black looking body topped by a thin off-white head.  Taste-wise it offered creamy, light roasted notes throughout with hints of dark fruit sweetness on the finish.  The beer had low carbonation and a super smooth body that made it really easy to sit back with and enjoy both outdoors and in.  I was a big fan of this one and enjoyed a few of these under the stars.

My third and final beer from Allagash was, well, one I’m not ready to share yet.  It’s not something I really need to hype by being all secretive or anything, let’s just say that the time is not yet right.  Before I get to that one, though, I do have one more brewery experience to share at the end of the week.

Maine Trip – Part One: Definitive Brewing Company, Portland, ME

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It feels like it’s been ages since my last visit to a new brewery, but here we go again!  To celebrate our 10th Anniversary my wife and I made our way up to Isleboro, Maine last week to socially distance at a guest house on a beautiful seaside estate.  Along the way there and back we stopped off at a few breweries that, combined with some much needed time off, got me back in that blogging feeling.

Our first stop on the way up was along Portland’s legendary Industrial Way, the current (and former) location of many of Maine’s most popular breweries.  It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon and the brewery corridor was pretty active, but fortunately the various establishments and their patrons looked to take distancing and mask wearing seriously.  While we didn’t have time to visit all the breweries clustered together (funny how a child and a pandemic can change your priorities), I did manage to assemble a nice collection of brews to enjoy during our stay on the island.

For today’s post I am going to first report on the new (to me) place we visited, Definitive Brewing Company.  It opened up in 2017 which was a good two-plus years after our last visit to the area but occupied some familiar territory across the street from Allagash Brewing Company.  Though I only purchased beer to go, they did look to have some nice outdoor beneath tents they had set up in the front and rear of the lot.  I side stepped all this, however, for the side pickup window to collect the cans I pre-ordered from the road.

My first taste of the brewery was an 8.3% NEIPA called Particles.  It poured to a hazy, dark yellow body with a fluffy layer of foam across the top and gave some huge tropical aromas on the way into the glass.  Taste wise it offered up some nice tropical and kiwi notes upfront and finished with an assertive, hazy bitterness highlighted by hints of lemon.  Overall it was a solid example of the style that I enjoyed drinking.  I could easily see someone giving this higher lower marks depending upon what they look for in their NEIPAs.

My second brew from them was a 7.2% dessert stout appropriately named Stuffed.  Officially labeled as a double milk stout, the beer was conditioned atop “chocolate sandwich cookies” and certainly drank as such.  It poured thick and in the glass had a black colored body topped by a thin tannish head that was quick to dissipate.  It smelled chocolately and slightly sweet and tasted of thick cream and chocolate upfront, a doughy cookie middle, and a light roasted chocolate finish.  Its medium-plus body carried the big flavors well and managed to not be so thick that it made finishing the beer a chore.  I would definitely recommend this as tasty and satisfying dessert stout, though I really can’t imagine drinking more than one in a sitting.

My third and final brew from Definitive was Bass Reflex, a 7.0% DDH NEIPA hopped with Citra, Cascade, and El Dorado.  It came out of the can to reveal a cloudy pineapple-juice colored body topped by a foamy white head that left distinct lacing on the glass as the beverage went on.  It had some big tropical aromas that carried through to the opening taste before arriving at a hazy, resinous bitterness on the end.  The body was standard for the style and had a pleasant fluffy feeling that I really enjoyed for reasons I can’t fully explain.  I really liked this one and found it very on point for the style.

And that wraps up things for today.  Later on this week I’ll take a quick look at the second brewery we hit up.  Stay healthy my friends!

Night Shift Brewing Company – My Peachberry Brings All the Hops to the Yard

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Taking advantage of an absolutely beautiful day last weekend, I made a stop at Night Shift Brewing Company for the first time in quite awhile.  I’ll admit that it still feels a bit weird going into public these days, but the brewery and staff did an excellent job keeping people distanced while serving up food and beer in their outdoor patio space.

Beer Name: My Peachberry Brings All the Hops To the Yard

Brewery: Night Shift Brewing Company (Everett, MA)

Style: Milkshake IPA

ABV: 7.0%

Description: I couldn’t find a full description, but this was a milkshake IPA brewed with lactose, strawberries, and peaches.

Appearance: Cloudy orangish/grapefruit juice color with wisps of white head

Smell: Faint tart berries and mild bitterness.

Taste: Initially a bit on the tart side, but that was replaced quickly by sweetness blending both the strawberry and peach ingredients.  The middle of the sip mixed in a bit of creaminess and pale malt while the finish reintroduced a touch of berry and a mild to moderate bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Smooth medium body with roughly moderate carbonation.

Hype: None that I was aware of, I just really liked the name.

Overall: I liked it.  I can be hit or miss on this style but this one appealed to me.  It had a nice mix of sweet, tart, and bitter notes to keep it interesting throughout.

Time for Some Baseball and Brews!

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Baseball is back and so am I!  I’ve had difficulty finding inspiration for posts lately, but this is definitely an occasion that has me excited.  Although I have some very mixed feelings on whether or not the time is right for the sport to return, it does make me happy to see games again.  As I’ve said here before, the MLB season is the soundtrack to my summer, sometimes in the background and sometimes blaring front and center but it’s always there.  To help welcome it back in true BeerRantsAndBooks style, I paid a visit to my friendly neighborhood brewers at Idle Hands to no contact pickup a pair of baseball themed brews!

My beverages of choice were a pair of brews named Short Season and Backwards K.  I started out with the 6.0% Short Season, a NEIPA brewed with Sabro and Galaxy hops.  It poured to a bright, cloudy pale yellow body fully capped by thin white foam.  It featured a distinct base of pale malt and oats beneath a sweet tropical haze and a low-key bitterness that mixed in just a hint of spiciness.  Overall I’d say this was a fine beer, but I was perhaps expecting a bit more from it.  I think if the malt backbone just a bit more subdued this would have been a real winner.

Batting second was Backwards K, another NEIPA that checked in at a slightly higher 7.3%.  Brewed to emphasize the glory of Mosaic hops, it poured a darker/more amber tinged color yellow with a thin layer of foam covering the top.  It had an invitingly sweet aroma followed up by smooth tastes of melon, berry, and tropical fruits.  It finished with a mild bitterness that followed perfectly from the front end of the beer.  This was the star of the night for me and one that you definitely don’t want to get caught looking on.  Check it out if have the chance!

Well, that’s it for now.  Hope everyone is staying safe and healthy out there!

Book Review: The Traitor Baru Cormorant (Book One in the Masquerade Series), by Seth Dickinson

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It’s hard to believe, but this was the first full length novel I’ve read this year!  The ebook had been available for free via the Tor Publishing newsletter a little while back and despite my best intentions, I promptly let it collect virtual dust upon download.  Fortunately, one of my goals for the year is to make a more determined effort to actually read the books I own and this felt like a good place to start my journey.  Published in 2015, this hard fantasy novel is both the author’s debut effort and the beginning of the much acclaimed Masquerade series.

The story is told from the perspective of a young woman named Baru Cormorant.  Born in the small seaside nation of Taranoke, we first meet her as a child seeking to understand what the arrival of ships from the Imperial Republic of Falcrest, informally referred to as the Masquerade on account of the masks worn by its officials, signifies and why it troubles her family.  Through her inquisitive nature, Baru inadvertently attracts the attention of an influential patron and with his encouragement attends the local branch of the Imperial Academy where she excels in her studies despite her own misgivings and parents’ disapproval.  Upon graduating she is appointed the Imperial Accountant of Aurdwynn, a divided and rebellious nation that serves as a vital strategic asset for Flacrest.  While some question whether an inexperienced youth from a newly acquired territory can fill the position, Baru, however, fully realizes the power granted to her and how to wield it.  Finding allies will be a delicate game though, for as much as the local Dukes and her Imperial colleagues have their own agendas, Baru is willing to sacrifice anything to fulfill her own; the power to destroy the Flacrest’s empire from within.

I’m just going to come out and say this book was amazing!  I loved the non-stop intrigue and couldn’t bring myself to put it down no matter how many times the story punched me in the gut.  This was a decidedly heavy novel, not so much on account of the writing style but rather in the harsh decisions made by Baru along the way.  What really made the story stand out were the lengths to which Baru was willing to go in the grim pursuit of her ultimate goal, betraying herself in heartbreaking and often brutal ways time and again.  Along these lines, I was rather surprised by the ending even though I called it pretty early on.  It wasn’t necessarily what happened that got me, but rather that the author actually went there.  At one point I said out loud to myself, “man it would be pretty messed up if they did X,” and low and behold that’s exactly what Baru decided!

Another highlight of this book was its impressive world building.  Even though the action was largely centered around a few specific locations, the world felt huge and well thought out.  Closer to home, the Masquerade’s imperial ambitions combined with its horrifying social conservatism and eugenics programs made a compelling and sadly very believable enemy.  It allowed for some excellent reflections upon the ways a colonizing force can exert its will over subject populations without explicit military intervention.  There was also plenty of political intrigue going on both inside and outside of Falcrest’s borders that I suspect will grow more complex as Baru continues her journey.  

Although I feel like I barely scratched the surface of this one, here is where I’ll wrap the review up.  While I sincerely doubt there’s a happy ending coming in this tale, I am nonetheless very eager to get started on the rest of the series since I may be able to complete it in relatively short order.  Book two, The Monster Baru Cormorant, was published last year while the third installment is currently slated for later this year.

Bone Up Brewing Company – Uni-Dog

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Checking in with one more brew from Bone Up Brewing that I wanted to showcase this week.  This one caught my eye because it reminded me of something they released a little while back that I really enjoyed.

Beer Name: Uni-Dog

Brewery: Bone Up Brewing Company (Everett, MA)

Style: Red Ale

ABV: 4.6%

Description: Best enjoyed while “fearfully scurrying away from a cat,” this red ale was brewed with Massachusetts grown Rakau hops and named in honor of a departed Pyrenees named Domino.

Appearance: It poured to a light caramel and amber colored body topped off by a firm line of white foam.

Smell: Subdued malty sweetness.

Taste: Mild caramel and citrus sweetness upfront followed by a dry, malty finish.  There was also an underlying toastiness throughout bringing a smooth, even presence to the beer.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with moderate carbonation.

Hype: Not a whole lot, though seeing this beer did remind me of how much I miss the dog-themed glass I had from them that met with an unfortunate accident.

Overall: This was a tasty, no nonsense beer that really found a way to hit the spot.  Perhaps not the flashiest of brews, it was still a nice beer to kick back and relax with.

Bone Up Brewing Company – Get Proud and Get Loud

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I’m not quite sure when this happened, but somehow the calendar has flipped over into June!  June, of course, is Pride Month and when I saw that my neighbors at Bone Up were once again brewing a special beer to mark the occasion we decided to make them next on our curbside pickup list.

Beer Name: Get Proud and Get Loud

Brewery: Bone Up Brewing Company (Everett, MA)

Style: Saison

ABV: 6.0%

Description: Listed as a “hoppy Saison” brewed with Grüngeist hops.

Appearance: It poured a hazy, pale yellow body with wisps of white of white foam clinging to the edges of the glass.

Smell: Fruity sweetness atop a hint of spicy, floral yeast.

Taste: It opened with sweet fruit punch notes followed by a smooth, almost creamy run of pale malt mid-sip.  The finish featured a mild spicy/peppery yeast presence more typical of the style accompanied by similar hop profile.

Mouthfeel: Roughly medium bodied with moderate carbonation.

Hype: I was definitely looking forward to this one.  Last year’s Pride beer was very good and I had no doubt this release would be something the brewers were, um, proud of showcasing as well.

Overall: Very tasty and a great beer to sit back with on a warm day.  It drank like a NEIPA/Saison hybrid that captured the best and most distinct aspects of each.  Definitely one of the beer highlights of quarantine this far.  Grab one if you can!

Idle Hands Craft Ales – Essential Premium Lager

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Checking in again on another fine day with a brew we picked up at Idle Hands.  

Beer Name: Essential Premium Lager

Brewery: Idle Hands Craft Ales (Malden, MA)

Style: Lager

ABV: 5.0%

Description: Intentionally brewed to channel the subdued, easy drinking experience of a macro lager, this beer was intended to be enjoyed with “sunny days and outdoor adventures.”

Appearance: It poured to a clear, bubbly pale yellow body.

Smell: Subtle hints of pale malt and sweetness, but not a whole lot to report in this department.

Taste: Crisp and clean with mild tastes of pale malt and yeast stop a subtle sweetness.

Mouthfeel: Light bodied and bubbly.

Hype: None really, but it was nice to have a fresh, easy drinking beverage on hand.

Overall: Immensely satisfying and exactly as advertised.  Definitely a welcomed addition to the fridge this past holiday weekend.

Random Tag Tuesday: The Stuck at Home Book Tag

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Time again for Random Tag Tuesday!  This one seems appropriate since, well, we’re stuck at home.

What Are You Currently Reading?

The Traitor Baru Cormorant, by Seth Dickinson.  Don’t want to say too much about this yet, but I am really enjoying it so far.  Should be posting a review soon(ish).

What’s Your Favourite Can’t Leave The House Activity?

Taking time to relax and do whatever I want at that particular moment.  Quarantine hasn’t provided me with any extra free time and has perhaps even reduced that already precious commodity so I’ve come to really value the quiet moments.

A Book I’ve Been Meaning To Read Forever

I’ve always wanted to start Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series but never have.  By all accounts it sounds like something I’d enjoy, but I’m just wary of the length and worry it’s been built up too much for me at this point.

An Intimidating Book On Your TBR

I don’t think I have any that fit this prompt.  They’re all books I actually want to read, though the order I get to them will depend on what’s going on in my life when I’m looking for a book.

Top 3 Priority Books On Your TBR

I don’t have any priorities at the moment, but once they become available (hopefully this year), the next books in the Mistborn and The Expanse series will be read immediately.

Recommend A Short Book

The Black God’s Drums, by P. Djeli Clark.  An amazing and captivating fantasy/historical fiction novella that captures the feel and magic of one of my favorite cities, New Orleans.

Recommend A Long Book

Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson.  The 1,008 page beginning of the Stormlight Archive, an ambitious series that takes place within the author’s Cosmere universe and is slated to run for ten books.  It’s an amazing series full of great stories and amazing characters, but it sure looks like it’s going to be a long one.  For good measure, the follow-up novels have been getting progressively longer, checking in at 1490 and 1652 pages, respectively.

Something You’d Love To Do While Stuck At Home

Clean and organize.  I haven’t made as much headway here as I would have liked while stuck inside.

What Do You Plan On Reading Next?

I actually don’t know.  I have a vague list, but it’s really going to depend on what my mood is when I’m ready to pick up another book.

Idle Hands Craft Ales – Time Enough at Last

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My wife and I braved the outside world this past weekend and swung by the no contact pickup station at Idle Hands, our friendly neighborhood brewery.  One of the centerpieces of our order was this wonderfully named lager that drew its inspiration from a classic Twilight Zone episode I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

Beer Name: Time Enough at Last

Brewery: Idle Hands Craft Ales (Malden, MA)

Style: Czech-style Amber Lager

ABV: 5.1%

Description: Listed as a clean lager that pays tribute to Czech brewing traditions, I couldn’t in my admittedly limited searching find out what that means exactly, but was willing to just go with it.  This is the sort of thing the brewery tends to do quite well.

Appearance: Poured a clearish amber/copper body with a resilient and foamy beige head.  A steady stream of small bubbles trickled up the glass throughout the experience.

Smell: Toasty malt backed by a mild toffee sweetness.

Taste: Solid nutty, toasted malt backbone with notes of bread and a toffee presence that added a bit of sweetness.  It closed with a creamy culmination of the previous flavors, with just a slight hint of fruity sweetness added to the mix.

Mouthfeel: Smooth, medium-plus body with less than moderate carbonation.

Hype: No real hype I suppose, but it sure was nice to get some beer direct from a brewery again!  I honestly wasn’t really sure what to expect from the style, but the name made me want to love it.

Overall: I liked this a lot. Flavorful and easy drinking, it was a bit more robust that your typical warm weather lager but without the heaviness of something bigger.  This beer was a winner for sure and I kind of wish we got more than just a single four pack.