Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project – Baby Tree (2015)

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My wife and I dug deep into our reserve this past Mother’s Day and pulled out a beer we’d been saving for a special occasion.  It had quickly become one of our favorite local brews back when we were first venturing forth into the beer scene and has held a special place in our hearts ever since.  With the brewery that made it sadly closing down back in 2015, this beer is something of a rare and dwindling commodity these days so we wanted to make sure it given a proper sendoff.

Beer Name: Baby Tree

Brewery: Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project

Style: Quadruple

ABV: 9.0%

Description: A Belgian-style quad from my one my favorite (and sadly disbanded) Massachusetts-based breweries.  The date on the label said March 2015.

Appearance: It poured a creamy, reddish brown body topped by a line of tan foam.

Smell: Sweet caramel malt with a distinctly Belgian hint of yeast.

Taste: The beer opened sweet, with notes of caramel and dark fruit, followed by a very slight toasted malt presence.  The sip closed with a complex dark sugar and smooth yeasty finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-plus body with low carbonation.

Hype: Off the charts!  As I mentioned above, this was an old favorite that I probably enjoyed for the very last time.

Overall: Excellent and every bit as good as I remembered it!  Time certainly treated this beer well.  My only regret here is that this was the end of my Pretty Things stash.

Music Monday: Nirvana – Lithium (Live at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards)

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Music Monday: Nirvana – Lithium (Live at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards)

Welcome to my first Music Monday of 2020!  After posting a musically themed book review to close out last week, I felt inspired to look up a number of songs and performances that were prominently featured by the author.  One of the most interesting of these to me personally was Nirvana’s performance of Lithium at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards.

Before getting into the video, let me set the scene.  To fully appreciate this, there are probably three things to explain before we get to the clip.

The Intro: Prior to the taping, the band was warned by network executives not to play their controversial (and occasionally misunderstood) new song titled Rape Me.  Critically hailed as a powerful, defiant, and unflinching song against rape and sexual violence, the network wanted no part of it on their watch.  At Kurt Cobain’s insistence they opened the set with a taunt before playing a more popular song.

Bass to the Head: Astute viewers will see bassist Krist Novoselic absolutely bean himself after throwing his bass up in the air towards the end of the song.  He would recall later: “I was not on my game – the only time I’ve ever dropped it was then in front of 300 million people.” At least he apparently got to enjoy some champagne with Queen guitarist Brian May afterwards.

Hi Axl!: Not to be lost amid the stage destruction portion of the song was (a very young!) Dave Grohl taking the mic to taunt Guns N’ Roses front man Axl Rose.  You can get a decent summary of that feud here but, briefly, the two bands shared some words before the show.

And that ends the preamble.  Without further ado,l gentlemen, Nirvana (many thanks to the original poster of the video below):

Book Review: Your Favorite Band is Killing Me: What Pop Music Rivalries Reveal About the Meaning of Life, by Steven Hyden

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This next read was a welcomed departure from my previously scheduled reading list which, given the current state of the world, was looking a bit too heavy at the moment.  I needed something to lighten the mood a bit and this 2016 release seemed to be just what I needed. Its author, Steven Hyden, certainly had some interesting credentials as well, having worked as an editor and writer for Grantland and AV Club, as well as appearing in Rolling Stone, Slate, and Saloon.

Music rivalries don’t matter until they matter to you personally.  When that happens, it’s as vital as protecting your own sense of identity.

The book is divided into sixteen chapters, each more or less a standalone discussion about how a particular musical feud (real or imagined) between artists and/or their fans speaks to larger philosophical and psychological issues in our society and what the sides we take reflect about our sense of identity.  Drawing examples from American popular music of the 1970s through early 2010s, Hyden’s topics include the likes of Eric Clapton vs. Jimi Hendrix, Roger Waters vs. Pink Floyd, Prince vs. Michael Jackson, and Nirvana vs. Pearl Jam along with what is considered requisite coverage of The Rolling Stones vs. The Beatles, Biggie vs. Tupac, and Kanye West vs. Taylor Swift.

This book covered so much ground no musically and culturally I’m not going to even attempt trying to unpack it all in this review.  I will say, however, that I found it to be an incredibly fun and enjoyable read that was both lighthearted and insightful. My opinion is undoubtedly swayed by the fact that I am perhaps squarely in the book’s core demographic by virtue of being roughly the same age as the author, having a similar worldview, and sharing at minimum a passing familiarity and connection to nearly all of the artists covered.  Not surprisingly, I most enjoyed those sections that focused on artists that I had the deepest connection to, though I was nonetheless captivated by Hyden’s humor and knowledge throughout. To offer up some sort of recap, here are a few of the highlights for me in no particular order:

1. As a big fan of Nirvana, I really enjoyed the sections in which Kurt Cobain appeared.  Most notable of these included a chapter on the somewhat one-sided rivalry between Nirvana and Pearl Jam which served as an excellent reminder of Cobain’s humor and, well, occasionally righteous snark.  That Cobain’s dismissal of Pearl Jam’s music as inauthentic fueled a segue into Bruce Springsteen’s repeated public dismissals of Chris Christie was an added bonus.  There was also much discussion throughout the book about the absurd confrontation between Cobain and recurring villain Axl Rose at the 1992 Video Music Award (more on this later) and was enthralled at the lengths the author went to in unpacking it all.

2. I likewise was very interested in the chapter featuring Billy Corgan.  Despite having loved them as a teenager, I find it incredibly difficult to re-listen to the Smashing Pumpkins.  Part of it is getting over a lot of that angst, but it’s mainly on account of Billy Corgan’s distinct voice making it nearly impossible for me to separate his “real life” descent into the alt-right from the music.  While he was likewise repulsed by the singer’s politics, I found the way the author framed Corgan’s lunacy as that of an awkward, insecure Midwestern guy trying (and failing) to fit into a scene he was otherwise a star of.  He concludes, however, after a lengthy and surprisingly not entirely unsympathetic comparison to Richard Nixon that:

It’s not the system, it’s him.  His insecurity over cool people believing he’s awful has made him awful.

3. Finally, the author quickly succeeded in selling me on his unrestrained love of the  1992 MTV Video Music Awards by finding a new way to bring it up in nearly every chapter.  I’m officially inspired to do a YouTube dive for it at some point during the Great Quarantine of 2020 by endorsements like this:

The ’92 VMAs are just the best.  You had Nirvana vs. Guns N’ Roses.  Nirvana vs. Pearl Jam. Dana Carvey as Garth Algar playing drums with U2.  You had Bobby Brown performing “Humpin’ Around” and Elton John performing “The One” on the same show.

The one place where I really disagreed with the author was over his thoughts on Kanye West, though in fairness I will say that this chapter simply did not age well.  At the time of his writing in 2016 he assumed it was over and done with. How could he imagine Kanye going completely off the rails of sanity, good taste, and ego to keep this tire fire burning?  That said, I do still think Hyden was overly charitable about both Kanye’s intentions and musical abilities. His perspective did, however, bring remind me of a point long since lost in the whole debacle about how it was originally perceived:

For those inclined to view awards shows as fundamentally prejudiced against artists of color (an impression supported by the historical record) Kanye interrupting Taylor…seems like a righteous “fuck you”….For those inclined to view awards shows as fundamentally prejudiced against female artists (another impression supported by the historical record) [it] seems like another instance of a man saying “fuck you” to a woman…

And I could easily go on.  If you have any interest at all in American popular music from the 1970s through early 2010s I highly recommend giving this a read.  It’s fun, irreverent, insightful, and full of fantastic stories about some of the biggest musicians and rivalries of those eras.

Ipswich Ale Brewery – Pesky Pils

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After being stuck inside for so long, I am determined to take advantage of every nice day I can get.  This next brew was one of the last remaining stragglers from that mixed-pack I picked up back at the start of quarantine.  Although I don’t exactly root for the home team, its name (see below) made me acutely aware that in better times the Major League Baseball season would be in full swing right now.

Beer Name: Pesky Pils

Brewery: Ipswich Ale Brewery (Ipswich, MA)

Style: Pilsner

ABV: 4.6%

Description: A classic Pilsner brewed with German malts and a combination of Saaz and Lemongrass hops, the can art leads me to believe it draws its name in part from a former Red Sox player who has a foul pole made famous for cheap home runs named after him.

Appearance: It had a see-through yellow body with a topping of bubbly white foam.

Smell: Slightly sweet, with crisp light malt on the end.

Taste: Very similar to the smell.  It offered a smooth, crisp blend of pale malts, Pilsner yeast, and a light sweetness to create a flavorful yet laid back drinking experience.

Mouthfeel: Light to nearly medium bodied with slightly above average carbonation.

Hype: I like the brewery, but I can’t say there is a whole lot of hype around this particular brew.

Overall: It was fine beer and a solid example of a style perhaps better known for being easy going and approachable as opposed to challenging or overstimulating the palate.  It more or less tasted like a good version of your stereotypical beer of yesteryear and honestly there’s nothing wrong with that.  There’s a time and place for everything, and I would say this brew’s time and place is outdoors on a nice spring/summer day (hopefully with some baseball).

 

Almanac Beer Company – Farmer’s Reserve Blackberry (2017)

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Almanac Beer Company – Farmer’s Reserve Blackberry (2017)

Hello world!  It was absolutely beautiful outside in these parts last weekend and I must say some time spent outside did wonders for morale.  Of course I also found some time to grab a beverage in the backyard. I’m not really sure how I wound up with an aged sour in my fridge, but at this point I’m just rolling with whatever the universe throws my way.

Beer Name: Farmer’s Reserve Blackberry

Brewery: Almanac Beer Company (Alameda, CA)

Style: Sour Blonde Ale

ABV: 6.9%

Description: Listed on the label as a sour blonde ale aged with blackberries in wine barrels.

Appearance: It poured to a reddish/grapefruit colored body with a thin layer of fizzy white bubbles that disappeared upon completion of the pour.

Smell: Sweet and tart blackberries.

Taste: It opened up with a light mix of sweetness and tart raspberries followed by a hint of creaminess.  It had a dry, white wine finish that brought the tartness to a pleasant close. This was pretty mild as far as sours go and I have to say that was a very welcomed discovery.

Mouthfeel: Light to medium bodied with low carbonation and a slightly syrupy feeling finish.

Hype: None for me.  I haven’t been that into sours lately so I was kind of ambivalent going into this one.

Overall: This was a wonderfully pleasant surprise and a real treat to drink outside on a beautiful spring day.  Fruity and mellow, I really enjoyed this.

Random Tag Tuesday: The Wanderlust Book Tag

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I think most of us have been feeling a bit cooped up lately, so it’s probably pretty easy to imagine why I felt inspired to finally take on this particular tag.  Since I haven’t done one of these in a while, I’ll remind everyone that the name of this series is a throwback to my college days when Tuesdays were the day for, well, random adventures.  Please note that most of the tags I cover under this heading come from my backlog notes and that I am terrible about keeping track of where I find them. As such, I probably will rarely, if ever, tag anyone.  It is not personal.

Secrets and Lies: A Book Set in a Sleepy Small Town

Highway of the Damned, by Nick Mamatas and Brian Keene.  This mashup homage to Hunter S. Thompson and Lovecraftian horror spends a lot of time in the fictional city of Arkham, MA, a place that certainly has its share of secrets.

Salt and Sand: A Book with a Beach-side Community

Lagoon, by Nnedi Okorafor.  Set in Lagos, Nigeria the city is changed forever when extraterrestrials land off the coast and make first contact with both humanity and the creatures of the sea.

Here There be Dragons: A Book with a Voyage on the High Seas

Towing Jehovah, by James Morrow.  God has died and it’s up to disgraced Captain Anthony Van Horn to haul the massive corpse across the Atlantic Ocean to its final resting place in an Arctic iceberg before rot sets in and the press finds out.

Tread lightly: A Book Set Down a Murky River or a Jungle

Everfair, by Nisi Shawl.  A steampunk-inspired alternate history in which European socialists, American abolitionists, and an African warlord enter into an uneasy alliance to overthrow the forces of King Leopold II and establish a new nation in the former Belgian Congo.

Frozen Wastes: A Book Book with a Frost-bitten Atmosphere

The Terror, by Dan Simmons.  Another historical fiction, this one follows the doomed crew of the John Franklin Discovery Service Expedition as their ships get trapped in the Arctic ice and a supernatural force begins hunting the crew.

The Boonies: A Book with Rough or Isolated Terrain

2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson.  A good deal of the action here takes place on Mercury and Venus, which despite human settlements remain rather inhospitable places.

Hinterlands and Cowboys: A book with a Western-esque Setting

The Alloy of Law, by Brandon Sanderson.  The first book in the Second Era Mistborn novels, civilization on the planet Scadriel has advanced to roughly that of the late 19th century United States.  The main character, Wax, is a frontier lawman who definitely gives this story a Western vibe.

Look lively: A Book Set Across Sweeping Desert Sands

Dune, by Frank Herbert.  Obviously.

Wild and Untamed: A Book Set in the Heart of the Woods

A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson.  Humorist Bill Bryson hikes the Appalachian Trail, imparting plenty of fun facts and humorous observations along the way.

Wildest Dreams: A Whimsical Book Shrouded in Magic

The Hobbit, by J.R.R Tolkien.  While it does have some serious themes, I always think of this book as being rather whimsical at heart.

Book Review: Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor

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Once again I am back with a novella to share with you all!  This is another popular one on the review scene that also had the honor of taking home both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novella in 2016.  This is my second time reading something from Nnedi Okorafor and the latest in what is apparently a lengthy line of Tor novellas on my reading list.

The story begins on Earth in the distant future and introduces us to Binti, a young Himba woman living in Nairobi.  She is the first person from her community to earn admission to the prestigious Oomza Uni, the galaxy’s most elite technological institute.  Her acceptance, however, is not without controversy.  Despite being renowned for their mathematical and technological skills, the Himba people rarely leave their home city and often face extreme prejudice from others.  Binti is determined, however, and decides she can’t pass up the opportunity so she sneaks off one night to catch a space shuttle to the university, leaving behind her home and family forever.  The universe (of course) has other plans, for just as Binti starts to settle into her new life, the shuttle is intercepted by a group of hostile aliens.  Protected by a mysterious trinket she brought from home, Binti finds herself held captive aboard the ship and must use all her wits to not only remain alive, but prevent further bloodshed as well.

I enjoyed this read and found myself really getting drawn into it.  The author’s decision to slowly reveal the full scope of her world to the reader as it was encountered by Binti really added to the mysteries and surprises of the novella.  There was one moment early on where the story throws an absolute shock at you and from that point on I couldn’t put it down.  You’ll know it when you get there.  Equally importing, I found Binti herself to be a very engaging protagonist in her own right.  There was a lot of tension in her character from being an outcast from her homeland (by choice) and new surroundings (by prejudice) that had a very profound impact on her actions throughout the story.  It was also interesting to see how her cultural traditions, in particular her cosmetic rituals, shaped the way she looked at and interacted with the universe and the other beings in it.  I was likewise intrigued by how her fellow Himba approached mathematics as a spiritual undertaking.  I am admittedly baffled by higher math, but I nonetheless find that sort of thing fascinating to contemplate.

Overall I thought this was an excellent story that I would recommend to other sci-fi readers.  There are two other books in this series that I am looking forward to reading once I can get my (virtual) hands on them.  This one ends on something of a cliffhanger and I really am curious to see what direction the story goes from there.

Ipswich Ale Brewery – Farmhouse Ale

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, I prepared for quarantine in part by picking up a mixed 12-pack from Ipswich Ale Brewery.  I wasn’t paying too much attention when I ordered it, but was happily surprised to find that it included two new to me beers along with old favorites Route 1 and the original Ipswich Ale.  Looks like we’ve unexpectedly got some review material folks!

Beer Name: Farmhouse Ale

Brewery: Ipswich Ale Brewery (Ipswich, MA)

Style: Farmhouse Ale

ABV: 4.8%

Description: Inspired by the traditional Belgian style, this dry hopped ale was brewed to refresh and pair with a variety of meals.  You can read the official release and see some of the brewing specifications here.

Appearance: It had a cloudy golden body topped by roughly half a finger’s worth of bubbly foam.

Smell: Distinct Belgian-styled yeast that offered a light blend of peppery/spicy/floral notes.

Taste: It opened with crisp pale malt, topped by a peppery yeast presence highlighted with hints of clove and spice.  The finish brought on a slight bit of spicy hops and an underlying sweetness that brought the sip to a pleasing end.

Mouthfeel: Roughly medium bodied with an elevated level of carbonation.

Hype: This isn’t really a hype brewery, though I am particularly fond of them.

Overall: All in all I found this to be a pretty solid beer.  It’s probably not going to blow you away, but it was incredibly easy to just sit back and drink on account of how crisp, clean tasting, and refreshing it was.  Definitely a good beer to have in the fridge right now!

Firestone Walker Brewing Company – Stickee Monkee (2018)

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Time again to get back into beer as well.  Here’s a pre-quarantine brew from back when things were relatively more normal.

Beer Name: Stickee Monkee (2018)

Brewery: Firestone Walker Brewing Company (Paso Robles, CA)

Style: Quadruple

ABV: 11.4%

Description: A Belgina-style Quad brewed with Mexican Turbinado and Belgian candi sugars before being set to age in bourbon barrels.  The bottle I had for this review was from the 2018 vintage.

Appearance: It poured to a beer-bottle colored dark brown body.

Smell: Sugary dark fruits mixed with hints of bourbon barrels.

Taste: Sweetness upfront in the form of Belgian candi yeast, molasses, brown sugar, and dark fruit. The yeast really picks up around mid-sip to take over and transition the brew towards a hot, bourbony finish with some hints of toasty malts mixing in with a very refined barrel presence.

Mouthfeel: Full bodied with low carbonation.

Hype: I don’t know if hype is the right word, but this brewery and a series of small, boxed bottles is extremely well regarded.

Overall: This was fantastic!  It’s a beer you’ll definitely be taking your time with, but you will definitely savor every sip.