Wednesday, January 30, 2013

If black IPAs are the style that won me over to IPA, it was Stone's Ruination that cemented my love for big hops. Ruination is not a gentle, entry level IPA. I'd almost certainly have not enjoyed it, had I had it back when all I wanted was stout. But this beer, with it's huge, aggressive hop overload, changed me forever. The 10th anniversary version, with higher ABV and more hops, is my favorite beer of all time. I hate that it's gone. But the original Ruination is a favorite, too, and one that I return to happily, time and time again.

Firestone Walker continues to impress me. Double Jack is a great Imperial IPA. It pours a deep orange color with a big head, and the aroma is pungent, grassy/floral hops and some citrus. The hops are big in the flavor, too. This is a true double. But the malt is big, too. Buttery and smooth, and slightly sweet. I think of this as a slightly twangier Bell's Two Hearted, which is a compliment.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Hoppin' Frog's D.O.R.I.S. the Destroyer is a Double Oatmeal Russian Imperial Stout, and it is stealth and seductive. It pours oily black with no real head, just a little brown foam that vanishes in a hurry. The aroma is hearty malt, espresso and coffee. The mouthfeel is a little thin, but not horribly so. The flavor has all of the aroma's notes and a little hop twang, but no real heat to betray that 10+ percent ABV. I didn't realize how substantial it was, or how quickly I'd blasted through this bomber until I stood up to go down the hall to the bathroom. Be careful with Doris, she'll have her way with ya.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Brew Dog's Tokio is identified on the label as both a malt liquor and a stout, and with an ABV north of 18%, the word liquor seems appropriate. Either way, it's brewed with cranberries and jasmine and aged in oak barrels, and it's different. It pours nearly opaque with a head that leaves sheets of foam inside the glass as you drink it. The aroma is strong and strange, and it took me a little bit to decide if I liked the smell or not. It’s sweet, boozy, malty and tangy all at once. The flavor is strong and sweet, too. There’s more of a blackberry brandy quality than the cranberries promised on the label, and it’s as rich and boozy as it smells. By half way through the glass I was enjoying it, but I wouldn't say I loved it.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Goose Island's Bourbon County stout ain't my favorite stout, that would be Avery's abstruse and aggressive Mephistopheles. But Bourbon County more than lives up to it's substantial hype. The deep brown color, with blood red highlights and absolutely no head, announces something different right from the pour. Then, the huge bourbon and vanilla warmth in the aroma really demands your attention. But the flavor is astonishing. It keeps every promise the presence makes, and then some. The vanilla and bourbon sets a stage for other tones; candied fruit and walnuts, molasses and a delicious, roasted malt. Bourbon County is hard to track down, but not one to pass up.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

For the money, Trader Joe's Providential Belgian Style Golden Ale a decent little beer. Calling it "decent" undersells it, in fact. It pours bright yellow, only slightly darker than an adjunct lager, with a gigantic head. The aroma is sweet and spicy. There's citrus and bananas and ginger, and a little nutmeg. All of those notes are big in the flavor, and there's a big, hoppy twang that I hadn't expected. I enjoyed this and I'd buy it again in a minute.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Review: Founders Imperial Stout

I have decided, based on a number of factors, that it makes sense to start posting my beer reviews here and then linking them at G+ and other sources. And that is what I intend to do here, and henceforth.

Founders is a damn fine brewery, and I'm not surprised that their Imperial Stout is a damn fine stout. It's a deep, dark black with a cherry/tan head that fades to nothing quickly, and the aroma is rich chocolate malts and a little alcohol vapor. The flavor is big and rich. There's baker's chocolate, but not as much chocolate as Founders Breakfast Stout. (This is no surprise. The chocolate presence in that Breakfast Stout is ridiculous. It's like being mouth raped by Willy Wonka.) There's more hop presence and more coffee, less cake than the Breakfast Stout, too. The biggest difference for me, though, is the alcohol presence. This stuff is 10%, Breakfast Stout is a little over 8%, and the impact in the flavor, IMHO, is astounding. I recommend this one as enthusiastically as the other, but this one I'd not necessarily save for dessert.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Yesterday my son and I saw Zero Dark Thirty and we both enjoyed it quite a lot. It's not as good as director Kathryn Bigelow's previous film, The Hurt Locker, which might be the best war movie I've ever seen. Still, "not as good as The Hurt Locker" is the closest I can come to finding a complaint with this film. Zero Dark Thirty is well worth your time to see in the theater. But it's hard not to compare it to that previous movie, and
I won't try to resist the urge.

I remember when Zero Dark Thirty first went into production, some on the right were concerned that it would be hastily produced, released in October 2012, and amount to a campaign film for the Obama administration. But if the final cut of this film had been released last October, it would have done little to effect the Presidential race one way or another. Political matters are addressed in the film appropriately, simply as a reality that does effect the decisions of those in power in DC. But, like The Hurt Locker, this film manages to avoid political statements on the whole and instead tries to say something honest about modern war, and about the things that drive, obsess, and ultimately consume those who wage it. The Hurt Locker puts viewers in the streets with troops, and Zero Dark Thirty puts us in the lives of those who put those troops in those streets. In both films the focus is on people who don't seem to understand their own frantic drive.

The movie is tense and suspenseful, which is saying something given that from the start we know how it's going to end. Jessica Chastain in the lead makes her CIA operative character compelling and sympathetic, although not with the kind of urgency that Jeremy Renner brought to his performance in the lead role of The Hurt Locker. The supporting actors are all either very strong or perfectly acceptable, and Bigelow's camera sustains that same documentary-like immediacy that made The Hurt Locker such a tight, strong film. It would be easy to look for metaphoric meaning in the movie's concluding scene, but there's no need. Like everything that came before it, the final scene of Zero Dark Thirty is blunt and unflinching. Both films conclude directly, and seem to say something honest about the world we've lived in since September of 2001. The war on terror has been politicized since day one, and nearly every public statement made about it has been disingenuous. It's hard to believe that one objective, humane, apolitical film about the war has been made for a major studio. Kathryn Bigelow has now made two such films.

Monday, January 7, 2013


Today my son and I saw Not Fade Away, which I would describe as That Thing You Do by way of The Sopranos.  It was written, produced and directed by David Chase, the writer, director and producer behind The Sopranos. Chase spent the 60's trying as hard as he could to be a musician in a successful rock band, so, you do the math.

Like The Sopranos, Not Face Away is dense and existential, and populated by quirky characters.  Characters that are sometimes too quirky to be believable, in fact.  But it shows off a lot of what Chase does right... dialogue, tone and a certain warmth.  It also showcases Chase's weaknesses, too, unfortunately.  Such as a tendency toward affectation, and no ability whatsoever to write an ending.

The story is highly autobiographical, apparently.  The main character is a rock musician in the 60's; a young man growing up with the usual daddy issues and angry-young-man politics and sexual preoccupation.  It's a coming of age story wherein the main character never really comes of age.  But he does gradually change his focus from rock music to film, as did Chase.  It's your call as to whether or not he found a medium better suited to his abilities.

Chase gets another strong performance out of James Gandolfini, the main character's dad, and a character who's complex and sympathetic and believable.  It is to Chase's credit that this character's medical issues are never played for obvious emotional ballast, nor are his motives laid out in a heart felt, come-to-Jesus conversation between the father and the son.  Gandolfini steals all of his scenes, sometimes just by quietly moving his eyes.  To hell with Robert Pattinson, nobody broods like James Gandolfini.

I'd be reluctant to recommend this movie to anyone other than hardcore fans of Gandolfini or David Chase.  There are some beautiful shots of a meticulously reconstructed late '60's urban New Jersey and New York, and there are a few scenes that are intersting in a quiet way. I'll give Chase kudos, too, for never making the main character particularly sympathetic. I think Chase might look back at his young self as a bit of a prick. I can relate, ad I liked that Chase never asked me to feel anything other than annoyance at his youthful indiscretions. The main character is preoccupied with Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone. That might explain his eventual work in TV, but gives no hint about his refusal to moralize.  And since he won't offer conclusions, there is not much in the way of character arc, and nothing much to talk about afterwards.  It's a well made, nice looking film that amounts to very little. To the extent that you think the same can be said about life, you might find more to like about Not Fade Away than I did.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

In all of the last decade might have watched ten hours of television. That all changed in 2012 when I decided to check out Breaking Bad. Now I have ten years of of good TV to catch up on. Shows I'd have never thought existed because, let's face it, 99% of television is shit.

 We live in a society that can't get enough So You Think You Can Dance, Big Bang Theory and Jersey Shore, People watch those shows like cattle standing in a field, glassy eyed and uncomprehending, glancing at the cars that occasionally drive past. It's passive TV for passive people. As it turns out, there is active TV out there, too. Television that requires the viewer to engage, to think, to participate in his or her own entertainment experience.

The best TV shows I've seen during my period of television rediscovery are Louie, Justified, and the amazing, incomparable Breaking Bad. But my list of top-notch, perfect shows has just gone up by one.

 The Wire, which aired for five seasons during the last decade on HBO, is just as good as those other shows. It's not as balls-to-the-wall entertaining as those shows, it's a very slow burn and it requires your full concentration. But I'm a little more than half way through season one, and I am officially in love with The Wire.

The suspense and tension of this show is drawn out so slowly, with such meticulous detail, that you never see it coming until you realize you're completely sucked into it. If Breaking Bad is like a great Led Zeppelin song, with gentle, melodic, acoustic sections that frequently give way to blasts of electric, earth-shattering rock, then The Wire is more like jazz. It takes a while to even figure out what the hell you're trying to enjoy. Like a Thelonious Monk album, watching this show is a process of discovery. I've slowly gone from not being sure what the appeal is to following the beat and grooving along. Now, (to continue the album metaphor) I'm just getting into side two and completely ensnared by the music. It is so worthy of my time and attention. I'm grateful to my friends who suggested I investigate The Wire. This is one more reason I shouldn't have declared TV dead and pointless so long ago.