Thursday, February 28, 2013

Founders Centennial IPA is really tasty. It pours golden brown with a quickly fading head that leaves a little lace. The aroma is great, a strong, floral hop with a big, malt background. The flavor is that in spades. The hops hit in the front and the malt is really bready and rich and dense. This is a balanced, delicious IPA.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

From the name, I expected Samuel Smith India Ale to be an IPA. From the first sniff of the aroma I knew something was off, and the second I tasted it was wondering what the hell I was actually drinking. Turns out, this is a "Premium Bitter," but I'd guess it's not a very good one. It pours dark golden peach in color with a faint, soapy head. The aroma, to my way of thinking, was kinda like a hoppy Fat Tire. The flavor isn't what I expected at all. It starts out clean and gets malty on the finish, but slides just a little bitterness under the tongue. It isn't awful, but I won't have it again. I still regard Samuel Smith's Imperial Ale as one of my favorite beers ever, but this one just ain't in my zone.

Wells Banana Bread Beer isn't my kind of thing. It has a thin, light brown body with a faint head. The aroma smells strongly of artificial banana flavor, kind of like Jello pudding. The flavor is a very mediocre pale ale with that strong, synthetic banana taste over top. I'd recommend that anyone looking for a beer with a banana bread quality have Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout instead. For my money there is a stronger, richer banana bread quality there than there is here.

Green Flash's Hop Head Red is not at all what I want when I crack open an IPA... but it tastes so damn good, and is so completely unique, that it's become one of my favorite brews. The aroma hints at the hops, and the hops are there in the flavor, but in an understated way. What really dominates the flavor is a rich malt complexity that is somewhat sweet but never gets old. There are notes I associate with autumn, such as candied sweet potatoes and nuts, candied fruit, hearty breads, cinnamon and nutmeg. I've drank enough Hop Head Red to get used to it over time, but I've never been disappointed.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

I decided I had to try North Coast's Old Stock Ale after A G+ buddy raved about it. This stuff pours golden brown with a gimongous head. The aroma is hoppy, but with musky notes of malt and honey. The flavor is just tremendous. The sweetness in the front is followed by a really creamy, sweet malt, some tingle, and a huge, rich exhale. The mouthfeel is really big, really sticky. Some barley wines can be cloying, but this one isn’t at all. But it is rich and strong enough to hide that almost 12% ABV. This is really good beer.

In which I reveal myself, yet again, to be the asshole that I am.

So, this picture is bouncing around in my Facebook stream:
I've blurred the photo and the details because I'm not inclined to help this woman. I don't really wish this woman in particular any ill will, but every single time I see someone doing this ... some biological "parent" trying to track down the child they gave away years ago, I have the same reaction: What a selfish, shitty thing to do.

People share these kinds of photos because of a strong, understandable gut reaction. They are trying to help reunite a parent and a child. As a parent, I understand that. But, as an adoptive parent, I also understand that this woman is not a parent, not in any meaningful way, unless she's raised children other than the one she is searching for.

How selfish, how absolutely narcissistic, to want to intrude on the life of a full-grown person and impose your ill-conceived "parenthood" on them. What a shitty thing to do to that now-adult child, and what a shitty thing to do to the parents who raised that child... the people who were actually did the parenting.

Don't give me any shit, either, about this woman having a right as a "biological parent." Being a biological parent, in and of itself, is not parenting at all. It's next to meaningless. Reproduction is a simple, basic biological function; no better and no more special than eating, coughing, or taking a big crap. Hell, even cockroaches reproduce. Big godamn deal. Reproduction is not magical, it doesn't give you some unimaginable bond or unbreakable lifelong attachment. Yes, I do believe that an unborn child is just that; a child... but once you give away your claim to that child's upbringing, that claim is gone forever.

And don't give me a load of crap about this woman needing closure. She has had years to find some kind of closure and learn to accept the decision she made years ago. Her inability to accept the finality of her decision is nobody's problem but her own, and she has no right to expect anyone else to allow upheaval in their lives on her behalf.

Don't even hand me theoretical bullshit about this woman having possibly been forced to give her child away. Hell, I'll grant you that premise, if you want. Let's say that is the case. Let's say this woman did, under some tragic circumstances, find herself forced to part with a baby years ago. If that did happen, then, yes, it is a tragedy. But how will her past pain be assuaged by causing upheaval in the life of someone who is now a stranger?

No one owes this woman a thing. Her guilt and her pain are her own, she has no right to impose misery on anyone. No one owes her the ceremonial acceptance of her "love." What "love" could she feel for a child she doesn't know? She's projecting a fantasy onto a real person with a real life, and if she really felt any meaningful love for that human being, she'd not want to disrupt his or her life.

Yeah, sure, I admit, I'm a hard-ass. But I am also an adoptive parent who has devoted my life to my child. MY child, the child I have raised, the child I have dedicated my life to, the child who means more to me than anyone else or anything else. If anyone with a merely chemical and otherwise meaningless connection to him ever showed up and attempted to claim parenthood, regardless of the purity of their intentions, I'd raise a kind of hell they'd never hope to see again.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The 2013 Oscars were last night, and I followed through with my yearly tradition of not watching because I don't give a shit. I suppose that the Oscars might hold some interest if you're the kind of person who enjoys the Miss America pageant or The Surreal Life on VH1, but I couldn't care less about any of that. I'm a movie fan. I love movies. For anyone who loves movies, the Oscars are an empty, pointless display.

I guess the Oscars do kinda matter, in one way: They have an effect on who gets bankrolled for big, elaborate movie projects. They effect which actors are considered for meatier, more meaningful rolls. The Oscars effect the way that certain kinds of films are marketed, but even in that capacity, the Oscars are increasingly less and less important. That was proven pretty thoroughly in 2010.

In 2010, two of the movies that were up for the best picture Oscar were Avatar and The Hurt Locker. And, if ever two films were the polar opposites of each other, they were Avatar and The Hurt Locker. These two movies couldn't have been more different; they worked so differently and advanced such different themes that it's as though they were working against each other. Hell, they were even directed by former spouses... The Hurt Locker by the then-little-known Kathryn Bigelow, and Avatar by her ex-husband, the glossiest and most self-important whore in Hollywood, James Cameron.

Let's consider the two movies on their own merits. Avatar is a huge sci-fi spectacle of a movie. It cost $237 million to make, it combines live action and CGI, it stars some of the biggest names in Hollywood, it features elaborate set design, imaginative costumes, inventive props and concepts, and clocks in at 162 minutes, or 171 minutes, or maybe 178 minutes, depending on which cut of the film you've seen. And Avatar puts to use all of it's time, money, and resources to tell a story that amounts to "White people are evil, space Smurfs rule."


Now let's consider The Hurt Locker, a film so small in comparison that there just is no comparison. The Hurt Locker featured no real star power in terms of actors; it's biggest star at the time of it's release, Guy Pearce, is only in the movie for the first ten minutes. The Hurt Locker was filmed for only fifteen million dollars, which sounds like a lot to you and me, until you consider that the crew of Avatar spent that much money on toilet paper. The Hurt Locker is set during the war in Iraq and was filmed on location in the Middle East, where the cast and crew lived in squalor and suffered from oppressive heat, digestive bugs and food poisoning. The goal of the film makers, which was to produce a raw and visceral film about war, was largely sustained by shooting under those conditions.

The response to The Hurt Locker from the critics and movie goers who have seen it is almost universal praise. In fact, with this movie, Kathryn Bigelow and her cast and crew accomplished something kind of miraculous. They made a movie about one of the most polarizing subjects of the last 50 years, the war in Iraq, and managed to produce a film that genuinely pleases almost everyone on both sides of the political divide. By focusing on the humanity of those who fight the war, and by quietly but honestly giving us a look at what war does to them, The Hurt Locker gives viewers a sense of the debt we owe our soldiers. In that, in it's unifying power and it's meaningful message, The Hurt Locker can actually bring people together at a time of deep division, and maybe even promote some kind of healing.


So, fast forward to Oscar night, and both Avatar and The Hurt Locker are up for Best Picture. And even fans of The Hurt Locker thought they knew how it was going to play out. After all, the Academy loves an epic. Consider the Lord Of The Rings: Return of the King and Gladiator and Cameron's own Titanic, all recent Best Picture winners. A humble little film like The Hurt Locker was lucky just to be nominated in the Year of the Avatar, right? How could it possibly actually win? Nonetheless, the people behind The Hurt Locker got all dressed up and went to the ceremony and sat politely among their peers, and, whattaya know? The Academy actually tossed them a couple of Oscars here and there. At one point, in a big surprise, Bigelow herself was recognized for her work with the Best Director Oscar. And then, when it was time to finally get around to recognizing the Avatar cash-machine steamroller, this happened:

Somehow, the Academy got it right. Somehow, in the year of the Jedi Smurfs, Oscar recognized a small film that many saw as an expression of gratitude to men and women in uniform... men and women who sometimes lose far more than the spoils of any war could repay. And how did the media respond to this upset? By focusing on Katherine Bigalow's historic vagina.

"Female director makes history at the Oscars," belched Reuters, captivated by the fact that none of the previous Best Director winners were women. The Guardian UK was equally stunned, and for the same reason. The Daily Mail gushed "Kathryn Bigelow made history last night after becoming the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director - and trounced her ex-husband in the process." And on, and on, and on. The Hurt Locker itself, and the profundity of it's story, was almost entirely ignored.

But, none of that really matters, right? As I said myself earlier, Oscars are really about image marketing. A Best Picture Oscar is a marketing coop. That kind of high-profile, prestigious attention gets people to actually see movies, right? Winning a Best Picture Oscar would surely be enough to get The Hurt Locker in front of the audience it deserves, correct?

Since it's release, The Hurt Locker has earned less than fifty million dollars. As of now, Avatar has made more than 2.7 trillion dollars. That's right, two fucking point seven trillion fucking godamn dollars. That means that Avatar has made 57 times more money than The Hurt Locker. Eight motherfucking hundred motherfucking BILLION of those Avatar dollars have been spent by Americans, alone. For about the same money, we could have built 170 Nimitz class aircraft carriers and blown up every fucking thing.

Now, sure, there have been some lasting effects. Bigelow's name is a name now, and she got to direct Zero Dark Thirty, a movie about the military's eventually successful efforts to take out Osama bin Ladin. That movie was mostly snubbed during last night's Oscars, but who cares, right? Kathryn Bigelow's vagina can only break a record once. Meanwhile, James Cameron is developing the next two films in the Avatar trilogy, because if modern movie goers know one thing, it's how to throw their money down the trilogy hole. Oh, and The Hurt Locker? I picked up my copy on blu-ray for four bucks, brand new, just before Christmas, 2011. It's the best movie about war that I've ever seen.

And that is why, even when the Oscars matter, they don't matter at all.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Brews like Psycho Kilter Wee Heavy justify my opinion that Starr Hill is the best of the established Virginia breweries. It's malt forward and light on hops, in the Scottish tradition, with a boozy character. Psycho kilter pours a bright brown, similar to a Belgian triple, with a medium head. The aroma is slight, I picked up on some of the roasted malt, but not a lot else. I'd honestly expected more in the way of aroma. The flavor is very good. Spicey, bitter, pungent roasted malt finishes with a mild hop tingle and a little heat (9.3% ABV). This might be the most complex of the Starr Hill brews I've had, and if it comes out in 12 oz bottles I'll buy it again.

The only thing that sucks about Lagunitas Sucks is that this IPA is a limited time release. And an accidental one that that; this was a brew that resulted from a mistake, and that explains the self-depreciating name. Sucks might be the best Laugnitas brew I've had, with a strong hop profile that doesn't at all detract from the sweet, rich, almost-barley-wine like character. Strong molasses and honey gives this thing an unmistakable uniqueness. I'll miss it when it is gone.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Troeg's Nugget Nectar Imperial IPA is among the very best IPAs I have had. It's exceptional, beginning with the appearance. This is the prettiest beer I’ve seen in a long time, it has a beautiful, crystal clear amber body that turns light sources into glowing embers across the room. That ugly-ass label doesn't do the brew itself any justice at all. The head is medium but very consistent, hangs around and leaves a lot of lace. Huge pine and citrus hops in the aroma, this thing just screams Imperial IPA from the glass to your nose, and the flavor is outstanding. The hops are strong and bitter in the front and back, and there’s a buttery, rich malt that floats through the middle and dominates the aftertaste. I will be buying this again, and in six packs.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Weyerbacher Last Chance IPA is shitty and you should not drink it. It pours a hazy golden color with an average head that leaves splotchy lacing. The aroma is the best thing abut it; big, citrus and piney hops that make a big promise. That promise is not delivered in the taste. In the flavor there is a big swell of hops in the front that just vaporizes immediately, leaving nothing. There’s nothing but water through the swallow, and a sort of mildly medicinal finish. I did not finish it this glass. This is a very bad beer.

My appreciation of canned beer is an evolving thing. And, believe me, the fact that I even have an appreciation of canned beer is kind of a surprise. I avoided canned beer like the plague for years. My discrimination against cans goes back a long way. I've associated cans with cheap, shitty beer since ... well, since I was still drinking what I now regard as cheap, shitty bottled beer. Everyone needs something to look down his nose at, right? Said the 22 year old version of me, standing with a Michelob in his hand and making fun of his friend with a can of Bud.

Anyway.

Move forward twenty-some years and now I'm all about craft beer. I've actually become a bona fide beer geek. The history, variety, and art of beer is just about my favorite topic. My attitudes have changed a lot, and I even have a working relationship with cans these days. Oskar Blues turned me around on the can with Ten Fidy, a huge, thick, oily, loquacious, angry Russian stout. I love it, I buy it all the time, and the can is not a factor in my enjoyment. (Of course, any beer worth drinking is a beer worth pouring. I drink nothing right out of the can or out of the bottle. But I digress.)

Other beers I've since enjoyed from the can have been similarly aggressive brews. Other stouts, big IPAs, strong Scotch ale, etc. But, whenever I have one I always marvel at how good it is, given that it was sold in a can. I will admit that that I have learned over the past year that cans, in and of themselves, are no reason to blanch at a brew. You can't judge a beer by it's container. And, hell, cans may have advantages... at least with regard to protection from light, and as far as storage and transportation, etc. I've even heard from reputable sources that there is no reason to believe that modern canning processes effect taste. Many people even make the assertion that there is no reason to believe that the can itself effects taste. That, for me, is the final hurdle.

I can't help it, man. I've harbored this attitude for twenty-plus years. Part of me believes that the reason the canned brews I've enjoyed lately have survived the can is because they're damn strong ales. Deep, black stouts and hopped up IPAs just kick aluminum's ass, right? And it takes a hop overload or a ridiculous amount of malt to withstand the taint of alloy. Right? I may never shut off the little voice that makes that assertion.

Now comes news that The Boston Beer Company is going to can Samuel Adams. The idea makes me wince a little bit. I cannot help but believe that a marginal-to-passable lager like Sam Adams isn't going to stand up to aluminum, regardless of what kind of process the Boston Brewery is using.

I'll try one, that's for sure. I've always thought that Sam Adams Boston Lager was a decent session beer. No, it isn't what I'd pour if I wanted something to sip slowly and enjoy as I unwind at the end of the day. However, (and I'll stand on Greg Koch's desk in my workboots and say this) Sam Adams is as good as anything else for washing down buffalo wings. I will always have a little place in my heart and in my belly for Boston Lager. So, I'll try it in cans. If it still tastes alright out of the can, maybe it will be enough to kill my can bias forever.

Probably not, but maybe.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Avery's The Czar Imperial Stout is really good. It pours thin but jet black with a cloudy, tan head. The aroma is sweet and rich with a strong malt. The taste is somewhere between Narwhal and Founder's Breakfast Stout. It's rich and sweet, with strong chocolate and coffee and some ginger and maple. Really tasty.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

I don't even know how to review Old Rasputin Russian imperial stout anymore. I've reviewed it a few times. Sometimes I try to write about it objectively and other times I just fire off a quick love song. I'll try to hit a few highlights here:

  • Words that describe this beer objectively include dark, rich, viscous, strong, delicious, oily, inky, boozy, sweet ... raisins, nutmeg, espresso, dark bread, brownies, cocoa, cherries ... you get the idea.
  • I have to have this beer on a regular basis. I have to. Not really, really frequently, but regularly. I can go a couple of months between four-packs, but when the craving hits, nothing else works.
  • When someone says they like stout, my first question is, very simply, "Old Rasputin?" If they just respond with something like "Hell, yeah," then I know there's nothing else we need to say.
  • I have no idea what a four-pack of Old Rasputin costs at my local stores. I don't even look at the price-tag. I just pick it up and carry it to the counter. If the counter guy said something like "Are you aware the price of this has doubled?" ... I'd say "OK, and?"
  • Whenever I think I ought to stop drinking for a while, one of the first things that goes through my mind is that if I'm not drinking, I'm not drinking Old Rasputin. That's what I call a "reset thought."

Avery's IPA is just called India Pale Ale. The name implies a minimalist brew, and it really isn't elaborate at all, but it ain't bad at all, either. Pours a bright golden color with a foamy head that leaves a thin but continuous amount of lace. The aroma is hops and sweet citrus, kind of a tangerine thing. The front of the flavor is very much like the smell; floral hops and citrus, then there's a big malt in the finish. At 6.5% ABV this would be a good session IPA. It's not bad.

Bell's Smitten Golden Rye Ale doesn't hit the rye very hard. It's very hazy in the glass, with what looked like protein clumps, although my bottle was only about a month old. The head faded quickly and left no real lace. The rye in the aroma is very understated, mostly I picked up on some grapefruit hoppiness. Very little rye in the flavor as well. Pine, citrus hop notes made for a nice IPA like tingle, but nothing really special. I like Sierra Nevada's Ruthless Rye and Founder's Red Rye PA better, and I'll probably stick with those two for my rye fix.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Bell's Kalamazo Stout is rich and strong. It pours thick and inky in appearance with a slight but creamy head. The aroma is sweet; cherries and caramel malt, with a little coffee quality. The flavor is sly, the sweetness in the flavor doesn't dominate at all. Instead there's the strong coffee, burnt toast, some hoppy tingle, and then a flood of rich malt and licorice. Very good.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Last night I had a chance to check out Blue 5, a bar and grill in Roanoke that boasts an impressive 46 craft beers on tap. OK, maybe that's not insanely impressive for you BIG city folks, but for Roanoke, 46 good beers on tap makes for a damn fine evening. I sat up a couple of flights and tasted eight of the available brews, checking out the draft versions of some of my bottled favorites and a few brand new (to me) choices, too. Here's how it shook out:

1) Allagash Yakuza is a very light, mild Belgian triple. Pale, clear yellow, mild aroma. Slight flavor, mildly fruity, with a crisp finish. Just not a lot going on.

2) Allagash Curieux is an oak aged Belgian triple, and that oak aging really takes up a notch better than the Yakuza. The same mildly fruity start is complimented with a big, vanilla/bourbon finish that makes it both smoother and stronger than the Yakuza. I really enjoyed it.

3) I had the bottled version of St. Bernardus Abt. 12 last week. I loved it, and I loved the draft version even more. There is so much complexity to the full, rich flavor. Cinnamon tones, plus raisins and currants, bananas and all-spice, and a huge, rich, malty finish. This was the highlight of the night. Absolutely delicious by any standard. I recommend it without reservation to everyone.

4) Duvel is another strong Belgian with a light body and slight aroma. It has apple and banana notes in the middle and another smooth finish, but overall didn't really do a lot for me.

5) Old Rasputin on tap is sweeter and richer than the bottled version. There was a strong, creamy, very sweet chocolate quality here that seemed to be to be very distinct from the same Russian imperial stout when poured from the bottle. It was delicious, but seemed to pack a lot less bite.

6) Founder's Breakfast Stout on tap was the disappointment of the night. It was nowhere near as chewy or full as the Breakfast stout I'm used to. The strong baker's chocolate taste wasn't as pronounced. The coffee/espresso quality was more of a forward presence, though.

7) Unita's Sea Legs is an oak aged Baltic porter, and it's delicious. I loved it. The bourbon quality is present as a rich vanilla, and the malt had a nutty, bready character that just worked perfectly with the oak. I'd suggest this as a great starter for anyone who's interested in bourbon barrel aged beers, it's very smooth and very sweet, but not at all subtle. Of the beers I tried that were new to me, this is the one I'll most certainly add to my own regular rotation if I can find it.

8) Arrogant Bastard, a beer I love, but this was my first chance to have it on tap. It was amazing and absolutely better than it is in the bottle. It was very smooth, buttery, with a little more citrus and a little cleaner hop finish than I'm used to. Stone, as always, FTW.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

DuClaw's Hellrazer IPA tastes better than cat piss smells. It pours a dull copper color with a brief head that leaves no real lacing to speak of. The aroma is almost nonexistent, so at least it doesn't stink. I honestly pick up on no smell, save maybe a faint implication of hops. The flavor is on the bitter side, I suppose. There's a slightly astringent hop character that leaves a little tingle of an aftertaste, but not much more. I won't have this again.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

I'd been reviewing beer on G+ for about a year before I started this blog, and there are a couple hundred beer reviews, complete with pictures, posted there. I'll continue reviewing beer on G+, as that particular corner of the internet provides me with a craft beer geek's community, and I enjoy the interactions there. But I'll also post my beer reviews here, at this blog. Craft beer is such a huge, beloved part of my life that I cannot imagine keeping a personal blog and not talking about the brews I love so much.

The seventh (and current, as of this writing) set of beer review/pictures kinda dovetails with this blog, there are beers reviewed here that are also reviewed there. That seventh set of reviews is here, nicely organized in a Picasa photo album. The remaining sets all contain reviews that will not be reproduced at this blog, and they are as follows:

Beer Review Photo Album No. 6
Beer Review Photo Album No. 5
Beer Review Photo Album No. 4
Beer Review Photo Album No. 3
Beer Review Photo Album No. 2
Beer Review Photo Album No. 1

In addition to that, I have a profile at RateBeer.com, and try to remember to review every new beer I try there. You can click this link to see my all time favorite beers, beginning with the best of the best.

Green Flash's Palate Wrecker is an IPA to be reckoned with. It pours an absolutely beautiful, bright, clear golden peach color, with a nominal head but a lot of lacing. The aroma is a lot of pine and a little bit of floral, but all hops. The flavor is monstrous hops. Just absolutely unrestrained hop aggression. As the name suggests, this is an IPA for hop heads only. Make it your last, or only, beer of the evening. Palate Wrecker is not quite in league with Stone's Ruination, which is more complex and a little denser, but it's very good.

Red Seal Ale must be North Coast's session beer. It pours deep amber with a very typical head for the style. The aroma is basic, a mild malt, some tangy hops and a little citrus. The flavor is a little better than many American pale ales. Crisp, clean, a little grapefruit and pine in the finish. It's OK and I'd drink it if you handed me one, but I won't buy it again.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

There are three beers in Avery's demon series. The Beast is the least of them, and it is still damn good. It's a Belgian that's just shy of 17% ABV, and it kicks like a mule. But it's a sweet kick, with a sticky mouthfeel and a ton of brown sugar, molasses and something like rum in the flavor. It's such a sweet kick that you might not realize how hard it's hit you until you've finished it too quickly. So be careful.



Samael's oak aged ale is a barley wine, and the first barley wine I ever loved. This thing is wonderful, and I like it more every time I have it. In many ways it's a typical barley wine, with that oily mouth feel and the sweet, honey-like quality that dominates the flavor. No denying it, the 15.5% ABV grabs you right away, and it doesn't let go. Yet there's so much more going on here, and not just with that boozy, oak quality. Every sip offers other sweet tones ... graham crackers, candied sweet potatoes, caramel/vanilla ice cream, peanut brittle. It's like Christmas at your grandmothers, only you and granny are working on a buzz.



The third of the Demon series is my favorite stout, I like it even more than that vaunted Bourbon County ... which is, I admit, damn good. But Avery's Mephistopheles calls that Goose Creek offering Bitch County. Mephistopheles is an aggressive brew by any measure. It pours jet black with blood red highlights and a small head that doesn't last. The aroma is gigantic coffee, chocolate and booze. The flavor is booze, chocolate, booze, coffee, booze and booze. You'd expect that at 16%+ ABV. Mephistopheles demands that you pace yourself. And it's worth every timid sip.

Avery's demon series is my favorite "extreme beer" series by any brewery. Handle with care, frequently.

Monday, February 11, 2013

I finally got around to trying St. Bernardus Abt 12, a Belgian quad that many people say is as good as Westvleteren 12, the ellusive, so-called best beer in the world. I can't comment on Westy 12, I've never had it. But I liked Abt 12 a lot, and thought it was like a very slightly dryer Rohefort 10.

Abt 12 is a dark brown with copper highlights, and about two fingers of heads that fades but leaves thick sheets of lace. The aroma is complex; dense, dry, rich, fruity. The flavor is slightly sweet up front and dry and very crisp in the finish, and in between there are different notes with every sip. Citrus and bananas, toffee, chocolate, caramel, walnuts, coffee... and then, on the exhale, other combinations of those flavors present. Abt 12 is delicious, and it's a little more affordable than Rochefort 10. Without a doubt I'll have it again.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

I don't like winter, but I don't trust spring. I specifically don't trust the month of April.

April has a great publicist. We're fed all this crap from earliest childhood about what a great month April is, how it's a time of renewal and rebirth, etc. We're handed all this imagery to associate with April; showers and flowers and watercolored countrysides, bursting with new life. It's bullshit. April's scents and colors are perfume and makeup, and under all of that there's a vicious, hateful old whore.

It's tempting now to give you a list of my own personal reasons for hating April. It's a temptation I won't even try to resist. Here are some of my reasons for hating April... My grandmother died in April. A teenage cousin of mine succumbed to brain cancer in April. On two subsequent Aprils I lost two very close friends, very suddenly. They were both here one moment, gone the next. My first wife walked out in April of 2000, my second wife walked out one April morning nine years later. I was diagnosed with cancer in April. Is that enough? Because, there is more. My list of items is memorized, cataloged, studied and loathed.

Now, you might be tempted to explain away my feelings about April as a kind of displacement; an almost irrational connection of specific painful events to the month of their coincidental occurrences. That's not the case. April isn't just a shitty month for me. April is cruel to us all.

Titanic sank in April. 1,500 people either drowned or froze to death in the north Atlantic on April 15, 1912, toward no ultimate good and imparting no greater meaning. Martin Luther King was murdered on an early April day in Memphis. The Bataan Death March took place in April. On April 12, 1861, Confederate soldiers attacked Fort Stumter, officially beginning the American Civil War. The great San Francisco earthquake claimed more than 4,000 lives on April 18, 1906. And, in 1986, on April 6, a bomb went off in a Berlin club that was frequented by American servicemen and their friends. Three people were killed, more than seventy were injured, terrorists were to blame, and our modern age of uncertainty was christened.

You want more? The Columbine massacre was April 20th. The Chernobyl melt-down was April 26th. The USS Iowa explosion killed 47 sailors on April 19, 1989. The US Government killed more than 80 people when it burned the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas on that same April date, four years later. And a little shindig known as the LA Riots began following the aquital of the cops who beat Rodney King on April 29, 1992.

But surely, you might say, there must be more than infamous death associated with April. There must also be April dates that mark historic new lives! Weren't there any notable, important people born in the month of April? Well, sure, there were. Hitler, for instance. He was born on April 20th. (His henchman Rudolph Hess celebrated his birthdays on April 25th.) Vladimir Lenin was born on April 22nd; he went on to cause thousands of deaths and decades of Communist oppression. Japan's Emperor Hirohito was born on April 29th. As an adult, Hirohito authorized the bombing of Pearl Harbor. April 29th also marks the birth of William Randolph Hearst, and you can think him for tabloids, the Spanish American war, and the prohibition of marijuana.

Of course, plenty of April babies are innocent of large scale death and destruction. Some of them killed on a much smaller scale. For instance:
  • high society boyfriend killer, Jean Harris (4/27)
  • British serial strangler John Christie (4/8)
  • Russian serial killer Alexander Pichushkin (4/9)
  • Al Capone's Valentine's Day hitman, Tony Accardo (4/26)
  • and Adam Lanza, the child killer of Sandy Hook (4/22).
And just as one final fuck you to the universe, the month of April gave us David Blaine. He was born on April 4, 1973, and became famous for sitting in a godamn box for a long time.

Alright, yeah, fine, there were also a few good people born in the month of April. But, after reading all of that, if you still want to throw parties for Thomas Jefferson, Robert Downey, Jr., and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ... well, be my guest.

I'm posting this now, in February, well ahead of the month of April, for two reasons.  I know that some people have things to look forward to in April and I don't want to wait until that treacherous month gets here and rain on anyone's parade.  And it is entirely possible that this April will be uneventful.   

Yeah, I was kind of a smart-ass in the last part of this post, but I wasn't insincere. I do hate and mistrust April, and it comes around every year. Be ready for it, because, like much of life, it ain't necessarily what it seems.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

MOVIE REVIEW: SKYFALL

My son and I saw Skyfall at a second run theater this week, and we both enjoyed it. I'm no huge James Bond fan, but I used to watch the old Connery films when I was a kid, and I always enjoyed them. Skyfall is an anniversary film of sorts, it marks fifty years of James Bond films. This movie sets a new direction for the franchise while serving as a tribute to the bond films that came before. And that is fitting, given that the creative team behind this latest film was surely influenced by the creators of the classic Bond movies.

There are numerous easter eggs and call-backs to the previous Bond films. I won't spoil all of them, but I will say to expect familiar props, names and locations. Some of the call-backs are very subtle; the martini reference slipped right past my son but made me laugh out loud. Other references are as blatant as a tricked out, vintage Aston Martin.

But there is a lot more to Skyfall's "ghosts of 007's past" themes than just sight gags and arched eyebrows. The movie slyly contemplates it's own relevance in an age where super spies have been replaced (both on screen and off) by drones, satellites and paramilitary contractors. Could, in this world, one highly trained secret agent be a useful weapon against terror? Could modern films about such fictional agents provide both contemplation and entertainment? Skyfall argues successfully in the affirmative, and makes James Bond seem as relevant in 2013 as Batman, Cybercrime, and Seal Team Six.

Skyfall isn't a perfect film. It's too long by at least half an hour, and the final action sequence is badly handicapped by a sluggish set-up. But the slick style provided enough eye-candy to keep me from falling asleep when the story lagged a bit. the performances are all laudable. Daniel Craig is an entertaining Bond, and Judy Dench, Naomie Harris and Ralph Fiennes all provide strong support. As the new villain, Javier Bardem creates a character even creepier than his No Country For Old Men assassin; Bond's new nemesis plays like a cross between Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs and Heath Ledger's Joker. Throw in some great action sequences, lavish location shooting, and metaphoric content that actually works, and it all adds up to a fine bit of escapism.

Friday, February 8, 2013

I've wanted to taste The Perfect Crime since I first heard about it several months ago. This is a saison that represents a collaboration between Stillwater Artisanal (never heard of 'em), Evil Twin (a brewery I love) and Stone Brewing (all hail). Still, I haven't been that enthusiastic about tracking it down because this is a saison, a style that's understated and light, with qualities that are usually lost on me. I'm more of a sledgehammer, imperial IPA, bourbon barrel stout kind of guy. The Perfect Crime is smoked and pours very dark but very thin, with a brief head. It isn't a very pretty beer, it just looks like dirty water. The aroma is anise, charcoal and some hops. The aroma is what reminded me most of Evil Twin and their distinct beer. The flavor presents all of the aroma's notes, plus a faint presence of banana and citrus, and a mild hop tingle at the end. It's an odd beer, but not a surprising one. It's neither one thing nor another, and it doesn't leave me wanting a second bottle. This "Perfect Crime" is a misdemeanor at most.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Lagunitas Sucks is a fine IPA. It pours a clear amber and has a brief head with continual lacing. The aroma is huge on hops, mostly pine notes, but some floral qualities, too. The flavor is great. Hoppy and bitter through and through, but a rich malt in the background and some caramel and molasses. This is one of the best brews I've had form Lagunitas.

Avery's Rumpkin is a Pumpkin Ale aged in rum barrels, and it's a heavy thing. It pours from the bottle a very nice copper color that certainly implies pumpkin, with a small and insignificant head. The aroma is really big. There’s a lot of pumpkin and spice, and a hell of a lot of alcohol in the nose. At 18% ABV, that's not surprising. The taste is like a very, very strong Belgian ale with some pumpkin and rum tones and lots of heat. The alcohol in this thing isn’t hidden at all, it’s right up front. Not bad, but might be better with some age on it.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Avery's Anniversary Nineteen Belgian Triple Ale is a'ight. The color is nothing special, it's yellow and hazy with a medium head. The aroma is fairly standard for a triple, bananas and citrus and a little bit of hops, with that usual, mildly cabbage-like tone in the background. The taste is pretty good. There's enough malt in the finish to surprise me a little bit. Overall, no better than the Trader Joe's Belgian I bought on the same day, but it cost a hell of a lot more than the Trader Joe's did.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Apocalypse Ale Works, a new brewery just outside of Lynchburg, opened today. Apocalypse is the new undertaking of the owners of Pints O' Plenty, which is just about my favorite beer store. I've followed the progress as the owners have readied this new brewery, and yesterday I was happy to visit on the brewery's opening day. I had my growler filled with Hopocalypse, one of the two initial beers offered on opening day, and I really, really like it. Hopocalypse is an Imperial Red Ale, something like Oskar Blue's G'Knight, another beer I like a lot. I think I like Hopocalypse a little more, because along with those big hops that are present in G'Knight, Hopocalypse has an absolutely delicious malt that's strong and forward in the flavor. It pours a rusty red color with a couple of fingers of head, and the aroma hints at the hops, along with that buttery malt. But the harmony in the flavor is just exceptional. Citrus and grassy hops on the front give way to this rich, delicious malt that just ambushes your mouth, and slips away leaving the hop tingle in the aftertaste. I'd hoped that Apocalypse would have a beer that lived up to the owner's own obviously good taste, but I'm surprised and delighted at just how good it really is. I look forward to trying Apocalypse Ale Works seasonal brews, and refilling my growler with Hopocalypse on a regular basis.



Click here to visit Apocalypse Ale Works on Facebook.