Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I haven't posted anything here about hiking or walking for exercise in a while. That's probably because I'm getting more and more serious about hiking. The more of it I do, the harder it is for me to find words to describe how much joy I get from it. But it might be fair to say that I've begun to annoy and even alienate many of my loved ones with my obsessive preoccupation with the topic.

That worries me for a number of reasons. The obvious reason is that I don't want to alienate my loved ones. As much as I love my new hobby, I love my son and my girlfriend and my mom and my friends much more. I don't want to get to the point where they can't stand to be around me because I won't shut up about hiking. I may be close to that point now.

It's a constant source of planning, hoping, and daydreaming for me. I hike at Douthat whenever the weather is decent. For me, that means whenever it's above 20 degrees and not pouring rain. If it is pouring rain, I'll still put on a poncho and walk the hills and byways of my home town. I've also started hiking the Appalachian Trail some. Recently I hiked the AT near Roanoke, and you can see my pictures from McAffee Knob at this link, or take a look at my pictures from Daleville to Hay Rock at this link.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Kelso Industrial IPA is sticky and heavy. It's one of those "extreme beers" that I almost always like immediately. This beer pours from the can an almost opaque golden tan with a brief head. The aroma is grapefruit and sweet malt, and the flavor is more of that with a bright, very bitter finish. I can't taste the alcohol, which is surprising at 10% ABV. I liked this quite a bit. I got it on a beer trade in a shipment from Long Island. I'd love to see this brewery distribute further south. But at 340 calories for twelve ounces, I wouldn't drink this often.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Jack's Abbey Brewing bills Mass Rising as a Double IPL. The beer review sites call it an imperial pilsner. It's strong and bitter enough for an IPA fan, and I enjoyed it. Mass Rising pours hazy pale yellow, with a mountain of foam. The thickest and clingiest head I've seen on a beer in a while. The aroma is lemon, bread, and a little honey. A strong, bitter grapefruit hoppy finish dominates the flavor. It's crisp, but with noticeable alcohol vapor on the exhale (8% ABV will do that). Most pislners are too delicate for my palate. This one takes a sledgehammer approach that I'm very comfortable with. Damn fine beer.

Monday, December 8, 2014

I like the regular version of Ballast Point's Sculpin IPA, but I like this variation a lot more. It pours a hazy gold color, the tall head leaves lots of lace to the bottom of the glass. The aroma is buttery malt, floral hops, and grapefruit. The flavor is a rich malt up front, and then really, really bitter, strong grapefruit on the swallow. Warm malt returns at the finish. Outstanding.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

New Belgium's Skinny Dip is a light beer, and I don't like light beer, and I'm never going to like light beer, and I need to just accept that. New Belgium bills this as a Belgian ale. If I understand correctly, it used to be called Loft, and the current name reflects a slight change in the recipe. This stuff is a clear amber color with no head and no aroma to speak of. It smells like a watered-down version of a watered-down, nondescript Belgian ale. It doesn't taste bad, but that's because it hardly has any taste at all. On the exhale there's a little hint of something, like maybe I had a Belgian ale several hours ago and noticed something on my own breath when I burped. I will never drink this again.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

I like experimental beers, and this one really qualifies. Two Roads Rye 95 is a Belgian Tripel that's made from rye malt and hopped with American Mosaic and Amarillo hops. It pours a really hazy dark orange with a brief head that fades quickly. There are a lot of different notes in the aroma, including grapefruit, bananas, butterscotch, grass and straw. The flavor is mild up front and then very bitter, strong, and astringent. Lots of vapor and rye in the whiskey-like aftertaste. The 9.5% ABV is a huge component of the flavor. Strong stuff.

Monday, December 1, 2014

I really like Boomerang, the new seasonal IPA from Sierra Nevada (available only in the Snowpack seasonal sampler). This IPA is one of Sierra Nevada's driest and most acerbic beers, and ought to satisfy serious fans of bitter brew. It pours clear golden yellow with medium carbonation and a fairly thick and foamy head. The aroma is dominated by pine and floral hops. There is a mild, buttery malt on the front of the tongue, and then this big wash of strong, very bitter hops. There is a hint of lemon zest in the finish. I'd buy this year-round of they'd sell it to me.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

I don't really like kolsch style beer, and Parkway Brewing's Majestic Mullet "Krispy" Kolsch doesn't really change that. This beer pours a bright yellow, the head fades to nothing quickly. The smell is like boiled cabbage, a little bit of malt, a little bit of pine hops. The flavor is about the same. A slightly dry, citrus aftertaste. I didn't like it much. I won't have it again.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Long Trail's Limbo IPA is actually a really good, very balanced IPA. It pours a clear golden color with average head and lace. The aroma is malt, a little honey, some pine hops, and spice. The flavor adds caramel, citrus, and a fairly strong, bitter finish. I’ll buy this again.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

I'm continuing to hike at Douthat State Park. The internet has a fair amount of information about Douthat, if you do a little googling. But there isn't a lot that's aimed at people who are who new to hiking. So I put together a Facebook page with fairly detailed information about the hikes I've been making, and about the trail network as I discover it. I'm updating that page with information about the scope of each new hike, such as the following:



I'm not sure what you see just above. Sometimes the code works like I want it to, and you see pictures and a map and notes about my most recent hike. Other times it doesn't and you just see a link. If that is the case and you click that link, you should see the pictures. I take pictures on each hike and upload them with maps and notes. Each hike gets it's own photo album on the Facebook page. While I continue to be fixated on Douthat, I will post pictures and updates to that Facebook page. I might link here as well, but probably won't post each hike at the blog.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Flying Dog has been a hit or miss brewery with me. SnakeDog IPA is one of the hits. This IPA pours a clear, glossy burnt umber with a little bit of persistent, creamy head. The aroma is sweet; juicy and fruity, and mingled with strong floral/citrus hops. There is a little caramel and a lot of pineapple and something that reminds me of leather. I love those earthy notes in a beer aroma. The flavor is juicy, too. Lemon and maybe rye seem to be present mid-tongue, with buttery malt sneaking in at the finish. Twang of bitterness at the end is a nice punctuation. I had two IPAs tonight. This is better than the other one.

White Stag, Devil's Backbone's new wheat IPA, pours a cloudy brown/orange with little head. The aroma is a nice combination of sweet malt and citrus hops. A little bit of bred, a little banana, too. The flavor doesn’t quite deliver on the aroma. Not much balance. A strong, medicinal bitter finish dominates. Little else to mention. I have had eight or ten of Devil's Backbone's beers now, and still haven't had one I like more than their year-round Eight Point IPA offering. Devil's Backbone does best when they play it right down the middle. I think that's what they should keep doing.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Several people have suggested I check out Douthat State Park, which is right in my back yard. I'm ashamed to admit that I've ignored it for years. I've spent a fair amount of time there over the past few days, though, and I feel certain I'll be getting the most out of these gorgeous trails. This trail network is pretty much perfect for quick hikes and for longer and longer ones, and I hope to have all of a day off to spend at Douthat soon. These pictures are among the best I've ever taken, and really show how gorgeous Douthat is in October.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My last several walks have legitimately been hikes. I can't boast about an improvement to my time because I haven't exactly been hauling ass. I've just been exploring and having a good time. I've been staying in the woods a long time, too, averaging five miles each time, and MapMyWalk indicates that I've really burned some calories. This is where the hobby really gets good, it's as much fun as it is good for me. I'm having a great time. Here are some autumn scenes from the Alleghany mountains. Click the pics to see bigger versions.




I'm not a fan of pumpkin beer, so I liked New Belgium's PumpKick more than I thought I would. It's copper colored with a thin head. This beer smells a little like Fat Tire, with ginger and nutmeg. That's kind of the taste, too, plus cinnamon and allspice. The pumpkin in the flavor actually tastes like real pumpkin rather than something artificial. Pumpkin beer is still not my kind of thing, but this is not bad.

Monday, October 20, 2014

New Belgium's fall seasonal is Tour de Fall, a pale ale. I think a pale ale is kind of an odd choice for an autumn beer, but hey... anything that isn't loaded with freakin' pumpkin this time of year is welcome in my fridge. Tour de Fall pours a golden brown that gets clearer after a minute, and leaves some sticky lace. The aroma is a lot like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale; I’m probably picking up on the cascade hops.

If you're gonna talk like Sierra Nevada, you better walk like Sierra Nevada. And this beer falls short on the tongue. Tour de Fall is dryer and more acerbic than Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and those aren't necessarily bad qualities. But this ale doesn’t have SNPA’s rich, tart, fruity character. Or much character at all. It's got no grit. It just kinda lays there. Not a bad beer, but nothing special. Especially for a seasonal. It does get points for not being another pumpkin beer or another Octoberfest, though.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

My recent walks have mostly been around my hometown area. Nothing all that special or remarkable in terms of location. I'm averaging four or five miles each time, and my times are still in the 17 minute mile area. I think I could be a little faster, but I tend to stop a lot to take pictures. I do not, and probably never will, get tired of autumn foliage. It's one of life's simple pleasures that always does it for me. Here are a few of the pictures I've taken in my hometown area over the last week or so. You can click any of these to see a larger version.


I like Samuel Adams more than not, and their Octoberfest seasonal is one of their better beers. It pours a slightly orange-brown with an average head. There is toffee and roasted nuts and a little bit of grassy hops in the smell. The flavor backs off the sweetness from the aroma a little bit. The hops are pronounced, just over the caramel malt on the tongue.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Stone's 18th Anniversary IPA pours a dark, but not opaque, ochre brown. The head is average. The smell is a really rich, really awesome caramel and coffee and smooth, lemony citrus. And the taste is just perfect. Really, really wonderful. This is might be the best balanced IPA Stone has released in years*. The rich, caramel malt and the slightly candied, tangy hop fight it out for dominance from front to back. There is some alcohol vapor and a little coffee again on the finish. The distinct, spacious El Dorado hops take up residence in your nose and on the back of the tongue, and just stay there for ages. Every sip is brighter and bigger than the last one.

2013 was a lackluster year for Stone. 2014 has been hit or miss. Matt's Burning Rosids was a bland saison that (I'm sure) was only released as a tribute to a beloved brewery employee. Go-To IPA and Sprocket Beer were disappointing, too. On the other hand, Unapologetic IPA and Collective Distortion were home-runs by any standard. Now, we also have a strong anniversary release. This one is much better than the 17th, and almost as good as the 16th. When Stone gets it right, nobody does it better.

*Note: I'm perfectly aware that Stone "doesn't do" balanced beer. But this beer is really well balanced. So, sue me.

Friday, September 26, 2014

TODAY'S STATS: 6.31 miles, 1 hour, 46 minutes. Jackson River Scenic Trail, Petticoat to Smith Bridge, and the Smith Bridge area

This walk is actually from earlier this week, I'm a little late posting the pictures. The JRST is really my favorite place to walk. I've done a fair amount of traveling this summer and had opportunities to walk in a few different, beautiful areas. But I always come back to this trail, which is practically in my own back yard. The trail is wide and clear, and gravel-lined. The scenery is beautiful and varied. As you travel this section of trail, you walk along the river, past some gorgeous views, and through a few rural, residential areas. Even on an overcast day like this one was, the walk is really pretty. I've walked this trail quite a bit this year, and if I go long without a walk, I begin to miss it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Guinness Black Lager says on the label, in big letters, that it is COLD BREWED. So, yeah, alright. It's a lager. And it is not a good one. It pours dark brown, almost black, with very little foam. The aroma is a little bit of charcoal, a little bit of coffee, and average lager notes. The flavor is slightly sweet and rich, but the after-taste is godawful. Medicinal. A little astringent. I won’t have this again.

Monday, September 22, 2014

A few weeks ago a friend of mine surprised me with a case of Blue Moon Belgian White. I'm not really a Blue Moon fan, but I'm not one to look a gift-horse in the mouth, either. Over the last few weeks I've slowly drank the whole case, and the truth is, it ain't a terrible beer. I've had far worse beer from "craft" breweries. Blue Moon Belgian White pours a cloudy, burnt orange color with very little head. The aroma is yeasty. Maybe a little funky. There’s a cooked cabbage thing going on. The flavor is better than the aroma. It’s like a diluted version of a pretty average wheat beer. The label mentions orange and coriander. I don’t pick up on that. Sometimes, when my only option in a restaurant is crappy beer, I just drink water. I've passed up Blue Moon as an option before. I might be more willing to go ahead and have one with dinner in the future.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Boulevard's Entwined Ale is a blonde that's brewed with grape juice. It pours kind of an apricot color with a little bit of suds. The aroma is white grapes. The flavor is white grapes, too. Like a mild, slightly tart white wine. Boulevard is usually pretty reliable, but this beer isn’t very good.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

TODAY'S STATS: 5.09 miles, just under 90 minutes. Jackson River Scenic Trail and surrounding area

There was a hell of a lot going on over the last couple of weeks and I missed a lot of walks. Most of my recent walks haven't been particularly photogenic, anyway. I've just walked around town after work, stuff like that. But today I got back onto a hiking trail and really enjoyed the early fall weather. And I got the absolute hell scared out of me by an owl about the size of a minivan. More about that in a minute.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Porkslap is Butternuts Brewing's version of an English pale ale. it's fairly dry tasting, which is surprising, given the very low 4% ABV. Porkslap pours a cloudy amber with a persistent head and an aroma of spice, mellow malt, and some hop tingle. The flavor starts with the tingle, has little bit of citrus at the swallow, and finishes a little ripe. This beer is pretty OK.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

This song wrecks me every time I listen to it.

It wrecks me.

Uinta's Detour is a damn good imperial IPA. It pours a really clear amber color, with a lot of sticky suds. The aroma is sweet cereal malts behind a really bright citrus hop character. Apples, pine, and mellow bread notes in the flavor. I don't drink beer daily anymore, so when I have one, I want it to be a really good one. Cha-ching.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

I didn't want to post today's walk stuff at my public blog because the map generated by the MapMyWalk app included my own house. I felt a little weird about posting a map to my house on a public blog where anyone can see it. You never know when some psycho is gonna stumble across it and say "Hey, a fat, bad redneck! I like to kill and eat fat, bald rednecks! ROADTRIP!"

Really, it could happen. I hear it happens in Florida every other day.

Today I walked to the campus of a nearby community college, Dabney S. Lancaster Community College. I took a few panoramic pictures on the way there, and around the campus, and they came out really well. I figured they were worth sharing. The panoramic camera on the iPhone 5 is absolutely my favorite new feature. You can click this link to load the set of six panoramics, and click each one to see a bigger version. To see them in their full size, right click and choose to open in a new tab.

This is the last of the 22 ounce Boatswain brews I picked up on a recent Trader Joe's visit. American IPA is also the weakest of the beers from that haul, but all in all it isn't awful. It pours a hazy mahogany color with slight head and lace. The aroma is insubstantial, but what is there is sweet by any IPA standards. I picked up on honey, caramel, and thin hops. The flavor is sweet, too. It opens with a sweet malt, and there’s a little hoppiness in the middle, but the close is just more sweetness. Kind of saccharine, but not enough to ruin it. As I've said in each of these recent Boatswain review, you gotta keep the price in mind when reviewing beer from Trader Joe's. I'd feel ripped off if I'd paid six bucks for this. But, for a $2.50 to $3.00 beer, it isn’t bad at all.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

TODAY'S STATS: 3.84 miles in an hour and forty minutes. Roaring Run Furnace hiking trails

There are several hiking trails accessible from the Roaring Run Furnace parking area. Today I stayed on the Roaring Run Loop Trail, which isn't a really long trail. But it's so beautiful that I hiked the whole thing twice and took a lot of pictures. Some of the trail is fairly difficult. Well, it was difficult for an out-of-shape old guy with a bum knee. But, man, it's gorgeous out there. And it was a beautiful day. My knee was really mad at me by the time I got back around to the car, but I don't regret that second time around at all.

I took quite a few panoramic shots, and these four turned out to be the best. You can click any of these photos to see larger versions:



Boatswain Chocolate Stout from Trader Joe's is another store brand that's marketed under different names at other retailers. It's bottled by Minhas, and they release it seasonally as Chocolate Bunny Stout. It poured dark brown with a little bit of head and foamy, soapy, tan-colored lace. The aroma was fairly average as chocolate stout goes; there was malt, coffee, chocolate. The flavor was the same, although the coffee was dominant over the other notes, and there was a little bit of hop burn on the back end. Not an amazing or unique chocolate stout, but not a bad one. And I always come back to the price on these Trader Joe's 22 ounce bottles. This beer is well worth the two-and-a-half to three bucks you'll pay for it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

TODAY'S STATS: 5.2 mile hike in about two hours. Longdale Furnace Recreation Area

Earlier, I posted my justification for using the blog to keep track of the long walks and hikes I've been taking lately. I decided to set up a new post category. I called it "Constitutionals," for no other reason than that I like the word. Today's constitutional was more or less a hike. I drove out to the Longdale Recreation area, which I'd never been to, in spite of how close it is to my home. Some of the recreation area is kept up very well, but a lot of it is neglected and in bad shape. I enjoyed exploring the neglected areas more than the well maintained parts of the park, and the hiking trails were a lot of fun. I wasn't as well prepared for the trails as I should have been, and next time I'll dress more appropriately. Nonetheless, this was a fun five-mile trek.

I took a lot of pictures today, including a few panoramic shots that turned out pretty well. Click any of these to see full size versions:



CONSTITUTIONALS: Kind of a mission statement.

For my whole adult life I've made bad decisions, and the way that's effected me most obviously (if not most profoundly) is with my weight. My weight has been the barometer of my health, both mental and physical, for as long as I can remember. Over the past eighteen years I've weighed as little as 180 (not skinny, but as thin as I get) and as much as 335. Most of the time I'm somewhere in between, but the changes are constant, and a good indicator of unstable habits and an unsustainable lifestyle.

I started smoking when I was fourteen and that continued through adulthood. I drink, too (see: this entire blog). Sometimes I drink too much. I've never enjoyed exercise, but can eat somewhat responsibly for months at a time when I'm in the right frame of mind. Two years ago, for the first time in my adult life, I made a positive change that seems to have stuck. When I started dating the woman I now call my girlfriend I had to make a choice. She was an adamant non-smoker, and it was obvious that the cigarettes were going to impede our relationship. It really wasn't that hard a choice; smoking was bad for me and she was good for me, so I quit smoking. Now, here's the amazing thing: I have not smoked for nearly two years. This is significant, it's the first and only lasting positive change I've made for my health in my life. I owe my girlfriend for the motivation, but I credit myself for actually sticking to it.

For these two years I've allowed myself to eat and drink whatever I wanted, rationalizing it by saying, hey, I quit smoking. Thing is, I'm a compulsive eater. So over these two years my weight has shot up from the relatively stable 220 I'd maintained for a while to 280 pounds. There's no excuse for that. Earlier this summer I finally blew out a knee (knees don't last that long when they're expected to carry around the weight of a man and a young teenager combined). So, faced with that, I decided to make some changes. I've been eating healthier, and I got serious about the exercise that my knee surgeon recommended for physical therapy. I've been taking walks almost daily, and some of those walks have become long walks. Some of them have become hikes. Over the past two months I've dropped about ten pounds. What makes this surprising and noteworthy is that, for the first time, I'm enjoying the exercise. I actually like getting up and being active. I think that the difference is that I'm a non-smoker now. Getting that debilitating habit out of my life has improved literally every aspect of it.

I use the Map My Walk phone app to log my walks, and I take pictures while I'm out there. I've enjoyed competing with myself, trying to stay out for longer periods, going longer distances, trudging up hills, etc. It has become a hobby I enjoy so much that I've decided to start logging it at the blog. Maybe keeping up with my progress here, and posting my pictures and jotting down my ideas, will make it more fun. Maybe that will make me stick with it longer. That's the rationale behind this first post in a brand new category, constitutionals.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

We spent the weekend in Nashville, it was the first time I'd been here. So, of course, we took in the Grand Ole Opry. The show was good, and since they had their own specialty beer, I had to try it. It's called Opry Brew, and it's served in a plastic cup, looking light brown with little foam. The smell was mild, but sweet and malty, and the the flavor was pretty good. Too sweet, but pretty good. It was like a honey brown ale, and I was a little tired of it before I finished all 24 ounces. Too much sweetness wears thin with me pretty quick. Still, I was impressed. A lot of the time, big venues with their own signature beer end up letting me down with something that tastes like any other yellow lager. This beer was better than that, and I'm glad I tried it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

It's hard to review any Trader Joe's store-brand beer without considering the price right up front. Boatswain H.L.V. is a brown ale brewed by Minhas. You can find it at other retailers under different names. This beer pours dark brown with an average head and lace, and the aroma is spicy malt, apple-butter, and allspice. The flavor is decent. Not great, but decent. It's slightly boozy like an American strong ale, with pronounced hop character and a strong, woody finish. The beers at Trader Joe's are typically the best in their price range. If you are able to find a better three-dollar twenty-two ounce beer than this one, it's still probably gonna be at Trader Joe's.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Anchor Steam is a California Common beer, kind of a hybrid, brewed in a tradition that uses lager yeast and warm fermentation. It pours bright, golden amber with a lot of head. The aroma is malty and rich, and so is the flavor. This beer is dry, slightly citrus, and a little bitter, but the finish is really mellow. It really does have a character that’s a little different from other beers. I like it.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Trader Joe's is a craft beer lover's paradise. There are a number of craft breweries who bottle beer for Trader Joe's to market under their various store brands, and these beers are usually pretty good. And they are always dirt cheap. Minhas Craft Brewery in Monroe, Wisconsin, bottles some of their beers under Trader Joe's Boatswain brand, including their double IPA. At Trader Joe's it's called Boatswain Twin Screw Steamer. Other retailers sell it as Imperial Jack. So, now that we've established all of that, how is the beer?

Well, it's not bad. It pours hazy orange, with average head and lace. The aroma isn’t that inviting, it reminds me of boiled cabbage. I do like boiled cabbage, but not in my beer. The flavor is better than the aroma. Tangerine, buttery cereal malt, and a mild hop on the back end. Thin finish, watery mouthfeel. It might be a stretch marketing this thing as a double, were it not for the 8%+ ABV. No, it's not amazing, but, come on... it's less than $3 for a double-deuce. All things considered, I really can't complain about this beer at all.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

I'm still learning about whiskey in general, and Irish whiskey in specific, but I can tell you right now that I absolutely love Jameson Irish Whiskey. I like it more than Tullamore Dew, which is saying something, because I like Tullamore a lot.

Jameson is pale amber, and the aroma is very sweet. All of the aroma notes are candy; there's vanilla and butterscotch and a little bit of raisin, too. The flavor is similar to Tullamore, but stronger. Where Tullamore has a thin finish, Jameson is rich and strong, with a lot more bite. The wood is there, the vanilla is strong, but that green barley kick at the end really balances out all of that sweetness. I'm still very much a novice in the world of whiskey, but in terms of price, Jameson is a remarkable value. I'm surprised that something this tasty is so affordable and so readily available. Jameson is everywhere, cheap, and delicious. Yeah, it is sweet... but it never gets cloying, never becomes overly sweet. I may have found my go-to whiskey for some time to come.

Twenty One, a black IPA, is Avery's anniversary ale this year. It pours brown, not quite opaque, with a lot of foam. I pick up on rye and spice and pine hops in the aroma, and the flavor adds chocolate malt, coffee, sage, brown sugar. This is a really well balanced black IPA, the bitterness is met with equal richness and a few sweet notes. Good beer.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

My girlfriend gifted me with a bottle of Hardywood's Bourbon Cru. She's a keeper, and so is the beer. This Belgian quad style beer pours from the bottle with a hazy, rust color, an average head, and tenacious lace. Big legs on this one, no surprise at 12% abv. The nose is pears, figs, butterscotch, lemon-grass, and booze. The flavor is really boozy. There’s a big oak presence, lots of vanilla, and a spicy finish. Medium mouthfeel, crisp, and lots of alcohol vapor on the finish. This was right up my ally.

Monday, August 11, 2014

MOVIE REVIEW: A MOST WANTED MAN

We saw Anton Corbijn's A Most Wanted Man over the weekend, and I thought it was a very good movie. It's a procedural thriller about espionage and national security, and before you see it, you should know that this film is tense, slow, heavy on dialogue, and very dry. This is not a thriller along the lines of the Jason Bourne movies or The Manchurian Candidate. Action scenes are few and brief, and terrorism is discussed without every being overtly displayed. This movie isn't about events, it's about people and the principles that motivate them. This is a movie with a pivotal scene about a man seated in a banker's office, and whether he will or will not sign a document to transfer some funds. It is a credit to the director and the actors that the scene is as tense and nerve-racking as any scene I've ever seen about defusing of a bomb.

A Most Wanted Man is the last movie that Philip Seymour Hoffman completed before his unexpected death last year. This performance makes his death hurt again, and gives movie fans another reason to consider the talent we've lost. Over a twenty-five year career, Hoffman morphed from a likable screen presence into one of the best actors of the last decade. Daniel Day-Lewis, Denzel Washington, Robert De Niro, Anthony Hopkins ... Hoffman's acting was in that kind of company. In this movie, Hoffman plays Gunther Bachmann, an agent of the German government who heads a detail concerned with preventing acts of terrorism in Hamburg. Bachmann's work is all consuming, and involves tracking down and identifying potential terrorists, forming bonds and developing relationships with insiders, and figuring out which leads are dead ends and which are immediate threats. All of which is dangerous and difficult, but none of which is as dangerous or as difficult as the other part of Gunther job... dealing with the governments of Germany herself, and her duplicitous allies.

Gunther Bachmann is as complex as any role of Hoffman's career. This is a man who has to focus on a clear imperative, preventing terrorism in a major city. To pursue that goal, Gunther has to walk precariously. Men like this live in the gray between the legal and the illegal, between the moral and the immoral. Gunther has a clear sense of self and a firm philosophy. This is a principled man in a world where laws must be compromised and lives must be lost.

A Most Wanted Man asks the audience to consider the questions that have defined much of our social interaction since 9/11. If given the chance to live peacefully, will people do so simply to stay on the path of least resistance? Are lonely souls vulnerable to the acceptance of dangerous groups? Gunther believes he knows the answers to those questions. His ideas and decisions present a man who is concerned with human nature. A lesser actor wouldn't have found the relatable texture in a such a cerebral character. But Hoffman makes Gunther Bachmann weary, wise, engaged and exhausted. It's a performance that young actors should study.

A Most Wanted Man is based on a John Le Carre novel that had some right wingers bristling with anger, accusing Le Carre of being anti-American. That idea amuses me. The movie (and, apparently, the source material) does feature agents of the American government who are dishonest and manipulative. That is only anti-American if you believe that the American government and the American people are the same thing. That's ridiculous. I'm only one of many red-blooded Americans who believes that our own government is corrupt, dishonest, ham-fisted, and every bit as power hungry as it is presented in this film. Besides that, The dishonest American agent in this movie is working in collusion with German government agents who are equally manipulative. A Most Wanted Man argues that people acting in groups are often given to the thoughtless and destructive use of force... it almost doesn't matter if those groups are religious extremists or government agencies. I agree with that. I also agree, as this movie seems to assert, that even within governments there are sometimes moral men and women who are consumed by difficult and thankless work.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Lagunitas Hairy Eyeball is an American strong ale. It isn't bad, but it's far too sweet for me. It pours copper brown with an average head that leaves lots of clingy, creamy lace. The aroma is molasses, brown sugar, ginger. Then the flavor is like drinking alcohol-fortified pecan pie. Every note I noticed was something sweet... graham crackers, candied nuts, honey. It's nutty and rich, and the mouthfeel is syrupy like a barley wine. This is nowhere near as good as my favorite American strong ales, such as Arrogant Bastard and Lagunita's own Lucky 13. I'll skip it next time.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Doppelbock isn't my favorite style of beer, but Ayinger Celebrator is a damn good one. It pours dark, chocolate brown with a head that disappears quickly. The aroma is caramel, coffee, candied fruit. It all adds up to a smell that is something like Dr. Pepper. The flavor adds a really rich, chocolate malt at the finish. This beer is sweet, but not too sweet. It’s just right. I'll have it again.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Before I review When I Need A Friend, the new album by Dan Yell Sun, I should qualify my perspective: I'm an old fart. I'm a child of the 80's, and most of my favorite bands at least existed by the end of that decade. There hasn't been a tremendous amount of new music I've enjoyed over the last fifteen years. So it's exciting to me when I hear a new album by a new group, and I actually enjoy it. It's even more exciting when that band is from my own neck of the woods.

Dan Yell Sun is from my hometown of Covington, Virginia. Their new album, When I Need A Friend, is to be released next Tuesday. I was fortunate enough to get an early copy about a week ago, and it's been a steady presence in my iPod and car stereo ever since. The album is fun, accessible, inviting rock and roll... music that fits summertime as naturally as watermelon and cold beer.

When I Need A Friend opens with "How Fierce It Is", a blast of infectious pop punk, and most of the album stakes out that same territory confidently. But there is a good-natured groove to my favorite tracks on this disc; something that transcends the limits of that genre. For instance, "More Than Ordinary" has a melody and an innocent quality that conjures up The Beach Boys without a hint of irony. "The Riot" reminds me of the pure, goofy joy of the first Motley Crue album. And "Bomb Promise" is as simultaneously aggressive and catchy as an early Bad Religion track. This band hasn't limited itself in terms of influence. Good songs can be found anywhere, and a good band can evoke the best qualities of any other. When I Need A Friend had me grinning with recognition from the get-go.

The best thing about this album is that it saves it's strongest tracks for last. Synthesizer and dense production give "Ctrl+Alt+Delete" and "Brand New Canvas" a dreamy, trance-like quality that was immediately accessible to someone like me who loves prog-rock. Not that you have to be heavily into Radiohead and Pink Floyd to enjoy these tracks. The combination of unapologetic prog tones and pop sensibility will be instantly familiar to fans of bands like Muse and Silversun Pickups. I hope the band explores more of this kind of thing in future releases; they obviously have a damn good feel for the sound.

When I Need A Friend is instantly familiar and fresh, and has something to please anyone who enjoys energetic, tight rock music. I'm proud to hear local guys turning out music this good.

Matt's Burning Rosids is a smoked saison that Stone brews in honor of Matt Courtright, a young brewer who was killed in an accident at the brewery about a year ago. This is a recipe of Matt's conception. Stone calls this saison "imperial," usually a word that bodes well for me. But, apparently, not always.

Usually, saisons are too delicate for my palate. I have the opposite complaint with this one... this beer is ham-fisted. It is nice to look at, though. It pours bright, ultra-clear amber with persistent carbonation and creamy head and lace. The aroma is like a Belgian, it’s got that banana thing going on with the yeast. But the smoked malt is really huge right out of the gate. The flavor is dry (10.5% ABV) and sweet, and that sweetness is sticky and strong, almost cloying. The mouth-feel is warm and tacky, like a barley wine that hasn’t seen enough aging. I've never complained about Stone brewing something that's too sweet for me before, and I have to believe that if it weren't for their understandable desire to honor their friend, this beer wouldn't have been produced. I won’t have this again.

I feel bad for writing a negative review of a beer brewed in honor of a young man who died tragically. To atone for that, here is a link to Go Design, Inc, a charity that helps design and build strong and safe buildings for the people of impoverished nations. Go Design was a cause that Matt Courtright held dear, and Stone is contributing a portion of this beer's profits to that organization.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Today I stopped at a wine and beer store in Lexington and I got to poking around on a dusty back shelf, where I found a two year old bottle of Epic Brewing's Santa Cruz Brown Ale. I should say that I have not enjoyed Epic's "Brainless" selection of fruit beers, but most of their other stuff has been right up my alley. I thought it was possible that I'd found a little treasure here; something that had somehow fallen between the cracks in a store that mostly caters to a wine crowd. And I was right ... at least about what I'd found. This was one damn fine bottle of brown ale.

Santa Cruz poured dark brown with creamy foam, and the aroma was rich malt, apple-butter, caramel, mild coffee. The flavor added bready and nutty notes, and kind of a burnt-popcorn thing in the background, with some hoppy tingle on the finish. More warm malt filled my nose after each swallow, making me want each next sip all the more. This beer was delicious.

I checked Epic's website, and saw that they release Santa Cruz every March. Like Big Brown Baptist, Epic's outstanding imperial stout, this seems like another beer that becomes damn-near flawless if you put a couple of years on it. If I can find the current release I'll pick up two bottles... one to try now, and another one to forget about for 24 months or so.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

If Missile is any indication, then Champion Brewing Company is one more quality Charlottesville, Virginia brewery. This IPA pours a very clear amber with little carbonation and average head and lace. Tangerines and mild malt are on the aroma. The flavor starts out with the hops, then gets dry and crisp, and the malt on the finish is slightly sweet. I liked this.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Dogfish Head's Namaste is a Belgian white, brewed with orange slices and herbs, and it's a very slight beer. The color is a hazy, pale yellow, and there is nominal head. The aroma is so mild that I pick up on nothing more than a very small, musty malt in the background. The flavor is mild, too. A little citrus on the exhale, a barely-detectable amount of spice, and it's gone. Not DFH's best.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Stone and other breweries have collaborated on some imperial IPAs this summer, and the ones I've had have been delicious. I loved Collective Distortion, and I like Unapolgetic IPA every bit as much. This imperial is a true experiement, too... the brew incorporates experimental strains of hops that are so new they haven't even been named yet. This is like getting a taste of what might be commonplace in a few years, and the future looks bright, dry, and bitter. I love it.

Unapologetic pours a light gold color with average head and lace. The aroma is mild. I picked up on a little malt, a little bit of white grape, some cantaloupe. The flavor is kinda like a dry version of Stone's Enjoy By IPA, and it's delicious. Enjoy By's tropical and citrus notes are there, but they're not as juicy and not as forward. The finish is strong and bitter, and the 9% ABV is a definite presence on the tongue and in the nose after the sip. Stone, Beachwood and Heretic knocked this one out of the park.

I know a lot of people are getting tired of IPAs these days, and I admit that there are a zillion of them on the market. But big hops are absolutely Stone's domain, nobody does the composition better. When Stone works with other breweries on new variations on the style, it seems to bring out the best in everyone. Speaking just for me, I don't care how many of these hopped up monsters are on the shelves these days. I hope Stone keeps churning them out. It's like a long jam by a favorite band; I don't want it to ever end.