Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

25 June, 2012

My Old School

A blog that I discovered today, A Chicago Sojourn, has a post about my high school down in the Windy City, Lane Tech.

Lane Technical College Prep High School (architect John C. Christensen) is a Gothic icon on Western Avenue, a break from the relentlessly dense and unplanned commercial onslaught that lines Chicago’s longest street. Lane Tech occupies a full city block (or more); the building is beautifully and artfully planned, with enormous spacious grounds surrounding an equally enormous building complex. Founded as Albert G. Lane Technical School in 1908, it is the city’s largest high school, housing over 4,000 students.

It is truly a beautiful building and there are some nice photos of the murals inside. I don't recall the library, though, but it sure looks nice. The auditorium isn't shown but I think there was a memorial something or other for the Apollo 1 mission in the foyer. Also missing is the stadium which was featured in the movie Wildcats.

I thought this part was amusing: "Both the librarian and a security worker I spoke to had glowing praise for the student body – hard workers, disciplined, well behaved, smart." Things have obviously changed since I went there since it was dangerous to be an underclassman back in those days. I remember that Halloween was sheer chaos and many teachers called in sick on that day rather than deal with the eggs, shaving cream, and general mayhem.

Ah, those were the days.

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Matt Taibbi and Yves Smith on Bill Moyers

Matt Taibbi and Yves Smith talk to Bill Moyers about Wall Street banks and their tight relationship to the federal government. Smith makes some great points about these large banks essentially being wards of the government via the FDIC and the Federal Reserve and argues that they should be treated like utility companies. Taibbi has a great quote:

What Yves was talking about with the old people who are dying earlier now...kids who aren't going to school, garbage that's being left in the streets - that's all because some guy was sitting up in a skyscraper in Wall Street and knowingly selling some community, some municipality a fraudulent, toxic mortgage-backed security. I mean, he knows that that instrument is going to blow up in, you know, six months, a year, but he's selling it to them anyway but he doesn't care..."

Man, did we get reamed by Wall Street and we continue to get it. These banks can borrow money - our tax money - at 0% interest from the Fed and then turn it around and lend it to us at 5%. What a racket. The saddest part is that so many people refuse to lay any blame at the feet of people like Jamie Dimon and instead blame pensioners, folks who entered into crappy mortgage deals, unions, and so on.

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Documentary on German Beer Scene

This is what I love about the Interwebs. I can sit on my couch and watch a German television program streaming to my TV with no subtitles and rewind it to hear certain words again. Here is a documentary that aired on German television called Hopfen und Malz Verloren which literally means hops and malt lost. The program laments the state of German bier kultur.

It's in German so, if you understand the language, perfect. If not, I still recommend watching so you can hear one of the most beautiful languages on the planet.

I had German in college and could pick up bits here and there. The general thrust is that German bier kultur is being homogenized by corporate consolidation while we Americans have a craft beer scene full of variety and innovation. Radeberger is held up as the Bud or Miller of Germany with a dozen or more labels in their portfolio. The sometimes querulous host does an informal taste test out in a park which features half a dozen of the most popular pilseners and no one could tell the difference. This less than scientific poll gives way to the beers being handed over to a chemist for analysis. The results show that they're pretty similiar in terms of the amount of malt and hops in each and these results stand in contrast to a non-macro pilsener.

There is a chat with another chemist who talks about hop extract. Later on we watch our host at home with a bottle of what appears to be roasted malt extract and he magically turns a helles into a dunkel. I'm not sure if he came out an accused the big German brewers of using it but that was my guess. It is my understanding that all of these shortcuts are Reinheitsgebot compliant so German bier drinkers who looks for that as a sign of quality may very well be getting duped. This is something to think about the next time you're at the Essen Haus and explains why those 4-packs of Bitburger silos go for the same price as Milwaukee's Beast Lite.

The show visits Sierra Nevada as an example of quality American brewing before heading to St. Louis. No punches are pulled as it is noted that Budweiser brews Beck's there. Leaving the macro behind, the next stop is Urban Chestnut Brewing, also in St. Louis, whose brewmaster, Florian Kuplent, hails from Bavaria. He pours a lemon lager for the host.

In the final minutes, we are at the 2012 World Beer Cup where German breweries lose in many, if not most, categories for German styles.

All in all an interesting little exposé. I don't believe for a minute that this program is going to change much of anything, but it's still nice to think that the Germans are on track to have a craft bier revolution of its own.
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24 June, 2012

5 Vulture Oaxacan-Style Ale

My first encounter with Chicago's 5 Rabbit Cerveceria was a couple years ago at the Great Taste of the Midwest when I sampled their 5 Lizard Latin-style witbier which was great, especially on that hot day. 5 Rabbit was an Aztec deity who sybolized excess and over-indulgence and so the brewery aims to infuse Latin flavors into their craft beers.

5 Vulture is billed as an Oaxacan-style dark ale with piloncillo sugar and chile ancho. I'm not quite sure what makes this brew Oaxacan-style. Perhaps piloncillo sugar and anchos are more commonly used in Oaxacan cooking than in other areas of Mexico.

Regardless, the beer pours a nice dark amber. Head was minimal and what there was of it dissipated pretty quickly. It smelled very sweet. Part of the aroma was the roasted malt but I think most of it came from the piloncillo which gave it a prominent caramel scent along with some plum. You could also catch a hint of the smoky chiles.

This stuff is smooth. I'm not familiar with piloncillo sugar but the Interwebs say it's unrefined. The beer has a prominent caramel flavor along with a peach-like sweetness. There are lots of smoky undertones here which surely come from the combination of the sugar and the chiles. This is one of those brews where the flavors hit you all at once instead of revealing themselves as the liquid goes farther back in on your tongue. Hops here are moderate as they impart some bitterness to contrast all the sweetness but they don't add much flavor. For such a full-bodied beer, it doesn't taste thick. The non-smoky chile flavor is present in the finish and aftertaste, but only just. Here they give a faint pepper heat. By the time you've quaffed the bottle, your tongue tingles slightly but isn't burning in pain.

With the full body and an ABV of 6.4%, 5 Vulture is not ideal for 90 degree summer days. Having said this, I absolutely loved this beer and can see me with a snifterful come the autumn. The palimpsest of smoky sweetness and faint capsaicin burn that lingers make for a perfect autumnal warmer.

Junk food pairing: Some tortilla chips. The salt contrasts nicely with the sweetness and enhances the smokiness and chile flavors.

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22 June, 2012

Three Kings Ale from Point

For reasons unknown, the label for Point's Three Kings Ale is distinctly unhelpful. It doesn't tell you much about the beer inside the bottle. Luckily there's the Internet so everyone can find out that it's a Kölsch-style brew.

Mmm... Kölsch. I drank a Three Kings earlier this week when it was 90+ degrees out. Kölsches and their American brethren are light, bubbly, and crisp and thusly perfect for hot weather. This is why Germans drink them out of a narrow cylindrical glass called a stange (see photo above) that holds only .2 liters – you want to be able to drink a serving before the beer gets warm.

Kölsch is an appellation for beers brewed in Köln, Germany and, according to the Kölsch Convention of 1985, "breweries outside municipal Cologne which acquired their vested right with the term Kölsch before this code of competition came into effect." The convention stipulates that the beer be "a blond, top-fermented, bright and hops-accentuated full-bodied beer which was brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot." The Kölsch is a Obergäriges Lagerbier, which means it is top-fermented with a special Kölsch yeast but it is set into storage for a several weeks and the temperature is slowly lowered to near freezing. You see, back in 1603 lawmakers in Köln put the kibosh on bottom-fermented brewing but lagering became all the rage in the 19th century so Rhenish brewmasters split the difference.

As you can more or less see from my less than Ansel Adamsish effort at photography, Three Kings pours a nice yellow, as per the Kölsch Convention. The beer is nice'n'bubbly so I got a good head. For the aroma, it was primarily biscuity but with a wheaty edge and some faint noble hops to boot. While there may have been some other more subtle aromas, my nose was being assailed by the stench of an algae-infested Lake Monona so, if they were present, they were lost on me. The taste is malt-forward, slightly sweet and tasting like bread dough; there's also white wheat in Three Kings in addition to barley. All those bubbles lend the brew a thinner mouthfeel than the malt profile might suggest. Grains seamlessly gave way to a moderate herbal hop bitterness at the finish along with some crispness.

I've only ever had three true Kölsches – Reissdorf, Sunner, und Gaffel – and they came in bottles from across the ocean so I'm thinking they weren't the freshest beers I've ever had. This caveat aside, I thought that Three Kings tasted most like Gaffel with its high malt profile. (Whereas Wavehopper is more like Reissdorf but hoppier.)

Junk food pairing: String cheese. Non-smoked this time around.

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Radlers and Grätzers

While it's nice to see the shandy/radler being resurrected on this side of the Atlantic, it's sad to see the beer and lemonade/soda combination mangled by American brewers. I had some Stiegl grapefruit radler last weekend and it was extremely refreshing. Great taste with a bit of malt behind some tart citrus but no buzz/dehydration. The domestic versions I've tried (Leinenkugel, Sam Adams, Potosi) and read about (Shock Top, et al) basically take a lighter beer such as a helles or golden ale and dump lemon flavor in it which misses the point of the style, i.e. – low alcohol, beer-based cocktail. That Stiegl radler was 2.5% while American varieties tend to be 4-4.5%, i.e. – fruit-flavored beer.

And now Leinenkugel's is combining two of their worst beers to make what will surely be yet another syrupy sweet piece of dreck: Lemon Berry Shandy. This stuff should be out in late summer.

On the plus side, Leine's is brewing a Baltic porter as the next entry in their Big Eddy series.

Chris Drosner, the Wisconsin State Journal's beer baron, did an interview with O'so's Marc Buttera and some highlights can be found here. Amongst them is the news that the brewery will be brewing a Czech-style pilsner called Memory Lane for release in November with some of the proceeds going to Alzheimer's research. Also they are doing an Oktoberfest this year. Of course it will be on shelves starting in August when it's 90 degrees out. So let me get this straight. When it feels like we're living in the Amazon River basin, we'll get an Oktoberfest, but when it's chilly out we get the light, crisp lager. Harumph.

Last week I mentioned that Vintage's Scott Manning was kind enough to take my desire to taste a Grodziskie seriously and today he started brewing it. He reports, "So far so good. 100% smoked wheat malt smells nice in the mash." I bet it does.

Speaking of the Grodziskie, I have discovered that it is apparently the latest entry in Professor Fritz Briem's Historic Signature Series.

"Grätzer" is the German name for the bier. It's apparently on tap at one establishment in Chicago. It must be pretty rare as only 2 Binny's in the Chicagoland area have it. Road trip?

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21 June, 2012

The Domino Men by Jonathan Barnes

The Domino Men is a semi-sequel to Jonathan Barnes' debut The Somnambulist which I finished reading recently. I say "semi-" because it takes place in the same world as The Somnambulist and features a handful of the same characters but the events happen 100 or so years later and one needn't have read the first book to understand its successor.

Edward Moon and his giant associate are gone. In their place is a young man by the name of Henry Lamb, a file clerk at the Civil Service Archive Unit. The story begins in the manner of a Lovecraftian confession like "The Statement of Randolph Carter": "I'm horribly aware, as I sit at the desk in this room that you've lent me, that time is now very short for me indeed." This narrator goes on to recount the hideous fate that befalls a young woman in the Tooting Bec area of London in 1967, which will be familiar to readers of The Somnambulist. The scene then changes to the present where Lamb's grandfather falls into a coma and, since his mother constantly refers to the old man as a bastard, Henry is the only family the slumbering patient has. With the looming threat of losing his grandfather, Henry makes sure to visit him in the hospital. On one visit as he's leaving, a window washer plummets to ground at his feet and gasps, "The answer is yes."

This incident begins to become comprehensible once Henry is recruited by The Directorate, that shadowy, Torchwood-like organization that led by Mr. Dedlock who has been a loyal member for well over 100 years now. Dedlock recruits Henry because of his grandfather and a whole chapter of Lamb family history is slowly revealed. Dear old grandpa was formerly in Dedlock's employ and The Directorate has been locked in a game of cat and mouse with the House of Windsor for well over a century. Queen Victoria made a Faustian bargain with a baleful power which came to her in a dream and now the time has come to pay the piper with the fate of London and all its inhabitants at stake. Hawker and Boon, the supernatural hit men from The Somnambulist, return and are in the thick of things.

While I missed the gaslight and the gentle, enigmatic giant of The Somnambulist, The Domino Men was still extremely enjoyable and mysterious in its own ways. Barnes does a good job of invoking some Lovecraftian terror while he slowly lets the mystery unfold with a dash of gleeful sadism thrown in for good measure as torture scenes and many gory deaths can attest to. Hawker and Boon didn't get many pages in the previous book but are wonderful here with their gruesome Loki act. Much to Barnes' credit, he doesn't offer much in the way of explanation about them. Instead suspense around the pair builds as various members of The Directorate talk about how evil they are until the murderous twins are free to go on another psychotic rampage. Dedlock is very old here and, curiously enough, now sports gills and directs his organizations activities from a rather large tank of water. Again at no point are we offered explanation for his state.

The ending was something of a surprise for me. It ties the opening together with the unconventional narrative style that Barnes adopted. Henry's telling of events is often interrupted by a malevolent narrator. This unknown fabulist commences by saying, "Henry Lamb is a liar." Our protagonist tells of the Windsor vs. Directorate conflict from the agency's side while this other voice details events from the Windsor viewpoint. We learn of how Prince Arthur – heir to the throne – is conscripted into the battle to carry on the Windsor part of the bargain. I found this stylistic device to be fun although one can surely make an argument that it is superfluous and that Henry could have uncovered this same material himself.

The problem with this is that Henry Lamb is perhaps the least interesting character in the book. He reminded me of Bob Howard, the hero of Charles Stross' Laundry Files series in that both characters are fish out of water and thrust into roles by secret organizations which force them to be heroes. The big difference is that Henry has no hacking skills. Another contrast is that Bob's skills imbue him with an air of authority and a sense that he's better than most while Henry suffers from being a passive-aggressive figure that's annoying too often. Some of the time he uses his brain and asserts himself while at others he is like a bumbling, awkward teenager that is being taken along for the ride. Edward Lamb was a mysterious fellow who had a fetish for bearded women and kept some interesting company. Henry Lamb, on the other hand, is rather plain and interesting only by virtue of those around him.

Despite having an uninspiring protagonist, Barnes manages to make The Domino Men fun through his willingness to methodically drop clues to a harrowing mystery and to surround Henry with more interesting characters. Plus there's some dark humor provided by the Domino Men themselves and some jabs at life working in an office.

While I liked The Somnambulist more, I am very hesitant to call The Domino Men a misstep and am very much looking forward to hearing Barnes' take on Sherlock Holmes.

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20 June, 2012

Keeping It Cool

I recently began reading Arnaldur Indriðason's Hypothermia thinking that a murder mystery set in Iceland during the cooler months would be a good way to mentally beat this 90+ degree weather we've been having. Unfortunately, there's precious little about cold weather and snow so far, although that looks to be changing with a storyline a la Flatliners. This being the case, I've been thinking of other bits of entertainment that can make things frosty in the brain box. Since my attempt involved a book, I'll start with those.

You can always start with the adventure of Miskatonic University's Willian Dyer at the mountains of madness, but for sheer cooling power the first tome that comes to mind is The Terror by Dan Simmons. It is a fictional account of Sir John Franklin's lost expedition of 1845 to find the Northwest Passage. His two ships, the HMSes Terror and Erebus, got stuck in pack ice and there were no survivors. Ergo this book is all about men struggling to survive is sub-zero weather. With nearly 800 pages of ice, snow, blizzards, terror, frozen bodies, and more ice and snow, this book will keep you cool in desert conditions.

If you're looking for a quicker fix, may I recommend Jack London's "To Build a Fire". It begins:

Day had broken cold and gray, exceedingly cold and gray, when the man turned aside from the main Yukon trail and climbed the high earth-bank, where a dim and little-travelled trail led eastward through the fat spruce timberland.

And chronicles a man hiking the Yukon Trail in bitter cold and his desperate attempts to build a fire before settling into his chilly fate.

More good cyro-fiction in the graphic novel arena is Whiteout by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber. There's a murder at the McMurdo Station in Antarctica and Deputy U.S. Marshall Carrie Stetko is on the case. It's a good, solid murder mystery with lots of blizzards. It was turned into a feature film a few years ago starring Kate Beckinsale. While it certainly has cooling power, it was a pretty bad film.

Moving over to the realm of video games we have Alpha Polaris a horror adventure which takes place at an oil research station in Greenland. (I see a theme here.) I've played the demo and it was pretty good, although you don't really get much of a sense of the lurking terror that the Finnish game designers promise. Still, the game should inspire icy thoughts.

There are probably a country ton of movies (besides the dreadful Whiteout) to put you in a glacial state of mind. The first one I thought of was John Carpenter's remake of The Thing, though don't be afraid to watch James Arness in the original from 1951. I've not yet seen the prequel from last year but I don't doubt that it would do the trick.

Next, I'll thrown in a couple audio dramas.

First there is some Doctor Who.

I recall listening to Winter for the Adept for the first time and feeling more than a little chilly as Nyssa finds herself alone in the Alps.

However, for sheer frigid audio, check out Simon Bovey's Cold Blood.

This is the aural equivalent of The Terror. Biotech and oil companies are exploiting Antarctica in 2014 and someone is willing to kill to keep a discovery to herself. Not only does it take place in the freezing cold so you get to hear the wind howling, the characters are always talking about incredibly cold it is. The fact that the story takes place in a bitter, frigid land is never far from your mind. I listened to this story a few summers ago and had to cover myself with a blanket because I felt so cold.

Gamers can get in on the action here too. I don't know of any board games that take place in the ice and snow but, if you're into RPGs, there's always Beyond the Mountains of Madness. Helm the Starkweather-Moore expedition to find out what happened to Professor Dyer and company.

Lastly, there's music. I always think of "South Side of the Sky" by Yes as being a good way to cool things down as it's about the terminal fate of a polar expedition:

A river a mountain to be crossed
The sunshine in mountains sometimes lost
Around the south side so cold that we cried
Were we ever colder on that day
A million miles away
It seemed from all of eternity

So, dear reader, there my tentative list. I suppose I could have catalogued stuff like radio adaptations of At the Mountains of Madness, for example, but figured a couple iterations was enough. Any further suggestions?

Regardless of what entertainment you choose during these hot summer days, you'll need a drink. Might I suggest a Stiegl Grapefruit Radler? I bought a six-pack of it last weekend and it is might tasty. The mix of grapefruit soda and a light lager was extremely refreshing and, at 2.5%ABV, you won't get drunk nor dehydrate yourself.

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Funniest Tweet of the Day

It would appear that Mr. Powell has never worked in IT before.


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19 June, 2012

The Fresh Scent of Lake Monona

Lake Monona smells like a raw sewage pit right now. I think the only reason the beach is listed as "Open" on the county website is because the water hasn't been tested in nearly a week. What a shame to smell one of the city's great resources gone to shit.
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18 June, 2012

Huckle-Weizen from Yellowstone Brewery

With brewer Ryan Koga leaving Yellowstone Valley Brewing in Montana and coming to Madison to ply his trade at Karben4, which will move into Ale Asylum's building after they disembark for their new digs, I thought it would be appropriate to review one of his brews.

This is Yellowstone's Huckle-Weizen, a wheat beer with huckleberry. The berry is a favorite of black and grizzly bears, hence the description of the beer as bear food in a bottle.

Huckle-Weizen is a pretty beer. It's well-carbonated (probably overly so) thusly you get a nice head which you can't see here because I took my first photo only to find that there was no memory card in the camera. D'oh! It's cloudy and a nice straw color which becomes a light amber at the wider part of the glass.

The aroma is all berry. Not very sweet, though. For better or for worse, the flavor is much the same way. The luscious tartness of the fruit hits your tongue first and stays there. Like the aroma, the flavor is not sweet; instead it's tart. Very tart. Think a really tart blueberry with a hint of citrus thrown in for good measure. The effervescence adds to the effect with no vanilla/clove/banana weizen flavor present, though I did detect a bit of hop bitterness in the finish.

While I was very pleased that the huckleberry flavor was tart instead of being syrupy sweet as too many fruit beers tend to be (I'm looking at you, Leinekugel's), I was disappointed that the berry wasn't playing off of the distinctive yeasty flavors of a weizen. Was this truly a weizen or some knid of American wheat ale? To use Wisconsin beers to highlight the contrast: it was like huckleberry juice added to Island Wheat instead of Laughing Fox.

Junk food pairing: Reduced salt Ritz crackers.

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The Plague Hits New Mexico?!

It's really odd to be reading this in the year 2012: "...homeowners in these newly developed areas should be educated about the risks of plague." I had no idea that people came down with plague here in the States in the 21st century but they do - an average of 11 case per year.

Although many cases were in areas where the habitat supports rodents and fleas, the researchers also found cases occurring in more upper-class neighborhoods. In the 1980s, most cases occurred where housing conditions were poor, but more recently cases have been reported in affluent areas of Santa Fe and Albuquerque, the investigators found.

Schotthoefer noted that these more affluent areas where plague occurred were regions where new housing developments had been built in habitats that support the wild reservoirs of plague, which include ground squirrels and woodrats.

The question is why do most of those cases appear in New Mexico? Are they turning wilderness areas into subdivisions at a higher rate than other states?
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Wagner Would Be Proud

Leave it to the Germans to do a 24 hour theatrical adaption of Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.

Germany’s leading experimental theater, Hebbel am Ufer, had the gall not only to stage the world theatrical premiere of an Infinite Jest adaptation, but to play it on the grandest stage possible: the city of Berlin itself. Over the course of 24 hours, the shell-shocked and increasingly substance-dependent audience is transported to eight of the city’s iconic settings, which serve as analogs for the venues to which the discursive novel continually returns.

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15 June, 2012

Neuzeller Kloster-Bräu Kirsch Bier

German breweries tend to get a lot of flak from craft beer drinkers here in the States because of the perceived lack of variety in their beer portfolios (and because they tend not to brew IPAs at 50+ IBUs). I think that most of the criticism is deserved but I have to say that Neuzeller Klosterbrauerei bucks the stereotype of light lager-dark lager-weissbier with a porter, an apple beer, and this, a cherry beer. They also have a Kartoffelbier, which is a potato beer, under the Fritzens label. (I am afraid to try it.)

This kirsch bier is a gorgeous reddish amber and quite effervescent. The head was moderate and had a lovely red tint. So far, so good. Putting my nose to it, I immediately smelled sweet'n'sour cherry followed by a sour chemical/plastic kind of aroma. I am at a loss to explain what this was. The smell wasn't off-putting in the sense that it made me recoil in horror, but was rather a neutral scent that had me saying “What the hell is that?” With beers imported from Europe, you never know how long it sat in transport or in an importer's warehouse and at what temperatures it was stored at. Things were not looking good.

The taste, however, exceeded my expectations and then some. That odd chemical smell wasn't discernible on my palate. Instead I tasted the sweet and sour cherries. The carbonation tingled my tongue and the whole experience finished slightly on the bitter side. I was rather surprised at how sweet it was but the sweetness wasn't cloying. It was balanced by the sourness of the cherries and swept away in the finish by the hops. Plus the carbonation provided further contrast. Frankly, it was a lot like a New Glarus Belgian Red but without the sourness from bacteria. The beer tasted like the sour came from the cherries. Oh, and it left some nice Schaumhaftvermoegen on the glass. This is a bier you'd be proud to have sitting in front of you.

It also had a really nice mouthfeel. Not too heavy and it didn't transmogrify into this thin, soupy dreck once the cherry flavor had passed. I never tasted much in the way of malt but it was there in the backbone throughout.

Junk food pairing: Soft pretzels (no salt, thank you) with a generous portion of brown mustard.

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13 June, 2012

Sixpoint: First Impression, Part I

I had my first Sixpoint brew this evening - Bengali Tiger, an American IPA.

It looks really nice with its orange-amber hue and smells great too with caramel maltiness followed by floral hops. The taste is similar with that sweetness first and then a massive hop rush. Massive for me, at any rate. While I'm not sure what varieties of hops were used, I tasted the floral-grassy kind. Bengali Tiger had the dryest finish of any beer that I can recall ever having tasted.

This stuff is like Kirby Nelson repellent.

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Grodziskie Coming Up

Take one off-hand Google+ comment, add in a few months wait, and you get Grodziskie at the Vintage in July. Look for me there yelling "O' zapft ist!" What's the proper glassware for grodziskie? I'll be embarrassed drinking it from an American conical pint glass.

Next month I'll be in beervana. In addition to the grodziskie, there will be homebrew Kölsch courtesy of friend to Hopalicious drinkers everywhere, Joe Walts. My stangen are on standby. Still no Kölsch-Kranz, unfortunately.

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Vintage Brewing's Tippy Toboggan

I love rye. It makes kick ass beer, fantastic bread – it's the yeoman grain. Its gluten bits don't work too well so people don't make all rye bread – some ingenious/desperate Slavs excepted. It doesn't have the sugars that barley does so it isn't used as the primary grain in beer. But rye is so tasty. You just add it to something and the tastiness quotient goes up exponentially.

For centuries rye bread was the staple for Northern and Central Europeans. Germany grew more rye than wheat until 1957. So it should be no surprise that the Germans have the roggenbier, a rye ale. I have never seen an example of the style imported from Germany although Paulaner brews one so it's not like we'd be looking at some tiny brewery in a tiny village looking to ship the stuff over here. Since I can't get my hands on any from the vaterland, I am going to have to make do with Tippy Toboggan roggenbier brewed by Scott Manning over at Vintage.

Don't get me wrong – I am not complaining. My Xmas gifts last year included a Vintage growler and a gift card so, when I saw TT was available, it was a no-brainer. I really need to stop trying to take photos of beer on my table as it plus the artificial light adds a red/orange hue to photos. Here it's not too bad. Still, take it from me, it pours a majestic deep reddish brown. The foaming action was moderate and I don't recall a lot of Schaumhaftvermögen.

Tippy Toboggan is a cousin of Vintage's hefeweizen, Weiss-Blau, as they both are brewed with a Weissbier yeast. Hence TT's aroma which featured banana in addition to malty sweetness. Roggenbiers are not very hoppy and I didn't get much bitterness until the finish. The taste mirrored the aroma in that banana and vanilla were dominant but the grain bill was 40% rye so the yeasty flavors were accompanied by the pronounced rye earthy zing. This was all followed by a moderately hoppy finish. Surely there is a really lengthy German word for that feeling on your tongue which is at once heavy yet also light. TT is that way. They emphasis on malt fools you into thinking you've got a rather viscous liquid in your mouth but it is really thinner. The beer is not heavy or cloying but there are so many wonderful flavors involved that your tongue is fooled into thinking that you're quaffing something really dense.

I absolutely love this stuff. TT quickly became one of my favorite beers. You've got the fruity notes from the yeast, the spiciness from the rye, and the bitter hop finish – it's all there. My only complaint is that Scott releases this stuff in late winter when I would love to be drinking it in the summer.

Junk food pairing: Grab a bag of Pierniczki alpejskie śliwkowe. They complement TT well with fruity sweetness, some earthy spice, and a dash of dark chocolate bitterness.

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Thank You Global Payment Systems

A big thanks to Global Payment Systems for letting both my debit and credit card numbers get compromised.

What flummoxes me is, if the security breach happened in the January-February timeframe, why are my notifications dated 17 May and 6 June? This appears to be Visa's doing as they indicated "Visa reported a data compromise" and "Visa does not provide additional information..." Visa is so incredibly helpful that the notifications I received contain absolutely no information about how my card numbers were compromised nor whether there are any steps I can take in the future to prevent it.

Instead I have to do Google searches to find out what happened and I discovered today that Global Payment Systems don't appear to know the full extent of the intrusion nor exactly what data was compromised.

In March, card processor Global Payments admitted it had been the victim of a targeted cyber attack that put approximately 50,000 credit card holders at risk.

However, there is still a very big looming problem. Global Payments went on to say in the update that “it is unclear whether the intruders looked at or took any personal information from the Company’s systems.”

Although Global Payments did not specify what kind of personal data that could be, nonetheless it leaves the door open to the possibility that data could still be compromised severely.

So thanks again GPS and thanks to the jackass(es) who hacked into their system.
|| Palmer, 1:49 PM || link || (0) comments |

12 June, 2012

Coney Island Albino Python

Coney Island is a refreshing island of lagers in a sea of craft ales. This subsidiary of Schmaltz Brewing Company – the folks who give us He'Brew beers – brew lagers and only lagers which, as they say, amaze your oral sensibilities and arouse your liquid curiosities. Albino Python is billed as a white lager brewed with spices. Before your very eyes CI has transmogrified the witbier into a lager.

My photo isn't too bad this time around so you can more or less see that the beer is a hazy, fairly deep yellow no doubt due to the oats in the grain bill. The head is full with nice big bubbles but doesn't stick around too long. Sticking your proboscis into the glass, one is treated to an enchanting aroma. There's an earthy spiciness courtesy of the fennel and ginger, which supplant coriander, that is finely balanced by the orange peel. This is one of the best smelling beers I've ever taken a whiff of. It's like beer pheremones.

Gustatorily, there is a lot going on here. The orange and spice are quite upfront to the point where they are at the border between bold flavor and over-powering. And they taste as great together as they smell. It is not that they combine to form some third flavor but rather each is distinct and go well in tandem with the spices following the citrus. I am going to assume you know what orange tastes like and try to describe the spiced flavors here. The best way I can think of it is to imagine the sweet anise flavor of fennel coupled with the mild, floral taste of dried ginger as opposed to the sharp, bright flavor of the fresh root. (Less gingerols and more zingerone, you might say.)

Once these flavoring agents have had their way, you get a moderate amount of hop bitterness which was decidedly on the earthy, spicy side which lingered into the aftertaste where it joined the lager crispness. As the beer warms, the orange becomes especially pronounced. This is a rather light beer by which I mean you don't get a lot of malt backbone and so it has an airy mouthfeel.

There is a multitude of flavors here and you get one after another which makes for a wonderful drinking experience.

Junk food pairing: Baker Smoked String Cheese. This stuff has only the barest hint of smoke so it plays nicely with the spices in the beer. Plus the creamy texture worked well against the bitterness/crispness.

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Seen on Library Mall

I am pleased to see Doctor Who graffiti has sprung up (not on my house).

|| Palmer, 4:38 PM || link || (0) comments |

Mr. Carey with the lambic in the cellar

These bad boys are going to end up in New Glarus' shiny new lambic cellar. I have no idea what this entails. Increased volume of Belgian Red and Raspberry Tart? Will this free up room at the old brewery for new flavors?

O'so has a new summer seasonal called 3rd Wheel which is a Belgian blonde ale brewed with rose hips and fermented with oak chips. Robin Shepard has a review up at The Daily Page.

He also has the skinny on Port Huron Brewing which recently opened up in the Dells.

While I will be spending Father's Day role playing (Pathfinder), you can always go the Ale Asylum for their aged beer event. Here's the tapping schedule:

3pm: 3 year old Sticky McDoogle

4pm: 2 year old Bamboozleator

5pm: 1 year old Tripel Nova

As my friend said, that sounds dangerous.

Lake Louie has a Black IPA now which is apparently called Radio Free. Once source says it is made with blackberries while another claims raspberries.

I recently heard a rumor that Big Bay Brewing is in bad financial straits. I hope not. Wavehopper is the best domestic in these here parts and I just plain hate to see a Wisconsin brewery go under.

A couple questions:

1) Has anyone seen Sam Adams Verloren Gose around? The beer baroness at Steve's said that she is unable to order it and just gets whatever the distributor has of this SA limited release line-up.

2) I am going to have a friend bring me back some Surly. What flavor should I get? I'm leaning towards Hell, at the moment.
|| Palmer, 4:31 PM || link || (0) comments |

Wisconsin is Warming Quickly

Climate Central has a neat map showing average temperature changes by state from the period 1970-2011. Oddly, Wisconsin is the 4th fastest warming state.

WTF? We're getting warmer more quickly than New Mexico or Florida. The Upper Midwest is warming quicker than the South?!

Black is white and white is black. We're through the looking glass here.
|| Palmer, 3:35 PM || link || (2) comments |

Drinking Reconstruction Era Brew

Martyn Cornell, author of such volumes as Amber, Gold & Black: The History of Britain's Great Beers and Beer: The Story of the Pint: The History of Britain's Most Popular Drink and all-around beer geek recently blogged about sampling a bottle of Allsopp’s Arctic Ale.

One indisputably legendary beer is Allsopp’s Arctic Ale, the powerful, rich Burton Ale, original gravity 1130, north of 11 per cent alcohol, brewed in Victorian times specifically for expeditions to the Arctic Circle by British explorers. There are a very few bottles left of the Arctic Ale brewed for the expedition under Sir George Nares which set out in 1875 to reach the North Pole. And this week I drank some.

It makes the bottles of New Glarus Tailwagger barleywine from 2005 in my basement just a bunch of pups.

But how hoopy is that? Other vintage brews were sampled as well such as a 1902 Bass King’s Ale. Ron Pattinson was also there. Cornell has a photo of the gang at the sampling and I must admit that Pattinson doesn't look like I expected him to yet he looks perfectly suited to write the way he writes. His is the ideal visage for taking on the Homebrew Twats and dismissing the Hop Wars in American craft brewing. Curmudgeonly yet curiously avuncular.


|| Palmer, 3:23 PM || link || (0) comments |

Where'd Headhunters Go?

Last month I noticed that the website for the movie Headhunters indicated that it was going to open here in Madison at Sundance Cinemas on 1 June. I was happy to hear that as I saw a trailer for it and was intrigued. Well, that day came and went with no sign of the Norwegian noir thriller. OK. Then the site listed 8 June as the release date. Sundance even took an ad out in Isthmus.

The Sundance site doesn't show it playing this week nor next week and the movie is not listed under the Coming Soon section. So where'd it go? How about something on the webpage indicating that plans have changed with any info available on rescheduling? Even a Tweet is better than having one's plans disappear into the aether with no explanation and no setting of customer expectations. To me, this is jerking the customer around.

This isn't the first time Sundance has shuffled their schedule around. Hell, they screened a trailer for Werner Herzog's Into the Abyss when I saw The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 yet I don't recall that movie ever playing there. Another flick that I'm keen on seeing, Safety Not Guaranteed, is supposed to open at Sundance on the 22nd of this month as per the film's webpage. Do I see it elsewhere or take a chance on Sundance?

Having said all this, I do give the theatre credit for taking part in a Summer Classic Movie Series. Citizen Kane screens tomorrow while future films in the series appear to be:
Cool Hand Luke
The Searchers
That's Entertainment
A Clockwork Orange
North by Northwest

It's nice to see Sundance move into repertory theatre territory, although I wonder if this will expand beyond the summer and include films that aren't part of a package playing at other cinemas around the country.
|| Palmer, 2:52 PM || link || (0) comments |

11 June, 2012

Omnes Viae Romam Ducunt

Need to plan that trip from Rome to Constantinople for as few denari as possible? Then check out ORBIS, the Standford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World, i.e. - Google Maps for the Roman Empire.


|| Palmer, 10:05 AM || link || (0) comments |

06 June, 2012

The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Apparently the word "scientists" is deemed box office kryptonite here in the states because The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists was renamed The Pirates! Band of Misfits for American audiences. The movie is based on a children's book of the same name (the one with "scientists" in the title) but I never knew of its existence until I saw the credits. However faithful to the book the film may or may not be, the folks at Aardman have taken their chosen medium of clay, added some CGI and come up with a whole lot of fun.

The adventure is led by Pirate Captain as voiced by Hugh Grant and his (mostly) faithful crew featuring the likes of his number two who dons a scarf and the Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate who wears pink and a gaudy orange and highly fake beard. Frustrated at never having been named Pirate of the Year, PC is determined to win the crown for 1837. We meet the competition at a tavern: Peg Leg Hastings, Black Bellamy, and the also curvaceous Cutlass Liz all make dramatic entrances and have no qualms with ostentatious displays of the booty they've plundered.

Hell bent on the title, PC and his crew set sail for the high seas. Early efforts to acquire treasure yield nothing as PC boards a ghost ship and one populated by lepers. Then he has the good fortune of running into the HMS Beagle one of whose passengers is Charles Darwin. Assuming control of the ship PC and crew confront Darwin who recognizes the bird on PC's shoulder as not being a corpulent parrot but rather the last dodo alive. The natural philosopher convinces PC to take him to London and enter the bird into the Scientist of the Year competition. But Darwin wants the glory for himself and he devises a stratagem for acquiring the bird.

And hilarity ensues.

Aardman's claymation is sheer joy. I was amazed at the patience and craftsmanship that must have gone into the movie, especially when I was watching action sequences such as one where a bathtub full of pirates descends a stairwell in the Darwin home. The voice acting was wonderful too with Martin Freeman doing PC's number two, David Tennant as Darwin, and the inimitable Brian Blessed as the Pirate King. Bonus points for having POCs – pirates of color.

One thing that most children's movies have that was lacking here was a constant stream of pop culture references aimed at parents and The Pirates! Band of Misfits is all the better for it. All of the big CGI fests for kids come across as having split personalities. There's the story that's for the kiddies and then there's this subtext for the adults. I can't recall any pop culture references in The Pirates! although there probably were a few that I just cannot recall. However, I do remember Darwin's house having an anachronistic light switch which made me chuckle.

Generally speaking, the story moves along at a good pace with action sequences dotting the narrative. Things bog down occasionally as the filmmakers felt the need to overemphasize the Pirate Captain as a bumbling dimwit. I get it – he is not the most competent pirate on the high seas. Much better are the little jokes such as when the Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate speaks in her own voice, catches the mistake, and quickly adopts a more gruff tone a la Life of Brian.

This misstep aside, The Pirates! Band of Misfits made me smile a lot and took me away from my life of having to deal with surly teenagers. Mission accomplished.
|| Palmer, 2:09 PM || link || (0) comments |

Goodbye Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury has passed away. When I heard the news, I had a flashback to watching Something Wicked This Way Comes as a kid and it scaring the bejeezus out of me.

|| Palmer, 10:28 AM || link || (0) comments |

04 June, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods is the first horror film that I've seen in the cinema since Paranormal Activity. I guess I was attracted to it by virtue of its supposed genre-bending meta story and Joss Whedon's involvement. Curiously enough, I'm not a big Whedon fan. While I loved Firefly, I've never seen Buffy or much of anything else he's done excluding the first episode of Dollhouse which inspired me to avoid the second installment. As a bonus, director and co-writer Drew Goddard wrote several episodes of LOST so I figured it would at least be an interesting addition to the horror genre.

The story begins in an unidentified office complex with a pair of technicians flinging braggadocio and jokes at a female co-worker about an upcoming assignment before speeding away in a golf cart. Meanwhile a group of college students prepare to head out on vacation to the titular hideaway in a ramshackle RV. Two comely ladies, Dana (the bookish type) and Jules (the ditzy blond), will be accompanied by Curt (handsome jock), Holden (geek), and Marty (stoner). The slasher flick conventions codified by John Carpenter start early as the camera gives us a peek into Dana's bedroom as she packs for the trip clad in underwear and a t-shirt. Youthful sexuality must be punished!

A stop at a rundown and seemingly abandoned gas station provides a hint of what is to come with the scarred old proprietor warning the sybaritic travelers of their destination. They finally make it to their destinati and settle in for a night of drinking and whatever fun that may follow. Meanwhile our techies, Sitterson and Hadley, settle in for a night's work. Their job is to turn an innocent bit of adolescent fun into a nightmare. Cameras are scattered about the cabin so that they can direct the action. Hitting a switch opens a door in the cabin's floor. The revelers can't restrain their curiosity and descend into the darkness where all manner of ephemera litter the dank and dusty basement while the techies are taking bets with co-workers on how the kids will react. Scattered around the basement are various items which, when used, will unleash a horror. There's a puzzle box, a conch shell, and a diary, amongst many other things. Dana reads from a diary that supposedly belonged to one Patience Buckner. Unbeknownst to them, this brings to life the Buckner family – as zombies.

Most of The Cabin in the Woods is a deconstruction of the slasher genre. While cinematographer Peter Deming, a confidante of David Lynch, does his level best to create some incredibly spooky visuals, Sitterson and Hadley undermine it by simply going about their jobs which are to use all the technology and gadgetry at their disposal to ensure that our partiers live out their last minutes in accordance with the genre's tropes. And so some kind of pheromone is released so that Jules and Curt get all randy. We get a glimpse of Jules' breasts on the big board and her youthful sexuality is punished. Fully aware that they are beset by some very awful creatures, Curt wisely suggests that they should all stick together. However, a gas is released which causes him to change his mind and instead he opines that they should split up. Plus in LOST fashion, there was a whiteboard listing the possible badies the students may unwittingly unleash that was shown only briefly. But one could still see “Witches”, “Sexy Witches”, and “Angry Molesting Tree” amongst the choices. All of this post-modern posturing is great fun. I found myself laughing and enjoying the self-referential bits to the point where the horror really wasn't particularly horrifying.

The true terror comes in the film's finale as those who have escaped the Buckner's wrath discover that they are puppets being manipulated. I don't want to spoil too much here but fans of a certain American horror author hailing from Rhode Island will catch on to phrases like “eternal sleep” and understand exactly why Sitterson and Hadley are in an underground bunker making sure that a group of college students are being killed off by zombies. At the push of a button all hell breaks loose and the movie smoothly changes gears from poking fun at the horror genre to immanent doom.
|| Palmer, 7:32 PM || link || (0) comments |

01 June, 2012

Bust Out the Weizenbierglas

The latest brew news from Capital notes that we can bid auf wiedersehen to Fest and welcome back Weizen which has been on hiatus for six years. I like Fest but, when I'm at a summer festival on a sunny day in 85 degree weather, it's too heavy. But since my attempt to get Kirby to brew a Kölsch failed, Wild Rice is still in hiding, and I bought some weiss bier glasses recently, Weizen will do just fine.

Capital also reports that they have a radler. I noticed this at their bier garten when I was out there to sample Common Thread. Kirby's version has lemon-lime soda. The stuff is on draught only at the brewery. I personally think this is a great development after my mostly fruitless attempts at getting a bartender to make me one last Sunday at the Wurst Times brat festival. The Brink had no light lagers of any quality on tap so I had to buy bottles and mix my own. Luckily I found that one of the bartenders at the High Noon has a friend from Germany and so he knew what a radler was. I ordered one with New Glarus Totally Naked and 7-Up (or was that Sprite?). Very refreshing.

A look at some (potentially) forthcoming beers in bottles.


I can't find a description of Outboard but I presume this will be a lighter summer brew that one would take out on the lake fishing. Weekend @ Louie's is their Louie's Demise amber ale with Rishi’s Organic Blueberry Rooibos and Hibiscus teas thrown in. I am keen on quaffing this stuff.

And Leine's is looking at releasing a weiss. From the looks of this label, the process isn't far along. It's more like a placeholder.

A little over a week ago Wisconsin craft brewing was featured at manufacturing.net in an article called "The Ruling Glass". There wasn't a boatload of information here that I didn't already know but there were a few things.

For instance, I didn't know that Tom Porter was no longer the brewmaster at Lake Louie. To wit: "Tim Wauters is now the brewmaster for Lake Louie but was once a historian for Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry." When did this happen? I found what followed interesting.

Wauters brings a historian’s eye to the craft of beermaking, and has created some unique brews. Lake Louie’s popular Kiss the Lips — an IPA — is more complex than it may first appear.

IPAs were originally developed in the late eighteenth century in order to provide what were deemed necessary beer rations to British troops stationed in India. A higher alcohol content and extra hops meant added stability for beers, which could then be shipped to India without risking spoilage.

“We don’t do really hoppy beers,” says Porter, “but we wanted to try an IPA, so I said, ‘if we’re going to do this, how would we do it?’” Wauters researched the conditions under which the first IPAs would have been developed — water quality in the region, varieties of hops available — and replicated these conditions as closely as possible to create what could quite possibly be the most authentic modern IPA on the market.

Two things. First, I think it's neat that Kiss the Lips was brewed to replicate some 18th century progenitor of the style instead of being another iteration of the West Coast IPA. Second, did Wauters supply the piece's author with that history of the IPA or was that researched separately? To my mind Martyn Cornell and Ron Pattinson have done away with those myths.

The article notes "a few macro trends are emerging" in the microbrew scene:

I really hope that the "food-influenced beers made with spices" refers to beers brewed with ginger root, for example, as opposed to shit like Mamma Mia! Pizza Beer. (Or did that have only herbs in it?) I've noticed all of these trends except this food-influenced one. Sure, I have seen the occasional brew with spices such as Knot Stock and Vintage's ginger concoction, but the trend has eluded me. Perhaps I just haven't been looking hard enough. I have, however, seen various beers with fruits and vegetables in them sitting in my refrigerator. The Whistle Stop Brewery has a carrot wheat IPA which I found tasty and I have a bottle of their jalapeno blonde ale waiting to be quaffed. They also make brews with strawberries, raspberries, and coconut.

I'll let Jeff Glazer do the bitching about how Wisconsin brewers are falling behind these trends.
|| Palmer, 10:51 AM || link || (0) comments |