Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

23 July, 2012

Does Madison "Need" a Public Market?





Last month Dave Cieslewicz argued in the pages of Isthmus that Madison needs a public market. He makes a case for it as a hub of community activity (one of those "third spaces") as well as an economic one. Of the latter, he makes two separate cases. One is obvious: vendors there will need people to staff counters and wait tables and there's the prospect of "spin-off benefits to local food producers". The second economic benefit is all or, at least, mostly Richard Florida-inspired BS.

Madison is in competition for smart, inventive entrepreneurs who create jobs, and these kids can live anywhere. There are certain indicators that market a community to people like that. A smoking ban says your community cares about health. Being pro-bike says you care about health and community design. And a public market says you care about health and local entrepreneurs and good food. It all adds up to that elusive idea and overused phrase "quality of life." It adds up to the indefinable coolness that sells your place to the world.

Madison is in an arms race for coolness with Boulder, Colorado and other meccas of hipness, apparently. The thing is, when young entrepreneurs here in Madison were asked by the Madison Economic Development Committee for their wish lists, it seemingly failed to unleash pent-up desire for a public market. Instead we got desiderata such as "High-speed internet access and a program providing bus passes, shared bicycles or parking" and "A 'web district' from East Washington Avenue to Lake Monona, with offices, cafes, and apartments that allow cats".

Around the same time Cieslewicz was making his plea Fast Company ran an article entitled "Why Tech Startups Are Mad For Madison" which demonstrates that entrepreneurs have chosen to start companies here in Madison despite the lack of a public market. While quality of life issues are mentioned, the emphasis is squarely placed elsewhere. Take pecuniary matters, for instance. One startup, Shoutlet, has received a lot of startup money. Why? "They like that we're fiscally conservative Midwesterners." Next is a mention of "a 25% tax credit to local angel investors who sink funds into young, emerging startups. Earlier this year, the legislation was amended so that the credit does not have to be paid back within the first three years, even if the business fails or is acquired. This has made investing locally extremely attractive to big companies--which keeps their money in Madison". Unsurprisingly, the UW also plays a big role here as does networking.

Late June was a popular time for discussing these issues as not only were there the articles above, but Jim Russell wrote a post at his Pittsburgh-centric blog Burgh Diaspora called "How Return Migration Will Save The World" in which he discusses return migration but also Richard Florida's "creative class". Russell points to Frank Bures' damning critique of Florida's ideas that was published in Thirty Two magazine.

Beres dismisses the creative class theories that are popular now and Madison along with it. Our fair burg, a model for Florida's theorizing, is waved off as simply "a giant suburb with a university in the middle". While I find his reasoning here off the mark – "I moved to Madison and didn't encounter creative types, ergo the place is a suburb" – I think he made a good case against Florida where his arguments are data-driven instead of being anecdotal. In the piece and the follow-up Bures shows that Florida's theories are backed up by scant evidence.

What was missing, however, was any actual proof that the presence of artists, gays and lesbians or immigrants was causing economic growth, rather than economic growth causing the presence of artists, gays and lesbians or immigrants. Some more recent work has tried to get to the bottom of these questions, and the findings don’t bode well for Florida’s theory. In a four-year, $6 million study of thirteen cities across Europe called “Accommodating Creative Knowledge,” that was published in 2011, researchers found one of Florida’s central ideas—the migration of creative workers to places that are tolerant, open and diverse—was simply not happening.

“They move to places where they can find jobs,” wrote author Sako Musterd, “and if they cannot find a job there, the only reason to move is for study or for personal social network reasons, such as the presence of friends, family, partners, or because they return to the place where they have been born or have grown up.” But even if they had been pouring into places because of “soft” factors like coffee shops and art galleries, according to Stefan Krätke, author of a 2010 German study, it probably wouldn’t have made any difference, economically.

“In the academic and urban planning world,” says Peck, “people are slightly embarrassed about the Florida stuff.” Most economists and public policy scholars just didn’t take it seriously.

This is partly because much of what Florida was describing was already accounted for by a theory that had been well-known in economic circles for decades, which says that the amount of college-educated people you have in an area is what drives economic growth, not the number of artists or immigrants or gays, most of whom also happen to be college educated. This is known as Human Capital theory, mentioned briefly above, and in Hoyman and Faricy’s analysis, it correlated much more highly with economic growth than the number of creative class workers.


I give our former mayor credit for being one of the city's biggest cheerleaders. He's always telling people how much he loves Madison and I think he had a vision for Madison while he was mayor. (Mayor Soglin, on the other hand, is our first responder mayor. He gets elected and starts putting out fires and patching things up. But he hasn't, to my mind, articulated a vision for the city.) My problem was that I disagreed with him on much of his vision. He's drunk on the Richard Florida Kool-Aid and thusly too preoccupied with those "soft" factors like public markets and bike lanes. Ergo his Madison is caught up in an endless game of keeping up with Boulder and Portland yet he can offer no proof that such things attract the much-heralded "creative class". He can only assure us that they contribute to the "elusive idea and overused phrase 'quality of life'" and an "indefinable coolness".

To be fair, Cieslewicz's boosterism does encompass more than soft factors but, for me, too much of his vision for the city is about attracting Richard Florida's creative class types. They're certainly welcome, of course, but I suspect that the presence of the UW and being the state capital do more to bring them to Madison than 1,000 miles of bike lanes, 100 coffee houses, 10 public markets, and a smattering of craft breweries/distilleries/meaderies. Don't get me wrong, I like all these things, but Milwaukee has a public market and a "vibrant" Third Ward yet it is still a struggling Rust Belt city.

At the end of the day, I'm ambivalent about a public market here in Madison. I've been to the market in Milwaukee and really enjoyed it. And so if some private investors want to build one, I say more power to them. But I am reluctant to have my tax money go towards building one on the basis of some kind of inferiority complex and dubious sociological/economic hypotheses.
|| Palmer, 4:44 PM || link || (4) comments | links to this post

20 July, 2012

Apparently Madison Doesn't Subsidize the "Creative Class" Enough

With the latest monthly jobs numbers showing an increase in unemployment in Wisconsin creating jobs is on most people's minds. On Wednesday the Madison Economic Development Committee met with "several young entrepreneurs" who explained how they could benefit with a little help. OK, swell. Helping homegrown businesses succeed is a good thing, generally speaking. However, I got a bit confused the further I got in the article which is woefully short in specifics.

Aaron Olver, Madison’s director of economic development, asked what they would wish for.

High-speed internet access and a program providing bus passes, shared bicycles or parking, Austin said.

A “web district” from East Washington Avenue to Lake Monona, with offices, cafes, and apartments that allow cats, said Brad Brzesiak, a principal at web development company Bendyworks.


Austin is Preston Austin who co-founded Murfie.com. The company has a suite in the U.S. Bank building on the Square. How could it not have high-speed internet access? My understanding is that there are miles of fiber optic cable underneath the Square. How else does DOA move data between their offices on East Wilson and the data center on the southeast side? And he wants bicycle sharing. Don't we have that already? A program providing bus passes, eh? Well, if he wants such a program then he should enter into negotiations with Madison Metro. It sure sounds like Austin wants the city, i.e. – we taxpayers, to pay for these things although the article is not clear on this point. However, when I read that help would come in the form of "providing central city work space, affordable Downtown housing, transportation and strong Internet access", I get worried because I read that to mean the city would provide these things.

The whole time I was reading the article I was thinking about the Metro Innovation Center. They offer a "1 GB dedicated UW data connection". It's centrally located on major bus route. We live in the proposed web district and have a cat as do many people I know who live in the area. What is wrong with it? What do these people really want? I wish the author had provided more details and context instead of simply throwing in a few quotes. What else happened at this meeting?

The worst part of the article is that we can now expect a blog post from Dave Cieslewicz spouting more Richard Florida BS and complaining that the city isn't spending enough money to retain our creative class.
|| Palmer, 3:47 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

"What's a shandy/radler?" and Other Beer News

Hot on the heels of the news that New Glarus is going to have its own lambic cellar comes word that Dan Carey has decided to start growing his own hops.





The old German configuration involves "crossed wires above and angled posts". I wonder what inspired this. A new challenge? Or perhaps certain varieties are rare or unavailable commercially or are prohibitively expensive?

News is that Pilsner Urquell is going to get the royal treatment on its journey here to the States. From the press release:

“The primary enemies to beer are light, time and heat,” said Vaclav Berka, the Pilsner Urquell brewmaster. “Due to these factors, the Pilsner Urquell that people have drunk in the U.S. over the past years simply has not been the equivalent of the fresh Pilsner Urquell available in the Czech Republic. We are changing that.”

The beer is now packaged in fully enclosed secondary cartons that ship from the brewery within 30 days aboard refrigerated containers. This helps stop the aging process of the beer. Distributors also will maintain the beer’s refrigeration once they receive it.


More foreign beer deserves this treatment. German bier consultant Horst Dornbusch helped devise a program called Cold Track with five Bavarian brewers and an importer and a distributor to ensure the beer was kept cold during shipment and storage. Having never seen a bottle of Bavarian bier with the program's logo of a penguin with a tray of bier, I am unsure if Cold Track never got off the ground or just remained an agreement with one importer and one distributor.

Speaking of German beers, Schneider Weisse has a couple new entries in its Tap X series.





As far as I know, the first was Mein Nelson Sauvin, a weizenbock with Nelson Sauvin hops, a variety from New Zealand. The new brews are Mein Eisbock Barrique, SW's Aventinus Eisbock that has been aged in pinot noir barrels for 15 months, and Mein Cuvée Barrique, a weizen doppelbock aged in pinot noir barrels for eight months. I presume the latter is their Aventinus, the gold standard in weizen doppelbocks. These sure sound tasty and I'd love to have a few bottles in my cellar come winter. A small victory against the tyranny of commercial German lagers.

Any Madisonians ever see Mein Nelson Sauvin around these parts? I don't recall ever having seen it. And after being told by the beer buyer at Steve's Liquor that they can't even order the Sam Adams Small Batch Series brews they want, I presume I'll have to go to Chicago to find any bottles of Tap X.





Speaking of Chicago, I noticed that Finch's beers have made their way to Madison. The Jenifer Street Market, anyway. Golden Wing Blonde Ale, Cut Throat Pale Ale, and Threadless IPA were all there in 4-packs of cans.

Lastly, I was disappointed with Chris Drosner's article about shandies from last week. He reviews Shock Top Lemon Shandy, Leinenkukgel's Summer Shandy, and Samuel Adams' Porch Rocker radler.

Bright and refreshing, shandies — or radlers, if you sprechen sie Deutsch — are less a beer style than they are a beer cocktail, with lemon flavoring or lemonade being the key mixer. Between their lemon zing, light body and low carbonation and alcohol content, they’re perfect quenchers for beach outings, fishing excursions, softball games or any other occasion that merges beer and sweat.

While it was nice to see these summer thirst quenchers in the spotlight, I don't see how adding lemon flavoring to a beer somehow comprises a beer cocktail. If I put a dash of bitters into a glass of brandy, I don't have a cocktail, I have adulterated spirits. Shock Top and Summer Shandy are both 4.2% ABV while Porch Rocker is 4.5%. Although not reviewed, Potosi's Steamboat Shandy is mentioned and it weighs in at 4.5%. These are not shandies, they're lemon-flavored beers. Shandies and radlers are mixtures of beer and some kind of soft drink such as lemonade or citrus soda so the alcohol content is generally 3% or under.

Also given a nod is Capital's Radler, a mix of beer and citrus soda, but it's only about 2.5%. Stiegl's radlers are also 2.5%. They mix Stiegl Goldbräu, which is 4.9%, with soda. (BTW, their grapefruit radler kicks ass. I've seen it at Jenifer Street Market and Trixie's. The six-pack I bought during the big heat wave earlier this month didn't last long.) These are very low alcohol beer cocktails. When did 4.5% become "low alcohol" instead of middle of the road? I guess it's low alcohol if you consider beer with an appellation that contains "imperial", "double", or “wine” to be average strength.

At the end of the day, it's all a matter of perspective. To me, English milds at 3.x%, traditional saisons at about 3.5%, and shandies/radlers at 2.5% are in a range of low alcohol to very low alcohol. Using a declarative adjective, for me, means you're getting to the bottom end of a range and I don't consider 4.2-4.5% to be close to the bottom end, although 4.2% is in session territory, to my mind. But who is Drosner writing for? A layaudience for whom Miller, Bud, and Coors products of 4.2-5% is normal? Or a craft beer geek audience for whom 5% is sessionable and 7% is average? If you're a Miller Lite drinker, Leine's Summer Shandy is the same strength as your regular beer. Something just doesn't sit right with me here. In the context of an article about beers to beat the summer heat, “low alcohol” doesn't seem applicable to “shandies” which aren't significantly weaker than the macro brews which dominate the American beer market.
|| Palmer, 7:31 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

18 July, 2012

Sword Swallower by Coney Island





Another brew from Coney Island - Sword Swallower. The label says it's an IPA brewed with lager yeast which I suppose means that it's an IPL. Four malts and eight varieties of hops are used with hops being added during the boil as well as dry hopping. Add in that it has an ABV of 7.2% and you've got yourself a pretty big beer all around.

My pour left a big head of nice, large bubbles atop a bed of dark yellow beer goodness that was slightly hazy. Considering all the dry hopping, I could only detect a trace of hops in the nose. Instead my proboscis mostly caught a malt sweetness with peach and toffee.

Being an IPx, I expected a hop rush in my mouth. While it was very hoppy, I was surprised to taste a strong malt backbone. Very strong indeed. The sweetness in the nose was evident here as well with some peach/apple flavors. It had a very smooth, balanced mouthfeel. Not too syrupy yet a good, solid mouthful that was also effervescent and crisp as you'd expect from a lager. As far as the hops go, it was, well, very hoppy, with a spicy and floral bitterness and not a West Coast C-hop citrus festival. The beer finished dry and bitter, not unlike a good pilsener.

I was reminded of Sixpoint's Bengali Tiger in that both beers have a strong malt as well as a strong hop profile. To my palate, the flavors of BT are prominent yet separate, like being at opposite ends of seesaw. Contrariwise, I found that Sword Swallower's malt commingled with the hops in an exquisitely satisfying way.

Junk food pairing: Would go well with a Chicago dog or similar preparation of kosher beef tubesteak that does not involve ketchup/catsup.
|| Palmer, 4:12 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

12 July, 2012

Grätzer Ale from Vintage Brewing



In a moment of weakness Scott Manning, the brewmaster at Vintage Brewing, read my plea on Google+ and brewed a grätzer/grodziskie (depending on whether you want the German or Polish name) ale. This is a Polish/Prussian smoked wheat ale and is believed to have been first brewed around the time the Great Plague was ravaging Europe. Its popularity declined after World War I and it eventually disappeared but was briefly resurrected in the 1990s in Poland before going the way of the dodo again. So what is this archaic brew supposed to taste like? I emailed Ron Pattinson and he told me that a grodziskie should taste “smoky and hoppy, very well carbonated, too.”

Yeah, my photo sucks. I wish I could be like some beer bloggers who make their snaps look like Ansel Adams but mine always turn out like something by Dorothea Lange, no offense to her legacy intended. Anyway, as you may or may not see, Scott's gräter is a nice clear yellow. It had a nice head on it so the carbonation is there but it disappeared fairly quickly. Schaumhaftvermoegen? Nein.

The aroma was smoky. This is to be expected since the grain bill was oak smoked wheat and more oak smoked wheat. Now, I'm no expert when it comes to rauchbiers with my experience coming in the form of having had three or four varieties of Schlenkerla and the occasional craft porter with some smoked malt thrown in for good measure. Having said this, rauchbiers usually smell like bacon to me. This beer had that but there was also some sweetness present which leaned towards the honey-glazed ham side of things.

Taking a sip I tasted that bacony/ham-like flavor and it was heaven. But then those hops kicked in and penetrated through the smoky goodness. They were spicy and herbal. Scott said that he was unable to procure Polish hops such as Lomik or Lubelski and so he worked with Gorst Valley Hops to concoct a replacement combo. I've had several varieties of Polish pale lagers but don't know what hop varieties were used in them so I'm not sure what hop flavor I should or could have tasted here. Regardless, it tasted like Noble hops – herbal but not piney. This is not a super-mega-maxi hopped beer but you need a goodly amount to compete with the smoke flavor.

Schlenkerla's rauchbiers tend to be pretty heavy on the tongue whereas this brew had a much lighter mouthfeel. It was weird because when I drink smoke beers, I expect a sturm und drang of smoke but this stuff was agile and nimble – as if you're bouncing flavor balls around in your mouth. Like comparing helium to lead. It had a nice, moderately bitter finish.

The brew weighed in at 4.5% ABV which I gather is a bit high for the style but by no means off the chart. (Can an imperial barrel aged grodziskie be far off?) As it stands, I would consider this a session beer and, indeed, I had two during my session at Vintage last night before bringing a growler of the stuff home with me. This is truly a smoke beer I could drink all night long.

Junk food pairing: Pair with kielbasa-flavored potato chips. If, like me, you're not in Poland, try Jay's Hot Stuff potato chips as they're heavy on the paprika.

Labels: , , ,

|| Palmer, 9:43 PM || link || (2) comments | links to this post

10 July, 2012

One Barrel Opens, Brenner Brewing, and NG Saisaon

Last Friday I braved the Sahara-like temperatures and went to the One Barrel Brewing Company opening. I arrived at about quarter to six to find that the joint was busier than a whore on dollar day.





The air conditioning was powerless against the thirsty horde of hot and sweaty drinkers who seemed to be mostly of the yuppie persuasion. (Even Kathleen Falk was in attendance.) While waiting to be served I heard a voice call my name only to find my old pal Amy was already there. She told me that she had arrived at about 10 after four and it was similarly packed. It was difficult to hear her over the din of the crowd. While those brick walls look nice, they make for a deafening environment. I felt like I was in college again at a State Street bar.

The beer menu had three 1BBC beers listed although one was crossed off – an IBA. I thought it was called Penguin but the website lists that brew as being a pale ale so perhaps I misread it. Regardless, it was tapped out and so was left with Strong Ale #2 and The Commuter, a session beer.





The strong ale, on the right, was good but standing in a crowded 90 degree room with it being 100+ outside dissuaded me from a 10% ABV beer. Amy offered a sip and I can say that it was very tasty. Sweet with barely a hint of hops, it hid the booze very well. I thought it odd that this stuff was being served in a pint glass instead of a snifter or other smaller drinking vessel. Granted, all pours were $4.50 so it was a bargain but why would they push large quantities of such potent stuff? I hope it was because they were short on glassware. (The same goes for you, Essen Haus. You give a half liter pour of a doppelbock by default? WTF? And while I'm it, you guys really need to clean your tap lines more than once a decade.) The Commuter is a Kölsch and a fine one at that. Reminded me of Gaffel with its prominent biscuity flavor and crisp finish. I personally don't think that an ABV of 4.8% qualifies it as a session beer but it probably had the lowest alcohol content of all the brews on offer. There was a slew of guest taps available and I noticed the odd Hibiscus Saison from Vintage.

1BBC seems to be off to a good start. Things will get more interesting as more of their beers become available and the crowds thin a bit so I can actually hear my interlocutor.





Over in Milwaukee Mike Brenner is looking to get Brenner Brewing Company off the ground. He has a second Kickstarter campaign going on right now. The plan is for each bottle to feature the artwork of a local artist and a QR code which links to a webpage featuring a "beer soundtrack" by local musos.

Lastly, I see that New Glarus' latest Thumbprint beer is a saison. A few years back Dan Carey brewed an imperial saison which was excellent but this is just the plain Jane variety.
|| Palmer, 11:42 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

05 July, 2012

One Barrel Opens Tomorrow to Be Followed by House of Brews Taproom

A couple new haunts are opening here in Madison soon.

First comes the news that One Barrel Brewing, a nano-brewpub, opens tomorrow. I may have to stop there after work. It's right on the bus line and a short walk home.

Next we have the revelation that the House of Brews taproom may be opening next week:

Just had and passed ALL my inspections today (thanks inspectors!). The tap room can now legally operate. I'm waiting on tables and need to get a few more things....hoping to open next Tue. I only have a capacity of 15 so don't everyone come at once!

A couple new labels:







I am not a huge pumpkin beer fan but that rauchbier sounds great. We'll see how it stacks up against Helles Schlenkerla Lager, a bottle of which I have in my refrigerator just waiting for this heatwave to break.

While I'm a bit late on Independence Day things, here's a video celebrating the role of the tavern in colonial America. The long-form version can be read here (PDF).

|| Palmer, 10:22 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

04 July, 2012

Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indriðason





As this miserable heatwave was descending upon us, I figured it would be a good idea to read a book that may take my mind from the desert-like conditions. Arnaldur Indriðason's Hypothermia was on my shelf and it takes place in ICEland so I figured I just couldn't do better than that. Unfortunately, there's precious little cold, rain, and snow to be had. Instead I found myself immersed in a mystery imbued with a very large dose of psychological drama.

Hypothermia is the eighth book in the Detective Erlendur series. I’d seen the movie version of the third installment, Jar City, so I had an idea of what to expect. However, I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to be missing anything that had occurred in the previous books.

Here a woman named Maria is found hanging at the end of a rope at the summer cottage belonging to her and her husband Baldvin. Detective Erlendur drives out to Lake Thingvellier and concludes that it is a cut-and-dry suicide. He is ready to leave it at that but is approached by a friend of Maria’s named Karen who gives Erlendur a tape which contains a recording of a séance that Maria had attended. She was desperate to contact the spirit of her mother who had died a couple years previously. Erlendur’s curiosity is piqued and he begins to suspect that there’s more to Maria’s death than meets the eye. His suspicions are aroused after interviewing Baldvin.

But he has little more than suspicions. His attention is distracted by the visit of a man who comes seeking an update on a very cold case. The man’s son, David, went missing some 20 years ago and his body was never found. Yet the man returns once a year to find out if anything new has turned up and nothing ever does. The man is getting old and this is to be his last inquiry. Erlendur feels terribly for him. Not only did he lose his son, but he will get no closure before he too passes on.

This and his own personal tales of loss spurs him on to reopen the old case. When he was a boy, he and his brother were out in a blizzard and only Erlendur survived. Furthermore, Erlendur was not the greatest father to his children, daughter Eva and son Sindri. He left them after divorcing their mother. The idea of family ties and a desire to provide closure for others, even if he cannot do so for his own family as a tendentious meeting with his ex-wife proves, drives Erlendur to pursue both Maria and David’s cases.

Although both deaths are linked rather coincidentally, it is a tenuous connection so Indriðason can be forgiven. The story moves along well. Erlendur interviews more of Maria’s family and friends and uncovers a Flatliners-esque subplot which keeps the reader pondering whether Maria’s death was really a suicide or not until the very end. They mystery aside, Hypothermia is in keeping in the Scandinavian crime fiction tradition of having an overall mood of melancholy. There are the deaths and grieving families, sure, but Erlendur was party to a failed marriage and was a less than stellar father. Eva is a recovering addict and they are unable to set their relationship on solid footing as they always bicker. To make the proceedings even more doleful, Indriðason makes sure that the resolution to David’s disappearance comes just after his father passes away.

Hypothermia is certainly a depressing story yet it has an intriguing mystery behind it. Plus the multiple strands examining the familial and emotional ties that bind us to one another elevate it above simpler, more straightforward detective stories. My only reservation is Indriðason’s writing style. It is austere, to say the least. People who can’t handle purple prose will be thoroughly satisfied. Descriptions are utilitarian and I couldn’t help but feel that an occasional metaphor would have done the text good. This is purely a matter of taste, however, so don’t let some pedestrian prose distract you from a good mystery/drama.
|| Palmer, 3:10 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

02 July, 2012

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist



The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters was recommended to me on the basis of it being an historical mystery but I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that it was a massively fun mash-up of genres in a Victorian setting. Historical mystery, yes, but also some Jane Austen romance, steampunk, horror a la Machen/Le Fanu, and the action and adventure of Saturday matinees from the days of yore.

The story begins with Miss Celeste Temple receiving a letter from her fiancée Roger Bascombe stating that their impending marriage has been cancelled and their relationship ended. We go right into the Jane Austen stuff.

Such rejection had quite simply never occurred to her. The manner of dismissal she barely noticed – indeed, it was just how she would have done such a thing (as in fact, she had, on multiple galling occasions) – but the fact of it was stinging. She had attempted to re-read the letter, but found her vision blurred – after a moment she realized she was in tears.

Miss Temple deals with the shock of someone of her standing being treated so poorly by following Roger in order to find out whatever could be the matter. Her cloak and dagger routine leads her to discover that he is going to attend a masked ball and so she decides to find an appropriate costume and crash the party. This involves a train and a carriage ride during which Miss Temple is unable to gather much about the ball.

She finds herself at a very large mansion and in the middle of something not too far removed from Eyes Wide Shut. Instead of pure carnality, this soiree also involves an infernal machine which seemingly brainwashes its victims who are, in this case, all comely young women. Our heroine affects a narrow escape through her wit and a large dose of derring do which sees her wandering the mansion and witnessing even more oddities including a man who appears to be some kind of military attaché passed out on a bed with very odd marks that look like burns around his face.

Miss Temple catches a train back to the city (the location is never divulged but would appear to be a steampunk version of London). Her fellow passenger is a greasy man clad in an ostentatious red leather topcoat and tinted spectacles. This is Cardinal Chang. Chang is no Oriental but rather got the name from the scars on his eyelids with the "Cardinal" bit coming from his red leather. He is, however, a rogue and a villain.

...his working week was divided into a reliably Spartan routine: the Library, the coffeehouse, clients, excursions on behalf of those clients, the baths, the opium den, the brothel, and bill collecting, which often involved revisiting past clients in a different (to them) capacity.

It just so happens that he was also returning from the very same mansion that drew Miss Temple and her investigation.

Chang, however, was there for a very different purpose, namely, to murder someone. He'd been hired to killing one Arthur Trapping by a fellow military officer of the 4th Dragoons, a military regiment that had recently been mysteriously reassigned to various domestic duties. After introducing us to Chang, Dahlquist then recounts the events of the night he spent at the mansion from his point of view. This fills in some of the gaps in Miss Temple's account and introduces us to more of the bad guys.

Our third hero is Doctor Abelard Svenson from Macklenburg, presumably some fictional Hanseatic city. He is a chain-smoking intellectual who is fiercely loyal to his lord. He finds himself part of the retinue of Prince Karl-Horst von Massmarck, who is heir to the Duchy of Macklenburg. His job is to keep the drunken lout in good enough health to marry Lydia Vandaariff, daughter of a powerful and very rich aristocrat.

Svenson was at the mansion, which belongs to Lord Vandaariff – Lydia's father, that night as well and we get to witness events from his point of view which fill in even more details surrounding the alliances that Karl-Horst's marriage to Lydia would forge.

This trio eventually ally themselves with one another and set out to defeat a sinister cabal of aristocrats and highly-placed government official which is intent on – what else? – taking over the world. The dastardly plans involve the infernal contraption above derived from the painting of a mad alchemical artist. It works with a mysterious indigo clay that has some remarkable properties. Together they have the ability to read and record people's thoughts in the titular tomes as well as unleash the mental powers of those in its grip. The device and the books also set their victims on the primrose path, which I wasn't expecting. While we're not talking pornography here, there are some decidedly salacious moments that are at loggerheads with the prim and proper Victorian facade.

Setting aside the conspiracies and the steampunk trappings, what you have here is a great adventure story. Dahlquist had packed his tale full of close calls, cliffhangers, and narrow escapes. The pattern is set in the very first chapter. One of our heroes sets out to investigate and finds him or herself ensnared by the cabal but is able to escape just in the nick of time before being dispatched with by one or another villain. Miss Temple uses her wits and gets a little bit of luck to escape the clutches of two assassins after she is discovered at the ball; Chang sildes down an exhaust stack just in the nick of time; and Svenson perilously holds onto a rope for dear life dangling from a zeppelin. While this sounds boring and repetitive, Dahlquist writes a very good Victorian English and has given us three interesting characters who slowly uncover the full extent of the danger before them. And since most of the text finds them working alone, it's something of a puzzle to piece together exactly how all of their discoveries fit in with those of their colleagues.

All three of our heroes are outcasts in their own way and all have a lost love. Miss Temple hails from an unnamed island and Roger Bascombe was her ticket to a stable life and respectability. Because of his scars, Chang takes up a life on the fringe of polite society and has feelings for a whore whom he can never truly possess but, unfortunately, the evil cabal can. Svenson is basically a dutiful servant, not a member of the Macklenburg aristocracy, and he has only memories of his love who passed away. They all grow and change in their own way as well. While Chang is used to the rough'n'tumble stuff, Miss Temple and Svenson have to find the courage to take on evil and even kill. For his part, Chang must get used to operating in concert with and to trust others.

In between all the chases and fights, Dahlquist allows his characters moments of introspection and even throws in some humor such as when Miss Temple witnesses the memories of a woman engaged in sexual intercourse via one of the glass books and questions whether she has lost her own virtue. She is perhaps the most complicated character. Having seen the least of the world, she is the most shocked at the evils that men (and women) do. And while she still feels bound to propriety, needs must when the devil drives.

Despite being 800+ pages, I zipped through The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters and now must find the sequel, The Dark Volume.

Labels: , , ,

|| Palmer, 6:34 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

ESB Amber from Saugatuck Brewing





Today Detroit is well-known for its troubles and not its beer. The salad days of automobiles and Stroh's are long gone but surely the craft beer movement hasn't passed the Motor City by. A friend of mine went to visit family in Detroit and brought me back some local brew including a six-pack of Saugatuck's ESB Amber. The Extra Special/Strong Bitter is not a style which I've quaffed an enormous amount so I can't compare this one to others. Perhaps I ought to reacquaint myself with English beers. (As an aside, I had some Bungalow Rye ESB from House of Brews this spring and it was fantastic.)

ESB Amber pours a clear copper. It had a nice frothy head that lingered. There was some lacing but few bubbles in the beer itself. Malt was most prominent in the aroma with a nice sweet, almost peachy, scent. My understanding of ESB's is that malt and hops are both forward yet remain balanced so I was surprised that I didn't catch much in the way of hops in the aroma.

The taste was a wholly different matter, however. Straight out of the refrigerator, a floral hop bitterness prevailed over a moderate malt backbone. But, as the beer warmed to a more suitable 50 degrees (which didn't take very long in this weather, I can tell you), the two flavors became much more balanced. The malt was bready with some caramel flavor but not too sweet. I could really taste the hops on the tip of my tongue but, the farther back the beer went, the more pronounced the malt became. I'd say the mouthfeel was not too light but not cloyingly full either. It really hit a happy medium. The finish was very dry and bitter too with the hops lingering into the aftertaste.

ESB Amber is 5.4% ABV which seems average for the style. The name comes from the fact that your normal English bitter is what I think of as a true session beer – something like 3.5% - and this is a pumped up version. I really enjoyed it and was glad my friend picked it out as I probably would never have requested an ESB. My plan is to investigate the style more come the autumn when my house can't pass for the Icarus II.

Junk food pairing: Expect it to go well with Parmesan Cheez-Its or BBQ potato chips. Er, crisps.

Labels: , ,

|| Palmer, 12:02 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post