Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

31 January, 2014

The Zero Theorem Trailer

Terry Gilliam's latest movie looks to be a hoot. I love the use of short lenses here. Appears to have been shot in a style akin to that of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Unfortunately I've read that no U.S. distribution has been obtained yet.

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Trailer for Under the Skin

An alien is sent to Earth to pick up hitchhikers to have them sent back to her planet to be a delicacy. Sounds wonderfully odd. The trailer surely is.

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A Fine Example of Teutonic Food Preparation


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20 January, 2014

If You Listen to Fools: Blood Orange Tea Weizen from Mobcraft

Madison's Mobcraft bills itself as the world's first crowdsourced beer company. Giotto Troia, Henry Schwartz, and Andrew Gierczak started Mobcraft with the Internet-age idea of having customer submit recipes or ideas for beers. After the wheat is separated from the chaff, those that remain are put up for a vote via social media sites and the winner is brewed. These crowdsourced beers are released once per month and brewed over at House of Brews by brewmaster Page Buchanan.

I recently found a bottle of crowdsourced batch #2, Blood Orange Tea Weizen, over at Trixie's Liquor and figured I'd give it a go. I like weizens and blood orange and tea sounded like interesting additions.

My beer photos are usually pretty crappy and this review will be no exception. The usual spot for my photographic disgraces, the dining room table, was occupied by two cats so it was off to the kitchen where harsh white was the order of the day making it look like I took the snap at a hospital. The beer looked really nice – take my word on this. It was clear a deep amber, perhaps more of a golden brown. My pour didn't produce much of a crown and the beer didn't have much in the way of bubbles either.

A caveat here: my nose was fairly stuffy when I drank this beer. That aside, I mainly smelled grass and citrus when I took a whiff. There was just a bit of sweetness in there as well which was bready to my stuffy proboscis.

I found the taste to be very similar to the nose. On the tongue, this beer is very smooth – almost velvety – with a medium body. The blood orange comes first followed by a bit of the grassy tea flavor. I didn't taste much carbonation but did catch a faint hint of what I thought was bubblegum. The beer got a bit sweeter as it warmed up, mainly citrus-tinged sweetness. The finish was grassy and bitter. I believe that the tea became a bit more discernible and that there was a bit of hops in there as well.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if the lack of a nice, pillowy head, a trademark of hefeweizens, was due to something brought in by the tea or fruit. Not really a big deal. The beer wasn't cloudy like a traditional hefeweizen nor was it as light on the tongue. Again, not a big deal. What is a big deal, however, is that I couldn't taste much of a hefeweizen here. It really tasted like blood orange iced tea but with more body than tea delivers. Aside from a fleeting hint of what I think was bubblegum, there's none of the phenols or esters giving the typical banana and cloves flavors. Hefeweizens generally have a lemon-like flavor to them and I thought the blood orange would complement that. Similarly, the style is not usually very bitter but green tea can add a little grassy bitterness to the proceedings. It's not that this is a bad beer but I was expecting/hoping for the citrus and tea to complement the flavors I enjoy in a hefeweizen instead of beating them into submission.

Junk food pairing: Munch on some lime chili tortilla chips with this stuff.

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16 January, 2014

"They're just trying to kill you with hops"

Like my current pet peeve is—and here we're definitely talking about First-World problems—over-hopping of craft beer. Hops are a very aromatic, bitter compound and I suspect that they're being used by incompetent brewers to cover up defects in the taste of their produce. I've been trying this experiment lately: If you go into a microbrewery type of place and ask them for their "least-hopped" beer, they either can't even answer the question or they seem pretty seriously taken aback. They're just trying to kill you with hops.
Neal Stephenson

The guy writes great books AND is knowledgeable about beer.

While I continue to hope that the IPA craze will begin to blow over this year, it doesn't look like that's going to happen. I still maintain that the style has jumped the shark. I mean, when breweries change the names of their beers from being ales to IPAs, things have gone too far. Both Flying Dog and Odell waved their magic wands last autumn and suddenly their pale and red ales, respectively, became IPAs: "Flying Dog renamed its Double Dog Double Pale Ale to Double Dog Double IPA earlier this year. Earlier this week, Odell Brewing confirmed that it would rebrand its Red Ale to Runoff Red IPA."

At least that's not as bad as naming your IPA "Mouth Raper" which, although a pretty tasteless name, no doubt stands as truth in advertising.

Sam Adams has a new IPA coming out, if it's not already on shelves, called Rebel IPA. Here's the label:

Notice how the brand's namesake is nowhere to be found. Apparently someone in the marketing department thought the label needed to be buzzword compliant, hence it looks "edgy" and says "IPA" on it. (That and it resembles a certain label by another brewer.)

And check this out:

The "craft" division of MillerCoors is now brewing a session IPA. Who'da thunk it? Recall how Third Shift's first brew was an amber lager. An amber lager and then a session IPA? I think they're copying the Wisconsin Brewing Company's playbook. A regular American IPA and porter can't be far behind.

I see that Sierra Nevada has three new IPAs coming out soon (Harvest Single Hop Mandarina, Nooner Session, and Snow Wit White) and Wisconsin brewers are doing their darnedest to keep up with their West Coast counterparts.

New to the Madison area are Utah's Epic Brewing and Hawaii's Kona Brewing. Kona will be pushing their Backwash pineapple IPA and Gnarly, a macadamia nut Russian imperial stout, on us. Wait. OK, no. Instead they will foist upon us their Big Wave Golden Ale and (gasp!) Longboard Island Lager. How odd for a brewery to begin distribution in a new state with nary a pale ale. They are doomed. Pele will have her imperial IPAs!

Epic, on the other hand, doesn't look to be making that mistake. From what I've seen, they're basically going all-out with most of the craft beer trends in the book - a couple of imperial stouts, multiple IPAs, and saisons – now with more brettanomyces!

Also new to the Madison area is beer from a brew outfit in Waukesha - 4 Brothers. The schtick here is that they offer beer admixtures. Beer is contracted brewed by Sand Creek and then the "blendmaster" puts them together in his lab. Sibling Rivalry contains blonde, brown, and red ales; Relative Madness is a blonde ale mixed with a porter; Prodigal Son features an IPA and a cream ale (you knew there just had to be an IPA here somewhere); and Whipper Snapper is a blend of American wheat, helles, and amber brews. Not sure if that's an amber ale or amber lager, though.

The company's website says the beers are available in Madison at Madison's on King Street while Riley's Wines of the World recently posted a photo of six packs on its Twitter feed.

On the one hand, I am intrigued. There may very well be some good beer to be had here. On the other, this comes across as sheer novelty. Granted, not novelty like a doughnut maple bacon ale, but a novelty nonetheless. Can't barrel age, can't add brett, and perhaps don't want to get involved in the IPA horserace so what do you do? It is certainly a unique selling point.

We can now all sleep easier at night knowing that Corona is going draft. I know there was a big Corona tap handle hole in my liver. The funny part is what Robert Sands, CEO of Constellation Brands and owner of the Corona brand, said:

Think about the craft business, okay? You're talking about tiny little brands that nobody's ever heard of outside their city...

How very odd. No one's ever heard of Sam Adams outside of Boston? No one in Chicago has heard of New Glarus and crosses the Cheddar Curtain just to buy it? Sierra Nevada isn't known outside of Chico? Fat Tire is a secret known only to the friendly folks of Fort Collins? To take a local example, you've got House of Brews that is certainly a tiny little brand that's mostly unknown outside of Madison but it seems to generally be on tap at places that don't even have Bud Light on tap, places that don't have many customers clamoring for Corona in bottles, let alone on draft.

Perhaps because I am not a CEO, I just don't understand Constellation's strategy. The company is not going to get tap handles in craft beer bars. Are they looking to knock off a token craft selection at taverns that are otherwise populated by Miller and Bud taps? If so, then that token craft brew is probably going to be Sam Adams or another craft brew that is certainly well-known outside of their city. I just don't understand what kind of establishments carry tiny little craft brews that would give one up for the chance to put Corona on tap.

Some random observations to finish the post:

1) I had my first Pecatonica beer last month – a Nightfall Lager. It was absolutely terrible. The beer had little body and was cloyingly sweet. It tasted a bit like wort.

2) A fairly recent visit to Trixie's Liquor revealed that they carry House of Brews' Rickhouse Bourbon Barrel Stout, MobCraft's brews, and Hydro Street bombers as well.

3) Ale Asylum will be bottling more this year. In addition to a TBD seasonal, 1 April brings Unshadowed, a weissbier. What happened to Hathaweizen?

4) Karben4 will be bottling in the near future. This is good news as it'd be nice to grab some NightCall to bring home while I'm out shopping.

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06 January, 2014

This Beer Has Not Aged Well: Appleanche from Capital

I first tasted Capital's Appleanche last year at a pre-Great Taste event. Appleanche is an apfel (apple) doppelbock and it sounded like a tasty preview of autumn. I didn't really care for it all that much on that hot summer day but on a chilly winter night, I revisited it.

One of our cats photobombed my picture but I think that she did it in a rather artistic way by framing herself in the glass. A very naughty katze. Her presence and my shoddy photography don't do justice to the beer's wonderful gold-light amber color. Appleanche is clear and my gentle pour produced only the slightest head. The Schaumhaftvermoegen was minimal with a bit of foam clinging to the sides of the glass only briefly before sliding into the beer.When I opened the bottle, I caught a big whiff of fresh apfel. Sweet but no overly so. More like a Granny Smith than a Red Delicious. This brew smells great. After putting the glass to my nose I caught that sweet apfel scent again plus a little bit of bready malt.

The predominance of the fruit carried into the flavor. Immediately upon hitting my tongue I tasted the apfel. Mostly sweet but there was some tartness there as well for balance. But it isn't long before the bottom falls out and the apfel flavor disappears and it replaced by that warm alcohol flavor. While 7.7% A.B.V. makes for a fairly hearty brew, I wouldn't think I'd taste the booze. Almost as soon as that slight burning flavor arrives it dissolves into a herbal hop taste which lingers on the palate giving a dry, slightly bitter finish. Mouthfeel is smooth although the carbonation and the hops keep it from being syrupy.

Sadly, Appleanche was exactly how I remembered it from back in August - disappointing. While the fresh apfel aroma and luscious counterpoint of sweet-tart flavor are truly wonderful, I failed to taste any of the malt which was present in the nose. I drank half a bottle of it trying to discern the defining flavor of the doppelbock but failed. Perhaps it's part of the sweetness at the front end of the sip but the apfel was dominant. Quite aside from that boozy middle act, the flavors here just don't meld and instead come in waves. I just failed to taste the apfel und malt pas de deux and the hops were left on their own at the finish instead of balancing the expected sweetness.

Capital's webpage gives me the impression that Appleanche is to be a permanent late-summer fixture in their line-up. Hopefully this August's batch will do a better job of letting the bready sweetness of the style shine through and integrate it with the fruit and hops. A failure, perhaps, but a beer certainly worth getting right.

Junk food pairing: I suspect Appleanche would go well with Lay's Barbeque Ham potato chips. The smoky, porky goodness would surely be tasty along with the apfel flavor in the brew.

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01 January, 2014

The End of a Chapter in the Madison Blogosphere

Back in the mid-2000s blogs were becoming a big deal and the folks at madison.com sought to capitalize on the trend. There were, if memory serves, a couple of experiments to integrate bloggers with Madison's daily papers. The one I recall is POST, a section of their website which provided a curated list of local blog posts. POST became a weekly paper which (gasp!) paid local bloggers to have their material appear in the tabloid. Isthmus too had a section devoted to daily highlights from Madison's blogosphere. In 2005 Dane101 began as a "collaborative news and arts blog for Madison and Dane County, Wisconsin".

POST came and went while Isthmus ditched their quotidian round-up in favor of hiring a small stable of bloggers to contribute. Dane101 lost much of its news component but remained a good source for arts coverage and it maintained Dane101.net, a feed of local blogs headlines.

In November the proprietors of Dane101 announced that the site would go out of business on the 27th of this month. Dane101.net had been dead for a while and they were unable "to create a self-sustaining model".

In June of 2012 The Onion's A.V. Club Madison shuttered its virtual doors. About a year later some of those A.V. Club alumni started Arts Extract, a blog and podcast devoted to "reporting and comment on the arts in Madison, WI". About a week ago the site announced that it would not make it into 2014. I've not heard an explanation for AA's demise.

It would seem that most of the promise of blogs from a decade or so ago never came to fruition. To be sure, there is a cadre of bloggers who get some nods from the media establishment to have posts sit along newspaper editorials from around the state but, by and large, the grand experiments that sought to meld news from below with news from above have failed. If you want arts coverage for Madison, you are, generally speaking, left with the same options you had prior to the experiments - Isthmus and Madison Newspaper's 77 Square.

So what's next for the Madison blogosphere? Time will tell but I hope that someone starts up an aggregator because it would be nice to have one place to go where I can discover what's out there.

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Immigration Laws Affect Madison

Last month Juliana Kerr from The Chicago Council on Global Affairs was in town to discuss immigration. She met with Mayor Soglin who "convened a roundtable with city council members, Hispanic and Somali immigrant community leaders, and several youth" in addition to the Madison Committee on Foreign Relations, a group of "civic, business, and academic leaders" who meet once a month to hear presentations and discuss global issues. Sadly I could find no mention of Kerr's meetings in Madison newspapers. Luckily Ms. Kerr blogged about her day in Madison.

When most people discuss Wisconsin’s stake in the immigration debate, they think of the migrant workers in the dairy industry. And with reason: forty percent of Wisconsin’s dairy farm workers are immigrants, and yet, the current U.S. immigration system doesn’t offer a low-skilled year-round visa to legally employ them long-term. Add to this the fact that some policymakers want to focus on enforcement-only bills first—including mandatory e-verify—and the entire dairy industry could be threatened.

What may be more surprising, however, is that the lack of immigration reform is also affecting Wisconsin’s urban areas, not just rural ones. During my recent visit to Madison, Mayor Paul Soglin convened a roundtable with city council members, Hispanic and Somali immigrant community leaders, and several youth. They immediately asked when the DREAMers (young unauthorized immigrants brought to the U.S. as children) would be able to go to college and pay in-state tuition. Or have the right to apply for citizenship. Or stop fearing deportation at every turn. One boy pleaded to learn more about rumored tracking devices being placed on the ankles of unauthorized immigrants facing deportation. Brought to the United States as young children, they know of no other home than Wisconsin. Why are they being punished? Do we not want them to be educated and successful members of our society?, they asked.

The Mayor is compassionate for their situation and mindful of the changing demographics of his city, noting that while Madison’s overall population has grown from 170,000 in 1980 to 233,000 in 2010, the minority population grew by over 57 percent from 2000-2010 alone. In 2010, minorities made up 18 percent of the total population compared to 13 percent in 2000. The Hispanic population almost doubled from 13,400 to 26,400 during the same period.

But he is also at a loss of what he can do from his office in the absence of federal immigration reform. Even offering driver’s licenses or in-state tuition for unauthorized immigrants are decisions that can be made at the state level, but not municipal. (Ironically, I had also reached out to the governor’s office for a meeting with any willing body but was told that since immigration is a federal issue, no one in the office dealt with it.) The Mayor does what he can, such as supporting grants that go to social service organizations for immigrant communities and welcomes guidance from other cities that are developing creative immigrant integration policies while waiting for Congress to act.

I found this very interesting as, although I was familiar with the large number of immigrants working on dairy farms here in Wisconsin, I really didn't know much about how our immigration laws affect the ever-growing number of minorities here in Madison. While Madison is not a large metropolis by any means, what people think of as "urban" problems are no longer relegated to Milwaukee alone anymore.

In addition to being unable to find any example of Madison's newspapers reporting on Kerr's visit, it is also disappointing that Mayor Soglin didn't mention it on either his personal blog or his mayoral one. What the mayor says and does is news simply by virtue of his office. Madison mayors, like all politicos, are happy to point out their attendance at ribbon cuttings and to announce the formation of committees to study problems but they rarely maintain a vocal presence to keep issues of importance in the public eye. Soglin should be blogging, holding press conferences, etc. much more often to keep important topics on the front burner. Instead of waiting for Congress to act, he could publicize his meeting with Kerr and community members to start the process of taking immigration off the back burner. Perhaps he can do something with Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett to further publicize the issue. Simply by being mayor every word Soglin utters and every word he types is de facto newsworthy. He has the power to begin and foster civic conversations yet he seem fairly reluctant to do so, which is a shame.

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Frederick Wiseman on At Berkeley

Frederick Wiseman is an American institution. He's a pioneer of documentary cinema and, at age 84 (Today is his birthday, in fact. Happy Birthday, Mr. Wiseman!) he is still making movies. His latest is At Berkeley, a look at UC-Berkeley filmed in 2010 as the campus saw students protesting tuition rates in the middle of The Great Recession.

Wiseman is known for making documentaries about institutions using a style known as "direct cinema" which involves the camera being unobtrusive and simply observing events as they unfold. There's little or no narration. He and his crew embed themselves in an institution and document the interplay and dynamics of the people in it and with others who interact with them. Over the 40+ years of his career he has documented America like no one else.

Senses of Cinema has a really nice conversation with Wiseman in their December issue. It's not super-film geeky and it is quite interesting. Wiseman talks a bit about his style, the making of At Berkeley, and the issues his movie brings up, amongst other things. At one point he says, "It’s much better to see it projected...I’m hoping the film gets booked in state universities because the issues are the same everywhere."

Thanks to UW-Cinematheque, the movie will screen here in Madison on Saturday, 1 March.

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Quest for Fire

I enjoy spicy foods. I developed a taste for them back in the days when I cooked for a living. Our breakfast cook, Johnny, would occasionally bring in bottles of hot sauce and we always had a stash in one of the coolers. Someone somewhere would breed a new chili and Johnny would bring in the resulting hot sauce. During a slow time, we'd throw some chicken wings in the fryer and use them for our testing purposes. Hilarity always ensued.

There was the time that one of the dishwashers, a raunchy, fun-loving black woman from Alabama who kept trying to introduce me to the joys of dark meat, came over and saw the wings and a bottle of hot sauce. She grabbed one of the wings and applied a liberal dose of the sauce. Now, this stuff wasn't the the kind of sauce that would put you in the hospital but you were guaranteed an endorphin rush. We warned her that the bright red stuff wasn't Frank's RedHot but she brushed aside our admonitions. And she paid for it. The look on her face was priceless.

Another time Johnny came to work with a bottle of datil pepper sauce. None of us cooks had heard of it but we were game. A co-worker pulled the bottle out of the box and gave it a shake only to have the cap fly off and some of the sauce shoot into one of his eyes. I immediately dragged him over to the eye wash station. After what seemed like an hour of rinsing his poor eye, he looked like he'd just had a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. Needless to say, he didn't get much work done the rest of that day.

Back in those days it seemed like most chilies were just creeping above the habanero in hotness. Yeah, you had sauces that could kill you but they were basically just tomato paste with pure capsaicin added. These days, however, there is a capsaicin arms race afoot. The New Yorker published a piece in November called "Fire-Eaters: The search for the hottest chili". It documents the endeavors of people who seek glory in entering the Guinness Book of World Records for having bred the hottest chili on the planet. According to the author, these people are "are mostly American, British, and Australian guys. (There is also a valiant Scandinavian contingent.)"

At the moment, there is no definitive claimant to the title of world’s hottest pepper. Lacking a central authority, the chili community finds itself embroiled in a three-way schism. In June of 2011, a group of Australian growers captured the Guinness record with the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T (1,463,700 SHU). Less than a year later, Bosland’s Chile Pepper Institute issued a press release: “When it comes to bringing the heat, there’s a new king of the hill.” Bosland claimed that a C.P.I. chili called the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion had exceeded two million Scoville units.

Then, in August of last year, Ed Currie, of the PuckerButt Pepper Company, of Fort Mill, South Carolina, unveiled a new contender. Currie announced, “The PuckerButt Pepper Company has raised the bar for hot pepper heat intensity by producing an amazing hot pepper, the Smokin’ Ed’s Carolina Reaper, which surpasses the current world record holder, the Butch T Trinidad Scorpion.” The Carolina Reaper’s recommended uses, according to PuckerButt’s Web site, included hot sauces, salsa, and “settling old scores.” Steven Leckart wrote in Maxim that eating one was “like being face-fucked by Satan.”

2,000,000+ Scovilles?! The article details the obsession these guys have with chilies and breeding the hottest on the planet. They make for good subjects of a Werner Herzog movie. Now, I like a good burn every so often but chilies that hot are ridiculous. You can find videos on YouTube of people eating them and then proceeding to have their faces go red before vomiting.

In addition to the profiles of men who bicker over who has the hottest chili, I learned a bit about the history of the Scoville scale. I've known about it for a while but never knew who developed it or what exactly it measured. It was created by one Wilbur Scoville in 1912. Scoville was a pharmacist and he measured chili hotness by "how many drops of sugar water it would take to dilute the heat of a chili". Presumably it now measures parts per million of capsaicin or some such thing.

On a local note, are any of these mega-maxi-hot chilies or hot sauces made from them available in Madison? For a good burn here in town, do try the pickled habaneros at that Mexican restaurant that shares space with Pan Y Pan Bakery on Milwaukee Street. They grow and pickle the chilies on premises.

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The Day Max Headroom Interrupted Doctor Who

Chicagoans of a certain age recall the day in 1987 when some goofball in a Max Headroom mask hacked into the signal of WTTW Channel 11's broadcast of Doctor Who. I recall hearing about it and the incident became a piece of local lore as authorities never figured out who dunnit. Recently Vice posted a lengthy piece called "The Mystery of the Creepiest Television Hack" about the affair which included a look at the FCC investigation, something I'd never read about previously. It was interesting not only to read about why the FCC never caught the perpetrator but also to realize that I'd forgotten that the same person also hacked WGN's signal earlier in the day.

In these days when having one's credit card number stolen is fairly routine and hackers & hacking have a mainstream presence, this look back at the days before the World Wide Web seems almost quaint.

Right up until 9:14 PM on November 22nd, 1987, what appeared on Chicago's television sets was somewhat normal: entertainment, news, game shows. That night, as usual, Dan Roan, a popular local sportscaster on Channel 9's Nine O'Clock News, was narrating highlights of the Bears’ victory over the Detroit Lions. And then, suddenly and without warning, the signal flickered up and out into darkness.

In the control room of WGN-TV, the technicians on duty stared blankly at their screens. It was from their studio, located at Bradley Place in the north of the city, that the network broadcasted its microwave transmission to an antenna at the top of the 100-story John Hancock tower, seven miles away, and then out to tens of thousands of viewers. Time seemed to slow to a trickle as they watched that signal get hijacked.

A squat, suited figure sputtered into being, and bounced around maniacally. Wearing a ghoulish rubbery mask with sunglasses and a frozen grin, the mysterious intruder looked like a cross between Richard Nixon and the Joker. Static hissed through the signal; behind him, a slab of corrugated metal spun hypnotically. This was not part of the regularly scheduled broadcast.

Finally someone switched the uplink frequencies, and the studio zapped back to the screen. There was Roan, at his desk in the studio, smiling at the camera, dumbfounded.

“Well, if you're wondering what’s happened,” he said, chuckling nervously, “so am I."

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