Thursday, December 31, 2020

Books read in 2020: No. 35 -- The Code of Honor

Started: Dec. 29
Finished: Dec. 31

Notes: I always find it interesting to read books on dueling, yet it's been a while since I've perused such, so here goes. This one comes from 1838 and was written by a governor of South Carolina.

Mini review: In many ways, this is a book about avoiding a duel, of how quarreling gentlemen can come to an agreement. Oh, there are sections here about how to perform a proper duel, too. Most of this is about pistol dueling, the author preferring flintlocks over percussion pistols, but there is some mention of swords.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Books read in 2020: No. 34 -- Tombstone's Most Haunted

by Joshua Hawley

Started: Dec. 28
Finished: Dec. 29

Notes: A couple of years back I took a car trip across the U.S. and on the way purchased a bunch of books. I've read some of those books but still have several left. This is one of those, and of course I picked it up in Tombstone, Arizona.

Mini review: This brief read was fun, not only bringing back to me fond memories of Tombstone but also expanding a little upon some of the tales of haunting I'd heard about the area. I wouldn't say this is an exhaustive book, for surely more could be said on the subject in such a famous locale as Tombstone, but it was a nice place to start.

Beer of the Week: Veltins Pilsener

Beer score: 5.2

Company: Veltins

ABV: 4.8
IBU: 21

Made under the German purity law of 1516, as are many fine German brews, this beer has been around a long time.

Out of the bottle or can, it has a smooth, clean golden color. The smell is a very traditional, grassy smell that can't be mistaken for anything but beer.

Sweet on the tongue at first, but the bitterness grows in the bottom of your throat. Over all, this is just a nice, clean, smooth beer that tastes like a beer and nothing else. Lots of fizz comes to a head when you put the bottle down, but that fizz doesn't fill your mouth.

Probably best served cold. The bitterness grows the more you drink, but not annoyingly so.

Not a favorite, but not bad.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Books read in 2020: No. 33 -- The Red Badge of Courage

Started: Dec. 22
Finished: Dec. 28

Notes: Yet another classic of literature I've yet to read, not even back in school, so now I thought I'd get to it.

Mini review: The author was born a handful of years after the U.S. Civil War in which this story takes place, but he did an excellent job of portraying the chaos of war. The story is from one Union soldiers' point of view and covers a few days, moving the main character through a few skirmishes and at least one battle (though it's a bit difficult to tell how big the fights really were as the protagonist's literal viewpoint is limited). The main character goes through much mental and emotional change in this tale, and that is part of the point. I can't call this novel a favorite, but it wasn't written badly and was an interesting read.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

New book: Adventures of the Weird

It's been a while since I've self-published anything, but now available is my latest, Adventures of the Weird: 12 Short Stories of Fantasy, Horror and Beyond. This is an unusual collection in that every story here has been accepted for publication at one Web site or print venue during the last decade, but only a few of them actually saw publication. As anyone who has submitted plenty of short stories to editors and publishers will come to realize eventually, sometimes a story is accepted but doesn't always see print for one reason or another. And while a few of these stories did actually make it to readers before now, most didn't, and I believe they were deserving. So, after collecting these tales during the last 10 years or so, I now present them.

Amazon e-book: $2.99

Amazon print book: $12.99

Adventures of the Weird will soon be available at other online retailers.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Books read in 2020: No. 32 -- The Book of Ruth, KJV

published by Zondervan

Started: Dec. 21
Finished: Dec. 22

Notes: I began the year reading the Bible, so figured I'd end the year in the same vein.

Mini review: This short book is interesting in that it shows an early inclusivity among Israelites, or at least that God was willing to accept those who were worshipful of him and faithful to him even if they themselves were not Israelites. To be brief, a Moabite woman's husband dies and she goes home with her mother in law only to find favor with a wealthy Israelite man.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Beer of the Week: Samuel Adams Old Fezziwig Ale

Beer score: 4.4

Company: Samuel Adams

ABV: 5.9

This is a seasonal Christmas brew and I haven't seen it this year, so maybe the Sam Adams folks decided against it for other holiday beers. However, as fortune would have it, a buddy happened to have a few of these stuffed in the back of a fridge in his garage. So, I get to try one of these even if they might be a year or so old, and I have had these beers before even though it's been a while.

Anyway, yes, this is a Christmas beer with cinnamon, ginger and a touch of orange flavoring.

Pours a dark red with a foamy head while giving off scents of molasses and roasted nuts and possibly coffee.

On the tongue, this one is a touch too sweet for me and it has too much of that spicy, holiday flavoring. It's not the beer's fault, though, as I simply don't care for these kind of holiday beers. Still, this one is better than most, so if you're searching for a Christmas brew, you could do worse than Samuel Adams.

Books read in 2020: No. 31 -- The Book of Judges, KJV

published by Zondervan

Started: Dec. 18
Finished: Dec. 21

Notes: I began the year reading the Bible without getting very far, so figured I'd continue here.

Mini review: This is a collection of stories related to "judges," figures who helped to guide or rule over the early Israelites before a monarchy had been formed. For instance, the story of Samson can be found here, but there is quite a bit more, mainly concerning figures that aren't likely to be recognizable to the casual reader of the Bible. From a historical or mythological point of view, these tales are interesting in that they show how early Israelites dealt with those of other nations and races around them. Most of the tales here follow a similar vein, the Israelites falling away from God, then God punishes them by allowing outsiders to rule over the Israelites for a while, then a hero ("judge") steps forward to either guide the Israelites to freedom of sorts or to outright fight for that freedom. Many a fan of Sword & Sorcery fiction might find some interesting literature here worth reading.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Books read in 2020: No. 30 -- Conan of Aquilonia

Started: Dec. 6
Finished: Dec. 17

Notes: Though this looks like a novel, it's actually a collection of four short stories that have been worked together to form sort of a longer story. Not Howard's Conan, but this is definitely old school, so it should be fun.

Mini review: Here comes four tales that tell of the final battles between King Conan and his old enemy Thoth-Amon. This is not Howard, and it shows. The writing is fair, the plot okay, but too often Conan takes a back seat and even has to be saved by others on too many occasions. I didn't hate it, but I sure didn't love it.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Beer of the Week Blast from the Past: Anchor Brewing's Our Special Ale 1996

Beer score: 4.4

Yep, this one comes from all the way back in 1996. For 45 years the folks at Anchor Brewing have been making a different holiday beer each Christmas season, and they're doing the same this year. I just happen to have my notes for their Christmas ale from 1996, and since it's that time of year again, I thought I'd share some of those. Here they are below:

If you happen to be one of those people who likes those spicy, cinnamon-and-nutmeg flavored Christmas beers, then this beer is for you. The texture is strong and frothy like a stout. This isn't the worst of the holiday brews, but I've yet to find a Christmas beer worth drinking on a regular basis, in my opinion. As each Christmas the Anchor Brewing folk offer a different recipe for this ale, then some years might be better than others. Worth trying for something different, but I wouldn't want one often.

Monday, December 07, 2020

Beer of the Week: Skull Splitter

Beer score: 6.2

Company: Orkney Brewery

ABV: 8.5
IBU: 23

Out of the bottle, this one has a fine red, almost nutty color to it. The scent is sweet and rich and dark, but not quite overly sweet.

When this drink hits the tongue, it brings with it a heavy, warm roasted bitterness with hints of fruit and burnt caramel. Smooth and frothy and, again, sweet, but not so sweet for my regular drinking taste.

A real Scottish ale, and worth your time to try.

Saturday, December 05, 2020

Books read in 2020: No. 29 -- Tasha's Cauldron of Everything

Started: Nov. 29
Finished: Dec. 2

Notes: It's another rules book for Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons. This one is supposed to focus more on character options.

Mini review: A lot of interesting new options for D&D characters. Most of them really aren't my thing, being a bit too esoteric for my taste, but I could see how others would find them interesting. Still, any Dungeon Master could also make use of this information.

Books read in 2020: No. 28 -- The Lady of the Snowmist

Started: Nov. 28
Finished: Dec. 5

Notes: I just finished the second book in this trilogy, so I thought I'd go ahead and read the third.

Mini review: While this was a decent fantasy read, I had some issues with it. For one thing, it was too repetitive, going back time and time again to past events concerning the main character. Being the third book in a series, I realize the author wanted to include a little background material for those who might not have read the first two books, but here there was too much, in my opinion. Also, disappointingly, this book ends really where everything should be beginning. A war has begun, but all we get to see is the first battle, which is really little more than a skirmish. And no, there aren't any other books in this series. So, the prose here was decent, though I have to say the second book in this trilogy was the best of all three books. The plot here jumped around a bit, but towards the end, things came together. But then they ended just as everything was heated up. Argh!

Monday, November 30, 2020

Beer of the Week Blast from the Past: Hops Restaurant beers

Hops Restaurants were a chain with their own house beers a couple of decades back. I personally visited the one in Winter Park, Florida, and another in the Washington D.C. area (but can't recall if it was actually in D.C. or Arlington or some suburb). This chain is no longer with us, but some Internet research has provided hints that some few of the restaurants might still survive, possibly under different names, so maybe some of these beers are still out there somewhere. Either way, back in the day these restaurants had some pretty decent brews. Looking back over some old notes, I found I had a few things to say about the Hops Restaurants beers. 

Hops Clearwater Light
Beer score: 5.8

Remarkably carbonation-free for a light beer. Very smooth. Almost too smooth. You could definitely do worse, especially when it comes to light beers.

Hops Hammerhead Red
Beer score: 6.3

A little too much carbonation, but has the slightly burnt flavor of a decent amber ale. Worth giving a try.

Hops Lightning Bold Gold
Beer score: 6.0

A quite smooth medium lager that almost tastes like a light beer. Has a hint of honey sweetness on the way down.

Hops Lumberjack Oatmeal Stout
Beer score: 7.1

Quite dark with a burnt maple strength, but overly smooth for what's supposed to be a heavy beer. You can see a little light through this stout. Not quite sturdy enough to be a true stout, in my opinion, but not weak enough to be a lesser beer, even a porter. The burnt sweetness stays on the tongue a long time after you drink this, and that's not a bad thing here.

Hops Powder Horn Pilsner
Beer score: 8.3

Extremely light and smooth. A favorite bar/brewery beer of mine. Slightly sweet, enough to enjoy greatly. Award winning.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Books read in 2020: No. 27 -- Shadows Out of Hell

Started: Nov. 22
Finished: Nov. 28

Notes: I read the first book in this trilogy more than a dozen years ago, and while I wasn't all that thrilled with it, I have been something of an Offutt fan. So, when I ran across the other two books in the series in a used book store, I went ahead and snagged them up. Offutt's writing is hit and miss, but even at his worst he has a certain goofy prose I find fun.

Mini review: I've read a fair amount of Offutt and I have to say I believe this is some of the best prose he had written. The plot is fair, a warrior is sent by a goddess to an island to retrieve an item and there he discovers a temple and a race of warrior women, but it is the writing itself that truly shines here. I'm looking forward to the last novel in this series, which I'm reading next.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Beer of the Week: Harpoon IPA

Beer score: 6.5

Company: Harpoon Brewery

ABV: 5.9
IBU: 42

This one tastes a bit different from your usual India Pale Ale. It's got a stronger flavor than most IPA beers, and though it does have a bit of a grapefruit flavor, it lacks the fruity sour aftertaste of many IPAs. To me it tastes more like a sturdy pale ale.

Has good, light copper coloring.

IPAs aren't normally a favorite for me, but this one is pretty good. Give it a taste.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Books read in 2020: No. 26 -- The Sword and the Sorcerer

Started: Nov. 15
Finished: Nov. 22

Notes: For those who don't know, this is a novelization for a Sword & Sorcery movie from the early '80s. It's not a great movie, but it is fun to watch. To be honest, I'm not expecting much from this book as the author is practically unknown, me being unable to find out hardly anything about him which leads me to think he probably doesn't exist but was a house name used several writers. Or maybe not. Either way, I'm willing to give this one a try.

Mini review: This one turned out to be written better than I expected, but I had super low expectations. The writing here wasn't great, but at least the author showed some familiarity with Sword & Sorcery, that and I could understand what was going on well enough. The plot was goofy, but that's not this author's problem as the story came from a screenplay. Still, this fun, reminiscing about bad S&S movies from the '80s while adventuring with the Talon character and his companions as they seek to thwart the evil King Cromwell.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

The Dead South lyrics for 'Broken Cowboy'

I've fallen in love with this song recently, so here I present it's lyrics

Broken Cowboy

It's been a long, dark, dirty road
But a pocket full of gold
And I've been out here now
All on my own

Well it's real quiet here
Just the way I like it here
There's no one to bother me

Well, in 1955,
born into Wadena's pride
I laid my head on that Milligan creek bed

When I was a young man
I helped build this land
Oh I, put down these rails
as a CPR man

Thought I'd live forever
With my heart in my pocket
Oh, my gun by my side
And my feelings in a locket

Well, that was a cold year in '77
But I married my wife
We had 2 kids

I gave her a daughter
She gave me a son
And oh, we rode those damn horses until we had none

Fists still like flyin'
Doing things for dyin'
Oh, I should have put that old gun away

But I, I am a broken cowboy
And I don't feel right no more
'Cause I am a broken cowboy

Livin' life in the fast lane
Racing cars and robbing trains
I thought I had it all
Then one day I got the call

A father's worst dream
My son went down and I

The colors deceive me
As I see grey
Oh, you're cutting me down with those
Cold words you're saying
Then you called me brother
But this can't be so cause you
Slander my name anywhere the wind will blow, oh

But I, I am a broken cowboy
And I don't feel right no more
'Cause I am a broken cowboy
Yes, I am a broken cowboy

It's been a long dark dirty road
But a pocket full of gold
And I've been out here now
All on my own
Well it's real quiet here
Just the way I like it here
There's no one to bother me
Except that old taunting tree

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Beer of the Week: Breckenridge Brewery Christmas Ale

Beer score: 3.8

Company: Breckenridge Brewery

ABV: 7.1
IBU: 22

Has a honey and almost red color from the bottle into the glass. Has a sweet, bread-like taste to it, but there's also that usual overly-nutmeggy, overly-cinnamon and overly-bad flavor that comes with far too many holiday beers.

If you like Christmas ales, this one might be for you, but I'm not a fan of this type of beer. Still, I gave it a try, and it is better than many holiday beers I've had over the yeas.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Books read in 2020: No. 25 -- Beyond the Black River

Started: Oct. 20
Finished: Nov. 15

Notes: While still the Halloween season, I'm delving into a collection of Howard tales because a couple of them are horror and the rest Conan stories. I've read all these, but it's always a good time to read Howard.

Mini review: It was fun to reacquaint myself with these stories. All were good in their own way, but two tied for my favorites here, "Beyond the Black River" and "Shadows in Zamboula," both Conan stories.

Over at Black Gate: Sometimes a Good Hero is Hard to Find

 This week at Black Gate, I ask the question: Must every story have a hero? Go over there and find out the answer.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Beer of the Week: Caffrey's Irish Ale

Beer score: 3.3

Company: Molson Coors

ABV: 3.8

Out of the can and into the bottle, this one pours a dark, wood-like brown, and it comes with a smooth, foamy head.

Tastes like a fairly typical flat ale from the can, another of those beers that's supposed to have that straight-from-the-tap taste but really doesn't. There's a packet of nitrogen inside the can and when the can is opened, that packet is released and creates the foamy texture.

This one has been around for more than a century, but it's no longer available in the U.S., though it can still be purchased in Europe. However, there are far better beers in Europe, and in the U.S. for that matter.

Not the worst beer ever, but if you don't try it, you're not missing anything.

Monday, November 02, 2020

Beer of the Week: Utica Club

Beer score: 6.0

Company: Saranac

ABV: 5.0
IBU: 12

The bottle calls this a premium pilsener lager, but personally I think it tastes better than the traditional premium beer. The company that makes this one also claims it was the first beer sold in the United States after prohibition ended.

There's a slight yellow color as you pour this one into a glass, and it gives off a fairly traditional beer smell with touches of hops and a little bread.

The taste has a bit of a kick to it, almost but not quite spicy at first, but that soon gives way to a smooth sweetness that's nice and not overpowering.

Over all, this is a fine beer, though nothing extraordinary. But that doesn't mean I'd turn one down if offered to me.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Beer of the Week Blast from the Past: Solstice Winter Ale

Beer score: 5.6

The Wynkoop Brewing Company out of Denver, Colorado, used to make this beer. It was a bit on the sweet side, but it was supposed to be a winter brew, many of which have the whole cinnamon and nutmeg thing going. This was a seasonal brew, and not bad. It smelled and tasted somewhat like dark bread, but had more of that winter spice taste than I personally like.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Books read in 2020: No. 24 -- The Outsider

Started: Oct. 9
Finished: Oct. 20

Notes: The Halloween season is upon us, so why not turn to the King of horror?

Mini review: A small town Little League coach is arrested for the brutal murder and rape of the child, but he has a strong alibi including witnesses and himself appearing on video. So how can a man be two places at once? And if he wasn't the killer, then who was? I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of this book, but I felt it bogged down for much of the second half, though the ending was pretty good. Also, I found the main protagonist to be too "Stephen King," if that makes sense. In other words, King fans will enjoy this one, but there's nothing new here. Not a bad read at all, but again, nothing unexpected.

Beer of the Week: SLO Brew Blueberry Blonde Ale

Beer score: 6.0

Company: SLO Brew

ABV: 4.8
IBU: 20

Going into the glass, this looks like a traditional blonde ale with a somewhat cloudy light gold color. And while it pours, it smells not unlike blueberry Eggo waffles, no kidding.

But despite the smell, this is not a sweet beer. In truth, I was surprised how well this went down. It's not overly bitter and definitely has a strong, almost lager-like feel to it. Also, it didn't taste overly fruity to me, though it does smell that way.

While not the greatest beer in the world, it's still pretty good and is something different. I'd drink this again.

Comes to us from California.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Free short story over at Blackgate

 This week over at Blackgate appears my short story "Deep in the Land of Ice and Snow," originally published in Rogue Blades Entertainment's collection The Return of the Sword. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Beer of the Week Blast from the Past: Michelob Dry

Beer score: 3.7

This is another beer that's no longer with us, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. As my notes from a decade or so back tell me, this wasn't the worst beer ever, but it was pretty plain, another example of mass brewers jumping on a bandwagon when something is hot or popular for a short period of time, in this case "dry beers" that suddenly sprang up a few decades or so back.

As for the quality here, this drink poured a weak gold color. It went down smooth at first, but the fizz kept growing the more you drank until it became annoying. There was a little sweetness in the aftertaste, but not much else.

So, yeah, if you didn't try this one, you didn't miss much.

Friday, October 09, 2020

Books read in 2020: No. 23 -- The Book of Joshua, KJV

published by Zondervan

Started: Sept. 29
Finished: Oct. 9

Notes: I took a break, but now it's time to get back to my Biblical reading.

Mini review: This book covers much of the life of Joshua, the leader of the Israelites after Moses. Here one will find the early conquests of the Israelites, a lengthy listing of various conquered lands and how they were given out by lots to the Israelite tribes, and the final days of Joshua leading up to his death. While Jews and many Christians consider this history, known history and archeology do not back this up, but historians and archeologists learn more all the time. Some of the harshest history (or mythology, depending upon one's views) are covered in this book, specifically the genocides the Israelites attempt and sometimes succeed against their early enemies, peoples whose lands they sought for themselves as promised by God. Perhaps God had his reasons, or perhaps the early Israelites simply used God as an excuse, or maybe even none of this is true but it's only mythology.

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Fantasy fiction for your funny bone

If you like a good chuckle from time to time and enjoy fantasy literature, and you're a fan of the film The Princess Bride, then you need to check out the latest short story collection from Rogue Blades titled As You Wish!

And yep, I had a hand in editing this one.


Monday, October 05, 2020

Beer of the Week: Labatt Blue

Beer score: 3.9

Company: Labatt Brewing Company

ABV: 4.7
IBU: 12

Word is this is the best-selling Canadian beer in the world, and I guess I can understand why. It's weak and watery with a touch of carbonation, pretty much like most mass-marketed brews. There is a little sweetness, but that's about it.

The coloring is a weak yellowish gold with a touch of foam. Again, about what one would expect.

There are better beers at better prices, but that doesn't mean this one couldn't cool your thirst on a hot day while working beneath the sun. And there are worse beers, so I wouldn't turn down a free one if tossed to me at a party.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Books read in 2020: No. 22 -- Widows

by Ed McBain

Started: Sept. 19
Finished: Sept. 28

Notes: There are three authors I try to read at least once each year: Robert E. Howard, Stephen King, and Ed McBain. So here's my McBain read for this year. It helps I'm a big fan, especially of his 87th Precinct novels, of which this is one.

Mini review: It's always a pleasure to visit with the gang of the 87th again. This one becomes personal as a major character loses a loved one to murder, plus there's another plot line in which someone is murdering a rich fellow and all the women in his life. As always, worth reading.

Beer of the Week: Avery Brewing IPA

Beer score: 6.0

Company: Avery Brewing Company

ABV: 6.5

Boulder, Colorado, brings us this tasty beverage. Generally, while I love pale ales, I'm not much of a fan of India pale ales because of they often have a sharp, almost grapefruit-like sourness in my mouth. But this IPA is an exception for me.

You'll get a rather large, fluffy head with this one as you pour it, along with a pale golden color and scents of orange and perhaps pine.

The taste has just a touch of that sourness I mentioned above, but not enough to be overpowering. While not overly carbonated, this one does have a fair amount of light froth, which helps it go down easy.

And as a bit of history (for those of you who didn't know), the India pale ale is named after a type of ale shipped to British troops in India during the nineteenth century.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Beer of the Week: Samuel Adams Scotch Ale

Beer score: 6.4

Company: Samuel Adams

ABV: 5.5
IBU: 25

This one used to be available only seasonally, usually the first few months of each year, but I no longer see it listed on the Sam Adams website, so perhaps they have discontinued it. Fortunately for me, a buddy had some chilled in the back of his fridge recently, so we got to enjoy.

Pours a nice smooth mixture of red and black, very ruby-like. Right away there is a malty caramel scent that comes to the nose.

In the tasting, there's an extremely strong and bitter maple flavor at first that soon smooths out on the way down. There's not a lot of sweetness in the initial taste, but it slowly grows on the tongue.

Those who enjoy strong, sweet brews should enjoy this one. Those who prefer lighter fare will want to look elsewhere. However, this is a pretty good brew and worth trying.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Books read in 2020: No. 21 -- Stop Doing That Sh*t

Started: August 30
Finished: Sept. 18

Notes: Been in a bit of a mental rut of late, and after running across this book, I thought it might help give me the kick in the head that I need. We'll see.

Mini review: A bit of tough love here along with some inner reflection. I can't say this book suddenly got my life in order, but that's up to me, and this one at least offered a path for growth. On the down side, this felt like one extended blog post, that the gist of it all could have been written out in a thousand words or so, that a lot stretching and repeating was done here (though in all fairness, that repetition might be important to help drive certain points into people's heads).

At Blackgate: Recalling a fantasy hero

This week over at Blackgate, I talk about my 40+-year love for the fantasy character Hanse Shadowspawn.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Beer of the Week: Carlsberg Elephant Strong

Beer score: 4.2

Company: Carlsberg

ABV: 7.2
IBU: 28

This beer has gone through a few different names over the years, though it's always had the word "Elephant" in its title.

There's a slight orang-ish yellow color as one pours this into a glass, and it doesn't have much smell beyond a bit of malti-ness.

As for the flavor, there's a tart sourness here, but otherwise it feels like a cheap import made for the United States. If you should prefer such, there is a strong taste of alcohol here.

That's about it. I can't say much better about this beer. Try at your own risk.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Beer of the Week special: How bad beer came to be, a basic history

I wrote this article for another Web site probably a decade or so back. That site is no longer with us, but I've still got this article and I thought some folks might like to see it again.

Beer back in the day

Beer is a pretty simple drink. In most culture it's usually made from malted barley, which adds sweetness, and flowering clusters known as hops, which add bitterness. There are other possible additions to the recipe, quite often wheat and sometimes fruit. Many modern breweries also include yeast in their beer recipe, because yeast builds the fermentation process.

The Germans, who traditionally take their beer quite seriously even came up with a Beer Purity Law in nearly 500 years ago. In 1516, in the city of Ingolstadt, a law known as the Reinheintsgebot was passed that outlines the ingredients of beer as only water, barley and hops.

So, a simple drink. But within the limitations of what actually goes into making beer, there are plenty of possibilities, thus the many different types and flavors of beer available today.

More recent history

Before the late 19th century, most beer was regional beer. If you walked into a local tavern and ordered a brew, that brew was almost certainly thrown together by a local brewer. The reason for this is twofold. First, proper refrigeration technology did not as of yet exist. Second, transportation back in ye olden days was slow, usually by ship or horse. And beer couldn't travel for long without refrigeration because it would go bad, stale, skanky, whatever you want to call it.

Along comes the late 19th century. Railroads hit the scene, thus decreasing travel times immensely. And modern refrigeration is invented. Put the two together and you've got fast vehicles that can support refrigerated cars big enough to hold lots of beer.

So, beer could go anywhere. Which is what brought about today's modern, large beer companies. Think Anheuser-Busch, for example. Trains and refrigeration allowed brewers to sell their beers not only across the country, but across the globe.

Along come the cheapskates

As happens with any company growing in size, eventually the bosses look for ways to cut costs. They've got to make a buck or two, after all.

Malted barley could be expensive. But malted barley is important in making many beers. So, how to cut the costs there? By cutting down on the malt being used. Instead, other grains were tossed into many beer recipes, grains such as rice and corn which were cheaper to come by.

Unfortunately, rice and corn don't taste like malted barley. They don't even taste like wheat. They tend to weaken the flavor of beer while also lightening the color.

Thus you have most of today's mass-marketed beers. Budweiser. Miller. Coors. You know their names.

More on the coloring

Traditionally, beer kind of has a cloudy look to it. If you looked inside a clear glass or bottle of beer, it would almost seem as if stuff was floating around in there. That's because stuff was floating around in there, stuff like bits and pieces of the very malts and hops used to make the beer. There generally wasn't enough floating in the drink to ruin it or to turn it into sludge, but still there was stuff there floating around in your beer.

It seems many consumers don't like stuff floating around in their drinks. Understandable to some extent.

If beer sits still for a while, at least a few days in most cases but sometimes longer, gravity will take care of the job and those floating bits will sink to the bottom of the bottle or barrel. This will leave behind clear beer, at least until the bottle or barrel was moved.

Still, this natural separation takes time, and time means money.

What mass brewers have done to rectify this situation is to add clarifying agents to their beers. These clarifying agents work to bring together all that loose stuff floating around in the beer, and once clumped together the brewer can scoop the stuff out along with most of the clarifying agents. What kind of clarifying agents are used? There are plenty of different kinds: some types of yeast, gelatin, isinglass, etc. The list could go on.

Basically all these extra ingredients do is to make your beer clear.

Mass-marketed beer

There are many different types of beer commonly referred to as "bad," and taste is obviously subjective. Beer one person loves might taste like the bottom of an ashtray to someone else. It's all subjective.

Still, among beer aficionados, there are beers generally thought of as "bad" or "awful" or, at least, "not very good." Many of the modern, mass-marketed beers fall into this category. To be fair, those beers to serve their purposes. They might not taste great to the beer snobs, but they're usually cheap, wet and easy to find just about anywhere you go. Also, mass-marketed beers are consistent; like them or love them, a can of Schlitz in Florida is going to taste pretty much like a can of Schlitz in Alaska.

So, we've got mass-marketed brews. For experienced beer drinkers and tasters, it's easy to spot a mass-marketed brew with but a sip. The flavor is often weak and watery. The color is usually quite pale, almost like urine. The smell is also often weak, but sometimes noxious. Then you have light beers which commonly have even less taste and often seem loaded down with carbonation.

The simple truth is most of these beers taste this way because what makes beer, malt and hops and sometimes wheat, have been reduced. Instead, fillers have been included, like rice and corn.

True beer snobs might not even consider these mass-marketed brews real beer. But I won't go that far.

For one thing, there's nothing wrong with these mass brews from a business point of view or from the view of your average Joe. But the beer snobs want more.

I want more. Which is why I taste all kinds of different beers, from the good to the "bad."

Monday, August 31, 2020

Beer of the Week: Presidente

Beer score: 3.4

Company: Presidente

ABV: 5.0
IBU: unknown

This one comes to us from the Dominican Republic. It's supposed to be a pilsner according to the bottle, but don't let that fool you. This one isn't worth your time.

It tastes much like a typical Mexican brew, weak and only vaguely beer-like, but with a lot more carbonation, making it almost acidic.

This is a bit of a grassy flavor splashing around in this liquid, but that's about it. At least it's wet with some light bitterness that lingers on the tongue.

As you can tell, I can't really recommend this one for beer connoisseurs. It might be good for an extremely hot day as a thirst quencher, but honestly, there are better beers to do the job. Then again, I can't say this is the worst beer I've ever had.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Books read in 2020: No. 20 -- Flowers in the Attic

by V.C. Andrews

Started: August 8
Finished: August 30

Notes: As I've just finished reading Wuthering Heights, I'm in the mood for something dark, something gothic. Spying this novel waiting to be read on my shelves, and I have been meaning to try this late author for some time, I can speculate it might be just what I'm looking for.

Mini review: Children locked in an attic for years, murderous family members, incest ... there's little chance this book would be published today, at least not by a mainstream publisher. Anyway, not a bad book. Not great, but not bad. Fans of the gothic might find this one interesting. And it's the first of a series, so there's plenty more where this came from if it's your type of thing.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Beer of the Week: Michelob Light

Beer score: 2.8

Company: Michelob

ABV: 4.3

Pours a pale yellow into the glass, and comes with a scent not unlike baked bread.

Dry on the throat with a bit of a toast-like taste, but also weak and watery.

This light beer is better than some - at least it's not too hard to swallow and the carbonation is a little less than many light beers.

Eh, it's drinkable. If you want light beer, you could do worse. If you want quality, you could do better.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Beer of the Week: Lindeman's Strawberry Lambic

Beer score: 9.2

Company: Lindemans

ABV: 2.5
IBU: 12

A lambic is unlike any other beer on the planet. There are good things and not-so-good things about this. Many who don't like beer can still drink a lambic, especially wine drinker. However, new few beer drinkers are turned off of lambics because lambics don't really taste like beer.

If anything, in my opinion, lambics tend to taste like a cider or perhaps a fruity seltzer. And while I'm not a huge fan of ciders or fruity seltzers, I am a big fan of lambics. I not only enjoy a lambic for what it is, but I also appreciate the fact it is a unique type of beer.

And here, Lindemans does not disappoint.

This one pours out a light rose color mixed with a little gold, and the smell is fruity, sweet and tart.

When one drinks this, it is quite sweet, even sweeter than most lambics. This sweetness might turn off some drinkers, but while I don't normally care for overly sweet beers, this one I felt reached right to the threshold of being too sweet but without going over that threshold.

There's definitely a lot of strawberry sweetness here and more than a touch of tartness. I also think I picked up hints of flowers and lemon.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Beer of the Week: Great Lakes Eliot Ness Amber Lager

Beer score: 8.2

Company: Great Lakes Brewing Company

ABV: 6.1
IBU: 27

Wow. Just ... wow. I lived most of the 1990s in Ohio where I could regularly enjoy beers from the Great Lakes Brewing folks, but that's been a long while and I'd nearly forgotten just how awesome their beers can be.

And this one is no exception.

Pours a dark, smooth amber into a glass, looking something like liquid copper. While pouring, the scent reaches your nose right away, bringing tones of burnt malts, the barest hint of fruit, and plenty of dark caramel syrup.

Then the taste. Oh, the taste. Caramel and toffee lovers should enjoy this one, especially if they like the darker varieties of those sweets. There are also hints of coffee and maybe cherry here. Fans of darker, heavier beers should also like this one. And while this is something of a sweet beer, it's not super sweet, so don't sweat that if you don't care for sweet brews.

And the texture: Smooth, creamy, dreamy, with the perfect amount of light carbonation. This beer is not near heavy enough to be a stout and not strong enough to even be a porter, but it has more than a little density behind it.

Friday, August 07, 2020

Books read in 2020: No. 19 -- Wuthering Heights

by Emily Bronte

Started: July 22
Finished: August 8

Notes: This is another classic of literature I've been meaning to get to my whole life, but for one reason or another, it's never happened until now. Way, way back in high school, I had a class in which we watched a movie of this novel, but that was so long ago I remember next to none of it. A lot of people are bored by reading the classics, but I usually enjoy them, though not always. From what little I know of this one, I'm expecting to enjoy it.

Mini review: Imagine an Alexandre Dumas villain dropped into a Jane Austen novel to spread his evil over a few decades and you'll have something of an idea of this novel. Dark, almost gothic, but not strictly horror, the real threat here being the all-too-real villain of Heathcliff, himself sometimes mistreated at an early age. Eventually Heathcliff earns his ultimate reward, in a manner of speaking, but whether that is good or bad is somewhat up to the reader to decide. A few of the characters here talk a little about ghosts, but the story itself does not provide any supernatural elements, though this has the feel of a gothic tale about it. Worth reading.

Monday, August 03, 2020

Beer of the Week: Nicklepoint Blonde Ale

Beer score: 7.9

Company: Nicklepoint Brewing Company

ABV: 5.2

In the glass this one has a faint yellow color that hints at greatness to come. The scent is light, slightly hoppy, with a touch of fizz.

Then it hits the tongue, and oh boy, this is pure joy. Has a touch of a Belgian flavor to it, and the lingering malty sweetness feels like smooth, cool sunshine on your tongue and down your throat.

I could drink a bunch of these, and you should give it a try, too.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Beer of the Week: Boone Creek Blonde

Beer score: 5.5

Company: Appalachian Mountain Brewery

ABV: 4.9
IBU: 19

Plenty of foamy head here as I pour it into a glass, so fans of that will be impressed.  The color is a fairly light golden shade, but not completely pale, not like a premium beer at all.

The scent is slightly sweet with a touch of bread and flowers.

This one is light enough that you could enjoy several at your favorite bar or around the fire pit back in the woods. In the taste, there is a slight bitterness with touches of floral and citrus accents, but just barely.

This one is light enough and normal enough that your non-beer-snob friends will be able to enjoy it, but your actual beer snob pals will find something to enjoy. Not a super great beer, but nothing awful. Worth trying out.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Books read in 2020: No. 18 -- The Book of Deuteronomy, KJV

published by Zondervan

Started: July 13
Finished: July 22

Notes: Now I return to my Biblical readings, here with the last of the Pentateuch, the five books supposedly written by Moses and that make up the Jewish Torah.

Mini review: Much of this was a retelling of events and words from Numbers and Leviticus, but the last quarter of this text covered the last days of the life of Moses and the earliest days of Joshua. Again, not the most entertaining of reading, but that's not what it's here for.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Beer of the Week: Big Wave Golden Ale

Beer score: 5.9

Company: Kona Brewing Co.

ABV: 4.4
IBU: 21

If you're looking for a cool lighter brew, this one could be for you.

Into the glass this one pours a light yellow color, almost pale but not quite, while giving off very little smell and a slightly foamy head.

In the tasting deparment: Not overly sweet, not overly bitter, but quite clean and easy going down. There are flowery hints here, but not a lot else in the taste area other than a little cool bitterness going down. This beer doesn't taste bad, but it's also not anything overly special.

But could I drink another? Sure! Especially on a hot day after mowing the yard. Also, this one's light enough to be a party beer or bar beer with food. Not a favorite, but nothing here turned me off, either.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Beer of the Week: Mason Jar Pull Tab Pilsner

Beer score: 6.5

Company: The Mason Jar Lager Co.

ABV: 4.7
IBU: 27

Going into the glass, this beer looks like a traditional premium beer made for the American audience. In other words, it's got a weak golden color to it, and it also has more than a little fizz.

Which meant I was expecting a Budweiser ripoff.

But upon smelling and sipping, I was pleasantly surprised.

The scent isn't overly strong, but there are plenty of hops there with a soft bitterness.

However, upon hitting my tongue, that bitterness grew and grew and grew. No, it doesn't reach the burnt caramel bitterness of a porter or stout, but there's still a clean, smooth, light bitterness that's more complex that I had expected. Also, in the tasting, there are hints of honey and bread.

I would drink this again.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Books read in 2020: No. 17 -- Preparation for the Next Life

by Atticus Lish

Started: June 16
Finished: July 13

Notes: I've had this book a few years now. I don't remember why I bought it. Something must have stirred my interest. Guess now I'll find out.

Mini review: Damn. This novel is a tour de force. It doesn't start that way. In fact, it's somewhat slow until the last quarter, but then it packs a punch in the end. An illegal immigrant to the U.S. from China meets and ends up in a relationship with an American soldier just returned from Iraq. The writing is told almost in a documentary style with very little direct feeling or thought from the characters, almost like a screenplay with mostly action and dialogue, but it works here. And the backdrop, the world these characters find themselves in, it is a constant barrage of the seedier elements of the American life, not obviously judgmental, but simply hitting the reader again and again with basic examples of what we Americans find around ourselves and take for granted day after day ... and most of it doesn't necessarily say good things about us or our nation. Not the greatest writing I've come across, not even this year, but still a damn good novel and worth reading.

Books read in 2020: No. 16 -- As You Wish!

edited by Jason M Waltz and Ty Johnston

Started: May 10
Finished: July 9

Notes: Yes, I helped edit this one a while back. There's some comedic fantasy reading here, if that's your type of thing. More than once did I find myself chuckling at these tales while reading them.

Mini review: I have some favorites here, but as an editor on the project, I don't think it would be fair to the writers to point out which stories I liked best. That being said, Princess Bride fans especially should find something here for them.

Monday, July 06, 2020

Beer of the Week: Catawba White Zombie White Ale

Beer score: 7.7

Company: Catawba Brewing Co.

ABV: 5.1
IBU: 7

Appears very light when poured from the can into a clear glass, sort of a weak golden color, but it does present a fairly frothy head.

The smell is not overly strong, but there are hints of citrus and  malt.

The taste is light with more than a little fizz, but not so much fizz as to ruin this drink. There's almost a Belgian taste here, but not quite, with the barest touch of sweetness and a light bitter that's not overpowering.

Honestly, I could drink these all day long. By no means the greatest beer in the world, but not bad by any means. Fans of lighter beers should enjoy this one.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Beer of the Week: Omission IPA

Beer score: 7.0

Company: Omission Brewing Co.

ABV: 6.7
IBU: 65

I've tried one other Omission brew (the Pale Ale), and I had pretty good things to say about it. And honestly, I have to say good things about this one, too, even if it is gluten free. And IPAs usually aren't my thing.

First off, it looks, smells, and tastes like an IPA, so don't let the gluten-free label fool you.

In a clear glass, the color of this beer is a cloudy gold color leaning slightly towards the darker side. The smell reminds me of cereal with a touch of fruitiness. More importantly, the taste is very IPA with a medium bitterness and more than a touch of wheat and other grains, along with hints of orange and other citrus fruits.

To add, one of the reasons IPAs aren't often my favorite drink is because sometimes they have a sourness in the aftertaste which I do not overly enjoy. That being said, there's none of that here.

Yes, you can and should drink this.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Over at Black Gate: Howard Days 2020

This week at the Black Gate site, I talk a little about Howard Days 2020. For those in the know, there wasn't a Howard Days 2020, but that doesn't mean one can't help those in charge of Howard Days.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Beer of the Week: Omission Pale Ale

Beer score: 7.1

Company: Omission Brewing Co.

ABV: 5.8
IBU: 33

I don't know if this beer is actually gluten free, but I do know the label says it was "crafted to remove gluten" ... so, maybe?

Either way, this is a pretty tasty beer. Also, it looks like a pale ale and tastes like a pale ale, so even if it's gluten free, the lack of gluten doesn't hurt this brew.

From the bottle into the glass it pours a light orange, dark gold color, and leaves behind a fairly thin head of only a half inch or so.

A very balanced beer here with a fine malty flavor, but not so much as to ruin the drink. Has a nice amber flavor that's not weak and maybe just a touch of citrus.

Gluten free or not, I could see this being a regular beer for tasting or drinking. I'd think even most beer snobs would find this a decent beer. And if the bottle and website hadn't informed me, I wouldn't know this was gluten free.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Books read in 2020: No. 15 -- The Handmaid's Tale

by Margaret Atwood

Started: June 8
Finished: June 16

Notes: My girlfriend recently read this, thus it was around the house waiting for me, and I've been wanting to read this popular novel for some time now. And no, I've not seen the television show.

Mini review: Interesting. Word of warning, though: There's not really much of a plot. Like the faux-documentary it is sort of supposed to be, this novel is mostly about world creation, with the main character reacting to events more than propelling any plot forward. That being said, events to happen, and the writing is strong enough and the world interesting enough to keep one reading. However, this isn't what most would consider an "entertaining" read, though I also wouldn't label it dull or boring.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Beer of the Week Blast from the Past: Michelob Winter Brew Spiced Ale

Beer score: 3.7

Yep, it's another beer that's no longer on the market. I first had this one about 20 years ago, and I don't think I've seen it since. Which is fine with me in this case.

Below are a few of my notes on this beer.

It was Anheuser-Busch's Christmas brew with nutmeg, spices, etc. I usually don't like these holiday beers much, and this one was the sweetest of the sweet. This beer reeked of cinnamon before you even get the glass to your lips. If you like sweet, spiced beers, then this one might have been for you. I suppose this would go good with fruit cake on Christmas eve. But maybe not. I'm not sure it would have gone well with anything.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Beer of the Week: Bitburger

Beer score: 6.0

Company: Bitburger

ABV: 4.8
IBU: 33

I often find German brews overrated, and I have to admit, this one has a very made-for-America taste. Still, this is not bad, though nothing overly special.

When you pour it into a glass, it has a strong cereal smell, full of grains. It appears a nice, light golden color with a near-perfect amount of white head at the top.

The taste is quite bready with some mild bitterness that grows the more you drink, especially in the after taste.

Worth drinking, but not as good as its reputation.