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."