Friday, July 30, 2010

VELVET UNDERGROUND BOOTLEGS!

I have a lot of them - one of the best-documented of the all-time great bands, and some of the platters, even live tapes, are as good as the studio recordings. (Robert Quine's "Quine Tapes", which were circulated on tapes for years, got the official release a few years back and recently came out as a multi-LP set with extra tracks). I was rooting through some old boxes and found the Summer 2001 issue of MOJO COLLECTIONS magazine and this nice two-page feature on some of the better Velvets boots. Just stay away from "Screen Test: Falling In Love With The Falling Spikes" if you're new to this game. (click on pictures to make them larger).

Thursday, July 29, 2010

FIRESTONE WALKER’S “PARABOLA” IMPERIAL STOUT

Have to be straight-up with you: I’m a total sucker for beer that comes in a box. And they know it, too, don’t they? That’s why they can charge me and others stricken with my beer-dork disease double digits to try “limited edition” rarities that come packed in protective cardboard. It’s a darn good thing that FIRESTONE WALKER and their hyped-to-the-12-galaxies imperial stout PARABOLA deserves that extra coin. I bought a bottle of this at the only place I’ve ever seen it, San Francisco’s secret beer-selling gem, MONTEREY DELI. This store – which I wrote about initially here – has stuff the other local kingpin stores just don’t get it, or sell out of too quickly. When everyone else was sold out of Russian River Sanctification, Monterey Deli had it. When everyone else was running out of “Batch 5” of Russian River Supplication, Monterey Deli had it. And when Firestone Walker “Parabola” was shooting up the Beer Advocate hype-o-meter, only Monterey Deli had it.

So anyways, the reason I was so hot to try this is because of how much I loved the Firestone Walker “10” some years back. That was a barrel-aged creation of the godz, and I know that Paso Robles, CA-based brewer is justly famous for their experimentation with all manner of barrels and fermentation models. PARABOLA fits into their hallowed pantheon quite nicely. Once I “unboxed” it (I thought of YouTubing the unboxing ceremony, the way people do with iPads), it poured a deep jet-black (which is good, because it’s what I was expecting in a Russian Imperial Stout). Check out this stat – 13% alcohol. Sure, you taste it a little, but not in that burning, mouth-peeling way you do with some others. Initial taste was of dark cherries and cola, with the requisite vanilla flavor that often comes through in aging. Parabola is a real smooth sipper, and it’s delicious both cold out of the bottle and warm an hour later (and yeah, I took my time with it). Believe it or not, it’s not as ridiculously complex as some big beers can go – it’s just really, really good. 8/10. I’d put out an APB if I were you on this – maybe even Monterey Deli has one.

A NICE LITTLE RECORD BY HARLEM CALLED “HIPPIES”

There’s this Austin, TX trio called HARLEM, and I’d been noticing their CD “Hippies” on Matador for a few months. It’s got an intriguing cover, as you can see. I did some online scouting, liked the few indie-garage songs I heard, and decided to pick the thing up. Outside of the fact that 16 songs is about four-to-six songs too many for just about any band on any album, “Hippies” has got some real good honest-to-goodness garage chug going on, leavened with a dose of 1950s bubblegum pop shimmer. These guys – and they’re all guys – sit squarely in the middle of a road that winds through some of the more bent 1990s indie bands that Matador made their stock in trade (GBV, Pavement) and into something a bit more raw and dirty. Nothing exceptional, but there are a few corkers on the disc, starting with “Somewhere Soon”, a track I’m posting for you today. I was hoping that their “Spray Paint” would be just as spazz-out & crazed as Black Flag’s but it’s a totally different (tamer) beast yet nearly as fun. I’d go see these guys live, let’s put it that way, but if I missed ‘em in favor of a warm bath that’d be OK too.

Play "Somewhere Soon" by Harlem


Download HARLEM - "Somewhere Soon" (from 2010 CD "Hippies")

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

10 WAYS THE HEDONIST JIVE WOULD SAVE THE US ECONOMY

I read a scary article today that recounts the Democratically-controlled Congressional Budget Office’s new report on America’s horrific debt load, and how there’s a strong likelihood of fiscal crisis on the way. Nothing even approaching fiscal sanity is going on in Washington right now, and it has been that way for far too long. We can respectfully argue about, and have fun doing so for hours, both social issues and foreign policy – but as far as I’m concerned, the economy is a non-negotiable, and is the only thing that truly matters. You either do it the right way (spend less than you earn, while strongly facilitating the growth of free enterprise by getting the hell out of the way), or you don’t. I’d give the former Bush Administration a D for their fiscal management, maybe a D-, and I’ll unequivocally hang the biggest, fattest F you’ve ever seen on the Obama team, the most tone-deaf economic president in my lifetime.

Frankly, I’m pretty nervous and getting a bit alarmist about it all – and I’m usually an optimist who pooh-poohs the notion of grave national crisis. What does “fiscal crisis” mean, you ask? Well, remember when the stock market plunged 4,000 points in like two weeks? That was two years ago. No one could get a loan – remember that? That was pretty short-term as well, thankfully. Remenber when everyone was calling their bank to make sure that their life savings were FDIC-ensured, and the government immediately doubled the amount that could be ensured to prevent a run on the banks? I imagine the next problems will be far worse, and will have an impact upon this country’s long-term health for decades.

First, I request that you read this short piece, and then the CBO’s report. Then, I’d like you to join me in advocating these ten steps for stopping what looks to be an almost-certain train wreck (some of this is adapted and updated from an earlier piece I wrote on another blog):

1. Cut the corporate tax rate dramatically. If we could do just one thing to provide a real “stimulus” that would not only save thousands upon thousands of jobs, but also send the stock market soaring (which would, of course, put real money back in the pockets of millions of Americans), it would be this. Companies who once were earmarking dollars for Washington DC can now decide to retain current employees, or hire new ones to remain competitive – or instead spend the savings on new initiatives that will keep current employees engaged and future-focused. This applies to corporations, small companies, and mom-n-pop businesses – give them some of their hard-earned money back so they can use it productively.

2. Cut the federal personal income tax rate by 3% across the board. Individuals, too, are making decisions to hoard precious dollars and not spend right now. Let’s give them an incentive of up to 3% of their income to spend in 2010 and truly stimulate the economy.

3. Immediately reform entitlements so that the retirement age is raised, social security is means-tested, and benefits in general are slightly reduced. This goes hand in hand with my tax cut proposals. With reduced tax receipts, we will need to start cutting somewhere, and what better place than the three-headed hydra of federal spending: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. I have not designed the perfect plan yet (sorry!) – but let’s start by bumping the retirement age up (we’re all living longer now, you know); means-test social security so that the wealthy, who don’t need it, don’t get it (after all, this is a safety net for the aged, not a mandatory handout), and find a formula that reduces benefits overall without extracting too much pain from current beneficiaries. My belief is that these steps alone will ensure these programs remain solvent and helpful to those who truly need them, without burdening the rest of us as they do today.

4. Come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, and reduce our military bases overseas by 50%. We all know it - continuing these wars beyond the first year was a mistake. America needs to resume a primarily defensive posture in international relations. We don’t have to blind ourselves to international realities, but neither do we need to spend our dwindling cash reserves on expanding empire. I’d like to go back to our pre-World War II stance of being totally on-the-ready to defend our borders, and only save the world if confronted with another Hitler. The savings from this idea alone will be generationally transformational.

5. Let uncompetitive businesses fail. Totally self-explanatory. Get the government out of the auto industry, the banking industry, the car-finance industry, and every other industry we’re trying to nationalize right now. Let the market (i.e. you and me and everyone else) pick the winners and the losers in each sector. This is not the same as “de-regulation” – it is ensuring that taxpayer dollars never again go to a failing private company, solely to shore up that company’s balance sheet.

6. Allow Congress to repeal Health Care “reform”. It’s already being proven as a colossal mistake in Massachusetts, which was the model for the US’s disaster of a health care bill. Congress, who as you know barely passed this in the first place, needs to find a way for a do-over. There are real changes we can make in the health care industry, but mark my words, this year’s bill will be an albatross that history will not look kindly on.

7. Establish a commission of public and private individuals whose sole purpose is to reduce the size, scope and burden of government on individuals and business. Give them a number to shoot for – a really big one – and let them have at it. Then do what they say.

8. Kill at least 4 government cabinet agencies: education, labor, agriculture and homeland security. Watch as the world as we know it remains pretty much the same as it always has – albeit with less regulation, hassles and needless expense.

9. Recognize that not everyone has to buy a home. Get the government out of any schemes to encourage home ownership. Make this a 100% wholly private activity between sellers and buyers. Destroy Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, slowly reduce all tax deductions for homeownership, and stop low-income housing loans. Having the government shoveling money & loosening requirements to allow people to buy homes was a major contributor to the current crisis. Let banks take on this burden themselves, and let them suffer the consequences entirely when they make mistakes.

10. Pass a spend-within-our-means constitutional amendment. No more debt spending, except when Congress allows it by a two-third majority in times of true national crisis. Stop being a debtor nation, and instead become a nation that only spends what it brings in from taxpayers.

BLOCKBUSTER MANIA – “INCEPTION”/“TOY STORY 3”

Just a quick look in on two of the summer’s hottest blockbusters today. Yeah, in the space of 24 hours this past weekend I saw both “INCEPTION” and “TOY STORY 3” – and am here to report that both are excellent and well worth your time. Let’s start with the former, shall we? “INCEPTION” is the latest from Christopher Nolan, who only directed my favorite film of the most recent decade. I went in expecting a fun, baffling, “Memento”-like film about dream states, but from the moment I strapped in to my seat it was GO time. This movie started with “Bourne Identity”-style thrills and really didn’t let up for 150 minutes. I believe you call it an “edge of your seat thrill ride”, am I right? Yet it was more than that – “Inception” is a smart, blink-and-you-missed thriller with a deep metaphysical angle about dreams within dreams within dreams (within dreams?), and the ending is open to at least three plausible and wild-ass interpretations I’ve heard so far. The audience in our theater gasped, and then applauded the final scene. We all let out a collective big breath after this one. It’s that kind of film. Hedonist Jive says check it out.

We almost didn’t see “TOY STORY 3” because the one thing that gives my 6-year-old son nightmares is mannequins. Now there are no mannequins in this film, but the character of “Big Baby” looked sufficiently enough like one – particularly with a damaged left eye and weird crayon marks on his legs – that he decided to delay the gratification that would come from finishing the Toy Story franchise until he was, oh, about 10 or so. Three weeks later, we got the all-clear, and as it turned out, the only part that caused any distress at all was when “Lots O’ Huggin’ Bear” made Big Baby cry. See, aren’t you excited about this already? Suffice to say that if you’re a fan of Pixar’s genius already, you’ll only confirm it yet again. This is truly one of their best, up there with “WALL-E” and “MONSTERS INC”. They up their animation game with each film, and I marvel at the economy in which they tell stories. There is plenty for the adults to rally around here as well, particularly a Barbie doll’s shouted soliloquy about “authority should derive from the consent of the governed”. This film explores maudlin themes of loss and children who grow up before you want them to, as well as fairly sophisticated notions of power and control. And boy are some of those toys cute. I’m glad I can stand behind a kid as my excuse for paying $10 to see these Pixar films, but rest assured if I didn’t have one I’d be going anyway.

Monday, July 26, 2010

MY LATEST NEW YORK CITY BEERCATION

One of my favorite things about a work trip to New York, such as the one I undertook two weeks ago, is the gravitational pull the city’s amazingly robust beer culture has on me. I’d call NYC one of the four main hubs of quality beer activity in the US, along with the West Coast standbys of Seattle, San Francisco and San Diego. (Don’t worry Chicago and greater Michigan, we still love ya. Portland – you just need to work on some better breweries). One of my least favorite things about New York is when I leave my beloved iPhone 3GS in the back of a taxi, which then pulls away only seconds after I realize what I’ve done. Said iPhone contained all of my photo snaps of the fine ales I’d just consumed the previous two evenings, as well as my painstakingly-enumerated, eh, “tasting notes”.

So let’s reconstruct from memory just what an amazing bounty was to be had in New York at this moment in time – mid-July 2010:

PRETTY THINGS – “BABY TREE” – This is one of the two main highlights of the visit, an absolute genius quadrupel ale enjoyed on tap at The Ginger Man. A dark, plum-packed 9% ABV beer that has a little wisp of smoke in the flavor as well. In the fine tradition of the Belgian Abbey ales, and definitely the best thing from this new upstart New England brewer I’ve had. (Photo ripped off from the excellent beer blog The Drunken Polack). 9/10.

TWO BROTHERS – “THE BITTER END” – It isn’t often that you find The Hedonist Jive raving about a simple pale ale, but it isn’t often that I drink one this outstanding, either. This was quaffed on tap at a cool Lower East Side restaurant and bar (a “gastropub”, if you will) called SPITZER’S CORNER. I loved this place – their food was amazing (smoked fish plate + a bowl of artisan mac-n-cheese!) – and this Illinois brewer’s pale ale was just perfect for a hot late afternoon. So fresh, so hoppy, so flavorful – the closest equivalent is Three Floyds’ “Alpha King”, and this is nearly as good. 9/10.

NOGNE Ø - “SUNTURNBREW” – A sweet smoked barleywine from Norway, something I got to try as a sample at Rattle-N-Hum in Midtown, then came back two nights later to enjoy in its own (larger) glass. Orally fixated folks are always going off about “mouthfeel”, but this one is the real deal, delivering a tongue-clinging velvety pillow of smoke and dark fruits. An 11% whopper that you’ll want to make sure you’re in the proper frame of mind for. 8.5/10.

SIXPOINT BREWING – “BENGALI TIGER” – I raved and hooted about this IPA on my old beer blog and gave it a 10/10 the last time I had it. This time it didn’t quite have the je ne sais quoi I’d remembered. Very hoppy, tangy and a murky deep yellow. Definitely an “imperial” in terms of taste, and heavy on the piney end of the IPA scale. I’m knocking it down to a very good 7.5/10.

CIGAR CITY – “JAI ALAI” IPA – Malty and caramel/creamy – in an IPA? Yeah, this heavily-hyped big boy was really delicious but not a world-beater. I’d better have another three of these to see if we can bump it up from a 7.5/10.

NEBRASKA BREWING - “EOS HEFEWEIZEN” – Things start getting lost on this one; the notes are all in the phone sitting in the cab driver’s house now. I remember a pretty good wheat beer and my burned-to-memory score of 7/10.

GREAT DIVIDE – “CLAYMORE” SCOTCH ALE – Same here. Enjoyed this malty red “wee heavy” at the Blind Tiger Ale House, but wouldn’t go out of my way to have it again. 7/10.

NEBRASKA BREWING – “APRICOT AU POIVRE SAISON” – The only proverbial turd in the punchbowl this trip. I’m excited about this brewer – apparently their big beers are amazing, and I picked up a bottle of their HOP GOD at this incredible Whole Foods beer store in lower Manhattan to take home ($22! It better be!). This thing was a bit of a mess, though – a strange fruity Belgian ale that lacked character and balance. We’ll grant that we probably tasted Nebraska Brewing’s more basic ales, and that the real treasures are to be found in their aged and 9%+ big boy beers. 5/10.

That’s all for now – let me know if I missed any East Coast rarities that I need to hunt down next time.

Friday, July 23, 2010

THE STORY OF HELEVATOR, SAN FRANCISCO ROCK GROUP

See this flyer? It’s the only thing that remains from my time in a study in San Francisco rock and roll marginalia called HELEVATOR, way back in 1990 and 1991. I formed this band with my pals Steve Watson and Chas Glynn on something of a whim during the late summer of 1990, when we were all looking for something to do. Steve (guitar) and Chas (drums) had actually played in bands before, Steve dating back at least a decade in Detroit and LA, and Chas on guitar in other groups (he’d barely picked up drumsticks before, and like me on bass guitar, it showed). I’d just unceremoniously ended my college radio DJ career – which I recapped a bit in this post a few months ago – and, being a music fanatic, though I’d try my hand at being in a real band, as a real contributing member. I reckoned Steve could teach me the ropes on bass, so I bought a right-handed one at North Berkeley Music in Berkeley, CA, and then had them string it left-handed to accommodate the hand-preference handicap that has been oppressing me my entire life.

Now I’d been in bands before, the previous two years in college in Santa Barbara, but mostly as the comedic frontman/"singer". For evidence, I offer you THE UMBILICAL CHORDS MOVIE from 1988. There was also Sluggo, We Got Power and a guest role as drummer in a Devo cover band called Steve Garvey’s Hair. Forming a band in Santa Barbara around that time was as simple as 3 or 4 non-musicians deciding to form one – and only then figuring out how to play along the way. Helevator were a little bit like that. I came in with two covers I wanted us to do: “Confusion” by THEE MIGHTY CASEARS, and “Lookin’” by THE NIGHTS AND DAYS. Steve taught me how to play these exceptionally easy songs, and off we went. We rented a practice space in the bowels of Oakland, right by the Coliseum (where the A’s, Raiders and Warriors play, and where nobody in their crime-averse mind dares to walk otherwise). No one in the band had a functional car, so three times a week (!!) we hoofed it thirty minutes each way on BART – the local subway system - with our “gear” to practice. Far as I can remember, practice spaces in San Francisco were either way too expensive, had waiting lists, or both.

Beer was consumed, songs were gingerly learned, and soon enough through the racket we actually had something that could be discerned as “songs”. Here’s the thing, though – I can’t even remember if we had any originals. I know I certainly didn’t write any. I feel like maybe Steve wrote an original song in one of his old Detroit bands, and then “ported” it over to Helevator. Here’s a list of songs that we did cover during our six-month stay on the scene:

The Germs – “Forming”
Solger – “American Youth”
Richard Hell & The Voidoids – “Love Comes in Spurts”
Thee Mighty Caesars – “Confusion”
Ramones – “Swallow My Pride”
The Nights & Days – “Lookin’”

Could that have been our entire set list? (Answer - No. Chas Glynn himself answered this question on Facebook - we also had our intro song called "Hey Hey We're Helevator", our "riposte" to "Hey Hey We're The Gories"). Well, before we’d even practiced a half dozen times, our friends in the band CACTOPUS invited us to open for them at the 6th Street Rendezvous club in San Francisco one weeknight, probably about November 1990. A bunch of our friends showed up to hoot at us, and since all we played was a tuneless version of “Forming” (how appropriate) three times in a row, we certainly deserved a bunch of hooting. I remember lots of faux pandemonium after we played the song and mock-graciously said “thank you – good night” to our audience of about 30 – which culminated in our “encore” performance of “Forming” for the fourth and final time.

The next time we played was around New Year’s Eve 1990, at the house party you see advertised on this flyer. I was a bit nervous for our first “real” gig. People were going to share their Friday night with us. Girls would be there. We wanted to be solid. People even came out from my work to “watch Jay play in his rock band”. I donned a burgundy smoking jacket that was given to me by a Cactopus member named Brig Tratar. And then – clunk. We played our six or so songs, got some polite applause, the room cleared out and the party ended. We didn’t sound as loud as we wanted to; the drums were more tippy-tap than crash/boom/bang, and I could barely play the most simple of basslines. I think that’s when we started making fun of ourselves in earnest, and where the seeds of our decline were sown.

A third and final illustrious gig remained for Helevator. Early in 1991, we were invited to come visit my alma mater, UC-Santa Barbara, and play at “The Red Barn” in Isla Vista. The Barn was a spot that people could reserve or rent out for parties or shows, and we played with a couple of local “IV” (Isla Vista) bands that almost certainly were part of our circle of pals (PMS? Cactopus?). Again, it was one of those fake-crazy crowds that chanted our name before and after we went on, slamdanced, stage dove etc. I recall calming my nerves with pre-show beers so aggressively that I played the basslines to our entire set list to the audience as we were tuning up – then played then again for real in the same order. Of course it was a blast, and perhaps it really was the right way to go out.

We sloughed off our thrice-weekly practices when we got back, and the band quickly imploded through inertia. Both Steve and Chas went on to be in good bands that made real records throughout the next decade and a half. Me, I sold my bass guitar way before 1991 was over. My thinking was that I’d rather listen to real musicians make records, than to play-act at being one – so I started a fanzine called SUPERDOPE instead. Not once have I wished I played music again; because for all intents and purposes, we were barely playing music anyway. Even now on the rare occasions when I see Chas or Steve, if Helevator ever comes up it’s so we can give each other a high-five and a chortle, in the solidarity of knowing that we were as pathetic as they came. I’ll let you know if the long-rumored “lost practice tape” ever turns up in one of our shoeboxes.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

THE SUBLIME SUELEEN GAY



I got a hankerin' to watch some of my favorite scenes from one of my all-time favorite films, Robert Altman's 1975 masterpiece "NASHVILLE", and came across this awesome compilation of Sueleen Gay scenes. Easily the worst (and most charismatic) country singer there never was. Give it up for Gwen Wells. I haven't watched this masterpiece in over ten years and I'm overdue. Criterion Collection? Well why in tarnation not?

VALLEY BREWING’S SECOND OUTSTANDING IPA

On my previous, beer-only blog I reviewed a superlative Double IPA from Stockton’s VALLEY BREWING called ÜBERHOPPY earlier this year. It was something of a surprise for those of us who look down our noses at things from California’s Central Valley that aren’t almonds, fruits or vegetables. I had this to say about it:

“….just as good as the pundits said. It’s a delicious double IPA, with a thick, foamy “two-finger” head, and a really deep citrus taste. Not “fruity”, mind you, and perhaps hopped not beyond belief, yet certainly beyond reason. It’s an exceptionally fresh, bitter biter of a beer – very rich and thick in its mouthfeel, and puckering on the aftertaste. Hopheads will of course be delighted. They’ll come for the hops and stay for the fresh, deep citrus flavor….”

Pretty clever review, ain’t it? I figured that beer was so great I’d want to try any India Pale Ale these guys coughed up. Accordingly, I bought a bottle of VALLEY BREWING IPA the other day, and lo and behold, this $5.99 bomber is another excellent west coaster from these folks. It has one of the all-time foamiest heads, a real pillow puff that took forever and a day to settle down. Hops are super-assertive and spicy, and the beer itself tastes like I’m drinking a ground-up hop cone. Which, in a way, I guess I am. Excellent mix between the opposite poles of “piney” and “citrus” – a real west coast classic. 8/10. I posted my initial happily dazed reaction on Twitter and follower JesseTheHut wrote me back, saying, “Sad to see their operation crumbling. RE: Valley. They sold out and shafted their head brewer. Such a cool guy too. Shame.” Say what?

So in real time, let’s figure out what’s going on here. I’m picking up the phone to call VALLEY BREWING HQ and we’re gonna liveblog it:

Jen: “Thank you for calling Valley Brewing, this is Jen”
The Hedonist Jive: “Hi, Jen – did you guys recently change brewers?”
Jen: “Um….yes we did.”
The Hedonist Jive: “So Steve Altimari’s not the guy anymore?”
Jen: “That’s right”.
The Hedonist Jive: “Are you still going to make your IPA and Überhoppy?”
Jen: “Oh absolutely, those were our recipes – he was just our brewer”.

So there you have it - hard-hitting journalism at its best. They obviously don’t see things crumbling. If anyone knows more about this fascinating saga, let us know. And in the meantime, pounce if you see an IPA from VALLEY BREWING anywhere near your person.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

THE HEDONIST JIVE GUIDE TO BASEBALL PLAYERS

So I'm sitting there watching the All-Star game last night, realizing that a huge chunk of the modern-day greats were all assembled in Anaheim. The good guys. The ballplayers I'll spend $30+ per ticket to see. Me, I'm a big baseball fan, and have been ever since the August 14th, 1977 San Francisco Giants doubleheader vs. the Cincinnati Reds "Big Red Machine" club at Candlestick Park that changed my friggin' life. Baseball's been a constant for me in the intervening 33 years like nothing else outside of family, and while my unwavering allegiance to the Giants has produced a great deal of psychic pain during that period, I shall never cease to find the cleansing glory in settling in for a night game on TV, in a long drive listening to baseball on the radio, or in my 33-years-running obsession with devouring the morning paper and the MLB box scores.

I don't limit my fave players to the Giants, though. There are certain guys that have a swagger, or a weird quirk, or some ungodly combination of talents that just makes them an utter blast to watch. I hate hate hate the LA Dodgers and always have, but for a short period in time my favorite player in the universe was their lights-out relief pitcher Eric Gagne. Dodger fans would wave these 9th-inning flags that said "GAME OVER", and yep - once Gagne came in, you pretty much could start packing up your stuff, because no one was going to score or knock his 101mph fastball into the seats. Of course, you sports fans out there have since learned that Gagne was pumped chock full of steroids during that period, and was a total chump once he got off the juice. So no, he's not my favorite fella any more. But here are 10 that are:

1. TIM LINCECUM (San Francisco) - Years from now, when "The Freak" is undergoing Tommy John surgery or on the permanent disabled list a la Mark Prior, we'll marvel at how this long-haired, pot-smoking 160-pound beanpole dominated National League hitters the way he has for three years now. He defies all conventional notions of the athlete, and has such natural talent to blow hitters away that every game he pitches is an absolute must-see. And oh yeah, he plays for my team.

2. BRIAN MCCANN (Atlanta) - The impetus for this post. I don't know what it is about this Southern-fried, home run-blastin' catcher, but I totally dig him. Last night he won the All-Star game for the National League for the first time in 17 years...! I've seen him change many games with one swing of the bat, and he just seems so goshdarned likeable.

3. ICHIRO SUZUKI (Seattle) - Even my wife knows who he is. A legend, a Japanese hero, and quite possible the greatest seeing-eye singles hitter in the history of the game.

4. VLADAMIR GUERRERO (Texas) - This guy swings at everything within a 10-foot range of the batters' box every year, and continues to rake deep into his 30s.He might be having one of his 2 or 3 best years right now for Texas. Giants radio talk show callers still whine and moan about how we didn't sign this guy back in 2006 or whatever it was, forgetting that Vlad made it very clear that he didn't want to play for us under any circumstances. But man, he would've been fun to watch 162 times a year.

5. HEATH BELL (San Diego) - A light-outs moose man reliever. The new Gagne. Needs to be a household name. Shut the door. Game over. I truly hope he's not on 'roids.

6. PABLO SANDOVAL (San Francisco) - In a bit of a funk this year, but "the Big Panda" brings so much unbridled passion and joie de vivre to the game of baseball, I don't care that he's hitting .263 and leading the team in double-play balls. Pandamania was massive last year in the Bay Area, and will be again in the second half of the season when Pablo steals our hearts again by bopping everything that floats over the plate into Triples Alley and into the San Francisco Bay. Mark my words, haters.

7. RYAN BRAUN (Milwaukee) - May be the best hitter in baseball not named Albert Pujols. Quietly starting a hall-of-fame career up in ignored Milwaukee, putting up 35 homers and 120 RBIs each and every year he's been in the league. No reason to think this on-base machine's going to stop either. Definitely in the "be very afraid" category when he steps in the box against one of your pitchers, a la Pujols circa now and Barry Bonds of the early 2000s.

8. NICK SWISHER (NY Yankees) - So glad to see this guy get a last-minute All-Star nod this week, even though he plays for the Yankees, the only other team besides LA that I can muster true hate for. When he was with Oakland he was the long-haired, bearded practical joking maniac of the team, who looked like he was perpetually hung over even when he was doing high-dive catches in the outfield and cranking out homers to right field. Every article I read about him makes me think he's the perfect shaving cream pie wise-ass you'd want to have on your side. Again, too bad he's on the Yankees and not, say, the Blue Jays or something.

9. ZAC GREINKE (Kansas City) - Last year's AL Cy Young is having a tough time this year, but from what I gather, just walking to the mound is tough enough for this notoriously shy and uber-reclusive superstar. I have to admire his ability under these circumstances to get just about everybody he faces out, and to win on a horrifically bad Royals team.

10. TORII HUNTER (Anaheim) - Another fun-loving, gotta-have-him-on-your-team player who's amazing with both the glove and the bat. He doesn't put up monster numbers, but has been a consistent RBI machine and Gold Glover for a decade now, and he just looks like he's having a blast out there. He would have looked pretty spectacular in orange, white and black, don't you think?

Honorable mention: Brian Wilson, Joe Mauer, Jacoby Ellsbury, Andrew Bailey, Chone Figgins, Joakim Soria, Ian Kinsler, Joey Votto, Edinson Volquez, Matt Cain, Dustin Pedroia

Saturday, July 10, 2010

AFTER THE BEERS OF SUMMER HAVE GONE

Don't you go thinking that just because I went dark on ya this past week that I still don't love you, OK? Actually we were at a San Francisco locals-only "family camp" in the depths of Yosemite National Park, trapped without an internet connection nor cell phone reception. Brrr. It was beastly. But wouldn't you know it, they sell good quality microbrewed craft beer even in the heart of the park, so I got to add to the burgeoning list of fine ales I was building, and that I'm about to recap for you here. It has been a big summer. Let's kick this off, shall we?

GREEN FLASH "LE FREAK" - This is by no means an unknown beer amongst the beer cognoscenti, and I'd even had it twice before, but not with the careful and considered contemplation it so richly deserved. Wow! This IPA/Belgian tripel combination could not have been more true to the imagined hybrid in my mind. A wonderful balance of bittering hops, velvet smoothness and yeasty, hoppy deliciousness. A 9.2% ABV treat that I'm now proud to call one of my favorites. 9/10.

LOST COAST "8 BALL STOUT" - Surprise! What I expected would be a rather pedestrian stout is now one of my primo meat-n-potatoes examples of the style. I had two of these in Yosemite and I wish I was quaffing another this very moment. Creamy, dry and full of roasty flavor. It's now sitting proud representing Eureka, CA's LOST COAST, whom I didn't think could make an above-average beer. But oh, they can. 8.5/10.

THE BRUERY - "RUGBROD" - Yes, a Danish-inspired rye beer from the brewery I'm calling one of America's two or three best right about now. And I can't tell ya if they knocked this one into the bleachers because it tastes for all the world like a brewer's "experiment" - an earthy, deeply rich malty rye beer in which the rye takes a decided starring role, unlike others I've had where it's more of a complement. A little wild, a little dry, and a little hard to get a good read on. 6.5/10.

SIERRA NEVADA "30TH ANNIVERSARY - CHARLIE, FRED & KEN'S BOCK" - This is one of two 30th Anniversary beers cooked up by Sierra Nevada and friends of theirs in the know from around the brewing industry - and I hear there are more coming. I have the much-loved "Fritz and Ken's" beer chilling in a fridge at home, but got to try this on draft at San Francisco's Pi Bar the other evening. It pours a stock-still (high ABV alert!) and very carbonated brown/orange, and brings a nice malty backbone with the hint of distant spice. really great flavors of burnt malt and a little bit of caramel. Definitely off the beaten path and worth tracking down. 8/10.

ODONATA SAISON - This hit Bay Area stores last month with a ton of internet hype (get down to the store nooooow!!! Before it sells ooooout!!!!!), and I was ready for action because my I've-never-met-him-but-he's-my-brother pal Rick Sellers from Pacific Brew News is one of the founders of Sacramento's Odonata Beer Co. I rushed out to buy one, and imbibed it that very night. The pundits on Beer Advocate already have it coronated with an A+; I'm thinking this very good, sharper- and spicier-than-normal wheat-based saison instead clocks in around a healthy 7/10.

TROUBADOUR BLONDE ALE - I've written on my former beer blog about my propensity to play "Belgain roulette", but after some big swings and misses of late I'm thinking of calling the jig up. This mediocre blonde ale might have been the kicker. Strong, sharp, very fruity and mildly bitter, but just missing a lot of sass and panache (whatever that is). For an intense Belgian ale, this tasted rather poorly constructed. I hurried through it just to complete the thing & say that I had. No thanks. 5.5/10.

OSKAR BLUES "TENFIDY IMPERIAL STOUT" - I'd read that this was the second coming but really, it's just another in a long line of really good, really big Russian-style stouts. This one just happens to come in a can. Smooth and creamy, deep chocolate roasts and even a hint of coffee. Wow, just like all the other really good imperial stouts out there. Spoiled, we are absolutely spoiled for choice. Next! 7/10

GIRARDIN GUEUZE 1882 - My first gueuze! Like I promised I'd have! Aaron at The Vice Blog told me this was the one I needed to start with, and that fella, he don't lie. Sour citrus lemon yeast gives way to a saliva-thickening deep chewy mouthfeel the likes of which was akin to bein' born all over again. Excellent beer and really not the eye-watering challenge I was expecting. 8/10.

MAMMOTH BREWING "IPA 395" - I keep a "beers to try" list in my iPhone (doesn't everyone?) and this one was on it thanks to a forgotten someone's great review, so when I spied it at the Yosemite Curry Village General Store, I pounced like a hungry bear swiping for salmon in a frosty mountain stream. That night, while groaning through the "children's talent show" back at the family camp, I enjoyed this Double IPA and used it to ease the pain. It was a frothy ale that has the unique taste of juniper that seemed to work quite well in these woods. Very herbal and very malty, and really not the hoppy tongue-singeing beast I'm used to when someone slaps a "double" on their IPA. 7/10. (PS - the companion Tuolumne Meadows IPA from these guys was not half bad either - lightly hopped and refreshing - 6/10).

OSKAR BLUES - "OLD CHUB" - Finally, this outstanding scotch ale that I brought a 6-pack up to camp of in a cooler, ostensibly to "share" - but once I got a taste of it I hoarded 4 of them all to myself and dispatched of them with extreme prejudice down my gullet. Really delicious and a flavor-forward malt beer, full-bodied and caramel-coated like a true syrup bomb that somehow managed to find balance & near-perfect structure. I might have savaged this outfit's "Dale's Pale Ale" in the past, but all is forgiven with this one, which is a stone cold knockout. 8.5/10.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

LOST ABBEY’s “RED BARN ALE”

It had really been a while since I’d sampled the glory of LOST ABBEY’s amazing saison-style beer, RED BARN ALE. Like nearly four years. Loved it back in 2006 when I first tried it, yet then was riding along side all of the LOST ABBEY beers that were coming out in a big batch. They were all amazing; this one, subtle and great as it is, just sort of got shuffled to the side in my ranked hierarchy of Lost Abbey treasures. Tasted on its own the other night at Café Biere in Emeryville, CA, however – well, that’s a different story. RED BARN ALE is everything a Belgian saison should be in my book. Spicy, a little musty and highly carbonated, I left the bar wishing I had the fortitude and the liver to drink five pints in one sitting. It’s a glorious beer, with tastes of ginger and a light malty sweetness topping off a distant dose of funk. Seriously, this is hard to top. I’m going to make Red Barn a fer-sure go-to beer from this point forward. 9.5/10.