Tuesday, July 26, 2011


See, I knew if we waited long enough we’d find an Italian beer worthy of that country’s long gastronomic heritage. You know, we even went there this past April and May and didn’t come up with any knockouts – not for the lack of trying, lemme tell ya. Sure enough, it’s the so-far most celebrated of the Italian brewers importing into the United States – BIRRIFICIO LE BALADIN – who’ve come up with the finest example of Italian craft beer to pass our lips. I suspect that with their full-on assault on the US foodie market – witness their new bar inside the hallowed halls of New York City’s temple of Italian indulgence EATALY – you’ll be seeing a lot more words spilled about the fantastic spiced tripel known as NORA.

NORA, served in a bottle so small that our enjoyment of it had to gently measured and gingerly sipped (the horror!), is a yeasty, fruit-forward ale that may not actually truly be a Belgian-style tripel, but one that shares many of the characteristics of them. That yeast, for one. Chewy, dry and tangy. I suspected the dominant fruit in the mix was apricot (that’s what it tasted like to me), but a little Googlin’ tells me instead that it’s ginger, myrrh and orange peel. Right, of course! Myrrh! And there’s even some hoo-hah about it being from an ancient Egyptian recipe or some such. Alls I know is that it’s a complex but remarkably drinkable ale that will do wonders to promote the newfound vitality of the Italian beer underground. Get some if you can hunt it down, even if it’s trapped inside these little stubby bottles. 9/10.

Friday, July 22, 2011


It’s been said so many times (particularly in conservative circles) that it has ceased to lose its sense of moral outrage, but the most “underreported” story of the twentieth century was the misery, economic destruction and mass death caused by Communism - both as an idea, and certainly far more so in practice. Underreported, you ask? I’d say so. It’s not difficult to find books, articles and speeches decrying 20th-century communism’s crimes, from Stalin and Mao to famines and entire generations lost to mind-numbing conformity and repression. Yet the thumbnail view of the century is usually reduced to the two World Wars, or to some general struggle between East and West, rather than to the murderous idea that helped beget so much of that struggle to begin with. Forgotten, at some level, is just how much of the world’s people were made to suffer and stagnate for decades in the name of idea that promised a “worker’s paradise” and instead provided anything but.

Stephen Kotkin’s “UNCIVIL SOCIETY – 1989 AND THE IMPLOSION OF THE COMMUNIST ESTABLISHMENT” helps us remember a bit. Its thesis is fairly straightforward. Remember in 1989, when Communist governments were collapsing across Eastern Europe, how there was loads of talk about well-organized “civil society” movements that were bringing them down? Rubbish, says Kotkin. The sclerotic Communist regimes of Eastern Europe, propped up for decades by Moscow, were never in danger of real democratic revolution from within, and no matter how much hindsight allows us to inflate the power of nascent democratic movements, their abilities to affect true change were years away. No, it was “uncivil society” – the corrupt regimes of delusional, state-plundering Communist bureaucrats that led these countries – that paved the way to their own demise. When they fell, they didn’t all fall the same way – but they fell quickly, and in rapid succession to each other.

The book chooses to focus its lens on how the regimes unraveled in three countries – East Germany, Romania and Poland. Kotkin rightly makes the widely-shared point that the kindling for 1989 was certainly set by Mikael Gorbachev’s perestroika policies in the Soviet Union, and in his tacit guarantees that countries within Easter Europe those chose to accelerate the process of opening up their economies and societies would not be invaded, the way Hungary was in 1956 and Czechoslovakia was in 1968. Yet the three countries all had different paths to the surrender by uncivil society. In East Germany’s case, a stealthy “peace” movement, which had been marching under a vague banner of non-regime-provoking solidarity since 1982, snowballed and culminated after years of frustration in small demonstrations in the city of Leipzig during 1989. The regime fought back, and beat the protestors badly for weeks, but East German society at large was relatively unmoved and unprovoked until events began to quickly spiral, and as residents began fleeing into Austria through Hungary’s now-open borders. Once the “run on the bank” started, powerless, cornered and widely-hated East German leaders chose to not crack down, and within weeks, the Berlin Wall was being dismantled on worldwide television.

Romanian events moved even more quickly, and shocked the world when the dictator Nikolai Ceausescu was executed in extra-legal fashion toward the end of 1989. Only two weeks before, there had been zero stirrings of democratic activity, and the state was fully in the hands of Ceausescu and the Securitate, the KGB of the Romanian police state. This is the most fascinating part of Kotkin’s book, and would be inspiring to the end if not for the civil war-like ethnic killings and religious reprisals that followed the 1989 turmoil that gave Romania democracy for the first time in decades. Finally, Poland’s example seems to refute Kotkin’s premise a bit. If the Solidarity movement led by Lech Walesa since 1980, which won democratic elections in 1989 without bloodshed, did not comprise the triumph of “civil society” over the uncivil, then what did? Kotkin feels that because the Communist establishment had no idea it would lose these elections, and because in calling Solidarity’s bluff, they were certain of continued power by co-opting them, it was just as much of a “collapse” as the other examples. Not buying it.

Regardless, they all imploded in 1989 and within weeks and months of each other, and it was a head-spinning set of simultaneous events. I’d have liked a little more focus on Czechoslovakia in this book, as this is the country I most associate with the whole “civil society” trope, but the point remains. It wasn’t spontaneous uprisings of the people that brought down Soviet Communism across Eastern Europe. It was Soviet Communism’s toxicity itself. It’s important to revisit this period, recent as it is, because we are seeing it happen all over again in the Middle East this year, and it’s thrilling and more than a little painful to watch. I’m coupling my reading of this with an excellent, albeit massive, book by Orlando Figes about the birth of the Bolsheviks called “A PEOPLE’S TRAGEDY" , giving me two nice bookends to understand the ideology & deluded players that caused the world so much pain over the 1900s.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Having had some beer imbibing success with Scandinavian brewers over the past several years (NOGNE Ø, MIKKELLER, HAANDBRYGGERIET et al), it was no big stretch to take the bait on this hokey “black and tan” idea from upstart Danish brewer EVIL TWIN. I mean, it was all the rage in the dark worlds of the beer dork cognoscenti just a few weeks ago, and who am I to decline to partake? The idea is as follows. You buy a bottle of YIN – their imperial stout. You then buy a bottle of YANG – their “American-style” imperial IPA. You mix them together into a black and tan, and supposedly the sum of the parts will be even greater than the parts standing alone. Perhaps this might be the revival of the Irish pub parlor trick of sloshing some pale ale into a stout and selling the resulting concoction to the gullible, easily hucked young drinker. Let’s find out if this will be a trend with legs.

EVIL TWIN YIN is a spicy imperial stout with a big chocolate taste, but unfortunately brings a level of astringency that just overwhelms any goodness inherent in the beer. Alcohol is 10%, and it really tastes it – and not in a good way. So I then tried EVIL TWIN YANG to see if I could cut the harsh bummer that was playing itself out on my tongue. Hmmm- better, but not by much. There isn’t enough malty chewiness to balance out the insane levels of hopping here, and the hops themselves are far from “west coast” varieties my palate has adjusted to. They may as well be Icelandic – they certainly tasted that way.

Ah well, let’s mix ‘em up, just like ‘Ol Seamus McGillicuddy down at The Dubliner does! Well, it’s not a total loss. The stout totally overwhelms the IPA, as it was already hoppy and strong – so this is just more of the same. What a crock! I didn’t like any of these solo, nor together, and even though the blend got a little more drinkable as it warmed, most of it was down the drain before I could finish it off. YIN = 5/10; YANG = 5.5/10; YIN-YANG = 5.5/10. Never again. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


I'm the guy who never recognizes the celebrities that walk by when everyone else apparantly has their eagle eyes out and is buzzing about them. I keep my head down and move forward, or something. Hey, did you just see Nicolas Cage sitting next to you at breakfast? "Where? Really? Where'd he go?". Hey, wasn't that Gillian Anderson we just walked by? "It was?". So when Jane Fonda walked by our table at Cafe Pasquale in Santa Fe, New Mexico last week, all I noticed was a refined older woman with dark sunglasses on and 70s-style feathered hair, and only when the waitstaff started tittering at our table did I get the sense that it might be someone of note. Oh right - I guess that was Jane Fonda.

It reminded me that I've got a very fine collection stickers about Ms. Fonda that I'd like to share with you. I just scanned these for you now - part of my "conservative cranks of the 1970s" collection, which also includes an awesome "Ayatollah Assaholla" t-shirt I bought on eBay. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


A couple of things to check out if you’re so inclined – first of all, I made a new mix of ten songs from 2011 bands that you can listen to at the 8TRACKS site or on an iPhone. Click here to listen to “BEACH BLANKET BONGOUT”, featuring new songs from Puberty, Grass Widow, the Art Museums, Charles Albright, Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, Soft Science and more. They’re songs we’re partial to over here at HJ HQ, and in case you’re wondering, the title of the mix is in respectful homage to the mediocre hardcore punk song of the same name from 1981 by JODY FOSTER’S ARMY.

Also – we need more friends on Twitter. Seriously, the HedonistJive twitter feed only has 26 followers. Can I count on four of you to get it up past 30 by week’s end? I actually happen to use Twitter fairly frequently – I’ve become a believer in its utility as a place to share and view links from people I trust & follow – and hope that you will count on HJ for same. Anyone who’s following jayhinman, our alter ego, is bound to be severely & bitterly disappointed, as I’ve transitioned that into a work-related feed that’ll add years to your life. Follow HedonistJive here!

Monday, July 18, 2011


It has been several decades since the myth of what a “real man” is was supposedly blown up by sociological and attitudinal shifts, yet the myth still fights hard for mental supremacy in the collective insecure consciousness of diaper-changing daddies, gadget-obsessed video gamers, and emasculated pantywaists in all shapes & forms. I feel it every time someone works on my car and explains to my stupefied (and uncaring) face the compression gadgetry of my manifold or alternator. I feel it whenever I’m writing a check in my nice clean clothes to the dirty, burly guy that just fixed the toilet. “The manly arts” may be stereotypical and even a little passé, but it doesn’t stop me, or millions like me, from looking at previous generations and wondering what the hell happened as the genes were being passed down the line.

Here are ten ways in which I’m convinced I’ve failed to uphold –and even actively worked to undermine - the centuries-long legacy of the male gender:

1. I can’t fix anything. When we bought our house, my boss told me “You’re either going to get very good at fixing things, or very good at writing checks”. He certainly was right on one count. While I’m slaving away at a computer 9 hours a day, there’s a good chance there’s someone at the house with dirty clothes and a sub-high school education who could clean my proverbial clock on anything that has to do with mechanics, paint, plumbing, construction, woodworking or even simple locksmithery. The sad realization I’ve come to is – I don’t even want to know. I mean, I can oil a squeaky door and organize a cabinet with the best of ‘em, but actually fix something complex that’s broken? Or god forbid, build something from scratch? That’s what Angie’s List is for. Bonus proof that I have failed as a male: my favorite home improvement activity is gardening, which I’m quite good at.

2.  I’ve never shot a gun. I sort of have this vague idea that I might someday go to a firing range and, screaming with all the inner range I can muster (which likely isn’t much), pop a few hundred rounds into a paper target with Osama Bin Laden on it or something. Yet I pretty much hate guns. I’m the rare “libertarian” who happens to be anti-gun, and who would vote to ban handguns tomorrow. In this stance, I join 75% of American women, and further work to undermine masculinity as commonly defined.

3. I don’t know anything about cars. I’m not even interested in them. My 2000 Jetta is a piece of crap, one that my wife picked out a decade ago for herself and that I somehow inherited. I can change a tire and even know where the oil goes, but the only part of the car I’m actually interested in is the CD player and iPhone hookup. Our mechanic babbles mysterious things about our cars that sound like Esperanto to my untrained and wholly uncaring ears. Just fix it, man. I don’t even want to talk about it.

4. I hate gambling. Dudes are supposed to love gambling, right? Just head out to Vegas with the boys and drop a deuce on some blackjack while partyin’ down? Have fun. Gambling is for suckers, far as I’m concerned, and Las Vegas is the vacation home of the eternally damned. I’d rather get a colonoscopy than spend so much as five dollars on some nickel slots while some angry, made-up tart pours me a free gin & tonic. On that note….

5.  I don’t drink liquor. Oh sure, I’ll have the aforementioned gin & tonic if there’s no good beer on tap nor any red wine, but when does that actually happen anymore? I don’t know – once every two years? I never got into cocktails nor mixed drinks – something about vomiting vodka on myself in the Freshman-year dorms at UC-Santa Barbara switched me to the safer beer/wine combo in a hurry. If I further disconnected myself from my real-man forebears, so be it.

6. I really don’t enjoy camping all that much. You give me a bed and a set of thick covers in a hotel, even in an EconoLodge or Motel 6, and dollars to donuts I’ll have a much better night of sleep & a far more enjoyable next day than if you make me sleep on rock-hard ground in a tent. I mean, drinking around a campfire is fun, and I even enjoy hiking and getting a great big whiff of the great outdoors. But after we’ve done all that, is it cool if I drive down the road to the Ramada?

7.  I don’t play cards. This is part-and-parcel of the whole hating gambling thing, but I’m not just talking poker. I can barely understand the rules to Crazy 8’s until my 7-year-old tries to patiently explain them to me. I catch glimpses of people playing poker on TV, and I think, “Why? Why??”. It seems absolutely asinine that anyone would play this game, let alone watch it on TV. Can’t they read a book or develop an app or something? My predecessors in male-dom enjoyed long nights of cigars, whiskey and playin’ cards, or so I have been told. I don’t know a single person who does this any more, so maybe it’s not just me.

8. I hate golf. I don’t even know where or if golf fits in on the male continuum any more. I just know I can’t stand even thinking about it. Time was, groups of male cheeseballs put on cheesy clothes to play the world’s most boring “sport” for several hours under a hot sun, and then retired to the clubhouse for a post-game beer. My only mitigating factor on this one is that I’d love to join them for that beer, but I’ll gladly skip the golfing part entirely.

9.  I prefer fish to steak. Red meat and masculinity theoretically go hand in hand all the way to coronary bypass surgery, but I have to admit, I’d rather eat a great salmon or a nice plate of escolar garnished with quinoa & Swiss chard than a fat pound of medium-rare sirloin & melted butter. I remember going to a work function recently at a steakhouse – a steakhouse! – and looking up from my salmon & around the circular table, only to find 7 plates of thick red meat surrounding me. I’m no vegetarian, no way, but I suspect Don Draper and other supposed classic men’s men would have dropped me from the firm for that faux pas straight away & with extreme prejudice.

10. When I finally got good at an athletic activity, it was running. Of course it was. Finesse instead of brawn. A gender-neutral sport that is egalitarian and attracts huge numbers of women (and even some men).

MITIGATING FACTORS: I love women. I love beer. I follow professional sports with the best of ‘em. I do, in fact, eat steak (after all). I don’t play video games (these undermine masculinity more than anything on my list). I’ve actually voted for Republicans a couple times. I have a friend who has awesome taxidermied deer & buffalo heads mounted on his walls – and I like it. I mow the lawn. I trim my own trees. I keep a toolbox. Uh – I think that’s about it.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Tonight, July 17th, the American TV program BREAKING BAD resumes on AMC after a long and painful thirteen months' hiatus. I have not been this attached to nor have anticipated a television show this much in my lifetime, owing primarily to the sheer stupidity of TV in general during said lifetime. "Breaking Bad" is different. It's cliche to call it "film-quality", but that's what it is. I'm looking forward to an amazing Season 4 starting this evening. Here's the post I wrote immediately after Season 3 ended last June:

There was an article in my wife’s Entertainment Weekly mag bemoaning the current state of American film, with the money quote from an executive being something along the lines of “Five years ago it was questionable when people would claim that modern TV was just as creative and interesting as movies; now there’s simply no doubt”. Seconded and thirded. Starting with the best show on TV right now, “BREAKING BAD” , we’re in a golden age of television, where the best writers, directors and actors are working together to create the best small-screen entertainment ever produced. Thanks to HBO for kick-starting the process with “The Sopranos”, and then furthering it with the amazing trifecta of “Six Feet Under”, “The Wire” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” – all told, possibly the other 3 finest TV shows I’ve ever seen. To say nothing of “Extras”, “Lost”, “Peep Show”, “Mad Men” and “Battlestar Gallactica”. Nor “Parks and Recreation”, “30 Rock” and both versions of “The Office”, before the US version jumped the shark.

Yet it’s BREAKING BAD that has me the most captivated, and which truly passed a new creative milestone with the 13-episode season that wrapped up this past Sunday. The show has all the main characters spinning out of control and into a vortex of badness, centered around one very confused, mixed-up, yet driven man: Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston. In case you’re only reading about the show for the first time, here’s my 4-sentence synopsis: Walter White is a milquetoast chemistry teacher with not a lot of money who learns he has terminal cancer. To provide money for his family after he dies, he decides to make and sell crystal meth with one of his students (Jesse, played by Aaron Paul) in the here and now, using his advanced chemistry skills, setting off a rapid, dangerous and violent unwinding of the normal, suburban family life he’d cultivated over 50 boring years. As he moves out of near-death and into remission, Walter comes to be intoxicated by the danger and power his new life has provided, and also becomes a fantastic liar who’s always one step ahead of everyone else (the law, his family, the Mexican cartels) by guile, luck and trickery. He begins to drag everyone down with him, and at the end of Season 3, it’s clear that he’ll do everything and anything to not only stay alive, but to keep his power and new self-image.

I loved the ending of Season 3, in which (spoiler!) Walter has Jesse murder an assistant chemist named Gale whom the American cartel would like to have replace Walt. This is the murder of a sympathetic character done in cold blood, and it’s even worse in terms of morality than when Walt let Jesse’s girlfriend Jane OD in front of him, in order to help save his own skin from the law. That was passive murder of a junkie – this is active murder of a quote-unquote “good guy”, albeit one who cooks crystal meth for a living. Not like we didn’t know crazy Walt was sliding toward the abyss very rapidly (in the previous show he murdered two heroin dealers who were about to kill Jesse), but this cements Walt & Jesse as the guys who are going to have to bring down the very powerful American drug cartel in Season 4 just to stay alive. It’s going to be a blast. I can’t think of another show this gripping from the past twenty years, outside of “The Wire”. I think they might be the two best TV dramas of all time.

I have only one bone to pick with this show, and it’s a fairly small one – it’s actually more with critics who keep writing that Jesse, played by Aaron Paul, should be drowning in Emmys for his “searing performances”. Am I the only one to find Jesse the most inconsistent and least believable person on this show? Jesse is infused with moral clarity and ethics in one moment, and then he’s the worst hedonistic, dumb-ass, faux hip-hop “wigger” imaginable the next. I don’t buy it. Jesse is mostly incredibly annoying, and acts so ridiculously stupid and reckless for the majority of the show that when he’s all of a sudden having flashes of insight, talking in a somber voice, filling his beautiful blue eyes with tears over his gorgeous, smart, dead girlfriend Jane (who would never in a million years have been with the clown we see in the rest of the show, outside of their mutual love of heroin) – it strikes me as somewhat hollow. I like Aaron Paul and I think he does what they tell him to do extremely well – I just don’t like the howling inconsistencies in his character. I hope they sober him up a bit after this last bombshell shocker of a season ending, and help him grow up a little bit. Enough with all the “yo yo yo”s, you know what I mean?

I could go on and one about some of the other incredible performances – Anna Gunn, who plays Walt’s wife Skyler, in particular. She’s amazing, and I hope we see more of her in Season 4 than we did this year. I suspect that we will, since she’s now signing on to help Walt launder his drug money using her advanced bookkeeping training (!). In short, BREAKING BAD is a landmark TV event every week, and I’m heartened to see more and more people signing on. The show just got renewed as well, so get the DVD player fired up this summer and/or start Tivo’ing the AMC Breaking Bad marathons they’ll be having all year. I promise you won’t regret getting going with this one.

Friday, July 15, 2011


Hello again Americans and fellow travelers, thanks again for taking the time to peruse yet another one of Hedonist Jive's "I'm really not that much of a drinker.....really" posts where we rate & rank a whole caboodle of beers that have been imbibed and contemplated over the past couple of months. Naturally, we can't do them all two-paragraph justice. You'll have to settle for some pithy and barely-considered remarks, followed by a rating on our patented ten-point scale. Send me an email if you need to get the lowdown on any terrior issues, or need more evocative descriptions of any particular beer's smell or lacing-on-the-glass quotient. We've broken the beers down into consumer-friendly quartiles as well, so feel free to stop reading after the first one and head on out to the store. Here we go!


DE STRUISE/MIKKELLER - "ELLIOT BREW" - Oh my. A collaboration between two Northern European heavyweights to make an American Double IPA. in Belgium, that just happens to be tannish brown in color and that is defined far more by its strong rich malts than its hops. And it is phenomenal. They say it's 130 IBU, the semi-bogus hoppiness index that some people cling to their bosoms, and it is furthermore claimed to be the hoppiest beer ever brewed in Belgium - whatever. It has amazing balance, creaminess not normally found in IPAs, and a tasty sugar-n-spice combination to boot. 9.5/10.

WESTMALLE - "DUBBEL" - The granddaddy gold standard and still champion of the dubbels. My dubbels project hasn't been going too well - too many other beers I wanna try and a brain/liver that can only take so much - but this Trappist ale is truly in a league of its own, and I returned to it recently after not having one for years. Woody and creamy with just a little backbite. Toasty malts and a delicious, easy-to-ingest medium body. No wonder the world's been going nutso for this one for decades. 9.5/10.


ST. FEUILLIN/GREEN FLASH - "BIERE DE L'AMITIE" - Hope I spelled all of that foreign stuff correctly. This is a stunning spiced ale, highly carbonated and a misty, cloudy blonde in color. These are two worldwide giants of brewing teaming up to fight the good fight, and this one, which I've only had on draft and not in the bottles I'm now seeing around, is an excellent spicy, malty, crisp & peppery yeast bomb. 8.5/10.

EDDYLINE BREWERY - "CRANK YANKER IPA" - Eddyline, you ask? Only the pride and joy of Buena Vista, Colorado, a tiny river/mountain town three hours from Denver on the banks of the mighty Amicas River. Their brewery and restaurant appears to be the very center of the town's action, and would you believe me if I told you their IPA is out of this world? This is what us beer lovers live for - the chance visit to the brewpub or the ham-handed bottle selection that ends up paying dividends in spades for the 30 minutes or whatever you spend drinking a given beer. A superb orange/amber look to this one, and a smooth bitter taste that even my IPA-disdaining wife thought was incredible. 8.5/10.

NAPA SMITH - "LOST DOG" - This is the finest ale (pictured) I've yet quaffed from Napa, CA's well-distributed if middlingly-regarded Napa Smith Brewery. What a deliciously light, drinkably hoppy imperial red ale this is. Dry and yet exceptionally juicy nonetheless. A paradox, you say? You'll just have to find out yourself. 8/10.

TALLGRASS BREWING - "VELVET ROOSTER" - A fruity and quite delicious tripel from Kansas, a state not typically known for brewing upper-quartile Belgian-style ales. I need to get to know these guys better based on this evidence, though this one appears to be draft-only and isn't even mentioned on their website. 8/10.

TELEGRAPH BREWING - "OBSCURA ARBOREA" - In all my time on god's green earth, I don't believe I've poured a foamier beer than this one, nor had to wait as long to drink it. A good 20 minutes went by before I could even snap this photo and start drinking it. It's a sour Flanders oude bruin and a big beer at 9% ABV. Takes a little getting used to, but once the foam calmed and I dug in my heels, I loved it. Cherry and oak and lots and lots of souring bacteria. Definitely tastes like a barrel-aging "project beer" crafted with lots of care. We love that stuff around here. 8/10.

BRIDGEPORT BREWING - "KINGPIN" - I'm glad I take notes because I totally forgot about this one from two-plus months ago - and hey, it was really good! 12-ounce bottle of "double red ale" goodness. Serious hop burn, with thin-bodied malts that are nonetheless very pronounced. There's not the usual caramel chewiness of most red ales - this is about the hops all the way. 7.5/10.

SOCIAL KITCHEN & BREWERY - "THING DEUX BELGIAN PALE ALE" - This local San Francisco brewer have kind of cool thing going here - they made nearly identical beers, Thing One and Thing Deux, seperated only by different yeast strains - an American and a Belgian. I rolled the dice and tried the good one; my pal Uli's american-style pale ale was quite mediocre (at best). A yeasty and chewy pale ale that I'd absolutely ask for again. 7/10.

SOCIAL KITCHEN & BREWERY - "MOULIN ROUGE" - But wait - there's more. They also make a dry, biscuity and malty Flanders red ale too that I dug and rated a 7/10.

BLACK RAVEN - "TOTEM NORTHWEST PALE" - Really had been wanting to try some Black Raven beers after reading good things about them for a while, and while in Seattle recently, I got my chance. This pale ale was a nice trifecta of creamy, malty and hoppy, with the hops fairly muted but with some nice bitterness in the aftertaste. Totally solid. 7/10.


DOGFISH HEAD - "HELLHOUND ON MY ALE" - Winner of the worst pun award for 2011 beers, hands down. It may be limited, it may be one-time, but I'd only rush out for this one for novelty's sake alone. A lemon IPA! Citrus and tangy to the extreme, orange in color and maybe just a little too lemony. The 10% alcohol hides itself very well whilst drinking, but was quite clear in my noggin by the end of the 22-ounce bottle. 6.5/10.

EDDYLINE BREWERY - "PINE CREEK PORTER" - After the high of their Crank Yanker IPA (see above), it was perhaps a disappointment to encounter a mere middling porter, but this chocolately dark roasted beer held its own well enough to send me home with bells on. 6.5/10.

AUBURN ALEHOUSE - "GOLD DIGGER" - An IPA that comes off about one-half as good as their "PU20 Imperial IPA" that we reviewed here. Perhaps I'm spoiled for choice, with the proliferation of dozens of imperial IPAs that knock my friggin' socks off. This "single" IPA is bitter, piney, dry and solid across the board, but the lack of citrus juicyness and a general blandness puts it at a 6.5/10.

AMICAS BREWERY - "DOUBLE IPA" - Bought a 22-oz. bottle of this in Buena Vista, Colorado simply because I'd never heard of them/it and I like surprises. Surprise! It's a middling (double) IPA! These guys are from Salida, CO and make an eye-poppingly yellow double IPA that looks like a pilsner and yet still brings the noise with 9% ABV. Strong hops on the nose, bitter to the taste....so far so good...but a weak finish. Lacking in something. Taste, I think. 6/10.

GREAT DIVIDE - "TITAN IPA" - We were in Denver visiting family two weeks ago and I was starving for local beer. Though I was "psyched beyond belief" to find a bottle of this in a nondescript Thai restaurant, and glad to have some bittering hops and creaminess to cut the burn of my food, this IPA is simple and nondescript in a way that I just don't have a lot of patience for any longer (see above). 5.5/10.

BISON BREWING - "DUBBEL" - I know these guys have had a rough road the past few years, losing their  Berkeley brewpub and having to contract-brew in other people's abodes. But that's no excuse to come to market with a thin, overly sweet dubbel that only misses our bottom quartile due to simple, let's-get-this-outta-the-way drinkability alone. 5/10.


DURANGO BREWING - "AMBER" - As boring as you'd expect. A wimpy, watery amber ale with zero character, in a small Colorado town we visited that's just bursting with brewers. Watch out fellas. About all I can say in its favor is that I finished it, and that time passed successfully while I drank it. 4.5/10.


PORT BREWING - "MONGO IPA" - It's not like I can't find this beer in my home base of California, but what a lame-o experience to have a skunked, disgusting sour IPA right out of the bottle. It's been at least three years since I've had a beer that's gone bad in the bottle. No way am I pinning this one on the good people at Port. I mean - this is supposed to be a superlative IPA - right? It's not supposed to taste this way - right?

Thursday, July 14, 2011


That NEW BELGIUM BREWING “Lips of Faith” series has introduced a few ringers, hasn’t it? Let’s see – there was LA FOLIE, right, and then there was that LE FLEUR MISSEUR, and what else? Oh right, I know, this newish DUNKEL WEISS is one to beat the band as well. We don’t try too many dark wheats – or as the Germans say, “dunkel weisses” – around these parts. When we do, we likely and foolishly pass them up in flavor of some double IPA or something. Yet with the imprinteur of quality that has become the “Lips of Faith” seal of rarity and quality, we decided to give this one a gander. You know what? We’re happy we did.

NEW BELGIUM DUNKEL WEISS hits the glass dark and mysterious. It’s a black one, and the woody, malty smell of it provides similar confirmation that this is a rich and murky ale. What I got straight out of the chute was the taste of plum, with cherry being a faint and secondary flavor. Oh course, there’s the obvious “wheat” taste as well, but this isn’t your mama’s hefeweizen. It’s a woody, plummy, malty, dark and delicious expectation-exceeder from the same tanks & pumps that make the Fat Tire Ale you’re always ragging on. 8.5/10.

Friday, July 1, 2011


Unless you’re a film critic or a film-going maniac (therefore someone unencumbered by job, family and daily concerns), it’s patently ridiculous to put out a “Top 10 films” list at the end of a given year. But I did it anyway. After seeing Derek Cianfrance’s phenomenal “BLUE VALENTINE” on DVD this past week, I need to amend my list to the following ten best:

1. BLACK SWAN (my review is here)
3. CYRUS (my review is here)
4. THE WHITE RIBBON (my review is here)
5. WINTER’S BONE (my review is here)
6. NYMPH (my review is here)
7. TOY STORY 3 (my review is here)
8. ANIMAL KINGDOM (my review is here)
9. INCEPTION (my review is here)
10. THE LOTTERY (my review is here)

I call it Cianfrance’s film, but this is just as much an actors’ and a writers’ film as it is a director’s. Concerning the dissolving marriage of two hastily-married young people, played in career-making roles respectively by Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, “BLUE VALENTINE” is as bitter, raw and uncomfortable as any Bergman or Cassavetes film, and even more visually arresting. I know it got a lot of film critic love when it came out, but the only thing standing between this excellent work and wider regard was just how seat-shifting difficult it is to watch, for married and unmarried alike. My wife contends that it should be required viewing for every teenager who thinks he/she’s in everlasting love and who deigns to get married young, and as she is on so many things (right honey?), my wife is right.

The film is told in a shifting tableau of present and past. In the present, Gosling’s a balding, paunchy f*ck-up who doesn’t want to go to work and prefers to drink & smoke all day while (capably) looking after the couple’s young daughter. Williams is a harried working mom who, due to her husband’s completely inability to grow up, is basically mothering two children while being mostly incapable of doing so. In the past, these two were beautiful losers who found each other serendipitously. A true “rescue marriage” on both ends, they are shown with increasingly revealing flashbacks to have come together out of desperation and the need for someone to love them. Of course, sometimes with maturity, these marriages work out wonderfully. This one does not, and the film shows its final destruction (the long-building resentments are both voiced and implied) over the course of about 48 hours.

Williams is an absolute revelation. I had no idea that she could so convincingly portray a pixie-cute teenager and a weathered working mother at the same time. Gosling I’ve never really cottoned to before this film, thinking him totally overrated in his supposed breakthrough “HALF NELSON”. In fact in the first 5 minutes of this film, I hated him already – which is exactly the idea. It wasn’t the actor, it was the character – and it’s a measure of his talents and that of the crew that put this together that by the end, I was rooting for him & sympathized with his plight almost as much as I wanted to strangle him for his stupidity and violence. The arguments between the characters – actually, the inability to effectively argue, out of love or out of pride – are right out of real life. I’ve been there. You’ve been there. This film needs a cult following at least half as big as that of “SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE”. I’m not saying it’s in that league yet, but it’s not far, and with some time and rumination, this too might take on the status of a true classic.