The Cross-Country Pub Crawl

Brian and Wife at Cooper Smith’sIt wasn’t planned. Originally, when I was thinking about the roadtrip, I envisioned a rolling herf. A sedan with a perpetual haze and rich smell of tobacco permanently infused into the vehicle’s upholstery. Well, that’s not quite the way things worked out.

It may have been our lack of luck in finding decent tobacconists in our travels. (Google maps, it seems, is unable to distinguish between convenience stores and cigar shops.) Or it could be that my co-pilot, Mr. “Monkey Poo” Harris didn’t like to smoke while he was driving. Either way, the air was a lot less hazy in that cabin than I expected. That isn’t to say we didn’t smoke some good cigars. We definitely did. But what stole the show was the brew pubs and their small scale microbrews.

It started out by accident. We pulled over in Hood River, OR to stop for lunch, and noticed a sign for the Full Sail Brewing Company and decided to stop in to have some good pub food and a beer. Once we were in there, we decided, what the heck, why not do a sampler? And then it happened again in Salt Lake City, UT. After that it became a mission. And then after a few more, we started keeping score. By the end of the trip, we had done samplers at seven different brewpubs in seven different states, and had ranked them from best to worst after several lengthy discussions.

So here’s where we went, what we drank and what we thought of it, beginning with the pub we liked the least, and working up to our favorite. Enjoy!

Squatters Sampler

#7 Sqatters Pub Brewery
Salt Lake City, UT
In spite of the great atmosphere and funny drink names (“Poligamy Porter”) the brews just didn’t cut the mustard. But it’s not entirely their fault, unless you blame them for opening up shop in a city (or state?) that doesn’t allow draught beer to have a higher alcohol content than 3.2%. So as you might expect, these initially promising beers had a very watery, unsatisfying finish. The beers we had here quickly became a yardstick by which we compared other breweries offerings.

5 Seasons Sampler

#6 5 Seasons Brewing
Atlanta, GA
It pains me that a local Atlanta brewpub ranked so low in our esteem. Between the ill-prepared, overpriced food (Four bucks for a small plate of cold edamame? C’mon! And those crutons were very stale!), poor service (our waiter was clearly hating his job) and uninspired beer, we had no choice to put this almost at the end of the list. Almost the end. The beer here, while nothing to get excited about, at least it wasn’t like drinking colored water. There is hope for this place, the two beers they were out of when we visited may be fantastic. And maybe that waiter will wake up and realize his calling isn’t food service.

Bluegrass Sampler

#5 Bluegrass Brewing Company
Louisville, KY
The funny thing about this brew pub is that the best beers they make weren’t available in the sampler! We had several great ones at an Irish pub next door, including a tasty stout that didn’t appear on the menu and isn’t listed on the website. Overall, these beers were kind of hit and miss. Aside from the tasty Bourbon Barrel Smoked Porter and the stout with the long name I’ve forgotten, the most memorable was the Dort which tasted very much like bananas. Very much. Mr. “Monkey Poo” Harris also was very keen on the Drunkelweizen.

Granite City Sampler

#4 Granite City Brewery
Sioux Falls, MN SD
This pub was another complete surprise. By the time we rolled into Sioux Falls, we were dead tired, and would have settled for any place to get a burger before hitting the sack. We walked in, and hot damn, it was a brewery. It was around this time that we realized that our calling on this trip was to sample and review as many beers as possible.

We were a little conflicted about putting this on the list, though. It wasn’t that the beer wasn’t good. In fact, it was all very tasty. The thing is that the establishment isn’t a pure microbrewery. It’s part of a chain. And in an effort to maintain a consistent quality in their beers, their wort/unfinished-pre-beer is shipped in, and the final stages of the process takes place locally. Mr. Monkey Poo is a bit of a purist, but I’m a bit of a slacker. And since I’m the one writing the blog, I’m gonna let ’em slide on this technicality. They were very nice (the manager came out and talked with us at length about the beer and the business) and the beer was good. That’s enough for me.

I’d say more about the beers specifically, but I can’t seem to get to their beer list on the website! I can say that I don’t recall disliking a single one.

Full Sail Sampler

#3 Full Sail Brewing Company
Hood River, OR
I’m probably a bit biased, as an Oregon native from Portland, but there’s plenty of Portland beer available, so there’s no need to artificially inflate the ratings of an single Oregon beer. As with Granite City’s brews, the entire Full Sail line was very enjoyable, but there was clearly a star of the show. Since I’ve been away, a beer called Session seems to have become a very, very popular brew in the area. And I can see why. I tasted it and was immediately in love. Light, flavorful, crisp and refreshing. An excellent summer beer. I liked it so much, I bought a case of the little grenade-shaped bottles it comes in and drove it all the way out to Atlanta. And that’s saying something. There were only three beers I brought back with me, and the other two were Golden Valley’s Red Thistle Ale and New Belgium’s Fat Tire. That’s very good company to be in. (To be fair, Bridgeport is available out here, otherwise I would have brought that out here too. Though the porter isn’t, and I couldn’t find any… 😦 )

Funny thing about the “grenade” shape. One of those babies went off between Kentucky and Tennessee! My trunk still smells like beer!

Yazoo Sampler

#2 Yazoo Brewing Company
Nashville, TN
This taster almost didn’t happen. When Google maps lead us to an old warehouse with no signage in a sketchy part of Nashville (complete with bridges and rough looking vagrants hanging out under those bridges), we nearly left. When we walked in and there was no seating, we nearly left. When we discovered that they didn’t sell food, we nearly left. Fortunately, less sober heads prevailed and we worked out way up to the bar and snagged a table at the same time.

As you can probably tell from the picture above, the “samplers” we ordered were less like samples and more like a round of drinks for a sales department lunch. Immediately we had a warm fuzzy for the place, and it wasn’t too long before warm and fuzzy was all we had going on.

It’s hard to say a beer stood out here, they were all excellent. I know I really enjoyed their “Hop Project” super-duper experimental IPA (I forget the exact name), as well as the ESB and the porter. Heck, I just love that they make a porter. I don’t see a lot of those anymore, and it’s a tasty beer.

So there’s good news and bad news about this place. The bad news is that it looks like you can only get their beer in Tennessee. The good news (for me that is), is that it’s close enough for me that I’d consider a quick weekend trip up there to pick up a Growler or two.

If you happen to be passing through the area, don’t miss this gem!

CooperSmith’s Sampler

#1 CooperSmith’s Pub & Brewing
Fort Collins, CO
As soon as I saw they had chili beer on menu, I knew I’d found a special place. That’s right, chili beer. As in hot chilis. I know that probably sounds weird, but believe me it’s good. It’s good enough that it’s on their menu year round! It’s more of a distinct jalapeño flavor in the aftertaste than a noticeable flavor during the drink. Think of it like drinking alcoholic nachos. No, on second thought, don’t. Oh yeah, and I forgot about the Cherry ale!

As was the case with Yazoo, the sampler came out looking like the drink order for a group of Irish salesmen. (Kiss me, I’m Irish!) To be honest, I don’t think any of us remember a lot about this evening, other than loving the beer, and the staggeringly large list of available brews. According to the website, there are 14 different beers on tap; several of those being variations on the Pale Ale. That’s what I’m talkin’ about! I really wish more brewpubs did that. Why have one Pale Ale, when you can have three?

In addition to having one of the largest lists of beers we saw the whole trip, it had a great atmosphere and very accomodating staff. We sat al fresco even though the seating area was closed, drinking our many beers, watching college-aged skateboarders falling down stairways and tripping over their baggy crack-pants in the surrounding pedestrian mall. Good times. And to think we probably would never have gone there if New Belgium had been open when we rolled into town!

And with that we’re done. I’ll leave you the way my esteemed friend “Monkey Poo” Harris left us most evenings. Abruptly out cold. Cheers!

Monkey Poo Harris, Out Cold
“Monkey Poo” Harris has left the building…

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Global Warming: Saving The World One Hippie Jamfest At A Time

Hippie Jam Fest, Portuguese StyleFirst it was Bruce Willis. Now it’s the Arctic Monkeys (website). Finally celebrities and musicians are starting to make sense. It’s scary. What the heck am I talking about? I’m talking about a growing number of famous folk that finally realize that celebrity does not equal an advanced degree in medical science. Or political science. Or climatology. It’s the “I only play one on TV” concept that was once obvious to everyone, but in recent years has become uncommon sense.

In a recent article, Matt Helders, the drummer for the Arctic Monkeys had this to say when asked for his news-worthy thoughts on Global Warming / Climate Change / Honey-I-think-the-thermometer’s-broken:

“There’s more important people who can have an opinion. Why does it make us have an opinion because we’re in a band?”

A-fricken-men, Mr. Helders! There are more important people who can and do have an opinion. An opinion based on careful research. They’re called scientists. I don’t mean to diminish you in the slightest as a musician or a person (I really do like “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”). I just want to say I love it that you choose to focus on your abilities on creating catchy tunes, where they’re best suited. And while you do that, I’ll focus on programming websites for security firms, insurance companies and banks, because that’s what I do. And you know what? The scientific community will be OK diagnosing and resolving the problems that arise in their sphere of expertise. Remarkably well, even without our considered opinions.

That quote alone makes the article worth reading. But it gets even better. He also points out the irony and hypocrisy of the Live Earth concerts that keeps his band from attending:

“It’s a bit patronising for us 21 year olds to try to start to change the world… Especially when we’re using enough power for 10 houses just for (stage) lighting. It’d be a bit hypocritical,” he [Matt Helders] told AFP in an interview before a concert in Paris.

Bass player Nick O’Malley chimes in: “And we’re always jetting off on aeroplanes!”

Yep, it’s a massive concert series promoting, among other things, reduced consumption of power and resources. Featuring some of the largest power consumers on the planet. Of course, the this particular concert, according to the website will implement “Green Guidelines”, but will those musicians commit to following the same guidelines in their future concerts? And you’re telling me all the people attending the concerts get there by bike or bus? That green is starting to turn a little brown if you ask me.

Call me cynical, but I don’t see the point to this concert. Like the massive hippie jam festival in the classic South Park “Die, Hippie, Die” episode (see partial clip below), it’s a great excuse for people to get together, drink, smoke, socialize and listen to music, but it what exactly does that accomplish? (I’m not saying any of those activities are bad, mind you!) It’s not spreading awareness, hell, you can’t turn on the TV or radio without hearing heated debate on Global Warming. Every time something even slightly unusual happens with the weather these days, somebody brings up Global Warming. If anything, it’s diluting awareness. People like me are already tuning out on the subject.

“Let’s have, like, a week long music festival. Draw everyone here and then together we can tear it all down.” (6:30)

The beautiful deceit of the whole thing is, musicians continue to do what they were doing already (playing music at concerts and scoring with groupies) but now suddenly they get automatic kudos for “trying” to save the planet. (From a marketing stand point, its pure genius.) Well if that’s all it takes to save the planet, I call a Live Earth Bender! It’ll take place the last week of August, and I encourage everyone to go out and get plowed for a week. (Yep, I was already gonna do that on my previously mentioned road trip, but hey, now I’m spreading awareness, man! Instant Karma!)

OK, I hope nobody reads this as a Global-Warming-is-bunk post. I have my doubts, but I think it’s smart to hedge our bets and take the greener path whenever practical. (I hate fluorescent lights, but we’re using the compact fluorescents at home. The sacrifices I make… 😉 ) And that’s about as far as I’m going on it. I’m not interested in debating the topic, it’s too much like politics now. And politics is one of the three forbidden subjects for this blog. (Religion and the Great Pumpkin are the other two.) And as I mentioned earlier, I’m just apathetic.

However, you might not be. Being the fantastic blogger I am, I anticipated that possibility. So if you are interested in an extremely well-reasoned discussion of the topic, I invite you check out Scott Adam’s four-part Global Warming mini-series on the Dilbert Blog (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4). As apathetic as I am on the topic, I even found it interesting. You may not agree with his conclusions, but you have to give him kudos for a very fair, thorough handling of the subject.

I guess it goes with out saying that Matt Helders is one cool monkey. 😀

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The Third, The Fourth And The Simpsons Road Trip Crew

Antoni Gaudi’s Sun MosaicWell I hope you have your bottle of Madeira wine ready! Why, you ask? Ah, I see you have forgotten. No problem, your humble blog-esponent is here to keep you on track. As I mentioned in a previous doozy of a boozy post, Madeira wine, due largely to it’s incredibly long lifespan was, the beverage the founding fathers of the United States used to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence. (I just knew I should have held off on that post until July!) Friends, allies, and anybody who is indifferent but wishes us no harm (I’m thinking about you Switzerland), feel free to join in. 🙂

So happy 4th of July, and happy birthday America! Cheers! 😀 I hope you all will join me in reflecting on the freedoms we have that we take for granted. (And for cigar smokers, some irritable grumbling regarding our eroding freedom to enjoy a fine stogie.)

So I don’t have a long an interesting post to share today. I just thought it would be terribly negligent for me not to post something. Even in spite of the previous evening excesses. The highlights:

  • A Rocky Patel Vintage 1990 Toro – After smoking so many 1992’s, I was surprised at the flavor. Very different than the 1992. Initially, I think I like the ’92 better flavor-wise, but I have quite a few more to try before I decide. I will say that I’m disappointed by it’s burn. Very uneven in both my and my friend’s cigar. And mine just didn’t want to stay lit. It could have be the conditions, so again, I’ll wait to pass judgment on it until I have a few more.
  • Port, Muscat, and Argentinean Malbec Wine – The port was your average resturaunt fare, nothing special. The Malbec was enjoyable, but it was the Muscat that really impressed me. I’ve never tried it before, and I really enjoyed it. Like port, it’s a dessert wine, but was a noticeably different flavor. But I’ll be damned if I can remember what that was. Yep, it was that good of a night. 😉
  • A Sancho Panza Double Maduro Quixote – I picked this one up because it came recommended as a good value purchase by one of the guys from The Stogie Review on last week’s Dog Watch Social Club show (download it here). It smoked like a dream. Though it didn’t strike me as particularly complex, I really enjoyed it, especially after the naughty Rocky Patel. I’ll have to pick up some more.
  • A Don Benigno Petite Robusto – According to one of the guys in the local tobacco shop, it was the best cigar in their humidor. I’m not sure that I agree with that, but I did find it interesting. My initial thoughts was that it was kind of like smoking movie popcorn. It was creamy, and I got a noticeably salty flavor from it. Very unusual, fortunately I have another to try to see my palate was blown by all the port and scotch. 🙂 (Note: The one I smoked was the size of the petite robusto, but had the band of the Perla. No such cigar is shown on the website.)
  • 30-year old Ardbeg – A very smooth, but peaty single malt scotch, provided by an extremely generous friend. I’ll consider it payment for my cigar consultation in the humidor earlier in the day. 😉

And now, on a completely unrelated note, kudos to Emon for alerting us to the Simpson’s Avatar maker! I started screwing around with it, and before you know it, I’d made the avatars for the entire roadtrip crew! And here it is, for your viewing pleasure. Now run out and make your own. Hurry, don’t miss the fireworks!

The RoadTrip Crew
From left to right: “Monkey Poo” Harris, Brian and Brian’s hot, exotic wife.

Sucker-Punch Sopranos Sunday

Antoni Gaudi’s Sun MosaicSunday beat me up something horrible. Like a guy with and overdue debt in the back alley behind the Bada Bing, I went to bed last night hurtin’. But not for the reason you might think. I wasn’t experiencing physical symptoms resulting from getting emotional over end of The Sopranos. Oh sure, I watched it. I wouldn’t miss it. A team of wild dancers from The Bing couldn’t keep me from it. (I think. I’d really like to test that theory to be sure. 😈 )

What had me down and out, more worthless than Homer Simpson at a nuclear power plant, was the sun. Did you know an afternoon drinking in the sun is the express train to a fantastically horrendous hangover? It may also surprise you that high SPF sunblock is not an adequate barrier between you and the ol’ temple jackhammer. Somehow, I forgot these important life lessons as I floated there on Lake Lanier smugly puffing on an Ashton Maduro #10 and knocking back Old Scratch Ambers. (That’s a pretty awesome combination, I might add. Minus the sun on my formerly pale skin, that is.)

So I had already been worked over by the time I was lying listlessly on the couch in front of boob-tube, double-fisting cold-brewed coffee (a subject for another post) and tankard of ice water. Lemme tell ya, in that scene where Tony walks in the hospital room were Silvio lies comatose, I really identified with Silvio. So it was, with squinty eyes, a cranium in an invisible vice, and lots of fluids I watched the final episode of the Sopranos.

But before I get into what I thought about the Sopranos series finale, let me just say, I called it. Well, sort of. I really saw one of two likely scenarios happening, based on the second to last episode. In the first, and probably most popular scenario, a giant, bloody massacre, reminiscent of the gangland slayings back in the prohibition era. While that might have made for some amazing cinematography, with intentional visual effects to clue the audience in on the timelessness of mobster violence, it really seemed unlikely to me.

These guys are no dummies. The head honchos of both sides kept low profiles, they both knew that a face to face confrontation would be one neither of them would walk away from. So an Italian restaurant full of well dressed Italian men shooting each other was really unlikely. Tony’s team had already holed-up in two story house, so you knew it wasn’t gonna go down in The Bing either. If the series was going to end bloody, the second to last episode would have been the last. Leotardo‘s goons screwed up. To win it they had to hit Tony first and then Silvio instead of wasting time on Bobby. Whacking Bobby first was like screaming “Yo Joe!” right before your sneak attack on Cobra’s headquarters: stupid. Fatally stupid.

So the other scenario, and the one I expected, was the Tony-lives-and-life-goes-on (or Tony-wins) scenario. And as it turns out, I was right. As I mentioned in the discussion for the bloodbath scenario, both bosses are smart guys. It just turns out that Tony had better connections, which both gave him Leotardo’s whereabouts and got him out of hot water. In the end, it probably was his counseling-enhanced diplomatic skills that saved his bacon. There was a reason that study was brought up in the previous episode.

OK, so what did I think of the end? I thought it was great. I liked it for a number of reasons. And I’m gonna give ’em to you in list form.

  1. It pissed a lot of people off. And that makes for a lot of fun reading. Mr. Chase essentially said, “Hey, this is my show. It ends how I want it to end. You gotta problem with that?” Yes, a lot of people do! But nobody can accuse the guy of being a sell out. 🙂
  2. It was unexpected (by people other than me). And I kept looking at the clock and thinking things like, “OK, Tony, you just gotta make it another 8 minutes.” I was pretty sure I was right, but I had to keep watching to be sure. It could have turned on a dime.
  3. It leaves the door open for a movie (or future episodes). This is the real reason I wanted it to work out the way it did. I didn’t want this series to end, and I like the idea that there could be a Sopranos movie on the horizon. (I don’t know how well the show would translate to a movie, but I still like the idea.) Or better yet, the series could be resurrected, bringing us back to items #1 and #2.
  4. It was consistent. Nothing about this story was ever clean, or neatly tied up with a bow. It’s been a dirty mess since before episode one and is still a dirty mess after the final episode. I watched this final season wondering how on earth they were ever gonna tie everything up. But as the show stomped forward, ignoring things unresolved, it became clear to me that it couldn’t realistically be done in one episode. Nor would there be an attempt to.
  5. It made a boring meal at a restaurant the most tense and talked about thing on TV. If you weren’t tense watching the final scene you were on something. And whatever that was, it was probably illegal.

As one of the articles I read roughly said, you get the impression that life continues, but you can’t watch it happen. And that is really pissing a lot of people off. People like Nikki Finke, who thinks people should express their lack of approval for the show’s final episode by pulling their HBO subscription. Talk about entertainment, peoples’ angry reactions to the show is possibly more entertaining than the show itself!

Oh yeah, one last thing. The second sucker-punch of the day. The abrupt black screen. Yeah, I’ll admit it, I was caught off guard by that. (My cable service is pretty crummy, so it wasn’t the first time my screen went black during the Sopranos.) When the screen went blank, you would have thought somebody spoke out of line in the back office of The Bing. My wife and I in unison yelled “OHHHH!” 🙂

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5 Alcohol Facts You’re Better Off Not Knowing

But of course, you’ll make a point of finding out anyways. I’ve been thinking about (i.e. putting off) writing this post for at least a month now, or however long it’s been since I finished reading Alcoholica Esoterica. This book is a great tongue-in-cheek read that covers all the miscellaneous trivia you could ever possibly want to know about alcohol. And at least a few things you just don’t want to know. Like British admiral Nelson being preserved in a giant giant keg of rum after he was killed in a battle at sea. And the ship hands continuing to drink said rum. (Now you know, and there’s no amount of scrubbing, showering and gargling that’ll clean that tidbit from your gray matter. You’re welcome. 😈 )

Here, in no particular order, are the promised facts about booze you can live a happy life not knowing. (Warning: bringing these items up at parties will not make you popular.)

Yeast poop. When you get right down to it, the happy juice that makes you such a fun guy in your 20’s and makes you a fat irritable bastard by your 30’s is yeast poop. Yeast eat sugar and drop a big, steaming loads of booze wherever they go. And they fart a lot too. Ever wonder what gives your bubbly its sparkly magic? About a million little guys with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, that’s what. Kinda reminds you of that Futurama Slurm episode, doesn’t it? (Sorry, couldn’t find the clip I’m thinking about on YouTube. You have been spared! 😉 )

[UPDATE: Eternal thanks to Dana for finding this awesome flash video of the process on the BBC website! (Read article it came from here.)]

Beer, our debt to ancient Sumerians. We owe beer to a lazy Sumerian with a bad sense of hygiene, an iron stomach and a bunch of equally shiftless friends. Rumor has it that the first beer was a loaf of bread that was left on the sill too long. With ample time, the airborne paradise-poopers previously discussed collected on it and started doing what they do best. So when our lazy ancient brother took a mouthful (you know he didn’t bother to slice it), it knocked him on his ass. When he woke up he went to all his friends and said “you gotta try this”. Proving that nature rewards people for being slobs. Or makes them blind.

The bride’s ale. We got the word “Bridal” from drunk, slurring 19th century Englishmen. Looking for any excuse to drink, those lushes from across the pond determined it was important to have a “Bride Ale” to celebrate his fellow man’s loss of independence. (Any excuse would do in the 19th century, there were also “foot ales”, “walking stick ales”, and “cuckoo ales”. Cuckoo ales, because there’s 24 reasons to drink in a day!) Of course the drinking made the lads hungry and thus the “Bride Ale” evolved into the modern day wedding reception. And before long the word “Bridal” came to refer to everything involved with getting hitched.

Beauty in the naughtiness of fishes. Prolific alcoholic W.C. Fields had a concise reason for not drinking water. And I quote: Fish f*ck in it. The irony of course is that yeast poops in his beverage of choice, which is arguably more disagreeable to the palate, theoretically. Thus proving that whatever you choose to consume, something nasty happened in it on its long journey to you mouth.

The magic of yeast flatulence. We already covered the source of bubbly, but I don’t think you yet realize the full, other-worldly potency of this gas. Did you know that a raisin dropped in a glass of fresh flute of champagne will continuously circulate from the bottom to the top and back again until the end of time? (Or until the yeast farts are all spent, whichever happens first.) Try it. And do me a favor, let me know how it works. I haven’t had a chance to try it yet.

Bonus Fact: Toasting the declaration. Did you know the founding fathers of the U.S. toasted the signing of the declaration of independence? They did. Care to hazard a guess what they toasted with? I can guarantee you got it wrong. It wasn’t Sam Adams! It was Madeira wine. Never heard of it? I’m not surprised. Neither had I before we went to Portugal. It’s the indestructible cousin of port wine that comes from Portuguese islands 360 miles off the coast of Morocco. And it was precisely this beverage’s ability to withstand years of exposure to the open air, unscathed, that allowed it to make the long sea journey to the colonial United States.

If these tasty tidbits have your mouth watering for more, go grab a brew, and consider picking up the book. (But not at the same time, I think that’s illegal in most states.) Anyways, I really enjoyed the book, and I think you will too. (You know you need a new book for the restroom, you’ve already read that September issue of Reader’s Digest cover to cover twice, and it wasn’t all that great of an issue anyway.) And because I’m such a nice guy, I’ll tell you that you may be able to find it in on of those outlet mall book stores for around four bucks. I did. (Sorry Sony Reader aficionados, it’s not listed in the Sony eBook store. 😦 Hey, I tried.)

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5 Passive-Aggressive Super Heroes (And Baldwin-Tron)

Alec Baldwin on 30 RockOne of the dangers of excessive blogging is that it opens a brain-geyser of random nonsense that doesn’t stop flowing when your head hits the pillow at night. And for me, its often still flowing when I wake up in the morning. Friday morning, as I was trying to get to the office, my brain had fixed on two things. Passive-aggressiveness and super powers.

I think it had something to do with a poll I found online the previous day regarding the virtues of being able to change water to Colt 45 versus the ability to summon the Baldwins to do your bidding. (Please note that Colt 45 is not featured in my parallel universe Irish pub. It is, however, available in the alley behind it.) Apparently my comment was uproariously funny to be accepted by the blog’s owner (I can understand that, I’d hate to draw attention away from his poll with my witty banter).

My thoughts on the matter is that summoning the Baldwin brothers would be a great thing if you call them individually for specific task (“Quickly Alec, that kid’s being a selfish little pig! Use your power of scathing voicemail!“), or all together, if you were shooting a bad action movie. Or a funny, self-deprecating TV show about showbiz. The deal would be made even sweeter if they could all come together to form Baldwin-Tron to fight Godzilla. Or the Decepticons.

Anyway, back to passive-aggressiveness and super powers. Combining the two, I’ve compiled a list of likely super heroes/villains that you should watch out for:

The Tire Flattener
This super hero has the ability to flatten all the tires of any car improperly or illegally parked. Meaning that if your tire is touching a yellow stripe or your bumper is resting over a handy capped pavement graphic, one glare from this irate super hero will have you calling a tow truck.

However the Tire Flattener is powerless against a properly parked vehicle. And traveling vehicles, for that matter. And angry assholes toting tire-irons who park improperly, but are able to put two and two together. One evening the Flattener will himself be flattened and found laying in the tracks of a monster-jacked-up truck in his own lawn.

The Eavesdropper
The Eavesdropper could be friend or could be foe, but will always be a pain in the ass. He has the ability to hear past dialog by standing in the same place as the person who spoke earlier. The challenge here is that people rarely stand still while talking, which means this guy has to play charades with himself to get the full scoop. This leads the Eavesdropper to perform no end of ridiculous activities. Alone. And sometimes in office supply closet.

The thing that keeps this villain from achieving levels of greatness in the corporate world is that everybody hates a gossip, especially one with a quiver full of daggers with everyone’s name on them. They have the uncanny natural ability to alienate. Combine this with his weird antics alone in the board room and supply closet, he’s destined for short flight to the sidewalk outside the company’s front door. But not before he spills the beans to everyone on Peggy and Bill’s forbidden office affair, outs Tom in accounting, and gets you fired for toilet papering the boss’s car. (Hey, if you wanted to get away with it, you shouldn’t have had that whispered conversation in the conference room.)

The Trash Teleporter
This cranky office laborer is annoyed by other people’s messes. And when her rage builds to the point that blood vessels tango on her forehead, she assumes the power to beam a heap of garbage directly onto the pillow of the offending party.

The good news is that her secret power is never wrong. The bad news is that she never gets the satisfaction of seeing the look on the slob’s face when he finds the balled-up, half-used stack of paper towels he threw on the break room floor on his bed after a hard day of being a messy prick. This lack of closure will ultimately lead to her succumbing to a massive heart attack, but not before doubling the price of Bed Bath and Beyond stock. (You know, ‘cuz they sell bedding. Get it? No? Well, your blog isn’t funny either. I’m kidding. I love you blog. Really. It’s the only one for me.)

The Tear Jerker
This jerk is able to summon ambient moisture in the atmosphere and direct it into a persons eyes and throat, making them appear to be totally losing it. Though he will use this in meetings to emasculate his competitors for the open position in upper management, this bastard prefers to use his power on underlings in public. The combination of uncontrollable sobbing of a coworker with the heavy pepper of his ridicule in a public setting is his caviar.

Though more deserving than most super villains to be defeated utterly (but as passive aggressively as possible), this ass will continue to thrive well into old age. Ultimately, he will make it to the top of several large corporations, pillaging them one by one, screwing shareholders and employees alike by expensing luxurious personal vacations in the French Riviera and acquiring other poorly-managed irrelevant businesses so he can get their product for free.

His only weakness is unbalanced, unrealistically beautiful women. He will realize this flaw only moments before one shoots him aboard the “corporate” yacht at the ripe old age of 89. His power will be useless, because this synthetic beauty will already be crying, and likely on a nearly lethal combination of pain killers and antidepressants. Hey, it was a good run, jerk.

The Petard Hoister
This villain has the magical ability to steer people toward courses of thought, speech and action that ultimately result in them being “hoist on their own petard.” He has a supernatural talent for drawing out people’s natural inclination to try to screw the him, and even boasts the ability to cultivate the desire when none previously existed. In short, the Petard Hoister is a bastard.

Though the source of numerous career suicides, untimely deaths involving explosives and computer mice and two freak car accidents, the Petard Hoister is truly untouchable. And by virtue of the inherent convolution of his power, he is likely to remain that way, at least until his backfire backfires. Until then he lurks as a consultant I.T. world, and blogs in his spare time about passive-aggressive super heroes.

Having achieved the necessary volume of narcissism required on a per-post basis by this blog, we draw our super hero list to a close. Be safe out there, and clean up after yourselves. Feel free to use these ideas in this post for a summer movie blockbuster. All I ask is that I’m listed in the credits as “executive production stallion”. And a million bucks. And merchandising. I really don’t think that’s asking too much.

And careful about those mean thoughts you have about me, they’re not good for you. 🙂

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If I Ran The Pub

Beer Means More Here“But if I chose the brew,”
Said Brian, beer guru,
“I’d make a few changes
That’s what I’d do…”

Though my reputation for alcohol consumption in certain circles has reached mythic levels reserved for naked, bearded Greek guys living on Mount Olympus, I have yet to actually discuss the matter of booze in any thorough manner. Well, I can’t allow this over sight to continue.

Imagine if you will, a parallel universe. In this alternate universe, I’m the new owner and operator of a Irish pub. And in this parallel dimension (which is heavily influenced by American television sitcoms) I’m magically able live a trendy lifestyle with comical problems that are generally resolved with in the hour.

Anyway, I have an important decision to make in my alternate universe. What beer will I put on tap? I’m not subject to weird protectionist booze inter-state/country import policies or odd restrictive laws that harsh real-life buzzes. Nor am I slowed down by limited productions of the rarer or seasonal beverages. Of course, as a resource, I can rely on the parallel real me, who drinks far more than he should, doesn’t resolve his problems nicely in an hour and faces the often unfortunate consequences of his misguided actions.

Between the two of us, we’ve come up with the following list, sorted by beer style for your reading pleasure.

India Pale Ale (IPA)
Bridgeport IPA – This hoppy award winner is a staple beer in Portland, Oregon. Recently it’s gotten a wider distribution. Seek this one out, it’s worth it. Or have your parallel self stop by my pub. My uncle from Virgina fell in love with it in one evening. He promised to never leave it, but he did have a plane to catch. The beer’s heart was broken. I think your love is all it needs to mend.

Sweetwater 420 – According to the website, this is a “West Coast Style Pale Ale” which is probably why its been my beer of choice the whole time I’ve lived in Hotlanta. It’s hoppy, it’s got a clean finish and it’s got an arbitrary number for a name. And it’s tasty. That’s all I need to tap the keg.

Amber / Red
Golden Valley Brewery Red Thistle Ale – This beer balances mysteriously between an Amber and an IPA, and is absolutely fantastic. In the real world, you better head to Oregon to find this gem. Even then, your only sure bet is heading to the sleepy little college town of McMinnville in the Oregon wine country.

Flying Dog Old Scratch Ale – I don’t know why, but I simply can’t put into words how much I like this beer. Nor can I understand why this is the single hardest Flying Dog brew to find. Fortunately, in my parallel universe pub, this guy is made exclusively for my pub. And its the most popular beer in the world. So business is good. (For research purposes only, I cracked one of these guys open. If a lightly hoppy, cinnamony malty beer sounds good to you, go pick up a cold six. If it doesn’t what’s wrong with you? Is the peer pressure not coming through strongly enough?)

New Belgium Fat Tire Amber Ale – This beer is sweeping the nation in real life. (I might hold that against it, if it weren’t such a great beer.) However due to the aforementioned weird voodoo booze-import policies, nearly every state in the union has this gem, except my adopted home of Georgia. This tasty “toated malt” flavored concoction of hops and yeast poop is so popular, it even appears in wikipedia. Resistance is futile, but the implants are so small, and the procedure nearly painless, you might as well get it over with.

Blonde / Hefeweizen
Caffrey’s (Official dead website) – This is the obscure Irish cousin of Boddingtons, that gets the same respect as the Irish did in the U.S. in the 19th century. The awesome thing about this beer, aside from the flavor, is the honey-colored Guinness-style cascade. In the real world, Coors owns the rights to U.S. distribution of this beer, and elects to sit on its giant corporate thumb instead of blessing us with this nectar. (If you want to see it in the U.S. again, give Coors a call at 1-800-642-6116).

Hoegaarden – With a double ‘a’ like that, you know its gotta be Belgian. It was over this cloudy, golden liquid heaven I seduced my then girlfriend with my wit, charm and fluid capacity. In the real world, this nectar is widely available in the bottle, and every now and then, on tap.

Leffe Blonde – Though I don’t get to enjoy this brew often, it merits a tap because it holds a special place in my heart. A place that probably was originally responsible for important blood circulation. In any event, this beer is responsible for my lack of memory of several Friday night chicken vindaloo trips I made to Brick Lane while I was working in London. It was also an unpleasant Saturday morning companion on the train to Edinburgh and Paris.

Stout / Brown / Porter
Guinness, Murphy’s Irish Stout and Beamish – This should come as no surprise to anybody. You have an Irish pub, you need an Irish beer. Especially for St. Patties. And I’m not going to discriminate, we’re boasting the full Irish stout trinity.

Bridgeport Porter – Not only do I love this beer for it’s caramelly-chocolaty goodness, we (meaning the beer and I) teamed up to corrupt my friend “I Don’t Like Beer” Dana. It’s a hard beer not to love. And for some reason porters are not a very easy beer to find. They’re so hard to find that you won’t even find a mention of it on the Bridgeport website!

Peroni – I first tried this in Italian train station. The kind of place that featured guys with pencil-thin facial hair and immaculately pressed pastel Armani outfits. So a typical Italian train station. I was as dry as a prune and happy to sample a local beverage. This one surprised me. For a light beer it was crisp and delicious. And the good news for those of you firmly stuck in reality, it’s probably available in your area.

Tiger Beer – This is on the list because I want a beer from southeast Asia. And I’ve had to many rough experiences with Singha. (Mark, if you’re reading this, you know what I’m talkin’ about!) This beer won by heart by virtue of being free during happy hour in the executive lounge in the JW Marriott in K.L. And the ads they ran before movies in Malaysia were so ridiculously funny.

Fruity/Odd Ball
McMenamins Ruby – This beer, like the McMenamins pub chain is a pacific northwest cult favorite. The ruby is basically a raspberry hefeweizen. But its hard to focus on the beer when surrounded by the surreal, quirky hotels, schools and theaters they serve it in. Though my parallel universe pub is Irish, it would definitely steal a page from the McMenamins design handbook.

21st Amendment Watermelon Wheat – This beer was a hit with my wife, my friend Cowan, and his wife also at the 2006 Oregon Brewers Festival. I thought it wasn’t bad either. What can I say, I’m a man of the people. I want my parallel universe customers to be happy, and this beer was out faster than any other beer at the brewfest. Wanna drink one in real life? Head to San Francisco. Hold on there! Quit the humming and drop the flowers, we’re talking about beer.

Jalapeño Chili Beer – This was a seasonal beer put out by a California brewery for the 1996 Oregon Brewers Festival. To my knowledge this beer has been lost to time (and the internet) in the real world. (I’ve seen some evidence that it might have been a product of the late Russell Schehrer, head brewer of Wynkoop Brewing Company…) But, in my parallel-universe, Irish pub paradise, I can resurrect this beer and serve it. Because everyone should have the opportunity to taste a beer that tastes like hot nacho cheese with jalapeños. Even when it’s cold. Kind of like the jelly bean that tastes like buttered popcorn. Only this guy will get you drunk, and as a bonus, will wreak havoc on your digestive system. 😈 Hey, I never said my pub had to be practical. And just try to tell me that that wouldn’t be bottled awesomeness.

So whaddaya think? Up for a trip to McBrian’s? (Maybe I should all it O’Brian’s?) Feel free to recommend a beverage to add to the list, the parallel reality Brian has no trouble with distributors! 🙂

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Six Unusal Free eBooks On My Reading List

The Sony eBook ReaderThe thing about blogging is that it tends to steal bits of your time away from daily activities, if you let it. And I’ve been letting it run rampant. Happily though, in my situation, it seems to mostly be cannibalizing my TV time, which is wasted time anyway. But unfortunately it has also been sneaking bites out of my reading time.

Now that my wife has read all the things she’s interested in reading on my Sony Reader (meaning I can use it again), I plan to reclaim some of that time. As an incentive to get myself reading again, I’ve picked a list of the most random, intriguing and off-the-wall books I could find for free on ManyBooks.

Here, more or less in the order I’ve found them, are my selections:

Trapped by Malays by George Manville Fenn – From what I can gather, this is a turn of the (last) century English colonial adventure story that takes place on the Malay peninsula (probably somewhere in modern day Malaysia). News and stories about Malaysia are few and far between where I live now, and I always make a point to check out anything I come across relating to my wife’s home. (I always have to chuckle whenever I hear the word “Malays”, it sounds just like “malaise“. It’s an almost irresistible call for a witty pun. Almost. 🙂 )

The Practical Distiller by Samuel McHarry – As the subtitle to the books says, it’s “An Introduction To Making Whiskey, Gin, Brandy, Spirits, &c. &c. of Better Quality, and in Larger Quantities, than Produced by the Present Mode of Distilling, from the Produce of the United States.” Sounds like a must read for anybody interested in making a bit of moonshine or bathtub gin! This will be especially interesting to me because my friends took me on a tour of an Oregon distillery as part of my recent all-day bachelor party. (Eat your heart out, I got to try a little somethin’ right from the still! “Mmmm… this tastes like blindness!” 😀 )

King Solomon’s Mines and Allan Quatermain by H. Rider Haggard – These are the books that inspired the Allan Quatermain character in the truly unfortunate movie The League of Extraordinary Gentleman. If one thing positive can be said for that movie, it forever locked Sean Connery in my head as Allan Quatermain, which can only help make these books more fun to read.

The Hacker’s Dictionary by Eric S. Raymond – This is the youngest book on this list, being a mere 15 years old (1992) as of this writing. It also has the chance of being a book that is impossible to read in the conventional sense, if it truly is a dictionary. However, I’m gonna take a stab at it, and I may just fire up the movie Hackers (1995) to get me in the mood. (The most up to date version of this book can also be found online here, under the name The Jargon File).

The Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas De Quincey – All I can say is that it’s hard to pass up a title like that. Based on the excerpt listed with it, it could be a pompous, insufferable read. If it is, I hope it will so bad that its actually makes a good, but unitentional, comedy. Based on the wikipedia page dedicated to the book, it was considered both “taboo” during its Victoria era context, due at least in part to the description of Mr. De Quincey’s opium trips in great detail. Perhaps it will be a pretentious R-rated Alice in Wonderland?

If any of these sound interesting to you, check ’em out. Maybe we can compare notes later. And if you do enjoy them, consider making a small donation to ManyBooks. I plan to. They really provide an awesome service to eBooks fans. Happy reading!

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CAO Sopranos Associate: A Cigar Is Not A Box

CAO Sopranos AssociateIn my ongoing quest to discover new and interesting cigars, I’ve learned one important lesson. You should never buy a box of cigars based on a single smoke. I came close to making that mistake recently with the CAO Sopranos Associate.

I love the Sopranos show, so a cigar-themed gimmick had a cheese appeal to me. The appeal was not enough to get me to lay down $10 a cigar, but it was enough to get me to look around and see what other cigar smokers thought about it. I found mostly positive reviews of the cigar online and it was even featured in Cigar Aficionado. In some testimonials the smokers lamented that they only bought one after a surprisingly good smoke. Good enough for me, it looked like it was worth a try, so I kept an eye out for it.

When I went on vacation a couple of weeks ago, I found a small supply in a local tobacco shop and I bought a few. That evening I smoked one with a young tawny port on a balcony overlooking the Oregon coast. It smoked like a dream. It had a beautiful draw, each puff rewarded me with a huge volume of smooth chocolaty smoke. I loved the hell out of it and made immediate plans to go back tobacco shop and buy the remaining 10 or so cigars.

A few nights later, some friends and I got together at Greater Trumps in Portland, Oregon for some cigars and some old port. Earlier that day I picked a bunch more (I didn’t quite clear them out- clearer heads prevailed) so I passed a few around, thinking I was really treating my friends. We were all in for a surprise. The cigars where strikingly lackluster. Good draw, as before, but the smoke was almost flavorless. Wow, did I feel like an idiot.

On a side note, it turns out the mildness wasn’t such a bad thing. My friends didn’t smoke cigars often, and this gave us the opportunity to have another completely different cigar later without being completely overloaded and hating life the next day.

A week or two later, I smoked one while watching the Sopranos. The cigars I had left over from my trip had spent the weeks in bottom of my humidor. This time it smoke seemed filmy (pun not intended, but heck, I’ll take it). Given my past experience with the cigar, it seems likely that the mouth feel was due to the unimpressive wine I decided to pair with it.

The point of all this is that I made a very amateurish mistake. I assumed that a single cigar was a good representation of the line, and I bought more of them than I should. (Fortunately, I didn’t spring for a box online. There’s still out there, and I was thinking about it.) Sometimes a line of cigars is that consistent, but I’ve run into too many cigars where this isn’t the case. (An Onyx experience comes to mind here.)

What really clinched the lesson for me was remember Walt from Stogie Review mentioning in one of his video clips (I think it was the Gurkha X-Fuerte review) that he didn’t like doing review based on a single cigar. He didn’t elaborate, but the truth is that cigars are so influenced by their environment a cigar from one humidor may be very different from another. Or even more importantly, cigars often have slight flaws that have a big impact on the quality of the smoke. The only way to get a good feel for a cigar is to sample several.

Because of these potential inconsistencies, before you buy a box of cigars, or decide to never smoke one again (hey, it could go either way) buy one more cigar and try it again. (Or at least go for the 5 or 10 pack instead of the full box.)

As for the cigar, I don’t think its a bad cigar. It’s a mild cigar that needs a good drink pairing. I would recommend carefully selecting that accompanying beverage. It’s quite pleasant with a ruby or young tawny port, or perhaps a stout or porter beer. Possibly a coffee drink (I’m thinking Spanish coffee, but that’s probably because I love Spanish coffees). Dark and rich is the key here. Lighter beers and wines may wind up making it an unpleasant experience.

Oh yeah, do me a favor- if this post prevents you from making an expensive cigar mistake, let me know! 🙂

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