The Walking Dead, Season 5: Death? Uh, yeah.

Media, Writing
screen-shot The Insightful Panda dot com

Rick in the church becoming a god. (Screenshot credit: TheInsightfulPanda.com)

Has ‘The Walking Dead’ Cracked My All-time TV Top 5?

SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT

[If you haven’t watched Season 5, yet, stop reading, right now. Or, enter at your own risk . . .]

Just a few words of praise upon finishing Season 5.

Wow, do I have my hair blown back. And I don’t mean just by the thrills and chills. I mean by the relationship drama, the villains/villainy, the comedy. Perhaps where the show excites me most is the inventiveness — a.k.a., rule-breaking — of its cinematography. That’s especially true of Season 5. Sure, the camera work has always been fresh and ingenious. But now, with all the night shooting and severe-yet-nuanced studio lighting, they’ve really turned the thumbscrews on pure retinal agitation. Plus, shooting on the infinitely more mobile 16mm camera produces some startlingly original looks. Like in Ep. 3, “Four Walls and a Roof,” in the church, when our heroes turn the tables on Gareth and Martin, and the hunters become the hunted. That shot from Gareth’s point of view, looking up at Rick wielding the “machete with the red handle.” Sure, that point of view isn’t new, angled up and making a giant of Rick. But the framing — the shot has the altar and stained glass in the background. You’re not supposed to elevate heroes to the level of God. (Not in America, anyways. It’s not an uncommon trope in Japanese screen culture, especially in anime. See Berserk.)

Though it’s impossible to argue what the show does best, consistency has to be part of that conversation. Not a single episode feels like a dud, not in any of the five seasons. Only the rarest cable drama reaches this astonishing level of reliability, episode to episode. The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, and Deadwood keep it at a “10” from bell to bell. But other shows? I can’t think of any. Even some of my favorite shows of all time have their off, phone-it-in days. Dexter, Breaking Bad, The Wire. None of them can match such perfection.

In its mature state the series unsurprisingly has become heavily philosophical. Mostly themes of identity and ego. And, oh yeah, that third theme. Despite having way more characters who die than survive, the show has rarely been about death. Season 5 is about death. Tyrece, Beth, Bob, Martin. (Martin. Yep. Death.) That the nature of existence depends on death — or, rather, IS death — that’s one common thread among the episodes of Season 5.

It’s no coincidence Beth is only a great character when she confronts death.  At the front of her plot arc (Season 2, Ep.10) she tries to kill herself; at the back of her plot arc (Season 5, Ep. 8) she dies bitterly. In both, her cynicism and clear sight ring true. Take for instance her first real scenes (Season 2, Ep. 10). Maggie tries to talk Beth out of suicide.

Maggie: “You could do that to Dad?”

Beth:  “He’s clueless. He had us waitin’ for a cure.”

Maggie: “You could do that to me? I can’t take another funeral.”

Beth: “You can’t avoid it. What are we waiting for? We should both do it. At the same time–”

Maggie:  “What!”

Beth: “–help each other. It’s hard to do–”

Maggie: “Stop talking like that.”

Beth: “–our choice. Then it would be over. Or we’ll be forced to do it when this house and the farm is overrun . . . I don’t want to be gutted.”

In Seasons 3 and 4, the middle span of her plot arc, Beth comes across as flat and contrived and superfluous. But her lustrous scenes in Season 5, Ep’s 6 – 8, anchoring the drama of the mid-season finale, she grows into herself. She survives in that Lost-like, dystopian hospital from hell. She stands up to the depraved corruption, the naked abuse. She helps shield victims of what is essentially a prison. She becomes larger than life, becomes a worthy member of our group of super heroes. In her swan song she says, sneering, seething at Dawn, “I get it now.” She stabs Dawn in the chest and gets shot in the face. Showrunner Scott Gimple could’ve gotten many more great miles out of her. But her death feels just forthright. It is certainly courageous on his part.

Throughout this season Rick feels the need to tell the town folk over and over, “It’s all about survival.” Well, that’s one side of the coin.

Metro-style Wunderlist: a Productivity Tool that Hurts Productivity

Entrepreneurship
wunderlist_beta_windows

No taskbar!

Oh, how I loathe thee, Metro-style Wunderlist (the new version of Wunderlist made for Windows 8).

First I should praise Wunderlist to high heaven. I adopted it early on and continue to trust it with my entrepreneurial life.

But the Metro version? Not so much. Notice the absent Windows taskbar in the image above? Not only does Metro-style Wunderlist hide the taskbar by default, the settings contain no way to change that. If you want to see the taskbar, the only way to do that is to mash your cursor against the bottom of the screen, then . . . you . . . wait . . . Bounce the cursor around down there, and sometimes the taskbar emerges. Sometimes it doesn’t. Same goes for calling up “recent apps” in the upper-left corner. It often takes three or four tries to show the taskbar or recent apps.

My list of grievances goes on and on. But let’s just leave it at that. It feels funny to grouse about something I otherwise love and respect a great deal. Plus, I try to keep positive on this blog. Instead, I’ll just cut to the happy ending.

For anyone still struggling with this sorry app, it turns out you can ditch the offending Metro-style Wunderlist and retrieve the old-school, Windows 7, desktop version. The trick is to download it directly from Wunderlist, not from the Windows App Store. The Windows 7 desktop version works perfectly well in the Windows 8 environment.

https://www.wunderlist.com/download/

As a related side note, Wunderlist’s Android app performs really well. Because of its small footprint, it performs with nimble ease, even on my under-powered LG Volt. Despite its light weight, the app gives you virtually every functionality of its big, desktop brother, including sub-tasks and notes.

(Notice how I slipped in that “big brother” reference? Microsoft has acquired Wunderlist this year.)

A major bonus: the Android widget. I’ve got the widget on my phone’s lock screen. The widget displays any of my to do lists, in their entirety, without the need to unlock my phone.

IMG_20151012_102919

The Wunderlist Android widget on my lock screen

Wisconsin Friday Fish Fry — Japanese Style

Food and Drink
The Spot cobia2

Seared cobia and a snifter of Louie’s Reserve Imperial Scotch Ale

(Before I start, I should mention this isn’t a fried fish review.)

Lately, the Friday fish fry menu has been the draw for us at The Spot. While I enjoyed the fried walleye last week and the grilled salmon the week before that, tonight the seared cobia gets my vote.

Cobia is a firm, fairly fatty, flavorful white fish. The Spot flash sears it: the skin side comes crispy, the meat side, bronzed, and the core, wonderfully raw.

Think sashimi, but add carmelized fat (if you eat the skin) and a more succulent lusciousness. Searing collects the juices and drives them inward, concentrating the moisture and fat to boost the flavor into the realm of the highest-quality toro. The Japanese call seared fish or meat tataki. But rather than pounded flat or sliced thin as in tataki, the Spot’s seared cobia is an inch-and-a-half thick.

What a surprisingly adventurous dish for such a straight-ahead, casual restaurant. Anyone squeamish of sashimi or tartare might want the grilled salmon or fried walleye, instead. But I’m sure the palates of Madison’s Near Eastsiders will take to it, no problem.

I’m not used to any sauce on a seared piece of fish. But the chef adds TWO: a) a pesto cream, which seems a 21st Century update of the traditional mustard-mayo on tuna carpaccio — perfect for this mostly raw fish; and, b) a balsamic reduction. But, wait! There’s more. The fish floats atop a fluffy cloud of Parmesan risotto. Sound like an overwrought train wreck? Nope. It’s an ingenious amalgam of surprising textures and flavors that scores brilliantly. The sweet/tart drizzle of the balsamic reduction weds the rich sauce to the fatty fish perfectly. And the humble Parmesan risotto, which rivals the best I’ve had anywhere, causes no confusion with its only moderately-rich, mildly salty cheesiness. (I actually don’t love the Vegetable Quinoa Risotto elsewhere on the menu.)

Just a side note: at first blush the piece of fish seems small. But one feels that mild disappointment only relative to the portions of restaurants charging twice the price of this dish. There may not be a lot to take home in a doggy bag. But with the risotto and the nice pile of broccoli, it’s plenty substantial, especially at just $17. I actually do have some left over and look forward to my midnight snack.

We then totally enjoy dessert: a savory, pumpkin cheesecake. The muted sweetness of the filling leaves the pumpkin really prominent. The dish gets its sweetness instead from candied pepitas (so flavorful and chewy, they’re clearly fresh-roasted) and a dollop of sugary fresh cream. The bartender tells us the pastry chef is formerly of the fancier restaurants Harvest and Graze.

When we first started eating at The Spot, I was addicted to the burgers. I’ve tried all three of the burgers on the menu and would be hard-pressed to pick a favorite. They’re all half-pound (I think) patties, grilled to order on a beautiful roll, with a side of wilted mustard greens (or any side dish). $8 for the basic burger, including the side dish? No wonder I was addicted.

I have tried the pork tenderloin and the sirloin steak. But I return again and again to the fish. I love the salmon from the regular menu. And another standout special has been the escolar.

Fish. That’s the chef’s strong suit.

Check out their menu, here.

Eww: the Good Humor Strawberry Shortcake Ice Cream Bar

Food and Drink, Health

strawberry shortcake

Although I enjoy the cattiness of a scathing New Yorker film review, I myself take no pleasure in calling out bad products on my blog. I generally skip yucky beers or boring sitcoms, choosing to write about things I want to share with others. (My review of cycling rain jackets is a rare exception.) Chalk it up to temperament, I guess.

In this case I’m compelled to warn others away from this quote-unquote “ice cream” bar.

Either the quality of this product has eroded over the past 38 years, or my taste sure has changed since I was eight years old. (It’s probably not an either/or scenario!) Walking home from our neighborhood beer bar last night, I had the munchies and bought one of these babies in a corner store. “Cake-coated vanilla ice cream, with a strawberry flavored center.” That’s how Good Humor describes it on their site. That, and a prolix list of mostly chemical ingredients. The nutrition app Fooducate describes it differently:

“D+ much worse than average.”

good humor Strawberry shortcake D+

That’s about right.

At eight years old, however, I was addicted to them. The Strawberry Shortcake bar led me down the path to my first real scolding from my parents. That summer my family had just joined a country club, whose swimming pool snack bar inexplicably allowed second graders to sign the tab for hot dogs, sodas, and ice cream on a stick.

For four weeks, before my parents would get the first monthly snack bar bill, I ate five or six of them a day. Often, more. The snack bar was like a narcotics sting operation, with a detective undercover behind the counter in an apron and hair net, enticing addicts to come and get it. Technically that would be entrapment–inducing my brother and me into downing hundreds of dollars’ worth of sugary things we wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

The mid-1970s was a hard time for the fifty-year-old Good Humor brand, what with upstart competitors like Mister Softee and the health food craze that spawned frozen yogurt. Could country club snack bars have been a ploy to boost Good Humor sales? The company certainly could no longer ride the coattails of their genius, mid-century, sleeper PR campaigns. Ever heard the urban legend of the hero Good Humor man who rushed a pregnant woman to the hospital in his jingly ice cream truck? I sure had.

At the end of the month when the jig was up, my parents gave me a strong talking to, disappointed I didn’t have better sense. But could I be blamed? Was it not an insane setup:  that hundreds of dollars’ worth of ice cream could be purchased and consumed in a single month by an eight-year-old and his little brother?

[image credit:  Nestle (drumstick.com)]

To Soak or Not to Soak?

Food and Drink

Kidney_beans - photo by Sanjay Acharya

My biggest cooking frustration? Waking in the morning to assemble ingredients for the slow cooker, only to find I’ve forgotten to soak the beans overnight.

No problem, Plan B is always the “quick soak,” i.e., boiling the beans for five minutes then covering and leaving to soak for an hour. That is, if you have an hour to spare before leaving for work.

Turns out, there’s no reason to soak beans, at all. Or at least that’s what food editor Russ Parsons contends in a recent LA Times piece. In it Parsons surveys the history of the soaking question, talks with food writers on both sides of the aisle, attempts to put the question to bed with science, and crows that he’s been anti-soak for decades. The article even looks at the question of beans and flatulence!

“That’s wrong,” says my wife, when she asks me about the bag of unsoaked beans among the rest of my ingredients. She recites the main reasons an overnight soak is necessary: cook time, tenderness vs. mushiness, flavor, and, yes, reduced flatulence. I’m not surprised by her recalcitrance in the face of legume reform. Every bit of advice I’ve ever seen, heard, or read sides with my wife.

Yet, here’s Parsons from the LA Times article.

Letting dried beans sit overnight in a bowl of cold water does nothing to improve their flavor or their texture. In fact, it does quite the opposite. . . . Finally, soaking does absolutely nothing to reduce the gas producing properties of beans.

We shall see. I’m dumping the bag of unsoaked pinto beans into my Crockpot, now . . .

Bean Soup with Tamarind and Ginger (7-qt. slow cooker)

1 lbs. dried  pinto beans

0.5 lbs. ham hocks

2 lbs. chicken drums

5-inch piece fresh ginger sliced

1 can tomato, diced 24-oz.

3 med onion, cut in 1/8th’s

6 dried red chile peppers

5 tablespoons tamarind soup base

7 cups stock + 2 cups water

12 cloves garlic, sliced

1 bunch kale or collards

Directions for SEVEN QUART Slow Cooker:

Wash and sort beans.

Place all ingredients (except for greens) into slow cooker.

Switch slow cooker to high until simmering.

Switch to low.

Cut greens into 2-in. strips and add 10 – 20 min. before serving.

Exciting New Anime: Knights of Sidonia

Media

Knights of Sidonia lifeboat pod

No matter how much I like an anime series, I hesitate to make blanket recommendations. I’d hate for my writing to entice someone to watch anime for the first time and have them come away thinking I have terrible taste in TV. See, there’s a learning curve to watching anime. (The giant anime sweat drop? It means he’s embarrassed.) Without “anime literacy” an anime newbie can watch even the best series and think it’s silly, or worse, a product for children. Knights of Sidonia is definitely not for children.

Also, even the best anime suffers from radical swings in quality over the course of a long season. Think of Joss Whedon TV shows—Buffy, Dollhouse, Firefly. We love them for their high highs, despite the admittedly horrid lows.

That said, Knights of Sidonia (KOS), a recent Netflix Original Series, is some of the most thrilling military science fiction I’ve seen in a long time. It’s certainly not without its shortcomings. Its relationship drama doesn’t succeed the way the military aspect does; the several love-triangles and the central rivalry between the hero and his nemesis are so thinly drawn as to feel tacked on. Yet the stunning battle scenes–the eye-popping visions of sci-fi adventure futurism–make the series more than worth one’s while.

Although I don’t have time to review KOS in full, here, I’ll drop a few observations.

1) How to Repopulate the Human Race

The show’s renderings of deep-space survival create an intriguingly realized future. Sidonia is a “seed ship.” It’s a Battlestar Galactica setup. When the earth was overrun by aliens, the last survivors escaped on Sidonia and survived seven centuries drifting about the galaxy. How did the seed ship repopulate the human race? Successful cloning explains all the look-alike characters in the cast. Others form a “third gender,” changing sexes depending on available partners. Apparently there are limits to seeding “success”: Sidonia holds regular mass funerals for compulsory deaths to keep its fragile ecosystem in check. An “organic converter reactor” processes all the bodies and human excrement for fuel that powers Sidonia.

2) Hillarious Site Gags

KOS re-imagines space travel in (ahem) compelling detail, like the skin-suit catheter (see image). Not only is the catheter necessary for spending many hours (or even days) in the tiny cockpit of a giant robot, the skin suit also filters urine for drinking water.

In one quiet scene our hero averts his gaze to leave his co-pilot her privacy while she photosynthesizes. (Yes, in the future we will only eat once a week because, via genetic modification, we will all photosynthesize.) But because they’re in the glass-bubble cockpit, he can’t escape her nude reflection. Hence, he doubles over in discomfort at the emergence of his catheterized erection!

3) Space Opera!

The space opera (i.e., soap opera in space) elements are by turns wonderful and awful. In quieter moments, the romance between the hero and his love interest can be quite affecting, like when the two are stranded in deep space together, trying not to freak out in the face of dwindling food and water rations.

Sadly, the show’s fan service tends towards the sleazy: untold millions were spent to animate the zero-gravity jiggling of curvy female figures in skin-tight space suits.

4) Warning:  It Goes Fast

That the script doesn’t wait for slower viewers can be a bit frustrating at times. Like any good cyberpunk fiction, KOS respects the intelligence of its audience, rarely overexplaining its backstory and future-tech. The show assumes fans will take multiple passes by hitting rewind or will binge-watch the whole season again later, anyway.

For instance, there appears to be a blunder of failed script-supervisor continuity when we watch a pilot eject from her exploding robot in only her space suit. But in the next scene we see her floating in a spherical, escape-pod lifeboat (see image at very top of this post).

Where’d that come from? Turns out the escape pod is stored in each pilot’s backpack, in some futuristic wonder of nanotechnology. Very cool. I definitely missed it the first time around.

KOS escape pod A-0

KOS escape pod A

KOS escape pod B

KOS escape pod C

5) The Good with the Bad

It’s a shame the first half of Episode 5 gives us one of the most exciting battle scenes ever filmed, a thrill negated by the episode’s second half: an overlong, ham-fisted delivery of backstory, all in unnecessary and terribly written dialogue. When Captain Kobayashi argues with Dorm Mother Lala, she reminds her of a factoid neither could have possibly forgotten: “We’re the last two surviving members of the first strike team in human history to have destroyed a gauna, 600 years ago.” Ugh.

I guess it’s no worse than Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead talking out loud to God, the empty chapel amplifying his cartoonish Southern accent.

6) Coincidence or Cosmic Convergence?

Though spelled differently, the series shares its title with the Muse album “Knights of Cydonia.” Coincidence or cosmic convergence? Judge for yourself by watching the hilarious, sci-fi/kung-fu/spaghetti Western mashup video of Muse’s song on YouTube:

Commuter Bikes and the Trek Soho Deluxe

Health

trek soho deluxe

My friend Tony asked if I’d have a look at this bike.  Tony lives in DC and commutes by bike, escorting his wonderful daughter to school every morning, all by DC bike share.  He’s become a bike-share-system savant — the hackles on his neck rise the closer he gets to the thirty-minute bike-share quota.  But his daughter is graduating to middle school this year, where there isn’t a convenient bike-share station to switch bikes.

So Tony needs to buy a new bike.  His commuting needs neatly mark out the boundaries of the no-maintenance bicycle market — namely, internal gear hubs (IGH) and carbon belt-drives.  So it’s no surprise he’s put his finger on the Trek Soho Deluxe.

In researching this bike, I’ve done my usual eval, all the while not realizing the model has been discontinued.  So I’ve also done a quick and dirty search for “city bike,” “belt drive,” and “disc brakes.”  That’s turned up a decent list of some drool-worthy machines for 2014-15.

My evaluation of the discontinued Soho Deluxe is still relevant, though.  Not only are the components of bikes in this narrow market segment very similar.  There are probably a number of Soho Deluxe’s still in showrooms in every major city, and at closeout prices, to boot.  So I’ll just include that here, while adding the list of current-model bikes at the end.

MISC. NOTES Re. the TREK SOHO DELUXE

1) If you find a “new” model, it’ll likely be a great deal, with “closeout” pricing.  (The model was discontinued for 2014.)  But what year is the specimen you’ve found, 2012 or 2013?

Consider the following:

a) Normally a year or two sitting in a showroom makes no difference.  But with internal gearing, lubrication can leak out or settle in ways detrimental to the parts.  So if you find a 2012 Soho Deluxe, ask if the bike shop will re-lube the hub upon purchase.  Sheldon Brown discusses lubrication issues, here:  http://sheldonbrown.com/nexus-mech.html

b) Internal gearing has come a long way in recent years, and the different iterations of the Nexus 8-spd. hub are no exception.  I don’t have the specifics on whether or not the 2013 is significantly better than the 2012.  Might be something to research further.

c) Similarly, the newer Gates belt drives are reported to be much better than older versions.  I’m not sure what the timeline is, so that’s something to look into, as well.

2) No quick release rear wheel.

a) Much more difficult to change a flat on the fly.  Here’s a somewhat daunting tutorial.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCREx_q55mw

b) I’d recommend upgrading to a flat-resistant tire, at least on the rear.  (May as well do both.)  Ask dealer for if you can trade out the tires for some credit towards the purchase.  Kevlar is good (though more expensive).   I haven’t had a flat on Kevlar tires in 4 years, riding 300 days/year.

3) Test drive it:  how’s the lowest gear on your local terrain?

a) Find a decently steep hill.  My wife rides internal gearing, the Shimano Alfine 8-speed hub, and here on the modest yet significant hills of Madison, Wisconsin, her lowest gear is perfectly doable.

b) Note:  one mustn’t shift internal gearing under load.  That’s something the LBS might forget to tell you.  This is certainly not a deal-breaker.  It just takes some dexterity to let up the force when shifting.  Definitely don’t want to stand up pedaling when shifting an IGH.  Some user reviews claim the NuVinci N360 hub is the exception to this rule.  (See the Novara Gotham, below.)

4) Misc. questions:  Rack mounts, front and rear?

One reviewer called the Soho Deluxe a “thief magnet” because it has a “flashy appearance.”  I think it’s the opposite.  It’s got a low-key, even stealthy, paint job.  Plus, theoretically, it may be even less likely to be stolen, for the fact of the belt-drive.  Rational bike thieves avoid specialty bikes because pawn shops may balk at buying such easily identifiable items.

COMMUTER-BIKE ALTERNATIVES for 2014-15

The market for low-maintenance commuter bikes (belt drive, internal gearing) seems to be shrinking in the middle ($1000 – $1400), while growing at the lower end ($600-900) and higher end ($1500 – $2500).  Back in 2012-13 there were many more models in the middle price range.  I had to really hunt for these:

Raleigh Misceo 4.0 2013

Great closeout deals

— Alfine hub (an upgrade over the Nexus hub of the Soho Deluxe)

$1100 closeout

http://www.rei.com/product/848626/raleigh-misceo-trail-i11-bike-2013

Raleigh City Sport DLX

$1100

http://www.bicycling.com/gearfinderProductDetail?gfid=78254

Breezer Beltway 8

$1500

http://www.bicycling.com/bikes-gear/bikes-and-gear-features/best-urban-bike-breezer-beltway-infinity

Novara Gotham

$1400

http://www.rei.com/product/857590/novara-gotham-bike-2014

— NuVinci N360 hub

Scott SUB 10

$1300

http://www.rei.com/product/865741/scott-sub-speed-10-bike-2014

Focus Planet 2.0

$1400 (not widely avail. in US)

http://www.paragonsports.com/shop/en/Paragon/focus-bicycles-usa–inc-belt-drive

Beer Roundup #10: Three Coffee Stouts

Food and Drink

Lagunitas Cappucino Stout coffee beer

To Buy or Not to Buy?

1 = horrible
2 = bad
3 = average
3.5 = good (many better beers out there; won’t buy this again)
4 = very good
4.5 = great
5 = rare best

 

A Note on the Style:  Coffee Stout

Coffee Stout is actually not a style you find described in the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program).  A coffee stout is essentially an American stout in which the brewer has added coffee beans or grounds to the boiling wort.  The result is generally a beer of middling alcohol content (say, 5% – 7% ABV), low to middling hop bitterness (30 – 60 IBU), and a pronounced roasted coffee flavor.

Cappuccino Stout, Lagunitas Brewing Co.
Rating:  4.2 / 5
22 oz. bottle, 9.2% ABV, 82 IBU.

This is a double stout, by the way.  The other two beers in this roundup are regular stouts.

A nice looking pour from a bomber into a tulip glass. Somewhat thin-looking, black, to be sure, with a smallish head, and very sticky lacing.

Perhaps this bottle hasn’t benefited from sitting in my cellar for five months. The coffee aroma seems muted.  A lactose smoothness in the nose makes the coffee-and-cream character astonishingly accurate.  (Pretty sure this was not brewed with any lactose, though, so technically it’s not a “sweet stout” or “milk stout.”)  There’s some vanilla, biscuit, unsweetened cocoa, and a grassy bitterness that must be hops.

Coffee flavor in the mouth is highly bitter, a mouth-puckering acid disrupted some by a milky sweetness that renders the burnt flavor a semisweet chocolate. The vanilla comes forward, with lots of dark chocolate and a subtle buttery caramel. Finish dries out a bit . . . No. Scratch that. The finish is pretty dang sweet. Yes, it’s black coffee and sugar.

If not for being a bit watery in body, the lactose-seeming creaminess makes the “capuccino” element awesomely spot-on.

I used to be in love with this beer. I’m wondering, it should be noted, if five months sitting has hurt this beer. I’ll have to wait ’til next year to see if a fresh specimen recaptures that old magic.

Jingle Java, Bent River Brewing Co.
Rating:  4.55 / 5
12-oz. bottle, 6.5% ABV, 29 IBU.

How lucky to have found this winter holiday beer still lingering in the singles cooler of my neighborhood bottle shop.  It’s fabulous.

This is the most stunning coffee flavor I’ve ever had in a beer. It really is an iced-Americano, with carbonation. The aroma is pure cold coffee with milk.

Flavor in the mouth is uncannily straight-up fresh-brewed iced coffee. There’s a tart, tinny hop bitterness that tries to remind one this is beer. But the aggressive French-roast flavor resists such a notion. There’s a nice sweet vanilla in the background that helps a milk chocolate undercurrent emerge from the dark depths.

Best coffee stout I’ve ever had. Blows doors on New Glarus Coffee Stout. While there are better coffee-infused stouts of imperial strength (Central Waters Brewhouse, 8.2%; Southern Tier Mokah, 10%), Jingle Java beats anything in the 6% – 7% alcohol range.

I wonder how much the low bitterness (29 IBU) plays a part in this brew’s success?

Java Lava, Pearl Street Brewing Company
Rating:  3.9 / 5
12 oz. bottle, 6.0% ABV, ? IBU

Wow, a third really good coffee stout in one night. USA! USA!

Earlier I had Jingle Java, by Bent River, out of Rock Island, Illinois. I’ve heard Bent River has an amazing imperial stout festival. The Jingle Java was actually a cut above this one, but this is still rather decent.

It’s not over the top amazing, like the Jingle Java. But this beer has an excellent demitasse essence.   Great creamy mouthfeel, despite the high carbonation.

Hmm.  As the level in my glass recedes, I see it’s actually nowhere near as good as the Jingle Java.  But it’s a solid brew.

New Panniers Even Better Than I Thought

Health

IMG_3532

 

I’ve actually been using this pair of panniers for almost a year.  I got caught in a downpour last night, which was fine since the bags are waterproof to their interior volumes.  However, the zippers are not water resistant.  The zippered pockets can get pretty damp in heavy rain.  So I’ve never kept anything water sensitive in the pockets.

Until now.

Last night after that torrent of rain, I discovered a hidden feature of the bags:  each bag has a rain “poncho” to cover itself when needed.

2-IMG_3533See that bulge towards the bottom?  That’s the poncho tucked away in a zipper pocket of its own.

3-IMG_3534Not only does the poncho keep the zippered pockets dry.  It also keeps the outer fabric of the bag from getting soaked.

4-IMG_3535

5-IMG_3536These bags are the Bontrager Interchange Urban Commuter Panniers. They’re sold as a set of two, $179. (Bontrager has been one of Trek’s component & accessory divisions since 1995.)   Each bag contains the volume of a paper grocery sack.   http://store.trekbikes.com/product/bontrager+interchange+urban+commuter+pannier.do

Beer Roundup #9: Three Double IPA’s

Food and Drink

Hop Juice

To Buy or Not to Buy?

1 = horrible
2 = bad
3 = average
3.5 = good (many better beers out there; won’t buy this again)
4 = very good
4.5 = great
5 = rare best

A Note on the Style:  Double IPA, Imperial IPA

Imperial IPA, a.k.a. Double IPA.  A friend of mine recently asked about the terminology.  Rather than referring to an increase of ingredients or the number of fermentation stages, “double IPA” is a nickname for “imperial IPA” (from the acronym “IIPA”).

Hop Juice, Left Coast Brewing Co.
Rating:  4.14 / 5
12 oz. bottle (4-pk), 9.7% abv, 82 IBU.

From a bottle into a tulip, it pours a hazy amber, with very little head, but prodigious lacing.

Remarkably reserved, semisweet aroma. A pleasing herbal and earthy hop aroma. Some barely perceptible Wonder bread in the background, though one must strain to detect the mere whiff of grain.

In the mouth it’s an interesting sub-piney bitterness.  No, wait, I’ve got it:  it’s cold sake!  Very bitter on the backend.  Balance comes from a neutral (not sweet) maltiness. No, scratch that.  As it warms, there’s a serious candy sugar sweetness. Deep hop flavors dominate, spurred on by a sharp alcohol twang.

Medium-bodied, almost chewy. Well-carbonated, with a slippery alcohol warmth.

A very good double IPA, though not as malty as I like them. It supplies a nice sweetness, but it’s missing something. Can’t quite put my finger on it. Nevertheless, I think I’ll be buying one more 4-pack (though none for the cellar).

Palate Wrecker, Left Coast Brewing Co.
Rating:  4.18/5
12-oz. bottle (4-pk), 9.5% abv, 100+ IBU.

Wow, what a great smelling beer.  Its claim to fame is its aggressive hop bitterness.  But the sweet aroma is my favorite feature of this brew.

It’s an awfully handsome, clear golden pour into a tulip, with a big cottony head that sticks around.

The aroma really distinguishes this brew. Sweet, juicy fruits galore: red grapefruit, pineapple, and finally sweet tangerine. Perhaps a honey/floral tea character.

In the mouth, the early sweetness is all fruit juice. Yum.  The hops come on as a salty, white grapefruit bitterness. There’s almost no malt sweetness; the sweetness is fruit, only. Not candied fruit, just ripe, juicy, sweet citrus. Once it’s down the gullet, the aftertaste turns sharply bitter, as if smearing the the throat with white grapefruit rind. That hurts this beer.

Great medium-bodied richness. The high carbonation is a welcome cleanser.

Heelch O’Hops, Anderson Valley Brewing Company
Rating:  3.95 / 5
12 oz. bottle (4-pk), 8.7% abv, 100 IBU

This brew was featured in a Draft Magazine article that had everyone talking, “Three Imperial IPA’s That Rival Heady, Pliny.”  The title truncates the full names of the two beers roundly considered among the best double IPA’s, “Heady Topper” and “Pliny the Elder.”  Those two are also among the most difficult to find beers in the US.,  which is why people are always looking for close substitutes.

Heelch O’Hops ought not to have been included in that article.  (The other two beers featured:  Doozy by Mother’s Brewing and Hopothermia by Alaskan Brewing.)  Heelch O’Hops is certainly not bad.  It’s just not anywhere near the vicinity of elite class brews.

It pours a finger of white head atop a thin, clear, yellow liquid. The foam leaves lacing stuck hard.

A disappointingly subdued, peppery aroma of shy hops. No detectable malt presence in the nose.

The flavor is also disappointing in the mouth. Where’s the malt, the sweet, or the bread that I want in a IIPA? The hop character gives grapefruit pith, rather than sweet orange or tropical fruit. An astringent pine on the back end forces one to take this brew seriously.  It’s that bitter.   Finishes bitter-dry.

Thin body, with moderate to high carbonation.

A quality brew, to be sure, but disappointing that it’s merely an IPA on steroids:  it’s got none of the malt balance or bigger body or sweet fruit of the double IPA’s I love, such as Hopslam, Chillwave, Hi Res, or Double Crooked Tree. Especially disappointing at $12.00 / 4-pack.