Archive for the ‘Hobbies’ Category

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Round One

Game Five:                Bell’s Oberon v. 21st Amendment Bitter American

9. Yeah, I know. If I hate wheat beers so much, why do they keep ending up in the competition? I don’t know either, so there. Bell’s is a terrific brewery, and Oberon was one of the first varieties I tried during my 100 Beers 2011 challenge, and I liked it – best wheat beer I can ever remember drinking. My first Oberon was almost exactly two years ago. And today? It starts with a nostalgic summer beer aroma, only a slightly cloudy pale yellow hue, and a bright crisp flavor with just a tang of pungency at the end. How is this a witbier? Better yet, why aren’t all witbiers like this? Delish, refresh, and a perfect session beer for today’s “sunny and seventy-five” weather.

10. Ah, the Bitter American – another favorite that has been worth purchasing several times in the past. (I remember my first time with this one, too. I had been debating Tea Party politics with a friend earlier that day, and the name of this ale seemed to speak to me.) I found it odd that this very different ale is identical in appearance to Oberon. But the pleasant hops aroma and crisp IPA flavor set it apart, and there’s a stark bitterness at the back of the tongue. Bitter American is an Extra Pale Ale that is about as highly-hopped as I ever like it; a good beer to satisfy my occasional IPA desire.

*** Winner:          This was a very, very close battle. I had so much trouble picking one over the other that the game went into extra innings. Finally, after exhaustive analysis, I declare Oberon by the narrowest of margins – and now I can drink all the rest of the Bitter American now that it has been knocked out of the tournament! What? Are you saying that may have biased the call?

Game Six:                Sweetwater Brown v. Highland Little Hump Spring Ale 

11. Sweetwater Brown. Well, it is brown. Also clear, with very little head or lacing, and a nice little old-style beer aroma. The first sip gives you a much stronger punch than you expect, with a hint of bitterness at the back. A pleasant and not overtly strong dark beer. It’s an odd turn that brings the Brown from Sweetwater (a brewer most known for a solid line of IPAs) up against the…

12. Little Hump Spring Ale from Highland (a brewery I most associate with their oatmeal stout); sort of like playing weak sister against weak sister. Little Hump is a bright yellow, hoppy and refreshing ale. Completely unexpected, with a clean highly drinkable mouthfeel and almost no aftertaste despite the weedy style of hops.

*** Winner:          Little Hump Spring Ale. I have high expectations for the Highland varieties because of their dark beers, and thought a light summer style would be out of their reach, so Little Hump was more than I had hoped for. Sweetwater Brown just wasn’t very interesting in comparison, even though it’s a good beer that’s very enjoyable and is always welcome in my frig.


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Round One

Game Four:                 Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale v. Pyramid Discord 

7. Lagunitas Brewery gets a second chance for the title with the new-on-the-shelf, oddly-named Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale. This clear copper ale with a nicely frothy head and great lacing smells hoppy, tastes creamy. There’s something about it that’s kind of sticky/sweet, though. Gets more aggressive as it warms, and finishes with a fairly bitter aftertaste – which ties in nicely with the great backstory. They call it an American Strong Ale on, but should probably be in with the ESBs.

8. Pyramid Discord is a dark IPA that pours like a great stout; even the frothy tan head sticks around, although as just a skim after several minutes. Smells decently hopped and tastes slightly more so. Blindfolded you would guess the color to be dark golden, because it tastes like the good IPAs or 2Xs, has the bitterness as well, and lacks creaminess. The malts only step up as it warms and provide almost a cigar character as you swallow.

*** Winner: Discord – which is odd because I thought, head-to-foamy-head, any Lagunitas brew was going to beat down and punish any Pyramid brew. Discord wasn’t very exciting but it was really good. I often enjoy the bitter style that Undercover represents, and it is a good ale I’ll probably have again, but the stickiness was too off-putting to win this challenge.

Round Two

Game Two:                Pyramid Snow Cap v. Pyramid Discord

It’s the battle of the Pyramids! This much anticipated showdown should be exciting, as I’ve very much enjoyed both varieties.

Sadly, Snow Cap may have reached its expiration a week earlier than the date printed on the bottle. Or maybe I had previously paired it with a highly complimentary meal – several times. Or maybe I suddenly fell out of love with Snow Cap. Whatever the case, during this session it had an unpleasant witbier aroma and flavor. I noticed no improvement as it warmed, either.

With no serious competition this round, Discord could win the game with its beautifully effervescent pour alone. Thankfully, there is some character there to back up its good looks. I have really enjoyed the way the malt-ness and ale-ness still comes through in what is unmistakably a well-hopped IPA.

*** Winner: Discord. I get the impression that Pyramid Brewing Co. gets sneered at by the microbrew elite, but this seasonal Dark IPA is one that I plan on purchasing in the future, like I do with Watership Brown – Discord’s next opponent. The next round should be interesting.

2013 Brackets: Insanity v. RHWB

Posted: March 29, 2013 in Fun, Hobbies
Tags: ,

I’ve changed things up a little and made the 2013 Beer Brackets page no longer password protected. Every one or two “games” will now appear as a regular mini-post on the main blog page, but the full article with updated posts and the brackets chart will remain available at the game page by clinking the link below. Don’t worry, that’ll make more sense as the tournament advances.
I’ll try to remember to include “Brackets” in the title so those not interested in this topic can easily skip it.

 Click here for the full article. 

Round Two

Game One:                Watership Brown v. Insanity

This matchup between the $1.50/12oz Watership Brown and the $3.79/12oz Insanity would be a David and Goliath story on any other blog. I’m honest enough to say that in a blind taste-test, I am unreliable guessing which beer is the “most premium”. There are some low-end beers I enjoy and some high-end beers I just couldn’t finish, and vicey-versy. These two brews rank among my favorites and I had no bad things to say about either one in their first round challenges. I’ll use a snifter glass for this competition.

WB smells good and malty like a porter and starts with a pleasant bitter flavor. This time I get a slightly burnt aftertaste, which is probably that “chocolatey note” the brewer was talking about. If so, it’s a raw, unsweetened dark chocolate. WB gets pleasantly spicy as it warms (but not as flavorful as Insanity), settling in to a solid example of the type but with American style (that’s the hops coming through).

That first blast of aroma from Insanity is so infused with whiskey and plum that it is surprising. Even the air above the glass is sticky-sweet. The color is as dark as WB, only opaque. All that prepares you for the heavy robustness of the first sip. Insanity is like a thick hot toddy (yum) but is probably even higher proof – it has an APV of 11.1, which is over 20 proof. Truly Insane.

Winner: Red Hare Watership Brown. I’ll probably get grief for this one. I really do like Weyerbacher Insanity, and can imagine there will be times I would purchase it. But there are such narrowly defined situations in which this is enjoyable that the win has to go to Watership Brown. challenge.

October has been getting the best of me, quite literally.

Every year it seems that my October calendar is filled with obligations and events, and this year was no exception. I was prepared for it this year, and intentionally limited my efforts to the major, most important things. I think I was able to give my best this way; looking back, I feel a sense of accomplishment and pride over the (slightly) smaller list of significant things we’ve done, instead of regret that I tried to do too much and screwed up half of it.

How effectively do you edit?

Unfortunately, one of the things that got jettisoned was my focused attempt at keeping up this blog. But I still gave it some thought during this brief hiatus even though I wasn’t actively writing. In my writing, like my calendar, I’m going to cut things back a bit.

Many of the posts on this blog are around 650 words, which works out to about a page and a third printed out on ordinary paper. That’s pretty lengthy in this ADHD world. Sometimes it’s by design (a 5-part series covering the 5 biggest topics in a complex book, or a 9 point essay on life – one topic per golf hole). But for the stand-alone, single-topic blog post, usually it’s just because that’s how long it takes to make my point.

The least obvious thing about my writing (or anyone’s, maybe) seems to be how much pruning goes on prior to publication. My best guess as to how much was left on the “cutting-room floor” would be around 40%. I know, doesn’t look like it when there’s still 650 words left, but there you go. It makes it all the more heart-breaking when the response I get is “TLDR” – Too Long, Didn’t Read.

No one has literally responded that way. (Well, one person has, but she went back and read it later. Thanks, sweetie.) But I can usually tell that it’s what they’re thinking. There’s just so much a person can write before the next shiny object distracts the audience’s gaze.

So let me be as reassuring as I can be – I promise to keep it short and sweet, and there will be a darn good reason when it’s not. And for the record, today’s total is 381.


What’s your storytelling style – short & sweet, instructional, funny, verbose, strictly factual, a grammatical mess? Does it change depending on the listener/reader? Share it in the comments below.

No Cure For My Tree-Killing Ways

Posted: September 9, 2011 in Fun, Hobbies, Life
Tags: , ,

I am a collector of books. Not anything so grand as a “book collector”, which implies a charming old fogey with taste and discernment and possibly a natty old sweater with leather patches at the elbows and a visible revulsion for lowly paperbacks; no, for me, book hoarder might be closer to the mark, and paperbacks make up the bulk of the titles.

I remember fondly the two shelves that held the entire personal library of my childhood. When you factor in the detail that the bottom shelf was almost entirely filled by the Britannica Junior Encyclopǽdia set (with the bright red binding that at first glance made you think you had a set of large-print hymnals), you quickly realize that I owned virtually no books at all. But where my personal library was slim, the Flint Public Library was a gateway to every book in the world.

These days I estimate my shelves hold over 500 books. And a few hundred of those I’ve read twice or more. And while I love having them around, they aren’t what most would call display-worthy. And I no longer have enough shelf space on which to shelve them. I know I ought to purge, but I am reluctant.

Seth Godin recently blogged about the 400 paperback books he uncovered while cleaning his basement:

“The magic of books, something I haven’t found in blog posts, jewel boxes, tweets or old TV Guides, is that they perfectly encapsulate an idea. They have a beginning, a middle and an end. And they have a cover, something that wraps it all together.

Maybe I’m a fogie, but I have trouble visualizing a pile (or a wallful) of Kindle ebooks. I’m going to miss that.”

When he says he’s “going to miss that,” Mr. Godin implies that despite their magic, he will no longer have paperback books, and has said in many other forums that book printing is becoming anachronistic. I imagine I could learn to enjoy having a large library in e-book form, but will likely never completely rid myself of “dead-tree” books. I would miss them far more than Mr. Godin. There’s a tactile aspect to a favorite book that isn’t replicable.

Once or twice I’ve been caught in the act of smelling a book – inhaling deeply with it pressed up against my face. It’s a little silly, sure; but I love the smell of books. They are not all the same, either. Sometimes the scent makes me think of a coloring book, or of the glossy pages of a textbook or magazine. Once or twice I find one that smells like the Children’s Bible I had long ago. Sometimes the smell will remind me of an era, sometimes of a particular childhood book. Stuart Little always smelled like the wet canvas from the tent in my backyard that summer when I was ten, and I get excited to find another book with that exact same scent. Some smell like a phone book (now that’s anachronistic).

How is Kindle supposed to produce that? Isn’t that worth keeping? Of course it is. While I think e-books will continue to become more and more popular, the old-fashioned kind of book will not likely disappear. A real paperback means something that a digital reader does not. Which is probably why I have too many books, too few vacant shelves and the occasional paper cut on my nose.

What do books mean to you? Are there aspects to “dead-tree” books that prevent you from going whole hog on the e-book revolution? Say so in the comments below!

(See parts one and two here.) The previous six lessons have played out; now let’s tee off on the seventh on our way back to the clubhouse.

Sometimes things just go wrong (but it won’t keep going wrong)

I’m not a golf pro, and I don’t watch golf on television where the analysis is constant and often very technical. So sometimes a shot will head in a completely unexpected direction. I’ll watch my ball travel out of bounds and stand there gawking, baffled as to why it happened.

When you know what you did wrong, it’s a simple matter to begin to correct it. But where do you start if you’re clueless about your mistake? It’s important not to let that kind of thing derail us. I’ve found that if the problem is that subtle, it’s often just a fluke. It probably won’t happen again. Just drop another ball and swing away. This is even more important in life off the golf course.

Sometimes things keep going wrong

In part one, I talked about the “death spiral implosion” that can occur when one bad shot follows another. If you combine this phenomenon with not knowing what went wrong, it can be enough to make you want to quit altogether.

My approach for times I don’t have a specific “fix” to apply to a recurring problem is to become unconventional. In the movie “Bull Durham”, Susan Sarandon’s character has to get the pitcher’s mind off his streak of wild pitches. She makes the pitcher (played by Tim Robins’s) don a garter belt under his uniform, and he becomes so distracted that he stops worrying about wild pitches and begins firing the ball right down the middle.

While I don’t recommend stowing garters in your golf bag, any unconventional play can work. Bet your caddie that you can hit the next shot 50 yards using just your putter. Keep a sleeve of pink golf balls in your bag and tell the guys, “I’ll use these, since I can’t seem to get past the ladies’ tees anyway.” Tee up the next shot barefoot. Once the tension of your “losing streak” is broken, your “A” game might just return.

Good times are better with a friend

If you’ve ever tried to play a round of golf by yourself, you’ll know there are a several things that make this a very different experience. Your mind wanders; you tend to rush to the finish (and each shot, as well); the temptation to take mulligans and do-overs becomes intense; and it’s somehow just not enough that you’re outdoors enjoying beautiful weather in a beautiful setting.

In fact, solo golfers are so rare that their presence is disconcerting – even alarming – to other players. Inevitably every twosome or threesome they see will invite the soloist to join their group. It’s as if they consider it offensive to be alone there, or some evidence of sociopathic behavior. Or maybe it’s just that the groups understand what’s being missed, and compassion is the thing that moves them towards an invite.

Humans are social creatures, and almost everything that brings humans happiness has a social element to it. It’s just more fun sharing the fun with a friend, and the friend in turn makes the experience more remarkable and enjoyable.

The 19th hole: Conclusions

Like life, the game of golf has elements of work, play, integrity, meditation, problem-solving, philosophy and friendship. Some days you struggle, some days you’re golden, some days you get rained on. If you pay attention, you can get a lot out of it. And usually there’s a beer or two involved.

If I can derive so much philosophical insight from just one round of golf, how much better would the world be if everyone spent some time on the course every week?

(See part one here.) Who says golf is a waste of time? Sometimes you can derive the most inspirational lessons from a round of golf. Here are more of the nine life lessons that I pulled out of yesterday’s game:

Integrity allows for apples-to-apples progress tracking

I admit that in my younger days I often “fudged” my score, but only when the golfing gods were being particularly mischievous and unfair. I mean, I know that missing a 3-foot putt means you’re supposed to putt again and count both strokes, but in my mind it shouldn’t have counted as a miss because I could try that putt all day long and never miss it again.

Then I played a couple of rounds with someone who had the same philosophy, times ten. I realized that if I wanted to keep up I was going to have to cheat on an unprecedented scale – and that made me very uncomfortable. The only way this was going to work for me was to do the exact and complete opposite – and fanatically track every stroke and penalty knowing he was going to “win” the round. Then I could always claim a personal win, knowing my score was right and his was not.

The surprising thing was that I found I didn’t end up in situations to fudge things as often as usual. And I had an accurate record of this game, and all those that followed. My game improved, also my mindset, and there was a serenity and sense of honor that I wanted to experience more often. These days I play it straight – although sometimes it enters my mind that some golfing gods, gremlin or higher being is intentionally screwing with my game, and it’s hard to resist the temptation to record the score fairly instead of accurately.

Minor changes are amplified the further out you go

When you line a putt up wrong, it may only wrong by an inch or two when it’s rolled two feet, but by the time the ball has rolled thirty feet you’ve missed the hole by a yard. This is even more evident when you’ve lined up wrong from the tee box, because there’s a long way to go before it stops travelling in the wrong direction.

If it were possible to steer a ball in flight, golf would be a strange game indeed. The earlier you can determine that you’re off course, the sooner you can institute corrections. Fortunately, life allows for constant course correction. We are not locked into an inescapable trajectory – we can decide a new direction the moment we realize we’ve botched our aim.

Fixing it yourself feels better than someone telling you how to fix it

The guys I usually play with had been somewhat helpful in showing me how to compensate for a wicked slice that has consistently plagued my drives. Unfortunately, these “solutions” meant making accommodations for the slice instead of fixing the problem that was causing it. What I really wanted was to undo my bad form, not learn to live with it.

I came into Sunday’s game ready to try a couple of new ideas that I came up with and tested at the driving range the previous week. The results were amazing on the range, and even held true in the field under the pressure of an actual game. I was proud of my new improved skills and even prouder that I figured it out on my own. It was also great to have an audience who could appreciate it.

This is not to suggest that the help from my friends was useless or unwanted. I have asked for help on occasion, and not just out of desperation. Fixing it yourself sometimes means asking for help.

Stay tuned

for the final round as we’ll tee off from the seventh hole next time.