Monday, January 26, 2015

Photo Challenge #8: If You Can Dodge a Wrench...


After playing along with Erin's 30 Word Thursday weekly challenge on her Treasures Found Blog for the past year I have finally taken the plunge and started taking photography more seriously.  Starting with my iPhone, I soon found that the limitations of that device were getting to me.  Upgrading to a Cannon Eos Digital Rebel SL1 camera, I've started experimenting more with technique.  I have also invested in Photoshop Elements 12 and most of my post-production on photos will be from that program.  As a way to force myself to try new things, I'm doing a weekly photo challenge--each week focusing on a different photography or editing technique.  Some of these may be simple and others more difficult.  I encourage any of my readers to take part in the challenge!  Without further ado and and in reference to the schlock-fest movie of Dodge Ball:



If You Can Dodge A Wrench...


For this challenge we will be trying out the classic photography method of Dodging.  In the old days of film, this technique was used during the developing process to lighten areas of the film selectively.  One would basically hold a semi-opaque sheet over the developing film--allowing less light to hit a specific area of the print and hence less exposure.  This resulted in a lighter or "dodged" area where you wanted it.  Now with photo editing programs one can imitate this effect with much less trial and error.  So this week take a picture--preferably one where the contrast isn't as great as you would like it--and use this technique to add more light to select areas of the photo.  Last week we focused on the flipside of this with Burning In.  For super extra credit I'd like to see both techniques used on one picture.  Check out last week's post HERE.

The technique I'm using in these pictures is not quite the pre-programmed Dodge settings on Photoshop Elements, but approximates the effect pretty well and is easy to do.  First take the picture you want and move it to the Editor using the Expert tab.  Now use the very far right upper corner arrow down menu and from there choose New Layer.  Move down to Overlay and click the little box right below that drop-down to make it use a gray base.  Next choose the paintbrush tool off to the left side of the screen with medium soft brush at about 30% opacity to start.  Choose the size based on what areas you are going to alter.  Next click D on the keypad and this will change the foreground color (click between Black and White by using X) you want White as your Dodge foreground.  Hint: Burning In works the same way exactly, but you use Black as the foreground color.  Next you simply use the paintbrush to scrub over the areas you want lighter.






This picture was taken at The Walker a few weeks ago.  The place has crazy angles and just seems…off.  This particular hallway really accentuates the oddity.  Ok, so the effect is subtle here.  I took the first photo, in which the walls and the hanging crystals were just a bit too dark, and lightened them up by dodging enough to get more texture and POP.

That is all I have time for this week, but I also used the effect in one of last week's entries.



For next week's Photo Challenge #9 we are going to make use of our frigid winters.  I want to see some snow or ice!  If you live in an area without seasons, then go ahead and just take some pictures outside to make us jealous.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Whale A Week: Surly Four




Well folks, time again for A Whale A Week!

The Surly Anniversary beers have been quite a mixed bag over the years, but I appreciate the brewers stretching their brewing chops to try new things.  One was a Quad/Doppelbock concoction that I never got to try.  I assume it was good.  Two was a cranberry milk stout that I first tried at a charity benefit--very tasty and tart.  That one made it to a small bottling run, but I've never actually seen one in person.  If anyone has one they want to share, I can make it worth your while!  Three was a braggot, made with half honey and half grain.  I did not like that one fresh, but a year later it was much more balanced and mellow.  I'd love to try this again now!


Elsa helps to eis our bottle of Surly Four...



Surly Four

Surly Four was the first of the anniversary beers that I loved from the get-go.  It was released in 2010, making this one a classic here in 2015!  I remember it as a thick and creamy Imperial porter/stout with espresso.   I know that they added dark roast coffee to the end of the boil process, resulting in a more burnt/roasted character than is seen in their "dry coffee" technique used for Surly Coffee Bender.  I believe that while talking to Omar about this beer, he mentioned actually eising it slightly, which increased the mouthfeel and concentrated a lot of the flavors.  For those who put stock in ratings, the beer currently has a rating of 96 on BeerAdvocate and 100 on RateBeer.  The beer clocks in at about 10% ABV.

This particular precious bottle was raided from the cellar of fellow Jack Of All Brews member Bryce Ehrman.  Dipped in blue wax, the bottle hosts wonderful artwork from fantastic and friendly local artist Adam Turman, known for his work with Surly as well as murals at Butcher & The Boar and 612 Brewery.  Bryce and my wife Sj joined me in the basement bar for the tasting this past Wednesday night after work.  I served these into Surly Darkness snifters for that added bit of appropriateness.  I've broken our comments up where we differed a bit.  Sj was verbose in her descriptions as usual.

Aroma:
Eric: Sweet maltiness with a milk chocolate character.  No hop aroma.  Some dark roast espresso as swirled.  Reminds me of the wonderful chocolate gelato from Paciugo in the Mall of America.  Slight vegetal zip as it warms.  This just smells rich and decadent overall.
Bryce:  Almost smells like it is barrel aged--vanilla and tannin.  Rich cacao and roast.

Appearance:
Eric:  Opaque and nearly black.  Large dark tan head with medium sized bubbles that persist for ages.  Some legs on the edge of the snifter.
Bryce: Deep brown mahogany with medium tan head.

Flavor:
Eric:  Sweet maltiness and almost caramel notes at first hits you with near cloying sweetness.  At the middle of the taste I get a strong smokiness that trails into a semi-burnt espresso bitterness.  That finish is strong and almost like coffee grounds, leaving you with a astringent and dry finish.  Thick and coating mouthfeel.  Balance to the sweet side, but the finish actually saves this from being cloying.  Some alcohol warming, but not burning by any means.  No hop flavors discerned.  I get some cacao/bitter chocolate as it warms.
Bryce:  Excessively sweet tasting like sugar and toffee.  More to the caramel side of sweet than to the chocolate.  Medium to heavy body and slick mouthfeel.  Slight alcohol warmth on back end.  No oxidation at all.

Overall:
Eric:  Most coffee beers I've aged have quickly lost their coffee mojo, but this one is amazingly strong despite being over four years old!  I think the astringency in this is a combination of too much dark roast malt and the coffee being added to the boil.  The smokiness is a surprise, and this almost reminds me of a milder aged Alaskan Smoked porter.  The beer improves as it warms for sure.  Overall this reminds me of chewing on a dark chocolate dipped espresso bean.  I give it…appropriately a 4!
Bryce: This beer has one of the most unique differences between the aroma and the flavor that I have come across.  This seems almost like a barrel aged Russian Imperial stout.  I also give it a 4.
Sj: "I like it!" 4




This week I'm starting to use a free link tool on each week's entry to encourage any other budding beer reviewers or bloggers to play along with me.  Just hit the button below and add a link to your page/blog and it will post in the area below.  I'll leave the link open all week so if you decide to dig one of these beers out of your cellar and try it out you can still post here.  I welcome folks to try that or even just comment here on the blog to tell me what you think of the beer!



Next week we will continue our Surly run on A Whale A Week with Surly Five!  I plan to work my way through all the Surly Anniversary beers before moving on to some other bottles I have stored away in the cellar.  Stay tuned!

video

Oh, and here is a quick easter egg outtake from our tasting...

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Brewery Review: LynLake Brewing




One of my New Year's resolutions this year was to get out of the house and visit some of the glut of new breweries that have opened in Minnesota over the past year.  Once upon a time even the rumor of a new brewery would get me all exited and riled up.  Now, I can't even keep some of these newcomers straight in my head.  Am I getting lazy, old and crotchety?  Perhaps.  But I will also say that like a fine barleywine, I like to let a new brewery mature and mellow a bit before I try it out.  My oldest friend Bryan was in town recently and we took the opportunity to visit three breweries in one day.  Our first stop was the recently opened LynLake Brewery, just at the edge of Uptown and literally right next door to The Herkimer.

The brewery itself is in the Historic LynLake Theater, and makes good use of the wide-open space.  Stepping into the building from the bitter Minnesota cold, I was hit by a blast of blessed heat and the roar of an agitated crowd of NDSU fans watching a game on the big-screen TV.  Those who know me well know I'm the opposite of a sports guy, so sports bars are not my bag.  I was a little concerned about the noise at first, but at an empty high-top table near the rear of the taproom we discovered a lee in the storm of raised voices.




The bar is central to the brewery, forming a large rectangle.  Above the bar are hanging light fixtures dangling from old bike tires at several different levels, forming a large found-art mobile effect.  The staff seemed very friendly at the bar.  Between Bryan, my wife Sj, and myself, we split two samplers so we could try most of the beers and took them back to our table.  I really like the solid copper tubing sampler trays--they are unlike anything I've seen before!




While we started working our way through the beers, I took stock of the rest of the brewery.  Behind us, at the back of the space was the stainless steel brewhouse and rows of conical fermenters, cordoned off with appropriate red theater ropes.  A few walls were tagged with a kaleidoscope of riotous colors and patterns in spray paint, bringing a bit of "street" into the place.

The beers were an interesting mix of styles from the obligatory but well crafted PonyBoy Gold to the oaty Rubbish amber.  I didn't really love the Take 6 IPA due to its harsh astringency--like someone mixed lemon cleanser into the fermenter with the dry-hops.  Other than the IPA, I felt that all the beers we had were respectable examples of the styles they were going for with minimal off flavors.  The only one that really got me going though was the Peach Treat.  That was a peach flavored smoked beer that should have been so wrong, but turned out so right!  All three of us fought like hungry dogs over that tiny sampler glass.




Overall, I had a good time hanging out at LynLake with my peeps.  I do think that they are making credible beers here now, but until I got to the Peach Treat would not have strongly recommended the place over several other local breweries.  The vibe is nice, and the space is a cool one.  I'm interested to see what these guys do over the coming year and will certainly stop in next time I'm in Uptown.


Already a weird mural, but I pointilizied it just because I could...

Monday, January 19, 2015

Photo Challenge #7: I'm Burning For You


After playing along with Erin's 30 Word Thursday weekly challenge on her Treasures Found Blog for the past year I have finally taken the plunge and started taking photography more seriously.  Starting with my iPhone, I soon found that the limitations of that device were getting to me.  Upgrading to a Cannon Eos Digital Rebel SL1 camera, I've started experimenting more with technique.  I have also invested in Photoshop Elements 12 and most of my post-production on photos will be from that program.  As a way to force myself to try new things, I'm doing a weekly photo challenge--each week focusing on a different photography or editing technique.  Some of these may be simple and others more difficult.  I encourage any of my readers to take part in the challenge!  Without further ado and with all apologies to Blue Oyster Cult:



I'm Burning For You

For this challenge we will be trying out the classic photography method of Burning In.  In the old days of film, this technique was used during the developing process to darken areas of the film selectively.  One would basically hold a tinted or opaque card with central clear area over the developing film--allowing more light to hit a specific area of the print and hence more exposure.  This resulted in a darker or "burned in" area where you want it.  Now with photo editing programs one can imitate this effect with much less trial and error.  So this week take a picture--preferably one where the contrast isn't as great as you would like it--and use this technique to add more contrast or shadow to select areas of the photo.  Just a hint, the following week's challenge will be the opposite of this effect: Dodging!  For super extra credit I'd like to see both techniques used on one picture.

The technique I'm using in these pictures is not quite the pre-programmed Burn In settings on Photoshop Elements, but approximates the effect pretty well and is easy to do.  First take the picture you want and move it to the Editor using the Expert tab.  Now use the very far right upper corner arrow down menu and from there choose New Layer.  Move down to Overlay and click the little box right below that drop-down to make it use a gray base.  Next choose the paintbrush tool off to the left side of the screen with medium soft brush at about 30% opacity to start.  Choose the size based on what areas you are going to alter.  Next click D on the keypad and this will change the foreground color (click between Black and White by using X) you want Black as your Burn In foreground.  Hint: Dodging works the same way exactly, but you use White as foreground color.  Next you simply use the paintbrush to scrub over the areas you want darker and this semi-opaque darker contrast area will appear!

For the first time in seemingly months we had sun!  And shadows!

Not to be pleased with regular old shadows from the trees, I wanted them to really POP with more contrast.

1) Blue Snow Woman:  This picture was taken just yesterday at the Walker Art Center Sculpture Garden.  Our friend Kathleen (a big art fan) was in town and paid our way in to see some modern art!  For this  I liked the effect of the tree limb shadows on this big sculpture, but wanted a more dramatic statement.

2) Waterfall:  This was the first waterfall I shot and I had absolutely no clue what I was doing.  I was trying to mess with slower shutter speed but did not have a tripod at this point, so the camera was resting on a bench to limit motion.  I liked the effect but the sunlight on the trees in the foreground made them stand out more than the white water I wanted to be the focus of the shot.

Not the best picture ever, but I was experimenting with slower shutter speeds.  

I used the Dodge technique to accentuate and lighten the white water, bringing it out more without significantly changing the look.
I used the Burn In technique around the bright edges (almost making a vignette) to darken them a bit without losing the color.
After both effects this is still not a great shot, but the eye is drawn more to the water in the center of the shot rather than the bright leaves.  I'll be trying a similar effect when it gets warm again and I can get back to the Arboretum!


An InLinkz Link-up




For Photo Challenge #8: Dodge This (to be posted next Monday), we will be trying Dodging.  While Burning In over exposes areas to make them darker, Dodging covers up areas of the film to decrease exposure and lighten the areas.  Again, this used to be a manual hands-on effect done at the time of developing, with an opaque or semi-opaque object/sheet held over the developing film.  Now we can do this easily with Photoshop Elements (and others) without the risk of ruining the film.  Bonus for doing both effects on one picture like I did above with the waterfall.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Coffee In My Beer? Part 1

Last year I did a post about coffee beers. (You can check it out HERE if you want to see some more). That was one of the more fun beer review posts I did that year and I think it is about time for a second one!  As a coffee fan, (but no connoisseur,) I find this style of beer to be a very interesting intersection of two of my great beverage likes.  Coffee beers tend to be very polarizing among beer drinkers, but not as much as pumpkin and spice beers.  So without further ado, here are some new reviews: some are vintage aged beers, some from distant lands (Pennsylvania), others fresh and local.

Enki Brewing Mocha Porter:  This is very local beer, coming from a brewery just a 10-15 minute drive from my home.  Hopefully it will still be on tap by the time I post this!  This is a version of their Cacao Porter, a mellow dark beer with chocolate added, that also adds coffee to the mix.

Aroma: I get a strong dark chocolate aroma, rich, roasty, and sweet.  Malt and caramel notes as swirled.  Very subtle coffee notes difficult to pick out from roasted dark malts.

Appearance: Deep brown to nearly black in color.  Almost opaque but with ruby highlights at edge of glass when held to the meager light of the taproom.  Head is a bit low and fleeting, fading to the rim quickly.

Flavor: Off-sweet maltiness up front, that fades slowly to a rich chocolate finish.  Complex meld of light roast coffee, bitter black malt, and sweetness.  Body is medium and creamy, but drops to a fairly dry finish.  Carbonation is appropriate for the style--slightly low and very British.

Overall: A well balanced porter, fit for any English pub.  The chocolate in this version is front and center, which is a bit surprising considering the addition of coffee.  The coffee is very subtle and difficult to pick out, but it certainly adds complexity and character to this brew.  I like it a lot...but I personally want more coffee flavor!  This will be a great one for those who are not huge caffiends like me.  4/5




Troegs JavaHead Stout: This is actually the first beer I have had from Troegs Brewing out of Hershey, Pennsylvania.  I picked this one up from the glorious bottled beer selection at the Headkeeper outside of Pittsburgh on a recent trip.  The website gives a fair amount of information on the beer (7.5% ABV, 60 IBU, oats in the mash) as well as a video of roasting the coffee and brewing of the beer.  The coffee is added (with hops) to the hopback after the boil is done, acting like a big French Press coffee maker.

Aroma: Sweet malt.  Milk Chocolate and candy sweetness.  Very light roasted grain aroma.  Coffee is very minimal.

Appearance: Deep black and nearly opaque.  Dark tan head that fades quickly.  Fine lace.

Flavor: Up front strong roast firmness of a strong American hoppy stout.  Some alcohol warming that seems almost like an Imperial stout.  Smooth chocolate in the middle of the taste.  Ends a bit bitter and astringent.  Medium mouthfeel that seems creamy at first but ends dry and bitter.  Deep almost burnt coffee flavors as it warms.

Overall: Not a bad beer, but not my favorite coffee beer.  The roasty bitterness of the coffee beans seems to accentuate the high IBU and roasted grain astringency, cutting the oaty-slick mouthfeel and making this a bit too astringent for my palate.  3.5/5




Alesmith Speedway Stout Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee:  Last year I did a review of the regular version of this wonderful beer.  I recently came into a stash of some of the variants and here is the first one I'm cracking!  This is 2014 vintage and has 12% ABV.  Mostra Coffee has lightly roasted the very rare and expensive Blue Mountain coffee, then it is cold brewed and added to the beer.

Aroma: Strong bitter dark baker's chocolate and roasted dark grain.  Coffee is light and has a hint of acidity.  Sweetness from malt is warms and swirled.
Appearance: Deep black and completely opaque.  Initial large deep tan head that fades quickly.
Flavor: Powerful roasted coffee bean flavor, fading to a roasty and caramel sweetness.  Very dry, bordering on astringent finish.  This beer tastes like fine dark chocolate with a mouth-coating semi-sweet flavor.
Overall: A wonderful use of coffee in a beer.  I like this slightly more than the "regular" version but I wouldn't spend too much more for it in the future.  A dark and bitter brew--perfect for someone (like me) who loves dark roast and espresso.  Easy to keep drinking this due to the dry finish--doesn't get cloying like many RIS beers. 4.5/5



Flat Earth Black Helicopter: I had this on tap at McCoy's Public House in St. Louis Park.  We hit the place right at the end of happy hour and these huge glasses were the same price as regular ones...Why not?!  I first tried this beer at a fund-raiser the first year it was released.  At the time, it was the second coffee beer I'd ever tried and I was blown away by how powerful the coffee flavor and aroma was.  It was very limited at the time and I bought it whenever I could find it.  I'll be honest here, I haven't had a Flat Earth beer since founder/brewer Jeff Williamson was "let go" after having to find alternate funding to keep the brewery open.  I may hold a grudge...kinda like a good passive aggressive Minnesotan.  Being in a crowded bar with low light was not ideal for a review--and I scribbled it messily on a soggy Indeed coaster.

Aroma: Strong coffee aroma of dark roast.  Some cocoa and sweet malt comes through once you get used to the powerful roasted beans.

Appearance: Deep black, opaque (in dark bar anyway).  Somewhat dark tan head that fades slowly.

Flavor: Sweet malt with hint of caramel up front.  Sweetness fades fast to a very prominent dark (almost bitter) roasted coffee flavor.  A bit astringent, but the malt does even this out to some extent.  No hop flavors noted.  Mouthfeel almost seems thin, and this may be accentuated by the astringent finish.  Not incredibly complex.

Overall: A decent coffee beer, but a bit over the top with the dark roast and bitterness.  This is not as good as remembered, but I'm not sure if my tastes have changed or if the beer recipe has.  I remember this being smoother.  It would be great on nitro.  3.5/5


Goose Island Bourbon County Coffee Stout 2012:

I'm cheating on this one.  I reviewed the beer for my A Whale A Week so I'm just posting the link HERE if you haven't read it yet!


OK, so I have accumulated several more coffee beers over the past months and will do a second post of these in the future.  My favorite of this current batch was the Goose Island, with Alesmith coming in close second.  Are there any amazing coffee beers I should be trying?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

30 Words: Ascent





From the dark depths below
I crawl toward the blinding light.

So long without vision in the musty chill 
of the pit.

Above
The
Bright 
Heavens
Beckon
Me 
Forward


This week's 30 Word Thursday entry is a picture that I took at a Castle in Ghent, Belgium this past spring.  This was taken from a basement area of the castle that was either used as storage or possibly as a dungeon.  The day was completely overcast and everything was too dark to get good pictures, but the contrast between the pitch black dungeon and the relatively bright light outside appealed to me.  This one may be a bit too gratuitously emo but hey, my muse was speaking to me in hushed and Gothic tones.  Oh, I did it again just there...

Check out the other 30 Word Thursday contributors (or try one yourself) at Erin's Treasures Found Blog.  

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Whale A Week: Goose Island Bourbon County Coffee Stout 2012


It's that time of week again for my new blog entry series: A Whale A Week!  This week, I went completely opposite from the incredibly tart Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek to the boozy malt-bomb that is Goose Island Bourbon County Coffee Stout.




Some deep background for this epic beer.  I went to medical school in Chicago back in 1996-2000.  That seems like a long, long, long time ago now.  My first real experience with craft beers (other than a couple of shameful Sam Adams and Pyramid fruit beers) was at Goose Island's Clybourn Brewpub.  I used to go down to the brewpub for lunch and a beer sampler, taking my time and getting out of my ghetto basement apartment to study.  Once my future wife moved to Chicago to be with me, we continued to frequent this place.  I remember going to one of the first Barrel Aged Beer Festivals in the backroom (now occupied by Siebel) in the brewpub.  At that time they had something like 8-10 beers available for trial an most were not good.  Things have come a long way since then, but Goose Island was truly one of the very first breweries to experiment with this now very popular style of beer aging.  When GI was bought out by AB-Inbev I was saddened and sure that my favorite beers would soon by watered down and worthless.

Since then I have noticed no significant downturn in quality of my favorite GI beers.  In fact, we have better distribution of these beers in Minnesota now.  They have also come out with several variants on the Bourbon County brand like vanilla, barleywine, and this week's coffee entry.  I have heard rumors that they are rapidly buying up barrels and making them harder to come by for smaller craft breweries though.  This particular beast is a 14.3% ABV Russian Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels.  They have partnered with Chicago's Intelligentsia Coffee for this brew, using La Tortuga coffee beans from Honduras.  Looking at their website, the coffee is supposed to have flavors of tangy tangerine acidity with tamarind, orange sherbet and wild honey.




Aroma: Semi-sweet chocolate with a hint of cinnamon is the dominant aroma.  There is some distinct bourbon booze character of alcohol, vanilla and even a little toffee.  The coffee is subtle in the aroma, but present as a deep roastiness.  No hop aroma.  A very pleasing and complex melange of scents in this that vary quite a bit sniff to sniff.

Appearance:  What can I say...Black!  Very dark and opaque black color.  A small tan head that disappears rapidly to almost nothing.

Flavor:  Very sweet up front.  In the middle, before flavor, I note a thick mouthfeel that coats the tongue for a chocolate milk shake effect.  Hefty roast malt and some dark roast coffee flavors arrive once you get used to the mouthfeel.  No hop flavor, but some bitterness present.  Balance to the sweet side, but just shy of cloying.  Bourbon vanilla flavors are very strong, but the big malt balances this well.  Distinct alcohol warming, but not HOT, just boozy.  Despite lack of head, the carbonation is medium and helps clear the sweetness on the palate.  Each sip brings out more flavors, making you want to keep trying this again and again.  I get a spicy cinnamon flavor as it warms, reminding me of Cigar City Hunahpu.

Overall:  The coffee has faded quite a bit from fresher versions I've tried, but the alcohol has mellowed and the flavors have melded into something unique.  I'm a huge coffee fan and miss the freshness of that coffee, but this beer is still amazing.  Having had a regular BCS from the same year recently, I can say that this version is more complex than the original.  I have another of these in the cellar and will drink it soon, since that coffee will continue to fade away.  I give it a solid 5/5.

I first tried this beer at Autumn Brew Review several years back and it promptly jumped the rank to become one of my favorite beers of all time.  Since then, they have continued to make this and it now comes in 12 oz bottles.  I had to trade a friend from the Chicago area for a bottle of this, exchanging this summer at NHC in Michigan.  Sj and I drank that one right away since we had been pining over it for so long and then we were sad that it was gone.  More recently I came into a stash of beers from another local beer hoarder and managed to get a couple more bottles of this precious nectar.  I did not get any of this year's Black Friday release and many tears were shed.

Any thoughts on this beer from the peanut gallery? I know there are a lot of BCS haters and lovers out there!

Next week I think I'm going to start a series of Surly Anniversary beers.  While these may not be quite as rare around here in Minnesota, the older bottles are getting pretty hard to find these days, and age may have changed these quite a bit since they came out.  Maybe these are closer to small beluga whales rather than Moby Dick, but still worth a try!  I'll be starting with the sour Surly Five and working my way through Eight.  Unless someone has a Four they would like to share!