Friday, January 30, 2015

Drinkfly: Beer and Alcohol Delivered to Your Home!


I was recently contacted by the folks from Drinkfly, a new online service that promises to deliver beer, wine and liquor right to your door within 60 minutes.  Moving with the times and using people's smart phones and computers, the company aims to make getting your beverages quicker and easier.  Intrigued, I talked online with one of the the guys involved, Alex Cullen.

1) JABlog:  So give me a little background.  How does Drinkfly work?

AlexDrinkfly is a free to download app and website that allows thirsty consumers the ability to order beer, wine, and liquor and get it delivered to their door in 60 minutes or less.  Consumers start off by inputting their delivery address, selecting a store, browsing the store's inventory (most stores have well over 1,000 items on the app) that includes pictures, prices, and descriptions, adding items to their cart, and then checking out.  Customers can pay with cash or with credit card.  There are no price markups, no delivery fees, or fees of any kind.  After the order is placed, it will arrive within 60 minutes (delivery time depends on how busy the store, delivery location proximity, and traffic).  


2) JABlogYou guys have been up and running in New York and Chicago, why bring this service to Minnesota?

Alex:  We were looking for another Midwest city that would be a good fit, and landed on the Twin Cities.  There are also a good number of liquor stores in the Twin Cities that already deliver, so that makes it easier for us to find partner stores as well.  

3) JABlog:  What areas in the Twin Cities do you currently cover?

Alex:  The photo below is mostly up to date; however the current coverage area is even better as we have since signed up additional stores.  We have a total of 8 partner stores currently and are adding another two next week, one of which will cover all of downtown Minneapolis.  



4) JABlog:  This one ties in with the previous question.  I've only ever seen a similar service in Duluth with delivery of Fitgers Brewhouse growlers around town.  This is obviously a much more ambitious project.  I live out in the Western Suburbs (Waconia) and am out of your delivery range or I'd try you out and blog about it.  Do you have plans to expand your coverage to the suburbs of the Cities?

Alex: Yes!  We are constantly getting requests to extend our service to the suburbs around Minneapolis and St. Paul.  We will continue adding partner stores over the next month which will increase our delivery radius, allowing more people to use our service.  

5) JABlog: Are there any other thoughts you would like to discuss with my readers?

Alex:  We are looking to spread the word about our service because we truly think that it's pretty amazing.  I mean who wouldn't want to be able to order some delicious wine or craft beer while sitting on their coach while watching Netflix?  We also service a number of corporate clients here in Chicago.  These are companies (often tech companies) that do happy hours at the office and use our service to supply the party.  We would love to add some corporate orders in the Twin Cities as well!  

We would also like to offer a discount to JABlog readers!.  For a limited time you can use promo code JABlog for $10 off your first order! (as if free delivery weren't good enough, but hey, we're still in the Christmas spirit).


JABlog:  I'm very interested in the service and can imagine plenty of times where I'm not wanting to venture out into the cold for a beer!  More so I'm shocked that there are no hidden fees for this.  Since I'm outside the current delivery zone for Drinkfly, I'm counting on my readers to try this out and report back to me!  Use the coupon code and give it a shot.  

Let's finish up with a promotional video from my old home of Chicago...


Thursday, January 29, 2015

30 Words: Science!





Tiny Molecules
Make Up
Everything

Within Us
Without Us
Space Dust to Earth's Crust

The Magic of Science
Attempts to Decipher
The Method and Manner
of the Heavens and Terra

The premise of 30 Words Thursdays is simple...
Take an image (preferably one you shot, or have permission to use).
Write 30 Words about it. No more. No less.
Post it each Thursday on the Treasures Found Blog.

Enjoy seeing the verse and vision others have captured by visiting them and leaving a comment.

This week's picture was taken at The Walker a few weeks ago.  I was struck by the molecular design and the strange overlapping shadows upon the walls and knew I had to do something with it!  Since everything was grey I easily changed this to true black & white.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Whale A Week: Surly Five





It is time again for my continuing series titled A Whale A Week!  Last week I shared our tasting of Surly Four.  This week we take another trip to the sour side with Surly Brewing.  Those who are following this series will soon realize that my collection of rare beers are mostly sours, Russian Imperial stouts, or barleywines.  These styles tend to be the most cellar friendly, as well as being more difficult to brew resulting in smaller production runs.

Surly Five

This week we discuss the Quasi-Whale that is Surly Five.  I know I'm going to get some comments (and I welcome them) that the Surly anniversary beers are not rare enough to count as Whales.  If you are in that camp, think about this: each year Surly releases their anniversary beers to much fanfare and excitement from us Minnesotans.  Local liquor stores usually get one to two cases each of these wax-dipped bomber bottles.  They sell out in about a day, with a few exceptions.  One can find the beer on tap occasionally over the next month if you frequent the right places. And then it is gone.  Some of us will race around the Twin Cities buying our one or two allowed bottles per place until we have enough to add to our dragon's hoard.  Others scoff at the marketing and high cost of these beers, labeling us "Surly Fan-Boys".  Think about the limited availability here for those who stalk these beers.  Now think about someone in California or NYC lusting after these rare beers.  I think we tend to undervalue what is available to us...for instance craving Russian River's Pliny the Elder when we can get the equally tasty Surly Abrasive (available now) fairly easily here in Minnesota.

The Surly Anniversary beers have been quite a mixed bag over the years, but I appreciate the Todd Haug stretching his 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.  Three was a braggot, made with half honey and half grain.  I didn't like that one fresh, but a year later it was much more balanced and mellow.  I'd love to try this again now!  Four was the first of these that I loved from the get-go.  That one was a thick and creamy Imperial porter/stout with espresso and you can check out last week's review of it HERE.  If any of my friends and readers have a Two they want to share for this series please contact me!


9 out of 10 Chaos wolf soldiers love Surly Five!

Which brings us to Five.  Five was the first Surly sour ale to be bottled.  The beer is a fairly strong 7.5% ABV, dark-colored ale fermented with 100% brettanomyces yeast.  The beer was aged in red wine barrels to add wine and oak character.  Prior to the official release in 2011, I was able to try some of the unblended single barrel offerings of the beer at a Happy Gnome beer dinner and at Winterfest and really liked them.  When I first tried Five from the bottle I was actually a bit underwhelmed, as I was expecting a bit more sourness and funk from the beer.  It was more mellow than the unblended batches I had tried previously.  I had one bottle of Five last year and was impressed by how much the beer had changed since that initial tasting.  The beer currently has a Beer Advocate Rating of 91 out of 100, and a 99 on RateBeer.  Since the release of Five, Surly has now expanded and fine tuned the production methods to make the yearly release of Pentagram.  But this is how it all started!

The bottle cap is dipped in green wax with a very Metal (insert obligatory Dio hand gesture or air guitar here) goat head, pentagram and mash-paddle motif in green and white ink.  The art was from a collaboration between brewer and metal guitarist Todd Haug and local Aesthetic Apparatus.  I poured this into my Surly Darkness snifter glass to get as appropriate as could get.  Too many trips to Belgium with matching glassware has ruined me!

This week I was happy to have fellow Jack Of All Brews members Mike Lebben and Steven Mathistad over to help me out with the tasting.  Since organizing beer tastings is like herding cats (and with three of those I know all about that) we tasted ahead and did our Surly Syx entry for next week as well.  So sue me!  My wife Sj had to work late that day, but we saved her some of each so she could put in her two cents.  And let's be honest, most of these bottles were ones she ventured off in search of when they first released. We spent some time discussing the beer together and here are the highlights!




Aroma:
Eric: Very tart with hint of vinegar sourness.  Earthy notes.  I a get a little roast to this, but not acrid.  There is distinct dark cherry or possible red grape skin.  As it warms I actually pick up a little pineapple.
Mike: Musty.  Also rose-like floral aroma.
Steven: Mustiness, and almost a metallic note.

Appearance: 
Deep mahogany to garnet color.  Excellent clarity with a bit of red sparkle at edge of glass.  Fine tan head that fades quickly from view.

Flavor:
Eric: Strong acetic tartness up front but complex musty barnyard brettanomyces effect noted as well.  Roast malt seems to add some astringency to this beer, especially as it warms up.  Some tannin from the wood accentuates the astringency, but also adds complexity of flavor.  Some ripe plum and mild red wine flavors as I keep going back for more.  Very sour overall.  Body a bit thin.  Carbonation is medium.  Not surprisingly, no hop flavors.
Mike: Like a sour patch kid!  Makes the salivary glands go to town.  Vinegar flavors.
Steven: Sweet at first, but disappears quickly to a sourness.

Overall Impression: 
Eric: This is much more sour than I remember it being originally, but hasn't changed much since last year's try.  I'm thinking this is pretty much at its peak.  Despite being 100% brett fermented, there is distinct acetic acid (vinegar) character to this.  It strikes me more as a dark Flanders Red, somewhat like The Bruery's Tart of Darkness.  As it warms it seems more thin in body.  I like this beer a lot, as it is distinctly different from anything I've tried.  I have two bottles left and plan on cracking one every year until they are gone.  I initially gave it a 5, but after discussing with my cohorts, and letting it warm up, I dropped to a 4.5
Mike: Very sour.  4 (Prior to this year Mike didn't really like sours, but we've been working on him!)
Steven: Strong 4
Sj: "It's Sour!"  4.5


As luck would have it I ran across Surly Pentagram on tap at 3 Squares in Maple Grove while having lunch with my mom a few days after this tasting.  In comparison, the Pentagram had much more red wine character, as well as being less acetic and sour.  The color in Pentagram was much lighter and it lacked the bitter roast character.  They certainly share a lot of similar flavors, but the Pentagram was "easier" to drink and more mellow.  I'm curious to see if aging Pentagram will result in more of the sour character I found in the Five.

Freya gets in on the tasting action by doing her imitation of a face-hugger from Alien...

As usual I'm going to go ahead and post a free link-up below so if any other enterprising beer hoarders/reviewers want to "taste" along you can link to your own website or blog and we can get some different views.  Or feel free to just comment on the blog!





Next week AWAW returns with…You guessed it Surly Syx!  Get ready to taste along and put in your two cents!


(Photo credit for the unaltered killer whale goes to Seaworld website.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Brewery Review: Eastlake Brewery


Continuing the sordid tale of my recent mass brewery tour we move from LynLake Brewing at the edge of Uptown to Eastlake Brewery, further down Lake Street in the Midtown Global Market.  Just past Chicago Avenue, this area borders a bit on "hood", being the only place (after living in Chicago for 4 years) that I was ever almost mugged.  That was quite a while ago but I hold a grudge.  My favorite independent bookstore Uncle Hugo's/Uncle Edgar's is right there as well.

The Midtown Global Market is an interesting place.  Located in the long abandoned Sears Building right on East Lake Street, the market opened in 2006 as a place for small business owners of varying ethnicity to open businesses.  An indoor bazaar of crafts and items from Africa, South America, Scandinavia and more, the building also houses many small authentic eateries and ethnic markets.  Located in an area with a fair mix of cultures, this is a fantastic place for a hot-dish jaded Minnesotan to try something unique.  The Market is also walkable from Abbot Northwestern Hospital and is a popular spot for visitors who have family and friends staying in the hospital.  There is a parking ramp right next to the building with parking validated with purchase within the market for easy access.  My only caveat to encouraging people to visit is that after using my credit card there once someone tried to buy an expensive set of tires in Mexico with it...It was just one experience, but I make sure to use cash there now!

With the embarrassment of edible riches around, a brewery tap room located right in the Market is a recipe for success.  The Eastlake taproom is fairly small but comfortable and open, seating 75 people at maximum capacity.  The 7 barrel electric brewery itself is equally tiny, visible through a door abutting the taproom.  I want one of those for my homebrewing! Long and narrow tables made of what looks like reclaimed bowling alley wood provide most of the seating.  The bar itself is lined with rustic wood and has wooden signs with the available beers easily visible above it.  They were doing a bustling business while we visited, and the servers were moving fast to keep up.  They carry a selection root beer, ginger ale, and kombucha available for the non-beer drinkers at the taproom, as well as a couple of snacks for the thirsty.  Unusual wall art, a few taxidermy animal busts, and an air-hockey table complete the very eclectic decor.




The owner and brewer is Ryan Pitman, who was kind enough to answer a couple of questions for me for this write-up.  Like many professional brewers, Pitman started as a homebrewer, frequenting the local homebrew shops and teaching himself the craft.  From what I hear, he was quite the industrious and enthusiastic homebrewer, really leaping into the hobby and brewing a lot of beers in a short time.  I'm always happy to see one of my homebrewing brethren take it to the next level and be able to share their brews with a larger audience.




The beers themselves are served in either 10 oz snifters or 16 oz pint glasses.  Between the three of us we were able to try three of the five beers on tap, but I would have liked a sampler so I could taste them all.  I know samplers are a pain to serve and cleaning those little glasses is time consuming, but I hate to miss tasting some of the beers.  What if the one I let slip by was the best one?  Gotta drink 'em all!  Our overall favorite was the oddly named L'Ogre De Turvueren a light Belgian pale ale.  The brewer did a good job of balancing the Belgian esters with a strong but not overwhelming hop bitterness that reminded me of some hoppier beers we tried in Belgium recently.  Our second favorite was the El Armatoste,  a brown ale with light coffee and cinnamon spicing.  Not a bad job for a spiced beer, as so many of those take it too far for enjoyment of the base beer.  The Slop City stout was our least favorite of the three, coming out a bit too astringent and ending very bitter.  Best name of the three though!




The brewery has been open just over a month, and seems to be quite popular already based on our visit.  I always hesitate to pass judgement on a brewery in the first few months, knowing that they have a lot of potential kinks to straighten out with the brewing process, fermentation control, water chemistry, and even logistics of serving the beers.  Overall these were good quality beers, and I look forward to seeing how things evolve in the coming months.  Ryan has plans to open a sidewalk seating area come spring and also hopes to host some special events now that the space is open.  I enjoyed our visit to the Eastlake taproom and will certainly go back the next time I go on a book buying spree at Uncle Hugo's!

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!


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!


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Photo Challenge #6: Reach Out and Touch It!

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!

Photo Challenge #6: Reach Out and Touch It!

For this week's challenge I'd like to try out textures.  Most photo programs come with a few built in textures to make a picture more interesting or for unusual effects.  Photoshop Elements has some hidden in the artistic filters like canvas, sandstone, and burlap.  These add a tactile (at least it looks like it does) element to an otherwise flat photo.  I'm interested to see what type of photo will benefit from this treatment.  For extra credit take your own texture picture and use that instead of the built-ins: brick wall, textured stone, rusty metal, etc.  





1) Storage:  The original picture was taken at Fort Ligonier in Pennsylvania this fall.  It had an look that cried out for some sort of treatment.  I almost made this into sepia tone, but it was nearly there on its own already.  I layered this with a texture of a coiled rope from a nautical vessel for a strange but oddly pleasing effect.








2) Pirate's Booty:  The original picture was from from the river out of Ottertail Lake.  I liked the colors, but the subject was just not thrilling.  I overlaid this with a picture of pirate gold from Disneyland for a strange effect.  This actually turned out as more of a blend technique rather than texture, but I liked it so here it is!




3) Flower: This was taken at Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh this fall.  I used a fairly simple craquelare filter to give this texture.  I like the base picture, but the extra interest from the texture pattern adds something.  Combining this with a painting filter would probably be even more impressive…but that was not the challenge this week!  The texture looks better when the picture is enlarged more.



Taken in Maastricht, Netherlands

Boa constrictor at the MN Renaissance Festival



4) Snakes, Why Did it Have to be Snakes?  This was a bit more involved.  I took a blah photo of a cool ironwork detail as my base layer.  I next opened the picture of the snake scales and added that as an additional layer (select all, copy, and then paste into the base layer making an automatic second layer).  I free transformed the second (snake) layer to rotate it and enlarge it to overlay the entire base layer.  Then I tweaked the opacity to about 47% so the layer was visible but didn't overwhelm the base picture.  Next I copied that layer (now layer 3) changing the blend mode to Multiply at 35% opacity.  This darkened the layer a bit more for a burn-in effect.  Next on that layer I took the lasso tool and made an oval around the central snake ironwork.  Right clicking on that and then feathering (set at 100 pixels) it basically cut out the darkened layer 3 from the center of the picture--resulting in a more subtle vignette effect and focusing the eye on the center more.  I learned a bunch of new Photoshop Elements techniques by doing this and like the resulting picture a lot!


So if any readers have tried this week's challenge out, just click on the free link tool below and post your results to share!  Please share this set of challenges with any friends who might want to take part as well!




For next week Photo Challenge #7: 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 developing 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!


Friday, January 9, 2015

Surly's New Beer Hall! Updated 2/9/15





We beer geeks have been eagerly awaiting Surly's new brewery and taproom for years now.  As most people know: to make this massive dream come true Surly first had to spearhead the bill to allow serving pints of beer in a brewery taproom.  While tons of smaller breweries and taprooms have since taken advantage of the change in law, Surly has slowly and quietly been collecting capital to build their new destination brewery.  Taking cues from such brewing behemoths as Russian River Brewing in California, Surly has its sights set higher than the smaller Minnesota breweries.

Like many breweries, the new location is in an industrial area, surrounded by warehouses and crumbling concrete monstrosities.  The place itself has a very sleek and modern look that is certainly out of place in the area, but stands out like a wolf among sheep!  At the time we visited they were still working on landscaping, so the grounds were pretty torn up.  There is a large parking lot, but this was not surprisingly full, requiring us to park on the street a block away.  We also arrived on a rainy December day (strange for Minnesota) so I didn't want to take my camera out for external pictures.  I'll just have to go back for some!  With lack of any sunlight, the interior pictures I took were less than stellar as well, but I'll include some for flavor.

Inside, the first thing you see is the bottoms of huge conical fermenters through a large glass window.  Turning left down a wide light wood-paneled hallway you reach a host stand before entering the taproom proper. With a first-come first-served style, you check in and get a pager for when your seat in the beer-hall is ready.  While waiting you can wander around, sit on some benches, check out the swag shop, or go to the bar and get a beer.  My wife Sj and I did all of these!




The main beer-hall is quite large and open  with family style seating at large tables.  Despite the place being jam packed with raucous people I was struck by how quiet the place was--they obviously invested in some good sound baffling!  A long bar bristling with Surly tap handles lines the far wall.  With our projected 45 minute wait for seating, we headed over to the bar for a beer--following the big silver sign proclaiming "Beer Here".  A fairly long line had already formed up waiting for tasty libations.  With a fast and furious Linda Haug manning the register, the line was happily actually moving much quicker than expected!  Soon I had a snifter of the amazingly hoppy Todd The Axe Man IPA in my hand and Sj had a Hell in hers.  We made use of our wait time by exploring the large facility.  Upstairs there is small dining room with its own open kitchen, currently not in use and lacking in furniture, but dripping with potential!  As a big foody I'm excited about the idea of a more upscale dining option for food in a brewery.  Just down the hall from that is the now bare event center and an accessory serving bar.  Once they get these things up and running, the place is going to be even more exciting.  With the longish wait for beer down at the bar, I actually think they should have someone serving at the upstairs bar as well.

The upstairs restaurant: waiting patiently for some action!

Downstairs again, we wandered the sizeable swag shop.  I was impressed with the amount of options for apparel and glassware.  I really liked the Darkness iPhone case, but they need to get it in iPhone 6 size!  I'd also love to be able to buy a tap handle for my collection at home.  It always boggles my mind when breweries don't take advantage of their loyal fan base by having limited swag options.  Surly does not have that problem!  We walked away with a couple of snifter glasses and I discovered a new long sleeved Surly T-shirt in my Christmas gifts later that week.


The large stainless beauty of the brewhouse is visible from several angles in the building.

Pretty much exactly at 45 minutes from check in, we were buzzed over to the host stand.  We were seated at a long table with four other guys who were already finishing up their meals.  Hey this is a beer hall, get to know your neighbors!  I actually like this social style seating, but it may be a stretch for some reserved Minnesotans.  Our service was excellent while eating.  Our server stopped by frequently and appropriately, despite the general chaos all around us.  We were warned that our dishes might come out in random order depending on what was ready from the kitchen, but everything came out quickly and appropriately for us.  We started with the charcuterie plate since I'm a sucker for meat and pickled vegetables.  This was a mix of their house cured meats including a wonderful ham, a pheasant terrine, a duck rillett, and a very dense hunk of braunschwieger.

Charcuterie and Todd the Axe Man!

Sj and I also split a smoked pork shoulder with two sides figuring we would have leftovers to take home.  Nope we ate everything.  The pork shoulder was crispy on the outside, smoked to perfection and intensely flavored--possibly the best I've had in Minnesota. The squash side was very well seasoned, but a bit small. The side of Brussels sprouts was less impressive--despite their browned appearance, they were soggy and tasted more boiled and sulfurous.  Overall I was very pleased with the food.  I will say that for a lunch menu $22 for the meat and 2 sides was probably a bit much for the quantity we received.  The food options are certainly already elevated from most brew pubs I've been to, and I look forward to what they will do with the more upscale dining upstairs!




Despite the wait, our visit to Surly was a fantastic experience.  When Omar and crew first announced this venture many called them crazy.  I call them visionary.  My only issue with the brewhouse is that I live too far away to stop in regularly!  Right now this place is amazing, but when the outside is finished, the restaurant up and running, and the event center in full swing, this place is going to be off the charts.  Do yourself a favor and support Surly by stopping by for a pint and some food...just don't be in a hurry!

Addendum 2/9/15:

Ok, so Sj and I finally got a chance to go back to Surly on a less crazy Sunday noon for lunch.  Since I had a couple of gripes with our first visit I thought I would revisit this blog entry with an update.  Since our first visit, they have added more decorations and put up cool Darkness posters around, giving the place a richer, more lived in feel.  When we arrived, we were seated immediately with no wait.  I wouldn't expect that on a Friday night, but it was nice to get in and get working on lunch quickly!  Our server was wonderful, coming back to check on us frequently and even bringing us a sample of Doomtree to try out before we bought a whole pint.

This time we started our repast with the Hog Frites.  This was a huge helping of crispy seasoned fries, swimming in a cheese sauce, topped with pulled pork and crunchy tart pickled vegetables.  Wow!  I would order this again in a heartbeat.  Though it might cause my heart to stop beating if I ordered this too often...

Because last time we had tried to split the pork shoulder and been disappointed in the portion size, we ordered two so Sj and I wouldn't have to have a knife fight over these scraps of porky goodness.  This time we were happy to find that they had increased the portion size, and we ended up with lunch for the next day as well!

We had bought a stemware glass the previous visit and hadn't realized it had a small chip in it until getting home. When we took this into the gift shop, not only were they happy to exchange it for a new one, but gave us a free beer for our trouble!  Talk about customer service!

I have to say that our second visit was even better than the first and Surly seems to be doing a great job with their service and training of staff.  Keep it up guys!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

30 Words: Idyllic





A slow flow of rippling stream,
broken rarely by a spirited trout.

A footbridge across to our quiet respite.

A setting and place seemingly both out of time, 
and timeless.


This week's 30 Word Thursday entry was an out-take from my sketchy photo challenge where I took several photos and gave them a sketch effect.  This one was a photo from the very small town of Chiny in the Ardennes that we stayed at while in Belgium this past summer.  After all the chaos of big European cities, dangerous bikers, and crowded pubs, this place was amazingly relaxed and beautiful.  I tried and tried but couldn't catch that trout on film!  I used a pen sketch effect on this one and it has just a little too much going on with the grass in the foreground for me to really love it, but still has a pleasant look to it.  Check out the other 30 Word Thursday entries at Erin's Treasures Found Blog!