Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Whale A Week: KBS 2012

A Whale A Week is my attempt to taste a rare beer every week over all of 2015, while sharing the judging and tasting with a variety of beer loving friends. This week we go with another famed Imperial: Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout!

Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout 2012

When I first started thinking about doing this series of reviews, one of the big beers in my cellar that I kept thinking about was this one.  I inherited my bottle in a cellar buy-out so at least I didn't have to wait in lines or scour liquor stores during the one day they release the beer.  I have been happy that Minnesota has been getting a small portion of this beer for the past few years, so at least we have a chance to find this rare beer here.

The very first coffee beer I ever tried was Founders Breakfast Stout.  I can remember the place and time with some clarity: sitting at a table with my family in Champaign, Illinois at the restaurant Radio Maria.  Having never heard of Founders at the time, I ordered this 8.3% ABV Russian Imperial stout brewed with coffee and chocolate to pair with my coffee encrusted filet of beef.  Angels sang for me on that day.  So when I discovered that there was a stronger (11.2%) similar beer aged in bourbon barrels, I felt my heart pick up a little.  Over the past few years I have tried this near-mythical beer a few times at bottle shares, and once almost by accident, on tap at The Nomad.  I did get a chance to visit Founders during NHC last year in Grand Rapids, and that place is amazing!  No Kentucky Breakfast Stout on tap for us then though...

So KBS, as this beer is affectionately called by in-the-know beer geeks, is quite hard to find and sought-after.  On the day of this testing, I had a couple of friends over to practice their BJCP tasting skills for an upcoming test they were both taking.  With the beers blinded, we went through a terribly oxidized beer from 1998, to a Surly Abrasive, and then I sprung the KBS on them telling them only the style of beer.  Now barrel aged beers are never on the real BJCP tasting exam, I thought this would be a way for them to stretch their tasting and description skills, while also getting a good review of a rare beer without the hype associated with that beer.  Like being punked--but in a good way!  I have posted these using the 50 point BJCP scoring since that was our method.  So Tyrone (already a Recognized beer judge) and Annette Babione (trying to keep up with or surpass her husband) helped me out with this review, and I was pretty impressed with how they did...

Eric: Very sweet maltiness.  Cinnamon, light roast coffee.  Some zing from alcohol on the nose.  Roasted malt and baker's chocolate as swirled.  Hint of cream?  Oaky tannic aroma, possibly some oxidation as it warms up. 10/12
Tyrone: Vanilla leaps out of the glass, immediately followed by dark roasted coffee.  Pervasive alcohol warmth intermingles between these two flavors.  Prune aroma finishes the bouquet.  No hop aromatics.  No other fruity esters.  Slightly sharp grain alcohol emerges after warming.  Roasted malts emerge after opening up.  Slighty toasted coconut.  9/12
Annette: Roasted, almost burnt malt character.  Hint of soy sauce.  No hops detected.  Almost solventy in the nose.  Smells like burnt toast trying to be covered with coffee or a bitter chocolate.  Slight sherry. 6/12

Combined: Black and nearly opaque.  Tan head almost non-existent, with fine bubbles. 2/3

Eric: Semi-sweet dark chocolate is the dominant flavor to my palate.  Some vanilla and cinamon as the taste lingers on the tongue.  Finish is mildly astringent with a burnt coffee edge to it.  Balance slightly to the bitter side.  Lots of roasted dark malts in this.  I get some vegetal flavor as it warms up that detract from the overall enjoyment.  No hop flavors.  No real esters.  16/20
Tyrone: Chocolate is predominant flavor.  Medium-high bitterness.  No hop flavor.  Moderately high oak/wood stiffens the malt backbone to contrast the bitterness.  Evenly balanced with a slight edge to the malt in the finish--although the bitterness persists and builds on the back of the tongue with a dry aftertaste.  Clean fermentation.  Malt flavor is primarily dark roast mixed with a coffee roast. 17/20
Annette: Heavy roast flavor that sticks to the roof of your mouth.  No hop flavor detected.  Light hop bitterness.  Light notes of chocolate and coffee.  Balance is toward the malt with a warm finish and chocolate aftertaste.  Almost like a chocolate soda. 14/20

Eric: Body is medium to thick.  Slightly creamy at the start of the sip.  End is a bit bitter and astringent.  Carbonation is a bit low.  Some warming in throat from alcohol. 4/5
Tyrone: Medium-low carbonation.  Moderate alcohol warming, bordering on boozy.  A mild creaminess with no astringency.  Moderately heavy weight body with medium viscosity.  No other palate sensations. 5/5
Annette: Full body with lower carbonation.  Warmth from alcohol detected.  Hint of creamy.  Light astringency detected. 4/5

Eric: Complex and interesting.  I keep trying it for new flavors over time.  Improves as it warms up.  Coffee is very subtle and comes off more burnt than fresh.  Booze present but well integrated into beer than when fresh. 7/10
Tyrone:  Although the alcohol borders on hot, it avoids crossing over that line and maintains a wonderful alcohol warmth, while providing excellent bitterness to cleanse the palate--preventing the malt, wood, and coffee flavors from becoming overpowering.  Great example of the style, although malt profile could benefit from more complexity to avoid muddy flavoring. 8/10
Annette:  Overall this was a decent example.  The roast hinted toward the acrid or burnt, but the alcohol didn't burn or become hot.  The barrel melded the flavors well, but it was a little too acrid for personal taste.  However, coffee and chocolate notes had high redeeming qualities... 7/10

Total scores were:
Eric: 39/50
Tyrone: 42/50
Annette: 33/50

Overall I think we all picked up on the same aromas and flavors, but our personal tastes factored into it.  It was interesting experiment to give a rare and highly publicized beer to blinded judges and get an honest review of it.  Tyrone liked it the most, Annette the least.  I fell in the middle, even knowing what beer we were dealing with--partly because I have had this fresh or one year old and loved it more that this sample.  I felt that the coffee flavor had faded a lot and turned to a more burnt and acrid flavor than when fresher.  Upshot is to not age this beer longer than 2 years if you can help it!  Still a great beer, but less than it used to be.

Now that I have climbed the mountain and tried this whale, where can I go now?  Oh, wait, Founders makes a beer called Canadian Breakfast Stout?  Aged in bourbon barrels and maple syrup barrels?  What?  Good, now I have something even more rare and precious to stalk...

Monday, April 27, 2015

Photo Challenge #20: Spring Into Action!

This is my weekly self-imposed challenge to improve my budding photography and photo editing skills over the coming year.  I just started shooting with a "real" Canon digital rebel camera a year ago, after upgrading from iPhone only shots.  I've been enjoying experimenting with the hobby and also using some of the skills I'm learning to improve my beer photography for the rest of this blog as well.  Hopefully folks are enjoying taking this journey with me!  As always feel free to add your own link at the bottom of the page if you want to play along…

Last week I tried out silk screen or cut-out effects.  This week I left it a little more open for pictures of Spring!  I spent some time in the past 2 weeks at the Arboretum and saw some tiny signs of life among the dead leaves and browns of Fall.  There wasn't much greenery to be caught on the larger lens, so I switched over to my macro lens for a closer look.  At the time I'm posting this, there is much more greenery abounding, but I thought these few spots of color were more striking...

Wild raspberry cane ready for action!

These were tiny!
The framing isn't perfect in this one, but I liked the contrast between the brown branch and the burst of blue from the flower.

I have no idea what type of flowers these are, but I found them thrusting up from the forest floor in a few spots.

And last but not least, I found this lone battered looking butterfly clinging to this sapling in a high wind!
So there you go, a taste of Spring in Minnesota!  For the next two weeks the assignment is Travel Photography!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

30 Words: Hanging On

30 Word Thursday is a collaborative project started by Erin at her Treasures Found Blog.  The idea is simple: take a photo (preferably your own) and put it to exactly 30 words.  I've been playing along more sporadically this year, mainly due to time doing my own self-imposed photo challenge, but now that the weather is getting nicer and I have more opportunity to take pictures, I'll be doing more.  Check out the rest of the entries at Erin's blog. Oh, and comment!  We want to hear what folks think!

Twisted and twined, 
One around the other.

Hanging on,
Supporting each other.

Through the long cold season,
And the return of warmth.

Tied closely together,
Never truly alone,
Entwined forever.

I took this picture on a recent walk through the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.  I was just starting to see some flowers and greenery, but the majority of the forest I was walking through was barren and brown.  I saw this wild grape vine twisted around its partner and wanted to get a macro view of it.  While I was changing lenses, two deer sprang past me and into the underbrush.  Typical!  Only after I got this picture in the editing suite did I notice the small spider in there.  In case you missed it, the sentiment to this one relates to my wonderful and supportive wife!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Whale A Week: East End Gratitude 2007

A Whale A Week is my attempt to share a rare beer with friends every week for the whole year of 2015, often accompanied by funky photo tricks.  This helps me get through my dragon's hoard of cellared beers as well as practice with beer photography.  This week we move to a barleywine...

East End Brewing's Gratitude 2007 Vintage

This beer honestly came as somewhat of a surprise to me.  I got this in a large cellar buy and had no idea what I had received until my friend Andrew Gieseke saw it hiding behind some other barleywines in my cellar.  I could hear his audible gasp and consequent evil chuckle, and knew I had found something that sparked his fancy.  Andrew is one of the guys who got me into cellaring beer, so when he gets excited about a beer, I pay attention!  Being a sour-head, I had expected him to zero in on those guys from my stash, but we ended up with barleywine...

East End Brewing Co. is located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  I actually visited the city earlier this year and discovered several fine newer breweries, but this one totally slipped my radar.  Open since 2004, these guys were one of the earlier craft breweries in the area, and only in the 2014 have opened a tasting room.  I'm pretty sure the area had a recent law change (like the Surly Bill here in Minnesota) to allow for tap rooms. East End is primarily a draft brewery with very few bottles of their beer making it to market, which may account for their mainly local following.  Per their website, they put out over 35 different beers during most years.

Gratitude Barleywine was really East End's first "hit" among the serious beer geeks, being made in very small quantities.  The bottles are wrapped in paper and wax dipped, along with hand-created bottle art of birds.  Each year features a different colored bird, corresponding to the spectrum of light. The very first batch was only 500 bottles and featured a crow on the label.  2006 increased a bit to 1300 bottles and featured an orange chickadee on the label.  The bottle I dug out of the depths of my cellar was from the 2007 vintage!  Tightly wrapped in brown paper, this bottle is also dipped in yellow wax.  Mine is number 628/1500 and hand signed.  The bottle art features a monochromatic yellow and black goldfinch feeding her baby by mouth.  Honestly, this is some of the best packaging I've seen and one can tell they put a lot of labor into it.  Continuing the Gratitude story, it looks like the first 2008 batch had a burnt taste that was less than lovely, so they sold it at a cheaper price and re-brewed a smaller batch of it later that year. They continued to put out yearly versions, but the 2011 and 2012 versions did not carbonate in the bottle and were named "Flatitude" and not officially labeled or released.  Interestingly it looks like at each Gratitude release day they would allow people to buy older vintages that they still had on hand.  They have now completed the ROY G. BIV color spectrum and in 2014 released a barrel aged version of the beer, without the fancy paper wrapping.  I'm unsure if they plan to do a 2015 release or if they are going to leave off brewing Gratitude on that note.

No arty photo magic this week.  I was going to make Sarajo feed the beer to Andrew like in the label but they refused to cooperate...

Honestly, now knowing the complex history of this beer, I was a lot more interested in trying it!  However, I was concerned about its age.  This beer is 7.5-8 years old, and most beers don't age that well.  With an ABV of 11.5% and wax dipped cap, I had hopes.  Always ready for a challenge, I threw this in the fridge and we cracked it open a short time later.  We poured these into Steel Toe snifter glasses.

Eric: Strong oxidation, but more pleasant sherry than cardboard.  Sweet sugar and malt with a caramel or toffee character.  A hint of tartness.  No hop aromas.  Some light fruit esters.  I pick up some mint as it warms in the glass.
Andrew: Maple syrup, sherry, caramel/toffee.  The sweet dough from a cinnamon bun (bakery shop) but without the actual cinnamon.  Raisin, dried apricot.  Some papery notes--a touch of mint--candied pear and almond.  A bit of booze.  Some brown sugar.

Both: Brilliant clarity and a fine copper to ruby color.  Large cream colored head with fine and persistent bubbles.

Eric: Sweet up front, but not cloying.  Caramel, toffee, toasted coconut flavors.  Strong sherry cask flavors with a lingering papery or woody finish.  Warming alcohol present, but not overwhelming.  As it warms I get vanilla and brown sugar flavors popping out.  No hop flavors noted.  Balance is to the sweet side, but bitterness is present.  The higher carbonation and oxidation/tannin make this seem dryer that expected and evens out the sweet flavors to some degree.  I get some raspberry tannin and tartness the longer I hold this.
Andrew: Sherry.  Sticky sweet dried apricot and brown sugar.  Some maple syrup, a bit of booze, and even some hop bitterness.  Dates.  Just a hint of cardboard/paper on the edge.  Aged vintage port or sherry.  Dry, not overly sweet or cloying.  Pitted cherry and that mint from the aroma.  Some pear notes as well.

Eric: Very well aged but still a vibrant and lively beer for all that: the Silver Fox of the barleywine world.  Strong oxidation, but it really works to add interest to this beer with a crazy sherry character.  4.5
Andrew: Very drinkable due to the dryness.  Would be delicious with curried lamb. 4.5
Sarajo:  4.5

This was a great beer, and even better for having a cool story.  This was like finding a buried treasure!  Considering I had no preconceived notions or hype to influence my tasting, I think this turned out pretty wonderful.  I will also mention here that I am especially sensitive to oxidation as an off flavor, and expected this beer to take a huge hit from that.  However, this had the "good oxidation" rather than the bad and tasted entirely pleasing.  I'm guessing we would have given this a 5 if we had tried it a few years ago...

Anyone out there that has tried this beer, or any of the other vintages?  If so, what did you think?  Also does anyone know what they plan to do for 2015?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Photo Challenge #19: Silky!

This is my weekly self-imposed challenge to improve my budding photography and photo editing skills over the coming year.  I just started shooting with a "real" Canon digital rebel camera a year ago, after upgrading from iPhone only shots.  I've been enjoying experimenting with the hobby and also using some of the skills I'm learning to improve my beer photography for the rest of this blog as well.  Hopefully folks are enjoying taking this journey with me!  As always feel free to add your own link at the bottom of the page if you want to play along…

Last week I tested out my new telephoto lens for the challenge.  This week I'm experimenting with replicating the look of the old silk screen technique that my mom used to used when I was growing up.  The idea when using digital editing is to basically cut out some of the gradations of color, limiting it to 3-8 main colors, and then alter the lines/borders of those colors to be less defined.  I mostly used the Photoshop Elements Cutout filter for these.  I'd be glad to hear if anyone else has other ideas for doing this type of effect!

I didn't love this picture on it's own, but the effect makes this stand out a bit more.

This picture was from Kerkom Brewery in Belgium.  I loved the rustic look of old wagon wheels casually leaned up against the peeling wall.  

I like the visual of this background a lot, while the already well defined Monarch stays pretty clear.

This last one was taken in Maastrict, Netherlands.  I used the Cutout filter and then added back a bit of detail with the Posterization filter to add more lines.

So there you go, fun with a new filter effect!  Sometimes cutting out detail can be as striking as super defined and clear photos.  Feel free to link your page/blog below.

Next week I'm going to be posting pictures of Spring!  So get out there with your camera and take some pictures of the changing season.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Jack Of All Brews April Meeting Recap

This month the Jack Of All Brews homebrew club met the SawBones Brewery (my basement bar) for the April 2015 meeting.  Here is a brief recap for those who missed it, or want more details!

1) Upcoming competitions
a) First Round Nationals--Judged 4/10-4/11 in Roseville in the dank caves beneath the VFW.
b) Lucid BFD--April 11 deadline
c) Waconia Brewing Pro-Am--Deadline April 18.  Contact me to arrange drop off to me, not the brewery.

2) May Meeting at John Focht's place.  Details to follow...

3) June Meeting: we still need someone to host this one, as myself and Mike Lebben are going to be out of town that weekend.

4) Off Flavor tasting:  Since we couldn't force ourselves to get a macro-brew to mix these vials of nasty into, Steven picked up some Grain Belt for the tasting.  We tried "Grainy", "Hefewiezen", and "Lactic".  The grainy one was pretty tough, since the aroma was worse than the flavor.

5) Pizza!  We had Unhinged Pizza delivered for those who showed up. We are going to try to get food for more meetings per the results of our JAB Survey.  If having food, we will post this on the Facebook group with the other details of the meeting.

6) Mash Paddle: Open category this month, so we had all sorts of cool beers to try ranging from IPA to mead to spice beers.  The winner was Ben Ducklow with an impressively good Lavender Ale that didn't taste like Grandma's bathroom!

7) Melt-Down

9) Next Month:  Mash paddle style is dark or amber lagers.  If we have less than 2 entrants we may open up the category to make it more fun.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

30 Word Thursday: Spring

30 Words Thursday: Grab an image (preferably one you shot or one you have permission to use). Write exactly 30 Words (no more, no less). Post it.

Check Erin's Treasures Found Blog for the rest of this week's entries!

It has been a while since I have taken part in this challenge, I have been more focused on my weekly personal photo challenge.  But I had some extra pictures from a recent trip to the arboretum and figured I'd get back on the horse!

Winds whistle through still skeletal trees.
Sun yawns, opening a groggy eye, peering into the waking forest.
Birds call.
A sullen butterfly flits on the breeze.
A chipmunk scampers.

This week's shot was from an windy early spring day at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.  I searched far and wide for wildlife and found just a few birds, a raggedy butterfly, and this cute little guy.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Whale A Week: Cali Brandy Barrel Aged Hunahpu's

A Whale A Week is my attempt to chip away at my overstocked beer cellar, while sharing some rare beers with a variety of friends over the year.  Last week we tasted the bright and peachy Peche 'n Brett from Logsdon Farmhouse Brewery in Hood River, Oregon.  This week we travel to Florida for a spiced Imperial stout...

California Brandy Barrel Aged Hunahpu's Imperial Stout 2013

Cigar City Brewing is probably the first craft brewery to put Florida on the beer geek map.  Opening in the not-craft-beer-savvy Tampa, they started with the strong Jai Alai IPA, and have continued to put out interesting and flavorful beers over the past several years.  Their breakout "hit" was Hunahpu's Imperial Stout which is made with cinnamon, cocoa nibs, ancho and pasilla peppers, and Madagascar vanilla beans.  Sounds like a lot right?  It is, but the complexity is impressive and this has become a cult favorite among the craft beer elite.  The popularity of the beer grew so quickly that they started to do a craft beer festival called Hunahpu's Day for the release of the beer.  The only way to get a bottle of this precious liquid is to be at the festival release (or be willing to trade something impressive to someone who was there.)

For those who haven't heard of the mystical Hunahpu's Imperial stout, here is the official brewery copy:

"In Mayan mythology, Hun Hunahpu was the father of the Mayan hero twins Hunaphu and Xbalanque.  Hun Hunahpu, along with his brother Vucub Hanahpu, was tricked by the Dark Lords of the underworld and slain.  Hun Hunahpu's corpse morphed into a cacao tree, his head becoming a cacao pod, which in typically awesome mythology fashion, spit upon the hand of a young maiden named Xiquic who promptly became pregnant with the hero twins.  The twins would ultimately grow up to avenge their father and uncle and defeat the Dark Lords and ascend to the heavens to become the moon and sun."

I have tried this sought-after beer and found it to be one of my top 25 beers for sure.  So imagine for a second what would happen if about 10% of the small run of this already rare beer was aged in four to eight year old California Brandy barrels?  How rare would the beer become now?  In 2013 this very thing occurred.  In order to try to make the release more spread-out and fair, the brewery gave vouchers to many taprooms and pubs around Florida.  These vouchers were given away at the discretion of the venues--some making people complete quests, others raffling them off.  This level of difficulty in winning one of these bottles only made it more sought-after!  Not only did you have to win your bottle, you then had to take that voucher to the brewery taproom to claim it.  This version has a score of 100 on both Beer Advocate and RateBeer.

I received my bottle from my friend Jason Tuttle, when he decided to get out of the beer hoarding business a few years ago.  It has languished in my cellar ever since, perhaps waiting for this fateful day!  Jason chose this "one that got away" beer to taste, so here we go!

Tuttle, acting as Vanna...

Eric: The aroma is simply amazing!  Cinnamon, dark bitter chocolate up front for me.  Roasted malt and coffee with cream.  Slight zip on the nose from chili when one inhales too deeply--or maybe that is the alcohol.  Vanilla and oak after the first couple sniffs.  Dark fruit as it warms--dark sweet cherry and prunes.
Jason: Sweet.  Cinnamon, tobacco, prune.  Cinnamon toast crunch!  Cocoa.

Dark as the pit!  Pure motor oil, even completely opaque when pouring.  No light visible through this at all.  Not much head, but tan in color.  Fades quickly.

Eric: I get dark fruit up front of prune and dried cherry, perhaps some red grape skin/raisin.  Fades to an almost tart (without being sour) middle, followed by a lingering burn from chili and alcohol.  Cinnamon, dry cocoa, and earthy ancho chili flavor come later in the taste.  Medium body, this seems more thin than expected from the appearance and viscosity.  Dry, almost dusty finish.  Chili increased as this warms--I like it!
Jason: Not as sweet as I expected.  Flavor evolves over time.  Mexican chocolate, tobacco, concord grape, cinnamon, vanilla, brandy.  Chiles on the finish.  Dry finish takes away from the mouthfeel.  Not overly cloying.

Eric: This was much drier than expected, especially having tried the original version.  The aroma was outstanding, but I wanted a bit more intensity of those things in the flavor.  Still, the beer is complex and flavors just kept coming with each sip. I think the alcohol and tannins from the barrel dried this out too much.  I wanted it sweeter, but still a wonderful beer and well worth the wait!  4.5
Jason: I wanted so badly to give this a 5, but the beer just didn't warrant it.  The dryness on the end detracted from the beer.  I wanted more sweetness. 4.5

My friends Rob Wengler and Ron Johnson went to the 2013 Hunahpu's Day for a taping of Limited Release.  I was happy to try the beer they brought back for me and gave my reviews during the episode:  Check it out below!

So just going through the list of Beer Advocate's top 250 beers, I found that I have tried 82 of them.  Not too shabby!  I actually own another 15 or so of those, plus several different vintages, so I should be able to get up closer to 100 by the end of this year, as long as I continue with A Whale A Week.  Next week I'm going to review KBS 2012...

Monday, April 13, 2015

Photo Challenge #18: Get Up Close

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 Canon 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 #18: Get Up Close

Last week I messed around with solarization, taking photo manipulation to extremes.  This week I finally got to take out my new Tamron telephoto lens for a spin.  I seriously thought about buying one of the more expensive professional (gray bodied) Canon lenses, but I balked at the cost, size, and my lack of experience with that type of lens.  I ended up going with a middle of the road lens that was on sale and had two rebates, so I ended up getting a decent lens for a good price--enough to get some experience with and decide later if I need to upgrade.  

With Spring finally upon us (despite snow last week) I took a trip to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum this past Sunday for a photo shoot.  The wind was up and I think this kept the birds from flying around much.  I got there a little later than I hoped for, around 10 AM, so much of the wildlife was already well away from the paths by then.  I really need to go back right at 8 AM, but it is difficult to get myself up that early on a day off!  Still, I found a few things to take pictures of, and test out the specs of my new lens.  The biggest thing I discovered is that even with the auto-stabilization feature camera blur from increased shake is hard to avoid when hand held.  I'm unclear how professional photographers get wildlife to hold still while they set up their tripod...I should as Jim Stroner and Rick Spaulding about this.

So there I was "quietly" rampaging about several trails in search of wildlife to photograph, and who should I see but the cutest little chipmunk?  This guy was very photogenic and let me take a lot of pictures over about 10 minutes before a family with a couple of young children walked by.  I did get some practice with taking pictures of a rapidly moving subject...

Moving on I found a couple of small squirrels, but they were far enough away that none of my photo's were fantastic.  I found very few birds, and scared up a bunch of wood ducks at one point was wasn't ready to try to catch them in flight.  I swear I was being stealthy.

This female cardinal didn't sit still long enough for me to get my settings right, so all I got was this silhouette.  I went for black and white since the blue background made it look strange.  Not too bad once I did this.

This is not a great picture, but I like it anyway!  I'm assuming this male goose was "marking his territory" by trumpeting every minute or so.  There was another (probably male) goose nearby and I think this guy was trying to intimidate him.  He would also look at me from time to time and give me a good honking as well.  I should have turned my camera to video, but didn't even think of it.  This is why I'm an amateur photographer.

So there you go, some shots from my new lens.  I'm excited about the ability to get closer up to things, but it is significantly longer and heavier than my kit lens or even my Macro lens.  This is not the lens I'm going to carry around when wandering around a new city.

If you have some good telephoto shots and want to share, please link your page/blog below and share with us!

Next week's photo challenge will be using the silk screen effect.  My mom used to be a photographer when I was younger and I remember helping her develop film in our dark and centipede filled basement lit only by one dangling creepy red light.  She would often use silk screen to make prints and shirts, and I remember helping out with that process as well.  I still have a couple of these now rare prints hanging up in my home, and one of my partners at work actually discovered one of these classics in her stash!  So next week I want to use Photoshop Elements to mimic the look of silk screen...without all the messy ink!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

A Whale A Week: Logsdon Peche 'n Brett

A Whale A Week is my attempt to make a dent in my beer cellar, while sharing these rare beers with friends who will take the time to help me judge and appreciate them.  Last week we tasted the wonderful Lift Bridge Silhouette.  This week we take a trip to the farm:

Logsdon Farmhouse Ales Peche 'n Brett

Logsdon is a brewery hearkening back to the traditional Belgian and French style of small batch brewing on a rural farmhouse.  Located in the beautiful Hood River area of Oregon (I took a trip out there a few years back and would love to spend more time there) the brewery itself is actually located in a big red barn!  They focus on Belgian style saisons and fruit beers, with a focus on sour beers.  They brew small batches and bottle in 750 ML bottles for limited sale.

The Peche 'n Brett is a version of their Seizoen Bretta aged on 1.5 pounds of fresh Oregon peaches per gallon of beer.  The beer is oak aged, then bottled and primed with pear juice for final refermentation in the bottle.  In true American style, the ABV on this one is 10%, nearly double that of most Belgian fruit beers.  Peche 'n Brett won a gold medal in the 2012 World Beer Cup and a silver in the the 2014 GABF.  Those medals are some pretty wicked bling for such a boutique brewery!  Because of both this notoriety and the sheer rarity of Logsdon beers, they are becoming much in demand the past few years.  Beer Advocate has them rated at 99, and RateBeer at 100.  Alas they do not distribute in Minnesota.  I was happy enough to inherit this beer from a large cellar acquisition last year and am finally getting around to trying it!  There have only been three vintages of this beer, starting in 2012.  I believe mine was the 2013 vintage.

For this tasting I had friend and uber beer geek Jason Tuttle over to my bar.  As usual, my wife Sj tasted along with us, putting in her two cents on the beer.

I did a little tweaking of the bottle label art...I always did love James and the Giant Peach

Eric: Tart and very lactic at first whiff.  After you get over that sourness, it has a distinct peaches and cream aroma.  The cream/lactose nose is really unusual, and perhaps the first I've noticed in a non-sweet stout beer.  Hint of earthiness as warms.  Floral honey as swirled.  Reminds me of the nose on Cascade Apricot.  No hops.
Jason: Lactic, brett, very tart.  Peach.  Light blossom smell.

Medium gold to light orange color.  Quite hazy.  Thick white head with very fine bubbles.  Head much more persistent than typical in a sour.  When we first opened this, foam came slowly rolling out of the bottle top, but not a true gusher.

Eric: A hint of tartness and earthy funk from brett.  A fair amount of lactic/citrus bite.  Peach shows up midway through the taste.  Despite a creamy, slightly overcarbonated mouthfeel, the flavor lacks that peaches and cream I noted in the aroma.  There is a pleasant tart peach skin/fuzz flavor rather than the sweet peach flesh.  Leather and earth notes as it warms up.  No hop.  No alcohol warming.  Finish is very dry.
Jason: BRETT!  Very crisp dry mouthfeel.  Great peach followed by a little oak.

Eric: From the aroma this seemed to be more lactic (ala Cascade beers) but flavor is more complex and brett shines with more funkiness.  The peach is subtle, but really there, tasting fresh and real.  In terms of ranking with other stone-fruit sours I've had recently I'd put this above Cascade Apricot and just below Cantillon Fou' Foune.  Incredibly refreshing!  I was most shocked to discover that this beer is 10% ABV!  It tastes more like 6%.  I give it a 5
Jason: Perfect summer day beer.  Light, refreshing.  Peach, a bit of funk and a lot of brett.  Love this beer. 4.5
Sj: 4

Overall score: 4.5 out of 5

A great beer to ring in the Spring!  I have one more bottle put aside and plan to crack it while sitting out in my gazebo soon.

Next week we will travel all the way down to an area that used to be a true craft beer desert (or swamp): Florida!  We'll be trying out the California Brandy Barrel Hunahpu from Cigar City...

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Photo Challenge #17: The Sabbatier Effect

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 Canon 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!

The Sabbatier Effect!

This week I wanted to try a cool technique I discovered in a photography book.  The Sabbatier Effect is also called Solarization.  The effect was originally seen when the film negative was extremely overexposed (usually from the sun, hence the name solarization.) The effect was imitated in the dark room by briefly exposing the negative to a bright light.  In this day and age of computer graphics and digital photography we can do similar or even more extreme things with this technique.  I have read that bold lines and contrast differences in photos make for a more impressive effect so I looked at some architectural photos I took when in Belgium this past spring.

I struggled a bit getting this photo to look right and am not entirely happy with the final result.

On the other hand, the effect in this version is striking and the texture of the moon is more noticeable.  

I liked the contrast of the dark statue and the lighter brick, but the gloomy day just didn't make this pop like I wanted it too.

So, with the Solarization we get reversed contrast, bringing the statue more into the foreground and the stained glass becomes much more interesting.
Ok, so there you go!  Color and black & white versions of the effect.  Feel free to take part in the challenge by linking your page/blog through the free link tool below.

Next week I'm going to try to actually use my new telephoto lens.  I have been getting by with my kit lens and a Tamron Macro lens up to now.  I'll just be messing around with what effects I can do with the ability to zoom!  If weather continues to be lousy, I may change my challenge...

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Confessions of a Geek: Minicon 50 (Amended)

This week, I'm going to try something a little different, taking a quick break from the all-beer-all-the-time JABlog programming.  After a recent trip to Minicon I felt the need to talk about geekery.  This post is part autobiography, part commentary, and part critique.  So here goes…

For those who regularly read my blog, you probably know that I'm a beer geek.  As a guy who writes a beer blog, I am pretty much that by definition.  What some people may not know about me is that long before I was a beer geek, I was just a plain old garden variety geek.  Not the kind that bites the heads off chickens for circus sideshows, but the type who lives/eats/breathes the science fiction and fantasy genre.  OK, if you've been reading my blog, you probably have picked up on this before...

Growing up, I was very shy, with just a few very good friends.  My mom introduced me to science fiction novels when I was quite young (2nd grade or so) and I devoured them like candy, finding entertainment and wonder within those tattered pages.  Despite my parents not really "getting" what I was into, they were always very supportive and bought me all the books I could want.  I was that kid who would sit at a restaurant or school desk surreptitiously reading a book.  I was also that kid who would finish my homework or school reading in mere minutes and spend the rest of my class time copying (poorly) dragons and space ships from book cover illustrations into the margins of my notes.  Think Superbad, but dragons instead of...well, you know.  In those books I discovered places that no one else I knew had experienced.  I learned about magic, epic battles, good and evil, utopias, dystopias, dragons, the wonders and ills of high technology, and much more.  This was also an escape or safety valve to shelter me from many of the things I hated about my young life--notably poor performance in sports, bullys, and at least one physically and emotionally abusive teacher.  Sorry, that just got a bit too real!  Moving on...

When I discovered a group of friends in Junior High that had many of the same interests, I finally felt like I had finally found My People.  Our group bonded tighter than most at that age and I still have strong friendships with most of them.  Now one of those guys, Peter Lee, is living the geek dream and putting out games like Lords of Waterdeep and the newest edition of D&D!  

Over my college years I continued to read genre fiction, but at a slower pace due to time consuming pre-med studies.  I read a lot of Steven Brust, Emma Bull, Neil Gaiman, Robert Jordan, and Charles de Lint.  Interestingly, many of my favorite authors lived in or near Minnesota.  In typical poor timing fashion,  I only discovered most of them once I had left for school in Atlanta.   I joined a group in college who would role-play and spent a lot of time with Adam Lipkin playing Magic The Gathering and exchanging books and comics of various types.  I thank (and blame) Adam for really widening my horizons and getting me into a lot of new authors.  Junior year I took an elective class focusing on Science Fiction--this is where I met my future wife.  They never offered the class again, but I owe our professor my eternal gratitude…even if she did make us read a book that we all ceremonially burned after the class was over.  Seriously.  Even Ray Bradbury would have approved of that decision.

Fast forward to (evil) medical school in Chicago.  Now I'm studying constantly, chronically exhausted, socially isolated, dirt poor, and generally unhappy.  I did find one friend who turned me on to Babylon 5, but mostly I was again on my own when it came to my interests.  I discovered a local science fiction bookstore, The Stars Our Destination, run by Alice Bentley, where I spent most of my limited money on books to break up the the tedious monotony of study.  During that time I read more Brust, Bull, Robert Jordan, as well as horror novels by Richard Laymon.  I watched a lot of Mystery Science Theater (also from my hometown of Hopkins, MN.)  Those silly robots were almost as good as real friends...  I also began homebrewing my own beer, using my science background for something fun and evil.  Eventually I met up with my college crush, Sarajo, again and soon she moved to Chicago to be with me.  Things became much better after that!

Next we move forward again in time to Residency.  I was back in Minnesota, even more sleep deprived and stressed out, but with an end in sight!  By the time I returned to my home state, almost all of the local authors I loved so much had either moved out of state or stopped writing entirely.  Talk about poor timing again!  Sj and I visited our first Minnesota CON in 2002--the year the World Fantasy Convention was held in Minneapolis.  Our eyes were opened to the wonders of the local (and national) sci-fi scene, but it was 2005 before we returned to the CON scene.

A quick word about CONs.  There are conventions for everything these days.  In the time before instant Internet communication and cell phones these in-person get-togethers were often some of the only opportunities for discussion and knowledge dissemination for more fringe hobbies and interests.  Being a generally more reserved and nerdy bunch, fans of sci-fi, horror, and fantasy have used this method more than most as a way to get together with others of the same ilk.  These events vary quite a bit in scale, quality, and programming--every one is different and will appeal to a different crowd.

 It was another several years until at the urging of some friends (Jody Wurl and Peter Lee) we went to the local CONvergence convention, held in Bloomington, MN.  That CON was big, chaotic, flashy and wonderful.  Sj and I felt a little intimidated, but our friends showed us the ropes and we have been going back nearly every year since.  As a card-carrying and official Outsider, I have never truly felt comfortable around groups of people.  While I have a lot of interests in common with the folks at these gatherings, there are a lot of cliques, in-jokes and "rules" that a stranger doesn't understand.  It takes a while to get comfortable with the social conventions of each CONvention.  (OK you can slap me for that one!)  Despite some difficulty getting to know people, I will say that all of the Minnesota CONs we have been to have made huge concessions to include fans of different genders, sexual preference, age, and disability.

This past weekend we went to Minicon, the 50th anniversary in fact!  This was one of the original fan conventions and started before I was even born.  Sometime around The Millennium Minicon had grown to an uncomfortable size and had started to spread from just literature and art to movies, games, TV, and more.  There was a planned schism where Minicon retained their literary core, while CONvergence started and invited more widespread fandom events.  Minicon has shrunk over the years while CONvergence continues to grow unchecked.  This year Sj and went to Minicon mainly because of the great guests of honor they hosted.

With Minicon being a smaller convention (normally 500-700 people, but this year up to 1100) there is a more intimate feel to its events.  There are less events going on at once--only 3 or 4 panel discussions--so you miss less things.  You can easily be sitting three feet from one of your favorite authors and feel comfortable going up and asking a question after a talk.  That is is you don't freeze and blubber uncontrollably when faced with one of your childhood heroes.  Not that I'm speaking from experience.  Meep!  This year we got to meet several awesome celebrities:

Brandon Sanderson--the author who finished Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series that I started reading in High School.  Also the author of the Mistborn series, The Rithmatist, and the Stormlight Archive, amongst others.  I was impressed with what a good public speaker he is, and the fact that he has a recognizable love for the genre.

Jane Yolen: Author of over 350 books, many for children or young adults.  A modern day Hans Christian Anderson.  Seriously, if you haven't read anything by her, you really should.

Adam Stemple: Jane's son!  An accomplished author in his own right, but he also does collaborations with his mom.  He is also one of my favorite musicians and has performed solo, and with the Tim Malloys, Boiled In Lead, and Cats Laughing.  Seriously Adam, record some more music for me listen to in my car!

Larry Niven: Author of Ringworld and countless other hard sci-fi classics.  I've read several of his books over the years and it was great to see him talk about the history of the genre.

Michael Whelan: The artist guest of honor for this year.  Remember when I said I would copy/sketch dragons from book covers?  Yeah, those were his dragons.  Way cool!

Tom Doherty: The man who created Tor Books, one of the best publishers of fantasy and science fiction.  His stories and take on the changes in publishing were really interesting!

Steven Brust: Yup, another guy who's books kept me sane during my schooling.  And we read one of his books in that college class where I met my wife…It wasn't the one we burned.

With all these great artists around (including Emma Bull, Lois McMaster Bujold, and more) one could barely spit without hitting one of them.  Not that I did that.  Let's just say that "I got my geek on" this weekend!

Mostly we went to panel discussions and interviews during the day.  One evening we were able to get to the Cats Laughing reunion concert, which was great fun but the trippy lightshow gave me a migraine.  We also got to have a wonderful dinner with Jody Wurl and Susan, one of Tor's amazing editors.  The CON had a free bar with Surly Furious, Summit Porter, and several trial batches from upcoming Sidhe Brewing available for us to try.  One of the biggest differences between Minicon and CONvergence?  The free beer would have been gone in an hour at CONvergence!  Most of the Minicon room parties were smaller as well--more excuses to hang out in a room with people you already know rather than invite in strangers.  Instead of crazy costume contests and comedy improv shows at CONvergence, there was quiet board game play and solo book reading.  Don't get me wrong, I had a good time at Minicon, but the feel and focus is very different from what I have become accustomed to.  While there were fans from all ages, in general the crowd was older and more sedate.  I missed the discussion and viewing of movies and TV.  I missed the costumes.  I missed the ENERGY!  By 11 PM, it was just time to go to bed, rather than time to start going to room parties and drink strangely colored shots of alien liqours.  I think it is obvious which of the CONs I like the most, but I will say that CONvergence over the past few years has reached an almost unmanageable size where the press of sweaty costumed humanity (and aliens) can get quite claustrophobic.  Not to start up some trolling smack-talk but I think they should finally cap the number of attendees to get this in hand...or perhaps move to a convention center with more room.

Addendum:  I rarely do this in my entries, but I'm actually going add a bit after some feedback I've received since posting my original version of this entry.  My impressions overall are not changing, but there were some things that I failed to mention to give a more balanced and complete review of the event as a whole. There actually was a film room room at Minicon, showing mostly short films or those by local directors: I wasn't as interested personally in the movies they were showing--but they were indeed there!  When I mentioned the CON bar--I really was pleased with how this was run and appreciate that it was not a drunk-fest.  I was just shocked that more people weren't taking advantage of free craft beer!  I'm also at work doing an interview with the brewer from Sidhe for future publication on my blog, so appreciate the contact.  And the CON suite (where one can swing by at all hours of the day or night and gather sustenance) was perhaps the best I've seen.  Plenty of good food to fit many diets and inclinations!

Minicon did have a whole room and dedicated programming track for the younger kids and from every time I walked by there, they were having a ball!  I also enjoyed the art show and dealer room (where I bought a couple of books and shirts for future use.)

So there I was, in the presence of some of my personal heroes.  I had a great time over three days of programming (there were 4 but I missed the first due to work duties,) but was happy to return to my real life at the end.  While I have a lot in common with these fans, I still feel like I'm perhaps an outsider.   Too normal now: not geeky enough to fit in comfortably with many of the groups, but too geeky to share my interests with most people in my daily life.  I revel in the fact that at least I can truly share this geek aspect of my background and personality with my wife.  In this I am a very lucky man.  After the weekend, I'm now stocked up on more books and ready for a chance to read some more.  My geek batteries have been recharged for the next few months--until CONvergence rears its bloated reptilian head in July!

There you go.  A rambling glimpse into my own personal geekery.  As a whole, I had a great time at Minicon, despite any differences or complaints I mentioned in this entry.  No CON can please everyone all the time, but I commend the group who spent a ton of time, energy, blood, sweat and tears to organize this event!  Are any of my readers fellow closet (or out in the open) geeks or nerds?  What do you think of CONs?  What are good ways you have discovered to continue your geekly habits while having a "normal" day job and life?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A Whale A Week: Lift Bridge Barrel Aged Silhouette

Last week on A Whale A Week we tasted the bright and refreshing Cantillon Fou' Foune.  During that tasting that became a somewhat epic bottle share among a small group of us, we ended up cracking some other whales.  Not to miss the opportunity, I made everyone work for it and write out their descriptions for use in the past couple of weeks.  The goal of this series of reviews is to force me to actually drink some of these rare beers that are lurking in my cellar, rather than just gaze upon them in adoration.

Lift Bridge Barrel Aged Silhouette

This week we finish up our whale tasting binge with local Minnesota brewery Lift Bridge's barrel aged Russian Imperial stout.  Lift Bridge Brewery was one of the first wave of "new" breweries in Minnesota when craft beer started to gain popularity here.  In 2008 they started out contract brewing with other early Minnesota craft brewer Flat Earth.  By 2010 they had gained enough of a reputation with their flagship Farm Girl Saison that they were able to move brewing to their own facility in Stillwater (where the old lift bridge the company is named for is located).  They have also taken advantage of the new legislation in the state to open a taproom on site for thirsty fans to sample a pint of their beer.  I have not been out to the brewery yet, but look forward to getting out there at some point this year.  

To be frank, over the past couple of years I haven't really found myself drinking much beer from these guys.  However, I was recently at the Happy Gnome beer dinner that featured Lift Bridge and was actually impressed with the improved beer quality since the last time I had tried them.  The star of the show was the preview of the not yet released Barrel Aged Silhouette and this promptly jumped up into my most sought-after beer category.  I had tried the regular Silhoutte at Winterfest a couple years back and was pleased with it, but the time in the barrel has really brought this beer up a level.

Silhouette is a Russian Imperial stout, with stats: 10% ABV, 80 IBU, 70 SRM.  They use 12 year old bourbon barrels to age a portion of this and release it once a year since 2013 as a special event at the brewery only.  While they haven't reached Darkness Day or Dark Lord Day numbers yet, the past two years have shown a big increase in interest in this beer and the event itself.  The barrel aged version has a 100 rating on Beer Advocate and a 97 on RateBeer: both very respectable scores!

Per the bottle description: "Black as a moonless night and brewed in the style of a Russian Imperial Stout, this complex beer’s notes of coffee, roasted malt, rich toffee and black licorice meld with an intense roasted character to provide a complex, rich and full bodied beer. It’ll warm the senses on a cold winter night, or anytime you decide to let a little darkness in. Pairs well with cave aged blue cheese, dark chocolate and cherry chocolate cake."

For today's tasting we gathered a panel of experts...Ok, people who like beer.  Included were:  Me--Homebrewer, BJCP judge.  My wife Sj--Fan of Imperial stouts.  Dave Manley--JAB member, homebrewer, cellared beer expert.  Jim Stroner--Beer enthusiast and photographer.  Rick Spaulding--Also beer enthusiast, biker, and photographer.  With this varied dream team assembled, we cracked open Jim's bottle of the 2015 Barrel Aged Silhouette!  This was the last of four big beers we reviewed, so our descriptions suffered a bit...bear with us!

Eric: Strong bourbon aroma, vanilla, toasted oak.  Dark bitter chocolate and roasted malt.  Some sweetness as it warms in the glass.
Dave: Bourbon, malt, toffee, vanilla.
Jim: Vanilla, booze, heavy molasses.
Rick: Bourbon.

Deep and dark, nearly perfect black.  Thick and viscous with legs on the edge of glass as swirled.  Nearly opaque, but a slight ruby highlight at edge when held to the light.  Very fine tan head that fades quickly.

Eric: Sweet, thick, and malty as anything!  Coconut, vanilla present.  Alcohol warming but not overly hot.  Slight sweet dark cherry flavor.  Roasted grain lends a somewhat bitter finish, but not acrid. This actually cuts down the residual sweetness.  Body is pretty thick and mouth coating.
Dave: Wow!  Bourbon, licorice, vanilla.  Just a hair too boozy.
Jim: Very sweet--in a good way.  Very much the same as the aroma.
Rick: Caramel, bourbon, smooth and warming.  Medium to heavy body.

Eric: A very good beer.  Not overly smooth--the alcohol is pretty strong in it, but complex and exciting to taste.  A wonderful example of the bourbon barrel aged RIS.  I'd love to try the 2014 version and see if it smooths out some. 4.5
Dave: Nicely done.  I think age with bring out the complexities even more.
Jim: Very nice! 4.5
Rick: 5
Sj: 4.5

So overall, we were pretty impressed with this beer.  Not too shabby for a small batch from a local Minnesota brewery!  This beer alone makes me want to pay more attention to Lift Bridge and see what else they are doing.  Anyone who can craft a beer this fine deserves some beer geek love.

Next week we'll review Logsdon Farmhouse Brewery's Peche 'n Brett for a return to sour territory-- tune in!