Friday, December 26, 2014

We Bring You Plaid Tidings

We spent much of Christmas Day with my sister and her husband, and nephew Jason arrived on Boxing Day. I'm still far enough below the weather that I make a poor guest, but we had a good time in spite of that, and a wonderful Turkey dinner to boot. Afterwards we watched The Lego Movie and played some Cards Against Humanity, to the delight of all.
By partial coincidence, all the womenfolk were wearing red plaid on Boxing Day, and with Tara's tree similarly accoutremented, it seemed like too good a photo opportunity to resist. So we didn't.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

2014 Advent Beer 24: Entendez Noël

At last, we come to the final selection for this year's Craft Beer Advent Calendar. I won't be drinking it tonight, as this cold has played havoc with both my olfactory and taste receptors, and this beer seems just a little too good to waste at this particular moment!
Entendez Noël comes from Sound Brewing in the U.S., and is a Belgian-style Quadrupel, meaning it has effectively been fermented four times, resulting in both a tasty and complex beverage, as well as a prodigious 11.5% ABV. I rather like these Trappist-type ales, and generally find them to be a crisp, fruity, bready treat, with a bit of sweetness as well as the aforementioned potency, which makes them an ideal fit for the Christmas season.

With any luck, I should have the opportunity to sample it in the next day or two, and can update this post with my impressions at that time. It's too bad, though; I have the right kind of glass for it, we are going to be up for a while yet picking and opening one present each...

Oh, what the hell, let's open it now, and let the devil take the hindmost! A meteor could hit the house tonight and I'd never know how it tasted...
Entendez Noëlpours a slightly cloudy but delightful shade of amber, and even my diminished capacities can pick up the yeasty, fruity goodness of the bouquet. There is only a wispy head that quickly takes its leave except for a trace around the rim of the glass, and moderate, if tiny, carbonation overall.

Hints of crisp apple and tart grapefruit mingle with the breadiness, and the high amount of alcohol gives very little additional sweetness or 'hot' taste. An ideal beer for Xmas Eve, meant to be cradled in the hand and enjoyed over a period of time, preferably with friends or loved ones. And robust enough to penetrate even my addled senses and assert its quality, although I should perhaps have another after I have recovered, just to make sure...

I hope you've enjoyed my meandering observations this third go-round with this wonderful tradition; I think this year's edition holds up pretty well, although not quite so many creative entries (smoked beer, fruit beers, etc) as previous editions. I will need to review my posts and receding memories to be sure, but at this point, the Icelandic stout, Gædingur is probably my favourite of the lot, although there were a number of entries I would be only too happy to revisit!

Wherever you are this long, dark and Holy night, whether on your own or with those you love, with a beer or a glass of milk, I hope your Christmas is as Merry as possible, and that some of the grace and peace this holiday is meant to be about comes to you and yours over the next few days.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Long and The Short of It: Battle of the Five Armies, Reviewed

We took advantage of the school break to take in a matinee of the final movie in The Hobbit Trilogy, The Battle of the Five Armies. Now, for the record, I never had a real problem with director Peter Jackson breaking the story into three films instead of the two that were planned; the escape from the goblins in the first movie and the unleashing of the dragon Smaug in the second seemed like ideal break points to me. Having said that though, I have to agree with one common criticism: the movies are too long, and this one is no different. I'm still glad we went, though.

As an adaptation, BOFA is a qualified success. While it does feel poorly paced, and much of the new material rather unnecessary, the tone and overall story make it through largely intact. Does The Hobbit need a love story as a sub-plot? No, but Evangeline Lilly is great fun to watch as an elf, and the romantic angle is played out awkwardly and earnestly, and with respect for the characters.

Do we need to see the dismantling of Dol Guldûr, which is barely mentioned outside of the appendices of Tolkien's original work? Heck no, but tell me it isn't great to see Cate Blanchett cradling Gandalf's head like in a painting by the Brothers Hildebrandt, or Christoper Lee whooping ass as pre-corruption Saruman.

Do we need as much backstory as we get about the corruption of the government in Laketown and the need for regime change? No, but it makes the eventual leadership of Bard the Bowman a little easier to swallow in a narrative sense.

The movie's greatest successes lie in Jackson's ability to deftly handle both epic battle scenes and small interactions with one or two characters. In particular, Bilbo's (Martin Freeman) exchanges with Thorin (Richard Armitage) as the latter slides deeper into paranoia and greed, perhaps brought on by 'dragon sickness', but equally as likely to be common selfishness exacerbated by years of homelessness, really strike a chord about the deeper meaning of the story, and gives two excellent actors room to work.

Likewise, the panoply of arms, armours and creatures (especially mounts!) in the eponymous climactic battle remind us just how good Jackson is at depicting these fantasy battles, while grounding them in the appropriate loss and horror associated with war. There is cool stuff to be seen, surely, but the cost is never left to doubt.

The battle itself takes over 45 minutes to resolve, but my biggest issue with it is that the last third is less about The Battle of the Five Armies as it is The Showdowns for a Half Dozen Key Characters. Once we start following the fortunes of Thorin, Bilbo, Legolas and the others, the outcome of the actual engagement becomes almost an afterthought, which strikes me as a bit of a shame.

Still, in the book, the battle is a single chapter, told after-the-fact, and is a bit anticlimactic, so more adherence there is not the answer. And despite devolving into skirmishes between larger than life characters, none of the intensity or gravitas is lost.

Most importantly, and the real reason most of us have gone to see this bloated but magnificent spectacle, is that the canvas of Middle Earth remains a great canvas for telling escapist stories with a moral component, especially in the loving hands of creatives like Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Phillippa Boyen. Everything we see onscreen, from the settings and sculptures to the clothes and armour, build upon the tremendous verisimilitude created by Tolkien those many years ago, and make us believe that Middle Earth is a shared place we can let our imaginations go to, in order to get those things we feel our own world can't provide for us. For this reason, three Hobbit movies are both too much, and also not enough.



2014 Advent Beer 23: Mosco Blond Ale

Ah, the penultimate beer for this year's calendar, a blond ale from Israel. In my zeal, I give the beer a vigorous pour, and only too late notice the particulate matter spinning in the cloudy gold of an unfiltered beer. Sure enough, the label clearly indicates that there may be some yeast sediment in the bottom of the bottle, if only I had thought to peruse it beforehand! A moderate amount of off white head turns into a ring of pearls whilst I wait for the yeast to settle. There are aromas of crisp fruit, like apples, and hints of citrus.


Another smooth, strong (6.5%) beer, with a bit of bitterness in the aftertaste. The yeast gives this blond ale a bready bite, which suits me better than the normal lagery tastes I expect from a blond ale, and leaves a bit of tang on the tongue that lingers after the swallow. A pleasant beverage, but not really my style, frankly.


Monday, December 22, 2014

2014 Advent Beer 22: Final Countdown Winter Saison

Let's take a moment to get the eponymous song by Europe out of our heads first, shall we? Yes, that's better.

Today's beer is another one from Holland, also brewed by De Molen, but for another brewing concern called Rooie Dop, whose website seems to boast an impressive selection of well rated beers.

This saison pours a cloudy straw gold colour with a boisterous head, verging on the preposterous, and requiring a moment's settling before finishing, and an opportune slurp to maintain containment. My olfactory is well below pr at the moment, but even I can detect tart citrusy hops in the aroma.

Robust, yeasty, and refreshing, due largely to those same hops. A full, smooth mouthfeel and a crisp, citrusy aftertaste, make this a great example of the saison style. There is a bit of sweetness to it, but overall, a very drinkable beer, even at 6.5%.



Sunday, December 21, 2014

2014 Advent Beer 21: Winter-Bockle

With it being the winter solstice and all, a dark beer seems very appropriate. Though not as dark as a stout or porter, bocks have quite a bit more colour than the average lager, and they are a style I like quite a bit, so I was happy to see one emerge from its numbered slot in the Advent Calendar this morning.

This particular bock comes from Fürst Wallerstein Brauhaus in Germany, the country of origin for the bock. Is it odd for me to say I find the goat on the label a bit unsettling? I don't know if it's the square pupils or traditional associations with Satanists, but this goat gives me the willies. Full marks for the swing-lid bottle though!


Thankfully the beer is more than sufficient in quality to make up for the ill-aspected covergoat. It pours out a luxurious copper, with an initial burst of effervescent carbonation that creates a modest head, and then subsides into a more relaxed pattern of bubbles. Winter-Bockle has a slightly musty, yeasty smell, with undertones of sweetness, perhaps caramel.

A very smooth mouthfeel and robust, malty flavour, with the attendant sweetness that typifies bocks. A delightful beer, if a trifle on the sweet side. Very little in the way of hop characteristics, the biscuity malt flavours lead the way, with almost no bitterness to speak of. At 7.5%, it's not exactly in the running for a session ale anyhow, but I sure wouldn't mind another one.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

2014 Advent Beer 20: Vixnu

Today w are favoured by a visiting double IPA from Brazil's Cerveza Colorado: Vixnu. One of the more playful labels to date, with its depiction of a six-armed bear, and the color text promises a bold mixture of hops softened by the addition of sugar cane juice.


In the glass, Vixnu presents a lovely reddish copper, with a decent head. Lots of citrusy hops in the aroma, but also hints of sweetness, either from the addition of sugar cane juice or the 9.5% ABV.

The taste is similarly balanced, with the powerful hop flavours providing a tart counterpoint to the added sweetness; very smooth for such a high test beer. Despite being a double IPA, the hops do not run roughshod over the beer, making for a vary pleasing drink. Hardcore hopheads might even be a little disappointed, but recent converts like myself are in for a treat.


Friday, December 19, 2014

2014 Advent Beer 19: Winterporter

Off to the Low Countries for today's beer: De Molen Brewing's Winterporter. Porters are a dark, savoury ale, one of my favourite styles, and I've had a few beers from Holland's De Molen before, so I am looking forward to this.


A modest pour liberates a deep, dark brown with an aggressive head; three fingers of foam, and still a pinky-width 5 minutes later, though not as thick and luxurious as what you would get in a Guinness.


A rich, silky mouthfeel with a taste full of malty, biscuity goodness, with hints of hop flowers and citrus in the aftertaste. Traces of coffee and grain perhaps a bit of nuttiness, but overall a tremendously balanced drink, and very smooth indeed at 6.7%. If I had another one of these, I would try cellaring it for a year or two, as it has a 'best by' date that stretches to October of 2019.


Work is done for me until the 29th, Audrey's sister and family will be here soon, the larder and liquor cabinet are well stocked, and the solstice is only a couple days away; overall, a nice dark beer for a nice dark night!


Thursday, December 18, 2014

2014 Advent Beer 18: Jeune Gueule

Not for the first time, and likely not the last, I approach today's advent beer with a heady mixture of anticipation and trepidation. I have never had a beer from French Guiana before. I know not what 'Gueule' means, nor how to pronounce it. The label depicts the unsnarling face of a jaguar (probably), and says the bottle contains a flavoured beer, but gives no hint as to what sort of flavour that might be.

My native guide is also unsure of the pronunciation, so I do my own research, and it turns out that gueule (pron. "gœl") (thanks for nothing, interwebs) means "face", making the name of this beer 'Young Face'. Further perusal of the label reveals one of the ingredients as natural orange flavour, so I am no longer quite so apprehensive about the possibility of discovering what jaguar tastes like.

In the glass, Jeune Gueule presents a pale, cloudy yellow, with about a finger of white foam, buoyed up by lively carbonation. A hoppy nose accompanied by another sort of citrusy tang that I don't initially associate with the hops; perhaps the oranges?

It's taste is well balanced, with a tendency towards the bitter, and an almost acidic tang to the affair before the orange comes in, almost more as an aroma than a taste. It is not dissimilar to the orange in yesterday's Marmalade Porter, making me wonder if their proximity was by design. Refreshing and exotic, this is one of the better candidates for a session beer from this year's calendar.

In terms of setting though, a suburban Alberta kitchen is the last place to enjoy such a beverage, but with only a little imagination, you can perhaps imagine drinking a bottle of Jeune Gueule in a dimly lit wharfside dive in Cayenne, waiting for the tide, or perhaps the arrival of a parcel, or person of interest.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Opera-tunity Knocks

This is my 500th post to Confessions of a Middle-Aged Adolescent. Sure, 60 of them are relatively brief beer-oriented ones, but I'm pretty happy that I am still finding stuff to write about on a (more or less) consistent basis. To be honest, I'm kind of surprised that my ten of readers keep turning out to peruse my ramblings, especially since my primary objective is just to capture both the important and the trivial things that relate to me, to aid my memory in the years to come!


I also didn't want a milestone post to be about today's beer from the Advent Calendar, so I thought I would document some feelings about Fenya getting her first paying job.


Now, Fenya is a pretty good worker for the most part, and I'm saying that as her Dad, a guy who gets bent out of shape from finding half-finished chores around the house, or has to get on her about putting tools back where they belong after a project has captured her imagination. How much of this is simple Freudian transference from Audrey subjecting me to similar treatment from time to time, no one can say, but she is a responsible, compassionate kid with a good sense of right and wrong. She has had small gigs before, like sorting music for the choir (which put money towards her touring expenses), collected bottles and the like as well as babysitting, but never a job where you needed to provide your social insurance number.

Or join a union, for that matter...

Like a lot of kids in my hometown, my first job was working at the local McDonald's, on the grill. Ronald's place is a pretty decent place to work as a teenager, looking back. Lots of people your own age, schedulers willing to work around exams and the like, lots of little incentives like crew parties and competitions, as well as a free meal every shift. I didn't think much of it at the time, and quit as soon as another opportunity opened up elsewhere, but it could have been a lot worse.


Fenya's first paying gig, as it happens, is performing with the Edmonton Opera Company in their production of Mozart's "The Magic Flute", starting January 31st.


It's important to me that you know that I critically misread the entire situation that led up to this circumstance; when I heard the EOC was looking for some children, and had approached Cantilon looking for those who were large of voice but small of stature, and that Fenya was auditioning for a part, my assumption was that it was some sort of children's chorus. I still thought this was pretty cool, but as the chamber choir has sung for The Nutcracker every winter since she joined it, didn't pay it nearly as much heed as I obviously should have...


I pressed her for some details when the rehearsal schedule was released, and she corrected me, gently but firmly: "Dad, it isn't a chorus; I have an actual role, like, a singing part."


"I'm 'Spirit #2'. There are three of us, and we advise the main characters, like Prince Tamino."

I started to nod, but then felt moved to confess that since Bugs Bunny had never adapted elements of Die Zauberflöte, I had used up the extent of knowledge simply by being aware of its existence.

She then went on to explain that the role was of enough stature and significance that she would not only be getting paid, but she would also need to join the Actor's Equity union as well. A couple of weeks later, we met the company director before a chamber choir rehearsal in order to sign her contract (!), and he explained everything.

Previously, he said, these roles had not required Union membership, and the (typically) young people in them had been given a simple honorarium, but they had changed this recently. As a result, the Opera Company would pay the membership fee up front, then deduct that amount from the weekly wage before paying them the remainder so they wouldn't be out of pocket. Since the membership fee was startling close to four digits, I thought this sounded both fair and reasonable.


Fenya went to her costume fitting about a week ago, and her first rehearsals this Monday and Tuesday, but is now off until after Christmas. Starting on the 28th though, there are a dozen more rehearsals before the curtain goes up Saturday, January 31st. They even gave her a parking pass for the performance nights, even though she doesn't have her driver's license yet.


I've never been to a live opera, but we have floor tickets for opening night for this one, and I am really looking forward to it! Auntie Tara was much quicker on the draw and got her seats much earlier, and so might have a better view than us, but that's okay; sitting closer to the back will keep my beaming and inflated head from getting in the way of the rest of the audience.

It probably goes without saying that I am incredibly proud of Fenya for doing this, but why leave it to chance; I am completely impressed with and proud of this girl (and her sister, for that matter). She still professes to have no musical career ambitions, but is looking forward to putting her experience with the Edmonton Opera Company on her résumé. And why shouldn't she? It's way better than flipping burgers.



2014 Advent Beer 17: Wold Top Marmalade Porter

Now this is the kind of semi-stunt beer I look forward to encountering in a Calendar like this: a Marmalade Porter from Wold Top Brewing in Yorkshire. Stouts and porters tend to be two of my favourite styles. And they both lend themselves well to other flavours, especially fruit and chocolate.


This Porter, like most of them, pours a voluminously dark brown, almost black, with a moderate caramel-coloured head. Scents of burnt coffee and dark chocolate are prominent, but there is a trace of bitter orange in there as well.


A satisfyingly full mouthfeel, with the bitterness of the chocolate and coffee offset by the overall smoothness of the drink. The bitter orange turns up mostly in the aftertaste, and I don't know if it is the suggestion of the label, but it is strongly reminiscent of marmalade, a flavour I used to despise, but which has grown on me over the years.

I can't say I like it as much as the Gædingur Stout, but it is definitely one of my top five beers from the 2014 calendar thus far, and would love to try it again.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

2014 Advent Beer 16: Bersalis Kadet

Today's offering is an unpasteurized beer from Belgium. These types of beer continue to fermen in the bottle, which is why they are sometimes called 'bottle conditioned' beers.

In the glass, it presents as a pale yellowy-gold with a moderate frothy white head. The primary aroma is that of yeast, at least to my limited olfactory capacity; it smells like a beer ought to smell, really.


It's a pleasantly mild lager-ish experience, with an additional bit of tang which I assume is brought on by the yeast. A bit of hop bitterness, which is certainly unsurprising in this style. All in all, Bersalis Kadet is a very straightforward, easy drinking beer that screams for another round and perhaps a bowl of pretzels.



2014 Advent Beer 15: Quills Karoo Red

From Porcupine Quills Brewing Co. of South Africa comes a bottle conditioned ale, with an advisory on the label to poor slowly, so as not to pour out the sediment at the bottom of the bottle. I also love the African porcupine on the bottle, as we have some quills from one on our sideboard most of the year, but they are in storage until the Christmas storm passes.

It pours a cloudy orangey-amber colour, with a generous amount of head. You can smell the yeast fairly quickly, but there is some hop sharpness in the nose as well as some other floral characteristics.

Karoo Red brings a bit more bitterness to the table than some of the recent calendar offerings, but is a very decent drink. For a red ale it has a lot of lagerish aspects to it, but is well balanced and eminently drinkable. You would almost expect a beer from so far away to taste a bit more exotic, but the people at Quills have gone to great lengths to replicate an authentic, Old World beer drinking experience, and I think they have succeeded.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

2014 Advent Beer 14: Imperial Schwarze Gams

So, this beer started and ended as a bit of a puzzler. First, I wasn't sure if the prominent "Loncium" on the bottle was the brewery, a brand name, or something else. Then the name "Imperial Schwarze Gams"; 'imperial' generally refers to an overstrength beer, such as the infamous yet well-regarded Imperial Russian Stout, and I knew schwarze to mean black or dark, but gams left me grasping, as I know that word only as a period slang reference to a woman's legs, and that seemed terribly out of place. The figure on the label could be a goat, but something about the face gave the impression of, I dunno, an armless satyr, maybe?

Rather than dive in completely unprepared, a couple of quick Google searches revealed that Loncium is an Austrian privatbrauerei which sounds terribly intriguing, and that the beer is meant to be a dunkel bock or doppelbock style. (Bock means 'goat' in German, which demystifies the label figure, at least a bit.)

It pours a deep rich brown with hints of red in the places where light can get through it. A sniff provides hints of bread and sweetness, with somewhat of a musty overtone. About a finger worth of espresso coloured foam, which leaves a bit of lacing well into the beer.


In terms of taste, the grains come through prominently, giving a bready, biscuity flavour, which is followed up by a bit of caramel and some of the mustiness from the nose, though not too offputting. At 7%, some sweetness is to be expected, but the graininess seems to keep it in place. I think this beer might have benefited from some additional carbonation or some other kind of sharpness, as it is not at all unpleasant, but falls well short of other doppelbocks I've had, such as Ayinger's Celebrator or Tree Brewing's excellent Captivator.




All the Trimmings

"Trim up the tree with Christmas stuff 
Like bingle balls, and whofoo fluff 
Trim up the town with goowho gums and bizilbix and wums 
Trim every blessed window and trim every blessed door  
Hang up whoboohoo bricks  
Then run out and get some more!  
Hang pantookas on the ceilings  
Pile pankunas on the floor 
Trim every blessed needle on the blessed Christmas tree 
Christmas comes tomorrow 
Trim you, trim me!"  - from "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" by Dr. Seuss 

I got an early Christmas present today from Fenya: a Christmas tie. She wanted me to be able to wear it to work prior to the Christmas break, and my team's Holiday Luncheon is this Thursday, so the timing was impeccable.

I've had a Grinch one for some time now that I am quite fond of, but it has been my go-to for seasonal semi-formality for a while now. I had hinted broadly that I might be interested in doubling the number of festive ties in my wardrobe, but I think Fenya might have gone after this one regardless.

It took me a moment to notice it, but at the bottom of the tie, amongst all the other presents, is a toy Gee Bee Air Racer, probably my favourite civilian aircraft. It's a nifty little bulldog of a thing, built around a powerful engine in order to be competitive in the air races of the 1930s that it was designed specifically for. My sister-in-law is also aware of my love for this airplane, which is why she got me a tree ornament depicting one some years back, and why Fenya felt she absolutely had to get this particular tie for me.

Needless to say, a chance to get another Christmas-themed gift depicting the same obscure aircraft is quite a delightful surprise, and I was tickled pink to get such a thoughtful gift at such an appropriate time.

Our tree is short on style and long on sentiment, like most of the decorative items in our house. Nearly everything on it tells a story or has some significance, and when I was photographing my Gee Bee, I got to thinking about some of them. Audrey has a love of snowflakes that is apparent to just about anyone coming through the front door, and they often stay up even after Christmas. I was intrigued by this cut paper snowflake inside a glass ball at last year's Music & Masterpieces auction, managed to win the bidding unbeknownst to her, and Audrey took to it right away when she unwrapped it on the 25th.

Glory's favourite is this Irish dancer's dress and shoes, which also came from Audrey's sister, Betty. She and her family are coming up for an early Christmas next weekend, and I am looking forward to seeing my nieces and nephew again.

I don't know if this decoration is Fenya's favourite, but she was really happy to see it come out (snicker) this Christmas when the tree was getting decorated. "I get to hang up Gay Santa!" she crowed.

"I don't think it's 'Gay Santa', maybe just 'Pride Santa'," Audrey corrected gently. It's true, we did get the decoration from a vendor at the Pride Festival a couple of years ago, but Fenya snorted in way that said, 'whatever; look at him; he's fabulous,' and now we all refer to him as Gay Santa anyhow.
Funnier still was when I related the story to Rev. James (who happens to be gay), and his jaw completely dropped, and I worried I might have offended him.

"How...I...where did you get a rainbow Santa?" he sputtered. From a tent at the Pride Festival, I told him.

In truth, he was not so much offended as, I don't know, affronted, maybe? "How do I not have one of these?" he protested. "Our tree is nothing but Santas, and we don't have a gay Santa!"


"No, no, it's fine, I'm glad for you, did that one get by me?"

I had to agree, it was mystifying, especially since his husband Glen is just as much of a Christmastian as Audrey is. In the end, it was all I could do to resist asking him if rainbow tinsel might make their tree gayer than ours, but I'm sure it isn't a concern.

Whatever is on your tree, or even if you don't have one, I hope the things around you at this time of year give you pleasant memories, or induce wonderful conversations when others discover them.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

2014 Advent Beer 13: Blackfriar Scotch Ale

Back across the pond to Scotland for this evening's entry, a scotch ale named for the cloister where King James I was assassinated back in 1437. Blackfriar brings a deep reddish-amber to the glass, and a number of intriguing aromas to the nostrils: sweetness from the alcohol, but complete,enter by an earthiness I wouldn't want to call peaty, but then again, it is a scotch ale...

It is smoother than many of the 'wee heavies' I've sampled in the past, and makes good use of the hops to keep things sharp. A great Christmas beer, with hints of fruit, bread, and even a bit of chocolate in the aftertaste. It increases in complexity as it warms, which is why the label notes the brewmaster's suggestion of drinking Blackfriar only lightly chilled.

Another excellent winter warmer, and I will certainly keep an eye out for more beers from The Inveralmond Brewery of Perth!