Thursday, December 31, 2015

Winter Break(s)

This winter I was off for two solid weeks for the first time since leaving college, and a lot happened over that time: we set a house occupancy record with 6 guests, shared a turducken with my sister and her family, gave and received gifts, and hosted my Mum for her first Alberta Christmas in over a decade. There are a few things I could blog about, but in terms of prominence, Mum breaking her arm yesterday probably takes the cake.

After a small lay-in and light breakfast, we had all intended to go to The Duchess bakery on 124th street. Mum wasn't feeling up to an outing, so we said we would bring her a macaron or two. When we arrived, I was disappointed to discover that the whole operation as closed from December 24th to January 2nd, but also glad that the business was successful enough to enable them taking a bit of time off. We stopped in briefly at Happy Harbor, grabbed lunch at Burger's Priest (an irreverent diner that is home to 'Peter's Denial', a chicken burger with gravy and corn), and returned home.

When I pulled up to the garage, I was a little surprised to see Mum sitting on the back step of the house, with her dog Willow on the leash, and Nitti wandering the back yard. She had taken both dogs for a walk a couple of times the previous day, combining their needs with her own ironic desire for (cough) fresh air, but sitting on the cold concrete step seemed a bit odd, given how cold it must be.

I let everyone out before pulling into the garage, but had barely exited the Flex when Audrey came back saying something about Mum's arm, and when I asked her to repeat it, she just said, "See to your mum."

Mum was a little shaken but thinking clearly, and was a bit embarrassed to have taken a spill. The city had plowed our back alley early that morning, and as she was stepping over the edge of the scraped area almost a block away, her left foot slipped out from under her, caught the right one, and down she went on her left side.

She says she heard something 'go' when she landed, but managed to avoid massive contact to her head, which was covered by two separate hoods for extra padding in any event. The tough part was getting to her feet one-handed and then, cradling her injured left arm, making her way back down the alley to our back yard. She swears she hadn't been sitting for more than five minutes and was just beginning to formulate a plan to extract her phone from her left-hand hoodie pocket with her right hand (because of course she is a southpaw; they don't call it Murphys Theory, right?) when we pulled up.

Glory dashed in and grabbed a scarf, and Audrey and I improvised a sling as best we could, and reclined the front passenger seat of the Flex. We got her situated, and after a brief discussion to factor in distance and busy-ness, drove her to the ER at the Sturgeon Hospital in St. Albert.

In the end, I think the University Hospital might be a little closer, but is also much larger and busier, and generally more chaotic. I parked right outside the emergency entrance at the Sturgeon and grabbed the first wheelchair I came across, then took it back and grabbed a proper grown-up sized model. It took longer than I would have liked (i.e. not instantaneously) to get Mum into triage (I really hope that one nurse wasn't just catching up with that EMT, but...) and once they started the interview, I dashed out to park the car. When I came back, they had checked her pulse and blood pressure, and directed us to registration to get her bracelet and charts.

This meant we could leave the big waiting room, and take a seat by the desk in the ortho ward to wait for an X-ray. Mum was generally comfortable, but every now and then a slight shift in position would bring a sharp intake of breath. I texted Audrey to let her know we were in, and she replied that Tara had left work and was on her way. I had mixed feelings about this, since I was already feeling a bit in the way as soon as nurses showed up, but when she got there, it was great to have another pair of hands to help Mum, and another person to keep up conversation with. Besides, Tara said when she got there, it's not like she cold focus at work anyhow knowing Mum was hurt!

It took over half an hour for Mum to get into her examination room, but her X-Ray was ready not too long after that, and Dr. Lee, so young she looks like she could be a university classmate of my nephew's, called us over to have a look.

Now, I'm not a doctor, and I don't even watch a lot of medical dramas on the teevee, but even I could tell this break was a bonafide humdinger.

Seeing how close this was to being a compound fracture is enough to make my guts roil even a day later, and bear in mind, Mum's greatest exclamation on the drive to the Sturgeon was perhaps, "Oo".
The doctor told us that she was waiting for an orthopedic consult, but that in cases where the break was more than 40 degrees, surgery was a fairly common result. There was a chance it mightn't be required, but she wanted the expert to weigh in before suggesting a course of action. It turns out she was already waiting for a consult from this individual, so hopefully it wouldn't be too long, although there was a chance he was performing surgery as we spoke, so there was no way of telling.
The consult was for a nice lady in the curtained area right next to Mum, who had also broken her left arm, was also a leftie, and was also fervently hoping that the injury wouldn't waylay her travel plans, but neither of us heard from the orthologist for a couple hours, unfortunately. Mum was doing great, all things considered and refused pain medication because she figured if they did try to re-set her humerus, the meds would be more needed then.

After a couple of hours, Dr. Lee came back, having finally spoken to the orthopedic surgeon, and said they were going to apply a cast and then take another X-ray of her arm. Since this meant at least the chance that surgery could be avoided, Mum was all for it.

An ortho tech named Maureen came in and outlined the process: they would give Mum a type of cast called a 'slab', which would not only stabilize things a bit, but also add weight to her lower arm and help pull things back into alignment. She explained that the spasms Mum was feeling were the nerves and muscles of her arm trying to shift things back into place on their own, because because that is what the body does; this slab would help. Frankly, she admitted, it would be a miracle if surgery could be prevented, but this was suggested because it could only help. What it wouldn't be was easy, and she showed Mum where she would have to maneuver her arm during the process.

On the plus side, though, she added, there shouldn't be a need to cut off her t-shirt at this point, although she might have to do that once the cast was in place. "No matter," said Mum, "I know where I can get another one, and usually only wear this one as an undershirt 'cause of what's written on the back." Maureen came around to take a gander and chuckled at what was written there:

Getting the slab into place was a genuine team effort, and I cannot say enough good things about Maureen. Firm, gentle,and compassionate, answering all of Mum's shocked gasps with a simple but empathetic "I know." I held the top of the casting material at Mum's shoulder, another nurse suppported her arm, and Tara sat on the floor in eyeshot of Mum, holding her hand, while Maureen wrapped the rapidly hardening plaster form in tensor bandages.

I won't lie: it was tough to watch, because you never like to see someone you love in such discomfort and pain, but I was also proud of Mum for being such a trooper. No yelling, screams or tears, just one series of "Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear." When it was all done, she of course apologized for making a scene or being a nuisance or some other nonsense, generating reassurances from not only Tara and myself, but also the other nurse, who said, "No, you did awesome", with true admiration in her voice.

"Well, you're lucky enough to be working on the toughest one in the family," I said. "I'd have maxed out the morphine deductible on my Blue Cross and be weeping in a ball on the floor by now." Mum clucked her tongue in obligatory dispute of this while the nurses laughed, but I think I am on the right track with that one.
A little while later, Tara took Mum for another X-ray while I emailed an update to the family. When they returned, Mum was in even better spirits than before, so I grabbed a picture of the two of them for posterity (and to get the front of the t-shirt, even obscured by the collar-and-cuff style sling).
Dr. Lee had gone off shift by this point, so Maureen and a Dr. Stan took a look at the second X-ray, pulling up a copy of the original for comparison. He had a slight Caribbean accent, which made his statement of, "Now dat's much betta," even more enjoyable to hear. The bones were nowhere near set, but at least now looked like they belonged in the same arm.
He told us that Mum would get a call within the next 5-7 days to arrange a follow-up X-ray and that is when they could make a decision as to how to proceed, but she could do that in B.C. just as easily as Alberta, so nothing was preventing her from returning home on schedule on the 2nd.

You know, except for the part where her Jeep is a standard and waiting for her at the Penticton Kelowna airport... but even that got sorted out in short order this morning with a friend from Osoyoos.

Last night was a festival of adjustments, including sitting and rising, getting her jacket on and off, washing hand (singular), and just generally getting comfortable. Because she wasn't on any opiates or antibiotics, she could have a beer after dinner while we watched The Untouchables, which she enjoyed greatly. Afterwards we got her set up in the upstairs recliner for sleeping, and the night passed without incident. Today she continues to adapt admirably, and we are taking it easy for New Year's Eve, with Tara and the Leducites coming for brunch tomorrow.

It's a tough way to be reminded of it, but the whole affair has made us even more grateful for the many helpful people in our lives: family and friends, and doctors and nurses especially.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

2015 Advent Beer 24: Sweet Baby Jesus!

Extracting the final beer from the advent calendar is always an occasion for mixed feelings; sure, it's one more excellent beverage, but it's also the end of nearly a month of exploration and discovery. Will the final beer measure up to what has gone before?


Sweet Baby Jesus! from Du Claw Brewing in Baltimore is not only aptly named but is also a seasonally appropriate style, being the first Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter I've ever tried. Some might argue that it is better poised as an Easter beer, and that's fine; if I can find more, I will totally put a couple aside for then, too.


As a fan of flavoured porters and stouts, this has been a good calendar for me, since these two darkest styles made up over a quarter of the offerings. Trying to find new ways to describe the colour is proving difficult though, and has made up my mind that if I ever get to name one, I am very likely to call it "None More Black" a la Spinal Tap. I dunno what else to to tell you except Sweet Baby Jesus! pours a typical but comforting deep, rich black, with a bit of caramel-coloured foam to top everything off.


The chocolate and peanut butter can both be found easily enough in the aroma, but are balanced out nicely with the dark roasted malts and a general toastiness that pairs well with both peanut butter and chocolate.


This balance carries through immensely well in the taste, as the strong, bitter chocolate and rich peanuts abide equitably with that that same breadiness, giving a similar flavour profile to eating a toasted sandwich with peanut butter on one side and Nutella on the other. The sweetness is there, sure, but never overpowering. SBJ! is tremendously full-bodied porter, with a rich and pleasant mouthfeel and a crisp finish, perfectly rounded out by the hops.


I will have to go through my other posts to make sure, but Sweet Baby Jesus! is definitely one of my favourite beers from this calendar, and may well be the best of the lot.


With any luck, the makers of this most excellent tradition are already sorting out this year's packaging shortcomings, as I am already looking forward to next year's version!


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

2015 Advent Beer 23: Old Yonder Star

The label calls this a 'Yorkshire Style Holiday Ale', while Beer Advocate refers to it as a 'Winter Warmer', and Sound Brewery's own website calls it a 'Northern English Brown'. I've had two of these styles and enjoyed them both, so statistically speaking, I stand a good chance of liking this beer.


Old Yonder Star pours a deep rich reddish brown, with a moderate amount of off-white head. There are scents of sharp yeast but also apple and perhaps clove-like spices.


There is a surprising amount of chocolate resent up front, but then the apple and a bit of pear come through. The beer ends on a literal sour note, with an astringent finish I don't normally associate with brown ales. I guess it could have something to do with the But hey, who knows how they do things in Yorkshire?


All in all a pleasant enough after-dinner treat, but there are a number of high-test and spicey beers I would turn to before this one. This is a brewery I wouldn't mind trying more beers from however, given their adventurous nature.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

2015 Advent Beer 22: Longest Night Cascadian Dark Ale

I could have sworn I had this brew before as part of Yukon Brewing's variety pack, The Dark Side, but it turns out Longest Night is not atually part of it; strange! Appropriately enough named, what with the Winter Solstice having just passed, Longest Night is a strong ale brewed with dark hops, resulting in a more balanced beer than comparably hued stouts and porters.


In the glass, it looks similar to a lighter-bodied porter, with a thin line of beige foam topping it off. Not a terribly strong aroma, but what there is smells malty, and I swear there are notes of bitter nuts and even chocolate lurking about in there, but maybe that is just holiday creep...


Slightly thinner mouthfeel than a porter, but that is to be expected, and it is still more than robust enough for an ale. The malts are a bit more up front with this one, with just a hint of caramelization, before the hop freshness sweeps the palate clean, leaving you with a crisp and bitter finish. Longest Night sticks the landing, to be sure.


At a comparatively modest 6% ABV, Longest Night probably should not be in the running for a session ale, but it would be easy enough to have a another one of these, and it is one of the few from the calendar that might make a good beer to have with a meal, as opposed to after or instead of one! I could see a lot of grilled meats or even burgers being a nice accompaniment to one of these.


2015 Advent Beer 21: Bombay Berserker

Even if there had been time to indulge in this beer this afternoon - which there was not, as we were out watching The Force Awakens (!) - I mightn't have drunk it, seeing as it is a chocolate stout, and best suited as a dessert beer. This was not apparent from the incredibly creative name, Bombay Berserker, so thankfully Clown Shoes Beer subtitled it as an 'Indian Style Chocolate Stout'.


Being a fan of curry means I have had a few opportunities to sample beers from the Sub-Continent, especially Kingfisher, which used to have the charming tagline, 'most thrilling chilled!' right on the label. There are also the eponymous Pale Ales of the region, from which we have come to expect degrees of hoppiness ranging from the asertive to the frankly unruly. Neither of these seemed well-positioned to support a chocolate stout, honestly.


Thankfully the copy on the neck label explains that that the Indo element takes the form of chai-spices like cardamom, cinnamon and vanilla, which are clearly apparent from the bouquet. The beer itself is super dark with a generous amount of caramel (or perhaps khaki?) coloured foam, which may have been aided by an awkward pour, as I was distracted by a conversation I was having with my dog. (Simultaneously trying to balance my anger and disappointment that he would repay my generous offer of a hambone by gnawing off the ball of a leg joint and either grinding it up or swallowing it whole, with my heartfelt desire that he neither die nor cost the household thousands in vet bills.)


Where were we? Ah, yes, Bombay Berserker! Well, as aforementioned, I am already a fan of chocolate, and stouts, AND chai, so I was expecting good things from Clown Shoes, and I think I got them. It is tremendously sweet, more from the chai than the chocolate, I think, so it won't be for everybody, and only the sweetest of teeth will desire more than one of these. Since this Bombay Berserker dresses out at a respectable 10% abv, this is nothing but a good thing really.


The cardamom and ginger moderate the sweetness a bit, and although there is a bit of alcohol astringency, it is still pretty smooth for an extra strong stout. There are burnt malt notes at the end that also help to balance things out somewhat, and overall, this is another powerful ale that knows how to behave itself.


I've never tried the Sombrero Mexican-style chocolate stout that Clown Shoes references on the neck label, but Bombay Berserker reminds me of Paddock Woods Heartbreaker, a chocolate stout with hot peppers. Both of these beers are complex, intriguing, and maybe a little offputting up front, but if you like the components, you deserve to try this unconventional combination. Good stuff!


A Return to Form - Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Reviewed

Spoiler free, and that is legitimately important!

Dad took us to see Star Wars in the summer of 1977, inspired by the swashbuckling and derring-do displayed in the tv ads of the day; especially, I think, the big Tarzan swing taken by Luke and Leia in the Death Star.

After seeing this film, if you had asked 5th grade me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have expressed ambivalent dismay at being unable to choose between X-Wing Pilot and Jedi Knight, as I figured only Luke Skywalker could be both.

Since then we have experienced or endured two sequels, three prequels, 2-3 cartoon series and innumerable books and other media that have adapted or added on to the mythos created by George Lucas in 1977.  His attempt to blend the elements of Saturday matinee serials, the films of Akira Kurosawa, and Joseph Campbell's Hero of a Thousand Faces succeeded beyond his wildest imagination, which makes it difficult to believe how uncertain he was back when it premiered.

Today I got to see the first non-Lucas chapter in the Star Wars saga, The Force Awakens, and it 's a great one.

I struggled to moderate my expectations in the face of great reviews, people telling me 'you are going to love it!' and someone else saying 'this is the Star Wars movie I have waited 30 years to see'. I can't dispute any of these claims, and I couldn't be happier.

There are plenty of things that can be spoiled, so if you are at all interested in seeing this film (and I hope you are), please see it as soon as possible.  If you are undecided, let me tell you a few things in general that may make up your mind.

It Feels Right - The use of puppets and practical effects, the updated mythology, it all feels tremendously well-synced to the original trilogy.

It Looks Right - All the design elements, uniforms, even the iPod-looking First Order Stormtroopers, they all look like a continuation three decades on from Return of the Jedi.

It Sounds Right - not just the dialogue, but some of the audio clues, like the turret guns on the Millennium Falcon, and the sound of a TIE fighter engine winding up to speed, are evocative and provocative in equal measure.

Magic Is Back - Nothing in the film reminded me of the prequels-nothing. No mention of the Clone Wars, no talk of Annakin Skywalker, and most importantly, no gorram midichlorians.The Force is once again something that many recognize, fewer respect, and fewer still can command.

Legacy - Despite having a reduced role tin the new movies, the characters we have known and loved for so long are not only relevant, but have important roles to play.

There are so many shout-outs to the original trilogy in this movie I can't reference all of them adequately, but let me just say for a moment how much I appreciated John William's score, the fact that lightsabers have heft now as well as generating their own light (for the first time ever!), and Ralph McQuarrie's design work (like the hemi-spherical engines on the new X-Wings).

Most importantly to me, when you get to the climactic lightsaber duel (never you mind who it is), in a snow covered forest, it is not only gorgeous, colourful and cleanly shot, but also highly dynamic, despite dialing down the acrobatics we have come to expect from the prequels and animated series. This is the neon laser samurai swordfight I have been waiting for since Return of the Jedi.

Lastly, let's talk about emotional resonance. Like all fairy tales, Star Wars carries at its core a sense of tragedy, menace, and loss, something The Force Awakens embraces.  It couches a lot of these aspects in homages and winks to the original trilogy, but charts its own course in many other ways. 

You also get a complete story, three acts with a beginning middle and end, despite the fact that there are tons of unanswered questions that we will have to wait until 2017 to get addressed. Unlike some other franchises, this movie is not just a trailer for subsequent episodes.  (Amazing Spider-Man 2, I'm looking at you here!) Maybe a few too many characters are related, but I have no real complaints.

Since the announcement of J.J. Abrams as the director and showrunner for this new trilogy, a lot of us fanboys have been cautiously optimistic, saying, "y'know, in a lot of ways he is far better suited to the mythical adventure of Star Wars than he ever was to the moralistic sci-fi of Star Trek.

If you felt this way, let me congratulate you on being right, and exhort you to see The Force Awakens as soon as possible.  After three decades, you have a Star Wars film that has, at long last, been worth the wait.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

2015 Advent Beer 20: Marzyana Tripel

I always have mixed feelings about Paddock Wood Brewing, out of Saskatoon. On the one hand they make absolutely tremendous craft beers, but on the other, seeing their name reminds me of the now-defunct Beer Gods series they were brewing in association with Sherbrooke Liquor, with labels drawn by the sublime Steve 'The Dude' Rude. We only ever saw the first 4 or 5 of the 12 proposed beers, each featuring a different mythological beer deity, and I'm assuming this project went into turnaround when the management changed at Sherbrooke, and that the promised calendar is likewise lost to the ages.


Focusing on the positive, however, they make a number of great beers, and hopefully today's Belgian Tripel, Marzyana, will be one of them. It pours a skylight hazy gold with hints of amber, with a bit of lively head that alas, is not long for this world. The aroma is fresh and fruity, with the typical yeasts blending with apples and pears, as well as a bit of oak.


It treads lightly on the palate for a 9.2% beer, and is very smooth and light for a Belgian-style beer. I recall them as having a more full-bodied mouthfeel, but the softer approach suits the fruitiness, and makes for a frankly alarmingly smooth-drinking extra-strong beer. It will no doubt be far too sweet for some tastes, but as a winter warmer that is racing through the holidays with one foot in barleywine country, but without the attendant sharpness of that style.


Marzyana is a real keeper as far as I'm concerned, and the elegant label only adds to its appeal! I will be seeking it out after the holidays, you can be certain of that.


Saturday, December 19, 2015

2015 Advent Beer 19: Trade Day Cuban Coffee Stout

Today is a day for doing things in an unconventional order. For example, under normal circumstances, I wouldn't fortify my morning coffee with a generous portion of egg nog liqueur (the Kirkland stuff from Costco, highly recommended!), but because it is the first day of Christmas vacation, I did.


For another, I am imbibing today's Advent beer well before supper, because Audrey and I are going out for our anniversary tonight. Nothing fancy, because she just isn't into that this year, so when I gave her a list of neighbourhood options, she went for Soda Jerks, which I pretty much threw in to round out the lineup, but which she thought looked fun.


This makes for some synchronicitous timing, since today's beer is Trade Day Cuban Coffee Stout, a style which, nationality notwithstanding, is often contra-indicated for many over-40 drinkers after about 8:00, sadly. It is a product of Back Forty Beer Co. out of Gadsden, Alabama.


It pours a dark black, with some off-white head, and the coffee scent wafts right out of the glass, which sometimes even happens with non-coffee stouts. Closer nasal inspection brings out toasted malts, a bit of chocolate, and even a hint of burnt toast.


The coffee taste is bold and right up-front, followed closely by the bready maltiness. It has an extremely smooth finish, with just the right amount of bitterness to tie things up at the end. Like a lot of American craft beers, Trade Day doesn't proclaim their abv on the label, so I was surprised to see it is a robust 8%, well above the 6-7% I was expecting. It is a good representation of the style, but I will still probably tend towards Yukon Brewing's Midnight Sun. But not, you know, tonight.


Friday, December 18, 2015

2015 Advent Beer 18: Neck of the Woods Vintage Ale

When I worked at Games Workshop, working over Christmas was a foregone conclusion; after all, as a toy retailer, you make a significant portion of your year's sales in the month of December. I appreciated the fact that the no vacation rule was applied relatively equitably, and even head office staff could not book vacation time in December, from the chief on down.


Today I began my longest winter break ever; it is my compressed day off, and then some vacation, followed by the actual factual holidays themselves, followed by some days in lieu to make up for a weekend training course I took, and as a result, I will not be returning to work until January 4th.


It is fortuitous, what with Fenya being in grade 12 and possibly being away from home next Christmas during her gap year. I appreciate having as much time as possible with all three of my girls, plus the in laws, and Mum actually agreed to let us fly her back to Alberta for Christmas!


Today when I woke up though, my first two thoughts were 1) 'I should make a hot breakfast for the ladies before school, since I get to start Xmas Vacay one day prior to them', and 2) 'I wonder what today's beer is.'


It turns out that it comes from Black Oak Brewing, in my old stomping grounds of Toronto, and is called Neck of the Woods Vintage Ale.


Decanting it puts bready yeasts and esters into the air, coupled with the aromas of apples and dark fruit, and a moderate amount of off-white head finishes the pour. The dark reddish brown does speak of the ales of ages past, and makes me a bit sad for the two individuals I heard debating the merits of Budweiser versus Blue at the liquor store.


A zesty, full-bodied mouthfeel, as promised by the label, with spice-like flavours of cloves and nutmeg, but the fruit abides, accompanied by some caramel notes as well. The high ABV (8.5%) is bit too provocative for my tastes, rendering a medicinal quality to the affair, but without undue harshness. The finish sees some piney hops make their way through, and a taste that lingers on the tongue with a tingling sensation.


A pleasant enough winter warmer from a brewery I have not encountered before, able to stand amongst some very strong competition even if it doesn't distinguish itself overmuch. A wonderful start to Christmas holidays!


Thursday, December 17, 2015

2015 Advent Beer 17: Sour Ale with Cherries

I approached today's beer with a certain amount of trepidation. In the past when I have encountered less-than-enjoyable beers from this calendar, they have either been sour (intentionally or not), or contained cherries. This is deeply ironic, as I otherwise really enjoy sour things as well as cherries! And it is not as though I am opposed to tart, fruity beers, such as a raspberry lambic or a grapefruit hefeweizen, so it is not as though I have a timid palate, either.

Today's beer is a Sour Ale with Cherries, from a brewery I am not familiar with: Black Market Brewing out of Temecula, CA. A co-worker dealing with the #cbacboxfail got this one out of sequence last week, and wasn't even able to finish it. Now, we have disparate tastes when it comes to beers in some instances, so it is not a foregone conclusion that I will not like this beer, so I am trying to approach it with an open mind.

Esthetically at least, this beer has a lot to offer. Not only does it come in a striking and boldly coloured can, but it presents in the glass as a marvellous reddish-amber, crowned with delicate white foam, tinged with rosy pink.

Some tentative sniffs bring up some cherry, but also tangy yeasts that tighten up the tension crosswise along the very back of my tongue. With some apprehension, I take my first sip.

It doesn't go well,honestly. The cherry taste is there, and tart rather than sweet, which only makes sense,but it is overpowered by a somewhat intense, almost vinegary sour taste. But that was the first taste. Having braced myself for it, subsequent sips became quite a bit more bearable. Although it lacks the crispness and freshness of a hop-heavy ale, it seems to share some characteristics with an extra-strong Double IPA, and on a hot day, I could concede a scenario where this beer might be really enjoyable.

Unfortunately, Black Market's Sour Ale with Cherries doesn't intrigue me enough to want to come back when hotter weather returns, but it remains an interesting experiment.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

2015 Advent Beer 16: Baltic Porter

Another day, another over-clocked beer. It is a Baltic Porter courtesy of North Carolina's The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery, that weighs in at a respectable 9% ABV.


I like porters, but have only had the Baltic variety once before, I believe; the Ragutiene, from the sadly discontinued Beer Gods series. It's too long ago for me to recall it in detail, but I have yet to get a bad beer from Saskatchewan's Paddock Wood, so I'm sure it was good.


The Duck-Rabbit variety ours a little flat, and I had to envigorate my decanting somewhat in order to achieve any head whatsoever, but it resides in the glass in an appropriately inky and black fashion. Not a lot for the nose, but what there is has a slightly oily, medicinal quality to it, maybe with a trace of blackstrap molasses behind it.


The beer has a good body and mouthfeel, but I can't help but think it would benefit from just a little more carbonation, as it kind of just sits there on the tongue. There is both richness and sweetness to the taste, reminiscent again of molasses, and a bit of licorice or anise in the finish. There is very little hot from the high abv, but not a lot else to distinguish from other strong porters and stouts I've had.


Not an unpleasant beverage in the slightest, but strong and dark is a category in which it is difficult to break from the pack, even within the calendar itself.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

2015 Advent Beer 15: Christmas Ale

It took me five tries to pull the correct beer out of the Advent Calendar this morning, which is frustrating in two distinct ways: first it is woefully inefficient and time consuming, but worse still is that it spoils the surprise for future beers. The packaging this year is a bit of a shambles, and although they have tweeted apologies, I will need assurances that the issues will be addressed before next year's calendar is released, or I will be disinclined to participate.


Some of this year's adventeers are also dismayed at the relatively high number of strong beers, as well as the fact that they are showing up on weekdays, but I just see that as part of the fun. Tonight's selection is no exception; West Sixth Brewing from Kentucky (never sold in Alberta before!) presents their 9% ABV Christmas Ale.


I like a spiced ale any time, but more so in the winter to be sure, so I was eagerly anticipating this one. It pours out an intensely dark caramel colour, with a modest amount of tannish foam. There is a slightly musty aroma, but it carries with it scents of nutmeg, ginger and cloves, very appropriate for the Christmas season!


The first impression is of a malty sweetness, suitable to the style, but traces of the spices smelled follow through quickly on the palate, joined by orange peel and cardamom, and maybe cinnamon to boot. Very tasty indeed, and it is not cloying, and bears no burning from the spices or hotness from the high alcohol content. I don't know if West Sixth's Christmas Ale ranks quite as favourably as Biere De Noel, but it follows in the same footsteps to be sure and is a delightful winter warmer.


Monday, December 14, 2015

(the sound of apron strings fraying)

With dance and choir, and now work shifts for Fenya since November, it is not uncommon for me to have a few quiet hours alone in the house on weekday evenings. Tonight felt a little different, somehow, and it took me a while to discern why; there are no vehicles at the house.


Audrey has taken Glory to dance in St. Albert and will mail the remaining Christmas cards and do a little shopping, so there is no point in her driving back to Edmonton. Monday is not usually choir night, but the Chamber Choir is having their Christmas party tonight, kicking things off with some carolling and a sleigh ride around Candy Cane Lane.


And Fenya drove two of her friends there in the Corolla.


We got her driving lessons in the summer, which were a big boost to both her ability and her confidence. My favourite story was how she got very anxious with her parallel parking, worrying that she was blocking traffic for too long. Her instructor Larry explained, in his soft, subcontinental accent, that the faster she parked, the sooner other drivers could get past her. Somewhat mollified, she completed this banal yet challenging exercise in vehicular navigation, and was straightening her wheels to finish when a passing car honked at her a couple times.


Her face reddened when she looked up, expecting to see an angry face and perhaps an extended middle finger, but instead, a carload of teenage girls were smiling and laughing and giving her numerous thumbs up. She was grinning from ear to ear when she told us later, and we shared her surprise and delight.


Since then, I've let her drive to and from choir most Tuesday and Thursday nights, and on a few other occasions, switching cars with Audrey as Fenya is far more comfortable in the Toyota. Initially she would keep up a running commentary, reminding and reinforcing what needed to be done as we traversed the city: Okay, light is green, check for traffic, and pull away. A little faster, the limit here is...50, so I'm good there, but now the guy in front of me is slowing down, so I need to give him the two second rule... That is a fresh green light- whup, just went stale, but I don't want to slam on the brakes, no pedestrians, good, so just breeze on through...

Music and conversation would be minimal on these trips, but I made sure to praise her whenever she made a good turn, or to ask her if there was anything she would have done differently on the previous block. There were a few times where I found my right foot frantically searching on its own volition for a passenger-side brake pedal that simply refused to appear, and once or twice I could see Fenya's neck tense up after she heard me inhale sharply, but overall, I count the experience as a positive one.

Two weeks ago, Fenya went to take her road test in Morinville, on the advice of a friend from St. Albert who positively raved about the lighter traffic and the near total lack of hills. Early in the test she made an error that she thought meant an instant fail, so she relaxed considerably and aced the rest of the test, and received a pass to boot. I was proud of her, and told her so, but felt a little twinge at seeing her take another step along the road that will inexorably take away from childhood.


There haven't been too many opportunities for her to exert her newfound independence, but on Saturday she took the dreaded Anthony Henday Expressway to the opposite side of the city to attend a friend's Xmas party, but only after we made it clear that we were not available to accompany her.


Tonight she was far less concerned about shuttling her fellow choristers to Candy Cane Lane, and even listened to some Trans Siberian Orchestra on the return leg. She still researched the route extensively in Google Maps beforehand, however.


Sitting here in an empty house and knowing the garage is likewise is a bit discomfiting, but not worrying. As Fenya passes yet another milestone on the often indistinct road to true independence, adjustments will no doubt need to be made by all parties.


In fact, Audrey and I have already asked Fenya to leave her Saturday night open so she can drive the two of us to our anniversary date, and remain on call for when we are finished. She is a grand and responsible girl after all, and what's more responsible than being a designated driver for your Mum and Dad?