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Two Roads Unorthodox

Two Roads, much like Finback, has been another relatively new brewery that I have been talking about a lot this year. It’s interesting to remember sometimes that all of the men behind the brewery are on their second careers and in my opinion doing very well in them. They haven’t made any beers that come to my mind as being ones I disliked or thought were bad, if anything they have demonstrated an ability to produce solid entries into a variety of styles. Which is why, as a fan of Russian Stouts, I was excited to taste their Unorthodox.

The beer pours a nice rich black with a head that was lighter brown than I’m used to from the eternal darkness of most Russians. The scent is sharp, with a distinct coffee edge from the roasted malt, with hints of nuts and rye riding on its coattails. The body was also lighter than I was expecting, though still well on the heavier side of a mid-body. It was smooth and easy to drink with a touch of creaminess.

Much like the nose, the roasted malt does the heavy lifting in the flavor department. Dark roasted coffee, almost espresso-level intensity, combines with bitter chocolate to create a pleasing flavor that the rye and hops bounce off of. The finish once again has that surprising nutty quality with hints of rye and hops underneath. Overall, it ends up being a Russian that is just different enough to be pleasing to fans of the style and people looking for something different without being absurd.

As always, I would highly suggest this Two Roads brew because it shows their ability to produce a fairly well known style with a touch that’s all their own.

Finback Smoke Detector

Appropriately, this year has seen me drinking a lot of different Finback brews, almost all of which have been very enjoyable. It’s crazy to realize that Finback has only been distributing their beers around town for a year when you realize just how wide their selection is. However, that becomes more understandable when you remember they’ve been brewing since 2011 and only recently got the production capable of meeting the high demand for their delicious brews. Anyway, all of this went through my mind when I stared at a beer menu spotted their name and decided, ‘Well, that needs to be inside my mouth.’

The Smoke Detector pours a brownish-red color with a light brown head sitting on top of it. Appropriately, the nose is entirely composed of smoky malt scents that are a hint of what’s to come. The body is middling with a smooth milky mouthfeel that never quite achieves the fullness required to call it creamy.

Chocolate hits you first, offering a dark bittersweet flavor that rolls perfectly into a mild earthiness. There’s a strong caramel flavor that mellows and sweetens the brew, making it a delight to drink. Finally, that sweetness in the middle provides a perfect counterpoint to the smoky finish that rounds out the Smoke Detector. Overall, it’s a really wonderful smoked porter that I would highly suggest.

After almost a year of Finback beer being out in the wild, I can not recommend this brewery enough to other people.

Two Roads Route of All Evil

A few years ago, when they first started cropping up with any sort of frequency, Black IPAs (or Black Ales, or American Pale Ales, or whatever people want to call them) were a fun sort of treat. A unique product of the American craft beer community that blended a love of hops with roasted malt and any number of other flavors to create something distinct and intriguing. Nowadays though, it feels like every brewery has one, and they all have that similar pine-and-chocolate flavor. Being a fan of Two Roads, I was intrigued by the Route of All Evil but can tell you now it’s a pretty straightforward beer.

It pours the traditional black color with a fluffy white head that lets you parse out that this is a dark IPA and not a stout. The scent is mostly composed of piney hops with a touch of milk chocolate. The stout heritage comes through with a creamy mouthfeel and thick body, which is slightly heavier than normal. Finally, the beer starts with a warm roasted malt taste that rolls directly into the piney, earthy, hop finish.

The Route of All Evil is by no means a bad beer, it’s good and it’s perfect for this time of year. However, it just seems that with each passing black ale or black IPA that I have, my enjoyment of them diminishes. What was once a bold new frontier is becoming a standardized style whose flavors I enjoy but find predictable.

Alas, I look to the horizon with fear and trepidation, for surely whatever comes next will seem frightening and wrong, then novel and interesting, and then end up like the Black IPA; delicious but disappointing.

Ithaca Embrr!

Ithaca Brewery is one of those companies that I could have sworn I had talked about before. After all, if you’re a craft beer drinker in the Northeast United States you’ve probably had their year round Flower Power at least once. However, it’s their seasonal and one-off beers that always draw my attention and that’s why I’m surprised it’s taken me so long to talk about them. Then again, they’re just one of many fabulous breweries that have been hanging around the vast (oft forgotten) region of “upstate New York.”

The Embrr!, their winter seasonal, is a porter made with rye that pours a deep black with red hues and a nice brown head sitting on top. The nose is dominated by chocolatey roasted malt scents, with just a hint of rye spice. Its fairly smooth with a body that’s thicker than average but not particularly full or creamy in any way.

The majority of its flavor is composed of that strong chocolate and roasted malt character. The rye flavors form an undercurrent, present enough to remind you they exist but nothing overpowering. The roasted malt once again dominates the end with a bitter chocolate-coffee finish that’s balanced out by the characteristic rye spice. Overall, this is a well-balanced beer that’s nice in the wintertime but probably not going to give you a real rye fix if that’s what you’re looking for.

For a seasonal, the Ithaca Embrr! is something unique in a sea of similarly high ABV overly sweet winter warmers and for that alone it’s worth checking out. However, it’s also a beer that could go well with both a heavy savory entree or a chocolatey dessert, or just enjoyed by the glass on a cold night spent inside. It’s versatile, interesting, and worth your time, just don’t expect it to blow you away.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

Since YA adaptations have become a big thing in Hollywood, the trend of splitting the last book into two separate movies has also been on the rise. There are plenty of business-related reasons to do this, namely that it splits the budget and box office returns to allow for maximum profit. However, there’s very rarely any compelling story related reason to do it. In fact, most of the two part film adaptations I’ve seen have felt like little more than me being robbed of the big battle at the end of my narrative arc. Knowing this, you can understand that I was a little skeptical of sitting down today and watching The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1.

The Hunger Games has been an interesting film adaptation to watch develop. From the hilarious reaction some fans had to Rue being a black girl (despite her being described as such in the books), to the flabbergasted response of studio execs to the movie’s “unexpected” popularity, and the ensuing scramble to beef up its budget and profile, it’s been pretty interesting. From the beginning though there have always been elements in place that have made it a great series. Read more…

Interstellar

Interstellar is a film that I honestly have complex and mixed emotions on. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really great spectacular movie that’s a visual delight but it has a few problems that nagged me both while watching and not long after.

The largest hurdle to explaining any of my conflicting opinions is that Interstellar‘s plot is something that can be easily spoiled. This is a movie whose name I had heard a lot but whose premise had never actually been described to me outside of, “They shoot Matthew McConaughey into space,” which in retrospect is a fairly good description. Essentially, McConaughey is a former engineer and pilot for NASA whose dreams of space exploration were snatched from him when a mixture of crop blight, plague, famine, and war completely altered the world’s priorities. The whole world is now essentially a larger version of the Dustbowl, with everyone barely keeping pace with a mutating blight that’s killing all plant life.

Like many aspects of Interstellar this idea could form an entire movie unto itself. A really awesome science thriller about crops, GMOs, grafting, and why the Banana is a more frightening Frankenstein abomination than that mouse with an ear growing out of it. However, the apocalypse of Interstellar is really just something to drive McConaughey’s single dad engineer-turned-farmer to agree to be shot into space along with a bunch of scientists. This is facilitated through Interstellar‘s one big lie, a wormhole that allows for travel to other planetary systems, which when combined with some smaller scifi lies (hypersleep, artificial gravity, etc) allows us to finally reach the plot. Read more…

Newburgh Squashtober Ale

Newburgh Brewing is a company with a lot of history and passion behind it. The brewmaster is a French Culinary Institute graduate with six years working at the Brooklyn Brewery, and the COO and brewmaster are lifelong friends who grew up next to each other. The town of Newburgh itself is one of those lovely Hudson Valley towns with more history than you can shake a stick at, and where there is history, there is beer. Newburgh is a company that strives to be a part of a centuries old brewing tradition that focuses on high quality ingredients to create high quality products that can be enjoyed by everyone.

The Squashtober, a spin on the now common pumpkin ale with its addition of butternut squash, is a great example of this spirit. The beer itself is a nice cloudy orange-amber color with a white head sitting on top of it. The brew’s other twist, its Belgian inspiration, is made immediately clear when you are hit with that classic sweet Belgian yeast scent along with an undercurrent of both pumpkin and butternut squash. Its middling body and smooth body make it a great beer for the Fall, since it’s easy to drink but not so light that you’ll pound it down too quick.

If I’m being honest though, I found the beer to be a bit disappointing. The wheat malt that gives this brew an extra bit of harvest connotation came out a little too strong and overpowered the normally cutting Belgian yeast flavor. The squash flavor also seemed understated, when it came through it really brightened the brew but most of the time it got lost amidst everything else. Finally, the traditional autumnal spices provide a bite at the end that while pleasant were just one more strong flavor to lose track of.

It’s definitely a better beer than most and more importantly is far more ambitious than what any other breweries their size are putting out. However, that means there’s a lot of hype to live up to and so I’m probably being a little harsh. That’s why I’d still say check the beer out and why I’m definitely going to keep my eyes peeled for more Newburgh beers. These guys know what they’re doing and they’re obviously pushing the boundaries.

Brooklyn Fire&Ice

Today is one of those seasonably warm days for autumn, when the high is somewhere in the upper 50s and low 60s, easily warm enough to go without a jacket. Yet, this past weekend had a bit of a cold bite, and there’s already talk that a bitter cold front is on its way to New York. Which is why now was the perfect time for Brooklyn Brewery to roll out Fire&Ice, a beer celebrating the wood fires we sit around when it’s cold.

The beer is a dark black color with a bubbly brown head sitting on top. The smoked beers and woodsmoke that inspired the brew are made clear the instant you breath in the nose; strong smokiness tickles your nostrils while a bit of roasted malt slips in. Its thick full body and creamy mouthfeel make it perfect for the colder months, filling your belly with warmth that spreads to the tips of your fingers and toes.

Unlike a lot of other smokey beers, the Fire&Ice’s smoke doesn’t become over powering or bitter. Instead it’s sweet and subtle, like the smoky hints you get from well made barbecue. The dark chocolate flavors of the roasted malt bring the bitterness and balance out the sweeter-than-average smoke. A hint of cream flavor rounds out the end making this feel like a thick woodsmoke latte as the beer ends on a nice roasted malt finish.

Overall, the Fire&Ice is a perfect beer for the colder months that doesn’t complete occupy the “winter beer” seasonal slot so you won’t feel odd drinking it as early as a cold November night or as late as an unseasonably chilly March day. If you can get a taste of this beer, I would highly suggest checking it out.

Big Hero 6

Not being in the mood for a heavier and exceedingly long film like Interstellar, I found myself in the theater this afternoon watching Disney’s Big Hero 6. A very liberal adaptation of a Marvel superhero team created in 1998.

There’s a lot I could preface this review with that would delve into the deep dungeons of post-modern critiques regarding white washing, cultural appropriation, and so on in regards to both the original comic and this film but I’d rather sidestep all of that for a variety of reasons. Most important among them is that Big Hero 6 is a lot of fun, and telling you to shy away from it because of the tangled mess that rests deep at its core would be downright silly. These are discussions worth having, and hopefully if Big Hero 6 has the success I expect it to they are discussions we will have but for now, let’s look at the movie.

The film is centered around Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter), a 14 year old genius who has already graduated high school but finds himself somewhat lost in life. Like many intelligent children, Hiro has become a little bit too big for his britches viewing college as a place where he won’t learn anything new and instead focusing on seedy underground robot battles where he regularly hustles his opponents. His older brother, Tadashi, is a student at the local university and regularly encourages him to pursue higher education. After an eye opening trip to the lab where Tadashi and other students (the characters that eventually round out the superhero team) do scientific research under the mentorship of world renowned Dr. Callaghan (James Cromwell), Hiro realizes that he too wants to dedicate himself to a life of bettering the world through science. Read more…

Harpoon Pumpkin Cider

I know many of us have often wondered what Basic Girls drink during the evening to balance out their favorite Fall Treat, the pumpkin spice latte. Since Pumpkin Pie Vodka isn’t available everywhere, Harpoon has provided a delicious and intriguing alternative: Pumpkin Cider. Pumpkins added to their already quite delicious and celebrated Apple Cider.

As could be expected, it pours a beautiful clear gold color with a bubbly white head that dissipates rather quickly. The scent is probably most similar to the dessert table at a Thanksgiving dinner; sweet apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and a hint of pumpkin all mingling together in a celebration of the harvest. Like some ciders, the Pumpkin Cider has a juice-like consistency with a light body, and a smooth but slightly sticky mouthfeel.

The apple flavor here is sweeter than Harpoon’s usual fare but not necessarily unwelcome, especially when the pumpkin spices hit you making it taste a lot like apple pie. The pumpkin flavor has a pie-like quality as well, as if some mad dessert-obsessed genius had stacked two slices of pie on top of each other. Clove is a bit more present than you might expect, providing a harder bite to balance things out before an almost crusty bready finish rounds out the cider.

It’s a sweet and distinctive drink but it is definitely not for everyone. I definitely saw several people be completely off put by the pie stacking flavor, which was fine by me because it left more for me and all the girls wearing North Face jackets.