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Brooklyn Quadraceratops

I’ve mentioned on several different occasions that I love dinosaurs, and as should be obvious from the years worth of beer reviews I also love beer. So when breweries make beers whose names incorporate dinosaur themes, I’m practically obligated to buy them. Especially when said breweries are making that beer within a mile of my home.

The Quadraceratops pours a rich dark brown color with bright ruby hues and a fluffy brown head. The classic scent of Belgian yeast is present but subdued in comparison to an almost smoky malt scent and an amazing dose of brown sugar. With a thick body, the beer has a creamy smoothness to it that makes it perfect to drink on the colder evenings that are fast approaching.

The brown sugar rushes forward to dominate the opening of the Quadraceratops, making for a sweet but not overpowering flavor. While the beer has the trademark maltiness, it has a surprising biscuity flavor that you rarely get in quads but that I actually enjoyed quite a lot. Especially since the sweet yeast flavors were downplayed and the finish was a light touch of banana bread and warming booze. This beer is not the juggernaut its horned namesake implies, but a delightfully subtle variation on a style that can always use a little more love.

As always, Brooklyn specialty brews are worth seeking out, but I would definitely suggest you give the Quadraceratops a try.

Stone Master of Disguise

I have complicated feelings about Stone Brewing. And I think my complicated feelings on them can be summed up in my reaction to this beer’s website (the fact that this beer has its own website). I wanted to know what the phrase Stochasticity Project meant when I drank this beer and I met with this overproduced website that while filled with interesting facts about the science of brewing, it feels… just a little awkward to me. However, I don’t really care about any of that in the end because what matters to me is how does the beer taste, and the Master of Disguise tastes pretty damn awesome.

The beer, as can be expected from its “golden stout” status, pours a clear golden color with reddish hues mixed in and a bright white head that’s quick to disappear. The nose is made up of very strong roasted coffee and dark chocolate scents that make you feel like you just woke up inside a diner right before all the truckers pull in for their morning cup.

Its body is surprisingly middle of the road, and its mouthfeel is almost thin and insanely smooth. The strongest flavor is that of dark roasted, almost burnt, coffee and it dominates the beer throughout most of the time you drink it. The finish is a nice bitter chocolate punch that keeps you going back for more of that rich coffee flavor up top.

Like many of Stone’s beers this is a great brew in general, but will be most enjoyed by very particular people (in this case fans of coffee and stouts). From the Master of Disguise I look forward to more Stochasticity Project brews and the way they’re bending flavor and style to make unique beers. I just probably won’t visit the website again.

Top Five

It may or may not surprise people to learn that I have always been a fan of Chris Rock. His stand up has this wonderful range where he can go from mulling over an idea to shouting about it like he is the last sane man on earth in the span of a few sentences. There’s a simmering anger beneath the surface of his bits, and it fuels the great social commentary that is so key to what he does. When I first caught previews of Top Five, I was enthralled by the idea of him doing something so self-reflexive and the idea of a comedian struggling with no longer feeling funny is one with surprising depth. Needless to say, I was thrilled when the movie surpassed my expectations.

Top Five takes place over the course of a single day, and the overarching story of Andre Allen (Rock) is told through his interview with Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) of the New York Times. From the moment the film starts, it’s easy to be pulled into the chemistry between the two leads as they discuss progress and race in modern America, the conversation is serious but peppered with jokes and the feel of it is loose and comfortable. Then the film takes a step back, introducing us to Allen at the start of the press junket for his new movie Uprize, a serious film about the leader of a Haitian slave rebellion, as he is slammed with hack question after hack question and pestered with people wondering when he will return to his popular comedy film franchise Hammy the Bear.

Chelsea Brown immediately hits him with the same bullshit the moment they meet, and he challenges her to hit him with honest questions. The meat of the first act comes from the two of them actually earning each others trust, and opening up about parts of their lives that it’s clear neither of them are comfortable talking about. The stories they share end up taking on a life of their own, turning into these surreal moments of hilarious absurdity that the movie continues to build throughout its run time. Every time you think they’ve taken a joke or an idea as far as they can, it comes back with even greater force making you laugh all the harder.

Yet, it doesn’t feel strange when the movie backs away from these absurd sections and veers directly into big emotional moments. The longer the movie goes on, the more we get a better sense of why Andre Allen is so frustrated with himself, and why Chelsea Brown is such a complicated person. Most of the film isn’t laugh-out-loud comedy but dark gallows humor and meaty emotional scenes that all play so naturally into each other that it’s easy to become lost in it.

Top Five really does remind me of a Chris Rock set.

As I said above, his comedy has always had this over-the-top streak that rests on a foundation of serious thought and social critique. When he turns that lens inward, on questions of what it’s like to lose such a massive part of your identity like creative passion, it ends up creating a rich and rewarding experience.

Aside from a little janky camerawork in a few scenes, this is a fantastic film with very few flaws. The supporting cast is an endless parade of hilarious comedians who you’ll no doubt recognize, each breathing life into characters that are fully realized even when they only have a few lines. At times, it feels like there are entire scenes going on at the edges of the camera’s focus and that might be the best part of this film.

Top Five shows us a crucial moment in Andre Allen’s life, but there’s still an entire life if not an entire world going on around him that informs that crucial moment, that helps us understand why he does the things that he does. I can’t recommend this film to you enough, if you’re looking for a laugh or something to think about, check it out this weekend.

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.