Monday, January 3, 2011

Brew of the Week: Samuel Smith's India Ale

I'm not usually a fan of India Pale Ales.  IPA's are usually quite hoppy, and I'm much more into the smooth malt flavor.  So I didn't go into tasting the Samuel Smith's India Ale with much expectation.  Sam Smith makes fine beers all the way around, for sure, but IPA's just aren't my cup of...well, beer...

This one, though, took me by surprise.  The nose is quite malty - atypical for an IPA - with just slight citrus notes, and even a bit of apple scent..  And on first taste, the malt is very forward on the tongue.  The hops show up on the finish, but they never really get bitter.  They balance out the malt very nicely and make for a dry but still smooth finish.

Samuel Smith's beers are some of the more expensive imports you'll find in the store, but this one is well worth splurging on.  Cheers!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Brews Cues - Favorite Cues of 2010

It's funny. When I sat down to think of my favorite albums of 2010, I did some research on what the paid "critics" chose as their best albums of the year. And virtually none of my top 10 made their lists.

Do they know more than I do? That's entirely possible. But great music is in the ear of the beholder, and these are the ones from 2010 that I keep going back to, over and over again.

Give them a listen. I think you'll like what you hear.

10. Beach House - Teen Dream
This one actually was on many Top 40 lists. It's a very strong album that I only recently discovered, but I find myself consistently getting lost in the lo-fi pop beauty of it.  
Favorite Track: Silver Soul

9. Keith Urban - Get Closer
I actually think Urban's 2009 effort, Defying Gravity, is a better album, but he just keeps getting it right over and over again. Great pop-country.
Favorite Track: Right On Back To You

8. The Weepies - Be My Thrill
The Weepies - the duo of Deb Talan and Steve Tannen, put out some of the most consistently great lo-fi indie pop around. Their 2008 album, Hideaway, was one of my favorites of all time. And this one continues their rich tradition of simple songwriting with great lyrics and tremendous harmonies.
Favorite Track: Empty Your Hands

7. Little Big Town - The Reason Why
It's a crying shame that Little Big Town's 2007 disc, A Place To Land, didn't meet with the same platinum success as its predecessor, because it's a far superior album. But LBT kept the quality coming with 2010's The Reason Why. Another great country-crossover effort.  
Favorite Track: Kiss Goodbye

6. Anberlin - Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place
One of my favorite bands of the past few years. Like so many others in the last couple of years, I first heard them from fellow Blip DJ's on Blip.fm. These guys have a knack for great lyrics wrapped inside killer melodies. They've been compared in some circles to the Goo Goo Dolls.  Maybe, if the Goo's were a bit more emo. Dark Is A Way, Light Is A Place, builds on the great foundation this band laid on Cities in 2007. A very worthy listen.
Favorite Track:  Art Of War

5.  OK Go - Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky
OK Go, the band perhaps best know for the "treadmill video" (Here In Your Arms) is actually a quite good pop band. On Of The Blue Color Of The Sky, the group stretches its wings a bit, incorporating new sounds and styles. This album is very different from their past efforts, but a real gem.
Favorite Song:  End Love

4. Mackintosh Braun - Where We Are
This band originated in Portland, and features a sound that something of a throwback to late 80's electronic pop, a la the Pet Shop Boys, New Order, and the like. And most every song features a hook you just can't get out of your head.  

3. Band Of Horses - Infinite Arms
I gotta admit - at first glance this Seattle-area band looks like they should be playing banjos and the jugs. Just sayin'. But, as they say, never-judge-a-book-by-its cover. Band Of Horses puts out some sweet indie pop/rock.  Infinite Arms is their most complete, consistent album to date. Excellent.
Favorite Track:  Laredo

2. My Chemical Romance - Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys
Post-punk power mixed with emo lyrics and a fantastic pop sensibility. I didn't think these guys could out-do 2006's Welcome the the Black Parade. I was wrong.

1. Athlete - Black Swan
My most cherished find of 2010. This band gets a knocked a lot for being similar to Coldplay. Who cares about similarities if the music is great? Which this is, in spades. My favorite album of 2010.


Check these out, and let me know what you think in the comments. Or tell me what your favorites were in 2010.  Cheers!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

31 Days, 31 Brews, 31 Cues: Day 31 - Happy New Year!

Friday's Brew: Shiner Bock

Finished off 2010 with an old favorite.

I "grew up" (in beer terms) on Shiner Bock, living the first 10 years of my post-collegiate life in Texas. Shiner Bock is Spoetzel Brewing's flagship beer; a favorite in the Lone Star State. As bock beers go, it's rather tame. It's got a full but very mellow flavor, and almost no hop bitterness. It really just scratches the surface of the traditional Bavarian bock style, but it's a fine beer. More than a few steps above traditional American macro lagers, but one that even casual beer drinkers can enjoy.

And considering I was celebrating New Year's in a Country bar (which, btw, was a blast) - having Shiner as a choice among the macro crowd was, indeed, nice.


Friday's Cue: Diana Krall - What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?
Ending 2010 with one of my favorite songs of the season. I got to spend New Year's Eve with my family and my fiancee - nothing could be better.



Here's wishing you all a very happy and prosperous 2011. And thanks for reading along through my 31 days of beer and music. I hope you've all learned something, or that it's helped you discover a beer or a song you can enjoy for a long time to come.

Cheers!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

31 Days, 31 Brews, 31 Cues: Days 29 and 30 - Scary Good...

Spent the night of the 29th at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado.  The Stanley is the hotel that served as Stephen King's inspiration for The Shining.  It's not nearly as scary a hotel as the legends would have you believe, although it is rich with stories, and there well could be something going on there.  In any event, it's been an inspiration for some good beer.


Wednesday's Brew:  Estes Park Brewery - The Shining Pale Ale
Estes Park Brewery brews a couple of beers that are available exclusively at the Stanley Hotel.  One of those is The Shining Pale Ale.  The bottle sports a creepy label, but the beer inside is anything but.

I'm not usually a fan of pale ales, but this one has a bit more malt flavor and is a bit more smooth than most, and I really enjoyed it.  It starts with a great flavor and finishes nice.  Not like the movie...which just finishes disturbing.  :)

Thursday's Brew:  Anderson Valley Brewing Company - Summer Solstice Cerveza Crema
Found this one in the bottom of the 'fridge.  With all the winter beers I've been trying this season, I forgot about this one, purchased in the late fall.  What a hidden treasure.  I actually think this beer works better as a fall/winter beer than a summer brew.  Very creamy on the front, and finishes with a smooth, malty warmness. A very nice beer.

Wednesday's Cue:  Little Big Town - Kiss Goodbye
It's a crying shame that Little Big Town's 2007 disc, A Place To Land, didn't meet with the same platinum success as its predecessor, because it's a far superior album.  But LBT kept the quality coming with 2010's The Reason Why.  Another great country-crossover effort.  Kiss Goodbye is my favorite track from the disc.



Thursday's Cue: Waking Ashland - October Skies
The sad part about discovering new music is that sometimes you don't stumble upon a really good band until after they've broken up. Such is the case for me with Waking Ashland. They never got much press, and never really "made it," and broke up in 2007. But look them up on You Tube or Grooveshark. They made some great indie-pop during their brief time together.



Cheers!

31 Days, 31 Brews, 31 Cues: Days 27 and 28 - Meh...beer...

It's been a couple of unremarkable days of beer.  Yeah, it happens.

Monday's Brew:  Coors Light
Wait.  Don't leave.  There's an explanation.

Went to a local karaoke bar  (or, rather, a local dive with karaoke).
Me:  Are there were any beer specials tonight?
Server: Yep. Coors an Coors Light.
Me:  Um, ok.  What all do you have on tap?
Server:  Coors and Coors Light.
Me:  Ok, then, Coors Light it is......

You know, it's beer.  Wet, cold, golden color.  It's also low alcohol and fizzy as soda pop, so you can have a couple while singing and not get "forgetful" enough to not know the lyrics....or the song.

Tuesday's Brew:  Saranac Brewing - Lake Effect Lager
On the way to yet another family holiday gathering, I picked up a winter-mix 12-pack from Saranac, since it was on sale and I was intrigued by the choices.  First out of the box, I tried the Lake Effect Lager.  While it does have more distinct flavor that some lagers, I can't say it's particularly memorable.  It's not as smooth as I would have expected, and is actually a bit more hoppy than many lagers I've tried.  For me , it finished much more like a pale ale than a lager.  Not bad, but not what I expected out of a lager.


Monday's Cue:  Tonic - If You Could Only See
Had to add this song today.  It's several years old - but the first big song from Tonic, a band that had a few modest hits.  Their lead singer, Emerson Hart, is a fantastic songwriter and has a great solo album called Cigarrettes and Gasoline.  Check it out.  This song is a favorite because it's a karaoke song that I can actually sing (see the above Coors Light entry...).




Tuesday's Cue: The Weepies - When You Go Away
The Weepies are, hands down, one of my favorite bands of the 2000's. Great indie pop with heartfelt lyrics and more hooks than a tackle box. Their 2010 effort, Be My Thrill, is in my top 10 of the year.



Cheers!

Monday, December 27, 2010

31 Days, 31 Brews, 31 Cues: Days 24, 25, 26 - Merry Christmas!

Hope you and your family had a wonderful holiday!  Merry Christmas everyone!


Friday's Brew:  Samuel Adams Winter Lager
Had a nice dinner out with my fiancee and parents for Christmas Eve.  Not many beers on tap at the restaurant where we went, but they did have Sam Adams Winter Lager, and it's always a winner.  After Octoberfest, Winter is my favorite from the Sam Adams brewery. It's a dark lager brewed with spices - notable are cinnamon  and nutmeg.



Saturday's Brew:  Leinenkugel Classic Amber
Christmas Day feast with family, so I wanted something tasty but not heavy.  Enter Leinenkugel Classic Amber. It's not a remarkable beer, but it does have a pleasant taste, and it paired very well with the entire holiday meal (turkey, ham, potatoes, green bean casserole, etc.).  There is very little hop characteristic, but the taste is still smooth - never heavy.  Don't pay a lot for this beer - but if it's on sale, it's a good choice.




The brewery famous for the popular Shiner Bock actually makes quite a selection of fine beers.  Spoetzel is located deep in the heart of Texas, and is one of the first "micro" breweries that I ever experienced.  They're much larger now, but the recipes are still consistently good.  

Shiner 101 is a special pilsner, brewed to commemorate the brewery's 101st anniversary.  It's crisp, clean and leans toward the Czech-style of pils - but without as much hop bite.  After trying this beer twice in the last few months, I've decided that I don't like it as much as some other Shiner offerings, but it's still a good, lighter-style beer.


Friday's Cue:  Mannheim Steamroller - Stille Nacht
I've loved this version of Silent Night ever since it came out in the mid-80's.  A simply beautiful interpretation.




Saturday's Cue: Dean Martin - Baby, It's Cold Outside
I've heard this song in (seemingly) a thousand different variations for years, but somehow the Dean Martin original eluded me until this year. This is, simply, the best of the lot.




Sunday's Cue: Bruno Mars - Just The Way You Are
Has there been a Top 40 song this year that Bruno Mars has not been on? This is the guy's year. Even if you don't enjoy the rap music that Mars lends his singing voice to, do yourself a favor and check out his solo album, Doo-Wops & Hooligans. It's an enjoyable throw-back to late '80s-early '90s new soul.



Cheers!

Friday, December 24, 2010

31 Days, 31 Brews, 31 Cues - Days 20, 21, 22, 23: What Beer Goes With This Crowd?

Ok, I know.  I've missed four days in a row of blog posts.  Funny how that happens when your off hours on the week of Christmas are consumed with trying to get all the holiday shopping done, seeing family, etc.  Hard to even fit in having a beer.  But I'm a trooper.  I soldiered on.  The beer must be had.

So today's I'll catch up the last four days.

Monday's Brew:  Negra Modelo
Negra Modelo is classified as a Munich-style dunkel by the brewery, Mexico's Groupo Modelo.  But it's not.  It's much more a Vienna-style lager.  It is darker and more flavorful that many Mexican beers, but it has the same high carbonation characteristic as all the others.  Not to knock that, though, since Mexican beer was my first introduction to anything other than Bud or Coors.  And when you're elbow deep in some spicy pork green chile, nothing hits the spot like a Negra Modelo.



Tuesday's Brew:  Blue Moon Brewing - Winter Abbey Ale
I'm not a fan at all of Blue Moon wheat beer - this brewery's flagship beer and the one that's far-and-away the most popular of their offerings.  But their seasonal offerings are some of the best coming out of any Colorado brewery.  And of those seasonals, Winter Abbey Ale is my favorite.  It does some wheat, but features a hearty dose of roasted malts and a hint of Belgian sugar.  It's gives off rich caramel and toffee notes,  but is balanced nicely and finishes very smooth.  One of my favorite winter beers.



Wednesday's Brew:  Sapporo Premium - Sapporo Brewery
Dinner out with family at a Japanese hibachi restaurant.  One beer on tap - Sapporo.  So, Sapporo it is.
It's very unremarkable - the Japanese equivalent of Bud or Coors.  But it pairs well with spicy tuna roll and the sauce-laden foods grilled on the hibachi, so it's all good.

Thursday's Brew:  Samuel Adams Octoberfest
Thursday night featured a long (4 hours!) game of Just Dance 2 on the Wii.  Searching for something to enjoy, I found a Sam Adams Octoberfest hiding in the back of the fridge.  I know it's Christmas-time, but any season is good for this wonderful beer.  Five variety of malted barley, balanced by Bavarian Noble hops.  This beer has a chocolate/toffee flavor, but is not too rich, and finishes incredibly smooth.  I love it.  Anytime, anywhere.




Monday's Cue:  Hellogoodbye - When We First Met
This band has been re-tooled since their last album and it's big hit "Here (In Your Arms)."
This song is a different sound for the band, as it the entire album,Would It Kill You?, but very good nonetheless.




Tuesday's Cue: OK Go - End Love
OK Go's latest disc, Of The Colour Of The Blue Sky, is in my Top 10 albums of the year.  This is one of several great tracks off that album.  And it true OK Go fashion, the video is very creative and fun to watch.




Wednesday's Cue: My Chemical Romance - The Kids From Yesterday
Another in my Top 10 of '10.  Poppy, catchy, with plenty of attitude and angst.  Great rock 'n' roll.




Thursday's Cue: Sarah McLachlan - Song For A Winter's Night
Whether or not this is actually a holiday song is up for debate, but it's one of my favorites at this time of year.  From my favorite artist of all time.  'Nuff said.



Cheers!