Monday, October 05, 2015

What's Jayme drinking?

I stopped by Spec's this evening to pick up a bottle of rum, because necessities. Whilst there, I caught sight of a bottle of Black Quad by Real Ale Brewing Co. out of Blanco. I'm a big fan of their Devil's Backbone Belgian tripel--faithful to the style at a reasonable price--so how could I not give the Black Quad a try? I picked up a bottle, wholly on impulse.

It poured like a clear, dark cola. So far, so good. The carmel-colored head was slow to form and subdued, maybe half a finger thick, but persisted quite a long time. More than an hour later it was patchy on the surface of the beer, like one of Louis Pasteur's petri dishes. The nose is alcohol forward (not entirely surprising for a 10.5 percent beer) with notes of dark cherries, malt and currants. The taste... holy moly. There's a sweet, malty rush of caramel, chocolate and toffee, with dark fruit--the usual plums and cherries--along with a slight tobacco-like sharpness. Mouthfeel is smooth and creamy, quite appropriate for a Belgian with this heft. Monkey Girl saw the clear mug sitting on the counter and mistook it for a cola. I told her it was a beer, and offered her a sip. She tasted it, and raised her eyebrows in surprise. "Beer's nasty," she said. "But if I liked beer, I'd like that."

I'm not a hop-head. IPAs just aren't my thing. I've made no secret that Le Terrible from the Quebec brewery Unibroue is my all-time favorite beer. Black Quad is not better than La Terrible. I won't even go so far as to say it equals La Terrible. Black Quad is inferior. But only just. Black Quad is definitely a worthy representative of the Belgian quadruple style. And it has the distinct advantage of costing just half of La Terrible. I mean, La Terrible is better, but it's not twice a good. Not by a longshot. I'm definitely going to make Black Quad a regular pick-up.

At a time when all the Texas microbrews seem to be chasing the "how many hops can we cram into a single bottle" trend that is raging nationwide, it's gratifying to see Real Ale Brewing Co. swimming against the current and taking up the challenge of producing complex, interesting Belgians. I hope the market rewards them, because damn, they're creating some worthy beers.

Now Playing: R.E.M. Eponymous
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Friday, September 25, 2015

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Sir David Willcocks died last week at the age of 95. Willcocks was the most influential director of choral music in Great Britain, if not the world. The man knew his stuff, and loved what he did. Tellingly, he wasn't a musical snob, and brought his considerable talent to bear on an array of genres. Perhaps his most widely-recognized work wasn't even released under his own name, but it proved to be a massive hit for the Rolling Stones--"You Can't Always Get What You Want."

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Producers.

Now Playing: The Hooters Nervous Night
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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Chicken Ranch anniversary: Sheriff Jim Flournoy's birthday (1902-1982)

On this date in 1902, Thomas James Flournoy was born to Tom and Etta Flournoy on a ranch near Rock Island. He would grow up to work as a ranch hand on the famous King Ranch, a Texas Ranger patrolling the Big Bend region during World War II and--most famously--as the long-serving sheriff of Fayette County. Sheriff Jim famously defied political and media pressure to close down the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel outside of La Grange in 1973 before acquiescing to a direct order from Governor Dolph Briscoe. A year later, Sheriff Flournoy confronted Marvin Zindler on the town square, ripping off the reporter's hairpiece and throwing it in the street. The resulting lawsuits and counter suits were eventually settled out of court with a large donation to the Shriner's Children's Hospital.

Sheriff Flournoy died on October 27, 1982, from heart problems. He would've been 113 years old today.

In other news, I'm still waiting to hear back from the latest publisher that's shown interest in my comprehensive history of the Chicken Ranch. My website traffic is way up in recent months, so something must be in the air. Fingers are crossed that this time isn't another false alarm. In the interim, I want to remind everyone that my photo book, Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch, is still available and makes a great Christmas/Chanukah/Kwaanza/Equinox/Solstice gift. Use the coupon code EARLYFALL5 to get $5 off on orders before the end of the month!

Now Playing: ZZ Top Rio Grande Mud
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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Texas Mead Fest 2015 report

Back from Texas Mead Fest held in Gruene/New Braunfels today and thought I'd give a quick Cliff's Notes version of the day. I forgot my camera, alas, so I won't have any cool photos to share this year.

I had a good time, which isn't terribly surprising, as I've been to three of these now and always enjoy myself. It was held at Rockin R, which is a river tubing outfitter maybe 10 minutes from my house, making it *real* convenient to attend this year. Meaderies in attendance were Meridian Hive, Dancing Bee, Enchanted Manor, Texas Mead Works, Rohan Meadery and Griffin Meadery. There were supposed to be eight meaderies in attendance, but apparently two didn't show up.

The Wife and I ordered ahead of time, online, so we got eight tasting tickets for $20 plus a Mead Fest tasting wine glass. That's a pretty good deal in comparison to other wine festivals. Between my eight and The Wife's eight, we only came across one mead that we actively disliked. Rather than go down everything I tried (I wasn't taking any notes) I'll just list a handful that stood out for me:

Griffin's "Scarlet" was a semi-sweet black currant melomel that had a very wine-like profile, with a nice balance of tart and tannin and a big, bold currant profile that was reminiscent of dark plums.

Meridian's "Frontier" is a semi-sweet dry-hopped session mead. I'm not a fan of hops in mead but this one really surprised me. Light, crisp and citrusy. Slightly sweet, but that was secondary to the flavors. After sampling The Wife's, I went back and got my own glass.

Texas Mead Works had a "Desert Pear Pomegranate" made with prickly pear fruit that was light, crisp and refreshing, with just enough pomegranate to give it good color and an edge to the flavor. The showstopper, though--and I heard other meaderies talking about it--was Texas Mead Works' "Necromancer." It's not what you'd expect with a name like that. They explained to me that it's triple oaked in distinct barrels to give it a specific flavor profile. And wow, does it ever. It tastes for all the world like a liquid banana bread/ginger/vanilla fusion that is heavenly. And I say that as someone who doesn't even like banana bread. Have you ever walked into a pastry bakery? You know that essence of dessert that's in the air? This is like putting that in your mouth. It's definitely a sweet mead, but by no means cloying and the 16.5% alcohol is not obvious at all. The Wife and I discussed this as the perfect mead to spring on unsuspecting guests after Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. It's an amazing dessert wine and I expect them to sell many, many bottles of the stuff over the coming years.

That said, there were some issues with this year's Texas Mead Fest. First, a couple of minor peeves. Almost all the mead available was sweet or semi-sweet. In that heat, the sweetness did not sit well and we were actively seeking dry. I think there were maybe four dry meads total, and two were at Meridian Hive. Last year in La Grange I recall there being significantly more. No way can you convince newcomers to mead that it doesn't always have to be sweet if all you have to offer are sweet meads. My other peeve was no bee keepers. The advance in the paper promised bee keepers, and as I am seriously considering installing a couple of hives on my property, I'd looked forward to talking and making some personal connections with area bee keepers. They had some for the first fest in La Grange three years ago, so this was disappointing, but sometimes these things happen.

Of far more serious concern was the venue. We've attended numerous festival-type events at Rocking R. It can be a good venue. There's a lot of asphalt parking, but also areas heavily shaded by trees. Most festivals are set up under the trees, but for some reason, Mead Fest was set up adjacent to the parking lot. Zero shade. Direct sun. Temperatures in the mid-90s with the asphalt radiating nearby. It was not a good combination--I normally stay for the homebrew competition results, but we were both wiped out quickly and dragged ourselves home to try and cool off. I don't know if Rockin R made Mead Fest set up there or the festival organizers thought that location would be more convenient, but it was a very, very bad location. To make matters worse, there was only one food trailer present (not multiple trailers, as indicated in the local paper's advance write-up) and they didn't have anything to drink. They informed us they were instructed to not bring water bottles to sell. Between the alcohol and sweating in the sun, we were feeling dehydrated before we'd finished four drink tickets. So we left the festival and walked up the hill to Gruene proper to get something to drink and cool off in air conditioning at Rio Cantina. Again, I don't know who made that decision, but it was a terrible one.

Finally, Texas Mead Association stages this event to promote the mead industry in Texas, but they've simply got to do a better job marketing and getting the word out. An advance ran in yesterday's Herald-Zeitung, and that's it. Nothing in the weekly TX Citizen, and nothing on area radio that I'm aware of. I understand the association doesn't a have a large advertising budget (if there is any budget at all) but there are low-cost ways to get the word out. There are banners available over the main thoroughfares in town. They use these with the Gruene Wine & Music Fest as well as the NB Wine & Saenger Fest, so the Texas Mead Fest shouldn't be any different. Several locals in Gruene stopped us to ask where we got the cool wine glasses. We told them about the mead fest down the hill and they were shocked--"We hadn't heard anything about it." Heck, when I posted here about going a month ago, most replies were from folks who had never heard of it. The association should have a presence on the Homebrew Talk Forums--not a hard-sell, used car salesman presence--but there are a bunch of there who homebrew their own mead, and they are the target audience for the homebrew mead competition. If they have any ad budget at all, they should run a few spots here and over at Got Mead, etc. Partnering with local establishments--I know the Grapevine carries mead from a handful of those meaderies present today--to increase awareness locally. That's what it's all about, right?

Like I said, I had a good time but there were definitely some rough edges that need to be given serious thought when they start planning the 2016 event.

Now Playing: The Grateful Dead The Best of the Grateful Dead
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Friday, September 18, 2015

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

News broke last week about a new biopic about Lucille Ball going into production, starring Kate Blanchett. So today's video is "I Love Lucy" by the very 80s band, the Producers. It's not "She Sheila," but then again, what is?

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Taylor Swift.

Now Playing: Jerry Jeff Walker Viva Terlingua!
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Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

I'm not what you'd call a Taylor Swift fan. Not a hater, either. I've found a handful of her songs entertaining, but on the whole, I'm simply not her target demographic. That said, "Blank Space" has been locked in my head for the better part of the week. The narrative structure of the lyrics is fascinating. There's an elevated self-awareness that both embraces and defies the various public personae the media has crafted around her. And the video--holy geeze, the video turns all that up to 11. Swift has done a moderate amount of acting, but the range she shows here--all the while lip synching her lyrics--damn, but she sells it. Actually delivering lines plausibly differs significantly from performing in, essentially, a silent movie (with soundtrack) but I wouldn't be surprised if her acting career moves front and center in the next few years. Apart from that, I want to reiterate that this song's been stuck in my head for far too long, and now it can be stuck in yours, too. You're welcome.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... "Weird Al" Yankovic.

Now Playing: Bob Marley Exodus
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Monday, August 24, 2015

On the spaying and neutering of puppies, sad, rabid and otherwise

The 2015 Hugo Awards have come and gone, resulting in a record five (5) categories where "No Award" was given in response to the Sad Puppy/Rabid Puppy attempts to game the system and ensure the treasured rocket ship trophy went to those deemed appropriate by their particular clique. Log rolling's happened with the Hugo Awards before, as well as the Nebula Awards, but this is the first instance I am aware of where said efforts were fueled primarily by ideology as opposed to friendship and/or personal desire.

To put this in context, there have only been five total "No Awards" in the entire history of the Hugos up to this point. Here are the results (detailed breakdowns may be found here):

BEST NOVEL The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu, Ken Liu translator (Tor Books)
BEST NOVELETTE “The Day the World Turned Upside Down”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator (Lightspeed, 04-2014)
BEST GRAPHIC STORY Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt, (Marvel Comics)
BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, LONG FORM Guardians of the Galaxy, written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, directed by James Gunn (Marvel Studios, Moving Picture Company)
BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, SHORT FORM Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried,” written by Graham Manson, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions, Space/BBC America)
BEST SEMIPROZINE Lightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams, Stefan Rudnicki, Rich Horton, Wendy N. Wagner, and Christie Yant
BEST FANZINE Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Colin Harris, Alissa McKersie, and Helen J. Montgomery
BEST FANCAST Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)
BEST FAN ARTIST Elizabeth Leggett
By any measure, the Puppies' efforts have been a spectacular failure on their part, but they've been crowing loudly online that blocking otherwise worthy works from making the ballot, hijacking the awards and forcing no award in several categories if victory in their eyes. Essentially, they're gloating at others' misfortune. The whole mess is a blemish on the genre and just makes me sad more than anything else. There have been both Hugo and Nebula winners in the past that I did not agree with--heck, there have been some that incensed me (generally cases where a brilliant central concept or wish-fulfillment element pandered to the SF reader, masking excruciatingly clunky writing)--but never did it occur to me to organize a group to 1) ensure my genius prose was nominated and 2) ensure those other, lesser works rewere not nominated. Awards voting is driven in large part by tastes, and tastes change. Don't believe me? Check out the past winners of the Hugo Awards. Changes in readership tastes are reflected in the winners throughout the decades. If the Sad Puppies are upset by recent Hugo winners, I can only shudder at the thought of their outrage when the New Wave overtook SF in the 60s and started winning awards, or when Cyberpunk went nova in the 80s. Truly, I thought the Puppies' premise fatally flawed and their response misguided at best. I was acquainted with a few involved, but when I tried to broach the subject, it quickly became apparent there were very different worldviews at work. I'm not talking apples and oranges, I'm talking apples and polyester leisure suits. So rather than tilting at this particular windmill, I relegated myself to the sidelines, as I had little hope of changing any minds, not to mention the fact I had no works nominated nor was I voting on the awards this year. My biggest involvement came via reposting some of George R.R. Martin's clear-eyed analyses of the so-called "Puppygate" via my Facebook page. File770 also has an extensive round-up on Puppygate-related links, if that's a particular rabbit hole you choose to fall down.

Apparently, that was enough to earn membership in PC Parasites of the SFWA, an elite group of 20 writers defined as "Humanity replaced by PCness. Immoral, vicious, insane monsters feeding on society." I've never considered myself to be "Politically Correct," but then I don't go around intentionally being an asshole women and minorities or people with different ideas than my own to prove I'm not PC, so your mileage may vary. Maybe common courtesy and civility are passe now--I can never keep up with these things. In any event, fellow Parasites include George R.R. Martin, Jim C. Hines, Laura Resnick, Steven Brust, John Scalzi and Stephen Gould, among others. So the company I'm keeping is pretty damn impressive. Naturally, I'm going to add this to my official biography and resume. I'm just afraid someone will eventually realized I've allowed my SFWA membership to lapse and kick me out.

Alas, even though the Puppies lost in spectacular fashion, I doubt this means the end of Puppygate. The fact that they pooped in the punch bowl and gave unending amounts headache and heartache to many, many people is a badge of honor for them. They consider this heroic. Most rational observers consider it psychopathic. Even the authors only associated with the group on the fringes have shown a remarkable tone-deafness to the entire scope of the problem, refusing to see the forest for the trees (if I may badly mix metaphors). The bad blood and ill will engendered by this controversy will not dissipate any time soon, and I have to wonder about long-term consequences to careers and friendships.

I would hope that lessons have been learned, and that cooler heads will prevail in the future, but I fear the only lessons learned are bad ones and there's a big future in kerosene and matches.

Now Playing: John Williams Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
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