Sunday, May 29, 2011

A brief break in programming....

Just so no one calls in a missing persons report, I will be taking a two or so week break from posting. Next Saturday I will be marrying my beautiful fiancee and we will be heading off to our honeymoon immediately following. There is going to be a strict "no laptop" rule in place (thank goodness) while we're there, so I won't be checking in. I'll be packing a nice selection of beach reading, though, so I'm sure I'll come back queued up with reviews.

In the meantime, check out the blogs listed down the left side of the page and try to hold down the fort!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Cincinnati one of the most "well-read" cities in the U.S.

Yesterday Amazon released its list of the "Top 20 Most Well-Read Cities in America", which was based on sales of books, ebooks, and other word-based media since January 1*. On it are some cities you would expect: Cambridge, Berkeley, Seattle, and Washington, DC. Much to my pleasant surprise, sitting one spot ahead of our soon to be streetcar sister city Portland, is our beloved Queen City.

Reflecting on it, my surprise was really ill-founded. It was based on stereotypes and misconceptions about cities in the Midwest, in general, and Cincinnati, in particular. Despite what the naysayers might claim, Cincinnati is not a cultural wasteland. Like any other city, this one can not exist (or at least thrive) based solely on business and sports. Creative people are drawn to creative outlets and without either, you can't have a successful city.

I haven't lived here long enough to make any time-based comparison, but I can say that our library system is phenomenal. Not only is the Cincinnati/Hamilton County Public library one of the largest, most accessible large library networks I've ever had the fortune of visiting, but we are also graced with its older sister, the Mercantile Library. It is one of the most relaxing, peaceful places in an urban area that I've ever visited and it even manages to host a great collection. If you're not a member there, you need to be. At least give it a visit. You'll probably never see anything like it anywhere else.

In addition to literature, the rest of Cincinnati's art scene continues to thrive. I dare you to go to an OTR Final Friday (TONIGHT!)and walk the galleries then catch a show (and have a drink) at MOTR and then tell me Cincinnati is a cultural wasteland. You just can't do it. The people who denigrate this fine city have either never spent time here or haven't done so in the recent past.

As is indicated by this study, Cincinnati, the Queen City of the U.S., and its population will not conform to the negative stereotypes of misconceptions of people who have no stake in its/their success. Since moving here I have met more smart, cultured, positive people than I ever expected. These people are the present and the future of this city and they are the reason, in addition to the institutions listed above, that this city will continue to thrive and be a place people want to work and live.

If you ask me, I'll take Cincinnati over Cambridge, Berkeley, or Washington D.C. any day of the week and I doubt I'm the only one that feels that way.

Via: Education

*I have some qualms about the methodology used to create this list, but that's neither here nor there.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Beer Review: Southern Tier Oak Aged Unearthly

Style: Imperial India Pale Ale
ABV: 11%
Ratebeer: 99/96
Beer Advocate: A-

When I think of oaked beers, I think of stouts or barley wines, not IPAs. It's not typical of the style at all.

I have had the un-oaked version of this before and the oaked on draft ($10 a snifter. Yow.), so I wanted to see how it managed in bottle format. The first thing I noticed was how beautiful of a beer it is. Though it doesn't pour much of a head, it is the most perfect transparent orange-amber color. Not a bit of cloudiness.

It certainly does not smell like an IPA. Rather than hops, the first things you smell (other than the alcohol, which is no wonder at 11%) is the oak and caramel. It smells sweet, almost like a barley wine.

The taste is much of the same. Unlike what you would expect from an imperial IPA, the hops don't factor in at all at first. You get a lot of malt-forward sweetness and a good deal of caramel and vanilla from the oak aging. It's not until you swallow that you get a small bit of bitterness from the hops.

It's a thick and syrupy beer. Not particularly refreshing, but I'm sitting inside with the AC on, so it's no biggie.

You know, at first I didn't care for this beer, but time the bottle was empty I wish I had more. It's not the the most perfect IPA I've ever tasted. In fact, it strays far, far from the category in many distinct ways. Despite this, it is delicious. If I was hankering for a big IPA, would I necessarily pick this one off the shelf? Maybe, maybe not. If I was looking for something different, though, or a winter time IPA, I would definitely think long and hard about it.

Grade: A-

Guest Post: Barry Horstman Only A Slightly Better Journalist Than Most Third-Graders

One of my buddies (who will remain unnamed) sent me this earlier today. I decided its brilliance needed a platform and, after receiving his approval, I now present it to you. P.S. It's a lot funnier if you read the article below first.


If Barry Horstman continues to write articles for the Cincinnati Enquirer at his current, consistent level of low quality, it will continue to be only slightly a higher level of writing than that characteristic of an elementary school child.

A Cincinnati-area remedial school teacher last week compared several of Horstman's recent articles to a handful of cursive handwriting lessons completed by her second and third-grade students. She stated that "Barry's writing skills were better than her barely literate students', but only slightly."

This comparison likely will open another chapter in the quest to determine how Horstman talked a "major" newspaper into giving him a job.

The reporter did, in fact, score higher not only on writing skills than his seven year old competitors, but in penmanship as well. The teacher, who requested to remain anonymous, noted that he was "giddy as a schoolboy" when she gave him a gold star for his superb effort. Many of his colleagues recalled that the last time he was this excited, Ohio Governor John Kasich had just stripped state funds from the highest rated transportation project in the state, the Cincinnati Streetcar.

His competitors jealously complained about the unfairness of the contest, especially considering that they had only learned the alphabet a few years earlier and had not yet received lessons in esoteric material such as sentences or the difference between fact and fiction. Horstman retorted that also had not yet received instruction on the latter topic.

Letters from City Council members Leslie Ghiz and Charlie Winburn contested the findings, requesting documentation on every piece of minutia related to the report. The two determined that to avoid the wasting of taxpayers' money, they would instead waste taxpayers' time by hosting a meaningless special session concerning the veracity of the report. Vice Mayor Qualls, joined by Council members Thomas, Quinlivan and Young collectively face-palmed after receiving the news.

A joint press conference between leadership at COAST and Chris Smitherman consisted of nothing but the word "boondoggle" being shouted repeatedly for forty-five minutes.

Related articles: Streetcar only slightly faster than walking

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Beer Review: Founders Imperial Stout

Style: Russian Imperial Stout
ABV: 10.5%
Ratebeer: 100/96
Beer Advocate: A

I missed out on this beer when it was being distributed earlier during the winter. Luckily, I picked up two bottles in a trade while I was in Indianapolis last weekend. One to try now and one to stash away for another day down the road.

Poured from a 12oz bottle to a stemless wine class. Color is pitch black, with only a minimal brown head; disappeared before I could get a picture. Smells a lot like coffee; the roasted malts are obvious, too. You can definitely smell the 10.5% ABV in this. Tastes a lot less boozy that is smells, though. Only a little burn on the tail end of the drink. Has a decent amount of chocolate taste, but finishes a little too bitter in my opinion because of the roasted malts and 90 IBUs. This is a great beer, but I don't like my stouts quite this hoppy. It's still a damn good beer, and I'm sure that after it ages and the hops fade a bit, it will be even better.

Grade: A-

Review: Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck is a great author. I literally don't think I have ever read anything by him which has disappointed me. Even the recently epically-promoted East of Eden (see: Oprah) was as epic as I could have ever hoped. So, what's up with Steinbeck and why are all of his books so great?

He doesn't write with flair, his novels are not filled with action or suspense, and his personal life wasn't particularly exciting. In my opinion, what makes all of his works immensely readable, compelling masterpieces is (brace for the cringe-worthy artistic descriptor) his ability to tell the human story. From the half hour read of The Pearl to the earlier-noted epic East of Eden, what Steinbeck excels at is painting a picture of the complexity and depth of the species Homo sapiens. In Steinbeck's writings, even the most sympathetic protagonist is sometimes a coward or a cheat. Likewise, villains aren't (or weren't) always villains; they have brief moments of kindness, or at least non-evil behavior. 

It is in this way that Steinbeck proceeds in Cannery Row. For the most part, the novel does not have a typical plot or story line. In fact, more than anything else, it is a character study of the people who live in the Cannery Row neighborhood in Monterey during the Depression.  It focuses primarily on two characters. The first is Doc, a cultured, well-educated man beloved by the community who makes a living selling specimens, land and sea-based, dead and alive, for scientific uses. The other character, who actually happens to be several characters, is a group of vagrants who live a relatively carefree life in Cannery Row. On the periphery are a number of other colorful characters, including your stereotypical Asian grocer and a Madam of the local brothel with the heart of gold. 

If there is a plot to the novel, it goes like this: Mac and the rest of his group of squatters decide, because of all that Doc has done for them, that they will throw a party for him. They screw up royally and everything goes to the birds. To make up for this, they decide to throw him a better, more successful party. Shenanigans, as expected, ensue.

In the midst of this main story, there are almost what would almost be considered intermissions. They are two to three page chapters highlighting a very, very peripheral character in an anecdote. This way you come to know not only the main characters deeply, but get a shallower feel for the peripheral characters and an understanding of the community as a whole.

The plot obviously isn't supposed to be the highlight of this novel, though. In fact, the book is just over one-hundred pages, so nailing down a complex plot is not going to happen. The plot exists to allow Steinbeck to shine a light on the traits and behaviors of the characters. The bums, though thieves and sometimes swindlers, are kind-hearted and well-meaning. Doc, though universally beloved and generous to a fault, is a lonely and sometimes sad man.

It is classic Steinbeck that the group of men who have next to nothing are far more content that Doc, who is one of the most well-off members of Cannery Row. Both have their virtues and vices; the only difference is which well each springs from. 

I'm not going to go more in-depth into the analysis and description. Just read the book. It will take you a day or two if you're even relatively diligent about it. It's worth your time.

Is this a great book? You bet it is. Is it one of the best one-hundred I've ever read? I would say no, but I wouldn't say it with complete certainty. Steinbeck manages to pack more in just over one-hundred pages than some (*cough*Virginia Woolf*cough*) manage to say with several times the page length. I'm biased towards this style and this is probably why I love John Steinbeck's works. With this in mind, I'm going to Cannery Row four out of five stars and recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading words.

Next up is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. I'm not a huge fan of Bladerunner (I know, travesty), which Do Androids... was an inspiration for, but I'm hoping I enjoy the book more. I've had good luck with his novels in the past.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Lunch Review! The Skinny Pig

If you're looking for a busy man in Cincinnati, I'm not sure if you can get much busier than Josh Campbell. Relatively fresh off the opening of his amazingly convenient, craft beer-carrying Mayberry Foodstuffs, he decided to open yet another eatery. Where he finds the time and energy for all of this is beyond me. It just opened on Monday and when folks were looking for recommendations for lunch, I suggested Skinny Pig.

The Skinny Pig is located in a "you wouldn't know it was there if you weren't looking for it" storefront on Woodburn Avenue by Desales Corner. It's always good to see new restaurants open in Walnut Hills; god knows it needs to redevelopment.

The Skinny Pig goes in a completely different direction than Mayberry , Campbell's downtown spot. Rather than delicious, yet food coma-inducing giant burgers, tater tot casserole, and grilled cheeses, the Skinny Pig serves two things: blue corn flatbreads and salads. Certainly a lighter (and theoretically healthier) fare than that at Mayberry. The restaurant space is filled with a handful of high top tables, with a restroom and the kitchen in the back . The interior was relatively sparse when it came to decoration. Not sure if that is a byproduct of the recent opening or just a minimalist touch. The stain glassed windows in the front are beautiful, though.

Unlike Mayberry, orders are taken at the table. The flatbread options include those topped with turkey, pork tenderloin, chicken, garlic beef, and two vegetarian variations. Each of these dishes are themed differently, with assorted vegetables, cheeses, and sauces involved. I settled on the garlic beef flatbread, which also came topped with  horseradish, asparagus, goat cheese, and a tomato chutney. The pork loin and the chicken flat breads were also ordered at my table.

Though you can't tell from my picture, these flatbreads are beautifully prepared. They don't skimp on the toppings, either. So: what is blue corn flatbread like? It almost reminds me of a whole grain cracker. It was crisp around the edges and pliable where the juices from the toppings had soaked in. The asparagus was crisp and tasted fresh, the beef was pretty tender, and the goat cheese was abundant. My only complaint is that I didn't taste any horseradish at all. More (or some) would have been nice to cut the sweetness of the tomato chutney a bit. Overall, a good showing.

The adobo pork tenderloin was a bit hit with one of my coworkers, so I would love to try that the next time I'm there. Either that or one of their salad offerings (which you can add as a side portion).

Will I be back? You bet. It's close to where I live and temporarily work, so that is definitely a plus. The food tastes fresh and seems healthy. I certainly wasn't faced with the after lunch drowsiness I get with a lot of places. It's open for dinner, too, which is definitely cool. At right about $10 for the meal and a drink, it is reasonable priced.

I have to say: if he keeps it up, Josh Campbell is going to be running this city before we all even notice. He continues to pump out new, creative ideas and they keep being successes. Can't argue with outcomes. Also, kudos to him for taking a risk and opening a place outside of downtown. DeSales Corner has a lot of promise; hopefully this is just the beginning of development there. In other words, get your butts over there and give him some business.

The Skinny Pig on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Beer review: Avery White Rascal

Style: Witbier
ABV: 5.6%
Ratebeer: 74/86
Beer Advocate: B/B-

Poured from a 12oz can to a pint glass. Very light and cloudy yellow, with a thin white head. Smells like a typical Belgian, with spices, citrus, and banana. Taste is a watered down version of the same. Refreshing and well-carbonated, at least. This would be an excellent lawnmower or beach beer if you're a fan of white Belgians. I've never been a big fan of the style, though, and this is no exception. It beats every macro out there, but there are a million other craft options that I would drink first.

Grade: B-

Monday, May 16, 2011

Review: The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

Before The Reader was released in film form, I had never heard of the book. I was actually given the movie as a gift at some point, but never got around to watching it. I saw it on the shelf at the Friends of the Library book sale and decided "what the heck".

On its surface The Reader is a very simple book. It is essentially a romance novel set against the post-WWII era in Germany. Michael Berg, a 15 year old boy, through a set of strange circumstances becomes lovers with Hanna Schmitz, a 36 year old single woman. Michael, being young and hopelessly naive, falls immediately in love with her, even believing that they would be married some day. Hanna is tender towards Michael, but is prone to extreme mood swings and is loath to share any information with him concerning her past. This torrid affair goes on for some time until Michael is sucked into the social life with people his own age and then one day Hanna just disappears. He blames himself for this at first, but then he gets on with his life.

Later, as a law student, he is part of a seminar which attends the trials of those indicted of charges of war crimes during WWII. One of these defendants happens to be Hanna. As an SS guard, she is being charged with the deaths of a number of Jewish prisoners during the retreat from the Soviet invasion. Michael's feelings for her, which have been quieted but never fully died away since her disappearance, come full to the forefront. He is forced to examine the shame he feels for having loved a war criminal and at the same time makes realizations of her odd past behavior based on things that emerge from the trial. I'm not going to continue with the plot because I don't want to spoil anything, but the last part of the book primarily focuses on Michael's reflection on his time with Hanna as a young man.

The Reader both explicitly and implicitly looks at the conflict between the adults that were alive during Nazi rule and the generation that follows after it. The shame that Michael feels concerning his brief affair with Hanna is analogous to the shame felt by the children of those adults complicit (or at least tacitly accepting) of the Nazi regime. His conflicted love of someone who committed atrocities reflects how difficult it was for this new generation to deal with their parents' "Holocaust Legacy". It is obvious that this is something Germans struggle with even today.

The writing was good, but didn't blow me away. Written in the first-person, The Reader mainly focuses on telling the story without bombast. This was quite a change of pace after finishing Orlando prior to this. It is definitely an easy read. You could probably finish this pretty easily over a weekend if you set aside some time.

What surprised me most about this novel is the lack of emotion involved. I expected a work heavily reliant on emotion (ala: Sophie's Choice), but received a sober, almost academic look at the themes above. For this reason, the two main characters never really seem human. Hanna, though emotionally unstable and a war criminal, is neither detestable or an object of sympathy. Perhaps the most appropriate feeling towards her is pity. Michael, after his affair as a young man, seems incapable of emotion or feeling. His sterile examination of how he feels during Hanna's trial is something that would be read out of a psychiatrist's patient notes. For the most part I didn't particularly care about how he felt, which worked out because he didn't seem to feel much.

Despite the character flaws, I thought this was a good novel. I won't say it was "enjoyable", but it was valuable. The soberness of the content is not light stuff. Would I recommend this? Yes, but you have to be in the mood for it. It is a serious book about a serious topic.

I'm going to give The Reader three and a half stars. It is very good without being great and is definitely worth a read.


Edit: Almost forgot; the next book up to bat is Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. I love Steinbeck, so this should be an enjoyable one.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Recent beer tastings

Below are some of the beers that I've tried recently and a brief thought on each. Most of these were consumed at my bachelor party last weekend. Without further ado...

 Dark Horse Double Crooked Tree (Imperial IPA, MI)
Very good. A little sweet and malty for my tastes, though.

 Short's The Curl (Imperial Pilsner, MI)
Really, really enjoyed this one. Crisp and refreshing. Not enough imperial pilsners out there.

 Great Divide Titan IPA (IPA, CO)
Solid, but nothing crazy. Tastes about like what you'd expect an IPA to taste like.
 Dark Horse One (Oatmeal Stout, MI)
I had really been looking forward to this part of the night. A tasting of the 1-5 stouts from Dark Horse. This oatmeal stout might have been my favorite drink of the night. Smooth and creamy, tasted a lot like chocolate and a little like coffee. Really good stuff.

 Dark Horse Too (Cream Stout, MI)
As the style implies, I remember it being creamy, but not much else other than that. Hard to follow the last beer.

 Dark Horse Tres (Blueberry Stout, MI)

 I've had this once before and didn't care for it, but was pleasantly surprised. I don't have fruit stouts often, so the blueberry smell and flavor was peculiar. Smelled like blueberries more than it tasted. Reminded me a little of a blueberry pancake. Decent, but probably won't try it again.

Dark Horse Fore (Smoked Stout, MI)
 Don't particularly care for smoked beers, either, but this one only had a faint hint of smoke. Not a smoke bomb like some of the other smoked porters and stouts I've had. This one would go great with a steak or other red meat.

Dark Horse Plead the 5th (Imperial Stout, MI)
 This was a delicious beast of a beer. At 12%, it was probably good that I was sharing it. Pretty well rounded between malts and hops. The high ABV in it is pretty much completely hidden. This could make for some sneaky drunkenness.

Mikkeller and BrewDog I Hardcore You (Double IPA, Denmark/Scotland)
Hops, hops and more hops. As advertised, this is about as hoppy a beer as I've ever drank, which is strange consider that it's a European collaboration. At $7.99 for a 12oz bottle, this isn't something I'd have often, but it was a nice treat.

Lagunitas Maximus (IPA, CA)
This seemed pretty standard, too, but it was about 4:30AM when I drank it, so I could be forgetting a bit.

Allagash Black (Belgian Stout, ME)
A strange brew. A stout fermented with Belgian yeast. Almost tastes like a really dark, malty dubbel or tripel. Not a big fan, but it is a popular beer. I believe Wine Enthusiast rated it their favorite beer of the year. Perhaps it just takes a bit of getting used to.

Alesmith Speedway Stout (Imperial Stout, CA)
Another monster of a beer. I've had this guy sitting in my closet for months to find a special opportunity to try it. At 12% and 750ml, this is about the same, alcohol-wise, as drinking a bottle of wine. You'll definitely want to split this one. An intense-flavored beer. A lot of coffee and heavily roasted malts. There is a good deal of complexity here.
Great Divide Hercules Double IPA (Imperial IPA, CO)
This didn't blow me away at all. It seemed like a pretty standard malt-forward IIPA. It was passable, but doesn't measure up to some of the better offerings out there.

So, what were my favorites? I'd go with the following:

Short's The Curl (Imperial Pilsner, MI)
The entire Dark Horse 1-5 lineup other than Tres
Mikkeller and BrewDog I Hardcore You (Double IPA, Denmark/Scotland)
Alesmith Speedway Stout (Imperial Stout, CA)