Friday, January 30, 2015

Beers of 2014

As usual, my beers of the year list highlights those I drank for the first time last year, but there are a couple here that don't meet that criterion. I'll explain when I get to them.

No ranked order this year, just an approximately chronological list of the beers that made my year. 

Nugget Nectar (Tröegs Brewing Co.)
I didn't acquire as many "white whales" last year as I did the year before—I think perhaps that's a phase I'm growing out of—but this was one of my most sought-after beers when the year started. A trip to the newly opened Craft Beer Cellar in a neighboring town to get my hands on some late-season Lagunitas Sucks proved fruitful in helping get advanced notice of a future shipment of this wonderful Imperial Amber (which isn't quite as good as Sucks, but I can't guarantee a blind taste test would confirm that). Get to know your beer guys, kids. I mean, young adults. 

Chico King (Sierra Nevada/3 Floyds Brewing Co.)
Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp Across America 12-pack of collaborations with smaller brewers was another of the most highly coveted products to me this year. A few of the guest collaborators were breweries it seemed I might never get my hands on their offerings. Most of the beers were good but not great, but this was the first one I drank and it made the biggest impression on me, even if everyone else raved about the Double Latte: Coffee Milk Stout collaboration with Ninkasi. 

Fort Point Pale Ale (Trillium Brewing Co.)
My first actual visit to Trillium was a fruitful one. Some half-drunk guy who worked across the street tried to convince me to opt for Congress Street IPA instead, and on most days I would have. But, I was planning on sharing it with a friend who's not a hophead. Still, this one has many characteristics I was instantly infatuated with—gloriously citrusy hops and a nice bite—that leave it straddling the line between pale ale and IPA. In fact, this one beats out Nugget Nectar as my favorite non-IPA-that-could-be-called-an-IPA, and was probably also better than any IPA I had last year as well. Time to head back to Congress Street to get more of what Boston's best brewery has to offer. 

Breakside IPA (Breakside Brewery)
It's not officially a rule or a tradition, but it seems our trips to visit KJ's family always include one night where I pick a restaurant/brewpub to go to dinner with her parents. Breakside was an excellent choice this time around, because the food was good, the atmosphere worked for a party of five that included two senior citizens and a toddler, and because their IPAs were excellent. Perhaps the fact that my father-in-law, whose favorite beer is Fat Tire, chose this over their Woodlawn Pale Ale—which was about to be my recommendation—put me in just the right mood, but I think it was really strong on its own merits. 

Fred (Hair of the Dog Brewing Co.)
I went to Portland's Hair of the Dog seeking out Adam, but I found Fred first and he made Adam seem much less friendly. Yes, these beers are named after dogs and no, they don't have much bite, which I guess is a good and a bad thing. Fred was golden and delicious (and 10%) and Hair of the Dog was one of two beer highlights of our recent family trip to Oregon. As a bonus, I got to take LC one block down the street to watch freight trains pass at street level...not once but twice. 

Celebration Ale (Sierra Nevada)
I'm not really sure how long it had been since I last enjoyed this one, but it dates back to the days when Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was one of my first favorite micro-brews in the mid-'90s. Celebration Ale was always a wintertime treat that was noticeably bolder than anything I was drinking at the time. I hadn't really thought twice about it in years, until the Beergraphs guys started talking it up. The fact they were now calling it a Fresh Hop IPA (i.e. a winter ale that doesn't get any spicyness from anything but hops) made it a must-have-again for me. I was not disappointed. 

Loose Cannon Hop3 IPA (Heavy Seas Beer)
Two-plus years ago, during our visit to Baltimore for a friend's wedding, an 11-month old LC and I explored parts of the city together while KJ did pre-wedding things with the girls. After he nodded off in the stroller, I took him to Heavy Seas Ale House. He woke up a little quicker than anticipated, but I still enjoyed a cask-conditioned Loose Cannon with him. It was good, but not great, I'll admit. For Christmas this year, it was one if the beers in my stocking and it was much better than I remembered. I even snapped a photo of LC handing one of my stocking beers to me and it turned out to be this one. Clearly, this is our beer. 

Honorable Mentions: World Wide Stout (Dogfish), DirtWolf (Victory), Jurata (Coronado/Cigar City)

Monday, January 05, 2015

Two Hypothetical Hall of Fame Ballots

I'll admit I'm getting a little tired of this exercise, and perhaps you are too. I know I'm not the only one. I still love the Hall of FameI just can't help myselfbut I've grown increasingly frustrated with the process and its usual outcome for many highly deserving candidates.

That said, I'm not going to write about how to fix it. If you're interested in reading more on that subject, here are some ideas worth kicking around

I am, however, going to take you through the trite 'ole hypothetical ballot exercise. Except I've got two hypothetical ballots. Bear with me if you please. 

The first is who I'd vote for independent of what I know about prior BBWAA ballots. In other words, if I had no idea of how the voting might go. 

Barry Bonds
Roger Clemens 
Randy Johnson
Pedro Martinez
Jeff Bagwell 
Mike Piazza
Curt Schilling
Mike Mussina
Tim Raines
Alan Trammell

These are who I consider the ten most deserving players on the ballot. Honestly, after the first eight, I'm pretty torn on six guys to take the final two slots. More on that in a minute. 

The second hypothetical ballot is who I'd vote for if I actually had a vote, with a heavy emphasis on how the vote is trending based on recent elections. 

Randy Johnson
Pedro Martinez
Jeff Bagwell 
Mike Piazza
Curt Schilling
Mike Mussina
Tim Raines
Craig Biggio
Larry Walker
Edgar Martinez

As you can figure out for yourself, on the second ballot, I've dropped Bonds, Clemens and Trammell and added Biggio, Walker and Edgar Martinez. 

My reasons may be obvious to some, but I'll explain. 

Bonds and Clemens aren't going anywhere. That is, they're not getting in anytime soon, and they're not in jeopardy of falling off the ballot either. They've been safely in the mid-to-upper-30s (in terms of voter percentage) both of their years on the ballot, and that's not going to change drastically. 

Trammell, I'm sorry to say, is the definition of a lost cause. Considering this is his second-to-last chance, he'll be put out of his BBWAA misery and moving on to the hopefully greener pastures of the Veterans Committee shortly. 

There's no sense using a vote on any of these three that could be applied more usefully to someone with a chance of getting in or who needs help staying on the ballot. 

Biggio fell two votes short of election last year. He's the 14th best player (out of 17 who I think are deserving) on this ballot, so getting him inducted and out of the way will be a step toward clearing a path for other deserving candidates to get their due. 

I suppose I could vote for John Smoltz (#13 on the ballot, in my opinion) for the same reason, but his candidacy is trending towards easily reaching the 75% threshold, so I'm going to assume he needs my vote less than Biggio does. 

Walker and Martinez are my 11th and 12th most deserving players. Walker is in jeopardy of falling off the ballot if his support takes a significant hit, so he needs the vote more than any of my top 12 candidates. Martinez is in a less tenuous position, but his candidacy needs to build some momentum as he reaches the latter half of his ballot eligibility. 

That leaves Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Gary Sheffield as the three remaining players I'd vote for if there wasn't a 10-player restriction, and the 15th through 17th most deserving players, in my opinion. McGwire and Sosa are lost causes due to the PED issue, and it appears Sheffield is trending in the same direction. 

I'd honestly like to cast a hypothetical vote for Sheffield just to help him stay on the ballot, as I believe his PED transgressions are murkier than some of the others, but he's just too far down my list to justify that decision. 

Lastly, I'm going to predict four players are inducted this year: Johnson, Pedro, Smoltz and Biggio. Piazza's vote total will make a big jump, but fall short of 75%, paving the way for his induction with Ken Griffey Jr. next year. Bagwell and Raines will receive a significant boost in support as well.

For Bagwell, I think he'll eventually earn election before his BBWAA eligibility runs out. For Raines, I'm not so optimistic. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best Music of 2014:
#1 The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream

For the fourth time in five years, an artist's debut on my year-end list is my #1 album.

Adam Granduciel's brand of ambient Americana was this year's critical consensus album of the year, an opinion I'm totally on board with, despite the fact my #4 artist is not a fan [NSFW].

For those of you still reading at the end of this blog's slowest year in almost a decade, thank you and best of luck in 2015.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Best Music of 2014: #2 Sturgill Simpson - Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

If this album didn't make your list, you either don't put together an albums-of-the-year list or you have an irrational fear of country music. Or, perhaps, you simply didn't hear it.

Considering I'd never even heard of Sturgill Simpson until barely more than a month ago, the latter suggestion is a distinct possibility. If that's the case, and if you're open to country music at all, plan on adding this to your "best 2014 albums you didn't hear until 2015 list."

Monday, December 29, 2014

Best Music of 2014:
#3 Cloud Cult - Unplug

I've been saying for a long time live albums are eligible for my year-end lists, but I think this is the first time one has made it, or at least it's the first time one has been ranked so highly.

This album exposed me to older Cloud Cult songs I was unfamiliar with, offered most of the songs in a different format from their original versions, and was presented as a single one-off performance rather than a live compilation. 

Those are pretty much my three criteria for considering a live album as one of the best of the year. Unplug is clearly just that.