Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Frequent Spins (2012.3)

If you haven't picked up on the hint from the links in these posts yet, you need to download Spotify. Now. It's free. Yeah, there's a pay version too, but if you're content with being able to listen—on your computer—to a pretty significant percentage of the music that's out there, you won't be disappointed.

Arrange - New Memory
It's been a few years since I've read Pitchfork regularly, but I owe my discovery of this ambient electro-pop band to Pitchfork's Spotify app, which makes it easy to instantly listen to what the indie snobs are excited about.

Beach House - Bloom
I wasn't as blown away by this band's first three albums as a lot of folks were, but count me on the bandwagon as of their fourth release, a gorgeous collection of dreamy indie pop.

Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan
This indie art-rock band is a little outside of my wheelhouse, but I've known since I first heard 2005's The Getty Address there was potential they could eventually reel me in. This is probably their most accessible record, so I guess that's all it took.

Metric - Synthetica
I think I'd previously lumped this band into the "pretty good, but nothing to write home about" category, which isn't exactly a negative opinion, I realize. Then, a Joey Pants recommendation from last year influenced me to really give a good listen to this one, and it was well worth the effort.

Moonface - With Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery
In the last Frequent Spins, I compared bands to baseball players. I didn't do that this time, but instead I'm going to make a different kind of comparison here: Moonface is another side project from Wolf Parade co-leader Spencer Krug. Although he took 2011 off (at least as far as new releases are concerned), the prolific Krug reminds me of William Tasker of The Flagrant Fan, It's About the Money Stupid, MLB Dirt and probably a few other blogs I'm not even aware he writes for. Krug is possibly the hardest working man in indie rock. Tasker is the hardest working baseball blogger I know.

Saint Etienne - Words and Music by Saint Etienne
This album seems like an exercise in nostalgia for the band, and much of it hits close to home with me as well. But, there's one line that makes me smile every time I hear it: "I knew he loved me because he made me a tape."

The Walkmen - Heaven
My good friend Sara characterized this one as much more positive than their previous efforts, and while it's not exactly feel-good music, that description is certainly accurate.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse - Americana
Neil and the Horse's venture into folk standards territory is a hit-or-miss affair, with plenty of material falling in between. Hits: "Oh Susannah," "Jesus' Chariot," "God Save the Queen." Misses: "Clementine," "Get a Job," "Wayfarin' Stranger."

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wish You Were Here

As you probably know if you read here with any regularity, a group of my high school friends and I have a longstanding annual tradition of meeting up in Cooperstown for the weekend of the Hall of Fame inductions. Beyond our mutual baseball history fanaticism, this particular weekend has always represented the idea that, no matter how busy our lives are now or become in the future, we'll always be assured of seeing each other at least once a year.

Although there are a few occasional participants, the tradition has evolved to the point today where it's really just two families who are annual attendees.

The two friends who started the tradition with me are now married, and 2012 marked their 26th consecutive year. I skipped 2000 to attend another friend's wedding in Kamloops, British Columbia. The logistics of attending both events in the same weekend didn't quite work out, so I've only been in Cooperstown for 25 of the past 26 Hall of Fame weekends.

In fact, my current streak of 12 straight only places me fourth on our list, as my friends' daughter just recorded her 18th in a row. Her older brother, however, had his run of 19 come to an end for no other reason than the fact he's a college age boy, leaving KJ's four years as the fifth longest current streak.

This year, of course, was Little Chuck's first. KJ and I have decided the weekend is much more enjoyable if we stay until Monday, rather than to have to deal with the post-inductions rush to get out of town on Sunday and make the 4 1/2 hour (longer when a baby's involved) trek back home late in the day. As many times as I've done this, I can tell you it's nice being among the minority of folks who remain on Sunday night.

So, we headed down early on Saturday morning instead of late on Friday, another decision influenced by the little guy. We made surprisingly great time and arrived in town just in time to take part in one of our traditions within the tradition: meeting up with our friends for lunch and beers at Cooley's, which, almost by default, has become our favorite downtown meeting place, despite the fact the service sucks.

I had three beers the entire weekend—all of them Ommegang offerings—including a draft Belgian Pale Ale at Cooley's. It was the second time I've had this beer—both times at this particular bar—and honestly I'm not that impressed. There's something about it being on the overly carbonated side and not full-bodied enough that grates on me, but it could just be I need to taste it from a different source. I guess that will have to wait until next year. You can read about how much I otherwise love this brewery here.

Of course, a lot of memorabilia seekers and idol worshipers descend on Cooperstown for this weekend. Honestly, it's probably not all that much different from a science fiction convention, except the closest the baseball fanatics come to dressing up like the characters they're fans of is donning a player jersey and cap. I'd say that's a far cry from wearing a Chewbacca costume, so I guess it's not quite as extreme.

None of that describes me, but I'm not knocking the folks who are into that sort of thing. To each their own, of course. But, I do enjoy the parade of Hall of Famers down Main Street—I didn't have as good a vantage point as in past years, but a few of my better photos are below—that has become Saturday night's main event these past few years, and, of course, the speeches at the induction ceremony itself.

Dave Winfield

Roberto Alomar

Carlton Fisk

While Barry Larkin did a solid job as the day's headliner, the true highlight of Sunday's induction ceremony was Vicki Santo's acceptance speech on behalf of her late husband, Ron. Prior to the ceremony I was telling KJ my favorite speeches are the ones that add a personal element, and Mrs. Santo hit it out of the park by that standard. Rather than talk extensively about Santo's career, she emphasized her husband's charitable work on behalf of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the fact he believed his purpose in life was to use the advantages provided by his God-given baseball ability to further that cause.

Most importantly, though, she stressed that the day was not a sad, but rather a happy occasion, although I couldn't help but wonder if she was really just reminding herself.

"This is not a sad day. This is a great day. Celebrate for Ron. Celebrate with us, and celebrate with him. I'm certain of few things, but I am certain that Ronnie is celebrating with us right now.

"Celebrate his journey. Celebrate his cause. Celebrate an amazing life. Celebrate Ron Santo's life. He truly had a wonderful life."

Until next year...

Friday, July 20, 2012

All-Time Teams #9: Colorado Rockies

This is part of an ongoing series where I'm naming an all-time team for each of the current 30 MLB franchises, and using this as a vehicle to discuss their greatest eligible player who is not in the Hall of Fame.

Finally, I get a well-deserved break after seven difficult teams in a row. (Of course, you wouldn't know that by how long it's taken me to get this one completed.) Now, don't get me wrong. The older franchises are much more interesting when it comes to assembling these teams, but there are more decisions I'm more likely to agonize over. When it comes to teams like the Diamondbacks and Rockies, there's just so much time I'm willing to spend on filling out the final spots on the roster.

For instance, how in god's name was I supposed to choose this team's pitching staff? There were a few fairly obvious choices, but after that it all kind of ran together.

Thankfully, there are modern metrics to make some sense of what would otherwise look like a collection of really bad pitchers. Instead, they look like a group of mostly mediocre-at-best hurlers, but so be it.

Since this franchise wasn't exactly known for its starting pitchers, for the first time in this series we get a bullpen filled with actual relief pitchers. Of course, they're not much to write home about either.

OK, I'll stop piling on the team that's only in its 20th year of existence and get to naming the actual players I selected.

Franchise History
Colorado Rockies (1993- )

C - Chris Iannetta (2006-2011)
1B - Todd Helton (1997- )
2B - Eric Young (1993-1997)
SS - Troy Tulowitzki (2006- )
3B - Vinny Castilla (1993-1999, 2004, 2006)
LF - Matt Holliday (2004-2008)
CF - Carlos Gonzalez (2009- )
RF - Larry Walker (1995-2004)

Ubaldo Jimenez (2006-2011)
Aaron Cook (2002-2011)
Pedro Astacio (1997-2001)
Jeff Francis (2004-2008, 2010, 2012- )
Jason Jennings (2001-2006)

Brian Fuentes (2002-2008)

C - Jeff Reed (1996-1999)
1B - Andres Galarraga (1993-1997)
IF - Clint Barmes (2003-2010)
3B/1B - Garrett Atkins (2003-2009)
OF - Ellis Burks (1994-1998)
OF - Dante Bichette (1993-1999)
OF - Brad Hawpe (2004-2010)

Steve Reed (1993-1997, 2003-2004)
Bruce Ruffin (1993-1997)
Jerry Dipoto (1997-2000)
Jose Jimenez (2000-2003)

Don Baylor (1993-1998)

I can't say I have any overly analytical method of choosing the managers for these teams. Generally, it's the managers who lead the most successful teams that tend to be recognized as the best, and my approach doesn't stray too far from that formula.

For a team like the Diamondbacks, it was easy to think of Bob Brenly, the guy who managed them to the only World Series title in their brief history, as the choice. But, for the Rockies, I went with Baylor, because he led them to three consecutive winning seasons (including their first playoff appearance) in their third-through-fifth years of existence.

Clint Hurdle may have guided them to their only World Series appearance, but it was their lone winning season of his six-plus year tenure, and was mainly the product of a late-season hot streak that, incidentally, came to a rather sudden end at an inopportune time.

Greatest Eligible non-Hall of Famer

Larry Walker deserves to be the Rockies' first Hall of Famer, plain and simple. The main argument against his candidacy is he played the majority of his career in the hitter-friendly Coors Field of the late '90s and early '00s. But, as I wrote about him back in January, his numbers more than hold up when advanced adjustments are made. His OPS+ of 141 is right there with many offensive-oriented Hall of Famers, including Duke Snider, Eddie Mathews, Reggie Jackson and Harmon Killebrew. The latter three, in fact, were selected as deserving of the Hall of Fame's inner circle by the voters in Baseball: Past and Present's latest project (Mathews is deserving, Jackson and Killebrew are questionable as "inner circle" types, but clearly Hall-worthy).

Larry Walker

Where Walker's case suffers a bit is his lack of a lengthy career. Not that it was abbreviated per se, but his 16 years (not counting a 20-game stint as a 22-year old) included four seasons of less than 400 plate appearances, two at the end of his career and two presumably due to injury. So, his career total of just over 8000 plate appearances is less than impressive, but it would be far from the lowest total among Hall of Fame position players.

Furthermore, as this handy visualization produced by Adam Darowski shows, Walker's career value numbers measure up compared to the current Hall of Fame population. (Drag Walker's target over that of the HOF median player to see what I'm talking about, then come back and continue reading.)

Are you back? Good.

As you observed, the inner ring and bullseye of Walker's target line up almost perfectly with the HOF Median target, meaning his career Wins Above Excellence and Wins Above MVP, both measures of peak value, are better than just about half of all Hall of Fame position players.

Just as, if not more, importantly, the outer portion of Walker's target (career Wins Above Replacement) is larger than the HOF Median, meaning his induction would actually improve the overall quality of Hall of Fame non-pitchers.

Considering there's no confusing him with a compiler, this is quite impressive. In fact, it's Hall of Fame worthy, in my book.

Next Up: Detroit Tigers

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Week(end) in Beer: 7/13-7/14

Last week, I lamented the difficulty of maintaining this new beers resolution because of the financial constraints involved. Then, on Friday I accidentally stumbled onto a solution to the problem.

There are two beer stores in the little downtown area of the neighborhood where I live. When we moved here, almost two years ago, I quickly decided which of the two has a better craft beer selection and patronized that store almost exclusively for at least the first year.

But, at some point this year, I decided to give the other store another chance. It was then I realized they have a better selection of more reasonably priced bombers—I could get into a discussion here about what is a reasonably priced bomber, but I'll resist the urge—which fit in well with my quest to not drink the same beer twice this year. So, for a while, that was my store of choice. They even have a small selection of beers you can make a mixed six-pack with, but the choices are pretty weak, so that was a one-and-done idea.

Which brings me to Friday. For the sake of convenience, I returned to my original favorite store and, while I was browsing the aisles, another patron asked if they do mixed six-packs. The store clerk reached into a box at the end of the aisle and handed her an empty six-pack carton.

I was delighted, but I wasn't sure what to expect the prices for single beers would be, since they weren't advertised. Actually, lack of prices on many products in beer stores is another pet peeve of mine, but I'll refrain from going off on that tangent.

The box of cartons only contained a bunch of four-packs anyway, so I went with one of those and added a $5.49 bomber of Clown Shoes Miracle IPA, for good measure.

$5.49 for a bomber is definitely what I consider reasonably priced, even though, at slightly less volume than two beers, this is comparable to paying more than $16.50 for a six-pack. But, other than the $4.49 I paid for a 22 oz. Berkshire Steel Rail last weekend, they don't come much cheaper. In fact, I'd say that $7 is the high end of my acceptable range. There are beers I'll make an exception for, of course, but considering we're talking about Massachusetts brewers here, I don't think I should have to pay more.

However, a bomber of Somerville Brewing Company's Slumbrew Happy Sol was $8.99 and a couple different selections from Backlash Beer Company were $8.99-9.99. I realize smaller brewers don't have the economies of scale advantage their larger counterparts do, and I want to support the local guys (as Clown Shoes and Berkshire are) but I can't help but feel these are more than a little overpriced. Maybe it's just the store. I don't know for sure.

Anyway, the prices per bottle for the four 12-ouncers I settled on and drank over the weekend were all reasonably in the $1.50-$2 range. I probably don't need to do the math for you, but that's $9-$12 for a six-pack, which is totally acceptable, hence the aforementioned solution to my frugality problem.

Summer Love (Victory Brewing Company)
There's a baseball on the label, so of course it's good. Seriously, it is, mainly because Victory knows how to inject a little hoppy enthusiasm into a Blonde Lager style that is usually a little boring.

Centennial IPA (Founders Brewing Company)
Not my favorite, but a really solid IPA: subtle floral hop aroma, full-bodied with just the right amount of hop bitterness.

Pamola Xtra Pale Ale (Baxter Brewing Company)
This Lewiston, Maine craft brewery is the first in New England to can its entire line of beers. I love Baxter's Stowaway IPA, which I discovered when I was on my canned beer kick (not that I'm necessarily off it, but the canned selection is still somewhat limited). Pamola is very good also, an extremely well-balanced offering that makes for a great session beer. It was the perfect accompaniment to my Saturday night grilling.

A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale (Lagunitas Brewing Company)
This is not an IPA, but it has the fantastic citrusy aroma that many of my favorite IPAs have. As BeerAdvocate says "This one has it all figured out—an amazing ale." This was also my 100th of the year. I thought about saving my 100th for next weekend, but decided instead to share this one with KJ. She loves it too.

Next weekend, of course, I'll be hoisting a few in Cooperstown.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

No-Hitters Are Better

No-Hitters Are Better Bumper Stickers Should Be Issued.

The opening and closing quotes here are paraphrased lyrics from two different songs. Let's see if anyone can name both songs and the artist(s) who played them. I'm guessing I know the most likely person to answer correctly and he happens to be mentioned frequently in this post.

I've always had a fascination with no-hitters. It's probably not all that unusual a fascination, to be honest. But, for as long as I can remember, my personal rule when at a ballgame I'm not personally invested in is to root for both pitchers until they give up their first hit. Because, honestly, there's nothing more exciting than witnessing a no-hitter in person.

I was in Pittsburgh for Mike Schmidt's 500th home run in 1987. No doubt it was a fantastic milestone to witness, and it's a mark that has only been reached by 25 players, but it wasn't entirely unexpected. My college buddies and I had tickets, and he happened to hit his 499th the day before, so we knew there was a decent chance (a little better than one-in-five maybe).

In contrast, 275 no-hitters have been pitched since 1875, making the feat 10 times more common. But, it's still a much more unexpected occurrence, considering over 200,000 games have been played in that time span.

Milestones can be chased, as my pal Joe and I did when we traveled to Oakland for the first four games of the 1991 season, with Rickey Henderson two stolen bases away from tying Lou Brock's career record. Henderson stole one base and got thrown out twice in the the first two games of the series, then missed the final two because of injury.

But, although our attempt to witness history failed, the point I'm trying to make is that no-hitters are always a surprise and, therefore, are the ultimate ballpark experience.

So, this post will be dedicated to my experience with no-hitters and near misses I've been lucky and/or unlucky enough to say I was there for.

July 4, 1983 (Red Sox @ Yankees)
Early summer after my high school sophomore year, my best friend and next door neighbor's dad offered to take us on the 1 1/2 hour trip from our Dutchess County, New York neighborhood to the South Bronx. My dad was also invited, but he declined, so it was just the three of us.

We had pretty mediocre seats down the left field line, but it didn't matter, of course. We were at Yankee Stadium, and pretty soon the excitement of just being there was surpassed by the suspense of a chance for what certainly seemed like, and probably was, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I don't remember if we talked about the fact a potential no-hitter was in progress. I suspect we did, as we were two teenage boys and an adult who wasn't quite fanatical enough to buy into the superstition that we could actually jinx the thing.

What I do remember is that the buildup to the game's ultimate moment was just as suspenseful and exciting as game seven of just about any World Series I've seen, and that the final out—Dave Righetti's second strikeout of Wade Boggs on the day—was surreal.

Looking back at the box score, I realized that, as a gentleman named Dave LaPointe pointed out to me on Twitter, Righetti walked Jim Rice twice in three at bats. Looking further, I also noticed Tony Armas didn't provide much protection for Rice in the order. On the day, he struck out and grounded into a double play in three at bats. More importantly, he was in the midst of a frustrating first season in Boston, in which he would hit 36 homers and drive in 107 runs, but with a .218 batting average and a paltry .254 OBP.

Upon returning home, I wondered if my dad realized what he had missed. He hadn't watched the game on television so he didn't know, but he honestly didn't seem as disappointed as I expected. You see, dad grew up only a subway ride away from Yankee Stadium and, in fact, had previously witnessed one of Allie Reynolds's two no-hitters in pinstripes.

Of course, in my own experience, seeing one no-hitter only whet my appetite for more. As you've probably guessed, there would be opportunities, and close calls, involving potentially bigger moments. So, read on, if you're so inclined.

September 2, 2001 (Yankees @ Red Sox)
This game just so happened to be Lee Mazzola's first visit to Fenway. I recall we paid a pretty hefty price to sit in the bleachers, somewhere in the neighborhood of $90 from one of the only online ticket brokers I was aware existed at the time.

Lee hopped a bus from New York City early Sunday afternoon for the 8pm game and returned home in the wee hours of the morning, albeit a little less coherent than he arrived. He also forgot his glasses, which would turn out to be somewhat important.

The game would prove to be quite the pitchers duel between Boston's David Cone and New York's Mike Mussina, although obviously one of them would gain a slight upper hand.

The Yankees got their first hit in the second inning, but it was the only one Cone would allow until the sixth. Mussina, however, was dominating, striking out five of the first six batters he faced and nine through five innings of a scoreless tie.

Three more innings of goose eggs put up by both pitchers would leave their pitching lines looking like this going into the ninth:

Mussina: 8 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 12 SO, 0 R
Cone: 8 IP, 4 H, 3 BB, 8 SO, 0 R

It was right about this time that Lee turned to me and said (about Mussina), "Has he given up any walks?"

I just continued looking straight ahead while shaking my head no. Yes, Mussina had a perfect game through eight.

I could swear Lee had earlier suggested the Yankees needed to get Mussina out of there, as they really needed to win this game. But, that really doesn't make much sense. The Yankees were eight games ahead of the Red Sox in the standings with only about 25 to go. So, either Lee was completely out of his mind, or it's possible I've misremembered.

Of course, Mussina's bid at the 17th perfect game in major league history was spoiled by Carl Everett on a 1-2 pitch with two outs in the ninth. To this day, Lee is convinced I think he jinxed Mussina's perfecto.

To that I say: "Lee, I forgive you."

May 5, 2007 (Mariners @ Yankees)
Lee and I would get another shot, however. This time, I traveled to visit him in the city, as I did at least once a year for ten years until I had to go and get my wife pregnant and ruin the streak last year.

This time, Lee was prepared. For one, he didn't forget his prescription eyewear—he may have been wearing contacts, so you see how I covered all (both) my bases there?—and he was prepared to act in a superstitious way.

Chien-Ming Wang was on the mound for the Yankees. 2007 was the second of his two very good seasons in pinstripes, but I still felt his lack of swing-and-miss stuff made him a less-than-likely candidate to throw a no-hitter. However, I think perfect games are a different story.

My theory, completely not backed by any sort of data, is that strikeout pitchers are more likely than their craftier counterparts to throw a no-hitter. There's obviously some element of luck involved regardless, but the fewer balls put into play, the lower the odds that the luck works against you.

OK, I realize that's not an earth-shattering hypothesis, but the next part is a little more of a reach. I think non-power pitchers are more likely to throw perfect games. Strikeout pitchers work deeper into counts more frequently, and the more deep counts, the greater the chance of a walk.

I know, I know. Balls in play also result in errors, which spoil perfect games. I didn't say my theory was sound scientifically, but again I'll remind you: perfect games require quite a bit of luck too.

Since there have only been 21 perfect games in history, there really isn't a large enough sample of them to confirm or deny my hypothesis, so please don't take me too seriously here.

Anyway, back to game. As it turns out, Wang would, in fact, flirt with a perfect game.

Lee recently accused me of not going to the bathroom during the Mussina near perfect game, but I don't think that was possible given the amount of beer I drank that night. I honestly think it was this particular occasion he was remembering. I refused to leave my seat from the moment it became appropriate to commence such ridiculous superstitions—I don't really have an answer as to when that is—through to the eighth inning when Ben Broussard spoiled Wang's bid for perfection with a one-out solo (duh!) homer.

7 1/3 perfect innings is a pretty incredible outing, but when you've experienced the heartbreak of being one out away from witnessing the sport's most incredible single-game feat, it pales in comparison.

One no-hitter and two near perfect games is probably my fair share for a lifetime, but...

I may see another, you never do know, because I've still got a long way to go.

Monday, July 09, 2012

The Week(end) in Beer: 7/3-7/7

Wednesday was a holiday, so that provided me the rare opportunity to enjoy a beer (or two) on a weeknight. Tuesday night's very unpatriotic pre-July 4th selection was Troegenator Doublebock, a German style, although this one's brewed by Harrisburg, PA's Tröegs Brewing Company. Hey, at least they're not British.

Troegenator has the malty aroma and upfront feel of a Belgian abbey ale, which I love. This is offset by its ever-so-slightly cloying aftertaste, though. Still, I have to say I really enjoyed this one.

At 8.2%, I initially assumed it would be my only beer of the night, but as I've said many times before, sometimes the first beer talks me into a second. So, I double-checked my Beers of 2012 list and realized I had yet to drink one of my own I've Seen All Good Maple Bacon Porters this year.

There definitely was an over-carbonation issue with this batch, and this particular bottle proved no exception. Home brews are inconsistent, so I opened this one with the intention of evaluating it as if it was my first time drinking it.

Aroma-wise, I think we really nailed it. The maple and bacon gives off a sweet yet subtly smokey aroma. Taste-wise, it could be better. I definitely recognize the smokiness that the bacon imparts, but I don't get any discernible maple flavor. It may have been difficult to drink this one right after the higher alcohol and more full-bodied Troegenator, but I found myself less pleased with this creation than from previous tastings.

Friday night we were invited to our neighbor's yacht club for the evening. Now, I'm not sure what you think of when you hear yacht club, but until recently I would have assumed somewhat highbrow. That is, until I moved to a neighborhood that's within walking distance of two of them. This is not intended to be a knock, of course, but from the outside one of them reminds me of a VFW. The other seemed considerably nicer, but certainly not a place where I expected to be rubbing elbows with guys nicknamed Skip or who prefer to be referred to as "The Captain."

As it turned out, our neighbor is a member of the nicer one, and as anticipated, the club was decidedly New Englandy. We had a nice evening hanging out on the back deck overlooking where the boats dock, sipping a couple drinks and eating salads and chicken and steak cooked perfectly on the grill. It was like going to a barbecue, except the venue was suspended over the bay.

The only drawback of the club not being the least bit upscale was the beer selection. There are definitely some great beer bars in the Boston area, but for the majority of places, their idea of a good selection is the big three of Miller Lite, Coors Light and Bud Light. Honestly, some day I'd like to organize a taste test with these three beers and see if more than 33.3% actually select their "favorite" as the best.

Actually, most places around here add a couple mediocre craft and import selections to a long list of crappy macros, and the yacht club was no exception. So, my choices for the evening were a UFO White and a Bass Ale.

The UFO White is a little better than Blue Moon Belgian White, I'd say. It's been a while since I've had the latter, but I don't recall the coriander making its presence felt as it did with UFO's version of the style. There's no doubt this is no Allagash White, but it will do in a pinch.

Bass was one of the first beers that made me realize I preferred ales to lagers, but it just doesn't do it for me these days. That's probably more an indication flavorful ale choices have gotten much better over the years than a statement that the beer isn't as good as it once was.

There is one thing about Bass I didn't know until Friday. When I went to check in on untappd, I learned Bass Brewers is now owned by ABinBev. I know this doesn't necessarily mean Bass is now an Anheuser Busch product, but it's close enough for me. Besides, the bottle says it's brewed in Baldwinsville, NY. I know from my time living in Syracuse that there's a huge Anheuser Busch brewery in that small town. Enough said.

Saturday night was another night for grilling. I was out of unique beers, except for a couple I'm saving for later, so I swung by the liquor store and picked up a bomber of a western Massachusetts staple: Berkshire Brewing Company's Steel Rail Extra Pale Ale.

While quite different from Dale's—it's sweeter, a little less full-bodied and not quite as hoppy—Steel Rail is another one of my favorite pale ales. Definitely among the best beers brewed in this state, in my opinion.

Five more beers brings my unique total to 96 for the year.

I have to say sticking to this resolution is getting a bit more difficult. For the first time, I find myself really hankering for certain beers available only in six-packs and not really feeling like shelling out $10 or more to drink one and save five.

The variety packs have been a better option, but of course, that means drinking four and stashing eight. First World problems, I know.

Anyway, when I started this thing, I didn't really think I'd make it this far, but now I feel I've reached a point where I want to see it through to the end of the year. Wish me luck.

Monday, July 02, 2012

The Week(end) in Beer: 6/29-6/30

Trying something new here, a regular—well, we'll see about that—Monday series in which I offer a few thoughts about the beers I drank last week. Of course, this pretty much means it will be about the three or four I typically have over the weekend, as mid-week beers are a rarity for me these days. I'll also try to add a little context, when I feel it's appropriate.

Friday night, our plan was to grill, but since the little guy's bedtime is 7pm, we decided to eat after putting him down for the night rather than scrambling to finish up in just enough time to avoid a meltdown. So, after an evening walk along the beach—Did I mention we live 1/4 mile from the beach? Folks from the west coast might ask the question: You call that a beach? To which our reply would be: Yes, we do—I fired up the grill, while KJ fed Little Chuck for his final meal of the day.

It was pretty hot out, although the temperature wasn't quite as high as it would get over the weekend, so something on the lighter side seemed to make sense. I decided it was a good time to break out the Harpoon Bohemian Pilsner I had placed in the refrigerator last weekend.

I've had some luck with the concept of micro-brewed pilsner as summer beer. Victory Prima Pils comes to mind as one that really fits the bill in this regard.

Harpoon's offering gives off a distinct aroma that reminds me of lesser beers of the style, such as Pabst Blue Ribbon. What follows—i.e. it's initial introduction to my mouth—kind of reinforces that reminder. After that, it proves itself not worthy of being dragged down by such a comparison. It has a solid maltiness and subtle hops bite that the PBRs and Budweisers of the world can't boast. It's no Prima Pils, but overall it's a solid offering.

I noticed earlier in the night that my beer inventory is almost depleted, so my next choice was one I've been saving for a while. I bought a six-pack of Dale's Pale Ale a couple months ago, mainly for those infrequent-of-late occasions when KJ wants a beer, but also figuring I'd get around to drinking one eventually. Dale's has been one of my go-to beers for a while, but with the new beers resolution I made this year, I knew I should save it for when I really needed it. I'm not sure if this was really that occasion, but so be it.

Of course, it did not disappoint. Dale's may, in fact, be the perfect pale ale. IPA is my favorite style, but a lot of IPAs fall just on the hops side of the hops/malt balance equation. Of course, I don't have a problem with that, but sometimes I'm looking for something a little different. Despite the fact Dale's is hoppy and malty enough to call itself an IPA, it's clearly different from the aforementioned IPAs in that there's a slight emphasis on its malt profile while still maintaining a more than acceptable hops bite.

On Saturday night, I went the route of drinking only one high octane beer. It just so happens it was Deviant Dale's, the IPA version of Dale's. This one was an absolute thing of beauty (see photo) with several noses full of that wonderful grapefruity aroma that I love in an IPA.

Just as Dale's could rightfully be called an IPA, at 8% ABV Deviant Dale's could just as easily be considered an imperial IPA. The hops' bark is much stronger than its bite, however, as this is a very well-balanced offering, with tons of caramel malty sweetness and, as with regular Dale's, just the right amount of hop bitterness.

Now that we've reached the mid-point of 2012, this brings my unique beer count on the year to 91, with the new beers resolution still intact. I believe I'll have to find a special brew to mark my 100th.