Friday, January 31, 2014

My Favorite New Beers of 2013

In 2012, I attempted to go the entire year without drinking the same beer twice.

Last year, I decided rather than deprive myself of the enjoyment of drinking a really great beer a second or third time, I would simply try to drink as many new (to me) beers as possible.

I don't know the exact number because it's not easy to determine, but according to my Untappd profile, I drank exactly 100 beers for the first time (since I started using the beer drinker's social network).

That last part is important because there certainly are a few I drank in the pre-Untappd days as well, but Untappd doesn't know that.

So, for the sake of this post, I'm considering only beers I know I tried for the first time in 2013. Here are my nine favorites:

9. Brown Angel (Clown Shoes)
It's my turn to decide what AfroDan's next brewing endeavor will be, and the thought that came to mind was Imperial Brown Ale. The idea is to make something that recalls my memory of my first favorite craft beer, Brooklyn Brown. Since my beer drinking standards have changed considerably in the past 20 years, that concoction would have to be a full-bodied and fairly aggressively hopped version of the American Brown. Fortunately/unfortunately, Clown Shoes beat me to it.

8. Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale (Lagunitas Brewing Co.)
Only the second-best new (to me) beer from Lagunitas this year struck me as a stronger, but less balanced, version of the first. We'll get to that one in a bit.

7. ISA (10 Barrel Brewing Co.)
Of course, it's virtually impossible to compare beers I tried early in the year to those near the end. To that point, it's difficult comparing beers I drank even a week apart. So, what I have to go on are the ratings I gave these beers in the moment. That can be problematic too, because my standards might change a bit from time to time, but this list is comprised of beers I gave 4.5 and 5-star (or cap) ratings. In January, I gave this Oregon session IPA a 5, which for some reason, I'm questioning a year later, but there was definitely something about how much IPA goodness was packed into a 5.5% beer that made a big impression on me.

6. One Boston (Trillium Brewing Co.)
I realize I'm mostly sharing anecdotal information about my experiences with these beers rather than telling you that much about the beers themselves. For this one, I wrote something that covers both angles.

5. Furious (Surly Brewing Co.)
After seeing some discussion between a couple Twitter pals about a beer bet, I took a chance (or so I thought) and placed a wager on a struggling Yankees team. Needless to say, they made me look like a wolf of a Yankees fan as they swept four straight from the Twins and earned me a @MightyMpls hand-picked Surly variety pack, which included this hopping mad IPA that had been one of my most sought after beers to that point.

4. Sahalie (The Ale Apothecary)
Sometimes setting, and a host of other characteristics, has a lot to do with how much I (and probably you) enjoy a beer. In this case, the setting was a brunch gathering in Portland, Oregon. My beer-drinking pal out there bought this wildly expensive wild ale especially to share with me, while the girls drank mimosas or some other brunchy alcoholic concoction. No, it didn't make this list because it's the first and only pre-noon beer I've drank since my son was born, but like I said, context matters.

3. Heady Topper (The Alchemist)
That's right, the highest rated beer on Beer Advocate, BeerGraphs and pretty much everywhere else was only the third best beer I tried for the first time this year. I've got to be honest here. This was the most pined for beerthe only one that comes close is Samichlaus, which was once known as the strongest beer in the worldin my personal history of beer drinking. Before I got my hands on it, I wondered if it could possibly live up to expectations. I've had some really great IPAs before. What characteristics could possibly make this one that much better? As it turns out, Heady Topper wasn't disappointing at all. The fact that I rank it third just tells you how truly fantastic my two favorites were.

2. Enjoy By 11-12-13 IPA (Stone Brewing Co.)
I'd pretty much given up hope of getting my hands on one of Stone's limited-release, guaranteed-to-be-fresh, IPA offerings, when I spotted this on the counter at my local beer store. It was their last one, and for $10a surprisingly reasonable price for a bomber of such a popular brewit was mine. I had only recently tried Heady Topper for the first time. Although that one was a little more unique in that it's hoppyness seems to linger longer than any other IPA, and although it's difficult to compare two beers consumed a couple weeks apart, I thought this was just a little better.

1. Lagunitas Sucks (Lagunitas Brewing Co.)
When I checked into this one on Untappd, I commented "If 5 star beers are first-ballot Hall of Famers, this one's more Willie Mays than Lou Brock." That's the understatement of the century. In reality, Lou Brock is more the equivalent of a 3.5 star beer, but that's beside the point. Sucks (aka Brown Shugga' Substitute) is definitely the Willie Mays of beers, arguably the greatest of all-time.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

2013 Playlist

As has always gone hand-in-hand with my year-end music list, I've put together a mix of my favorite songs from those favorite albums. Of course, the format of the mix has evolved over the years, from cassette to CD and now simply a Spotify playlist.

This is not to say I've completely abandoned the CD format, but considering how few I've handed out these past couple of years, and the fact it's become a bit out-dated, I'm shifting my emphasis. I also haven't ruled out other formatsa retro return to the mix tape perhaps?but these are negotiable. 

The playlist runs roughly in chronological orderI say roughly because it's based on when I was listening to each album rather than release dateso the entire thing kind of represents the soundtrack to my 2013. Also, a couple tracks  are added to the end to represent songs that I came to love later in the year. 

Thursday, January 02, 2014

My Hypothetical Hall of Fame Ballot

If you weren't instantly put off by the title, and you've read even this far, it likely means you're one of the few who haven't already had enough of this subject for the year. That being said, I'll try to be as brief as possible.

13 of the players on this year's ballot are already in my personal Hall of Fame, and several easy choices are new to the ballot. So, obviously, the process of narrowing my selections down to ten creates some serious dilemmas.

I know this doesn't make me unique, but I've decided, if I had a Hall of Fame ballot, I'd use it strategically out of necessity. That is, unfortunately, I wouldn't simply vote for the ten players I consider to be the most worthy candidates.

Enough has been written about the glut of qualified candidates on the ballot, and the fact that situation is only going to get worse in upcoming years, so I'll not belabor that point. But, the thing that could help alleviate the situation, short of a change in the rule allowing each voter to vote for only ten players, is for some of this year's qualified candidates to get elected. 

So, to that end, my first priority would be to vote for the Hall-worthy players who have a chance of getting in:

Greg Maddux is the only player who's basically guaranteed to be a member of Cooperstown's class of 2014.

Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas, also newcomers to the ballot, would be virtual locks in almost any other year. 

Craig Biggio came close last year. He probably won't get the boost needed to get in this year, but he has the best chance of all the returning candidates. 

My next priority would be to vote for the qualified candidates who are in danger of falling below the requisite 5% to remain on the ballot:

I think Larry Walker is in serious jeopardy of being the guy bumped off of many of the ballots that included him last year in favor of the first-timers. 

Based on last year's results, Edgar Martinez has nothing to worry about. However, I expect his support to take a bigger hit than most this year because of his status as a perceived fringe candidate. 

Mike Mussina is this year's wild card. I could see him getting nearly as much support as Curt Schilling received last year (probably not) or somewhere around the 5% borderline. I think he'll be OK, but I'd vote for him just to be safe.* 

That leaves me with three more votes to award to candidates who don't have a chance of getting in this year, but also aren't likely to fall off the ballot either. So, I've decided my third priority will be players whose candidacies need to continue their momentum towards 75%. 

Believe it or not, I considered not voting for Tim Raines. But, in his 7th year on the ballot, I don't think he can afford to take a major step back, although a slight reduction in support seems likely. 

Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza are going to get in eventually, I think. Basically, my final choices came down to them or the duo of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

So, Maddux, Glavine, Thomas, Biggio, Walker, Martinez, Mussina, Raines, Bagwell and Piazza it is.

*As it turns out, Mussina has received 35 votes from among 101 voters who've made their ballots public to date. Last year, a total of 569 votes were cast, so it appears he already has enough support to remain on the ballot. But, I wasn't aware of this at the time of this writing, which technically was after the ballot submission deadline anyway, so I'll stand behind my methodology here. 

It's hard to believe this means I'm leaving Bonds, Clemens and Curt Schilling off. Schilling probably isn't in danger of dropping off, but he's my riskiest omission. 

Bonds and Clemens aren't going anywhere, but since they're the two best players on the ballot, it feels really weird to not vote for them. 

That leaves Alan Trammell, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa as the Hall-worthy players I'm writing off as lost causes. The latter two or three are probably the weakest candidates of the 17 I'd like to vote for anyway. 

I'd also like to see Jeff Kent (who I'm still undecided about) get a longer look, but I just can't find a place for him on my ballot. 

Unfortunately, this is how progressive voters need to approach their ballots, in my opinion. Personally, I'm far from certain I've made all the right decisions here, but I feel pretty confident my top two selection criteria are the way to go.