Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Beer: Hacker-Pschorr Festbier

HACKER-PSCHORR FESTBIER (Munich, Germany) - 4.0 (excellent)

Ah, another superb limited seasonal from this legend of German brewing. Festbier is a golden Oktoberfest lager, and is the first time the real Oktoberfest has been made available in the United States, believe it or not. The previous versions we saw over here were reformulations and variations. If you cherish a trip to the real Oktoberfest in Munich, search out a bottle of this and you’ll be getting that much closer.

Pours a clean golden, with a big frothy head of fine white carbonation. Beautiful spider web lacing, too.

Nose is caramel malts, brisk lager grains, and a touch of the Hallertau hops underneath. Nice.


Taste is definitely malt-based, and light in body — easy to drink and packed with flavor. This is a lager done the right way, and virtually an ideal template for the style. I could easily see downing a few of these anytime, even though it’s a deceptively big 6% ABV. A spot-on brew, and certainly showing (again) that the Germans have the history and know-how to make a world-class beer.

Beer: Red Hook - Out Of Your Gourd Pumpkin Porter

RED HOOK  OUT OF YOUR GOURD PUMPKIN PORTER (Woodinville, WA) - 3.5 (good)

Red Hook is a craft beer legend, beginning way back in 1981 -- long before the wonderful beer renaissance we're now blessed with. Having had visited the brewery in Woodinville, Washington many years ago, I can appreciate the history and quality of the brewery's offerings through the years.

In my opinion, there's always room for more pumpkin beers. And while most "Fall" short of perfection, it's always fun to try another warm, spiced ale made with what may be America's favorite squash.

Now, Red Hook has a nice twist on the usual pumpkin ale. Melding pumpkin and Fall spices with a dark and roasty porter (rather than a regular ale), Red Hook’s Pumpkin Porter also adds maple syrup for an added dimension. And at a relatively light 5.8% ABV, this is a drinkable and session-worthy seasonal.

My tasting begins with the pouring, and Out Of Your Gourd pours an opaque black with slight ruby highlights. I get a thick head of tan suds, giving way to cloudy tree-line lacing.

The aroma is definitely heavier Wintery spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice), with only a token touch of pumpkin on the palate. I would’ve liked a little more of the pureed pumpkin to show itself here.

Taste is rich and spiced, with, again, the pumpkin not being as prominent as I’d like. The maple syrup also seems a bit submerged, though I do get a nice roasted element from the porter underneath all the spices. Overall a solid Fall/pumpkin brew, but not one of the best.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

ZestTea tastings...

Goatsden received a really nice box of samples from James at new Philadelphia-based tea company ZestTea. Boasting of triple the caffeine of normal tea, and with as much caffeine as coffee, this is clearly a new (high-energy!) marketing idea for the world's most consumed beverage.

I sampled the EARL GREY BLACK first, and upon infusing the whole-leaf pyramid tea bag into boiling water, I got a strong, rich English bergamot aroma. Touting 155 mg of caffeine per cup, this English breakfast tea (on steroids) tastes faithfully like it's classic tea counterpart. It's rich and full-bodied -- certainly not the lightweight "tea grounds" that are oftentimes the norm. The bergamot and fruity citrus notes impart a light bitterness that becomes more prominent when iced. Overall, this is a delicious and enjoyable beverage.

Next, I tried the BLUE LADY BLACK - a mix of Nilgiri Indian black tea, cornflower petals, hibiscus, orange, lemon, and passion fruit. Quite an impressive mix already! And immediately upon steeping, the fruity aromas come right out. Passionfruit presents itself foremost, with a hint of bitterness creeping in, before a citrus zing rounds out the palate. Really, this is a delicious fruit-infused tea, and one with undetectably mega-high amounts of caffeine.

Blending young Hysop green tea, pomegranate, mint, and lemon, the POMEGRANATE MOJITO GREEN steeps with a lush, fruity aroma. Hints of berry and pomegranate seem most up-front, rather the typical grassiness of average green tea. Tasting, I get a really great combination of the mint, lemon, and pomegranate. Again, this is a unique and palate-pleasing blend, even not considering the unusually high caffeine content. 

Finally, I tried the APPLE CINNAMON BLACK blend, and upon steeping this one, I got a mouthwatering amount of sharp, warm cinnamon. Taste is subtle, with more cinnamon than apple. Again, this is a very delicious tea blend. I wouldn't expect sweet apple fans to flock to this one, but the warming, spicy cinnamon content seems perfect for a cold Winter's morning. 

In short, Goatsden really enjoyed ZestTea, with every flavor style being unique and quite a tasty treat. As for the energizing caffeine content, I can report a subtle and balanced jolt of energy upon enjoying a cup. Highly recommended as an alternative to those nasty sugary energy drinks or for those who can't stomach coffee.

For more info on ZestTea and ordering:


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

"Propaganda" DVD (director: Slavko Martinov)

Challenging and confrontational expose on Western culture

Now, this is a challenging film on several levels. Billing itself as a forbidden video, smuggled out of North Korea and disseminated on the internet, it's actually nothing of the sort. Clever marketing aside, it was revealed to be the work of New Zealander Slavko Martinov. "Propaganda" is a curious and highly critical look at the politics and propaganda of the West (particularly the United States and England), from an outsider's point of view.

Packed with literally thousands of slices of news footage and photos, this compelling documentary is about as scathing an attack on America's corrupt,  capitalist, sensationalist, corporate, and greed-driven ways as anything I've ever seen. And the bizarre aspect is, it's all fact. I don't disagree with this film, but it is tough to admit that we are all basically slaves to the rich corporate interests that fund and fuel our entire political system -- the same system that keeps us placated with awful television, toxic food, and a need to keep us from revolting and creating a new, more democratic society. Martinov doesn't dally around with subtlety, as this film is full of disturbing images that are certainly not for the timid or impressionable. "Propaganda" may be tough for most of us to stomach, but I don't doubt it should be mandatory viewing for most Americans who are content with thinking we are truly "free".

Conspiracy theorists will find much here to align themselves with, especially those who haven't chosen a particular "side" of politics. As far as Martinov is concerned, the Bush regime is the same as the Clinton or Obama regimes. Different faces for the same bloated and manipulative entities.

Saying I "enjoyed" "Propaganda" is only halfway true. Don't expect to be coddled here, it's a journey to be made only by those "ready" for such a confrontational look at ourselves in the so-called "democratic Western world".





Sunday, August 17, 2014

"Strange Powers - Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields" DVD (director: Gail O'Hara)

Fascinating look at a fascinating personality

Having been recording for prominent indie labels for nearly 25 years now, Stephin Merritt has somehow fallen beneath my own radar. And that's a shame, as this documentary shows a conflicted by extremely talented artist who's capable of producing some world-class indie pop sounds without much regard for commercial potential. His primary project, The Magnetic Fields, has created an extensive back catalogue of post-punk, synth pop, and indie rock that has found favor with peers and a small but devoted fan base. That's not to mention his other projects like the 6ths, Future Bible Heroes, or the Gothic Archies.

In this feature-length documentary, director O'Hara was granted access to Merritt's personal life and includes many intimate moments, onstage and off. As well, his longtime musical partner Claudia Gonson is featured throughout, among other bandmates, outside musicians, and fans. It's more of a "behind the scenes" documentary, rather than a historical one, but that's just fine. Merritt may seem aloof and deadpan (even morose and disagreeable) at times, but it's his music that does the speaking, and Merritt's music is intelligent, emotive, and intensely personal, connecting with people around the world who may feel lost, heartbroken, or disaffected. 

For proven fans, "Strange Powers" will be a revelation. To the unfamiliar, it's a great lesson and entertaining film about an artist on the fringes who deserves more recognition.



Cinnamon Bun Popcorn (Capital Corn & Confections)

CAPITAL CORN & CONFECTIONS - CINNAMON BUN POPCORN

We received Capital Corn & Confections' delightful Cinnamon Bun popcorn as a nice promotional surprise this August. Housed in a 6.7 oz. clear plastic container, this gourmet popcorn was hastily opened to reveal a fluffy and sweet popcorn with a cinnamon-sugary glaze that did taste just as a good, warm cinnamon roll would.

I was particularly impressed with how the popcorn remained crispy and fresh-tasting, despite being coated with plenty of confectioners glaze, which would seemingly make the kernels go limp and soggy. Kudos to Capital Corn for making a sweet (and relatively healthy) treat that parents would feel more comfortable giving the kids. As one caveat, I'm not sure how natural or processed the sweet cinnamon glaze is, as there were no details on content or ingredients, unfortunately, so I have to hope that it's a wholesome and home-made mix.

Being as how it seems Capital Corn is a very small (and mostly local New Jersey, thus far) startup, it's refreshing to see them branching out, sending popcorn to faraway Indiana. With a little more word-of-mouth, I can easily see them making inroads with independent grocers, especially if they can verify or promote the natural ingredients contained within their delicious popcorn treats. From the website, I see they craft some other exotic (and undoubtably tasty) popcorn varieties. They do offer mail-order from their website, so give them a click and see for yourself!



Saturday, August 16, 2014

"Gilroy Was Good For Guinness" by David Hughes

"Gilroy Was Good For Guinness" by David Hughes (2013 Liberties Press Ireland, hardcover, 9"x 9", 256 pages)

More a biography and art portfolio than a beer book, per se, this fine text covers the 1930-60s output of commercial and fine artist John Gilroy, who worked extensively with building the international Guinness brand in the 20th century. Including hundreds of paintings, drawings, unused proofs, and mock-up illustrations (as well as plenty of finished works), Gilroy's iconic and idiosyncratic artworks certainly helped a great deal to build the Guinness brand that continues to define the classic Irish stout, even today.

Hughes examines the work, alongside Gilroy's own life both personally and professionally in these years. That said, this is first and foremost an art book, and offers the most extensive and exhaustive collection of Gilroy art to be assembled anywhere. There are his crazy collection of animal-centered art to promote Guinness, as well as the popular phrases "My Goodness My Guinness" and "Guinness For Strength", to promote the multitude of health benefits (!!?) of the roasty dark brew. As fascinating are the many Guinness ads Gilroy did for other countries, notably Germany (during the world wars, complete with Nazi iconography), as well as Russia, Greece, and the United States, where the familiar toucan flies high above the Golden Gate in San Francisco. 

"Gilroy Was Good For Guinness" is a wonderful and engrossing collection of John Gilroy's fantastic commercial works. Any serious and fan of historical beer memorabilia and Guinness's rich history would do well to seek this magnificent tome out.

Available thru Liberties Press at:


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