Saturday, November 17, 2012

Angry Orchard Hard Ciders

Fall is a fitting time to enjoy the wonders of cider. In other terms, it's harvest season, and apples are one of the season's most beloved crops. Having been a casual fan of the pre-eminent "hard" cider, Woodchuck, for many years, I've never properly compared or reviewed their many varieties. This year, with the rise of other craft cider brands, as well as a fascination with the historic significance of cider, I set out on a mission to sift thru these often-found, but seldom-discussed beverages.

I began my mission with the new cider brand on the block, Angry Orchard, who are produced by the Boston Beer Company (aka Samuel Adams). Having appeared on the scene just about a year or two ago, Angry Orchard is clearly the biggest competition for Woodchuck in the states. These are their three mainline varieties.

Angry Orchard - CRISP APPLE

This clear amber cider pours with a little fizz, and an aroma of apples and alcohol. Not bad, but not great, either. Tastes like a rip, red apple with a hint of sulfite. This one has a bit of tartness, but overall this is like straight apple juice (albeit alcoholic). I thought this one was a wee tad too sweet overall.


This one is an old English-style cider, and discernibly more sour than the "Crisp Apple" variety. I get a more green apple feel here, and I did find it better balanced between the sweet and tart. Enjoyable.

Angry Orchard - APPLE GINGER

I vote this to be my favorite of the Angry Orchard line, easily. The aroma has a slightly spicy warmth to it, and the addition of ginger to the sweet apple provides a great and unique palate experience. A great blend, and one I'd pick up again.

Sierra Nevada and Firestone Walker - Top-Shelf IPAs

As the mighty Fear once sung proudly, "More Beer"! This short entry highlights a pair of top-shelf West Coast IPAs that I was lucky enough to sample recently. Same ratings system as ever, and since both of these exquisite beverages weigh in at a 4.5 out of 5, these are both superlative examples of American IPAs and well-worth your time and dollars. Support good beer!

Having loved the Southern Hemisphere Harvest a little while back (which used only fresh, wet hops from New Zealand), I was anxious to open this one, using only fresh wet hops from the Yakima Valley in Washington. 

Presentation-wise, it pours with a big, thick head of off-white bubbles. A+ in the lace department, with big, frilly, and detailed retention. Nose is hops, sweet hops. I get orange citrus, pine, floral, and grass. Splended and delectable!  Taste is definitely hop-forward, too, but well-balanced. I get pine most emphatically, with a lingering maltiness at the finish. Overall, very tasty and a great value, running about $4 on average for the 220z.bomber.

A legendary brewery, and one I'm anxious to try since I'm normally out of their distribution. Picked this one up in St. Louis, at the peerless Wine & Cheese Place.

Pours a clean, light amber with ample head and gorgeous lace. Promising beginning! Nose is beautiful. I get pine and floral notes, with a hint of fresh pineapple. Already love it! Taste is chewy and dry, with a tangy citrus/pine hops zip. It's all tempered by a smooth malt profile. This is a delicious IPA, and I'm sure it's even better fresher (my bottle was 5 months old)! Outstanding.

"Zombie Babies" DVD (director: Eamon Hardiman)

In the spirit of Troma, this low-rent micro-indie splatterfest offers little more than some rather disgusting gore effects, awful dialogue, bad audio, and some unimpressive breastage. I'll say it up front -- avoid this one.

With barely a script, this begins as a cool idea, but instead makes itself into little more than a farce. A sleazy back-alley, coat-hanger late-term abortionist (played with equal parts baptist preacher and Michael Keaton's "Beetlejuice" character) lines up a hotel full of young and very pregnant teens and their beaus. Well, a basement moonshine still goes awry, and the aborted fetuses become, well, reanimated. 

Bad digital effects, bad puppet effects (I saw hands and strings everywhere), and attempts at ultra-grossout deaths (death by defecation? umbilical cord strangulation?) are the name of the game here. I could go on and on. Sure, this one's thoroughly, through-and-through tongue-in-cheek, but I got pretty bored of this unconvincing film quite fast.  (Independent Entertainment)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Schlafly Limited Release Beer Reviews

This time, the Goatsden beer reviews focus on a single brewer -- Schlafly from St. Louis, MO, USA. Schlafly is still a regional brewery, but they are exceedingly well-known over a large part of the United States for their superb craft beers. If you ever find yourself in St. Louis and have some time, I strongly recommend touring the Schlafly Bottleworks, as it's basically a museum of brewing history. Plus you get the drink some free beers! Remember, ratings range from 1 (horrible) to 5 (exceptional).

It's an increasing trend in craft beer to barrel-age the beer in used oak bourbon barrels to impart extra flavors and complexities to the brew. Schlafly's version is unusual and innovative, as it blends their pale ale and barleywine before barrel aging. I found this treasure in Louisville at the wonderful Liquor Barn.

Pours a murky amber, with a thick head of off-white suds. Lovely wisp of delicate lace, too. Nose is complex, hinting at the bourbon barrel characteristics (vanilla), but this is dominated by a toffee and caramel maltiness (indubitably the barleywine). Needs more of the bourbony, oaky, vanilla vibe methinks. Taste is a weird mix, as with the aroma. The boozy bourbon vanilla and charred oak is muted by a fruity character (again, the barleywine speaks loudest here).

Though certainly not a bad beer, this one just lacks a more cohesive melding of tastes and styles.

This seasonal, limited-release IPA has a unique angle -- using only hops grown in Australia. Found this one locally at Winetree Liquors, and couldn't resist picking up a 6-pack. I am glad I did!

Clean and golden upon pouring, with a full head of white bubbles. Heavy-duty, finely-detailed lace, too. Very nice. Nose is sharp and tangy, with ripened grapefruit all the way. Thirst quenching and delightful! Taste is similarly citrus-oriented, with a well-pronounced hops profile and a light, citrus-grapefruit vibe. The malt profile here works well, complimenting the hoppy tang. 

A delicious IPA, and one I wish were more widely available. High marks, here.

Another seasonal, limited-release IPA, this one uses exclusively English hops and yeast. I've had it before, but found another bottle recently, so thus gets another review.

Clean and light amber, with superb off-white head (2 fingers). Wonderful and intricate lace. Nose is mild. I get pine hops and some spice. Taste is thick and sticky on the palate, notably with the pine resiny hops character. Finishes with a malty sweet spiciness.

Smooth and easy to drink, and a pleasing IPA!

Delerium - "Music Box Opera" CD

It's been a few years since the last studio effort from this ambient mood pop project of industrial pioneer Bill Leeb. And, while old-time fans (like me) had hoped for a darker, more epic journey, "Music Box Opera" goes mostly in an increasingly slick and radio-friendly dance-pop direction.

The sheen "Consciousness Of Love" opens, featuring vocals by Stef Lang, and the hints of silly dubstep trendiness instantly turn me away. The initial single, "Monarch", fares much better, and remains my personal favorite, with Middle-Eastern vocal stylings by Nadina. "Days Turn Into Nights" (with Michael Logen) is totally forgettable, as is the silly Madonna-sounding "Chrysalis Heart" (again, with Stef Lang). "Light Your Light" proves that some music is better without lyrics, while "Raindown" is a pleasant slice of Summery instrumental electronica that provides a measure of relief from the onslaught of insipid radio pop. 

Other high (and low) lights include Leona Naess's funky "Hammer", and the old-school "Awakening", which again features Middle-Eastern chants courtesy of Nadina. The lovely Kristy Thirsk doesn't fail with her pair of tracks, but overall this is a pretty spotty, and lengthy (at well over 70 minutes) set of pop-dance tunes with little substance. (Nettwerk)

Honky - "421" CD

Featuring longtime Butthole Surfers bassist Jeff Pinkus and mixed by that same band's Paul Leary, one would assume this shares something with Texas' legendary psychedelic-drug-punk act. But Honky (this is their 5th album) brings the heavy, dirty, sludgy, stoner rock & roll, more in line with their brethren/forefathers in ZZ Top or Kyuss.

"Just A Man" should be a rock radio staple, with deep-fried, down-tuned guitar riffs and a catchy melody. It's all balls-out from there, as these guys attach thick guitars, lava lamp proto-metal grooves, and bluesy rock (as in the Southern boogie of "Handful of Nails"). Well-done sludgy, bluesy rock for the bad boys (and girls). (MVD Audio)

Waves Of Fury - "Thirst" CD

The charmingly-titled "I Don't Know What To Make Of Your Fucked Up Friends" sums up this brief 30-minute album. It's a brass-infused classic rock banger. The 60s-inspired sounds continue with "Businessman's Guide To Wtichcraft", which could be the Brian Jonestown Massacre on a Supremes fix. Other journalists have described a distinct Jesus & Mary Chain-ishness here, and perhaps there is a certain amount of similarity in messiness that the bands may share, but this is more Phil Spector on an acid trip with Anton Newcombe, in my playbook. Or maybe a jubilant Bobby Gillespie and Primal Scream on different drugs.

Good, fun, and wild out-pop from a new Bristol, UK act. I enjoyed it. (Alive Natural Sound Records)

"Women Ordered To Love" DVD (director: Werner Klingler)

This 1963 film, surprisingly filmed and produced in Germany by a German director, set the stage for the later Nazi sexploitation films (like the infamous "Ilsa: She Wolf Of The SS"). But whereas later films of the genre normally went the ultra-trashy, sleazy, comic-book fantasy route, "Women Ordered To Love" (known better by its original title, simply "Ordered To Love") was a straight-ahead drama, with a milder, more tempered nature. And it remains a decent film, with surprisingly detailed sets and realism.

The film's premise? Not hard to detect, but it follows a troupe of lovely women who are selected to serve their country as breeders, and are provided for by the Nazi elite as little more than sex slaves, and to help in the creation of the "master race". Well, some of the ladies (and a guard) decide that this is wrong, and that love (as opposed to the state) should dictate who becomes pregnant. At its heart, "Ordered To Love" is a love story, set in Nazi Germany.

It seems odd to me that Germans themselves would re-visit this era voluntarily (keep in mind that this film was made only 20 years after the war), but here's evidence that not all German directors wanted to brush the country's recent history under the rug right away. "Women Ordered To Love" may not be a piece of classic cinema, but it is a cult curiosity that deserves to be remembered. (CFS Releasing)

Aesthetische - "Powerswitch" CD

From former members of Brazil's top industrial dance/rock acts (Aghast View and Biopsy), this new project mines familiar territory. Opening with the hard club beats of "Brennbar!", the sequencers and gruff vocals continue through the generic "Less But More", which could be Front Line Assembly or Front 242 or any of the other hard dance stompers from the 90s, if only it had it's own personality.

"Stupid People Fuck Off" makes a case for more instrumental music from these guys, as the lyrics are as inane and juvenile as the title implies. Granted, English isn't their first language, but this is embarrassing! Ditto for the cheesy cover art, which shows the depths that the once-intelligent "industrial" scene has devolved into. I do concede that "Powerswitch" has some clean and punchy production, but the lack of songs, originality, and soul leaves me just cold. (Alfa Matrix)