Author Archives: Martin

Beer Review: Natty Greene’s Old Town Brown Ale

Tonight, I picked up a six pack of Natty Greene’s Old Town Brown Ale.

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Beer Packaging: This beer’s box is a typographical adventure. Random words appear in italics, while the normal words are styled to look like they’re either from the 1800’s or yelling at the reader. “NORTH CAROLINA CRAFTED” proudly arcs across the top, and text in the bottom-right corner advises drinkers to “Taste the South.” The italicized the makes one wonder which South this beer tastes like. Could it be:

  • The Antebellum South? Probably not—nobody likes the Antebellum South.
  • The Deep South? Nah, North Carolina doesn’t count as deep.
  • The South during Reconstruction? Possibly—the guy on the box looks perturbed, as if his house was destroyed in the Civil War and it’s taking just forever for the damn Yankees to rebuild it.

But despite its ambiguity, Taste the South is a fine enough slogan, and I’m guessing TASTE DIXIE wouldn’t have polled quite as well.

Beer Style: Despite its American stylings, Old Town Brown is actually an English Brown Ale. I attempted to research English Brown Ales by visiting Total Wine’s page on the beer style, but the first sentence begins, “English Brown Ales originated as bottled versions of Milds,” at which point I became confused and disoriented by the Brit-speak and gave up.

The Brewery: Natty Greene’s Brewing Company is named after Nathanael Greene, the guy on the box. He was a general during the Revolutionary War who, according to GeorgiaEncyclopedia.org, removed the occupying Brits from the South. Greene’s forces were outnumbered, so he used quick strikes and aggravating strategic retreats to wear down the huge but lumbering British army. All of this means my Reconstruction South packaging theory doesn’t hold, but at least the brewery picked a badass namesake.

Old Town Brown in One Text: “Natty Greene’s sounds like a dangerous Natural Light derivation, but it ain’t bad.”

Old Town Brown, Elaborated: Brown ales are one of my favorite beers, and this one is pretty solid. It’s not very unique or piercing in any one way, but when it comes to brown ales, that’s OK. It delivers a decent amount of flavor for being only 4.7% ABV. However, make sure to let this beer rest on the middle and back of your tongue briefly, or else you’ll just get a weird, weak alcohol taste. A fun side note: If you’re looking to have a hell of a night, this beer is pretty nice before or after a glass of bourbon. Old Town Brown is “AVAILABLE year-round,” according to the packaging, so give it a shot sometime.

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The Forester for the Trees: Epilogue

The first time I drove Harold after finishing my 1,500-word ode to him, a young guy driving a Mustang crossed four lanes of traffic out of turn and totaled my beloved Subaru Forester.

The collision happened on a zippy four-lane road, which the Mustang’s driver was attempting to cross perpendicularly. From my vantage point, I was driving in the far-right lane. The Mustang first registered in the left corner of my vision as a panicked white flash; the driver had misjudged the speed of the traffic he was trying to cut through, then floored the accelerator and shot across the roadway to try to hurtle out of his mistake. I braked as the Mustang illegally surged into my lane, but still t-boned the car’s passenger-side door with Harold’s snout, which destroyed Harold’s engine compartment.

The Forester’s safety system acquitted itself well; I came out with no injuries except sore hands from strangling the steering wheel throughout the collision. Mentally, though, I was a little off. I stayed outwardly composed at the scene, but looking back, the wreck created several incongruities in my head:

  • I at first thought the Mustang’s passenger was a woman, judging from the glimpse I caught as the Mustang slid sideways away from Harold immediately after the impact. “Is your lady OK?” I asked the driver about a minute later, thinking his girlfriend might be hurt. He looked confused, but said the passenger was fine. Later, when I got a good look, I realized the passenger was a sturdily built man with a shaved head. (He was, in fact, OK.)
  • The tow-truck driver who came to retrieve Harold picked up a car’s grill off the road and tossed it onto Harold’s front passenger-side seat. What the hell, man? I thought. That’s not mine. I somehow believed he’d mistakenly thrown a random piece of road debris into my car, until I visited Harold at the junkyard to retrieve my belongings and saw that it was the Forester’s grill in the seat. (I kept the grill.)
  • The police officer who reported to the scene initially talked to me while I was standing on a curb, looming above him. The curb exaggerated the difference in our sizes: He was about 5’7″ and trim, while I’m 6’2″ and oafish. Hope he doesn’t think I’m trying to intimidate him by standing up here, I thought. Then I considered stepping off the curb, but was worried I’d bump into him. I ended up slouching a little and concentrating on keeping my voice, which was threatening to shake like my hands already were, slow and calm. Some intimidator I am.

The timing of Harold’s death—so soon after I’d articulated what the Forester meant to me—has remained in my mind as much as the wreck itself. The obvious lesson from the incident’s timing is to never write about the things you care for.

But the better lesson is to always write about the things you care for, because some guy in a Mustang could kill one of them later today. I was too bullheaded and lazy to learn this while my parents were fighting their terminal illnesses, but the SUV they left me got it through. Thanks, Harold.

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And welcome to the Steger Sector, yet-to-be-named replacement Forester.

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The NFL Is Great. More Would Be Terrible.

“We do think it is the right thing for the game.”—NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, in 2011, on lengthening the league’s regular season

“I won’t let it happen.”—new NFL Players Association president Eric Winston, in 2014, on the same idea

Winston, as the newly elected leader of the NFL players’ union, selected an important issue to make his first big promise on; he came down on the right side of it. Goodell, who works for the league’s team owners, has long pushed for expanding the regular season from 16 games to 18. The idea behind the 18-game proposal is that, since the NFL is such a popular sport already, two extra games would boost revenues while giving fans more chances to enjoy the sport. But doing so would harm the league the commissioner aims to promote: His owners would field a weaker game-day product as more of the league’s best players—its starters—fall to injury.

Continue reading

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Beer Review: Penn Quarter Porter

Tonight, I picked up a six pack of DC Brau’s Penn Quarter Porter.

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Beer Packaging: Each Penn Quarter Porter can features a prominent stovepipe hat stamped with the DC Brau logo. On the other side of the can is a box labeled PENN QUARTER FACTS. (Every bit of text on Penn Quarter Porter cans is in all caps.) The fact box shouts: “PENN QUARTER IS MOST FAMOUS FOR FORD’S THEATRE, WHERE PRESIDENT ABRAHAM LINCOLN WAS ASSASSINATED, AND HIS HAT AND COAT CAN STILL BE SEEN TO THIS DAY.” It’s educational, but a bit morbid. I wonder if a beer called Dallas Doppelbock would feature DALLAS FACTS trumpeting the details of JFK’s assassination.

Beer Style: Penn Quarter Porter is a ROBUST PORTER, according to the packaging. It’s supposed to be on the line between a stout and a porter. Stouts are typically the heaviest of beers, while porters are the next level down, so if you’ve ever played a MechWarrior game, you can think of a Penn Quarter Porter as a mix between a 100-ton Assault Mech (stout) and a 75-ton Heavy Mech (porter). And if you haven’t played any MechWarrior, you should drink a dozen Penn Quarter Porters and try to forget about your wasted life.

The Brewery: DC Brau is located in Washington DC, just barely over the border from Bladensburg, Maryland. For their name’s sake, DC Brau’s location is fortunate: “Maryland Brau” has absolutely no charm at all, while “Bladensburg Brau” sounds like a medieval German torture device.

The brewery is fun to visit; the part open to the public is essentially a big warehouse, with a bearded, cargo-shorted doorman and a helpful cashier/guide in the entry room. Behind that lies a much larger space bustling with brewers and canning machinery. You can sample four beers for free; however, you can’t drink any more than that on DC Brau’s premises. They sell growlers and six packs, which you can purchase and then scurry off to drink in private. The brewery also provides free pretzels, of which my girlfriend somehow pirated 10 bags during our last visit.

Penn Quarter Porter in One Text: “The problem with having Penn Quarter Porters in the fridge is that you always want another Penn Quarter Porter.”

Penn Quarter Porter, Elaborated: Penn Quarter Porter is indeed a stoutish porter, as the ROBUST PORTER description suggests. Despite its bluster, Penn Quarter Porter’s relatively low ABV of 5.5% and just-medium body keep the beer from being a sluggishness-inducer, which is good, because its stouty, chocolate-coffee flavor will make you want more than one. This is the only beer so far to earn a nickname from my beer-drinking circle: “PQP.” It’s fitting that PQP sounds like a street drug, because Penn Quarter Porter is kind of addictive, in that it’s a beer I have a very hard time not buying when I see it on a shelf. Try it yourself, and maybe I’ll see you one day in PQP Anonymous.

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Beer Review: Storm King Imperial Stout

Today, I picked up four bottles of Storm King Imperial Stout.

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Beer Packaging: The packaging features some kind of creature. I’m pretty stupid and on my first look noticed only the top part of the creature, so I spent a good 20 minutes trying to figure out if it was a kingly pinniped or an agitated owl. Then I realized that the crescent “under” the creature is actually its lower beak, and determined that it must be an kingly, agitated owl.

Each bottle’s label contains some classic beer purple prose: “The thundering, hoppy appeal of Storm King subsides into the mellow subtleties of roasted malt, exhibiting an espresso-like depth of character in its finish.” I never thought of espressos as having depth of character—I always assumed they were just CAFFEINE CAFFEINE CAFFEINE—but who am I to argue with such proselytizing?

Beer Style: Storm King is an American imperial stout. Generally, when it comes to beer, “imperial” translates to “be careful or these will get you hammered.” American imperial stouts are typically quite strong: According to BeerAdvocate, their “alcohol ranges vary, but tend to be quite big, and bigger than traditional Russian Imperial Stouts.” Suck it, Putin.

The Brewery: Storm King comes from Victory Brewing Company, a confidently named outfit based in Downington, Pennsylvania. If the brewing thing ever falls through, these guys could probably get a job naming other people’s beers: St. Victorious Doppelbock, St. Boisterous Hellerbock, and Red Thunder join Storm King on Victory’s roster of beers with badass names.

Storm King in One Text: “I bought an imperial stout and got some kind of IPA-stout thing.”

Storm King, Elaborated: Storm King is very hoppy for a stout, and to me tastes halfway like an IPA (India Pale Ale, a beer known for its hoppy bitterness). But with its 9.1% ABV and stoutish body, Storm King backs up the imperial stout label well enough. If one day you’re craving both an IPA and a stout, you could either A.) buy both and try to figure out how to hide your out-of-control alcohol consumption from your loved ones later, or B.) buy Storm King. Choice A will keep you busier, but B is plenty satisfying.

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The Forester for the Trees

We’d been friends for 10 years when Harold told me he was dying.

Granted, Northern Virginia’s battered highways, repetitious stoplights, and erratic weather are tough on cars, but I didn’t expect Harold to give up so soon after we moved there. He kept bucking whenever we reached 60–70 miles per hour, and his check-engine light was on.

My thoughts weren’t: If this car dies, how the hell am I getting to work? Nor were they: How can I afford to fix this?

Rather, I thought: If this car dies, God damn I am going to miss it. Continue reading

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Case Studies

Part 1: Games at JMU Apartment, 8:15 PM

“Grenade, Paul!” Bill yells as he tosses a can of Natural Light across the floor. It bounces in front of Paul, who immediately jumps on it like a soldier sacrificing his life to protect his squad. He pulls the tab and chugs the spewing beer, swallowing half of it and drenching himself with the rest.

The game is called Grenades, and you just learned all of the rules. We’re pregaming (drinking before we go out) in our apartment’s common area. The room’s decorated with carpet stains, a plaid couch, and wrinkled posters from GoodFellas and The Godfather.  

We’ve been living together in Harrisonburg, Virginia for a year now, which means we’ve been drinking together for a year. Bill’s the only one in the room with a decent idea of what to do with his life: Despite blacking out nearly every weekend, he’s come up with a solid plan to enter the PR world. As for me and Paul, we’re floundering in vague directions—him towards politics, me towards writing.

But floundering is for weekdays; right now, it’s time to abuse beer of the eleven-dollars-per-case variety. Continue reading

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Beer Review: People’s Porter

Tonight, I picked up a six pack of People’s Porter.

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Beer Packaging: The case and bottle labels are dominated by the guy you see there. I’m sure he’s a parody of, or a tribute to, some political figure, but I’m too ignorant to get the reference, so to me he looks like a post-apocalyptic Boy Scout troop leader. Not necessarily a guy I’d want a beer from, but after the apocalypse, I’d probably take a drink from anyone.

A side note: I was too bashful to do it at first, but after two People’s Porters, I loosened up, refilled my glass, and mimicked the troop leader’s raise-glass-and-stare-proudly action. My beer immediately tripled its head and almost foamed over, and I felt like an alcoholic. Not advised.

Beer Style: People’s Porter is an English porter. According to BeerAdvocate, the Brits originated porters as “a blend of three different styles: an old ale (stale or soured), a new ale (brown or pale ale) and a weak one (mild ale).” To me, that sounds like you’d just end up with an incredibly average, middle-aged beer—perhaps one with a receding hairline and a worrisome 401k—but the process worked for some reason. Porters are good.

The Brewery: People’s Porter is a product of Foothills Brewing. They’re based in North Carolina, which is close enough to my dear Virginia that I won’t hold their inspirational-corporate-fusion website against them. Though it’s readable and functional, it looks like the lovechild of a motivational poster and a Buffalo Wild Wings menu.

People’s Porter in One Text: “It’s really light and drinkable. This stuff could get me in trouble.”

People’s Porter, Elaborated: It is really light and drinkable, with a plucky ABV of 5.8%. It’s much more poundable than most other porters I’ve had (or the majority of other craft beers I’ve tasted, for that matter). A friend of mine drank six in two hours, which likely wasn’t good for him, but it’s at least a testament to the beer’s lightness. But it still tastes like a porter, and a solid one at that. Recommended.

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Silence Is No Way to Argue

I was sitting on my couch, watching football, and drinking beer. Despite the immense pleasure those three activities give me, I had a problem.

My girlfriend, Rosie, was in the next room, silently wallowing on my bed. She’d been in there for most of the first wave of games and remained at her post well into the second. That was about four hours; she was in there under the guise of working on a letter, but instead she was gritting her teeth and staring at the ceiling.

For companionship in her absence, I called a friend, Meadows. We bitched about our respective teams for a bit. Eventually, Rosie’s anger came up. “What’d you do to piss her off?” Meadows asked.

“Oh, I reckon she’ll tell me in about 36 hours,” I said. She was giving me the silent treatment. And naturally, I didn’t know why. But I had some guesses. Continue reading

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