Archive for December, 2013

Ode To The Brass Rail

Posted in life with tags , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2013 by cueball

“A good smelly saloon, my favorite place in the world.” – Paden, Silverado

What is it about writers and bars?  There seems to be an inordinate amount of writers writing about bars in literature.  Not just things happening in a bar in a piece of fiction, but writers just writing about being in bars, going to bars, ordering drinks in bars.

It is more than just the “street cred” of being in a bar and getting drunk and getting in fights.  When Hemingway and other particularly American male writers of the 20th century wrote about bars it was like they were writing about the last bastion of manliness.  Bars were the last bit of unpolite society that sat just on the fringes of a changing world where women expected to be allowed to participate fully and openly.

To writers like Hemingway and Raymond Chandler bars were the original Las Vegas.  What happened there stayed there.  They could get drunk, get into fights, talk loud and say very little.  For these writers, the bar was the last place on earth outside of hunting and fishing where they could be fully men in what the meant in a 19th century way.

This was across the board for male American writers white or black.  They all held a reverence for the bar where the women were either the owners, prostitutes, or hardened to almost manliness through suffering, drink, and time.

After saying that, it wasn’t just about men staking their final claim on manliness, there is something beautiful about a bar:

“I like bars just after they open in the evening. When the air inside is still cool and clean and everything is shiny. The first quiet drink of the evening in a quiet bar — that’s wonderful.” – Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye.

I love a good bar.  A good bar has just the right amount of darkness.  Music plays just loud enough to add a counterpoint to whatever is happening at the moment.  In a good bar people aren’t there to start any crap.  It is a happy place or a place a person can come to find solace.  In a good bar you can be as alone as you want to be.  A good bar isn’t like a coffee shop with its hipster folk music playing to loud and forced coolness with its pastels, stainless steel, and big bright windows so people on the street can see how cool you are.  Bars are dark.  They have oak, brass, and brick.  Bars don’t have to try to be cool.  They are or they aren’t and if they aren’t your probably not there anyway.

Maybe I’m wrong or just over-romanticizing bars, but I do know this:  No one has ever written a song this good about Starbucks.  The bar is a beautiful place.


Christmas Eve Odds, Ends, and Incomplete Thoughts

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on December 24, 2013 by cueball

Besides providing a connection to the larger world and insight into the human condition, art is an attempt to capture moments in time.  Whether it is a painting, sculpture, photograph or a short story, novel, song, or play they all seek to find the moment of transcendence.

As a piece of the cultural and artistic puzzle, a review should do the same thing.  The reviewer should communicate his feelings at the moment he understood whether and why he did or did not like the thing he was reviewing.

I have read many reviews of books, movies, television shows, albums, beer, wine, restaurants, etc. that have been too concerned with verbal gymnastics to clearly state whether they like this thing they reviewed and whether it is worth the reader’s time to check it out.

Reviewing has to find a way to tell you the what and the why in an entertaining and educated way without sounding pretentious and grating.  Most importantly it has to convey the joy, disgust, or boredom the reviewer experienced.


Outside of seeking the basics for survival almost everything a human does is an attempt to bridge the gap between himself and his knowledge of others.  One of the truest things in life is that no one really knows anyone else.  We may have great insight into those who are closest to us, but we can never truly know them.  We usually only catch glimpses of their true selves at most.

So all the art, all the fiction, all the sports, all the culture we create is an attempt to learn as much as we can about others and our surrounding world.  What we inevitably learn is that we are simultaneously very similar and very different.

At base, we are all human and we all have the same basic needs and wants.  All of our societies seek the same stability and safety.  The differences and the reasons for those differences is where it gets interesting.  Those differences are shaped by when and where you grow up.  Essentially, people are the same everywhere except for how they are different.

If you doubt that, watch Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown.  He is basically being paid to travel around the world, eat, and talk to people about their city and country.  It is fascinating and you can see the differences, but in those differences you can also see the similarities.


I will hopefully, finally get the first of the IPA beer reviews up today.  I have been having a time making it interesting.  I might write tomorrow.  Of course I’m going to write tomorrow.  I have nothing else to do for most of the morning.

pic of the week 12/16 – 12/22

Posted in Uncategorized on December 23, 2013 by cueball

Craft Beer Is Creative

Posted in art, beer with tags , , , , , , on December 23, 2013 by cueball

The brewing of craft beer is a creative enterprise.  It is as the name says a craft.  It is akin to woodworking, pottery, weaving, etc. an art-form that has real world applications.  The creativity necessary to make a distinctive beer from the same recipe everyone else (for the most part) is immense.

What makes someone an artist?  The Oxford Dictionaries define an artist as:  a person who produces paintings or drawings as a profession or hobby.  It goes on to include someone who practices “any of the various creative arts, such as sculptor, novelist, poet, or filmmaker” in a later part of the definition.  If you keep reading, it finally says:  a person skilled at a particular task or occupation.

They almost get it.  The definition I prefer is a person who looks at the world differently.  Someone who sees some inanimate objects and has the ability to infuse them with life and soul in order to interpret the world they see and add to it in some interesting and/or life affirming way.

Is that not a craft brewer?  A brewer takes water, hops, and malt, cooks them together, cools the creation, adds yeast, and creates a new version of beer that is different from the beer someone else may have brewed at the same time.  Brewing is at once a tradition past down from the Sumerians and a creative endeavor to test what the brewer can do.

Not every beer is craft just as not every painting is art.  Those mass produced paintings you see in every mid-tier to cheap hotel, doctors waiting room, and bank lobby from Maine to Hawaii probably make up the majority of paintings sold in the United States.  Just as the mass produced beer the big two (Anheuser-Busch InBev, MillerCoors) churns out every year is the vast majority of the beer sold in the US.

That does not diminish painting as an art form.  It just means some crappy artists have gotten together with a few large companies and figured out a way to monetize the concept.  The difference is that those who have figured out how to mass produce beer as if it was a widget and sell it ubiquitously and cheaply have come to define beer and brewing to the majority of people.

Honestly, craft brewing isn’t going to usurp the big two.  They are too big, too entrenched, and have too many tentacles in the power structure that governs alcohol sales in this country.  What craft beer should do is keep working at making better beer and be an alternative that provides a different view of beer.  A view that makes the world look a little better and look a little different.  That is a very good thing.

If you see a brewer today, wish them a Merry Christmas and thank them.

Ideas On How To Review Stuff

Posted in beer, writing with tags , , on December 22, 2013 by cueball

One of the things I want to do on this blog is post beer reviews.  As such, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to review beer and make it interesting to the reader and to me the writer.  I began to think, “What is the point of a review?”  Basically, it is whether or not to recommend something to another person.  This goes for any discipline:  television, movies, books, music, theatre, visual arts, food, beer.

There are three things a review must do:  1)What is the thing being reviewed trying to be; 2)Is the thing being reviewed successful at what it is trying to be; 3)Do you as a reviewer like it, why or why not and do you recommend it.

What is the thing being reviewed trying to be?

What genre or style is this work trying to be?  Is it trying to adhere to only one genre or style or trying to be a hybrid?  Genres and styles the reviewer to orient his/herself.  It makes it easier to discern what parameters the person who created this object is obeying or trying to cross.  Is it an India Pale Ale or is it a Belgian-style Golden Ale or is it trying to be some combination?

Is the thing being reviewed successful at what it is trying to be?

One of Roger Ebert’s rules of reviewing was, only review the movie you were seeing.  Don’t allow your preconceived notions to affect the movie you are actually seeing.  If the movie is only trying to be a big silly comedy, review its success at being a big silly comedy not as an existential family drama.  The great thing about beer is that the brewers will usually tell you what they are trying to do either on the bottle or on their website.  If a West Coast brewer is trying to make a malt forward English-style pale ale with West Coast hops, he will let you know.  Then the reviewer must decide was a he successful at creating a English pale ale or in blending two styles, not whether this is as good as his last hop forward West Coast pale ale.

Do you like it, why or why not?  Would you recommend it?

This is the core of what the reviewer is trying to do, explain whether this was a waste of his/her time and should you try it.  This is where beer and art objects are a little different.  If a movie tries to be a big silly comedy and is successful at it, it is usually worth watching.  If a beer tries to be a big barley wine and is successful at being a big barley wine, the reviewer could still not like it but still recommend it.  There are many beers I’ve had that I think were successful at what they are trying to be that didn’t fit my pallet, but I would still recommend it because they might fit someone else’s pallet.  In this part of the review the reviewer is also trying to capture whatever feeling experienced in the first moments with the object being reviewed.  It is the attempt to make the reader feel and understand the joy, disappointment, or outrage of the first blush.

The first reviews should go up over the next two days.

Blogging in 2014 Just Got Easier: Introducing 365 Days of Writing Prompts

Posted in Uncategorized on December 19, 2013 by cueball

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Random Thoughts Strung Together To Resemble a Complete Piece

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 19, 2013 by cueball

During the day, I usually spend quality time thinking about one of these things:  beer, writing, literature, movies, television, music, college basketball, football, and soccer.  Seriously, if I put it on a pie chart, 98% of the chart would be one of those things.

I’ve been in an aggressively and happily pensive mood the last week or so.  That comes off about 2 months of being, as Hamlet might have called it, melancholy.

One thing I’ve done is I’ve started to go days without turning on the television.  This is particularly easy right now with most of the network shows in rerun and the cable shows not starting up their new show runs until January.  If there isn’t a basketball, soccer, or football game on that piques my interest I stay away from the television.

It seems a simple thing, but it has freed up my mind to wander to all the places I like it to go and find ideas to write about.  I can still listen to music and podcasts with no problem, but television was more than just a time suck.  It sucks the space for original thought out of my mind as well.

My relationship with television sometimes reminds me of Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy song “Television, The Drug Of The Nation”:

Apathetic therapeutic and extremely addictive
the methadone metronome pumping out
150 channels 24 hours a day
you can flip through all of them
and still there’s nothing worth watching

Now, I love television.  From Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, to Battlestar Galactica, to The Wire, to Breaking Bad, to Justified, to Rectify, and everything in between there are great cultural and artistic experiences to be had with television.  However, those weren’t the things I was watching until 2 in the morning. This was not quality television.  Just whatever was on in hopes that it might be exciting for at least 30 seconds to make me feel better about whatever was going on in my head.

So, I’ve decided no television before prime time unless a sporting event worth watching is scheduled.  Then I’ll turn it on again in prime time only if I’m watching something specific.  If there is something on I want to watch I’ll watch it but I won’t sit around flipping channels hoping to find something to excite me.  If I’m busy writing or reading something interesting, I’ll just DVR it watch it later.

I feel better already.

I had nothing else to write about this morning.  There is a beer review or two coming up later today.  Also, I’m currently reading The Outsider (1953) by Richard Wright.  I’ll probably write something about that later today or this weekend once I finish.  It will be thoughts on it as a work unto itself and it alongside Invisible Man (1952) by Ralph Ellison.  These are two works that came out around the same time with similar characters and similar stories.  That isn’t surprising since the authors were very similar in the respective lives and outlooks on the world.