Archive for December, 2013

Quick Thoughts On Beer That Gets Made and Not Just Sold

Posted in beer with tags , on December 18, 2013 by cueball

I just had an IPA named Hi-Pitch from a newer brewery in Asheville, Hi-Wire.  I’m going to post a review of it, probably tomorrow morning.

However, as I was finishing off my glass it dawned on me:  Someone made this beer.  By that, I mean this beer is an expression of the brewer’s mind and creativity.  The malts, the hops, and the yeast were all chosen for a particular reason with a particular aim in mind.

That is the difference in true craft beer and the beers from the Big Three (Anheuser-Busch InBev, SABMiller, and Molson Coors).  Someone makes a craft beer, whereas big beer companies sell beer.  They could just as easily be making soda or lemonade it doesn’t matter to them as long as there is someone who will buy it.

In good craft beer, someone gives a damn about what the beer tastes like.  It isn’t just a job or a way to make money, it is something they love to do and an expression of their self.

Making beer is hard.  Making money making beer is even harder.  The big three are going to make their money.  They have so many products and so many distribution outlets for any of those three to fail would be an exercise in gargantuan incompetence.  However, maybe, just maybe if enough people start drinking beer that’s good, they’ll get the hint and understand it isn’t just about marketing.  It is about quality.  It is about having a special and quality experience when drinking a beer.

A good craft beer gives you that experience.  I would rather drink water then drink a beer from the big three for that reason.  Besides, there is very little difference between water and most of what they peddle anyway.

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Beer Styles and Beer Plans

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 18, 2013 by cueball

Taking a little time from writing about writing (I’m always thinking about it), let’s talk about beer styles.  Now remember, the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) held competitions in 84 separate categories in 2013 and the Beer Judge Certification Program lists 80 different beer styles not counting mead or cider.  There are a lot of styles to choose from.

I plan on writing more about beer this coming year and I have been trying to think of what beer style I like the most.  Certainly, the style I’ve drank the most is the pale ale mostly of the American variety.  Every brewer, particularly every American craft brewer has a pale ale.  The India Pale Ale (IPA) variety has become the workhorse and flag bearer of the American craft beer movement.  This year alone the IPA category had 252 entrants in the GABF competition.

Yes, I like pale ales and IPAs in particular, but I don’t know if it’s my favorite.

Now, my favorite individual beer for a few years has been (was?) Sweet Josie Brown Ale from Lonerider Brewing Company in Raleigh.  I have also drunk a vat of Duck-Rabbit Brown Ale from Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery in Farmville, NC.  Those are both great beers and you I would have made the argument a couple of years ago that brown ales were my favorite style.  I’m not so sure.

Over the past two years I could have made the case for rye ales, porters, stouts, tripel, dubbel, abbey ales, Saison, beire de garde, and Scotch ale.  Currently, I’m in a big barley wine phase.

This is why I love beer.  The possibilities.  Some of those beer styles are similar and some of them have tastes that have very little in common.

So, here’s the thing.  I don’t want to have a favorite style.  Here is what I can do.  I can pick a style a month, and drink primarily beers from that style.  Try to explore the different ranges of expression in each brewer’s interpretation and find one that I really like.

Looking in my refrigerator right now, I have a 22 oz. quadrupel, a 22 oz. imperial stout, a marzen, an ESB (extra special bitter), a porter, a brown ale, and two IPAs.  All but the quad were brewed in North Carolina.  So, today I think I will go to my locally owned and operated beer establishment (Dragonfly Wine Market) and buy a six-pack of one style.  I’ll decide once I get there what style I’ll choose.

I’ve never been one to sit down at the end of the year and review my life and then set a plan for the following year.  Until now.  This beer writing is part of a larger plan of writing that will hopefully take me to the next phase of my life.  Be that in Cleveland County or elsewhere.  There are things I want to do and “there is a long way to go and short time to get there.”

Tribes

Posted in writing with tags , , , , , , on December 17, 2013 by cueball

We all belong to a tribe or actually more than one.  We are all born into a family.  Then as we grow, we develop interests outside the scope of the family.  We fall in love with sports either playing or watching; we develop a love for music; we become enraptured by some characters in some book; etc.  Personally, here are the tribes I can name off the top of my head that I belong to in no particular order:  family, soccer fan (of the American variety), reader, writer, music lover, UNC Chapel Hill graduate, Tar Heel sports fan, sports analytics nerd, science fiction geek, beer geek, and television lover.  That’s just today.

These tribes represent one two headed thing for us.  We use these tribes to define who we are to ourselves and as signifiers to others in order to organize our immediate world.

In our modern world the great philosophical problem is probably that of our atomization and the if not the dissolution of the old organizing principals (family, church, nationality, and to an extent race), we search for ways to define ourselves so that we know who we are and others can easily learn who we are.  We began living in nomadic tribes, moved to city-states, then to nation states, and now we live in a global world.

First, as travel became easier and now as communication is has been simplified we live in an increasingly global world with tenuous boundaries.  It is easy to define yourself and standout when the only people you see on a daily/weekly basis are the ones you see when you go to work, church, or the grocery store.  How does one define himself in a global sea?

Once you have defined yourself and joined your tribes you can now organize your life around those tribes.  Who do you follow on Twitter?  What favorites do you have saved in your web browser?  They probably follow along with your self-defined tribes.  With so much to choose from and so much information available, it is almost a necessity to figure out the things that matter the most to you and construct your social life around them.  We would drown in a sea of information.

A great deal of human history has been wrapped up in people trying to define themselves and make sense of the world around them.  Twitter allows you follow only those you want to.  There is a reason you can create lists in most Twitter apps.  You can look up anything you want on the internet, but your web browser lets you create favorites lists with folders to separate all of your links.  DirecTV lets you create channel lists so you only see the channels you want to at any given time.  Those things create ease of use, but they also help us define ourselves by our choices.

I guess as a writer, I’m thinking how much does a character choose his path and affect the narrative and how much do I push him into that path with my narrative choices.  How much control of the story does a writer cede to his characters?  In giving them too much leeway do you risk making your work as messy as real life?  Is that a desirable outcome?

Narrative

Posted in writing with tags , , , , , , , on December 17, 2013 by cueball

Narrative.  Humans not only love narratives we need them to create order in a disorganized and illogical world.  We have an innate curiosity to find out what happened and more importantly why it happened.  There must always be a reason and resolution.  Our minds cannot accept that sometimes life is fickle and random.

These narratives are easy to discern when trying to explain an airplane falling out of the sky or a super-storm devastating a large coastal city.  There are scientific and concrete steps that can determine what happened in those situations.

Things get more complicated and great deal murkier when dealing with humans.  If life itself is random and fickle, we humans are illogical and unstable.  No matter what shows like Criminal Minds may have us believe, there are rarely direct lines from A to B when discussing why humans do the things they do.  On that show each week the team gets a case about a serial killer.  They methodically go through the evidence and the mounting number of bodies and figure out the unknown subject’s logic and pattern until they find him and arrest him within the 44 minutes of actual running time the show is allotted.  Unfortunately (or fortunately), actual human beings do not always operate in a patterned and logical manner.  Occasionally, we do something against our own self-interest.  Occasionally, we break our own patterns.  Occasionally, we do and say things that are just plain bat-shit crazy for no particular reason.

This is one reason I find writing so interesting.  It is the challenge of attempting to place a narrative and a structure upon the stories of what I hope are real human beings who occasionally do things that make little sense.

How do you tell a story about illogical humans who don’t listen to their own hearts or heads to make some of their biggest decision and have it all make sense to a reader?  A reader who wants the narrative.  A reader who wants the story to go from A to B to C rather entertainingly and in a brisk manner.  A reader who wants all of it to make some kind of sense so that they can see the logic and sense of their own world and life.

One of the striking things I began to notice when I started writing was in many reviews of books, television, and movies was the complaint about a character doing something surprising and “uncharacteristic” to that character.  They do not want their characters straying outside of boxes even though and maybe even because people do that every day.  People want their fictional characters to behave “more human” then their actual human counterparts.  There is a gulf in the difference between fictional characters and real characters that is larger than the Pacific Ocean, and it is due to how much we know about our fictional characters and how little we know about the people we work with every day.

I have morbid thing I do after a tragedy in which someone kills a lot of people.  I watch to see how many different people say some version of, “He didn’t seem like the type of go who would…”

We need our characters to follow a narrative script because we don’t want to face how little we know of the people we see every day and how little control we have over our immediate world.  Does it shock us, sadden us, or just embarrass us that the deepest and longest conversations we have with this person we see at work for at least 40 hours a week is about our local sports team?  Why does it then shock us that this person is a serial killer with 20 bodies buried in his basement?  We don’t know anything about him except that he prefers man-to-man defense to zone and we have no control over what he may do next much less any control of what anyone else around us may do.

I don’t know what I’m getting at here.  I just find our need for narrative interesting.  Maybe I’m just amazed at the lengths we humans will go to in order to make the world around us seem a little more logical and less random even with the preponderance of evidence suggesting the world is a little more random and less logical.

I Can’t Stop Writing About This Damn Dying Organization

Posted in NCAA, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on December 12, 2013 by cueball

Playing college sports is not some moral choice.  Many in and out of the media have somehow begun the idea that believing the NCAA is a broken system and being paid for your skills as an athlete are immoral.  It is almost the idea that the athletes are to blame for the system being wrong if they have the temerity to believe they should be paid.

Many who have bought into the NCAA’s tax and labor law dodge known as the concept of the student-athlete.  Somehow, in the weakening of the NCAA, it and its media supporters have imbued being a student-athlete with the moral equivalence of a monk taking a vow of poverty to become closer to God.  The athlete who know they are going to play professionally at a high level are not taking a vow of poverty as athletes to better themselves, they are doing so because the system is set up to make them play in college.

Let us remember that many of the athletes that go to college on scholarship are not going simply to get an education.  Harrison Barnes did not go to my alma mater because of the Well, the Bell, or the stone walls.  He came because he wanted to go to the NBA and the only real way to get to the NBA is to spend what eventually amounts to less than two semesters in college.

In combination with the NBA and the NFL (and to a lesser extent the NHL, MLB, and MLS) the NCAA has managed to diminish education for many athletes.  They have created a situation where an elite athlete must decide between being a student or being a potential professional athlete.

I believe in education and education as its own reward.  The problem I have with the NCAA is that the system it has in part willfully created and in part fallen into in many ways diminishes education.  Again, it says if you are an elite athlete you must choose to be either a student or athlete.  Many do transcend this dichotomy.  Those student-athletes would succeed in whatever system was around.  The NCAA’s job should be to aid the other student-athletes in achieving the same scholastic heights as Myron Rolle who won a Rhodes Scholarship as a Florida State football player.

I think what has really bothered me is the way the arguments for the NCAA by its supporters pretends that those who criticize the NCAA are somehow evil and want some kid from a poor situation to be used up and destroyed by the dirty professional sports machine.

That is a dichotomous and idiotic argument.  I want people who want to go to college to be allowed to go to college by using their athletic ability (or any other skill they have) to provide a gateway to an education and better life.  I also want someone who only wants to play professional basketball (and not go to classes about 18th century literature) has the opportunity and mechanism to do so without taking away educational opportunities for athletes who want to take a class about 18th century literature.

This is not my best writing mostly because I keep trying to avoid writing about the NCAA.  It will be dead soon enough.

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things

Posted in life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 7, 2013 by cueball

I am sitting watching soccer and drinking a good loose leaf tea.  These are two of my favorite things to do.  Then that song started going through my head.  The Supremes version from Merry Christmas: The Supremes.  So I started thinking, what are my favorite things?

Here we go:

A good cup of loose leaf tea.  Preferably, Earl Grey.

I like loose leaf tea partially because it tastes better, but also because of the act of making the tea makes it a little more special.  It is a process and it allows you to make it as strong or as weak as you like.  As an aside drinking tea without a little milk/cream is wrong.  As an aside, the reason I gravitated to Earl Grey, Jean-Luc Picard.

Soccer on a Saturday (or any other day)

Whether it be a three-game run of Premiership matches or a Saturday afternoon to Saturday night of Major League Soccer matches, the Monday Night Soccer on in the middle of Monday afternoons from England, FA Cup games on the weekdays, CONCACAF Champions League on random weeknights, and UEFA Champions League matches on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, soccer is part of my DNA at this point.

A good barley wine on a cold winter night

Beer may be my favorite thing on this Earth.  I love beer in all of its forms.  I even love lager when done well.  However, when the days turn short and the nights cold, a big barley wine is one of my favorite things.  They are big, sweet, thick, and have the heat and touch of alcohol that warms you to your core.

Bourbon

Speaking of alcohol, those same cold nights are enlivened with a good finger or two of bourbon.  My preferred way to drink it is neat.  The unadorned alcohol and caramel sweetness makes the nights go faster, the books read better, and the music sound finer.

A good song

I love singer-songwriters who can make you feel everything that went into their songs.  Right now, I’m still loving on the Jason Isbell album Southeastern.  There is so much to unpack in the lyrics on that album that I find new things each time I listen.  If you just listen to the song “Yvette” you will hear one of the best short stories you have ever read.

A good sentence or paragraph that changes how you see the world

I’ll close here with what may be my favorite passage in the English language.  The Great Gatsby is my favorite piece of fiction and this is the paragraph that inspires and cows me on a daily basis:

The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room, and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.

The Process

Posted in life, Uncategorized with tags , , , on December 6, 2013 by cueball

An object or a subject?  Do you react or do you act?

My favorite sports teams to watch are the ones who always seem to pay on the “front foot” and take and aggressive approach.  They force their opponent to react to them and not the other way around.  They approach the game with the mindset of imposing their will and making the game be played the way they want it to be played.

In real life, imposing you will upon others is rather sociopathic.  However, living your life as an actor instead of a reactor should be the goal.

That means being conscious at all times.  Not merely awake, but conscious of your actions and your reasons for acting.  Ensuring your actions are moving you towards the things and the life you want.

This is something I struggle with and continue to struggle with on a daily basis.  Writing helps.  It focuses my mind on the words and the ideas.  Meditation helps.  It trains the mind to focus and be mindful of its surroundings and the thoughts that flow through it.

As with most things life, it is not simply the idea, but also the execution.  That is where I have my work to do.  More accurately it is the work of remembering outcomes are not guaranteed.  In college football circles there is a lot of talk and amusement had at Nick Saban’s idea of The Process.

For those not familiar The Process is the name Saban has given to the work he has done to build good college football programs.  The Process mostly consists of all the same bromides and concentration on fundamentals that all coaches preach and teach.  The thing that really caught my attention is Saban never mentions winning explicitly.  It is either a given and/or expected outcome of continuous work and dedication to the fundamental principles that his style of play is built upon.  The outcomes don’t matter because by doing your job the right way every time makes a potential favorable outcome more likely.  The Process in a way acknowledges something most coaches and athletes (most people in general) do not accept or do not understand that the outcome is the one thing not in your control.  Again, you can do the right thing the right way every time and still lose the game.  Your contentment must be in knowing that you did everything to the best of your ability.

I think that is what the last year of my life has been about.  Me finding my own Process and remembering that outcomes are the one thing I can’t control.  I often find myself stagnating when I worry too much about the outcomes in my life.  This isn’t to say you should do nothing if your life isn’t where you want it to be.  It is that you set goals, figure out the things you need to do to achieve those goals, and then let the goals go.  If you follow your process the goals you reach may not be the ones you originally set, but they will be ones you truly enjoy.