Top 10 Books I Read in 2008

10. The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon - My first Michael Chabon novel and it was a riot. Fun and easy to read, but with lots of heady, satirical undertones. Set in the fictional Jewish community of Sitka, Alaska, this book is a straight up whodunit in the most bizarre fashion. Look for the feature film directed by the Coen Brothers in 2010.

9. Tomcat in Love by Tim O'Brien - Tim is one of my favorite current American authors. 3 of his works grace my personal top 10 books ever, and while this isn't one of them, this is still a great read. Completely different than his other works, this is a very light and easy novel, displaying only the smallest hint of dark, intense prose I most often associate him with.

8. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri - This was the first book from one of the most gifted current Indian authors. While her follow up works aren't as good, this is a fantastic collection of short stories that is appealing to everyone. All the stories have the similar vibe of being a person misplaced, lost and lonely. Fantastic stuff.

7. Giovanni's Gift by Bradford Morrow - Bradford's prose is really unbelievable. His powers of description of heavy, hidden emotions is top notch. This is a mystery novel, but very deep and dark. It is more a mystery of man's soul than a whodunit. Sometimes you just have to put the book down and marvel and what a great job he's done of completely blowing your mind with his sheer talent. My only complaint is the ending, but that doesn't keep me from recommending it. Some of the best deep, intense writing I've read in a while.

6. The Road by Cormac McCarthy - 2008 was the year of McCarthy for me. This is by far his darkest novel yet, and his simple, sparse, savage prose is second to none. His writing is powerful yet gentle, modern yet timeless, and all together his work is some of the best in the whole of American history. This book is about a father and son desperately trying to survive in post-apocalyptic America. Look for the movie this year.

5. What Is the What by Dave Eggars - This is the the almost-true story of one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. This is one of the most touching and heart-wrenching novels I've ever encountered. Eggars takes this young man's experience and puts it on a level we can all understand. I can't say enough about the honesty in the writing, and the incredible, undying sense of hope. A must read.

4. The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy - I really hesitated putting two books from the same author on here, but I just couldn't help it. The is the ultimate wild west novel, easily my favorite McCarthy novel yet. I feel safe to say that no one in the whole collection of American writing has ever contained the descriptive powers that McCarthy has. You have never encountered a force like McCarthy.

A note about the top 3. It was really difficult for me to choose the order for these. They are practically interchangeable with each other, and are all must reads.

3. Suite Francoise by Irene Nemirovsky - Nemirovsky was a popular French author in the 30's and 40's. She was also a Jew. She was taken by the Nazis and passed away in Auschwitz. 64 years after her death they found this novel - the first two parts of a five part series. She died without being able to complete the last 3. This is a novel about the German invasion in France. It deals not only with the horror, but also the mundane. It deals with the years when the men where gone, and the women lived with the Germans. The story is one of the most important ever told about World War 2. The translation is amazing, and the writing is top notch. This book is just so powerful, and so necessary to read, and so very crucial to anyone interested in the long term effects of war on the individual level.

2. The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai - This is a simple, short, powerful novel about one Indian family's struggle with despair, displacement, and poverty. Perfectly executed and thought out, this is the best novel I've read in a long time that deals with being a foreigner, even in your own home. Desai displays such affection and warmth, such heart and soul, such incredible love for her characters and her land, that you will not be able to put this book down. Astonishing.

1. The Known World by Edward P. Jones - At the risk of fouling the name of many great classics, this is hands down the single greatest piece of fiction written on the subject of slavery. This is an immense, breath taking novel that is so broad, so deep, and so moving that it never really leaves you. The characters in the novel are perfectly thought out and complex while still being lovable people we feel related to. The people in and about the plantation, by the end, are your family and friends. The writing is phenomenal, the story grand and the overall effect is nothing less than astonishing. I will never forget this book.


Eyedz uv MRCH

Muckney Brewing - Ides of March.

Great looking beer. Deep, dark, brutally black with a strong tan head that leaves plentiful lacing. Nice roasty smell with lots of alcohol heat and an interesting spiciness. I get some cinnamon mixed in with chocolate, coffee, molasses, maple syrup and subtle fruitiness. The taste has lots of espresso and chocolate, with simple but tasty roasted malt notes and piny hops. Very full, creamy mouthfeel.

One note, this year guys, turn it up. More roasted malts. More black malts. More alcohol. Hell, lots more bittering hops. This brew is clean as shit and fantastically crafted, but it's just shy of making me cream my pants. All the flavors are there, and goddamn are they great, but take it to the next level. Make it kick my ass, alright?

I love ya'll and can't wait to see you in a few weeks. You best have brews for me, alright? Gonna try the QB soon (maybe tonight) and will post my thoughts. Muckney Brewing? More like Fuck Me Brewing.

Side note: We are brewing a big ol' organic pilsner tomorrow at Earth. Ober Spliner. Should have some for the meeting. Scotch on now and it is damn good.


What's Hoppening at Earth

You goddamn nerds and your goddamn hoppy beers. You don't know how many times I've heard "give me your hoppiest beer" said to one of our servers. My response is "Fuck that!" but Baker, ever the business savvy man, gives the people what they want. Hops, hops, and more hops. 5 DIPAs on tap right now, and as you can guess, it's my personal version of utter hell. No that's not quite true, he picked some good ones, but it still makes me want to quit.

Sly Fox Odyssey - Hated it. Straight balls to the wall bitter with no attempt made to balance it out. No hop subtleties, no malty backbone, just plain old fucking bitter.

Victory Hop Wallop - Not bad, but not as good as previous years. They toned back on the aroma hops and threw in more bittering, or so it would seem to me. Maybe my palate is just too biased and tinged with smoke anymore. Nice pine and citric notes, but again just too bitter with no balance.

Lancaster Hop Hog
- Delicious. Every once in a while (and if you mention this to anyone I will kill you in your sleep) I get in the mood for a hoppy beer, and normally this is the one I grab. It's simple, easy to drink, balanced, and flavorful. My only complaint is that the hop flavor seems kinda one dimensional. Not that that dimension is a bad one, I just want a few more.

Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye - Hated it. Bitter with no balance. Taste like it's stripping the enamel off my teeth. Rye? Where? I would be a happy man if I never drank this crap again.

Russian River Pliney the Elder - This is exactly what the fuck I'm talking about when I say a good, balanced IPA. The malts are not only strong, they are flavorful and complex with caramel, bread, honey, and maybe even some chocolate. Clearly, the hops steal the show and are perfectly used. Not a single bit of bitterness strikes me as I was afraid. Instead, I got gobs of juicy peaches and grapefruits strewn upon my taste buds and I love it. This shows what a west coast IPA can be if the brewer is knowledgeable and understands how to achieve perfect balance. Go Vinnie. Go Russian River. Go Earth.


What the hell is in my bottle?

So last night I popped a bottle of what was supposed to be 4 year old Stickenjab, assuming it was going to be crap. When I poured it, it was a lot darker than I remember Stickenjab being. I shrugged it off, and then took a sniff. WHOA. Definitely not an alt! The aroma was complex, estery, funky, spicy and so much more. Cranberries, cherries, ginger, coriander, cloves, pepper, honey, peach, and lots of acidity. The taste of this beast was pure delight. Sour, sharp, and funky, with strong estery fruit notes, spicy yeastiness, and a long tart finish. What the hell is in my bottle? Fucking unbelievable stuff for real! I was damn surprised, and hopefully Tom can answer my question tonight.

UPDATE: Upon discussion with Peggy, I believe it was the Two Druids Gruit Ale. So, if you ever encounter a bottle of it in your travels you should buy it, drink it, and love it.


Going All Grain

We cleaned out the basement yesterday at Earth, and upon doing so we discovered an entire all grain set up. Tom's. And it's now mine. That's right, not only am I going all grain, I'm doing it on the equipment Mr. Heavyweight started with.

I hope it's not cursed. I think my first all grain is going to be a brett porter - Perkuno's Funky G-String.


Penelope Funk Dot Com Slash Surgery Time

Fucking cats, man. We have 5 of them now, 4 of which - Ginger, Cassie, Jemima, and Sonic - are perfectly healthy. But the fifth one, little Penelope, developed a giant freaky growth in her mouth. Of course it would happen to my favorite, the one that adores me, the world's most perfect, nicest, and thoroughly well behaved cat.

Penny is kinda dumb and has a tenancy to chill with her mouth gaping wide open, which is what she was doing one day when Autumn noticed this giant bubble looking growth under the left side of her tongue. It was really fucking disgusting so we took her to the Mt. Airy Animal Hospital. I will never go back there again. Upon doing some research online I discovered it's what's a ranula. I mention this to the Animal Hospital and they looked at me like I was a nut bag. They said they could fix it, did a $400 surgery to remove it, and a week later it came back. Bullshit. I got taken for a ride hard.

When I called them back they said it should just die down, which it never did. All the while, Penny kept getting worse and worse. She could barley eat and drink, couldn't swallow at all, and hardly moved. She lost 4 1/2 pounds! It was scary to see her that unhealthy..

We wound up having to take her to a specialist, about an hour away, who knew exactly what it was - a ranula. A cat's salivary gland is up in it's jaw, and there's a tube that runs the saliva to a fine little duct in the mouth. Something caused trauma to that duct, which resulted in the gigantic bubble. They had to go into her jaw and physically remove the salivary gland! After that, they cut a hole in the ranula and sewed it to make it permanent, so that it would drain and eventually disappear.

Penny is home and happier than she's been in a long time. She's running around and playing with everyone, and she won't leave me alone. I'm super relieved to have her back! But, in times of economic recession like these, one has to ask one's self, "Did I really just spend $1733 on a cat?" Yes, dumbass, you did.


Weekend in Killadelphia

Nate came up (or down) for a visit this weekend, and it wound up being hedonistic and very beer filled for me. Good times, albeit not all remembered. We started our evening at Earth, where Nate chilled being a nerd and I worked. Had a few brews there before heading off to McMenamin's down the street. It was pretty bumping there but the tap list was on point. I had a Mad Elf, Orval, St. Bernardus Christmas, and a dozen fantastic hot wings. Drinking, eating, and mingling with the locals - what more could you want?

Next day we were off to Manayunk Brewing, which was a much better visit than my first time there. The beers were nothing stellar, but they weren't too bad either. Couple standard lagers/ales, but a few standouts. My favorite was the Double Down Brown, a coffee brown ale. Normally I don't like brown ales, but this one was pretty damned good. Schuylkill Punch, a tart raspberry lager, is always pretty delicious, though most disagree with me. Unfortunately, they had a beer called Festivus, a dark Belgian ale, and it was downright disgusting. Pure crap, couldn't believe it. The pizza I got was alright, and Nate's salad looked nice.

Nate headed back East, and I headed downtown with Autumn and Joe. We met our friend Mike at Nodding Head, the first time I've been there. I was thoroughly impressed. The place itself is cozy and comfortable, great for just hanging out. I got to meet the brewers and they are both cool folk with some nice equipment. 8 fermenters - you bastards. The 5 beers they had were very good I thought. The best of the bunch was Rudy's Kung-Fu Grip, a dark Belgian. Estery and fruity, but controlled and balanced. It was nice to see a 60 Schilling, a tough to come by style of low proof Scottish ale. What really impressed me was the fact that all the beers were clean with no infections or flaws. As far as brewing technique is concerned, they are at the top of their game. The food was also fantastic. Our frites were delicious, as was the baked brie and fried sampler platter. This is one of the best places I've been to in Philly yet.

The sun was down, my stomach was full, my eyes heavy. Went home and finished of the night with some Family Feud and a bottle of Unibroue 17. Good times.


What I Like About Mt. Scary

So we've been here 3 months and I haven't posted shit really about the neighborhood. Mt. Airy is a diverse, middle class, and closely knit community in Northwest Philly. There's not a whole lot to do around here, but what exists is really pretty top notch. I expect the area to blow up real soon. It's seems like it's becoming a hip destination for folks looking to escape the madness of downtown.

We have 2 of the best coffee shops I've ever visited within walking distance - Infusions and High Point Cafe (no website). Infusions offers beans from 3 different local independent roasters. Their beans are always fresh, and occasionally they can pull a pretty fantastic shot. High Point Cafe's beans, while delicious and perfectly roasted, come from Seattle. Their espresso is some of the best I've had in Philly, and their baked goods are fantastic.

High Point is right across the street from Weaver's Way Co-op, a community run independent food store. They own their own farm, and to be a member you must donate and volunteer 6 hours yearly. All the produce is fresh and delicious, they have lots of great fish, homemade soups, fantastic cold salads, great cheese, and lots more. It's very refreshing to see a true, community ran co-op.

Food wise there are some great options. (Insert Earth plug here.) McMenamin's (no website) is a great local bar/restaurant. The food is always fresh, delicious, and well cooked, and the beer selection is stellar. Always rotating taps with lots of goodies, including at least one Belgian at any given point. The bottle selection is small but good, and very reasonably priced. Another great food joint here is called Tiffin, a small but unbelievably good Indian place. Consistently rate the best in Philly, their food is top notch, service is stellar, and prices and unbeatable. I also have to shout out to Chef Ken's Cafe (no website). Ken is always serving great, down home style soul food with lots of flavor. A little pricey, but always worth it.

Last but not least I gotta mention TLA video. Best selection of movies to rent I've ever seen. Old films, foreign films, classic films, indie films, horror films, even gay films, they have it all. Thank God for this place.

In short, I like Mt. Airy. It's pretty alright here. Happy New Years everyone.