The 2016 Zymurgy best beers list

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I look forward to the Zymurgy’s list of the favorite beers as chosen by the magazine’s readership. Some people slag the list for not having nearly enough “whale beers,” but that’s one of the reasons I actually enjoy this list over others (such as the “whale” heavy Ratebeer top 50 list). The Zymurgy list contains most of what I enjoy and can get, plus a few things I can shoot for if I ever make it to either coast.

I’ve actually tried 35 of beers on the 2016 Zymurgy list. Of that 35, I have had all of them more than once except for Russian River’s Pliny the Elder. Unfortunately, due to Russian Rivers’ inability to keep up with the insane demand for that beer (not to mention their scarcity in the Midwest) I have only tried PtE once. I blogged about that experience here.

Many of the 35 beers that I have tried would end up on my personal top 50 favorite beers, although my personal 50 would also include a fair number of imports (especially Belgian beers). Those beers are broken out into a different category on the Zymurgy list.

Here are some other random thoughts about the 2016 list:

A word about the image at the top: It is a stock photo of hipster/praise & worship leader type guys drinking tallboys full of “golden suds.” And the guy on the right is taking their picture with a selfie stick. The picture is so awful I had to use it.

Song of the Week – “Why Georgia” (2001)

In 2003 my wife was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Providentially, her doctor discovered the cancer very early on and so my wife had her thyroid removed and has been cancer-free ever since. Thank God for attentive primary-care physicians, skilled surgeons, and modern medicine.

A few months after the surgery I decided to take my wife to Kansas City for a weekend away. Just the two of us alone as we left our two girls with the grandparents. It was a sort of a post-cancer surgery celebration of the fact that my wife was alive, recovering, and had been given an excellent prognosis going forward.

As is our custom on nearly all trips to Kansas City, we spent a fair amount of time with my brother (who lives in KC). While driving around one night he asked, “Hey, have you guys ever heard John Mayer’s music?” At the time we had not and so my brother proceeded to play for us Mayer’s latest (at the time) album Room for Squares. Immediately my wife and I became fans and the song “Why Georgia” shot to the top of my list of all-time great driving songs.

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Song of the Week – “Late for the Sky” (1974)

It was almost like discovering a writer I’d never read–except we discover writers we’ve never read all the time, and only rarely, as adults, do we stumble across major pop artists with a decent back catalog: it is usually prejudice rather than ignorance that has prevented us from making their acquaintance, and prejudice is harder to overcome (indeed, much more fun to maintain). And yes, of course it was prejudice that had stopped me from listening to Jackson Browne. He wasn’t a punk. He had a funny pudding-bowl haircut that wasn’t very rock ‘n’ roll. He wrote “Take It Easy” at a time when I didn’t want to take it easy. And though I hadn’t heard any of the songs, I knew they were wimpy, navel gazing, sensitive–American in all the worst ways and none of the best.[1]

In so many ways I can identify completely with the above sentiments of writer Nick Hornby about Jackson Browne. In fact, replace the phrase “He wasn’t a punk” with “He wasn’t a heavy metal shred guitar god” and the shoe pretty much fit like a glove (or something like that). In the early 80s I was a young teenage know-it-all armed with my first electric guitar and was determined to become the next VanHalenVaiYngwie. Songs featuring Dungeon & Dragon lyrics and harmonic minor scales were in. Songs by world-weary “old dudes” about heartache were anything but in.

Although I have been happily married to the same wife for nearly 20 years, I’ve lived long enough to know marital sorrow many times over. I have watched many folks make a good start at marriage, only to wake up a few years later and realize that happily ever after is, for a myriad of reasons, simply beyond their reach. There but for the grace of God go I.

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Best of 2016 – The music

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In terms of music consumption, my 2014 was quite bass-centric. I blogged about that fact here so I won’t trouble you with a recap. What I couldn’t forsee was that my music consumption in 2015 would widen into areas that I really hadn’t visited since the 1990s, mainly the areas of folk-rock and Americana. It will be interesting to see how 2016 unfolds.

What follows are (in order) my favorite 10 music acquisitions of 2015. This means is that of all of the music I acquired this past year, these are the cream of the crop. Note that the some of this music was released before 2015 (oftentimes way before). In this case, for whatever reason, I acquired a copy of the music in 2015.

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Best of 2016 – The beers

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I am pretty sure I will never have another beer year like 2015. Looking back at my Untappd feed for the past year I find that I was able to imbibe multiple world-class beers. It is really quite staggering how many epic libations ended up gracing my palate.

This is list going to be ridiculously challenging to narrow down. In fact, to do my 2015 justice I’ve decided to do two lists. The first list is my top 12 (because beer drinkers love 12 packs) of the best of the best of the best that I tried for the first time this past year. The second list is the “honorable mention” list. The beers that made the honorable mention list could just as easily have made my top 12 list any other year.

As I said, 2015 was epic.

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Basspiration Friday – 8/07/2015

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The power trio has a long and distinguished lineage in rock music. Cream provided the initial guitar, bass, drums prototype that was picked up and continued by other seminal groups like The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Blue Cheer, The James Gang, Rush, ZZ Top, The Police, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, Nirvana, and Green Day. Since there is no keyboard and no secondary rhythm guitarist in the group, each member of the power trio is expected to wear many hats and carry a heavy musical load.

One of the finest latter-day power trios is the one formed by guitarist John Mayer in 2005 with drummer Steve Jordan and bassist Pino Palladino. Prior to the formation of the John Mayer Trio, the popular perception was that Mayer was a bubblegum heartthrob artist who wanted run through the halls of his school screaming at the top of his lungs that his girlfriend’s body was a wonderland. The Trio introduced Mayer as a guitar player of remarkable skill who had paid some serious dues in the woodshed listening to guys like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Mark Knopfler.

The following is a video of the Mayer Trio from a 2005 concert at the Bowery Ballroom in New York. It is a multiple-camera video with excellent sound. The performances are tight and quite energetic. Mayer, who is considerably younger than his bandmates, did well in hitching his wagon to the likes of Jordan and Palladino. They lent Mayer’s music a certain weight and gravitas that was lacking prior to the band’s formation. I’m sure Jordan and Palladino were compensated handsomely for their efforts.

My favorite Palladino will always be the fretless Pino that I grew up hearing on pop radio. But I gotta say, Pino with a Fender P Bass through an Ampeg SVT-VR head into an 8×10 cabinet makes a righteous noise all its own. Basspirational!

Ack! The return of Bloom County

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I rejoiced yesterday upon hearing the news that my favorite cartoon from high school had rebooted. Yes folks, cartoonist Berke Breathed has re-discovered his mojo and Bloom County is back and hotter than ever. More hi-jinks from Milo Bloom, Mike Binkley, Steve Dalls, Cutter John, Oliver Wendell Jones, Portnoy, Hodge-Podge, and of course, Opus and Bill the Cat. All in time for the run-up to the 2016 presidential elections. Golly, it feels like 1985 around here again.

I was a big fan of Bloom County during my high school days. No, you don’t get it. A really big fan. How big? I owned all of the Bloom County cartoon strip books that were released at the time. I owned several Bloom County t-shirts. My stuffed Opus went to every gig and sat upon my guitar amplifier. I spent time in class daydreaming and drawing pictures of Opus to pass the time. The above picture is a snapshot of all of the Bloom County books that remain in my possession from my high school days. I was big fan, indeed.

Bloom County ended in 1989 and that seems altogether fitting. For me, no comic strip more perfectly embodies and critiques the 1980s than Bloom County. The references are so completely “of their time” that it is difficult to read them in any way other than as an 80s time capsule.

People wax rhapsodic over Garry Trudeau and his Doonesbury comic but, for my taste, Bloom County was always so much more enjoyable. Trudeau always seemed like he was aggressively grinding an ax in every strip. Breathed was grinding an ax too, but also did so with more levity, absurdity, and winsomeness. After all, no comic strip displayed the absurdity of the Cold War than when Oliver Wendell Jones hacked into the Pravda computers and changed the headline to read, “Gorbachev Sings Tractors: Turnip! Buttocks!”

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Welcome back, Mr. Breathed and Bloom County. I’m looking forward to a Billy and the Boingers reunion tour and a resurgence of hair metal any day now.