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Boffo Beer Blog, Week 7 : Mermaids And Unicorns Promise Mouth Magic

Well I tried for a truly magical beer experience in the latest Boffo Beer Blog. I sampled True Vine’s Mermaids & Unicorns beer, to go along with a bowl of beef stew and a cheese bagel. Expectations were high, especially when confronted with the mirth-filled 12-ounce can, brightly colored and bedecked with a picture of, yes, a mermaid riding a unicorn. This should be some special drink!

Unlike some of the small breweries I’ve looked at so far, True Vine is really new and still quite small. Based out of Tyler, Texas ( a smallish city not too far out of Dallas), it’s barely five years old. Inspired by reading a biography of the Guinness family, a married couple, Ryan and Traci Dixon began brewing some beer in their own garage around 2014. With good feedback from the locals, opened a tiny, 2000 square-foot brewery in town in 2014. Mermaids & Unicorns was one of their first two flavors and remains a mainstay of their small company, which now boasts about ten or so brews, all with lively, whimsical can designs. There’s a coffee porter, a peach-infused one and one that wins for the name alone, Chubby Angel Babies. True Vines say they are guided by the principles of integrity, community and love.” Hard to find fault with that.

They’re now available throughout a good number of locations in Texas, but haven’t matched the success or growth of some of their Lone Star counterparts – yet. But, like some of their bigger competitors, they recently opened a taproom and restaurant on site, with artisan pizzas being a menu star and live music on the weekend an added draw. What they don’t have yet is as detailed or complete website as many microbrews.

Anyway, I popped open the can full of expectation, and poured the brew into a frosty glass. Although the brewer itself doesn’t seem to detail their drink online, Specs says it comes in at 5.5% alcohol and features a “malty, bready (flavor) with hints of peach and orange.” Upon pouring, it looked a pleasant enough golden tone, slightly cloudy, but seemed to have little fizz and produced only a minimal, thin head. Waiting to be ridden away to beverage utopia on a unicorn being hugged by Splash-era Daryl Hannah, I expected something wildly different and wonderful.

The unicorn turned out to be more of a run of the mill donkey and Daryl nowhere to be seen or felt. The first impression of it was that it had a relatively mild flavor with a noticeable bitterness. More sips did reveal a tinge of citrus, but a very subtle one. It was fairly “smooth” to use that million-dollar beer buzzword, but nothing out of the ordinary in any way. It paired fine with the stew, but didn’t noticeably bring out the flavors of the food or drink; with the cheese bagel somehow the drink’s bitterness seemed a little amplified.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression this is a bad beer. It’s not. It’s perfectly acceptible and a unicorn’s horn above some of the mass market convenience store competition. The can is a keeper for collectors and the drink worth buying it for. What it is not however, was particularly memorable or distinctive, let alone magical. I’ll grade it about 7 out of 10 for strength, 6 for flavor and all in all….


three unicorns out of five.

From Hitler To Drunken College Girls…Only Malcolm Could Make Sense Of It

It’s nice that over time, sitting here typing on my computer, looking out at a Texas suburb, I get to know some of you well enough to feel you’re not a stranger – even if I never met you in real life. And as many of you know, some of my favorite books this century have been from Malcolm Gladwell, a fellow alumni of the University of Toronto, albeit a stranger. But one who’d be a tremendous person to have dinner with, I’m sure.

Gladwell has found his niche making psychology and human nature interesting and combining a number of eminently interesting, but seemingly disparate case studies tie together in million-selling books.  Blink showed us how it can often be useful to believe our first impressions. His mammothly-successful breakthrough The Tipping Point suggested how some things get to be successful and popular – from old-fashioned hipster boots to VD in Baltimore – and other things don’t. His Outliers suggested that to be wildly successful, you need not only talent but a dedication to spend about 10 000 hours honing your craft, be you Wayne Gretzky and your vocation hobby, or the Beatles and your thing… well, being the Beatles. Music!

So, the latest book he wrote, Talking to Strangers, is surprising only to those who don’t know his work. Because those people would surely wonder how anyone could tie together stories about Hitler, ponzi-scheme ripoff artist Bernie Madoff, drunk college girls and midwestern police manuals and make it seem coherent. Which is what Malcolm does this time around. Oh, and did I mention, the war between the Mayans and the Spaniards?

Talking to Strangers does what he does – interesting case stories told well and briskly – loosely tied together.The overall theme is that we, people. as a species, do terribly when having to deal with strangers. We can assume the best of them, and risk the consequences (as thousands did with trusting their savings to Madoff or Olympian girl parents did with the respected Dr Nassar, gymnast doctor to the stars) or assume the worst of them (as police using Kansas City’s old crime-reduction suggestions do) and risk casualties, wrongfully-tarred civilians and worse.

The book is bookended by the story of Sandra Bland, a young woman who was pulled over by a Texas state trooper for making an improper lane change, and ended up dead from her own hand in a Lone Star jail days later. People tended to see it as Bland the victim – Black woman being profiled by racist White cop – or the cop as being vilified – officer pulls over a person and is polite, to begin, but is subject to provocation and verbal obscenity while feeling in danger himself. Gladwell is in the Bland camp, but is observant enough to point out the valid arguments from both… the world is complex, and knowing strangers is difficult. The officer was trained to feel that she was a potential murderer, but she was trying to go about her life and do good. Alas, he doesn’t have any catch-all, solve-all solutions. That’s for the reader to try to descramble in their own brain. An organ under-challenged by most mainstream media these days, so hats off to Malcolm.

Not his best book, probably not even in his top three. But in a world of relationships defined by The Bachelor and power illustrated by late-night tweets from the Oval Office, it might be the most important one yet from him. If you’re a person, and there are people in your life you don’t know … strangers … it’s a book worth your time.

Boffo Beer Blog, Week 6: Stone Cold Good. Or Stone Good Cold!

To borrow from Guy Fieri, this week we took our taste to “Flavortown”… Little Big Flavortown. Or perhaps, Big Little Flavortown. This week’s sampling was Stone Brewing’s Stone IPA, the flagship brew for the California-based brewery. In a little over twenty years, Stone has established itself as one of the biggest micro-breweries in the land. Or one of the smallest “majors” depending on how you look at it!

Stone Brewing began brewing in 1996 when Greg Koch and Steve Wagner decided they loved rock music and beer. However, their careers in music weren’t going anywhere exciting, so they decided it was time to make some music for the mouth instead. They began in San Marcos, California, the pair and one other employee making 400 barrels of India Pale Ale that year. Their mission was to give people an option other than watery, yellow big-brewery lagers. They picked their gargoyle logo since, they say, gargoyles ward off evil and they wanted to keep “warding off cheap ingredients, chemical additives” and other things that ruin a good beer.

Obviously, they did just that and people approve. Twenty years in, they’d managed to add over 1200 employees to their team, and were brewing some 388 000 barrels a year. They have a number of taprooms where you can sit and enjoy, including San Diego Airport and most intriguingly, Shanghai, China! They expanded their California operation and recently opened a brewery in Richmond, VA to lessen transportation times to eastern locations – useful since they’re one of the very few small breweries which now sell in all 50 states. Through the years, they’ve added new drinks to their menu including Xocerveza, a stout “inspired by Mexican hot chocolate” and Russian stout, “fairly well known style but in the 1990s… practically unheard of.” However, their bread-and-butter has always been robust India Pale Ales, and the Stone IPA is not only their best-seller, but the gold standard for their roster of over a dozen varieties.

They describe it as a beer with “bright hop fruitiness, piney vibrancy and a pronounced tantalyzing bitterness”, utilizing eight different types of hops. They further consider it to have “medium body and no perceivable sweetness”…which sounds a bit contradictory for a “fruity” drink, but maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, I popped the cap off an attractive 12-ounce bottle out of their Richmond brewery and enjoyed it with a dinner of “Goulage” (actually a hearty pasta-based meal with beef and tomato sauce mixed in) and a cheese sandwich.

Pouring it, it displayed a nice, rich golden color, deeper than regular mass market beers but not as dark as many an IPA, and found it really foamed up in a thick, frothy head. The first taste showed its hoppy bitterness and quite a strong flavor. Not unpleasant but strong, fitting for a brew with 6.9% alcohol. Having it along with the meal though, it was better yet, pairing very well with the pasta meal, which diminished its bitterness a little. It had a little aftertaste, but not a very strong or displeasing one. What’s more, it still worked well with some tart green grapes I ate for dessert, with the beer cutting the tart feeling in the mouth a wee bit while the grapes added just a hint of that missing fruity sweetness. I didn’t chew on a pine cone to see if that added the “piney” nature, although somehow it did seem like an “outdoorsy” kind of beer that might be a good camping companion. Stone itself recommend pairing it up with a range of strong-flavored foods from tacos to Asian salads or jambalaya, all of which seem like palatable suggestions.

A strong but likable drink, although not for someone who favors things from the Big Brewery Lite aisle. I give it 8 out of 10 for strength, 7 out of 10 for flavor and all-in-all


Four spiky-haired chefs out of five!

Boffo Beer Blog, Week 5: A Christmas Story In Your Glass

December 25th may have come and gone, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to keep the Christmas spirit going. And in this week’s Boffo Beer Blog, we’ll have a Christmas “spirit”… Karbach Brewery’s Yule Shoot Your Eye Out Seasonal ale.

The Houston brewery offers up a few year-round favorites and a variety of seasonal offerings, available throughout Texas and the south-central States. “It’s all about the beer,” they say, suggesting “we don’t take ourselves seriously but you can be damn sure we take our beer seriously.” They use “classic German techniques to make beer for everyone to enjoy.”

Among their regular brews are Hopadillo, with its colorful armadillo-adorned can, and Crawford Bock, whose cans have the now questionable distinction of being dressed up like a Houston Astros jersey. (Tap your can once for fastball, twice for curve…)  You can try them out in the city at their brewery and restaurant, which offers a variety of dishes that pair well with beers of every stripe, including fish and chips, king-sized pretzels and of course, Texas chili. They periodically have special events, including a “Galentines day” later this week with a “market and movie night” showing ’90s cult fave The Craft.

Among their seasonal varieties are a chocolate stout and the one I tried, Yule Shoot Your Eye Out, for winter offerings. Of the Yule beer and its 5.6 % alcohol rating, they say it’s a “red ale brewed with orange peel (and) loaded with smooth caramel malt and a citrus twist. We triple dog dare you to find a better holiday ale.”

Cracking open the 12-ounce, leg-lamp adorned can is nearly as exciting as opening a wooden box to reveal a “major award.” Pouring it reveals it does indeed live upto its billing as a rather festive clear, reddish drink which produced a thick, bubbly head. The beer itself seemed a little more fizzy than some and had a decent aroma.

Now, this one is a bit different than the past three beers I sampled here in two ways. One is that it’s a yuletide offering, and I’m sampling it in February. This is about the end of the run for it this winter, as according to Karbach, “oh fuuddge! It’s only here for a limited time.” And I found I actually was consuming the first one on the very “best before” date printed on the bottom. So, while certainly not stale nor flat, it’s entirely possible “Yule” get a better feel for the drink if consumed closer to the production date, around the time Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick is bringing pink bunny pyjamas to good little boys far and wide. Secondly, this one I actually purchased a six-pack of rather than just one individual bottle or can.

I mention that because I actually cracked open the first at night, having it after dinner while watching some TV. I had another the following afternoon with a light dinner of some left-over roast ham in a kaiser and a jalapeno or two. I found the environment seemed to make a difference and it seemed slightly different between the two sittings.

Drinking it on its own, I found it a little unusual and not what I’d expected. Not a lump of coal in the stocking, but not a Red Rider winner either. It seemed a little watery and while it left a slight, not too unpleasant bitter aftertaste, I could really detect the caramel of the malts. It almost made me think of the effect one would have if downing a typical mainstream lager a few minutes after sucking on a Werthers candy.

Paired with the lunch, it fared a bit better, The sweetness was cut and the flavor seemed to hold its own nicely against the sandwich and cut the heat of the hot peppers a little. Perhaps that’s why Karbach recommend having it with stews or “game”. What it didn’t seem was a typical strong ale.

All in all, it won’t make you cuss like a faulty, smoking furnace would but it might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you have to write about what you want for Christmas! I give Yule Shoot Your Eye Out a 6 out of 10 for flavor, 7 out of 10 for strength and


three leg-lamps out of five!

One Perk – More Time To Read?

Dear Friend,

the latest book I read was the famous the perks of being a wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. The little novel was a best-seller when it came out around the turn of the millennium and received renewed interest when it was made into a movie in 2012. It was famous but somehow I never picked it up until late last year when I found a copy at a clearance sale. Guess I was too busy trying to make up for lost time from when I was a high school wallflower before.

The book reads like a diary, in fact it harkens back to the series of books that were the “Secret Diaries of Adrian Mole” back in the ’80s. However, the protagonist of this one, Charlie, writes not in his diary but in a series of often-lengthy letters to an unnamed friend. Charlie is a socially-awkward high school kid who turns 16 during the year-long course of the book and deals with those things a boy turning 16 and who is socially-awkward would. He falls head over heels in love with an older girl, Sam, makes some friends, loses some friends and has the usual stresses of school and home, which in his case is a middle class Pittsburgh family. He gets his first girlfriend, loses his first girlfriend, begins to smoke and dabble in drugs and deal with the pressures of his own puberty and of being the brother of a star football player. He gets embarrassed by his family. He reads and is obsessed with The Smiths. Oddly, and a wee bit creepily, his best friend seems to be perhaps a literary English teacher who gives him books to read and invites him over to his place. All things considered, he doesn’t cope with the stresses of growing up very well.

While Charlie is at times inexplicably dumb for a “smart” kid and very often annoying in both his attitude and self-defeating ways, he is real and Chbosky has painted a very believable story that somehow grips you and becomes a page-turner. At the end of the school break, and the end of the book, you wonder where Charlie will go from there and wish he’d keep writing those damn wordy letters!

the perks of being a wallflower somehow seems relateable to those of us who weren’t the “cool kids” back in high school, and perhaps worse yet, is probably more so for today’s Snowflake generation. Charlie all but set the template for today’s anxiety-filled, sexual ambivalent, politically correct cohort… and did it all without staring at an I-phone no less. That said, it knowingly looks back fondly to Generation X with its references and its’ Douglas Coupland-esque randomness and lack of Upper Case Themes.

I think it’s not a bad book for youth of today who feel a bit cast adrift out to sea … and for us oldies who remember what that feeling was like.

Love always,

Charlie’s reader

Boffo Beer Blog, Week 4 : Dogfish 60 Minute IPA

Another week, another craft beer to savor. This weekend, I chose Dogfish’s 60 Minute IPA to try.

IPAs are “India Pale Ales”, an old style of beer developed in Britain in the 19th-Century but most popular on our side of the Atlantic. The beer involves using more hops than lighter beers, and roasting the barley more to give it more flavor and strength than a typical lager. The Brits began brewing it for troops stationed in India, hence the name, and found this style was not only popular with them, but stood up to long periods of storage (as would be necessitated by shipping to India from England then) better.

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, I find, is an interesting piece of the coastal Delaware landscape and economy. It’s a micro-brew sure, but offers more. Like their own restaurant and bar, but more uniquely a cool, 16-room inn you can stay at! And when you wake up, you can brew some Dogfish coffee… yep, they have their own line of breakfast bevvies too! Dogfish seem to revel in their quirkiness and have metal artwork decorating their grounds and commission “off-centered” artists to design fun labels for their various beers.

There are quite a few brews on the Dogfish roster, but most seem to fall into the “IPA” category. Among them is “American Beauty”, a drink put together with the co-operation of the Grateful Dead. That’s one to look out for on a future Boffo Beer Blog. Today’s 60 Minute IPA is said to be their most popular drink and differs from the 90 Minute IPA in how long they boil the hops. They began making it over 20 years ago, and describe it as having a “bold, timeless flavor…pungently, citrusy, grassy hoppy and floral” It checks in at 6% APV, a bit stronger than your routine brew. They use “northwestern hops” which apparently are stronger but not necessarily more bitter than most other varieties.

I cracked open the 12-ounce bottle to have with a late-afternoon meal of a salami sandwich and finger food veggies from olives to celery. I poured it to find a thick, long-lasting head on it and a mildly cloudy, rich amber color. It looked rather like many popular wheat beers.

Tasting it was equally pleasant, if not more so. Dogfish got this right. I’m not sure what “grassy” would taste like, nor if it would be a positive trait for the tastebuds, but this drink does indeed exude hops and a touch of citrus yet lacks the intense bitterness many “hoppy” drinks have. It left my mouth a wee bit tingly, and while it seemed to keep its strong yet not too bitter qualities in the aftertaste. It offset the spicy heat of jalapenos and the sweetish bell pepper slices equally nicely. Indeed, it was unusual in having such a strong hoppy flavor without being bitter like a pre-ghost-visit Scrooge.

Dogfish say this is “most balanced IPA on the market.” I think they may not be too far off the mark saying that. Overall, I’d say this would be a pretty good choice to go with a number of meals or situations. I give it 8 out of 10 for strength and 9 out of 10 for flavor and all-in-all



four-and-a-half out of five dancing teddy bears.