Sunday, March 25, 2012

Fresh Fish

Maki Sushi Bar- 43 Main Street Peabody, MA

My husband and I have been at a loss to find good sushi after the permanent closing of our favorite Japanese restaurant, Asahi, in Salem last year. After a few hit and misses at Salem’s other prominent sushi choices, Okea Grill & Sushi, and Bangkok Paradise, we found that at those two places, the food quality and service didn’t come close to what Asahi offered. We were on the verge of giving up the search, all most ready to embrace the mediocre when we decided to cast our net a little wider and by doing so, we found a hidden jewel.

Maki Sushi Bar in Peabody is a revelation. Being used to the quirky sushi specials that Asahi had, including their much beloved and much missed buffalo chicken maki, we were delighted to find such a creative range of maki rolls, many of which are presented on a platter arranged as little works of yummy art. The Lava roll, salmon, cream cheese, avocado topped with white tuna, scallion and spicy mayo, looked just like a miniature volcano, ready to blow our little corner table, not to mention our taste buds, to smithereens.

Several other maki rolls also had us drooling and bickering after who got the last piece. The Crab Rangoon roll, with cream cheese, masago, and cucumber topped with spicy mayo, only lacked the fried wonton wrapper to make it authentic Chinese takeout appetizer fare. The Mexican roll, with tempura shrimp, jalapenos, and shichimi pepper had our mouths watering as much from the heat of the peppers than from scrumptiousness. The Hawaiian roll, consisting of fried spam, tamago, and cucucumber had us deliciously scratching our heads. Our favorite was the Dragon roll, both in taste and presentation. Kanikama (sustainable crab), avocado, topped with broiled eel, tempura crunch and a kabayaki glaze, looked like a Chinese New Year dragon as it serpentine body lied upon a platter. The effect was so stunning that we were very hesitant to disturb the slumbering beast with our chopsticks.

Maki’s other offerings were almost as tasty as the sushi. The house salad with ginger dressing was perfectly fine, if a little salty, and would be better if served in a larger bowl. Their gyoza, pan fried pork dumplings, were well presented but slightly undercooked. They also have a vast variety of Bento boxes that we are eager to try the next time we go. Deserts were tasty, such as the chocolate lava cake, fried cheesecake with vanilla ice cream, and banana spring rolls, the latter which was absolutely delicious but the minuscule serving size was rather disappointing.

Maki Sushi Bar, with its new full bar, its signature drinks being a wicked good Singapore Sling and vast assortments of martinis and sakes, is quickly becoming a local legend. When first opened in October 2011, the clientele was small yet dedicated but word of mouth has made this one of the hottest tickets Friday through Sunday nights. Though service can be a little slow, it is well worth the wait for the table.

California Dreamin' On a Winter's Day

Santa Barbara, California holds a special place in my heart. It was the first place my husband (then boyfriend) and I lived together elven years ago. After a rather idyllic year, he was laid off from his job and we could no longer afford to live in that wonderful seaside city. To our surprise, my husband’s current company has its headquarters there, so with great joy I jumped at the opportunity to join my husband in Santa Barbara for a few days on a recent business trip.
 The easiest and most enjoyable way to get to Santa Barbara from Los Angeles International Airport is by car. Winding up north on the 101 Freeway for the eighty mile drive, one is greeted with rolling mountain vistas and fields of strawberries as far of the eye can see. Further along the way, the freeway runs parallel to the Pacific Ocean all the up to the outskirts of Santa Barbara. Cabrillo Drive is one of the main arteries into Santa Barbara. From here, one can easily reach the colony of hotels that populate a one-mile radius between downtown Santa Barbara and its harbor. We stayed at the aptly named Inn by the Harbor (433 W Montecito St, $163 a night). This wonderful boutique hotel is a half block from Santa Barbara Harbor which features a full complimentary breakfast, wine and appetizers in the evenings and a milk and cookie bar at night. Our room with state of the art amenities had a private patio where we spent several relaxing evenings watching the sun set slowly over the water.

The best way to travel in Santa Barbara is by bike. This city is one of the most bicycle-friendly areas I have ever encountered; every major road in the city has a bike lane. Rent a bicycle at Wheel Fun Rentals (23 E. Cabrillo Blvd, $45 for three-hour bike rental) and follow the bike route along Shoreline Drive, a three mile path that takes one up to Shoreline Park, a patch of green situated on a mesa which has one of the best views of the Channel Islands across the way. This bike route ends several miles down at Santa Barbra’s premier resort, the Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel (1260 Channel Dr, $450 a night). Near this hotel is one of Santa Barbra’s best kept secrets, a small beach that features one of the best surf breaks in California. Spend the morning sitting on a piece of driftwood as you watch dozens of intrepid wave warriors battle for supremacy on the crowded breakers.

Good restaurants abound in this little seaside city. Head up to State Street, Santa Barbara’s main thoroughfare, to discover a myriad of different cuisines, everything from seafood to Cajun to Ethiopian. If one is in the mood for authentic Mexican food, go to Casa Blanca Cantina (330 State St.) for excellent margaritas and a to die for chili relleno. Another local favorite a little closer to our hotel is Brophy’s Bros. Restaurant and Clam Bar (119 Harbor Way). Try the local brew, Firestone Ale DBA, with a huge order of fried calamari so fresh it was caught only a couple miles from the harbor where boats depart to harvest squid nightly. If one wishes to enjoy the nightlife, Santa Barbara, a hopping college town, has much to offer. One of my favorite places to spend a evening listening to great music is the James Joyce Pub (513 State St). On any night of the week one can hear local bands playing to a packed Guinness-swilling crowd.
No visit to Santa Barbara is complete without of trip up to nearby Los Olivios. This is one of the best wine producing regions in California. Most of the wineries offer tastings as do the wine merchants that populate the small town. The best place to stay while here is the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn (2860 Grand Avenue, Los Olivios). Enjoy their fabulous spa and sample the local vintages at their attached wine store, one of the few places in the area that has beer tastings if wine doesn’t appeal to you. Recreate scenes from the movie Sideways while eating dinner at the Hitching Post II Restaurant (406 East Highway 246) in Buellton a few miles away. Order a glass of pinot noir and savor some of the best steaks in the west coast. Drive back into Santa Barbara via 154, the Chumash Highway. Enjoy the spectacular landscape while meandering through the Santa Ynez Mountains. Be sure to stop frequently at the view areas to see stunning vistas overlooking Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean thousands of feet below.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Original Crime Family

“Can a family such as ours survive such a prize?”
 –Cesare Borgia
    I’ve always been more of a fantasy/science fiction fan, with a deep love for humor and action, so shows not explicitly stated to deal with any of these elements have never been high on my list of interests. Too much drama would make me bored, I thought, without the promise of some sort of fantastical flair or constant battles. Then a preview for a historical drama starring “the original crime family” piqued my curiosity. The Borgias, directed by Neil Jordan and based on the life of Rodrigo Borgia and his family after his election as pope, reeled me in and kept me hooked.

            The Borgias takes us into Rome at the height of the Roman Catholic Church and its excesses. Pope Innocent VII expires in the first scene after begging his council of cardinals to cleanse the church of corruption. Rodrigo Borgia promises to carry out this last wish, but his conspiring to become the next pope quickly casts doubt on his sincerity. Rodrigo becomes Pope Alexander VI and his plotting has just begun. No one in Rome wants him as pope, especially not his thwarted rival Della Rovere who quickly starts his attempts to unseat him. 

         The show lives up to its tagline: “Sex. Power. Murder. Amen.” Despite taking place in the holiest of cities and having cast members among the clergy, no vice is left untried. Sex is a powerful motivator for the characters’ actions. Every episode gives us at least one couple in coitus whether it is with a mistress or their current lover and not a breast or derriere is left unexposed. Power is the goal of both the Borgia family and their enemies and they jockey with each other throughout the course of the season over the hands of Dukes and Kings. Murder is the coin of the realm and no one’s hands are clean of blood, whether from poison or a knife in the dark. The assassin is well paid and much used, from underground bathhouses to rainy alleyways, and he is, of course, on the Borgia’s payroll.

            Jeremy Irons is brilliantly cast as Rodrigo Borgia, bringing a smooth charisma to his every scene. His Rodrigo is manipulative with a drawling charm whether he is pronouncing God’s word, commanding his sons, or patronizing his council of cardinals. And his overly dramatic delivery of religious sayings never fails to bring a smile to my face.

 The rest of the main cast delivers excellent performances as well. Francois Arnaud is Cesare Borgia, the eldest son of Rodrigo, willing to do the dirty deeds the family needs to get done despite his hatred for his priestly office. He manages to have the same dangerous air whether in his cardinal robes or street clothes. His brother, Juan, is played by David Oakes. He brings the cocky and proud womanizer to life as well as his underlying insecurity. Holliday Granger is Lucretia Borgia and her portrayal of Lucretia’s is a compelling mix of innocence and cunning as events force her to grow up quickly. These actors have great chemistry with each other and you never doubt their closeness or their family loyalty. The chemistry between Arnaud and Granger, as brother and sister, teeters very close to improper sibling relations which fits the historical accounts of Cesare and Lucretia.  

            The scenery of The Borgias transplants you into fifteenth century Rome. Each scene is a visual delight. Gorgeous cathedrals, lush landscapes, and fortified castles are just a few of the backdrops I was treated to. The costumes were just as wonderful, brightly colored and elaborate. The dresses were gorgeous, though Rodrigo’s papal robes were often prettier. Even the men had lovely outfits, although some were ridiculous to my modern eye. 

            The Borgias captured a spot on my DVR. I could immediately see how this devious family inspired Mario Puzo to base the Corleones from The Godfather on them. The nine episodes of season one flew by quickly, giving me the action and humor I wanted and the scheming I never knew I needed, and I’ve been waiting impatiently for the start of the next season. April 8th cannot come fast enough.

Pope Alexander VI, Rodrigo Borgia

Friday, March 16, 2012

TOPS on Top

TOPS on Top
By Allison Rowell

Last Friday Night an Allston DIY warehouse venue called ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Us” (really long name) put on a show featuring four bands. As forty or fifty twenty-somethings filled the space with a thick cloud of cigarette smoke and body odor, there was one breath of fresh air radiating from the speakers; the sweet sound of Montreal based band, TOPS.

With clean, crisp keyboard parts playfully mixed with garage style drums and guitars, TOPS created a fun atmosphere for everyone watching. Kids who would normally stand with their arms folded, trying their hardest to look uninterested, could not help but dance along to these pleasant tunes. Their set list consisted of songs from their latest album, Tender Opposites (2012), that they were promoting on their tour down to Austin, for Texas’ annual musical festival, South by South West.

The album itself, both heard live and recorded, is well-constructed, melodic and upbeat. All eight songs, averaging around 4 minutes, create a very east-coast vibe, that could be described by many as easy listening. It’s whimsical. It reminds me of a throwback to 1980’s lounge music. It is so good that it can’t really be pinned down, making it that much more intriguing. It is tranquil and understated at some points (usually the verses), however some of the chorus’s pack an unexpected punch. Whether it be a change of tempo, the introduction of a flute or wind chimes, or a sudden pause, all the songs have a different surprise.

The cherry on top is the female vocalist and key board player. Her voice is reminiscent of Fiest and Norah Jones, but definitely stands all on its own. Maybe it’s the Canadian accent? Either way, her innocent, sultry voice embodies the feeling of a lullaby, without putting you to sleep and in some songs she unexpectedly yells providing a perfect balance between simplicity and the abstract. 

This is also done through the lyrics which seem to discuss an asshole ex-partner that everyone can relate to. Songs like ‘Diamond Look’ feature words like “Diamond Look bring your blinds/He just wants you for your pretty eyes/ He dresses pretty and right/He thinks he’s fierce in the heart/He thinks of nothing at all” representing a self-centered shallow player type that we all know.

Other songs worth checking out are ‘Go Away’ and ‘Double Vision’ which perfectly represent their unique style. However the whole album is available for download at for only a dollar! (That’s less than a pack of gum these days) So support the artists and buy it! The website also provides tour dates, so you can check them out when they come back around again, and see something new and refreshing in the Boston music scene.

The Nokia Lumia 710

by Patrick Henning

I have never had the best luck when it comes to cell phones.  After having a number of phones and cellular providers over the years, all of have been sub-par in my opinion.  The past week and the recent purchase of a new phone have led me to believe that my horribly unlucky streak with phones has come to an end.   A bit about myself, I relocated from Chicago, IL to Boston, MA and brought along a regional cellular provider and an older Android phone which left me stranded, so to speak, in a horrible cellular plan with no upgrades until I could afford to break my contract and buy a new phone. 

After finally being able to break my contract and switch to a nationwide cellular carrier, I bought a new phone, the 4G Nokia Lumia 710, a Windows Phone from T-Mobile.  This phone has made me reevaluate the past phones that I have had, Android and Blackberry, and made me realize what I have been missing.  I will preface all of this by informing you that I use Windows and have always used Windows platforms on my PCs and this phone delivers on all of that and much more with a great ease of use.
Shortly after buying the phone and having the sales associate set up the bare bones of it, I began the process of customizing it, which you are able to do in amazing detail with the Nokia 710.  One of the first tasks you are guided to do is enter your email accounts as well as Facebook, Windows Live, Twitter, and even LinkedIn account information.  From there the Lumia 710 begins to integrate all of your contacts wherever they are stored, into a cohesive list of everyone in your different accounts as well as integrate all of the threads from their various social networks, and any contact information you have all into one place.

From this point it is necessary to begin to link certain accounts together, in the case of having a friends contact information and their Facebook profile initially being separate contacts and linking them into a single page in your phone.  This does take some time depending on the number of contacts you have.  I have a little over three-hundred and the phone makes it so easy it only took me about thirty minutes of linking and I was all set. 

On the home screen of the Lumia 710 the numerous ‘tiles’ that make it up, the tile named people begins to flip and show pictures of your friends and providing you a link to all the information on friends and what’s going on in their lives.  For myself and being so far away from where most of my friends are and separated from the place I grew up, this phone lets me keep up to date with anyone I know in the blink of an eye. 

One of the major concerns I had about the Lumia 710 Windows Phone was the Application Marketplace.  After having a Blackberry and an Android there were certain apps I had begun to use consistently and did not want to lose.  The sales associate at the store explained that though the Windows Marketplace may have less apps overall than the iPhone and the Android markets, the top 200 apps will be on the Windows Marketplace.  Though in the switch I have lost a couple of my favorite apps, but all the banking and news apps that I use are there and work flawlessly on the phone, and as the market for Windows Phones progresses the apps will progress as well. 

The final consideration of the phone for me was its media platform.  Since it is a Microsoft MP3 player the software it comes with is Zune.  I had never used this software either on a phone or on any of my PCs.  The Zune software for the PC is a bit clunky when importing media files, such as if the artist information is not perfect it will result in a mess of MP3s to sort through.  Besides that the phone syncs quickly and I am able to drop movie files onto my phone with no problem, and they play beautifully as does the music.   One of the other features Zune provides is a digital radio that uses your headphones as an antenna, a great feature and one that people seem to forget about but is refreshing to see. 

The Nokia Lumia 710 Windows phone has changed the way I think about cell phones and how I use them.  By taking the different types of social media and email and centrally locating and integrating everything gives this phone an ease of use that is unparalleled in my experience. All of that on a 4G phone makes it a very powerful tool.  This phone is a great piece of technology that compliments my lifestyle incredibly well and is a great buy for anyone looking for a fast no-nonsense phone that delivers.   

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Render Coffee Bar - Not Your Typical Café

by Shannon O'Neill

For some reason in Boston, it seems that all cafés within walking distance of the New England Conservatory or Berklee have become hipster havens. Pavement on Boylston and Espresso Royale Café (particularly the Huntingon Ave. location) both serve great coffee, espresso, and large varieties of tea. Both know how to brew, yet the plethora of Doc Martens, new but vintage-inspired flannel shirts, and guitar cases make these shops unwelcoming to a more mainstream audience. While their walls expose artwork from local artists, something about them is cold and both seem to long for the days of Cobain. While Pavement is less than three years old, everything about it – from the atmosphere, to the baristas, to the guests – makes an unauthentic attempt to be a product of the 90s. There is nothing wrong with that nostalgia, but it feels artificial coming from a place that opened its doors fifteen years after the death of grunge.

Render Coffee Bar on Columbus Ave. in the South End may be the exception to the rule that every café in Boston needs to share that familiar, nostalgic atmosphere. While it is in the same proximity of the aforementioned shops, perhaps its neighborhood is what has kept the hipster college crowd out. Or perhaps it’s its atmosphere – having opened in October of 2011 in an old brownstone, its décor makes a nod to the building’s history without attempting to recreate an era that no longer exists. The walls are a denim color and the trim around windows and doors is white; it is well-lit and bears lightly colored oak floors. The tables and chairs are uniform throughout, and there is a sunroom that leads to a patio. The brightness of the space is the most noticeable difference between Render and other cafés in the area.

Families –families with small children – frequent Render. Families and professionals. And senior citizens. Again, maybe this can be ode to the fact that it resides in the South End (which is filled with said demographics), but I think the real cause is the open, friendly atmosphere that cannot be found at other independently owned cafés in Boston. The baristas are welcoming and smiling and not the least bit condescending if you don’t know what to order (or how to order).

Knowing what to order at Render is tricky and intimidating at first. You cannot simply order a cup of coffee because they only offer hand-poured coffee, as opposed to coffee that has been pre-brewed and sitting in a vat for hours. That being said, you have to read the day’s offering (always from Counter Culture Coffee) and decide what you want, without being explicitly told which is the light, medium, or dark roast of the day. Then, you have to wait…for about five minutes while the barista carefully pours your selection through a filter, little by little.

To be honest, on my first visit I didn’t know how to order the hand-poured coffee so I opted for a chai latte instead (and it was delicious!). Sometimes you just need a cup of coffee, though, so on my next visit I awkwardly order a hand-poured cup of joe. I know that I sounded uncomfortable ordering, but the baristas did not make me feel like an outsider for not knowing how things worked. I said I wanted a medium roast, and the man behind the counter kindly told me which blend was the medium. We chatted as he poured my Ecuadorian medium-blend (one of four roasts offered that day), and the barista explained that hand-pouring each cup of coffee made it taste more fresh, not bitter or burnt.

The hand-pouring trick may seem like a gimmick, but it was the best cup of coffee I’ve ever tasted. Just as I was told, my coffee did not taste bitter or burnt, nor did it leave a bad taste in my mouth twenty minutes later. Finding a great cup of coffee is difficult, but finding smooth espresso drinks is even harder. Render’s espresso, though, is just as smooth as their coffee. After years of drinking espresso from Starbucks, I’ve come to believe that bitterness was just part of the drink, until I tried a Cortada shot at Render – a shot topped with a dollop of condensed milk. While I usually drink espresso shots out of necessity rather than pleasure, this was a pleasurable experience and I enjoyed the shot until the last drop. If the shots are good, then the espresso-based drinks are even better. Render’s vanilla latte is a caffeinated force to be reckoned with – and the latte art cannot be matched. The design on top of my vanilla latte was not a heart or a leaf, but a small flower-shaped heart with a stem and two leaves encircled by more foam. The smoothness and the care put into each cup is something that you don’t often see at coffee shops.

The only downfall of Render is the time each cup takes to make. As someone who is habitually late, I would never allow myself enough time in the morning to grab a cup of hand-poured coffee or a latte to-go. However, while I may have to run on Dunkin’s in the morning, Render is a place that I can relax and recharge in the afternoon. I can sit in the sunroom, browse the web with their free Wi-Fi, and enjoy the best coffee in Boston with a homemade quiche and macaroon for desert. In a world filled with Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts that push their customers through the line and out the door, Render is a place where time does not exist; they don’t rush to make your drink, nor do they rush you to leave. Maybe Render is not a hipster haven, but that’s okay with me, as it has become my new happy haven for coffee in Boston.

Visit Render Coffee Bar at 563 Columbus Ave. in the South End – you’ll be more than happy you did.

Andrew Bird: Here's What Happened

by Hannah Risser-Sperry

The new film Andrew Bird: Here's What Happened has been released in conjunction with Bird’s new album Break It Yourself, which was released this past Tuesday. The album is beautiful; typical Bird soundscapes featuring his unmistakable whistle and wonder-inducing lyrics. The film is equally lovely.

In its mere 33 minutes, the film showcases seven songs. It starts with a shot of birds (ha!) sitting on a telephone line, soundtracked by a long instrumental lead-in to Danse Caribe, a lovely song I first heard in October at a solo performance in Skowhegan, Maine. It’s a gorgeous song with dreamy lyrics about “mistaking clouds for mountains,” and it sounds better fleshed out with the full band. The song has Bird not just singing into the mic and plucking his violin, but gesturing emotionally as if he is on stage performing rather than in his old farm house.

The transition from Danse Caribe to Orpheo Looks Back has the cutest moment of the film: a cat is silhouetted by the sun outside, clinging to the screen door as Bird and the band record. As the band starts in on Orpheo, we see a clip of the kitten exploring outside before being returned to the story of the album.

Orpheo Looks Back goes into Lazy Projectors, the most upbeat sounding breakup song I’ve heard in awhile. From there we hear Eyeoneye, the rockiest of all the songs. It features the titular line “break it yourself,” and definitely picks the film up a bit. Between Eyeoneye and the next song, Lusitania, there are a few shots of the band doing something other than recording - a couple of them sing a little ditty on the stairs, they eat lunch, they spend some time at a picnic table chatting - but even that is short lived. Again, the focus of the film is on the music, not the people making it.

The film closes with a group vocal for Goin’ Home, a Charlie Patton blues song, which leads into Fatal Shore, a 5 minute song that ends in a long and slow violin solo. Nothing heralds the end of the film, it merely focuses on the vocal mic before cutting to black. A simple film with a simple purpose.

What struck me about this movie is how different it is from most “making of” documentaries. There are no lengthy interviews, no pranks or joking banter. It is only about the creation of an album, and quite an intimate one at that. The camera is trained on Bird for long shots, showing his hands at work on his violin or his lips pursed for a whistle.

The band is recording live, all at once in one large room. I watched with my boyfriend, a recording engineer, and his focus was far different than mine. While I focused on the beautiful light in the room, on the farm buildings and greenery of the outdoor shots, he took note of the mics they were using, the instruments, and the mixing board. All passed his test, for what it’s worth.

As I said, a simple film with a simple purpose. It is a lovely glimpse into four nice looking mid-Western white guys who have gone without razors for a few days (is anything else allowed in indie rock?) making truly lovely music. Plus, Andrew Bird makes my little heterosexual heart go pitter patter. Wouldn’t you know it, he’s wearing a ring on that dreaded left hand! Alas, all my plans, foiled. The film is available for free rental on iTunes until March 20th, and has a few upcoming showings on the music channel Palladia.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

New Harpoon Beers

by Patrick Henning

At the Harpoon Brewery in Boston, Massachusetts they have recently begun to roll out a number of new beers as well as relaunch some of their very popular seasonal beers. I was fortunate enough to attend a twofold event at the brewery. On February 22nd they relaunched their seasonal spring beer Harpoon Celtic Ale. Also that night the staff had organized an event to go hand in hand with the release of the beer, a care package drive for soldiers deployed overseas. By providing a donation of items to be sent overseas people were allowed to hang out with the staff and enjoy complementary beers with them celebrating the release of Harpoon Celtic Ale. Harpoon also had four other beers debut over the past two to three weeks, all very different and appealing to many tastes.

The first beer that I will review was the keynote beer of the event, Harpoon’s Celtic Ale. At the brewery one member of the staff, Charlie, gave a brief history and explanation of the beer in honor of its release. He explained the Celtic Ale is done in an Irish Red style, with its distinctive flavor profile and traditional red color. Harpoon initially brewed this beer under the name “Hibernian Ale” but was explained to us, but the marketing did not favor the name and it was switched to Celtic Ale in 2009, and now the beer could not be more popular. It is also the spring seasonal beer that Harpoon offers and goes nicely with the St. Patrick’s Festival hosted at the Boston Brewery (coming up March 2nd and 3rd) early next month. The beer is brewed using a caramel malt giving the Celtic Ale a caramel and nutty flavor. The hops used to finish it off are Willamette Hops, explained by Charlie “which really balance of the malt.”

I found this beer to be an excellent representation of an Irish Red Style. I must confess that a mediocre market of Irish Reds had left me hesitant of most, but the Harpoon Celtic Ale shed a whole new light on the style for me. Harpoon Celtic Ale’s deep amber color creates for a truly remarkable look, the beer also has an excellent light hops aroma. It hit on all the notes as Charlie said it would. The malt does give it those great notes of caramel and nuttiness, and the hops balance the beer out leaving a clean finish. This beer is excellent for spring, a tasteful addition for the new season, not heavy like a winter stout or too light as some summer pale ales are.

The next rotational beer that Harpoon has recently brought out is in their Leviathan Series. The Leviathan series is a bigger beer in every sense of the word. The series is much higher in alcoholic volume, typically around 11% ABV, but also has much larger flavor profiles in the beers; their year round Leviathan Imperial IPA is now joined by another one of their Leviathan Series ‘Quad.’ Quad stays true to the Leviathan style being it is a bigger beer, with the 11% ABV it is hard not to miss the alcohol taste in the beer but it is complemented by other flavors that give the beer an amazing complexity. Leviathan Quad is in the Belgian style that has a dark auburn color. It offers a slight caramel flavor with a touch of hops that balances the sweetness of the beer so as not to mask the flavor, but accent it. Leviathan Quad is an excellent beer and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys big beers with bold flavors.

One of the other beers to be featured by Harpoon in the past few weeks has been their most recent brewing of their Hundred Barrel series, so named since only one hundred barrels of the beer are brewed, the typical batch size at the brewery. These beers vary in style from session to session, since the recipes are submitted and brewed by the Harpoon Brewery staff. Now in their 40th Session of the Hundred Barrel series is their Black IPA. This beer was introduced at the end of January and has been a huge hit. A number of the staff commented that the Black IPA is their ‘go to’ beer at the moment, as it is much different from their flagship IPAs, Harpoon IPA and Leviathan IPA, and addictively delicious. The beer is done in the India Pale Ale style and uses a new specialty malt, Midnight Wheat. Giving it a dark almost stout like appearance, but in the IPA style. The beer is incredibly hoppy measuring in at 67 International Bittering Units, or IBUs. Putting that into perspective Budweiser measures in around the low teens, Harpoon IPA has 47 IBUs, so this beer really packs a hoppy punch.

The beer was brewed by Matt Deluca of the Boston Brewery. I was fortunate and met Matt at the debut event for their Celtic Ale. Having had the beer a couple of times in different bars and the brewery itself I had developed quite a liking of the Black IPA. I mentioned this to him and he replied that he was very proud of the beer and is looking forward to working on another hundred barrel series to compliment the Black IPA, soon to be Harpoon’s White IPA, using a similar method.

Harpoon’s Black IPA has become one of my favorite beers in the last three weeks. I am a huge fan of this IPA style and this beer beats out a number of them hands down. It is an exceptional showing of the style and shows how you can really re-envision a style and make a superb product.

The last two beers that Harpoon is featuring currently are two pilot brews, very small batches of beer used to try out a product, in this case different styles. One of the pilot brews that were available to be sampled at the event was ‘8 Lives.’ This beer has an interesting history as the assistant manager Ryan explained when Harpoon Brewery acquired its second brewery in Windsor, Vermont; they purchased the site from 8 lives brewery and bought their labels as well. The 8 Lives pilot brew was brewed by Scott Shirley. The beer has a rich golden color. It also has refreshing aromatics with a small amount of aromatic hops. The flavor of the beer is reminiscent of fruit but not very prominent on the tongue. I thought this beer had an excellent flavor and a good finish, a very approachable beer for different tastes.

The last of the new beers that Harpoon has to offer is another pilot brew, the West Coast New England IPA. As I had mentioned I am a big fan of IPAs and was excited to see a second new IPA they had come up with. The West Coast N.E. IPA was a good beer but a bit modest of a showing when you look at the other IPAs that Harpoon has to offer at the moment, there being three others right now. This beer was a more modest of an IPA which allowed a number of other flavors to shine throughout the beer. This beer with its golden color and mildly opaque clarity has an intoxicating floral scent. The beer has large flavors of fruit, as well as a distinctly citric tanginess, with a punch of hops which give a good dry finish. Though this IPA was not as hoppy as I normally like my IPAs this was an excellent batch to show how versatile it is, one person who was with me does not normally like the hoppiness of IPAs but enjoyed this one because the mild hops accented the flavors in the beer. The pilot batches were excellent to try and it is interesting to be able to see what sort of styles the brewery is doing.

Overall the newer beers that Harpoon is featuring are a tribute to the brand. Harpoon is progressively showing the Boston area their versatility and how progressive they are by striving to deliver out consistently delicious and innovative beer styles. Though these beers may not be your style I encourage you to attend one of their tasting sessions during the week and try them out for yourself. I recommend all of their year round beers, but a lot of the nuances of Harpoon Brewery are in the smaller batches and season beers. With that I hope everyone has the opportunity to try the excellent products they are coming up with. Cheers.