Brad’s Beer Review: Stone Delicious IPA

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A Stone IPA? Brad’s going to follow up brewpubs in Shanghai, coffee milk stout, Gose, and beer from the oldest brewery in the world with an IPA from Stone? Hardly seems special, you wonder…

No, I wouldn’t review just any San Diego IPA. There is something special about this IPA from Stone. What makes it special? What it lacks.

Stone Delicious IPA is a gluten-reduced beer. In recent years, brewers have learned that a specific clarifying agent happens to break down gluten, to the point where any typical gluten test will show a negative result. This allows them to brew a beer using gluten-containing grains and most gluten-sensitive people can drink it with no ill effects. The way the additive works coupled with the natural lawyer-aversion of most American companies means that they won’t market this beer as “gluten-free”, but it’s about as close as you’ll get. How close? Well, they lab-test every single batch and you can check the lab results here.

In the old days (i.e. more than ~3 years ago), gluten-free beers were terrible. They brewed them with alternate grains like sorghum or rice syrup, they didn’t really taste like beer, and generally they failed in the market. Brewers today, such as Widmer’s Omission brand, are hoping to change that.
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So why do I care? A few reasons.

First, I’m somewhat sensitive to the needs of the gluten-sensitive. My son is on a gluten-free diet, and while I’m not exactly going to be giving a 5-year-old any Delicious IPA, it does make me curious. In addition, I have a coworker who several years ago started getting pretty heavily into beer and homebrewing. At roughly the same time, he started having some significant health problems, and discovered that he was gluten-intolerant. He put the brewing equipment in storage, and stopped drinking beer. I haz a sad.

Second, I’m frankly curious myself. I hadn’t tried the Omission beers, but when I heard that Stone was doing a gluten-reduced IPA, I figured I should try it and review it. I drink a lot of Stone beer. I drink a lot of IPA. I know what Stone-produced IPA typically tastes like. I figured that if anyone was going to be able to determine if the gluten-reduction process made a meaningful difference to the taste or character of the beer, I could do so.

So here we go. What’s the verdict?

  • Stats: 7.7% ABV, 80 IBU. Color not listed.
  • Aroma: A lot of citrus hops. Not so much orange as maybe grapefruit. You know, that sort of subtler smell that gives rise to the idea that the fruit you’re about to eat is REALLY bitter? Yeah, that’s what I’m getting here.
  • Appearance: Pale, slightly hazy. Generally not uncommon for very hoppy ales. Nice white head, dissipates fairly quickly. Even with the nucleation sites etched into the bottom of the Sierra Nevada glass here, the head doesn’t self-sustain as much as I’d expect. Perhaps this is due to the broken-down gluten?
  • Flavor: Nice solid hop flavor, and this is definitely fitting the mold of a very crisp, dry West Coast IPA. Bitterness takes a place right on the front of the stage, with malt waiting in the wings. If I had to critique this beer, I’d say that it should have a little bit more malt and body to be able to stand up to the bitterness level they’re going for here. It just seems to be missing something in the malt character. Reminder — I love massively bitter, hoppy IPAs. But there has to be enough malt to form a backbone in these beers, and this one is missing it.
  • Mouthfeel: Light body, and while I am criticizing the malt, I wouldn’t call this thin or watery. It’s not like the many session IPAs that are lacking in that department. I’d like a little more body, but if they’d added malt flavor and kept the body where it is, I wouldn’t have a problem. That said, there are no flaws either, such as astringency.
  • Overall Impression: The beer is well-brewed. I expect nothing less from Stone. There are no detectable flaws. But I don’t love it. There are better IPAs out there, including Stone’s normal IPA.

I say there are better IPAs out there. But are there better gluten-reduced IPAs? If I had a gluten intolerance that kept me from drinking the others, I would be VERY happy with this beer.

More importantly, I can say that this beer, for my stylistic critiques, tastes like Stone beer. If you gave this to me and didn’t tell me it was gluten-reduced, I wouldn’t be able to tell. This isn’t some sorghum-based monstrosity. This isn’t some “almost-beer”. This is beer. For people who can’t consume with gluten, to drink a beer like this isn’t missing out on a thing.

Brandon Duncan May Do 25 to Life for Singing About a Gang

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In 2013, San Diego experienced a rash of shootings.

Brandon Duncan is a San Diego musician. He has no criminal record. He is not alleged to have pulled the trigger, to have been present, to know who was present, or even to have known contemporaneously that the shootings had occurred. He is not alleged to have masterminded the murders, paid anyone to commit them, or otherwise aided in their commission.

Nevertheless, Duncan may wind up doing 25 years to life for the shootings.

The reason?

Sales of an album Duncan made in 2012 may have benefitted from a surge in gang stature and respect in the wake of the shootings.

Duncan apparently creates music about gang activities. As Kevin Boyd reports at IJ Review, the lyrics include one line about holding a gun with no safety and another about a full clip making someone’s top disappear. The tracks can be heard here.

In any case, creating music about violence and criminal activity is not illegal. That is Constitutional Law 101. The First Amendment protects freedom of expression, including violent content in music, literature, art, media, video games, etc.

Mario Puzo could not do 25-to-life if an upsurge in Mafia violence caused a renewed interest in his Godfather novels. He could not do 25-to-life even if prosecutors alleged that his books glamorized organized crime, thereby contributing to an increase in such activity.

That California does not attempt to prosecute authors like Puzo invites speculation that the state is discriminating against certain content and certain genres of art and its creators. Italian-American authors writing fiction novels about Mafia violence are acceptable. African-American musicians creating rap music about street gang violence are not.

Whether or not such speculation is justified, prosecutors claim that Duncan is not merely a musician creating unsavory content. They allege that Duncan is actually a member of a gang based in Lincoln Park, California.

Of course, it is also not illegal to belong to a gang.

That too is Constitutional Law 101. The freedoms of assembly and expression necessarily entail the right to free association. The State of California can neither prohibit Duncan from associating with the people of his choosing, nor punish him for doing so.

But there is yet another dot to connect. Duncan is being charged under a California penal statute purporting to make it a crime to “benefit from” the illegal activities of a “criminal street gang” in which one “actively participates:”

…[A]ny person who actively participates in any criminal street gang…, with knowledge that its members engage in or have engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity…, and who willfully promotes, furthers, assists, or benefits from any felonious criminal conduct by members of that gang is guilty of conspiracy to commit that felony and may be punished as specified in subdivision (a) of Section 182.

According to NBC San Diego, prosecutors explain their theory of this offense as follows:

“If you are a documented gang member, and you benefit from or promote the activities of the gang, you can be held responsible for crimes the gang commits,” the district attorney said.

To be found guilty, prosecutors must prove the suspects are active gang members, that they had “general” knowledge of the gang’s activity and that they profited, assisted or benefited from the activities. The suspects do not have to be directly involved with the crime to be found guilty.

Those benefits could be economic, like album sales, or intangible, like respect, the district attorney argues.

Prosecutors are apparently presenting the aforementioned music lyrics, plus social media pictures, to demonstrate Duncan’s membership in the Lincoln Park gang. They further argue that the sales of his 2012 album benefitted from the 2013 shootings.

Duncan’s defense attorney, Brian Watkins argues that the songs are just artistic expression, and that while Duncan has associated with some members of the gang because he grew up in the same area, he is not himself a member. In an interview with NBC San Diego, Watkins had this to say:

“I mean, to imprison someone for 25 years to life because of artistic expression is something not even the worst communist regimes have done…”

The DA’s office counters that the law was passed by the voters and found constitutional by California’s Supreme Court. That decision was People v. Johnson (2013), wherein the Court analyzed ways in which Section 182.5 diverges from the traditional crime of conspiracy:

[T]raditional conspiracy requires both the specific intent to agree, and specific intent to commit a target crime. … A 182.5 conspiracy does not require any prior agreement among the conspirators to promote, further, or assist in the commission of a particular target crime.

The Court seemingly reassures itself that the intent requirement is replaced with a requirement of “active and knowing gang participa[tion] … with the … intent to promote, further, or assist in the commission of a felony by other gang members.” However, just two paragraphs later, the Court concedes that:

[S]ection 182.5 brings within its ambit not only a gang member who promotes, furthers, or assists in the commission of a felony. It also embraces an active and knowing participant who merely benefits from the crime’s commission, even if he or she did not promote, further, or assist in the commission of that particular substantive offense.

So Section 182.5 dispenses with the traditional intent requirement, replaces it with a requirement that the defendant have been an active and knowing participant in the gang (but not the crime), and then punishes the defendant for receiving any benefit, however intangible, from a crime committed by other members of the gang.

That sure sounds like doing 25 years to life for one’s unsavory associations.

Long-standing criminal statutes already address racketeering, commission of or participation in, conspiracy to commit, or aiding and abetting a crime. What is the need for this particular statute other than to prosecute someone who cannot be demonstrated to have violated those traditional criminal statutes?

Ken White at Popehat reached out to the San Diego District Attorney’s office and reports that:

* The DA’s theory is that Duncan promoted the gang by writing rap music about gang activity, and that he received an “intangible benefit” — their words — by his music becoming more credible or popular. The DA did not present any evidence that the gang’s crimes had any impact on album sales.

* The DA tried to show that Duncan was a member of the gang by some photos of him with gang members throwing gang signs. But they asserted that his rap music also showed that he participated in the gang, one of the elements of the offense.

* The DA’s theory is that when a gang commits a crime all members of the gang automatically benefit for purposes of Section 182.5. That theory, if accepted, would effectively eliminate one of the elements of the crime so that the DA would no longer need to prove that any individual gang member “willfully promotes, furthers, assists, or benefits from” the criminal activity.

In short, based at least on reports of their stance at the prelim, the DA seems to be saying that Duncan violated the statute by being a member of the gang and by rapping about the gang.

In the meantime, Duncan said on an interview with CNN that the studio is his “canvas” and that he would love to continue to make music, but:

“[T]hese people have you scared to do anything around here.”

Brad’s Beer Review: Weihenstephaner Vitus

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I’m not going for cutting-edge, today. That said, even though this is a beer that is about as traditional as they come–as is the brewery that created it–it’s a beer that I’ll bet most drinkers have overlooked on the shelf. Many liquor stores don’t even put this beer in the craft section; they relegate it to the “imports.”

I’m speaking, of course, of Weihenstephaner, the oldest brewery in the world.
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I had the good fortune to visit the brewery in Freising when overseas on business in Oct 2013**. While my schedule was compact and I could only visit for a very late dinner and beers, and couldn’t take a tour, it was very nice. Should you find yourself in Munich, Freising is very near the Munich airport and it’s easy to get to the brewery from the hotels. Making it to Weihenstephaner is a necessary pilgrimage for the devoted beer fan, and I highly recommend it if you can make it happen.
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The beer of the day is the Weihenstephaner Vitus, which they describe as a weizenbock. Based on the style guidelines* and my review below, it’s a little bit questionable whether the beer fits the style. But I’m not going to hold a brewery which predates the Magna Carta to a set of style guidelines that are at most a few decades old.

I had this beer at the brewery, and enjoyed it. Yet like any normal beer fan, I came back to the US and went right back to IPAs. I haven’t bought this beer since, until I saw it and picked it up on a whim. And wow, I’m glad I did!

  • Stats: 7.7% ABV, 17 IBU. Color not listed.
  • Aroma: Bready, with a yeasty aroma and a hint of clove, and maybe a very slight banana. For the ABV, you don’t pick up any whiff of the alcohol content of the beer. Very nice.
  • Appearance: Pours hazy and light in color. Definitely more of a strong hefeweizen in appearance than a bock due to the light color. White head with good retention.
  • Flavor: Here I get more of the banana than I pick up in the nose, and less of the clove. It’s a silky-smooth soft beer. Again, tastes more like a strong hefeweizen than a weizenbock, but I’m not complaining. It’s delicious. There’s something about beers from this region (I think partly the very soft water) that really makes them different than almost any other hefeweizen I’ve ever had.
  • Mouthfeel: I’ll have to use the same descriptor a second time. This is a silky-smooth beer. It’s medium-bodied, and there’s enough carbonation in there that you can feel the bubbles dancing on your taste buds. And yet again, there’s no hint of the strength.
  • Overall Impression: It’s a beautiful beer. Every element just comes together perfectly. There’s not a thing missing from this beer, nor anything unnecessary. You don’t survive as a brewery for nearly a millennium without knowing what you’re doing. Of course, 974 years is plenty of time to perfect a recipe! In a world where we as craft beer drinkers are always looking for the new, a beer like this reminds us that there really wasn’t anything wrong with the old.

All in all, overlooking Weihenstephaner when you go to the beer store is a mistake. Yes, I’m a beer geek. Yes, I like seeking out the sexy new releases and actively look for the breweries who are doing something new and different. I’m certainly not going to stop doing that. But every once in a while, going back to the traditional is worth it.

One note that I will make here, before I leave you. Beer is a perishable item. Beer shipped from Germany is no exception. This advice is true of any store, but particularly true of imports. Choose a beer store with high stock turnover. Hefeweizen (like IPA) is best drank young. If you buy a bottle that’s been sitting on the shelf for 4 months, chances are it won’t live up to the review I just wrote!
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Let Us Rediscover the Art of the Peaceful Protest and Civil Disobedience this MLK Day

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In the year 2015 there are many good reasons to protest: police brutality, injustice, the war on (some) drugs, the war on (some) terror, etc. One thing from Martian Luther King Jr.’s legacy that seems to be lost and something we should rediscover is the art of the peaceful protest and civil disobedience.

King understood that for positive change to occur, he had to truly win the hearts and minds of his fellow Americans. Being a positive example by showing the world that he and his followers would take a stand against injustice without resorting to violence was even more important than the words he spoke to that end. Certainly, not everyone believed in using the non-violent approach. Malcolm X and the Black Panthers believed that violence was necessary to achieve their shared goals.*

Who was right?

Personally, I find the pictures and the videos from the non-violent protests and the acts of civil disobedience to be far more compelling. There’s just something about seeing people refusing to act in a violent fashion against the state which inherently IS violence. This has a way of changing hearts and minds.

Contrast this with today’s protests in Ferguson, New York, and elsewhere concerning the police. For the most part, the protesters are peaceful and are using tactics which King would likely be proud. Unfortunately, however; it’s the nasty protesters that are violent, incite riots, or cheer at the news of cops being ambushed which receives far too much of the publicity. Even holding up signs like “The only good cop is a dead cop” or “fuck the police,” though certainly permissible as recognized by the First Amendment, turns people off who might otherwise be sympathetic to one’s cause.

Sadly, it’s not just a few misfit protesters who think that aggression is sometimes warranted to get one’s way. No less than the pope himself last week in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo terror attacks said: “(If someone) says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

The leader of the same Catholic Church which normally advocates finding non-violent solutions to conflict (such as the Just War Doctrine) says that because someone says something offensive about one’s parents or faith it is permissible to use violence against that person! People’s feeling are more important than the concept of free expression.

I’m not interested in living in a world where I cannot insult the pope or his religion nor do I want to live in a world where the pope cannot insult me or my atheism. The world I am interested in living in is one where we can have passionate, even hurtful disagreements without fearing physical harm to my family, my friends, or myself.

Let us all rediscover the art of peaceful protest and civil disobedience on this Martian Luther King Jr. Day.

While We Were Pretending To Be Charlie, Boko Haram Killed 2,000 Nigerians

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The Charlie Hebdo attacks have derived almost universal scorn, rightly so. But in the end, twelve people died, with more killed the next day in the ensuing manhunt. At the end of the day, that’s a drop in the bucket compared to what extremist Muslim group Boko Haram has been doing in northern Nigeria since the beginning of the year.

The attackers sped into a Nigerian town with grenade launchers — their gunfire and explosions shattering the early morning calm.

As terrified residents scattered into bushes in Baga town and surrounding villages, the gunmen unloaded motorcycles from their trucks and followed in hot pursuit.

Residents hid under scant brush. Bullets pierced through them.

Some sought refuge in their homes. They were burned alive.

Many who tried to cross into neighboring Chad drowned while trying to swim through Lake Chad.

By the time the weapons went quiet, local officials reported death tolls ranging from hundreds to as many as 2,000 people.

That was January 3, nine days ago.

On Monday, bodies still littered the bushes in the area.

Official estimates vary, but at the very least, a few hundred people are confirmed dead, with local estimates being higher. This does not count the people who drowned on their way to Chad.

The group commonly known as Boko Haram – which translates to “Western Education is Forbidden” – has been around since 2002, but started radicalizing around 2009, when Nigerian police started to arrest members of the group. During this time, the group’s founder, Mohammed Yusuf, was killed under circumstances still in doubt, and was replaced by their current leader, Abubakar Shekau. Since then, the group has been carrying out attacks in northern Nigeria, including targeted assassinations of police and political personnel, which have worked to weaken the almost four year reign of President Goodluck Jonathan. The group came to infamy in the West in April of 2014 when they kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from the state of Borno. The kidnappings led to a hashtag campaign called #BringBackOurGirls by U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, but outside of the 50 girls who initially escaped, none of the girls have been recovered and have been rumored to have been sold into slavery or forced marriages.

As of this writing, Boko Haram effectively controls northern Nigeria, as well as parts of Cameroon and Niger. This is in the face of Goodluck Jonathan’s 2015 Presidential campaign.

Boko Haram was initially founded as a means of rejecting Western “influences”, but since 2009, they have largely been a network of Al-Qaeda and most recently, the Islamist State. I fail to see the point of the wanton murder of 2,000 people, however. Looking purely from a tactical perspective, what does it accomplish? Is this a “Final Solution” of sorts to what they deem the evils of Western influence? I wish I had these answers.

Nigeria, of course, is a fertile breeding ground for a group like Boko Haram to ferment. They have a weak central government along with few employment opportunities, mass malnutrition, and rampant corruption at all levels of government. One of the points I made in my Charlie Hebdo piece was that people will turn to extremes to survive, and this is a case study in that regard.

However, scholarship only takes us so far. The goal is to find out how to engage this kind of evil. Declaring war isn’t that easy; it’s been demonstrated both that the enemy has literally no regard for civilians, and that civilian death – an inevitability with this choice – makes the enemy – a fluid enemy that cannot be broken down into old-fashioned armies – stronger. We’ve been using this choice since 9/11, and it’s been a failure.

Then again, we’ve seen how passively watching and waiting for things to magically get better works, too. That’s a more historical perspective, but in the case of England’s Neville Chamberlain, it led to the rise of the Nazi empire, and almost led to the fall of Britain.

The difference between Nazi Germany and the current Islamic State – I am shoehorning Boko Haram in with ISIL, as they have done at times – is that the Germans were married to an ideology, whereas the Islamic State is married to a religion, and an ideal that life is better after Earth. As Goldwater pointed out regarding Christians, it’s hard to have a conversation with people who are playing at a life beyond Earth; they’re too deranged. So any hopes at politics, at discussion, and at coming to a peaceful solution might be moot. Even if jihadis are learning a perverted form of Islam, perception is reality.

In the end, it doesn’t matter to the roughly 2,000 Nigerians murdered in January, the 5,000 or so that have been killed since 2009, and the scores more that have been displaced fleeing the violence in that time span. It also doesn’t matter to the thousands upon thousands killed in other areas under pressure from extremist Islam. In his book The Stranger, Chuck Todd notes that Barack Obama viewed Syria as a collection of nothing but “shitty” choices. That could be extended to the whole of the war with Al-Qaeda, ISIL, and other networked jihadi groups. Whatever shitty choice we make, we have to make it fast, or headlines like this are going to become more common. ??Then again, if I had the answers, I’d be telling them in front of the UN and not in a blog.

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