Last summer my wife Deb and I stopped through Chico, California, to hear the story of how Sierra Nevada, second-largest of America’s craft brewers, had ended up in this remote site in Butte County. More on that tale ahead.
For now, to catch up on our Cavalcade of Beers, a welcome harbinger of spring on the still-chilly Eastern seaboard. It’s a 2016 release from Sierra Nevada’s line of Beer Camp collaborative and experimental releases. This spring’s version, Tropical IPA, has been in ample stock at the neighborhood Safeway here in DC. (Sierra Nevada now serves the East Coast from a second brewery, in North Carolina.)
You can follow the whole discussion about this seasonal release on Beer Advocate here; most people who have weighed in like this Tropical IPA, as do I. Judge for yourself, if you still can find it in one of your stores — which is to say, if I haven’t been through your neighborhood.
Yesterday in this space I argued that Donald Trump should shut up. Amtrak’s recent decision to stock Victory Brewing Company’s Hop Devil IPA on some trains showed that America is already great again.
Today the evidence from the nation’s northeastern rail corridor is mixed. On the one hand,we have the livestock-pen-indignity of the Penn Station waiting area, in which people mill around waiting for the last-second announcement of which gate to rush toward. (Yes! I know about the secret lower-level workaround. I’m thinking of my fellow citizens.) This is better than most commercial airports, but just barely. Penn Station veterans will know that the miracle of the shot below is that you can see a little area of unoccupied linoleum. But after all, this was 3 pm.
If Trump would boil his platform down to, Making Penn Station Great Again, I might sign on.
On the other hand, I give you now the Zaro Family Bakery, a Penn Station vendor doing its part to make things great all around. In its cooler we find … cans of wonder! Sierra Nevada Torpedo, in the darker-green cans, plus its mainstay Pale Ale; Sam Adams Rebel IPA and (lower down) its mainstay Boston Lager; plus Brooklyn Lager and Magic Hat Not Quite Pale Ale, all at $5 per 16-ounce can. More than in a liquor store, less than on the train.
As always our world is complex. But I have a can of Torpedo with me, and the wifi is working on the train as it rolls along through the clear and icy landscape, so for now I’ll return to the can-is-half-full perspective on our land.
A new entry on Amtrak’s cafe-car offerings: Victory Brewing Company’s Hop Devil IPA!
This is a step forward on an already progressive menu. For years Amtrak has offered Sam Adams Boston Lager on northeastern routes, plus Yuengling — and then Dogfish Head’s super-potent 90 Minute IPA, which at 9% alcohol is too much for me. [Update: and I hear from a reader that San Diego’s wonderful Stone beers have been available on the west coast Surfliner.]
When my wife and I lived in Austin long ago, while she was a UT graduate student and I was working for the then-new Texas Monthly (and then-State Senator, now Congressman, Lloyd Doggett), we spent what seemed like every evening with friends at the famous Scholz Garten open-air beer garden downtown. The range of regional beer choice in those days was Shiner, Pearl, or Lone Star from Texas, and Negro Modelo, Bohemia, Dos Equis, etc from further south.
The craft brew age has come to Texas as it has everywhere else. Continuing our saga of appreciation for the increasing range of American beer greatness, please consider the four offerings above. They are shown on a Dallas doorstep, protectively nestled on a blanket with Dress Mackenzie tartan. From left to right:
Deep Ellum IPA, again from Deep Ellum brewery. If forced to choose between this and Mosaic, I would choose both.
My main point with these updates is to add little chronicles of the ongoing golden age of beer. For academic substantiation on that point, check out the new Journal of Wine Economics for a history and analysis of the American craft brewing movement by three academic economists: Kenneth Elzinga, Carol Horton Tremblay, and Victor Tremblay. A PDF of their 33-page essay is here. (Thanks to Russ Mitchell for spotting it.) The report includes this map of craft brewing’s expansion, after Jimmy Carter took the historic step of legalizing home brewing in 1979.
I have exactly two sources of recent interest in the fascinating-to-millions-of-people-but-previously-not-to-me world of SEC football.
One is the delightful recent book by Stuart Stevens — former Mitt Romney campaign strategist, book and TV writer, author for The Atlantic and other publications — called The Last Season. It’s the story of how, after the painful loss with Romney, Stevens spent a late summer and fall going with his 95-year-old father to every game of the football season for the University of Mississippi, his father’s alma mater. The book is about the modern role of football, especially the SEC variety. But it is also about the pre- and post- Civil Rights era deep south, about fathers and sons, about self-knowledge and self-delusion, about life’s losses and gains. I recommend it. It was 99% because of the book that I watched part of the game this afternoon in which Ole Miss steamrolled LSU.
The other is our series of visits in the past 18 months to the Golden Triangle of Mississippi, one of whose three component cities is Starkville, home of Mississippi State. One week ago I was flying over the Mississippi State campus with members of the Atlantic’s video crew, getting as close to the Alabama-Mississippi State showdown in Wade Davis Stadium as the gametime no-fly zone would allow.
A year ago at this time, the Mississippi State Bulldogs were just ending a multi-week run as the undefeated No. 1 team in the country. (They ended up with three losses, and a final ranking as #11.) In their game last weekend, the Bulldogs were crushed by the Crimson Tide. But as I type the Bulldogs are in an extremely high-scoring cliffhanger against the Arkansas Razorbacks. I will intentionally post this before I know the outcome.
Until three years ago, Mississippi had nothing like a craft brew industry. State law limited the alcohol content of beer to 5%, and most craft beers are above that. Since the law was changed in 2012, new breweries have sprung up. A week ago, at the indispensable Mississippi beer center known as the SmokeStack (in West Point), I loaded up on the Magnolia State products you see at top.
Very different styles, but I liked them all (and liked the two from Lazy Magnolia best). Keep an eye out for them; enjoy Stuart Stevens’s book; and now I’ll check to see how the Dogs-Hogs game turned out.
Update Very dramatic! The Dogs won in the final minute, 51-50, by blocking a Hogs chip-shot short-yardage field goal attempt with 40 seconds to go. I think I will now leave SEC football to its actual fans, going out on top after this exciting evening game.
Have been off the grid, mainly in Mississippi, so here is a good-news way to ease back in.
1) Ballast Point Bonanza. I’ve long enjoyed Ballast Point beers, from San Diego. Earlier this month I mentioned its lightish Longfin Lager. My favorites from its lineup are actually its Sculpin IPA, as shown at right, and the packs-a-punch, spicy-plus-bitter Habanero Sculpin. Also great: Ballast Point’s Fathom IPL (India Pale Lager), Big Eye IPA, and Dorado Double IPA.
In addition to liking the beer, I’ve liked the idea that Ballast Point was co-founded by fellow Cirrus airplane pilot (and skilled flight instructor) Bill Graham, whom I’ve come to know at a number of aviation gatherings over the years. When I saw him at a Cirrus convention in Dallas a few weeks ago, he didn’t mention that he was about to sell the craft brewery for … one billion dollars. That’s the news — sale of Ballast Point to Constellation Brands as a California-based non-tech billion-dollar “unicorn” — that was announced yesterday. Congratulations to the company, and to the Graham family.
Only little cloud on the horizon: some of Constellation’s other beer brands include Corona, Pacifico, and Tsingtao. Hmmm. Please keep your brewmasters, Bill!
2) Beer Road Trip. From Nathan Yau at FlowingData, a wonderful algorithmically generated map of how to visit the greatest number of the nation’s best craft breweries with the most efficient route. Not all of them are there — no Bent Paddle or Fitger’s of Duluth, Minnesota, no Yazoo of Nashville, no Victory Brewing (and its famous Hop Devil) of Downingtown, Pennsylvania, no DC Brau of DC, no Terrapin of Athens, Georgia, none of the Mississippi breweries I’ll be writing about shortly, of course no Hangar 24 or Escape or Ritual of Redlands, California — but, to be fair, it covers a lot. Nice job.
3) Know Your Craft Beers. The LA Times story on the Ballast Point sale also has a interesting / challenging test on “craft” vs. “crafty” beers — ones that are still independent, versus brands that are part (as Ballast Point is about to be) of larger chains. Many of the “crafty” beers are still very good! But see if you do better on this test than I did…
This was a day of travel-related travails of many sorts. Had expected to be en route to Mississippi on an American Futures-related update trip. Instead (seemingly) unrelated but mounting mechanical and electrical problems in a small plane meant no-go tonight.
The silver lining was the excuse to try out a place I had heard about (and whose beer I’d bought) but not visited: one of Dogfish Head’s three DC-area outlets. The brewery and headquarters are nearby in Delaware. I say: even if you’re not reflecting on a cancelled trip, worth checking out.
Posters for their beers:
Since you asked, the tattoo on the right says 酒 , jiu, for liquor or spirits. As in 啤酒, pijiu, for beer or 葡萄酒, putaojiu, for wine. Pijiu was the specialty at Dogfish head.
It’s been a while since I’ve been on the beer beat, and the tips I’d like to pass along are mounting up. So henceforth a new feature: early each month, an homage to interesting beers.
On this warmish November 1 in Washington DC (hmm, I wonder why that could be), I show you four canned beers that we had laid in before watching the GOP/CNBC debate this past week. With a view over the still-fully-leafed trees and bamboo in the backyard, you see these beers lined up left to right, in West-to-East order of their sites of origin:
Longfin Lager, from the Ballast Point brewery of San Diego. From a great brewery, a very nice light lager for those who like light lagers.
Hopnosh IPA, from the Uinta Brewing Company of Salt Lake City. A wonderfully retro-campy label on a wonderful IPA that is one of my staples (when I can find it).
Missile IPA, from the Champion Brewing Company of Charlottesville, Va. I am always mildly embarrassed by the labels on these cans, the brew-world equivalent of the pulpy covers on the wonderful Hard Case Crime series. But, as with the Hard Case novels, I do like this beer.
Brau Pils, from DC Brau here in the nation’s capital. You can say a lot of bad things about Washington, but one of the (many!) good things is the emergence of DC Brau. I usually buy their “The Corruption” IPA, but this is a nice Pilsner.
The Handmaid’s Tale showed the ease with which the unthinkable can become ordinary—a lesson crucial in the age of the Big Lie.
In June 2019, Kylie Jenner shared with the world some pictures of a birthday party she’d thrown for a friend. The event had a theme: The Handmaid’s Tale. It featured guests garbed in blood-red gowns; servers dressed as “Marthas,” or women enslaved for household labor; and drinks with such names as “Under His Eye tequila” and “Praise Be vodka.” The whole thing was cringey and absurd. It was also, as so often happens when the extended Kardashian family is involved, grimly eloquent. One of the lessons of The Handmaid’s Tale is the ease with which horror can become a habit. In a culture that is adept at turning tragedy into comedy, even the darkest of dystopias might be consumed, in the end, as a signature cocktail. Banality has its allure.
Vladimir Putin has nothing to offer Joe Biden because his balancing act between Westernizers and more conservative forces is over.
Updated at 6:05 a.m. ET on June 16, 2021.
I grew up in a hidden city. Not a forgotten city, or a faraway city—a hidden city. My hometown, Nizhny Novgorod, lies east of Moscow along the Volga River. It was a center of international trade before the Russian Revolution but was bombed by the Nazis during World War II; to preserve crucial industries housed there, the Soviet authorities effectively closed it off from the world after the war. It didn’t exist on many Soviet maps, and foreigners were not allowed to visit. Cruise ships passed by only at night so tourists would not know about the ancient city on the banks.
Despite the heavy restrictions, many well-known intellectuals worked in Nizhny Novgorod, at anonymous-looking Soviet facilities known as “mailboxes.” The nuclear physicist and future Nobel Prize winner Andrei Sakharov was among them. Only at the local foreign-language institute did I first meet a foreigner, an American lady who taught English. Mary Sebastian—or Mary Petrovna Alferova, according to her Soviet passport—came to Nizhny Novgorod in the 1930s as a teenager with her father, an engineer helping to build an automobile plant. She fell in love, got married, and decided to stay.
If the former president proves to be a kingmaker in the 2022 midterms, his allies say he may seek reelection in 2024.
“The Republican Party is just a name,” Steve Bannon told me last week. I had called him to ask about the influence he believes his old boss still carries inside the GOP. “The bulk of it is a populist, nationalist party led by Donald Trump.” As for the rest of it? “The Republican Party, pre-2016, are the modern Whigs,” he added, referring to the national party that collapsed in the mid-19th century over divided views on slavery.
Bannon might not be the most reliable barometer of the political moment, but some of Trump’s fiercest Republican critics share his belief that the former president maintains a strong grip on his party. “He sparked this [movement], and now others are going ahead and taking the baton of batshittery,” Representative Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois and a staunch Trump critic, told me last week.
Brood X always leaves behind a spate of weird stories.
The story sounds ridiculous, but it’s true: A man in Ohio recently drove his car into a utility pole after a cicada flew through his open window and smacked into his face. He was fine! The car, not so much.
The Brood X cicadas have certainly made their presence known over the past several weeks: their ceaseless screeching from the treetops, their slow, meandering manner of flying around, sometimes right into us. Last week, a plane carrying journalists who were accompanying President Joe Biden on his trip to Europe was delayed for more than five hours at a Virginia airport because of “mechanical problems caused by the cicadas.” Biden himself was not spared; standing on the tarmac before boarding his own plane, the president discovered a cicada crawling on his neck and swatted it away.
Kodak changed the way Americans saw themselves and their country. But it struggled to reinvent itself for the digital age.
Above, clockwise from bottom-right: Kodak founder George Eastman takes a picture, circa 1925. High Falls in Rochester, New York, Kodak’s hometown. Postcard of the Kodak Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair, 1964. FIGHT, a group seeking to change Kodak’s hiring practices, protests at a shareholders’ meeting, 1967.
This article was published online on June 16, 2021.
When I was in fifth grade, my class took a field trip to the George Eastman Museum, in Rochester, New York, as the fifth graders at my rural elementary school, 30 minutes south of the city, did every year. Housed in a Colonial Revival mansion built for the founder of the Eastman Kodak Company in 1905, the museum is home to one of the most significant photography and film collections in the world. But our job there was to stare at old cameras the size of our bodies, marvel at the luxury of having a pipe organ in your house, and write down what a daguerreotype is to prove that we’d been paying attention. At the end of the tour—in a second-story sitting room full of personal artifacts—we were presented, matter-of-factly, with a copy of Eastman’s suicide letter, dated March 14, 1932: “My work is done. Why wait?” Eastman shot himself in the heart with a Luger pistol at the age of 77.
People in the United States no longer agree on the nation’s purpose, values, history, or meaning. Is reconciliation possible?
Nations, like individuals, tell stories in order to understand what they are, where they come from, and what they want to be. National narratives, like personal ones, are prone to sentimentality, grievance, pride, shame, self-blindness. There is never just one—they compete and constantly change. The most durable narratives are not the ones that stand up best to fact-checking. They’re the ones that address our deepest needs and desires. Americans know by now that democracy depends on a baseline of shared reality—when facts become fungible, we’re lost. But just as no one can live a happy and productive life in nonstop self-criticism, nations require more than facts—they need stories that convey a moral identity. The long gaze in the mirror has to end in self-respect or it will swallow us up.
How conservative politicians and pundits became fixated on an academic approach
On January 12, Keith Ammon, a Republican member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, introduced a bill that would bar schools as well as organizations that have entered into a contract or subcontract with the state from endorsing “divisive concepts.” Specifically, the measure would forbid “race or sex scapegoating,” questioning the value of meritocracy, and suggesting that New Hampshire—or the United States—is “fundamentally racist.”
Ammon’s bill is one of a dozen that Republicans have recently introduced in state legislatures and the United States Congress that contain similar prohibitions. In Arkansas, lawmakers have approved a measure that would ban state contractors from offering training that promotes “division between, resentment of, or social justice for” groups based on race, gender, or political affiliation. The Idaho legislature just passed a bill that would bar institutions of public education from compelling “students to personally affirm, adopt, or adhere” to specific beliefs about race, sex, or religion. The Louisiana legislature is weighing a nearly identical measure.
Simone Biles is the greatest athlete in the world today.
For me, this isn’t a debate. It’s a statement of fact. On Sunday, she won a record seventh United States gymnastics championship, continuing her jaw-dropping winning streak in every all-around competition she’s entered since 2013. The 24-year-old hasn’t lost in eight years. Typical gymnasts her age aren’t beating all their rivals by the big margins that, for Biles, have become routine.
Although Tom Brady won his seventh Super Bowl at age 43, he is no longer in his prime, and other Super Bowl–winning quarterbacks, including Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers, are arguably more physically talented. Unlike the current greats in other sports, Biles has no peer. Serena Williams is the greatest female tennis player of all time and among the greatest athletes of all time, but her career is winding down, and Naomi Osaka is in position to unseat her as the face of women’s tennis. LeBron James won’t get a chance to defend the NBA title he won with the Los Angeles Lakers last season, because the Phoenix Suns eliminated his team in the first round of this year’s playoffs.
“Scientists are meant to know what’s going on, but in this particular case, we are deeply confused.”
Carl Schoonover and Andrew Fink are confused. As neuroscientists, they know that the brain must be flexible but not too flexible. It must rewire itself in the face of new experiences, but must also consistently represent the features of the external world. How? The relatively simple explanation found in neuroscience textbooks is that specific groups of neurons reliably fire when their owner smells a rose, sees a sunset, or hears a bell. These representations—these patterns of neural firing—presumably stay the same from one moment to the next. But as Schoonover, Fink, and others have found, they sometimes don’t. They change—and to a confusing and unexpected extent.
Schoonover, Fink, and their colleagues from Columbia University allowed mice to sniff the same odors over several days and weeks, and recorded the activity of neurons in the rodents’ piriform cortex—a brain region involved in identifying smells. At a given moment, each odor caused a distinctive group of neurons in this region to fire. But as time went on, the makeup of these groups slowly changed. Some neurons stopped responding to the smells; others started. After a month, each group was almost completely different. Put it this way: The neurons that represented the smell of an apple in May and those that represented the same smell in June were as different from each other as those that represent the smells of apples and grass at any one time.