September

Related to travel and moving, I didn’t read much that I thought to be worth sharing in June, July, or August. 

Read

“Will Write for Food: The Rise (and Fall?) of Food Writing” by Bryan Curtis (The Ringer)

Curtis claims that food has overtaken the place that music once held in popular culture. This is a curious trend: while food occupies our attention, enjoying the menu at a new, nationally-renowned restaurant isn’t as affordable or accessible as streaming newly-released albums (or watching a praised director’s new film). This piece explores the resurgence in food writing and the new phenomenon of food-as-pop-culture.

What I Know About Running Coffee Shops by Colin Harmon

Admittedly some of this is a little industry specific, but I think Colin Harmon (of Dublin’s 3fe) has a very compelling attitude towards quality control in coffee (e.g. focus on improving or eliminating your worst drink, not further improving your best one). His wisdom certainly has applications in other areas than coffee as well.

Watch

“Sauces” (Binging with Babish)

“Basics with Babish” is an instructional offshoot of Andrew Rea’s channel, in which he recreates noteworthy dishes from television and cinema with beautiful presentation. Though the focus of the video is basic sauces, it’s also one of the best knife skills videos I’ve seen.

 

Listen

“McDonalds Broke My Heart” by Malcolm Gladwell (Revisionist History)

Gladwell offers an interesting account McDonalds’ decision to change their fry recipe in 1990, yielding fries that he says tasted like cardboard. There’s a frustrating irony here: if McDonald’s changed their recipe in pursuit of a healthier fry, why did I grow up being taught that the post-1990 McDonalds’ fries were the quintessence of unhealthy food? Isn’t a bad-tasting, unhealthy alternative to a good-tasting, unhealthy food a lose-lose?

“Motion Sickness” by Phoebe Bridgers (Bandcamp)

June

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“Language Alters Our Experience of Time” by Panos Athanasopoulos (The Conversation) [contains Arrival spoilers]

This is a fascinating explanation of how language shapes our conception of time. Athanasopoulos categorizes languages into “future-in-front” or “future-is-behind” patterns. These patterns, which employ a vertical time axis, are further juxtaposed with languages like Mandarin Chinese, which employs a horizontal time axis (such that “last week” is expressed “up one week” and “next week” is expressed “down week”). Subtle differences in linguistic conventions can even influence the way we experience the passage of time (for instance, whether we judge time as a distance–a long or short period–or volume–a big or small period).

Athanasopoulos claims that our individual conceptualizations of time are flexible; hence, learning a new language with a different temporal construct enables an individual to perceive the passage of time in a novel manner. This, of course, has wider implications, suggesting that learning a new language may grant access to an entire new set of mental models.

The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century by Alex Ross

From The New Yorker’s music critic, this is an account of the composers and musicians who defined twentieth century music and an exploration of the cultural and historical contexts that inspired them. This is not a musicology of the bestsellers of the century per se, but of the mavericks who defied conventional composition. The Rest Is Noise is particularly compelling in how it juxtaposes these composers with major societal factors of their time (like totalitarianism in World War II or racial inequality in the United States at the turn of the century).

Listen

Science Solved It (Motherboard)

Motherboard’s newest podcast explores mysterious and once-unsolved phenomena that have since been explained scientifically. The inaugural episode features “the bloop,” a mysterious and incomprehensibly loud sound captured by underwater microphones in the Pacific in 1997. I was fascinated by the bloop as a child.

My favorite episode of this season features the Marfa lights, a pattern of mysterious glowing lights visible (and frequently spectated) in the desert east of Marfa, Texas.

Dawes and Anchor Steam

It’s a mistake to talk about California musical tradition without acknowledging Laurel Canyon, the secluded Hollywood Hills neighborhood that once housed a countercultural music community often compared to the Greenwich Village scene.

Laurel Canyon had previously been a sort of getaway destination for silent movie stars. Later, in the mid-1960s, it became known for the abundance of rock and folk songwriters who either lived in the Canyon or were associated with somebody who did. (Think: Frank Zappa. The Doors. The Byrds. Joni Mitchell. The Mamas and the Papas. Jackson Browne. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. The Eagles. Carole King. James Taylor.)

Laurel Canyon essentially became a creative hub for late-1960s and early-1970s musicians in the newly minted folk rock canon. According to producer Lou Adler, it’s where rock made its transition from cool to mellow. Vanity Fair, in a video that’s only slightly tongue-in-cheek, suggests Carole King’s album art for Tapestry embodies the spirit of Laurel Canyon: pop’s natural woman, in her Laurel Canyon home on Wonderland Avenue, sitting beside her cat, Telemachus, who is sitting on an exotically upholstered pillow. (Compare this to the Greenwich Village scene’s album art paragon, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, which reflects a more urban and arguably less mellow bohemianism.)

As Laurel Canyon mellowed out, many of its artists gradually fell out of vogue while hard rock took over elsewhere. While the canyon itself isn’t a nexus of folk rock today, a number of artists have recently emerged that draw influence from what has been called the Laurel Canyon sound.

Nobody has captured this sound with as much purity as Dawes, who debuted in 2009 with the appropriately Angeleno album title North Hills. Dawes, whose lyrics routinely acknowledge their “Californian side,” are a quintessential contemporary example of Californian folk rock. To hear Jackson Browne’s influence in Taylor Goldsmith’s songwriting would be perfectly astute: early in their career, Dawes supported him on tour, and he sang backing vocals on their song “Fire Away,” which would be perfectly in place on Browne’s 1977 album Running On Empty.

 

I wanted to find a somewhat approachable beer that reflects Angeleno brewing as well as Dawes embodies the city’s musical tradition. This, it turns out, isn’t an easy task.

According to an article by KCET in Los Angeles, beginning in the 1880s, several factors converged that shaped L.A.’s pre-prohibition beer economy. The arrival of German immigrants brought skilled brewers into the area while advancements in transportation and refrigeration allowed those brewers to make lagers–bottom-fermenting beers which require colder fermentation temperatures. Lagers, which are largely associated with German brewing, were popular in the American Northeast but previously difficult to brew somewhere with a consistently warm climate like L.A.’s.

Elsewhere in the United States in the 19th century, brewing was dominated by top-fermenting ales. This is can be attributed to a lack of refrigeration, limited access to ice (which at that point had to be imported from Canada in massive blocks), and preferences for beer inherited from the ale-loving British. Thus, it was unusual (and perhaps a product of the later settlement of the American West) that L.A.’s early brewing scene would be dominated by lagers. (Although it is conceivable that Angelenos, of whatever descent, would prefer the light, refreshing qualities associated with lagers.)

Joseph Maier and George Zobelein were among the city’s first wave of brewers. The two partnered in 1882 but eventually parted ways and oversaw Maier Brewing Company and Los Angeles Brewing Company respectively. For years, these breweries dominated L.A.’s young market, but, like all of the nation’s breweries, they were stymied by prohibition. Maier Brewing Company in particular was devastated: federal agents seized the brewery’s equipment after it was found to be operating illegally, selling beer containing alcohol well above the 0.5% cap imposed by the Volstead Act (possibly against then-owner Edward Maier’s knowledge). It took Edward Maier another seven years after prohibition ended to regain control of his company.

After the ratification of the 21st amendment formally ended prohibition, both Maier and Los Angeles Brewing Company prospered. This continued through the end of World War II, but in the post-war period both companies faced insurmountable competition from national brands. Maier was acquired and relocated by a San Francisco businessman, who continued to produce its flagship beer for another fourteen years. Los Angeles Brewing Company was purchased by Pabst, who rebranded its Eastside beer as a cheaper alternative to Pabst Blue Ribbon. In 1979, out-competed by Anheuser-Busch and Miller, Pabst ceased its L.A. operations and discontinued the Eastside brand.

Despite the craft beer revival of the 1990s and 2000s, L.A. was slow to open new breweries. (According to an LA Times article on the resurgence of microbrewing in the city, Eagle Rock Brewery, which opened in 2009, was the first brewery to open in L.A. since the 1950s.) That being the case, no contemporary beer nor brewery has emerged that strikes me as quintessentially Angeleno. Even while a small handful of breweries have opened, none are especially recognized for brewing the lagers for which L.A. was once known.

Instead, I want to suggest a beer that isn’t produced in L.A. In fact, Anchor Steam is produced a few hundred miles north in San Francisco but shares some similarities with the earliest beers produced in L.A.

A German immigrant named Gottlieb Brekle arrived in San Francisco during the Gold Rush and promptly established a brewery, which was soon purchased by another German brewer, Ernst Baruth, and his son-in-law, Otto Schnikel, Jr. They renamed the brewery Anchor in 1896.

Anchor, or the brewery that would become Anchor, produced a style of lager known as steam beer, which was common across California in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Essentially, steam beers were lagers brewed without refrigeration. This was necessary to keep the beer inexpensive: at the time, mechanical refrigeration wasn’t widespread, and ice wasn’t produced locally.

While there are conflicting explanations for the origin of the term “steam beer,” it is likely derived from steam created by the unconventional methods by which brewers were forced to chill the beer. Without access to ice or mechanical refrigeration, brewers still needed a way to chill the wort quickly after boiling. Anchor’s solution involved pumping the hot wort to the brewery’s roof. There, it would sit in a shallow, open top bin called a coolship (which was traditionally used by Belgian lambic brewers) where it would be chilled by the cool Pacific air. As the wort chilled, steam would rise from its surface and therefore appear to rise from the roof of the brewery.

Anchor was beset by a number of tragedies and inconveniences in the early 20th century (including the San Francisco earthquake, prohibition, and a fire) and later struggled to compete with larger national brands. That said, despite several moves and a short closure, it remains open today and is recognized as one of the nation’s oldest breweries and in modern times as one of the nation’s first craft breweries.

Anchor holds a trademark on “Steam” beer, but that trademark is more reflective of the brand than the style. Today’s Anchor Steam isn’t a traditional steam beer at all (that style being effectively extinct due to the advent of mechanical refrigeration) but is instead a style known as California common beer. The California common style resembles, in some ways, steam beer for a modern palate: it essentially incorporates hops more prominently and is fermented by a special lager yeast that performs well at slightly higher temperatures. Essentially, it’s a controlled way of producing a good lager at a warm temperature.

In many ways Anchor Steam is a fresh and novel product of California’s sesquicentennial brewing history. Steam, and the California Common style of beer, are distinctly Californian. In that way, Anchor Steam strikes me as a suitable companion to Dawes. I suggest enjoying it with either of the band’s first two albums, North Hills and Nothing Is Wrong.

May

Listen

Kids In The Street by Justin Townes Earle (Bandcamp)

Of Justin Townes Earle’s recent releases, I may prefer Single Mothers and Absent Fathers, but Kids In The Street remains my favorite album released this month. It strikes me as more sanguine and even more cheerful than the several albums that preceded it, which is presumably reflective of Earle’s maturity, sobriety, and marriage. My favorite track is “Maybe a Moment,” which he calls his “best Bruce Springsteen impersonation.”

 

Read

“Watch the Hands, Not the Cards–The Magic of Megabrew” by Chris Herron (Good Beer Hunting)

Chris Herron (of Creature Comforts in Athens, GA) explains why Wicked Weed was a smart and important acquisition for AB InBev, whose focus currently is to mitigate the threat of craft beer to its legacy brands (think Budweiser, Bud Light, and so on).

(Thanks, Will.)

Imbibe: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar by David Wondrich

This is a James Beard Award-winning exploration of 19th century American cocktails through the lens of Jerry Thomas, considered the father of the American bar. Wondrich establishes that cocktails are largely an American invention and consequently are among the first crafts in which Americans could claim international excellence. Imbibe includes a somewhat chronological reproduction of Thomas’s recipes which reflect the evolution of early American cocktails.

Proof: The Science of Booze by Adam Rogers

From Wired’s articles editor, this is an entertaining investigation into the basic science behind fermented and distilled drinks, explaining the roles of yeast and sugar, the processes of fermentation, distillation, and aging, and the physiological effects of alcohol. It’s particularly interesting that Rogers chose to emphasize the disparity between Eastern and Western fermentation strategies.

April

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“Chris Schooley of Troubadour Maltings” (Good Beer Hunting)

This Good Beer Hunting episode features Chris Schooley, a maltster and former coffee roaster attempting to establish a niche market for malts. Schooley’s hope is that brewers will approach malts with the same excitement and intrigue that are often reserved for hop varieties.

I had the pleasure of meeting Chris Schooley at this year’s Global Specialty Coffee Expo in Seattle (I’ve known of him from his Firestarters column in Roast, a favorite source of inspiration to me as a coffee professional). This interview is fantastic and I’d recommend it to anybody with more than a casual interest in beer or coffee.

Read

Regarding Cocktails by Sasha Petraske and Georgette Moger-Petraske

This is a collection of cocktail recipes and wisdom from the late Sasha Petraske, the famed New York City bartender behind the legendary cocktail bar Milk & Honey. Each recipe follows a short anecdote from friends, bartenders, and business partners of Petraske’s plus stunning minimalist illustrations by Studio Lin.

I can’t publish the recipe here, but my favorite drink from this collection so far has been the Bicycle Thief, a slightly bitter and very refreshing fizz inspired by the film of the same name and containing gin, Campari, grapefruit, lemon, simple syrup, and club soda.

Something to Food About: Exploring Creativity with Innovative Chefs by Questlove

I admire Questlove for reasons that have as much to do with his writing as his skill as a musician. (See his series in Vulture on the recent history of hip hop, beginning with “How Hip Hop Failed Black  America.”) This beautifully designed book is a compilation of interviews with world renowned chefs exploring creativity in cooking and culinary philosophy.