Brewery Review: Torg Brewing

The Twin Cities brewery and taproom market has exploded over the past 7 years, and one of the most common questions that people ask is if we’re approaching saturation. As a case in point, on multiple occasions my Beer & Bikes group that I ride with will hit multiple breweries in an evening. If we discover that the brewery we’re at for the evening is doing an event (or Trivia that we’re not interested in participating in) we’ll just have one, and then bike a couple blocks away, and sure enough there’s another brewery.

Despite a few areas being a bit more saturated than others, I still don’t think we’ve hit actual saturation yet though. That’s because until every city/neighborhood has a brewery  to call it’s own, there’s still room for growth. For many people, the brewery taproom is a place to gather and be with other people. Similar to how a coffee shop serves as a gathering spot, the brewery taproom can be a central community spot for an area. Similar to how the traditional pub in the UK seems to function.

Needless to say, I was overjoyed to hear that my area would be getting a taproom, just 3 miles by bike from my house. I was also excited to hear that they would be specializing in more English style beers, which are some of my favorites. I love beer with solid malt backbone, and ESB’s and Irish Red’s are two of my all time go-to styles.

img_3555Torg opened up in 2018, and since then we’ve found ourselves visiting on a regular basis. It’s close enough that we’ll sometimes swing by for a pint on our way back from running errands, or have a spur-of-the-moment gathering with my biking friends. It’s close and comfortable, which makes it a great neighborhood taproom. They have a great patio on the upper level, and despite the noise from the very busy Highway 47 nearby, it’s not objectionable to sit there for long periods of time.

On the topic of beer, I’ve been very happy with the choices they offer. Just like many new breweries, they had a few struggles when they first started, with some text books “new brewer” mistakes, but everything seems to have now settled down into good quality beer. The Woman of the House oatmeal stout is a solid choice for days like yesterday when the wind was howling and snow blowing everywhere. It’s light and flavorful, but feels comforting on a cold day.

The Kilted Yoga Irish Red ale knocked it out of the park for me. It had just a subtle hint of peat, and a solid malt backbone that I love in my Irish reds. Squirrel Nutkin and Bridged’s Bathwater are two other great English style beers with a smooth character, mellow earthly hop profile, and nice low ABV for easy drinking.

img_3494There are of course a few issues that I have with some of their beers, in particular the ones that are claimed to be on nitro. They’re not as smooth and creamy as nitro usually should be, and feel like there’s a bit too much CO2 still adding carbonation in them. It’s gotten better over time, but I still feel like this is one area of improvement. I’m also not a huge fan of some of the hops that have been chosen for some of their new beers. I’m sensitive to certain hop families like Simcoe and Falconer’s Flight, which both taste like a cat litter box smell to me. This is my issue, but I feel like a couple of their newer beers are giving me this type of flavor, and I’d love it if their next new one didn’t have this same issue.

A couple of niggles aside, I am overall impressed by Torg Brewing. I think they’re putting together a solid lineup of good tasting beer. Along with the fact that they’re right in my neighborhood means that they’re quickly becoming one of a few go-to places when I’m thirsty for a nice taproom.

 

Fired up about Firefox

Something that’s been bugging me a lot recently is the trend in technology to adopt a “surveillance capitalism” model of doing business. In Shoshana Zuboff’s recent tome on the topic, she dives into the nature of this new reality that we find ourselves in, and the pitfalls that we’re facing because of it. Quickly put, surveillance capitalism is about how our personal data, behaviors, and desires, become commoditized and sold on a marketplace for the purpose of targeting us with specific advertisements. Or far worse, for the purpose of altering our behavior to match a certain worldview or philosophy.

I’m not going to get too deep into all of this in this post, but suffice it to say, I’ve been thinking a lot more about who has data about me, and how am I letting them use it. Months ago I started turning off various tracking tools that I knew were helpful to me, but resulted in my behavioral profile being made available to an unknown marketplace for unknown purposes. I love some of the convenience of technology, but because we’ve gotten so used to getting everything for free, we often forget that nothing is actually free. Instead of paying for services as we consume them, we allow our behavior to be sold as a form of currency, in exchange for the tools we like to use.

That all got me thinking about some of the tools I use in everyday life. In particular my web browser. I’ve been a Google Chrome user for many, many years. It is by far one of the most feature rich browsers out there, and it has become the de-facto standard for delivering internet content. It’s also owned by Google, which is the largest consumer of behavioral data on the planet. That means that many parts of it are inexorably linked with Google’s tracking enterprises, both to make our technology more helpful to us, but to also pay for it all through the marketing of our data.

To combat this, a few days ago I decided to download Firefox again, and give it another go. I’ve installed it on all my devices, and after a few addons that I’ve come to rely on, I’m all set up again to browse the internet the same way I was doing with Chrome.

One of the first things I noticed was how much slimmer and quicker Firefox was. Especially on a Mac, Chrome is a bloated memory hog. Firefox seems to be a much trimmer and efficient tool, and I’ve noticed a lot fewer processes running in the background. Granted nothing is ever going to be a fast or quick as Safari is on a Mac, but the added benefit of better addon and web application support is a palatable trade off.

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Additionally, I’ve found a few useful features with Firefox that are missing from Chrome. One in particular that I like is a little blue notification dot that appears in pinned tabs, when there is a new event in the tab that I need to check. This means that I can visually see a cue when I get new emails or other notifications, in a simple manner. This might seem like a small thing, but it’s something that I’ve missed for a long time since it was removed from Chrome.

I’ve only come across one issue with an app called Telegram that would not load correctly in it’s web interface. However, there was an addon in the Firefox marketplace that fixed the issue. Not sure if Firefox is just being too restrictive in it’s security, or if there’s an actual incompatibility.

So far my experience with Firefox has been overwhelmly positive. I’m going to give it a solid two weeks of exclusive use to see if I find any other issues or perks. However, based on the last couple of days, I think it’s really matured into a great browser, and a nice alternative for those of us who’d like to be a little less invested in the marketplace of human behavior.

 

Quick Review: Be Brave, Be Strong

I was introduced to Jill Homer’s adventures through the podcast Ten Junk Miles. One day, Scott, the host of TJM, posted a link to a sale on Jill’s books at Amazon. I decided to jump on it and pick up four of her works. My wife recently read her book that documented Tim Hewitt’s multiple Iditarod 1000 races, and she enjoyed it. I decided to try something different and read Be Brave, Be Strong: A Journey Across the Great Divide. This book documents her bike ride from Banff in Canada, all the way down the Great Divide Trail to Mexico, in the Tour Divide race.

One of the things I really appreciated about this book is Jill’s voice. She’s an excellent writer, and she tells the story in a compelling and engaging manner. Her descriptions are visual, but not flowery, which makes the pages flow by. I also liked how Jill weaved in the story of her relationships throughout the story. The story of her love life was intertwined with her journey, and if she had simply glossed over it, the book would have been much less interesting.

The story is told with great detail, highlighting every single day of the journey. When I finished reading, I felt like I could actually go on part of the trail myself, and have some semblance of where I was. Although, towards the middle of the book, I started to tire of the daily log of each day’s journey, I feel like the story would have been less impactful without it. If she had simply glossed over and combined multiple days, that were mostly uneventful, it would have disrupted the flow and rhythm of the story. Instead, we get to share in that experience of routine, and even boredom, that Jill documents.

Jill doesn’t sugar coat her struggles either. As she reaches her lowest points she doesn’t shy away from bitching about how much she wanted to quit. She’s open about her tears and doubts at every step of the way. You feel like you’re connecting with a real person, not some elite athlete who never seems like they struggle. It makes the journey relatable, despite the fact that it’s probably out of reach of most of us.

I’m glad that I was introduced to Jill’s work, and am looking forward to reading about her next adventure.

Quick Review: Spider-man Into the Spiderverse

A lot of people I know, including my kids, have told me that this is a great film. So tonight I took the plunge and rented it. I’m happy to say that I was really, really impressed, and agree that this might be one of the best Spider-man films out there. I’ll try and keep this review spoiler free, so let’s break down what I liked, and didn’t like.

Starting with the likes, I have to first say that the animation style was amazing. The blending of realistic animation, with what amounted to abstract art, was phenomenal. The world of Miles Morales came to life in a way that was real, but yet bent into the absurd when needed. Yet, that bending never felt out of place. Even when things were happening that couldn’t happen in real life, it felt natural. Visually, this was a great film.

The story was also unique and engaging. There were tropes and easy-to-spot plots, but it flowed naturally. I never felt like I was being spoon-fed a generic storyline. A couple of twists didn’t become apparent to me until they were close to being sprung, which helped keep the suspense moving. Without giving anything away, it also showed that the writers had fun with the basic plot they were given. They got to express themselves in a lot of varied ways, and it all ended up working really well.

Add to this, some top notch vocal talent, and it was a an easy sell for me to enjoy this flick. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t poke a couple of holes in some areas that could have been improved.

Of all the relationships in the film, I felt like the one between Miles and his dad needed more work. I know I was supposed to care about it more, but I felt like there might have been something left on the cutting room floor that could have made it deeper. There could have also been more growth and discovery as their relationship evolved, and it would have helped drive home the point of their love at the end.

My only other big complaint was with Wilson Fisk, one of the bad guys in the film. It’s a small complaint, but I wish that they had gone with a more realistic interpretation of the character’s shape and size. I understand wanting to stay true to the comic book version, but of all the weird characters in the film, his stuck out as being truly absurd and over the top.

Despite these couple of small nitpicks, I couldn’t find much else to complain about. This film was a really fun way to spend an evening, and I’m incredibly happy I took the time to watch it. If you’re a fan of fun, superhero stories, do yourself the favor and rent this when you want to have a nice relaxing evening. It’s well worth the price of admission.

The search for a rain/wind shell

Something that I’ve been on the hunt for, for many years is a ultralight rain and wind shell to run with. The go-to jacket for this has always been the Patagonia Houdini. This ultra lightweight jacket stuffs into its own pocket for easy storage and portability. I’ve always meant to pick one up, and have done some clearance rack browsing, but just have never pulled the trigger.

This morning I went for a great 10 mile run with my buddy Mike B. around the chain of lakes in Minneapolis. Despite being Spring, and nice warm afternoons, this morning was downright cold. The air temp was around 30F, and there was a strong, brutal wind out of the north. This wasn’t a nice summer wind, this was an arctic blast of frigid air that sucked away any warmth that the sun might be providing.

I decided to wear my go-to, cheap, sweat jacket because I knew I needed something to block some of the wind. However, that jacket is heavy, and overkill for the type of temps I was dealing with today. What I really needed was a nice shell, like the Houdini. That has me doing a bit of window shopping today to see what’s out there. Since the introduction of the Houdini, many other manufactures have started to release their own versions of this classic shell. One of my favorite brands, Kühl has the Parajax, and Smartwool has their PhD Ultralight. Outdoor Research’s Helium II is another strong contender.

That brings me to my question… blog audience… what have you used and what do you like? With so many choices out there right now, I feel like this is a good time to pull the trigger and pick something up, and I’d like to get reactions from folks on what has worked well for them. Share your thoughts! Ready, set, GO!