Trillium Brewing

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IMG_6668It’s interesting how some breweries get things right and others get them wrong.  Trillium Brewing, a small entity that dominates the arguments as Boston’s best, began downtown in a tiny strip of a building which allows just enough room for people to squeeze in for bottle purchases and growler refills. 

It makes sense that Trillium would grow elsewhere, and I suppose Canton, MA makes sense.  I’m not from around there.  I might prefer restoring a historical building within easy access, but a nondescript office/warehouse tenancy in the burbs probably has pricing and headache advantages, not to mention access for those who escape the urban congestion.

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Still, with breweries expanding like weeds, there are enough like kinds to borrow an original idea or two… like building a destination.  This doesn’t mean that they have to reach for a megavenue like Harpoon, but whatever is chosen should reflect their own personality.  For most brewers, this coalesces into trappings that invite people to enjoy a couple hours, taste the beers, and engage socially… with decorum that says something about the brand, from corporate to kitschy.

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Trillium’s motto must therefore be interpreted to be “functional and efficient.”   Enter.  Enjoy four free 2-3 oz. samples in plastic cups.  Please proceed around the corner.  Purchase your refills and bottles. Thank you for coming!  Essentially, let’s make the lines easier than our downtown location and let people have a taste as they’re passing through…  a surprising lack of imagination.

Those four samples were as below, with Big Sprang a fill-in for Scaled.  These rank a tidy 91, 87, 93, and 92 on BeerAdvocate.    

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Weird though.  My daughter and I both agreed that the first three were worthy only of a “Meh,” with Launch Beer particularly an underperformer.  It put me in doubt for the 8 bombers I’d accumulated through a Christmas gift and purchases that day.

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Happily, I’ve now had two of those, Vicinity and Double Dry Hopped Melcher Street, both IPAs which were excellent (and graded 97’s).  I don’t trust BeerAdvocate other than using it as a starting point, but the other three samples wouldn’t have graded an 85.  So there seems to be a hometown curve among voters as the beer isn’t distributed further than shouting distance.  Okay, I exaggerate a little.

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Or, maybe it was just a down day, as I narrowly missed getting Artaic, their most highly prized IPA, where I suppose their imagination counts most.

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Robin Trower–Where You Are Going To

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A new Robin Trower CD is easy to review.  I know I’m going to like it – it’s just a matter of how much.  Pre-release he indicated that this CD would “rock a little harder” than his last.  That’s true in that he shies away from jazzy influences in entire songs or solos, but overall, it sounds much the same as all of his CDs since  2009’s more textural What Lies BeneathRobin Trower where you are going to cd review
Recently, Trower said, “I like to play the guitar for 2 or 3 hours a day, and that invariably leads to a new song idea every few days.”  Aside from hinting at a treasure trove of unreleased recordings, the process of making a CD (happily only a year after his last) becomes a task of selecting the better ideas one has.

“When will the next blow fall” is inspired by the plight of Syrian refugees.  Trower is a surprisingly good lyricist, but I’d imagine that for most of his fans, the lyrics serve a need for setting the tone, even if, per Trower’s comment, the music likely comes first.  They’re not irrelevant, but the groove and guitar work are what I enjoy most. In this song, it’s good, but we’ve heard it all before.  Sadly, “Heard it all Before” might be a more apt album title.

“Where you are going to” is more introspective lyrically and slower, allowing Trower to draw out notes a bit longer.  He’s exceedingly good at this, and this song works well.

And those are the dividing lines – straightforward blues based rock or slower introspective songs.  “Back where you belong” rocks but has nothing distinctive to it.    “Jigsaw” meanders to the point of forgetfulness.  “The fruits of your desire” appears to be one of Trower’s favorites, due to the funky approach.   I’d go with “clunky,” though I hope he explores some different sounds or guitarists to suggest more variety in his music.

“We will be together someday” and “I’m holding on to you” are reflective, inspired by the passing of Trower’s wife.  The first has a beautiful guitar solo, but the context is a bit maudlin for regular listening.  The latter is more universally applicable and likewise ends with a rich guitar solo.    “Ain’t no use to worry” and “In too deep” are more forgettable rockers, sadly.  He’s done these elsewhere and better. 

The last track of the CD is a rocker, “Delusion sweet delusion.”  This was either conceived at a higher level or pored over to get the most out of it.  Either way, it may sound familiar, but there’s a crispness and energy about it that sets it apart.  Regrettably, it just sort of ends, failing to deliver the killer solo that it deserves.

Overall, this is a solid CD.  At a sitting, I’m satisfied.  I’m not disappointed in Trower’s vocals - its genuine nature pairs with his guitar tone, and the combined expression works for me.  But, if I’m picking additional tracks for my Trower playlist (and I do), this CD offers fewer keepers than any in his last four CDs.

It’s a solid CD.  It’s more than we deserve, and it’s great that one of rock’s elder statesmen is so enthusiastic about playing and recording – both at a high level.  We’ll see what he comes up with next.

Recommended: Title track, “I’m holding on to you”

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Cahaba Brewing

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Two and a half years ago, I visited Birmingham’s Cahaba Brewing, a fledgling brewery in the shadow of Good People and Avondale Brewing.  I don’t know how that war is being scored, but Cahaba has upped the ante.

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They relocated their humble beginnings to a more expansive space at the apparently vacant Continental Gin Industrial Park, a fairly massive campus of buildings used to manufacture cotton gins until the 1960’s.  As a surviving structure from 1925, someone had it listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It doesn’t show so well at night, granted that they moved into a building on the edge of the property and the remainder was dark.

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In moving to the site, they quadrupled their area at half the rental fees, not including betterments and improvements as well as increasing their production potential eightfold.  That hasn’t yet proven to be helpful for tap room service, as there were only four beers available.  According to co-owner Eric, after fulfilling their distribution network, they have a thin margin to keep on site.  That’s a good problem, and it’s one out of which they will grow.  Of these, I tried the Bourbon Barrel Aged Ryezome Stout, which was excellent, and a repeat of their Oka Uba IPA, which was solid.

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Their new brewing facility is visible from the tap room separated by floor to ceiling glass inspired by Surly Brewing in Minneapolis.  Great idea as it allows for visibility while not interfering with the interior’s historic appeal.

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In the tap room, the manufacturing origins are preserved, with the high trusses commonly provided to allow light into the space.   apacity Smiths Sons Gin & Machine Company

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The building originally was built by Smiths Sons Gin & Machinery Company, which was bought by Continental Gin long ago, who later merged to become Continental Eagle.  The entry to the brewery opens to where the blast furnace used to be located, where some of the old equipment was wisely retained for the industrial feel of the place.  This includes the elevator that lifted iron and other ingredients to be dumped into the blast furnace as well as some of the pulleys. 

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Speaking of old, they have a couple of retro themed pinball machines for entertainment.

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And the new.  Gotta have merch.

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Overall, it’s great to see an old building converted for modern use, and the space is a great meeting spot for drinks and perhaps a Filling Station pizza.

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My Blue Robot

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IMG_6739You’ll see more of this guy in a bit. 

I saw a basic 3-D printing exhibit at Dragon*Con several years ago, a basic machine that printed rudimentary items like key chains.  I’ve followed the development of the technology, now more formally called “additive manufacturing,” to see it being used to make prototypes for engineering, replacement parts for machinery, medical implants and even food.  It literally depends on the “ink” used and the capabilities of both the printing device and the person who programs the instructions.

 

My daughter had an opportunity to use one for a project, for which she chose the Millennium Falcon.  She used this as a mold to ultimately lost-wax cast bronze replicas.

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A visit seemed like a good opportunity to play along, and a friend suggested a pretty cool 3D printed watch, which you can see below assembled, the movement mechanism, and parts to be printed.

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Pretty interesting and… the printing capability of the printer doesn’t print to that fine of a size.  So, in keeping with my not-so-themed blog, a robot made sense.  But it’s not like you can just make something.  Someone has to have taken the time to programmed the design into the computer, and that person isn’t me.  Handily, many of these designs are posted publicly, such as at www.thingiverse.com.  Search there for robots, pick one, and… I kind of liked this one.

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There were certainly others of interest, but size = time and money.  This guy seemed to fit the bill.  So, we downloaded the instructions to a jump drive, zipped over to one of the greatest engineering universities in the world and, here it is, a Dimension BST 1200es.  Looks kind of badass. 

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In 2009, this 3-D printer sold for $18,900 (marked down from $26,900 previously).  You should note that BST stands for Breakaway Support Technology.  The company also offers a SST version at $32,900, which stands for Soluble Support Technology.  The difference is that the latter version features an automated support removal station that uses a soapy bath to wash away support structures – as opposed to breaking it away.  AS someone who didn’t have to pay for it, they should have bought the upgrade.  More on that later. 

So we plug the jump drive in and… well, not so fast.  That dusty relic to the right is a Dell, running Windows XP, so that the software which was at the time recommended for Windows XP/Vista, runs the printer.  Only, my daughter’s jump drive was too large to connect into the space provided.

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So, we use the ancient computer to download the design directly, which may as well have been using a fax-modem.  Not impressed.  Finally, progress begins as the software starts throwing up pictures of my to-be robot as follows:

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Note that wherever you see the grey, that is the famed “support structure.”  As the printer head prints each layer of the object, there are spaces where nothing is intended to be printed.  The structure provides support for layers printed on future passes above it, externally as you see here and in internal cavities as well. 

The robot took several hours to print, and the cabinet enclosure prevents watching ink dry.  So, we left and returned quite a bit later, we open the cabinet, and…

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There he is.  No, he’s not orange.  I was told in advance that it would be blue because the guy who runs the lab likes blue and therefore only buys blue thermoplastic.  The white, as you’ll probably guess, is the support structure.  So let’s take a closer peek at the hatchling.

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What is left is to remove all the white stuff, so bring out the X-Acto knife and free the robot!

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That looks like good progress, right?  Only, that took a LOT of work. Basically, each junk piece represents one manual removal action.   At this point, his eyes are impossible to clear out with the tools available, his neck is frozen, and he has one knee joint that actually works.  He’s suffered a slight scrape on his back side during handling, but otherwise he looks in good shape.  So, to not spend hours upon hours in a lab on a Saturday night, I’m thinking… I’ll take the rascal home and finish him there.  Here’s how that works out.

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Oops.  Sorry about the legs.  So, here’s the thing.  The robot is designed to have 11 axes of movement.  The head turns, the arms and elbows bend, as do the legs, knees and feet.  That means that joints are printed within the robot, but… that support structure material is in there as well.  It is not as densely printed as the robot parts, but it remains a very stiff substance with a fondness for staying where it is.  You might think that applying some pressure would free the joints, but that isn’t the case.  When we removed him from the printer, he was still warm, but even then the plastic was stiff, and my daughter, properly trained in such things, was warning “be careful or you’ll break the movement.”  As seen above, yep.  She’s right.  And I do not feel guilty about it, either.  He’s rather small, and it’s easy for whatever tool you have to slip away and stab, scratch or generally irritate the hand holding it.

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Not that I did it all by hand.  No, early on I put him in a vice and brought out the Dremel.  Seemed like a good idea, bringing better tools for the operation - fine tips to get into the tiny cracks, an irresistible force… that kind of thing.  Only, RPMs equal heat.  So I ended up shaving the robot more than the support structure.  In any case, aside from lost appendages, he’s suffering pretty mightily.  At this point, I don’t care.  Note the support structure at his neck – much of it’s removed and loosened, but his head still won’t turn.  His left arm moves via a post through a hole away and toward his body, his shoulders are still frozen in place, and the other arm… oops. 

Here’s the inside view of the arm – the support structure within the joint is visible, and it doesn’t just flake out.  Even that bit required a blade to pry it from the blue arm piece.

Similarly, his head is going to turn.  There’s no question about it.  After doing all I can do, I leverage his head via a box cutter blade, basically not caring as he’s already scarred and in pieces.  Voila. You can see all the support structure under his neck after I’ve offed his head, though it separated with a surprisingly clean break at the neck.

It’s really quite clever, actually, as his neck is a post that flares at the bottom edge of the body so that it remains in place… in less aggressive circumstances.  The lower neck is at the bottom right in the picture below, again with that damned support structure that doesn’t give way.  And, while you’re looking, you can also see the most difficult aspect, which was the legs.  The leg has an undersized “O” that fits around a solid pin within the leg cavity.  The only thing preventing movement is… the support structure, and his body doesn’t lend itself to arthroscopic surgery.  As robots go, this one has repeatedly said “I’m stronger than you.”  And he’s right.  Neither encouraging words nor punishment has worked. That support structure remains in his leg cavities.  I can’t get it out.

Meh.  “Honey, what glue do we have for plastic?”  So, here he is, keeping scarred eyes on things, a vanquished X-Acto blade his trophy.

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His head turns, his knees and ankles work perfectly, and his left elbow works.  He’s glued at the right shoulder, his right arm will fall off if bothered, and he’s permanently resigned to a seated position for the rest of his days.  In short, “state of the art” 2009 3-D printing technology is not going to be a disruptive force for Chinese toy makers.  If I had to do it all over again, I’d find a new and improved 3D printer which tends less toward rigid support structures (the reviews of the design indicate this is the route to go),  locate the more expensive SST version of the printer with the miracle “Calgon take it away” soap solution for removing support material, or, failing that, I might try to nuke the guy to see if a blast of heat might free some joints. 

In any case, it was an educational and (mostly) fun project, with a reasonable souvenir at the end.

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haiku

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a leaf falls swirling -

A man laughing through his nose

combs his daughter’s hair.

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