Bits and Brews: Stone Master of Disguise & The Unfinished Swan


Featured Contributor: Dan Ryan @DannyRyan
Disclaimer for this post, my beer suggestion this month is not readily available any longer. You may be able to find it on a shelf near you, especially if you are located near Stone, or you may need to trade for it or for a beer similar in nature like Naughty Sauce from Noble Ale Works. It’s worth it though.
Stone Brewing Company out of San Diego, California has been in the craft brew game for a long time. Their Arrogant Bastard Ale is one of those most commonly found by the craft beer novice due to its availability pretty much everywhere and the simple fact that it says bastard in the title and has a cool looking gargoyle on the label. (it’s why I bought it originally anyway) Their hoppy beers are what put them on the map and continue to be their flagships. However, Stone is so much more than aggressive attitude and hop additions. They are always looking at the new. Their collaboration brews have resulted in some massive hits (looking at you Xocoveza) and some of their newer offerings, Coffee Milk Stout and Delicious IPA, have become personal favorites. But, it is their Stochasticity Project that is our focus here. An experimental series, the Stochasticity Project has been responsible for Stone’s more offbeat ideas. From a Belgian Quad brewed with Tritacale to an English Ale brewed with Elderberries, this series has no mission apart from being interesting. And in my humble opinion, none of these beers has been more interesting than Master of Disguise.

Master of Disguise is a golden stout. Stouts, as you well know, are not golden. Their very definition is to be dark. The roasted malts found in most stouts contribute to both their color and flavor profile. Stone though, did not care. In the spirit of the Black IPA, they brewed a stout minus the roasted malts plus coffee. The result was… well surprising. Pouring this beer was strange. My eyes saw a golden colored ale with a white head. Nothing too unusual. My nose on the other hand smelled a roasty, coffee stout. Drinking this beer was a constant battle between what was there and what was not. The taste was very similar to a coffee stout with all of the roasty qualities coming from the coffee addition and the chocolate malt used in the brew. Stone added oats as well to match the creamy mouthfeel of a stout. It was a challenging experience. I recommend searching out a golden stout, any golden stout really, and giving it a go. It is a singular experience in beer drinking.

The Unfinished Swan is quite unlike any other game I have played. Which, considering that my gaming roots go back to a small 13 inch TV with a Colecovision hooked up to it, is saying something. It’s not that the story is so unique; a boy named Monroe is left an orphan after his mother dies. All that he is left with is her last painting, that of an unfinished swan. Typical adventure game storytelling to be honest. The fact that the swan in question leaves the painting is not all too uncommon a theme either. Again, adventure game. It is what happens after the swan makes her exit that sets this game apart. You, as Monroe, are left with quite literally nothing. The screen is white. There is no direction marker, no map, no heads up display. And it is in that absence that the game becomes something new.

Playing The Unfinished Swan is an adventure in discovery. Your character has only ink blobs to start. As you walk around the level you hear that your feet are making contact with different surfaces. The sense of progress you feel, the sense of motion, is inhibited if you hit a wall or an area you cannot pass. My eyes told me nothing was there. My ears and hands told me that there was an entire world ready to be explored. And once you throw that first ink blob, and it splatters and uncovers some piece of the world, you have the constant reward of discovery. It is up to you to uncover the world, to see what isn’t there. (but in reality, really is) It is a challenge as the game is more akin to a giant maze you can only see a tiny sliver of. The yellow footprints of the Swan are visible at times and give you some sense of direction, but only just. Later levels reveal more of the world and feature various puzzle solving sections but the core sense of discovery remains. I highly recommend this game to anyone seeking something new or unique.
So why these two together? The challenge of perception versus reality is one that plays out in all aspects of life. Perception is reality after all. We believe that which we see or hear or touch, etc. Our senses guide us through the world and insofar as we rely on those senses, we become lazy and expectant. We see a golden colored beer and expect a certain thing. We see a white screen in a game and expect a certain thing. When those realities are challenged we become uncomfortable and curious. Surprising yourself with an experience you planned is not the easiest task. Yet, with these two examples, just that occurs. So enjoy them together. Really stretch your boundaries and defy expectations. At worst, you can say you did. At best, you can open yourself up to the possibility of new. That’s all for this month. Remember to follow me on twitter, @geekadedan, and let me know what you though of this post and what beers or games defied your expectations. Also, click the link to check out the craft beer coverage over at Geekade where you can find this and tons of other great content geeky content. Cheers.

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