Monday, May 4th, 2015

It was the first weekend of Madison Craft Beer Week, so brace yourself! This is going to be mostly about beer.

Both B and I had some flex time to burn on Friday, so we got out of work a couple hours early, drove straight home and had a nice nap for an hour or so. Hey, we’re middle-aged. It seemed like a great idea to us.

After getting a really good, restful nap, we changed clothes and went to The Malt House, where the Central Waters Brewery was doing a tap takeover, pouring I don’t know how many different beers – looked like at least a dozen. We got a flight of their darkest, maltiest high-gravity beers: an imperial cherry stout, a coffee stout known as Peruvian Morning, and their anniversary ale, 17. We grabbed a couple of chairs and settled in on the patio where we could enjoy sipping them in the evening light.

And sipping was about all we could do with these very strong brews. These are beers to be savored, not guzzled. We both thought that 17 was the very best. I had to give it 5 out of five marks. I can’t remember the last time I did that, but this was such a yummy beer that I just had to. I thought the cherry stout was a bit too tart, but B liked it fine. The coffee stout had just enough coffee aroma to make it as close to perfect as coffee stout gets, if I may say so.

After enjoying the beers on offer at The Malt House, we strolled down to Dexter’s Pub because we heard there was a tap takeover there, too. We sampled a few chocolate stouts from Southern Tier Brewing and a porter from Great Lakes before the noise and the crowds were too much for us and we began to miss the peace and quiet of our little red house.

Saturday we went to breakfast at Lazy Jane’s. Biscuits and gravy, baby!

At eleven, they had the official Madison Craft Beer Week kickoff party at the East Side Club with a collection of brewers and their firkins in a tent in the parking lot. Last year, the party was out back on the lawn, but a wedding party had taken over on Saturday. Too bad. Would’ve been a perfect day to be out on the lawn.

No biggie. We found a seat in a small garden by the door and took turns getting refills so we wouldn’t lose it. This was a classic beer tasting: They gave us four-ounce tumblers at the gate that we could get refilled as many times as we liked. I tried one of each of the beers on tap, even the sour beers that are all the rage now. I don’t like them, no matter how often I try them. They’re all just a little too tart for my palate, or I’ve got a faulty palate.

Tim swung by the fest at three to pick us up and take us home, where we grilled bratwurst and watched a movie after dinner. The movie was Locke. The whole movie was Tom Hardy in a car calling people on the phone. It was not boring, but I’m not sure what it was. Maybe more about that later.

Sunday, out of bed at five. B had a quick shower, but I’m not as civilized, so I just threw on some dirty clothes. Besides, I knew we were going to be standing in line outside all morning, waiting to buy tickets for the Great Taste of the Midwest; who would be able to get a whiff of me? Nobody that I knew, that’s who.

There were 300 tickets available. Each person in line could buy two. At eight thirty, they started passing out wrist bands numbered one to one-fifty. I got number 148. B got 149. Just before they handed out the last numbered band to the guy behind us, he took a deep breath and said, “I think I’m about to cry.”

Once you have your numbered wrist band, you can step out of line and come back at eleven thirty to buy tickets. B and I went to breakfast at Stalzy’s. Probably didn’t need to, because we’d both just eaten the Lazy Jane’s scones we bought the day before, but it’s a tradition, born just last year, that we stop in for breakfast sammies after they hand out the numbers, so off we went.

After breakfast, we still had enough time to go home, where My Darling B had a nap. My tummy was too full, so I mowed the lawn. There, now I won’t have to think about it for a week!

Back in line at eleven-thirty; everybody started to bunch up at about eleven-fifty; ticket sales started at twelve and we got our tickets at twelve forty-five. Home again, home again, jiggidy-jog.

The last beer event for the weekend was the benefit for the pet rescue at One Barrel Brewing. Because nothing motivates people to save the doggies like beer. Well, nothing motivates me like beer, anyway.

Madison Craft Beer Week | 9:26 pm CST
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Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

I only had ten beers, honest! And I feel just fine!

We stopped by Harmony Bar after work for a free beer tasting they were hosting as part of craft beer week. I tried six or eight beers (it may have been as many as ten, but I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging) – just tried them, mind you, no more than a sip or two, because I wanted to taste (and smell) each of them, but I’m not an idiot.

Not only did we discover new beers, one of the people in the crowd showed us a nifty Android app, Untappd, we can use to keep track of the beers we taste, make notes about what they taste like, where we found them, who we were with (it’s not an app if it’s not somehow social). So we passed a happy two hours sampling beer, playing with our smart phones and eating pizza. Not bad for a Tuesday night.

tasters | 8:31 pm CST
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Saturday, May 3rd, 2014

It’s Madison Craft Beer Week!

wide-eyed

We stopped at Next Door Brewing after work to get something to eat and OH MY GOODNESS I’VE NEVER SEEN IT SO BUSY! The place was wall-to-wall beer-drinking and conversating customers! We had to wait at the bar for a table, but only for fifteen minutes or so and, as always, the food was worth the wait. And the beer.

surfacing

Craft Beer Week | 8:08 am CST
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Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

image of Mob Craft beerThe last and arguably best event we went to during Madison Craft Beer Week was a beer pairing at 8 Seasons Grille. A beer pairing is when the guys who prepare the food serve a beer that complements a food. A strong porter, for instance, goes well with a thick, juicy steak. Heffeweizen is terrific with chicken. A stout is delicious with grilled steak, and so on. Wine snots have done this sort of thing forever, but as far as I know beer snots started doing this just a few years ago.

In this particular case, the chefs at 8 Seasons teamed up with the brewers at Mob Craft Beer to collaborate on a menu of specially-prepared foods and beers, and what a menu they came up with. We had never been to 8 Seasons Grille before even though we’d driven past it dozens of times. Hidden away in the ground floor storefront of a dual-purpose apartment block, we’d never noticed it was there. Finding places like 8 Seasons is just one of the great benefits of taking part in Restaurant Week.

Mob Craft is three guys who make some of the tastiest kitchen experiments I’ve ever sampled. I loved each of the four of the beers they brewed specially to pair with the dishes served by 8 Seasons, even the Pear Sour, which I expected I would have to pass over the table to My Darling B because I usually don’t go for fruity beers or sour beers. I drank every drop of this one, though. However they made that happen, I hope they keep on doing it.

Menu:
Beer 1: Pear Sour
Course 1: Frisée salad, bacon, shallots and a poached egg
Beer 2: Tamarind Heffeweizen
Course 2: Bed of Israeli cous cous, roasted red peppers, grilled curry marinated chicken breast, heffeweizen reduction
Beer 3: Smoked Bock
Course 3: Parpardelle noodles, lamb ragu with smoked bock demi glaze
Beer 4: Chocolate Rye Coffee Porter
Course 4: Double chocolate Layered cake

Mob Craft + 8 Seasons | 3:05 pm CST
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Saturday, May 11th, 2013

We’re a little bushed after a week of debauched revelry, I can tell you. Drinking a beer or two nearly every night for a week at various neighborhood taverns will do that to a couple of inert homebodies like us, but when it comes to festivals like Madison Craft Beer Week, we feel a certain sense of duty to see it all the way through.

Which is why last night you could’ve found us at The Malt House sampling from their “Dark, Fiery & Sensual” menu of beers.

Biscotti Break from Evil Twin Brewing made My Darling B’s eyebrows shoot up. “That’s like drinking dessert!” she said, handing the glass to me. It really was. Each and every sip – and this was a beer so rich that I could only sip it – filled my head with the smell of chocolate. The sugary body reminded me of caramel, and the thick head of foam was like a whipped-cream topping. Wowzers, what a BIG beer. The porter I chose to drink was like water after that.

I was not a fan of coffee stouts when they first became a thing. Stouts are supposed to be sweet and boozy; why spoil that, I thought, by throwing coffee in the mix? But I have slowly come around to liking coffee stouts, and it’s because of tasty brews like The Devil Made Me Do It from Tyranena Brewing that have managed to sneak in the best things about coffee – a coffee aroma that’s just like waking up to a piping hot cuppa, as well as that toasty-chocolaty taste – but managing to keep out any coffee bitterness, so the stout’s boozy sweetness isn’t ruined. Tyranena is getting so good at brewing tasty treats like this one that it’s fast becoming one of my favorite Wisconsin breweries.

dark, fiery & sensual | 7:27 am CST
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Thursday, May 9th, 2013

smiling daveI think we spent more on taxis last night than we did on beer! We grabbed a cab into town for our nightly visit to Madison Craft Beer Week because we planned on taking advantage of the shuttle bus that Hop Head Beer Tours was running between cap square and the near-east side of town (thanks, guys!). We wanted to stop at four different places, and it would have been rude to stop and not sample the beers at each place, so we incurred a little added expense getting there and getting home again, but it was definitely worth it.

We started at The Old Fashioned, where Central Waters was pouring many of their tastiest beers. They have so many tasty beers, it must have been a tough job picking the ones they wanted to feature. Wonder how I can get that gig? I tried a very hoppy session beer that I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve forgotten the name of. I can enjoy hoppy beers but My Darling B, delicate flower that she is, can hardly sit across the table from a glass of hopped-up beer. “Smells like armpits,” is her comment, every time. I kinda like the smell of my armpits. Guess that explains that.

Then we ambled down the street to The Cooper’s Tavern to see what Left Hand Brewing was offering, and got the most pleasant surprise of the evening: Good Juju ginger ale. Just delicious! I would have sworn there were orange peels in there but the brewer said nope, just ginger. Very nicely done! (Their Milk Stout Nitro wasn’t too shabby, either!)

Feeling mighty peckish after that, we crossed the square to Natt Spil for a bite to eat. Note to self: The chips & salsa platter is a LOT bigger than you think it will be. Plan the rest of your menu accordingly. (We were satisfied with just ordering a hummus platter to round out the meal. I think we got our recommended daily allowance of carbs. Maybe even weekly allowance.) Oh, and the beer: we sampled several draughts from Widmer Brothers Brewing. Marionberry and Raspberry Imperial Stout, to name just two, but unfortunately none of them were strong enough to dominate the chips & salsa so I can’t say anything about them, really. Bad move on our part.

Then we jumped on the shuttle bus to ride down to Schenk’s Corners where B wanted to try the bourbon barrel-aged stout offered by One Barrel Brewing. I’m not discerning enough to notice much difference between beers aged in bourbon barrels – they mostly give me the impression of sticking my head in a bourbon barrel, not that I’m saying that’s a bad thing. Well, if it were full it might be a bad thing. Never mind. B liked it but thought it would be a lot better if it aged a year or so.

We called Union Cab to pick us up from One Barrel, then stepped out to the curb just as a cab was pulling up! “Did you just call a cab?” the driver asked us after rolling down the window. B told him that she had. “He’ll be along any second,” he explained, then drove away. Odd. But then another cab appeared just minutes later, so the first guy was right. Still pretty weird.

left hand | 6:23 am CST
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Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

She’s been waiting 14 weeks for this glass of beer.

img of My Darling B with a glass of 1515 from Central Waters BrewingWe went to the Central Waters anniversary party 14 weeks ago and the one beer that My Darling B dearly wanted to try was an Imperial Stout they put up in bourbon barrels specially for this very anniversary. They named this special beer “Fifteen.” See if you can guess why.

As soon as a line started to form for the tapping, she got in it, but while she was waiting they ran out. She’s been searching for it ever since then, with no luck at all, until tonight when the good brewers at Central Waters brought a keg of Fifteen to our favorite restaurant, Alchemy, for Madison Craft Beer Week.

I work just a few blocks away, so I was tasked with getting there as soon as I could after work to make sure I would be there when they tapped the keg. I snagged our usual table and, when the waitress came around, warned her that my wife would run over me with the car if I didn’t have a glass of Fifteen waiting on the table for her when she arrived.

A cheer went up from the crowd at the bar when the bartender announced, “Let the beer flow!” And about three minutes later the waitress delivered a goblet of Fifteen to our table so it was waiting when My Darling B walked through the door two minutes after that. I’d give her props for becoming my biggest hero if only she’d signed her name so I could read it.

This was a beer worth waiting months for. I like beer quite a lot, but bourbon-barrel-aged beers are really My Darling B’s thing. She loves them, but most of the ones I’ve tried are too boozy for me. Fifteen was not like that at all. It was silky smooth, rich and creamy, so easy to drink. Probably a little too easy; I’m sure we could each have put away enough of the stuff to make us unfit for work the next day. Thank goodness they served it in eight-ounce goblets and set the price just high enough to make us think twice about ordering too many.

Fifteen | 12:09 am CST
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Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

I am now a card-carrying member of One Barrel’s Mug Club!

mugclub

Last night was the inaugural meeting of the Mug Club, and I jumped on my bike and was there minutes after quitting time so I could break in my mug.

“What’ll you have?” the bartender asked me.

“I want you to take this mug and fill it with happiness,” I told him. “Can you do that? I’m pretty sure you can.”

And he did. It’s almost like having a super power.

mug club | 6:00 am CST
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Saturday, May 4th, 2013

Oh my, I have sooo many carbs to burn off after last night’s fish fry. We joined the kickoff of Madison Craft Beer Week by meeting a couple of friends at Quivey’s Grove to swap stories over a Friday night fish fry and a couple glasses of Common Thread Biere de Garde, which is French for “beer that is good.”

My belly was stuffed full after gobbling up all that fried fish, which I didn’t mind until I climbed into bed to go night-night and felt as if I was lying on a bowling ball, not very comfortable at all. I had to squirm around for a while until I found an angle where the bowling ball wouldn’t keep me awake.

I felt just guilty enough about overindulging that I got up early to take a little spin around town on my bike. I may have gone far enough to burn off the pie. Did I mention the pie? No? There was pie.

burning carbs | 7:10 am CST
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Saturday, May 12th, 2012

I’m pretty sure My Darling B would agree with me when I say that Wednesday night we had the most fun during Madison Craft Beer Week, starting with our visit to Natt Spil for dinner and a couple glasses of beer from New Belgium Brewery. From there, we went up Pinckney Street to The Old Fashioned to try the brews they were serving from Three Sheeps Brewing, the newest brewery in Wisconsin. B tried the Black Wheat, and I tried the IPA; both were very relaxed, mild beers that reminded me of home brews.

The highlight of our Wednesday night was undoubtedly the hour or so we spent at Cooper’s Tavern talking with Page Buchanan about beer. In particular, the five beers he made that were on tap at Cooper’s – and they were, if memory serves, a stout, an amber, an extra special bitter, an ale and a wheat. The ESB was my favorite. It tasted more like the bitter ales I used to drink while I was stationed in the United Kingdom. But My Darling B preferred the stout. The smokier the beer, the more she likes it.

Page seemed to be having as good a time sampling his beers as we were. He came along to our end of the bar while we were trying out a flight of all the brews and asked us what we thought of them, then stuck around for a while to talk about brewing beer. Page hopes to make House of Brews the first community-supported brewery in the region, modeled after the CSAs (community-supported agriculture) that brought farm-fresh vegetables to urban areas. I hope he can make it happen, because I want to be one of the first in line to subscribe.

When Pepper Stebbins showed up at Cooper’s, we knew it was time to jump on the free shuttle bus that Hop Head Beer Tours was running between the cap square area and the near-east side of Madison. We got off at Glass Nickel not because we had the munchies, but because the Glass Nickel on Atwood has a basement bar and we were hoping to sample a few of the brews that Founder’s Brewing was supposed to have dropped off there. It was a little too late to get the stuff we wanted – B was looking forward to a glass of Better Half, a brew that doesn’t seem to be on the brewery’s web page, so I can’t tell you about it because there wasn’t any left at Glass Nickel by the time we got there. We settled for a glass of Breakfast Stout between us and nursed it while we chatted up the bartender, who knew as much or more about beer as some of the brewers I’ve talked to.

bus route | 4:10 pm CST
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Thursday, May 10th, 2012

I used to work on cap square so I must have walked I don’t know how many times past Natt Spil and wondered what was in there. It looked like maybe it was a restaurant, or it could have been a bar, but then again for all I could tell from the minimal signage and ornamentation out front it could have been a stationery store, or the headquarters of a ninja clan.

It took an embarrassingly long time for us to finally get around to visiting, but My Darling B and I finally stopped by last night, when Natt Spil took part in Madison Craft Beer Week, hosting a tap takeover of New Belgium brews. We wanted to take advantage of the free shuttle bus that Hop Head Beer Tours was running between downtown taverns and the bars on the east end of town, so we planned to hit the town right after work, and that plan called for a place that would not only be taking part in Craft Beer Week, but which served food as well. And so, Natt Spil.

We liked the place the moment we walked in the door. Except for the sandblasted brick wall that is apparently required by Dane county ordinance to be in every restaurant in Madison, there is wood just about everywhere: On the floor, on the walls, on the ceiling. The booths are darkly stained panels, while the tables glow in what appear to be their natural colors, glazed over with plenty of urethane sealant. And across the ceiling, Asian mandalas filled the panels above the paper lanterns.

The table we chose at the front of the shop still had its rough, undressed edges, as did many of the seat backs in the booths along the wall. We didn’t get it by accident. A couple of young ladies were finishing off their drinks and offered it to us as we looked around the room, wondering where we would be able to shoehorn ourselves into the crowd. That was nice.

There appeared to be just one guy waiting on tables, and even though he was running his legs off, he was friendly and always smiling. He was also wearing a pair of shorts that were at least six inches too big in the waist for him. Every time he came back to the bar to pick up an order, he had to hook a thumb into the waist band and drag them back up to somewhere in the vicinity of his butt. As soon as he grabbed whatever drinks or food was waiting for him, they’d fall right back down to his knees again. Somehow, he never fell flat on his face after getting his legs tangled up in them.

To quiet our growling tummies, we ordered copiously from a menu of what we thought was going to be snacks. My Darling B asked for a bowl of Duck Duck Soup, which turned out to be a very generously-laden bowl of what looked like ramen noodles topped with slices of duck meat, swimming in broth so yummy that B did her best to scoop up every last drop of it.

I ordered dim sum: spring rolls, dumplings, shrimp cakes and a salad of picked vegetables. The spring rolls were HUGE and could have been a meal in themselves. The dumplings were stuffed with shrimp, sausage and water chestnuts and drizzled with a very morish sauce that we rubbed the dumplings in to get every bit of it down our necks. The shrimp cakes were stuffed with shrimp – what’s not to like about that? And about the pickled salad I can say that even the most dedicated cook can mistake a big chunk of ginger for a potato. “I’ve never had pickled potato before!” B proclaimed, popping it into her mouth with glee. Five seconds of chewing later, her face was red and her eyes were brimming with tears. Beware.

Even though it appears to be an enormously popular place, we can’t wait to go back.

Natt Spil | 9:53 pm CST
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Sunday, May 6th, 2012

This weekend marked the beginning of Madison Craft Beer Week, and we started it by passing on the fish fries that were going on everywhere and heading for The Malt House for Red Eye Happy Hour, where the Red Eye Breweryfrom Wausau had about a half-dozen of their beers on tap. My Darling B ordered up a glass of Cart Ride To Mexico, a malty red ale, and I ordered their saison, which I forget the name of now, and we shared them. I liked the saison best, but they were both very tasty. Then, just to round out the visit, we ordered a draw of Common Thread, a beer brewed at Capital Brewery through the collaboration of brew masters from The Great Dane, Vintage Brewing Company, Lake Louie Brewing, The Grumpy Troll, and House of Brews. It had the unusual quality of tasting like a small-batch home brewed beer.

Before heading home, we stopped off at Dexter’s Pub, where the theme of East Coast, West Coast, No Coast split the 15 taps evenly between North Coast Brewing in California, Oskar Blues in Colorado and Southern Tier Brewing in New York state. From North Coast, we sampled Brother Thelonius, a Belgian style abbey ale, and Lemerle, a saison; from Southern Tier, we tried the Mokah, a stout again, and Creme Brulee – I’m not sure what I’d call that, maybe a novelty beer? They were all delicious, although the Creme Brulee was a little too much like candy for my taste. Somehow, we overlooked ordering a draw of anything from Oskar Blues.

Saturday found us back at The Malt House again to try the hop rockets they were supposed to have hooked up to a couple of brews from Tallgrass Brewing: they were infusing a little chili zing to a stout called Grizzly Sweat, and an extra hop kick to an IPA called 8-Bit. The experiment went disastrously wrong, though, when the IPA stubbornly refused to out of the taps as anything but foam. After fiddling with the plumbing for about twenty minutes they did manage to get the stout flowing, and they even served about a dozen glasses of the IPA by filling pitchers with foam and letting it settle, but after a huge crowd had waited almost an hour for the IPA (myself included), the disappointment was crushing.

Not part of Craft Beer Week but significantly related to beer, we spent all this morning waiting in line outside Star Liquor to buy tickets for the Great Taste of the Midwest. We lined up at nine o’clock the first year we bought tickets, and because we were so close to the cutoff at the end of the line to buy tickets we showed up at eight o’clock last year – and still ended up near the end of the line! So this year we showed up at seven o’clock, and ended up in almost exactly the same place that we did the previous two years. I see a disturbing trend.

As the first few pattering drops of rain fell on the crowd, the beginnings of what turned out to be an enduring thunderstorm, Page Buchanan ran down the line advising everyone with a number to come back at 11:30, saving us from almost two hours of standing vigil in the pouring rain. When the crowd regrouped later, nearly everyone was holding an umbrella or wearing rain gear of one type or another. Tickets went on sale at noon, and we slowly shuffled our way around the block, and then around the parking of Star Liquor, until a little over an hour later we finally had two tickets to the hottest brewing event in the Midwest.

And then home to nap. Weekends can be so stressful.

suds | 4:36 pm CST
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Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Madison Craft Beer Week is going to kick off a pre-party at our favorite neighborhood tavern, Alchemy Cafe featuring some scarce beers that we rarely get in this neck of the woods. Much as we’d like to be there, the party starts at 9:30. We’ll be fast asleep by 9:30 because we’re old and our office jobs kick our asses. If we wanted to make that party, we would have to come straight home, sleep until 9:00, go have maybe one beer at the party and then only if we can get two big guys to agree to stuff us into a taxi when we slip away to la-la land. That sounds like a recipe for disaster, so we may have to miss the pre-party. So sad.

snooze | 6:33 am CST
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Saturday, May 7th, 2011

I’m still a little full after last night’s visit to The Old Fashioned. It’s the kind of restaurant where you go to order a sandwich that’s so big you couldn’t possibly eat it in one sitting, and because it’s just that big they give you an order of fries you have to split in half and take the uneaten portion home with you, too. Only, I ate all the fries. Every one of them. I don’t know what came over me. I just kept on munching them down. They tasted so good with the beer, I suppose. And this morning my tummy’s still telling me I’m full. Warning me, really. Don’t even think about eating any breakfast, buster! is what it’s saying.

The occasion was the last weekend of Craft Beer Week, a clever scheme to get us to drink beer, like we needed any urging. Restaurants and other venues all over town have been hosting visits from brewers around the state who drop in to pour samples of their beers, although that’s not what was going on at The Old Fashioned last night. They were doing a red-light special on tap beers, which were two-fifty a glass when the red light was flashing. I scored a Moon Man, delicious lawnmower beer from New Glarus brewing.

My Darling B was shocked, absolutely shocked! when she realized that the “pint” glasses didn’t hold a full pint of beer. She thought that the tap beers, which are advertised in the menu as a “pint,” were literally a pint of beer, but learned the awful truth when I ordered a twelve-ounce bottle of Floppin’ Crappie and filled the “pint glass” that came with it up to the rim. Poor girl It was like I strangled Santa Claus right before her eyes. Guess she’ll be ordering bottled beer from now on.

And we were there for dinner because it was Friday Friday FRIDAY!

full | 7:53 am CST
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