Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

After everybody got up and got showered on Sunday, we all piled into the O-mobile to make the short trip to Lake Mills, where we visited the Tyranena brewery. Their tap room opens at noon and they encourage visitors to order take-out food from any of the local restaurants and bring it in to eat while drinking beer, so B and I covered the table with 5-ounce tasters and we phoned a local pizzeria and asked for a sixteen-inch with plenty of cheese and sausage.

The tap room has plenty of board games piled up along the window ledges. I picked out a word game that we played for ten or fifteen minutes. When I guessed it was about time to pick up the pizza, I took my leave and made the short drive into town. The pizzeria was on the town square about three minutes away; all I had to do was duck in, pay the ponytailed girl at the counter and duck out. I was back at the tap room in probably ten minutes. It was like I was never gone.

B was a little concerned about how we were going to eat the pizza without plates, but the bartender solved that problem by handing us a whole stack of paper plates and napkins. He even handed over a jar of cracked red pepper in case we wanted to spice up the pizza a little bit. Now that’s a bartender who knows how to keep his customers happy. We gobbled up all the pizza while we played the word game some more and sipped our beers, which kept us there until about two-thirty. Almost all of us dozed off on the twenty-minute drive back, so we broke up to find places to nap for an hour or so after returning.

Tyranena | 7:07 am CST
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Sunday, November 8th, 2015

After living in the Madison area for a little more than ten years, we finally made the thirty-minute drive to Lake Mills to visit the Tyranena brewery. We’ve loved their beer since our first taste and today got to sample several brews we’ve never tried before. And we’ve got a new favorite: a delicious porter flavored with maple syrup and aged in bourbon barrels. Would definitely drive to Lake Mills again for more.

tyranena | 5:09 pm CST
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Sunday, June 14th, 2015

After our weekly visit to the farmer’s market on Madison’s west side, My Darling B and I crossed the street to the Hilldale Mall where B had to shop for a dress to wear to a wedding. B hates shopping with the blazing white intensity of a thousand exploding suns, but the wedding is just two weeks away, so, even though there was still some time left to procrastinate, she decided it was time to get it over with. As luck would have it, she fell in love with the very first dress she found, but it’s fire-engine red and apparently there’s some rule about wearing a dress to a wedding that would upstage the bride. She put it on hold and kept shopping, eventually ending up with what she called “the granny dress,” a cream-colored, knee-length dress with lots of sparklies. B loves sparklies.

While she was trying on dresses, I wandered down the street a few blocks to a garage sale on Midvale Avenue that I spotted as we drove past. There wasn’t much that interested me, and the only thing I eventually bought was a book published by the Associated Press to commemorate the 1969 moon landing. Titled “Footprints On The Moon,” it was a coffee table book chock full of familiar photographs of the space race, starting as usual with Sputnik and ending with lots of lofty prose about how Neil & Buzz walking on the moon had ushered the world into a new era, yada yada yada.

When I picked up the book I had no intention of putting it down again. I’ll buy almost any book or commemorative nick-knack that came out of the space race. I’d never seen this book before and as I opened the cover I thought, Oh nice, something new for my collection, but I didn’t think it was anything extraordinary at first. Then the book fell open to the middle where the folded newspaper pages were tucked away. My heart sped up. It was the first four pages torn out of the Wisconsin State Journal dated July 21, 1969. “ON THE MOON!” the headline on the front page blared in block capital letters over a full-color photo of Armstrong and Aldrin in a training scenario, using tongs to pick up rocks in their space suits. An inside page ran a snapshot of the video feed from the moon, unfocused and about as black-and-white as any photograph could be. If you didn’t know what you were looking at, you might not realize what was going on.

I tucked the pages back in the book and carried it reverently to the front of the garage where a quartet of old friends were bantering with some customers about one of the items for sale. When one of them turned to me and offered to help, I handed over the book, which he opened to the inside cover to read the price: two dollars. “Footprints on the moon,” he said conversationally, flipping through the first couple pages before it fell open to the middle where he found the newspaper pages. I was sure when he saw those that he would either take them out because they weren’t part of the book, or at least charge me for them separately. He barely looked at them before he snapped the book closed. I held my breath. “Two dollars, please,” he said. I dug two singles from my wallet and handed them over; he thanked me, and I walked away with a tiny piece of history.

Shopping for dresses took a lot out of B, so we headed straight home where she planned to spend time in her garden to decompress. It had been raining for the past two days so the ground was probably too wet for her to plant anything. Even so, she figured she could at least pull weeds, but when we got home she wasn’t up for that any more. “A new bar opened in town with fifty-zillion taps,” she informed me, and she wanted to go there to see what that was about.

The bar was Mr. Brews Taphouse, a Wisconsin chain of bars that specializes in craft beers and features loads of local brews as well as national craft beers. I don’t know how many taps there were; it was too way many for me to bother counting them. We settled in at a hightop table next to the beer menu chalked on the wall, where I studied the options long and hard. I spotted a specialty brew called Sixty-One from Dogfish Head that a friend had raved about; I wish I could say it was as good as the hype, but I couldn’t be bothered to finish it. B ordered a delicious barrel-aged porter called Barrel Aged Brrrbon with Vanilla from Widmer Brothers Brewing in Portland OR. She let me taste it, then she let me taste it again, and then I tasted it some more. Eventually she just said to hell with tasting and we called it sharing.

After the first draughts were out of the way, we ordered a flight of four beers: Dynamo Copper Lager from Metropolitan Brewing in Chicago; Bean Me Up Scotchy from St. Francis Brewing in St. Francis WI; Shake Chocolate Porter from Boulder Beer Company in Boulder CO; and Quinannan Falls Lager from Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo MI.

We’ve been to Chicago on our own, but we have to go back soon on a proper beer tour because there’s some really good brews coming out of there. If Dynamo’s any indication, I could probably spend all day in the taproom of Metropolitan Brewing, sampling their beers.

St. Francis is just north of Milwaukee and we’ve enjoyed their beer before. Bean Me Up Scotchy is a barrel-aged version of their scotch ale, known as Pride, and I would guess they’ve added vanilla beans to the recipe to boot. Very smooth, and yummy enough to make me want more.

I don’t remember drinking any brews from Boulder Beer before, so that’s something I’m working on correcting, starting with this excellent porter.

Bell’s has been one of my favorite breweries ever since I tried Two-Hearted Ale, a very hoppy beer. I’m not so much into hoppy beers any more, but fortunately Bell’s has produced plenty of other styles that are ever so tasty, and this lager, I’m happy to report, is no exception. Plus, it comes from Kalamazoo, which gives me an opportunity to say Kalamazoo. I love to say Kalamazoo. Who doesn’t love saying Kalamazoo? Boring people, that’s who.

I can’t remember whether or not we visited Widmer Brothers when we were in Portland. Looking photos of the place and where it is on the map, I’m pretty sure we didn’t. If we didn’t, we were stupid. It looks like a pretty great place to visit. Plus, the vanilla porter we sampled was scrumptuous. Getting some right from the source would’ve been a treat.

Our sufficiencies well and truly serensified, we retired back to Our Little Red House to pass the rest of a quiet afternoon reading and napping until supper time. And that is a satisfying way to pass a Saturday afternoon.

walking on the moon | 9:04 am CST
Category: beer, books, entertainment, food & drink, hobby, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, space geekery
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Monday, May 25th, 2015

I just finished doing the almost unthinkable: I poured twenty-four pints of beer down the drain. That’s three gallons of beer, in case you’re trying to do the math in your head.

To explain: They were all home brews, and not particularly good ones. The vast majority of it came from a batch of brown ale that I screwed up and should’ve dumped out as soon as I tasted it. I’d made a vanilla extract for a batch of porter that was still fermenting, then suffered a major brain cramp as I was getting ready to bottle the brown ale and dumped the extract into it, instead. Didn’t taste awful, but didn’t taste very good, either. I was keeping it in the hopes that it would mellow a bit in the bottles and get better. It didn’t.

After dumping all that, I started looking around to see what else I had that should have been cleaned up. Turned out I still had about a half-dozen pints from the very first batch of all-grain brew that I made almost two years ago. If I hadn’t felt the need to drink that before, and I didn’t have a hankering to drink it now, which I didn’t, then I figured it was past its prime, and out it went.

And I had two big twenty-four ounce bombers of the second all-grain batch, which was a total clusterfuck from beginning to end. I kept it around only so I could perform various experiments on it. I’m all experimented out now, so it followed the rest down the drain.

Freed up a lot of bottles. Guess it’s time to brew more beer.

drainage | 11:16 am CST
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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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Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

Got up at five this morning to get in line for tickets to the Great Taste of the Midwest. Actually got in line at about five forty-five. There are only 300 tickets for sale at this location, and each person is allowed to buy two. At about eight o’clock, they started handing out numbered wrist bands. I got 148. B got 149. Couldn’t have cut it much closer than that. Looks like we’ll have to get up at four next year.

GTOM tickets | 8:50 am CST
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Sunday, January 25th, 2015

Omigod. I am so full. Still. We went to Stalzy’s Deli for dinner last night and they served us so much food and we ate all of it. WHAT WERE WE THINKING?

We didn’t eat ALL the head cheese. That was the only exception I can remember. In the spirit of the event we tried the head cheese, and agreed that it was good, but we also agreed that a little head cheese goes a long way and also that head cheese is a food that is probably in need of a robust rebranding effort. “Cheesehead” sounds whimsically funny, but somehow “head cheese” sounds … not right.

The rest of the appetizers were eagerly gobbled up by everyone at our table. Smoked deli meats, pickled cukes and Brussels sprouts, breads sliced & stuffed – it all got snatched up as the plate was passed hand to hand.

We ate all the cabbage rolls. Because they were sooo delicious.

I don’t think we ate all the spaetzel, but I’m going to stand fast on the claim that they gave us way more spaetzel than any six people could eat no matter how much beer was liberally poured to help wash it down.

I didn’t mention the beer? The good folks at Karben4 Brewing aided and abetted the crew at Stalzy’s to pair one of their fine brews with each course of the meal: A seasonal beer with the appetizer, a red ale with the first course, a black IPA with the next and a firkin of specially-crafted, barrel-aged IPA with the final course.

I was feeling full by the time I finished the spaetzel but couldn’t say no to the schnitzel, because Stalzy’s schnitzel is about as good as schnitzel gets. I really shouldn’t have eaten all of it, but I did. And hated myself for it. And loved every bite.

The final course was a cherry-stuffed pirogi drizzled with cream. I tried to eat it all. I really did. I just couldn’t. I could barely lift my fork by then.

I will eat nothing but leafy greens from now on.

fat fat fat | 8:50 am CST
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Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

In July, right after I started brewing beer using all-grain recipes, I made a batch of what was supposed to be a light blonde ale using a recipe I’d found on the internet. I don’t usually tweak the recipes I find; if they’re good, I keep brewing them, but if I don’t like a recipe, I look for something else, so I didn’t think much about the amount of grain this recipe called for until I had finished boiling the batch and started to pump it into a fermenter. Why’s it look so dark? I wondered. This was supposed to be a blonde ale. I re-checked the recipe and noticed, somehow for the first time, that it was enough to make a ten-gallon batch! I brew five-gallon batches! To say this was a high-gravity brew is, well, a bit of an understatement.

I bottled it a couple weeks later, but apparently didn’t wait long enough for fermentation to have finished, because the dimples in the caps on the bottles turned into bumps and every cap I pried off gave way with a POW! instead of the usual pffft! And the beer wasn’t all that good. Cloyingly sweet and, I don’t know, just off. But I hated to pour it down the sink without trying to save it.

For the sake of experiment, I thought I’d see how much further fermentation might go by pouring a couple bottles into a half-gallon growler and leave it for a month or two. I made the mistake of opening the first bottle without chilling it, which must make one hell of a difference to how fast the carbon dioxide outgasses from the beer. Instead of the usual POW! this one opened with a cannon-like BOOM! and nearly every drop of beer erupted from the bottle in a geyser that nearly reached the ceiling. Luckily, I set the bottle in a sink before opening it, so the beer went down the drain instead of all over the floor, countertop or wherever.

I put two 22-ounce bottles in the fridge and left them there overnight, so they were well and truly chilled when I popped the tops off them the next evening. This time I got most of the beer into the growler, sealed it up and left it on the back of a dark shelf in the basement.

Last week, I finally brought that growler out, left it in the garage to chill and opened it the day after Thanksgiving while we were playing Boggle. At first, I wasn’t sure I liked it, but I have to admit it grew on me. I downed a couple glasses while we played. Sean asked for a refill on his first glass, too, so it must not have been too bad. I’m not sure what it’s like; I wouldn’t exactly call it beer, but it’s not all that bad. I probably won’t be making any more, though.

bottle rocket fuel | 6:12 am CST
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Friday, November 28th, 2014

Bottling Day! About four weeks ago, I brewed up a recipe for scotch ale that I found on the internet. Four weeks is about as long as you need to ferment any batch of beer, even one that started out with a gravity as high as 1068. I considered leaving it until next week, but after a quick after-lunch nap today I changed my mind, headed down to the basement and started washing bottles. I could easily do without that part of the hobby; there’s so much washing and cleaning that I end up with dishpan hands on brew day or bottling day. But the beer I end up with is so goooooooood! And I made it! So until it’s no fun any more, I clean and boil and bottle and BEER!

This is the first batch of scotch ale I’ve tried to make. There’s a brewing forum I visit online that has an enormous library of recipes I keep going back to because I haven’t been disappointed with any of them yet. The high-gravity brews have been especially tasty so I’ve been tending toward those. Kind of odd that it’s taken so long for me to try a scotch ale. From what I can tell, it turned out pretty good. It’s a little flat right now and won’t have the nicely crisp bite that a few weeks of bottle conditioning will give it, but I like the flavor it’s got right now, and it can only get better from here.

I need a name for it, and I’m open to suggestions. Any suggestions.

scotch ale | 3:47 pm CST
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Saturday, November 1st, 2014

It took her the better part of two weeks, but My Darling B finally found some Headless Heron, the pumpkin-spiced ale aged in bourbon barrels made by Central Waters Brewery. The brewers announced maybe two or three weeks ago that they were going to release it, but it’s taken this long to finally make it to the Madison area and it appears to be in limited supply.

Every night for the past week, we’ve been heading straight over to Steve’s Liquor on University Avenue after work to see if they had any; they just kept shaking their heads and, for the last two or three nights at least, I think they were getting a little tired of us. We stopped at Star Liquor on Willy Street next, then Jenifer Street Market, and finally at Licali’s Market on Monona Drive, just a few blocks from our house.

It was the owner of Licali’s who finally tipped us off that Headless Heron had finally hit down. We were in there two nights ago, for the third or fourth time, when the owner asked B for her phone number and told her she’d just give a call when they got some in. She even offered to hold a couple bottles.

B got the call today. Suspecting that the other stores might have gotten some in, too, we stopped at Star Liquor and scored a couple bottles, then pulled out of the parking lot of Jenifer Street Market with four bottles. True to her word, the gal at Licali’s had two bottles set aside under the counter, so B came home with enough to try one tonight and put the rest away for a special occasion.

headless heron | 1:50 pm CST
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Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Mickey's Tavern, Madison WIWe had dinner at Mickey’s Tavern on Willy Street because it’s guy night and I didn’t know what to make. Weirdly, now I do. Now, I would like to make a big pot of chili, but at five-thirty as I was driving along Willy Street and getting closer to the grocery store every minute, I didn’t have the foggiest idea what I wanted to make.

Luckily, there was Mickey’s, and they have the most delicious BLT, and they have eggplant sammies, and they have this thing called sexy fries, which is a big plate of thinly-sliced, deep-fried potato liberally sprinkled with grated parmesan cheese and red pepper and I can’t stop eating it no matter how much they pile on my plate, even though I feel as if I’m going to pop like a big white zit. And they have Lake Louie Warped Speed on tap. Holy crap, I love that beer.

We sat on the patio because this will probably be the last Thursday this year that it will be warm enough outside for us to sit on Mickey’s patio and eat dinner, and even today it was maybe just a few degrees over the line on the cool side for us to do that, but we did it anyway because, as I said, probably last time. I hope I’m wrong about that.

crisp | 8:14 pm CST
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Friday, October 3rd, 2014

Port of SeattleWe took our sweet time getting ready to hit the town this morning, not bothering to even get out of bed until about eight. HOW COULD WE BE SO LAZY? It’s just this simple: Today was our last day on vacation in Seattle. Heck, it was our last day of vacation. We were not going to rush it for anything.

We’d decided the night before to eat breakfast at The Athenian in the Public Market. That’s the restaurant where Tom Hanks and Rob Reiner went for lunch in Sleepless in Seattle, when they were talking about dating and whether or not Tom Hanks had a cute butt. (“I don’t know. Are we grading on a curve?”) The stools where they planted their butts are marked by plaques, but we didn’t sit in them. The hostess took us upstairs and sat us in a booth where we had a killer view of the Seattle Wheel, the port and the ferry terminal. The sky was clear and the sun was shining, so it was a way better place for breakfast than the stools at the counter downstairs. My butt would have to wait until another time to meet the chair that once cradled the butt of Tom Hanks.

I ordered what turned out to be the gooiest cinnamon roll ever. Ever! There are no cinnamon rolls anywhere else covered with that much gooey sweetness. You may think you’ve eaten a gooier cinnamon roll, but you’re wrong. It wasn’t even half as gooey as the one I ate. I couldn’t pick it up because the sweet goo had cemented it to the plate. I had to cut it into little pieces and then pry each little piece up with a knife and fork. It was really gooey!

B ordered a breakfast sammie on an English muffin that turned out to be two breakfast sammies on two English muffins. The menu didn’t make that as clear as it might have.

After we put all that breakfast away and washed it down with plenty of strong restaurant coffee, we went to do some basic souvenir shopping, starting just across the street with three kinds of smoked salmon and some beer for Tim. He deserved all that and more for volunteering to check in on our Little Red House and catsit Boo while we were away.

To get a gift for B, we went a little further down the block to stop at a fabric shop where she could buy a swatch of fabric printed with Seattle landmarks that she found on-line and dearly wanted to add to her collection. They still had some and it was practically sitting at the front door as she walked in, but there was no way she could just walk in and out of a fabric shop, so she happily spent about a half-hour wandering the aisles looking at all the other goodies.

The fabric shop was in a building with a whole lot of other souvenir shops at the street level. One level below them is The Pike Brewing Company. If you go to Seattle and you have time to visit just one brewpub, this would be a good pick. The beers are great, but the collection of beer stuff is eye-popping. Even if you’re not into beer or advertising or bottling or whatever, you will be agog at the sheer size of this collection. Seriously. Every wall has a framed poster or beer coaster or collection of bottle caps. Every level surface is taken up by a beer stein or a giant bottle of beer or a grinning little dancing bear holding mugs of beer. Really, it’s almost too much to describe. You won’t believe it until you see it. If you don’t want a beer, they’ll still let you in to wander around and gape in slack-jawed wonder, but if you drink beer I would have to recommend that you partake of at least one of their wonderful brews while you’re there. I was partial to Monk’s Uncle, their tripel.

The Pike Brewing Co

I mention The Pike because, while B roamed the aisles of the fabric shop, dreaming whatever happy dreams quilters have about fabric, I waited ever so patiently for The Pike to open. Okay, not really all that patiently. I could see them getting ready to open. The street level I was on was a sort of mezzanine that surrounded the tavern below, so all I had to do was lean over the rail and I could scope out almost the entire bar. And they’ve made their brewing equipment into a kind of modern art sculpture. The grain is lifted from the basement on a bucket lift to a big stainless steel bin that was high over my head, and the mash tun was on a platform at my level. The boil kettle was on the floor below and a big batch of brew was boiling away while the brewmaster stood by checking messages on her smart phone. I’d be lying if I said that all this didn’t make me thirsty.

But I went straight to the section with all the merchandise first when they finally opened, to get some bottled beer to take home. They had a great-looking flip-top growler I really wanted, too, but I wasn’t sure it would fit in our luggage, so I had to satisfy myself with a couple bombers of our favorite beers. Then, since we were there and it was open anyway, we bellied up to the bar where I asked what was on tap from the casks and ended up with a glass of cask-conditioned scotch ale. Wow. Really good. B joined me in a glass of scotch ale from the tap and we passed a happy half-hour or so there, planning the rest of our day, a trip to Fremont and Ballard to the north of Seattle to visit some of the area’s fine brewpubs.

Our first stop was going to be the bridge over Troll Avenue to look for the Fremont Troll but our visit to The Pike had made it necessary for me to stop sooner, so we made a detour to visit Fremont Brewing first. Looks like it was a garage or filling station before they refurbished it in the industrial chic-look that’s so popular in breweries run by very hip young people. That’s not meant to be a slam; I wake up every morning wishing I was a hip young person brewing beer in a refurbished filling station. They’re living the dream, as far as I’m concerned. The forecourt had been transformed into a beer garden with lots of freshly-varnished picnic tables that was patrolled by a black and white cat who deigned to stop just once to say hello to us, then moved on. They didn’t pour tasters here, so we had to order full-sized pours: B had the Dark Star Stout, creamy and sweet, and I had a saison called Harvest Ale, very refreshing. We passed a relaxing half hour on the patio with our beers in the warm afternoon sun trying to tempt the cat to come back, but no luck there.

Our search for the Fremont Troll lasted only a few minutes, because he’s at the end of the street that runs under the bridge and the street is called Troll Avenue. Not hard to find. I’m not sure why the Fremont Troll became so famous. Probably for the same reasons that the gum wall became famous: It’s just one of those things that somehow caught on with the visitors. Every tourist who comes through this part of town has to visit the Troll. There were maybe a dozen people there when we walked up, and in the ten minutes or so that we were there, maybe a dozen more came by. Nearly every one of them did what we did: Pose next to the troll so they could take a picture and post it on teh intarwebs. There must be millions of photos of the Troll on Facebook by now. Here’s one of them.

Somehow we found our way from the Troll to the right bus stop to get to Bad Jimmy’s Brewing Company for a flight of tasters. Bad Jimmy’s is a 15 bbl operation run out of what looks like a U-Store-It unit with a few tables and a short bar behind the roll-up door and some patio seating just outside. The owner smartly picked a location behind three local restaurant / bars that served pub food, and he encouraged visitors to get food from them and bring it over to the patio to eat with their beers. Wish I had those kind of smarts. We picked out four tasters to try: Strawberry Mango Heffe, Coffee Coca Vanilla Porter, Red Ale, and Cascadian Dark Ale (known to the regulars as CDA).

Hilliard's Beer

From there we went to Hillliard’s Beer, a much bigger operation than any of the other places we visited today. They operate out of what looks like a cleaned-up warehouse; every surface upwards of the floor bears a blinding coat of whitewash and the big open windows let in lots of light that’s reflected off the stainless steel tanks and freezer walls surrounding the open, airy corner of the building where the bar is set up. There’s plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. They served no food, but a food truck called Kiss My Grits was visiting while we were there. Hilliard’s did not serve tasters so we each ordered a full glass of beer. B had Original Singe, a red ale with a smoky flavor, and I had Chrome Satan, a refreshing brown lager.

Then on to NW Peaks Brewery, maybe the smallest operation we saw today, run out of what looked like a very small storage space. The tap room bore a strong resemblance to a basement man cave: There was a bar set up alongside a walk-in freezer and a small group of seats. Their brews are all named after peaks in the Pacific Northwest. We took our tasters outside and sampled them at one of the three or four tables in the asphalt lot out front, surrounded by pony kegs. Enchantment Saison and Redoubt Red very clear and crisp; Stuart Stout was a nice, full-bodied brew.

Stoup BrewingStoup Brewing was another placed that looked like it had taken over a rehabbed warehouse. There were just a few tables inside and quite a few more on the forecourt just outside the rolled up garage door. No food but again a visiting food truck was doing a brisk business selling freshly-made lumpia from the curb. We got tasters of Stoup Porter, Bavarian Hefeweizen and Northwest Red.

We got halfway up the block before I realized I’d left my bag at Stoup! B went on while I went back as quickly as I could, breaking into a trot when I realized our car keys were in that bag. It was still there, untouched under the table where I’d left it. Catastrophe averted.

I easily caught up with B at Reuben’s Brews, our last stop of the night. I couldn’t tell what the building might have been before. The area that was open to the public might have been a loading bay in a previous life. The public area was also the working part of the brewery; the brew kettle and mash tun were bolted to the floor right beside the big roll-up garage door. The serving bar was off to the right as we came in, a few places to sit off to the left and in the back, and more tables on the driveway out front. The place seemed to be enormously popular; there were lots of people inside and out. We ordered just two tasters here as we were already kind of hammered, but there were three guys at the table beside ours who ordered twelve tasters. Yes, they have that many beers on tap. If we’d known, we might have started there and worked our way south, instead of the other way around. We tried Koyt, a light-bodied brew, and Export Foreign Stout, a very robust brew.

We went back to Serious Pie for dinner again. It’s pizza I could never get tired of. Really, I could eat there every night.

pacnw day 8 | 4:37 pm CST
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Sunday, September 28th, 2014

B&O at Washington Park Portland ORB & I took the train west from Portland city center to Washington Park in the morning after breakfast. Washington Park is not a city park like the one on PSU campus we visited yesterday. That was a wide, green lawn with some tall trees, an island of serenity in the middle of a fairly large city. Washington Park, on the other hand, was a rising group of wooded hills at the southernmost end of a chain of parks that runs through the western edge of Portland, stretching north to south along the Willamette River. And though Washington Park was something of a brief coda at the end of those parks, it was still impressively substantial. We could have spent all four days of our visit to Portland rambling along the trails of Washington Park and we would have seen only a teeny-tiny part of it. That’s how big it is. I mean, it’s big. Really big.

We weren’t really there, however, to take in all its bigness. All we wanted to do this morning was have a little stroll around the Japanese Garden, or maybe the Rose Garden, depending on our moods. We weren’t sure which just yet. We were going to get there first, wander around a bit, then decide. While we were deciding, we took a little ramble through the park of the park where the Vietnam veteran’s memorial sits.

The memorial is in a little natural amphitheater with high pines surrounding it on the hilltops above. In the middle there’s a fountain in a pool, and a long, winding path spirals up out of the amphitheater around the pool. At intervals along the path there are granite monuments engraved with the names of the dead, a classic war memorial. I used to go out of my way to visit these things, but I’m kind of meh on them now. There are always going to be wars, but I’m not as gung-ho about them as I used to be. Seemed to me then as if there might be a point to it, but I have a much more difficult time seeing it now.

We ambled up the trail out of the amphitheater and then into the park, heading in no particular direction, although we wanted to end up at the road where we could catch the bus to the Japanese Gardens. By whatever lucky chance, we did end up there. The bus wasn’t due to come along for quite a while, so we spent a little time wandering here and there, waiting on a bench in the shade of a low tree, walking down the road and back up again, and finally standing at the bus stop until the bus finally showed up and took us around the park to drop us off at the gate of the Japanese Gardens.

International Rose Test Gardens Portland ORTurns out the Japanese Gardens charge admission, something we overlooked every single one of the dozen or so times we Googled it. The entrance fee was more than we were willing to pay, and especially so considering that the bathrooms were out of order, so we ditched the Gardens and went to the International Rose Test Gardens instead.

I honestly don’t know why they’re considered “international” or what they’re testing there, but there is one very important thing I know, and that is that admission is free. Also, there are roses. The place is lousy with them. Not the most complimentary comparison, I know, but really, there’s no direction you can turn and not see roses. Even a guy like me, who’s not easily impressed by flowers, was kind of amazed at how many of them could be crowded into a few acres. And the smell was purty.

We hung out there for a good long time, strolling from one garden to another, but believe it or not there’s only so much you can take of purty-smellin’ roses, no matter how many there in all the colors of the rainbow. Eventually, we found ourselves a nice bench in the shade to rest our butts on again and plot our next move. It was getting late enough to start thinking about where we would eat dinner. I didn’t have an opinion about it until B said something about ramen and a restaurant called Umai PDX. It sounded like a pretty good idea all of a sudden, so off we went in search of the bus that would take us there.

I can tell you it’s the #15 bus and you’re supposed to catch it somewhere in the vicinity of Providence Park. I can also tell you that you’ll wait for-freaking-ever and you’ll never see it.  Two #15 buses went the other way while we were standing there waiting for the one that was going in our direction, and I got the funny feeling as the second one went by that maybe we should have gotten on one of them just to see if maybe it wouldn’t loop around and take us where we wanted to go, but it was too late by then; Umai was closed.

Because we had ramen on our mind, we tried to catch the #20 bus next to a place called Biwa. The stop was just a block away, easy to get to and it seemed there might even be some hope it would eventually arrive, but after waiting for 20 minutes, B started Googling around to see when exactly we could get there and which stop we should get off and that’s when she realized Biwa didn’t open until 5 pm, an hour and a half from then.

We decided we were too hungry to wait for Biwa, so it was back to Providence Park to catch the streetcar to Boxer Ramen. There was even a streetcar coming down the hill as we approached, so we parked ourselves next to the track and waited. And waited. And when the streetcar didn’t turn the corner to pick us up, I asked B to wait while I did a little recon. That’s how I found out that we were waiting on the wrong side of the block! The tracks split and we were apparently waiting on the return loop, so we both went around the block and waited another fifteen or twenty minutes for the next streetcar. And that’s how we spent almost two hours near Providence Park waiting for transportation before we finally caught a ride to Southwest Park Street, eight blocks from Providence Park. We could’ve walked there on our hands faster than that.

I’m not sure the ramen at Boxer Ramen is worth waiting two hours for, but then I can’t say that the ramen at any place I’ve ever been, except maybe Cheese Rool Noodle, would be worth waiting two hours for. If you take the frustration of waiting two hours for three different mass transit options out of the equation, I would have to say that Boxer Ramen serves a pretty delicious bowl of ramen, and leave the rest up to you.

After filling ourselves with noodles and broth, B wanted to get a beer at Portland Brewing Co., a brewpub on the northwest side of town. Once again, we waited for the #15 bus long enough that we could have caught two #15s if they had arrived at the posted times. About five minutes after the second one was supposed to be there, I suggested to B that we go to BridgePort Brewing instead, mostly because it was on a streetcar line and not the phantom #15 bus line.

My Darling B at Salt & Straw Portland ORThe streetcar took us to a rather frou-frou neighborhood just north of Old Town, where lots of warehouses had been remodeled into lofts and were mixed with new industrial chic construction. I couldn’t decide of Bridgeport was in an old warehouse, or if the building was in new construction that was built to look like an old warehouse. And once we were on the loading dock with a couple beers in our hands, relaxing in the cool evening air, I didn’t care much anymore.

When we had finally had enough relaxation and beer, My Darling B craved ice cream. Well, it was a vacation, after all. We walked around the block to catch a bus that, for once, showed up on time and took us a few blocks further on to Salt & Straw, a humongously popular ice cream shop in a residential neighborhood that was so incredibly upscale that my khaki pants and t-shirt featuring the logo of a Midwest brewery fit right in with the Banana Republic cargo pants and brewery t-shirts that the other guys were wearing. It was weird blending in to a place like this. But we were there for ice cream and nothing else, so we had to fool the locals just long enough to make it through the door and then get out of there.

There was quite a line waiting to get into Salt & Straw. The place got rave reviews on all the web sites we Googled, but we weren’t quite expecting to see the crowds we found thronging the place when we got there. The line wrapped around the corner and we waited maybe twenty minutes to snake our way in and finally get to the counter to order, but the ice cream was every bit as good as the hype made it out to be. We sat on a bench along the street, ooohing and aaahing as we slurped up the creamy goodness from our waffle cones. This is one of those must-visit places if ever your in Portland.

For only the second or third time that day, the bus showed up on time and took us back to our B&B. It even stopped at the right street this time so we didn’t have to backtrack three blocks at a trot, hoping we’d get there before we wet our pants.

pacnw day 3 | 9:49 pm CST
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Saturday, September 27th, 2014

B on PSU campusSaturday morning, after we showered and made ourselves all pretty, we joined another couple, Jennifer and Jason, in the dining room for breakfast. There were other people staying in the B&B, but we were the only ones who asked for a hot breakfast. Jennifer and Jason, who I keep wanting to ship to “Jennison,” drove down from Washington state for the weekend to see Tears For Fears, one of their favorite pop music bands in concert at the Waterfront Park. Since they were from Washington, we asked them what there was to do in Seattle and one of the first things that came to their minds was the restaurant in Post Alley that serves clam chowder. Now, here’s a couple after our own hearts.

The Saturday market is a living scene out of almost any movie about a post-apocalyptic distopian society living in a tent city. As we wandered from tent to tent, the smell exotic foods and spices alternated with the smell of urine, then back to exotic foods and spices. Smoke filled the air, some of it from regular cigarettes, some from funny cigarettes. About half the crowd was dressed in military surplus clothing that would have been called “punk” back when I wore clothes like that (I wasn’t punk, I just liked military clothing). The punkers carried backpacks that appeared to be stuffed with all their possessions in the world, and I’m pretty sure that no less than every third one had skateboards under their arms. Occasionally a punker would stop me to ask if I would give him money. I would not.

Tourists were just as easy to spot: They were dressed in blue jeans or track clothes, wandered around with dazed half-smiles on their faces, and none of them asked me for money. There was one tourist who didn’t look like the rest: a geneticist from the Czech Republic we met while standing in line to sample a stout from Rogue Brewing. We learned he was a geneticist because he was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with a Campbells-style soup can labeled “Mendel’s Hereditary Pea Soup” and My Darling B wanted one just like it so bad that she asked him. Unfortunately for B, he said he got it from the Gregor Mendel museum in Brno. Kind of a long way to go for a t-shirt, no matter how much you like Mendel or genetics.

The Saturday market is not a farmer’s market; there’s food and drink, but it’s mostly lots and lots of crafty & kitschy items for sale – tie-dye shirts, trolls carved out of drift wood, belts of all colors and belt buckles of all sizes & shapes, hand-thrown pottery, framed photos & paintings, and just about any other thing you can think of. The actual farmer’s market, where they were selling fruits and veggies and things made out of fruit and veggies, was taking place on the Portland State University campus, and My Darling B wanted to visit that, too, so we jumped on the streetcar and rode it across town.

farmer's market at PSU Portland OR

The PSU campus was a whole ‘nother world from the Mad Max weirdness along the waterfront. Nobody there was wearing military surplus clothing or skateboarding on your toes. Nobody asked me for money. I never once caught a whiff of urine. There was freshly-prepared, non-GMO organic food everywhere. We could have passed an entire morning stuffing ourselves silly with samples of breads, sausages, veggies and fruits. Next time.

After wandering through as much of the farmer’s market as we could, we walked down to the end of the park to catch the streetcar back to the waterfront. Here’s a funny thing about Portland: Drivers will stop for you when you go to cross the street. We noticed this yesterday when we followed a native Portlandian as he crossed the street to the bus stop and three lanes of highway traffic stopped for us. I’m pretty sure that anyone from Portland would be run over by a truck within fifteen minutes of being plopped down anywhere in Madison because he’d step off a curb thinking that all traffic would come to a halt. No chance of that.

We rode the streetcar to the vicinity of the Marquam Bridged where we thought we’d find the Full Sail brewpub. It’s almost there. They’ve got a storefront with their logo etched on the windows, and when I peered inside it looked like the place was plumbed for some heavy-duty waterworks, but there was definitely no beer being made there yet, nor would there be for quite some time.

This threw our schedule off a bit. Unsure what to do next, but having no where in particular to be, we wandered north up the waterfront and accidentally came upon Hempstalk 2014, where about a thousand honest-to-jah tie-dyed hippies in dreadlocks were doing their part to reinforce the popular stoner stereotype. Great job, guys!

Hair Of The Dog Brewpub Portland OR

Just past Hempstalk, we crossed the Hawthorne Bridge into what was once an industrial neighborhood but appears to be fast becoming a Brooklyized suburb of Portland. Five blocks north of the bridge we stopped at Hair Of The Dog Brewery, where the beers all seem to have first names – Adam, Ruth, Greg, Bob, Lila. The brewers explain most of the names on the brewery’s web site. B was happy that there were a lot to sample that weren’t hoppy; she’s a sensitive flower and gets overpowered by hoppy beers. She can smell the hops in most beers before she gets the glass to her lips, and she doesn’t like the scent of most hops. There must be a variety out there with an aroma she will like, but I’m still trying to find it. I liked the variety and tried as many different beers as my palate could handle; probably more than it could handle, come to that. My samples included everything from the hoppiest ale to the darkest stout. And we ordered a plate of sausage & cheese to nosh on while we drank, so the taste buds in both our mouths got quite a workout at this, our first stop for refreshments today.

There was some discussion about how to get to the stop for the bus that would take us to our next destination, and some dispute over who found it. I think I kept us going in the right direction, but B claims that she found the magical staircase that took us up to Morrison Bridge, where the bus would actually stop. Whatever, we got there, the bus arrived on time and we were on our way without delay.

We were probably the only people at the Cascade Brewing Barrel House who were there to drink beer that was not sour. As soon as we caught sight of the sign out front, proclaiming this as “the house of sour,” we debated whether or not we should even go in. Sour beer is the new trend in craft beers. In the same way that craft brewers have been tying themselves in knots for years trying to out-hop one another, they are now trying to make beers so sour that you will pucker your face all the way down your own throat.

Sour beer is not our thing; on this, My Darling B and I are united. However, Cascade did offer two beers that were not sours, and we did come all this way, so we ordered samplers of those two and gave them a try. Not bad, but it was apparent these were not the beers they had a passion for making. I wish them well with their passion. They may have made the sourest of sour beers that ever went sour, but we’ll never know.

sampling a Buckman braggot at Green Dragon Right across the street, and I mean literally right across the street, there’s the Green Dragon, a tavern with a wonderful beer garden and dizzying array of beers on tap. There was also what looked like an impressive brewery set up in the back, although there was nothing called Green Dragon beer on tap. It turns out several different brewers used the premises to make their beers, one of them being Buckman Brewery. We tried as many samples of their brews as we thought we could handle: Mistly Pale Ale and Buck Ginger Pale Ale, both crisp but a little too hoppy for B’s taste; a fresh hop mead, whatever that is (my notes weren’t very clear on this and I can’t find it online); and two braggots – Black Braggot and Super Braggot. I’d never had a braggot before. A blend of beer and mead, it’s like a beer with a bit more body and zip. B & I both liked it.

The Lucky Labrador

The Lucky Labrador was our last stop of the day before we headed back to the B&B, and really we were there for soup and sandwiches more than the beer, which was still good. I liked the beer hall atmosphere and kind of wish we had been in a mood to stay longer and enjoy it, but by this time we’d spent hours tramping all over Portland and really weren’t. We ate our sammies and washed them down with our beers, and then we caught the first bus out of there.

The bus driver either didn’t see our signal to stop or we pulled the cord too late. B is sure we weren’t too late pulling the cord but whatever went wrong, we had to backtrack two or three blocks to the street our B&B was on after the bus went singing up the road past our stop. And we had to do it at a trot; the thirty-minute bus ride had exceeded the ability of our bladders to comfortably hold on to the beer we were ready to off-load.

B sat up and read her novel for a little while after we got back. She said I was enthusiastically sawing logs just a few minutes after I laid my head on the pillow.

pacnw day 2 | 9:37 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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Saturday, April 12th, 2014

cheater's witte beerThis is the batch I was sure I’d ruined last week by mashing it with water that was too hot. When I measured the temp of the mash just before I drained the sweet wort, it was about 170 degrees, maybe a little less. It was the first time I’d seen mash temps that high and I was pretty sure the batch was ruined, but I’d already put all that time and effort into brewing the batch, so I pitched the yeast into it anyway to see what would happen.

When I checked it the next day it was fermenting so vigorously that the air lock was full of foam and I had to replace it with a blow-off tube! So maybe not the complete failure I thought it was after all! Remains to be seen how it will taste, though, and I won’t know that for at least five, maybe six weeks.

Cheater’s Witte | 8:33 am CST
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Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

brewing a batch of beerI cribbed the grain bill for this latest batch of beer from the menu of Next Door Brewing, a brew they call Wilbur because of the oats they add to the mash. My Darling B says it’s her favorite of all the beers they brew, so I’m going to see if I can make some for her, too.

No worries, Next Door. We’ll keep coming back!

Wilbur | 9:34 pm CST
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Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

When I was a boy, our family used to pile into the car about once a month and make the two-hour drive from our home in central Wisconsin to visit my father’s parents in Door County where, mere minutes after we got out of the car and were welcomed at the door, my grandmother would begin to stuff us with food. And that woman could set out an impressive spread: baked hams, roasted chickens, mashed potatoes, corn and beans, dinner rolls and kolaches, and I don’t know what all else. She was an old-school housewife of Bohemian extraction who could pile on the hospitality like nobody’s business. If we arrived early in the afternoon she often had a lunch waiting for us, too, and at the end of the day as we packed up to go, she piled leftovers on a plate for us to take home. I didn’t think I would ever be fed like that again.

Until last night. We ate so much food last night that I’m pretty sure I won’t have to eat again until July.

Stalzy’s Deli, one of our very favorite places to eat, as well as one of the best places in town to stock up on lunch meat, bread and beer, set out a couple tables for dinner with food so delicious and plentiful in its variety that I couldn’t stop eating, even though my stomach threatened me with retribution of biblical proportions. “Just one more bite,” I kept assuring it.

We showed up to the party shortly after six to find they’d rearranged the tables. There was one long table in the front of the dining area and another in front of the beer coolers; we sat at the end of the table in the front and were immediately served a couple glasses of freshly-brewed beer from Next Door Brewing. The beer from Next Door is always fresh because brew master Keith Symonds is always brewing up a new batch of it in the neck-high stainless steel kettles that crowd one corner of his brew pub. From there, it goes straight to the cooler and gets drunk almost right away by the thirsty customers who throng the bar nightly. Keith was at the dinner to serve brews they’d chosen to go with each course. These beer-pairing dinners have become a thing around here, and I hope they continue to be a thing for many years to come.

The first round of beer was Wilbur, a cream ale made with rolled oats to give it a smooth, sweet flavor to go with the plate of pickled veggies they brought to our table: mushrooms and Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, onions and what looked like scapes. I tried a little of everything, and more than a few of the mushrooms because, you know, mushrooms. Well, maybe you don’t. My Darling B, a dedicated foodie, won’t have anything to do with mushrooms. She’s gamely tried a few but they don’t taste like anything to her, she says, so she won’t touch them. Or Brussels sprouts, but I understand that has more to do with a bad childhood experience. I’m not a fan of Brussels sprouts either but I enjoyed some last night, maybe the only time I’ve eaten Brussels sprouts that didn’t taste like rubber bands.

The veggies were just a small part of the “welcome course,” the rest of which included a plate of Russian rye bread and a bowl of duck liver mousse to spread on the rye, so rich that I probably shouldn’t have eaten more than a spoonful of it, but by the time I realized that it was way too late. Oops. There was also German flammekuche, a sort of bialy with carmelized onions in the center; and Latvian piragi, little buns stuffed with BACON! And what’s a welcome course without a plate of assorted Wisconsin cheeses: yummy fonegreek gouda, MonteAmore, muenster and a bowl of garlic cream cheese. B loved the cream cheese as much as I loved the duck mousse.

For the second course they brought out plates piled high with spaetzel and mushrooms in montchevre goat cheese, German-style green beans (BACON!) and boiled, sliced Yukon gold potatoes, which they paired with a foamy glass of Munchkin Rye. By the time I finished my moderate helping of spaetzel I was already feeling I might be in trouble by the end of the night because the third course was Ente gekocht in fett (which is German for “duck cooked in fat.” Those Germans don’t get too frou-frou with the names of their dishes, I guess) and smoked Labelle duck breast, served on a bed of braised red cabbage. There was no way I was missing any of that. The smoked duck breast, cut into thick slices, was almost sweet and yummily smoky. And they served the duck in duck fat as a whole leg of dark meat so tender that it fell off the bone at the slightest touch. I should have maybe nibbled just a bit of each to get the gist, but as soon as I got a taste I ate every damn bite, groaning with pleasure as I did. To go with the duck, Keith poured glasses of Sevex Ale, still my favorite Next Door brew.

Finally, each table got a Black Forest torte, four layers of chocolate cake with a deep, dark chocolate layer on the outside, whipped cream and cherries in between layers and plenty more on top and around the base. Wow. I mean, WOW! As if that wasn’t special enough, Judy, the maestro who thought up this delicious treat, told us she made it with cherries from the tree in her yard. It was fantastic, and it was the only thing I absolutely could not finish because by that time I was full to bursting. If I’d dared to eat it all, I feel confident in saying I would have literally busted a gut. My stomach still feels a little sore this morning just thinking about it.

What a night. We’re so looking forward to Stalzy’s next dinner, although we might have to go a little easy on the portions next time to make sure we can enjoy them all and still be able to get to the car without waddling.

hospitality | 10:33 am CST
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Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

“Bottle Bomb” is a term in the homebrewing hobby that refers to beer so enthusiastically carbonated that it blows the cap right off the bottle, and sometimes even bursts the bottle itself. I haven’t brewed a batch yet that produced a bottle bomb, but I came pretty close with a batch I brewed last July.

It was my second all-grain batch that I brewed from a recipe I found in an on-line forum, but I didn’t notice until after I’d finished that the grain bill was for a ten-gallon batch. I brew five-gallon batches, so I should’ve halved the recipe. It was supposed to be a light, refreshing summer beer but ended up being a high-gravity cauldron of too-sweet witches’ brew, something close to barleywine but not as tasty.

Seven months later, it’s still way too sweet to drink but home brewers as a rule don’t pour any of their creations down the drain if there’s any chance of saving it. Trouble was, the brew was not only too sweet, it was way over-carbonated. I’m pretty sure now that I bottled it before fermentation was complete because every bottle I opened erupted like a volcano, spewing foam from its neck for several minutes, and after I poured it into a glass it had a head several inches thick that wouldn’t go away. The bottle I opened a couple nights ago sounded like a small cannon and foam jumped several inches straight up from the neck. These were bottle bombs just waiting to go off! I didn’t want to dump them but I had to come up with some way of saving them to avoid a big mess in the corner of the brewery where I stockpile bottled beer.

Beer isn’t quite as explosive when it’s cold as it is when it’s warm, so I chilled three twenty-two-ounce bombers, then opened them and let them stand in the sink for about five minutes so they could outgas a bit. All three bottles barfed up a lot of foam, one vigorously enough to bring up the sediment from the bottom of the bottle. After five minutes there was still enough beer left to fill a swing-top growler I had on hand, pouring it carefully down the side to avoid making any more foam. The idea is to leave it for at least another month before opening it again. If I bottled it before fermentation was done, this should give it more than enough room to finish conditioning in the bottle so it’s something drinkable in the end.

foamy | 9:10 am CST
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It’s been kind of a long week, so it wasn’t surprising that last night after we got home, we kicked off our shoes, found a couple of cocktails and settled in to the most comfortable furniture in our Little Red House to watch Rio Bravo.

I’m sure something’s wrong with the commas in that sentence, but I can’t figure it out right now and anyway, My Darling B will drop me a note with all the necessary corrections after she reads this.

The work last week wasn’t particularly grueling, but there was a lot of it, so knowing that we wouldn’t have to go back for a couple days was a special kind of relief, and we celebrated it with something like cosmopolitan. I have no idea what a cosmopolitan is other than a cocktail that was apparently made famous by its association with the television series Sex And The City, or maybe it was Sex In The City. That particularly crucial cultural touchstone didn’t get touched by me, so all I know about it is that it has something to do with sex and cities and maybe cocktails.

The cocktail My Darling B mixed wasn’t quite a cosmopolitan because she was missing one or more of the ingredients, so she improvised and christened it a Mononapolitan. It was tart and it had a lot of vodka in it. I had just one. One was enough. Two or more of those and I probably would’ve ended up sleeping on the bathroom floor. I’m too old for that shit.

But I did pop open a beer just before we started watching Rio Bravo, because we rustled up some grub from the chuck wagon just before we hit the trail. If that sounded really corny, it’s probably because it’s a really corny movie. Wikipedia says Rio Bravo is considered Howard Hawks’ best film. I haven’t seen a lot of the films Howard Hawks made, but I would guess there weren’t any cornier than this one, so I’d change “best” to “corniest.” And I mean that in a good way.

It’s also the longest western I think I’ve ever seen. No, wait, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly was way longer, by about forty-two hours. That’s got to be the longest movie ever made. But Rio Bravo is plenty long for a cheeseball western. They could have easily shortened it to two hours if they’d cut the musical numbers – Dean Martin sings a duet with Ricky Nelson, then Ricky sings a duet with Walter Brennan; I told you it was corny – but then you would’ve had a movie starring Dean Martin without a Dean Martin song, and what sense would that make? Or they could’ve cut the many scenes where Angie Dickinson sashays around the room in her underwear, but same thing about not making sense.

Altogether after the long week, the Mononapolitan, the long, cheesy western and the beer, I was ready to hit the hay. And I’m here now to tell you that hay was well and truly hit.

cheeseball | 7:58 am CST
Category: beer, booze, entertainment, food & drink, movies, play
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Saturday, February 1st, 2014

At the Central Waters Brewery 16th Anniversary Party last weekend:

barleywine

“What are you drinking?”

“Barleywine.”

“May I try some?”

“You don’t like barleywine.”

“Maybe I do.”

She didn’t.

barleywine reaction | 6:24 am CST
Category: beer, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play | Tags:
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Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

Yay. The cat has finally curled up in my lap. Can’t do a thing while he’s turning in circles, looking for the right place to settle down. Can’t type a word, can’t sip my coffee, can’t even set down my coffee cup within easy reach because he would just keep sticking his snotty nose in it. I have to just sit here, waiting until he stops. So who’s the mammal in charge here?

image of B hugging Sean

Sean is home for Christmas. Touched down at Dane County Airport shortly after eight, where we scooped him up and motored into town to have dinner at Next Door Brewing. He pronounced himself very pleased with the taco plate. I had the Atwood Burger, delicious as always, and B loved her salmon sandwich. And of course there was beer. Can’t go to Next Door without partaking of a refreshing libation. B was especially satisfied with the Festivusale, but just a little saddened that the staff apparently forgot to provide her with the grievance form that was supposed to come with each glass. She was looking forward to hanging her grievance on the Festivus Pole.

Aargh! | 8:19 am CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, restaurants, Seanster | Tags:
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Sunday, October 20th, 2013

beerBeer’s ready!

It’s been at least four weeks since I’ve cooked up a batch of home brew, so I wanted something special. A porter seemed just about right for the cold days coming up, and I found a recipe that seemed to be not only very popular, but easy to tweak as well. Several people who tried it added their suggestions for turning it into a vanilla porter, which sounded like just what the doctor ordered. So here it is, a batch of porter, rather darker-looking than I thought it would be, and I’ve got a couple vanilla beans in a bottle filled with 8 ounces of vodka, an infusion that I’ll add to the porter three weeks from now when I’m getting it ready for bottling.


fillerup | 5:58 pm CST
Category: beer, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, play
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Sunday, October 13th, 2013

drinkingBShe only has two hands, but that doesn’t stop My Darling B from being a three-fisted drinker! We were at the Great Amherst Beer Festival, hosted by Central Waters Brewing yesterday when B found herself trying to juggle three cups of beer while we took photos of the goings-on. She turned out to be one of the goings-on.


beer juggling | 1:05 pm CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play
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Funny thing: I’ve been to two beer festivals in two months and at both of them I’ve seen bluegrass bands that made me, and I mean made me tap my feet. Last month it was The Material Guys at the Dilly-Dally, hosted by Karben4. This month, it was Horseshoes & Hand Grenades at the Great Amherst Beer Fest hosted by Central Waters. It gets me to thinking I ought to look for more live performances of bluegrass bands, but then I wonder if it would take the wonder out finding them by accident.

horseshoes & hand grenades | 8:34 am CST
Category: beer, entertainment, festivals, food & drink, music, play
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Monday, October 7th, 2013

Quick and Dirty version of our trip to California last week, typed up from my notes because I’m not sure how long it’ll take to expand on them and I’ve got lots to do this week but I wouldn’t want to deprive you. So:

Got into San Francisco in the afternoon on Friday. Taxi driver gave us a lively commentary while he narrowly avoided causing several accidents. After dropping bags at the hotel, walked down to Louis’s for an enormous sandwich. Wanted to go to bistro at Cliff House but there was a wait. Kind of hoity-toity, too. Then a walk to the point of Lincoln Park to see if the Golden Gate bridge was visible – it was, beautifully. That turned into a walk through the park. Didn’t stop at the overlook where several people have fallen to their deaths. By the time we came out the other side it was six thirty so we hopped the first bus into town. Bus driver a cranky old man because passengers kept getting on w/o paying. Got off at Hyde & rode a cable car to the waterfront. Wine tasting. Host was a world traveler, been to 31 states and 50-something countries, showed snapshots of trip to Cambodia. Good salesman: we left with 200 in wine. Long bus ride back to the hotel. Went to bed right away and slept the sleep of the just.

First stop Saturday morning was breakfast at Sweet Maple where the coffee was strong and the bacon was one inch thick. We got there just before the morning rush of very fit-looking people showed up. By the time we left, the line was out the door. From there we headed to Pier 39 to see the sea lions. There are a whole lot of floating docks moored off the far end of the pier so that dozens of fat sea lions will loll there for the benefit of tourists, instead of all over the docks where the expensive boats are tied up. After “see the sea lions” was checked off our bucket list, we wandered along the wharf toward Ghiardelli Square looking for the kiosk where we could buy a Muni day pass for the cable cars and buses. The kiosk turned out to be at the end of the Hyde-Powell cable car line. We planned to take the cable car to Lombard Street but went to Ghiardelli Square to do a little shopping first and ended up having ice cream for lunch! Back at the cable car, we tried to beat the long line of tourists waiting to get on at the end of the line by walking up the road a couple blocks and waiting at the next stop for the next car that came along was packed and the driver didn’t even pause long enough to flip us off. We wandered around until we could find a bus to take us back to the top of Lombard Street. Lots of tourists! The locals must love that! Then it was on to Telegraph Hill; easier said than done. B wanted to see the parrots but was not going to climb the hill; neither of us was in shape for it at that point. We had to circle around Union Square a couple times to figure out which bus to catch and where. When the bus finally dropped us off at the base of Coit Tower we were there barely five minutes before we saw the parrots of Telegraph Hill. Check off another item from our list. Walking down Filbert Steps was a huge disappointment: expected it to be a lot more scenic but it was more like a back alley. Stopped to quaff a couple of well-deserved cold beers at a bar in Union Square before walking up to Mason St to catch a cable car to the cable car museum. First cable car blew us off. A nice older lady, obviously a local, gave us advice on how to be more aggressive about making the driver stop. The next one stopped and the driver shouted, “Four! I can take four! There and there!” pointing at the fender. We jumped on and clung to the posts as the street car started up the hill, cars whizzing past us seemingly inches away. The trip to the museum wasn’t long but it was terrifying, or exhilarating, I’m not sure which. After wandering around the museum a bit, we caught a bus downtown to get a beer at a brewpub called The 21st Amendment which was unfortunately right down the street from the baseball stadium and a game had just let out; the place was packed! No quiet moment to be had there. We downed our beers and got out of there as quickly as we could, catching a street car across town, the intention being to get some dinner at a restaurant called The Social Kitchen. The streetcar dropped us off well short of our destination in a residential neighborhood where we had to wait about 20 mins for the next train. The brewpub was well worth the wait; good food and good beer. B sampled all their brews in a flight and I had just one glass before we ventured forth to catch the bus back to the hotel, which dropped us off short of our destination in a residential neighborhood! We just couldn’t catch a break with the transportation that day.

Picked up the camper van Sunday morning. Actually, I picked it up while B waited with the bags at the hotel. I left about 8 and got there about 10 riding bus, trains and walking about three blocks through a section of town that looked pretty sketchy, lots of old warehouses mixed with empty lots, but lots of new construction, too. The camper is really a minivan tricked out with a mattress on a fold-out plywood base, not very good for a camper as it turns out but very good considering the price. We drove north from SF across the Golden Gate bridge, through Marin to the Marin County Farmer’s Market where we whiled away a couple hours wandering around the vendors picking up some grapes & dates & some other tidbits to eat. A quick stop at Sears after that to pick up a blanket before we headed north to the Anderson Valley, where our first stop was the Lone Oaks winery. The lady there was very chatty and gave us several good tips for other places to stop while she poured us samples of her wine. Our second stop was Yorkville and our last stop at a winery that day was Bing. We stayed the night at Hendry Wood campground where it rained all night. I set up the rain fly so we could enjoy a picnic dinner of wine, crackers with hummus and some olives before turning in.

Monday morning we got some coffee at the historic Navarro general store then drove through the Navarro River Redwood Grove before stopping for breakfast at the Little River Inn, one of the good tips we got from the lady at Lone Oak. Then on to Mendocino, a hippy-dippy crafty town where we wandered from shop to shop for about an hour. A little further up the road I pulled off to see the Cabrillo Lighthouse on a whim; thought it was right there but turned out we had to hike about a mile through tick-infested grassland to get down to the point and back. Still had a nice time. We were almost killed in Ft Bragg when a truck driver who didn’t know the rules of a roundabout failed to yield to us. Turned on to the coastal highway which turned out to be one block long. Further down the main drag of Ft Bragg we stopped at the much-anticipated tasting room of North Coast Brewing, which is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Make a note. The gift shop at the brewery was open, though, and the nice lady there tipped us off to a restaurant in the harbor where their beer was served, so we went there for beer and macho nachos, a plate of nachos so big it takes macho men to eat it, or two hungry middle-aged travelers. We demolished that thing. Up the road a bit to make a stop at a the Pacific Star Winery, perched on the cliffs over the ocean where hundred-foot-tall breakers crashed ever so picturesquely against the rocks. Stayed overnight at MacKerricher state park where we could hear the surf crashing all night long, and I do mean crashing; it sounded like a continual train wreck out there and it seemed to get louder as the night went on. The gal at Pacific Star Winery said they had a big storm a day before and until then the ocean had been perfectly flat.

Got up about 8 Tuesday morning, showered & went in search of coffee. Couldn’t find any at the roadside stores & B didn’t want to go back to Ft Bragg so we went on. Found a campground at Westport where a nice woman gave us some coffee in tiny little cups but no lids so we couldn’t drink it while driving and we had some miles to put behind us that morning. Guzzled as much as we could, dumped the rest and went on. First stopped at the world-famous drive-through tree park. As we would find out later, there are about a gojillion world-famous drive-through tree parks. This particular one was the Chandelier Tree. We didn’t actually drive through it because it didn’t look like the van would fit. Bought a souvenir post card and moved on up scenic Highway 101 through Avenue of the Giants, stopping to gawk & take snapshots of the tall trees. Finally got some coffee & something to eat at the Avenue Cafe in Miranda, first meal we’d eaten since the plate of macho nachos we gobbled down at Silver’s in Ft Bragg the day before. I had the Philly cheese steak sandwich and can recommend it. Way too big. Ate the whole thing. B had jalapeno poppers, her very favorite appetizer, and a gigantic calzone. Couldn’t finish it. Wimp. Continued along Avenue of the Giants but had to double back where the road was closed for construction. Stopped at Meyer Flat so B could do some wine tasting at the River Bend Winery, then on to make a short stop at the visitor center on the Avenue of the Giants before a longer stop at Founder’s Grove to hike the loop trail & see the Dyerville Giant, a fallen redwood big as a battleship. Contemplated the grandeur of the grove, took lots of photos. On to Fortuna to sample the beer at Eel River Brewery, America’s first organic brewery but even more importantly home to some of the most delicious beers we sampled on this trip. We got a flight of a dozen beers, all they brewed. Yum. Every table had a basket of peanuts. Shuck them and throw the shells on the floor, because if you try to pile them neatly on the table the waitress will just sweep them off when she brings your beer. Spent a lovely hour or so there, then on to Trinidad. We were shooting for an RV park called Sounds of the Sea. When we got there, the lady who came out to check us in looked around and asked, “Where’s your unit?” Oh, we just have the van, I told her. “We only have spots for RVs.” Well, we just need a place to park it, don’t even need hookups. She looked at me like I was talking crazy talk, so I excused myself, got into the van and we drove a little further to Elk Country Lodge, and a good thing we did because we would’ve missed the herd of wild elk that traipses through the park morning and night. Wouldn’t have had our little dinner party of crackers and olives and wine in the laundry room that night, either.

Elk Country was a special find because we saw the herd of elk on the way in, then the herd came back Wednesday morning while we were showering & getting ready to go. They hung out in the meadow right next to the woods where we were camped. I followed them around & came back to the camp to find B had shut herself up in the van when she thought they were going to come right up to her. We left camp around eight-thirty to look for some breakfast. Stopped at the Redwood National Park entrance and picnic area to snap photos of ourselves next to the sign and the notice that the park was closed as a result of the federal government shutdown. All my life I wanted to visit Redwood National Park, and when I finally get here, what happens? We had breakfast at the Palm Cafe, and what an amazing breakfast! B had biscuits & gravy, her very favorite, and I had a stack of the fluffiest pancakes I’ve ever been privileged to stuff myself with. From there we went straight north, not making many stops until we got to Crescent City to fuel and another stop at Medford to visit the Apocalypse Brewery. It’s really hard to find because it’s in the back of a business park, looks like one of those U-Store-It units. The garage door was up but they weren’t open, didn’t open until four o’clock, so I can’t say anything about their beer, too bad. On to Ashland for a much-deserved beer and some food at Caldera, a brewpub in a cavernous metal barn where hundreds if not thousands of beer bottles are lined up on shelves up the wall. No two alike? Couldn’t tell. Checked in at Glenyan campground, then into town at about six to see the opening band before sitting down to watch Cymbaline at the Ashland Shakespeare Festival. The show was on their Elizabethan stage, meaning the seats encircled the stage like the old Globe Theater and it was open to the weather on top, so naturally it rained on us. We had seats right up front by the stage which would have been the greatest if they hadn’t been right under the open roof. We got them switched for a couple seats in the balcony where it was covered, which would’ve been great if we’d started out there and hadn’t gotten wet right off the bat. We slowly froze solid in our seats until intermission, then ducked out to head back to camp where we huddled together under the quilts for warmth.

Got up Thursday morning after it rained normal rain and acorn rain on the roof of the camper all night, stopping just before daybreak. Coffee & pastry at Mix in Ashland. Picked up more picnic food at the local co-op before heading out of town to search for more vinyards. Found Dana Campbell, Grizzly Peak, Thistlecroft, and Bella Fortuna – all closed until we got to Weisinger, which was just opening their tasting room. Sampled a few, bought a few and even got them to ship all the wine we’d collected up to then. Drove on to the town of Weed, stopped at Mount Shasta Brewing for a beer & souvenirs. Mount Shasta attracted the attention of the feds back in 2008 with their motto, “Try some legal Weed,” almost got shut down until the story made national news and popular opinion swung in favor of the brewer. From there we went to the Dunsmuir Brewing Works for a bite to eat and another lovingly-crafted microbrew. Would never have found this place without GPS; it’s all but hidden in a small storefront building that was maybe once a gas station and almost looks to be shut up and abandoned. Glad we made the effort to find it. I had a ploughman’s platter that filled me up: salmon that was smoked in-house, sausage, shrimp, peppers, two kinds of cheese and a hot demibagette with butter. B had an elk burger, perfectly grilled medium rare. Finally, drove up to Lake Shasta to look for a camp site. We wanted a camp fire that night but the first place we stopped was way back in the woods & had no fire rings. The next place was in a national park but appeared to be open anyway. We checked one more place that wasn’t as nice, so back to the national park after stopping at a gas station to fill up the tank, a bag of marshmallows and enough fire wood to build a roaring fire that burned long after the sun set. Toasted marshmallows are delicious with Sangiovese.

Up early Friday morning, stopped at a strip mall in town for coffee and a breakfast sammie. Had to hit the road and drive drive drive to get to Chico in time for Oktoberfest at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. Checked in to a hotel, cleaned up, walked down to the bus stop to pick up the shuttle that Sierra Nevada was running all evening. Got there about a half-hour before the fest opened, guy who was taking tickets chatted us up, was pretty surprised when we told him we came all the way from Madison. Great time. Food, beer & souvenir mug included in the modest price of the ticket. Drank plenty of beer, but not too much. Danced the chicken dance. That’s apparently a must at this event. Went back to the hotel around ten and slept like a baby, and how did that come to mean a good night’s sleep, by the way? Our boys slept in fits and starts and hardly ever through the night. Weird.

Saturday morning we booked a room in San Francisco. We talked about this the night before while we were getting cleaned up before Oktoberfest. A hotel room near the airport would make everything so much easier: we could drop off our bags at the hotel, return the van, spend a little time in the city, then catch an airport shuttle from the hotel. And that’s what we did. After dropping off the van we rode the light rail train into San Francisco to see a little more of the town. Went to the Thirsty Bear for a rack of tasters, the world’s greatest nuts and B’s favorite, duck sausage-stuffed olives, fried. Then on to Southern Pacific in the section of the city that was all warehouses surrounded by razor wire. Not sure if they were trying to keep something out or in. Didn’t look like a bad part of town, just not a populated part of town. Southern Pacific was on a dead-end street where a casual stroller would never find it. In spite of its location, it appeared to be one of the most popular hangouts in the Mission District. Got carded at the door; long time since that’s happened. Also a long time since I’ve been to a bar where Devo was playing on the stereo. After wolfing down a basket of fried washed down with house-made heffe and pilsner, our challenge was getting back to the hotel. Had to walk ten blocks through deserted streets of the warehouse district to a bus stop where we waited for almost an hour watching the wrong buses pass by. Finally our bus showed up twenty minutes late. After a thirty-minute bus ride we jumped off and still had to walk a block and a half to our hotel.

Packed Sunday morning after complementary breakfast in the lobby. Thought we did a pretty good job until we checked in at SFO & were told our check-through bag was overweight. Get it down to fifty pounds or pay $100, they said. We got it pared down to exactly fifty pounds. Then off to find a pub where we could finish our trip the way we started, with the now-traditional Bloody Marys. L’chaim!

SF vacation | 10:18 am CST
Category: beer, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, travel, vacation
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Saturday, October 5th, 2013

Another change of plans – not that we ever had a solid plan to begin with, but when we flew out to California, the rough idea was that we would stay in a hotel in San Francisco for the first two nights. Then, after we rented a camper, we would overnight at state and national parks as we drove north up the coast and south back down to San Francisco. We believed this was extraordinarily clever of us, because state and national parks are cheap. Yeah, when they’re open.

We scoped out all the parks along our route so we could easily find a place to stay no matter where we ended up on a particular day. And we even stuck to our plan for the first couple days, but we can sometimes be kinda inconsistent, and then there was the government shutdown thing. Actually, I’m going to blame it mostly on the government, just out of spite. Why not? But according to the plan, we were going to camp right up to and including our last night in California, somewhere near San Francisco, then get up in the morning, clean up as best as we could, drop the camper off and call a taxi to the airport.

Well.

After getting a good night’s sleep on a real bed in Chico, we talked it over for, oh, maybe a solid two or three minutes, and discovered that we were both of a mind to get another good night’s sleep in a hotel in San Francisco, preferably one that was close to the airport. We could drop off the camper as soon as we got there, spend the rest of the day in the city, be guaranteed a hot shower in the morning and head straight to the airport. Done deal.

But before we left Chico, we had to off-load a whole bunch of glassware that we’d collected along the way as souvenirs. A wine glass here or there doesn’t seem like much, but altogether it weighed a shit-ton and took up way more space than we had in our suitcases. Not a problem, though. We, in our cunning little minds, had already anticipated this. We found a UPS store in a strip mall in Chico, stacked all our glasses and bottles on the counter and asked the guy to send it back to our little red house in Wisconsin.

He seemed puzzled by our request. Not because we asked him to put stuff in a box and have it delivered, but apparently because of the shear volume of stuff. It was obvious that this was the first time anyone had ever asked him to do anything like this. It took him ten or fifteen minutes to wrap his head around the project before he began to arrange the glassware on the countertop, fitting them together like puzzle pieces. Then got out his tape measure to see if he had a box big enough to hold them. When his first try didn’t satisfy him, he rearranged everything, measured it again, shuffled a few pieces around and re-measured, et cetera forever and ever. Honestly, I didn’t expect it to take as long as it did. I figured we’d drop it off, he’s say “fifty dollars” or whatever, we’d pay him and that’d be it. When he was finally confident that he could pack it, he rang up an estimate of a hundred twenty dollars. We were visibly deflated, but by then we’d been standing there watching this guy for about an hour, and we knew we weren’t going to get it into our bags, so we paid him just to get the hell out of there. And that’s how we ended up with a collection of the most expensive wine glasses and beer glasses ever purchased by anybody anywhere.

Finally on the road again, B searched teh intarwebs for hotels while I drove back. She could do that because we set up our phones to be wifi hot spots. It was an arrangement that worked really well: B could navigate by keeping one eye on the little blue dot that crawled across Google maps as we drove down the road, or she could open a browser window to ask The Google where we could get a cold beer, a hot meal, or camp supplies, or even try to find out what the hell that big ugly animal in the road was, and so on.

B found a hotel that was not only close to the airport and offered a complimentary taxi ride, it was also about fifty yards from a bus stop and B could book a room on-line. Score! As we got closer to the city, we pulled over at one of those do-it-yourself car wash places to clean out the van with a giant super-suck vacuum cleaner, then went on through Oakland and crossed into San Francisco across the bay bridge. With B navigating from the right seat, finding the hotel was quick and easy.

After checking in and dropping our bags and assorted junk in the room, we drove across town to drop off the van. This was B’s first visit to the part of town called Dogpatch, mostly abandoned lots and warehouses that were slowly being taken over by growing businesses. We were supposed to leave the van in the lot behind a warehouse and drop the keys in a drop box, but the keys were attached to a fob that was too thick and wouldn’t fit through the slot. Funny, they didn’t mention that when they gave me instructions for returning the van. Somebody else must’ve noticed that before. I tried calling but there was no answer, so we left the keys locked in the van and walked back to the nearest streetcar stop.

A Flight of Beers at the Thirsty Bear brewpub, San Francisco CA

There were a couple of brewpubs in the city that we had pegged to visit: Our first stop was the Thirsty Bear, because B said they had the world’s greatest nuts. It had something to do with the way they were glazed. I thought they were okay, but give me a dish of roasted pistachios and I’m pretty happy with that. A dish of nuts wasn’t going to hold us over until we got something else to eat, though, so B asked for a plate of fried olives stuffed with duck sausage. I like to try new things, and I like just about anything with duck in it, but that sounded to me like the cook was just trying to be weird. Nothing weird about the beer, though. That was just tasty.

beer and fries at Southern Pacific Brewery San Francisco CAOur second stop was Southern Pacific Brewing somewhere in the heart of what must have been the industrial center of the city. The brewery itself occupied most, if not all of a former warehouse and was surrounded by other warehouses that have not been altered much since they stopped being warehouses, if they ever stopped, except that maybe one or two had a new coat of paint or a new fence topped by freshly-strung razor wire. We saw very few other people as we wandered the streets looking for the brewery, and I got the unsettled feeling that we were in a part of town that we should not have been in, but B kept telling me to relax as she pointed us down one street after another, The Google guiding us to our destination.

Southern Pacific was on a dead-end street; a casual stroller would never find it. In spite of its location, it appeared to be one of the most popular hangouts in the district. A block away, I got the impression that we were in a mostly-abandoned part of town, but as we turned the last corner we were suddenly swallowed up by a converging throng of smartly-dressed people heading in the same direction. They were almost all young people; B and I both got carded at the door. It’s been a long time since that’s happened. It’s also been a long time since I’ve been to a bar where Devo was playing on the stereo.

The place was packed, inside and out. Even so, B somehow managed to snag a table on the patio. It was a beautiful night, just warm enough to relax under the stars with a couple glasses of house-made heffe and pilsner and a basket of fried noshies to share between us.

It was fully dark by the time we left. Getting back to the hotel didn’t seem like much of a challenge at first: We had to walk maybe five or six blocks to the nearest bus stop, and the rest was virtually automatic. The streets around the brewery seemed even more deserted than before, though, and we saw nobody except for the occasional axe murderer hanging out in a doorway, or serial killer pushing a grocery cart stacked with body parts. B told me I was being paranoid, but she was walking as fast as I was.

We cooled our jets for a little more than an hour at the bus stop, watching every bus but the one we wanted whiz by, one after the other. When our bus finally showed up, it was twenty minutes late, or at least I think it was. The schedule apparently wasn’t worth much. After a thirty-minute bus ride we jumped off and discovered that we had to walk a block and a half to our hotel. Not too bad, but not as close as we thought. Whatever. It was still a good day.

California Day 9 | 6:36 am CST
Category: beer, brewpubs, food & drink, travel, vacation | Tags: , , ,
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Friday, October 4th, 2013

Shasta Lake CA

Had to hit the road as early as possible this morning and drive, drive, drive to get to Chico in time for Oktoberfest at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. Quite a lot of our drive took us through the area around Shasta Lake, gorgeous to look at but it’s part of a national park, right? Everywhere we went, we saw rangers standing vigil over sawhorses draped with signs that all said, “Go Away! Your government doesn’t want you to have fun today.” So hitting the road was about all we did until Chico. No sight-seeing today.

After a week of sleeping on the lumpy futon in the little hobo camper, we decided last night that we would splurge when we got to Chico and check into a hotel, where we could have an indecently long, scalding-hot shower before we went to the festival and sprawl on a king-sized bed when we got back. It would probably have been the best plan we made all week, if we hadn’t already planned to spend the day at the Sierra Nevada brewery, drinking beer and eating bratwurst with lots of sauerkraut. I had the sauerkraut. B doesn’t like sauerkraut, so her plan wasn’t as good as mine was.

The good folks at Sierra Nevada chartered a bus that ran from downtown Chico to the brewery and back, so all we had to do to get there was take a short walk, maybe four or five blocks through what looked like the central shopping district of the city. As we ambled slowly toward the bus stop, we notice a surprisingly large number of people camped out on the pavement. What was especially odd about them was that almost none of them asked us if we had money. They just watched us, very intently, as we walked by. Turns out this creeps me out way more than when they ask.

The bus that picked us up was one of those fifteen-passenger vans that hotels use to drive you to the airport. There was almost nobody waiting for it when we got there, but by the time it left, it was chock full o’ people. The driver dropped us off at the brewery about a half-hour before the fest opened its gates, so our busload ended up at the front of the line. A guy who came out to take tickets and put wristbands on us so we could waltz right in when the gates opened. He chatted us up while he worked and was pretty surprised when we told him we came all the way from Madison for this.

The fest was in a big tent set up behind the brewery, and when I say “big,” I mean it’s one of the man-man objects that can be seen from the moon. Off-the-scale big. Vast would not be too much exaggeration. I didn’t take the trouble to count, but I wouldn’t hesitate to bet that there were at least two hundred picnic tables in there, and there was still room left over for a stage up front where three or four bands took turns playing, to say nothing of the tables and booths in the back where they were selling merch. Really, really big.

Sierra Nevada Brewing Chico CA Oktoberfest

The tent was in a field alongside the brewery and the end of rows of hop poles that stood empty this late in the year. One side of the tent, the side that was facing a semi trailer where they were dispensing their beer, was open to the field. We each collected a big glass mug as we entered and something like five or six tickets, made our way straight through the tent, out the side and across the field to the trailer where nice young people were tapping beers and handing them across trestle table set up all along the side of the trailer. If memory serves, I asked for a glass of their Märzen first, the brew that they and every other brewery sells as their Oktoberfest seasonal. Sierra Nevada makes a Märzen that is even more deliciously refreshing after you’ve been driving all morning.

We found a seat at a table along the open side of the tent where we could hear the band, watch people go by, and watch the sky slowly fade from bright blue to twilit shades of purple and navy blue. I got my mug refilled twice (I’m pretty sure), once with a crisp lager and later with more Märzen; they both went down well. I’m sure there was a brat in there somewhere. Right after we came in, I think, but who cares? We were there for the beer.

Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest Chico CAThe beer, and the chicken dance! The highlight of the night was when I got to dance the chicken dance with My Darling B. Apparently it’s as much a tradition at this event as the beer is. I think every band that climbed up onto the stage played it at least once; I think one of them played it several times. Turns out I’m pretty bad at doing the chicken dance; I keep mixing up the order of the flapping and the cheeping and whatever else it is you’re supposed to do, but I always got the part right where I linked arms with B and ran around in a circle, and that was the most fun anyway, so I win.

We went back to the hotel at around ten and slept soundly as a couple of babies. Tell me, how did that come to mean a good night’s sleep, by the way? Our boys slept in fits and starts and hardly ever through the night. Weird.

California Day 8 | 8:34 pm CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, travel, vacation | Tags: ,
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Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

All night Wednesday and into Thursday morning it rained two kinds of rain: normal rain and acorn rain. We were parked at a campsite under an oak tree, y’see, and it was autumn, so every time the wind came up even just a little bit, the roof of the camper was pelted by a hail of acorns. It was like trying to sleep inside a snare drum. And yet, we still managed to sleep somehow.

After checking out of the campground, we went back to Ashland to look for a place to get some breakfast. There’s a kind of trendy coffee shop in Ashland called Mix Sweet Shop. We knew it was trendy but we like trendy so we went there anyway, ordered some sticky sweet morning rolls and a couple big mugs of coffee. After filling our bellies and warming up on java, we both decided we’d have to give it rave reviews, just like all the other Yelpers, but at the same time we felt a little underdressed in our rumbled sweatshirts and blue jeans, like maybe we should have been wearing yoga pants or spandex running gear.

We had to spend one more night in the wild, and B wanted to make s’mores over a camp fire, so we stopped at a local co-op before leaving town to pick up picnic food, marshmallows and graham crackers. B was – how shall I say this without getting pelted by rotten cabbages? – a happy camper.

Then we went in search of more vineyards. And we found, oh, a few: Dana Campbell, Grizzly Peak, Thistlecroft, and Bella Fortuna – but they were all closed, apparently because it was too early in the morning or too late in the season. But when we pulled up in front of Weisinger vineyards they were just opening the doors to their tasting room, so we hung around there for a while, sampling their wine and buying a few bottles of the ones we liked best. Bonus points to Weisinger: They ship wine, and they don’t care where you bought it, so we dredged all the bottles out of the bilge of our camper and brought them inside, where they packed everything up, took down our address and promised us we’d get our wine delivered to our door. And we did, all in good shape, a little more than a week after.

Mount Shasta Brewing Weed CA

After that we hit the road and drove for a while, crossing over the border into California as far as the town of Weed before we stopped at the Mount Shasta Brewing Company to stretch our legs and maybe quaff a beer or two. Because it’s in the town of Weed, Mount Shasta has adopted the motto, “Try legal Weed,” which apparently attracted the attention of the feds and almost got them shut down until the story made national news and popular opinion swung in favor of the brewer. Now they put it on all their souvenir t-shirts and hats.

From there we went a bit further on to the Dunsmuir Brewing Works to get a bite to eat and another lovingly-crafted microbrew. We would never have found this place without GPS; it’s all but hidden in a small storefront building that looked like maybe it was once a gas station and still kinda looks a lot like it’s shut up and abandoned. Good thing we made the effort to find it, though. Their ploughman’s platter filled me up in the best way: salmon that was smoked in-house, sausage, shrimp, peppers, two kinds of cheese and a hot demibagette with butter. B had an elk burger, perfectly grilled medium rare. And, of course, beer.

It was getting late by the time we hit the road again, so we drove up to Lake Shasta to look for a camp site. We wanted a camp fire that night but the first place we stopped was way back in the woods & had no fire rings. The next place, Antlers RV Park, was in Shasta-Trinity National Park – still closed by the feds, remember? BUT it appeared to be open. We checked one more place that wasn’t as nice, then went back to Antlers after stopping at a gas station to fill up the tank and grab a bundle of firewood. It was open! There were four or five other campers there, and they said that before the rangers left, they could stay as long as they wanted. So we slipped thirty dollars under the door, picked out a nice camp site not too far from the bathroom (it pays to plan ahead) and built a roaring fire that burned long after the sun set. We had one bottle of wine set aside in the camper that we popped open and shared as dusk deepened into night and all the stars came out. Turn out that toasted marshmallows are delicious with Sangiovese.

California Day 7 | 8:13 pm CST
Category: beer, coffee, food & drink, restaurants, travel, vacation, wine | Tags: , , ,
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Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

image of MHTG brew schoolOn Wednesday nights, the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild usually meets at the Wil-Mar Community Center to, y’know, learn more about beer. Last night, though, they met on the premises of Madison’s newest brew pub, Next Door Brewing Co, to learn about their beer. Next Door is so new that all of their beer was still fermenting, but Keith Symonds, Next Door’s brewmaster, was happy to talk about the beer he’s making as the MHTG members crowd into his kitchen to listen.

Brew School – Next Door Brewing | 5:53 am CST
Category: beer, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, play, restaurants | Tags:
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Monday, August 19th, 2013

image of hopsRiding my bike to work this morning, I spotted this towering pillar of hops growing in the community gardens just off Atwood Avenue. Some enterprising homebrewer is making the most of his garden plot! Wish I knew who he was so I could ask him how to tend a hop plant as successful as this one is.

I rode the 6.5 mile commute in just under 30 minutes and only three bikers passed me along the way. Of course, I saw only five or six other bikers the whole trip, but still.

I pedaled like a maniac on the way home trying to better my time but the best I could manage was 27 minutes. Got home before B did, though.


Tower of hops | 6:53 pm CST
Category: beer, food & drink, garden, hobby, homebrewing, play
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Sunday, August 18th, 2013

image of home-brewed beerAnother brewing day. This time I’m trying to brew an ESB, which stands for either extra-special bitter or extra-strong beer, depending on who you ask. I’m going to go with extra-strong, but only because I was careful to cut back on the bitterness. My Darling B doesn’t like bitter beers and I want her to like this one.

She surprised the hell out of me by liking the last one I brewed, a heffeweizen that I bottled yesterday. There’s always a little left over in the bottom of the pail that I pour into a glass and drink. It’s flat and it’s warm, but it’s beer and I don’t like to waste good beer. And I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was, actually, pretty good beer. When B brought some veggies into the basement from her garden to lay on the drying racks, I offered her a sip.

“What’ve you got here?” she asked, and after I told her I was trying to make a heffeweizen, she got her nose in the glass and gave it a good sniff. Her eyebrows shot up. “You know, it smells like a heffe.” Holding it up to the light, she said, “It even looks like a heffe.” Then she took a sip, sloshed it around in her mouth a bit and said, “I think you might have done it, dear. I think you may have made a heffe.” She won’t bullshit about how beer tastes, so I felt well-chuffed about that.

brewing up an ESB | 5:02 pm CST
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Sunday, August 11th, 2013

attending the Great Taste of the MidwestTime once again for the Great Taste of the Midwest, the very best beer fest anywhere in the world, as if that has to be said. We’ve been going to the Great Taste every year for seven years now but this time around there were two significantly different changes to the way we attended.

The first and most amazingly fun change we made was that we invited Sean and Nikki, his significant other, to the event. We snagged a few extra tickets and were trying to figure out how best to spread them out amongst our friends and acquaintances when My Darling B hit on the idea. To sweeten the pot, she bought the plane tickets for them, too, and we offered to put them up in our guest room while they were here. Not too surprisingly, they snapped at the offer, arriving the Friday night before the festival.

The other big difference is that last winter I became a member of the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild, the group that organizes the Great Taste, mostly because I’ve really wanted to help out at the event and I’d heard that I’d stand a better chance of being allowed to volunteer my time if I was a member, so I paid my dues, waited for the call for volunteers and raised my hand high in the air when it came. And you know what? Not only did they give me a chance by letting me help the vendors set up, they let me in with the rest of the members an hour before the gates opened! Now My Darling B wants to be a member and volunteer, too. I can provide her with a good character reference if she needs it.

At the Great Taste of the MidwestI think Nikki and Sean enjoyed it more than we did, as hard as that might be to believe, although B had a pretty darned good time this year as well, disappearing into the crowds with Nikki to look for more delicious beer whenever Sean and I got distracted by bacon on a stick or an appearance by Mama Digdown’s Brass Band. Then we’d all meet up again by texting each other on our cell phones or, later in the day when our eye-hand coordination had deteriorated to the point where some of our text messages became mostly nonsense (and here I’m thinking of the already-legendary “BACON MEAT IN OUR MOUTHS!”), by agreeing that we should all meet at the picnic blanket if we got split up.

When the taps ran dry and the people began to make their way home, the two youngest members of the tribe, still full of energy and just getting their weekend started, caught a downtown shuttle to join a dance party on the roof of the Children’s Museum where one of Nikki’s friends was DJing. Wow. I probably could’ve done that when I was thirty, but we’ll never know now. The two older members of the O-Folks headed home via the taxi queue where we waited in line for the better part of an hour before being packed tightly into a Toyota Prius with two other people headed back to their hotel room in Monona. We were practically sober by the time we returned to Our Humble O’Bode and ordered the customary after-fest pizza.

Many, many thank-yous go out from Drivel HQ to Nikki and Sean for coming all the way to Madison to make our visit to the fest this year extra-special.

Great Taste 2013 | 2:42 pm CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, My Darling B, O'Folks, O'Folks friends, play, Seanster
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Monday, August 5th, 2013

This evening I found the batch of beer I brewed yesterday standing in a puddle of its own puke. Sometimes even beer itself has trouble keeping beer down.

I’d loaded the beer – wannabe beer, really – into a great big glass bottle that should have had enough room in the neck to hold every burp, belch and backwash that the gurgling brew could have thrown up it, or so I thought, but at some point during the day it suffered a case of reflux that a dump truck full of Zanax wouldn’t have been able to control.

Cleanup required a hose, a pre-soak and a green scrubbie. That beer had better taste good.

splooey | 9:03 pm CST
Category: beer, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, play
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Saturday, July 20th, 2013

filling bottles with beerBottling Day! The second all-grain batch of beer is in bottles: six bombers and twenty pints, a respectable haul.

Still not sure what to all this batch. I’m not very good with names. It’s the batch that was supposed to be Centennial Blonde ale but I forgot to halve the recipe, so it’s a little sweeter and a lot more potent than it was supposed to be. Maybe Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster?


PGGB? | 2:36 pm CST
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Saturday, July 13th, 2013

Brewing Day!

brewdayThis will be my second try at brewing a light ale called Centennial Blonde. I brewed a batch of this about a week ago but forgot to halve the recipe (I was making a five-gallon batch versus the ten-gallon batch the recipe was written for), ending up with a powerfully strong soup that will I fear will be a lot more like barleywine than beer, not that that’s a bad thing. I fully intend to drink every drop of it, but I had my heart set on a batch of that blond ale so I stopped by the store on Wednesday and filled out my grain bill, half of it this time. Started in brewing this morning after coming one from the farmer’s market and finished up just in time to fire up the grill for dinner!

Centennial Blonde take two | 4:14 pm CST
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Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

fermentation chamberMonday night we went to a concert in the park and didn’t get home until around about nine-thirty, so I didn’t have time to work on my newest beer-making gadget until last night.

Harmonious Wail came to Monona to play a free gig in the park. If you ever get the opportunity to see them, even if you have to pay for it, I’d recommend that you go. They were a lot of fun. There’s Jeffo, the guy who plays bass – a bass guitar or a bass fiddle, depending on the mood I guess – and Sims, the other guy who plays either a mandolin or a guitar of one kind or another. Then there’s Maggie, who sings and plays just about anything she can lay her hands on. “Is she playing a cardboard box?” My Darling B asked me as the concert began. Yep, that’s what she was playing.

But anyway, back to the beer.

After dinner I made a trip to the store to bring home some foam insulation. I swear, the people they hire at that store are getting dumber every time I go there. The big four-by-eight sheets of pink extruded foam used to be inside the store where they keep the pre-cut plywood but apparently when they made the store bigger there wasn’t any room inside for the foam any longer, so they moved it. “Where do you keep the extruded foam?” I asked a guy at the service counter. “Uh,” he answered. “I”ll have to ask.” And he went to get somebody. Or you could look it up, I wanted to say. You’ve got a computer RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU!

To get the foam home I had to cut it into two-by-four-foot pieces because that’s what fits inside the car. I’m not one of those guys that goes tootling down the road with four-by-eight sheets of plywood and other building materials laid on the roof of my car, holding on to it with one hand through the driver-side window. So with each sheet on the floor of the barn I marked off each two-foot length, scored it with a craft knife, then stood it up and snapped off the pieces while every single mosquito in Dane County zeroed in on my exposed legs. It was a close thing toward the end there whether I would be able to finish before they drained me of my last pint.

Back home I began to slice up the foam into pieces that would fill the odd-sized space under the bench. I cobbled the bench together from wood that was left over after I knocked apart an old home-made bar that came with the house and, as a consequence of trying to make the most out of a limited amount of wood, it’s sort of an odd length. I cut two pieces to double-insulate the end where the coil will be mounted, but only one layer for the back because the bench is standing against a cement wall that never gets very warm anyway. There’s just one layer on the bottom and I’ll cut just one layer for the top, too, because if I installed two layers there wouldn’t be enough space inside for the carboys to stand up.

And that’s about as far as I got last night because I forgot to buy glue when I went to the store. *facepalm*

foamy | 4:42 am CST
Category: beer, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, play
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Sunday, July 7th, 2013

Brewing the last batch with the new brewing equipment went much more smoothly than the first time. If nothing else, I spilled a lot less beer, thanks to an afternoon I spent the weekend before with a guy named Charley. I watched him connect a hose from the mash tun to the pump, then connect another hose from the pump but wait until he let some brew drain down through the hoses to prime the pump before he connected it to the brew kettle. Well, dammit, I thought. Why wasn’t I able to figure that out on my own?

Charley brews beer with his dad in his parents’ garage. He also works at The Wine and Hop Shop, a store on the west side of town that sells supplies for making, well, wine and beer. If it were on my side of town I’d shop there all the time, but as they’re so far from where I live, I get over there only every once in a while, or shop their store through the internet. Luckily, I happened to check out the web site a couple weeks before they offered an all-grain brewing class, and because I was just about to start doing that, I signed up.

Eight other guys showed up at noon in Charley’s dad’s garage to watch Charley and Charley’s dad brew beer, listen to Charley give some pointers and ask a lot of questions. I asked a lot of questions that I hope weren’t too obnoxious, but I really wanted to know what was going on and I think what I took away helped quite a lot when I brewed this last batch. It certainly made me feel a lot more comfortable about the process. Brewing beer feels like magic to me, an art that can be truly known by only the few. I may or may not be one of the few, I don’t know, but each time I do it I learn a little bit more and the process becomes a little less daunting than I thought it was before.

Centennial Blonde Ale | 7:20 am CST
Category: beer, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, play
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Friday, July 5th, 2013

brewing beerGuess what I brewed a batch of today?

Still trying to figure out what I’m doing. The gadgets work fine, it’s the process I’m still trying to get hold of in my brain. I got nearly everything right today, except for one small mishap with the hose connections. What a mess that was.

The one big thing I got wrong was the grain bill. I bought enough grain for a 10-gallon batch, then mashed it as if it were a 5-gallon batch. And the thing of it is, if I’d realized what I’d done before I drained it all out of the mash tun and started boiling it, I could’ve fixed my mistake by simply brewing a 10-gallon batch. *facepalm*

I need a beer. Oh, wait. What’s this?


brew day! | 3:46 pm CST
Category: beer, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, play
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img of washing bottlesIf you asked me, Is there at least one thing about brewing beer that you dislike, kimo sabe? I would not hesitate a moment to answer: Washing the bottles, no question. A necessary task but a giant pain in the ass. There has got to be a robot out there to do this for me.

It’s time to bottle the hot mess that I brewed two weeks ago to find out what it tastes like. I really have no idea. I followed a recipe, sort of, but so many things went wrong that the final outcome is going to be nearly a complete surprise. It’s going to be beer, that’s all I’m sure of. Whether or not anybody besides me will want to drink it remains to be seen.

Updates to follow.

washed up | 9:22 am CST
Category: beer, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, play
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Thursday, July 4th, 2013

I am officially too tired to type, so this would of course be the perfect time to blog because why would I want this to make sense? See if you can follow me all the way to the last full stop.

My exhaustion stems from waking up sometime shortly after three o’clock this morning. There was a pot luck at work yesterday with so much good food that I have to admit that I overindulged a tad, leading to an after-midnight bout of indigestion. I sat up for a little more than an hour drinking glass after glass of water which eventually cleared my stomach and quieted my gut, but when I crawled back into I couldn’t get back to sleep. Also, I had developed a case of positively toxic gas that I had to release, but I didn’t think it was fair to do that to My Darling B, even with the ceiling fan going, so I got out of bed again just before five o’clock and put the kettle on to make a pot o’ joe.

After a cup of coffee I hopped on my bike and had a ride over to Save Big Money At Mendard’s. They opened the store as normal at six o’clock this morning but will be closing early at eight o’clock tonight due to the holiday so their employees can spend quality time with their families. I may have been the only customer in the store. I didn’t see anybody but employees, but it’s a big store, so there may have been one or two other customers hiding out in a far corner, several miles away.

My mission at Menard’s was to find brass fittings for my wort chiller. What’s a wort chiller? It’s anything you can use to bring the temperature of boiling wort down to room temp so you don’t kill the yeast that turn wort into beer. When I brewed on the stove top in the kitchen, I simply filled the kitchen sink up with water and ice and plopped the kettle in it. Later, I made a wort chiller out of 25 feet of copper pipe by wrapping the pipe around a paint can and running cold water through it.

I’ve still got that wort chiller and it still works great, but I made it for a kettle that’s just ten, maybe twelve inches deep. The electric brew kettle I use now is at least twenty inches deep, so I had to straighten some of the pipe to make a neck long enough to stick out of the top of the kettle. And it leaked, which was not a problem before because all the water dripped outside the kettle, but I didn’t want to count on that kind of luck after I re-engineered it. Hence, the search for proper brass fittings to make a leak-free connection.

I’ve complained before about how hard it is to find anything in Menard’s after they expanded the store to make it approximately as large as Montana so they could fill it with aisles and aisles of snack food and toilet paper. I wandered around for about ten minutes before I found what I was looking for. Mind you, that’s ten minutes of wandering around in the plumbing section. I wasn’t randomly wandering the aisles over in gardening, or electrical.

fittingsWhen I finally found the brass fittings, I had to figure out what I needed, which was a compression fitting that would screw into a hose barb. A compression fitting is a ring of brass that slips over the copper pipe and gets compressed by a nut that you can tighten over it. After everything’s screwed together, the pipe doesn’t leak. It’s a kind of plumbing magic that I don’t question. I’m just happy it works.

A hose barb is a brass tube that fits inside a hose on one end, and on the other end screws into a compression fitting. Or it should. Funny thing about compression fittings: The hose barbs aren’t made to screw directly into the nut. They’re made to screw into an adapter, which is made to screw into the nut, so hand over an additional two ninety-five, please. I’m sure there’s a good reason for doing it that way, other than to screw me out of a couple extra bucks. Maybe someday I’ll find out what it is.

Back at home I put everything together, hooked it up to the spigot and ran cold water through it full-blast to see how much leakage I would get. Result: None! Much happiness and joy followed. I will be even happier after I brew beer tomorrow and can dunk a drip-free wort chiller into the brew kettle.

I was finished with that before eight o’clock this morning. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so productive on a day off. But it was way too early in the day to take a nap, so I hopped on my bike again and headed north through Monona to see what kind of goodies were on sale at Batch Bakehouse. They had lots, but I had to go with my favorite, a raspberry oat bar, which I ate at one of the tables out front and washed down with a cup of freshly-squeezed orange juice before I got back on my bike and headed home.

I hadn’t intended on riding all the way around Lake Monona, but I was already halfway there so why not? Instead if turning around and heading back I went on up Williamson Street into town, around Monona Terrace and down John Nolan Drive to go home through the Waunona neighborhood. There’s a lot of places around here named with what appear to be random vowel strings.

Got home at nine-thirty. Mowed the lawn. Nothing much to tell you about there. Bet you’re relieved as hell to hear that.

After a few more chores around the house, I finally laid down around noon to see if I could get a nap. Nothing doing. How can that be? I’m dead on my feet and I can’t get some shuteye?

I laid there for an hour or so before I gave up, rolled out of bed and banged out this drivel. You’re welcome. How’d I do?

limping along | 3:24 pm CST
Category: beer, entertainment, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, play
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Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

amwheat001Just pulled the switch on my first-ever all-grain brew, an American wheat beer for the hot, hot days of July that are almost here already!

Wait, half the summer is gone? What the hell?

Whatever. I got the recipe from an on-line forum and from all reports it’s eminently drinkable. Well, duh. It’s beer. But more important than that, it’s simple. Mash the grain, boil the wort, add the hops, done. Leaving me plenty of time to pat myself on the back for doing it right but also, as I so often do, to fret over what I may be doing wrong.

The first thing I did wrong, for instance, was that I didn’t crack open a brew to properly inaugurate my basement brewery. I’m probably never gonna forgive myself for that.

Anyway, wish me luck. Updates when I can make them.

amwheat002Update #1 – Lessons Learned:

1. With 5500 watts of blistering electric heat, this kettle can BOIL! THE! SNOT! out of any wort I can put into it! So it’s very important not to position it beneath the air conditioning ducts where condensed water will rain down on the kettle and all that yummy beer cooking inside. Yeah. Remember that. If I’m going to keep on doing this in the basement, and I certainly aim to, then I’ll have to find an exhaust fan that can move a shit-ton of very humid air out the window very quickly.

2. Keep track of your hops. I dropped a hop sock with 1/3 ounce Magnum hops into the boil kettle, my usual practice back in extract-brewing days, and never saw it again. When I was boiling in a two-gallon kettle, I had no problem finding a lost hop sock with my stir spoon. In a 10-gallon keggle, very big problem. Insurmountable problem, really. I was a little worried it would get hung up on the heating element and burn, but I kept checking and never found it there, so fingers crossed it didn’t hurt anything.

3. Find another way to estimate the amount of water I need. I used a calculation I found on-line to figure that I needed 10 gallons of water due to grain absorption, boil-off and so on. I didn’t need anywhere near that amount. I ended up with 8.5 gal in the keggle so I ended up needing to boil the wort one hell of a lot longer than the 1 hour that the recipe called for.

amwheat003Update #2 – Lessons Learned:

4. When walking through all the steps to make beer, don’t forget the one that goes, “Then cool the wort down from boiling to 70 degrees F, because BOILING wort kills yeast, and dead yeast don’t make beer!” How did I forget that? Or, to put the question more accurately, how did I forget to make sure I’d be able to do that step? Because I have a wort chiller, and I knew I would have to use it, but I neglected to see if it would fit inside my boil kettle, which it does, and still stick out the top, which it does NOT. If the hoses don’t stick out the top, it doesn’t work. (There’s a more technical explanation that involves melting vinyl and off-flavors in your beer, but I’m trying to keep it simple here.) So when I got to the part about cooling down the wort I had to kind of wing it, draining it into the fermentation bucket, then plunging the wort chiller into the bucket and hoping like hell it would work that way. It did. But my nerves won’t be able to take winging it no more, so I’ll have to find some other way.

And then, the cleanup. I could do without that part. Haven’t figured out how to talk somebody else into doing it for me, though.

American wheat | 9:36 am CST
Category: beer, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, play
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Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

There is an unresolved argument in academic circles about whether the invention of beer was the primary reason that people in Mesopotamia, considered the birthplace of Western civilization about 10,000 years ago, first became agriculturalists.

By about 3200 BC, around the time the Sumerians invented the written word, beer had already held a significant role in the region’s customs and myths. But for all the notes that Sumerians took about the ingredients and the distribution of their libations, no precise recipes have ever been found. Left behind were only cuneiform texts that vaguely hint at the brewing process, perhaps none more poetically than the Hymn to Ninkasi, the Sumerian goddess of beer.

– For Its Latest Beer, a Craft Brewer Chooses an Unlikely Pairing: Archeology, NY Times, 6/18/2013

The Sumerians worshiped a goddess of beer? Clearly this is a civilization I must learn more about.

the reason we’re here | 6:39 pm CST
Category: beer, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, play
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Friday, June 7th, 2013

Just one more reason in my very long list of reasons not to move to Mississippi any time soon.

reason


Screen shot taken from The New Yorker’s interactive map of craft breweries across the US.

just one more | 8:07 pm CST
Category: beer, food & drink, play
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Monday, May 27th, 2013

mountedpanelAll it’s waiting for is thirty amps of scalding electric current!

I got the control panel all but finished this weekend. All the important wiring is done – I ran out of 14 gauge wire before I got a couple of the lights hooked up, but it’ll work without them – and I even managed to hang the monster from the wall all by myself in spite of the fact that it weighs more than I do. It tried to kill me twice, once by falling on me and once by giving me a heart attack, but I beat it both times!

When My Darling B laid eyes on it she rolled them higher than the sky and said, “Oh, come on! That is way overkill!” And she’s right again, of course. This control panel literally has all the bells and whistles. If I ever have to rebuild it (to brew bigger batches of beer, for instance), I’ll make it a lot simpler, now that I know how it works. I’ll leave out the alarm and at least half the lights, for instance.

All that’s left is to connect it to the main breaker panel through a GFCI, which stands for “use one of these or DIE!” It’s a special circuit breaker that gets between you and water so that any electric short won’t kill you. I don’t know how it works. All I know is it’s better to have one than not, so next weekend after the paycheck comes in I’ll be traipsing my little fanny down to Menard’s to bring one home and then, some time shortly after that, I’ll be brewing again.

And a good thing, too. My stock of homebrew’s getting a little low.

mounted panel | 2:54 pm CST
Category: beer, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, play
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Saturday, May 25th, 2013

cab1I’ve spent the afternoon wiring the control panel that I will someday plug my electric beer-brewing kettles into, if and when I ever complete it. The wiring’s not complicated – if it were, I would have given up before I started and gone back to extract brewing, boiling beer in my garage the way I’ve been doing it for many moons. But there is a lot more wiring than I thought there would be. The schematic diagram made it look so simple. The spaghetti-bowl reality of it is a completely different matter. Let’s take a look, shall we?

cab2Making beer probably should not be this insanely technological, and in all actuality I’ve learned since I bought the kit to build this contraption that a control panel doesn’t have to have all the lights and buzzers that this one has in order to make a good batch of beer, but I’m a complete noob when it comes to all-grain brewing in electric kettles and, not incidentally, a bit of a gadget freak, so the bling looked real good.

Out of all the stuff that’s mounted on the door, probably the only things that are absolutely necessary are the square-looking things called PIDs, which stands for “beer-making computer thingies,” and the switch that turns on the whole shebang. Oh, and the switch that selects which outlet to send power to, but that one’s necessary only because there are two outlets. I could’ve easily gone with just one outlet because I don’t plan on firing both kettles up, and in fact the way the switch works I wouldn’t be able to even if I wanted, but there has to be a way to do it, so there it is. A three-dollar double-throw, double-pole toggle switch would’ve done the same thing that the switch and four LED lights are doing in this kit build. Little bit of overkill going on there.

Almost all the stuff inside is needed, or at least I think it is. I’ll probably find out someday it’s not and kick myself around the block, but until then we’ll just pretend, shall we?

wiry | 9:09 pm CST
Category: beer, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, play
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Friday, May 24th, 2013

thismakesbeerThis machine makes beer.

I was up way past my bed time working on it last night. I was so absolutely bushed after finishing up that, when I finally came upstairs, I took each of the cats aside and explained to them that anybody who woke me up before five o’clock in the morning was going to be crated and shipped to the medical lab for scientific experimentation. They waited until exactly 5:02 am to wake me up today. Good kitties.

The last thing I needed to finish my beer-making machine was a drill bit that could cut holes big enough for the electrical outlets on the bottom of the cabinet. The guy who sold me a couple of electrically-heated kettles and started this whole adventure also loaned me some tools that would cut holes through sheet steel, but not big enough for these outlets, so I traipsed my little fanny down to Menard’s last night after dinner to save big money and came back with the tools I needed.

One of the tools was a hole saw. It fits in the end of a drill and cuts really big holes. It also makes one hell of a racket, and it damn near broke my arm when it went through the hole at an angle, wedging itself in tight enough to send the drill spinning in circles at three million rpm. Actually, that should’ve given me a bloody nose, too. I was wearing safety glasses and hearing protection, but the hardware store doesn’t sell anything that keeps runaway power tools from breaking your nose. That I know of.

The most challenging holes to cut out were the square holes for the PIDs, which stands for “beer-making blackbox computers.” These little gems are what sold me on the idea of trying all-grain brewing. Well, these and the rest of the gadgets, but beer-making computers sealed the deal. And these aren’t even the most sophisticated computers that make beer, but for a noob like me they’ll do the job nicely.

I had to cut the holes out with a jigsaw, then spend about a half-hour filing the rough edges off, straightening up the sides and squaring the corners until each PID slipped into place. This part was without question the noisiest phase of the whole operation, and it went on forever. I sure hope the cats were trying to sleep while I was doing that.

Now that all the hardware’s in place, I only have to wire the parts together to make them work, which should take only seventy million hours. *heavy sigh*

this makes beer | 5:54 am CST
Category: beer, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, play
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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
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Madison Craft Beer Week, play
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Sunday, May 12th, 2013

ebreweryBefore I tell you what I’ve been doing with wire and a sharp knife, here’s a disclaimer that I like to share as often as possible: Always cut away from you.

You will not take this advice, of course. I don’t know anybody who ever did. I never did. I used my sharp knives any damn way I pleased until the day the knife cut through the insulation just a leeetle bit faster than I thought it would and I made such a deep cut in my finger that it reminded me of an especially tender cut of juicy red meat. And the first thought that went through my mind was, Man! I wish I’d LISTENED!

I had to learn this lesson not once, but twice, because I’m a special kind of stupid.

I’ve been stripping lots of wire in order to piece together a control panel that will fire up the electric kettles I got for brewing beer. It took me the better part of two weeks to figure out where to put all the pieces so I could run wires between them without making it look like a bowl of tangled spaghetti. Actually, it took the better part of a week just to figure out what the pieces were. I’d never heard of a ‘contactor’ before and didn’t know why I needed one until I started working on this project. After digging that secret out of teh intarwebs and a few false starts that resulted in a lot of cussing while I took everything apart so I could start over, I finally laid out all the parts in a way that, as of yesterday evening, hasn’t resulted in violent disassembly or very much cussing at all. And I haven’t cut myself once.

Even so, I’m not very close to brewing beer yet. After the control panel is put together I have to wire it into the house’s main breaker panel. That’ll require datamining teh intarwebs for information again, stripping more wire and, of course, cussing. Can’t get these things done without cussing. It’s as essential to any toolbox as duct tape.

electric brewery | 10:39 am CST
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