Friday, September 26th, 2014

We thought we were making pretty good time to the airport, but it turned out we weren’t: We arrived shortly after 4:30 am and got through security by 4:45 am – not enough time, unfortunately, before the announced 5:00 am boarding time for us to kick off our annual vacation to the farthest reaches of the known world (aka the Continental United States) in our most traditional manner, breakfast sammies chased by a couple of bloody Marys at the Great Dane brewpub.

And even if we’d had enough time, the Great Dane was experiencing a few technical glitches that would have prevented them from obliging us. They were serving complimentary coffee only because the people at the cafe across the hall let them borrow a couple big insulated pump-carafes, or whatever they’re really called. We grabbed two cups to go and tried to sip them as we hurried to the other end of the terminal, but that didn’t work out too well, and to avoid having to fly all the way to Portland soaked in coffee we’d managed to splash all over ourselves, we nonchalantly dropped our cups in the garbage and speed-walked through the airport.

With high hopes, we boarded our plane. Frontier Airlines promised us when we bought our tickets – promised us! that there would be free drinks on the plane, but if we’d read the small print we would have learned that they ended their free drinks policy the week before we started our trip. Bummer, again.

Grabbed a banana and some OJ while waiting at Denver International Airport. Just wasn’t the same. Heavy sigh.

The only available seats on the flight from Denver to Portland were singles, but the nice lady at the boarding gate changed seats around so we could sit together, so there’s one other good thing that happened to us in an airport today. Still no free drinks on the plane, though. Gripe, gripe, gripe.

As the plane was getting ready to depart Denver, we overheard a couple of the flight attendants saying that a fire at a Chicago air traffic control building had forced airports all across the Midwest to shut down. Suddenly the no-drinks policy didn’t seem like such a big deal. We got out of Dodge just in the nick of time!

The taxi ride from the Portland airport to the B&B was pretty dull. Not that that’s a bad thing. It’s just that we’re used to a much more, shall we say, thrilling experience. Other cabbies seem to have trouble dividing their attention between driving and talking, for instance, and end up wandering from lane to lane, or narrowly missing a collision. Cabbies in Portland, by contrast, are deliberate, careful and not very chatty at all. Thanks, Portland cabbies!

The driver who picked us up at the airport had some kind of Slavic accent and at first didn’t seem to understand our directions, but when we offered to repeat them he waved us off, saying, “Okay, okay, okay!” Swell, I thought. Here we go on a scenic tour of the city, and fired up Google maps on my smart phone to see where he was taking us so I’d be able to call for help. Damned if he didn’t drive a beeline across town straight to the street our B&B was on. Okay! Okay! Okay!

While we were in Portland, we stayed at a B&B that was different from all the other B&B’s we’ve ever stayed at in that it hadn’t been all dolled up; it was just a great big house with lots of rooms upstairs. No themes, no showcases or shelves heaped with nick-knacks, just a big house with clean rooms at a decent price. I would recommend it if I didn’t think people would be disappointed that there wasn’t at least a collection of old tintype toys in the parlor.

After dropping our bags off at the B&B, we found the bus stop and rode into town, our destination being the Deschutes brewpub in the Pearl District of downtown Portland. We were starving for some grub and, well, it just so happened that they also brewed beer there, so we figured we’d try some of their beer too. If we had to. But when we got there, we found it wouldn’t be open for almost twenty minutes, so with time to kill we doubled back one block to Powell’s Bookstore.

All we were going to do was take a quick look around to see if it was as fabulous as we thought it would be, and OH. MY. GOD. It was more fabulous! I wandered further and further away from the lobby, getting flashbacks to the days and weeks we used to spend wandering the aisles of The Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver. When I realized how far away I’d gone, I doubled back to find My Darling B, but she had apparently wandered away, too, so I walked up to one of the many desks where the staff sat waiting to help people like me and asked, “If I were a used hardcover copy of The Caine Mutiny, where would I be?” The young lady behind the counter punched the name into her computer and asked, “Is that the one by Herman … Wouwulk?” (She couldn’t figure out how to pronounce “Wouk.”) (To tell the truth, I’ve never been able to, either.) Long story short, I walked out with a copy of The Caine Mutiny that very night, and not just any copy but a hardcover of the first printing with the original dust jacket, wrapped in cellophane. Squeee! That was literally THE book I most wanted to find at Powell’s.

B&O at Deschutes Brewery Portland ORWhen I finally caught up with B again we both really badly needed something to eat and drink, and it was past time for Deschutes to open, so out the door we went. The brewpub was just a block from Powell’s, so we didn’t have to walk far to satisfy any of our cravings. Before we even glanced at the menus, we ordered tasters from the tap list, a pretty slick move on our part, I gotta say. They served a half-dozen on a time, served on a wooden paddle with numbers seared into the little cutouts that held the glasses, each number matching a number on the drinks list so you could tell what you were sampling. This is why drinking beer is so much fun.

The food, it has to be said, was delicious, too, or maybe it was just that we were so hungry and the beer was making us happily relaxed. No. It was good food. It was bar food, sure, but good bar food. B had an elk burger, because what else are you going to have when there’s elk burger on the menu, and I had the special, something marinated pork something, and ate every bit of it. Gad, that was good.

We took a stroll around the neighborhood after lunch, partly to get the lay of the land and partly to walk off the food and beer. Or maybe it was the other way around. Whatever. We ended up walking along one of the main thoroughfares in this part of town, West Burnside Street, and I figured out (by Googling “portland sign”) that the big “Portland Oregon” sign we saw on the way into town was on top of a building next to the Burnside bridge, so we kept on going.

Well. The stretch of Burnside leading up to the bridge is in quite a colorful part of town, let me tell you. Leaving out the dozens of people laying on the sidewalk, almost all of whom want to know how much money you’ve got in your pockets (is it just me, or is that creepy as hell?), there are a number of establishments offering to satisfy your desire to stare openmouthed at women who have the skill set to work in a place called “Pussycats Live Nude Review.” And standing just outside these places are men talking about the show. Not barkers trying to talk you into going inside, just guys – they were all guys – talking about the show in no uncertain terms. We hurried past.

A little further up, closer to the bridge and on the north side of the street, is the entrance to Chinatown, flanked by stone dragons guarding either side of a tori gate that has seen better times. Lots more people were camping out on the pavement in front of the boarded-up shop fronts. We got the feeling that Portland’s Chinatown has seen better times.

B&O at the white stag sign Portland ORTo go the final hundred yards up the ramp to the bridge we had to step over a dozen or two more campers before we were finally, finally far enough up the road to snap a couple selfies with the sign in the background.

Just to fill space here, I’ll tell you that the sign has only recently been changed (in 2010, according to Wikipedia) to read “Portland Oregon,” and that it seems to be known most widely as the White Stag sign, after the sportsware maker that used to occupy the building under the sign. Not that we knew that when we took the photo. We just wanted something to remember Portland by, and the sign looked too cool as we rode the taxi into town.

It was getting on in the afternoon by this time and we needed a pick-me-up. B did a little Googling – we love our smartypants phones – and discovered there was a cafe run by Stumptown Coffee Roasters not far from the bridge. All she had to say was that it was one of the places in Portland that we had to check off our list and I was in it!

Our route to Stumptown took us past a Voodoo Doughnut shop. This was also one of those places that visitors to Portland feel they absolutely must check off their list. We saw more tourists with pink Voodoo Doughnut boxes than we saw homeless people; that’s a lot! But we were still full from Deschutes, and I didn’t feel like standing in a line for doughnuts, even if they were infused with more testosterone than a teenaged boy. Honestly, a hot espresso sounded much more enticing right then.

Stumptown didn’t disappoint. I’m no espresso connoisseur, but I liked what they were serving. B was happy with the chai latte, too, although they didn’t do much with the foam art at this particular place, I have to say. I don’t know from beans, but I know they’re supposed to draw a leaf or something on top.

Our pick-me-up gave us the steam to get back to Powell’s, this time for an extended visit. We both wandered the stacks until about five o’clock, picking out a few choice books for souvenirs. B bought a cookbook so big, there are killer asteroids that can only dream of having the mass of this book so they can smash planets to rubble. I found a set of Time-Life books about the moon landings that were almost as big and heavy. Powell’s shipped them all back home for about twenty-two cents. I don’t know how they do that, but wow.

We wanted to stop for a beer before we went back to the B&B and the guy behind the cash register at Powell’s recommended Bailey’s Taproom, which looked pretty cool but was jammed full of people when we got there. Right across the street, though, we found several tables open at Tugboat Brewing Co., a microbrew serving some yummy brown ales and stouts. The place doesn’t get a lot of love on Yelp but we thought it was just the place to rest our weary bones for a half-hour or so after walking all over downtown Portland.

We at dinner on the back porch of Caro Amico, a little neighborhood restaurant not far from the B&B. Cozy place, good food, and they’ll let you take the rest of the wine home if you don’t finish the bottle. A+++ would definitely slurp up a bowl of spaghetti there again.

pacnw day 1 | 9:36 pm CDT
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Sunday, May 6th, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

suds | 4:36 pm CDT
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Sunday, November 13th, 2011

I have the teensie-weansiest little headachette this morning, just a little pressure at my temples that makes my eyelids squeak when I blink them, as if they’re on rusty hinges. I’m sure it’ll go away after a cup of coffee.

This is definitely not the fault of the beer I drank during our tour of breweries in the Fox Valley. That beer was just way too good to be the cause of any kind of hangover, no matter how slight. There’s no way I can accept that such lovingly crafted, drinkable brews could in any way be deleterious to my health.

There was that Bloody Mary I nursed at the bar in the morning while we were waiting for the bus to pull up. They’ve never given me a headache before, but there’s always a first time.

The bus left the curb in front of Alchemy, one of our favorite places to go have a bite to eat and tip a brew after a long, hard slog through the work week. It also happens to be the headquarters of Hop Head Beer Tours, run by a trio of guys (Justin, Pepper, and a third guy who wasn’t able to make the trip and I forgot the name of because I wasn’t taking notes. Mea culpa.) who have been slaving away to give ordinary people such as me and My Darling B the extraordinary privilege of visiting the most amazing breweries in Wisconsin and talking to the guys who love to make beer.

I just realized: In every brewery we’ve been to, the brewers have all been guys. Why don’t women brew? There are plenty of women who love to drink beer. Why would they leave the brewing to the guys? I might have to look into that.

Anyway, we called a cab for the trip to Alchemy at nine-fifteen, figuring that it would be prudent to assume that we would need a cab ride home when we returned. I called Union Cab because their cabs are yellow. I deeply believe that cabs should be yellow with a belt of black and white checks. Union Cabs don’t have the checks, but at least they’re the right color. Okay, I don’t believe any of that. I called Union because they made a catchy radio jingle out of their phone number that always pops into my head whenever I think of calling a cab. A yellow Prius pulled up at the driveway precisely at nine-fifteen and the driver, after saying hello and confirming the destination, switched on a episode of This American Life and we were treated to a story about interstellar space travel. Would this happen anywhere other than Madison?

When we signed in, we learned that our group that day would be very intimate, just eight people and Eric “Bruiser” Brusewitz, the head brewer at The Great Dane. Bruiser brought along a box of six growlers, gallon jugs of beer, from the Dane for us to sample during the bus ride to Appleton. The bus itself was not a typical coach: The front half had coach seating, but the back half had four big, comfy wing chairs and two tables with bench seating on either side. The tables let us sit together in a close little group, pass around the beer samples and ask Bruiser a lot of questions, which he was more than happy to answer in great detail. And there were a lot of questions: Bruce, one of the guys taking the trip, was a home brewer who was really into the chemistry of fermentation, and Bruiser had not only been to brewer’s school (yes, there really is such a thing), he’d also traveled to breweries in Britain and Germany to learn about their brewing techniques (and drink beer – that lucky guy’s got the most awesome job in the world). Not only did he answer every question we asked him, he also had lots of great stories about brewing beer that made the trip way more fun than if we had just sat around drinking beer. Not that drinking beer all by itself isn’t fun.

Our first stop was not at a brewery at all, but at Schultz’s Cheese Haus in Beaver Dam, because Justin, one of the trip organizers, wanted to pair the beer we were drinking with some cheese. He chose a cheddar and bleu cheese mashup that Bruiser paired with a porter. Everyone gobbled up the cheese and the porter was so good that everyone asked for more.

The first brewery we visited was The Stone Cellar Brewpub tucked away in a part of Appleton known as Between The Locks, quite a pleasant surprise because my brother and I used to hang out in a bar called Skyline on the top floor of the building. The bar’s still there and still called Skyline, but it’s known as a comedy club now. I popped in for a quick peek at this almost-forgotten corner of my misspent youth and it doesn’t look much different.

The Stone Cellar’s brewery is on the ground floor above the pub. Collin, the brewer on duty, gave us a quick and dirty explanation of how he turned water, barley and yeast into beer, moving from one giant stainless steel tub to the next, before we machine-gunned him with questions. Actually, I think we salvoed before he was finished. In either case, he was more than happy to answer all our questions in as much detail as Bruiser did. When we were done in the brewery we retired to the pub where we got a complimentary pint of whatever we wanted and a commemorative pint glass with the pub’s logo silk-screened across the side. Some day I’ll have to hang a shelf or two where we can put up all the pub glasses we’ve collected in just the past few years.

Our next stop was at Title Town Brewing Company in Green Bay, a total geek-out for me because not only was it a brewpub, it was a brewpub in a train station, the old Chicago Northwestern station on Dousman Street. Brent, one of the brewers and, I think, one of the owners, too (I wish I’d kept notes), was into the history of the place and not only had a lot of beer memorabilia, he also had lots of photos of the depot, of trains at the depot, of railroad heralds, and on and on and on. It was fantastic. I’m still geeking out about it. Oh, and the beer was delicious, too.

Our last stop was dinner at Hinterland Brewing’s Green Bay restaurant (there’s one in Milwaukee, too), which was literally right across the street from Title Town. Where Title Town was more like a pub, Hinterland came across as a tony high-end restaurant, very quietly lit and actually very quiet. We tucked into a scrumptious taco dinner on the top floor before trooping downstairs for a tour of the brewery. Almost all the breweries we’ve been to are packed tightly into small spaces, but I’ve never before seen mash tuns and fermenters packed so closely and efficiently together as they were at Hinterland. We had to walk single file between the fermenters in the cold room, weaving our line between the legs of the giant tanks.

And that was our glorious day out. We came back with all the usual bling: pint glasses, a six-pack and a bottle or two, some coasters we pocketed as keepsakes. Oddly, neither one of us bought a t-shirt this time. I slept on the way back and I don’t think I snored too loudly, not that anybody else on the bus was going to care. I’m pretty sure most of them slept on the way home, too.

Fox Valley Brewery Tour | 11:35 am CDT
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Sunday, December 12th, 2010

image of me with beerI might possibly have drunk a little too much beer yesterday.

I was having dinner with My Darling B about two weeks ago at the Alchemy cafe, where I saw a poster for an upcoming tour of several breweries in the Milwaukee area. It was their first-ever attempt at putting together a tour like this, and we like supporting local business people who show this kind of initiative, so we signed up to go.

And it was my birthday this weekend, so it made a nice present.

So yesterday morning at eight-thirty we climbed into a taxi and headed into town. The bus was already waiting in front of Alchemy when we got there and the guy who organized the tour, Justin, was checking people in, which consisted of giving us a button with “Hop Head Beer Tour” on it and making us sign a waiver that said, and I’m sort of gisting it here, “You might get drunk and do stupid things that we don’t want to be responsible for, so sign here.”

They started getting us into the spirit of the tour right off the bat by handing out samples at the bar where B and I settled down for a cup of coffee. B sipped at a splash of a seasonal beer that I don’t recall the name of and I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t, either, so I’m not even going to bother asking. I ended up with a snort of cherry brandy the bartender makes his own darned self in a huge glass flask that was sitting in plain view on the bar, and like a big dummy I asked him what it was. That’s how I ended up with a dram in a shot glass.

We all loaded on to the bus and left town at about quarter past nine, hitting the interstate by nine-thirty and hitting the sauce just five minutes or so after that. Justin brought along one of his friends, Nate, a brewer from the Great Dane Pub & Brewing, and they both brought several growlers of their favorite beers, passed out Dixie cups and started pouring samples for us to enjoy. The hour and a half drive gave us just enough time to enjoy a pour of each of the growlers and even get a taste of the pony keg they brought along. These guys went all-out to maximize our beer enjoyment on this trip.

image of a hundred swilling santasOur first stop was the Lakefront Brewery where we had the surreal experience of walking into the middle of an annual migration of bicycling santas who stop at Lakefront to refill their hydration bottles and load up on carbs before continuing on their cold, snowy trip.

I have to say that Lakefront was probably our best stop of the day, not just because it was the first one and I can remember most of it, but because they seemed to be having so goddamn much fun there, particularly our tour guide, Oliver, who had quite a schtick worked up to explain the history of the brewery and the making of beer. The tour began at the mash tuns, exported from Germany and still labeled with lots of little placards in German that said “Achtung!” and so on, and ended up at the bottling machine, also a bargain-basement piece of equipment from a soda factory. When we got there, Oliver switched on a tape player and led us through a chorus of the theme from “Laverne and Shirley” and switched on the machine so a bottle with a glove on top came around the track on the machine. Don’t even tell me you don’t know what that’s about.

One of the most interesting parts of the tour was stopping to see the giant beer stein that used to be in the baseball stadium where the Brewers played. That stadium was torn down and the guys at Lakefront managed to snag the stein and set it up in the back corner of the brewery. Oliver tells us the Brewers tried to buy it back from them for a truckload of money. The brewery owners said, “You can have it back if you leave our name on the side.” They didn’t go for that, and the giant beer stein still sits in the back of the brewery.

After buying some souvenir beers at Lakefront, we loaded up the bus and went downtown to the Milwaukee Ale House to get some lunch. It was like pretty much every other downtown brewpub I’ve ever been to, and yet they did have the most amazingly delicious potato chips I think I’ve ever eaten in my whole life, period. I could have eaten one great big plate of those all by themselves, loaded up another great big plate and eaten myself to death on them. Truly, they were dangerously good. Oh, and beer. They served pretty good beer there, too. We especially liked an ale aged in bourbon barrels. I usually don’t go for that, but this was exceptionally well-made.

Just a few blocks down the road from the brew pub we pulled up to the Milwaukee Brewing Company where they made the beer served at the pub in a plain cinderblock building. It couldn’t have looked more like a public utility if it had been made of poured concrete, inside or out. The able staff gathered us around the bar, tore open a box filled with pint glasses, filled us up and took us on a tour of the brewing plant, which once again could have been the inside of a brewery, or a gas-fired electric power plant. It would have been impossible to tell without a tour guide to point and tell us where the water went in and the beer came out, especially as they took some liberties with labeling the controls. I found a set of dials labeled “flux capacitor” and after that I kept looking for other easter eggs, but never did locate a continuum transfunctioner.

By the time we left I was feeling a bit tipsy and I fell asleep on the ride to the Delafield Brewhaus. They set us up with a flight of tasters; I think there was a porter, and I definitely remember a weiss, or maybe it was a Belgian style, but to tell the truth I wasn’t hitting on all cylinders by then and what I really needed was something to eat, so I ordered their combo plate. What they brought me was a huge platter heaped with chunks of brown food-like substances: onion rings, cheese and chicken fingers, all breaded and deep-fried to the point of unrecognizability. And just in case that wasn’t enough, it was served with a side of french fries, more than we could ever normally eat if we didn’t have the munchies from drinking beer all afternoon. We polished off every last bit of it, got our complimentary pint glass filled on the way out and climbed aboard the bus for the trip home.

I remember virtually nothing of the trip home. Loaded up with beer and fried foods, I fell asleep almost instantly and didn’t wake up until we began winding through the streets of Madison, where thick, heavy snow was falling. Naturally, we couldn’t get a cab. This seems to happen to us every time we try to do the responsible thing and take a cab when we know we’ll be coming home late after drinking a lot of beer. It’s like the universe wants us to drink and drive. Well, lucky for us Tim not only answered his phone, he was also willing to pick us up and take us home on the snow-covered, slippery streets. What a guy.

Hop Head Beer Tour | 3:58 pm CDT
Category: beer, daily drivel, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants, T-Dawg | Tags: , , , ,
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Saturday, July 31st, 2010

My Darling B works with people who sure know how to have a good time.

After picking her up from work at the usual hour we drove just a couple blocks to the Great Dane tavern near the Hilldale Mall to down a few cold beers, maybe eat some greasy food and tell stories. Mostly tell stories. None of which I feel I can repeat here. The stories you tell in the tavern on Friday night ought to stay in the tavern, right?

But I think I can say that we all had a lot of fun telling them right up to the time we hit the road at about eight o’clock, which is about as long as I should be allowed to sit in a tavern drinking and telling stories. Any longer than that and I usually end up enjoying myself just a little too much. As it was, I ended up sawing logs in the recliner at nine o’clock and after waking myself with a particularly loud zawp! shuffled off to hit the sack soon after. Guess I just don’t have the steam for a late night out any longer.

Not that it’s going to stop me from taking My Darling B to the hangar dance tonight …

Lightweight | 6:52 am CDT
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