Sunday, August 19th, 2012

image of B&O at Brewer's gameMy Darling B and I took a little trip to Milwaukee yesterday afternoon to see our first Brewer’s game ever, courtesy of the good folks at Hop Head Beer Tours, who provided transportation and plenty of beer, which was not only freshly-brewed in the kettles at the Vintage Brewing Company but was poured by one of the brewers at Vintage! Sweet!

What I know about baseball is limited to a gist. If the guy hits the ball with the bat, he tries to run around the bases. There’s some other stuff that tumbles around in my head like trivia, but that’s about it, really. When other people start talking baseball, they might as well be talking about particle physics. Actually, I may know more about particle physics than baseball, but I don’t find myself in those conversations ever, and Hop Head Beer Tours won’t be tailgating at the next conference of particle physicists, so never mind.

On top of that, we knew that our seats were going to be somewhere between the sky and the clouds, and when we got there we discovered that our section seemed to be where they stuck all the drunk people and loud kids (check out the kid photobombing us in the snapshot). But we’d never been to a Brewer’s game and we’d been to Milwaukee just once before, and we really, really needed to take a day off, get out of Madison and to unwind as much as possible, and this sounded like a great way to do it.

image of Blatz beer signThe tour began at the Vintage brewpub, just off the beltline on the west side of town. I was already in such a relaxed mode that I wasn’t bothered in the least by the guy in the truck behind me who got all bunched up when I wouldn’t turn onto Whitney Way because the traffic light was still red. He honked his horn, he squealed his tires as he weaved around me, and he flipped me off as he left me in a cloud of his dust, but he didn’t push a single one of my buttons. I was in the zone.

We arrived at Vintage about forty minutes before the bus was scheduled to depart. B doesn’t like to be late for events like this, so when she asked, “When do you want to go?” I suggested that twelve-thirty ought to give us more than enough time to get across town, find a parking spot, check in and maybe even relax with a beer, and never feel rushed about it. I did not expect her to believe this would be the case, and she did not fail to meet my expectation. I then revised my suggestion: Noon. She was fully satisfied with that, and we left almost spot-on time. Ten minutes after backing out of the driveway of Our Humble O’Bode, we were exiting the beltway onto Whitney Way. Three minutes to park, five minutes to check in, two minutes to stop and say, “Well, what do you want to do now?” left us forty minutes to spare.

Since we had the time, and the idea had already been broached, we went into Vintage, settled onto a couple of comfortable bar stools and ordered beers to nurse until the bus started loading. I don’t know enough about Vintage to have learned the story about how they gathered up all the beer-themed kitsch from the 60s and 70s they could get their hands on. It’s everywhere, and the furnishings play up the time warp feeling to make the pub a very comfortable place to relax. I felt as though I was in the sort of Wisconsin supper club that my mom and dad used to take us to when we went out to eat dinner with friends.

I wasn’t quite finished with my beer when the bus began to load up, but no worries. We weren’t more than ten or fifteen minutes outside the city limits when Filipe pried the top off the cooler and Jeff, our helpful host from Vintage, began making his way down the aisle pouring samples of the brewery’s beer from a growler under his arm. It takes a lot of skill to pour beer into a teensy-tiny cup while rolling down the highway on a moving bus, and I’m happy to say that Jeff managed to keep all of the beer out of my lap until we were rolling through the streets of Milwaukee, where even a Shaolin monk wouldn’t have had enough self-control to pour beer without spilling.

image of B at Wisconsin Cheese MartOn our arrival in Milwaukee we made a short stop at the Wisconsin Cheese Mart. I’m not sure but I think that every time we’ve gone along on one of the Hop Head Beer Tours they stopped at a cheese store. I’m not sure why. Maybe they just like cheese a whole lot, or maybe they figure that, since we’re in Wisconsin, they should make sure they include cheese as part of the tour. I’m not complaining, and B is not only not complaining, she enjoys it very much. She brought a cooler along on this trip just to keep cheese in, and she filled it up with her favorite hard-to-find cheeses. We almost spent as much on cheese as we did for one of us to go on the tour! The girl does love her cheeses.

image of beer poster at Wisconsin Cheese MartWisconsin Cheese Mart serves beer as well as cheese, but we did not partake. B wanted to spend her time there shopping, and I didn’t want to chug a beer in the short time we had, so I wandered around looking at the architecture and the memorabilia on the walls. The cheese mart was in a gentrified section of Milwaukee where lots of buildings from the 1800s had been restored, and there were lots of photos on the walls depicting the neighborhood as it appeared back in the old days, but one of the most eye-catching, and not incidentally the most relevant mementos was a framed print of what looked like a page out of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel depicting 99 bottles of Wisconsin beers. Almost nobody took any notice of it, but B and I studied the old bottles for a while, and wondered where we could get a copy of it for ourselves. I’m still wondering. I must’ve wasted an hour and a half this morning poking around on the internet trying to find that thing and, although I found a low-rez reproduction of it on the designer’s web site, I can’t find it for sale anywhere! Great. Now I’ll have to make it my life’s purpose to track down that print.

image of tour at Lakefront BreweryOur last stop before the ball game was Lakefront Brewing for a tour, because it’s a Hop Head Beer Tours tour, so they should probably get at least one tour of a brewery into each trip, right? B and I have visited Lakefront once before and it was so much fun that we really didn’t mind going on the tour once again, although our time there did seem a little rushed. If we’d had maybe twenty minutes more to relax and soak up some suds after the tour it would’ve made for a slightly more enjoyable stop. Traffic conspired to make us about fifteen minutes late, though, and had to get to the game early enough to do the tailgating that the Hop Head guys promised us, so we had only enough time to grab some souvenirs before we got back on the bus and headed to Miller Field.

As I said before, I know nothing about baseball, but it seems to me that tailgating is just as important, maybe even more important, as watching the game. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to learn that a lot of people tailgating in the parking lots around the stadium never even enter the stadium to watch the game. In fact, on the way back from the game we passed a group sitting around a radio, listening to the play-by-play with beers in their hands. I didn’t ask, but I’m pretty sure they never got any closer to the game than that.

A very essential part of tailgating appears to be trying to make more noise and/or drink more beer, or both, than the people around you. Several busloads of people had set up high-powered stereo sound systems that blasted rock music loud enough to shatter granite. I swear I could feel the ground shake while I ate my dinner, but maybe that was just the power of suggestion. And they left behind garbage bags full of empty beer cans, but it was all crappy beer so, in the contest to drink more beer, I’m pretty sure we won. I didn’t drink much beer myself, but I’m a firm believer that quality trumps quantity.

We schlepped ourselves over to the stadium after we finished our dinner and slowly made our way up to the nosebleed section. The stadium is a steel and concrete contraption that looks a lot more like a factory or a blimp hangar than a stadium. Yeah, there’s a baseball diamond right in the middle of it, but that sort of looks accidental, or at least it did to me. The arched roof was open to the sky and a cool breeze played across the stands, even in the rarefied air of the stratosphere where we were seated. I kid. I thought we had pretty good seats, really. We weren’t right behind home plate or anything, but I could see everything that was going on, even if I couldn’t understand a lot of it.

Watching the game does not seem to be something that most people go to the park to do, however. There were quite a lot of people around us who didn’t go there to watch the game. The five young ladies in the row right below ours in particular appeared to be doing nothing but updating their Facebook status and texting their friends. The only time they might have noticed there was a baseball game going on was when they took pictures of each other. The stadium and some of the game could possibly have been in the background. I can’t say for certain that they knew it was there, though. so it’s only conjecture that they saw it.

We didn’t stay to the end. We left at the end of the seventh inning because a) the Brewers were losing 4-1, b) the game was boring, and c) I didn’t want to walk back in the middle of a throng of drunken people. B was with me on all three counts. It was a good call: The Brewers couldn’t pull it out at the last minute, so we didn’t miss anything.

Brewers vs Phillies | 4:40 pm CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, travel | Tags: , ,
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Sunday, May 6th, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

suds | 4:36 pm CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, Madison Craft Beer Week, play, restaurants | Tags: , , , , ,
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