Friday, June 7th, 2013

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


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
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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.

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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Saturday, May 11th, 2013

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

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

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

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

dark, fiery & sensual | 7:27 am CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Madison Craft Beer Week, play
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Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fifteen | 12:09 am CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Madison Craft Beer Week, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags:
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Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Here’s a bottle opener that combines my love of gadgets with my love of beer. Prosit!

opener | 6:02 am CST
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I am now a card-carrying member of One Barrel’s Mug Club!


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

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

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

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

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

There is no better way to spend Sunday morning than camping out on a sidewalk in downtown Madison at six o’clock and waiting for the stroke of noon, when tickets go on sale for the Great Taste of the Midwest.

This is the fourth time we’ve bought tickets this way, if memory serves. The first time we casually got out of bed at whatever time, drank some coffee, ate some breakfast, showered, shaved and dressed, and at about nine o’clock we finally got in the car to head into town. So at about nine-fifteen we joined the lineup of people waiting to get into Star Liquor and scoffed at the stories from the people who had been there since four o’clock that morning.

But it turned out that we got there just in the nick of time: Around mid-morning they hand out placeholder tickets, and we got numbers 264 and 265. That meant that we were guaranteed at least two of the 600 tickets on sale (each person can buy two tickets). To make sure we didn’t sneak in so close to the end next year, we resolved to get out of bed an hour earlier.

Which we did. And ended up with numbers 258 and 259 – almost exactly the same place in line.

So last year we got up early enough to join the line at seven o’clock. I got number 252 that time. Geeze Louise!

This year, we did what we said we would never, ever be caught dead doing: We got up at five o’clock – we even set our alarms to make sure we got up! – and joined the line by six. And where did we end up? Hands up, everyone who said “Same place as last time?” To add to the frustration, we were in exactly the same place as last year: I got placeholder ticket 252, and B got 253.

At this rate, in five more years we’ll have to get up at midnight just to keep the same place in line. I like beer and I really like the Great Taste, but I think I’m done when it gets to that point.

252 again | 5:52 am CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, play
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Saturday, May 4th, 2013

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

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

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

burning carbs | 7:10 am CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Madison Craft Beer Week, O'Folks, O'Folks friends, play, restaurants
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Sunday, April 14th, 2013

Between movies, we had time enough to drive up to Brasserie V to check out some of the imported beers and fill up on some delicious pub food!

Photobomb! | 11:22 am CST
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Saturday, April 6th, 2013

HLT3I bought it. It’s mine. I took that hot liquor tank off his hands. This is it, the gateway to grain brewing.

When I got started brewing beer I didn’t think I’d ever be interested in brewing from scratch, but after reading up on it all week long I have to admit it sounds very cool. And also, the guy who sold me the HLT gave me some of his beer. After tasting that, I really wanted to learn to make beer that tasted that good.

I’ll have to build a control panel for the HLT so I can plug it in and make beer with it. Lucky for me the guy I bought this from said he’d help me with that, because I’ve had a look at the schematic for the kit and although I’m not a total slouch at reading schematics, it would be challenging enough to make me think twice about trying it alone.

I’ll also have to do a little scratchbuilding to transform a plastic picnic cooler into a mash tun, and the same guy who sold me the HLT will let me have his brew kettle when he’s done with it. That’ll be all I need to brew my own beer in the basement.

movin on up | 5:03 pm CST
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Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Here it is, the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything.

bubbles | 6:00 pm CST
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electric hot liquor tankI think I have to buy this.

It’s a hot liquor tank, it’s used for brewing beer and – this is what really blows my mind – it’s electric, which would give me the amazing super-power of being able to brew beer in my basement where the rest of my brewing equipment is, instead of having to brew it in the garage, then carry a pot of boiling brew through the kitchen and down the stairs while silently chanting a prayer to the gods to protect me from tripping on something and transforming into a burn victim.

The guy who’s selling this little electric miracle, Scott, built it himself from parts. He also built an electronic controller for it so he could control how hot it got and, being a self-confessed gadget geek, he said he’d love to help me build my own controller.

Scott’s an all-grain brewer, meaning that he doesn’t use the gooey extract that I use to make beer. Nothing wrong with extract, but Scott gave me a sample of his beer and it’s way better than anything I’ve made. I would love to learn how to make beer like that, so I asked him to describe the process. He pulled out all his equipment: showed me his new hot liquor tank, hauled out the mash tun he made himself out of a bright orange plastic Igloo picnic cooler (I could do that!), but the brew kettle he had wasn’t big enough any more so he said he’d be making a bigger one and would be putting the one he showed me up for sale. I told him not to bother; I’d take it off his hands. We shook on the deal and I said I’d be back on Saturday with the money for the hot liquor tank. We’re going to work out the rest of the deal and the plan to build the controller then.

electric brewing | 6:04 am CST
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Sunday, March 31st, 2013

One of Madison’s own breweries, Ale Asylum, recently moved from its original location on Kinsman Blvd down the street and around the corner to a bigger, purpose-built brewing house that even The Google doesn’t know about yet* on Pankratz St, and until yesterday we were possibly the last people in town who hadn’t been there for a visit, so after our weekly Saturday morning ritual of drinking coffee in our jammies all morning, we showered and dressed and jumped into the O-Mobile to head over there for a bite of lunch.

Compared to their previous location, the new brewery is HUGE with lots more bells and whistles. The original brewery was shoehorned into one unit in a strip mall, but the Pankratz St location is so big that they appear to have plenty of room to add more equipment as their operation grows.

Not only is their brewery bigger, so is their brewpub. Thank goodness they had the resources to expand that along with the rest of their operation. And the food is still just as good as the beer. I tried their black bean burger and washed it down with a goblet of their house ale. My Darling B ordered a couple of fish tacos, which went so well with her glass of heffeweizen that she ordered a growler to take home for later.

After lunch, we went from Ale Asylum’s new location to their old home where a new microbrewery, Karben 4, has taken over the premises and even some of the equipment. The bartender poured tasters of their black IPA and Irish Red Ale as we talked about their beer before I finally settled on a glass of SamuRyePA. My Darling B didn’t have to dither too much about what she wanted: all she had to do was read that Night Call was a smoked porter and she knew she wanted a glass. We passed a happy hour sipping our suds before we headed back to Our Humble O’Bode.

*Okay, it turns out The Google does know after all. The brewery doesn’t show up on the satellite view when I searched the address, but when I zoomed in real close, Bingo!

an afternoon with beer | 3:28 pm CST
Category: beer, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags:
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Friday, March 15th, 2013

It’s our custom every year to retire to a booth at The Roman Candle pizza parlor and choose the films that we want to see at the annual Wisconsin Film Festival. In years past, the festival’s schedule has been published a week before tickets went on sale but this year, along with all the other changes to the festival that I don’t like, the schedule was published on Thursday and tickets were set to go on sale the following Saturday, giving us less than 48 hours to make our selections. Just in case anybody from the WFF is reading this: That’s really bogus, guys.

We took our usual booth, ordered a 14-inch Supreme and a couple beers, and set to work. A little more than an hour later, we had our first choices.

There were surprisingly few movies that reached out and grabbed me, but then I feel I didn’t have enough time to think about my choices. B, on the other hand, came up with a long list of movies she wanted to see. Reconciling our two lists was a quick and relatively painless process.

Somehow, B ate all but one slice of her half of the pizza and regretted it almost right away. “Ate. Too. Much. Pizza,” she moaned over and over, wondering how she was going to get through the night. I stopped a slice and a half short of finishing my half and somehow escaped the indigestion that plagued her until I ate the rest for lunch the next day, when I was stricken with the Oh My God Trots almost immediately. TMI? Sorry about that.

choices | 7:06 pm CST
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Thursday, March 14th, 2013

Becky and John joined us for our weekly night-out at Alchemy. My Darling B works with Becky at the DMV and about a month ago invited her and her husband, John, to join us for dinner at Smokey’s the last time we went there. Ever since then we’ve been trying to get together again. Our calendars finally matched up on this particular Thursday.

It also happened to be a party for the folks at Furthermore Brewing to roll out their new beer, Full Thicket, an IPA that B won’t have anything to do with because hoppy beer, she says, smells like armpits. I tried it and disagreed, but I’m not the sensitive flower she is. Lucking our way into a party for a new beer was good and bad: Good, because, hey, beer. Bad, and only in a very minor way, because the place was packed with beer-drinkers who’d come from all over the map to quaff a hearty brew and talk.

Even though we were closely seated around a very small table, we could hardly hear each other over the din of hundreds of happy people drinking beer. And that’s as it should be, but we gave up and checked out shortly after we finished our dinners, promising to meet there again on a Friday for the fish fry.

Alchemy | 8:05 am CST
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Monday, February 4th, 2013

Aw, hell yes!

Aw Hell Yes!

hell yes | 6:09 pm CST
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Monday, January 28th, 2013

We are exhausted after our long, long journey to the distant city of Stevens Point, where we stayed overnight after attending the 15th anniversary celebration of the Central Waters Brewing Company in Amherst. Really. I need a nap. Oh, wait, I already had a nap. Guess I’ll write some drivel, then.

If, for some reason, you glanced to the north as you drove along Highway Ten just outside Amherst and your eyes happened to fall on a certain plain white steel-walled utility building in the middle of a corn field, you would very probably never feel the slightest inkling that some of the finest beer in Wisconsin is brewed there. Last night, though, the long lineup of cars parked along both sides of the access road would have given you the idea that something rather important was going on there. That something was the fifteenth birthday party of the Central Waters Brewing Company.

My Darling B and I found out about it maybe a month ago when Paul, one of the brewery’s owners, was in Madison to host a beer tasting at Star Liquor on Willy Street. Star has one of these events almost every Friday. They’re a great opportunity to try new beers, or just enjoy the beers we’ve always enjoyed while chatting up the guys who make them. I mean, really, how can you not like talking to a guy who knows how to make great-tasting beer? It’s like meeting someone who can make happiness.

So while we were asking Paul a few nosy questions about his beer and how he made it, he mentioned that the brewery’s anniversary party was coming up, and that it was sort of a big deal. I was thinking maybe he meant it was a big deal on the scale of big deals in Amherst. I mean, the brewery has a tap room, a small place off to one side of the building where visitors can sit around a bar or at a few tables and partake of a few of whatever beers the brewery has on tap, and when I say small I mean maybe there are seats for twenty-five or thirty people. Sixty or seventy people might be able to get in there if they didn’t mind getting really friendly. How many more people could they get in there?

Paul said that for the party they didn’t confine people to the tasting room, but let them into the rest of the brewery to mingle around the fermenting tanks and brewing vats. I remember wondering then, and again last night, about the wisdom of allowing a hundred or more beer-drinkers to wander around amongst the plumbing and other delicate apparatus that he depended on for his livelihood, but then he’s been doing this for years, so he must have had some idea what he was getting himself in for.

Amherst is a drive of almost two hours from Our Humble O’Bode. There was no way in hell I could possibly have spent the afternoon drinking beer in any amount, then driven all the way back to Madison. As it turned out, I didn’t have to even consider it. The guys at Central Waters said on their Facebook page that they would be running a charter shuttle bus from Stevens Point to the brewery, so My Darling B did a little googling and found a B&B not far from the bus stop. We made reservations to stay the night.

It was a grand old Victorian house known as Dreams of Yesteryear. Check-in time was three but the owners let us in an hour early. That was so we could leave Madison at around noon, be in Stevens Point by two o’clock, and catch the first shuttle to the brewery at two-thirty. And it all went like clockwork, except for the last part.

Since we missed the first shuttle, we hung out in a bookstore downtown for a while where we discovered the new genre of books called “Urban Fantasy.” As near as we could figure them out by reading the jacket blurbs and looking at the cover illustrations, they were all variations on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer story. There were twice as many urban fantasy books as there were of almost any other subject in the store. People in Stevens Point really like their vampires.

I was completely wrong about how many people they could fit inside that building. There were hundreds of people buzzing around inside the brewery when we got there, and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to find out that thousands of people came and went over the course of the evening. Chartered buses were bringing visitors in from far away, and the cars parked along both sides of the roads bore license plates from several states. This was a big deal.

We took turns standing in the long, long line for specialty beers. My Darling B was especially keen on trying to get hold of the anniversary brew, but we never did manage to get any. While she was standing in line, though, the guy behind her noticed her cup was empty and poured her a shot from the growler he was carrying. He was either being very generous, or he wanted to empty the bottle before he got to the front of the line. Or maybe a little of both.

I tried two brews I’d never heard of before, Exodus and Le Petit Mort, both very tasty, but by the time I got them I had already had enough of standing in line, so I didn’t go back to try anything else. We made do with a couple beers from the regular taps while we listened to the band, or wandered around the brewery to check it out.

Being a couple of lightweights, we didn’t stay late at all, heading back to town on the seven-thirty shuttle. If I remember, we were in bed by nine so we wouldn’t miss breakfast in the morning. A good thing, too, because the hostess cooked up breakfast burritos that were delicious. I’d consider going back to Stevens Point just for that.

fifteen | 6:27 am CST
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Saturday, December 22nd, 2012

After the Mayan apocalypse brought the end of the universe some time late last night, I woke up this morning curled up around My Darling B. I always hoped that, if there was a heaven, it would be something like this.

I had to work yesterday but, when quitting time was drawing near, I shot B an e-mail that asked, “How about dinner at Alchemy? Want to meet me there?” B is not always sitting at her desk, and even when she is, she’s usually too busy to answer right away, so I didn’t expect to get an answer until she was putting away her work and shutting down her computer, which is why I honestly didn’t believe the e-mail that popped up in my inbox a minute later was from her. But it was. “OK!” was all it said.

I slid down the back of my bronto the minute the foreman yanked on the pterodactyl’s tail and was out the back door minutes later, cooling my heels at the curb as I waited for a break in traffic to cross Washington Avenue. The eastbound lanes were bumper to bumper with cars backed up from the capital to First Avenue and beyond. I couldn’t see what was holding up traffic. I had to wait about five minutes for the pokey-pants drivers in the westbound lane to let me through, picked my way through the traffic jam in the eastbound lane and I then I was on my way.

It was already getting dark and the wind was still rather brisk. I was bundled up tight and moving at a quick trot through the hard-packed snow. When my cell phone went deedle-deedle-deedle I was able to duck into a doorway for some shelter so I could take a glove off without losing any fingers to frostbite. “The roads SUCK!” My Darling B was texting me. “So do the sidewalks,” I texted back before bundling up and trotting away again.

She didn’t text again until I was sitting down at a table: “Traffic jam!” I warned her about the tailback on Washington; she tried to avoid it by crossing over at Blair and hit another jam-up. “CRAP CRAP CRAP! I just want a beer!” I checked the menu and asked, “Vanilla porter or Irish stout? I can have one waiting for you!” “VP” she texted back, so I ordered a porter and a plate of nachos with salsa to nosh on while I waited.

B had no luck getting through on Blair so she tried another route, punched through the snarl of cars on Washington and made her way to Alchemy on the back streets. It was almost five-thirty by the time she came through the front door with a big smile on her face, happy I guess to finally be out of the car and into a nice comfortable tavern where she could relax with a beer and a fish fry. The nachos bought me some extra brownie points.

heaven | 9:45 am CST
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Saturday, December 1st, 2012

Batch #7 is bottled! For the first time in a fortnight, the fermenters are empty and I can see the top of the workbench.

beer brewing homebrewing homebrew

This has got to be the darkest beer I’ve ever brewed. The end of the siphon I use to get the brew out of the big five-gallon bottle it was fermenting in has a bright orange tip. I could barely see it through the beer even when the tip was up against the side of the bottle.

It’s got a rich aroma and a sweet taste with just a hint of a bitter finish that even My Darling B, playing guinea pig taste-tester, gave high marks to, and if she says it’s not too bitter, I might just be onto this trick of balancing sweetness and bitterness. It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be.

beer brewing homebrewing homebrew

I got thirty-four bottles out of this batch, hitting the lucky number again.

Batch #7 Bottled! | 10:02 pm CST
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Your devoted drivelmeister was out way past his bed time last night, boys and girls, and he brings back reports of a rich chocolate treat that is the talk of the town. A brownie, I believe. Or it may have been a goulash. I know a rich chocolate goulash sounds a bit unconventional, so maybe I heard that wrong. I’m a devoted drivelmeister, but I don’t always get the story one hundred percent accurate. This is drivel, after all.

The evening started out at the Cardinal Bar in downtown Madison, where the local band Beat Road Blues was the featured musical entertainment. My Darling B’s coworker, Adam, plays in the band and she’s sort of a groupie, I guess you might say. When he plays in town we usually stop by to give a listen, and last night we even talked Kris and Bryan, a couple of friends into meeting us at the Cardinal for drinks and snacks.

More than a few of B’s coworkers at the DMV turned out to see the band, too, and quite a few stopped by our table to say hi to B who, being in Happy Friday mode, made introductions all around. One of the first to stop by was Michael, who shook my hand and informed me that my wife was “a treat.” I think he meant a treat to have around, or a treat to work with, something like that, but the way he said it, it sort of sounded like he thought she was a glazed pastry, or a candy wrapped in foil. I think he realized almost right away that the compliment didn’t come out exactly the way he wanted it to, because he added, “Like a rich, tasty brownie.”

I didn’t know how to respond to that, so I did what I usually do in that case, which is laugh and wait for somebody else to say something. I’m not very gifted socially.

“Okay, I’ll shut up now,” he said.

When Jim, another one of B’s friends from work stopped by to say hi, we asked him what food B reminded him of. “Seriously?” he asked. And of course at that point we weren’t serious at all, but we wanted an answer anyway. “Okay, I think she like a goulash,” he said, “because it has so much variety.” That’s My Darling B: She’s a tasty chocolate treat! She’s a goulash!

She’s a dancing fool! Jim took B out on the dance floor for the band’s final number, “Mustang Sally,” and they cut a rug, maybe even two rugs. Watching from the sidelines, I can say with confidence that all those dance lessons we took paid off for her that night.

When the band began to pack up we left the Cardinal to head up the street half a block to Plaka Taverna to get a bite to eat. None of us had eaten anything besides the chips they were serving at the Cardinal so we were feeling a little hungry, and Plaka serves the most delicious Greek food: kababs and pitas with hummus and rice wrapped in grape leaves, and you can get combo platters that are perfect for satisfying a growling tummy. The place was crazy busy but we got the last available table and even though the waitress was running her legs off, she was game enough to play along when Kris asked her what food she thought of when she looked at B. “A chewy chocolate-chip cookie?” she guessed. Good answer, because who wouldn’t want to be compared to a chocolate chip cookie?

We weren’t quite ready to go home after we finished noshing at Plaka’s, so we walked back down the block to the Come Back Inn to order a final round and swap a few more stories and bad jokes. Our waitress talked me into ordering a foamy mug of O’Shae’s Irish Stout, and I mention that only to give you a very important heads-up about O’Shae’s Irish Stout: Whatever you do with it, don’t put it in your mouth! If that stuff is real Irish stout from Ireland, then the Irish are pawning their cheapest stuff off on the American market. I’d rather drink Budweiser, and I think you know how I feel about that bilge water.

We had a pretty good time at Come Back Inn, especially the girls. I don’t know what was in their beer but it sure made them giggly. (Okay, I guess the usual stuff in beer would make them do that.) Spoken conversation became impossible after the band started playing in the next room so they started spelling out words in the air with their fingers, and that turned into a game of chrarades, and THEN the giggling got really intense! When their back-and-forth became nothing at all but giggling Bryan and I cut them off and took them home to tuck them in bed.

Up All Night | 9:49 am CST
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Thursday, November 29th, 2012

beer brewing homebrewing homebrewBatch #6 is bottled!

I wasn’t sure I’d have enough time to bottle tonight, but I knew I’d have enough time to wash three dozen bottles, so I filled up the sink with warm, soapy water, got the brush down from its hook and got wet. There’s no way to wash that many bottles without getting wet.

It was just eight o’clock when I was done washing up and everything was put away. I had no idea if that left me enough time to bottle but I went for it anyway and somehow finished up just before bedtime. Timing is everything.

The brew has a crazy nose and a very sweet taste that I’m hoping will moderate after it’s had a chance a week or two condition in the bottles. Time now to finish off the dregs from the bottling bucket while I surf the internet looking for inspiration for the next batch while I wind down. Cheers!

Batch #6 bottled! | 10:03 pm CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing
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Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

beer brewing homebrewing homebrewer homebrewTasting day! It’s Batch #5 and it’s one hell of a lot more bitter than I thought it would be. I knew the Northern Brewer hops I used were high alpha acid, but I thought that, if I boiled them for just a short time, the brew wouldn’t end up bitter. Wrong. Live and learn.

It’s not too bitter for my tongue, but My Darling B won’t be drinking any. Batch #6 should be more to her liking, but it won’t be ready to drink for another two weeks. In the meantime, looks like Batch #5 is all mine.

L’chaim! | 6:19 pm CST
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Friday, November 23rd, 2012

I couldn’t wrangle a day off from work today so I had to spend Black Friday at the office. Oh, darn.

Black Friday is the strangest holiday ever; everybody spends all day Thursday gushing about how they’re thankful for the things they have, and then on Friday they trample each other to get more things. I don’t know how that makes sense.

By now you’ve probably worked out that, even if I had managed to take the day off from the office, it’s unlikely that I would have gone shopping. Trampling old ladies sounds crazy enough to give it a try, but I’m not about to camp out all night long in the parking lot at Shopko to do it.

I took Wednesday off instead, brewed another batch of beer, read a few more chapters of the book on my bed stand and washed some clothes. Then I had Thursday off, same as everyone else, and drug my ass back to work this morning where, in the absence of the usual never-ending stream of people knocking at my door, I managed to clean out my in basket.

And now, thank Jah, it’s Friday night and I can relax with a beer and doink around on teh intarwebs, contemplating what I’ll do with the next two days off. Yay, me.

fridayfridayfriday | 5:55 pm CST
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Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

beer brewing homebrewing homebrewer wort carboy fermentationOh yay. Two batches of beer going at the same time: a Belgian abbey on the left and a stout on the right.

The abbey is Batch #6, the slow-starter I was fretting over for two days until I finally got fermentation kickstarted by giving it a warm bath. Now it’s got a heating pad underneath to keep it from getting cold and sluggish but it doesn’t seem to need it now; fermentation is so vigorous that its temp hasn’t dropped below 69 degrees since I took it out of its bath.

The stout is Batch #7, mixed up brand-new yesterday afternoon, and it wasn’t bashful at all about getting all frothy and bubbly. It greeted me first thing this morning with a thick head of foam and the happy blurping of CO2 from its airlock.

Thank you, Mighty Universe, for the glory of beer, possibly the most significant consequence of the big bang.

thanks | 7:39 am CST
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Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Same batch, eight hours later:

beer brewing homebrewing homebrewers home brewed beer

I kept thinking about the head of kreusen building on top of the wort as I was trying to read myself to sleep last night. Finally, I gave up, got out of bed and stuck the blow-off tube down the neck of the carboy. Good thing I did, because the batch started blowing off kreusen in the middle of the night.

Had to sort of Rube Goldberg a platform for the pitcher.

bubbly batch | 5:10 am CST
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Tuesday, November 20th, 2012


Last time I used this particular strain of yeast it took a little more than twenty-four hours for fermentation to kick in. This time it took almost fifty-four, and I had to baby it.

I thought it might be too cold in the basement for fire-and-forget fermentation. I was right. After twenty-four hours passed, I tried mixing the wort up by rolling the carboy across the top of the work bench. When that didn’t get any results, I put the carboy in the basement sink this morning and filled the basin with warm water, about eighty degrees, and left it there all day.

When I checked it after work there were the faintest wisps of foam gathering on the head of the wort. Success! I warmed up the water in the sink and, by bedtime, there was a frothy head of kreusen building at the top of the carboy. *bliss!*

I’m going to leave it in the sink all night to keep up the temp in the carboy. It’ll be one hell of a mess in the morning with no blow-off tube to let the foam out, but I can just hose it off and by then fermentation will be going strong.

LIFE! | 9:12 pm CST
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Sunday, November 18th, 2012

Batch #6 is brewed and put to bed. Now to wait for the good part.
Batch #6 brewed and put to bed. Now to wait for the good part.

Batch #6 | 3:11 pm CST
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Saturday, November 17th, 2012

home brewed beer, better than anything you can get in a store! No matter how conceited that sounds, I'm sticking to that story and you can't shoot me down until you've had some so come on over!Bottling Day!

This is Batch #5, which I had hoped would be a less-hoppy beer than any of my previous brews — “less hoppy” meaning “a beer that My Darling B would drink.” I cut the amount of hops in half so the brew wouldn’t taste nearly as bitter as the previous batches, not counting #4, the batch that tastes like dishwater with a little sugar thrown in. Gonna drink it all, though. Not gonna throw out beer.

I gave B a sample of the beer from this batch that was left over after bottling. Her first comment: “Hmmmm. A little hoppy.”

Back to the drawing board.

Batch #5 | 4:05 pm CST
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Friday, November 9th, 2012

One Barrel Brewing Co

Oh thank goodness there is no place like One Barrel Brewing on the street where I live, I mean, I would really like there to be a place like this. I would even like to pick this place up all in once piece and drop it right around the corner from where I live but, if I did, I’m pretty sure I would go home only to shower and change clothes. So thank goodness.

oatmeal | 7:18 pm CST
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Sunday, November 4th, 2012

trying to break into a bottle of Hinterland's Bourbon Barrel DoppelbockOn the advice of a friend, I bought a couple bottles of Hinterland’s Bourbon Barrel Doppelbock. Good advice. Even at the price of six ninety-nine a bottle, I was glad I made the extra effort to find some.

And speaking of effort: Hinterland gave each bottle a little hipster cachet by dipping the cap in some kind of bulletproof black plastic that’s impervious to nearly every sharp object in our kitchen. I don’t know what that crap is, but it isn’t wax, the stuff that bottles are usually dipped in and which is pretty easy to peel off, all the better to get at yummy stuff inside. The stuff on the caps of Hinterland’s brew is very emphatically not easy to peel off. It isn’t even very hard to peel off. It’s all but impossible to peel off. Hey, Bill Tressler! I love your beers, but I hate this bottle! Whoever you hired to do this to your beer ought to give you your money back.

There. That’s a load off my mind.

Now, back to the beer: I like it. I like it a lot. It’s dark, and I like beer that tends toward a darker color. This is really a very important characteristic of beer. I think beer ought to be reddish, or brown, or almost black. I get no kick out of beers that are orange, or yellow. Those are the colors of fruit drinks, or cocktails. Not that there’s anything wrong with cocktails. I like cocktails, too, but they’re not beer. To my eye, a beer’s color is a cue to what I like to think of as how sufficiently it serensifies me. After I drink a beer, I like to feel that it stuck to my ribs. That’s the difference between a beer and a cocktail. A cocktail goes to my head, but a beer sticks to my ribs.

And I like it because it’s got a flavor that I can’t help but think of as “wiseass.” I like a wiseass beer. It tastes very much like beer, but it has a way of suggesting it’s a beer doing a good impression of a drink that’s got a lot more going for it than beers made from the usual ingredients. It says, Sure, I’m a beer, but there’s something about me that isn’t like other beers. If I had to make a guess, I’d say that, in this case, that particular characteristic comes from the bourbon barrel part of this beer’s upbringing.

Finally, it comes in a pint bottle. Beer that comes in a pint bottle has something very important over beers that come in other sizes. Twelve ounces isn’t enough for me. After finishing a twelve-ounce bottle I always want more beer, but I don’t necessarily want another twelve ounces. It’s not a good size for me. It doesn’t fit. Neither does twenty-two ounces. The last few swigs from a twenty-two ounce bottle of beer make me feel like I drinking it because I have to. A pint is the perfect amount. It never feels like too much, and on those occasions when I want more, another pint isn’t too much, either. Bravo to Hinterland for figuring this out.

Hinterland Bourbon Barrel Doppelbock | 5:17 pm CST
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Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

Brew Day! And it’s about freaking time. I’ve been so lazy these past months that there’s not much home brew left in the basement lair, so it’s time to brew like a crazy man. This time, I’m going for a dark beer that’s not too bitter and has a mild nose. Let’s see how this recipe works:

2:15 Put the a big pot of water on the cajun cooker and cranked up the heat. Made a ploughman’s platter of pretzels, cheese and smoked salmon to put me in the right frame of mind for brewing. Oh, and a pint of Hinterland’s Bourbon Barrel Doppelbock. It’s not a proper ploughman’s platter if you don’t have beer.

3:00 With the water at a low boil, I dropped in a bag stuffed with 1 lb TF&S Dark Crystal (I) to give it color and body, or, as the label on the bag puts it: “Adds caramel sweetness and reddish to deep red hues depending on quantity used. Aids in head retention and contributes sweetness, body and caramel flavors. Used in a variety of reddish to dark ales and lagers. Typical color 83-90L” Steeped the crystal malt for 30 minutes, fished it out, let it drain and turned down the heat to go on to the next step:

3:30 Slowly added 8 pounds of dried malt extract (DME) while stirring constantly to break up the little dumpling-like blobs of DME. Took about ten minutes. When the DME was completely dissolved, I dropped in the wort chiller, turned up the flame and kept stirring until the mix came to a boil again, or 15 mins, whichever comes first.

3:55 Not quite boiling yet. Add 1/2 oz Northern Brewer hops pellets anyway. These are the bittering hops (alpha acid 10.6%). “Aroma is medium to strong evergreen, wood and mint.” I used them in a brew like this one before and that turned out pretty good.

4:00 Boiling again.

4:10 Add 1/2 oz Northern Brewer hops pellets for a little more bitterness.

4:25 Add 1 oz Cascade hops pellets to finish.

4:35 Fished all the hops out of the wort and carried the pot into the basement, where I connected the wort chiller to a faucet and let cold water run through it for about fifteen minutes to bring the temp down below 70 degrees.

5:00 Put it to bed in the carboy, pitched the yeast. Tastes like dishwater with a little sugar in it. O.G. 1070.

brewing | 4:03 pm CST
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Sunday, October 21st, 2012

image of My Darling B drinking beer from a boot in a Milwaukee tavernWe’re back from Milwaukee! We went there to watch a taping of one of our favorite radio shows, Says You!, and ended up doing a sightseeing tour of a small slice of Milwaukee while stopping off at a couple of our favorite places.

Even as the number of things we wanted to do mounted up, it seemed like a good idea each time. Tickets to the show cost just $17.00 each, but the taping was scheduled to end sometime after 10:30 pm. I didn’t want to drive back to Madison that late at night, so we reserved a room at the County Clare Inn. That tacked a hundred fifty bucks on to the cost of our trip right away, but seemed like not only a good idea but a good deal: We’d be smack dab in the middle of Milwaukee. That’s how we decided to do some sightseeing while we were there. We had the time. We were in a good location. Why not?

We left Madison as early as we could Saturday morning, by which I mean ten o’clock. We were going to shoot for a much earlier departure time until we realized it’s not like there was a great big hurry to get there. I made a pot of coffee and we slowly drained it while we passed a couple hours Googling for information about interesting places to go and fun things to do while in Milwaukee. Don’t laugh. There really are some. The last time we were in Milwaukee, for instance, we stopped at a place called the Wisconsin Cheese Mart. Guess what they sell there? And not only can you snack on a selection of great Wisconsin cheese, you can take your plate of cheese to the tap room where you can ask them for one of the two-dozen great Wisconsin beers they have on tap. Tell me that’s not a place you’d want to visit.

And it was within walking distance of the inn, along with other sights we’d never seen before just because we hadn’t taken the time. So we pulled into town shortly after noon and, with more than a few hours before the show was scheduled to begin, started wandering the streets in the warm sunshine of an gorgeous autumn day in Milwaukee.

How to see Milwaukee on just $500 a day | 8:02 pm CST
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Sunday, October 14th, 2012

image of McSorely'sOne afternoon in New York City on our way back from a tour, My Darling B suggested we stop at McSorely’s, reputed to be the oldest continuously-operated tavern in America. From the moment we set foot on the sawdust-strewn floor of the place, I didn’t doubt it. The bar ran down one side of the narrow bar room and a scattered collection of wooden tables and hard chairs ran down the other. The walls were dark wood, but the wood was mostly covered with framed newspaper clippings of historic events, or photographs of well-known people. Teddy Roosevelt was featured prominently and repeatedly. I have to admit, I like the place immediately for that.

We took a seat at a table beside a pot-bellied stove, which took up a considerable amount of space in the middle of the room. There were four fire fighters from the Bronx at the next table over who started chatting us up even before we sat down. Their table was crowded with beer mugs, most of them empty, a half-dozen or so still full, two or three half-drunk. “Where you from?” they asked, and when we said Wisconsin the next dozen words out of their mouths included “cheese curds” and “Bret Favre.” Why didn’t Bret Favre stop while he was ahead? they wanted to know. What he did to himself and his career was just a tragedy. And so on.

Leaving B to keep up the conversation with the firemen, I sidled up to the bar and asked the bartender, after he was done welcoming a small crowd of regulars, what he had on tap. “We serve only McSorely’s ale here, light and dark,” he informed me. I asked for one each and he drew them off into small glass beer mugs. The beer had a rich, foamy head and a sweet, creamy taste, and went down very easily as we listened to the firemen bewail the fate of Bret Favre. I even went back to the bar and ordered another round after polishing off the first, the only time we did that at any bar we visited in New York City.

After McSorely’s we went to Pete’s Tavern, reputed to be the oldest continuously-operated tavern and restaurant in New York City, which is clearly not the case if McSorely’s is in fact the oldest continuously-operated bar in America. Is there a rivalry going on here? If so, McSorely’s has the edge in product, because they serve a better beer. The beer at Pete’s was okay, but not all that great. We ran into this a lot in New York City, where the bars tended to serve mainstream brands like Bud and Miller, and we saw very few locally-produced brews like Brooklyn Brewery and Six Point.

image of My Darling BThe only other place that was nearly as interesting as McSorely’s was The Tippler, a bar carved out of the spaces beneath the Chelsea Market, a retail mall in the reconditioned buildings of the old National Biscuit Company’s original manufactory. This was the birthplace of the Oreo!

My Darling B wanted awfully badly to visit, so we stopped in on Saturday, our first day in NYC, for an evening cocktail. If memory serves (and if it doesn’t, I’m sure she’ll find a way to let me know), B had a Booty Collins, a drink of vodka infused with tea and mixed with passion fruit, cayenne, lemon and yohimbe. I’ve never even heard of yohimbe, so it sounds like her kind of drink, but she didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed my Gin and Chronic, a take on the classic gin and tonic with a little hops flavor thrown in.

We stayed for just one drink as it was getting late and we wanted to have enough time to visit the Empire State Building that night. Considering how that turned out, we probably should’ve stayed for another drink or two.

image of The Tippler in NYC

drinking in nyc | 5:56 pm CST
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Monday, September 24th, 2012

There’s something so wrong about using the iconic image of Rosie the Riveter to sell crappy beer.

image of an advertisement on a city bus

rosie | 6:09 am CST
Category: beer, current events, daily drivel, food & drink, yet another rant | Tags:
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Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

We both worked late last night, so we both liked the idea of quick and easy dinner, which lead us to Roman Candle for pizza. That’s it. Ate out again. Roman Candle. Pizza. That’s all I got. Not much else to tell. Oh, I was working late so I could move a bunch of files to a different office, and B was working late because she’s got a project she’s trying to finish before a looming deadline. We were both pretty damned glad to get out of our respective office buildings and into Roman Candle, quaff a cold, delicious beer and wolf down a couple slices of their amazing Supreme pizza pie (half with mushrooms) (my half). Would’ve been nicer if the waiter had remembered to bring an order of garlic bread like we asked, instead of leaving it on the warming table all night, but at least he didn’t charge us for it.

cheese farts | 5:43 am CST
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Sunday, September 16th, 2012

image of trunk full of goodwill donationsWe paid a visit to the Monroe Cheese Fest yesterday, which, if they were honest, they would call the Monroe Standing In Lines Fest. Ten thousand people crowded the city square of Monroe, so there were lines for everything. There were even lines to get in lines. I’m not kidding. To buy cheese curds, or cheesecake on a stick, or a beer – anything – we had to stand in a line to buy tickets for it first. I didn’t find a vendor anywhere that would take my money in exchange for something deep-fried, or cool and refreshing. I should’ve pulled the race card on them. “Oh, I get it: No tickee, no beer, eh? What kind of racist organization is this, anyway?”

Of course, each vendor had their own tickets. We couldn’t buy a whole fistful of tickets, then redeem them anywhere we wanted. Beer tickets would not buy cheese curds, for instance. Luckily for our thirsty selves, the New Glarus beer tent had a crack staff that kept the lines moving pretty fast. I was okay with the tickets-for-beer crap so long as I had a cold cup of beer in my hand.

We were invited to the cheese fest by a couple we know, Bryan and Kris. Bryan grew up in Monroe, so he knew it like the back of his hand and could tell stories about every building in town. He knew, for instance, that we wouldn’t be able to park anywhere near the courthouse square. Taking his advice, we parked on the edge of town and rode in on one of the buses the festival organizers chartered to bring people into town. Bryan suggested we meet in front of Baumgartner’s, a tavern Bryan said anybody would be able to point us toward if we couldn’t find it. Good idea, but as it turned out, we didn’t have to ask. The bus dropped us off right behind Baumgartner’s, so we were right where we wanted to be almost as soon as we stepped off the bus.

Our timing was perfect. Bryan phoned My Darling B just minutes after we arrived and left a voice message for her, saying he was in front of Baumgartner’s waiting for us, but after scanning the twenty or so faces of the people standing outside Baumgartner’s, we were pretty sure he was pulling a Candid Camera stunt on us. “If you’re in front of Baumgartner’s, then you must be cloaked,” I texted to him. I tried calling, but the cumulative weight of ten thousand cell phone users must’ve been overwhelming the one tired cell phone tower near the center of this normally-sleepy berg, because I never connected with him no matter how many times I tried to dial his number, even while he was leaving me more voice messages.

We hooked up eventually. He and Kris were standing on the other side of the road, near the beer tent. How fortuitous. After grabbing a cold one, we set off to tour the vendors set up around the square. That’s when we found out there were an infinite number of lines waiting for tickets, food, tickets, and beer. When we were almost all the way around the square, Bryan volunteered to wait in line for tickets to buy some cheese curds if we would go on to the beer tent and have a freshly-pulled cold beer waiting for him when he caught up with us. We agreed, and on we went.

I caught only the outlines of this plan, however, because while we were working them out I overheard the familiar strains of La Vie En Rose, played by all-girl accordion band, The Squeezettes. I had never been prepared for a version of La Vie En Rose scored for four women on accordions. I’m more accustomed to versions like the one sung by Edith Piaf, although Louis Armstrong can turn out a pretty good rendition, too. Overcome by the, ah, unique rendition by the Squeezettes, I lost track of what was going on around me and almost didn’t notice when the rest of the group moved on to the beer tent.

We ended up at the corner where we started, just as my Auntie Sue and Uncle Jim arrived. There was much hugging and hellos, followed by a trip to the beer tent to make sure everyone had a cool, refreshing drink before we went on to the next thing. The Next Thing was supposed to be listening to a blues band at the stage behind the brewery, but unfortunately it turned out that they were scheduled to appear much later in the day than we thought they were, so we made our way back up to the square and, on the way, happened to meet some people we knew. There was much more hugging and hellos, more cool libations from the beer tent, and shortly afterward we found ourselves in the shade of the buildings along the side of the square, where we passed the rest of the afternoon, shooting the shit while polka bands played old pop tunes. And it was not at all bad way to pass the time, I might add.

We made one side trip to see what the tour of the distillery was like. I have to say that I was disappointed. It wasn’t much of a tour. They herded us into a room, showed us a brief Power Point slide show summarizing the history of the Minhaus Brewery, poured a few drinks, and that was it. There wasn’t even a distillery to look at. They had a mega-still installed in the room, but it looked like it wasn’t hooked up to anything and, if I heard them right, it hadn’t ever been fired up. It was a virgin still. Maybe the tour will be a bit more interesting after they’ve actually distilled something and have a few good stories to share. Couldn’t say.

We packed up and headed out of town kind of early because standing around all day in the sun sipping beer made me a little sleepy. I wanted to get back before it got dark.

Monroe Waiting In Line Festival | 8:55 pm CST
Category: beer, booze, daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, music, My Darling B, O'Folks, O'Folks friends, play | Tags: , , , ,
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Saturday, September 1st, 2012

image of One Barrel BrewingFriday night after work: We’re at the far end of the bar, enjoying a frosty cold one at One Barrel Brewing Company.

“Wait, you’re at the end of the bar? Then who’s taking the photo?”

I’ve got a new camera. It’s got legs and even makes me coffee in the morning.

Okay, I’m taking the photo. I got up to use the men’s room and snapped this shot as I was headed back to sit with My Darling B, who’s sitting under the Chinese bicycle. Someday I’m going to find out why there’s a Chinese bicycle hanging from the wall.

image of One Barrel BrewingThis is how I knew I was going to like One Barrel the first time I visited: Any tavern owner that will hang a jackalope on the wall is worth his weight in beer. The fact that the owner serves beer he brewed his own self on the premises is just gravy.

Oddly, we didn’t drink any of his beer last night. B’s current favorite is a spicy beer called Cocoa Mole, made at the New Belgium Brewery, if memory serves. I went with an ESB from local brewer Page Buchanan at the House of Brews, just dark enough to be interesting, but not a heavy beer. And we were happy with that.

After our beers, I said the word “ramen” out loud, which cast its magical spell over My Darling B so that, just minutes later, we found ourselves seated at the bar at Umami, the only place they could find two stools for us to wolf down two big bowls of our favorite food.

There was a plan to go out and listen to some music after that, but with our bellies full of beer and ramen, we made a slight change to our plans and opted for a nap instead. Seemed like the best thing to do.

image of bottles behind the bar at Umami

decompression | 7:31 am CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, food & drink, restaurants | Tags: ,
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Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Rode my bike to work yesterday. The weather was flawless and perfect in every way, so I had to ride my bike. I would’ve hated myself all day if I hadn’t.

Rode it to work again today. The weather tricked me this time. It was nice this morning, but on the way home I was sweating so hard it looked like cartoon sweating where those golf ball-sized drops go shooting off in all directions.

About halfway home I got a text from My Darling B: “Where are you? Want to meet me at Stalzy’s Deli?” I’d gotten as far as Olbrich Gardens, about five blocks down from Stalzy’s, but a sandwich and a cold beer sounded so good just then that I doubled back right after I texted a great big “YES!” at her.

I can’t recommend the Brooklyn Breakfast enough. (Stalzy’s serves breakfast all day.) And, if you’re a beer-drinker, it goes well with Ale Asylum’s Hopalicious.

Brooklyn Breakfast | 9:45 pm CST
Category: beer, bicycling, commuting, daily drivel, food & drink, hobby, play, restaurants, work | Tags:
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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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Saturday, August 11th, 2012

It’s the Great Taste of the Midwest! (I’m typing this entry now because I’ll be far too toasted to hit the right keys in the right order after we come home from the event.)

My Darling B and I went out to Crema Cafe for a pre-tasting breakfast so we’d have a solid cushion of food in our bellies. B went with the biscuits and gravy, always a good choice, while I opted for the breakfast sammie – absolutely scrumptious!

At eleven, Tim will pick us up at our front stoop and deliver us to Olin-Turville Park, where we’ll wait in line until the gates open at one. We’re going that early because the line will already be snaking around the soccer field by that time. A surprising number of people will be warming up already while they wait; I’ve seen people put away two or three beers before the gates open. That’s just plain crazy. We’ll use that time to study the program so we can get some idea which of the 150 brewers to visit in such a short time.

great! | 10:44 am CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, T-Dawg
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Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

image of pint glassesI check out the shelves of the thrift store at Saint Vincent de Paul’s at least once a week. It’s just a few blocks from the office where I work and I need to get out of that office and take a walk every day or my head will asplode and the cleaning crew hates it when that happens, so I wander around the neighborhood. At least once a week, my wanderings take me past St. Vinnie’s, so I stop in.

And a find like the one I found yesterday is exactly why I keep stopping in. There, on the bottom shelf, almost completely hidden behind a row of novelty “pint” glasses with the label of a boring beer emblazoned across them, I could just make out the top of what appeared to be an oversized beer glass, so I stooped over to get a closer look. And a good thing I did, because there were four of them – a set! And they were actual pint glasses, not those fake pints that every hip craft beer brewpub is serving beer in.

image of pint glasses

Do you see the difference? Do you see? The glass on the left is what bars nowadays are calling “pint glasses” and the glass on the right is an actual pint! It holds sixteen ounces of beer or water or other fluid, which is the dictionary effing definition of a pint. Two pints in a quart. Four quarts in a gallon. It’s a measure, it’s not a hip way to describe a beer glass.

If you still doubt, here’s a little experiment you can do the next time you’re in a bar: Order a bottle of beer and ask for a “pint” glass. Most beer comes in twelve-ounce bottles. Pour the beer into the glass. Do you see?

Why am I getting all wrapped around the axle about this? Because in more than one of the bars I’ve visited, the price they charge for bottled beer is less than the price they charge for the same beer served in a “pint” glass. That ain’t right. Also, I’m kind of a didactic asshole. It shouldn’t be called a pint if it’s not.

Anyway, I found these great glasses at St. Vinnie’s and I was really jazzed about it and it turned into a rant. Sorry about that. It jazzed me because I bottle my own beer in pints and for a while all we had in the house were those fake “pint” glasses and I couldn’t pour a whole bottle of beer, so when I finally got my hands on a pair of real pint glasses I felt well and truly chuffed the first time I could pour off a whole bottle of homebrew without mixing any of the yeast at the bottom of the bottle with the clear, delicious brew. And ever since then I’ve been looking for real pint glasses, and that’s why yesterday’s find was so drop-dead awesome. Come by and I’ll pour you a pint.

pints | 6:13 am CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, play, yet another rant
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Thursday, July 5th, 2012

image of One Barrel BrewingI took My Darling B to dinner at Alchemy because it’s Thursday, which means it’s Guy Night and I’m responsible for serving dinner, but it’s way too hot to cook on the grill, the only way I can cook an edible dinner, so I took her to Alchemy, same as I always do. They were serving a delicious 1/3 lb bison burger that they served to perfection, grilled to a very tasty medium-well and dished up with a side of very crispy fries. *bliss!* My Darling B went with the old dependable walleye fish fry and wasn’t disappointed, then ordered a cream puff just to make the night perfect.

After dinner, we crossed the street to see what was going on at One Barrel Brewing, which was scheduled to host their grand opening tomorrow night but is apparently having a “soft opening” tonight and serving up anybody curious enough to press their faces to the window and peer into the depths of their shop. At least that’s what they did when I did. Besides the guest taps they were pulling three of their own brews: a session beer, a kolsch and an ale that I was especially partial to. A very helpful young lady poured us samples of all three and, after tasting them, we settled into our bar stools for an enjoyable stay.

While I was soaking up the suds I couldn’t help but notice that One Barrel Brewing bore the mark of a genuine Wisconsin tavern: the head of a jackalope was mounted on the wall. I haven’t seen one of those since my last visit to Club 161 in Waupaca County many, many moons ago. It warmed the cockles of my heart to know that some die-hard Wisconsin traditions still live on.

1bbl | 7:53 pm CST
Category: beer, food & drink, Guy Night, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags: ,
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Sunday, July 1st, 2012

We slept like babies last night, probably because we’re not used to moving heavy appliances.

For months, we’ve been talking about getting a small, second-hand refrigerator to keep at the bottom of the stairs in the basement for beer, soda pop, fresh fruit and various other sundries that fill up the big fridge in the kitchen. Kept talking about it but never did much until yesterday morning when we decided, more or less on the spur of the moment, to make a detour on the way home from the farmer’s market to stop at an appliance store along the way where we looked at their refrigerators. They had a pretty good small fridge and a second-hand fridge that was really too big, but stopping there got us off our butts, out of the house and looking, so we drove to Sears to see what they had, then to Home Depot.

Sears, of course, has rows and rows of refrigerators, starting with those teeny-tiny fridges you can keep under your desk in your college dorm room, all the way up to a fridge that was literally big enough to stuff a dozen college students into. We’d have to wall off the back half of the dining room just to install it. The upside, though, would be that we would never ever again have a problem with room for food. More reasonably, though, they had a fridge that was just the right size, not too expensive and they had one in the back, ready for us to take it away. We said we’d talk about it and get right back to him.

Home Depot had mostly monster fridges of the kind we already have stuffed into our too-small kitchen. The few smaller fridges they had all looked like cheap foot lockers made in sweat shops. After just fifteen minutes of looking we headed back to Sears.

Sears has a delivery service but a strange way of scheduling deliveries: they call you up the night before and tell you when they can deliver the next day. If you can’t be there waiting for them, they call you again that night to tell you when they can be there the next day, and so on. This could theoretically go on forever. “Forget it, we’ll take it home ourselves,” I told the salesman, then had to figure out how we were going to get it home.

B noticed when we were at Home Depot, just down the road, that they had a utility truck they rented out for twenty bucks, if you could get it back to them in an hour and fifteen minutes. That’s an odd deadline, don’t you think? But we were pretty sure we could get home and back with the fridge in under that. Leaving our car behind, we flew over to Sears where two big guys loaded the fridge into the back of the truck, then flew down Stoughton Road to Monona, pulling into the driveway of Our Humble O’Bode just twenty minutes later. Working very slowly and carefully, My Darling B and I managed to ease the fridge down off the back of the truck onto the driveway. It took a few minutes to figure out how carry it, but once we did we moved it into the garage and left it while we flew back up to Home Depot to drop off the truck. Did it in less than an hour! Score!

On the way back, B suggested that we might want to wait until we could talk Tim into coming over to help us get it down the stairs to the basement, but I poo-pooed the very thought. “It’ll be a lot easier for us to carry after I take all the packing material off it,” I assured her. “We can do it.” And as it turned out, I wasn’t just bullshitting this time. Wrapped in all that styrofoam and plastic it was hard to get a grip on, but much easier to handle after I stripped it naked. Also, this time I made sure I was at the bottom end of the fridge where the compressor and all the heavy machinery was.

The only tricky moves we had to make were getting the fridge around the corner by the back steps, then getting it down the stairs to the basement. In both cases we just took it one step at a time. Slow and steady did the trick. By three o’clock it was plugged in and B was happily loading up baskets with bottles and bags to transfer to the basement fridge. We were both so well-chuffed with ourselves that we had to show it off to Tim as soon as he came over.

The fridge in the kitchen looks so empty now. But I’m sure that won’t last.

frigid | 9:02 am CST
Category: beer, booze, ch-ch-changes, daily drivel, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, Our Humble O'Bode, play, shopping, work
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Sunday, June 17th, 2012

image of my latest batch of beerBottling Day! Allow me to introduce you to My Darling Brew, a beer formulated especially for My Darling B, who likes a beer that is not too bitter and not too heavy. I brewed this batch with extra light malt extract and the mildest bittering hops I could get my hands on, then added a slightly stronger hop for the finish but left it in for just fifteen minutes to get the aroma and not the zing. It seems to have turned out very well, although I’ll know better once it’s had a chance to condition itself a bit in the bottles.

lawnmower | 3:03 pm CST
Category: beer, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, My Darling B, O'Folks, play
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Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

The spam robots have found my weakness. Every day, they post gibberish comments to my blog posts (spam robots are my most loyal readers) that are strings of random words, or sometimes they look like phrases and sentences pulled from internet search results. And then, yesterday, I got six or seven comments to different posts, and they were all about brewing beer. Some of them even made sense. And instead of having names and e-mail addresses like, they had links to real Facebook profiles, most of them young children. And they were commenting on posts that had nothing to do with beer. So the spam robots are getting a little smarter, but they’re approaching that uncanny valley of appearing smart enough to seem stupid.

uncanny | 5:44 am CST
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Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

image of B at Burgers and BrewBurgers. Brew. Life is good. I mean, really, what more could a guy want on a fine summer’s day? Well, the pretty girl makes it just that much better, of course. So here we have the epitome of a very enjoyable Saturday afternoon. I’ve told you before what Burgers and Brew is all about, so there’s no need to hash that over again. We had a great time. Nuff said.

serensified | 9:19 am CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play | Tags: ,
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