Monday, May 28th, 2012

It’s brewing day! And to make it extra-special, I’m going to live blog it, or as much of it as I can without interrupting the process, because when it comes down a choice between to satisfying you, my faithful reader (you are still out there, aren’t you?), or successfully brewing a batch of beer, you’re going to lose. Sorry. That’s just the way it is.

Step 1: Crush the grains, load them up in an old sock. It’s not literally one of my old socks. It’s a bag made out of cheese cloth that looks an awfully lot like a sock, especially after it gets re-used a couple times. Yech.

Step 2.: Dangle the sock over the edge of a 12-quart ceramic pot, fill the pot with two and a half gallons of water, light the cajun cooker, set the pot on it to boil. The grains are mostly for color. Steeping them for the fifteen or twenty minutes it takes to bring the pot to a boil is just long enough to get all the color out of them that I want.

Step 3: Nuke a brat in the microwave, because I’m STARVING!

Step 4: Open a beer. You can’t brew beer if you’re not drinking beer. It’s a law. A physical law, like gravity. You can’t break it. Don’t even try.

Step 5: Eat the brat and drink the beer. There. Now you’re in the PERFECT frame of mind to continue brewing. Continue.

Step 6: When water boils, remove grains, turn down heat, add malt extract. That’s right, I’m an extract brewer. Don’t like it, don’t have to drink my beer. More beer for me.

Step 7: Add wort chiller of my own invention. Yes. I invented the wort chiller. BOW DOWN BEFORE ME!

Step 8: Put 1/2 ounce hops in an old sock, drop sock in wort, boil for thirty minutes.

Step 9: Repeat step 8. DON’T ASK WHY! JUST DO IT!

Step 10: Add finishing hops during the last 10 minutes of the boil. Because you’re finished, that’s why. MAN, you ask a lot of questions.

Step 11: After boiling wort for one hour, remove from heat, chill to sixty-eight degrees F using wort chiller. If you don’t have a wort chiller, PANIC! Continue to panic for at least sixty minutes. The wort will cool down to sixty-eight on its own by then. Also, it’ll probably be useless. That’s what you get for panicking.

Step 12: Pour wort into big glass bottle, measure original gravity, plug the opening.

Step 13: Slap forehead with palm, unplug carboy, add yeast. You can skip this step if you remembered to do it just before “plug the opening” in step 12.

Step 14: Open a beer, drink while cleaning up mess. Drinking beer is optional this time, but you really want to by the time you get to this step. Trust me on this one.

I was not kidding when I said it was Brewing Day. Everybody was brewing. Wil Wheaton was brewing. If you weren’t, why not?

live brew | 11:42 am CST
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Thursday, May 24th, 2012

I drove in to work today instead of riding my bike. The weather forecast called for high winds this afternoon and evening, and I hate biking against a headwind more than I hate biking through the rain, so I gave it a miss. Still left work at four-thirty, though.

This being Thursday, it’s customary for us to stop at our favorite pub, Alchemy, for dinner, not to mention hoist a beer or two. I don’t know how they manage to fit so much talent into such a little kitchen, but their food has never disappointed either of us, and we’ve eaten out in quite a lot of places in this crazy town. The beer’s never disappointed us, either, come to that.

So on the way to work, I suggested to B that, if it wasn’t pouring down rain when she left the office, she should just plan on meeting me at Alchemy. She was very agreeable to the idea, and it wasn’t raining after work, so I quit promptly at four-thirty and hoofed it on over, Alchemy being just five or six blocks from the office where I work.

The place was pretty quiet when I got there, not unusual as it was still early. Justin was at the bar and came right on over when I sat down to see what I wanted. There was an ESB on tap from Left Hand Brewing out of Longmont, CO, that sounded pretty good, and darned if it wasn’t just what I needed after a very long day of shuffling papers and answering phones.

I was almost halfway to the bottom of my glass by the time B showed up. I’d snagged our usual table by then, so she knew just where to find me. Not that it’s a very big place. Still, don’t want to make it any harder than it has to be.

The special tonight was NY strip sirloin marinated in bourbon, served on mashed potatoes and sour cream, with a side of radishes baked in butter. Doesn’t that make you drool like an idiot? Me, too. We goth ordered it, and we both loved it. To go with hers, B ordered an oatmeal stout and let me have a sip. It was so perfect with the steak that I ordered a glass myself, so we had to stay long enough for me to finish it off. Since we were staying anyway, I finished off our visit with a slice of double chocolate cake. What decadence.

decadence | 8:28 pm CST
Category: beer, commuting, entertainment, food & drink, Guy Night, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants, work | Tags:
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Saturday, May 12th, 2012

image of beerThe third batch of beer brewed this year is BOTTLED! And, if I may say so myself, it tastes pretty darned good.

I brewed this one thinking that I wanted it to be a little darker and a little maltier than the first one, but I still wanted a zingy hop flavor, so I threw in plenty of Newport hops. That turned out to be a pretty good idea – the bitter hops were strong enough to counterbalance the sweet malt. Very yummy.

3rd batch | 4:28 pm CST
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I’m pretty sure My Darling B would agree with me when I say that Wednesday night we had the most fun during Madison Craft Beer Week, starting with our visit to Natt Spil for dinner and a couple glasses of beer from New Belgium Brewery. From there, we went up Pinckney Street to The Old Fashioned to try the brews they were serving from Three Sheeps Brewing, the newest brewery in Wisconsin. B tried the Black Wheat, and I tried the IPA; both were very relaxed, mild beers that reminded me of home brews.

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

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

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

bus route | 4:10 pm CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Madison Craft Beer Week, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags: , , , , , , , ,
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Thursday, May 10th, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

snooze | 6:33 am CST
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Monday, April 30th, 2012

image of Gene WilderThe latest batch of beer went from a quiet pool of brownish coffee-like soup to a swirling mix of bubbles and suds that overflowed and spilled all over the counter top and dribbled onto the floor.

When it gets like this, I feel like putting on a white lab coat, strapping a pair of welder’s goggles to my face and shouting to the heavens, in my craziest Gene Wilder voice (as if there is any other kind), “LIFE! DO YOU HEAR ME? GIVE! MY! CREATION!” (very deep breath, pause for effect) “LIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIFE!”

bubbles | 9:50 pm CST
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Sunday, April 29th, 2012

image of beerI spent Sunday afternoon stirring barley malt and hops into a kettle of boiling water in the garage. Tell me that’s not living well.

I’m shooting for a darker brew this time. I don’t know why. I just like dark beers, that’s all. So I started by stuffing a couple bags with a mix of 1/4 lb UK Chocolate, 1/4 lb UK Black Patent and 1/2 lb TF & S Dark Crystal roasted barley to give this batch a deep, dark color, as well as some body, and I think it turned out pretty much the way I wanted it. This is my favorite part of the process, actually. I start out with a big pot filled with two and a half gallons of plain old water, and after steeping roasted barley in it for about 45 minutes while the water slowly comes to a boil, I ended up with what looks and smells like, well, beer. It tastes disappointingly weak, because it’s just the first step, but it looks and smells great.

When steam was shooting out from under the lid I shut down the burner, picked out the bags and dangled them over the pot to let the yummy, yummy wort drain from the grain. Then I stirred in 8 lbs of Munton’s Plain Amber dry malt extract into the brew. That took a little over five minutes, almost ten, because the sugars coagulate into lumpy dumplings as soon as they hit the surface of the soup, and it takes a lot of stirring to break them up. When it looked like the extract had finally dissolved completely, I dropped in a 1-oz bag of Newport hop pellets, rated 12% Alpha, and lit the burner again. The brew took about ten minutes to return to a boil.

About thirty minutes after stirring in the DME and re-lighting the burner, I dropped in another 1-oz bag of Newport hop pellets and gently poked it with the end of a spoon to soak it through. I don’t know why I decided to add the hops in increments like this. Just felt like it. Forty-five minutes after relight, I plopped a final 1-oz bag filled with Cascade hop pellets, rated at 6.2% Alpha, for the finish, and fifteen minutes later, I shut down the burner.

image of beerAfter bringing the temperature of the soup down to a safe seventy degrees using a wort chiller of my own invention (ten feet of copper tube from Home Depot coiled around a paint can, real high-tech stuff), I poured it through a funnel into a carboy on top of two and a half gallons of filtered water, pitched a bag of Wyeast (1056 American Ale) in with it, fixed a blow-off tube to the neck and called it done.

Clean-up’s not as much fun as brewing is, but it’s still somehow satisfying, and then there’s always the celebratory glass of beer afterwards. Tonight’s will be a pint of Hinterland Saison. Salud!

heller | 4:24 pm CST
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Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

image of beerOh hey, looky here. Beer. Lots of it. I managed to get 34 pints out of this batch, same as last time. It seems to be my lucky number.

This is the second batch of the season, which I decided just tonight to call Packs A Wallop because it somehow ended up with a pleasantly peppery taste, and the yeast did their magic until they fermented the brew down to a final gravity of 1.014, giving it 7.5% alcohol by volume. I was shooting for a Belgian flavor and a lighter kick, but I’ll take this.

I won’t be bottling again for a couple weeks because the next batch isn’t even in the hopper yet. I bought all the ingredients the other day but I’m not sure when I’ll get the chance to brew again – maybe this weekend. By the time that batch is ready to be bottled, I should be able to pop open one of these and enjoy it while I stir in the hops.

wallop | 9:36 pm CST
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Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

Today’s featured brewery brings us this tasty import from lands far, far away:

ADDED after comments:

bock | 10:09 pm CST
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Sunday, April 8th, 2012

image of beerBottled!

It’s 34 pints of red ale, the first batch of the year, and it tastes pretty good – there’s always enough left over in the bottom of the tub for a swig.

It’s a little sweeter than I thought it would be, sweet enough that I was just a little bit worried that fermentation might not have been entirely over and done with, but the airlock was blooping so slowly and I was getting so impatient to taste it that I couldn’t wait another week. The finishing gravity was 1.016, which seems low enough, so I think it’ll be just fine.

Bottling took place in full-blown panic mode when I discovered that the hose I bought from the hardware store wouldn’t siphon properly when connected with the racking cane. If that doesn’t make any sense to you, it means just this: That I had to let the brew flow continuously from the tub to the bottles for fear that the siphon would break and I wouldn’t be able to get it started again. For about twenty minutes, I looked like one of those cartoon fist fights with half a dozen arms windmilling around in a cloud of dust.

I spilled more beer than I would’ve liked to, but thirty-four pints isn’t bad, so I’m not going to cry over it. Now the clean-up, on the other hand …

bottled! | 11:55 am CST
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Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

image of beerBeer again. Count yourself lucky. It’s either this, or space geekery. I don’t have the brainpower to come up with anything more original than this right now.

A lot of nice details in this photo, as bad as it is, and it’s pretty bad. I couldn’t even be bothered to angle it so the overhead fluorescent lights weren’t glaring off the surface of the glass fermenter. And I used to take photos professionally. For a small-town newspaper with a circulation of 1,500, I admit, but I still got paid to do it, so I’m counting it as professional.

If you click on it to get the full-size, full-suds version, you can see the carbon dioxide bubbles fizzing up through the toasty brown juice that will soon be beer. I stirred nine pounds of malt extract into this batch, enough to raise the original gravity, the density, of the soup up to 1.076 – in other words, there’s a lot of sugar in that bottle, so much that it’s driving the yeast absolutely batshit crazy. They’re having a drunken orgy in there, gobbling up all that sugar and making lots of little baby yeast at a furious rate. Even so, it’ll take them more than a week to eat up almost all of the sugars and poop it out as ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide.

Besides being a great buzz, alcohol moderates the malty sweetness of beer, making it much more drinkable. Carbon dioxide, of course, gives beer its fizz. And watching it through the glass walls of the fermenting bottle is lots of fun, at least for nerds like me. Since Monday morning, I’ve been watching it with the slack-jawed admiration of a YouTube addict.

But I’m done watching for tonight. It’s been a long day, and tomorrow’s going to be more of the same, so off to bed. G’night.

head space | 9:56 pm CST
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Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

image of beerBelly up to the bar, folks, this beer’s on me!

suds | 6:45 am CST
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Monday, April 2nd, 2012

image of beerThis latest batch is a little different from any other beer I’ve brewed, mostly because it’s the first time I’ve tried making beer without a recipe.

Usually, I think of a beer I’d like to drink, google the name of it, and click through the various recipes until I find one that sounds like it’s not too difficult to make. This time, I started with the idea that I’d like a light beer, not very bitter at all, and with the citrus flavor that a lot of summer beers have, so I googled “citrus hops” and found that the hops that would give me that orange-grapefruit flavor were Amarillo, Cascade or Centennial.

Then, I googled recipes that had those three hops in them to see how other people went after this idea. The recipe that intrigued me the most was one that was loaded up with ten pounds of malt extract! I’d never brewed a batch with that much malt extract in it, and for that reason alone I decided I had to try it.

Ever since I’d started thinking about this citrus-y, malty beer, I’d wanted it to have a taste like a saison or a Belgian, and although I had no idea if the combination of hops and all that malt would work with that kind of yeast, I figured the only way to find out was to give it a try.

I had a little trouble remembering to buy all the supplies at once last time. Specifically, I forgot to get yeast and had to make a second trip, so this time when I walked through the front door I went straight to the fridge and picked a packet of Wyeast 1214 Belgian Abbey out of the bottom tray.

There are two separate fridges at the store where I buy my supplies, one for the yeast and another, right next door, for the hops. I took two steps to the left, opened the other door and flipped through the bags until I found the Cascade pellets. They were rated at just 6.2% alpha acid, so I bought two ounces. I wanted to finish with Amarillo hops, which were rated at 9.3% alpha acid, so I bought just an ounce of those.

The store sold malt extract in three-pound bags, so I bought nine pounds of light malt extract. I had a half-pound of crystal malt left over from the previous batch and decided, on the fly, to throw that in there as well for color.

The next day a plumbing emergency almost derailed my plans to brew, but I finished playing with the pipes at about four o’clock and figured I’d have just enough time to brew if we didn’t want to eat until six-thirty. My Darling B happily agreed, so I set up the Cajun cooker in the garage and started a pot of water boiling with the crystal malt hanging over the side to soak.

By the time the pot came to a boil I had all the other ingredients prepared and was relaxing in one of the Adirondack chairs I’d dragged around from the back of the house. After dangling the barley over the pot for a few minutes to let it drip, I set them aside and poured the malt extract in, one bag after another, enthusiastically stirring to keep from scorching it on the bottom of the pot. I had my doubts that I would even be able to dissolve that much malt into 2.5 gallons of water, but I did, and never even came close to burning it. As it was coming back to a boil, I fetched the wort chiller from the basement and, after dipping the coiled copper into the simmering wort, turned up the heat to speed things up.

When it came to a boil again just a few minutes later, I added 1 oz. of Cascade hops and let them boil for 20 minutes, then added a half-ounce of Cascade for another 12 minutes, and then another half-ounce of Cascade for 12 more minutes. Finally, I dropped the last sock stuffed with 1 oz. Amarillo hops and let them boil for just 12 minutes before shutting the burner down and hurrying down to the basement to connect the wort chiller to the faucet in the basement sink. While the chiller was madly exchanging the heat from the wort and flushing it down the drain, I strained the hops and set them aside, then distracted myself by watching videos on YouTube for about ten minutes, more than enough time for the chiller to bring the wort down to a temperature that was nice and cozy for yeast to settle down in and raise a family.

The stick-on thermometer on the side of the carboy indicated a temperature of about 68 degrees, which should have been well within the tolerances of the Belgian Abbey yeast I pitched into the soup, so I don’t think that should account for the slow start. The original gravity of the wort was 1.076, probably the highest OG I’ve ever started with but still not, according to many of the recipes I’ve googled today, unusually high, so I don’t know how to explain why it took so long for the yeast to get going, unless that’s the way they always get going. They looked just about dead this morning and I worried all day that I’d come home to find the same tonight. Happily, that wasn’t the case. At about five-thirty this evening, the fermenter had a frothy head on it that reached almost all the way to the top of the neck, and by the time we finished dinner there was foam climbing up the blow-off tube. At bed time, fermentation had earned the honor of being characterized as vigorous, with plenty of foam collecting in the big one-liter beer stein at the other end of the blow-off tube, which was happily bloop-bloop-blooping. With a feeling of great relief, I went to bed.

summbier | 9:03 pm CST
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image of beerTwelve hours later and no activity at all. The yeast seems to be completely inactive. First time that’s ever happened to me.

UPDATE: 6:28 pm – False alarm. The beer’s okay. I was a little worried that I did something that would have killed the yeast, and I’ve spent the whole day going over and over every step of the process trying to figure out where I bungled it, but never did get to that eureka moment when I realized what I’d done wrong.

When I got home from work I went straight to the basement where I was sure that, if I frowned at the beer long enough, it would give up its secret, and what the hell, it did. It had a great big head of suds on it, and the blowoff tube was blooping happily. It was just a slow starter, apparently.

stalled | 6:19 am CST
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Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Day three, and my first batch of beer is still fermenting like crazy. One the yeast gets going, there’s no stopping it until it eats up all the malt sugar, converting it into alcohol and carbon dioxide so enthusiastically that they thrash up a big head of foam.

I pour the beer into a giant glass bottle called a carboy to let it ferment, and so much foam builds up at the top of the carboy that it comes spooging out the top, so I stick an inch-thick plastic tube down the neck of the carboy and leave the other end in a one-liter beer stein I picked up at the end of a volksmarch I went to in Germany.

Sunday morning, that stein was overflowing with foam, so I rinsed it out. Last night after I got home there was still foam in the stein, but not nearly as much, and none in the tube. That meant it was probably time to pull the tube out and replace it with a vapor lock, a little gizmo that will let gas out of the fermenter but not let any air in.

Well, I jumped the gun just a bit there. When I checked the batch this morning, a big head of foam was gushing from the vapor lock. Had to rinse it out and clean up a big mess on the countertop.

I hope it’s really done now, but after seeing that fermentation is still at a rolling boil, there could be at least one more gooey mess in the future.

spoo | 6:11 am CST
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Monday, March 26th, 2012

And, in the blink of an eye, the weekend was over.

For the first time in months we slept in late Saturday morning – didn’t get out of bed until almost eight o’clock! What a couple of hedonists we can be! After we’d cleared the cobwebs from our heads with a couple cups of coffee, we went to Crema Cafe, a local coffee house, for brunch and some more coffee. I’d never been before – well, years ago I had, but it had a different name then and was a lot smaller. Whoever is running the place now managed to buy up the place next door, knock out the wall and make a very cozy little cafe that serves quite a tasty fungus scramble.

After we got home, I went into brewing mode: Looked up a recipe on the web for a basic red ale, made a list, and hit the road to Brew & Grow, the local brewing supplies store. And, because it’s a natural law that all the trips I make for supplies have to come in twos, I made another trip back about a half-hour later when I was unpacking my supplies and realized I’d forgotten to buy the yeast. Can’t make beer without yeast.

I boiled up the brew on the patio with a beer in hand while B pulled weeds in her garden. Her hobby: Pulling weeds in the hot sun. My hobby: Drinking beer. That, in a nutshell, is why I don’t garden.

But I help her garden from time to time. Yesterday, we were both tearing down the chicken wire fence, digging trenches between the fence posts and tacking up fresh, new fencing, made of galvanized hardware cloth this time. We meant to buy galvanized chicken wire last time, but we must not have been paying attention on one of the trips we made to the store because about half of it rusted away, leaving gaping holes big enough for black bears to amble through. I double- and triple-checked the labels on the hardware cloth to make sure it was all galvanized, so rust shouldn’t be a problem this time.

Finally, yesterday afternoon I grilled burgers. And that was the weekend.

blink | 5:59 am CST
Category: beer, coffee, daily drivel, food & drink, garden, hobby, homebrewing, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags:
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Saturday, March 24th, 2012

img of beerI have brewed again.

I wanted to start with a simple ale, a lawnmower beer for the early spring weather, so I googled spring ale and clicked through the results until I found a recipe that was meant to be a clone of Anchor Steam beer.

I didn’t follow the recipe exactly. Why would I?

The recipe called for seven pounds of John Bull plain light malt extract. My local supplier doesn’t sell John Bull, so I ended up with nine pounds of Moulton’s plain light malt, a minor deviation as far as I’m concerned.

There were several diffrerent kinds of light crystal malt. I don’t have enough experience to know what the difference between them might be, so I grabbed the first one I saw and threw it in my shopping basket.

I found Northern Brewer hop pellets the recipe called for. They were a wimpy 8.6% alpha acid instead of the 11% that the recipe assumed I’d be able to get. Oh, well. The Cascade finishing hops were 6.2% instead of the 5.6% in the recipe, so I figured that would make up for it.

And then there was the yeast. The recipe said I should used a lager yeast. Thanks, that’s real specific. The eye-level shelf of the fridge had a box full of Wyeast 1056 American ale, so I grabbed that. Not the first time. The second time. I had to go back for it. “Back so soon?” the guy behind the counter asked, as I walked in the door. I answered, “If I buy a pile of malt, and I don’t get any yeast, you will not hurt my feelings if you suggest that I take some yeast home with me, too.” He smiled. “Fair enough.”

I brewed up the batch on the patio, throwing a fresh bag of hops into the mix every twenty minutes, then hauling the whole thing into the basement to rack it. The blow-off tube started blooping almost right away, so I must have done something right.

We bottle in about a week and a half. Watch this space.

brewing | 5:43 pm CST
Category: beer, entertainment, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, play
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Monday, January 23rd, 2012

The most unexpected thing to happen to me this weekend: I ran into a distant relative at the Isthmus beer and cheese festival. Standing in the middle of the room with My Darling B, just minutes after we got there, I looked up from the map we were using to plan our attack on the next vendor and I saw, or thought I saw, my dad’s sister’s daughter’s daughter – I don’t know if makes her my first, second or third cousin, so I’m just going to say “cousin.” There was more than a little doubt in my mind it was actually her because, as far as I knew, she wasn’t even living in town after graduating from school, but I kept spotting her in the crowd and kept getting the same eerie feeling until finally I had to walk up, tap her on the shoulder and introduce myself. And what do you know. It was her. Small world.

I guess the next most happy surprise was that the organizers of the festival brought in Ian’s Pizza and a food cart called Banzo so we didn’t have to eat the miserable crap that Aramark sells from their stalls around the convention floor when everybody got the munchies as the day went on. B and I stopped by the food cart late in the afternoon to grab a bite to eat before we went home and were very pleasantly surprised by how tasty their food was. B got a very generous helping of hummus with pita slices to spread it on. I ordered falafel and shared with B, and we both made so many yummy noises as we scarfed it down that I went back to order more. Now I can’t wait for summer so I can look for them on the street.

But the beer and cheese was what we came for. Actually, I came for the beer. B is the cheese connoisseur. I didn’t even remember to bring my milk pills. You’d think if I was going to an event named Isthmus Beer & Cheese Fest, I’d be able to remember my milk pills, but no. So I stuck to the aged cheddar and only ate a little bit of that.

The beer selection was surprisingly ordinary. Everybody seemed to be serving “safe” beers, the kind I could get at Jenifer Street Market or Star Liquor. Not bad beer by any stretch of the imagination, just … safe. Which is disappointing only because, if I’d bought it at the store, I could have saved myself a lot of money. I tasted fourteen or fifteen beers. Each vendor poured three or four ounces into my glass when I started sampling at the beginning of the evening, but toward the end of the evening they tended to fill my glass almost all the way up with maybe six ounces of beer, although I only had two or three of those. That’s about fifty-eight ounces of beer, or just two ounces short of five 12-ounce bottles. I paid forty bucks to drink less than a six-pack of beer.

The most unhappy thing to happen to me and B this weekend was right after the show, when our cab didn’t show. We made a reservation with Green Cab to pick us up, and when they didn’t and B called them to ask where the hell they were, the dispatcher told her they were really busy. Go fish, basically. So we fell back on the gold standard, Union Cab, and they didn’t disappoint. A cab was there to pick us up on less than twenty minutes, and he played a game of “Cash Cab” on the way home. I won a whiffle ball.

beercheese | 9:40 pm CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, festivals, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags: ,
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Sunday, November 13th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fox Valley Brewery Tour | 11:35 am CST
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Thursday, August 25th, 2011

After we got our Wednesdays sorted out from our Tuesdays, My Darling B and I went into town after work on the evening that the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild should have been meeting at the Memorial Union on the campus of the University of Wisconsin. Trouble was, we didn’t know what any of them looked like, and they didn’t go out of their way to make themselves stand out, like put up a sign, or wear t-shirts with beer logos on them. Of all the people we saw there, and we took a good, long look at just about every single one of them as we wandered back and forth across the terrace alongside the lake, beers in hand, about half looked like students from the university and the other half looked like faculty or parents of students. And none of them were wearing t-shirts with beer logos.

Still, it was a nice place to relax with a beer after work. Quite a lot of other people apparently thought so, too. I had no idea the Memorial Union was such a popular after-work social hot spot.

social | 6:08 am CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play
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Sunday, August 14th, 2011

Beer: I drank lots of it at The Great Taste of the Midwest yesterday, but – and this is key – not as much of it as I have in the past. And especially not as much as last year, thank goodness. I was hoping to remain upright and not spill as much beer this year, a feat I managed to accomplish by sticking to our plan of taking a break every hour or so to sit down and drink lots of water.

This is our fifth year going to the Great Taste. My Darling B got way into it this year. She keeps notes in her programs, with little happy faces next to the beers she really liked, “meh” faces next to the beers that were just okay, and sad faces next to the beers she didn’t like. She keeps all the old programs in a secret vault that not even I know the location of. Then, when The Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild uploads the latest program to the interwebs just two or three days ahead of the event, she pulls it up on her computer and makes a list of all the beers that sound most interesting to her, then compares it to her list of beers that got a meh or a sad face to make sure she won’t be wasting time on beers she’s already tried and didn’t like. It took her two days of careful study to finish all her homework this year.

Is this the perfect woman, or what? She does all the work and all I have to do to end up drinking delicious beer is follow her around.

Of course, it rained before the show. It rained the night before, and it rained the morning of. It’s rained right before the show every year that we’ve gone to it. It could almost be considered a tradition, if they could credibly claim to have any control over the weather. Since they don’t, I believe they would have to consider this kind of invariably bad weather a curse. And this year, just to reinforce the curse, I guess, the skies clouded over and it rained again at about five o’clock, an hour before the end of the show. Not that anybody cared. By that time pretty much every one of us was weatherproof.

Speaking of curses and pandemoneum, at about four o’clock, B went off to use the porta-potty while I listened to the music of Mama Digdown’s Brass Band. When B caught up with me, she was in a panic, patting down all her pockets. “I can’t find my program!” Her attack plan, her record of all the beers she tasted, her list of frowny-face beers, everything but her copious hand-written list of beers she wanted to try was in that program. Lost. Her only consolation was that I tasted most of the same beers she drank, so she’ll probably be able to figure it out when she does her homework before the Great Taste next year.

A big thank-you goes out to the T-dawg, who gave us a lift to the event and was waiting to take us home as we slogged our way out the front gate in the rain after it closed down. We really appreciate it, especially the part about waiting in the rain and letting us get into your car dripping wet. Props to you.

great | 4:29 pm CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, T-Dawg
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Saturday, August 13th, 2011

Note to future self: When attending Great Taste of the Midwest Pre-Party, do not attempt to eat a hamburger that’s bigger than your head. Really, that thing must have weighed a half-pound at least, and they piled cheese, onion rings and two strips of bacon on top of it. Realizing my mistake, I ate just half of it and still my stomach was dispatching complaints as thick as phone books to the admin department of my brain all night long. Next year we’ll get a salad at the co-op and eat it in the car on the way to the party.

After much consultation, we decided to try out the party hosted by The Beer Spot at The Brickhouse BBQ because they had managed to pull in Central Waters, one of our favorite brewers. We visited their brewery just a month ago, as a matter of fact, to enjoy a few brews and a Cajun band that was playing among the fermenting tanks. Along with Central Waters, the party also included three breweries we weren’t familiar with: Short’s Brewing from Michigan brought ten different brews, Nebraska Brewing Company from, um, Nebraska brought eight, and Lift Bridge from Minnesota brought two. We weren’t hoping to try anywhere near that many, and a good thing, too, because there was a crazy big crowd there and the bar was busier than a swarm of bees.

I started with the hoppy beers, because I knew I’d be drinking them all by myself. They were serving 4-ounce tasters, so no problem there. Hop God, a Belgian IPA from Nebraska, was satisfyingly hoppy, but Dan’s Pink Skirt, an American IPA from Short’s, was insanely hoppy, like having Andre the Giant stuff fistfuls of hops right up my nose. I finished them both anyway. I love hoppy, and I had plenty of water on hand. Also, hamburger.

After dinner, we wandered upstairs to try out some of the other brews on offer. Of the brews from Short’s, I wanted to try Bludgeon Yer Eye PA, a Black IPA, but somehow we didn’t get around to it, but they’ll have it at the Great Taste so I’ll try to catch up with them later this afternoon. We did get to try Smoked Apple Ale, a Rauchbier with a distinct apple flavor (and I swear I tasted cinnamon, too); Chocolate Wheat, a porter with chocolate malt that B liked quite a bit; and Nicie Spicie, an American Wheat beer brewed with peppercorns, which would have gone exceptionally well with the giant-sized burger I could still taste.

The only other brew from Nebraska that we tried was the Summer Rye, which I liked quite a lot but B couldn’t abide the aroma. We also tried both beers from Lift Bridge: Farm Girl, a saison that would ideally be served ice-cold on a hot day at the beach; and Chestnut Hill, a Brown Ale that was a little bland.

The rain that had been coming down all the while we were at Brickhouse let up just long enough for us to walk back to the car. How great is that?

pre-GTOTMW | 8:26 am CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags: ,
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Sunday, June 19th, 2011

Did I mention we went dancing last night? We did. Friday was the night of the annual hangar dance at the airport. Our favorite local swing band, Ladies Must Swing, finagles an empty hangar away from whoever runs the airport, sets up some tables and plays music by Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Count Basie and the like from seven until ten so we can get out there and use our mad dancing skills. Well, not just us, but everybody who shows up. And a lot of people show up. It’s quite a party.

Last year they had the hangar dance at the end of July, but this year they had it a lot earlier in the year because the B-17 that shows up for the show, nicknamed Aluminum Overcast, wouldn’t be passing through town at the usual time, which was pretty lucky for all of us. Last year it when the dance started it was still about ninety degrees out and the sun was shining right into the hangar, turning it into a dutch oven. Then, as evening came, every mosquito in Dane County caught a whiff of all those sweaty bodies and descended on us, leaving the party an hour and a half later with about a hundred gallons of fresh human blood. We should have all come down with West Nile Virus after that, but maybe the heat killed it off, because it never got cool that night. We drank lots of water and beer that night and tried to never stop dancing so the mosquitoes wouldn’t catch up with us.

Last night was much better, as far as the heat and the mosquitoes go. Not nearly so hot, and no bugs at all that I could tell. And the party was just as much fun, with lots of good music and the best dance partner I could find! (That ought to score me a few brownie points, eh?) We didn’t dance every single one of the dances this time around because, first of all, no mosquitoes, and second of all, My Darling B was pooped out from working in her garden all day long. She tried to keep up, but we took several breaks during the first half so she could drink plenty of water, and in the second half of the show she was yawning and rubbing her eyes like a little kid ready for bed. Even so, she managed to stick it out to the very end so we could dance the last dance.

hangar dance | 8:37 pm CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, dance, entertainment, food & drink, music, My Darling B, O'Folks, play | Tags:
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Saturday, June 4th, 2011

We’re just back from Burgers & Brew, the annual fund-raiser put on by the REAP Food Group at the Capital Brewery. There, that’s about as many links as one sentence should be forced to hold.

We got there about forty minutes early. It was blazing hot. The prospect of standing in the hot, hot sun for upwards of forty minutes made me think all kinds of things that might otherwise be considered outlandishly extravagant were now perfectly acceptable, so when one of the volunteers announced that members of REAP would be allowed in early, we decided right then and there to become REAP members, and hang the cost. And not only did we get in early, we also got to go stand in a line that was in the shade. Best decision we made all day.

The people who set up Burgers & Brew learned well from the soggy experience of last year when it rained all afternoon. The event still took place, and lots of people still showed up, but they were cooking burgers in the rain, and we were eating burgers in the rain, and the rain never stopped. This year, the side of the beer garden where they cook the burgers was covered by a carnival tent. Very clever, Burgers & Brew! And even though it wasn’t pouring down rain, we still appreciated being able to wait for our burgers in the shade, where it was only ninety degrees, instead of hot enough to melt pig iron the way it was out in the sunshine.

The burgers were just as delicious as ever, and the beers get better and better. Either that, or I know how to appreciate the beers now. Maybe the burgers are getting better, too, and I’m just not sophisticated enough to know. Either way, I got to spend a perfectly lovely day in a garden eating burgers and drinking beer with the most lovely girl I know. Can’t ask for a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

burgers and brew | 7:44 pm CST
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Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

Ah, these are truly the days of summer, the days that start cool and clear with a slight, freshening wind. They warm up to temps in the seventies by midday, they’re not too humid, and the evenings are long enough to sit on the back stoop with a beer after supper where we can enjoy watching the birds at the feeder without too many bugs flying around our heads. These are the days I wait all winter for. And they’ll last maybe four more weeks, if we’re lucky. Then, either the mosquitoes will begin relentlessly feasting on us in swarms so insufferably large that spending more than five minutes out-of-doors will be considered lunacy, or the temperatures, together with the humidity, will climb so high that the act of merely getting out of bed in the morning will be enough to make me pop a sweat. At some point in August both the mosquitoes and the sweat will combine to make the end of summer the most miserable time of year, and I’ll dream of the subzero days to come.

summer | 5:56 am CST
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Sunday, May 29th, 2011

The Sierra Nevada brewery has brewed a double IPA strong enough to strip the paint off your car, so you wouldn’t want to bring it to a tailgate party unless you were drinking it out of the trunk of a car belonging to somebody you didn’t care much about keeping as a friend, but for just about any other celebratory occasion, such as a long Memorial Day weekend featuring barbecued weenies on the grill, or any hot, summer day when flipping burgers figures into your plans, this would be ideal. It’s not a beer you should guzzle, leaving it out of the class of summer “lawnmower beers.” I think you should sip it a little at a time, then sit and gaze into the sky for several minutes between tastes, wondering how we ever lucked on to the magic that is beer, but even though I’m a lightweight in a world of chuggers I would urge you to take your time and savor this lovely little pale ale. Look for the “Brew Camp” label.

hopped | 4:41 pm CST
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Saturday, May 7th, 2011

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

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

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

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

full | 7:53 am CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, festivals, food & drink, Madison Craft Beer Week, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags: ,
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Sunday, May 1st, 2011

I froze my ass off today. Really. I have no ass.

I sat in line with My Darling B – stood, for a while, but mostly sat, so I’m defaulting to that – for five hours this morning to buy tickets for the Great Taste of the Midwest. The skies were clear, the day was sunny, the temps were in the low fifties. Wouldn’t have been a bad day at all to sit in a lawn chair all morning reading or playing cards or otherwise whiling away the time as we waited for the doors to open. When the wind wasn’t blowing it wasn’t a bad day, but the wind was blowing more than it wasn’t, and it was blowing hard. No gentle breeze, this wind made reading a book difficult, reading the Sunday paper impossible (I still haven’t gotten around to reading it), and the only card game we might have played would have been Fifty-Two Pickup. We could have played that game just once. And it sapped every bit of warmth, right down to the marrow of my bones, out of me and My Darling B in just an hour, maybe less, so the other four hours we were technically cold enough to be dead, had anybody with medical training checked, which thankfully never happened or I’d be in a body bag at the morgue right now.

Why would we wait in line for so long, risking death by hypothermia, for tickets to a beerfest? Ah, this is no mere beerfest. This is the beerfest, the Great Taste of the Midwest, tickets for which only the blessed and the saved can get hold of. The Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild want to keep the festival to a manageable size, so they sell just 6,000 tickets to the event each year, 3,000 by mail and 3,000 at various retail outlets across Madison. The manner by which they sell the tickets is so arcane that the uninitiated have almost no chance of getting in.

The mail-order tickets, for instance, are sold by lottery. You must mail in your request on a certain date. Requests that are postmarked on any other day are sent back. They sell just two tickets to each person. The orders that are postmarked on the correct day are thrown into a hat (the biggest hat in the world, I’m told; a fedora, in case anybody’s asking) and 1,500 letters are drawn at random. The rest are sent back to the unlucky ones who then scour Craigslist hoping that someone will have a change of plans or who bought an extra for a friend who can no longer make it. There may be a few scalpers among ticket buyers to the Great Taste, but I’ll bet a six-pack of my favorite Hinterland brew there are darned few.

The sale of 600 tickets at Star Liquor on Willy Street opens at twelve o’clock promptly, and people start lining up to buy them the night before. No, really. People camp out overnight to get hold of a couple tickets to this event, that’s how devout they are about this enterprise. We are not that devout. We didn’t get in line the night before, or even before sunrise this morning; we showed up at about eight o’clock, an hour earlier than we did last year because we just barely got there under the cutoff. How did we know we cut it so close? Because there’s a guy at the end of the line helpfully counting noses. Anybody in line after Standee Number Three-Hundred was hoping against hope that at least some of the people ahead of them were not buying two tickets each. That’s got to be a nail-biter.

This year, getting in line an hour earlier, we were just under the wire again. I guess that means next year we’ll have to show up at seven. *sigh*

To make the wait as pleasant as possible we brought along camp chairs, a couple of books (I brought along a copy of Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, a novel I’d started only the day before, figuring it would keep me plenty busy; little did I know. In two hours I managed to bull my way through twelve pages, so dense was the text. At this rate, I won’t finish until Christmas) and lunch. We did not bring winter sleeping bags. If only the day had not appeared to be so warm and inviting, we might have wrapped ourselves in thick, quilted flannel and kept ourselves toasty warm. But no. That would not have been consonant with the wishes of The Great Cosmic F.U.

To stave off complete and total conversion to human Pop-sicles we took turns walking to a local grocery store. I made two trips to a bakery, first to get scones, then to refill my coffee mug. It helped a bit, especially the hot coffee, but eventually I was completely numb from the tips of my fingers all the way up to the wrist. My lips were numb and I thought they were probably corpse-blue, too, but nobody said anything so maybe they weren’t.

I started packing up the camp chairs about twenty minutes before twelve and, not two minutes later, the line lurched forward in the first of many accordion-like compressions that eventually took us all the way to within a few paces of the corner of Few Street and Willy Street. If anything, I felt even colder from here to the very doorstep of Star Liquor. Most of the wait was in the shade, and there was some kind of freak weather pattern whipping the wind up to near-tornadic strength in the parking lot next to Star Liquor where the line snaked up to the side entrance. B kept pressing herself close against me so I can only assume she felt at least as cold as I did. My lips were too numb for me to form intelligible words, so I couldn’t ask her.

A few minutes past one o’clock we finally walked out of the store with tickets in hand, grinning like idiots. Once home, I made a big pot of hot coffee at the request of My Darling B, who curled up on the sofa with a steaming hot mug o’ java, wrapped up in quilts, where she stayed for at least an hour, slowing thawing out.

Hypothermic | 5:30 pm CST
Category: beer, books, coffee, entertainment, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, My Darling B, O'Folks, play
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Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Beer and cheese! They had gallons of the former and tons of the latter at the convention center yesterday afternoon, where I passed the time wandering from booth to booth with My Darling B, or passing most of the time with her, as it turned out. We got separated about midway through the afternoon and although I waited for the better part of an hour at what I thought was the agreed-upon rendezvous point we didn’t reconnect but accidentally, because she was at what she was sure was the agreed-upon rendezvous point, far, far away on the other side of the convention center. It wasn’t until I stepped away for my third or fourth trip to the head that I spotted her in the crowd and plowed my way through the teeming millions to rejoin her. My luck at finding her again was mixed. She was a teensy bit upset with me for not being at the appointed place. It didn’t seem wise to argue, so I didn’t.

Our trip from one booth to the next, most of them helpfully arranged beer, cheese, beer, cheese so we wouldn’t have to think about it too much, started at the back of the room this time because everyone was already linked up at the booths in the front of the room as we came through the door. The brewers from the Horny Goat Brewing Company were all alone back there so we sidled up to the table and sampled their wares. I tried a Belgian-style wheat beer and B had a glass of farmhouse ale nicknamed Exposed. Both were so delicious we stuck around to try the rest of their beers, and weren’t disappointed by any.

From there we worked our way to the front of the room, drinking and noshing, except for that little blip in the middle where we got separated. I tasted way too many beers to remember and I wouldn’t bother to rip out a laundry list of them here, although if you’re really interested I tweeted the ones I really liked, so there you go.

Beer and Cheese | 12:16 pm CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, festivals, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play | Tags:
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Friday, December 31st, 2010

Today’s New Year’s Eve so we get the day off because we’re state workers. It’s one of the benefits that are showered on us like confetti at a hero’s ticker-tape parade. I can’t wait to see how that’s going to change. Watch this space.

But for now, we’re enjoying the day off: Sleeping in a bit, then sitting on the sofa for as long as we damn well want to while we drink our coffee and try to wake up. When we felt we could finally communicate in something more complex than grunts, we threw on some clothes, piled into the car and went into town for breakfast at Lazy Jane’s. My Darling B ordered something called a Chipotle Chili Omelet, which she mistakenly thought was a regular omelet with chipotle chiles, but no. It’s an egg folded over a mountainous helping of chili, more than she could eat in a day under any circumstances. She hardly made a dent in it.

I had a waffle garnished with bananas and walnuts and smothered in syrup. If there’s a better way to start the day, I can’t think of it right now.

We made a quick detour to Mad Cat before swinging back. Boo’s favorite cat toy, a wand with a little poof of feathers on the end, was pretty much worn out. All that was left of the feathers was a little furry stump and one very thin, tired-looking pin feather, so I got her a new one. There are so many feathers I thought it might scare her, but she was very excited to chase the new one even though I woke her out of a sound sleep with it, which is not something I would normally ever do if I could help it. Think of someone you know who’s “not a morning person” and then imagine waking that person up suddenly and rudely, say by throwing the contents of a well-chilled chamber pot in her face, and you’re getting an idea of the kind of “morning person” the Boo can be.

While My Darling B was gathering up the fixings for a shellfish chowder dinner and our New Year’s Eve noshies, I strolled up the street to Star Liquor to ask Adam to recommend a bottle of bubbly that would go with the chowder. He fixed me up right quick and I grabbed a six-pack of Moon Man from New Glarus to go with the popcorn and movies we were planning on watching as we passed the hours until midnight, should we somehow be able to stay up that late.

Then it was on to Batch Bakehouse. They’re closing up for almost two weeks to go on vacation, so we wanted to see what we could pick up from their showcase. Not much, as it turned out. They were being mobbed by a steady stream of people who had the same idea we had, and the showcase was almost cleaned out by the time we made our way to the front of the line. We scored some cookies, a wedge of apple cake and a small loaf of wheat bread, then tried to make our way through the crowd out the door before the ones in the back realized they weren’t going to get any goodies.

Just two more stops after that, at Bongo Video! and the Monona Public Library to pick up a selection DVDs, so many that we’ll almost certainly never get to watch them all, but at least enough that we’ll all be able to agree on something. Movies, noshies, booze and food – I think we’re ready to make it to the New Year!

New Year’s Eve | 2:14 pm CST
Category: beer, Boo, booze, daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, movies, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants, television, vacation, work | Tags: ,
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Sunday, December 12th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hop Head Beer Tour | 3:58 pm CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants, T-Dawg | Tags: , , , ,
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Friday, December 10th, 2010

I had a picture to post for you, but my google profile has merged with my Picasa profile and although I’m sure it was all for my own convenience and pleasure, it seems they haven’t worked all the bugs out because I can’t link to photos right now, I can’t even see any of my photos on Picasa right now, so I’ll just have to rely upon the awesome power of the English language to describe what I was going to show you a picture of: Beer. It was a bottle of beer. There. Pretty evocative, eh?

It was a bottle of pale ale from the Hinterland brewery of Green Bay, Wisconsin. It’s terrific beer, but their bottles are plain as a glass of milk. Chocolate milk, in this case, because the labels are black with a big white “H” in the middle of a yellow circle with the word “Hinterland” in white block letters underneath. There’s also a smaller label on the neck of the bottle, also black, that says “Pale Ale,” also in white block letters.

It reminds me of those white cans of generic beer they used to sell back in the 80s. Each can had the word “BEER” on it in black capital letters. It was awful stuff, completely unlike Hinterland pale ale except that the labeling sort of sparks a memory. You probably can’t get any Hinterland beer outside of Wisconsin and, if so, too bad for you because it’s just delicious, pure ambrosia. I’d drink it all day long if I could retain the motor skills necessary to keep hoisting the bottle to my lips, so it’s probably a good thing I can’t.

I’m thinking of beer because My Darling B and I will depart for Milwaukee, the Wisconsin city that used to be known as Cream City because they made so much beer there that it, uh, looked like cream? I don’t know. My guess is, it had something to do with a creamy head of beer. Anyway, my birthday is this weekend and we’re celebrating with a trip to Milwaukee to tour some of the pubs there, a tour we found out about while dining at one of our favorite Madison taverns, the Alchemy cafe. We bought the tickets on impulse, I tucked them into my wallet and I entirely forgot about them until this afternoon when I was rooting around in there for a dollar. Oh shit, I thought to myself, I have to get up early tomorrow! But that’s okay, I’ll be able to nap on the bus because the pretty girl sitting next to me will let me put my head on her shoulder.

Beer | 10:23 pm CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags: , ,
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Sunday, September 26th, 2010

image of Silver Eagle
My Darling B and I went to the Silver Eagle yesterday afternoon. It’s the closest neighborhood bar to our house and we went there because we’d like to have a place we could walk to for a beer and a quiet corner to sit and chat. Even at five o’clock in the afternoon, this does not seem to be that place.

For starters, it’s a sports bar, the kind that decorates by nailing the hoods of Nascar race cars to the ceiling. That doesn’t bother me, but the dozen flat-screen TVs mounted high on the walls, each one of them displaying a different sports event, do. I repeat I’ve got nothing against sports, I really don’t. My immediate family is disgusted by my fascination for watching golf. It bugs me, though, that there don’t seem to be any taverns left we can go into where we’re not surrounded by several huge television screens. I could ignore one television set with a fifteen inch screen, but when they hang at least one screen, each as big as a tennis court, on every wall, and more often two or three, that’s just torture.

I’m not going to complain about the sad lack of variety in the six beers on tap, but I am going to piss and moan about being served beer in a plastic cup. Plastic? Really? I gave up plastic cups back when I was, oh, I don’t know, twelve years old? When I stopped drinking Kool-Aide, anyway. If I’m going to hand over four dollars for a beer, which I will gladly do under the right circumstances, I think the least the management could do is serve it in a glass. Everything tastes better in a glass, even weak-kneed American lager. Oops, I went there, didn’t I? Sorry.

Noise is a given in a bar. When you get so many people together in a big, open room and they’re all talking at once, there’s going to be a lot of noise. And I don’t mind if they play music or the television either (okay, I mind the television a little bit), but what, I ask you, is the point of cranking up the sound on the television or the juke box to the point where I have to yell to be heard by the pretty girl sitting right next to me? Who in the world thinks that’s any way to meet friends and sweethearts? I was relieved I didn’t see anyone to say hello to while we were there because I wouldn’t have known what to say after that, just smile and nod when they stopped talking and hope they wouldn’t use the “I want to have sex with your wife” joke on me.

If I had to rate this place, I’d give it just one beer. Two, if you’re buying.

A Trip to the Silver Eagle | 10:44 am CST
Category: beer, entertainment, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants, yet another rant
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Sunday, August 15th, 2010

image of happy beer loversWhile I was looking through the photos I shot at the Great Taste of the Midwest yesterday, the first thought that came to mind when I saw this one was, Who are these people? My brain was still a little fogged from imbibing a bit too enthusiastically at the Great Taste this year.

I’m usually a lot more careful about how much I drink at the Great Taste because, the first year we went, we had no plan at all. We just wandered from one tap to the next, drinking as much beer as we wanted, like kids in a candy store. We never stopped to take a break and never drank anything but beer. Not surprisingly, we were so drunk by the time they stopped serving that we could hardly prop each other up long enough to make it to the taxi stand.

The year after that near-catastrophe, we came up with a plan: We brought a cooler filled with ice-cold bottled water, stuffed our backpacks with snacks, and took the trouble to bring a couple camp chairs. They passed out programs while we waited in line at the entrance, so we planned to sample about a dozen or so beers all in the same tent, then retire to our camp chairs, eat some snacks and drink loads of water while we thumbed through the program, planning the next round of beers we’d like to drink. That worked so well we did it again the next year.

This year, though, I was enjoying myself so much I sort of fell off the wagon. We ran into quite a few people we knew, so we never seemed to get the chance to wander back to our camp to rest and rehydrate. I drank the bottle of water that was in my pocket, and I’m pretty sure that’s all the water I drank until about five o’clock when I started to get headspins. I hate headspins. I shuffled off in desperate search of our camp, where I plopped my ass down in a seat and drank all the bottled water I could hold. My Darling B found me there at about five-thirty. She told me later I looked awful.

So I won’t be doing it that way again. Must stick to the plan. I got this really good photo out of it, though.

Great Taste | 5:33 pm CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, My Darling B, O'Folks, play
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Friday, August 6th, 2010

image of Rolling Rock beerI had a late lunch today and needed a drink that I chug along with the calzone I was going to wolf down before I scampered back to the work shop to play with power tools some more. When I opened the fridge this bottle of Rolling Rock was in the front and I thought, Why not?

You’re probably thinking of plenty of reasons not to, but I was in a hurry, as I said. I also needed a non-alcoholic drink, and Rolling Rock is so close to non-alcoholic as to make no difference. Finally, I can’t remember the last time I drank a Rolling Rock. It was so long ago that I couldn’t recall what it tasted like, so it must not have been all that bad. I popped it open and poured.

And you know what? It’s not all that bad. I wouldn’t say it’s great, but it’s actually a pretty good beer to drink ice-cold on a hot summer day after muscling power tools around all morning. I’d even call it refreshing. I wouldn’t pay more than four bits for a bottle, but I think that’s about what they charge for it, so I’m not worried.

In case you’re wondering why we even have Rolling Rock in our house: My Darling B has slugs. That’s not code for something: They’re in her garden, eating her vegetables. To get rid of slugs, you press a saucer into a little dimple you make in the ground, so the lip is even with or below ground level, then pour a little beer into it. Slugs love beer, and when the smell reaches them they come from all around to drink it. Trouble is, they can’t swim, so when they wade in to drink the beer, they drown. If you thought drinking was detrimental to people, that’s nothing compared to what it does to slugs. One drink – Good-bye!

Rolling Rock | 5:59 am CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, food & drink, garden, hobby, My Darling B, O'Folks, play
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Monday, July 19th, 2010

image of Jordandal Farm, Argyle WI

Cows! We went to see the cows at Jordandal Farm yesterday! Let me hear you say “Moo!”

When we go to the farmer’s market every weekend we buy most of our meats from Jordandal. We’ve never been disappointed by the food and Carrie and Maria have never been anything but friendly and helpful, so when we heard there would be a picnic lunch and farm tour at Jordandal sponsored by REAP, we signed up in a heartbeat.

REAP Food Group is a Madison organization devoted to promoting public support of local farmers and restaurants, and educating the public about what they put in their faces, should they want to know such things. Many people don’t, so it has the feel of a specialty group, which B and I like quite a lot. Besides the Day At The Farm event, REAP also organized the Burgers & Brew fest we went to last month (the one where we got soaked eating hamburgers in a downpour).

Jordandal Farm is a small, family-owned farm between New Glarus and Argyle, a corner of Wisconsin where we always get lost no matter how many times we ask each other, “Left or right on C?” Maybe there are iron ore deposits in the soil that make our internal compasses spin out of control, I don’t know. We navigated our way to Jordandal with no trouble, but when we headed home we got turned around and were halfway to Dubuque, Iowa, before we realized we’d gone the wrong way. Getting there took a little less than an hour; getting back took longer, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

REAP set up this Day At The Farm with a lunch prepared by chefs from several of the most well-known restaurants in downtown Madison using ingredients from local farms, because that’s what REAP is about. The lunch menu included a meaty drumstick, potato salad and a sandwich, all given a little extra zing by way of spicy Thai recipes. Even Sean’s culinary demands were satisfied, and that’s quite an endorsement.

We queued up for an early lunch so we could take the farm tour at noon. We were there bang-on time but somehow didn’t hook up with the tour until they were coming back from the chicken pens, so we hung out in the barn where Eric was showing off one of their cows and its newborn calf. B wanted to pet the calf but was too shy to shove aside the gaggle of two-year-olds clustered tightly around it. (I tried to snap a photo for you but it was dark in there and B wouldn’t hold still.)

Besides the cows, Carrie and Eric also raise pigs, turkeys and sheep. The cows provide rich milk that Brunkow Cheese near Darlington turns into some scrumptious cheeses under the Fayette Creamery label. We can tell you from the results of many happy cookouts that the pigs are especially tasty, and unless my memory has failed me B has prepared lamb from Jordandal at least once (it’s a very occasional treat). We’ve also ordered turkey from them before but it was a different breed than the one they’re raising now. I’m probably forgetting something; I’m still a little numb from the idea that two people can manage to take care of so much.

Because the weather was scorching and we were in that neck of the woods anyway, we finished our day out with a stop at the New Glarus brewery, one of those places we’ve been saying for years that we ought to visit because it’s practically outside our back door. The brewery, on a hilltop at the south edge of New Glarus, had a shaded garden overlooking the pastures of the Wisconsin countryside where we could sit and enjoy a cool afternoon breeze while we sipped our samplers. A better end to the day could not have been had if we’d planned it (we sort of did, but My Darling B, who’s all about options, pack so many contingencies into these trips that they always take on the character of an afternoon played almost entirely by ear).

image of intrepid explorers

The O-Folk became a band of intrepid explorers this morning when we paddled our tiny fleet of kayaks from the lagoon behind the Rutabaga Paddle Sports store, then down the Yahara River and across Mud Lake and continued on south through Lake Waubesa to the boat landing in the county park. I can’t tell you exactly how far that is, but I can tell you how far it feels like.

My Darling B, the events coordinator for the past week, wanted an activity that would appeal to the O-Guys so she looked around and thought: Kayaking! We’ll rent a bunch of kayaks from Rutabaga and paddle around on the lakes! It’ll be like The Three Stooges Go Fishing! Maybe it’ll even turn into a Tweedle Beetle Puddle Battle! Nice try, B.

We did have a pretty darned good time, though, and I learned that it takes one heck of a lot longer to paddle from here to there than I thought. We picked the kayaks up at ten o’clock and chose the half-day rental so we could have them until two-thirty. In that much time I figured we could paddle from Monona to the moon and back, but we hardly got halfway down the western coast of Lake Waubesa before we figured it would be a good time to turn back.

Our short stop at the boat landing on Lake Waubesa gave Tim the opportunity to show us how not to get out of a kayak when pulled up alongside a dock. Actually, I missed his presentation entirely as I was facing the wrong way, and I couldn’t get him to re-enact it even though he was already soaked, so I guess I’ll have to learn that lesson on my own.

image of Tim and Sean in kayaks

One other very important thing I learned was that tandem kayaks pretty much suck as far as watercraft go, or at least the one that B and I were paddling did. We spent almost the whole day out doinking around with the adjustments to the seats and footrests and never did get them where we felt comfortable enough that we could say we were happy with it. Neither one of us had enough legroom and the seats were designed by a sadist. I was all gung-ho about buying a kayak last summer, and now my aching butt and crippled legs are thanking me that I didn’t.

Tim, on the other hand, was really very happy with his kayak, so happy that he wants to buy one as soon as possible. He’s even already done a little research into accessories and found there are lots of changes he can make to the seat so it doesn’t feel like a rotweiler’s chewing on his rear end. If I were going to buy something to go paddling around in, though, I’m pretty sure that, after today’s experience, I’d go with a canoe, and I’m pretty sure B would second that.

A Fine Day Out | 5:00 pm CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, entertainment, farmer's market, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, Seanster, T-Dawg | Tags: , , , ,
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Saturday, June 19th, 2010

Bottling the beer went off without a hitch – without a single hitch! That never happened before! I usually break the siphon, or spill a whole bunch of beer, or run out of bottle caps … something always goes wrong. Except this time. I shouldn’t feel like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, but I am.

Believe it or not, this is five gallons of premium home-brewed Irish stout. Most of those bottles hold 22 ounces of beer, so there’s a lot more stout in this photo than you’d think. Oh, wait, I filled a dozen pint bottles that aren’t in this photo, so okay, I guess the photo doesn’t show five gallons. Oh well.

I’ll be opening the first bottle next Saturday to see how it’s coming along, and the week after that it’ll be ready for mass consumption. Stop by and ask for a pour if you’re in the neighborhood.

bottled! | 9:12 pm CST
Category: beer, entertainment, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, play
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Bottle washing, the down side of bottling your own beer.

What you see in the photo is actually bottle soaking. I soak the bottles I’m going to put my beer in for about a half-hour in a sink filled with water that has a dab of bleach in it, to kill off any little beasties that have taken up residence. Then I grab a bottle brush and scrub out each bottle individually with hot, soapy water, a project that takes sixty to ninety minutes. When I get to that stage of the game I’ll be much too busy to snap a photo. Also, I won’t be in a good mood. Bottle washing makes me hot and sweaty and I tend to cuss a lot when I pull the brush out of the bottle and get sprayed in the face with soap, which happens a lot. If you know the secret to washing bottles without getting a face full of soap, you could pass it along to me and I’d appreciate it so much that I’d send you free beer.

bottles | 9:11 pm CST
Category: beer, entertainment, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, play
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Saturday, June 5th, 2010

We ate hamburgers in the rain!

We went to this year’s Burgers & Brew even though it was pouring rain outside! Pouring! And so did a couple hundred other people! We all ate burgers in the pouring rain! Cats and dogs pouring! Totally crazy pouring rain!

Quite a few people had umbrellas, and isn’t it a lot of fun trying to work your way through a crowd of people holding umbrellas? Sometimes we’d pass somebody who obliged us by holding their umbrella up a little higher, but most of us misjudged the overlap and ended up dumping all the water off their umbrellas down our backs, and we did the same more than once.

A few more people wore ponchos that helped keep them mostly dry, but only mostly. This was crazy pouring rain, remember, so even ponchos could only do so much.

Then there were quite a few who had no umbrellas or ponchos or any kind of rain gear whatsoever, who stood in the drenching downpour with water running down their faces and necks and choked down their burgers with a miserable expression that said, I paid twenty-five bucks for this burger and I’m going to eat every goddamn soggy bite!

Every so often the rain would let up just a bit. Once it stopped almost completely. When that happened, My Darling B would experimentally step out from under our umbrella, look up into the clouds and say, “I really think it’s going to stop now” with such optimism that even I believed it at first. Three minutes later, though, it would be pouring down rain again.

But most people, even a few of the people who were soaked right through to their underpants, looked like they were having a genuinely good time.

The burgers this year were delicious as ever, and it may just be me but I think they’re getting bigger. The first year they were just tiny little things, if memory serves, barely three bites’ worth, just big enough so you could get a taste of them. Two years later they were all so big that we couldn’t quite finish the last one; one of them was about the size of a burger you’d be served in any self-respecting tavern.

The beers were just as tasty as ever, too. I guess I’m a little disappointed the tiny commemorative shot glass they serve it in hasn’t grown in size to keep up with the bigger burgers, but oh well.

soggy | 7:39 pm CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, festivals, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play | Tags: ,
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Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

beer, brewing, Star Liquor, Great Taste of the MidwestThis is where it all starts: People waiting in line (in this case, at Star Liquor on Willy Street) to buy their tickets to The Great Taste of the Midwest, which is quickly becoming the biggest celebration of craft beer in the nation, to say nothing of it being the most sought-after ticket in town.

Last year we got tickets by mail. They have a lottery every year, but the odds aren’t very good: There are only one-thousand tickets available, you must send your check in on one particular date, and about a gojillion people write in. We were flat-out amazed when our check was cashed and still flat-out amazed when the tickets arrived in our mailbox a week later.

The two years before that, we got our tickets through the generosity of a guy My Darling B works with. He always bought four tickets, because they let you do that back then (you can only buy two apiece now) and because he figured he would run into somebody who would like to go as much as he did. And lucky us, he asked B if she wanted a couple tickets after it turned out all his other buddies had something else going on that weekend.

How do you forget the biggest beer festival is going on and plan something else that weekend? It’s beyond me, but I can’t say I spend a whole lot of time wondering about it.

This year, we didn’t want to impose on anybody and we didn’t want to rely on being lucky enough to win the lottery two years in a row. And last year, our friends at Star Liquor said that everyone who got in line for tickets went home happy. Some of them were so dedicated, they got in line at five o’clock in the morning. We weren’t as gung-ho as that. We jump in the car and head over didn’t head over there until nine and got into line at maybe nine-fifteen. By then, the line stretched around the corner, down the street, around the next corner and halfway down the back side of the block.

A couple of guys from The Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild were selling the tickets, and they had just six hundred to sell at Star. You could get tickets and two or three other liquor stores in town, but Star Liquor had more than anybody else. And they’re our buddies. We wouldn’t shop for our liquor anywhere else. *schmooze, schmooze* When B and I got in line we were handed slips of paper with “264” and “265” on them, guaranteeing us a couple tickets each, so we got there just in the nick of time, although next year we’ll probably have to leave the house at eight o’clock if we want to get tickets.

My Darling B, Great Taste of the MidwestEven though they were handing out numbers, at least one of us still had to stand in line. They strongly suggested it would be bad form for us to leave our lawn chairs to hold our spots while we went to breakfast, shopped for groceries, went home to get a nap and then came back, but we’d planned to stand in line all morning, anyway. I had a couple books in my backpack, and B had plenty of reading material to help her while away the hours, too.

To make the morning even better, B won the raffle for a 1/6 barrel of Furthermore beer! That’s really good beer, in case you’ve never had any. And she didn’t even have to buy the ticket! They were handing them out free to everyone as a way of saying, ‘thanks for waiting in line all morning!’ Then, at around eleven-thirty, a great cheer arose from the direction of the liquor store as the winning ticket was drawn, and shortly thereafter one of the guys from the store came walking down the line holding up a sign with the winning raffle ticket number magic-markered on it.

I checked my ticket. “Damn! One number off!”

“That’s because it’s my number!” My Darling B said, and held her ticket up in the air.
Here’s the lucky girl with her winning ticket. We’ll let you know when we pick out the date for the patio party at Our Humble O’Bode!

Next stop: The Great Taste of the Midwest!

tickets | 6:27 am CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, My Darling B, O'Folks, play | Tags:
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Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

The ides of each month are special here in the Madison area, particularly on Willy Street at the north end of the isthmus. On that glorious day, the fifteenth of each month, Star Liquor offers a fifteen percent discount on every bottle of wine in the store. Well, almost every bottle.

I was helping My Darling B search the shelves for our favorite labels when Dave, one of the employees, came by to offer her help. (That’s not a typo. I know her as Dave because one day she was wearing a t-shirt with “Dave” printed in block letters across the front. Introducing myself with the line, “Hi, Dave, I’m Dave!” was irresistible, but I couldn’t help it, even though she gave me a look like she thought I was putting her on.)

“Need help? Looking for anything in particular?” she asked us. “Did you want to see anything in the wine cellar?”

In the wine cellar? Wait, what?

Before the chance could pass us by I nodded and answered “Yes, please!” and we were off, threading our way through the knots of people searching for their favorite wines. Dave led us down the stairs to a chilled room in the basement where our eyes beheld one of the marvels of Star Liquor: Wines that we might possibly be able to afford once, like on our fiftieth wedding anniversary, say. I walked very slowly from rack to rack, being careful not to accidentally brush up against anything. One wrong move in there could max out my line of credit.

And it wasn’t just wine. Did you know you can cellar beer if it’s got the right amount of alcohol in it? I didn’t, until we tasted a bottle of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Ale that had been lagering in the basement since 1999. That’s something I’m going to try my darned self.

A big “Thanks!” to Dave for the special treat. We didn’t bring anything home from the cellar this month, but maybe (by the time we retire?) we’ll have saved enough from our lunch money to get a bottle of something special for our anniversary.

Star’s cellar | 3:11 pm CST
Category: beer, booze, daily drivel, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, O'Folks friends, play | Tags:
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Saturday, March 6th, 2010

It’s a first: We stopped by Star Liquor yesterday evening to see what was featured at the Friday afternoon beer tasting and somehow, don’t ask me how, we didn’t end up taking any home.

Before this, we always ended up picking a six-pack from the brewer who was handing out free samples. They always offered a sip of at least one at the tasting that we liked so much that we had to take home more. This time, through no fault of the guy handing out samples, we didn’t. Weird.

It happened this way: We strolled past the coolers, looking at the tasty new brews on display, making our mental wish list. I grabbed a bottle of Central Waters IPA because I’d been jonsing for it all week. B picked out a four-pack of cherry stout that the store owner recommended, and finally I grabbed a sixer of Mighty Arrow, a seasonal beer from New Belgium Brewing (one of the first signs of spring). Having reached the limit of what we could comfortably carry, we paid, said our thanks to everyone and headed home.

Mighty Arrow is soooo tasty. Get yourself some. [Disclaimer: I don’t own any stock in New Belgium Brewing. I wish I did, but I don’t.]

puzzling | 7:36 am CST
Category: beer, food & drink, play
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Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

I’m enjoying a delicious bottle of Hopslam from Bell’s Brewing in Michigan. Truly scrumptious.

My Darling B uses different words to describe it. If memory serves, she the words were, and I quote, “cat urine.”

I’ll probably have to brush my teeth, tongue and uvula if I want a good-night smooch tonight.

hoppy day | 3:22 pm CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, food & drink
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Saturday, August 8th, 2009

GTMW09We’re just back from the Great Taste of the Midwest, the pre-eminent beer festival in the nation, where we sampled fifty different beers from thirty-five different breweries in Wisconsin and surrounding states, although some of the brewers came from as far away as Kentucky. There were quite a few brewers from Kentucky, actually. I wonder what’s up with that?

I’ll have a lot more to say about the GTOMW when I’m rested and rehydrated, but for now it’s enough to say that we had a great time, we were much more careful about chosing the beers we wanted to sample, and we came home in much better shape than ever before. Which is not to say we didn’t get loopy. That’s sort of a given.

We weren’t sure we were going to have such a good time at the Great Taste this year. I think we would always have a pretty good time no matter what, but when we got up this morning it was raining, and it kept on raining all through the morning, harder and harder, until it rained more than an inch in six hours. It was still raining at eleven-thirty and I was pretty sure we were going to be drinking beer in the rain, but then at about noon it stopped, and fifteen or twenty minutes later the skies cleared, and by the time we were standing in line waiting to get into the beer fest it was scorching hot and muggy as hell and our only worry was whether or not we’d brought enough water with us. We had, as it turned out, but only just.

Big thanks go out again to our magnificent son Tim who not only drove us to the Great Taste but came back after it was over to pick us up, sparing us the agony of waiting hours in line for a cab. He could’ve just not picked up the phone and we would’ve had to find our own way home, but he didn’t, and for that he’s once again reinforced his mother’s belief that childbirth was well worth the trip to the hospital.

img not availableFrom this glass My Darling B and I tasted fifty of the finest beers in the Midwest. Or slightly less than fifty, really. We poured several of them on the ground, so they weren’t all the finest beers. Some of them were considerably less than fine. There aren’t a lot of beers we will pour on the ground. But in the notes I scribbled in the margins of this year’s program, and by “notes” I mean little emoticon faces, I was mostly happy with the beer, drawing only a half-dozen frowny faces, or faces sticking their tongues out, or puking. These notes are mostly criticism for our own sake, so we don’t drink the same crap beer two years in a row. Life’s too short, you know?

This isn’t a full-sized glass, by the way; it’s no more than five inches tall. Filled to the lip, it holds about three ounces. Most of the vendors would fill it about halfway or slightly more, a very few would fill it almost, but not quite, all the way to the top. Drinking a full glass, even if it was only three ounces, would be squandering a great opportunity anyway. The whole point of the Great Taste is to present a huge assortment of beers for you to sample, which you really can’t do very well if you’re drunk as a lord.

Not that I didn’t get drunk. WPR radio host Jean Faraca asked one of the organizers, “How do you keep from getting sloshed?” and they laughed at her before they answered, “You don’t.” I’ve never seen anyone sample beer the way the wine snots do, by swishing it around in their mouths and spitting it out. It’s just not done. Beer drinkers have far too much couth for that. I think that’s the right way to say it.

Our first sample has for the past three years always been a Black Cherry Porter from Hops Haven, a brewer in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. We picked it more or less at random the first year we attended and we both loved it so much that we head straight for the Hops Haven tap first thing every year. This year they were almost smack-dab in the middle of the festival, so that’s where we started.

Our strategy for tasting beers this year was more carefully planned than the past two years. Previously, we would just barge up to the closest vendor with our glasses held at arm’s length. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, really, except that the next day I can’t recall what I drank and whether or not it was any good. All the beers have blurred together in my memory by then, and now that I know a little more about beer I want to be able to remember these things.

So this time as we approached each vendor we had a look at the beers they were offering, figured out which of their brews we wanted to try, and then each of us would ask for a pour of a different brew. Then we’d retire to the edge of the tent where we could sip each other’s beers and draw little happy faces, or pukey faces, in the margins of our programs. It worked out pretty well. And instead of drinking as many beers as we could, we brought lawn chairs this time and went back to sit down every so often to reflect on the beers we had tasted, compare notes, and cleanse our palates with water. We brought lots of water with us this time. Drank every drop of it, too.

It was a wonderful day out, and doubly so because we weren’t sure it was even going to happen when we watched rain pour down out of a sky so steely dark that it reminded us of afternoons spent hiding in the basement from tornadoes. Then, magically, the rain stopped, the skies cleared, and in the hour or so before the gate opened at the festival the day was hot and sunny straight through until evening. The grounds were a little muddy, but not nearly as bad as I was afraid they might be, and after a few beers who’s gonna notice?

This year, I visited all but six of the brewers in the 400 tent and about half the brewers in the 500 tent. We made quick forays into the other tents to make sure we sampled an old favorite or try a brew we liked the sound of, but really there wasn’t much rhyme or reason to the beers we decided to try, other than we were just trying to relax and enjoy what they had to offer.

From America’s Brewing Company in Aurora, Illinois, I gave a big smiley face to Dirty Summer Blonde Chocolate Beer.

From Arcadia Brewing Company in Battle Creek, Michigan, I gave a smiley face to their Extra Special Bitter, but a frowney face to their Roggen Berry.

From Barley John’s Brew Pub in New Brighton, Minnesota, I gave smiley faces to their Hefeweizen and their Wild Brunette.

From Belle’s Brewery in Galesburg, Michigan, I gave smiley faces to both their Two Hearted Ale and Oarsman.

From the Blind Tiger Brewery in Topeka, Kansas, I gave a big-eyed smiley face to their Smokey the Beer.

From the Blue Cat Brew Pub in Rock Island, Illinois, I gave a smiley face to their Coriancer & Orange, an American wheat beer.

From Brownings Brewery and Restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky, I gave a smiley face to their unnamed Wit beer.

From Cumberland Brews in Louisville, Kentucky, I gave a smiley face to their Sting Like A Bee American style wheat beer.

From Dark Horse Brewing Company in Marshall, Michigan, I gave a smiley face to their unnamed stout and a shocked O-face to their Smells Like Weed hopped-to-the-extreme beer.

From Delafield Brewhaus in Delafield, Wisconsin, I gave a pukey face to their Blackberry weiss beer.

From Dells Brewing Company in South Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, I gave smiley faces to their Apricot Ale and their Dells Chief Amber Ale.

From Detroit Rivertown Brewing Company in Detroit, Michigan, I gave smiley faces to their Vanilla Java Porter and their Dirty Blonde Ale.

From Flossmoor Station Brewing Company in Flossmoor, Illinois, I gave an eh face to their Apsession summer seasonal beer, and a frowney face to their White Lady Imperial wit beer.

From Free State Brewing Company in St Lawrence, Kansas, I gave a howling face of surprise to their bourbon-aged Oatmeal Stout.

From Great Lakes Brewing Company in Cleveland, Ohio, I gave a satisfied face to their Hoppy Prohibition pils.

From Hops Haven Brewhaus in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, I gave a happy face to their Black Cherry Porter, our favorite and the first beer we drink when we start our tour of the tents at the Great Taste of the Midwest.

From Hub City Brewing Company in Stanley, Iowa, I gave smiley faces to their Brown Ale and their Olde Browne Porter.

From Lake Louie Brewing in Arena, Wisconsin, I gave a smiley face to their Prairie Moon Belgian style farmhouse ale, and a frowney face to their Warped Speed scotch ale (which is weird, because I’ve had Warp Speed before and liked it).

From Mickey Finn’s Brewery in Libertyville, Illinois, I gave a sad face to their Wee Heavy scottish ale. Maybe I was just off scottish ales that day.

From Millstream Brewing Company in Amana, Iowa, I gave a happy face to their Schildbrau, and a very happy face to their Colony oatmeal stout.

From Milwaukee Brewing Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I gave an eh face to their Louie’s Demise Immortale amber ale, and a happy face to their Pull Chain Pail Ale. That’s not a typo.

From Muskie Capital Brewery in Hayward, Wisconsin (where else?), I gave a smiley face to their Red Lager.

From Nebraska Brewing Company in Papillion, Nebraska, I gave a happy face to their Cardinal Pale Ale.

From Ohio Brewing Company in Akron, Ohio, I gave a very unhappy face to their super-hoppy Alt-Ernative Amber Ale, but a happy face to their Maple Porter.

From Pearl Street Brewery in La Crosse, Wisconsin, I gave a smiley face to their Downtown Brown, and a very happy face to their That’s What I’m Talkin’ ’Bout Organic Rolled Oat Stout.

From Potosi Brewing Company in Potosi, Wisconsin, I gave a very unhappy face to their Holiday Bock.

From Sherwood Brewing Company in Shelby Township, Michigan, I gave a smiley face to their Hemp Ale.

From Short’s Brewing Company in Bellaire, Michigan, I gave a nice smiley face to their Nicie Spicie Abv wheat ale, but a howling face of shock for their Golden Rule, an insanely overhopped beer that I couldn’t take more than two sips from.

From South Shore Brewery in Ashland, Wisconsin, I gave a smiley face to their Bourbon Barrel Coffee Mint Stout. Very smooth.

From Stone Cellar Brew Pub in Appleton, Wisconsin, big smiley faces for both the Vanilla Stout and the Smokin Porter.

From Stonefly Brewing Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a frowney face for their Imperial Star Destroyer Stout, a special treat they were just tapping as I strolled up but way too rich for my taste.

From The Saint Louis Brewery, Inc., in St Louis, Missouri, an emphatic frowney face for their Grand Cru Belgian ale.

From Thirsty Pagan Brewing in Superior, Wisconsin, a big happy face for their Burntwood Black Ale3, very tasty. I could have down two more.

From Titletown Brewing Company in Green Bay, Wisconsin, big smiley faces for both their Loose Caboose Summer Ale and their Dark Helmeet Schwartzbier.

From Tyranena Brewing Company in Lake Mills, Wisconsin, a smiley face for their Benji’s Imperial Chipotle Porter, and another smiley face for their Chocolate Imperial Porter.

From Water Street Brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a smiley face for their Irish stout.

GTMW09 | 6:34 am CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, play
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Sunday, August 10th, 2008

Apparently alarmed at the recurrent references to stopping by the liquor store for the weekly beer tasting, my Mom shot me an e-mail asking if My Darling B and I were on the cusp of joining Alcoholics Anonymous. Well, guess what, Mom? We both spent yesterday afternoon (from one o’clock until six, to be absolutely accurate) drinking beer! Lots of it! We were limited to drinking it three ounces at a time, but Olbrich Park was lousy with brewers from all over America, hundreds of them, giving away all the beer we asked for!

I might add they even gave it away to people who were so inebriated they were no longer capable of asking for it in any recognizable language, but I stopped long before I got to that point. Last year I drank a bit too much, so this year I ate lots of pretzels and drank lots of water and that gave me the presence of mind to stop with the beer before my head started spinning. I still enjoy a mild beer buzz, but I’m long past the age where I can handle being cross-eyed drunk.

It was the Great Taste of the Midwest beer fest, and the idea is to taste the many different kinds of beers from small breweries all over the country, not necessarily to get drunk, although I would guess it typically ends up that way for nine out of ten people. And, unfortunately, there is that fraction of the crowd that came specifically to get good and ripped, like the guys killing off the six-pack of Guinness as they waited right in front of us in the line to get in who wouldn’t stop howling, “BEER!” when the gates finally opened.

My Darling B and I, ever the picture of responsibility, called for a cab to get to the event. The Union Cab Company is one of the events sponsors and promises dollar cab rides home afterwards, but it’s about ten or fifteen bucks to get there. “Did you make a reservation?” the dispatcher asked B when she called.
“Oh. No, I didn’t,” she answered, physically shrinking in her seat.

“And I suppose you want to leave as soon as possible,” he continued with a certain air of reservation in his voice. This was apparently a demand he’d been hearing a lot today.

“No, actually, we’d like to leave about noon,” B said, which surprised the hell out of him. It was ten when she called. Were there really people standing in line already?

As it turned out, there almost certainly were. By the time we got there, shortly after noon, a line of several hundred people snaked down the hill to the playing field where they could begin to zig-zag back and forth as the line got really long. From our spot in line we could see people up on the hill in little camps, their chairs set up around folding tables under umbrellas, enjoying a light lunch and quaffing cool, refreshing beverages that the law of averages would tend to indicate was beer.

B and I arrived at exactly the right time: Our spot in line ended up right under a tree, where we could sit on the grass and pass the time by reading the program, picking out the beers we wanted to try and marking the map to make sure we got there. Right away, B marked Hops Haven, a brewery in Sheboygan that brought a Cherry Stout she tried last year and loved so much she hasn’t stopped talking about it. I liked it too, but she doesn’t normally like stout at all, yet this was the beer she’d been looking forward to. Although most of the other brewers listed the beers they planned to bring to the festival, Hops Haven apparently didn’t get their choices in by press time because the program didn’t say what they’d have on tap. When the gates opened and we finally got in, B made a beeline for the Hops Haven table and as soon as we were within eyeshot she pointed and squealed like a teenager in the grip of Beetlemania. She even trampled several other festival goers to get to the tap.

Our first taster out of the way, we moved along to the end of the tent trying several other beers we marked on our map. I resolved this year to make a diary of all the beers I tried so that we would know, for example, that the cherry stout we really liked came from the Hops Haven brewery, but that idea went out the window almost instantly. For one thing, I’d need three hands to hold my beer, my program and a pen all at the same time, and I sure wasn’t going to put my beer down. And besides, B was marking her program. She used little happy faces for the beers she liked, grim faces for the ones that were so-so, and frowny faces for the ones she poured on the ground. We didn’t try the same beers, but I figured what she didn’t mark this year I’d have to try again next year.

A surprising number of beers were not really all that good. It wasn’t a large number, maybe only five or six, but these guys come a long way to show off their beers. I have to believe they bring their very best, so it’s surprising when one is bad enough to make me want to dump it. And it wasn’t just me: B found almost as many bad beers as I did, and she was staying away from the hoppy or dark beers she knew she wouldn’t like.

And next year we’ll have to plan to bring our camp chairs and a cooler with food and water, as other people did. It seemed like a silly idea when I first saw them setting up their little camps here and there around the fence line, but I felt a lot different about it later when I needed a place to take a breather and suck down some water.

GTMW08 roundup | 6:52 am CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, play
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Friday, August 1st, 2008

Yesterday we took a break from grilling our dinner by stopping at the Harmony Bar on the way home and chowing down on wonderfully greasy, cheese-covered hamburgers, but since we were home for dinner tonight I went right back out to the Weber and started a fire big, hot fire to grill the very same spicy weenies I had planned to cook for guy night. And that satisfies the burning desire I had to find a way to work the phrase “spicy weenies” into a daily drivel post.

We didn’t go straight home, but stopped on Willy Street to buy some potato chips to eat with our weenies (My Darling B requires that we have a vegetable with every meal, no matter how poorly it may fit the definition) and see if Star Liquor was hosting one of their semiregular Friday evening beer tastings. They weren’t, but that didn’t stop us from grabbing a six-pack of Furthermore Proper to take home with us, just the kind of refreshing beverage that goes ever so perfectly with grilled sausages.

Speaking of beer, I hope I’m not bragging when I say that My Darling B is the most awesome wife in the whole wide world, but if I am, tough darts. She came home from work today with two tickets to The Great Taste of the Midwest, arguably the beer festival that more beer lovers try to get into than any other. They don’t only come from miles around, they come from the other side of the planet. Tickets were sold out the minute they went on sale because people camp overnight on the pavement outside the places that sell them, and the odds of winning the tiny fraction of tickets held back for the mail-order lottery have shrunk to chances so astronomically small they make winning a quarter billion dollars on Powerball look easy.

But My Darling B, who is the most wonderful girl anywhere on earth, in case I haven’t made that clear, knows a guy who knows a guy … it usually comes down to that, doesn’t it? Not that she cultivates herself as a woman who wields enormous influence by virtue of being well-connected, but, okay, she is. When you can score tickets to The Great Taste of the Midwest, you are by definition amazingly well-connected.
Funnily enough, she wasn’t even looking for tickets because she figured there simply wouldn’t be any available ever. Then one of her coworkers dropped by her cubicle and asked if she was still thinking she’d like to go, and she affected an air of casual interest coyly answered, “Well, HELL YES!” And now we’re going.

GTMW08 score tickets | 6:48 am CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, play
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Monday, August 13th, 2007

The good people who brew beer for a living have a tradition of dreaming up the goofiest names possible for their potions. Featured at this year’s Great Taste of the Midwest were brews such as Dirty Helen Ale, Discombobulation Celebration, and Under the Kilt Heavy. For the people who like to drink beer, giving them an opportunity to say, “Let me wet my lips on Dirty Helen!” is like throwing gasoline on a fire. No doubt it encourages a lot of newbies, too, but it can put the kibosh on others, such as My Darling B, who wouldn’t go near the ale called “Moustache Ride” because she couldn’t bring herself to ask for it. “Just point,” I suggested, but she didn’t dare to go even that far. She’s ever so reserved.

GTMW07 names | 6:57 am CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, play
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Saturday, August 11th, 2007

It’s beer day! I probably won’t be in any shape to write about it tonight, so I thought I’d mention it now. After lunch, Barb and I will head for the Great Taste of the Midwest, an annual festival of microbrewers who converge on Olin park, bringing tuns filled with their wares so we can spend the afternoon “sampling” them. My constitution is no longer chemically able to withstand the kind of pollution five hours of drinking carefully fermented alcohol would normally inflict on it, so I’ll have to go easy this afternoon — no gulping. Still, I plan to get my money’s worth, so although I don’t intend to get mindlessly blotto, I have a funny feeling I’ll end up somewhere north of there. No doubt I’ll have to stay up late guzzling one pint glass after another of ice water in an effort to avoid that dream where I clamp my lips around the nozzle of a gushing fire hose. So you might hear from me later, after all.

GTMW07 preview | 6:56 am CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, play
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