Adirondack Thanksgiving

Funny how disrupting one part of your life can sow disruption through everything else. The major disruption since returning home in mid-August has been waiting (and waiting…and waiting…) for our renovated kitchen to be ready for us to occupy. We finally regained functional plumbing and appliances the Friday before Thanksgiving, though there is an extensive punch list that needs to be addressed before we can let the contractor off the hook.

By coincidence, our Thanksgiving “family by choice” is in about the same state of near-completion after a much more extensive renovation project. Our friends sold their former home right on the shore of Lake Champlain and are in the process of moving into a long-abandoned home adjacent to the original property out on the main road. The house goes by the name “Old Elm” and had been unoccupied for decades, beset by a number of problems, including a leaky basement, some collapsed floors, and a major accumulation of antique furtniture and other junk that made it nearly impossible to move through the house in some places. Our friends Darcey and Bruce, however, had the dream of making this a livable house once again, and this first Thanksgiving celebration in the new dining room was a major step along that road.

As we knew it before the renovation, the house consisted of two sections: an older, squarish stone building and a newer, wood-frame section with a wraparound farm-style porch. The first view here is of the stone portion as viewed on the approach from town, and the second is from the opposite direction, showing the newly re-constructed wood-frame portion. There are also miscellaneous out-buildings, including a smokehouse, an ice house, and a carriage house, all of whose fate seem indeterminate at present.

The main sitting room preserves the function of similar spaces (and recycles many of the furnishings) that were adjacent to the kitchen in the former house. Like our new kitchen at home, the appliances here are functioning but work is ongoing to put the space in its final finished form. (When we arrived on Wednesday afternoon, one of the workers was in the middle of putting up the icosahedral chandeliers above the island.) And maybe just to maintain some continuity with the past, the new living room is nearly impassable and full of random furniture (though the chairs shown in this photo are probably around one-third of what used to be stored here).

Despite the chaos, we managed to serve a full Thanksgiving for sixteen people, and there were, of course, some interesting beers to enjoy along with the usual turkey and trimmings. My contribution to the weekend festivities was an IPA mix pack from 21st Amendment Brewery, Darcey and Bruce’s son Mark (who also did the interior design for the house) brought some cans of Tribute double IPA from Vermont-based 14th Star brewing, which was sweet and spicy without excessive bitterness, and their grandson Devin brought a big bottle of Xocoveza,

a chocolate-based imperial stout from Stone brewing which was smooth and luscious and really enjoyable as we headed toward the end of a candle-lit dinner full of good food and lively conversation.

I will save the detailed story of our own kitchen renovation for another post, hopefully featuring some new backgrounds for some new beer photos (since I was getting tired of the old ones). Cheers!

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Adventures with AirBnB

So, I recently completed a two-week adventure with my family, wrapped around three distinct goals:

  1. Visit a bunch of colleges that we hoped would be of interest to one or the other (or maybe even both) of my rising high school senior twin sons.
  2. Stay out of the house for the demolition phase of a major kitchen renovation (I’ll probably have more to say about this later).
  3. See a performance of the popular musical Hamilton.

To accomplish all three of these goals, we drove from our home on the East Coast westward through upstate New York, Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana, ending up in Chicago (since Hamilton tickets there are a small fraction of what they would be on Broadway), and then returning by way of Pittsburgh.

Parts of the trip had us staying with friends and family, in a couple of places the only practical option was a commercial hotel, but we also kept costs down and got better value in terms of space for a family of four by booking several of our overnights through AirBnB. (In case anyone doesn’t know, AirBnB is to overnight lodging as Uber or Lyft is to taxi service: people list a space they aren’t using–frequently an apartment or part of a house–and put it up for rent for time periods ranging from a single night to weeks or even months.)

One of the fascinating aspects of this kind of stay is to see what the host and/or the previous guests have made available/left behind. We’ve been in places where the cupboard was bare, places where there were a few staples, but also places where there was a bizarre assortment of random supplies. We usually try to leave a place as good as or better than we found it, so we have left a trail of kitchen gadgets in our wake, and we have tried to balance out using up some stock items with replacing others when they are needed, while trying not to leave stuff that might go bad or that the host will simply decide to throw away.

An unexpected surprise on this trip has been finding abandoned beers in the fridge, turning our B & B experience into a B & B & B (bed and breakfast and beer, though not in that order). In Rochester, NY, I discovered a hoppy American IPA from Bell’s Brewery called Two Hearted Ale, named after the Two Hearted River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Apparently, this was actually voted one of the top beers in America on a couple of occasions by the American Homebrewers’ Association, so an especially rare find for me. Later in the week, outside Cleveland, there was a selection of Great Lakes beers, including my favorite Burning River pale ale.

While staying with readers Alan and Elizabeth in the Hudson River area, I was able to try Colette farmhouse ale from Great Divide Brewery, as well as a pale ale from Massachusetts-based Jack’s Abby (see my previous review). I’m trying to break out of the IPA rut and enjoy some lighter summertime beers, so these both provided some variety.

I got even more variety from a stop at the Empire brew pub in downtown Syracuse, NY. (No beer in the fridge at this AirBnB.) I chose a flight of six out of at least a dozen that were available that ran the spectrum from a pilsner to a coffee-infused scotch ale. My favorites were the scotch ale, their award-winning brown ale, and an amber ale, while the IPA was disappointing (maybe due to a couple of unfamiliar hop varieties).

In Ann Arbor, Michigan, after a late arrival, we ended up at the Arbor Brewing Company for dinner. (My family is really good about indulging me and visiting brew pubs when we need a casual dinner.)  I didn’t plan on sampling more than one, but our server was apparently in a generous mood and wanted to make a good impression on out-of-town visitors, so while we were waiting for dinner he brought samples of a cucumber-lime gose style beer and also a smoked rausch beer for me to try as a complement to the American IPA that I had ordered. The gose was a really interesting mix of cucumber, lime and salt (I think I sampled something very similar from Two Roads at a local tasting recently), but I’m not sure I’d want a whole beer’s worth. The server suggested that the rausch would go well with my brat on a pretzel roll, and also shared the information that the style grew out of the mistaken idea that smoking the ingredients would help prevent the beer from spoiling in the same way that one would use smoking to preserve meat.

The weekend isn’t a great time for visiting colleges, so in the middle of our tour we chilled out with some old friends in Midland, Michigan. My beer of choice there was an American lager from Short’s Brewery (Bellaire, MI, which is near Grand Traverse Bay in the northwest corner of the Lower Peninsula). Michigan seems to have a pretty high density of craft brewing, so even the little corner store down the road from my friends had a surprisingly large selection of interesting-looking local beers. making my choice surprisingly difficult.

The remainder of the trip wasn’t quite so interesting on the beer front. We had too much going on in Chicago for me to spend time worrying about beer, and we had a couple of long days on the road getting home, though I did get to try one of my brother’s home brews in Pittsburgh (a porter that he admitted didn’t turn out quite as malty as he had planned), as well as a tasty stray left in his house by a friend. This was also a Michigan beer as it turns out from Old Nation Brewing (Williamston, in the southern part of the state not far from Lansing). The specifics are an American IPA from their New Orthodox IPA series that went by the designation M-43. I recall some really nice pineapple notes, and according to their web site it was quite popular in their regular distribution region, so if you happen to be in that part of the country, I can give a hearty endorsement.

 

As for the real trip goals:

  1. College reviews from the rising seniors ran the gamut from “definitely apply” (even though chances of getting in might be limited) to “wouldn’t even consider applying.” We aren’t done with our research yet, but we’ve got a good start and we saw a wide variety of institutions so we have a better idea of what we’re looking for.
  2. Demolition phase is essentially complete on the old kitchen, everything is peeled back to the studs, and the new subfloor is almost complete, so we’re making progress (and we missed out on an awful lot of noise and dust).
  3. Hamilton was amazing, even on a Tuesday night without a lot of the regular Chicago cast. Lighting, costumes, and choreography added significantly to the music that we already knew and loved.

Back home, we are all gearing up for the start of the school year and figuring out how we’re going to survive without a kitchen for a few more weeks. There were some interesting beers from earlier in the summer that might be worth reviewing if there’s time, and there will definitely be scenes and stories from the demolition and reconstruction of the kitchen to share if I can figure out a way to weave in some beer experiences. Cheers!

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Dogfish Head Horizontal Tasting

This blog post started with a picture that my brother-in-law Steve texted to me a couple of weeks ago. No actual text, just a photograph of a 4-pack of Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA, which I took to be a recommendation. I was introduced to the 60 Minute version probably about 10 years ago, not too long after it was introduced in 2003, and we took a field trip to the Dogfish Head Delaware brewpub (in Rehoboth Beach) and the actual brewery (in Milton) in 2009 when Dr. Mrs. Dr. Dave was on sabbatical at the University of Delaware. I’ve also had some of their other specialty beers from time to time, but hadn’t had an occasion to try some of the variants on their most popular product.

After tracking down the 120 Minute variety at the local craft beer store, my frugal side momentarily kicked in since the cost was basically $10 for a 12 ounce bottle—Yikes! However, after giving it some thought, I came up with a way to make the cost more bearable by turning it into a research project and amortizing the cost over a few other Dogfish Head brews by doing a “horizontal tasting.” This is the kind of thing that one frequently does with wine: a “vertical” tasting would look at the same vineyard and variety over several vintages, whereas a “horizontal” tasting might involve the same vintage and variety but different vineyards in the same region. The clerk at the liquor store also helped by reminding me that they do a discount if you purchase a mixed 6-pack, so I also picked up a couple of other higher-end small bottles which may appear in a later post.

Four beers at one sitting was going to be too much for me (at least if I wanted to have coherent impressions of the different brews), so I invited my buddy Philip to join me in this project, over a dinner of chicken stew and mashed potatoes. This also gave us a chance to gossip about the progress of renovations at his parents’ home in upstate New York, verbally joust with the teenagers, and generally catch up on each other’s lives, while allowing time to savor and comment on the merits of each bottle.

We started with the 60 Minute, which is a nice, reliable beer for almost any meal. The 90 Minute is more of the same—I have to admit that I couldn’t really tell all that much difference, and probably wouldn’t pick this one for myself.

The third bottle was a more interesting variation. The Burton Baton is a blend of two beers: an English style “old ale” and an imperial IPA. The blend is then aged at the brewery in oak tanks for about a month. This one was very flavorful, darker in color, and would be a fun special occasion beer, maybe to take to dinner at a friend’s house, so long as you knew they liked beer and made sure that any drivers were fully aware of the 10% ABV. (Fortunately, Philip lives within walking distance so driving wasn’t an issue.)

By now, we were almost through with dinner, which was fine since the 120 Minute deserved to be savored on its own rather than being paired with food. Even darker, with a lot of viscosity and some extra sweetness to go with the floral hops, this was almost like dessert by itself. When I went to the website, I was surprised to see that rather than a typical ABV precise to the nearest 0.1%, this beer was just listed as a range between 15-20% ABV—that’s up there with a lot of fortified wines! It took me a couple of hours to remember what else I had tasted with a similar flavor profile, but eventually I figured out that I was pretty sure that the Harpoon Leviathan gave me a similar sensory overload (but with a more modest, though still substantial, 10% ABV).

So, a fun way to spend an evening, and maybe inspiration for a similar style of tasting at a future date. Cheers!

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Double Your Pleasure…

I decided to look recently while in the checkout line at the supermarket to see if one could still buy Wrigley’s Doublemint chewing gum. I work in a school, so of course I know that chewing gum in general is still a thing, to the dismay of a subset of teachers (not to mention the cleaning staff).  However, I didn’t remember seeing or hearing about that particular brand for a long time, even though the advertising jingle is one of those bits of flotsam that will remain in my brain forever.  On the other hand, I don’t watch much television and often use the DVR to avoid ads, so I used Google Images to learn that the Wrigley product is still going strong and that twins have continued to star in ads for Doublemint right up through the current decade.

Of course I’m not really interested in chewing gum–I’ve actually been thinking lately about double stouts, also known as Russian imperial stouts, and other close relatives in the beer universe. As noted in my last post, a recent quest has been for readily available beers that represent a small indulgence relative to my usual selection of craft beers—the difference between $7-8.00 for a six-pack and $10.00 for a four-pack or big bottle.  I already mentioned a few of the double IPAs, so this post will list some of the stouts that I’ve been considering.

IMG_0931My new acquaintance Aaron sent along a can of an interesting collaboration between two local businesses: Grey Sail Brewing (Westerly) teamed up with Dave’s Coffee Roasters (Narragansett) to produce Dave’s Coffee Stout.  The dominant flavor note here was the same aftertaste that I get from chocolate covered espresso beans. Although both of these are interesting experiments, neither the chocolate treat nor the beer is likely to work its way into my normal rotation. (The stout is not currently listed on the Grey Sail web site—maybe it’s a seasonal that will return next winter?)

I’ve had Southern Tier 2X Stout (or a close relative) sometime in the past. No picture and no particularly memorable tasting notes here, so this one also wasn’t the answer to my quest.

Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout from North Coast Brewing in CA was a restaurant purchase at Luxe Burger Bar, our customary dinner out after an evening at one of the RI Philharmonic Orchestra’s Rush Hour concerts.
These concerts are fun—purposefully shIMG_0901orter than the full Saturday program, starting a little earlier and designed to be more family-friendly. With students at the RI Philharmonic Music School, our family gets an even deeper discount, and we shamelessly bribe our kids with the promise of a fancy burger afterward. In addition to decadent build-your-own burgers, Luxe also has a nice selection of bottled beers, which is good since the draft selection is sometimes disappointing, and back in February I was definitely in the mood for something chewy to go with my burger.  I haven’t tried to find this to bring home, but the North Coast web site lists them as being available at a couple of nearby stores, so it is a possible addition to the list.

One I will definitely keep on my radar is Boulevard Brewing Dark Truth. Nicely smoky and with a body and viscosity that were satisfying without being overdone.

IMG_0925Another one that I have tried previously and will be keeping my eye out for is Siren Noire from Heavy Seas.  This one comes in a big bottle, but even though it uses both chocolate and vanilla in the brewing process I wouldn’t limit it to being a dessert beer (though you could certainly go that route if you wanted to). The web site lists this as a seasonal beer available starting in January so there’s probably not any out there now, but they also helpfully suggest some alternatives, including their Alpha Effect “Hazy IPA” which I’ll get to some other time.

I keep waiting for the seasons to really turn here in New England, but the weather has continued to keep me in the mood for substantial beer (and scotch) rather than pilsners or gin and tonic. The forecast for this week, however, has us getting up into the 80s, so maybe that time is finally here. Cheers!

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Heady Topper with Aaron

So today, on the eve of a long Easter weekend, one of my wife’s college students came to our house for cocktail hour to talk beer and to share some Heady Topper that he had picked up on a recent visit to Alchemist Brewing in Waterbury/Stowe, Vermont.

This is a beer that almost always crops up on a list of “beers you have to try” or “beers that are hard to find” or any other category that indicates a truly special beer. At least one publication consistently rates Heady Topper as “Best Beer in the World,” but my curiosity was also piqued by a college student, only recently of legal drinking age, who had taken the trouble to drive from Southern New England all the way to Vermont to stand in line and buy this beer from the brewery, so not only did I enjoy the opportunity to share this special beer, but we also got to enjoy a wide-ranging conversation about beer and some of the other finer things in life.

First things first—the beer is deserving of any and all accolades it has received. Though declaring it absolutely the best is clearly a subjective matter, there is no questioning the commitment to quality and the wonderfully balanced flavor profile. Since it is double IPA style, there is naturally plenty of hops, but no single dominant flavor note, and there is enough body to allow the drinker to proceed slowly and enjoy the many different sensations on the palate. Even though the packaging demands “Drink from the Can,” we poured ours into glasses in order to appreciate the hazy yellow color and the lacy head.

As we enjoyed our beer, Dr. Mrs. Dr. Dave and I interrogated Aaron about how he came to be interested in craft beers. Unlike the majority (I assume) of college students, Aaron had not been an enthusiastic underage party-goer. Upon turning 21, however, he celebrated during a trip to Maine by visiting the Allagash brewery. As he described it, this was in the spirit of sampling local culture and appreciating craftsmanship, but he has become drawn into the spirit of discerning subtle differences and learning about different styles of beer. In the intervening months, he has clearly been educating himself about beer in general and the local beer scene in particular. Aaron was familiar with many of my favorite breweries (by name if not having always sampled the product), and probably knew more about local brewers than I did, particularly those outside our immediate metro area, reminding me that when I have the chance I should round up a group of like-minded beer lovers for a local brewery tour.

The Heady Topper does feed into one of my current quests, which is for readily available, slightly indulgent beers that are fun for special occasions without breaking the bank. In the double IPA category, some consistent favorites of mine are the Road 2 Ruin from Two Roads (Connecticut) and Double Jack from Firestone Walker (California). (This article from firstwefeast.com identified the Double Jack as a more readily available alternative to Heady Topper, though it was interesting that some of the “replacements” in this list were also considered hard to find in articles from other publications.) I’m still undecided about the 2XIPA from Southern Tier (western New York) and The Calling from Boulevard Brewing (Kansas City), the former part of the current rotation here at home and the latter a Christmas present from my beer-, wine-, whiskey-, and music-loving buddy Mark.

In talking with Aaron, we came to recognize that we agreed on the importance of supporting the concept of craftsmanship over quantity and of being willing to pay a little extra for a better quality product, be it an alcoholic beverage or an automobile. (Aaron is also interested in cars, and is in the process of trying to figure out how to turn his chemistry major into a career direction that might involve one or the other of his passions.) I’m reminded again that the world has changed in many ways since I was in college, and though I sometimes get discouraged about the general state of our popular culture, there are enough instances where things truly are better than they were forty years ago that I haven’t given up hope for an even better future. Hope that you have an occasion sometime soon to spend a little bit extra on something you think is worth it. Cheers!

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Transitions

Lots of changes in my life over the last couple of months. There are some members of my household who insist that “Change is bad,” but I’m more of a mind that change is inevitable and you simply accept that changes will happen and make the best of the situation.

The biggest change was the loss of my mother in early February. At age 95 this was hardly a surprise, and I was fortunate to have spent some time with her at the end of December when her mental and physical state were still good, so I have some pleasant recent memories. We had a memorial service for her last weekend, and the thing I find myself wondering now is when I will next get back to the region where I grew up, since my ties to Northeast Ohio have become more and more tenuous since leaving that region for good after I finished college more than thirty years ago.

Back in those days I didn’t drink much beer, being underage and all, but it’s interesting to ponder how different the beer landscape was then. I can recall a few furtive 3.2% beers when I was still under age 18, including some Coors that a friend brought back from a camping trip in Wyoming—you’d have a hard time convincing most younger people that there was a time when Coors was considered an exotic “import” if you lived in Ohio. And one thing I will miss about visiting Ohio is the fun beers from Great Lakes Brewing. For old times’ sake, I bought a six-pack of Burning River and my brother shared some of their Turntable Pils (an homage to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame) during our weekend visit.

As if losing my Mom wasn’t enough, we also bade farewell to another little old lady in my life with the passing of my almost 22-year-old cat Louise at the end of February. Louise wasn’t fond of any humans other than me, and she wasn’t particularly cuddly, but she was nevertheless a good companion and the house does seem empty without her. On the other hand, we no longer have to worry about who will care for her when we travel and it will be easier for the family to make weekend getaways for skiing or other outdoor activities.

We did manage a ski weekend in February, but the family schedule dictated that it was on a holiday weekend so that our preferred country inn in New Hampshire was fully booked and instead we made our booking through Airbnb. This meant staying a little bit too far from our usual haunts and so we explored a new brewpub in Ossipee, NH. The Hobbs Tavern and Brewing Company had a bit of a long wait on a holiday weekend Saturday night, but the waiting area was cozy and once we were seated they had a pretty standard bar food menu (I think I had a pasta carbonara) and a nice selection of beers that were brewed on site—from the picture it looks like I had some sort of brown ale, but I will admit that I don’t remember the details.

Closer to home, I’ve got mix packs from several familiar breweries set aside to investigate. I’ve just about finished the winter selection from Magic Hat, which includes a couple of their standard offerings (Fat Angel and #9), plus a black IPA and the Winter Mingle vanilla stout. The stout was lighter-bodied with a fizzier head than a lot of stouts, but had a nice flavor as we (hopefully) wrap up the “beer as food” season. I’m also on a quest to try and find a few readily available and not-too-expensive imperial stouts, but I’ll save that research for a separate post.

Like last year, the transition from winter to spring has been irregular in this part of the world—some unseasonably warm days in February and March have been interspersed with some seriously wintry weather, including a cold rain that might still switch over to sleet or snow later today (a pretty cruel April Fool’s joke on the part of the weather gods). Hoping this is really the last gasp of winter and that we are done with transitions in my household for a while. Cheers

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You Wanna Go Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Today’s jumping off point is the theme song from the long-running sitcom Cheers. The image conjured by the song and the series is of creating a home-away-from-home for yourself through the habit of repeatedly visiting the same establishment and getting to know the other regulars, even though you and they may may have started out having nothing in common.

The Cheers scenario was brought to mind when we went with our choir friends after rehearsal last night for our weekly outing to the local Irish-themed pub that has been our hangout for at least a couple of years now. Almost before I could sit down, our regular waitress Kayla (cultivated by our habit of leaving 25-30% tips) brought me a small sample of a new draft beer to see if I’d like to make that my choice for the evening. Kayla knows most of our preferences (one pinot grigio; one manhattan (Maker’s Mark) with a side of ice and extra cherries; two glasses of cabernet and a vegan-friendly pizza to split; et cetera) and she knows I’m adventurous enough to try a new draft beer if they happen to have one.

As a result, over the last few weeks I’ve been introduced to the Captain’s Daughter double IPA from Grey Sail Brewing of Westerly, RI and last night’s selection of Dogfish Head Beer for Breakfast. The Captain’s Daughter was nice, but the Beer for Breakfast was especially memorable. (And wow, does that sentence read badly if you don’t have the context of the preceding sentence–I’m really just a mild-mannered scientist, I swear!) img_0898For this imperial stout, the off-centered ingredients (their words, not my opinion) that Dogfish Head used include universal breakfast staples such as maple syrup and coffee, as well as mid-Atlantic breakfast favorite scrapple (as befits their Delaware home). I’m not sure I could pick out all those ingredients, but the beer was highly aromatic, had a lovely dark color and luscious mouth feel, with lots of sweetness up front to appeal to practically all of the senses. Went down nicely with chicken tenders and a side of sweet potato fries.

Of course, our frequent visits mean that Kayla knows more than just our food and beverage preferences, and we know a few things about her as well. Our friendship isn’t at the level of the regulars at Cheers yet, but it’s interesting to me since I don’t look for this kind of relationship as naturally as some people do. It isn’t something I remember my parents practicing or teaching me as I was growing up, so it’s still a little surprising to me when places where I’m a loyal customer remember me and treat our interaction as something more than just a business transaction.

I am obviously a slow learner, though, since the choir group has been through more than half a dozen different establishments over the nearly 25 years since I moved here and joined the choir. Some of the changes were due to lifestyle changes (increased financial stability; new dietary choices), some to simple preference (not wanting to deal with noisy college students and waiting for a table), and a couple because we outlasted the ownership (twice in the same physical space, even though we were trying hard to do our part to keep them in business). I clearly need to be more attentive to building this kind of a relationship, especially since, as the song says, “Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got…” Enjoy some nostalgia and stream an episode tonight, or better yet, pay a visit to your friendly neighborhood watering hole and get to know the regulars. Cheers!

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