Beer Camp Part 2

IMG_0381With the start of school, I’ve gotten behind on my blogging.  Maybe it’s other things as well–running out of ideas, finding it increasingly difficult to say something unique about every beer, too much time elapsed between tasting and writing so the memories are fuzzy.  Anyway, this will be a short post, with a lengthier one to follow on some beers for which the memories are fresher (and for whichI took better notes).

There was one can in this half of the mix pack, a Tropical Maibock in collaboration with Cigar City Brewing from Tampa, FL.  It did have the relatively high ABV of a bock (7.7%), but although it was supposed to have a lot of tropical flavors from the hops, my overpowering impression was of an unexpectedly yeasty brew.

The Torpedo Pilsner with Firestone Walker came as advertised with plenty of hops on top of an otherwise light-bodied beer.  I found myself wondering if this isn’t the same as (or at least very similar to) the Firestone Walker Pivo that I tried a couple of months ago, since they are both described as a “hoppy pils,” but since this is supposed to be a unique project, I’m going to count it as a distinct beer.

The collaboration with the Asheville (NC) Brewer’s Alliance sounded like it would be interesting–Tater Ridge is described a Scottish ale brewed with sweet potatoes, but although it was flavorful and not too fizzy, the sweet potato flavor wasn’t particularly obvious.  (Pumpkin beers are on the horizon, so I will continue to watch for the influences of carotenoid vegetables over the next month or two.)

I don’t have either notes or particular impressions about either the Alt Route alt bier that was made in collaboration with Victory Brewing or the English-style bitter (There and Back Again) with New Glarus (WI).  My only previous alt bier association is that I helped brew one with a friend of mine when we were both working in a lab at MIT to take with us for a visit with our Ph.D. advisor at his summer house on Cape Cod.  And although it doesn’t say so on the bottle, I can’t help but think that There and Back Again is an homage to the fictionalized English countryside of the Shire in the writings of J.R.R. Tolkein. (Remember that the hobbits also enjoyed their beer!)

The real winner in this group was the collaboration with Bell’s Brewery (Kalamazoo, MI), an imperial dark ale that was named Maillard’s Odysssey.  IMG_0380This was a delightful beer with a thick creamy head and a rich body, and it’s also fun because the name provides a chemistry connection.  The Maillard reaction is a reaction between amino acids and sugars that results in the browning of all sorts of foods: meat, bread, and in this case the dark malts that were the backbone of a really enjoyable beer. (Dr. Mrs. Dr. Dave, the food chemist in the  family, has promised to do some further research for me, though she tells me that the reaction is incompletely understood, even though it was identified more than 100 years ago.)

All in all, the Beer Camp sampler met my expectations and gave me a couple of new breweries to be on the lookout for, in addition to pushing the tally up to 119.  So now the empty bottles can go in the recycling and I can move on to the next sampler.  Cheers!

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Simple Pleasures of Late Summer

As the summer was winding up, we took advantage of a few opportunities to get out and enjoy both the nice weather and the evenings and weekends without the threat of homework (for the teenagers) or grading (for the teachers).  Herewith a somewhat random collection of late summer activities and the beers that came with them.

IMG_0334One of Dr. Mrs. Dr. Dave’s colleagues specifically challenged my earlier complaint that I don’t enjoy beer from a can by sending over a can of All Day IPA from Founders Brewing Company of Grand Rapids, MI, another session beer with a relatively low 4.7% ABV.  (Thanks, Chuck!) I did the test of trying some straight from the can while pouring the rest into a glass, and have to admit that, at least in this case, I really couldn’t tell the difference.  I suppose that’s a good thing, since cans seem to be the wave of the future, much like screw tops instead of real (or even synthetic) corks for wine bottles.  I understand all the arguments for increased freshness in both instances at an intellectual level, but I’m enough of a traditionalist that I still enjoy the aesthetics of wine corks and beer bottles.

We always try to squeeze in at least one outing every summer to the Pawtucket Red Sox (AAA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox).  This year we got to attend as guests of Dr. Mrs. Dr. Dave’s employer, complete with a pre-game barbecue behind the right field fence.  Attendance was light on this Thursday night, so after dinner we claimed general admission seats about 20 rows behind home plate.  This also brought us closer to a better selection of adult beverages, from which my choice was Green Monsta IPA, a reference to the left field wall in Fenway Park that is produced by the Wachusett Brewing Company in central MA.  AAA baseball is fun because you invariably see something you would never see at a major league game.  That night’s unique feature was two dropped third strikes (both of which still ended up as outs) in the same inning–it was a tough night behind the plate for the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs!  We also got to cheer a walk-off solo home run to break up a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the 9th inning and send us all home happy (and not just because of the adult beverages).

Yet another contact through Dr. Mrs. Dr. Dave took us to a little community hall in the Buttonwoods neighborhood of Warwick, RI.  One of her colleagues had been to a performance by a relatively unknown singer-songwriter and was sufficiently impressed that he served as promoter for an appearance in his neighborhood, inviting neighbors, colleagues, and other friends to make up a nice-sized audience.  To our surprise, this turned out to be a BYO event, but our friends had enough in their fridge to share, so I was offered a Leinenkugel Summer Shandy to enjoy with the concert.  The lemon flavor in the shandy wasn’t overpowering, and if you enjoy the singer-songwriter genre, then I would encourage you to watch for Antje Duvekot at your local coffeehouse (or other similar venue).

The final outing for the summer was a Labor Day weekend flight to visit my in-laws at their home in Annapolis, MD.  It was a fortuitously timed visit in some ways since my father-in-law was coming to grips with a recently discovered health issue and it was good to be able to support him as he started to figure out some necessary lifestyle changes.  The weekend also included a fair amount of swimming pool time for the boys, a couple of fun restaurant dinners, a boat tour from the Annapolis harbor up to the Bay Bridge and back, and a home-cooked crab feast.  In addition to one familiar beer (Heavy Seas Loose Cannon at the Bonefish Grill to accompany a really tasty tuna steak), there were several new beers that I was able to sample.  The first was a toasted lager from Long Island’s Blue Point Brewing at Adam’s Ribs in Eastport (no picture–I didn’t want to take the time to wipe the barbecue sauce off my fingers).  The server also suggested something local that involved spices, but it sounded a little too “out there” and I didn’t see a need for extra spice on top of the barbecue sauce, so a simple, relatively light beer was probably a good call.  For drinking at home (including the crab feast pictured at left),IMG_0366 I picked up a six-pack of Sierra Nevada Flipside, a red IPA that is looking ahead to the end of summer and the return of heavier, more flavorful beers. We also stopped for lunch at Chick and Ruth’s Delly, an institution on Main Street just downhill from the Maryland statehouse that uses the names of local politicians (many of whom have gone on to national prominence) as the inspiration for menu items, as well as making their photographs a major theme in the decor. I was encouraged to try something involving their crab cakes, so I ended up with a crab cake on an eerily fluorescent sun-dried tomato wrap, accompanied by a Fordham Copperhead Ale.  IMG_0340Fordham is an offshoot of the Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis which consolidated with Old Dominion (originally from Ashburn,VA), and the two labels now share a facility in Dover, DE, each label producing its own line of interesting-looking beers.  I vaguely recall seeing the Fordham label during our sabbatical in Delaware in 2009, and we’ve also been to the Annapolis tavern sometime within the last few years, so I may have tried this beer before, but not in recent memory, so it’s a worthy addition to the roll.

Six more new beers bring the tally up to 113 with the second half of Beer Camp and another highly varied mix pack still waiting to be consumed and reviewed.  After that, it’s time for a shopping trip in search of autumnal beers.  As I noted in the last post, Labor Day is now over, school is back in session, and we’re already dealing with homework (but thankfully no grading yet) and the transition from middle school to high school.  That also means that I have to wrap up late night blogging so I’m well-rested for another school day.  Maybe you can still squeeze in a summer pleasure or two before the equinox really puts a damper on things.  Cheers!

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Vacationland

Dr. Dave and the family spent a week on vacation in Bar Harbor, Maine, around the middle of August. This is becoming the default vacation spot for our family, since we have gone there three of the last four summers.  It’s a fun place with a wide variety of activities both inside and outside of Acadia National Park–hiking, biking, water sports, wildlife viewing, and a lot of other activities (or just hanging out if you are of that persuasion).  We had more than enough to do on two previous four-night trips that we opted to rent a house for an entire week this year instead of staying in a no-frills motel.  This gave us the opportunity to cook most of our meals at home rather than eating out, and to host some friends from home for a couple of nights in the middle of their Maine vacation.  The trade-off was we were about a 20 minute drive from the park and the center of town, but the freedom and the peace and quiet were more than an even exchange in my opinion.Maine also has some fun things to offer on the beer front, so I’ll intersperse some travel notes with some beer tasting.

Upon arrival, after casing the house and finding the fridge totally empty (counter to our optimistic hope that there might be a few staples from the previous tenants) we drove to the nearest mini-mart to stock up on breakfast and lunch supplies for the next day.  I also picked out a six-pack of Geary’s Summer Ale to see me through the first few days of our stay.  This ended up being a nice, fairly light ale–citrusy, but not excessively so and still with a decent amount of body.

The first couple of days involved familiar activities including a long hike up two familiar peaks (Mt. Dorr and Mt. Cadillac), though our routes up and down were variations on what we had done the previous years, and a bike ride on the carriage trails in the park with a stop at the Jordan Pond House for a lunch that included their widely acclaimed popovers.  Dinner after the first full day was our only night out and was also a familiar location, a restaurant by the name of Blaze (easy to remember because we have a restaurant right up the street from us at home with the same name).  We enjoyed two interesting pizzas (lots of meat for the two adolescents and interesting veggies for the adults), and I ended up with a coffee stout from the nearby Atlantic Brewing Company (after the server’s report that the keg of Allagash Black had just run out).  This beer was strongly reminiscent of the Beer Camp coffee stout and was a nice treat on a cool evening.

With messy weather forecast for later in the week, we made sure to get another long hike in on day three.  After talking with the ranger and describing our first day hike, we came away with a recommendation that we should try the Jordan Cliffs trail as a route to the summit of Mt. Sargent, after which we could plot a variety of routes down and bag anywhere from one to four more peaks depending on how ambitious we were feeling.  I suppose the word “cliffs” in the name of the trail should have warned us, but this turned out to be much more of an adventure than the grown-ups had bargained for, with several iron rung ladders set into a rock face that was, at times, a pretty sheer drop toward the pond well below.  The physical demands of the trail were manageable, but the exposed setting left some of us feeling the after-effects of an adrenaline rush by the time we got to the next trail intersection.  There we had a “small world” moment where we encountered a hiker and his wife and eventually discovered that the hiker, who also teaches high school chemistry, and I had earned our doctorates in the same small sub-field of physical chemistry and that I had read a couple of his research papers while I was in grad school.  (In an unrelated small world encounter, the chatty driver of one of the free tourist buses that we rode during the week was also an AP science teacher.  Among his words of advice were to never try to replace the guy after whom they are going to name the gym.)  From that intersection, we completed our planned route to the summit of Sargent and then made our way down the south ridge across another peak and back to our starting point, saving the other small peaks for some other occasion.

The next day was cooler and ended up being mostly pretty foggy, but we ended up with a nice choice of activity for the day–a whale-watching excursion about 25 miles out into the Gulf of Maine.  The fog cleared substantially as we got out to sea, and the whales didn’t really care about the surface weather, so the captain and naturalists on board were able to get us close enough to see both large finbacks and smaller humpbacks, the latter giving us several nice displays of tail flukes as they went down for extended dives.  The seas were choppy enough that a couple of our party had to fight through some motion sickness, but it was still a fun experience and we even got a few decent photos, though it was nice to get back to dry land and (eventually) regain a sense of equilibrium.

Day five also started a bit gloomily, and since we were expecting guests that evening we spent the first part of the day re-organizing the household and making sure we were ready.  In the afternoon, the weather improved a bit and we were able to schedule a brewery tour at the aforementioned Atlantic Brewing Company.  This was a surprisingly small operation (compared to some of the other breweries I have visited over the years), so the tour was a bit of a disappointment, but the beers that they offered for tasting were interesting with what seemed to me to be a strong British influence.  (They also had a blueberry soda for the non-beer-drinkers to sample, and they also make a root beer that the adolescents recalled from the last visit.)  I chose a couple of large bottles to bring home and savor when I could take my time with them.

Our friends arrived about the time we were finishing our tour, bearing supplies to replenish the fridge that included a couple of beers they had picked up during their travels earlier in the week.  I suppose it says something about the expansion of the craft brew world that exotic beers are finding their way into corner stores in back-woods Maine.  During our stay, I also listened to an NPR story about the Western breweries (such as Oskar Blues and Sierra Nevada) that are expanding brewing operations to the East Coast and how they are dealing with the differences in water supply at the different brewing locations, which also speaks to the continued growth of the craft brew industry.

Anyway, on the first night of their visit we opened the Clown Shoes Burnt Caramel.  Clown Shoes does contract brewing at Mercury Brewing in Ipswich, MA (the people that make Ipswich Ale) and in researching the brewery I discovered they were involved in a controversy a few years back about some of their label art. This particular label seemed pretty inoccuous  to me,IMG_0321 and the beer had an interesting sweetness with maybe a hint of smoke in the finish.  It’s interesting that I can’t find this beer listed anywhere on their web site so I can’t compare my impression with their tasting notes, so you’ll have to rely on my impressions (or go look up other reviews if you’re really motivated).

On our last full day of vacation, the weather cleared again and we were able to get in a final round of hiking with our friends.  This hike was another familiar one from our previous visits that took us to the opposite side of Jordan Pond over two steep little peaks known as “The Bubbles.” South Bubble is particularly fun since it features a great view of the pond and an amusing several ton glacial erratic perched on a cliff overlooking the park road.  Since this was a short hike, there was also time in the afternoon for Dr. Mrs. Dr. Dave and I to take an extra bike ride on the quiet country roads near our rental house.  Many of the roads on this side of Mount Desert Island are private and it appears to me that the residents have chosen their own evocative names.  I was particularly amused by the one we passed on our ride south with a road sign for “Amscray Lane”–think Pig Latin if you don’t get the joke right away!   IMG_0327That evening’s beer was Rosabi from Dogfish Head, and it really does use wasabi as an ingredient to complement the spiciness of the hops and I could definitely appreciate the subtle horseradish kick in the finish of this creative beer.

Saturday we had to clear out by 10:00 am, so after a hearty breakfast of banana pancakes we did all the dishes, stripped the beds, and packed up the car for the drive home.  To maintain the vacation feeling a little longer, we stopped in Portland, ME, for lunch.  Portland has a reputation as a “foodie” town, and I had learned a little bit about the town during a professional visit a few years ago, so we used the iPhone app Yelp! to help us find an interesting place for lunch and ended up at OTTO in the commercial district on Congress St.  IMG_0329Creative pizza was again the order of the day, accompanied by a Magic Hat beer that was sold here under the name OTTO Ale but which the server told me is sold elsewhere as Single Chair, a nice light beer for the middle of the day.  (The beer is hiding behind the menu in the photo at right.)

That wrapped up the vacation, but vacation memories were re-kindled by the two beers that I had brought home from Atlantic Brewing.  One of these was Ellen’s Coffee Stout, IMG_0336the beer from the restaurant in Bar Harbor, which continued to impress me as a smooth and flavorful stout and which the label indicates includes vanilla as well as coffee.  This went well with one of our standard late-summer dinners of pasta with home-grown basil pesto and corn-on-the-cob from the farmer’s market, particularly on a pleasantly cool late summer evening.  The other beer that I brought home was a seasonal offering looking ahead to autumn and the tourists who will come to admire the fall foliage.  Leaf Peeper Ale was a nice, easy-drinking ale, though not particularly interesting.

Pre-season for cross-country started the Monday after our return, so in some ways summer and vacation time have effectively been over for awhile for the Dr. Dave family, but we did manage to squeeze in a few fun outings that I’ll relate sometime soon.  For now, beers related to our Vacationland adventure add six more to the tally, which now sits at 107 (with plenty more to come).  School started in earnest today, which means it really is the end of summer, but we have plenty of nice weather and outdoor time to look forward to before the snow starts to fly.  Cheers!

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