Thankful

Most of the time, my life is pretty good. I have a roof over my head, food (and beer) in the fridge, supported by a steady job that I usually enjoy. I’ve been married for 30 years, have two kids who are doing well in school and successful in some of their extra-curricular activities. I’m geographically separated from my biological family most of the time (and my father died far too young), but we have a collection of friends here in New England that we frequently refer to as our “family by choice,” so my kids are not lacking for adults to fill the role of surrogate aunts and uncles.
In October, over Columbus Day weekend, we were en route to a visit with one of those surrogate families when we were side-swiped by a truck trying to merge into our lane in the heavy holiday weekend travel on the Mass. Turnpike. Miraculously, despite spinning across both travel lanes and hitting the median guardrail, we escaped without injury and were even able to limp back home to lick our (fortunately metaphorical) wounds.
Thus, we were especially thankful to be able to be able to re-schedule our visit for the recent Thanksgiving weekend, sharing the holiday with our friend Philip’s family and another family of mutual acquaintances. The drive was uneventful, though we did make the prudent decision to travel on Wednesday morning instead of Tuesday night and to travel by way of New Hampshire, Vermont, and the Lake Champlain ferry, instead of the Berkshires and Albany area, to our destination in the Adirondacks. We also managed to outrun an approaching winter storm, aside from a dusting of snow during the ferry trip, and arrived safe and sound for a few quiet days of good food, peaceful walks with the assembled canines, and relaxed conversation.
IMG_0429Our contribution to the festivities included a few special beers that I brought to share with the other appreciative beer drinkers in the household. One of these was the Revival Double Black IPA that I’ve described previously, this time in bottles rather than on draft, but just as tasty as I remember and with an interesting mix of high end Chinook and Sorachi Ace hops. (The label art displays two boxers to suggest a competition between the two–if so, I think the Chinook wins since this had more of a West Coast citrusy flavor on top of the dark malts.)
A totally new beer was Hop House from Ommegang Brewery. IMG_0450Based in Cooperstown, this brewery is heavily influenced by the Belgian tradition, though this beer also takes some influence from the American pale ale. The beer was really tasty, and the head had a very unusual consistency, with bubbles so fine that it looked and felt more like beaten egg whites or whipped cream than beer foam. (Also notice the napkin folded into the shape of a turkey for the holiday table.)
My final contribution was actually a leftover from a dinner party the previous week but too good not to share–the remnants of a six-pack of Firestone Walker Pale 31 (a California pale ale for the 31st state to join the US). A little too hoppy for some of the assembled beer drinkers, but still a very drinkable beer for a family dinner around the big, antique dining room table.
IMG_0455Our hosts like to support local businesses, so there’s usually some beer around from either Saranac or the Lake Placid brewery. This visit, the selection included Lake Placid’s Ubu ale, which their web site describes as an English-style strong ale. The beer has a nice flavor, a great color, and the label art, featuring an Adirondack chair and a big black lab, can’t help but put you in the right frame of mind for putting aside your cares and reflecting on what you should be thankful for.
Unfortunately, this was only a brief respite from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. We headed back home on Saturday morning since our Christmas carol group was on for a performance on Saturday evening at the Breakers in Newport, RI to help open their holiday festivities. We serenaded the people waiting in line outside for a tour of the opulent Vanderbilt mansion and then sang a few carols in front of the tree in the entrance hall before yielding to the rest of the scheduled entertainment and adjourning to our favorite local restaurant, the Salvation Cafe.
We’ve been haunting this place for years, going back to when they first opened as a BYOB establishment and their “back room” was a tent with a couple of propane-fired space heaters. This is also one of the places that our group uses to confirm our status as a leading economic indicator on the basis of whether we can “sing for our supper.” In years when the economy is looking up, owners and patrons are often generous and will pay in kind for a couple of rousing carols with complimentary appetizers or a bottle of wine of two. In December 2008, however, we didn’t get a scrap from anybody all season, and we all know what happened to the economy in 2009.
If you believe that hypothesis, you should contact your broker with buy orders today, since the manager comped two nice bottles of wine for our party of twelve enthusiastic singers and hangers-on. We had an enjoyable dinner in the now-fully-framed back room, and commenter Elizabeth and I tried a couple of the local draft beers. Elizabeth gave me a little taste of her Grey Sail Leaning Chimney smoked porter, which did have a noticeably smoky taste that probably comes from the peat-smoked malt identified as a key ingredient on their web site, while for myself I chose another Revival brew, this time the Burnsider american pale ale. The Revival web site appears to be down while I’m writing this, but my guess is that the name is an homage to the Civil War general Ambrose Burnside, a Rhode Islander who was also noted for the facial hair style that took his name (turned slightly inside-out). The beer had a strong grapefruit edge to the hops, but went well with the enormous plate of Pad Thai that came with dinner, and a good time was had by all.
Beer tally is now up to an even 150, which is more than I might have thought possible, and still a month of parties and outings to expand that total without over-stocking the cellar at home, though there is one mix pack that I will be sampling in the week to come.
Time to be thankful and time to blog may be hard to find in the busy month ahead, so I’ll pay forward and be thankful now that we survived our October crash with nothing damaged except a ten-year-old car (and our bank account balance as we pay for a replacement), that we have friends who welcome us into their home as family, and that we will be spending a big chunk of the next month bringing holiday cheer to others, many of whom are no longer able to get out on their own.  Here’s to a happy holiday season–cheers!

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2 thoughts on “Thankful

  1. Hey Dr. Dave – another fine entry here, though I’ve got a question. That Hop House ale (with the intriguing head)…is it very hoppy, or is the name misleading? (At least to a strong-hops averse imbiber).
    Elizabeth

    • Probably not as much hoppiness as a lot of IPAs–I’m thinking something more along the lines of Sierra Nevada’s flagship pale ale. That still might be more than would suit your palate, but not over the top. If you like Belgian style ales, Ommegang is worth a try–my friend Philip (not necessarily a hop-head) really liked one called “Three Philosophers,” which is billed as a quadrupel ale. You may have to look pretty hard in your neck of the woods–I have found them mostly at Yankee Spirits in Attleboro, which I’m pretty sure is where I got the Hop House.

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