Groundhog Month

There are probably times when we all feel like Bill Murray’s character in the Harold Ramis/Danny Rubin film Groundhog Day—repeating the same events over and over again in an endless loop. Sometimes it feels like a trap or a curse, but there are also times when having a routine is a convenience (since it saves having to make new plans) or even a comfort (since you know exactly what to expect). Like many things in life, I feel like the trick is finding the balance between extremes and embracing the aspects of traditions and patterns in our lives while also continuing to seek out enough variety to keep experiences from growing stale.

There were certainly plenty of repeated experiences in my life during the February and early March that we just endured. There was the string of major snowstorms and associated school snow days that hit roughly once a week, and the longer string of days where the temperature didn’t get above freezing (a rarity here in southern New England), with ever-widening snow piles leaving many of the streets in my neighborhood practically impassable as the snow just kept accumulating. There was a return trip to my roots in northeast Ohio to check in with my mother who found herself back in rehab, recovering from complications of what would probably be a minor infection in a younger person. There was my family’s annual (more or less) trip to New Hampshire for a weekend of cross-country skiing. And there were the numerous little events (including a spate of family birthdays) that come around every year at about this time like clockwork.

Beer choices also seemed to fall into somewhat of a pattern, which is why I’m musing about these other routines in my life here. For example, like last year at about this time, I picked up IPA mix packs from Harpoon and Sierra Nevada. I haven’t broken into the Sierra Nevada yet, but both that one and the Harpoon have some of the same beers as last year with one or two new ones thrown in for variety. The rogue Harpoon beer was their Leviathan IPA. IMG_0512In keeping with the whaling theme, Leviathan is a high alcohol “big beer” that draws its name from the term used for a mythical giant sea monster. This beer had a big flavor to match its high (10%) alcohol content, but it still wasn’t excessively hoppy, consistent with my prior opinion of Harpoon’s focus on balancing flavors. (I feel like I remember other beers with the Leviathan label, but this is the only one on the Harpoon web site, so either I’m mis-remembering or they have discontinued the ones I am thinking about.)

For a while, I was sampling a series of amber beers (maybe hoping that choosing lighter-colored beers would work some sympathetic magic to move us into more spring-like weather). The first of these was the Hurricane amber ale from local brewer Newport Storm, which I chose when Dr. Mrs. Dr. Dave and I went out for dinner with one of her former students who now works as a pilot for Southwest Airlines and had a layover in Providence. (Don’t ask how a degree in biochemistry prepares somebody for a career as a pilot—it’s a long story.) The beer was pleasant, if not particularly memorable, and it was fun to catch up with Captain Mike and hear about some of the turns his life has taken.

The next two amber beers were both encountered during my visit to Cleveland. One was an amber ale from New Belgium Brewery (Fort Collins, CO) and is called Fat Tire. The story behind the name here is that the founder of the brewery was inspired by the wide variety of beers he tasted during a European mountain bike trip (hence the fat tires) and this recipe was one of his first forays into commercial brewing. The story of how the brewery was founded and grew is interesting reading on the New Belgium web site, and this was another fine if not distinctive beer that came as a recommendation from my waitress at Panini’s in Willoughby (one of a chain of about a dozen sports-oriented bar and grill restaurants in the Cleveland area).

The final amber was an amber lager. (I will get around to the difference between ales and lagers eventually, but I may need to do some more research–I mean real research, not just a euphemism for sampling more beer!). This was a local Cleveland product from Great Lakes Brewing that goes by the name Eliot Ness. IMG_0503Like many Great Lakes beers, there’s some ironic local humor in the name, since one of Ness’s primary claims to fame was as an agent enforcing Prohibition in Chicago in the 1930s and assembling the select group of agents known as The Untouchables (for their unimpeachable integrity and reputation for immunity from corruption). The Cleveland connections are numerous, since at various points in Ness’s checkered career he served as Cleveland’s public safety director, chaired the Diebold company (which was headquartered in Cleveland and making safes at the time), and ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1947.

In addition to the Eliot Ness, since I was driving on this trip I also picked up a six-pack of the Edmund Fitzgerald porter to bring back with me to New England. The S. S. Edmund Fitzgerald (for those who don’t know) was a Great Lakes freighter that sank in a powerful early winter storm on Lake Superior in November 1975 and was memorialized in a song (The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald) by folksinger Gordon Lightfoot. IMG_0504Though the ship sailed throughout the Great Lakes hauling iron ore, Cleveland was its nominal home port, and several of the crewmembers who perished were from Northeast Ohio. The Great Lakes website describes this beer as “the dark, brooding type” and I got a lot of smoke in the flavor profile. (Actually, I thought there was a hint of smokiness in the Elliot Ness as well.)

I also was able to spend an evening at the Willoughby Brew Works, a brew pub just a mile or so from where I was visiting with my mom while she was convalescing. They brew a variety of styles and let you decide how many beers you want to assemble into a sampler, IMG_0505so I went with four that included a pale ale, a double IPA, a Belgian pale ale, and their award-winning peanut butter cup porter. The peanut butter cup really did have strong hints of what you would expect based on the name and was not something I’d be likely to repeat—the double IPA was probably the one I enjoyed the most as I worked (unsuccessfully, since I couldn’t really do anything with leftovers) at finishing a mashup of a dinner that started its life as a quesadilla before deciding it wanted to look more like a pizza.

The weekend after my long drive to Ohio was our ski weekend in New Hampshire. This is another situation where things tend to feel very familiar—we usually stay at the Whitney Inn next to Black’s Mountain near Jackson Village, often eat the same breakfast (they are famous for their French Toast), go to the same restaurant for Saturday dinner (after shopping at the nearby L. L. Bean and EMS outlet stores) and have a routine for which ski areas we visit (Bretton Woods on Saturday and Jackson on Sunday) and even which trails we like to follow. We broke up the routine in a few small ways, staying in a two-bedroom cottage rather than a suite with a sleeper sofa (teenaged boys do not do well with sharing a bed) and on the second day splurging on a family ski lesson which took us to some new trails in the Jackson Village cross-country trail system. (The boys had never had a real ski lesson, and the adults felt like our downhill skills were in need of shoring up, so a family lesson worked nicely for all of us.) On Saturday night, we had a “birthday observed” dinner (the actual event was in the middle of the week and conflicted with other activities) at the Black Cap Grille in North Conway, where I diverged from the rest of the family and had a modified Reuben-type sandwich and cole slaw instead of a burger and fries (no fries for me in Lent) to go with my Lagunitas IPA. I’ve discussed one or two other Lagunitas beers, but don’t remember ever trying their IPA, which was a pretty standard West Coast style brew.

For the boys’ birthday dinner (also not on the day of the actual event), their choice was Providence Coal-Fired Pizza, which was fine with me since they have a nice, frequently updated selection of draft beers. This evening’s selection was from Southern Tier and based on their web site I think it must have been their 2X Stout, a double milk stout that was dark and chewy but not particularly creamy. (The “milk” indicates that non-fermentable lactose, a sugar usually found in milk, is used to add some sweetness to the flavor.)

And that gets me pretty much up to date, as the boys and I laze through our second week of spring break, take care of our various medical appointments, and gear up for what will hopefully be a productive final few weeks of school. The snow is melting slowly but steadily (despite the still unseasonably cold temperatures), the days are getting noticeably longer, and I think we may have finally put the six weeks of winter that were predicted by the groundhog behind us. Hopefully life will feel a little less scripted as we head toward the end of the school year, and maybe there will be a few new beers to complement my familiar favorites as spring sets in more firmly. Cheers!