So, I recently completed a two-week adventure with my family, wrapped around three distinct goals:
- 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.
- Stay out of the house for the demolition phase of a major kitchen renovation (I’ll probably have more to say about this later).
- 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:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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!