Hey, Another Good Day!
Ah, the winter solstice. It's cold, it's clear, it's time to
head up to Mechanicsburg and proof out Pennsylvania Breweries 3rd
Edition. So I vaulted in the Jetta and did that. About halfway
through the manuscript, Kyle Weaver, my editor at Stackpole, says,
"It's noon, want to get lunch and finish this after?" And I
suggested we go in town to Appalachian
Brewing, have lunch, and finish the editing there. Besides, I
said, I need production figures from Artie Tafoya, and there's a good
chance we can ambush him there.
So that's what we did. Things were a bit busy with office
Christmas parties, and ABC does a big lunch crowd, but they slipped us
into a two-top. We ordered pints of Volks Weizenbock, one of my
favorite ABC seasonals, all funky and rich. Sure enough, there was
Artie, sitting at a table farther down the floor. I waved and went on
"Hey, I know I need to get you those figures," was
the first thing he says to me. I know, I told him, that's why I'm here!
"Well, there's a running count there by the bar," he pointed
out. 4,715 barrels as of today. So...what, 4,800 by year's end?
"No, we'll do 75 this week yet, and another 100 next week." So
come on, Artie, gimme a figure. 5,000? What the hell, everyone lies,
Artie. "I don't need to lie!" he said with a big grin.
"Make it 4,900!" Okay!
Kyle and I had our lunch. He had the apples and sausage, I
went Hog Wild pulled pork. Good eating, very good eating. We finished up
and got to work on the manuscript, I ordered a Susquehanna Stout to sip
on. It was really good, nice batch: black as the basalt basement of
hell, roasty, but still a good layer of rich graham flavor. Artie walks
by, stops, grins, and says, "Nice batch of stout, isn't it?"
Two minutes later Artie was back with tasters of Hoppy Trails IPA,
their newest seasonal. "It's not on till 7:00 tonight," he
said, "but I figure you can have some. The beer has a very cool
double-barreled effect. It's bittered and finished with Columbus,
Centennial and Cascades, and dry-hopped with Styrian Goldings. The
Goldings come through big up front, earthy and very Brit-charactered,
but the finish is All-American, pithy, piney, puckery. Real artistry in
We finished up the work, headed back to Stackpole, and I said
good-bye to Kyle, and picked up a cup of coffee that was too hot to
drink. Back across the Susquehanna to Tröegs, where I quickly
got into a glass of Oatmeal Stout, courtesy of Ed Yashinsky. Soon Ed,
Chris and John, and Chris Brugger and I were swapping lies and drinking
Mad Elf, Van den Hoorn, and Troegenator. Today was Beef Day, when the
farmer who takes their spent grain brings in one slaughtered, butchered
cow for the brewery crew: 800 lbs. worth! "Want some beef?"
they asked, but I had to decline.
What's new? Well, there's a new brewhouse
coming, which is pretty big news. John showed me how they plan
to put it right beside the current brewhouse, changing functions and
utilizing both sets of vessels to get -- I think I remember this
correctly -- a potential 10 batches a day. The brewhouse ships from
Germany in January, and John's pretty excited about it.
I had to keep moving, so I got growlers of Troegenator and Mad
Elf to go, said good-bye, and headed up the river, swilling the now-cold
coffee as I went. I was headed up to Selin's Grove for their 8th
anniversary. They opened on the winter solstice, and celebrate that
every year, a pleasant event I'd managed to get to three years before
with my wife. I got there about 5:30, running the Jetta fast past a
Susquehanna flowing with chunks of ice.
Selinsgrove is such a pretty little town in the winter. They
put up lights, and the main street has a bunch of nice homes and shops
and trees. I whipped the Jetta into a u-turn across from the brewpub,
and parked it on the opposite side of the street. Down the steps and
into the pub, to meet Mid-Atlantic Brewing News's Baltimore
columnist Sandy Mitchell and his new wife, sitting at the bar. I pulled
up a stool beside them and got into a glass of Shade Mountain Oatmeal
Stout. I got there early enough to get one of the 96 free pint glasses,
The Shade Mountain was not quite as good as I recalled. I
worried about this for a minute, then got over it. Sure enough, about
then Steve Leason came along, we talked, and it turned out that
almost all the beers on that night were first batches off the new/used
brewhouse. So I mentioned my feelings to him, figured I might as well. I
ordered up the scallop-mushroom pie and a half-pint of IPA on cask. Very
nice stuff indeed, despite Steve's grumbling that it's becoming the
biggest seller. Beautifully conditioned, too.
Speaking of beautifully conditioned, Steve trotted out a small
sample of Groaning Ale, the galactic-class imperial stout they made when
their son Owen was born. Ouch. This stuff is getting seriously good as
it ages: rich, black, schwing! I followed that up with a
half-pint of White Horse Porter, and that was excellent stuff, real
prime, classic porter, ur-porter. I got a growler of that and the
Razz-Merry, which was delicious (I had a sip of Sandy's).
I topped off the night with a small snifter of 2003 St. Fillin's
Barleywine. It positively glowed with malt, richly twisted and
glorious, one of the best barleywines out there. Had a good little chat
with Steve just before I left, then I headed down the river. It was
8:00, and I really should have made the three-hour drive straight home,
but...Heather had told me about a bar down in Newport that sounded so
good I put it in the book, sight unseen. It was time to fix that
I kept my eyes open headed down 11-15, and caught the turnoff
for Rt. 32. It led me over the hills to Newport, but I couldn't find
diddley. I called Mastracchio's, and they guided me in -- five miles
down the river from Newport. Good thing I called. As it turns out,
they're just over the guide-rail from Rt. 322, the hardball road up to
State College, so now I know an easier route.
Anyway, the place was quite unassuming, looked like any other
rural bar...except for the big Franziskaner banner on the side. Okay,
we'll take a look. I went in, got a HopDevil (they were out of most of
the interesting bottles) and hung out for a while. Then the owner, Lou,
came in, and we talked. This guy is passionate about beer, and I want to
do everything I can to help him. I'm going to set him up with some
people for his business, and I'm gonna tell you guys: go to this bar. If
you like relaxed, clean, country bars, this is a great one, because how
often do you find decent beer in one of 'em? Definitely deserved to be
in the book.
By now I was exhausted, so I finished up my HopDevil and
headed for home. Two and a half hours later I was in bed, telling Cathy
that Heather and Steve said hello.
Just a Damned Good Day
Today was my anniversary. Cathy and I have been married for 15
years today, and I have to say I'm very happy about it. I'm not
going to go into the sentimental details, but...she's supported me in
this job, she's encouraged me, she loves me, and she loves good beer.
I'm not complaining!
She took today off, not for our anniversary, but to clean and
prepare for our annual caroling party next weekend. So we went out to
breakfast (the Great American Diner in PennDel, PA, had a
breakfast burrito that was delicious, so-so coffee), made plans, and
exchanged lists on what to get for the party. And, I said, why don't we
meet at Isaac Newton's
for a beer around noon? We're home together for that so infrequently.
Okay, she said. Cool.
I got gas, picked up a little caffeine to go, and headed back
to Newtown. I stopped at Centre Beer, my local beer store, shot
the breeze with Dennis, and finally agonized my way to a purchase
decision: a case of Stoudt's Pilsner. I already had a case each
of Victory's Storm King Stout and Hop Wallop at
home, just waiting for the party.
Now it was time to buy wine. Cathy's idea; she thinks that
having wine at the party puts people at their ease, because they then
know that they don't have to drink beer. As if I'd stand over
them with a club! Walk next door to the State Store and I quickly
picked up two bottles of merlot (Firestone and Toasted Head,
if you're interested). I was supposed to get two more bottles of pinot
grigio and a bottle of shiraz, but I noticed I was in the
"Italian" section, and I thought, might as well check. A woman
was stocking bottles, and I asked her: "I had a wine in Italy last
year that I really liked, could you help me
find it? Dolcetta d'Alba?"
Okay, normally State Store employees are clueless. Sorry, but
it's true. If they haven't heard of it, "it doesn't exist."
This woman started volubly speaking of the origins of the varietal, the
differences among the different strains, and the regions where it's
grown. "Are you a wholesaler?" I asked, and sure enough, she
was, Gina Pio Cossman, director of marketing for Pio Imports,
an Italian wine importer that also reps for a number of Scotch whiskies.
And while the store was out of her Dolcetta d'Alba, she did sell me on a
bottle of Pio Barbera d'Alba, a wine she told me was like the
Dolcetta, but more robust.
We exchanged info as well (can't let a networking opportunity
go by), and I went off to get my pinot grigio (I got Turning Leaf
and Montevina) and a bottle of blanc de noirs sparkling
wine (Piper Sonoma, because I didn't see the Chandon I
usually get) that has become a caroling party tradition with me. I
always get a bottle, because it's very good with the roast ham I
always make for the party. But no one ever drinks the blanc de noirs,
so after everyone leaves and the family goes to bed, I make a big
ham sandwich with butter and mustard, put something like Blade Runner
on the VCR, and drink the leftovers. A pleasant tradition.
I wasn't done. It's been a pretty good year, writing-wise, and
I decided to reward myself. I knew just what I wanted, and I walked
right to it: Redbreast. This wonderful Irish whiskey is pure pot
stilled, and the malt that comes out of it is simply grand. I looked at
the price and forced a smile, and put it in my basket. Then I looked
down and what did I see but Apfelkorn, a deliciously well-made
German apple schnapps that I like as a digestif. So I bought
that, too. Get the hell out, I thought, and grabbing a small bottle
of Kahlua Cathy needed for a recipe, that's just what I did.
I went and got a haircut, then headed for Isaac's. It was
starting to get really cloudy and gray by this time after a sunny
morning. It was quiet at Isaac's, just a couple people at the bar as I
sat down and ordered a Lost Coast 8-Ball Stout. Good, and with a
gorgeous dark brown head on it. I got all over that, and was sipping on
my second, a Sierra Nevada Celebration, when Cathy walked in the
door. "Taste this, isn't it grand?" I shoved my glass at her.
"Mmmmm, yes, I'll have that!" she told our bartender.
We talked and sipped, and then the bartender came over.
"Would you like another?" he asked. Well? "Oh, if I have
another I'll have to have lunch," Cathy says. Damn, I think.
"Let me see a menu," she says. Yeah! We ordered
Caesars, a house specialty, and got a bottle of Lindemans Cuvee Rene
1998 to go with them. Delicious stuff, tart and funky.
Then Glenn Blakely walked in, the manager. I've known Glenn
for years, and he comes over and immediately asks me to taste a new keg
of Left Hand ESB he got in. It tastes dead, lifeless, and he concurs.
He's concerned, because they sell a lot of Left Hand ESB, so he
tells me he's going to call the brewery directly. And then he bought us
Ouch. I got an Indica IPA from Lost Coast, Cathy had a mixed
beer: 3/4 Young's Chocolate Stout, 1/4 Lindemans Framboise. I am
embarrassed to admit how good that mix was. We finished the beers, and
we went home, and I actually went straight to work, editing a final
piece for the next issue of Malt Advocate.
And tomorrow I do it again, for Sly Fox's IPA Project. Oh,
truly, my work is never done.
Out in the Flat States
Back in the spring, while at WhiskyFest
Chicago, I was invited
to fly out to Wichita to speak at the Midwest Beer Festival by a wine
salesman and total beer and whiskey enthusiast named Todd Lange. I gave
him my card and told him to e-mail me, and I have to admit, I walked off
thinking Wichita? Really
Sure enough, he e-mailed me, and eventually we agreed on
conditions: mainly that the beer dinner would be a bit more gutsy than
the previous year's, and that I could fly in to Oklahoma City on
Wednesday so I could visit my friend Bob Rescinito. Bob's with the FAA,
a guy I met through a long-running Friday night chat room called the No
Bull Inn, and he's been out to Philly a couple times. He's also a
king-bull homebrewer and mead-maker, and has a pretty sharp
I packed up and left early (real early, for me: 5:50 AM),
taking the SEPTA commuter to Market East, where I picked up the R3 to
the Philadelphia airport. After uneventful flights and a connection in
Dallas, I landed at Oklahoma City, picked up my bag, and met Bob at the
gate. We threw the bags in his Sierra club cab and took off.
The rest of the day was pretty quiet. We raided Bob's beer
fridge for Boulevard Bob's 47 (a nice fest-like lager), some of
Boulevard's Stout, and took a look in the guest room's bathroom, where
Bob keeps his mighty Belgian stash of beer. We picked out a Vuuve and a
Lindemans Cuvee Rene for dinner. Dinner was brisket and ribs, done in
Bob's home smoker, and they were delicious. I met Bob's delightful wife, Rose, and
their daughter, Elizabeth, and we all settled in for a relaxed evening.
I hit the hay fairly early.
Thursday: The State of OK Beer
Bob and I had a leisurely breakfast of leftover brisket, fruit
tart, and pecan pie (Bob's own; he's quite a cook), then headed into
town to visit Huebert's
Brewing. It was down towards the Mexican section of town, and as we
drove along under a low cloudy sky, we saw taquerias, bodegas, and all
that good-looking, good-smelling kind of stuff that was putting a
powerful lure on me. After not being able to find any kind of
Tex-Mex for lunch at the airport in Dallas, you bet I was jonesing. We
got into the parking lot of Huebert's unassuming building just before I
Rick Huebert is running the only production brewery in
Oklahoma, and he's making "strong beer;" that is, over 3.2%
ABW/4.0% ABV. Some breweries make 3.2 beer, some make strong beer: two
different licenses. People: I have to admit, Oklahoma's beer laws
baffled me. I thought I could get a grip on anything in the way of
screwy beer laws, but I couldn't
figure out why some things were illegal and others were legal and some
were required... I gave up.
We met Bob's friend Tim Nagode there, another homebrewer and
member of the same homebrew club Bob belongs to, the High Plains
Draughters. Tim actually joined us shortly after we started on a short
tour of the brewery. One of the high points was Rick's home-built
keg-washer, a contraption of pipes and valves on wheels, backed up by a
pair of home water heaters. They're not in use any more -- Rick runs
steam right into the system from his boiler now -- but it was
easier to leave them on than to take them off, and they look great
Unfortunately, one of the low points was the beer, the "Old
Tyme Lager." It looked good, and even had the right body
and flavor, but the bottles we had in the brewery, right out of the
brewery cold box, had a twang of sour to them; not over the top, but an
incipient sourness. It was still drinkable; hell, I did drink it,
because I didn't really want to get into it with this guy when he was
nice enough to take the time to show us around. But I also asked him for
another bottle to take with me, to make sure it wasn't just a bum bottle
-- and it wasn't. I've e-mailed Rick about this, and I'm waiting on an
I'd like to see Rick succeed. As I said, although it's got
some problems right now, the beer is sound in its formulation, and
probably just needs some process improvements. But things are not
looking good for it out in the market, as you'll see in a couple
paragraphs. Putting out infected beers is one of the most disastrous
things a brewery can do; how you handle that problem can make or break
Bricktown: the Pub, the Place
We thanked Rick, and took our leave. Bob took me on a quick
tour of Oklahoma City's Bricktown, the old warehouse district, and then
we wound up at the district's brewpub, the Bricktown
Brewery. Bricktown is an extremely cool-looking place, high
ceilings, dark wood, brick walls, and a expansive exterior that's
well-decorated with restrained signage. We didn't eat (I was still
stuffed from breakfast), but the food looked and smelled great: we could
smell the smoker outside when we parked.
Once again, though, the beer was disappointing. Tim had
got there before us and was sipping a sample glass of the Fest beer,
which turned out to be the best of the lot (he then made the mistake of
calling his office to see if they needed him: they did. Bye, Tim!). Bob
and I both got samplers, and started tasting. The wheat beer, an
American wheat with a slice of lemon, tasted more like lemon had been
deliberately added to the beer, a tart, citric tang (the lemon slice had
simply been hung on the side of the glass, not squeezed in)...which was
actually pleasant compared to the sharp lactic acid sourness in all the
other beers, save the newly-tapped (9 days before) Fest beer.
Their Lager wasn't sour, but was disagreeably stanky, smelling
kind of like baby puke, or whiz-filled diapers. I hate to describe a
beer with terms like that, it's imprecise and harsh, but that's as close
as I can come to the very disagreeable aroma of this beer.
What the heck was wrong here? The brewers were hard at work,
mashing in, as we sat at the bar, and I could have gone over to talk to
them, but how do you walk up to a guy and say, "Hi, I'm from far
away, I've never had your beer before, and will probably never be back
to buy it again, but gee, it sucks. What did you do wrong?" Maybe
some people are cruel or thick-skinned enough to do that, but I
So I'm left to speculate. From the body, from the smell of the
mash, from the color, I'm guessing these guys know what they're doing
when it comes to actually brewing the beer, which leaves two
possibilities. They may not be careful enough on their sanitation,
allowing infection points to develop in the chain between brewkettle and
taphandle. Or it may be that the beer just isn't selling fast
enough. I saw a lot of macrobrewery signage in Bricktown, and a
lot of people drinking from bottles. If bottled beer outsells house beer
by a large margin, the house beer will get old and nasty.
But I still don't understand how a brewer (or a server, or a
manager) can not taste that sourness in the beer and say 'We'd better
take this off-line right now.' Brewpub
owners/managers/brewers should taste the beer every day. They
taste the food, don't they? Sounds like a topic for next month's Buzz...
Ech. We left, and walked through the light rain to Tapwerks, a
large multitap on the next block.
Bob had sent me a T-shirt from here a couple years ago, a fun one
("Beer like Mom used to make!"), and I really wanted to visit.
The look, at least, didn't disappoint. Like other places in Bricktown,
Tapwerks is big, dark wood and brick, and has that solid feel of age.
Unlike the others, Tapwerks has just over 100 taps, almost all of them
laid out in one very impressive line behind the bar; a couple were at
the bar front, and there were three hand-pumps.
Hand-pumps? Fuller's! ESB, Porter, and London Pride. I asked
for a sample of the Porter, cuz I love it so, and it was...guess. No,
really, guess. You're right: sour. Dammit! Okay, So I got a list
and checked it for new stuff, and settled on an Oklahoman GABF medal
winner, the Choc Beer from Pete's Place, in Krebs, OK. "It's
just a wheat beer," Bob cautioned me. Hey, Bob, at this point, if
it was just unflawed, I'd be happy, and it was. The Choc was good; an
American wheat, mainly, but with some good flavor to it, almost tasted
like a hint of rye. Fortified by that, I asked for a quick sample of
Huebert's: undrinkably, horribly sour. Bob warned me sotto voce
that he usually ordered at Tapwerks by asking "What's selling well
lately?" Slow turnover, the bane of multitaps.
We walked back to Bob's truck and drove over to the Oklahoma
City National Memorial. He took me to a moving statue on the
corner by the Catholic church across the street from the memorial: a
standing Christ, his back turned to the memorial, hand to his bereaved
face, with the legend "And Jesus wept..." I had to walk away.
The memorial itself covers the half block where the Murragh federal
building was, the street where the truck-bomb was parked (and I was
fiercely pleased to see that no marker existed to show where the
truck had been parked; there should be no memorialization of the evil
men who perpetrated this atrocity), and the half-block across that
The street is now a reflecting pool, framed by "The Gates
of Time," two large walls that are the entrances to the memorial,
one marked with 9:01 and the other with
9:03, symbolizing how the lives of all
involved changed in the time and space that was the explosion site at 9:02
that morning. The chairs of bronze and glass on the grassy slope where
the building stood represent approximately where the victims were that
morning, including the tearfully small chairs for the children in the
Across the pool (which was drained for repairs that day) is
the Rescuers' Orchard, a stand of trees dedicated to the first
responders who reacted to the explosion. It surrounds the Survivor Tree,
a 70 year old elm that -- somehow -- survived the blast at a distance of
less than 50 yards, and continues to grow. It was there that I saw a
piece of graffiti spray-painted on a wall by one of the firefighters
that day that summed up the anger I felt as I viewed the memorial:
"We search for the truth. We seek justice. The courts require it.
The victims cry for it. And God demands it!" Amen, brother.
We left the reflecting pool area and climbed to the fountain.
Bob pointed out the children's playground, still preserved, and it
almost broke me. The sky opened up right about that time, and we legged
it back to the truck. Bob drove me around some of the more interesting
residential areas of the city, and we wound up at his wife Rose's
framing shop, Pirate's Alley. Rose gave us a tour: this is not some
little shop! There is a large store out front, and a highly automated
custom framing operation in the back. Very impressive, very cool.
From there we went to lunch at Chelino's. I told Bob I wanted
Tex-Mex after my Dallas Disappointment, and man, did he ever deliver. It
wasn't much to look at, kind of looked like an old Dairy Queen with
hand-painted decorations, but it smelled great. We started with chips
and queso, moved on to tortillas and fresh-fried jalapeños, then got
fully stuck into our big platters: tamales, enchiladas, mini-burritos,
rice, beans, a fried egg on Bob's... We ate the whole darned thing, and
left, happy and groaning. We didn't eat anything else the rest of the
Finally: the Beer Improves!
Next stop was Belle
Isle, a two-level brewpub in the ground floor and basement of a
high-rise. It was dark, the bar was a standard hollow rectangle in the
middle of the room, and there was a big projection TV showing
CNN...looked like a bar, a happy hour joint, not a brewpub. I
gotta be honest: by the time I got to Belle Isle, I was apprehensive
about beer quality, and I wasn't expecting much.
So I was pleasantly surprised to get a delish Oatmeal Stout;
black, smooth, roasty-sweet. It was so damned good I had three of 'em.
What the hell, Bob was driving, and besides: I'd taken on so much
ballast at Chelino's the beer never had a chance. Bob had the FallFest,
which was also pretty darned good. I was smiling now!
Tim joined us, out of work in time for a FallFest. We decided
that we would run down to Norman to meet some of the homebrew club at Coach's. And that's just what we did.
Bob prepped me to meet Mike Groshong, the brewer at Coach's, by
styling him as "the hardest working brewer in Oklahoma." I
guess he is, because he's keeping three Coach's outlets in beer, as well
as selling to outside accounts. He's working on a chubby 30 bbl.
Specific Mechanical system, "the biggest system Specific has
made," he told me, "the 4th or 5th largest brewhouse in the
Southwest." Well, okay...how about some beer?
Actually, Mike asked us that question, and we said
"Yeah!" He brought us a growler of his IPA, a fairly
light-framed beer stuffed full of Cascades, Centennials, and Mt. Hoods,
a "high, lonesome taste of hops," my notes say (I was getting
in the spirit of things by now), and real nice to drink. We mostly
watched Mike work (he really was sweating up a storm, too), then he took
us out back to show us the festmobile, a beauty of a fitted tap-trailer,
complete with a cold box and gas system.
We joined some guys from Bob's homebrew club for dinner (Okay,
they were eating, we were still stuffed from lunch!), and got into some
of Mike's Dunkel Weizen (sweet, tasty, with just enough of that weizen
funk) and stout (quite roasty, and sporting real ale/ester character,
something I love: I don't like stouts that are too clean). Mike may have
been busy, but when he relaxed, he relaxed Good guy, good brewer.
some beer trash, then Bob and I headed up the road to our last stop of
That was the Royal Bavarian. This beautiful re-creation of a
German beerhall and beergarden sits by the side of the road between
Norman and OKC, oil pump out back, flat land and big sky all around, and
pulls it off. Pulls it off pretty well, actually. We pulled into the
gravel parking lot about 8:45, walked through the empty beer garden (it
was drizzling rain) and into the hall. The set up was even like a German
beer hall: tray pickup for food orders (the Germans don't like waiting
for waitresses!), high wooden ceiling, music playing (okay, it was two
people playing banjo and accordion), and beer!
Bob had warned me that Tim (remember Tim?) had written a letter to the local paper about
a review they did on Royal Bavarian's
beer, spelling out how bad he'd found it, so...no talk about homebrewing. Okay, we just ordered two beers, a
hefeweizen and an oktoberfest, since that was all they had on at
the time. My hefe was a bit under-attenuated (meaning it tasted
like it hadn't completely fermented, not uncommon in 3.2% Oklahoma),
very clean (i.e., missing the usual hefe aromas of clove, banana,
bubble gum), but it had a weird lactose sweetness, almost like sweet
milk. Not unpleasant, but odd.
Bob's Ofest was quite clean, had that character of "clean
as brewery air" freshness to it, and was really only marred by a
caramel character...small potatoes, really.
We got introduced to owner Jörg Kühne, a tall, stocky German
(duh!) with a big shock of blonde hair. He was happy to show off his
brewhouse to us, and it was a beauty: all coppery and German in its very
genes. We saw the lagering tanks and the serving tanks, all
spotlessly clean, alles in ordnung. Then to our surprise, Jörg
starts talking about how "They even write letters to the paper
about how bad my beer is! I don't care, my sales went up 22%. I hope
they write another letter!" Well, Tim? Heh.
Jörg was a pretty good guy, the brewhouse was great-looking,
and Bob did admit that the beers were quite a bit better than they had
been...although Jörg adamantly stated that they tasted just like the
beer in Germany, which, I'm afraid, just ain't so. For one thing, even
Jörg admitted that the hefeweizen is brewed with the same lager yeast
as the other beers (which explained the clean profile, but still didn't
cover the milk sugar thing). Still, they were head and shoulders above
Bricktown and Huebert's, which should count for something.
The end of a long day, though, so we headed back to Bob's. I'd
like to tell you how I fired up the laptop and worked my little fingers
to the bone, but I sat and talked to Bob and his family for a bit, and
then collapsed into bed.
Friday: Kansas, and All That Implies
We took another brisket and pie breakfast (I
could get used to that), accompanied by small glasses of Bob's homebrew:
aged braggot (excellent) and spiced ale (surprisingly excellent; I'm no
spiced ale fan). Then we headed out into a sunny, misty morning just late enough to catch
opening time at Bob's local booze store. Not a bad place at
all, and some good bourbons (including the Hirsch 16 YO, which amazed
me), and "every beer available in Oklahoma," a good but
relatively short list. As Bob said, "That's why I
We hit the road north on I-35. The day cleared
more and more as we drove, and the scenery developed into the beauty of
the plains: long vistas, high, towering castles of clouds, the lure of a
minimalist landscape where every wrinkle of a gentle ridge, every green
stripe of tree-lined creek becomes eye-catching, demanding an attention
to detail that would be a mere "Oh, a stream" in the more busy
beauty of the hills and woods of my Pennsylvania home. I have always
enjoyed driving in the high plains (though it damned near drove me crazy
one day driving solo from Kansas City to Denver); today was no
exception, though I'll admit that Bob's company may have helped
Wichita came up on the horizon around 1:00. We
weren't due anywhere until around 4:00, so we checked into our hotel
(the Wichita Marriott), dumped our crap in our rooms, and -- what else?
-- headed downtown for a beer. We wound up cruising down to Old Town
Wichita, and passing up a couple good-looking bars to at River
City Brewing Co., a solid-looking brick building with a big
wraparound deck/dock. The building looked even better once we got inside
and scoped out the big barroom, long bar, and easy-to-read beerlist.
Nice-looking place, with that "come on in" feel to it.
We parked at the bar and ordered. Bob got an IPA,
I got the stout. Both beers were clean, both were a bit sweet, but both
were really good. Service was a pain in the butt, though. Distant at
best (in the face of Bob's usually magical charm -- really, the guy's
annoyingly appealing to women), the bartender was in the middle of
taking our order when the phone rang and she just walked away on the
first ring, mid-sentence. What, anyone on the phone is more important
than a bar customer who's already in the middle of ordering? Come
Food was good, though. The standard
spinach-artichoke dip was good, with plenty of chips (a bit stale, but
lots of them), the burgers were darned good (although she never asked
how we wanted them, and I got medium, and Bob got the wrong
But she did get hold of brewer Dan Norton for us.
Dan was very cool, hung with us, knew his brewing, got us some samples
(had a nice brown -- chocolate-tinged, chewy -- and an outright
delicious red -- crisp, hoppy, real west-coasty stuff), and then tapped
out a sample of a young pseudo-lambic framboise he was making (it's
definitely a bug-beer, and had a beautiful red color). He told us to be
sure to get a sample of his Smoked Porter the next day at the
Did the service suck? No, not really, just a bit annoying at
times. Was the beer good? You bet, food, too. All in all? A definite
return-worthy brewpub, and if I get back to Wichita, I will take
the time. But we wanted to see more beer in Wichita, so we asked where
we should go next. I'd seen a bar with a Knob Creek neon in the window,
and the bartender said that place was cool, but then Dan chipped in that
there was a new bar with a bunch of taps, the Anchor, over on
Douglas St., about three blocks away, that was pretty cool. Hey, he's a brewer.
We went. On the way I called Todd Lange (remember him? The guy who
invited me out?) and told him we were headed for the Anchor. He said
he'd meet us there in about 20 minutes. Cool.
Drinking Establishment was also cool. Very cool.
Sagging as I was by then (out late the night before and sleeping away
from home), the feature of the Anchor I was happiest to see was a
monster espresso bar right in the middle of the long
copper-topped bar! I fired up a Depth Charge, a triple espresso that got
me wired and fired, and ready to face the 20 taps and roughly 200
bottles. The bar was one long, high, open room with a pressed-tin
ceiling that was just rough enough. Wichita's streets out in this end of
town were kind of plainsy: wide, open, and not completely filled
(although the Anchor was right in the middle of a little sin-plaza, next
to the Hell Bomb Tattoo parlor and Holier Than Thou piercing palace),
and the wind blew right down the streets and through the bar. It was
almost like something out of The Last Picture Show,
just enough rough to it to feel right for cowboy boots and jeans.
Todd showed up about the time I was getting the Depth Charge, we
re-acquainted, and all three of us got a Free
State Ad Astra Ale. As Todd said, Ad Astra is tough to peg,
stylistically: somewhere in the intersection of brown ale, pale ale, red
ale, and amber...and good. We got it in us, then split for our cars to
head back to the Marriott for the dinner.
A Sumptuous Dinner...and Good Beer
Bob and I got dressed. He's quite a sharp
dresser, always neatly turned out, and I think my casual approach to
sartorial upgrading left him gasping. I put on pants, I put on a shirt,
and I wear comfy socks. Ragg socks. Which don't really go with the dress
slacks and silk jacket I was wearing, but you know? I'm working here.
I'm gonna be comfortable.
We headed down to the dinner
room, and got there about 6:15. We grabbed the straight-cylinder
Trumer glasses (very thin glass, quite elegant, and perfectly capable of
holding beer) and poured ourselves this pale pilsner with the big hop
nose and crisp bitterness. I got introduced to some people we talked, we
drank, and eventually met Guy and Beth Bowers, the local AIWF
bigwigs. Guy's got a wine and food show on the local radio station that
I'd done a call-in to the weekend before, a lot of fun, and while he's
mostly a wine and cheese lover, he had no problem appreciating a good
beer. Beth worked at the local paper, and had helped organize my
Bob took pix, and I grabbed a New Belgium Blue
Paddle. Don't get me wrong: the Trumer is very good, but the Blue
Paddle is a fave of mine, a soft, malty-side pilsner that's an all-day
drinker. I got outside some of it while making the rounds, talking beer,
and discussing last-minute menu changes with Guy and Todd. There are always
last-minute menu changes at beer dinner, by the way. Chef can't get
this, or bar manager thought this beer would be better (which usually
means he got it cheaper or he got a kickback or he doesn't really care
and the wholesaler was pushing it this week), or the wheels completely
fall off and you find yourself pairing coq au vin and Busch Light.
Happily, the only thing that happened was that the chef (Peter Moretti,
a gifted man) decided to substitute some very nice beef tenderloin he
had lucked into for the beef in the sauerbraten. Oh. Okay.
I gave a short address on beer's image, based on
the October Buzz, and it was quite
well-received. Surprised me, to be honest, I thought it might not go
over too well with the wine-folk and beer wholesalers we had, but I
guess I was worried about nothing. On to the dinner! The salad course
was spring greens dressed with a bacon and caraway-infused vinaigrette,
served up with wiener schnitzel medallions and a side of spätzel.
Todd had daringly paired it with a Franziskaner dunkelweizen, and scored
big: the effervescence of the hefe and its soft, sweet, fruitiness was
great with the salad and the meat.
I was doing a short talk on each beer between
courses, and blabbed on about the next beer, Goose Island Oktoberfest.
I'm actually finishing up my last bottle of it right now, and it's still
delicious, a very well-done American Ofest indeed, with that great
"juicy" malt character. It was another great pairing for Todd,
matched to the sauerbraten (which was now filet with a ginger snap sauce;
no marinating necessary, thank you), red cabbage, potato pancakes, and
"Viennese Style Baby Peas," which pretty much tasted like
wonderfully delicate green peas to me; go Vienna, I say.
In between yakking, shoveling the good grub, and
sluicing down some of this good, good beer, I was making my way around to
each table. I like to do this at any beer dinner I do, it gives me a
chance to get an idea of how people are enjoying themselves, if they have
any questions (you'll get the 'well, I didn't really want to slow things
down, but since you're here' questions at tableside), pick up on any
problems with the meal or the service, and chat with the lively ones in
the room. That last bit is just fun, you know?
The beef was followed by a cheese course, with five
cheeses selected by Guy from igourmet.
I hate to admit this, but...I lost my notes on the cheese, which is
killing me, three of them were excellent and great matches with the Bully
Porter and La Fin du Monde Todd picked out as 'best bets' with cheese.
Again, he was right on the dime, although the cheddar with pickle was a
disaster with the Fin (worked great with the porter).
it was Black Forest Torte
with Rogue Morimoto Hazelnut
. I'll freely admit that I'm not a
big fan of the Rogue Hazelnut beer, and I said as much to the dinner
crowd. But this...this worked. Again, a very nice pairing indeed.
Todd called me
up to the mike, thanked me for coming out, and presented me with a very
nice six-pack of beers; the most common one was a New Belgium
Abbey, and things went up very quickly from there; some Goose Island
one-shots among them. I thanked him and sat down.
Then I was
asked to draw the tickets for the raffle. They sold tickets to raffle
off a case each of the beers we'd had with the dinner, proceeds benefiting
the AIWF scholarship fund to send people to culinary school. A good cause,
so I bought some...and so I suppose it was almost inevitable that I would
draw my own number on the third pull. "All right!" I yelled them
down as they moaned how the fix was in. "I can't even take a case of
beer home, do you mind if I give it to the guy who drove me up here?"
There was a sound of general assent, so Bobby picked out the case of Goose
Island O-fest, a good choice. I suppose we could have invited the people
up to our room to drink it...but I was bushed!
We mingled and
lingered a bit, but pretty shortly headed upstairs to the room. I
typed a bit, Bob watched TV, then we hit the sack. The following morning
we were both sure we hadn't slept at all the night before because of how
much the other guy snored. Logically impossible, I realize, but I almost
believe it was true!
Saturday: Lots and Lots of Good Beer
Bob was sick
when we woke up. Not sure what the problem was, finally, but he
spent most of the morning in bed. I went down to breakfast and found
that the hotel was hosting a reunion of the 509th
Composite Group, the "Atomic Bombers," the squadron of
B-29s that dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
I talked to
a few of the veterans on the buffet line, and thanked them for their
service to America, then shamelessly eavesdropped as much as possible.
One table spent 20 minutes reminiscing about the essentially unlimited
ammo they had for plinking, .45 rounds for the M3 "grease
guns" and M1911 pistols, .30 rounds for their M1s, and they'd just
go off over the hill and shoot all day. Hey, they were young
Americans in the 1940s. I'd have done it too!
After that I went back up to the room and watched
the first half of the UTex-Oklahoma game with Bob. Oklahoma was kicking
butt, which made Bob feel good enough to take me over to the fest at
halftime. Unfortunately, he didn't feel well enough to join me, and went
back to the hotel, watched the rest of the game, and then headed back to
Oklahoma City. (He's made a full recovery, and visited me here a couple
weeks later; we drank bourbon and ate immense cheeseburgers in West
I walked into the Century II Exhibit Hall
("It looks like a big flying saucer," people told me at the
dinner, and they were right) and shamelessly cut the line to get my
vendor badge and find my spot at the Glazer's Wholesalers table, the
booze sellers Todd worked for. This was not the kind of beer festival I
was used to, though I have seen them before. There was only one brewery,
River City. All the other beers were from wholesalers.
Are you disappointed? Thinking "That
sucks!"? Fine. You stay home next time, and I'll drink your
share of the Orval, Pilsner Urquell, Odell's, Rogue, Boulevard, Czechvar,
Salvator, Celebrator, and Optimator, Sierra Nevada Everything,
Moretti La Birra Rossa, New Belgium Triple and 1554, Chimay, Sam Smith,
Cooper's Stout, Goose Island, Staropramen, Portland Uncle Otto's,
Hacker-Pschorr O-fest... Get the picture? Oh, wait, forgot to mention: I
was standing right beside the Unibroue, which was being served by
a knockout handful of righteous African-American womanhood. Ahhh,
I stayed cool. No, I didn't. I started reaping
the bounty as I went around picking lagers for my "Luscious
Lagers" seminar at 3:30. Wish I could tell you what we drank there,
but all I can remember is Budweiser (for calibration and identification
of "lager"), Pilsner Urquell (cuz you gotta), Tsingtao (just
so people know it IS a pilsner, and not "Chinese beer"), and
Optimator , to kick some butt. There were two others, damned if I can
remember which ones.
It was a rollicking half hour with lots of
questions pumped to me by Dan McConnell, a guy I'd
"met" online years before when he was living in Philadelphia,
but had only met in person an hour before. He's teaching in Wichita, saw
I was going to be there, and suggested we meet up. Glad we did, he set
me up with some good questions!
I also finally got to meet Jeff Stanley. Jeff
used to work for Pony Express Brewing, now he works for Boulevard. I
came across him back in, ohhhh...1997? I was hitting the USENET beer
newsgroups and came across this guy obsessed with draft systems. I would
wind up quoting Jeff in a couple stories, and learning a lot about draft
beer from him. It was great to finally meet him, although we
unfortunately didn't get to do much more than talk for about 10 minutes.
With the seminar over, I went back to my spot and
let myself be plied with Unibroue. God, it was wonderful. Unibroue, some
Odell's Cutthroat Porter, some Orval, a little Celebrator, some Rogue
Shakespeare Stout. By the time the fest was over, I was gently sizzled.
Not drunk by any means, but pretty damned happy with the world. So when
Todd asked if I wanted to come out to his house and see his beer
collection, well, sure! So we loaded our stuff in his Saturn SUV and
headed west. About 15 miles west, I think, then got off the Interstate
onto a damned dirt road! Turns out Todd and Elise live on the edge of
her parent's farm (leastways, I think I got that right), which is
right out there in the prairie beauty. Take a look at the prairie beauty
Boy, that's beautiful. So we trooped into Todd's
house and down to the basement where, let me tell you, this man had
quite the collection of beer bottles. Thousands of them, and some I
didn't recognize. He had full ones, too! And a bar, where we tucked into
some surprisingly good homebrew (and one that wasn't, to which Todd said
something along the lines of "Life's too short!" and dumped
it), some excellent craft brews, and the leftover cheese from the dinner
the night before. Elise joined us, and we had fun talking beer and life
and all that. Good folks, and I really enjoyed the visit.
Eventually we realized that we should go join the
post-fest party at Guy and Beth's house. And we did, and it was a
good time: lots of leftover fest beers (I drank 22 oz. Rogues the rest
of the night, thank you), lots of pizza, good nibblie stuff, and lots of
happy, exhausted people. Guy was having a hell of a good time, and was
really fun to be around; the man's a dervish of enjoyment.
Finally, Todd and Elise bundled me into the Saturn
and took me back to the hotel, where I took my leave of them. I packed
everything up, watched a little TV, and sacked out. After an early
breakfast with the Atomic Bombers, I had an uneventful trip home, and
happily rejoined my family. Great trip to new territory, good times with
old friends and new ones, and if there were a few not-so-good beers,
there were sure a whole lot more good ones to look back on.