Friday, May 30, 2008

Humble origins of a holiday ale

If you find yourself on say, a short, dark, and damp day in February of 2009, popping the cork on a bottle of our holiday ale for a little winter's warming, try to think back to that day at the end of May when the sun never seemed to go down, and the coriander blossoms opened up on the portion of cilantro in our herb pot that we allowed to bolt. It has to start somewhere, right?


Homebrew Blogging Day #1 - On the origin of cerevisiae

Not just any cerevisiae, mind you, but cerevisiae of the home-brewed persuasion. That's the little blogging Beagle we're boarding, begat by Beer Bits 2, the launch of a new monthly groupthink that's putting the emphasis on the "home" aspect of brewing, a neat parallel to Stan Hieronymus' exponentially popular Session group. And, christening that voyage is the question that lies at the heart of the matter, the question of how we all got around to mucking about with DIY malt fermentation to begin with.

The funny thing about cozying up to scribble out an essay on a topic of someone else's choosing is that you can find yourself experiencing a bit of déjà vu, considerably so if you're as much of a rambling and redundant writer as I am. But the clarion call of the carnival is just too seductive to resist, so I'll try to follow this month's topic with as little repetition as possible from this earlier post. But first, a recipe:

(Click for larger beer-stained image.) My good friend Alex recently informed me that my induction into formal beergeekhood occurred when I caught the homebrew bug, no sooner, no later. Dark, dark years of suffering followed. There was doomsday doppelbock. There was the mysteriously "sweet 'n' sour" beer. There were unidentified floating chunks lurking in carboys. There was rope. On the other end of the tunnel, or the "green grass" side of history, if you will, it all seems worthwhile, as it's now been years since we've made anything other than (dare I say) delicious-ish, pat-yourself-on-the-back, honest-to-goodness, don't-nitpick-the-flaws beer. Had you sampled the "beverage" that resulted from the virgin brewing attempt based off the above recipe, you wouldn't have bet on it.

We still drank it, though.

If you can smile when the food's that burnt,
the beer must be pretty good.*

It's a small, charming coincidence that this subject has arisen with Father's Day on the horizon, as my father can take full blame for the homebrewer in me - if not only for his effective branding on the olfactory development of my impressionable nervous system à la the McDonald's Happy Meal by introducing me to home-brewed beer in my youth, but also for the fact that he presented a bored, bookish kid with a funky little home library to peruse which happened to contain within it my introductory text on the subject. Besides John Barth (Giles Goat Boy, The Sot-Weed Factor), Hunter S. Thompson (Hell's Angels, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), and Graham Greene (The Quiet American, Brighton Rock), Byron Burch† was in good company with his 1975 edition of Quality Brewing: A Guidebook for the Home Production of Fine Beers‡ nestled neatly betwixt them. Cracking the spine on that delightfully rudimentary and debatable text conjured up distinct (and most likely false) memories of the home-brewed beer I remembered from my earliest youth: the crispness of the carbonation, clarity of bitterness, warm golden hue, and grassy, floral aroma. In retrospect, I'm all but certainly recalling the taste of the first German pilsner I ever tasted as a tiny wee one - not my dad's homebrew - but one can never be sure when it comes to things like that.

My father's inspiration for homebrewing came from his intention to recapture the taste of the German lagers that sustained him for his time stationed in Frankfurt, hence my hybridized recollections. Interestingly, pilsner is one of the only major classic styles we've never attempted, mostly out of reverence to the standard of quality that I'd be embarrassed to approximate (and only slightly due to the chills of terror I still get in remembrance of the sole triple decoction mash fiasco/experiment/failure we endured). Regardless of the differences of between our personal beer preferences, however, there aren't many more ardent supporters of my little hobby than my father, a man who unembarrassedly proclaims each new concoction the new unbeatable best, and who I can also thank for the real reason why I've immersed myself in this subject: for instilling in me a true passion for food, the notion of the kitchen as the soul of the home, and the act of creating and sharing§ food with others as the ultimate act of love. Around here, brewing is part and parcel with cooking, which in turn is inexorably linked to the table, whereby the most primitive, basic, soulful community- and family-buidling exercises take place, through the act of breaking bread. I owe my father for ingraining the importance of the communal table into my psyche, and for reminding me that when you sit at that table, you best be enjoying some damn fine food and drink with your company. So take that as your obligatory (and early) Father's Day toast||.

* And yes, that's a grill loaded up with beer can chicken.

And as for Byron, he's still doing his thing in Santa Rosa with The Beverage People, taking awards for homebrewed mead and selling cheesemaking molds via catalog.

Inside that book was the yellowed business card of one mister Steve Norris (anyone know whatever happened to him?), with the address of a homebrew shop in the Outer Sunset, who guided me through that initial gear-buying spree, recipe formulation, and failsafe instruction guide. And despite a couple items that might induce a chuckle from the more experienced brewers out there ("full" body!), though, there's truly not much that's changed in what goes into making a West Coast pale ale since 1995.

§ If there's a unifying characteristic of the homebrewers I've had the pleasure of meeting, a sense of sharing has got to be it. That's why never make less than 5 gallons at a time...

|| A toast which will this year be raised with glasses of hefeweizen which might break my streak of "unbeatable bests". Beer-and-tear-stained scanned recipe to follow.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Meta-Pfiffing: Inside the stats

There's nothing original in posting the more *ahem* unique search terms used to find your site, but it doesn't make it any less entertaining, right? In pondering the question of what unifying, underlying traits adhere the Pfiff! community together, I thought it'd be good to share some of the recent routes by which readers have found their way here.

While the vast majority of you are looking for information about the Mill Valley Tourist Club, aka Naturfreunde, aka "The first rule of the Tourist Club is you do not talk about the Tourist Club" [to the person who typed in "secret tourist club muir woods hike miles", I can only say HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS, and UPHILL], and are looking for homebrewing tips [to "growing weihenstephan yeast from bottle", you know you can just buy it, right?], I recently gasped at the climb in readership here, and am thinking that these are the search terms that have captured the attention of you, Pfiff!'s loyal new readers. Please join me in welcoming them, won't you?

The violent types: drunken fighting, tiger fighting style, fightingstyle, history of drunken tiger fighting, tiger fighting, drunken tiger style AND drunken fighting style. Anyone who's been a regular reader of this blog knows you've come to the right place.

Obligatory WTF gems: every time you pick up a handful of dust and see not the dust but a mystery a marvel there in your hand, pictures and tips on the ornamental inedible orange citrus plant, oh brother where art thou pale make-up, what does annual mean in a cilantro plant, lydia the tattooed lady piano chords, and my personal favorite, 6 foot 2 300 pounds. That was before my new trademarked beer diet, kids!

Russian roulette googlers: regular, about, month, there, friend, chocolate, shoots, and net. Sort of a weird cross between basketball tips and a pregnancy scare.

And last, but not least, the fuel that keeps this worldwideweb a-humming: cats

That image above is for you, my friend! Thanks for reading, everyone!


Monday, May 19, 2008

Brewdog's mid-May hops growth analysis

"Looking good. You're still not going to avert the shortage, though. You aren't even going to get any flowers, actually." So sayeth the brewdog.

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Separated at birth

At the amber core of all devil whisky there lies a heart of pure, sweet beer. Barring the addition of hops (and really, who uses those anymore, anyway?), up until the moment the wash is run up the still to capture the water of life, the stuff you're dealing with is essentially the makings of beer. (And yes, I know you also don't boil the wash before inoculating it, but I can think of at least one un-boiled beer out there.) It shouldn't, then, be much of a surprise to anyone following the current art of the brewing craft that there are efforts underway to reunite the long divorced brethren of beer and spirits, through a variety of means.

Breweries toying with toasted tastes: Fans of "extreme beers" know the drill by now: Brew it big, brew it strong, brew it diabolically rich, and then roll out the bourbon barrels. The vanilla of the oak and char of the staves are incredibly trendy and desirable characteristics in big beefy stouts and porters, where brewers of high abv ales are quickly learning that it's those very same smoothing characteristics of wood-aging that distillers have used for generations to offset the fire of the alcohol.

Examples: Old Dominion Oak Barrel Stout, Schlafly Reserve Imperial Stout, O'Fallon Whiskey Barrel Smoked Porter, Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron

Breweries dabbling in distilling: In a completely natural evolutionary step, restlessly creative brewers (once they get the big OK from the Feds) are taking to distilling their own spirits. And not surprisingly, the results they're getting are drawing rave reviews, no small thanks to the discipline involved in being a successful craft brewer: Take only the best ingredients you can get, and keep a close eye on the process from start to finish. Distribution of these delicacies is a totally different matter, however, but the difficulty of tracking these down is more than made up for by the hand-crafted experience of enjoying them.

Examples: Dogfish Head Brown Honey Rum, Anchor Steam Old Potrero, Anchor Steam Junipero Gin, Rogue Spruce Gin

Distillers playing with beer: Like I mentioned above, the making of most grain alcohols involves a process which, in the abstract at least, is identical to brewing, up to the point at which the wort/wash is fermented (when the brewer goes "whoohoo!" and starts a-drinkin', and the whiskymaker says "very well then" and proceeds to distill it, rack it into barrels, and wait a good 8 years). So it shouldn't be much of a shock that some distillers has gone all the way and taken a finished beer and distilled it down to its pure essence. Who knows? Maybe this could be the spirit that cocktail mixologists latch onto as a platform for exploring beerish flavors in their concoctions.

Examples: Essential Spirits Classick American Bierschnaps, Essential Sprits Sierra Nevada American Bierschnaps

Beer cocktails: Nothing new, obviously, cocktails made with beer as a base rather than a spirit are making the slightest bit of a comeback for a couple reasons. Strict liquor licensing laws (the same ones that prohibit sales of hard alcohol at certain eateries) have put creative restaurateurs in the challenging position of attracting a cocktail-hungry audience with limited tools at their disposal. Sake was the big one for a while, being the base for a whole generation of knockoff drinks where it played the role of vodka, tequila, or gin in establishments where those types aren't welcome. Interestingly, the increasing role of beer cocktails on bar menus has as much to do with the consistently increasing quality of the beers they have opportunity to play with. So while they won't be replacing the Hendrick's in my martini with cucumber beer anytime soon, it does seem like creative types in the bar scene are taking note of the wide variety of flavors beer currently places at their disposal.

Examples: Picon bière, Radler

And what will the next wave of cross-craft hybrid beveraging bring? If the successes of Dogfish Head's experiments-turned-mainstream of adding grapes to beer* in Midas Touch and Chateau Jiahu and Russian River's continued investigation on the use of California wine barrels in the production of their Belgian-inspired ales are any indications, we'll be seeing more handshaking between brewers and winemakers, as the two industries have generated the world's foremost experts in fermentation science, yet have a long, storied history of working independently of each other in a way that's allowed for the perception of antagonism between the two. One might think that a collaboration between them might relieve a bit of the pressure they're both feeling from their respective fields...

Big ups to Mr. Drinkaweek for many of the inspired linkfodder above.

* I'm still looking for a good term for these types of creations. If mead with malt added is braggot, and mead with grapes is pyment, would malt with grapes be... pygot? bryment?

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Friday linknibbles - Extra hot edition

As anyone in Northern California would be delighted to inform you, it's hot out. So hot, in fact, that it's not terribly conducive to the act of generating any original thoughts (outside of "boy, it's hot!") worthy of documenting anywhere. With that in mind, I'm shutting down the heat-generating creative part of my brain (leaving only the lizard brain in control, which is pretty neat) in order to conserve energy, and leaving y'all with some items from around the tubes:

* From Des' hometown, a pub tradition that might be the best way to honor its regulars since the Stammtisch.

* Wait, a green beer from Belgium called Dragon and it's not completely and utterly awesome?

* Did I mention it's American Craft Beer week? No? I also didn't mention that it's Vesak, so sue me. Stephen Colbert, on the other hand, had some words about it. (Oh, and it's apparently also San Francisco Cocktail Week, if you swing that way.)

* Did I mention how hot it is out? Perhaps if you're in the Bay Area suffering from the same solar assault as we are, you should consider signing up for JJ's farmhouse ale tasting that's coming up in a couple weeks. Because I also may have mentioned that the whole saison+summer equation = pretty freaking great.

* Say what you want about this whole beer vs. wine thing that's being so desperately marketed by the foodie press: winemakers are a buncha wooses. [note to self - add "woos" to custom dictionary]

* If it's not over 100 degrees where you are, and you still have your wits about you (did I mention it's hot here?), consider joining in the two upcoming beer-related carnivals: The Session on Friday, June 6th, and the inaugural as-yet-unnamed (yet I'm obviously rooting for "The Mash Out") Homebrew Blogging Day on Friday, May 30.

Other than that, business as usual. Don't forget to keep hydated, kids!

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Working through the pain

One of the best techniques I've got for dealing with any sort of stress, pain, or responsibility is pretending that I'm too distracted by what's coming afterwards to pay any mind to my current situation. So even though there's a deluge of paperwork blocking all the fire exits from my office and a gauntlet of evening and weekend events that threaten to blot out my concept of the passage of time like a sensory deprivation tank, I'm going to soldier on and start making plans for when I finally blow this popsicle stand.

When I was a kid, my dad passed along his insight on how to properly land a devastating right hook, instructing me that the key was to not aim directly at your opponent, but behind your opponent so that you have a target to swing through to, thus fixing the amateur error of pulling your punch before you've done proper damage. Sadly, it's never quite panned out, as I've since spent all my good fistfights busily trying to get a good look at what's exactly behind my opponent's head, so that I can get a good bead on it. Regardless, it's the same theory at work, here, as I try to confound my brain from the "beginning of the a week that's really gonna suck just as much as the next two weeks after that" into thinking that today is actually Saturday, June 7th - the beginning of summer.

Here's some of what's on tap for the next few months, with all the requisite beer affiliations. Please let me know if there's anything I've carelessly omitted, any places you can recommend, etc., etc.!

* San Diego, late June - Ostensibly to introduce my daughter to Posiedon's henchman Shamu, it's a simple cover-up for my annual pilgrimage to the house of Tomme, Pizza Port in Solana Beach. Then we'll certainly make time to check out that stinky fish. After the stinky fish, I'll be ready to blend in with the (anticipated) crowd at the (anticipated) new Toronado in the picturesque 'hood of North Park.

* Flathead Lake, Montana, late July - I recently happened upon a column in New West where Montanan writer Bill Schneider is cataloging all the Big Sky breweries he can manage to visit. Montana was the first place that introduced me to both Fat Tire and Moose Drool in their pre-ubiquity days, so it holds a special place in my craft beer-lovin' heart. Granted, a visit to Flathead Lake Brewing (sorry we can't fill your growlers because we've run out of beer, again) was a grim reminder that not all craft beer is brewed equal, but Glacier Brewing in Polson had some promise. Now I just need to figure out how to launch an evening sortie across the pond to Tamarack Brewing for a little look-see-drink. Either that or I'm commandeering a plane to land on the strip at Lang Creek.

* The Poperinge Hop Festival, Belgium, mid-September - Admittedly, this is likely just a fantasy addition, one that I pencil into the calendar every three years. Personally, I'd like to think Mia would make an excellent satanic ladybug. If I can renegotiate my contract to get paid in Euros from now on, I think there's no holding us back this year.

Interspersed between those events like temporal palate cleansers will be beer. Lots of beer. There will be homebrewing and tastings and trips to great shops and even better bars and a brewery or two and maybe even some restaurants that serve food with their beer (including finally introducing Mia to the Tourist Club, pictured above). I've also got a summer resolution in place to reevaluate, rediscover, and hopefully re-enjoy some of the breweries that make up the great Western canon of craft beer, ones I've regretfully ignored over the past year or two in pursuit of what JJ has coined "novelty drinking" (better known in this house as "Benjamins for Belgians").

Lastly, there's plans in the works to put together an afternoon beer and food pairing in the City with an "American Wild Ale" theme, most likely in late July, date likely to be determined by our success in rounding up the proper bottle list. Let me know if you'd like to be updated on this inaugural Pfiff!-hosted event!

PS - The responses I've gotten to the last post have been truly cockle-warming. The point wasn't so much to massage my already corpulent, tender ego (that's currently the job of my daughter via her endless encore requests for "ABC" on the ukulele) but to discover what about this site was keeping you all around. Thanks for all the great feedback and kind comments!


Friday, May 09, 2008

Who the heck are (and thank) you?

Over the past few months, ironically amidst a reflective time that's found me asking, "And I'm doing this why?", this site has seen a marked, steady increase in readership. On one hand, I'm humbly, sincerely honored by how often you folks have been stopping by to read what's here, while on the other hand, I'm kinda wondering who's wasting their time on all this drivel.

Granted, there's been a renewed level of effort in keeping Pfiff!'s wolves at the door*, and the recent inceptions of a couple social networks for beerish folks have probably helped buoy interest as well, but for the rest of you, it would be a great help if you'd take a quick minute to let me know: Who the heck are you?

Feedback from you often silent visitors can aid in the development of the focus of this site, not to mention cluing me in to how y'all navigated the web to find yourselves here in the first place.

And I'd be thoroughly remiss if I didn't say thank you for finding the time to swing by and give us a read. Comments are always welcome. Cheers.

Image detail from a poster decorating my daughter's bedroom, depicting the hallowed grounds of Toronado in the Lower Haight (and I'm guessing "Hot Dog" is shorthand for Rosamunde).

* Awesome online thesaurus action thanks to John.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Tasting notes - Judgment Day

In 1988, the year that Basquiat died, the year that the last state in the US succumbed to the pressure of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, near the end of a decade thrust through time via the unforeseen propulsion of forced-air induction, a new chapter in what we can now look back at fondly as the re-birth of America's current craft beer movement had begun. As a development within the West Coast craft brewing movement that could be traced back to a pint of steam beer that Fritz Maytag enjoyed with his lunch back in 1965, the brewpub boom was a huge shift in the culture of craft beer. Sitting down with a list of the iconic breweries of the genre, one quickly finds the vast majority of them had their roots not as bottlers or draught distributors, but as public houses, taverns, and saloons that offered a community gathering place, served food, and brewed their own beer on the premises: think Hopland's Mendocino Brewing Company, Ashland's Rogue Ales pub, and the Buckhorn Saloon of the Anderson Valley Brewing Company. At that time, a simple business plan would show that the profit margins on the beer sold on the premises paid off the cost of the customers' food, even, a profit margin that - while it likely doesn't exist anymore - offered these companies the resources to expand into bottling, kegging, and distributing their wares off premises.

And the flagship wares brewed by these fine folks are an exemplary reflection of what most people today would identify with as the trademark distinctions of American craft beer: ales with a British pedgiree, brewed with a certain frontier, buckaroo styling. Pale ales, stouts, IPAs, porters, amber ales, mostly, ramped up in both the bitterness and alcohol departments, and watermarked with the unique traits of the locally grown, citrusy, piney hops. Wonderful tipples, for the most part, these beers are, especially when admired within the context of their creation, in a pub with some locals, enjoying a burger with a game on the toob, brushing the workday dust off your shoulder.

Fast forward to the present. The Hopland, Ashland, and Anderson Valley brewpubs have all been outgrown by their previous inhabitants, but their presence as "regulars" in retail and restaurants would seem pretty solid. Likewise all over the country, beer makers that had initially been tied to brewpubs as the anchor of their identity have spread their wings, flexed their marketing muscle, and grown beyond anyone's expectations.

Those that weathered the microbrewery boom of the 90's ("micro" being the "turbo" of the nineties) formed the old guard of the current revolution, making solid West Coast ales that pair damned well with hot wings and a Raiders game. But anon, lucky us, we appear to be potential witnesses to the birth of a new chapter, a chapter which is underway right now and could quite possibly be summed up by the bottle you see pictured at the head of this post. For if you were to head south to sunny Solana Beach, you'd come across a pretty great little pizza joint called Pizza Port that happens to serve some darned fine beers on tap (mostly like the ones I've described above, in fact) but look in the cooler case by the front door, and you'll see something wholly different - a set of nice 750 mL bottles with not the Port Brewing logo on them, but Lost Abbey.

Lost Abbey is a page turn in this craft beer story we're all enjoying, in that it's more a name and a logo for a branded, thematic collection of cork-finished, wire-caged bottles - a "vision" of sorts concocted by Tomme Arthur - than it is a "brewery" in the traditional sense. It's only one step ahead of a shift we've all seen in Russian River over the years. More on that later (since I did say this was a tasting notes column, after all).

If you've ever had the pleasure of enjoying a Ritter Sport Rum Raisin & Hazelnut bar, you've pretty much had the solid, non-alcoholic version of Judgment Day (and around here, that's a huge compliment). Pouring a stark, shiny black, looking like perfectly tempered dark chocolate, it delivers a likewise bittersweet note when it first hits the tongue. The raisins make their appearance through the aroma coming off the glass, but the remains in the taste have been converted to a rummy, boozy finish that lingers for ages once you get through the immense nutty, chocolaty body. It's devoid of that cloying, caramel stickiness that's so pervasive in Belgian quads, but with a dense viscosity that makes Gulden Draak seem like a total lightweight.

How does the fortuitous arrival of this wonderous bottle of ale translate to a new chapter in the craft beer Renaissance, though? Certainly, brewpubs have long had specialty ales that veered from their regular spectrum of styles, perhaps to allow the brewer to have a little fun, perhaps as an experiment, perhaps in honor of a special occasion. Certainly, I didn't even blush when Rogue teamed up with Morimoto to start producing specialty beers intended to pair uniquely with foods. Nor did I blink when Anderson Valley decided to plop a cowl on David Keene's noggin and start bottling the most dastardly childproof, molten glue gun sealed (it's supposed to look like wax, see?) Belgian specialty ales under the Brother David subtitle. Simply put, once these brewers had the resources and the green light, they started to branch out, which hardly constitutes a shift worth noting.

When the oddly-shaped "-tion" beers from Russian River started making appearances, however, there was cause to perk up and pay attention. For here we had not just one or two bottled oddities, but an entire range, within a specifically American-Belgo tradition, branded together by images of sadistic looking farming implements, that had seemingly nothing to do with the delightful little taproom/pizza joint where those brett-y barrels were doing their thang in downtown Santa Rosa. Visiting the pub shortly after I'd discovered Temptation and Supplication, I found myself the only one in the place looking for these sour beauties, the tables adorned almost exclusively by the likes of (the incredible, yet pronouncedly "West Coast") Pliny the Elder and Blind Pig. It was as if there were two separate breweries working out of the same space, with the same name, almost...*

The fact is, it's arguable that these specialty beers are, unlike all the beers hereto produced by the same brewers within their brewpub confines, not intended to be enjoyed at their respective establishments, but out in the world, nudging wine bottles off the table when nobody's looking, taking up precious cellar space in restaurants and basements and trying just a little to distance themselves from the pubs from whence they came. The brewpub culture that founded our current enviable position of enjoying quality, locally made, handcrafted beers appears to be shifting gears as the pressures of the brewing-restaurant business only get more intense: the rising cost of restaurant labor, rising costs of food and brewing ingredients, effects of a recession on the frequency on which folks eat out, the increasing distance between homes and pubs with a general lack of quality public transportation combined with increasingly stringent and heavily enforced drinking & driving laws, just to name a few.

Could it be that a generation of experimental brewers, flush with innovation and access to good distribution, are going to tap into America's current war and recession-fueled nesting phase by extroverting their efforts even more? When I go to my local bottled beer heaven, I have access to more brewpub-derived options than ever before, from all over the country - Dogfish Head, most recently - and am curious to see where this is going to take off to next. Will the brewpubs all end up like the one in Hopland, more of a historical remnant kept open by the company for image's sake than anything else, like the wine tasting rooms of the valley that surrounds it?

One thing's certain: As these brewers are allowed to expand their craft beyond what's expected in your local alehouse, the next phase of our brewing Renaissance is bound to be loaded with trophies like Port Brewing/Lost Abbey's singularly phenomenal Judgment Day. And that's just such a pleasant conclusion to come to, I won't even end with a tastelessly punny Biblical aside about how rapturous it all is.

Oh, who am I kidding?

* And when pressed to choose a beer that goes well with a spicy pizza, I'm not likely to grab a bottle of Supplication off the shelf. Nor would I anticipate that next time I visit Santa Rosa, will I be met with a Belgian-style cuisine à la bière restaurant in place of RRBC.

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Dada's bouncy house

Usually, I'm not one to simply repost something I've found elsewhere on the web (this time courtesy of Pete Brown), but this link resonates just too deeply with a guy in my situation. Behold! The bouncy house for my next birthday party has finally arrived!

As a relative newcomer to this whole parenting thing, and a shy entrant into the "making nice with other folks simply because they managed to produce their own offspring at a similar point in time" game, one of the things that's really rattled me is the sheer ubiquity of the noisy, stinky, hair-dryer driven backyard monstrosity known colloquially by its disarming nickname: the bouncy house. In some social circles - ones I drift wildly around - they're the de facto keystone in any respectable birthday party. This beauty above (the Hogshead!) has completely changed my mind on the matter, however.

That's right, kids. It's an inflatable pub. And it's awesome.

See you in September.

Thanks again to Pete for sharing this beauty. And happy almost birthday!

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Friday, May 02, 2008

The Session #15 - A gradual descent into the must

As writing assignments go, composing this month's Session piece (as hosted by Boak & Bailey) has been nothing less than a challenge, as I find myself walking against the winds of common sense, along with the clichéd maxim of the craft, "Write what you can reasonably fabricate via Wikipedia searches," for as I'm proud to say I'm modestly insightful on a trivial variety of clever topics, including beer, am I a "beer geek"? A "beer enthusiast"? While there's no chance I'd shy away from a Session theme that may be somewhat alien to me, not now that I've found this fun little monthly exercise, a disclaimer needs to be made up front: I'm just not sure I qualify.

Others may, however, disagree.

Sure, I like me a nice pint of the stuff on occasion. Lots of people do. I'd like to think of myself as sitting cozily in the middle of the spectrum between complete cavemen and brewfest tickers. I don't have BeerAdvocate or Rate Beer accounts, don't have any sort of list of beers I've had the luxury of tasting, and I've so far abstained from naming any pets or family members anything like "Biscuit" or "Lupulus" or "Trubs".

[Disclaimer #1: I should admit, however, that I have an embarrassing number of German bierdeckels. Not to mention we've had to designate an entire cabinet in our distinctly compact kitchen to my beer glassware collection. And yes, the other day, I actually yelled out loud, "Hey, where's my Hoegaarden glass?"]

But doesn't there need to be a tipping point [I just typed "pint" again] if one's going to go about having graduated from the casual beer drinker to the rarified echelon of "enthusiast"? What if I can't point to a moment of conversion, that trucker's gear change moment henceforth a crown of beer evangelism was thrust upon me, rakishly tilted in a slighty snobby, enlightened way? For example, one of the aspects B&B are looking to gather from this carnival is the single, revelatory beverage that made all the lights start blinking and spark up all the fireworks, but there's a disappointment in my story there, too, as this is the sort of reverse tale wherein I didn't even taste Budweiser until late in my high school career, long after having been introduced to fine German lagers, local craft icons, and heck, even homebrew. By the time I was paying any attention to my surroundings, at college in Oregon, it was too late: I couldn't fight through the massive craft beer crowd to get my hands on crap macro-beer, even if I'd tried [Disclaimer #2: I didn't try]. There are moments, though, in the time between then and now, that could arguably be seen as signposts, changes in the weather, what have you, that signified that something more seriously beery was afoot.

A tipping point, maybe, when I forced our entire wedding party to drink homebrew?

But there's just no Gregor Samsa moment in this story. Maybe the point when I realized I was scanning wine merchants' inside distribution lists for the odd rare beer of which they might have a case or two, but who hasn't been curious? Or the point at which I realized I was the proud owner of not one, but two Moose Drool t-shirts [Disclaimer #3and this was before Big Sky was even distributing in Northern California], perhaps? I'm still not sold.

Shall I continue? Choose your own point at which I awoke to find myself transformed into a gigantic bug:

- When my then girlfriend (now wife, obviously) gave me draught equipment for my birthday?

- When cork-finished bottles of homebrew became our holiday gifts, complete with wax seals embossed with the family name and the visage of a mash paddle in the center, like some crazy, shamanistic wand of healing and unification?

- When I realized I was stockpiling a list of "wedding beer" recipes to help simplify our friends' requests?

Some might argue that the attention I warrant to photographing my hop plants would constitute an excessive amount of enthusiasm for beer-related items. But geekdom?

It's arguable, though, that my alleged metamorphosis from regular joe to a regular joe who's really into beer is that it hinges on other people's expectations: Did I ask if I wanted to chip in on that case of Black Ghost? Did I ask for draught equipment for my birthday? Sure, the fact that my young daughter calls anything I've got poured in a glass "beer" (anything I carry in a mug is "coffee", naturally) may be an indication that I might not be able to argue much further.

Like I mentioned before, there are some other fascinations in my life that I can bend an ear about, concepts and ideas and people and passions and arts that I've been known to expound on. But going through the details of the current situation, and the question posed above, there's only one detail that gives me pause:

- When, of all topics that I'm passionate and quasi-literate about, I've choosen beer as the thing that I set time aside to write about.

That's got to be it, right? If you had asked me 4 years ago what I'd write about if I found myself to share regular insights on a topic on a web log, I would not, certainly not, have said beer. And then I did. Like 99% of you reading this (you cute buncha beer bloggers out there, you), I think it could be argued that the moment when we all became "beer enthusiasts" was the moment we stopped being merely on the receiving end of the information pipeline, but decided to chime in and join the discussion ourselves, whether it's merely posting about an exciting new bottle you found on the shelf at the store down the street, or about visiting a brewpub by chance and finding something you wanted to share, or about the inside industry, or about homebrewing - that's the point of graduation. The point when we all became vocal - the point at which, for me, Pfiff! was born - is quite possibly the step at which our admiration and enjoyment of beer becomes enthusiasm and advocacy of beer.

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