Today is my Dad’s 75th birthday. Or it would be if he were still with us. He passed away in ’98 and since then I have taken this day to drink a beer with him. I don’t know if it’s to make up for all those I didn’t get to drink with him or just my way of remembering him, but wherever I am I hunt down his beer, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and drink it in his remembrance. Today I picked Gainesville House of Beer for this annual event.
Most of us probably learned about beer from our Dad’s. Even though there are lot more female beer drinkers today than have been (at least in the US) in the last couple hundred years, I would bet even most of them learned about beer from their Dad’s. The same way we learn a lot of things from our fathers, they do, we watch, we repeat.
I can remember as a kid helping Dad work on the car or some other work around the house and he would take a break and crack open a bottle or snap open a can, then slowly pour back the container and let it roll down then would stop and tip his head back up and slowly let the beer roll around on his tongue before he swallowed it. Then I would hear the inevitable, yet interesting “Aaaaaaahhh!”
I may not have known what he was having the first time I heard that sound but I certainly knew he was enjoying it. I catch myself doing the same thing occasionally. It’s that sound you make when you feel that quench being satisfied or the pang being quelled.
I just finished his PBR and am moving on to 3 Daughters Key Lime Cider because in Florida in July light and refreshing is the way to finish on a hot day. Having said that while it did help cleanse my pallet it was not quite the “Aaaaaahhh!” I was hoping for.
You see there a couple others things I learned from Dad. He wasn’t afraid to try something new.. at least not when it came to beer. After I got back from the Air Force or any time I went up to PA on vacation we made it a point to at least go out to a bar together at least once and have at least one beer. And it was always a draft, never a bottle or can. I learned from him that draft beers usually taste better than packaged, something that usually still holds true today. At least for me. We also tried to find a beer that we hadn’t had before.
More than a few people have asked me if I thought my Dad would have liked Craft Beer or stuck with his go to. I can answer that easily. His go to beer was for sitting around the house on the weekend and doing odd chores like working on the car or helping relatives build something, or having with a family picnic. But whenever he and I went to a bar together we would always have something different. I get the tendency for that from him.
Rowdy came in and joined me when the cider hit the bar in front of me. She stuck around and we philosphied a bit while supping suds. When I finished the cider I ordered an Old Rasputin Nitro, which I had had before but not as a nitro, which changes the texture of the beer certainly, but the flavor a little bit too.
I like the coffee flavor of Old Rasputin tempered slightly with the hint of chocolate, but when you add the nitro you take what could be to some a heavy feeling beer and add a nice malty feel to it. Now that’s the “Aaaaaaahhhhh!!!’ I was looking for.
So, Dad, I started this out with your go-to Macro beer, but ended up finishing it with a great Craft Beer I think you would have enjoyed trying with me. Order another round at that bar in the sky and give Mom a hug from me. Cheers!!
It’s been a while since an epistle has been posted here so I thought I’d better blow some dust of the keyboard and give you all something to read before you lose interest. The title for the article comes from two sources:
1 – The Doctor seems to want to keep comparing me to Gandalf from the Middle Earth tales of J.R.R. Tolkien, which I just don’t get….
2 – And it occurred to me during one of my evenings out during the last couple of weeks that quite often in life strong bonds of friendship, camaraderie and fellowship are often formed in our lives with the aid or at least accompaniment of alcohol.
Now this may seem obvious to some of you. But really strong bonds with other people are usually formed in the following ways:
Strong shared emotional distress – the birth, serious illness or death of a family member is an example.
Strong shared physical and mental stress – this is why men and women who have served in the military together have a bond with each other that last the rest of their lives.
And when barriers have been removed and open and honest words and feelings are exchanged – this is where the alcohol comes in.
Now since my last posting I have had more than a few outings involving craft beer. On July 4th weekend I visited my sister in Coral Springs and the night that I arrived we went to a nearby eatery, Nick’s New Haven Style Pizzeria and Bar, and enjoyed some Italian food and Craft Beer.
The next day we sat beside the pool and grilled out and drank craft beer that I had brought with me and some that my brother-in-law had bought at Lucky’s market, We also had some very good Dominican Rum and cigars as well.
The next weekend I started by meeting Rowdy and the Cooler at Gainesville House of Beer, along with the Doctor and the Deck-orator joined us as well. The standout that day was Weyerbacher’s 21st Anniversary Ale, and the fact that Rowdy had returned from a trip to Cuba with some hand-rolled cigars and some Cuban beer, which I drank later that weekend.
A few days later Rowdy and I met at First Magnitude brewery after work where they were having a Funky Buddha tap takeover. I had Funky Buddha Wide Awake It’s Morning chocolate stout and then had First Mag’s British Strong Ale, which was a very good strong ale by the way.
That following Friday I met up with the Maestro at the Hop Top which isn’t far from his place, and we were joined by Rowdy and the Amester. I started by toasting my father’s birthday with his go=to beer, a PBR. I finished that as quickly as I could. They also had a few taps featuring Funky Buddha which we availed ourselves of. For me the stand out that evening was Funky’s Vanilla Espresso Piiti Porter.
Again on a Tuesday, the 19th, I went to another craft beer related event at a local sub shop called Hogan’s Heros. They were starting what they called a Craft Beer Tour, where you get a card featuring beer’s from local breweries Swamp Head and First Magnitude. As you get different brews from the breweries you get symbols signed off on the card and when it is full you get a t-shirt of some kind. The Maestro joined me there on his way back from some event.
That following Thursday I met the Doctor and the Maestro at BrassTap, where they were having a Founder’s Brewing Tap Takeover. And the same rep from Founder’s, a pretty young lady named Kelly who really knows her beers, was also at this event. I got a chance to talk to her this time about how great the beer pairing dinner at the Top was and asked if they were planning any other dinners like it. And she asked me if any other restaurant’s in town had the quality of food that the Top had and served craft beer. I gave her a few names but we’ll have to see how that plays out.
The maestro ended leaving after two beers to go bowling and the Doctor and I hung out with Allen while Trivia night was playing out. Then after a bit we went out on the patio and smoked a Cuban that Rowdy had given to each of us. We sat out there for a while, enjoying a nice beer with a cigar, then after a bit we were joined by a young veteran who was looking for a friend of his. We started talking for a bit and I offered him a cigar and he and the Doctor and I enjoyed some Philosophying for a bit.
My next event was not Craft Beer related but was just as much fun as it was the last Tuesday of the month so that meant that the Wine Pairing Dinner at Leonardo’s 706 was going on. That evening was little different as both Maestro and the Muse were out of town as was Rowdy and Cooler and another couple who normally joins our table. But Sam and Barbara, whom I know from the Wine Tasting Class days, were there as were Will and Edo, who have recently started doing the wine tasting dinners.
The theme was a taste of Maine so the main course was lobster, and even though I can’t eat a lot of shellfish without digestive problems, the little bit of lobster that I did have was delicious. And it paired very well with the Merlot that Gonzolo had brought for the dinner. Which brings us to this weekend…
Last night I met the Maestro at House of Beer after I got out of work. And we caught up with each other, drank beer and philosophied for a bit. The he called the Muse and she joined us there and had a glass of wine while we finished our beers. When that was done we decided to go down to the Artwalk, which is an annual event in Gainesville. We specifically went to see one lady’s showing because she used to work with the Maestro way back. Her name is Leslie and I have to say I was very impressed with some of her work.
After the art, we decided to go around the corner and see if we could get a table at Emiliano’s for dinner. Luckily the students aren’t fully back in town yet, and we could get a table. We ordered some food and switched to a bottle of red wine for dinner. The Maestro and I both ordered the Puerco Rico and the Muse had a chicken dish that I have had before and enjoyed but now can’t remember the name. Honestly, though, it doesn’t matter because I haven’t had anything yet from Emiliano’s that I didn’t like. And last evening was no exception.
So this morning I reflected a little on the last month and realized that most of the social activity has involved alcohol in one form or another. And it was not over-indulgence in the drinks, just enough to relax you and make you feel like talking. The company I kept was the most important part of it. And it was family and friends who I mostly had some strong bonds with. But during this time those bonds were strengthened. We all enjoyed each other’s companies and grew closer as friends and family.
If there are any folks out there who think alcohol is the devil’s work and would advocate for a return to the days of prohibition, I would like to remind you of a couple of things. One, prohibition was more responsible than anything else for the rise of organized crime in the United States when it was enacted.
Two, it isn’t alcohol that’s the problem for folks that have problems with it. It’s the over indulgence of it. Over indulgence in most things isn’t a good thing. And while it’s never good to see people suffering from their weaknesses, is it just to prohibit other’s from enjoying themselves because of others weaknesses??
So if anyone out there thinks that try to get Prohibition enacted again is a good idea, I have a message for you from Gandalf…
Here’s hoping you all had a festive and very Green St. Patrick’s Day this year. Our group of Suds Supping Bacchanalians certainly did.
We actually started planning where we were going to go a couple of days earlier in the week by trying to find out who was going to have Smithwick’s on tap that day. Drinking Smithwick’s (properly pronounced “Smittick’s”) Irish Red Ale on St. Paddy’s is a tradition for our group. We knew one place in town that always has it on tap for the holiday, but we didn’t want to go to that particular establishment and I won’t mention the name or why here.
We found out that the Red Onion Bar & Grill and the BrassTap would have it on tap. While there is nothing wrong with the Red Onion, we were more in a “drinking at the pub” kind of spirit and BrassTap fits that description much better. Plus the owner, manager and staff all know us and our tastes and are really great at finding us something we might like that we haven’t had before.
When Thursday, the 17th, afternoon arrived the texts started flying like normal. The Chemist and the Decorator had bowling that night which is on the other side of town from where we were headed, so they were going to House of Beer for a pint or two before bowling. The Maestro had a guest visiting from out of town who he was bringing but they were going to dinner first. So that meant me, Rowdy and the Doctor would begin on our own.
I have to state one little drawback, for me personally, on going to the BrassTap during Happy Hour… the driving there sucks!!!
If you have ever been around Gainesville and tried to get anywhere on the west side of town in the late afternoon/ early evening then you know that what would normally take 15-20 minutes will take 45-60 minutes because of the traffic.
And this year on St. Paddy’s day it was also raining. So the idiots were out in force as well. Honestly, if it weren’t for the fact that we really like the bar and the staff does a really good job, we probably wouldn’t go there just because the traffic is that bad. So that’s a back-handed compliment to BrassTap, and as long as they continue to do so good a job we will find our way there.
By the time I arrived Rowdy and the Doctor were already at the bar, and Allan, the owner, was setting them up with Swag they had gotten for the day. This included a really nice Smithwick’s glass with raised impressions, a glowing Guiness necklace and a St. Patrick’s Day bead necklace featuring a different brewery, in my case Left Hand Brewing. He set me up with a set of these as well. And I began my supping with a Smithwick’s.
We started philosophying and supping suds. I began getting updates from the Maestro about when they were arriving and eventually found out we would be joined by more than himself and his guest Anne. So we decided to move to a larger table before they were all gone. We got lucky and found the big one on the center was available so we snagged it.
It wasn’t too long after that, that Maestro and Anne arrived and the supping and philosophying began in earnest. I had finished my draft of Guiness and was wanting something different so I asked if they could do a black and tan. I was told yes as they also had Bass on tap, but I didn’t like it with Bass, so he suggested one with Smithwick’s instead and I gave the go ahead for that.
Another round of philosophying commenced and before long I was ready for something else. I figured three different pints was enough of a homage to Ireland and I asked for a recommendation and was steered toward the Stone Brewing’s Americano Stout, an Imperial Stout. It had a really nice espresso flavor with a malty aftertaste.
A couple of Anne’s friends arrived and we soon had a sizable group to justify the larger table. And Allen sat down with us for a bit as well.
After a bit I was ready for my last selection of the evening. So I got a Rodenbach Grand Cru, which was really excellent. Some Grand Crus have too much of a sour taste to them, but to me this one was very nice. I will definitely be ordering it again. Even Rowdy liked it and she doesn’t normally dig the sour beers. At least not as much as I do.
After that glass I was ready to leave and so was Rowdy and the Doctor. We said goodbyes to everyone and went our separate ways.
The next day, after a busy day of meetings I was again ready for a little relaxing. So I sent out a text that I was heading to the House of Beer for Happy Hour in case anyone wanted to join me. I didn’t hear back from anyone except from the Maestro stating he would be passing.
When I arrived Alex greeted me and asked what I was having. I wanted something on the lighter side so I asked for the Sixpoint Sweet Action Cream Ale. It had the nice smooth creamy aftertaste that I was looking for but it also had a nice hoppy flavor.
I sat at a table and took out the smart phone and was trying to catch up on emails. After a bit I heard a familiar voice and looked up to see the Deck-Orator and the Chemist had arrived. So my weekend celebration would not begin alone.
Being it had probably been a month or so seen I had seen these friends it was especially nice to see them stop by. They went to the bar and got a couple of drinks for themselves and joined me at the table. And we sat around catching up.
After a bit both the Chemist and I were ready for another so we went to the bar and I studied the menu for a bit while he ordered, then I decided to go with a mead and the only one I saw was Stock Up from Moonlight Meadery.
It arrived to me in a wine glass which I thought was unusual but took and headed back to the seat. I have to say it did not taste at all like a typical mead. In fact the more I drank the more it tasted like a wine. In fact very similar to a German Reisling.
I served in the Air Force in what was then West Germany for two years and became very familiar with their Reislings. German wines are mostly made from Reisling grapes and generally also have sugar added to them for the fermentation. So they have an added sweetness to them that is not found in other European wines.
It was probably not my favorite mead because it didn’t taste like what I expected a mead to taste like. But it certainly put me in the mood for more wine instead of beer for the evening.
The three of us sat around for a bit longer while we finished our drinks, then we said goodbyes and parted ways.
Here’s hoping your St. Paddy’s Day weekend went as well for you.
I don’t know about you folks out there but my work week was filled with meetings, business process discussions, both existing and what should be happening and decision making about a few different topics. All of this in conjunction with a project I am involved in at work and will be for a pretty long while. Needless to say I was ready for the weekend when it arrived.
So it was a welcome sign to see the Doctor start texting me Friday afternoon and let me know where he was. After completing a couple of errands, running home and changing the dog and walking my clothes, I headed out and met the Doctor at BrassTap.
When I arrived he was at the bar talking with Brad, the manager and son of the owner, Allan, who was talking with other patrons. Brad greeted me and after I settled in asked what I was in the mood for. Since I had missed the Cider Event they had held the night before and they had some on tap still, I decided to start with The Anvil Bourbon Cider from Sonoma Cider.
That garnered me another badge on Untappd but I also liked that it wasn’t the cloyingly sweetness or tartness associated with most ciders. The bourbon flavor in the background help dampen down the sweetness, and any tartness that might have been in play. It was refreshing in a way that you don’t normally expect from a cider.
The Doctor and I started catching up with each other and before long a second round was needed. I wanted something with a darker flavor too it and I saw that they had Southern Tier’s 2XIBA, which is a Dark Ale. It had the roasted malt flavor in the background that Schwarzbiers and Porters have, but an extra amount of hop flavor brought it back into the IPA realm.
After a bit, Allan’s relief came in and he sat down and jawed with us a bit while we supped suds and swapped lies. About the time I was getting to the end of my Dark Ale I began to feel a bit peckish and decided that with my next beer I would have one of the hot pretzels. So along with the pretzel I ordered something I had heard about but had not tried yet. They actually had Yeungling’s IPL (Imperial Pale lager) on tap.
I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by it. I used to drink regular Yeungling frequently before I started drinking Craft Beer and if I find myself somewhere where craft beer is not available or at least not one that I like, then I will ask for a Yeungling. It is not my go to beer but I still prefer it over Budweiser or Coors or any of the others. The idea of treating a Lager like and IPA isn’t unheard of and is probably how the Czech’s created Pilsners but the flavor was interesting. It was smooth like some Lagers and you could definitely taste the hops in it, but it didn’t have that harshness that Hops can add to an IPA when the brewer gets carried away.
And I have to add that it went very well with the hot pretzel they had served me. Though to be honest the pretzel could’ve stood on its own with the honey mustard dipping sauce they served with it I can’t wait to try the beer cheese sauce they are thinking of trying.
After I finished the pretzel and the Yeungling I decided it was time to head home as I had a long drive the next day. So I bid a good evening to the Doctor and the BrassTap staff and made my way home. But I must confess to a case of the munchies and stopped at Steak and Shake on the way home. Nothing like a steakburger, fries and a shake to stave off the hunger pangs.
The next morning after a hearty breakfast, walking my dog Tucker a couple of times, and prepping the truck for a long drive I headed off to Tampa. Most folks would travel I-75 down to Tampa and I have done so many times in the past but I really hate dealing with the traffic on that route. So instead I went further west, through Williston then turned south and eventually hit the Suncoast Parkway and took it into Tampa.
The ride was fairly smooth even though there was a lite bit of traffic. But on Saturday in Florida that’s gonna happen. I got to my destination about 10 minutes after it started and as I drove by the entrance I saw a very long line to get in.
As I drove past I started looking for some parking whether it was free or pay to park didn’t matter as I had figured I would end up paying. But nothing in the immediate vicinity was available. I actually ended up getting turned around and lost while trying to find point nearby, which if you have driven to the vicinity of the Tampa Stadium you understand.
Eventually I ended up parking between the stadium and the historic museum at a pay n park but it was about 40 minutes later by the time I walked back to the beer fest. The only good part of that was the line has shrunk considerably by then and I gained entrance in a matter of minutes.
Soap box time!!
Why is that beerfests always take place in areas with I sufficient parking and then don’t post anything about it on their sites I don’t mind having to pay to park but just once I would like to attend a Beerfest where I don’t have to walk a mile to get to the rest from parking or worry about being towed or worse token into!
Stepping down from soap box.
After finally entering the fest I was glad to see that it was fairly well organized as far as the site went. There were plenty of brewing tents and quite a lot of food trucks And lots of port-a-potties strategically placed throughout the grounds.
As I began making my way through the various beer vendors I saw some familiar faces with folks from Alligator Brewing, First Magnitude Brewing and Swamp Head Brewing all having their wares for the offering. All of them being Gainesville based I felt obliged to stop by and see if they had something I hadn’t sampled yet. Unfortunately for me I had sampled all of them before but that didn’t stop me from having one anyway as I know they all have pretty good beers.
There were a ton of other brewers present, many of which I had sampled offerings from before. These included Tampa Bay Brewing Company, Intuition Brewing, Funky Buddha Brewing, Cigar City Brewing, Barley Mow Brewing, Coppertail Brewing, Due South Brewing, Florida Ave Brewing, Motorworks Brewing, Miami Brewing, Green Bench Brewing, Wynwood Brewing, Rapp Brewing, Pair O’Dice Brewing and some more.
But there were quite a lot that I had never seen before, maybe not even heard of yet. These included: 7venth Sun Brewery, Barrel of Monks Brewing, Central 28 Beer Co., Copperpoint Brewing Company, Crooked Thumb Brewery, Mastry’s Brewing Co., Rock Brothers Brewing, The Waterfront Brewery, Ulele Spring Brewery, and maybe a few others.
There was a very large crowd with people mostly from the Tampa area but there were also some folks like me who traveled from a bit further out.
I had a good two hours of beer sampling before the fest ended and that actually was about all I really needed. There were hundreds of beers and I probably only sampled about 30 or so it was enough to hit my limit.
So I wended my way back toward the parking garage and half way realized I hadn’t eaten anything at the fest. Luckily for me an answer appeared in front of me.
Yes, there is nothing quite like wings and fries to go with craft beer.
This fest occurred last weekend and I haven’t been able to finish the article til this morning. I stopped by Gainesville House of Beer yesterday after work an chatted with the manager Alex for a bit. I mentioned the beer fest and he asked me if there were any beers that stood out.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention them here:
Mosaico – Session IPA from Four Stacks Brewing
Paratrooper Porter from Veterans United craft Brewery
Udderly Calm – Milk Stout from Swamp Head Brewery
Twisted Streams – a Saison from Saltwater Brewing
Glass Emporer – a rum barrel aged Imperial Stout from Proof Brewing
5th Anniversary Panhandle Steamer – a California Common from Pensacola Bay Brewing
Mad Cola – a mead from Mad Beach Craft Brewing Company which tasted just like a cola.
Dry Hopped Series Pale Ale (Mosaic) from Due South Brewing
Domestic Bliss – a Belgian Strong Pale Ale from Crooked Can Brewing
Blood Orange Wit – from Copperpoint Brewing Co.
Honey Bach – a Doppelbock from Central 28 Beer Company
Indiscretion – a DIPA from Escape Brewing (This got my highest ranking for the day but all of these listed I scored pretty high.)
One last little note for the beer geeks out there. HOB has a couple of Cigar City beers that haven’t been around before: Strawberry Shortcake – a Helles Lager with strong strawberry notes in the nose but a smooth lager finish, and Cinnamon Apple IPA which also has a fruity nose (smells like apple pie) but a strong IPA flavor with a smooth finish.
But they also have a very, very good Belgian Strong pale Ale from Lost Coast Brewing called their 25th Anniversary Ale. Really good flavor and a nice smooth finish.
If you’re near there stop by and try and tell Alex I sent you.
First let me clarify the title of this article by stating that I have no empirical data or documented evidence to support that claim. It is merely an opinion, and being that I am a craft beer lover it is a biased opinion at that.
But what I have been observing first hand over the last few years is that the interaction between Craft Beer Breweries, tap rooms or beer houses, and their patrons is much more community oriented that my recollections of the interactions with the Macro Beer Breweries and their related distributors.
My experiences of interactions with Macro breweries or the representatives has been basically like one of their beer commercials. Sporting events, or athletic related events, BBQ or Chili cook-offs, NASCAR, and of the course female swimwear contests seem to be the focus of their community interaction.
Don’t misunderstand me, I know that at least one of them has done things like donating canned water to disaster areas and I’m sure that there are some really good folks who work for them. But it seems that for the most part their focus with customers is generally whatever increases the profits for the company and their stockholders. But then that really shouldn’t surprise me. As demonstrated by the numerous craft brewery acquisitions and the impending merger between ABInBev and SAB Miller the bottom line appears to be their final deciding factor.
But the focus of Craft Breweries and Craft Beer Tap Rooms when dealing with events around their communities is much different. Now every business wants to make a profit. Let’s face it without profits it won’t be long before these businesses no longer exists. But there comes a point where profits need to give way to the needs of the community that these businesses live in and rely on. And in this aspect most Craft Beer businesses (whether breweries or tap rooms) excel far above their Macro Beer counterparts.
A perfect example was my most recent visit to Gainesville House of Beer. They hosted an event called Pints for Puppies. The idea was to raise funds for a new dog rescue Loving Hands Rescue. The idea being that $1 of each pint you purchased would be donated to this group. They also had beer specials and were accepting donations in cash or the form of supplies that the rescue could use for the puppies.
The Brass Tap on Archer road recently hosted a fund raising event for Operation Cat Nip, which is a program to help spay or neuter feral cats to help keep the population from growing. They also have teacher appreciation night every Friday offering discounted drafts to local teachers.
All of our local breweries, Swamp Head Brewing, First Magnitude Brewing and Alligator Brewing (located inside Tall Paul’s Brew House) are often involved in fund raising for various purposes. Ranging from environmental causes, charity events, political fund raising and even hosting yoga.
And the crowds that turn out for these events are inspiring. Even folks who may not normally patronize a craft beer business turn out for them because it helps the community. And there are other businesses in town that do similar fund raising events involving craft beer. Forgive me for not naming them all here. But you may have read about them in my other blog entries.
And while Gainesville is generally considered a liberal leaning college town where you might expect this kind of activity, from what I can tell of happenings in other towns with Craft Beer related businesses, this is not a liberals only activity. You see it happening all over the US wherever craft beers businesses have been popping up.
All I can say it I find it very inspiring and gratifying to part of a community (I refer to the Craft Beer community – not just Gainesville) that is so giving and concerned for the people, animals and environment around them.
Cheers to you all (that’s from Tucker too) and keep up the great work!!
Here’s hoping all of you had a great holiday season. The Tucker and I did. I had decided back around Thanksgiving that I would drive up to Pennsylvania, where I grew up, to visit my youngest sister and her family this year at Christmas. And a bonus was that my other sister would be visiting with her daughter. This would be the first time that both my sisters and their children and I were all under one roof. So I was really looking forward to it. It would also be the first time that my niece Maddie would see snow and the first time I would take Tucker with me up north. Needless to say I was very much into the Christmas Spirit with so much to look forward to.
My Christmas celebrating actually began the weekend before with an annual Christmas Saxes celebration, of which the Maestro is a member. This is a private gathering of friends who come together to celebrate the season, bring dishes and drinks for everyone to partake in, and enjoy Christmas Carols ala arrangements for four saxophones. I had been invited before but have never been able to attend and this was my first year for it. So I dressed for an appropriate holiday gathering in Florida (see pic below).
The Maestro was there, of course, along with his Muse. The Maestro offered me a Sierra Nevada Christmas Ale, which I enjoyed and was surprised that I had not ever had before. The Chemist and the Deck-Orator were in attendance and brought along some pepper jelly and wine. Rowdy and the Cooler joined us too and brought along some really delicious meatballs and a few IPAs. The Doctor could not attend but some other friends (mentioned in previous blog posts) were in attendance and brought various dishes. I had brought a pretty good Malbec from Argentina and some Baklava which I had ordered on-line.
It was a very relaxing and enjoyable evening filled with good eats, good drinks and good friends. As we were leaving I reminded the folks mentioned above that I wanted to try and get together on the following Tuesday for one last happy hour before I ventured into the northlands.
We met at the Top Restaurant, downtown on North Main Street, when they opened at 5 PM that Tuesday, December the 22nd. I arrived first followed by the Doctor, then the Cooler, then the Maestro, along with several other folks with their own parties. When they opened I was the second party to ask for seating and they wanted to prepare a table big enough for eight of us. We were seated very shortly and began looking over the menu and ordered drinks while we waited for the ladies to join us. I ordered a Blitzen Festivus Ale, by North Peak Brewing (Festivus, for those who are not Seinfeld fans, is an imaginary holiday that takes place instead of Christmas or Hanukah invented by George Costanza’s father “Festivus For The rest Of Us!”). This had a nice flavor with a malty aftertaste.
Rowdy arrived soon after and brought her friend Jester with her. If you have read my blog before you have heard mention of the Gainesville Roller Rebels of which Rowdy is a member. Jaded Jester serves as a ref for their bouts. The Muse showed not too long after that. She and the Maestro ordered some Plantain Chips for an appetizer as we wanted to wait for the Deck-Orator to arrive. The Chemist was working and couldn’t make it.
While we waited a couple of us did a little impromptu gift exchange. I brought some pint jars of homemade Eggnog and the Maestro brought gift bags of various holiday Ales, none which were consumed on the premises as we didn’t want to offend or cause problems for the Top. Not long after that the Deck-Orator arrived and we began Philosophying in earnest. I handed the Deck-Orator her and the Chemist’s pint of Eggnog. And then a lot of us ordered food. I ordered their Twisted Swisster Burger with a side of House Fries, and another drink, a Sugar Plum Brown Ale from Cigar City. This was just okay. The plum flavor was overpowering the brown ale for me.
Let me tell you something you may already know, there is a damn good reason that the Top is rated one of the 10 best places in Gainesville to get a burger. I’ve eaten there several times and had more than a few different types of burgers and every single one was delicious. If you’ve been there and haven’t had a burger, or if you’ve never been there… Then whatinthehell are you waiting for??!!
After the burger and fries were finished I wanted one more beer, so I ordered the Bell’s 30th Anniversary Ale, an Imperial Stout which I have to tell you was once of the better ales I’ve had in a while. It was a perfect topper to a good dinner out with good friends. We all began making our way out, saying “Merry Christmas!” and Happy New Year!” to each other as we left. Since I had parked over by Gainesville House of Beer when I arrived I thought it ony fair I stop in and purchase a beer from them before going home. In keeping with the holiday theme I ordered a Cold Mountain Winter Ale from Highland Brewing, which seemed appropriate as I was stopping not far from there on my way to PA. It had a nice flavor and was a good topper for the evening. I had more to do that evening so it was relatively early when I got home. I still had things to do to prepare for the road trip the next day.
I woke up at my normal time, 5 AM on a workday, and still had things to do before I could head out. I finished packing my bag as well as a bag for Tucker, and had to load all of the Christmas presents, bags and other items that were making the trip North with me in the back of the truck. I usually drive when I go up North to Pennsylvania for a few reasons: 1 – I like driving. I always have. I enjoy seeing the scenery that goes by, feeling the road under your feet and being able to stop where and when I want or need to. 2 – Invariably whenever I travel to PA I either have something big or a lot of that I am either taking up or bringing back or both. And you can’t easily do that when you fly. 3 – If I did fly I would still need to rent a car when I get there and with the low gas prices right now driving isn’t that expensive. 4 – I’m a big man and planes aren’t made for people like me. I would have to fly first class all the time to feel comfortable and I don’t want to shell out that kind of money and still have to rent a vehicle and ship items up and back via parcel. And this time there is a 5 – Tucker was coming with me. No way was I going to put him in a shelter nor was I going to try and send him via airplane.
I was hoping to leave the house and be on the road by 9 AM but it was actually much closer to 10. One of the things I do when I’m traveling in the winter northward is stop at the Fruit Stands in Florida and pick-up fresh bags of oranges and grapefruits for my family. This year I also threw in a bag of Pecans. Once I got those items Tucker and I began our long journey North.
This was the first time that Tucker had traveled on such a long trip with me. He had been to south Florida with me twice and those times where lessons learned. The first time he practically spent a lot of the trip either leaning against me or trying to lie in my lap so he could see out the window. The next time I brought a crate along in case we had to leave him for a while my sister didn’t want him pulling the Christmas tree down. And I ended up putting him in the crate on the trip because he kept trying to jump up on my lap while I was driving. On this trip I really didn’t want to have to crate him for two days while going up and another two on the way back.
So I ended up constructing a little platform that rested over the front passenger seat. It would raise him up about a foot so that he could easily see out the windows and hopefully stop him from trying to climb in my lap while driving. As we made our way North, Tucker began settling in for the ride, looking up occasionally to see where we were or trying to come sit in my lap once or twice. But for the most part he sat on his little deck and slept. When we stopped at any rest stops he was eager to get out and encounter any new smells or if there were other dogs he wanted to make friends.
After 8 hours of driving almost continuously in the rain, I stopped in Statesville, NC, which is the half way point between Gainesville and Greenville, PA where my youngest sister lives. I often use the Red Roof Inn when I stay there as they are located near a mall, a Kmart, a grocery store (Food Lion I think), an IHOP, a Starbucks, and a couple of different fast food places including a BoJangles, which I never see in Florida and I love their spicy chicken. And the Red Roof has recently renovated a lot of their locations and they are really much nicer and the price isn’t too bad. I was too tired to go get dinner for myself so I broke out some provisions I had brought with me, including a Tin Roof Brewing Turnrow, a harvest ale, which was a gift from Rowdy and hit the spot after a long day of driving. I’m not sure but I think Tucker was jealous of me drinking it. I finished my meal with a Tin Roof Brewing Parade Ground Coffee Porter which was all I needed to help get some sleep that night.
It rained all night and still was the next morning, so I went over to the grocery store before I left to get some of the Red Hot Carolina Hot Dogs that my brother-in-law craves and picked up a couple of six packs of local craft beers, Shotgun Betty Hefeweizen Ale and Blowing Rock APA, as well as a six of Not Your Father’s Ginger Ale, which I had not seen in Florida yet. I planned on trying them after I got to PA.
Tucker and I loaded up the truck, put our new supplies in the cooler and headed onward to the Northland. We stopped a couple of times for him to check out the mountain smells at the rest areas as well as a break for lunch at the New River Gorge Bridge Overlook off of US 19 in West Virginia. They have a nice pet walk area there and the weather was still warm enough for us to sit at a picnic table at have our midday repast.
By the time we hit the PA southern border it was dusk and still another two hours before I would get to my sisters. Tucker slept the rest of the way up but when I hit the big curves on I-79 around Coraopolis he woke up and was trying to get back in my lap.
I arrived at my sisters, (V), around 7:30 PM, much to Tucker’s relief, and was just in time for dinner. V’s homemade sausage gravy and biscuits alone are worth the trip, but it was also very great to see the family. If I’m lucky I get to see them once a year and so much can change in that time frame. My nephew Jake maybe only three but he could pass for 5 or 6 because he’s so tall. His baby sister Sarah has the cutest smile, and I mean cuter than most babies, and she has started walking. It may be only a few steps at a time but it won’t be long before Mommy and Daddy (B) are chasing her down. Tucker had to adjust to his new cousins (both my niece and nephew and the four other dogs) as he hasn’t been around a lot of kids.
After I unloaded the truck, and stowed mine and Tucker’s gear (and some deliveries from Santa) upstairs in the guest room, we began settling down for our “Long Winter’s Nap”. It was unseasonably warm for December but there was a cold front bringing more rain to the area. It would have been nice to see snow on Christmas Day but my old knees would be glad to hold off the cold for a bit. Tucker had a little trouble getting used to the sounds of the house. And the way he reacted in the room outside the guest room you would have thought someone else was out there. There was speculation later on during my visit about the house being haunted by a former tenant, but I didn’t care as long as it didn’t mess with the beer I had brought with me.
Christmas morning, Tucker and I tried to adjust to the routine of the house and get our own little morning routine worked out. All the dogs go out in the morning the morning before sunrise then come back In and get a treat. They don’t get fed until my nephew wakes up as that is his one chore, a chore which he takes very seriously. So I didn’t want to mess up the other dogs routine by feeding Tucker so we waited for the boy to stir. Once he and Sarah both woke up we decided that he needed to feed the dogs and then have breakfast before the Christmas presents were opened. Not a popular decision as far as the nephew was concerned but his Mom and Dad now know what our parents knew. If they don’t eat breakfast before they open the presents it will be hard to get them to eat afterwards.
Needless to say breakfast flew by fairly quickly then the gift-giving schtick began. I won’t describe it to you as some of you may have more sensitive feelings than others but the aftermath of the carnage resembled the Ardennes Forest during the Battle of the Bulge. We were lucky to make it out alive.
The rest of Christmas Day was spent relaxing and watching TV except for V, who cooked a Christmas meal of ham, mashed potatoes with gravy, stuffing (or what some of you prefer to call dressing), homemade biscuits, salad, etc. Now while some of you may be thinking “Typical males letting the woman do the cooking!” Let me rebut by stating that if we were at my house I would be doing the cooking. Besides my sister likes to cook and is very good at it! So Nyah! (Imagine me sticking my tongue out here because I really don’t want to post that pic!)
Before dinner I broke out the “Not Your Father’s Ginger Ale” and shared a taste of that with V and B. It was alright but I think I would rather actually have a ginger ale instead of this as it was a little too sweet for my taste. B brought out an apple cider from Jack Daniels which was better than most ciders I’ve had but I don’t know if I would call it the best. With dinner I opened up the Shotgun Betty Witbier from North Carolina. It accompanied the ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole and homemade rolls very well. Later on I had the Blowing Rock APA, and it did not fare as well as an accompaniment to the food, but it was ok.
The next couple of days was spent visiting my youngest sister and her family, getting reacquainted with my brother-in-law and nephew and trying to connect with my niece who is still a toddler but better able to remember faces now. I was very glad that she wasn’t frightened by my beard as that can scare some smaller kids. But her dad’s beard is even longer (though not as full) than mine, so I guess that made it easier for her.
I did a little shopping the day after Christmas to get birthday presents for my nephew’s upcoming birthday and see if any bargains interested me. And later that night while taking Tucker for a walk I saw an Elven Moon. For those who don’t know what that is, it is simply an atmospherical phenomenon that occurs when the right combination of a full moon, moisture in the lower atmosphere and and really cold air occur at just the right balance to give the appearance of a ring around a full moon.
But other than that and taking Tucker on some long cold walks we didn’t do a lot besides just catching up with each other, which all I really wanted to do. That is until my other sister arrived on the 29th.
When she (Icee – she hated it when Mom called her that) and my niece Maddie walked in there were a lot of hugs and kisses. Maddie hadn’t seen her Aunt V since our Mom had passed and had never met her Uncle B and her cousins, and Icee hasn’t been up to visit since Jake was born so there was a lot of catching up to do.
Both of my nieces hit it off right away. Jake was a little reluctant at first being the shy type. But he would eventually come around. And since Tucker and Maddie were old friends he was very happy to see her and Icee. This was the first time that all of us were under one roof and it was a really good feeling to have all of my parents progeny together. It would have been great if they could have been there to see it but part of me felt that they were there in spirit.
We had dinner together, and I had brought some homemade Eggnog with me for everyone to get a sample of so I had a sample myself. B really liked it and I had gotten some text messages from my friends who had sampled it after I had left telling it was good as well. And to be honest I had to agree. But I cannot take all the credit for it. I used the recipe that Alton brown had posted to Foodnetwork.com with some minor tweaking here and there. Icee declined because she was tired from the flight and wanted to make sure to get to the hotel unimpeded.
At the end of the evening Icee and Maddie went to their hotel and would be back in the morning so we could do some day trips. On December 30th, we decided we would drive by our old hometown and visit our parents’ graves. We left Jake and Sarah with the sitter then headed over to Meadville to visit the cemetery. I hadn’t been there since the year after Dad had passed and not at all since Mom has passed. And there would be no telling how long it would be before I made up that way again so it was good that we stopped by. Their grave site is right next to an older sister I had who died when I was only a year old, and she only a year older than that.
Visiting them, for me, was a reminder of how short life really is for all of us, and how precious times like we were getting to spend together really are.
After we left the cemetery we decided to head over to our home town and see what changes had crept up since we had left. We made a quick drive by to see the old house we grew up in and saw a lot more had changed since the last time we were there. The yard when we were growing up was a full two acres and Mom had a quarter acre garden out behind the house. That was reduced to maybe a half acre yard with no garden in sight. The old barn had fallen down when my parents still lived there but the foundation was still in place, but now that is gone. A neighbor just up the hill used to make concrete casting statues of all types, and that property was empty now and grown over.
When we got into town we saw that the Cardinal Country Restaurant was still up and running. V had worked there when she was younger and my Dad went there every day for his lunch when he was inspecting highways from a local construction office. A lot of additional construction that had been done to the high school since we had left. Some businesses where different than what they were when we lived there and some were basically the same, and others still were gone completely.
While V, Icee and I were reminiscing about this and that while driving around, I could tell Maddie was losing interest. She’s still too young to find family history as interesting as adults would. Our trip together to the homestead kind of reminded me of the time about 20 years ago when Dad and I went to the North Braddock section of Pittsburgh to see the neighborhood and the house he lived in as a little boy. But then I recognized some of the area as we used to travel there to visit relatives when I was a kid. Who knows, there may be a day when Maddie gets an interest in when we grew up and she will be able to connect in the same way.
We made our way back through Meadville, where both Icee and I had apartments before we had individually moved to Florida. We drove through downtown and by the old Market House and ended pulling up to a light in front of Sherry Distributors. I used to frequent them way back when I lived in PA. I told Icee to pull in there so I could see what craft beers they had, if any. She did and I rolled my window down and told the young guy working that I was a craft beer fan and wondered if they had any.
If you haven’t been to Pennsylvania before there I should explain that alcoholic beverages aren’t purchased at the grocery or convenience store like they are in a lot of other states. You have to buy wine and liquors in State Stores, which are State licensed, owned and operated stores (which is a conundrum in itself as Pennsylvania is a commonwealth, not a State). And beer has to be bought at a beer distributor, which is a privately owned business where you can purchase beer in half or whole cases, or the keg. This is a result of the laws passed after prohibition ended back in the 30’s. You can buy liquors, wine and beer in restaurants for consumption and they are allowed to sell you some to take home but only up to 192 ounces. So you can buy a six pack at a bar or restaurant to take home but not anywhere else.
The distributor was a building with two drive through entrances, one side being your regular beers (Bud, Miller, etc.) and the other being craft beers, with a couple of sets of large coolers running down the middle of those two sections. And off on the side was a large cooled section where kegs and extra cases were stored. I had specified I would like to get something local to the guy and he said that they had VooDoo Brewing in a 12 pack. I told Icee to park the car because I wanted to get out and look at what they had and stretch my legs. She did so then her and V got out and joined me, while B and Maddie stayed near the car.
We began looking over the wall of half cases (see pic above) and Icee and V would read the boxes and make comments or ask questions about the beers and I would reply to them. V piped up, “There is finally a new trend that you’re like an expert in. I’m so proud!” at which Icee and I started laughing. And V added, “It’s true. We’re all usually on the tail end of these things.”
Besides the VooDoo Brewing variety 12 Pack, which I actually took 2 of, I also selected a variety 12 pack each of Deschutes Brewing out of Oregon and Lancaster Brewing out of Lancaster, PA. While I was there I got a 12 pack of the Jack Daniels Apple liquor that B and V liked. Icee picked up a 12 pack of Angry Orchard to take back to V’s (I don’t remember what variety she got). We picked up our selections and put them and ourselves back in the car and headed back out toward Greenville.
But we decided to take a little detour through Jamestown and head out to see a little more countryside. We also wanted to stop at a nearby Amish Store that was just this side of the Ohio border and only a few miles from the house. This store, the Creekside Country Store, was touted by B and V as having some of the best deals you could find for a variety of different things. They had some used items that could be considered antiques by some as well as some practical everyday things that you need for living in the country, like kitchen items for canning or cooking. They had a section where some homemade Amish preserves and jellies were on display, and they also had a bakery inside where they made homemade breads, cookies and fried pies. If you haven’t had a fried pie before think of those hostess pies you buy in the store, but fresher tasting and a wider variety of fillings, and really just tastier. If you are ever out West of Greenville, PA on Kinsman Rd then you owe it to yourself to stop by and at the very least get some of their baked goods.
We got back to V’s house and started getting ready for a birthday party for Jake that evening. His birthday wasn’t actually until the 3rd of January but the next night was New Year’s Eve and both Icee and Maddie were flying back the 1st and Tucker and I were driving back that day as well. Our cousin CC and her partner J were coming over along with their kids. And Jake had been asking about more presents since Christmas Day.
It was good to see our cousins and to see Jake light up with glee again at opening more presents. I either had Tucker or Sarah in my lap most of the night. Sometimes it was just to keep one from licking the other. More of my eggnog was passed around and my cousin wanted the recipe so she could make it.
Not too late in the evening we called an end to the party. B had to work the next day and V, Icee the kids and I were all going to call on our Aunt B who was visiting her father a couple of hours south of us. Icee was still a little jet lagged and V wanted to try and get her kids to bed sooner so she could get sleep herself.
B was up before us in the morning since he had to go work on the farm. He works as a farm hand on a dairy farm and he was going to have to make sure the milking got done that morning due to a family crisis the farm owner was having.
Icee and Maddie came over from their hotel around 8:30 and about a half hour later we were on the road to visit our Aunt and cousins. V had been trying to get ahold of our cousin M who was arranging our meet all the previous night and the next morning but she never replied to her text messages. About 30 minutes into our trip V tried texting again and then noticed she had a Messenger text from M. Apparently Aunt B started coming down with something the night before and she wasn’t feeling very good this morning. She didn’t want the kids to catch whatever she had so she canceled our get together. It was a little mix-up in communication but we decided to turn it into a day trip.
We headed for the farm where B worked so Maddie, Jake and Sarah could see the cows. We arrived around 10 and they were just finishing up with the tail end of the milking. We walked into the milking room and we could see that Jake was shaking. He loves cows that are on TV and toys that are cows, but let’s be honest, to a little kid, up close a cow is a freaking monster. But I will give the boy credit… Despite his obvious fear he followed us in and started to relax a little after a bit of time. Maddie and Icee walked closer so B could tell them what they were doing while they were milking the cows.
When they were done milking we walked back through the barn to where they had the calves penned up and the kids were able to get a lot closer and actually pet the calves. Jake and Sarah both enjoyed this but I think Maddie got a real kick out of it but she never sees anything like that where she lives now.
When we were done with the cows we started heading back south. We ended up at a Winter Wonderland kind of place (I can’t remember the name), which had a whole bunch of different Christmas themed displays still up. It was part of a big store that was filled with all kinds of Christmas decorations, toys, gifts and candy. We spend about a half hour or more looking at all the displays and merchandise available for purchase. Of course I couldn’t leave without buying something.
It was getting close to lunch time and I suggested that we go to the little sub shop that V & B had taken me to on one of my previous visits, the Lock Stock and Barrel in Sharpsville, PA. The have really great subs as well as some other foods. I ordered something that I have only ever been able to order in PA and that is a Pizzaburger. And to be honest the only place I’ve had one outside of PA is my kitchen. In this case it was actually a Pizzaburger Sub cause it was about a foot and half long, but it still tasted great.
If you have never had a Pizzaburger then you owe it to yourself to get one. Next time I make one at the house I will have to write down the recipe and post it on here (Hmmmm, perhaps a beer paring with different PA foods).
We got a sub to go for B and dropped by the farm to give it to him, then headed off to a place V had been telling us about in Eastern Ohio that had a giant horse and buggy like the Amish drive. It was called End of the Commons General store and is located in Mesopotamia, OH. When I saw the horse and buggy that V told us about my first impression was that it was made by the Trojans and they were probably hiding inside. It was freaking huge!!!
It is located in a little park across the street from the General Store, which carries almost anything a country boy could need, including clothes, household supplies, hardware, locally bottled sodas, Amish made candies, jellies and preserves, breads, cheeses, jerky, and a whole bunch of other things. The prices seemed reasonable so we made a few purchases, then started heading back.
When we got to the house the aroma of homemade sauerkraut and kielbasa that had been cooking in the oven greeted us. This would be our traditional New Year’s Eve dinner. We’ve been having this on New Year’s Eve for many years. I remember when I came home from the Air Force and cooked a batch of it with beer. My grandmother was horrified at my pouring the beer into the pan. But when she tasted the finished product, all she could say was, “Wow!! This is really good!”
This year my sister was using her homemade sauerkraut and some kielbasa from a local butcher. She didn’t use beer or add any spices or even add an onion, which I do. And when dinner time came around, the first words out of my mouth were “Wow!! This is really good!” Funny, how life is cyclical like that. Her homemade ingredients tasted just like the store bought ones I would use after adding the ingredients I mentioned. If ever you needed proof that homegrown and homemade beat out store bought this is it.
I decided to drink one of the VooDoo Brewing’s beers with this meal and I was not disappointed. I had their VooDoo Love Child and it accompanied the kraut and kielbasa very well. To be honest it is a very nice Belgian Style on its own but it really pared well with dinner.
I guess I should mention that I had been sampling one of each of the VooDoo flavors in their variety pack since we had picked them up the day before and none of them were bad. In fact I would say that I was really surprised at how well a selection there was in the pack.
The Killapilz (Pilsner) was a very nice smooth drink. The Gran Met, also a Belgian, was really flavorful. Wynonna’s Big brown Ale was a great example of a brown ale. The HooDoo was a good American IPA. The White Magick of the Sun was a good wheat beer. And you already read my mention of the VooDoo Love Child. I believe that and Wynonna’s Big Brown are the best of the pack but they are all good or better.
Icee finally got a taste of my eggnog which she agreed was pretty darn good. We also got a sample of my sister V’s homemade Mead and her Elderberry Wine. Our Mom used to make homemade wines, both Grape and Elderberry, which maybe explains why both V and I enjoy making fermented libations ourselves. The Mead was of course sweet but not sickly sweet as to make you want to pour it over pancakes as some mead I have had. And there was enough of an alcohol flavor to it too give a little kick but not too much to make it rough. The Elderberry was very good, similar in texture to a Merlot but with none of the tannins or bitterness that a few reds have.
We came to a general consensus that none of us would be welcoming in the New Year at midnight. Icee and Maddie had a plane to catch the next day and Tucker and I would be starting another long drive, this time back to Florida. So V started packing a to-go box of homemade canned goods for Icee and I to take home with us (I would transport them with me since she wouldn’t be able to take them on the plane with her). Then around 9 or so we started saying our goodbyes.
In the morning I began loading the truck and preparing to leave. It was good visiting with the family but as much as I enjoyed it I knew it was time to go. And Tucker was ready too. His ongoing war with the squirrels and lizards in Florida had been tabled for too long for his taste and he was ready to resume hostilities.
We began with the hugs and goodbye kisses from my niece and nephew and I told my sister I would text her my progress as we traveled. I turned to Tucker and asked him if he was ready to go… and his response was to bark and head for the door. V didn’t know whether to laugh or be offended.
There had been a little bit of snow the day before but not really enough to stick, but at least Madison was able to see some and she actually made a snowball from the snow on Icee’s rental car at the hotel. As I began making my way south the snow began falling at a much faster rate and the flakes were much bigger than the day before. It looked like I was getting out just ahead of the cold front that was bringing snow in. But the snow started letting up as I got down around Pittsburgh and I didn’t see any more the rest of the way south.
Tucker and I stopped at the same Red Roof Inn in Statesville on the way back, this time though I made better time and decided to get some BoJangles chicken for dinner. Their chicken with a biscuit and coleslaw hit the spot and I pared it with a beer that the Maestro had given me as a Christmas gift, the St. Bernardus Christmas Ale. And I have to say it was one of the better holidays ales I have had.
The next day, Tucker and I left early and except for the bumper to bumper traffic on I-95 in South Carolina, made it back home in relatively good time. I unloaded the truck while Tucker re-familiarized himself with the backyard. Then I took him for a walk so he could let the enemy know that hostilities were resuming. When we got back in the house we began relaxing on the couch and just chillin’, which gave me a little time to reflect, something that writing this lengthy epistle has also done.
I originally was going to tie this in with Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol by retelling the trip and tying it in with beers sampled over the last year, then it connecting to the present with my current troupe of beer bacchanalians and our sojourns in and around Gainesville, then finish it off with a list of predictions for the next year related to beer.
Instead, I have found myself connecting with Dickens tale in a different way. By traveling to area I grew up and visiting the different areas that affected our lives with my sisters, like our old house and the schools, and stopping by my parents graves, I was able to make a connection to the past and remember how things were, strengthening the bond with my sisters.
In the present, I was able to appreciate my friendships before I went on the trip, strengthened the bond with family while we were visiting, and re-invigorate myself by reconnecting with everyone.
And the future was represented by my nieces and nephew. They are the next generation of my parents’ progeny and will represent our bloodline in the future. Being able to see how much they develop in between my visits is always a joy but being able to share the past with them means a lot too.
Dickens tale was meant to inspire mankind to forgo the hunt for riches and to instead share the wealth with your fellow man to better enrich all life on earth.
Mine is not so grandiose in its attempt to inspire. My message is simple: Family and good friends are everything. As long you have those, you really don’t need anything else…
So last Friday (November 13th) our group of Craft Beer enthusiasts decided to gather together at the BrassTap on Archer Road for our regular Friday Happy Hour. The Maestro and the Doctor both made it there first. They talked Allen (the owner) into taunting me with a picture of a beer (see below), saying “Here’s looking at you.” Now I was already on my way and didn’t recognize the number so I didn’t reply. By the time I arrived they had started to head for the patio and claim a table outside. Not long after me Rowdy showed up and our Philosophying began for the evening.
My first craft beer that night was a Dunkles Hefe Weizen from Tucher Brau. It was a very good example of a Dunkel with a nice roasted malt flavor and a smooth aftertaste.
Allen pulled up a chair and joined us and not long after the Deck-Orator arrived as well. So we put another table alongside ours so discussion was not hindered by any inter-table distances. We began catching up with each other and finding out what was new.
My second draft of the evening was a Hop Nosh IPA from Uinta Brewing. The IPA lovers in the group thought this was pretty good and while I thought it was okay with a nice smooth aftertaste it was a little hoppier than I care for.
My third choice of drafts was the Jefferson Stout from Lazy Magnolia Brewing. It was supposedly going to have a little sweet potato flavor but I couldn’t taste any. I did taste a light stout flavor but that was all.
As we were working on our last round I mentioned that I was going to Florida Brewer’s Guild Barrel-Aged & Sour Beer Festival the next day and asked if anyone wanted to go with me. Rowdy said she would go but I had to agree to go to the PJ Pub crawl for the Gainesville Roller Rebels.
I agreed, though I was reluctant to do so because the idea of wearing PJs in public bothers me. But I agreed at any rate and said I would text her in the morning and let her know where we would meet up for the trip. Everyone else in the group had other plans.
So I met up with Rowdy at Hogan’s Heroes Sandwich Shop on NW 13th Street and found her paying attention to the most well-behaved dog I have ever seen in the back of a strange pick-up truck. This little guy was not chained or leashed and would not leave the bed of the truck, but he was happy to be getting the attention that Rowdy was giving him. And as we turned to go inside he stayed right where he was and ducked back down under the truck side to stay out of the sun.
We wandered inside the sandwich shop and walked back to the bar to order our sandwiches. If you have never been to either of Hogan’s Heroes locations then you owe it to yourself to do so. In my opinion, they have the best subs in Gainesville. Both of them have a sandwich shop in the front half of their respective buildings and a little bar at the back end. The décor is World War II related and being a Veteran feels nice to me. During the work week if I come in for lunch I never make it to the back, but after work or on the weekends nothing goes better with one of their sandwiches than a nice cold draft. Most of the draft beer selections are the normal American Lager variety, but they do have one or two local brewery fares along with Newcastle Brown and Guiness on tap as well as some European brews in bottles.
Rowdy and I each ordered a sandwich combo which included an 8 inch sub, choice of chips and a drink. We both ordered the same sandwich but she had a cider with hers and I ordered a Stump Knocker from Swamp Head with mine. It wasn’t long before our orders arrived and we enjoyed a nice little lunch before heading out to Jacksonville.
When we left I followed Rowdy back to her place and she retrieved her traveling accoutrement, jumped in my truck and we headed out to Jax. I decided to avoid the traffic associated with driving from Gainesville to Jax by the normal route of going through Starke and instead headed up 121/231 through Hidden Lake, Brooker, Lake Butler and Raiford until we reached I-10 and then headed east into Jax. It was a lot less traffic and much more scenic. We listened to the gator game as it was playing while we drove.
When we got into Jax I knew I had not been to Intuition Ale Works before and wondered what kind of area it was in as parts of Jax aren’t too bad and are in fact really nice and others you start looking for the fastest way to the interstate. As we left the interstate it started to look like we weren’t necessarily in the best part of town. Like most new craft breweries starting out, Intuition started their location in an industrial section of town in an older warehouse. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but sometimes these areas are surrounded by not so prosperous housing. As we headed down King Street we came upon a set of railroad tracks and literally, on the opposite (notice I didn’t say “wrong”) of the tracks was the warehouse where intuition is located. Right after you crossed the tracks they had the road closed off with a vendor truck and you could see a crowd back behind it.
I turned left there and found a parking spot not too far away where it looked like other attendees were parking as well. Then Rowdy and I grabbed our beer sampling gear and headed out. We went to the check in and received our sampling glass and the list of breweries and their available wares (see pics below)
Then we walked around and began sampling and talking with the various vendors on site. below are some pics from the event.
I can tell you that there were a lot of great barrel aged beers there. And I was really surprised at how good the sour beers were. Most of the sours beers I have had up until that event were so sour that you really couldn’t taste any other flavors. That was not true with most of these.
The following is a small sampling of those that really stood out to me:
Darwin Brewing Co., Bourbon-barrel-aged big Deal; Due South Brewing, Barrel Aged Mariana Trench; Engine 15 Brewing Co., Barrel Aged Simcoe; Funky Buddha Brewing, Cabernet Barrel Aged Nikolai Vorlauf; Intuition Ale Works, Tres Brujas; Orchid Island Brewery, Citron – Cabernet Barrel Aged Saison; Proof Brewing Co., Fruit Punch Blind Fate – Berliner Weisse; Tampa Bay Brewing Moose Wood – Barrel Aged Barleywine & Capt. Skully – Rum barrel Aged Imperial Pumpkin Ale; Tomoka Brewing Mint Julip Southern Sour; Zeta Brewing, Cabernet Michaelmas and their Bourbon Michaelmas; an what I consider the two best examples at the fest, both from Wynwood Brewing, NSDLA – Barrel Aged Barleywine and BA 100 Barrel Aged American Strong Ale.
Please keep in mind that as we sampled more we were probably being a bit more lenient but the beers kept tasting better and better.
We decided to get some food before we left and stopped at the FunkaDelic Food Truck. Rowdy got a fish sandwich and I got a burger and we split an order of fried beets. The sandwiches were good but I have to say I have never enjoyed beets so much in my life as I did the ones they served.
We started our trek back to Gainesville around 5:30 and got back around 7:00.
After I dropped Rowdy off I headed back to the house to check on Tucker, my dog, and rest up a bit before heading out to meet her and the Doctor downtown for the PJ Pub Crawl. To be honest, after I took Tucker for a walk, I settled down in the recliner and he jumped up and snuggled with me. It was enough for me to fall asleep for a bit. Rowdy’s text telling me where to meet her and the Doctor is what woke me up.
So I jumped up, took off my clothes and put on my PJ’s and a robe (it was chilly out) and headed for downtown. Now the previous year’s Pub Crawl had a Lumberjack theme which I can slide into very easily. I’m a middle-aged white guy with a beard, work boots and jeans and all the plaid shirts I could want. I even own a couple of axes so Lumberjack is an easy theme for me to do. But PJs in public is not my cup-o-tea. So along with the t-shirt and PJ bottoms I wore my silk Kimono, going for the Hugh Hefner look. I actually got more than a few complements on it.
The pub crawl started at the Midnight on Main Street at 8:00 and we got there around 8:30. The Pub Crawl hits five downtown bars, with 45 minutes at each bar and one complimentary draft beer at each. So we got at the Midnight with enough time to check in with the group and finish a beer. As I recall we had three to choose from and I ordered the Shock Top Belgian White.
Our next stop was Tall Paul’s Brew House just up around the corner on 2nd Avenue. I had a little disagreement with a bouncer about whether or not I had to pay a cover charge to get in. I ended the disagreement by saying “Dude, I’m with the pub crawl! Look at the way I’m dressed! Would I put this crap on to go out on the town??!!” Luckily, he saw my point and we didn’t have to get any deeper into the disagreement. Unfortunately, the beer they selected for us at Tall Paul’s was the Narraganset Lager, or as Rowdy likes to call it, Nasty Ganset. I don’t know who chooses the beer for these things, but that one just has to go. And if you’re a Narragnaset fan good for you, but leave that in Boston where it belongs.
From Tall Paul’s we meandered over to Loosey’s where they were also having Karaoke. A couple of the roller derby gals and one of our gents tagging along sang a couple of renditions. At least here they served a decent draft beer in the form of a Yuengling Lager. Of course that is just my opinion. And being a PA boy it is only natural for me to like that beer.
The next stop on our tour was one of our old standbys, Gainesville House of Beer. HOB is also one of the gathering places for after the derby matches and one of the Meetup groups I belong to meets there after their monthly meeting as well. Not to mention our occasional treks to there (See last blog about Homecoming). I knew HOB would have a good beer available for the group. Especially since Rowdy had already discussed the beer list with Alex, the manager. I had a stout from local brewery First Magnitude, I believe it was the Drift but I’m not certain.
The next and last stop of the crawl was supposed to be the High Dive, which is where we ended up last year and a lot of dancing took place. But I looked at Rowdy and said, “I think I’m done.” She looked at me and nodded her head and I knew she was done too. With the all the beers we sampled earlier and the last few on top there was definitely no dancing in my future. The Doctor said, “See… That’s why I didn’t go the beer fest with you.”
Let me end this article by saying that I don’t regret going to either event, doing both in the same day can be taxing, especially when you get to my age. Next year I hope the Pub Crawl falls on a day when there is no nearby beer fest. But if it does it could be another long day.
I hope this little story is an entertaining Thanksgiving Eve respite. Enjoy your holiday and drinks some beers. I will write again after the weekend is over.
Our little group of Beer Bacchanalians has started a tradition to coincide with the Annual Gator Homecoming Parade. Actually, the Maestro started it a couple of years ago. Last year he and I rekindled it and did so again this year. I don’t know how often something needs to be repeated before you can officially call it a tradition but we’re going to go with three and call this official. (If someone out there disagrees with that, it’s my blog… Get your own!!)
Now the Homecoming Parade in Gainesville is not a new tradition. It has gone on for many years and will continue to do so. And many people have been coming to the parade for years; some even bring their folding chairs to the exact same spot and have been doing so for so long the other folks around them all expect to see each other annually. I have been in the parade myself more than a few times with a float that my employer used to sponsor (Rowdy got me into to working on those). So I have been tied to the parade tradition on and off for over 10 years now.
For the last few years (at least) the Blarneyman and his Blushing Bride have made it a point to visit Gainesville during Homecoming to see both the parade and the game on the next day. This year was no exception and we decided (those of us who could) to meet up the night before the parade start celebrating early. So the Maestro suggested meeting at the Hop Top (see last blog) which isn’t far from his home.
I arrived first and decided to order one I hadn’t had before. It came from Terrapin Brewing and was the Vapricot, a very smooth tasting Double IPA with nice apricot notes. Not long after that the Maestro arrived and we were both conversing with Tyler, the barman at Hop Top. Not too long after that the Deck-orator arrived and we pretty much had the bar to ourselves though on a Thursday I can see how that would happen, especially since it is still a fairly new establishment.
After a bit I was ready for a second and ordered the Sam Adams Octoberfest since I like Octoberfest beers and they still had it one tap. It wasn’t too long after that beer arrived that the Blarneyman and his Blushing Bride arrived and the Philosophying began in earnest. We all began catching up with each and discussing those of our friends who couldn’t make it out that night and how they were doing.
After a while I felt another brew was in order so I ordered an old standby from Swamp Head brewery, Wild Night. I was trying to stick to the lighter craft beers so I could hang out longer as I would need to. We continued on with Philosophying and eventually decided to move on. The Deck-Orator was heading home and the rest of us decided to drive over to the Maestro’s house and see if his wife, the Muse, was going to join us for dinner.
Muse wasn’t home yet so we were waiting for a bit to see if she showed and had a beverage while we waited. After a bit she joined us and we decided to head over to Winghouse for some grub. I had kind of influenced that decision because I had told the Maestro earlier on that I figured I would head over there for dinner as he, Blarneyman and Blushing Bride were tentatively going to watch Gator Basketball Exhibition game. I thought that while they were doing that I would get some wings, then walk on over to BrassTap where they were featuring 16 different taps of Stouts, in honor of International Stout Day, and wait for them to join me after the game. Instead, we all went to Winghouse for an evening meal. The Maestro, Blarneyman and I each decided on Swamp Head’s Stumpknocker to accompany our meals, though we all had different items off of the menu.
When our meal was finished we decided to walk on over from the Winghouse to BrassTap, where we could partake of the afore mentioned Stouts and also participate in trivia night. They were pretty packed but we were able to snag a table as someone was leaving. One of the bartenders walked over to the table and took our order and in honor of International Stout Day I ordered a Wake-n-Bake Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout. The flavor was definitely coffee based and I was quite pleased with it.
We sat around for a bit and listened to the last two trivia questions (By the way – the answer to the last movie sound bite was “Speed, Keanu Reeves and Jeff Daniels); and Philosophied some more. We also discussed plans for the next day’s parade. After that round of beers we all decided to call it an evening and parted ways until the morning.
The next morning I woke up with the sunrise (thanks to my dog Tucker) and began getting ready for the day. A slice of toast and a couple of cups of coffee is a little spare for my breakfast but I knew the rest of the day would probably be laden with calories. And I was providing some of those calories myself.
About 9:30 that morning I headed away from the house toward downtown Gainesville. Coming into town on University Avenue, I noticed traffic was heavier than usual, but that was not unexpected as I figured a lot of folks would be coming in to claim their spots for watching the parade. When I got to the intersection of University and Main, I turned north and headed to a little known shop across from the Publix Plaza on Main Street, called Daylight Donuts.
If you have never sampled any of the pastries from Daylight Donuts, then I feel sorry for your palate and your belly, as they are probably the best I have had in quite a long time. The donuts, the cinnamon rolls, the breakfast pastries and especially the apple fritters are all exceptionally good. You owe to yourself to stop by this little shop with a lot of flavor when you get the chance.
I figured since Gainesville House of Beer was accommodating enough to open up for us early, the least I could do was bring some donuts for the staff and the other patrons to share. So I picked a dozen donuts for my friends and another dozen donuts and a box of apple fritters for whomever else was going to be there. Then I headed off to HOB.
I got to HOB about 5 minutes after 10 and saw that they already had a couple other patrons there. I greeted Greg, the barman on duty that morning, and placed the donuts on the counter and explained what they were for. He smiled and agreed with me about the quality of the donuts that Daylight produces. I took a couple of fritters and added them to my box for my friends and went out to the patio and staked out some seats for the parade.
Then I went back inside and ordered as close as I could find to a breakfast stout, which was Duck Rabbit Brewery’s Milk Stout, and in case you wondered, it is a really good Stout. Not long after that the Maestro and the Blarneyman showed up and the earnest Philosphying commenced.
Over the next couple of hours we sat and discussed various things and greeted passersby on the street, a few other folks joined us on the patio. After a bit the other members of our party began strolling in. Muse, Rowdy, Blushing Bride and a few others joined us after the finished the Gallop (a charity walk). Deck-Orator showed up but the Chemist was not with her as he was working. The parade usually starts around Noon down by the College in front of the Stadium on University Avenue, but by the time it gets to HOB, which is at the tail end of the route its usually about 45 minutes later.
So the next couple of hours was spent watching and cheering the different parade entrants, and sampling beers and donuts. The Doctor was on call and working but was able to drop by and say hi to everyone though he didn’t partake in the beers. Some of the excerpts are pictured below.
And speaking of cheering, no one was quite as upbeat and vocal of their admiration for the parade participants as was Blushing Bride. So much so that from now on when she is mentioned in this blog she will be known as the Cheerleader.
After the parade was over we all went our ways but some of us decided to get together for dinner that night. After a few back and forth calls throughout the day we ended getting reservations for dinner at the Blue Gill, a newer restaurant on SW 13th Street not far from Shands. I had heard good things about it but hadn’t been there before.
They have a very nice atmosphere there and a wide ranging menu. They have daily specials and regularly featured food items on their menu. Since I hadn’t been there before I thought I would start with one of their staples and see how well they do that before I venture into their specials. I ordered their Brisket plate which came accompanied with steamed vegetables and garlic potatoes, all covered with a creamy poblano cheese sauce. I also ordered the Caesar salad for an appetizer and their Moonlight Lemonade for a beverage, all of which were very tasty.
All in all the day was well spent with friends, a tradition well worth repeating next year with the same folks and with new ones as well. If you’re interested then mark your calendar and make sure to show up at HOB the morning of the parade for a donut and a beer.