The Curative Powers of… Supping Suds with Philosophiers!

This last work week was not one of the best of weeks for me. Mondays are never usually great to begin with, but Tuesday through Thursday I was suffering from a bout of sinus headaches that not only made it very difficult to concentrate on what I was doing, but was also responsible for canceling a night out with friends mid-week. Then, though I was feeling better physically on Friday, I had a bomb drop on me at work that not only affected me professionally but personally. I was literally fuming most of the day and by the time I left for the weekend I was not any happier about what happened.

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This was not some trivial little slight or misunderstanding. This was a decision by an outside party that not only affected me, but a good friend as well. And there was nothing that could be done about it. That was the maddening part of it, the part that stuck in my craw all day. I was unable to affect the outcome in any way or aspect. I won’t go into the details of what happened here but angry doesn’t quite capture how I felt all day. Freaking pissed off was more like it!

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But the time I got home I was still angry. I needed a way to vent my anger and I wouldn’t have been above starting a fight with someone just to do that. I haven’t been that ticked off in a long time. Luckily for me the Doctor sent me a prescription in the form of a text message showing me where he was at (see below).

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I replied that I would be on my way as soon as I gave Tucker his walk and changed clothes. I was about to text the rest of the group when the Maestro sent out a group text inquiring where happy hour should commence at. Not long after Rowdy chimed in as well. After a few back and forth texts we all agreed to meet at the prescribed location.

On the way over I encountered the usual Friday afternoon traffic when trying to get to that side of town. And with my state of mind of course every other driver on the road was an idiot and the expletives were flying out my mouth at a rapid pace. Luckily school is not in session now and what would normally have been around 45 minutes to an hour to drive a few miles was really only about 20 minutes.

There was plenty of parking near BrassTap and in a short time I was inside ready to order. One of our favorite bartenders was on duty and asked what I was in the mood for. I said “BEER! NOW!”.

Actually, I probably said that I really didn’t care, I just wanted a beer… then I added something lighter to start with. He brought out First Magnitude’s Strawberry Gose and it was a nice beginning for a calmer weekend.

First Magnitude Strawberry Gose
First Magnitude Strawberry Gose

The Doctor was not at the bar when I arrived but his hat was so I knew he would be back shortly. And sure enough he walked around the corner and greeted with his usual greeting. Not long after the Maestro arrived and the three of us greeted each other, then Rowdy and the Cooler showed up and it was time to get a table.

It turns out that a lot of us had weeks from hell. I won’t go into specifics, and I really don’t want to dwell on that aspect any longer. What happened next though demonstrates why folks call it happy hour. It’s not because of drunken revelry or any form of debauchery. Nor is it from the specials of food or drinks that flow at that time of day.

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Happy Hour is called so because you’re getting together with friends, cohorts, comrades, fellow revelers and enjoying the company of the moment. We all had crappy weeks but we didn’t talk about that. We talked about the trips some had been on, the ones that some were taking in the near future and the ones we would like to take down the road a ways. Rowdy is traveling to Cuba to visit an area where sea turtles nest. The Maestro and the Muse are traveling to Oregon. Since Rowdy is out of town the Cooler and I will be going to a wine pairing dinner with some other friends, and we tried talking the Doctor into coming with us. The Maestro mentioned a Viking Cruise sometime in the future that starts in Bavaria and continues into Prague, which I said to count me in for.

After a couple of beers Rowdy got a call from one of her Roller Derby cohorts and before long Jaded Jester joined us for some revelry. Most of our party also went next door to Chipotle and got some form of dinner and brought it back to the bar to enjoy it. I just staved off hunger with some pretzels bites and both a cheese and a mustard dipping sauce.

Empty pretzel bites cone because I ate it all
Empty pretzel bites cone because I ate it all

Throughout the night we didn’t dwell on any of the negative that we had to deal with all week, we instead focused on the future and our friendships. While there I had a recommendation from the bartender for the Organic Monkshine Belgian Style from Uinta Brewing, which was pretty good. And I also selected the Chocolate Chili Stout from Sierra Nevada and the Maven Chocolate Milk Stout from Barley Mow. Both were tasty and hit the spot.

Monkshine Organic Belgian Style
Monkshine Organic Belgian Style
Sierra Nevada Chocolate Chili Stout
Sierra Nevada Chocolate Chili Stout
Maven Chocolate Milk Stout
Maven Chocolate Milk Stout

By the end of the session we were all sated and, I think, in better spirits… at least I know I was. So the Doctor’s prescription actually worked. And this one I can actually share with others. Get out with your friends and enjoy yourselves. It actually worked so well that the next day I felt ambitious enough to actually build a raised Hops Garden and plant some rhizomes in it (see below). If not for the company of my friends I probably would have just sat around sulking all weekend.

The raised Hops Garden
The raised Hops Garden

So to quote the Beatles (which I seldom do)…

“I get by with a little help from my friends!”

Papabear

 

 

 

Dr. G and the Bear Save the World!! (…of Beer University)

 

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Perhaps I should start by explaining the title a bit. World of Beer is a franchise business featuring craft beers and tavern food. It started in Tampa Florida about 9 years ago and has grown since to well over 50 locations throughout the US (though most of them are in the southeast in general and Florida especially). In Gainesville we now have two. The first was opened west of Gainesville, about half way between it and the city of Newberry, in the Tioga Town Center, about 3 or 4 years ago. It is a nice establishment with a great selection of beers.

But for me it has two major limitations:

  1. It doesn’t serve food. But then that is not unusual with a lot of tap rooms in Gainesville. In fact World of Beer at Tioga does what a lot of Tap Rooms do and lets customers order food to be delivered from local businesses. So that alone would not keep me from going there.
  2. It is pretty freakin’ far out for me to drive there! On a good traffic day it takes me at least 45 minutes to get there from where I live in Gainesville, but it can be an hour or longer. With all of the other choices available to me in town going there isn’t really practical unless I happen to be in the area, which doesn’t happen often. Also I could just as easily add a half hour to travel time and visit a brewery in Jacksonville, or an hour and visit one in Tampa or Orlando.

Given these limitations, I have only been to WoB in Tioga twice. I enjoyed myself both times but the drive back was too long. The only other time I go out to Tioga is when the Annual Hogtown Beerfest is being held. And I don’t need to stop in there then.

So when I heard a few months back that WoB was opening a location in town (a location previously occupied by Hooters), I was looking forward to the opening. And I have to say I was not disappointed.

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We started the weekend a bit early on Thursday evening because the Blarneyman and the Cheerleader were visiting in town. So Thursday evening they, the Maestro, the Chemist, the Deck-orater and myself met up at Market Street for some Karaoke with Mr. October.

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Friday after I got off of work, we all met up at Gainesville House of Beer for happy hour and I brought Tucker along so the Blarneyman could finally meet him. Both of those meetings (or as the Blarneyman calls it… Networking) went well and we enjoyed the company the craft beers and the philosphying, and I finished my 7th RailCard at HoB.

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Saturday afternoon, I was recovering from a miserable morning of trying to do outside chores and failing miserably all morning due to various circumstances. It seemed the universe didn’t want me to get any work around the house accomplished so I took that as a sign that I needed to go console myself with some fine ales. I started thinking about going to the new WoB as it had just opened earlier in the week. Now long after that thought entered my head, I got a text from the Doctor saying he was getting ready to head into town for beers and suggested WoB. Again the Universe was talking to me. Who was I to argue?

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I eventually made my way there and found that, like the Hooters that was there before, the front entrance was kind of understated. But the entrance is only a small corner of the establishment, once you get inside then the atmosphere and the room opens up. Very nice furnishings and décor appropriate to the business and plenty of room inside and out on the patio. They even have a room that can be closed off for a private party.

I was greeted by a few staff members at the door who quickly offered to find me a seat, and then I saw the Doctor had arrived before me and said I was meeting friends who were here. The Maestro and the Blarneyman were also here and had put in a beer order already, while the Doctor was enjoying his.

The waitress came over, a young lady by the name of Ashley, who I introduced myself to and ordered my first beer of the day, a kolsch style from Coastal Empire Beer co., called Tybee Island Blonde. It has that nice kolsch flavor with a smooth finish.

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It was early enough in the afternoon that Ashley was not overwhelmed with customers and she took the time to chat with us a bit. She also works at another establishment in town that sells craft beers which I have mentioned before. And she enjoys beer so we lucked out getting a waitress who not only has experience with our kind of customer but also knows the products well enough to recommend some of them to us.

While Ashley was not overwhelmed she did have other customers, so while she took care of their needs the four of us began doing what we do best, philosophying and supping suds. I found out that the Maestro and the Blarneyman would only be with us a short time that afternoon as they had a Gala to attend with their good ladies that evening… something at the Thomas Center that sounded like, as the Blarneyman would say, a very posh affair.

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So we had another round of beers, this time I ordered a Hofbrau Maibock, which had a light caramel flavor with a smooth finish. And we resumed our philosophying. Then Ashley came back by and somehow the conversation got around to whether or not dogs were allowed in. Ashley told us that they were welcome on the patio and the Doctor showed her pics of Rowdy’s dog Harley, whom he frequently dog sits and takes to different establishments when she and the Cooler are away. Not to be outdone I produced pics of Tucker and got the “Oooh how cute!” remark for his pics. The Doctor told me to tell her about the hit squirrel and I proceeded to tell her the story about the cannibal hit squirrel that the other neighborhood squirrels had brought in to get Tucker (a tale for another blog).

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After that round of beers was finished the Maestro and the Blarneyman headed out to change into their penguins suits and take their ladies to the gala, which left the Doctor and I to decide what we would do for a meal. Since we were already there and they actually served food at this establishment, we decided to sample some of the fare. We both ordered another beer while we looked over the menu, and this time I saw that they had a Weihanstephaner that I had not had before, so I ordered the 1516 which is a kellerbier (a type of German beer which is typically not clarified or pasteurized) which has a little cloudiness to the appearance due to a higher remainder of yeast in the beer. No matter how it is defined, like all of the Weihanstephaners, it is certainly delicious.

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When she came back with the next round for myself and the Doctor, we put in our food orders. The doctor ordered a salad, a Spring Greens & Kale Salad, which looked good and he certainly seemed to enjoy it, along with a side of house fries. The Kale would hinder my enjoyment but the dressing was a vinaigrette made with a Framboise, which I would probably enjoy very much.

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I ordered the Guinness Bratwurst, which is a bratwurst infused with Guinness, served with sauerkraut, sautéed onions & peppers on a hoagie roll, and I ordered a side of tator tots. Not the menu recommended pairing the dish with a stout, but they didn’t have a stout on draft that I hadn’t tried before so I looked of the bottle menu and saw they had a Strong Ale that I hadn’t tried yet. So I ordered it instead. And the Stone Brewing Arrogant Bastard Ale went perfectly with this dish, and was an excellent beer on its own as well.

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After we had finished eating and were slowly enjoying our last beers, Ashley and another young lady walked over with a bell and a couple of T-shirts. The other young woman rang the bell loudly and Ashley called out, “Attention Everyone! I would like to announce that Dr. G and the Bear are now official members of our Loyalty Club!” with drew a little bit of applause from the other patrons. Then she handed us our tees and our respective membership cards.

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Our waitress Ashley.
Our waitress Ashley.

Ok. This was not how we saved the World (…of Beer University). After the Maestro and the Blarneyman had left, but before we ordered our food both the Doctor and I started talking to one of the managers about what a great waitress Ashley was. We like to do that whenever we are at an establishment that has an employee that is good at their job. One reason is that when you come across an employee at an establishment you like you want to make sure they are around the next time you come you need to let the people in charge know their value. Another reason is we hope that gets back to the person we were talking about from their supervisor and helps make their day better.

But that wasn’t how we saved the World either. The Doctor mentioned that we were unable to check into Untappd on our phones. And the manager we were talking to hadn’t heard of untapped before. So we explained how the app works, how you can keep track of beers and rate them and find them when they are being served locally or how you can use the app to find a place locally as well.

Right before we were walking out the door to leave, he came up to us and thanked us for him letting him know about it, and that he had put the WoB University into their database so that it could be used as a location now. So for all of you beer geeks out there who use untapped and want to find WoB University or want to check in while you’re there… You’re welcome!

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Okay… “Saved” may be a strong word for what we did. But everybody makes their own contributions when it comes to saving the world. You do it your way and we’ll do it ours!

… One beer at a time.

Papabear

The Art of Beer Pt 4 – Knowing When to Stop

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I am currently sitting down at one of my favorite tap rooms. There are eight people in the whole joint including myself and the bartender cause it’s still kind of early. In the background while I am typing there is some music playing with a Jamaican flare and a large cacophony of boisterous female cackling and drunk dudes trying to over talk them. One party of four is making most of the noise

Ok. To be fair this place is not the greatest acoustically. And it’s Friday Happy Hour and these folks are happy. Good for them. They seem to be enjoying themselves and having a great time. More power to them.

On the other hand when it’s time for them to leave I hope they use the phone a friend lifeline. Because I doubt any of them is good to drive. Which brings me to the point of this particular section of the Art of Beer…. overdoing it. Or more importantly… Knowing When to Stop!

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I remember when I was a teenager drinking was considered the cool thing to do. And that thought process is still probably true for the younger generation today. “Adults do it so it must be cool!” Or whatever word they use for cool now. Of course they also have a lot more peer pressure to use a lot of different chemical combinations than when I was that age. But this post is about beer so back to the topic at hand.

At that age the only signs that said you had to stop was when you couldn’t walk upright anymore. For any teens then, especially for boys but also for a few girls, this was considered a rite of passage culturally, and not just in American culture. I served overseas In the Air Force from the age of 18-20 in Germany and the same cultural rite of passage seemed true there as well. The difference between Europe and the U.S. is that alcohol consumption there is much more ingrained in the culture and the knowledge of proper consumption is taught to their young adults earlier. Americans have a tendency to throw their kids into the deep end of the pool when it comes to cultural dos and don’ts.

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Americans culturally are usually all about testing their limitations. If you’re not pushing boundaries then how do you know how much you can do? The old adage “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!” has been adopted by American youth throughout the many years for many different cultural activities, but this is especially true for consuming alcohol.

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There is always one person in the crowd who thinks it’s funny to see how much it takes to make someone puke. This can be a man or a woman. And the victim is usually someone of the same sex who is new to that current social gathering and it makes the instigator feel better about themselves to make someone else look foolish. If you have ever drunk any alcohol then the chance is very likely that you have been the victim in the scenario I just mentioned. If you have been the instigator then shame on you!

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If you are one of the lucky ones who have so far escaped unscathed from those who want to see what your limits are, or if you have not yet pushed your own limits, the following are definite signs that you have had too much:

  1. When you get up to walk to the restroom the earth suddenly shifts 45 degrees and you lose your balance. Just FYI – unless you are in an earthquake prone region the chances are pretty good that alcohol is interfering with your equilibrium, which means puking is not far away.
  2. You feel that closing one eye helps you see something you’re looking at better. Unless you have a glass eye, or are sighting down a barrel rifle scope, looking out of one eye is never better for you.
  3. You find yourself flirting with someone who, for some reason unknown to you, your friends keep trying to pull you away from. If these are girlfriends then they won’t stop pulling until they get you away from this person. Guys on the other hand only try to warn you once. After you growl a “Leave me alone!” at them then they adopt the “I warned you and now you’re on your own!” attitude. Part of that is because we’re a bit lazy and part of it is the guy code thing where you don’t try to interfere with another guy trying to get some.
  4. You’re willing to drink anything someone puts in front of you. Most people have their preferences as to what they are drinking for the evening. And while that may vary from night to night, you usually don’t mix different types of alcohol because they don’t always play well together. For instance, a beer and a shot are ok as long as you don’t do too much. Beer followed by wine if fine. But wine followed by beer doesn’t work as well. And you don’t do shots with wine… at least not with good wine. Mixed drinks don’t mix well with either beer or wine, but are okay with shots. If you start mixing these combinations and don’t pay attention to the common rules just stated it usually doesn’t end well,
  5. If you lay your head down on the bar, table or other hard surface and close your eyes, you’re done for the evening. It won’t be long after that you start praying to the porcelain god.
  6. You and a perfect stranger are suddenly the best of friends and you start telling each other things you wouldn’t tell to people who have known you for years,
  7. You come back from the restroom and see that someone has taken your drink or your seat and you start yelling at the top of your lungs and challenging them to a fight. Then you realize you’re at the wrong table/seat and these other people aren’t the group you came in with… or even worse you’ve wandered into a different bar altogether.
  8. You start airing your dirty laundry because your girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse said something to piss you off!!! Granted, some folks don’t need alcohol to get to this point but it certainly drops the barriers that would normally keep that from happening.

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The following, unfortunately, are definite signs that you have had too much but they don’t make themselves apparent until it is far, far too late:

  1. You wake up curled up on the bathroom floor or hugging that nice cool commode.
  2. You wake up and don’t remember how you got there.
  3. You wake up and don’t know where you are.
  4. You wake up with someone whom you do not recognize.
  5. You wake up in jail.
  6. You wake up in jail and the new friend you made that night at the bar is next to you smiling a really creepy smile that makes you wish this is all a bad dream.

If have been sampling alcohol for any length of time then you have probably experienced at least one, if not two, of these signs. If you have experienced all of these signs then you probably have a drinking problem. If you have experienced all of these signs more than once then you probably have a death wish.

The point I am trying to drive home here is that pushing the boundaries has its place, but alcoholic beverages is not really the area to adopt that philosophy in. Knowing when you have had enough is a very important part of being a responsible adult. It’s also a very important part of making it home safely to your loved ones.

Oh by the way, the boisterous quad of drunks I mentioned at the beginning of the post have departed. Three of them left when one of the females started getting real loud and yelling. Then she broke down and started crying into her beer and telling a few strangers at the bar what a great and giving person she is. This is a perfect example of someone who is pushing their boundaries and should have stopped a few beers back.

My point is this, enjoy yourselves as much as you want. But when the alcohol starts letting down inhibitions and your start exposing parts of your personality that are better left hidden then expect to hear something like “Hey… I know you!!!… You were that drunk idiot in the bar the other night!!”

Showing your ass, figuratively and literally, always has consequences.

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Papabear

St. Paddy’s Day Weekend In Gainesville (BrassTap & House of Beer)

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Myself, Rowdy and the Doctor starting our St Paddy’s Day celebrations with a Smithwick’s.

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.

My second draft of the night was a Guiness, pictured with the Swag.
My second draft of the night was a Guiness, pictured with the Swag.

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.

Black and Tan with Guiness and Smithwick's
Black and Tan with Guiness and Smithwick’s

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.

The Americano Stout from Stone Brewing
The Americano Stout from Stone Brewing

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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.

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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.

Rodenbach Grand Cru
Rodenbach Grand Cru

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.

Sixpoint Sweet Action
Sixpoint Sweet Action

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.

Moonlight Meadery's Stock Up
Moonlight Meadery’s Stock Up

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.

Papabear

Just another Craft Beer Friday in Gainesville!

Lagunitas Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale at the Lagunitas Beer tasting at Lucky's Market
Lagunitas’ Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale at the Lagunitas Beer tasting at Lucky’s Market

If your town is like Gainesville then you are probably finding yourself overwhelmed with decisions to make about where to get your Craft Beer needs fulfilled. Here we have had within the last two weeks Swamp Head Brewery’s 8th birthday party, Crafty Bastard’s 1st anniversary, multiple tap takeovers and charity fund raising with pints at various locations, like Brass Tap and Gainesville House of Beer. Even the Hoggetown Medieval Faire had their first weekend and they featured a Craft Beer tent this year(see pics below).

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LEJ Pretzel
LEJ Pretzel
First Magnitude Beers featured along with others at the Hoggetown Medieval Faire
First Magnitude Beers featured along with others at the Hoggetown Medieval Faire

I decided to start my weekend a little different. As anyone who follows me on Twitter or Facebook may remember, I usually go to Lucky’s Market in Gainesville on Wednesdays so I can have a sample of craft beer at their little bar and take advantage of the double coupon day (Sales from prior week and week ahead are both valid on that day). I didn’t make it on that Wednesday because I knew they were having a beer tasting on that Friday that I wanted to attend.

I have had a couple of different samples of Lagunitas Brewing’s beers before and what I had I liked. So being able to try something from them I hadn’t had before appealed to me greatly. Plus beer tastings featuring a particular brewery can tell you a lot about the folks making the beers.

I arrived at Lucky’s right around 4, when it was starting and the young lady repping the company and pouring the beers was finishing setting up. There was quite a display of swag on the counter (see pic below).

Lagunitas Swag
Lagunitas Swag

When she finally got ready to pour there was myself and a few other people at the counter. I sampled Laguntas beers in the following order: Lagunitas Pils – a very sincere tribute to Czech Pilsners (below left); Lagunitas Sucks – a very strong scent of pine in the aroma but a very smooth Double IPA (below right); Lagunitas a Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ which is a pretty good smooth tasting wheat ale (pictured at top of article); and a Lagunitas Maximus which was also a very smooth tasting Double IPA (pictured second down below); and I also had a sample of the Lagunitas IPA which I had had before but figured what the heck – I was there, it was there…

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When I had had my first sample about half way down, lo and behold the Chemist arrived and joined me at the counter, then about halfway into the next sample Rowdy showed up. So the Philosophying would begin earlier this evening. We sat around sampling and catching up for a bit. looking over the Swag available and realizing we had better get some before it all disappeared. After a bit Chemist got a text from the Deck-Orator that she was done with work so he went to retrieve her and they would meet me at Gainesville House of Beer later on.

I stuck around a bit more and gabbed with Rowdy and before long one of her friends from roller-derby stopped by and they began conversing. During that time Rowdy and I both overheard the manager say he had some bottles of Kentucky Bourbon Stout that had been held back for someone to pick up and it had been too long and he put them on the counter for folks to take up and purchase. So Rowdy and I each got a bottle to take with us. SCORE!!

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After a bit I figured I needed to head out and said goodbye to Rowdy as she wasn’t joining us that evening. So I grabbed my bottle of KBS and walked by the chip area and grabbed a couple of snacks for the continuing happy hour at HOB, then walked to the cashier, paid and went.

By the time I got to HOB the lot next to it was full so I parked in the downtown garage, grabbed the two bags of chips and headed over to HOB. I saw Chemist and Deck-Orator had a table so I walked over and greeted them, set my chips down and went to the bar for the first actual pint of the evening. I ran into the Chemist son, J, while I was there and realized we would be a foursome which was good because that meant I would eat less chips.

For my first pint of the evening, I decided because of the influence of the Lagunitas samples earlier that I wanted a Pilsner, so I ordered the Sierra Nevada Nooner Pilsner (see pic below). This was a nice Pilsner but not as good as the Lagunitas sample I had had earlier.

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With the chips I had brought the Pilsner went down pretty easy so I decided to order something with a little more kick to it. Alex, the manager at HOB asked me what I was having and I said, “I’m in the mood for a little Insanity.” To which he replied, “I like the way your thinking!” and went back and poured a Weyerbacher Insanity (see pic below), which is a barleywine. I have to say, I have had some barleywines that make you want to shave your tongue, and others, like this one that taste really good and smooth and have a nice little kick.

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We worked on our respective drinks and philosophied some more then thoughts began working on dinner ideas. Someone suggested the Top, which we were all for, so we settled up our tabs and walked across the street and around the corner. Unfortunately the wait for seating was over an hour and I’m not one for waiting that long to eat. Someone suggested we maybe try Emiliano’s or another spot downtown and see what we could come up with. I liked that idea and hadn’t been to Emiliano’s in a while so we headed out in that direction.

When we got there, they weren’t quite full yet and had a wait if we wanted to sit inside but could be seated right away if we wanted to sit outside. It was cool out but not intolerable so we chose outside and were quickly seated. The Deck-Orator and the Chemist were leaning toward wine with the meal but I felt like sticking with the ales, so they ordered a nice red and I ordered a First Magnitude Ursa (American IPA) which I think is one of their better beers.

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J wasn’t feeling well so he excused himself and walked home. So the remaining three of us looked over the menus and ordered our meals when the waitress returned. I had been there a few times and hadn’t had a bad dish yet, but wanted something I hadn’t tried before so I ordered the Mofongos, which is fried green plantains and yuca mashed with bacon and garlic-lime mojo, stuffed with your choice of grilled skirt steak, slow roasted pork, or sauteed shrimp. Served in a beef and pork jus. I chose the steak for my protein. I can’t recall what Chemist and Deck-Orator ordered.

We Philosophied some more for a bit but it didn’t seem long before our food was ready and brought out. The Mofongos was delicious. I like both plaintains and yucca but had not had them served mashed together before. It didn’t have the sweetness you usually expect from those two individually but it was still delicious.

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When dinner was done I was too full to even think about a dessert. I think my cohorts were as well. All in all a very enjoyable meal that was a good way to finish the evening out.

If you hadn’t tried any of the small session beer tastings that happen around town occasionally then I suggest you do so. You can usually find at least one good beer out of the group that you will like. In this case, I enjoyed all of the samples and will probably not hesitate to try anything else from Lagunitas Brewing.

And if I hadn’t talked about Emiliano’s in this blog before then I should well have. I have not had a dish from there yet I did not enjoy. Now, a small word of caution, if you are like me and have problems with shellfish their menu is usually Mediterranean fair and several dishes will involve shellfish. But you can find something on there you can eat.

Until next time, as the Blarneyman says “Enjoy Every Moment!!”

Papabear

Papabear’s Christmas Carol

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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).

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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.

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Rowdy and the Muse
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The Cooler and Rowdy

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.

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From bottom left clockwise: The Doctor, The Maestro, Rowdy Dangerfield, The Cooler, Jaded Jester, The Deck-Orator, The Muse, and yours truly.

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.

Blitzen Festivus Ale
Blitzen Festivus Ale

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.

Sugar Plum Brown Ale
Sugar Plum Brown Ale

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??!!

Bell's 30th Anniversary Imperial Stout
Bell’s 30th Anniversary Imperial Stout
Cold Mountain Winter Ale
Cold Mountain Winter Ale

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.

Tucker co-piloting
Tucker co-piloting

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Craft beer wall at beer distributor in Meadville PA
Craft beer wall at beer distributor in Meadville PA

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.

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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.

Fried pie with Pineapple filling
Fried pie with Pineapple filling

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!!!

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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!”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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… except for an occasional good beer.

Papabear