When cooking with Craft Beer, it is important to remember that these beers will impart their distinct flavors into the finished product, just like good wines do.
If you have done any cooking with the normal American Lagers then you know that even these beers which are lighter in flavor impart a little bit of themselves into the recipes they are used in. Now, imagine the difference that using Craft Beer, with it’s much stronger flavors and varying degrees of higher alcohol content, would make.
Others have been experimenting with beer parings and recipes (I like the Beeroness’ recipes myself), but I wanted to try my hand at and thought I would share the results with you.
I decided to try a little experiment using some different craft beers in a variation of my chili recipe just to see the differences that would make in taste.
For clarities sake, this is not my full blown chili recipe so I will not go into details about the contents but will focus instead about the beers used and the flavors they imparted.
I have one of those 3 pot slow-cookers that you can use to cook multiple dishes at once. So I basically divided my ingredients into three equal portions and split them among the three pots. The only difference between the pots was the beer I used.
I had multiple beers types to choose from in the fridge but decided to limit it to three types, an IPA, a Wheat Beer and a Brown Ale. I also had Pale Ales, Belgians, a Porter and a couple of Stouts to choose from but thought the Pale Ale I had would get buried under the chili spices and the others were to complex for this go-a-round of experimentation.
I selected Blowing Rock IPA, a decent enough IPA from Blowing Rock Brewing; Shotgun Betty Hefeweizen, a good example of an American Hefe from Lonerider Brewing Co.; and Bell’s Best Brown Ale, from Bell’s Brewery Inc., which is one of the better brown ales available.
Normally when I make chili I like to serve it with cheese and onions and, depending on the chili, a bit of sour cream. And I like it to be accompanied by corn chips, or homemade rolls or at the very least crackers. For this I did without the sour cream, chips, rolls and crackers, though I did keep the cheese. Even so it was a mild shredded cheddar. I wanted it to balance out the heat I cook into chili.
First up was the IPA Chili. I could smell hints of citrus in the chili and tasted it slightly as well. I could taste the other ingredients of the chili but it was damped down a lit bit making it just an ok dish. The IPA accompanying it tasted just like an IPA should. I think this showed that when serving an IPA based dish an IPA goes best with it.
The second bowl featured the Hefeweizen beer. The wheat flavor of the beer seemed to enhance the spices. It also gave it a hint of crackers in the chili which surprised me but then after thinking about it shouldn’t have. The sample of the Shotgun Betty I sampled with it pared well with the chili and enhanced the flavors even more.
The third bowl featured the Brown Ale in the chili. The brown ale flavor seemed to add a little sweetness to the chili but didn’t dampen the heat of the it. The beer itself tasted a little bitter at first. But after I sampled more chili and more beer the bitterness faded.
I decided to take one more sampling gambit and combined all three chilis into one bowl, then pared each of the beer samples with the combined chili. The blended chili actually tasted the best out of all the samples. As far as the parings went, the IPA tasted bitter, more so than before and did not go well with the blend. The cracker taste of the wheat chili was gone with the blend but the wheat still brought out the heat in the chili. And the brown brought out a sweet aftertaste with the chili.
This little experiment in chili was not only interesting but tasty. I was expecting the IPA to add a little bitterness, which it did, But when pared with itself for drinking it tasted just fine in the chili. I did not expect the cracker flavor from the wheat beer chili but I did think it would pare well with chili. The brown surprised me with the sweetness it brought to the chili as I never really thought of a brown ale as a sweet flavor.
And I was definitely surprised that the blended chili tasted better than any of three individual chilis. Though I liked all three I preferred the Wheat and the Brown. Not sure if I could pick one over the other as I liked them both and the ales brought out different aspects of the chili that I liked.
I will definitely be trying more experimentations with beer cooking down the road and will share the results with 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…