It’s been a while since I chimed in via blog, so I felt it was time to sit down and play a little catch-up with anyone who is still interested. No doubt like me you have been hustling and bustling about getting ready for the holiday season. Today has actually been one of our coldest this year and while we don’t have any snow you would certainly think by the way that everyone is dressed that we were in the Arctic. Of course, when you’re used to 70s and 80s the 20s does feel like the Arctic.
A couple weeks ago, while everyone else was starting their Christmas shopping and going to holiday parties, I was on the road headed to the southernmost part of the continental US, Key West. Another organization down there had reached out for help with some of their procurement and inventory procedures and, through a Municipal group my organization is a part, of had reached out to me and a couple other folks to assist with these concerns. Being the Stout-hearted (see what I did there) fellow I am how could I resist, especially since it included a free trip to the Keys. When any organization wants an outside look at their processes a Peer Review can cure what Ales you (did it again). As this was my first participation in the Peer Review process, on either side, I was a little unsure of what to expect but knew that helping out a sister organization would help our standing within the industry and I could also bring back information that would help us as well. While there are standard practices in the industry everyone has a way of doing things a bit differently. Seeing other practices and having thorough discussions with others can bring ideas you might not have considered.
I arrived in Key West a bit after 5 PM on a Monday, got checked in then met other members of the review team in the lobby. We discussed the process and the issues at the organization we were visiting then went to a local restaurant, Chico’s Cantina, on Stock Key, where we met members of the host organization for dinner.
Chico’s is a local Cuban place that is really known for their seafood tacos and other seafood dishes. I was tempted by the Yellow Tail Snapper dish they had but then I saw the Yucatecan Style Grilled Pork Chops described I had to have. They are 2 center cut pork chops, marinated in Achiote and seasonings, then grilled and topped with onions. They had the normal Mexican beers on tap but had a small section that said nothing but “Craft Beer”. When I asked, all they had for Craft was Jai Alai from Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, which I have already had many times, so I had the Dos Equis Amber instead as that goes well with spicy food. Everyone at dinner introduced themselves and we all participated in small talk throughout dinner and after. When we were finished, we headed back to the hotel and some of us headed to the bar to have a couple more libations and get to know each other some more. The discussions were anything but business, but I got a sense of who the other team members were and what to expect from the process.
The next morning saw the team meeting in the lobby for coffee and discussing how we wanted to approach the review process. Once we felt comfortable with our game plan, we headed over to the host organization and started our workday. We started by touring their new warehouse and looking over their materials layout. Then we moved into a conference room and started reviewing their procedures. By mid-morning we start interviewing the staff, first warehouse then procurement personnel. And while I can’t go into details here, I can say that I was very impressed with the amount of dedication I saw in these employees. To a person, everyone we talked to, while they might have had different ideas of how to approach an issue, all seemed dedicated to doing their jobs to the best of their ability. They were a real credit to their organization and would be to any that they belonged to.
For lunch we took a short walk down the street to a local landmark called Hogfish Bar & Grill, where we each had different dishes and were all pleased with the results. Supposedly, as the locals tell it the Bay of Pigs invasion was launched from that location.
At the end of the day, we returned to the hotel, where I checked my business emails and sent replies, the. Met downstairs at the bar so we could take the bus to downtown Key West and Duval Street where we could explore the night life. We ended up doing a little walking then ended up at Sloppy Joe’s a world renown Bar/Restaurant where we ate dinner.
I ordered a Sloppy Joes Pale Ale as I was sure it would go well with their world-famous Sloppy Joes Sandwich. And, of course, I was right. My team members had Casidillas and one had wine and the other a diet drink. All of enjoyed the meals. And I loved the atmosphere. It’s been a while since I hung out at a joint that had a house band that played good music and I had to yell at my table partners so they could hear me. The atmosphere of the place is awesome, festooned with flags from all over the world and various eclectic decorations including a look alike section with a multitude of folks who look like Papa Hemingway.
After dinner we walked around downtown some more to see what we could see. Now that I am an older fella I am much more interested in the history of places and would like to go back there again during the day and take some of the tours not available at night. But I am also still young enough to enjoy some of the evening activities available. After walking around, we went back to hotel and had another round of drinks. Then I retired to bed.
The last day we again went back to the organization and finished up our interviews with staff members, this time management. Again, folks who wanted to do good work but needed direction. In the afternoon we took our findings to the review committee and filled them in on what we found. The discussion involved a lot of back and forth and to be honest I am a terrible note taker, so I was really taxing my memory. I actually found this to be both draining and rewarding at the same time. At the end of it though I believe we did a good job for them, and I am hoping the results will give them good direction.
After we were done that afternoon, we were free to do what we wanted. Since i wasn’t leaving until the morning I was definitely taking the hotel bus back into town again. I had my eye on a specific distillery and a brewery to visit.
I arrived back downtown at 5:20 PM and Papas Pillar Distillery closes at 5:30. I hot footed it across the street from the bus stop and was able to get in before they closed for the day. Even though it was the end of their day they were gracious enough to offer me a couple of samples and then make sure that I received the Veteran discount they have for customers. Great service from these folks.
From the distillery I walked a few blocks down and turned left a couple more to get to the First Flight Island Restaurant & Brewery. I found a seat at the bar and ordered a flight of their three Flagship beers and two seasonals. And a dish of their mac and cheese.
Of the beers I liked the Maverick IPA and the Old Town Scottish Ale the best. And the mac n cheese was excellent. I really liked the atmosphere of the place and its connection to the beginning days of Pan Am Airlines.
I had enough walking and decided to head back to the bus stop and then on to the hotel. Once there I met some other folks from the Peer Review Process and we had one last libation together and talked some shop before heading to our rooms.
In the morning I packed up and headed back up US 1 toward the mainland. My plan was to stop at my younger sisters home in Coral Springs on the way home and stay there for a couple days. I stop at another brewery on the way back up and had an early lunch.
Florida Keys Brewing in Islamorada is definitely a Florida Beer company. If the decor and location didn’t clue you in, then the beers certainly would. After enjoying the flight with my tacos from a local vendor. I grabbed some six packs to-go to share with friends and family later. I thought all of their beers were pretty solid in style and flavor and were tasty. I would definitely stop there again if the opportunity comes up.
I continued from there up to Coral Springs and arrived a couple hours later. My brother-in-law was working from home. So we chatted a bit between his phone calls and waited for my niece to get home from school and my sister to get off from work. It was good seeing them as we hadn’t been able to meet in person since before COVID struck, around three years ago.
That evening they took me to see my first in person hockey game at Pantherland and see the Penguins play. My brother-in-law is a Pens fan and had the Crosby shirt to prove it. The only drawback to the night was the fact that Coors was the official sponsor of the arena The silver bullet could be had everywhere. So, I had one and regretted it instantly, as I couldn’t taste anything but water when I sipped. I tried having a Blue Moon, but they didn’t have any at that location. I ended up going downstairs to get a real beer and stopped at the Funky Buddha stand got the Gloves Off IPA which was tasty. And at the end of the first period, I found a Blue Moon at another vendor but was kind of disappointed as it couldn’t stand up to the Buddha.
The next day was Smoking day. My Bro-in law had started the smoker the night before, so we hung around and worked the smoker most of the day, smoking a pork roast. While hanging around I sampled some more beers I brought up from Florida Keys brewing. Great little examples of good beer to wash away the painful memories of the Coors I had.
The next day took their new dog, a 9-month-old Black Lab mix to the dog park to wear her out. In truth I think she wore me out a bit. Then we watched Croatia beat Morocco in the World Cup for 3rd Place.
Then we cooked some of the leftover pork on top of tortilla chips with other toppings and it was delicious. And before we came back and did that we stopped and got some groceries and I procured some holiday beers to consume with our food.
If you have never had these, you have to get them. They are awesome beers any time of year but taste better to me at the holidays.
The next morning my brother-in-law drove about an hour to pick up some Empanadas from an Argentinian bakery. And I have to admit they were probably the best Empanadas I have ever had. These had a very light and flaky crust with a great texture. They went great for brunch and were appropriate as we were watching Argentina play France in the final. Argentina was up 2 – 1 around Noon when I had to leave to come home. I found out later the final score and that I really missed the action.
I got home around 5:30 which was too late to pick up Tucker from the boarding place. So, I had to pick him up the next day. Some of you reading this may have wondered about him since I mention him so often throughout my various posts. I really couldn’t take him with me as he would have been too much with the new pup at my sister’s house. Instead, I boarded him with a company called Pet Paradise. Located in Newberry, they offer everything I needed to feel he was being taken care of. Worth the money.
Which brings me up to today. I finished Christmas shopping this morning so after lunch I went to one of our locals to imbibe and work on this blog a bit. Blackadder has their Making Spirits bright event which included discounts and, more importantly, all you can drink Gluhwein (spiced mulled wine for those who don’t know).
I started off with a mug of Gluhwein, which I believe Sissy makes herself, and a glass of Aventinus Weizendoppelbock, which is a great doppelbock. And the Gluhwein kind of enhanced the flavor. Then I went with one of Chris’ new brews, Raiders of the Lost Oak, which is an Imperial Coffee Stout. Really great flavor, and again, the Gluhwein enhanced it.
When I finished with them, I picked up some bottles of the Raisers to share with family on Christmas Day, then went home and cooked some homemade lasagna for dinner and served it with a salad and a Belgian Quad – Practise What You Preach, from Bierbrouwerji De Koningshoeven.
That about covers the last two weeks. Merry Christmas to all… and to all a great beer choice.