Craft Beer, Holidays and Family (not in any particular order)

I am sure there are a lot of folks out there who spent their Memorial Day weekend similar to me, traveling to visit family. That seems to be what three day weekends are for. If you have read my blog before then you know I live in Gainesville, FL . You may have also read about a trip up North to visit my youngest sister and her family in PA, but I also have another sister who lives in Coral Springs, FL.  She and her husband had just purchased a new home (new to them) and they wanted me to come for a visit. The Memorial Day weekend was a good chance for that.

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Tucker’s cousin Duke in front of my sister’s fireplace.

Now, I like to drive and love road trips. I love the feel of the road as it moves under you and the change of scenery as you move along. I like the freedom of being on the open road. That was part of the allure of truck driving when I did that for a living.  But I have a confession to make, I hate driving in South Florida. In fact, that is one of the big reasons I moved north to Gainesville from Ft Myers/Cape Coral. I can remember days when it would take me an hour and half to drive five miles to go to work. And that was on the Gulf Coast. The east coast is much worse.

The entire east coast of Florida from around Ft Pierce all the way south to Miami is often one large traffic jam.  There are a few other areas of the country that are like this (LA, Chicago, DC, Charlotte NC, Phoenix AZ, just to name the ones that stand out in my mind) but none have quite the flavor of South Florida…. especially around the end of the workday on a Friday.  It is a mix of people rushing to get away from work, start their traveling, kids getting out from school, retirees heading to the early bird special, and just general idiots who don’t have courtesy, skills or intelligence to drive but have been granted a license by the state.. or not. Before I get off on a tangent about the state of driving skills in America today let me continue.

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Since my sister and her husband wouldn’t get out of work til later in the day, I decided to leave Gainesville around Noon (which means I ended getting around the road at 1 PM) so that I would get to their place around the same time they did. I packed a couple bags, prepared a travel bag for Tucker (my dog) and hit the road. Now this is the first lengthy road trip that Tucker and I have been on together. He likes to see where we are going for about the first hour, so that meant frequently stepping onto my lap to see out the windows. By the time we hit the turnpike he started to settle down a bit an just rested on the seat beside me. Now, I don’t know about other dogs but Jack Russell’s being high energy as it is and the tension of being in a moving vehicle added to his needing to vacate his bladder about every 1 ½ – 2 hours, which was okay with me as I need to stretch my legs at about the same intervals.

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The trip was relatively uneventful, with the occasional Florida afternoon rain shower to drive through and some construction along the way. We ended getting to their place around 6 PM. Now if you look at the map above this paragraph you will see that it should only take a little over four hours to get there. But with the traffic we started hitting at around Ft Pierce south on the turnpike it added another 45 minutes. And they live about 20 minutes closer to me than they did at their old place.

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Duke in front of the pool

Having been about four months since I’d seen them all in person, it was good to see my sister, brother-in-law and nieces again. The youngest niece keeps shooting up like a sprout and for a nine-year-old is very tall. She gets that from her father. Her older sister has just graduated high school and will start college soon. She has grown into a lovely young woman, also tall like her father.

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Steak and baked potato with home brewed wheat beer served in a Swamp Head goblet.

My bro-in-law threw some steaks on the grill while my sister cooked some baked potatoes in the house. I brought out my home-brewed wheat beer for us to have with dinner. We served that in some beer goblets featuring the Swamp Head Brewery logo, gifts from me to my bro-in-law over the last couple of Christmas’. Both my sister and bro-in-law really liked the flavor of the beer, which being the brewmaster for that batch delighted me to no end.

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The whole next day was spent around the pool and the patio. My bro-in-law fried up some chicken in the turkey fryer, which he then coated in wingsauce. It was really good. And my sister cooked up some Mexican corn-on-the-cob, which was delicious, and they also grilled some burger made with a special recipe. I don’t know all the contents I just know it tasted good. I prepared bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers which my bro-in-law grilled. They also had friends over who I have met before and who brought a desert and a fluff fruit salad. And the beers purchased were the Blue Moon Summer release variety pack. Some of you may not think of Blue Moon as a craft beer and if we were talking about their normal belgian wheat I might agree, but their varietals are what I would consider craft as they are not available all the time and do require different tactics for making.

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On Sunday we went to one of the guests house for a little pool party there. I over-exposed myself to the sun the day before so I stayed in the shade and out of the pool. The beer variety there was Coors Light. Yes, I agree whole heartedly that Coors light, or any light beer for that matter, should be illegal. And I would not normally choose to drink it. But since I was dehydrated the day before I felt that drinking soda water wouldn’t hurt me. And when in Rome…

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When we got home that evening for dinner we had left over BBQ from the day before. And my bro-in-law pulled out the growler I had brought along as a gift. It was filled with Ursa (American IPA) from First Magnitude Brewing. He and my sister both liked that as much as I did, maybe more. I think next time they visit me we’ll have to go by First magnitude so they can see the brewery and sample more their fare.

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The next day was Memorial Day and since I was back to work Tuesday I knew I needed to head home. Tucker and I said our goodbyes and loaded up the truck and head off. It was a fairly uneventful drive home, despite Tucker trying to take the wheel (see pic below) until we got off of the turnpike. And as I was afraid would happen the traffic on I-75 started coming to a stop not long after the turnpike merges with it. That almost always happens on the last day of holiday travel. So I got off at the next exit and took US Highway 441 through Belleview and Ocala and on up to Gainesville. It was not as fast as the interstate with frequent stops along the way, but at least the truck was moving and not stopped and waiting for the flow of traffic to resume. Besides… the scenery along 441 can be quite nice.

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Tucker taking his turn at the wheel.

I reflected a bit on what Memorial Day means to me. It means being able to enjoy the gathering of friends and family, and remembering those who sacrificed everything so that we can enjoy those freedoms.

I hope your Memorial Day was equally enjoyable and that you took time to remember those who made it possible.

Papabear

Unwinding with BrassTap, Roller Derby, Satchel’s Pizza and Craft Beer

imageA couple of weeks ago, my work week was hectic and not only mentally but physically demanding. By the time Friday rolled around I was exhausted and ready for the weekend. The phone signals don’t reach me in my office so when I left for the day my phone did it’s normal blow up of email, text messages and app notifications.

One app notification in particular caught my attention. According to Untappd, the Doctor had just toasted one of my check-ins of craft beer. If he was toasting, that means he was checking in as well. So I looked it up real quick and sure enough he was supping a craft beer. So I toasted it and waited for a response.

A minute later I got a text message inviting me to join him at BrassTap. I replied I would join him as soon as I got home and checked on the dog and changed clothes. Not long after that the Maestro sent out a text to the group suggesting happy hour at certain spot. The Doctor told him where he was and Maestro was all for it so the two of them were already seated and supping suds when I arrived.

The regular hand shaking and “Howdy-dos!” were exchanged while I sat at the bar with my friends. The bartender approached and we exchanged greetings as well. Luckily I’m there regularly enough that he knows me and my taste buds because when he asked what I wanted to drink I asked “What’s new?” He knows what I like and steered me toward Ballast Point Brewing’s “Victory at Sea”, an Imperial/Double Porter. It has really smooth coffee flavor with hints of chocolate.

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The Doctor, Maestro and I philosophyed for a bit, then I had Bold City Brewery’s 1901 Amber Ale, which I thought was a well-balanced ale. I could taste some hops but they didn’t over shadow the slightly roasted malt flavor of a red ale.

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The last beer I wanted to be lighter as I usually start light and work my way darker, but this time was reversed. The bartender recommended First Magnitude’s Cool Pond Belgian Blonde, which I had to agree with him was really good and finished well for the set.

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The Maestro had another appointment and had to take his leave of us. After the Doctor and I finished our last beers we talked a bit then parted ways until we would meet again the next night at Rowdy’s Roller Derby Bout. Unfortunately he wound up not being able to make it the next day.

The next day I went to a fish fry at O’Leno State Park then headed back in time to get changed and head out to meet Rowdy at the Alachua Country Fairgrounds where the roller derby was held. If you have never been to Roller Derby you need to go at least once. Once you understand the rules and how points are scored it makes easier to understand and root for your team. While the teams were warming up I found Rowdy and said good luck to her then went and purchased a Swamp Head Brewery Stomp Knocker poured from a pitcher. That was the only craft beer they were selling there, though they had cans of your normal American lagers.

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I spent the couple hours rooting for the Gainesville Roller Rebels, to no avail, as the Dub City Rollers were Amazons and kicked butt. Though I don’t think they made as many points as they wanted to.

After the bout I found Rowdy and asked if she wanted to go the after party they were having at Gainesville House of Beer. She said what she really needed was food so the nearest place that had good food and craft beer that I could think of was Satchel’s Pizza. Rowdy liked the sound of that so I went to get in line for a table while she helped her teammate’s clean up.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts you seen me mention that I don’t like lines and that I will usually not wait for any lengthy time to get a table. Well, there is an exception to every rule, and Satchel’s is it. If you have never been to Satchel’s then you must be new to Gainesville as it is one of the most well-known local restaurants and has almost a cult following. And not without reason.

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Satchel’s is known for their pizzas, calzones and salads. They have other items too, but these three things they do very, very well. They also have one of the most unique atmosphere’s you will ever see. Right in front of the restaurant is an old VW bus parked that has sit in the same spot forever. In fact it is actually used for seating guests outdoors. They have indoor and outdoor seating with the whole building kind of decorated in a 60’s deck/patio theme. At the rear of the restaurant is Lightning Salvage, which sells paraphernalia from the 50s, 60s and 70s like the magnetic rolling yo-yo, superballs, flash travel card sets, etc. I could spend hours in that place just looking around. Check out their website at www.satchelspizza.com

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In fact, while I was waiting for my table to open and Rowdy to arrive I went to Lightning Slavage and ordered a craft beer at the bar there, First Magnitude’s Drift Mild English Ale, then spent the next 20-30 minutes just looking at the junk they sell (When I say junk in this instance I don’t mean it in a negative connotation. After all one man’s junk…) and thought about the some of the items I remembered from my youth that they sold there.

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After a bit Rowdy showed up and about five minutes later our table was ready. We both ordered a craft beer, (I ordered First Magnitude’s Ursa American IPA), and a salad. Then I ordered the Major Calzone and Rowdy ordered a custom calzone. Our beers and salad arrived not long after and we caught up and ate and supped some suds. After we were done with our dinner and got our to-go boxes, the waitress brought over complimentary deserts in the form of cookies. I think Rowdy snagged a chocolate chip, but I couldn’t swear to it because I was eyeballing the macadamia nut. And I ate that cookie with delight, it was one of the best I ever had.

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If you haven’t been to Satchel’s Pizza before, one word of caution, they don’t accept credit cards there, but there is an ATM machine which will charge you a fee for using. Luckily my bank refunds those fees for me, because I forgot to bring enough cash with me. Rowdy and I said our goodbyes and were on our separate ways home. But it was a weekend well spent with friends and craft beer.

If you haven’t been to Satchel’s what in the hell are you waiting for?! GO… NOW!!

Papabear

 

A Fish Fry & Winghouse

A friend of mine invited me to a fish fry last weekend. He is an avid fisherman and didn’t have room left in his freezer from all of the fish he had caught so it was time to cook some of it up to make room for more. Whatever the reason for it, I love good fried fish so I was definitely going.

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Interesting root growth at O’Leno State Park

A pavilion at O’Leno State Park was rented and invites were sent. Since it was an outdoor event I decided to bring my dog Tucker with me. I knew he would enjoy not only the ride out but the change of scenery. Not mention there was an enite population of squirrels and lizrds that hadn’t met his wrath yet.

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If you ever have the opportunity to visit O’Leno I would recommend going. It is a little bit of a trip from Gainesville (about an hour from my house) but not too far to make the trip bothersome. And the scenery is great. It located off of US 441 north of High Springs and is next to the Santa Fe River. In fact there is a swimming area and plenty of spots for fishing as well. And some very scenic spots that you may not see in other areas of Florida.

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I mention the fish fry even though no craft beer was consumed there to get to the following point.

The friend mentioned above is the male half of the Loverbirds couple I have mentioned in a previous post. While there I noticed a sign indicating an impending marriage between him and his lady-love. After talking to his better half I was informed that their nuptuals were in fact happening very soon. So I decided that a proper send-off for my friend was in order.

I arranged a short notice bachelor party for him this week. Most of us in attendance have been to more than our share of these and in all honestly we’re a little old for the girl popping out of the cake routine. I figured just an opportunity for us to get together, BS, eat and drink a few beers was really all we needed. But seeing a pretty girl wouldn’t hurt any either. We may be older but we ain’t dead.

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So I figured Winghouse would be a good place for us to go. They have enough variety of food that it should fit most peoples needs. They have about a dozen beers on tap and quite a few more in bottles. They also have a liquor license so shots are available as well as some mixed drinks. And there are plenty of flat screen tvs around so any sporting event we might have a particular interest in would be available for us to look at.

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The boys night out being photo bombed in the background.

If you have never been to Winghouse, it is very similar in concept to the popular Hooters chain of restaurants. Winghouse is not as nationally known as Hooters and outside of Florida and Texas I am unaware of any locations, but that doesn’t mean they won’t expand in the future. The main draw (foodwise) are the wings, which explains the name, but they also have other foods (burgers, sandwiches, fries, salads and other delicious selections. The wing sauces are pretty good and they have enough variety to satisfy most palettes, and you can mix the sauces to your liking. And considering that the only two Hooters restaurants near Gainesville havve closed, it’s really nice to have Winghouse in town.

I mentioned beers on tap above and they do have a few craft beers in that mix. Though I have not seen any changes in their draft selection in a while, they do have at least one local (Swamp Head) as well as a couple of others (at the Gainesville location Sam Adams, Fat Tire, Magic Hat, Goose Island, and Blue Moon – please don’t pick up the Blue Moon controversy here).

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And like Hooters, Winghouse employs young women as their wait staff, clad in garments that hug their figures very closely. But they also have a great attitude and a friendly disposition.

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Sorry… I spaced out there for a moment.

One of my friends was in the hospital a while back so I bought him one of the Winghouse calendars and asked one of the waitresses who worked there and made it into the calendar (Kendall pictured below) if I could take her picture for him. She not only posed for the pic but as I recall wrote a little get well note in the calendar for him.

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Kendall with the signed calendar

When Swamp Head Brewery was at their original location, I used to stop by Winghouse almost on a weekly basis as they were on the way back. Since Swamp Head has moved I don’t make it by Winghouse as frequently, but that doesn’t lessen my opinion of their food or service.

This visit was another good example.

We sat around philosophying, drinking back cold drinks and eating. I motioned the waitress over and whispered that my friend was getting hitched and I wondered if there was anything they can do for the occasion. I know for birthdays they will usually gather the wait staff around the individual and sing and clap a little birthday ditty. She said she would see what she could do.

After a bit the waitress walked out with two large scoops of ice cream, each topped with a marachino cherry, and both with chocolate drizzled over them. She said this desert is called “The last strange pair of boobies you will ever see!”

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That kind of fun humor is the atmosphere you usually find at Winghouse. The food is good, the service is good and the scenery is great.

A Dragonfly and an Alligator walk into a bar…

I know that sounds like the beginning of a joke. And if I can think of one that fits while writing this review I will work it in. But trying to come up with attention grabbing tag lines can be harder than you think.

We started the weekend like normal with the texts going out midday Friday to figure out where we would meet for happy hour. The Maestro suggested First Magnitude around 4:30. Rowdy replied that she was in and I said I would meet them there though I probably wouldn’t make the 4:30 time. The Maestro came back and said that his Muse would be joining us, which was great. She doesn’t normally show up for happy hour because she is a wine drinker and doesn’t care for beer. But she will drink cider and we always enjoy her company.

I continued the rest of my workday, which was busy, and before long it was time to go home for the weekend. Shortly after I arrived home, a text came in from the Doctor stating that he had a table saved for us at the brewery, but that parking was a premium and that parking on Main Street was probably the best option. After I finished checking on the dog and changing clothes I headed out to meet my friends. Luckily I don’t live far away from First Magnitude so it didn’t take me long to get there. And the Doctor was right… parking was at a premium. But once I got inside I had no trouble getting up to the bar to get a pint. And there weren’t a lot of people inside. But there were a bunch out in the beer garden.

The Doctor, Rowdy, Maestro and Muse were already seated at a table near the bar. I ordered a limited release Session Amber from First Mag, and joined my friends. If an amber ale is done right I really like it and this one was. It had a good rich roasted malt flavor but was balanced well. While I supped that back we all began catching up with each other.

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After a bit Muse decided to head home. Shortly after the lady half of the Newlyweds showed up. (Side note – Henceforth she will be known as the Deck-orator, inside joke, and her spouse will be known as the Chemist.) And another couple (referred to here as C&D) joined us as well.

During our outing at First Mag I decided to go with some guests taps after the Session Amber as I had had all of the in house taps. Nothing against them, in fact I like most of them a great deal, I just like to have a different beer as often as possible. My first guest tap was actually a mead, from Royal Manor Vineyard & Winery. I thought this was really good and could taste a distinctive honey flavor in it, when some meads taste more like sugar this retained that honey taste. My friends are not big mead fans so they didn’t care for it.

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My second guest tap was The Company, a California Common from The Barley Mow Brewing Company. I like Common (or Steam) beers normally, but to be honest this one was not to my liking. Too bitter tasting and not balanced enough for me.

My third guest tap, and my last at First Mag, was Cigar City Brewing’s Hot Blooded Foreign Stout. I really like stouts and this was a good one. A red tinge to the dark color and a little different flavor but good tasting and a nice finish.

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There was a general agreement from our group that sustenance in the form of solid food was needed. I threw out the name Dragonfly as we hadn’t been there as a group in a while. Then Rowdy pointed out that with the kids graduating from college the weekend before we should have no trouble getting in. So we closed out our tabs and moseyed on over, except for the Doctor as he had other things to do.

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Rowdy and I at Dragonfly

Rowdy was right and a table for six didn’t take too long to seat us. Our waitress was Tia (I hope I am remembering her name right) and was a very pleasant young woman. She took our drink orders, which consisted of the Maestro, Deck-orator and Rowdy sharing a bottle of wine, D has a glass of a particular wine and C and I both had Sake, though he ordered a kind of Sake Sampler and I had a bottle of Nigori Sake.

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You may remember that I mentioned Sake at another Asian restaurant in a previous blog post. There are actually many different styles of Sake. When I was younger I was under the impression that Sake should be served heated to about body temperature. And generally I have only been served that type of Sake. I have since learned that heating Sake is usually done only on inferior Sakes. Other Sakes are served chilled, like the Nigori, which is a sweeter and cloudier Sake. It has fine rice sediments in it which is what sweetens the flavor.

So the meal commenced with an appetizer of Won Tons, followed by either Miso Soup or Salad with Ginger dressing depending on the preference, and for the main course we all decided to each order a Sushi roll and we would share, each person getting at least one sample of a particular roll. The only drawback to that for me was a problem I have with shellfish. I’m not exactly allergic to it, but it does wreak havoc with my digestive tract. So I made sure that my roll didn’t have any shellfish but couldn’t say that for the others.

Despite those concerns all of the Sushi rolls were delicious, which is what you would expect if you have ever been to Dragonfly. If you haven’t then you need to go. I must confess that some years back my only experience with Sushi was some dive place and it tasted awful, which put me off Sushi for a long time. Then after moving to Gainesville, I was invited to the home of a Chinese national whose wife made homemade sushi and it changed my mind. It opened my taste buds back up to trying others. Since then I have tried more than a few places and I have yet to find anyplace that does Sushi as well as Dragonfly. And if you are not a Sushi fan they have other excellent dishes there as well. If you are not a Sake fan they also have an excellent wine list and a good selection of beers, both bottled and draft featuring some local breweries.

After dinner, we all settled up our tabs and went separate ways, except for the Maestro and myself. We decided to wander across the street and visit Tall Paul’s for a craft beer or two. Tall Paul’s is really known for two things a big bar loaded with any drink you could want and live bands. I have been there several times with my friends and I have never been there in the evening without a live band playing. But Tall Paul’s is also home to Alligator Brewing, a micro-brewery. They usually have about thirty different taps with craft beers flowing and about ten of them are their own product.

Now over the last few years I have sampled many of their brews and to be honest when I first began trying theirs I wasn’t that impressed. Which was disappointing, as the bar and atmosphere of the place itself was a great place to hang out with friends and enjoy the evening. Luckily their guests taps had beers that were to my liking.

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However, lately, their beers have been tasting much better. A sentiment the Maestro pointed out to me. I started out with a guest tap, Riverton Brewing Company’s Wit Beer, which was just okay. I recently brewed my own wheat beer and it tasted a little better than theirs. So I took the Maestro’s recommendation and tried one of Alligator’s that I haven’t had before, the Cellon Oaked DIPA. If you had read my blogs then you know IPAs in general are hit and miss with me. And a double IPA usually means an even hoppier flavor. And while this had the kick that a DIPA carries with the extra alcohol it wasn’t as bitter as I expected. In fact it was a pleasing surprise. I will definitely be trying more of their brews.

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I’ve still got no joke for the tag line. If you have one then share it in the comments. As far as I am concerned if you haven’t been to either Dragonfly Restaurant or Tall Paul’s Brew House then what the hell are you waiting for? Go! Eat, drink and enjoy!

Papabear

The Blarneyman Visits – A Review of Loosey’s Downtown and Tree Fest at Swamp Head

Out-of-town visitors… Don’t you love ’em? I do. Especially when they’re fun folks like the Blarneyman and his Blushing Bride. Whenever they visit it’s a great excuse for our Band of Craft Beer Enthusiasts to get together and enjoy some libations (not that we really need an excuse). Wherever we end up we have a good time together.

Blarneyman and his Bride had arrived the night before but since that was a Thursday I elected to stay home because I had to work the next day and Thursday night usually involves karaoke. And karaoke usually involves more beers than I. See on a Thursday night.  By the time Friday afternoon rolled around I got a text from Rowdy inquiring about Happy Hour. I suggested Loosey’s and she came back with 430 and I passed it along to the others.

If you haven’t been to Loosey’s then you either haven’t been in Gainesville long or you’ve been dead for a while.   This is what Gainesville residents would refer to as a local legend. Located in the heart of downtown Gainesville it has always been known for drinking and entertainment but in recent years it has also been known for good food as well. Now I can’t speak to their other food as the only thing I have eaten there are their fish and chips. But they’re the best fish and chips in Gainesville. Since I don’t eat there that often I have a tendency to get the one thing I know they do best and that no one else can do as well yet.

 

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Loosey’s also has a large number of craft beers on tap as well as bottles. Their selection may not be as varied as say House of Beer, BrassTap or World of Beer, but they do try to offer varieties that you mind not find elsewhere in town. I started off with Blue Point Brewing’s Spring Fling, which a pretty well balanced American Pale Ale. The Doctor arrived, followed shortly by Rowdy though she didn’t have the Cooler with her as he was off “huntin’!” We grabbed a little table and began philosofying about our past week. Soon enough I was ready for another and ordered Sweetwater Brewing’s 18 Belgian Style Tripel Ale which was potent but smooth tasting.

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Not long after that the Maestro arrived with the Blarneyman in tow. We all decided on a bigger table and found one nearby.   The Doctor, Rowdy and I checked out the menu while the Maestro and Blarneyman ordered some drafts. I tried someone’s Terrapin Ale Special Project and did not care for it at all. So with my food order of fish and chips I ordered Founders Blushing Monk, a fruit beer, to help get rid of the taste. Sometimes I like fruit beers and sometimes not. I really liked the Blushing Monk. And it pared well with the fish and chips. Did I mention yet that they have the best fish and chips in town?

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So we drank craft beers, ate fish and chips (Rowdy kept stealing my chips – did I mention these are the best fish and chips in town?), and philosified. Blarneyman ordered another round of the same beers we were having so I had another Blushing Monk which I found out is a 9.2% beer. By the time we finished the food both Rowdy and the Doctor had to leave. So the Maestro, Blarneyman and I continued on to First Magnitude Brewing.

Parking was at a minimum there so once we all finally stowed our vehicles away, we made it inside to find that despite the full parking the wait to get drafts wasn’t too long. Blarneyman hadn’t been here since they opened the beer garden so we headed outside to enjoy the nice cool breeze. I had the Big Shoals American Brown Ale. I believe the Maestro and the Blarneyman both had the Time Out Stout, which is also a really good First Mag brew. By the time we had finished these beers it was late enough for me to go home and take the dog for a walk. We had all agreed with Rowdy and the Doctor to go to the Tree Fest at Swamp Head Brewery the next day so I said I’d see them then and headed home.

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Swamp Head Brewery created an event called Tree Fest to raise money for planting trees. The following is a description from their Facebook page:

We would like you to help us plant some trees. Solar Impact, Inc. and Swamp Head Brewery have teamed up to create Tree Fest, an annual event to be hosted at the Swamp Head brewery around Earth Day and Arbor Day each year. Tree Fest will celebrate the environment by raising money to plant trees with the Alachua Conservation Trust in an event that will feature food trucks, family-friendly activities, and of course, Swamp Head beer. Five trees will be planted for every beer purchased during Tree Fest, and all sponsor donations will go toward planting trees. The trees planted will be one year old longleaf pines and will be planted on ACT’s Little Orange Creek Preserve in Hawthorne, Florida. Our goal is to plant over 5000 trees with money raised by Tree Fest.”

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Swamp Head Brewery began the Tree Fest at 1 PM, so the Doctor, Rowdy and I decided to meet there around then. The Brewery grounds were covered with three food trucks, a couple of bounce houses for children, and some information booths. It was nice outside but the threat of rain was in the air and tornado warnings weren’t that far away.ant over 5,000 trees with money raised by Tree Fest.

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The Doctor and I both started out with Swamp Head’s River Logger, which is a black lager, and quite tasty. I moved on to Catherine’s Wood, a Russian Imperial Stout. If you’ve read any of my blogs before you know I enjoy a good stout and this one is one of my faves. Rowdy decided to get a Lobster Roll from Monsta Lobsta food truck which she loved.

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About the time she finished eating that I noticed a couple at a nearby table playing some kind of game that required holding your phone up to your forehead. I was intrigued so I wandered over and asked about it, and was introduced to the Charades App for phones. After I downloaded it, Rowdy and the Doctor and I played it for a bit. It is really addicting and is a fun way to pass time while you’re supping some suds.

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After we finished that first round, the Maestro and Blarneyman showed up with their respective spouses. Blarneyman has his Blushing Bride and the Maestro has his Muse. If you know these ladies you will understand why I picked these names for them. Blushing Bride is a warm friendly lady who always seems to have a smile on her face, especially when she is around Blarneyman. And the Muse (or in ancient Greek the Mousai) in Greek mythology, poetry and literature, are the goddesses of the inspiration of literature, science, and the arts. This lady is not only wise and musically talented but gifted at sharing these talents. They entered carrying saplings being given away by the Alachua Conservation Trust.

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So we spent the next hour or so, catching up, playing Charades, philosifying, and supping suds. It was an enjoyable afternoon where our activities helped the environment, the money we spent was for local businesses, and we spent our time in good company.

On the way out, both the Doctor and I had to stop and get some ice cream cones from the Sweetdreams food truck, a perfect topper for the afternoon.

If you get the chance to attend a similar event at Swamp Head in the future, I suggest going, especially if you can go and meet friends there. If not, then go and make some new ones.

And if you have never been to Loosey’s Downtown, then what in the hell are you waiting for. Did I mention I love their Fish and Chips?

As the Blarneyman says “EEM!!! (Enjoy Every Moment)

Papabear

Hogtown Craft Beer Festival, April 18, 2015

Let me preface this review by saying that I don’t like lines. And by that I mean lines to get into a movie or a restaurant or night club or bar. If I walk up to place and I hear that there is a wait of more than 10-15 minutes to be seated, 99 times out of 100, I’m walking away and going somewhere else. That’s just the way I am. Very rarely over the last 30+ years of going out to places have I found anyplace worth wasting mine or anyone else’s time to wait to get in.

Having said that, I got to the beer fest a little later than I would have liked, the pouring started at 1PM sharp and they let folks enter around Noon. But I didn’t get in line til around ten after 1. The line to check in when I arrived was about 300-400 feet long and it reached from one side of the back square at Town of Tioga all the way to the other side and a bit more (see the pic below).

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Did I mention I don’t like lines?

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Hogtown Craft Beer Fest 2015 map

It took about 20 minutes for my spot in the line to move around to the check-in. Which considering how many people were attending (1400 tickets pre-sold) wasn’t bad. And the line moved at a decent pace. At the check-in the event organizers (the Hogtown Brewers) dutifully checked I.D.s and verified tickets holders, then passed out the sampling glass with the Passbook, a small booklet listing the different vendors and their products and a map showing their location. Immediately after the check-in tables was a guy dressed in some kind of Incan Sun-God King outfit (at least that was what it appeared to be to me) pouring out samples of Bold city Killer Whale, a Cream Ale, which seemed kind of timid for a craft beer festival. But then if you’re someone who is not familiar with craft beer this would be a good crossover beginner beer. But who am I to judge… I once drove 4 hours just to get some Genesee Cream Ale, and one of my favorite Swamp Head brews is Wild Night, a honey cream ale.

Hogtown Craft Beer Festival Passbook

One of my friends, the Blainenator, was helping out at one of the vendor booths and I stopped by the booth to say hi. He hadn’t had a chance to wander around the festival yet. So we decided to explore the festival together for a bit. He had heard about a Maple Milk Stout so we went to the pod which had Florida Avenue Brewing. This stout wasn’t in the passbook as one of those they were serving so it was a surprise. and a good one at that. Definite hints of the maple syrup as well as chocolate and coffee hints that a lot of stouts will have were present and it also had a smooth texture.

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While we were in the same pod, we also stopped at Copp Brewing, where I had the 1821 English ESB, and at Three Palms Brewing where I sampled the Guess Again, which is a sour ale. The Guess Again I thought just ok but then I like some sours and not others. I am, however starting to become a big fan of ESBs (Extra Special/Strong Bitter). Don’t let the name fool you. The ESBs I thought were the best tasting were not overly bitter as the name suggests, In fact, they have very well balanced flavors. Copp Brewing’s ESB is one of these balanced beers.

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We then wandered to many different pods trying the various samples available to us. The breweries that I had samples from included (but were not limited to): 3 Daughters Brewing, Aardwolf Brewing, Abita Beer, Bell’s Brewery, Bold City Brewing, Brew Bus, Bugnutty, Cigar City Brewing, Copp Brewery, Engine 15, Florida Avenue, Florida Beer Co., Founders Brewing, Green Flash Brewing, Intuition Brewing, Left Hand Brewery, Lost Coast Brewing, Motorworks Brewing (soon to be covered in a review by Rowdy), Ommegang Brewery, Persimmon Hollow Brewing, RJ Rockers Brewing, Sixpoint Brewery, Southern Tier Brewing, Sweetwater Brewing, Three Palms Brewing, and Uinta Brewery. Then of course I had to stop by the locals (Swamp Head Brewery & First Magnitude Brewing). And there were probably three times as many breweries represented that I did not sample. Most of the beers were good, a few were just okay, but none of them made me want to dump it out and wash my mouth out.

I think the one I liked best for the day was a Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout by Lexington Brewing and Distillery. They weren’t even listed in the passbook but I really like stouts and the bourbon flavoring on top of this one was really tasty. The Blaineanator and I got into line for their booth and only had  couple folks ahead of us. After we got our samples we turned around and saw the line had grown back about 20 or more people. It literally grew in the blink of an eye.

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Did I mention I don’t like lines?

And beer was not the only brew being offered; there were a few (mostly local) vendors who had samples of ciders, meads and some local wines as well.

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And of course there was the killer 55 foot trailer that was converted into a large multi-tap dispenser. Dubbed “Craftzilla” this beast is a beer drinker’s dream.

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I was very glad to see not only the local breweries (Swamp Head, First Magnitude and Alligator Brewing) being represented, but also some of the local tap rooms, like BrassTap and Gainesville House of Beer. And I was especially glad to see a lot of local food vendors.

I’ve been to beer fests where the food vendor is basically Domino’s or Pizza Hut Pizza, a fast food place, and Baskin Robbins Ice Cream. I have nothing against any of these places. But they, in my opinion do not even come close in comparison with the likes of our local places. For pizza you could choose from one of the Food Truck’s which was called Humble Pie (see blog on First Magnitude brewing for a mention of them) and one of Gainesville’s must visit pizza places, Satchel’s Pizza had a booth. The Reggae Shack café had a booth, if you like Caribbean cuisine, and there were several other local food truck vendors. For me there were three highlights as far as food goes for the day.

First, Stubbies and Steins, one of the first establishments to bring craft beers to Gainesville and the best german style sausages anywhere, had a booth. This was one of my favorite places for food right up until they closed last year. So seeing the staff from there back serving the most awesomest sausages was a great treat. I also purchased a tee and some glassware from them for memories sake. Hope to see more of them in the future.

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Second… What is a beer fest without pretzels? One of the best german traditions is hot fresh soft pretzels and a stein of beer. Particularly served with either mustard or a horse-radish sauce. Well, friends, I’m here to tell you that there’s a new player in town. A little company by the name of LEJ Pretzel, Co. has arrived and they make some really great pretzels. Soft and chewy without being too dry these tasted great. I am wishing them well in their new enterprise and hoping to see them in other events around the area. (P.S. – they have a Facebook page so you can find them there.)

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Third, and while my last vendor mention they are in no way the least, is Sweetberries Eatery & Frozen Custard. I have not had the opportunity to sample any of Sweetberries other foods, but their frozen custard is the best. This time I had their Honey flavored and it was a perfect topper for the other foods and beers I had that afternoon. I could tell that they used good quality honey to make the custard, and not some syrup substitute. The flavor came through that well. After purchasing my custard, I said “bye” to the Blainenator and slowly walked toward the exit of the festival, savoring every bit of the frozen treat. I was half tempted to lick the bowl clean it was so good and probably would have in the privacy of my home.

I made my way to the front of Tioga Town center where I had been lucky enough to happen upon a parking space just as someone was leaving, otherwise I would have had to drive to the overflow parking and ride the shuttle back. The one drawback of Tioga Town Center for use of any event is the lack of sufficient parking. I feel bad for the businesses located there when these events happen because it must be a deficit for their customers. I had to park in front of Blue Highway Pizza to find a space. And when I got back to the vehicle I realized that a pizza for dinner would be nice, so I figured since I parked in front of their shop I should at least patronize their business.

I ordered a special which was basically their Greek pizza with Tzatziki sauce instead of tomato sauce and the pieces of meat that are normally roasted on a spit (can’t remember the name). It was delicious. If you haven’t tried Blue Highway (whether this one or the one in Micanopy) you need to.

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When I got home, before I settled down to eat dinner, I spread out the Swag I had bought or collected (with the Blainenator’s help) which you can see below. Not a bad little haul. Glad I brought a little shoulder pack with me.

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If you couldn’t make it to the Hogtown Craft Beer Festival this year, you should have. There were a lot of great people, some who you may have known and probably a lot you didn’t. There were plenty of great beers to sample and lots of good food to eat. They even had a little area for kids to play in. The price tag for the entrance was $45. Some of you might hear that and think to yourself “Why would I spend that much for beer when I can buy a twelve pack of my favorite beer for less than $15?”

And if all you want to do is drink your normal everyday Lager and drink it and nothing else, then I agree with you that is what YOU should do.

But if you want to be able to sample multiple styles and breweries in one spot, eat some of the best food in Gainesville, and meet some really great folks, then spend the money… it was more than worth it. I’ll certainly be back again next year. My hat’s off to the Hogtown Brewers for throwing such a great event.

Papabear

 

A Hit and a Miss – Of Craft Beer and Japanese Steakhouses

This weekend marks the start of Craft Beer week in Gainesville. There are a number of festivities going on at the various tap rooms and local breweries. There is even something called the Brew Bus that will take you around town to these various locations so you can sup your suds without the worry of driving. All of this culminating in the Hogtown Craft Beer Festival on April 18th. Already have my ticket and am ready for much beer tasting.

With all of that going on you would think that our hardy band of craft beer lovers would be involved in something related to these events last Friday night. Rowdy suggested we try a new place and truth be told I had seen a write-up in one of the papers about this place and thought about trying it myself. It’s called Curia on the Drag and is located near what used to be the Gainesville Animal Hospital. The concept of the place is a Coffee, Tea, Beer and Wine stop. It is intended as a kind of resting place for the local art community and includes a building outback called the “Fermenter”. If you’re reading this then you may have assumed, as I did, that the “Fermenter” was where they would build a micro-brewery. But, like me, you would be wrong. The Fermenter is actually a studio where different artists can go and work on their pieces.

So a haven for artists is not where I would normally connect craft beer. But then craft beer could also be considered by some as an art form. It is certainly a creative expression as is most art.

I arrived first and was greeted by the director Zack Kennedy. I told him it was my first time there and I was interested in their craft beers and asked what they had on tap. He motioned toward the taps behind and named off all three.

That’s right three taps. Now before you roll your eyes and start crossing this place off your list, read on. Zack also mentioned a small refrigerated case on the side of the counter that contained some hard to find craft beers in cans. And he also pointed out a row of bottled beers on display on a high shelf over the counter. All in all I would say he had between 30 and 40 different beers to choose from as well as a couple of ciders and a ginger beer.

I had just gotten a draft of JDub’s Poolside when the Maestro joined me. He ordered a Dale’s Pale Ale. Then we went and sat and waited for the others to arrive. We both liked the atmosphere of the place. It’s small and kinda kitschy but it is still a decent place to hangout and start your weekend. I especially liked the wooden bar that resembles a gator hide (see picture below).

Alligator hide design in counter at Curia
Alligator hide design in counter at Curia

Rowdy soon showed up, followed by the Cooler. Then the Newlyweds joined us along with the Lovebirds. Our small party took up a good portion of the shop. Luckily for other patrons they have a small section of the side in the curio area and a little patio as well.

Cowboy cookie and Sixpoint Abigail 2015
Cowboy cookie and Sixpoint Abigail 2015

I already mentioned coffee and tea and wine as well as beer. I didn’t get a chance to eye the wine list but I did see the various types of tea they served and they use Sweetwater Brewing for their coffee, which is a locally operated coffee roasting business. They also have assorted cookies available for munching and I had the Cowboy, which was delicious. Don’t know if they’re made in house or ordered in.

Zack was certainly knowledgable about craft beers. And freely shared what he knew about them including recommendations. He and the young lady working with him were certainly friendly enough and helpful. This place is definitely worth a look see and I would go back again. My only concern is the limited number of taps and whether or not any of those and the cans and bottles are rotated out with different selections or whether it is a steady menu.  Overall this place scored a big hit for me.

Bus behind curia - artwork in progress?
Bus behind curia – artwork in progress?

After a couple of beers I believe the Maestro left to go watch the gator baseball game. And not too long after that I felt the need for dinner and declared that “I need to either go home or go get something to eat!”  The Newlyweds decided to head home but the Lovebirds, Rowdy, the Cooler and I decided to go for Japanese Steakhouse. I believe I suggested it so what happens next is partly my fault.

We went to the closest of the options available to us, the Samurai Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar in the Publix Plaza on the corner of 13th ST & 39th AVE. I had been there once before with an old girlfriend for Sushi which was good. But she had a thing about hibachi bars so we didn’t go into that part of the restaurant. I wanted hibachi because I like dinner and a show. Let’s be honest, the food at a hibachi bar is usually the same no matter what bar you go to. The difference is in the cooks who work the hibachi. The flare of the knives and the interaction with the customers is what sets them apart. Being an amateur cook I appreciate and take note of their techniques.

I think I remember hearing the hostess say that they had a big party getting ready to leave but I can’t swear to that. After a small wait (not even five minutes) the five of us were seated at the hibachi with two other couples, one of which had a small boy with them. Rowdy said that was awesome because when there are kids at the hibachi the chef will show off a lite bit more. I agree.

Sake carafe and serving cup
Sake carafe and serving cup

The waiter came and took a head count and got our drink orders. I ordered Sake because I always order Sake with either Sushi or Hibachi. And when it arrived it was served hot in the carafe with two small cups. Traditionally, Sake should be shared and each party should pour for the other though after the first cup I usually forgo that part of the ritual. The Sake tasted clean and clear and slightly sweet with a little bite at the end. I enjoyed that. For those who don’t know Sake is sometimes referred to as rice wine which is actually misleading. Sake isn’t fermented from rice like wine is from grapes but it is actually brewed like beer. You can even find some Sakes on Untappd.

The waiter took our food orders and I ordered the Yaminiku, which is sliced beef with mixed vegetables in a special sauce, according to the menu. Something I hadn’t had before so I figured why not try it. The waiter got the rest of the tables order then was off to get the Miso soup. He came back with the soups and was one short for the hibachi and had to get another. Hint number one.

When the salad came, again he was one serving short and had to go back for another. Hint number two.

While we had our soups and salads I noticed that there didn’t seem to be a lot of staff on hand. Hint number three.

The hibachi cook came out with his cart of prepared items for cooking introduced himself to everyone and then confirmed the food orders. When he got to me he said, “Steak and Chicken.” To which I shook my head and replied, “Yaminiku”, or as close to that as I could remember and pronounce correctly. He looked down at his paper and obviously couldn’t find my order, then went on to confirm everyone else’s. He came back to me and asked again if I had steak and chicken and again I replied that I ordered Yaminiku. He excused himself, said he’d be right back and took his cart back to the kitchen. Hint number four.

After a short period he returned with his cart and said, “Ok, here we go!” then began the routine of prepping the hibachi. If you’ve been to a Japanese Steakhouse before then you know they begin with the eggs for the stir-fried rice, then any vegetables that need cooking, followed by low mein noodles and then start working on the meats. As he went around the table again checking on everyone’s order and confirming it with the meats he put on the hibachi, when he got to me he still had no food to confirm. When he began portioning out the rice and low mein he obviously didn’t have enough for my plate. Hint number five and the last I needed.

While all the other patrons at our hibachi were eating off of their plates I sat there with an empty plate feeling like Oliver Twist trying to ask for more gruel. I believe the cook saw my perturbation and began calling for the waiter who took our order. After he finally showed up and was asked where my food was I realized that he had dropped the ball big time here. And so did he. He ran off toward the kitchen (I am assuming). And the cook continued working on the meats that everyone has ordered.

He finished those quickly and began dispensing them to the various plates around him. By the time he was done I was still sitting there with an empty plate. He did a quick clean and thanked everyone, then looked at me apologetically and said he would find out where my food was.

After another few minutes, I told my friends that this was ridiculous and that I was about to get pissy with the manager and called for someone to get him to our table. It took another few minutes and just before he came over a different person came up and put my plate of food in front of me. When the manager arrived I told him that I was getting ready to complain about not having any food but that it was there now. He nodded his head and went away to leave me to my eating.

The food was good but not any better then any other similar restaurant I have been too. Once we all finished we still had to wait around for checks to come out which is unusual. Which was another telltale sign that the place was understaffed that evening. This was confirmed again as we left and I could see a lot of folks in the Sushi bar looking like they were waiting for things as well.

I will give the place credit in that my bill was probably only 40% of what it would have been otherwise. And the waiter did apologize to me for his mistake. And the cook was not to blame for my dish not being included in the cart. He was working from the list he had been given.

This is a clear sign of bad management. The restaurant should not have been that understaffed to begin with. If the waiter was new or needed help he should have gotten it. Or maybe he needs another line of work to be in. And part of the benefit of going to a hibachi is getting to watch them prepare your food for you. My plate was done in the kitchen so I don’t even know who prepared it.

I have heard some folks tell me over the last couple of years that they liked this place. The last time I was here it was ok. Nothing outstanding but nothing wrong either. And your experience  with this place will hopefully differ from mine if you go there. But I won’t be going back.

These two places are perfect examples of what makes for a good experience. The Samurai Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar was a perfect example of what you don’t want a patron to experience. The food was fine and the cook entertaining but the whole experience was a very big miss.

Yet, Curia on the Drag while first entering I was dismayed by only seeing three taps, the overall experience makes me want to go back again. A definite hit.

Here’s hoping your weekend began better.

 

Brew Parties, Food Parings and Bears… Oh My!

Saying Hi

If you read my last post you should know that I was planning to have a little Beer Sampling party this weekend and had some concerns about how my first batch would turn out. I was also pondering about whether or not to continue homebrewing or to leave it to others.

Before I divulge my decision on that I would like to comment on the subject of Food Paring. I know there may be some folks out there who have doubts about the merits of matching foods up with beverages. But let me share some of my experiences in the last week or so to try and sway your thought processes.

I was sitting at Gainesville House of Beer (GHOB) the Thursday before last and supping a brew with the Maestro. We were having a conversation with the bartender about one of the local wine shops. Turns out he has a part time job there as well. We told him that we used to go to that establishment until they went downhill. He said things had turned around and that they were working with GHOB on a Beer and Cheese paring night. He invited us to come but we had to decline. The Maestro had personal plans already and I was already going to a Wine Paring Dinner somewhere else the night it was scheduled. But we both liked the idea. You may read that and think, “What’s the big deal? Beer and cheese naturally go together.”

If your idea of cheese is limited to the melted variety served over nachos or a grilled cheese sandwich, and by beer you are referring to one of the popular American lagers then you’re correct in that paring isn’t that important. But I’m talking about Craft Beer, beer that comes in so many varieties and flavors that paring it with food is very similar to wine paring. I’ll explain.

At the dinner, which I attended with Rowdy and the Cooler, the first course was a Buckwheat Blini served with Caviar and a Vinagered Cucumber. It was pared with a Sparkling Pinot Blanc. The wine wasn’t too dry like some champagnes and its slight sweetness complimented the slight saltiness of the caviar.

The second course was Scallops in white wine sauce served with a Roland Tissier Sancerre. The scallops were tender and delicious and the wine enhanced their flavor. They wine stood well on its own as well.

The salad was made of Arugula with a vinaigrette. It was served with a Les Rocailles, Bonaface Apremont.  The wine itself was just okay but a good paring with the salad because it neutralized the peppery after taste that the salad had.

The entrée was a roasted tenderloin of beef with Béarnaise Sauce, Lyonnais Potatoes and Asparagus spears. The accompanying wine was a Chateau Haut-Goujon, This was a really great Bordeaux that not only stood well on its own but enhanced the flavors of the entrée.

The dessert was a Grand Marnier Soufflé and was accompanied by a Chateuneuf de Pape. This wine alone is one of the best reds out there. It added to the richness of the soufflé.

All of these wines were paired with a dish that not only were enhanced by the wine but complimented the wine as well.

Many of the craft beers out there now can be as complex and flavorful as a good wine. It follows that paring them with the proper food can be as difficult. Back before craft beers became popular and Lagers were your most available if not only choice the types of foods that went best with beer were usually snacks with a higher salt content like chips or pretzels.

Now with the rise of craft beer and myriad flavors available a lot more foods can accompany a brew for consumption.  For instance, normally beer and ice cream don’t mix, either in a glass or as an accompaniment. But take a nice rich malty stout and it complements ice cream and other sweet foods as well.  While an IPA is usually bitter and sometimes a pretzel will make it seem even more so and not to the betterment of the flavor.

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As I mentioned earlier I had a small get together this last weekend out on my deck. I brought together some samples of beers from out-of-town breweries I visited during my recent travels (see Beer-cation Pts 1-4). And while I was brewing a wheat beer that afternoon we sampled an American Pale that I had brewed a couple months ago. I waited to sample my first homebrew until I had other people present because I wanted to get their honest reaction.

Papabear's Pale Ale

Untappd ratingThe first comment I heard was “Wow! You brewed this??! This is good!!” And I have to admit I agreed with him. I was envisioning people doing the spit-take or pouring it into a planter. Instead I heard a few compliments on the beer. There were probably a couple people who didn’t think it was as good as some but then everybody’s tastes are different. And to be honest it was a little too carbonated so the amount of honey I added during to bottling was probably a little too much for the amount of beer I made. But that just goes to show you that even a mistake can still taste good.

Party sign

After the homebrew I served a Bier de Miel, a Belgian flavored with honey, which to no surprise was very sweet. After the belgian I brought the TimberCreek Black Bear Porter, which has definite coffee hints. That was followed by the North Country Brewing Keystone Swankey, which is a Steam (or Common) Beer. I had never had one of these before I had sampled this at North Country Brewing but if this is an indicator of how Steam Beers taste then I say keep making more of them. My fellow beer samplers at theory seemed to agree.

My little brewing station on the deck
My little brewing station on the deck

 

From the Swankey we went to the Green Man Brewing samples I had brought back. We started with their ESB, which stands for Extra Special Bitter. But I didn’t find this to be bitter and thought is was a well balanced ale. Another point my friends agreed on. After the ESB we went to the Green Man Forester, which is a seasonal stout. This is one of my favorites of the night but I have a thing for porters and stouts. I believe the others liked it but not as much as I did. After the Forester I served a Liefman’s Cuvee Brut which was bottled like a champagne and almost tasted like a sparkling wine. I liked it but it was definitely not my favorite of the day.

 

Pot of wheat beer mash being brewed
Pot of wheat beer mash being brewed

By the time we had gotten to the middle of the beer list I had already added hops to the boil and then pitched the yeast into the carboy and set it in a dark closet for fermenting. In a couple more weeks I will bottle this and then wait at least two more weeks before are going for another beer sampling.

We sampled several different foods while doing this. A friend of mine brought some fruits and cheeses to snack on. And I had prepared a homemade quacamole to go with some local tortilla chips I had purchased. After I was done with the brewing I fired up the charcoal side of the grill and began cooking some beer brats (made with beer from local Swamp Head Brewery), Smiths hotdogs from up in Pennsylvania, and some wings that I coated with olive oil and dusted with a blend of spices. I also had home Cowboy Beans, my sisters homemade sauerkraut, and a hotdog meat sauce in the crockpot. Another friend brought a cheese dip with sausage and potato salad, and Rowdy brought wines for the non-beer drinkers to have.

Now we didn’t do any food paring in an official capacity but I did notice that some of the foods went better with some beers than others.

All in all we all had a good time catching up with each other, eating and supping suds. And as is bound to happen when a bunch of us get together and imbibe the philosofying starts.

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Even when it started raining we kept enjoying the day (thanks to Blaineanator bringing a canopy). It was an afternoon long happy hour that really didn’t stop until the sun started setting and the man-eating mosquitoes came out.

I earlier mentioned being unsure if I would continue brewing as a hobby or just leave it to others. I not only want to continue I want to do more. The Blaineanator mentioned having supplies from making wine and wanting to learn to do this. So maybe we’ll just have to blossom outward.

Carboy of wheat beer fermenting.
Carboy of wheat beer fermenting.

To Brew Or Not To Brew, That Is The Question…

Tucker, lizard chaser

With apologies to Shakespeare, I thought the statement appropriate to my thoughts this afternoon. I’m sitting on my deck right now enjoying this perfect spring day in Florida and listening to Tucker, my Jack Russell Terrier, run all over the backyard after lizards. He is new to the household, about a week, but he has already grown used to me and the cat and has made the house his in all but title. He has even been helping me spruce the place up a little…. Well maybe he thinks he is helping.

I’m having a little Beer sampling party next weekend. All of the growlers I collected on my recent road trip have beers from a few different breweries. And I will be sampling my first batch of homebrew as well. I have no idea what it tastes like yet as I decided to wait until the party to sample it with friends and see what their reaction is. I’m looking forward to the party and getting together with friends. But a small part of me is dreading sampling my homebrew for the first time with them. What if it sucks?

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not tying my vanity into this. I don’t regard this as some kind of passage or test of manhood. And civilization as we know will not crumble and fall into the sea as a result of my inability to make a good batch of beer. There are plenty of folks around who can brew good beer without me worrying about never supping any again.

But I haven’t been excited about a new hobby in awhile as I am about homebrewing. I’ve been visiting a lot of homebrewing sites and looking up recipes to try and looking at equipment I would like to have. I’ve even thought about building an outdoor shed to use just for brewing.

But what if the batch sucks?

I thought about getting into homebrewing for a while. I even bought a Mr. Beer kit but never broke it out to use. Then my sister and her husband bought me a beer kit from Brooklyn Brew Shop. It comes with most everything you need to brew. And it’s only a gallon size batch so if it doesn’t turn out well you’re not wasting too much. Homebrewing seemed like a natural fit for me. I like craft beers and I like cooking. And another way to think of brewing is cooking.

I’ve read a lot about brewing and there are a lot of things that can go wrong during the process that can ruin a beer. Brewing the grains at too high or too low a temperature, boiling the wort to high, adding the hops too soon or too late or at the wrong intervals, pitching the yeast, not storing the beer well during fermentation, too much honey in the bottling process, etc. And that doesn’t even cover all of the sanitizing you have to do.

If nothing else, I’ve gained a greater respect for craft brewers who’ve stuck with it and I hope to join their ranks. In fact I’m going to be brewing a new batch of wheat beer at the beginning of the party. We will be sampling the American Pale Ale I already brewed along with the others I brought back from other breweries.

Watching Tucker chase lizards all over the yard got me thinking why does he do it?

Answer: Because he enjoys it.

Will I brew another batch of this ones turns out to be not so good?

Answer: Well… I enjoyed brewing it.

Review of Swamp Head Brewery, Gainesville, FL

 

Swamp Head Facebook PageOne of the best breweries in Florida (if not more widespread) is right here in Gainesville…  Swamp Head Brewery. I’m not just saying that because I live in Gainesville and may be biased about it. I really believe it. And it’s really quite a bold statement considering the caliber of breweries. This includes Cigar City, 3 Daughters, Intuition Ale Works, Reprise, Orlando Brewing, Funky Buddha, Lauderale, and a lot more than I feel I can type right now.

Founded in 2008, Swamp Head has been taking the Florida Craft Beer Industry by storm. There have been a few restaurants with Craft Brews and microbreweries in Gainesville for several years. And it has a community of home brewers as well. But Swamp Head was the first production brewery to emerge from the local craft beer scene.

In 2014, at the Best Florida Beer Championship, their Sciaenhops Imperial Red Ale won a silver medal and their 10-10-10 Imperial IPA won the gold, then it went on to win the Best in Show. Later that year their Smoke Signal (Robust Smoked Porter) won the gold medal at the World Beer Cup. Let me repeat that…

World…Beer…Cup. I would say that is impressive. For a brewery that’s only a few years old, I consider that very impressive.

And this year (March 2015), one of their year-round selections (and one of my favorites), Cottonmouth – Belgian Witbier, won the silver at the Florida Brewers Guild Beer Fest.

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Okay, let’s say none of that impresses you. Then I suggest…. no… Dare you to stop by their brewery in Southwest Gainesville and see for yourself. They have recently completed construction on their new facility and tap room (pictured above and below). The tap room is called The Wetlands, but what else would you call a tap room for a Brewery named Swamp Head.

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Wetlands at Swamphead Panoramic

While you’re there ask about touring their facility. They enjoy showing off the new place and will readily answer any questions you may have. In fact, they have been known to give advice to other brewers in Gainesville and the rest of Florida. That is a trait that a lot of great breweries have.

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Swamp Head has five year-round brews on tap in their tap room and they bottle these beers in kegs for shipping to local pubs and restaurants, and other areas in Florida. They also have begun canning some of these and have some available in Publix (a Florida based grocery chain).

 

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Wild Night – Honey Cream Ale. this a light refreshing beer that I find very easy to drink.

Cottonmouth – Belgian Witbier. Since I’m a wheat beer fan it’s only natural that I would like this award winner.

Stumpknocker – a Pale Ale. A good hoppy flavor.

Midnight Oil – an oatmeal stout brewed using locally roasted coffee. This is another favorite of mine.

Big Nose IPA – this is a beer for Hop Lovers. My friends the Maestro and the Newlyweds L&H love it.

Besides the five flagship brews listed above they also have many different seasonal, occasional and hard-to-find releases. The afore-mentioned Sciaenhops, Smoke Signal and 10-10-10 fall into these categories.

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While visiting there with the Doctor today, I had their Batch 800 PB&J. A very smooth and tasty Amber Ale with hints of peanut in the taste and a little jelly in the aroma, this is one I could drink year-round.

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I also had the Down Deep West Coast IPA. If you likes hops you will more than likely like this. I liked it because it had a good balance.

Swamp Head does not serve food but will frequently have food trucks in front the Wetlands. And they don’t mind if you bring your own food in.

To learn more you can visit their website at www.swamphead.com and they have a Facebook page as well.

As one of the first local breweries I would say they have set the bar pretty high. I hope their influence leads to more breweries of the same caliber opening near Gainesville. They have already influenced one (First Magnitude) and I know they have begun working on collaborations with other breweries. They are…

Inherently Floridian. 🙂

Papabear