Enjoying Independent Brewing in the Age of COVID

If you’re anything like me, then prior to the COVID19 pandemic hitting the US, the one thing you could rely on was Friday Happy Hour. You might have had the occasional stop in at a local establishment on the way back from somewhere during the week, or maybe a trip to a local brewery or beerfest on the weekend, or maybe a social gathering for a special event throughout the week where you would join one or two of you friends, but Friday Happy Hour was a given. The only uncertainty was the location and time for the meetup.

Then COVID hit…

(Dramatic music – DUN DUN DUHHHH!!)

While we are all aware that it has affected everything, since this blog is about craft beer, we will focus on that. First let’s talk about how folks may personally have been affected. No matter where you were you eventually had to go through a lock down of sorts. This meant stay at home orders were being enforced and only essential businesses or operations were allowed to be open. Social distancing rules went into effect. For some the rules changed literally overnight. Restaurants closed their dining and if they were lucky could still make to go meals to keep afloat. Breweries had to do the same, tap rooms were closed and only to go orders could be processed (Now aren’t you glad you had some growlers lying around!). And bars closed pretty much completely.

If you’re a serious beer or wine drinker then you have been stocking up your supply for a while now, so the lack of options at the local grocery store was not as big a problem. But those of you who only dabble in this were likely wishing you had a beer fridge now. I wonder how many have since gotten one to stock up for the next disaster. If you did have one, then how many of your bottles set aside for aging did you consume? And are you glad you aged those beers or was it a mistake? And if you don’t know what I am talking about, no this isn’t the nasty Natty Light you forgot you had in the back. This is the higher ABV beers that you purposely set aside to age in the bottle a bit more. They may have been waiting a year maybe two or three for you to try them.

I can tell you from my experience these specific beers that I had saved aged very well. Very well indeed! But then I only saved some of the best available to me. Goose Island Bourbon Stout, Founder’s KBS and Dirty Bastard, Weyerbacher’s Insanity and Merry Monks, Sierra Nevada’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Bigfoot, North Coast’s Brother Thelonious, all with higher ABV and rich flavor to begin with. Aging only deepened the flavor on them. Part of me wishes I hadn’t consumed them and could age them a bit longer. Now I will just have to stock those back up again and start aging them some more, and likely add other examples to the stock.

But the amount of beers I had stocked up wouldn’t last long. Luckily two things happened. As I mentioned above the to-go orders from local breweries were being processed either in canned production as local breweries First Magnitude, Swamp Head, and Cypress & Grove were (and still are ) doing, or in a more customized version where custom orders were filled in to-go crowlers and growlers as Blackadder Brewing was doing.

All of these establishments had their tap rooms closed at some point and were able to make it by with filling to go orders, though I suspect the production breweries were still able to sell their canned products in local stores more easily as supply chain disruption was affecting beer distribution on a national level more so than at a local level. The first group of breweries are production breweries that package their products in cans for the local market or in kegs for other establishments. First magnitude rearranged their brewery for drive thru service. Blackadder is a small brewery/pub that produces their own small batches for consumption on premises and brings in some of the best guest beer to fill out their other taps. For them, I am sure the going was a bit rougher.

Even though I and other locals did our best to get to-go orders placed with them, for any business that relies more heavily on the customer coming into the premises, these last few months have been tough. But as the rules for businesses laxed, Blackadder was one of the first to get their ducks in a row and prepare for social distancing measures both inside and outside their establishment. Getting folks back in was a priority but they also wanted them to be and feel safe. This was also true for the larger production breweries. Many of them rearranging their tap rooms and their bier gardens to accommodate the new rules.

In the interim, our little beer circle began making use of the latest in social media applications to hold virtual happy hours (tipping my hat to the Maestro for thinking of it and subscribing) so we could continue keeping up with each other.
If any of you used similar applications, then I am sure you encountered similar issues. People not used to virtual viewing had o get used to it. Finding the button for video (whether you wanted it on or off), people talking at you and getting frustrated because you can’t hear them because they’re muted, multiple people talking at the same time drowning each other out and making sure no one was understood, people running vacuums or appliances in the background, all added up to distractions. I had to learn to keep my finger near the mute button because happy hour also occurs at the same time that some of my neighbors like to take evening walks, sending Tucker into a frenzy of barking and howling.

Tucker on watch

While being able to keep in touch with everyone and at least talk to them together was nice, it still isn’t a substitute for the real thing. Living alone with just Tucker to keep me company, my daily travels in to work and weekly happy hour get-togethers were my primary means of social contact. Having to work from home for most of the last few months and resorting to social apps for contact has limited my exposure to human contact. While this has likely kept me from contracting COVID it also has felt very lonely. Visits to the grocery store and doctor appointments have been really the only exposure to other humans and it really isn’t cutting it.

There has been an upside to the lock down. I have been able to focus on a couple things. One has been developing recipes using beer to cook with, some you have seen on this blog and others I have saved for a cookbook I want to make. The second is that I was able to begin my journey to Cicerone Certification and obtain the level of Certified Cicerone Server. Now I am working on learning the various styles associated with different regions before I get the Certified Cicerone level. It helps to be a bit of beer geek anyway when doing these certifications, but I am also learning a lot more. And thirdly, I have been beefing up my home brewing equipment so I can start brewing on a more regular and consistent basis.

Now here we are in mid-October. In Florida, the Governor has been pushing to get businesses reopened and get the economy back up. Whether we are ready to do that or not is, of course, a tense point of discussion. As of right now, my isolation from work is set to end at the end of this month. As I write this I am getting ready to begin a well-deserved vacation to the Appalachians and re-charge my batteries. The afore mentioned Blackadder is having their Octoberfest celebration this evening and I am hoping to attend, mask and all. If I’m lucky I’ll see some friends there.

We’re not quite back to normal, but it’s a start. But then normal has never really been my thing anyway.


Art of Beer – Addendum: What’s All the Brew Ha Ha Over Beer Companies Buying Each Other Out??!!

The picture above is what a lot of Americans think that any activity related to beer is all about. Getting rowdy with your frat brothers at parties and smelling like stale beer. Sitting around watching sports and seeing who can belch the loudest and  longest, or seeing who pukes first from the results of a beer chugging game is one of the first pictures that comes to mind whenever the word “beer” is spoken aloud.

And to be fair, since the repeal of prohibition right up until the last decade or so that would not be an inaccurate depiction of most beer related activities in the U.S. Thanks mostly to marketing campaigns of a lot of the major brewing companies in America (Anheuser-Busch, Coors, Miller Brewing, Pabst, etc.) the light American Lager has become associated not only with those activities but others as well, most of which are usually pandering to the lesser qualities of mankind. These include lust, competitiveness, laziness, and a lack of propriety.

And that is the exact opposite of how a majority of the rest of the world views beer. For many other countries it is a beverage that can have as much prestige as some of the finest wines and liquors available. Especially if it is carefully and skillfully CRAFTED!

In America, thanks to industrialization, beer has had done to it what many other products have had done. Make the most economically feasible product, mass produce it and use advertising to shove it down the consumers throat. And since so few companies survived the dark years of prohibition only those that were mass producing other products were capable of coming back from the brink to begin producing beer again. And in the American business model the more you can make for a cheaper price the better your profits are.

But a little secret was revealed to many of us over the years. Some of us have had the opportunities to visit Europe or Asia or the Middle East and taste beers and other styles or the same style but in it’s original form. We were awakened to the fact that what we have had limited to by the corporate conglomerates was in fact crap! And when we came back to America from other countries and went to try out old reliable American staples we realized the truth… “My God!! This is shitty beer!!”

Luckily, in the late seventies, then President Jimmy Carter signed a bill making it legal for home brewing to begin again. Whatever else you may have thought of him as a president, this was one act that everyone can agree on was a good one.

With that act, the home brewing craze and the craft beer movement began. And for about 20 years that is exactly what it was, a fad or a craze that someone wanted to try. But eventually enough people not only stuck with it, but became very good at it and tried to do what many other American Entrepreneurs had done before them and turn a beloved hobby into a business they could make a living at. Some of these entrepreneurs are still at it today, Anchor Brewing, Sierra Nevada, Samuel Adams, and many others who have seen the rise of a revolution in taste as well as quality in process.

These companies which started out small have grown into larger companies by maintaining quality products and consistently trying to expand their skills in different styles of beer. Something the larger brewers have forgotten how to do.

With this industrious rise in Craft Brewing, there resulted the inevitable loss of market share to the big brewer’s. And how did the big brewers react? Did they rethink their brewing techniques and think about investing in higher quality products using better ingredients? Did they think about expanding the styles of beers that they brewed and trying to draw back some of the market share they lost through honest competition? I’m sure they thought about it.

But that isn’t what they did. Instead they came up with a two step approach:

Step 1 – Buy out the competition. Buy out successful craft brewers, learn how to produce their products for less money, and reproduce their beer labels under your brand. This method has been the Grim Reaper of many venues of American industry. The problem with this is that is doesn’t work well. Quite often quality suffers and the customers you hoped to win back can tell and find a new brewer to follow.

This has not helped the big brewers gain any more craft beer fans, but it has helped them to gain in other ways. Recently the founder of Sam Adams Brewing publicly stated that over 90% of the beer made in the world is owned by two companies both European Conglomerates who own not only most of the breweries on every continent but also a lot of the distribution companies. AB-InBev and Heineken N.V. own companies in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, North and South America. Leaving only Antarctica as unclaimed territory.

Step 2 – Strangle their supply chain. If they won’t sell out to you then make it difficult or impossible for them to get the ingredients to make beer and even harder to get their beers to market.

These two conglomerates have repeatedly tried buying out hops and grain markets in efforts to stifle the supplies for others to make beers. And when that didn’t work they put a stranglehold on the distribution by buying out a lot of the distributing companies, or giving monetary incentives for their products to get top billing. These companies have been reading the robber-baron’s handbook and instead of creating new games just gave a wink-wink nudge-nudge to the concerned lawmakers who failed to stop them.

So to answer the question in the article title – the “Brew Ha Ha” over the beer companies buying the others out has nothing to do with the beers they originally made. And really not even with the beers being made buy those that have sold out to them. No matter what happens there will still be folks who like all of those beers and will want to purchase and consume them. We are after all creatures of habit.

The problem is that if the trend keeps going as it is, eventually new craft breweries will no longer be built. The ability to choose from over 5000 breweries and tens of thousands of different beers will disappear. Craft beer is going to be changing, whether we like it or not. Craft breweries will have get even more inventive with their “Think outside the box” strategy to continue to exist.

The good news is this:

  1. Thinking outside the box is what craft brewers do best.
  2. The Genie is already out of the bottle. Home brewing is alive and well and will continue to be so. Larger Craft production breweries may not continue any growth, but the little guys who just want to brew and share with the locals will always find a way to do so.



#BeerCamp – “This one time… at BeerCamp…”


Ahhhh Summer Camp… the phrase draws to mind many different images for many different folks. And those images can vary from person to person and they will vary depending on what kind of camp you went to when you were a kid. There were (and maybe still are) Bible Camps, Math Camps, Music or Band Camps, and of course the scouting related camps. Kids playing pranks on each other and the camp counselors, parents getting a respite from the duties of parenting all the while worrying about their kids getting poison ivy and bee stings or some other summertime ailment.

I went to some scout camps when I was very young, then when I got into my teens I went to fishing camps with friends and their families. I always enjoyed getting away from home, not because home was a bad place but because it was something different. And some great fishing for Crappy and Bass takes place in upper New York, Black Lake to be specific, and all throughout Pennsylvania in the summer time.

So imagine my joyful glee at hearing that Sierra Nevada was hosting a BeerCamp in six different cities throughout the country this year. And one of them was actually close enough for me to attend.


The overall concept was that 31 different breweries would get together and make six different collaborative beers representing different regions of the country. Then they were to host a beer festival in each region to show off these beers and invite a lot of different breweries from the area to show up and show off their wares.

The first BeerCamp to be held this summer actually took place yesterday in Tampa, FL. Some of you may be asking why Tampa? I would reply “Why not Tampa?” If you haven’t been to Florida then you are missing out on well over 100 breweries (that could be over 200 but I didn’t want to exaggerate) many of which can stand up to most of the other brewers in the country. The greatest conglomeration of breweries in Florida is around the Tampa area, so it makes perfect sense to those of us who live here.

The event was held at the Curtis Hixon Park which is on the west part of Tampa along the Hillsborough River. Not having been there before, but to other venues in Tampa, I have to say this was an excellent location for this event. It is located near many other venues, has access to public transportation, and has a natural amphitheater built into the site. And the views of the river walk are great!

Panoramic shot of the River walk from Curtis Hixon Park.

Having been to a few other Beer Fests in Tampa or the surrounding area this time I planned in advance and scouted out for nearby parking. And luckily practically right next door to the park is the William F. Poe Parking Garage. So instead of setting my iPhone map feature to the event I mapped out getting to the garage instead.

Looking from the parking garage south you can see the entrance to the park and the BeerCamp in the middle of the picture.

The park itself is surrounded on three sides by tall and/or architecturally interesting buildings which provide a scenic surrounding even when you are not looking at the river.

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Once you entered BeerCamp you immediately lay eyes one of the best party buses ever. Obviously a customized paint job, I will bet that this beauty will be at all of the BeerCamps. What lucky S.O.B. has the job of driving it and who do I have to bribe to get his job?

BeerCamp bus... Drool!
BeerCamp bus… Drool!

Nearby were the food trucks which numbered probably around a dozen. And on the other side of the bus were the beer tents. They had four large tents altogether, which housed the many brewery vendors. Also nearby were large vats of fresh water for folks to drink and rinse out their glasses, a stage featuring a band performing the whole time, a splattering of high top tables throughout the grounds and off to the side was a bank of porta-toilets.

The place was packed with folks there to sample the various beers. But even with the large crowd you didn’t have to wait long to get to most of the breweries and sample their brews. There were a few exceptions, one or two of the breweries seemed to have a long line to get a sample, and there was a line for getting your picture taken at the BeerCamp display, which is why I don’t have one.

I didn’t take pictures of all of my samples only a few, but those and some others are definitely worth a mention. Big Storm Brewing’s Oats in Hose Oatmeal Stout (pictured below left), Cigar City brew Pub’s Space Race Imperial Russian Stout, Smog City’s Coffee Porter (pictured below right), and the collaboration Stout of the Union all were great examples of a good Porter or Stout, with the Space Race winning by far out of the group.

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Hourglass Brewery’s Beatrijs Belgian Dubbel with Gooseberries, Brew Hub’s Diver Down Red Ale, and Wynwood Brewing’s Guava the Hut a Berliner Sour Ale (pictured above), all came across very well too. I also want to give credit to the Tampa brewer’s Guild collab Guildy by Association which was a really refreshing Saison which hit the spot on a hot summer evening.

Food trucks all had long lines at them and nothing at them really seemed to tickle my fancy when I looked over the menu. Except the last one which didn’t have a line, probably because it was the furthest away from the beer. The Red Line Truck had three items on their menu: Korean Beef Lettuce Wraps, Hot Dogs and Sweet Potato Croquettes. All three looked good to eat, but I ordered a hot dog and a side of the croquettes. The hot dog had a good flavor and they didn’t drown it out with condiments, jst enough to enhance it. And the Sweet Potato croquettes had a goat cheese center that made it creamy as well as sweet. If you’re in Tampa and see this food truck again I highly recommend it.


After a couple of hours of beer sampling and sweating in the evening sun I decided to head out, but not before taking a last look across the river at the minarets for the University of Tampa reflecting the light on the sunset.


I also grabbed a selfie with the BeerCamp bus and took a pic of kids playing in the fountain outside the children’s museum which is beside the parking garage.

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BeerCamp was great. The venue selected worked great and the various vendors all had great beers and foods to sample. Too bad it didn’t last a week or more like the camps did when we were kids.

I certainly hope they hold more of these next year. I would definitely attend it again. The only change I might suggest is allowing pets. Tucker doesn’t like it when I leave him at home and insists on showing me how much he missed me when I get back. Either that or he’s trying to get some beer and food samples out of my beard.



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

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

Here’s hoping you all had a festive and very Green St. Patrick’s Day this year. Our group of Suds Supping Bacchanalians certainly did.

We actually started planning where we were going to go a couple of days earlier in the week by trying to find out who was going to have Smithwick’s on tap that day. Drinking Smithwick’s (properly pronounced “Smittick’s”) Irish Red Ale on St. Paddy’s is a tradition for our group. We knew one place in town that always has it on tap for the holiday, but we didn’t want to go to that particular establishment and I won’t mention the name or why here.

We found out that the Red Onion Bar & Grill and the BrassTap would have it on tap. While there is nothing wrong with the Red Onion, we were more in a “drinking at the pub” kind of spirit and BrassTap fits that description much better. Plus the owner, manager and staff all know us and our tastes and are really great at finding us something we might like that we haven’t had before.

When Thursday, the 17th, afternoon arrived the texts started flying like normal. The Chemist and the Decorator had bowling that night which is on the other side of town from where we were headed, so they were going to House of Beer for a pint or two before bowling. The Maestro had a guest visiting from out of town who he was bringing but they were going to dinner first. So that meant  me, Rowdy and the Doctor would begin on our own.

I have to state one little drawback, for me personally, on going to the BrassTap during Happy Hour… the driving there sucks!!!

If you have ever been around Gainesville and tried to get anywhere on the west side of town in the late afternoon/ early evening then you know that what would normally take 15-20 minutes will take 45-60 minutes because of the traffic.

And this year on St. Paddy’s day it was also raining. So the idiots were out in force as well. Honestly, if it weren’t for the fact that we really like the bar and the staff does a really good job, we probably wouldn’t go there just because the traffic is that bad. So that’s a back-handed compliment to BrassTap, and as long as they continue to do so good a job we will find our way there.

By the time I arrived Rowdy and the Doctor were already at the bar, and Allan, the owner, was setting them up with Swag they had gotten for the day. This included a really nice Smithwick’s glass with raised impressions, a glowing Guiness necklace and a St. Patrick’s Day bead necklace featuring a different brewery, in my case Left Hand Brewing. He set me up with a set of these as well. And I began my supping with a Smithwick’s.

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

We started philosophying and supping suds. I began getting updates from the Maestro about when they were arriving and eventually found out we would be joined by more than himself and his guest Anne. So we decided to move to a larger table before they were all gone. We got lucky and found the big one on the center was available so we snagged it.

It wasn’t too long after that, that Maestro and Anne arrived and the supping and philosophying began in earnest. I had finished my draft of Guiness and was wanting something different so I asked if they could do a black and tan. I was told yes as they also had Bass on tap, but I didn’t like it with Bass, so he suggested one with Smithwick’s instead and I gave the go ahead for that.

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

Another round of philosophying commenced and before long I was ready for something else. I figured three different pints was enough of a homage to Ireland and I asked for a recommendation and was steered toward the Stone Brewing’s Americano Stout, an Imperial Stout. It had a really nice espresso flavor with a malty aftertaste.

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


A couple of Anne’s friends arrived and we soon had a sizable group to justify the larger table. And Allen sat down with us for a bit as well.


After a bit I was ready for my last selection of the evening. So I got a Rodenbach Grand Cru, which was really excellent. Some Grand Crus have too much of a sour taste to them, but to me this one was very nice. I will definitely be ordering it again. Even Rowdy liked it and she doesn’t normally dig the sour beers. At least not as much as I do.

Rodenbach Grand Cru
Rodenbach Grand Cru

After that glass I was ready to leave and so was Rowdy and the Doctor. We said goodbyes to everyone and went our separate ways.

The next day, after a busy day of meetings I was again ready for a little relaxing. So I sent out a text that I was heading to the House of Beer for Happy Hour in case anyone wanted to join me. I didn’t hear back from anyone except from the Maestro stating he would be passing.

When I arrived Alex greeted me and asked what I was having. I wanted something on the lighter side so I asked for the Sixpoint Sweet Action Cream Ale. It had the nice smooth creamy aftertaste that I was looking for but it also had a nice hoppy flavor.

Sixpoint Sweet Action
Sixpoint Sweet Action

I sat at a table and took out the smart phone and was trying to catch up on emails. After a bit I heard a familiar voice and looked up to see the Deck-Orator and the Chemist had arrived. So my weekend celebration would not begin alone.

Being it had probably been a month or so seen I had seen these friends it was especially nice to see them stop by. They went to the bar and got a couple of drinks for themselves and joined me at the table. And we sat around catching up.

After a bit both the Chemist and I were ready for another so we went to the bar and I studied the menu for a bit while he ordered, then I decided to go with a mead and the only one I saw was Stock Up from Moonlight Meadery.

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

It arrived to me in a wine glass which I thought was unusual but took and headed back to the seat. I have to say it did not taste at all like a typical mead. In fact the more I drank the more it tasted like a wine. In fact very similar to a German Reisling.

I served in the Air Force in what was then West Germany for two years and became very familiar with their Reislings. German wines are mostly made from Reisling grapes and generally also have sugar added to them for the fermentation. So they have an added sweetness to them that is not found in other European wines.

It was probably not my favorite mead because it didn’t taste like what I expected a mead to taste like. But it certainly put me in the mood for more wine instead of beer for the evening.

The three of us sat around for a bit longer while we finished our drinks, then we said goodbyes and parted ways.

Here’s hoping your St. Paddy’s Day weekend went as well for you.


Painting with a Twist…. And Craft Beer!


The Doctor texted me after work on Friday and told me that he and Rowdy were going to Painting With A Twist that night. They had a special class that was featuring Swamp Head Brewery and would include some free samples of the local brewery’s wares. I asked him what time and he told me the class started at 7 but you want to get there at 6:45 to get prepared.

Now, if you have never heard of Painting with a Twist it’s an art based business where you and some of your friends go and learn to paint a specific drawing or painting and while you are doing that you can consume wine which you bring yourself, which is the Twist part.


If you are older guy, like me, there is probably a misogynistic archaic portion of your brain that is thinking “Sounds like a chick thing.”, or something similar. And I confess when Rowdy had told me about the business a while back that was my natural, albeit Cro-Magnon, reaction.


But this evening they were not only featuring beer, but Craft Beer from Swamp Head, which is one of our local breweries in Gainesville. And after thinking about it some more, why would I not want to hang out around a bunch of women imbibing in beer and wine.


The Doctor also sent me a pic of his current location, the BrassTap, so I made sure the dog was walked, changed out of my work duds and headed out to join him.

When I got to BrassTap, I saw both father and son, Allan and Brad, were working behind the bar. I wasn’t sure what I wanted so Allan recommended the Terrapin Hopsecutioner (w/ Tangerine and Lemon Peel). I gotta admit it was pretty damn good, and this is from someone who is not as big a fan of IPAs as other people, like Allan, are. It definitely had a hoppy flavor which should satisfy anyone looking for that taste, but it didn’t have the harsh aftertaste that some IPAs have. I would definitely drink it again. It was also nice to score two more badges on the Untappd app.

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The Doctor and I sat around Philosophying and catching up with each other, then I was ready for another so I ordered the Erie Brewing Ol’ Red Cease and Desist. This was a Scotch style ale with a mild rye flavor and very little aftertaste. It was a good Scotch ale but not the best I have had.


When I was finished with that one it was time to go and both the Doctor and I wanted to grab a bite before we got there. Luckily for us the studio is located right next door to McAlister’s Deli off of Newberry Road in Gainesville. So we stopped there and got a sandwich before we went to the class.

Rowdy met us there and went ahead to the class to make sure we were all seated together, while the Doctor and I wolfed down our food. And I have to point out that is really a shame because McAlister’s makes some pretty tasty sandwiches.

When we finished we walked around the corner to the studio and walked in and waited in line to pay for the evening class. After we paid we were handed our canvas and went into the studio and found Rowdy already decked out in her painting apron and saving two more for us along with our seats.


When you arrive they have each seat equipped with the easel for your canvas, the brushes you will need, a large plastic cup with water for washing out the brushes (obviously we were using acrylic paints), and a palette with premeasured samples of the paints we would be needing for the evening. Ok, to be honest the “palettes” were actually paper plates, but when you are working with large numbers of people like this it makes more sense to use paper plates or you would end up having to clean off all of the palettes after every class.

And this particular class was pretty full already. And while it may have sounded misogynistic earlier, the class was made up of a majority of women. But there were a few other men there as well so the Doctor and I were not the only ones attending.


Around the studio were the various paintings that had been done before for earlier classes and I saw some that I liked a lot. They represented a wide variety of styles. Not being an expert in Art I will not try to pass myself off as one on here.

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And before class began we were encouraged to help ourselves with a sample from the cooler that Swamp Head had provided for the event that evening. Their canned fare was available to us, which meant we could choose from Stump Knocker Pale Ale, Big Nose IPA, Wild Night Cream Ale and Cottonmouth Belgian Witbier. Unfortunately, my favorite of their year-round offerings was not there, Midnight Oil Oatmeal Coffee Stout. So I selected the Cottonmouth for my first sample. If you haven’t had it before, then you should as it is a nice clean witbier with just the right flavor.

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When the time arrived, our teacher, Katie (who I found out later is also the studio manager for Gainesville), began talking about the studio and explaining how things were set up and whether you had been there before or not that you would still end up enjoying yourself. She introduced her assistant for the evening, Holly, who would be going around and helping where she was needed.

Katie and Holy being Photo=bombed by the Doctor.
Holly and Katie being Photo-bombed by the Doctor.

Then she talked a little bit about the painting we would be doing that evening, the Swamp Head logo. And she introduced Nick Dunn, who is the Director of Operations at Swamp Head. He stood up and spoke a little bit about Swamp Head’s history and about what the logo represented and what the company believed in. I won’t try and quote him here. You can go the Swamp Head website and read that for yourself here:



After he was done he sat back done with the other patrons who were painting. And Katie then mentioned some of the nice swag he brought along would be given away during various little contests throughout the night. This perked Rowdy’s ears up as she is all about the swag.


So we began class by discussing the brushes and the paints and how to use them during the course of the evening. Then we started working on the background for the painting first. Now while I said I am no art expert, I have done some artwork over the years, mostly for my own enjoyment. But I usually just work in sketching, either with pencils or charcoal. And in that I usually work on the object of the drawing first and then fill in the background later. So this is a different way of thinking for me.


Now, I am not going to go into the details of each step we took in the process as reading about it would not be the same as experiencing it. I will say that Katie was a good teacher in that she took her time explaining how to do what we needed to do and pacing the class so that everyone could catch up. She even worked in a couple of 5 minute breaks so we could stand and stretch. I will say that I was very glad to see that they had a camera on the easel that she worked off of and displayed it on a big screen TV in the back of the room, where we were. It made it much easier to see what she was doing and describing.

And Holly was very helpful throughout the evening as well, making sure folks had enough of the various colors we were using, pointing out ways to help out the students, and giving encouragement as she went along.

Both of these young ladies were very good at their job and you could tell they enjoyed doing it. I would recommend asking for them when you go. I know Rowdy wants to do her birthday party there and them to teach the class.


A little more than halfway through the class I decided to get another sample and selected the Stump Knocker Pale Ale this time. It’s also a refreshing beer and probably my favorite of the year-rounds just after the Midnight Oil and Wild Night.

The contests throughout the night included posting a pic to social media and checking in at Painting with a Twist, the one receiving the most likes wins, another included painting temporary tattoos on each other and having a pairs contest to see which pair of tats had the best symmetry. And there was another but I don’t remember what it was. We didn’t win any of them but we still had fun.

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A young couple who sat across the table from us had brought their own wine and was sampling it and really didn’t know anything about Swamp Head. The young man came up to me and asked what beers were good. I told him that they were all good but it depended on what kind of beer style he liked. I asked him what he normally drank and he responded that he wasn’t a big beer drinker but he liked the usual stuff. I guessed that he meant a normal American Lager and steered him toward the Wild Night Cream Ale. I didn’t want to throw him into the deep end of the pool with an IPA or a Stout. He said that it tasted pretty good, so we may have discovered another convert to craft beer.


In your face Macro!!

During the whole class music played in the background of a variety of artists, but I especially enjoyed listening to Darius Rucker’s Wagon Wheel, the Spinner’s Rubber Band Man, and a lot of older hits and quite a few of us were actually singing along.

A lot of picture taking took place at the end both by the patrons and the staff and the staff also took pictures throughout the night and later posted them Facebook. The two hours spent at the class went by fast and when we were done we all hand a painting to take home with us. I’m thinking I will hang mine in the brew house I plan on building later on.

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So all I can say is if you get an invite to go to Painting With A Twist then you should take the opportunity to go. Or make an opportunity yourself. You learn something new, get to meet new people, have a little alcohol and just enjoy yourself a lot.


Just another Craft Beer Friday in Gainesville!

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

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


LEJ Pretzel
LEJ Pretzel

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

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

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

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

Lagunitas Swag
Lagunitas Swag

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


Papabear’s Christmas Carol


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.

Rowdy and the Muse

The Cooler and Rowdy

It was a very relaxing and enjoyable evening filled with good eats, good drinks and good friends. As we were leaving I reminded the folks mentioned above that I wanted to try and get together on the following Tuesday for one last happy hour before I ventured into the northlands.

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

We met at the Top Restaurant, downtown on North Main Street, when they opened at 5 PM that Tuesday, December the 22nd. I arrived first followed by the Doctor, then the Cooler, then the Maestro, along with several other folks with their own parties. When they opened I was the second party to ask for seating and they wanted to prepare a table big enough for eight of us. We were seated very shortly and began looking over the menu and ordered drinks while we waited for the ladies to join us. I ordered a Blitzen Festivus Ale, by North Peak Brewing (Festivus, for those who are not Seinfeld fans, is an imaginary holiday that takes place instead of Christmas or Hanukah invented by George Costanza’s father “Festivus For The rest Of Us!”). This had a nice flavor with a malty aftertaste.

Blitzen Festivus Ale
Blitzen Festivus Ale

Rowdy arrived soon after and brought her friend Jester with her. If you have read my blog before you have heard mention of the Gainesville Roller Rebels of which Rowdy is a member. Jaded Jester serves as a ref for their bouts. The Muse showed not too long after that. She and the Maestro ordered some Plantain Chips for an appetizer as we wanted to wait for the Deck-Orator to arrive. The Chemist was working and couldn’t make it.
While we waited a couple of us did a little impromptu gift exchange. I brought some pint jars of homemade Eggnog and the Maestro brought gift bags of various holiday Ales, none which were consumed on the premises as we didn’t want to offend or cause problems for the Top. Not long after that the Deck-Orator arrived and we began Philosophying in earnest. I handed the Deck-Orator her and the Chemist’s pint of Eggnog. And then a lot of us ordered food. I ordered their Twisted Swisster Burger with a side of House Fries, and another drink, a Sugar Plum Brown Ale from Cigar City. This was just okay. The plum flavor was overpowering the brown ale for me.

Sugar Plum Brown Ale
Sugar Plum Brown Ale

Let me tell you something you may already know, there is a damn good reason that the Top is rated one of the 10 best places in Gainesville to get a burger. I’ve eaten there several times and had more than a few different types of burgers and every single one was delicious. If you’ve been there and haven’t had a burger, or if you’ve never been there… Then whatinthehell are you waiting for??!!

Bell's 30th Anniversary Imperial Stout
Bell’s 30th Anniversary Imperial Stout

Cold Mountain Winter Ale
Cold Mountain Winter Ale

After the burger and fries were finished I wanted one more beer, so I ordered the Bell’s 30th Anniversary Ale, an Imperial Stout which I have to tell you was once of the better ales I’ve had in a while. It was a perfect topper to a good dinner out with good friends. We all began making our way out, saying “Merry Christmas!” and Happy New Year!” to each other as we left. Since I had parked over by Gainesville House of Beer when I arrived I thought it ony fair I stop in and purchase a beer from them before going home. In keeping with the holiday theme I ordered a Cold Mountain Winter Ale from Highland Brewing, which seemed appropriate as I was stopping not far from there on my way to PA. It had a nice flavor and was a good topper for the evening. I had more to do that evening so it was relatively early when I got home. I still had things to do to prepare for the road trip the next day.
I woke up at my normal time, 5 AM on a workday, and still had things to do before I could head out. I finished packing my bag as well as a bag for Tucker, and had to load all of the Christmas presents, bags and other items that were making the trip North with me in the back of the truck. I usually drive when I go up North to Pennsylvania for a few reasons: 1 – I like driving. I always have. I enjoy seeing the scenery that goes by, feeling the road under your feet and being able to stop where and when I want or need to. 2 – Invariably whenever I travel to PA I either have something big or a lot of that I am either taking up or bringing back or both. And you can’t easily do that when you fly. 3 – If I did fly I would still need to rent a car when I get there and with the low gas prices right now driving isn’t that expensive. 4 – I’m a big man and planes aren’t made for people like me. I would have to fly first class all the time to feel comfortable and I don’t want to shell out that kind of money and still have to rent a vehicle and ship items up and back via parcel. And this time there is a 5 – Tucker was coming with me. No way was I going to put him in a shelter nor was I going to try and send him via airplane.
I was hoping to leave the house and be on the road by 9 AM but it was actually much closer to 10. One of the things I do when I’m traveling in the winter northward is stop at the Fruit Stands in Florida and pick-up fresh bags of oranges and grapefruits for my family. This year I also threw in a bag of Pecans. Once I got those items Tucker and I began our long journey North.
This was the first time that Tucker had traveled on such a long trip with me. He had been to south Florida with me twice and those times where lessons learned. The first time he practically spent a lot of the trip either leaning against me or trying to lie in my lap so he could see out the window. The next time I brought a crate along in case we had to leave him for a while my sister didn’t want him pulling the Christmas tree down. And I ended up putting him in the crate on the trip because he kept trying to jump up on my lap while I was driving. On this trip I really didn’t want to have to crate him for two days while going up and another two on the way back.
So I ended up constructing a little platform that rested over the front passenger seat. It would raise him up about a foot so that he could easily see out the windows and hopefully stop him from trying to climb in my lap while driving. As we made our way North, Tucker began settling in for the ride, looking up occasionally to see where we were or trying to come sit in my lap once or twice. But for the most part he sat on his little deck and slept. When we stopped at any rest stops he was eager to get out and encounter any new smells or if there were other dogs he wanted to make friends.

Tucker co-piloting
Tucker co-piloting

After 8 hours of driving almost continuously in the rain, I stopped in Statesville, NC, which is the half way point between Gainesville and Greenville, PA where my youngest sister lives. I often use the Red Roof Inn when I stay there as they are located near a mall, a Kmart, a grocery store (Food Lion I think), an IHOP, a Starbucks, and a couple of different fast food places including a BoJangles, which I never see in Florida and I love their spicy chicken. And the Red Roof has recently renovated a lot of their locations and they are really much nicer and the price isn’t too bad. I was too tired to go get dinner for myself so I broke out some provisions I had brought with me, including a Tin Roof Brewing Turnrow, a harvest ale, which was a gift from Rowdy and hit the spot after a long day of driving. I’m not sure but I think Tucker was jealous of me drinking it. I finished my meal with a Tin Roof Brewing Parade Ground Coffee Porter which was all I needed to help get some sleep that night.

It rained all night and still was the next morning, so I went over to the grocery store before I left to get some of the Red Hot Carolina Hot Dogs that my brother-in-law craves and picked up a couple of six packs of local craft beers, Shotgun Betty Hefeweizen Ale and Blowing Rock APA, as well as a six of Not Your Father’s Ginger Ale, which I had not seen in Florida yet. I planned on trying them after I got to PA.
Tucker and I loaded up the truck, put our new supplies in the cooler and headed onward to the Northland. We stopped a couple of times for him to check out the mountain smells at the rest areas as well as a break for lunch at the New River Gorge Bridge Overlook off of US 19 in West Virginia. They have a nice pet walk area there and the weather was still warm enough for us to sit at a picnic table at have our midday repast.
By the time we hit the PA southern border it was dusk and still another two hours before I would get to my sisters. Tucker slept the rest of the way up but when I hit the big curves on I-79 around Coraopolis he woke up and was trying to get back in my lap.
I arrived at my sisters, (V), around 7:30 PM, much to Tucker’s relief, and was just in time for dinner. V’s homemade sausage gravy and biscuits alone are worth the trip, but it was also very great to see the family. If I’m lucky I get to see them once a year and so much can change in that time frame. My nephew Jake maybe only three but he could pass for 5 or 6 because he’s so tall. His baby sister Sarah has the cutest smile, and I mean cuter than most babies, and she has started walking. It may be only a few steps at a time but it won’t be long before Mommy and Daddy (B) are chasing her down. Tucker had to adjust to his new cousins (both my niece and nephew and the four other dogs) as he hasn’t been around a lot of kids.

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After I unloaded the truck, and stowed mine and Tucker’s gear (and some deliveries from Santa) upstairs in the guest room, we began settling down for our “Long Winter’s Nap”. It was unseasonably warm for December but there was a cold front bringing more rain to the area. It would have been nice to see snow on Christmas Day but my old knees would be glad to hold off the cold for a bit. Tucker had a little trouble getting used to the sounds of the house. And the way he reacted in the room outside the guest room you would have thought someone else was out there. There was speculation later on during my visit about the house being haunted by a former tenant, but I didn’t care as long as it didn’t mess with the beer I had brought with me.
Christmas morning, Tucker and I tried to adjust to the routine of the house and get our own little morning routine worked out. All the dogs go out in the morning the morning before sunrise then come back In and get a treat. They don’t get fed until my nephew wakes up as that is his one chore, a chore which he takes very seriously. So I didn’t want to mess up the other dogs routine by feeding Tucker so we waited for the boy to stir. Once he and Sarah both woke up we decided that he needed to feed the dogs and then have breakfast before the Christmas presents were opened. Not a popular decision as far as the nephew was concerned but his Mom and Dad now know what our parents knew. If they don’t eat breakfast before they open the presents it will be hard to get them to eat afterwards.

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Needless to say breakfast flew by fairly quickly then the gift-giving schtick began. I won’t describe it to you as some of you may have more sensitive feelings than others but the aftermath of the carnage resembled the Ardennes Forest during the Battle of the Bulge. We were lucky to make it out alive.

The rest of Christmas Day was spent relaxing and watching TV except for V, who cooked a Christmas meal of ham, mashed potatoes with gravy, stuffing (or what some of you prefer to call dressing), homemade biscuits, salad, etc. Now while some of you may be thinking “Typical males letting the woman do the cooking!” Let me rebut by stating that if we were at my house I would be doing the cooking. Besides my sister likes to cook and is very good at it! So Nyah! (Imagine me sticking my tongue out here because I really don’t want to post that pic!)

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Before dinner I broke out the “Not Your Father’s Ginger Ale” and shared a taste of that with V and B. It was alright but I think I would rather actually have a ginger ale instead of this as it was a little too sweet for my taste. B brought out an apple cider from Jack Daniels which was better than most ciders I’ve had but I don’t know if I would call it the best. With dinner I opened up the Shotgun Betty Witbier from North Carolina. It accompanied the ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole and homemade rolls very well. Later on I had the Blowing Rock APA, and it did not fare as well as an accompaniment to the food, but it was ok.

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The next couple of days was spent visiting my youngest sister and her family, getting reacquainted with my brother-in-law and nephew and trying to connect with my niece who is still a toddler but better able to remember faces now. I was very glad that she wasn’t frightened by my beard as that can scare some smaller kids. But her dad’s beard is even longer (though not as full) than mine, so I guess that made it easier for her.
I did a little shopping the day after Christmas to get birthday presents for my nephew’s upcoming birthday and see if any bargains interested me. And later that night while taking Tucker for a walk I saw an Elven Moon. For those who don’t know what that is, it is simply an atmospherical phenomenon that occurs when the right combination of a full moon, moisture in the lower atmosphere and and really cold air occur at just the right balance to give the appearance of a ring around a full moon.

But other than that and taking Tucker on some long cold walks we didn’t do a lot besides just catching up with each other, which all I really wanted to do. That is until my other sister arrived on the 29th.
When she (Icee – she hated it when Mom called her that) and my niece Maddie walked in there were a lot of hugs and kisses. Maddie hadn’t seen her Aunt V since our Mom had passed and had never met her Uncle B and her cousins, and Icee hasn’t been up to visit since Jake was born so there was a lot of catching up to do.
Both of my nieces hit it off right away. Jake was a little reluctant at first being the shy type. But he would eventually come around. And since Tucker and Maddie were old friends he was very happy to see her and Icee. This was the first time that all of us were under one roof and it was a really good feeling to have all of my parents progeny together. It would have been great if they could have been there to see it but part of me felt that they were there in spirit.

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We had dinner together, and I had brought some homemade Eggnog with me for everyone to get a sample of so I had a sample myself. B really liked it and I had gotten some text messages from my friends who had sampled it after I had left telling it was good as well. And to be honest I had to agree. But I cannot take all the credit for it. I used the recipe that Alton brown had posted to Foodnetwork.com with some minor tweaking here and there. Icee declined because she was tired from the flight and wanted to make sure to get to the hotel unimpeded.

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.

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

If you haven’t been to Pennsylvania before there I should explain that alcoholic beverages aren’t purchased at the grocery or convenience store like they are in a lot of other states. You have to buy wine and liquors in State Stores, which are State licensed, owned and operated stores (which is a conundrum in itself as Pennsylvania is a commonwealth, not a State). And beer has to be bought at a beer distributor, which is a privately owned business where you can purchase beer in half or whole cases, or the keg. This is a result of the laws passed after prohibition ended back in the 30’s. You can buy liquors, wine and beer in restaurants for consumption and they are allowed to sell you some to take home but only up to 192 ounces. So you can buy a six pack at a bar or restaurant to take home but not anywhere else.
The distributor was a building with two drive through entrances, one side being your regular beers (Bud, Miller, etc.) and the other being craft beers, with a couple of sets of large coolers running down the middle of those two sections. And off on the side was a large cooled section where kegs and extra cases were stored. I had specified I would like to get something local to the guy and he said that they had VooDoo Brewing in a 12 pack. I told Icee to park the car because I wanted to get out and look at what they had and stretch my legs. She did so then her and V got out and joined me, while B and Maddie stayed near the car.
We began looking over the wall of half cases (see pic above) and Icee and V would read the boxes and make comments or ask questions about the beers and I would reply to them. V piped up, “There is finally a new trend that you’re like an expert in. I’m so proud!” at which Icee and I started laughing. And V added, “It’s true. We’re all usually on the tail end of these things.”
Besides the VooDoo Brewing variety 12 Pack, which I actually took 2 of, I also selected a variety 12 pack each of Deschutes Brewing out of Oregon and Lancaster Brewing out of Lancaster, PA. While I was there I got a 12 pack of the Jack Daniels Apple liquor that B and V liked. Icee picked up a 12 pack of Angry Orchard to take back to V’s (I don’t remember what variety she got). We picked up our selections and put them and ourselves back in the car and headed back out toward Greenville.

But we decided to take a little detour through Jamestown and head out to see a little more countryside. We also wanted to stop at a nearby Amish Store that was just this side of  the Ohio border and only a few miles from the house. This store, the Creekside Country Store, was touted by B and V as having some of the best deals you could find for a variety of different things. They had some used items that could be considered antiques by some as well as some practical everyday things that you need for living in the country, like kitchen items for canning or cooking. They had a section where some homemade Amish preserves and jellies were on display, and they also had a bakery inside where they made homemade breads, cookies and fried pies. If you haven’t had a fried pie before think of those hostess pies you buy in the store, but fresher tasting and a wider variety of fillings, and really just tastier. If you are ever out West of Greenville, PA on Kinsman Rd then you owe it to yourself to stop by and at the very least get some of their baked goods.

Fried pie with Pineapple filling
Fried pie with Pineapple filling

We got back to V’s house and started getting ready for a birthday party for Jake that evening. His birthday wasn’t actually until the 3rd of January but the next night was New Year’s Eve and both Icee and Maddie were flying back the 1st and Tucker and I were driving back that day as well. Our cousin CC and her partner J were coming over along with their kids. And Jake had been asking about more presents since Christmas Day.

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It was good to see our cousins and to see Jake light up with glee again at opening more presents. I either had Tucker or Sarah in my lap most of the night. Sometimes it was just to keep one from licking the other. More of my eggnog was passed around and my cousin wanted the recipe so she could make it.
Not too late in the evening we called an end to the party. B had to work the next day and V, Icee the kids and I were all going to call on our Aunt B who was visiting her father a couple of hours south of us. Icee was still a little jet lagged and V wanted to try and get her kids to bed sooner so she could get sleep herself.
B was up before us in the morning since he had to go work on the farm. He works as a farm hand on a dairy farm and he was going to have to make sure the milking got done that morning due to a family crisis the farm owner was having.
Icee and Maddie came over from their hotel around 8:30 and about a half hour later we were on the road to visit our Aunt and cousins. V had been trying to get ahold of our cousin M who was arranging our meet all the previous night and the next morning but she never replied to her text messages. About 30 minutes into our trip V tried texting again and then noticed she had a Messenger text from M. Apparently Aunt B started coming down with something the night before and she wasn’t feeling very good this morning. She didn’t want the kids to catch whatever she had so she canceled our get together. It was a little mix-up in communication but we decided to turn it into a day trip.
We headed for the farm where B worked so Maddie, Jake and Sarah could see the cows. We arrived around 10 and they were just finishing up with the tail end of the milking. We walked into the milking room and we could see that Jake was shaking. He loves cows that are on TV and toys that are cows, but let’s be honest, to a little kid, up close a cow is a freaking monster. But I will give the boy credit… Despite his obvious fear he followed us in and started to relax a little after a bit of time. Maddie and Icee walked closer so B could tell them what they were doing while they were milking the cows.

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When they were done milking we walked back through the barn to where they had the calves penned up and the kids were able to get a lot closer and actually pet the calves. Jake and Sarah both enjoyed this but I think Maddie got a real kick out of it but she never sees anything like that where she lives now.

When we were done with the cows we started heading back south. We ended up at a Winter Wonderland kind of place (I can’t remember the name), which had a whole bunch of different Christmas themed displays still up. It was part of a big store that was filled with all kinds of Christmas decorations, toys, gifts and candy. We spend about a half hour or more looking at all the displays and merchandise available for purchase. Of course I couldn’t leave without buying something.

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!!!

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It is located in a little park across the street from the General Store, which carries almost anything a country boy could need, including clothes, household supplies, hardware, locally bottled sodas, Amish made candies, jellies and preserves, breads, cheeses, jerky, and a whole bunch of other things. The prices seemed reasonable so we made a few purchases, then started heading back.
When we got to the house the aroma of homemade sauerkraut and kielbasa that had been cooking in the oven greeted us. This would be our traditional New Year’s Eve dinner. We’ve been having this on New Year’s Eve for many years. I remember when I came home from the Air Force and cooked a batch of it with beer. My grandmother was horrified at my pouring the beer into the pan. But when she tasted the finished product, all she could say was, “Wow!! This is really good!”

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This year my sister was using her homemade sauerkraut and some kielbasa from a local butcher. She didn’t use beer or add any spices or even add an onion, which I do. And when dinner time came around, the first words out of my mouth were “Wow!! This is really good!” Funny, how life is cyclical like that. Her homemade ingredients tasted just like the store bought ones I would use after adding the ingredients I mentioned. If ever you needed proof that homegrown and homemade beat out store bought this is it.
I decided to drink one of the VooDoo Brewing’s beers with this meal and I was not disappointed. I had their VooDoo Love Child and it accompanied the kraut and kielbasa very well. To be honest it is a very nice Belgian Style on its own but it really pared well with dinner.
I guess I should mention that I had been sampling one of each of the VooDoo flavors in their variety pack since we had picked them up the day before and none of them were bad. In fact I would say that I was really surprised at how well a selection there was in the pack.

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The Killapilz (Pilsner) was a very nice smooth drink. The Gran Met, also a Belgian, was really flavorful. Wynonna’s Big brown Ale was a great example of a brown ale. The HooDoo was a good American IPA. The White Magick of the Sun was a good wheat beer. And you already read my mention of the VooDoo Love Child. I believe that and Wynonna’s Big Brown are the best of the pack but they are all good or better.
Icee finally got a taste of my eggnog which she agreed was pretty darn good. We also got a sample of my sister V’s homemade Mead and her Elderberry Wine. Our Mom used to make homemade wines, both Grape and Elderberry, which maybe explains why both V and I enjoy making fermented libations ourselves. The Mead was of course sweet but not sickly sweet as to make you want to pour it over pancakes as some mead I have had. And there was enough of an alcohol flavor to it too give a little kick but not too much to make it rough. The Elderberry was very good, similar in texture to a Merlot but with none of the tannins or bitterness that a few reds have.
We came to a general consensus that none of us would be welcoming in the New Year at midnight. Icee and Maddie had a plane to catch the next day and Tucker and I would be starting another long drive, this time back to Florida. So V started packing a to-go box of homemade canned goods for Icee and I to take home with us (I would transport them with me since she wouldn’t be able to take them on the plane with her). Then around 9 or so we started saying our goodbyes.
In the morning I began loading the truck and preparing to leave. It was good visiting with the family but as much as I enjoyed it I knew it was time to go. And Tucker was ready too. His ongoing war with the squirrels and lizards in Florida had been tabled for too long for his taste and he was ready to resume hostilities.
We began with the hugs and goodbye kisses from my niece and nephew and I told my sister I would text her my progress as we traveled. I turned to Tucker and asked him if he was ready to go… and his response was to bark and head for the door. V didn’t know whether to laugh or be offended.

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There had been a little bit of snow the day before but not really enough to stick, but at least Madison was able to see some and she actually made a snowball from the snow on Icee’s rental car at the hotel. As I began making my way south the snow began falling at a much faster rate and the flakes were much bigger than the day before. It looked like I was getting out just ahead of the cold front that was bringing snow in. But the snow started letting up as I got down around Pittsburgh and I didn’t see any more the rest of the way south.
Tucker and I stopped at the same Red Roof Inn in Statesville on the way back, this time though I made better time and decided to get some BoJangles chicken for dinner. Their chicken with a biscuit and coleslaw hit the spot and I pared it with a beer that the Maestro had given me as a Christmas gift, the St. Bernardus Christmas Ale. And I have to say it was one of the better holidays ales I have had.

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…

… except for an occasional good beer.