Senile Implant

There are no still ponds in memory's pool

No still ponds in memory’s pool

I’m absolutely certain that at least one of my buddies loves that title (and not because he’s a urologist, plastic surgeon, or collector of John Wayne Bobbitt memorabilia). In fact, I’ll predict that he texted me his approval of it before even reading to the end of this sentence.  It’s catchy, playfully annoying, and hard to pin down (no pun intended, really).  Problem is, I’m not so sure how relevant it will actually be to the content of the this post.  That’s primarily because I’m not entirely sure where this post is going to go or even how much craft beer content will wind its way in.

I do know this: I’m calling my next home brew Senile Implant and while the recipe isn’t close to the drawing board, it’ll amlost certainly be a big, high ABV imperial oatmeal stout.  Something dark and contemplative that promotes thoughtful recollection brewed with the usual suspects of deeply roasted barley and oats, layered with earthy hops, and fermented with a classic American Ale yeast.  The most important ingredients; however, won’t be in the brew kettle, primary, or secondary fermentor.  They won’t fit in a carboy and wouldn’t do well in boiling wort or fermenting beer. Mirrors, prisms, and the catalytic haze of people, places, and days gone by have to be added long after the brewing process is complete, usually after the third or fourth pour.

A glass of rear view clarity at Stone Rose, Scottsdale Princess

A glass of rear view clarity at Stone Rose, Scottsdale Princess

Ironically, the inspiration for this post didn’t develop during a craft beer research session (though I did enjoy a spectacularly fresh Four Peaks Hop Knot IPA at the brewpub just a few hours earlier that day.  More on that another time).  It was early March of 2012 – March 2nd to be exact – and I was on my ninth trip to Scottsdale, my safe “tree” from life’s game of tag.  I’d make a tenth visit just 6 weeks later.  More than simply a beautiful place to visit, Scottsdale had become a virtual time machine.  The sun had been down about an hour and I was just a few sips into a second Partida Reposado at the outside bar of Stone Rose at the Scottsdale Princess (recently re-branded the Plaza Bar) when I noticed two guys at the other side of the square bar involved in an animated and joyous conversation about their round at the TPC Stadium Course.  One reached the 15th’s island green in two while the other fell miserably short.  They looked to be about 30 and were obviously good friends – maybe best friends.  They were me…20 years ago.

Their gestures and laughter reminded me of my first drinks there (it was called Cazadores back then) with my best friend almost exactly 20 years before to the day.  We turned 30 one week apart and that trip was our pre-midlife crisis golf vacation.  Seemed like a good idea.  Travel to a gorgeous, warm, interesting place to play golf every day and have a few drinks every night.  This was still several years before I even knew I was loosely on the path to becoming a craft beer geek so the evening golf recaps were accompanied with Tanqueray & Tonics as opposed to Stone Ruinations or Firestone Walker Wookey Jacks.  The guys across the bar appeared to be drinking either vodka or gin & tonics and for all I knew they were Northeasterners on a golf trip – maybe their pre-midlife crisis vacation – just like my buddy and I were two decades before.

Then one of them made eye contact with me and to this day I have a frighteningly clear recollection of glancing away as if instinctively and reflexively pulling my hand from an open flame.  Retreating from some undefined danger.  Music and conversation at Stone Rose’s outside bar is never too loud and didn’t drown out the muted clink of ice against glass as I raised the tequila for another sip.  At that moment I wondered what they saw in me from the other side of the bar.  After all, they’re me so they had to notice the same parallels.

It didn’t take long for me to recognize that if they noticed me at all they surely didn’t see themselves in me.  They didn’t see a reasonably fit, carefree 30 year old prosecutor that first visited Scottsdale and they certainly didn’t see the very, VERY fit 40 year old version that came extremely close to being on the cast of Survivor II – Australian Outback (yep, I still have the video to prove it).  They didn’t see those versions because they only exist in that virtual time machine I mentioned earlier.  The version sitting at the bar that night was overweight, balding (I’m OK with that), and drinking alone (I’m OK with that too, sometimes).  If those guys had projected out 20 years into their futures and seen themselves in me, they’d have been the ones reflexively retreating from the open flame.  They saw what I couldn’t, not with my mirror obscured by the blinding memories being thrown off by that prism.

Their girlfriends joined them as I finished that second tequila.  Another few rounds of laughter and they all headed of to dinner and to their next 20 years.  I stayed for one more.  The time machine might have been temporarily tarnished but I still had plenty of great memories to drink with.  Though ironically, they’d probably best be forgotten.

As I finished I noticed an older gentleman had taken up a spot at one of the corners.  He was at least 15 years older than me, alone, and drinking a Coors Light from the bottle.  I only hoped that wasn’t a glimpse of my future.  If senility does overtake me, I pray my silver alert doesn’t include the silver bullet.

There.  I forced this thing back to some modest, if forced, relevance to that catchy title.

Austin SXSW – Music, Interactive, Craft Beer (well it should be)

Wasn’t long ago that Austin was known mostly for these guys:

One of nature's most freakishly astounding shows

Congress Ave Bats

I’ve stood on that bridge at dusk under the million or so bats as they flutter, dive, and swirl about before heading off into the night sky.  Sinewy tendrils of winged death.  It’s a wonder a few dozen onlookers don’t stroke out at the sight of them every sunset.  Fortunately for a few bat fans in the know, there’s a world class craft beer bar just a few blocks from that bridge.  An easy walk for even those still jittery  from the hellishly Hitchcockian yet spectacular display.

I’m a strong believer in the separation of Church and State.  I’m also a strong believer in really illogical segues and that was a particularly fine example.  Anyway, I believe that separation should extend beyond religion and politics to include work and play.  I practice what I preach by carrying an iPhone and a BlackBerry – one for work, one for play.  I’ll leave it to you to figure out which one’s for which.  On rare occasions though, work and play intersect.  I’m fortunate to speak at an annual national conference in Austin where Higher Education, Health Care, and other industry executives come to hear me discuss topics from the BlackBerry side of the divide.  There, I gave it away.

So the first time I visited about the only things I knew about Austin were those bats and the Bell Tower on the campus of the University of Texas.  34 years after the Boomtown Rats song I still don’t like Mondays.  Unless its a Monday night in Austin at the Ginger Man.

Liquid Gold & Hammered Copper

Every Handle Offers a Worthy Brew

I’d heard of this bar only in passing and knew there were a few of them in Texas.  I’d targeted it for a visit the Saturday I arrived for the conference in 2009.  The first session wan’t until the following morning so I had the afternoon for some Texas craft beer research.  After a nearly mile long walk in 102 degree heat in search of a Radio Shack for a new laptop charger to replace the one comfortably resting in NJ (being an industry expert doesn’t mean I’m not also a knucklehead – the two aren’t mutually exclusive), I finally hit the Ginger Man.  I might have happily accepted a Bud Light Lime after the hike (not really) but once I saw the hammered copper wall with 50-something taps I knew I wouldn’t have to settle for anything.  Just about every handle was devoted to craft beer.  Quite a few local offerings as well.  I settled in with a Live Oak Hefewiezen and my love affair with Texas craft beer began.  I’ve been back to the Ginger Man a few times since then and can honestly say it’s one of my top 5 favorite craft beer bars anywhere.  My beers are constantly getting hit on there.  Seems that almost everyone that walks in is tied to craft beer in some way.  It’s a hangout for local brewers and craft beer fans from far and near.  The bartenders are all knowledgable, friendly, and attentive.

So I developed a real respect for Texas craft beer during my first visit to the Ginger Man in ’09 but it wasn’t until the next year that I recognized just how vibrant the Austin craft beer culture was.  Understandable to a degree because so few Austin breweries distribute outside of the local region (none of them make it out to Jersey – yet another knock).  These guys are turning out some legitimate world class brews:

  • (512) Brewing – their Pecan Porter is outstanding
  • Live Oak – nobody brews a better Hefewiezen (seriously)
  • Jester King
  • Austin Beerworks
  • South Austin Brewing
  • Independence Brewing
  • Circle Brewing

The Ginger Man was very close to our conference hotel up until 2011 when it moved to the new conference center on the UT campus.  Nice place.  Just down the street from the Bell Tower but not from my top 5 research spot.  Thanks to the play phone and the magic of Google Maps, I located a potential target just 4 or 5 blocks away.  Mind you, those 4-5 blocks would be uphill and its still 102 degrees and humid so it better be worth the trip.  Duck & Dog Pub.  First thought: stupid name.  Probably not worth the trip.  Nothing else nearby and I don’t have car so I’m pretty much stuck with it.  About a block away I spotted the sign and approached what appeared to be a not-too-well maintained large dark shack behind it.  Second thought: this place is a dump.  Not going in.  After all, I’m Jewish and I’m in Texas.  Not a good combination to begin with.  Then I went in.

Surprised to see this one pop up here

Alaskan IPA at Duck & Dog Pub (complete with Aurora Borealis)

Next thought: what is a British pub doing in the middle of Texas and why are there Alaskan Brewing tap handles over there?  That last question was pretty easy – they were attached to kegs of Alaskan IPA and Alaskan Summer Ale.  The only other place I’d ever seen Alaskan brews on tap was at a bar in SeaTac Airport.  That made sense.  Alaskans in Austin? Not so much.  But the beers were excellent.  The atmosphere ridiculously casual and the fried pickles spectacularly addictive (though not nearly as good as the Wicked Pickles at Oak Creek Brewery in Sedona, AZ).  You’d never confuse this place with the Ginger Man.  Not nearly as many taps but still plenty of good local and not so local offerings.  Final thought: I was wrong.

Austin may still be known for its bats, SXSW, Austin City Limits, 6th Street (and that W Daughter’s exploits), but it’s solidly on the craft beer radar and the ping is growing louder and hoppier.  Oh, and its still got this:

All things considered its really not all that wierd

The Shirt Says it All

Cheers!

What did I miss?  Who did I offend?  Let me know in the comments……