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.

Advertisements

The Evolving of a Craft Beer Geek (or “How I’ve Learned to be More Tolerant”)

Craft Beer with a View

Craft Beer with a View

About four and a half years ago I wrote and posted a not so short essay describing my journey to craft beer geekdom.  Soon after that I stopped blogging (despite the fact that one of my craft beer idols, Greg Koch of Stone Brewing, actually took the time to read it and posted a complimentary comment).  Plenty of good reasons got in the way of my writing (some less than good ones snuck in there as well) but my “research” and enjoyment of craft beer, the industry and, more importantly, the people involved with it continued.

Now that I’ve started blogging again I thought it would be a good idea (and maybe fun) to go back and re-read the Crafting of a Craft Beer Geek post to see if anything has changed since I wrote it.  Do I still agree with it?  Are the points or observations still valid?  What did I miss?  What’s Next?

One thing occurred to me right away.  I did miss something.  I had to have missed a lot of somethings to have written that whole thing all by myself (which I’m pretty sure I did).  I know I attended and participated in the birth of all three of our children so at least I didn’t miss any of that.  Lesson learned: only write posts that don’t require 2 bombers or other large format bottles to get through.  With that in mind, here are a few look-back observations and updates to that infamous post:

  • I must have thought I was going to win a prize for the longest sentence and longest average sentence.  James Joyce would have been proud.  My high school English teachers would have fainted.  My college creative composition professor is still at the front of the class doing an adaptation of Ben Stein’s “Beuller….Beuller…?”
  • I’m up to about 1,500 craft beers tasted and about 750 reviewed (still slacking there)
  • Anchor Steam still has a place in my craft beer fridge.  Fat tire not so much.
  • I finally made the pilrgimage  to Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens.
  • That grown up version of the “safe tree” is still in Scottsdale/Sedona though the forest of safe trees now includes Papago Brewing, Four Peaks, Old Town Tavern, The Yard House & Stone Rose at the Princess.
  • I finally began home brewing with Honey Badger IPA as chronicled in New Jersey Monthly Magazine.

Most importantly, I’ve found that I was right about my parting observation back then.  It’s still not about the beer.  It’s about the craft beer people like the group at Just The Booze Dancing and the people that make up the vibrant craft beer culture (fans, writers, brewers, bar owners) in places like Philly, Austin, San Diego, Asheville & the next great craft beer scene, wherever that might be.

Oh, and if you do plan to click over and read the original post, have a Stone Double Bastard in hand.

Cheers!

 

 

Stop Bashing The Yard House – It’s Your Date’s Best Gateway Beer Bar

Classic Yard House Logo

Being a craft beer evangelist is fraught with many dangers.  Wondering if I’ll actually have to dig a pair of Sanz-A-Belt slacks out of the Do Not Go There Drawer is only one of them.  Another is the risk of missing a critical plot twist in Homeland while responding to a friend in need – a friend in a far away, unfamiliar bar.  A friend in need of emergency advice before the bartender loses his or her patience.  I get those texts so often that some of my buddies don’t even bother to type words.  They simply send the name of the bar or send a picture of the tap list (often a daunting challenge to decipher after they’ve already had a couple of starter brews).

A couple weeks ago a good friend was on his way to Kansas City for business and knew he’d have a few hours of free time one evening so he asked me to suggest a good bar.  Not knowing where he’d be staying I set out to look into the local KC craft beer scene by checking out some reviews on RateBeer.  Before long I began reading multiple reviews of the Yard House and, being somewhat familiar with the bar, I was surprised to see so many negative comments.  First things first, I sent my buddy there (though he never made it), then I went back to the reviews.  Some clear patterns emerged.  The more I read, the more I understood the reasons for the complaints but the more I disagreed with them – for the most part.

The Yard House is a moderately large chain.  By my count there are 44 currently open and 8 more on the way.  I’ve been to two of them: Scottsdale, AZ and Pasadena, CA.  As best as I can recall I’ve visited each location 4 or 5 times and I’d happily return for another 4 or 5 sessions.  So why is it that my opinion of the Yard House differs so significantly from that of so many other craft beer fans?   Simple.  They’re all wrong.  That’s usually the case – well, maybe not always (I did say “usually”).

Here’s the thing: The Yard House isn’t a craft beer bar and it doesn’t hold itself out as one.  Unfortunately, many of the people who give it poor reviews do it from the wrong perspective.  They hold it to the same standards as a they would the Toronado Pub in San Francisco, Blind Tiger Ale House in NYC or Map Room in Chicago.  The comparison is unfair.  No Yard House location with its 120+ gleaming taps can match any of those iconic craft beer bars.  Again, it doesn’t try to – doesn’t need to.

Nice Job With Those Pours

Nice Job With Those Pours

The Yard House is more than just beer – and there’s a lot of that.  All of the locations have a similar, though not identical,  industrial design, large casually upscale pub-influenced menu and classic ’70s & ’80s rock.  Who can get enough of REO Speedwagon, Flock of Seagulls & Dexy’s Midnight Runners?  Not me – and I’ve tried.

The star of each space remains the beer.  Most locations have well over 100 taps, usually arranged around a large center island surrounded by a stainless steel bar.  Sleek, clean, industrial, purposeful.  So with over 100 taps what is everybody complaining about? (Well, not everyone complained.   I noticed a Canuck who still hasn’t figured out that Canada is Milwaukee’s largest suburb posted some complimentary remarks).

The truth is that craft beer flows from only a minority of those 100 taps.  It bears repeating: this isn’t a craft beer bar.  When I want to visit a world class craft beer bar in Scottsdale I hit Papago Brewing but when I want to catch a game, listen to some Men Without Hats and have a Bear Republic Racer 5 or Deschutes Black Butte Porter, I’m heading to the Yard House.  Granted, many of the taps are domestic and import Big Beer swill (Bud, Miller, Coors, Molson, Corona, Stella, etc) or widely available “Big Craft” (Sam Adams, Shiner), but you’ll find a handful of solid craft choices as well.  One criticism I do have is that local craft brewers aren’t well represented.  Last time I visited the Scottsdale location they only had one Four Peaks brew and no other Arizona breweries and there were no Craftsman handles in Pasadena.

Typical YardHouse Tap Island

Typical YardHouse Tap Island

That said, craft beer fans can multitask here.  While enjoying a New Belgium Ranger IPA they can introduce their buddy or, better yet, their second date to a New Belgium Fat Tire (OK, maybe handing her something with “fat” on the label would present additional challenges regarding plans/hopes for later that evening but you get the picture).  We often talk about gateway beers such as Blue Moon.  Perhaps the Yard House is a gateway beer bar.  Yes, the tap list skews a bit heavily towards quantity over quality but there are some gems in there.  Might not be diamonds like a Founders KBS but there will be a few gleaming rubies and with such a wide spectrum there are plenty of opportunities to help open minds and educate palates.

And for the hard core craft beer geek (like me), when the game’s over at the Yard House Scottsdale there just might be an Alaskan Pilot Series Double Black IPA with your name on it in the cooler at Papago down the road.

Cheers!

The Crafting of a Craft Beer Geek

Oak Creek Brewpub in Sedona, AZ

Oak Creek Brewpub in Sedona, AZ

Ask me almost anything about beer and there’s a pretty good chance I’ll know the answer.  “What’s the difference between dry hopping and continuous hopping?”  I know that. “Does chocolate malt really contain chocolate?”  I know that too, and – no, it doesn’t.  “What’s Fritz Maytag’s claim to brewing fame?”  Yeah, I know that and it doesn’t have anything to do with inventing a combination Maytag dishwasher/brew kettle.   “Who brews Pliny the Elder Ale and what styles of beer pair well with Thai food or Texas BBQ?  Yes, I can tackle those as well.  The list goes on and has gone on at beer tastings and other events for a while now.  I’ve been a proud bearer of the beer geek tag for a good 8 years.  I’ve hosted countless beer tastings, reviewed hundreds of beers, sampled hundreds more, brewed my own beer, given purchasing advice to a handful of owners, buyers and beer managers at local liquor stores and designed flights for some local craft beer bars but one question has evaded even a poor answer despite many attempts:  “when did you become a beer geek (or beer nut as the question is usually posed)?”  For far too long, the best and most honest answer I could come up with has been, “I don’t really know.”  Absurd, how could I not even know enough to take a weak stab at such a basic and obvious question?  Well, never one to be comfortable with not knowing the answer (especially to something so seemingly simple), I sat down with a contemplative pint or two of Great Divide Yeti Oak Aged Imperial Stout and determined to come up with something better than “I don’t really know.”

When it came to beer in the first place I was late to the tap handle, not having my first one until midway through my second semester of sophomore year at Syracuse University.  A self-imposed goodie two shoes I can honestly say that I never had a drink at a high school party and I didn’t even thought about sneaking a little something from my parents bar.  Throughout Freshman Year I never uncapped one of the Haffenreffer’s my future roommate, John Chawner, and his future wife, Cathy, were so quizzically partial to.  When I did start to accompany my college buddies to the bars adjacent to campus I tended to stay away from beer completely – just hated the taste of it and couldn’t understand why anyone would drink it.  Embarrassingly, I would usually be caught with a vodka Collins in those days but that’s another story.

Continue reading