December 27, 2008

Santas Cruz & Claus

One last blog post to cap '08 and to wish you all a merry Christmas, happy Hanukah, wonderful winter solstice or festive festivus.

Having been preoccupied with a big move and the holidays, I'm 10 days delayed in writing about a killer event down in Santa Cruz. Huge thanks to Janet at Capitola Book Cafe for inviting me, for hooking up some great press and radio and best of all, beer-love from the local brewpub, Seabright Brewery!

So Half Pint and I hopped in my ride and headed down the 101 to the 85 to the 17 to Hwy 1. Since we were there, we got in a little air hockey at the Boardwalk and some of my hands-down favorite ice cream c/o Marianne's. 72 flavors from Irish coffee chip and Mexican chocolate to Horchata and Cardamom. Alas, I was too full to take up Janet on her offer of a Bavarian feast (brats, red cabbage...) at the cafe portion of Capitola Book Cafe, served in honor of a beer book reading! I did, however, quaff a pint of Seabright's Pale Ale, c/o Jason the brewmaster and Charlie, the owner. It wasn't my first time drinking their beer, as I found my way to the brewpub back in April after running the Santa Cruz half marathon, since I only run so that I can drink more beer.

Over 50 chairs had been set up for the reading and each one was occupied when Janet announced me after some upcoming author events including Nicolette Hahn Niman (as in, Niman Ranch) in support of her forthcoming, Righteous Porkchop. All I know is, everyone who bought my book at the store got free beer. If attendees at Niman's event get porkchops, I'm there!

So I took the stage, offered a toast to all who raised and didn't raise their cups, and generally enjoyed one of my best events yet. The terrific audience included everyone from college kids just starting their own beer odysseys (including Banana Slugs from UCSC and a pair of fellow Gauchos from UCSB) to homebrewers in the Central Coast Zymurgeeks club to Charlie Meehan, the who went from young homebrewer to seasoned brewery owner, as he's the guy who founded Seabright 20 years ago.

The Central Coast is vying to become a formidble player in the California brewing scene. There were already a few breweries in Santa Cruz County, and in the past couple of years, I know of a couple more than sprang up including Uncommon Brewers (whose Siamese Twin Ale--the first beer I know of to employ lemongrass--was going to be paired with Thai food, but its still in my beer-chiller for some reason) and Santa Cruz Ale Works.* The latter only has a few beers out (I remember picking up the Hefe last time I was in town) but has a couple more on the way. I know because the brewer, Marc, who started the brewery back in '07, offered me a bottle of his new Oatmeal Stout. Paired with my mom's chocolate chip pumpkin bread, it's an exceptional stout--creamy and rich--and makes me look forward to his next beer, which is currently aging in bourbon barrels!

Thanks again to Janet & everyone at Capitola Book Cafe and all the many cool beer people who came out.

*That asterisk above? Consider this a trailer or coming attraction for an upcoming post about the aforementioned beer chiller (thanks to Santa in the form of my aunt Terri) and my overall new living situation. Prepare for Beeradise.

December 13, 2008

Imported Beer (devising a way to blog about a crazy night of dancing)

Beer Odyssey is 99.9% about domestic craft breweries: their beers and my experiences with them. This is that other .1%.

Intro: Half Pint's birthday falls right around Christmas. As such, most people are out of town or too busy with family to help celebrate. Months ago, when she took me to my orthopedist for a broken ankle I suffered before my book tour, she spotted a Chinese restaurant next to the medical center, which is what happens when your cheapo health care provider puts you in the Chinese Community Health Care system. Anyhoo, there's a sign that's all in Chinese except for a few words in English:

"Dancing Night. $13 per person (including dinner). Live Bands with Top Singers."

Figuring people would be around 2 weeks before her b-day when she wouldn't expect it, and I've never thrown a surprise party before, I surreptitiously emailed a few of her friends. I basically said it'll either be great or it'll be so awful, it'll be great.

Skipping over the part how I finagled Half Pint to the restaurant, she was definitely surprised. I begged the host to let her do some karaoke before they cut it off since it was her b-day. We ordered way too much food. And as for how much Tsing Tao we drank? Let's just say our new friend at the table next to us, Mabel, looked at our bill and stormed into the kitchen to demand that the manager charge us the Chinese people price, not the other price, since it came to over $100. When she came back and realized they didn't gouge us--that we really had ordered that many beers, she said, "No wonder you guys are so fun."

I'll tell you what's so fun.

Line-dancing to the Pussycat Doll's "Don'tchya Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot LIke Me" with 50 Chinese seniors.

Unrelated, just to squeeze this in a post about imported beers, I stopped by the Toronado today to check out their bottle sale. Hardly a treasure trove of rare and aged beers, and none were at bargain prices (even the cashier kept announcing that some bottles could be found cheaper @ City Beer), but she did pour me a great taste of last year's Abyss (see previous post), and I did get a $12 bottle of a Belgian micro I'd never heard of, Serafijn, a golden ale called Celtic Angel. Read about the brewery and you'll see why it appealed to me.

Kong chien & Op uw gezondheid.

December 9, 2008

Twelve Beers of Christmas, c/o the Jug Shop

When it comes to living in San Francisco, one of the many things I’m grateful for is the abundance of specialty liquor stores, not that I buy all that many bottles of booze or vino. This may come as a shock, but mostly I scan the beer coolers. Such was the case when I popped into the Jug Shop at Pacific and Polk St, just around the corner from Half Pint’s apartment. Incidentally, despite living there for four years, she’d never scoped out the joint. Since we’re shacking up and it’ll no longer be the neighborhood beer store, I wanted to buy a bottle for the first time for old time’s sake. The proprietor sensed I was there for no mere sixer of Heinie and disappeared into the backroom only to emerge with a bottle of Deschutes’s Abyss.


As I paid, the fellow (his name is Eric) let me know they were going to hold a winter beer tasting over the course of two nights. Yep, a tasting too big to be contained in one session. Not only would he be opening up winter warmers, he’d be be opening up TWELVE winter warmers. Not altogether, but EACH NIGHT, which is to say the 12 Beers of Christmas. Friday: Mostly Belgians. Saturday: Mostly domestic beers. Hooray for having a place to crash within stumbling distance!

I feel like I’m always apologizing to the Beer Geek Community, but while I am always down for trying everything, I’m no huge fan of certain styles of beer, from the uber bitter double IPAs to the pucker-inducing Belgian sours. So while I greatly appreciated the first session, I didn’t love most of them. Surprisingly, most of the samples were overtly malty with nary a trace of hoppiness. Pancake beers, because they were so syrupy sweet. What follows is the complete list of beers, the Jug Shop’s retail prices for 750 ml unless noted, notes and my personal rating on a 5-stein scale.

1. Scaldis, Prestige. $49.99. (Yep, fiddy bucks for 750 ml. Initial impression was all sugar, but nice piney finish, certainly spices up as it warms up.) 4 steins.
2. Brasserie Dupont, Avec Les Bons Voeux. $10.99. “With Best Wishes” from the brewery that brings us a stellar Saison, this guy was only lightly fruity. 3 steins.
3. Canaster, Winter Scotch ale. $15.99. I love Scotch ales. Having said this, this was too tart to be what I consider a Scotch ale. 2 steins.
4. Scaldis, Noel Premium. $?. Unfiltered, bottle-conditioned amber that put Mrs. Butterworth to shame. 2 steins.
5. St. Bernardus, Christmas Ale. $11.99. Ah yes, this is what I was hoping to find. This “living ale” can be aged for 15 years. I don’t often go for Abbeys, but this one begs for a fireplace and s’mores. 4 steins.
6. La Chouffe, N’ice Chouffe, dark winter beer. $11.99. At 10% ABV, the purported thyme and Curacao didn’t really come through over the Wall of Malt. 2 steins.
7. Goudon Carolus, Christmas. $11.99. Three hops and six spices and herbs. Just shy of the Colonel’s secret blend, but way tastier. If it was brewed in August and tastes this good already, would love to see how it tastes next winter solstice. My only 5 stein beer of the night.
8. Delirium, Noel. $11.99. One of the most popular Belgians of the season, the banana and pineapple notes jumps the gun. Crazy Belgians. 3 steins.
9. Affligem, Noel. $?. Why is this not a barleywine? Where are the hops, spices, fruits? Drowned in all that alcohol. 1 stein.
10. Samichlaus, Helles. $5.99 (for 12 or 11.2 oz). This is a Helles?? Tastes like malt syrup, honey, molasses, treacle, and finishes with some sap. Bring on the triple-crème brie. 1 stein.
11. Samichlaus, Bier. $5.99 (12 or 11.2 oz.) OK, so they age these for almost a year. My maple syrup in my fridge is that old and it doesn’t get any more complex either. This liquefied brown sugar is over the top, but would go with a Nutella crepe. 1 stein.
12. St. Feullien, Cuvee de Noel. $10.99. OK, at this point I was just pleasantly intoxicated and making friends with my fellow tasters. I gave it 3 ½ steins.

The next night was more my cup o’ tea. Or beer. And cider…since Eric saw fit to start the show with three ciders from Oregon, on top of the 12 beers of Christmas. Again, he supplied a print-out with info about the beers, but somehow I misplaced mine, but I think I can recall them all. Most were poured from 12-oz bottles out of six-packs, which I recall were mostly in the $8-11 range.

1. Wandering Aengus Ciderworks, Dry. No joke about the dry. Reminds me of New Belgium’s La Folie brewed with Brett. 3 steins.
2. Wandering Aengus Ciderworks, Semi-dry. Niiiice. 4 steins.
3. Wandering Aengus Ciderworks, Heirloom Blend. The sweetest of the three but with an interesting tang. 3 steins.
4. Sam Adams, Winter. Yeah, that’s right. Sammy. Nothing mind-blowing our crazy out-there, but it’s been forever since I’ve tried this and it’s straightforward that works for holiday beer novices. 2 ½ steins.
5. Moylan’s, White Christmas. On top of standard Belgian witbier spices like orange peel and coriander, they kept going, but possibly went overboard with the white pepper. Yes, it has a kick. 2 ½ steins.
6. Marin Brewing, Hoppy Holidays. I usually want my holiday beers to just pack the spice, but this offers up both spice and hops. Delectable. 4 steins.
7. Shipyard, Prelude Special Ale. Sort of a nutty red ale. For a hit-or-miss brewery, chalk one up for the Ringwood yeast. 3 steins.
8. New Belgium, Frambozen. It’s not that I can’t like a fruit beer. It’s that I don’t like this one. Tastes like a basket of raspberries that was left to ferment in your fridge plus hops. 1 stein.
9. New Belgium, 2 Below. Nicely balanced like if they were to turn an ESB into an ice beer. 3 steins.
10. Sierra Nevada, Celebration. Yep, lots of Cascade hops. 3 steins.
11. AleSmith, Yulesmith. What do San Diegans know about winter let alone winter beers? Quite a lot. 4 steins.
12. Anchor, Our Special Ale 2007. I’m a latecomer to Anchor vertical tastings of their Chrismas and New Year special ale, but I’ve been squirreling away a few bottles at home. I remember last year that the 2007 rendition didn’t do it for me as much as the ’06. Having said that, it has aged tremendously in just one year. Dare I say… 5 steins.
13. Anchor, Our Special Ale 2008. I was planning on cracking open the ’07 and ’08 at home soon. Jug Shop did it for me. I’ve already had the ’08 this year and loved the dark roasted malts and ginger kick. Having said that, the aged ’07 is now better. Silver lining: how good the ’08 will be down the road.* 4 steins.
14. Deschutes, Abyss. No, this isn’t technically a Christmas beer, but certainly holds up against any winter warmer. It’s an imperial stout, aged in French oak and bourbon barrels. Hells yeah. Remember how I started by saying I bought a bottle of this here last week? Upon tasting it, Half Pint made me buy one to keep for down the road. 5 steins.
15. He’Brew, Jewbelation. Again, I was too toasted at this point. But I’ve had this, uh, Chanukah Beer before and it does the trick. 4 steins.

*While there, I got a call from Jesse who was attending a beer club meeting hosting a phenomenal-sounding vertical tasting of Anchor X-mases, 1993-2008!!! Woe that I did not make it over.

Overall, both nights were excellent endeavors and drew a great crowd of experienced and newbie beer fans who all found great was to stave off Jack Frost from nipping at our noses, and livers.

December 7, 2008

Sideways (viva la Hopmonk)

Think Sideways and you're apt to think of that movie with Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church. From now on, I'll think of the Dungeness crab dinner (the crustacean's lateral movement is a bit of a stretch, I know) at Hopmonk Tavern in Sebastopol, which, like the movie, is in wine country.
Because I had to head down to SoCal for Thanksgiving and a few book events, I've been remiss about updates, hence Jesse at Beer & Nosh beat me to this post. And all the photos below are his. Lastly, his beer dinner tasting notes are more on topic, since he loves crab and I can't touch the stuff, a point which bummed out our host, Dean Biersch, but didn't bother me because I love ordering off the menu there. (Yet somehow, I missed out on going up to the buffet table for the steamed artichokes, garlic buttered corn on the cob, and something involving sweet potato puree.)

What began as Dean's splendid idea to do a book signing there turned into another in their series of beer pairing dinners. For example, Half Pint and I spent election night at Hopmonk with fellow revelers all donning "I voted" stickers and enjoying beers brewed by Dean's long-time partner, Dan Gordon. As he says, "Never trust a skinny brewer." Pairings that night included their Hefeweizen + pork tenderloin medallions, Marzen + roasted duck & parsnip puree, and concluded with the deceptively strong Winterbock + gingerbread crepes. So really, I kid you not when I say that I love the increasingly popular beer dinners and that it's impossible to go wrong by partaking of one at Hopmonk.

As for the crabby one, guests were welcomed with a pilsener glass filled with my favorite house brew, the Kellerbier, an unfiltered pils. To accompany the potato gratin app, we were poured Anchor Liberty Ale. It may not knock the socks of Double IPA fans today, but Fritz Maytag debuted this beer back in 1975. Good luck finding anything remotely this hoppy back then, cowboy. That was pretty much the discussion Dean and I had as we all ate and the night turned into an exercise in face-stuffing, peppered with commentary on the beers by myself and Dean.
It didn't hurt that the next beer poured was New Belgium's Mothership Wit, another beer from the pages of Red, White, and Brew. New Belgium is renowned for eco-friendly brewing and to complement both the beer and the idea of sustainable cuisine, the meyer lemons appeared courtesy of Dean's backyard! My grandfather the citrus farmer would've been proud.

Speaking of citrus, the meal concluded with Brewery Rodenbach's Grand Cru, a sour belgian from the same brewery that New Belgium's brewmaster Peter Bouckaert hailed from before he hopped the pond. It washed down what I seem to recall was angel food cake drizzled in a citrusy reduction and kicked up by lemon flan. (Like I said, this was a beer dinner. All you need to remember is how much fun it was, not the specifics of what was served)

November 27, 2008


Yesterday (Wed, Nov 26) on NPR, if you tuned into "Marketplace", instead of hearing about mouthwatering Schweddy Balls, you heard about mouthwatering craft beer. I recorded the interview with host Kai Ryssdal at the Library Bar in downtown LA (around the corner from the library.) As a devoted NPR listener for years (to say nothing of remembering listening to "All Things Considered" when driving around town with my mom in our old, family, wood-paneled stationwagon), it was a huge honor to find myself on the other side of the mic/radio.

Kai asked me to pick four beers--something hoppy, dark, middle of the road, and I believe his words were something like "piss water." Perusing their beer menu, I selected North Coast's Old Rasputin imperial Russian stout (Ft. Bragg, CA), Bear Republic's Racer 5 IPA (Healdsburg, CA), Craftsman's 1903 Lager (Pasadena, CA), and Amstel Light (apologies to the Netherlands). All on American Public Radio's dime.
We sat, sipped, and discussed the state of the American brewing industry, both on a craft and industrial level. I'd say it lasted half an hour. The result? Four minutes and twenty seconds. Overall, I'm ecstatic with the finished piece, save for one tiny thing no one would catch:

"RYSSDAL: Uh, clearly the economy's having some problems. Disposable income is at a premium. What's that going to do to the craft brew sector when these good beers that we've been drinking cost $3, $4, $5 more than a six-pack of Bud Light?

Yaeger: I could tell you that, just for the numbers of 2007, the craft beer segment actually climbed 12 percent. And that is actually an improvement from a decline a couple years ago. Even though people may have less money to spend, it's just a luxury in a bottle and it's not going to set you back a whole lot."

What they snipped was that I said craft beer sales climbed 12 percent, as they have for the past four years, but the Big Boys take of the $100 billion Americans spent on beer last year grew less than 2 percent, which is actually an improvement from a decline a couple years ago. Truly, no biggie, but just wanted to be clear here.

Anyway, it worked! "Worked?" Yes, worked. Before the story aired, Red, White, and Brew was somewhere around Amazon #30,000, and #31 on the Beer list. Already it's #2,000-something and set a new record at #2 on the Beer list. (It's also #15 on the US Travel list, #1 on Kindle's Beer list, #5 on Kindle's US Travel list (after only heroes William Least Heat-Moon and Bill Bryson), and a new list to me, #71 on the "Lifestyle" list, meaning I'm right after Paula Deen's x-mas book. (Having said that, I still encourage those who drink local, independent brews to buy the book at local, independent bookstores.) Happy holidays, indeed. Bonus for airing right before Black Friday. This is just all so cool and exciting.


November 24, 2008

Whenever one tour closes, many bottles open

I'm about to head off to the Mac Store downtown (SF), which means that my next round of events begins now. That also means my week of R'n'R is over, which is why I haven't blogged since then. As I gear up for a couple NorCal events and several SoCal ones since I'll be down that-a-way for Thanksgiving (mental note: pick up some bottles of The Bruery's Autumn Maple beer with yams), here's a look back on what I have to show for the big, international tour, bottle-wise.

Initially, I put myself on a “bomber a day” diet. The goal: buy just one 22 oz. bottle of beer from wherever I found myself that day. Miraculously, and tragically, I stuck to it more or less:
15 bombers.
6 750-ml bottles or larger
23 12-oz bottles.

Very few duplicates (a six-pack of Bell’s Oberon b/c some friends made me, and a whole case of the infamous Mama Mia Pizza Beer, meaning 1 to try, 3 as a gift and 20 bottles to trade.) But for the sake of argument, 44 different beers altogether. I was on the road 41 days.

To save lots of time, I am not hyperlinking to the breweries, but you know quite well how to Google. If you have any questions about anything below, just ask.

In road trip order:
Wasatch (Salt Lake City, UT), The Devastator double bock
Tommyknocker (Idaho Springs, CO) Imperial Nut Brown Ale & a Butthead doppelbock
Ska (Durango, CO) Nefarious Ten Pin imperial porter
New Belgium (Ft. Collins) La Folie wood-aged Belgian ale
Upstream (Omaha, NE) Oak-Aged IPA (hand labeled #533 of 621)
Goose Island (Chicago, IL) Imperial Brown Goose bourbon-barrel-aged brown ale & Bourbon County Stout & Harvest Ale
America’s Brewing Co/Walter Payton’s Roundhouse brewpub (Aurora, IL) Imperial Stout Bourbon Barrel
O’Fallon Brewing (O’Fallon, MO) Smoke smoked porter
Three Floyds (Munster, IN) Moloko milk stout
Bell’s (Kalamazoo, MI) sampler: Cherry Stout, Third Coast Beer, Porter, Double Cream Stout, Imperial Stout, Oberon wheat
Founder’s (Grand Rapids, MI) Breakfast Stout double chocolate coffee oatmeal stout
Church Brew Works (Pittsburgh, PA) Trippel (2000)
Harpoon (Boston, MA) 100 Barrel Series Glacier Harvest ’08 wet hop beer
Southern Tier (Lakewood, NY) Pumking imperial pumpkin ale
French Broad (Ashville, NC) Dunkel-Witte dark-white ale
Highland (Ashville, NC) Black Mocha Stout
Duck Rabbit (Farmville, NC) Milk Stout & Porter
Sweetwater (Atlanta, GA) 420 pale ale
Terrapin Beer Co (Athens, GA) Imperial Coffee Stout
Dixie (New Orleans, LA) Blackened Voodoo black lager
Abita (Abita Sprints, LA) Restoration Ale
Real Ale Brewing (Blanco, TX)
Orf (Austin, TX, opening eventually) Rhum Porter
Four Peaks (Tempe, AZ) Kiltlifter Scotch ale & 8th Ave pale ale
Renegade (Siletz, OR) Spruce Ale
Caldera (Ashland, OR) Pale Ale
Elysian (Seattle, WA) Dragonstoth Stoud & Night Owl pumpkin ale
Laughing Buddha (Seattle, WA) Ginger Pale Ale
Phillips (Victoria, BC) Blackberry Hefeweizen & Dirty Squirrel hazelnut brown
Howe Sound (Squamish, BC) Father John’s Winter Ale (1 litre. Made with “four different malts, Nugget & Hallertau hops, ginger, nutmeg, vanilla, cinnamon, treacle, honey, and yellow sugar.)

Breweries visited & therefore sampled amply:

Rockslide (Grand Junction, CO)
Tommyknockers (Idaho Springs, CO)
New Belgium (Ft. Collins, CO
Great Divide (Denver, CO)
Upstream (Omaha, NE)
Three Floyds (Munster, IN)
Bell’s (Kalamazoo, MI)
Church Brew Works (Pittsburgh, PA)
Legend (Richmond, VA)
Montgomery (Montgomery, AL)
NOLA (coming soon, New Orleans, LA)
Two Rows (Houston, TX)
512 (Austin, TX)
Orf (coming soon, Austin, TX)
Four Peaks (Tempe, AZ)
Telegraph (Santa Barbara, CA)
Lucky Lab (Portland, OR)
Hopworks Urban Brewery (Portland, OR)
Elysian Fields (Seattle, WA)
Hale’s Ales (Seattle, WA)

Rough estimate of how many other beers I tried not listed above: only 50 at Great American Beer Fest in Denver, and only around 40 elsewhere.


November 18, 2008

Mac Man

If you scroll down a li'l and look on the right side, under "Latest In Store," I'm right on the Apple page! I'm just a small time Mac geek, but that's pretty fun. This should be up through 11/24 so if you're in the Bay Area, swing on by.

November 17, 2008

Homeboy, Playboy

For now, all I can say is, it's good to be home. You know I'm not a numbers guy, but here are some fun ones:

10,000: miles driven.
42: days on the road
38: different beers bootlegged home (less than you'd imagine)
20: events.
13: friends stayed with around the country
4: pounds I tacked on (less than you'd imagine)
1: Playboy book review! "Yaeger’s book is something to immerse yourself in and savor...Here’s hoping that Yaeger has a sequel in him—he’s a great drinkin’ buddy."

Looking forward to 10 whole days before I have to drive anywhere. Who wants to get a beer?

November 15, 2008

Seattle, at last

Greetings from Ashland, OR (again), where we are staying for the night after the very last stint on my INTERNATIONAL book tour, which was at Elysian Fields brewpub up in Seattle. And thanks to Elliott Bay Books (and Casey) for handling sales. It was a great event to have as my last event. The beer (especially Dragonstooth Stout and Night Owl pumpkin ale) were great, Michael the bartender couldn't have been cooler, I briefly got to talk to the head brewer and co-owner Dick Cantwell, and saw a bunch of friends from the Emerald City (shout out to the Chaplins, the Kassoffs, the Greeks, and "Jack.") (PS: Notice on the menu of Elysian Fields beers, that one of the "guest beers" is Bud Light. Kudos to the expert beerista, Michael, for handling that with grace.)

Our first night, Half Pint and I stayed with Jay and Pauline. Jay is my new favorite person. Why's that? Turn to page 114 in your copy of the book and if you find the subtle pun that he caught, then you're my co-favorite person. But Pauline's my favorite person, too, for she took us on a gastronomic tour of Seattle beginning with breakfast at the Five Spot, then beer tasting at Hale's Ales, where we got to talk shop with their brewer since 1985, Phil, though alack, they did not have their rare Coconut Porter on tap. Finally, she took us on the tour of Theo, a local chocolatier and one of only 14 fair trade ones in the US.

The next morning, we had the biggest b-fast I've ever seen at a place called the Brown Bag. No joke--after Half Pint ate her heart out, it looked like she hadn't made a dent in her scramble. My biscuits were topped by a growler's worth of sausage gravy.

On our way south, she let me pick up some salumi from Salumi for the ride down (which odorized the car, to my delight and Half Pint's chagrin). Back in Brewtopia, I finally got to take her to my favorite brewpub--which is saying something-- the Lucky Lab(rador). There were great beers and cute pooches aplenty. (If our dog Patsy is reading this, which would be on the miraculous side, please know that we can't wait to take you to the Lucky Lab and I'll let some of my beer go flat so you can try it. I think you'd like Super Dog Ale the best.)

B-fast in Beervana consisted of two faves: Voodoo Donuts (Half Pint and I shared a Memphis Mafia. Think banana fritter loaded with peanut butter and chocolate!) and Stumptown Coffee (HP's best latte of the trip). We barely made it into Ashland before dark, where our host (again) Susan, had a homecooked meal waiting for us!!! We're about to get wild'n'crazy over a few rounds of Boggle, and then, and I type this with a hint of a tear in my eye, tomorrow it's back to a mystical place called home.

November 12, 2008

C, eh, N, eh, D, eh

Greetings from the USA. Those fools at border patrol let Half Pint and I back into the country despite not having our passports. Um, next time I'll know I need my passport even when driving, and so will she.

So truth be told, I only booked an event in Vancouver, BC to say I did an "international" book tour. CANADA is officially a foreign country, eh. So we used the trip wisely to explore the city I call the San Francisco of Canada, which was Half Pint's first time in the Great White North. We rode the Sky Train, which is essentially a monorail that works. We drove around Stanley Park, where I had a 100% touristy lunch of a burger (with Alberta beef) with Canadian back bacon, poutine (if you like cheese fries, you'll loooove fries with cheese curds and gravy) and washed it down with a Molson Canadian. Molson IS Canada's oldest brewery, afterall, though this beer tastes no better than Coors, which they own. Oh, and for dessert: maple nut ice cream. Mmmapley.

The event was in the Shebeen Whisk(e)y Room behind the Irish Heather, a BC gastropub in the Gastown district. Because the back of the book says I can, I charged $17 Canadian instead of $15 American, which meant my books sold that night covered our entire beer and food bill. What was on that tab? A pint of the Nut Brown ale from Howe Sound Brewing in Squamish, BC (who also makes the Father John X-mas ale in liter bottles, which I'll be bootlegging back home) a bottle of Black Cat black lager and the Bête Noire (oatmeal) stout, both from an awesome brewery located in an even awesomer place, Paddock Wood Brewing in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and a Belgian-style Wit Beer from the Mill St. Brewery in Toronto, which I liked but found a bit heavy on the orange peel. I know my party--including my friend Canadian Dave and his friend Boris--shared a bottle of Crooked Tooth pumpkin ale from another local brewery, Phillips, which Boris graciously put on his tab. If I had another beer, I don't recall, because, this being primarily a whiskey bar, Randy the bartender poured me something that resembled Laphraig, my favorite single-malt scotch from the Islay region. I love those scotches that I describe as tasting like a bonfire in a peat bog. Incidentally, whereas Half Pint opted for the Belgian frites and muscles, I had the house pot pie, which was steak and Guinness! Bon jour and bon appetite!

To complete our Canadian experience, we bought complimentary toques the next morning, which, had we been wearing them when we attempted to cross the border, would have truly foiled our plans to convince border patrol that we were not Canadian or any form of illegal immigrants, but good ol' Americans who stand for the Red, White, and Brew.

November 9, 2008

T'ales from Brewtopia

Greetings from Vancouver, eh. I'll get to my tales from the Great White North in a bit, but first, I had to drive through Oregon to get here (and Washington, but I'm not there yet).

Just as Half Pint started my tour with me by driving from Cali to Chitown, she's doing the last leg with me, too. Friday we piled into my car (made lighter by several cases-worth of beer picked up along the odyssey that I'll be drinking/blogging in due time) and cruised up I-5, barely making Oregon by the new dark. We stayed in Ashland with Susan, who's like a second mom. For dinner, we hit the Standing Stone Brewing Co., my second trip to the brewpub after first going years ago, which makes a cameo in Red, White, and Brew. I gotta say, it's a top-notch brewpub from both the food and beer perspective. Half Pint's Oatmeal Stout on nitro and my wet-hopped Hoptoberfest were impeccable. Susan's actual half pint of the Hefe wasn't bad. As for the food, it's hard to get excited about tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich, but not when it's an heirloom tomato bisque and a grilled Rogue Stout cheddar on grilled sourdough! And if you go, and there's at least 4 in your party, get the chickpea fries with curry dip.

The next morning, we completed our drive to Portland, aka Beervana, aka Brewtopia. First I checked in at the author sign-in at the Oregon Convention Center, as I was in town to speak at Wordstock, Portland's literary festival and was "escorted" to the "VIP" room. Ooh, I'm so fancy. I basically grabbed a cup of coffee and talked to the audio/visual guy about the PowerPoint Presentation I'd put together. Yes, I taught myself the basics of PPT just for this gig. But my speaking time was at 5 and it was only 3, so I headed off for a live on-air interview on KXL's "The Libation Station," (which seems like you could download here, but it's long). My hosts were "Dr. BBQ" Bruce Bjorkman & the "Beer Goddess" Lisa Morrison. Not only did I have fun, but I got to try the previous guests' homebrewed pumpkin beer.

Then it was back to the Oregon Convention Center for Wordstock. Half Pint had several friends show up and they actually were not the only seats filled for my presentation on the McMenamin Stage, though no McMenamin Bros. beers were being poured, sadly. The festival organizer, Greg, kindly introduced me and though I'm no fan of public speaking, I thought I was off to a decent start and my slides were proving to be a hit... until I looked behind me and noticed a giant blank screen. See, unlike another litfest speaker that day, John Hodgman, better known as the "PC" from the Mac computers, I'm a Mac person. Woe that PPT on a Mac doesn't jibe well with A/V intended for PCs, so the visual portion of my 50-minute presentation was nixed. I could be heard throughout the talk uttering "if you could see the great picture I have of..." Other than that one gaffe, it was a great thrill and honor, the audience lobbed some great questions my way (including one young woman who asked if I gained weight during my "research," thanksalot) and I got to sign a bunch of books. (I popped back in the next morning to see how many they had left and it was down to 3.)

Afterward, I went to Hopworks Urban Brewery, the eco-friendliest of all of Portland's thirty-ish breweries. I enjoyed a pint of their British session style ESB and then some "DOA," or Deluxe Organic Ale, which I can only describe as being hoppier yet smoother than your average pale ale. Organic AND tasty--now that's a treat. FYI, the pizzas ain't cheap, but they are good and big. I was there with Half Pint and a slew of friends of hers who have all moved to Portland who all gave us the hard sell on moving there. If the beer scene factored into my move from LA to SF, then it could come into play here, too.

After dinner, us old fogies tried to rally for Kat's kid brother's friend's b-day party, his Dirty 30, but the over-30 crowd only had one more drink in us, and once back to Stephanie's and Drew's pad, I crashed. Hard.

November 8, 2008

I (Beer) L.A.

Despite a recent article in the LA Times, L.A. is NOT a beer town. It'll take some time before it ever becomes one, but for now it's a Corona/Heinie/Amstel Light town. Which is where bars like Blue Palm Brew House comes in. It's where I had my hometown book signing, and where 50 friends and family came out last Sunday to ask me which crazy beers they should try, since they were unfamiliar with all of them. I loved it. As for me, since I always drink beers from the region I'm in, but I also like finding beers I haven't had before, I decided anything California sufficed. Starting light, tried Green Flash's Summer Saison even though I'm not usually a farmhouse style kinda guy, but the pleasant ginger zing worked well. By night's end, I found myself quaffing Sac Brew's High & Rye, a red rye ale on a nitro tap. It's amazing how smooth nitrogen makes even a red ale.

While it wasn't the last event on my tour, it sort of had that feel, since I was surrounded by familiar faces and didn't have to drive 500 miles to see them. (However, I had driven 400 miles just two days earlier, and would be driving over 400 miles starting the next morning.) Thanks a ton to Julia from Book Soup hanging out all night and selling lotsa books! Signed copies are available in Hollywood. Respect to the Gaucho-and-wives crew, the UJ minion, the Punk Rock Bowling gang, Half Pint's peeps, the smattering of LA folks from here and there, the sole USC-MPW rep, Lisa, and of course the fam.

(Above: me and BPBH owner, Brian Lenzo)

November 2, 2008

Tempe Love

Not that Tempe, AZ was my last event on my tour, but it was the last one before my hometown crowd in LA, and from here, I only have 3 remaining events all in the Pac NW. So in some sense, though I've been denying being fatigued, part of me just wanted to get it over with, but that was until I showed up at the Four Peaks Brewing Co. where a huge crowd of thirsty (and hungry) supporters were waiting to meet me. Holy moly.

Huge, massive, ginormous thanks to Holly at Changing Hands Books for setting up the event, garnering lots of local press and interest, and selling out of copies at the brewpub! Though if you live in the Tempe/Phoenix area, there should be a few signed copies left. Four Peaks was the most crowded brewpub I think I've ever seen, and crazier still is that it was a Wednesday night. Is it because many brewpubs are places where people can get decent local brew and decent grub but 4P pours and serves stellar selections? That's my guess. Steve the GM brought me a flight of their brews and because I'm a fan of a great session beer, my vote is the 8th St. Pale Ale, which is actually more of an ESB. Smooth and mellow and a great quencher for the AZ sun. It was 93 degrees that day.

But back to the event. Not only were all the seats full and I had a blast table-hopping and really getting to talk to book buyers, but there was a VIP table for the extended family of Electric Beer, subject of a chapter in the book. I was SHOCKED to see Electric Dave all the way in Tempe, when he rarely makes his way from Bisbee to his neighboring Tucson. Also on hand were New Dave and the brewery's new owners including friends and family. Best news of the night: Plans for an Electric brewpub in Tempe! Finally, a city trying to put the Southwest on the beer map.

(Above: Erika and her mom Paula, who kindly offered me a crash pad somewhere west of Phoenix that night.)

The next day, I stopped back into Four Peaks for a tour with brewmaster Andy and one of the owners, Jim. Steve once again hooked me up, this time with lunch: a jalapeno popper burger. What's that? A massive, tasty burger with a veritable brick of cream cheese and spicy sliced jalapenos. Hoo-wa. Needless to say I didn't eat until the next morning after sleeping in a $29 roach motel just across from the AZ/CA border in Blythe. But it was totally worth it since I discovered the Courtesy Coffee Shop in town, where it's always 1961. Let me just say this: Farmer's Breakfast, consisting of scrambled eggs, chopped sausage, bell peppers and onions on a bed of hash browns smothered in both gravy and cheese, with hotcakes on the side.

From Blythe, I sped clear across the last of the barren desert in time to catch my 4 year old niece's Halloween pageant (she's the princess in the middle of the back row). I also got to catch up on the goings-on of my 6 year old niece (a wigless Hanna Montana)

November 1, 2008

Studs Terkel, 96, R.I.P.

Louis "Studs" Terkel--author, radio host, activist--passed away at age 96 just 4 days before the election he'd been hanging on to witness. The Chicagoan spent his entire career, and life, championing community activists, so it's no secret he supported the only Chicago-bred community activist running for president. Still, Studs saw much change during his lifetime, even though people have been saying things like, "What's the point? What can I do about it?" for the past 96 years.

I first heard of Studs Terkel less than a decade ago when someone compared a story I'd written (but never sold, so I self-published it) to Studs's writing. It was about a donut baker, who happened to be born to Russian Jewish parents, just like Studs. The story was less about the wonderfulness of donuts and more about what a fasinating life this man who had been making donuts for 40 years after being drafted into the Korean War where the Marines made him a baker. Whereas one high school teacher compared my short fiction writing to Raymond Carver, who I discovered I'm no huge fan of, the Studs Terkel comparison is now one of the greatest compliments of my life.

He wrote over a dozen books and I've yet to make my way through most of them, but his titles include "Chicago," "Working," "Race," a memoir called "Touch and Go," and his first book in 1957, "Giants of Jazz." My first read was "Chicago," and page after page, all I could do was marvel how the author turned banal people into fascinating characters, intriguing people into commonplace ones, and above all, anthropomorphized Chicago into a living, breathing person, one with a great many faults but at the end of the day, someone you pulled for, someone you'd want to get a beer with.

"Giants of Jazz" isn't about how to listen to Duke Ellington or Billie Holiday, it's about what makes Satchmo, Bird, and Trane who they are. It's staggeringly great and makes it impossible to listen to Dave Koz or Kenny G over Louis Armstrong, even though the music is what should do that anyway. Kinda like, say, maybe, choosing Sierra Nevada Pale Ale over Bud Lager.

In my own writing, I did not set out to be the next Michael Jackson, the world's preeminent beer writer who sadly passed away last year. Nor did I set out to be the next Studs Terkel. That my first book, in my greatest grab for pride, somehow melds the inspiration I draw from these two great men who lived lives richer than the Rockerfellers, is what I hope said book will be remembered as.

I don't know if living another 60 years or writing another 12 books is in the cards for me, but if I do, every book and year lived will be spent drawing inspiration from Studs Terkel.

(If you haven't read him, I advise going into your local, independent bookstore to find any of his works. Otherwise, you can find them here on Amazon.)

October 29, 2008

Desiccated in the desert

Pictures T/K.

Quick update for those checking in. Greetings from Tempe, AZ, an hour before my event tonight at Four Peaks Brewing Co. It's co-sponsored by Changing Hands Bookstore and here's what they did: set it up so that people pay $27 just to see li'l ole me. That gets them a book and 2 pints. An interesting tactic. And here's the best part: presales are 30 tix. Hooray for Tempeans.

Here's what the past few days looked like. After New Orleans, I hauled clear across Louisiana through the bayou to Hurricane Ike ravaged Houston. When I saw all the McDonald's and Wendy's, etc signs dilapidated, I thought maybe they were remnants from a suburb that had fallen on hard times. But it was just visible proof from I-10 of the destruction suffered, even that far in from the Gulf. The upbeat part came when I made it to the Ginger Man to meet Bob and his wife (Nanette?), Doak, Steve, Sean, and some stragglers from the Foam Rangers, Houston's homebrew club that had just pulled off the Dixie Cup homebrew competition even in Ike's wake. They plied me with Texan beers (no, not Lone Star) and homebrew stories, then, instead of sending me on my way, took me to H-town's only remaining brewpub, Two Rows, for dinner and more beer. B/c they are all barleywine-o-philes, I got the whiskey aged barleywine. Yowzah.

I made it to Austin before the end of the World Series game and in addition to seeing my good friends Chris and Elana Orf, I met their new Orfling, Isaac. They did well.

I started the next day stopping by Austin's newest brewery, 512, and only tried their Wit, made not with curacao orange peel but with grapefruit. My late grandfather the grapefruit rancher would be proud. Alas, I did not even have time to try their Pecan Porter. Mmmm. The event called for 6 p.m. at Opal Divine's Freehouse, around the corner from Book People, who was on hand to sell a few books (thanks, Allison and Laurie). Are you ready for the awful part? For the first time on this tour, I paid for my own beers. The horror! Thanks to PJ from the Austin Beer Meetup for sending out the word and hanging out! Afterward, Orf, Elana and I hit Chuy's for some Tex Mex. I believe my dish was called Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. Anything with green chile is okay in my book.

In the morning, I had some Maria's breakfast tacos with Elana (and Isaac), then began my mind-and-body-numbing drive across Texas, or at least the bulk of it. Man that's a long haul! I didn't make it to the New Mexico border until around 8 p.m., then to Columbus, NM by 9, where I stayed with my former manager's dad in the tiny border town. He even let me do laundry!! After a great night's sleep, we didn't have time to head into Palomas, Mexico for desayuno, so we went to the cafe for breakfast, conveniently located across the street from the Columbus Public Library. Where there was a crowd! To hear me! The attentive crowd listened well and had the best Q&A session of my tour. They even gave me some gas money in the form of out-of-trunk sales. Then they showed me where the basement had been boarded up from back when the library was a bar, doubling as a drug layover station. Border towns are cuh-razy places.

OK, off to Four Peaks. Cheers.

October 26, 2008

Big Easy

On par with trying local beers is my affinity for dining on the local cuisine when I'm traveling. That's why I tooled around Greenville, SC looking for Henry's Smokehouse, "home of the leanest butt in town," as what could be better than Carolina style bbq in the Carolinas? It was also my introduction to Brunswick stew. That's also why I ordered the amazing Black & Bleu burger (blackened with Cajun seasoning and topped with crumbled bleu cheese) at the Montgomery Brewing Co, which, incidentally, for those of you keeping track (ok, just me) made it 27 states that I've visited a brewery in. Only 23 to go, but I just haven't had time on this tour to stop at one in most of the states I've driven through so far.

Back to food, you can imagine how excited I was to be in New Orleans, the Big Easy. It went down like this. I pulled in around 8:30 Friday night. By the time I made it out, all the good joints near me stopped serving. So I got in my car and hit some others, but I'd just missed them. It never used to be like this. Pre-Katrina, this was more of a 24-hour town, the Quarter notwithstanding. So that's where I headed, but I just couldn't get enthused about a regular hamburger when I coulda been eating some etouffe or even a decent po'boy.

In the morning, I sat down to a boudin omelet, boudin being akin to a well-spiced sausage. And cafe au lait. The book signing at Octavia Books was set for 12:01 p.m., because Dixie Brewing provided free beer samples, and you
shouldn't drink before noon. As an added treat, Joe, Kendra, and Maddi Bruno (the owners and their granddaughter, though Kendra cracked that Dixie actually owns them) were on hand so a lucky few got books signed by both the author and the subjects of the New Orleans chapter. Quite a few people came running in, one of them literally, to get a signed copy. Sweet.

Afterward, I received an invitation from the Brunos for a late lunch. When I showed up, a plate of fried oysters appeared before me. Bad time to tell 'em I'm, uh, allergic to shellfish? Still, we had a great lunch and it's always good to see the 3 of them when I'm in town. Which means I'll see them again in exactly 6 months for Jazz Fest.

After that, I headed to the reception for a beer dinner. Yes, they're doing beer dinners in NOLA now! The offer came from the woman who ran into Octavia Books, upon her completion of a 7 mile run. She bought 2 books, for her husband and his brewmaster. Kirk and Peter, respectively, are opening a brand new brewery here in NOLA called NOLA Brewing. (New Orleans Lagers and Ales.) This is very exciting news. Peter Caddoo, I should point out, spent many years as Dixie's brewmaster. I tried their brown and blonde ales, and canNOT wait to try them again on tap when I'm back. They open in January, just as soon as the brewing equipment from Left Hand Brewing arrives from Boulder.

The night ended with hitting Le Bon Temps Rouler with my friend Steven in town from LA to do some hurrican Gustav cleanup. We caught a set by local musician Anders Osborne, a favorite, and then hit Cafe du Monde around 1:30 a.m. for some beignets and cafe au lait!

October 23, 2008

Tri Beer, You'll Like it

It's 2:47 a.m. in Atlanta, where I had a great Sweetwater I.P.A. to go with my pimento cheddar cheese sandwich with bacon at the Brick Store Pub in Decatur earlier, and I know I should be asleep, but I gotta post how great the event was last night at Tyler's Taproom in Durham, NC.

After another long drive, this one from DC through Virginia and half of North Carolina, I showed up at Tyler's to a good crowd and a well-stocked and displayed table of books, thanks to Bill and the good folks at the Regulator. I'd say one of my biggest regrets is never having time to make it into the local indie bookstores who've been helping me at all of my events, and they have all done such a killer job.
My only other visit to N. Carolina, I was only 22, but I'd noticed that the folks here were as nice as could be. They still are. I mean, if nice was hops, these folks would be a double IPA. To introduce some of the people I met, I'll start by asking if you know about Who needs social networking sights when you can network, socially? A popular group is the beer meetup group, and NC's Triangle has one of the best in "Tri Beer," thanks to a great guy named Steve. I also got to do an interview for a future podcast, courtesy of Thomas who recently moved to the Triangle from Arizona. And then there were the Bradfords, Julie and Daniel, the powerhouse duo behind All About Beer magazine. Tip for anyone passing through Durham with a thirst: make friends with Daniel at his home away from home. And what a home. Tyler's has dozens of great beers on tap (as soon as I showed up, I was offered a Triangle Pale Ale) and they offer various flights, from darks to hops to "local," which is naturally what I got, including offerings from Duck-Rabbit, French Broad, Carolina, and Big Boss. Incidentally, more than one bottle of Duck-Rabbit's Milk Stout is making the trip home with me.

October 22, 2008


Greetings from DC's Dupont Circle. Of my mondo run--4 events in 4 nights, 1000 miles apart--I'm halfway there. I enjoyed my first and only down time by bar hopping around Brooklyn then doing a great interview for where we basically drank 154 year old beer (OK, McSorley's is 154 years old; their house brew is fresher) That was Monday, and that night I had a blast hanging out at the Blind Tiger Ale House in the West Village, seeing old friends and older ones still (my dad grew up in New York--Jamaica, Queens to be exact--so the whole gang came out, tried funny beers, and harassed the barflies who were leaving to buy a book). It

worked, as we sold-out. What'd I drink? I remember having two Southampton ales--Big Brown and Double White--Six Point's Porter on cask, and Alan from the BT was super cool and

brought over a corked bottle of Brooklyn Local 1. Sweet. Shouts to Daniela and Ryann and the SMP crew, Laura, Lora, Dan, Annie, Lila, Gabby, Erik, Kevin aka Sammy, Jeff, and Krista and her krewe.

I wish I had a day to walk around the Village, alas, I had to take the train back to Bklyn, get my stuff and my car, and zoom down I-95 to an in-air interview on the Mike O'Meara show (WJFK in the DC area). (Download & listen to it here, after a few minutes of talk radio fodder.) When you show up with cold beer, you're warmly received. I brought in a Southampton Pumpkin Ale (malty, seasonal, local) and a Stone IPA (hoppy, perennial, West Coast) and each one found a fan in the co-hosts, Mike and Robb.

I had a split second to see my old college friend Jane, her husband Marc, their 18-month-old baby Avi, and their dog Sputnik (think the Little Rascal's "Petey." Marc and I walked to the event, the famed Brickskeller (3rd-generation beer bar, in Guinness Book for biggest beer selection in the world, until recently, damn Belgians), and his guided tour included pointing out where the neighborhood high end brothel is. Alas, I didn't sell THAT many books. Besides, authors don't compare to senators when it comes to local celebs.

For the event, Greg Kitsock from Mid-Atlantic Brewing News (and many other outlets) interviewed me on stage upstairs at the legendary Brickskeller. Yep, mics and an unending supply of beers (Bell's Oktoberfest, Clipper City IPA-like hop bomb, and a Saison that the Brick's owner, Dave Alexander, had a hand in when at something called Beer Camp). It lasted over 2 hours. My first time hitting the Brick and though I hope to return many more times, it'll be my most memorable.

And now I'm leaving Kramer's & Afterwords, an indie bookstore and cafe, the kind you'd expect an author events coordinator to know about to bring in as a bookseller when doing a book promo event in DC, home to dozens of great indie booksellers.

Next up: Durham (and the entire Triangle area of), North Carolina.

October 18, 2008

Fly-overs vs. the Real America

Before I get all Woody Guthrie on you and start blogging about this land from California to the New York Island, I need to talk about the last event before I arrived at the opposite end of the country.

Steeltown. I was like many people who imagined Pittsburgh to be gray and dreary, and I heard that it was voted sootiest city, proving how common the image of a town overrun with steelworks is. On the contrary, it's one of the most picturesque cities I've been to. The combination of the three pristine rivers (just like we must give thanks to Carter for legalizing homebrew, let's extend a postmortem pat on the back to Nixon for the Clean Air & Water acts), tri-color foliage dotted with brick churches and towering steeples make for great view driving down from the Pennsylvania Turnpike. And it's the last of those concepts, the churches, that brought me there.

I'd arranged to sign in Church Brew Works, a deconsecrated church with a brewpub built inside. All the stained glass is still in tact, the pews are now booth benches, and the brew system rests on high on the altar, amen. The manager Thursday night, Phil, couldn't have been more gracious and the bartender, Gene, is a man who appreciates a good cask and all that beer can be. He is a great ambassador of the Beer People. And also, shout out to my girl Maureen from Joseph-Beth Booksellers, for helping sell books. I'll say it again: always support your local brewery and your local bookstore.

People have a way of reacting to learning that I wrote a book about driving around the country drinking beer. While my favorite scenario ends in them buying said book, one guy at Church got up, walked around some tables, and gave me a bear hug. He didn't buy, though. That's my segue into what I overheard in a coffee shop yesterday morning. "If I have to stop drinking Corona and start buying Natural Light, ten bucks a case, that's what I'll do." --Joe the Plumber looking guy, discussing the economy.

That's a fine set-up for my cultural tour of the New York City nightlife, thanks to my friend Chockie, a fellow LA ex-pat who I crashed with in Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy neighborhood. To get the ball rolling, I shared the bottle of Bell's Stout (made with something called Brewer's Licorice) with Chockie's boyfriend, Erik. Their friend Kevin came over and the four of us headed out at 11 p.m. Even Grampa here doesn't start his night at 11. Chockie knows her bars and our first stop was Spuyten Duyvil, sporting a huge list of Belgians and other Euro imports and four killer Hitachino beers from Japan. Sadly, their bottled beers from American micros ranged from $15-27. No thanks. I got a pint of Smuttynose Stout. The clientele including guys in ties, girls in headbands, a bike messenger looking type who refused to take his helmet off the entire time, the classic array of facial hair/piercings, and no two people had the same hairdo.

Throughout the night, I must've seen more styles of 4" heels than a shoe warehouse, from gold lame to zebra print. My first night out without wearing my walking cast, as I'm recovering from a broken ankle, I was acutely aware of the potholes and hazards, so I can't imagine how they manage.

Our next stop was The Levee, where I got a pint of Yuengling Lager and some "Frito pie," a bed of Fritos topped with chili and cheeze whiz. Later on there was an excellent falafel. There was also an $8 can of Genny Cream, a stop-in at Fontana's where hipsters danced to soul music (I ain't lying. One guy wore a fruit-punch colored ruffle shirt with football shoulder pads on the outside) and lastly, a come-down-to-earth pint of Brooklyn Lager. Bars close at 4. It was almost 5 when we got home.

As I was saying, this land is your land, this land is my land. The differences between California and New York are great, but the general lifestyle for everywhere in between is greater still. And it goes well beyond Red States and Blue States. Being from LA originally, a city with no football team(s) and no brewery, I think I missed out on the things that are the foundation for hometown pride. But I get why everyone else has it. From the hippies in Vermont with their Magic Hat #9 to the cowboys in Texas with their Lone Star beer, from the hipsters in Brooklyn with their Brooklyn Lager to the outdoorsy types in Boulder with their Left Hand Juju Ginger, this land was made for you and me.

October 16, 2008


I’m not a morning person.

Yesterday, Half Pint roused me from my sleep before 6, and I reluctantly dropped her off at O’Hare. From there, I made my way around the Loop and zipped from Chicago, around Lake Michigan, stopping in Munster, Indiana. You can’t pass through
Munster and not hit the 12-year-old father/sons operation, Three Floyds brewery and brewpub. I mean, you can, but you’d be an idiot. I arrived at 8:30 a.m, which was both a blessing and curse. A curse because they don’t open til 11:30, but it was a blessing to take a nice nap in my car, with the sound of the rain on the roof lulling me to sleep. Once open—and no, I’m not the only person who’s ever stood by at 11:29 waiting for them to open the doors—I sat down to a flight, plus some extra tastings, and a right-on smoked turkey sandwich. Best beer with the sandwich? “Ham on Rye,” a smoked rye beer (no ham added). Best beer I enjoyed? Moloko Milk Stout, named in honor of Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” (FYI, “moloko” is just Russian for milk), and I picked up a bomber to take home.

After stopping in at a nearby Dunkin Donuts for coffee and a pumpkin donut, I continued on to western Michigan. (I am a donut connoisseur, but I like to hit DD when in Rome. Or Munster. Because I don’t have ‘em at home. Same for the White Castle I had for b-fast. Who are they fooling with that paper-thin “meat” patty?)

Once I hit Michigan, despite the torrential downpour and the sizable population of deer roadkill, the view became scenic again, with brilliant reds, oranges, yellows and greens. I arrived in Kalamazoo at 5 p.m. and told the guys at Bell’s Eccentric Café that I was just going to find a room for the night and that I’d be back at 6. I didn’t realize that I’d driven across the last of the time zones and it was, in fact, 6, Eastern. OK, so it started closer to 7.

I added the event in Kalamazoo, because I had a day between Chicago and Pittsburgh. As such, there wasn’t enough time to bring in a retailer, but they let me park it at a table, sell my own books, and they fed and libated me all night. I know libated isn’t a word. The bison burger was tasty and I enjoyed a Bell’s Best Brown and then their special Wedding Ale, a strong honey wheat with orange peel, but don’t think “witbier.”

The thing about Kalamazoo, it seems, is that most people here know Larry Bell’s whole story. True, I got some extra nuggets in the book that they didn’t know, but ‘round here, it’s like a family: no secrets. I got to talk to some of the brewers like Tom and Jay, as well as some barflies. I didn’t sell that many copies, but hey, I got to hang out in the Eccentric Café again, and that’s treat enough.

Now I’m headed back there to pick up some beers, but sadly, they’re out of Oberon, their best-seller. Then it’s almost 400 miles to Pittsburgh to go to church.