Tuesday, October 14, 2014

How To Rate Wrongly

Several things I've read recently have spurred this post. One a Facebook group rant (h/t Jason Sykes) and one a post by fellow blogger, Jonas Schaffer at arkansasbeerblog.

What is a bad beer? (Pandora's box, standby) I am of the notion/subset/feeling that unless a beer is infected, light-struck, over-aged, or just generally giving 'Off-Flavors' that it isn't BAD.
Now, before we get too far into this, let me give you my explanation, my go to story:

Budweiser (amirite?) Evil Empire that they are, surely employs a team of quality control agents, tasters, and neophytes. Sorry, where'd that last one come from? Anyhow. They clearly are making the beer they are choosing to make, i.e. they know what is leaving the factory, how it tastes, how it is received, and so on. They, on whatever scale you employ, are making 'good' beer. It is beer that is not infected, and while mostly a shadow of lie of a deceitful concept; it still qualifies as beer.
Now here is where I have to eat crow that has eaten humble pie, I have to admit something GOOD about them.
They make the most consistent beer. EVER. Brewed at multiple locations in numbers we can't even fathom--it all tastes (not really, but you get the picture) the SAME.
The pale yellow color, the watery look, the lack of lacing, the distinct ability to have zero aroma, the palate cleansing properties that make it a great Dark Lord to Cantillon transition: ALWAYS THE SAME.
To me, that is good, dare I say great. Do I drink that swill? Of course not, I prefer flavor, but their model, their profitability, their consistency, must be respected.
I know many craft brewers who would love to have the the lack of conscience, I mean, ability to put out beer to hit the same numbers, the same attenuation, the same efficiency EVERY TIME.

As Sam Galgione (Dogfish Head) once famously said, "They (Anhueser Busch) spill more beer every year than I could possibly make."

So that brings me back to this: What is bad beer? Or a better question: What is GOOD beer?
For me:

  • I want a well crafted beer. Period. I am less concerned with scale, as long as it is done well.
  •  I like certain styles above others, and certain groupings within styles above the style as a whole sometimes.
  • I like to try all types of beer, if for no other reason than to keep my palate guessing, to keep it fresh.
  • I enjoy hard to get beers, and special releases, but I'll admit, cost does play a factor as well. Especially for everyday type beers.
  • I like when I get surprised by just how good a beer is.
  • I enjoy finding a beer I know I make a 'Gateway Beer' for non-craft drinkers.
  • I like beers for a season.
  • I get tired of drinking beers just for a season.
  • I like the hunt, the travel for a beer.
  • I like the 'share-ability' that comes with beers. 

And last but most important,
  • I like the passion that all people have for beer. 
And that brings me to back to the beginning. I hate all things pumpkin, always have. Pie, candles, teas, coffees, decorating, Charlie Brown (not really, I love you CB!), and definitely pumpkin beer. 
So what?
I am completely happy for you degenerates who love that stuff. It leaves more beer on the shelves for me this time of year. And when it comes to rating these types of beers, I try to rate based on style, not my palate. It would not be fair to a world class rated beer to have an outlier like myself voting on something I already knew I didn't like.
I mean, it'd be like rating Dark Lord a 1 star. Right, Matt? Love ya buddy.
If I drink a 90 rated pumpkin...or a pilsner (is there a 90 rated pilsner?) I am going to shift my focus from what I personally prefer, to what that beer should taste like, what it should be, how it should measure up. If they fit that first criteria (not infected, et al) then I try to just be fair. Or just not even rate it. 
Raters, this part is for you. Stop picking fights with people who have rated your favorite beer below the level you deem acceptable. It's their mouth, fer cryin' out loud. Its a bad look for us geeks/nerd/enthusiasts who just want to bring more people over from the dark side. Healthy debate always encouraged though. Of course.

So, there's my say. If you're rating a beer, please, at some level, keep those of us in mind who have not had a chance to have it. Don't skew it completely. 

You never know, your crazy, off base rating may be the only one I'll see and then when I miss out on a great beer, I'll blame you for the rest of my life. FOR-EV-ER.

As always, 



Sunday, August 3, 2014

A Year Late(r)

A year ago I had plans to go to Denver for a beer trip with my cousin. Things happen, life got in the way, and we ended up in Asheville, NC instead. Which, by the way, is also a heck of a beer trip. Enjoyed some great beers at some new-to-me breweries, met some great people, and had a good time with my cousin. But I felt sad I'd missed Denver. Just a little.
Fast forward to today. I'm about 30 hours from arriving in Denver. I've just finished packing. I'm drinking a Jester King Boxer's Revenge (with some other treats to follow) trying to clear cellar room for what is sure to be a significant haul upon my return. 
I. Am. Excited. 
Now the caveat. This is not a beer trip. Make no mistake, I always work in beer--and Mrs Butler is great about accommodating that--but this is a family trip. 12+ hours drive with the kids. Museums. Zoos. Pools. The great outdoors. 
And you know what? I think I may be even more excited.
To many, that may sound like a buzzkill on a trip to a beer Utopia, but for me, it sounds like an adventure. I'll still get to taste a boatload of new beers. I'll still work in a couple breweries. I'll still be bringing back a bunch of beer to enjoy here at home, hopefully with friends. On top of that? I get to share it with the family. 
We love museums. We love zoos. We love natural scenic beauty. Pools? I'll leave that to my girls. Well, ok, fine. I'll play nice.
We also get to see some old friends and take in a baseball game...and it just so happens the Cubs are in town to play the Rockies. 
No. I promise. We did NOT plan that.
Early plans have us hitting TRVE, Great Divide, Crooked Stave and hopefully Trinity Brewpub. Along with Falling Rock Taphouse & Vine Street Pub & Brewery. For one week, that is plenty. Sure if I was just on a guy's trip, we'd hit more breweries. Sure, there wouldn't be museums, there'd be golf. There wouldn't be great outdoors, there'd be great beer gardens. No zoos, more bars. And sure, that would be great.
But I'll take the animals, the museums, baseball and the scenery with my family. Maybe I'm getting old, and that's ok. 
I'm just excited to go. 


Thursday, July 24, 2014


The recent trend with 'local everything' is something I try to support and typically enjoy doing. You're helping your community (or a community you are visiting) and supporting small businesses and it feels good. The problem I have with this is...local doesn't always mean better. 
For me, this hits home most with craftbeer. Granted, Siloam Springs does not have a brewery (yet) but Northwest Arkansas has multiple with more on the horizon. Getting great beer from brewery to my mouth is my prime objective. I trade worldwide for it, Mrs Butler brings beer from all her trips and I actively seek out local stuff where I take my travels. So I am clearly invested in the process. The problem is this: just because it's small, just because it's local does not make it good.
I recently had a discussion along these lines with a local brewer. Not mentioning specifics of the discussion, I can honestly say we share the same feeling. I WANT to buy your product. I AM a consumer. I LOVE good beer. I am also NOT going to spend on an inferior product. I just can't. With the quantity I buy and trade, I can't AFFORD to. And here's the thing: I just won't.
Make a good product or offer a good service--beer, clothes, coffee, photography, food, and so on--and not only will I support your business...I will shout about it from the rooftops. I'll get on social media. I'll write a blog. I'll talk it up in person. I'll drag people to your store. Here's a hint: that'll get you more business. Which I'd guess you want. And probably need.
Now. Conversely, I am not one to put a business out there as bad or awful with one mistake. Or without addressing management. I've got a restaurant background, and I'd like to have one ahead of me, so I appreciate the personal approach first. But if you are not succeeding, not listening, not attempting to improve? I'll just stop giving my money. That won't hurt conglomerates, but it will hurt Mom & Pop places. I don't want to do that. I don't.
I've said time and again: my goal in this craftbeer era is to put a dent in ABInBev and MillerCoors. I want the little guys to grow and flourish and expand. However, I'm not willing to put bad beer in my belly to help someone else out. Shoot, as a stay at home dad of three girls? I need the good stuff when I have the chance, I don't want to waste any time on bad beer. Or bad food. Or bad what-have-you. 
In this social media age, proprietors should know how they are doing based on customer ratings. It's not hard, it's free and it could make all the difference in staying afloat. 
I hope more businesses start making better, not just 'selling' local.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Ale Trail Blogger's Weekend

A couple weekends ago I had the honor of being invited by the Fayetteville Visitors Bureau to come out and experience The Fayetteville Ale Trail with several other writers from Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. In addition to getting to tour the numerous breweries in the region, we were able to take in a couple more of Northwest Arkansas' sights. A group of beer lovers, touring breweries, drinking beer, talking beer, sharing beer? 
Yeah, I think you can guess how that went.
Those of us from outside of Fayetteville were generously provided accommodation at The Chancellor hotel, just off the historic square downtown. Great views in all four directions, from atop the hill, the hotel was well appointed, the staff was helpful, and did I mention that location? Very nice, and would certainly direct friends and family to this property.
We started Friday night off at Fayetteville's answer to the corner pub, Tanglewood Branch Beer Company. The furthest south of all the breweries, it's the place to go where everybody does know your name; cyclists get happy hour, any hour; games sit waiting to be played, and coffee is at the ready at a separate counter. They have a small number of taps divided between their own beers and other craft selections. We arrived and were greeted by the owner and brewmaster, JT Wampler, better known as Wamp. Sitting down with our group, he described his thought process, his philosophy and some great beer stories. Very engaging and likable, it's easy to see why Fayetteville has rallied around his bar and helped maintain it through ups and downs. Most likely the best atmosphere of the bunch, and that is saying something. It was a great starting point for our weekend's journey.
*PROTIP: Best corner bar atmosphere. Proper 1420 is a nice twist on an English Mild
Our second stop on the first night was Apple Blossom Brewing Company, who I wrote about not long ago. Unfortunately, I couldn't stay long as I had a previous commitment with the wife and oldest two daughters. There are some things more important than craftbeer folks: prioritize! I made the most of my time by grabbing a newer offering, their Gose, while chatting with brewmaster/co-owner Nathan Traw. I was able to grab a quick word with Ching Mong, one of the owners and my interviewee not long ago as well. The Gose was light and refreshing, more salty than sour, but very nice. Sadly, I missed the brewer dinner and tour, which I heard from several other attendees was brilliant. Dang.
*PROTIP: Under a year old and full service with lots of promise. The Soulless Ginger is unique and tasty
I'll skip the extra-curricular activities from the evening after I rejoined on Dickson Street and move right along to Saturday...another time, another post perhaps...
Saturday morning after a stroll in a soft, misty rain through the Fayetteville Farmer's Market on the square, we convened for lunch at West Mountain Brewing Company for some pizzas, beer and Q&A with brewmaster Will Gallaspy. They had five of their own offerings on, the Black IPA on nitro chief amongst them in my opinion. As a surprise treat, Will brought out some of his homebrew, a lambic from 2012. Very nice, and a good showcase of his talents. Buoyed with pizza and beer, we ventured on
*PROTIP: Location on Fayetteville's Square provides access to pre or post beer and meal activities. The Black IPA on nitro was the winner
Next up, set apart from the others for many reasons, but most of all distance, we hit Saddlebock Brewing Company. Just 15 minutes off of Highway 71 Business, it's not a long way off, but you are in a different world. On the banks of the White River, the vision of Steve Rehbeck--Chicago transplant, Brewmaster, owner--is green and sustainable. He gave us the tour of his gravity fed process, starting on the top of three floors in his barn designed brewery. The largest in scope with 20 beers being produced, he distributes pressure capped growlers and 22 ounce bombers throughout Arkansas. Very engaging and driven, you can feel his passion when he talks about the brews, from the hard work to the future of his business, including his plans for a B&B across the street. Stay tuned for big ideas from Saddlebock
*PROTIP: The scenery and location are unparalleled by the region's breweries. Go with the refreshing Helles Lager
Onward we traveled, towards Core Brewing Company. Located in Springdale, Arkansas, Core has the the edge so far in distribution and in operation. Unfortunately, Brewmaster Jesse Core had a previous engagement on this day. Luckily there was plenty of beer to comfort us, so we each grabbed a pint and began the tour of the impressive facility. Starting from the system--which Jesse wrote the code for himself--to the on-site chemistry lab, to the fledgling distillery, and the new-ish canning line which is helping with distribution production, you can tell this is a well conceived notion. They'll soon be expanding to other states as well as Mexico and will also be opening a brewpub in Rogers in the coming weeks. 
*PROTIP: Strong vision, distribution edge, and plenty of money backing. Go with Black Lightning Black IPA
Second to last, we hit the newest and northern-most kid on the block, Ozark Beer Company. Brewmaster Andy Coates wasn't in, but Lacie Bray gave us the lowdown on their concept and the background. Andy has previously worked at Great Divide and Goose Island, pre--ABInBev--so the chops are there, and the beer proves it. Having previously also worked at West Mountain, Andy & Lacie came back due to Arkansas pushing new liquor and beer laws through that are favorable to brewers. They've just begun canning, much to the delight of all in the northwest Arkansas region. They're only producing five beers, but they are all SPOT ON. Going with mostly low ABV session beers, they are really living the "Hard Work, Honest Beer" motto they advertise.
*PROTIP: Choose anything: you seriously cannot go wrong.
And finally, our motley crew found our way to Fossil Cove Brewing Co, thanks to our driver, obviously. Greeted immediately by dinosaur bike racks, dogs and a food truck before we even see a menu, this place screams "local." With Wednesday quiz nights and Friday "Randall Nights"  Brewmaster Ben Mills is capitalizing on proximity to the university, the highway, and Northern Fayetteville shopping traffic. The small brewery, maxed out already, is looking for expansion alternatives as demand continues to grow. Excellent food trucks such as Tyler's House BBQ service the customers needs for food and games, outdoor seating, and TVs keep the patrons around.
*PROTIP: Try the small batch SMASH beers
And thus ends the adventures of our merry band of beer bloggers. At least all that is fit to print. Massive thanks again to the Fayettevile Visitors Bureau, Jessica Leonard (our intrepid leader from the Bureau), all of the breweries, the brewers, their staff and of course all the other participants. 


As promised, there may be a gap-filling, behind-the-scenes blog at some later date...I'll be seeking permission from those involved in all the beer shenanigans.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

35, Part 1

I have to say, birthday 35 was pretty great. A near two week vacation to Brussels and England. The former for beer and relaxing, the latter to reunite with friends and attend the wedding of our friends, the pub landlord from our village when we lived in England. And we had beer there too. I mean, c'mon.

Brussels has long been on my bucket list for a beer-cation. When it first made the list, it was because I was into dubbels, tripels, and quads. Mainly due to their strength, my craftbeer infancy, and my wallet appreciated the bang for the buck. The last couple years, Brussels has meant one thing: Cantillon. Sure, I was happy to partake of all the other lambics, and other styles, but, if I'm being honest (and I am) it was always Cantillon.
Mrs Butler and myself enjoyed walking around, taking in the sights, seeing the Grand Place, going to the war museum, EATING. We enjoyed our B&B, the company of our friend who came up from Germany, and making new friends thanks to the craftbeer world & social media. All those things hinged on the beer, the bars, the culture of beer. Well, at least for me.
Moeder Lambic was a great experience. Matter of fact, we went three separate times. How can you not? They have Cantillon on cask, a host of world greats, including largest US selection, and they let me walk their cellar. Orval fresh as SIX days, old as eight months. Comparing them side by side was a real treat, and I kind of fell in love with it all over again. Rare and vintage beers, including 2002 Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek....only 180€. I passed. The staff was great, and by night two, we felt like regulars. Really a must for anybody visiting Brussels who has interest in beer.
Delirium Cafe was ok. Much hyped due to the largest beer selection in the world, but overcrowded for the same reason. Three floors of fun, we enjoyed the top floor, where we could hear ourselves think. Enjoyed several Mikkeller Spontan series variants here--the Gooseberry, Cranberry, and Framboos. Was nice to see my local regional gems Prairie available too. A definite place to stop in, but not my cup of tea. Also, unfortunately, to get there, you must walk past a thousand maĆ®tre d's all aggressively clamoring for your business. 
We visited two hidden gems beside one another, though their names escape me. Found through an Instagram friend, one was a hub for the great thinkers, artists, and writers of the early 20th century. Remnants of their time spent drinking plastered on the walls in the form of scratched notes, pencil drawings, IOUs and correspondence. A pleasant place if you can find it, but beware the steep spiral staircase--use the rope!
Next door was a bunker from WWII, a series of underground rooms. Very cool atmosphere: dark, smoke darkened walls, good beer selection and picnic table community seating. Interesting place, definitely not touristy in any way.
That brings us to Cantillon. First, everyone who says it's in a rough neighborhood, doesn't know the differ difference between rough and poor. Second, if you're in Brussels and skip it, you are missing out on not just world class beer, but history. My wife and I were joined by our friend Neil who is stationed in Germany, and an Instagram friend, Andreas, an American photographer living in Brussels. Lucky for us, Andreas speaks multiple languages, is a member of the Cantillon Museum, and gave us a better tour than we could've given ourselves. For 7€ you get a pamphlet that guides you along a self tour through the various rooms of the 100+ year old brewery. Mash tuns, open fermentation tank, barrel room after barrel room greeted us as we moved throughout the old wooden building. Wood being an important distinction, because that is where the wild yeasts that gives lambics their delicious tartness live. Sticky floors from rupturing casks, spider webs in every corner, and the gleam of the one piece copper coolship are memories I'll have forever.
Upon finishing the tour, you get two taster glasses of some of the Cantillon basics. After that, you're welcome to sit and order on premises bottles that are a bit more rare. I say a bit, most US beer nerds would lose their minds and half their wallets...like I did. Of course, I brought a small haul home too. How could I not? We had a Zwanze 2012 and 2013 and a 50°n-4°E between the four of us, over three and a half hours. Sitting there, talking beer, life, with a couple other beer friends, in that place was the check mark on the bucket list. Such a great time. 
Funny thing too, Mrs Butler, who has never appreciated beer, decided at Cantillon that she does like sours. Go figure, when she decides to do something, she does it big. Not only does she like a rarer style, she likes the best, and hardest to acquire. Not to mention the inevitable price tag. Oh well, we knew she had good taste, she landed me...
I'll write about the England side of the trip next time, more memories made with good friends over good beer. A continuation of one of the best two weeks of my life. 


Friday, May 2, 2014

Apple Blossom: A Budding Brewery

One of the newer players in the Northwest Arkansas craftbeer market is Apple Blossom Brewing Company. Just 9 months removed from their August 21, 2013 opening, they've set themselves apart from the rest of the newer breweries by being a full service restaurant as well. A risky move, but they're succeeding on both fronts. 

On this particular gorgeous Spring day in Northwest Arkansas, I've been afforded the opportunity to sit down and pick the brain of Ching Mong, one of the managing partners, about their beer, their philosophy, what's coming up, and the overall craftbeer scene in the region. Oh, and of course try some of brewer Nathan Traw's new offerings, starting with Unwind Wheat. This is no ordinary wheat, it's not straw colored, it's a rich mahogany. With crazy aromas and flavors, and a zesty citrus finish, it lines up perfectly with their commercial description:

         "We used Chamomile as a substitute for bitter orange peel and more balanced fermentation profile than other commercial varieties. We added Chamomile in two different stages of the process, using both hot and cold sides of the facility. Over 6 lbs of chamomile, 4 lbs of coriander, & 1 lb each of lavender and lemongrass went into this beer. We roasted the coriander prior to using it to bring out the oils for easier extraction. This gives it a big orange citrus flavor, with a hint of lavender and lemongrass in the aroma. A very delicate beer that intensifies in flavor as it warms. Pairs well with just about anything."

With this delicious beer in front of me, and Ching on the other side of their massive bar--hand crafted in Ireland no less--I get ready to ask my questions. Conversation flows, and it's less interview, more regular bar chat. Although an owner, he is very hands on and even more charismatic. We start by talking size of the operation, and he explains to me that though they have six fermentation tanks currently, they are in the process of ordering three more and nearly doubling output. They already keep twelve of their own hand crafted beers flowing, and plans have them adding another copper drop down and adding four to six more lines in. He quickly mentions they have plans to add guest beers to the their line up, which drives me right to the next question:
Do you think the amount of local craft breweries is good for business--rising tide lifts all boats--or has the competition been a struggle?
Well, apparently, there is no bad blood between any of the guys on the local scene, and furthermore, Ching adds, "the competition is pushing them all to be better." They even have tentative plans to do a collaboration brew with Tanglewood Branch Beer Co from the south side of Fayettevile. No ideas yet, as they are still brainstorming, but it is good to see some friendly competition and camaraderie amongst the brewers.
The only real problems, he notes when pressed, is "simply keeping up with demand." Which is why I suppose they are looking for those extra tanks. That leads me to ask if they have plans to move into full distribution from doing it themselves. They are hoping to be bottling or canning "within a year or so" and there is a handshake agreement with Glidewell to start moving their product into restaurants very soon. The impending assistance with distribution is likely the next step that will allow some of the owners to be less 'hands-on' and focus more on the steps for future growth. 
What's nice to hear as well, is that the entire original team is still there, with Nathan overseeing every brew. With his background working at Mother's in Missouri and Red Lodge Ales in Montana, he has a strong pedigree. Ching even says that soon, with expansion, they'll be having to hire an assistant brewer to help keep up with demand.
This brings me to order another beer, as my appetizers have now arrived--beer cheese dip served with homemade chips and  Fayette-Weiss fries. Each are made with the house flagship beer, Fayetteweiss, a "gateway beer for non-craft folks" made in a lager style, but clean and pure with no fillers. Both are delicious and I choose a Belgian IPA to accompany,the Wild Boar. It's toasty and nutty with mild European hops, and that classic Trappist finish.
The food is excellent, and it is evident that it's perfect to accompany the beers they offer, as is the case with most of their plates. In speaking with Ching, I get a serious sense from him that they have a real plan. I mention this to him and he notes his other restaurant ventures, and how he has learned from mistakes and incorporated ideas to help further ventures. Over reaching too soon is far and wide known to be the cause of bar/restaurant failures, and here, at Apple Blossom, he notes "we have a plan, to build a base before taking the next step."  These are things this customer likes to hear, especially with lofty bar dreams of my own someday. 
It seems that with such a beautiful facility, quality food and beer, and a management/ownership with a vision, Apple Blossom is not only a player in the ever burgeoning craftbeer scene, they are a leader. The risk of adding full service has set them apart, and has paid off. I think that not only will Apple Blossom  Brewing Company be around for years to come, they will be paving the way and setting the tone for future ventures. 


Thursday, March 6, 2014

28 Springs

There is something special happening in Siloam Springs. Downtown has come alive. Main Street has begun to thrive. People are investing time and money and energy and dreams into this renewal. It could easily be argued that the heart of this gentrification is 28 Springs.
Set on the corner of the downtown crossroads, this former car dealership, former vacant building; now shines as an example of how to make a casual upscale, reasonably priced venture work in a small community. With award winning Chef Miles James at the menu helm, the food is simple and elegant, with the appearance of fine dining at a price that won't break the bank. The Simmons family, locals who've partnered with Chef James, have created a venue where you feel comfortable walking in with shorts on to grab lunch after some time at Bob Henry Park or dressed to the nines, celebrating a 50th Anniversary.
It would be easy to reason then that if 28 is the heart of Siloam Springs, then the magnificent, elevated bar is the heartbeat. With an extensive cocktail menu, spirits galore, a robust wine selection and a beer list that is tops in the region, this horseshoe shaped bar is the place to be most evenings. There is casual seating surrounding it, and a stage above it, where on any Tuesday or Thursday you can can catch local live music, such as the bluegrass and harmonies of Sons of Otis Malone. The decor hearkens back to the roots of Siloam, with black and white pictures of the town from the turn of the century and a sense of the old car dealership garage doors, all done in a modern, sleek look, all wrapped in a curved wall of windows.
As I walk in to meet with bar manager Casey, I opt for a seat at the lovely, lacquered bar. There I am confronted by 16 taps boasting new local beer such as Ozark Pale Ale and Cream Stout, and Core ESB. Alongside these Northwest Arkansas brews are giants of the industry like Old Rasputin and Guinness. There's even those upstarts from Oklahoma who've set the beer world afire. That's the direction I decide to go, ordering a Prairie Artisan Ales Birra while I wait for my meeting. Its a nice little session ale coming in at 4.5% ABV. Tart and dry, the wine yeast seems to change its flavor every time I enjoy one.
Grabbing a bar menu, I run through it, looking for updates since my last visit...all of three days ago. Alas, and shockingly, nothing new. Shocking because there is a constant drive for new and fresh here, and it isn't surprising to come in on Tuesday for music, come back Thursday for more and be confronted with an array of new beers. A good problem to have, in my most humble, beer loving opinion. There are over 100 craft bottles here, of all varieties and hailing from all over the world. Its quite impressive, and for a beer, ahem enthusiast, such as myself, a welcome sight. Then it hits me, I know what my first question will be.
Just then, Casey comes around the corner. We're already buddies, and this is no formal exercise; we're here to talk beer. A smile and a handshake later, and I'm outlining just what is going on. He listens politely as as I ramble through, then pauses before responding. He measure his words, as I've come to understand, and its a trait I quite enjoy. Maybe because I should do it more often. Much more often.
Casey is a thoughtful guy. A transplant from Minnesota, he came here for school, and save a couple years in England for a job at an NPO, this is his home. In his own words, he comes from 'dry stock' and didn't even drink beer until post college. For him, his journey started from coffee, the progression from there to a Boulevard Bully Porter as his first beer seems natural and fitting then. The chocolate and bitter finding a kinship and familiar place on a palate primed for such flavors. It just made sense.
Like many of us who truly LOVED their first beer, he took the 'beer nerd' path, becoming passionate about all things beer, wanting to share that passion. He quickly began home brewing, learning to 'unpack the flavors' in beer, growing in knowledge. Starting with high gravity beers to fill the void in the heavily lacking Arkansas market at the time. He transitioned to small, session beers, testing himself, playing with the science. Moving to England then further pushed the passion, influencing his brewing, expanding his palate, widening his beer horizons, and deepening his passion for all things beer.
Some of this I knew, some I'm being filled in today, but after the opening chat, I get to that first question I had. How can the average person, the occasional beer drinker, the person who drinks macro and light, look at this impressive menu and not be overwhelmed? How has that impacted, affected sales, and further has their been a need for education of staff to help with suggestions? Smiling and taking a drink of his water--poor guy is on duty--he nods. He knew this menu, this concept was a challenge and it still is and will be. That is the enjoyment then, pushing the envelope, expanding perception. He explains how he has seen in a little less than two years, he has seen the macro drinker 'transition to a craft Pilsner, such as Scrimshaw from North Coast, and then (open to a little more flavor) to a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and so on.'
I laugh at the mention of one of my gateway beers, good old Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, champion of the Cascade hops. Still my go to grilling beers many times. This notion he mentions makes sense though. You can't take people from bland to bold in one step, they must be nudged and helped along. Well, at least most. Some of us were cursed with expensive tastes from early on. He continues by saying that the staff has been educated towards which beers or beer styles with go with which meals best, both for contrast and complimentary pairings. Adds that, some of the more enthusiastic staff have begun learning outside of work, coming back with beer to share and questions to ask. Perfect. A couple more in the Beer Nerd Brigade. I love hearing this.
Casey points out that he takes his role in Siloam very seriously, as 28's ambassador to a town with a not so close relationship with alcohol. Only last year did Benton County go wet, and Siloam was assuredly one of the hold outs. Yet, business here is thriving. The bar too, with its monthly food and drink pairings, stays busy. Casey attributes this to his very English sensibilities, not rewarding over consumption but encouraging exploration. All seven--yes, seven--different beer glasses are lined, keeping in line with this thought. Consistent pours, high ABV coming in a proper glass, and a smaller pour. He tells me how Chef James balked at the initial request for seven different glasses saying that there were only two wine glasses, until they had their first meeting. Casey's passion for beer and overall salesmanship is to thank for all the lovely glassware, and the overall ambitious concept. Recalling those initial meetings before opening, Casey says he always knew that his vision was 'ambitious, wanting to have everything.' He says there has been very little back off from his ideal, and looking around at all this place encompasses, you can feel that. His thoughts were, 'okay, if i have to give in, how many taps can stay craft? How many bottles can?' As it stands, only one of sixteen taps is macro. And the 100 bottles? That's just craft, the macro is on top of that.
When 28 opened, there was an adjustment period, as with all establishments. There was a reluctance by many to support a bar. By many others, they felt they didn't fit at a 'fancy' place. These are complaints from the community I heard repeatedly. But the patience and concept has been rewarded. Its working. I ask Casey if it would've worked 5 years ago? Why didn't it work when Chef James tried several years ago at James at the Mill? As Casey pauses to answer, I decide to order a second beer, and get a half pint of the local gem, Ozark Beer Company Pale Ale. Bright and crisp, refreshing and aromatic; it hits the spot after the bone dry Birra. Casey decides that the concept itself in Siloam would not have worked. For many reasons, including the licensing, the culture, the mindset. I agree. In my nearly eight years here, I have seen a culture shift, and lessening of the strict tone. He also thinks that James at the Mill 'is geared towards wine, and they do that so well, but they had no one to really push beer, and be knowledgeable about it. I can see that. Too many people think fine dining must equal wine. Only recently, with this boom of the last twenty years are people beginning to consider beer as more than a tailgating drink.
We chat about the boom for a minute, both agreeing that its scope and arc are pretty crazy. And fairly unsustainable. In time we'll see closings, and mergers, and buyouts. That said we also agree that the boom is transitioning more people towards quality beer, as opposed to quantity of beer. This new passion for beer amongst the legion of drinkers, is filtering down to a new generation of people who enjoy beer. Newly legal people are choosing two or three craft beers instead of a case of macro imitation pilsner.
As we wind up our chat we talk about what is coming in the months and weeks ahead for 28 Springs. Casey says that the average keg turnover is around two weeks, though they've kicked some sooner, and some hang around longer. He mentions that they have a gose beer coming soon, which is exciting. A rare style, you don't find these sour, salty, spiced creations often. I am looking forward to the Offcolor Troublesome. He also mentions that Prairie Bomb! is coming on as soon as the Old Rasputin moves on. This is really exciting. Bomb! was one of the top three new beers of 2013. I haven't had it on draft, but you can bet I will be visiting the bar again when it comes on. He also mentions the upcoming food and beer pairing and how much of a success these pairing nights have been. Ive been to one myself, last fall, and the bar and kitchen coordination is sublime.
It won't be long until Casey takes his homebrewing skills, his keen eye, and all his ideas and opens his own place. You can just feel it talking with him. For now, however, he is pouring it all into 28 Springs' bar. All that passion for beer, for sharing it, talking about it, and growing it is evident when you step into 28. Its a warm and comfortable and relaxed feeling, a feeling not unlike a village pub. Except that this place sits square in the middle of downtown Siloam Springs, not some rolling English hills. I, for one, am very thankful for that.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Departure...

So this past week has been trying. Lace is in Africa, doing good things. We are here. Middle of America. Trips are no different; nothing new. 2, 3 day trips are the norm. They work for us. We need those trips. We need breaks from each other, our personalities dictate that.

This is different.

Lace is half a world away, in a third world country with a population that isn't, *ahem*, fond, of Americans. She is being welcomed by villagers, but in the city, as an American, as a woman, as a Christian, I know she is being targeted, derided, or maybe even worse, completely dismissed.
She is there to HELP. No agenda, other than to help growth of agricultural knowledge, sustainability. Yet, she has escorts, protection. She wants to help make them better farmers, help them feed themselves, help them long term. That doesn't matter. The people in the villages are receptiver; the people planning the next coup, the next overthrow, the next governmental change only see her as a threat.

Its a matter of philosophy, of outlook, of hope, of power, and of course, of religion.

The girls--our girls--don't understand all that. They just see Mom as a hero, as a model of how the world should be. They are right to do so. They are also naive. They are kids. They miss her. At the basest level, they know she is helping kids, people 27 flight hours away; 9 hours time difference. They know her heart for help.

But they miss her. They are kids. And they know that there are 7 more of these the next 2 years. They know that there will be misses, gaps, needs.

A 13 year old, turning 14. enduring changes and middle school strife. Starting Track & Field. Not fitting in. Awkward. Not wanting to talk to anybody, least of all her step-dad, then needing her mom; resorting to her grandmother, her Nonni.
A 7 year year old, so fiercely independent, so aggressively against all rules...until she realizes how far away Mom is. Then wanting to talk so bad, she breaks down crying because she can't even bear to do so.
A handicapped 5 year old who gets affected by a loud word, a loud noise that isn't from her own throat. Not knowing how to communicate, not possessing the capabilities, but knowing that when she talks to Mom, she isn't close.
A Dad, struggling to provide the answers, coming up woefully short, feeling strung out. Needing to provide, to sustain, and losing on all fronts. The teenager doesn't talk. The 7 year old revolts. The 5 year old just plain struggles.

But then the teen offers help from nowhere. The 7 year old gets lovey, gives hugs. The baby, shows increased understanding. They know that Dad is struggling too. They seem to see through all the other stuff, that Dad needs help too.
Its not consistent. It doesn't fix everything, but, it bridges the gap. It carries the moment. it helps.

Maybe, just possibly, perhaps, we're doing something right; some words we say get through. Some lessons stick.

There is a husband. Struggling. Lonely. Longing. Feeling so far away from the one they long to be close to. Praying for safety. Praying for good works to be done. Praying for a safe return. For however long that is. A day. Two. Hoping. Questioning. Wondering.
These aren't easy circumstances, they are, by far, not the worst. There are many others in similar, and crazier, more dangerous, more perilous situations.

But they aren't me. I'm not them. I can't relate, nor can they
I'm thankful for those around me checking in, stopping by, praying. Small towns are the best in these times. It means more than I can even begin to describe.

I hope when I pray, it is felt that way also:
By the wives whose husbands are away, defending our country, defending our way of life, working 80 weeks; providing for their families.
By the husbands, like myself, who are learning how valuable our mothers, grandmothers were--who didn't have a chance to work other than to stay at home.
By the single parents, who work multiple jobs, missing events, looking ahead to a future where they can be present, hoping it wont be too late.

We are all in this together, and I, for one, am so thankful for the people in my life, the people who make these rough times somehow easier, more bearable. You know who you are, and you are loved, and in turn prayed for and cared for and will be blessed for all you do.

Thank you...


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Homebrew Ramblings

So here's the thing. Just in case you weren't aware, I like good beer. I mean, I really like it. A lot.
I travel for it. My wife travels for it. (Actually, supposedly she is traveling for work, but I get beer when she returns, so...) I seek out others who enjoy it. Places that serve it. Books about it. I like to talk about it almost as much as like to drink it. Okay, that's a little far, but you get my point.

All that interest though, had never led me to consider home brewing my own. My aforementioned wife however,  felt compelled to make sure she was a full time beer-widow, and purchased me the full on set up for our 6th anniversary. Not just beer in a box, she went and got a full component kit. And spent lots of her aforementioned hard earned beer money. What pressure! What was I to do? I mean, now I am compelled, nay required by a monetary debt to brew beer! Oh the humanity.

I haven't brewed a lot: 6 solo/lead batches where I was assisted by various people (including my father on Father's Day weekend), assisted on 2 with a local team (Bearded Duck, Matt Orcutt & Ron Drake), collaborated with a guy from our state beer group the morning of a tasting, and am now collaborating with a buddy in town on a regular schedule (Right Side Brewing, Ryan Paskiewicz, 2 batches in).  They also haven't all been winners, some have been kinda bad honestly. But they've been drinkable, and there is a rewarding feeling drinking something you've spent multiple hours brewing, multiple weeks watching, and multiple weeks waiting to try after bottling/kegging. Sometimes it's a let down. Sometimes is surprising and awesome. Sometimes you wonder where that flavor even came from. And sometimes you just don't care, and happily drink your 4-5 gallons way quicker than you should.

It's time consuming. It's not a ton cheaper, but I guess that depends on your average expenditure. It can be tedious. It is FAR more enjoyable with a partner. Also with 'some' beer shared during. Emphasis on some, because, well, quality control. It's messy. Sanitizing, set-up, break down, clean up is more than half the job. You are required to have facial hair of epic proportions. While that's not 100% true look around, it's kind of an unwritten rule. Or maybe it's directly proportional to quality. Hmm. Maybe I need to study that more.

What's the point you ask? Ummm, I forgot...I was enjoying a homebrew. Just teasing. I mean, I am having a homebrew, I just didn't forget.

It's not the glamorous life these titans of the craftbeer industry lead. Many walk around smelling like malt and grains and hops. So make sure to appreciate the beer you choose to drink. Life is too short to make poor beer choices. Whatever your choices are. Get on social media, find the brewery, thank them. Tell them how much you enjoy the fruits of their labor. Visit a brewery and see the processes.

And if you decide to brew...take pride, take care, and enjoy.


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

13 Months

I love writing.
I always have.
I love reading.
I always have.
I began reading at an earlier age. I was no prodigy, but I was voracious. Reading 30+ books at 5 is pretty good; and they were books--more than 5 minutes of big type, one word a page kid stuff--and I read them, they were not read to me.
I started writing in 3rd grade thanks to a fantastic teacher who instilled both a sense of creativity and cognition in me. Creative writing assignments on Fridays, followed by sports card displays and trades for inspiration.Cognitive writing assignments on Tuesdays, with recess on the horizon, just out of reach.
I learned to love both. LOVE.
Through many ups and downs, books have been there for me to dive into, to lose the world of reality, join a brigade of dreamers. Writing was an extension of that. It took me from someone else's thoughts, to my imagination, to a world of my own. Good times? Write it out. Bad times? Write it out. Really bad times? Write it out.
I wrote through High School, on assignments, and for pleasure. I continued through college, same reasons applicable. I got good. I studied. I wrote more. I got better. I listened. I won awards. I shared. I got published.
Then...I stopped.
I can't even tell you why. Or maybe I can. Either way, there wasn't a REASON. Oh, sure, there were EXCUSES. Tons of those. Those don't count. In any case. I quit. I became what I hate. A quitter. I get a chill just being that honest with myself. With whatever random reader may be out there.
So, when we moved to England, I knew I had to start again. I did. I loved it. There was a lot to write about. But it wasn't really inspired. It was, however, cathartic, needed. It was not always easy for this dramatic dude. Dramatic dude? Whatever, no delete button, go with it.
We came home. I slacked again. But I thought. I at least did that. I knew what I wanted to do, and I formed ideas. A beer blog. I know there are many, and many better than mine. But I was merging two passions. It seemed logical. It seemed right. Furthermore? Plenty of inspiration, considering I get struck by a quality brew on a regular basis.
It started off on fire. I loved it. I was taking notes, and considering angles, pictures, environments, company. It was FUN. I was committed, I was inspired. Finally. It felt so good,
This is my first post since 2012. 13 months since I even logged in. I am ashamed to admit it, but I am a needy guy. I noticed no one was reading it. I let that get to me. I got dismayed. I got down. I let something I enjoyed be affected by outside influences. Awful. Artists--if I may be so bold--should NEVER be affected by critics. Musicians should play because they hear. Artists should paint because they see. Writers should write because they imagine. They shouldn't get critiqued out of their passion, their hunger, their need. They shouldn't be bullied into a societal norm. (Not going to get political. Yet) They should just let  it  flow.
So. I'm going to try. I'm going to try and be better. As I sit here with my vintage 2012 Sierra Nevada Narwhal--yes, the EXACT same beer I drank on my last post (yay for cellaring)--I am going to commit to TRY. To write when I FEEL. About whatever I feel.
I'd love it if you joined me. I'll try not to be disappointed if you don't. I'll try to be passionate.