Triple Rock

Our last day, we ventured to Berkeley to dine at Chez Panisse for lunch. I’m drawn to reputation. I would have preferred to eat at the French Laundry – where reputation dominates almost all dining experiences – but not only is it not kid friendly, it would probably cost $200 or more. At 11:30 a.m., almost two hours before our reservation, we went to Triple Rock.

I first visited Berkeley when I was 16. A friend had a family friend there he wanted to visit. My friend’s friend had AIDS. No one would go with. I said I would go. We went to the campus where I bought a sweatshirt I still own and wear to the gym each day. His friend died years ago. I remember him as very kind and very open about his life and experiences. Berkeley, like San Francisco, is a city of homeless people. Outside the McDonald’s they congregate. Talking to people walking by. Changing clothes in the restroom inside. Eating food that poisons them. These are the experiences of the homeless.

The last Vered menu of the trip. One day I will publish an academic article based only on the pictures of my daughter reading menus. From one years old to fifteen years old. A rhetorical exploration of her menu reading. From this menu, she ordered nachos. It’s a fine line between snack and the poison called fast food. Is it snobbery to belittle the dining habits of the unfortunate, particularly on a day that we ate at Chez Panisse? This is a beer blog. I drink and write about expensive beer. Of course, it is snobbery.

I enjoyed an XIPA. It’s been said many, many times. The West Coast invented the floral, hoppy IPA. Grapefruit and pine. The oddest and most enjoyable of all IPA flavors. If there exists a topos of the IPA, it is the West Coast IPA. This topos is the place where all IPA meaning resides.  The strong ale I had, Titanium, lacked the dark malty color of an American Strong Ale, but nevertheless was enjoyable.

This chalkboard provides a spreadsheet breakdown of style, description, ABV, etc.  Excel meets chalk.

A pony tailed man checks the wort.

Wine and beer have no reason to fight. All of our pleasures deserve their occasions. If there is a fight to be had, it should be with fine dining and fast food. Fine dining still prefers to favor the wine over the beer. Reading Calvin Trillin’s Feeding a Yen, I notice his reference to ordering a “microbrew” instead of wine at a fine dining establishment. But which beer did he order?  Hopefully, as Trillin might say, one he wouldn’t throw rocks at.

Fast food, on the other hand, offers neither. When I lived abroad at 16, I remember, however, a McDavid’s that sold Budweiser. We  went into town to buy the awful hamburgers so that we could also order beer. Could beer save fast food in America? Probably not. The poisoned hamburgers and fries would be accompanied by the tasteless and mass produced Budweiser. The quality would remain at the level of the disadvantaged.

And our destination. Quail. Simple done well.  By no means the meal of the disadvantaged. Alice Waters sat behind us in another booth. She was eating at her restaurant with her friends. We were eating at her restaurant by ourselves. We never spoke. Her email is hard to locate. Maybe I should have asked her then to contribute to the special journal issue on Food Theory I am editing. But I hate speaking. I prefer to write. That is my rhetorical and professional disadvantage.

Novato

Our night at the Metro Hotel and Cafe in Petaluma finished with a bottle of Firestone Walker 13 I spotted at the Petaluma Market. “I want this,” I said to my wife as she scooped out some mac and cheese out of the prepared foods selections for our little girl. My box to ship beer home was already taped up and in the trunk. This would have to be consumed during the trip. We had lunch at an In N Out in order to see if fast food, indeed, could be good. In N Out is celebrated as California’s fresh alternative to the fast food hamburger.  It was my first fast food experience in maybe 20 years. The restaurant was clean (cleaner than the McDonald’s in Berkeley I used in order to urinate. A sign on the woman’s door in that fast food establishment read: “Please respect the gender assignments of these bathrooms.” In the men’s room were a pair of pants on the floor).

13′s bourbon reminded me of the Abacus that I had once had at the Toronado in San Francisco. Or did it remind me of the barrel aged Firestone (what was its name?) that I had as a guest tap at Dark Lord this year? The barrel age beers blend together in memory as much as they do in the barrel. I do not mind. Roll out the barrel. Roll it out. Beer sometimes feels like a fast food experience. From one beer to the next.

We arrived the next day in Novato in order to visit Moylans (after a trek up and down the mountain to tour the Muir woods).

The brewery is located in a non-descriptive business park. The brewpub is equally non-descriptive. Along the rafters hung kitsch and Direct TV advertisements. Grateful Dead posters were framed against the wall where we sat. The food was uninspiring. Despite my pledge to not try every hamburger and fries at every brewpub I visit, I broke down and ordered a burger and fries. I soon regretted that collapse in will. Unimpressive. As tasty as any heavy meal can make itself be. I felt bloated and weighed down. A fast food chain had done better than Moylans.

The traditional menu picture – Vered holding a menu – ruined by a nap.

Water.

Barrel aged Hopsickle? I can’t tell. Whatever barrel it sat in, it acquired little addition. The alcohol, however, was pronounced.

Chelsea’s Porter. Decent and creamy. But not exceptional.

The return of the chalkboard. I must setup my chalkboard again. Our kitchen, however, has no identifiable space for a chalkboard. My wife has hung her pictures up on the walls. A chalkboard could hang in the dining room, but the effect would be ruined. I need a stainless steel refrigerator with a chalkboard built into the door. The kitchen at In N Out was all stainless steel.

When Moylans came to Missouri, I felt the excitement as well. The brewpub generated less excitement. As did Novato. If our hotel had not been paid, I would have continued on to San Francisco early. All travel is met with excitement and regret. Regret comes with the planning mistakes we inevitably make. I am an excellent planner in all things but travel. I say this in the age of the Internet when planning is easier than ever. How did my parents plan their family vacations with only a map and no Internet? How did they find anything without GPS? Grand tourist visits: Disneyworld. Busch Gardens. Denny’s. We are dependent on Google Maps and GPS now; Yelp and Chowhound guide our dining plans. Today, we would have travelled to Lincoln for a visit. The Internet warned us not to: snowstorm still active. We stayed home. I’m now drinking a beer as I write this rather than battling I-70 and a blizzard.

Marin IPA in the hotel room.

Alesmith X in the hotel room. We watched Office reruns while the little girl slept. The room was dark. We sipped our beers out of water glasses.

In downtown Novato, my name serves as graffiti tag on an old public phone. I have marked my space by accident. GPS will not find my mark. I found it by accident. “Look!” my wife called out. I snapped the picture.

Petaluma

Jack N Jills: Where Vered played. You can read a text multiple times and still not see what is written. I tell this to students when we go over proofreading and peer review. I take this advice to heart when I write; I ask someone else to read my work before I submit it for publication (notice the occasional typos on this blog where no one reads the work before I hit the “publish” button WordPress provides; Vygotsky was right about inner speech, after all). Apparently, I do not remember this point about blindness when reading a website. However many times I read the Lagunitas website, I somehow didn’t read that it was closed on Monday. Maybe I didn’t want to see that it was closed. Maybe I was too convinced by the first schedule I wrote (the perfect trip, I thought) that I was, at some level, unwilling to change my plans before booking hotels. Maybe I just made a stupid mistake.

When we pulled into the business complex where Lagunitas is located, I saw the schedule on the sign out front. What was to be the second most important stop of the tour was not to be at all. We headed back into town and I felt disgusted. My wife did her best to console me, but I felt like an idiot. The hotel was paid for, so we were staying the night.

My compensation was Taps Petaluma. A fantastic beer bar in the downtown area. It was suggested to me by some Ratebeerians responding to a query I placed a week or two earlier.

Racer X on the paper menu; it is not on either of the two chalk boards. Again, chalk deceives what we desire. Still, I love the chalk board. It fascinates me. It makes an appearance on every post I write. Today we have this; tomorrow we have that. All bars should have chalk boards (and restaurants too). I have one that I made when I lived in Michigan. It hung in my kitchen and I wrote menus on it when people came over. It is now in our garage. It still has the last menu I wrote on it (a prison dinner I prepared for our dinner group).

A kid friendly bar. High chairs stacked up against the back wall. Tiny hot dogs on the kid’s menu. Vered ate her hot dog but left the bun. I still think of Hot Doug’s in Chicago; we waited in line but it was too late for us. We couldn’t make it to the front. More travel regret.

On the chalk board, my eyes went straight to the Valley Brew Uberhoppy.  Another fabled IPA from the message board world. Very floral. Fantastic aroma. Slight malt.

Then my eyes fell on the 10.2 % (as Ratebeer claims….but I swore it said 13% on the chalk board) Speakeasy Old Godfather Barleywine. While my memories of Speakeasy were that it is an ok beer (stacks of six packs on the shelf at Holiday Market in Royal Oak that I seldom bought), I cannot resist the high alcohol special release barleywine. “Is it good?”I asked the waitress. “It will knock you out,” she said. It didn’t knock me out. But I enjoyed its intensity and sweetness. Caramel and toffee.

FedEx

Early in the trip, I stopped at a FedEx in Petaluma to ship back a box. The man behind the counter said: “Columbia? Wow. I used to live there.” ”

“Really?” I asked.

“I was a student. I studied Computer Science.”

“That’s great. I’m a professor there.”

“I loved Columbia, but it’s expensive.”

“Expensive?” I asked. “Compared to California?” Little is more expensive than a state where the five day rental of a crappy Mercury can cost over $300.

All seemed fine. My box was on its way. I had schmoozed the counter man properly. We made eye contact. We related. We had a story to share. He wouldn’t betray me, I was sure. By the time we got to Novato, I checked the status of my box. “Improper Shipment” in Windsor, California. The nightmare of all shipping is the returned box. The opened box. The stolen beer. RateBeer threads are devoted to the frustration of shipping. Out of all the things to send in the mail, these various shipping agencies – from the private to the public – fear the shipping of beer. If the question is underage drinking, the real question is: what teenager would spend this kind of money to ship beers that individually cost as much if not more than 30 cans of mass produced beer? If anything should be the target of government attention, it should not be the $18 Russian River sour ale (is there an under 21 year old who wants to drink this anyway?) but it should be on the mandated party pack of 30 cans (designed for inebriation) that every grocery and 7-11 seems to hawk. And, as I remember my teenage years, every teenager seeks out to purchase.

When I looked again at the status during the trip, the box was in transit once more. For the rest of the week, I remained in a type of panic: am I out of money? I won’t have the beers for my brother in-law? There were beers in there I had not yet tried. The message may not always arrive in communication, but in shipping, it must.

And this particular message did arrive as scheduled. And the world turned once more. Obsession settled from panic to a resounding “ahhhhhhhh.”  We all lived happily ever after.

Bear Republic

Bear Republic, hidden off the main street in downtown Healdsburg, was our second stop.  When Bear Republic began distributing to Missouri a year or two ago, we felt a rush of excitement. Now, I was entering the source of that excitement.

“Who lives in this town?” my wife asked. The town feels luxurious, and yet small. The brewery feels like it sits in the back of a pedestrian mall. An adjacent building holds tanks and barrels.

I divide brewpubs into a binary: the wooden, English pub look and kitsch. Speed Racer cutouts on the wall. Racing gear framed. Large flags of the Bear Republic hanging up. Faded yellow, red, and gray stripes running along the walls like in a Southwest gas station. Kitsch. The focus of Benjamin’s work. Here it is again. In brewpubs, kitsch is everywhere. Kitsch makes reproduction less obscure, less dark. It makes reproduction – like a beer that must be similar each time it is made – seem transparent. Brewpubs – whichever part of the binary they fall on – do the same. Tanks are often visible through glass partitions. You can see the production at work.

I just finished Michael Ruhlman’s The Making of a Chef (long after I’ve read the other two books in this series. . . I’ve read backwards, finishing with the first).  I began the book on the flight out to California. What is interesting about Ruhlman’s work is the focus on obsession in terms of production: redoing one’s home, boat building, cooking. My obsession is about consumption: drinking beer, eating. I don’t brew beer. I don’t cook like a professional (though I wish I did).  My obsession, however,  is closer to that of fandom. To be a fan is to collect. To admire. To want. To desire. As a fan,  you don’t necessarily make (though you could) what you obsess over. You consume it. If I’m obsessed, then I’m a fan.

The cornerstone of fandom – as it appears in obsession – is rarity or scarcity (In this case or as is often the case, I embrace capitalism, rather than reject it).  At Bear Republic, I found several non-bottled rarities, including this wonderful, sweet Triple. But Racer X, the prize of all Bear Republic rarity, was not on tap. “When it goes on tap,” the waitress said, “it’s gone in a week. Everyone comes and fills their growlers.” I was glad to have tried it at Falling Rock in Denver. “Come back next week when we’re doing all sours,” she said. Again, rarity strikes me down. The strike is a dark pain for the fan.  Come back next week? I live in Missouri.

Chalkboards keep us informed of our options. Through a glass darkly. What we want seems so clear. The chalk, easily erasable, makes things less clear over time. Availability. Scarcity. Come back next week. The board will look different.

On The Rolling Stones’ album, Through The Past,  Darkly, Jagger sings on “Honky Tonk Woman”: “I’m sitting in a bar, tipplin’ a jar in Jackson” The album is a compilation album; it collects previous hits into one space.  Our trips, too, are compilations, as are these blog posts. Sitting in bars. In Jackson. In Healdsburg. In Santa Rosa.

Through a glass darkly…

Wine and cheese afterward at Oakville Grocery. People walked their dogs up and down the street. We were too early for Chabad. A sign promised that they would arrive at 5:30 and light the Hanukiah in front of the grocery. Inside, the grocery’s workers had no idea what Hanukkah is. Through the glass of the grocery they would look out at the bearded, black coat men lighting a large candle holder and saying something in a different language. The day would be dark by then.

Russian River

 The story of travel is the story of expectation. It is the move from the extraordinary to the ordinary. Extraordinary – wanting the exception, the hype, the anticipation to be realized. Ordinary – most trips proceed in similar ways. Packing. Getting there. Delays. Arrivals. Stays.

Our trip to Northern California is no different. A delayed arrival. A frustrating, GPS-driven delay through almost all of San Francisco on the way to Santa Rosa. A longer than expected drive in the rain. An emotional meltdown. When we arrived at Wallywood, thankfully, it was open. I would have hated to break in and be arrested on the first day of a vacation.

Choice. What to choose when faced with everything? When I was younger, I had a reoccurring dream. I am in a comic book store. There are too many comic books. Comic books I’ve heard of, and now finally find. Comic books I’ve never heard of. Which to choose? Which to buy? I’m too excited to do anything. I panic. The dream is going to end. Hurry! Buy the comic books!

Choose among the many. Redemption. Salvation. Perdition. Temptation.  IPA. Porter. OVL Stout. Pliney. Blind Pig. Whatever was on the board. I did not really choose. It was brought to me.

The path to taste arrives via chalk. I had seen these boards before – on other people’s blogs describing other people’s visits. All of our tourist trips eventually become the same. Based on these other photos, I imagined a small, quaint pub with outdoor seating. Sunshine. People in shorts sitting at tables with umbrellas.  Russian River, though, resembles most other pubs. Kitsch on the walls and hanging from the ceiling.  Beer signs. Wooden tables. A long board. Even pitchers of beer! And the chalkboards. They were familiar, yet different. As if chalk can ever be different. You write something. You get chalk on your hands. You make a scratching sound. Voila. Words appear. Redemption. Temptation. Salvation…..

Behind the glass, barrels. The greatest achievement in brewing was taking the commonplace – the beer barrel – and making it unique – the barrel aged.  Didn’t they once sing, “roll out the barrel”? Now, beer sits idly in barrels maturing. Taking on flavors. Being infected on purpose. I have always loved Russian River for the infections. The taste of brett. Sour. Ales that have been aged.

In the rain. My daughter has been to more brewpubs by two years old than I had been to by the time I was in my 20′s. She takes easily to the bewpub. Most brewpubs are family oriented. Highchairs. Coloring paper. Crayons. Each of us plays with our respective toys. I’m still that child in the comic book dream. Hurry up and drink before the dream ends!

And all trips end in purchases. If there is anything that scares me about tourism – whether it is beer tourism or tourism of some other sort – it is the eventual credit card bill. Bottle Barn did not make this part of the trip easier. Will the beers arrive tomorrow? Or did FedEx send an empty box? I’m scared like in that dream. Panic. I have another day of expectation to get through.

Approaching the Big 4 – 0

I can feel 40 coming. The 40th beer trip is coming soon as well. There is plenty to drink around here until then. And hopefully, as we make our way around Northern California, there will be plenty to drink there as well. Out of the two states that most of my colleagues or friends love, California is one, New York the other. I have never been attracted to either. Going to either seems like a task. The length of time to get there, the expense,  the lack of public transit, the confusion of public transit, and so on. Yet both host endless possibilities for food and drink. Both can still solicit my attention by merely mentioning the right places where we might visit while there. For California, those places might include: The French Laundry, Chez Panisse, or Russian River. We plan on making it to two of the three.

In the meantime, a typical beer blogger breakdown. Count the beers as they vanish from the cellar. Come join me soon, before I drink the next one. In these pictures, you can tell which glasses I’ve been drinking out of lately. There is a pleasant fetish for the glass, whichever shape it takes, which ever brewery it promotes.


Flossmoor Station Killer Kowalski Baltic Porter. Leftover from summer trip. Not as heavy as “Baltic” typically signifies. Then again, I think I once had that reaction with Victory’s version as well. Taxonomies bend with beer as well. Or stay the same. What is in a label? Topoi.

SeaHag IPA. The interest in cans continues. Malty like an English IPA. I recently finished Hops and Glory by Pete Brown. Is this the type of IPA that made its way to India during the colonial, or at least in Brown’s luggage in the 21st century?

Boulevard Harvest Dance Wheat Wine. Heavy alcohol yields to a pleasant Chardonnay, eventually settling back into the wheat.

Jolly Pumpkin Weizen Bam. I was wrong, Thomas. I have not had this before. Jolly Pumpkin makes the wheat beer style drinkable. Two plays on the wheat beer in such a short time period? And I hate wheat beer. These beers make it likeable again. They “extreme” the style.

Captain Lawrence Cuvee Castleton. Is there really a reason to want to go to New York? Here it is. Captain Lawrence. Apple. Cider. Sour. Tart. Like an Alinea menu. Minimalistic but complex.

WW 40 Year Old Beer Drinker Do?

The other day, my wife proposed we go somewhere – anywhere I wanted to – for my 40th at the end of the year. Condition: area must be drivable in winter (no Colorado or Portland, Maine) and she doesn’t want to go from cold to just as cold or colder (i.e., Portland, Oregon). Price is always a factor, so assuming we can afford such a trip for two adults and a 2 and 1/2 year old (knocking overseas travel out of the picture – no return to Brussels or trip to Stockholm), should we, like the Beverly Hillbillies,  go to California? Given California’s internal distance among places, car rental would be a must (and thus we must lug a car seat to the West Coast). Two possible scenarios:

San Diego

  • Stone
  • Alpine
  • Coronado
  • Lost Abbey/Port – San Marcos
  • Pizza Port – Solana Beach or Carlsbad
  • San Diego Brewing
  • Left Coast/Oggis

San Francisco

  • Russian River (oh heavenly mecca!)
  • Lagunitas
  • Marin
  • Moylans
  • Bear Republic

The lists leave aside places with both nothing to eat and little to see (Alesmith) as well as places I’ve been to (Magnolia and 21st Amendment).  And we can’t take a kid to Toronado.  The emphasis is also, it seems, on travel. Moving from place to place within the larger city’s drivable surroundings.

Another option might be Portland, Oregon – movement within the city. Winter in Portland, though, may be too cold for the one who is willing to do a beer trip. Asheville, too, would be an option with family there….but I know it already.

Where have you been dear blog reader (all five of you)?  And have you turned 40 yet? When will my daughter be old enough to buy me beer…..