Sunday, May 31, 2009

Scotland trip recap part 1: Edinburgh

Greetings from Aviemore, Scotland! As I type this, I'm sitting in my room, letting a pint of Cairngorm Wildcat work its way through my belly (or, more accurately, liver) and watching 40 Year Old Virgin. Yes, that's what's on BBC 4. However, while we're currently in Aviemore, the photo above is of Edinburgh, where we started our little journey six days ago.

I had hoped to blog about the trip throughout the week as we made our way through Scotland, but our first two stops didn't have internet access and we couldn't get our computer to log on at the third. So now, six days into our eight-day trip, I'm finally getting around to posting about the first leg of our trip. Unlike our Germany trip, I didn't take any tasting notes, but I think I still have some interesting tidbits to share.

We arrived in Edinburgh on Tuesday morning. It didn't take us long to end up at our first pub, the Halfway House. Now this isn't just any pub... It's the 2009 CAMRA Edinburgh pub of the year! While you like to save the best for last, I had a list of four pubs to visit based on various recommendations and it was the first we came across so in we went. Wow, was it awesome. It was maybe the size of my basement, and because it was mid-afternoon it was empty save two guys who I think were owners or managers or something.

My first pint was Stewart Brewing's Leinster Lightning, a dark cask ale from an Edinburgh brewery. I can't find any record of its existence online, but I thought I overheard that it was a dry-hopped version of their 80/- or their No. 3. It was nearly still with virtually no head. It also had a subtle malt sweetness balanced with a decent herbal hop kick. What was most noticeable from my first real ale was that their was a nutty quality that I believe is from oxidation. I know that many CAMRA folks get all in a huff if you use CO2 to blanket the cask so that it doesn't oxidize. It got me thinking... Maybe oxidation is to English cask ales what souring is to some Belgians (and now American wild ales): something generally perceived as a flaw that a small group of enthusiasts actually finds preferable. I wasn't ready to give up my amply-carbonated American and German beers for their cask-conditioned brethren, but I can see how it appeals to some and I definitely enjoyed it as a change of pace. I went on to try an Everards Tiger Best Bitter; Leah had a Cairngorm Trade Winds and a Houston Peters Well Bitter. We also had some great pub food, as you can see in the picture below.

The next pub we visited was the Old Bell Inn, where I tried haggis for the first time and actually liked it! I had tried "haggis bits" (nuggets of deep-fried haggis) at a great pub in St. Louis called the Scottish Arms, but didn't really care for it there because it had some flowery spices (possibly rosemary?) that I didn't think worked with everything else. Here, however, the spices were blended quite nicely. The barley gave it an interesting texture, but overall I couldn't see how people who like other types of sausage would find this particularly objectionable. I guess my best description would be a cross between sausage and meat loaf, if that makes any sense. That's haggis served with neeps (mashed turnips) and tatties (mashed potatoes) on the left.

The next day we stopped by the Guildford Arms, which was notable for two reasons. First, while the Halfway House was cool because it was so small and cozy, the Guilford Arms was equally opulent. Okay, opulent may be overstating it, but it was a gorgeous hardwood pub (as you can see to the right). The other great thing about the Arms was it served me my first pint that blew me away: Orkney Dark Island. I was starting to think that cask ale was more about the whole cask experience and less about the particular ale, and then I tried Dark Island. Now, I'm no stranger to the joy that is the Orkney Brewery (as evinced by the fact that I included their Skullsplitter in my Top 20 Beers post a while back), but I didn't expect this one to stand out so much. It was dark but not heavy, complex but not overbearing, and it had a hint of smoke that hit you up front and got your attention without overpowering everything else. Just an incredible beer.

After two days in Edinburgh, I was definitely digging the whole cask ale thing. I think it's a great way to enjoy a pint, and definitely a nice change of pace. However, I'm not ready to drink the CAMRA kool-ade and declare all other beer a fizzy mess. Anyway, I'll offer some concluding thoughts after we get back to the States. For now, however, we have lots more to recap. After two days in Edinburgh, it was time to jump in our silly car with the steering wheel on the wrong side and head west toward the Isle of Skye!

Jump to Scotland trip recap part 2 here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

If you're thinking of pledging my beard... it now! Here's the deal:

As I've mentioned several times before on this blog, I'm participating in the Chicago Blackhawks Beard-a-thon (that's me to the left rockin' the beard at Beerfly Alleyfight this past weekend; for more on the Alleyfight, check out the last paragraph of this post). Well, with the Hawks a mere two games away from elimination at the hands of the dastardly Detroit Red Wings, the Hawks are trying to get one last fundraising push so they're offering four tickets to a game next season to whoever raises the most money between noon central today (Thursday) and noon central tomorrow (Friday). Since I can only do it with your help, I'll be selecting one random person who donated (and a guest of their choice) to attend said Hawks game with my wife and I. I know, you'll be stuck next to me, but I promise to shower. Oh, and if you're not local I suppose I'll just have to send you out a nice beer package.

The Beard-a-thon continues as long as the Blackhawks are in the playoffs, so if you're reading this after noon central tomorrow (Friday) you can still donate (unless you're reading this after the Hawks either get eliminated or win the Cup, in which case it's too late). However, the big push is to raise money by 12pm central tomorrow, so if you want to donate do it now. I've already jumped from $602 to $822 since noon... it would be awesome to cross the $1000 threshold by the time the clock hits twelve tomorrow. Once again, you can donate here.

On a side note, I know I owe you an update from Beerfly Alleyfight (no, Señor Brew , I'm not ignoring you). I've been wanting to do a long post with lots of pictures but have been too busy getting ready for our Scotland trip. However, since I'm not sure when I'll get around to that, I'll just note that we didn't win but had an awesome time once again and our beer and food and artist (the awesome Naomi Ashley) were all well-received. Stay tuned for more.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Beerfly Alleyfight THIS SATURDAY. Get your tickets now.

Wouldn't you love to be drinking that beer pictured above? (No, not the flowers. NEXT to the flowers.) Well, the beer you see is Somethin' Else and you can drink it--along with nine other beers--if you go to Beerfly Alleyfight this Saturday. You can also enjoy our bacon mac 'n cheese, made with smoked cheddar, smoked mozzarella and non-smoked muenster cheeses and topped with fresh diced tomatoes and Italian parsley, as well as nine other dishes. AND you can enjoy the music of Naomi Ashley, plus (you guessed it) nine other artists. Anyway, I've posted enough about it by now, so if you still don't know what I'm blabbing about go here. Then go here and buy your tickets before they sell out. Then show up on Saturday, say hi, and vote for us!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Beer coaster wallpaper, Beerfly Alleyfight and more!

Gotta start with the eye candy, right?

For reasons not worth going into, I decided to take a picture of the various beer coasters I've collected over my three tours of Europe and turn it into desktop wallpaper for my laptop. I think it came out pretty sweet, so I figured I'd post it in case anybody else is looking to shake up their desktop background. And if you're curious about what's scribbled on the Schumacher coaster, Düsseldorf brewpubs keep track of how many beers you drink by making a hash mark on your coaster.

Moving on, just a friendly reminder that Beerfly Alleyfight is Saturday. You can read more about it in my previous post here or in a Chicago Tribune article here. It's only $30 to enjoy our Somethin' Else India black ale, some killer bacon mac 'n cheese, the music of Naomi Ashley, and much, much more! And if you go, vote for us! We like winning!

Speaking of winning, at the Green Bay Rackers' Titletown Open we did nothing of the sort. It was frustrating for several reasons. First of all, it means that our streak of never having a beer win two awards continues, as both beers we entered (our Downdraft Helles and F6 Sticke Alt) placed in the BOSS Chicago Cup back in March. Further proof of the arbitrary nature of homebrew competitions, as far as I'm concerned, so I guess it's really not anything to be frustrated about. What I AM frustrated about, though, is the scoring for our Sticke. Both judges said, "Great beer, but too hoppy." I really hate to be a snob, but if there's one style I know it's Alts, and they're SUPPOSED to be hoppy. I guess it's really not the judges' fault that it's virtually impossible to get your hands on an authentic Sticke (or regular Altbier for that matter) in the U.S., but it's frustrating. Also frustrating is that it appears they had roughly 25 beers per flight, while every other competition I've entered has between 8 and 15. Of course, that could explain why neither of my beers placed since it makes it twice as hard to win. So that's that.

Finally, a quick Beard-a-thon update. I've now raised $483 for charity and am solidly in 3rd place for total money raised. The Hawks are tied 2-2 with the Canucks in their best-of-seven series (and are leading 1-0 in Game 5 as I type this), so there's still time to pledge. And most importantly, as you can see to the right (that's me trying to rock my game face) my beard is actually starting to fill in somewhat. Thanks again to everybody who's pledged so far, and I'd love it if a few more of my fellow homebrewers could send me $10. I bet the charities who receive the Beard-a-thon pledges will love it even more, so what are you waiting for? And, of course, GO BLACKHAWKS!!!