Monday, December 31, 2012

The Aloha Kugs year in review including why I don't apologize for marrying up.

Aloha again on New Year’s Eve.  I hope that this finds you and yours well as we once again stand on the precipice of a new year. 


It has been an interesting year, but a good one for us here in Kugs-ville.  It has had its challenges and difficulties, as I imagine all years have and will have, but I’d like to think as I look back, it was a good one more than it was not.

2012 really started for me on January 2, as that was the day I committed to get myself in shape and live a healthier life.  Along with a group of friends, we started a “Biggest Loser” contest over Facebook.  The results for me and my friends have been dramatic, and I lost over 80 pounds.  I ran six 5k races, did Insanity twice, and got rid of loads of fat clothes, as I’m never going back again.  The group has added members and done subsequent rounds (I came in third in round one) and has really become a source of support and inspiration for me all year long.  I’m happy to say that I am still living at a healthy weight, though I’ll admit to some holiday indulgences, but plan to run three miles tomorrow and schedule another race at the end of the month.  I won’t go back to being fat, and the group really helps.  If you’re interested for yourself, please email me.  That change in me and how I feel about myself if by far the most significant change for me personally this year.  I entered 2012 an obese man with high blood pressure.  I enter 2013 in the best shape of my adult life itching to run a 5k.  I owe that to the group, to my family for their support, and to that little voice inside my head that keeps reminding me of what it’s like to look in the mirror and be disgusted.  I’m in a way better place and that all started January 2 of 2012.


But, there was a whole year to come!  So, what happened this year?

I visited Indianapolis with the wife this summer; Great city.  I did a number of columns on the craft beer scene there and the city in general.  I really liked it and did not expect to.

I also visited Aurora, Colorado.  A week after the shootings.  It was a very interesting visit.  I did another craft beer tour and enjoyed it a great deal.    I saw Roller Derby with my friend Sonic Death Monkey, and wrote about that.  Aurora and Denver were very cool and I’d like to go again.  The shadow of the Dark Knight tragedy hung in the air there in a very palpable way. 

On a delightful trip to NYC in the Spring, I both met Pulitzer Prize winning composer Ned Rorem and saw the Book of Mormon.  Both were amazing experiences.  Ned wanted to hear all about my writing.

This summer we took the whole family to see a live performance of A Prairie Home Companion.  We’ve loved the show for years and finally got to be part of the live crowd at Wolftrap.  That was a great night.  The kids dancing on the lawn to the “Powder Milk Biscuit” song was worth the price of admission alone
I watched a lot of youth Soccer, and rugby and Tae Kwon Do.  And tumbling.  The bear tumbled.  She does that a lot now.
 
I went to a ton of kid birthday parties.

We threw a few adult dinner parties.  Parent’s night out at our Church can’t come often enough. 

We watched the Bear cross the bridge at preschool.  And start Kindergarten.

Went to Connecticut with the family, where despite Homewood Suites attempts to give me coronary, we had a successful visit in a hotel, our first since the Thanksgiving incident of 2011.

I took the Boyo to Wildwood.  Just him and me.  We rode and ate everything.  I embraced the power of yes.  He loved it and can’t wait to go back.  I can’t wait either.

I cooked a ton of stuff this year.  Highlights: Several Turkeys, several Hams, a heap of Kalua Pigs, a fair amount of Avocado Ahi Poke’, bunch of soups, and a whole lot of other things.  Doing a Hawaiian Luau tomorrow for New Years.  Kailua Pig, Cabbage, Edamame, Macadamia nut everything, maybe a tofu Poke’, some pineapple, and Kona Longboard.  Wearing my Kukui nut lei too, because I can.
 
I hope they run “The Eddie” this year on the North Shore.  I’m missing the island and feel very much like that would help.

This was a bad year for professional sports in our house.  The Phillies stunk.  The Eagles stunk worse.  The Buckeyes were good but banned from postseason play.  And the Flyers aren’t yet allowed to play.  Dark days indeed.  I’m hopeful they will end the NHL lockout soon as the Boyo and I need our hockey something fierce.  We very much enjoyed the Olympics though.  A lot of fun moments there and the Boyo still points out Michael Phelps every time we go into Subway, which I appreciate as they also have a picture of the Redskins RG3, which he pointedly ignores, as per his training as a Philadelphia Sports fanatic.  I’m very proud. 

I finally fit into my lederhosen.  Owned them for almost two years but finally got to wear them as I enjoyed the 15th Annual Cleveland Oktoberfest with my guys.  That’s all I have to say about that, as what happens at Oktoberfest…oh, but I did run the 5k at the fest and did a personal record at the time.

I was asked to teach Sunday school to the 13 year old class at church.  I agreed for a variety of reasons.  We’re committed to the church but I also, for me, wanted to know if I had anything left in the tank as a teacher.  It’s been over a decade since I was a classroom teacher, and I guess I wanted to know if I still had it.  I know now.

 
And, at the end of all the discussions, columns, and other assorted chatting on the topic, I ended up going back to work.  Not as a teacher and not as a Vice Principal, Athletic director, or even Dean of Students.  I went back to work as a server/bartender at George Washington’s house.  It’s part time and flexible, as restaurant work has (gratefully) always been for me.  After years of wondering, in the end, I just didn’t want to go back to a job that would make me miss things like volunteering for Field Day, or helping out in the library, or going on a field trip.  Or wearing my colonial garb to the twins’ classes to discuss holiday traditions in Colonial America.  One of the best comments I got all year was from one of the twins’ classmates who tapped me on the shoulder and said, “I feel like I see you here every day!”  While I’m not there daily, it made me feel good to know that they know who I am, and that I care about helping out in their classes.  I don’t want a job that keeps me from doing those things for the kids.  And I don’t need it for my ego.  I’m quite content being a bartender/server who volunteers at the kid’s school.  I mean, I get to wear tights at work…But I know its growth for me, as there were years that my priorities were different.  Hawaii cured me of a lot of that, and I feel even better about my choices now, with the life we have, challenges and all.

We watched a decent amount of TV this year.  “Downton Abbey” was awesome.  Can’t wait until the next season. “Louie” on FX may have been the best thing on TV this year.  Louis CK is a fierce comic who I’ve always been a fan of, but this show he’s put together over the last few seasons is truly brilliant.   “Game of Thrones,”  “Boardwalk Empire,” “The Walking Dead” were all very good too.  “Doctor Who” and “Merlin” on BBC have been good, and the history Channel’s “Mankind” series was well done also. 

I read a lot of books this year.  I discovered the work of Cleveland’s own John Scalzi, beginning with “Old Man’s War.”  Read and enjoyed all of his work before discovering and devouring the first two books in Justin Cronin’s “The Passage” Trilogy.  Eeesh they were awesome.  Cronin writes in a way that is intimidating to me as someone who likes to write and aspires to write something that people want to read.  “The Book Thief,” by Markus Zusak and “The Descendants” by Kaui Hart Hemmings were both good too.  I really enjoyed Colin Meloy of “The Decemberists” second novel in the “Wildwood” trilogy “Under Wildwood.”

I have worked on a number of projects of my own this year.  I made a great deal of progress with “The Last Good Day” which was my “NaNoWriMo” project.  I have a full outline and loads of notes and plan to dive back into it in the New Year.  If you’re interested in being a beta-reader for the early chapters, please message me as I have some ready for review.  I’ve neglected the blog a bit since the summer.  Sorry.

I just got a ton of ITunes cards for Christmas, but looking over the music I’ve enjoyed this year, Bruce Springsteen’s “Wrecking Ball” and Mumford & Sons “Babel” were among the highlights for me this year.  I’ve liked a few tracks from the new Bruno Mars album, and John Mayer’s “Born and Raised” has been a nice listen.  Fell in love with Allison Kraus and Union Station this year a bit; The Black Keyes too.  “Gold on the Ceiling” may be my new favorite song of the year. 

Through my genealogical research and packing up Grammy’s basement and finding it, I now have a picture of my great-grandmother.  It’s been the elusive piece of 20 years of research. 


I didn’t see a ton of movies this year, you know, having kids and all, but “The Avengers” was good, as was “The Hunger Games.”  “Lincoln” was amazing.  “Silver Linings Playbook” was fun too.  “Argo” was surprisingly good.  I would have enjoyed “Django Unchained” even more if some guy in the theater hadn’t decided to make it all about himself screaming at the screen every time a character used a particular racial term.  Haven’t seen “Skyfall,” “Perks of Being a Wallflower,”  “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Hobbit” or “Les Mis” yet, but I will.  “Ted” was funny.  I am excited to see Disney purchased Star Wars. 


In reviewing the year, it seems a lot of interesting people died.  While it’s not exhaustive, they included: Daniel Inouye, Andy Williams, Michael Clarke Duncan, Adam “MCA” Yauch, Neil Armstrong, “Sweathogs” Robert Hegyes and Ron Palillo, Gore Vidal, Sherman Hemsley, Ernest Borgnine, Ray Bradbury, Richard Dawson, Donna Summer, Levon Helm, Dick Clark, Davy Jones, Dave Brubeck, Donald “Duck” Dunn, Whitney Houston, Don Cornelius, and Etta James.


Also, there were losses closer to home, friends from HHS, Vanessa and Alex.  I’ve thought a lot about them and their families tonight as they start a new year.  I hope and pray they are well.


Outside of all of the above, I am hopeful for the New Year.  While there have been horrible life-altering events this year, including Newtown, Aurora, Sandy, and crisis after crisis across the world, I am hopeful for this New Year.


I know more about Asperger’s and about Mood disorders than I did a year ago.  Imagine where I’ll be in a year.

I know more about how to live a healthy and fit life by being a “Loser.”


I know that there are things that I’m good at and there are things that I like to do and while they are not always the same, there is a balance to be found for all of those things somewhere in the middle, and that’s my goal for the New Year: to have better balance.

That, and have the hockey come back and Flyers win the Stanley Cup, the Phillies surge forth and win another World Series and take the kids to see a bunch of games, and go to Wildwood with the family and ride the Ferris wheel, and maybe finish this book that I’m writing and get it published to rave reviews and huge sales, and maybe have the Eagles make a playoff run and the Buckeyes drive towards a national championship. 


But, I’ll settle for better balance.  In the end, that’s quite likely the more responsible wish. 

And I celebrated my 20th year together with my wife.  13 years married and two decades together have taught me one very, very true thing: Marrying her was the best thing I ever did, and our partnership is the greatest enterprise I’ve ever been a part of. 


In fact, it’s among the most clear and present indicators that God is present in my life in a very real, cogent, and visceral manner. 

I make no apologies for marrying well.

Happy New Year. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Like over a month later, saying Aloha to Colorado: and Aloha means goodbye. Final thoughts.

This is an embarrassing length of time between experience and writing about it, even for me.  I mean, honestly…but real life happens.  And I’ve just bought myself thirty minutes to write with an episode of Ninjago.  I’m not proud.

It’s been weeks since we visited the Denver area, but as it was among the last moments of peace I’ve had this month, I am remembering the trip fondly.  It was a nice area, and while the mile-high air definitely affected my 5k training, overall I have nothing but good vibes from the area. 

I enjoyed catching up with some friends, notably Bartsch and Sonic Death Monkey.  I also enjoyed further proving that fact that I can find something fun to do pretty much anywhere.  I mean, even Indianapolis was fun.  I met some very cool people while tasting a fine sampling of the Colorado Craft beer community.  I had planned a visit to the Oskar Blues Brewery, who were incredibly gracious and generous with their offer to host me, an admitted nobody in the blogosphere, but I was unable to arrange travel there, but I plan to see them next time. 

With that said, my beer of the week is the one I can’t stop thinking about, the Crooked Shillelagh Irish Red from Dry Dock Brewery.  I fell in love with the hand –pull style, and the rich and creamy flavor have haunted my dreams since my visit to their Brewhouse on Day three.


Honorable mentions for the week go to the 471 Double IPA from Breckenridge and the Great Divide’s Hercules Double IPA. 


I won’t go long form at this point, as it’s been nearing two months since I visited Colorado.   I regret not posting this until now, but the kids started school and life got crazy.  Oh, and I started a new job.  In the end, I really enjoyed Colorado and look forward to visiting again in the future.  Oh, and I’ve gotta check out the DC area roller derby…


More on that in the next column, which may be up later today if the game the kids remain occupied.  A lot to talk about.
 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Long Overdue: Kugs says Aloha to: Roller Derby! Colorado trip, day the fourth.


I apologize for the delay in concluding my coverage from Colorado.  The minute we got on the plane to head back east, “real life” intruded something fierce, and today, over two weeks later, is actually the first moment I’ve been able to dedicate time to write.  I plan to conclude my series on Colorado in two parts-this one, which will be dedicated to my visit to the training facility of the Rocky Mountain Rollergirls.  I will then write a concluding column regarding my overall impressions of the areas I visited and of course, crown the Beer of the Week.

 

But, first things first: Roller Derby, where have you been all my life?


My friend from college, now known to her Derby pals as “Sonic Death Monkey” picked us up in Aurora and drove us to an area of the Denver suburbs I don’t imagine I would have found in the guidebooks.  Very industrial from the outside, but upon entering the “War House” as it’s called, it was clear that the Rocky Mountain Rollergirls (RMRG) (www.rockymountainrollergirls.com) are an organization to take seriously.  What might once have been a warehouse had been transformed into a really unique space.  It was bright and open, very high ceilings.  It reminded me of the Annex Gymnasium back at HHS a bit, but without the weird smell by the leg press machine.  The surface was a bright blue rink and was populated by about twenty or so “Noobs,” or beginners to the delicate art of Roller Derby. 


As I learned from Monkey, there is a steady stream of women that come out to try Roller Derby, which is popular enough in the Denver Area to support two separate leagues; the RMRG, who boast four home teams: Dooms Daisies, Red Riding Hoods, Sugar Kill Gang, and the United States Pummeling Service; and three travel teams, The Fight Club, the Contenders, and Project Mayhem.  Fight Club is the league “A team,” and were National Champions in 2010.  The Contenders are the B squad and the Project Mayhem group is their C team, which any skater who is skill tested can work with.  There’s also the Denver Roller Dolls who boast four home teams and two travel squads (http://www.denverrollerdolls.org/).  There are other smaller factions in neighboring areas, including some pockets of “Merby” where men play the sport.  There have been events during the last year that have drawn 1,000 fans, so this doesn’t appear to be a fad, and if anything, according to both Sonic Death Monkey, Reuters, and the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) the sport is growing to the point that it is being considered for the 2020 Olympics. I’m interested, for sure.


So, for the noobs out there, what is Roller Derby?  It’s tempting here to just link you to a Wiki article, but I’m going to give it a shot.  First thing to know is that it’s called a “Bout.”  Not a game, a match, a session.  A Bout.  I was corrected on that repeatedly by both Monkey and her friend “Robo Flow.”  Each bout runs for two thirty-minute halves.  The periods are broken up into “Jams” which can go as long as two minutes.  Each team fields five players at a time.  There are three blockers, one jammer, and a pivot player, who is a blocker, but if needed can become the jammer.  The jammer scores points by lapping the pack of blockers, earning a point for each opponent she passes.  Blockers try to keep their jammer running clear while trying to stop the opposing teams’ jammer.


With me so far?  That’s only the basics-there’s far more nuance and strategy than I can convey here, but It’s kind of like a race, but with chaos, mayhem, colorful names, personalities and legal hitting and whipping of teammates to increase speed.  There are penalties and referees as well, and the rules are clear about what you can and cannot do.  Even in practice, the skill and training involved to be good at this sport were very clear.  It’s hard enough to be athletic in shoes—I imagine much more difficult on quad roller skates, which I’ve not worn since 1987 at the last SPS roller skating event. (Where, I’ll have you know, I finally got that girl to hold hands with me on a couple skate…even if it was just to bring her out to have us switch so she could skate with the blonde kid.  Still epic.)


Anyway, I digress.  My first question was: how does one go about becoming a Rocky Mountain Rollergirl?  In essence, in seems to come down to commitment.  Most of the interested ladies start by coming to “Derby Days” which are basic skating sessions held every Sunday.  There, prospective members of the “Kill Scouts” or “Dooms Daisy’s” can build a foundation for their skills, get to know the programs and people involved and basically find out if Roller Derby and it’s unique culture are something you wish to be a part of.  After 2-3 months of Derby Days, a prospective “Red Ridin’ Hood” might be invited to begin training on Tuesday and Thursday evening.  These sessions work on enhancing the basics, working on specific skills, strategy, scrimmage play, and the like.  Each “Noob” is evaluated every other month, and as they progress, they might then be invited to add Monday evenings and Saturday Scrimmages.  Much depends at that point on the skill level demonstrated and their level of commitment.  Before one even begins talking about earning their “Derby Name” one must invest six months of training, dues, and community relations work-street team, work or attendance at monthly events designed to promote awareness of the league in a positive way. 


The group is a non-profit and exists entirely on the backs of dues from members and sponsors, who include Pabst Blue Ribbon, Wahoo’s Fish Tacos, and the team Chiropractor, Dr. Borman.  He’s a fan.


If all goes well and you earn the right to a Derby name, you become eligible to be placed with a team.  You will likely be a member of the “KillScouts” for some time, who are skaters who have put in 90 days and are in good standing with the league.  They will remain with the Scouts until drafted.  When you’re drafter onto a home team, you’re likely with that team until you retire, as, according to my friend Sonic Death Monkey, no one has ever switched teams.  If there’s an issue between players, they have a forum for working it out: the track.


So, outside of the particulars, who are these women?  In short, it seems as though they are pretty much a bit of everyone.  Generally, they appear to not have been athletes prior to Derby.  Some swimmers and dancers, but it seems that for many, Derby is among the first team sports they have enjoyed.  Monkey says that Derby celebrates and embraces, “All female body types.  If you’ve got an ass, yay!”  These women are lawyers, students, Police officers, teachers, Stay-at-home moms, you name it.  It’s a place that welcomes all women who are looking for something to challenge themselves and a place and a culture even that will embrace them for whoever they happen to be walking in the door.  Monkey says that most of her teammates call one another by their Derby names, and that many of them don’t even know one another’s real names.  In fact, while talking to one of her teammates, I used Monkey’s real name, and she looked at me as though I had just farted.  I hadn’t though.
 

In the end, the wife and I really enjoyed watching the practice.  I decided that I’m going to introduce the sport to The Bear, as she is pretty much a walking Roller Derby on most days.  I think there’s something very cool about a sport that provides these women with a great team activity that allows one to still display individual skills in the process.  Not to mention being a safe place to be an aggressive woman, which as Monkey attests, such a place is “not always easy to find.”  The track is the great equalizer, and in a world where we many of us face the challenges of identity and disconnection, it was refreshing to see a group of women dedicated to being part of something really unique and positive.  Plus there’s some hitting.  So, let’s hope they add it to the Olympics, as it strikes me as something that would be a lot of fun to cheer on in 2020.  It’s uniquely American sport that promotes a powerful and independent spirit in women of all ages.  As a father to two daughters, that resonates very much for me. 
 

So, who’s coming with me?  If you’re down in NoVA with me, let’s go here: http://dcrollergirls.com/    ---I’m serious.  The DC squad has a big match next month…I’ll drive. 


Stay tuned for my final thoughts on Colorado…Aloha for now.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Kugs says Aloha to: Colorado-Day the Third

Spent most of the morning writing yesterday’s column and being super lazy until my dumb Droid battery charged back up.  The agenda for the afternoon was a simple one: walk the 3.2 miles to Dry Dock Brewery here in Aurora, drink their beer, talk to people about it, walk back to hotel, collect the wife, have dinner with Bartsch and his family, retire for the evening.  Things went pretty much according to plan, though the weather was a little persnickety along the way.  Brutally hot on the walk to Dry Dock—then raining on the way back.  It was a relatively light rain, so we managed, though the walk back was far quicker than the walk there.

It’s a nice area to walk through though, loaded with trees and plants and dogs.  I thought this one little yip dog was going to give itself a coronary trying to gnaw through the fence between us to get at me.  Luckily, the hole he stuck his snout through was not quite large enough to allow that, and we all moved on like ships in the night.


Dry Dock brewery was a very interesting spot.  It kind of snuck up on me, situated in the corner unit of a strip mall.  Not a typical locale for a brewery, though I would learn that they are pretty atypical in general.  Once inside, it looked and felt like a brewery tap room, which is convenient seeing as that is in fact what it was.  I liked the look of the malt sacks hanging from the rafters.  The brewing tanks are directly behind the bar and visible through the large windows.  I really enjoyed watching the brewers at work while I enjoyed their labors.  Very cool feel to the place.


I sat down at the bar and met Lissa who invited me to fill out a tasting sheet to sample the first six beers I was to try.  I did so and when she returned with my selections, she took the pen and arranged them in the most appropriate drinking order, a nice touch.  I started off with selections from their Seasonal beer menu, beginning with the Raspberry Wheat.  It was cloudy with a lightish color and a light fragrance.  It was smoother and gentler than the Great Divide Wild Raspberry Ale.  Crisp and drinkable with a touch of lip-smackiness.  The wife would have liked it, but she wasn’t there so I drank it all myself.  I moved on next to their “La Vie Haute” Summer Saison.  This one had a huge aroma and a fascinating flavor.  It looked and felt like a summertime beer, and started off that way, very citrusy and tasty, but the back end of it had a peppery quality that gave it a sharp twinge.  Really mouth-filling and absent of aftertaste.  Really fresh and distinct.  I think it would pair well with a blackened catfish or something similar.  Really nifty beer. 


At this point I noticed a framed quote behind the bar.  “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”  Always liked that one, even if Ben Franklin didn’t exactly say it.


I next tried the “Carter’s” Copper Ale.  It was just ok for me, but I instantly fell in love with the next beer, the “Crooked Shillelagh” Hand-pulled Irish Red.  I mean, the name alone made me feel good, but holy Donegal Batman, this beer was simply off the charts good.  Was a deeper and darker red than the others I’ve had this week, including Wynkoop’s Imperial Red, which I liked a lot.  I think I particularly enjoyed the hand-pulling.  Without the CO2 and drinking it at room temperature, the texture was pure heaven-creamy and smooth with a slight touch of sweetness on the back end.  A warm and comforting beer, great body, no aftertaste, and just a genuinely pleasant taste that would complement a lot of dishes, but of course I’d want to do my Corned beef with it, or even just a good soda bread.  I think I’d eat a tire and enjoy it with this beer.  This beer will contend for Beer of the week, for certain.  Yowzers.


The “Second Base” Brown Ale was fine, and the Milk Stout was probably the best of the Stouts I’ve had this week.  It was mellower and smoother than the Wynkoop Milk Stout and less filling than the Great Divide Stouts.  It doesn’t quite, for me, rise to the level of the Rock Bottom Stout from Indianapolis, but it was very good.


My next group of samples is from the “Home Fleet” or their year-round beers.  Lissa again ordered them for me and had me start off with the “U-Boat” Hefeweizen.  It had a cloudy, unfiltered look and gave off a unique fragrance of bananas.  Looked a little like a Boddington’s.  Wow-this one is unique-definitely get a citrusy flavor with that banana suggestion, but on the bottom end there’s a hint of clove that’s really interesting.  Really unique Hefeweizen that would pair well with a summer salad with grapefruit in it or a light pork loin dish on the grill.  This could get an honorable mention just for sheer audacity of using banana in a beer.  I liked it.


I then tried, for comparison sake, the Crooked Shillelagh with the CO2 and refrigeration.  It was good, but I definitely preferred the hand-pulled.  The “HMS Victory” Amber was next and although it was a tad malty for me at first, I found that I enjoyed it more as it went along.  Creamier than I expected in an amber and it had a taste that lingered a bit, in a nice way.  For some reason it struck me as a beer to watch soccer with. 


The “Breakaway” Pale Ale had a light and bubbly look with a nice head.  Potently fragrant that brought to mind a Christmas tree and mulled wine.  I enjoyed this far more than the Wynkoop “Silverback” Pale Ale.  Had a really complex taste that filled the palate in a way that other Pale Ales fail to do.  I frequently find Pale Ales to be low on flavor and this one most assuredly breaks that cycle.  This would pair really well with my Jerk Chicken.  Definitely a contender for an Honorable Mention, at least.  The “Urca” Vanilla Porter was another winner.  Squid-ink black in color with a really big and inviting nose that reminded me once again of the Rock Bottom Stout from Indy.  I liked it immediately.  It was less sweet and more complex than the Rock Bottom.  It put me in mind of the first time I ever had an Irish Coffee, though I’m not certain why.  It’s a mouth-changing beer that is flavorful all over, even after I swallowed it.  Definitely high on the lip-smackiness scale.  I really liked it.  This one will contend.


The Dry Dock Double IPA had me excited as I’ve learned over the course of this project that I really like Double IPA.  Still not the biggest fan of IPA by itself, but double it up and I seem to come around.  This one was darker than the Breckenridge 471 from yesterday and had a strong and nice fragrance that called to mind spending Christmas in Hawaii, for some reason.  Wish I had this beer when I was having Christmas in Hawaii because I really liked it.  There was a bit more of a bite at the back end of this than the 471 but the flavor was plenty big.  Hoppy and malty in balance with one another.  Their beer menu says that this on exhibits “restrained bitterness.”  That’s an apt description, though at 9% ABV, I’m not sure how restrained it would prove.  A very good beer to end my research on, though they later made the “Swabby” Barrel-aged Quad available.  It had a cidery quality to its aroma and a real earthy look to it.  Reminded me a little of the Barley Wine at Greta Divide yesterday, though I enjoyed the Swabby more.  I couldn’t quite figure it out, a really complex beer, and at 12% ABV, I wasn’t going to continue researching it at that point.  I was really for a full pint of the Crooked Shillelagh, which I enjoyed while chatting with a few of the regulars to the tap room, Frank, Tim, and Rob. 


Frank was a riot who told a variety of stories I can’t print here or even tell the wife about.  One that I can share had him relating a story about his first heart attack.  It happened, “While I was working in a hospital.  I told a doctor on the elevator, and he took me down to the ER.  How lucky was that?  I was dating a witch at the time, and she gave me a bag of rocks to put under my pillow.  I told the doctor about it, and he said, ‘that’s great.  You’ll be the dead guy with a bag of rocks under his pillow if you don’t do more than that for treatment.’”  I’d go back to Dry Dock just to hear more stories from Frank. 


I also met Tim, who’s been a part of the Dry Dock family since the beginning.  They started off as a Beer supply store, The Brew Hut, and expanded into brewing operations in 2005.  The Supply store is still there, though they’ve expanded over the years, including signing the papers today on a new 70,000 square foot space for expansion. 


During their first year in business, they were surprise Gold medal winners at the World Beer Cup with their HMS Victory Amber, and, as Tim put it, they were “off to the races.”  Both Tim and Rob talked about how the Colorado Brewing community works together and “promotes their own.”  Rob mentioned that he heard there were seventy new Colorado breweries opening in the coming years.  Collaboration is common and welcomed.  I think that really adds something to the flavor of the experience I’ve had this week. Tim also mentioned that he thinks American craft brewing is returning to its original form, where each community will have its own local beer to promote and enjoy.  This is something that the Yuengling history I’ve been reading talks about, where every town had a brewery and it took on a character and disposition that reflected the community.  This went away as larger national brewers expanded and Prohibition hit.   It was an interesting observation that I can only hope plays out.  Would certainly give me more to write about.  Learn more about them here: www.drydockbrewing.com


With that, I power-walked my way through the rain back to the hotel to get ready for dinner with Bartsch.  He’s a former student of mine from my SKS years in New York.  He was always a favorite.  Through the power of Facebook we’ve stayed in touch and were able to reconnect last night and I got the chance to meet his beautiful wife and daughter.  It was a real treat and again reminded me of the power of social media.  That and the power of relationship.  Simply sharing a meal with an old friend was an amazing addition to my trip out here.  When we lived in Hawaii, we had people come to the island all the time and made plans to meet up with them, but more often than not, once people got to Hawaii they often got locked in on what they were doing and never got together with us.  It was hard at times to not be hurt by that, but we moved on and let it go.  For me, the chance to see an old friend and meet his family did nothing but enrich my trip, just like last year when I met up with Hom in San Francisco.  It was maybe an hour of two, but was among my favorite aspects of that trip. 


For me, taking that time there, as well as here, was a reminder of how small a world we live in and how important it is to make the effort to maintain relationship when you are lucky enough to meet some of the awesome people in it.  So, next time you’re in Northern Virginia, give me a call.


I had originally planned to visit the Oskar Blues Brewery today, but was unable to secure a car, so I will see them next time.  They were genuinely helpful and gracious in scheduling time with me today and I can’t wait to see them.  I will try to sample their product here in Aurora today because, as Tim said, “They are one of the real success stories of the local Brewing scene.”  Or something like that, I didn’t write it down.  My hand was getting sore. 


Thus far I have sampled 49 Colorado beers.  I hope to try a few more during the day leading up to my visit to the training center for the Rocky Mountain Roller GirlsL www.rockymountainrollergirls.com/ )I’ve got a friend from college who plays in the league and she’s graciously offered to give us an introduction to the world of Roller Derby.  I’m stoked.  The wife is more excited than I am I think.  Tune in tomorrow to hear about that adventure.  Could be epic. 


Thanks for all your support.  Aloha for now.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Kugs says Aloha to: Colorado. Day the Second…

I covered a decent amount of ground here today.  Once I realized that I am smart enough to manage the light rail system, I managed to drop myself into the middle of the downtown Denver area.  I confidently stepped off the train onto 18th Avenue and promptly walked just about a mile in the wrong direction to reach my intended first target, the Wynkoop Brewing Company.  Typical of me in an unfamiliar city, but it gave me a chance to walk around and see more, which is what I told myself as I turned around like an idiot.
Eventually, I made it to the Wynkoop and did a pair of “rails” of their selections.  In all, I sampled ten of their beers.  There were a few I missed today, as if I had stayed for another rail I might have had to be carted out on a rail myself.  In general their beers were strong and well crafted.  I sampled their “Rail Yard Ale,” “Orchard Wheat,” “Silverback Pale Ale,” B3K Black Lager,” “Belgian Sour Brown Ale,” “Light Rail Organic Ale,” “Wixa Weiss,” “London Calling IPA,” “Cowtown Milk Stout,” and their “Imperial Red.”


It almost seems hack now to say how the beers were well made, even the ones that I was not a huge fan of, but it is very true today.  The Wynkoop beers were on the whole very well-crafted.  The Rail Yard Ale, which is their signature beer, was really an interesting hybrid of German and British sensibilities, bringing a unique and flavorful beer to the table.  The Orchard Wheat was a taste explosion-really coated the palate with a refreshing finish.  Wife would like this, I think.  Loads of flavor in this one.


Tess, my beer navigator at Wynkoop has said that one of her favorites is the B3K Black Lager.  It was really a densely packed color-looked like they put a bunch of colors together and made a beer.  Fragrantly it reminded me of a HB Dark from Oktoberfest.  Had a nice taste and a smooth finish.  I couldn’t quite place the flavors I was getting on the back end of this one, but Tess was a big help, pointing out that they used both dark chocolate and a gentle roasting to achieve the unique flavor.  It was filling so while I think I’d be willing to try, I don’t think I could drink it all day long.  Tasty though.  The Belgian Sour Brown Ale, their “Brewjolais Nouveau” was really unique.  It’s a hybrid collaboration between New Belgium and the Infinite Monkey Theorem Winery and fuses Young Cabernet grapes and a Flemish Style Brown Ale.  Looks and smells like a Cab, and has a mouth-filling quality like a wine that lingers on both the palate and the lips.  It was good but at 9% ABV, I think a pint of this would knock me out, especially in this Mile-High Air.  Would pair well with a good steak, something I don’t say about a lot of beers. 


I enjoyed the London Calling IPA.  It’s cask-conditioned and served room temperature, which was an interesting departure after the other chilled varieties.  Very fragrant with a sweet aroma.  I liked it-dry and hoppy but not overly bitter on the back end.  Creamy without being over-filling.  For some reason it put me in mind of sitting on the Thames and debating whether or not The Smiths should have been in the London Olympics Opening Ceremonies (they totally should have).The Cowtown Milk Stout was nice, though not as exceptional as the Stouts I enjoyed in Indianapolis a few weeks ago.  The big winner at Wynkoop for me was the Imperial Red.  It had a great bold color but its fragrance was off the charts.  Strong and complex flavor that didn’t overwhelm at all.  It’s a new beer for them and was really unique and enjoyable.  Was like a circus in the mouth-really dynamic flavor that I can’t compare to anything else I’ve had, which I suppose is a good thing.  Imperial Red is definitely in the running for Beer of the Week. 


I had a nice time at Wynkoop and the Rueben was pretty good too.  Check them out at www.wynkoop.com


I decided to visit the Breckenridge Colorado Craft drafthouse.  In typical Kugs fashion I turned entirely the wrong way on Blake Street and enjoyed at least a mile in the wrong direction, again.  But, with the potent Wynkoops coursing through my system, an extra mile or two was not unwelcome.  I made it to Breckenridge right before it started pouring.  I passed Coors Field on the way, which kinda just popped out of nowhere, like Camden Yards does in Baltimore.  It’s a very well designed park that fits in with the neighborhood really nicely.  That’s about all this Phillies fan has to say about that.


Breckenridge was cool inside.  Very spacious and open, a slight industrial feel to the d├ęcor.  My new friend Ryan let me plug in my dying cell phone (droid battery stinks) and set me up with the “Breckenridge Flight” which included the “Avalanche” Amber Ale, “Ballpark” Brown, Vanilla Porter, and “471” IPA.  He also hooked me up with their “Summerbright” Ale and Agave Wheat.


The Avalanche Amber is their signature beer and it is good.  Drinkable and smooth, but felt more like a fall beer to me.  I could see enjoying this one during football season.  The Vanilla Porter was tasty as well.  The Agave Wheat was interesting.  Ryan says they are selling a lot of that one now as it’s a very summery beer.  It had a nice blonde color and was not real cloudy for an unfiltered wheat beer.  It was a tiny bit tart for me but I definitely got a hint of the agave on the back end.  Enjoyable and would be great as an outdoor summertime beer.  Would go great with the grilled cilantro shrimp I made a few weeks ago.  The real winner for me in the opening flight was, surprisingly, the 471 IPA.  Ryan lists this one as his personal favorite and I couldn’t agree more.  For me to love an IPA, it has got to be special and this one most assuredly is.  It’s a Double IPA, but I found it light and hugely flavorful.  A mellow texture that doesn’t overwhelm the palate.  It held not a bit of the bitter aftertaste that I seem to find with most IPA’s and it was extremely drinkable and fragrant.  I feel like I could drink it all day, though at 9,2% ABV, it would like be a brief, albeit spectacular day.  Definitely on the short list for Beer of the Week.  I went on to sample the Irish Red, Thunder Stout, Oatmeal Stout, Trademark Pale Ale, and the “Lucky U” IPA.  They were all well-crafted and drinkable.  The Stouts were just OK for me.  I’ll take the 471 for the win here.  Check out Ryan and the crew at Breckenridge at http://www.breckbrew.com


The rain had let up and the day was steadily moving forward, as I hear they are wont to do, so I moved on to the Great Divide Brewery and Tasting room.  They were on my list and Ryan recommended them, so it seemed the thing to do.  The tasting room was small and cozy.  Reminded me of the Crest Tavern down in Wildwood, NJ. 


They offer three samples for three dollars which, considering the quality of the beer is an exceptional deal.  I started off with the Hoss Rye Lager, the Titan IPA, and the Yeti Imperial Stout.  The Hoss was very earthy and unique.  A gentle flavor that was quite a departure from the others I’d enjoyed.  It was good and clearly indicated to me that Great Divide beers were likely to be pretty distinctive.  The Titan IPA is their most popular beer and while it was good, I think I liked the 471 at Breckenridge better. 


As I finished this grouping I got to chatting with Dennis, who as fate would have it was from Newburgh, NY, a stone’s throw from where I used to live while I worked at SKS.  I also met Paul and his wife and daughter, who as fate would have it again, were from Indiana, and admired the Sun King Brewery T-Shirt I was wearing.  Small world.  Dennis may have had the line of the day when he commented that, “It’s good to leave your home” and experience new and interesting things.  Couldn’t agree more.


My next group included the Wild Raspberry Ale, Claymore Scotch Ale, and the Hercules Double IPA.  The Raspberry was really fragrant and took me for a ride in the old “Wayback Machine” to 1989 when I used to inhale the Raspberry Soho soda that we sold at the old Cranbury Market.  A strong flavor with a touch of bitterness on the back end and while it is a bit sweeter than I would choose to drink all the time, it was really nice.  Very distinct and unique.  The Claymore was a little heavy for me, especially compared to the Oskar Blues Scotch ale I’ve been enjoying back at the hotel, but it was good.  My favorite of the opening rounds was the Hercules Double IPA.  If I’m learning anything on this trip is that if I’m going to enjoy an IPA, it might have to be a double.  This was a really good beer-bright and fragrant with a great big and tasty finish.  It might be just a smidge below the 471, but I’d be willing to research it further.  Really nice beer with a complex texture and flavor. 


I then jumped onto the tour, where my new friend Will walked our group through the working brewery, where the tanks and employees were enjoying the dulcet tones of Ozzy Osbourne.  Great Divide started as a one man operation back in 1994 in Brian Dunn’s garage.  To grow from such humble beginnings to preparing space for five more 300 barrel tanks is a testament to the quality of their product, the vision of the company as a whole and the manner in which they have been embraced by the Denver community.  Will mentioned that early on in their history, the city of Denver itself stepped forward and provided some assistance on the condition that they open a tap room.  That’s a brand of government I can get behind.  


Apparently there are eleven new breweries getting set to open in the Denver area in the next two years.  They have chosen to “stay small on purpose,” which reminded me a great deal of Yuengling’s approach.  Will spoke with pride about how the company wants to “make beers that people recognize and to be smart about the future.”  While there are no specific breweries or beers that serve as a model for the company, Will discussed how he sees brewing as “a lot like farming” and that they want people to look at their beers the way people look at wine, and often think about their beers being paired with food.  It’s an interesting perspective and to me, indicates a desire to be taken seriously as a craft.  He discussed how Great divide is always looking to “push the envelope” with their beers, a fact that is clearly evident in the three selections he lists as his favorites, the Samurai, the Rumble IPA, and the “Old Ruffian” Barley Wine.  Of course, I had to go sample those now…


The Samurai is a Rice-wheat combination, which all by itself is pretty unique.  It was almost absent any fragrance at all and looked visually like a Chardonnay.  On taste though it was clearly a beer, and a fascinating one at that.  It had a beer texture but reminded me ever so slightly of a really good Sake on the tail end.  I immediately wanted sushi.  A young couple from Sweden mentioned that it put them in mind of a rice dish they would have for breakfast on Christmas mornings.  Sounded like an oatmeal sort of dish, warm and homey.  What a great range of images to inspire.  Quality beer.  The Rumble IPA reminded me of Kona’s Waialua Wheat with its fragrance.  It was tasty with hints of vanilla and a spiciness I couldn’t quite place.  Something about it reminded me of getting a fountain Vanilla Coke at the old soda Shoppe on Main Street in Hightstown, NJ, before they turned it into that Ice Cream place.  Well balanced and complex in flavor.  The Old Ruffian Barley Wine smelled like a liquor and had a big flavor.  Kinda hits all over the palate and while I don’t think I would drink it all the time, I enjoyed it.  A young lady named Kelly mentioned that the “Collete” beer is her favorite.  I can’t speak to it personally as it’s out of season at the moment, but I completely trust her judgment.  Check them all out for yourself at http://greatdivide.com and should you visit, ask for Will and tell him that Aloha Kugs sent you. 


And so, with that, I made my way back to the train.  I’ll write more about the city at the end of the week but I like it so far. It brings to mind aspects of Indianapolis, Baltimore, and even my beloved Philadelphia.  I’ve met some really nice people.  I am wondering who waters all the planters all over the city though.  I mean they are everywhere!


This is late in posting, but I got tired.  I am into day three now and hope to visit the Dry Dock Brewing Company in Aurora (http://www.drydockbrewing.com) and then have dinner with “The Bartsch.”  Stay tuned and Aloha for now. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Kugs says Aloha to: Colorado. Day the First



We arrived this afternoon after a pretty pleasant flight on Southwest.  It’s amazing how much easier flying is after having lost 80 pounds.  I actually dozed off a bit for a change.



It was cloudy and drizzly when we arrived so the Rockies were obscured in great part, but we still got a few nice views.  It reminded me of living in the shadow of the admittedly much smaller geological formations on Oahu.  I haven’t made it to Denver yet as we are staying in Aurora and arrived around dinner time. 



Yes, we are in Aurora, scene of the recent movie theater shootings.  While we haven’t talked with anyone locally about it yet, to say there is a pall over the community would not be a stretch.  Flags are at half-staff all over town.  The shuttle from the airport took a rather roundabout way to get to the hotel, in an effort to avoid some evening traffic, and as such, we found ourselves driving through the various hospital campuses in Aurora, all of which I’m certain were very busy ten days ago.  The van grew very quiet as we drove through that part of town.



Wife and I had dinner at the Bentfork Grill down the street from where we are staying.  Learn about them here if you like, as they were excellent: http://www.bentforkgrill.com/  I had a unique fish-based Jambalaya and the wife had a very solid Trout Almandine.  Since we were there, I thought I might as well get started on my review of the local beers, and we started off with two from the New Belgium Brewery, the “Fat Tire Amber Ale” and the “Sunshine Wheat,” both on draft.  The Amber was a nice color and a very pleasant fragrance.  A unique smell and a really great taste.  Smooth flavor with no noticeable aftertaste.  Great body and very fresh taste.  Far more drinkable than a Sam Adams or a Newcastle, which is what it reminded me of visually.  Final few sips were a bit more bitter than the first, but overall a really nice start.  The Sunshine Wheat was a very light blonde color-almost looked too wispy to have any real body but I was nicely surprised by this one.  Wife loved it.  A very citrusy fragrance with a hint of lemon.  It was served with a wedge of orange, which the wife ate instead of squeezing into the beer, so perhaps we’ll have to revisit this one.  Check out New Belgium at: www.newbelgium.com/



For round two, we decided to try the local Aurora brewers, Dry Dock Brewing Company.  The Bentfork had their IPA and their “Apricot Blonde” on tap, and while I’m still not the world’s biggest IPA fan, this one was well done and drinkable.  Smooth, but a little bitter for my taste.  The winner here though was the Apricot Blonde-holy flashback to childhood this was a good beer.  It was cloudy and presented a real richness visually.  First taste took me back in time to when I was a kid at Shop Rite with my Mom doing the weekly groceries and if I were good I got to pick a fruit roll from the special fruit roll stand.  This was before you could buy Fruit Roll Ups and Fruit by the foot and stuff.  It was a real special thing and when I was good, which was regrettably not always, I used to get the Apricot Fruit Roll and I loved the daylights out of it.  This beer brought me right back to that.  The wife loved it and it was a really unique use of fruit in a beer that, for me anyway, didn’t overwhelm the beer itself.  It was such a neat balance of flavors.  She thought it was a perfect complement to her Trout.  I thought it would have been well paired with either Pork or Duck.  Really flavorful beer and seriously well crafted.  Definitely an early favorite for beer of the week.  Learn more about them, as I hope to at www.drydockbrewing.com



At this point we decided to head back to the room and catch some Olympics and MasterChef (which wasn’t on…unacceptable) and do a slight bit more research before hitting the ground running tomorrow.



I brought home the Boulder Beer Company’s “Hazed and Infused” in Bottle form and Oskar Blues “Old Chub” Scottish Ale.  A friend of mine recommended the “Hazed” and while I found it diverse and interesting, it was slightly too hoppy for me.  It was clearly a beer to drink from the bottle as the bit I poured to check color and fragrance were not as flavorful as the bottled remainder.  It’s a unique beer and I wasn’t sure what to make of it in the end.  I plan to try it again.



I had high hopes for the Oskar Blues beer as I had heard a lot about them, in particular during my visit to the Sun King Brewery in Indianapolis.  This beer came in canned form and again I found the sample I poured out to check color and fragrance to be inferior to just drinking it from the can.  This may be the best Scottish Ale I’ve ever had, and I’ve always felt guilty as and Scots-Irish guy that I could never get behind Scottish Ale.  Just never found one that I really liked until tonight-this is a fresh and crisp Ale, really unique fragrance but no unpleasant aftertaste and not at all unbalanced, as I’ve found other Scottish Ales, including Samuel Adams Wintertime Scottish Ale.  This is drinkable, refreshing and delicious.  Another contender for beer of the week, and we are only on day one. 



So, we are early on in our trip here.  I am hoping to visit some of the breweries and brew-pubs tomorrow.  My new friend Jonathan Shikes @ColoBeerMan on Twitter, has recommended trying Downtown’s –

-Great Divide Brewing Company: http://greatdivide.com/

-The Denver Beer Company: http://denverbeerco.com/

-The River North Brewery: http://rivernorthbrewery.com/

-The Wynkoop Brewing Company: http://www.wynkoop.com/

And the Falling Rock Tap House: http://fallingrocktaphouse.com/



So, those places are on tap for tomorrow, assuming I can figure out the public transportation into the city.  If you know those spots and have an insight, please share it.  I like to go in informed. 



Until then, we are enjoying our time.  Looking forward to seeing more of the craft beer scene, and the Rockies, and of course, Roller Derby on Thursday.  So, stay tuned.  Follow up on Facebook for more pictures, and if you want to know something, just ask—until tomorrow, Aloha from CO!