Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

27 September, 2012

A Night of Bottoms Up at the Museum

Last night there was a private event at the Wisconsin Historical Museum to promote the release of Bottoms Up: A Toast to Wisconsin’s Historic Bars & Breweries and its accompanying exhibit so I decided to sneak in.



Co-authors Jim Draeger and Mark Speltz were on hand as was photographer Mark Fay. Also there was a gentleman whose name I cannot recall but he was a Wisconsin Public Television producer(?). WPT has produced an accompanying documentary which airs on 12 November. It was a rather informal night with the co-authors speaking for short time and an excerpt from the doc being shown.



The first floor of the museum featured half of the exhibit - the part about breweries. Up on the fourth floor was the other half on focusing on bars but I reserved that for another time. There was a smattering of breweriana with some photos blown up wall-sized, bottles, and so on. A crew from Sand Creek Brewing were there as well pouring beer.



Among the items on display was a real church key. All of my attempts to photograph the ones at the museum in Potosi failed miserably so it was nice to get a decent snap of one.



Draeger gave a brief (for him) speech before introducing an excerpt from the documentary. At fifteen minutes or so, it was more than enough to whet the appetites of the beer aficionados which included the esteemed Jerry Apps, chronicler of rural Wisconsin’s days gone by, owners of a few of the taverns featured in the book, the head of the Wisconsin Tavern League, plus my buddy Ronaldo who, like me, enjoys craft beer.

The excerpt we saw briefly covered early Wisconsin taverns such as the one at Wade House up in Greenbush which served stagecoach travelers as well as locals. Then it was off to the hallowed taverns of old where men went to be men while their wives stayed at home tending to the family. (Here I thought of “Behind the Swinging Door” by The Goose Island Ramblers.) Draeger would elaborate that there were women in taverns - mostly prostitutes. However, German taverns often had a back room dubbed the “Ladies’ Lounge” where women and children would gather.



We also saw profiles of three bars that are featured in the book: the Safe House in Milwaukee, Puempel's Olde Tavern in New Glarus, and The Joynt in Eau Claire. (I’ve been to all three.) The Safe House had the Cold War espionage theme, Puempel’s was old-timey and had no televisions or jukebox. It was a regular hangout of New Glarus’ old timers who gathered to play cards. The Joynt was notable for all the famous musicians that improbably made Eau Claire a tour stop. Who’d have though John Lee Hooker would have played there? In addition, New Glarus brewmaster Dan Carey explained how he came up with the idea for Spotted Cow.



After the video was done Draeger took to the stage once again. Being an architectural historian, he talked about how he and Speltz were keen on finding taverns which retained their old look both inside and outside. He also explained the lovely dividers shown in the video adorned with beautiful lead glass. They were to shield the passersby on the street from the sight of all the immorality happening at the bar. We also learned that early Wisconsin taverns had no chairs or stools. Draeger also covered the decline of Wisconsin taverns a little bit. Suburbanization helped drive them out of business as did the major breweries who encouraged drinking at home.

On a side note, the exhibit directly credited the drinking culture of our fair state to German immigrants and their pursuit of Gemütlichkeit. We can also attribute our state’s love of bratwurst to them as well as the popularity of sheepshead. And a friend of mine who lives in Stevens Point told me that there’s a bar there where you can play Hammerschlagen. I think there’s one in Milwaukee as well. Anyone know of others?

While Bottoms Up celebrates Wisconsin’s drinking culture, there is a growing ambivalence about it. On the one hand, no public function seems to happen in this state without alcohol. On the other, Wisconsin is always near or at the top of surveys which rank binge drinking and drunk driving. What to do?

Luckily Bottoms Up in all its guises need not be consumed in moderation. It’s too bad the book didn’t come out a month or so earlier as I think it would have been nice to have had it and exhibit around for the Great Taste of the Midwest. The museum could have gotten hordes of beer lovers from out of town to come in their doors. Oh well. Next book, I guess.


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Brewing History at the Historical Society

As part of the ongoing promotion for the new Wisconsin Historical Society Press book Bottoms Up: A Toast to Wisconsin's Historic Bars & Breweries, there is an exhibit at the Wisconsin Historical Museum on the Square as well as various events around the state.

However, it should be noted that there are even more exhibits at the Historical Society's archives at the other end of State Street on Library Mall. If you wander in you'll find a few glass cases full of photographs, labels, and other breweriana.




Here's the Fauerbach Brewery which was on the 600 block of Williamson.



And this is the Hausmann brewery which stood at the corner of State Street and Gorham. I believe that there's a plaque outside of Community Pharmacy noting it.



"Pioneer" rhymes with beer and so there were several brews with that moniker.




With a well-deserved reputation for being a lager state, it's always interesting to see Wisconsin ales from the days of yore. As I noted after my visit to the brewing museum in Potosi, they were pretty rare in contrast to lagers. I wonder what kind of beer this was. And what's with the "NIPS"? Nipples? Japanese people?

As I also found out in Potosi, Fox Head Brewing took advantage of the sparkling reputation of Waukesha water. You can see that on this coaster. (Ah, the irony.)



Lastly, there's this photo.



The caption reads: "Jennie Justo is hugged by her mother, Lena Justo, as she leaves for a year in the Milwaukee jail for being the alleged owner of a student speakeasy at 921 Spring Street, Madison in the Greenbush neighborhood." See the drug war ruined lives then just like it does now.
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26 September, 2012

A Book Signing, Beer, a Brewery, and a Daguerreotype

Tonight there is an event at Brocach starting at 7 wherein authors Jim Draeger and Mark Speltz will be signing their new book Bottoms Up: A Toast to Wisconsin's Historic Bars & Breweries. I am going to try to sneak into the invite-only event beforehand at 5. Wish me luck.

3 Sheeps Brewing of Sheboygan looks to be ramping up for bottling as they've got a couple labels now. I've never had their beer but it is on tap around Madison.




The Milwaukee Brewing Company has a new label as well. It's for Sasquash, a porter brewed with sweet potatoes and pumpkin. I believe this stuff has been on tap previously but that this is the first time it's been bottled.



A new brewery is slated to open soon up in Bangor - Kinky Kabin Brewing Company. The LaCrosse Tribune has the details:

The owner of the new Kinky Kabin Brewing Co. in Bangor hopes the microbrewery’s first batch of beer will be for sale in October in area bars and restaurants.

The first Apricot Naughty Wheat beer should be ready to drink about Oct. 1, owner Jeff Steidl said. “I’ve talked to a lot of (area) bars and restaurants about it,” he said in an interview at his microbrewery, in a cinder block former garage at 105 16th Ave. N. in Bangor. “They want to taste samples before they commit” to carrying the product.

Steidl plans to have samples ready for the bar and business owners by about Oct. 1, and hopes area beer drinkers will be able to get it on tap in early to mid-October. He also plans to buy bottling equipment and hopes bottles of his beer will be for sale in January.

Lastly, this photo is supposedly the earliest known photo of men drinking beer. So is there an older photo of women drinking beer?


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24 September, 2012

Iron Sky



Many thanks must go to Dane101 for starting a Tugg campaign to bring Iron Sky to Madison a couple weeks back. The movie features Nazis on the moon and I was looking forward to seeing it as I'd heard about it several months ago and, well, how can you not like Nazis on the moon?

The year is 2018 and a Sarah Palin-like frau is President of the United States. As a gimmick in her bid to be re-elected for a second term, she revives the Apollo program and returns Mankind to the moon. In this case, it's a two-man capsule not at all different the ones we used back in the 1960s. Our first astronaut is using some metal detector kind of gizmo when he comes to a ridge overlooking a crater. He stares down in amazement as nestled inside it is a factory of some sort. Soon German soldiers converge on the landing site and kill him. Our second astronaut stumbles out of the lunar lander. This is James Washington. He's not really an astronaut at all but rather he is an actor. However, being black, his appearance on the moon makes for good copy. Washington is captured by the Germans.

You see, the Nazis fled Earth as Berlin fell. They built a moonbase (shaped like a swastika, naturally) and have been mining helium-3 and biding their time in anticipation of invading the Earth. The big problem is that their doomsday weapon, the Götterdämmerung, is not ready yet. It's a massive flying saucer with firepower aplenty – something akin to an interstellar Bismarck. However, the demented Doktor Richter is able to utilize Washington's smartphone to power the behemoth. Luckily for Earth, the phone runs out of power and so the Nazis send Klaus Adler down to the planet to seek out another device.

Hilarity ensues.

The trailer makes Iron Sky out to be like a Roland Emmerich production – a fairly serious invasion story punctuated with humorous dialogue - and so I was a bit surprised that it leaned towards Airplane. It wasn't all-out slapstick but it was much more of a comedy than the trailer made it out to be. There were a lot of pokes at the German proclivity for big, box-like engineering feats and their reactions to the 21st century technology they encounter. For instance, Washington tells Richter that his smartphone is a computer and the doctor laughs before pointing to a vacuum tube monstrosity which takes up a goodly sized chunk of his lab saying, "Nein, this is a computer." The movie also mines Nazi reactions to Washington's skin color for laughs as well as the Palin character.

Both Götz Otto as Adler and Udo Kier as der Führer chew the scenery with glee. The lovely Julia Dietze plays Renate, a schoolteacher who naively believes all the Nazi propaganda while Peta Sergeant is the President's campaign manager. To get an idea of how far the film tilts towards the Zucker brothers consider that Renate gets sucked out of an airlock and hangs on for dear life with her blouse open and her skirt by her ankles. And Sergeant does what may be the first Downfall parody on the big screen.

The comedy here worked a great deal of the time but much of it was completely predictable, didn't have good timing, or otherwise fell flat. So did too much of the dialogue as well. There are a couple WTF moments when the movie's tone does a 180 and becomes deadly serious, especially the ending. These instances don't ruin the movie by any means but they are jarring when you've been watching a Sarah Palin character acting like an idiot while spaceships shaped like zeppelins and Panzer class flying saucers do battle in our atmosphere.

Overall Iron Sky was amusing and gets extra credit for good CGI on a shoestring budget but its hit or miss jokes keep it from being in the same class as Airplane or Top Secret.


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20 September, 2012

Things Getting a Little More Certain in Quantum World

Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle is in trouble.

Werner Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, formulated by the theoretical physicist in 1927, is one of the cornerstones of quantum mechanics. In its most familiar form, it says that it is impossible to measure anything without disturbing it. For instance, any attempt to measure a particle's position must randomly change its speed.

The principle has bedeviled quantum physicists for nearly a century, until recently, when researchers at the University of Toronto demonstrated the ability to directly measure the disturbance and confirm that Heisenberg was too pessimistic.

...Rozema and his colleagues employed a technique known as weak measurement wherein the action of a measuring device is weak enough to have an imperceptible impact on what is being measured. Before each photon was sent to the measurement apparatus, the researchers measured it weakly and then measured it again afterwards, comparing the results. They found that the disturbance induced by the measurement is less than Heisenberg's precision-disturbance relation would require.

It looks like Deepak Chopra and the producers of What the #$*! Do We (K)now!? have one less pillar upon which to build their New Age bullshit.
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Porcine Altruism

Don't let those nasty libertarians and Objectivists fool you - it's not all dog eat dog out there. Here a pig rescues a goat whose foot was stuck underwater.


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Obama Administration Comes Clean on U.S. Consulate Attack

Apparently the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Libya had nothing to do with a movie clip on YouTube.

The Obama administration acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that last week’s assault on the U.S. consulate compound in Benghazi that left the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans dead was a “terrorist attack” apparently launched by local Islamic militants and foreigners linked to al Qaida’s leadership or regional allies.

“I would say they were killed in the course of a terrorist attack,” said Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

It was the first time that a senior administration official had said the attack was not the result of a demonstration over an anti-Islam video that has been cited as the spark for protests in dozens of countries over the past week. “The picture that is emerging is one where a number of different individuals were involved,” Olsen said.

I am shocked! - SHOCKED! - that the Obama administration would lie to us.
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"I am so goth, I was born black."



The blog Coilhouse ("A love letter to alternative culture, written in an era where alt culture no longer exists.) recently posted "I am so goth, I was born black.", a post which asks "Is the goth scene unfriendly to people with dark skin? What do non-white goths think about the fetishization of paleness in the gothic subculture?"

The title of the post refers to the motto of the site DarkSKIN which is a Tumblr site featuring a variety of photographs of black men and women. Some are very old featuring Victorian/Edwardian couture/haberdashery while others are very recent snaps of goths and steampunk fashionistas. There's also the odd animated GIF from a movie as well as Grace Jones in action. More samples below but do check out the site.



Does Madison have much of a goth scene? I work on campus but rarely see any goths. A few years ago when I thought of goth I thought of pasty white kids clad entirely in black with black eyeliner, black lipstick, and black nail polish. But today I tend to think of the culture as having commingled with steampunk as well as placing a greater emphasis on the BDSM aspect. I am thinking of Dane101's Fire Ball here. But surely there are just old school goths dressed in black and listening to Joy Division or its contemporary equivalent.

Of course I am way out of the loop being a progressive rock nerd who prefers The Malt House over The Inferno ergo my observations are terribly limited.

So does Madison have a goth scene? If so, where is it and what is it like? And how many people of color are involved? What are the bands of choice?




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Beasts of the Southern Wild



Looking back on Beasts of the Southern Wild, the best way I can describe it is that it's a fairy tale of the old school variety, not the Disney kind. The movie concerns Hushpuppy, a six year-old girl who lives on an island called The Bathtub which lies somewhere off the gulf coast of Louisiana. Hushpuppy's mother is dead and so she lives with her father, Wink. The Bathtub is cut off from the mainland forcing its residents to live in fairly primitive conditions with people living in dilapidated houses and scrounging what they can. The sea provides food. But the people of the Bathtub are a happy bunch. They understand their separation from the rest of civilization but celebrate their home as an arcadia as we see in a montage featuring a parade and everyone running around with fireworks. "The Bathtub has more holidays than the whole rest of the world," says Hushpuppy in a voiceover.

Like all good fairy tales our young protagonist leads a less than happy existence. While she says that she likes The Bathtub, Wink is not an ideal father. We see him cooking dinner for Hushpuppy but they live in separate shacks and Wink doesn't seem to want to have a whole lot to do with his daughter. Ergo Hushpuppy spends her days roaming the island, listening to the heartbeats of animals as well as attending a makeshift school. Their relationship is perhaps summarized in a scene where Hushpuppy starts a fire in her shack and hides underneath a box in the living room. Although Wink comes to rescue her, his shouts betray much more anger than concern for his little girl.

One day at the school the teacher reveals a tattoo on her leg of some ancient people hunting aurochs, giant boar-like animals. When word gets around that a big storm is coming, Hushpuppy envisions a melting polar ice cap with frozen aurochs waiting to be thawed out. Wink prepares a raft made from the bed of a pickup truck to weather the storm which will likely food The Bathtub. After the storm has passed, the pair traverses The Bathtub looking for fellow survivors. As Wink teaches his daughter self-sufficiency, we learn that he has a mysterious illness.

I feel very ambivalent about Wink. As his illness progresses, he becomes easier to pity yet he treats his own daughter so horribly. Rather than trying to go out on a high note and be a compassionate father, Wink tries to hustle her off to adulthood several years too early. He cares for Hushpuppy yet the only thing he cares to do in preparation for his demise is to make her more masculine and/or toughen her up. Perhaps he thinks that treating her like crap will make her more resilient to the trials and tribulations of life. In one scene they are at a tavern eating crabs. When someone attempts to show Hushpuppy how to get the meat out of the shell, Wink explodes and directs his rage at Hushpuppy. She should learn to crack the crab open with her bare hands instead of using a more "civilized" technique. Everyone cheers her on and, upon ripping a crab in half, she climbs onto the table and flexes her biceps. It seems like the only way Wink can communicate with Hushpuppy is by yelling at her whether it be criticism or praise. In another scene Wink tells Hushpuppy about her mother but he does so as if he is talking to a friend at the bar. He describes what a nice ass she had, for example. Wink just can't see his daughter for what she is.

Upon reflection, Hushpuppy is a less interesting character than at first sight. She certainly provokes empathy and her relationship to nature and as a part of it are interesting but it felt wasted to me. After the flood The remaining residents of The Bathtub are rescued – even if they don't want to be – by disaster relief authorities and are brought to the mainland. They plot to escape although Wink dies before he can do so. This leaves Hushpuppy on her own. After her initial sadness, she doesn't seem particularly distraught although she does attach herself to a woman who is a cook at a strip club/bar and gets a few tender moments of pseudo-maternal bliss. At the end, though, Hushpuppy is back in The Bathtub marching through the receding flood waters to await the next storm.

I feel that Jeliza-Rose from Tideland was a more interesting character as far as abandoned girls go. Too much of Beasts of the Southern Wild is spent reinforcing the notion that Wink is an asshole and thusly too little is spent developing Hushpuppy and showing the changes wrought in her by her circumstances. The return of the aurochs from their frozen slumbers was wonderful both visually and metaphorically but it was too late by then. The movie had wasted too much time on Wink. It would have been more interesting had more time been devoted to Hushpuppy's internal world. We get glimpses of it but they're always disturbed by Wink being pissed off.

Nature is a motif here and I liked what the story did with it, although I do wish it had done more. The denizens of The Bathtub more or less live in harmony with it. Perhaps it is more correct to say they have a detente with it. The refineries and levees across the sea represent evil. Hushpuppy has an interesting relationship to nature. In addition to living in The Bathtub, we see her listening to the heartbeat of animals on multiple occasions. Wink says at one point, "My only purpose in life is to teach her how to make it." He seems to view life in something akin to Hobbesian terms and the crab eating scene reflects that. Hushpuppy takes on that view because of her father's behavior. But she also is a child and so mixes reality and fantasy in her head. Thusly nature begins to reflect her feelings. In one scene, storm clouds brew after she fights with and hits her father. Nature as conflict. However, after her journey, she comes to see a larger picture. "I see that I am a little piece of a big, big universe, and that makes it right," her narration intones.

Both Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry deserve praise for their performances here as neither is a professional actor. The filmmakers also get high marks for the sets which they apparently constructed around areas of Louisiana that hadn't recovered from Hurricane Katrina. Aside from my criticism of the story, I have to say that I wish cinematographer Ben Richardson had used a tripod. Most of the movie was done hand-held so most shots are jittery. The effect wasn't as headache-inducing as Blair Witch Project but I didn't see the point. But I suppose it works with the story's desire to keep us from learning too much about Hushpuppy. You don't need a tripod to hear the anger in Wink's voice but all that camera movement detracted from getting a good look at the characters' faces and trying to discern something. Give me a static shot to ponder, please.


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17 September, 2012

The Long Take: Béla Tarr and Miklós Jancsó

A nice video essay on the use of long takes by Béla Tarr and Miklós Jancsó. Makes me want to watch Red Psalm and Russian Ark again.

Dear Hollywood: Please use takes that last longer than 1 second.


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New Labels & Brewery and a Stop at O'so

Some new beer labels:

O'so now has more room so they can apparently lager beer now.





I take it that there's some kind of hoolie to promote the Midwest Hope & Barley Co-op.









The Wisconsin State Journal is reporting that the former president of Capital, Carl Nolen, is looking to open a new craft brewery in Verona.

Verona officials are welcoming a proposal to build what could become one of the state's largest craft breweries in the city's technology park, likely aided by an undetermined amount of taxpayer assistance.

The project is being pitched by Carl Nolen, who was president of Capital Brewery in Middleton from 2004 to July 2011 — a period of significant growth. But the company asked Nolen to leave, and last October he led a bid to buy the brewery that was rejected by the board.

His new proposal, known as Wisconsin Brewing Co., involves first building a 23,500-square-foot brewery that would be operating by June at 1051 American Way, just off Highway 18-151 and Highway PB in the Verona Technology Park.

I wonder why Nolen chose Verona. Is a destination brewery in the middle of a technology park – an idea that doesn't thrill me – really that great of a location? Or, after all the TIF assistance Epic received, is Verona's wallet still open? Mayor Soglin ought to make a pitch for Madison. I think a brewery on East Washington is a splendid idea. Whatever the case, best of luck to Nolen.

I was in Stevens Point over the weekend and hit the O'so taproom on Saturday night. We got there near close (which is 9PM) and so only had time for a couple. The Memory Lane tasted off. Kind of like dust. Very odd. The Bamrique Smoked Lager, on the other hand, was fantastic. Not as smoky as a Bamberg rauch but still great. There were some lambics aging in barrels in the back. (I believe they were old wine barrels.) I believe the sign said that, once this aging process was done, the decision would be made as to whether they'd have fruit added or to blend them with younger lambics to make a gueuze.

The taproom had 40 taps in all which means there were many guest taps. If we could have stayed longer I would have tried the Kölsch from St. Francis. Vintage was also on tap – their excellent alt. I was told that Vintage drives up once a week or so to do a keg swap with O'so. I was also told that a certain beer brewed in Madison is modeled after/inspired by Summer Lightning by the Hopback Brewery in the UK. Methinks a day trip (ahem) across The Pond is in order for some research on this matter.
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13 September, 2012

Beer and the Apocalypse

The Cold War brought out the oddest in people as demonstrated by the U.S. government nuking beer in a weapons test. Alex Wallerstein, an historian of science at the American Institute of Physics describes the incident in a post called "Beer and the Apocalypse".

The Atomic Energy Commission wanted to know what people would drink on The Day After so they dropped a nuke near some suds to see if they would survive.


When the only tool you have is a hammer, all your problems look like nails. The Atomic Energy Commission did what they did best and dropped a nuke on bottles of beer and soda cans.

They took a number of different types of bottles and cans, filled with different liquids, and put them in various positions relative to Ground Zero for two nuclear tests (“Shot I” and “Shot II” in the report, probably “Apple I” and “Apple II” of Teapot). The closest ones were less than a quarter mile away from the first test — a mere 1056 feet. The furthest ones out were about 2 miles away.

The results were somewhat interesting. Even the bottles pretty near the test had a fairly high survival rate — if they didn’t fall off the shelves, or have something else smash into them (a “missile” problem), or get totally crushed by whatever they were being housed in, they had a good chance of not breaking. Not super surprising, in a way: bottles are small, and there’s a lot of stuff in between them and the shockwave to dissipate it.



As for radiation, only the bottles closest to Ground Zero had much radioactivity, and even that was “well within the permissible limits for emergency use,” which is to say, it won’t hurt you in the short term. The liquid itself was somewhat shielded by the bottles of the containers which picked up some of the radioactivity.

But there were, of course, still pressing questions to be resolved… how did it taste?

Examination made immediately upon recovery showed no observable gross changes in the appearance of the beverages. Immediate taste tests indicated that the beverages, both beer and soft drinks, were still of commercial quality, although there was evidence of a slight flavor change in some of the products exposed at 1270 ft from GZ [Ground Zero]. Those farther away showed no change.

Immediate taste tests… So immediately after they nuked some beer and soda, someone — it doesn’t say who — took a swig of them. In the name of Science.


Good thing craft brewers are canning more of their beer. Can you imagine what the flash from a nuclear blast would do to bottled beer?
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08 September, 2012

The 4th Annual Potosi Brewfest



The grounds on which the Potosi Beer Festival were held are really pretty. There’s a creek running through it, a grassy area with a gazebo, and what appears to be a former silo retrofitted to look like an old steel Potosi beer bottle. Not a bad spot to drink great brews at all.

Perusing the program, I noticed some beers that I definitely wanted to try. I should note that there wasn’t much in way of rare beers. Brewers apparently reserve that stuff for the Great Taste. But I would be presented with the opportunity to sample beers that I don’t normally buy at the store or eschew at the Great Taste in favor of those from the far flung corners of the Midwest. I was looking forward to Eau Claire’s Northwoods Brewpub and to see what Woodman would have on tap. O’so’s O-Toberfest was in the program as was Pearl Street’s Rubber Mills Pils. Plus a handful of area homebrew clubs would be pouring as well.

Unfortunately, neither Northwoods nor Woodman showed up. Their empty tables made me sad. The guys from O’so imporbably forgot the O-Toberfest and the Rubber Mills Pils sample was a disaster, as you‘ll read later. On the other hand, Moosejaw from the Dells was a last-minute addition.

My first beer was from this lady:



That’s Jamie Baertsch from Moosejaw and this is her apricot ale:



This stuff was great. Nice fruity aroma and a good apricot flavor that was not too sweet. Just the right amount of hop bitterness. Fantastic summer brew. I asked her if they were going to bottle another beer besides the Rustic Red and she said yes. I believe it's going to be the Honey Ale.

A stall or two down was Potosi and I sampled a couple of their beers that they don’t bottle. The black ale was good. Bitter yet with toasted malt goodness. The Belgian abbey wasn’t as successful. Lots of banana but not much else. My notes read “weird blandness”. We then sampled Sand Creek’s Pomegranate Hard Lemonade. Another good summer drink. The lemon was forward with the pomegranate complementing it from the rear.

Galena Brewing Company’s rye ale was my first rye beer of the day and was good. Their blueberry abbey ale was a tasty mix of fruity flavors without being cloying. To complete the trifecta, I also sampled their nut brown which I really liked. As you can see from the picture below, it looks more like a stout or porter and it tasted that way too with lots of roasted coffee on the tongue. I highly suspect it was a mispour but a very pleasant one. Here’s the “nut brown” with the blueberry abbey.



More fruit came in the form of wine as at least a couple wineries were representin’. We tried Weggy Winery’s Blue and Black Currant and both were fantastic. The former was a semi-sweet with a nice dry finish and the latter had a great spiciness to it. Crispin was there lest the event be without cider. Their Ginger and Black Currant cider was, according to my notes, “fantastic”. Just sweet enough with good ginger flavor and a hint of currant. Not to be outdone, by a bunch of pure zymurgists, Yahara Bay Distillery was also present. The coffee liqueur was excellent. Not thick like Kaluha. All that was needed was a meadery.

One nice thing about the festival is that there is free food. Various dairies and meat processors shared tent space with the breweries so you could walk up and grab some beef sticks or cheese to go with your beer.





I can’t recall what beer that is in the bottom photo but it went really well with that cheese sample. Some kind of creamy white cheese sprinkled with crumbled bleu. I went back for seconds, thirds, &c.

I am not a big pumpkin beer fan as most emphasize spices like clove and nutmeg that go into pumpkin pie instead of the gourd itself. (But, if you think about it, they're just gruits.) But I’m always open. Having had good luck with my first Moosejaw brew, I returned to try the pumpkin ale. Taking a whiff, I was prepared to be disappointed because it was the spices that shone through. Taking a taste, however, was a whole ‘nother story. Although the spices were present, the flavor was more about the pumpkin. Now this stuff I could definitely drink come the fall.

I cleansed my palate with a Capital Oktoberfest (my tasting notes read “What need be said?“) before trying a Lakefront Pumpkin Lager to continue the autumnal motif. Whilst I appreciate going with a lager instead of an ale here and enjoyed the crispness, the emphasis was firmly on the spices. I also sampled Horny Goat’s pumpkin ale and found it the least impressive of the three. A slight clove aroma was replicated on the palate with a bitter finish.

Having had enough of pumpkin beers, I mosey to the Pearl Street booth and ordered a Rubber Mills Pils. I was really looking forward to it so you can imagine my disappointment to discover that it was tepid. Why were they serving a pilsner warm? I think there’s a good beer in there if served at the proper temperature.

Some final tasting notes: Much to their credit, Tallgrass humped it over all the way from Kansas. I tried their Buffalo Sweat, an oatmeal stout. While it was served a bit warm, I really liked it. Most of the homebrews I tried weren’t very good but the Platteville Spigot Spinners had a rye bock that I enjoyed. It tasted watery to me but that could have been my tongue.

Leinenkugel’s Lemon Berry Shandy was disgusting. It tasted like a Jolly Rancher and have no doubt that it will be a big seller. (Hey, if it does well, it can subsidize the Big Eddy series.) Leine’s does deserve credit, though, because it was not syrupy sweet like the normal shandy.

I discovered that The Grumpy Troll’s Grätzer pairs well with bratwurst. Being so close to Iowa I figured there’d be more breweries from across the river but the only one I recall was Brew Haus in Dubuque who had a middling alt. Speaking of Iowa, I chatted with a group of guys in their late-20s from Iowa. I felt like an elder statesman of craft beer. “Yeah, I’ve been drinking New Glarus since it came out and you were in kindergarten.” Very nice fellows. I got the impression that Iowa needs more craft beer so hopefully someone will take up the cause.

Lastly, I’ll cop to trying a Rhinelander Chocolate Bunny Stout. Whoever it is that owns the label has taken it beyond the swilly pale lager with an IPA, a double IPA, a "traditional" ale, and this stout. I’ve seen them in bombers at the store and laughed but I’ll be damned if Chocolate Bunny wasn’t a good little beer.

Despite a couple breweries and an Oktoberfest having gone MIA and a warm pils, the brewfest was a success. The free cheese and sausage was a plus (there was food for sale as well) as was the presence of wineries. A bluegrass band played in the gazebo for revelers relaxing on the lawn. Since the brewery was across the street, it was easy to walk across the street and grab a non-burger/beef stick meal or just simply take a break from the action. We did so and I got some Buffalo wings from the brewery’s outdoor food stand. They were fit for Norwegians to eat. And, very importantly, there were no lines for the porta-potties.

Bob Paolino from Great Lakes Brewing News was on our bus and he had gathered some beer for the trip home. He passed around 2-liter soda bottles full of brew donated to the cause. It was a happy crew on the ride home.


|| Palmer, 11:31 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas



I recall reading a review of The End of Mr. Y back in early 2007 and thinking that it sounded like an interesting way to branch out from my usual and perhaps stale stable of fiction books. It took me five years but I have finally read it.

Ariel Manto is a grad student at an anonymous English university and is in a bit of a funk. She lives in a cheap apartment infested by mice, is the mistress of a professor in a mid-life crisis, her thesis advisor, Saul Burlem, has been missing for a year, and, as the book opens, one of the university buildings collapses into a heap of rubble. But, being English, she keeps her chin up and carries on. Her thesis paper is to be about late 19th century to early 20th century thought experiments as she is fascinated by Einstein’s famous one about a train traveling at the speed of light.

Along with her advisor, Ariel has a predilection for the work of a little-known Victorian author named Thomas Lumas who is known not only for stories such as one in which two men are unable to leave a blue room as all doors lead back to it, but also for his novel The End of Mr. Y that has a reputation for being hyper-rare and cursed. Lumas died the day after it hit bookstore shelves and various people involved with its publication also mysterious perished. The tome is so rare that there is apparently only one know copy that is locked in a bank vault somewhere in Germany. Both Burlem and Manto would just love to get their hands on a copy of the book. And they do.

Ariel finds a copy of it in a used bookstore and eagerly devours it. The preface to it reads like an entry in Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis and ends with the admonishment that “it is only as fiction that I wish this work to be considered.” The story concerns Mr. Y who is sent on an otherworldly journey by a magician. After the circus with which he is associated leaves town, Mr. Y seeks him out to discover the formula of the potion which allowed him to go on the journey. Unfortunately the page which describes their encounter has been torn out of Ariel’s copy of the book. Upon finding it, she realizes that Burlem was the one who did so.

SPOILERS AHEAD

It turns out that Mr. Y imbibed a homeopathic concoction and Ariel sets out to discover if his eldritch trip was really fiction. It turns out it wasn’t. Instead the liquid endows the drinker with telepathy and allows their mind to travel into those of other beings. At first she ends up sharing grey matter with a mouse followed by a cat. Having sympathy for the mouse, she influences the cat’s thoughts and convinces it to not kill the mouse. This earns her the respect of Apollo Smintheus who is actually the god Apollo appearing to Ariel as a rather large mouse-human hybrid.

This encounter and Apollo’s attempts to explain the nature of the world in which Ariel’s mind/soul finds itself, which Lumas called the Troposphere, put the real book’s philosophical musings into overdrive. (The novel has three parts and Thomas includes epigraphs from the likes of Heidegger, Aristotle, and Poe as introductions.) Ariel is a fan of Jacques Derrida so his post-structuralism figures into things. I am not familiar with his work so I was stuck with Thomas’ comments on the matter via Ariel but I can say that most of it had to do with language creating reality. Can something exist if we have no way of expressing it?, for example.

The Troposphere is a collective mind. Not only can a person’s mind travel there and enter other those of other beings, but it can also travel enter the minds of others far away in both time and space. Einstein gets pulled in here with his famous dictum that matter is energy and in the form of relativity as time and distance play out differently than back in the corporeal world. And of course quantum physics gets pulled into the morass of ideas as well.

I found myself very engaged through the first part of the story when everything was mysterious. Even as answers started to be revealed I was still engaged. But as the book wore on, I found myself tired of all the post-modern mumbo jumbo. Thomas has constructed an incredibly fun vehicle for some philosophical musings but some of the conversations the characters have about language creating reality/thought manipulating matter just felt contrived; more like the ramblings of stoned college freshman than a good post-modernism for dummies lecture. In addition, having homeopathy work and dragging in quantum physics just reeked of Deepak Chopra stupidity to me. One character is even writing a book called Post-Structuralist Physics and she admits to not knowing much about physics. And that about sums up the attempt here to link science and philosophy.

While I love stories about missing books and enjoyed the meta aspect here with a novel that is a thought experiment having a protagonist that is interested in thought experiments, the attempt to justify metaphysical ideas with physics really turned me off. Admittedly, I finished the book wanting to know more about Derrida and post-modernism, too much of the thought experiment here came across as What the Bleep Do We Know!? New Age bullshit.
|| Palmer, 9:23 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Remembrance of Beers Past

The Great Taste not being enough, last month The Dulcinea and I headed west for the 4th Annual Potosi Brewfest. I’d never been to Potosi previously although I was sorely tempted when I found myself in Cassville for work. It’s a small town nestled in the wooded hills within spitting distance of the Mississippi River. We caught a shuttle bus which dropped us off a little before noon and, since we didn’t have V.I.P. tickets, we couldn’t get into the fest until one. Luckily the Potosi brewery was right across the street so we mosey over there.



The brewery was originally founded in 1852 and closed in 1972 at a time when lots of local and regional breweries went under. It’s resurrection began in the mid-90s and was a long process of restoration. Potosi is one of the great success stories of the Wisconsin craft beer scene. Beer is once again being brewed there and it’s some very fine stuff. Plus it is home to the National Brewery Museum.

Upon entering, we noticed that off to one side was the taproom and a restaurant. The oposite way led to a room full of Potosi breweriana from years past. And straight ahead was the gift shop. We flashed our tickets to the festival which gave us free admission to the museum that occupied the upper floors along with the brew kettles. For beer history geeks, the place is like a shrine.





The museum belongs to the American Breweriana Association and the collection is lent by members. This means that the displays change frequently and, having chatted with a docent, I was under the impression that, there are no permanent displays. You may or may not catch sight of a bottle of that beer that you remember your grandfather drinking back in the day. There are bottles, church keys, signs, &c. from all around the country so, even if you miss that chance at bringing back memories, there’ll still be something of interest.







Back in February I speculated that, despite Wisconsin’s brewing history being dominated by pale lagers, surely some German immigrants brewed ales or ale-lager hybrids like altbiers and Kölsches. I eventually e-mailed Ron Pattinson to find out what he could contribute to my theory one way or the other. He replied that lager brewing was the hip new thing in the area we now call Germany around the time Germans began emigrating to the States, although it was Munich dunkels that were in vogue in Northern Germany in the mid-19th century. Lager breweries were pretty sizable at this time while ale breweries were very small and local and on their way out. He thought it likely that the younger people who emigrated thought of top-fermenting brews as being old fashioned and that they emulated the big boys once they made it to Wisconsin.

D’oh!

OK. So there’s probably no gose bottles from a Wisconsin brewery founded by an immigrant from Leipzig. Still, Wisconsin breweries brewed more than lagers, pale or dark. As some intrepid archaeologists in Milwaukee have noted, the state’s German heritage and the abundance of wheat here led to many Wisconsin weiss biers.

As a result of this lucrative grain trade, Wisconsin breweries had a steady and high quality supply of fermentable wheat and barley. Wheat became a staple ingredient in the production of a popular German beer, Weiss /Weizen and “weiss breweries” sprung up all over the state and in particular in Milwaukee.

Nestled in amongst all the lager bottles I spied this:



And this:



An ale! I can’t find anything on what style this beer was, however. I find it ironic that they advertised their beer as being made with the apparently famous Waukesha water and now the city is in a bit of a pinch water-wise and is looking to have it pumped in from Lake Michigan.

Madison was represented by Fauerbach with a few signs and some bottles.



I had to take a picture of this Walter sign as a friend of mine drank the stuff up in Eau Claire back when he was in college.



And since I know several folks from Portage, I took a snap of this.



I also noticed this can of Black Pride beer.



The beer’s motto is "A beer as proud as its people." I found an article from the December 1969 issue of Brewers Digest about it and discovered that it was very much a product of its time.

ON MONDAY, November 24, [1969] a new beer, labeled ''Black Pride," received its initial commercial distribution on the south side of Chicago, Ill. -- an area which includes a large portion of the city's approximately 1,200,000 blacks. It is more than a new beer label that has entered the market; it is a concept that is being introduced as well and, in a sense, the particular product -- beer -- is secondary to the concept.

Black Pride, Inc., was born out of the dying embers of black hope that the man (the whites) would magnanimously provide full economic opportunity for the blacks -- embers that the founders of Black Pride, Inc., are well aware can all too easily be fanned into a vicious conflagration when despair becomes desperation or when the justification for despair gives rise to individual irresponsibility.
Curiously enough, the beer was actually brewed by the West Bend Lithia Co. which was located just north of Milwaukee and, like Potosi, went out of business in 1972 but the label has recently been revived.

There was a series of photos with Groucho Marx but I cannot recall what brewery they were taken at. Pabst? He was there as part of some kind of promotional event.



The last part of our tour was checking out the lagering cave.



If memory serves, that’s an old bottling machine there in the background.

Beer nerds are advised to check out Potosi. Although I was not born and raised in Wisconsin, my family owned property up by Stone Lake and I spent a few weeks each summer up there. I recall old Rhinelander and Chief Oshkosh signs so it was neat to see some old breweriana associated with those breweries now that I’m older and a beer drinker. I also learned that, while today we have growlers of beer, back in the day a half gallon bottle magically transformed your lager into picnic beer.

You have to wonder what all these beers tasted like. From talking to my elders, Walter’s and Potosi were just swill in their waning years. However much nostalgia and tradition there is surrounding these old breweries, I get the impression that they weren’t brewing what we’d think of as craft beer. Those people you see at Woodman’s picking up cases of Miller and Corona to go along with their brats are carrying on the tradition of Wisconsinites past who grabbed their picnic beers for a summer outing.

After the tour we went to the gift shop and then to the taproom where we shared a beer before heading back across the street for the festival.
|| Palmer, 7:37 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post