Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

29 June, 2017

Smoke from South of the Border: 15 Feet by Off Color Brewing

I am returning to my hometown of Chicago and Off Color Brewing here after having had a fine pilsner of theirs. Chicago has a large Polish/Polish-American population which once included my babcia. I have fond memories of eating her Polish cooking as well as other gustatory memories such as making a stop at a pierogi restaurant before seeing Son Volt at The Vic and nearly falling asleep behind the wheel after eating at a Polish all you can eat joint. It is only fitting then that Chicago's Off Color brews a Grodziskie. Native to Poland, the Grodziskie (a.k.a. - Grätzer) is a piwo that's light, smoky, and hoppy made from 100% smoked wheat. Or so the theory goes, anyway. Quite a ways away from the pilsners and Baltic porters that the country is known for.

15 Feet is one of Off Color's seasonal piwos and I bought a six pack back in the spring after stopping at a pierogi wholesaler in Portage Park. It has one foot in tradition with the other in today. While brewed with 100% applewood smoked wheat, the brewers either couldn't get their hands on any Polish hops or were keen on tweaking things to reflect the current microbrew ethos. Regardless, 15 Feet features Sorachi Ace hops, a Japanese variety that boasts lemon and lime scents and flavors. An odd-sounding pairing on paper, to be sure. But smoked beer is a passion of mine and I couldn't resist no matter how incongruent the ingredients.

Grodziskies as conceived today are not big beers – the Poles leave that to Baltic porters – and 15 Feet comes in at a mild 3.5% A.B.V. which, I have read, was standard, for at time at least. And so 15 Feet is a very light yellow color. It's got that wheat haze which made it only slightly difficult to see a fair number of bubbles inside. My glass was adorned only with a small white head and it didn't stick around very long.

The aroma was succulently smoky with a touch of fruity sweetness. It was applewood smoked, after all. I will admit to not being intimately familiar with Sorachi Ace hops but I found that they gave a pleasant citrus scent here.

I was in heaven as the first wave of smoke wafted over my tongue. It had that same fruity sweetness to it as I had smelled. Not mega-potent but rather a glorious golden mean. Those hops gave a definite lemon-lime flavor which, I have to say, reminded me of 7-Up but not in a sickly sweet cloying kind of way. A little wheat came through and the carbonation gave a little bite that made the piwo a tad dry.

On the finish the smoke lingered as did some citrus. But then a dash of Nugget hops brought forth a moderate dose of resiny bitterness which elevated the dryness.

My glass was left with lots of foamy spots.

This is really effin' good. As a lover of smoke I was entranced by the luscious smoke wrapped in its semi-sweet fruitiness. Kilometers away from the hackneyed "bacon" descriptor. The citrus taste went splendidly with the smoke which, if you think about it, isn't all that odd considering we put citrus juice on grilled meats. On top of all this was a gentle earthiness. Light, refreshing, and with just the right amount of smoke. Perfect refreshment for a summer day.

Junk food pairing: Root vegetables are a staple of the Polish diet and so I heartily recommend busting open a bag of potato chips to go along with your 15 Feet. Smoked gouda are highly recommended but Kettle Chips' Backyard BBQ variety go well too.

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25 June, 2017

A Brew for Sue: Tooth & Claw by Off Color Brewing

When I think of Chicago's Field Museum, I usually think of the final scene of Damien: Omen II. That's where Damien is on the museum's stairs looking down at his chauffeur as a ride beckons and his aunt Ann's corpse burns inside. Now, when that scene doesn't come to mind then I envision what everyone else does: Sue the T-Rex. Back when I was a kid visiting the museum it didn't have a fancy bistro nor a house beer. Things have changed since then.

The story goes that when Off Color's John Leffler was at Goose Island, he sought advice on honey and befriended melittologist Megan Beckert in the process. Flash forward a few years and you find Leffler getting Off Color, well, off the ground while Beckert was at the Field Museum looking to revamp its food offerings. She approached Off Color about brewing a special beer for the museum and the result was Tooth & Claw which debuted in 2013.

Tooth & Claw is billed as a dry hopped lager/pils and as per the museum's requirements for a broad audience, there's nothing extreme or out of left field here which is sort of odd considering Off Color's reputation. My experience with their brews is devoid of lagers, as I recall, so I was keen to find out how well they could brew one. From what I've read, the beer began to be bottled and distributed outside of the museum not long after its debut. If so, I find it odd that I never ran into it until recently. I found it at a store in the city so perhaps it's not found so readily out in the suburbs.

Since I was to enjoy some Chicago beer I figured I'd also put on some Chicago music for the occasion - The Polkaholics! This was keeping with family tradition of drinking beer and dancing the polka.

Tooth & Claw pours a lovely light gold. Like a good pils it is clear and had a brilliant white head. However, I didn't get that much foam and what there was didn't last long. As expected it was plenty fizzy.

The aroma was what I expected – some biscuity malt and hoppy vapors that were grassy in the main but with a touch of spiciness. I can't find anything to indicate exactly what variety of hops was or were used in the dry hopping process (all German varieties were used) but I take it that the Hersbrucker were behind the grassy scent while the Tettnang added that peppery spiciness.

Truth be told, the taste was more or less what I figured it would be as well. The malt had a nice mellow cracker taste to it but also a slight honeyed sweetness which I presume came from the Carapils. This combo gave it a medium-light body. I could taste all that effervescence I saw in the glass and it gave the brew a bracing crispness. Overall the hops were at what I'd describe as a medium level (35 I.B.U.s) although I am sure eyepah drinkers would brush it off as being on the mild side. My notes say the hops tasted "herbal-grassy" and this is a combo I really enjoyed here. I guess the Hersbrucker and Tettnang provided these flavors while the Herkules ramped up the bitterness more generally.

The finish was rather dry with all those bubbles and the hop taste became spicier taking on more of a black pepper thing. That fizz also lent a mild acidity. Schaumhaftvermoegen was light on the ground with only a handful of spots lining my glass.

I hope that my saying that the beer turned out large to be what I expected isn't taken as a slight because this is a damn good beer. The malt was perfectly restrained yet didn't lead to a watery brew. Just enough there to aid and abet the hops. I also thoroughly enjoyed the resurgent hop spiciness at the end; it added a nice tang. But I must also say that I am really loving grassy/herbal hop flavors these days and Tooth & Claw has them in spades. There's just something about the more vegetal/green flavor that I enjoy. They can give a beer a vibrant, fresh immediacy that is simply wonderful. You almost expect to taste dirt next.

Tooth & Claw is 5% A.B.V. so you shouldn't find your museum going experience impaired at lunch.

Junk food pairing: Grab a bag of The Daily Crave's Smoked Gouda Lentil chips. They're light and crispy so they don't get in the way yet the cheese adds a nice smoothness on the tongue. And smoked foods are simply great and go well in all situations.

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24 June, 2017

Scenes from Eastmorland

Here are some other sights around Eastmorland.

A very noticeable one is the giant chicken in the front yard of a house on Johns Street just off of Walter.

There's also a Marlboro Man-like figure leaning against a tree.

Another one with a white handkerchief and a pipe resides just down the street.

Over at the corner of Richard and Schenk is a house with faux log siding.

Eastmorland has its share of Little Free Libraries such as this one which I think is on Ontario Street.

In addition we have a Little Free Pantry by Lansing and Milwaukee.

Poor hippies.

On one walk The Dulcinea and I came across a drake standing in the middle of the sidewalk. His Frau was relaxing on the lawn.

In the backyard of the old home at Johns and Margaret stands this lunar table with sidereal stools.

I've noticed a couple corners lacking houses and instead have wide expanses of grass. Here's one at Richard Street and Starkweather Drive.

I am unsure if there were homes at the corners that perhaps burned down or if these plots were intentionally kept open. This one is at Harding and Hargrove. The owner has recently been planting and laying decorative stones.

I must admit that I don't know what this concrete monolith is. Whatever it may be, it sits in the middle of the retaining pond that runs along the Capital City Trial. I believe it's over by the baseball diamonds/Thai Pavilion.

My guess is that it has something to do with the water utility. There's a pumping station or some such thing just down the trail at Olbrich Park. Or maybe it was once a support for a foot bridge…?

Like the lakes that feed it, Starkweather Creek can get pretty gross during the summer but the city and DNR are trying to remediate the pollution.

I went down to the creek's shore by the bridge at Milwaukee and Fair Oaks and found that it wasn't as bad as I had expected. Much less garbage, for instance. More info can be found here at the city's website.

Meanwhile at the Royster Corners development at Dempsey and Cottage Grove Road the retention pond thingy has been extended and a part of it has become a native Wisconsin plant farm. This is by Royster Oaks Drive and the Capital City Trail. I don't know what exactly this entails as I've never seen anyone there to ask but there was a tent for the green-thumbed to ply their trade in there.

The plant farm is home to geese. Lots of them.

So many that the sidewalk is cover in shit.

On one walk we spied a fox on the (ballast) rocks. It was coming down from the railroad tracks along an access path when it saw us. Presumably it was looking to break its fast with a nice goose. Upon seeing us, though, it headed back up to the tracks and jogged alongside them before eventually disappearing.

Lastly here's the Voit Farm.

I have wondered about it ever since I began shopping at Woodman's back in the early 90s. It's owned by the same family that owns the concrete plant next door and has been there for ages – somewhere on the order of 160 years. The Wisconsin State Journal ran an article about the Voits back in 2006 which gives the details.

A friend used to live in the neighborhood and recalls the carnival rides the family hosted for the big East Side Business Men's Association summer shindig. Today the home is unoccupied and the barns are deteriorating. From what I can tell they alternate corn and soy – this year it's corn – but don't seem to harvest it. There was still soy on the vine last November. I presume they need to plant crops for property tax reasons.

On the one hand an old family farm is pretty neat but on the other it seems a waste. I believe that the Voit's property is in the Town of Blooming Grove and not the City of Madison although the town is set to be annexed within the next 10 years. Perhaps the city will incentivize the land's sale/development if the Voits do nothing during the interim. A family farm museum type thingy would be pretty neat but I'd also like to have more businesses within walking distance. Land east of Starkweather Park next door is now for sale with the Swiss Colony facility going away so change is afoot.
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11 June, 2017

In the Pines, In the Pines: Pacific Wonderland by Deschutes Brewery

This may very well be my first review of a Deschutes brew. I've certainly had beers from the Portland brewery – their porter and stout – but, for the most part, it's been simply a brewery from Portland that brews a lot of eyepahs for me. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, they go their way and I go mine.

But a few months ago I noticed Pacific Wonderland Lager at Woodman's and I figured I'd give it a try. The brewery apparently decided to do something a little out of left field by brewing a lager and making it a year-round offering. At first I figured it for an eyepul but, upon closer inspection, I noticed that the hops were all German. Granted, one of them, Tettnang Mandarina is citrus flavored so there is a nod to the American hopping regime.

This whole fascination with citrus-flavored hops and very hoppy beers is kind of like Apple products for me. Despite owning Windows computers, I recognize that Apple makes fine equipment. So it's not that I dislike Apple computers, it's more that the people who use them are often times assholes who feel the need to be dismissive of Windows, talk up the usually chimeric advantages of Macs, and make sure you are aware of just how conspicuous their consumption is.

On a recent episode of a beer-related podcast one of the hosts talked about having spent some time in Europe. If I recall, this personal said that he became pilsnered-out to which his co-host remarked something akin to it must have been a relief to return to the States and have a beer with flavor. Right. Because malt and Noble hops are tasteless and beer never had flavor until about ten years ago. What a jagoff. I have no problem with fruit-flavored hops; it's the people who fetishize them and say that without them a beer has no flavor.

So back to Pacific Wonderland. Would it be a lager hopped like an eyepah? Adhere to European tradition? Was something wonderful going to happen?

The beer had a lovely straw color but was oddly hazy. Not exceedingly so, mind you, just unexpected. My pour gave me a medium head of frothy, white foam that, pleasingly, lasted a good amount of time. It was nice and bubbly.

Taking a whiff, I found it to be a little Old World and some New. Some biscuity malt was joined by a variety of hoppy scents including herbal, a dash of pine, and faint lemon/citrus. Not a bad start at all.

I found the taste to be similar with a nice, light cracker maltiness. From the Old World I tasted some herbal and spicy – almost Saaz-like – hoppiness and from the New there was some pine with a dash of citrus for good measure. I will reiterate that all of the hops are German - Hallertau Herkules, Hallertau Mittelfruh, and Tettnang Mandarina.

The finish was crisp and quite dry as that piney hop flavor prevailed although there was a touch of citrus in the background. It was also rather bitter with black pepper and herbal flavors lurking beneath the pine. Schaumhaftvermoegen was everywhere with webs of white lining my mug.

I have to give Deschutes credit for trying to bridge the traditional and the new by brewing a pils that uses all German hops yet including newer ones that have trendy, fruity flavors. However, this beer just did not appeal to me. There was too much pine taste to it. (They likely came from the Herkules hops.) The beer's light body and restrained maltiness seemed defeated by the rather cloying resiny taste. I've had other pine-tasting/spruce tip beers which I enjoyed but here it was almost overwhelming. On the plus side I liked the fruity hop flavor which was more of an accent but nevertheless contrasted deliciously with the herbal and spicy hop tastes and complemented the biscuity malt well too.

Junk food pairing: Pair your Pacific Wonderland with a bag of Jays Garlic and Onion potato chips and a brick of pepper jack processed cheese food product.

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07 June, 2017

Up on Starkweather Creek

Starkweather Creek forms much of the western border of the Eastmorland neighborhood. Indeed, the creek at one time formed part of the eastern city limits. Most shoreline north of Milwaukee Street looks to be private property. Shoreline south of it appears to be mostly city-owned.

I’ll be honest and say that whenever I hear or see the name of the creek, I almost always think of the Starkweather Moore Expedition.


On a recent walk along the eastern shore of the creek I thought about a particular Kansas song upon seeing evidence of Castor Canadensis - “Release the Beavers”, which you can hear live this autumn when the band comes to town. (You are welcome, the marketing division of the Overture Center.)

My Frau and I also saw various and sundry wildlife scenes which the phone on my camera and I were simply not able to capture sufficiently. For instance, we caught a turtle sunning itself on a rock on the far shore; and ducks seems to enjoy the intersection of Starkweather Drive and Leon Street. Mainly, though, wildlife made its presence known by their sounds – birds and frogs, mostly. It is very quiet on the creek’s shoreline with Olbrich Park separating you from Atwood Avenue to the south and the abandoned Garver Feed Mill on the opposite shore.

Starkweather Drive ends at Dawes Street and becomes a bicycle path leading into (O.B.) Sherry Park.

According to Historic Madison, Inc.:

Leon Park, also known as Lansing Park, was renamed O. B. Sherry Park in 1974 in honor of Orven B. Sherry, a Madison real estate dealer, who donated land for the park’s expansion that eliminated Willow Street and the eastern portion of Thorp Street. Wayne Street was reduced to a remnant that is now so short there is only room for one house on one side of the street.

You can see the original street layout of the area in this map from 1943.

And here is the lone remaining remnant of Wayne Street. All 20 feet or so of it:

Notice on the map that Harding Street was much lengthier back then. Not only did it go south to Atwood Avenue, but also east. The southern portion became Walter Street and I presume the latter section was 86d when the schools were built. Also note that Sargent Street was Grand View Street back then.

The blurb above makes it sound like there has been a park at the current site of Sherry Park. I wonder if any homes were demolished on Thorp, Willow, and Wayne Streets. Oh, and Starkweather Drive too. It occurs to me that getting rid of Thorp Street explains that island of grass at the intersection of Leon and Milwaukee. There’s the sidewalk along Milwaukee but another one closer to the house at 1 Leon. Thorp must have gone through the trees that now form the park’s northern border.

Here is the park:

There are some old trees in the park which must surely pre-date the removal of the streets such as this quadro-trunk. Or is it a tri-trunk?

The bike path goes across the creek and over to Ivy Street. Swallows love to chase each other underneath the bridge. Here I am looking north with Milwaukee Street in the distance.

And here’s the view south with the western branch of the creek heading off to the right.

Down by the intersection of Hargrove Street and Starkweather Drive, there are a couple paths into the woods which lead to the railroad tracks. There are 3 bridges in short succession which would send a Jungian into spasms of interpretive overload.

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04 June, 2017

The Neighborhood: Eastmorland

I have lived in the Eastmorland neighborhood for about a year now but only recently began taking walks with my Frau which has helped me to get to know the area. Having grown up in Chicago, I have always seen the neighborhood as a defining unit of a city. Chicagoans often answer the question of where they live by giving their neighborhood. (Either that or an intersection.) Neighborhoods there provide identity to one degree or another. By saying you live in or are from a particular one locates your home within the city. But it also gives clues as to what class your family is or was; it often signifies ethnic groups as well with enclaves developing in various neighborhoods. Some have a large number of residents from a certain age group or are home to LGBT communities. Others are known for examples of architectural styles within their borders. In short, a neighborhood in Chicago isn't simply a geographical place.

Madison doesn't embrace the neighborhood like Chicago. This is likely because of the city's relatively small size, far fewer immigrants establishing enclaves, et al. No, Madisonians mainly refer to sides of town with the traditional east vs. west still predominant although the utility of this distinction has lost a lot of its meaning as the city has grown.

Madison has about 100 official neighborhoods but many are quite small. Last year the Wisconsin State Journal profiled 20 of them, including Eastmorland. While the article itself wasn't particularly informative – it basically said we're all neighborly – it did yield this handy map.

Highway 30 forms the border to the north, with Highway 51 being the eastern edge and Cottage Grove Road the southern. The western border is mostly Starkweather Creek but also a bit of Lake Monona and Monona Drive. Eastmorland is pretty quiet as there are only 2 collector streets linking larger roads - Walters Street and Dempsey Road - which link Milwaukee Street to Atwood Avenue and Cottage Grove Road, respectively. Historic Madison, Inc. has a nice guide to street names for the area which offers some history as well.

An ad in The Capital Times on June 23, 1928, announced an auction sale of lots in Lansing Place on Milwaukee Street, east of Fair Oaks Avenue, adjoining the city limits. The owner was George C. Rowley, an established Madison developer. He seems to have chosen the first and last names of local residents for all of the street names.

Having mainly been developed in the 1950s, most of Eastmorland is post-war bungalows/cottages that look like this:

Early suburban with larger lots than you'd find in the older parts of Madison and set back farther from the street.

But there are exceptions. On Milwaukee Street by Leon you find a few older looking homes.

I assume that these were built in the 1930s by folks who bought plots in Lansing Place from George Rowley. Another older home sits at Hargrove and Dennett. It's the only house in that grassy strip that runs between Hargrove and the railroad tracks for 2 or 3 blocks.

This house is at the corner of Johns and Margaret.

It has a very large yard and I am guessing it was built by someone of means back in the day who wanted to live out in the country near Lake Monona yet still in fairly close proximity to Madison. There's another older home on the northwest corner of Tulane and Dempsey.

I moved to Eastmorland from the Marquette on the isthmus. The variety of homes here pales in comparison to my former neighborhood but we have tons of trees. And not just ones planted in the 1950s when the area was developed. There are still a smattering of very old trees. Plus there is a fair number of evergreens which makes for nice scenery during the winter. Unlike the isthmus, there are parts of Eastmorland where they had the sense to run utility lines through backyards instead of out on the street. Thusly there are a lot fewer trees that have had their canopies butchered to make way for cable. This mainly seems to be on streets west of Schenk. Here, for example is a scene from Dempsey Road.

If Eastmorland has an architectural claim to fame it must be the number of lean-tos. While there are plenty of garages, lean-tos are not uncommon.

I spied this house on a recent walk.

I suppose it's still post-war bungalow but you have more space on the second story with the roof nearly flat on the back half. There's another like it across the creek on Fair Oaks near Thorp.

I'll finish with some stats from the Wisconsin State Journal neighborhood profile site. Eastmorland is very white – nearly 90% as of 2010. Not many renters. Home values are generally below the city average with most of the neighborhood averaging around $178,000 although the western section is lower at $162,500. This area was developed earlier and I suspect houses are smaller on average with the eastern section having some of what look like proto-ranch homes and some larger lots.

Eastmorland is a quiet middle class kind of place.

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