29 June, 2022

Widersehen Pils, Hallo Kölsch: Bierzeit aus Lakefront Brewery

Have you ever felt like you were going to die? On a recent bike ride, I had that feeling more than once. Being quite out of shape, there were a few times when I was pedaling up that hill and I thought my heart was going to say, "Eff you, fatboy! I am done!" and just stop working, leaving me to clutch my chest like the gladiator in Life of Brian - "I think I'm about to have a cardiac arrest." Since I was cruising around the countryside, it was quiet and I kind of felt like the guy in that Edgar Allan Poe story as I could hear every beat of my ticker. It's always disconcerting when I override my brain's natural tendency to block out those internal sounds of my bodily functions, let me tell ya. I will take a pass on that sensory deprivation tank, thank you.

Thankfully for you, I survived my near-death experience and lived to write another blog post. When I got home, I was hot'n'sweaty and found myself craving 2 things: 1) grapefruit and 2) a nice cold Kölsch. #1 was satisfied by a trip to the supermarket where I scoured the fruit section and found just the right piece of citrus which I eagerly brought home. After gently peeling the skin from the grapefruit, I bit into its luscious, red flesh and found it tantalizingly tangy. Tiny rivulets of cool juice trickled down my chin as if I was a stunt double in 9½ Weeks. That was one of the best tasting grapefruits I've ever eaten.

Hankering #2 was satisfied with a bottle of the subject of this post: Bierzeit from Lakefront Brewery.

Bierzeit is a Kölsch-style beer and it seems that Lakefront has only brewed this style once before - a limited edition back in 2015 as part of their My Turn series. I find that rather odd as Lakefront is afraid neither of German bier styles nor of lagering. Looking at their website, Bierzeit is listed in the Year-Round beers category, which is nice. I also see that they no longer brew a pilsner year-round.

First they came for the Klisch Pilsner, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was more of an Eastside Dark kind of guy.

Then they came for the Lakefront Pils, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was more of an Eastside Dark kind of guy.

That's a shame as they made some fine pilsners. From what I hear, Riverwest Stein is popular so I think that's safe. But I wouldn't be surprised to see Eastside Dark go away. I mean, if the beer named after the brewery's founders got discontinued, what chance does a humble dunkel stand? That's got to be something of an ego blow when the brewery you got up and running with your blood, sweat, and tears stops making the beer with your name on it.

I generally have a high opinion of Lakefront. While I may not drink some of the styles they brew, I feel that they do a very good job (or better) on the ones I do. But there are some great Kölsches out there. New Glarus' Kid Kölsch is a fantastic bier as is Dovetail's version of the style. So how does Bierzeit stack up?

My photograph makes Bierzeit appear a more golden color than it really is so don't be fooled. It's lighter - more yellow than gold. Light gold, maybe? A creamy, white head lasted a long time. It had the slightest of haze to it and there were many bubbles inside rushing upwards. The best word for Bierzeit's aroma is "freshness". It smelled like cracker, grass, and a faint bit of floral and I could smell it even when my Stange was several inches from my nose.

The first sip had a very healthy dose of fizz. I tasted mainly malt which was largely a light, cracker flavor but there was also a slight doughy sweetness too. It was crisp with just a hint of fruitiness. Those malty flavors faded away after I swallowed leaving some gentle grassy/herbal hop flavors to do their thing. They provided a little bitterness and a mild dryness.

Bierzeit did, as Gaff said in Blade Runner, a man's job, sir, of satisfying my Kölsch desires. It was light and crisp (and 4.5% A.B.V.) - perfect for a post-ride cooling off. I wish it had a little less of that doughy flavor and a smidgen more of that fruitiness to it but I nitpick here because I love the style. This is an excellent brew and deserves to be in your Kölsch rotation along with New Glarus and Dovetail's versions. Now that Lakefront has abandoned the pils, I am hoping that Bierzeit sticks around.

Junk food pairing: For a semi-authentic Kölsch experience, get a bag of gouda flavored potato chips and sprinkle liberally with dried chives.

The Corona Diaries Vol. 50 - Supplement: Pączki



28 June, 2022

The Corona Diaries Vol. 50: April Is the Cruellest Month

(Guess Which Month 2022)

T.S. Eliot was onto something when he wrote that poem of his.

This time around, we truly have a corona diary. April began with my Frau breeding Covid. Her test result with the dreaded positive came back a day or two before she was to leave for Montgomery, Alabama. She has family down there and, sadly, one of her aunts had recently died so she was keen on being a comfort to her dad, who was already down there. In addition, she was looking forward to seeing some family she hadn't seen in years, despite the circumstances. Alas, it was not to be.

Even after she'd been sick for a few days, I was still feeling alright. I got up one day and noticed that the white stuff was falling so I availed myself of the opportunity to stop by my favorite urban woods on a snowy morning - Acewood Conservation Park. The temperature was in the low 30s so the snow was heavy and slushy and clung to everything.


It was just lovely there. A horse-drawn sleigh would not have looked out of place.

I noticed that an area on the north side of the park had been cut back rather severely. Now, I'm no forester so perhaps this is straight out of Maintaining Conservation Parks 101, but I was sad to see so many bushes trimmed into oblivion and so many trees felled. That area was thick with greenery in the past but it looks like it'll be a different scene ere long.


My suspicion is that removing all of that brush near the path will mean that more noise from the highway will make its way to the shoreline. We shall see, or hear, rather, how that turns out in a couple months.

Making my way to the pond, I saw that it had a smattering of mallards but was rather quiet overall.


I walked out onto that little peninsula hoping to get to the tip of it so I could get some panoramic pictures. Granted, my cameras don't exactly mimic Ansel Adams, but getting out into the pond a little way would afford me some nice views.

Approaching the end of the peninsula, I had my eyes to the ground trying to avoid stepping in standing water when a shrill cry scared the living crap out of me as a Canada goose flew out of a clump of empty stems just a few feet ahead of me. She landed out in the water a few yards away and was squawking out in alarm which caused another goose some 50 or so feet down the shoreline to get excited and start honking his own goosey klaxon.

I walked ahead a little way and discovered why I had two pissed off geese nearby who were closing in for the kill.


Once again, a mother goose had built a nest at the tip of this little peninsula. I did not envy her sitting on those eggs in the middle of a snowfall. But I suppose there wouldn't be any geese in the world if they simply gave up because of a little precipitation.

I could hear dad hastily approaching and he sounded none too pleased with the intruder so I beat a retreat back to the path. Eventually the parents-to-be quieted down after having cleared the nesting area of the pesky human.


I saw only one person walking the path so I basically had run of the park to myself. Despite the din of the highway lingering in the background, it was still rather serene and I allowed myself to just spend some time enjoying the scenery.


********
That night I began to feel unwell. Our half-hearted precaution of having me sleep in the guest room was a failure. Waking up needing to go to the bathroom, I got out of bed and realized that I had the chills and felt slightly nauseated. Come the morning I had body aches and a headache. I presumed that I had contracted Covid and this was confirmed a couple days later when I got my test result.

I took some time off from work and worked a few short days. When I wasn't sleeping, I got to enjoy lying around on our new couch which sat on our newly refinished floors. At some point the original owners gave up on the fine red oak planks and covered them with carpeting. When we tore up the ancient, ugly shag, this is what we discovered:


Not only was the original finish in rough shape, but it was of a fairly dark hue with a reddish, ambery tint. In anticipation of the floors getting a makeover, we (i.e. - my Frau) decided to paint the living room. The renter's white, which had been applied liberally around the house seemingly just before being put up for sale, was replaced by a light tan paint called Bauhaus Buff. Walter Gropius would have approved, right? I then figured that, as long as we're emptying the living room, we might as well get new furniture instead of stowing the couch and love seat which didn't fare too well in years past with kids jumping on them. We also tossed the old entertainment center. I rationalized the purchase by saying that buying new furniture saved me the cost of having to rent one of those storage pods.

So my Frau, the cats, and I moved into a hotel room for 3 days and returned to this:


Much better. The rooms are lighter now and I do not miss that amber glow that the old floors gave off.

Unfortunately, being ill meant that I missed out on a lot of fun. With gathering and mask restrictions being lifted and life continuing to return to normal, I had a busy April planned. First, I was unable to go see the band Nektar in concert. This disappointment was followed by missing all 10 or so movies at the Wisconsin Film Festival that I had purchased tickets for. I was to again judge processed meats at the product competition at the Wisconsin Association of Meat Processors convention but I was in bed cursing whoever it was that gave my Frau Covid instead of sampling bratwurst and large diameter luncheon meats. The day after that was Palm Sunday and Madison's Polish Heritage Club was holding their Easter bazaar for the first time in a couple years. Again, I was an achy mess huddling under a blanket when I could have been having fun, enjoying kielbasa and good company, in this case.

Speaking of Polish things, we celebrated Fat Tuesday with not only pączki, but also pączki beer.


Hinterland, a brewery up in Green Bay, brewed a beer that mimicked a raspberry pączki. While the pastries were tasty, the beer was gross. They started brewing it in 2020 and used 1,200+ of the tasty bundles of fried dough goodness in the brewing process. I don't know if they actually added the pastries to the brew kettle for this year's batch but I sure tasted a lot of raspberry flavoring.

********

Last autumn I heard that the rock band Jethro Tull, of whom I am a great fan, was soliciting tales from fans for a book that tells a history of the band from the fans' perspectives. I submitted a piece and a few months later I was told that it had been accepted for publication! And so a short essay of mine will appear in this book come September.




A brief excerpt:

"The next step for me on my journey into Tull was to return to the source of many a musical discovery for me – my older brother's tape collection. Eager for more flute-laden proggy goodness, I scoured it and eventually found a tape with 1982's The Broadsword and the Beast on one side and Thick as a Brick on the other. I immediately took to Broadsword with its loud guitars sharing space with synthesizers plus the flute and occasional mandolin. Thick as a Brick took longer but I eventually fell under the spell of its bouncy folk melodies and crazy time signatures."

********

Back in February, a friend came up from Chicago and ran a game of Call of Cthulhu. It's a pen and paper role playing game like Dungeons & Dragons but instead of a medieval fantasy setting with dwarves and elves fighting orcs, Call of Cthulhu is all about regular people trying not to succumb to madness when faced with cosmic horrors that remind them that mankind is but a puny, insignificant speck in the grand scheme of things. Storylines generally feature eldritch gods and the cultists who worship them along with the odd squamous half-man, half-fish hybrid thrown in for good measure. Oh, and all manner of unspeakable evils are loosed upon us poor humans.

We played a scenario that took place in the 1970s and I played the captain of a mission whose purpose was to land a crew on the moon to investigate a research station near the Shackleton crater which has stopped communicating with NASA.


Curiously enough, our shuttle craft looked just the like one in the TV show Space: 1999. Hmmm...Since it took place in the 70s, we made sure the men had very wide ties on at the conference they attended and I think most of the characters were smoking in the shuttle en route to the moon. One of the astronauts was Canadian and brought an ample supply of freeze-dried poutine on the mission.

My friend spared no expense in setting the right mood with a fantastical light show when we entered the cavern at the bottom of the crater, met the strange, unearthly creature there, and descended into madness.


My friend had also been a friend of my brother. After our game finished, we hung out for a spell and chatted.

About 10 years ago, he ran a Call of Cthulhu scenario called White Leviathan which was based on Moby Dick. It takes place from 1844-1846 onboard a Kingsport whaling ship. He, my brother, and crew were play testers.


My friend said that he'd been in touch with the game's creator. Since my brother had been one of the early players, he will be immortalized in the final version of the game. Likely his name will be that of a whaling captain on the wall of a New England tavern next to a harpoon. A fitting way to memorialize my late brother.

********

Bonus photo: we got a new ottoman that holds the cat toys and is in front of the picture window so Grabby and Piper can sit on it to watch birds and catch the evening sun. Here's a photo of Grabby enjoying it and it also features our lovely new floor.

26 June, 2022

We'll all be together

 
(Photo by Laura Sheeran.)

I'll bet that there's a PhD candidate somewhere writing a paper on how Covid and the lockdowns affected music and musicians. Touring ground to a halt and many musos were forced to turn to virtual busking. Others posted brief clips of themselves performing and chatting for free usually, I think, in the spirit of we're-all-in-this-together. I fully expect books to be published in the near future that document albums written and recorded during the pandemic and for them to note common themes such as death, fear, and dislocation just as skeletons and memento mori became common in medieval art and illumination in the wake of the Great Plague. One such album these texts will surely explore is They're Calling Me Home by Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi.

Giddens and Turrisi live in Ireland, although they hail from the United States and Italy, respectively. When the pandemic hit and lockdowns began in the spring of 2020, the pair found themselves not only unable to tour, but also unable to visit their friends and families in their homelands. They're Calling Me Home was recorded that autumn as they and people around the globe struggled with the lack of social contact and the specter of death that never seemed far away as hundreds of thousands succumbed to Covid every month.

The album is mainly traditional songs and has a sombre tone overall with tunes such as "Calling Me Home" and "O Death" giving off particularly mournful vibes. But there is a new song here amidst the ones handed down, the Giddens-penned "Avalon".

It too is concerned with the end of our mortal coils but it's not doleful. Turrisi's drum and the acoustic guitar of Niwel Tsumbu begin the song and are soon joined by Giddens' sprightly viola. Her spectral, wordless harmonies enter and weave their way through the rhythm. They are a prelude, of sorts, as when they fade away, the viola takes up the main melody that will be echoed by Giddens' lyrical singing. But rather than lament the loss of loved ones, she invokes the idyllic isle of Avalon from Arthurian legend as a meeting spot in the hereafter - "We'll all be together in Avalon".

This song is a thing of sheer beauty. Listening to it, I feel as if I was being carried off on a summer breeze. Turrisi's drum keeps things moving while Tsumbu picks out a lovely rhythm that complements it perfectly. Giddens' voice is angelic and the vocal melody, echoed by the viola, has that alluring Pied Piper catchiness to it, a beatific guide leading the listener to the next world.

While "Avalon" isn't a million miles away from Giddens' work in the Carolina Chocolate Drops, it replaces their cornpone approach with something more ethereal. I will never foreswear the Chocolate Drops but it's great to hear Giddens' folky M.O. expand and take on new shades.


24 June, 2022

I'm out here in the meadow


Joe Walsh is known as the "Clown Prince of Rock", a title that he was surely given during his presidential campaign of 1980. (Never mind that he was not yet 35 at the time.) Ditties such as "Life's Been Good" and "I.L.B.T.s" (I Like Big Tits) have bolstered his reputation as a goofball. But such tunes belie his ability to craft beautiful songs that resonate with genuine emotion that doesn't provoke laughter.

He spent a few years in James Gang who had hits with "Funk #49" and "Walk Away". In late 1971 he parted ways with the band and formed Barnstorm with bassist Kenny Passarelli and drummer Joe Vitale. Their eponymous debuted came out in 1972 and was followed up in '73 by The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get which is famous for the single "Rocky Mountain Way", a classic rock radio staple since the dawn of classic rock radio, methinks.

But there's much more to The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get than hard rock riffs and Vocoders. For example, there's Walsh's "Wolf", a dark, brooding song led by acoustic guitar as well as keyboardist Rocke Grace's "Midnight Moodies" with a jazzy flute that gives it an early 1970s Traffic feel.

But the song I want to highlight here is "Meadows". It shares a guitar riff with Deep Purple's "Woman From Tokyo" but I've never been able to discern who recorded what first. Did someone filch the riff? Or was it merely a case of chance providing a memorable melody, however improbable? I honestly don't recall when I first heard it but "Meadows" became an important song in the soundtrack of my freshman year of college.

Vitale's drums are simply fantastic here. Cymbals churn in the background as toms keep the chorus moving along while tight, focused fills move the song from verse to chorus to a lovely interlude featuring acoustic guitar and a short piano part that's all of 3 notes yet adds a shimmering beauty that is just perfect.

To 18 year-old me, the lyrics reflected the blooming, buzzing confusion that I felt leaving home ("Can't think of any reason, don't know exactly why"), moving from a rural area back to an urban one. The chorus ("I'm out here in the meadow, part of an old stone wall") really captures that feeling of cruising down a country road on a summer day. On the other hand, the verse "Some things are left unspoken, some things are handed down" evoked some of the ambivalence I felt towards my father, whom I was very happy not to have to be within 175 miles of and wasn't sure I ever wanted to see again.

Although I became enamored of this song 30+ years ago and I am not an 18 year-old kid trying to find his way in life, I still love it.



22 June, 2022

Your craft lager, buddy it's most too light. But my 22-pils will make everything alright: 22 Pils by New Glarus Brewing Co.

When I was at the brewery in New Glarus, I noticed that the gift shop had DVDs of Tale of the Spotted Cow for sale. I didn't buy a copy but now I wish I did because I am having trouble remembering dates. Whenever it was that New Glarus started selling their beer - 1993? 1994? - they were selling Edel Pils. And maybe Belgian Red too. I cannot recall when that was first introduced but it was early.

Wait.

According to local beer scribe Robin Shepard, Belgian Red was their third brew. I'd swear on Shepard's life that Edel Pils was first so what was second? Copper Kettle Weissbier? I bet that documentary would tell us. Regardless, Belgian Red is still brewed today.

And Belgian Red deserves to be brewed today because it's a wonderful beer. Spotted Cow pays the bills and gets most of the press but what other American brewery was brewing a Belgian-style fruited sour beer in 1994ish? In Wisconsin? Of that quality, too. Belgian Red was sui generis there for a while in Wisconsin beer coolers. Plus, it wasn't long before New Glarus introduced one of, if not the, first commercial coffee stouts. Coffee Stout is still brewed today, though it seems to be a biennial brew.

But Edel Pils? I don't know when it was last made. Seems like it is around once every several years, perhaps. Too bad. I recall drinking it starting in 1994 and loving it. Brewmaster Dan Carey proved his brewing ability for all to taste with it. And then, somewhere along the way, the pilsner fell out of fashion and the New Glarus beer roster moved on. The style pops up now and again as a limited edition, made in smaller quantities and sometimes available only at the brewery. As best I can recall, the last pilsner New Glarus made was Mistral back in 2018. Well, until now.

22 Pils was released this spring and is available only at the brewery. Described as a German Style Pilsner, it was made with a blend of "American, German and Czech heirloom Pilsner malts". Sounds excellent. The wort underwent a Double Decoction Mash - ausgezeichnet! The beer was then topped off with whole cone Diamant hops aus Deutschland.

Wait. Dia-what?

They are a rather new variety having been introduced in 2019. I wasn't able to find a Diamint Hops for Dummies site so I found myself parsing brewersese. One site made it sound like climate change is making life rough for growers of Noble hops and that Diamint was bred to survive the coming apocalypse thrive in the new environment in which we find ourselves. Uff da! That doesn't sound good.

A pils from New Glarus is a special occasion so I dug out a pilsner glass from the basement. I poured kind of, um, aggressively and ended up with a very large head of firm, white foam that proved to be in no hurry to go anywhere. The liquid was yellow and clear as day. A goodly number of bubbles were found inside making their way upwards. The last time I wrote about a pilsner I confessed to loving their aromas which remind me of summer with their green hoppy scents melding with a light maltiness. Well, this bier had that in spades. Beyond that, there were also hints of fruitiness and a little something floral. Simply wonderful.

It had a good, solid fizz to it as one would expect from a pils. The malt flavor was that tasty cracker-biscuit hybrid plus a little toasted bread thrown in for good measure. It was, after all, doubly decocted. The Diamint hops gave that herbal/spicy flavor which one expects from a Teutonic hop but there was also a fruitiness that was berry/melon-like. Depending on the sip, the beer could taste rather sweet. Not that it was; I think it was simply a stronger fruit flavor from the hops fooling my brain into believing this brew was laced with fructose.

On the finish the malty flavors faded leaving the more fruity elements of the hops to linger a short time before the more traditional spicy taste came to the fore. The denouement featured firm bitterness and dryness to make you forget the faux sweetness.

Ausgezeichnet! The malty flavor here is just great and I really enjoyed the hoppy tug-of-war between the herbal/spicy and fruity flavors. Fizziness is just right as is the astringent taste. And by "just right" I mean perfect. Crisp with a little bite but never distracting. I really hope there's a 23 Pils because this stuff is simply fantastic.

Junk food pairing: a unique pilsner like this demands a unique food pairing. Try a bag of Mrs. Fischer's Dark Jalapeno chips with your 22 Pils. These darker, extra-Maillardy chips have a little chili zing to them and go perfectly with this crisp, flavorful brew.