Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Absense makes the heart grow thirsty

It's like your college buddy who you only see once in awhile, who you feel like you should enjoy spending time with, and then when you do, it's really nothing special. Or that out-of-town restaurant that you have to go to because, well, you can't go there in your home town. So it is with Spotted Cow from New Glarus Brewing. I know some of my Wisconsin friends are cursing my name right now, but I have to ask: What's the big deal?

I had two of 'em at a Memorial Day Party last night, and frankly there are many beers which rise above the Cow. Not that it's horrible--hardly--but it's hardly special. It's a good summer beer I suppose--light, clean, refreshing--but not something I would drive to Hudson solely for.

[For those non-Minnesotans out there, New Glarus is one of many fine beers which doesn't make it to Minnesota. Apparently, some of our liquor taxes discourage small breweries from coming to our state. So if you live in Minnesota and want to drink New Glarus, you need to drive to Hudson, the first Wisconsin town across the river from us.]

This is not to knock all New Glarus beers. They offer eight brews regularly, with a couple seasonal ones. Their Hop Hearty Ale is a fine IPA, and I had their Fat Squirrel last night as well which is a pleasant, very drinkable brown. But the Spotted Cow has many people raving, and I found it just kinda ok. Maybe I'd pick up a 6-pack on the way to the cabin, but there are certainly other beers--like Three Floyds--which I'd prefer would make it across state lines.

Similarly, Fat Tire from New Belguim Brewery is another beer which isn't available in Minnesota, and which I think is overrated and is appealing in part because you can't get it here. The rest of New Belgium's line up is amazing, and I would love to see their Trippel or Sunshine on the shelves here.

So if you're passing through Wisconsin on the way to my house, feel free to buy me a 6 pack of New Glarus or some other unique beer. I'll smile if it's Spotted Cow, but I'll know you really care if it's one of their Unplugged brews.


Friday, May 26, 2006

I'm a Lazy Bastard

Yes I know it's been awhile. So either a.) nothing is going on in politics; b.) I haven't had any good beer; or c.) I'm a lazy bastard. Easy choice.....when in doubt choose "c," right?

Quick recap for ya, because I am after all, a lazy bastard.

  • The 2006 Legislative Session wrapped up last Sunday night. Just because I'm looking for some sympathy, I'll tell you that from Friday the 19th to Sunday the 21st, I worked almost 50 hours. But it paid off. You may have read that the Legislature passed a bill financing a new stadium for our, um, lackluster Twins, but thanks to the work of my boss and me (yes, that is the sound of me tooting my own horn), we also did some wonderful things for early care and education. Child Care WORKS has a great summary if you want to learn more.
  • Another fucking visit to the Happy Gnome, because, Christ, their beer list is soooooo good (but their website still sucks...I'M WAITING!!). I've been in a hoppy mood lately, and tried the Rogue Mogul, which is much better than the Hop Wallop from Victory. The Mogul is extremely complex, with 5 kinds of malts and 7 kinds of hops (or so I read). Despite it weighing in at about 80 IBUs, I felt I could drink it all night. The Wallop on the other hand, is just over the top with hops. Nothing else. Just hops. Good I guess, but not too creative, in my opinion. And the Gnome's new patio is open. Give it some time for the wood to fade and the vines to take over, and it will be again rank as one of the best patios in town.
  • Finally, my mother- and brother-in-law are in town from France (which would explain why my wife is from France). For three and a half weeks. It's always much better and is much easier than I anticipate it's going to be. And besides, Flo's mom brought me a Chimay Red and a Kwak, two of the best Belgian brews out there.

That's all I have. Now that summer is upon us (in the 90s all weekend!) I expect the blogging to slow down a little--unless you want to hear about long days in the interim at the Capitol or drinking shitty lagers after a bike ride. But maybe you do. Until then....

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Rituals of Spring

The arrival of spring means many things to many people. It means that the honeysuckle in our backyard is showing orange, it means it's time to put road tires on my bike, it means my wedding anniversary (eight this year!), and of course, it means the final days of the legislative session.

Constitutionally, the Legislature has to adjourn sine die (literally, "adjournment without a day") by May 22. So here we are, about 5 days from the end. But we can't actually pass bills on those final couple days before the end, so really, the work of the House and Senate must be completed by early Sunday morning, and since we bungled the end of session last year, leading to a partial government shutdown and an ugly special session, legislators, facing re-election, want to get out of Dodge at least a day or two early.

So here we are, trying to fund (or not) important programs for health care, public safety, education, child care and the environment, maybe spending a few million (or billion) on new stadiums for the Minnesota Gophers, the Minnesota Twins and even the Minnesota Vikings, borrowing upwards of $900 million for our public infrastructure like universities, mass transit and parks, and trying to figure out how much we should restrict a woman's access to legal abortion.

And we have to do this in three days. Three looooong days.

As a legislative staffer, it's interesting to see how much the hands on the clock have been moved around. When we started things, back on March 1st, there was serious talk of wrapping things up by May 5th. Wouldn't that look great--see how effective we can be. Committee deadlines were set at the middle of April--that is, all committee work had to be completed by April 11th--so it wasn't out of the question. Until we got to April 11th, and saw that there was still a lot of work to be done. And then May 5th came and went, but the leaders were still hopeful, and said we could be done by Syttende Mai (May 17th, for all you non-Norwegians out there). Ok, nice goal. But by this time, the stadium forces had regrouped and Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life were plotting ways to make abortion illegal and unsafe, and it was clear that adjourning by May 17th (tomorrow) was a pipe dream.

So I have a pillow and a blanket in my office, I've kissed and hugged my kids and wife, filled the freezer with frozen dinners, stocked up on pretzels, licorice and lots of coffee, and am watching the focus grow more and more on professional sports and abortion, less and less on the environment and early childhood development, and hoping but not expecting that the 2006 Legislature will do some of the wonderful things we could and should be doing.

But hey, it's spring, and along with the roses blooming and the grill getting used again, this ritual is one I expect and look forward to every year.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Do you like maps and beer?

Ever wonder if there's a good brew pub near you? Or going out of town and want to know where a good liquor store is? The good folks at mnbeer.com just alerted their readers to this wonderful tool to answer all your pressing beer-location questions.

travel to beermapping.com

L-O-V-E it.

The Gnome Re-visited

Upon picking up the most recent edition of the City Pages, the news and arts weekly of the Twin Cities, I was surprised to see their review of the Happy Gnome. Surprised because it was glowing!

"And the new Happy Gnome is that rarest of birds: a neighborhood tavern worth moving to the neighborhood for."

Whoa. Is this the same pub I called a little sad a while back? I would agree with the City Pages columnist that the Gnome's beer list--both in size and diversity--is the best in St. Paul and perhaps in the state, and I haven't had their food, so I can't respond to her rave reviews of the chef and his creations. But what about the prices? The lack of pitchers and no happy hour? The staff who can't tell a dopplebock from a double IPA? As a friend commented to me, the Gnome feels more like a place to go once a year for an anniversary rather than the bar you visit to get a drink after work. A recent Pioneer Press review hit it right on the nose:

"[The owners] haven't quite figured out what their new neighborhood spot should be. They want to keep the former beer-guzzling Chang O'Hara's regulars. They also want to attract the Cathedral Hill crowd willing to pay $18 for a Belgian beer.

"The mixed signals they're sending also include uneven service, beer-hall ambience and an overly ambitious menu. In fact, early on, the place was so schizophrenic, it wouldn't have surprised me to see the staff in white coats, dispensing little white pills. "

So I went back to the Gnome last night. And I had a great experience. What I've found is that sitting at the bar is the way to go. Service was prompt, and the 'tender knew his beer. He make accurate recommendations, and gave us several samples of different beers (making up for the prices). He clearly enjoyed sharing his advice with us, and was happy to talk shop. Totally a different experience from the last time I was there. But yes, a little schizophrenic.

Once last gripe. The Gnome has got to update their website! They've had several articles written about them and people are talking about them (a simple Google search of "happy gnome" yields many reviews and blogs), but try to get a phone number or better yet --THEIR AMAZING BEER LIST--and you get nothing. Just a picture of a silly gnome and their address. But hey, apparently that's enough--the place is always hopping with drunks, couples on dates, and beer snobs.

Friday, May 05, 2006

A great day for Democrats

What's this I hear? Another major player in the Bush admin is resigning? But this time, it may involve a wee bit more than jumping ship or cleaning house...the words "bribe" and "prostitutes" and "Watergate II" are circling throughout the blog world over the recent resignation of CIA director of Porter Goss. Sure, much of it involves speculation and taking leaps, but they're not hard to do.

Instead of trying to connect the dots for you, which I have little time to do, with kids and work and drinking beer, I'll just link you to Obsidian Wings, who clearly has better sources and time than I do. It's a massive, but fun, web to work your way through. Good luck!

(If you don't trust the blog-o-sphere, check out this revealing article from Harpers Magazine.
And I just found this good one from The Nation.)

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Michigan or bust

What is it about Michigan that produces such damn good beers? One thinks of Oregon and Colorado and California as leading the market on craft brews, and of course here in the Midwest we have our staple brews--Summit in Minnesota, New Glarus in Wisconsin, and Three Floyds in Indiana. So why not Michigan?

Bell's Brewery really put Michigan on the craft brew map, with their stylistic blend of hops and grains producing some crazily flavored, but very drinkable, beers. They've easily become a standard to reach, and are always trying new things. Remember their whole line of stouts? They released 10 different stouts, a few each November, in the late '90s, from a rye stout to a cherry stout to a chocolate stout. Recently, they've gone on a wheat kick, brewing Wheat 2, Wheat 4, 6 and 8 (I thought 6 was the best), and even brewing a white ale as their winter ale. Not for me, I might add---I still prefer the heavy, porter style when temps dip into the single digits.

Read this great interview with Bell's president and founder Larry Bell at BeerAdvocate.com for more insight about the brewery.

Recently, I've found Arcadia Brewery Company, out of Battle Creek, MI, whose specialty is British-style ales (which ones aren't?!). I mix-and-matched a few of their beers, mostly because I had never heard of them and I saw they were from Michigan. I tried the IPA, the Angler's Ale and the Amber Ale, all very solid. The most consistent thing about the beers was the way they poured: HUUUUUGE head. It literally took me a couple minutes to pour each bottle.

The one I was most impressed with, in large part because I'm a sucker for red beers, was the Amber Ale. Like the other beers, I had to wait for the foam to settle down before I could drink it. What immediately strikes you is the smell--it's got a subtle sweet earthy caramel smell. Not offensive at all, but you can definitely pick out the spring rain sensation (ok maybe I'm taking the scent a bit far). The first sip is a mellow bitterness, followed by more hops, then this slightly iron-acidic taste as it slides down your throat, and finally it leaves you with a very pleasant after-taste like apple cider and fresh-buttery bread. And then you want more.

Okay, you're asking yourself, you tried two beers from Michigan, and now you're ready to put the state up there with Colorado? And I would reply, yes, you're right, I've only tried two kinds of beer from Michigan. But, they both produced great beers, and are the only two I've seen in Minnesota. If you know of others, let me know, or better yet, leave a comment so everyone can know! Here's a good site for more info about Michigan brews. And another one.

[NOTE: I actually posted this at about 11pm on Friday the 5th of May, NOT at 8:51am on Thursday, the 4th, as it appears I did. But because I started it at that time, that's when it says I posted it. Just to clarify...I was NOT drinking Arcadia Amber Ale in the morning, at work, at the Capitol, however much I would like to.]