Saturday, May 30, 2009

#565 - #571

The kind folks at the Vreeland Mart and Easy Pick, two local party stores, coordinated their second beer tasting last night (you can read about the first one here). You know the drill, right? Buy the ticket ($25), eat a full spread of chow, and sample beers from around the world. How else should one spend a Friday night?

#565 - Cerise Cherry Ale is from the Founders Brewery. Using cherries grown right here in Michigan, Founders proved once again they know how to brew beer. I would give it a solid 4 out of 5 and suggest it is quite possibly one of the best fruit beers on the market. So many fruit beers can fall flat with funny acid tones. No such thing here. As one would expect, the color was pinkish with the short-lived head less so. Cherry aromas were obvious. On the tongue, everything fell into place. The some-what creamy body felt great while the finish was a bit astringent. A beer like this would be awesome with a cherry pie for dessert. Very well done.

(On the soapbox) On a personal bitter note (as opposed to a hoppy bitter note), it would have been nice if I could have sampled more of this beer. The fellow gave me what I would call a "splash of beer." I estimated this morning, using props in my kitchen, that he gave me 4 tablespoons of beer. You have to be kidding me. Generally speaking, one can't really get a feel for anything with what amounts to two large sips. After the little dribble in my glass, I asked him politely "Can I get a little bit more please!"
"No." was the answer. The tone was really sarcastic so I thought he was joking a bit.
"No." Not so sarcastic now - downright rude. "I only have four bottles. That is all I can give you."
So, let me take you through the conversation as I feel it should have been.
"Can I get a little bit more, please?"
"Sorry, but I can't. I only have four bottles. "
There. That wasn't so bad. The initial conversation was so rude that another fellow pulled me aside and commented "Hey, buddy, you can get this beer "here", "here", and "here". "So-and-so" has it on tap, blah blah blah...."

These can be such fun evenings, but blatant rudeness can certainly distract from the enjoyment. If this guy worked for the brewery (he is just a local distributor), I would consider contacting them and telling them he honks at his job. Market the beer, but don't be rude to the people that might buy it! This guy was so rude (and such a skimper with the beer), that I made every effort to avoid his table for the rest of the night. (Off the soapbox)

Admittedly, #566, the Grassroots Ale from the Great Lakes Brewing Company, confused me. My senses, from nose to finish, where overwhelmed and I had a hard time describing it to my tablemates. In the glass, the spectacular golden color and off-white head really set the stage for a great beer. The aroma was this wild and crazy combination that I could not put my finger on. At best, I managed spice and citrus. On the tongue, everything danced. The finish was very pleasant and mildly hoppy. (As I write this, I learned from their website, it is a Saison Ale. That explains alot.) This beer is a 5 out of 5 for sure. You have not lived until you have tried it.

The Flying Dog Brewing Company are the master's behind the Gonzo Imperial Porter (#567). The malty/alcoholic aroma was easy to pick up. It was as dark as brown could be without actually being black. On the tongue, it displayed what one would expect from a porter, but not so on the finish. Dry, sure, but there was also a sweetness that was very pleasing. 4 out of 5. I suspect others would simply give it a 5.

Kosmos Reserve (#568) is brewed by the Spoetzl Brewery in Texas. You may know them from their signature beer - Shiner. While big things can be found in Texas and "Kosmos" suggests somethings heavenly, it doesn't shine at all. It looked like apple juice. The aroma was hard to nail down, but the taste wasn't - in general, flat, boring and lifeless. This hardly stellar beer was solidly between an "eh" and a "ick". 2 out 5.

Black Lager is also brewed by the Spoetzl Brewery. While I would like to think the neat name is a bonus, #569 was a dud. A deep mahognony color (duh!) and sweetened aroma seemed okay, but everything beyond that was basically dull. 2 out of 5.

Boston Beer Company, the company behind Sam Adams, has quite a pilsner. The Imperial Pilsner (#570) pours a beautiful deep yellow/copper with a fair head. Very cloudy in good light., too. Hops and some citrus tones were present in the aroma. They (the brewer) claim a large amount of hops. Yeah, it is there, but it is balanced well with the malts. It seemed to be very lively with lots of tones coming and going. Very complicated. Sweet at one moment, followed by hoppy bitterness and then back to sweet. The finish was dry and hoppy. Interesting beer. 4 out of 5.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (at left) is considered one of the greatest composers ever, right? I assume his mastery of music was used to influence the name of a beer from the Gayant Brewers in France. Family brewed with a recipe from monks in the Crespin Abbey, Amadeus (#571) was a total trip. Picture cloudy lemonade, okay? Now smell it. Lemons? Sure. But, also add a strong hint of candy. Yes, candy. Everyone I spoke with who took a whiff of this stuff was floored. Unfortunatley, it was downhill after that. On the tongue, it was far too watery. considering it was a wheat beer (it seemed to me it should have been a bit thicker). The aroma was clearly the best part. Beyond that, it was average. 3 out of 5.

Oh yes, I almost forgot. The woman from Adam and Eve was there again. Someone please explain that to me. Really, the planners need to unload this lady. She has no purpose at this event. This time, she was wearing a necklace. They looked like they could have been those little themed lights you hang in the yard. You've seen 'em. Little red peppers or little pumpkins. This necklace didn't have any pretty stones, but it certainly had some, well, "jewels", if you know what I mean....

It should also be noted that a friend of mine predicted, back in early January, that I would eclipse Beer Species #600 this year. I said "No way!". Well, I am apparently on course to do just that!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I have reviewed Saison style beers before. I generally like them. The Stimulus Ale (#564) here as the FSB is no exception.

The color is a warm gold (as best as I can tell in the dim light). Even if it were pitch black in here,I could still pick it out of a crowd - that sweet aroma is like nothing else. On the palate, everything takes it's turn. Sweet candy gives way to orange highlighted with spices (coriander, I believe). Once it is down the hatch, the hops take over. A bit much, in my opinion, but still excellent. The body is nice and full with a bit of a creamy texture. Lacing on the glass was very nice! A VERY solid beer but the hoppy finish takes away from the other awesome hightlights of this beer. I can only give a 4 out of 5. If the hops were stepped down a bit, a 5 for sure. No doubt about it.

Still no score in the game. I will screening calls tonight. Mike Babcock talked to me the last time I was at a game. I am just enjoying the game tonight. I am in no mood to crack skulls AND score a game winner...

Okay, the Wings just scored. Very cool. If they keep it up, we won't see any overtime!
The Blackhawks just scored and Mike just called. I turned him down.
Ugh. Overtime. It was really not my intention to be here are all night. "No Mike, go away...."
On to the Stanley Cup Finals! I will make sure my skates are nice and sharp!


The menu blurb for the Dubbel Play here at FSB reads as follows -

You'll get to first base with this Belgian-style dubbel ale pretty easily. The malt richness will be a big hit. The flavors of raisin, honey, and spice will be a an extra-base hit. Combine all that with it's alcohol warmth, and full body, and before you know it, you're glass will be looooong gone!

Here is what they need to add- This beer is damned good!

The 1/4" tan head disappeared within 2 minutes or so. On the nose, all the sweet tones were there. True to the raisin content, the color was a deep brown with a hint of purple. Very inviting. On the tongue, everything danced. Sweet honey, raisins and some spices (a mystery to me!) were all present. The malty finish and carbonation were perfectly balanced.

"Dubbel play?" No way. A home run for sure!

One minute left in the first period. No score.

At the FSB

Here I am! The FSB (Fort Street Brewery). It is game time. Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The Detroit Red Wings are up 3 games to 1 against the Chicago Blackhawks.

I have beer. I have technology (live blogging here). I have a hockey game!

What more could a "fair weather fan" like myself ever want?!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


If you read yesterday's post, you saw I had some plans for Memorial Day.

We got the Kentucky Warbler at Maybury State Park (county bird #272). It was "grocery shopping birding". You know when you need to fine something in the store and you ask someone and they simply tell you where it is found? This was the same thing. The bird, a beautiful singing male, was seen within minutes. A stunning bird and a toughy for Wayne County.

The Summer Tanager? Well, no such luck. I am 0-3 with that damned thing on the Campus.

Dinner was a real treat. Both preparing and eating!

Mastering the Grill, a book I have recommended before, had a recipe I have wanted to try for a few months now - flaming brandy burgers. The key was to splash each burger with a shot of brandy! Now that was fun! Anybody who has ever played with matches or torched marshmallows on the the campfire would love this recipe! Basically, make some burgers (including minced onions, salt, pepper, and allspice). Just before you take them off the grill, throw on the brandy. The trick is to get the brandy on the burger to flame up (as opposed to splashing the good stuff all over the grill). Once the alcohol has burned off, you are left with a light caramelized sugar taste. Very cool. Oh yeah, use a kaiser bun.

The other fixings were quite good, too. The grilled squash and zucchini were pretty slick , but watch those pepper flakes! The dried mint did not seem to do enough to counter the nuclear leanings of the pepper. Plus, evenly distributing the flakes was a challenge. The white BBQ sauce was easy and good. Basically, mayonnaise and vinegar. Not bad!

What about that beer? Wacko? Yikes. Life beer #562 was simply not a good beer. A crash-and-burn for sure. Had the flaming brandy gotten out of control, dousing the flames with this beer would have been fine. "Junko" might be more appropriate. It was not something I would recommend. Magic Hat Brewing Company claims to have used beet juice (or sugars) during the brewing. I think it is a nifty little gimmick that fell flat. The drink itself is a fascinating shade of red leaning towards pink. Not much head. Not much lacing. Pretty bland to the eye. It was equally as bland on the nose and palate. Too much happening, but not much jumped to the front. Somewhere in there was a fruity taste. The carbonation was waaaaay too high and the finish was beyond dry. It was more acidic than anything. All in all, a poor beer. Ultimately, one could use it as an appetizer beer (the fruit and cheese thing). Not that you should, but you could. 2 out of 5. Maybe...

Monday, May 25, 2009

Don't Ever Forget

As you read this, I will likely be standing at Maybury State Park looking for a Kentucky Warbler. I need it for my Wayne County list. After that, the plan is to travel to the campus of the University of Michigan - Dearborn for another attempt at a Summer Tanager. This will be yet another try to find that bird; it just never seems to be around when I am looking for it.

Eventually, I need to make my way home. My parents and a dear friend will be over for dinner. Flaming brandy burgers and grilled squash & zucchini will be the main course. Grilled chicken with a white BBQ sauce is an option for those not wanting the burger. Of course, grilling for people at my place would not be complete without some fine crafted micro beers. I look forward to seeing what the Magic Hat Brewing Company has done with "Wacko."

But, I have not lost track of what tomorrow is or why we observe it. Freedom isn't free. I can do the things I enjoy because of the sacrifices of others. They trained. They struggled. They triumphed. They bled. They died. These men and woman have done these things, currently do these things, and will continue to do these things. We can never forget that. Ever.

To remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the National Moment of Remembrance resolution was passed in December 2000. It asks, at 3 p.m. local time, for all Americans "to voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to Taps."

I know what I will be doing at 3pm. I hope you do the same.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Gonna Like This

I have the day off today. While lying in bed this morning, I heard something that just did not sound right. I won't say "explosion", but it was certainly one of those "What was that?!" sort of sounds. My ceiling fan slowly wound down to nothing. Yup, no power.

Ahhhh, but all is not lost. I am at Panera Bread checking email. I recently purchased an HP Mini 1000 for travel. I have always felt a bit lost on vacation not being able to check bird reports and eamils. I'm good now! Of course, when I turn this thing off, the sound of the Millenium Falcon will echo through a coffee house. R2-D2 greets me when I turn it on.

How cool is that?

Off to find some birds. May the Force be with me.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Pink Slugfest

The mother of a friend of mine is a breast cancer survivor. She is one of those uncommon stories where there is no family history. She got it anyway as cancer does not discriminate or care much about family stuff. A few days back, she got a letter inviting her to the Tiger's game today at Comerica Park. The plan was to get a bunch of survivors, proudly in pink, on the field before the game to increase awareness of breast cancer and the tremendous efforts of the Susan G. Komen Cancer Foundation. Four tickets were included with the letter and I got to go.

Pink ribbons were absolutely everywhere. There were ribbons tied to railings and ribbons painted on the field. Some electric signs were in pink, too. A promo on the big screen even talked about MLB games being played with pink bats! I'm surprised the beer wasn't pink!

Our seats were pretty good. We were only about 30 feet from the right field foul pole. Attendance was a bit light and the shade was a bit cool, so moving up a few rows into the sun was a good idea. On a day like today (never above 60 degrees), that warm sun can make all the difference.

The day was never hot, and at first, the Tigers were not either! It wasn't even the end of the first inning and the Tigers were down 5 runs to nothing! With all the moans and groans in the crowd, one could tell this had the potential to be a awful game, right? Well, word must have spread around town a bit about my vast sports knowledge. As you may recall, I bailed out both the Red Wings and Pistons earlier this year. Sure enough, my phone rang. My caller ID showed it was coming from the Tiger's dugout. It was Jim Leyland, Manager of the Tigers.

"Yeah! Jim! What's up?"
"Got a minute? Armando Galarraga is getting killed here. It's only the first inning. I was hoping I could get a few more innings from him. Nobody ever wants to pull a pitcher in the first inning. Whatta ya think?"
"Jim....buddy.....yank him.", I said. "He's done. Everybody knows your bullpen has been struggling and has blown a few games that should have been 'W's. If you keep him in, and the bullpen has its the now almost expected meltdown, you'll never stand a chance in this game. Get him out and hope your hot bats can get this game going again. Granderson and Santiago are rollin'. Let them do their thing. But get that pitcher off the mound or your doomed. "
"Thanks! Any chance you could help..."
"No way. I am enjoying myself here with this beer! You'll be fine!"

Within seconds, he walked to the mound and Galarraga was done. Bats boomin', and the slugfest continued. 8-6 was the score by the end of the 3rd inning. The Tigers held on to win 11-7. This is how baseball should be in my book. If you don't have the pleasure of watching a shutout or a no-hitter, then dammit, I want bats cracking, balls flying and outfielders earning their pay! This 3-game sweep of the Athletics, by the way, totaled 34-8. That is some mighty fine hitting!

The beer, for the record, was pretty good. Really! Somebody in the Tigers organization put their "thinking cap" on and figured out that there is more to beer than Bud Light. They figured out that fair-weather sports fans like myself enjoy real beverages at the ball park and a can of swill is not the answer. So, they figured out a plan that I think is a winner for sure - get the local breweries there! My beer was the Dirty Blonde (reviewed here) from the Atwater Block Brewery. Now maybe the local brewers have been there in the past, but I have never seen them. Now that I know they are there, they will have my business. Forever. Oh, and the prices were the same for the Blonde vs a Bud Light - $8.50 for a 20oz cup. Hmmmmmmm- same price for the same amount. One is pretty good while the other is basically on a direct feed from the Detroit River a few blocks away. Geeee, what should I get?!?! Hand crafted beer or river water?

All in all, a super day it was. Great efforts (on and off the field). Great weather. Great game. Great company.

Did I tell you it was great?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Birds and Brews

With a day off, a birding companion, and nice weather, I shot down to Crane Creek in Ohio again yesterday. 70 species was the total (I wasn't really trying hard) including 24 species of warblers. I even managed a new Ohio bird - a Least Bittern calling along the marsh edge. (Reports of an iPod lashed under the deck with wires running speakers near the bird's apparent location are totally unfounded. ) My Ohio list now stands at 220.

After a long day in the field, what can be better than a pizza and cold beer? The Maumee Bay Brewing Company was the place. The Oliver House pizza, with artichokes, pepperoni, mushrooms, and other goodies, was simply awesome. On top of that, the Ottawa Ale was a delight. 5 out of 5 for sure! Everything was there! A near perfect balance of malt and hops. Caramel tones on the palate. Great color (amber-ish). Excellent body and perfect balance. Perfection, people. Perfection.

While birding, I snapped a few pics. Enjoy.

Prothonotary Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

Cape May Warbler

Swainson's Thrush

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Belles versus Drill Sergeants

Yesterday, here in Michigan, the weather was delightful. Unfortunately, I could not make it outside even though it was my day off. Some aches, some serious sniffles, and a general feeling of "Wow, I feel like hell" basically ruined my day. (You can add all the Swine Flu comments. later. I'm sure that wasn't it. I didn't grow a curly tail and I never "oinked".)

I also had today off, but opted to bird locally. Lake Erie Metropark was the place.

Prior to this morning, my park list stood at a solid 244 species. With that many birds on any given piece of property, adding new ones can be tough. It is like trying to increase your bowling average - the higher it is, the harder it is.

So this morning, camera and bins in hand, I casually went off down the trail. A few things here, a few things there. I even managed a photo of this handsome Yellow Warbler singing his guts out(shown at left). A Rose-breasted Grosbeak put on quite a show. Black-and-white Warblers were around, too. Ultimately, it was pretty slow.

Shortly, after taking the photo of the Yellow Warbler, I bumped into David and Kevin. It was obvious they were birding, too, so we stopped and exchanged info. (Birders, by the way, are generally great at the info exchange thing- no secret handshake and gang symbols required. One just needs a pair of binoculars.) We all agreed the morning was a bit slower than expected, but then they mentioned a bird that certainly put a spring into my step...

"We had a Louisiana Waterthrush by the Museum..."

"Are you absolutely sure?", I asked?

Louisiana Waterthrush is not a thrush, it is a warbler. As the name suggests, you would find them in the south. They can be found in Michigan, but knowing they don't breed here in great numbers, getting them in the Park is a challenge. In 14 years of birding Lake Erie Metropark, I have not recorded one, nor has anyone ever reported one to me. I know of only one person who saw one....once.....

Within minutes, the three us had staked out a position at the trailhead. Listening to a distant bird's song is hard when 30 kids on a field trip come trotting past. Besides, the bird sounded like it had moved north a bit, so we opted to head to another location on the trail. The distance was still pretty good, but if all was quiet, we should be able to hear the bird, right? Well, the House Wren 15 feet away never got that memo! It's song is here.

After an anxious minute or so, the House Wren moved on (I refused to take it's picture- perhaps it left because I insulted it) and the distant waterthrush was much closer. Take a minute and listen to the Louisiana Waterthrush vs. the Northern Waterthrush. The opening notes of the Louisiana are much more whistled and the notes downslurred. The Northern just chops right through 'em. That is all the key. Musical downslurs vs. staccato chops. A slower drawl from a southern belle vs. a harsh...I don't know....German drill sergeant? After a few more songs, we left to triple check the song on the CDs in the car. Dead on for a Louisiana. We, by the way, never saw the bird.

If you read this and say "Wow, you have a great ear for hearing that little difference!", I don't. Two things could have happened. A) The bird never sang when I was there. B) It DID sing and I wrote it off as the German.

In either case, all credit goes to Kevin and David. They found it. They told me about it. They deserve the credit. It's that simple. One of them (I don't recall who) mentioned he was home on break from Northern Michigan University. I am happy he mentioned that. When I first saw them, I honestly thought they were high schoolers! Perhaps my now traditional "A hat tip and a beer!" salute could be amended to "A hat tip and rain check!" - after all, I did not card them and I will not insult them with a "A hat tip and a Capri Sun!" Anybody who can pick out the Southern Belle versus the Drill Sergeant deserves a good old fashioned cold one!

With that, my Lake Erie Metropark checklist now stands at 245 species. My Wayne County checklist is now 271 species.