Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Beer Name

If I ever open a brewery, names of beers would have to be as important as the beer itself, right?  Maybe I could brew "Gary Coleman's Flatulent Sharks With Frickin Laser Beams Tied To Their Heads Wee Heavy" or "Where's my Porpoise? India Pale Ale".  Doesn't a  "Moronic Solstice Golden Dopplebock" sound good right now?  I bet it does.  I can't wait to try a "Beige Subatomic Glove Brown Ale" and the "Pablo Picasso's Faaaaantastick Sloth Old Ale".  All sound so good....

Be sure to check out the Random Beer Name Generator when you have a minute.  Do NOT have a beverage in your mouth at the time. It WILL end up on your monitor...

The picture is that of a futuristic generator. Get it?!  Awww, nevermind....

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

#894-#899: Bara-what?

Groupon is cool.   If you don't get it, get it.  Basically, you sign up for free. Everyday you get  emails that detail coupons to various places around town.  Buy it if you want or pass if you don't. There is no money spent until you want to spend it.  Coupons vary.  With my shaved dome, I don't need a coupon to a hair salon, but if you give me  $30.00 in food and drinks that costs only $15.00 at a local brewery, I'm in.  

Courtesy of, I have known about the Great Baraboo Brewing Company for a few years now....

Oh, wait. 

I should tell you right from the start that I asked them what a "Baraboo" is (or was).  They did not know.  I later checked and found out that Baraboo is a town in Wisconsin.  I have NO idea if that has anything to do with the brewery...

Where were we.....

Okay, so I never really got motivated to head there as the drive was an hour. But armed with a super Groupon deal that could NOT be passed up, a car load of friends and I made it there  last night for dinner and drinks.

Beers #894 to #899 where all on tap.  Unlike my trip to Massachusetts, where they basically try to drown you in sample sizes or kill you with alcohol, all the drinks were small and low alcohol.  Fine by me!

Boston Blackstone Porter, Hoppy Heartland Pale Ale, Kings Peak Caribou Wheat, some Rye beer (I didn't quite get the name), Shark Tooth Bay Golden Ale, Snake Eye Canyon Red Ale were all fairly good for the most part.  

Three stick out.  Two for the better with the other...well, not.  

The porter and red ale were both quite good.  I can't decide which I like better.  Each was certainly good in its own way.  Honestly, the only thing holding the porter back from a "5" was the aroma.  I got a whiff of something in there that suggested a burn of some sort.  Interestingly, it was not there on the tongue.  Am I being picky? Yeah, maybe.  The red ale was exactly what most people are looking for.  Smooth. Sweet. Malty. Pretty damned good.

Sadly, the Golden Ale was pretty weak.  They describe it as "light" which was dead-on.  Straw or gold in color, there seemed to be something positive happening initially on the tongue, but it fell apart pretty quickly.  The finish was downright icky.  A "2" for sure.  Coors Light, anybody?

As for the dining experience, my buddy hit the nail on the head.  The place was clearly a combo between a brew pub (giant vats and dim lights), a sports bar (tons of tv's and those silly flag things hanging everywhere), and a dance club (awful music).  If I lived closer, I would consider going more often despite the clear attempt of the place to establish an identity.  But, with a one hour drive, I will certainly use that time to check out other Detroit pubs..... 

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Fountain Of Youth?

A little cemetery sits not too far from where I grew up. Like many cemeteries in the area, this one has pine trees. Pine trees, of course, in southeast Michigan during the winter months, can be day roosts for Saw-whet Owls or Long-eared OwlsSo, during the colder months of  the year, it is not unusual for me to take a minute and check this particular cemetery. 

I have not yet found an owl here.  But, based on this tombstone, someone may have found something much better:


Monday, December 27, 2010

#893 - Delivered By A Wise Man

According to Christian folklore, wise men showed up at the birth of Jesus.  Guided by the Star of Bethlehem, they brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrhh

It is not my place here today get into the details of it all. Yes, astronomers basically think the "star thing" is silly. Oh, and guess what - the Bible never said anything about Three Wise Men.  Apparently, according to the story, three gifts were left by wise men, so it has been assumed for centuries that three dudes showed up. What an exercise in anti-logic, huh?  Of course, to some, the "birth of the son of God" is even more silly. But, again, that is not my point here today.

This Christmas,  for me, in a sense, was a time of  phone calls, thanks, and good business etiquette.
Continuing their efforts in pushing the limits of good beer, the Boston Beer Company,  brewer of Sam Adams beers,  moved forward in a partnership with the Weihenstephan Brewery in Germany. The final product was Infinium Ale.  Still following the Reinheitsgebot (the German beer purity law that allows the use of only malt, hops, water and yeast), Infinium was released just in time for the Holidays.   

Knowing only high-end beer stores would have it, I went to the high-end beer store of the Downriver area as far as I am concerned - Vreeland Market.  After a conversation with Bill, the owner, he mentioned that his six cases have been sold out or moved on to his other stores.  But with the wink and smile that would bring joy to beer drinkers  in Michigan everywhere, he said he would get on the horn and see what he could do....

Not 24 hours later, my phone was ringing.  Come and get it!

That's Bill on the reindeer in the photo above. As you tell, it is quite a big bottle.  750ml to be exact. 

With friends, I cracked it open on Christmas night.  Not with a bottle opener, mind you.  It was corked.

All in the all, Infinium Ale (#893) was the perfect hybrid  between a beer and champagne.  On the pour, it bubbled like champagne.  Clear and apply juice in color, a light citrus aroma was detectable. The palate was perfect.  Very little sweetness actually. With the champagne influence, I was expecting a ton of sugary tones.  Didn't happen.  Instead, there was a light malt feel with a light body. Keep in mind, it was "light" but with character; not at all light like a Coors Light (otherwise known as water).  The finish was dry, rounding out a superb drink.  5 out of 5 in my book.  Eight folks gave it a go. While nobody present,  beyond me,  is anal enough to score on it a one-to-five scale, everyone liked it.

Needless to say, stories like this re-enforce my commitment to Vreeland Market.  Bill and Company treat me pretty well there (this is just one story of many).  There is no way I can ever buy craft beer at any other Downriver store.  Beer bars? Of course.  Breweries?  You bet.  But a take home six pack of some wacked-out beer from a distant corner of the country (or world) will only be purchased here.   

Bill the Wise (Business) Man apparently follows a simple business creed - treat the customer right and they will be back.

Friday, December 24, 2010

River Royalty

Christmas Bird Counts are a great chance for birders to get out and do some good. Survey work, by the layman (or laywoman, as the case may be) in the name of science can be very rewarding. Plus, the chance to see birds, after the count, that have been dug up by other teams adds another layer of fun.

I had just such a fun episode yesterday. 

This past Saturday, a team working the Anchor Bay Christmas Count (one of the best in the state) drummed up a King Eider.  That's good stuff.

As one can see on the range map, this gal (a "Queen Eider" to some) was a bit lost.  Basically, they breed in the north-central part of the continent and fly either east or west to winter along the oceans.  A bird on the Great Lakes (outside of Lake Ontario) is not a common thing, at all. In fact, the Michigan Bird Records Committee describes them as "Casual" - a species that have been recorded more than three times, but fewer than 30 times, in the last 10 years, and were recorded in fewer than nine of the last 10 years.

That is quite a mouthful, huh?

Anyway you look at it, I got the shaft from a photography standpoint. As is so often the case as of late, I had my camera and a good bird ready to go. What's missing? Good light.  Yeah, I had clouds.  Tons of 'em.  Oh well.  Any way you look at it, my picture is certainly alot better than that coin to commemorate the upcoming royal wedding.  (Can they get they married already? I'm tired of it...)

Was it new for me?  No, not by a long shot.  I have seen them in Alaska and Maine.  Interestingly enough, my very first one was in Michigan.  A bird was hanging out at the Power Plant in Sault Ste. Marie in 1997.  There is no tellin' when I see another one.

I almost didn't see this one.  For days, she had been hanging out at the ferry landing to  Harson's Island.  Of course, she can't be there when I'm there.  Oh, no.  That would be too easy. So after watching and waiting for over an hour, I took off.  Hundreds of yards of shoreline can't be covered in the area as the river front is all private property.  As I pressed on for home, I noticed a little restaurant a half mile downriver from the ferry with some open public land on the waterfront.  "What the heck...", right?  So, I got out.  And there she was practically at my feet.  

Wait.  She is royalty. Perhaps, I should be at her feet?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Homeward Bound And Wrap-up

Tuesday, December 1, 2010

Driving out of Albany started nice.  With temps in the 50s and light spitting rain,  it felt like a warm spring day and driving was not a big deal. As I moved along, I watched in horror as the rain increased and the temperature dropped.  Within 90 minutes, it was snowing.  Roads were getting dicey and some traffic ended up in ditches. Fortunately, by the time I made Buffalo, the weather had cleared out.  (I later learned that roads in and around Buffalo were a disaster and people were stranded on the expressway for hours and hours. I dodged that bullet!)

With time to spare and in a need of stretch, I figured Niagara Falls was as a good place as any.  First, I went over the Falls in a barrel I stole from Sam Adams Brewery.  After drying off, I birded the area around the Falls for just a few minutes. Another sharp-eyed birder who was also there picked out an immature Iceland Gull in the mist and drizzle. A great spot on her part! A loon was down there, too.  1 bah-gillion gulls in the area were made up of Bonaparte's Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls and Herring Gulls.  Maybe a Black-headed Gull, too? Who cares! I got mine!

Right around the corner, Taps on Queen Brewhouse and Grill, served up two new beers and the final ones for the trip.  The Red Cream Ale (#886) and Premium Lager (#887) were a “4” and “3”.  Good stuff.  For added impact, lines of glycol(?) were wrapped around the beer line, crusting them in inches of ice. Not only was the beer certainly cold, it also appeared to be draining from solid ice. Kinda neat. 

The drive through to Windsor and home was uneventful.  The border crossing was a snap but I almost screwed that up. The Customs fellow asked all the usual question and but was clearly stalling, asking irrelevant questions, and then circling back to ask the same questions again in an attempt, I suspect, to trip me up.  When he asked “How where the Falls?”, I responded with a one word answer: “Wet.”

How dumb.  Now, I was thinking about the mist and light rain that was collecting on my bins and glasses so the answer made sense to me.  In hindsight, other stupid things I could say might  have included  “I think your hat looks silly…” or “You have a funny name…” or  “Does that gun really have bullets?” or “I’m a mule.  Can we hurry this up?  I don’t have all day….” Fortunately, he let me pass even though he easily could have waved me aside and had my car stripped down to the frame.

I was home by 10:00pm and asleep my 10:00:30pm.

Mission accomplished.

So, the details of the trip (followed by a map to highlight locations):
New birds – 6
Total Trip Birds – 92 (a little low, perhaps, but remember I spent a lot of time on the ocean watching the same birds trickle by…)
Life/ABA List – 640
Maine – 80
Massachusetts - 77
Rhode Island - 34
Connecticut – 29
Total States/Provinces Visited - 9
Total States Visited (lifetime) - 42
Total ABA Ticks (sum of all state/province checklists) – 4,203
New Beers – 52
Life Beer List – 887
National Park Sites – 6
Total Cups of Coffee - 1
Astronaut Diapers Used - 0 

My next trip?  To be determined...


Rare Birds And Beers

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Knowing Boston traffic is a fate worse than death and parking is every bit as bad, the early morning hours found me hurtling into town, not away from it.  With parking easily secured by 7:30am, breakfast was casual, and for the first time in my trip, I ordered a coffee.

The Ula Café, if I have my facts straight, gets “it”.  If everybody continues to buy junk, central American people get more poor(if you can believe that), habitat disappears and neo-tropical migrants die.  Is that not enough to quit drinking bad coffee? They have arrangements with a roaster, who in turn, has arrangements with a coffee farm in central America. The farm gets it.  They are pursuing sustainability, habitat preservation, birds, and good wages for coffee growers.  Bird Friendly certification? No. Rainforest  Alliance certification? Yes.  Does that mean shade grown?  No.  Did the Café’s information panel specifically mention birds and the steps they are taking to help preserve them? Yes.  Oh yeah, the eggs were good, too.

Time was spent writing waiting for the 10:00am gig.  And what happens at 10:00am?

The Sam Adams Brewery Tour!!! 

While I have been listing beers for almost a decade now, I have never been on a brewery tour. Never.  So, the Sam Adams Brewery tour was quite an experience for a guy who does not brew. 

First, a simple clarification.  Boston Beer Company is the brewery.  Sam Adams is the line of beer brewed by the BBC.  Think of it like General Motors and Chevrolet.  GM is the main operator while Chevrolet is the product. 

Knowing I like history, it was really cool to walk such historic ground.  Really.  The beer movement that Jim Koch started in 1985 in this very facility is what has allowed me to enjoy beer.  If he did not do what he did in Boston over two decades ago, the countless microbreweries across the country likely would not be here.  Summer barbeques might still be held with garbage like Bud or Bud Light.  Isn’t that a sick thought?

Attending the tour on a weekday was a slick move.  So few people were there.  Ten, maybe?  Ten people in a giant brewery all by ourselves. Heavenly (if heaven existed).  Except it is not a giant brewery.  According to the tour leader (officially called a Beer Ambassador), most people (I am no exception) are stunned at the size of the place.  There might be eight fermenters in there. Estimating sizes here, I bet you could fit most of the equipment in a four-car garage.  That’s all folks.  Some of your larger microbreweries sport that amount of gear.  Basically, this is their research and development building with some keg operations.  Major bottling ops take place in Ohio and Pennsylvania. 

On this particular day, they were actually brewing. Seeing the guy from the commercial measuring and pouring the hop pellets was simply so cool.  The short fellow with the full bear d and shaved head is Bob.  The other fellow is Dean.  That's Dean in the picture.

Speaking of hops, part of the tour included a rundown on the basic ingredients of beer – water, yeast, hops, and barley.  I have never had a chance to grab and handful of hops, rub it in my hands and smell it like Jim does in the commercials.  The aroma is awesome. It was like a powdered IPA in my hand.  Munching on barley (fresh and roasted) was truly an experience knowing how it was going to get used. 

As if all that is not enough for the beer enthusiast, knowing that the Boston Beer Company is a huge supporter of the community makes it very rewarding for the visitor.  The money I donated for the tour is used to maintain a program that helps get inner-city Boston kids outside to go camping or hiking. I saw these neighborhoods driving to the brewery and I’m telling you, in some cases, yards don’t exist.  Where did these kids play baseball?  Have they seen a bird that is not a House Sparrow?  They also help to maintain the Granary Burying Ground (where Paul Revere is buried).  Money well spent, if you ask me. 

The tour winds down with a trip to the tasting room.  With taps that rotate beer over the year, I was able to secure a nice sample of the Boston Brick Red (#885). You will not get it in Detroit.  For that matter, you won’t get it outside of Boston.  Good stuff.  Not the best beer in the Sam Adams line, but still good. I gave it a “3”.  On the subject of rare beer, I bought a special three pack of beer that can only be purchased on site at the Brewery.  You can bet I’ll post notes when I sample them!  (You can see them on the right side of the shelf in the previous picture.)

By the time the tour wrapped up, I had two choices after lunch.  Press on for home (which has to happen at some point) or give the Black-headed Gull one more go.  Two days previous, that bird had been reported on the Cape, right? Being on the southwest side of town, the GPS has me there in 1hour and 15 minutes. Off I went.

Before one gets to Dowses Beach in Osterville, a small causeway has to be crossed.  The right side of the causeway has a small pond. Let’s say it is the size of a football field or so.  On the far side?  A small group of gulls.   They’re worth checking, right?

Mixed in with the Herring Gulls sat a Bonaparte’s Gull-like bird, but a bit bigger.  Red bill.  Bright red legs. Dark spot behind the eye suggesting adult winter plumage. Finally.  Black-headed Gull.  Life bird #640.  After it bopped around the waters a bit, the black underside of the primaries could be seen so well.  Finally.   After days of checking every gull everywhere I went, I scored it  Finally.  The last real bird episode of the trip, a last stab.  I finally scored it.  Standing next to it? A second Black-headed Gull.  I thought one bird was not going to happen but to have two feet from each other was soooooooood damned cool……..

With all six major trip target birds in the bag, a course was set for home.  Driving took me as far as Albany, New York again.  Dinner was, by far, the best of the trip. 

The C.H. Evans Brewing Company at the Albany Pump Station was simply awesome and it needs to be on your “must try” list if you get to Albany.  The Scottish Light, Quakenbush Blonde, Smoked Miloweizen, Bock, Apple Ale, Beverwyck Black, Kick-Ass Brown, and Pump Station Ale (#877-884) were all very good. However, I was distracted by the meal itself.  Butternut squash ravioli with balsamic grilled vegetables, including red peppers, eggplant, broccoli, eggplant, red onion and Portobello mushrooms tossed with olive oil, garlic, and fresh basil topped with a balsamic reduction, toasted pine nuts and goat cheese.  Hands down, this was the best meal of the trip. It was really hard to take detailed beer notes when you eating that!

The location itself made for a super dining experience. The Pump Station is exactly that.  Back in the day, water from the Hudson River was pumped into a nearby reservoir. This building, completed in 1895, still has the original cranes in it used to move machinery and, ultimately, the brewing equipment.  It ceased operation as a pump station in 1932.  

Twerps Do Exist!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Alarm clocks in hotels are junk.  Oh, but they have little plugs so you can wire your fancy MP3 players though junky speakers! Who cares.  I don't know why I trust them or continue to use them.  Sixty minutes after I was supposed to get up, I rolled over and noticed the problem.  Up in an instant, and out the door, the dawn flight at First Encounter was either done or a bust.  The ongoing monster Dunlin flock with a few new Black-bellied Plovers was cool, but no Dovekie. 

Internet checks showed I made the right call on the Lapwing.  It was last seen....the night before...flying away.  Sure, it could show up. Keep checking.....

Head of the Meadow seemed like a good place to go for no particular reason.  More Razorbills. More distance problems...but hold on!  That group of Razorbills is far out, but this pair of birds is clearly closer and yet much smaller!  It has to be them! Black.  White.  Small! Dovekie!  Yes! Yes?  No?  Ahhh, crap.  I can't be sure.  Birders don't lie about birds (okay, some certainly will) and birders need to be sure.   Slight bits of doubt crept in.  No Dovekie officially.  Unofficially?  I'm sure of it.  I'll take brief, but excellent, looks.  Long, poor, or even bad, looks where I can't be certain of the ID don't cut it. 

Fifteen minutes later, it didn't matter.   From the left, hundreds of yards up the beach, just out over the surf, two itty-bitty black-and-white birds were haulin’..  Tiny.  Moving fast.  Closer.  Still small.  Closer and right in front.  Robin-sized.  Stubby bills.  Finally. Dovekie at 80 yards.  Life bird #639.  Awesome looks. They do exist!

With a five of six key trip bird in the books (three geese species, Razorbill, and Dovekie) and no word of the Lapwing, I off for casual birding. The Black-billed Gull was clearly not going to happen unless I bumble into one.   Pilgrim Heights helped to bolster the passerine list.  This location, where the Pilgrims found fresh water before they moved on to Plymouth, turned up some trip newbies including Yellow-rumped Warbler, Gray Catbird, and Red-breasted Nuthatch.

A side trip to a lighthouse highlighted the ever-changing and the never-changing.  Let me explain.

Cape Cod, the monster sandspit that it is, is constantly moving. With the high sandy cliffs eroding way, the light house was moved hundreds of feet back from the precipice before it teetered into the ocean. (The photo with the rock shows the location of the lighthouse before  was moved.)  At the cliff edges, hundreds of feet above the crashing surf, an observation deck, about 10 feet back from the edge, clearly states not to walk to the edge. One wrong step and the ledge could crumble.  And what does one see on the edge?  Yeah, footprints.  There you have it: the ever-changing landscape highlighting the never-changing attitudes of people - “That can't happen to me!”

The Fort Hill Marsh area was stunning in the late afternoon light.  Swamp Sparrow and  House Finch were new additions. A hunting Short-eared Owl would have been cool if it had  flying around.   A state park up the street turned up Belted Kingfisher and Fish Crow.  With the setting sun, the GPS was set for Framingham.  

In the dark, after securing lodging, an internet report came in.  Black-headed Gull, a target bird from minute one, had been seen the day before.  On the Cape.  The location?  Not far from the expressway and the Cape Canal.  Looking back, it would have been very easy to check the spot had I known.   I was beginning my home stretch, so, given the wandering nature of the bird, it appears my chance was lost....

On to Framingham, I went, for lodging.  Dinner was in Waltham at the Watch City Brewing Company.  The name is a reference to the watch industry that was a large part of the local economy for decades. The little personal pizza was fair, but the beers were quite good: BeeJezus Belgain Botanical Pale Ale, Brilliant Brewnette Brune, Hops Explosion IPA and the Titan Ale (#873-876).  Sadly, the sample sizes were as stupid as the Coddington Brewing Company.   8oz beers, this time.  Dumb.  Half-full please!

Cape Cod...Again....

Sunday, November 28, 2010
First Encounter Beach. The winds have continued to be wrong (west component) so the logic was to bird the inside of the Cape hoping to get birds that were trapped in the bay.

From the warmth and comfort of the car, more of the same.  Razorbills by the dozen, but no little black-and-white twerps.  The flock of Dunlin was easily the largest I have ever seen in my life – 250 easily. 

After perhaps an hour, Race Point was next on the agenda.  Again.  More of the same.  Again.  Oh, wait a minute!  Yup, Greater Shearwater!  Sweet!  Beyond that, yup, more of the same.

By this time, bellies (I’m a ruminant) were growling. I shot off to Provincetown for lunch and warm drinks.  The dog outside one shop was clearly a brutal killer.  Chunks of human flesh and clothing littered the street around him.  Actually, upon approach, he just rolled over on his belly looking for attention.  What a complete dufous.

A quick run through the harbor turned up Common Goldeneye and Long-tailed Ducks, among the usual. The Razorbills at your feet can't be passed up, either. The Seal  (presumably a Harbor) peering up through the water looked so damned intelligent.   At any minute, it appeared as if it would climb up on the dock, and start a conversation about coffee prices in Vietnam or something.  What a cool animal. 

Realizing that winds are no good for much of anything, the Head of the Meadow Beach was next on the agenda.  

You can't wrong with any location at this point, right? 

This site is quite a bit different than the others.  You can be in your car and above the surf.  Easily a few hundred feet off the crashing waves and 50 feet up off ocean's level, birding here is convenient.  Razorbills,blah, blah, know the birds at this point. 

Woah!  Those appear pretty damned small!  Yeah, black and white.  Distance from me?  1.9 lightyears. Yeah, they were probably my life bird Dovekies, but too far to call. That distance distortion issue is the plague – again. Is it big and far away or is it small and up close?  Dammit!

Hey, this gull is not like the rest.  Even at great distances, the pale primaries with black tips, whitish underwings and smudge on the back of the nape were a perfect match for an adult Black-legged Kittiwake.  A trip bird.  Awesome! 

Of course, seeing the whale makes up quite a bit more missed birds. As I was scanning the waters for twerps..uh, I mean Dovekie, the unmistakable vision of a whale rolling back in the water was right there.  With the ocean shelf a few hundred yards offshore, the fellow was easily as close as the water allowed. Any closer and he would have been beached.  No tail fluke. No blow.  But the color, shape, and dorsal fin were a perfect match for Minke Whale (Min-kay).  Very damned cool.  In just that split second viewing my heart raced.  I can only imagine how the whalers would have felt in 1851.  Their hearts must have jumped quite a bit, too.  I saw the same creature, but my excitement was clearly for another reason…

Sadly, too late in the date to manage anything, word came of a Northern Lapwing in Connecticut.  Three hours (by GPS) could not overcome the cycle of the sun.  Nothing could  change that! It was not possible to be on-site before sunset.  It just couldn't happen.  Plus, driving three hours in the dark hoping it would be there at dawn made no sense whatsoever. Noting the mega-rarity status of this bird, if it was there at dawn, the word would get out.  The plan for tomorrow? Stay the course on the Cape and check the internet every 15 minutes.  If it shows, drive like hell.

With the plan to head off to First Encounter Beach...again...for a dawn flight, lodging was in Orleans (right the road from the Beach).  Dinner was at Land Ho. Two new beers were sampled along with my salmon.  The Cape Cod Ale (#871) from the Cape Cod Brewing Company was a solid beer from start to finish.  The Lost Sailor IPA (#872) from the Berkshire Brewing Company was every bit as delightful.  Both were damn good and I look forward to having more!