Apparently, I’ve been far too depressing. Fine. Forget the collapse of the dollar, hyperinflation, exploding debt, moribund economy, etc., etc. I mean, why be so down? In the long run, we’re all dead, anyway, right? So why worry? Let’s talk about something we can all enjoy, then: Beer.
Actually, not beer, as such. I generally don’t drink plain old beer. If you enjoy the watery, bland flavor of of your Michelob Light or Miller Genuine Draft, then knock yourself out. I wouldn’t touch any of that stuff, though. I like to go deeper into the catalog, and enjoy the stout, the porter, and the fantastic subset of beer known as India Pale Ale, commonly known as IPA. I’ve actually been on a tasting rotation of several different IPAs in the past few weeks, and I thought I’d jot down a few notes about them. And, living in what is probably the epicenter of craft brewing in the United States, I have lots of choices.
Stone Brewery, which is conveniently located several blocks from my house, has an excellent reputation, and they have some great products, particularly the Imperial Russian Stout, and the Oatmeal Chocolate stout. and they’re probably best known for their Arrogant Bastard Ale. You’d expect the Stone IPA to be similarly enjoyable, but…I dunno. It really seems like a bland and uninspired IPA to me. It has just enough hoppy bitterness to be an IPA, but considering the premium price, and the quality of Stone’s other offerings, it should be better. There’s literally nothing about the Stone IPA that sets it apart.
Ballast Point Sculpin IPA
Ballast Point is another San Diego brewery, and the Sculpin IPA is very hard to find. If you do find it, I suggest you grab all of it you can, as it’s produced in small batches, and anything other than the 22oz singles are hard to find. As are the 22oz singles. This is a very complex IPA. The hoppy bitterness has a hint of pine, and the finish is complex and spicy. This is an recognizable IPA in flavor, but with lots of extra complexity and character at the finish. Highly recommended, if you can find it.
Widmer Brothers X-114 IPA
Widmer is just now getting into IPA brewing, and are starting off a "Rotator Series" IPA which will eventually consist of four different IPAs. The first release is the X-114 IPA. I imagine that the primary motive for brewing this was the thought, "You want hops? You want bitterness? Then stand by!" This is a very bold IPA. The nose is very redolent of pine, as is the taste. It’s just pure hops. I call it "Christmas Ale" because that’s what it reminds me of. It’s the smell of a clean house with fresh Christmas tree in the living room. The flavor is similarly crisp. I’d say you really have to love a bitter, hoppy ale to enjoy this, but if you do, this is the one for you. [UPDATE: I had another one after writing this post. This is an enjoyable brew if you're an IPA fan, but if you're just starting on IPA, you should stay away from it. It really has a strong character of hops, and newbies will find it far too astringent to enjoy.]
Sierra Nevada Torpedo Double IPA
This is one of the most balanced IPAs I’ve run across. Everything about it is just good. It’s not as complex as the Sculpin, and not as bitter as the X-114. It’s balanced, crisp, and refreshing, without going overboard in any direction. It has a nice, clean nose of hops, and just enough bitterness to bite. There’s no single element of the Torpedo IPA that’s outstanding. Instead, all of the elements are in balance, resulting in a marvelous IPA that’s more bold than, say the Stone IPA, without being overpowering. If you can’t find the Sculpin—and you probably can’t—then the Torpedo Double IPA is equally good.
New Belgium Ranger IPA
Ranger IPA is very close to the Torpedo in fine balance, strong, but not overpowering bitterness, and a clean, hoppy nose. I’d put it between the Stone IPA and the Torpedo for complexity of taste. At the same time, it seems lighter, crisper, and more refreshing than the Torpedo. It’s like an extra bitter summer ale.
And, finally, not an IPA…
Deschutes Obsidian Stout
This one is hard. Try it back to back with a Guinness (Extra Stout, not Draft), which is a dry stout, and you’ll hate it. Try it by itself, and you’ll love it. It’s an unusual stout, in that it has these flavors of malt and barley sweetness that the bitter hops overcomes at the finish. Lots of dark chocolate and coffee notes as well. It’s a much bolder stout than usual. I wouldn’t use it as a refreshing summer drink, because it isn’t. This is a sipping stout that’s very robust and substantial. I’d think that you’d really need to be a porter or stout fan to truly enjoy this, as it’s definitely not an introductory brew. Also, it’s available no further east than TX.
New Belgium Summer Ale and New Belgium Fat Tire Ale
Both of these ales are very close in flavor. They are much more lightly hopped than an IPA, and both have a fuller, more malty hint of sweetness in taste. The Summer Ale, however is a bit lighter, and crisper, and is an excellent, refreshing hot-weather beverage. Both are very good pale ales. I was drinking the Summer Ale a few weeks ago when we were having a heat wave here. You can drink it like water, but I wouldn’t recommend doing that, unless you don’t need to operate heavy machinery. Or stand up.
I went to BevMo this weekend, and picked up a couple of six-packs of some British imports: Fuller’s London Porter and Extra Special Bitter and Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout, so I’ll be trying those out for the next several days. I’ll let you know how that goes. I’m especially keen to try the Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout. This is the original modern oatmeal stout. First brewed in the 1750’s, Smith’s produced it until after WWII. They resurrected this type of stout in 1980, and were quickly followed by others in the UK and US.
I put the two different bottles of Fuller’s in the fridge this afternoon, and I couldn’t wait to taste it this evening.
Fuller’s ESB (Extra Special Bitter)
It pours a dark amber, with a thin, tan head. The nose is filled with hints of apricot and dried fruit. The taste comes on with a very slight hint of bitterness that is quickly overcome by a full malt flavor with hints of toffee and caramel, and finishes with a taste of whole-wheat bread sweetness. it’s got slightly more carbonation than I remember from pub draft bitter in the UK, which is only to be expected from the bottle, which dissipates after the glass has been sitting for a few minutes. Other than that, it’s very much in the tradition of a draft pub bitter. Probably a good choice for people that find the bitterness of an IPA is too much, and prefer the milder, sweeter ales. Or people, like me, who just like to try different ales. Even The Lovely Christine, who hates beer, tasted this and pronounced it drinkable. It’s that good, and that mild.
Fuller’s London Porter
Oh. My. God. It pours black with a red flare. Before you even sip it fills your nostrils with a strong essence of earth and wood smoke. The taste attacks with strong notes of coffee and chocolate and toast. And it finishes with the bitterness of roasted malts, rather than the astringency of hops, followed by sweet toffee aftertaste. It has a thick, substantial mouth feel, and is smooth and creamy. Under it all is this sweet, malty, richness. I’ve had a number of American "Smoked Porters", but nothing like this. The coffee and cocoa notes are so pronounced! It’s lightly carbonated. This is just absolutely fantastic. Rate My Beer gives this a perfect 100. Now I know why.
Headed home from the Twin Cities meetup. Sitting in a truck stop cafe typing this on the iPad. Isn’t technology wonderful?
Met a lot of folks, saw a number I knew, heard Bachman, Cain and Pawlenty. More on that later.
Long road trip but definitely worth it. There’s 30years of road warrior in me that needed this. There’s also the fact that one can get isolated and a little disconnected from life and reality sitting in a house or office daily writing about what one reads or sees on TV.
So it’s nice to get out and see a bit of the country and people again.
That means 12 states in a week. Call it a “grounding” experience. Makes you remember what a vast, beautiful and great country we have.
By the way, if you’re ever near Little Chicago south of Minneapolis (off I-35), stop into The Steer for breakfast. Get the “Trucker’s Special”. Good stuff.
Every now and then I’ve been given the opportunity to talk with some of our movers and shakers from the past. First it was former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld as he launched his book "Known and Unknown". And through the Rumsfeld office, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to now sit down with former NSA and Sec State Henry Kissinger today as he launches his new book, "On China".
Unfortunately I received the book yesterday and haven’t been able to read it, but as the title suggests, it is all about China – history, politics, foreign relations, etc. Kissinger has apparently been fascinated by the country ever since Richard Nixon sent him to Beijing to help open and better relations between the US and China.
If you have any serious questions about China – since that’s obviously going to be the theme of the coffee klatch arranged for today, I’d welcome them. I think it will be a fascinating hour or two. China has always been an enigma to the West, and it is no less so today. Drop any ideas for q’s in comments and if they’re good, I’ll try to ask them.
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I’m not one to memorialize the dead usually, although some are significant in history and my life. And it may seem strange to choose a former baseball player when I do decide to do so. But Duke Snider was one of my all time baseball heroes as a kid. This was back in the era of 3 major league teams in New York and rivalries that simply were unmatched. I caught the fever early and young, and Duke Snider was one of those I most admired:
Duke Snider, the Hall of Fame center fielder renowned for his home run drives and superb defensive play in the Brooklyn Dodgers’ glory years, died Sunday in Escondido, Calif. He was 84.
From 1949, his first full season, until 1957, the period generally considered the golden age of New York baseball — the last time the city’s fans were divided into three camps, and when at least one New York team played in the World Series each October — Snider was a colossus, one of three roaming the center fields of New York.
The others, of course, were Willie Mays of the New York Giants and Mickey Mantle of the Yankees, and the three became symbols of their teams, as the city’s fans argued over who was best: Willie, Mickey or the Duke?
History has since settled Snider in third place, but at the time, he had a good case to make. The Dodgers, known fondly as Dem Bums and immortalized by the writer Roger Kahn as “The Boys of Summer,” won six National League pennants during Snider’s 11 seasons in Brooklyn.
It was the era of Mays, Mantle and Snider and history may have put Snider in 3rd place, but not to an impressionable young kid he helped fall in love with the game of baseball.
Rest in Peace, Duke.
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On October 1st of last year, the company I’d worked with for 24 years was sold to a competitor and I, along with most of the work force, were laid off. Such is life. It was the impetus for me to suggest to two others you know well that perhaps it was high time we tried to do something we all love. Thus was born 3Media Partners LLC. The "we" is myself, Dale Franks and Michael Wade.
3Media Partners is an internet marketing and consulting firm. Here’s the short description from the 3Media website:
We provide marketing services that focus on branding, brand management, advocacy, messaging, information and intelligence research for political and corporate clients using the social media as well as other online means. 3Media also partners with corporate and political communications departments and other media companies to help run online grassroots and grasstop outreach, pushback, advocacy and messaging campaigns.
So, the short and sweet is, we’re here and we’re in business. While readers here may not be in the market for our services, perhaps you know of someone looking for them. A referral would be appreciated. Contact information is available on the 3Media site.
Call this just a weird coincidence, but I happened upon an article in the Houston Chronicle that listed the best 10 burger joints in the US. And coming in at 10 was “Feltner’s Whatta-burger” in Russellville, Ark. I followed it to a local link.
I went to school there (Arkansas Tech University) and I worked for Bob Feltner in what was then known only as “The Whatta-burger” (methinks somewhere later on there must have been some sort of legal thing with big burger chain named Whattaburger that caused Bob to stick his last name in front of it).
The honor of being among the best 10 doesn’t surprise me, nor could it go to a more deserving person/family. Here’s the story:
Feltner’s Whatta-Burger in Russellville rounded out the Houston Chronicle’s top ten list of legendary burger joints this year.
"Well, it doesn’t surprise me. They do have great burgers," said Tim Macks, a customer from Fayetteville.
The restaurant opened its doors for the first time back in 1967. It started with a dream. "This used to be a dirt road out here. He sat in a lawn chair, counted cars, came home and said I’m going to open up a burger place and we thought he was crazy," said Missy Ellis, an owner.
Ellis now owns the restaurant her father started when she was just a child. She said, "To be chosen as one of the top 10, that is just unbelievable and I know he’s looking down from Heaven saying way to go."
If it is not fresh, it is not served. Food is not frozen at Whatta-Burger.
Even the pickiest eaters can find something they like and in big portions. "Our large fry is a good pound of fries, so you have to be starving to eat one of those by yourself," said Mandy Simons, general manager.
Eaters from Fayetteville, Fort Smith, and even Tulsa make their way to Russellville for a bite of the Whatta-Burger. "We always make it a point to stop here anytime we’re close," said Alan Young, of Tulsa, "We’ve been looking forward to it for two or three weeks."
A better person or a finer boss than Bob Feltner can’t be found (and I’m far from the only one who would say that). We were a college town and he located his place right on the border of the campus. You could walk there, and most did. Bob supported the college and the kids who went there.
And he hired as many as he could to work there, usually over staffing the place. His way of helping those of us who usually didn’t have two pennies to rub against each other. He also extended credit. Seriously. His system was to write it on a wooden ice cream spoon and keep the spoons in the cash drawer. I used to work behind the counter and it wasn’t at all uncommon to hear a student say “put it on my spoon”. I’d sort through, find their spoon (there were a bunch) and put the amount on there.
What was funny about it is rarely, if ever, did Bob have to collect. And when he did, he’s ask someone who was a friend of the person who owed more than he should to mention it to him. That was it. That was the sum of his collection effort. What he did was appreciated and students showed up constantly to pay on or pay off their “spoon”. I don’t think he was stiffed very often.
There was one thing Bob wouldn’t do – he wouldn’t put anything out that wasn’t fresh. None of the hamburger was frozen – it was all fresh. The vegies were cut up the night before (a friend used to do it and said he seemed to always smell like onions). The fries and the like were frozen, but none of the meat. It was the primary rule of the house – if it isn’t fresh or doesn’t look fresh it doesn’t go on a burger. And if you weren’t sure, it didn’t go on a burger.
I could sing this man’s praises forever. He was just a great person. He remembered everyone’s name, greeted them like an old lost friend and made you want to come back. The fact that his food was great was a bonus. When I first worked there (not long after he opened) it was a walk-in or walk up place. No seating for dining. Strictly to go. Over the years, Bob has added on and now it has a pretty good sized dining area.
Of course all of this reminds me of a story where my roommate and I got caught up in a Cool Hand Luke moment and bet someone we could eat 20 regular hamburgers at Whattaburger. I think alcohol was involved. The bet was if we did so, the other guys would pay for them but if we didn’t we had to pay for them. Well, neither of us could afford 20 hamburgers, but we figured we could eat them.
Over we went and Bob got into the fun of it and got the burgers ready. Well, I’m ashamed to say, I made it through 6 or maybe 7. I figured we were doomed. But my roomie scarfed down his 10 and the rest of mine. We won the bet, barely, in the time allotted. Me? I became a footnote in Whattaburger history, but my roomie, Denny, became “champ”. Every time Denny went in the place, Bob would yell out, “what it’ll be, Champ?”
Loved the place, loved the man, loved the whole family.
If you are ever anywhere near Russellville, Arkansas, do yourself a favor and hunt down Feltner’s Whattaburger. Missy Ellis, mentioned in the article, is Bob’s daughter (and worked at the Whattaburger with us). Tell her I said “hi” and enjoy a great burger in Bob’s memory.
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Welcome to 2011.
For those of you who never thought you’d make it this far, I know the feeling – but here we are.
A quick note of thanks to the loyal QandO readers. We rolled past 7,000,000 visitors this last year (that’s a little over a million for each year we’ve been online) and we’re about roll past 11,000,000 page views according to Sitemeter. Our server stats give us much higher numbers, but since Sitemeter is a common to many sites we’ll just mention the numbers it gives.
Although writing for QandO is a lot of fun, I really enjoy the comments and I especially enjoy our loyal band of commenters. It is an excellent community and part of what makes the blog popular. You make my day many times and I appreciate both the fact that you comment frequently and, for the most part, leave well reasoned and many times humorous takes on the posts/topics of the day.
2011 promises to be an interesting year both politically and personally. New opportunities on both horizons make the year promising, at least on the first day. We’ll see how it pans out.
So, here’s hoping you, your family and other loved ones have a great and prosperous New Year in 2011. And again, thanks for reading QandO.
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Light blogging for the next few days. This time of the year is very light in blog readership anyway, as everyone turns to family during the Christmas season. And frankly, I need a break from the clowns in DC.
Speaking of family though, two of my nieces have been busy this year. A little bragging is called for.
One, Delanna Studi, finished up a nationwide tour with the Broadway show, “August in Osage County”.
And another, Amy Weaver, is featured in a Sears commercial and, as you’ll see, does an outstanding job. Remember: cranberries:
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I’ll be out for a few days. Going in to get my shoulder “scoped” today. It’s an old injury from my “jumping out of perfectly good airplanes and landing in trees” days that has finally gotten so bad (and painful) that I’ve got to do something about it. I can actually say I’m looking forward to this surgery with some modicum of truth.
Been through it before (the other shoulder about 12 years ago) so I know the routine. The surgery isn’t such a big deal but the therapy is a b*tch.
Anyway I’ll be off of here for a few days and hopefully back on Monday (sooner if possible).
Unless they give me some really good drugs.
(UPDATE) Not so bad. Good drugs, but typing with one hand is a b*tch.
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I arrived at Ft. Stewart’s Cottrell Field a few hours early – it was a long drive from Atlanta and I wanted to make sure I got there with plenty of time to spare. I was the only one in the parking lot as I pulled in, grateful for the opportunity to rest a bit before the ceremony. My son’s unit was coming home from Afghanistan and in a few short hours I’d actually get to see him, put my hands on him and rest assured that he was home and well.
As I sat there thinking about the upcoming event, my eyes wandered to two rows of small trees lining Cottrell Field at either end and what appeared to be markers at their base. Curious, and needing to stretch after the long ride, I walked toward them. It was a beautiful hot August Georgia day with a slight breeze, enough to keep the heat from being oppressive and the gnats at bay.
Walking toward the trees I noticed a walkway with two brick pillars. On the pillars were brass plaques, one announcing this was “Warrior’s Walk” and the other explaining it was a memorial to the soldiers lost in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. My heart caught in my throat as I looked down the long double row of trees and I thought, “there but by the grace of God …”.
Understanding the joy I would soon experience with my son’s homecoming, I felt an obligation to at least share some of the pain the families of the fallen must have endured when they found out that their loved one would never walk across Cottrell Field and back into their lives. I walked “Warrior’s Walk”.
If anyone can manage to do so with a dry eye, they’re a better person than I am. Each tree has a marble marker with the soldier’s name and rank. Each includes a metal flag representing the unit with which he served. But the most poignant items were those which families and fellow soldiers had placed under each tree. Lovingly left and carefully preserved, these mementoes tear at your heart and remind you of the lost love they represent. Many families had put wind chimes in the trees. Walking alone along the walk with the breeze gently stirring these chimes gave the walk an eerie almost otherworldly effect, strangely welcoming and embracing a visitor.
I finished my walk, sobered by the sacrifice of so many young lives. It was almost time for the ceremony and my son’s wife and my 4 grandsons, who had traveled earlier that morning to attend some classes at Ft. Stewart, had arrived. We all moved into the stands and waited for my son’s unit to arrive. The excitement was palpable. It continued to build as the time neared and more and more families arrived.
We were given updates – “they’ve just landed; they’re loading the busses; they’re enroute; they’re 10 minutes out” – and each update drove the anticipation up another notch.
Finally the busses were spotted and the gathered crowd went wild in a frenzy of cheering and clapping. Looking around it was a sea of smiles.
The unit unloaded behind a screen of trees at the far end of the field, shielding them from our view and then, dramatically, emerged from the tree line and marched in formation toward the stands. The gathered families cheered as they approached, some with tears streaming down their cheeks. Young children waved flags and signs they had lovingly made, all the while looking for their daddy.
The Colonel assigned the unenviable task of officially welcoming them home knew his duty and limited his remarks to about 2 minutes. At the conclusion, the PA announcer barely got, “and this concludes the formal portion of our ceremony”, out of his mouth before the crowd in the stands broke toward the formation. If the scene was pure pandemonium, it was the happiest example I’ve ever witnessed.
As our family pushed into the throng, we searched for my son. Finally, the crowd parted and there he was. He looked hale, hearty and happy. He looked good. We all tried to get to him at once, but everyone enjoyed a great big hug before it was over. My youngest grandson, age 6, had tears streaming down his cheeks and dripping off his chin as he wrapped his dad up in an embrace that he seemed not to want let go. More hugs, more smiles, more looking him up and down to ensure he was okay – that he was really here.
Finally, we began to walk off the field, and as I walked behind him and his son’s I smiled at the picture they made – the soldier holding the hands of two of his sons as we headed toward the cars. It was then that I heard that ghostly sound on the wind, the faint sound of wind chimes. A chill went down my back as I glanced back toward the double row of trees. It was as if those along Warrior’s Walk were welcoming him home too.
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