Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Brussels, Mussels and September.

I often wish I were back in Brussels. Here from my bed in Escazú, I have pleasant dreams about visiting old cafés, drinking lambic, and scribbling notes. My subconscious is researching another guidebook, even if I'm not (yet). No doubt the wife and tots prefer it that way.

Right now, though... I mean, if you had to pick one time of year... hey, mussels are in season. So are beer festivals. This is the time of year that Bruxellensis happens, in that parallel universe where Bruxellensis is a regular occurrence. (Hey, maybe next year.) And the Belgian Beer Weekend kicks off this Friday on the Grand Place. I don't love all of the breweries that tend to participate, but... it's not like I go thirsty, is it? And you can't really beat the Grand Place for a beer-fest backdrop.

Just up the hill from the Grand Place party is Bier Circus, of course. This morning I got their newsletter. Mussels are on. Cooked in Girardin lambic, in Witbier and watercress, or in Rochefort and stone-ground mustard.

Back to the Grand Place for a peek at the list: Lots of clutter there, but I could do with a St. Bernardus 8, a Witkap Stimulo, or a Saison Dupont. Or several. For something different, a Cascade-hopped Armand from De Dool. Then a Hercule Stout to punctuate the evening.

For now I have some hoarded lambics and a few bottles of Saison Dupont smuggled from the States. Tonight, before bedtime, I may have to open a bottle, bending my thoughts toward shellfish and tiny snifters of 10-centiliter servings.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Of Beer and Twisters.

Back in Springfield, Missouri, there were three topics dominating local conversation: Dorial Green-Beckham, the Joplin tornado, and Mother's Brewing.

Green-Beckham is a high school football player and probably the area's most promising athlete, ever (golfer Payne Stewart notwithstanding). The tornado, as you might have heard, was America's deadliest in more than 60 years. More than three months later locals are focused on fund-raising and recovery. Mother's, meanwhile, is the sort of production brewery that my hometown of 160,000 people had lacked for too long.

Mother's opened on May 14. Mother's Day, more or less. The tornado struck nearby Joplin eight days later. I visited the brewery last week, on August 24. Earlier that day, these two filthy Mother's kegs arrived at the brewery, making their long-awaited return--from Joplin. Recovery workers only recently found them amid the rubble.

The kegs most likely came from Pizza By Stout. Opened in 1978, that pizza joint was one of many local institutions destroyed by the tornado. The Stout family recently announced on the restaurant's website that they would not rebuild.

It's worth noting that Mother's held a benefit concert for Joplin on May 26. It raised $15,000.

More about Mother's: Marketing guy Jeremy Wicks has done a whiz-bang job with local branding. (Check out the logo painted on exposed brick at the J.O.B. Public House, which I liked so much I'll save it for a future post.) Draft beers have been around since May, but bottles went on sale locally just this week. The tasting room is open for at least a few hours, four days a week, which is just plain civilized if you ask me.

My take on the beers in 60 words: The Towhead blonde and other lighter offerings are all highly drinkable without ducking real hop character. The L'il Helper is too resinously bitter to be my cup of, um, IPA. But for a favorite I'll tap the Three Blind Mice, whose German Altbier influence was as clear as I'd hoped. Overall, they are beers meant for drinking.

To try them you'll have to get down to the Ozarks... although it's always possible that future success or freak tornadoes could send them farther abroad.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Morning After: Scones at Lazy Jane's.

Sure, we could have gone for bacon and eggs, biscuits and gravy, that sort of thing. But after a full day of Great Taste beer drinking, punctuated with a bacon-mac-and-cheese pizza and more beer at the Great Dane, our bodies craved something... tamer. Plus, we weren't nearly as hungover as we ought to have been.

So, we went for scones and coffee at Lazy Jane's. Pictured: the blueberry. My brother and I also sampled blackberry, lemon cream and cherry in the café and on the drive back to Missouri. Like lembas bread for the Fellowship, it didn't take much of that dense goodness to fuel our manly no-stop-except-for-gas road tripping.

Besides, we're from southwest Missouri. Almost as far south as you can go and still be in the Midwest. I'm not totally convinced those Upper Midwesterners know what they're doing when it comes to B&G. But they can bake for me any day.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


We are at the 25th annual Great Taste of the Midwest today. And you, most likely, are not. If it makes you feel any better, it's going to rain on us all afternoon. It's going to get muddy. And here we are, without our galoshes.

I could have chosen other photos to portray anticipation. There's the Vintage Brewing tent, with its foosball table and old sofas. There's the life-size singing Elvis draft tower (from New Holland, I think). There's the Real Ale Tent, totally empty except for some firkins ready to pour and the words "Real Ale" flapping in the breeze.

But you know my sense of humor. Such as it is. How to resist the Great Wall of Porta-Potty? Yet not even the photo does it justice. Standing on one end, it seems to stretch over the horizon.

Interestingly, the Wall acts as a sort of secondary security measure. It helps to discourage yahoos from landing their boats on the shore of Lake Monona to sneak their way into the fest. Yes, that's happened before.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

As Seen on TV.

One of my favorite shows on TV is Diners, Drive-Ins and Drives. When we're in the States and not hunting beer joints, Missus Pilgrim and I have been known to mine the DDD archives for local eateries. So it was a rare joy to find a DDD spot that also happens to have a serious beer list.

Iron Barley is in South St. Louis, less than 10 minutes drive from downtown when traffic is light. Rather than give you the whole spiel, I'll send you to the DDD segment, and then the Man vs. Food segment... both of which fail to mention the beer.

I copied Adam Richman and went for the Monte Christo double dog. Chased it with a Centennial Rye from the local Six Row Brewing. Basically: a grainy, peppery rye pale with lemony-citrus notes from Centennial hops. A summery beer that is also a foodie beer. Comfort food and comfort drink, together as they were meant to be.

Lots more tips and tales in an upcoming article. Stay tuned, true believers.

Tomorrow: Off to the 25th Great Taste of the Midwest in Madison. My goal: to find out what, if anything, sets the region's beers apart from the rest of the country and the rest of the world. I've asked several people already and have yet to hear the same answer twice. Do you have any thoughts?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Channeling Papa H. for the Morning.

We did not intend to sport-fish. We intended to dinner-fish. But since we caught nothing worth eating and had to toss back what we did catch, we'll call it sport.

No pretension on the boat. This is not the place to bring your tulip glass. If the local beer is cold, that will do. The earliness of the hour stopped mattering as soon as we left shore.

Generally I'm not a rum-and-coke drinker. Tastes too much like a hasty high school party. But there is something about that taste after a puff of cigar smoke and throwing back one of those wacky animal-looking fishes like something that Steve Zissou spotted from his submersible.

In my case it was a handsome rooster fish with a serious, early '80s throwback punk-rock mohawk. That's what they call sport. Fun, but I would've rather caught dinner.