The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

March 17, 2010

Blogging, ballet & beer — with a perturbed poetry mention

I remember when I used to blog.

I know, it’s been a while.  Coming up on a month, actually.  So many cool things to write about and yet I don’t seem to be doing my job.  When we left off, Bonnie and I were just returning from New York City where it was cold and all Alan Shore-y.  Oh yeah, and a nice man in a bar bought me a drink while I was talking to the Beer Doc on the phone.  That still feels good.  I went out to the Art Bar last night to check out the final poetry slam competition — scouting for an upcoming undefined poetry reading (and by the way, Chris McCormick was robbed!) — and couldn’t find anyone to go with, so I put on my big girl panties and went alone.  Lo and behold, another dude tried to buy me a drink while I was talking to my friend Gillian on the phone.  He was creepy though — cowboy hat creepy, to be precise — so I gave him the Nora look and moved into another room.  (The Nora look is this “eat shite you pathetic fool or I’ll burn your house down” snarl that is passed genetically through the Boiter side of my family.  My dead grandmother Nora had it, and my also late Dad had it, then me, then Bonnie.  Bonnie has actually perfected it — you’ve probably seen it before from one or both of us.)

  In the interim since my last post, the Beer Doc and I spent Spring Break doing some final research on NC and SC beer.  Actually, I’m working on a story for Sandlapper on SC micros and brewpubs — focusing on COAST beer in North Charleston — a wife/husband team who are brewing organic, environmentally conscious beer that absolutely rocks; RJ Rockers in Spartanburg — home of the Son of a Peach summertime sensation; Thomas Creek in Greenville — home of the Deep Water Double Bock which is sumptuous; the Aiken Brewpub, which is in Aiken; and our own local Hunter Gatherer — the place I keep calling “our” pub and for some reason, people who don’t know it think it belongs to us.  I tend to get a little proprietary, I guess.  People who don’t know the Cellar may think I own it, too. 

In any case, much has been written about beer lately and less about my beloved arts.  (No, I don’t own them — it’s a figure of speech.)  However, I have done a couple of reviews for the Free Times of local Columbia dance companies over the past few weeks.  Here’s the piece on Columbia Classical Ballet’s Aladdin, in case you missed it.

And I’ll try to be a better blogger in the future.

 

Issue #23.10 :: 03/10/2010 – 03/16/2010

Aladdin Gives us More — and Less — of What We Expect from Columbia Classical Ballet

BY CYNTHIA BOITER

   

Columbia Classical Ballet’s Aladdin presented itself last Friday at the Koger Center as something big — something spectacular. In many ways, the company met its objective. Resplendent costuming in shimmering warm shades; a multiplicity of dancers at various stages of training; informed choreography courtesy of the rare former dancer who actually knows how to choreograph; delicate women; threatening thieves; and a plethora of adorable children littering the stage.  There is no arguing — it was a big show.

Based ever-so-loosely on a Middle-Eastern folk tale taken from One Thousand and One Arabian Nights (though the characters of Jasmine and a blue Genie do not appear in the story’s history until Walt Disney Pictures adapted the tale in 1992), Aladdin is a classic tale of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back and defeats the evil sorcerer with the help of a genie in a lamp. Choreographed by Classical Ballet resident choreographer Simone Cuttino — a John Cranko Ballet alum — the ballet Aladdin offers quite a lot of dancing.

In the first act, some might argue, it offers too much.

It’s not that exposition in a narrative ballet is a bad thing, but Act I could have used more of the fine-tuning — the winnowing out of superfluous movement and detail — that Act II demonstrated.

In a word, the first act was long.

That said, one of the most aesthetically pleasing parts of the ballet came in Scene Two when Aladdin, danced by Aoi Anraku (a Gold Prize winner in the All Japan Ballet Competition in Nagoya), encounters Lauren Frere’s Goddess of Diamonds and her accompanying attendants (danced by Anna Porter, Renata Franco, Kaori Yanagida, Akari Manabe and Dee Dee Rosner).  Though Anraku rarely demonstrated much commitment to his character, stepping in and out of choreography as if it were a series of disconnected exercises, the women accomplished their parts exquisitely.

It can also be argued that the ballet itself didn’t fully take off until the very end of Act I when the character of Jafar, danced by the Ukrainian Oleksandr Vykhrest — who heretofore had lacked the menacing energy one might expect from a villain — came alive with malice as he danced the lights down on the act. Once the ballet found itself, the remainder of the program was a delight.

The highlight of the night was the desert scene in Act II, when the company rallied to produce a mesmerizing scene of conspiracy and deception. Jasmine, danced by Kaleena Burks (former student of Magda Aunon and Magaly Suarez), demonstrated particularly stunning pointe work and arabesques while committing to her character in a manner she had previously yet to reveal. Vykhrest’s Jafar exhibited not just a capacity for peril, but also for affection, as he pined hopelessly for the princess. Kazuki Ichihashi, in the role of the Genie, might have relied excessively on his turns to wow the audience, but he executed them spectacularly. The lighting, courtesy of technical director and lighting designer Aaron Pelzek, painted the desert scene with subtle, yet beautiful changing hues suggesting the passage of time as the scene progressed.

Why did this simple scene with few props and no stage clutter satisfy so?

Because big isn’t always better. Give me the respect for the aesthetic of dance, the purity of exquisite technique, the confidence of simplicity audiences have come to expect from director Radenko Pavlovich’s classically trained and, usually, impeccably coached dancers, any day. My favorite Pavlovich productions are the ones with little production at all — beautiful, proficient dancers on a bare stage with nothing but a capable lighting director to illuminate their prowess.

We got to see a peek of this local treasure Friday night — but only a glimpse and not nearly enough to last until next season begins.             

Let us know what you think: Email editor@free-times.com.

   

 

 

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January 19, 2010

Sneeking a peek at the beer book — Bob, Beer, and Me — the Cantillon Brewery in Brussels

The Beer Book is moving along well, though late, and I’m excited to finally see it’s ending on the still somewhat distant horizon.  So here’s an excerpt from the book which takes us to the Cantillon Brewery in Brussels, Belgium where we entered the strangely organic world of  lambic and gueuze beers.  Hope you’ll take a look.

~~~~~

The Cantillon Brewery — Brussels

There is nothing glitzy about the Cantillon Brewery in Brussels.  If you’re looking for shiny stainless steel and squeaky clean equipment, you’ve come to the wrong place.  Think dust bunnies.  Think stray cats rummaging around accumulations of cobwebs and musty smells like peat, compost and orchard floor.  Think reverence for indigenous spiders who keep the brewery clear of other more pesky bugs. Think Mother Nature because, even in the midst of a bustling city, that’s what you’ve got in Cantillon – Mother Nature at work preparing sweet delicacies for those who wait.

Traditional lambic beer, like that brewed at Cantillon, is made from 35% raw wheat, 65% malted barley, and flavorful three-year-old dried hops[1] added at a ratio of 5 grams per liter of beer.  First produced more than five centuries ago, today’s lambic retains much of the same old-fashioned dry, sour funkiness of lambics of old – as long as it is brewed under the same conditions of old – which is exactly how the brewing of beer goes down at Cantillon.

Miraculously.

And I mean that literally.  While the Cantillon brewers certainly know better and are perfectly capable of controlling and orchestrating the product of their labors, they are happy to sit back, wait on nature, then harvest the half-millennium-old extraordinary process in which wild ambient yeasts floating naturally through the air convert barley and the sugars from raw wheat into this unusual, yet elegant brew called lambic beer. Hence the cobwebs, open windows, and dust bunnies visitors find when peeping behind the scenes at the magic that is Cantillon Brewery.

If you have tasted lambic beers at home you may find yourself equating it with fruit – and there’s a good reason why.  Young (year old) lambic and aged (two to three-year old) beers, called gueuze,[2] are often blended with one another to produce a variety of tastes that can range from sparkling and sour, if the young lambic takes precedence, to off-sweet and fruitier, if the gueuze does.  When the young and old beers are blended, the unfermented sugars in the young beer cause a second fermentation to take place in the bottle.  If fruit has been steeped in the beer, as it often is, the process will result in the classic dry kriek beer you may have tasted when sour cherries are used, or frambois when raspberries are the fruit of choice.

According to Belgian beer expert Tim Webb, there are vagaries in the Belgian beer regulations which may create some confusion as to whether or not a brewer has to use spontaneous fermentation for a beer to be considered an authentic lambic.  In other words, some brewers may avail themselves of short cuts by using prepared yeast in the brewing of their beers, rather than the natural spontaneously occurring yeast, endemic to the Senne River valley.

But not Cantillon.

We entered the warehouse-type building somewhat skeptically and stood near the door for a few moments trying to ascertain the procedure for viewing the premises.  A knowledgeable looking guy with a large pallet of empty bottles rolled through just as we were taken note of by one of his few co-workers, given a pamphlet and told to follow the numbers posted along the way for our self-guided tour.

The tour started in the mashing house where wheat and barley[3] are put into a large crushing machine in the middle of the floor to be crushed before they are mixed with warm water in the mashing tun.  The sugar-laden liquid, called wort, which is eventually fermented to produce alcohol, is extracted from the tun then pumped into beautiful red copper hop boilers.  Next, the mashing room led us to the granary, an amply ventilated room where hops, malted barley, and wheat are stored during the brewing season lasting from mid-October until the beginning of April.

But it was in the next room along the route, the cooling room, where we realized how different the Cantillon brewery tour is from many of the generic brewery tours we had been on before, or have been on since.  We accessed the room by climbing a short set of stairs into an attic-like space with shuttered windows in the walls.  Sitting in the middle of the floor was a huge, but shallow, hand-riveted, open-topped, copper vessel, looking more like a sculpture than a tank, called the cooling tun.  The tank was empty while we were there but we immediately knew that we were where the miracle that is lambic beer takes place:  the place where spontaneous fermentation occurs.

Cooling of the wort happens most often during the night and always during the coolest months of the year.  It is then that tiny micro-organisms living in and about the room inoculate the wort with a variety of airborne wild yeasts[4] which will ultimately result in spontaneous fermentation once the wort has been transferred to the oak and chestnut barrels in which the wort will be stored.[5]

We next wondered through the bottling area where Cantillon beers, rather than being capped, are closed with crown corks like Champagne bottles and transferred via conveyor belt to the cellar where they are horizontally stored.  The brief tour ended where it started and we were ready to taste some of the funky, sour stuff we had been learning about.


[1] Until the twelfth century flavors like rosemary and coriander were used where hops are today.

[2] Pronounced “gurze” or “kurze”.

[3] Cantillon has used only organic cereals since 1999.

[4] At least 86 known yeasts are present in lambic beers.

[5] The folks at Cantillon are quick to remind us that in the days of old, all beer was produced by spontaneous fermentation – today, only lambic beer is.

November 12, 2009

Zen & the Art of Being Busy, plus Ladies’ Night Out at the Columbia Museum of Art

I like being busy — doing different things all the time, dipping into the arts, politics, travel, intellectual pursuits, and even sports (but only for Gamecock athletics and on Super Bowl Sunday when I arbitrarily pick a team and cheer for it as if my brother were the QB.  I also like to hear when Clemson loses, but I don’t really care who beats them, and I sure as hell don’t want to watch the game.)  I’ve never been much for going to bed early, which is why I often write these posts in the wee hours of the night, and I resent the fact that I have grown to need between 6 and 7 hours sleep.  Sleep feels like lost time to me.  I don’t mind the demands of teaching a couple of classes at the university, writing freelance articles, and working almost constantly on the beer book which has turned into behemoth, but what I hope to be a nerdy beer-drinker’s dream.  (Did somebody say edit?)  But when I get too busy to do all the things I want to do, that’s when I’m sad.

Tonight is Ladies Night at the Columbia Museum of Art, and I’m going to be a big girl and do the right thing and stay home and keep working.  I’ll be honoring the zen of going out by staying  home, chained to my computer, getting shit done.  But that doesn’t mean that You have to.  Here’s the blurb, fresh off the museum’s website — go have a drink for me.   Cheers, Y’all.

Ladies Night Out
11/12/09
6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

The 5th annual Ladies Night Out – one of the most talked about events of the year celebrates the Museum’s fall exhibition, Ansel Adams: Masterworks in style with beauty products from Pout! boutique, Nana by Sally purses, Jewelry from Unforgetable, Children’s apparel by KD’s Treehouse and Swift Water Beads & Jewelry Supplies. Enjoy gourmet cupcakes from Cupcake in the Vista, libations and entertainment by DJ Peter A.

Call 803.799.2810. Tickets may also be purchased at the door.

Cost: Admission includes hors d’oeuvres and wine/beer and is $20 or $10 for members. Admission fee can be used toward the purchase of a new membership at the event.

November 10, 2009

Here’s to a seat at the Nick, The Cellar on Greene, the TRUSTUS Tasting, birthdays, family and food — cheers Y’all!

As some of you may be aware, this time last year I had just celebrated the inauguration of the Year of Wine — or the year of wining and whining as the Beer Doctor is so fond of saying.  I had chosen the occasion of my humphth birthday to embark on an intense study and appreciation of all things wine, having known just enough about wine initially to know that there was oh-so-much more to learn.  Well, much to my dismay, the months on the calendar whisked right away in the wind, and before I knew it, the same date rolled around once again, sadly bringing the year of wine to a close.

I’ve learned quite a bit.  My travels have taken me to several of France’s wine destinations where I’ve wondered through the Champagne district’s chalky caves, gotten lost in Burgundy’s enumerate vineyards, and immersed myself in Alsace’s spicy Gewurtz’s, Rieslings, and Pinot Gris’s.  We’ve traveled twice to California’s beautiful rolling hills and, happily, I only broke my nose there once.  I even gave the wines of Virginia a shot and found that, though inconsistent, they did present a brand new quality of delicacy to my palate — which shouldn’t be dismissed just because it is so different from most other wines.  We had hoped to also travel to Argentina, as well as back to Italy — just for the wine — but just as it did with the Bob’s Year of Beer, time got away from us — so these countries, and more, are still on our to-do list.  Our cellar is far fatter than it ever was and has taken over our fairly large walk-in pantry — there is literally nothing edible in there at all anymore — and will soon be spreading to the closet under the stairs — thanks for that idea to my friend, who will remain anonymous because she is having her closet converted into a cellar for her beloved as a birthday surprise — hmmm … wonder if I could score a little trompe l’oeil on my closet door, too? The one casualty of the Year of Wine, other than my nose, is the reality that bad wine is far more difficult to stomach than it ever was — and in many ways I have Ricky Mollohan, Kaitlin Ohlinger, and the rest of the good people at the Cellar on Greene to thank for that.  There is no such thing as bad wine at the Cellar, and my palate has effectively been spoiled.  Thanks guys, thanks a lot.

I celebrated my birthday on Sunday this year, and rather than the fairly immense blow-out wine tasting party that we enjoyed last year, I was more in the mood for a quiet family gathering at Muddy Ford.  It was a decision deliciously well made.  The Beer Doc created for me a beautiful Chateaubriand with bernaise sauce, my second favorite liquid — next to vino — in the world.  Annie put together a phenomenally rich potatoes dauphinoise and her lovely signature sauted vegetables.  Bonnie even got into the kitchen (she found it on her own and all!) and whipped up a scrumptious asparagus and mushroom saute — a dish of which she and I share a love.

If you’ve ever been to a meal at the Ford, you know how long it takes us to cook.  But that’s ok, because we have to also take the necessary time to fully enjoy the wines we are drinking in the process.  We started our Sunday in the kitchen off with a Clicquot Yellow Lable bubbly, followed by a 2003 Schramsburg Brut, which we much preferred.  With dinner we vertically tasted one of Helen Turley’s 2001 Magnificats — which was glorious — alongside an amazing 2006 Darioush cab — easily one of the best wines I’ve tasted this year.  Presents were served with red velvet cake — and I’m happy to say that everyone shopped locally this year, with an emphasis on jewelry and assorted creations by local artists.  My favorite (and most highly requested) gift, however, was my very own seat in the Nick’s new theatre on Main Street.  So, Larry, if  you’re listening, I’d like to take my seat as soon as possible, dear.

Even though the Year of Wine is officially over, I can promise you that the wining and whining is not.  Just for one example, I will  happily be attending the TRUSTUS wine tasting benefit at City Art in the Vista on Tuesday night, killing two very important birds — the drinking of good wine & the support of TRUSTUS Theatre, one of the most important arts institutions our city can claim — with one only slightly tipsy stone.  You can be there, too.  We’ll be tasting 8 wines — two bubblies, 2 whites, 2 reds, and 2 ports — for a cost of only $45 in advance, or $50 at the door.  I hope you’ll join me for a taste and a toast — to all good things – wine, family, food, friends, and art.

Cheers, Y’all!

July 13, 2009

Bob, Beer and Me excerpt — Heidelberg

            While not necessarily known for its beer, Heidelberg, Germany is known for its university and, as everyone who has ever matriculated into an institution of higher education knows, a college town is a beer town.

            We chose Heidelberg as the first stop on a short beer journey in the early spring of 2008 for three reasons:  it is easy to reach via train or bus after flying into Frankfurt; it is known for its historic university-oriented “drinking clubs” as well as Vetter’s Brauhaus, a revered brewer among the drinkerati; and, it has a castle.  Both Bob and I are suckers for castles, having spent hours when our girls were young either climbing over the ruins of castles and abbeys on one of our escapes to another country; reading about the people, both real and mythological, who had inhabited castles in days past; or planning, saving for, and daydreaming about our next trip when we’d be able to go castle hopping again.

            For so many of us Americans, castles are depicted in our minds as imaginary – crayon creations that fade easily into the clouds, or miniature sand structures that wash away before they’re even completed.  That’s one thing so many European children have over America’s kids – castles exist right in many of their back yards.  Their entrances and aprons are rarely roped off and seldom will you find black and yellow safety tape limiting children from climbing the ramparts or peering out through arrow loops or murder holes.  The castles are stone cold real.  And with this reality comes intrinsic connections to two vital pieces of the puzzle that help construct life and life expectations for a child. 

            One is not just a link, but a relationship with the past.  It is tangible.  The evidence is there.  While America’s children have been asked to believe in a combination of the vagaries of an ideological identity shaped by Hollywood, the executive office and the power of pride, the best they can hope for is an occasional en masse field trip to a Civil or Revolutionary War battlefield.  The past is not even past, for so many American kids; it never even existed.  For kids growing up in cities like Heidelberg, with a castle dating from 1214 AD, they need only look over their shoulders to Heidelberger Schloss, to witness scenes from a living history book on a daily basis.  Preservation of the past is an important lesson to learn from our elder countries.

            The other and equally important puzzle piece that castles can offer children is the association of the imaginary with the real.  When castles and palaces and thatched roofs and stone cottages can only be found in story books, it may serve to encapsulate fantasy, imagination and creativity – turning the act of making the impossible possible into a box that can be shut – a book than can be closed – a dream more easily dismissed than believed in.  Maybe castles that we can touch and feel and climb through can serve as reminders that what we imagine can come true no matter how fanciful it may seem.

July 7, 2009

Brussels, Delirium Cafe, How to (Properly) Taste a Beer (and previews)

I haven’t written for a few weeks because, glory of all glories, I’ve been working diligently on the beer book — and not being the reluctant writer! 

That said, I bring to you an excerpt of the book that I hope you’ll enjoy.  (I also promise to finish my story of the wine journey in Burgundy soon — as well as the recounting of a lovely beer tasting from Greenville’s own Thomas Creek Brewery held recently at my favorite place in Columbia, the Cellar on Greene.)

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Brussels is famous for its waffles (gaufres), its mussels (best served as moules frites– a delicious working-class combination of mussels and French fries), and its sprouts.  But more importantly Brussels is famous for its beer – not necessarily the brewing of beer, although one of the most unique beer experiences we enjoyed was our tour of the Cantillon Brewery in the Anderlecht area of the city – but the drinking of it.  And while there are a number of places to enjoy the distinctive selection of beer that accumulates in Brussels, a few places stand out famously.

Delirium Café, hidden in the medieval area near the free township of the Ilot Sacre, has the distinction among watering holes of housing the official world’s record of most beers on one menu.  Located in an 18th century cellar, the Delirium Café might be mistaken for just another drunks’ bar and, given that such a large part of the character of any establishment is determined by the patrons within, sometimes I guess it is just that.  But don’t let the rowdies and the tourists deter you: Delirium has much to offer the beer connoisseur – starting with a menu the size of a major metropolitan area telephone book.  With more than two thousand beers available in bottles and on draft, a good five hundred genevers, and a vast collection of rare, vintage and hard to find beers, particularly Belgians, Delirium Café is not to be missed when visiting Brussels.

We dropped by Delirium Café twice during our time in Brussels and both times found the bar crowded, but not boisterous.  Vintage beer signs line the walls and metal beer trays are affixed to the ceilings.  The place is nothing fancy, but few good beer bars are.  There is no table service so patrons have two options:  gather around one of the huge old beer barrel tables, grab a stool if you can find one, and make relays to the bar; or, do as we do wherever we are, make yourself at home at the bar and enjoy all the added benefits of having bartenders at hand who, if the spirit moves them, may just enlighten your palate even further.  While the crowds at the café during our visits were for the most part made up of patrons born many years after us, there was a respectable number of mature beer aficionados, as we have come to call ourselves, and we were able to strike up conversations with several other folks just as young at heart and palate as are we.

Delirium Café is also the place where we first encountered one of the many beer-raters we were to meet during our travels.  This particular rater had wisely taken his seat at the bar as did we.  We first noticed him writing carefully in a small booklet that he lovingly guarded close to his chest.  Then we noted that he approached his beers much in the same manner as us.  First he took a good look at his beer as it set before him on the counter, appraising the color and liveliness.  Then he picked the beer up in his hand and searched in the darkness for a clear white light to which he could hold the glass in order to more fully assess the beer’s color.  Is it amber?  Yellow?  Cola-colored?  The color of weak or strongly brewed tea?  Is the beer clear or cloudy?  How lively are the bubbles – sedate like a British real ale or vivacious like a top-fermented kolsch?  Each beer is an organism unto itself; don’t be surprised to find that beers from different kegs served at different bars at different times of year look, well, different.  Such is the nature of real beer.

Next, our beer-rater friend looked at the beer’s head – the foamy, frothy meringue-like substance that floats on top as the carbon dioxide within rises up through the beer to the surface, holding fast to the malt-created proteins along the way.  Beer head can vary in appearance and consistency depending upon, among other things, the type of beer, alcohol content, the glass and the condition of the glass in which it is served, and how quickly or slowly the beer is poured.  Tiny, tightly knit bubbles will result in a head that is smooth and creamy, but heads can vary from appearing foamy and sudsy like bathtub bubbles to heads that are rocky and large, standing up of their own accord over the edge of the glass.  Color is dependent upon the style of beer, snowy white to light brown, taupe or darker, like the foam on a root beer float.  Too many people are surprised when they find that their dark beers taste sweet or mild and their lighter colored beers taste strong.  Color in a beer is created primarily by the malt in the beer and the manner in which the malt is dried.

The next step for a beer-rater is to smell the beer.  Smell, not sniff.  The beer-rater we studied brought his glass to his face, as if to drink, then thoroughly introduced his nose into the odors and fumes and mists that his beer released as it slid down the side of the glass.  Smell deeply, when you’re investigating the olfactory components of your beer.  Smell, exhale through your mouth, then smell deeply again.  Between eighty and ninety percent of what we call tastes is actually attributable to smell.  Fundamental elements of taste and smell tell us whether our beers are sweet, salty, sour and/or bitter, but beer can smell like so much more:  fruits, herbs, spices, leathers, meats, milk, coffee, chocolate, tea, tobacco, even barnyard and bubblegum.  Don’t disregard the smells you think you smell in your beer – if you smell them they are real.

Finally comes the fun part.  Tasting our beer.  Few things can be as personal as the way in which beer-lovers approach the tasting of their beers.  Unlike with wine, it is difficult to splash beer around in one’s mouth by swirling air into the liquid mix, but it is equally important to be sure your beer blankets your mouth, stimulating all the taste receptors found lurking on the surface of the fifty to one hundred taste cells that each taste bud holds.  We watched as our Delirium beer rating friend took his initial sip of beer – a smaller amount to start with allowing him to let the beer wash over his tongue and into the back of his mouth.  Swallow.  Breathe.  He then took his next and more substantial mouthful, swallowed, breathed and then, the important part: he thought about what he was tasting. 

But it doesn’t stop with the first or second taste.  Notice how the passage of time affects your beer:  how it settles into itself as the head erodes (if it does erode) and the temperature drops.  And temperature is something to actively consider.  The flavor of good beer has been done a disservice by all the hype over drinking a cold beer.  It’s not that drinking a cold beer isn’t enjoyable – but think about what you’re enjoying:  is it the beer itself or the fact that something liquid and chilly is traveling down your throat?  As with wine, overly chilled beer has a numbing effect on the palate, potentially disguising the myriad taste sensations hiding there and waiting for your tongue to find and celebrate them.

May 3, 2009

Wine snobs not allowed

Filed under: aging,beer,beer book,not writing,wine,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 22:59
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Instead of writing yesterday, I spent most of the day working in what Bob and I surreptitiously call our “wine cellar.”  Don’t worry though, when we say it we look at each other and snicker like South Park characters.  What our “wine cellar” (nheh, heh, heh) consist of is several shelves in the pantry, a wooden wine box, a cardboard box and two wine fridges which we purchased from Lowe’s and stacked on top of one another in the mudroom.  So, though not technically a cellar — we don’t actually have to go down stairs or anything —  we do have to squat a lot to see what we’ve got in there, and that counts for something.

I’ve always wondered a lot about wine.  It’s fascinating to me how the taste of the earth and weather and fruit can be transformed into a liquid indulgence, and that people devote their lives to perfecting the ability to detect and evaluate these ingredients in a bottle of wine.  There’s also the cultural history that wine imbues, going back way beyond Jesus; wine has always been a lifesource, but only recently a source of controversy.  Both revered and reviled, wine has been a part of every known culture.  And then, of course, there’s the taste, the ritual, and the buzz — three of my favorite parts about being alive.  No wonder I’ve wondered about wine.

A few years ago, Bob and I decided that life was getting short, just as our parents had promised, and that if we were going to truly embrace and learn deeply about some of the things which we’d been yearning to learn, then we would need a plan.  Bob’s 50th birthday was approaching and, given that he has been both a beer aficionado and brewer for quite a while, we came up with the concept of the Year of Beer.  We would spend his 50th year reading about, traveling to, and tasting as many of the greatest beers in the world (and some not so great as well — see Lisbon, for example) as possible.  It is from this research that our upcoming book, Bob, Beer and Me, springs.  “The Year Of” was such a personal success that we decided to adopt the plan indefinitely.  So when I turned 50 this past November, we kicked off the Year of Wine.  (Future “Years Of” might include anything from castles to Dickens to Ireland — anything that we have an interest in and that allows us to learn and experience and travel.)

The economy being what it is, I’m not sure we’ll be able to travel quite as much for the wine year as we did for the beer year, but we have spent some time in Napa and Sonoma, (see my previous post on how to break your nose in wine country), and we’ll be leaving in a few weeks for a combination anniversary/wine trip to France.  And we’ve drank some wine. And bought some wine.  Hence our new wine cellar (nheh, heh, heh).  I just got up from the computer to get another Diet Pepsi, (coke is for dopes), and counted the bottles of wine that we have managed to purchase over the past few months, and it made me dizzier than if I had sucked down the whole bunch in a setting — there are one hundred and sixteen bottles of wine in there!  And that’s not counting the case of chard sitting in the corner of the kitchen for the graduation party next week.  

So if you’re out Muddy Ford way and feeling a little parched, please stop by and let me take you on a little tasting tour of our brand new wine cellar (nheh,heh, heh).  And if you have any empty cardboard boxes laying around, we’re taking contributions for the cause.

February 11, 2009

A Sneak Peek at the Beer Book

Filed under: beer,beer book,writer's life,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 05:11
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If you’d like to take a sneak peek at the book Bob and I have been working on, Bob, Beer and Me:  A Year of Beer, then go to www.stircolumbia.comand click the “view on-line now” toggle, and finally flip through to page 38.  Clicking the photo will enlarge the page, making it easier to read.  And check out that cutie pie positioned above the first text there.  A happy boy, no? See why I’ve been married to my high school sweetheart for almost 30 years?  Life is good.

February 5, 2009

Northern Exposure?

I was writing in the beer book today about a place we visited during the Portland expedition on one of our ventures out into the magnificent highs and lows of Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge.  Mount Hood Brewery is located just south of Mount Hood and north of Tom, Dick and Harry Mountain (seriously) in a little community called Government Camp.  The commercial part of the community is pretty tiny, consisting of little more than the Ice Axe Grill where the brewery is housed.  As indicated by the multiple layers of snow still visible on the Sunday we visited in June, there may be more money in skiing in Government Camp than there is in beer.  Ski resorts are nestled around the pristine mountains and valleys, hidden from view, as is the Timberland Lodge, a WPA construction that we’ve all seen at least once in the opening scenes of The Shining. 

We parked in a rutted parking lot and hopped over puddles of melty snow to get to the Ice Axe Grill where we would belly up to the bar and begin sampling from the Mount Hood Brewery’s finest. 

As much a part of the beer book as the beer are the people we’ve encountered on our quest.  Looking around the Ice Axe Grill I was pleased to find many of the typical characters one might expect to see on a snowy day in June when you’re almost 6000 feet above sea level.  A sedentary balding guy who seemed to have gathered dust around the perimeter of his mug while he nursed his beer.  A lost looking tattooed girl whose eyes betrayed the innocence of the story she wanted to tell.  A trio of large bearded men dressed in flannel and gathered into a covy — or should I say den?  And us. 

Recalling this today put me in mind of one of my favorite fantasy destinations — Cicely, Alaska.  Home of Joel Fleischman, Holling Vincoeur, Mourice Minnifield and Chris in the Morning.  I’m the kind of person who claims to not watch a lot of television (de rigeur, right?), but will often fall in love with one or two specific series.  Right now it’s True Blood and Weeds; in the past it’s been Boston Legal, West Wing, Six Feet Under, St. Elsewhere and MASH.  I always inevitably fall for shows that are destined to be canceled, too — think Sports Night and Studio 60.  But I never loved a show like I loved Northern Exposure.  The theme song was my ring tone for a while.

I loved the purity of those characters — how they all seemed to know and own themselves and their eccentricities outright.  Mourice knew he was a puffed up, patronizing asshole and he reveled in it.  Maggie O’Connell loved being the bush-pilot bitch that she was.  Joel was prepared to take his particularly Jewish neurosies to the grave.  But mostly, I loved the idea that somewhere up north, if there wasn’t a Santa Claus, then at least there was a place where people lived an honestly thinking life; freed of the harsh boundaries of the suburbs and car pools and the daily commute.  I thought the characters were unique, diverse, intelligent and purposeful.  And, as humans are wont to do, I based all my assumptions about the real Alaska and its inhabitants on the characters in this TV show.  It was a lovely fantasy.

But on August 29th, 2008, that pleasant fantasy was ripped from my head like a scalp full of hair when presidential candidate John McCain approached a lecturn in Dayton, Ohio and announced that  Sarah Louise Heath Palin would join him on the Republican ticket.  For the next two and one half months I was reminded daily that not only is Alaska not the diversity heavy, cerebral haven I had hoped for, but that the residents of said state were thick enough to elect a hollow-headed Caribou Barbie as their governor.

There are a lot of things I will forever hate John McCain for.  Race-baiting and re-raising the Red Scare as he accused Barack Obama of being a Socialist notwithstanding.  But forevermore he will remain the lone individual who tore a big moose-shaped hole in my fantasy world by taking away my dreams of a better place on earth — a place like Cicely, Alaska.

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