Monday, June 27, 2016

2016 PhotoChallenge Week 25: B&W Textures

At the end of last year I discovered  This is a small group of photographers who set forth a weekly challenge to other professional and amateur photographers.  What I was drawn to with this weekly assignment is that is pushes you to try new techniques and get out and take pictures on a weekly basis.  I'm taking part again this year and will also do a quick blog post about each of them.  The rules of the challenge do require that these are new pictures, not from your back catalog.  With my busy work schedule, I may not be able to get out each week and do this, so I will likely add a few of my older photos on the blog--taking the opportunity to look at the plethora of pictures I've taken and actually do some processing and weeding.

2016 PhotoChallenge Week 25: B&W Textures

This past week's challenge is right up my alley!  I love black and white photography--perhaps because I grew up with a B&W TV for at least some of my childhood (try watching Voltron without being able to tell what color the robots are...) I'm usually drawn to textures when I've got my camera out--always snapping shots of rust, peeling paint, wood grain and more.  

1) Leafy:  I like the contrast on this one a lot, taking the somewhat ordinary green leaves into a bright and furry looking B&W shot.

2) Fuzzy:  This tiny plant's fuzzy filaments really struck me while taking pictures this fine day.  I may have taken about 30 shots of these guys but this one is my favorite...

3) Wood & Metal:  This is an old one from our trip out to Fort Ligonier in Pennsylvania.  They used all old style techniques to recreate the old fort and all the old reinforced wooden doors and gates were a wonder to shoot!

4) Fluff:  This one is also an older shot.  I took this in the backroad ditches behind my family cottage a few years ago when my cousin Kathleen and I went out on a walk with our cameras.  

Thursday, June 23, 2016

We'll Cross That Bridge When We Come To It: Lift Bridge Brewing Review

Not long ago my wife (Sarajo) and I took a day trip out to Stillwater, Minnesota for a little visit of the sites and breweries in the area.  It's actually been 14 years since we last stayed in Stillwater for our first does time fly!  I've been meaning to get to Lift Bridge Brewing for years, ever since they built their own brewery.  Not too long ago one of my friends--Randy Ust--formerly of Midwest/Northern Brewer and then Herkimer, started working for Lift Bridge and was willing to give us a tour of the place.

We showed up fairly early in the morning, before the taproom opened, and entertained ourselves for a bit playing cornhole (hey I didn't invent the name) outside until Randy arrived.  The day was beautiful and sunny with a slight hint of chill that was burning off rapidly.

Led by our bearded friendly giant (BFG), we got an awesome up-close and personal tour of the facility, located in a large but attractive warehouse building on the outskirts of town.  The facility is one of the bigger breweries in the state, but not as massive in scale as say Surly or Summit.  The brew system is a 15 barrel affair which they use to fill 11 30 barrel fermenters and 4 60 barrel fermenters.  Do the math there--they have to brew 4 times to fill one of those 60's!  I sense a bigger brewhouse or 24-7 brewing in their future!  Lift Bridge began around 2007/2008 and have been steadily growing ever since, perhaps being more cautious in their expansion plans than some, but still ever enlarging their production and distribution.  Randy showed off a new yeast propagator that was the most recent addition to the equipment as an example of a new area of growth.

They have a bottling line, a somewhat "experienced" kegging line (and Randy to lift those heavy kegs), and now a new canning line for packaging up the beers.  We also got to peek into an accessory warehouse where all the bourbon barrels filled with precious beer lie maturing and waiting to become one of the best barrel aged beers in the state--Barrel Aged Silhouette!

Home of future Barrel Aged Silhouette...

Lift Bridge was one of the early additions to the  Minnesota Craft Beer Renaissance (I should trademark that) and led with Farm Girl Saison as their flagship beer.  Back in early 2007/2008 putting out a spicy, estery Belgian style beer as your flagship in Minnesota was pretty bold.  Many of the early recipes for the brewery had additions of spices or flavors to accentuate the flavors and nod to the experimentation oriented homebrewing roots of the founders.  The current Head Brewer for Lift Bridge is Matt Hall, a storied brewer previously of Firestone Walker in California, and things have only improved since he came on board.  I've met Matt a few times at Happy Gnome beer dinners and he's not only a stellar brewer, but also a wonderful guy.

Awesome old wooden fermenter on display in the brewery.

Once we were done with our tour of the grounds (plenty of room for more fermentors!) we headed to the tasting room.  In 2011, after the "Surly Bill" allowed for brewery taprooms, Lift Bridge was the first in the state to take advantage of it.  The taproom is open and comfortable with mainly bench seating at varnished wooden tables.  A jukebox sits in the corner, and a small bar lines the back wall.  Plenty of merchandise fills some cubbys in the back corner for your swag needs.

The taproom has a lot of the standard Lift Bridge beers on tap but also hosts some small-batch taproom only beers that are worth a check.  Randy took us through the then current line up of beers and here are my pencil sketches of some of them from this visit.  I've given the beers a score between 0-5, with 3 being my average drinkable beer.

1) Shadow Effect: Taproom only German style schwazbier.  This was very roasty and dry--much more in line with a dry Irish stout than a malty lager. Still decent though.  3.25

2) The Warden: A sweet/milk stout.  I get lots of coffee, cream, and roastiness.  Very nice. Can't drink much of this since I'm lactose intolerant!  3.75

3) Mango Blonde:  The base beer for this a very respectable blonde--better stylistically than most of the big selling Minnesota examples (I'm talking to you Fulton and Excelsior!)  The addition of mango is subtle but makes this pop with some juicy tropical flavors.  I had an aunt and uncle who raised mangoes in Florida so I grew up loving this fruit, but most mangoes in Minnesota are hard little bitter things compared to those.  This beer gets the balance right!  4

4) Cowboy Jack's IPA: A session IPA brewed for Cowboy Jacks, and available there or in the taproom.  Very strong citrus hop up front on aroma.  Crisp.  Lemon and orange flavors.  Dry finish.  Quite nice.  I like this a lot more than the Crosscut and would drink it regularly if I could.  4

5) Irish Coffee Stout 2016:  A blend of barrel aged Russian Imperial stout and milk stout finished with cold press coffee.  This beer is actually one of my favorite Minnesota coffee beers and is often underrated.  Aroma of roasted grain and fresh brewed dark coffee.  I get a thick and creamy mouthfeel out of this. Flavors of coffee, malted milk, hints of vanilla and toasted oak.  I like this beer best aged one year. 4.25

Overall, Lift Bridge is putting out some very good beers.  I'd still like to see them drop or minimize the spiced beers, but think that some of the newer offerings are hitting the mark well for me.  These guys are doing some amazing things with barrels and I want more!  This trip I didn't get to try the Commander Barleywine, nor the BA Silhouette, but I'll be posting separate reviews of those beers in the coming weeks since Randy was kind enough to donate a few personal bottles of his own to my cause.

Magnetic cribbage boards build into the tables!

By the time we finished sampling beers and buying merchandise the place had filled up for a busy noon crowd of thirsty drinkers.  This was fun mix of locals and other beer tourists like us--everyone seemed to be having a good time.  Thanks go out to Randy, Sarah, and all the staff at Lift Bridge for a great experience.  I'd highly recommend visiting the taproom.  In fact, make a trip of it:  check out the cool downtown area, have dinner or lunch at LoLo, check out Oliphant in nearby Sommerset, WI across the historic lift bridge, and stay the night in one of the many B&B's (I like the Rivertown Inn).

Monday, June 20, 2016

2016 PhotoChallenge Week 24: National, State, and Local Flowers

At the end of last year I discovered  This is a small group of photographers who set forth a weekly challenge to other professional and amateur photographers.  What I was drawn to with this weekly assignment is that is pushes you to try new techniques and get out and take pictures on a weekly basis.  I'm taking part again this year and will also do a quick blog post about each of them.  The rules of the challenge do require that these are new pictures, not from your back catalog.  With my busy work schedule, I may not be able to get out each week and do this, so I will likely add a few of my older photos on the blog--taking the opportunity to look at the plethora of pictures I've taken and actually do some processing and weeding.

2016 PhotoChallenge Week 24: National, State, and Local Flowers

This past week's challenge was to take pictures of (ideally) your state's flower.  In 1902 Minnesota's State Flower was named the pink and white lady slipper (or showy lady slipper).  It is a rare orchid that only grows wild, and is protected in our state.  The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum has few on the grounds, and the week before this challenge one was illegally picked--making the newspapers locally.  We take our flowers seriously!  Unfortunately the flowering period for these is very short and I was unable to get out there in time for the post.

Wait!!!  Update Time!  I managed to get out to the Arboretum today and discovered a few remaining blooms of the the Showy Lady Slipper hiding their odd shaped faces in the shade by the edge of a swamp.  

This week I've also been continuing to go through my old photos and organizing them within Lightroom and just happened across a shot of a tiny wild orange orchid that I assume is some kind of Lady Slipper that I discovered at the Arboretum last spring/early summer.  

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Oliphant Brewing: Not Just for Hobbits Anymore...

Recently my wife (Sarajo) and I took a little day trip to Stillwater, MN.  We stayed at the Rivertown Inn for our first anniversary (14 years ago!!!) and haven't been back to the Stillwater since.  With our 15th anniversary looming we decided to take a little jaunt and stay the night back at the B&B!  And of course there is beer nearby...

"Mr. Frodo, look!  It's an Oliphant, no one at home would believe this."  --Samwise Gamgee

We had heard great things from several friends about Oliphant Brewing, just across the border in Somerset, WI.  With under a 20 minute drive from Stillwater this seemed like a no-brainer.  It was spitting a bit of rain when we arrived, so didn't take my real camera along--hence the below par iPhone photography of this particular post.

Awesome mural by Taylor (server and artist!)

The brewery itself is in a small warehouse right behind the Liquor Depot (convenient?)  and is decorated by a colorful mural on an outside wall.  The outside and inside of the place is painted a somewhat hideous shade of faded smurf-flesh blue.  Some outdoor seating is available out front, and then inside is a small utilitarian taproom.  The place was pretty crowded when we arrived, but we were able to snag two seats at the end of the wood-topped bar.

Mr. F!

The walls are lined with an eclectic array of artwork, ranging from strange child-like scrawlings to more professional work, much of it sci-fi themed.  A large blackboard by the bar hosts a bewildering plethora of oddly named beers, many with corresponding amazing chalk art.  Many of the beer names and artwork nod to geekery with a bit of Arrested Development thrown in for good measure.  This odd mix of comic book, science fiction, and comedy gives this place a bizarre but pleasing comfortable feel.

Our main server (Josh I believe) reminded us quite a bit of Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and was incredibly jovial, funny and helpful.  We were able to taste all of the beers by getting and sharing two samplers.  Apparently there was some sort of Groupon for a beer sampler going on so they were running low of tiny glasses, but we got 'em eventually!

These beers deserve a write up!  I'm going back over my brief notes and 0-5 scores from Untappd as a reference here.  For me a 3 is an average beer that I'd be OK drinking, a 4 is a very good example of the style, and a 5 involves angelic choruses.

1) Pizza Demon: Light English mild ale.  Fruity.  Well...mild.  Pleasant English malt character.  A good start to a sampler!  3.75

2) Anutart:  A solid Berliner kettle sour with red wine grapes.  Nice tannic bite adds complexity.  4

3) PlumBob Chamomillionaire: A lager with plums and chamomile.  I felt like the fruit esters from the plum cut the crisp lager character.  Chamomile not very apparent.  3.5

4) Turtle Lord:  Hefe.  This one was not good.  I get enteric in the aroma (fancy term for poop smell).  Flavor OK initially, with some German Hefe esters, but end is bitter and soapy.  This one is infected with something unpleasant.  2.25

5) EnniPA with TNT hops:  A bit of sulfur in the aroma.  Taste is lager crisp.  Bitter orange rind finish is astringent. 3

6) Wislard - The Lizard Wizard:  Seriously where do they get these names???  I like the Wizlard!  Aroma of white wine and citrus.  Flavor similar to that.  Bitter but pleasant IPA.  4

7) Hunk Boy: A porter.  Roasty with a hint of dark fruit.  Slightly thin on body.  Coffee finish.  3.75

8) Also-Bort: Belgian strong ale.  A bit sulfury.  Good Belgian ester character to the flavor though.  End is nice and dry like they should be.  3.5

9) Gobias Variant Cover Issue #1:  Combining Arrested Development with comics...  This was a Stout with coffee and vanilla.  Aroma bursting with those.  Flavor roasty, dark chocolate, coffee, hint of vanilla on the end.  Balance is great.  4.25

10) Teenage Muten Ninja Roshi: Double IPA.  Well balanced.  Sweet but dry finish.  3.75

11) Mothra Vs. Mothra: A decent hoppy lager.  Not my favorite style, but well done.  3.75

We also took home a crowler (can-growler) of Groot, a non-hopped gruit style ale for later.  This was a very malty and pleasant beer but could have used a bit more bittering as it got sweeter once warmed up a bit.  3.75

I can geek with the best of them...

Overall, the beers were well above average with only one having significant problems.  Out of 12 beers from a tiny (3 barrel) system, that's pretty impressive!  They're really able to brew a lot of experimental batches and seem to take great pleasure in trying new things.  Living close by would be a treat.  In fact we ended up sitting next to a semi-local member of their of version of a mug club, Matt, who extolled the virtues of getting to try all their cool new variants.

This place was a pleasant surprise for us.  I loved the geek imagery, and the fact that these guys don't take themselves too seriously.  The beers were very good and the service was stellar despite the place being very crowded at the time.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

PhotoChallenge 2016 Week 20: Doors

At the end of last year I discovered  This is a small group of photographers who set forth a weekly challenge to other professional and amateur photographers.  What I was drawn to with this weekly assignment is that is pushes you to try new techniques and get out and take pictures on a weekly basis.  I'm taking part again this year and will also do a quick blog post about each of them.  The rules of the challenge do require that these are new pictures, not from your back catalog.  With my busy work schedule, I may not be able to get out each week and do this, so I will likely add a few of my older photos on the blog--taking the opportunity to look at the plethora of pictures I've taken and actually do some processing and weeding.

PhotoChallenge 2016 Week 20: Doors

This past week's challenge was to take a picture of a door.  Seems like an easy one right?  The hard part is going out and finding the perfect subject during the week at hand.  And also framing it in such a way that the shot is interesting and not flat and boring.  Art-A-Whirl was going in Northeast Minneapolis this past weekend and I took my camera along for a wander around the old neighborhood.  

1) Battered.  Here's my top choice for the week.  While exploring the nooks and crannies of the old industrial Thorp Building I found this exterior door wide open, shadows accentuating the scrapes and furrows in its well aged surface.  I like to think about how much this door has been through over the years. 

2) Watcher.  This door itself wasn't amazing, but the watching gargoyle and the framing with bushes and street sign make it pop a bit for me.  Thanks to Sj for pointing this one out to me!  

3) Cargo.  Here's another from the same building. I loved the solid metal with impressive iron hinges and locking mechanism.  The little pop of red makes it stand out as well.  

4) Anne Frank House.  This one is from my back catalog.  Taken in Amsterdam, this is the famous house where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazi's during WWII. If you haven't read The Diary of Anne Frank, you probably should.  The impact of this place was deep on our visit, but marred slightly by a poorly behaved German school group who were laughing and fighting and shouting the entire time.  Oh well, those who don't pay attention to history are doomed to repeat it and all...  In this shot I accentuated the reflections of the colorful houses in the reflections in the windows to give some contrast to the plain black of the door itself.  

Monday, June 13, 2016

Portland: The Final Day...

Recently my wife (Sarajo) and I took a week's vacation to the Beer Mecca that is Portland, Oregon.  While we did try out a nearly overwhelming number of breweries, we also took some side trips and ate at a wonderful plethora of places.  On our third day in, two of our friends (Kathleen and Shea) met up with us from DC and joined in the fun.  I'm going to blog about the trip in some detail, mostly to immortalize it in the written word, but consider it a starting point for your own Portland area trip!  Feel free to shoot me any questions or clarifications if you like.

Day 7

On the morning of day 7, our friends Shea and Kathleen had to head back home to DC.  We bid them an early adieu and then gathered up our things for one more day of adventure before heading home ourselves.

We started out the day with a walk through Laurelhurst Park, waiting for the chill morning to warm up with the sun.

A strange little shrine discovered in the park...

Not far from here was Laurelhurst Market (where we had previously had a fancy dinner) and we got there just at 11 when they opened for lunch.  By day this place is a deli and butcher shop.  We dined upon a stellar charcuterie plate of house made meat products, followed by a fantastic grilled pork rillette sandwich--one of the top meals for me this trip.

Sokol Blosser Winery

Suitably full, we headed next to Sokol Blosser Winery not too far outside of Portland.  We tasted through some fantastic wines, talked Minnesota beer with the expat server, molested a nesting robin, and ordered some wines to be shipped back home.  With a beautiful view of rolling hills, farms, and acres of grape vines, this was a beautiful stop.  We stayed a little longer than expected, but enjoyed ourselves plenty.

McMenamins John Barleycorns

On the way home we stopped at another McMenamins property: John Barleycorns.  This brewpub was one of their few properties built from scratch and not a revamped historic property.  We had been pleased with the beers from Edgefield and Kennedy School previously on this trip and figured this was a good spot for some food and a sampler before getting back into town.  While each McMenamins brewery does have a few standard beer recipes they make, the process and equipment differs at each site, and the brewers are allowed to do other beers as well.  The beers at this site were not nearly as good as the others.  The hoppy beers especially had problems ranging from astringency to a bit of diacetyl.  The best of the bunch was the Nesting Doll Imperial Stout, but even that was still a little thin for the style.  Our server was(admittedly) new, but incredibly inattentive.  Despite the place being nearly empty at this afternoon hour, I had to go searching for her twice.  The food was less than stellar.  This stop was a bust and not nearly up to par with the other McMenamins spots we've visited.  Based on this visit I can not recommend it to anyone.

Keep Portland weird?

Once back in Portland we stopped back at Paxton Gate, a crazy store specializing in taxidermy, fossils, carnivorous plants, and more.  We had stopped in here previously and decided to come back for an amazing display of moths and butterflies for our home.  Seriously this place is creepy and cool.

Ecliptic Brewing

Just a few blocks away from the Shop of Curiosities was Ecliptic Brewing.  Started by a former brewer for McMenamins, Deschutes, and then Full Sail, this place's style blends beer and astronomy.  Most of the names come from astronomic features.  We were seated outside and tried through a sampler of the beers.  I did not like the Orbiter IPA--giving it a 2.75 for being overly sweet.  The Hypernova Triple IPA, however was quite tasty and got a 4.  The Zenith Grapefruit Gose was pleasant and refreshing getting a 3.75.  The Capella Porter was the top for me getting a solid 4.5--the best dark beer of the entire trip to Oregon.  Overall this place has some pretty good beers and I'll be watching them in the future.

StormBreaker Brewing

Just a few more blocks away, surrounded by cute shops, restaurants, and more is StormBreaker Brewing.  This place was brand new the last time I was in the area, and both that time and this visit we kept hitting the area when the brewery was closed.  This last day, we finally managed to find the taproom open for business.  The space is large, with a sizable patio area to boot.  I could tell Sj was about ready to call it a day, but she was a trooper and stuck it out for one more brewery visit.  I think I'll keep her.

Being honest here, I didn't have high expectations going in, but the beers were really quite good.  Our server pretty much disappeared once we had our sampler--I had wanted to get a whole pint of something else, but by the time we tracked her down we were just ready to get going.  The top beer for both of us was Keep It In Your Schwarz--an unusual coffee infused dark lager (4.25).  Other highlights were Handfuls of Hops IPA and Triple Double (a DIPA) both garnering 4's.  The loser of the flight was the Hoppy Marijuanukah which was a hoppy smoked beer that really didn't work well for me (2.75).  I'd go back to StormBreaker for sure based on the beers.

McMenamins Kennedy School Theater Bar

Back home at the hotel we needed one more stamp in our passports to get our magical free prizes, so stopped in to the Theater Bar.  We hadn't even realized there was a separate bar, just figuring it was for theater concessions.  Another beer and cocktail in hand we wandered off to buy some last minute things from the gift shop and get dinner at the restaurant.  Then to pack (boxing up a whole wine shipper full of beers) and get a good night's rest.

Day 8

The last day was mostly for travel by plane back to Minnesota, but I thought I'd mention the airport at PDX.  First off, they have a Made in Oregon store past the onerous security check which stocks a good variety of local wines and beers for not too much over the typical store price.  They also furnish carrying boxes for the plane.  Yeah, we picked up a few extras here--they had Logsdon and Cascade beers!

Rogue Public House

While we didn't make it to the actual Rogue Brewery this trip, we finished up waiting for our flight by having lunch a final beer sampler at the Rogue Public House.  Not bad.  I've heard since that the Laurelwood Pub is better, but that was in another concourse.  Next time!

And that is the end of our epic trip!  Below is the final tally of booze-tastic places we visited.  I think we did a respectable job!

Final Tally:
Breweries: 21
Distilleries: 3
Pubs/Bars: 17
Meaderies: 1
Cideries: 1
Wineries: 1

Thursday, June 9, 2016

A Whale A Week: Upland Blackberry Lambic

Now in my second year, A Whale A Week is my challenge to try (with an array of beer loving friends) a rare beer for every week of the year.  Last year I had a great time with this and have continued it for 2016.  Not every beer will be a truly "white whale" beer, but all are hard to find and a treat to try! 

Upland Blackberry Lambic

Upland Brewing Company is located in Bloomington, Indiana.  They have quite a range of beers, many made with unusual ingredients, and are known especially in beer geek circles for their sour beers.  Our first taste of Upland was when Andrew Gieseke opened up the stellar Persimmon for us.  Minds were blown.  I then accumulated a few bottles of various sours in a bulk cellar buy a few years back.  Upland has a lottery/membership program to get first dibs on their rare beers (like this one) but one still has to buy the beer locally or have a local mule who can send it to you.  

This bottle of Blackberry lambic was from my dragon's hoard of sours, and is from 2014.  The beer has a rating of 92 on Beer Advocate and 98 on RateBeer.   The website gives this information:  "We like sour.  Made with real blackberries."  Very informative!  

Our tasting panel this session is made of: Me (homebrewer more than 25 years, brewer of lambics), Sarajo (my wife, lover of sours); Hassan Saffouri and Chris Kunz (beer geeks, Happy Gnome beer dinner alumni, veteran travelers with us on beer trips to Belgium).  We tasted this beer out on their backyard patio surrounded by a plethora of flowering plants, on a cool and overcast late afternoon.

OK, sad picture this week, but I needed to get this done!


Eric: Very tart and acetic.  Almost nail polish.  Raspberry and dark cherry.  Makes my mouth water just smelling it!  Light barnyard aromas as swirled.  Mint as it warms up.  Hints of melon?
Hassan: Slight funk.  Fruit doesn't come through right away but expands.


Eric: Color reminds me of watermelon--slight orange/red.  Moderate haze.  Very delicate white head fades quickly.  
Hassan: Rust.  Cloudy and opaque with slight head.


Eric: Initial sweet-tart candy flavor fades to a very sour acetic acid finish.  A cross between blackberry and melon flavors is strange but not off-putting.  I almost get rhubarb out of this!  Very dry with a sharp finish redolent of apple peel.  
Hassan: Similar to aroma.  Fruit doesn't come through right away.  Sourness lights up the edges of the tongue.  More tart with bigger sips and as it opens up.


Eric: A nice beer and a fine one to sip on a warm afternoon.  This is very very sour.  Not as complex as many fruit lambics.  I'm wondering if the fruit has faded too much with age. 3.75
Hassan: Good, but fruit (blackberries) doesn't come through enough. 3.7
Chris: Lack of balance.  3.6
Sarajo: Acidic...I think I need a Zantac.  3.75

Overall Score: 3.7