This has to be a record 'no blog' period for me but it seems like my ass has been in either an airplane seat, car seat, or conference chair for the past two weeks. Trips to St Louis, Cincinnati, and then up to northern Wisconsin this weekend have curtailed much blogging but I hope to be back in the saddle, at least for a while. I didn't even make it down to Madison for Canoecopia or the protests, but we did manage to join the group that organized to welcome Gov.Walker to Washburn, WI on Saturday afternoon. The big lake is beginning to open up, although there are still plenty of cars out on Chequamagon Bay ice fishing. The ice road to Madeline Island is gone for the year and I even had a nice whitefish for lunch that was netted off Raspberry Island the day before, as well as some homemade pickled lake herring that was caught off Saxon Harbor. Open water and paddling draws near and I swear a paddling post is in the works. But first I need to apologize to the city of St Louis.
In 2007 our stalwart crew of NCAA Frozen Four fans decided that we would pass on St Louis, mainly out of ignorance and a loathing of Anheuser-Busch products. Cities like Anaheim had been avoided in the past and cities like Buffalo, NY, where we did attend the event, will be avoided in the future. Whether we were right or wrong in our St Louis avoidance, my trip down there last weekend opened my eyes to the food, architectural, and neighborhood focused highlights of the St Louis area. But it was an event in 2008, a year after we decided to avoid the city, that arguably had the biggest impact in the city's ambiance revival; InBev's hostile takeover of Anheuser-Busch and the 'right sizing' of 1,400 employees.
GuitarMatt and I flew down to visit older brother GalwayGuy at grad school. This is year three and GG knows the city well, and also knows that decent beer would be a priority for all three of us. It seems like a few of those employees that the new InBud conglomerate 'right sized' not only knew how to brew beer but were probably chomping at the bit, like a good chef that's been stuck making hamburgers and macaroni and cheese for years. We hit the venerable Schlafly's, a brewery that's been around for probably 20 years but we also hit the newest brewpub, Urban Chestnut, as well as Buffalo Brewing and Six Barrel, which is owned by one of GG's classmates family. One of the more heartening trends was toward flavorful session ales. A 'session' is when you go out with a group of friends with the express intent of having more than a couple beers. Two of my favorite session beers are northern English style mild and the venerable ESB (Extra Special Bitter). Both of these are hard to find, I think mainly because of the names. What manly man would order a 'mild' beer? Who wants something that's bitter? The fact is that most mild's that I've drank have 10 times the flavor and color (most are as dark as porter) of any American or Euro lager at around 4% ABV. The ESB style is typically a lighter, nicely balanced pale ale at around 4% as well with a bit more hop bitterness and aroma. Both are 'beers to drink when you're having more than one'. The trend toward double IPA's, Russian Imperial Stout, and other high gravity beers is not one for the devoted beer drinker that has to drive to the bar. One and done is often the case. That's why I was drawn to a cask ale handle that was labeled 'Session IPA'.
When the barkeep pulled my pint I smelled it, tasted it, and thought......'hmmmm....tastes like a good ESB. The barkeep assured me that it was a 'Session IPA' but I'm certain that its a wolf in sheeps clothing, a true ESB that's pretending it's an IPA to sell more beer. Most folks that have tried South Shore Brewing's Nut Brown Ale have been impressed. Great beer and, oh by the way, one of the truest examples of the English mild ale style that you will encounter. But that nut brown moniker sells more beer. As a beer lover I would encourage the brewing of more 'session IPA' and 'nut brown ale'. I won't tell a soul!
Ethiopian food, a mountain of sushi, Vietnamese Pho, and a great 'new cuisine' prime rib rounded out the dining and we managed to hit the arch, the cathederal and its mosaics, history museum, and the detritus of the mardi gras in the Soulard neighborhood. Cincinnati was a work trip and marginally tolerable and we managed to sneak in some skiing up north over the weekend, as the hazy cell phone image below of Little Joe rapids on the Brule will attest. Saturday nights music at the Frontier Bar was exceptional. I hope to experience Canoecopia vicariously through the blogs that will result and will not miss next years event. I swear I'll have a paddle post soon. After all, this is a Lake Superior blog, not a travelogue or beer tasting forum.