Sunday, March 30, 2008

Fantasy, and a double dose of Reality

We had a great time in San Jose (3/19-3/23). Paris and I drank innumerable beers with Choo, and of course the highlight of the trip was the "Shark for a Day" fantasy camp at HP Pavilion. There are lots of pictures and videos in the works, which I'll post when I get them all organized.

Then reality began to set in. I got monstrously sick on the flight home Sunday, and when Paris talked me into seeing the doctor on Tuesday, the diagnosis was the flu. Drugs and codeine-flavored cough syrup helped, but here it is a week later and I still feel like a cold turd.

You'd think that being off work for a week would give me time to organize those pictures and videos, but alas, no. The monitor on my laptop went to hell for the last time. I've ordered a new Dell — no more of this fragile Gateway garbage — but it will be a couple of weeks before I'm online in full force again. So you're free to entertain yourselves in the meantime in whatever depraved manner strikes your fancy, as long as it involves beer.

I'll check in when I can.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The blanding of Britain: The murder of the English pub

An excellent essay, perfectly summarized by the title.

I am acutely aware that I am witnessing a way of life that was once common but is now finished. With Mary's death, the inn will close and another tradition will pass away, too.

I sometimes wonder why this matters so much to me. Am I just being sentimental? Things change, all the time. People move on, tastes alter. Pubs open, pubs close. Big deal.

But pubs like the Luppitt Inn are part of our history - and every time one goes, another connection with our past is lost.

Communities are lost, too. A village without a focal point becomes a collection of dwellings - a location, but no longer a place.

Read the whole story at The Daily Mail, then go have a pint at your local.

Bronze Age burial 'with beer mug'

Note to self: update will to include "bury me with my favorite stein".

A 4,000-year-old Bronze Age skeleton has been unearthed by archaeologists working on a site in east Kent.

Canterbury Archaeological Trust said the curled-up skeleton was an example of a "Beaker" burial because of the pottery vessel placed at its feet.

Education officer Marion Green said the "beautifully decorated" pot could have been "a type of beer mug".

She said tests on beakers from other sites suggested Bronze Age man was brewing a type of beer from grain.

Read the whole story at the BBC.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Front page news

OK, it's only the local hometown paper, but it's kinda fun being on the front page anyhow. Complete with rambling, incoherent video!

Richard Stueven, brewmaster of Gottberg Brew Pub, pours a dark ale. Stueven has brewed beer in Columbus for about three years after working at several breweries in Wisconsin. Telegram photo by Blaine McCartney

The "dark ale" being poured is the Empress of Darkness Imperial Porter.

I think their archive period for articles is fairly short, so if you don't see it, you missed it.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Caught up

As of yesterday, I'm all caught up at the brewery. (I think.) Since I got back home on Sunday the 2nd, I...

  • brewed a batch of Stout, which I'll tap tomorrow

  • made two trips to the spine doctor on Omaha, one of which resulted in more Botox in my back

  • filled a bunch of kegs

  • had a great time at Crescent Moon's Bockfest

  • took Paris to the airport after drinking beers at Nebraska Brewing Company

  • cleaned the draft lines

  • cleaned a couple of bright beer tanks

  • brewed a batch of Pale Ale

  • made 14 barrels of root beer

  • did an interview with the local paper

  • transferred the Stout to a bright tank

  • delivered a keg of Empress of Darkness Imperial Porter to Crescent Moon

  • and picked up Paris at the airport.

Tomorrow, I'll fill more kegs and tap that new batch of Stout.

I'm going to try to brew a batch of Brown Ale next Tuesday, assuming I can get enough yeast out of the currently-fermenting Pale Ale.

Saturday, March 1 (and Sunday too)

Yesterday: Ehingen/Donau

I didn't take many pictures today, as I had already visited Tettnang in December 2006. Today being a Saturday, Paris was able to come along this time and have some fun.

Most days, I come up with an itinerary in advance, so I've at least got an idea which trains and buses to take and when they run. Today, I knew the general direction from Konstanz to Tettnang, but I didn't prepare any plans. I asked the DB-Agentur for some connections, but he had us on a train that ran halfway around the Bodensee, and I knew I could do better.

Short version: Bus from Konstanz Bahnhof to Staad/Autofähre. Fähre to Meersburg. Bus to Friedrichshafen Stadt. Bus to Tettnang Bärenplatz.

We had a fine lunch at Brauerei & Gasthof zur Krone, along with their excellent Coronator Doppelbock. (It tasted much better this time than it did last time.)

The gift shop at Krone

The gift shop at Krone

It was raining pretty good. In between downpours we wandered around the Bärenplatz, looking in the antique shops and jewelry stores. During the downpours, we found several taverns serving tasty beers.

Around 3:00pm, it was time to head back to Konstanz to pick up our luggage and go to Zürich for the night. We went back almost exactly the way we came, except we stopped at Friedrichshafen Hafen with the idea that we might be able to take the Katamaran across the lake and save a ton of time. The KAT office was closed — which should have told me something right there — so we bought our tickets from the machine. There was an ominous, unintelligible sign illuminated near the boat. A local passerby translated it for me: it's too windy for the boat to sail. We ended up taking the BOB to Friedrichshafen Stadt and continuing our trek back to Konstanz.

Ruppaner Dunkelweizen on the Autofähre

We bought our train tickets to Zürich, walked across the street to the hotel to get our luggage, and waited for the train in the Bahnhof Gaststätte. (Because there's beer there.) We were at Zürich Flughafen by about 7:00pm, and at our hotel maybe a half-hour later. A few hotel-bar beers later, we hit the sack.

Rather than waste a post on the flight back on Sunday, I'll just note here that it was quite uneventful, albeit slow. Our alarm went off in Zürich at 6:00am, and we got home at 10:00pm, 23 hours after we woke up. But I can't wait to go back!

New Jersey, New York, and the Hudson River through the haze from 37,000 feet

Friday, March 7, 2008

Friday, February 29: Ehingen/Donau

Yesterday: Gasthaus Brauerei Sonne, Herrenzimmern

Konstanz is an old city. It's been a resort since the Roman days, so it never suffered the destruction that many German cities did during the last century. Many ancient buildings remain, but there's plenty of construction going on, too. Much of this new construction is unfortunately covering up the beautiful old architecture, like this new office building being built on Bodanstraße.

The new hides the old in Konstanz

The new hides the old in Konstanz

The second train this morning followed the Donau for nearly two hours through some very picturesque country.

A quaint village on the Donau, somewhere between Immendingen and Ehingen

A quaint village on the Donau, somewhere between Immendingen and Ehingen

It was raining a bit when I got to Ehingen, but the 500-meter walk to Gasthof-Brauerei Schwanen wasn't too bad. I arrived around 1:15, just in time for some excellent lunchtime Maultäschle.

Gasthof-Brauerei Schwanen, Ehingen/Donau
Gasthof-Brauerei Schwanen, Ehingen/Donau

Gasthof-Brauerei Schwanen, Ehingen/Donau

A real neat feature at Schwanen is their 50-liter portable brewery-on-wheels. They use it to brew their monthly special beer (Fastendoppelbock this month) and they also offer "Bierseminare", at which you can brew a batch of your own beer on the small system.

The 50-liter brewhouse at Schwanen

The 50-liter brewhouse at Schwanen

The 15-hectoliter kettle at Schwanen

The 15-hectoliter kettle at Schwanen

They had four beers available this time:

Schwanen Zwickel naturtrüb
Schwanen Spezial
Schwanen Pils
Schwanen Fastendoppelbock

The Schwanen beers

Just on the other side of Ehingen's downtown area is Brauerei Schwert. They didn't look very open when I got there around 2:30 in the afternoon.

Brauerei Schwert, Ehingen/DonauBrauerei Schwert, Ehingen/Donau
Brauerei Schwert, Ehingen/Donau

Brauerei Schwert, Ehingen/Donau

But open they were: there was one old man drinking a Weissbier, who looked like he hadn't left that very chair since the place was founded 200 years ago. There was an older woman who I understood to be the brewer's mother, who was waiting tables. And Peter the brewer himself showed up shortly. Their dialect was even harder to understand than the guys in Wurmlingen, but here they spoke enough Hochdeutsch that we could converse fairly easily.

Peter pours us a beer

Peter pours us a beer

Calandria in the brew kettle

Calandria in the brew kettle

Lager cellar

Lager cellar

After Peter showed me around his brewery, I enjoyed their very fine beers:

Schwert Helles
Schwert Helles Weizenbier
Schwert Dunkles Weizenbier
Schwert Dunkles Lager

The Schwert beers

I didn't get to see the malting facilities, but Peter told me that he malts about 100 tonnes of grain every year. Some of the malt he uses himself, and the rest he sells to other Ehingen-area breweries.

Speaking of Ehingen-area breweries, Peter told me that there's a third brewpub in town called "Rößle", and it's not in my database yet. Apparently, it's located not too far from Schwert, but I was already running very late, and I had to start heading back to Konstanz. I'll try to find out exactly where it is so that I can visit it (as well as Berg) next time I'm in the area.

It's hard to get from Ehingen to Konstanz efficiently; this trip took some four hours, with plenty of time to kill at the Ulm station. I killed that time by means of Gold Ochsen Weisse Hefe.

Gold Ochsen Weisse Hefe

Gold Ochsen Weisse Hefe

Tomorrow: Brauerei zur Krone, Tettnang

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Thursday, February 28: Gasthaus Brauerei Sonne, Herrenzimmern

Yesterday: Hirschbrauerei Flözlingen

I just learned today that my cheap BW-ticket isn't valid until 9:00am, and there I was on the 8:38 train. Fortunately, I was almost at Singen when the conductor came through, and she didn't throw me off the train. I made my connection, and actually got on-schedule at Rottweil!

There's free Internet at the Hauptbahnhof bar in Rottweil, plus Paulaner Weissbier, with 50 minutes to kill! I didn't have time to edit and upload my blog entries, but I thought I might on the way back. And at least I can maybe figure out a schedule for tomorrow and Saturday.

Hauptbahnhof Bar, Rottweil

Hauptbahnhof Bar, Rottweil

More good news: my cheap train ticket also works on the Rottweil bus system. Knowing that yesterday would have saved me 3€.

Gasthaus-Brauerei Sonne doesn't open until 2:00pm, 2½ hours after I arrived. This is the one brewery on the trip that I didn't have the hours for, and this is the one brewery on the trip that isn't open.

Gasthaus Brauerei Sonne, Herrenzimmern
Gasthaus Brauerei Sonne, Herrenzimmern
Gasthaus Brauerei Sonne, Herrenzimmern

Gasthaus Brauerei Sonne, Herrenzimmern

I walked around the town looking for some beer, food, and "relief", but the only Gasthaus in town is closed on Thursdays.

I walked 4km to Bösingen, and got there a few minutes before noon.

View Larger Map

The first Gasthaus I came to had a sign in the window saying that they're on vacation until next week. The next (and only other) one I encountered doesn't open until 4:00pm.

So I walked part-way back to Herrenzimmern so I could pee in the Schwarzwald.

Walked back to Bösingen and caught a bus to Rottweil. Gasthaus Brauerei Sonne will have to wait until next time.

I plugged in at Hauptbahnhof for almost three hours and caught up some notes, then headed for Konstanz.

This trip was almost complete FAIL, but it happens at least once every trip, so I guess that's OK.

Paris and I had dinner at the Hexen Küche steakhouse, just a few blocks from the hotel. Their steaks are tasty, and the Teufelsoß they put on them is fantastic, and they serve Schwarzbier from Dinkel-Schwäben-Bräu.

Hexen Küche, Konstanz

Hexen Küche, Konstanz

Tomorrow: Ehingen/Donau

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Wednesday, February 27: Hirschbrauerei Flözlingen

Yesterday: Waldhaus Privatbrauerei (Waldhaus-Weilheim)

Missed the first cheap-ticket-train — the 8:38 — by ten minutes. The next one comes in two hours. I need to find an Internet connection so I can rewrite my schedules for the rest of the week. So I walked around Konstanz (again), finding that the Internet cafes don't generally open until 10:00am.

Credit card operated cigarette machine

Something you don't see in America much: a credit-card-operated cigarette machine at a train station

The town of Singen is a major hub for the trains in these parts, and I come through here just about every day. The town is dominated by the Hohentwiel, the remnants of an ancient volcano. Hohentwiel is also the name of the massive fortress built upon the summit.

Hohentwiel bei Singen

Note to whiny American drivers: gasoline here is 1.40€ per liter. That's $8.10 per gallon.

At Rottweil, I changed from the train to the bus. The bus schedule seemed to indicate that the bus I was looking for could be found on nearby Eisenbahnstraße, which was at the top of these stairs:

67 steps to Eisenbahnstraße

So I climbed those steps, and checked the schedule posted there, and looked back down, and saw my bus leaving from the stop I was just at. But there was some entertainment while I waited: a real-live authentic Black Forest cuckoo bird that nobody had made a clock out of yet.

Eventually, I caught a bus that dropped me off right in front of Hirschbrauerei Flözlingen. (Damned convenient, I'd say.)

Hirschbrauerei Flözlingen
Hirschbrauerei Flözlingen
Hirschbrauerei Flözlingen

Braumeister-Mälzmeister-Owner Rolf Schittenhelm is, as all Flözlinger brewers have been since 1793, a member of the family that founded the brewery. He says the family name has changed three times over the years, when there were no sons to carry on the business, and the daughters had to find brewers to marry.

Rolf Schittenhelm of Hirschbrauerei Flözlingen

Rolf said that he's not photogenic, but agreed when I pointed out that very few of us brewers are

Rolf brews one beer, a Helles Lager called "Spezial", year-round. The draft version is unfiltered; filtered beer goes into bottles.

Flözlinger Spezial
Flözlinger Spezial

He also distills a very tasty Dunkles Bockbierlikör from "an old family recipe", as well as an 80-proof "Hopfentröpfle".

Flözlinger's still

Flözlinger's still

Even though he had appointments to keep that afternoon, Rolf took the time to give me a very friendly and thorough — and quite bilingual! — tour of his antique 200-hectoliter-per-year brewery.

The malt mill
I stand by to feed the wood-fired kettle
The wood-fired kettle, with the lauter tun above
The lauter tun above the kettle, with mixers driven by a single shaft, was Rolf's great-grandfather's invention
One of the two fermenters
Three of the six lagering tanks
The filter
This bottle filler is used for short runs; for bigger batches, he hires a friend who has a bigger filler in his brewery.
Rolf pours a sample of his excellent Bockbier from the lagering tank

Sadly, it was time to catch the bus back to Rottweil. But Rolf told me that he has relatives in Denver, and a friend who lives in a small Nebraska town only 100 miles or so from Columbus, so it's just possible he'll repay the visit sometime!

I had an hour and a half to kill at the Rottweil train station, so I enjoyed a couple of Paulaner Hefeweizen at the Hauptbahnhof bar. Turns out the bartender, Jürgen, is a native of Konstanz, and is quite familiar with Olaf and zur steinernen Kugel! "Er singt, und spielt mit Gitarre," he said.

I got back to the hotel around 7:15pm, and that's where my notes end.

Tomorrow: Gasthaus Brauerei Sonne, Herrenzimmern

Monday, March 3, 2008

Tuesday, February 26: Waldhaus Privatbrauerei

Yesterday: Hirsch-Brauerei Honer, Wurmlingen

Good news: I bought a "Baden-Württemberg Ticket", good for travel all over the state, for just 18,00€ ($27.21), much cheaper than the 35€ ($53) or so that today's trip was supposed to cost. (Even so, last time I was here 18€ was only about $21.60.)

Bad news: It's not valid on the trains that I had originally picked. It's only good on the Inter-Regio Express, Regional Express, Regional Bahn, and "S" trains. It's not good on the Inter-City Express nor Inter-City trains, and also not on the SBB Thurbo and 3-Löwen-Takt trains that leave every ten minutes or so.

So I walked around Konstanz for a while to kill part of the extra hour, until the train was scheduled at 10:38am. I tried to find the path where I got lost back in October 2006, but I ended up getting lost again. I killed more time by writing up notes from yesterday and walking around Konstanz Hafen.

A shock to begin the season: A liter of beer in the beer gardens will cost almost 7€ ($10.58)

"A shock to begin the season: A liter of beer in the beer gardens will cost almost 7€" ($10.58)

Konstanz' local boy, Graf Zeppelin

Konstanz' local boy Graf Zeppelin

Imperia and the entrance to Konstanz Hafen

Imperia and the entrance to Konstanz Hafen

Biergit arrives in Konstanz

I finally got on the 10:38 to Radolfzell, and since the next train doesn't leave for an hour or so, I enjoyed a Jever Pilsener at the Nordbahnhof bar.

Nordbahnhof bar, Radolfzell

Nordbahnhof bar, Radolfzell

It's 5°C at 11:00am; probably 15-20°F warmer than it is at home. Everybody here is bundled up in coats. I'm sweating inside my Pulli, but I look less like a tourist when I wear it. (I'm strictly a T-shirt-and-jeans kind of guy, which isn't a particularly European look.)

With nearly an hour to kill in Radolfzell, I wandered around the Altstadt a bit and found this building, the "Villa Windschief im Grienen Winkel", parts of which date back to the 10th Century. It's apparent that the carpenter's square and level hadn't been invented yet.

Villa Windschief im Grienen Winkel, Radolfzell

I eventually got on the train from Radolfzell to Waldshut, and I found myself on a bus on the way to Waldhaus, full of boisterous schoolkids; it's 1:00 in the afternoon. There was a ten-year-old boy sitting next to me studying his English textbook. I told him that I'm American, but he declined my offer of help.

I got to Waldhaus — after getting off the bus a kilometer too early and walking the rest of the way — just after 1:30pm. If I don't catch the 2:25 bus back to Waldshut, I'll be stuck here for another three hours.

Waldhaus Privatbrauerei, Waldhaus-Weilheim

Waldhaus is a real nice restaurant attached to a brewery pretty much in the middle of nowhere. I got to sample six beers:

Waldhaus Diplom Pils
Waldhaus Spezial
Waldhaus Schwarzwald Weizen
Waldhaus Doppel-Bock
Waldhaus Jubiläums Dunkel Naturtrub

The Waldhauser Beers

They all tasted fine with a couple of Weisswurst with homemade mustard, a pretzel, and bread.

Every place I visit, there's a man — usually "a bit older" — who sits by himself and has a beer, or maybe two. He looks so serious, as if having this beer is a momentous, enormous event that requires his full attention. When he's done, he pays his bill and leaves, and someone exactly like him takes his place. I've never noticed this at a US bar. (The one currently at Waldhaus — he replaced the one that was here when I arrived — looks like Orville Reddenbacher.)

It's about 4:00pm now, and I'm nearly out of money. (I only had 20€ in my pocket, and I asked the waitress to cut me off when it was spent.) Fortunately, my bill was only 14€ so far. But the ABBA disk just restarted for the third time, so I figured it was time to find the bus.

I called my friend Matthias way up in Asterode to ask him to leave a message at the hotel for Paris (I didn't have the number) to let her know that I'd be very late, and that I'd meet her at zur steinernen Kugel. After a few dropped calls — the cellular service in the Schwarzwald isn't what it could be — we got it done via SMS.

4:15pm, an hour before the next bus comes through. I decided to walk to Bannholz to see if they have an ATM, and maybe even an earlier bus. Glück! A Waldshut-bound bus was pulling out of the stop as I walked ran up; he very kindly stopped and let me board, thus saving me an hour getting back to Konstanz.

Only a half-hour to kill in Waldshut, so I found an ATM and had a half-liter of Fürstenberg Pils "vom Faß" at the Bahnhof Gaststätte. Most of the people there were drinking it right out of the bottle. A couple of guys were drinking bottles of "Das Helle" instead, and one even had "Das Schwarze".

Fürstenberg Pils

Fürstenberg Pils

A lot of the young (and they're all pretty young) Polizei patrolling the trains look like soccer hooligans, only they're wearing sidearms.

Met Paris at the Kugel. Had a number of beers. Broke a glass. Dropped my machine on the floor. Embarassing all around. By my count, I drank about 4½ liters of beer today.

Changing plans on the fly

Changing plans on the fly

An unbroken glass of Köstritzer Schwarzbier

An unbroken glass of Köstritzer Schwarzbier

Tomorrow: Hirschbrauerei Flözlingen