Breweries of Montgomery County

It just struck me a few weeks ago that we’ve been living in Rockville for nearly nine months now.  We haven’t been to all of the breweries and brewpubs in the county, but we’ve been to a bunch, and here’s what we think of the independents:

Denizens

Definitely our favorite, even if it’s kind of a pain for us to get to — if you don’t live right next to the other end of the Red Line, then it’s conveniently located less than half a mile from the Silver Spring metro stop.  If you are driving, at least there’s plenty of parking nearby.  Either way, once you get there, it’s a great and well-appointed taproom and beer garden.

Beer: They have more variety than most (five year round beers and four specials on tap).  Everything was fantastic, including their lagers (neither of us are big fans of lagers, so it’s notable when we actually like someone’s Bohemian Pils).  Their double IPA and tripel were especially good.  We had mostly standard styles when we visited (the aforementioned pils, tripel and IIPA, plus a rye IPA), but we’ve also seen more adventurous stuff from them (like a sour saison we had at an event at Pike & Rose last fall).  We’ve also seen their very nice saison at Founding Farmers and enjoyed it quite a bit.

Food: They have a full menu, and it’s not just pub food.  Yes, they have burgers, but they also have carnitas other more interesting stuff too.  Everything was great, including their veggie burger, which was falafel-like.

Ambiance: We ate in the taproom, and it was cozy and comfortable — and was fine for the kids too.  It was rainy out, so we didn’t try the beer garden, but when the weather is nice, I expect it would be great too.

7 Locks

Newly opened this fall off Rockville Pike, just north of Montrose Parkway, about a mile from the Twinbrook metro station.  It’s a very basic, business-park brewery that will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s visited a lot of breweries.

Beer: We went shortly after they opened, and all of their beers were solid, true to classic styles, but nothing blew us away.  We had a flight of all their beers, and liked their rye IPA the best (got a growler to take home).  I see they have several new options listed on their website now, so we’ll have to go back and see what they’re up to now.

Food: There was a food truck out front, which was great, though obviously limited by whether there’s a food truck available.  They do have the schedule on their website at least.

Ambiance: Very typical business park brewery, with industrial space with brewing equipment and a bar in one corner.  They have set up the space pretty well to be able to improve the taproom section, and there’s a separate little room in the front.  Between the limited food options, and the lack of anything else for them, we probably wouldn’t want to bring the kids.

Baying Hound

The county’s oldest brewery, which unfortunately just closed this week.  They were in a business park a little more than a mile from the Rockville metro.  We’ve gotten a few of their bottles at Belby’s (there’s still a handful left!), but had never been to their tasting room until a couple weeks ago, after we heard about them closing.

Beer: They had some standards (pale ale, abbey ale), but a lot of their beers were very original.  We had our first sour barleywine from them, and it was fantastic.  And for the most part, the new twists came off really well.  Of the six beers they had on tap when we went, we liked two of them a ton, two were decent, and were split on the last two.

Food: They didn’t have food or food trucks, but a lot of people had picked up pizza from the Domino’s around the corner.

Ambiance: Not just in an industrial park, but crammed into a narrow unit open to the parking lot.  There were a handful of seats, and a bunch of people hanging around outside (including some people smoking).  Definitely wouldn’t bring the kids here.

Waredaca

Newly opened this winter, this is the county’s first farm brewery.  They are out in the country north of Olney, and are expanding an existing horse farm.  It’s a bit of a drive, but at least it’s a pleasant country drive.  The tasting room is tucked behind another building, and a short walk from the parking lot (there’s a sign saying not to continue, but we think that means not to go into the horse pastures).

Beer: We really wanted to like their beers, but found them a little underwhelming.  We were even tepid on their saison, and we’ve rarely met a saison at least one of us didn’t like.  Their beer wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t worth the drive.  As with 7 Locks, we came right after they opened, so we’ll probably give them another shot to see how they’re coming along.

Food: They had a few snack options, including some local cheese and sausage plates.  They also had some craft sodas (though none of us actually liked those).  They aren’t planning anything else, though they’re fine with people bringing in outside food.

Ambiance: It’s out in the country on a horse farm, so it’s nice and rustic.  The tasting room was pretty small, but we did were able to get a table and share a snack with the kids while we shared a flight of their beers.  Much more kid-friendly than most breweries, and the kids might even look forward to going if there were horse riding lessons involved.

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Stoutfest 2016

It’s a terrible First World Problem to have, but there are some really good beers that are just too intense to drink half of bottle of. For example, Russian Imperial Stout is a style we love, but even slowly sipping over the course of evening it’s usually too much – too much ABV, too much epic monolithic taste. So, bottles accrue. They multiply, even. It’s a terrible burden – what can beer geeks with a cellar full of beers like this do?  Luckily, we have friends who are willing to help out with this dilemma. If you’re splitting one of those bottles between six or more people, you’re getting a small pour like you’d get at a beer festival. And, even better, if your friends each bring a bottle or two, you wind up with your own little beer festival.

So, in the spirit of problem-solving and beer, we organized a small bottle-share last night with four friends, and we collectively put together an amazing lineup:

Hill Farmstead Nordic Saison 2014: This was the only lighter, more delicate beer and we thought it would suffer from comparison with the richer, bolder stouts, so we started with it first. (Wind: Plus, I’m a sucker for anything from my hometown region.) It was delightfully light, refreshing and citrusy.  This is a beer Wind and I agreed we could both definitely drink a whole glass of, and it was a great way to start off.

Pretty Things Fumapapa 2015: Unlike many smoked beers, this had a very gentle and smooth smoky character, that blended very well with the creamy stout. But, even still, it’s not something I’d want a whole glass of — but great to have a sample of, to give the smokiness a chance to shine, but not overstay its welcome. (Wind: I’m not usually a huge fan of smoked beers because brewers seem to think that if a little smoke is good then a ridiculous amount is better, but I really loved this. I agree, though, that a full glass would probably have been too much.)

Swamp Head Catherine’s Resentment 2014: A Habanero-infused stout that was painfully (Wind: undrinkably) hot when released, but had now mellowed somewhat. I’ve had a handful of chile beers that I really liked, but most of them are too much for more than a taste.  This is another beer that did very well with just a small sample, and even Wind enjoyed it. (Wind: In fact, I loved it – which surprised me a lot. I think we should age any such pepper-infused beers for at least two years in the future.)

Goose Island Bourbon County 2012 and 2013: The ’12 was much boozier and rougher than the ’13, but they were both luscious, chocolatey, and boozy.  These were 12 oz. bottles and the most balanced and drinkable stouts of the evening. (Wind: Okay, here’s the only place where Redbeard and I substantially disagree – to me, the 2012 was smooth and delightful, and the 2013, while still quite amazing, was boozier. I thought it would probably benefit from another year.)

Free Will Blood & Guts 2015: We took a break with this sour, which was muted by contrast.  It was not too tart, and had a good malty base. (Wind: This got a lot of “Whoa…  yeah… that’s sour!” from the group, with that tone of voice where you’re not quite sure if it’s a good thing or not. To me, this was an amazing sour – tart without that raisin-y flavor that sometimes creeps into sours, sour without making your mouth contract in self-defense. Really looking forward to trying more from Free Will.)

Cigar City Hunahpu 2015: This was very spicy, with cinnamon and chili providing a velvety complexity in addition to the booze and chocolate of the base imperial stout.  Wind and I had split a 750ml bottle of Hunahpu before, and it was overwhelming.  With a small pour, it was great to be able to savor the richness and complexity. (Wind: What he said.)

3 Floyds Dark Lord 2012: Completely different from Hunahpu, Dark Lord is a much smoother beer, with vanilla and coffee dominating.  This is a classic monster imperial stout, and I can’t imagine drinking a full glass of it. (Wind: Ditto. Amazing – so glad to have gotten to have some of this. Splitting the bottle provided the perfect amount.)

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Kettle-Soured Saison

We’ve tried to brew sour beer before, but with little success.  Which is unfortunate, since sours are the main style we like that we can’t easily find in shops.  So we were excited to hear about some alternate methods for souring beers that don’t involve waiting for years for traditional barrel-souring to work its magic.  We read the Mad Fermentationist blog post about a faster souring process,  and then found a really good breakdown of the various souring options.

We decided to go with the sour-kettling technique, which boils down to taking a break between collecting wort and doing the boil to sour the wort with Lactobacillus.  We used the same recipe we usually use for our Saison Bruxellensis, and left the wort in the kettle (bundled up with towels to keep in as much of the heat as possible).

We added pure Lactobacillus culture from White Labs, and let it sour for a few days, watching the pellicle formation and checking the pH with color-change test strips.

This is where we hit our first complication: the pH strips were not nearly sensitive enough to reflect the small changes in pH we were seeing.  So we mostly relied on taste to monitor the souring process.  It was a little hard to judge the sourness, because the unfermented wort has a bunch of sugar in it.  We reasoned that the fermentation would convert the sugar and make it seem more sour, so we stopped when the sourness was noticeable but not dramatic.  As it turns out, the final beer was no more sour, so next time we might let it go a little longer.

We did the boil and fermentation as usual with both saison yeast and Brett Bruxellensis in primary.  The fermentation proceeded normally, the gravity stabilized, and we bottled with priming sugar as usual.  But I think we were too hasty in bottling, because when we opened the first bottle about a week later, it was badly over-carbonated.  Shortly after that, the caps began to swell.  We put as many of the bottles as we could fit in our kegerator, and luckily we haven’t had any bottles explode.

So, there are a few kinks to work out in the process, but overall it seems very manageable.  It does add a few days between the mash and the boil — though that’s probably not a bad thing, since it naturally splits the brew day, and each half fits into an evening instead of taking up an entire day of our weekend.

The final results are very nice, if we do say so ourselves.  A very drinkable sour saison, with a little body, a little funk, and a mild sourness.  It’s not gueuze, but it’s much better than our (basically non-existent) previous sour options.

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Broap

We have made a couple batches of soap, but we weren’t very happy with the hardness.  They were mostly olive oil and rapidly dissolved unless you took great care to keep them dry.  So in practice they were always slimy, and someone being careless in the shower could dissolve away half a bar.

For our third batch of soap, we thought we’d try something different.  We’d seen many recipes that included lard or tallow for hardness, and although we thought that was a little gross, it seemed worth trying.  As it turns out, we’d been saving our bacon grease, but didn’t really have any use for it, so we had two mason jars full sitting under the sink.  So we melted those down, boiled the lard with water for a few hours, and then let it cool in a larger container in the fridge to make it easier to scoop out for making soap.

The other recipe change I wanted to try was using beer as the liquid instead of water.  This was partly because my mother-in-law sent me a link to a blog post that said it improved the soap.  Though I admit it was more for novelty’s sake, since as soon as we realized that we were making soap with the primary ingredients being bacon grease and beer, we started calling it bro soap, or broap.

 

We put together the recipe using SoapCalc:

  • 190 g beer
  • 69.65 g lye
  • 350 g lard
  • 75 g olive oil
  • 75 g coconut oil
  • 10 ml tea tree essential oil

And made the soap using a basic crockpot hot-process soap technique, with some slight modifications for the beer:

  • Drink about 1½ cans of beer, because you only need about half a can for the small batch of soap.  Keep the remaining half can in a jar and shake it thoroughly to make it completely flat.  n.b., it won’t ever stop foaming, because of the proteins in the beer, so just shake it up and then open the lid to relieve the pressure.
  • Carefully measure the lye in your dedicated lye measuring container.  I won’t belabor the safety precautions, but suffice it to say that lye is massively exothermic when combined with liquid, and is also the main ingredient in Drano, so wear gloves and goggles, mix in a well-ventilated area in a heatproof container, etc.
  • Slowly add the lye to the beer and stir until dissolved.  The lye beer will be just about boiling, and releasing toxic fumes, so let it sit until it cools down a bit.
  • Measure the lard, olive and coconut oils into a crockpot and heat on low until they are all melted.
  • Slowly pour the lye beer into the oils and stir until combined.
  • Mix with a stick blender until the soap is thick and opaque.
  • Cook on low for 30-60 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the soap bubbles up over the entire surface.
  • Remove the crock from heat and mix in the tea tree oil.
  • Cut the tops off of two of cans of beer and spoon the hot soap into them.
  • Cover the can molds with waxed paper and allow to set for 24 hours.
  • Cut the cans away from the soap and slice the soap into discs.

So far, we’re liking the broap.  The bar is firm and lathers well.  It seems like a good balance of cleaning well without being overly drying.  It has a faintly meaty odor to it, but doesn’t leave me smelling meaty at all.

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Brisket

IMG_2026One of the things that got left behind in Florida was our grill.  It was just too big and messy, so we found it a good home (neighbors a few doors down who had just moved in).

So of course a new grill was one of the first things we wanted to get once we moved in, and Wind got me a medium BigGreenEgg for my birthday/father’s day.  Combined with a plate setter (convEGGtor, really?), I was ready to try my hand at brisket for the first time.

I started out with a small cut (3.7lbs) and this recipe/instructions.

In my hands, it went something like this:

  1. Fill the Egg with charcoal and get the fire going.
  2. All the recipes say to use dry rub, but then half of them say to use oil or mustard as a medium, which starts sounding like BBQ sauce to me.  So I whipped up a batch of Big Al’s KC BBQ sauce and used that instead.
  3. Make the classic rookie mistake of letting the Egg get too hot and try to dial it back down.  In 10 minutes while I was getting all my stuff assembled, it shot up to 400°F.  Closing the vents down to just a crack brought it down to 300°F, but it wouldn’t budge from there.
  4. Throw everything in the Egg in one big batch: two handfuls of soaked mesquite chips, plate setter, drip pan full of water, grill rack, brisket fat side down
  5. Luckily, adding the brisket and plate setter added a lot of cool thermal mass and brought the temp down to 250°F.  It did creep back up a bit, but generally stayed where I wanted it.
  6. After about 3 hours (1¼ hours per pound, minus 2 hours) the brisket had plateaued at 155°F — the fabled stall.
  7. Pull the brisket out, wrap it in foil with a splash of beer, and toss it back in for another 2 hours.
  8. Agonize over the last 3° as it slowly creeps past 197° and 198°, as the clock ticks past dinner time.
  9. Pull the brisket out at 200°F and let it rest for 15 minutes while the potatoes are boiling.
  10. Remove the foil and slice it up, quickly making some gravy from the drippings.

The brisket wound up tasting fantastic — flavorful and smoky.  The texture was decent, but it wasn’t falling-apart-tender.  And because it was wrapped, there was no “bark”.  So a good first attempt, but I’m looking forward to doing better.

Next time, I’ll start a little earlier so we’re not rushed for dinner, and keep a closer eye on the Egg as it warms up — it’s very easy to open the vents to bring the temperature up.  And if I have more time, I can remove the foil and 200°F and give it some high heat at the end.

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Happy Independence Day

Enjoying a French dish (soufflé) for dinner, an English dessert (trifle) and a local, American beer (DC Brau’s The Corruption) for our first Independence Day here in the DC Area. Now all we need are the fireworks!

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Micro Mashing

Following the procedure in this excellent blog post, we did six micro mash test batches for a porter or double mild we’ve been thinking about brewing. We’ve been talking about brewing a porter for months now, but haven’t been able to agree on a recipe. Wind likes dry and roasty, Esme likes sweet and smooth. But there are also some outliers like Esme liking dark mild, but Wind doesn’t. When we have a porter or stout, it almost always turns out that one of us really likes it, the other doesn’t like it nearly as much.

We’ve experimented with multiple batches for trying different yeasts before, but didn’t have a process for trying different grain bills. So it was nice to find this process, which scales down a batch to quart size and then mashes and boils in mason jars. We made a few changes, with mixed results:

  • Instead of using malt extract, we did an all-grain mash because we wanted to test the difference between mild and pale ale base malts. We scaled our recipes down to 11.5 oz. of grain, which almost filled the mason jar, and were able to fit about 18 oz. of water. This worked reasonably well, but the mash efficiency was only about 45-50%, compared to the 70-80% we usually see with our usual mash process (Igloo cooler and fly sparging). So we would recommend doing a separate, larger scale mash to test different base grains (or accepting 50% efficiency and boiling down for higher gravity).
  • Because we were using more grain, a small strainer wouldn’t be big enough. So we used a pasta strainer lined with mesh bags (usually used as hop sacks). This worked very well, and gave us room to sparge the grains. We used the same setup post-boil to filter out the hop detritus.
  • We tried to do the boil in our usual kettle, using a canning rack to hold the mason jars. This seemed better than microwaving, since we’d be able to see them while boiling, easily add hops at the right times, etc. But the mason jars didn’t boil — an hour after the water bath started boiling, they were still slowly converging on 200°F. So we pulled them out and microwaved them, which worked fine.

This is a good process for trying out different grain bills, especially different specialty grains over a base malt you can get in powdered or syrup form. We’re looking forward to figuring out a grain bill we both like and brewing a full batch soon.

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Hunahpu Day 2015

Yesterday, we went to Cigar City’s annual bottle-release-and-beer-festival, Hunahpu’s Day.  In addition to releasing their Hunahpu imperial stout, there were dozens of breweries from all over the country, with more than 200 beers on tap. This was Wind’s first time going to Hunahpu’s Day, and after hearing the stories of last year, she was excited but not entirely sure what to expect.

As it turns out, Cigar City did a number of things differently this year, and for the most part the changes worked very well:

  • There were paper tickets from Ticketfly, with the purchaser’s name on them, instead of online ticketing.  Tickets and IDs were checked at entry, which got rid of the duplicate ticket problems from last year and kept the crowd from getting out of control.
  • Lunch was provided by Cigar City’s brewpub/catering service as part of the admission price.  There weren’t as many options as last year, but the provided lunch was good (Redbeard loved the Ropa Vieja, and Wind really liked her Bratwurst).  The line looked very long, but moved very quickly.
  • There were no bottle sales during the event, and no extra bottles sold first-come-first-serve at the end of the event.  Instead, everyone got 4 bottles in a tote bag as they left (with no re-entry).  This went very smoothly as we left, and avoided having to stand in a long line to purchase bottles.  It also avoided a problem Redbeard had in past years: buying bottles in the middle of the event and having to lug them around all day.

The good parts of the festival from last year were preserved: all-you-can-drink small pours from dozens of breweries made for very short lines.  Not having tickets or tokens or any other payment made everything quick and easy.  We’re glad they kept this system from last year instead of returning to 8 oz. pours for $5 like 2013. Redbeard made a list of about 20 beers he wanted to try, and we managed to have more than half of them (along with some last minute additions).  There were a few breweries that ran out of beer after a couple of hours (like Cascade), but the vast majority were still going strong when we left near the end of the event.

Unlike last year, things went pretty smoothly and there was no angry crowd chanting “Cigar City Sucks!” when the beer ran out.  In fact, Cigar City  has a sense of humor (or was pessimistically planning to capitalize on any failures this year) — in additional to the usual merch, they had a “Cigar City Sucks!” t-shirt on sale. Redbeard had to get one, which resulted in us standing in the second longest line of the day (see below for the winner):

Of course, no beer festival would be complete without at least some logistical problems. Compared to last year these are manageable, at least:

  • The longest line of the day, by far, was the line for entry.  We arrived 30 minutes before the event started, and the line was down the block, across the street, and snaking all the way around the edge of their parking lot. It moved slowly and it took us an hour and fifteen minutes before we got in.  It’s not really surprising that the line was slower because they were checking IDs, but they could have started much sooner to work through the line before the starting time.  We’ve seen other festivals do this effectively by taking tickets and letting attendees into a holding area (sometimes with food — looking at you, Vermont Brewer’s Festival, well done!).
  • There was very little shade at the event.  There was one tent with seating at the far end of the space (which was completely packed), and each brewery tent had a small amount of shade at the front of the line.  But since the event’s held in Cigar City’s parking lot, it was otherwise in full sun, with temperatures in the mid-80’s, under a cloudless sky. A few tents in the middle of the space would go a long way towards providing more shade and helping people keep cool.
  • Even capped at 2000 attendees, the space was pretty crowded. The lines for beer were (mostly) nice and short, but the food and merch lines were long and made it hard to move around the space.

All three of these issues probably boil down to not having enough space.  If they can’t move the event to a larger space, they should consider splitting it into a couple of sessions.  The Vermont Brewers Festival does this (three 4-hour sessions over two days), and that’s a great way to serve more people in a limited space.  It would also help address the shade problem if people could go to a session that wasn’t right in the middle of the day.

But, let’s not end on a low note — it was a great day and we had some amazing finds. We both agree the clear winners of the day were Nola and Night Shift. Getting to have about 6 different sours within 40 minutes of entering the event was a (tipsy) delight. In fact, some of the beers toward the front of the space were so good that that is probably why we didn’t get to back before some of the more big name brewers ran out.

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Code4Lib 2015 Craft Drinkup

At the Code4Lib conference in Portland, Oregon this year, there was a Craft Brew Drinkup event, a semi-organized bottle-share, with some effort made to make it more inclusive of non-alcoholic options like soda and tea.  An event like this has been organized at the conference each of the last several years, though historically it’s been focused more exclusively on beer. The event has ranged from ticketed events in a local bar, to tons people crowded into a couple people’s hotel rooms.  The event has been controversial for causing trouble at the conference hotel by being too noisy, or excluding non-drinkers.

I’ve felt conflicted about the event over the years.  On one hand, it’s the best beer tasting I go to all year, and where I really got into craft beer (I still remember tasting my first sours, Cigar City’s Sea Bass and Lost Abbey’s Sinners in a crowded hotel room in Bloomington).  On the other hand, many members of the community were uncomfortable with the event and questioned whether it was compatible with a professional conference.

What Was Good

This year’s event was held at eBay in a large event space that included a lot of the amenities you’d expect from a tech company: a kitchen, ping-pong tables, a pinball machine, a stage with a full rock band setup (real instruments, not the video game), and plenty of space for a crowd.  There was also more organization than some of the past years, including having a few of the organizers being dedicated servers.

The event space was very nice, people had fun playing the games, and there was plenty of space.  In past years, the event has typically been in a hotel suite, and has been very crowded and loud. Having enough space meant that there were different areas with different vibes: a crowd around the entrance and bar, several people clustered around the pinball machine and ping-pong table, a few small groups spread out, etc.  I found it very easy to move through the different spaces, and talk to different people.

There was more effort this year to include non-alcoholic options like sodas and tea.  After some conversation on Twitter, the announcement was revised to be more inclusive.   There were tables for tea and craft sodas, with a variety of non-alcoholic options.

Having designated servers worked very well.  I was a little worried about how this would work, since it was announced the day of the event.  But it worked very well, with each of the three servers handling a different category of beers and each keeping a small inventory of open bottles to choose from.  It made it easy to find the kind of beer you were interested in, and check out the options.  There was never a big line, and I don’t think I missed any of the cool beers I was interested in trying.

As always, it was amazing to see the range of stuff people brought from all over the country, and indeed the world.  I’ve been to beer tastings and festivals with huge taplists, but the Code4Lib bottle share rivals these, and I’m always impressed by the sheer variety of beers, from breweries I often haven’t even heard of.  It’s a powerful reminder of how far-flung the Code4Lib community is, and one of the things I look forward to every year.

What We Can Do Better Next Time

This was the best of these events that I’ve attended, but I think there are some areas we can improve for next year:

There was too much beer.  People were encouraged to bring something, and most of them brought beer.  And lots of it, with many people bringing several large bottles.  Or six-packs or growlers of beers bought in Portland.  There was a ton of beer left over at the end of the event, which was given to people to take away with them.  It’s better to have too much than too little, and it’s probably unavoidable that we’ll have at least a small surplus.  But next year, we should still encourage people to bring their local beer and homebrew, but discourage bringing more than one or two bottles.  We should also make it clear that it’s OK to come without bringing anything, and that there will be no shortages.

The non-alcoholic options were much better than in past years, but not on par with the beer options.  We can do more to listen to advice on how to make events more welcoming for non-drinkers, and improve the non-alcoholic options.  Adding baked goods to the event would probably help here, both by expanding the number of people who bring non-alcoholic items, and by giving people something to eat.

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Pointy Elf Hat

Miss L commented in passing that she really liked Mr. C’s red elf hat (which he longer wants to wear, alas) and would like one herself, preferably in blue or green. Luckily, I still have a print out of the pattern I used – this saved me the trouble of finding a new pattern online, thinking it was the old one, realizing it was wrong, looking again, and so on. Plus, and this is the bonus part, I found a yarn that is a mix of blue AND green!

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This hat is knitted flat and then sewn up the back. Honestly, my knitting is better than my sewing, and so in hindsight I might have been better off with a new pattern than was knit-only.

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