THE sweater (done!)

After way too many months, a whole lot of beer and a soupçon of profanity, the husband sweater is finally done! Drum roll, please…

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It seems so simple now… still not sure what took me so long. Though, I will say that there were a couple points that held me up because I was nervous about dealing with them – in particular I procrastinated forever before I finally worked up the courage to tackle button holes, and then I ended up knitting about twenty holes to get the five finalists you see above. (Button holes provoke so many questions for me: How do you get them evenly spaced? How do you prevent that weird stray stitch cutting through the middle? How can knitting empty space be SO IMPOSSIBLY HARD? Why couldn’t Redbeard have asked for a zipper?) But, more than that – the pattern also spooked me a few times. It was supposedly for beginners, and really good in some ways. But, I guess I am too beginner for even beginner status, because it would also throw out strange, uninterpretable instructions, too. With a scarf or hat, I would just roll with it – because honestly, how bad can it go wrong with a scarf or a hat? But, in the high stakes world of sweater knitting, where I might not even understand how badly I’d screwed up until I went to sew it all together? Not able to just bull ahead.

In fact, for the sleeves – I actually rewrote all of instructions into something comprehensible for me. That way, I only had to divine the meaning of the instructions *once* – with coffee in hand – and translate them into something a mere pre-beginner like me could understand, even when drinking beer instead of coffee several hours later.

But, all worth it in the end! In fact, there must be something wrong with my brain, because I hadn’t even finished sewing on the last button before I started thinking about what sort of sweater I’d like to knit next…

 

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Gin vs. Gin

Gin and tonic is one of my favorite cocktails, but our first gin drink is the simpler Gin Fizz – gin, soda water, and lime, all shook up with ice:

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We had two gins on hand, Hendricks and Plymouth. I’m partial to gins with character, and am particularly partial to Uncle Val’s. But, The 12 Bottle Bar recommended getting a dry gin, and so I went out and got a bottle of Plymouth to experiment with. Yay for an excuse to buy more gin! Redbeard and I decided we’d try Hendricks and Plymouth head to head, and so I mixed up a Gin Fizz with each. The verdict? There was definitely a difference, though not as dramatic as we’d predicted. To me, the Plymouth created a drink that tastes like summer – clean, crisp, with a clear lovely lime. The Hendricks was also very good, though – clearly dry gin is not strictly required for a good gin fizz. It was warmer to me; Redbeard characterized it as ‘well-rounded’.

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New adventures in advanced drinking

We recently acquired a copy of The 12 Bottle Bar, and it has inspired me (Wind) to start approaching cocktails in a way similar to the somewhat systematic way we’ve approached beer, with the goal this time of building up a small but select repertoire of excellent drink options.

So, armed with a few basics (Boston shaker, citrus juicer, 2oz jigger), I’ve started to put together drinks beyond the occasional haphazard rum-and-cherry-coke-zero and beloved gin and tonic.

First up, the Waldorf:

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This is a boozy combination of Grand Marnier, sweet vermouth and grenadine, all shook up with ice. Despite usually drinking liquor that’s largely cut with something, I found this to be pretty tasty. I’m still getting the hang of the Boston shaker, worried that I’m going to break the glass as I wiggle it free of the metal cup. But, otherwise this was an easy beginning.

We already have store-bought grenadine on hand, but I’m looking forward to making my own when it runs out.

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Welcome, Lucy!

I think I have found my One True Crafting technique in needle felting. It’s like sculpture with therapeutic stabbiness and without the messy clay.

Here is my newest little creature – a lovely lady who’s name is clearly Lucy:

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Standing at just about 4″, she is small in stature but big in heart, all soft and warm in her wooly cloak. Her staff was the only really challenging part – I took some medium-gauge copper wire and poked it through her hand, and then felted the wool onto the wire. It was very stabby, but not so therapeutic – I managed to poke my index finger pretty sharply several times. Other than that, she is all wool. I was going to shape her face more, and maybe even add some embroidery for her features, but in the end I liked the Amish doll simplicity of her face so much that I didn’t want to change it.

Now all she needs is a flock of mini sheep to frolic and gambol around her.

 

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Month-Old Hops

After a month, the three different hop plants are showing very different results:

  • The Golding (middle) is doing very well.  It has two bines trained on its lines and is climbing well.  It’s got healthy leaves and has put out a couple new shoots.
  • The Fuggle (right), is doing OK with a couple of decent shoots starting to train up its lines.
  • The Saaz (left) isn’t doing very well at all, with just a few tiny shoots still too small to train.  The one bine we did train has withered.

I’ve heard that many hop varieties need a year to get established, so the Saaz and Fuggle might just need to wait until next year.  But I’m hopeful the Golding at least will grow well and maybe give us some hops this year.  If the Saaz doesn’t start making progress soon, I think we’ll take one of the other Golding shoots and take over one of the Saaz lines.

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Hops Trellised

The hops have already started putting out feelers (especially the Golding which has sent out 5 of them already), so we moved them over to a place with good southern exposure and started a twine trellis for them to climb up the mostly-abandoned backyard play fort.

For the Golding, we got to choose the best two bines and prune off the rest.  The Fuggle only had one decent bine going, so we’ll wait and see if it has another.  The Saaz has a couple of very small shoots, so it should be ready to be trained in a few weeks.

Apparently hops can grow 15 to 20 feet.  We’ve only got 8 feet of fort (really more like 7 feet because of the pots).  But if we’re blessed with the problem of overgrowing bines, I figure we can just let them grow over the top of the fort.

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My First Zwanze Day

We were down in Orlando this weekend to visit the new Harry Potter Diagon Alley part of the Universal Studios theme park with the kids.  I snuck off for a couple of hours to head up to Redlight Redlight for my first Zwanze Day (Cantillon’s annual release where about 50 bars around the world get a single keg of a special beer brewed for the occasion).

I dithered a bit about whether it was worth the hassle.  I first heard about Zwanze day a couple years ago, and Redlight Redlight has been the only site in Florida.  It’s on the other side of town from where we usually go for the theme parks, so I always balked the logistics of driving there and having to sober up before heading back, or the price of taking a taxi back and forth across Orlando.  But this year I decided it was worth the hassle, and I tried Uber for the first time for the trip there (which worked out much better than a taxi, and was a lot cheaper).  In fact, Uber went so well that it took me about 35 minutes to get from the middle of Universal Studios to Redlight Redlight, instead of the hour-plus I expected.

When I got there about 2½ hours before opening time, I was a little surprised that there was no line yet.  Cantillon is one of the most-loved-by-beer-geeks breweries in the world, and the annual Zwanze release is their most sought-after.  So I killed a little time walking around the neighborhood and started standing in line when a few other people showed up.  I’m lucky that I was at the front of the line, because the tickets for the Zwanze beer itself were sold out before I decided I would go, and I got a ticket only because there had been a cancellation.

The wait went quickly since I was chatting with a group of guys from Ocala, and we quickly grabbed a table when the event started and proceeded to share glasses of almost everything on the impressive taplist.  Some highlights:

  • Zwanze 2014 (Cuvée Florian): of course this was the main event, and lived up to my expectations.  This year’s beer was a cross between Iris and a kriek.  Iris is much hoppier than typical Belgian beers, but the hops were very gentle here, and the cherries were also toned down.  The result was a delightful sour beer, with just a beautiful ruby color, and a little earthy cherry flavor.
  • Redlight Redlight also had Cantillon’s Iris, Gueuze, and Mamouche on tap.  I’d had the Gueuze several times when we lived in the Netherlands, and it was fantastic as always.  Iris and Mamouche were both new to me: Iris I liked immediately and especially since it’s one part of the Zwanze blend, it was nice to compare them side-by-side.  Mamouche at first seemed too herbal and bitter to me, but it grew on me as I sipped at.
  • I was disappointed this summer that I didn’t get up to Hill Farmstead in Vermont.  So I was doubly glad to have their collaboration with Blaugies, La Vermontoise.  I had somehow gotten it into my head that this was a sour, so I was surprised when it turned out to be a saison, and a mild and smooth one at that.  But once I adjusted to that, I found this to be a very nice, sweet, floral beer.  So now I’m really irritated that I didn’t get up there to get a case of it…
  • Angry Chair’s 3 Little Birds was a very nice Berliner Weisse, with a very subtle tropical fruit character.  It especially benefited from a direct comparison to Cigar City’s Passion Guava Grove, which is a much bolder beer that seemed overbearing in contrast.
  • The only stout we tried was Mikkeller’s Beer Geek Brunch Weasel, which was fantastic, and the perfect contrast to the saisons and sours.
  • I finished out the afternoon with The Bruery’s Oude Tart.  This is a wonderful sour I’ve had several times before and always enjoyed.  It has more body and sweetness than the Cantillon sours, and felt like a perfectly-balanced way to end.

Not only did I have some wonderful beers, I also met some nice people and had a great time sharing and talking about the beers with them.  This really ties into a few posts (e.g., this one from Boak & Bailey) that I’ve seen in the last few days about the marketing strategy for Shock Top, which boils down to positioning it as a simpler, more approachable craft beer to people who think Shock Top is made by a small/independent brewery (instead of AB-InBev).  I guess I see the parallel with overcomplicated, mystique-shrouded wine snobbery, but beer is a lot cheaper, and I’ve consistently seen bartenders hand out a bunch of samples and do their best to find the best beer for anyone who walks in the door.

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Cider Tasting

It may be fall in other places, but we’ve got a few more months of 80°+ weather ahead of us in Florida.  So we recently did a double-blind tasting of several bottles of cider we picked up at the grocery store.  They’re probably not as good as some of the cider we can get in New York (like Eve’s and Bellwether), but then that’s not really the reason I wanted to do a double-blind tasting.  I really had two main reasons:

  1. There’s so much snobbery around beer and cider, and so much of the market is driven more by image and brand than by taste — so I feel like it’s a good reality check to make sure I’m not just buying into that.

  2. I often find myself in a restaurant with only mass-marketed beers and ciders to choose from — so it’s really helpful to know which ones I like better, and if any of them are worth drinking.

The methodology was the same as our lager tasting: one of us poured the ciders into glasses and assigned them numbers, and the other mixed them up and assigned them numbers.  So neither of us knew which ciders were which while we were tasting them, and we revealed them afterwards.

Unlike our lager tasting, there were no big surprises.  We didn’t agree on the exact ordering, or exactly where the drinkable/undrinkable line was.  But we were in broad agreement and our rankings lined up pretty well with what we thought coming in to the tasting:

  • Both of us thought Redd’s Apple Ale and Woodchuck Summer were pretty bad.  Wind ranked Redd’s dead last and thought it was the only truly undrinkable one in the bunch (finding Woodchuck Summer strangely un-summer-y but barely passable).  I thought they were both terrible and thought Redd’s was slightly less terrible than Woodchuck Summer.

  • Neither of us liked Stella Cidre or Woodchuck Granny Smith very much.  But they were definitely better than Redd’s and Summer.  I found Stella Cidre to be strangely mineral tasting, and we both agreed there was not much flavor at all.  The Granny Smith was at least crisp and dry, but still just not much there.

  • Strongbow Gold and Angry Orchard Crisp were the clear winners.  Strongbow is much juicier and Angry Orchard is much drier, but we both found them very drinkable.

With that in mind, I’m tempted to do another round, using Strongbow and Angry Orchard as controls for whatever craft cider we can find around town.  Though it would be hard to do a blind test of our favorite cider (Julian’s Cherry Bomb) since its strong red color would obviously give it away.

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Hops in Florida?

I had always assumed that it was too hot and/or swampy to grow hops in Florida, since they’re typically grown in cooler climes.  But it turns out that quite a few people have tried it (at least at the backyard-hobbyist level) and posted about it online.  So it seems at least vaguely plausible that we can grow them successfully in our backyard, so we figured it was worth giving it shot.

We asked our local garden center about it and they hadn’t heard of anybody growing hops in Gainesville.  But we found a nice online retailer and got a few varieties of hops that we like and use frequently (Fuggle, Goldings, and Saaz).  A few days later, we had a small box with three hop crowns packed in what looks like barley hulls.  We got them potted in nice large pots this morning, and tucked them under an oak tree in our backyard to give them good shade and shelter from the heavier rains, to give them a gentle introduction to the Florida climate.  Once they’re established and putting out bines, we plan to trellis them up (and if necessary, over) our backyard play fort that’s not getting much use lately.  With any luck, our early winter will be roughly like the harvest season in more typical hop-growing places, and we’ll have fresh hops to brew with before Christmas.

The growing conditions are supposed to have a big impact on the aroma and flavor, so we’ll have to wait and see how they turn out.  But we figured going with hops we like was a good starting point.  There are a dizzying number of hop varieties, and a lot of new ones coming out all the time.  So if these three don’t work out, we might try again with a few different varieties before we give up hope.

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First Magnitude Brewing

We just got back to Florida and were excited to hear about Gainesville’s second brewery opening this weekend: First Magnitude Brewing.  They are located in a typical industrial park location at 1220 SE Veitch Street, on a side street off South Main Street, just south of SE 10th Avenue and the Hawthorne bike trail.  They’re just a mile down Main St. from the Citizens Co-Op, so we did some shopping and headed over right as they opened.

Inside the brewery building is a large open space with a few picnic tables, and a shiny stainless steel brew system against the back wall.  We came in out of the scorching heat with our two kids in tow.  We met co-found Christine Denny who welcomed us to their opening day and assured us their tasting room was family-friendly.  The tasting room is on the right as you enter the brewery, and has several large picnic tables (comfortably seating 8 each), and plenty of room to stand around.  Which is good, because by the time we’d grabbed a table and a couple of pints, the tables were all full and the line ran the length of the tasting room and threatened to go out the door.

One thing I noticed as I walked up to their bar, with 20 taps along the back wall, was how readable their tap handles were.  So many tap handles have just a small badge, or dark/low-contrast text that’s barely readable.  But these tap handles had bold, high-contrast lettering going the length of the tap handles that I could easily read.  I’m looking forward to seeing one of those tap handles around town soon.  Update: good photo of the tap handles.

We would have loved to sample all their beers (and the wonderful guest taps too!) but they were understandably not doing flights on their first day.  So we picked three that looked good to us:

  • Karst Belgian Pale: a delightful and delicate Belgian pale with great yeast character and a smooth sweetness. This was Wind’s favorite.
  • Drift English Mild: a great example of a less common style — roasty without being bitter, malty without being heavy or oversweet.  In many ways it reminds me of a Scottish ale that hasn’t been Americanized, an easy-drinking flavorful ale.
  • River Rise Belgian Strong Dark: rich and malty, with a strong plum/raisin aspect.  Earthy and a little spicy.

The tasting room is already very nice and comfortable, attractively decorated and has a lot more room than Swamp Head’s current tasting room (though I’m looking forward to their new brewery and tasting room they’re building right now).  First Magnitude is also planning a beer garden which will be a welcome addition once the weather cools off later this Fall.

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