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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The mystery of the squirrel in the bathroom

This little guy makes sure you
don't use too much toilet paper.
At the end of last week's New Beer Friday we asked if anybody knew the brewery in which the picture at left was taken. Turns out nobody did. At any rate, nobody felt compelled to leave the answer in the comments section. Too bad too, because the prize for naming the correct brewpub was unimaginable riches.* What, we forgot to mention that? Sorry.

Anyway, it's too late to jump in now. The correct answer is Liberty Street Brewing in Plymouth, MI, a fine establishment with some very tasty beer on tap. Next time you're in the area we suggest you stop in and have a pint. And while you're at it, be sure to keep an eye out for the charming (fake) squirrel who makes its home in the men's room.

*Editor's note: Truth be told, unimaginable riches were never at stake in this or any other "contest" run on The BuzzWe just put that in for dramatic effect. Again, our apologies.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Listening to the lists

From the list to reality
A well-executed list will improve just about any experience, your next summer camping trip in particular.

By Professor Wes Eaton

I often assemble both mental and written lists as a way to order and prioritize my experience. Some of my favorite lists this time of year include what I want to buy at the farm market (blueberries and strawberries are high here right now). My annual list for maple syruping is fairly well established; despite this I write it down and check things off as we pack the car. I list the songs I want the band to play at the next show. I write down all the things I want to read each week, and what to plant in my small garden. I’ve written down all the different beers I’ve tried—and the beers I’ve brewed—although these prattling lists have become less important with time. Right now I’m assembling another one of my favorite lists: what to pack for camping.

Lists are funny creatures. They seem to take on an identity of their own. They perform a task which in turn leaves the mind at ease, opening a space for thinking about other more specific things. At times lists become indelible. In other words, without our lists, we can break down, fret, and, ultimately, forget. But lists play other roles also. I find inspiration in my lists. What I see is more of an assemblage of potential possibilities than precise demands. Take, for example, these important camping list items: dinner, breakfast, and drinks. Under these headings are endless possibilities. What I’d like to do here then is share some of my list-building experiences by taking the case of camping along the Great Lakes on the shores of Michigan.

Let’s start with dinner. Camping does not mean that you have to eat thirty dollars worth of rehydrated meals, ramen noodles, soup from the can, or Smores. Instead, cooking outside can be both freeing and delicious. My list includes both gear and food items to make this happen. Essential here is tin foil and the cast iron Dutch oven, and the two meals I want to share are the foil dinner and the pulled pork, both starting with coals from a hot fire.

The foil dinner is a long tradition in some circles and the essential idea is to bury your dinner, wrapped in foil, deep in the smolders, and to then be patient. The list of ingredients includes ground game meat (or Buffalo if game is not handy), sliced potatoes, onions, carrots, and steak sauce. This, of course, is just inspiration. While there is no hard and fast ideal foil-dinner list of ingredients, I highly recommend the game meat. Vegetarians, however, will have to leave this out, possibly substituting yams (keep the steak sauce). Form the meat into a patty, about a half pound per dinner, surround with veggies, season, wrap, and nestle alongside the others deep under the coals. Cooking time, even in impossibly hot fires, is at least half an hour, despite the itchy feeling you’ll get in your shovel hand.

The Dutch oven too will go directly in the fire, or close by. First, however, devise your list. My list is supported by memories of reheating pulled pork sandwiches along Superior’s Great Sand Bay, pulled off along Sand Dune Drive, taking in a swim and some lunch on the way back south from Fort Wilkins State Park. Start with onions, sliced thick, stacked along the bottom. Add one 3-4 pound boneless pork loin, cloves of garlic, peeled, thin sliced carrots, powdered mustard, brown sugar, paprika, cayenne. Now, open your cooler and add your favorite beer -- and do this often! While the lid of the oven acts much like a slow cooker, retaining and pooling the juices, the beer will both evaporate and be absorbed. Best to keep someone at the fire that day, for both stoking and basting purposes.

Both of these meals get you away from conventional camp cooking (the ubiquitous dual stove) and bring your food, heat source, and physical and mental presence tightly back together. Both also take time. They become the thing you are doing. You are no longer cooking a meal so you can simply eat it. Rather, you are cooking food because that is what it is you are doing. These are forgiving practices. Despite what your list might say, remember, your list is a starting place. You may add Jalapenos mentally, and then physically, for instance, decide against it. These dinners also solve another item on your list, lunch. There’s just no way you can eat that much in one sitting. Wrap and place on ice and put back in the Dutch oven tomorrow, sometime soon after breakfast.

Essential for breakfast lists are both the cast iron skillets and eggs. On your way north, when looking for firewood, keep an eye out for local eggs. Likely their yolk will congeal better in your pan—that and the chickens are happier. Now I do move to the dual stove, the third item on my general list, in fact. I choose liquid gas for a more consistent heat source. But why the fixation on cast iron? While claims here are varied, cast iron essentially offers a sensitivity more sophisticated technologies cannot afford. Watch the flame you put against your pan. Notice the time it takes to heat, as well as cool down. Hold your hand over the pan and take note of the steadily rising radiation. Remember what this feels like and keep note. When cooking eggs, I often heat the skillet briskly, then back things off, using the cooking oil, butter, or bacon fat as an indicator of the temperature range. Lift the pan with a heavy leather glove and watch the way the oils move across the surface. I am no master—as often as not my pan is too hot, and my eggs take notice. I personally crack two brown jumbos from Rakowski’s into brushed-on olive oil over a medium flame, immediately break the yolks, crack on some pepper, sprinkle on both salt and paprika, and cover with another cast iron skillet until the whites ripple gently like flags. I then turn the eggs, remove from heat and replace the skillet with a plate for warming. Stoke the coals for dinner if there’s extra time between.

To drink? My list here is broad, so I’d like to share some specific lessons. First, most all people like to try new things, especially out of doors. Bring something you want to share, and maybe something you yourself made. Another thing on my beverage list is to buy my drinks near to the places I like to visit. Instead of stocking up in town, patronize the shops along the non-beaten paths you choose to explore this summer. Tell them what it is they are missing if that indeed is the case.

To close, I’d like to suggest a practice: keep all your lists together, bound under the same cover. Plan and survey them to prepare, their primary use of course, but then look back and add in the things you encountered and engaged with organically. Look across activities and try to capture themes. Listen to your lists. Why is it your top items are your top items? What is it you always leave behind? What do you always bring, but never set down in your list?

Friday, May 25, 2012

New Beer Friday - May 25 Edition

IMG_3057 By Chris Siciliano

In our second week as Beer City, USA, Grand Rapids lived up to its newly gained and well-deserved reputation. Not that anything particularly extraordinary happened on the beer scene. In fact, outside the excellent deal on Michigan beer that HopCat offered Monday to mark the historic Beer City win, it's been pretty uneventful these last few days. But then, that's exactly my point.

Even without a KBS-level release or a spectacular beer festival to bring in pourists (aka tourists), the breweries, bars and beer stores were bustling with activity. Folks bought beer, sold beer, and made beer. Everybody drank beer. And whether you were mashing in, topping off, or drinking down, it was probably with the enthusiasm and pride that helped earn GR the reputation it has today.

Yup, pretty much status quo.

New (and Returning) Beer

  • Oberon Mini Kegs, $19.99/5liters - "A wheat ale fermented with Bell's signature house ale yeast, mixing a spicy hop character with mildly fruity aromas. The addition of wheat malt lends a smooth mouthfeel, making it a classic summer beer" (source).
  • Sixpoint Brewing Company, $2.59/16oz cans - "Since 2004, Sixpoint has made hundreds of different beers, and there is no plan to stop this proliferation of styles. Our core brews are available year-round, but we also have rotating and seasonal varieties. In addition, we have several unique ongoing series of beers and super rare brews that are made one time only" (source). Established in Brooklyn, New York in 2004. All descriptions from their website. 
      • Bengali Tiger - "The Sixpoint homebrewed IPA interpretation. Blaze orange in color, with an abundance of citrus hop bitterness, and a full pine and grapefruit bouquet in the aroma."
      • Sweet Action - "The original Sixpoint style- hard to define, but perhaps that's why people love it. Part pale ale, part wheat, part cream ale- all Sweet Action."
      • Righteous Ale - "Made with Rye malt to provide a signature and distinct earthy character. Seasoned and dry-hopped with herbal and citrus hops. Truly Righteous."
      • The Crisp - "The original Sehr Crisp from Sixpoint. Brewed with noble hops for indelible sehr crisp flavor."
  • Schell's Zommerfest, $1.49/12oz - "Zommerfest is brewed in a 'Kölsch' style, which originates from Cologne, Germany. Its characteristics are fairly light—in color and in flavor. It is a pale gold color, low in hop flavor and aroma, with a light body and a somewhat dry finish. This is a pleasant, light-flavored beverage that goes well with any summer activity" (source).
  • Sam Adams Porch Rocker, $1.59/12oz - "Perfect for any summer day, Samuel Adams® Porch Rocker™ was inspired by traditional Bavarian Radlers that mix beer with German-style lemonade. Our bright and citrusy Radler is a Helles beer with a fresh-squeezed lemon taste, effervescent sweetness, and slightly tart, refreshing finish. A light malt character and hint of hops balance out this satisfying summer brew" (source).
  • Abita Strawberry Harvest Lager, $1.69/12oz - "A lager brewed with pilsner and wheat malts and Vanguard hops. Real Louisiana strawberry juice is added after filtration resulting in a crisp lager with a sweet strawberry flavor, aroma and haze. It is wonderful with desserts or lighter fare such as salads and pastas. Fresh cheeses such as Burrata, chèvre, Crescenza, mozzarella or Teleme pair well with Strawberry Harvest" (source).

Picture of the Week
"Do you know where I live?"

This little guy can be found in one of Michigan's breweries.
Do you know which one?
(Hint - Men are far more likely to see him.)


Thursday, May 24, 2012

A real app-titude for beer

Update: Sorry, folks, we've reached the three-person limit for game testers. If you're really, really interested in testing this game, maybe you can convince the developers over on the Michigan Micro Caps Facebook page.

By Chris Siciliano

Gamers and beer fans, listen up. The first three people to send an email to this address will each receive an invite to become an official tester* for a craft beer-themed smartphone game currently in development at Fusionary Media (they who built Siciliano's snazzy-looking website and also The Buzz).

The game is called Michigan Micro Caps and the object is to clear the screen of adjacent and identical beer bottle caps, each one a referent to an actual Michigan brewery, maybe your favorite brewery, maybe one you've never heard of (with around 100 breweries in Michigan, it's possible).

As if that wasn't cool enough, Michigan Micro Caps will also function as a portable index, cataloguing Michigan breweries and providing users with links to websites, maps, and social media pages. The goal is ultimately a worthy one: to expose beer fans to new breweries and vice versa.

Fusionary would like to launch the game for free download by July 1, 2012. However, much depends on how happy they are with the games playability. Thus the call for more testers as well as continued product testing of their own (ahem, continued consumption of Michigan beer, that is).

Also—who are we kidding?—they just want to get the word out. You can follow the game's development by becoming a fan at the Michigan Micro Cap Facebook page.

*Michigan Micro Caps is currently available for iPhones only; game tester must have the appropriate device.

The game

The index

Individual brewery page

A behind the scenes look at development.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Fight Night, Siciliano's style

"You want a piece of me?"
Sometimes the best way to relieve a little stress is to pick a little fight, a bar fight that is.

By Steve Siciliano

Last Saturday after six hours at the store followed by a little yard work and a nap, I suggested to Barb that we go out for a few beers. When I took a left out of the driveway she looked at me quizzically.

“Founders will probably be busy,” I said. “Besides, I’m in the mood for a bar fight.” When I glanced over at my wife I caught her rolling her eyes.

While I drove I carefully described exactly what was expected of her. She had to watch my back. If I was fighting more than one opponent she had to grab a pool cue and even the odds. If I was getting the best of some dude and his woman jumped on my back and was choking me Barb would have to dispose of her.

As we were walking up to the first bar I showed her how to form a tight fist and explained why it was important to keep a straight wrist when punching. I held out my flattened palm to her.

“Punch my hand,” I said.

Standing on the sidewalk in front of a bar on Leonard Street my petite wife made a fist and punched my hand.

“Not great,” I said, “but it’ll have to do.”

I was disappointed that the first bar was closed. From the outside it looked like it had tremendous potential.

I drove west on Leonard then south on Diamond to Michigan imagining possible scenarios. Maybe I would crack a long neck bottle against a table and motion with its jagged edges toward my adversary. Perhaps I would break a chair over some schmuck’s back or lift a chiseled, two-hundred-fifty pounder over my head, twirl him around, then toss him out a window. On Michigan Street I spied Bob’s Bar and pulled over.

Inside I ordered two bottles of PBR and surveyed the room. For the second time that day I was disappointed. There were no wife-beater wearing apes playing pool. There were no obnoxious louts yelling obscenities at the barmaid. There was nothing but a bunch of well-behaved folks quietly enjoying their drinks and having a good time. “Let’s blow this joint,” I said after gulping down the last of the PBR. While we were walking across the street to Farah’s I hoped that the dude outside having a smoke on the sidewalk would remark snidely on my varicose veins. Instead he smiled and opened the door for us.

Farah’s was another disappointment. We sat at the nice bar, ordered another PBR, and chatted with the friendly bartender. They have a good selection of craft beers on tap. I was tempted to order a Founders IPA but didn’t want to dull my reflexes. “This is a really cool place,” Barb said, looking around. “Yeah, it is,” I sneered.

After Farah’s we walked a half block east to Duke’s. We had another PBR while sitting at the bar. We munched on fresh-salted in-the-shell peanuts and listened to the music. “See anyone you’d like to fight?” Barb asked. “No,” I replied.

On the way home we stopped at the Tip Top Deluxe for a Dark Horse IPA. “What have you guys been up to?” Jackie, the bartender asked.

“Nothing much,” Barb said. “We hit a few Michigan Street taverns. Steve wanted to get in a bar fight.”

Jackie placed our pints of Crooked Tree on the bar and rolled her eyes.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Cigar you going my way?

The walk-in humidor at Siciliano's
From the boss' first smoke to his best smoke and just about all smokes between, a history of tobacco at Siciliano's.

By Steve Siciliano

I’m proud of the fact that our store has garnered a reputation as being a destination location for a wide variety of products: craft beer, fine wine, mead and packaged liquor; beer-, wine-, cheese- and bread-making supplies; bulk tea and coffee; a constantly expanding selection of do-it-yourself books; gourmet chocolates and hand-crafted sodas. Something that doesn’t get mentioned quite as often, however, is the fact that we also are a tobacco shop.

I like wearing my tobacconist hat. I enjoy weighing out ounces of pipe tobacco on the triple beam scale and I get a lot of satisfaction from selling pipes, humidors and premium cigars especially.

I smoked my first cigar when I was sixteen. I had a job as a bus boy in the cafeteria of the old Pantlind Hotel and once a week a crotchety old fellow came in and after supper would always smoke a cigar. To this day I remember the cigars he smoked, a brand called Optimo that were beautiful, oily dark maduros. One day I got up the nerve to ask him where I could get one.

“Why?” he growled.

When I told him it was my dad’s birthday and I wanted to buy him a cigar the old codger actually cracked a smile. “Across the street at Elliot’s,” he said. Despite my age the clerk at the shop had no problem selling me one of those Optimos which I smoked on the walk home.

I would like to say that I’ve smoked nothing but premium cigars all my life but that’s not the case. When in high school I would occasionally burn a wood tipped Hava-Tampa Jewel or a plastic tipped cigarillo. In college I had a predilection for rum soaked Crookettes and in my twenties and thirties it was an Antonio y Cleopatra Grenadier, a White Owl or a Dutch Masters during weddings and weekend fishing trips.

It was in my mid-forties when I began smoking only the premium, hand-rolled cigars and, looking for anything back then to generate sales in a struggling store, I decided that I would try selling them. I began with a few inexpensive brands in a humidified counter top case, progressed to a couple of glass displays and then finally built the walk-in humidor.

Today the humidor is well stocked with cigars from the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico. In two reach-in cases we display cigars that are rum flavored, vanilla flavored, chocolate flavored and some that are infused with botanicals. We even have a cigar that’s flavored with hops (see below). Because of our government’s continued trade embargo with Cuba we are unable to sell any Cubans. Hopefully someday that will change.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit Cuba and while there took a day trip to Vuelta Abajo which is considered to be the finest land for growing cigar tobacco in the world. While I was standing on a high ridge gazing down at the indescribably beautiful valley an old Cuban approached me. He was selling bundles of cigars that he had rolled himself from tobacco that he had grown. I had doubts about their quality but took a chance and handed him ten pesos, about the equivalent then of ten US dollars. They turned out to be the best cigars I have ever smoked.

Hopz Cigars, $11.89/stick

Monday, May 21, 2012

A mown commodity

The lawn-mower shed
Household chores afford us the opportunity to see value in the simple things.

By Steve Siciliano

When I opened the shed door our dog Ellie Mae shot past me and began hunting. I share the space in that old shed with the chipmunks and squirrels. I stow my shovels, rakes and mower on the floor and they hoard their walnuts above the sagging wallboard ceiling. Barb and I talk about replacing the shed and we probably should. It’s hardly worth putting more paint on the dry-rotted boards and there are a few spots where the moss-covered shingles aren’t keeping the rain out. But I kind of like the way the old shed looks, and I really don’t mind sharing it with the critters.

After backing the lawn tractor out I lit a cigar. I like to take my time mowing the lawn. Always rushing through life can wear you down and as I grow older I’m finding that being in a state of non-hurriedness is the best way to approach things. I could certainly mow the lawn faster. I could zip around the yard intent only on getting the job done. I could careen around the one-acre lot keeping one eye on the job at hand and the other on what needs to be done later. But it’s impossible to just be when you’re not living in the present. And when you’re always focused on the future you tend not to notice things.

That day while cutting along the stand of trees on the edge of the back yard I noticed the explosion of pink and white flowers on the wild blackberry bushes. I thought about past Julys when I plucked ripe berries from my slow moving perch. To the left where there’s a stand of bamboo I observed how much taller the new shoots had grown in only a week.

When I navigated around and through the line of spruces I recalled how small they were when we planted them. While moving through the wide open expanse of the backyard I was happy for the startled moths that fluttered up from the ground and felt bad about the ones that didn’t. I noticed the robins landing in the mower’s mulched wake and wondered what they were pecking at. (Feasting, perhaps, on those unfortunate moths?) When negotiating around the weeping cherry trees I thought about how their wrinkled trunks look like an elephant’s. I saw the swift moving shadow of a wide-winged bird and looking up spied a low sweeping hawk. While avoiding the protruding roots of the ancient silver maples on the side of the house I wondered how much longer they would be shading us. In the front yard I braked to allow a slow-hopping toad make it to the shelter of the hostas.

After putting the mower back in the shed I went in the house and looked through the window at the fresh mown lawn. “Sure takes you a long time to cut the grass,” Barb said looking up from her book.

“Yes,” I replied. “It sure does.”

Friday, May 18, 2012

New Beer Friday - May 18 Edition

B. Nektar Evil Genius
By Chris Siciliano

Hello and welcome to the New Beer Friday, or should I say, hello and welcome to New Beer City. Thanks to an incredible showing from G-Rap's loyal beer nuts, and with a little help from our friends state wide, Grand Rapids has been named Beer City, USA for 2012.

But then, you knew that already.

What you may not know is that despite this being in many ways a simple popularity contest, there are very real economic (and egocentric) advantages to winning this distinction. "Just ask Asheville," says MLive Reporter Garett Ellison. Having nabbed top-honors four times, including a tie this year with us, our North Carolina counterpart will tell you that earning the title "Beer City" translates into more than just bragging rights—it can mean an actual bump in tourist dollars. Who wouldn't go for that?

Anyway, congratulations on another win, Asheville. Grand Rapids is proud to share the winner's circle.

New (and Returning) Beer

  • New Holland Black Tulip Tripel Ale, $3.99/12oz - "Mysterious, alluring and seductive, yet tantalizingly elusive; these are the storied characteristics of the Black Tulip. Golden in color, Black Tulip Trippel is a delightful beer with a slightly sweet body. Its ester-laden character reveals an enigmatic dance between Belgian ale yeast and Michigan beet sugar, conjuring hints of bananas and rock candy. Its inviting flavor is complemented by a pleasing dry finish" (source).
  • Short's The Curl Imperial Pilsner, $1.99/12oz - "One of the first Imperial beers made at Short’s, this American Pilsner has an appealing clear, bright, golden straw color. Faint esters of fresh baked bread and grain aromas precede the flavor resulting from the abundance of flake maize used in this recipe. Hefty doses of hops create a pronounced dryness that seamlessly blends with the crisp, clean finish" (source).
  • B. Nektar Evil Genius IPA-Style Mead, $8.59/500ml - "In an obsure industrial lair resides the man known only as the evil Dr. I.P.A. Using his hadron collider, hidden deep underground, he has conducted his most remarkable experiment to date. The result is a perfect balance of honey and hops. But there are side effects… His lab rats can’t get enough of the stuff. And soon, neither will you. Introducing the Evil Genius. The big bang is no longer a theory, it’s your reality" (source).
  • Arbor Brewing Mackinac Island Fudge Stout, $2.29/12oz - "Arbor Brewing is proud to offer this exclusive limited-edition, specialty stout inspired by the Island. Each small batch is brewed with seven different malts, ten pounds of real fudge, and a light dose of hops for a deliciously rich and complex chocolate flavor that's not too heavy" (source).
  • Southern Tier Hop Sun, $1.69/12oz - "The sun is rising, the snow has melted and the blossoms are blooming. Spring is here and that means our summer seasonal has begun to ship. Hop Sun is back and we’re brewing more of it than ever before. This is not your average wheat beer. Filtered to a golden clarity and dry-hopped to perfection, this is a fantastic session ale with a zesty conclusion. Enjoy Hop Sun all summer long as a perfect balance to your outdoor recreation" (source).
  • Samuel Smith Organic Apricot Ale, $6.49/550ml - "Apricots contribute to a stunning fruit beer: the ripe, aromatic bouquet supports a sweet, summery flavor with just a suggestion of stone-fruit tartness. Samuel Smith's Organic Apricot Ale is rich and full-bodied; the color is a glowing hazy orange" (source).
  • Magic Hat Humdinger Series: Over the Pils, $8.99/750ml - "Over the Pils features a smooth malt body that is paired with fruit and floral notes from generous additions of Brewer’s Gold and Crystal hops. Beneath the bold hop aroma hides a subtle warmth sure to take your taste buds Over the Pils and far away. The Humdinger Series is an offering of the rarest of ales for each coming season. Complex in nature, small in batch and big in character, Humdinger ales are brewed for discriminating palates and are available for a very limited time." (source).
  • Detroit Brewing Co. Alt, $1.69/12oz - "Inspired by the legendary 'Nain Rouge' (French for Red Dwarf), our signature beer is full in flavor while remaining very balanced and crisp. DBC has won three medals from the Great American Beer Festival and one from the World Beer Cup in the German Alt category" (label).
  • Detroit Brewing Co. Bohemian Pilsner, $1.69/12oz - "DBC strives to make the most authentic Bohemian style pilsner possible. Our German trained and educated brewers will accept nothing less than the most painstakingly accurate brewing methods and materials" (label).
  • Atwater Purple Gang Pilsner, $1.79/12oz - "Our GABF silver medal-winning German-style pilsner" (source).
  • Round Barn Bob's Your Uncle, $1.79/12oz - "Bob’s your uncle is an easy drinking session beer that is light in body and mouth feel. There is a light caramel maltiness and very soft hop bitterness. The hop flavor is pronounced, more so than a standard premium bitters, but the aroma is spot on and distinctly British" (source).
  • Flying Dog Road Dog Porter, $1.79/12oz - "Road Dog was the first label Ralph Steadman designed which later inspired Hunter S. Thompson’s 'Road Dog' essay. We then spent four years fighting for the right to display their now famous quote 'Good Beer No Shit.' To make a long story short, we won. Let us hoist a pint to free speech, NO CENSORSHIP, the genius of Ralph Steadman, and the Gonzo Spirit of Hunter S. Thompson!" (source).
Picture of the Week

Coming soon to a smartphone near you!
(Stay tuned for more details.)


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Hey Kevin: "Why don't brewers always drink craft beer?"

Welcome to Hey Kevin, Siciliano's official advice and information column. Let's get right to this week's question.

A Hamm's at the Tip Top Deluxe
Hey Kevin,

Why is it that when I go out to some of my favorite watering holes and see some of my favorite professional craft brewers drinking there, they always seem to have a Hamms, High Life, Schlitz, PBR, etc., instead of that double imperial barrel-aged stout. I thought these guys were supposed to be the epitome of craft beer drinkers. What's the deal?

Bob B. Confused, Grand Rapids

Hey Bob,

It's a good question, not an easy one to answer. And by "not easy," I mean it doesn't sleep around.

Sorry Bob, this is hardly the time for jokes. I know how let down you feel when certain longheld beliefs turn out to be untrue. Think Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, honest politicians—looking back on it our faith in these things strikes us as quaint, even absurd, but when the myths first came unraveled how devastating it all seemed. 

In this case, you probably believed or at least hoped that your favorite brewers, people you consider the great champions of craft beer, were treating themselves to the rarest, sweetest, most delectable malted nectar in the land. What a rude awakening to learn that they are not at all times quaffing oak-aged raw wheat beers fermented with yeast salvaged from sunken pirate ships, that instead they opt occasionally for a light lager or two (or seven), mass produced and by their very nature (and marketing) antithetical to the craft brewer's raison d'être.

But rest assured, Bob, there are no bigger proponents of craft beer than the folks who brew it. So you might spy them sipping a "cheap" American adjunct lager from time to time, what of it? Keep in mind that these guys are engulfed in craft beer all day long—they are literally (literally!) swimming in the stuff. We can forgive them if occasionally they deviate from double this and triple that in favor of something a little less palate scorching.

I'd like to tell you that when you see a craft brewer sampling, say, a Hamms or PBR, he (or she) is doing market research, trying to learn maybe what not to do. Fact is these guys are just enjoying a beer, one they don't have to think about or over-analyze. It's welcome respite from flavor country, Bob, and as weird as that sounds to regular Joes like you and me, it's exactly what the brewer needs if he's to put his own offerings in perspective.

Hope this helps.


The views here are Kevin's own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of The Buzz staff or its parent company, Siciliano's Market. Have a question for Kevin? Submit it here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Head Cheese - Your weekly ration

If this week's Head Cheese teaches us one lesson, it's this—no matter how high you climb on the corporate ladder, there will always be someone whose calls you avoid.

Head Cheese
by Mark Siciliano

Find more Queso de Cabeza by clicking here:

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Tuesday Review: Edradour 10-year Scotch Whisky

The best recommendation is the empty bottle
By John Barecki

With only three workers at the helm, Edradour is "the smallest whisky distillery in Scotland; possibly the smallest legal distillery of any kind in the world" (source). They turn out in a year what the big boys produce in a week. Working on a vintage system (over 100 years old) with the smallest copper stills permissible by Scottish law, Edradour produces a delicious spirit in a time-honoured way. Just recently, in 2002, the distillery returned to Scottish ownership, being previously owned by Pernod-Ricard.

Edradour 10-Year pours a deep gold in color; the fragrance is earthy caramel sweet in front with a slightly minty back. The mouthfeel is medium and smooth with the taste of honey, vanilla and malt that transitions into a more heathery floral quality with the addition of a splash of water. This whisky is a treat for the senses both in the glass and on the palate, and at $55.74 per bottle (750ml) it is one of the niceties that most can enjoy.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Next year's party, this year's Beer City, USA

By Steve Siciliano

We are pleased to announce that the 2013 Siciliano’s Home Brew Party, the tenth annual, has been scheduled for Saturday, May 11th, at Johnson Park.

While the party is a year away we are already thinking of ways to make the tenth annual festivities truly special. Keep your eyes peeled to The Buzz for continued updates.

In other news, the polls have closed and it appears that Grand Rapids has tied with Asheville, North Carolina for the title of Beer City, USA, with each city receiving 32% of the votes. Does this mean that GR will be sharing the 2012 honors with Asheville or will the winning city be announced after a final tabulation of the votes? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. At any rate, kudos are in order for both cities and whatever the final outcome, this further validates our city’s growing reputation as a mecca for craft beer enthusiasts.

Update: Contest organizers have named Asheville and Grand Rapids co-winners for 2012.

A ray of sunlight shines on a beer in Grand Rapids, MI.
Coincidence? We think not.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day!

The following post appeared on May 8 of last year. We're reposting today for obvious reasons.

Dear Moms,

Thanks for raising so many weird and wonderful homebrewers, beer geeks, oenophiles, foodies, enthusiasts, and just good people in general. When your sons and daughters come into our store they are always on their best behavior. They say please and thank you. They hold the door for strangers but never take candy from them. They turn the lights off when they leave a room. They play well with others. They never put their elbows on the table. They always put the toilet seat down. Their jokes are funny and never crude unless they warn us first. They wait patiently for their turn in the yeast cooler. They never take the last ounce of Centennial hops unless there is simply no other option.

Your hard work has clearly paid off, moms. We appreciate everything you do to keep us all in line. Happy Mother's Day!

Most sincerely,

The Siciliano's Market Staff

Friday, May 11, 2012

New Beer Friday - May 11 Edition

North Coast La Merle Saison
By Chris Siciliano

What do you say after a week like last. Not much can follow the success which was this year's homebrew party. The stellar beer, the great company, the intermittent rain showers—who could ask for anything more?

I guess now all we have to look forward to are the long, lazy days of summer. Well, that and all the Kolsch and hefeweizens and session IPAs we plan to drink.

What are you looking forward to this summer? Let us know in the comments section below. You tell us, what events should we be committing to? And what beers should we have on our summer to-drink list?

New (and Returning) Beer

  • Short's ControversiALE, $1.99/12oz - "Loaded with hops like an IPA, yet drinks like a Pale Ale, we simply decided to call it a Strong Pale Ale. The fragrant, earthy citrus laced nose is instantly detectable. Large amounts of toasted grains and high alpha Simcoe hops form a perfect union that creates the cool sensation of toasted sourdough covered with zesty grapefruit hop marmalade" (source).
  • Detroit Brewing Sanders Chocolate Stout, $1.69/12oz - "Forget hot chocolate, this 12-ounce treat has a rich fudge flavor reminiscent of its namesake, Sander's Hot Fudge Ice Cream topping. It pours a beautiful dark brown with amber highlights and a fluffy head that diminishes quickly. The chocolate--thin in aroma but strong in the flavor--is nicely balanced by strong but not overwhelming roasted characteristics" (source).
  • Arbor Brewing Strawberry Blonde, $2.29/12oz - "Strawberries are Spring’s first fruit. They announce the end of the long Midwest winter and welcome the lazy days of summer. They herald a season of weekends at the lake, walking barefoot through the grass, and whiling away the afternoon at your local beer garden. Be sure to savor your Strawberry Blonde while it lasts because like a Michigan summer, it’ll be gone before you know it. Food Pairings: Great with tangy BBQ, balsamic vinaigrette, citrusy or spicy dishes, and strawberry rhubarb pie Tasting Notes: This is a sophisticated fruit ale that doesn’t forget it’s a beer. Rich and flavorful medium bodied beer with a fresh, floral strawberry aroma. Citrus, spice, and fruit are blended seamlessly for a subtle yet distinct flavor that never turns too sweet" (source).
  • North Coast Le Merla Saison, $8.59/750ml - "a rustic ale, pale in color, inspired by the rich brewing traditions of the Flanders region. Abundant hops and a Belgian yeast strain contribute exotic aromas of tropical fruit" (source).
  • Gonzo Imperial Porter, $2.69/12oz - "Like Hunter S. Thompson...Gonzo Imperial Porter is deep and complex. This turbo charged version of the Road Dog Porter is mysteriously dark with a rich malty body, intense roasted flavors, and a surprisingly unique hop kick. With Gonzo weighing in at 9.2% ABV, it will bite you in the ass if you don’t show it the proper respect" (source).
  • Flying Dog Double Dog Double Pale Ale, $2.69/12oz - "Double Dog Double Pale Ale Back by popular demand, our original 'Wild Dog Release' is back, and this time it’s for good. Double Dog Double Pale Ale is a generously hopped ale with a deep red color and pours with a nice frothy head. The abundance of hops will conjure some provocative aromas with hints of raisins and citrus" (source).
  • Victory Yakima Glory, $2.69/12oz - "The tenacious grip of big, juicy hop aroma and character slides smoothly into rich, dark malts. This heavyweight battle between fresh, Yakima Valley hops and dark, roasted malts is resolved harmoniously as the flavors merge to deliver complex satisfaction with a warming edge. Bask in the 'glory'­ of the bright and brassy hops!" (source).
  • Big Sky Summer Honey, $1.69/12oz - "Summer Honey isa full-flavored summer seasonal ale. Brewed with a unique, balancedblend of spices, Northwest Hops, and Montana honey. Summer Honey isbrewed during the early days of spring and released around the first ofMay each year. Light colored, light bodied, and very drinkable, SummerHoney sacrifices nothing to create a flavorful beer that can be enjoyedduring the height of the Summer. Summer Honey has 3.8% alcohol by weight, and 4.7% alcohol by volume" (source).
Shameless Plea of the Week

Be sure to tell everyone you know
to vote Grand Rapids for Beer City, USA.

Three good reasons to vote GR!


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Head Cheese - Your weekly ration

Not only is this week's edition of Head Cheese udderly amazing, it's a fitting complement to the weird picture one member of The Buzz staff snapped Monday on the highway to Detroit (see below). Will wonders never cease.

Head Cheese
by Mark Siciliano

Giant Cow
By Chris Siciliano

Find more Queso de la Cabeza by clicking here:

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

When it grains, it pours

Spilling a full bag of grain, finding a pool of liquid malt on the floor, duets with singing fishesall in day's work at Siciliano's Market.

Steve & the singing fish,
a don't-miss duet.
By Steve Siciliano

Sometimes you just have to laugh, and if you’re really lucky, a singing fish will serendipitously appear to help you chortle at the curve balls life throws at you.

On the Friday before the homebrew party the store immediately got busy as soon as I unlocked the door—a couple of fellows from Chicago looking for Michigan beers, a steady stream of customers coming in for cigarette tobacco, pipe tobacco and cigars, a nice lady from Rockford with a long list of beer making equipment and ingredients, a constantly ringing phone. I helped the Chicago fellows with their selections, tended the till, ran back to the warehouse for a carboy, answered the phone (yes, you can still purchase a ticket to the home brew party, credit card number please) ran to the cooler for hops and yeast, and answered the phone again.

With the Chicago customers patiently waiting, I finished ringing up the Rockford’s lady’s purchases, ran her credit card, answered the phone (yes, you can get a ticket to the home brew party, credit card number please), then ran into the west wing for her sack of two row. When I hefted the fifty pound sack on my shoulder it split in two and an avalanche of grain cascaded to the floor. I stood stunned for a few seconds then gingerly hoisted another bag to my shoulder and carried it to her car.

Now that's a mess
While I was totaling up the Chicagoans’ purchases the Rockford lady returned with a credit card receipt in her hand. Could I please explain what the $35.00 charge was for? In the process of trying to do three things at once, I mistakenly had her sign a receipt for a homebrew party ticket.

Liquid malt on the floor,
a sticky situation.
Katie came in at nine and I related the events of the last hour while we swept up the grain. Probably because I looked like I had just gone three rounds with Floyd Mayweather, she suggested that I take a break. On the way to the warehouse, I dug kernels of Briess two row out of my ear canal. I sat down in the warehouse, lit my pipe, then immediately let out a loud string of swear words. A beer ingredient kit on the top shelf was leaking liquid malt which had oozed over a number of kits below it and was expanding in a brown puddle on the floor. While I smoked my pipe I stared at the gooey mess and felt as if I was an ancient Greek who was being tormented by an angry Olympian god. It was when I was telling Katie about the mess in the warehouse that a customer walked in with the singing fish.

Let me assure you that it’s not every day that a customer walks into the store with a singing fish. The weird morning had just gotten weirder. I watched in disbelief while he plugged the cord into an outlet and it was then I laughed. The song that the tail slapping, mouth moving bass was singing? “Don’t worry, be happy.”

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Disc golf: A primer

Basket, chains, disc, source.
By Doug Dorda

Attention seasoned disc golfer. I am pleased to announce that we are again selling a full compliment of golf discs at Siciliano's for you to peruse. For those you that have wandered the aisles of the store and wondered why we sell “frisbees,” I would like to offer some insight into what has become a favorite pastime of ours.

Disc golf was established as a sport sometime in the 1960's. Many think that the game was designed to be a more casual alternative to traditional golf (a sport for those who loved the outdoors, but didn’t want to pay green fees, or wait for tee times, etc). Much like traditional golf, the object of disc golf is to traverse a course and reach a target within a certain number of strokes per "hole." The major differences between disc and traditional golf are that there are baskets or "chains" instead of holes, and you play with a variety of discs as opposed to clubs.

Disc golf offers certain advantages over traditional golf, namely a small initial investment for starter equipment and the fact that 90% of courses in Michigan are free to play. Also, a disc golf course is designed to be walked, so 18 holes are easily played within an hour or two, and the course will not be bogged down by cart traffic. Personally, I find the game to be a wonderful way to spend time outdoors, and a great chance to discover some of the lesser-known recreation areas Michigan has to offer.

If you would like to get into the sport, I recommend you take to a course with at least three discs. You will need: a driver, a mid-range, and a putter. Just like the clubs used in traditional golf, each disc is designed to be used for specific purposes. A driver will be used off of a tee box or pad; its purpose is to make long shots or cover the majority of distance on a hole. A mid-range will be used for medium distance shots, and often for finesse throws required to get around trees or through tricky hazard situations. A putter will mostly be used for close range shots as you approach the basket. Putters are often made of a softer plastic in order to fall easily into the basket when you hit the chains. 

Each company that makes golf discs will offer a wide variety of discs to choose from. There are some more suited to beginners, as well as those designed for professionals. At Siciliano's you will notice that we carry a full array of discs from two companies—Innova and Discraft. The wonderful thing about both companies is that they are based in the US, Innova out of California and Discraft here in Michigan. Each company offers a wide variety of discs in varying degrees of construction that will affect the price per disc accordingly.

First-time disc golfers need only concern themselves with the discs that range in price from nine to ten dollars. This level of plastic is perfect for beginners and, if cared for properly, will offer many seasons of disc golf enjoyment. My suggestions for a beginner's bag: From Innova—a Beast (driver), a Roc (mid-range), and an Aviar putter. From Discraft—an XL (driver), a Buzz (mid-range), and a soft Magnet putter. In my experience, each of these discs has performed well, and each provides the most forgiving flight pattern to those learning how to play the sport (you will quickly discover that throwing a disc is not at all like throwing a frisbee). In order to make the sport as affordable as possible, at Siciliano's we also offer special discounts for buying in quantity. Buy two discs to receive ten percent off your purchase. Buy three discs and receive fifteen percent off your purchase. Buy four and receive a whopping twenty percent off your total!

Once you have your discs, you will no doubt be eager to hit the course and learn the trick of the trade. The courses I would suggest for beginners are as follows: Jaycee Park, located at the very end of Gentian Ave in Kentwood. The course is easy to follow and can be enjoyed by beginners and seasoned players alike. Jaycee also offers great amounts of shade, and is wonderful to play on those sweltering summer days. Garfield Park is a fantastic course for beginners, though more seasoned players may find it lacking complexity. The major difference between this course and others is that you aim to hit “posts” as opposed to baskets. The case is similar at Henry Johnson Park, a fun course but one I do not advise for beginners as it offers some fairly advanced challenges.

A great directory of Michigan and Grand Rapids area courses is available here. For those of you that prefer to have a hardcover directory, we also sell the book Disc Golf Michigan by Stephanai Myers which details all the courses in Michigan, their attributes, directions, and reviews.

As the weather continues to welcome us outdoors, we often struggle to think of the best way in which to enjoy the precious moments we are able to spend outside. It is my sincere hope that you consider this sport as a way to see Michigan’s woodlands in a way you may not have seen them before. For those of you that play already, you will surely encounter one of us from the store on the course. Don't hesitate to say hi, as we will probably ask if you’d like to play a round.

This year's discs, a bumper crop

Monday, May 7, 2012

2012 Homebrew Party - The boss' official recap

Best of Show winner Russ Smith
hoists the Siciliano Cup
By Steve Siciliano

Cool temperatures and intermittent rain did nothing to damper the enthusiasm of the 150+ folks who attended the 9th Annual Siciliano's Homebrew Party last Saturday at Johnson Park. The attendance for this year's party was the highest to date and I was again amazed at the quality of beer, ciders and meads that are being crafted by our good friends and customers. As usual Jimmie Stagger and his band rocked, the dinner prepared by Three Men and a Grill was great, and all the happy party goers went home with armloads of wonderful gifts.  

After dinner the medals for the Siciliano's Homebrew Competition were passed out and it was announced that Russ Smith, a member of the MOB (Muskegon Ottawa Brewers), was the winner of this year's Best of Show. Russ's winning entry, a Northern German Alt beer, not only entitled him to have his name etched on the prestigious Siciliano's Cup, it also granted him an all-expense-paid trip to a future Sierra Nevada Beer Camp in Chico, California. Congratulations Russ! 

Thanks to all who attended this year's festivities. We are already working on next year's party and will announce the date as soon as it's finalized.

One final note. Score sheets and medals can now be picked up at the store. Those who would like to know their scores sooner may call or shoot us an email. 

Russ with Jim Macielak, the rep
from Sierra Nevada
Six of who knows how many corny kegs in attendance.
A box full of medals
Jimmie Stagger
Thanks to everyone for coming out!

Friday, May 4, 2012

New Beer Friday - May 4 Edition

By Chris Siciliano

NBF, Avian Edition
What a weekend for beer fans. Not only is Saturday Cinco de Mayo and AHA Big Brew Day, it's finally time for the Siciliano's 9th Annual Homebrew Party, a celebration of all our favorite things—great beer, great people, great food, and great music, not to mention homebrew awards and who knows what kind of yard games. (Cornhole anyone?)

Remember too that tonight (May 4) is the night of our annual seminars. As in previous years, we've lined up a panel of interesting experts to speak on a variety of beer-related topics. Belgian and sour beers? Check. Michigan malt? Yes. Michigan hops? You bet. Sierra Nevada. That too. Michigan-made beer and cider? But of course.

Go here for all the pertinent seminar details including times, location and cost, and lest I forego my weekly duties, see below for a list of beers new this week to Siciliano's shelves.

New (and Returning) Beers

  • Brewery Vivant Big Red Coq, $3.39/16oz - "Citrus with mango & pineapple notes give way to a big malty character. Made with our house Belgian yeast to give it that Vivant-ness you would expect" (source).
  • Arcadia B-Craft Black Double IPA, $2.69/12oz - "Massive in every way, B-Craft delivers a complex bundle of flavors with a citrus hop aroma strong enough to make a billy goat shake his head. Moving past the huge hop aroma, rich and roasted malt flavors of chocolate and coffee move forward only to be checked by an impressive hop bitterness. Texture and flavor dance together so seamlessly that you may need to remind yourself that while this beer slides down like a session, it delivers like an assassin!” (source).
  • Finch's Beer Company, Chicago - "Finch's Beer Co. is in the business of brewing great, craft beers locally in Chicago, Illinois. We use the best ingredients and take special care to make sure every batch is the best we can brew. While following in the footsteps of other local brewing companies, we intend on adding another brand of beer to Chicago's already growing selection and contributing to a new generation of microbreweries, taking a foothold in Chicago" (source, for all Finch descriptions).
    • Threadless IPA, $2.69/16oz - "Our Threadless/Finch collaboration IPA is a balanced experience of both perceived hoppiness and true bitterness. It pours a darker amber color and finishes with a citrus flavor, and when combined, will require this to be the last IPA you ever drink! Well, maybe, we realize you will probably drink more, but the result of this recipe clearly evolves into a very balanced IPA. The grain bill on this big pale includes melanoidin and Victory malts. We hop it up before the boil starts with some Columbus first wort hopping, then add a bunch more for bittering."
    • Golden Wing Blonde Ale, $2.59/16oz - "Finch's Blonde Ale is an easy drinking and approachable American craft beer. It has a moderately sweet malty aroma and is deep gold in color. We like to think of this particular one as more of a 'Dirty Blonde.' When you first pour it, a soft lacey foam clings to the glass as malty aromas fill your nose and linger to the final sip. Upon finish, this blonde turns heads with a smooth finish and a touch of bitterness in the aftertaste. Enjoy this medium-bodied craft beer anytime of year."
    • Cut Throat Pale Ale, $2.59/16oz - "Finch's Pale Ale is a refreshing experience from the pop of the top. Its fresh and hoppy taste with just enough supporting malt makes it easy to kick back more than just one. Our late kettle additions of American hop varieties and dry hopping techniques make this beer one of our favorites. The citrus hop character balanced with a malty backbone creates a delicious, accessible pale ale that is sure to satisfy with every sip. Enjoy this pale with just about any pairing of your choice."
  • Sam Adams Norse Legend Sahti, $6.19/22oz - "Legend has it that barrels of this ancient brew were found on sunken Viking ships. This Nordic ale took root in Finland becoming one of the oldest continuously brewed styles. This dark amber ale has juniper berries added into the brewing process and is aged on juniper berries giving this brew an earthy, woodsy aroma. The flavor is balanced by the addition of Hallertau Mittelfrueh Noble hops" (source).
  • Sam Adams Verloren Gose, $6.19/22oz - "The style originated in Goselar, Germany in the 18th century. Gose became very popular the adjacent city of Leipzig, Germany due to a lot of local breweries brewing the style. Gose all but died out during WWII due to brewery closings. Expect this beer to have a touch of sourness, with notes of lemon & salt. A link to the ales of Saxony that had all but vanished, Gose is a peculiar yet captivating brew. With a base of an unfiltered wheat ale, it’s vivid and refreshing yet also has a softness to it. The flavor is brought to life by an unexpected touch of salt for a mineral quality, and coriander for a peppery spice. The result is an unusual and delicate brew that’s full of flavors to discover" (source).
  • Boulder Brewing Flashback India-style Brown Ale, $1.89/12oz - "Citrusy with a prominent hop aroma, finishes clean, crisp and dry with dark roasted flavors from the biscuit and chocolate malts perfectly complimenting the bountiful cascades" (source).
  • Boulder Brewing Kinda Blue Blueberry Wheat, $1.89/12oz - "An American wheat placed in perfect measure with muted tons of blueberry. Kinda Blue - a tasty and tasteful summer brew" (source).
  • Buffalo Bill's Orange Blossom, $1.59/12oz - "Cream Ale brewed with honey and orange peel, with orange flower extract added" (source).
  • Imperial, $1.59/12oz - "A Costa Rican brand of beer, manufactured by the Florida Ice & Farm Company. Imperial was first produced by the Ortega brewery in 1924, and is now produced in the Cerveceria Costa Rica. The lager is one of the most popular beer consumed in Costa Rica along with Pilsen and Rock Ice" (source).
Picture of the Week

Funny thing about mushrooms,
they just keep growing.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Highway 37 revisited

Traveling north to Irons, back through memory.

By Steve Siciliano

Before the US-131 freeway ran all the way to Cadillac, north on M-37 was just about the only way to get to our family’s cabin in the woods near Irons. My dad built the cabin long before I could drive and as a young passenger I never got bored during the countless hours that we spent traveling up and down that road. I liked its rolling hills and wide sweeping curves. I never tired of looking at the old stone farm houses and decrepit barns, the moss covered dilapidated shacks and the ramshackle house trailers. I liked passing through the scattering of tiny rural communities with their ancient town halls and their solitary, yellow blinking traffic lights. I didn’t mind the slow going through the sequence of small towns—Grant, Newaygo, White Cloud and Baldwin—while driving through their M-37 stretches of shops, gas stations, hardware stores and bars.

As I grew older the affection I had for M-37 gradually turned into something closer to disdain. The roadside sights that I enjoyed looking at as a kid gradually grew ugly as the—and I—aged; the hills, curves and constantly changing speed limits, unperturbing to the young, wide-eyed passenger, became irritating impediments to the older, impatient driver. When it became possible to take the freeway all the way to Highway 10, I didn’t hesitate making traveling up and down M-37 a bittersweet memory.

Last weekend my son Chris and I took another trip to the cabin. If I had been driving I wouldn’t have taken 37. I would have instead taken the freeway north to the Reed City exit then west eighteen miles to where 10 and 37 intersect just north of Baldwin. But then I wouldn’t have had the chance to subdue the bitter and rekindle the sweet. I wouldn’t have again seen that old wooden train trestle that spans the White River just south of White Cloud. I wouldn’t have remembered the billboard that was once on the left—White Cloud, where the north begins and clear waters flow. I wouldn’t have recalled stopping at Jonses’ for ice cream cones or for huge cinnamon rolls at the Hilltop Bakery.

If I had been driving I wouldn’t have remembered and then told Chris about all of the times stopping in all of the bars—about how my dad, his grandfather, once locked the owner of Government Lake in the basement and about how tough a joint Kalley’s was. Still trapped in memory would be the chain-smoking barmaid who told me I couldn’t smoke my pipe in her Baldwin tavern; same too for the regulars at Diamond Lake where my brother Mark and I spent a snowy afternoon drinking and playing pool. If I had been driving we wouldn’t have stopped in that run-down White Cloud tavern, would not have seen the sad-eyed barmaid or talked with the one-armed, scraggly-bearded fellow who was sitting by himself at the bar.

That night I thought about that sad-eyed barmaid and the one-armed drunk while we were sitting around the camp fire. Above us the sliver of a crescent moon peeked through the barren branches of the late blooming oaks and to the west a bright planet dazzled like a diamond in a blue-black sky. When Chris handed me the bottle of Bulliet Rye I took a long swig, thought about the drive up 37, and added to my collection of memories.

Treats from the wild

Okay, time for your obligatory disclaimer: never eat anything you find in the wild unless (a) you know exactly what you're doing; or (b) you're with somebody who does. Always, always, always consult an expert before ingesting tasty vittles from the forest floor.

Morels, king of spring edibles
By John Barecki

As we begin to see a consistent spring weather pattern in West Michigan—cool nights, rainfall, warmer days—we can start to keep our eyes peeled for the delicious wild edibles available to us in our lovely selection of forests and parks, namely, the wild leek, the fiddle head of the ostrich fern, and, grandest of all, the morel mushroom.

My girlfriend Rachael has been my teacher in the realm of wild edibles and this being my first year of true foraging I've been amazed at what we've found. We have been searching since that crazy heat wave back in March with no luck outside of the dryad's saddle, which some consider lowly in comparison to the prized morel. The dryad's saddle, also known as the pheasant back because it resembles the bird's feather pattern, is a shelf polypore that grows on dead logs. It has an uncanny scent of cucumber or watermelon rind. We learned to harvest the smaller 2-inch diameter ones for frying up and eating, and the larger ones for using dried in stocks and soups. A lot of foragers dismiss this one because they grow at the same time as the morels, but to Rachel and I, they are not just delicious but a heck of a lot easier to find.

A good day in the forest
Keeping that in mind we set out a few days back to find enough edibles to create a forager's pizza—fungi, leeks, and fiddle head ferns. Finding the Dryad's to be too old and dry I decided to climb some of the hills, because as most stories go "something caught my eye." As I got to the top of the hill, there it was, the first of the many yellow morels that we collected that day, thirty of them altogether. After a small freak out we gathered ourselves and the rest of the ingredients to make the most gourmet pie we have ever eaten. Homemade white sauce, Siberian elm samaras, morels that were fried first for ease of digestion, leeks, garlic, and fiddle heads created this tasty dinner. To top it off we used Phocas cheese from Cowslip Creamery, the cheese makers at Lubbers Family Farm.

After much hiking these last couple months I had just about given up on these delectable forest fruits, morels in particular. But in the end my patience paid off and the reward so far has been awesome. If you are one that is not inclined to look hard enough for these creatures, you can grow your own oyster mushrooms from the kits that we sell at Siciliano's. They take a little over a month to grow and will fruit at least three more times after first harvest (they are quite delicious too). I'll soon be writing about that as well if you're not convinced. Either way everyone should be out and about in the forests and parks we have. It's spring. Enjoy it while it's here!

The morel in its natural state
The morel in a state of transition
The morel in its preferred state,
with leeks and ferns

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Head Cheese - Your weekly ration

This week's edition of Head Cheese is the cat's meow, the cat's pajamas no less. It's the bee's knees, the bear's beer, the iguana's mama. It is not, to my knowledge, the giraffe's gaffe.

Head Cheese
by Mark Siciliano

Find more Queso de la Cabeza by clicking here:

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Vote GR for Beer City USA

Update: Voting is closed; Grand Rapids prevails.

By Chris Siciliano

Voting begins today in the Charlie Papazian-run American Idol-like "Beer City USA", a contest in which loyal beer fans from across the country are asked to choose, solely on the basis of suds, the one city in our great nation that dominates the rest.

This year Grand Rapids joins 30 other contenders on a ballot which includes perennial beer powerhouses such as Portland and San Diego, San Francisco and Chicago. There's no question GR deserves recognition, but do we deserve to win? I contend we do, and here's a list of the reasons why.

Did I forget anything? Let me know by including the breweries/bars/events I missed in the comments section below. And remember, vote GR as Beer City USA!