Going on vacation….. just to wait in line

I have oft been accused of trying to structure vacations around beer.  While my wife does an amazing job with the more critical logistics of accommodation, transportation and cultural highlights, I tend to focus on locating breweries and opportunities to sample beer that I can’t get at home.  My annual trip to see cousins in Vermont is no exception.

It’s no secret that Vermont boasts one heck of a beer scene.  Names like Heady Topper, Lawson’s Liquids, Hill Farmstead and now Fiddlehead get geeks very excited.  But with only 3 full days in state and the need to actually spend some time with family meant that there was no way I could hit them all.  Looking over schedules and maps I determined I could hit the weekly Lawson’s release in relatively nearby Woodstock and then two days later make the two hour trip (each way) to Hill Farmstead.  Fiddlehead would have to wait for next year.

Here’s the thing.  Both trips meant waiting in line.  Lawson’s went on sale at noon and when I arrived at 11:40 there were already 6 people in line ahead of me.  Looking into the cooler I could see that I would definitely get some Sip of Sunshine but it was not clear that I would score some Super Session #2.

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While my cousin held my place I browsed the bottle shop and loaded up with local brews.  The line for Lawson’s kept on growing. At 11:55 the clerk took pity on us and started selling.  My cousin helped me to double my score getting his own four pack of Sunshine and six pack of Session.

Wednesday came and I set out on my own with every intention of getting to Hill Farmstead well before the noon opening.  My only other trip there had been two years before for a special bottle release of Genealogy of Morals and Phenomenology of Spirit.   It was a total shit show with geeks flocking in for hundreds of miles.  It took over two hours to get my bottles of these rarities and then get my growlers filled with IPA’s.  But I figured that had to be the exception, not the rule.  Today I imagined I could breeze in and out in 30 minutes or so. IMAG00136

Thanks to a closed bridge which did not show on my phone until I got there, my arrival was delayed until 11:50.   I was greeted by a full parking lot and a line that stretched out the door.  On entering the building an employee helped orient me to their system which meant I was given a checklist to fill out with how many bottles and growlers I planned to buy.  Once filled out I turned it back in and was assigned an ignominious number “46.” Obviously this was going to take longer than I thought.  But very soon my hoped for departure time of 1 pm became 1:30 and then 2.

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Trying a tasting flight of four different drafts helped pass the time.  The fact that beer geeks are also a pretty convivial bunch meant lots of conversation with people of Vermont, Boston and Connecticut.  Even so, it was just after 2 pm by the time my order was filled and wheeled out to my car.

To their credit the staff was quite apologetic.  I learned that Wednesday’s are usually their busiest day and I suspect that if I had arrived at 3 pm my wait would have been much shorter.  Ah, the best laid plans.

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It can be argued that no beer is worth waiting in line that long.  But the truth is that most geeks have done exactly that at one time or another.  The question is, Is that a practice we should ever repeat?  In the case of my trip to Hill, given that I spent four hours driving just to be there, there was no way I was going home empty handed.  But the question is, how much time and energy is a beer worth?

There is no doubt that these expeditions can be fun and thus have some intrinsic value that is independent of the liquid goal.  But the investment of time, gas and energy does leave me wondering about the cost-benefit analysis.  Just how much is that beer worth?

Without a doubt the fruits of my efforts are world class.  Yet I can also get world class beers from local breweries via a five minute trip to the local distributor or bottle shop.

What do you think?  What is the furthest you have traveled to get a specific beer?  How long have you waited?  Was it worth it?  I’d love to know.

I Rise to Offer an Amendment

“I rise to offer an amendment to resolution A158.”  Thus I began my plea to ensure that Amendment 2the Episcopal Church did not effectively ban Theology on Tap, Pub Theology, The Biblical Brew Off and other beer-centric programs that are so near and dear to my heart.

Let me explain how I found myself standing on a podium defending beer-based ministry in front of 1000 people. It started back in late December when now former Bishop Heather Cook struck and killed a bicyclist while drunk.  You can read more about the details and my thoughts here.

The result was a great deal of internal discussion. While there were many questions about complicity and failure in her election process, the more important issue centered around about the role that alcohol play in our common life as Episcopalians.

With General Convention on the horizon there was a bit of hyperbole and handwringing with some even calling for Convention to be alcohol free.  But in time the online fervor started to die down.  However a special legislative Committee on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse was formed to ensure continued engagement.

This Committee produced two primary pieces of legislation.  The first had to do with acknowledging and repenting of our complicity in creating a culture that enables substance abuse and can be hostile to those in recovery.  The second focused on establishing policies and procedures meant to ensure that our parishes are safe and welcoming places for all people including those who are in recovery.  This was a very thorough piece of legislation that covered a whole range of circumstances.

The trouble was that it singled out “Theology on Tap” by name as a program that could not use reference to alcohol, bars, etc., in promotional material or advertising.  (Disclaimer: TOT is copyrighted and owned by the Roman Catholic Church.)  While this requirement would bring our related programs in line with other church activities, it would also effectively kill them.

This was the crux of my argument to strike “TOT” from the resolution.  Unlike a “wine and cheese party” which could easily be re-titled as a “garden party” or the like, there is no way to remove the association with alcohol from such beer/bar based programs. If the legislation remained unchanged it would have halted one of the most creative and effective means we have for reaching out to those who might otherwise feel alienated from the Church.

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Thankfully the amendment passed overwhelmingly, in part thanks to the support of many people from the Committee on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse in moving the amendment.  To ensure their support we added additional langue to the amendment in order to ensure that any such gathering have fellowship, conversation and evangelism as their primary purpose, as opposed to simply being drinking clubs.

I will share more about this collaboration and what I learned  in a coming installment.

Can I get I drink?

First my apologies for being offline for a month.  Life, work, family and travel kept pushing writing a new post to the back of the que.

When I learned that I was going to be spending 10 days in Salt Lake City in order to attend the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, I inwardly groaned.  Salt Lake?  Really?  How boring. More importantly, would I be able to get a decent beer?

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Turns out I had nothing to worry about.

Within just a few blocks of my hotel there are at least a dozen bars including two brew pubs, Squatters and Red Rocks.  Indeed within just a few outings I found that there were many local breweries making pretty decent stuff.

Of course there is a wrinkle.  While booze can be easily had the states’ Mormon heritage still shows through.  Most noticeably is in draft beer.  All draft beer in the state must be 4% ABV or less.  While this might sound like a terrible idea to everyone except Mr. Session Beer himself, Lew Bryson, it actually leads to a lot of creativity and some pretty tasty beers too.  The restriction harkens back to the old “3.2 beer.” Since 3.2 measured alcohol by weight as opposed to volume it works out to be the same strength.

While I can imagine that it makes a brewer’s job much harder, they actually manage to put forward some solid offerings.  I’ve had a few solid helles and pilsners but beyond that there are other more interesting options.  Naturally the “session” IPA’s and pale ales are ubiquitous but I’ve also had a really good cream ale and porter and saw a “chocolate, chocolate rye.”

Of course higher test beers can be had in cans and bottles and I’ve had some really solid options there too.  Sometimes the ABV isn’t all that much higher.  I’ve had pilsners and lagers that were 5.5% and tried several IPA’s as well.  I even had a good nut brown and a 12% ABV RIS.

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Bobcat Nutbrown at Red Rocks Brew Pub

The other vagary that I’ve encountered has no upside.  High West distillery is just a half an hour away on Park City and makes some great ryes in particular.  I was excited to find a number that I haven’t tried readily available and for a reasonable price.  I found out the catch when the waitress brought me a pour of “Son of Bourye” and I had to ask her if it was as full pour or just a taste.  Turns out that all hard alcohol must be poured out through a device that strictly measures out an ounce.  You also can’t order a double pour although if you have a drink with several alcohols in it then it can have up to 2 1/2 ounces in it. Doesn’t matter how nice you are to the barkeep, those skimpy pours are all the law allows.

So even though there are some real differences I have to say that SLC is a worthy beer destination after all.