Category Archives: Diversions

Field Trips

Field Trip: Dave’s Brew Farm

A few weeks ago, I received an invitation from my friend, The Musical Genius, to visit Dave’s Brew Farm. I don’t see a lot of TMG but certainly enjoy those occasions when we do manage to get together. When the spice of a field trip was added in, I was certain we’d have a terrific time.

I wasn’t disappointed. TMG drove us out and, knowing plenty about the place already, gave me the background. The brew farm is the dream, the ‘lifestyle business’ of Dave Anderson and his wife Pam. His vision is one of providing craft beers using sustainable growing and production methods. A large craftsman-style farmhouse-cum-brewery houses what Dave calls “the LaBrewatory”, the upper levels of which are the residence, and is towered over by a large wind turbine. The turbine is a Jacobs 31-20, a 20kW wind generator perched atop a 120-foot tower, which provides most of the power needed at the farm. The wind generator is only part of the ‘sustainability’ vision. The building also has solar panels and a geothermal heating/cooling system.

Who doesn’t like a field trip? As a kid, field trips were a sweet escape from school, a chance to buzz out of classes, board a bus, then drive hours to see something interesting. Since I grew up in the city, a field trip usually meant driving out to a field – somewhere out in the country. We’d see bee keepers gather honey. We once visited a cranberry bog. There was that time, too, where we saw a dairy farmer with a latex glove up to his shoulder checking to see if one of his heifers was pregnant.

Dave’s Brew Farm is in Wilson, Wisconsin which is about 50 miles east of St Paul and an easy drive on a Sunday afternoon. Though relatively close to the city, the final shot north of 94 to reach Wilson takes you through fields and forests and is enough to make you feel pleasantly distant.
The brew farm does feel a world away. Situated on a ridge at a ‘T’ in a country road, you’re greeted with a vista of cornfields, hills and woods.

The building sits on 35 acres, a few of which are used to produce some of the hops used in brewing with the excess sold off. The remaining acreage is rented out to neighboring farmers. “The BrewFarm is an innovative demonstration project showcasing the latest in renewable and sustainable business practices, and rural development,” Dave explains. “Our hope is that through ‘leading by example’ other businesses will adopt these (and other) sustainable strategies, realizing that every effort helps the planet – and the bottom line.”

TMG parks the car and we head into the tap room – one section of the lower level where the kegs and vats are housed which is set up with a long bar.

Now we get to the point of the visit – tasting some of the beer. Dave employs Belgian-style brewing and we’re treated to an assortment of brews with interesting flavors and varying levels of alcohol.

After creating a number of experimental batches in the LaBrewatory, Dave has settled on a few that he thinks are worthy of sharing with the dedicated crowd that makes the pilgrimage to his farm.

The interesting names match the interesting flavors. On our visit, we sampled a Matacabras (which is Spanish for ‘the wind that kills goats’) a dark ale with a creamy texture and a dash of spice that gave the beer a distinct tanginess. Another that I can recommend is the Mocha Diablo – a pepper stout and a hybrid ale/lager with a healthy dollop of hops.

Having enjoyed our short, refreshing visit, we say farewell to our hosts and settle in for the return trip. We’ll be back.

Details:
Dave’s Brew Farm
2470 Wilson Street
Wilson, WI 54027
davesbrewfarm.blogspot.com

Tap room tastings are frequently held on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.  Check the website (above) for details.

For those of you who can’t make the trek, you can get Dave’s Brew Farm Select – a full-flavored, all-malt craft-brewed golden lager – at major liquor stores throughout Minneapolis and St Paul.

Books Diversions

Meet the Wodehouseans

If you happened to be relaxing in the lobby of Saint Paul Hotel on a June weekend last summer, you may have seen a collection of bowler-hatted gentlemen clustered in the bar chatting about the horse races, or seen a procession of fellows in white flannel trousers bearing cricket bats heading for the field at Harriet Island. You might have witnessed a diminutive woman in a flapper gown giving precise instructions to the bartender for making a proper martini – viz, using orange bitters, a bottle of which she discreetly produced from her handbag with a delicate flourish – or overheard a genteel-but-vigorous debate as to whether that chap’s memoirs were – not to put too fine a point on it – merely a manuscript rather than a book.

If so, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d been transported to Edwardian London instead of mingling, unwittingly, with the throng of attendees of the convention of The Wodehouse Society. TWS, as it’s known, is an organization of admirers of the author PG Wodehouse, the British humorist, with chapters and members throughout the world and who travel great distances to descend on some unsuspecting US city to engage in their biennial literary revels.

I suppose you’re saying to yourself that it sounds as though this would be a fairly tame bunch, and you’d be right, as a rule. Peopled with leaders of academia, commerce, and the military, members of TWS are a thoroughly respectable collection of citizens. They are the backbone of society – staunch and upright. But they do somewhat resemble that chap in the book “Cocktail Time”, who leads a blameless life in the country but can’t be trusted to stay out of trouble during his annual trip to London. There was that time, for instance, that a bread roll-throwing mêlée broke out during dinner.

The honors for this year’s event (or disgrace, depending on your perspective) fell on St Paul and, the city appearing to consider it an honor, welcomed the group with open arms. You may not have heard the town crier wandering about the square announcing the glad tidings of the event to one and all, but the weather was cooperatively sunny and warm and Mayor Chris Coleman went so far as to declare Friday, June 12, 2009 “PG Wodehouse Day”.

Describing the convention as a literary event may be a bit misleading. Considering that Wodehouse wrote a goodish number of books – 95 or so – there is much in a literary vein to discuss. He was, however, also just as successful as a Broadway and West End lyricist, collaborating on a number musicals with the likes of Jerome Kern.

Friday’s events featured an afternoon of pick-up Cricket, if you can imagine such a thing. Dozens of players, variously suited in white-ish outfits chasing or avoiding cricket balls, according to their preference, about sums up the level of competition.

The vigorous afternoon of sport was followed by an evening dinner and a terrific selection of songs with Wodehouse lyrics sung ably by Maria Jette. Maria, who is well-known for her appearances on “A Prairie Home Companion” (but who is less well known for carrying around a bottle of orange bitters in her purse and lecturing experienced bartenders on the art of mixing a proper martini) has a magnificent voice and a mesmerizingly-entertaining stage presence.

Other events included an entertaining series of lectures (known affectionately by the attendees as the ‘Riveting Talks”) on topics with a more-or-less-Wodehousean connection.

In harmony with the theme and Wodehouse’s timeless, vaguely-Edwardian era, the group continued their revels with a fancy dress/costume ball aboard a riverboat enjoying dinner and cocktails, with the more brave attendees dancing to the strains of a banjo band.

Capping off the weekend was a Sunday afternoon watching the races at Canterbury Park. The Society sponsored the Goodwode, an inside joke related to the pronunciation of Wodehouse’s name and a famous horse race, a variety of which figure throughout the Wodehouse stories.

So a literary event it was, of course, but add in these other things along with the general reveling and it becomes much more – a bit like The Chap Olympics. With books. If you missed it all, you may want to pay closer attention to what’s going on around you next time you’re hanging around the lobby of the Saint Paul Hotel.

Diversions

Dawn Ride – The Joys and Serenity of an Early-Morning Bike Ride

I prepare quietly, in the dark. Step briefly out on my front porch, first cup of coffee in hand, to get a feel for the weather. It will be a cold ride, but there’s little wind. I linger out there a moment longer, relishing that familiar quickening when all that is aging and reluctant in my being gives way to a weightless, bracing anticipation. It is delightful: The shoulders relax, my movements become sure and efficient, there is a lightness. Each small sound – clicks of chains, bottle cages, then straps of helmet and gloves – is for me full of portent.

My bike is dry and clean, and a marvel of design. You buy a bike like this, and it’s worth the price for the exquisite engineering embodied in its feather-light frame. Then you ride it for a thousand miles, and it becomes priceless, an extension of yourself as familiar as your home, and as dear.  I lift it down to the floor next to my low stool, and set my floor pump in position. The tires will have lost a bit of pressure since yesterday’s ride, and I top them off with a couple drops of the plunger, to precisely 120 pounds per square inch. I check the bike over – brake pads properly gapped, chain looks good, derailleur okay, flawless tires. All checks done, I’m out the door to the corner lamppost, waiting.

Then come the strong riders. They coast briskly out of the gray, one from the east and two from the south. Right on time, as usual. “Mornin’ boys” I intone softly – it would seem somehow profane to disturb the solitude with any expression of exuberance just yet. Soon, though. “Ready to do this?” asks the Climber, and we click our cleats onto the pedals. “Le’s go.” I drop my riding glasses and push off as the sun spills over the horizon – awakened, I imagine, by our burgeoning zeal.

This is perhaps my favorite part of the ride. We are loosely arrayed, and our postures are varied. The Grinder is riding at a high cadence, no hands, and is zipping up his wind jersey to his neck as we accelerate. The Climber is down in the drops, out of the saddle and pushing a large gear in slow, exaggerated strokes, warming for a challenge. The Hammer is always ready first, and already displays the form he will have for most of the ride. Then we fall in, silently coalescing into the paceline formation, a peloton in miniature, the most kinetically efficient grouping not only in the realm of human sport, but in the natural world.

My thoughts are expansive as we begin, but that will change soon. By the end of the first climb my world will be small, the externalities becoming only the simple facts of wheels and pavement, the outside world shrinking in some inverse proportion to the drama expanding inside my skin. After an hour, I will again be in full commune with things essential, wondering at the interplay between mind and body, exploring shadowy boundaries that move as I approach them.

The last mile will be a small celebration, with coffee and conversation at the end. Kids, business, travel plans, shared with a common gratitude. This was our hour, and we lived it well.

Diversions

TED Conferences: For Genuine, Original Thought

This post-holiday time, this bleak mid-winter, has always put me into a thoughtful, planful (if there is such word) sort of mood.  I don’t think I’m alone either.  Seems to me that the chaps who plan the World Economic Forum feel the same way which would possibly account for this event being held at the end of January each year.

The Davos event is very attractive to many people. There’s an appeal to rubbing shoulders with some of the most powerful people in the world – Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, Bono  – dining sumptuously amid elegant surroundings, and discussing important topics (sorry “Important Topics”) in one of the most beautiful villages in Switzerland. Could just be that the skiing around Davos is good, too.

With all the events around the current worldwide economic trouble, interest in this year’s Davos event should be particularly high.  This event, though, has never really interested me.  Somehow it falls short.  There seem to be two groups of people at this event: the A-listers who headline the events, and the people who want to ‘network’ with them.  The whole thing has a feeling of a high school, model UN conference.  Like the cool kids in high school and the kids that wanted to hang out with the cool kids in high school.  Like Tyler Brule.

The forum’s website says the 2009 meetings will be ‘focused on managing the current crisis’ and will be attended by 1,400 chief executives, 250 public figures, and 41 heads of state. In other words, a lot of the people who got us into the current crisis.

I much prefer TED.com, an organization more geared toward original and innovative thinking.  In addition to well-known figures such as Al Gore and Rupert Murdoch – who will be found on the Davos circuit, too – TED events (which stands for technology, education, design) typically feature such interesting thinkers as Joshua Klein who invented a vending machine for crows as a means for researching and demonstrating their surprising intelligence and Evelyn Glennie, the Scottish percussionist whose deafness didn’t prevent her from being accepted to the Royal Academy of Music and whose talk on ‘feeling music’ provides a fascinating alternate understanding of sound and performance.

As with Davos, participation in the TED Conference is pretty limited but the TED talks, as they’re called, are readily accessible on TED.com and, unlike Davos, are worth watching whether right away or months or years later.  When I listen to Ken Robinson describe how schools could easily be performing much better or Malcolm Gladwell characteristic use of the engaging anecdote to help us understand the impact of personal choice, I am left thinking that the solutions to the world’s problems are much more likely to come, however serendipitously, from this group of thinkers than from Davos.

If your attention span is on the short side, listening to Richard St John’s ‘8 Secrets of Success’ will be three of the best-spent minutes of your life.  And you could do it from Davos, if you really need to be there.

More:

Evelyn Glennie, ‘How to Listen With Your Whole Body

Richard St John, ‘8 Secrets of Success