Sunday, August 07, 2016

Keeping up with the Doobers

This weekend Julie is in NYC for a class on Oncology and Cancer Care Support with Traditional Chinese Medicine expert Dr. Frank Butler.

Nick, in Brooklyn for an internship with Alliance Bernstein, joined Julie for a walk around Wall Street (lobster rolls at Luke's Lobster) and Chinatown (xiao long tang bao, a Shanghai delicacy). In the evening, Nick went to the OAR concert at Coney Island.

Alexa, in Manhattan for an internship with Unilever, wasn't able to join Julie and Nick, even with the enticement of lobster and soup dumplings. Instead, Alexa spent the day at Monmouth Park, cheering Shannon Ushke to victory on Belle of Bowdoin. Sunday evening, Alexa and Jordan are going to the OAR concert on the Jersey shore.

Michael is in San Francisco, working on Meraki's cloud managed communications. He and Becca spent Saturday rafting class 4 rapids. "Fun trip, but not too intense," he reports.

Phillip was in southeast Vermont for the Mt Equinox Uphill Bike Race (5th place!). For a cool down, I did a 50-mile bike ride to visit 5 breweries in central Massachusetts. Spending Friday night in an AirBnb tent (who knew such a thing even existed), saved me enough to load my bike bag down with the best brews from my brewery tour.

Lobster Ravioli from Jonathon's Table the night before the race.

Carbo loading? 
Otter Creek Over Easy is a highly crushable ale; it says so right on the bottle.

My lodging for the night, $20 on AirBnB.

 The view outside my window.

Chiselville Bridge: "One dollar fine for driving faster than a walk on this bridge."
According to a nearby plaque, Chiselville was "Named for the fine quality chisels and edge tools manufactured on site." I didn't find a plaque explaining the name of Hoe Shop Road in Gill, Mass.

Hurricane Irene upended the previous AirBnB.

It rained during warm-up, was hot and humid at the start, but cool and breezy at the finish.

That's Trish Karter in 5th position in the white jersey / blue shorts. She ended up placing 3rd.
I'm just off the front of the photo. Photo credit: Josh Williams via drone

Phillip crossing the finish line after 5.2 miles, 3235 ft climbing at 11.8% average grade.

The view from the top of Mt Equinox scenic Skyline Drive.

I finished 5th in my age group (16th overall).
My friend Trish Karter finished 3rd female overall.

After the race, I drove to Greenfield, MA to pre-ride the Hop Yard 60. The Pedal 2 Pints ride next weekend is "A fun ride touring and sampling at the breweries of the Pioneer Valley. Ride along with the brewers and owners while chatting about beer, bikes and life." Since I will be in Maine next weekend, I rode it without the company of of like minded cyclists.

My first stop was supposed to be Lefty's Brewing Company, just 1 mile into the ride. By the time I realized I blew right past it, I was 3 miles down the road and decided to visit at the end of my 50-mile loop. Bad decision, since I finished at 7:30pm and Lefty's closed at 6pm.

Honest Weight Artisan Beer was my first stop. I sampled their 4 offerings--served by owner-brewer Sean Nolan--and left with a 32oz growlette of Cass Meadow, a dry-hopped Oat Saison, in my bike's saddle bag.

Element Brewing Company was my second stop. $20 seemed unreasonable for a flight of six 5oz pours, plus I had to finish my bike ride and then drive home. So I sampled their Extra Special Oak, Dark Element, Plateau Belgian IPA, and Plasma Sake IPA before riding away with a 25oz bottle of Extra Special Oak.

I visited Brick & Feather Brewery during a 300k randonee with Darren Garnier in May. Since we still had 80 miles to go, I didn't want to load down my bike but promised to return and buy a bottle. But once again, my timing was off; I got there at 7pm and they closed at 6.

Fortunately, The People's Pint was still open. What I like about The People's Pint is its cycling vibe. They sponsor Pedal 2 Pints, offer a bicycle commuting program, and give their beers cycling-related names like Training Wheels. 
I chatted with two 20-somethings at the bar that were in town for Sunday's MTB enduro. They spent Saturday pre-riding the race course and introduced me to enduro racing, something between cross country and downhill.
The Training Wheels disappointed, but the cheese platter was yummy (Great Hills blue cheese, homemade bread, local honey and local blueberries) and the Maine mussels were delicious. At the bartender's suggestion, I took home a 22oz bottle of Pied Piper IPA.

My hamstring (injured during a run 6 days previously) didn't hamper me during the race, but standing around in the cold, then driving to Massachusetts wasn't good for my legs. Eight miles into my Hop Yard ride, my hammie seized up on me, but I wasn't about to give up and go home when there were breweries to visit. So I crawled up the two big climbs, and poked along on the flats, but I finished. Now to rehab before the Mt Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb in two weeks.

The sun came out for my Hop Yard ride. The ride featured 2 big climbs, 2 dirt roads and a jeep trail, scenic byways (Franklin County and Connecticut River), and a beautiful bike path along the Turner Falls Canal. Oh yeah, and five breweries.

No problem.

Jeep trail.

Element Brewing had amusing science-based decor.

No problem.

Turner Falls Canal

The bike mobile

Saturday, July 09, 2016

2nd Annual Rippers Overland Beer Safari - 4th of July in Burlington, VT

A couple years ago, Josh discovered Peter Voller's Vermont Overland Beer Safari, featuring class 4 roads (unmaintained or impassable public roads), craft beers, and good food. We decided to do something similar, but on bicycles instead of 4x4s. You can read about ROBS-1 here, and page down to learn about ROBS-2, held July 1-4, 2016 in Burlington, Vermont. ROBS, of course, stands for Rippers Overland Beer Safari. This year's edition included the same cast of characters: Josh, Phillip, Jake, and Emily, were again joined by Kevin and Jocelyn for the first day of riding and tasting. We chose Burlington because it is the best beer city in the USA. If you doubt me, read this article

The VOBS photos that inspired ROBS. Photo credit:

 Like all classic VT rides, the weekend started at an American Flatbread, this one at the Zero Gravity brewery. Good pizza; great beer! Or at least it seemed that way after being stuck in traffic because a crash on I-93 blocked the road for almost an hour. I started the safari with VT Haze, a session IPA, which was the equivalent of the Rippers Muffin ride, not challenging but still fun. I moved on to the excellent Choice Make Good double IPA. Because I was feeling sappy and missing Julie, I finished with Zero Gravitiy's T.L.A. IPA, for True Love Always. Zero Gravity's beers were very good, but  the pizza didn't live up to the excellence we are used to at the American Flatbread at Lareau Farm.

Emily and Jake at American Flatbread. Emily was feeling queasy so didn't eat any pizza, but made up for it the next day at Folino's.

A mural of the Zero Gravity hummingbird. I grabbed the photo from the artist's web site.

 On Saturday, Josh and Phillip got in line at Beverage Warehouse an hour and a half before it opened. We were on a beer safari and you have to get up early to bag the exotic ones. 30 or 40 people were in line ahead of us to buy Lawson's Finest Liquids Sip of Sunshine and Alchemist Heady Topper. By the time the doors opened at 10 AM, there were a couple hundred people in line.

 While we waited in line, Kevin was enjoying views like this during his ride from Warren to Burlington for a day of overlanding. Photo credit: Kevin

 Kevin and Jocely were at our meeting point, Burlington Beer Company at 10 o'clock, even though I told them we would get there after 11:00. I guess they didn't want a repeat of last year, when we were so excited to get started that we forgot to wait for them and they had to hurry to catch us at the first brewery.

 Meanwhile, Josh and I were still in line at the Beverage Warehouse. Once the doors opened, the line moved quickly, winding past racks and racks of enticing craft beers.

Josh is all smiles, as we both bought the limit of 24 Heady Toppers and 4 Sip of Sunshines. When my daughter Alexa saw this photo, she texted "Hahaha nice! Why not more sunshine if you prefer that?" As a student at Cornell's Business School, she should have a better understanding of scarcity and supply and demand.

 The ROBS-2 crew ready to ride: Jake, Emily, Josh, Phillip, Jocelyn, and Kevin. Notice that Jocelyn has upgraded her bike from last year's time trial machine to a road bike. Jake's bike has clip on aerobars, but he promised to only use them on the class 4 roads.

 Day 1 featured 40 miles--half on dirt roads with 3 short sections of class 4--and 5 breweries (Fiddlehead, Frost, Stone Corral, Burlington Beer Co, and Good Water).

The 20 miles of dirt roads were beautiful. Last year was Jocelyn's introduction to riding dirt. This year, she was a seasoned pro, lelaving Josh and Kevin in her dust.

 The Shelburne Police have a sense of humor. Like all good Rippers, we obeyed the traffic laws.

Fiddlehead Brewing Company was our first stop. Good beer; great pizza! We met a husband and wife who were interested our beer safari and asked a lot of questions. They asked if we were on an official tour. I laughed and said, "No. I'm the organizer." As we were leaving, they came up and asked for the link to my web page so they could book a tour. Ha!

We bought 32oz growlettes (or squealers as I prefer to call them) of Fiddlehead IPA and Golden Grillz golden ale, then walked next door to Folino's Wood Fired Pizza, where we picked up chilled glasses and two of the best pizzas I have ever tasted. I told one of the brewers we were on a beer safari, and he said we had to try Beekeeper and Coniferous when we went to Burlington Beer Co. We later confirmed that his recommendation was spot on.

 The boys guard the pizza, while the girls fill another growlette. Teamwork!

Lots of great dirt roads in Vermont.

 Photo credit: Kevin

Lots of great breweries in Vermont. Photo credit: Kevin

We tasted Really Pale Ale, Summer VT Wheat, and Junior IPA at Frost Beer Works. Also, Grey Beard's Belgian Wit from guest brewery Foley Brothers Brewing in nearby Brandon, VT. I bought Frost socks to replace the rainbow lightning socks I holed in my crash two weeks before.

Between Frost and Stone Corral, we encountered our first section of Class 4 road. The dotted line to the east of Williams Hill Rd indicates that it is an unmaintained or impassible public road. Some of these roads are a point of contention in Vermont, because some neighbors have co-opted the land for their own use and jealously guard the roads from legal use by the public. We decided that if we encounter a guard dog or shotgun-wielding neighbor, we would turn back. Otherwise, we would quietly ride these public roads, while respecting the privacy of any houses we pass by.

At our exit from the class 4 road, we encountered the only unfriendly Vermonter. After ignoring Phillip, Jake, and Josh riding past, he screamed at Emily and Jocelyn that they were trespassing on private property. He also posted these signs saying "Private Drive" and "Your GPS is rubbish". (Who told him about MFG, My Frickin' Garmin?)
I wrote to the Town Manager of Richmond describing the encounter. He replied, "I'm sorry to hear you were treated rudely by one of our Williams Hill residents.  I'm not sure who it was but I have an idea.  Williams Hill connects to Palmer Lane via a class IV ROW that the town continues to reserve rights to."

We washed away the unpleasant encounter at Stone Corral Brewery. After enjoying their excellent beers and cheese plate (Cabot 3 year cheddar, Blythedale Brie, Cabot Pepper Jack & Great Hill bleu, crackers, candied walnuts apple slices, tomato jam), we could laugh about the Class 4 Troll of Williams Hill.

 Stone Corral had a wide range of offerings beyond the standard IPAs. I particularly liked the Raspberry Black lager and the Coffee Stout. The Hopped to Trot IPA and Stampede DIPA were pretty good too.

 After Christmas Hill Rd, we encountered our 2nd stretch of class 4 road. Despite these photos, most of it was rideable, at least by some of us.

You can ride this. Really!

Really, you can!

 Photo credit: Kevin

  Photo credit: Kevin

 Eventually, the class 4 road dumped us on a maintained road. (Is that pavement I see?) Before reaching civilization again, Phillip foolishly followed the power lines instead of the mowed trail through the woods. The thorns and brambles exacted their pound of flesh, and the blood flowing down my leg made this an official adventure. According to Mobo's rules, an adventure is physically arduous, with an uncertain outcome, and blood must be drawn.

 Belted Galloways are a recovering breed.

 Our breed recovering at Burlington Beer Co., "Where Fermentation meets Imagination."

 Left to right: Strawberry Whale Cake cream ale, Light in the Window rye IPA, Beekeeper imperial honey IPA aged on Yellow Birch, and Coniferous bourbon barrel and cedar aged imperial spruce stout. The Beekeeper and Coniferous were recommended by a brewer at one of our earlier stops, and they did not disappoint. So why did I buy a 4-pack of Whale Piss? (Actually, Burlington Beer Co produces very good beers. In fact, BBC was one of our favorite breweries, along with Foam. Strawberry Whale Cake is even a good beer, but I suffered buyer's remorse and wished I got It's Complicated Being a Wizard. So the rest of the week we made fun of Whale Cake and referred to it by many unfavorable and unfair names.)

 Burlington's bathrooms are far advanced over North Carolina's. The character dressed in half skirt and half trousers makes it clear all are welcome here.

Good Water Brewery was our last stop.

 inspiRED, an Irish style red ale, was my favorite at Good Water, though all four were tasty, and a nice change from the usual IPAs.

Do we need a designated cyclist?

Dinner at Farmhouse Tap and Grill was worth the wait. The Vermont Heritage Grazers Pork sandwich with cheddar, sunny-side up farm egg, and kimchi was delicious. They also feature an extensive list of Vermont Craft beers, including Hill Farmstead, Lawson's Finest Liquids, and most of the Burlington breweries.

 Day 2 was a challenge for an overland beer safari. There were two main problems: 1) There are so many breweries, so close together in Burlington. 2) It's hard to find dirt roads and class 4 roads in a city. The solution was to ride across the grass to get on the bike paths, and to avoid the most direct route between breweries. We visited Foam, Magic Hat, and Queen City. We decided to skip Swiitchback and arrived at Four Quarters after it closed.

 The Winooski River Bridge on Burlington's Waterfront Bike Path.

 View from the bridge.

 The Bridge to Nowhere was built to satisfy a federal law that demanded the parkland on either side of the highway must be connected. They built the bridge but blocked one end of it with a chainlink fence. Beyond the fence lies a steep, brush-covered hill.

 My only regret from ROBS-2 is that we somehow missed the Intervale Bikepath. (Well, that and buying a 4-pack of Whale Puke instead of It's Complicated Being a Wizard.) As you can see from our route above, we searched all over for the trail then blew by it on the 127 Bikepath, not realizing that the entrance was just across Route 127. I remember the Intervale Bikepath fondly from a family vacation back when I pulled the kiddies in a trailer. 

 Woo hoo! Only another mile to Foam Brewers.

We were all looking forward to visiting the recently (May 13) opened Foam Brewers, and it exceeded our expectations. Foam has a beautiful tasting room right off the Waterfront Bike Path. Photo credit: Google Maps.

Foam prepares an excellent cheese and charcuterie board. Photo credit: Foam Brewers web page.

 But the reason to visit Foam Brewers is that their beers are so good: the Indie gose is refreshing with a hint of melon; the Lupi Fresh IPA is hazy golden with a finish of grapefruit pith; and the Built to Spill is a very good double IPA with an excellent name. More on spilling later. Photo credit: Untappd

Another reason to visit Foam Brewers is that it is the only place you can get ales by House of Fermentology. (Their beer launch was June 17.) I'm holding HoF's Pink Dot, a wild sour. It was a revelation. The color is a beautiful pink with an inch of foam. The taste is like nothing I have experienced. It's sour but delicious, sort of like pink lemonade. In fact, it doesn't really taste like beer to me, but I would drink it anytime it is available. Unfortunately, due to limited quantities, you can only buy House of Fermentology by the glassful. Fortunately, Foam Brewers will sell you their own beer in 750 ml bottles, so we returned the next day and loaded up the car before driving back to Winchester. Josh even wheedled them into filling his growler with Lupi Fresh, though they usually don't provide 64 oz fills because of limited quantities.
From "House of Fermentology specializes in mixed fermentation ales aged in oak barrels. Brewing Wild Ale for a sophisticated palate in a Dangerous Neighborhood. This is not a brewery in the common use of the term, but rather a blendery (same as Backacre Beermakers). They take wort (unfermented beer) produced by another Vermont brewery and age, condition, and add secondary elements (fruit, yeast) to the wort."

 Next stop was Magic Hat Brewing Company. They have an entertaining gift shop and self-guided tour, plus decent beers, but the best thing about Magic Hat is that the tastes are free. I really wanted to visit because Julie had so much fun at Magic Hat during our family vacation some 15 years ago. I was off riding around Lake Champlain so I missed it, but Julie raved about her private tour. When she and the little ones showed up, a couple of workers offered to show her around the brewery and their warehouse of Mardi Gras floats. My kids have grown up and so has Magic Hat. The tour is very packaged now; worth a visit, but not at the expense of getting to Four Quarters after closing time. More later...

 The star of last year's ROBS was Hill Farmstead Brewery, and Josh's favorite beer was their Society and Solitude. That night around the campfire, I was telling an intriguing story, complete with expansive hand gestures. I just happened to joggle Josh's arm, causing him to spill a sip of the precious Hill Farmstead ale. Thus began a trend that continued on this year's ROBS. I again jostled Josh's arm at Foam Brewers spilling some of their excellent ale. Later, around the fire pit, I kicked over an entire glass of Kitten Death Star (no great loss). So I was forced to wear this "I cry over split beer" bib and put up with everyone calling me Spillip. I think a more appropriate reminder to be careful would be a growler of Built to Spill from Foam Brewers.

Jake and Emily in the thing outside Magic Hat.

 We locked them in there, but they didn't even try to get out.

Josh is surprised that Queen City Brewery only has one IPA, and an English IPA at that.

 Is anyone surprised that my flight at Queen City included Argument and Gregarious? Both delicious, by the way. I tried Old Monty, and still haven't found a barleywine that I like. The Belgian Tripel was to my taste, though.

Jake saw a sign for ice cream across the street from Queen City, so we stopped in at Lake Champlain Chocolates for a double scoop of energy.  Lake Champlain Chocolates provided another fond memory from our years-ago family vacation in Burlington. Back then, I got Julie a t-shirt reading, "Everybody's got to believe in something. I believe I'll have another chocolate." Turns out that is based on a quote by W.C. Fields that is very fitting for ROBS: "Everybody's got to believe in something. I believe I'll have another beer." Also very fitting: I got Julie a bag of chocolate.

 Everything was sunshine and smiles, until...

There were no smiles, when we got to Four Quarters Brewing at 4, only to discover that they close at 3 on Sundays. After reading this article about Four Quarters, I want to make another trip to Burlington, just to visit this unique brewery focusing on Belgian-style beers.

 Post ride and post swim (who knew Castelli made swimwear?) the smiles are back.

We stayed at the excellent but "cozy" Cottage at Overlake right on E. Lakeshore Drive in Colchester. We just had to cross the street and go down the stairs to be on the beach of Malletts Bay. Plus it was an easy 20-minute drive to the excellent restaurants in downtown Burlington. The only negative of the cottage was insufficient ventilation for four people who spent the day drinking beer. Photo credit: AirBnB

Speaking of excellent restaurants, the ambiance and food at Hen of the Wood was exceptional, especially the Hen of the Woods Mushroom Toast appetizer with a poached farm egg and house bacon (see below). My entree of charred broccoli on a bed of pureed carrots and topped with golden raisins and baby peas was also delicious. Our server was friendly, answering all our questions and always there when we needed something, while at the same time being unobtrusive. Our questions covered biking, breweries, even whether we could eat the clams we found in the bay. The decor was the trendy end of farmhouse chic (I liked it a lot). The food was amazing!!! Only 2 downsides: the beer list was not as extensive as advertised, and the meal was a bit pricey. Definitely worth the splurge and I highly recommend Hen of the Wood.

 Photo credit: Hen of the Wood website

 The other draw at Hen of the Wood is its beer menu, which included Hill Farmstead Edward and Heady Topper (in cans, apparently it is only on draft at the Hen of the Wood in Waterbury).

After dinner, we wanted some great VT beer to share around the fire pit. Unfortunately the Growler Garage had just moved to a new location and wasn't set up to fill growlers yet. So we went to Pearl Street Beverage and struck out. They were busy with folks heading to the fireworks, and we were a bit fuzzy from a day of sampling. So without any tastes or even knowing the style of beer or where the brewery was located, we bought a growler of Kitten Death Star because of its name. It may be a fine Imperial Red Ale, and it is from Middlebury, VT, but it didn't fare well against the Burlington competition. I made an even worse decision, filling my two growlettes with Double Tap and Dank Row, only to discover later that they are California IPAs, totally inappropriate for a beer safari in VT. Not only that, but I didn't have more growlettes to fill when we went back to Foam the next day.

After visiting 9 breweries in 48 hours and sampling others over dinner, we used our last day for a recovery detox ride along the Island Line Trail up to South Hero Island.

 The Island Line Trail is "one of New England's most visited and spectacular rail-trails." Source:

 "Built in 1900 atop huge marble boulders, the 2.5-mile raised railbed slices across Lake Champlain for unparalleled views." Source:

"The causeway ends abruptly out on the lake, where a seasonal bike ferry operated by Local Motion connects with South Hero." Source:

 On South Hero, traffic was stopped while parade participants lined up for the Fourth of July parade.

 South Hero had one final reminder of that long ago family vacation. Back then, I planned bike ride past the stone castles built by Harry Barber of Switzerland. The travel brochure described, "Five castles, three houses, and several garden structures remain in the Islands. They vary in complexity. Some castles feature glazed windows, interior fireplaces, or dungeons. Others are wired for electricity and have the capability of running water in the moat." We spent frustrating hours riding up and down the roads looking for those cursed castles, until one of the children pointed to a tiny little castle and asked if that was what we were looking for. Somehow, I missed the key sentence in the brochure, "He created miniature buildings from local
Vermont field stone." Save yourself the aggravation of hunting for the castles, and enjoy these photos instead.

Our final stop before driving home to Massachusetts was at The Vermont Pub & Brewery, "Vermont's original brewpub" according to Vermont Beer by Kim Werner. I figured this meant it had been established soon after the American Revolution, but surprisingly it was as recently as 1988. "It’s hard to remember when 'brewpub' was not part of the American lexicon, but only two decades ago, most Americans had not tasted beer made in small, independent brewery-taverns." Source It was interesting to learn about the founder (and beer legend) Greg Noonan, who helped launch America's craft brewing industry. The food was tasty but standard pub fare, though their Toads in the Hole (Maple sausages, cheddar and onion in pastry, with brew fries and chutney) is something you don't see everywhere.  

 Sadly, their beer seemed rather pedestrian when compared to the many excellent brews we enjoyed over the weekend. I had a flight of Watermelon Wheat, Dubbel O Seven, Bombay Grab IPA, and Ol' Puckerface. They were all OK, but nothing I would go out of my way to drink again. Especially not when I was able to stock my refrigerator with the trophies from our beer safari, as shown in the photo below.

Julie says there is no room for food in our refrigerator. Frankly, I don't see what the problem is.

 The end of another successful Rippers Overland Beer Safari warrants a custom decal for our bikes.