'Tis the Zaison

You never know who you'll meet when you're out for a pint. Last evening I was hanging with friends at Ashley's, and I bumbled across Jason Spaulding, co-founder of New Holland Brewing and now out on his own starting another small brewing operation. The new operation is called "One Beer" and, fittingly enough, it produces a single beer, the "Zaison" saison ale. It's available (for now, anyway) only at Ashley's and Zingerman's Roadhouse. At 9% ABV, it's not one to suck down with abandon, but it's a slightly peppery take on the classic style, designed to pair with a wide variety of victuals. Jason's looking for a home for his new brewery, and of course I selfishly hope he'll decide to make it in or around Ann Arbor. (Side note: He also hand-carved the tap handle himself.)


Grand Opening of Workantile Exchange

After months of planning, procuring, building, and tweaking, the Workantile Exchange officially opened today in downtown Ann Arbor.

What's a Workantile Exchange?

In short, it's a coworking facility. But their website goes into a little more detail:

Workantile Exchange is designed for independents who don't want to work alone. Our goal is to build a community of peers: people with wide-ranging skills, experience and resources...

We’re a private membership community of independent workers, based in a restored antique storefront in the heart of Ann Arbor. Both the space and the community it houses are designed to support and enhance members' worklives. We don’t offer permanent desk space or phone lines, and we aren’t an incubator or startup facility.

More of a Guild Hall, or a private coffeehouse.

If you're looking for a dynamic, creative place to work downtown, and you aren't chained to a cubicle, you may wish to give Workantile a look, or apply online to become a member.

See more pictures from the grand opening.

Update: The Ann Arbor News also has a story on Workantile.

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RatFest '09 at Corner Brewery

RatFest '09 at Corner BreweryYesterday was the first-ever "RatFest" at the Corner Brewery in Ypsilanti, featuring 24 different beers all brewed up by homebrewers on May 1. Eighteen of them were brewed within 24 hours on Corner's so-called "Rat Pad," a 10-gallon brewing system used by homebrewers, visiting brewing professionals, and others to create special small-batch beers that the Corner releases and serves to the public, typically every Wednesday. (A video of this insanity is on YouTube.)

Many of the Rat Pad beers featured were poured by the people who brewed them, although several brewers were not present because this weekend also happens to be the National Homebrewers Conference in Oakland, California. I and a few others selflessly volunteered to step in for them.

As a volunteer, I was assigned to pour beer #22, Crispy's Nearly Nirvana Pale Ale, a recipe that brewer Chris Frey of the Ann Arbor Brewers Guild has been honing for years. It's modeled closely on the ever-popular Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, a great go-to beer from California that has become ubiquitous over the years, often saving me from having to order a Heineken at various restaurants just to avoid the BudMillerCoors options.

Beer gnomes check the draft linesAs luck would have it, Nearly Nirvana was probably my favorite out of the other beers I sampled (although I didn't get to try them all). Other standouts included Bridget's Saison Du Mont, which was named "best beer" by an informal vote of those present; Rick's Imperial Breakfast Stout (at 9% ABV, that's some breakfast!); and Matt's BBQ Red Snapper, which, though I do not generally like "smoky" beer had just enough smokiness to make it interesting but not enough to make me gag.

The weirdest beer by far was Logan and Hollis's Ants on a Lager, which featured such adjuncts as raisins, celery, and peanut butter. Tony's Raspberry Coconut Porter combined two flavors I don't much care for, and though it didn't do much for me as a beer, when added to melted ice cream (a pitcher of which was also available), it tasted like a mutant version of Neapolitan &ndash dee-licious!

Breaking down 24 draft beers and storing the leftovers wasn't a large amount of fun, but I was at least buoyed by lots of good beer and too much meatballs and gravy. The usual batch of uninspiring, amateurish photos of all the action is up on Facebook.

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The Day I Officially Became a Business

Things have been moving and shaking here at headquarters this week. I set up a new computer desk at the home office. For my birthday, my parents bought me a comfortable "executive chair" to sit on when I work or type my blog missives. And today I filed a "doing-business-as" with Washtenaw County, making me officially (in the eyes of the local gummint, anyway) a businessman. In roughly six years of freelancing on the side, I never thought of myself in this way, though now that this is my main gig the grabby taxman certainly does.

Naturally, I celebrated my official businessdom with a mug or two of IPA at Arbor Brewing. OK, maybe it was four – there were some interesting people to talk to there today.


Late Spring Crawfish Boil

Mmm, crawfish and beer!Unfortunately, I missed out on Saturday's big crawfish boil at Dark Horse Brewing in Marshall. So on Sunday I decided to do my own out on the deck. Dark Horse had live crawfish sent up from Louisiana, while I used mudbugs from the frozen section of Meijer. I can't imagine my boil was as good as the fresh critters, but it was still quite delicious – corn, sausage, potatoes, and all. And while I also lacked the Belgian style goodness of Dark Horse Sapient Trip Ale, I made do with a sixpack of "Simpler Times" pilsner from Trader Joe's for $5. Hey, times are hard.

Add a pretty girl and a friend visiting from New Orleans and you have the makings of a nice afternoon.


Fruit Beer Tasting at Arbor Brewing

Matt Greff and Joanna HollydayFruity beers are generally not my thing, but there were several decent brews at last night's tasting at Arbor Brewing. As usual, I volunteered to pour and ended up stationed at what turned out to be the strawberry table, featuring ABC's new-for-summer Strawberry Blonde and Melbourne Bros. (AKA Samuel Smith's) Strawberry Ale.

Owner Matt Greff (pictured right, with volunteer coordinator Joanna Hollyday and an apparent will-o-the-wisp on his shoulder) worked for three years on the recipe for the Strawberry Blonde. The result is a well balanced, medium-bodied brew with a strong strawberry nose but no sweet, cloying taste that is often a hallmark of fruit beers. The addition of so much malt to offset the fruitiness of the strawberry also means this is a deceptively boozy concoction at 7.75% ABV. Great choice for frat boys looking for a chick beer that will also get their dates hammered. The Strawberry Blonde is on draft at the Corner Brewery in Ypsi, but not yet available at ABC.

People drinking beerThe Melbourne Strawberry Ale was a much different animal, with more of a "real" strawberry taste (Greff used "essence of strawberry" for the flavor of his brew) and a really tart character. It was all right in small doses, but too much of something like this means a tummyache for your correspondent. Maybe the most notable thing about this beer is that it's spontaneously fermented, meaning during the brewing process it's left out in the open to be fermented by wild yeastie beasties in the air.

(Melbourne also had an apricot beer at another table, also spontaneously fermented, which had much more of a gueuze-like character to it.)

Others that caught my attention: Dark Horse Tres Blueberry (described in the program as "a fruit beer for manly men, not little girls"); Grozet Gooseberry Wheat Ale and Ebulum Elderberry Black Ale (from Craigmill, the Scottish brewer famous for Heather Ale, mmmm); and Cerise from Founders, a cherry beer with an interesting, oh-so-slight cinnamon finish.

Next month: wheats, wits, and lambics!

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Out and About: Greed Eats Love

Big City, Small World Bakery on Miller Ave.:

Greed eats love


Technical Difficulties

Please stand by!As has no doubt already been observed, my site has become completely messed up and hard to read. The problem lies with the server where the main images are stored (Photobucket). They say they're working on it, though in the meantime I'm looking into porting the images onto another server. One way or another, the glitch should be fixed soon. Thanks for your patience, and in the meantime please enjoy this scholarly treatise on "The Biology of B-Movie Monsters."


Haggis: Entered

Sonic Lunch with Enter the HaggisYesterday was the first Sonic Lunch in Liberty Plaza, a free concert series sponsored by Bank of Ann Arbor and 107.1 FM. Morning DJ Martin Bandyke introduced the featured band, Toronto's Enter the Haggis, who describe themselves merely as Celtic rock, though that doesn't quite seem to cover all of the different genres and influences that were manifested in the band's music.

The turnout was pretty impressive, and I will definitely catch more of these shows (every Thursday throughout the summer, excepting Art Fair week). The full schedule of shows is on Bank of Ann Arbor's Sonic Lunch website.


Red Pen Diaries: Department of Redundancy Department

Red Pen Diaries: Advice and Observations on Writing and the English LanguageUsing redundant words and phrases can cause unintentional hilarity as well as sap your writing of its strength.

In a previous Red Pen Diaries, I wrote about the redundant use of the word "dollars." Other common redundancies are often the result of acronyms, such as "PIN number" (personal identification number number) or "ATM machine" (automatic teller machine machine). Still others are obvious only upon closer examination, such as "7 AM in the morning" or "fellow co-workers."

Most people tend to overwrite at first. In the post below this one, I originally wrote "the widow of an old comb salesman who had died." That's either redundant (if she's his widow, we know the salesman is dead) or unclear (who died – the widow or the salesman?). Whatever the case, "who had died" was needless verbiage.

It always pays to go back with an eye toward pruning the dead weight of unnecessary, redundant words that muck up your message and tire the reader. Ideally, another, fresher set of eyes can help you cut the dead weight and strengthen the impact of your writing.

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Lessons in Yard Sale Marketing

Yard sale!The big yard sale this weekend went pretty well: I made about $105, mostly on crummy DVDs, CDs, and books. My two compatriots also took in a rather nice haul in the cause of getting rid of unwanted junk.

In the process, we observed some important lessons in marketing.

First, we had a nice division of labor working for us. I thought up ideas for the signage; Erin, the graphic designer, made the signage look great; and Kimberly, our "people person" engaged customers and, when necessary, hand sold many items for a good (by yard sale standards) price. Lesson: Identifying each other's strengths and deploying them appropriately is the essence of great teamwork.

Books for RepublicansI viewed my greatest challenge as selling old books with politically conservative themes to the commie pinko treehuggers of downtown Ann Arbor. I had a lot of books of all types for sale, but I believed these would not sell without some kind of special effort. So I separated them from all the others and put them in their own box with a simple sign, "Books for Republicans." Even without Erin's artistry, the sign worked wonders: There were just four books left unsold from a box that had been packed with paeans to Ronald Reagan, policy analyses from the Heritage Foundation, and other suchlike. I strongly believe had those books been just scattered throughout the rest of my literary offerings they would not have sold. Lesson: Suggestive copy is key.

Summer getaway tableA similar example arose when on Saturday I failed to sell three of my old Hawaiian shirts (and Kimberly her "Hawaii" t-shirt). On Sunday we decided to group those shirts with thematically similar items (swimming trunks, a beach towel, and some plastic tiki cups) and create a special sign: "Too broke for vacation? Check out our summer getaway table." The trunks, towel, and cups didn't sell, but at least all the shirts did. Lesson: Adding a touch of humor also can bring great results.

Kimberly had a container full of plastic combs she received from the widow of an old comb salesman, and she and Erin created a sign for it: "Free Gift with Purchase!" Almost without exception, people took their combs. Lesson: Incentives are a great idea; customers always love a freebie (or lagniappe, as they say in New Orleans).

Ayyyyyy!And, finally, the best lesson of all: If someone offers you 35 cents for an awesome Fonzie t-shirt, laugh at him. You'll sell it for a dollar a few hours later.

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