Archive for April, 2008

Montreal: beer report

Posted by Nate in Beer, Travel, Work.
Wednesday, April 16th, 2008 at 9:37 pm

The trip report wouldn’t be complete without at least a semi-comprehensive writeup of the multitude of brewpubs we visited!  You’ve already read about most of our adventures drinking through Michigan, but the city of Montreal has some gems worth mentioning.

Our first night, which Karen blogged, was spent at one of the walking-distance brewpubs, Les Trois Brasseurs.  Overall: give them a pass.  Not bad, some good "European" flavor, but points deducted for a recurring "off" flavor in all their beers except the very nice Wit.  On the plus side they offer a huge number of beer "cocktails", and Justin and I sampled the Wit plus whisky and maple syrup: a bit sweet, but hell yeah!

The next day I realized the full impact of my post on the conference site which called on all beer geeks to join up and go out – I found myself coordinating more than a dozen people as we struck out the crown jewel of Montreal brewpubs: Dieu du Ciel! (the exclamation point is part of the name!)

It wasn’t too be – hockey playoffs left no room for our posse, so we rode the Metro and walked to L’amère à boire.  It was fantastic!  They had a house pale ale on cask, an imperial stout we tried, a great dunkelweizen, and much more.  This one definitely makes the list of "stop in if you can".

Next day for lunch, determined to hit Dieu du Ciel! that evening, I talked some people into walking through the cold wind to Brutopia.  Another good choice!  We liked it so much I was talked into going there again that night with more people and found the downstairs area where they offered a really amazing I20080415042657_pict0041.jpgPA on cask and a few of their own beers in bottles.  The IPA tasted like "England in a pint" to me: malty and rich with just a nice zap of hops.  Really excellent.  And we sampled a bottle of their maple beer – also nice.  Dry and complex.  Much fun was had by everyone at this one, we lost a few of our earlier members and gained a few new ones.  Here’s a washed out picture so you can see some of the beer list behind me…  So:  go here too, and try to get the cask IPA.  The scotch ale is also a pleaser, as is the excellent mocha chocolate stout.  Mmmm.

20080416050703_img_5557.jpgFinally, we were down to the last night of the conference, and still no Dieu du Ciel!  I announced firmly to anyone that asked that I didn’t care what everyone else did, but I was definitely, no question about it, going to Dieu du Ciel tonight.  So we did – as 20080416201957_img_5562a.jpgsoon as the closing plenary was done, I grabbed Karen and we took a cab to the pub.  Another hockey game was starting soon, but we grabbed a seat at the bar (beer geeks always sit at the bar), and I started massively drooling over their beer list.  It’s seriously phenomenal: I think 17 beers on tap and one on cask.  Started with the maple scotch ale (maple’s a theme here, I think) which was truly amazing.  So good.  There was a peppercorn rye beer, a smoked pale ale, and an "indian cream ale" which was the I-could-drink-a-million-of-these winner for the evening.  We watched hockey and drank beer and life was good.

20080416050755_img_5565.jpgSpeaking of "beer geeks always sit at the bar", I happened to recognize a guy who came in after us – he’d been at Brutopia the night before!  A Canadian in town for business, he’d been making the brewpub rounds just like us!  We struck up a conversation and had much good beer talk, and you can thank him for all these pictures since our camera battery had died.  Beer brings people together, yo… :)

20080415042904_pict0004.jpgFinally it was time to leave.  Entering the US was pretty uneventful, other than a 14+ hour day of driving.  We made it Chicago after stopping in Kalamazoo to visit Bell’s Brewery – come on, I’m not gonna drive through KZoo and not stop at Bell’s!  Another beer trade for some amazing available-only-at-the-brewery bottles and we were back on the road to Chicago.

20080415042916_pict0001.jpgChicago was great, a super-quick meet and great with the crew there – who, to my distress/excitement, are almost all moving to CO in a few weeks!  Got to play a quick round of Garage Band (?), grab some delicious breakfast, and back on the road.

20080415042935_pict0003.jpgI leave you with a road trip self-portrait, snapped in the hubcap of a truck we were passing in Wisconsin.  If I did the math right, and I think I did unless I lost a receipt, the Corolla got about 41 mpg on this trip!!!  Whoa.  Guess that’s what cruise control coupled with Canada’s lower speed limit will do for you??  Anyone have a similar amazing mpg story?

Now trying to recover and catch up at work.  Always hard after the conference because I just want to work on implementing all the cool things I saw and learned and want to steal…

Le Biodome, c’est magnifique!

Posted by Karen in Day to Day.
Saturday, April 12th, 2008 at 2:25 pm

Ok so I wasn’t too lazy, and  I did do the cool thing I had planned on doing, which was go to the Biodome!  This place is an environ20080412113259_pict0002.jpgmental museum with four distinct ecosystems:  a tropical rainforest, a Laurentian forest, a St. Lawrence marine ecosystem, and an arctic/antarctic ecosystem.  It is all inside this big dome building next to the Parc Olympique, and was previously used for Olympic cycling events.  Annette accompanied me again, and was extremely patient as I took in every single detail.  I warned her that I would probably take forever, and it was no joke – I think we were there for like 4 hours.

Here’s wh20080412115009_pict0007.jpgat we saw.  First was the tropical rainforest, and the creatures that stood out the most there were definitely the vast herds of screaming school children.  In addition to them, we saw this super cool spoonbill bird, which was hanging out with a capybara.  I had never heard of a capybara before, and it t20080412115220_pict0012.jpgurns out they are the world’s largest rodent.  And yet somehow I still really liked him.  He was swimming back and forth, back and forth, so I wasn’t able to get a very good photo of him, bummer.  But check out these piranhas, eh?  There were lots and lots of birds (Rick and Jack, I’ll send you more pics later!) including some ducks and a scarlet ibis, some little black monkeys, some little orange monkeys, iguanas, caimans, bats, poison dart frogs, an anaconda, and more!  We couldn’t find the two-toed sloth though. 

Then it was on to the Laurentian forest, where there were a couple of river otters20080412122142_pict0017.jpg swimming and playing, a beaver dam that they had a camera inside of so you could see the little guy sleeping in there, more birds and ducks, two Canadian lynx, and a bunch of fish.  They also had some cool endangered plant projects going on, wild leeks and ginseng among them.  This photo is a couple of porcupines sleeping in a tree!  (PS, you weren’t supposed to use a flash, so that’s why a lot of these photos are sub-prime, sorry.)

The St. lawrence marine ecosystem had an aquarium part with lots of cool fish – did you know that flounder and halibut start out like other fish, and then as they get older they turn sideways and their one eye migrates around?  They end up flattened so they can lie on the bottom all camouflaged and have both their eyes looking up, and so they swim sideways.  Weird.  Annette and I were both deeply disturbed at the realization that Flounder from Little Mermaid was apparently not a flounder at all. 

Then you could go upstairs and see the above water part of this ecosystem, with all kinds of sea birds and a tidal pool.  The tida20080412124709_pict0034.jpgl pool was crazy and kind of creepy, all sorts of multi-colored gelatinous-looking things.  And get this.  A woman in New England won a giant lobster (8 kg – it’s claws were as big as my forearms!) at a bar in some kind of Super Bowl drawing this past February.  She couldn’t bear the thought of eating it, so she found it a home at the Biodome!  The birds in this part were really beautiful – common eiders, black guillemots, terns, and black-legged kittiwakes (yes, I did write those down so I could tell you Rick).

And last but not least, the arctic/antarctic.  Here you go Mom: penguins, penguins, penguins!20080412125048_pict0039.jpg It was interesting to read about how birds in the north and south poles share so many characteristics and yet are unrelated, because they evolved in similar environments.  For example, puffins and penguins have similar coloring, because when they are swimming, the black on their backs camouflages them from predators in the air and the white on their tummies camouflages the20080412130526_pict0040.jpgm from predators below them in the water.  Cool stuff.  There were 4 kinds of penguins: gentoons, rockhoppers, macaronis, and king or emperors. They were wildly entertaining, and I could have sat there all day and watched them!  They also had a speaker broadcasting the noises of the penguins, and those crazy guys with the yellow tufts sure were a noisy bunch! 

Ok, enough about the Biodome already.   Nate and Brent had managed to get 20080412131217_pict0043.jpgAnnette and I in to their evening reception, which was held at the Museum of Fine Arts.  So we went, we schmoozed, we drank wine and ate lots of cheese.  Nate was still determined to go to his #1 brewpub of choice, but was convince20080412131922_pict0050.jpgd that it was too far away.  So we went to Brutopia, even t20080412131751_pict0047.jpghough he had already been there for lunch that day.  I think the following photos sum up that experience nicely. 

As soon as Nate is done for the day today we are going to make yet another attempt to get to his #1 brewpub of choice, and hopefully we’ll beat the hockey game rush.  And tomorrow we say "Au revoir Canada!" and begin the long haul home!

And oh yeah – GO WILD!!!!!

Nous sommes arrives a Montreal!

Posted by Karen in Travel.
Thursday, April 10th, 2008 at 10:56 pm

Yeah, so no posting yesterday.  Wasn’t feeling it.  Here’s a re-cap though: we drove, and drove, and drove… we arrived in Montreal at rush hour, which was stressful, we had to navigate through crowds of people to20080410221234_pict0005.jpg get to one of Nate’s bars of choice, which was also stressful.  I was feeling overwhelmed by being in a city after days of small towns or no towns, so I went back to our room to chill and do some work while Nate went to a reception for his conference, and then out for a drink afterwards, where Nate’s boss Robin’s purse got stolen.  Maaaaajor bummer.  I watched the Senators-Penguins hockey game and saw a guy take a puck to the face.  Grody. 

This morning Nate went off to his conference and I went to the hotel gym.  The elliptical machines were in use by a couple of fem-bo20080411083531_poutine.jpgts (seriously, I thought they were going to blow a fuse and start on fire!), so I ran on the treadmill for awhile in an attempt to undo the damage of brewpub day.  Then I met Annette, Nate’s co-worker Brent’s wife, and the boys and a bunch of their little museum friends, and went for lunch.  Check out the plate of deliciousness in front of Nate!  That, my friends, is poutine – french fries, sauce, and cheese.  Mmmmm.

Then the boy20080410220924_pict0003.jpgs went back to their conference, and Annette and I wandered around the Gare Central for awhile, looking at all the yummy restaurants, the bakery, the Belgian chocolate place, and this amazing flower shop.  The we decided to go to Mont Royal.  We took the metro, then got on 2 wrong buses before figuring out the right one and heading to the top of "the mountain".  When we got there, it was a bit of a let down.  There were a bunch of young guys blasting lo20080411084737_dirtsurfer.jpgud music, drinking beer, and yelling stuff at people, which, you know, kind of makes it less pleasant. So we took a couple of photos, and then caught the same bus as it was coming down the mountain!  The highlight of that whole experience was meeting this guy, who had a Dirtsurfe20080411085037_dirtsurfer2.jpgr!  It was kind of like a snowboard with mountain bike wheels.  He rides the bus to the top of the hill and rides his Dirtsurfer down.  Whoa. It looked pretty fun, even though I’m so not into that whole adrenaline sport thing. 

We took the metro back, and somehow 20080411085241_go_canadiens.jpgwent out the wrong exit of our station, and found ourselves in the midst of a huge hockey rally!  Tonight was the first playoff game for the Montreal Canadiens and ooh doggy was the town on fire! 

I met Nate after his conference stuff, and a whole mess of people wanted to join him to go to his #1 brewpub of choice.  So we piled into a bunch of cabs and went there, only to find that it was waaaay too packed for us to even get in the door.  Nate was kind of the leader of the pack at that point so everyone was kind of looking for him to make a decision.  So we decided to walk to the nearest metro stop and go to the next brewpub on his list.  But we got to the metro stop and the ticket buying machine was broken and there was nobody working.  20080411085446_pub.jpgSo we walked some more to another stop and finally made it happen.  We ended up at a great little pub, had some dinner, some delicious beer, and got to watch the Canadiens win their first playoff game!

And so, all’s well that ends well.  I have big plans for tomorrow, but I’m not going to give you even a hint, in case I decide to be lazy instead!

Day 4: Driiiiiiviinnngg

Posted by Karen in Travel.
Tuesday, April 8th, 2008 at 7:37 pm

That’s pretty much all we did today.  The day got off to an exciting start when we came upon this free outdoor scrap iron sculpture garden, Lakenenland Sculpture Park, just outside of Marquette! 

We drove along the eastern end of the south shore of Lake Superior which provided some beautiful scenery, and we saw another bald eagle sitting on the top of a tree, some cranes (sandhills?) hanging out in the middle of the freaking median, and lots and lots of sleeping deer on the side of the road… er something. 

20080408155048_pict0008.jpg20080408155017_pict0009.jpgWe took a little side jaunt to Munising Falls in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  We had to dodge a disturbing amount of dog poo, but the waterfall was beautiful! 

We went through the town of Christmas, but did not see Santa, and we went through the 20080408154856_pict0012.jpgsupposed moose capital of Michigan, and saw no moose!  Things were starting to get a bit boring.  20080408154841_pict0018.jpgThen we crossed into Canada.  Even more boring.  And weirdly easy.  And then we drove, and drove, and drove…  Highlights since entering Canada include Nate and I doing an amazing "Fairytale of New York" duet, and watching "Survivorman" on Canadian cable. 

Day 3: Brewpub mania!

Posted by Nate in Beer, Travel.
Monday, April 7th, 2008 at 8:07 pm

Up early-ish to pack and load up the car before breakfast at 8 – fruit salad again, equally delicious, and a three-layer cornbread: organic whole wheat, unbleached white, and cornmeal, followed by a baked raspberry cream cheese French toast.  Yum.

20080407184653_pict0002.jpgThen we had to bid adieu to Bayfield and hit the road East…  The first leg of the journey was full of wildlife: a big coyote on the side of the road, a heron that I’m going to call a Great Blue, a bunch of swans, and some sort of grouse – tufted head, brown, white and black markings…  Handsome big guy, whatever he was.  Rick?

20080407184637_pict0003.jpgBy lunchtime we had reached Houghton, home of two brewpubs on our list.  We started at the Library with a sampler of their 10(!!) beers.  Great stuff, they had a wheat that Karen was fond of, and a Rye and a Bock that were really wor20080407184621_pict0004.jpgking for me.  We filled a now-empty growler from Fitger’s for $5(!!) and moved on to the Keweenaw Brewing Company around the corner.

[ side note: on the way to Keweenaw, we saw a pawn shop with a sweet accordion in the window.  We’d been chatting about accordians earlier for some reason, and Karen had said she’d love to play one, so we stopped in.  Ended up having a great chat with the employee about his polka band and accordions and concertinas in general.  Fun, but no purchases this trip.  Car too full of free llamas. ]

20080407184559_pict0005.jpgThey’re a bigger brewing company, with a full canning facility down south of town – I think I read 30 barrels?  Their tasting room has an 8 barrel system so they can bring on more variety – we tried an ESB, 30 Shilling, Pale Ale, 20080407184545_pict0006.jpgBlack Ale, and a Stout.  All excellent, the 30 and ESB stood out to us both…  Learning from our friends at Odell’s in Ft. Collins, we busted out some of our Surly, New Belgium, and Breckenridge beers and worked out a trade for a growler of ESB!  Woo hoo!

20080407184521_pict0007.jpgAfter Houghton we hit a few intense patches of rain, but it stayed near 40 so no snow.  Our friend at Keweenaw had hooked us up with a nice map of 20080407184505_pict0008.jpgMichigan brewpubs, so we found one that I’d left off our list: Jasper Ridge.  Another round of samples later (skip the samples and go for the stout and the pale ale!) plus free popcorn and we were on the home stretch to our destination for the night in Marquette.

20080407184451_pict0012.jpgWe’re actually staying a bit out of town, and on our way back in for the run to the Marquette Harbor brewpub – called the Vierling, I think – we saw this huge crazy 20080407184357_pict0013.jpgstructure extending out into the harbor.  We were both at a loss as to what the purpose might have been – no train tracks led to it, no freighter could approach, and what were all those sections 20080407184341_pict0014.jpgthat looked like they could be lowered individually?  We considered it for a while on our walk to the restaurant, and then gave up.  Any ideas?

The beer here was also very good, and we picked up on a theme – blueberry wheat.  We’d seen this in Jasper Ridge, and I’d also experienced it in a bar in 20080407184317_pict0016.jpgBoston: they throw a handfull of fresh blueberries into the glass just before they serve it to you.  The berries ride the carbonation up and down, presenting a fantastic visual element to the delicious beer.  The other winner here was a pretty awesome chocolate wheat – sort of a stout but with some softer edges from the wheat instead of just roasted barley.

20080407184259_pict0017.jpgAnd now, dear readers, like the sleepy Travelodge bear, I can "bear"ly keep my eyes open!  More tomorrow if you’re lucky, but we actually have to cover some serious ground tomorrow so don’t hold your breath…

“Vacation” Day 2

Posted by Karen in Travel.
Sunday, April 6th, 2008 at 9:31 pm

20080406190654_pict0005.jpgSo here we are, post-massages, post- wine and cheese plate, feeling fine, fine, fine.  My massage was good, I mean I think she did a good job and all, but I had been working for like 2 or 3 hours right before it, so all I could think about the whole time was work stuff.  I totally couldn’t let it go no matter how hard I tried and couldn’t really relax, which has basically been my life for the past few weeks, so afterwards I just felt kind of sad and frustrated.  I know, boo freaking hoo.  Poor me and my sucky wine and cheese and massage filled day.  

Ok so anyway.  We missed the early ferry to Madeline Island because it was around the same time as breakfast here at the World’s Greatest Inn, and because of our serious need to catch up on the sleep we haven’t gotten for the past couple of months, and because of the aforementioned most comfortable bed we’ve ever experienced.  If we had taken the next ferry we wouldn’t have gotten back in time for our massages, so we opted instead for a nice, relaxing day in Bayfield. 

There were some shops and a restaurant/coffee shop I had found 20080406190607_pict0003.jpgon, so we started off by getting some coffee and a scone at Burt & Francie’s and checking out the connected store, Inspire.  It turns out that Inspire carries a whole bunch of Global Mamas clothes, this awesome company we learned about while visiting my brother Steve in Ghana.  They are a fair trade organization, providing living wages and business development assistance to women in Ghana.  The owner told us that they are the biggest buyer of Global Mama20080406190549_pict0002.jpgs products in all of the US!  The tag on each garment tells you who made that specific piece, and he also told us that you can go to the company’s website and see photos, read the story and send an email to that woman.  Whoa.  What a great way to make you think about how the thing you bought actually came to be. 

Then we (and by we I mean I) went to check out some jewelry at a store called Water Music Jewelry and Art, which sells jewelry from local and regional artists, as well as their own handmade pieces.  These two ladies who were also staying at Pinehurst and who we met at breakfast this morning had participated in this arts & crafts workshop thingy this weekend, and their jewelry-making session was taught by the owner of this store.  Then20080406190747_pict0007.jpg it was back to Burt & Francie’s for a delicious lunch and some Farkel, our new favorite game.  We made sure to tell all of the people working at these stores that we found them through, because as Rick pointed out when we were eating lunch at a little diner in some little town in northern Minnesota where we went to see great grey owls a few years ago, if businesses know what brought their customers to them, they will hopefully care more about those things. 

We then headed back to the inn, where I did some work and Nate read by the fire.  We were also given a great tour by one 20080406190628_pict0004.jpgof the owners, Steve. In the garage he showed us their biodiesel production system, and explained how the solar panels on the roof heat it with radiant heat in the floors.  Another huge set of solar panels heat all the water for the Garden House, the newer sustainably built building that houses a few guest rooms, a common room, and the massage room.  The wastewater from this building goes to an aerobic treatment tank, which saved them from having to install another septic tank, and leaves the water clean enough that it can go right into their drain field, which they didn’t have to expand.  Inside, they used sustainably harvested oak, no or low VOC paint, and had a high efficiency boiler, among many, many other things.  Nate then went to get his massage, and Steve and I headed outside, where we watched rain and snowmelt running off the roof of the building into a water garden featuring native water plants, ooh, me likey.  Drain tiles underground take water to another garden, and then off to another part of the yard, preventing all that water from just running off down the sidewalk into the street, and carrying all sorts of crap with it i20080406190711_pict0006.jpgnto our beautiful wonder of the world, Lake Superior.  Oooooh, me really likey!  Now he was really speaking my language.  Steve pointed out some of the other gardens around the grounds, all featuring native plants.  One garden was apparently planted 70 or 80 years ago.  When he and his wife Nancy bought the place it was overrun with weeds, so they dug up all the good things they wanted to keep, tilled the heck out of it, and replanted them, and it has been golden ever since. 

Tomorrow we leave this amazing little slice of heaven and head to the U.P. der hey.  Visits to several brewpubs will hopefully help dull the shock that will surely hit us when we arrive at tomorrow night’s lodging, a freaking Travelodge.

Rough life of the traveler

Posted by Nate in Travel.
Sunday, April 6th, 2008 at 5:06 pm

Thanks to Quentin in the last post for his condolences that our trip sounded so terrible.  Well, it sure hasn’t gotten any better…  Last night, for instance, we were forced to sleep in the most comfortable bed we’ve ever experienced with pillows that I’m seriously considering stealing because they’re amazing.  Then this morning we had to get up and eat a scrumptious fruit salad made with maple-sweetened yogurt and vanilla, followed by local raspberry buttermilk muffins and a delicious potato-based three-cheese quiche.  It was rough.

… so, if you haven’t gather by now, we’re spoiling ourselves these first two days.  We’ve both been working far too much and too hard lately, and by golly there’s something to be said for taking the fruit of some of that labor and spending it on ourselves once in a while!

Karen, during her research of places to stay, found a deal at our B&B where for a bit extra you get a bottle of wine, a cheese plate, and two one-hour massages.  That’s the one we’re currently enjoying, and if this post sounds all dreamy it’s because I’m currently basking in a state of total relaxation following my first-ever massage.  Ahhh.  Gotta say, I was a bit nervous, but when you think about it your job is easy – just lay there and breathe!  Done, and done.

Karen should be wrapping hers up soon and then we’ll get to our wine and cheese plate.  And hopefully write a post about what we actually did all day.  :)

“Vacation” day one – to Bayfield!

Posted by Nate in Travel.
Saturday, April 5th, 2008 at 7:35 pm

20080405180352_pict0002.jpg20080405180711_pict0005.jpg20080405180735_pict0006.jpg20080405180803_pict0009.jpg20080405180824_pict0010.jpg20080405180857_pict0011.jpg20080405180916_pict0012.jpg20080405180930_pict0013.jpg20080405180945_pict0014.jpg20080405181017_pict0015.jpg The pictures largely speak for themselves here: what’s a trip through Duluth without a stop at the Brewhouse at Fitger’s??  No trip we’d be on, tell you that!  And what’s a stop at the Brewhouse without a few refilled growlers??  And what goes best with two full growlers??  The answer of course, lies two doors down: a malte from ye olde shoppe.

Then down along the South Shore — a first for both of us! — where we took in an amazing view of an enormous bald eagle hunting in a field.  This natural beauty, however, was utterly upstaged by the even more amazing view of the offcie / office sign.  Come on.  That’s just too cool.

Then we were in Bayfield at our wonderful green-tourism-friendly B&B, the Pinehurst Inn, where we made best friends with the innkeepers.  They are a driving force in the Wisconsin sustainable business scene, and it was great to chat with them about and compare it to and possibly dream of partnering someday…

Finally we went out to pick up our free llamas, only to be sidetracked into a crazy but delicious and fun flamingo-filled restaurant called Maggies.  Yum.  On the way out Karen was inspired to snap a quick pic of this pretty cool wood carving of a couple embracing and releasing a butterfly.

Bayfield is deserted this time of year, which I suppose is understandable, but really it’s almost nice to have the small town to ourselves!  The innkeepers tell us the ferry is planning make it’s first run of the season tomorrow(!!), and we’re hoping to watch it break the ice and come in to the dock (it leaves from the island).  Then we’re planning to take it back to Madeline Island and explore for bit before returning for one more night here and then off on the rest of the journey!

The REAL reason I don’t post any more…

Posted by Nate in Work.
Thursday, April 3rd, 2008 at 9:25 pm

… is because I’ve been working on this little contract project on the side:


Even if you’ve used the site before, give it a try!  The new version is infinitely more easy to use and contains tons of new features: drawing your own route on the map, collecting destinations, printing, reviews, emailing destinations to friends, and more!

If you haven’t seen the site before, check it out!  It’s an ever-growing map-based directory of "green" businesses in Minnesota, with an emphasis on rural locations.  Pretty cool if you’re planning on touring around MN and want to know who deserves your money…

Anyway, the new version went up today.  A few bugs to iron out and then I’m done with this release!