Ramble On

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Gardens at Northeast Harbor

Our timing was good for the azaleas.
Our vacation time in Maine was coming to an end, so after all the hikes in Acadia National Park, we decided to take one last stroll around the gardens near our hotel, the Asticou Inn.  There are two - the azalea garden, which happened to be blooming just then, and the nearby terraced formal gardens called Thuya, a native American word for evergreens.  The gardens are administered by the Land and Garden Preserve of Mount Desert Island.

On our check-in day, Mary and I had taken a walk around the azaleas, which include a beatuiful pond and a zen garden.  While touring, we learned there was a moss garden that featured a toro, so checking that out became an immediate priority for me.

The traditional toro in the moss garden.
The source of my fascination with these lanterns stems from my visit to Japan in 2011.  After taking note of several that were on the base, and seeing even more beautiful examples of them on a shrine tour to Kamakura, I researched them to learn about the Buddhist cosmology represented by their structure (link here).

We found a docent in the gardens who took a break from pruning and weeding to lead us to both, as there is a second whimsical one near the pond.  I took a few minutes to settle in to enjoy them.  I continue to fancy the idea of getting one installed in the wood lot here at Hawksbill Cabin - certainly my thoughts dwelt on the possibility while we spent our time in the gardens in Northeast Harbor.

The whimsical toro near the pond.
On our last full day, after the morning hikes to the beach and the Bass Harbor Head lighthouse, we'd planned for a farm-to-table dinner at a new restaurant in town called Fork and Table (sorry, Facebook holdouts, but you will find them here).  While we were preparing for that adventure, we decided to take a walk over to the terraced formal gardens called Thuya Gardens.

The property is set apart by terraced stone staircases that switch back up the palisades to the old residence, passing plazas and pergolas on the way up.  There is a memorial to the designer, a summer resident of the place, named Joseph Henry Curtis.

At the top of the palisade, there is a leveled garden that will remind you of the formal estate gardens at Monticello or Dunbarton Oaks - with plantings done in the English style.  There are short staircases between the lawns that guide your pace as you take a pleasant walk.

It was a fine finish to our stay in Northeast Harbor and the Asticou.  It was a convincing argument for summering here in Maine on Mount Desert Island, but at last the time for us to go back to DC had come.

This is my final post in the Vacation 2016 series.  Soon enough - just as I had to get back to work at my day job, my posts here on the blog will return to status reports on the hop yards and the brewery in the works.  Those topics will be the basis of a busy July and August - so stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Last Hikes at Acadia

The Bass Harbor Head Light - view from the beach.
For our last day at Acadia, we decided to take a drive over to the west side of Mount Desert Island and put in a few more of the easy day hikes. Because the area was contested during the colonial era - the boundary of the French and English claims lay in the region, some features reference those struggles - the Man o' War trail is one of these, and it was something I wanted to check out.

We learned that Bass Harbor Head is also a small lighthouse on that side of the island, so we took that in, as well as a nice short hike along the seashore that we found by coincidence.

The pathway to view the lighthouse.
I decided to do a little bit of scrambling on the rocks down along the shoreline, looking for a good photography opportunity for the light.  To be honest, part of the reason for my scramble was to get away from another tourist on a cell phone, and a guy who was showing off for some of his family - quite loud, even over the sound of the surf.

Eventually I found a sheltered spot, and got my photo.  But there was also the treat of being able to hear a buoy nearby, once I got out of their voice range:

We had lunch after all that fun in the morning, and then drove around to find this Man o' War trail.  It's named for the fact that the colonial era fighting ships would send their crews ashore in the area to get drinking water.  That made for an interesting story to go check out.

We were still a bit sore from the climb along Champlain Ridge, so we decided to take a route to the little cascade that was the source of the colonial drinking water via a fire road.  It made things easier for us, since the circuitous, longer route featured a couple of hand-over-hand rock scrambles that we were not up for.

At the end of the fire road we found a little cascade tumbling over 10 feet or so.  Not much of a stream to speak of, but certainly there would have been something more to it after a rain.

The key to it all, standing there and having a look at it, was to imagine the challenges of going to sea that way and being on one of those ships for months at a time.  You weren't solely at the mercy of the environment during your voyage since at any time you might encounter the enemy and be blown out of the water in a battle.

That's a pretty intense way to live, even if you may not have signed on willingly.  I wonder how many modern Americans would be up for it.  That was good food for thought for the drive back to the hotel after the day's outing!

Monday, June 27, 2016

More Acadia Sites

The lovely shoreline at Thunder Hole.
One of the reasons we had bailed on the Champlain Ridge hike was due to the weather that seemed to be coming up.  The winds had picked up, and low-hanging gray clouds were moving in fast, so we were worried we might be caught on the trail in the rain, and headed in.

The rain never came in, but the wind was cold.  We got back to the car and decided to drive around the Acadia Loop Road and do some sightseeing as opportunities presented themselves.  We ended up making stops at Thunder Hole and Cadillac Mountain.

Thunder Hole is one of those spots on the shore where a canyon has been carved into the rocks, so that when the waves come in, and especially at tidal changes, you get amazing splashes and sound effects.  For the most part it was quiet during our visit there - which you can see in the iPhone video below:

It was mesmerizing, so we stayed and watched for a few minutes.  Other tourists came and went.  Once we got the hang of it, we ventured a little further down the trail to have a look at the grotto that was responsible for the splashes.  Here's a look from that angle:

Mary bundling up at the
Cadillac Mountain Summit.
Well, that didn't end well, as you can probably guess.  Now we were a bit wet - something we had tried to avoid by bailing on our hike.  But we still had an adventure left - Cadillac Mountain.

There is a road to the summit, with a parking area that reminded me of the one near Coit Tower in San Francisco.  I can imagine it being just as crowded on a summer day!

But we were there out of season, and the howling winds seemed to keep most of the tourist at bay.  We had a look around, seeking the summit - and were pointed in the wrong direction from the concession stand.  Wet and cold, we decided we were satisfied with "summiting the mountain" and headed back to the car.

When we arrived there, we saw some interpretive signs and other tourists nearby, and went to check that area out.  The views from this summit are worth the drive, or hike if you're up to it.

Apparently, Cadillac Mountain lays claim to being the first to see the light of day in the US for six months of the year.  That's the view you get - looking east across the bay to the ocean, which was gray and cold the day we went.

Still, the mountain is a must, and we had a good time up there checking it out - despite being wet from our visit at Thunder Hole!

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Champlain North Ridge Trail at Acadia National Park

As advertised, there were great views from the ridge.
After our cruise of the Cranberry Islands, topped off by lunch in Bar Harbor, I talked Mary into a second hike from the Best Easy Day Hikes - Acadia book.  Listed as a two mile hike that might take about two hours, it seemed within our capabilities, even though it was an ascent that would take us to the summit of Champlain Mountain.

The book describes the hike as follows:

"Enjoy expansive views from the summit of Champlain Mountain and all along the open ridge, the closest to the ocean of all of Acadia's ridges.  At times you'll see the contrast of fog rolling in over Frenchman Bay below and sun shining overhead, or storm clouds streaming in from the west as clear skies still prevail to the east."

An example of the Bates cairns at Acadia National Park.
We made our way up the trail, and it wasn't long before we began to note some interesting features:  the unique cairns that were established here to mark trails throughout the park, and wildflowers in bloom, including Colombine and Pink Lady Slippers.

The cairns have an interesting history.  Originally they were carefully designed by Waldron Bates and other locals on Mount Desert Island, who apparently felt they were stewards of the natural beauty of the place.  There's a link to an article here that provides a great overview of these features.

Pink Lady Slipper flowers at Acadia.

On the topic of wildflowers, I was particularly excited when we came upon this little group of Pink Lady Slippers.  It's a type of orchid that also blooms in Shenandoah National Park and the George Washington National Forest, where they even have an interpretive trail named after the flowers.  Try as I might, hiking extensively in April, May, and June, I have never managed to see one in Virginia - so it was a pleasant surprise to find them less than a quarter mile into our Champlain Mountain hike!

The trail follows rock ledges and forest trails on the way to the summit.  At times, it was a bit of a scramble, but no where near as difficult as Old Rag or Bear Fence in Shenandoah.  We made good time and found it easy going, for the most part.

Mary enjoying the hike - before the snake.
We did have two challenges on the trail, and at the end we weren't quite able to finish.

First, Mary ventured a little ways ahead of me and got out of sight.  It wasn't long before I heard a yell, "Snake!" - and there she was when I caught up.  I went to investigate to see a juvenile rat snake slithering calmly away - not an unfamiliar species, but a little surprising to see it here, on an island.

The second challenge happened further up the ridge. On this side of Mount Desert Island, the exposure is to the Atlantic, and the breezes were strong and cold.  During the afternoon clouds had been moving it, and it was getting cloudy and overcast, so when we emerged from one of the forest sections on the hike, we were suddenly cold and buffeted by some strong winds - enough for us to call it a day on this hike.

It had already been an adventuresome day, but we still had time to check out a few more sights before dinner.  We drove on around the park's loop road to Thunder Hole and Cadillac Mountain - and that's where my next post will pick up.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Shipping Out to the Cranberry Islands

As we left Northeast Harbor, there was a view of
the Asticou Inn, where we stayed.
We had planned to take a day cruise in Maine - we'd heard about whale watching and the potential of having a look at a year-round colony of puffins.  While we were in the park the first day we learned that the National Park Service offered a cruise to the Cranberry Islands, which are just offshore of the larger Mount Desert Island where Acadia National Park is.

Bear Island Light - an early sight on the NPS cruise.
The fare is a bargain, and even better for us, the boat left from Northeast Harbor, a location within sight of the Asticou Inn where we were staying.  There is also a regular ferry to the islands, including Little Cranberry Island, which is the one our trip went to - the NPS operates a small museum with interpretive displays about island life there.

Our boat was crewed by a knowledgeable ranger who had been leading this tour for a few years.  On our cruise out, we made our way to the furthest of the islands.  There was something noteworthy to mention all along the way, including the Bear Island Lighthouse.

A second point of interest out in the harbor is a simple day marker that is built on a low lying island, no more than a pile of rocks.  Our boat approached and took shelter in the lee of the island - it was quite windy and there was a good chop going for the duration of our trip.

The daymarker - seals are visible as points of light
on the right.

Just to the west of the marker there lay a colony of gray seals, which partially explained why we had kept our distance from the island.  Maybe 50 of the animals lay sunning themselves, none disturbed by the nearby boat.
Our boat turned for our port-of-call at Little Cranberry Island, but not before we passed the location of a few osprey nests, and may have actually spied a nestling or two in one of them.  Eventually we arrived at the island, which is also known as Isleford, for an hourlong walk.

That was enough time to check out the storage yards around the harbor - several of the residents are lobstermen, and there was an exhibit in the little museum about island life, including the fishermen that live here.

Lobster pots and buoys stored for the season.
As our guide explained, in the past there were as many as 100 islands off the coast of Maine that hosted year-round residents, but now there are only 15.  Three of the islands are located here, near the park, including Mount Desert Island, Big Cranberry, and Little Cranberry Island.  

That was where my thoughts focused during the walk around the island - not only the challenges of living there during modern times, but especially how challenging it must have been during the early settlements, or even as recently as the last 50 years or so.

More lobster pots and buoys in storage.

As we made our way back to the harbor, Mary and I stopped into a pottery shop there.  The proprietor explained that she summered on the island, staying there from June until August.  She was just opening for the season when we stopped in - for the rest of the year she lives in Boston.

The chop on the harbor had gotten a little worse than when we first set out.  It wasn't so bad on the boat when we were underway, although docking at Little Cranberry took a second attempt.  We also were treated to the arrival of the mail boat, and a ferry arrival of folks arriving for the season, unloading all their luggage and groceries there on the little dock.

On the way back, our trip took us into Somes Sound, a glacier carved harbor that is similar to a fjord.  We were treated to a philosophical discussion of the technical definition of a fjord based on the Norwegian topography, and the result that this body of water has been downgraded in recent years because it is a relatively tame example of one of these features.

Our cruise over, Mary and I headed over to Bar Harbor for lunch.  Our first choice wasn't open, so after a walk around town we selected an Italian place near the water.  We fueled up, looking forward to a short hike we had planned for the afternoon, which will be the topic of my next post.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Hiking the Jordan Pond Path at Acadia

I'm a fan of these "Best Easy Day Hikes" books, and we got the one for Acadia National Park to help us plan our visit.  Since the inn wasn't ready for our early arrival, Mary and I went to the park for an orientation drive, and ended up having lunch at the Jordan Pond House - with the pond there inviting us, we decided we might go ahead and take a hike around it.

Jordan Pond, with the Bubbles.
From the easy day hikes book, the introduction to this trail says:

"The hike offers expansive views of Jordan Pond, the Bubbles, and Jordan Cliffs... . The graded gravel path on the east side of the pond is particularly easy, and an amazing 4,000 feet of log bridges on the west side helps smooth the way for what would otherwise be a potentially wet, rocky, and root-filled trail."

According to the "Map My Hike" app, this hike is just a bit over 4 miles long, although the book claims it is only around 3 miles long.  Otherwise, there's nothing to complain about in the description - it makes for a fascinating hike, and if you don't have time to do anything else in the park, it provides a good overview of the experience.

Intrepid day hikers on the Jordan Pond trail.
The pond itself is remarkably pristine, so much so that it is used for drinking water.  It's clear enough that you could see the bottom in most places.  The granite rocks that litter the south and eastern shore are moraines, as we learned, and the other significant trace of the glacial age are the two small mountains at the northeast end of the lake - the Bubbles.

Granite talus and birches.
One of the geologic facts I've learned since our hike is the composition of the stone were were seeing.  There is a shist formation of ancient seafloor, and then three varieties of igneous rock, including the Cadillac Granite, which are the pinkish boulders seen in many of the photos.  These colorful rocks, juxtaposed against the stark which birches, were one of the highlights of the Jordan Pond hike for me.

As we continued around the lake we would experience several other terrains, including the 4,000 linear feet of the log bridges, which are highlighted in one of the accompanying photos.  We hadn't read about how long this part of the trail was before we got to it - and remarked about how much of this boardwalk there was as we made our way along.  It's 5/6 of a mile, quite a structure!

An example of the mountains in the park.

We were lucky with the timing of our visit to the park.  There weren't a lot of tourists yet - apparently, since the summer season is so short here things can get very crowded.  As it was, we encountered only a few other hiking parties during our walk - everybody just as much in awe of the sights as we were.

And at 4+ miles, this hike was plenty to work off the lobster stew and Popovers(!) that we had enjoyed for lunch at the Jordan Pond House.  Later we learned that Popovers(!) are also a feature of dinner at the Asticou Inn - so we ended up having more!  But at least we'd had an excellent introduction to Acadia National Park already, by the time we checked in to our room.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Arriving at Mount Desert Island

One of many streams we encountered on
Mount Desert Island.
Our destination for the vacation was Acadia National Park in Maine.  We'd heard a lot about the park, famous for its glacial landscape and natural setting along the cold northeastern coast.  As soon as we arrived, before we actually crossed the last bridge to the island, we could see the mountains as they began to rise in the distance, and we knew we were visiting a special place.

We later learned about the French explorer Samuel Champlain, who came to the island to explore it in 1604.  According to Wikipedia, the journal entry he wrote about his observations include giving it a name:

"Le sommet de la plus part d’icelles est desgarny d’arbres parceque ce ne sont que roches. Je l’ay nommée l’Isle des Monts-déserts."  In Engish, "The mountain summits are all bare and rocky. I name it Isles des Monts Desert."

In our part of the country, we call these features "balds" - the bare granite at the top of the mountains won't hold topsoil or allow anything but the hardiest of plants to gain purchase.

The Jordan Pond House in Acadia National
Park is famous for "Popovers(!)"
Of course there is a long pre-colonial history to the place.  There is evidence of human activity dating back at least 6,000 years, and like Yosemite, the geology of the place was shaped by glaciers during the Ice Age.  The Wikipedia article says the glaciers retreated about 25,000 years ago, leaving moraines and other rocky deposits behind - we encountered these on some of the trails we explored.

Our room at the Asticou Inn was not ready for us when we arrived, so we went over to Acadia National Park to get our bearings for some of the touring we planned.  Our destination was Jordan Pond, based on a couple of recommendations from co-workers and others familiar with the park.

To our surprise and delight, the restaurant there at the pond was open for lunch and could seat us right away.  We sat outside, and while the actual season hadn't started, the place was bustling, and there were already interpretive activities going on there - a basket weaving demonstration and a nature walk, among others.

The incredible view from our room at the Asticou Inn.
We were offered "Popovers(!)" to start the meal, and to our surprise, there was already fresh local produce available for the salads and sides.  We chose a light lunch including lobster stew (this would be the only lobster I had during the trip - I'm not a fan, and prefer fish) and salads.

After lunch, Mary and I decided to hike around Jordan Pond - that will be the topic of my next post.  When we finished that, we headed back to the Asticou to check in - and we were welcomed to our room with an incredible view of Northeast Harbor.

Over the next few days, that mesmerizing view would entertain us with views of boats coming and going, and the tidal changes.  The Inn and the little town were a great choice for basing our trip - it could be a place we come back to over and over again, as is the John Dougherty House in Mendocino, Ca.

Friday, June 17, 2016

New Hampshire and Maine Breweries Tour - Part 3 (final)

My flight at Stark Brewing Company.
Today’s post will wrap up the series on the breweries we visited during our vacation last week.  As she had in May 2014, when Mary and I last visited Northern California on our vacation, she indulged my desire to make random stops at breweries we encountered along the way.  The previous posts were about well-known brewers like Anheuser-Busch and Maine Beer Company; the three I’m writing about today fall within the brew pub category:  Stark Brewing in Manchester, NH; The Liberal Cup in Hallowell, ME; and Cambridge Brewing Company in Cambridge, MA.

Stark is located at the north end of the
old mill district.

These were definitely in the random stops category, opportunities for us to take a break from the driving portions of our trips and have a sit down, local lunch.  I’d rate them all a success on that basis.  It turns out they all had their unique take on the “local” aspect of it.

Stark Brewing Company was the first of these stops.  We took a walking tour of Manchester, which has a famous mill district that has been redeveloped into a mixed-use area downtown, and the brewery is there at the north end.  Opened in 1994, the brewery rebranded as Milly’s Tavern in 1999, and recently returned to the use of the old name.  They’re currently working on adding a distillery to the operation – the installation was underway when we made our stop.

We had a great visit and the current brewer gave us a tour of the place.  Afterwards, I got a flight to sample the beers while we had a nice lunch, and the owner and staff chatted with us a bit about the operation.  Soon enough, it was time for us to get on the road.

Street scene in Hallowell, MA, home
of The Liberal Cup.
After our visit to Acadia National Park, we got on the road back to Boston on Saturday so that we could catch our Sunday flight to DC.  Once we got far enough along, it was lunch time, and we did a quick Google search for nearby breweries, finding The Liberal Cup.  Our drive there took us past the Maine State House in Augusta, by surprise, and then we found ourselves in another quaint New England town, Hallowell, which is where the Liberal Cup is located.

Their goal since opening in 2000 has been to operate as a traditional pub, albeit one that happens to have a 7-barrel brewery down at the end of the bar.  They try to make sure that there are always six or seven beers on tap, and of course they offer the typically generous portions of pub grub, which was part of our objective.  I had another flight there, very surprised to find a couple of lagers mixed in with the ales and porters!

The final stop was at Cambridge Brewing Company.  We decided to take a walk out from the hotel we were staying at to visit some familiar haunts – Mary went to graduate school there and I’ve had a few consulting projects in the neighborhood.  Things have really grown up in the Kendall area, certainly driven by the economic engine that MIT provides, and this brewery has benefited as well.

It was the end of our trip, and it was a Saturday evening, things were just getting started when we were there, early evening.  Rather than lingering over a flight and dinner, we made a quick choice about what to eat, and then I had an IPA to go with my meal.

With these three visits, we had managed to tally five breweries in all during the Vacation 2016 tour.  We missed some good ones that truly would have been good stops – Allagash and Smuttynose are among the well-known names that come to mind.  Still, I’m quite happy to have been able to check in at three categories of breweries:  Mega-international, craft production, and brew pubs; and I sampled some really good beers during all of that.

I brought back some good ideas and observations that I hope we can make part of Hawksbill Brewing as we prepare to break ground on the leasehold improvements and order our brew kitchen.  All that will start soon – we’ve got a busy summer ahead!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

New Hampshire and Maine Breweries Tour - Part 2

In the tap room - beers on tap and the bar.
After our A-B tour, and a stop to visit friends in New Hampshire, we began making our way up to Acadia National Park, which was the ultimate destination for our vacation trip.  As I mentioned yesterday, Mary had agreed to indulge me on a few visits to breweries on the way, so I had set my sights on Maine Beer Company, in Freeport, Maine, as one of the stops.

When I first began homebrewing a few years ago, Maine Beer and Boulevard were among the earliest craft breweries my fellow enthusiasts introduced to me.  The emphasis on "craft" was most apparent with Maine Beer, embodied in one of the quotes on their web site:

No tours are offered, but the production brewery
is visible from the tap room.

"We told ourselves if we couldn't do things right then we wouldn't do them at all."

Boulevard, which I toured (link here) in Kansas City in December 2014, similarly demonstrates what you can do if you stay committed to your values and aspirations.

As a result, the experience at Maine Beer brewery emphasizes a number of sustainable features to the design of the building and production area - solar arrays for power, and interpretive signage to introduce and educate visitors about other green features in use.  For a consulting professional who works on real estate and facilities, like myself, these are all great features to see in practice.

This commitment and messaging continues with the beer.  There is a solid history on their web site about experimenting with hops - see this link; also here is a quote from that page that presents a  mission that any craft brewer could adopt:
Here's the flight I chose at Maine Beer
Company - four 5 oz. tulips.

"The Hop Program developed as a way to experiment with new hops and new hop combinations, and also incorporate different styles of beer.  It is important for us to keep learning and growing as a brewery, and the Hop Program allows us to do that.  Never standing still, and always moving forward are some of the goals we aim to accomplish through this series."

We can get Maine Beer in Virginia, and my local in Bethesda also offers the pint bottles.  Peeper, Lunch, and Mean Old Tom are some of the varieties I've sampled.  For my flight, I chose Peeper, Pilot 10, a tiny beautiful something, and Beer IV -  a couple of pale ales, a hoppy lager, and an IPA (Beer IV) from the Hop Program.

The beers were good, just as expected.  The crowd in the tap room was steady, but leaned a bit more on the hipster side than I might have liked, but I can't complain.  

Monday, June 13, 2016

New Hampshire and Maine Breweries Tour - Part 1

Fermentation vessels - there are four stories
of these!
Mash tuns and boil kettles.
Mary and I are just getting back from a week of vacation in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and  Maine.

While I am still getting the photos downloaded, I wanted to get started with a few blog posts from the trip - as we did during the 2014 vacation to Mendocino, Mary indulged me with a few brewery stops, so I'll start with those.  I already posted about seeing the Anheuser Busch Clydesdales, so why not begin with the brewery tour there in Merrimack, NH.

These are new ale fermemters to be installed
at the brewery.  The jacketed tanks are
stored upside down, pending construction.
Anyone who visits this brewery can get on a tour to see the high points, and I had done that before - actually this is one of two A-B breweries I've toured, the other one is in Tampa - but Mary and I decided to take an upgraded tour behind the scenes into the production areas.  But first let me detour into a personal history with Anheuser Busch.

As the team and I have been making progress on Hawksbill Brewing Company, I only recently remembered that one of my first job offers after I completed my undergrad was with Anheuser Busch.  The Tampa brewery is near USF, where I got my bachelor's degree, and I got a referral for a quality assurance spot there back in 1988.  I actually got an offer from them, and really considered taking the job, which included two cases of beer per month as part of the compensation - we learned that it's still a standard part of the package these days, too!

The A-B hops demonstration garden.
The job I took during that job search was with a government contracting firm based in Billerica, Massachusetts, not too far south from the Merrimack brewery.  During a two-week orientation trip I went up for a brewery tour on my free Sunday.  During our trip this time, I remembered how much things had changed - everything but the tasting room, that is, it was pretty much what I remembered!

One of the automation screens.
After a short overview of the history of the company (light on details of the current A-B Inbev situation, focused a bit more on the branding we Americans know so well), we went off on our tour of the plant.  They even suited Mary and me up in safety gear!

We visited the grain room, mash tuns, boil kettles, and fermentation spaces during the trip.  The vessels are typically in excess of 700 barrels, and this is a 24/7 operation, so they really go through the ingredients.  The grain bed in one of the mash tuns shown above is four-feet deep!

We also had a look at the control room and quality assurance areas.  As you can imagine, with a plant this size, there is a lot of automation.  I have a highlight photo here - there is also software that keeps an inventory of the hops on hand, and automatically compiles the hops bill for whichever recipe is being brewed on a given day.
One of the canning lines.
Part of the bottling line.

After we stopped in the fermentation room, we had a taste of Bud Light pulled right from one of the tanks.

We learned that the tanks we could see in the room were less than one quarter of all the ones in this brewery - the fermentation building is four stories tall, and each floor is essentially laid out the same way as the one we saw.

Our tour guide Katherine, along with the flight I sampled.
After all of that we checked out the bottling and canning lines.  I remembered that the team at Boulevard were particularly proud of their line, which was being upgraded when Eric and I visited.  I've also seen the line at Port City in Alexandria...but the scale of these two breweries doesn't hold a candle to what they had at A-B.  The operation stretched in both directions as far as the eye could see, bottles on one side, and cans on the other.

To close out the tour, we went down to the tasting room for some samples.  In addition to the A-B brews that everyone is very familiar with, there were some from the new acquisitions to be tried.  I selected their Red Bridge Gluten Free, Oculto (aged in Tequila casks), the Blue Point Summer Ale, and the Blue Point Blueberry Ale.

It was a good sample, and I was very impressed with the Gluten Free offering as well as the Blueberry Ale - given the scale of the brewery, it seemed that making a product like this wouldn't be economically feasible.  That's a discussion for another day, though: the impact of the craft beer industry and how this company is responding - remember that the Devil's Backbone acquisition is still fresh, and A-B was an early investor in Red Hook.

It would be easy for me, an aspiring craft brewery operator, to be negative about this company that is so dominant in the industry.  But that isn't the impression I was left with after the tour, and besides, I couldn't feel that way about them given the history and fond memories I have of them.  They have a key role to play in the beer industry, they're a true leader, even if you can't call them "craft" - and they do everything so well, there is a lot that we can learn from them.

I recommend the tour for anybody who happens to be in the area.  It's well worth the stop, and the upgrade is only $25 if you want to check out behind the scenes.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

We Like the Horsies

As I'm writing this, Mary and I are on a vacation in New England; and when this post goes up, we'll be enjoying a couple of days in Maine.  I'll have plenty of material for the blog when we get back, but I wanted to highlight one of the activities we enjoyed on our first day up here: visiting the Clydesdale Hamlet at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery in Merrimack, NH.

The hamlet is a short walk from the brewery itself, and all guests are invited to go over for a visit.  We were lucky that the main team was in the barn along with all of the "trainees," and as it turned out we saw a youngster (they can't join a hitch team until they are 4) paired up with another horse learning how to be a team.

There were a couple of noteworthy facts we learned while we were walking around the barn, and I've supplemented what we learned by reading the Wikipedia article about them here.

The breed is descended from Flemish draught horses, eventually winding up hauling coal and other draught uses in Scotland.  The horses have been modified further so that they are large and impressive - their appearance as a Budweiser brand ambassador is a good example of this.

"King" here, the gelding in the first photo, meets the Budweiser standards for their teams:  he is 6 -feet tall at the shoulder and weighs about 2,000 pounds.  He has distinctive while markings on his face and legs, a black main and tail, and is a bay color overall.  (They have a good page of info on the horses here.)

The Budweiser teams were originally a birthday gift to one of the senior Busch family members.  Coincidentally, the timing was the end of Prohibition in the US, and they hitched the horses up to a wagon to deliver the first post-Prohibition barrel of beer to the White House!  That makes for a great story!

As I mentioned, there'll be a few more posts about the vacation coming up.  For now, we're having a lovely time in Maine.  Catch you on the flip!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Visiting @MotherBunchBrew in Phoenix

Mary and I are on vacation this week, and while I hope to be able to make some posts to the blog from the road, I thought I might do a quick write-up about the brewery I visited a couple of weeks ago in Phoenix:  Mother Bunch Brewing Company.

The brewery is in an old grocery
(photos from their web page).
I was in town to participate in a trade show, giving a short talk and then networking in our trade show booth.  Back in 2003, I’d had a great project with Maricopa County that meant I traveled there three or four times for a week each trip, and I ended up at the same hotel as I used to go to back then – one of my favorite business hotels, in fact, although that is probably more due to familiarity than anything else, but it’s nice and the service was very good.

After we had packed up the booth, I had time on my hands, and as fate would have it, I was traveling with my trusty sidekick Eric (I posted about our trip to Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City here).  He had family in town and planned to meet them, but when they showed up we talked them into driving over to Mother Bunch.  It turns out they knew the place and were happy to accommodate.

Nice daylighting and an ample bar.
(Photo from their web page.)
Mother Bunch is one of the more interesting brewery names I’ve come across, and as it turns out, the name honors a local woman there.  They have a portrait hanging in the tasting room, but there’s not much about her to be found on the internet.  In addition to a 7-barrel nanobrewery, they have a full bar and a restaurant.

Since I had been sampling local IPAs for most of the week (Four Peaks and Sleepy Dog), I ordered their Saison de Peche, made with local seasonal peaches.  The other guys went with the IPAs.  I checked in on Facebook and also Untappd – there was an immediate “like” from the Facebook post, and we were soon invited back to the brew kitchen.

They were wrapping up a collaboration brew with BlastedBarley, another brewery in the area.   They used the visitor’s recipe on their system – I’m sorry I won’t have the chance to taste it.  After a quick visit in the back, Eric and I returned to the bar to finish our pours.  I had a second taster of the Grapefruit Wit.

A couple had joined the bar scene, by coincidence they were in town from Falls Church, VA.  We had a good visit, and I invited them to check out Hawksbill Brewing on Facebook, which they did (we’re still planning a fall 2016 opening, by the way).

All in all, we had a good time checking out Mother Bunch.  I really liked the Saison, we share an inspiration to use locally grown ingredients.  I had been wanting to try something with peaches in it, and Saison de Peche checked the box very well.

Now it’s off to Massachusetts, New Hamshire, and Maine.  Hopefully we will get a few brewery stops in on the trip.  We’ll see!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Hops Stringing - 2016 @hawksbillhops

 The growing season is underway at Hawksbill Hop Yards.  It's hard to believe that May is already done with, and here we are in June.  The bines are racing to the top of the trellis already - they'll grow vertically through the Solstice, and then they will begin branching sideways, eventually growing burs and then flowers, which we call cones.

This year David and I decided we might hire the crew from ShenPaco Industries to come out and help with stringing.  They were helpful during last year's harvest, and I'm told they really like to work at the hopyard.  I'm pretty grateful for all they do.

Here are a couple of links to posts showing the guys at work last year - they were out helping with some weeding during the growing season, and again at the harvest.


We'll have them back out in six weeks to 2 months from now, when it's harvest time.  They're great workers and it's always great to see them get into it at the farm.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Shenandoah National Park Views from Above and Below

 A few weeks back I found some time on Sunday morning to take my first trip of the spring up to Skyline Drive.  We were destined for our first sunny day in the 80's, so I thought I might find a view to look down at our lovely Valley.

I settled on Blackrock Summit, which is the southern peak of the little saddleback that hosts Big Meadows Lodge up in Shenandoah National Park.  They say you used to be able to see the lodge from the brick terrace at Hawksbill Cabin, but the trees have grown in now and it is obscured.

That's no problem - a view of the peak hangs over the road into the neighborhood, so I'm reminded of it's proximity nearly every time we visit the house.

As it turns out, the next weekend was the annual spring planting event at our neighbors' Wisteria Vineyard.  While I had some chores to take care of at Hawksbill Hop Yard, Mary wanted to go and work in the vineyard to plant some of the new vines, so I dropped her off and headed over to the farm.

Later, when I came by to pick her up, the group was socializing out in the vineyard, near a spot where there is a great view of Blackrock Summit and the lodge.  So I took a short walk over there and snapped a photo of it, enjoying the symmetry of the experience I'd had, visiting there last week to have a look down at the Valley, and now having a look up at the peak.

One final one - on the way to the summit that day, I stopped at the Pinnacles Overlook on Skyline Drive to take in another favorite view.  This one is of Old Rag, which stands off to the east of the drive.

These days we're keeping too busy to visit the Park as much as I'd like.  Instead, I'll treasure the short time I do get to spend there - and these photos will help me to do that.