Sunday, August 29, 2010

BEERflections ~ Orlando and Back Again

As a beer ambassador passionately entrenched in the wonderful world of beer and burgundism, keeping the health and wealth in line is a given. There are lots of givens in life, but a given is not necessarily a guarantee or a promise kept. A given is an understanding left to the whimsical will of you and me to value and to actively prosper. And so it is with my life of beer and beer of life. It is here at these crossroads of indulgence and necessity that I balance my life’s work. Just as everything I do involves beer, so too does beer involve everything I do. Somewhere inbetween is where I have found that just because everything I do involves beer, that doesn’t mean that beer has to involve everything I do.

Got it? Good.

What may sound like a fantastical perversion of logic is actually a rather simple and beautiful truth. Promise firmly in check, it was with relished relaxation that this beer ambassador extraordinaire took off for a night of whimsical divergence in Orlando, Florida with my dear friend and beach bum buddy, Rob Callery. Not Robert or Bob, just Rob, a constant point of confusion for friends and family since there are quite a few Robs in my life, all of them different and all of them dear. But let’s not get sidetracked here. Instead let’s get sidetracked in Orlando, land of sun, water, gastropubs, Knightly Spirits, BJs, Redlight Redlight, and one metro hotel fountain.

At 10am sharp we hit the road, destination Orlando International Airport, to bid Cathie Callery adieu as she flew north and east to attend family matters. Since gallivanting around Orlando on a lovely Saturday is no fun with a party of one, Rob called on his girlfriend extraordinaire for a party of two which I gladly accepted. A twinkle mirrored in both our eyes signaled that good times where indeed here again. Though mornings and I don’t usually get along, when there are plans brewing, excitement override’s grogginess and in no time at all I was coffee-fueled, worked-out, cleaned-up, and raring to go. Utilizing my new spifferific green Sierra Nevada tote bag, the minor necessities were packed, loaded, and on the road again.

Once at the airport, we escorted Cathie to her security check-in before turning our attentions outside. Hitting the road once more with designs for a tasty brew, first and foremost we craved a relaxing cruise upon open waters. Specifically, we headed to downtown Winter Park, land of the rich and famously deceased, to broaden my native Floridian horizons. I love Florida; there is no other place I want to live. Having spent a good 30 of my 33 years in her warm embrace, her natural beauty resounds in my heart and soul. Rob shares my love for Florida, so as two peas in a pod we prepared to soak in the sunshine and sites. My first boat tour, it was a fun mix of bright-eyed wonder and cherished experience shared with a smidge of geekery for measure. Expecting a sauna, we were instead met with weather perfect and breeze refreshing as we lazed through the waters upon our pontoon tour boat.

As well as words have graced me over the years, putting elusive feelings to paper as the intangible becomes tangible, today I face a challenge of seemingly insurmountable awe. As my flip-flop clad feet wound down those sun-bleached steps to land upon the worn wood of their boathouse, a vision filled more than just my eyes. Gazing upon the stillness of her waters calm under blue skies and cotton puffs, something inside clicked, a grounding of self which until that very moment I hadn’t realized was lost. Misplaced no longer, my hearth was filled to overflowing so profound was the rightness of place and company. She was within me and around me, a luminance of greens, emeralds, browns, blues, and whites. In her stoic state of preservation, baby blues, little fish-big fish, and algae created a space outside of time. Doubts, worries, fears… all forms of human trivialities washed away under the soothing caress of water and wind. Ears keen to the gentle hum of Florida and Mother Nature, I felt alive and I felt life, not just my own, but my own within another.

In the embrace of native Florida, I noted man’s influence around us and wondered at the intrusive conundrum of bloated excess or unique addition. I cannot deny that there is a certain beauty to man’s creation just as there is to nature. At times there seemed to be a delicate balance of man’s intrusion unto nature and man’s desire to be a part of nature. Too much, too little or just about right? As impressive as many of the multi-million dollar homes were, some old some new, my inspiration was in the expansive greenery and waters surrounding me in a seemingly Zen state of being. Beneath skies blue and tufts white, the richness within was immeasurable and everlasting. Though our tour ride was but one hour within a lifetime of hours, there was never a sense of urgency. Time was not forgotten, time just was. Feet touching land once more, a little piece of me was left behind just as a little piece of she was left with me. Two hearts - One memory.

Farewells exchanged, Rob and I set out to quench our sunny thirst at The Ravenous Pig, an American gastropub of rumored excellence. During our ride there, Rob and I discussed how a tasty brew in hand would have pushed the already awe-inspiring boat tour into unmatched epicness. I still hold this to be true, but as I ponder what beer means to me and what Florida means to me… Maybe it’s not a matter of better or epic but of rightness. Life is beer and beer is life. They are one and the same. They are separate and unique. My Florida is equally beautiful on her own and equally beautiful with a soulful brew in hand, a natural fit and a natural moment of being. I doubt crafty brews and the Winter Park Lake Tours will ever come to fruition and that’s okay. The Ravenous Pig was there to answer our thirsty call with a Smuttynose Big A IPA and Cigar City Maduro for myself and a Smuttynose Big A IPA and Left Hand Sawtooth ESB for Rob.

Speaking of The Pig, I had heard rumblings of a slightly pricey menu, rumblings unfounded as I perused their fantastic menu of tasty proportions. Let me diverge for a moment here. When a gastropub offers uniquely hand-crafted artisanal foods at prices averaging $12 with the a few in the higher teens and even fewer in the roaring twenties, I feel zero financial remorse. Burgundian first, cheapskate second. Drooling over their menu, Rob and I simply savored our tasty brews while the staff prepared to change over from lunch to dinner. Another time Monsieur Pig, another time for I am sure to not resist your siren’s call. And why should I? Chain mentality need not apply here. Just like the quality and standards of the artisanal beer we know, love, appreciate, and share, so too for artisanal food prepared with quality, individuality, and heart. Tis not a packaged meal The Pig is offering you and me, it is hand-crafted one-of-a-kind foods, atmosphere, service, and memories. That my fellow peeps and peepettes is what it means to be burgundian.

Tending to the taps and spirits that afternoon was Larry, the bar manager. I personally enjoyed talking with one of the gents whose unique person goes into making The Pig who she is. My Big A IPA from Smuttynose was fantastically bitter and refreshing at the same time. As chilled as draft can and will be, she nonetheless took no time in warming up just enough to truly showcase her aromas and flavors in spite of the chilled Dogfish Head chalice she came to rest before me in. A little surprised and a little disappointed, I nonetheless let it slide for now but the mental note has been made for my next Ravenous Pig adventure. Curse you frosted chalice of beer recipience! Give me room temperature or give me a wine glass, at least they don’t chill those. A chilled wine glass?! Abominable! Well, so too for proper beer glasses.

Scornful digression aside, I basked in the cozy ambiance, surrounded by rich woods and earthen tones oozing old class and new flare. I’d also like to note that for the first time ever thine eyes spied upon their cocktail menu that vintage classic, the Sazarac. Amen, hallelujah, and peanut butter! Not just a beer geek (though the bubbly brew reigns supreme) but a cocktail and spirits aficionado too, I appreciated the well chosen attentions paid to their bourbon, single-malt, gin, vodka, and specialty liquor selections. They even had bitters! Not the Angostura or Peychaud variety but real honest to goodness aperitif bitters of French and Italian designs. A love em or leave em passion, for those in the know they are a fantastic fascination.

To all good meetings there must also come partings, and so we bid adieu and departed with hotel and dinner destinations calling. We made it to the hotel eventually, but somewhere along the way we got happily side-tracked by a quaint if not seemingly misplaced English-style pub, The Cricketers Arms. Hidden within a generic strip mall, all outside disturbances disappeared as I stepped into a wee smidge of merry ol’ England awash in wood tones and low lighting. Ogling the hand-pumps, we scooted up to the bar where I ordered a Shipyard Old Thumper and Rob a Fullers ESB. Feeling the pangs of hunger unanswered, a side of Banger Sliders and Black & Tan Onion Rings were in the works. While relaxing at the Cricketers Arms, I added to my collection of beery self-portraits to mixed personal results. I finally managed one nice close-up while Rob snapped a dashing profile of the biggest grin ever unmustered. That’s right, unmustered. I was in vacation paradise with beer in hand and smashing company. Magnifique. Dashing profiles aside, our pub grub arrived to hungry hands. The onion rings were crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, and generously infused with her black & tan beery battered fried awesomeness. The Bangers Sliders was served to us as a sandwich at the sharp recommendation of our bartender along with a side of dipping gravy to end all dipping gravies. You could have just given me a bowl of that with a spoon, maybe a roll for dipping, maybe not, and I would have been an equally happy camper. I now understand why Rob and Cathie make it a regular habit to stop in whenever Orlando beckons. Thanks for sharing and consider me converted!

Sated, we left the Cricketers Arms for one more detour to the renowned and newly relocated Knightly Spirits where much to my pleasant surprise, Alan of RateBeer fame was working. If you consider yourself a beer hunter, be sure to stop in Knightly Spirits while in Orlando, Alan or no Alan, for their beer selection will not disappoint and if you are a spirits aficionado as I am, then it is a double must. Any store with good beer (and good spirits) is a dangerous venture for yours beerly of a limited budget. But I persevered and triumphed, bringing home four bottles: Harvieston Ola Dubh 12yr, Meantime Coffee Porter, Haand Bryggeriet Norwegian Wood, and Weyerbacher Zotten Belgian-style Pale Ale. After all, I still had dinner and beers at Redlight Redlight to consider. Cruising their aisles of beer, Rob and I picked out a choice selection of rare and unique beers currently unavailable in the Treasure Coast. With a cart full of beery treasures, we checked out and loaded up. Thanks for everything Alan. You rock!

Honorably knighted, we finally made our way to the Crowne Plaza that Rob booked using his Priceline savvy. Checked in and freshened up, we hit the road once more for dinner at BJs Restaurant and Brewhouse, another favorite Orlando staple of Rob’s. A brewpub of reasonable measure, I opted to simply enjoy the brews despite the ever-ready presence of my tasting book. Twas a time to drink and taste, not taste and drink, and so I did something rare and unusual when presented with a plethora of un-tasted beers: abscond pen and paper.

Tasting notes notwithstanding, I can tell you what I started with, relaxed in the middle with, and finished with. In that order I savored a Lindeman’s Framboise (sate my sweet and sour tooth), a Wild Turkey 101 on the rocks (sate my bourbon craving), and a Tatonka Stout (sate my BJs thirst). For foodage, Rob and I shared a mini Mediterranean Pizza while I ordered the Thai shrimp lettuce wraps and Rob the Derek’s famous meatloaf dinner. Chowing down, we chatted amongst ourselves while people watching to our heart’s content. People watching is fun. Know it. Do it. Just be sure not to stare otherwise your fun may not be so much. People watching can also include the staff, not just the patrons, so I found it endearingly cute when our waiter introduced the house beers. Starting with their summer seasonal, the Lightswitch Lager, he likened it to the purportedly gravity-defying Bud Select 55 at which point Rob and I burst out laughing. Not meaning to be rude, we just couldn’t help ourselves and so through hearty chortles, we informed our kind young waiter he could skip the light offerings and go straight to the fuller bodied and fuller flavored beers. I’d like to think we saved him some work and some time in the process. After all, it helps knowing what you want. The important step after that is to not be afraid or ashamed to ask for it, demand it if necessary. The market exists for us. We do not exist for the market. Just please try not to be an unreasonably arrogant ass in the process.

Belly full and thirsting to go, we descended unto an undisclosed district in search of that vaunted bar of scintillation and righteous indulgence: Redlight Redlight, a beer geek’s oasis and the love-child of Brent. Since really good beer can be a bit like a woman; nice to look at, tender to hold, lustful to taste, the name is somehow quaintly appropriate. Literally a dive inbetween somewhere and nowhere, as my feet crossed her threshold I abandoned my previous nonchalance and once more embraced the beer ambassador within. For the rest of my night, everything I did involved beer and everything beer involved what I did.

Abuzz with well established merriment, we first poked around her small spacious confines before separating at the bar to see who could get a beer request in first. The two main peeps we saw behind the bar were Brent and a cute-as-a-button lady assistant. I never did get her name (or I forgot…which is more likely), but between the two we were in good hands. Space was given when needed and attention was given when needed. People skills and bartending go hand-in-hand, and they were in high form that night. After Rob’s beer of choice, I moved us onto what could possibly be the sour to top all sours. Her name was Cantillon Bruocsella 1900 Grand Cru, a 3 year old unblended Lambic. Art never tasted so good. Slowly savoring our heavenly sour we watched a constant ebb and flow of beer geeks and geekettes mingling merrily. What Matt has given life to and nurtured isn’t just a bar. Redlight Redlight is a social phenomenon wrapped up in the cozy warmth of community.
A moment unto herself.
Time untended.
If politicians bellowed less and drank more good beer, I wonder what the world would be like… If we were all so lucky, maybe a little bit like what Redlight Redlight lives and gives.

But I digress, again, and most certainly not into the nauseating pit of politics. No, this journey started with the beauty of Nature and shall end with the bounty of Nature as nurtured by Man and Woman: beer. Our last glass savored was the Mocha Cubano from Cigar City Brewing out of Tampa, Florida. Not only does Florida know how to rock the beer drinking community culture, so too do we know how to rock the beer brewing community culture. Cigar City is the latest and greatest and to be sure, she won’t be the last. Feel that buzz? It’s not just the beer talking to you. That is the synergy of positive change and we are here right now a part of it and should we be so lucky, so too will we be a part of it long into an infinite number of tomorrows.

Arriving once more at our hotel, I satisfied my midnight munchies with Thai shrimp lettuce wrap leftovers before crawling under the covers and into sleep. No alarms. No rush. I woke up when I woke up which was around 9amish. Cracking an unwilling eyelid to take in the blur of my surroundings, I rolled over to find Rob lounging awake in his bed. Morning person whereas I am not, it wasn’t much of a surprise. Grunting, snorting, sniffling, hacking, and sneezing my way through the morning wakies, I shuffled downstairs for the giver of life and limb, coffee. Settling back in bed, cup of coffee in one hand, another on the nightstand, and morning schlock scrolling across the TV screen, Kristyn Lier began the morning process. It may not necessarily be pretty, but it is what it is.

Eventually booking it out around 11amish, we hit the road with destination Vero Beach on the horizon. Cruising to the island tunes of station Margaritaville on Rob’s XM/Sirius Radio, we made it home to Vero safe, sound, and soulfully whole. Thank you Cathie for letting me bogart your husband for the day. Thank you Rob for the generous pleasure of your company. Thank you Orlando for all that you had to offer in your vast treasure chest of burgundian pleasures. Thank you Florida for the much appreciated soul-alignment. In life as in beer…in beer as in life…cheers!

(an original written work by Kristyn Lier. plagiarism is not tolerated)

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