Standing still at the brewery

Just hanging out during a Thomas Hooker open house on June 5.
Just hanging out during a Thomas Hooker open house on June 5.

It’s be a fun month of book promotion, and not because I’m filling a swimming pool with cash from all my sales. It’s been fun because I’ve been able to be a solitary figure, oftentimes just silent and unobtrusive, observing people drinking and making merry.

Let me give you an example. It’s a busy Saturday afternoon at Shebeen Brewing in Wolcott. I’m set up in a large room with communal tables, sitting on a high stool behind a table filled with copies of my new book, “Connecticut Beer: A History of Nutmeg State Brewing” (The History Press). After trading niceties with owner Rich Visco and some staff members, I’m left with my wife to just… hang out. We’d just driven up from New Jersey, so after three hours in the car we’d already conversed all we’d need to for one day. A few nice folks stopped by the chat, but after a while it was just the two of us, sitting behind a big table, watching people drink.

In a way I felt like a judge, and sort of felt like I needed to rate the merriment. For the loud foursome playing Cards Against Humanity, I’d give an 8 out of 10… that one woman’s laugh dialed it down from a solid 9. The hippy couple bonding over samples of what appear to be the pale ale get a 6; they could use a little more animation.

In other scenarios, like at Overshores Brewing in East Haven, I’m off to the side with my little stack of books. During their anniversary party, I was privy to several conversations, including one about a gent who’s keen on starting up his own brewery. This is one I’ve heard before, but it never fails to excite me too. You get caught up in their energy and confidence.

Meet the author... at House of Books in Kent.
Meet the author… at House of Books in Kent.

Books stores and libraries have a different vibe. They’re much quieter of course, and even though the events I’ve taken part in include beer samples, they never get too rowdy. There, I’m the focus, as in “Meet the Author” (or sometimes, Stare Bemusedly at the Author). But I still get to surreptitiously listen in on broken bits of conversation. I think there’s something about being surrounded by books that puts people on their best behavior, and perhaps makes them feel like what they say needs to be “important.” I’d love for there to be more breweries with bookstores in them; reading and drinking are two things I love to pair.

At Thomas Hooker Brewing in Bloomfield I had a chance to observe a group of bearded guys enter into the most animated of conversations. They were part of the Connecticut Facial Hair Alliance, whose motto is, “Life’s too short to spend time shaving.” By quietly standing back and observing, I got to see a rookie bearded guy mistake (getting foam in your mustache) and a sly veteran’s trick (he brought his own straw for samples).

So if you see me at an event and I’m standing behind my pile of books looking out of it, I’m really just taking it all in.

The books have arrived

books in boxes

It looks like it’s going to be a busy week for me. Now that the advance copies of Connecticut Beer (The History Press) have arrived, it’s all so very real that I’ve reached another milestone in this journey. My plan is to lug these puppies all over the state looking for people with the good taste and foresight to purchase them.

The next step is promotion, and I’m looking forward to a fun night on Wednesday at City Steam Brewing. At 6 p.m. I’ll be signing books with Ron Page, the brewer there who also wrote the forward to the book. On Friday, I’ll be down in Branford, signing at their first-anniversary party, then on Saturday I’ll be in Wolcott, signing at Shebeen Brewing’s second anniversary party. I’ll be wrapping up the weekend on Sunday at the Thread City Brewfest in Willimantic.

Last week I had a chance to talk to Leeanne Griffin, who writes for the Hartford Courant and CT Now; it was a bit weird to be on the other side of the interview, but she’s a pro and I think it went well. Now I get to feel like my subjects do and wait for the story to hit the web and get inked.

Enough with the pumpkin beer, already!

There’s a time in every mild-mannered columnist’s life when the rage must bubble out.

I’m talking about frustration with something insidious, repellant and soul cracking. I’m talking about pumpkin beer.

Why pick on pumpkin beer? It’s the playful symbol of autumnal splendor! The nectar that introduces the casual beer drinker to exotic flavors! People are passionate about their pumpkin beers. They routinely stock up on Southern Tier Brewing Co.’s Pumking, a high-alcohol, rich and mildly spicy ale made with pureed pumpkin. Others celebrate Dogfish Head’s Punkin Ale, Shipyard’s Pumpkinhead Ale and Weyerbacher’s Imperial Pumpkin Ale.

I posit only this: we should stop buying so much pumpkin beer and encourage brewers to make better seasonal beers instead. I would rather drink a finely crafted porter that incorporates the spices we associate with pumpkin beer than the unappealing messes that most of these vegetable beers have become.

Reason 1: They either taste like a spice cabinet or not much of anything. Pumpkin meat, the gooey orange glop also known as Jack-o-Lantern brains, doesn’t really taste like anything. What we associate with pumpkin flavor is really pumpkin pie, which comes from spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. So when brewers try to translate this into beer, they use some form of pumpkin (sometimes roasted to bring out a little natural flavor) but a bunch of spices to complement the malt and hops. The result is either overly spiced or bland. Continue reading “Enough with the pumpkin beer, already!”