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Thursday, February 23, 2012

The sublime art of beer appreciation

Here's a column I wrote for The Kansas City Star's Northland Neighborhood News. It ran on Wednesday, Feb. 22 and is reprinted with permission.

By David Knopf
Special to The Star

The fact that I’m not a beer drinker is a good thing. I’m not sure I could find room for another messy habit.
I do drink a beer now and then, but the timing has to be perfect. A hot, dusty bout with the lawn is a good bet, but not surefire.
Given my ambivalence, I’m not sure why I wandered into the beer section at the grocery store. It was around Christmas, I was off work and meandering, a pastime I do better than drink beer.
I proceeded to look for “The Three Stooges Beer” (Panther Brewing Co.), which I found a few years ago and have sought since. The beer was fine, but as someone said on “Beer Advocate,” an enthusiasts’ review site, who can complain about a beer with chowderheads on the label?
Not I, dear knuckleheads.
Nothing’s simple today. I didn’t count the micro-varieties, but I spent a half hour reading labels, laughing out loud and enjoying the artwork. The casual observer might’ve thought I’d had a six-pack in the car.
I immediately grasped that what’s on the label may be more important than what’s inside.
I jotted down a few quirky names. People get nervous when you start taking notes, so I told the fellow next to me that I planned on researching some new brands before buying. That seemed plausible since the modern generation takes its beer choices as seriously as wine aficionados take vineyards, vintages and yellow cardigan sweaters.
In the old days, you wouldn’t combine the words “beer” and “serious” in a sentence unless you said something like “seriously plastered,” or worse.
But things are more complicated now. Blue-collar labels such as Pabst Blue Ribbon and Schlitz have given way to Trout Slayer Wheat Ale (Big Sky Brewing Co., Missoula, Mont.) and Old Gollywobbler Brown (Sea Dog Brewing Co., “on the banks of the historic Penobscot River in downtown Bangor, Maine”).
Also noteworthy: Young’s Double Chocolate Stout (Bedford, England); Coney Island Freaktoberfest (Shmaltz Brewing Co., New York); Long Strange Tripel Ale (Boulevard Brewing, Kansas City); Blackened Voodoo Lager (New Orleans); Hebrew – “The Chosen Beer,” Messiah Bold (San Francisco); Git-R-Done Golden Lager (Pawnee City, Neb., “Revitalizing Rural America One Beer at a Time”); and a local brew, Drop Kick Ale – “The Beer that Kicks Back” (Weston Brewing Co.).
Research is fine, but you have to taste something to know if you like it. That’s why the store allows the beer connoisseur — in my day, clearly an oxymoron — to mix-and-match six-packs.
I’d like to taste some of these beers, but at almost nine bucks a pop for a six-pack, I’d feel compelled to finish something I didn’t like – or spit it out and feel guilty.
I was in St. Louis recently and made my first visit to Trader Joe’s, kind of a counter-culture grocery store. Sitting among the grocery’s entertaining displays of health food, fun food and beer singles were cans of Oranjeboom, a Dutch beer I last drank in 1969 on a student ship.
I hadn’t seen that brand of beer since, so nostalgic fool that I am I bought one. I drank it with a steak dinner, and that first sip was sublime … I mean, good. It wasn’t Three Stooges good, but how could it be without those chowderheads on the label?

David Knopf, a self-medicating caffeine addict, lives in the Northland and works for the Richmond News. He is the creator of and a songwriter. You can write him at Note: The Three Stooges Beer is sadly out of production.

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Low-rolling clouds to the west at sunset

I first noticed the low cloud bank along H Highway between Excelsior Springs and Liberty.
Quite an unusual cloud formation to the west at sunset Friday. I couldn't take my eyes off a long line of clouds that seemed to be nestled in a valley, as if between two hills or mountains. I've seen things like this during my early-morning commute to Ray County, but nothing similar on the way home. I wasn't sure at one point if what I was seeing was clouds settling close to the ground or smoke that collected from a fire. Given the length of the formation (see the smaller photo at the top, taken along H Highway between Excelsior Springs and Liberty, which only shows part of it) it would've had to have been a huge fire. Anyone have any physical explanation for why this would occur when it did? I've guessed that it may have something to do with condensation created by the differences in temperature in the sky and on the ground, but I have no idea if there's anything to that. In the bottom photo, you can clearly see how thick and low the clouds were. These photos were taken at Highway 152 and Church Road, near the Liberty Walmart.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Menu changes as silent majority silent no more on what it likes to eat

Not the use I intended for my microwave spaghetti and meatballs

In an effort to disseminate my embarrassment and slovenly ways to a wider audience, I'm copying the link below to a recent column of mine in The Kansas City Star's Neighborhood News. Moral of the story: keep your eye on the meatball(s).
Not the spaghetti and meatballs in question but you get the idea.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sunrise over the grain elevator and water tower in Orrick, Mo.

I usually do something with photos that come out of the camera, but this wasn't cropped, straightened, lightened, brightened, darkened etc. It was a vivid morning and I'm glad I pulled over to take a shot.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Flights of imagination in Ray and Clay counties -- all in a single day

I had a very strange day this week. The weather was unseasonably warm (one of the short-term benefits of global warming, i.e. Nero fiddling while Rome burns) and everyone was out playing. As is my wont (just wanted to use the word "wont", which gives Spell Check fits), I kept to my usual routine, which is only spiced up by thrift store visits, guitar playing and roadside photos. It was a big day for photos -- not necessarily works of art, mind you, but stimulating ones far out of the ordinary. What made the day unusual was the pattern of things related to flying, with or without feathered wings. The captions will explain the locations and circumstances, if that is their wont.

This isn't a Stealth Bomber doing a pre-game flyover, but a hawk crossing Highway 210 near Richmond. The hawk sensed me taking photos, left the top of a power pole and flew over the road.
I've written several times about the unshakable relationship between pigeons and the Richmond Square. This fella took off from the roof of the Methodist Church with unusual grace and good flying form. I was glad to get a shot. I think of pigeons as lovably chubby waddlers, not daring flyboys.
There are a few ultralight aircraft hangars on the south side of 210 Highway between Liberty and Missouri City. I'm fascinated by anything that flies, natural or man-made, so I'm always thrilled when the ultralights are out. As you can see below, there were several in the sky at once.
Not only were the ultralights flying, they were playful, almost like Canada geese making the most of the ability to counter gravity. These two  planes were either playing tag, buzzing the field or one was landing while the other was taking off.
Later, I picked up my son at school in Liberty. As we entered Beige Estates (our subdivision, motto: "Come join us and discover the infinite shades of tan, beige, taupe and mauve"), we saw two hot-air balloons floating between the homes. Isaac took a shot (with a camera), but when I got to Walmart to run an errand I saw one landing in the direction of Liberty Oaks Elementary School. I snapped a shot and that was it for a day that was clearly up, up and away.