Saturday, November 26, 2016

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Ales for the Holidays

Pictured above are the two ales we're tasting today.

On the left is Trader Joe's 2010 Vintage Ale.  Each year the popular grocery store chain commissions a new ale for the holidays.  This year's version is a Belgian style brown ale produced by Unibroue in Canada.

To the right is Zoetzuur, a Flemish sour ale. You've really got to have a taste for this type of Belgian ale. Letty does. She loves them and wishes they were more widely available here in the states. I don't. I'm trying to develop a taste but so far the varieties I've tried are either cloyingly sweet (like Framboise) or tastes like vinegar.
Watch the Video!

Zoetzuur is brewed by De Proefbrouweri in Lochristi-Hijfte, Belgium.  It's a small town near the Dutch border, north of Gent.  The ale clocks in at 7% alcohol and is served in a cork top bottle.  It's head foams up about an inch and has a lighter golden brown color.

For taste, it's a little off.  True, I'm not a sour ale afficiandao, but Letty is and she agrees.  There's a quick taste of, what I think of as, grape soda.  Letty does not taste that but we both agree that there's an off-smell and taste.  Kind of like a skunky beer but different.  Something that we went back and forth on as to what exactly it was.  We ended up agreeing that it is the smell and taste of a horse farm. 

At $10.99 for a 750 ml bottle, it's just not worth the price.  Letty is still looking for a good, sour ale that she can get on a regular basis.  Rodenbach is one of her favorites but hard to find and the Bruery supposedly makes one of the finest sours around but they ran out and it will be over a year (!) till their next batch is ready.

The Trader Joe's Vintage Ale 2010, on the other hand, continues the strong tradition of great ales released each holiday season.  It's a dark, dark beer but not heavy.  Extremely foamy like the time I used regular granulated sugar to ferment some homemade beer, the head grows very fast so you need to do a careful pour.

The taste is smooth, the ingredients very harmonious.  The bitterness just hits the back of your throat on it's way down the way a nice, cold Coke Classic does.  I like this beer quite a bit and at 9% alcohol content, it's no lightweight.  It's also a very good bargain at only $4.99 for a 750 ml corked bottle.  I'll be going back to buy a few more.



The Cocktail Hour: Trader Joe's Holiday Ale Tasting - 2013

It's time for our annual taste of Trader Joe's holiday ale. This year, I missed grabbing the usual holiday ale and got the second ale, the Belgian blonde instead.

Brewed each year for TJ's by Unibroue, the ales are corked and ageable.

Watch the Video!

The blonde this year is like a Leffe with a little more heft and carmelization.

Check out the video above for the full tasting.



Tuesday, November 22, 2016

ROUTE 66 - Southern California Roadhouses

There are great landmark restaurants along this stretch of highway that runs from San Bernardino County into Los Angeles.  Here are some of our favorites, going from East to West...

Photo courtesy of the Sycamore Inn

The Sycamore Inn, Rancho Cucamonga - Delicious and expensive steaks served in the classic style.  This place has been here since 1848.  I love the location, on a few wooded acres in the middle of suburban sprawl.  An inexpensive ($10-$15) menu is served on the veranda and in the bar if you don't want to go with the expensive, fancy dining room.

Photo courtesy of Flickr
Chuck "Cavman" Coker under CC BY-ND 3.0 license

The Magic Lamp, Rancho Cucamonga - Across the street, this rambling and quirky tile roofed building is stuck in the a good way.  The sign is a kitsch classic with the Aladdin lamp belching flames into the night sky.  Red leather and steaks are the order of the day but save some room for the delicious crab cake appetizer.  A lower priced pub menu is served in their bar, with couches arranged around a circular fireplace.

La Paloma, La Verne - Decent but uninspiring Mexican food in this adobe building.  Come instead for their lively and fun happy hour in the dark and cave-like bar...every day of the week!

Photo courtesy of Flickr
savemejebus under CC BY-SA 3.0 license

Pinnacle Peak, San Dimas - Cowboy steak house in Bill and Ted's hometown.  Suprisingly good, inexpensive, and very casual...most excellent, dude!  Be prepared to wait on busy weekend evenings and don't wear a tie!

Clubhouse 66, Glendora - A new roadhouse has opened up along the stretch of Route 66 in Glendora.  Very good, nice drinks and the best outdoor patio of the bunch.  While they've got great steaks, fish, and chicken, I really like their Tijuana Tacos appetizer.

Golden Spur, Glendora - Another good red leather steakhouse.  Not quite as good as the Sycamore Inn or Magic Lamp but they do have some great early bird specials.

The Hat, Glendora and Upland - Though, not technically roadhouses, historic locations or even fancy restaurants, The Hat is a southern California food landmark, starting from a still-standing greasy spoon stand in Alhambra in 1951, it has expanded in the last couple of decades into a mini-chain in the area.  Not to be missed are their juicy and messy pastrami dip sandwiches.  Be aware that a "small" order of fries here will feed a small family.  The burgers and chili here are also top-notch and a very good deal.

The Derby, Arcadia - Another installment of Route 66's high-end, expensive steak houses.  It is really good.  It was opened by Seabiscuit's jockey and contains a wealth of horse racing memorabilia due to it's location just down the street from Santa Anita racetrack. For The Derby on a budget, come in for their happy hour in the bar or for lunch.

Tops Burger, Pasadena - A year younger than The Hat, nevertheless Tops their web site says...a bit of an institution here.  Your basic Greek burger joint, the food here is good and inexpensive.  Worth a stop by itself is the incredibly delicious Kobe bistro burger.

Don't go hungry along the Mother Road...stop in at any of the places above and have a delicious bite of history.

Copyright 2010

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Cocktail Hour...Strange Brew - The Finale!

It's time to wrap up this trilogy. I made it my project to brew a batch of Belgian style dubbel ale.

Watch the Video!

I brewed and fermented it in Part 1.

I filtered and bottled it in Part 2.

Now it's time to see how I did. Tim joins me as we crack open a couple of bottles on New Year's Eve. It tasted very, very good but...

You'll need to watch the video to see how it turned out.


Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Cocktail Hour: Strange Brew - Part 2

In part 1, we brewed our Belgian Dubbel Ale.  It's been two weeks, fermentation is complete, and it's time to bottle.

Watch the Video!

We must transfer the completed beer into another tank, mainly to filter out the bits of dead yeast and other bits, and then it's just a matter of pouring into bottles, pressing caps on them, and waiting.

It'll take another couple of weeks of bottle aging and conditioning until it's ready to drink. At that time, Tim and I will taste test them for you. 


Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Classic Trip: Bavaria, Germany - 2009

Munich, Bavaria, Germany

Below is our newly re-edited video of this trip, Parts 1 and 2Part 2 should start immediately after Part 1 ends.  Click on the links in this paragraph if you'd like to watch them separately.

Watch The Video!

Previously...we were in France. In this, the second installment of the trip, we fly over the Alps to Munich.

First, let me say that Munich is the most accessible city I've ever found outside of America. It's even more accessible than many American cities, and that includes my hometown of Los Angeles. Railed transit goes everywhere here and it's all accessible to wheelchairs...granted in some of the larger stations it may take a little while to locate an elevator, but they're there. The only non-accessible transit we encountered is that some trams are not accessible but they seem to have a policy that if a non-accessible tram shows up, the next one (usually within 10 minutes) will be accessible. Munich is a wonderfully accessible city. In fact, it would be easily doable in a power chair.

An early morning flight from Nice has us at our hotel in Munich at 9:00 in the morning. There are two trains from the airport into town, the S-Bahn lines S1 and S8. Our hotel is the Vi Vadi which is one block north of the main train station, the Hauptbahnhof. The station is huge (larger than Grand Central) and it takes us a little while to find our way out and to get our bearings for the hotel.

Since it’s early morning, we are thinking we’ll drop off our luggage and sightsee until check in time. We are surprised to find our room is already ready so we go up and unpack. Again, it is pretty much step-free access (a small 2 inch step into the lobby is all there is) and we have a room with one bedroom, kitchen, tiny dining area, fold out couch and a loft with two beds. The bathroom is tiny and none too accessible but we are able to muscle are way around it with the shower chair provided by the hotel.

The room is very nice otherwise with three flat-screen TVs and a full breakfast provided each morning in the restaurant next door. The cost is $1000 for seven nights, or $200 each for the five of us.

Tim has said he wants to see the 1972 Olympic site and, specifically, go to the athletes village to pay his respects to the Israeli athletes who were taken hostage and murdered during those games.

It’s back to the train station, this time to the U-Bahn (U-Bahn is the local subway, the S-Bahn is more of a commuter system for the suburbs) where two trains and 15 minutes take you to the Olympic park station.

Israeli Athletes Quarters from 1972 Olympics

You need to know where you’re going if you want to visit the Israeli athletes accommodations…it is not advertised or encouraged at all. At the station, you walk towards the big, white apartment buildings and find the way for Connellystrasse. There’s a little mini-mall and different colored pipes lead you to different streets in the complex. These apartments were the Olympic village in 1972. The light blue pipe leads down Connellystrasse…watch for the ramps to lead you down to each level. The athletes were in the two apartments on the second floor of 31 Connellystrasse where a small memorial marks the spot and lists the names of the athletes who died.

On the day we were there, two fresh flower bouquets had been placed at the memorial. Later, we found out we’d happened onto the site and on the anniversary of the attack, September 5th.

Afterwards, we made our way back to the U-Bahn station via a little bakery run by a very nice lady at the above mentioned mini mall. We had some delicious donuts and strudel before continuing on.

On the other side of the station is the massive BMW factory. Adjacent to that is BMV Welt, a visitor’s center for all things BMW. Here, you can make arrangements to tour the factory, see the museum, browse all the BMW models on display, see their race cars, visit the gift shop, and…for some reason most fun of all…watch the people who travel here to pick up their new car right off the factory line.

There is a middle level where customers watch as their new car is brought up by elevator from the factory. Then it is driven onto a presentation turntable as the BMW people teach the new owners about their car. When done, they drive off down a massive ramp through the big public space.

After that, an exit out the back of the building leads to a pleasant walk to the Olympic stadium. You cross a bridge over the autobahn…the same bridge that led the athletes into the opening ceremony…and into the Olympic complex itself. It’s 2 Euros to go inside the stadium with its spider-web acrylic panels covering the stands. For an extra charge you can tour that roof…not accessible…and take a zip-line ride across to the other side.

Olympic Stadium

We left the stadium and a short walk later ended up at the Schwimhalle, the indoor pool where Mark Spitz won his then record of 7 gold medals. It is hot inside the pool area…like a sauna…so it felt very good to get out. These days, you can pay a small fee to go swimming and use the diving pool. The day we were there, the big pool was drained but the diving pool was more than big enough for the crowd.

Outside, the former Olympic area is now a rather large park where locals go to relax, have fun, and get some sunshine. There’s a nice lake loaded with swans, ducks, and geese; a large hill to climb; an even bigger tower to ride the elevator up to; and a walk of fame around the lake where celebrities have left their handprints and signatures in the cement, a la Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

Still having some time to kill, we walked back to the U-Bahn and caught a train back to the heart of town, Marienplatz. The elevator out of the station deposits you directly on the main plaza, saving you a lot of walking that you do at other stations.

Marienplatz is your typical, medieval style European town square with its many ornate buildings, churches, and street performers except this time, not much of it is ancient. Most of this area was bombed into oblivion during World War II and what you see is a very good recreation of what was here before. We’ll return to the plaza later in the trip, today we want to go to the local market, the Viktualienmarkt, located a couple of blocks away from the plaza behind Sankt Peter Kirche (Saint Peter’s Church).

The Viktualienmarkt

One of the great things to do in any European city is to explore the local market. Here, along with the usual produce stands are wine shops, cheese makers, butter dealers, sausage counters, flower shops, and more. The centerpiece is the biergarten (beer garden) sitting in the middle. Around 100 tables sit here. The few with table cloths are for service by the waitresses. The rest are open to anybody. Browse the market, pick up a picnic, and take a table. A couple of beer stands will be more than willing to quench your thirst.

Our first trip to a real German beer garden is initially intimidating…we are rookies on protocol…but we soon get the gist. A stand at one end sells food. We get some big red sausages, served with your choice of sauerkraut or roasted and pickled potatoes. We get one of each. You can also get the sausage served on a roll or with a pretzel. 

The beer stand next door has big mugs of cold brew on the counter. Take as many as you like, pay the guy on the way out, and make your way back to your table. Now eat, drink, and start talking to the friendly locals sitting around you.

It helps to at least have some basic phrases learned in the local language before you go, such as greetings, asking for directions, or ordering food. You’ll find that this breaks the ice and that once you open up, many Muncheners also speak English. They’re very friendly here in the beer garden and we have a great time hanging out with them.

We walk back to our hotel, taking in our first, major glimpses of the city before settling down for the night. It’s only a 10 minute walk back, or two stops on the underground.

The next day is depressing. There’s no way around it, but this is something that I think is necessary to do. Today is the day we go to Dachau.

It’s less than half an hour by S-Bahn to Dachau…which is a lovely little village…and then about a kilometer bus ride to the memorial which was Hitler’s first concentration camp, now a memorial to Nazi Germany’s victims.

Entrance is free but there is a charge for the audio tour. The entire site is wheelchair accessible save for the re-created barracks.

The infamous gate has those German words telling you your work would set you free. The big building by the entrance served as a processing center for newly arrived prisoners. Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and Catholic priests made up most of the population at this camp. It was not an extermination center like Auschwitz, but over 30,000 prisoners died here during its operation.

A graphic and brutal documentary starts off the tour (note – the museum is not recommended for children under 12 years old) and there is an eerie silence, although that is much more appreciated than it would be if smiling, laughing tourists were milling about.

It’s an overwhelming place, also noting that disabled people were also on the list of victims. A lot here is hard to stomach…

The barracks which held up to 5,000 prisoners each while only having 11 toilets installed; the “kill zone”…a strip of green grass before the fence where guards had free reign to shoot on sight; the wall where prisoners were executed by firing squad with a little ditch dug in front to catch the blood; the mass graves.

The worst, however, are the crematoria. First, a small building with two ovens for body disposal. When that proved unable to cope with the demand, a second larger facility was built next door.

The Ovens

A macabre assembly line, this building was made for prisoners to enter at one end, strip in the waiting room, lead into the “shower room”…a gas chamber, had the bodies stored in the next room before being burned in the new room with four ovens. Although it is claimed that the gas chamber was never used, some theorize that it had at least been tested because the Nazi authorities were assured that it worked. Nonetheless, all the other rooms in this facility were used…in fact overburdened…for their intended functions. There are still metal rings in the rafters where prisoners were hung before their bodies were fed to the flames.

Incongruously, the area around the camp is beautiful making the shock even more disturbing. Perhaps in an effort to cleanse the awful spirit of the camp, there are four religious chapels and a convent now on the grounds.

In need of some serious cheering up, we skipped the next train out that carried most of the hundreds of visitors in our group and stayed behind in the village for some coffee and dessert. It was quiet, the sweets delicious, and the friendly people of the café eased our disquiet somewhat over what we had just experienced.

Back in Munich, we have dinner at the Augustiner Kellar biergarden, which is a two-block walk from our hotel. Munich has around 400 beer gardens and halls and it is our intention to make a big as dent possible on this number!

The Augustiner, a few acres behind a stone wall, has both. The garden is like a nice park that happens to serve beer and food. There’s even a playground here.

The Augustiner Beer Garden

Snack stands are sprinkled around the periphery selling deli sandwiches, fish, roasted chicken, and more. The main area has a cafeteria-like setting of five stands where you grab a tray and take ‘em on, one at a time. The first stand has kuchen…German for cake. In this case, it’s much like a puffed pancake. If you’ve had fried dough, Indian fry bread, or elephant ears, this is similar except it seems there’s a yeast component that makes it fluff up. It’s exceedingly delicious and we found ourselves going back to this stand frequently.

Next, you can get those great, big German ham hocks with their delicious crackly skin and juicy meat; a variety of sausages; cheeses; salads; soft drinks; light beer; and then the last stand with the cold, Augustiner brew being poured out of a wooden keg into liter sized glasses. A basket of fresh, large pretzels completes the menu. This, and the Viktualienmarkt, turned out to be our favorite places to eat here.

Our hotel features a big, bountiful and hot breakfast buffet at their Italian restaurant next door. That’s one thing I like about German hotels, breakfast is almost always included in the rate..if you find a hotel that doesn’t, skip it and keep looking.

St. Peter's Cemetary, Salzburg Austria

We're heading down to the wire as we have another bountiful breakfast at the Vi Vadi Italian restaurant, which just happens to be attached to our nice Vi Vadi Hotel in Munich.

Well fed and rested up, we head over to the Hauptbanhof for our next adventure. We’re off for a day trip to Salzburg, Austria…home of Mozart and, perhaps better known as, the setting for the movie The Sound of Music.

The Train to Salzburg

The long train is at a far platform outside. Two cars, one at each end, are designated for wheelchairs. The closer one smells like the bathroom is leaking so we make the long trek to the other end where it is much nicer. It’s a 70 minute, very scenic ride.

We purchase Salzburg Card at the Tourist Information office at the Salzburg Hauptbanhof. This gets us admission to most sites along with rides on the public transportation. It’s a short bus ride from there to the old city. A note: most of the buses are accessible but no driver we saw would move a muscle to help.
Salzburg Cathedral

After the ride, we make our way to the Mozart Plaza near the main cathedral, which has a ramp for accessibility. Inside is a huge sanctuary filled with priceless artwork with four organs surrounding the altar. As Mozart was the organist here for two years, his fingers have graced those keys. A brass baptismal near the entrance is where the baby Wolfgang Amadeus was baptized.

Behind the cathedral is a large fountain that turns out to be a horse wash. Like today’s car washes, except horsemen would use it to wash their steeds. A ramp leads in to make it easy for the horse. Just up the alley is an accessible funicular that takes you to the Hohensalzburg, a great 900 year-old fortress on top of the hill. A large terrace here grants you superb views of the city below. This, and an adjacent restaurant, are all that is accessible here. Many stairs lead into the castle itself.
The Horsewash

Back at the bottom, around the corner and up another alley is St. Peter’s cemetery, an absolutely gorgeous burial ground with a monastery built into the hillside. This is where the Von Trapp family hid from the Nazis in the movie, although it was actually a set built to look like this cemetery. In one of the niches on the hillside is buried Mozart’s sister. Out the other end of the cemetery is the Felsenreitschule Theater, famous in the movie as the place where Captain Von Trapp sang Edelweiss. Tours are available but usually you cannot see the interior. A market dominates the next street before you get to the Getreiedegasse, the main shopping street.

Before you go on, there is an accessible restroom in the marketplace, ask one of the workers in the restaurant next door for the key. The last thing we see here is Mozart’s birthplace, which is not accessible. Back across the river is Mozart’s family house that is accessible but by the time we got here, we only had 15 minutes to see inside before closing. That’s ok because it was very hot in there.

On the way back to the station, we see Mirabelle gardens where the movie Maria Von Trapp taught the children how to sing…think “doe, a deer…a female deer…”

It’s a quick bus ride from here back to the station and then back to Munich.

In the morning, I pick up a station wagon from the Hertz desk at the Haupbanhof. The destination for today is Neuschwanstein, King Ludwig II’s fairy tale castle near the border of Austria. Think of Cinderella’s castle at Disneyland, it was modeled after this castle.
Tours for the disabled are offered at closing time (6pm) every Wednesday. Advance reservations are a must and the disabled guest gets a 1 Euro discount and an attendant goes along for free. Any extra people need to take the regular tour.

Since we have all day to get there, we hit the autobahn trying to make it to Lichtenstein for lunch.

Once outside of the city, the speed limits stop and we try to make a cruising speed of 100 miles per hour. Like back home, however, there is always some knucklehead that wants to jump in front of you in the left lane going fifty.

We do get a bit lost trying to find the right road to Vaduz and end up in a small town in Switzerland instead. We have a picnic lunch there before doubling back to Schwangau, home of Nueschwanstein.

Although I don’t like or understand the restrictions set in place for disabled visitors, one benefit is that disabled visitors are the only people allowed to drive their car up to the castle. We park within 10 feet of the meeting place for the disabled tour. Since three of us cannot go on that tour, the ticket office down below books us on the last mainstream tour of the day. My mom, finding out that there are over 300 stairs on the tour, volunteers to go on the step-free tour with Tim.

We wait in the castle courtyard for our appointed time, while Tim and my mom wait by the car.
Finally, our tour group is called and in we go.

Ludwig worked on this castle for two decades, bankrupting his country’s treasury in doing so. He had finished 6 rooms inside before he was declared insane and deposed. The next day, the former king and his psychiatrist were found floating face down in a lake. A few days after his death, the castle was opened to tourists and has been one of the top attractions in Bavaria ever since.
The half hour tour takes you through those six rooms. Imagine our surprise, after climbing all those stairs, to see Tim and my mom with their group in the first room.

Each room is lavish. The throne room has a golden brass chandelier with inlaid Bavarian glass jewels with an empty spot for the throne that was never delivered. A theater/ballroom leads to a faux cave, complete with stalagmites and stalagtites. In the king’s bedroom, a porcelain swan faucet pours water from a spring 150 feet up the mountainside.

The two tours are identical, with the exception that the normal tour also gets to see the kitchen and is routed through two(!) gift shops on the way out.

We get a bit lost on the way back and end up back in Munich well after dark.

Since we have the car till the end of the trip, the next day is another day trip, this time to the northern Italian town of Bolzano for lunch and to see Otzi.

It’s around a two hour drive on the autobahn...which turns into the autostrada in Italy...over the Brenner pass through the alps. Into the center of Bolzano, we turn into an underground car park and make our way to the central plaza where we dine on pasta, pizza, and shrimp.

A couple of blocks away is the Archaeological Museum and the home of Otzi. Back in 1991, a couple were hiking in the nearby mountains and saw a body at the edge of a melting glacier. The authorities were called, because it looked like an avalanche victim was uncovered by the spring thaw. The body was taken to the local examiner where it was discovered that this was actually a 5,300 year old body.

Today, the museum focuses on different types of mummies, with its main attraction being that 5,300 year old found in the mountains...Otzi.

There are many human and animal remains on display here with various types of mummification methods. It is completely wheelchair accessible and there is even an in-floor lift that raises you and your chair up so you can see into the vault where Otzi’s body is stored. If this all sounds a bit morbid, it’s not. It’s just another very interesting museum that lacks any sense of the macabre at all.

One more drive back to Munich, and one more chance to get lost, which we do when the autobahn ends and I can’t find a sign pointing us back to our neighborhood. A Best Western hotel is nearby and the desk clerk helpfully points me in the right direction.

Our last day is spent wandering again around the center of Munich, taking in the surfers and naked people of the Englisher Garden; spending another lunch hour in the beer garden of the Viktualienmarkt; seeing the devil’s footprint in the Frauenkirche (Munich’s cathedral and tallest building); the puppets of the Glockenspiel, and of course, having one more lingering dinner under the chestnut trees of the Augustinerkellar beer garden before going home.

Copyright 2009 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Cocktail Hour - Strange Brew, Part 1

Once in awhile, I like to really get into creating something to drink. I don't mean just trying to invent a new cocktail, although that is a lot of fun. I mean creating something from scratch, like a moonshiner.

Watch the Video!


No White Lightning for me, though.  This is a little more tame.  

Today, I'm making beer. This is the third batch I've ever made and I want to expand my horizon a little.  I've made a basic Pilsner and a Honey Ale in the past. Today, I'm going with a Belgian Dubbel Ale.

With a kit from Williams Brewing, a couple of five gallon tubs, and a few accessories, I'm ready to go.

First, boil the grain syrup from the kit and a pack of brewing sugar in 3 gallons of water for an hour. Add hops five minutes before the hour is up.

Once the mixture has cooled to room temperature, pour it into the fermenting tank. Add yeast, and let it ferment for a couple of weeks when we'll come back for bottling.

That's all a very simplistic explanation of the process that's covered in a bit more detail in the video above, which takes a 2 -hour process and compresses it to 5 minutes...take a look to see how we got the ball rolling on this batch.

If you're inspired to make your own, click the link below to get your own beer making kit.

See you in a couple of weeks for the conclusion to this report.  Cheers!

Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.