Barley Forge Brewing

Next up on my L.A. brewery expedition was Barley Forge.  This one wasn’t on my radar until one of the two guys I met at Beachwood recommended it.  And… it was mere minutes from my motel after a tiring day.  It’s funny how they refer to themselves as Costa Mesa’s “first production brewery.”  Looking around all of L.A. and Orange County, an overhead observer might conclude that it was one one large concrete tract, occasionally broken up with unsightly brown hills and otherwise decorated with occasional tree planters in the inhabited area.  I guess many many years ago there were little towns, but it all blends together with clogged arteries.  In any case, their move here reflects a growing trend that every community ought to have its own brewery.  For metro cities, a brewery in the next town over doesn’t count.  They’re located in a quaint light industrial area, where only those who go looking will find them.

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Barley Forge doesn’t rate on Beer Advocate.  They have only 13 beers and only four have received three or more reviews.  They advertise Belgian, West Coast and German style beers.  I tried four (but technically five).  Left to right we have The Patsy, a Coconut Rye Stout which had been recommended but wasn’t to my taste, The Black Dahlia, a 11% ABV dark Belgian, which surprised with a little spice in a medium body, Future Tripping Double IPA which I would have bet would have been my favorite (and won), and two versions of the Orange Curtain, a orange and grapefruit tasting pale ale, one version straight and the other supplemented with nitrogen (not shown), neither of which worked for me. 

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Don’t worry, folks, I drank these from right to left.  You never start with the dark ones if you want to taste the light ones.  The brewery is fairly new and already reaching for a variety of styles and, I’d say, are quickly following through with good substance as well. I was disappointed that their One Louder IPA wasn’t on tap that night.  But, as you can see below, big dreams start small.  Surprisingly, they also have a limited food menu, which I discovered… after dinner.

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I didn’t sample the Don Perfecto, but I’m a sucker for robots.  In any case, it’s a great brewery for Costa Mesa.  At roughly one year old, they’re doing well.  We’ll see if their creativity continues to compete with some very tough general area competition.

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Beachwood Brewing (and BBQ)

Before my visit to L.A., I did my research.  Given the opportunity to visit some West Coast breweries, which should I choose?  Thus, Beer Advocate to the rescue, with related grades for breweries and their beers.  Located somewhat between where I was and where I was going, was Beachwood Brewing, located in a very commercial area of Long Beach.  It rates a very impressive 99%.  Please note the fresh California rain, a rarity in July.

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And… this also where I note that I failed to actually take any pictures of the sampled beers.  For one, beer “flights” aren’t necessarily photogenic.  Secondly, I had been at the beach and was thirsty, so it didn’t occur to me until later.  And, thirdly, there was good company at the bar.  Oh, and many options.

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This is also a restaurant, and I’m pleased to say that the BBQ, while a pale imitation of southern BBQ, was suitable, and on relative scales, their beer was even better.

The lineup included the LBC IPA (drinkable, but ordinary), Amalgamator American IPA (an improvement – 93 rating), Hop Jitsu American IPA (a step up in the right direction), Hop Ninja Double IPA (yet another step forward – 91 rating), Denver Jackhammer Double IPA (a leap in the right direction) and Beer of the Dragon Double Red Ale (the surprise of the bunch).  The ones listed without ratings are apparently rather new and with limited availability, exactly the type of experience for which a craft beer lover hopes.  All of this means little to non-beer drinkers, but for each of the styles, these were overall an excellent set.  The Red Ale surprised as it had the hops I liked but also balanced with malts.  For a 9.6% ABV drink, it’s surprisingly easy to enjoy.  It’s a good thing I was doing samples, as all of these were 7% and higher.

Behind the bar was this contraption, which they’ve apparently sold to other breweries.  It allows them to individually pressurize kegs remotely.  Patent pending, I’d guess.

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Otherwise, the visit was notable for two other guys, one from Utah and one from Lilburn, GA, another suburb of Atlanta.  Both were in town on business and were no strangers to craft beer.  We made plans to meet later in the week at another brewery, which is another post!  I managed to bring home a bottle of their Hopernicus IPA, as yet untasted (and unrated).  Given the opportunity and even with other breweries to try, I’d revisit Beachwood happily.  They have other less hoppy beers left untried.

An Afternoon at Venice Beach

Given a part of a day in the Greater L.A. area… what to do, what to do?  Studio tours, Griffith Observatory, La Brea Tar Pits, Getty Museum, Walk of Fame, Museum of Jurassic Technology…  Well, I wanted to put a toe in the Pacific.  So, then… which beach?  When I later told another employee where I went, he called it an “Old School beach.”  In other words, exactly what I was looking for. 

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84o, no particular breeze, “high” humidity in the 50% range.  Perfect.  So, if viewing from the ocean, there’s the beach, a biking path, and a Boardwalk lined with shops and barkers, we’ll politely call them.  Oh, and hordes of people from all walks of life.  The beach… may as well be play sand.  There were surfboarders and a lot of people lying around and talking like beach people do.  No Frisbees or footballs in evidence.  In any case, here’s a beefcake shot for the ladies out there or fans of Baywatch.

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The lifeguard shacks are placed about every 100 yards along the beach.  Moving inland, there’s a couple hundred yards of beach, then the path.  These are used by bicyclists, skateboarders, roller bladers, roller skaters, Razor scooters, and wheelchairs even.  There’s a steady flow.  And why not?  It’s flat, and there’s plenty to look at… including frequent curves in the path.

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This wasn’t the first person I saw looking at a phone while on a bike.  You might think she was texting, but I’m pretty sure she was taking a selfie.  California ought to pass a law about that…

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Along the main walkway, we have stores for about everything.  If you click on the pictures to expand them, you might be further amused.  There’s everything from T-shirts to vape shops to T-shirts to vape shops… yeah.

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They also have a freak show.  And people were lining up, so it must be really freaky.

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Why?  Because there’s plenty to see just walking around.

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That guy just wouldn’t cut the “I’ll kill you if you look at me” crowd back East.  There’s just all sorts, from race, gender, and individualized styling choices.  Unlike, say, in an Atlanta mall or a park, though, they don’t stick to like kinds.  It’s kind of neat that way.

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There’s also people selling stuff or some form of self-expression.  This guy keeps a fair beat and otherwise makes a noise through the tube.  What he has going for him is the whole “blocking of the walking path to gain attention” thing.  His tip basket was fuller than most.

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The guy below…well, pretty good, actually, as beachside artists go.  There were definitely some who were far worse.

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This guy… I’m not sure what he was about.  He got his pet out of the car, startled some people walking by, let a boy pose with Sally, we’ll call her, then stepped over to buy some lunch.  Go figure.  Just another day at Venice Beach.

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Further on down, we have a guy playing guitar on skates, with a battery powered amp on his back, looking for poses and tips.  Check out those wheels.

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The beach has areas designated for other activities as well, including basketball courts, paddle tennis (?) courts, volleyball, and a skating/skateboarder complex.  If you just want to groove, you don’t necessarily have to have skates.

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Oh, and there’s Muscle Beach.  The only iron in evidence was iron oxide, however.

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As might be gathered by the sky in the picture above, I happened to visit the area during a surprise Monsoon.  The 0.36” of rain the prior day exceeded the State record  for a July rainfall going all the way back to 1886.  Other parts of L.A. suffered flash floods while I was there.  Why?  Because it’s all concrete or packed sand which may as well be concrete.  If it rains and you’re standing next to a drain, watch out.  In any case, I never made it to their pier, instead quickly venturing to the faux Venice canals, which the original designer of the beach intended for the area.  They’re only a a couple blocks off the Boardwalk, which is no big deal unless, of course, you’re walking in the rain with a camera (how was I to know a bank of dark clouds only dropped a freaking quarter inch of rain?  In Atlanta, the same clouds would have dropped an inch before starting to really rain.  The houses and canals are actually pretty dang cool.  And photogenic.   There’s only four rows of canals, which are connected by a loop.  I saw… half of one of them.

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I found two listings for homes on the Canals for sale.  $2.5M and $3.5M.  Other tiny bungalows in the area are generally $1M plus.  An example?  2BR, 1BA, 960sq.ft…. $1.5M.  But it’s an original Craftsman bungalow, and remodeled.  So that’s actually cheap.  Right?

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Among many other things which humored me, this was worth a quick stop in my  hurry to the car… which kept me dry as I settled into the traffic jam of former beach goers.

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I took lots more pictures, and they can be seen at THIS LINK.  Go ahead.  You know you want to.

My Morning Jacket –The Waterfall

I really need to control my impulses to buy CDs, especially with this band.  I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed one of their releases since Z, and that was released 10 years ago.  Overall, the band, essentially Jim James, has good vocals, good music, a heavy play of reverb on both guitars and vocals that create their vibe, and a willingness to take chances.  Unfortunately, those chances fail a little too often leaving choice cuts from album to album.

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This release is more introspective, a calling to nature (amid ample references to rivers) for reflection of spiritual considerations and broken relationships.  It’s not a happy album, and musically, there’s only a few songs that, after digestion, you might want to hear again.  “Believe,” the opener, is one of those, likely to be a big favorite in concert, but… not so much on headphones.  It’s a good song, but one for the show.   There’s a nod to Fleet Foxes pastoral tones and harmonies on the album as well.  The best of these is “Thin Line,” despite the emotional hand wringing, “it’s a thin line between lovin and wasting my time.”   Too often, though, the stretched falsettos, lack of a clearer narrative and awkward phrasings render the songs as (professionally recorded) personal musings, likely only of interest to those in a similar place in life.

“Big Decisions” is the boldest musical statement as far as a heavy beat and electric guitars, though it pales against much of the band’s other work.   “Tropics” features a beautiful acoustic guitar intro, and, as it suggests a drug induced transcendentalism, both music and lyric are likely to be popular in concert.  “Only Memories Remain” is a suitable closer, an ode to trying to leave the baggage behind and finding solace in what you can. 

That said, the Bonus version of the album has two of my favorite tracks, “Hillside Song” and “I Can’t Wait.” 

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Orpheus Brewing

Orpheus Brewing is a newcomer to the Atlanta market at 13 months of operation, and on the strength of their Transmutation of the Souls IPA, I thought it was worth a visit.

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Located almost adjacent to Piedmont Park, it’s accessible via the Beltline trail system, but, despite a nice multilevel deck to the rear, it doesn’t really offer a view.  And, on those days when the heat and humidity inside the brewery make it uncomfortable, this sunny gathering area fails to provide much relief or a view.  On other days, it’s probably pretty nice.  But on the day it mattered, environmentally, it was a pretty miserable day for a brewery tour for myself and my friends.

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And, here was the lineup for the day:

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Let’s see… tart, sour, sour, Saison, DIPA, IPA and a stout.  That’s probablyl not the product mix of the vast majority of breweries, and for chasing the edges of consumer preferences, they should be commended.  But as for my group of 8 adventurers, we’ll look elsewhere.  I’ll say that I do like their DIPA very much and wouldn’t hesitate to order it in a restaurant.  The stout was fine, and the rest was a miss.  And… I’m the one who liked it the most.

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The production facility is limited in size and capacity, as expected for a brewery that expects to operate in the 3500 to 6000 barrel/year range.  The tour was fairly limited as a result, but that’s okay.  It was informative both for their origin and (sour) vision.

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They had numerous barrels, from a variety of sources.  Some will become a Russian Imperial Stout, but most are for the sour beers.  The small plastic plugs at the top are to allow carbon dioxide to escape, as sours are made with active fermentation.  Without a relief valve, they’d blow.

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Overall, Orpheus has a unique place in the local market because they make different products than the others in the area, but as my tastes favor non-sours, I’ll look elsewhere for the perfect Atlanta made beer.

Tillman Hall

To defend a racist is not a profitable thing.  To be baited into defending a racist is worse.  Given the position from which you argue, any reasoned and coherent points get dismissed, if not ignored, for being conjoined with the indefensible.  You become the straw man for which opposing forces were hoping.  The old quote, “Don’t wrestle with a pig.  You’ll both get muddy but the pig likes it,” doesn’t hold entirely because your place in the cast of these two characters is the pig.

Tillman Hall, as a student at Clemson University in the 1980’s, was simply Tillman Hall.  I never had a class there, rarely set foot inside of it, and had no consideration of it other than it was the postcard building for the campus. It was built in 1893, one of three buildings from the original campus, with a design comparable to buildings at Auburn, Ga Tech and other schools that began in that era.  For many, it was where girls went for their “MRS degree,” aka the Education building. Hey, it was funny then, and it’s funny now.  Good start, me.  Racism and sexism in two paragraphs.

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When it comes to other campus building names, I have only vague recollections of prior professors, statesmen or philanthropists who gave in some way to the school.  Tillman Hall is named after Ben Tillman, a former South Carolina governor.  If I knew that back then, I’d think “Whatever. That makes sense.”  If I learned that as Governor, Tillman supported the founding of Clemson College in recognition of the need for agricultural training in the State, I’d say “Sure. That follows.”   If I knew that this forward thinking Democrat was a, well, let the words provided a week ago by an anonymous vandal speak:

Am I surprised? By the graffiti on a campus building, absolutely.  To the point, certainly by the “violent” part.  But, I didn’t know any of that.  The internet wasn’t around back then, I didn’t recall any mention of Tillman in my South Carolina history classes, and… it was just a name for a campus building.  He could have been one of the first professors.  It didn’t matter.   

That was then; this is now.  In context of the era in which Tillman mattered, post Civil War and into the early 20th century, does it surprise me that a southerner would be a racist?  Not really, but neither would I assume that all southerners were.  Would I be shocked that a racist to rise to be governor of the State?  Nope.  Or that he achieved enough wealth and power to help launch the school I attended?  No, not surprised.  And, frankly, not interested.   I wasn’t here over a century ago.  It’s wasn’t relevant to me when I was at the school and it isn’t today. 

Earlier this year, the Faculty Senate voted overwhelmingly to encourage a name change for Tillman Hall, in light of his past.  Here’s a glimpse. “We have done our level best [to prevent blacks from voting]… we have scratched our heads to find out how we can eliminate the last one of them.  We stuffed ballot boxes. We shot them. We are not ashamed of it.”  In the photo above, Coker was a black State Senator investigating violence against blacks, and Tillman was reportedly there for the killing.  Senator Pinckney, just several weeks ago, was killed in Charleston at the church service by a crazed racist.  Thus racism today can get tied to racist affronts at any time, in any generation, with demands for “change.”

Is it a big deal to rename a building on a public campus?  South Carolina makes that somewhat problematic in that the State government has to approve name change.  In any case, the process is there.  Tillman Hall’s original name was Main Hall.  That’s kind of pedestrian, and in the mid-1940’s, the SC government voted to change its name to honor Tillman and around the same time erected a bronze statue on the very troubled South Carolina State Capitol grounds.  During a period in which the State could, they seem to have doubled down on the most distasteful period of history in the State.  Unlike George Wallace, Tillman never embraced an enlightened viewpoint and his governance set in place racist policies for decades that followed. 

He’s not someone I would want associated with Clemson, and he doesn’t represent the character of the people or the institution that I’ve known and cherished.   Until the past year, it seems, Tillman’s sins were irrelevant if not completely forgotten.  So, there’s two sides to the argument. 

1) Morality – should persons be judged in hindsight, outside of the culture of their times, and be held accountable for moral failures?   It depends.  How immoral was a person?  What were the scope of the offenses?  How severely inflammatory are those offenses in the current culture?  How sizeable are the voices raised in opposition?  

2) Historical -  Should history be rewritten, generally speaking, by casting from public sight and discourse those who embody traits or activities which are against current values and opinion?  Should good works or contributions be swept aside in favor of some number of people who are offended by that person?   With the weight of instant mass media and an evolving social narrative, should an empowered nouveaux Taliban destroy any historical remembrance of false gods?  Or should they remain, so history will not repeat?

Outside of the context of Tillman, that war wages on issues large and small, from a comedian who (allegedly) drugs and rapes women, to a NFL quarterback who engages in dog fighting to a corporate drone who is stoned in the court of public opinion due to an offensive tweet.  Names, reputations, livelihoods lost, and this in a society at once as permissive and intolerant as ever.

  To that end, I have to applaud the Chairman of Clemson’s Board of Directors, David Wilkens, who responded to the Faculty Senate’s request thus:

“Every great institution is built by imperfect craftsmen," he said. "Stone by stone they add to the foundation so that over many, many generations, we get a variety of stones. And so it is with Clemson. Some of our historical stones are rough and even unpleasant to look at. But they are ours and denying them as part of our history does not make them any less so.

“For that reason, we will not change the name of our historical buildings," Wilkins said. "Part of knowledge is to know and understand history so you learn from it. Clemson is a strong, diverse university in which all of us can be proud. That is today's and tomorrow's reality and that is where all our energy is focused."

It’s history.  Get over it.  As Clemson’s TV commercials go, “The Paw says it all.”  Well, that was a couple months ago.  This is now.

When it comes to racism, it’s open season on historical personages to find relevance for grievances that people hold today.  And with Tillman, they’ve found the jackpot.  The absence of Tillman’s place in the life of Clemson University is as irrelevant today as any hold of his influence on today’s population.  Until his history resurfaced, he was irrelevant.  Still, I understand how people would be offended when symbols of gross imperfection are allowed a measure of prominence.  Or, more to the point, I wouldn’t expect Jews to attend any function named after Hitler or visit a facility featuring his statue.

So, by all means, change the name.  In the context of what has come to light, Tillman is not worth the aggravation.  Recent reports indicate that the Board of Trustees is reconsidering the issue.  With Clemson’s academic rankings and national status on the rise and in the light of national publicity on the issue, they really have no choice.  It’s their job to protect the institution.  And, if they do not, they will be made to care that the social narrative of the 21st century insists on new symbolic gestures to displace discredited symbolic gestures.   That’s measurable societal progress.

Next comes a less symbolic aggravation.  I’d like to know who vandalized my school.  Was it a student?  Someone in the area who was invested in the process of renaming the building?  Was it someone from a rival school, or thinks all South Carolinians are racist?  In any case, it was someone whose intent was to stir the debate.  I’d prefer that debate be absent vandalism to my school, but it is what it is.  And it worked. 

Two days later, they successfully baited some ignorant redneck or a racist  to raise a Confederate flag in front of Tillman Hall.  I’d like to know who that person was, too.  And if they had anything to do with Clemson, I hope they would be publicly cast out.  Racism is not a Southern thang, or even an American issue.  It’s part of the human condition and is observed around the world.  But, for now, I’d rather the battleground move away from Clemson, away from South Carolina and away from the South.  Let California enjoy the attention for a while, or Wisconsin, or…  Maine.  They hate Canadians, right?   

Harpoon Brewery

I hope I don’t become blasé about visiting breweries.  They’re all similar, but in a nation of capitalist tendencies that leads to homogenous supersized sameness from city to city, they’re distinctive.   The craft beer challenge, though, is to make beers similarly distinctive despite a limited number of styles.  In any case, the search remains “on” for the perfect beer… to my tastes.  So, here’s Harpoon, one of the largest craft breweries and the first to obtain a permit to manufacture and sell alcohol in Massachusetts, in 1986.

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One of its best features is its tasting room, which is more of a Tasting Hall.

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Another great thing about it was this, a fine pretzel.

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And, of course, there was the Leviathon IPA, a double IPA that’s very tasty and drinkable despite its potency.

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Let’s see… another remarkable thing were these two people, my kids, who make tastings fun. 

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And another good thing was the selection.  I hate it when you go to a brewery and they don’t have anything unique to the venue.  Harpoon certainly delivered there.

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What I didn’t like was… the rest of the beer, which varied from “meh” to “okay.”  Samplers, reasonably priced, included the “Specialty” – PMC 192 Kolsch, Get Off My Lawn Strong Bitter, Ales for ALS Double IPA, and Mint Cider:

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The Ales was only okay, and the rest… well, let’s backtrack to safer territory then, the “Harpoon Sampler” – ubiquitous Harpoon IPA, Harpoon Dark Munich Lager, Take 5 Session IPA and Summer Kolsch.

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Lager – good.  The others, okay.  Oh well.  One winner out of the bunch, then, the Leviathan.  They do conduct tours, but they’re popular and “sell out” fast.  This little bit of equipment can be viewed from the tasting area.

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To get on that tour, the exterior wait line might suggest how many people might arrive on a given day to take one or at least taste some brews.  We obviously didn’t get the full tour, but at least they’re up front about it on their website.

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What’s left then, is to marvel at the size of the place and… wander around the seaport area looking for some good seafood… something that rates higher than “Meh.” 

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