Heinzelmännchen Brewery

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Living the dream. 

I don’t make home brew, so it would be inaccurate to say that beers are a hobby, but I’ve greatly enjoyed sampling the products from the exploding Craft brewery business.  And even when the flavors are not so different from some other beer whose name I can’t remember, the names given to the beers and the designs of their labels have at least a novelty value. 

Ruination, Judgment Day, Hopsecutioner, Dead Guy, Witch Hunt, Monk’s Blood... on one level, these are things that I don’t want to experience.  Poured from draught... well, sure!

And behind each of the breweries is someone, somewhere, who enjoyed a flavor, took up a hobby, and formed a business.  The breweries themselves sum to more than an antiseptic room plus vats plus piping plus kegs and a bottling line.  They’re fun to visit.  The problem is that they’re not always convenient to visit.  Limited hours, different sampling limitations based on jurisdiction, location, etc....

Ah, but when going on vacation, why not Google an area for “opportunities?”

Like, oh, Sylva, NC.  That’s a little speck of a town in the Western North Carolina mountains, somewhat conveniently placed on the way to Asheville.   Welcome, then to Heinzelmännchen Brewery.

Promising light and refreshing German beer, smooth and lighter in body... sounds good for the summer. The brewmaster is Dieter Kuhn, German born and U.S. raised, who operates his brewery in the lowest floor of an old downtown building. It’s certainly not a town where one would expect to find a brewery in the downtown retail/restaurant/office blend.

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The brewery itself isn’t large, nor is its distribution.  It’s sold in area restaurants and in the brewery itself, but apparently that’s enough for a man to live his dream.

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Other than in the tanks, gnomes are seen everywhere as they tie his German past to his present endeavors.

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The brew is poured from the taps pictured below.  I’m not a qualified “beer advocate” to describe beers as informed readers might want their description.  I don’t want to work that hard.  Appearance, smell, taste, mouthfeel, drinkability, serving type...  So I’ll borrow from an unfortunate description of Gopher Ale posted at beeradvocate.com: 
Lightly sweet, delicately malted barley. One singular drop of lemon juice. Subtle spicy hops and a very low amount of bitterness. All in all, it's very mild, hovering uncomfortably on the precipice of blandness.
I wouldn’t call the beer bland, but the flavors of this and the two other styles I sampled (Middleworld Brown Ale and Honey Blonde Ale) did not rise to the expectations of virtually all the commercial craft beers that I’ve sampled.  Or, perhaps I haven’t sampled enough top-fermented beers that lack preservatives.  They’re enjoyable because they’re quite different, but they wouldn’t be my first choice with other options.

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What makes this worth a visit is a fair amount of charm (Where else would I get a pint glass with a gnome on it?), and the gracious time of the owner, who obviously takes pride in his work and enjoys patrons sampling his craft.

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A worthy and very inexpensive diversion for those passing through Western NC.

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Bele Chere 2012

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For our 25th anniversary, my wife and I returned to Bele Chere to enjoy the City of Asheville, its restaurants, and its centerpiece music and arts festival.  As a fellow blogger recently noted, “My posts are short.  You write a lot more.”  Yes, well, instead of typing a lot, I spent the time editing photos.  I didn’t come out ahead.  Click the magazine below for the view.

Last year’s festival, if you’re interested, is below.

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Delta Rae – Carry the Fire

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In researching the bands playing at Asheville’s Bele Chere, I took to YouTube to sort out the wheat from the chaff.  Other than stylistic preferences, there wasn’t a whole lot of chaff.  The problem was that there was a lot of sameness that didn’t lead to any clear preferences, based on the incredible research implied by a full song (or less) per band.  One band, though, stood out:  Delta Rae.  I hit several of their YouTube songs, as such things are measured.  The problem was that even though I had circled their name, by the time the weekend rolled around, I couldn’t remember what had caught my ear.

Holy Smokes.

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I’m a guitar guy – I like instrumentals, blues, progressive rock... I don’t listen to the radio.  One song into their set, I have no regrets.  Three songs... I’m a fan.  Four... I’m buying their CD at the end of the show.  Five... I’m hanging around for autographs.  And this for what is best described as a vocals band.

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This band does (most) everything right.  I’ll start with variety.  Song styles vary from soul, folk rock, gospel, pop, rock...  it’s really pointless when all of it is better characterized as “awesome.”

Cover song:  How about Fleetwood Mac’s “Chain”? I never heard Fleetwood Mac live, way back when or more recently.  I honesty don’t know that they could sing this song as well as Delta Rae did.

Audience interaction:  This is a pet peeve of mine, stemming back to a Steve Winwood show where he interacted by saying either “Thank you” or “Thank you very much.”  At least for this show, they offered what inspired some of their songs, some of their history, etc.  They relate extremely well.

Songwriting:  Most of their songs are formulaic only in the sense that one of their four singers will lead off, and it will gradually build to powerful ensemble harmonies.  The details, though, reveal purposeful lyrics, variety in subject matter, instrumental appropriateness, and occasional musical changeups to add distinctiveness to their songs.

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Raw singing talent: Three of the four singers are siblings.  The brothers (Ian and Eric Hölljes) play piano and guitar and write the songs.  They sing well and set a strong basis for the ladies’ voices to rise above.  Liz Hopkins handles the lower register, with a soulful, warm, and emotive voice.  The other sibling, Brittney, delivers the high end, powerfully when needed.  Mixed together... perfection.

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Audience appreciation:  Complete your planned set list with stage time still available?  Observe that the fans aren’t leaving?  Well, go back out and figure out a few more songs to sing.  Audience buy-in?  Check. 

Performance:  Jaw dropping.  There are ample performers who drink beer or other spirits during their shows.  This band has vitamin water.  They need it, because they don’t leave anything on the stage.  “Chain,” “Fire,” and particularly their trademark song, “Bottom of the River,” with the chain against a trashcan and heel stomping delivery...  Wow.  Just wow.  

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And their one flaw is that the power of the band live does not translate as well within the studio.  Don’t get me wrong, Carry the Fire is far better than a token concert memento.  I hear great things when I listen to it.  But it’s impossible for me to listen without the inner ear tuning in to what I heard live.

I really hope the best for this band, because I want to hear more from them.  If there’s a worry, it’s that they’ll lose their approachability with audiences as they rise to fame.  Solution:  Go see them now. 

Full set of photos can be seen HERE.

Editorial:  It’s with some amusement I note that their Wiki indicates they’ve opened up for Edwin McCain and Hanson.  They’ll be begging to open for Delta Rae some day soon.

Concert:

5 of 5 STARS

 

 

CD:

4 of 5 STARS

 

 

 

 

 

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The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

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I went to see this movie, first and foremost, because I’m a sucker for superhero movies.  Sure, the kids wanted to see it also, but I went with low expectations because The Dark Night (2008 – and 4 years ago already?) did everything so well that I could only foresee a letdown... a return to a Batman that I don’t care about, a plot without any moral substance, and/or a paper-thin villain with no real reason for being evil.  Like all the other superhero movies.

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The Dark Knight Rises was a pleasant surprise.  Christian Bale’s Batman was never one to be liked, per se.  But compared to Michael Keaton or Val Kilmer, he brought a certain edge to the character that was sorely needed.  That remains in this installment.  Bruce Wayne remains an unsympathetic but driven character, who the audience understands will rise to whatever occasion and do the right thing.  Angst and obstacles aside, the character does not need a lot of development to return to his heroic moments.

That leaves the plot and the establishment of a moral tension.  It should be noted that I didn’t particularly care for the first movie in the Dark Knight reimagining.  The travails of Bruce Wayne in the forming of his athletic training and sorting right from wrong... okay.  The straw-man reasoning for the Gang of Shadows’ desire to destroy Gotham... not convincing at all.

Yet here they return, with the same intent, but with a different leader, Bane.  To Bane’s credit, he commands attention every moment that he’s on the screen, but he’s been seen before, all the way back in 1977 when he was wearing a black helmet with a respirator and boasting a similarly rich, projecting voice.  There’s a certain element of comic book silliness that goes along with his many minions and whatever threat they’re building, but he’s a curious character who is, in time, satisfyingly sketched.  He’s not Heath Ledger’s Joker, but he isn’t a lame Mr. Freeze, either. 

And then there’s the tension.   Never mind the post 9/11 psyche of a Gotham/NYC that has taken its lumps and is now faced with a more cataclysmic threat.  That’s just a fertile setting.  The plotting genius is to take the recent political class warfare “Occupy” demonstrations and fast-forward the movement to its implied but natural conclusion:  The removal of the 1%, a “People’s Court” a la the French Revolution, and a state of anarchy resulting from a new definition of justice that empowers the dispossessed within the 99%.  

It’s fairly easy to recognize current events within the movie, but I can’t help but wonder if the audience conveniently separates current events as they watch the fiction unfold. Does it make them nervous?  It should.  And after Batman removes the bad guy and the City returns to a peaceful state, does anyone consider who will be left to lead after the purge?  The second best?  Third?  Twentieth?

All told... well, hang on.  “All told” means with the usual leaps of faith that computer generated images necessitate, as well as unnecessary story details that have to be corrected with equally ridiculous fixes (No cartilage, Mr. Wayne? Here, just use this ACME leg brace for bionic powers.)   Okay, all told, the plot holds together, and though the clues are woven into the story, it’s a nicely tied together conclusion, both for the movie and the “trilogy.”

Ah, that other notable element.  The eye candy. 

There’s no question Anne Hathaway fills out the Catwoman costume, um, suitably. If that’s the sole point, then it’s definitely a casting success.  But when you think of a Cat Woman who steals jewels and fights craftily, there’s a certain nimbleness implied, an edge to the jaw structure, a cattiness about her eyes.

All I see is a very shapely Princess Bride.   

Our President commented that “I did get a chance to see Batman.  And she was the best thing in it.”   I’d really like some clarification.  She clearly was the best looking thing in it, but I don’t think he would risk a sexist comment, this being an election year.  Was she the best actor?  Well, maybe?  No?  Despite some big names, the movie was absent a great acting moment.  The material is necessarily limiting.  Or, was she just a convenient diversion from his real interest? 

Given his political rhetoric and societal vision, I would have expected that such a candid President would have been giddy at the depiction of a New American Order that equalizes the playing field for those who work for their money (in context, actually labor for their money, as opposed to others who use intellectual power). For those who favor social justice, anarchy may not be desirable, but it is assuredly the faster means of achieving those goals than the slow bleeding achieved in a legislative tack.

In any case, if Catwoman is the best thing in the movie, this would rate 1 star out of 5.  However, she’s just not in that many scenes and isn’t a difference maker.  If one looks to the actual substance...

4 of 5 STARS

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Chicken Alley, Asheville, NC

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In town for the Bele Chere festival, I awoke early to take advantage of the morning light to photograph whatever seemed to deserve having its picture taken.  Fortunately, digital pictures are cheap to shoot.

My wife and I had passed Chicken Alley the day prior, and I returned to explore the lane. 

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It’s said that the ghost of Dr. Jamie Smith ago haunts the alley to this day.  He was killed in 1902 at Broadway’s Tavern, which burned a year later and presumably a block away.  There was no sign of a ghost, but there is ample evidence of other spirited residents who pass through both day and night.  For many of the photos, I’ve left comments if your mouse hovers over them.

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Perhaps the below will inspire some area resident to write horror novels.  Or children’s books.

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This sorry piano is suffering from weather exposure, but appears to have been an alley resident for many years.  The painted garage door to the right is a nice touch.

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I have no idea how the tiny hobbit door came to be placed where it is.  I didn’t try opening it.  I’d be disappointed to find that real hobbits are so vertically challenged.

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Asheville is well known for it’s liberal bent.  I had no idea about its butterfly hives, though.

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I really, really should have seen if anything was in the dispenser.  It’s not a place where elementary school girls sell lemonade.

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Seeing the opening in the roof and other lapses of modern maintenance, I can’t help but wonder how the alley has survived for so long.

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By far my favorite graffiti.

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As it turns out, the “artist” who painted the skull and the series that follow also creates more portable art which are virtually identically and for sale in a local gallery.

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Really, there should be more female galactic bounty hunters.

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New to Animal Planet: Octoskull Week.

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The sign at the bottom indicates the area is under 24 hour video surveillance.  A slight edit is needed to specify that the area is under a 24 hour video surveillance camera, just to be truthful.

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Made to look like an accident, yet intentional.  The police are still investigating the shocking murder of the Crayola Watercolor set.

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This was a prototype Geico campaign beaten out by the Gecko’s smooth Aussie accent.  Also, the company wanted more nudity in its ads.

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There’s a story here, but no clues.

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I’d rather imagine inventing about anything else. I’m certain it would pay better:

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And so it is that we come to shots of the alley which have not yet been artistically enhanced.  I have a fondness for old buildings with advertising painted on the brick.  It’s curious that the Printing Business below opened to the alley.  The buildings on both sides of the alley open formally to N Lexington Ave and Carolina Lane, generally 2-3 story buildings that are an eclectic mix of retail, restaurants, or vacant, presently.  It must have been a cheap printer.

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The electric chair.

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Truly, the wiring in the alley is a mess.

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The view standing 3/4 of the way into the alley, back towards its main entrance.

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Other photo posts of Chicken Alley indicate that its walls are regularly re-invented by whoever has both an industrious nature and access to paint.

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Osage Farms

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On a return trip from Asheville, my wife and I stopped by Osage Farms, a roadside produce stand located in Dillard, GA.  Other than its reputation, what set this stand apart from others along the route were customers.  Rather than the 0-2 people browsing at others, this had about 20 cars. 

Once inside, it became weird.  There was a wide variety of produce, and ample amounts of each.  So, why were the shoppers seemingly in a race to gather what they wanted?  Frenetic vegetable shopping, in the North Georgia Mountains...

When checking out, we asked the cashier about what seemed to be a rushed crowd.  Her response: “You should have been here yesterday (Sunday).  People buy like they never et (ate) before.”   Well, okay then.  Just another normal day at the Osage Farms roadside vegetable stand.

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We got our share, certainly, but the question regarding such things isn’t about how pretty they look but rather how they taste.  After feeding our extended family, the verdict regarding the white corn, black eyed peas, string beans, and sliced tomatoes (along with a ham), was unanimous.  Of course it was better than the grocery store offerings.  The only issue that resupplying is a 4 hour round trip.  

All photos taken (in an obligingly rushed fashion) with the Hipstamatic app for iPhone.

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