Friday, October 19, 2012

Best of Baltimore Beer Week: Brent's Picks

Here we are at that magical time of year once again.  Homeowners scramble to stock up on candy to distribute to the masses of goblins and princesses soon to be knocking on their front door.  Legendary baseball games are being played nightly and having a major impact on workplace productivity the next day.  And the humidity that blankets the Mid-Atlantic region is quickly getting pushed away as our old friend, cold air, slowly creeps further south on a weekly basis.  These are signs that the fall season is here and what better way to bring in fall than by "celebrating all things beer in the Land of Pleasant Living."  Bring on Baltimore Beer Week!!!

I'll be honest, even as a local homebrewer and member of the beer community here in Baltimore, on the surface Baltimore Beer Week can be quite intimidating.  By quickly browsing the Baltimore Beer Week, you will soon find that there are an astounding 396 (as of this blog being written) events to choose from over a 10-day period.  Even for the seasoned beer geek, the number of events can be somewhat overwhelming.  I can't even imagine what it would be like for someone who is new to craft beer or homebrewing trying to choose which events to attend.  That is where I come in.  Having participated in many of the events at past Baltimore Beer Weeks, I figured I'd try my best at breaking down the best of the best in an effort to try and assist you through this marathon week of beer drinking.  Before I get down to my picks, I want to make sure you understand a few things.  
1)  This list is strictly based on events I have attended in the past and had an exceptional time at.  That does not mean events not listed here aren't worth attending.  In fact, you are very likely to have just a good a time at any of the other events that aren't listed here but that are part of Baltimore Beer Week
2)  I encourage even those who are not beer geeks or homebrewers to attend these events, ask questions of the people running the events or those sitting next to you.  Baltimore's beer scene is chock full of some of the nicest people I have ever met.  They love their beer, but also love to talk about beer.  So strike up a conversation with people attending these events.  You might just learn something, or better yet, find people who have a lot of the same interests that you do.  
3)  Most importantly, there are a lot of great beers, some of which contain a high amount of alcohol.  Please, please, PLEASE make sure you have a safe, sober ride home from any of these events.  This is a celebration of beer, the breweries, drinking establishments and other business that support our wonderful beer scene here in Baltimore.  One alcohol related accident, injury, or fatality could ruin something great for a lot of people.  Please be mindful in making sure you have a safe way home when attending these events.  

Okay and here you list of the top events to go to (in chronological order):

The Chesapeake Real Ale Festival - Saturday, October 20th
Why you should go:  This event is always nothing short of epic and I'm glad to see they are having the best beer fest event of Baltimore Beer Week right up front.  Long story short, the number of cask conditioned beers available at this event is unseen here in the United States.  We are fortunate to have it right here in Baltimore at the Pratt Street Alehouse.  Couple the amazing, super rare beers with excellent music and people, and you have a recipe for a great afternoon.  
Price:  $40 in Advance/$50 at the Door/$60 VIP

Stillwater Day - Sunday, October 21st
Why you should go:  Stillwater Artisanal Ales brewmaster, Brian Strumke is one of the best new brewers on the international craft beer scene.  Max's will have pretty much every beer that Brian has crafted available to consume, plus a special bottle release of the "Now and Then Project - Cellar Door" will be available to purchase at 10am.  This dry hopped ale aged in french oak barrels and conditioned with brett is a very rare beer limited to 100 sets (so if you want one, get in line early).  One bottle is meant to be consumed now and the other is meant to be consumed in 6 months to 1 year later to observe the transformation from up-front hop aroma to the added complexity developed by the wild yeast.
Price:  Free to enter, pay as you go.
Women of Homebrew Unite! - Sunday, October 21st
Why you should go:  This was a surprise hit last year.  It was foolish of me, but I didn't realize how many women brewers we had here in the Baltimore area.  Not only were there 20 or so women brewers serving up their beer, but there were some damn fine beers here.  At the cost of a $5 donation to the Maryland Women's Law Center, you get entry to the event and a cup to sample all the great homebrewed beers on hand.  I'll definitely be on hand for this event.  Judging starts at noon and to ensure you get some of the yumminess, I'd highly recommend getting there early because at $5, this event is a steal!!!
Price:  $5 donation

Pumpkinfest - Monday, October 22nd
Why you should go:  24 pumpkin beers on draft from breweries like Heavy Seas, Flying Dog, Dogfish, Weyerbacher, Southern Tier, Uinta, RJ Rockers, and my personal favorite from this list Elysian?  Um please save me a seat!!!
Price:  Pay as you go

Maryland Homebrew Beer Dinner - Tuesday, October 23rd
Why you should go:  T-Bonz Grille and Pub, Maryland Homebrew, and the Cross Street Irregulars Homebrew Club have gotten together for their 2nd annual homebrew dinner.  Several courses of food will be paired with 5 beers brewed by the top homebrewers in the CSI Homebrew Club.  I went last year and loved it (not just because I am the president of CSI, but because the beers and food were amazing!!).  I think you would love it too.  Compared to the price of some of the other beer dinners associated with Baltimore Beer Week, this one is more reasonably priced.  
Price:  $50 for general public or $45 for members of T-Bonz beer club.  Note:  If you want to go, purchase tickets now as seating is limited.

Homebrew Extravaganza Benefiting BARCS - Wednesday, October 24th

Why you should go:  This event is in its third year and it remains one of the most epic events of Baltimore Beer Week.  There is going to be tons of amazing homebrew here.  The entry fees paid go to a great organization, BARCS.  And the event is just a lot of fun.  Since it has been so popular, it has grown from taking over one corner in Little Havana to pretty much taking up the whole restaurant.  This year will be the greatest year yet and I can't wait to try all the awesome homebrews being served at this event.  At $10 to enter, this event is a steal!!!

Baltimore Beer: A Satisfying History of Charm City Brewing - Thursday, October 25th

Why you should go:  Baltimore has a real legend in Rob Kasper.  A long time writer for the Baltimore Sun, Rob has recently authored a book called Baltimore Beer: A Satisfying History of Charm City Brewing refreshing account of the history of brewing in Baltimore, from ancient craft brewers in the 18th century,through the beer wars of the Victorian era, to mass production in the 20th century, then back to craft brewers in the 21st.  He attended a CSI meeting and gave a great talk on his book and shared some really interesting stories about brewing in Baltimore.  I highly recommend going to this event and hearing him speak.  Even pick up a book and have him sign it.  I have a copy and it is great reading!!!
Price:  Free
For more information:

Charitably Charmin’ ChiliBrew VI - Friday, October 26th

Why you should go:  My friends in BaltiBrew put on an excellent chili and homebrew competition every spring and fall.  The homebrewed beer is amazing and the chili serves as a perfect pairing item.  $15 gets in you as a tasting judge.  That will get you a ballot to vote on any or all of the competitions (chili con carne, veggie chili, and homebrew, though you must be 21 or older for homebrew of course).  It's a fun time with some great people.  Previous installments have each drawn about 30+ entries and 200+ enthusiastic judges, so it's a great time!  The $15 donation goes to benefit the Baltimore Rock Opera Society, the Indypendent Reader, and Whitelock Community Farm.  It always feels good to drink beer and eat chili for a great cause!
Price:  $15 donation
For more information:

Beer Taps and Homebrew:  Made in Baltimore - Saturday, October 27th
Why you should go: Come meet me!!!  I'll be conducting a homebrew demonstration at this event on behalf of the Cross Street Irregulars Homebrew Club and serving up some awesome homebrew in the process.  All while the master beer tap handle makers at Mark Supik and Company do their thing, hand crafting some amazing beer tap handles.  While you are there, be sure to stop by the Beer Tap Handle Museum and check out all the awesome beer tap handles that were created by Mark and his staff over the years.

Price:  Free
For more information:

A Bar on Every Corner II - Historical Walking Pub Tour

Me chillin with a beer on top of the Natty Boh building
Why you should go:  How else could you ever enjoy a frosty cold one while standing on the roof of the Natty Boh building?  Yup that is what we got to do last year on this tour.  It was awesome!!  We stumbled around Brewers Hill and Canton for several hours, going bar to bar, drinking beer and having a blast.  This year's format is a little different in that it will be more laid back and hitting less bars, but it should be just as much fun.  The highlight is definitely the view of Baltimore from the top of the Natty Boh building.  We have a beautiful city here and I've never seen it more beautiful than last year as I stood on top of the Natty Boh building with a beer in hand.  How else would you ever get this opportunity?  This is a must attend event!!!
Price:  $40 and is limited to the first 50 people.
For more information:

The bottom line, a lot of hard work goes into making Baltimore Beer Week 10 of the greatest days of the year here in Baltimore.  Get out there.  Support this event and the businesses and people that make Baltimore one of the greatest beer drinking cities in the world.  Cheers!!!


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Cargo Shorts: A Dad's Best Friend

Look, I'll be the first to admit I am not a fashionable man.  I absolutely hate clothes shopping.  I don't like paying a premium for having embroidered images of a guy riding a horse or a little alligator on my clothes.  That is absolute foolishness.  I also don't like having a big advertisement across my chest for some brand of clothes, although I will be glad to advertise for my favorite sports team or band.  I also think it is absolutely ridiculous to spend more than $20 on a shirt or $30 on a pair of jeans or shorts.  And these values are on the high end of what I like to pay for my clothing.  So you catch my drift about fashion?  I'm a Kohls and JC Penneys kinda guy.

One of the articles of clothing that always seems to be on sale or clearance are cargo shorts or cargo pants.  For those who are not familiar with the term "cargo shorts", they are the shorts that you see some men wearing that have huge pockets on either side of the leg.  They are typically very baggy and from what I hear, are not very fashionable.  But boy, oh boy those bad boys sure are practical, especially for dads.

Ever since I've been old enough to purchase my own clothes, I've always favored the cargo short.  Why?  Mainly because they were the only style of shorts being produced that were very baggy and long in length.  As my Dad used to say to me, "No one likes their shorts like a cheap ball room."  Really, who of you really enjoys wearing tight short shorts?  Well now that I'm a dad, these cargo shorts have a whole new purpose in my life.  They are great for carrying just about anything that I'll need for taking my daughter Avery out in public.  The hell with carrying a diaper bag when you can just shove everything the little girl needs in the pockets of your shorts.

I enjoy taking Avery to the baseball game from time to time, but when traveling solo with a child in tow, there's a lot of things you need to pack.  This typically ends up in a diaper bag.  But do you really want to carry a big old diaper bag into the baseball game?  Not really.  This is where my cargo shorts come into play.

In the pocket on the left leg, I typically pack all sorts of foods and snacks.  This could get interesting if you have food or milk that needs to be chilled.  But if not and your baby is on formula, shove a water bottle, baby bottle (cap on of course), and a packet or two of formula so you can whip up a bottle in a hurry for a hungry baby.  Also throw some snacks like Cheerios or Baby Mum-Mums in there and you are good to go for a few hours with a well fed baby.  Think that sounds like a lot?  You'd be surprised what you could stuff into the pockets on a pair of cargo shorts.  The best part is, because the shorts are designed to be baggy, people probably wouldn't notice you have a full diaper bag's worth of food in your shorts.

In the pocket on the right leg, I typically pack all sorts of cleanliness items and toys.  I'm talking stuff like a couple diapers, a small pouch of disposable wipes, a thin folding changing pad (make sure it's not too thick), a spit up cloth, and even a small toy or two to keep the kiddo occupied while you are changing her diaper in the men's room at ballpark.

The point is, if you are like me, you are already ridiculed for your choice of comfort over fashion in your wardrobe.  Why not take it the extra mile and make it practical by ridding yourself of the dreaded diaper bag.  Trust me, in the long run you will be much a much happier person for doing it this way.  Plus when you see old preppy boy in his Dockers slacks and IZOD shirt with the popped collar, struggling to juggle his kid while fishing things out of the bottomless pit that most diaper bags are, you can just snicker at him like he does at you for your lack of fashion.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Baseball with the Babe (the Avery variety, not Ruth)

Although I'm old, this is not
a picture of my Dad teaching
me about baseball.
In the United States, one of the greatest traditions handed down from fathers to their children is the love and understanding of baseball.  You can see it first hand on Little League fields and in parks around the country.  The crack of the bat.  The ball smacking a leather glove.  A father down on one knee giving his child a pep talk.  It's a portrait of life in America that has withstood the test of time.  It's almost like a modern day Norman Rockwell painting.  

Now you can call me a sap, but to me there is something absolutely special about a father taking his son or daughter to the backyard to teach the how to catch a baseball or on their first trip to see a Major or Minor League team plan.  Although teaching about baseball takes some patience from both participants, the memories will last both father and child a lifetime.  I can tell you first hand that playing catch with my Dad and brother are memories that have and will last me a lifetime.  I'd be willing to bet that most of you reading this post have those same memories.  

So when the wife told me that I was going to be a Dad, one of the first things that went through my mind was Orioles Opening Day.  Those who know me well know I love baseball more than just about everything.  Believe it or not, if given a choice between free tickets to a baseball game or a free case of beer, I'd go with the baseball tickets every single time.  I LOVE BASEBALL!!!  Anyways, back to the day I learned I was going to be a Dad....I absolutely couldn't wait to to introduce my little boy or little girl (we didn't know the gender of the baby until Avery was born) to the game of baseball, and why not do it in grand fashion, by taking him/her to Opening Day.  

Opening Day in baseball is a magical day.  All teams, no matter what their payroll or how many superstars are in the lineup, have an even record.  Fans are jazzed and they come out in swarms for the all day event that is more like a party than a baseball game.  Anyone who has attended Opening Day will understand what I mean when I say there is a certain buzz in and around the stadium that you are unlikely to hear at any other point in the season.  It is just a big celebration of America's favorite pastime.  It's an unofficial holiday that leaves a lot of workplaces virtual ghost towns.  I needed my child to be part of this and understand what Opening Day is all about from Day 1.  That is why I needed to make Avery's first baseball game Orioles Opening Day.  

Very few sights are more grand than Camden Yards on Opening Day.
Well this past week was the opening of the 2012 baseball season.  Unlike every opening week I've ever experienced, this year was different for me.  I had an extra spring in my step.  This year I am a new Dad and I now had the opportunity to introduce my little girl to the game that my Dad introduced to me and has stuck with me for the last 30+ years.  And I got to do this not just once, but twice in one week as we made it to the Bowie Baysox (AA team for the Orioles) and Baltimore Orioles games.

Me and Avery with the new Baysox mascot
The Bowie Baysox Opening Night was kinda a warm up for the big day at Camden Yards.  I figured out how I'd maneuver through the stadium with Avery in her carrier.  I figured how to purchase a beer without spilling it on her head.  I figured out how to change a diaper in the bathroom (or at least my wife did).  I figured out how to go through a game, distracted by the needs of my child, when I'm typically glued to the action on the field in front of me and usually growl at those who do try to distract me.  It all went smooth and we were ready for the big time....Orioles Opening Day.  

I don't think anyone noticed but a tear trickled down my cheek as I entered Camden Yards with Avery on my chest in her Baby Bjorn.  It was a combination of that special moment of walking into that baseball shrine, my daughter with me, the smell of Esskay hot dogs in the air, and the buzz of the crowd as the 2012 roster was being announced.  It all ended up being a little overwhelming for me.  I was in all my glory.  

We made it to Camden Yards!!!
The game went really well and I had a blast with my little girl.  One thing that amazed me was how half of Baltimore tried to stop me so they could to touch Avery's little hands while telling me how beautiful and well behaved she is.  Good thing Avery loves the bath because she needed a good scrub down right after the game.

We had great seats in the upper deck between homeplate and 3rd base overlooking the action.  Avery really was a gem to have with me at the park  She had her times of fussiness when her diaper was full or she needed to be fed, but for the most part, she was alert, looking around the stadium, and enjoying the sights and sounds that her Daddy has been telling her about since the day she was born.  Although she's too young to understand anything that was going on, we could tell she was enjoying it.

As we walked out of the stadium, I reached down, hugged my little Boo-Boo, and whispered into her ear telling her how much I loved her and how much I appreciated her being a good sport by enjoying the day with her Daddy at his favorite sporting event.  This was the day that solidified the meaning of life for me.  This whole fatherhood thing is the greatest feeling that a guy can ever have.  I'm just so thankful that I have a little girl to introduce me to that feeling.  Thank you so much Avery!!!!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Two Weeks Down...The Lessons Learned

So as I sit here on my computer this morning, I'm listening to music, catching up on email, and reflecting back on the last 2 weeks of my life.  It was exactly 2 weeks and 7 hours ago that my beautiful daughter Avery was born.  As you could tell by my previous post, I wasn't really sure how I'd do at the daunting task of being a father.

Although not outlined in that posting, some of my fear had to do with the fact that I'm pretty set in my ways and I wasn't sure how having a child throw into the mix would jive with the whole routine and flow I had going on in my life.  I mean we aren't talking about the responsibility of taking care of a cat (which to this point I thought was the ultimate in responsibility).  We are talking about taking care of a human being.  Making sure that this child has everything that it, water, shelter, and probably most importantly love and happiness.  That's a big friggin deal!

Proudly I haven't had a
draught beer in 3 weeks!
So as I sit here two weeks into this whole thing and still learning how this all works out, I can tell the fathers-to-be out there that it really isn't that bad.  Sure you have to put some of the things you love to do on the back burner for a little bit.  My brewing, beer drinking, and disc golf are now taking a back seat to helping my wife with feedings, changing diapers, and calming down the baby when she's fussy.  But in the grand scheme of things, that is okay.  In fact, it's kinda fun to help out with these new challenges.

Beyond having a little buddy to spend my days chumming around with, I think my favorite part of fatherhood so far is getting to calm the baby down when she's crying.

I've come to realize that there are five main reasons a baby will begin to cry.  They are:

  1. If the baby is hungry
  2. If the baby has a wet or messy diaper
  3. If the baby is gassy and needs some help burping
  4. If the baby wants to be held
  5. If the baby is sick or hurt (I assume as thankfully Avery has not been sick yet)
Beyond that, there may be other reasons for a baby to cry, but I've yet to experience them.  Sometimes the crying from one of these needs listed above will last beyond the fixing of the situation.  That's where your Daddy skills come in.  I'm proud to say, in the very short time I've been a Dad, I've mastered the art of how to calm my baby down pretty quickly.  

For some reason unknown to vocal talent judges around the world, Avery loves when I sing to her.  I'll scoop her up, hold her in my arms so that she is facing me, and begin to sing to her.  Within a minute or so she's super calm, looking right into my eyes, and sometimes even has a smirk on her face.  If I stop singing (usually as a result of me racking my brain for the next song to sing), she'll start fussing until I sing again.  Eventually she'll fall asleep peacefully in my arms.  The feeling it leaves me with is amazing!

So far, the songs that Avery likes me singing to her are:
  • Guns 'n Roses "Sweet Child of Mine"
  • Guns 'n Roses "Patience"
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Tuesday's Gone"
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd's "All I  Can Do Is Write About It"
  • Supertramp's "Take the Long Way Home"
  • Ozzy's "Goodbye to Romance"
I don't have this CD, but I think I should
get it.   It looks pretty cool!
Those are a few of the songs that I can sing completely out of memory and know all the lyrics to.  Pretty soon I'll be making a list and practicing new songs so that Avery doesn't get bored of hearing the same show every time she wants some Daddy time.  

Other lessons I've learned so far that may be of use to other fathers-to-be:
  • The Target brand of diapers are the crappiest diapers on the market.  Do what you can at all costs to avoid buying these leaky pieces of crap.  That is unless you like mustard colored crap all over your baby's clothes and doing laundry all the time.  Pampers and Huggies seem to do the job a million times better.  Plus they have strips on them that turn blue every time the baby pees (Target brand does not).  Friggin genius!  
  • Do not listen to people when they say that infant diapers do not smell bad because the baby isn't eating real food yet.  These people are bold faced liars and Avery has had a few diapers already that could turn the strongest stomach in the world.
  • Don't buy into the "Oh get you sleep now cause you will never sleep once the baby comes" lies that people will fill your head with prior to having the baby.  Amounts of sleep have been normal in this house, just not consecutive.  Look, you have good days and bad days (or nights).  You are going to go stretches where you are up every 2 to 3 hours before getting more sleep, but in the grand scheme of things that is okay and you will get used to it.  It's not the miserable hell that people tell you about.  Don't let their lies scare you.  
  • The Diaper Genie is not useless and not a flimsy piece of crap.  Even the smallest baby can produce a diaper that packs quite the stinky punch.  You don't want that nastiness in the kitchen or bathroom trash can.  That is where the Diaper Genie comes in.  It contains the smell and does a pretty good job at it.  It's also pretty easy to use.  So people who tell you their Diaper Genie broke after a short period of time are a bunch of wild animals who go through life breaking everything they touch.  The concept of how it works is pretty easy and there's not too many moving parts.  If you try to force the moving parts into doing something that they aren't meant to do, then you will have problems.  It's friggin plastic people!
Embrace the Genie!

Okay well I think it's time to go play with my little girl as it sounds like she's just waking up.  I'll be sure to share whatever other words of wisdom that I learn in this journey of a lifetime.  


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Advice for a Soon to Be New Dad?

For those of you who didn't know, I'm going to be a new dad pretty soon.  Yup, sometime between now and Tuesday the "Spawn of the Brewer" will be arriving.  Please feel free to have a moment to yourself and think about what that means...................Okay now that you've had a moment to process that, lets move on to the point of this blog posting.

First, let me start off by saying that I'm pretty excited about this.  I love kids.  In fact, I see myself as a big giant 12 year old.  I love playing with toys and running around in parks or the neighborhood with no purpose, sense of time or care in the world.  Who wouldn't?  Life is too short to take everything so serious and to spend even a minute of your precious time worrying about what is going on in the real world.  With that said, I tend to think I'm a good example of how you can be a semi-responsible adult, while still living like a big kid.

The reality of all this is that, until now, I've really had no real responsibility though.  I go to work, I make it there on time every day and I seem to think I do a pretty good job at what I do.  I pay the bills on time and take care of this great house that we have here in Howard County.  I make sure my wife is a happy person and has everything she needs, including having a husband to laugh at every day.  But is this all really a responsibility or is it just doing what you need to do in order get by in life?  Honestly, I don't really know.

I believe the real responsibility in life begins this week with B-III (what I call the baby since I'm hoping it is a boy and will be named Brenton III) arriving.  Holy crap that is scary.  I know it's just a baby and that people with lesser resources, support, and means than myself raise kids and they do a great job at it, but somehow I just have real doubts about facing a lifetime of real responsibility.

My Dad and I our our
"Man Trip" to Alaska
I tend to have an idea of why this is the case.  It's because of my Dad.  This isn't going to be one of those blogs where someone rants about how crappy their father was and how they feel they are permanently broken as a result of it.  In fact, this is just the opposite.  My Dad is THE MAN and without a doubt the greatest Dad ever.

Without boring you with all these sappy stories about how awesome my Dad is, all you need to know is that he set the parenting bar very high.  All he ever wanted was for my brother and I to be happy people and for us to enjoy whatever path we decided to take in life.  He's the type of Dad where no matter where in the world his job took him, he always seemed to be there cheering us on at every hockey or Little League game.  It was like the man traveled in a time machine!

Life wasn't a cake walk growing up in his house.  He was tough on my brother and I.  Even though we thought he was cruel at the time, this was his way of teaching us some amazing life lessons.  We learned that if you are going achieve your dreams, it is going to take some hard work, fearlessness, and some persistence when you hit a roadblock.  We learned that you must really think hard about people's reactions to you before speaking or acting.  We also learned that "sometimes life isn't fair" and you just have to deal with that fact.  I think the most important thing we learned was that living this way can be fun.  He saw a lot of places and did a lot of things because of the way he worked and for much of that my brother, mother and I were in tow.  We loved it.  The bottom line is that I am who I am because of the way I was raised in his house.

Learning from the Old Man about constructing a bar.

This is the part that scares me.  How am I ever going to be as great a father as my Dad is?  The dude set the bar so friggin high and I have such a great relationship with him that I'm kinda scared to come up short and have anything short of the relationship I have with him.  I know I shouldn't worry, but I do.

I'm going to go into this like the taught me.  I'm going to be fearless, work hard at it, be persistent when I hit roadblocks, think about B-III's reaction before I act or speak, and try my best to make sure B-III, the wife, and I have a hell of a time while doing all of this.  With that said though, I'm open to any ideas or tips that you may have on how to get there.  It should be an interesting ride for the rest of my life, but I am really looking forward to it.