So we were in Denver last week for a conference. The town is much improved beyond the last time I was there, about 25 years ago. Now it is billing itself in some quarters, at least, as “The Napa Valley of Beer”. At least, this is how it was advertised on the guided pub crawl we signed up for (itself, advertised as a “Walking Microbrewery Tour”). We did get a fine introduction to ten different kinds of beers on the tour, as well as a decent introduction to places we might want to visit later – for the purposes of redeeming the “free pint” coupon that came with the tour, for example.
The place we chose to return to was the Wynkoop brew pub, which bills itself as the oldest brew pub in downtown Denver. The concierge at our hotel billed the Wynkoop as the brew pub with the best food, and we’d already discovered a couple of their beers that we liked, so it sounded like a good idea. I seized on the idea of ordering a flight, thinking that it would help me zero in on which beer I would like to get as my free pint. Their offerings included one of the more…interesting and adventurous…beers I’ve encountered: a chili lager. Now, I’ve had plenty of experience with lambics (cranberry, various other fruits) and I don’t like them. Too much fruit flavor, too sweet, generally. In recent months I’ve had a chance to try some of the newer fruit beers, which have typically been some kind of wheat (white) beer base with fruity essences laid on. The 21st Amendment brewery has a SUPER watermelon wheat beer that I had courtesy of a very cool guy I met at the Mount Snow Winter Beer Festival in April. The Salem Beer Works also has a terrific watermelon ale. But the King of the group is unquestionably the Sea Dog Maine Blueberry beer. We were in Maine last month with my friend Susan, who took one sip of that stuff and refused to drink any other beer for the rest of the week. These fruit beers have a much lighter flavoring component, and one that plays a lot better with the underlying beer flavors, than do the lambics I’d experience before.
So my recent fruit-beer explorations favorably disposed me to the chili beer at Wynkoop, but still, I felt that I was not ready to commit to an entire pint. The sample of that I received in my flight was enough to cause me to commit to a full pint, however. It was absolutely delicious. They have somehow managed to get all the flavor of the anchos and anaheims…without any of the heat. Potent chili flavor without burning the tongue. What a concept!
I was even more thrilled with the “logo” for the beer, and when I found out I could get it on a t-shirt, I just about went over the moon. There isn’t a good rendition on the web – I wouldn’t make this available in the public domain, either, as it would certainly be stolen – but I think a verbal description will suffice. Imagine a 40’s style pinup girl, with a curly blonde bob. Now put her into a bright red cowgirl outfit consisting of hat, hot pants, long-sleeve shirt tied up over her belly, and cowboy boots. Paste a Texas Beauty Queen smile on her face. She’s riding something bareback, but it’s not a horse, it’s a big red chili pepper. And she’s brandishing a whip over her head, but it’s a sheaf of wheat. If you’re thinking “Sounds kind of cool, but I’m not sure it isn’t also extremely vulgar” you have the right idea. I loved it, and bought it, and I’d wear it out to the stable to ride in a flat second, except that Horse Camps are still going on, and I’m pretty sure it’s not the kind of thing I ought to be showing to 10 year olds.
Speaking of camps, the table at the Wynkoop had a little card advertising upcoming events, mostly pool or billiards tournaments. At my table, though, the back side of this card was turned to face the table…and what that side was advertising was Pool Camp, for kids. Specifically, for ages 4-18. You get your own pool cue, and the first hours of camp is spent decorating the cue. It appears that the camp is being run by a woman whose professional moniker is “The Viper.” Yes, you can send your grade-schooler off to camp at the pub to learn how to shoot pool from The Viper.
This is not the kind of thing that one sees advertised in New England, and I’m not even sure I’ve ever seen anything like it advertised in Texas…and that’s saying a lot. I went off into Deep Thought about the sort of parent who would consider it a good thing to send their 10 year old to camp at the pub with The Viper. What brought this to a stop was a mental vision of the Horse Camps. I’ve been riding before Horse Camp all summer – I want to get in my lesson before the horses are utterly exhausted by the little girls – and I remember the first day of the first Horse Camp of the year. I was cleaning my horse up, taking my time so I could check out the Horse Camp. I never got to go. I don’t even know if they had Horse Camp when I was a kid, but I do know if they had and I’d known about it, I would have been desperate to go. Anyway, there’s my teacher standing in the ring hollering out instructions to the little girls on a variety of steeds. She was wearing a cowboy hat, a button-down shirt with the sleeves hacked off, a pair of shorts, and cowboy boots. And I suddenly thought, what kind of parent sends their 10 year old to camp in a barn to get covered with manure and filth, to spend hours interacting with a living creature the size of a Volkswagen Beetle and notorious for having…somewhat unstable temperaments and prone to sudden and explosive reflex reactions to seemingly trivial and/or unidentifiable stimuli…guided by the kind of person who wears shorts with cowboy boots? And yet, this all makes perfect sense to me. I am sure, therefore, that there exists a population for whom Pool Camp with The Viper makes total sense.
All the same, I cannot resist imagining, with what delicious horror my New England friends would face such a prospect.
Here’s one of my absolutely favorite go-to recipes for August and early September. This one is adapted from the Rice Cooker Cookbook – an amazing treasure trove of things you can do with a rice cooker (available from Amazon, and totally recommended by me):
2 T butter
2 T olive oil
2 shallots, chopped finely
6 ears of corn, kernels stripped from the cob
2 C of cold, cooked brown/wild rice blend
3 T of chopped sundried tomatoes in oil
a huge bunch of basil, chopped up (or if you are lazy, like me, cut into little strips with a pair of scissors)
salt and pepper
Heat the butter and olive oil in a whacking big skillet. Saute the shallots until they start to soften. Thrown in the corn kernels and saute until you can start to smell them, 5 or 6 minutes. Add the rice and bust up any chunks, and saute another 5 minutes. Dump in the sundried tomatoes and the basil, and heat everything through. Salt and pepper it, and then go straight to heaven as you dine.