Sunday 20 October 2019

Pioneer Day

Another fairly low-key start to the day. Matt picks me up at 11:30. Leaving me some time to smooch around my room. Struggling with the coffee machine. Fun things like that.

We had contemplated a dash to Ohio, but sensibly settled on plans which didn’t involve a 3-hour trip each way.

We’re headed to a thing called Pioneer Day at Waterloo Farm Museum. It’s a beautiful sunny. If a little nippy in the wind. Luckily, I now have my coat again.

Matt parks his van and we wander over to the exhibits. People – dressed in historic clothing – are demonstrating all sorts of crafts and trade. Things like butter making, weaving, knitting socks, soap making.

Very interesting. But I'm guessing the kids would prefer the Civil War re-enactors with their muskets.

One of the trades being demonstrated in brewing. The brewer, Mike, is a friend of Matt from the Ann Arbor home brew club. The beer he’s making is a Scandinavian farmhouse ale. Juniper twigs serve as a false bottom in the mash tun, which is a barrel cut in half. The water for the mash is heating in a copper cauldron, suspended over an open wood fire.

“How do you know when the water is hot enough to mash without a thermometer?” I ask.

“You put your hand into it. If you can hold it in there, it’s not hot enough. If you can’t get your hand in, it’s too hot. When you can hold your hand in for a second, then it’s the right temperature.”

“What’s this fruit?” I ask Matt, pointing at all the green balls which, on the drive down, I’d mistaken for apples.

“Walnuts. If you open them up there’s a nut inside.”

It’s quite windy and every now and again one falls from the tree. They’re almost the size and weight of a cricket ball. Definitely don’t want one of those dropping on my head. I start edging away from the tree. I really don’t feel like concussion today.

We stumble into a conversation about the earliest forms of alcohol and how long humans have been making alcohol or making beer. A fucking long time, is the simple answer. Going back so far beyond recorded history. That no-one will ever be able to pin a definitive date on it, but it’s at least 7,000 years ago.

We have a chat with a small group of confederate reenactors. Their uniforms are appropriately crude and inconsistent. I get to hold one of their muskets, which weighs an absolute ton.

The brewing isn’t over when we leave. Though the walnuts seem to be falling with increased frequency. One drops directly into the cauldron, splashing hot water everywhere.

“Which brewery would you like to go to?” Matt asks.

“I’m easy.”

“This road either goes to Dexter or Chelsea. If it’s Dexter, then we can go to Jolly Pumpkin. If not, then there’s the Chelsea Alehouse brewery.”

It turns out the road leads to Chelsea. Which seems to be a well-preserved little town.

It’s a modern, quite modestly-sized, brewpub. We find ourselves seats and take a look at the beer menu. There are only two beers of their own.

“They used to be a production down by the river. Then they moved up here and got a brewpub licence. That means they can sell other breweries’ beers and get a liquor licence.”

I order a house Belgian Strong Golden. I pass on the Raspberry Lime Gose. The Strong Golden is, err, strong and pretty tasty.

“What about some food?”

I think I have room for some. I get two pork belly tacos.

After some searching, I find another reasonably normal beer on the menu: Original Gravity Porter.

One of Matt’s regulars from his own taproom wanders over.

“What do you think of Brexit?” he asks. Thankfully he’s the first on this trip. So I give him an honest reply:

“I try my best not to think about it. That’s why I drink so much beer. To block it out. If things don’t improve, I may have to step up to heroin.”

We move on after two beers. To the Session Room, one of the few outlets for Matt’s beers outside Brighton. It’s a big single room, in what looks like an old light industrial building.

We sit next at the bar, next to the beer buyer. Matt knows him well, obviously. As this is one of the selected outlets that stock his beer. We somehow get onto the topic of fruit. The various types of it. A local brewer has 20 Schaerbeekse Kriek trees. I’m dead envious. I had just one, and that died.

Alcopop-like beers come up, too. Though I’m not going to bore you with that discussion. And a weird cult in his home town. Some weird shit about Atlantis, Mount Rainier and dome houses. Ramtha's School of Enlightenment, it’s called.

“At least they’re harmless.”

“For now.” Matt observes.

I play it safe with my beer choice and get a Bell’s Two Hearted. Can’t go wrong with that. And it’s from Michigan. I’m trying to drink local beers when I can. It doesn’t disappoint. And has no weird shit in it. There are plenty of beers on the list that do.

For the second beer, I go for a Shorts A Tribe called Zest.

“I’m surprised you ordered that.” Matt remarks. “What t with all the different kinds of zest in it.”

I didn’t read the description properly. Though the “Zest” in the name was a clue. It’s better than I Feared. And no more citrussy than many non-zested beers. It definitely doesn’t drink it’s 9.9% ABV.

“Anything in particular you’d like to eat?” Matt asks. We’ve already had Japanese.

“What about Vietnamese?”

“I’ve never had that.”

“Let’s go with that, then.”

Matt looks for nearby Vietnamese places. But it’s closing in on 8 PM and most are about to close. There is one that’s open until 9. On the road to Ypsilanti. I remember seeing it yesterday.

There are still a few tables occupied, but it’s obvious that they’re running down towards closing. It being his first time, Matt sensibly plumps for Pho. Which is what all the other customers seem to be eating. Just to be different, I choose stir-fried seafood on a bed of crispy noodles.

In the evening we ate Vietnamese food that was really good. Though Matt says the bogs are pretty grim. Luckily I didn’t need a wazz while there.

Back at the hotel, I ask what time checkout is.

"I love your accent." The woman says.

Not heard that for a while. Not sure how to react. “Thank you.” “I’ve lived here 50 years, but can’t lose it.” “That’s not what my wife says.” “Would you like to have sex with me?”

I just smile. Can almost never go wrong with a smile.

Once again, whisky is my night-time chum.

Waterloo Farm Museum
9998 Waterloo Munith Rd.,
Grass Lake,
MI 49240.
Tel: 517-596-2254

Chelsea Alehouse Brewery
115 S Main St,
MI 48118.
Tel: +1 734-475-2337

The Session Room
3685 Jackson Rd,
Ann Arbor,
MI 48103.
Tel: +1 734-585-7300

Pho House
2224 Washtenaw Ave,
MI 48197.
Tel: +1 734-961-8253

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