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Posts Tagged ‘Vermont local beer’

The other day, I went back to visit friends from high school, whom I hadn’t seen in about fourteen years, in the town I haven’t visited much since then.  Why not, I can’t really explain.

It was one of the strongest experiences of sense-memory: watching the curve of the off-ramp come into view; feeling the curve in the tilt of my car; knowing when to slow down.  Driving from the Putney Road strip into the little downtown: they’ve redirected traffic, one way past the Common now, so where I expected the stop sign I’d failed to stop at during driver’s ed.—with the bulldog-owning bulldog of a teacher jamming on the breaks—there was none.  Past the library on the right, where I’d spent so many after-school afternoons.  Down the slope.

I can’t believe how much has stayed the same over the decades. The same businesses with the same awnings, not updated in twenty years. (The sign remains for the Common Ground, though the restaurant is no more.  It was a true hippy spot: a cooperatively run restaurant, on the second floor, with creaky floorboards, a bottomless bowl of salad with great tahini dressing, and dense, buttery cornbread.)
common ground

Over other storefronts, new signs : shiny, with spiffy, computer-designed lettering, but keeping in the spirit of the town–a store selling natural body products, another new-age bookstore.  I parked on Main Street, across from The Shoe Tree—there for as long as I can remember.  Above those buildings to the left (east) I see the top of Wantastiquet, that huge hump of a mountain I’d walked up and down with these friends so many times, (and remember parking in its secluded parking lot at night), rising up abruptly from its foot in the Connecticut River.
wantastiquet

I looked up Elliot St. and saw that familiar block between Main Street and the Harmony Lot, where we’d always circled slowly a few times before finding a spot.  There was McNeill’s Brewery on the left, Maple Leaf Music on the right, where I had my first real job (lots of dusting and re-alphabetizing of sheet music).  Just across Elliot Street, down the beginning of the steep hill to Flat Street, was the slanted storefront of Mocha Joe’s coffee shop, where I had my second, and probably favorite, job.  Everything inside was exactly the same.  Four steps down to the counter, display of Bodum pots, tea things, and tee shirts on shelves on the left, a little round table to the right, and the milk-sugar station, the high counter straight ahead.  They were playing The Smiths.  That sounds familiar.

I saw Shannon first at a table at the center of the same ancient-stylized floor painting of a bird’s head in a circular design.  She looked like Shannon.  She said, “you walked right past Ham.”  He was at the counter.  We gave each other a big hug.  I was shaking!  Shannon said she’d reached Amy, who had said she’d be here.  We waited just a few minutes and saw her coming down the stairs, looking exactly like herself.  She said, “I saw you on the street, and thought, yup, that looks like her.” It’s hard to express the feelings in all of our looks and hugs.  We’d known each other so well, and then had been so far apart.  We all felt as if we couldn’t explain why we’d lost touch. We stayed there for a few minutes and then walked down the hill toward the bridge to New Hampshire to the Riverview Café.  We sat on the deck above the river, looking over at Wantastiquet—that mountain that figures so prominently in my memories of high school.
wantastiquet bridge
Our personalities were the same, though we were all more comfortable in our own skin, and talked more like adults, less like self-conscious teenagers.  I remember all of their voices so well. And their laughs, mannerisms, bodies.  It was like seeing distant cousins you used to know well, but more complicated.  We didn’t do much reminiscing in part, I think, because our group memories weren’t always happy.  There was also the feeling that we didn’t need to repeat old stories: the stories were in the air around us.  We had so many shared memories, they were there in our looks more than our words.  We had a decade and a half to catch up on.  The fourteen years when we became “grown-ups” and made our lives what they are now.

One has traveled all over the world and lives in New York City, where he writes headlines for The New York Times; another lives in her childhood house, farms the land of Circle Mountain farm, and sells her organic eggs and produce to the locals; a third is a scientist studying the impact of climate change on different species, and on humans.  I’m working on a Ph.D. in literature and writing a blog about local food, living in Alabama, and moving to Rome.  All of these endpoints, and the paths that took us there, make perfect sense for who we were and at the same time seem paradoxically outlandish.  When I told Amy my dissertation was about eighteenth-century British literature, we both started laughing.  Shannon laughed at herself for knowing so much about the different beetles that are killing off the trees of New England.  Hamilton laughed about having a job that feels like professional ADD, and Amy said, “I’m a farmer,” and we all laughed.

Walking with them, back up to Mocha Joe’s, where Ham went in for another coffee, and then up Elliot St. and around the corner into the Harmony lot, felt so familiar.  My feet, legs, body, eyes remembered all of the little details: even the concrete sidewalks haven’t been updated. There was the little triangle of grass at the corner of the lot and the street that always gets trodden down to mud. The lot, and the back doors of old buildings leading to the same shops (The Book Cellar, Galanes’) were exactly the same.

As I drove up the hill, I remembered—in a deep mind/body memory—the little y intersections and nineteenth-century houses along the streets that led up to Western Ave.  I took a right onto the interstate, but if I’d gone straight, the third right would have been Orchard Street, the hill I walked up and rode my bike up so many times, to Meetinghouse Lane, and home.

Incidentally, the food we had was mostly local: goat cheese salads, grass fed cheddar-bacon burger, pulled pork.  We ate and talked.   The hours went by, and we barely noticed.

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Since this is a locavore blog, in some ways, I have to admit, I misrepresent myself.  For example: beer versus wine.  I’ve written more about beer, and expressed a lot of enthusiasm about local ales, but I’m really much more of a wine drinker.  Lately it’s been Spanish reds, and vinho verde.  I love the different tones of garnacha, and the refreshing effervescence of that Portuguese “green wine.”  I also love the whites of Alsace.  And the infinite varieties of rosé! From the elegant Tavel to the earthy South African pinotage rosé, I love them all.  If I still lived in Berkeley, there wouldn’t be the whiff of hypocrisy in calling myself a locavore eater and drinker, because I’d still be drinking those great Sonoma, Paso Robles, Santa Cruz, and Mendocino wines we could get in the grocery store.  I miss you, Bonny Doon.  Wish I could be there in the tasting room to try your new, more restrained bottlings, which I’ve now only read about, wistfully, in the New York Times. (Not to mention all the great things I could be eating: mission figs and meyer lemons from neglected trees on my block of Euclid Ave., for example….)

Enough gushing, now.  The reason I started writing this post has to do more with ale and my country-girl nostalgia.  In Burlington, at Greg and Patti’s, we started the evening with Otter Creek Copper Ale, which I love, and which brought back memories (not all pleasant) of my stint as an “environmental educator” at a school-trip camp near Middlebury, Vermont.  We slept in cabins so rustic, the frosty mid-March air gusted in the cracks between the aged two-by-fours during the night.  I slept in my -40 down “mummy” sleeping bag in long underwear, a sweater, and a wool cap.  The kids arrived on full school buses on Monday, we introduced them to things like recycling, organic carrots, and sphagnum moss, and they were gone by Friday.  And then, if it was sunny, we’d drag all of the Adirondack chairs out to the middle of the lawn at the camp’s center overlooking the lake, set a bunch of six-packs of all of the Otter Creek brews here and there, and sample them all afternoon.  Copper Ale, Pale Ale, Stovepipe Porter, Spring Ale, Mud Bock!  We were single, outdoorsy, and glad to be free.

Otter Creek Brewery is a family owned business in Middlebury, Vermont, which also makes certified organic beers under the Wolaver’s label.  They host a regular beer and cheese tasting, which at first glance smacks of wine-culture-imitation opportunism, but then I remember how good I think the sharp Vermont cheeses taste with beer.  Here’s how they advertise it:

Not only is Vermont home to 19 craft brewers (at last count), the most breweries per capita in the country, we also are lucky enough to have 35+ artisanal cheesemakers here, too!  This makes us arguably the best state for cheese and beer pairings in the country!

You know what else is good with beer?  Peanut butter.

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I spotted pint bottles of McNeill’s Firehouse ale in the Co-op today, and grabbed one.  This ale brings back memories, because it was one of my first draft beers. Definitely the best.  The brewery is in my high school hometown of Brattleboro, Vermont, where it is served in its own well-resepected run-down-floorboarded pub just off Main Street.  Firehouse is a dark amber ale, pretty hoppy but not overly.  Flavorful, a pleasure to drink with some salty green olives, sharp cheese, or just some bar mix.  It’s also conducive to déjà vu for me because it was what Peter and I drank on our first New Year’s Eve together.  Neither of us is one for sentimentality about holidays, but this one was just good fun.  After having dinner with my parents at home, we looked into The Marina, a bar on the West River, but it was just as I expected: crowded with all of the jocks and hometown girls who’d already married and had children.  We decided to go downtown.  It was colder than cold—around zero.  I remember, I was wearing not just a thick wool sweater but a thick wool turtleneck sweater.  At McNeill’s, there were a few small groups of locals and Marlboro College types sitting around at little tables, which were home-crafted just like the brews.  I was twenty-one, but Peter was a year younger.  I went up to the bar attempting to be cool as a local (cucumber).  “Two pints of Firehouse?” Not a look or a word questioning my legitimacy as a beer-purchasing adult.  It was New Years Eve.  We sipped our first pints happily.  They were probably playing The Band.  We started a game of darts.  Cheers to ’97!

mcneills

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