Settle in for another one of my "Oh, crud - there are 379 photos in my phone and it's been several days since I've created a blog entry so here goes nothing" posts.... :-)
When you live in Madison, you're surrounded by a seemingly endless number of microbreweries. From the top of my head, and limiting the radius to a distance of around 30 miles, one could visit the following breweries: Ale Asylum, Capital, Essers, Furthermore, Grays, Great Dane, Grumpy Troll, Hydro Street, New Glarus, and Tyranena. I'm sure there are more - but these are the better-known breweries... For those not keeping tabs, that was 10 breweries within 30 miles of Madison. Yikes.
Most of the breweries deliver some excellent brews, and nearly all of them do something to support their communities, either by way of "giving back" or hosting special events with proceeds going to a charity or organization.
One such event has become quite popular over the years, and it's known as "Bockfest." For the past fifteen years, this annual event has been organized and hosted by Capital Brewery, and has built-up a cult-like following while attracting a ton of people from all over the state. The event is so popular, in fact, that the brewery must literally ration ticket sales; the tickets are offered for sale on a certain date at select locations, and they sellout immediately.
I was lucky enough to score two tickets to the 2012 Bockfest event, so I grabbed my friend Chris (from work), and on Saturday, February 25, we attended our first-ever Bockfest event.
We began our day with an early morning breakfast at the Prairie Cafe & Bakery. Chris went with a big omelette, some hash browns, toast, and an orange juice. I went with a blueberry pancake and a scrambled egg with coffee:
That may have been one of the best pancakes I've ever had in my life. Crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and loaded with fresh blueberries - I barely added any syrup, it was that good. The only bad thing about the Prairie Cafe? It's cash only. Oh well.
With our bellies stuffed, we drove over to the Capital Brewery and tried to find a place to park. Despite arriving a full hour early, parking was nearly impossible to find. We parked close to our office and used the walk to help settle our over-filled guts. Once to the brewery, we hopped into line and began the wait. This picture was taken at around 10:00am - the entrance to the brewery was about 1/4-mile away...
While it was a sunny day, it wasn't particularly warm... I'd say the temperature was around 25F with a strong and persistent wind. I wore my Sporthill 3SP pants under a pair of blue jeans, along with Icebreaker wool socks and Salomon prima-loft boots. On top, I wore a wool t-shirt, a 320-weight wool long sleeve, my Sporthill 3SP jacket, and my Columbia Omnitech jacket. The system worked - I was plenty warm all day.
Within an hour-and-a-half, we were finally able to enter the brewery grounds. Here I am, standing in-line for my sample of Capital's Blonde Dopplebock - you can see how many people were at the garden:
Bockfest celebrates the beginning of spring with the release of Capital's infamous Blonde Dopplebock. It's a super-smooth beverage that's only available for a limited time; it also packs quite a punch - so much so, that the brewery limits the sale to one per person. You're given a wristband with a tag; the tag is used to redeem/buy a Dopplebock. Once the tag is gone, you're not allowed to buy any more Dopplebock.
The event was fun and surprising. Fun, because there were a ton of people, all socializing and enjoying a live band (which was quite good).
Surprising? Yep. While making my way into the brewery to use the restroom, I was nearly run-over by a group of cross-dressing men, complete with huge blonde wigs. Apparently, part of the event includes a 1K "race" that they call "The Running of the Blondes."
The other "fun" part of the event involves trying to catch fish being thrown from the roof of the brewery by Capital's brewmaster, Kirby. I don't have any idea where this tradition started, or what relevance it has to the event, but everyone seemed to know what to do...
At around 2:00pm, Kirby rode a large dinosaur to the edge of the brewery roof and began tossing smoked smelt into the crowd. People were literally diving for the fish... I managed to catch a part of a fish... Not sure what to do with it, I tossed it into the garbage.
We also ran into several other friends while at the event - I had a chance to see my pals from the Capital Brewery Cycling Club - we had a great time catching-up and chatting. It was good to see you guys (Mike, Ginger, Paul, Sally, and Helene)!!!!
The event was scheduled to end at 5:00pm, but by 2:30pm, we were tired and ready to head for home. We went back to the house and watched Tower Heist... I wasn't really a fan of the film - it seemed rather lame - so if you haven't yet seen it, save your money.
I was happy to have gone to Bockfest, but am not sure if I'd need to go again... it was an experience, but it was also sort of cold, very crowded, a little chaotic, and a little long. If I do go again, I'm bringing a camping chair and a cooler with party favors and snacks.
== Next Story ==
I've been spending a lot of time in Chicago, thanks to my latest work project. I typically drive down to the office on Sunday night and stay through Friday morning... our office is located near O'Hare airport, so I've grown used to seeing low-flying aircraft at all hours of the day. This photo doesn't do the proximity any justice, but the building to the right is a 15-story building...
With the weekly travel, I've managed to accumulate a lot of points with the local hotels... I've also reacquainted myself with tricks for traveling - I take a full case of water with me for each trip, I've purchased suction-cup-activated clotheslines to line-dry my running gear, and I bought a small humidifier for the hotel bedroom (I stay in a 3-room suite). This little thing has made a huge difference in how I feel in the morning:
While the humidifier was my secret weapon, on the last visit, this electronic door lock served as my arch nemesis. This thing was the bane of my existence:
No matter what I did, the key never seemed to work in this particular room... The hotel sent maintenance at least five times - they replaced the lock's batteries, they cleaned the assembly, they re-coded it, and did a bunch of other things with it. I would've taken them up on their offer for a different room, but I had unpacked and cleaned the room with Lysol wipes, and I liked the location... so I suffered through it. :-)
My hotel and office are not only located near O'Hare, they're also located right "on" the Blue Line for the Chicago El (train) system. With each trip, I've been venturing out on the El and checking out various downtown neighborhoods. Thanks to the suggestions from friends and co-workers, I've fallen in love with the Wicker Park area. It's got a great selection of restaurants, bars, and shops - it's a really cool area.
One of the best places I've been to in Wicker Park is a taco place called "Big Star." Their menu is small - there are four or five tacos to choose from, along with guacamole. But the place doesn't need a huge menu because those few items are absolutely fantastic.
I met a few coworkers at Big Star last week - here's one of the plates of tacos:
I believe that plate has a fish taco, two pork belly tacos, and a pulled pork taco... all were unmistakably delicious. They're simple, fresh, and tasty. They're also reasonably sized and priced. Double-win.
After enjoying some tacos, we headed over to a little bar called The Blue Line Lounge and Grill. The place reminds me of something from the Rat Pack era; it could easily stand-in for the set of Swingers or Goodfellas. It's located directly under the El's Blue Line track, so the name is appropriate. Here's a shot of it from the outside:
I was incredibly lucky to catch-up with one of my old friends from my home town - Steve W. I had an absolute blast chatting with him while at the Blue Line; it's like we never missed a beat, despite not having seen each other for at least 6-7 years. Steve W is a super interesting and cool guy - Steve, if you're reading this, let's get together the next time I'm in Chicago!
On another night, I ventured back down to the Wicker Park area to sample some of the pizza from the infamous "Piece Pizza & Brewery." The venue was small and completely packed; when I stepped foot into the establishment, I was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with nearly 200 people. Yikes!
After a fairly substantial wait, I was able to score a small table and promptly ordered some pizza and one of their brews. While I wasn't a fan of the brew, I did enjoy the pizza. It was a New York style pizza - the crust was chewy but nicely charred, and the toppings were very high quality. I opted for jalapeno, sausage and onion. A spicy combo, but it was delish:
And finally, while visiting Wicker Park on yet another evening, I encountered this wonderful little guy.
His name is Louie, and he's a handsome 2-year old American Staffordshire (aka "Pit Bull"). He was being walked to his socialization and training classes by a nice lady who stopped to chat with me about him. He's available for adoption and currently lives with a Chihuahua and a few cats (sounds familiar, eh?!). He was so sweet - I wish I could've taken him home with me, but I think I've got my hands full with Feef.
As if I wasn't tempted enough by the fine dining and wonderful bars down in the Wicker Park area, one of my project team members brought these in for the last day of our last working session...
Those devils!! I resisted, but it wasn't easy... they looked and smelled as if they could've given the Greenbush Bakery (in Madison) a serious run for its money. ARGH.
I returned to Wisconsin on Thursday night and was greeted by an awesome surprise snow storm on Friday... there wasn't any mention of snow while I was in Chicago - I guess they may have been spared. We, however, took the brunt of the storm - 5-6 inches of heavy, wet snow landed by 5:00pm on Friday. Here's the view from my car as I left work on Friday:
== FINAL STORY ==
With the fresh snowfall, I was able to get out and snowshoe for a bit. It was the first time I had been able to go this year; we've had a very mild winter, so I was actually happy for Friday's heaping helping of crystalized water...
I did a nice 3-mile hike in the snowshoes today - the weather was perfect, and the wet snow made for easy hiking:
After finishing the snowshoeing, I grabbed Feef, and we took a trip into town for some cat and dog food. Here she is, riding in the car - she rides like a champ and can never wait to hop-in the car with me:
...and finally... holy cats, I'm exhausted after writing this entry...
I've given-up diet soda. I quit it cold-turkey in mid-February, and haven't missed it since. I figured it would be much more difficult to quit drinking it, but I find that I really enjoy a glass of water or a glass of unsweet tea as much as, if not more than, a diet Mountain Dew or a Diet Coke.
The nice thing about quitting soda is the amount of room it clears in the refrigerator. Here's what my fridge looks like after dropping the soda.
No Chicago trips this week; it'll be nice to stay home for a bit and enjoy the home turf. Especially this little thing: