Thursday, March 31, 2011

Beer Review: Charkoota Rye by New Holland Brewing

Pig + Beer = Yum
Who says you can’t judge a beer by its label? Charkoota Rye tastes just like the flying pig and butcher paper backdrop suggest. Part of New Holland Brewing’s High Gravity Series, Charkoota Rye Smoked Doppelbock Lager is a pig roast in a bottle.

The smokey 2010 vintage pours flat with almost no head to speak of, and has a dark brown, almost reddish-yellow tinge reminiscent of sunlight shining through whiskey. The aroma is like an old house with a wood stove, and includes subtle hints of summer grilling. Charkoota, upon first smell, seems more like a food than a beverage.

The intimidating aroma is indicative of the initially overpowering smoke flavors. Charkoota is brewed with rye and four other malts, including barley, smoked over cherry wood by the brewers, which give the beer a barbecue flavor that is at first confusing, even disconcerting. But the beer quickly dulls into a caramel-butterscotch richness that finishes surprisingly clean.

If nothing else, Charkoota Rye, 19° Plato, Alc. 7.79% by Vol., is memorable -- sticks in your mind like hints of molasses. A 22 oz. bottle retails for about $9, and would be great for marinades and cooking, or paired with smoked sausage.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Always 1976: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Tribute to Mark Fidrych

I wasn’t born until a few years after Mark Fidrych starred for the Tigers, but that makes “The Bird” no less lovable or iconic in my mind -- it feels like I was there, like I witnessed his antics first-hand. So with baseball season now upon us I’ve been jamming to “1976,” a ridiculously catchy song about the Tiger’s rookie season, from The Baseball Project, Volume 2: High and Inside.

The Baseball Project is a “supergroup” made up of Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey, Steve Wynn and Linda Pitmon. They write and performs songs about baseball, and pretty good songs at that. Learn more about The Baseball Project at, read a review of their new album at the blog, When You Motor Away..., and enjoy this ditty about one of Detroit’s most memorable pitchers.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Baseball Fan's Unrequited Love: Tigers, Internets, Fox Sports Detroit, & MLB

I recently cancelled my cable package because I don’t watch much TV, and Google TV provides all the entertainment I need, with one glaring exception -- I can’t watch Tigers games online. Major League Baseball blacks out local market viewers, and the local TV carrier, Fox Sports Detroit, can’t broadcast games online. I want to live-stream Detroit Tigers games, and I’m willing to pay for it, but baseball has balked at the Internet.

The problem, as Fox Sports Detroit explained to me on Twitter, is that “MLB controls all streaming rights of its content,” and “At present, pro leagues do not live stream games in local TV market.” Fox Sports Detroit also said their TV rights keep MLB from streaming the content “to protect the investment of the TV rightsholders and the cable/video providers (and their subscribers).” Put simply, Fox Sports owns local TV rights, MLB owns online rights, and the two do not work together. Fans lose.

As much as I love listening to the Tigers on an old transistor radio, the dead-end relationship between MLB and local TV presents quite a problem for a fan without cable service. I’m left either scrambling to find a workaround -- a sling box or a proxy server -- or I simply stop watching the games, which is the more probable end. And to be clear, I’m perfectly willing to pay for online viewing.

Frustrating and confusing as the Internet is, there’s a solution that benefits fans, local TV, MLB, and the Tigers.The easy fix is this: MLB retains exclusive online rights except in local markets. In local markets, MLB allows the TV station to stream live on their own website. In return, local TV gives a percentage of profits to MLB. To prevent out-of-market fans from simply visiting the TV station’s website instead of buying an MLB TV package, local TV blocks all non-local IP addresses, and even puts up a paywall.

Profits for both MLB and local TV would increase. The station could provide hard online viewer data to advertisers, and could even broadcast the exact same feed to TV and their website, thus charging even more for commercial spots.

Tell me everyone working in Metro Detroit offices wouldn’t be streaming Tigers games this summer, not to mention viewers from Google TV, iPhone and Android devices, and other online sources. Viewership would go through the roof, TV and baseball would profit, and I’d get to watch my beloved Tigers. If only Major League Baseball loved me back.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Pig is Good, Grange is Good, Absinthe is Dangerous

Duck egg, sausage, and mustard
Chef Brandon Johns has a butcher’s pig chart tattooed on his forearm, and he hand-delivers dishes to the table, so that’s a good start. From there, Ann Arbor’s Grange Kitchen & Bar only gets better. The restaurant’s locally-sourced, farm-to-table dishes are spectacular, and the upstairs bar serves deadly-delicious cocktails.

Grange’s prices are, as was to be expected, a bit high, but that’s OK. Eat a sandwich and drink half a bottle of wine at home first. Then order small plates and appetizers and chalk it up to a dining adventure. To avoid the hoity-toity dinner crowd in Ann Arbor, go early and head to the upstairs bar. The ambiance is no less enjoyable, and much more casual for laughing and cursing after gin and absinthe drinks.

For less than $50, the wife and I shared three small, but rich and delicious dishes, and three damn tasty cocktails -- not too shabby, all things considered. The wife ordered the Scotch duck egg, which was about 100 times better than any Scotch egg I’ve ever known, especially smeared in the mustard sauce on the bottom of the plate. I dined on the fried pig’s head with sauce gribiche, like a beautifully salty, piggish butter -- crispy outside, melty inside. We also split a radish crostini -- fresh and salty, simple and tasty.

To drink, the wife ordered the GGGinger with mint, lime juice, Tanqueray, ginger beer, and crystallized ginger. She was surprised by how understated the ginger flavors were, and thought it tasted like a fancy mojito. I had the French 75 with New Holland Gin, simple syrup, lemon juice, sparkling wine, lemon twist and brandied cherries, served up with a bunch of unnecessary sticks and adornments, perhaps to remind me to slow down while drinking. Tastes like candy.

Not to be constrained sticks and twists, I followed my gin drink with the cocktail of dreams, a Sazerac made with Sazerac rye, absinthe, Peychauds bitters, and simple syrup. And by drink of dreams, I mean dreams for the evening, nightmares the next morning. For more information on Grange, the farms they buy from, and other assorted goodies, visit Enjoy.

Fine looking pig

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Michigan Rocks, Bleeds

As much as I love Alice Cooper, Tom Waits is hands-down my favorite member of the new Rock and Hall of Fame inductees. But this is a Michigan blog and, as they say, if it bleeds it ledes.

And just because I can, Tom Waits reading a poem by Charles Bukowski. Now that’s rock and roll.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Literary Events in West Michigan

Michigan’s west side is getting bookish this week, with local authors and celebrities making appearances in Muskegon and Kalamazoo. If you’re into Great Lakes literature and homegrown writers, this is one heck of a lineup.

Adam Schuitema is reading at Walker Library in North Muskegon on Tuesday at 6:30pm. Schuitema is the author of Freshwater Boys, a collection of 11 short stories set along the Lake Michigan coast. He is Assistant Professor of English at Kendall College in Grand Rapids, and holds masters and doctoral degrees from Western Michigan University. Read more about the author at

WMU’s Nancy Eimers is reading at the Bernhard Center on Tuesday at 8:00pm as part of the Gwen Frostic Reading Series. Eimers recently published her fourth poetry collection, Oz. She has been the recipient of a Nation “Discovery” Award, two National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships, and a Whiting Writer’s Award.

Steven Rinella is making a homecoming visit to Muskegon Community College on Wednesday at 7:00pm with a “public appearance” at MCC’s Overbrook Theater. Rinella is the author of the Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine and American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon, and host of the Wild Within on the Travel Channel. Read more at the Muskegon Chronicle, and on MCC’s website.

Finally, I’m asking readers to support my own literary endeavors as managing editor of BULL: Men’s Fiction. BULL is close to making the semifinals of Docker’s “Wear the Pants” contest, but we still need votes. Read about the contest at the BULLblog, and vote on Facebook. The catch (of course) is that voting takes place via a Facebook application, which requires voters to allow Docker’s limited access to their information. A pain, but worth it... for literature, for me.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Waking to Snow

Allow me to welcome winter back to Michigan. Just yesterday I was complaining about snowflakes. As much as I love winter weather -- part of the reason I live in Michigan -- I’m done; ready for spring, ready for flip-flops. Then this morning, before I looked out my window, I looked at the news and saw terrible disasters around the world, and suddenly snow didn’t seem so bad. If you’re one of those who complain about Michigan weather, if you’ve left the state for warmer climes or constantly threaten to do so, I bid you adieu. But beware; there are wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and tsunamis out there. Better to stay home in Michigan, slow your commute just a bit, and wait safely and patiently for spring. Delayed gratification, the ant and the grasshopper, sly old foxes, Pure Michigan.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Palazzo di Bocce: 13 Observations

1. Palazzo di Bocce is in Lake Orion, Michigan.
2. Bocce played on courts is a completely different game than the Lake Michigan beach bocce I grew up with.
3. Metro Detroit’s suburban Italians go big, not home.
4. The physical space is like an airplane hangar (see number 9).

The Courts
5. Decent food, solid wine list, fantastic coffees and desserts.
6. Courts are fast, very fast. Throw low, throw slow.
7. Palazzo’s bathrooms smell like a department store cologne counter.
8. This is not Cadieux Café. That’s ok.
9. Palazzo hosts leagues, and accommodates groups as large as 600. Yes, 600.
10. Kitschy tapestries feel oddly appropriate.

Bocce Trophies
11. Rates vary, but plan to spend about $10 per person, per hour.
12. Be European. Eat, drink, and play as slowly as possible.
13. There are rules.

When in Rome...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Eat Pączki, Re-Post Pączki Video

Mo Rocca travels to Hamtramck to explore the Polish-American Fat Tuesday phenomenon known as Pączki Day for CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Je t'aime, Detroit Crêpes

Good boys go to Detroit to gorge themselves at Good Girls Go to Paris Crêpes. Located across the street from the Detroit Institute of Arts, this Midtown restaurant serves crêpes and coffee, simply and well, with a French-Michigan style that seems just right for artistic types in the Motor City.

The menu is divided between sweet and savory, and since I’m a glutton I had to sample one of each. For my savory crêpe I had the Jeanette, with prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, olive oil, and herb de provence. The savory Jeanette tastes exactly like it looks, like an inside-out pizza with just a hint of pancake. So simple and so, so good.

For my sweet crepe I took the recommendation of the girl at the register and ordered the Katie, with apples, brown sugar, caramel, and salted butter. And on top of that, my wife ordered the Fay, with banana, pecans, caramel, salted butter, and brown sugar. I ate half of that too. The sweet crêpes are as light as gourmet pastries, yet the butter gives them a richness that is as heavy and delectable as a homemade country pie.

Owner Torya Blanchard makes the crêpes in plain view, while her team of baristas, servers, and kitchen helpers bustle all around her. Blanchard spreads batter on two griddles, then throws on toppings, and moves -- never stops moving -- to the next customer, all while wearing high heels. It’s worth a trip just to watch the artist at work.This video gives a pretty good sense of things - je t'aime, good girls:

Friday, March 4, 2011

Odds & Ends: Michigan Links of Note

Jaimy Gordon, Western Michigan University Professor and 2010 National Book Award Winner, was nominated for a Pen/Faulkner Award for her novel Lord of Misrule. Read more about Jaimy, her horse track novel, and the Pen/Faulkner Award at

In related Hilltopper news, Czech author Arnošt Lustig passed away last week. Lustig was a permanent faculty member of the Western Michigan University English Department's Prague Summer Program. Read my “Salute to Arnošt Lustig” at BULL: Men’s Fiction, and visit the WMU English blog, Gleanings’ “Member of Prague Faculty, Arnošt Lustig, dies.”

Muskegon’s Hackley Library needs donations to make improvements to the building. Read more in the Muskegon Chronicle, “Hackley Public Library seeks donations for new lights, restrooms,” and visit the Building of Character website to learn more.

The Hamtramck Blowout is this weekend, which means three things: heavy rain, flooded streets, and an awesome party. Visit Metro Times for a full rundown of this year’s event. I’m going to try to make it out, but I’m a little afraid I’ll melt.

The Michigan Winter Beer Festival was the most overreported, overblogged story this week. I am not blameless here, but I would direct readers to the Buzz: Siciliano’s Market News & Notes’ “Michigan Winter Beer Fest 2011.” Great store, fun blog, good beer.

The Whitefish Point Lighthouse, the oldest operating lighthouse on Lake Superior, is in need of restoration. Read more about the lighthouse at Midwest Guest's "Visit Michigan's Remote Whitefish Point Lighthouse," learn how you can help restore the lighthouse at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum’s website, and check out this video about the restoration: 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cobo Renovation Looks Impressive

From @DetNews: "Cobo Center officials today are unveiling details of a long-awaited, $221 million facelift of the city's main convention center that includes panoramic views of the Detroit River and sweeping changes to its façade." Read more about the renovations at the Detroit News, "$221M Cobo revamp to add river view, replace arena," and check out this renovation animation - if the traffic moves this smoothly outside the convention center I'll consider the project a resounding success:

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Beef Rest Needs Beer Mugs

I'd prefer a liter
Time for Michigan to start acting like the Great Beer State and change the format of our beer festivals. Michiganders brave -- no, celebrate -- single digit temperatures to drink outside for five straight hours. In the summer, we stand in the mud of a flooded river. For adventure beer drinkers, a 3-ounce cup doesn’t cut it. We need to celebrate beer as a way of life, not just a twice-a-year gimmick for odd-ball and experimental beers.

In my pre-festival blog post, “Winter Beer Festival Advice,” I recommended visitors stash a bottle of bourbon in their pockets to survive the cold weather, long waits, and small pours. Is it our Dutch roots that make us fear beers big enough to feel? I’m typically after only one or two specific beers at these festivals, and I’d prefer to drink them out of a liter mug while seated at a picnic table, enjoying the drunken spectacle over a good chat with friends.

For repeat visitors and craft beer enthusiast (who’ve likely already sampled and purchased most of the beers), the festival should offer an alternative modeled after German beer gardens. Instead of tiny 3 oz. samples, why not two giant liter mugs of beer? For a $35 ticket, festivalgoers could choose between 12 samples, or 2 mugs of beer. Everyone wins when we cut down on the chaos caused by combining lines and drunk people. If brewers have low-volume, high-demand varieties, they can choose to not fill liter mugs. I’m willing to compromise here.

Maybe I’ve just been to too many of these festivals and the novelty has worn off. But I don’t think so. I still love the general atmosphere, and I take personal pride in supporting the Michigan beer industry. The festivals are a great way to spend an afternoon with friends and meet brewers face-to-face. This year, the snow globe-like environment was especially beautiful. I can think of no better way to spend an afternoon than drinking a Michigan beer -- a giant beer -- mixed with snowflakes.

Is that a camo skirt?
As a final thought, Mark DeKlein of DeKlein Chestnuts showed up with a backpack full of venison jerky, which pretty well made my day. This year we nicknamed the festival “beef rest.” Next time we’ll have to forgo the #beefrest hashtag in favor of #deerrest. Venison, beer, snow, Pure Michigan.