Archive for the ‘Vermont’ Category

Vermont Studio, Part II: some pictures

May 10, 2011

Awhile back, I wrote a long blog post about my experience at Vermont Studio Center. Thought I’d give a little photo tour of the center and some other odds and ends.

Here’s the heart of the center, the Red Mill. All of the offices are here, a lounge, the dining hall. It stays open 24 hours and you can always get coffee here, and while the dining hall closes down you can always at least get some cereal if you’ve been working at three in the morning:

Here is the Maverick Writing Studios. This wasn’t here when I came to the Center a decade ago (hard to believe how long it’s been). Back then you had a desk in your room and kind of lived all in one room for weeks. The Maverick was opened about 4 years ago and is the only building that was actually built by the Center. All other buildings were already standing in the town (VSC has basically bought much of Johnson, Vermont and converted it to its own ends). There are 16 writing studios here, each with a view of the Gihon River (yes, it does flow out of Eden, VT for all of you up on your old testament) and they are generally filled with a waiting list:


Here is the Gihon River during spring thaw:


Hmmm, what else have I got? Oh yeah, a little fuzzy, but here’s a shot of Stephen Dunn meeting with the writers, giving a talk on the “turn” in poetry. Good stuff:


Here’s Pogo, the VSC mascot, waiting patiently for someone to throw a tidbit out the kitchen window after lunch:


Campfires are a necessity. Here I learn that Peeps (it was Easter time afterall) will not only roast like marshmallows over the fire, they turn really pretty psychedelic colors when they do:


Here’s my good friend Tim/Spleen getting ready to interview me at WMRW in Warren, VT:


Here’s the board at Threepenny in Montpelier, also disappointingly blurry (it’s the lighting folks, not the beer). It also doesn’t do justice to the bottle list they have on hand:


And finally here is a scene that still makes me homesick for Vermont. How I love those mountain streams and rivers, those endless swimming holes and beautiful waterfalls and cascades. I didn’t get out in the woods nearly as much as I would have in different circumstances (as in, other than mud season) but it still felt great to get out and see the landscape again.


I have much more, but I’ll call it a night for now. Maybe more later, maybe not. Who knows.

Thoughts on New England Beer

May 1, 2011

I grew into beer in Vermont, drinking New England beers. One of my first real beer loves was Catamount Ale, which used to be brewed in White River Junction but is now defunct. Long Trail was emerging on the scene about the time I was leaving Vermont, and it was a good brew we really enjoyed, but it wasn’t Catamount. McNeill’s brewery was also starting production about the time we left. McNeill’s, formerly Three Dollar Dewey’s, was the bar that really turned my beer world around (and Ray originally brewed with Catamount before he began brewing his own) and opened my eyes to the big wonderful world of malt and hops. So I’ve always had a soft spot for New England brewers.

Fact is, though, they didn’t really hold up once I moved away and my beer horizons expanded. For instance, most of the beers I loved in Vermont really didn’t hold up once I started tasting those amazing west coast ales. I moved away in 1990 as the beer world was quickly expanding, and my awareness was also expanding (thanks in large part to the Saturday Night beer club at Cafe Brenda in Minneapolis where I worked for many years–the perfect way to relax after long busy nights at the restaurant). My love of Vermont beers became more nostalgic than anything (although nostalgia plays an important part in the beers we love). After I moved away, I did get back to Vermont pretty regularly through the 90s and it was always a pleasure, say, to revisit McNeill’s brewery or have a Long Trail but on the whole the New England beer scene seemed to be losing ground. Then I barely visited during the ’00s.

So it was interesting to be back in Vermont recently to both see what was happening in the scene in general, and to revisit some of my old favorite beers. I sensed a world divided. As I mentioned, Catamount is no more. Long Trail seems to be fluorishing, but the beers are pretty uninspired. Otter Creek, which was also emerging about the time I left, falls into the same camp–decent but uninspired beers. In fact, during my first week in Vermont, that was my sense of New England beer in general: Long Trail, Otter Creek, Smuttynose, Harpoon were all fairly disappointing. I went to the Vermont Pub in Burlington which opened about the time I left as well–it wasn’t great at that point but I thought I’d see where it had gone, and it had gone from mediocre to worse. I really thought the beer here was pretty bad and the ambience even worse. Flat Street Brewery in Brattleboro was really pretty bad. My visit to McNeill’s (which I blogged about earlier) was good, some of his beers were quite wonderful, some less so, but that quirky Brattleboro charm had kind of run off the place at least on that Friday night. I found a few newer local brewers, Rock Art, Trout River, Lake Placid, Shipyardbut the first beers I had from any of these places were mediocre as well.

After a fairly disappointing first week, though, things did get much better the second week. First, I spent a day in Montpelier and had some beers and lunch at the Threepenny Taproom. This place is a real find, and I really wish it had been there when I was at Vermont College (how life would have been different to hang out here instead of Julio’s or Charlie-O’s). A great draft list and an even better list and a small but creative daily menu. The staff knew their shit and were really pleasant. I had previously had a few Allagash beers from Maine, and they’d generally left me lukewarm, but I sampled their barrel-aged Curieux–holy crap that was good! This is also where I discovered Hill Farmstead, a small but really creative brewery doing some amazing work. I sampled two fabulous IPA’s. After Threepenny, I also found some of the better beers in some of the local portfolios. For instance, I found some very good Rock Art beers: Rock Art brews: their Vermonster is a really nice malty barleywine and their Belvidere and their ESB2 are both excellent imperials; Lake Placid’s Ubu is a solid English Strong Ale; Long Trail’s Double Bag is a much stronger IPA than their regular IPA. My last find in Vermont was Burlington’s Flat Bread/Zero Gravity brewery. I had lunch there my last day in Vermont and was really happy to end that way, a really good IPA, an  even better Imperial, and a good belgian tripel.

My sense, then, is that in general New England breweries are a little behind other areas of the country, but there are some exciting things going on. It’s a little harder to find the gems here than other areas of the country, but they’re out there, and I’m looking forward to seeing what creative brewers like Hill Farmstead will end up doing. I think I need to go back, this time with MB in the summer so we can do some hiking, visit the old swimming holes, and do some serious beer research.

Thoughts from the Old Stomping Grounds

April 10, 2011

Last fall I spent a few days wandering around my old hometown where I hadn’t lived in over 25 years. It was an interesting study in memory and change that I’m still writing about, trying to come to terms with what I remember, what I don’t, what the town remembers and what it doesn’t, etc. One of the things that fascinated me was the way I could pinpoint things that were buried under twenty five years of a reconstructed landscape. I was trying to remember an old dam and fire pit that I used to camp beside out in a wooded patch in the midst of long meadows that ran behind the “golden mile” of route 40. At that point it was still pretty much farmland and meadows everywhere. But the town has grown exponentially since then; those fields are now miles and miles of townhouses, malls, and roads. How then did I walk right to the point in the stream–now completely unrecognizable from memory, a complete different stream course and topograpy–and find the remnants of the old dam?

Yesterday, I wandered around another one of my old haunts, Brattleboro, VT. I only lived there about 4 years but it has been 21 years since I lived there. What I found interesting was that my experience was the complete opposite of going back to Frederick: here the changes were minimal. It’s really the same town, same landscape, but it felt completely alien. It’s still the old hippie haven I remember, but I had trouble acknowledging that this is the place I had lived. Sure, I got there the more I wandered around. Twenty years later, the Shin-La is still running with the same family at the helm and the flavors came back to me in a flash, the crisp dumplings, the fresh ginger, the really hot, really good KimChi–I’ve yet to ever find Korean food as good as theirs:

Mount Wantastiquet still looms across the river, the same scene I woke up to every day from our tiny apartment, 6 floors up above the railroad tracks (how I remember that bright morning sun flooding into the apartment as it crested Wantastiquet–being, as we were, too cheap and/or ignorant to get any kind of room-darkening shades).

(that’s our old porch with the yellowish railings in the middle at the very top–great place)

Sure some things have changed, but nothing remarkable. It’s all got the same feeling, despite say landmarks like Three Dollar Dewey’s (the bar where I really learned to appreciate good beer) now having long since become McNeill’s brewery in the old firehouse and the old Dewey’s building long since torn down, turned into a parking lot which is now so old that even it is being rebuilt:

Here’s the “new” McNeill’s, now going on 21 (Ray & Holiday were finishing it up when we left–we got to drink there several times in its early days when I was still coming back to Vermont to finish up school at Goddard and then my MFA at Vermont College, both “low-residency” programs in northern Vermont). It still looks pretty much the same, (well, except for the parking ramp that sprung up behind it) and still has the same long wood tables, dart boards, and green swirled tiffany lights over the bar that were all in Dewey’s as well (I do mean the same, not the same style).

Other things that have changed, though, are actually still pretty much the same. For instance, the hippie co-op restaurant I worked at has been out of business for about ten years (really longer, but it had a couple of “revival” periods until it finally went under for good I think in ’02 or ’03 (I could be wrong on that–fellow Vermonters feel free to help me with the story). Yet, the sign remains, the mural on the wall remains, the beautiful old sun-porch remains even if now looking pretty decrepit (but frankly the building was pretty decrepit back when I was there. I remember when we’d have dances, the whole floor swayed and buckled so much that I was sure it was only a matter of time before the whole place would fell into the lower level–a pharmacy at the time, so that’s changed, but “Everyone’s Books” merely moved down the block into the space so it doesn’t feel like so much of a change).

So what’s all this mean anyway? I’m not sure, but I spent a good few hours at McNeill’s last night (the Dead Horse IPA on cask was excellent, the Oatmeal Stout good, the Dark Angel imperial stout started out incredible but didn’t hold up for a whole pint) wondering why Frederick feels so alien to me yet so in my blood that I can’t seem to forget anything while Brattleboro remains fundamentally the same yet I feel so alien. Sure time spent in each is part of the equation; sure, the age at which certain impressions are made is part of the equation, but I don’t think those things really explain it.

What I’m trying to work my head around is a half-formed theory in which changes in landscape and environment are a kind of working metaphor for memory, the way a city, say, is fundamentally the same as memory in which change overlaps change, history builds up and accrues in the sediment of place. As I say, it’s half-formed, it’s vague,  it’s more just an idea I’m trying to work through. What’s it all mean? I don’t know–I’ll let you know when I finish working on it (and then I won’t tell you anyway, cause I’ll want you to buy the book, right?).

If I knew then what I know now….

January 30, 2008

So, I’m drinking some Piraat and quite enjoying it and wondering how did I get here (this is not my house, this is not my beautiful wife…), you know, getting to where one really enjoys a nice belgian ale over, say, the ubiquitous Budweiser.  Where does it come from?  I trace my lineage back to Three Dollar Dewey’s in Brattleboro, VT.  I went on to live in this town, but at the time I was visiting from Maryland.  The wife and I head up to see some friends and mountains and snow in March (just a few days mind you since I had to be at court on Monday but that’s another story).  Three Dollar Dewey’s was a run down bar on the edge of town that had one hell of a beer list.  After drinking with friends all evening, all over town, we end up at closing time at Deweys (oh, we’d made earlier visits during the evening) and I have this memory of trying to make sense of the beer list, what to have for that last beer of the evening.  Ray McNeill, friend of a friend and beer connoisseur, tried to talk me through it.  Problem was, Molson’s was extravagant to me at the time.  I don’t know what I ended up with, but I know that I didn’t like it.  The condition I was in was no condition in which to be venturing into Belgian beers.  Well, as I say, I ended up moving to Brattleboro and even working at Deweys.  Ray went on to open a quite nice Brewpub downtown (if you’ve seen “American Beer” that’s him playing cello and being quite witty and charming early in the film with a definite shift in tenor in the late-night scene soon thereafter–if you haven’t seen it by the way, I’d say see it) and I really learned beer from Ray.  Still not sure I got it by the time I left Brattleboro (my tastes were still far from out-of-the-ordinary, but I was certainly equipped with a real love of beer and the readiness to explore).  I wonder now how life would have been different if I’d had a real love of Belgians and other good beers when I lived in Vermont.  I’m guessing life wouldn’t have turned out that different, except that I’d probably still be in Vermont because I wouldn’t have had the money to move away–I’d have drank it away in those beautifully cloudy tulip glasses.  Ah, as the zen master says, we only see what we’re ready to see and the teacher comes along when we’re ready for the teacher.  Thanks Ray.