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Friday, May 23, 2008

Elysian Avatar Jasmine IPA

Ahhhhh.... Hippy chick.

Elysian is not just an amazing set of brewpubs in Seattle; they're doing bottling, too. God bless 'em, they sent me a sample of their Avatar Jasmine IPA, and I finally felt de-allergized enough to try it tonight; a beautiful late afternoon/early evening that is just begging for a fire out back, and I'm gonna give in, me and my gal and some whiskey.

But that's later. Right now, we're grilling up some vegetables and a mustard-glazed pork roast (Temeraire Mustard, damn, get some, and it's great slow-roasted on the grill), and I figured, let's get some of that Avatar going.

It's an IPA that's been dry-flowered with jasmine flowers. What the hell? I'm not sure what it might go with, other than cheese and maybe fruit, but it's striking. The jasmine hippy character gets some firmness from the solid bitterness, and it all works out by the end...mostly. Cathy likes it, though she's "not sure why I like it." I find the flower and the bitter together a bit jarring. The aroma's great, with the flower floating through the malt smell, but that contrast of bitter and flower is not doing it for me.

I'm looking for something crisper in an IPA; the base may be, but the flowers blunt it. Still, it's different enough that those who like it will like it. Worth a try, if only for the mind-expansion it may bring.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

New poll at PLCB blog

I've got another poll up at Why the PLCB Should Be Abolished (as well as an explanation of why my blogging has been rather sparse lately). This time it's a question of what you would change first about the Pennsylvania Liquor Code. Priorities, people.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cooks for Cops "good turn-out"

Just got an e-mail from Michael Naessens about yesterday's Cooks for Cops benefit for the family of slain Philadelphia City police Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski.

"Despite the rain we had a good turn out at all Old City restaurants and will be sending a helpful contribution to the officer's family. It's great when we can use our love of beer to help a worthwhile cause.

Cheers, Mike"

Thanks to everyone who turned out!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Good cause in Old City tomorrow

Just got this from Mike "The King" Naessens (hey, Mike, I'm kidding!), and it looks like a good thing if you're going to be in Philly tomorrow.

Old City Merchants Team Up To Help Fallen Officer’s Family

“Cooks for Cops” Event Set for May 20th

Old City restaurant and bar owners are banding together to raise money for the family of fallen Philadelphia police officer Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski.
“Heroes like Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski who are willing to face the ultimate sacrifice daily to keep Philadelphia a great city are the ultimate examples of people living the eulogy they’d like to be remembered by,” said Eulogy owner Mike Naessens. “We are proud to support our heroes.”

On Tuesday, May 20, participating Old City businesses will donate 10% of their proceeds to the trust fund set up to help Sgt. Liczbinski’s family. More than 30 businesses are scheduled to participate in what is being called “Cooks for Cops.”

Participating businesses include: Beneluxx Tasting Room, Eulogy Belgian Tavern, Philadelphia Fish & Company, Mexican Post, Karma, Buffalo Billiards, Mad River, Triumph, Cebu, Brownies, Plough, Serrano, Sassafras, Penn’s View, Bookbinders, National Mechanics, Nick’s Roast Beef, Positano Coast, Rotten Ralph’s, Triada, Marmont, Anjou, Mizu, Pizzicato, Fork, GiGi, Panini, Lucy’s Hat Shop, Swanky Bubbles, Spasso, Amada, Patou and Campo’s. The money raised by the “Cooks for Cops” event will go directly to the Stephen Liczbinski Family Memorial Trust.

“We are proud to support our police officers and hope you do the same by attending this event,” said Naessens.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Would you like a CD with that?

In case you missed hearing about it... One Guy Brewing (date-sensitive link) in Berwick is giving away CDs this Saturday. Really, giving them away, and they're real music. Between brewing jobs, Guy bought and sold CDs in a big way at eBay and flea markets (ask him about the Amish girl at the stand next to his...), and he's got a bunch of them left. Last time I was up I skimmed them and got a Patty Benatar compilation for my daughter, Fallout Boy for my son, and The Radiators "Law of the Fish" for me. Free. Like you can, this Saturday. He might have some of the Chinese flower petal art left, too: ask him.

Oh, and he's supposed to have more cask ale (dry-hopped with EKG this time), pilsner, Berwick Lager, and stout. All that, pizza from King's, and free CDs? Get your asses to Berwick!

The PLCB (and Sheetz) vs. PA Beer Distributors

Yesterday, there was a Pennsylvania Supreme Court hearing on the lawsuit the Pennsylvania Malt Beverage Distributors Association (MBDA) brought against the PLCB for granting a 'deli license' to a Sheetz 'convenience store' ('quotes' used because this place is huge, and includes a 60-seat restaurant with 4,000 sq. ft. of floor space).

Some interesting points:

Sheetz currently sells only takeout beer in Altoona. The distributors' association contends that the store also should have to serve beer to restaurant patrons for consumption on the premises. (from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

The MBDA's attorney argued that by granting the license to a retailer that did not intend to serve on-premise, ‘‘The [liquor board] authorized venues to sell beer that the Legislature never intended,’’ Robert Hoffman, attorney for the distributors’ group, told the justices. (from the Altoona Mirror)

Mr. Wolowski (the lawyer representing Sheetz) told the justices that Sheetz is willing to serve beer in the Altoona store if that is required. A lawyer for Wegmans, which was not a party to the Sheetz case, signaled a similar willingness. (Post-Gazette)

Liquor board attorney Rodrigo Diaz said liquor licensees are granted the privilege to sell alcoholic beverages, but not required to sell them. "You get a license from us, you don't have a duty to sell," Mr. Diaz said. (Post-Gazette)

Some justices debated the merits of allowing alcoholic beverages to be sold by businesses that not so long ago were not even considered. When Justice Seamus McCaffery called the Sheetz store "a gas station," Justice Debra Todd asserted that it is more than that. "They sell creme brulee," she said.

Fascinating. Where is the justification for finding that these two businesses cannot hold a license? Is it because Sheetz sells gas? So what? If a store that currently operated as a deli decided to start selling gas, would that invalidate its deli license? If it did, why? People -- legislators and judges -- seem to have this bizarre idea that if beer is sold in gasoline stations, where people drive in to get gas in their cars, they will automatically drive away sucking on a cold longneck. As opposed to driving to a restaurant or bar, where they will suck on the cold longneck before they drive away? If a supermarket has a license to sell beer, how is that different from a tavern or deli with the same kind of license to sell beer?

Note to the PA legislature: look at how the wind's blowing. People want sixpacks. Don't bobble the sixpack sale legislation still being considered.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

What I like about you...

I've got a new poll up on my "Why the PLCB Should be Abolished" blog:

"What I like most about the PLCB."

No, really. There's gotta be something, right? Go vote.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Uh. Sell Beer. Joe and Jane Sixpack. Uh. Beer.

Beer gets Op-Ed attention in the Inquirer today; the Sheetz case goes to the State Supreme Court tomorrow. The editorial gets the general idea right, which is good: Pennsylvanians should be able to buy beer in six-packs, like everyone else in the United States. As the Inky says, "Beer must be purchased mostly by the case. Six-packs are available at bars and restaurants - at sky-high prices. The system is tailor-made to restrict competition and choice, and to artificially inflate prices."

So far, so good, although the average reader could easily infer that this "system" was put in place by the taverns and beer distributors, rather than put in place by the State and enforced by its booze law goon squad, the PLCB. But they miss the point. The Sheetz case is not about selling beer at a convenience store; if they win their case -- and they should -- it will not mean that every WaWa will be selling sixers of Coors Light. It's both more and less complicated than that.

What Sheetz wants is to be able to use the license they bought for their big Altoona store, a store that, like many in the chain, is so big that they've included a seating area for their large food menu. Other delis/pizza joints have the same thing, and there's no problem. That's the less-complicated part.

The more complicated part is mostly, pardon me, bullshit. The rub with Sheetz, supposedly, is that the company doesn't want to allow on-premises consumption of the beer; you can't drink it there, you have to get it to go. This is what has brought the case to the courts: a company policy that most Pennsylvanians could care less about if it means they can buy a sixer of Bud Light at a convenience store (Didja see that word? Convenience. Something the PLCB oughta look into).

What's it really about? Well, the Inky bellows about "surly beer sellers who now maintain a monopoly." Get it right: the beer sellers are surly because either the State won't let them sell six-packs (the distributors), or because the State set up rules that led them to base their business model on a monopoly on selling six-packs (the tavern owners).

The taverns are going to have to roll over on this. Places like The Sixpack Store, Suds, Quick Six, and The Foodery have built a business around giving us what we want: sixpacks to go, a good selection, in and out. They see a heavily bankrolled chain moving into their business, they're probably going to fight it. But when the dust settles, it's going to be the same scene, just more competitive. There are only so many licenses; business will go to the stores that best serve the variety of consumer needs.

But the beer distributors are the ones getting screwed, and we're getting it right along with them. They've got the expertise, the selection, the space, the cold rooms...let them sell sixpacks. Please! If you're going to level the playing field, level the whole thing.

Some of you will probably think I'm being too hard on the Inquirer. They are calling for sixpacks for the citizens, after all. But this is a complicated issue that goes to the heart of the problems with the PLCB: interpretation of arcane, archaic laws that would be better off being completely replaced, rather than tinkered with. If I'm dealing with a 'major daily,' I expect the full story.

Monday, May 12, 2008

PLCB Blog: Reason #5

We already discussed how the PLCB has a personality split. One side of the agency wants to sell you booze (gotta make money at the State Store!), the other side wants to control how much you buy and how you drink it. Brilliant idea for a state agency.

But there's another two-sided bedevilment going on at the PLCB. The PLCB always says that they don't make the liquor laws in Pennsylvania, they just enforce them. Yes, that's an extent. Because when they enforce them, they also interpret them. So you'll get interpretations on just what a "case" of beer is, and about how licenses can be apportioned within a county, and ... and what constitutes a State Store, apparently. Because while the PLCB is currently "enforcing" laws that make it illegal to sell beer or liquor at a grocery store, they are also currently considering an "interpretation" that will justify them putting 100 wine vending machines in grocery stores. Really.

Reason #5:

The Liquor Code serves the PLCB, not the citizens of the Commonwealth.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Something new under the sun

Thanks to James Arndorfer, the tireless soul of Miller Brewing's Brew Blog, I have this to show you:

Amazing, ain't it? "Budweiser American Ale." The cognitive dissonance is almost deafening.

I'll save your eyes: the main text says: “Budweiser American Ale defines a new style of ale – The American Ale – created by Anheuser-Busch brewmasters to deliver robust ale taste that’s full-bodied, but not too heavy nor too bitter.” The side text says "Carefully brewed with barley from America's heartland and Cascade hops from the Pacific Northwest, this rich, amber-colored ale has robust flavor, and a distinctive, hoppy finish."

Wow. Maybe. We'll find out if it's really "Wow" in October.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Snatched from the jaws of defeat...

Victory's restaurant and bar have re-opened -- on time -- and I have to tell you, it was time (and a bunch of bucks) well-spent. Unfortunately, most of my pictures look like hell. Sorry.

There was still work going on as I walked through the doors today at 11:30 AM, and there would be work going on the whole visit -- kind of like going to sea while they're still riveting plates on, I said to someone. But what the hell: the taps were working and the expanded kitchen was rocking (food came really fast today), which is really all we needed.

The new look is very nice. There's a lot more room (seating for 240, vs. 120 in the old place) without feeling cramped, there's still a long bar, if not quite as long, there's a new banquet room (that should also double nicely as a beer hall...), and the industrial ceiling is still in place. The old long bar is now booths, a nice nookish area, and the new bar is simply wonderful.

Beer: there are indeed 20 taps, and 10 of them were lagers (I had two different Braumeister Pils). There were four hand-pumps (I had an Uncle Teddy's). And there is a counter-pressure growler filler, which looks amazing, but it wasn't quite dialed in yet. Another time.

And of course, there was Richard Ruch, famed Victory regular, who appeared to be checking all the seats along the bar, looking for his new spot. When that happens, Victory will truly be re-opened, and things will be back to normal. Great job, Ron and Bill!

A Couple Plugs

Just wanted to plug a few events, one mine (kind of), and two for friends. (PR folks: I'm not going to make this a habit, so please don't bombard me with stuff!)

First, Chris LaPierre, brewer at Iron Hill West Chester and total flippin' bon vivant, is co-hosting a vegetarian beer dinner at hot new Philly beer spot Jose Pistolas with guest chef Eric Anderson of Essene and JP chef Brenton Wallace, on Tuesday, May 13th. It's a 5-course, 7-(Iron Hill) beer dinner for $65 (reservations recommended; 215-545-4101), and if you haven't been to Jose oughta, man, you oughta.

Second, there are two beer festivals next weekend that I would point out to you. First is the Iron Hill-produced Brandywine Valley Craft Brewers Festival at Iron Hill Media on Saturday May 17, 1-5. Get your ticket on-line and save five bucks (better do it soon, this sells out). This is a very nice fest, nicely done for the brewers and you. If I weren't otherwise occupied, believe me, I'd be there.

The other fest is the same day, in Altoona! It's Pints for Pets, a benefit for the Central Pennsylvania Humane Society. There are over fifty brewers and wholesalers committed to appear, price is a steal at $25 ($30 at the door). Check that link for some other great places in the area: the fest doesn't start till 4, which gives you time to check them out, right? Good cause, and come on: a beer fest in Altoona! (If you stay overnight, there's a great breakfast to be had in town at R Waffle King).

Finally, I'm speaking Saturday and Sunday (May 24-25) on Memorial Day weekend at the Great Pennsylvania FlavorFest at Mt. Hope Winery outside of Manheim, PA (not far from the Lebanon exit off the PA TP). There will be beer from Victory, Stoudt's, and the greatly improved on-site Swashbuckler Brewery; this is the site of the PA Renaissance Faire. There will also be a ton of food, crafts, wine, music, cooking demos...all that good stuff. I'm talking about beer and food pairing each day at 1:30, then it's summer beers on Saturday at 4:30, and beer basics at 4:30 on Sunday. Should be a whole lot of fun!

PLCB Blog: Reason #4

I remember the first time I visited Johnstown. I was driving in from Pittsburgh, and it had been raining heavily. The sky was still gray and threatening, and local streams and creeks were swollen, brim-full. I mentioned this to a Johnstown resident, and his dead-serious response was, "You might not want to talk about that. We're kind of touchy about that."

Say the name, "Johnstown," and people think "flood." The flood they're thinking of was in 1889, a catastrophe caused by a dam failure, but there were other floods in Johnstown, in 1894, 1907, 1924, and 1977. The biggest flood after the 1889 event, though, was the "St. Patrick's Day Flood" in 1936. Damage was extensive, and the State responded with clean-up and recovery aid. The expenditures were covered by a quickly-imposed Emergency Tax of 10% on all wine and liquor sold in the State Stores.

You may have heard that we're still paying this Emergency Tax. Well, that's not really true; we're no longer paying a 10% Johnstown Flood Emergency Tax. Don't be silly; that was over 70 years ago! No, we're paying an 18% Johnstown Flood Emergency Tax for an "emergency" that ended 71 years ago, because the State raised the tax to 15% in 1963 and then again to 18% in 1968. That's some emergency.

Reason #4:

The Ridiculous 72-Year Old Emergency Tax

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Evan Williams to the Rescue

Just got a press release from Heaven Hill: in the interests of making sure there are no repeats of Hillary's "whiskey faux pas" (the Senator knocked back a shot of Crown Royal while campaigning in Indiana, going for the 'regular guy' effect... Senator: an American presidential candidate drinking Canadian whiskey to bond with blue collar workers? How tone-deaf can you be?), Heaven Hill sent bottles of Evan Williams to each presidential candidate. With Kentucky's primary coming up on May 20th (and actually meaning something, unless a miracle happens and one of the two candidates wins both North Carolina and Indiana really big today), you better hope they both pay attention and take some bourbon-drinking lessons.

Victory re-opens tomorrow at 11:30 AM

Victory Brewing's Downingtown restaurant will re-open tomorrow, May 7, at 11:30 AM. They'll be open for lunch every day now, with a new kitchen, new menu, new bar, and new draft system that will offer 20 taps (with four beer engines: dedicated HopDevil and Storm King pumps, and two session-type beers: Workhorse Porter, Uncle Teddy's Bitter, ESB, maybe a return of Milltown Mild, I hope, I hope?).

This might be the first time I've seen a brewery project complete on the predicted, scheduled day. Congratulations to Victory...might have to head out for the opening.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Cinco de Mayo: what a horrible hijacking of a holiday!

Yes, Cinco de Mayo. A "holiday" I think I first heard of maybe 12 years ago. In that time, Cinco has become a Latino St. Patrick's Day, a drink-drink day focused on Corona instead of Guinness, with tacos and salsa verde instead of corned beef and cabbage. Whoopee! Let's party!

And just like St. Patrick's Day, you've got bluenoses decrying the way the day has been turned into a marketing opportunity by breweries/food companies/everyone. This whining is typical; this is the one that actually set me off today. "Waaaah!" the chorus goes, "this isn't Mexico's Independence Day (I don't remember anyone actually saying that, they usually just say "Happy Cinco!" and hand me a beer), it's about Mexican peasants beating invading French troops (according to this much-more detailed account, they were actually Mexican troops in fortifications, armed with older muskets, not peasants with machetes fighting guerrilla-style). They don't even celebrate it in Mexico, you stupid Anglos. Don't drink beer!"

Hey, grow up. Where are you, as Mexican-Americans, when President's Day is a white sale, and Memorial Day is the day grill sales start in earnest, and July 4th is a chance to sell cars? Where are you for Christmas, which sells a hell of a lot more booze than Cinco? Where's your outrage then?

I'll tell you where. You're saving it for Cinco, because you're using the day too, using it for your agenda: Latino pride, anti-alcohol propaganda, getting a byline, whatever.

I'm not wild about any day being used as an excuse for stupid drinking. See the previous post: I like days dedicated to having a good time, while there's beer around, not just pounding down drink after drink with the aim being getting drunk. That's pathetic, and if you can't see the difference, well, come to the Goat Races next year.

As usual, it would be nice to find something in the middle. Binge drinking bad, history lesson-poetry reading-folk dancing boring. How about...we do all the fun stuff AND we have something to drink if we want. And if someone does get drunk and offensive, well, kick them out. Video the drunk and send it to the event organizers, tell them to shape up.

But don't give me this "Cinco is not about beer" crap. Reading the different accounts, it looks like most people don't really know what Cinco is about (which is about par for the course), but look on it as a day to have fun, celebrate their own Latino heritage, or get some good food and hear some music. Is that so bad?

Comments from whiners welcome.

Goat Races Every Day!

Cathy and I went to the Sly Fox Goat Races yesterday. We got there late -- we had a school event in the early afternoon for Nora and had to go to Sly Fox afterwards -- and missed the actual races and the tapping, but we were still there for the experience.

What experience? A very close thing to that great German beer garden experience, but with American personality. There were kids there, there was music, there was food, there was lots of beer, there were dogs, and people strolled about, talking to each other. It was convivial, and the beer was delicious (I did Jasper Maibock, a couple sips of eisbock, some Slacker Bock, and -- inevitably -- Pikeland Pils). We'd just come from a picnic, so I can't report on the food, but it looked good.

But the best thing wasn't the beer or the food, it was the beer being there with the families and dogs and all, showing that it wasn't necessary for beer events, beer-based social gatherings, to be binge fests. All of us were being reasonable in consumption and civilized.

Well, mostly: one stupid young feller was leaving and dropped his glass -- a shame, because they were nice Sly Fox willibeckers -- laughed like a boob and just kept walking. Nice, buddy: there's only dogs and little kids running around. Within a minute, though, four of us had converged and picked up all the shards. That's beer garden, too: the participants policing themselves.

It would be great to have this kind of thing every weekend. Beer gardens used to be common in this part of the country, but now they're hard to find. Relaxed atmosphere, friendly talking, mugs of beer (maybe something other than thin-walled glass, for safety and sturdy re-use), comfort food, and play time for the kids and dogs. The kids may see or hear some things the parents maybe wouldn't want -- I heard a bit of salty language and there was one instance of dirndl-flipping -- but I think the presence of children also has a moderating effect on that -- I saw examples of that, too, and people actually apologizing for their behavior, a great sign of civilization. Do this every weekend, and a code of behavior would come into being by itself.

Do we need the goat race part? Not really, though I'd be the first to back doing that every year, and bigger! But I'd love to see this kind of beer joy every weekend. It might teach us how to drink again: mindfully, joyfully, responsibly, together.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Just a night out

I sang a wedding yesterday afternoon. I stopped by my maildrop and found an appearance fee check from Philly Beer Week. So after a trip to the bank to cash both checks, I'm standing in Newtown, dressed up, pocketful of bucks, at about 5:15 on a beautiful spring afternoon. I called Cathy and asked her what she was doing: she was in Newtown!

We met at Isaac Newton's, and ran into a good friend, Mark. Cathy had a Gaffel K├Âlsch (no, really, she did, they have it on draft there and you know, it's pretty crisp and bitter and nice...), I got a Rogue Black Brutal (wicked flavorful in about three different directions, like a big old ganache of beer), and we talked and talked and laughed.

Then the wedding party started drifting in, having a beer before reception, and some of them are my neighbors, and they're all getting beers (Rogue, some hefeweizen, more Gaffel), and then Mark talked his wife Eileen into coming over (I'd backed off to a pint of Guinness by now, looking for something a bit lower ABV), and when she showed up, I talked Cathy into staying for a cocktail, but the bartender talked me into a bottle of Left Hand Chainsaw instead, and it was wonderfully hop-fruitish and malt-wacky, a whole bunch of beer, and everyone else was liking it too, so we drank that for a while.

We finally left, got Chinese takeout and a pizza for the kids, and went home, and watched TV a bit while I read my new Queen & Country collection. Good times. I could almost forget the allergies for a while.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Session #15 -- Where Did it Start?

Boak & Bailey invited us to tell stories for this month's Session: how did 'it' -- seeing beer in a different light -- start for you? I've always been a traveling kind of beer guy, so I decided to focus on where it started for me.

I had my first beer, my first full beer, in 1978. I was 19 years old, a late bloomer. It was a Genesee Cream Ale. I liked it. That's not where it started.

I had my first beer out of the American mainstream in 1981. I was 22, and I thought I knew a lot about beer. It was an Altenm├╝nster. I liked it. That's not where it started.

I brewed my first batch of homebrew in 1986. I was single, living in a dry county in Kentucky. I read Charlie Papazian's book, I got the equipment and supplies, and I brewed. The first batch sucked. The second one was pretty decent. That's not where it started.

I had my first Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on August 14, 1987 in Tahoe City, at a deli, a little before noon (hey, like I always say: some people remember where they were when Kennedy was shot...and I'm dissembling: it wasn't "a little before noon," it was 11:55. I looked at a clock, it was so good). I got a bottle to go with my corned beef special. I loved it. That's not where it started.

Where it started was at the Front Street Pub, a brewpub in Santa Cruz, California. It was October of 1987, and I'd been living in California for two months, and the beer scene was just starting to pop. My boss's husband was a Brit, a likable guy who ran computers for one of the big vegetable outfits in the Salinas Valley. One day in September I was driving home and saw him jogging alongside the road. I stopped, said hi, and we got to talking beer. He told me I should really go over to Santa Cruz and see this place.

I did, and I was so taken that I got out a little notebook I'd been carrying for grocery lists and such, and started keeping a Beer Diary. That's where it really started, because that's when I started thinking about beer, about why I liked it, what it tasted like, what the people who drank it were like, what they said, how they thought about it, and about how we'd gotten to the place we were in.

I started it that day, and I've been keeping them for 20 years; I've got a file drawer full of them. I kept them for six years before I ever even thought about writing about beer for money; I just wanted to get some thoughts down so I could go back and look at them and think some more.

And you see, once I started thinking about what I was drinking, it just got more and more interesting. I went out to find more to read, more to drink, more people to talk to...and that's what I've been doing ever since, and in the process, I talked to a LOT of people. I became unafraid of stating opinions, and thinking as deeply about beer as I felt the urge to, and not worrying about what beer was supposed to be. That's some of the most important stuff to me about how I experience beer today: clearing my mind of pre-formed impressions and diving into the beer in front of me and enjoying it...assuming it's worth enjoying!

It all started at the Front Street Pub, a wonderful place in memory.