Saturday, April 22, 2017

Bike and Brew: Beer'd Brewing Company

The last time I did a Bike and Brew ride, it was just about the last day where temperatures were comfortable enough for casual biking. I was rewarded with a beer from the Outer Light Brewing Company and a massive hamstring cramp which announced itself at the dinner table.

During the beautiful sunny weather we got this past weekend, I decided it was a perfect time to do the first Bike and Brew of 2017. I had a choice of five remaining brewing destinations within a biking day trip of New London (four more are in the works). Once again I went east, this time with the goal of visiting the Beer'd Brewing Company in Stonington, Connecticut.

And once again, this required a trip over the Gold Star Bridge. It's still ugly, it still looks out over the less interesting part of the Thames River, and it's still too narrow to accommodate two bicyclists going in opposite directions. The bridge is slated for some major improvements over the next five years. The sidewalk will be open for much of the construction period, but apparently not subject to any upgrades.

On the plus side, the view north wasn't quite as dismal as it was on the gray day when I started this series. The Coast Guard Academy's sailing team was out and about during the crossing, and you could see up to the slowly blossoming hills of the river valley.

Somewhat counterintuitively, biking toward the shoreline requires you to head away from it when you first get off the bridge. Shoreline routes in this region hug the coast, lengthening the ride considerably. Plus, getting there would involve a scary ride down one of Groton's strip mall thruways.

It's easier to head through a quiet suburban neighborhood instead and hop onto Route 184. This road has a wide breakdown lane, is fairly flat, and offers a reasonably straightforward path to the Mystic/Stonington area. The only downside is that it's populated mostly with blocky business buildings and similarly blocky churches that apparently think aesthetically pleasing architecture is an affront to God.

First Baptist Church of This Used To Be A Linoleum Warehouse or Something

The suggested route continued along this highway, but it's much more rewarding to abandon it for the scenic route. I wound up taking some back roads past a small farm with enormous piles of firewood for sale as well as the trailhead for the Pequot Woods, a 140-acre parcel of preserved land not far from downtown Mystic.

Deviating from the suggested route also gives you an opportunity to check out Mystic, crown jewel of tourism in the region. If you hop off at Route 27 instead, you go past attractions such as the Mystic Seaport, Mystic Aquarium, and the impressively misspelled Olde Mistick Village shopping center. The way I took led directly into downtown Mystic.

Mystic is actually one of the innumerable villages of Groton, at least until you get past the Mystic River. It's a pleasant stretch of shops, restaurants, and art galleries, all leaning heavily on the maritime theme. There were already some pretty big crowds out enjoying the sunny weather, and it's certainly a nice place to stop for a rest on an extended bike ride.

Getting off the bike in Mystic also avoids the hazard of riding over the famous Mystic River Bascule Bridge. The bridge will turn 100 in 2020, and is distinguished by enormous concrete counterweights on the western side. It looks like the steel deck would be a little jarring to ride across, and you'd be hemmed in by parked cars on either approach. It's more pleasant to walk your way across; you might even join the legions of people getting a cone at Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream and enjoy it in nearby Mystic River Park.

The easiest way to get to Stonington from Mystic is to take Route 1. It quickly sheds its traffic lights and troublesome intersections, becoming an open highway with rolling hills and generous breakdown lanes. I was tempted to take a side road which crosses a causeway onto scenic Mason's Island and goes from there across another crossway to Ender's Island, but left those water views for another day

Stonington Borough is a skinny peninsula extending into Long Island Sound. The first time I went there, I came to the conclusion that it was exclusively populated with real estate offices, jewelers, and architects (and the occasional restaurant and plenty of expensive homes, of course). It hasn't really changed since. There isn't much room for cars and bikes to coexist, but the speed limit is low enough that drivers probably won't mind if you cruise along Main Street.

Getting to the tip of the peninsula rewards you with an expansive view of the sea as well as a monument recollecting Stonington's minor but proud role in the War of 1812. The town was able to repulse a bombardment by four British ships in the summer of 1814, holding out for four days with the modest defense offered by a pair of cannons. Artifacts related to this battle are displayed in the Stonington Historical Society, housed in a nearby lighthouse; the cannons are kept in the aptly named Cannon Square near the middle of the Borough.

The map shows an intriguing shortcut out of the Borough toward the Beer'd Brewing Company along Elm Street, although I trusted Google Maps' advice to take the long way around. Turns out the Elm Street way is a secluded walkway over the railroad tracks, which wouldn't be too fun to haul a bike over.

The Velvet Mill is a rambling brick structure located in a residential neighborhood in Stonington. The business got its start in the town because a malaria epidemic forced a Long Island company to look for other locations for its velvet weaving and dying operations. The mill once housed hundreds of looms and employed 450 people, but after its closure it became a haven for artists. It has now been subdivided into dozens of spaces housing businesses such as art galleries, photographers, metal workers, boutiques, and even an organ restorer.

While several breweries have started up or are underway in southeastern Connecticut today, there wasn't much of a scene as recently as five years ago. The Cottrell Brewing Company in Pawcatuck, a place I'll visit for a future entry, had been a mainstay since 1996. Aaren Simoncini apprenticed at Cottrell before opening the Beer'd Brewing Company in 2012 with partner Precious Putnam. The brewery had the misfortune of opening right after Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, forcing them to rely on an emergency generator for their early batches. Luckily, Beer'd got past this initial hurdle and has been thriving ever since.

Before the taproom opens for the day, Beer'd hides behind a large sliding door with the company's logo, which features Simoncini's beard. The taproom occupies the front end of the room, with a scattering of individual tables and one family style tabletop in the center. The brewery is constantly whipping up new batches, and the bartenders are kind enough to give you a sample of whatever's on tap that day.

Beer'd posts its daily offerings on Facebook, and I was hoping to get a Nano-A-Nano, a Belgian style black IPA, but it had already sold out. Several other taps had kicked or were offered for growlers only, so my choices were fairly limited. I opted for a This Side of Paradise, a rather strong IPA (9.3 percent ABV) with a bitterness that was nicely balanced by the fruit notes.

For my return trip, I opted to stick with the directions that had been suggested on the route out. This once again took me away from the coast and through the small hamlet of Old Mystic. As with most New England villages, this involves a cluster of sites that are important to the community or at least were at one point. This picture of the general store cozying up to the post office about sums it up.

Most of the route back to New London was retracing the route along Route 184. I took this photo near the entrance of a small apartment complex, at about the time I was starting to feel the combined effects of the double IPA, treacherous westward winds, and a slowly increasing elevation. I eventually got a second wind and made it over the bridge, feeling quite rubber-legged by the time I got home but none the worse for wear.

Mileage total: 31.27 miles

Previous Bike and Brew outings:
Outer Light Brewing Company

Sunday, February 19, 2017

I Make Fun of State Quarters: Hawaii

I'm a U.S. citizen, so it's only natural that some of the states featured in this series are going to have a more personal connection than others. I ran into this for the Connecticut quarter, and the future entries for Massachusetts, Maine, and Minnesota (whenever they may appear) will likely feature some first person observances as well.

In one sense, Hawaii is just one of the states I've visited in my lifetime. But this was a special trip, given that my wife and I chose the islands for our honeymoon. It was an absolutely wonderful experience, which you can read about here.

So am I going to have to go easy on Hawaii's state quarter because it was such an incredible place to visit? Let's find out.

Wait a minute, is that Magneto? Is Hawaii's quarter just a mutant levitating the islands, preparing to rain them down on the mainland in a shower of lava and palm trees?

Before we get to that, it's worth mentioning that Hawaii was the last state to get a quarter in the Mint's series. The state wasn't admitted to the United States until August 21, 1959. So while the first quarters in the series started appearing in 1999, Hawaii's wasn't released until 2008.

Interestingly enough, the quarter was released just one day before that year's election. President Barack Obama was no doubt delighted to see the state quarter for his home state unveiled right before he was chosen for the highest office in the land. It's a happy little coincidence, unless you're one of those hollow-brained sapheads who takes the word of InfoWars as gospel. In that case, you're probably wondering if this quarter was a secret government device to rig the election results by assuring people that Obama grew up in Hawaii and not Muslim Socialist Kenyastan.

But back to the quarter. It's not Magneto, of course. Clearly this is meant to represent Hawaii's Gate of Kings. I'm not sure if that's Isildur or Anarion, but he's gazing toward the enemies of Gondor and raising his arm in a show of defiance.

OK fine, it's not that either. But it is a royal monarch, at least. The quarter depicts King Kamehameha I, one of the most well-known monarchs of the island's pre-state days. He is best known for uniting the Hawaiian Islands into a single kingdom, a feat he accomplished in 1810. Kamehameha's "Law of the Splintered Paddle" is also particularly well-regarded, as it held that citizens should be protected during wartime.

The fact that this design was chosen for the quarter is a solid affirmation of Hawaii's native culture and history. One other finalist's design also had King Kamehameha on it, with a Hawaiian beach in the background instead of the islands, but the two other finalists focused more on the touristy aspects of the archipelago. One of them had a hula dancer, which is indeed part of the Hawaiian culture but today seems to be more closely associated with the entertainment at hotel luaus. The last finalist had an awkward dude on a surfboard.

"I own a timeshare!" (Source)

It's also striking that the quarter uses a lengthy Hawaiian phrase. The other finalists simply stuck with "aloha," the word everyone knows as the traditional greeting and farewell. The phrase on the approved quarter, "Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono," translates to "The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness."

This gets a tad awkward for a few reasons. For one thing, the phrase was spoken by Kamehameha III, not Kamehameha I as the quarter design implies. There's also the fact that the phrase is celebrating how the Hawaiian kingdom was restored after the British briefly seized control of the islands in 1843. I guess the United States can share some solidarity with the Hawaiians in this regard, since we booted the British monarchy as well. Then again, Hawaii is a U.S. possession only because U.S. officials backed an effort to depose the kingdom in 1893.

So the Hawaii quarter has a celebration of the restoration of monarchy on a piece of currency of a nation that celebrates the overthrow of monarchy and also deposed Hawaii's monarchy. It's a little convoluted. But hey, it makes you think more than Craig the retired hedge fund manager/surfer dude would*.

"My golden parachute could pay your salary for your entire working life!" (Source)

*Addendum: A friend let me know that the man portrayed on the surfboard is Duke Kahanamoku, not some random hedge fund trader who retired to the islands on a government bailout. Duke was an Olympic swimmer who is credited with popularizing the sport of surfing in Hawaii. He's a fascinating character, and it's too bad that his quarter design wasn't able to include his name. You can read more about him here.