Baseball Crusades: Robin Yount’s Brew Crew to Zwanze Day at Side Project.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin & St. Louis, Missouri

One day my dad and I decided to hit a ballgame…at every Major League Baseball stadium in North America. The idea was to start off as local as possible – a goal genesis in the Midwest before expanding our radial perimeter further and further, year after year until we have checked off the list all thirty parks in twenty-eight different cities.

We hadn’t really travelled together too frequently since I was a little kid in Christian Cub Scouts so we wanted to start off slow. My guess is the biggest commitment will be saved until the end, that being the most remote stadium in Toronto. It’s a stretch, we both know but its something to strive for. By the time we’re done, I’ll be my dad’s age and he’ll be one-hundred. At least the Expos now reside, hidden as the Washington Nationals in D.C. so it will only be one trip abroad. We can do it.

We’ve attended many games at Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park or Guaranteed Rate Field or US Cellular or Netflix Field or (insert *here* whatever the place will be called next), and we also have multiple games at old Comiskey under our belts as well, so even if we had a rather obvious start, I think it is a good kickoff toward our mission.

With so many Cubs and Sox ticket stubs in my desk drawer it might not be too interesting to write about, other than maybe the 2005 playoff game with multiple exploding scoreboards or the Windy City Classics we used to be able to go to at Wrigley. But perhaps one day I’ll get up the gumption to write about the madness of the bleachers seats among the ivy, or the skydiving Elvi during Elvis Night at Comiskey.

Entry 1: Miller Park, Milwaukee – Mid-Summer 2018

I had only been to Milwaukee two times before: The first was to help this guy take nails and staples out of telephone posts, cut them up and stack them on to a trailer so he could make a table for David Schwimmer. The hardest day of work I’ve ever performed in my entire life took place in that sweltering parking lot from a Milwaukee dawn-to-dusk.

The second time was to rekindle an old platonic friendship that had abruptly dissolved a few years beforehand due to something insensitive that I had said. Personally I was hoping to spark romance, but all I kind of remember from the weekend was some bickering over brunch. I did get to see the Milwaukee Art Museum, though – and the Calatrava, the Quadracci Pavilion which opens up before your very eyes due to a movable, wing-like, mesmerizing brise soleil which, to me appears as a giant pelican, swooping down in slow-motion ready to pluck an unsuspecting amphibious creation straight out of Lake Michigan.

This time, however, my dad and I were trekking up to Cream City to see a Brewers game at Miller Park. My dad scooped me up from my place in Humboldt Park and we started out our one-day round trip to and from the House that Robin Yount built.

Ninety minutes and one McDonalds restroom pit stop later, we were pulling up to Lakefront Brewery in the Beerline B section of the Riverwest neighborhood, Milwaukee.

Keeping an eye out for Paul Molitor and the rest of the BrewCrew, we hung out in the massive Lakefront Beer Hall sipping lager and chomping hand-made, German-style, locally sourced cheese curds along with some other artery-clogging manna from Heaven.

The one-two kick of clarinet and accordion blasted forth from Brewhaus Polka Kings the Kenosha Kickers featuring Gus Polinski, the Polka King of the Midwest himself. All the hits were performed: “Twin Lakes Polka”, “Yamahoozie Polka a.k.a. Kiss Me Polka”…“Polka Twist” (they sold about 623 copies of that one. Not in Chicago – in Sheboygen. Very big in Sheboygen.)

The stadium appeared off the interstate to a hazy, misty oasis as I drove toward it. It’s kind of a marvel, actually, the fan-shaped convertible roof. Though not designed by Santiago Calatrava, it is automated to open and close like the giant Museum sculpture. Honestly from the road, in the distance I thought the oncoming entity was a giant suspension bridge, which I was gearing up to traverse.

We parked and shuffled in to the blue cathedral. First pitch was soon and our journey was about to launch.

Miller Park holds on to an early-2000s pro baseball feel like a 40-something with Oakleys and mullet, grasping his nu metal CD collection. Large panes of glass in the vaulting allow for natural Kentucky bluegrass to prosper beneath the stomping feet of the anthropomorphic sausages running along the third base line. The joyous “Beer Barrel Polka” chorus during the seventh-inning stretch became a stadium-wide hymn and lent a perfect pitch to our Wisconsin trip, equally blending the notional duality of searching for beer, and attending a game.

When a hometown homer is smashed, Bernie Brewer lazily leaves his clubhouse loft among the left field grandstand to take an aloof ride down a dandelion yellow curly slide, twisting to a giant home plate landing. When we listened hard we could make out the illuminated sounds of Jonny Carson’s dubbed “Mr. Baseball”, and Mr. Belvedere alum – none other than Bob Uecker in a scream: “Get Up, Get Up, Get Outta Here, GONE!”

It was an exceptional game with a tight margin but the Brewers 10 to 9 loss under the Phillies was okay with us as relatively indifferent fans. We had a reasonable post-game dinner window before we needed to be back at our respective homes so I Googled a local “brewery with a kitchen” and we randomly ended up at Eagle Park Brewing in a prepossessing, standalone brick building in the Lower East Side. In the garage constructed in 1920 for A.F. Gallun & Sons, one of the largest tanneries in the United States, we ordered a couple rounds of Key Lime Milkshake IPAs and a single round of magnificent burgers.

The place doesn’t necessarily hold out to Reinheitsgebot, but hey neither does Schlitz, the beer that made Milwaukee famous. But the stuff Eagle Park is doing astounded us for sure. In the offering of a blue Kool-Aid themed malt beverage, it’s not like they’re even pretending to possess any level of subtlety, so I don’t feel a need to pretend to apologize. I don’t even have a problem if we want to classify a Milkshake IPA as a beer-based cocktail – just quit judging and hand the thing to me in a glass and let me indulge in lactose sugar shenanigans for the love of God.

We chose Milwaukee as our initial tick-box on our massive check sheet of national pastime endeavors since it might be the only city where we wouldn’t need to get a hotel…although we should have. The trip felt rushed and I think we could have benefited from a whole other day of exploring Cheese Head culture and quite frankly breweries in addition to the extravagant ones in which we did imbibe. But hey you know the slogan: “When you’re out of blue Kool-Aid themed malt beverage, you’re out of beer”.

The following year we would cross over, macro-style from Miller at the North to Budweiser in the South, from corn adjunct to rice adjunct we were all in…

Entry 2: Busch Stadium, St. Louis – Early Fall of 2019

Post-Autumnal Equinox 2019, we brewed up some coffee, loaded up the car, and hit the road for The Gateway to the West, en route to see the Cardinals at New Busch Stadium take on our very own Chicago Cubs.

After a few hours of true life murder mystery podcasts in the queue, the magnificent Arch materializing through the fog to the right meant one thing: the long drive south was concluding, thus our adventure commencing.

Our initial stop before the game was Urban Chestnut Brewery and Bierhall in The Grove neighborhood, St. Louis’ bohemian paradise. It was Oktoberfest season so you might know what I ordered in addition to a Dorfbier Munich Dunkel, and a Zwickel Bavarian Lager. We got to sit and chat and explore the massive beer hall. We reminisced about my grandfather who had recently passed away, and how much he would have loved visiting America’s baseball stadiums with us.

On deck: Busch Stadium to witness The Birds of a Different Game absolutely shut out the beloved Cubbies nine to zip in front of a sold-out crowd. Oh well. At the very least, the embarrassment is something we’ve become accustomed to, especially from stubborn archrivals, the Cards. It was a nice afternoon at a beautiful venue and as twilight blended to a night sky as black as Abraxus, we filed past Ballpark Village, but with chins still high. We had ticked another box from our list.

The closer of St. Louis trip Day One was without doubt Perennial Artisan Ales. Like a wandering, winding hop bine conditioned to grow and connect us from Lagertown, passing us directly by the stomping Clydesdales of Budweiser and back down, along the Mississippi River with the swiftness of Ozzie Smith, The Wizard, directly to a Belgo-American fusion-city.

My dad did in fact ask, “What are we going to do here, more drinkin’?”

For the record, my dad, though he isn’t opposed to, doesn’t necessarily follow craft beer culture, at least on the terms that I do. I might just add that for any context deemed helpful. I’ve taken strides to explain there’s a bit more drive and finesse involved than just “more drinkin’”, even though, let’s face it, that is what it is.

Personally I’m motivated by everything from the ambiance, atmosphere, and surroundings of a taproom as well as the culture of the local neighborhood setting, history of the production facility as well as interesting locals and fellow geeks and oddballs you can meet, to the colors and notes of the actual esoteric beers we might try. Beeracles happen sometimes if you keep your eye open. Drunkenness happens sometimes, but I’m hard-pressed to remember a time when that was an actual goal.

Perennial was extraordinarily busy and very boisterous, with patrons buzzing to and fro. This was quite a contrast from the first time I got to visit almost six years prior, in the middle of a blizzard. We were able to surprisingly easily nab two stools at the bar. The Fantastic Voyage imperial milk stout yielded brilliant harmony between dark and bitter chocolate malt and a vanilla-coconut lovechild with Coolio.

My dad ordered a Centennial hopped Prism saison, and we both watched in horror as the rather bulbous, bearded man tending bar decided to yell and chug two pints of beer at the same time, downing them faster than Vince Coleman stealing home. In that very moment I could feel the unraveling of every talking point I was attempting to previously upsell on the idea of taprooms being a point of culture. Was it even worth it to try to explain that that sort of awkward, crude frat boy behavior was a thing that very rarely happens at these types of places? Whatever. We had a good laugh and frankly I was impressed someone could physically glug so much non-macro beer that quickly. It was supernatural and I’m pretty sure it defied mathematics. Back to the stemware and…more drinkin’.

The next morning, checking out of our hotel, we morphed to the seekers of an enlightened, single-origin experience. Our destination? Sump Coffee – an oasis set steps ahead of urban planners, and a province of sleek and glistening crimson Slayer Espresso machines. We found ourselves nomad travelers in pursuance of the red-bearded Wiseman of South City – the proprietor of magic beans robust, and bitter black stimulants enchanting.

As my favorite small batch specialty coffee roastery, visiting Sump was a dream long in the making. The visions and sights of Hario V60s all in a row elevated our morning, and the twisted caffeine chemists’ vacuum siphon rack, tubes and beakers aglow, twinkling in enough luster to make blush the late Robert Bunsen.

I was able to indirectly make my dad drink coffee without creamer and sugar that dawn because Sump’s café has no adjuncts available. He loved it, and I knew he would. We sat there riding the pine for ninety minutes and multiple pour overs, just taking it in.

We popped in to Euclid Records in historic Old Webster to buy some vinyl. Levels there are high for selection, grading and maintenance. The blended aromas of decaying papyrus and PVC were ushered about the shop from collectors flipping through stacks of records to the likeness of tiny fans. A catalogued library of infinite songs in the form of a scent.

Just to the west of St Louis proper, we hit a brunch goldmine, and a haven for amplified comfort food known as The Blue Duck. Savory vittles so dense the gravy bends gravity, attracting light waves. I got waffle battered fried chicken with hot honey and my dad got a bleu cheese burger with roasted mushrooms on a potato bun. All of these RBIs were tallied up on our family album scorecard as we slid in to the bottom of the ninth with a Baseball Crusades 2019 culmination that was sure to make Willie McGee proud…

After brunch we played an intentional walk just a mere few blocks to Side Project Brewing. There was a line of people in the back waiting for a beer release – a line complete with folding chairs and coolers of beer to share with strangers. I explained to my dad, that when there is a beer line, you stand in it. You should never not stand in it. The result of a beer line is never not amazing. At the very least, a demand-causing line can lead to a valuable arbitrage opportunity but you didn’t hear that from me.

The Pulling Nails series is an ongoing blending experiment by Side Project. Blend #10, the bottle of showcase, was a Belgian Style Sour Quadrupel aged in port and bourbon casks with raspberries, cherries, and black currants, and then back-blended with another Quadrupel that was aged in red wine barrels.

We stood in the line and talked to some MO inhabitants and fans and some fellow out-of-towners about their local breweries, and we got to brag about Chicago-area establishments. Cory King, always maintaining a starting position on the all-star brewing roster, made a quick, awkward appearance before a hushed and revered crowd, subsequently retiring the side.

The trek to the front was swift and painless. There was a two-bottle allotment but at a 30 or 40-dollar price point for an unplanned purchase, I panicked and just bought one. I don’t think my dad was interested in dropping that much on a bottle but I was pretty happy I scored my walk-off homerun souvenir game ball for that weekend.

My dad, wanting to stretch his legs, left to go on a walk and explore for a bit while I got to voyage the Side Project tap room, artwork, layout, décor, bathroom, and finally…belly-up to the bar to scout the tap handles. I met a new friend at the bar who happened to be traveling from California with an end game in Chicago. I gave gentle nudges toward Windy City recommendation, and he obliged by nodding toward the bar-side chalkboard, which stated that they had the Cantillon Zwanze Day 2019 Lambic release.

On tap.

Right then and there. Three game sweep.

Beeracles can happen if you just keep a stargazed eye out for the magic.

Every year Brassiere Cantillon in Brussels, Belgium creates an experimental Lambic and distributes kegs to only a small handful of breweries and beer bars – all over the world. The kegs are supposed to all be tapped at the exact same time in order to celebrate Zwanze Day all over the planet, together.

Unbeknownst to me, Zwanze Day was the day prior and Side Project Cellar, located a few blocks away, was able to get a keg. They had some left over so they hooked it up at the Side Project brewery taproom directly in front of my nose causing complete mesmerization on my part. Compelled by fascination in the luck alone, not to even mention the rarity of the beer itself, if a world exists where I balk and I don’t order a pour of that, I don’t want to know about it.

The Lambic they dreamt up incorporated smoked malt and maintained subtle wood notes combined with perfect acidity, and sweetness from the fruit – all pristinely balanced as one would expect from the fine craftsman at Cantillon. The smoke added more complexity to the rainbow yet didn’t smolder out everything else going on. Perfection in a tulip bulb.

Stepping out of the realm of enchantment, I began to wonder where my dad was. I noticed he hadn’t replied to a few texts. After my second beer I was ready to close out and pack up and I was curious if he had seen enough sites on his casual promenade about town. Now mind you, I would have stayed at that taproom all day long, but once in a while, time grabs you by the collar. I knew we had a long haul back to Chicago.

No sooner did I pick up my phone to zap off an inquiry, did I hear the roar of the crowd.

I turned. With everyone on their feet, I saw my dad victoriously and stoically strolling up, raising TWO bottles of Pulling Nails Blend #10 up in the air like Jay-Z in a mink stole, walking in to the club with two bottles of Cristal. Like Tony LaRussa triumphantly brandishing his two gleaming St. Louis World Series trophies.

Hundred dollar bills began to rain down from the sky like a ticker tape parade and we were hoisted up on shoulders in a mad chant for glory. It was a grand slam finale to clench everything in game six.

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