Sunday, January 17, 2016

A craft beer movement grows in Miami

Miami is known for great weather, over-the-top cars, expensive bottle-service clubs, and a generally free-wheeling vibe with a soundtrack of Salsa. What it has never been known for is being a notable part of America's burgeoning craft-brew scene.  But all of that's beginning to change.

This weekend I happened upon Abbey Brewing Company, a snug little bar located on 16th Street, about a half mile away from the Atlantic Ocean.  Inside, dark paneled wooden walls shut out the day.  We choose the bar, not a table, and enjoy chatting with a pair of friendly bartenders.  I ask one of the guys, who wears a red tee shirt with a sketch of a bust of Bill Murray on it, "What can you tell me about Abbey Brewing" and he replies, "We make these beers, you can't get them anywhere else." He guides me and my son to the section of the beer menu with their offerings.  My son gets an Abbey Immaculate IPA, which he tells me has "mild hoppiness, malty and citrus flavors." I go for the Abbey Oktoberfest Marzen, a tasty Bavarian style fest beer, which also had a slight citrus note. It is Sunday at 3:30 p.m., and regulars are coming in for beers and free hotdogs and chips (one hotdog per beer ordered.)  The Bill Murray shirt guy tells us their beer is brewed up in Melbourne, four hours north of here, but they only serve it at this place.

Another bartender comes to give my son his next glass, a Father Theodore's Stout. He likes this stout, which is smoother than many Imperial stouts he's tried.  It had the typical coffee, chocolate flavors and was a winner.

The patron next to me, who wears a well-loved leather jacket and looks like he could have been in a band 20 years ago, tells me he's from Chicago.  He loves this place and it's his Sunday routine to come in for some beer and chill.

Our second bartender has an enthusiastic grin and ball cap, and recommends we head west across the water to Wynwood, where there are three craft breweries as well as some cool graffiti walls to check out.  He likes to dine at Kush, a gastropub with a good craft brewery selection and Gator tacos.

A couple tourists come in.  The wife says, "I don't see Coors Light on the menu..." "Yeah you don't" laughs our Bill Murray shirt bartender.  She orders her husband an Oktoberfest instead.  The bartender jokes, "If he closes his eyes, it won't taste anything like Coors Light." Our little group at the bar, which includes my son, myself, and the leather jacket guy, guffaw over this.  This feels like the kind of local bar where you can make instant friends and keep them for as many years as you chose to live in the area.

We could have stayed for hours and gone through their delicious selection of unique beers, but other obligations called.  But now, we had a mission: to return to Abbey Brewery for more fun and sampling, to take an Uber over to Wynwood to check out the more developed craft brew scene, and to keep an eye out for new breweries on our next trip to Miami.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Toasting David Bowie -- and my past -- with a wine oddity

I saw it on social media while still in bed, and then I couldn't move.  A friend - much younger than myself and therefore someone who couldn't feel what I felt - said "I didn't even know he was sick."

David Bowie had left the world.  I came to his music later, after Ziggy Stardust. My 70s ears were full of Donna Summer and the Bee Gees. It wasn't until the 80s that I became passionate about the new incarnation of David, the white-suited handsome man who sung alongside Blondie and Duran Duran in the playlists of the Melody Bar in New Brunswick, where my roommates and I danced every Thursday night.

It was Let's Dance that was, not our initiation, but more the moment when we fell in love. When Matt Pinfield (because we had the coolest DJ ever at the Melody and we didn't even know it) played the single, one of us would pull the others to the floor.  In our neon big shirts with large shoulder pads and our dark lipstick and fluffed hair, we shimmied over the old planks sticky with beer. In the frat houses of College Avenue, across the darkened rooms of The Roxy, when David Bowie said, "Let's Dance," we obeyed.

He made us feel cool. We were children of almost-immigrants (one or two generations away from Italy or Ireland), raised in the boring suburbs of larger, more exciting places. But when we listened to David Bowie, we could share in his exoticness.  When I hear his voice, I think of his massive intelligence and his wit -- his sense of irony only matched by his sense of fashion.  When he was older he married one of the most beautiful women in the world and bought a castle.  Who didn't want to be like David Bowie?

I got through today in a fog, flooded by memory.  I texted my ex-husband, "Didn't we see David Bowie in concert?" Yes, he replied, at the PNC Arts Center.  It was a good show I remembered.  I emailed my college friends "We have to raise a glass soon!"  I texted my son (a different generation but a musician who mourned him with a musician's heart), my poet friend Howard.  I posted on social media, but it wasn't enough.  The sadness deepened... and the memories had their way with my mood.

In my mind, I was back at the Melody dancing --  living with abandon for a few hours at a club. It was a time when being young meant endless possibilities.  I remember slipping my arms into the sleeves of an emerald green silk shirt, pulling up my black leggings, placing my feet into my faux-Doc Martens and painting on black eyeliner -- it was all a girl needed back then. That and the music. We had the night and cheap beers and shots of kamikazes, and we loved David Bowie and Adam Ant and Howard Jones and Madness and it made us feel cool and alive and immortal.

But we didn't stay young. We had children and bought houses.  We had our hearts broken by friends and lovers.  We buried parents. The cassette tapes gathered dust or were sold at yard sales or donated to charities.

We stopped listening to David Bowie.  When I was still married, my husband bought me his greatest hits on CD.  I appreciated it, but it all felt dated. I liked new music and didn't look back much in life.

But, tonight, I've got Bowie playing and my eyes are wet from tears.  I pulled one of the weirdest wines I had  - Mukuzani Red Dry 2006 from Teliani Valley in the district of Kakheti.  I bought it in the Republic of Georgia, during a life-changing trip to this ancient wine-making land.  It's made from the delicious but little known Saperavi grape. It's got inscrutable Georgian lettering on the label, curving and looping like backwards 6s and 3s with little flourishes.

None of us can be Bowie, but we can all embrace our special breed of oddness.  I guess as an explorer of vineyards, it's my passion to find the weird wines - the ones no one has heard of.  I'll raise a glass of this little known wine and toast David Bowie, and youth, and creativity, and lost loves.  I'm looking back tonight and feeling the great weight of time past, cherishing those beautiful nights that live on in memory.  The nights when we all said, "Let's Dance."