Craft beer with a Latin flair: An interview with Randy Mosher (Feature for Extra)

This feature originally appeared on the cover of Extra Newspaper. 

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Brewer Randy Mosher is a partner at the new 5 Rabbit Cerveceria but he has been known in homebrewing and “Beer Nerd” circles for years.   Mostly because Mosher  wrote and designed the eye-catching and popular home brewing guide “Radical Brewing” and “The Brewer’s Companion.”  He recently sat down with Extra to talk about brewing beers with a Latin theme here in Chicago, Aztec Gods and why craft beer has grown so much in the last few years. 

Extra: For people not familiar with 5 Rabbits what’s the elevator pitch or short summary of what you’re doing.

RM: We are bringing the fun and excitement of Latin cuisine and culture to the fabulous world of craft beer.

Extra: So what are the 5 Rabbits, does that tie into the Latin theme?

RM: First of all, it is not a quantity its 5 Rabbit singular, and this is based on Aztec mythology.  It’s very common for pre-Columbian personal names to have numbers in them.  So, the numbers usually refer to some kind of calendrical name (having to do with the birthday) they were really involved with all the cycles of time: The earth and Venus and the moon and everything.

Five in particular is a number that was associated with days that represented a loss of control.   What the five are well there are actually five gods of excess of which 5 Rabbit is one.  There is 5 Rabbit, 5 Lizard, 5 Vulture, 5 Flower, 5 Grass, and each one of those represents a different type of excess. I suppose you could say they are like the seven deadly sins in Christian mythos.

So the rabbit for example represents excess of pride.  The big ears are symbolic that we should listen more for messages from the community and our inner selves theirs a beautiful story behind all of this

Extra: I see you also work in design did you also design all the packaging?

RM: Yes I did

Extra: Did you take Aztec images and other images from the past?

RM: Well, we looked at all of that.   You know it’s our goal to not be too fussy about the past.  We’ll take inspiration from it but we really intend to be very much a 21st century project, very much a kind of a fusion thing.

Extra: Where else does that Latin influence touch the beer, besides the name?  Is there also an influence on the beer itself?

RM: Well, we have three beers.  In our portfolio right now although one of them is on vacation for the summer. But the 5 Rabbit is a golden ale that is a beery beer.  Really in Latin cultures the most popular beer that’s drunk really the only beer that’s drunk (with a few exceptions) is that yellow beer that has that golden color that was influenced in some way by pilsner.  So we felt that it was important for us to have a beer that had that look.  But we didn’t want make something timid or do something that we thought would be boring and easy.

The other beer that we have out this summer is the 5 Lizard and this one is a little more obvious in its relationship to Latin culture and cuisine especially.  We are calling it a Latin style wit beer.  So Wit is that really delicious wheat beer from Belgium that is usually spiced and so we used some coriander with a really crisp character to it and instead of the traditional orange peel we used lime peel.  We use about 60 limes per batch of beer.

The beer is very light in alcohol 4.2 % it’s very light very crisp then we spike it with passion fruit pulp during fermentation. It’s very well integrated, and its super super dry.  We’re calling it a fruit beer for grown ups.

Extra: In describing these both it seems like there’s this dichotomy between doing a way out there novelty beer and a boring timid beer.  How do you keep that balance?

RM: Well that’s the trick.  All along for me that has been one of the more interesting things.  How do we express the Latin culture in a beer and do it in a way that’s not just a novelty or gimmicky that really creates things of beauty that have depth and drink ability, beer that you can have 2 or 3 pints of and don’t wear out your pallet.

Extra: What do you think is fueling the popularity of craft beer.  Do you think we are in a growing trend, is this a fad or the height of something that is always going to be around?

RM:  It’s a huge question and no one can totally predict the future.  But here’s how I see it. I think this is a kind of hundred-year-long pendulum swing.  If you go back to the early 19th century breweries were all local.  People knew their brewers they went to church with him or went to the bar with him. They were there in their community.  And in the 19th century with the scaling up of all kind of industries we developed a very different relationship with our suppliers and the idea of nationally branded products really took hold.

They served in the USA anyway a way to kind of hold people together in a funny way.  If you think of people as coming from Poland and Mexico and Ireland, Germany and every where else they became real Americans through a lot of different ways but one of the things that they did was they shared this real kind of progressive modern industrialized brands like Heinz ketchup, Campbell’s soup, and eventually Budweiser bee things like that.  People were really looking for modernness in their product: efficiency and economy and canned beer.

We have this phrase the greatest thing since sliced bread.  For them it really was great you didn’t have to slice that old bread and it didn’t go stale as fast.  But when you look at what you have to do to make sliced bread you get bread that’s not really all that bread like.  Garret Oliver has a great statement “You look at a loaf of wonder bread and it looks like bread and it has a crust it has an interior and its kind of spongy but it’s not bread.   It’s a chemical system that is held together in a way that makes it possible to package it, cut it up, put it on the shelf and have it last for two or three weeks.  Its very different from what our great grandfathers had for example.

Extra: Being on both sides of brewing as both a home brewer and a pro brewer what do you see as the relationship between growth of home brewing and the growth of craft beer?

RM: They’re two sides of the same coin.  The forces that drive people to home brew are the same forces that drive them to take it a little bit further to take it into the commercial realm.

It’s a bit of an obsession to be an honest.  For a lot of people it kind of takes over there life and makes them question things.  Maybe you take a look at that job as a computer programmer and its not as interesting as it used to be.  When you’re a brewer it’s very easy to see what your doing is making people happy

Extra: How many iterations do you go through to get to the finished recipe that you actually bring to market?

RM: for us that really wasn’t a difficult process.  My partners are beer enthusiasts but not necessarily super beer knowledgeable.  So what I did we sat down at my dining room table and I blended commercial beers and spiked them with different flavorings to try to put them in a glass so we could all taste and discuss.  We tried different fruits we tried the chilli ancho that we have in the 5 Vulture.  And so in a couple of hours we were able to go through a dozen or more beers and once we got to the point where we had something that we all liked and agreed on then it was up to me to cook up a recipe.

For some it took one or two to get it right.  But then we were able to scale up.  We are still doing some tinkering but the changes are on the order of 10% more or less.  In a range that most consumers aren’t going to notice.  But we want the beers to be as good as  we possibly can so we see something that could use some improvement were going to do it.

Extra:  Is there anything big coming up for 5 Rabbit?

RM: We will be brewing up the 5 Vulture that was previewed and put on vacation for the summer.  That’s a 6.4 % dark beer spiked with a small amount of chile ancho which is that really dark leathery smoky chili that you see in a lot of Mexican especially Oaxacan cuisine.  We’re calling it a Oaxacan Ale.

We are also working on a beer for Dia de los Muertos, something along the lines of a bent October-fest.  We’re not sure its gonna work, but it probably will so that’ll be something to look forward to maybe second week of October.

Extra: It’s appropriate that a Dia de los Muertos beer be shrouded in mystery?

RM: I think that’s appropriate.  We are gonna have some fun around it.

What Words to Learn First When you can’t Speak the Language (Vámonos Vol. 7)

It’s amazing what can be communicated just through facial expressions and gestures. Often a simple transaction, like a purchase, doesn’t need any words at all. It is more difficult to communicate through gestures if you’re trying to explain to a doctor that you have an allergy to penicillin or need direction on the metro.

Learning a language, or some tiny pieces of a language, isn’t just about protecting yourself from horrible situations. Even on a small-scale learning a language can be fun. On a trip that only lasts a couple days it’s still worth the effort to learn a few sentence fragments, because that knowledge of the language creates a deeper experience of the culture, gives more meaningful interactions with the people, and makes you a little more polite. It’s hard to be polite to someone you can’t speak to.

When preparing for a trip start by memorizing a couple words before you even look at phrases or grammar.

Pre-grammar words:

  • Please
  • Thank You
  •  Hello
  • Excuse me
  • Goodbye

A traveler mastering these basic words may have the vocabulary of a one-year-old, but already they are much closer to normal human interactions. Speech is at the center of communication not words alone. Personality, and mood also get expressed through tone and pace of speech. More than that you can now greet and acknowledge the people around you in their own language.

There will inevitably be words that are more important at different times to different travelers. It would be wise to know not just the address and name of your hotel, but also its neighborhood. When I was in Cachuera, Brazil I needed to learn the name for a place that has internet access in Portuguese (an internetchi as it turns out). When in Guadalajara watching Atlas play Chivas in the classico I needed to know how to say offside’s (Fuera de lugar). At the time I thought my Spanish was almost fluent, but I had never needed that phrase before. With these examples in mind, it makes sense to learn the words that best fit your situation.

Learning a language is hard, but it’s important not to be discouraged when the words come out wrong. Half formed beginnings of conversations are progress toward more full experience. A person getting used to a new vocabulary will make mistakes, sometimes they will say something embarrassing by accident. It’s part of learning and traveling. Usually, it makes for a good story.

 

Trip Tips

Do your homework

Any boning up on a language before you go will pay dividends when you arrive. If you have a plane ride of over two hours there’s no excuse for not learning the basic phrases above while you’re sitting on the plane.

Keep your ego in check

People often comment that they speak another language better when drunk.  This happens not because a bottle of wine is a good French teacher but because without their inhibitions people are more ready to try and speak.  Try not to be embarrassed about your language skills and you won’t need the wine to loosen your tongue

Speak for yourself

People often comment that they speak another language better when drunk. This happens not because a bottle of wine is a good French teacher, but because without their inhibitions people are more ready to try and speak. Try not to be embarrassed about your language skills and you won’t need the wine to loosen your tongue.

Practice

Some people think of themselves as having a great talent for languages, it’s a safe bet that you are not one of those people. Whether you have this gift or not there is only one way to improve language skill and that is to practice.

 

This article is available en Español 

Previous Vámanos Licorice Liquors-from-Around-the-World

 

 

 

First year college student survival guide (Feature for Extra)

Aside from writing a travel column for Extra I have also written some features.  This one was on the cover of the August 18th issue

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Congratulations on your matriculation! You have made it to college, and while it’s likely many of your friends didn’t get this far you have, and this is your chance to choose your own educational path and get yourself the final credential before you to take on the world.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the educational pack is still thinning out. Most of the colleges in and around Chicago have less than half of their students graduate in four years, some don’t manage 50% graduation after six years. Using your time effectively in college is a challenge and it starts as soon a student signs up for his or her first classes. Getting to college is hard, but graduating maybe harder. So this is survival guide in the real sense. These tips aim to make sure that you make it through the entire exercise

First year tips

More freedom means more responsibility
When you start college there are a number of new things to think about. If you’re living on campus or just moving out of your parents digs there is the whole issue of living on your own to contend with I will leave that advise to another writer in a different article. But, for commuter and resident students there a are a host of new freedoms and responsibilities opening up to a college student that were not available to a high school student

The biggest new freedom/responsibility is the choosing a major
It can be difficult to select a major. While some come to school with a direction in mind others will find it harder to settle on one right away. It is especially difficult considering that many fields of study arecompletely unknown to the average highschool student. To help yourself in this process don’t fret if you don’t know your major when you’re picking your first years classes, but set a date to decide by and use the faculty to help you gain an understanding of what that major includes and requires. While your deciding…

Knock out your prerequisites
This is an oldie but a goody. Most colleges will not let any students graduate without fulfilling some basic prerequisites. If at all possible get these done first. If you have a major this will give you the flexibility to pursue that if you don’t all the more reason do the classes you know you will need.

There is also the issue of scheduling.
In high school your schedule is largely out of your hands. School most likely always starts and ends at the same time. In college you have to coordinate class times and see when the classes you need to take are offered.

Pay attention to the professors
The main factor in any class being good or bad is who the professor is. It matters more than the subject matter, the reading, or what peers you have in the class. There are websites that rank professors, but I would put more faith in the judgment of the peers that you trust. If you’re really committed to finding out about a professor there is no reason you can’t go into his or her office and have a conversation one on one.

Do all the preparation you can
The thing about starting anything new is that it is hard to know what part of the experience will be difficult There will be things that you will not, and cannot anticipate. So do everything you can to get ahead. Especially in the early going before you have exams to worry about.

Be prepared to be surprised by your major or change your mind.
Sadly, there are some things you can’t prepare for. You can’t know what it is like to be a psych major until you are one, and take some of those classes. If you find that you would like to or have to change your majors this is why knocking out prerequisites is so important. The more one can get some of these out of the way the less they will be penalized for changing there minds.

Show up and Don’t Cheat
It should go without saying, but Mickey Brazeal a professor at Roosevelt University says that the majority of the students who fail either cheat or don’t show up to the class. ‘nuff said.

Don’t get fooled by Hollywood’s idea of college
Animal house was a good movie. Since it was made there have been about a hundred imitators that I would argue are less good. They portray college as an unending binge of drinking and sex. I will happily concede that in college, generally speaking, there is some sex and some drinking. But that is a tiny sliver of the total experience.

This, whether or not some of you believe it, is great news. College is many things: the social scene, the extra curriculars, the community and the study. It’s all built with the student in mind.

In the professional world the things that people do are for some purpose other than the employee If you work at a paper it’s to sell the ads or make the content that the readers read, if you work at a bakery you’re engaged in trying to create and sell the goods that the bakery bakes. In college those classes are for you, the student. They are created with the student in mind. The resources, faculty, and peer group created is for the student her or himself. So if you have the chance take advantage of them.

You only get four years… or six… or eight

Licorice liquors from around the world (Vámonos Vol. 6)

Food from afar can seem strange.  Meats and spices from different countries sometimes appear to come from different worlds.  Some flavors and dishes, however, reach beyond the boundaries of the country or culture that spawned them.  These treats are too popular to remain provincial delicacies.  Among these are licorice-tasting, anise-flavored liquors.

Whether because of cultural exchanges between peoples over vast expanses of land, or due to the general popularity of the licorice flavor, residents all over the Mediterranean have created their own licorice liquors.  Ouzo and mistra are Greek, raki is Turkish, anisette and pastis are French, anesone and sambuca are Italian, anis and ojan are Spanish, and kasra is Libyan.  There is also the Mexican xtabentún, which, in its original Mayan form, did not contain anise, but had the European plant added to it by Spaniards seeking to tame its strong flavor.

Tame is not the word I would use to describe any of these alcohols.  They are generally after-dinner liquors with powerful flavors.  Often they are drunk diluted with water or served on ice.

That plant, anise, or Pimpinella anisum, is the principle flavor component in most of these spirits.  It’s a thin spindly plant that is also used to flavor some foods and candies.  To flavor liquors, the anise is distilled to an essential oil.

One thing that many of these drinks (like ouzo, raki, and anis) share is the ability to perform in one of the great bartender magic tricks.  The liquor, we‘ll say raki in this example, appears clear in a bottle or glass, but as soon as water is added to it, the liquor turns white.  It’s what the Greeks call Lion’s Milk or the Milk of the Strong.  This happens because the essential oil of anise is soluble in alcohol, but not in water. Diluting the liquor with more water causes it to separate.  The oil comes out of solution, creating an emulsion whose tiny parts scatter the light.  This also happens while preparing absinthe, and it’s a fun party gag.

I heartily recommend that any Mediterranean traveler seek out one of these delicious liquors, but even if you can’t afford that Greek vacation, you might be smart to find a bottle of ouzo at a local liquor store and drink some Lion’s Milk.

 

This article is available en Español 

Previous Vámanos Beer Bread and Bananas

Beer Bread and Bananas (Vámonos Vol. 5)

What can you eat anywhere?

When you’re traveling there are many questions that continually plague a person in a new country. Where to stay, what the currency conversion is, whether to bow, kiss, or shake hands when introduced. But there is nothing as universal as food. Business or pleasure, short trip or long, seeing family or going alone, all travelers must eat.

Eating is one of the great pleasures of travel. A hearty adventurer is always excited to try local fare, but sometimes a hearty adventurer is rewarded for his or her bravery with what may euphemistically be called traveler’s belly. Every part of the world has its own bacteria. A person might have the antibodies and the tough stomach to eat all kinds of things in their home country, but the tables turn quickly when that person steps off their home court.

In places where a traveler cannot drink the water, the question of eating becomes complex. It’s not simply a matter of not drinking out of the tap. Not drinking local water also means no ice, no cold soups, and no fruits or vegetables that may have been washed in local water. If, in your travels, you limit yourself to places where you can drink the water, you will keep yourself out of half the world. So, if you find yourself in a place where you cannot drink the water, or if you are not sure what you can eat and drink, it is a comfort to know that there are three things that are almost always safe to consume: beer, bread, and bananas.

Because bananas have a thick skin, their fruit is not washed. They are also one of, if not the most, popular fruits, so when traveling you can often find them.

Bread is heated in the baking process and is also not washed before serving, so it is generally safe. What is important to remember there is watching what you put on that bread.

All boiled drinks (like tea and coffee) are usually safe, but when you want something cold and you can’t have ice cubes, beer is often your best option. Beer is safe because in order to brew it, it must be heated and then sealed. Also, yeast needs to be the dominant organism in the beer during the brewing. If it is not, the water, grain, and hops never become beer.

Trip Tips (what to do when you can’t drink the water):

Iodine Pills

If you are taking a trip to more remote places and it is not possible to carry all the bottled water you need, it is a good idea to bring iodine pills, which can be used to kill bacteria in water. I have only used these in camping settings, but if you are in a place so remote that bottled water is not available, this may be a useful option.

Tooth Brushing

Brushing teeth is such an automatic activity that we often do it on autopilot, but the water that is used to rinse your toothbrush before and your mouth after brushing goes into your mouth and should come from a clean water source. Make sure you have bottled water handy for this.

When You Are a Guest

Food sensitivities are often an issue when you are a guest – just ask someone who has allergies or is a vegan. When traveling, these can be doubly touchy because what may be fine for your hosts to eat could be dangerous to you. In order to avoid embarrassing or awkward situations, try to inform your hosts of anything you might not be able to eat in advance. If attending a dinner, it may be wise to offer to bring something to share that you know you can eat.

Soups

Remember, hot, boiled soups okay. Cold soups, hands-off.

 

This article is available en Español

Previous Vámanos Galleries Friend of the Frugal Traveler

Art Galleries, Chicago’s Culture on the Cheap (Vámonos Vol. 4)

In a recent article in the New York Times Frugal Traveler blogger Seth Kugel offered the advice that “Galleries are frugal travelers’ museums: not only are they nearly always free and nearly never musty, but they also provide insight into the local arts scene that would otherwise require a lot of trendy-cafe eavesdropping.”   When I read this it was a thought to good not to steal.  Here in Chicago we may tend to overlook the treasure trove of galleries available to us free in our neighborhoods.  With this thought in mind I compiled a small list of galleries to check out in the city.

1. Mars Gallery
1139 W. Fulton Market
(312) 226-7808
http://www.marsgallery.com
Wed/Fri/Sat, 12 a.m. – 7 p.m.

2. Packer Schopf Gallery
942 W. Lake St.
(312) 226-8984
http://www.packergallery.com
Tues – Sat, 11 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.

3. Three Walls
119 N. Peoria St. #2D
(312) 432-3972
http://www.three-walls.org
Tues – Sat, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

4. Prospectus Art Gallery
1210 W. 18th St.
(312) 733-6132
Wed – Sun, 12 p.m. – 5 p.m.

5. Antena Gallery
1765 S. Laflin St.
(773) 344-1940
http://www.antenapilsen.com
By appointment
Opening Friday, Aug. 5, 6 p.m. – 10 p.m.

6. Tom Robinson Gallery
2416 W. North Ave.
(773) 227-3144
http://www.tomrobinsonartist.com
By appointment only

7. Stephen Daiter Gallery
230 W. Superior
(312) 787-3350
http://www.stephendaitergallery.com
Wed to Sat, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

8. Lunar Burn
1252 N. Central Park
(773) 551-2859
http://www.lunarburn.com
By appointment only

9. Chicago Hot Glass
1250 N. Central Park
(773) 394-3252Mon – Fri, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.

10. Casa de La Cultura, Carlos Cortez, Mestizarte
1440 W 18th St.
(312) 738-2606
http://www.tallermestizarte.blogspot.com
Hours vary, generally afternoons

This article is available in Spanish here

Travel Ideas: Minor League Baseball (Vámonos Vol. 3)

It’s easy to find something to do in downtown Chicago.  In the summer cultural events, compete with world class museums and historic sites to attract the attention of out of town visitors.  But as my grandmother often said, “all the world can’t be London and Paris.”  Travelers often find themselves a little farther of the beaten path.    If you find yourself as a visitor to a less metropolitan setting by choice or chance I recommend checking out some minor league baseball.

There is minor league baseball around Chicago, but with 240 minor league teams spread from Maine to Oaxaca it is very possible that there is a team where ever it is you are going.  Here in the Chicago-land–area we have: the Kane County Cougars, the Lake County Fielders, the Windy City Thunderbolts, and the Schaumburg Flyers.   There are a total of 11 franchises currently operating in Illinois.

Right now the Cubs and White Sox may be wrestling with futility and mediocrity respectively, but the Kane County Cougars are in first place.   When I brought this up to their director of PR Shawn Touney joked, “I hope that’s still accurate when (this article) runs.”  He then went on to say “It’s been a very competitive season.  We have some good prospects this year.”

The level of play and facilities of these minor league teams vary wildly.  From stadiums that hold less than 2,000 people to venues that hold more than 10,000 with fireworks shows and future stars on their rosters.  This variety makes each experience a little more tied to the place the game is played.  It gives the game a different feel in different places.

The stadiums and salaries and ticket prices are all smaller in the minor leagues.  This means fans are closer to the action.  A visitor to a minor league stadium has a better chance of catching a ball, getting an autograph, and hearing the dirty words the pitchers yell at the umpires when they don’t get the call they want.  There are some things you don’t get in the minor leagues.  Results won’t make sports center and if you paint your chest you’re friends won’t see you on tv.  Personally I enjoy a lot of the water cooler talk that can follow a big game in the major leagues.  Still when you strip away all that coverage and attention what is left in a baseball game is the baseball.  And that is what we really go to see.

 

Trip Tips

How do I get excited about a team I don’t know?

Root root root for the home team.  I find that when enthusiasm is contagious. Where ever you are root for the home team and go with the crowd and you’ll find yourself caring more about what happens than you have any reason to.

What should I eat?

If you’re not on a diet, whatever you want.  This is not a seven-dollar-beer territory so you can definitely eat at stadiums from an affordability stand point.

How long are the games?

Baseball is not like football or basketball that have clocks that count down it’s a pastoral game that generally lasts between 3 and 4 hours unless there are extra innings.

What day should I go?

If you have the luxury to pick between a couple of days to go to the park you might look at the calendar of promotions.  Some minor league stadiums are famous for their wacky theme nights and varied extra curricular side activities.  Talking about the Kane County Cougars Shawn Touney said, “We have been described as having a county fair experience and I think that is accurate.”

Tequila: Home of Tequila (Vámonos Vol. 2)

On the high dry Jalisco lands two hours outside of Guadalajara, there is a little town called Tequila.  Not the drink, but the drink’s hometown.  This tiny village is about a third the population of Evanston, on rolling hills.  It’s a half mile above sea level and only a short distance from the Pacific.  It has a beautiful 18th century church, and, well…  a lot of Tequila.

The liquor is there right on the city’s coat of arms. Pictured are the church, the distilleries and fields of agave.  None of that is false advertising.  There are any number of distilleries in town and each one has its own tour.   The tours vary in quality, but can be great fun.  The church is the central structure in the town’s main square.  And the fields of agave are striking.

Agave is tequila’s grape.  It looks nothing like grapes but agave is the source of the drink.  These spiny blue green plants look more like cactuses.  They grow in rows that stretch out across the landscape.  The individual plants can be as long as 8 feet across, with artichoke-like hands reaching out in all directions.  The starchy center of this plant, the “pina” is the source of the starch that becomes the sweet stuff which fuels yeast that makes two things: carbon dioxide (released in fermentation), and ethanol or alcohol.

The agave plant distilled into liquor can produce many types of drinks called mescals, but only the blue agave of Jalisco and some neighboring states can be cultivated into tequila.  The plant is distinctive in its color and for the quality of sugars that are cultivated from its starches.   France has Champagne and Burgundy — Mexico has Tequila.  Just as Sparkling wines not made in Champagne cannot bear its name, so too is Tequila a product that can only be made in a specific region.  Anything distilled outside of the states without the dispensation of the Mexican government cannot legally be called tequila.

Tequila is now widely known and available through out the world.  One doesn’t need to stand on the ground where it was first cultivated to enjoy it.  But if you’re in Jalisco and like the drink you have no excuse not to enjoy the town itself.

 

Trip Tips

When should I go to Tequila?

Whenever you travel to Guadalajara a side trip to Tequila could be a good idea.  The climate is dry enough that the weather can be pleasant all year round, but snow birds might like to escape Chicago in the winter.

How long should I stay?

On a day trip from Guadalajara: long enough to stroll through the streets visit a distillery, Jose Cuervo is one of the biggest and though it is generally associated with its least distinguished variety, there are many fine Cuervo Tequilas beyond the kind immortalized in country western songs.  Overall, it’s not a bad option.

How much should I drink?

Enough to try at least a sip of the anejo, reposado and the silver, but not enough to hate yourself the next day.  The altitude is not extremely, but it is high for Chicagoans and as I’ve said its very dry.

I don’t like to drink Tequila should I still go?

Yes, but only if you’re willing to be convinced that you actually do like to drink tequila.

 

The St. Louis City Museum — a strange and beautiful place (Vámonos Vol. 1)

The City Museum of St Louis is not a museum in the traditional sense of the word and it has almost nothing to do with cities in general or St. Louis in specific.  What it is, is a huge junkyard play-house.  When you first enter it, the building looks like the home of an eccentric millionaire overrun with children.  As you explore further, it seems like its so big it must belong to billionaire because it is much too big and he can’t simply be eccentric, they must be insane to have welded a plane onto a bus onto a metal structure outside of their roof.

Then you slide through the shark tank.

Can you get hurt?  Of course you can!  The city museum is like a huge junk playground you can hurt yourself here in the same way you might hurt yourself climbing the monkey bars.  Except instead of climbing the monkey bars, you will be scaling the outside of a tube that goes into some kind of whale den made out of beautiful mosaic tile.

While I was there I asked one of the many friendly people who worked there if they had ever been sued and she said “All the time.”  Much of the cost of admission pays for their liability insurance.  Who would insure such a strange place I don’t know, but thank goodness someone does.  Because what makes the city museum strange is also what makes it fun.

Between Chicago and St. Louis there are probably a thousand interesting pieces of junk.  Abandoned cars in dirt lots and old railroad tracks that haven’t been used for generations can create a strange wonderland for the adventurous mind.   Flea markets, junk yards and rummage sales hold thousands of things that could be helpful or useful for someone.  Many of the things we pass by could be valuable.  Not in the way things on the antiques road show are valuable, because someone will bid on them at an auction.  But in the way a hammer and nails are valuable when you need to hang a painting.

There is no place I know that has gotten so much value out of so much junk.  If you like junk or sharks or to play, there is no place I can recommend more strongly than the City Museum of St. Louis.

Vámonos Articles

Over the past month, since beginning work as a reporter for Extra Newspaper I have written a number of travel articles.  These articles are in a section called Vámonos  (“Let’s go” in English) and I am currently the only writer for that section.  So far, I have written an article every week for the last four weeks.  I hope to complete at least ten of these articles before moving to other projects.

I am posting these articles here at North and Clark for three reasons:

  1. To have a diverse portfolio of travel writing when I am done.
  2. In the interest of preserving this writing in a one place
  3. To share this work with people who might be interested in reading my writing who don’t have access to that paper

All of this content can also be seen every week (laid out much more artfully than I could hope to on this blog) in the physical copy Extra Newspaper and (laid out much less artfully than they show up on this blog) on Extranews.net.