drinking

Going to the Reno of Love

I went to Reno a few weeks ago. Nothing much to note. Reno is pretty much always Reno. It ain’t like a box a chocolates. You always know precisely what you’re gonna get.

Although I did find out that you shouldn’t attend a minor league baseball stadium on the final weekend of the season unless you want them to be out of everything. I understand not having all the beers in stock. Don’t want to have half a keg that has to last through to next April. But the mini helmets for the ice cream? Come on, those will be perfectly fine next year.

But I’m not here to talk about minor league baseball or the cockamamie drink-ticket policy that the casinos are starting to implement. Really? You’re going to charge me for a Grey Goose? That’s probably a blog post for another time.

No, for some reason, this trip to Reno reminded me of another trip to Reno many years ago. Before I blogged. Scary to think that time ever happened. I think we used pagers and wore Day-glo parachute pants. And maybe the Challenger ran into the World Trade Center. I’m not sure. The older I get, everything more than a week old just fuses all together into one large morass that is “Youth.”

Although this story involves having a regular bartender, so it was probably after the age of twelve. Let’s hope.

My regular bartender, you see, served happy hour at a bar that had NTN/Buzztime trivia. For those of us who preferred to exercise some brain cells while killing the others. I spent many an afternoon there grading papers, because when a student writes a term paper comparing the military draft to the NFL draft, his teacher just might need a cold one.

The bartender had been in an on-again, off-again relationship with a guy. The relationship tended to be “off” at the times she was pregnant with his child and then “on” when whoever he was banging in his off-time got pregnant. Quality relationship, I assure you.

One time whilst not pregnant, she realized he was a flight risk lifelong catch, and decided that if she liked it, she ought to put a ring on it. Like, right quick! Because no better person to enter into a legally-binding life-partnership with than someone who might or might not be around next week.

She asked some of us regulars what we were doing that Sunday because, if we wanted, we could come to their wedding in Reno. It turns out I wasn’t doing anything. Heck, my bartender wasn’t going to be working, so there was little chance of scoring free drinks in town. Is there anywhere else I might find some free drinks? Reno, you say? Well, that sounds like some synergy right there!

As I said, this was a long time ago, when Nevada casinos offered free drinks. These days, they require $100 worth of bets and a Maruader’s-Map-style oath solemnly swearing that there is more money where that came from as long as they continue to ply me with alcohol. And that I won’t lose that money in any of their competitors’ establishments. And, naturally, that I am up to no good.

When Sunday rolled around, we loaded up in a couple of cars and caravaned to the most romantic place on Earth. Sorry, I meant the most romantic spot in Nevada. Make that northwestern Nevada. Not counting the Tahoe vicinity. Or maybe Burning Man. Or, I don’t know, the Mustang Ranch?

You know what? I’ll just say it. Reno’s a shithole. And thank God for that, because if it were a place people might want to go, I wouldn’t be able to find $5 tables anymore.

We stopped off at Boomtown, the first casino you come to along I-80.

Boomtown’s super classy. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s similar to Primm along I-15, being the stateline between California and Nevada, ie the first place you can gamble en route to your gambling destination. Except that, whereas Primm has three or four casinos, Boomtown only has one. Primm also has roller coasters. And the Bonnie and Clyde death car. And shows. Boomtown has none of those.

Now that I think about it, Boomrown’s nothing like Primm. Primm is still about an hour away from Vegas, so maybe you need to take a leak or you’re not going to make it to The Strip in enough time to bet on the Super Bowl coin flip. But Boomtown’s only about five miles from Reno. There’s no viable reason to stop there on the way into Reno. There’s reason to stop there on the way out, because you can pay Nevada prices for gas instead of California prices for your drive back. But on the way there, it only serves people with poor planning abilities or no impulse control. Kinda like a couple deciding on a whim that they should get married this weekend.

I don’t remember why we stopped. Gas? Smokes? Regardless, they got in a fight about something. Not sure what. Gas? Smokes? Anyway, we all decided to hit the buffet here on the way back to commemorate the occasion, and it was onward to the drive-thru chapel.

Except it wasn’t a drive-thru. That’s the fancy Vegas shit. These Reno rat-bastards made us get out of the car to negotiate the ceremony details! They haggled over prices and pictures and, I don’t know, whether the deluxe marriage package comes with large fries or if they have to be ordered separately. I didn’t inquire about the primae noctis add-on.

Although to be fair, I don’t know all of the privies of the negotiation because I was stuck outside watching the five kids they share via various previous relationships and what George Washington referred to as “foreign entanglements.”

Also, I might’ve been a bit twitchy, because I have a general rule about being outside in Reno. And the general rule is: under no circumstances should one ever be outside in Reno.

If you’ve never been to Reno, I’ll paint you a picture. Pull up a mental picture of Las Vegas. Now take away all the fountains and Sphinxes. And rides and shows. And attractive people. And any building built after 1980. You can keep the weather, though. Oh, and maybe ass a little dilapidated infrastructure and a few homeless people passed out on the sidewalk. Now you’ve got Reno.

Oh wait, did I say the weather is the same as Vegas? I only meant in the summer. The winter weather is way worse in Reno.

But that’s all on the outside. Inside, they have these wonderful, climate-controlled resorts with neon and free alcohol.  There’s a reason three of the Reno casinos decided their best bet was to combine into one three-block long structure so that people can move from one to the other without breathing legitimate air.

But whatever, Bartender, for you I’ll travel all the way to my Mecca, able to see the Great Mosque, my religious fervor gambling addiction quivering in my bones. Ignore the Silver Legacy! I’m here to celebrate a friend’s most blessed day, a day she’s been looking forward to since at least last Thursday. So I’ll suck it up and get ready to throw some rice or confetti or… wait, was somebody supposed to bring the rice?

Although it doesn’t matter, because here come Bride and Groom and, oh no, they don’t look too terribly happy. Did someone forget the Smokes? Gas?

“I fucking told you,” Bride was saying.

Groom was mumbling something or other.

“They won’t marry us unless we get a marriage license.”

Wait, what? This is Nevada, home of the quickie wedding. Don’t they issue the marriage certificate AT the wedding facility? All you should have to do is prove your identity as an adult and sign on the dotted…

Wait, what’s that? Groom didn’t bring his ID? Was that his super secret way of avoiding this date with destiny? If I “accidentally”  leave my driver’s license at home, I’ll escape scot free! 

Except Bride said she told him this would happen. Clearly she knew he didn’t bring proper identification to his own wedding. I would be intrigued if I could get over my sweating scrotum and quivering gambling glands.

Awe, what the hell. Inquiring minds want to know.

Turns out Groom didn’t have his driver’s license with him because he was no longer in possession of said license. It’s a temporary thing. He’s supposed to get it back soon.

Why was Groom temporarily identification-less? Had he perhaps left it at a bar the night before? Maybe it went through the laundry in his gym shorts. Or the cops took it away. Do cops take your ID away? I always assumed that, if the courts suspend your license, you still get the card back. In case you need to get married in Reno or something.

No, it turns out Groom had recently been involved in a car crash. And, as a dutiful driver, he got out of the car and exchanged information with the other driver.

By literally giving his driver’s license to the dude.

I’m going to let that one sink in for a bit. I think I went into a daze when I heard it.

Look, I know I have a tendency to get a little bit snooty in my middle-class upbringing. I understand that other people’s experiences and worldviews can’t always match my own and maybe some people are raised to think that “giving the other driver your information” means something different than I think it does.

Then again, I’ve been in a fair number of accidents in my life, and was capable of jotting down the other driver’s license number and insurance info perfectly fine, even in the times before cell phones could immediately take pictures of that information. And never once have I offered to give away my primary form of identification. Nor have I asked for said in return. Nor has anyone I’ve ever gotten into an accident with offered their identification nor requested possession of my identification, except for the temporary purpose of copying down the information.

Taking the other person’s identification is indicative of human trafficking, not a minor rear-ender.

Who the hell gets in an accident and immediately says, “Hey, here’s my driver’s license. You can send it back to me whenever you’re ready. Want me to buy you a stamp?”

Well, maybe a guy who is trying to avoid hitchin’ his old lady that weekend.

Now you might think that, a time when one of the two signatories to a legal contract isn’t able to prove their identity isn’t the best time to plan a last minute trip to said document signing, but whatever. Who can argue with True Love?

Regardless, I guess this trip to Reno is wasted. Whatever shall we do? And I’m only asking because the glistening dome of the Silver Legacy is just a few blocks away and it may or may not be speaking through my subconscious, begging me to come visit. She’s letting me know in no uncertain terms that she knows I’m in her neighborhood and that I better not be thinking about turning tail and skipping town before giving her a little laugh and a tickle. I’m just sayin’, y’all, ain’t no scorned lover like a scorned lover with more money than the Pope and more secret recording devices than… the Pope. The Silver Legacy knows what I’m doing all day, every day, and most of the time, she approves. But some of the time…

Do we have to caravan back together if they didn’t even tie the knot? I know they were talking about a celebratory buffet at Boomtown, but that’s only if there’s something to celebrate, right? Do we still need to go to the buffet at Boomtown if we’re just calling it lunch?

But wait, Bride has a plan. Of course she has a plan, because she was just telling Groom that she told him this would happen. So she’s prepared. Not prepared enough to, like, pick a different date for the wedding. Or a new fiance. But she’s prepared.

Groom brought other forms of identification. Nothing official, mind you. Not a social security card. Not a military i.d. Groom’s never been in the military, so that would be tough. But I’m guessing he’s been arrested before. Would a mug shot would count as an official government document?

He brought mail from home. Um, okay. I know it’s often used as proof of residency, but that’s not really what they’re going for here. They don’t need to prove that Joe Schmoe lives at 123 Main Street, but rather, WHO IS Joe Schmoe.

He also brought his work i.d. Good news is it has picture of him. Bad news is it’s not terribly official. I mean, the liquor store that you’re rent-a-copping at might be comforted by the fact that ABC Security is capable of color printing a badge, but if you give me a five-minute crash course in Photoshop and point me toward a Kinko’s, I could get a homeless guy standing in for Groom in this ceremony.

So this is why Weddings n’ Chips isn’t willing to marry these two. They have to prove that the state of Nevada will issue them a marriage license. They can go to the Superior Court and see if someone more official than an Elvis impersonator will sign off on the Crayola stick figure that their 4-year old wrote “Daddy” under.

Just kidding. There are no Elvis impersonators in Reno. Way too upbeat. If Reno had any impersonators, it’d probably be Phil Collins. Or Falco.

“I don’t know how the hell we’re supposed to find City Hall,” Bride says.

At this point, one of the guys I drove up with, one of the other lushes who not only has a regular, daytime bartender, but who has a regular, daytime bartender who saw fit to invite him to her drive-thru Falco wedding, looks into the Reno skyline and says, “Um, maybe it’s that square building with the American flag that says ‘RENO’ across the top?”

Well spotted, Dude. So much for lushes not having great observational skills. I might’ve noticed that giant building if it hadn’t been in the vicinity of casinos. His vice is not currently in sight, so maybe it’s easier to focus on minor details like thirty-story square buildings with flags on top. My vice is beckoning me, telling me to ignore those other buildings. Those other buildings are skanks who don’t understand what I really need.

So Bride and Groom are heading to the government building on a Sunday to see if they’ll accept Groom’s t-shirt tag as formal identification. Who knows how long that’s going to take? Whatever shall the rest of us do whilst waiting for a rush judgment from the government?

“Saaaaaaay,” I posit. “Would you mind if we maybe… I don’t know… found some air conditioning and maybe a…”

I can’t finish on account of the shakes and the salivations, but my message is clear enough by the single tear forming in the corner of my eye.

“Yeah, that’s fine,” says Bride, whose focused elsewhere right now. “I’ll text you when we find out and, if we can get married, you can meet us-,”

I didn’t hear the rest of what she said, as I was suddenly moving at the speed of light toward yon distant Heaven. The other lushes came with me. It’s vice o’clock!

I dropped the lushes off at the casino bar, despite the fact that it went against every fiber of my being. Don’t they know they can just walk an extra five feet and camp out at a slot machine and then wait fifteen minutes or so for the septuagenarian cocktail waitress to maneuver her walker over in their direction? And then they can get a well drink! Sure, they might’ve lost $50 by the time she gets back with that free drink, but then they can say they didn’t lose $50, they just purchased a $50 watered-down Jack & Coke.

So I sat down at the slot machine and had just ordered my “free” drink when my phone buzzes. It’s my bartender telling us that they made it to the “justice of the peace” and were granted a “marriage license” and were heading back to the “chapel.” She’ll meet us back there.

Well, shit.

I tell my friends to drink up. Those bastards were already been on their second drink. Not that we’d been there for long, but let’s be honest, we all met in a bar and have a regular bartender who invited us to her wedding, so we can down the drinks pretty quick.

I return to my slot machine to wait for my drink. Time slows as I wait for my cocktail. Or “Cock Drink,” as one of my favorite casino servers of all time once referred to them. I think she was about two hours off the boat from Russia. They don’t hire these women for their conversational abilities. They hire them for their ability to bend time like the Matrix and keep our sorry asses glued to our seats donating more capital into the gaping maws of their reverse-ATMs for as long as possible. They are hired to ensure that people continue flocking to the middle of an unlivable desert to visit wonderful nirvanas of neon.

“Chug, chug, chug!” my friends chanted as we headed back to the car. Not that I needed to chug. It was a long way up to the car on level “Luck You Can Find a Spot at All on a Sunday” of the parking structure. Plus, this is Nevada. We can have booze outdoors. Probably in the back seat of a car. Hell, probably while driving, although please don’t take those last two suppositions as legal advice.

Nonetheless, I chugged all the same and we made it to the car and we drove back to the wedding spot and what did we see when we got there?

Our bartender walking out the front door. With her new Husband. Family members cheering on the steps. Throwing hands in the air with illusionary rice.

That’s right. We missed the wedding. The very reason we had gotten up early and driven to this Hellblight place.

Now, I might’ve exaggerated for storytelling purposes about how long it took me to get my drink. I really don’t think we were in the casino for more than about ten minutes before we got the text. And we busted our ass to the car and were outbound within five minutes of that. And we told her we were on our way.

But here we were, having completely missed the 60-second wedding we were here to watch.

The good news was that Bride wasn’t pissed. Heck, this wedding was happening because Groom was a flight risk, and after coming perilously close to driving all the way to Reno to NOT get married, I’m guessing she wanted to get this shit done. Who knows, maybe the government clerk was about to have a change of heart and call Weddings R Us to tell them to rescind the document. When the armored guard bends down in “Groundhog Day,” you take that fucking money and you walk away. Ain’t no time for equivocation.

(That last analogy was going to be about a prisoner during the Storming of the Bastille, but I thought that might be a bit obtuse for a post with tags about Reno and Quickie Weddings.)

The bad news was that the wedding had happened. Meaning we had to celebrate. So it was back to Boomtown for their majestic $7.99 buffet.

At least Boomtown has a casino. Those hour-old mashed potatoes will hold in the chaffing dish a little bit longer. After the shit-show of this day, I’ve got a hankering to bet it all on double-zero.

My Wine Post, Part I

I’ve been promising a wine post for a long while. Well, not really promising one, but it seems like every time I write about coffee or beer, I throw in a “Maybe I should write about wine someday. So I suppose that day is today.

And sorry, this is as far as I go. Weed may be legal in my state, but I’m hardly a connoisseur. I’ve heard there are different types of marijuana. Okay, if you say so. Is it the taste? Or the high you get? Or whether you crave Cheeto’s or Tollhouse afterwards? Someone probably knows, but not me. I hit the wacky tabbacky once every three of four years, so it’s hard to judge consistency or differences. And if I do more than one hit, I’m pretty much down for the count.

So wine, it is. What would you like to talk about?

Food pairings? Fuck that. If you want wine with your fucking food, then drink wine with your fucking food. And don’t get me started on the restaurants that are now suggesting beer tastings with food. Oh, you think this salmon pairs with a hefeweizen? Well, hefeweizen tastes like it’s been strained through soiled underwear, so that doesn’t pique my interest in how you prepare your salmon. If I order it with an IPA, are you going to look down your nose at me and clap for your sommelier to come arrest me and put me in posh jail? Wait a second, do sommeliers even make up the bogus beer tastings or did you just ask Fred, the resident lush at the bar? Because I think I’d trust Fred first.

Best varietal? Again, it’s up to you. I personally go for zinfandels when I get to choose, especially a zin from the California foothills. Zinfandels used to have one primary taste profile, but a decade or so ago, I started to see more variety. You can get a jammy zinfandel or a peppery zinfandel. Peppery used to be the norm in the foothills because of all of the volcanic rock up there. But then they started planting more zin vines in the north-facing valleys that get less sun because that’s what was sells better. I don’t mind the jammy, and just like with the IPA craze, I know when I’m bucking the trend in the market. I also like stick shifts  and time travel TV shows, but that ain’t what sells. So I’ve learned to just sit there, drinking my hoppy IPA and my jammy zinfandel while watching the series finale of Timeless, and shut the fuck up.

But man, when I encounter a place that still holds one of their zinfandels back for a bit o’ spiciness, it’s a little slice of heaven.

I know. I know. Who in the world would want to sully their grape juice with a nuance of cracked black pepper, right? You’re not alone. Pepper is for steak, not for alcohol. But, I ask you, what are you drinking WITH your steak. And you don’t have to have steak with your zin. Just think about steak while you’re drinking it, like a vegan who eats tofacon while dreaming of the real thing. If you imagine it hard enough, you can conjure the flavor. If I were a vegan, I’d stick to the booze to remind me of what meat was like. And I’d be one of the weepiest drunks in existence.

If I can’t have or don’t want a zin, though, I’ll probably turn to a syrah. Not a petit syrah, mind you. Syrah and petit syrah are entirely different grapes. You would think the latter would just be a smaller version of the former, but no. That would be too logical, and not intimidating enough for noobs. So a syrah’s got nothing to do with a petit syrah. A syrah is, however, the same thing as a shiraz. Sommeliers gotta sommelier, right?

Petit syrahs are probably the prettiest red wine. A good one is inky, almost violet. And they’re dense. My wife’s a big petit syrah fan. She’ll drink it by itself. I’m usually pretty good with them, but only paired with a steak or a meaty pasta. And yeah, ignore what I just said about no generic food pairings. You should only drink petit syrah with red meat.

My white flavor profile switches around a bit. Depending on the food or the weather or the time of day or my mood, I might want a fume blanc, a roussanne, a vermentino, a suavignon blanc (which, unlike the syrahs, is the same grape as a cabernet sauvignon). If it’s dry enough, I’ll take a Viognier, but most of those are way too sweet. And by dry, I mean the wine, not the weather. Dry is the opposite of sweet. Well, really they never use the word “sweet.” They say off-dry, just to be snooty dicks. Then again, some wineries call their off-dry wines dry because they tend to sell better.

This trend is going on with roses, as well. Roses are pink wines, which used to only be white zinfandels. But over the past few years, a number of the wineries we like have started to make dry roses which are quite refreshing. They’re like red wines that you can drink cold.  Then again, many places just recycled their old white zinfandel recipes and slapped a rose label on it. When we were in Denver last year, Wife ordered two different roses at two different locations, one of which called itself a wine bar. The server listened toWife’s complaint about the residual sugar in the first one she had tried, then brought one out with pretty much the same damn taste.

You’ll note there were two varietals I didn’t reference: those creamy chardonnays and robust cabernets. I don’t mind the latter, if it’s paired right, but any food that tastes good with a cab probably tastes better with a petit.

But that famous white varietal? Pass the chardonnay, please! Seriously. Please pass it right the fuck past me.

And yes, I know all about oak aging and stainless steel and malolactic fermentation and the magic egg that leaves the liquid in constant motion. I’ve tasted the creamiest of chards and the tangiest. And while there are a scant few that I can tolerate, as a general rule, I’ll just skip past that varietal and go right on to the pinot grigio, thank you very much. Unless I’m in Napa and chardonnays are the only whites on the tasting menu and I just paid twenty bucks and only get to taste four.

One time we went wine tasting with a friend and her husband. Wife’s wine tasted with the friend often, but we were a bit skeptical about his wine acumen. He’s a sales guy, so I’m never a hundred percent sure if he has any real reactions to anything. His answer to most question seems to have been play-tested for audiences of strangers who you are trying to build a rapport with. When we asked him what kind of wines he liked, he paused for a second, looked up the answer in his mental rolodex and said, “I really like full cabernets and buttery chardonnays.” Wow, is that what Madison Avenue thinks of California wines? Well, unfortunately for this dude, we weren’t going to Napa Valley that day, so he was shit out of luck on rich cabernets or buttery chards. Hopefully the tasting notes you cross-referenced and committed to memory last night know what to say about a barbera.

You know what? That’s what I should be talking about. Wine regions. Forget pairings and varietals and proper storage techniques.

Wait, did I talk about proper storage techniques? Bottle down. Not straight down, but at a slant. Most wine racks are built for the proper angle, but most people put their wine slanting upwards. Cause it makes the label prettier, I suppose. But the cork needs to stay hydrated, you see. Dry corks crack, and can break when you open them. Even worse, dry corks contract, which lets oxygen in to the bottle long before you try to open it. And once you’ve got oxygen in there, you’re no longer aging wine, you’re making vinegar.

So I guess it’s time to focus on the wine regions. I’ve been to most of the ones in California, and a few more besides. Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, Paso Robles, Lodi. I’ve sampled some near Walla Walla, Washington and Willamette Valley in Oregon. Each has their own positives and negatives. I don’t think there’s one that can properly be called the “best” region.

That being said, I do have a clear favorite. If you want good wine in a laid-back atmosphere where the winemakers and wine pourers like your company and your business, there’s really only one option. It’s a county in Northern California with acres and acres of vineyards planted on rolling hills. But the county ain’t named Napa, and it ain’t named Sonoma.

Hold on, I’ve got a lot to say on this. Check out Part II if you want to know about the hidden gem that should be considered the “real” wine country.

BEER! (Part III)

Okay, so I’ve just spent two posts about the beers I don’t like. So what, you may ask, DO I like in my beer? Well, I’m glad ya asked.

Truthfully, my flavor profile has changed a few times in my life, and are in a bit of a flux right now, too. Perhaps this is why I don’t understand the continuance of the decades-old trends discussed in the previous posts. Then again, I’ve always tended to be along a somewhat tight variance. Browns and reds and pales. Somewhere in the middle of the hoppy vs. malty spectrum. I love me some balance.

Of course, in a begrudging nod to the IPA-philes, over the past few years, my preferred beer has gone farther up the bitterness scale. For a while, I was all about the Amber and Scotch Ales. Alaskan Amber, Kilt Lifter, Nutty Brewnette, Old Chub. Even Newcastle was an occasional go-to in a pinch. The benefit of Newcastle is its ubiquity. Even a bar that only carried the standards is likely to have Newcastle.

Fat Tire was my favorite beer for five years or more. And clearly I wasn’t the only one, because it’s the beer that put New Belgium on the map. The brand barely existed at the turn of the century, but as of now, it’s ranked #11 by volume, just behind powerhouse no-longer-microbreweries Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada. And yeah, I know they’re really pushing their Voodoo Daddy IPA these days, but all of that is on the strength of their flagship.

I’ll still drink Fat Tire. Sometimes I have no choice. When I’m visiting family, it’s the only one they can remember that I drink, as they try desperately to avoid saying “Flat Tire.” I don’t know why it’s such a difficult pronunciation. I know a flat tire is a thing, but it’s not like Fat is some obscure word. Yet every baby boomer I encounter asks me if I want one of those “Fla.. uh.. Fe-ua… Feat Tires?”

But Fat Tire tastes a bit too sweet for me these days. The nutty and caramely and malty beers that I drank for the majority of my thirties just aren’t doing it for me these days. I never liked stouts and porters, because they’re too sweet, and something clicked in me in the past year, making most browns exhibit the same syrupy consistency. Maybe it’s just a hundred degrees in summer kind of thing, or maybe my brain is subconsciously telling my tongue that hops are here to stay, so I’d better get used to it. Now a Fat Tire tastes like a Frappuccino to me. Or an iced coffee when they put all that syrupy crap into it. No, Starbucks barista, I don’t want fucking “room” in my iced coffee. Just black coffee and ice. Someone ordering an actual coffee at your coffee business shouldn’t make you so damned twitchy. 

One fun brew I found many moons ago was Innis and Gunn. On my second trip to Scotland, we asked for a local beer. The waiter described something that we couldn’t understand, because he was speaking Scottish, which bears absolutely no resemblance to English. We nodded our approval and received one of the most wonderful concoctions ever invented. It’s aged in Scotch barrels. But there’s more to it than that, because after tasting Innis and Gunn, I tried a number of other beers that claim such a distinction and none of them have the smooth toffee flavor of Innis and Gunn. I’ve even, since then, tried some other Innis and Gunn flavors, including their rum-aged and Irish whickey-aged. None of them have that je ne sais pas of the original.

When we got back to America, we looked everywhere for Innis and Gunn. At the time, New York was the only place in the United States that carried it, and that seemed a bit far of a drive. But who said we had to purchase it in the United States? Vancouver’s only a fifteen-hour drive! My friend hit the Great North the following summer and brought back a case. Two summers later, I made the trek. The employee at the state-owned liquor store looked at me strangely when I wanted 30 bottles of something they usually sell by the single. But when I flashed the real-live, legitimate, international-standard American dollars, they were willing to do just what I said.

Just kidding. I think I paid with credit card. And I probably insulted the guy when I asked what it cost in “real money.” The guy selling joints in Nelson Park, however, was happy enough to take American cash.

We continued to check the Innis and Gunn website, plotting their progress on a map like they were the Allied army advancing against the Kaiser. First they were spotted in Washington, then Oregon. We went to the city walls waiting to cheer the liberating army as it came within sight. When my wife texted me a picture from the local Total Wine, I knew that life would never be the same.

Then again, at $14 for a 4-pack, the I&G is still going to be reserved for special occasions.

My IBU preference has been creeping up recently. The forties taste fine to me now. Although I suppose that’s where I started. The first beer I was actually able to get through being a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Then I avoided it fro a while, but it’s back in my favored wheelhouse. I can even tolerate beers into the sixties. When I was in Denver recently, I drank quite a few Dale’s Pale Ales, with an IBU of 65. It was fine. But I might’ve been suffering from altitude sickness.

But my favorites of late seem to be reds. Reds tend to add a bit of hoppiness to the typical maltiness of a brown. You know, like what hops were originally meant to do. There’s one here in Northern California called Heretic Evil Twin. The “evil twin” comes from the combination of the two flavors. If you’re a malt fan, the hop is the evil twin; if you’re a hop fan, it’s the malt. And they’re both in there. It’s a solid brew, with an IBU of 45, right in “the middle,” so to speak. But I think it’s ainly available in Northern California, so sorry if I got your hopes up. If you read on, you’ll see I’m right there with you on the torture. .

Let’s talk about Karl Strauss Red Trolley. It’s available everywhere, right? Its crispy nuance makes it my current favorite beer. It’s not that you can taste all the flavors, like in Heretic, but it’s also not all one flavor. Somehow it has an IBU below Fat Tire, which I consider bullshit because it’s definitely not as sweet. Of course now, after a decade of indoctrinating us that IBU is the be-all and end-all of a beer flavorness quotient, they’re saying it’s an incomplete measure. Now they try to distinguish between hazy and juicy and, I don’t know, fluffy IPAs? And New England IPAs, which are basically the same as West Coast Pale Ales. There are also Northwest Pales. It gets really confusing when you need an eight-directional compass just to figure out what the hell you’re drinking.

Or grapefruit. Don’t get me started on grapefruit. How very fitting that Ballast Point would be bought out by Coors.

Although the Grapefruit Sculpin works as a good transition into my most recent beer find. While in San Diego, my hotel bar had a local beer called Coconut Contender. This intrigued me, because I like coconut. Have I mentioned that I like coconut before? And that I worry they are on the cusp of jumping the palm tree shark? I think I have.

Coconut in beer isn’t a new thing. Coconut porters have existed for a while. I’ve had a few of them, and they’re okay in extremely limited quantities. Porters are sweet, coconut is sweet, so what you’re left with is the equivalent of adding caramel syrup to a white chocolate mocha, which is something I’m surprised Starbucks hasn’t done yet. Hell, I had some sort of Iced Vanilla Bean drink there a couple weeks ago, and I can still feel the granules of sugar coursing through my body. Dammit, Barista, I ordered a coffee frappuccino, not a caramel frappuccino. Repeat after me, barista!  Coffee! What the fuck is wrong with just serving me the goddamn product you’re supposed to be known for! Y

Sorry, where was I? Ah yes, the Coconut Contender. What intrigued me about this particular beer was that it was not listed as a coconut porter, but a coconut IPA. So instead of using the sweetness of the coconut to augment the sweetness of a porter, they’re going to counteract the bitterness of the… hmmm…. Why, that sounds brilliant!

Of course, they’ve done this with other flavors. That grapefruit crap is the most famous, but I’ve seen orange and tangerine and raspberry IPAs. But most of those others are tart more than sweet. Plus, did I mention that I like coconut? So I asked for a pint. The bartender asked if I wanted a taste of it first. Maybe he’s had customers that were hoping for a coconut porter and were disappointed by a beer with nuance. I was ninety percent sure I didn’t need a taster of it, that I would drink the whole damn thing. But if I’m about to order sixteen ounces and I can get the seventeenth ounce for free, I’m taking that bargain.

Even better when I discovered it was 21 ounces for the price of 20.

Verdict? It was as sublime as I expected. The coconut was in the background, as was the hoppiness. I didn’t wince from the sweet or chew the bitter. No need to drink five gulps of water to remoisten my palate. (Remoisten my palatte sounds like a dirty book that might be written by the OTHER Tony Kelly, the one who forces Amazon searches for my book to a second page. Go ahead and check, I won’t hold it against you).

I could definitely see myself drinking more of those Coconut Contenders. For instance, I saw myself drinking it again the next night. And the night after that. After all, I was at the hotel for a week-long conference. Unfortunately, the rat bastard behind the bar must have recognized me the rest of the week, because he never gave me that free taster again. Then again, he did “accidentally” pour the wrong drink once, and then gave me the correct pour in a take-home cup. Tip your waitstaff, people!

So of course, the first thing I did when i got home was to hit the local liquor stores to get me some Coconut Contender at home.

BevMo? Nope. Total Wine? Nada.

Dammit, this Coconut IPA is not to be found anywhere in the Sacramento area. Or at least anywhere in the whopping TWO liquor stores I looked in. So I decided to google Coconut IPA. I found that the one I had in San Diego wasn’t the only one. There are at least three  currently being brewed. And Total Wine stocked precisely zero of them. Didn’t double-check back at BevMo for the other two, but I’m not holding my breath.

According to one beer review, it’s the “New taste of summer.” I totally, totally agree. But at participating locations, only.

Oh Life, why must you mock me so?

BEER! (Part II)

Welcome back to Part Two. In Part One, I talked about Coors Light and the rest of its ilk, remnants of an older time that somehow persist in a world of much better options.

Today, I’ll talk about one of those better options that I don’t necessarily feel is a better option. Watch out, hipsters.

If you’ll recall what started this retrospective, I was visiting a new person’s house and he offered me a Coors Light. I declined. Except that Coors Light wasn’t the only thing he had available. He also offered me an IPA. Ugh.

And hey, hipsters? The fact that someone would have only two options of beer, one of which is an IPA and the other of which is Coors Light, should tell you all you need to know about how fancy your brillo-pad of a beer really is.

Now here’s where I know I part from true beer snobs. At their best, India Pale Ales are tolerable. At their worst? Pass me the Coors Light. Or better yet, I’ll just take some water.

Fortunately, in this particular case, it was Lagunitas, which is one of the most tolerable IPAs. In fact, their original IPA wouldn’t even be considered an IPA by today’s standards. It would be like Ronald Reagan in the modern GOP, or JFK trying to make it past two primaries in the 2020 Democratic party. It only has an IBU in the mid-40s. Nowadays if your IPA doesn’t have an IBU above 60, you might as well call it a lager.

For those who don’t know, IBU stands for International Bittering Unit. It measures the amount of hops in the flavor. Hops are those things that smell like really nasty marijuana. When they’re put in the beer, they help offset the sweet, caramelly flavor that comes from the malted barley. So a stout, which has the same bitterness as a bold chocolate milk, will have an IBU below 10. Ambers and browns usually range in the 20s, although some of the “nuttier” ones will be as low as ten. Twenty years ago, when Lagunitas was one of the few IPAs out there, a red or a pale ale was in the thirties and above forty was reserved for an India Pale. These days, if you’re not flirting with triple-digits, the millennials will only roll their pierced eyebrow at you.

India Pale Ales are supposed to have more bitterness because, historically, hops were used as a preservative, so the extra hops would keep the beer from spoiling on those long cruises from England to India. Note it was for preservation, not taste. Because, and me out here, hops taste like crap. They do. I know you there in the back, currently scraping a filmy layer of skin off the top of your arid mouth can’t admit it without worrying you’d have to shave your beard as penance, but it is not at all refreshing. It tastes like you’re drinking cotton. It’s dry, it’s scratchy. And last time I checked, you’re not supposed to consume cotton. Especially cotton that smells like dank weed that’s been left in the bong for a fortnight.

Hey, I think that might be the first combination of “bong” and “fortnight” in the same sentence in the history of the English language. Unless you’re talking about the video game.

On the West Coast, Lagunitas was one of the forebears of the IPA craze. As if on a dare, they started proudicing Double and Triple and Imperial IPAs, pushing that IBU up into the triple digits, just waiting for someone to have the balls to say it tasted crappy, but groupthink’s a hell of a drug. Just ask the Nazis. It’s ironic that Labunitas once had the balssiest IPA, and now their IPA is so tame. It barely even registers as a straight Pale these days. For comparison, Dale’s Pale Ale from Oskar Blues (a fun Colorado brewery that comes up with names like Old Chub and Mama’s Yellow Pilsner) has an IBU of 65. Their IPA has a bittering factor of 70, almost double that of Lagunitas.

New Belgium’s IPAs range from 50 to 70. They also have Hemp IPAs. Did I mention dank weed?

And IPAs are just the start. Now breweries have Imperial IPAs, Double IPAs, Triple IPAs, and, I don’t know, a-vine-of-hops-shoved-directly-up-your-ass ale. IBUs of 80 or 90, even triple digits, are starting to become the norm. Colorado and California breweries are now coming out with hemp IPAs. Hell, if it’s gonna taste like headache-inspiring weed, they might as well go to the source. I can only imagine that straight-up marijuana IPAs are on the horizon out here.

And I know I’m in the minority here. The reason I know this is because every brewery or taphouse I go to has a shit-ton of IPAs and their ilk. You’ll have maybe one red or one amber, but not both, one pilsner, and then seventeen beers with IBUs ranging from 65 to 120. Hey, this one has notes of citrus and that one has a whiffs of cotton-swabbed asshole. Oh, and Coors Light is tap #20.

Clearly the market has decided something that is not my cup of Indian tea. A friend of a friend started a brewery. He has a similar taste profile to mine, and was tired of seeing the same varietals at every brewery. He wanted to show what could be done with some of the forgotten flavors. A nutty brown versus a hoppy brown. A light or a dark lager.

But the substantial majority of the customers who came in had one request: more varieties of IPA. So now when I go in there, I’m relegated to my one option, but at least I can commiserate with the brewer.

And I cancross my fingers and hope that more brewers are like he and I. We’re all just waiting for this trend to end. Putting a whole bunch of recipes on the shelf, ready for the moment when hipsters and millennials grow enough balls to admit that the IPA trend has gone too far. Every culinary movement has a backlash at the end, right?

But dammit, I’ve been waiting for this particular pendulum to swing back for a decade now. And my liver ain’t getting any younger.

I know, I know. I don’t like mass-produced beers and I don’t like IPAs. What the hell do I like? Check back on Monday to find out.

Juan Valdez was a Hack

I’ve been a wine snob for almost as long as I’ve been drinking alcohol.

I come by it naturally, living in Northern California. There are probably more than 200 wineries within a couple hours’ drive. In my early twenties, even most of the wineries in Napa were free or had a very small tasting fee that went toward the purchase of wine. Until five years ago, Sonoma County was almost entirely free, and even today, most of the wineries in Amador County are free. Amador is closer to my house and even if they’re ignored by the greater zeitgeist, I will put their wines in the Pepsi Challenge against Napa Valley any day of the week.

At these wineries, you can do side-by-side tastings of different varietals. Sometimes you can taste the same varietals from different years. You learn what you like and don’t like pretty quickly. Or, if not, you at least get a decent buzz.

If you pay a little extra (or join the club), you can taste the good shit. The reserves at some wineries aren’t much different than their standard swill, but at other places, there’s a marked difference. Sometimes a run-of-the-mill winery, or a mass producer that you wouldn’t expect to have anything special, like Gallo or Beringer, make some pretty decent $40 wines.

Who knows, maybe Charles Shaw even makes a Twenty Buck Chuck.

In addition to a geographical inclination toward wine snobbery, I spent a good portion of my twenties waiting tables in a nice restaurant. There I learned the difference between truly upper-end wines and the rest. Just as I will put Amador against Napa, there are a ton of excellent substitutes for the Opus Ones and Silver Oaks of the world. I can’t tell you how often I encouraged a customer who wanted something like Silver Oak to try Rodney Strong Symmetry. They loved the change and the $20 they saved was usually redirected to my tip.

But don’t ever suggest any replacement for somebody that wants Opus One. They’ll be none too happy, and it won’t help your tip. I’ve personally never tried Opus One. A lot of people will give their curious server a swig of their specialty wine. One time, when a customer brought in wine from 1974 and I told him that was the year I was born, he refused to let me leave until I had a drink. It was very smooth. Like, almost water smooth. If he had kept it in his cellar another year, it might’ve been water.

But nobody ever lets their server take a sip of Opus One. So I can only assume it tastes like shit. Bitter, sour-grapes, shit.

The biggest secret weapon in my arsenal for anybody that was undecided was Treana Red, a tiny imprint of a small winery in the totally unknown wine region (unless you’ve seen “Sideways”) of Paso Robles. You wouldn’t expect Treana to be good. It calls itself a “red blend,” which brings to mind the horrors of Carlo Rossi jugs and Franzia boxes. But to say no customer complained after I suggested it doesn’t go far enough. Every customer I ever suggested it to thanked me and wondered how such an excellent wine could be so reasonably priced and unknown.

Seriously, go find a bottle of Treana Red. You can probably order one for less than $40 if your state doesn’t suck. Tell ’em The Wombat sent ya. They won’t know what the fuck that means, but it’ll be funny.

While my destiny as cork dork was determined by location, my evolution into a beer snob took an alternate route. For the latter part of my single years, I was a Happy Hour Hound. Needing to be sober and somewhat white-eyed, not to mention ready to teach, by 7:00 in the morning, if I decided to get blotto on a particular evening, or every particular evening, it had to be before 7:00 PM. And the best, cheapest way to get to that particular nirvana is to drink whatever swill is coming out of the middle tap. Did I know about microbrews and IBUs and ABV? Sure. If I drank a beer out at dinner, it would’ve been a Fat Tire or a Sierra Nevada or a Sam Adams. If I was grabbing a six-pack on the way home, it would follow a similar pattern.

But if I was sitting at a bar trying to get drunk, then it’s “Pass the Bud Light.”

There was a point in time I could distinguish between Bud Light, Miller Lite, and Coors Light. I was doing a “blind taste test” put on by the Miller Lite girls at a baseball game. I knew which was which right away, so I picked their brand to get better swag. She didn’t believe me. We tried it again. I was right again. She was still skeptical. Whatever, lady, just give me my light-up beads.

When I moved in with my wife, my commute extended to fifty miles. I need to be awake by 5:00 to be out of the house by 5:45. That doesn’t leave a lot of hangover time. I also have a child. The number of beers I drink on a typical day, week, or month seems infinitesimal compared to a decade ago. Drinking alcohol on a weeknight  is a rarity. As a result, on those Fridays and Saturdays where I feel like imbibing, my tolerance is virtually non-existent. Two beers, sixteen hours after I woke up, and I can’t even make it through my one half-hour of grown-up television.

Oh well, at least that episode of Dora the Explorer was especially scintillating.

A six-pack in the fridge will now last me a few weeks, not halfway through a Friday night. And if I’m only having one or two beers, I ain’t wasting them on shit.

It was a casual process, but I remember a moment last year when I met a friend for happy hour before going to a baseball game. I was three good beers in when I got to the game, which happened to be celebrating that most ubiquitous of all minor league promotions, Thirsty Thursday. I figured since I was already three beers in, I could probably switch to shit beer. After all, even Jesus said to drink the good wine before the crappy wine, then you won’t notice it as much.

Maybe wine, Jesus, but not beer. Holy crap, that was the most horrible thing I ever drank. Then I did the unthinkable: I paid for a $9 Sierra Nevada instead of the $1 Bud Light. The 30-year old inside me cringed.

But I make more money and drink less beer than the 30-year old me. So it’s quality over quantity now.

Then again, I’m not the best example of a beer snob, because I don’t like any of the hipster beer movements sweeping every microbrewery in town. Or the fact that every town has a microbrewery now. But that’s probably a story for another time.

What I’m here to talk about today is a third bit of liquid snobbery that I didn’t even know was possible, much less that it applied to me, until recently.

My name is the Wombat. And I am a coffee snob.

Did you know that there are still people in the world that drink Yuban?

Hoo-boy, there are some crappy coffees out there.  I guess I kind of knew they were out there. The coffee aisle at the grocery store is full of them. In fact, now that I mention it, the part of the coffee aisle that I actually shop from is a small portion at the very end. I assumed the rest of the aisle was taken up by, I don’t know, tea and powdered creamer. Maybe filters. But I’ve seen an awful lot of Sanka in my peripheral vision en route to the cereal.

The coffee snob started innocently enough. There’s a hipster in my department who brought in a tea kettle and a pour over kit. We have a fifteen-minute brunch between first and second period, during which we can heat enough water for two people to have a freshly-crafted brew. A couple others can brew theirs during their prep period right before or after, and the pour over spot became the modern-day equivalent of ye olde water cooler. Could we have gone standard coffee maker? Sure, but then we’d come in, pour our cup, and lose the sense of community that comes with the slow, agonizing second-half of the pour over process. Seriously, I bet an opium-molasses hybrid would strain faster than the last few drops going through the waterlogged grounds.

Hold on for a moment while I go patent Opium Molasses.

Unofficially, the “Pour Over Club” brings coffee whenever we’re running low, but it’s pure communism once the goods have been procured. Somebody might be milking the process, but as a general rule, we all need the caffeine enough that we’ll make sure there’s enough coffee. One day, nobody remembered that we ran out the day before and we had to go without. The next day, our prep area looked like this:

coffee

This is when I started to realize I was a bit of a snob. Somebody brought in Lavazza. Sounded interesting. Italian name, so it MUST be good. Turns out I wasn’t much of a fan. I figured it was just a taste thing, like an IPA, which I don’t care for but I know many beer enthusiasts love. Still, I struggled through it, because it was the only thing present and even the ugliest hooker in the whorehouse can service some needs.

Six months later, I accidentally brought some more Lavazza in. It was on sale, and I thought, “Italian name, so it MUST be good.” Maybe a little more caffeine would’ve helped me remember. The next day, two of my co-workers had brought in replacements. Turns out I wasn’t the only one that thought it was subpar. It’s not terrible, just not that great. So we kept it as a backup for the next time we ran out. It lasted most of the semester.

But one day I came in, to my horror, to discover a giant vat of Folgers waiting for me. I thought it was a joke. “Who the fuck brought Folgers?” I demanded of everybody in my department. A few of my fellow teachers don’t really drink coffee, and when they do, they sully it with flavored creamer. I started my accusations there. They all denied it. I went in backward order of who I assumed to be the most kindred coffee spirit. By the time I made it to the other snob, I thought for sure someone had lied. Except the final interogatee admitted that yes, he was the culprit. It was leftover from some function he had gone to over the weekend. One of those get-togethers where they have a huge urn full of drudge. His wife asked if we might use it at work and it was either that or throw it out. He figured, “why not?”

I thought my derision would indicate “why not,” but that wasn’t even the biggest factor. A few days later, he brewed it once to prove a point. Even the non-regulars, with their Irish Creme creamer, took a few sips and opted out. The entire thirty-ounce tub sat patiently at the back of the area until the end of the year before we dumped it. There had been a day or two with no coffee available, yet we still didn’t bust into the red vat of mediocrity. Better to go dry for the day. The headache I have on the way home will remind me to stop off and buy some more coffee.

Incidentally, after we mocked the creamer-user enough, he tried some of our coffee black. It wasn’t the bitter crap he had assumed it to be. A week or two later, he admitted that he was now drinking black coffee at home. And now that he was drinking it black, he couldn’t do the Maxwell House. But the good news was that the money being saved on creamer could go toward buying better coffee.

It’s amazing how, once you actually start tasting the coffee, you want coffee with taste. A good portion of the industry hopes you never discover that coffee can taste good.

Fortunately for me, my snobbery seems to be coming at a perfect time. There’s been a resurgence (or maybe just a surgence) of good coffee shops of late. I wouldn’t have believed it five years ago, when the common narrative was that Starbucks pushing everyone out of business. As much as I love me some gingerbread latte, Starbucks isn’t a coffee business. At best, it’s an espresso business, although with all of the specialty Frappuccinos coming out, even that moniker is faltering. Notice how few of the mermaids, dragons, and Christmas trees have coffee as their base flavor? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ordered the coffee frappuccino and had to send it back when they gave me a caramel one. “Oh sorry, we’re not used to people ordering coffee flavor.”

I’ve settled on ordering an espresso Frappuccino. They’ll give me an off look, but at least the order will be right. Or better yet, I’ll just get a Javiva at Peet’s.

But I feel like the “as sweet as possible” trend is reversing. Competitors are returning to what we now call “drip coffee,” aka coffee. The mom and pop shops have been replaced with hipster locales where they don’t crinkle their nose after I say “no cream or sugar.” Single origin, French press, Clover, and the pour over are becoming increasingly common. And don’t get me started on the wonderful things they are all doing with cold brew.

My favorite spot in this new trend is Philz Coffee in the Bay Area. Their motto is “One Cup at a Time,” and every single coffee they serve is a pour over. They have about fifteen varietals, each with tasting notes, and you can even blend more than one varietal into a single cup of coffee. After you order it, they grind the beans and “brew it” right there in front of you. When it is handed to you, there is a layer of bubbles on the top, and if you slap that lid on before you have slurped up some of those bubbles, the barista might have a nervous breakdown. How cool is that? They want you to sample the cup of coffee like it’s a bottle of wine. The entryway to snobbery is open and widening.

Unlike beer, where my preferences are very specific, I’m not particular about the coffee varietals. Dark roast, medium roast, light roast. All are fine, especially if the brewer knows that dark roast need not be the consistency of crude oil. Guatemalan? Honduran? Kona Blend and all of its attendant controversies? Sure.

Even decaf.

I’m just kidding. Decaf is a demon-spawn cocktail filtered through the devil’s own anus. Non-alcoholic beer is bad enough, but I can at least get my head around people who want to avoid alcohol. There is no reason on the planet that someone should opt to avoid the wonder that is caffeine.

And I’m not going to lie and say that I can actually taste all of those “notes of” that the descriptors say. Wine? Yeah, I can definitely sense the grapefruit in a sauvignon blanc. With zinfandel, I know I prefer a peppery one over a jammy one. But when the coffee says it tastes of hazelnut and cardamom, I’m just going to have to trust them. Even the very basic flavors or “fruity” or “nutty” doesn’t come through on my palate. I’m skeptical it’s on anybody’s. I wonder what temperature it needs to be at to get that flavor.

Whoever heard of “fruity coffee,” anyway?

But that’s okay. I’ve come to discover that there is only one flavor profile I need my coffee to have. It’s a flavor that might be a rarity in the coffee world but, thankfully, is becoming easier to find.

That flavor is: good.

Camptathalon 2015

Last week, I described what Camptathalon is. This year, instead of trying to summarize (and remember) everything that happened after the fact, I decided to bring along a notebook and write down things as they happened. What follows is a transcript. I shall not provide any context. Although I will say that there was no pulled pork. Not sure what the 8:17 comment was in reference to, but we felt it was important enough to write down.

Friday:

2:00 (via walkie talkie between cars): “I forgot the cigars, let’s get some when we get ice.”

2:22 Hell no, we are NOT getting Swisher Sweets.

3:15 (via walkie talkie) “This 5-Hour Energy tastes like Chapstick on an Asshole.”

4:00ish – First campsite full. On to backup site.

4:30ish – Second campsite full. On to super-secret secluded campsite.

5:15 (via walkie talkie): “A virgin would lose her damned hymen on this road.”

5:30ish – Finally arrive at campsite.

5:58 – First missing beer.

6:01 – Beer found in the cab of the truck.

6:25 – Opening ceremony. Toast of Innis & Gunn, unveiling of Camptathalon trophy.

6:56 – Rick asks to borrow Tony’s finger.

7:05 – Breathalyzer instructions: In 30 seconds, put it into your mouth and blow.

7:07 – “You don’t have to blow so hard.”

7:34 – “Just blew a .29. Either the breathalyzer is wrong or I’m clinically dead.”

8:15 – Poker cards flying through the air.

8:17 – “There can never be enough pulled pork.”

9:04 – Premature Mickey’s action. Rick opened the bottle after all in but before the hand was over, still in the game.

9:16 – Rick must now drink the Mickey’s.

9:43 – Rick has ZERO fucks to give.

9:47 – Rick predicted his Blood Alcohol Content correctly. Is still drinking the Mickey’s.

9:51 – An Ace/King is called an Anna Kournikova – it looks really good, but never wins.

9:53 Fartathalon begins with Chris farting in Tony’s face.

9:54 – Stale Oreos are still pretty good.

9:59 – “Cocknose!”

10:00 – Three Rules of Engagement: 1. If she smokes, she fucks. 2. If she’s not up to your standards, lower your standards. 3. No girl is ugly with your balls on her chin.”

10:04 – Should Rule 1 be changed to “If she has a tattoo, she fucks?”

10:11 – Sparky places third in poker.

10:13 – Tony is winning the Fartathalon by leaps and bounds.

10:20 – “The beginning of the Mickey’s was much better than the end of it.”

10:54 – The chip bag is overinflated because of altitude.

10:55 – “Grab it gently. Can I take some chips out of the back door?”

11:15 – Night One over.

Saturday

7:52 – Rick reveals Official Camptathalon socks: Black with gold “BEER” on side)

8:01 – Chris reveals Official Camptathalon T-Shirt (White with red “SHIT” on front)

8:11 – Rick says he needs Tony’s tool (Bottle opener)

8:15 – Rick is glad he didn’t have leakage.

8:16 – First beer of Day Two is cracked open.

8:20 – Breakfast Burritos served

8:56 – Radio turned on. Only station that can be found is playing “Dukes of Hazzard” theme.

10:00 – 2nd Honorary Toast, opening Day Two. Event #2, Slingshot.

10:02 – “I’m feeling tipsy at ten A.M.”

10:30 – Multiple jokes about hitting the can (with the slingshot).

“You hit the can on the bottom.”

“My finger hurts.” “That’s because you’re gripping it too tight.” “That’s not what you said last night.”

10:42 – “It takes every inch of you.”

10:51 – “Let’s play Liar’s Dice to see who gets bottm.”

10:54 – That last fart was a 3.5 on the Shart Potential Scale.

11:00 – Standings after two events: Tony – 6, Chris – 4, Sparky – 1, Rick – 1

12:23 – “Oh, you have salami? I LOVE salami.”

1:00 – Frisbee Golf will replace Chipping because Rick brought his golf club, but no golf balls. Can we chip wiffle balls instead?

1:28 – “I’ll be Nolan Ryan. You can be Robin Ventura.”

2:00 – After Frisbee Golf, Chris – 7, Tony – 7, Sparky – 2, Rick – 1

2:05 – First round of breathalyzer of Day Two

2:30 – Sparky finally enters the Fartathalon.

2:50 – After Wiffle Ball Home Run Derby, Chris – 10, Tony – 8, Sparky – 4, Rick – 1

3:00 – Risk. A non-sanctioned/exhibition Camptathalon event.

3:07 – Bust open the Reese’s peanut butter cup Chips Ahoy cookies.

3:10 – “These cookies are gonna last as long as a virgin on prom night.”

3:23 – Cookies are gone

3:44 – “Did you go swimming in the mountain lake at 8,500 feet?” “Yeah, it’s brisk.”

4:26 – “Three 1’s when attacking Alaska from Kamchatka? Fuck you, Sarah Palin!”

4:50 – Sparky just blew a .00. “Get this man a beer, stat!”

4:54 – Mom jokes are okay, wife jokes are not.

5:26 – Triple aces again, this time Egypt attacking Southern Europe.

5:27 – Just checked the timestamp, we’ve been playing Risk for two and a half hours.

7:30 – After changing/lowering the point target five times, horseshoes are FINALLY over. Standings: Chris – 11, Tony – 8, Sparky – 4, Rick – 2

7:35 – Tri-tip for dinner.

7:50 – Final event is Farkle – if Chris places anywhere other than last, he wins his first Camptathalon.

7:56 – “Touche, asshole.”

7:58 – Wussification imminent.

8:30 – A Sparky Farkle secures a third place Farkle finish for Chris, securing his first Camptathalon victory.

8:31 – Congratulations Chris. Now we can stop recording and timestamping everything.

10:45 – “Hashtag Black Marshmallows Matter.”

Camptathalon

Back in January, I made reference to something called Camptathalon, and said I would re-visit this phenomenon in April. Of course, April rolled around and there was no Camptathalon post. Part of that omission was due to teaching an AP class fourth quarter, which is a tad bit brutal. But the other reason was that Camptathalon itself was pushed back from its original April date to later in the summer.

You see, Camptathalon moves around the calendar each year, much like other hallowed holidays, such as Thanksgiving, Easter, and Christmas.

(Okay, I’m being told that Christmas falls on the same day every year, so strike that last reference.)

But whereas Easter takes place on the Sunday following the first full moon of Spring, Camptathalon falls on a much more logical weekend – whenever our wives let us out/want us out of the house for the whole weekend.

I imagine the original Easter weekend went the same way.

“Oh gosh, Jesus, you want to do the Last Supper this Thursday? I mean, I’d love to go, but if I don’t get this camel shit shoveled, the old lady’s gonna crucify me… Hey, where are you going, Jesus? Was it something I said?”

Camptathalon officially began three years ago. While there had always been camping trips, some were just the men, some included significant others and/or children. But three years ago, one of my friends had a baby on the way, and the showering of said baby seemed like a perfect time for just the malefolk to get the hell out of Dodge.

Unfortunately, the father-to-be was unable to attend that year, because his wife decided that the father should be attend the baby shower. I’m not sure on which planet someone with a penis should be playing any “guess the poopy” games. But I do know that on this planet, if your third-trimester pregnant wife tells you to come to the baby shower, you come to the fucking baby shower.

And your asshole friends go on the designated camping trip without you. Hey, at least we had the decency to “pour one out for our missing homey.” I’ve also had a friend cancel own his bachelor party in Reno once. Too bad. He missed a great time.

So three years ago, four city slickers met up at a Quick-E-Mart on the way to the foothills. We loaded up on the vital nutritional elements and four basic food groups of any camping trip. You know, chips, jerky, and beer. Wait, that’s only three? Okay, double the beer.

One guy, who swears he’s been camping since the sixties, showed up with only three items: a pillow, a bow and arrow, and a bottle of vodka.

And, lo, Camptathalon was born.

As the name implies, Camptathalon includes some competitive elements. A series of events, running the gamut from moderately athletic all the way to quasi-intellectual.  Each year, there are between 3-7 events, depending on the amount of time or sobriety available. The lineup of events changes slightly from year to year, based on factors like who remembered to bring what sporting good or if the goddamn camp host will let us shoot the goddamn bow and arrow.

Some events take a year or two off, then return. Frisbee golf has made it in twice. The golf club was left at home one year, making chipping difficult. Same story with horseshoes. Totaling our gambling winnings requires the campsite to be within driving distance of Nevada (one Camptathalon was held on Kentucky Derby weekend, another during the Belmont Stakes). Whiffle Ball Home Run Derby almost missed a year, but fortunately, it was one of the years we had to go into Nevada to bet on horses, so we were able to buy a new bat (cheaper than a new golf club).

One event, the pine cone toss for distance, was tried once and will never see the light of Camptathalon day again, after we all tore our hands up. Turns out a pine cone isn’t as smooth and aerodynamic as a football. Did I mention we drink beer?

But a few staple events are always included, year in and year out. On Friday night, after making camp, we unravel the Camptathalon trophy and open and toast the honorary first beer (not the actual first beer, but the honorary one). After this, we engage in a $10 Texas Hold ‘em tournament. This is the Iowa Caucus of Camptathalon weekend. Unlike the Caucus, the loser of the poker tourney doesn’t have to remove himself from the Camptathalon running. However, we have implemented an even harsher punishment than giving up on your dreams of the White House. The loser must consume some horrific alcoholic libation. Last year it was pocket whiskey from a pouch. This year it will be a 40 oz. of Mickey’s left over from my 40th birthday party.

Home run derby has always been included, but as I referenced before, its run has been tenuous, what with the difficult requirement of us remembering both a bat and a ball.

But the one event that always must occur, the one requirement to make an officially sanctioned Camptathalon Trip, is the Butter Toss. What is the Butter Toss, you ask? Well, you see, we take some butter, and… follow me, now… we toss it. For accuracy, not distance, because tossing butter for distance would just be silly. Think of darts, except replace the darts with tablespoon slices of stick butter.

We’re not sure how melty the butter is supposed to be. The originator of the Butter Toss brought only a pillow and vodka to the trip. Much like The Greatest American Hero, he must’ve lost the Butter Toss instruction book. What we do know is that the first time we did it, we purchased the butter on the way to the casino. By the time the gambling was done and we were back at the campsite, the butter had been sitting in a car trunk under the beautiful Nevada summer sky for a few hours. What we removed from the trunk was effectively butter soup. We tried to solidify the slough in the icechest, but the globules we ended up heaving at the front cover of The Economist were still somewhere south of solid.

Ever since Year One, we have intentionally softened the butter. It’s never been as messy as the first time (the type of phrase that might pop up at a Camptathalon), but if a sizeable percentage of the butter isn’t still clinging to your hand and dripping between your fingers after the toss, you ain’t doin’ it right.

Points are awarded for placing in each event (5 points for 1st, 3 points for 2nd, etc.) We keep a running total of the scores as the weekend progresses. Last year, we had a tie at the end, so we played a sudden death cribbage match. Yours truly came from behind with back-to-back 20+-point hands.

The trophy sits in front of the scoreboard for the entire weekend, then goes home with the winner. It is a pine cone that might or might not have been used in Year One’s ill-fated pine cone toss. The wives have bedazzled it a bit over the years, such that it now features ribbons with beer bottle caps that we can write our name on when we win it. Just like the Stanley Cup. When not on display, it now rests in a Wisconsin Lunchbox. Not the drink or the sexual position (look it up if you dare), but an actual lunchbox sporting the Wisconsin Badgers logo. That was my contribution.

My reign as Camptathalon is almost at an end. I bucked one trend by being the first champion to make it through the weekend without puking. Might I make history again by becoming the first repeat champion? And what will be the motto of this year’s Camptathalon?

In a few years, when this event is covered on ESPN and Network TV, this is the point where the sportscaster will say… “We’ll find out. That’s why they play the game.”