Friday, May 08, 2009

Part II Comanche, Texas
March 6- March 16

I met Janice outside of the Dallas airport. I had vague description of Ty’s mom and her vehicle from Ty. I was hoping that she would recognize me, a slightly disheveled tall blond with a big backpack, and flag me down, which she did. She proceeded to curse her way through Dallas/Fort Worth rush hour traffic. She was a bundle of piss and vinegar and we chatted amicable the whole 3 hour drive to Ty’s beyond organic ranch/farm outside of Comanche Texas. The drive was a whirlwind of stories, expletives and swerves. She was opinionated, experienced, well-traveled, pragmatic, no-nonsense, hip and funny as hell. She currently resides most of the year in Tanzania with her current husband who works on cell phone towers. She raised her first child, Ivy, as a “flower child” in Taos New Mexico. She had Ty with her second husband, who she claimed was an amazing outdoors man. They roamed the deserts and wild lands of the southwest. She eventually moved to Texas to raise goats and cattle when Ty was in High School. I am not entirely sure of the exact chain of events, but at some point, she married her 3rd husband, moved to the current ranch outside of Comanche. They continued to raise goats and cattle until they moved to East Africa for her husband’s job. Ty, after obtaining his masters degree from the University of Montana in Geography returned to the ranch and took the operation over. He started a second venture, Windy Hill Organics and has been engaging in a variety of methods of distributing freshly grown veggies to local markets and restaurants. His parents come back to Texas periodically. Janice, for example was back for a couple months to help with the labor intensive work that goes into farming and ranching in the spring. However, for all intents and purposes, Ty is the sole orchestrator of both the business, marketing and physical aspects of the ranch/farm.

I was much calmer on my return to Texas than I was during my first encounter. When mom and I drove through Texas a month earlier, the wind had been blowing and the sky was black and ominous. When we tried to find a campground we were spooked by the emptiness of the nearby town. We found out that the electricity was out. We opted to drive 50 more miles to the next town and as we pulled away the rain began to pelt down. Needless to say, the wind had initially made me anxious and the following events just compounded my anxiety. This time, the sun was shining and Janice and Ty was nothing if not welcoming. I felt instantly at home around Janice and she left me to my own devices at the ranch. Ty was bar tending at a wine bar/restaurant in a nearby town. He had to pick up a second job to support his farm. I settled into the rustic leather with wood-frame couch to wait. He got home early and we caught up briefly before going to bed. We had a big work day the next day and wanted to be well rested. I had a bedroom to myself and it was furnished with a wooden framed bed, several small chairs with Native American print upholstery and silver brads and old black and white and sepia photographs. It also had 2 book shelves overflowing with books on all sorts of topics. I chose the Gospel of Judah but got bogged down by the archaic text and settled into Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. As I read about asparagus in the spring, I slipped into the deepest most undisturbed sleep I had experienced for a month and a half.

Ty’s place proved to be something of a vortex. My phone went bonkers and refused to work. My watch’s screen went blank and my ipod, which has had only one working button for years, began to work perfectly. Ty’s mp3 player, on the other hand, quit working altogether. When I left Ty’s my phone started working again, the screen on my watch brightened up again and my ipod regressed back to a state worse then it had been. The buttons stopped working AND the screen went blank. I fell into an uneasy routine at Ty’s. I always slept well, thankfully. And I enjoyed having tea coffee with them in the morning. Then I would hover around Ty or Janice, trying to make myself useful. There was a lot to do but it I got the feeling that it was the sort of stuff that I couldn’t really help with. There was CSA logistics to work out, seed and feed ordering to be done and several random farm jobs such as harvesting greens or turning a raised bed. On the first day, Ty’s sister, Ivy, her husband, Randy and two of his co-workers came over to rototill and augment the garden beds. I tried my best to be useful but mostly hovered in what I suspected was a really annoying way.

I did eventually manage to make myself useful with inoculating the 34 baby goats. Ty, Ivy and I wrangled bleating baby goats and held them while Janice inoculated them.They struggled and bleated at first and we had to watch out that they didn’t buck their heads and catch us with their budding horns. When they quite struggling they were quite adorable and I felt like I was holding a human baby. We would mark them with a blue crayon and then go and catch the next one. The first fifteen or so weren’t that challenging to catch. I found that I could sneak up on the ones that were trying to suckle on their moms or attempting to eat some hay. But the last fifteen were a bit more challenging. We found that we had to team up and corner a baby goat under a tree or against the fence and more then once Ty or I dived for a kid and ended up with a handful of yucca instead. In the evenings, after the heat of the sun had relented a bit, I would go for a run. Janice assured me that it was too early to have to worry about rattlesnakes, a worry that hadn’t even occurred to me. We would eat dinner when I returned. The most memorable was a homemade pizza with Ty’s pesto made from cilantro and garnished with goat cheese and heirloom Texas groan tomatoes. We had Ty’s lettuce mix on the side.

On the evening that Ty had to work, Janice and I drove the 25 miles to have dinner at his place of employment. She regaled me with more stories and sipped on very expensive glasses of wine. She eventually went home and left me to hand out at the bar until closing time. Ty’s co-workers were very friendly and several, who weren’t currently working, were kicking back cold beers at the bar. We all lingered after closing to chat and have some final drinks. Jared, one of the bar tenders brought out his guitar and djembe and three of us jammed for awhile. Ty and I introduced Jared to Josh Ritter and his heart wrenching song, Kathleen. Jared taught me some simple Modest Mouse chords and we all sang Wagon Wheel. We didn’t stay late but I think it was one of the first times that I had hung out with my peer group in ages.

Ty seemed to be completely ensconced in his farm. He had eggs to collect, fertilizers to apply, lettuce to harvest and plant, fences to mend, orders to make, advertising to complete, hay and feed to buy, the list goes on. I couldn’t believe all that he’d accomplished in the 6 or so months since he had taken over the ranch. He had purchased a green house, served as president of the local Farmer’s Market, set up a CSA and organized the selling of greens to several restaurants. Unfortunately, despite all of his efforts, he is encountering a lot of road blocks especially in the form of consumers. The most obvious obstacle is his location and the people there. Comanche Texas and the nearby town of Brownwood are hardly meccas of diversity and folks looking for local and organically grown produce. Nor is the area nesting or propagating grounds for grounds for progressive green living. In fact, it seems to be a fairly empty place in general. Many of the town’s in the vicinity of Comanche have main streets lined with empty store fronts. I think these are some of the reasons that Ty struggles to find CSA members and like minded peers in general. In addition, he is met with hostility on several fronts including that of the local farmer’s market. I really admire him for persevering in his pioneers efforts in a place where the majority’s values are so different from his own. After having said that, I should make it clear that not all of Texas is so. Austin and San Antonio are both cultural meccas with co-ops, breweries and live music. We took a couple days to tour around some breweries. We drove towards Austin and went to five breweries as well as the biggest Whole Foods. While there, we met several people who were interested in being a part of Ty’s ventures or at least in helping him along the way.

The following are my detailed notes on the breweries that we visited. Alas, I managed to loose my notes on Fredericksburg and the Dodging Duck Brewery. But I tried to remember what I could. We also rated the beer. If I really liked it I gave it a * and if Ty really liked it, he gave it a [] or if only sort of liked it he gave it a [.

Fredricksburg Brewing, Fredricksburg: I really can’t remember much about the beers here. They were unremarkable. I remember that, which is disappointing because the brewery was located in a very German influenced town and had German styled beers, which tend to be my favorite.

Dodging Duck, Boerne: Nice little establishment with an awesome logo and breezy outdoor seating overlooking a river overflowing with geese, ganders and other water-fowl.

Quaker Oats Pale Ale: Slightly coconut order, cloudy pale in color. Startling first taste. The name Pale Ale is entirely too misleading. This brew is definitely in some other category. It incorporates oats, citrus and coconut. Not bad, but definitely not a pale.

Luckenbacher Hefeweizen: Aroma is slightly bready with hints of clove. Cloudy and pale gold in color. Very clovey taste, lasting long after initial taste. Watery and poor head retention.

Beyond the Pale Irish Red Ale: Aroma has little to no hops. The color is a nice deep amber red and clear. No head retention that I can recall. Has a mild bland taste with only a faint smattering of hops. The overall taste is lingering barley bitterness.

Fowl Play India Pale Ale: Floral and citrus aroma. Clear and pale in color. Taste is more than a fowl play. It is just like burnt dirt according to Ty and just like soap according to Rachel. This is by far the worst dirty soapy beer yet. (I think….the nitro vanilla may have been the dirty soapy one…)

Duck and Adams Nitro Vanilla: I can’t remember the details of this beer. I think that it may have had an awful bitter barely aftertaste that wouldn’t go away. I also think it was super watery despite the nitro tap.

Freetail, San Antonio: Freetail just opened this Thanksgiving! It is an easy to locate brewery near a military base and in the heart of several strip mall complexes. It had an iconographical windmill near its entrance. The taproom was open and airy with big screen TVs, a great view of the brite tanks from the long bar. The beer taps were swirly colorful glass blown by one of the brewers. The descriptions of the different brews were very poetic and accurate! The chips and salsa were average but the service was excellent and the brewer was willing to chat with us and enlighten us on many of the finer points of his brews. He also gave us free stickers, a huge bonus in our book!

La Rubia, a blond ale: Our ubiquitous blonde mistress - a temptress from the tap to the glass. Straw golden, effervescent and delicious - fine white foam delivering the faint scent of Northwest hops. Perfect for quenching your thirst on a hot Texas day. La Rubia was much more hoppy then the Helles we tried in Fredericksburg.

Rye Wit: Untraditional Belgian-inspired beer brewed with raw wheat and 15% malted rye; seasoned with coriander and orange peel. Tongue-in-cheek take on an ancient classic of the beer world. Delicately spicy, but assertive enough to take on the richest of flavors. Need we say more? Ratings: *

XXXtra Pale Ale: AKA Tres Equis and Triple Extra Pale. this extremely pale beer triples nothing but our faith in the power of the hop to solve all of life’s mysteries. Floristic and spicy aromas that preclude a similar taste, with a long-lasting head. It is hopped with Galena and Ahtanum. It is slightly creamy and full-bodied. Bottom line: not dirty soapy or soapy dirt! Ratings: []

The Rube: Unsophisticated, country bumpkin, hick, hayseed, chawbacon, yokel, yahoo—all accurately describe our lovable Belgian-inspired blonde ale. Not to be confused, with its sophisticated, uptown sister La Rubia—the Rube plays havoc with a variety of estery fruit flavors and spiced aromas created in the mysterious fermentations of our wit yeast strain. The aroma is slightly hoppy and bready. The bready aroma and flavor is due to the Belgium yeast and the hoppy flavor is attributed to Warrior hops. In fact, the The Rube is simple a Belgian yeast version o La Rubia. Ratings: *

2 Timer: Conscious of waste but not bashful to be caught "cheating", 2Timer is brewed off the second runnings of Old Bat Rastard. Simple and moderately sweet, yet assertively bitter--like a spurned ex--there is nothing "ordinary" about 2Timer. This is an ESB with hoppy, carmely and not to bitter flavor. It has a thin body but that seems to mesh well with the beer’s average profile. Overall this is an unassuming beer with a well-balanced taste. Freetail Pale Ale: Open source beer, beta version. Deep copper hue with a rich, caramel aroma and subtle hop perfume. Aggressively bitter finish balancing the residual malt-sweetness. We noted that the bitter flavor is a perfect balance to the malty sweetness. Ratings: ½ *

Tadaria IPA: Tadarida—the genus of the Freetail bat—“shines like a shaft of light, when there is darkness all around.” A beacon of hop fortitude in hop crisis, this intense India Pale Ale will remind you that the world has a way of righting itself. Cheers to the power of the hop! (Galena, Pallisade, Ahtanum) Rachel noted that this beer was like a gummy worm with out the flavor. Ty noted it’s citrus and floral flavors. It is certainly what it is supposed to be. Ratings: []

Extra Who: Unfortunately, there is no written description for this beer. However, the Extra Who is essentially the Extra Pale with Belgian yeast. We noted clove, banana, cinnamon and honey flavors. Ratings: *

Mocha Shadow: Again, there is no written description for this beer. It is supposed to be a chocolaty version of Foreshodow described as follows: Black with notes of roasted coffee, warm campfire smokiness, dark fruit and subtle spice - the 4Shadow forebodes an even darker future for the wary denizens of Freetail. We liked this beer but didn’t really note anything remarkable.

Bluestar, San Antonio: This brewery is located near the “heart of San Antonio.” This brewery is making itself quite the destination. It has a cycle shop upstairs, hosts live music twice a week and offers brewing classes. It also has local art and interesting speakers. The brewery is open and has outdoor seating. I really enjoyed the atmosphere and the hanging bikes.

GOLDEN LAGER: This Light tasting, flavorful continental style lager with German hop overtones. This beer is excellent choice if you prefer a more tractional smooth mild beer. Rating: [

PEACH LAMBIC: This sour ale had a strong aroma of peaches. The flavor is akin to a jolly rancher or sour patch kid. Ty was startled by it’s less than beer like qualities and in fact, disapproves. Rachel likes this lambic much better than the horrible plum lambic from Glacier Brewery in Anchorage. Ratings: * RASPBERRY WHEAT: This wheat beer fell well within the stylistic guidelines of a wheat beer. It smelled of sun ripened raspberries and bread. The flavor was slightly biscuity and clovey. The raspberry flavor melded well with the wheat flavor. Ratings: *

PALE ALE: A well-balanced, highly hopped American Ale, similar to those known throughout the American Northwest. An excellent example of a big-flavored, hand-crafted beer with the sharp, clean, bitter finish of Cascade hops. We noted earthy and floral aromas as well as the distinct scent of cascade hops (recognized by Ty, but sorely overlooked by Rachel) . The beer had a creamy taste and a full mouth-feel, especially after a vigorous frothing. It had a slightly bitter finish due to the cascade hops. Rating: []

OAK CASK PALE ALE: We completely overlooked the aroma and the flavor of this beer. It was completely flat with no head. This is due to the fact that it is naturally carbonated in an oak cask. Perhaps we should have tasted this beer first.

KING WILLIAM ALE MMVIII: This beer is referred to as a barleywine style ale. The style originated in Britain and is the biggest beer (malt, hops and alcohol content) in the ale family. We noted that it tasted worse than cough syrup, worse than kid’s Robitusin.

STOUT: Creamy, robust, Irish style dry stout, full of flavors from deep-roasted barley malts. The slight hint of chocolate is born of the meticulous marriage of malts and hops. Originating in Ireland, and now brewed here in Texas, this is a beer for those who desire a big taste. We noted that this stout had little to no aroma, was watery, had low alcohol flavor and left a distractingly bitter barley flavor in the end. It had not sweet malt flavor at all. We noted toasty, burnt, biscuit and coffee flavors.

Cedar Grove Steakhouse, Wimberley: This brewery had nice outdoor seating with twinkly lights and good company. The server was helpful and seemed to no what would be the best for us better than we did (i.e. the cheese). They had interesting appetizers, all fried.

Heaven Viessen: Typical German hefe with strong wheat flavor. Low on clove. Lightly citrusy, slightly bitter.

Sweet Transition Ale: Creamy, butter, Randy likes this beer much better then the hefe. We noted its full body.

Fire Rock Pale Ale (Blanco): Nicely aroma hoped, but low on bittering hops. We noted that this ale was very smooth and that it had a nice finish.

Abba Red Ale: Aroma de orange, with strong coffee and burnt dirt flavors. Dos Equis Amber: Rachel notes that she doesn’t like beer anymore ;(

Porter: We have lost focus and are distracted by the appetizers and our ravenous hunger. The porter fell by the wayside. Perhaps we are all done with beer by this point.

Uncle Billy’s Brew and Que, Austin: Conveniently located with valet parking or, if you prefer a shuttle from the distant parking area. The wait staff sported shirts that said “we serve the four food groups: beer, pork, bird and brew.” Our bartender was brutally honest, especially with her rating of the salsa. She did give us the brewer’s breakdown of the different beers, which was really enlightening.

Blonde Ale: This beer is actually a kolsch styled after an American Cream Ale. However, it uses German malts and hops. It is crisp, clean and refreshing. It reminded us of PBR or Budweiser. We should tell Randy about this beer. Ratings: R, [

Agave Wit: This wit beer is Belgian style ale with hints of orange peel and coriander both in the aroma and flavor. It reminded of Bluemoon, to the letter. I was extremely disappointed in the lack of agave flavor. Ratings: *, [

Organic Amber Ale: This ale is creamy. The perle, fuggle and goldings hops are well balanced. We enjoyed the crisp carbonation of this beer.

Axe Handle Pale Ale: Rachel enjoyed the name of this beer. It is described as the “typical west coast pale.” It has citrus and floral aromas. Ty raves that this is his FAVORITE smell in the world; duly noted. The body is smooth with a perfect fullness. There is good head retention and the legs run straight down the glass. The aroma and flavor hops are simcoe and the synergy between aroma and flavor creates a pleasant sensation within the nose and mouth. Ratings: [], *

Woodeye Rye IPA: This beer is made with 16 % rye malts. It has a very floral aroma. Rachel notes a bit of an earthy aroma and flavor, which could be attributed to the rye malt. Ty doesn’t note much of an earthiness at all, especially in comparison with the Ace Handle. This beer is bittered by Columbus hops and scented with cascade hops. This beer is also dry hoped. Ratings: []

Burnout Stout: This stout has a nice freshly roasted coffee and hazelnut aroma. It is smooth, full and creamy as well as perfectly carbonated. The head is tan and the color is deep dark brown. The beer is perfectly balanced between bitterness and malty sweetness. Ratings: *, [] North By

North by Northwest, Austin: This brewery is decorated with Asahel Curtis photos and is a hail back to the Northwest style beers. It also played a Jacob Dylan song.

Duckabish Amber Ale: We noted a strong hoppy aroma. The initial taste is of unmalted grains, most unpleasant. The hop flavor is a bit too light. This amber has a super sweet milk-dud/ caramel flavor that lingers. Northern Light

Golden Ale: Rachel and Ty both agree that this ale has a distinct asparagus aroma and flavor. It is crisp and light on the tongue. It is an unassuming, water-like beer, good for a hot day or when you crave asparagus and it’s not asparagus season.

PY Jingo Pale Ale: Cascade hops give this beer a floral, citrus aroma. It is creamy with good head retention. The taste is floral and citrusy. The aroma and flavor work well together. The ale is bitter but not over the top. Rachel feels like this beer is great for after work but only if the sun has not set yet. Ratings: [], ½ *

Okanogan Black: This beer uses English ale yeast and is similar to Weltenberg Brewery in Germany. It has a tan head that did not retain well. It had no hop aroma or flavor. However it had a malty, ice cream like finish. It has an enticing dark copper color.

Bavarian Hefe: Clove and banana aroma and flavor mingle and linger. It has a very thin head with poor retention. Ratings: 1/3 *

Cherry Lambic: Rachel thought this was a great lambic. It is nothing like a cherry sour patch kid. It made Ty think about the similarities between sour ale yeast and kombucha mother. Irish Stout: We noted a slight bitterness that tipped the gag reflex a tad. However, it was more malty than anything. It was water, had poor head retention and an annoying grain aftertaste.

Tu Helen Bock: This is a German lager. We found it to be interesting.

Ty's lettuce greens

Beer tasters at Billy's in Austin

Bikes and Brew at Blue Star, San Antonio

Bluestar's sampler with a lambic being the third from the right

North by Northwest's grain silo, Austin

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