Milwaukee – Oscar’s

So what does one do after they’ve hiked seven miles, were already tired to begin with, and just want a good meal and few beers before an early bed? Well, you plan ahead and plot a stop between hiking and the hotel at a place that is consistently on every top ten burger list for all of Wisconsin.

And you get Oscar’s

1712 West Pierce Street Milwaukee, WI 53204

http://www.oscarsonpierce.com/

They have awesome burgers. They have dozens of draft beers. They have a great atmosphere. I got in there late afternoon. There was one white-collar office party, one blue-collar office party, a reception for elderly veterans, and a bunch of random folks like me. All were smiling and having fun. Oscar was helping the employees everywhere. Everybody was enjoying themselves.

I got The Big O, because if you’re in a place so highly recommended, you get the flagship menu option. It did not disappoint. This is a really great burger. And it’s a superb place. Parking is available in their own lot. And you should go.

Milwaukee – Pabst Mansion

My Grandfather was so into Pabst beer that he named his dog after it.  This supposedly scruffy little mutt had a sharp personality.  So he fit well with his originally rough Milwaukee based namesake brew.  I think this also explains much of my obsession with all things beer, much to my detriment at times.

I suppose both my Grandfather and his dog would be rather troubled to see what’s become of Pabst now.  For you see, the tale of Pabst beer and of Frederick Pabst himself is a winding journey.  I think it emphasizes some of the best, worst, and weirdness of modern America.  I don’t know why all this fascinates me but please bear with my degenerate mind for this post is going to be a long one.

The man

Pabst was born in 1836 Prussian Germany to a poor local farm couple.  When he was 12 they immigrated to the American Midwest during a time where nobody was checking papers at the border.  This was still a time where America was a harsh, dangerous, and backward place.  Within a year Pabst’s mother died of cholera.  Pabst spent his teenage years working menial odd jobs just to survive and eat.  Somehow, he ends up with a lucky gig onboard a Great Lakes vessel.  Without an education or connections, he works his way up the maritime ladder and by 21 he’s a steamship captain with a name people know.  If you want yet another example to understand how American economic mobility is different nowadays, imagine what it would take for a 16 year old high school dropout waiter to become a ship captain within five years.

Pabst remained close to his roots and the German émigré community.  He spoke German at home his entire life.  He thus meets a fellow German in Phillip Best, marries his daughter, and ultimately uses his equity in the steamship trade to buy half of Best’s brewery.  From then on, Pabst is a brewer, though he maintains the title “Captain” Pabst for the rest of his life.  Thus proving once again that it’s awesome to be a captain, just ask Patrick Stewart’s ghost.  By the end of the Nineteenth Century the brewery is one of the planet’s most successful.  Pabst is Milwaukee’s leading citizen, he owns properties, resorts, banks, a theater, and on and on.  Though he came from nothing, he’s literally at the peak of American society.  He checks out to the next realm in 1904 as one of the more respected men on the planet.

The beer

By 1874 thanks largely to Pabst’s genius the brewery was the largest in America.  You could likely make the argument that by volume this meant they were the largest in the world.  Though I’m sure this is not provable given the dearth of statistics at the time.  I’m positive some dude in Bavaria was brewing ten times that amount in his basement closet alone.  In the traditional American style Pabst maintained their signature lager which ultimately became known worldwide as Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR).  Of note, they never won a blue ribbon or anything.  Pabst being the businessman he was just put a blue ribbon on the beer bottle as a marketing gimmick to indicate quality.  This gimmick has survived over a century and a half so I guess it worked.  It is also for this reason that if your local mayor or councilor tells you they’re solving a problem via a “blue ribbon” committee that you should immediately impeach them.

The PBR name and style survived prohibition as well as the post war era.  As the light American lager that it was, you can count on all the goods and bads that come with that designation: reliability, consistency, quality, safety (which was a big deal back then), but ultimately a relative lack of taste and variety.  In our new modern beer era folks tend to hammer this style of beer.  I don’t go that far.  It’s good for what it is.  It’s my preference for drinking on weeknights.  And it’s important to remember in our over-hopped, lunatic beer world of today, that once upon a simpler time folks were just happy to have decent, quality beer before they had to wake up in the morning and clock in at a tire factory.

Eventually though, things began to fall apart for this legendary company.  In a timeline of horrors not uncommon to other Midwestern businesses, in 1985 Pabst is bought in a hostile takeover by another self-made man turned beer baron Paul Kalmanovitz.  One can imagine that Kalmanovitz would have run the brewery well, but instead he died two years after the sale and it appears his trust made a true hash of it afterwards.  Sales plummeted and by 1996 in a nightmare haze Pabst brewing enters the contract brewing stage and the original Milwaukee brewery is closed.

For those unfamiliar with contract brewing, this is where the brand doesn’t actually own the brewery and hires some guy outside their company to actually make their beer (usually under the supervision of the brand’s brewmasters).  Lots of companies do contract brewing well, such as Sam Adams or various Japanese brands for their American sales.  But it can also be a true descent into frat boy style poor quality.  For example, at the recreational football league I play in somebody brought a 30 pack of Kirkland Light Beer (read Costco) as their contribution.  This was made for Costco by a contract brewer in Wisconsin and was awful.  Though beer being beer, and football being football, we did drink it.

Many will be well familiar with Pabst’s recent return to prominence via the hipster rage of going back to do things which were once cool.  This bizarre trend has enabled PBR to become somehow high quality whereas say Budweiser is perceived as not.  I don’t entirely understand this way of thinking but acknowledge that it does exist and has a somewhat legitimate feel to it.  After all, if my Grandfather loved this beer and named his dog after it, why not me too?  But it’s important to remember that Pabst basically isn’t in touch with the roots that the hipsters worship.  PBR circa 1968 is not PBR today.  What Pabst exists as today is its own independent LLC, headquartered in Los Angeles, financed by a private equity firm, and still only a contract brewer.  One wonders what Captain Pabst would think about this arrangement?  Where it has essentially no ties to Milwaukee, no basis in the self-made path he walked, and only a facade of the identity it once had.  And yet, still immensely popular.

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Pabst Mansion Entry.

The house

In 1892 at the pinnacle of his life Pabst decided to build his retirement home.  After two years of construction he moved into Pabst Mansion still located at 2000 West Wisconsin Avenue in Milwaukee.  In Pabst’s day, Wisconsin Avenue was called Grand Avenue and was home to the dozens of mansions that housed Milwaukee’s elite.  The other mansions are gone now and most of this stretch is home to Marquette University.  The Pabst Mansion remains intact largely due to its purchase by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee which bought it from Pabst’s children in 1908 and occupied it through 1975.  Following that, a bunch of truly dedicated and scrappy historical preservationists put their time, money, and reputation on the line to preserve the mansion.  These same people are mostly at it today.

The house itself is not fully renovated and in many ways isn’t quite the pristine piece of history that one wants when visiting such a place.  But they do a mostly great job of making it happen given their limited financial resources and the actual state of the house.  The Catholic Archbishops made extensive changes during their time including the painting of all walls, bathrooms upgrades, repurposing of rooms, and so on.  In order to acquire cash to progressively reconstruct the house back to its original condition, they’re forced to do some weird things like host weddings and receptions on the second floor in the old master bedroom area.

Photography isn’t permitted inside the house.  If you want to see what it looks like, the Internets offer you a variety of clean images.  I’ll roughly paraphrase here.

The tour begins on the ground floor reception hall with its adjoining parlor and music rooms.  There’s also the kitchen (tiny by today’s standards), dining room, and Pabst’s own office.  They advertise the mansion as 20K square feet of space.  I don’t think this is an accurate number unless you include all the closets, basement, and attic.  I think the true amount of livable space is less than half that.  My first impression was how relatively small the place is.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a massive house, but the dining room would barely seat a dozen folks in tight quarters.  The parlor about the same.  Pabst’s office is only slightly bigger than my cubicle.  I get the idea that this house reflects the style and temperament of Pabst and his family.  He came from nothing, so he wanted a tight, intimate existence.  Not the massive, airy, aloof nature of say a British country house of this era.  The wealth is instead displayed not in the house’s size but in the way it’s decorated.  The painting of the walls, the trim, the intricate wood carvings, the touches of silver or gold all give each room an immensely unique character.

The second floor houses the rooms of Pabst’s daughter and granddaughter, the family sitting room, and the Pabsts’ master bedroom.  Almost all of this second floor is renovated as well, though because of their renting requirements the master bedroom area is almost entirely empty.  In a shocker for the 1890’s, but what we’d mostly take for granted today, the house was unique in having a bathroom assigned to almost every bedroom.  Hot water and heating came via natural gas.  However air conditioning was a long future invention, the house is designed to funnel heat up and out an intricately designed trap door in the attic.  In a uniquely American touch that would appall the British counterparts of the day the servants quarters are toward the back of the house but on the same second floor where the Pabsts slept.  The third floor is populated by a series of bedrooms that were meant for the guests and for Pabst’s grown sons who would occasionally stay there.  Most of the third floor is not reconstructed and there’s just not much to see up there yet.  Though they have a vision for how it’s all going to look.  They said it’ll take years if not decades before the house is entirely reconstructed toward its original look.

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Pabst Mansion from the back.  The backyard (where the coach house once stood) is now a hotel parking lot with satellite dishes from the local ABC station.

The present

What are we to make of Pabst?  If a man’s primary purpose in life is to provide for his family’s future Pabst wins that unreservedly.  His children, grandchildren, and ancestors never had to struggle the way he and his parents did.  There’s not much to read on the current Pabst family.  Though if the tour guides were any indication they all seem fairly well off and help maintain the Pabst mansion with occasional support and the return of old artifacts.  Even if Pabst’s descendants aren’t at the pinnacle of society anymore, you can surely count it a success that the family rolls on.

The beer company is entirely different.  Its legacy is nothing along the lines of what he’d imagined except for the blue ribbon.  One of things that capitalism engenders is the idea that nothing is sacred.  Companies, brands, names live and die like it’s nothing.  It’s why the companies that have been around for centuries are so special and held with such awe.  But for the other 99% of brands or ideas, they’re all going to eventually die.  Pabst’s beer was a vessel for the success of his family, and then he and his family moved on, and now only its shell remains.  Not as a means to perpetuate the Pabst brand or ideas, but as a means for an LLC and private equity to make a ton of money off an identity somebody else created.  This is the reasoning that forced me to conclude that if I ever started a business of my own, that I had to have in mind to discard the sucker in a heartbeat without losing my mind.  Modern capitalism means you have to essentially not give a damn because you or your neat brand or cool idea will almost always eventually get bought out, you sell out, or it dies or fails.

I wonder, if because of this, a great amount is lost to the American ideal though.  The distance of modern capitalism to the ideas of Pabst’s day goes a long way to explain in my mind why we have such a disconnect between the elite and everybody else.  Pabst had a global brand, but was a Milwaukee man.  He had business and charitable interests throughout the city.  He helped improve the town and make it modern.  When he died and his brand left the city, a connection was lost.  I sincerely doubt the current Pabst LLC gives any damn whatsoever about Milwaukee from their LA headquarters.  Corporate tax methods, overseas profits, quarterly earnings, leveraged buy outs, faceless private equity firms & hedge funds, and whatever do not lend themselves to the type of community capitalism that Pabst practiced.

It’s one reason (among many, many) why so many of the Midwest’s businesses have failed in the last fifty years.  It explains why Pabst is no longer brewed in Milwaukee.  And, I dare say, it also explained (at least in some part) the black lives matter protest that was walking down the street as a exited the Pabst mansion tour.  I couldn’t help but think that if Pabst had been alive looking out his own window and seen that?  That his reaction would have been to tackle and battle the problems afflicting the city that he lived in, built, and loved.  That he would have had the temperament and clout to bring all the sides together, to forge a tough compromise, bang heads, to put his name and effort on the line to move the needle of society a little bit in a better direction.  We could do with some more of his kind today.  I think we desperately need it.

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Pabst Mansion from West Wisconsin Avenue (with the protest behind me).

This is Pabst’s letter to his children, read after his death.  It gives you an idea of what I’m talking about.  They hand these out on the tour.  Well worth it.

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Boston Harbor – Harpoon Brewery

Some things or locations on my bucket list just kind of sit there and fester for years.  For whatever reason, this doesn’t usually bother me.  I’ll get around to it when I get around to it.  You would think I’d be more deliberate and plan things out.  I used to be this way.  But now unless I’m at work I kind of refuse to let my brain work that way, it’s tiresome.

So despite my worship of beer, I’d just never gotten around to visiting a brewery.  And I never really felt the need to force it.  I would think about it from time to time, but never make the effort to schedule it.  Ending up at Harpoon wasn’t some type of strategy either.  My Brother had been there years ago, so we decided to go again while in town for a wedding.  The discussion that led to this quick trip Downtown lasted thirty seconds, and I smirked to myself and them that this would be my first brewery ride.

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He said when he went years ago that they didn’t really have a formal tour.  They just took you straight to the tasting room and asked if anybody had any questions.  From the tasting room you can see the brewery floor.  But now they take you in the front and up some stairs where they have a full bar and waiting area.  You buy your $5 ticket, wait, and drink beer.  They also have custom pretzels.  I know it sounds terrible, but somehow we managed.

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Boston Irish Stout, Scotch Style Ale, & 100 Barrel Series #58 Secret Alloy Ale

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The guide takes you back and she talks you through what I think is a relatively small sized brewery.  I think it took about a half hour.  It’s pallets of beer and monster sized brewing equipment.  I have a general understanding of how beer is made, but don’t really get how it’s done on an industrial scale.  The problem was the tour gal kept talking too fast so that a lot of the time we couldn’t really follow what she was saying.  This was the only downside of what was otherwise a quick, decent look at how these places operate.

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I’d had Harpoon many times before.  I’ve always considered it to be decent, but nothing awesome.  Good stuff, but not great.  I’ve had a bunch more since we visited and my original impressions remain intact.  Although the Scotch and Alloy shown above were awesome.  They need to let some of their rarer varieties ship beyond Massachusetts.  They’re far superior to their regular fare.

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After the tour you get about 15 minutes in the tasting room to have 2 oz after 2 oz from about 20 taps.  It’s a neat wrap up.  The walls are surrounded by beer from everywhere on the planet, a very nice touch.

Overall this was a worthwhile visit.  But I feel I can’t really compare or contrast it with anything.  Without visiting other breweries I can’t put Harpoon into context.  I guess I’ll have to visit more of them to figure it out.  Oh darn.

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100 Barrel Series #56 Thunder Foam – I managed to stumble upon this at one of my local shops.  A dark and spicy stout, it was a fine wrap up to my evening.  Hopefully I can manage to find more of their kind at the same place the next time I shop there.

Boston Harbor – sort of

I’ve developed this weird trend lately where I show up new to a place I’ve never been before, but somehow end up with a schedule that allows me only a few hours to initially see places before I’m on my way again.  It happened recently in Milwaukee and Detroit, and now Boston.  I’m not complaining mind you, because all it means is I have to go back.  Oh darn.

In any case, the family only had a few hours before a wedding west of Boston.  So we went down to Boston Harbor and walked around a pier or two and then toured Harpoon Brewery.  Incidentally, as much as I worship beer, this was my first brewery tour ever.  I’ll probably write about that later.  Maybe.

But whatever, here’s some random shots of Boston Fish Pier, right down the road from Harpoon.

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Boston Fish Pier is still very much operating.  All the boats there are small craft, as in not the massive trawlers that are literally raping the oceans.  You can tell from the material condition of everything that they’re owners not necessarily swimming in gold.  It all felt very classic, except that the pier itself had been renovated from it’s original creation in the early 20th Century.

 

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The Exchange Conference Center – Located at the head of the pier.  If you’ve heard me whine about the awfulness of modern architecture, here is an example of a new building I’d consider a great job of creating something that’s not a faceless glass enclosed wonder.

 

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I have discovered the fattest seagulls I’ve ever seen in all my global travels are located in Massachusetts.

 

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A lightweight anchor casually discarded on the pier.  If you look you can see why.

 

 

you will be made to pay

The other day I strolled into my neighborhood shopette to purchase a pack of alcoholic beverages known locally as beer. I struggled to determine which style I desired to buy as I’m generally indecisive and as there are so many delicious options. But then I was shocked as I felt a sharp pain at the base of my back and I quickly found myself being led down the beer case aisle with a firm hand on my shoulder.

“Just right this way, Sir; just right this way,” the man said. I thought about struggling but it seemed as if the man could read my mind for as I made to break free the pain in my back increased and I realized I had a knife to my spine. I managed to glance over my shoulder and I was aghast to find my captor was no less than The Monopoly Man.

Our journey concluded in front of the ubiquitous Bud and Miller case. For of course they’re usually side by side. “Pick one,” The Monopoly Man whispered seductively in my ear. Sweating, and scared out of my mind, I meekly uttered, “Which one?”

“It doesn’t matter,” he firmly responded. Five minutes later I departed the shopette with a six pack of Bud or Miller. I can’t remember which as I was too concerned with the fact that I’d soiled myself shortly after The Monopoly Man returned the switchblade to his pocket and disappeared behind a Grolsch display case, never to be seen again.

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Why yes, yes it is.

$104B is a lot of money for a beer company. $104B is a lot of money for anything. $104B could buy you ten nuclear aircraft carriers or 20 years of budget for America’s PEPFAR anti-AIDS program. But AB InBev is using it to absorb SABMiller. Why? Straight cash, folks.

Should you care? After all, nobody is made to buy beer. Alcohol is scientifically a poison to your body. It’s why you get drunk. So technically speaking, I don’t suppose there’s any reasonable difference between deliberately ingesting alcohol, and deliberately ingesting drain cleaner. It’s just that one is more poisonous than the other. Except that beer is tastier, so there’s that.

But this purchase is the latest in a trend. Depending on where you live, there are only about three mobile phone providers you get to choose from. The health insurance companies are merging now too. Experts predict that eventually instead of having five health insurance companies that there’ll be only three soon enough.

The health insurance companies claim they need these mergers to keep costs down. So good news, your health insurance cost will go down over the next five years. Guaranteed. They’ll swear to it.

The problem with capitalism is you need genuine competition for it to work. Otherwise you get something other than capitalism.

AB InBev has shelled out $24.3M in political campaign contributions equally split between the parties, as well as $102.3M on lobbying the government. SABMiller’s numbers are $2.1M and $21.0M, smaller, but still equally split between the parties. Hmm, why would they give an equal amount of cash to each party?

You certainly shouldn’t really care about AB InBev and SABMiller. Instead, you can just always buy tasty Yuengling.

But I suspect you do care about health insurance. Or the cost of your phone plan, seeing as how you can’t compete in the modern knowledge economy without one. How about the cost of your Internets? Or your power bill?

The same thing is happening to them all. You will be made to pay. The Monopoly Man is sure of it.

The Monopoly Man

“Terribly sorry old chap but you’ll be made to pay lest you force me to slice you open.”

I know what’s in Tut’s new tomb rooms

I don’t know what’s in Tut’s new tomb rooms.  Nobody does.  But hey, you never know where life’s going to take you.  There are all kinds of things that could be in there, including nothing.  So why not gamble away recklessly in the hopes we can guess it right?  After all, my Guests possess the most unbridled surveillance resources imaginable, so certainly I can figure this out.  Except that they’re usually too drunk to use them; and I also happen to be an idiot.

– Tut’s genuine Mommy in Nefertiti is in there and it’s the archeological discovery of the century

– Tut’s new tomb rooms don’t exist

– Tut’s 2011 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI with the 2.0L 4-cylinder diesel is parked in there pending investigations by the Egyptian Ministry of Transportation

– They break it open but instead of Nefertiti or Tut, it’s just Khufu sitting there in a lawn chair downing a highball glass of barley wine, and he’s like, “Fools!  I’ve stolen all of Nefertiti’s treasure and added to my stash.  You were only four-thousand years behind the power curve.  You’re fucked!  Ahahahahahahahaha!”  And then he re-ascends to Valhalla in the blink of an eye; and all they get is the lawn chair

– Tut added six-thousand amphora filled with booze in there to ensure he could get ripped in the afterlife with abandon; but then he ran out in 1134 AD and he’s been sad ever since.  The archeologists could try adding more booze filled amphorae to the stash to hook Tut up, but I don’t think it works that way

– They find completely empty rooms because they buried Tut in a hurry, after the murder and all

– Zahi Hawass shows up wielding a pair of old Yugoslavian machine pistols and holds everybody hostage, shouting at the top of his lungs to the Geraldo cameras, “Sign up for my newsletter to be first to here about my upcoming lectures and books!”  Poor, poor Zahi, dude you supported the wrong dictator, you should try and get in good with Sisi to get back in the game; you were a hoot to watch

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give up your secrets ya bastard

 

Absurdity of the Week! Expert Studies!

The results are in! Extensive use of exclamation points can lead to hypertension and diabetes! Surveying approximately 1,400 adults across multiple demographics over a six year period, our study confirmed that the act of engaging the shift key and simultaneously overextending one’s pinky finger resulted in increased stress to the body and ultimately early heart disease!

My Guests’ brutal solution to this problem is to swap the location of the period and exclamation point on the keyboard so that every time you’d normally type a period, you instead get the exclamation point! They shall require this change to all the planet’s keyboards by the end of 2018! Or else. Please ensure you cooperate, for they truly desire to keep liquidation to an absolute minimum!

After all, you think coffee is bad for you? Just wait until my Guests carry out their vicious plans. Even a good old cup of coffee won’t save us from their wrath!

It’s enough to make you want a damn sweet beer! Or to try and escape your hated cubicle so you can go walk downtown and maybe get some tasty fish & chips to celebrate your Friday!

Just be sure you wear a hat so that bright sun doesn’t melt your brain inside your skull!

And don’t drink anything, not even one beer, with your lunch because then your boss(es) would get mad at you for being drunk on the job!

And when you get home be sure to tell your significant other that you need vegetables only for dinner so you can cleanse your palate of all that fried food!  Then the two of you can plan a weekend family gathering at the beach for an awesome time! Don’t forget the sunscreen, everybody loves a decent tan.

But if you see a Goth kid on the beach, be sure to give them a hug! Because apparently Goth kids are at risk for depression!  Who knew? I’m awfully glad this study told us that. Otherwise nobody would have known!

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keep going; we’re awaiting the next results with baited breath