Monday, November 28, 2016

6 Delightful Wyoming Facts

1. Wyoming has three nicknames (one of them's official): Cowboy State, Big Wyoming, and (officially) Equality State. The state motto is "Equal Rights." In 1869, the territorial governor gave women the vote, and women were able to serve on juries in Laramie in 1870, and a woman served as court bailiff in Laramie that same year. Esther Mary Hobart was the first female justice of the peace (also in 1870).

2. The center of Wyoming's population is in Natrona County, just south of Casper, not far from Independence Rock.

3. More than 91% of the state's land is classified as rural, and Wyoming has the smallest population of any US state. It's 49th for density (after Alaska), and it's the 10th largest state. Cheyenne, the capital and largest city, had a population of around 62,500 in 2013.

4. Wyoming Territory (and later the state) was named for the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania. A Congressman from Ohio (who had not yet been to the place he proposed to name) suggested the name, which he later regretted.

5. Wyoming's place in presidential elections is important partly because of its small population. Though twice as many people live in Montana as in Wyoming, the two states have the same number of electoral votes.

6. The state coin is the Sacagawea dollar.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

We Walk into a Bar in Wyoming

barrels at Backwards Distilling Company, Casper, Wyoming
Backwards Distilling Company, Casper
To be honest, most of the bar recommendations we’ve gotten at churches have been lousy. We usually hit a bar in a state before we make it to church, but on occasion, we’ve gone to church first, and people at the church have told us where we should go. Sometimes we get recommendations like, “They make the best burgers!”

So in Wyoming, when a pastor told us we should try Backwards Distilling Company, we weren’t sold. And then, when we went to a Baptist Church for Thanksgiving dinner and a few people told us we should go to Backwards, we thought, “What do Baptists know about bars?” But then we went to a second Thanksgiving dinner (because, why just one Thanksgiving dinner?) at an Episcopal Church and people told us about Backwards Distilling Company. Well, when Episcopalians talk spirits, we listen.

So we went to forward to Backwards.

No one had mentioned clowns. There is a circus theme, and as you enter, there’s a cool ticket booth. There are circus pictures throughout, but the theme carried out in a tasteful way, and none of the pictures of clowns frightened me. Whew.

Backwards is a family operation for the Pollack Family. The “Back” in the title uses the family’s first initials (‘B’ for Bill the father, ‘A’ for Amber the daughter, ‘C’ for Chad the son and ‘K’ for Kathy the mother). Though no one in the family had been in the bar or distilling business before, they decided this was a business they could do together.

They opened just two years ago this December. The tasting room can legally serve only products of the distillery, which is in the same building. When the distillery opened, vodka was the only spirit distilled, so it was the only spirit served, and six vodka cocktails made up the entire menu.

Now that gin, rum and moonshine have been added to the list, the cocktail options have greatly expanded. We had a wide variety of choices on our visit. Mindy greatly enjoyed her Mr. North, described in the menu as “The best adult hot chocolate you’ve ever had! Cinnamon Moonshine, hot chocolate, homemade whipped cream.” Mindy asked for regular moonshine instead of cinnamon. I chose from the Oddities section of the menu, going with “Zorilda’s First Act: Rich and mysterious with plenty of complexity. Rum, apple cider, molasses, lemon juice, almond orgeat, Angostura bitters.” It was also very good. There were many drinks that looked good on the menu, including several punches for sharing and two non-alcoholic options.

Samples of the spirits are also available (we tried the gin, the cinnamon moonshine, and the Ringleader vodka). The vodka is their best seller; right now it’s the spirit that pays the bills. The next best seller is the gin or the cinnamon moonshine (it’s close), followed by rum and then the straight moonshine.
In years to come, they also plan to sell whiskeys, but whiskey needs years to age. (Backwards expects to have whiskey for sale in 2017 or 2018). They hope to focus on American Whiskey and Four Grain Bourbon, but they continue other bourbon experiments. We saw a barrel of Choco Bourbon and “Franken Bourbon”. (Franken Bourbon is the combined leftovers of a variety of batches mixed together. They plan to sell it on Halloween once it’s ready. Each barrel is unique and can’t be reproduced.)

Chad, who has taken on many of the distilling responsibilities, is looking forward to producing absinthe. Chad’s sister Amber bought Chad a bottle of absinthe for his 21st birthday several years ago, and he’s been fascinated with the spirit ever since. Chad said people ask him why the family have a distillery instead of a winery or a brewery. “I’ve made beer and I’ve made wine, and I don’t like it. I love distilling.”  And as he said, they don’t have many grapes in Wyoming, but they have great barley (and beets and wheat).

The distillery is, of course, the heart of the business, but the tasting room is a wonderful element of the business. When Mindy and I came in, there wasn’t room at the bar. We went to a very comfortable side room with couches and chairs that tastefully suggested the circus theme.

Micky, one of the servers, allowed us to ask her our two standard questions. It was busy, so at that point she only had time to answer the first, “What makes for a good bar?”

Micky said, “Atmosphere is one thing. It dictates the kind of clientele you bring in and what kind of drinks you serve. Quality is the other thing -- consistency in drinks and service.”  

We also asked “What makes for a good church?” But she said she needed more time to think about it. Just about then, two seats at the bar opened up and another server had saved them for us, so we carried our drinks to the bar.

A couple next to us, Mandi and Dave, seemed to be regulars at Backwards. We asked what they liked in a bar, and Mandi expressed her appreciation for this place. “I like the atmosphere and good drinks. They play the music quietly, and it’s not the usual alternative or oldies.” She mentioned Billie Holiday as a typical musician, and said the music was “not too soft, not too loud.” She said the atmosphere at Backwards was “kind of original, with a warm and cozy feeling.”  

Dave said he appreciates a “knowledgeable staff” (Mandi said, “Can I add that foo?”)

Mandi also said she appreciates attentive but not overbearing staff who can help customers find a drink. She said, “Here, I’ve never had a drink I didn’t want to finish.”

As for what makes for a good church, Mandi said it would be where people “weren’t judgemental, who are open to different ideas” and “didn’t preach down your throat.”  
Dave said the church should have “the ability to practice what they preach” and actually do “love others.”  He added that churches should practice the Golden Rule.

Micky came back to us with her answer to our church question. She said, “It depends on the individual. If they want community, the church should be welcoming. If they’re looking for something spiritual, the church would have altars and a place to be quiet.”

Amber, of the Pollack family, was working behind the bar. I asked whether the family hired bar staff that had experience, and she said no. The family learned about the business through travel, study, and conferences. She said they expected their staff to learn the business as well, and that they had all trained together. Almost  all the staff has been with them for two years.

We asked Amber what she thought makes for a good bar. She said, “The warmth of the bar is important. Do people feel welcome? A cocktail menu can be intimidating.” She said the staff should make people feel as comfortable as possible and they need to make people feel safe in trying something new. Again she emphasized “the warmth factor.” She said that a bar should be a social hub. “That’s why we don’t have wifi or loud music. People should meet more people than just the people they came in with.” As for what makes for a good church, she said, “Basically the same thing. Do people feel safe? Do you feel comfortable pondering the big questions?”

We met Everett, another of the staff who’s been part of Backwards since the place opened. He’d worked in oilfields and been a manager in a grocery store before working at Backwards Distilling Company. He knew the owners, and they hired him. He likes bartending, but he also does marketing and sales. We asked him what makes for a good bar, and he said, “Quiet. I don’t like loud music. And they should have good quality, even if it is just one good signature drink. That’s what I go for.” As for what makes for a good church, he said they should be open minded. He was raised LDS and said, “They aren’t open minded at all. They should be treating everyone with respect.”

We came out of Backwards with a great deal of respect for the Pollacks who came up with this wonderful place, as Amber said, “directly out of our imagination.”  I’d have a hard time imagining a better place to go for a drink than Backward Distilling Company.

Monday, November 21, 2016

6 Facts about Utah to Astonish Your Friends

1. Around 80% of the state's population was non-hispanic white in 2010. However, in 2011, 28% of children under one year old had at least one non-white parent.

2. The first band of pioneers belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (also called LDS or Mormon) were led by Brigham Young and arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Over the next 22 years, more than 70,000 pioneers settled in Utah. About half the residents of the state are or have been part of the LDS Church.

3. In recent years, approximately 1/3 of the state's workforce was bilingual. Many learned their second language through public school programs beginning in elementary school. Such programs work well with LDS missionary goals for young people.

4. The name "Utah" is derived from the term for "people of the mountains" in the Ute language. This tribe of Native Americans lived in the area prior to the arrival of people of European descent.

5. In 1890, the LDS Church banned polygamy. As a result, Utah was allowed to become a state in 1896 (subsequent territories were also required to write a ban on polygamy into their state constitutions).

6. Over 70% of Utah's land is Bureau of Land Management land, Utah State Trustland, US National Forest, US National Park, US National Monument, National Recreation Area, or US Wilderness Area. Every county contains some national forest land.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

We walk into a Controversial Bar in Utah

Marvel Comics was a big factor in our bar choice this week in a couple of ways. First off, we heard that the bar Brewvies had been in the news over the year. So we looked it up.

Brewvies is a movie theater and a bar. To enter the theater you need to be 21 years old. The day we went, one of the movies was Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them, so yeah, you need to have I.D. to prove you’re old enough to see a J. K. Rowling film. Showing I.D. is the law in Utah, because they serve alcohol in the establishment.

Another Utah law says establishments with liquor licenses can’t serve liquor and also show nudity and/or certain sexual acts. Back in February, Brewvies screened Deadpool, which focuses on a Marvel character that has always been quite edgy and meta, and the film is violent and full of sexual innuendo and, well, sex. (I admit I haven’t seen the film, but I went to the parental website Plugged-In, which thoroughly covers the nasty and naughty bits.) Undercover agents went to the movie and thought the movie violated the law. I would think this law was meant for outright live performance and actual pornographic films, but the officers decided this R-rated film violated the law. So the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission tried to revoke Brewvies’ liquor license.

Brewvies scheduled other screenings of Deadpool as fundraisers for legal fees. As of now, Brewvies still has their liquor license, and a trial is scheduled before a judge in May, 2017.

This is not the only strange liquor law in Utah. We heard talk on the radio of “Zion Curtain,” a solid, translucent, permanent divider intended to prevent minors from seeing an alcoholic beverage prepared or poured. Restaurants need to erect barriers to prevent delicate eyes from seeing how gravity acts on liquids when a bottle is upended over a glass.

Of course, no such barrier at Brewvies was needed, because we were all I.D. carrying non-minors who were allowed to watch as the bartender prepared Mindy’s Green Mile (appletini) and pop the lid on my apple cider. Also able to view these things was Jessica, the woman next to us at the bar.

We asked Jessica the two questions we ask every week: “What makes for a good bar?” and “Whether you go or not, what would make for a good church?”

Jessica talked first about the importance of good bartender (we found out later she tends bar herself) for a good bar. She appreciates a bartender who is funny and attentive. She said she also appreciates a “very chill ambience, something on the verge of a dive rather than a club.” She doesn’t like the meat market atmosphere of some clubs, where guys are always hitting on women. “People are more real at a dive bar,” she said. “I’d rather be comfortable and chill” rather than in a club atmosphere.

In response to what makes for a good church, she said feeling welcome and not judged was important. They shouldn’t be asking if you give your ten percent tithe to the church.

She told us she was a Salt Lake City native, so I asked her what that was like. She said growing up as a brown, non-Latter Day Saint girl was hard in a neighborhood where all the other families were LDS. Some kids were told by their parents that they couldn’t play with her, but other families were more welcoming. She said it was hard back then, but things have improved.

She grew up Catholic and recommended a couple of churches for us to visit -- the Newman Center and the Cathedral of Madeleine. One of the things she likes about the Newman Center is that it is near a pizza parlor that July 24th celebrates “Pie and Beer Days.” This is an alternate celebration for non-Mormons while people Latter-day Saints celebrate “Pioneer Days” commemorating Utah’s Mormon settlers. Free pizza and, of course, beer, is part of the less traditional festivities.

We also talked with a couple sitting at the bar, Matt and Allison. Matt’s told us a good bar should be clean and have a fun atmosphere. The staff should be attentive, making sure they take care of customers. (He said churches should be the same.)

Allison said that prices were important as well, exclaiming, “This place has shockingly good prices.” She was also very impressed with the food menu of Brewvies and thought they had quite a good selection for a bar. (While we were talking, their nachos and pizza were served and they did look quite good.)

Matt and Allison had only been to Brewvies once before. The night we met them, they were headed for the 8:00 pm screening of Fantastic Beasts. They had come a couple of nights before for a screening of a friend’s new independently financed film, The Four Corners (they pointed our it should not be confused with the film titled Four Corners without the “The”).

As for what makes for a good church, Allison believed there should be some life to it. She said she grew up in the Mormon Church;  she said she once invited a non-Mormon friend to join her for a service. Her friend asked, “Who died?” She thought the church was trying to be “reverent” but Matt thought “Stuck-up-ism” was a better term for it.

Matt than interjected, “And that’s why we don’t go to church,” though he said he was faithful to “Our Lady of the Fairways, Greens, and Screens” on Sundays.

Before we left, I asked our two questions to one of the bartenders, Nick. He said he thought service at the bar should be attentive and the atmosphere comfortable, “not harassing you or like a biker bar where everyone stares at you when you come in.” As for what would make for a good church, he had one word, “accepting.”

As for the other reason we came to Brewvies, they were showing the newest Marvel film, Dr. Strange and we go with the slogan, “Make Mine Marvel.” We’ll write more about that in next Wednesday’s post at Movie Churches. And if we lived in Salt Lake City, we might also abide by the slogan, “Make Mine Brewvies.”

Monday, November 14, 2016

6 Facts about Colorado

Balancing Rock at Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs
1. The state, which has the slogan "Colorful Colorado," is named for the Colorado River. Colorado was the Spanish term for the reddishg color of the silt that the river carried from the mountains. The name was chosen for the territory (and the state) because it was thought that the Colorado River originated in the state.

2. Colorado is one of the states that converge at the Four Corners area (the others are Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah). It's also one of the three states (Utah and Wyoming are the others) that have borders defined only by latitude and longitude lines (rather than by rivers and other natural features).

Gas and Grass, Colorado Springs
3. In 2014, Colorado became the first state to legalize medicinal, industrial, and recreational use of marijuana, regulating it in a manner similar to alcohol regulation.

Denver from the road
4. Denver is the capital and largest city in the state.

5. "Rocky Mountain High" is one of the state's two songs. The other is "Where the Columbines Grow."

6. Colorado's wine grape growing region has the highest elevation vineyards anywhere in the United States.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

We Finally Walk into a Bar in Colorado

The Principal's Office, Colorado Springs
After taking a week in Indiana for Mindy's mom's memorial service, we're back on track.

At my junior high school you didn’t worry about going to the principal’s office. You worried about going to the vice principal’s office, because he was the guy in charge of discipline. And he had a big wooden paddle he swung at the behinds of boys in trouble. I never faced (or more properly faced away from) the paddle, but I knew guys who did, back in the day.

On the other hand, on more than one occasion, I served time in detention.

Someone got the bright idea of using some of these dreaded phrases of educational punishment for promoting a bar in Colorado Springs. The bar we visited is called The Principal’s Office, and what might be called “Happy Hour” at other places is called Detention Hour at The Principal’s Office.

Does such marketing work? It got us.

The Principal’s Office is located in what used to be Ivywild School, an elementary school which was built in 1916 and closed in 2009. Now the building houses a community marketplace of the same name.  Bristol Brewing Company, a brewhouse and restaurant, was one of the first businesses to open in the school building. Other businesses followed, including a whiskey distillery, a thrift store, a bakery and even a church. And, of course, The Principal’s Office. Since the Bristol Brewery and The Principal’s Office are separate businesses with their own liquor licenses, there is signage in the central hallway reminding people not to bring drinks from one bar to the other. Ivywild is also a venue for community and music events.

Even the restrooms carried the school theme with something between graffiti and educational murals. You can study the walls and learn about dinosaurs, math and what exactly the five senses are. It is always good when education can be combined with “resting.”

When we got to The Principal’s Office, on Veteran’s Day, we noticed a chalkboard promoting free coffee for vets and half-price lattes and cocktails. Along with the school gimmick, this bar seems to take its coffee as seriously as its liquor.

There are a couple of bar areas in the Principal’s Office, and we sat at the smaller one with five seats (we didn’t notice the second area until after we’d sat down). Two young women sitting at the bar, Jessica and Barbara, allowed us to ask them our standard two questions (“What makes for a good bar?” and “Whether you go or not, what makes for a good church?”)

Barbara said that she thought a good bar has atmosphere and is a “relaxed and casual hangout.”  She also said she likes a bar that is “something different,” and she mentioned a place in Fort Collins called Social that has a speakeasy theme and makes many of their own mixers.

Jessica advocated for good drinks, “I like good alcohol.” She also said she likes it when a bar uses cool names that catch your attention. That day a drink named “Humble Devil” caught her attention, and the ingredients looked good, so that’s what she’d ordered.*

As for our church question, Jessica said she appreciates a church that fosters a good community and good atmosphere; a church that’s welcoming. Barbara said she sometimes goes with her family to Flatirons Community Church, a megachurch that she said has the qualities she looks for: it’s laid back and casual and yet open and honest.

Coco was behind the bar preparing simple syrups. We told her our questions and asked if she’d mind answering them. She went straight to the church question and said it wasn’t a question for her because she was an atheist.

We said we’d still like to hear her answer, so she said that a church should be united. “A good church is involved in community programs, especially for children and youth. It should keep youth occupied.” She thought churches should be doing charity work as well.

She then went on to our bar question, and she said customer service should be good. “The product should be good, but I tend to go to a place that has good customer service.” Still, Coco is interested in product. In fact, she is interested in studying to be a sommelier. She told us the advice a friend gave her about preparing for that profession “Go to the produce department of a grocery story and smell everything.” That sounded to us like good nose, and eventually taste, training.

As we sat at the bar, a woman came to the bar to ask for small plates for the birthday party group celebrating at one of the tables. While she waited, we asked her our questions.

Her name is Karen, and she said that a good bar needs “Good service, definitely. And good drinks.” For a church, she said she didn’t like megachurches. “I like small crowds where everybody knows everybody.”

There weren’t just women in The Principal’s Office, and we did eventually talk to a guy during the evening, another of the bartenders. His name is Jason, and when we asked our bar question, he said, “above all, I say hospitality and customer service. Regardless of atmosphere, hospitality goes the furthest. That’s the one thing I’d focus on.”

When we asked our church question he paused for a long time before answering. Eventually he said a church should open minded and accepting of other’s beliefs and lifestyles.

There was a shift change around then, and Maureen arrived behind the bar. She agreed to answer our questions and said that she really liked The Principal’s Office. She said it was the kind of place she would go to, even by herself, and that it was the kind of place where “you get to know [customers] really well -- some I hang out with outside of work.” She said that other bartenders come to The Principal’s Office after work, and that it’s different from anything she finds when she goes home to St. Louis.

On the other hand, she used to go to church in St. Louis but hasn’t found a church in the area, although “I did church shopping for a while” after she moved to the Colorado Springs area. She said that for her, “I think the people and the message” are important. “If people are overbearing, it’s hard to make friends.” On the other hand, she said, “If I like the people and don’t like the message, I won’t go back.” She misses The Gathering, her Methodist Church back in St. Louis.  On Sunday nights the college ministry, Bar Church, meets in a local tavern. We’re disappointed that though we’ve been through Missouri twice this year we’ve missed this.

But we’re glad we didn’t miss The Principal’s Office, a head of the class, extra credit bar.

*Mindy and I also were won over by a couple of clever names. I ordered the Teacher’s Apple, and Mindy went with the Sweeney Toddy, which was warmed and warming due to the addition of raspberry habanero bitters. We also ordered some delicious soft, warm pretzels with both mustard and cheese sauces.

Monday, November 7, 2016

We Walk into a Bar at an Undisclosed Location

Today's post is just between you and me. We’re trying to keep this one on the down low.

This “bar” is in one location where checking I.D.s is pretty much unnecessary. Underage drinking is unlikely, because you need to be at least 62 years old to be a part of this institution. And there's a two drink maximum, because this bar is only open for an hour each week.

Last week we had an opportunity to visit a retirement community. It has the kinds of activities one expects at such places: crafts, card games, exercise classes, worship services, singalongs, and movies. And every Friday at 3:00 pm, there’s another get together called “Cheers.” Residents are welcomed to what’s usually a sandwich shop for drinks -- wine and beer with a two drink maximum.

I’d rather not mention the name of the place because there was some controversy about allowing this event when it began three years ago. Some people prefered the community to be an alcohol free zone, but the drink  time survived. Now, it’s a pleasant weekly social time, but a staff member asked us not to post pictures of the event. Temperance sentiments still simmer, and it’s best not to stir things up.

We were still able to spend time with some good folks at what they call “Cheers” (and what we’re calling our bar for the week).

It was interesting to see that for the most part, the group segregates themselves into two, with a table for men and a table for women. We (Mindy and Dean) took turns integrating both tables, first the men and the women. When Mindy sat at the men’s table, one of the guys said, “We promise not to tell any dirty jokes. Because we don’t remember any.”

We were even able to ask our weekly questions of “What makes for a good bar?” and “What makes for a good church?”

People were more than willing to include us in conversations, though it was harder than we expected to get answers to our questions.

One man told us that a good bar had “friendly people and not too loud music.”

Several agreed with one man who said, “I don’t frequent many.” A few of the men suggested bars, including a nearby Greek restaurant that has bellydancers on weekends.

Several agreed when one man said, “This right here, this is our bar.”

Another said, “It’s not dark, but it’s a good bar.”

We learned more about the churches people attend (most of them do attend a local church, and a number of those churches provide transportation on Sunday morning). Most of them have attended their current church for decades, and all agreed that friendliness was an important part of a good church.

Several women mentioned that they’ve always been made to feel welcome when they visited churches, but one woman (who’s moved to the area more recently) said, “I’ve been in churches as a stranger, and nobody talked to me.”

Other stories swirled around us. Mindy overheard part of another story about visitors sitting in one woman’s usual pew. Dean talked to a man whose children, raised in the Baptist church, are all attending Catholic churches now. “As long as they’ve got a religion,” the man said. “They wouldn’t miss church for anything.”

A couple other men told us about their church, which is practically next door to a local university. “There’s not enough young people,” one man said. “We need young people.” They told us that the college was discussing buying the church buildings while allowing the church to continue using the property. Both men felt this would be a good option all the way around.

There are a number of good worship options available for the people of this retirement community. It was fun be with people enjoying “Cheers,” the one onsite “bar” option.