Ahhh… Integrity

I know, its a weird post title… but follow me for a sec here….

In a world over-saturated with so many brand promises, big talking heads on tv, and attempts to be “authentic” (scary that’s even a thing!), its easy to become jaded.

Take brand promises, for example. We hear them all the time:

  • Walmart: save money, live better…
  • Coca-Cola: open happiness….
  • McDonalds: I’m lovin it ….
  • Apple: think different.

But let’s be honest: when was the last time you walked out of Walmart thinking, “now I can live better!” or bit into a Big Mac and thought “I’m LOVING this!” or used your iPhone and realized “wow, now I can finally differently! … Thanks, <insert brand>, for doing what you said you would” ? Yeah… me too.

If I stop to think about it, I realize how I have a knee-jerk reaction to undermine every one of their promises with a “yeah, right.” Almost subconsciously, I  write them off as not having anything to do with real life, not applicable with my actual experience with their product, quotidian overreaching. It’s just talk. (Don’t even get me started on how this applies to the bloviating by most of our dear presidential candidates.)

I just wish more of the 700 messages we’re bombarded with each day could be more truthful. Ha, even authentic. Wouldn’t it be nice if a yes meant yes, and a no meant no? 

Which is why it was so incredibly refreshing to experience such a straightforward demonstration of integrity.

Last night the hubby and I decided to go out for dinner. This was no casual Saturday night decision, people. We’ve been trying to save money (thank you Winter Warmer passport!) & eating pretty much paleo; going out felt very special. It actually started with John (the hubby) asking me “if you could eat anything in the world right now, what would it be”… and the first thing that came to mind was Mountain Sun’s Date Night burger. If you haven’t had one yet, go try one. You can thank me later.

So we decided to go to Mountain Sun’s Denver location – Vine Street Pub. If you haven’t heard about the Mountain Suns, you should know a few things first: they only accept cash, all their staff work together & split tips, and the whole vibe is lots of hippie love. Its cool though. We went totally expecting this.

What we didn’t expect was just how true all their staff are to their brand promise. From the horse’s mouth:

“The pub’s mission was to create an environment that was as comfortable as your living room… with a commitment to high-quality ingredients, community engagement, environmental stewardship, and employee equity…”

 

Boy did last night put that brand promise to the test! It was crazy busy. A 90-minute wait for a table for two. No surprise — its Stout Month! — but miraculously I found 2 seats at the bar.

We decided to eat at the bar instead of wait for a table, so we quickly put some orders into the kitchen and started on our stout sampling odyssey.

IMG_20160220_193347
The team of beer and people serving us on Feb 20th. You all were awesome!!

…45 minutes later, as kindly as I could, I asked the server delivering a steaming golden plate of fries to our new bar neighbors whether our meals would be coming out soon, too. Long story short, the answer was no. Turns out, they’d lost our ticket. Ugh.

Not 2 minutes later, another server came over — they were so sorry about losing our order that the entire meal (beer and all!) would be 100% complimentary. And our food came out just a few minutes after that. Wow, now that’s service!

This isn’t the first time my order has been screwed up somewhere. But the other places often just replied with a “sorry” and made excuses (“its crazy busy tonight…”). We’d be lucky to get comp’ed a drink or an app.

Not so at Vine Street Pub. The whole team was so on top of it that as soon as they discovered the mistake, everyone came through to ensure we still felt as “comfortable as (being in our own) living room.” We walked out of there truly feeling like we’d been part of a community. I’m so impressed with the Mountain Sun group’s ability to train & support their people’s ability to live out their brand promise — to walk the walk, not just talk the talk — last night. We’ll definitely be bringing our business back to Vine Street Pub.

In a world of over-promising (and under-delivering), experiencing integrity feels like a fresh, cool breeze. 

Makes me wonder… how I can I tweak my mindset, my words, my actions to live with a little more integrity … to bring a little more refreshment to our world. What about you?

Dining review
Vine Street Pub wall art – Photo credit: Denver Post 

 

An Epic Homecoming

Big barrel stacks and big tanks

Sometimes where we’re from isn’t necessarily our home.

Although born and raised in Utah, I’ve always been pegged as a California coast kind of girl. Fellow passengers on an airplane, new colleagues, even old friends have all wondered aloud, “Are you sure you’re not from California?” Even my family as a whole gets asked the same question. I have attributed it to our naturally blond locks, laid-back family culture, and perhaps a little something special lingering from our many summers on the beaches of Santa Cruz when we were kids. I still feel “at home” whenever I visit those beaches.

Recently, the tables turned on me as I had a similar experience with a “new” local brewery. Ironically, this brewery is from Utah by way of California transplants.

Epic Brewing recently opened its second location with a Denver taproom and brewing operation. This Salt Lake-based brewery staged quite the entrance into the robust, competitive Denver beer scene! No sophomore album syndrome here.

The beer was big (some of the best were barrel-aged, 10%+ ABV)…

Barrel aged beer list and barrels
…the tanks were big…

Big barrel stacks and big tanks
…the crowds were big…

big crowds
…the only thing not big enough was the number of seats!

From the spot-on RiNo-inspired industrial chic to the artistic, go-big-or-go-home approach to the beer offerings, I coulda sworn Epic Brewing wasn’t from the Utah beer scene, but rather the epicenter of craft brew, aka Colorado.

So this begs the question: what does a hometown mean?

It’s about more than just being accepted. Epic had a community and market in Utah (I know; I was part of it!); similarly, I had great friends and family in Utah, but it wasn’t “Home.”

Or, from another perspective: what does it mean to embrace being from a certain somewhere?

Roots–they mean something. Perhaps thanks to the conventional wisdom about nature vs nurture, we believe someone’s roots always influence at least part of who they are. We use “home” as shorthand for that someone’s characteristics, values, and interests. We believe there is something about someone’s home that defines them.

Knowing this shorthand, we also define ourselves by our “home.” When our concept of ourselves resonates with the place we’re told (and we believe) is our home, then perhaps our lives are a little bit better aligned. We can thrive just a bit better. When roots are being nourished and reaching deeper into the right-fit environment, we can live a bit more vibrantly.

Maybe that’s why it feels so — right– to enjoy an Epic beer in RiNo. It all makes sense. Or spend a week at a beach house with my family in Santa Cruz. Or, as I come to better know myself, to live in Colorado.

So, if you’re near Denver, grab a beer at Epic, snuggle in next to the fireplace, and contemplate on where — and why — your home is your home.

My Santa Cruz beach
A pic snapped at my Santa Cruz beach.

Investigating frustration

I was asked an interesting question the other day:

“What frustrates you?”

First things that came to mind: clothing left on the bathroom floor, stop and go traffic, tedium, ignorant shallowness.

I answered the question, but wasn’t satisfied with my answer. So it kept pecking at my mind, like a woodpecker on an old tree. Thankfully, I found myself experiencing frustration later that day. (Wierd, I know. I’m a nerd and think too much.)

We had heard a new brewery in Golden was opening its doors. On first impression,  Barrels and Bottles was authentic and full of craftbrew romance. With several garage doors and windows rolled up, the building seemed to stretch out a welcome, beckoning fresh air and new friends. Tables hewn of rough barrel staves cried “we’re the real thing!”. And the din of friendly conversation, compliments of a packed room, confirmed we must be in the right place for a good time.

They only had 2 of their own beers on tap. We ordered one of each and wiggled some room on a bench. With much anticipation, we sniffed… and sipped… and looked at each other quizzically. We expected the rye and blond ales to evoke descriptors of fresh or malty or nutty, but all we could think of was… toilet water.

Just in case we were wrong, we looked across the knotty table to some fellow customers. They concurred: skunky, metallic fizz was posing as an excuse for craft brew.

I felt the frustration welling up within me…

And then I wondered, why frustration?! Why…?

Because it didn’t make sense: the brewery owners had to know how bad their beer was! The 20 guest taps comprised a delicious, eclectic, and sophisticated collection, so I knew someone there had a trustworthy palette. This made the whole scenario all the more strange. Why didn’t they refuse to serve the bad beer, citing high standards or a desire to offer only the best or a fictional sob story about barrels leaking? I just couldn’t understand.

Aha! A small personal victory: the brewery helped me see that what frustrates me is not understanding. (Maybe that’s why I couldn’t let go of that question… because I didn’t feel like I had a grasp around what frustrated me… and not understanding that about myself frustrated me… driving me to this revelation and this post. Ha! Talk about going meta on this whole thing.)

Why, oh why, must such a seemingly decent establishment defame the name of beer like this?

What’s more, after having chewed on it for another day, my perspective has evolved to include thoughts like “Should I have said something to the owners?” “What if they really are clueless?” and “Why don’t I have the capability (or the requisite lack of social grace) to interview the owners or hunt down the reasoning behind what seemed like a poor decision?”. So sadly frustrating.

Tap line at B and B

That all being said, as a tenacious optimist, I can’t end this post on such a depressing note. So, I leave you with two thoughts:

  • Given the delectable selection of guest taps, I’m hopeful Barrels and Bottles knows good beer and therefore might brew tasty suds themselves one day. So, perhaps if we give them a few months and offer a second chance, we might find less frustration.
  • They did have an amazing contraption I’d never seen anywhere else: a hops fusion tank. While it looks like something out of a mad scientist laboratory, it’s pretty straight-forward. Simply pour any beer through the tank, let it sit for a few minutes, and voila! It’s now bursting with dry-hopped freshness! We tried with Colorado Native and, let me tell ya, it was delicious! I usually am bored by Colorado Native… but not with the beta acids of fresh hops added. Mmmmm mmmm, good. That might make it worth the second-chance trip in a few months, too.

BandB Hop Fusion Tank

Reunited! And it feels so good…

Yuzu Berleiner Weisse

I’m back! After a hiatus this summer (partially due to a stint in our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.), the curation of the Centennial state is back on track. And what better way to re-start the engines than with a quick story about another reunion… with New Belgium.

Years ago, the hubby and I had gone on the fabulous beer-drenched adventure known as the New Belgium brewery tour. We particularly cherished our memories of tasting the couple Lips of Faith beers, which are NB’s experimental line. This was craft brewing… beer-making with a whole lot of heart and art.

Fast forward to this summer. As I was gallivanting across the country, I saw New Belgium brews everywhere. But the offerings were limited… Fat Tire, 1554, and perhaps a little Abbey Ale. Fat Tire is good, but its not that good. I understand the strategies behind mitigating distribution risks by first entering markets with the old standbys… but when compared against the Flying Dog and The Brewer’s Art and even some Belgian imports, the brews just weren’t on my short list. Sadly, I started to believe that the beloved king of Colorado craft brew had become just another big, soul-less brewhouse out to reach the masses.

Then, last weekend, we took a little road trip back up to their tasting room. I was delightfully surprised to see not two, not three, but twelve experimental beers on tap! On tap! After sampling the likes of fresh Coconut Curry Hefeweizen and a Berliner Weisse-inspired brew with a twist of the asian Yuzu fruit, I realized NB’s soul had stayed strong!

Label for Coconut Curry Hefeweizen

It was like being reunited with an old friend

who I hadn’t spoken to in ages…

only to find nothing had changed.

We still understood each other.

Label for Yuzu Berleiner Weisse

In our world of constant change, there is something our human hearts crave in dependable authenticity. While we definitely need change to grow, we also find immense peace and trust in something we can rely on. Thank goodness for friends who stay authentic… and breweries who stick to their soul!

If you haven’t yet, definitely take the New Belgium brewery tour. Its an adventure for the social drinker and beer-snob alike.

Freedom — in images

My sweet mom has a mass of food allergies…and she also happens to be the original foodie in our family. An incredibly artistic cook, she is the one I owe my palate to.

So, when my awesome mom was in town, I knew I had to take her to Shine.

Shine Restaurant & Gathering Place “is a place for us all to nourish ourselves through food, community, dance, education and celebration.” Nourishing, indeed! They have a gluten-free, dairy-free, almost entirely allergen-free menu. And — its delicious. Even my meat-and-potatoes husband likes it.

Breakfast at Shine.
Breakfast at Shine.

So… there we were, being seated at a table where my husband was waiting with a fresh bread basket. And after so much self-deprivation and careful restricting, my food-loving mom didn’t have to wade through a devilishly tempting list of delicacies she could not enjoy. In fact, she could finally order from the entire menu!

What was more… she could even eat from the  warm bread basket!!!!

Freedom!!!

She dives into the bread basket..
She dives into the bread basket..
And realizes she is free to enjoy...
And realizes she is free to enjoy…

 

And to enjoy again...
And to enjoy again…

 

And even free to finish with gluten-free fresh craft brew

Why was this so enjoyable — nay — near orgasmic?

I think it comes down to one thing… the human craving for freedom. Our hearts long to be free to  fully experience being alive…to feel, and taste, and smell, and breathe to our deepest abilities…to feel free.

When was the last time you felt fully alive?

 

To make and to savor

A view of the tasting room, complete with the Wild Woods logo

I have officially decided. My favorite brewery in the Metro Denver area has got to be Wild Woods Brewery in Boulder. 

I know, I know: how  can I ever have a favorite when there are so many different, delicious, and downright awesome breweries in this area??

For one, the beer is dependably fabulous.

Friends and fun at Wild Woods
Here is the crew, loving life on the patio at Wild Woods. Oh, and that’s the famous flight.

We had a bunch of our buddies in town last weekend and they hands-down voted the beer here was the most consistently enjoyable across the whole flight. From start to finish of the flight. Please know that this is saying something in light of all the brew-touring we did! What’s more, since these buddies are my friends-for-life crew — as in, that group of friends that I have deemed to be my “family-by-choice” — I most definitely trust that they’d be forthright in their brew assessment. So you don’t have to take my word for it: the beer here is delicious.

But there’s more to it.

The heart and soul of the beer, the brewery, and underlying life philosophy is beautifully consistent. What is that, you ask? The idea that…

Life is about making and savoring memories. 

This idea pervades the way the beer tastes, the inspiration behind the recipes, and the whole ethos of the company.

First and foremost, their beer is focused on making tasty beer even more tastily memorable by infusing an element of nature. For example, the pale ale has an incredible sweet mouthfeel and a finish of jasmine. I tasted a wheat ale last weekend that enveloped my mouth in just the right amount of sage. These beers not only delight the palette but are impossible to forget. And no worries Boulderites — each adjunct is completely natural. No syrups or “essences of” here — just whole jasmine flowers, actual sage, etc.

And there is another level to it. Every recipe is naturally inspired as well. The muse for the brewers is literally the outdoors — the idea for the jasmine pale ale came from a walk through a Colorado mountain meadow. Just the aroma (let alone the taste!) of the sage wheat beer evoked memories of warm breezes ripe with sagebrush kissing my face as I hiked through the red desert outside Moab, Utah.

A view of the tasting room, complete with the Wild Woods logo
A view of the tasting room, complete with the Wild Woods logo

Each beer is a chance to simultaneously savor the flavor and the feeling of the wild outdoors or adventures past.

Finally, the brewers have done an amazing job creating a tasting room that nurtures more memory making. Plenty of room to sit, patio furniture for sunny days, and beautifully branded decor. What makes it even better, the owners/brewers are four fine people who quickly make you feel at home. Jake, Erin, Charlie and Kristen always offer a friendly face and are more than happy to get to know you. It probably helps that they are all friends themselves; being rooted in friendship sets the right tone for the whole place. Let’s just say my crew of buddies felt right at home there this past weekend. And we made some awesome memories.

To top it off, even their logo consistently communicates Wild Woods’ heart and soul. I love the hops as the foundation for the forest, all wrapped in something simple yet pleasant-looking. A fitting finish for such a well-crafted brand and brew.

Acceptance

We all want to feel accepted, right? Isn’t that really the driver behind the tidal wave of online communities? When it comes down to it, we just want to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. Accepted for who we are. Heard.

Enter Our Mutual Friend.

behind the bar in the tasting roon

The owners, the vibe of the tasting room, and especially the beers immediately convey a warm invitation. Like you’re already part of the family thanks to a mutual friend.While the name sound be a bit unusual for a brewery, let me assure you that this establishment is aptly named.

The second we sat down at the bar, Brandon introduced himself. He and Andrew proved to be kind hosts and conversationalists. Like friends would be.

With a strong bend towards a malt-loving palette (like mine!), each beer was complex yet welcoming, from the nose to the finish.

A highlight of the evening was the fresh roasted malts for a truly English brown ale. A must try!

And I found a friend in the best pale in the world (for a non-hop person). With a gentle on ramp of malt and a light breeze
reminiscent of hops, I could finally enjoy the beauty of a pale ale. And it got better!…

Sweet grapefruit. A nose of fresh cut grass and honeysuckle. Complete with a
long malt finish, evoking images of a wistful sunset sweetly receding into a warm summer night. Truly, this beer reminded me of having a conversation with an old friend.

image

My husband mentioned that the craft brewers movement is somewhat becoming the public house, or “pub” as its come to be known.

Where relationships steep, ideas spread, and democracy is fermented.

Places like Our Mutual Friend offer hope for our communities to come together and brew real change. And, they offer hope to each of us that we can find our place in this world.