“A Pray Ski” – Beer and Ski Trippin’

Après ski means “after ski” in French, and refers to fun social activities after a day of skiing.  The phrase stems from ski resort night life culture in the Alps, and is pronounced “a pray ski”.  I always thought it was pronounced ski apree, which is totally wrong.  On a recent ski trip to Idaho and Utah, I finally learned how to say it correctly, thanks to my brother-in-law, Kevin.  Two weeks ago Maria and I flew out of Alaska, rented a car in Seattle and started our ski/beer trip in Yakima, where 77% of the nation’s hops are grown.  Our first stop was the local homebrew supply store called Yakima Valley Hops and Brew Supply, where we bought small packages of four different hops, and got great tips for places to sample local IPAs.  We visited Bale Breaker Brewing, situated on a 41-acre hop field, and sampled several IPAs, right at the source.  In the evening we visited a great little beer bar called Public House of Yakima, where we sampled numerous types of fresh IPA from several breweries around the region.

The color of IPA at the Public House of Yakima.

The next day we drove to Walla Walla (to visit Grandma), and Pullman where my Aunt and Uncle live.  I hear they are engineering new varieties of barley at Washington State University in Pullman, specifically for malting.  We stayed the night there, and then drove to McCall, Idaho on a scenic road along the Salmon River.  The drive was very beautiful through the natural river canyon.  We skied at Brundage Mountain and had some Salmon River Brewing beer for après ski.  We also made a trip to McCall Brewing, but neglected to visit Broken Horn.  The Salmon River IPA was spot on, and I loved the hip brewery vibe at McCall Brewing.  Maria and I enjoyed McCall and were sad to see this leg of the trip end.  Excited to see what was next, we headed east to see what was happening in Boise.

Skiing at Brundage Mountain near McCall, ID.

Aprés ski at Brundage Mountain.

I never knew Boise was such a hipsters’ hangout, but I have never really given it a chance — always flying in, and driving straight to Sun Valley Ski Resort from the airport.  I was dead wrong thinking it was just an industrial hub — Boise is teeming with fun!  Upon arriving we drove the 18 mile, 45 minute drive up to Bogus Basin.  This ski area is pretty big, with 1,800 vertical feet and 2,200 skiable acres, featuring three high speed quad chair lifts and a very low ticket price ($39.99 when purchased in advance).  We were already sunburned from skiing at Brundage, but Bogus nailed me right in the nose.  There is a special little brew pub right at the base of the Bogus Basin Road called Highlands Hollow Brewhouse where people traditionally drink beer after skiing.  We sampled a couple brews there (only $3/pint) and then ditched the car at the hotel.  Highlands had a great skier vibe, and a festive rubber chicken dangling above the bartender.  

Decor at Highlands Hollow Brewhouse.

We walked from our hotel down a lovely paved path along the river to downtown where our first stop was Woodland Empire Brewing.  I sampled all the IPAs at the brewery, and the So Juicy was my favorite.  We also visited Barbarian Brewing, which specializes in odd and barrel aged beers.  I tried the IPAs, and a few extremely strong malt beverages.  All were very good.  We finished up the evening at Payette Brewing where I could only try one IPA, as I was pretty much done from sun, skiing and probably too much beer at that point.  We awoke the next morning to search out delicious beers to take to Utah with us, which we found at the Boise Co-op.  A great variety and really cool silver-can offerings were to be found.  We also went to Whole Foods and grabbed a sandwich, some sushi and a nice salad.  The drive to Ogden from Boise isn’t that long, but going the speed limit at 80mph on a windy day was stressful, and I was white-knuckled as we pulled into my sister’s driveway!

In Utah we skied at Snowbird, Alta and Snowbasin.  I am not sure which was my favorite.  All of these places are huge, and I think I could ski them all endlessly.  All good things come to an end, and what’s better for after skiing than beer?  The Church of Latter Day Saints has a large influence in Utah, and the current alcohol restrictions are pretty harsh.  All draft beer has to be less that 4% ABV, but bottled beer can be served at higher alcohol content. While we were in Utah the local government raised the limit by 1%, but the change doesn’t take effect for a few months.  The strict rules and alcohol repression isn’t really working, as we tried a thing at Alta called the “Alta Bomb.”  It’s like an Irish Car Bomb, but instead of dropping the shooter of whiskey and Baileys, you drop a double-shot of espresso into a pint of PBR.  Note that coffee is also not approved by Mormons.  It was a gut-wrencher, but sure did help the afternoon fatigue.  After Alta we went to a very new brewery called SaltFire Brewing, serving beer with high point ABV in bottles.  The SMASH Citra IPA was on point, and the place was nicely decorated, with barrel tables and a light show on the brewery equipment.  Our day at Snowbasin was epic with rain, snow, and sun all in the same day!  We didn’t drink on the mountain, but did stop at a little place called the Shooting Star Saloon in Hunstville, UT.  It was a western, last-frontier style saloon that served 4% draft beers and had a strange collection of taxidermy animal heads on the walls, including the head of a giant St. Bernard.  I can only imagine how much slobber that dog must have generated!  The ceiling was covered with $1 bills.  We all split a pitcher of very session-able 4% IPA by Epic Brewing.  

The decor at Shooting Star Saloon.

The last day of our trip we didn’t ski.  Instead, we visited Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City, and Antelope Island in the middle of the Great Salt Lake.  The LDS headquarters were very interesting and quite impressive.  I felt like I was in a different country, somewhere in Europe, while we explored the vast campus of religious buildings.  The Lake has a lot of birds, flies and…salty water, as well as awesome views of the surrounding mountains.  We checked into our Air BnB in the afternoon only a mile from Epic Brewing!  Epic is a really spectacular brewery with some really creative beers.  Yes, they only served from bottles (so wasteful).  I enjoyed a 9% West Coast Style IPA, which was spot on, and Maria had a lot of little barrel aged beer samples ranging from a coffee imperial stout to a rose sour brew.  While in the tasting room I met a guy who was wearing a Templin Family Brewing hat, and he gave us a ride there next.  On the way, he pointed out Fisher Brewing (we specifically picked our Air BnB location based on proximity to breweries).  We drank a robust imperial stout at TF (served in a can).  Then wrapped up the evening at Fisher Brewing — a historic name in Utah beer.  We just tried a couple session IPAs on tap, and walked back to our room as we had to catch a flight back to Alaska at 5am!  

The Temple.

Templin Family Brewing

The coolest beer fridge at Fisher Brewing.

Overall, we were impressed with the sunny weather in Idaho, the hip nature of Boise, and the awesome ski areas in Utah.  We’ll have to make ski/beer trippin’ an annual tradition, but next year we’d like to visit Colorado.

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Trio Fatbike World Championships 2019

We spent the weekend in Talkeetna for the 7th annual Trio Fatbike World Championships.  I’m not sure why it’s called the Trio, but I’m going to say it refers to fast, friendly, and fun!  Unlike during the Susitna 100 race, this time I wasn’t concerned about getting a fast time — I was more interested in having a good time in the backwoods of Talkeetna.  I got to hang out on the 21-mile trail, and enjoy the spirit of trail camaraderie!   I swore off racing after the Susitna 100, but I had already paid and registered for the short version of the Trio.  So I raced without trying to go too fast.  This was not a problem, as the first 12 miles were a mix of biking and walking.  I think I was on my bike 50% of the time due to soft, squishy snow from higher than normal temps.  It sure was nice not to carry that emergency gear the Susitna 100 requires.  I arrived to the trail party nicknamed “Shangri-La” about 3 hours into the event.  I spent about an hour enjoying the sweet bonfire, and the company of beer-loving cyclists.  I avoided the whisky and drank an Anchorage Brewing Rondy Brew, and then refilled my 16 oz water bottle from the keg of Denali Brewing’s pilsner, which was very refreshing during the last 9 miles.  The second half of the trail was a dream!  I felt like I was riding on clouds all the way back to Talkeetna on a hard-packed trail.  Hard to imagine, but the temps hovered around the high 30s all day!  I love that ridge-line trail, and if I lived in Talkeetna I would make it my regular ride. 

The afterparty was a blast as usual.  This year Denali Brewing brewed a Brut IPA for the official Trio race beer.  After the awards ceremony the Last Train (featuring Ted Rosenzweig of Turnagain Brewing on base) rocked the party and I danced until my rubbery legs had to stroll on home!  Overall this is a quality event and I would encourage anybody who likes group riding, with a bit of a racing edge, to sign up next year.  Good job everybody who went and participated!  A huge thanks to Greg Matyas, from Speedway Cycles (home of the Fatback), Shawn Thelan from North Shore Cyclery in Talkeetna, and Sassan from Denali Brewing for the immaculate trail grooming and great hosting of this super fun event!!!

First Friday at Turnagain Brewing Company and Iditarod Start

Iditarod oil painting by Alaskan artist Scott Clendaniel

The saying goes, “Strike while the iron is hot!”  That’s exactly what we’ll be doing this weekend, as thousands of people arrive to Anchorage for the Iditarod start this Saturday.  The ceremonial start of the race will begin at 10am sharp, on 4th Avenue, right in front of the building where out studio is located.  So we decided this would be a good time to turn the studio into a pop-up gallery for the day, and invite people to visit.  There will also be a craft fair inside the building, making it an amusing place to warm up.  After the Iditarod start, one of the most popular Fur Rondy events is happening — Running of the Reindeer at 4pm.  Our studio will be open 10 – 5pm.  Stop by for a home-baked cookie, and check out my art, not to mention our great view of the carnival (and maybe Denali).

This week is First Friday, and I’m having an art opening at Turnagain Brewing Company, which is a new-to-me venue.  I created four large splatter beer paintings inspired by Jackson Pollock for this art show.  I’ll be there 5 – 8pm this Friday, March 1.  If you haven’t been to this brewery yet, I highly recommend it, especially if you like sour beer.  If that’s not your thing, the brewery also offers traditional beer styles in a cozy atmosphere.  Click here to see the Facebook event.

splatter beer paintings by Alaskan beer artist Scott Clendaniel

Are you Ready to Rondy?!

Let’s Rondy! 36″x18″, oil on panel.

February 15th 1935, 24 years before Alaska was even a state, Anchorage local Vern Johnson started the first ever Anchorage Fur Rendezvous!  Miners and trappers were already in town awakening from the hibernation months of December and January with the hopes of restocking supplies and selling some of their recent harvest.  Only three days long, the original Fur Rondy hosted hockey, basketball, skiing, boxing and children’s sled dog races, and not much else.  

The event has grown over the last 84 years and people have come to expect a grand time during this traditional Alaskan celebration.  I remember Rondys of the past — the festival used to last three whole weeks and we got a day off from school just to enjoy the festivities.  My mom would bundle us all up in our snow gear and we would trudge off to downtown Anchorage to ride the Ferris wheel, eat elephant ears, and watch super cool events.  I remember the party kicking off with the amazing fireworks extravaganza!  Some of my favorite classic events as a kid were the Grand Prix Auto Race, World Championship Sled Dog Races, the blanket toss, snowshoe softball, the amazing Rondy Grand Parade, and one not to be missed — the snow sculptures. 

The festival was shortened from three weeks to ten days in 2008 due to budget constraints.  We don’t have the Grand Prix anymore, but we still race sled dogs down 4th Avenue and slam beers at every base during snowshoe softball.  Another popular event is the Miners and Trappers Ball, with a beard contest and many costumes made from blue tarps, duct tape and Carhartts.  The outhouse races are always a highlight, and of course the new favorite is the Running of the Reindeer.  A bunch of Rondy participants dress in costumes and brave running with a pack of horned reindeer.  I always wonder if the reindeer are infuriated by the hotdog stands lining the street, selling famous reindeer dogs.  Another new tradition is Anchorage Brewing Company’s Rondy Brew. This year it is a delicious NEIPA brewed with 100% Strata hops, which taste like passion fruit!  

Real Art is Better is strategically located in the 4th Avenue Marketplace, across the street from Rondy Headquarters, in the NW corner of the building.  We clean it up and convert it to a small retail space for the weekend.  There is also a craft fair inside the building.  I invite you to stop in and check out my newest work and take in the view of the Rondy Carnival from our amazing Inlet view window.  We’ll be open Saturday and Sunday, 11am – 6pm.  I have several new art cards never before released, and many new paintings.  I bake cookies for the event and there are great snacks to be found at the craft fair.  The studio is a great place to warm up after watching the mushers, or making the trek down the hill to 2nd Avenue to see the snow sculptures.  The blanket toss and fur auction are right across the street in the 3rd Avenue parking lot.  

If you are getting fed up with Alaska style cabin fever, Rondy is the remedy.  This is the biggest social event of the winter!  Celebrate the end of hibernation season and get ready to PARTY!  Dust off those styling furs and show off Anchorage style!

Wear your Rondy pin, or risk jail time!

Susitna 100: Death of a Dream, or When Quitting is a Good Idea

Growing up in Alaska I always loved Hobo Jim’s iconic song I Did the Iditarod Trail.  I’m not a dog handler, so I always figured that mushing 1,049 miles to Nome was not in the cards for me.  In 2007 we flew to Nome to see the end of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, and when I was there I met a guy who had skied the trail all the way to Nome, which took him about a month.  I bought him a beer and listened to his adventurous tale.  I thought he was a total badass, and told him he could sing Hobo Jim’s song without sounding like a poser.  A few years later I went to a lecture given by Roger Cowles about his ride to Nome on what he called a six pack bicycle, which is a mountain bike that had been modified to have three tires on the front and back, on three wheels that were welded together and had spokes that laced them all together.  His lecture was really inspirational to me and I felt like I would like to do something like that someday.  Then fat bikes came along, and I finally bit the bullet and got one in 2015, selling my fancy summer bike to help fund the purchase.  I told my wife about my plan to ride to Nome and she suggested I do it in an organized race with safety precautions, check points, and supply drops.  The race to Nome is called the ITI 1000 Iditarod Trail Invitational.  It starts in Knik and follows the Iditarod trail all the way to Nome.  It takes people about 30 days to complete and costs a small fortune.  You can’t just sign up for the ITI 1000,  you have to qualify by completing shorter races.  First you have to do two 100-mile winter endurance races, then you can sign up for the ITI 350, which ends in McGrath.  After that you can sign up for the bike race to Nome.  People also walk and ski this event. 

This year I entered the Susitna 100 with the intent of starting the process of qualifying for the ITI 1000.  I learned a lot about the race in advance: there would be tasty food all the way at the checkpoints, that a jar of peanut butter qualified for the 3000-calorie food requirement, and that 100 miles is a long way in the winter wilderness.  I started the race just fine.  Riding the first 22 miles to the first checkpoint at Point McKenzie was easy — I’d been riding a lot and 22 miles was about the length of my average long ride.  I should mention that it started snowing as the race began, and that there was already new snow on the trail from a previous snowfall.  The 12 miler trip up the swamp to Flathorn Lake was grueling and many people started to walk their bikes.  I arrived shaken and feeling a little sick to my stomach, but the spaghetti put me back into a pretty good feeling and I headed back out into the snowstorm.  The next 14 miles were worse, and I walked a good deal of the way, arriving at dark to mile 49 at the Five Star Tent checkpoint, which was just a tent.  After a nice rest and holding back my urges to puke, I stumbled out back onto the trail.  I was able to ride at a nice 5 mph pace, and in four more hours I arrived to Eagle Quest Lodge at mile 63.  I was feeling the BONK at this point.  I had fallen off the bike a few times from sheer fatigue.  When I arrived it was still snowing, and dark around 10pm.  I felt terrible — my knees were feeling pretty used up, and my legs were rubber.  I ate a delicious bacon and egg sandwich for dinner, which helped my stomach feel a bit better, before resting inside a heated cabin for a few hours.  I made several trips to the outhouse with an upset stomach, and kept my sandwich down, but I was feeling pretty weak.  It kept snowing and I could hardly walk after resting for a few hours.  At 2am I was thinking, “Do I want to do this for 30 days straight if I bike to Nome?”  That’s when it occurred to me that I surely didn’t. 

There were 37 miles remaining in the race and the weather report was for a ton more snow (approximately 12-18 inches).   I looked at my bike and saw that it was buried in new snow.  Fat bikes are good for winter biking, but when it’s snowing that much snowshoes and skis are really a better option (or a dog sled), as pushing a fully loaded bike through new snow is hard work at any distance.  I knew that when I was pushing my bike I was hitting 2 mph.  At that pace it would take me about 20 hours to complete the race.  It was right then that I decided to scratch the race.  My stomach was protesting, my knees and legs were done, and I didn’t even want to ride to Nome any more.  I called Maria, and she drove to get me on Sunday morning.  I officially scratched, my dream of riding to Nome was dead.  I later learned that 59 other racers also scratched, and only 39 hardy souls finished the race. 

I’m glad I learned this lesson so early in this endeavor.  I spent a lot of money just for the 100 mile race.  I had to buy new boots, new bags for my bike, a bivy sack, a ton more gear, and the entry fee was cheap at only $250.  The longer races are much more expensive.  The ITI 150 is $750, and I don’t even know how much the ITI 350 costs, as it isn’t even listed on the website.  I figured when all was said and done I would have spent $25,000 riding to Nome.  That’s a lot of money to do something that no one has really heard about, but the bragging rights would have been nice.  The price isn’t even the biggest problem.  The biggest expense is the sheer pain and discomfort that the trip would entail, not to mention possible loss of fingers, toes and/or other medical problems that this type of behavior brings about. 

I won’t be able to sing Hobo Jim’s song with the same gusto ever again.  Yet, I am so thankful I learned this lesson this weekend.  I have way more respect for adventure sports athletes than I did before.  The people who finished are athletes of a different caliber than this city-boy-artist.  I will never never never plan to ride more than 37 miles in winter, and I’ll skip the blizzards, thank you very much.  The death of a dream is a good thing when completing the goal is a bad idea.  Sometimes you gotta know when to quit and I am so glad I didn’t waste any more time with an idea that was poison.  Had the conditions been great and I finished the race easily, I may have made worse decisions that could have ended badly.  And hey, for $25,000, I could buy a snow-machine and ride it to Nome, or at least have a pretty good time doing something really fun instead!  I won’t quit fat biking, because I love doing that, but seriously, endurance racing is out!  Much respect to the finishers — may your recovery go smoothly!

Would You Drink Whatever Lives in the Air in Anchorage?

Have you ever wondered how a spontaneously-fermented beer is produced?  Well, they don’t just put the wort (unfermented beer) into a regular fermenter and wait for something to happen.  It’s a bit more complicated than that.  There are biological critters in the air — bacteria and yeast.  These microbes are safe to humans and necessary to life as we know it.  I have been studying beer extensively for over a decade now and part of that study has been brewing beer at home.  I wouldn’t call myself a zymologist, as I tend to leave the scientific method out of my practices.  I’m more of a beer artist when it comes to the brews I make at home, focusing more on the process and outcome than knowing exactly which variables cause the results.  I like to think about monks brewing in a monastery — it’s not like they had microscopes and pH strips hundreds of years ago.  An interesting piece of hardware that the brewers of old did have is a Koelschip, or Coolship, which sounds a lot more high-tech than it actually is.  A Coolship is simply a flat open fermenter that resembles an enormous baking pan, or a small swimming pool.  The hot wort is pumped into this open fermentation vessel and allowed to cool overnight and naturally become inoculated with wild yeast and bacteria that live in the air.  It is then subsequently pumped into barrels, or a secondary fermentation vessel.  

I decided this would be fun to try at home on a very small scale — about 2 bottles.  What did I use for my Coolship?  Well, a baking pan, of course.  I have done this several times now with mixed results.  I make a small batch of wort with dry malt extract (DME), and add a hop pellet or two (I like to use Citra, one of my favorite hop varieties).  Then I set the Coolship next to an open window in my condo in downtown Anchorage, Alaska.  Spring and Fall seem to be better times of year for this when I have heard there is more yeast in the air, and the air temperature is neither too hot, nor too cold for the wort to start spontaneously fermenting.  I left the Coolship out for 4 nights and then poured the contents into a growler and capped it with an airlock (no need to make vinegar here, I was trying to make beer).  The results have been… very interesting. I definitely made a wild beer.  The original two bottles were nearly unpalatable (I heard it described as prison beer), but when I made a second generation of the stuff, it started to become a lot more palatable, and arguably delicious!  I think the yeast in my Coolship was strained and just needed to become a little more domesticated (and I also added more hops).  

Pouring the beer from the “Coolship” into my tiny fermenter.

Looks good enough to drink.

There is a fun relationship between hops and yeast.  The hops themselves don’t make the yeast start tasting good, it’s the collaborative efforts of the yeast working alongside the hops that make beer tasty.  Hops provide nutrition for the yeast.  So, I invite you to try this yourself, if you are getting bored of your current beer making procedures.  See what kind of flavors live in your part of the ‘hood.  I suggest you start your own yeast ranch.  All you need is a baking pan!  Cheers!

Paintings Commissioned during the Holidays

Every year during the holidays I get a surge of requests for commissioned paintings by customers who are very thoughtful gift givers.  Arguably, a custom oil painting is one of the most unique, personal, and thoughtful gifts one can receive.  My favorite part about working with people on commissions is hearing the stories behind each painting concept.  This year I didn’t get as many commissions as in previous years, because after the earthquake on November 30th people had other things on their minds like cleaning up trashed homes, broken glass, and fixing cracks.  Earth picked a bad time to shake us all up, and I think many retailers and artists felt the economic impact of decreased sales during that time.  Nevertheless, I completed seven paintings in time for Christmas, and they were all gratefully accepted by their recipients.  Now that they are no longer surprises, I can show them to you.  Click on each one to see it in more detail.  All paintings are framed in a natural wood frame, with hanging hardware installed.  The turnaround time is 2-3 weeks.  You can order a custom oil painting at my Etsy shop RealArtIsBetter, or by contacting me at info [at] realartisbetter [dot] com.