The Explorer & The Scout: Incline Cider

I currently work for a craft hard cider company in West Michigan. The founders are big explorers, outdoor enthusiasts, love buying local and, of course, supporting small and genuine businesses.

So when they came back from a trip to visit family in Seattle, Washington and brought back locally crafted goodies, I knew they had to be good. Well, that, and we all drink a lot of cider, so if something gets the rec from our founders, it’s probably something special.

Incline Cider from Auburn, Washington currently carries three types of canned ciders: the two I tried here, The Explorer and The Scout, and a seasonal release, The Legend. Each cider sits at 6.5 ABV, are all gluten free, non GMO, and made with close-to-home ingredients. If you meander over to Incline’s website, you’ll see they even have an “adventure pairing” for their ciders-

“Camping, hiking, picnics, boating, golfing, beaching, birding, brewing, reading, doing chores, mowing the lawn, dog walking, dog running, kayaking, rafting, bonfire burning, safaris, mushroom hunting, canoeing…if you’re still reading all were trying to say is that this cider is ready for any of your adventures (when enjoyed responsibly of course).  Cheers!”

I tried to find ways to creatively photograph Incline’s modern looking cans, and I don’t know if I did them justice. My 7-month old kitten Uma decided she would help me with this by getting in most of my shots.

 

Lets start with The Explorer: Hopped Cider.

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I’m not one for hopped ciders myself-I’m biased and really enjoy my company’s hopped cider, but most others I’ve tried end up being either far too hoppy, too dry, or bitter. I would say The Explorer is perfect for people looking to try hopped for the first time.

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The Explorer is super pleasant-it’s extremely drinkable, and that’s coming from someone who just can’t seem to get on the IPA bandwagon (YES I’VE HAD FOUNDER’S ALL DAY IPA. Leaveee meee aloneeee). There is a beautiful balance in this cider between light and refreshing, citrus-y hops, and crisp and sweet apples. The hops are almost a breezy after thought, making subtle appearances with a vinegary apple flavor, and a light and citrus-y aroma. It sits more toward the dry end, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I could seriously picture myself drinking this on a hot summer’s day!

If you’re a hop head and for you more is better, you may not appreciate the subtlety of the flavors here, but I sure did. Why oh why must Auburn, Washington, be so far away…

Up next, The Scout: Hopped Marionberry Cider.

I can’t say anything about the flavor before I talk about the absolutely beautiful color of this cider. I was surprised to see a deep purple-y red pour from the can, similar to a dark red wine. The head was a unique milky pink.

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This cider packs a real punch not only with aesthetic appeal but also with intense, fresh flavors. Floral and deep blueberry/blackberry tones are the base of this cider, chased by an immediately hopped finish.  Similar to The Explorer, The Scout is juicy and a little citrusy from the fresh hops. Again, this cider is really well balanced. While The Explorer was light and crisp, this drink lies on the heavier and more flavorful side, with a little extra subtle sweetness.

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Overall, I was extremely impressed by Incline’s ciders. I can’t wait for the day they’re carried in Michigan. If you get the chance to, give them a try. Try new things and support small biz!

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Porter Party @ The Grand Armory

For those of you who are suffering through finals week or a finals week is coming near you, I’m sorry, hang in there, listen to your body, and you got this.

For everyone else, don’t talk to me.

Anyways, this past weekend I had the chance to actually do a little bit of traveling and exploring outside of Grand Rapids and Allendale. On both Saturday and Sunday I got to play tourist in Grand Haven and go to the beach on one of the first hot and sunny days of the year. It turned out to be a much needed pre-finals relaxation weekend, and I used the time I had to catch up with friends I have seriously been putting on the back burner. There’s nothing quite like a Michigan summer…

And what goes great with hot and sunny days? Why, beer of course! Did you know Grand Haven is home to 6 breweries? Myself and some friends were led by a Cidermaker to his favorite, and from what we heard from some locals, one of the best breweries in town, called the Grand Armory.

A small and charming coffee bar greets you at the entrance of the Grand Armory. Walk in beyond, and you are charmed by the architecture of the place. Seriously, it was beautiful.

On the walls hang local art, available for purchase. Although we stayed on the ground floor, there seemed to be a lofted floor above. The bar itself sat against the back wall, small and filled with dark wood.

Picking the beer was difficult; Grand Armory has 20 brews on tap, and at least three of them sounded like dessert to me. I chose Porter Party, a roasty chocolately porter. It was insanely delicious, with notes of chocolate and hints of caramel. This is a good choice for those of you who like it sweet but not TOO sweet. A very dark and rich brew, $5 for 16 oz. Although awfully filling on it’s own, we were hungry for real food.

Between the bar and the coffee sits Righteous BBQ, a delicious smelling hole-in-the-wall (literally). I was too distracted by the yummy smells coming from it’s kitchen to take any pictures, but I did manage to snap  a picture of my pulled pork. It was DEVINE. I also had a side of slow-roasted kale and  bacon.

 

Between the hot sunny rays, the sweet cold beer, and our slow roasted BBQ lunch, I was in a state of pre-summer bliss. After my first bite, I actually had a moment of “I am SO happy”. Seriously, on your next weekend off, visit Grand Haven and make a stop at the Grand Armory. Whether its for the beer, the coffee, the BBQ, or even just to see some art, you will not be disappointed.

BONUS JONAS: So a little while after stuffing ourselves with beer and BBQ, we did a little perusing in Grand Haven’s downtown area. I just wanted to share this coffee that I bought while we were inside what appeared to be a candy shop, but then we thought it was a liquor store, then I found the coffee and became even more confused…anyways, the bag of beans says it was a general store so I guess that’s what it ended up being. As someone who has worked as a barista for 5 or so years and has enjoyed it’s culture for longer, this coffee is truly fantastic. There were of course other flavors available but I chose the Salted Caramel, and I’m glad I did. After grinding and brewing the fresh grounds, Fortino’s Salted Caramel proves to be a really great cup of coffee. Plus, it’ll make your whole house smell like a bakery. Win-win! I’m savoring every bean in my bag until my next trip to Grand Haven.

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Pecan Pie Whiskey

Let me share with you the short and slightly disappointing story of my first legal shot.

December 15th, smack dab in the middle of finals week, 11:59 pm. I’m laying on my living room floor, back sore from staring uncomfortably at my studies for the last few hours. The last thing I cared about was turning 21.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I had been waiting to turn 21 ever since Freshman year of college when I was introduced to the magical world of alcohol (but that’s a different story).

I WAS looking forward to my 21st birthday, but it was a Wednesday, the middle of finals week, and none of my friends seemed to care. Which, why should they? Like I said, it was finals week, and my room mates and I were all stressed with our own final assignments and tests.

Two minutes later, one of my room mates and our friend rushes into the living room to my surprise and yell “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!” at my face. After a few minutes, they convinced me to go to Meijer to make my first alcohol purchase (wild, right? I didn’t buy my first drink at a bar for a couple of weeks after my actual birthday).

The alcohol isle is intimidating to a fresh legal 21 year old, or so it was to me. I had dreamt of the moment I could peruse on my own, pick out a bottle or a pack, and purchase it with my own ID and credit card. Gone were the days of giving someone with a fake ID my wad of cash and asking for whatever $12 dollars could get me.

I went into the isle with no game plan, no true idea of what I wanted to buy. Until I laid my eyes on Pie Hole Whiskey.

Specifically, Pecan Pie Whiskey.

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The pin-up girl inspired packaging caught my eye, followed by the unique and delicious sounding flavors. Each bottle contains its own character- Pecan Pie, the one I purchased, is represented by Sweet Peggy. Pie Hole also offers Cherry Pie and Apple Pie varieties.

I proudly purchased my Pie Hole, was told “Happy Birthday” by the cashier, and hopped into the car to head home. We stopped through the McDonald’s drive through, got some fries, turned up the music, and headed home to try the whiskey.

My first legal shot was Pecan Pie flavored Whiskey. If you don’t like whiskey, first of all how dare you, but second of all, you will like Pie Hole. If you like pie, you will love Pie Hole. And if you like having a warm, fuzzy buzz, you will really love Pie Hole.

My room mate, our friend, and myself all took a celebratory shot (quietly, as our other two room mates were in bed.) The best way to describe the flavor is sticky sweet. The stuff even SMELLS like pie…and at 35% alcohol, it doesn’t mess around. After one shot, we could all feel the warm vibration only whiskey can provide. And man…it really does taste like a slice of pecan pie.

After a few minutes of reviewing the drink, our other two room mates came downstairs to see what they were missing. Thirty minutes later and we had all had a few shots of Sweet Peggy’s pecan pie. It doesn’t take long to get you buzzing. I will fondly remember that about this whiskey. Its sweet, warm, nutty, and I’m sure would make a nice mixed drink. Next fall I plan on mixing the Apple Pie flavor with apple cider. Any suggestions for the Cherry and Pecan Pie flavors are wanted.

If you’re looking for a sweet party favor or just your next seasonal shot, check out Pie Hole Pie Flavored Whiskey.

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Drunken Retort @ Stella’s Lounge

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On Monday night, February 15th, a few friends and I took a seat at the bar inside the club room, just inside and to the right at Stella’s Lounge. Bob The Bartender was excited to contribute to this project, apparently so happy to help that he must have slipped word to Foster and Fable, some of the talented individuals that started Drunken Retort. Before the event officially began I felt the hand of Foster on my shoulder.

“And you need an interview from us. Is that right?” I was starstruck.

Drunken Retort (DR) is the acoustic slam, comedy, and otherwise freestyle event that you can find at Stella’s Lounge every Monday night at 8:30-10 or 11 pm. Before 10 pm, minors are allowed in accompanied with someone 21 and up. After 10 it’s 21 and up only. The show will be three years old in April.

Every 3 months there’s a theme, which can range from “Old Shit”, “Awful Shit/High School Shit”, LGBTQ night and more. Foster and Fable, the parents of DR, have been in the open mic business for years. Fable, a.k.a. Fable The Poet, has been doing open mic events in the Grand Rapids area for seven years. Foster’s poetry is four years old, but he started hip-hop in 2008.

At the beginning of every show, one of the creatives that works on DR takes the mic and reminds the crowd of the four rules.

Rule 1. The Yell Rule. If you like what you hear, make some noise.

Rule 2. The Bell Rule. There are red plastic bells on the tables and bar for the crowd to ring if they don’t like the talent. Three strikes and you’re off the stage, buddy.

Rule 3. Shut The F*ck Up. Simply put, don’t talk while someone is performing. If you disturb the talent, Rachel, Foster, and Fable come up with a new punishment you’ll  have to endure.

Rule 4: The Tell Rule. The opposite of Fight Club, these guys want you to spread the word. In fact, if you let one of the DR regulars know that you have three new visitors with you, they’ll buy you a drink.

After a few performances to kick off the show, I got the chance to talk DR with Fable The Poet.

Best Drunken Retort Story?

“A couple of months ago someone read for the first time, and during the set they broke down crying. I followed her out of the room to see what was up, and she just told me how grateful and thankful she was for the opportunity to speak in front of the crowd.

Later that girl’s friend approached me and thanked us, too. She said ‘She’s not allowed to do that.’ I guess her relationship did not allow for her to talk about her pieces.

Thats why I love this. It’s a safe space. People listen to you. You hear genuine words every time.”

What drink goes best with DR?

“The Poet. New Holland actually helps the show out so we can sell them for $3 on Mondays.”

Rachel, another collaborator on the Drunken Retort team and the third component to Diatribe, also sat down with me to chat.

What kind of work is Diatribe doing now?

“Diatribe goes into different schools. We hold workshops and assemblies to show kids that their voices are important. We share their work and help develop their craft.”

When did you start performing your work?

“I wrote a poem in school and performed at a writing center show at Grand Valley. I enjoyed that so I went on to perform other pieces at slam competitions and won first and second place at Greenmill in Chicago.

I’m a full time artist. It’s tough. I’ve been all over Grand Rapids.”

What drinks go best with DR?

“Jameson. I actually have this performance that we close out some of the shows with where I sing a whiskey song while people feed me whiskey shots. I love doing that. I always walk away drunk.”

Foster also got in on some questions.

What do you do for Drunken Retort?

“I am whatever needs to be done. I am the business side, Fable is the creative. Together with Rachel and Aziz, it’s been a great formula.”

Whats your favorite part of the show?

“How different everyone is. I have this belief that no two people are the same on the inside. As long as you can find one thing in common, you can build on that. I can bring people together wherever I am.”

What drinks go best with DR?

“For me, Jameson. Shots, tequila. For a Stella’s drink, the Basil Lemonade is delicious.”

 

This team, these incredible people that put on this show every Monday at Stella’s Lounge, are clearly devoted to DR. Each member of Diatribe cares about what they do, and have a passion for creativity and freedom (and whiskey). If you’re looking for a new experience or just something to do on Monday nights, I urge you to visit Stella’s Lounge for Drunken Retort. Stella’s is located at 53 Commerce Ave SW, Grand Rapids, MI.

 

Bluegrass Punch @ Stella’s Lounge

Looking for something to do on Monday nights? Live near or in Grand Rapids?

Stella’s Lounge in Grand Rapids, Michigan, offers “Drunken Retort” every Monday after 9 pm. Slam Poetry and whiskey? Sign me up.

This post is not about the poetry though, (don’t get me wrong, it was LGBT night and the talent was intense, but this isn’t a blog dedicated to lesbian poets) its about the whiskey.

Stella’s Lounge has over 250 kinds of whiskey. How fitting, then, for a girl who was raised by a whiskey loving family to start her journey here? Not to mention, an old school arcade and the best burgers in America, according to GQ magazine.

But, I come from a small town where the bartenders only know beer and vodka cranberry’s, so 250 was a bit intimidating. Instead of diving headfirst into their mile long whiskey menu, I was told to try their signature whiskey punch drink- the Bluegrass Punch.

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My date chose the Whiskey Sour, another recommended drink. The punch contained Old Forester, Triple Sec, Lemon Juice and Cranberry juice. The sour had Wild Turkey Rare Breed, Lemon juice, Simple Syrup, and some Sprite. The Punch was $7.00 and the Sour $6.00. Topped with a lemon and a cherry (I ate the cherry before the glass touched our table), the punch looked like something out of “Better Homes and Gardens”. I’m a real sucker for maraschino cherries- put one on just about anything and I’m listening.

To compliment our girly drinks we also had to order a couple of burgers. I don’t recall the name of them, so enjoy a low quality photo instead.

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The food and the drinks actually went well together. The Bluegrass Punch certainly contains a punch. The first flavor that hits you is the whiskey- as it should. Upon further inspection, I think the bartender used Wild Turkey for both of our drinks. To be honest I really don’t like Wild Turkey but I don’t consider myself in any way a whiskey connoisseur.

The second after you’re reminded of the whiskey in your drink, you catch the lemon juice and a hint of cranberry. Tart, cold, and spicy all at the same time. I think my taste buds were also a little confused, because the fries that came with the burger had a unique set of spices on them. Paprika meets whiskey meets cranberry?

Half way through the punch and a few sips of the Sour and I was sold. Buzzed and full of America’s best burger and I was already planning my next trip to Stella’s. The Bluegrass Punch is certainly worth $7.00. There is enough to the drink that you can’t get bored, and its sweetness competes with its sourness in the best way. Just make sure you stir it from time to time.

Edit: All photos taken by me.

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