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Friday, February 25, 2011

Expansion Update, Volume 3

Roughly three weeks in and everything is still in line with Siciliano's master plan. This week the dry-wallers were hard at it, resurfacing parts of the ceiling as well as completely re-doing the entire west wall. Thanks to their hard work, the add-on next door is looking everyday less like pizza joint and more like the retail space we so badly need.

Special thanks to the boys at Blain Custom Drywall for applying their trade so skillfully. Everything is looking great!

Sanding the ceiling

Giant iPod ear-buds or ceiling sander?

Future home of hops & yeast

Close-up: hops & yeast walk-in cooler

The view looking south

The new customer bathroom. Ta-da!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Review: Detroit Brewing Co. Sander's Chocolate Stout

By Kati Spayde, resident Cicerone.

Forget hot chocolate, this 12-ounce treat has a rich fudge flavor reminiscent of its namesake, Sander's Hot Fudge Ice Cream topping. It pours a beautiful dark brown with amber highlights and a fluffy head that diminishes quickly. The chocolate--thin in aroma but strong in the flavor--is nicely balanced by strong but not overwhelming roasted characteristics.

For being such a rich treat, this beer is very drinkable, never cloying or overpowering. A very good beer, and one that I highly recommend.

Saunder's Chocolate Stout (7.8% ABV) is available at Siciliano's for $1.59/bottle. Ask about it and other employee recommendations the next time you're in the store!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sap to syrup: why I spend time in the woods making breakfast sauce

By Wes Eaton

Late last week, when the arctic air unexpectedly gave way to temperate weather, and the snow turned wet, heavy and began to melt, I headed north with a few other woodsmen to tap the sugar maples. Although the season came on early, we were prepared. Buckets, taps (spiles), hoses, and tools had already been stashed at our woodlot, a scant hour’s drive north of Grand Rapids in Paris, MI. Wood too had been cut, split and stacked, enough hopefully to accommodate fueling the new evaporator we constructed in the fall. All we needed was a break in the weather and the breakfast sauce making could begin.

Ending dependency of foreign oil.

Maple sap, about 2-4% sugar, begins to course up the tree’s outer cambium when the weather warms above freezing during the day but dips well below that mark at night. This usually happens in late March, but this year my favorite rite of spring came early. For those of you familiar with brewing beer, making maple syrup is a similar process, except you don’t have to write a recipe, gather ingredients, sanitize, mash-in, sparge, chill, sanitize again or ferment--all you have to do is boil and bottle. This is best done with a flat, shallow pan designed to increase surface area. The idea is to add sap at the same rate water is evaporating, keeping the total depth shallow to induce an intense, vigorous boil. By doing so, the maple sugar steadily concentrates until syrup is had at about 66% sugar. Forty gallons of sap boils down to one gallon of syrup, a venture that can take a few hours or all day depending on your evaporator and pan.

The author taps a tree (note the KBS)

In years past we evaporated sap with propane, the irresponsibility of which was always highlighted by our incessant bonfire building. Intent on capturing and controlling that immense heat, I built a rectangular ‘fireplace‘ out of sixteen cement blocks on top of which rests my 20” X 30” X 6” stainless pan. Out the back a 9’ chimney sucks a draft through like a blast furnace. Having felled, split and stacked oak since November, I’m hoping to at least double my annual syrup production of three and a half gallons.

Beyond these truisms, the process of syrup making is a transforming experience akin to acts of tending a garden or cellaring homemade wine--the ever present sense of immediacy, our hourly short-term metric for understanding and mediating daily actions, gives way to the whims of nature’s seasons. The sap flows only when the sap flows. At winter’s break, the time spent in the woods, garage, or barn, tending the fire, chopping wood, hauling buckets of sap, drawing off golden syrup and laying up another bottle has its own rhythm and pace as well as obligations. One cannot simply light the fire and walk away; an evaporator needs constant tending. While this can very well be a solitary ordeal, especially when taking turns at the pan, I prefer packing our my small ‘off-the-grid’ cabin with dogs as well as people who I know appreciate the annual slow-down.

Kyle Dood, problem solver extraordinaire.

I thought about this upcoming season while trekking tree to tree along the bottom of the ridge behind the cabin with my dog and wife, taking turns putting the steel of brace & bit to maple bark, tapping in spiles next to tap marks from years past. The fog had gotten thick as the air warmed. We looked up from our duties and saw the lamps in the woods. Up the hill, the others were laying buckets where we had set taps and hose. The maples all around us, already tall, seemed taller now in the dark, the moon behind mists, tree tops beyond our scope. We were getting wet and cold, but a bourbon stout was enough to get us through. Soon there would be enough sap to fill the pan and we’d light the burner’s fire.

To get filled in on the details of everything from tapping trees to selecting equipment, I highly suggest picking up Noel Perrin’s Making Maple Syrup, a four dollar bulletin available at Siciliano’s Market.
Let if flow, let it flow, let it flow!

Still life with beer

Former Siciliano's employee Weston Eaton is currently pursuing a PhD in Sociology at Michigan State University. He lives with his wife and dog in Grand Rapids, MI. A version of the above post is scheduled to appear in the March edition of Recoil magazine.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Calling all engineers, tinkerers, inventors, mad geniuses, and problem solvers

Straight from the boss' desk, a proposition for the mechanical minded...
If you've ever purchased bulk liquid malt extract from Siciliano's, you know that we don't have a high-tech dispensing system. In fact it's pretty low tech. Okay, it's downright abysmal. In conjunction with our expansion, we would like to upgrade to a more user-friendly, self-serve arrangement. The problem though is that we're merchants, not engineers, and we have absolutely no idea how to go about designing this.

So, here's the deal. We're asking for your help.

My vision: I would like to have some kind of setup that would hold four 33-lb malt extract containers (see pictures below). The individual containers would be easily brought forward by the handle (preferably by the customer) to dispense the desired amount of malt into the customer's container. We would also need a way to move a digital scale back and forth, from side to side, in order to accurately weigh the syrup poured from the malt containers above into the customer containers below.

The malt containers are 10” deep, 6” wide and 15” high. We'll have some empty containers at the store in case you want to take one for design purposes.

We would love to hear your ideas as to how this can be executed. In fact, we would love it so much that I have a crisp $50.00 bill for the winning design. In addition to cash, we'll make up a nice plaque indicating that the malt dispensing station was designed by: (THE APPROPRIATE NAME OF THE INDIVIDUAL OR BREW CLUB)

Let's hear your ideas!

(Or, pass this along to anyone you think might be interested.) 

Monday, February 21, 2011

The art of homebrewing and wine-making: helping restore the balance

By Steve Siciliano

Our aging golden retriever sometimes does something that is both amusing and annoying. Before lying down for one of his frequent naps, Cody Joe often rotates in a tight circle, pawing occasionally at the carpet, until he is satisfied that his resting place has been properly groomed.

It’s instinctual of course. Something hard-wired in Cody’s brain resurfaces at times and reconnects him to his feral past. I doubt, if given the choice, that Cody would trade his cushy life for one that relies on instincts for survival. But maybe it does Cody some good when one of those buried instincts works its way to the surface. Maybe it reminds him of his essential dogness. Maybe it provides a balance by serving as a reminder of the time when his distant ancestors didn’t eat dried pellets out of ceramic bowls, when they weren’t leashed, collared, and fenced, and when they were free to chase small animals around without fear of reprisals from exasperated keepers. Instincts fade but they’re never entirely eliminated and that’s a good thing—for dogs as well as for humans.

The rational mind takes a sugar reading.
We modern humans also have cushy lives relative to those of our distant ancestors. Like our domesticated pets, we no longer have to rely on instincts for survival. We have taken the wonderful instrument that Nature has given us—the rational mind—and have honed it into a tool that we have used to create remarkable, life enhancing technology. But in the process we have forgotten about an equally wonderful instrument —our intuitive mind. The intuitive mind is an integral part of our essence, of our humanness. It is what connects us to Nature. It is what gives us access to a higher consciousness. It is what allows us to exist in the present moment. It is what allows us to Be.

“The intuitive mind,” said Einstein, “is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” I believe that if we are to become completely human we need to find ways to restore the balance between rational and intuitive thinking. We need to find ways to become, in effect, both Thinkers and Be’ers.

The intuitive mind watches run-off.

There are ways to restore the balance. Any activity that quiets the rational mind helps restore the balance. Art is one such activity. When we create we are following an instinctive urge to be mindless and when we are mindless, when we have disengaged rational thought processes, we are reconnecting with our essential humanness.

I have often been asked why homebrewing and wine-making have become so popular. Here’s my answer—making beer and wine is an art form that nourishes the intuitive mind. Sure, brewing and wine-making can be technical but at their core both are pretty simple. And the end product, like a symphony or a painting or a Shakespearean sonnet, is divinely inspired and almost magical.

And so the next time someone asks you why you brew beer or why you make wine, tell them that you’re an artist. Tell them that you’re following an instinctive urge to reconnect with your essential nature. Tell them that you are restoring balance in your life.

Of course a wonderful byproduct of this balance restoring activity is that you can drink, and share, the artwork that has been created.

Steve Siciliano is a merchant, philosopher and writer and is currently putting the finishing touches on his first novel, “Putting Butterfly Wings on The Thinker”. He and his wife and business partner, Barb, live in a fine, ninety-year-old house with Cody Joe and Ellie Mae, a two year-old terrier/lab mix that constantly exasperates them.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Siciliano's Market 8th Annual Homebrew Contest

Editor's Note: This is the announcement for the 2011 contest. Please go here for the rules & regulations of this year's contest.

Hey Homebrewers!

It's high time you get that oak-aged, dry-hopped, maple-flavored, spruce-tip, double-imperial, pale-porter hybrid into the bottle--the Siciliano's Market 8th Annual Homebrew Contest is right around the corner! For those unfamiliar with the contest, details are below.
  1. Every homebrewer is allowed one (1) beer entry. All entries must be brewed by the person named on the entry form. Please do not submit beers under the names of significant others, children, dogs, cats, parakeets, or imaginary friends.
  2. Beers are submitted according to the BJCP Stye Guidelines. Ciders and meads are excluded from this contest. If you're not sure which is the correct style category for your beer, contact us and we can help you. (Contact info here.)
  3. Entries require two (2) plain, unlabeled/unmarked 12oz amber bottles. No clear bottles or bottles of any other size.
  4. Entries must be submitted with the necessary paperwork, and with competition bottle-ID forms rubber-banded to the bottle. Paperwork and forms are available at Siciliano's Market or by email request.
  5. The entry fee is $5.
  6. Entries will be accepted from Tuesday, March 15th through Wednesday, April 27th. If mailing in an entry, please include paperwork and submission fee. Ship in a well-packed box to:
Siciliano's Market
2840 Lake Michigan Dr. NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49504

The Siciliano's homebrew contest is a prime opportunity for beginner and seasoned homebrewers alike to receive constructive feedback on their efforts. All entries will be judged impartially by industry professionals and/or trained judges according to the standards of style and not in comparison to one another (with the exception of Best in Show). As in previous years, the winner of Best in Show will have the opportunity to brew his/her winning recipe at Hopcat.

And finally, what's a contest without a party? The 8th Annual Siciliano's Market Hombrew Party and Awards Banquet is scheduled for Saturday, May 14th, with homebrew seminars scheduled to take place the night before (Friday, the 13th of May...spooky). Be sure to keep a close eye on The Buzz for additional party and seminar details.

Happy brewing everyone, and good luck!

Awarded to Best of Show

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Man's Weekend

By Chris Siciliano

On a Friday in February, 2011, fifteen men traveled up US-131 and converged for a two-night stay in a cottage not far from the Croton Hardy dam. The occasion was the third annual “Man’s Weekend”, a late-winter retreat for the beard-growing members of our species only. Those familiar with the hallowed tradition of camp de la deer (deer camp) would undoubtedly recognize several overlaps between it and our group’s private holiday: whiskey, cards, food, and farting were all in abundance, interrupted only for a few short hours Saturday, when half the company strapped on snowshoes to venture out into the forest, blazing trails through the snow where previously there were none. Even then we had beer with us, and good one’s at that, two bottles of cellar-aged Kentucky Bourbon Stout, which we passed from man to man while gazing out at the frozen surface of Hardy Pond.

Man’s Weekend. Those who might be offended that such a thing exists, rest assured: misogyny this ain’t. Besides a beard and beer gut, all who attend have at least one trait in common, great love and respect for the women in our lives (go ahead, ask them). The fact is an event like Man’s Weekend is a deeply necessary thing, the kind of relief valve hardworking folks need this day and age. At its core, it’s nothing more than a chance to cut loose for a few short days, to drink beer and BS with the boys, to smoke cigars, to suck down bacon, to tell stories, to tromp around the woods, to stand around fires, to sit at poker tables, to curse and carry on in the exact way frowned upon—with good reason—by polite society. Without Man’s Weekend, without deer camp, without the man cave, without the fantasy football league, without whatever it is you and your friends do to stay sane (men and women both), who knows from where and how else that relief would come.

Highlighting specific incidents from man’s weekend is unnecessary—it’s just not that interesting to people who were not there. However, we can and should for reasons of posterity recount the food and drink, cataloging the tasty vittles and suds so that the bearded generations to come might know how to continue this tradition.

Kraut, meat, bread

Dinner Friday included six full pounds of kielbasa from Lewandowski’s Market, boiled first then roasted in the oven. We then sautéed 1.5 quarts of sauerkraut in olive oil, adding a pinch of sugar and maybe a little salt too. Though the sauerkraut was my contribution—I fermented it myself it over a period of months—my father, Steve (the boss), took control of its preparation. Whatever he did he did it well. The kraut was the best I ever had, with a touch of sweetness to take the edge off the otherwise pleasing sour tang.

Along with the kraut and kielbasa we ate thick slices of homemade sourdough wheat bread and washed it all down with many pints of beer, either Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale or Founders Endurance, both poured from icy-cold 1/6 barrel kegs (5.16 gallons) that we set outside in the snow. The beers were the perfect accompaniment for this kind of hearty meal. Though the Endurance was sharper and lighter than its maltier counterpart, each showed the necessary hop backbone to cut through the fatty richness of the kielbasa.

On Saturday, when we woke up hungry, former Siciliano’s employee Tommy Huizing took control of the kitchen, whipping up a classic breakfast of flapjacks, bacon, scrambled eggs, and fried potatoes. I sliced and toasted a loaf of my cheddar-jalapeno sourdough, which normally receives high praise. This morning however my old standby was overshadowed by a new invention—the Man’s Weekend breakfast taco. Former Siciliano’s employee Wes Eaton caught the wind of divine inspiration when he wrapped one of Tommy’s famous flapjacks around a strip of bacon and some banana. Liberally doused with home-rendered maple syrup, this hand-held delight proved to be one of the more remarkable culinary moments of the weekend. The salty, crispy bacon both tempered the syrup's sweetness and  complemented the soft "give" of the banana. Trust me, this is something you'll want to try—the result is true perfection.

Proof of the divine

Before breakfast was on the table, Wes was already making dinner—a venison roast that would slow cook for hours with various root vegetables until all individual components melded into a singular, fantastically earthy taste. When it was finally time to eat, the meat and veggies were so tender you could cut them with a spoon. The natural juicy drippings were rich and satisfying, especially when sopped up with yet more slices of homemade whole wheat sourdough.

As if that wasn’t enough, there were two huge pots of soup simmering all day on the stove. The first was Grandpa Sam's exceptional take on minestrone, a beefy, big-bodied alternative to the all-veggie version that did not disappoint. The second was a smoky, fiery jambalaya with loads of chilpolte peppers. This dish had heat to it, and not a little, and it made for a great excuse to return often to the third and final beer on tap: Founders Harvest Ale.

By Sunday we had all had our fill and it was time to put the wraps on another successful Man’s Weekend. We cleaned the cottage, collected our things, and said our goodbyes, slightly sad to be leaving, but ready too for real life again. Man’s weekend is long enough.


Special Thanks

To Kyle Dood for the Founders sixtels and maple syrup, to host Steve Siciliano for the Celebration Ale, to Greg 'Swig' Johnson for the kielbasa, to Doug, John, and Zack for the Jambalaya, to Jason 'the vet' Chudy for the roasted corn, to Wes for the venison, to Larry for teaching Wes to hunt, to Tommy and Brandon for breakfast, to Alex for the KBS, to Mark for the Stella Artois (Stella!), to Grandpa Sam for the soup and for refilling all our beers.

Chris "The Perch" Siciliano is a writer, teacher, and the managing editor of The Buzz. Recently he relocated to Grand Rapids with his fiance, Gena. Chris would like to apologize to all attendees of Man's Weekend he did not mention here by name. Likewise, he would like to apologize to all attendees of Man's Weekend mentioned here by name. He can be reached at

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Expansion Update, Volume 2

Our apologies to anyone inconvenienced by the (de)construction equipment in our parking lot this morning. But with the pizza ovens and deli case now gone, the way is clear for the next phase of renovation. A new storefront was put in place today, and the new dry wall, new flooring, and a (partially) re-plastered ceiling are all coming soon.

The expansion in general is on schedule, with a finishing date roughly three to four weeks from now. As you might expect, we’re all very excited to see it start to come together.

Getting ready, windows gone

Positioning the wood-fired oven

Removing the oven

Removing the deli case

Oven free

New storefront, framing

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The old man's day out, Part III

In the third and final installment, Steve & company eat fried chicken gizzards, they run into friends at Brewery Vivant, they eventually make it home in one piece...almost. (To read the first and second installments go here and here, respectively.)

I think the Road House is the name of the next bar we hit, and I think the road on which it sits is M43. I’m not really sure of either. The beautiful thing about road trips is that, while you might not know where you are at the moment, rarely are you ever completely and hopelessly lost. I knew we were heading west and I knew that anytime I wanted I could take a right at some crossroads and eventually find the freeway. But sometimes it feels good to be a little lost. Too often our lives are overly regimented—we always seem to be dragging the past with one step and entering the future with the next. Too often we forget about living in the present. Sometimes it’s good to have no clear destination. That’s why I like road trips.

Whatever its name, that bar was a good one. We drank PBRs out of cans. We ate salted peanuts out of cellophane bags. We sat suspended in time, not worrying about the past, not looking toward the future, enjoying for a while the peace-filled present.

Sam Up North, in his element

Sam had a long conversation with the fellow sitting at the bar next to him. I think this fellow was a farmer but I really don’t know what they talked about. I think Sam bought him a drink or two. It felt good to be sitting in an unfamiliar place, my wife at my side, my eighty-year-old dad enjoying himself, my future nothing more than the cold can of PBR sitting on the bar in front of me.

I don’t know how long we were there. It might have been an hour, it might have been two. When we were back in the car heading west again Sam got a little edgy.

“Where in the hell are we?”

“Don’t know, pop,”

“Are we lost?”

“Maybe a little.”

At the next crossroads there was a sign indicating that a place called Sunfield was somewhere to the right. “All right,” I said aloud. “Next stop Sunfield”

We drove north for a few minutes then saw another sign. I turned right again and saw huge grain silos rising over a small cluster of store fronts. In that cluster was a bar.

It was another good bar but I can’t tell you much about it. When you're existing in the present moment it's easy to ignore your senses. I know that I drank High Life out of long neck bottles. I can't tell you what Barb and Sam drank. I know we spent a good amount of time there but I can't tell you how long. I know that we talked to the friendly bartender, that we ordered and ate deep fried pickles and jalapenos, that they tasted wonderful and that just as we were leaving the bartender told us we should come back sometime for dinner. I decided to look at the menu again and another appetizer caught my eye—deep fired chicken gizzards.

“Hey pop, they have gizzards.

“Boy that sounds good.”

We ordered another beer and ten minutes later a huge plate of gizzards was sitting before us. They too tasted wonderful.

When we were back in the car I headed north, found the freeway, and parked on the side of the road. My fellow travelers looked at me. “I need a nap,” I said.

One of the things I love about Barb is that she always has my back. She wouldn't be much help in a bar fight but she's always willing to drive when I get sleepy. She got in the driver's seat and both Sam and I fell asleep.

When I woke I saw the bright lights of the freeway. “Get off at Fuller,” I said.


“Let's take the old man to Vivant.

Sam hadn't been to Brewery Vivant even though his grandson, Jacob Derylo, is the head brewer. He woke up just as Barb was parking.

“Where are we?”

“Brewery Vivant,” I said.

“Where Jacob works?”


“I'll be damned.”

Barb helped Sam out of the car and held his arm so he wouldn't slip on the icy sidewalk. Inside it was packed. There were no empty tables and there was no place to sit at the bar. We stood for a few minutes and just as I was ready to suggest that we leave the bartender got my attention.

“Dude down there wants to buy you guys a drink.”

I looked to where he was pointing and saw a young man wave at me. I had no idea who he was. I ordered the IPA for myself and Barb and a Farmhand for Sam. A few minutes later a man and a woman got up to leave and the man came over to Sam. “Sit down,” the man said.

Barb said she would stand so I sat next to my dad at the bar. A woman walked over and began talking to Barb. It was Kim, one of the Brewers On The Lake, a local homebrew club. She was with Brian, her husband, and Scott, another BOTL member. While Kim and Barb talked I walked over to their table.

“We just left your store,” Brian said. “I spent a lot of money.”

"God bless you," I said, jokingly.

“This is my wife,” said Scott.

“Pleased to meet you.”

When I made my way back to the bar Barb was sitting next to Sam. “Steve, I like this beer,” Sam said.

“Good for you, pop.”

I looked around the packed pub. It felt good to know all the people were enjoying my nephew Jacob's beer. I was proud of Jake. He had worked at the store during the lean years and was there when we first started selling beer- and wine-making supplies. I like telling people that I taught Jake everything he knows about brewing. It's a lie, of course, but I figure it's not really a lie when the person knows you are bullshitting. While I was feeling proud of Jake I heard a loud shout coming from my dad. “Heeyyy!”

I turned and saw my brother, Mark, his wife Barb, and Jeff and Robin Boorsma.

We left after a few more beers. I carefully made my way from the East side of Grand Rapids to the West. When I parked in front of Sam's house I helped him out of the car. I took hold of his arm but as we were walking on the sidewalk he slipped and fell face first into a snowbank.

“Are you okay, pop?”

“Hell yes,” he answered.

I walked with him into the house. My mother was watching television. “Where have you guys been?” she asked. And then, “Oh, Sam.”

I looked at my dad. He was bleeding from a cut on his nose. It was a small cut, not more than a scratch. Yet in the days ahead, on the mornings he worked at Siciliano's, it often reminded me of our trip to Lansing, and I couldn't help but smile.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The old man's day out, Part II

In the second installment of a three-part series, Steve & company drink beer in Grand Ledge. Steve explains his love for dive bars; Sam makes a new friend. (To read the first installment, click here.)

I like dive bars. Don’t get me wrong. I like classy bars too—the ones with polished wood and gleaming tap towers and the appropriate glassware for a barrel-aged barlywine, or a German heffe or a Belgian triple. But there’s something about sitting in a dive drinking watered-down American pilsners. If the beer you drink is out of aluminum cans or long necks bottles it makes it even better. I like hearing the hard crack of pool balls and listening to country music playing on ancient juke boxes. I like the faded tile and wooden floors, the dusty wall signs and the bar tops worn smooth by years of resting elbows. I like the long, trough-like urinals in the rest rooms, the smell of greasy hamburgers frying on back-bar grills, the packages of Slim Jims, the hanging bags of salted peanuts, pretzels and pork rinds, and the huge jars of pickled pigs’ feet, hard-boiled eggs and ring baloney. I like meeting the people in these bars. I like listening to their stories.

The first bar we hit that day was not a dive. Sometimes you can tell that a bar is a dive from the outside. Sometimes you can’t. The bar we went into on the downtown main street in Grand Ledge is one that you can’t. It’s a good bar but it’s not a dive. I was disappointed by the varnished log walls, the carpeted floor and the classic rock songs piped through speakers in the ceiling. No one was sitting on the padded stools. An aloof bartender walked up and asked if we wanted menus.

“We’re just here to drink,” I said. What’s on tap?”

“Bud, Bud Light, Busch, Amber Bock and MBC Pale.”

“I’ll have the pale.”

“Make it two,” said Barb.

“Make it three,” said my dad.

Sam will drink a craft beer but it’s not what he prefers. He prefers the watery pilsners. All those watery American pilsners except for Bud anyway. I have heard him say more than once that he doesn’t like Bud. I have often wondered what it was about Budweiser that he doesn’t like. Someday I’ll have to ask him. Whenever he drinks a craft beer he always says the same thing. “It’s good, but it’s heavy,”

Sam at wedding

When he finished his beer our glasses were still half full. He took out his thick wallet. “Let’s have another,” he said.

“Put your money away, pop. We need to pace ourselves.”

“Bullshit. I want to buy you guys a beer.”

“Okay, pop.”

We drank the second beer and when we left the bartender didn’t say goodbye.

The second place was also on the town’s downtown main street. This one turned out to be a dive and I was pleased. Every stool was occupied. There was a wooden floor and heads of dead animals on the walls. We sat at a table and after a minute I walked up to the bar.

“Sorry,” the bartender said. “I didn’t see you come in.”

“It’s okay. What’s on tap?”

“Coors, Bells Best Brown and Blue Moon.”

I couldn’t pass up the Best Brown. “Two Best Browns and a blue Moon.”

“This is good,” Sam said after taking a sip of his beer. “What is it?”

“Blue Moon,” I said.

“I like this.”

“I’m glad, pop.”

An old timer got up and shuffled over to the juke box. A few moments later we heard Hank Williams wailing about someone’s cheating heart. “Good choice!” my old man shouted after the man had sat back down. The old timer smiled. Sam got up and for a few minutes stood talking with the man at the bar. “I bought him a drink,” he said after he sat back down. I smiled while listening to Patsy Cline’s silky voice floating through the air.

“I’m having a good time,” Sam said. “I feel like I’m up north.”

We finished our beer. On the way out Sam said goodbye to his new friend. We got back in the car and continued making our way back to Grand Rapids. Fifteen minutes later I spotted a low building surrounded on three sides by snow covered fields. A scattering of dried corn stalks poked up through the snow. I turned into the parking lot.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The old man's day out, Part I

On a cold Friday in February, Steve (the boss) set out for Lansing with his wife and old man. They left Grand Rapids at noon. Ten hours and five bars later they returned home, one of them bloodied, all three of them happy. Below is the story, the first of three installments. 

“Man I hate this weather.”

My father had turned off the vacuum and was looking through Siciliano’s plate glass windows at the falling snow. It’s a statement he makes often during the months when he can’t drive up north to his cabin. There was a time when the winter didn’t bother him so much—when he could still drive two hours on slippery roads, when he could walk a half mile through knee-deep snow dragging supplies on a toboggan, when he could shovel a path to the door, when he could haul logs in from the woodpile and when he could sit for hours watching a bobber on a frozen lake. But he has learned how to accept the limitations of age. My father, Sam Siciliano, is eighty.

Sam & Steve, father & son

He went back to his work and I watched while he vacuumed up the scattering of grain around the grinders. During the springs, summers and falls he carefully sweeps up the grain and dumps it into paper bag. ‘The deer and turkey like it,” he told me once after asking about it.

He had finished vacuuming and was wiping malt extract off the scales when I called out to him. “Hey pop. Barb and I are going to Lansing tomorrow. Why don’t you come with us?”

“What are you doing in Lansing?”

“We have to drop off some paperwork to the LCC,” I said. “We have to get their okay for the expansion.”

“Why do you want me to go?”

“It’ll get you out of the house,” I said. “It might do you good.”

“Why would I want to go to Lansing?”

“Come on, pop. It’ll be fun. On the way home we’ll stop at some bars.”

“Okay,” he said. “Pick me up.”

Sam Siciliano likes to drink. He likes drinking beer and his home-made wine but he doesn’t like drinking alone. He likes people around him when he drinks and the more people there are the better he likes it. When people visit him and my mother at their West side home or at the cabin in Irons he is always eager to get them a drink. If their beer is half full he’ll get them another and if their wine glass is half empty he’ll fill it up. That’s just the way my old man is.

There’s something a little mysterious about that home-made wine. Every year we get grapes from California. I know he doesn’t add more sugar to the must but somehow his wine always seems to be more potent. Our family has learned to stay away from it but there have been many unsuspecting guests that the wine has destroyed; and whenever that destruction occurs, Sam gets in trouble with my mother.

The following day we picked him up at noon. He was waiting on the front porch.

On the way to Lansing I got him to talk about his brothers. My dad has five brothers that are still alive. Tony, the eldest brother, died about fifteen years ago. My dad claims that Tony was the toughest son-of-a-bitch in the neighborhood. I have heard the stories many times—about growing up on the Southeast side of Grand Rapids, about the street fights and bar fights, about stealing watermelons off the backs of trucks, how my grandmother would ignore complaining neighbors and then later beat the appropriate, mischievous son who elicited the complaint. But I never tire of hearing the stories, and while he talked I glanced over at Barb and would see her often smiling.

When we arrived at the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, we had to check in with security. Each of us had to present our drivers license. I watched my dad fumble through his thick wallet and wondered what the hell he was carrying. When we found the person we had to talk to she took the paperwork and looked at me incredulously.

“You came all this way for this? Why didn’t you just mail it?”

“I wanted to make sure you got it,” I replied. “Besides, it’s a nice day for a road trip. My dad hates the winter and we wanted to get him out. We’re going to hit some dive bars.”

I saw Barb give me a hard glance and I realized that telling the folks at the liquor control that we were going bar hopping was not very bright.

The lady looked over at my dad who was sitting and paging through a magazine. “I’m sure you’ll have a good time."

Stay tuned for the second of three installments, coming soon!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Expansion Update, Volume 1

One week into expansion and we are pleased to report that all is going well. Currently we’re hard at work in the demolition phase, tearing out the old restaurant infrastructure and clearing the way for Siciliano's new-and-improved west wing.
Leading the charge on the demo front is building manager and resident handy-man Rodney Lawrence. Rod assures us that, as long as he and Steve (the boss) don’t kill each other in the process, demolition and construction should continue as planned.

The old kitchen


Making room


Rod at work

Business as usual

Saturday, February 5, 2011

West Side, Best Side, Odd Side Ales

Tim, aka Capt. Snowbeard
The following guest post first appeared on Great Lakes Guru, a Michigan-themed blog lovingly maintained by writer and Great Lakes enthusiast Tim Chilcote. Although Tim lives in Ann Arbor with his wife, bulldog, and Twitter account (@TimChilcote), he is both a Muskegon native and still frequent visitor to Michigan's more westerly climes. Here, Tim recounts his first visit to Odd Side Ales, Grand Haven's newest (and only) microbrewery. 
Quirky brews and a warm atmosphere make Odd Side Ales a perfect fit for West Michigan’s eccentric, hometown beer scene. Varieties include Candy Cane Red, Kentucky Jackalope, and Morning Wood -- fun for craft beer novices and interesting enough for geeks and experts. The odd brews are reminiscent of fellow West side envelope-pushers Right Brain and Short’s, and hold their own next to any Michigan beer. Perhaps as interesting as the beer, the brewing operation is housed in Grand Haven’s old Story & Clark piano factory, providing a unique industrial backdrop of large wood beams and pillars, and a sense of Grand Haven history.

Roll out the barrels

Owners Chris and Alyson Michner have been going strong for nearly a year. Chris, a former accountant, brews the beer, and his wife Alyson is manager and beer-slinger, that is, when she’s not busy at her other full-time job as an assistant dean at Hope College. The Odd Side couple has enjoyed success in their first year. The Michners now employ five people and, as Alyson says, “a brother and sister-in-law who work for beer.” Their business model seems relatively simple compared to their complex beers: no business loans, 80 hour work weeks, and over 50 different varieties of beer (though not all at once).

Chris, Alyson, Mugs

Local Grand Haven business Ceramic Cafe helps mug club members make their own unique mug artwork. Alyson proudly points out that mug club members can “bring a growler to drink while they paint.” An upright piano pays homage to the building’s original factory and is perfect for open-mic night or an impromptu tickling of the ivories. Fun lamps and artwork line the walls, along with a mounted jackalope that watches over the bar.

Mood lighting

Here are a few of the beers I sampled, all tasty: 

1. Blueberry Coffee (Nitro): Creamy and smooth with understated berry flavors.

2. Candy Cane Red: Odd, indeed. Starts like a normal beer but ends with a mint aftertaste. A good choice for a casual beer drinker on an adventure.

3. Fat Bottom IPA: Light on hops, heavy on citrus and sweet, almost fruity. My wife, who normally doesn’t like IPA’s, was a big fan.

4. Fudge Brownie Coffee Stout: Heavy stout, with a hint of fudge and a lot of coffee flavor. Good for fighting a cold wind blowing off Lake Michigan.

5. Kentucky Jackalope: Barrel-aged amber. Fantastic, one-of-a-kind flavor. My amateur palate can’t do this beer justice. I liked it, but I can’t pinpoint exactly why.

6. Morning Wood: Barrel-aged breakfast stout. Medium-bodied, tangy, and whiskey-y.

7. White Grape: Made with Paw Paw wine grapes. Easy -- too easy -- to drink.

8. Rabid Jackalope: An 8% imperial version of the Kentucky Jackalope, as evil as it sounds. I bought a growler, which I lost or gave away sometime on New Year’s Eve. Oops.

Left to right, top to bottom: Beers 1-6

Incidentally, I worked on the third floor of Odd Side’s Harbourfront Building during my post-undergrad days at, and surely would have squandered my rent had they been brewing downstairs. I also happen to own a Story & Clark upright, so I’m pretty well sold on the entire experience. And having spent a winter living in Grand Haven, I know just how slow things can get downtown -- I’ve definitely been one of two people sitting in the Kirby during a Saturday snowstorm. That Odd Side was full on a Wednesday night is a positive sign for these strange brews.
Jackalope, always watching

Post & pics courtesy Tim Chilcote.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Michigan's Little Bavaria

"Chug" Dorda
In his first offering to the new blog, Siciliano's staffer Doug Dorda records events from a weekend spent with friends and family in the historic town of Frankenmuth. They drank beer, they ate cheese, they bought a puppy. From what we understand, it was a pretty typical weekend for the Dorda clan.

In the deepest doldrums of winter it can often be difficult to look outside and find a reason for joy. So it was with an adventurous heart that I sought to break the mold of the mundane and dive head-first into the most abundant annoyance the winter has to offer: snow. Though the quaint destination of Frankenmuth, Michigan may seem best frequented in the brilliant summer months, it's worth seeing in winter, too, especially during the annual snow fest, which is hosted by local chicken aficionados, Zehnders. The festival is centered around the art of ice and snow sculpting, and never ceases to amaze. The entirety of the historic village is adorned with ice- and snow-art of a breathtaking caliber that is sure to delight both families and art buffs alike. The town is also peppered with Bavarian nostalgia and filled with shops of all kinds, none so intriguing as the legendary Cheese Hause, which will make even the most discerning foodie salivate with culinary possibility. To be steeped in a universe of such undeniable cultural influence is truly a unique experience.

I stayed the weekend in Frakenmuth with my parents and several close friends at the enchanting Bavarian Inn, famous for it’s multiple pools and entertainment options that accommodate any age group. Within minutes of unpacking it was time for the first round of drinks (designed to stave off the chill during our outdoor romp), and then we were off to the town square. Just a few moments walk from the hotel and we were already glimpsing a wonderful display of snow sculptures ranging from a broken light bulb to an incredibly detailed shipwreck scene. The “warming” drinks seemed to have had a bit more "warming" effect on my father, for it was no more than ten minutes into our walk that he fell in love with and then decided to purchase a puppy. Rather impulsive I admit, but really, who can resist a puppy. With my new brother Max in my arms we set off again – this time to the ice sculptures. Between the constant requests of nearly every tourist to pet the puppy, I was able to discern that the ice and snow work was stunning in craftsmanship and detail.
"Max" Dorda

Although the puppy was unbelievably cute, I decided to hand him to my father so that my friends and I could “warm up” once again. With swift feet we sought out the Frankenmuth Brewing Company (a legendary establishment, with a tumultuous history, worthy of its own blog). It was quite possibly one of the most beautiful restaurant/breweries I have ever seen. Given the chance to go back again, I could more accurately depict its stunning décor and warming ("warming") atmosphere, but my friends and I were single-minded and thirsty so the details will have to wait. Enter the munich dunkel, heffeweizen, and baltic porter, each a fine beverage indicative of its style. They paired perfectly with the local ambiance, and the magic of drinking German beer while in that particular town cannot be truly explained or overstated. However, it's important to remember that when enjoyed too quickly, carbonated beverages often result in hiccups (Here's a tip for you: eating snow so that it becomes water is not an effective way to rid oneself of hiccups. Trust me, we tried.).

Feeling quite warm and sated, it was off to the Cheese Hause to fulfill the wishes of the gourmet in our hearts. Once we were able to tear our eyes away from the 7- to 12-year-old cheddars, we split from one another to ogle in peace and seclusion. Settling on some aged moldy cheeses and a dozen or so meat sticks, we again set forth, intent on one last destination: The Lager Mill.

The Mill is a remnant of the historic site of the Brewing Company. It has since been transformed into a wonderful bottle shop, and will eventually house a beer museum sure to pique the interests of beer geek and domestic drinker alike. The store is designed by beer lovers for beer lovers, offering everything from Michigan-made micros to German-, Belgian-, and domestically-produced micros in an impressive array. Finally leaving the store after what seemed a lifetime of contemplative thought, we made it back to the hotel. The doors swung open and we were greeted by a host of family and friends with libations in hand. It felt as though our room itself was a German beer hall. Food was in abundance, beer flowed like water, and there was no shortage of conversation and laughter. Fireworks blazed in the sky as the night wore on and our “warmth” grew into full inebriation. My father and mother led us in a chorus of oooohs and ahhhs as the finale of the fireworks lit the sky. The night ended with spirited--if not correctly played--games of scattegories and charades. All in all it was one of the better weekend trips I have had in some time, and I guarantee my friends and family in attendance will agree.

The winter is often viewed as a season to stay shut indoors and forget the inconvenience that so often coats the ground. Most of you are people who find grand luxury in the simple sip of a beer; I propose extending the same mindset toward the winter season. Frankenmuth is a wonderful place to brave the cold, enjoy a meal, drink a beer, travel through time, or simply enjoy the company of your family and friends. Only a short distance from Grand Rapids, or merely hours from most parts of the state, it is a must see in any season. Did I mention they also host the world expo of beer in the summer? Something to think about….