Thursday, August 30, 2007

Road Trip!

The GPS is set, the bags are packed, and the car is loaded; Mandy and I are set to take a roadtrip to her parents' house near Huntsville, AL. I'll hopefully be able to leave work a little early tomorrow and we'll take off immediately after I get home. After stopping for the night at a cheap hotel somewhere in VA, we'll arrive in AL sometime Saturday afternoon (it's about 1,100 miles and takes about 17 hours...we do it at least twice a year). I've created a google map showing 25 possible beer related stops along the way, though we'll be lucky if we hit more than 1! We're leaving at an odd time such that it'll be past dinner time when we pass the spots in PA and I probably won't feel like stopping for just a beer on our way through. We'll probably drive past all the spots in VA the next morning before lunch! We're definitely stopping at Captain Lawrence to fill the 3 growlers and hopefully score some Smoke From the Oak, though.

I'd post the google map if I knew how.

Once we arrive in AL, we'll probably need to rely on the 3 growlers of Captain Lawrence. Otherwise it's wine. Actually, I do have a couple of places lined up that we've never tried. House of Brews and The Nook both look like they're committed to bringing in better beer and I'm excited about checking them out. Olde Towne Brewery used to be Huntsville's sole microbrewery, but it unfortunately burned down recently.

Huntsville is a fairly progressive city, but it still must obey AL's draconian alcohol laws:

6% cap on ABV for beer only
16 oz is the largest size bottle or can you can buy, so no bombers
No beer on Sundays (same for CT, sadly)
Many dry counties
Brewpubs have been legal since 1992 (why were they illegal before then?!), but they must have a restaurant attached (fine) and they must be in a county that was home to a brewpub prior to Prohibition (WHAT?!?!?!). That limits the legality of brewpubs to just 5 counties in the entire state.

The grassroots organization Free The Hops is trying to change some of these outdated laws, but are running into ignorance and greed.

It'll be interesting to see what the Nook and House of Brews have in store...I'll be sure to give an update, hopefully with pics. Even if I could just get Terrapin's wonderful Rye Pale Ale, I'll be very happy.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Perkuno's Hammer Reincarnated!

As Lew Bryson reported on Friday, Perkuno's Hammer is back! The Hammer was originally brewed by Heavyweight Brewing Co. in NJ, which has since closed its doors. Unfortunately for me, they never distributed to CT, so it was always a brewery I kept my eye out for when travelling. Perkuno's Hammer, a Baltic Porter, was a favorite of mine, so it was great news to hear that Victory Brewing Company would be brewing the same recipe, but now the beer will be called "Baltic Thunder" in recognition of its style.

Of course, I have no idea whether CT will get any or not. I'll definitely be keeping my eye open for it.


Friday, August 24, 2007

Death of Thomas Hooker?

It was a sad day over a month ago when I logged onto the New England forum of Beer Advocate and found this post. Apparently Paul Davis would no longer be brewing for Thomas Hooker, my favorite non-brewpub CT beer. He made a fantastic doppelbock, second maybe only to the Andechs we got to drink while in Munich. His imperial porter, barleywine, Oktoberfest, and IPA were all fantastic also. Rumors swirled surrounding this news, but I don't really think it's appropriate to share them here. We were warned to snatch up what remained on the shelves because it wouldn't be there for long.

For the last two weeks I've hit Thomas Hookers' website only to get a "cannot find server" message. No official announcements. Huh.

It'll be interesting to see what surfaces in the next few months. In the meantime, I'm mourning the loss of one of CT's finest brewers. I wish him all the best and hope his future plans involving "New Hampshire and Lagers" work out.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Monday, August 20, 2007

Homebrew Pumpkin Ale

Well, I finally got around to dusting the cobwebs off my brewing gear and brewed on Saturday for the first time since February. It felt good! Made me remember why I like doing it.

To get the unpleasantness out of the way:

Yes, I'm an extract brewer. No, I don't have plans to go all least not until we buy a house with more storage space (i.e. a garage). No, I don't do full boils because, again, I need more space. Yes I brew a pumpkin beer without any real's the spices that add the flavor not the pumpkin. I homebrew because I enjoy doing it, but I'm not obsessive about it. If I wanted to be obsessive I'd take the Siebel class and become a pro.

On to the pleasantness! Last year I brewed a Pumpkin Ale as a surprise for my sister's birthday in October (she loves pumpkin ale). I geniusly called it "Carrie's Pumpkin Ale," and Mandy designed the labels. She loved it and asked me to make it for her again this year and I quickly realized I was running out of time if I wanted it done for her birthday.

Here's the recipe for this year (slight tweaks from last year):

.5 lb Crystal 40
.75 lb Munich Malt
4 lbs Light DME (last year: 4.5 lbs)
1.5 lbs Wheat DME
1 oz Cluster Hops (60 minute boil)
1 oz Willamette Hops (15 minute boil)
1 tsp Irish Moss (15 minute boil)
2 oz Pure Vanilla Extract (flameout)
1.5 Tablespoons McCormack Pumpkin Pie Spices (flameout)
WYeast 1056 American Ale (last year: White Labs 028 Burton Ale)

After crushing the grains, I steeped them in 1.25 Gallons at 150-170F for 30 minutes and sparged with .5 Gallon at 140-150. Topped up to 4 gallons. Brought to boil. Added DME Brought back to boil. Added Cluster. Boiled 45 minutes, added Willamette and Irish Moss. Boiled 15 minutes. Added vanilla and pp spices immediately prior to flameout. Cooled the wort in an ice bath until it was 70-75F. Strained into bucket. Topped up to 5 gallons. Stirred like heck (including my patented scoop move that really gets it frothy and, hopefully, nice and oxygenated). Pitched the yeast directly from the smack pack.

I do usually make a starter the Wed. before brewing, but I didn't have time this week. I decided I'd try straight pitching, since the package clearly says you're able to do this and my OG was only 1.05.

I had airlock activity at about the 8 hour mark and it's still going nice and steady. To maintain constant fermentation temps in the correct range (60-72), I stick the bucket in a big cooler filled with water and I drop frozen water bottles in to keep it around a constant 65. Ugly but effective.

Some Pics:

The Magic:

The rest of the ingredients:

The Hops:

Steeping the specialty grains (small pot):

After reaching boil and adding DME (big pot):

The middle of the boil:

Done and the kitchen is clean:

My hi-tech temperature control system:


Predicted (Actual)
OG: 1.054 (1.050)
FG: 1.011
Color: 10.86 SRM
Bitterness: 30.7 IBU
ABV: 5.7%

Hopefully my sis won't be disappointed.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Beer Fridge

I'm bored, so I took these pics of my beer fridge. Almost done with the cleanout...maybe by the end of the weekend if I get some help. It looks a little sad.

Eli Cannon's

My favorite drinking establishment in the state of CT, with the possible exception of Willimantic Brewery (I would need to visit Willimantic more regularly to form an appropriate opinion).

Eli's is located on Main St in Middletown, right off route 9 where there's a stoplight in the middle of a highway. If you're very lucky, you can park at a metered spot in front of Eli's. If you're lucky, you can find a spot in the parking lot that abuts the restaurant building. Otherwise, you can park in one of the metered spots across the street from Eli's, where there always seems to be room.

The beer list at Eli's is what originally attracted me to it, but the food and atmosphere are what keep us coming back. Words fail to adequately describe the interior. As you walk in the front door, you enter the bar area. To your immediate right is a comfortable nook with a few plush chairs with a table. Next to that are two barber chairs. This is the eclectic essence of Eli's. The bar runs straight in front of the entrance and tends to get very busy just about every night. Sometimes it's hard to meander your way through the bar area to reach the hostess who will take your name for the restaurant area, which is to the right of the front door. The restaurant area is cozy with a mish-mash of various types of seating. Some round wooden tables, some booths, some square wooden tables, a couch with a table pushed up to it, etc. As crowded as it can get, when we sit down I always have that feeling of comfort and relaxation. The clientele is a mix of college kids from nearby Wesleyan, young professionals, young hipsters, old hippies, punks, yuppies, families, you name it. Very little pretension. There are a few TVs in the restaurant area, usually playing a Red Sox game or something similar. The decoration continues in the very eclectic style, from an old-style bicycle hanging on the wall to "restaurant-sanctioned" graffiti.

The restaurant area, at least for us, as much as we like it, is only for the cold months. Even more enjoyable is the wonderful beer garden in the back. A walk through to the back leads to a door that opens onto an outdoor seating area bordered by high fences that completely block the outside world. The front half has eight or ten tables that seat eight and the second half is for people who are either waiting for a table to open or just want to drink. If the tables are full, there's a hostess between the two areas who can take your name. The beer garden is full of kitschy beer related decorations and has a lot of vegetation that really make you feel you're in a garden. Sitting back here, you avoid the hustle and bustle of the bar area and you would never know you're sitting in the middle of downtown Middletown.

As I've already mentioned, Eli's has a wonderful beer list. Their website says they have 36 taps. They use an assortment of chalkboards located all around the restaurant to display the list of beers currently being served and they are usually pretty good about updating them...I rarely ask for a beer they are out of. They keep their lines in great shape and even list the date the keg was tapped on each of the chalkboards. I've never had an off-tasting beer. They usually have 5-6 higher strength beers that they charge extra for and serve in smaller glasses. These are generally listed above the regular offerings. Last night they had Avery Maharaja, Aventinus, DFH 90 Minute, and two others that escape me. For the regular offerings, they have a smattering of safe stuff like Guinness, Boddington's, Stella, and Magic Hat #9. For the beer geek they have a great selection, which last night included, among others: Southampton Bavarian Wheat, Berkshire Brewing Company Hefeweizen, Avery Hazed and Confused, Lagunitas IPA, Avery White Rascal, and Rogue American Amber. No BMC products and the only light beer they have is Sam Adams Light, from the bottle. Their bottle selection also seems very good with many belgians, but I'm not really familiar with it because I always find something interesting on the tap list. If there's nothing new and interesting, I always find an old favorite.

Eli's food is fantastic pub-style food. Everything they make tastes very good and their offerings range from wraps to quesadillas to burgers to shepherd's pie. They have fried pickles, a delicacy I discovered on our trips to AL, which you can't find anywhere around here. If you get a sandwich, make sure to order the sweet potatoe fries. If you like nachos, and who doesn't like nachos, they make the best we've had. They also make very nice wings that they serve with homemade blue cheese dressing.

If you live in the CT area or visit CT, you must try Eli's.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Spring Cleaning Continues

I'm getting closer every night to having an empty beer fridge, not counting all my big beers of course. Last night it was Lagunitas Sirius Ale, a "double" cream ale of sorts, weighing in at 7.6% ABV. I really have no idea how old this was. The Lagunitas website says it is released in May of every year and I'm pretty sure I bought this back in the fall, so I'm thinking it's at least a year old. Wow.

I wasn't looking forward to this. In fact, I was almost dreading it to the point where I almost just poured it down the drain instead of transferring it from the warm case to the cold fridge. I had two left from the six pack and my first experience with them wasn't very good. I didn't take notes, but I remember it being harsh and hot from the increased alcohol. Cream ales are supposed to be smooth and easy to drink; this particular cream ale failed in that capacity. I remember having trouble finishing both bottles that I personally drank and even my BIL, who will drink anything, didn't seem to like it when I pawned them off on him.

I didn't want to abuse the beer more than I already had by leaving it in a warm case for a year though, so I tried to gain a little good karma and cracked one open. I was pleasantly surprised. The alcohol had cooled off admirably. It was much smoother with the slightest bit of hoppy bitterness. It was much more drinkable and I actually enjoyed it. So much so that I look forward to drinking the second one.

This was definitely one of the better surprises this undertaking has produced. An aged cream ale, who would've thunk it?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Wood-n-Tap

Mandy and I met my Mom, sister, and brother for dinner at the Wood-n-Tap in Farmington last night. Before you get too far into this review, this place isn't exactly a beer destination, so continue at your own risk.

The Wood-n-Tap has two locations: Hartford, the original, and Farmington (and after looking at their website it looks like they opened one in Rocky Hill and's really becoming a chain now, I guess). Both places are very similar, though I'd say the Hartford location has a more traditional English-pub feel too it...darker and more ambient. The atmosphere in Farmington is very comfortable with a lot of dark wood and tasteful decorations. It has a bar area to your right as you walk in with plenty of large TVs and tables to sit at. We generally stick to the restaurant area in front of you as you walk in. There is also a very nice outdoor seating area looking out onto a little lake/pond.

The food is very good. They have a special summer menu full of seafood and fish, the steamers are tasty and fresh. Their regular menu is full of your standard American pub food, but it's done very well...especially the burgers. The sweet-potato fries are extremely good, probably the best I've had. Service is generally very good. Last night our server was exceedingly pleasant, but made a few mistakes. I guess if you're going to make mistakes, at least be pleasant.

Now to the disappointing part of an establishment called the "Wood-n-Tap," the beer. I guess it has an above-average selection, especially for this part of the state. Unfortunately, there's nothing to really excite a beer-geek. I'm glad they have at least one local (Olde Burnside's Ten Penny Ale), although they could obviously do more. I had a Ten Penny, which seemed in OK shape. Mandy ordered a Harpoon IPA, which tasted a little off. There seemed to be a sharp sulfur quality to it. We asked to replace it with a Ten Penny, which the server had no problem doing, but we came back with another full pint of Harpoon. WTF? He left before we noticed and Mandy just decided to drink it because it wasn't nasty, just a little off.

Overall, the Wood-n-Tap is a step up from the chain restaurants that pervade this area. The food is definitely a huge step up. Unfortunately, they don't live up to their vast potential in the beer area and as such, we'll probably only eat there when meeting my parents.

Friday, August 10, 2007

More Captain Lawrence

We had some people over last night for fajitas, beer, and soccer (LA Galaxy v DC United, Beckham's MLS debut), which gave me the opportunity to crack the two remaining growlers from Captain Lawrence. Specifically, I'm talking about the Smoked Porter and the Captain's Reserve Double IPA. Absolutely fantastic.

The porter was just as smooth as I remember it. Full of chocolate notes and dark maltiness, finishing with a beautifully subtle smokiness. My brother, who just turned 21 and doesn't have a lot of experience with craft beer, said it was OK until the aftertaste. I asked him if it was smoky and his face lit up and he agreed that's what he was tasting. Mandy and I each had a pint, so it's probably about half full. Of course we'll have to finish it tonight, which definitely won't be a problem.

The IPA is, without a doubt, one of the finest DIPAs I've ever had...right up there with the sublime Maharaja from Avery Brewing. My simpleton's grasp on the English language can't do it justice, but Mandy sums it up pretty well when she called it glorious. I'm actually not generally a huge fan of DIPAs, which is strange since a nice American IPA is my favorite go-to style. A lot of DIPAs are overly sweet and too hot...trainwrecks. Every once in a while I'll stumble on one that is sublime, where the extreme bitterness can actually stand up to the sweetness and the extra alcohol. Maharaja certainly does this. Stone's Ruination does this. And now, Captain's Reserve does this. I can't wait to refill this growler on our way to AL in a few weeks.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Binge Drinkers Prefer Beer

This story has been getting a lot of play recently on various beer sites. I originally wasn't going to comment on it, but I've been thinking a lot about it and I realize that I do have something to say.

First of all...duh. America prefers beer to other alcohol choices in general, so doesn't it make sense that we also prefer beer when we want to tie one on? I didn't need a study to tell me that. As for kids preferring the hard stuff, again...not rocket science. Steal some from your parents, water down the supply so no one knows...SOP.

Second, I was originally wondering why everyone was getting so upset about the CDC's definition of binge drinker as having had 5 or more drinks on one occasion in the past 30 days. Then I made the rather obvious realization that the term binge drinker has severely negative connotations and it seems like a cheap shot on their part to judge a large portion of society based on a completely arbitrary designation. Five or more drinks on one occasion in the past 30 days? I'm not sure I know anyone who isn't a binge drinker according to that narrow definition. The definition is arbitrary for at least two reasons. The first is obvious, how did they pick 5? Why not 6? How did they pick 30 days? Why not 14 or 45 or 60? The second reason the definition is completely arbitrary is that there is no context involved whatsoever. A 6'4" 240 pound man could drink 5 Bud Lights and barely feel it, whereas a 5'2" 110 pound woman could be wasted after 5 Bud Lights. Comparatively speaking, the woman did much more harm to her body than the man, but they both satisfy this rigid definition.

In this day and age, everyone is familiar with the concept of blood alcohol content (BAC) as this is the measure of whether you're legally competent to operate a motor vehicle. Everyone knows (or should know) what their limit is based on their weight. Doesn't it make sense then, to create a "binge-drinking BAC level?" For instance, according to this calculator, I could go to a barbecue at 4pm, drink 5 beers over the next 6 hours, leave at 10pm, and have a BAC of less than 4%. Not only would I be safely under the legal limit, according to this site, I would still be under the point where my driving would be impaired. Does going to a barbecue from 4-10 and having 5 beers really sound like deviant and irresponsible behavior? Of course not. Yet, according to the CDC, you're a dirty binge drinker, a common drunk.

Of course, the CDC would never be able to switch to a more reasonable assessment of binge drinking based on BAC levels, say .14 or .15, because then they'd never be able to get government funding to perform these ridiculous "studies." It's easy to call up a "random" person and ask them if they've had 5 drinks on one occasion in the past 30 days, not so easy to ask for the highest BAC they've reached in the past 30 days. The joke though, is with the results they get from asking people if they've had 5 drinks on one occasion in the past 30 days. How many people answered no thinking "well, I don't usually have 5 drinks on one occasion so I'll say no" plus all the people who forget about the occasions when they hit 5. As an experiment, I asked Mandy who said she probably hasn't had 5 on one occasion:

"What about had at least 2 before Adam came over, a couple with Adam, then at least one more after dinner."

"Oh yeah."

So, between Sunday and Wednesday, she had forgotten that she'd had 5 beers spread out over 6-7 hours. I'd be willing to bet that the 15% number is actually much larger.

This whole study is just so frustrating because it essentially means there are no moderate drinkers because if you are a "drinker," chances are you fit the binge drinker definition. I consider myself a moderate drinker in that I have 1-2 beers per night, sometimes I don't have any, and sometimes I have a little more. It averages to about 2 per day every month. However, according to the CDC, I'm a social deviant.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Spring Cleaning

Well, it's not actually spring, but I am in the midst of a massive effort to clean out my beer supply. I have a bad habit of buying new beer before I finish old beer (this is apart from any conscious "cellaring" efforts). When I go to my beer fridge to pick something out, the new stuff always looks tastier than the old stuff. After 6-8 months, all of a sudden I'm running out of room with old random beer completely taking over. I realized I had a full case of various and sundry beer products sitting just outside my beer fridge, quite a few offerings in the fridge, and about 1/2 a case of my last two homebrews (the last time I brewed was 6 months ago, which shows how old these are getting). It's now my goal to eliminate all the "regular" beer before buying more new stuff. I'll willingly break this goal when we have company. I'm defining "regular" beer as something I'd drink on a regular basis, so I can keep barleywines, belgians, imperial stouts, they won't deteriorate and, quite frankly, it's too monumental to drink all of those...especially in this heat. I expect to have a few drain pours in the mix as some of the beers that were sitting in the case out of the fridge have been sitting there for a long time and some of them are beers that I wouldn't really want to drink on a good day (Corona and Becks jump to mind). I'm slowly getting there, but I'm hoping to get some help on Thursday when we're having some people over for a cookout. Last night was some Magic Hat Hi.P.A, age unknown. It was very tasty but had clearly lost some of its hop bite and flavor. Previously, it was my last homebrew (an IPA), which was still pretty tasty, but again, some of its bite and flavor had noticeably diminished.

It's a dirty job, this, but somebody's gotta do it.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Captain Lawrence Brewing Co.

On Saturday, Mandy, my sister Carrie, and I had to drive to JFK to pick up my brother who had been studying in Switzerland for the summer (hence the trip to Europe mentioned in my intro post). This finally afforded me an opportunity to check out a small brewery that I've heard many good things about but have never been able to try. You've probably never even heard of Captain Lawrence unless you live in southern NY, as that's just about the only place to currently find their beers. They are only open for tastings on Friday from 4-7 and Saturday from 12-6. Since it's 1.5 hours from our house, it's a bit too far to go just for some samples. However, the up side to fighting the NY traffic on the way to the airport is that Captain Lawrence was just a quick detour for us.

A few quick turns off the Saw Mill Parkway and we arrived at the tiny brewery located in a very small industrial park in an aptly named town called Pleasantville. Yes, Pleasantville. There was a small parking lot with a few cars there when we arrived around 4.

As we walked in, we entered a fairly small tasting room with a nice bar on one side and some round tables with stools on the other. The actual brewery was located straight past the tasting room. There was an open window to check out the brewery operations, or you could just walk through the open door. A very festive atmosphere permeated the place and it was more crowded than any other brewery I've been to of this size that didn't serve food. I was told later that this was actually a slow day!

As we stepped up to the bar we were greeted by a nice gentleman who took the time to explain a little about the brewery and their tasting setup. They have 4 beers on tap that they make available for sampling (3 oz samples). They have a specific order they take you through to avoid wrecking your palate on the Double IPA, or you can just specify what you'd like to taste.

First up was the Liquid Gold, a Belgian-style Pale Ale at around 6% ABV. It was a very light looking beer in appearance, but packed a punch in the taste department. Sturdy malt backbone with some straw-like influences and a citrusy finish. A very nice beer that told us we were in for a treat for the rest of the samples. Second was the Pale Ale. This, to me, was their weakest beer. Seemed like a fairly typical Pale, held up by a nice malty backbone with a bit of a hop bite. It might not be my favorite Pale Ale, but that definitely doesn't make it a bad was very tasty. Third was the fantastic Smoked Porter, which was extremely smooth with some chocolate notes in the front finishing with just a hint of smokiness. People who crave smoked beers will probably wish it had more smoke, but it makes it more accessible to people who would like to keep the smoke in their meats. Personally, I love a ton of smoke, but I can also appreciate beers that are more subtle than Schlenkerla. Finally, there was Captain's Reserve, a Double IPA clocking in around 8%. Absolutely fantastic hop aroma bursting out of the glass. The taste is bitter with a fantastic citrusy component from the hops, all supported by a malty sweetness lying in the back. Really, really great...and dangerously drinkable.

In addition to their 4 draft offerings, they seem to brew one special beer in limited quantities for bottling in 750s every month or two. They had their St. Vincent's Dubbel, which I did not purchase. They will soon be releasing Smoke From the Oak, where they age the smoked porter on Oak. They are making 80 cases.

This place makes some great beer and their tasting setup is very unique. I can imagine I'd be here very often if we lived in the area. Unfortunately, 1.5 hours is a long drive to make if this is my only destination. I was told that they should be distributing to southern CT (Fairfield and maybe New Haven Counties) in September/October and maybe the rest of CT by next Spring. The prices are a little steep, but worth it for the quality you are getting (not to mention the free samples). We bought a growler each of the Liquid Gold, Smoked Porter, and Captain's Reserve.

We'll be passing through the Friday before Labor Day driving to AL to visit Mandy's parents. We'll definitely refill the 3 growlers, grab a sample or two, and keep our fingers crossed that there are still some bottles of Smoke From the Oak available after 2 weeks!


I guess all blogs require an introduction...

My wife Mandy and I have been exploring the world of craft beer for the past 4-5 years and have shared quite a few adventures in search of local goodies during our vacations. I used to try to review the beers I drank and the places we visited on Beeradvocate, but it never "took." Writing the beer reviews became a chore and I realized I wasn't having as much fun actually drinking the beer. Since then, my focus became the beer and the experience of drinking it and enjoying the company I was in. Still, I felt like I was missing a small piece of the puzzle by not writing about the glorious places we've discovered. I was more interested in writing about the experiences though, as opposed to the technical guidelines laid out by both Beeradvocate and Ratebeer.

As I was explaining to my wife that I've taken to reading many various beer blogs for my beer information, she suggested I start one myself. I was initially opposed as I'm not really sure I have much of worth to say and I'm wondering if another random blog is what the world needs. I obviously changed my mind and I'm hoping this can become that missing puzzle piece. At the very least, it will provide a place for me to catalog all our various brewery and brewpub visits.

We live in CT, so most of our travel will center around the New England area. However, we visit (via car) Mandy's parents in Huntsville, AL at least twice a year. These long car trips usually afford us a few beer related stops along the way.

If you're reading this, I hope you enjoy.

Oh, the name of the blog vom Fass literally means "from the barrel" in German and is used to distinguish draft beer from bottled beer in Germany. I just got back a few weeks ago from a trip to Europe (Paris, Switzerland, Munich) and fell in love with Munich. I can't wait to get back and explore more of this wonderful country.