Beer, banjo music and trees

My favorite bar has moss growing on it.

It is a tree stump, about waist high and about a mile back in the woods.

That tree must have been cut down a while ago, because the top of the stump is black and weatherworn and a little bit punky. Some of the bark has fallen off its sides and, like I said, it has moss growing on it.

I’ll hike up to that stump from time to time with my dog, Coleman. I bring a bottle of good beer, a bottle opener, and a pint Mason jar in my backpack. I set the Mason jar on top of the stump, set the beer next to it, then pry off the cap and pour the glass full. Quite a ritual.

I don’t have anything against regular taverns. But I guess I like drinking my beer in the open air better. And the woods doesn’t necessarily lack all the aspects of a night on the town. Earlier this summer I was walking up in the hills, about a mile from the nearest pavement, when I ran into a street musician. No kidding. He was playing the banjo in a clearing not far from the tree-stump tavern I described in the opening paragraphs.

I saw the sun glinting off the tailpiece of his banjo a ways off through the trees, before I heard any of the notes he was plucking on the strings. I put a dollar in his open banjo case, figuring it’s not too often you run into anyone busking way back in the woods like that.

I sat by a pond and enjoyed an India pale ale from California that day, but I normally try to stick with Michigan beer. Short’s Huma Lupa Licious, brewed down in Elk Rapids, has been a favorite of mine here lately. Its heavy, dank hops flavor resonates with the deep green leaves of the mid-summer trees.

It is a well-established stereotype about mountain bikers that we are all enthusiastic about craft-brewed beer. I am happy to live up to that stereotype, all the more so now that increasing numbers of craft breweries are putting their beer in cans. A beer can fits perfectly into the water bottle cage of my mountain bike’s, and that makes it easier to have a beer in remote locations.

The Keweenaw’s own Keweenaw Brewing Company was ahead of the curve, can-wise. I was happy when they started canning November Gale Pale Ale, a beer with enough hops to cut through trail dust. Bell’s summer classic, Oberon, is now available in 16-ounce cans well suited for water-bottle cages.

Like the trees, Michigan beer changes with the seasons. Founders and Bell’s release their Imperial and Expedition stouts, respectively, in the wintertime. These beers are both best enjoyed while wearing snowshoes, making tracks somewhere out in the deep U.P. winter white.

Getting back to my stump bar in the woods … like I said, I don’t have anything against regular taverns. But when I’m drinking a beer, I guess I’d rather look at a sawed-off tree trunk full of turkey tail fungus than a rack full of Dee-lish-us potato chips.


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