Every year since 1989, I have traveled down to Houston, TX, a lovely city that is widely unappreciated among the great cities of this country. Did you know that Houston is closer to Chicago, IL, than it is to El Paso, TX? Moreover, it is a remarkably beautiful city, quite green—not at all the oil-reeking desert I had always imagined it to be. All that, and Texas also has the largest wind turbine usage in the country!
Why would such madness continue for nineteen years? I don’t think it is about what I do there; it has only to do with my crazy hosts.
Supposedly, I go to the annual Dixie Cup homebrew competition each year to host the “Fred Tasting,” but my real job is to adorn their annual t-shirts with my likeness. However, the tasting Friday night actually takes up most of my time. It comes after the day’s beer, cider and mead judging, and after a great potluck dinner, provided by the Foam Rangers and their friends, is served. Every year, I am scheduled at 10:30 pm. That’s Dixie Cup time, of course; sometimes it actually comes off as early as midnight.
I will share with you friendly readers the real secret of my popularity and success down there: they are always drunk and often unable to navigate back to their rooms safely. I have a lot more fun than they do, because I’m usually slightly more sober than they. But one needs to ask: Why would such madness continue for nineteen years? I don’t think it is about what I do there; it has only to do with my crazy hosts.
We have done some really strange beer-and-whatever tastings: bread, chocolate and Mozart, ice cream, nuts, sausage, Tex-Mex, junk food, stout and chocolate. We also did “Best of Fred,” “Where in the World is Fred?” “The Dark Side of Fred,” “Fredopoly,” and, this year, “Fred’s Good Stuff” (see box).
The Good, The Bad, and the Fredly
The strangest may have been the beer and bread tasting we did in 1992. I won’t bore you with the details, but we had French bread, wheat-nut bread, bagels, saltine crackers, blueberry muffins—you get the picture. The nine item beer list was stunning (Anchor steam, Munich dark, Duvel, Chimay Red label, etc). We also did a breakfast cereal tasting once, using beer instead of milk. You don’t want to know the details: trust me.
The most fun? Probably the beer and junk food tasting from 2004. Potato chips; pepper nuts; a white cheddar cheese, pretzel and apple single-bite sandwich; pizza; Cool Whip globbed into beer; and Oreo cookies (dip them in warm—108F/42C—barleywine, and you’ll never go back to milk).
The weirdest of all my tastings, and maybe the best, was the beer and ice cream tasting in 1994. They sent me free Ben and Jerry’s coupons they had received from Fletcher Dean of that company’s community services department, who had attended my chocolate/beer tasting at the AHA confab in Manchester, VT, a few years earlier. If I’d had any doubts, the free ice cream coupons locked me in. Never mind that I hadn’t the vaguest idea as to how to formulate such a bizarre adventure.
As usual, I faked it, but my experiments couldn’t have been a pretty sight. I did them in my backyard, hidden from neighbors’ prying eyes and shaded from the hot August sun. Beer and ice cream are not conducive to quiet reverie: so many ice creams and so little time.
Here are the four combinations we used in Houston that year. More would have been too difficult to manage at our hotel.
1. Chocolate Fudge Brownie Frozen Yogurt (I had decided we had to have at least one frozen yogurt, if possible, since they were low in fat). This yogurt was fine with Houston brewed St. Arnold Ambrose Amber.
2. English Toffee Crunch Frozen Yogurt made with Heath candy bars proved to be the most delicious of all the ice creams/yogurts (in my view). I mated it with the no-longer-brewed-in-Texas Celis Gran Cru.
3. Next, New York Super Fudge Chunk Ice Cream, which had delicious bitter-sweet chocolate chunks, along with pecans, walnuts, chocolate covered almonds and pure white chocolate chunks; excellent with the Anchor Old Foghorn.
4. Finally, Aztec Harvest’s coffee flavored ice cream, which proved a natural for Belgian Chimay Grand Reserve Red label.
Is That All I Do There?
Somehow, I seem to have ended up doing a lot of other nonsense in Houston. For example, this year (see box) I started the tasting with my usual nonsensical silly stories aimed at getting them loosened up, starting with H.L. Mencken: “On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach into their hearts’ desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” H.L. Mencken, 1920. How could he have known?
And there’s also this little Fred research out of history: The Dixicup week (late October) recalls the 1781 surrender of British Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown. Not many people know just how we managed that. There were the French, of course; but more important was the beer, or rather the lack of it. The only beer our troops had was George Washington’s “small beer,” but that was true swill. I know, because I brewed it in 1976. It was undrinkable even after a considerable time in the bottle. Our guys simply informed the Brits that if they turned all of their beer over to us, then we’d let them go home. Wally knew better than to resist.
My friend Smedly (Thurston “Thirsty” Smedly X) tells about his ancestor, Private First Class Thurston Smedly, who saved George Washington’s rebellion not once, but twice.
It all began five years earlier, on Christmas Day, 1776, when George Washington crossed the icy Delaware River to surprise Col. Johann Rall’s British mercenary German Hessian garrison on High Street in Trenton. That battle gave Washington’s ragged troops a strong leg-up on winning American Independence.
The night before the night before Christmas had found his small cold-encrusted army camped out in flimsy tents at the river’s edge. They were on the verge of mutiny. Their enlistments (for the most part) would be up on New Years Eve. They had finished the last of their ration of George’s wretched small beer, but had been able to hear the festive Hessians across the river. Those besotted Germans had been carrying on for days now, drinking huge steins of good German bier and loudly singing their lusty tavern songs long into the night.
On Christmas Eve, Washington’s tired, ill-fed soldiers were really irritated that their leader was such a miserable brewer. That small beer was indeed small, hardly beer, with its wretched molasses base and miserable fake hops. One soldier, PFC Thurston Smedly, my friend of the same name’s great-great-great-great-great grandfather, had surmised the truth: their general had ran out of hops and was resorting to spruce tips as a substitute. And now, even this misbegotten swill was gone; and there were those freaking Hessians waving their steins about and singing off-key!
The snow-encrusted camp was quiet as General Washington wandered about, rousing his men quietly as he sought to prepare them for yet another retreat. Not too many were listening. They were mostly imagining how they’d soon be out of the army. When he got to PFC Smedly’s fire, Smedly saluted smartly “Permission to speak, Sir?”
“Feel free, Private,” said the good General.
“Well, Sir, our beer is gone, but those Germans across the river have plenty and they have drunk themselves to a state of total drunkeness,” said PFC Smedly. “If we attack at dawn, we can capture them and their beer!”
“Well done, Corporal Smedly,” said the good general, as he promoted our private. “You have saved our revolution!”
Corporal Smedly soon joined Washington’s staff, and it was he, by then Master Sergeant Smedly, who advised General Washington to attack Cornwallis’ Yorktown garrison for the great British cask-conditioned ale they had been hoarding there; thus bringing about the end of the British Raj in the Thirteen Colonies. Sergeant Smedly is an unsung hero of our Revolutionary War!
Well, now you know what kind of madness I do to earn their annual gift of a “Fred” T-shirt. You can see this year’s T-shirt at and you can also view the judging results, for which we here lack space.