Monday, July 2, 2007

A Visit to Granite City and Bob Post's BCCA Collection

"To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive." ~Robert Louis Stevenson

June 29: We woke up in the original Wall-Mart parking lot: the famous Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota. We hadn't found any promising truck stops east of Rapid City, but figured Wall Drug was touristy enough to provide a big parking lot, so we kept driving. Several RVers were there before us, with more arriving all night long. Lots of us free-campers were parked there in the morning.

We entered the tourist trap with trepidation, only to discover some really neat things there. Surpisingly, Jon and I agreed we would recommend stopping at Wall Drug if you are driving across South Dakota.

In addition to the usual kitshy Mt. Rushmore snow-globes (which they didn't sell at Mt. Rushmore), and Sturgis motorcycle t-shirts, there were treasures awaiting us.

The dining room is a western art museum, with hundreds of original paintings. I am related to famous western painter Frank McMarthy (He was married to my paternal aunt, thus no talent for me to inheirit.) We asked if Wall Drug had any of his paintings and lo and behold, they have four originals. Go to the main dining room and head for the center of the back wall. Find the
"Gone With The Wind"-looking painting, and there you will find four of Frank's early works, which I believe were book covers.

After donuts and coffee, we were off for the Badlands (photos above and left). The Badlands reminded me of the Painted Hills of eastern Oregon, but much more extensive, pointier, and with heavier erosion. We could only imagine the massive amount of rain that must have fallen in a very short time, that was required to erode these sandstone formations. At the same time we heard on the radio that Oklahoma and Texas got 19 inches of rain in two hours. Hmmm... musta been something like that, but for months on end.

Onward on Hwy 190 to Mitchell, SD, home of the famous Corn
Palace. We just did a "drive-by" so I could take pictures. We had been warned not to bother going inside. It's just a big sports arena. Photo at right is of the front entrance. Photo below left is a close up of one of the corn ear mosaics.

The plains are pretty flat, but I found an interesting hill along the highway to photograph (below right). We are in the middle of some seriously long driving days because we have to get to Jon's mom's house on July 1st. I was grateful that Jon could take over driving. I'd been driving alone for 3.5 weeks, and with him at the wheel now, I had a chance to work on some computer stuff.

Unfortunately we have run into a long stretch of no Internet connections, thus my blog has been running a tad behind. I've got to keep on top of it, otherwise I'll never catch up. Everybody I've met has advised me to write a book about this trip, so I have to stay caught up. After all, how many people do you know that have had the opportunity to take a five-month road trip right in the middle of their career?

Made it to Granite City Food & Brewery in Sioux Falls, South Dakota at about dinner time. Brewmaster Larry Chase (yellow shirt in photo above) started with the company in Sioux Falls, but now lives in Ames, Iowa, running Granite City's mothership brewery. The company has 18 locations currently, and all of them create beer with a method they've affectionately dubbed "Fermentus Interruptus."

Larry has been in touch with me since my first Brewers Forum post in February, inviting me to visit him and his wife Ginger in Ames, Iowa. Unfortunately my tight schedule and itinerary dictated Sioux Falls and not Ames for an overnight stop. Fortunately, Larry and Ginger have friends from their Sioux Falls days, and they drove up from Ames to make a weekend of it. (My Friday night timing was a happy coincidence.)

There are not many breweries in South Dakota. To find my overnight stops, I used and, and connected the dots. Not very many dots around here, but Firehouse in Rapid City and Granite City in Sioux Falls are exactly one day's drive apart.

Jon and I had a lovely dinner at Granite City with Larry, Ginger, and Granite City Brewery Manager Shane Skinner, and a whole pile of Larry and Ginger's friends. (Photo above L to R: Teri, Larry, Jon, Shane, Sara Post, Bob Post, Celia Hogan, Ginger Johnson and Mike Chapman.)

So, about the "Fermentus Interruptus" concept... Granite City started with two locations, each with a professionally trained brewer. By the time they were ready to open their third location, the owners had visions of tens, possibly hundreds of Granite City locations dancing in their heads. They quickly realized the potentially exponential expense for all those little brewhouses with their resident brewmasters, and they realized the Herculean task of keeping the beer consistant from location to location.

Thus the owners came up with the "Fermentus Interruptus" concept of brewing all the wort at one centralized location, and then shipping the unfermented wort to each of the branches, where a restaurant manager with extra training (the Fermentation Master?) added yeast, monitored the fermentation, filtered the beers, and put them on tap. (If I am getting this story wrong, somebody please email me and set me straight and I will change this blog post.)

The basic idea is that they treat their wort-shipping tankers as if they were fermenters, so the Ames, Iowa brewers keep busy cleaning and sanitizing the insides of the tanker trucks in addition to brewing wort. (No yeast is added until the wort is transferred to the satelite location's fermenters.)

Right now, Larry and his crew are in charge of wort production for the 18 locations, and he has his hands full. Larry anticipates a new mothership wort production facility in Ohio within the next year, and the owners have visions of 400 Granite City Food & Brewery locations eventually. You go Larry!

After dinner, Larry sent us home with his good friends, Bob and Sara Post. Bob is past president of the Brewery Collectibles Club of America. We really didn't know the ramifications of what that could mean until we were lured into his den of American beer advertising paraphernalia.

Bob lead us there gently, each room generating a higher "wow" factor. First was their living room, where it was only recently in their marriage of 40 years that Sara has let Bob bring anything beer related into their house. "No neon, plastic, moving parts, or anything tacky," Sara told him. After admiring some large 3-dimensional plaster brewery advertising paintings, we moved to the garage and admired the metal signs all over the walls.

Then Bob sent us down into the darkened basement, instructing me to go to the bottom of the steps, and Jon to follow a few steps behind me. He instructed Jon to reach left and turn on the light switch.

Holy moley! Bubbling pilsner glasses, fickering neons of brands long dead, over 250 mint condition beer trays delicately attached to the ceiling with paper clips, bottle openers, plaster statues, and 1222 beer cans that started the condition, I mean collection. Everything and anything used as beer advertising from the end of Prohibition to the 1960's was there, including special collections from each region of the country. (Ballantine, Jax, Hamms, Blatz, Storz and others.) Bob calls it "Post's Pastime." I'll say!

Jon asked Bob where he kept the broken parts, as no collection could be so pristine without a few pieces under reconstruction. Bob showed us his workroom, "The Operating Room," which was nearly as big as his museum. Somewhere in our amazed stupor, Bob handed us some craft beers to drink and we wandered wide-eyed, beer in hand, among the skinny aisles and overloaded shelves, trying not to knock anything off. We were careful not to put our glasses down, certain that we would never find them again.

Bob, Sara and Jon headed to bed, but I worked on photos and this blog until 4:00 am. I have to take the opportunity to blog whenever I can get an Internet connection. Sometimes it's not easy being diligent! (Photo below of Bob Post & Teri in Bob's amazing home museum.)

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