Monday, October 3, 2011

White Mountain Foliage and Woodstock Inn and Brewery

As New England's summer paces slowly and gracefully to a New England winter, we all begrudgingly abandon the beaches, and suddenly start to check foliage reports, hoping to catch a peak weekend somewhere that deciduous trees paint forests and mountains with the splendor of fall. For us, we booked a last minute night at the Christmas Farm Inn, in Jackson, NH, and ventured up on Saturday hoping for good weather, and beautiful oranges and reds in the leaves.
Flume Gorge
While the oranges and reds were present, what was also showing its ugly frigging face was an unrelenting pitter-patter and thump thump of rain drops throughout our two days to spend up north in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As my bigger half says, "Don't let the weather dictate your good time." Whatever... I'm working on acting on his advice, and so, despite the world's snottiest weather, I really have to say it was beautiful. We spent a good amount of time roaming around in our car, looking at the former site of the Old Man in the Mountain, and then trekking through the old Flume Gorge, and spotted many a beautiful tree, shedding its green in a brilliant last act before the winter.
We even went over to what may very well be my favorite unique New England attraction. Have you ever been to Clark's Trading Post in Lincoln, New Hampshire? It's just plain wonderful. Among the various Americana museums, bumper boats, and "segway safari" (segway safari? really?), you're going to find two things that bring a smile even to the stiffest, angriest, joyless of human beings. I can't really say that one is more enjoyable than the other, though one is not to be missed, and the other is a "you're going to feel bad if you miss this." So let's start with the not to be missed.
Pumi at Clark's Trading Post
The bear show at Clark's is wonderful. It inspires laughter and awe in even the most desolate of souls. I know that most people that love animals would feel slightly suspicious of a place boasting a performing bear show. But I truly feel that the family at Clark's really care about their bears, just as you or I would love a puppy or a cat. The trainer, Murray Clark, begins the show with an extensive explanation of how his family came to train bears, and reassures the members of the audience of the life span of their bears, and how he himself grew up with a family favorite roaming his family's kitchen, and getting the general lovins' that I offer up to my own kitties day in and day out. After his brief overview of their habits, and how much his family loves them, the bears, today Echo and Pumi, take the spotlight one at a time. They get regular treats from their trainers in the form of ice cream cones, and after every treat, and before and after the show, they are showered with affection from members of the Clark family. If you've never peered into a spacious pen, and seen a trainer hugging, petting, and showering his/her friend with treats, only to receive equal amounts of affection in glances and kisses, you are well overdue to come to Clark's. During the show, Echo and Pumi dance, dunk basketballs, climb into barrels, and generally wow the crowd with little tricks. They even ask for applause. It's darling, honestly. I see the show about every five years, and from my younger years, I can remember the graceful Victoria, now retired and receiving plentiful affection from Maureen (and lots of Beechnuts!), taking in the audience and twirling so smoothly on her hind legs that she looked to be floating. She really was and is beautiful. 
The second "feel bad if you skip it" event is a little ride on the Mount Washington Railway for an encounter with Wolfman. Aside from being a beautiful little open air, antique train ride, you and your family will enjoy some close encounters with a scruffy, two-tone Chuck Tailor clad Wolfman, shooting off guns, lighting fire works, and generally scaring the crap out of little kids. He's hilarious, and interacts with the crowd a hell of a lot better than say the teenagers running the Jungle Cruise over at Disney World. This guy is hysterical. He shoots off a gun, while screaming and yelling at specific people on the train passing by, periodically boarding his diesel powered go cart, and chasing after the cars of the train. Near the end, you are encouraged to shout back at the Wolfman, screaming "Scram, you old goat!" If you've never heard a five year old little girl shout this at a raving mad man, I tell you, it's hilarious, whether you have children or not. Plus, this is just another covered option to enjoy the foliage. 
Alright, so all the little nice parts of the trip gone, I have to disclose, after about two days of rain, I was pretty pissed off. I seem to only take time off when the weather decides to do something like promise sunshine during the upcoming weekend, and then dole out a downpour or five. So what to do when pissed off and sopping wet? Obviously find a brew pub and drink a little suttin' suttin'. The brew pub known as Woodstock Inn and Brewery looked as if it had gotten some legitimate props on the interweb and we headed over during one of the more rainy periods. They have a huge menu, and admittedly, a lot of it is crappy food, but if you have to order a munchy, I say go with a BLT and fries, and maybe an onion blossom as a starter. Now for the beverages. 
Scottish Ale from Woodstock Inn
We thought all of the beers on tap at the brewery were solid, but not necessarily above average. It was a fun way to spend an afternoon, and the pub itself has several rooms, so it's worth exploring. The cask offering they had when we visited was the Scottish Ale, and as we are tremendous fans of anything on cask, we ordered a full pint of this. It was nutty, malty, dark, and with a faint touch of smoke, just a classic, smooth Scotch Ale. We'd also say it was well conditioned.  In order to taste the rest without washing out the rest of our evening, we grabbed a flight of five beers: White Mountain Weasel Wheat Ale, Pemi Pale Ale, Autumn Ale Brew, Pigs Ear Brown Ale, and the Old Man Oatmeal Stout. I'd say if you're going to do a flight and want to sample their most interesting brews, this would be your best bet. Substitue out anything they have for pale ales, if you're not a fan of the others. The White Mountain Weasel Wheat was good, but I'd say I'm getting past the season for wheat beers. The Pemi Pale was a huge favorite of the bigger half, as he tends to love hoppy beers, and the Old Man Stout was a really solid, smooth, nutty, earthy stout in my book. The Pigs Ear was good, but maybe a little one note. Definitely worth a taste though. I'd also say if I were in the mood to have beers for the rest of the night, as is often my custom, I'd probably sip my way though a whole lot of the Pigs Ear. But their shining star was the Autumn Ale Brew. I think this may have simply been the Pigs Ear, but with the addition of cinnamon and apple spices. It had an earthy, perhaps more cidery feel to it, without having a change in the consistency of the drinking that you expect in a nice autumn spiced beer. At the end of our time at the inn, we actually purchased a growler, which we are enjoying presently. 
Flight from Woodstock Inn
Now that I think of it, this is a pretty damn good itinerary, rain or shine, for leaf peepers throughout New England, or if you're traveling quite a distance to get a glance of fall at her shiniest. So remember: Christmas Farm Inn, Clark's, Flume Gorge, Old Man, and Woodstock Inn and Brewery. It's sure to be a good time. 

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