robin_d_laws (robin_d_laws) wrote,
robin_d_laws
robin_d_laws

Whoever Smelt It

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During my stay in Madison, the Muskrat Overlord himself, John Kovalic, stepped up to lavishly supplement the already embracing hosting performed by the Oddcon team.

I politicked him out early on, during our Friday walking tour of beautiful downtown Madison, extracting from him his take on the ongoing Wisconsin ructions. John wanted to show me the interior of the capitol building, for which he maintains a loving architectural appreciation. However, when we found access confined to one entrance with a metal detector station, we declined to harsh our mellows with a round of free patdowns. Hilarity nonetheless ensued, as we read the long list of comically specific prohibitions posted on an easel ahead of the station. Restricted items included crock pots, vuvuzelas, and “animals/snakes.”

Saturday, with the justly earned glee of a man who has found the perfect attraction for out-of-town guests, John squired Will and Sarah Hindmarch, Kenneth Hite, and me to the ultimate Wisconsin experience—a fundraising smelt fry held by the North Bristol Gun Range. In a peculiar act of underselling, John billed this event to your Humble Canadian Narrator without mentioning the “gun range” part. (There are gun ranges in rural Ontario, but they aren’t central hubs of the community the way this one so clearly was.) Happy diners packed the joint and spilled out onto the surrounding grounds, buzzing in shared smeltic anticipation.

As we waited, John introduced us to his initiators into the smelt cult, including Brett Myers, co-designer of Nanuk, and Sean Weitner @sweaternine, whose last name I failed to retain, on account of a beverage shortly to be described. The assemblage talked comparative film festivals and watched kids play Frisbee with skeet targets. The sound of gunfire, off in the distance, was undoubtedly laid on for the edification of visiting Ontarians.

The smelt, battered, deep-fried and eaten in their entirety, more than lived up to their billing. The profundity of the fried chicken, and a potato side hovering ineluctably in a state between mash and hash brown, with a cheese and cereal topping, turned it up to the proverbial eleven. If this weren’t too much unalloyed pleasure for one son of the silverbirch to assimilate, our fearless muskrat leader thrust into my hand the requisite beverage of the Wisconsin smelt fry, a brandy-old fashioned (sweet.) This confluence of brandy (generously poured), cherry syrup and 7-Up, served with not one but two maraschinos, lulls the drinker into a sugar-sweet false security, only to whack him upside the back of the head with the alcohol stick. When a second of these love bombs appeared in my hand, I had no choice but to comply with its demands, all the while wondering if I was still going to be impaired when the time for my speech rolled around. (To jump ahead to the exciting conclusion: I did recover in time, but only just.)

After the speech (described in a previous installment), I rendezvoused with the gaming cadre at the Radisson bar. John visibly labored to screen out the political panel show that broke out between Ken and myself. A subsequent playtest of his new game design soon ameliorated his discomfort. I feel free to make only two observations. One, I smell mainstream hit. Two, I won.

The gustation continued on the Sunday after the con, when a team of eaters including Bill Bodden, Monica Valentinelli, Matt McElroy, and Jason Blair repaired to Muskrat Manor to descend on a repast rounded up from a mostly takeout BBQ joint called Smoky Jon’s.

Throughout the weekend, a building excitement had murmured through my assembled colleagues upon news of a shocking new Robin development: I recently became a beer liker. So recently that I haven’t even yet assimilated the differences between your pilsners and your ales and your Peruvian skipping lagers. The words “tasting flight” had been quickly mooted, and now the parade of Wisconsin’s finest craft beers materialized. The uniformly fine results confirmed, as if there were any doubt, the trustworthiness and general good character of Mr. Kovalic. Topping off the procession, like Santa at the end of a Christmas parade, was a serving of GuldenDraak, a simply astounding dessert beer. Had I been exposed to this supernal nectar earlier in life, my beer epiphany might not have been so long in coming.

I mean, great company makes everything taste better. Maybe it was all an illusion, and it was only the rare chance to congregate with so many far-flung homies that made the smelt, old-fashioneds, pulled pork and draconic ale taste like a 9th level Wish spell.

But somehow I don’t think so.

Tags: drink, food, on the road, politics hut
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