Gigs, apples, local brews, and an alchemist of wonder

Yesterday, as happens with Sugar Still, we started off with one thing in mind, and a whole other completely wonderful thing was added on top that we didn't expect.

We started off this fine Saturday with a last minute gig booked at Rock House in Glenview for the 11am-1pm slot. The sound was so good and we were in such a good mood we wound up playing until almost 2pm instead. It was the first cold dreary day in awhile, and the Rock House coffee was warm, the vibe was fun, and we felt like rocking. As we were sitting at a table afterwards we met with a man and his daughter who had stopped in to get help with her guitar from the Rock House teaching staff, so I showed her how to use the fancy built-in electronic tuner on her guitar. It was a super fun red acoustic cutaway, you could see it in her eyes she loved it. Anyway, we were chatting about warm comforts in face of the October chill and Sarah said she'd love to make apple pie. One Google Maps search and we were driving towards Heinz Orchard north of Libertyville for some u-pick apples. The unexpected adventure had begun.

We stopped for gas at a family run gas station that had Lone Justice playing over the loud speakers as I walked in to buy a car wash for the Helen Mirren Express, and the car wash was actually fairly memorable, two of the family members scrubbed down the car with a pre-wash before the machine washing, and toweled the car off after the drying. A surprise bit off hands on service I certainly didn't expect. Let's be honest, they had me at Maria McKee's searing vocal on "Ways To Be Wicked" alone.

When we got to the orchard, it was closed with a sign that said "Not Enough Apples to Open" hanging across the driveway. "Now what should we do," Sarah asked out loud. "Maybe drive around looking for small town venues like we did in Waukesha?" I hemmed and hawed a little bit, but then did another Google Maps search for "breweries" and 5 listings came up within about 10 miles. "Sure." I said. "I'm in."

For the next 6 hours or so we had the best time driving from brewery to brewery, sampling local brews, chatting with bartenders, meeting other musicians loading in to play gigs, and playing little mini sets for the owners and appreciative customers throughout the far north shore. The high light of the adventure was definitely Copper Fiddle Distillery in Lake Zurich where we met the owner Fred and his absolutely AMAZING bartender Travis. Travis is a bartender like I have never experienced, and I don't honestly know that I'll be able to describe him to you in a way that will truly explain his genius and powers. All I can say is go. Go to Copper Fiddle. Meet him. Let him make you a drink. I'm serious, I know it sounds like nothing, but this man has a special gift. Let me give you an example... share one of the things he did right before our eyes while we were sitting at his bar chatting with him.

So, the room is simple, a few tables, a short bar, a couple windows and a wall between this tasting room and the distillery production area itself. About a dozen regulars are there already and one guy who is sitting at the other end of the bar from us asks Travis for "some sort of warm drink, you know, appropriate for the weather." He doesn't ask for a specific drink. He simply sets the parameters for Travis to work his magic. Travis proceeds to pull out a small frying pan and sets it on the bar in front of Sarah and me, pours some of their fine whiskey into the pan, adds a few other ingredients I didn't catch, and sets it on fire. He then takes a metal martini shaker, pours some other ingredients into it, and places the shaker into the middle of the flames. As Sarah and I grin and look back and forth at each other with delight, Travis proceeds to add pinches of spices to the flames, which flash briefly as they're added. It's at this moment that Fred walks over and casually mentions that the last place Travis worked burned to the ground. "It was stated quite clearly in the insurance report that I was not at the bar that day." Travis said with a grin.

Travis carefully measures in a few other liquids into the shaker, then takes the shaker out of the flames and proceeds to pour the entire contents of the still flaming pan into the shaker as well. The shaker is now so hot he realizes he'll have to pour the contents into another shaker in order to pour it gracefully into the glass coffee mug to serve. He fills the mug and then pours tiny amounts of the leftovers into three little plastic shot cups they use for sampler tastings of their gin and whiskey He takes a taste for himself, and gets this warm grin of appreciation on his face, looks over to the guy who ordered the drink, and says "oh man, good call." Then he let's out this little jovial chortle. He places the other two leftover samplers in front of Sarah and me and I have to tell you right now, it was like warm autumn heaven in a cup. Indescribably delicious. Not too sweet like most sweet drinks, none of that syrupy aftertaste, but also not over run by alcohol taste either like you'll get with a typical hot toddy or apple cider drink mixed by your neighbor. This was pure alchemists craft. Travis is a freaking genius of the bar. I wish we'd taken pictures. Go. Just go. Copper Fiddle Distillery. Honestly. Just go there.

We also stopped in at Light The Lamp Brewing Company and played a set there in Grayslake, Tighthead Brewery in Libertyville, and a handful of other brewpubs as well. We finished the night by stopping by Rock House in Wilmette to see Jaylen. Such a fun day. No apples, but no worries. Sarah kept calling it "Sugar Still's Guide To Booking Gigs". Hahaha. Awesome. #moresugar forever.

Sarah of now (Monday morning) I still haven't had my apple pie, so here's a close second:

Oatmeal with spiced apples and tempeh:

1/2 Oatmeal
1/2 Granny Smith apple, diced
1/4 cup of tempeh, diced
ginger powder
ground cinnamon
ground cardamom
brown sugar to taste

Cook oatmeal to desired consistency, set aside. heat up two tablespoons of olive oil and fry tempeh until crispy. Add apple pieces and spices to taste. When apple is soft, add brown sugar to your desired sweetness (#MORESUGAR) and let carmelize for about 30 seconds. Pour this heavenly mixture over oatmeal (or anything, preferably not your lover, as the brown sugar is hotter than hell.) And enjoy with black coffee and a beret on your head.

And now, an adorable picture of Charlie helping a young musician:

And a shot of our current set: