Monthly Archives: November 2014

Bye to a Roody Poo candy ass

Farewell, old friend. You will be missed.

This goodbye isn’t meant for a person, or even a faithful canine companion.

It’s for a fantasy football league named after the premier pro wrestler at the time – Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

For the past 16 years, basically my entire post-collegiate life, the Roody Poo Fantasy Football League filled the fall with competitive fervor, smack talk, companionship and the occasional riches of a high-payout.

The Roody Poo wasn’t the typical fantasy league. In its early (and in this writer’s mind better) years, points were hard to come by. The league was a scoring league. Touchdowns, like real football, meant more than yards. Quarterbacks, the most important players in the game, were the most vital to Roody Poo success. Passing touchdowns counted the same as rushing, receiving or defensive touchdowns. Throw an interception that was returned for a score? Well, that was six points off the quarterback’s point total.

The league was quirky. Owners had to reach the championship to earn a share of the pot. The champion usually won around a grand.

And the trash talk. Oh my, did it fly fast and furious.

Like everything else, things change. Over time, owners wanted more points awarded for yards and the third-place team to earn a share of the pot. As commissioner, I permitted such changes, but the original intent of the league was bastardized. It still owned its quirks, but the Roody Poo slowly became like the majority of other fantasy football leagues.

Drafts, which always took place at my apartment, started occurring online. The trash talk dwindled to a murmur, then grew silent.

Yet, the league remained highly competitive as the payouts proved fruitful – a nice bonus after the holidays.

But then, about six weeks ago, a realization hit me.

Even if the Roody Poo was no longer what I wanted it to be, I still took fantasy football seriously. Too seriously.

On this fateful Sunday, my Roody Poo team – Hadji’s Skeleton Achers – rolled with Matthew Stafford at quarterback and kept Joe Flacco on the bench. Just about noon, I was ready to insert Flacco into my starting lineup. My daughter, Anna, called upstairs to me.

“Dad, it’s time to go to church.”

I thought to myself, “Stafford’s been in your lineup all week, don’t second-guess yourself. Keep him in there.”

Flacco threw five touchdowns – in the first half.

Stafford, as he had done for much of the 2014 season, sucked.

I simmered over the decision the rest of the day. Seriously. It dominated my thought process.

That’s when the realization came to me … it was time to give it up. The Roody Poo needed retired, and I’m contemplating leaving fantasy football entirely.

And I’m OK with that.

As today’s 1 p.m. kickoffs near halftime, my Roody Poo run is about 90 minutes from being over. No starters Monday, or in Sunday’s late games. No playoffs this year. No adding to my league record number of championship game appearances. Over. 16 years. Just like that. I’m a little sentimental today, thinking back to the early years of the league and how much fun we all had competing. Moments from those in-person drafts that still make me smile. It was a great run, but everything, even fantasy football leagues, has an ending.

Concert review: Ace Frehley invades Greensburg

Ace Frehley’s reputation as a rock and roll wildman is well-deserved. The former lead guitarist of KISS is as heralded for his exploits away from the stage as the RnR Hall of Fame-caliber licks he delivers on it.

But that reputation is in need of a makeover.

There's still something magical about an Ace Frehley guitar solo.

There’s still something magical about an Ace Frehley guitar solo.

It’s been years since Frehley lost his sobriety, and, as he and his backing band hit Greensburg’s Palce Theater Saturday night for the third gig on his Space Invader tour, which backs an album of the same name, it’s apparent Frehley takes his business seriously. Granted, he didn’t hit the stage until about 10 p.m., but it didn’t take long for the original Spaceman to captivate the crowd his high-decibel rock.

Frehley’s set list at the Palace Theater (11/15/14): Lost in Limbo, Gimme a Feelin’, Toys, Parasite, Snowblind, Love Gun, Breakout, Space Invader, King of the Night Time World, Strutter, Bass solo, Strange Ways, Rock Soldiers, New York Groove, Shock Me, Guitar solo, Rocket Ride, 2 Young 2 Die, Shot Full of Rock. Encore: Detroit Rock City, Cold Gin, Deuce.

One thing is certain at a Frehley concert – volume. Chances are your ears will still be ringing the next morning. But the blasts of volume aren’t disguising anything with Ace’s outfit, which includes drummer Scot Coogan, bassist Chris Wyse and guitarist Richie Scarlett. It’s an outstanding group, particularly the talented Coogan, who handled vocals on multiple KISS songs.

Ace Frehley's rock soldiers at the Palace Theater in Greensburg,

Ace Frehley’s rock soldiers at the Palace Theater in Greensburg,

And Frehley doesn’t shy away from his past. The setlist is loaded with KISS classics, some of which Frehley had a hand in writing. Love Gun, with Coogan’s searing Stanleyesque vocals, was a highlight. King of the Night Time World, an underplayed KISS classic, was a pleasant surprise. Strutter rocked hard. And the encore, a triple-shot of KISS classics, including Cold Gin, the first song Frehley wrote for the band, left the crowd satisfied.

Frehley ran through songs from his solo work and Frehley’s Comet. The epic Rock Soldiers stood tall.

And so did Frehley.

His playing his sharp. No doubt years of sobriety are treating him well. His confidence is evident, and his new material stands up well with the songs that keep people turning out to see the 63-year-old, who entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year along with the other original members of KISS. During the induction ceremony, Frehley drew the loudest cheers from the audience. His popularity has rarely waned whether he’s playing in KISS or not.

No doubt, Frehley has another tour or two left in him. Chances are his rock soldiers will demand it.

Two years of Russell Martin memories

For two decades, Pirates fans watched as scrap-heap guys like Warren Morris, Pat Meares, Bobby Hill, Jimmy Anderson, Pokey Reese, John Van Benschoten and Mr. Operation Shutdown (Derek Bell) were passed off as legitimate major leagues, while talents like Aramis Ramirez and Jose Bautista were either traded in salary dumps or given up on too early.

Few fans knew misery like Pirates fans from 1992 until 2013.

What happened in 2013?

Russell Martin arrived.

And everything changed just like that.

Pitcher A.J. Burnett came to Pittsburgh a year before Martin, and Burnett brought a toughness and attitude that not only proved valuable in the clubhouse, it captivated Yinzer Nation. But when Martin came after a stint with the New York Yankees, the Pirates went from a team that was missing something to a team that knew how to win.

Martin deserves as much credit for that as anyone else in the Pirates organization – Neal Huntingdon, Clint Hurdle, Andrew McCutchen, Burnett, etc. Martin’s a winner. Always has been, and his winning ways quickly became contagious.

Martin gave the Pirates something they lacked since Jason Kendell pre-gruesome injury – a backstop who can hit and, most importantly, keep baserunners honest. Martin started throwing out runners. The clutch hits kept coming.

Twenty years of losing, gone. A playoff team was born.

Then, in the Pirates wild card game against Cincinnati (scene to the best single-game home crowd in North American sports history), Martin provided a lasting moment.

That’s magic. Twenty years of misery. Poof. Gone. That’s what Russell Martin did.

There were other special moments, too.

Like this:

And, this one, made more special because it came against those arrogant Brewers, you know the team with the drug cheat Ryan Braun.

Martin did more for Pirates baseball in two years than Dave Littlefield did undoing Pirates baseball during his way-too-long tenure with the club. He provided magic moments, steady defense, leadership, chill-inducing clutch hits and class.

And Martin will be greatly missed.

He signed an insane 5-year, $82-million contract with Toronto Monday. That price tag is more than the Pirates can afford. Can’t blame Martin for heading home to Canada. Can;t blame the Pirates for not resigning him. That type of contract could cause more harm than good for an organization that still needs to spend money wisely.

But we’ll always have 2013 and 2014.

Thanks Russ.

The kings of pumpkin beer

What makes a great pumpkin beer?

Like anything subjective, it depends on personal taste.

For me, a great pumpkin beer packs a strong pumpkin flavor, a nice blend of spices (not too heavy on the cinnamon) and it smells like pumpkin. It can be a dessert beer, or one that can be downed in multiples.

The past two months, I tried every pumpkin beer I could find. (Check out these links to see the entire search: Part I: .. Part II: … Part III:

There were some bad ones. (

There were average ones.

And, finally, some were outstanding.

Without any further delay, here are my top five pumpkin beers.

5. The Great Pumpkin, Elysian Brewing Company

This beer lives up to it;s name. Well done, Elysian. Well done.

This beer lives up to it;s name. Well done, Elysian. Well done.

The aroma wafts of pumpkin pie fresh from the oven. It’s on the sweet side, so keep that in mind, but the pumpkin seeds, nutmeg and other ingredients make a wonderful blend.

4. Pumpkinhead, Shipyard Brewing Company

My original favorite pumpkin beer.

My original favorite pumpkin beer.

I’ll always have a soft spot for Pumpkinhead. The smell and taste are intense. It’s no longer my favorite, but every taste reminds me of what attracted my taste buds to pumpkin beer nearly a decade ago.

3. Smashed Pumpkin, Shipyard Brewing Company

Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin is one of the best presents I've ever received.

Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin is one of the best presents I’ve ever received.

Shipyard outdid Pumpkinhead with this pumpkin pie in a bottle. The smell … it kept taking me back to a crowded pumpkin patch brimming with pumpkins. Not overdone. Balanced. Delicious.

2. Pumking, Southern Tier

Pumking is aptly named.

Pumking is aptly named.

Clear yet creamy, Pumking is brimming with flavor. It’s got a kick, a little sweet, a little spicy. A whole lotta awesome.

1. Night Owl Pumpkin Ale, Elysian Brewing Company

Elysian Night Owl's flavor will have you howling, not hooting.

Elysian Night Owl’s flavor will have you howling, not hooting.

Loaded with pumpkin flavor. Loaded with space. Tart. Hoppy. Oh hell, I’ll shut up. Go enjoy this king of pumpkin ales.

Best of the rest

Pumpkinfest, Terrapin Beer Company; Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Weyerbacher; Block House Brewing Pumpkin Ale, Pittsburgh Brewing Company; Jack-O Shandy, Traveler.

Steer clear of these five pumpkin beers

Hipster? Hardly.

Beer snob? Not exactly.

Beer critic? Prefer leaving that to the pseudo intellectuals who feel better about themselves by using fancy adjectives to describe beer. Those people should switch to wine. That’s where they’ll find others to indulge the need to flex an extensive alcohol vocabulary.

Guess what I’m getting at is it doesn’t take cuffed skinny jeans, a PhD in barley and hops or expert taste buds to enjoy pumpkin beer.

This beer lover has enjoyed a pumpkin ale for some time, but became overwhelmed in recent years when fall beers were released and a rapidly increasing number of pumpkin selections hit distributors, taverns and six-pack shacks.

This search, which began in earnest in early September, held a simple objective – to find the best pumpkin beers available. No Google searches needed. No beer web sites researched. Basically, if a pumpkin beer was available at a bar or a six-pack shack, it was purchased. Suggestions were taken from friends and family, and one cousin went as far as sending a six pack of her two favorites my way. Photos were taken of each entrant and a brief description was provided of all 28 beers sampled.

For a quick recap, check them out here:

Part I:

Part II:

Part III:

Unfortunately, such a search is not without its bumps. In other words, to find the good, you have to taste the bad.

And there are some bad pumpkin beers out there, including the following five – in no particular order –  that ranked the worst during this search. (Blogger’s note: O’Fallon’s ranks as my least favorite pumpkin beer. Bought a case about 5 years ago. What a waste of money.)

It's Saranac. What else can you say?

It’s Saranac. What else can you say?

Saranac Pumpkin Ale, Matt Brewing Company

Watery, bland and lacking aroma. Saranac usually delivers an adequate brew. They missed one this one.



The Fear Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Flying Dog

Never had a good beer from this brewery. This gives O’Fallon’s a run for its money.

This beer had all the makings of a good one, but the taste was off. Maybe Nakama had a bad keg.

This beer had all the makings of a good one, but the taste was off. Maybe Nakama had a bad keg.

Spooky Tooth Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Fat Head’s 

Word is this beer is probably with the masses. Pop country is popular with the masses, too. That is one of the only things worse than this beer.

This beer was a bummer.

This beer was a bummer.

Pumpkin Ale, Wild Boar

There’s a new definition of bland in the dictionary – this beer.

Never tried a gluten free beer until sampling this. I prefer my gluten.

Never tried a gluten free beer until sampling this. I prefer my gluten.

Wolaver’s Pumpkin Ale 

No beer in this search tasted worse on first drink. It got better, but not enough.

Throwback Thursday: Anna tackles bluegrass

My daughter, Anna, isn’t particularly shy, especially around adults. One of the more grand displays of her outgoing nature happened late July 2012 at the annual Coleman Station Bluegrass Festival.

If you’re unfamiliar with the festival, that’s OK, just know it’s easily one of the better bluegrass events thrown in Western Pennsylvania. It happens every July in rural Somerset County, and it’s thrown and organized by my brother-in-laws father, Tim Custer, who is an extraordinary banjo player. The festival attracts nationally recognized bluegrass acts in addition to local musicians. It’s an excellent time for family and bluegrass fans.

Two years ago, we were lucky enough to attend, and it coincided with my mother’s birthday. Tim, with the help of my brother-in-law, Tim, and nieces, Teresa and Abby, planned to sing her Happy Birthday. Anna was coaxed into going on stage with her cousins, and it didn’t take long for her to command the attention of the few hundred people in attendance.

Thanks, Billy Corgan

“I’ve been afraid of changin’ cause I built my life around you.”

That haunting line, delivered with perfection by Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks, hit me like a punch to the gut during a recent drive on Interstate 70. Crazy thing is it wasn’t the original version of “Landslide” blaring through the car speakers (Life advice: Always listen to music loud. Don’t be selfish. Share it.). It was a near spot-on cover by Smashing Pumpkin being played on Sirius XM’s Lithium channel.

The soaring vocal worked wonders with Billy Corgan’s unique voice. It’s one of those moments when music hits so hard, the world grows silent. No phone checking. No outside noise. Nothing but you and the song. A feeling that washes over and doesn’t let go right away. Pure freedom.

And it opened my eyes to something I’ve ignored for years.

Namely Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac.

Never considered myself much of a Mac fan. Sure, if “The Chain” or “Tusk” came across the airwaves, the channel wouldn’t change, but seeking out Fleetwood Mac’s music wasn’t a priority.

That all changed, thanks to Billy Corgan.

The day after hearing Pumpkin’s “Landslide,” I logged onto the Google machine and delved into Fleetwood Mac’s original. Nicks transfixed me with her impeccable vocal, and Lindsay Buckingham, a seriously underrated guitarist, delivered the perfect backdrop to one of the best songs I’ve heard in recent years.

Yes, “Landslide” debuted in 1975 and I’ve heard it several times before hearing the Pumpkins cover it. But I finally discovered the song, and it led me into acquainting myself with the music of Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks.

An open ear can connect you with new music, even if the music is 40 years old.

It happened to me on multiple occasions, most notably in the summer of 2006. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were celebrating its 30th anniversary by touring with the recently retired Allman Brothers Band. Now, I love the Allmans. Seen them multiple times, and catching them open for Petty sounded like a great way to spend a summer night. So, a former co-worker from the Observer-Reporter and I hit Star Lake Amphitheater. I was geeked to see the Allmans. Petty was an afterthought.

An afterthought until Petty and the Heartbreakers took the stage. The sold-out crowd exuded an intense energy, intent on delivering every line in time with Petty. The band cranked out every hit imaginable. The sound was epic. Petty was grateful. A connection was made.

Four songs into Petty’s set, I forgot the Allmans opened.

And, just like that, Tom Petty became a legend, a guy I put on my Mount Rushmore of music with Jerry Garcia, Bob Marley and Bob Weir. Petty’s music still hits me hard every time I hear it. I haven’t missed one of his Pittsburgh shows since.

Hopefully, Fleetwood Mac’s music can come close to doing the same.

Search for the perfect pumpkin beer, Part III

Eleven pumpkin beers were sampled in the first installment. To revisit those, click here

Eight more were subjected to taste testing in a second installment. Check that out here

Finally, Kovak’s Corner noble work in the search for the perfect pumpkin beer hits its third edition. After this, it will be time to rank the five best and five worst.

I’m doing this for the readers. You’re welcome.

This beer, not Derek Jeter, is the best thing to come out of Kalamazoo, Mich.

This beer, not Derek Jeter, is the best thing to come out of Kalamazoo, Mich.

Acadia Ales Jaw-Jacker, Acadia Brewing Company – When I pour a pumpkin beer into a pilsner, I want it to look like Jaw-Jacker. A cloudy, reddish-brown, Jaw-Jacker has a slight transparency and the perfect hue. When I smell a pumpkin beer, I want it to smell like Jaw-Jacker, which boasts a blend of cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. When I taste a pumpkin beer, I want it to taste like Jaw-Jacker, a cinnamon power punch to the taste buds. It literally make the jaw tingle, hence the appropriate name.



The Fear Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Flying Dog – Not sure why I picked this selection up at Johnny L’s, home of Westmoreland County’s favorite fish sandwich. I’ve never tried a Flying Dog beer I’ve liked. But the weather is cooler, making dark beer more appealing. Except this wasn’t appealing at all. Bitter. Bitter. Not good at all. And did I say bitter. Anyone that says this beer is good must be into Limp Bizkit, as that’s the crowd this brewery must want to attract with it’s “catchy” beer names and bottle art.

Technically not a pumpkin beer, this cider still delivered.

Technically not a pumpkin beer, this cider still delivered.

Pumpkin Jack Hard Cider, McKenzie’s Hard Cider – OK. I understand. Cider is not beer. Whatever. This beverage was recommended by a co-worker and diehard cider fan. Upon finding a bottle, I grabbed it. And McKenzie’s delivered. Couldn’t stop smelling the blissful combination of pumpkin and apple, like two heavyweight dessert pies rolled into one incredible drink. The taste wasn’t as intense as the smell, but still good.

I'm a sucker for a big, orange bottle of beer.

I’m a sucker for a big, orange bottle of beer.

Pumpkin Patch Ale, Rogue Farms – The name’s appropriate. This ale smells like a pumpkin patch when it’s getting close to Halloween and the patch is overrun by families. It’s a good thing and one of the more unique beverages my nose has sniffed. There’s nice hints of orange, vanilla, hops, cinnamon and nutmeg, among others. The hue is a nice reddish brown. It’s an outstanding selection.

Part of a Blue Moon sampler pack.

Part of a Blue Moon sampler pack.

Blue Moon Pumpkin Ale, Coors Brewing – Had to do it. Tried to avoid it. Yet, when looking for some friend-friendly beers for a weekend gathering, Blue Moon’s seasonal sampler pack was a safe purchase, and, of course, it included Harvest Pumpkin Ale. Originally, I wanted to avoid adding Blue Moon to this search. The reason? Blue Moon is safe. It’s never bad. It’s rarely top-shelf. It’s like Chipotle. The ale has a decent pumpkin flavor, decent smell and the background of Blue Moon. Exactly what one would expect from Blue Moon.

Blue Point Pumpkin Ale might have the dullest label in beer history.

Blue Point Pumpkin Ale might have the dullest label in beer history.

Pumpkin Ale, Blue Point Brewing Company – The first thing done when trying a new pumpkin beverage? The smell test. As for Blue Point’s pumpkin ale, there’s not much there. The aroma isn’t subtle, it’s faint. Fortunately, the taste is better than the aroma. The pumpkin flavor is faint, but subtle can be good in this genre of overpowering flavor. It tastes a little like pumpkin and a lot like ale. As for Blue Point’s ale, it;s not too shabby.


A rare and different brew Terrapin Pumpkinfest (Terrapin Station nod deliberate).

A rare and different brew Terrapin Pumpkinfest (Terrapin Station nod deliberate).

Pumpkinfest, Terrapin Beer Company – The idea is sheer genius. Combine a pumpkin beer with an Octoberfest beer. That’s what Terrapin Beer Company did with Pumpkinfest, a stunning combination of deliciousness. It owns a honey tint, a good amount of carbonation and the aroma of pumpkin, though spices are faint. The initial taste is pumpkin before the spice and malt kick in. This is an excellent choice.


This beer lives up to it;s name. Well done, Elysian. Well done.

This beer lives up to it;s name. Well done, Elysian. Well done.

The Great Pumpkin, Elysian Brewing Company – Considering this comes from the maker of Night Owl, and that it claims to be the first legit pumpkin ale, expect nothing but greatness. This award-winner delivers on all fronts – color, texture, aroma and taste. It smells like pumpkin pie. It tastes like pumpkin pie. It’s a wonderful dessert beer.


It's Saranac. It's ok.

It’s Saranac. It’s ok.

 Saranac Pumpkin Ale, Matt Brewing Company – Saranac is sturdy, like an aunt that always comes through with a decent, but never great, Christmas gift. Occasionally, Saranac can surprise. Rarely does it disappoint. This ale falls into the latter. The aroma, watery. The taste, watery with a hint of pumpkin and cinnamon. It claims to be spiced with ginger. These taste buds had a difficult time detecting it.