Monday morning of the Eclipse, the "Eating Machine" and I (okay, you could call me the "Drinking Machine," but my alcohol intake is, luckily, not as prodigious as the food intake of the average teenaged boy) struck our tent in DuQuoin and chanced a trip further south and east to Murphysboro, IL.
I had settled upon Big Muddy Brewing as the eclipse viewing destination because they had announced early on that they would be open early on Monday, a day when many breweries' tap rooms are closed. They had promised an informal viewing party from a field behind their brewery, which suited us fine, since there's an issue about being in huge crowds like the no doubt packed Saluki Stadium in Carbondale. And Big Muddy would get the same 2 minutes, 38 seconds of totality that SIU would.
No one really knew what to expect from traffic headed to the eclipse Monday morning. So imagine our surprise when we found traffic down the county roads light as usual. We located the brewery, then doubled back for breakfast at Mickey D's, where they had a sign posted noting that service would stop at 1:15 so the staff could experience the eclipse as well.
After breakfast, we came back to Big Muddy. It was just after the 8 am opening, and now people were walking around. There were also campers in the back field. We had asked about just camping there, but were told there would be no running water or toilets overnight.
It was already shaping up to be hot and humid. We walked into the brewery to enjoy some air-conditioned hospitality. But then, Buzzt! There's a voicemail on my phone from Mrs. Naut. Seems she had taken the flash card out of my camera to download some pictures to her computer, and forgot to put it back in before we left. I had room for maybe 8 lo-res photos and 5 seconds of video. Back to the car!
I was surprised to find that the local Kroger did not have flash drives. What? It's like camera film! Or batteries. But then again, they didn't have any beer from local brewers either, like, ohhh, I dunno, Big Muddy? But a clerk told me where the local Walgreens was, and of course they've got 'em! They also had a sign posted that employees will be headed outside for the eclipse.
Finally back to Big Muddy. The crowd had grown a little bit, but probably did not grow past 40 people. We got our lawn chairs in front of the car, then finally went inside.
Compared to the full service brewpub and restaurant at St. Nicholas, Big Muddy was a production brewery with a tap area serving just beers and Beer Nuts. Of course there are menus for local BBQ places that will deliver, so we had all we needed in a brewery tap room.
The Eating Machine was actually still full, so he just had an Excel Black Cherry soda. Big Muddy also had a root beer, made with honey from the beehives in the filed out back, but he grabbed what he saw. I saw the featured Dark Noon Imperial Stout (11.2%) was nearly sold out in bottles, so I grabbed a draft. As a stronger beer, I wanted to get it finished earlier in the day, so I could prepare for the drive home.
The stout's smell has some prune and warm alcohol with very little roast to it, partly smoothed by a six month residency in oak bourbon barrels. The taste is warming with alcohol, fruity, and quite thick. A "motor oil mouthfeel," as we say. It’s a very mellow brew, but very strong.
The boy and I alternated between indoors and out doors. We'd throw a game of bags, then go back inside. I got a taster of their Pumpkin Smasher.
Yes! My first pumpkin thingie of the season! Bite me, PSL! No doubt about it, a big pumpkin spice smell, and there is a note pumpkin sweetness. A slightly cloudy gold color with a thin scrum of suds on top. Taste is very big on pumpkin spice; cinnamon and nutmeg are very easy to pick out. This is the kind of pumpkin beer that has a creamy texture, like whipped cream on your pumpkin pie, that does seem to occur with the use of actual pumpkin.
Meantime, the boy noticed the fermenter nearest to us had a small picture of Moe Howard on it. Sure enough, the other five fermenters in the tap room displayed portraits of Larry, Curly, then Shemp, Joe, and Curly Joe. Only now do I wonder whether future equipment might be named for Ted Healy, or other Stooges players like Christine McIntyre or Emil Sitka ("Hold hands, you lovebirds!").
We had our authentic filtered eclipse glasses, and duly watched as the moon began to take a bite out of the sun. Some of the other guests had telescopes and pinhole boxes set up for better viewing. I had a few more beer samples as the excitement built.
It's only within the ten or so minutes before totality that it gets noticeably dark. After peering through glasses, watching for other signs like the shadow bands that might cross the ground, suddenly it's evening. And then… bam! It's night time. The small crowd sent up a cheer punctuated by the "ooh" and "ahh" of a fireworks display. I was looking this way and that, trying to get a photo of the proceedings, not noticing that I had the movie camera running, and, yes, taking a look directly at the corona of the sun covered by the moon. At least I got an amateurish photo of that event, which I knew would be diminished from what you'd actually experience. Trust me, you had to be there.
And then, there was the "diamond ring" of the sun peeping back out. Time to put the glasses on and watch the daylight return.
Somehow, I had the feeling I should stay and watch the remainder of the process, as the Moon slowly clears away from the Sun. But there were practical considerations at work. The county road leading north would be one of the routes back to upstate Illinois. And as we had feared, traffic was stop and go for hundreds. of. miles. A trip out that took just over five hours on Sunday was a 12 hour slog Monday night.
But we had been able to see a "once in a lifetime" event, even though there will be another eclipse across the same area in 2024. But we got to enjoy excellent beer and food, hospitality, and company while taking part in this nationwide event.