Curling and craft beer... a perfect match!

Those Scots sure know how to combine drinking and a difficult game into one sport. They also must have been really bored and thirsty in the 15th century since they invented both golf and curling at about the same time. I imagine the 15th century Scots sitting back and saying, “I wonder what the hardest thing we can do while drunk”. Someone probably said, “Well, aiming at things are pretty tough when you are drunk. And so is walking across MacAlister’s frozen pond without falling down.” I imagine they all looked around in approval and said, “Aye, let’s do that then, and while we’re at it, we’ll practice our sweepin’ and bring along this 40lb stone.”

Just like golf, curling is all about comradery, enjoying a delicious beverage and playing a game that’s really difficult! But unlike golf, curling can be picked up and enjoyed in just a couple of hours and didn’t make me feel like I should break my broom the way I want to break my golf clubs. On Saturday, November 21st,  the AZGPO ladies discovered just how fun, challenging, cold and bloody (at least in my case) this sport can be. With the help of some fantastic coaches and the wonderful venue at Coyote’s Curling Club, we learned how to curl and competed in our first ever curling game.

Coyote’s Curling Club is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to furthering the sport of curling and enjoying a beverage among fellow curlers. Our lesson went from 2-5pm but I arrived a little late. If anyone knows me, they know that 15 minutes late is actually right on time for me. As soon as I arrived, I was greeted with a sign-up sheet and offered a beer at the Brokin’ Broom Lounge. I knew I’d found a welcoming environment with like-minded individuals when the beers I was offered included Modus Hoperandi, Two Hearted Ale and Orange Blossom. Yum!

After making sure that I had everything I needed to wet my whistle, I joined the crew and listened to one of the coaches explain to us the origin and common terminology of curling. Some of my favorite terms and expressions included “burning the stone”, “hogging the rock”, “taking it to the house”, and “right on the button”. I’d heard, and even used in my own speech, that last expression before but had no idea it came from curling!

After introducing us to the terms, background, and strategy of curling, the coaches led us through a series of stretches, safety tips and demonstrations of the correct curling form. Despite the “warm up”, and warnings to dress warm, none of us were prepared for just how cold it was out on the ice…. And how challenging it was to just walk from one side to another. For some of us, this wasn’t just a first time curling. Some of the AZGPO women had never even been on ice before. We also weren’t prepared for how often our butts would be hitting the ice!

We were divided into teams of three and our coach turned out to be none other than Ron Kloth, owner of Papago Brewery! I’d seen him around at different industry events but I’d not had the pleasure of meeting him in person. Ron took us through a series of drills that led up to us actually releasing our stone. If you’ve never seen or played curling, releasing the stone felt like bowling on ice while in a yoga pose. It was an awkward position to get into but once it clicked in your mind and you saw your stone make it all the way to the house (the scoring circles on the other side), you were hooked. We decided to call our team The Bloods after I managed to cut my finger and bled (literally) all over the stone.

Then we got to try sweeping. The sweeping portion of curling helped offset how cold we’d become from falling on the ice while trying to release the stone. I have newfound respect for Sweepers; trust me, it is much harder and more exhausting than it looks on TV. The strategy of when to sweep and when not to sweep is purely an art form. It also illustrates just how connected each member of a Curling team is because the person who releases the stone, the two sweepers and the Skipper are all critical and have a hand in each score. Without the skipper there to help the person who releases the stone aim, they wouldn’t know where the best spot in the house was for the stone. And without the skipper, the sweepers wouldn’t know when to sweep, how hard to sweep and when to stop sweeping which are all critical to the placement of the stone.

After wearing ourselves out, we were ready for a break and another tasty beverage at the Brokin’ Broom. During the break, Ron told me how he’d started curling 6 years ago and was already competing in events around the world. It was one of the few times I’d ever heard of someone competing at that level in a sport after only playing for such a short amount of time. The AZGPO ladies also had a chance to discuss AZGPO and our love of craft beer with the other coaches and members during the break. We learned that the curling world has their own version of AZGPO--- female curlers get together every Sunday for Mimosa Sundays. There they catch up, drink a bunch of mimosas and curl. Despite the fact that we’d only curled for 2 hours, and were complete novices, the leader of Mimosa Sundays invited all of us to come back and curl the next day. They didn’t care that we were new, they were excited for us to be a part of their curling world.

Soon our break was over and it was time to compete in our first ever Curling game. We were all amazed at how quickly one can learn to pick up this game and actually play a full game. We also learned about a very important rule in curling: Winner buys the loser a round of drinks. I’m not going to say that the Bloods weren’t good… but if we’d enforced that rule against our opponent, we’d definitely have been receiving free drinks. Despite our loss, we all left feeling very excited and energized about curling and we are already talking about when to have our next AZGPO event back at the Coyotes Curling Club. I know I will definitely be frequenting a Mimosa Sunday or two in the not-so-distant future. Curling is officially in my blood. Those Scots sure are good at inventing fun games.