Monday, June 29, 2009

Beer Trip II Notes from 2006

Hey pals,
It's Dan again, letting you read about Beer Trip II from my blog when we got back. This will be the last of these, because I didn't write about Beer Trip III or Beer Trip IV (or any of the Point Fives we took). I hope you love this more than you love breakfast burritos:

Day One

The plan was to leave the house at 7:30 AM on Wednesday, and we were actually ahead of schedule. We (Caddylac, Timmy, the Cruiser, and I) pulled out of my driveway at 7:19 AM, so Beer Trip II was off to a great start. The first stop was in Hays, Kansas, so I’ll not bore you with tales of the road from my house to there, because besides the four of us bullshitting each other (which was entertaining to me), it’s a pretty boring fucking drive and nothing happened. The highlight was probably Caddy and the Cruiser cracking open a beer once we got on the highway at about 7:30 AM. Eventually, around 11:10 AM, we arrived at Gella’s Diner and Liquid Bread Brewing Company and right away we were impressed. The brewpub is located in a renovated Western Union building, and it was beautiful and spacious on the inside. I think Caddylac was the one who said it best: “You could drop this place anywhere (New York, L.A., wherever), and it would fit in and look great!” It was a great looking place. We sat down, ordered some sampler trays of beer, and ordered our lunch. A huge plus for this place was that they had garlic fries. I’m a big fan of the garlic fries, and these were very good. If you have access to adding a menu item to a restaurant, you need to add garlic fries to it. Anyway, lunch went along just fine (we even got to talk to the brewer for a couple of seconds who made us a sticker for the RV) and their beers were outstanding, and we asked for four growlers and our bill. This was at 12:18 PM. Granted, the place was pretty crowded and they seemed understaffed, but we didn’t end up leaving the place until 1:03 PM because it took so long to get our bill and change. Yes, I did keep track of the time like that, because we planned on leaving Hays at 1 PM, so we thought we were going to be way ahead of schedule for our ride into Denver when we asked for our bill. Instead, we were a little behind (since we also had to stop and get gas). Anyway, all it all, it was a great experience, and would recommend anyone driving along I-70 in Kansas to make a stop at Gella’s if you want some really good beer and great food.We left Hayes and headed to Denver. Wow! Did that ride really suck as well! Western Kansas has a much deserved reputation for being a boring, boring drive, but I think Eastern Colorado needs to be given some credit too. Holy shit was that a boring drive! I must have quoted “Dumb and Dumber” at least ten times saying, “That John Denver’s full of shit!” I didn’t know that Denver was pretty much where the mountains started. I do now. We planned on getting to our posh La Quinta Inn in Downtown Denver at 5 PM, and that was about right. Maybe 5:15 PM or so, but we had plenty of time to take shits, change shirts and put on a new layer of deodorant, and then walk to Coors Field for the 7 PM start. We got to the stadium, and it made me remember why I loved downtown ballparks. It was less than a mile from the hotel to the stadium, and there was so much to do all around the stadium. And inside the stadium too, as we hit our second brewpub of Beer Trip II, the Sandlot Brewery. The place was kinda cool, but I was thinking it was going to be a sit down restaurant with servers, when instead you had to go to the bar to order beers. Now, the bartenders were great, but it just wasn’t what I thought it’d be. The beers were okay, I guess, nice for a ballpark, but nothing too exciting. As for the game, well, it sucked. There was a rain delay before the game, but the actual game is what sucked. The Brewers lost 8-2 and it was never really close. The park was cool, and I even had a Coors Beer at Coors Field, which I always think is a must. I’ll always have a Busch at Busch Stadium and a Miller at Miller Park too. See, I’m not a complete beer snob. Just mostly.After the game, we went to our final brewpub of Day One, the Breckenridge Ball Park Brewpub. We were all feeling pretty good, but it was so close to the park that we had to go. The place was really cool, and it had a nice crowd for a Wednesday. Now let me state that I am not a fan of Breckenridge beers, but the beers here were pretty good. At least they were to my recollection. It was a long day, and I had had a few, so my memory isn’t 100%. I do know that our waitress was awesome, as she gave us each free tasting glasses and stickers (for the back of the RV). After a few samples and a beer, we walked back home to crash for the night. But not before the Cruiser decided that since the gate to the pool was locked that he’s climb down from the second floor (where our room was) to inside of the pool area and go for a little swim. It was pretty impressive way to end day one.

Day Two

Thursday’s activities started earlier than any other day, as we arrived at the Great Divide Brewing Company in downtown Denver (a couple blocks from Coors Field) around 9:50 AM. It was located in a building that you wouldn’t know was a brewery if you just walked by it. Inside the brewery, there was a ton of construction going on. Great Divide doesn’t have regularly scheduled tours, so you just kinda walk in and see if someone can give you a tour. We got in, talked to one of the brewers for a bit, had a couple of samples, and then the head of bottling showed us around. For those of you who don’t know, Great Divide makes some of my favorite beers, and after the tour we got, I like this place even more. The tour guide couldn’t have been any cooler, as he showed us all around the place and just shot the shit with us for about a solid hour. He and the brewer who was on duty just talked about whatever with us and were solid guys. They said they were jealous of us for going on Beer Trip II, and we were all jealous of them for working at a kick-ass brewery. They gave us free stickers, coasters, bottle openers, and on top of all that, they gave us a free case of their beer! So needless to say, I really love these guys now. After the tour, we were going to have lunch at the Wynkoop Brewing Company, where I was excited to go because my friend and Lulu’s former roommate Dahlbeeyotch was meeting us there. Whereas the beers weren’t my favorite and the food was pretty good but nothing amazing, this was one of my favorite parts of the entire trip. Basically it was everyone making fun of each other and themselves all lunch, and we were cracking up the whole time. We had to be the loudest table in the place and I’m sure the rest of the restaurant weren’t loving us because of that (and we were there for about an hour and a half). Dahlbeeyotch said that she was going to make us all buttons for Beer Trip III, and I thought Caddy was going to piss himself (he actually may have; I didn’t check). We had a great time, but unfortunately, Dahlbeeyotch had to go to work and fortunately, we had three more breweries to hit. Next up for us was a trip up the road to Boulder where we hit the Boulder Brewing Company. Boulder makes two of my favorite beers, Mojo and Hazed & Infused, so this was another place I was really looking forward to. We had another really great tour guide, and we had a lot of free beers. Too bad for the Cruiser, because he was the DD that day and only had sips. Our tour consisted of the four of us and a guy from Germany who was in town with his wife who had a work conference (who was a really cool guy), so our tour was pretty much whatever we wanted her to talk about. She even poured us some beer right from the tanks, which was pretty good also. Basically by the time we left Boulder, all of us were feeling really good. Especially me.For dinner, we drove over to Longmont for the Pumphouse Brewery and Restaurant, where we met Caddy’s friend Melissa. From the best of my recollection, dinner was really good, as were the beers. I’m not sure what else to tell you about that because I don’t have memories of anything specific that was interesting (I was kinda drunk). From there, we hit yet another place, the Left Hand Brewery. I remember thinking the place was nice, the service wasn’t too friendly, that I ordered a sample tray, and called my wife. And that’s about it. When we left Left Hand, we went back to the hotel. Right next door in the same parking lot as our sweet Radisson Hotel was an Old Chicago, and for some reason we decided to go in and have some more beers. I ordered some Sicilian Pepperoni Rolls and a Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA. I think I had two of the Pepperoni Rolls, half of my beer (if that), and decided that it’d be best for me to go back to the hotel and pass out. Which is exactly what I did. Apparently I missed a lot of interesting things after I left, rumors of which I cannot prove actually happened, so I will just end Day Two’s recap with this: holy shit, was I really fucking hung-over the next morning!

Day Three

So yeah, I didn’t have a good morning on Day Three. As my friend Fittsie used to say, I was over-served. Anyway, after a sluggish start, we were ready to start the beer drinking at 11:30 at Oskar Blues Grill and Brew in Lyons, Colorado. Oskar’s is famous among the beer dork community for being a solid microbrewer and selling their beer in cans, instead of bottles like most microbreweries. I kinda think it’s pretty cool. The place was nice, as Lyons is a really cool little down at the base of the mountain. We sat on the deck and had a nice view. After a little “hair of the dog” with some tasty beers and some really good food, we all were feeling a lot better and were on our way. Our next stop after lunch was in my new favorite city in the world, Fort Collins, Colorado. What a great town! Also located at the base of the mountains, Fort Collins has several really great breweries there. They also have an Anheuser Busch brewery on top of the good places, but who gives a shit! Our first brewery stop in Fort Collins was Odell Brewing Company. It was located on a side street and was a nice looking place. The people there were cool, and I actually got carded THREE times there, which I thought was funny. The tour was the same as every other tour basically, but since I’m a member of the American Homebrewer’s Association, I got to have the $3 sample tray for free! Yeah, that $97 membership is already paying for itself! The beers were good, but I can get them here so it wasn’t anything too exciting. Good tour if you’re in Ft. Collins, but nothing too cool.After Odell’s, we went to the cleverly named Fort Collins Brewery just down the road. Well, it would have been just down the road but I’m a moron and gave Caddy the wrong directions. We got there eventually, and the place was kinda hard to find anyway unless you knew where it was. It was basically a warehouse with a taproom. Although the taproom was really nice, and the people and beer there were really good. The beers were better than we expected, and the waitress and bartender could not have been cooler. They even sold the Cruiser and me jugs of their Brewlesque Brown, which was only available in jugs to members of their “Jug Club.” I have to really thank the Cruiser for his pouting, because that’s what sealed the deal on that one. We hung out there for a sampler tray and a pint, and then we headed to the hotel to check in. We stayed at the world-famous Fort Collins Motel 8, and that lived up to all the hype.For dinner, we took a cab to our final brewpub of the day, CooperSmith’s Pub and Brewing, for dinner. It was pretty well-hyped by several people that day, and when we got there we were excited. It was a cool looking place. We went to check in with the hostess, and we were told it’d be a 35 minute wait, so we just sat at the bar. Well, the food was good, but the beers were just so-so. Not nearly as good as we were lead to believe they’d be. We had our dinner and left, and then we walked to another Old Chicago for a beer before Caddy’s friend Mel picked us up and took us back to the sweet Motel 8. And that was pretty much Day Three. Three breweries visited, and basically just a day to recover from the day before. So really, it was a pretty good day.

Day Four

Day Four of Beer Trip II was a really, really good day. We started up later than usual, because we had a 11:30 AM VIP tour at the New Belgium Brewing Company. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from a “VIP Tour” at New Belgium. You see, a while back, I was at a liquor store where I was buying some New Belgium 1554 (because we were brewing a clone of it). I was looking to see what else was at the liquor store when I overheard a couple of guys talking about New Belgium. I looked up, and one was an employee of the liquor store and the other guy was wearing a New Belgium jacket. The employee walked away, and I went up to the New Belgium guy and said, “Sorry, but I overheard you talking. Do you work for New Belgium?” He said he did and told me his name was Scott. We were talking about their beer “Two Below,” because I wondered if they were going to bottle it. He said it was just on draft only for now, and then we proceeded to talk about beer for a few minutes. At the end of the conversation, he said, “If you ever go to Fort Collins, you’ll need to stop by the brewery for a tour.” I responded, “Actually, I’ll be going there in August on a beer trip with some friends, and we are definitely going to be going there.” He seemed kinda surprised, in a good way, we talked for a few more minutes about Beer Trip II. Then he said, “Here’s my card. Send me an email when you know when you’ll be there, and I’ll set you up with a VIP tour.” And we went on our ways. A couple days later I emailed him thanking him for taking the time to just talk beer with me for a few minutes. Back in April, when we locked down the time when we’d be in Fort Collins, I emailed him again, and he told me he’d work on setting up a VIP tour for us. He emailed me later that same day with a day and time. That was about the extent of it. A couple weeks before we left on Beer Trip II, I emailed him again, just to make sure everything was set, and he said it was fine, just to show up there a little before 11:30 AM to check in. So we get up to the brewery about 11:10 AM and go to check in. One thing we weren’t expecting though: the place was packed. I mean, really packed. We had to park on the street because the parking lot was full. I waited in line to tell the bartender we were there, and the line took forever. And you could see that there was a huge tour (probably 40 people) in progress already, so I was a little concerned that we’d get the same deal. Eventually, I got to the bar, told the lady why we were there, and she seemed really excited about it and went to the back. She came out a few seconds later, told us to wait at the side of the bar, and that Matt would be coming out to give us our tour. Matt came out, and we (just the four of us and Matt) started the tour.Let me start out the tour portion of this entry by telling you that this wasn’t a typical tour at all. This was a genuine VIP tour. Many of the things we did are not allowed on most tours, for safety reasons. The tour started out like most tours with the history of the company. In New Belgium’s case, it wasn’t too different than other companies’ beginnings (the founder liked the beer he had when he was on vacation in Belgium and decided to make his own beer because he couldn’t get that style of beer here in the States). Matt explained the history more in depth because the tour ahead of us was still in the main room, but it was pretty interesting still. We eventually went into that room, and Matt showed us their first equipment. Standard tour information, really, yet it was still kinda cool. We walked to the main room of the tour, and Matt showed us the tanks where they brew a batch occasionally, but they weren’t at that time. As the other tour went ahead, Matt pulled us over to a bar on the side and said that since we were homebrewers and knew our stuff, he was going to give us some samples earlier than they normally do of stuff you can’t get get or outside of the brewery, as well as their flagship beer, Fat Tire. The first beer was their Saison, and while I’m not a fan of the style, I did like theirs. Next was the Fat Tire, which I’ve had plenty of times before and think is pretty good. The last was a sample of their Abbey Grand Cru, and it was awesome. One of the best beers I ever had. I wish they sold it, but unfortunately, they don’t. Awesome stuff. We went on the tour a bit further, seeing and talking about typical tour things. Then Matt told us to put on our safety goggles. We did, and then he led us up a staircase to the roof. On the roof, he told us to start climbing, as we had to go up about four more flights of stairs to the very top of the brewery. Up there, you could see a beautiful view of Fort Collins and the Rocky Mountains. You could also see the Anheuser Busch brewery up the road, but who gives a shit? Up there we saw all of their brewing vessels, which contained about 12 million bottles of beer in them. We also got to see their water treatment plant from the roof, which they built themselves for themselves to not take a burden on the city’s treatment plant. The whole thing was really impressive, and not something you get on the standard tour. We came down and back in, and next went through the bottling area, something that is a no-no on most other tours due to safety reasons. It was pretty interesting, for me. We walked around some more, and we went to their ten 500-gallon oak barrels where New Belgium makes their La Folie, a rare and expensive beer that is famous among the beer dork community. Matt told us not to tell anyone that we did it (so don’t tell anyone), but he let us drink some of the La Folie from the spicket of one of the barrels, and it was pretty yummy. He showed us around a lot of the normally “off-limits areas” to tours places, and even let Cruiser and I go down the employee slide. At the end of the tour, Matt said, “Well, Scott wanted me to treat you well, so we’re giving you guys six samples of our beer instead of the normal four that other tours get.” We thanked him, and then he said, “Also, we’re giving you guys each one free six-pack of your choice.” We were all pretty shocked about that, and thanked him again. Then he said, “And finally, we’re giving you guys 40% off of whatever you want, beer included.” We were really shocked. I was dumbfounded. Not only did they just give us by far the best brewery tour that I ever had been on with the coolest tour guide (although not as hot as the Boulder chick), but they were giving us free beer and a huge discount. Needless to say, I was in love with the place. I really want to move to Fort Collins and work for New Belgium. It was awesome.After we left the brewery (where we probably spent about $250 combined as a group), we went to a liquor store on the way out of town. I only spent about $10, but the others got several boxes worth of beer. Then we were on our way to Cheyenne, where we went to the Snake River Pub and Grill, where the Shadows Brewing Company is located. The place was really cool, although they only had one beer of theirs on tap. Apparently they had a big festival a few days prior, and that was all they had. The one they did have was really good, as was the food, and soon we were on our way to North Platte, Nebraska where we were calling it a night. We did go to the hotel bar for a couple of beers (including a Fat Tire), and we called it a night.

Day Five

For Beer Trip II Day Five, it was a fun day, but pretty uneventful. Basically, we went to three breweries in Nebraska. The first brewery we went to was Thunderhead Brewing Company in Kearney, Nebraska around 11 AM. It was located in a cool little part of this little town, and surprisingly the beers were outstanding. Very, very good. I was shocked how good they were, considering that this was just a small town that actually had two breweries. We only ate appetizers, but they were good too. Our next stop was in Lincoln where we had a light, late lunch at Lazlo’s Brewery and Grill, which featured Empyrean Brewing Company’s beer. The place was cool, food was good, service was very good, and the beers were okay. Nothing much to write about there. Finally, we got into Omaha around 4:15 PM where we had a light dinner at Upstream Brewing Company. Most of the beers were weak, some were pretty good, but again, besides being located in a cool building in a cool part of town and having good service, there wasn’t much to say about it. Then we drove through a ton of rain the three hours back to my house.

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