Sunday, December 5, 2010

London, Amsterdam, and Dusseldorf

So, after spending ten weeks in India, it was time to go home. However, when you’re flying over Europe to get home, why not stop in for a bit? So I, and a colleague of mine, Ben, took a week-long layover in Europe. We left Delhi at 3AM and arrived in Brussels at 7AM after a 9hr flight. Have to love time zones. I’ll write about Belgium in a separate entry; this one is to talk about my experience in England, Holland, and Germany. Europe’s transit system is second to none, so on our second day in Brussels, we took the subway to Midi Station and boarded the Eurostar train for the 90-minute ride to London. Train travel is the best way to travel in my humble opinion. Also, I can now say I went to the bathroom underneath the English Channel. Our main goal was to be full tourists, to be honest. However, there’s no way I’d pass up a chance to check out the pub scene or their craft brew.
We arrived at 8AM (again, gained an hour because of the time zone), and did a whirlwind tour of the biggest tour spots London has to offer. London is one of my favorite cities in the world despite both of my times there I’ve only got to spend one day each trip. It’s chaotic and crowded, but at the same time has peaceful parks, and for a city of its size, it’s really clean. After hitting the main sites (Buckingham, Big Ben, etc) it was lunch time. Ben’s favorite fast food restaurant is Chipotle and the only one in Europe happened to be located in London. My best friend since the first day of Kindergarten now lives in London so he was going to meet us there. I do like Chipotle, but from my experience here the beer selection isn’t even worth a second look. To my surprise I saw a familiar red label. At a Chipotle in London, England, I found Goose Island Honker’s Ale. I know, I’m in England, I should have chosen an English beer, but you say that after being deprived of American Craft beer for over two months. I devoured my grotesquely large barbacoa burrito and was careful not to chug the delicious Goose Island.

After Chipotle, we stopped at Starbucks for the second time that day (no Starbucks in India!!) and Jared, Ben, and I decided to do the London Eye. Very cool experience, and worth the hefty fee to get on. From there, it was late enough in the day, 2PM, that I didn’t feel bad saying a pub would be nice. I had reservations at Brew Wharf Brewpub at 4. Jared knew of a truly authentic feeling English Pub not far from the Eye, The Market Porter. It’s what I expected of an English pub. Small, somewhat crowded, and extremely friendly bar tenders. They had Meantime on tap, so I couldn’t pass up having it fresh. Their India Pale Ale is great, as I expected. We had a couple pints while Jared and I caught up on each other’s lives.

He had to get going for a family event for his woman and it was time for Ben and I to check out Brew Wharf. Luckily for us, it was literally a few meters down the same road.

The restaurant was obviously a rehabbed building. Seems to be a trend with brewpubs, and one I fully support. It had very modern touches throughout, however. We were a little early for our reservation, but they went ahead and seated us anyway. They had two of their beers on tap, the Indian Summer Wheat and the Brown Chicken Brown Cow. I started with the Brown. Malty and delicious. I asked the waitress if the brewer happened to be in, but unfortunately he wasn’t.

We were both still pretty full from the burritos at lunch so we just ordered their cheese plate which was excellent, and they didn’t skimp on the quantities. Next up was their wheat which while not my favorite style, was still good. I had to get up to use the facilities, and I told Ben that if the waitress came by to get our tab and ask if they had any merch to buy. When I returned, he had two glasses sitting in front of him; one your standard pint glass, and the second a 20oz from the Borough Market Brew Fest. He said she told him pick which one we wanted or we could just have both. So even across the pond, beer people are just as awesome. Unfortunately we only had time in the schedule for a day trip. After Brew Wharf it was time to head back to King’s Cross and catch the Eurostar back to Brussels. My love of England only increased, and I look very forward to returning, hopefully for more than a day the next time.

On our fourth day in Europe, we rented a car to make it easier to get to the small breweries that aren’t convenient by the train. We decided to take a road trip through the Netherlands and Germany for a day and night. We set out on the fifth day for Amsterdam. Not exactly known for its beer culture, but I’ve been to Europe three times previously and had never been there. While we were there we did “The Heineken Experience.” Basically, they had moved their brewery out of central Amsterdam and had turned the old brewery into a giant tourist trap for Americans. Everything is in English, including signage, and no other language. The people working there speak with American accents, and it is all very odd. Now, I love my Europeans, but the “Experience” couldn’t be more European in style. Whether it is the odd video pods that you lie in or the discotheque-like rooms you walked through. Ben and I skipped the room that was supposed to be like you’re the beer. We’re thinking it is one of those emersion movies that the seats move and you feel like you’re actually moving. Just didn’t interest us. We moved directly to the tasting room.

Here an extremely attractive blonde from Australia gave us instructions on how to taste beer. It was pretty much standard stuff, but then towards the end she talked about how whenever you look at a beer you should put your fingers on the other side. If you can’t see your fingers, it’s a bad beer. I’m hoping beyond hope she was referring only to Heineken and not beer in general. If she was referring to beer in general, then that’s just horrible advice. From there we went on to the bottle your own beer section. Here, you can pay 5 Euro and get a bottle of Heineken saying you had bottled it. Complete bullocks, but of course we did it. At the very end we finally got our two full tasters, which I have to admit was pretty cool. There is their standard lager then the Heineken Ice which is served at a brain-freezing temperature. We drank those then picked up our bottles that we apparently bottled by magic. Afterwards, we tried to find a good bar to sit down and have a beer or two, but we didn’t have much luck. Maybe we just didn’t know enough about the city, but we had no success finding just a standard bar.

The next morning we set out for Dusseldorf, Germany. We were headed to southern Belgium and decided to stop in at a brewpub in Germany on the way. I had no reason for picking Fuchschen really. Just found it on, and their website was tacky, crazy, and entertained me. And I’m glad I did pick it.

They only serve one beer, an alt, and it was really good. The awesome German food made it even better. I had the schnitzel, and Ben went for what is basically an entire leg of a pig.

We had a couple of their Alts afterwards, and then headed back to Belgium. While we didn’t make some epic Beer Trip, it was a great experience, and got my feet wet in the European beer culture. Talk to you soon about our experiences in Belgium, both the great and the not so great.

Friday, November 26, 2010

High Noon Saloon and visitors from Great Taste

Last week I got an email from my friend Bob, Wisconsin correspondent for the Great Lakes Brewing News. He sent me an itinerary of a mini-tour that he and those involved with Madison’s Great Taste of the Midwest, a beer festival that many refer to as the best in the country-even better than the Great American Beer Festival. Since I’ve been to neither (which I am a little ashamed of), I can’t comment. Regardless, it is a highly acclaimed event. I, along with Tim as the other Beer Trip guys were off camping, decided to make our way over to High Noon Saloon and Brewery in Leavenworth, Kansas to meet up with them for a little bit. They were scheduled to be there at 8:15 PM, so Tim picked me up (since I drove to Gordon Biersch on Wednesday) around 7:30 and we headed to Leavenworth.

We got there right at 8:15 PM. When we got there, we saw that a band was playing and I was asked to pay a $5 cover charge. I’m not sure why, but this really annoyed me for about two minutes. I told the guy at the door, who was really nice about it, that I was just meeting the brewery guys from Wisconsin and didn’t want to pay any cover charge. He was about to go ask a manager about it, when I just said, “Sorry. I don’t know why I am so against a $5 cover charge. Here you go.” I still hate cover charges at a brewpub, when I just wanted a couple of pints of their beer, but I get it. I just wish the band was better.
After a bit I told a guy by the bar that I was Dan, the guy who used to write about Kansas for Southwest Brewing News, and he seemed to recognize me. He even bought me a beer, which was nice. I told him that I was friends with RD, the owner, which is probably a stretch by I really consider myself friends with all of the Kansas brewers that I covered. And I miss talking to them every other month. He came over and talked to me for a bit, and I told him that I was going to tag along with the Wisconsin guys when they came in to take a tour. He said they were running late but that was fine, and he went back to his family. Tim and I grabbed a table, another beer, and we waited for Bob and crew to arrive.
About 9:30 PM, they arrived. They had a large crew, and these guys were doing it up right. They had a nice bus, with a driver, and a solid itinerary chock-full of brewery and brewpub visits (and even a distillery). They even had the itinerary printed on t-shirts that they wore, which is arguably a step up from the buttons the Dahlbeeyotch made for us for Beer Trip V (“Shut up and drive! It’s Beer Trip V!”), but I prefer the buttons. Bob introduced me to a few people in the group, including a couple of brewers from Ale Asylum in Madison and the guy behind the Great Taste of the Midwest. They were all really great guys, and it is an event I’d really love to go to sometime. After a few minutes, RD come around and asked who wanted a tour. About three-quarters of the group went to the brewhouse for the tour, which was interesting enough.

At the end, RD gave them all a glass, which was one of the more practical brewpub pint glasses that I’ve seen. It had the High Noon logo on one side, and the back had a list of their flagship beers. It ended up coming in hand a few times when people were asking me what High Noon beers they had. I thought it was a cool idea. We went back to the bar, talked to a few more people, and before I knew it, they were headed back to the bus. Before they left, Bob was nice enough to bring me a few Wisconsin beers for me, including some from my friends at O’so (Night Train!). It was pretty cool. They left, and Tim and I had one more Stumblin’ Reindeer, their winter seasonal, which was really good. After the band played their rendition of “Cherry Bomb”, we felt it was time to call it a night. We made the drive back home, and I gave Tim a couple of the beers Bob gave me for driving me.
It wasn’t an eventful night, but it is always great meeting people in the beer industry. And I like checking out the local brewpubs when I can, which isn’t as often as it was when I was the Kansas correspondent for SWBN. So basically, I had a really good night, and hopefully I can make it back to High Noon again soon, and hopefully someday to Madison for the Great Taste of the Midwest in the next few years.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gordon Biersch Winterbock release

I haven’t written in a while, but mostly because I hadn’t done a lot lately in terms of beer. Having a baby girl will do that. No complaints from me. But I got an email from Gordon Biersch in Kansas City recently about a release party for their winter seasonal Winterbock, so I decided that this would be a good thing to do. It also happened to be on the same day as the 21st Anniversary/Birthday of Boulevard Brewing Company, who had some events planned for that night, so it seemed to be a good night to go out. Tim, fresh back from India and Europe, decided to come with, so we decided to take our talents down to Kansas City’s Power and Light District for a few hours.

When we got to Gordon Biersch, it was pretty crowded and loud. They had an 80’s trivia night, and we walked in right by the guy running it. We saw the brewer from GB, James, there, and he was changing out a keg of the Winterbock to give out samples. We stopped and grabbed one, then Tim, who also brought a few cans of food for Harvesters, and I grabbed a table to have dinner. One thing to note is that if you are a fan of Gordon Biersch Kansas City on Facebook, you can print off a free order of their garlic fries. Luckily for us, I did, because they are really, really good. We ordered some dinner, and I ordered one of their Marzens while Tim ordered a mug of the Winterbock.

The food was pretty tasty, as I ordered the chicken tenders off of their seasonal menu and Tim had a pulled pork sandwich that he really liked. Everything was really good. Our waitress was very good and friendly, and I do enjoy GB’s beers. They don’t go crazy with hops or high alcohol brews, although the Winterbock tipped in at 8.2% ABV, but what they make is great for the style. I enjoy marzens, and theirs is very tasty. As we were walking out, I stopped and talked to James for a bit. He seemed like a pretty cool guy, but it was crowded there, he was pouring the samples, and I am not a pretty lady, so I kept it short so not to bother him, and we moved on to Flying Saucer.

Flying Saucer for those who are not familiar is a great beer bar. They have one of the best beer selections in the city, if not THE best, and it’s a cool, laid-back atmosphere. Plus they have couches, which Tim and I took over when we arrived. The big deal that night was “keep the glass” night for the 21st Anniversary Fresh Hop Pale Ale for Boulevard. We were told right away that the glasses were gone, which wasn’t a big deal to either of us. Tim first ordered their “Fire Sale” beer, which was Bell’s Oktoberfest, while I ordered a water (since I was driving). He liked the beer, and when he decided to move on and get the 21st Anniversary beer without the glass, I followed suit and did the same. While it is probably not the typical style for a big anniversary beer, we both enjoyed it. I found it to be a better than when I had it previously from a bottle. We looked around, and were told that they were going to have a toast to Boulevard at 10 PM, but as I looked at my phone and saw that it was 10:02, we knew that wasn’t happening. We saw on Facebook that some of the Boulevard people were at a bar nearby, Ragland Road, but when we got there they were nowhere to be seen. They did have some mini-cupcakes left though, so we had a couple of them as Tim ordered another beer while I again had a water. We hung out for a bit, watched a young lady jump on a platform and do an Irish dance, and decided to call it a night.
It was a pretty nice night, despite the crappy weather and even crappier team name change for the Wizards. I hope to attend more of Gordon Biersch’s seasonal release parties, as it was a cool, little event. Free garlic fries and free samples of their beers don’t hurt. Especially when that free beer is a tasty 8.2% offering.
Drink up!


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

India and Craft Beer

When someone says craft beer, one doesn’t immediately think of emerging market countries. And honestly, there’s a reason for that. Recently I spent a few months in India for my day job, and while there, I was excited to try their take on craft beer. The first thing I’d advise someone about India-nothing is convenient. I was based out of the Delhi suburb of Noida not far from the city of Gurgaon where all three of the Delhi area breweries are based. While by American standards, it would be just down the road, by Indian standards it’s quite a trek. I rented a car and driver for 6 hours to go to two brewpubs. Freeways are scarce, and traffic jams common. Basically anything goes on their roads. Lanes are a suggestion, as they’re supposed to drive on the left hand side. If that’s inconvenient, they just drive on the right.

The second thing I’d advise is that the beer scene in India in still “nascent,” as one of my Indian colleagues put it. The main reason people drink in India is to get drunk. There hasn’t been the disposable income to care about taste or quality. Basically they need more bang for their buck. If that means buying a Haywards 5000, which honestly tastes like a Bud Light with an alcohol burn, so be it. However, there is an exploding middle class developing, with an expanding disposable income, which is searching for more than a quick drunk.

My first stop was Howzatt brewpub. It’s located at the Galaxy Hotel in Gurgaon and is a cricket-themed bar. A little insight on Indian culture-field hockey is their national sport. Cricket is their religion. I honestly was shocked by brewery. Despite being a five star hotel, I didn’t expect how modern of a facility they have. I walked into the brewpub, and I immediately was hit by the aroma. I was lucky enough to go on a day they were brewing. After six weeks in India and no beer exposure, it was a moment of pure joy. We sat down and looked at their menu. They only brew three beers, a lager, a dark lager, and a wheat beer. We started with the lager. There were three of us, myself and two of my American colleagues that were working in India with me.

They had pitchers that poured three pints. Roughly cost $8 so very cheap by American standards. The lager is what it is. I have to be honest that lagers aren’t my favorite style. However, compared to the mass produced Indian beers I’d had up until this point, it actually had character and flavor. Next we tried the wheat. This could have been an excellent beer, but it was overpowered by an overabundance of wheat. It was like chewing on a stalk of wheat. It wasn’t awful, but they need to tone down the amount of wheat they use in the brew. Third on the list was their dark lager. This was actually their best in my opinion. It had a great malty flavor with enough hop balance that it wasn’t overly sweet. Overall, Howzatt was a great brewpub, and one I’d liked to have returned to if it wasn’t such a hassle getting there.

Next up on the mini-tour was Rockman’s Beer Island , again in Gurgaon. However, we got caught in traffic and it took about 45 minutes to go the 15km from Howzatt. Located on the 4th floor of the Ambience Mall, it is a large complex of restaurants and pubs. We were seated in the Bavarian Pub Brewery. It’s supposed to give you the feeling of being in Germany, but not so much. They have five beers available. They had a lager, strong lager, a dark, a wheat, and a special Oktoberfest. I tried the Oktoberfest and it tasted like a standard lager. The beers were much pricier here, and a 20oz glass was just short of $10. Because of that, I only had one more, the dark. It was decent, but not worth the cost.

On a non-brewing note, I did find Leffe at Route 04 at Kahn Market in Delhi. Overall, the selection you’ll find at a bar includes Kingfisher, Corona, Budweiser, Tuborg, and possibly Victoria Bitter or Fosters. Lagers are the preferred style in India so that’s what you find. I actually had someone ask if I’d ever had a Guinness because they’d heard good things about it. I was also told that if you go to Mumbai or Bangalore, you may find a better selection. But in Delhi, there wasn’t much to be found.

India is developing a beer culture, which gives it potential. With the large number of Americans, Europeans, and Australians being sent there for business, craft beer could make a killing, especially in the urban centers. However, at this time, it is not a destination for beer-lovers. Possibly in five to ten years, I would imagine that you’d find a much better selection. Hopefully if I have to go back, this will be the case. Either way, I know I’ll be packing my suitcase with some beers from home. You can never be too sure.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Beer Trip VI-Day Five

Day Five. Always a sad day for me. We normally take it easy on the fifth day, as the previous four have caught up to us. Also, the majority has wives and kids at home, and they don’t want to return home half-wasted. We set out from Ogallala, NE early in the morning. Our first of only two stops that day was actually a repeat visit: Thunderhead Brewing in Kearney. We had stopped there in Beer Trip II just as a stopping point, honestly not expecting too much. Thankfully we were treated to some excellent brews, so good in fact, we wanted to return. As luck would have it, we even had the same waitress we had four years ago. She remembered us somewhat, but the group had changed a lot since then.

Again, the brews were really good. That’s one of my favorite parts of Beer Trip. You’re in a small city in a low populated state, yet you find delicious beers being produced there. The Cornstalker Dark Wheat is one of my favorites, along with their MacTawisch Scottish Ale. They also have begun canning a couple of their beers since the last time we had visited. The Goldenfrau Honey Wheat and the Cornstalker are both available to take home or, because they can instead of bottle, to take tailgating, to parks, or camping. It’s a good thing, in my humble opinion, that more and more craft brewers are canning some of their beers. Bottles will always have a place, but for portability, you can’t beat a can of beer.

After we finished up lunch and brews at Thunderhead, it was time to go to our final destination, Nebraska Brewing Company in Papillion, Nebraska. We had heard the buzz in the beer community about what they were doing there and were excited to finally visit. We’re only a few hours south of NBC, but they don’t distribute to our area, and none of us had found the time to go up there, even for a day trip. Thanks to social networking I had connected with the owner, Paul, on Facebook. I had told him what we are all about and that we were going to be visiting, and we all hoped we could meet him if it fit into his schedule. Luckily for us he said he would be there and was looking forward to it.

We arrived in the late afternoon. It is located in your standard suburban outdoor shopping center, but what goes on inside is anything but standard. Also, we were meeting with some fellow craft beer advocates, Chad who lives in the Omaha area, and Dave, who came up from KC. We were welcomed by Paul almost as soon as we got in the door. He had set aside some tables for us in the bar area of the restaurant and he, along with his wife Kim, were soon bringing us over a huge selection of their fantastic beers. Their Hop God IPA I could not get enough of. It comes as no surprise it medaled in the World Beer Cup. It’s a Belgian style Tripel but hopped like an American IPA. It was a beer of true beauty. Thankfully I wasn’t driving that day, so my only concern was keeping my taste buds alive. The Cardinal Pale Ale was another hit with me. Throughout the tasting experience Paul and Kim were both there telling us about the beers, telling their story, and making the experience even better. I feel like I say it too much, but it never fails, that you will never meet greater people than those in the craft beer industry. They even pulled out some of their special and limited releases for us to try. Again, they are worthy of the high marks they receive. The Melange A Trois, which just won a bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival on Saturday, and Black Betty were amazing.

Before we ate Paul took us on a tour of the facility. I was oddly fascinated by the fact their brew system came from Japan. Maybe it’s because most everywhere you visit get theirs from Germany, so this was really cool to me. Also, they actually barrel-aged their beers right there in the restaurant. I assumed they were there for decoration, but no, they actually were filled with delicious brew.

After the tour we ate dinner (no surprise, awesome food too) and hung out with Paul and Kim some more. We ended up staying about three hours longer than we had planned, but that’s a very good thing. Paul and Kim humored us by each putting a sticker on the back of the EM-50. Without any doubt in this one Tripper’s opinion, the best Day Five stop in BT history, and one of the best ever on any of the Beer Trips. I was unable to go there for the Black Betty release this fall because work has me out of the country, but I don’t plan on missing any more of their releases.

It was the perfect end to one of the best Beer Trips we have taken. Now the planning for Beer Trip VII begins in earnest, and the hope that it will be as good as VI. No matter what, I know we’ll meet great people and have a great time. You’ll be hearing from me soon, I’m sure.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Beer Trip VI-Day Four

Day four started out somewhat rough. The previous day had involved a lot of driving, a lot of drinking (by those of us not driving, of course), and a late night. We woke up early in Laramie in order to get back to Colorado. This time we were headed for Longmont and the new-to-us Oskar Blues Home Made Liquids & Solids.

On Beer Trip III we had stopped at their original location in Lyons just a short drive north east of Longmont. The most striking feature of the new place is the large silo on the side of the building facing the highway that’s painted to look like their famous Dale’s Pale Ale can. OB was one of the early adopters of canning their craft beer.

Oskar Blues makes fantastic beers, and I was excited to see the new digs. Our pal Pfister from Wisconsin happened to be in the area so he met up with us there. He’s getting to be a regular on our Trips, and we always have a blast hanging out with him. As expected, the place was a bit trippy with crazy d├ęcor. Our server, Ganges, was very patient with us as we decided what all to try. Luckily for us she recommended their Smokin’ Wings which, not exaggerating, were some of the best wings I’ve ever had. Go there. Get them. End of story. They have a fantastic selection of brews on tap to try. I started out with a Pond Scum ESB that was really good. We shared an oak aged Ten Fiddy that is as awesome as it sounds. After eating we convinced Ganges to put the OB sticker on the back of the EM-50. In order to buy some of their beers we had to go a couple blocks away to their actual brewery. On the far side is their tasting room the Tasty Weasel. This place is even trippier than the restaurant. When you walk in, you enter the main tasting room with an awe inducing line up of their beers along with coolers filled with beers to buy. I didn’t notice at first, but just to the left of where you walk in, there was a doorway. You go through it and there’s basically a game room with couches and foosball tables. Oh, and it’s next to the canning line. We bought some cans to take home, as OB is still not available in KS (even though we’re right next door!) and headed out.
The second stop was to Avery Brewing in Boulder. A few of the Trippers had met Adam Avery earlier in the year at what was honestly one of the best tastings I personally have attended. Unfortunately, his schedule didn’t work out and he wasn’t able to meet us when we were at the tap room. We had a few samplers of their terrific brews, but didn’t take the brewery tour. We’ve been lucky enough to take countless tours, so we decided to pass on this one.We did meet up with some fellow Beer Trippers, although not part of our group. A husband and wife, they were driving around Colorado hitting every brewery they could. Always cool to meet others passionate about beer.
Next up was Dry Dock Brewing in Aurora. This was recommended by Pfister’s brother who lives in the area, and it was an excellent recommendation. I didn’t expect much walking up to it. It’s located in your standard suburban strip mall. However, my preconceptions were completely wrong. The beers deserved all the awards they had received. I had my second great ESB of the day, their HMS Victory ESB. I had a taste of their Trafalgar Braggot that weighed in at a hefty 12% ABV. It was good, but way too sweet for my taste. I’d recommend trying it though if it’s on tap. We spent quite a long time there enjoying their beers and just relaxing. A lot of times we end up just going and going on Beer Trips, so it was nice to just hang out.

From there we headed to our final brewery stop of the day, Bull and Bush Pub & Brewery in Denver. We were meeting up with friends of Dan and his wife that live in the area. Bull and Bush is designed to look like a genuine English pub. It was a pretty cool place. Little dark and dated, but that added to the experience, I thought. I have to be honest that by this point, I’d consumed copious amount of beer. I wish I could give names or an eloquent review, but alas, all I can remember is I kept wanting to drink more of one of them. Yeah, I’m cool. Dan’s friends were fun, even the pregnant one (just kidding, Amy!!) and we hung out in the parking lot for a while so they could check out the EM-50 and get some pics.

From there we headed north east towards Nebraska. Luckily for our livers and our waists, there weren’t any stops between Denver and the hotel. I fell asleep for the next few hours and woke up somewhere in Nebraska. Ironically the most expensive hotel of the trip was also the crappiest. Apparently hotels in Ogallala, NE are in high demand. We crashed for the night to rest up for the fifth and final day which turned out to be the best last day in all of our trips. More on that soon.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Beer Trip VI-Day Three

Of all of the days of all of the Beer Trips, Day Three of Beer Trip VI made me the most nervous going into it. The reason was because I really wanted to visit Grand Teton Brewing Company, one of my favorite breweries whose beers are available in Kansas. Unfortunately for us, they are located in Victor, ID which is over 1000 miles away from my home. But since I am the one who plans Beer Trip, I decided that we were going there. Because of that reason, I was nervous about how cool it would be considering that it was going to make us spend more time in the car, spend more money on gas, and spend less time at breweries. Anyway, I decided that was the case, so we were doing it. I just hoped that this part of the trip, the portion that took us from Fort Collins to Victor, Idaho and back (about eight hours each way), and was initially created solely because I wanted to go to Grand Teton Brewing Company, was going to be worth the trip. It didn’t hurt that I also set up at stop for us at Snake River Brewing Company in Jackson Hole, not far from Victor.
We woke up in Pinedale, WY, after getting in late the night before. We did the normal routine, slowly getting up, having breakfast if we so choose, and head on our way. We had an appointment to be at Grand Teton at 10 AM, so the plan was to leave at 7:30 AM. One note that morning: it was really effing cold. I mean, really cold, and unexpected. Since it was July 16th, I figured it would be safe to wear shorts and a t-shirt like every other summer Beer Trip day. Well, this particular day, I was ready outside to go around 7 AM while the others ate breakfast (I’m not really a breakfast guy, especially on BT). Unfortunately, it was about 45 degrees outside. One of the guys said that they saw a thermometer that read 39 degrees, which I don’t think was accurate, but it was really cold. We hit the road on time, and headed over to Idaho.
The ride up to the Jackson Hole area was interesting for two reasons. The first and frustrating one was that they had heavy construction, and we didn’t move for about 15 minutes as they only had one-way traffic for about a five-mile stretch. The good thing was that we planned on arriving early to Grand Teton, so it didn’t put us behind schedule. The other thing dealt with Rob’s driving, as he is known as a lead foot. As we headed up, he was probably driving about 85 mph in a 70 mph zone, and a cop put on his lights as we were passing him going the other direction. He pointed down, to let Rob know to slow down, and then turned off his lights and went about his way. With the stash of beer that we had in the EM-50, it was a bit of a scare for us. Luckily, nothing came of it, and we were able to make it without any issues, which was great because we were all in a great mood driving through one of the most beautiful parts of the country. The drive around the Jackson Hole area is unbelievably gorgeous. For me, this made me feel better about the whole journey this far, because I knew everyone else felt the same. Even if Grand Teton and Snake River Brewing Company were so-so, it was worth it for the views.

We got to Grand Teton about 9:40 AM, so we took our time in their parking lot taking pictures and enjoying the views. Maybe five minutes later, the bartender, Abby, yelled for us to come in, so we did. I had scheduled the visit, but I wasn’t sure who was going to show us around. I knew that they were busy with a festival in town, so I was just happy someone was there for us. Abby was really, really nice to us, and she showed us around the place, which was smaller than I would have guessed it. I mean, they have their beers in California and even Kansas, so I figured it would be a bigger place, especially because they make such great beers. The tour was quick, and she poured us some samples. A few minutes later, one of the brewers, Marks, came out and talked to us. He was a younger guy, and was really cool to talk to. He knew a lot of stuff, and both he and Abby were really great. We probably spent about $300 as a group on their beers and merch, including some of their root beer. After Marks put a Grand Teton sticker on the EM-50, we rolled out about 11:15, ahead of schedule, and made our way to Jackson Hole.

Snake River Brewing Company has had a lot of success at the Great American Beer Festival. Well, that is an understatement. They are the most award-winning small brewery in the history of the event. Before this trip, I had only had bottles of their Pale Ale and Zonkers Stout, both which I really enjoyed. I joined the Snake River group on Facebook, and one day I got an email from Tim Harland about a new beer that was being released. I sent him an email back, telling him about us making our trip to the area for Beer Trip, and he seemed really interested in us stopping there. We exchanged a few messages, and told him we were looking forward to checking out Snake River and meeting him when we got there.

When we walked in, we walked up to the hostess stand when we heard, “Beer Trippers! What are you guys doing here?!?!?” It was Tim, and he had a big smile on his face and we introduced ourselves to him and shook his hand. He immediately took us to the bar, poured us a beer of our choice, and gave us a quick tour of the brewery. It was probably the best welcome to a brewery on any Beer Trip. Tim showed us around, and is basically one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. Just a guy who is proud of Snake River, as he should be, and about as friendly, upbeat, and cool as could be. Unfortunately, he had to leave early, so he only hung out with us for a few minutes at our table before leaving. We did give him some BBQ sauce, beers, and one of Kelly’s beer bottle holders, and he gave us each some stickers, free beer, and other things, and even gave me a really nice shirt and visor.

Then he rolled around with his sweet ride, and Kelly and the other guys were loving it. I’m not a car guy, so I don’t even know what it was, but it was pretty cool. He left and we had a really nice lunch there. It was phenomenal actually. Really good food, and the price was nice too, especially for Jackson Hole. As we finished up, their head brewer Chris Erickson showed up. For me, this was pretty cool, because Chris was featured in “American Beer.” He was the guy who said you could tell the head brewer at a brewery because he’s the one who’s driving the forklift. Not surprisingly, as he led us though another tour of the brewery, we saw the forklift and had to bring that up to him. Again, another great guy. Much like Surly Brewing Company was with Omar and head brewer Todd on Beer Trip V, Snake River had two of my favorite people that I ever met on a Beer Trip. We went back to pay our tab, and they even took money off of our bill. We bought a few bottles of beer to take home, although for some reason I didn’t buy any of their Pale Ale or Zonker Stout like I meant to. I am still mad about that. I wish I had gotten at least a case. Stupid me. Anyway, it probably doesn’t need to be said by me, but Snake River was easily one of my favorite Beer Trip stops of all time.

The next stop was Wind River Brewing Company in Pinedale, which we didn’t go to the night before because we got in town too late. It was a smaller place, but still rather nice. We had a light dinner there since it had been awhile since we were at Snake River about an hour and a half longer than we originally planned. That’s not a complaint either. If we didn’t have to end up in Laramie at night, I would have stayed at Snake River all day. Anyway, we ate a nice, light meal outside, had a couple of pitchers of beer, and even bought a few four-packs of their beer to bring back. While not one of the more memorable stops (probably due to how great Snake River was), but a pretty nice place nonetheless.
We left Pinedale around 5PM for Laramie, which is about 5 hours away. We didn’t do a great job in planning our next gas stop, as we spent about 30 cents more per gallon at a place that wasn’t open at 8 PM on a Friday night (but pay at the pump tanks) and had three cars there of people who knew each other. It was a weird stop, as they just stayed there. They were there before us, but were in no hurry to get going. One of the guys said it once we left (probably Ed) that it looked like people meeting for a drug deal. It really did. Just odd. We got to our hotel around 10 or so, and we were debating whether or not to go to one of their two brewpubs. Both Chris and Tim from Snake River said that both the Library and Altitude Chophouse had great beers (and that their brewers were good guys), and after calling to see how late they were open (both 2 AM), we went to Altitude. It was a really nice place, a higher end type brewpub. Our bartender was extremely friendly to us, even taking us on a mini tour of their brewing operation. Their beers were solid too, as I really liked their 9% ABV Grand Cru. After about an hour or so, the place was close to empty, so we decided to check out the Library, another brewpub. This place was more of a college bar to me, which is what I expected to find in Laramie. They also had nice beers, but one stuck out to us more than the others: a “peanut butter and jelly” beer. Andy asked if he could have a sample, but the bartender said that they weren’t allowed to give out samples of that beer, because everyone wants to try it but few buy it. I asked how much it was, and the $4 price was fine for me, especially since I’d share it. As gross as it sounded to me, I gave it a whirl. Well, I have to say, it tasted like a peanut butter and jelly beer. And not in a bad way. It was a very drinkable beer. Ed even liked it enough to order one of his own.

We hung out for awhile (I honestly don’t remember how long), and eventually called it a night. The only day with five brewery stops of our trip, and it ended up being one of the best Beer Trip days we ever had.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Day 2 of Beer Trip VI

Day two started out early and that was my fault. Why? Well I saw on Man v. Food about at restaurant that has these very large pancakes that had sausage or bacon built into the pancakes themselves. In order for me to become fatter, we had to be at the Buff Restaurant in Boulder by 7am which everybody graciously agreed to. We plow through breakfast and we head towards Ft. Collins, Co. because our pal Adam set us up a VIP

Tour at New Belgium.

We show up a bit early which allowed us to take some pics of the outside of the place. We go in and we meet up with our awesome VIP guide Penelope. She asks if there is anything special we’d like to see, I ask if we can we pretty please head to the top of the fermenters outside which she says is no prob what so ever, so I’m stoked. Dan asks her if she could do her best to make me cry by the end of the tour. This stems from our first NB tour on BT II. You want to know what went down, read this: BT II New Belgium. She said she’d do her best. Then she almost got to me by telling me about how long she’s been working for them and how it’s changed her life. I’m immediately jealous of Penelope, but it’s a good jealous. Now 3 of the guys haven’t been on the fantastic journey we’re about to embark on so we ask her to start from the beginning and clue Ed, Kelly and Rob in on how New Belgium got its start. I have no problem hearing all of this a second time, and hope in the future to hear it a few more if I’m lucky enough to. We go in and check out the first mash tun, kettle, and bottler that they started with, followed up with visit to the computer room where everything is monitored and controlled. We head up the stairs to check out the mash tun, and kettle room where we stop and have another beer to get us through the tour. Next stop is my request of visiting the top of the fermenters. This is not

only kick ass to me because of the view up there but, the film that inspired Beer Trip, American Beer got to go up there, and well it’s kicks ass! I can’t believe how much this place has grown since we were here 4 years ago and you can really see a difference and standing on containers holding a few million bottles of New Belgium beer is extremely helpful. Speaking of bottles of New Belgium, we head over to the bottling building that was new for us to check out. We go in and I’m immediately shocked on how many bottles are flying around this place. Of all the brewery tours I’ve only seen one other working bottling line and this was probably quadruple the size of that one.

I couldn’t pull my eyes away from it, it was just a fascinating operation to watch, and I would have no problem sitting there with a 12ver of Fat Tire and watch those bottles do what they have to do to get filled. We walked back into the main brewery where we allowed to do the spiral slide. On our first visit I for some reason opted out of going down the slide and I wasn’t going to let that opportunity pass me by again. It was even cooler than I thought! Just a very cool experience to say the very least. Now that we were slightly past two hours into our tour and we know Penelope needs to eat and move on with her day, as I’m sure she wasn’t planning on us taking up half her day. She could not of been better to us if she tried. We showed her a small token of our appreciation by giving her a hand made by Kelly counter balance bottle holder and a bottle of New Glarus Red for her to enjoy later. Can’t thank Adam enough for setting us up with Penelope, and can’t thank Penelope enough for showing us another amazing trip to New Belgium. If you are anywhere near Ft. Collins do yourself a favor and go see the incredible people of New Belgium, I promise you won’t be disappointed.

We left New Belgium but not until we luck out and catch a food cart that happened to be located in the parking lot. We grab a quick bite and head over to Odell Brewing Company which is all of a 3 minute drive from New Belgium.

We meet my friend Melissa and we head into O’Dell’s. We meet John who had been exchanging email and phone calls with Dan. We got the chance to meet John and Doug O’Dell about month or so before our trip which was extremely cool, but now we are at the brewery and it’s even better! We go into the new tap room and I have to say it is really sweet on the inside with plenty of room, much nicer than our last visit. We spot Doug on our way in and Dan went back to the EM-50 to grab his No. 37 bottle of Wood Cut that he’s had for quite a while. Doug O’Dell was cool enough to sign the bottle for Dan and I know for sure what bottle of beer Dan will be having on his 37th birthday. The smile on Dan’s face after Doug signed that bottle was priceless. Now John is serving us up, asking us what we want and we didn’t waste a single second thinking about it.

John hooked us up and we were enjoying talking beer and enjoying each other’s company. John then took us on a private tour and we got to take a nice look, as everybody inside the brewery was pretty busy making beer. We got to go into the coolers where they kept the hops and let’s just say I’m pretty sure I had relations with a very large container of hops. I was getting upset when people were knocking the hop residue off of me I wanted that lovely hop aroma on me as long as possible. We make our way back to the tap room, and John starts busting out some of the Wood Cut series and let’s just say those beers are just absolutely wonderful. He kept pouring them and we kept drinking them. Everything we had was simply wonderful and we couldn’t have had a better time, when all of a sudden John comes out of the back cooler with a case of Mountain Reserve for us to take home. Man how awesome is that! What a wonderful stop with great people and fabulous beer! We made our purchases and headed off for a long, long driveup to Pinedale, Wyoming.

We all hop into the RV and get settled in for our trek north to the rocky dirt pile known as Wyoming. Along the way we stop off for dinner at a place called Bitter Creek Brewing in Rock Springs, Wy. Nice place with pricey food and decent beer. We finally pull into Pinedale at 11pm and enjoy a good nights sleep!

Another great day with the stops at New Belgium and O’Dell’s who both treated us better than we deserve, however it is greatly appreciated by each of us. We’re lucky guys and this is only day 2! I have no reason to believe there won’t be even more greatness on Day 3! Yeah I’m spoiled!


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Beer Trip VI-Day One

Wednesday, July 14, 2010. This was a day I had marked on my calendar for a long time. And not because it was Bastille Day or my brother’s 41st birthday, although those are cool. Nope, it’s because out of all of the Beer Trips to this point, this was the one I was looking forward to the most. Basically, the other trips all had one or maybe two private tours set up, while this one had five pre-arranged. So when the day finally came, I was up and ready about an hour earlier than I needed to be. Everyone else showed up pretty early as well for the 7:30 AM departure time. Well, except for Ed, but we’ll look past that.

We eventually hit the road not far behind schedule and headed west down I-70 towards Hays, Kansas. I-70 in Kansas is great for many things, but none more than the steady stream of billboards telling you about how Jesus is the greatest and abortion is the worst. I wonder how many people have changed their religion or viewpoint on abortion with this effective advertising. My guess is one person, at best. But I digress. Gella’s Diner and Liquid Bread Brewing Company is one of the best brewpubs that I have ever been to, so whenever I drive through Hays, I make it a point to stop there. Not only does their brewer Gerald make phenomenal beers (and he really, really does), but the food and atmosphere of Gella’s would, as Andy likes to say, fit in any major city in the country like New York City or San Francisco. It truly is a gem of a place. We ordered our food, enjoyed a couple pints of Lb.’s beers, including their IPA which is my favorite, and had a really satisfying first stop on Beer Trip VI. We finished up, and drove west to Colorado.

As is the case for most people, eastern Colorado is one of the most boring places to drive through. It also doesn’t help that their highway roads are awful. And like most people, I never can resist the urge to say the now hack joke line from “Dumb and Dumber”, “That John Denver’s full of shit!” when driving there. Luckily, the boring part of Colorado doesn’t last too long before you get to Denver. Our next stop was in Nederland, Colorado, to Wild Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery. Our friend Adam, who works for New Belgium Brewing Company, told us that this was one of his favorite places in the area, so we decided to check it out. Nederland is located about 20 miles of beautiful scenery away from Boulder, and the views alone were worth the trip up there. When we arrived, we were lucky enough to get a table for six on the deck overlooking the mountains. The service there was great, and Mountain Sun’s IPA was one of the best I’d ever had. I mean this in the best way possible, but it was an unfiltered IPA (I couldn’t see my hand through the glass) that looked like orange juice and even tasted a bit like it. It was awesome. The food at Wild Mountain was great as well, as I think everyone enjoyed whatever barbeque-type plate they did. I had the pulled pork and it was solid. We hung out there a bit, taking in the view, before we headed back to Boulder to check into our hotel before heading out into town.

The next place we visited was Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery in Boulder, another place recommended by Adam and was featured in the latest issue of Beer Advocate magazine. Not that we ever doubted him, but Adam steered us right again with this place. It was really packed, which was a little bit surprising because it was summer when school wasn’t in session. I think we were expecting a busy crowd, but this was beyond what we thought. Luckily, Stefan, a bartender there, spotted me and took our beer orders. Again, for the third time on Day One, the beers at the brewpub were outstanding. We had to stand up towards the back of the bar until a table finally opened up, but it was a really cool scene worth waiting for a table. Not too hipster like I had thought it’d be. Just a nice, laid back place, at least as laid back as a really crowded brewpub can be. After a few beers, someone suggested we check out Colorado Brewing Company a few blocks away.

Colorado Brewing was kind of a trip. First of all, I didn’t like the idea of paying a cover charge to go in, but it was only $1 and there was a band. I didn’t realize there was a band at first, so I was ready to go home and call it a night. This band was a reggae band that, per the lead singer, had no Jamaicans, but she was Hawaiian so it was close enough. They were interesting enough, and after ordering a beer (a decent pale ale) I went to the restroom. Innocently, I thought, but as I returned there was a really drunk 50-something year old guy dancing right by the stage. I stood at the edge of it, and said drunk guy (who was really drunk if I, after a day of solid brewpubs, thought he was) decided to push himself in front of me and proceeded to slam his ass into my crotch. It was around that time that I decided I had enough, which I think the rest of the Beer Trippers felt the same about. We walked back to the EM-50, where I felt it would be a good time to pull a “Teen Wolf” on the still-parked RV. And if you think about it, there really isn’t a better way to end Day One of a Beer Trip.