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!