Monday, September 5, 2011

Brooklyn Brewery and Brewers for Brewers Event

I actually paid two visits to Brooklyn Brewery and I’m going to put both in to this one post. My first visit was for their standard tour and tasting. I had spent the majority of my day at Ground Zero which is a very sobering experience. Luckily the tour at Brooklyn is the perfect pick-you-up. I arrived early and hung around the front area not knowing what to do exactly. I saw a sign to buy tokens for the tasting so I went ahead and bought several as it’s NYC and I can use the subway and no worries about driving. I went and got an Irish Stout as that’s one I’d never tried before. To my great glee, you pretty much get a full cup of beer with your token, not just a taster as I expected. And with the quality of their beer, that’s a good thing.

Eventually they made an announcement that the tour was going to start and congregate up front. Our tour guide led us back to what is the new brewery. He gave a short overview on the history of the brewery and the neighborhood. You can’t spend time in Brooklyn and not notice the extraordinary number of hipsters and he mentioned this. He said when the brewery opened there was a lot more crack and meth and a lot fewer bikes and ironic mustaches. It then became the best brewery tour ever. If you’ve been on one tour, honestly, you’ve been on them all. This is where we store the malt, this is the mashtun, here are our fermenters, et cetera. However on this one he simply said, “This is the brewery, here’s a poster with the process, look around and take all the pics you want, or just go back and drink more beer.”

I took a couple quick pics and then went back to the tasting room. In the 15 minutes I’d been away the room had filled up quite a bit more. People had ordered pizza and were hanging out playing cards, and just enjoying the brews. It’s a great way to do tours and tastings in my opinion and makes it more a part of the community. I hung out for a couple hours using up the tokens I’d purchased. Because Brooklyn’s brews aren’t available in Kansas (shocking, I know), I got to try several that I hadn’t been able to obtain via trade. I bought a bottle of the Local 2 and a hoodie on the way out. I came to NYC via India and thought late March/Early April would be warmer for some reason and didn’t bring any warm clothes. It said “BROOKLYN” across the front and assumed I’d be an even bigger typical tourist. I can’t tell you how many times people asked me where in Brooklyn I came from. The funniest was when a homeless man asked me for money, and I said I didn’t have any money and got a “F*ck you, Brooklyn! You people are a**holes!”

Anyway, I digress. The next day, the Brewery was holding a benefit for Kiuchi Brewery in Japan as I was there just a couple weeks after the devastating earthquake and tsunami. The Brewers for Brewers event was held at the brewery and featured breweries from all around the NY area along with locally owned restaurants. There was a silent auction up front that had so many things I wanted to bid on, but most involved bottles or growlers of beer that are difficult to get on a plane, to say the least. The food was fantastic (SlantShack Jerky earned a new fan), but the beers were even better. Schmaltz Brewing had their Freak series available along with their Jewbelation which is one of my favorite beers. I also got to sample Sixpoint, Heartland, Empire, and Kelso brews which was perfect because I was either unable to fit them into the schedule or couldn’t get a tour. Of course, all of the Brooklyn beers were on tap as well.

I felt like such a fan-boy when I saw Garrett Oliver walking around. Of all the Beer Trip guys, I’m the most socially-inept. Generally chatting up people I leave to Dan, Andy, or Kelly and I just enjoy the beers and the experience. I attempted to talk to him, but I stumbled on my words and his chuckles weren’t from my attempts at humor but to ease the tension. But he couldn’t have been a nicer guy. He could have just blown me off, but he humored me until I said I’d let him go. Later on in the evening he gave a great speech on the reason for the benefit and the relationship they had with Kiuchi.

I continued to enjoy my beer samples and jerky for a while before heading back up to my hotel in Queens. My two experiences with Brooklyn were fantastic, and I loved the format of the tours that really made the brewery part of the community and not just a business. I look very forward to returning someday soon.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


First things first. This was not our average Beer Trip. Not even close. We were only going to go for three days, due to a couple guys being super busy with new careers and one moving soon. The prices of gas was around $3.70 here in the Midwest, and with us planning on heading east originally, the prices were only going to go upward. So without the normal fine-tuned itinerary thanks to Dan’s planning awesomeness, this was definitely not our normal Beer Trip. With us only rolling out for three days, we wanted to go someplace close, with good beer, and with enough brewpubs to keep us busy...Hellooooooo Minneapolis, Minnesota!

We start off about 8 AM from Dan’s house on a normal steamy July day. I decided to drive, which I have never done before on the first day, but we pile in to the EM-50, get on I-35, and head north. We go about 20 miles, and I decide to call my pops who lives about 70 miles north, in a area where we will be passing through in about 45 minutes. I ask him, “You ready?” “Ready for what?” “We’re coming by to pick you up; you’re going to go on Beer Trip aren’t ya?” After answering a couple more questions, I hang up the phone, look over at Dan, and I believe my quote was something like “Holy shit! Dude is actually going to go with us, I hope that’s cool.” Dan says, “Well yeah...that’s totally cool man!”

After our short stop to pick up my pops, Bill, we’re heading North to Knoxville, Iowa, and Peace Tree Brewing. We get there a little bit early and grab a quick bite. We meet our buddy Heemer who decided to join up with us from Des Moines. We were greeted by Dani who just also

happened to be the brewer’s wife, and Kaleb who is a college guy working at Peace for the summer. This was a very cool renovated building in downtown Knoxville. The tap room was very well decorated, with a cool vibe to it. Dani took us to back room where her husband makes some very nice beers. She gave us the quick and easy tour, which was totally cool with me. Dani and Kaleb started pouring us sample after sample of great tasting brews. They had an extremely cool cycling jersey that I knew Rob would be buying before we left since he was participating in bike ride across the state of Iowa. (crazy!) A big question for us was how they came up with the name Peace Tree. It’s a very cool story, and you can read all about it right here The brewery is fairly new and growing quickly, which is no real surprise with the beer they’re serving up. This is not a brewpub, so no food is served, however you can get food delivered to the tap room, which I personally think is a super cool idea. If you’re anywhere near Knoxville, or in Iowa, try to find their beer, as they do bottle. To keep up our newish tradition started on Beer Trip V, we had Dani and Kaleb place one of their cool stickers on the back of the EM-50. We say our good-byes and keep trucking north. Next stop, Minneapolis.

As we head north the sky is starting to look more and more gnarly. We get to the Minnesota border and the sky flat out opens up. It’s raining as hard as I have ever seen it rain while driving. There are two vehicles on the highway, us and a dude about five car lengths in front of us doing about 40 mph. Everybody else was on the side of the road. This lasts about 20 miles until we finally break free of it, only to be stopped about an hour later with a hour and 20 min delay sitting in traffic thanks to what I can only guess would be the state of Minnesota shutting down. We finally get to the hotel, check in, and go meet a Beer Trip veteran Travis.

We pile into the RV and head to hipster heaven, and Herkimer Pub and Brewery in Uptown. For whatever reason Mother Nature was being a complete bitch and decided to throw a bit of a heat wave right into the face of the Twin Cities.

We stroll into Herkimer and meet up with Travis. We’re all starving and thirsty! We all order up some brews that were pretty solid along with some food. It was a place that was really crowded and really hot so we decided to head across the street to a place called Muddy Waters. This place was just as warm, but it had a bunch of different beers available along with a really great server, whom Travis informed me about since he arrived fairly early and had been working this whole area over for the past six hours or so. After the guys had a few beers, it had quickly become a long day, so we headed back to the hotel where most of us went down to the bar to grab a nightcap.

Like I said from the beginning this was not our normal Beer Trip. We really didn’t have things planned out to a gnat’s ass and we weren’t really on a time schedule, which was kind of nice. Our first stop of the day was Barley John’s which we had stopped at on Beer Trip V but, most of us didn’t remember much of that stop, since we were pretty um, how do you say it, um, DRUNK!

We also met Fiona whom was a friend of Tim who he met, of all places, India. Fiona was originally from Dublin, and had lived in Minneapolis for a few years. Barley John's is a pretty small place with a really nice outside sitting area. It’s just a cool, small place to grab yourself a very, very well made beer. I didn’t eat there this time, but everything looked better than good. Dan got a beer called Dark Knight that we were told was 18%. I had just a sip, but it was just wonderful. On Rate Beer, it’s got a score of 100. So, yeah rock solid stuff from these guys. I think this is just a must stop if you’re in Minneapolis.

Next up we stop by an Aldi grocery store. So your next question should be, “What the hell?!?!” I’ll get back to that in a bit.

Next we decided we're going to head to a place that is only about 7 months old called Harriet Brewing. This is in an older neighborhood in what looks like a old warehouse. They didn’t have formal tours that day, but they did have an open house, where they were serving up their beers for people to sample. We walk in and are greeted by a guy in the tap room asking if we’d like a taste. Well hell yeah we do, this is Beer Trip! Inside the tap room they have some awesome art hanging up all over, most of it which is for sale. I tried like hell to get my dad to pop $450 for a really kick ass painting that happened to be the original to what was the label to one of their beers. Harriet was basically run mostly by volunteers that day, and they were all very cool and were all knowledgeable about what is going on. We tried everything they had to offer and it all was very tasty. Most of their growler sales were from people who live within a three-mile radius of the brewery. Harriet also had the only fermenters that had decorative wood on the outside of them. Only benefit was looking cool. A few of us grabbed growlers and Timmy even got some art work, which were very cool and basically mini prints of the originals.

So our Aldi visit had to do with our next stop. SURLY! Our friend Keith, aka Surly Boy Wonder, was able to get us into their tour for the Saturday we would be in town. We told SBW (SurlyBoy Wonder) we’d be there with plenty of canned goods, as they ask you to bring canned goods as your payment for the tour. We delivered as promised and had to borrow their dolly to bring it all in. We were allowed to show up a bit early where we met Jori, one of the many Surly Nation

volunteers who help out during tours and gatherings at the brew house along with doing other volunteering for the Surly Gives a Damn. She welcomed us with open arms and made us feel right at home by pouring us a nice glass of Surly beer. This was Beer Trip's second visit to Surly, but Rob and I have been up for Surly’s Darkness Day the past two years, where we became friends with SBW and Todd the brewer at Surly. We all just kind of hung out talked with Todd, who was gracious enough to hang out with us until the tour started.

The crowd for this tour was unreal! Over a hundred people show up, and they kind of split this up into two sections. The first part is about the history of Surly and how it started, with the second part being about how everything is made and canned up. During the history portion of the tour, Beer Trip was mentioned by the tour guide and what we’re about, which I believe most of the guys got a good chuckle from. What I didn’t expect was the reaction afterward. During the “intermission” of the tour, no less than 10 to 12 people stopped to talk with us about where we have been and/or how their grandpa lived in KC, or my favorite question, how in the hell did you do that many places in five days? (I wish I could answer that one myself). It was one of the coolest moments about this trip. People wanting to talk to us about our beer travels. Really, come on, how freaking awesome is that! I felt bad that I had to cut some of the conversations short, but we truly appreciate everyone who stopped and took time to talk to us. As time was winding down on the tour we had to get moving as we had dinner reservations at Café Twenty Eight. A fabulous restaurant that is owned by Todd’s absolutely lovely wife Linda. I have been here a couple times, once with Rob, but the rest of the guys, including a couple of Tim’s friends, had not been there before. Linda and her staff couldn’t have treated us any better than they did. The food was amazing and since they were Surly’s first customer, guess what they had on tap? You guessed it...plenty of Surly along with a boat load of other bottle offerings. For dessert, Linda and Todd, who even joined us for dinner, brought out a treat of treats, a bottle each of Surly TWO and FOUR. Like I said before, she couldn’t have treated us bette! Todd told me that he had this new place

close to Café 28 that he wanted to take us to, and that he even had a room in the bar reserved for us. I had no idea where we were going but it just so happened that it was Muddy Waters, the bar we were at the night before. Like I stated earlier, Mother Nature was just being a complete and utter bitch about the humidity and oppressive heat. This poor room had zero air flowing through it and was pretty warm for everybody. We all looked like we had been brutalized by the heat and a full day of drinking. We hung out for awhile until it was time to head back to the hotel. I can’t wait to go back to Muddy Waters when the weather is cool, cuz it really was a neat place.

The next day our first stop is Town Hall. Last time were in Minneapolis. I was driving the day we went to Town Hall so I was excited to try some of their beers. Travis had stopped in at Town Hall while he was waiting for us to arrive, and he told us we must try their beer LSD. We did and it was well, trippy. A lighter beer, with tons of flavor. They also known for having a great IPA named Marsala Mama. The food here is worth the visit as well. Dan and I got the goat cheese nachos, and we both were in awe of them. Their beers were all high quality and very tasty. The building this place is in is quite cool as well. The tin tiled ceiling really sets it off along with huge wood features. A great place to grab a bite, with a pint.

We have a long drive ahead of us so we make our way south where our next stop will be Rock Bottom in Des Moines. We meet back up with Heemer and some of his friends, who were homebrewers as well. It’s about dinner time so we all grab something to eat and a few beers to wash them down with. Rock Bottom has solid brews, and for a chain, they do a good job of allowing the brewers to have some freedoms. Apparently that’s going to change, but I hope not as drastically as I’ve heard that they might be doing. After dinner, we keep on heading south where we drop Bill off followed by a short trip to the airport to drop Kelly off, since he happened to fly in on Saturday morning to meet up with us for the rest of the trip. We got back to Dan’s, separated our beer haul, and headed home after a very fun, although short Beer Trip VII.

I like to take a moment to say a huge THANK YOU to any and everybody who had anything to do with any part of the Beer Trip’s I was on. I’m retiring from Beer Trip, and I have to say that each trip easily got better and better each time. I simply couldn’t imagine these trips being as fun as they were without Dan, Timmy, Ed, Rob, Kelly, John, Travis and even Jerry! I love these guys, and I am eternally grateful to each of them for making each trip a very memorable experience in my life. A very, very sincere "Thank you!" to each one you guys!


Monday, May 16, 2011

Chelsea Brewing Company

I recently was fortunate enough to spend a week in New York City and spend some time checking out the local beer scene. I’d heard that New York actually wasn’t a great beer town, but after my experiences I’d beg to differ. Although it was my second to last day in NYC, I’m going to start by writing about Chelsea Brewing Company.
I spent the morning at the Empire State Building, and being a dumb tourist, thought I’d just walk over to the west side of Manhattan. I made it as far as Madison Square Garden and decided the street numbers weren’t dropping fast enough and the subway sounded like a much better option. I got off at my stop, and what seemed to be a theme of the trip, I headed the wrong direction. I walked a few blocks before realizing this, of course. Finally, after much delay, I arrived at a large building that had a sign that said the brewery was in there. I didn’t realize I was basically walking into the backside of the complex because is built to face the water (an address of Chelsea Piers, Pier 59 should have clued me in).
I decided to take a seat at the bar but after looking around I should have asked for a seat at a lower level because there are huge windows looking out onto the water. Luckily though I had a great bartender who made up for missing out on the view. I ordered a sampler and a burger to eat. The sampler consisted of 6 beers. They were honestly all good, but the Black Hole XXX Stout blew me away. Stouts I rarely find amazing. Maybe if it’s barrel aged or imperial, but for the most part, the stout part of the sampler is normally a “It’s good, but what’s next?” beer. I began drinking it and it suddenly hit me that I was drinking an awesome stout.

The bartender brought me a couple more samplers of beers that they don’t offer in their regular sampler including a pumpkin beer that was interesting, and I mean that in a good way.
After I horked down my burger and sampler I walked around outside and checked out the view. Really wish I’d been there later in spring because there is outside seating on the boardwalk that would have been awesome, even more so than the seats looking out the window.

I then went back inside and started looking in to the brewery and taking some pics when a man walked up to me and asked if I’d like to go inside and see it up close. As it turns out, it was one of the brewers, Mark Szmaida.

Even after the awesome beers and great burger, this turned out to be my favorite part of my visit. We just hung out and talked for probably 30 minutes. We spoke a bit about beer trip; a lot about the New York beer scene which was fascinating. He couldn’t have been a more gracious host, but that seems to be the consistent case with those in the craft beer world. Chelsea Brewing’s brews are only available on tap in the northeast. If you live in the area or are fortunate enough to visit one of the world’s truly great cities, please go by the brewery itself or find a place that serves their beers. You won’t be disappointed and you’ll be supporting a great brewery.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Beer Trip 6.5 - Broadway Brewing Company

The last stop on Beer Trip 6.5 was Broadway Brewery in Columbia, Missouri. We were supposed to go straight to Tin Mill Brewery in Hermann, Missouri, after Schlafly, but because Troika, James, and company treated us so well, we ended up staying at Schlafly about two hours longer than we expected as Tim stated. So Tin Mill was out, and on to Columbia we went to have dinner before calling it a Beer Trip.

When we got to Columbia, the Gods must have known that we were from Kansas and I was a KU alum, as it suddenly started to pour (which is why we have no pics since Tim didn’t want to have his camera out in the rain). Kelly was driving, and he was being a sweet heart, so he dropped us off at the front so we could stay dry. It was a good thing he did this too, as Broadway was packed. There weren’t a lot of tables there, as the place is kinda small, and there was a party or two going on. Luckily, we arrived before a lot of other people showed up, so we were seated by the time Kelly made it in (although it took him awhile to find a spot). We were greeted pretty quickly, and I wasn’t sure if it was because they were busy and they wanted to turn over the tables as quickly or because we were probably underdressed for the place. It was a pretty nice place, and not a fancy place, but a place that was a lot nicer than most brewpubs.

Their beer list was pretty solid, as they had about seven or eight of their beers on tap, plus guest taps from great places like Bell’s. Two of the beers that they had were an Imperial Stout and an Imperial IPA. A couple of us ordered some of those, and we passed them around the table. They were both pretty tasty. The other guys ordered some of their standard beers, including their ESB and Altbier. These beers were also really good, especially for their style.
As is the case with most Beer Trip last stops, most of us weren’t hungry and some were ready to head home (Nebraska Brewing Company on BT VI being the major exception, as I don’t think any of us wanted to leave ever there). I ordered a burger (very good), while others ordered some of their appetizers. Especially popular was their Peasant Platter, which consisted of cheeses, fruit, vegetables, and toast. The soup of the day was a beer cheese soup, and a couple of guys ordered that and commented about how liked it as well.

We hung out for a little over an hour, and it was a really good place. If it wasn’t the last stop of Beer Trip and the fact that we were all pretty worn out, we probably would have hung out longer and tried more of their beers. Everything was terrific, and it wasn’t two hours from home, I’d have been back there already. Definitely a place to stop at if in the area or if you need a break from all the fireworks and porn shops while traveling on I-70 (and yes, I know I beat that to death, but really, how can I not?).

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Beer Trip 6.5-Schlafly Tap Room

After a great visit to Urban Chestnut, it was time to move on to our second stop of the day, the Schlafly Tap Room. It is the original location located near downtown STL. We arrived a bit early for our scheduled tour. We were lucky enough to get a special VIP tour that they don’t do very often, but Dan using his network of friends and associates was able to score one for us. We had a beer at the bar while we waited for the tour to start. Troika, who had taken us around the Bottleworks location the previous day joined us again.

Our tour guide James met us at the bar and took us back into the brew area. It was very small and we were told that they use that area now for test batches and some limited release beers. James talked some about the history of the building and how it was originally housed printing presses. Another interesting fact was the neighborhood was so bad before urban renewal, that “Lost in New York” was filmed there because it looked like a wasteland. They even have a picture of Snake walking in front of the building that would someday house Schlafly.
From there we went down to the basement of the building. Part of the building was destroyed by fire before they moved in, and it was obvious what area was rebuilt once you got down there just from the wood floor joists. The tap cooler is housed in this area as well as a bottler for their special beers. Here we were lucky enough to try their barleywine.

Off the side from the bottler was a dark, un-used room. This room at one time housed a boiler for the building. They’ve been trying to remove it, but it hasn’t been an easy task. Off that room was another, funky, smaller room that literally goes underneath the street in front of the building where they had some of their beers aging in barrels. The biggest surprise to me came at the end of the tour. They set up tables with cheeses and bread and pitchers of their beers for us to sample, along with two bottles of their 750ml bottles, including their Imperial Stout. We hung out for quite a while talking to James and Troika. They even gave us each a special glass that only those on the VIP your get. It was really cool, to say the least.

After awhile, another VIP group of possible investors was making their way to where we were, so it was time to go back upstairs and eat some of their amazing food, along with drink more of their beers. Unfortunately they had already ran out of the vanilla stout that they had just tapped the day before (which we were lucky enough to have at Bottleworks), but they had many more amazing brews which I happily drank. The food is almost completely opposite from what they offer at the Bottleworks. While there, the menu is more modern, lighter, and often organic, at the Tap Works, as one person there put it, they have a deep fryer and aren’t afraid to use it. I ended up ordering turkey, cheese, and cranberry coated in funnel cake batter and then, of course, deep fried. It was deliciously artery-clogging and I could only finish half of it. I got up at one point to check out the pictures they have around (including the Snake pic) and when I came back, there was the man himself, Tom Schlafly, standing at the end of our table. I unfortunately didn’t get to talk to him personally, but he spent a few minutes talking to the group.
We ended up spending about two hours longer than we had planned, but it was well worth it (sorry Tin Mill. We’ll stop there another time). We even took a while leaving the parking lot because we got to talking with James about Beer Trip and him checking out the EM-50 and our collection of stickers. Troika even bought us some bottles of their beer for us to take back home, which was extremely generous, and one was a beer brewed by our friend Drew who had worked for Schlafly until the day before Beer Trip 6.5. Schlafly was the beginning of the beer renaissance in St. Louis, home of the AB InBev Empire, and they still have proven themselves to be a leader. More importantly, Bottleworks and especially the Tap Room have become two of the best Beer Trip stops of all time.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Eighth Annual Parkville Brewers' Festival

Well, it had been a long time for me, but finally, I was able to make it to the Parkville Microbrew Festival after about a six year absence. And not that I didn’t want to go to it the past few years, but for whatever reason, something was going on which wouldn’t allow me to go. Luckily, this year on April 30th, I didn’t have a wedding to attend, a Wizards game to work, a Chiefs minicamp to run messages at, or wasn’t out of town in Hawaii. Okay, I’d rather have been in Hawaii, but I digress. The weather was perfect, and eight Kansas breweries were in attendance, which really excited me since I could see some of my old brewery friends who I used to cover in Southwest Brewing News. Timmy picked me up a little after noon, and we headed up I-635 towards Parkville for what turned out to be a great day.

First of all, the festival was packed. I don’t know what the numbers were, but I would imagine there were well over a thousand people in attendance, not including kids in strollers or Baby Bjorns and dogs, which there were a lot. We got there before it opened, and saw Andy and his family as we were walking in. He told us the Rob was coming, which was great since I hadn’t seen him since Beer Trip 6.5. I bought my ticket ahead of time, online, so while they waited in their line, I walked around the tents a bit before they started letting people in to try to talk to some of the brewer friends I know. Most of them were really busy setting up, but I was lucky enough to get to chat with Gerald and Janet from Liquid Bread in Hays for a few minutes. I also said hi quickly to Randyl of McCoy’s/Beer Kitchen/The Foundry before I headed back to line to get in.

The event was really great. One of the best things was running into a lot of friends who were there. My friend Chris, who was pouring beer for Buffalo Brewing Company out of St. Louis, was there and recommended the Gordon Biersch Unfiltered Czech Pils, which was solid. I also got to hang out with Pete, a friend who I work with at the Stadium, and got to meet his wife, who couldn’t have been cooler. Later on in the day, I bumped into another friend, Eugene, who came in from Lawrence with his girlfriend and told me to try the Upstream Grand Cru (which was gone by the time I got there).

As for the beer part of the festival, the first place I went to was the River City Brewing Company tent where their head brewer Dan brought up four of his bigger beers for the event. I will admit that I am probably biased because I like the guy, but all four of his beers were terrific. And despite the fact that I don’t really care for the name, his “The Situation” beer was one of the top five beers I had at the festival. I got to chat with him for bit, which was nice since I hadn’t really talked to him since SWBN dropped Kansas last year. I could tell that things were going really well with him and the brewery. I really need to make it back there.

Another past Beer Trip favorite is Nebraska Brewing Company, and it was great seeing Paul and Kim there. They treated us really well on Beer Trip VI, and even though they were one of the more in demand tents at the festival (the cheesecake and Fathead Barleywine pairing probably had a little to do with it), they talked to us for a bit and even told us to make it back there around 3:15, which Tim, Andy, Rob, Pete, Kendra, and I did. There, he opened up a bottle of their Apricot au Poivre Saison, which we got to finally try. We had really wanted to try this one, maybe more than any other beer at the festival since Tim went up there to help them bottle in last year, and it was probably the best beer I had at the festival.

I got to see and talk to a few of my other brewery friends at the festival, but some for a really short amount of time. My friend Nathan, who now works for Tallgrass Brewing Company, gave me a sample of a variation of my favorite Tallgrass beer, Oasis, that was interesting, and really good if you like maple flavors. Kris from Little Apple had a terrific barleywine, and his beers are better every time I have them. I didn’t get to talk much with Jeremy of Boulevard, but he did pour two great experimental beers, the first being Love Potion #2, which was an amazing sour beer (which I’m usually not a huge fan of). The second was a version of their Tripel with brett yeast, which was also outstanding. I dug those two beers a lot. I said hi briefly to Adam from New Belgium, Gary of Schlafly, and RD from High Noon, but they were all really busy to say more than “Hey” before pouring more beer.

Finally, at the end of the event, most of the crowd had left and many of the brewers were packing up after running out of beer, I got to talk to Bucky from 23rd Street Brewery in Lawrence. He seemed genuinely happy to see me, and he talked to me for a good five minutes while pouring me some of their IPA, which I really like. As it reached 5PM (the end of the festival), Paul from Nebraska came over to Tim and me and just talked to us for a few minutes more about beer and Beer Trip. He’s a really great guy, and even gave us a parting gift.

I know this turned into a bit of a love letter about the event, so sorry about that. But really, it was a great time. Part of the thing about Beer Trip is how we get to meet all the great beer people, and there were a lot of great beer people at the festival.

So to close this, I have one request of my friends: if any of you are getting married next year, can you plan it so that it isn’t towards the end of April please? I would appreciate it. I already have other plans.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Beer Trip 6.5-Urban Chestnut

After a great first day of Beer Trip 6.5 we wake up, and get a free breakfast with the local white pride contingent staying at the same hotel. A classy group from the flannel Halloween jammies all the way up to his WHITE PRIDE tat on the back of his neck.
We have an hour and half drive in front of us, so we get rolling as we need to be in the Lou by 10:30 to meet Florian the Head Brewmaster at Urban Chestnut. We get there a touch early which is our style on the first stop of the day for us, and shortly after Florian shows up. We say hello and he graciously invites us in. (Florian’s greeting was the complete opposite of how Crown Valley greeted us.) Now we’ve been to well over a 100 different breweries in the past 6 years and only a few have made me stop and take it all in. Surly with their space and their potential for growth at the time, not to mention Todd and Beaner standing there waiting to give us some beer was quite cool. Standing on the fermenters outside of New Belgium was more than amazing and Urban Chestnut gave me the same feeling, with tons of brand new Stainless Steel equipment that reached up, but couldn’t quite touch the very high, arched, cathedral type wood ceiling, along with shiny black piping made for a nice accent. It was rustic, but with a cool modern charm to it. Sometimes walking into a place for the first time you just get that wow feeling and this was one of those times for me.

Florian showed us around and told us their plan moving forward, as they had only been open a few weeks when we stopped in. We go into the tap room where Chris started pouring us beer. First up was the Winged Nut, a Bavarian Wheat Beer brewed with chestnuts. According to Florian, many bier gardens in Germany are shaded by chestnut trees, hence the name of the brewery and the inspiration for this beer. We continued to sample beers, which were all very well made. You can just tell when somebody truly cares how well made their beers are and that came through with all of the beers we sampled. My favorite was the Hopfen, a Bavarian IPA.

As we were hanging out enjoying our samples, David Wolfe, Florian's business partner in this new brewery showed up. He was a really nice guy and told us a little more about what they want to accomplish with their brewery. These two guys very much fit the mold of laid back lovers of well made beers and getting it out into the community that they live in.

As what has become tradition, starting with Omar from Surly, we had the guys who have treated us so well place their brewery sticker on the back of the EM-50. If you are ever in St. Louis and you need a beer, my suggestion is look these guys up and have a few. From their logo’s to the beer, to the cool urban setting, you can’t go wrong here.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Beer Trip 6.5-Day One

Few things help me get through winter like a Beer Trip. I think for a variety of reasons, I was looking forward to Beer Trip 6.5 quite a bit. The terrible winter weather we’ve had played a part. I also was needing a break from work. But I think the main reason was that we were able to get tours at both Schlafly locations, including a VIP tour at Schlafly Tap Room that I was really pumped about. For this trip, we had seven of us going, which is a lot for the EM-50. Most of the normal crew went, with Kelly, Andy, Tim, and me going. Rob also joined us, because he was helping out his family, we picked him up in Columbia. Ed decided that goose hunting was more important than beer, so he was out. In his place were two Beer Trip Point Five veterans: Adam (Beer Trip 4.5) and Dave (Beer Trip 5.5). The game plan was to leave at 7:15 am, and thanks to an oversleeping Tim, we left about 7:25 am. Luckily, Kelly had a lead foot as he took over the morning driving, and we made it up quickly. The trip across Missouri on I-70 was like most other drives along it: pretty eventful with exit after exit alternating with fireworks warehouses and porn shops. Thanks to Kelly’s driving, we got to Schlafly Bottleworks a little early, even after picking up our Wisconsin friends, Travis and John, both who have hung out with us on previous Beer Trips. This would be Travis’s third Beer Trip appearance (after Beer Trips V and 5.5), and this would be John’s fourth in a row. So it was great having them with us again. I’d never been to Bottleworks before, and it was a really cool place. It is a refurbished grocery store, and it seemed to fit the space well, with the brewery (including bottling line) on one side, and the restaurant and bar on the other. They had tasting rooms for tours, and was really a cool spot and layout for a brewpub. Saying I was a little excited about coming to Bottleworks would be an understatement, not only because Travis and John were here and that I’d never been there before, but because at Schlafly we were going to meet Troika. Troika is a good friend of my friend Adam from East Troy, and he was cool enough to let Troika know about Beer Trip and our visit. So when we walked in, Troika was there waiting for us. I have to admit, there are few things that make me feel cooler than when come into a brewery or brewpub and having someone say something to us about us being the Beer Trip guys. Troika greeted us and took us to a table for us to have lunch. For being the Communications Director who claimed he didn’t know a lot about beer, he knew a lot about beer. He told us a lot about Schlafly’s history, what they are up to now, the brewing scene in STL, and just chatted with us about whatever for awhile; just a great guy. Luckily for us, they were tapping a new beer that was a collaboration beer with a famous St. Louis bar, The Royale. It was a Vanilla Milk Stout, and Troika had them bring us some samples of it. It was a phenomenal beer, and I wasn’t surprised to read online the next day that both Bottleworks and the Tap Room had gone through it all. Later on, after our really good meal, they brought us out bottles of their ’07 and ’10 Schlafly Reserve Barleywine, which Troika explained were made differently. It was a cool vertical, as the ’07 was a cloudy beer, while the ’10 was clear. Both, however, were extremely tasty. After lunch, where Troika treated us to those fantastic beers, we took the 1 PM tour. The tour was a standard brewery tour, both informative and interesting. Our guide did a good job explaining the process and ingredients to those less seasoned in taking beer tours, but for those who are veterans of scores of tours, it was a good tour as well, especially because the bottling line was running. That’s always pretty cool.

After the tour, we went into the tasting room, where they poured us samples of some of their beers. As we were short on time and had just had some of their finest beers thanks to Troika, we had just a couple before we decided to head out on to our next stop. Six Row Brewing Company was a really quick stop, but that was no fault of their own. We just had to get to our next stop soon after. It wasn’t far from Bottleworks, and we quickly grabbed a table and ordered beers from their bar. I had their Dubbel, and other guys ordered their Foreign Extra Stout among other beers. They all were really good, and before we headed out we got a couple of glasses of their Imperial IPA to share. That was a terrific beer. I think everyone enjoyed that one. We finished up our beers, said farewell to Travis and John for the day (they were staying in STL for the night), and headed south in the RV to Sainte Genevieve. The Facebook fan page has been a pretty cool thing for us. Andy and Tim did a great job in deciding to have one. They are much smarter than me when it comes to certain things (most things, probably), but that page had been a great benefit to the Beer Trippers. Anyway, because of the page, we’ve reached out to various places to let them know we were coming to visit. Not that we want special treatment or anything, but it seems that most places appreciate what we do. Which is, they appreciate us driving hundreds of miles (thousands on the big summer Beer Trip) to check out their place and try their beers. Plus, I’d like to think we are pretty generous to those who have welcomed us. I did this for Crown Valley Brewing and Distillery as well, letting them know that we would be stopping by and hoped they’d be able to stay open past 5 PM, although I didn’t suspect that they would. I had to give it a shot, right? Well, I have made it my business to not knock people for treating us poorly on the Beer Trip blog, so I will try to word our visit to Crown Valley Brewing and Distillery as fairly as I can. When we pulled up around 4:20 PM, we were greeted at the door. I believe the lady said, “Are you the guys who’ve been contacting us on Facebook? Well, welcome, but know that we are still closing at 5:00 and last call is at 4:45.” Not quite the “Hey Beer Trippers!!!” that we got from Tim at Snake River Brewing Company, but I get it. I never expect special treatment, and we don’t deserve it either. We went up to the bar, ordered some beers, and headed out to the back to check out the scenery. It really was a cool looking place, and Kelly, being the Guv’nuh that he is, talked the lady into giving us a tour. She took us to one side of the brewery where the brewing equipment was, and it was nice and shiny. She said that all of their equipment was brand new, and it looked like it. The only brewery I’ve ever seen that looked cleaner than that was Gerald Wyman’s brewhouse at Gella’s Diner and Lb. Brewing Company in Hays, KS. She led us to the other side of the building to see the bottling line and the distillery portion of the place, and that was all really nice too. They even roast their own coffee there, which Tim decided to buy when we left. As it was approaching last call, we went back into the bar area/tasting room. I wanted to buy my son some of their root beer and get my wife a bottle of their wine. Some of the others did the same. As I was purchasing the root beer and wine, it was 4:47 PM according to my phone. I asked the lady if I could please order a glass of their IPA (which I hadn’t seen at the liquor stores in the KC area) to share with the guys so we could try it. Now I knew last call was at 4:45 PM, since that was explained to us in the second sentence to us on their grounds, but the other bartender was pouring a round of about three or four beers for people sitting down at the other end of the bar. She told me flat out, “Nope, we already had last call!” When I again said, “Please!” and mentioned that the other lady was still pouring beers for other people, she told me, “They’re different!” and walked away. I was a little in shock to say the least, but I guess maybe I was different. Andy also bought two six-packs of root beer, and was told to go to the front to grab it as we left. That is what he did, however they only had them in cases, so he took two out of the box and then took the rest in the box and stood outside waiting for the rest of us to leave. As he waited, right in front of the door, the other bartender bolted out towards him and rudely said, “You only paid for two six packs!” He explained that that is exactly what he took, and even opened the box to show her. I’m not sure if he asked her if he looked stupid enough to steal root beer and then just loiter in front of the building, but he should have. Anyway, it was a really disappointing stop for us, especially since we could have just stayed in STL with our friends and had fun there. But stupid me wanted to visit and support a new, small brewery who sold their beer in the KC area (and that I had bought a few six packs from). But I guess I’ll spend my money on Schlafly, Odell, New Belgium, and Goose Island when I head to the beer store instead from now on. Oh well. It was still early (remember, it was only about 5 PM now), so we went down to Cape Girardeau for our last stop of Day One. We checked into our hotel (a pretty nice Super 8, actually), and asked about a cab. They gave us some numbers, and we called and asked for a cab for seven of us. When the cab showed up in a mini-van with someone already in the passenger seat, we figured we couldn’t manage that. But the Guv’nuh jumped in the back, and Adam crouched between the two middle seats, and we did it. The best part was that we were able to get a round trip for all of us to the brewpub and back for just $21. I would imagine that is the cheapest cab fare in the country. The cab took us to Buckner Brewing Company, and we sat down for dinner. Our service was really good, and they had just tapped their India Brown Ale that day. I ordered that (which was terrific), along with a pizza, and it was a pretty nice meal. Some of us were feeling really good (me and Kelly, especially), while some of the guys were tired (like Andy, who went to see Motorhead the night before). We walked over by the Mississippi River, decided it was too cold and too early to just stay outside or call it a night, so we walked into the bottom part of the brewpub. That was a funky place, in a good way, and it reminded me of college. Not just because it was a college bar in a college town, but because you could smoke in there. I didn’t like that, but I had a good time. We played shuffleboard and darts, and chilled out. Andy was really chilling out because he was so tired, but even my jukebox selections like “Linger”, “Grace Kelly” by Mika, and “MmmBop” accompanied by my singing couldn’t get him going. We enjoyed some more India Brown Ales (while Dave switched to rum and Cokes and Adam had some gin and tonics), before calling the cab and heading home. Apparently there was a slutty looking chick in the van on the cab ride home, but that is all hearsay as I think I was too “well on my way” to notice. I do remember being told by the guy with the slutty chick about Old Chicago in Paducah having 110 beers and that “Boddington’s in the big, yella can” was his favorite, but soon enough we were home, just short of midnight. And then I crashed. All in all, it was a great day, and Buckner Brewing Company was a great follow up to our not-so-good Crown Valley experience. Schlafly, of course, was the highlight of Day One, and thanks to Troika’s hospitality, we were all really excited about heading to the Schlafly Tap Room the next day for the VIP tour. And to put it mildly, it did not let us down at all.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Belgian Beer Trip-Part 1

The majority of the time of my week in Europe was spent in Belgium. This was my first time spending any time there, having only been through the airport on a layover many years ago. We arrived in Brussels around 8AM on a Friday morning. We grabbed our bags and headed down to the lower level of the airport for what should have been an easy train ride to central Brussels. We just missed a train, but the next one was supposed to arrive in less than 20 minutes. No big deal. Our tour at Duvel wasn’t supposed to be until 2PM. We wait. And wait. Then the message board flashes that the train we are waiting on is delayed. Then, the PA system says to move to a different track. Then we wait. Then another train arrives at the track we just left. I believe it was just short of two hours from when we got there that we finally got on a train. Now a simple ride to Midi Station, transfer to the subway, and arrive a block from the hotel. We go through several stations, and I’m thinking we’ve arrived at the correct one, but the signs say Zuidstation. So we don’t get off. I should have brushed up on my Flemish. They speak French in the southern part of Belgium, and I can speak it; but Brussels lies right in the middle. Apparently Zuid is the Flemish equivalent of Midi. I’m a smart one. We realize this when the city fades away and we’re seeing picturesque Belgian villages out of the windows.

We get off thinking we’ll just catch the train going in the opposite direction and get back to Midi/Zuid Station. We can skip the details of what happens. After more than an hour wait, the train finally arrives. We get to Midi/Zuid Station, and I decide that we’re grabbing a taxi to the hotel. No more public transit for now.
By the time we get to the hotel, check in, shower to get the airplane stink off, and get ready to go, it’s after 1PM. It’s over a half hour to Duvel if we were driving direct, and we would be dependent on public transit. Duvel wasn’t going to happen. Our hotel was literally around the corner from Grande Place which is the major tourist area of Brussels so we decided to walk down there and check it out since our first scheduled stop was a fail. When we’d left India, it was in the 80’s and sunny. Brussels was struggling to stay in the 40’s and it was cloudy and drizzly, and, at first, it was refreshing. We sat down to eat at a diner that offered a free beer with your meal. They only had Leffe which I was able to find at a bar in Delhi, but it was okay. I was in the Mecca of beer. I had no doubt I’d have plenty of time to try many different beers.

Oddly, the best part of that meal was the glass of ice water and the salad. I hadn’t had ice in over two months, and fresh vegetables are off the menu in India due to westerner’s inability to handle the water in which it is washed. Lettuce had never tasted so good. We spent the rest of the day wandering around central Brussels getting a feel for the city. We stopped in at another bar, had some more Belgian beers while sitting outside in the cold watching the city. We called it a night early. We were exhausted due to jet lag and had to be up early the next day to get to London.
The next day was spent in London which I wrote about previously. Sunday we got up and walked down to Grande Place for some Belgian waffles for breakfast. I chose not to have beer with it, although the little café did offer it. We hit some touristy spots in the city, one of which, Atomium, had a café in it. I tried a canned Kriek beer they had just for fun. It was not good, and part of the In-Bev family. I was mad at myself for even trying it. We went back to central Brussels and found the Delirium Café, the world-famous beer bar. To my extreme pleasure it was a two minute walk from our hotel, just tucked into an alley that we hadn’t noticed.

It is split into three levels, the main floor being the taphouse. This night, we actually never made it out of the taphouse. We saw the tap list with 27 beers on it, and settled in. Sunday night must not be a big night for drinking as there wasn’t a huge crowd in the bar. Behind the bar was a messy array of kegs, tubes, and CO2 tanks. Glasses of every sort were hung above it, and an odd collection of bartenders were working it, knowing exactly what glass to use no matter what the beer ordered. I was happy to see a Great Divide sticker on the wall, feeling like American beer is getting respect in Belgium (and one we visited on Beer Trip II). As we sat with a barrel as our table, looking at the list, Ben made the decision that our goal before we left Brussels was to drink every beer on it. We tried a wide range from the list that night and I never got tired of seeing the bartenders hear what I wanted, grab a specific glass, pour it until it is overflowing, then scrape off the foam in a matter of seconds. I stumbled back to the hotel and crashed with a belly full of awesome brews. I wish I could give you the list, but I didn’t think to date the beers when I checked them off.

The next morning we were up and on our way to Cantillon Brewery early to get our first true tour. The brewery was located not far from Zuid/Midi Station where we were picking up our rental car later that day. It was a non-descript building, and I actually had trouble finding which door to enter. Inside was a lot what I expected. Nothing fancy, rather disorganized, and centered on the beer. The tour is self-guided, which I actually prefer most of the time. So the lady gave us a pamphlet with the route to take and info on each stop.

There were aging barrels stacked everywhere with dates scrawled on them as to when the beer inside was produced. Upstairs they had the large, open fermenter that had windows that opened to the outside air because they do natural fermentation, giving each batch its own unique flavor. At the end of the tour they give you three samples of their beer. I bought gift pack of all three of their beers and some cheese. It was then time to go to the train station and pick up the rental car and head northwest to the world-famous Westvletern.
We picked up the rental an hour ahead of time which I was excited about because that’d give us an extra hour at the Sint Sixtus Brewery. Unfortunately, we were again delayed because we couldn’t get out of the damn parking garage. Long story, but fast forward a half hour and we’re on the road, still 30 minutes ahead of schedule. We get about 30 minutes outside of Brussels, and the freeway comes to a dead stand-still. And we sit, and sit, and sit. It took us two hours to go 4km. I was about to have a stroke and got more and more pissed off as we sat there. Again, to save time, we’ll fast forward and skip the Citroen Bag or bunder (monkey) discussions we had whilst sitting on the Belgian freeway.

I was about to pee my pants after sitting there for so long. We pulled off the freeway and stopped at a gas station to use the restroom and get something to drink. We found out from the nice Flemish man working the counter that there had been a bad wreck and someone had died. So of course I felt bad about earlier in the trip when we were sitting there stating “I’d better see blood on the pavement if I’m gonna sit here all this time.”

It was dark by the time we arrived at the brewery. It’s located in a sparsely populated region with one lane roads and no street lights so that was fun to maneuver in the dark and rain. We got to In De Vrede, which is like their brewpub next to the abbey around 7PM. I wanted to try all three beers, so we each ordered a Blonde, and I got up to take some pictures. It was pitch black outside and pouring rain so I didn’t even attempt pictures of the brewery across the street. The Blonde was honestly just okay. It was a beautiful beer though. The color and the sediment floating in it made it one of the best looking beers I’d ever drunk.

We ordered some food and I ordered the 8. Ben was driving back, and given the alcohol content of the 8 and 12, he decided to skip the 8 and wait for the world-famous 12. The food was decent and the 8 was a good beer as well. We had a hard time getting the waitress to come back by as there were a couple groups of old people in there, who I assumed were locals. I finally flagged her down and said we’d like two of the 12’s. “I’m sorry the bar is closed” was her reply. I sat there for a second thinking she had to be joking. Apparently they’d closed and not bothered to tell the obvious Americans sitting off on the side who are used to a “last call” before a bar closes. She said during the winter they close early, but they’d be open again tomorrow. I muttered something, still in shock that I’d come all the way from the US, via India, to try what some say is the best beer in the world, and because I’d ordered a few minutes too late, wouldn’t get to try. They had the 8 available for sale so despite my pissed-off state I bought a sixer of it, and left still thinking this had to be a bad dream. We drove back to Brussels in what seemed like no time compared to how long it took to get there. I had been in email contact with one of the managers of the hotel before our arrival and she had mentioned a beer package I could buy from them that included a trip to a bar that had the Westy 12 available.
We again set out for Grande Place searching for “Au Bon Vieux Temps” bar. While we seemed to be star crossed at many steps along the way, other times we were very fortunate. Down a tiny alley we happened to notice a sign hanging with the bar’s name. We walked in and the bar is MAYBE 200 square feet. There’s an old lady working the bar, an old drunk man at the bar, and some douchey looking young people at a booth. Ben and I sit down at the bar and the old lady asks what we want. I try to access years of French classes just to ask for “deux Westvleteren.” She pulls out two bottles and by chance, I notice the yellow cap on top which I’d seen on the sixer of 8’s I bought. I stopped her from opening them and said “Douze! Douze! Pas huit!” She acknowledges and she bends over and lifts up a door and seems to disappear into the floor. She comes back up with two bottles with brown caps. She poured them and I paid her the 20 euro for them. Only double the price they wanted at the brewery so I didn’t bitch. The beer is good. Malty sweet, heavy, a slight alcohol burn at the end. However, I may be banned from beer geekdom for this, but not the best beer I’d ever had. I think the difficulty in obtaining the beer contributes to the mystique of it and therefore, when one does get it, makes them rate it higher. Or, I could be harboring some bitterness from our experiences a couple hours earlier. We finished the highly sought after Westy 12s and decided to go back to Delirium which is in the next alley over. Apparently Mondays are more popular nights to drink because the place was overflowing. All three floors were filled and there wasn’t a seat to be found. We decided to come back earlier in the night next time and just call it a night because we had to be up to get to Amsterdam the next morning. I’ll write about the rest of our experiences in Belgium in another post as this one is becoming very long. Despite my experience, I’d recommend going to Sint Sixtus or trying the Westy 12 if you get the chance. Just plan an entire day for it to be safe.