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.