October 29, 2008

Desiccated in the desert

Pictures T/K.

Quick update for those checking in. Greetings from Tempe, AZ, an hour before my event tonight at Four Peaks Brewing Co. It's co-sponsored by Changing Hands Bookstore and here's what they did: set it up so that people pay $27 just to see li'l ole me. That gets them a book and 2 pints. An interesting tactic. And here's the best part: presales are 30 tix. Hooray for Tempeans.

Here's what the past few days looked like. After New Orleans, I hauled clear across Louisiana through the bayou to Hurricane Ike ravaged Houston. When I saw all the McDonald's and Wendy's, etc signs dilapidated, I thought maybe they were remnants from a suburb that had fallen on hard times. But it was just visible proof from I-10 of the destruction suffered, even that far in from the Gulf. The upbeat part came when I made it to the Ginger Man to meet Bob and his wife (Nanette?), Doak, Steve, Sean, and some stragglers from the Foam Rangers, Houston's homebrew club that had just pulled off the Dixie Cup homebrew competition even in Ike's wake. They plied me with Texan beers (no, not Lone Star) and homebrew stories, then, instead of sending me on my way, took me to H-town's only remaining brewpub, Two Rows, for dinner and more beer. B/c they are all barleywine-o-philes, I got the whiskey aged barleywine. Yowzah.

I made it to Austin before the end of the World Series game and in addition to seeing my good friends Chris and Elana Orf, I met their new Orfling, Isaac. They did well.

I started the next day stopping by Austin's newest brewery, 512, and only tried their Wit, made not with curacao orange peel but with grapefruit. My late grandfather the grapefruit rancher would be proud. Alas, I did not even have time to try their Pecan Porter. Mmmm. The event called for 6 p.m. at Opal Divine's Freehouse, around the corner from Book People, who was on hand to sell a few books (thanks, Allison and Laurie). Are you ready for the awful part? For the first time on this tour, I paid for my own beers. The horror! Thanks to PJ from the Austin Beer Meetup for sending out the word and hanging out! Afterward, Orf, Elana and I hit Chuy's for some Tex Mex. I believe my dish was called Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. Anything with green chile is okay in my book.

In the morning, I had some Maria's breakfast tacos with Elana (and Isaac), then began my mind-and-body-numbing drive across Texas, or at least the bulk of it. Man that's a long haul! I didn't make it to the New Mexico border until around 8 p.m., then to Columbus, NM by 9, where I stayed with my former manager's dad in the tiny border town. He even let me do laundry!! After a great night's sleep, we didn't have time to head into Palomas, Mexico for desayuno, so we went to the cafe for breakfast, conveniently located across the street from the Columbus Public Library. Where there was a crowd! To hear me! The attentive crowd listened well and had the best Q&A session of my tour. They even gave me some gas money in the form of out-of-trunk sales. Then they showed me where the basement had been boarded up from back when the library was a bar, doubling as a drug layover station. Border towns are cuh-razy places.

OK, off to Four Peaks. Cheers.

October 26, 2008

Big Easy

On par with trying local beers is my affinity for dining on the local cuisine when I'm traveling. That's why I tooled around Greenville, SC looking for Henry's Smokehouse, "home of the leanest butt in town," as what could be better than Carolina style bbq in the Carolinas? It was also my introduction to Brunswick stew. That's also why I ordered the amazing Black & Bleu burger (blackened with Cajun seasoning and topped with crumbled bleu cheese) at the Montgomery Brewing Co, which, incidentally, for those of you keeping track (ok, just me) made it 27 states that I've visited a brewery in. Only 23 to go, but I just haven't had time on this tour to stop at one in most of the states I've driven through so far.

Back to food, you can imagine how excited I was to be in New Orleans, the Big Easy. It went down like this. I pulled in around 8:30 Friday night. By the time I made it out, all the good joints near me stopped serving. So I got in my car and hit some others, but I'd just missed them. It never used to be like this. Pre-Katrina, this was more of a 24-hour town, the Quarter notwithstanding. So that's where I headed, but I just couldn't get enthused about a regular hamburger when I coulda been eating some etouffe or even a decent po'boy.

In the morning, I sat down to a boudin omelet, boudin being akin to a well-spiced sausage. And cafe au lait. The book signing at Octavia Books was set for 12:01 p.m., because Dixie Brewing provided free beer samples, and you
shouldn't drink before noon. As an added treat, Joe, Kendra, and Maddi Bruno (the owners and their granddaughter, though Kendra cracked that Dixie actually owns them) were on hand so a lucky few got books signed by both the author and the subjects of the New Orleans chapter. Quite a few people came running in, one of them literally, to get a signed copy. Sweet.

Afterward, I received an invitation from the Brunos for a late lunch. When I showed up, a plate of fried oysters appeared before me. Bad time to tell 'em I'm, uh, allergic to shellfish? Still, we had a great lunch and it's always good to see the 3 of them when I'm in town. Which means I'll see them again in exactly 6 months for Jazz Fest.

After that, I headed to the reception for a beer dinner. Yes, they're doing beer dinners in NOLA now! The offer came from the woman who ran into Octavia Books, upon her completion of a 7 mile run. She bought 2 books, for her husband and his brewmaster. Kirk and Peter, respectively, are opening a brand new brewery here in NOLA called NOLA Brewing. (New Orleans Lagers and Ales.) This is very exciting news. Peter Caddoo, I should point out, spent many years as Dixie's brewmaster. I tried their brown and blonde ales, and canNOT wait to try them again on tap when I'm back. They open in January, just as soon as the brewing equipment from Left Hand Brewing arrives from Boulder.

The night ended with hitting Le Bon Temps Rouler with my friend Steven in town from LA to do some hurrican Gustav cleanup. We caught a set by local musician Anders Osborne, a favorite, and then hit Cafe du Monde around 1:30 a.m. for some beignets and cafe au lait!

October 23, 2008

Tri Beer, You'll Like it

It's 2:47 a.m. in Atlanta, where I had a great Sweetwater I.P.A. to go with my pimento cheddar cheese sandwich with bacon at the Brick Store Pub in Decatur earlier, and I know I should be asleep, but I gotta post how great the event was last night at Tyler's Taproom in Durham, NC.

After another long drive, this one from DC through Virginia and half of North Carolina, I showed up at Tyler's to a good crowd and a well-stocked and displayed table of books, thanks to Bill and the good folks at the Regulator. I'd say one of my biggest regrets is never having time to make it into the local indie bookstores who've been helping me at all of my events, and they have all done such a killer job.
My only other visit to N. Carolina, I was only 22, but I'd noticed that the folks here were as nice as could be. They still are. I mean, if nice was hops, these folks would be a double IPA. To introduce some of the people I met, I'll start by asking if you know about meetup.com? Who needs social networking sights when you can network, socially? A popular group is the beer meetup group, and NC's Triangle has one of the best in "Tri Beer," thanks to a great guy named Steve. I also got to do an interview for a future podcast, courtesy of Thomas who recently moved to the Triangle from Arizona. And then there were the Bradfords, Julie and Daniel, the powerhouse duo behind All About Beer magazine. Tip for anyone passing through Durham with a thirst: make friends with Daniel at his home away from home. And what a home. Tyler's has dozens of great beers on tap (as soon as I showed up, I was offered a Triangle Pale Ale) and they offer various flights, from darks to hops to "local," which is naturally what I got, including offerings from Duck-Rabbit, French Broad, Carolina, and Big Boss. Incidentally, more than one bottle of Duck-Rabbit's Milk Stout is making the trip home with me.

October 22, 2008


Greetings from DC's Dupont Circle. Of my mondo run--4 events in 4 nights, 1000 miles apart--I'm halfway there. I enjoyed my first and only down time by bar hopping around Brooklyn then doing a great interview for BeerBasics.com where we basically drank 154 year old beer (OK, McSorley's is 154 years old; their house brew is fresher) That was Monday, and that night I had a blast hanging out at the Blind Tiger Ale House in the West Village, seeing old friends and older ones still (my dad grew up in New York--Jamaica, Queens to be exact--so the whole gang came out, tried funny beers, and harassed the barflies who were leaving to buy a book). It

worked, as we sold-out. What'd I drink? I remember having two Southampton ales--Big Brown and Double White--Six Point's Porter on cask, and Alan from the BT was super cool and

brought over a corked bottle of Brooklyn Local 1. Sweet. Shouts to Daniela and Ryann and the SMP crew, Laura, Lora, Dan, Annie, Lila, Gabby, Erik, Kevin aka Sammy, Jeff, and Krista and her krewe.

I wish I had a day to walk around the Village, alas, I had to take the train back to Bklyn, get my stuff and my car, and zoom down I-95 to an in-air interview on the Mike O'Meara show (WJFK in the DC area). (Download & listen to it here, after a few minutes of talk radio fodder.) When you show up with cold beer, you're warmly received. I brought in a Southampton Pumpkin Ale (malty, seasonal, local) and a Stone IPA (hoppy, perennial, West Coast) and each one found a fan in the co-hosts, Mike and Robb.

I had a split second to see my old college friend Jane, her husband Marc, their 18-month-old baby Avi, and their dog Sputnik (think the Little Rascal's "Petey." Marc and I walked to the event, the famed Brickskeller (3rd-generation beer bar, in Guinness Book for biggest beer selection in the world, until recently, damn Belgians), and his guided tour included pointing out where the neighborhood high end brothel is. Alas, I didn't sell THAT many books. Besides, authors don't compare to senators when it comes to local celebs.

For the event, Greg Kitsock from Mid-Atlantic Brewing News (and many other outlets) interviewed me on stage upstairs at the legendary Brickskeller. Yep, mics and an unending supply of beers (Bell's Oktoberfest, Clipper City IPA-like hop bomb, and a Saison that the Brick's owner, Dave Alexander, had a hand in when at something called Beer Camp). It lasted over 2 hours. My first time hitting the Brick and though I hope to return many more times, it'll be my most memorable.

And now I'm leaving Kramer's & Afterwords, an indie bookstore and cafe, the kind you'd expect an author events coordinator to know about to bring in as a bookseller when doing a book promo event in DC, home to dozens of great indie booksellers.

Next up: Durham (and the entire Triangle area of), North Carolina.

October 18, 2008

Fly-overs vs. the Real America

Before I get all Woody Guthrie on you and start blogging about this land from California to the New York Island, I need to talk about the last event before I arrived at the opposite end of the country.

Steeltown. I was like many people who imagined Pittsburgh to be gray and dreary, and I heard that it was voted sootiest city, proving how common the image of a town overrun with steelworks is. On the contrary, it's one of the most picturesque cities I've been to. The combination of the three pristine rivers (just like we must give thanks to Carter for legalizing homebrew, let's extend a postmortem pat on the back to Nixon for the Clean Air & Water acts), tri-color foliage dotted with brick churches and towering steeples make for great view driving down from the Pennsylvania Turnpike. And it's the last of those concepts, the churches, that brought me there.

I'd arranged to sign in Church Brew Works, a deconsecrated church with a brewpub built inside. All the stained glass is still in tact, the pews are now booth benches, and the brew system rests on high on the altar, amen. The manager Thursday night, Phil, couldn't have been more gracious and the bartender, Gene, is a man who appreciates a good cask and all that beer can be. He is a great ambassador of the Beer People. And also, shout out to my girl Maureen from Joseph-Beth Booksellers, for helping sell books. I'll say it again: always support your local brewery and your local bookstore.

People have a way of reacting to learning that I wrote a book about driving around the country drinking beer. While my favorite scenario ends in them buying said book, one guy at Church got up, walked around some tables, and gave me a bear hug. He didn't buy, though. That's my segue into what I overheard in a coffee shop yesterday morning. "If I have to stop drinking Corona and start buying Natural Light, ten bucks a case, that's what I'll do." --Joe the Plumber looking guy, discussing the economy.

That's a fine set-up for my cultural tour of the New York City nightlife, thanks to my friend Chockie, a fellow LA ex-pat who I crashed with in Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy neighborhood. To get the ball rolling, I shared the bottle of Bell's Stout (made with something called Brewer's Licorice) with Chockie's boyfriend, Erik. Their friend Kevin came over and the four of us headed out at 11 p.m. Even Grampa here doesn't start his night at 11. Chockie knows her bars and our first stop was Spuyten Duyvil, sporting a huge list of Belgians and other Euro imports and four killer Hitachino beers from Japan. Sadly, their bottled beers from American micros ranged from $15-27. No thanks. I got a pint of Smuttynose Stout. The clientele including guys in ties, girls in headbands, a bike messenger looking type who refused to take his helmet off the entire time, the classic array of facial hair/piercings, and no two people had the same hairdo.

Throughout the night, I must've seen more styles of 4" heels than a shoe warehouse, from gold lame to zebra print. My first night out without wearing my walking cast, as I'm recovering from a broken ankle, I was acutely aware of the potholes and hazards, so I can't imagine how they manage.

Our next stop was The Levee, where I got a pint of Yuengling Lager and some "Frito pie," a bed of Fritos topped with chili and cheeze whiz. Later on there was an excellent falafel. There was also an $8 can of Genny Cream, a stop-in at Fontana's where hipsters danced to soul music (I ain't lying. One guy wore a fruit-punch colored ruffle shirt with football shoulder pads on the outside) and lastly, a come-down-to-earth pint of Brooklyn Lager. Bars close at 4. It was almost 5 when we got home.

As I was saying, this land is your land, this land is my land. The differences between California and New York are great, but the general lifestyle for everywhere in between is greater still. And it goes well beyond Red States and Blue States. Being from LA originally, a city with no football team(s) and no brewery, I think I missed out on the things that are the foundation for hometown pride. But I get why everyone else has it. From the hippies in Vermont with their Magic Hat #9 to the cowboys in Texas with their Lone Star beer, from the hipsters in Brooklyn with their Brooklyn Lager to the outdoorsy types in Boulder with their Left Hand Juju Ginger, this land was made for you and me.

October 16, 2008


I’m not a morning person.

Yesterday, Half Pint roused me from my sleep before 6, and I reluctantly dropped her off at O’Hare. From there, I made my way around the Loop and zipped from Chicago, around Lake Michigan, stopping in Munster, Indiana. You can’t pass through
Munster and not hit the 12-year-old father/sons operation, Three Floyds brewery and brewpub. I mean, you can, but you’d be an idiot. I arrived at 8:30 a.m, which was both a blessing and curse. A curse because they don’t open til 11:30, but it was a blessing to take a nice nap in my car, with the sound of the rain on the roof lulling me to sleep. Once open—and no, I’m not the only person who’s ever stood by at 11:29 waiting for them to open the doors—I sat down to a flight, plus some extra tastings, and a right-on smoked turkey sandwich. Best beer with the sandwich? “Ham on Rye,” a smoked rye beer (no ham added). Best beer I enjoyed? Moloko Milk Stout, named in honor of Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” (FYI, “moloko” is just Russian for milk), and I picked up a bomber to take home.

After stopping in at a nearby Dunkin Donuts for coffee and a pumpkin donut, I continued on to western Michigan. (I am a donut connoisseur, but I like to hit DD when in Rome. Or Munster. Because I don’t have ‘em at home. Same for the White Castle I had for b-fast. Who are they fooling with that paper-thin “meat” patty?)

Once I hit Michigan, despite the torrential downpour and the sizable population of deer roadkill, the view became scenic again, with brilliant reds, oranges, yellows and greens. I arrived in Kalamazoo at 5 p.m. and told the guys at Bell’s Eccentric Café that I was just going to find a room for the night and that I’d be back at 6. I didn’t realize that I’d driven across the last of the time zones and it was, in fact, 6, Eastern. OK, so it started closer to 7.

I added the event in Kalamazoo, because I had a day between Chicago and Pittsburgh. As such, there wasn’t enough time to bring in a retailer, but they let me park it at a table, sell my own books, and they fed and libated me all night. I know libated isn’t a word. The bison burger was tasty and I enjoyed a Bell’s Best Brown and then their special Wedding Ale, a strong honey wheat with orange peel, but don’t think “witbier.”

The thing about Kalamazoo, it seems, is that most people here know Larry Bell’s whole story. True, I got some extra nuggets in the book that they didn’t know, but ‘round here, it’s like a family: no secrets. I got to talk to some of the brewers like Tom and Jay, as well as some barflies. I didn’t sell that many copies, but hey, I got to hang out in the Eccentric Café again, and that’s treat enough.

Now I’m headed back there to pick up some beers, but sadly, they’re out of Oberon, their best-seller. Then it’s almost 400 miles to Pittsburgh to go to church.

October 14, 2008

Beef & Beer in Chicago

It's late and I gotta wake up super early to take my Half Pint to O'Hare super early in the morning. It's been great having her with me the first third of the road trip, and that means it's one-third over. Who will I sing parodies about corn with on the road? Oh wait, there's probably no corn fields like there were through Nebraska, Iowa, and western Illinois.

Last night, we had dinner and then crashed at her aunt's house in "Chicago," meaning halfway between there and Wisconsin. If I had more leisure time, I would've popped up to Kenosha County and picked up a bottle of New Glarus's Belgian Cherry Red. It's phe-nom-en-al. Instead, today we headed into the city and I loved seeing how Barbara's Bookstore decked the place out RWB-style, inside and out. Dinner beforehand called for stumbling into Little Joe's by the Univ. of Ill.-Chicago campus, a third-generation owned bar and grub joint, where I inhaled a delectable Italian beef sandwich with hot and mild peppers, washed down with my first Point Amber on draft (from Stevens Point, 151 years old). Not only did I get to have dinner with my favorite Chicagoan, Krista, but check out these puppies we dined with.

After doing my first reading in a bookstore, ameliorated by the presence of some Chicago-brewed Goose Island Harvest Ale for the audience and myself, Half Pint, Special K (Krista) and I hit Lush across the street--a good wine store that doubles as an even better beer store/bar. With any luck, you'll be hearing about Erin from Lush again... Though they only had one beer cooler, it was perfectly stocked and I wished I could've tried one of everything. I settled on the Founder's Breakfast Stout (double chocolate-coffee-oatmeal stout, meaning it was the perfect dessert beer as well) and, since I haven't bought any bombers in a few days, picked up some great beers including a beauty: Bourbon Brown Goose, a bourbon barrel-aged brown ale, brewed by my new buddy Greg Hall whom I met at GABF. Somehow, I doubt the bourbon-aged Imperial Stout I got from Walter Payton's Roundhouse Brewing was actually brewed by "Sweetness," (1954-1999), the former Chicago Bear.

October 12, 2008

Omaha, baby, Omaha!

Drove over 500 miles today. Had a blast in Denver. Realized I forgot to blog about the great breakfast we had there, which makes two of my favorite b-fast joints ever are in Colorado. Check out Jesse's picks of Snooze, here. Make sure you get to the one about the flight of pancakes! Yes, a decadent flight!

Now that GABF is over, it's becoming a blur, but everything from meeting lots of brewery reps and brewmasters, meeting awesome beer lovers from around the country (and a few from Saskatchewan who invited me to be a special guest beer judge at their homebrew competition!!!), and trying phenomenal brews I'll never see or taste again (others that spring to mind are Wynkoop Brewpub's "Obamanator" and one called "Maple Nipple" from a tiny Vermont brewery), it was nonstop amazement.

As for the drive today, weeks ago, I tried to set up an event in Omaha for the sake of saying I did an event in Omaha. I mean, I'm crashing here for the night anyway. So with the help of Nate at the Nebraska Beer Blog, I hooked up with the owner and brewmaster at Upstream Brewing Co. Though we couldn't make it work, timing-wise, Half Pint and I did stop in and had a great flight of all 10 of their beers (the cask was down, otherwise they'd have 11), a killer spicy steak pizza on a great super thin crust, and for my bomber of the day, I picked up what looks like something special, their Oaked IPA. CanNOT wait to uncork that baby when I'm home.

Tomorrow, we reach Chicago.

Pancake beer and other tales from GABF

Now that GABF 2008 is officially over, I guess I'll be driving clear across Nebraska tomorrow.

The festival was a blast. An absolute blast. Hanging out with Half Pint and Jesse most of the time meant non-stop carousing with brewers and other festival celebs. And, thanks to Half Pints' sticker madness and no-fear approach to pimping me out at the Beer Enthusiast Bookstore, half of the fest-goers wore Red, White, and Blue stickers. Sometimes in places she shouldn't have put them. But it worked. Because I was here more to sell books that taste A-mazing beers, I reckon, I'm happy to report that of all the titles available on the festival floor's bookstore, Red, White, and Brew sold the most copies!
(thanks, HP!)

Top 3 list of people I had the incredible pleasure of meeting, which only impresses fellow Beer People:
Charlie Papazian (I may have sold dozens of books this weekend, but he's sold over a million, and counting)
Zane Lamprey (host of the best conceived TV show ever, Three Sheets, and his monkey, Pleepleus)
Garret Oliver (debonaire brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, and esteemed "fellow" beer book author)

Top 3 beers I remember tasting earlier:
3. The Bruery's "Autumn Maple." Brewed with real maple syrup and yams, and hence, the perfect beer to go with pancakes.
2. A "Milk Chocolate Stout" from an unknown brewery. Really delicious, when not all choco or lactose beers work nearly this well. Special honors go to Tommyknocker's Cocoa Porter Winter Warmer.
1. Alltech's Lexington Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale. I know I raved about this one in the book, but it's still my favorite bourbon-aged beer.

The night ended with one last trip to Falling Rock, having one last pint of some amazing beer, and images of Cornhuskers dancing through my dreams.

October 10, 2008

Great American Beer Fest - Day 1

The day began as great as any day could-- with a plate of corned buffalo and the best potato pancake (think half mashed potatoes, half hash browns) at Choice City Butcher & Deli, washed down with Giddy Up, a great marriage of espresso and beer. An hour later, we were in Denver.

This is my second time at this event, the first being a few years back when I flew out to see if I there were even enough great breweries around the country to write about. There are. I could blab forever about what I did, who I saw, and what I tasted, but I'll just do a Top 10 list from today's samples.

5. Blue Moon's Peanut Butter Blonde. (I shit thee not, Molson-Coors's "Blue Moon" label makes an actual beer that tastes just like peanut butter. Would go perfect with a fudge brownie.)
4. New Glarus's Belgian Red, whatever their cherry beer is called. I don't go for cherry beers. This is a rare exception.
3. Sandlot's Second Hand Smoke. (I shit thee not, Molson-Coors's "Sandlot" label makes an actual Bamburg-style rauchbier that's good.)
2. Hales Ales Coconut Porter. Beats the pants off of Maui Brewing's beer by the same name.
1. Full Sail's "Top Sail" Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels. Y'know what makes me happy about this? I have a bottle of it at home that I bought in Mt. Hood, Oregon.

Here's my roommate Jesse's Top 5 for Day 1 (in no particular order):
Lost Abby's Isabelle Proximus
Cambridge Brewing Company's Arquebus Summer Barleywine
New Belgium's La Folie (& White Chocolate Pairing)
Rock Art's Vermonster (& Cheese Pairing)
Hale's Ales Toasted Coconut Porter

I did manage to keep my wits about me, as I signed books from 8-9. I even sold one to Sam Calagione. He was signing his 3 beer books right next to me. My promo budget allowed for free stickers. His allowed for free custom Dogfish Head glasses (which he gave to Half Pint).

(with the top Dogfish)

(with Maureen Ogle, author of Ambitious Brew)

Awesome note to end the night on: The folks at Grand Teton Brewing (from Victor, ID) were stoked to hear that their boss and brewery were in RWB and will be sending me their line of Imperials to celebrate their 20th anniversary.

October 9, 2008

Choicest City

Greetings from the Catalyst Espresso Bar and Beer Tasting Lounge in Fort Collins, aka Choice City. Yesterday started with coffee, muffins, and beer. Not that I’ll get to drink the beer for a while, but I gotta buy at least a bomber (22 oz. bottle) a day, and since I was near southwest Colorado, I picked up Nefarious Ten Pin (Imperial) Porter from Ska Brewing in Durango. Can’t wait to try that rude boy.

If any day’s drive will be prettier than this, I’ll be stunned. I-70’s pass through the Rockies and over the Continental Divide (over 10,000 ft.) provided nonstop postcard views of evergreens surrounding Aspens glowing with yellow leaves set against the errant snow-capped peaks. Before heading down, Half Pint and I stopped briefly in Idaho Springs, as quaint a mountain town as you can hope for, and found Tommyknockers Brewing. Though they had a couple of amazing sounding beers like a cocoa porter winter warmer and imperial maple nut brown ale, those fools only sold a select few individually, so I added a 12 oz. bottle of Butt Head Dopplebock to my road cellar.

Once in Ft. Collins, our first stop was at New Belgium Brewing. Half Pint was so excited, justifiably so. We got on a tour with Tom as our capable guide. He offered the best explanation I’ve ever heard on such a tour for how yeast works. (To paraphrase: if you invite a billion guests to a party with lots of booze, they’ll get their freak on. Once the booze, or in this case fermentable sugars, run out, they pack up and are ready to head out.) But the main part of the NBB experience is learning that employees not only get a free cruiser, but they get to own the company, plus they get to play foosball, volleyball, go on field trips and have an on-site climbing wall, and generally have the best jobs in the world. As for beer tasting, we tried their Grand Cru, but I most enjoyed their newest offering: Giddy Up, an espresso ale! A great breakfast beer if ever there was one.

I should add that Tom was aware of my book and led the way to get some of Half Pint’s and my favorite NBB beer ever, Eric’s Ale, a sour ale brewed with peaches from their homegrown line in the Lips of Faith series of brews.

Then it was time to hit Choice City Butcher & Deli. This is the place where, when I was in town initially to interview Kim Jordan, the owner, Russ (pictured), said that when my book comes out, he wants to host a book signing. Well, here I am. Thanks a ton to Susie and Jackie from the Book Rack (pictured) for handling book sales! And to Kyle for pouring free samples of NBB’s new Saison. That’s right, folks, they had free beer on hand for the event. I met a bunch of cool, um, Fort Colliners, Russ kept me in awesome brews including Odell’s Bourbon Stout (I learned Odells is only sold in Colorado), and I’m telling you, this is the best place to eat in town. That’s why we’re heading back later this morning for my all-time favorite, the corned buffalo hash.

October 8, 2008

On the road. Again.

Greetings from Grand Junction, Colorado. After the book release party, everything has flown by briskly. On October 4, I participated in the annual San Francisco Litquake Fest during the “Food and Beverage Hour” in the Main Public Library. The great lineup included readings about the origins of soul food, the Mission burrito, Robert Mondavi and his wine, and a killer six minutes about the origins of rice as both a meal and fermented beverage, aka sake, as read by Beau Timken. Oh, and beer.

Afterward there was a signing event at Books, Inc in Opera Plaza, just a couple blocks away, but between Freakfest, er, Lovefest (think thumping house music, lots of gold lame and glitter, and thousands raving throughout the Civic Center) and my broken ankle, it took almost that long to reach the store. Once there, I rubbed elbows with my fellow authors (still kills me to say that) and even signed a few books.

The next morning, Half Pint and I drove down to LA, arriving just before the start of my parents’ Oktoberfest. In an attempt to have as many beers from Red, White, and Brew on hand, they offered: Leinie’s Sunset Wheat, New Belgium (a variety, not just Fat Tire), Grand Teton’s Bitch Creek ESB, Widmer Bros. Hefeweizen (thanks, Craft Brewery Alliance!), Anchor Steam and Porter, Shiner Bock and Dixie Blackened Voodoo and even Dixie’s Amber Jazz Light, which I forgot to taste. There were plenty of family friends, good bbq, and best of all, a cake my Aunt Terri made that looked like an honest to goodness pitcher of beer. A chocolate stout cake!

Before splitting town on Monday, I was interviewed by NPR. Not an in-studio NPR interview (Schwette Balls, anyone?) but I was interviewed by Kai Ryssdal at the Library Bar in Downtown LA. He suggested I order “something dark, something hoppy, something middle-of-the-road, and something like piss water.” I don’t think the piss water part will make the edited down version. Based on what I had available, I selected Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, Racer 5 IPA, Craftsman 1903 Lager, and, what I’m guessing is the third best selling beer in LA after Corona and Heinie, Amstel Light. I’ll announce when the interview will air and will post a link to the streamed version. I sat at the bar, alone with all eight beers (two of each for the both of us). Naturally my inclination was to sit there and drink all six (guess which ones I’d leave), but we had to get as far as Vegas where we stayed with Half Pint’s cousins, Bart, Luanne, and Carlee.

Today we drove 500 miles through Arizona and Utah to Grand Junction, where we got dinner at the Rockslide Brewpub. I had the buffalo meatloaf and we washed our meals down with pints of Oktoberfest and Widowmaker Wheat. Tomorrow: Fort Collins.

October 3, 2008

Session #20: Beer & Memories

Brief intro: I've read these beer blogging community Session posts, which I believe were thunk up by Stan Hieronymous and hosted by Ray and Mel at Bathtub Brewery (and they're getting married at Stoudt's Brewery!!!) am thrilled to post my first of many. So before I start my tour to promote "Red, White, and Brew" where my immediate future contains tons of upcoming memories about great American craft brews, here's a highlight of my foreign beer past:

Fall, 1994, found me in St. Petersburg, Russia living in a foreign students dorm. Between the fact that our classrooms were in the adjacent wing and that it typically hit below freezing outside, we spent much of our time in our floor lounge. It was barely post-Soviet Russia and my guess is the décor hasn’t changed yet: drab beige wallpaper and sandpaper colored drapes all housed in a massive structure that looked like a sand castle made out of a moving box, with windows.

Allene, the Scottish girl I fancied, spent much of her time in the dorm room belonging to Raul from Portugal (who roomed with Samer, the Lebanese med student). She turned me on to Glayva, a spiced whisky, but when I think about those days, it was another winter warmer that always springs to mind. Baltika.

True, Russia is vodka country. Think resealed little bottles sold as kiosks for a dime. I was once treated to bathtub vodka with briney bits like garlic cloves and lemon peel that was divine. But in the fall of 1994, the kiosks started to fill with a fairly new brand of beer. Up till that point, all Russian beers were plain awful. Luckily, a wealth of German, Czech, Polish, and Scandinavian beers could be hunted down. Baltika quickly replaced vodka as our drink of choice. We’d often have sing-alongs thanks to Dean, who had picked up a cheap guitar from a store for a few bucks or “quid,” since he was British. And while chess was big, backgammon became a floor-wide obsession. To this day, I can’t play backgammon without the malty taste of Baltika tugging at my tongue.

I say malty because there were four primary brands of Baltika. Back in Russia, they were simply 1, 2, 3, and 4. The green labeled 1 was a light beer, tiptoeing in at 4.4% ABV, but it was undrinkable. The middle two got progressively better. But it was the number 4 that had most of us salivating. Whereas the others fetched as little as 75 cents a half-litre bottle, we gladly “splurged” a whole dollar—then around 4,000 rubles—on number 4s. The stately black labels of “originalnoye” or “original” indicated that each bottle, weighing in at 5.6% which was a lot for us 20-year-olds, considering I’d come from the school of A-B’s Natty Light heretofore. On a warm enough night, I’d volunteer to go on a Baltika run which entailed walking under a mile to the open air marketplace and coming back carrying a plastic pallet of bottles. Of course, someone else would have to return the empties.

On a cold night, we’d bribe someone into making a Baltika run by buying a couple bottles for him. I’m California born and bred, so braving the sub-zero night and having my nose hairs feel as if they would freeze and crack off was rarely worth it, but sometimes it was.

This dark lager worked as both a warming agent and paired excellently with anything. A couple shwarmas at the marketplace and a couple number 4s made for a perfect meal home in the dorm or on the go. After a few months, I began craving simple chips and salsa like mad. When I found an errant jar of jalapenos in a back alley store, I loaded up on tomatoes, onions, peppers and garlic and fashioned some homemade salsa. That Baltika 4 washed it down like manna. It was a highlight of Russian-Mexican relations, if only for a few friends I shared my treasure with.

Toward the end of foreign studies, when the days lasted hours and the nights lasted forever and something like the sun was a fuzzy memory, stronger Baltikas like number 6, Porter, started popping up, but just the recollection of a number 4 takes me back to that dormitory, those all-night backgammon marathons, and the collection of students from around the world who, for one semester, were all my comrades.

Red, White, and Yahoo: Book release party a success

View all pictures here.

Yahoo. Oct 2 had been building and approaching and building for ages. And now, it's finally a cherished memory. You only get one first book and only get one first book release party. The whole thing was very cazh (casual). It started at 7 p.m., but the bar (the 540 Club) was screening the VP debate. So I just hung out and signed copies of the book for people who had hired baby sitters and such. I hadn't really prepared anything to say so when Nick from Green Apple (thanks, Nick!) said I'd talk for about half an hour, gulp, I just let my mind wander and knew my mouth would follow... for a more tolerable 15-20 minutes.

Microphone in hand, I talked about the impetus for my beer odyssey, meeting the folks who make our beer, and praised the California microbrew culture, past and present. The first passage I read was from the chapter on Anchor Steam and what Fritz Maytag is like. I followed it, in contrast, by reading from the next chapter about Electric Dave from Electric Brewing Co. in Bisbee, Arizona.
Before I got up to speak and read, Nick had Ashley the bartender hook me up with a bottle for my brand new, custom-made Brew Holster. A pint sized bottle of Russian River's Pliny the Elder appeared before me. I like this beer book author thing. After my spiel, another bottle magically appeared: one that defied the message of drinking locally if you're in California, but terrific nonetheless. Brooklyn Lager. Then, lastly, though I told myself no more than two, Nick offered me a bottle of Lagunitas Pale Ale. Brewed in Petaluma, I couldn't turn down a solid, local favorite, though I should note that Nick favored the "Champagne of Beers."

Over the course of the night, we sold around 40 books. Pretty good. Thanks to all my friends and friends-of-friends for the support, and for the few barflies and locals who'd caught wind of the event and showed up to buy then have a book signed. Next up: around America.

Drink local and drink often,