September 29, 2009

Beer Odyssey II: Homebrewers edition

Greetings from Free State Brewing Co., a brewpub in Lawrence, KS, home to KU but also a Christian bookstore whose Politics section ONLY has GOP-friendly books about how faithful GWB is and what a schmuck the Rev. Jesse Jackson is.

I've been on the road for a week and a half, so apologies for this being the first blog post. As you'll see, I've been preoccupied.

Sept 19, Sat.

Drive 570 miles from SF straight to Vegas, well, Henderson. Stay with an old friend whom I met when I was 17, Arla, and her husband and her adorable kids Sage (6.5) and Gavan (4). And their zoo including dog, cat, turtles, desert tortoise, coi, and 5 birds. In the morning, I overheard Half Pint tell Arla she doesn’t like her last name and wants a new one. 

Sept 20, Sun.

Drove 250 miles to Flagstaff, AZ, or 20 miles north of there. We stayed at A Shooting Star Inn, which is nearly alone in a clearing, a really nice one. Headed into town for dinner at Beaver St. Brewery (a brewpub, which is about to launch the Lumberyard Brewery). Ordered 2 great beers: IPA and Stout. I had the brewer’s special (2 brats and a spicy sausage w/ red cabbage, onions, garlic mashed potatoes. Overall, a great way to kick-start a trail of new breweries I'll be hitting this odyssey. 

Sept 21, Mon

Breakfast at the B&B before heading an hour north to the Grand Canyon. Only my second visit by Half Pint's first. Her mom, over the phone, called it a "life-altering experience." Dun Duh Dunn. We hiked 4 out of 8 miles down the Bright Angel Trail. At the end, unpacked lunch and then told Half Pint that I had to further “lighten the load.” After all, I’d been carrying around a rock. Got down on my knee and asked, “Wanna marry me?” She screamed “Shut up!” Followed shortly thereafter by “You’re joking.” And then she started crying and said “Yes.” Then we had to hike back up 4 miles. 

Dinner back at the B&B was, of course, great. The owner, our host, even busted out the ol' guitar for a short concert. One tune was a cover in our honor, with the poem i carry your heart by poet ee cummings as the lyrics. For those interested, here is the poem.

Sept 22, Tue

Woke up early (for me) to drive the 310 miles to Durango, CO stopping only briefly to pay $3/ea. to step upon the Four Corners (U,C,A,N).

Made it to Ska Brewing where we met Matt and Bill, co-owners. They gave us a flight of all 12 beers. Favorites were Modus Hoperandi IPA and Steel Toe Stout* (*The Stout would go on to earn Ska one of three medals in a few days). I got a pint of Modus to take on the tour, for which we were joined by Half Pint’s brother Dana, his wife Michelle, and their son Ryan (not on tour: daughter Lindsay). Matt, in honor of our engagement and being shown that the bottle of Ska Decadent DIPA is one of the few bottles saved atop our Beeradise, gave us 2 to celebrate with. 

Sept 23, Wed

After b-fast at Half Pint's favorite b-fast eatery in Durango, Oscar's, we stopped by Durango Brewing Co. The tap room wouldn't open til 3 p.m. so we just chatted w/ ass’t brewer Damon who already had my RWB sticker on the door to their walk-in cooler! Fun.

While walking around Main St. we visited, but didn’t drink at, Lady Falconburgh’s beer bar. Visited and tried Zuberfizz (met owner: Banden Zuber), a bona fide micro soda maker in town. From there it was onto Carver Brewing Co. I ordered pint of Oatmeal Stout after conducting a few samples, which was bought by the bartender Zack (who just got married over weekend at Telluride Blues & Brews; they have a 10 week old baby). I also talked to Aaron who had me try their Raspberry Wheat, brewed with $800 worth of berries for 7 bbl batch! Tart.

For dinner back at Dana's, we picked up a sampler of Breckenridge Brewery beers. I marinated a bunch of chicken in Avalanche Amber but washed it down with their Oatmeal Stout. What can I say, I was in a st'outstanding mood.

Sept 24, Thur

Fueled up with a large iced coffee, large cinnamon roll, and b-fast burrito, then we hit Rte. 160 to 285 to Denver. Beatuiful scenery including light dusting of snow. Pulled into our hotel, only to discover it was the wrong one, then pulled into correct one. Rested for 2 minutes, then hit GABF. Sampled from some sought after breweries such as Cigar City (FL), Cambridge (MA) and a new Bay Area one, Sonoma Springs (CA). I was careful not to overdo it, so as to maintain some semblance of a professional decorum. After signing copies of RWB in the Beer Enthusiast Bookstore (way to go, Brewers Association) from 8-9, we, along with our hotel roommates Jesse Friedman (J-Fro) and the soon-to-be Elianna Friedman, hit Falling Rock. For the first and last time of this GABF. 

Sept 25, Fri

Today started with a media luncheon from noon to 2pm. Several courses, each paired with beer, including The Bruery’s Hottenroth Berliner Weisse in 750s, but it wasn’t quite as good as draft. From there, the Denver Beer Tour bus took us first to the Falling Rock (d'oh, we returned) where we tried some (more) Breckenridge beers, then to Great Divide where I loved their 15th Ann. Oaked IPA the best though the Fresh Hop made a solid argument, then to Wynkoop (previously owned by current Denver mayor John Hickenlooper, who addressed the media at the luncheon) for the tail end of the Pints for Prostates Rare Beer Tasting. Best beer tried: Highland Park's Big Butte Smoked Porter aged in whiskey barrels. Worst beer tried: "Mich Brett," actual Michelob Lager soured by Brettanomyces. What's that expression about putting lipstick on a pig?

And from there, Jesse and I hit tail end of the Redstone Meadery event where we missed the blend w/ Shmaltz ("2 Jews in a barrel"). This was probably a mistake as we’ll see later on.

Then onto GABF session 2. A few more samples including, I admit, some great sour beers such as Cascade’s Vlad the Imp Aler. It’d go on to narrowly avoid Gold with a Silver medal. The gold also went to Cascade for Bourbonic Plague, but that’s tomorrow. At the session, Half Pint and I scarfed down some food (and more beer) at the Farm to Table event. After my 8-9(:30) signing, the 4 roommates and I went for dinner. Rock Bottom Brewery. Where I foolishly had a pint of beer.

Sept 26, Sat

Ugh. Hungover. Dragged to Boston Beer Co. LongShot bruncheon (that should be a word) where Jim Koch announced the new Pro-Am winners. We ate w/ Stan Hieronymus who I met in person for the first time. Lots of who’s-who there. Best food: Challah French toast w/ Cherry Wheat Ale syrup. The namesake beer is just meh.

Then it was on to the early session. I could barely sample anything. I recorded 17 NorCal winners (15 in the greater Bay Area). Half Pint and I walked back to our room for a quick nap. I took an Advil. Drank some water. And finally, some time during my final signing session, I felt better. Just in time for my betrothed to be kaput, but she did work HARD selling books while I just smiled and signed. 

Sept 27, Sun

Went to Snooze for b-fast but the line was 1.5 hours long. So we got our pancake flight to go and ate at the nearby Oktoberfest, ameliorated by an oompah band. Took my fiancé and J-Fro, and Eli to Denver airport, thus missing the Rockies game I planned to take in along with my chance to go to Coors Field and check out their Sandlot brewery. But it was for the best, since I went to Dry Dock Brewing in Aurora instead, winners of Small Brewery of the Year! Met Bill the brewmaster, Kevin the owner, and a homebrewer named Ed, who has brewed double stouts in Antarctica! Oh yeah. And their beers—Apricot Blonde, Vanilla Porter, IPA, were good. A worthy honor for a worthy brewery.

For "dinner," I downed a half pint of Extra ESB and order of fried green beans at Breckenridge Brewery. Probably a mistake. 

Sept 28, Mon

Woke up late (as per usual). After finally checking out of the one and only nice hotel I'd find myself in on this beer odyssey (I was told I'm not allowed to sleep in my car this time 'round. The $33 motel I'd find 2 nights later was barely a step up), I headed east on I-70. OK, I headed west to buy a shitload of beer but went to the wrong beer store I'd later learn, then back east. Once I got to Kansas, I collected two “souvenirs.” First, the KSPD pulled me over for driving in the passing lane and got a warning. Then I got a warning for my busted tail light. In between, ate and drank at Gella’s Diner/Lb (Liq. Bread) brewery in Hays, winners of the Gold for American Stout. Indeed, Liberty Stout was deserving. My bierbock (think glorified hot pocket w/ ground sausage and yummies—a trad. German favorite) along with fried green beans for the second night in a row plus a fried dill pickle sliver ($.50) were great.

That just catches me up to Monday. As you know from the top, it's Wed and I'm in eastern Kansas, so when I get wherever I'm going tonight, I'll fill in the rest.

Happy travels to all my fellow travelers. Drink good beer to all my fellow beer drinkers.

September 4, 2009

Session #31: Summer Beers

This month, Peter (& Sammy) at Better Beer Blog ask us beer bloggers to blog-tificate on Summer Beer; not necessarily beers with images of sunshiny beaches or picking peaches on Gramma's farm, but the ones that quenched our collective thirst this summer. And I had a helluva vacation this summer that, for the first time in a long time, was in no way a beer-cation.

The first beer I had in Puerto Rico wasn’t anything to blog home about, but I didn’t come for the beer. Half Pint and I went to Puerto Rico because it has a tiny, undeveloped island called Vieques afloat in tepid Caribbean waters that blend from cobalt to azure. It’s also home to hundreds of wild horses, a handful of restaurants that offer house-made infused spirits using native fruits such as quenepos and star fruit.

Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States. American citizens don’t need a passport to travel there, and it only takes a first-class stamp to mail a letter home, but neither natives nor gringos can vote in federal elections (despite holding primaries!?), it possesses a decidedly second-world look and feel, and most telling of all, you can search alto y bajo and not find a single American craft brewed beer.

Half Pint did our vacation research. The kind where you go to get away from everything. I don’t think I’ve spent a week offline and without a computer at all since 1996. And certainly, as I mentioned, this was not a beer vacation. She found a rental casita owned by Joe and Mimi, ex-pats from Pittsburgh. They love their bare bones life on the island, but Joe would wrestle one of the wild horses for a can of Iron City beer. The fact that the water felt like Sapphire soup compared to the brain-numbing water I’m used to in the San Francisco Bay still didn’t keep me from craving a well-stocked fridge of Anchor Steam.

So back to that first beer I had. After almost a full day of traveling by seven modes of transportation from our apartment to our rental casita, Mimi had fresh-baked mango coffee cake (they have four different types of mango trees in their backyard) and some ice-cold Medalla Lights waiting for us, which helped combat the heat and humidity. Cervezeria India is the only production brewery in Puerto Rico. It’s indistinguishable from Coors Banquet, which is fitting because I was told only gringos drink Medalla Light and Puerto Ricans drink Coors Light. In this climate, the only thing you’d ever reach for is a lager, which is fortunate, since availability ranges from bottles of Dominican brewed Presidente to cans of Schaeffer. Yes, Schaeffer. I half expected to find a case of Fallstaff in a tiende.

Our week of sunbathing, snorkeling, and just floating in the Caribbean ended muy rapido. Too rapido. But instead of taking seven straight transportation vehicles home, we split them up and spent a night in Old San Juan on the main island. Primarily a seaport for cruise lines, the area houses all the chains we escaped, but with a grande added bonus. A bona fide brewpub!

But that, my friends, is another story. It's a story about the Old Harbor Brewery that will be published in Celebrator soon. It's a great brewpub, but when I think back about Vieques, my summer beer of 2009 was gold can after gold can of Medalla Light (ranging from 4-6% ABV, such is their QC program).

September 3, 2009

Beer buddies, Pt I

If I haven't blogged about my ex-beer-iences in beyond yesterday's "Session," it's because I've been awash in great beer, or, more importantly, great beer experiences. Pt. I of IV starts with the Sunday before last.

I guess more accurately it starts with finishing my first triathlon down in Santa Barbara.  To get the full story on how I got into running, which led to the idea to go from marathoner to triathlete, click here. I completed (though not competed) it with Half Pint, Papa Yaeger (67), and Mama Yaeger (almost 66). While a big breakfast was our reward, another one came when my friend brought me to the brand new Union Ale Brewing Co. (a tap house, not a brewpub). It was started by brothers Ben and Matthew Chrestenson. I'll say this; for their first foray into the gastropub game, they hit it out of the park. 

The decor is stately yet inviting in dark woods with barrels about. The menu is comforting yet hip. And the beer, well, there are 20 taps ranging from the "accessible" (Red Nectar Ale) to the truly beer geek-worthy (Allagash Curieux, Green Flash Imperial IPA). It's nice that they had not one but two taps dedicated to their brewing neighbors, Telegraph Brewing. For the time being, their house beers are the Firestone-Walker brewed Pale (doesn't compare to Double Barrel Ale, 4.5%), Hefeweizen (bubblegummy! 4.7%), Blonde (surprising hop presence, 4.4%), and IPA (don't hate me; I prefer this to Union Jack, 6.8%) that they brew for all their pub accounts. There's also a decent bottle list and I got to try the Schneider-Brooklyner Hopfen-Weisse for the first time. They also created an extensive beer cocktail list. I know these things are hot, but I've pasted their offerings below for you to judge for yourself because while I enjoy cocktails, I believe beer tastes perfect right out of the tap/bottle.

Overall, a welcome addition to the Santa Barbara area beer bar realm. I'll always enjoy The Brewhouse, and after a day of ogling co-eds on campus there's the great Hollister Brewing Co. in Goleta, but for Santa Barbeerians (not just members of the homebrew club of that name), please welcome Union Ale.

Colorado Junkie Coors Light and Red Bull. Served over ice with lime. 

Bloody Beer Union Ale California Pale, clamato juice, horseradish, spices. 

Mexican Piñata Union Ale Honey Blonde, fresh mango and strawberry puree. Served over ice 

with citrus garnish. 

Three Lemons to Cuba Union Ale California Pale, fresh lemon, orange and grapefruit juice. 

Served over ice with cinnamon, star anise and citrus garnish. 

Kuala Punch Union Ale Honey Blonde, fresh kiwi and strawberry puree. Served over ice with 

citrus garnish. 

Lemon Aide Stand Union Ale Hefewiezen, hard apple cider, fresh squeezed lemon aide. 

Served over ice with citrus garnish. 

Shandy Sierra Nevada Stout, fresh squeezed lemon aide. 

Summer Shandy Union Ale Honey Blonde, fresh squeezed lemon aide. 

Belgian Chocolate Waffle Sierra Nevada Stout and Anheuser-Busch Shock Top Belgian White Ale topped 

with whipped cream and bitter chocolate.  

Noidish Pancake Sam Adams fresh squeezed orange juice.

Black and Brown Sierra Nevada Stout and Root beer. 

Black and Apple Sierra Nevada Stout and hard apple cider. 

Trojan Horse Sierra Nevada Stout and Coca Cola.