November 1, 2009

America the Beertiful

After 5 weeks, 12 states, 21 new breweries, and 7,500 miles, I'm happy to be back home on my bar stool (literally, Half Pint found a great bar stool made of wood, brass, and green leather from a hotel's liquidation sale). I always seem to return from these beer odysseys a little more patriotic and a little pudgier, and really, aren't they related? Perhaps not surprising is that the beer itself isn't the most cherished aspect. Don't get me wrong. Beer is good stuff, and I'll get to a few highlights in a minute, but it's the people, isn't it, that make the trip.

In Arizona, Half Pint and I stayed at A Shooting Star Inn near the Grand Canyon where Tom, the proprietor, happens to be a homebrewer. I can't wait to crack open the bottle he
gave me as a parting gift. But he also cooked us a great meal and gave us a little concert to celebrate our engagement. And in Colorado, Matt at the Ska Brewery gave not just me, but Half Pint's whole branch of her family in Durango a VIP tour. As for Colorado, I kind of have to skip over GABF, on account of it was a fun-filled blur. Um, I blame the altitude. (Photo: Half Pint, Dan Carey from New Glarus, me)

In Kansas, Hank spent a day with me at his Hank is Wiser Brewery in a town called Cheney, then also invited me into his home to show off the largest private collection of Anheuser-Busch memorabilia I've ever seen. The same day, Rob at Goebel Liquor featuring Rob's World of Beers in Wichita spent the afternoon shooting the shit and talking beer-shop with me, but in his stories, I learned a bit about his sons (one of whom I met at the store), his dad, and his granddad. 4 living generations of Robs. And one wicked strong beer fest coming up for them.

In St. Louis, my friend's folks put me up for a couple nights. They also had warm saurbraten waiting for me when I arrived. Then his dad took me on a pub crawl even though he's not the biggest beer drinker. Then again, he's German, so it's not like he's immune to the stuff. And the next day began a feeding frenzy in Cincinnati where Darryl took me on an illicit tour of locally distributed beers all within a 20-pace radius. He also got me my first taste of Cincinnati chili c/o Skyline. I not only tried the other major chili chains, I stocked up at a Kroger to conduct my own Cincinnati beer'n'chili tasting at home. That beer is c/o Mike and Kathleen Dewey who founded Mt. Carmel Brewing--in their home. The brewery's still there. They've since moved out. And of course, a special "Ja-eeeeeep" to all the Bloatarians who welcomed me.

As for my quick stop in Southern Kentucky, let's just say it turned into an over-nighter c/o Austin and Blake and a magical growler of Founder's Canadian Breakfast Stout and then some. Pretty much the only thing I remembered in the morning was the Kentucky hospitality and plans to drive to SW KY for the best barbeque, and Anita did not disappoint. Considering the fact that 2 days later when I arrived in Memphis Rendezvous was closed, I didn't have to compare the two and R&S BBQ in Thompkinsville won in a landslide. Needless to say, I didn't eat much salad on this trip.

I've now been to 47 of these here United States, having crossed 2 more off my list. In Arkansas, I met James from Basic Brewing, homebrew podcaster extraordinaire, who was generous with his time, time he didn't have. In Oklahoma, the High Plains Draughters congregated on a special night just for li'l ole me. Afterward, Gary offered me the 3 necessities--food, shelter, and homebrew. Speaking of which, he's the new OKC Home Brewing Examiner. Mazel tov. Thanks guys, and especial thanks to Chris for opening Learn to Brew on his day off. Good luck kinda-sorta getting OK off the list of the remaining 3 states to not allow homebrewing!

As for the Dixie Cup in Houston, I'm still struggling with how to put this event--one of the oldest and largest single-site homebrew contests in the country--into words. There was an alpine horn. There were hot ladies in dirndls. There were guys in bathrobes. There was Garrett Oliver not in a jacket and ascot but in a Western-themed shirt replete with embroidered hops, pouring his unreleased Brooklyn Wild 1, an American wild ale aged 9 months in Bourbon barrels then refermented with Brett. There was barleywine, oh my was there barleywine. And it started at 8:30. In the morning. A mere 5 1/2 hours after going to bed after the night before's en suite after party. And in the end, there was Rob with his Best-of-Show Eisbock and the more emotionally-rewarding Doak with his out-of-nowhere first place win for American Barleywine. To a Foam Ranger, winning American Barleywine is like a British Bulldog winning the Westminster Kennel Club dog show.

My final visit en route home was in Albuquerque, or the suburb thereof known as Rio Rancho, where I met with Ben Miller. Talk about red letter days. This guy won the Sam Adams LongShot competition for his Mile High Barleywine (his first-ever attempt at the style) AND a gold medal at the GABF Pro-Am category for his Columbarillo IPA (brewed with Jeff at Chama River Brewing). 2 beers, 2 sets of the best BJCP judges, 2 amazing honors, both within 2 hours of each other. Ben poured me several of his homebrews including the above mentioned winners and a New Mexican-hopped Pale. Think this guy has a good start and good resume for when he decides to turn pro? Um, yeah. After getting his whole backstory about becoming a homebrewer, and a gifted one at that, we headed into ABQ-proper to meet up with Stan Heironymous briefly, and just spent the night chewing the fat over a couple pints at Marble Brewing. There was very little talk of beer.

Like I said, 5 weeks, 12 states, 7500 miles. But countless good times and great people. Helluva a beer odyssey.