Sunday, December 15, 2013

What's brewing in Bali

The Search for Craft Beer in Bali
Searching for craft beer in Bali
"We are going to Bali," I said as I clicked the purchase button on the airline's website. In the back of my head I was hoping there was some good craft beer there, since my recent trip to Aruba proved unfruitful. It just seems the closer to the equator you get the harder it is to find a good craft beer. Aruba lies 12 degrees north of the equator, Bali is only 8 south and Indonesia was mostly Muslim; the odds were not looking good. I knew from a prior visit about 10 years earlier that Bali did have beer and the mostly Hindu population tolerated beer drinking from its large population of Western tourists and expats. That said all the beer then was Bintang, made by Asia Pacific Breweries, which is part owned by Heineken ("Bintang" means "Star" and it's in a green bottle, you get the point). The craft beer trend is global now though and I hoped things had changed, for the better.

Touchdown in Bali
Colorful fishing boats on Sanur's Beach
Bintang - A Balinese Staple
Some things had changed in Bali and some had not. The smell was the same: a mix of incense, rice cooking and trash burning. The temples were still beautiful and the fish under the waves were as graceful as the surfers above them. People still begged and stall owners aggressively hawked their goods. Bargaining is fun and things are pretty cheap. It was hot, but after a winter in New Zealand we welcomed it. People were friendly and the food was great. Part of the reason we were in Bali was to relax and detox after a week at the New Zealand Beer Awards and Choice Beer Week in Wellington, New Zealand. So, the first few nights we chose to stay in Sanur instead of Kuta or Seminyak which tend to be more party packed.
Like all the beach towns near Denpasar it was still busy with a mix of resorts, shops and restaurants but quiet enough to relax if you wanted to. The fruit smoothies were refreshing and flavorful but the beer was just refreshing. Bali Hai and Bintang were the only domestic beers to be seen and now and then Tiger, San Miguel and other Asian standards would be found on menus but unless you wanted a cold pilsner lager, you were out of luck. It was a nice intro to Bali but we were happy to move on to Ubud a couple days later.
Finally a local craft beer, in the shadow of a temple
Craft Beer at Last!
Ubud is inland, closer to the volcanic mountains and can get cooler nights and landscape greening rain. Overall we had nice weather and our house, nestled amongst the rice paddies just outside of town, was a great base for exploring the area. Ubud is the cultural center of Bali with lots of artists and temples all around the town. It was substantially busier than the last time I went, mostly thanks to the throngs of Eat Pray Love readers searching for mind and body cleansing experiences at the yoga studios and spas. I too appreciated the cheap ($10/hr) massages available where ever you went but what I really wanted was a nice craft beer! After scanning over a dozen restaurant menus we found one at Cafe Lotus, a peaceful spot in the middle of town surrounded by a lily pad pond and temple views. Stark Beer is on the north side of the island and just came on the scene in 2011. They make
The view from Cafe Lotus
a hefeweizen and a dunkelweizen. I only could find the hefe but it was a welcome change. The level of enjoyment in your drinking experience depends a lot on surroundings and circumstance. In a blind taste test at home this beer was barely an average hefeweizen, a little lemony, a little sour on the finish, with a touch of clove spice. However, after four days without a craft beer, thirsty in the midday heat, with sore feet after walking all over town for hours, it was ecstasy.

Peaceful views outside of Ubud
Searching for Storm Beer
As much as it seems the thirst for craft beer is ever increasing it just goes to show that some places aren't quite right or just aren't quite ready to embrace it. Storm Beer looked like just what the doctor ordered. A typical small craft brewery, first on the scene in Bali, offering a range of craft flavors, like Golden Ale, Pale Ale and Stout. The website looked promising with several outlets listed as carrying their beer. The online reviews were mixed so I was eager to give it a crack myself. Upon arrival it was nowhere to be found. Information was scarce, and time after time every retailer listed on their website replied with the same answer: sorry, sold out. Rumor has it the owners had some disagreements and were sorting it out in court. All I hope is Stark fills the gap and can keep the craft beer movement alive in Bali. Who knows, maybe when we return there will be several local craft beers to try out.
Spa treatment - For $3 I just had to try it, it
tickles a lot but my feet did feel a little cleaner!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Apres Brewski - Take 5 Bend, Oregon, USA

It's been a bit since the last post and since Winter has just ended in New Zealand you could say The Beer Less Traveled was hibernating.  The truth is closer to a cross between good old fashioned writers block, too many days travelling around this awesome country, and brewing/drinking all the craft beer I can here.  And to be sure I am very eager to start reporting on what's going on down here in NZ but first we have to get there, right?! So without further ado let's get back on the road!

Apres Brewski -Take 5: Bend, Oregon, USA
One of the best cures for a big night of drinking or road fatigue, or both in my case, is a bluebird Spring ski day in the mountains. Besides all the great craft beer in Bend they are also blessed with having Mt Bachelor only a short drive out of town.  I'll spare you all the Vermont comparisons this time. One of the guys I met at Bend Brewing Company the night before was ready to take me back country with his friends the next morning, saying the conditions were going to be epic. However, lacking a few key back country tools (namely an avalanche beacon) we decided it was better for me to just hit up the local ski area this time around.

Mt Bachelor
Tons of sun and Pow as I get ready to cruise
around the backside of Mt Bachelor
The next morning I awoke to a blinding beam of sunshine that snuck through my motel room curtain. For just a second I thought about forgetting the snooze button and just turning off the alarm. But with the hope that a great day awaited out there I pried myself out of bed, hydrated as best I could and drove 20 miles out of town to the base of Mount Bachelor.

With less than 100 cars in the parking lot and full blue sky, any fuzz from the night before had faded and I was ready to hit the mountain. Everyone I met to that point had been really friendly and it just kept going.  Each ride up the lift was filled with smiles, tips on where to ski and well wishes on my beer journey.  A few had even been to New Zealand and gave it great reviews as well. From hiking the ridge against gale force winds at the top to the lift, to dropping into untouched bowls of heavy Spring powder to a full lap around the backside of the mountain and several tree runs, I rode until my legs couldn't do it any longer and my face was cooked with sunshine. I collapsed into my car for a late lunch of granola bars, apples and more water and headed back to town with smile from ear to ear.

Boneyard Beer Company
Lucky Dog! ...not much of a guard though
This edition of Apres Brewski isn't about any one or two places to go after the mountain. Anywhere in Bend will do, and they're all close by.  I chose to hit up Boneyard Brewing first.  It was one of the newer breweries in town but almost everyone mentioned them when I polled locals on where to spend my precious brewery time. The first and last to greet me at Boneyard Beer's Brewery was Dottie, a friendly Corgie leashed to a pallet of kegs. A few more steps and you're in the small tasting room, which is covered in stickers and graffiti style art in theme with the Boneyard beers and logos. Allison and Melodee took care of me and guided me through all their beers. A steady flow of growler customers streamed in and out of the retail area while I sampled. The first taste is free and only $1 each after that.

Skunk Ape - India Red Ale, 6%, 40 IBU slightly cloudy light amber, great balance, dry finish

Backbone - Chocolate Espresso Stout, 5.5%, lots of coffee, a touch of chocolate, dry/bitter finish

RPM - IPA, 7%, 50 IBU, golden hue, nice citrusy aroma, not over the top hoppy

Hop Venom - Double IPA, 8.9%, 65 IBU - semi-hoppy, semi-dry

Armoured Fist - Cascadian Dark, 10%, 66 IBU, hides booze well, hop vs. roast balanced, top pick!

Suge Knite - 12%, 55 IBU, Imperial Stout, a little hot, great aroma, should be wicked in a few months!

Femme Fatale - 5.3%, Raisiny, tart and sour raspberry flavor, another top pick!

I also got a quick tour of the small but bustling brewery, which is in it's second year of operation. I predict they'll quickly outgrown this space if their reputation keeps on growing like it has in their first couple of years. In true build-it-yourself style the brewery was pieced together with used equipment from 13 or so breweries, and Boneyard was born. I thanked the nice folks at the brewery for their hospitality and went to get changed out of my ski gear. It was time to check out some of Bend's other beertastic venues!

Cozy, snow pant friendly tap room at Boneyard Brewing

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Welcome to Oregon!

Another powder day...
or new brewery experience?
A fresh blanket of snow covered the trees outside of the window as I pried open my eyelids to greet the sunrise near Lake Tahoe.  Fresh snow... should I get another powder day in? So tempting but there was one thing pulling harder on me; Oregon. The one place outside the northeast I could picture myself moving to. I had never been there but from everything I had heard it was the west coast equivalent to Vermont just bigger and with an Ocean. In fact with over 6 times the population it just ranks second in breweries per capita behind my beloved Vermont. (Don't worry Upstate NY, you are still "home") That's a lot of breweries, just check out this list! They don't have just a beer week here and there but a beer month. Add picturesque mountains, dynamic ocean views and an progressive minded, active citizenry to the booming craft beer scene and its one awesome place to call home. Oregon has the highest share of craft drinkers in the country, which probably means the world. Almost 40% of beer consumed there is a craft beer and a third of that is made in state. Some states sit at only 3%. I was so eager to get my first visit to the Beaver state underway that this powder hound traded in a bluebird spring skiing powder day in Tahoe for an 8 hour drive! Many thanks again to Amanda (and her furry four legged friend Henry) who fueled me up with a breakfast burrito and coffee and sent me on my way.

On the Road Again

"Buy chains ahead of time and practice putting them on before you need them", I could hear Alex's advice ringing in my head. He had lived out west before and many others echoed his advice. However, once again my uber-frugal demeanor decided it wasn't worth the $50 spend to have chains when I knew I could get them for $20 elsewhere. I would just watch the weather and drive "around" the storms. I had snow tires and lots of experience driving in ice and snow, and a flexible schedule too. What you can't get through is the California Highway Department saying road closed unless you have chains! I had a couple of routes in mind to Bend and in the end the route chose me, as it was the last one not closed. I would skip the Coast or highway 5 and backtrack to Reno, NV and head north that way. The down side was skipping a few breweries that I wanted to see in Northern California.  The upside would be an extra day in Bend. I know what an awful life, right? Less than an hour north of Reno, it started snowing again.  It was getting rural and chances to get chains if needed were getting slimmer and slimmer... how much did I want to gamble.  My mind drifted back to the half dozen times that year I had coasted into a gas station on fumes with sputtering car because I knew I could make it "just 5 more miles" before filling up before realizing I was 10 from the next station. I decided this was not the time to have my luck run out.

I pulled over at the next thing that resembled a town and found a farm supply store. Lucky for me I had a young guy wait on me that loved craft beer. He heard about my beer traveling plans and no sooner was fishing a pair of dusty old chains from the stock room. He let me get away with them for the bargain price of $10! A deal that made this bargain hunter grin from ear to ear.  After a trial test putting them on, I threw them in the trunk and hastened on my journey. I was nearing the border and there were still flurries in the air. I knew there were still a chance of getting caught in the snow but being prepared made me feel more at ease. Next stop Oregon!
Snow stopped, clouds clearing, simple little welcome sign.
Oregon looking sweet already.
Klamath Basin Brewing Co.

Welcome to Klamath Basin Brewery
No matter how much you prepare you will still encounter times that improvisation is necessary. I had done some research on what breweries to check out in Oregon but I had stuck with the population/brewery centers of Bend and Portland.  The problem was I had entered the state from a different entry point than planned and I had no idea what I would be driving past.  A quick search on my phone showed Klamath Falls was only 20 miles north of the California/Oregon line, home of Klamath Basin Brewing Co. It was also time for some lunch so I pulled up to the brewery, situated in an old ice cream factory locally referred to as The Creamery, and stepped inside.
The Creamery Brewpub at Klamath Basin Brewery

Northwest Brew News and
Sample Tray, plus 2!
 I bellied up and ordered a sample tray and some soup from Pam at the bar. As I dug into the beers and food I soaked up as much info on the area as I could. The brewery  was started 8 years ago. It turns out Klamath Falls doesn't have any falls, as they were dammed up several years ago. The location also is thermally active and the brewery uses geothermal systems to preheat brewing and cleaning water. This is very unique and piqued my geeky technological interest. I also found that even though Crater Lake was near by it was probably going to be covered in fog or clouds and it wouldn't be worth the 45 min detour to check it out on my way north to Bend. My assumptions were validated when a TV crew rolled into the bar. They were shooting a travel story for a San Francisco TV station. What a great stop, thermal brewery, travel show folks, Oregon was exceeding my expectations!

Bare Island Blond - 4.3%, 20 IBU, Light, easy drinking, on the malty side
Crater Lake Amber - 6%, 36 IBU, Nice beer, right down the middle, hides alcohol well too
Drop Dead Red - 5.9%, 52 IBU, Fantastic, malty with just a bit of hops on the finish, my pick!
Pelican Butte Pale - 5.2%, 44 IBU, Just a bit of hops and on the lighter side of Pale Ales
Buttcrack Brown - 5.5%, 23 IBU, Why the name? Exactly as it sounds! Med Body, Malty, dry finish
Crystal Springs IPA - 7.1%, 70 IBU, very enjoyable, great floral aroma, quite hoppy
Cabin Fever Stout - 6.5%, 40 IBU Chocolaty aroma, dry roasty finish
Vanilla Porter - 6.7%, 40 IBU, Mahogany color, strong vanilla flavor
Double IPA - 8.5%, 95 IBU, light aroma but well balanced, not boozy

Brian Hackney from Eye On the Bay interviewing brewer Billy Sloane
I got to chat with the producer a bit about the show. They were taking a train from San Jose to Seattle and stopping at places along the way. Crater Lake was fogged in that day so they ventured into town to catch some other local attractions, such as geothermal heated sidewalks and the brewery. They even asked if I'd like to be interviewed for the show. Of course I said yes but unfortunately they were on a tight schedule and I opted to take the long tour from head brewer Corey Zschoche instead of launching myself into travel show celebrity status. Someday... You can check out their Eye On The Bay Episode here. At the end I also got a quick tour of the restaurant side from the owner including their pokey machine room (gambling machines legal in OR pubs, brought back memories of Uni in Australia!) and made my way out just before sunset to finish the drive up to Bend.
Brewhouse w/ nice copper cladding
Geothermal systems

Hot water from ground heat!

Conditioning tanks
Nightcap in Bend

I rolled into Bend a little sleepy but instantly found the energy to get out and explore.  It's a nice small city or big town depending on your point of view. Its chock full of breweries and outdoor enthusiasts. A lot like Ithaca, NY if your from the east coast, just bigger mountains. The Deschutes River runs right through the middle of it and there are nice parks and walkways along its banks. Invisible in the dark Mount Bachelor loomed in the distance.  I checked into my hotel, cleaned up a bit and made the short walk to downtown.
Full house for Tues night pint night at Bend Brewing Co.

I had made a new connection while in Denver as a friend's work friend's best friend (still with us?!) worked for Deschutes. Angela worked in the marketing department and it was nice to know I had a local connection. I wasn't planning on seeing Deschutes until the next day but Angela said she would probably stop by the Bend Brewing Co for their pint night, $2.75 pints of awesome craft beer! I rolled in and apparently just missed her. We would just have to meet tomorrow.  After a quick scan of the beer list I started with a Pinnacle Porter and started chatting up some locals.  The first was a nice old fella named Frank who split his time between Liverpool, Bend and Scotland... definitely a talker but friendly, full of stories and great local advice on what brews to check out. Next was Cory who happened to be from Vermont originally.  A wealth of local knowledge, he also worked at the Victorian Cafe, one of the best places to get breakfast in Bend, which we'll get to in our next blog entry. Cory also showed me something that filled me with pride and that warm feeling you get from seeing something familiar from back home.  Out of his wallet he fished a Vermont Breweries Passport Guide. Something I had the pleasure of helping launch almost 7 years ago. To see it still alive and all the way across the country just topped off an already great evening.  Cory had to run but I promised to stop in for breakfast. He pointed me in the direction of his favorite Bend dive bar and we parted ways. 
Coast to Coast, Vermont meets Bend
Bend Brewing Porter -  Awesome beer, dry and roasty, started with my favorite
Bend Brewing Quickstep Nitro Stout - Lots of coffee, light body, creamy head
Bend Brewing Hop Head Double IPA - 8.5%, Their #1 selling beer, very nice
10 Barrel Apocalypse IPA - 6.5%, 65 IBU, Big citrus nose, balanced West Coast IPA

D & D Bar & Grill

It really tells you what kind of place you are in when the local dive bar has a dozen craft beers on tap. D & D looks like the cross between a diner, a country music bar and a dodgy college pub.  It was pretty quiet being late on Tuesday but I still had one beer and watched a few local college kids down some Jagermeister shots. Wanting to push on knowing time was scarce and beers a plenty but fearing a serious hangover, I called it a night and walked back to my hotel. The cold night air was refreshing. Bend was looking to be everything I had imagined. It had been a great journey so far, and I was really looking forward to the next two days. ...I never did use those chains.  

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Apres Brewski - Take 4 Lake Tahoe

Breathtaking view of Lake Tahoe from Heavenly Resort
Getting waxed up for next morning's ride w/ Acer Quercus! 
One of the few things that gets me as giddy as driving to a new brewery is driving to a ski mountain after fresh snow, or in the case of Lake Tahoe, several of them. Add to this reconnecting with old friends and you have a key stop on my already fantastical journey. It was dark with a few flakes softly dancing across my windshield as I drove into Lake Tahoe. I wasn't greeted with the same breathtaking view of the lake that I got last summer but it didn't matter, I would have plenty of those in the days to come. The next four days would be relatively relaxing after several weeks of driving and beer tasting. With big plans for the next morning I rolled in, and went straight to bed. The next day I woke and stepped outside into the cool air with Tahoe's famous bluebird skies and the warm sunshine beating down on my face. Ahhh... it was so good to be here.

Yeti sighting at Kirkwood...
When you can't wait to get off the slopes
Lake Tahoe is famous for its natural beauty and fantastic skiing. Squaw Valley, on the west side of the lake, played host to the 1960 Winter Olympics and the area's mountains host thousands of skiers every day. Of course after burning up the legs all day its necessary to cool off with some quality brew. And for all its popularity you would think that would help put them on the beer map as well, but you just don't hear Lake Tahoe and beer in the same sentence. You can buy great beer everywhere around the lake, as California and the West Coast are home to lots of great craft brewers. Most bars and stores have Sierra Nevada, New Belgium or Deschutes available. Being on the Nevada/California border also gives you the best of both worlds when it comes to price and selection, Nevada is less expensive but California has a bigger range of beers available. So drinking great beer isn't a problem if you want to just bring it with you. But where do you go for a beer MADE here? Well the good news is there are a few small brew pubs in the region to quench your local Apres ski desires. So no matter where you take your turns you can be sipping a local brew in no time.

 South Lake Tahoe

Spring snow and a setting sun at The Brewery in South Lake Tahoe  

After a day on the mountains near the south end of the lake my friend Mike and I stopped in The Brewery in South Lake Tahoe. We tramped in with our snowboard boots on, with legs of rubber and thirsty palates. Full of transplants like any ski town, we were greeted by Chris, an Aussie from Victoria (also on my near future beerventure list, as it's the recent hotbed of craft brewing in Australia). He was keen to hear about my trip to NZ and my plans to return to Oz as well. But before we let the small talk distract us too much from our thirst we ordered a tasting flight and got down to sampling the beers. The Brewery has been around since 1992 and pretty much feels like you would imagine an old ski town brewpub to feel.

My favorite accent is the snowboard chalk board w/ the beer list  

Whiteout Wit - 5% Lager yeast wit beer... in place of their popular Washoe Wheat, Stateline and Anchorage breweries also have a Wit beer by this name so not sure if it was a test batch, clone or what. Regardless I loved it, dry finish and just a bit of citrus

Needle Peak Pale Ale - 6.5% Nice Pale, Great hoppy nose but more malt comes through on the taste

Indian Pale Ale - 7%, traditional IPA, nicely balanced, just a bit hoppier than Needle Peak

Bad Ass Ale - 9.2% Dark and balanced, its their signature beer which they use to make their Bad Ass Ale Pizza Dough, the high ABV doesn't hurt either

Alpine Amber - 6%, Nice malty amber, right down the middle, Mikes go to beer here (he just ordered a full pint straight off, while I tasted)

Paramount Porter - 6%, On the lighter side for porters, they make two batches, one for Summer and one for winter. I experienced the Summer batch and missed the roastier Winter batch that would have been more to my preference... I'll have to just go back someday!

Star Lake Stout - 7%, Quite boozy, semi smooth stout

Pumpkin Ale - 6%, just a hint of pumpkin and spice... nice desert beer!

Tasting Paddle at The Brewery 
The process at The Brewery is unique to brewpubs as well. Limited on space they don't have a mash tun and just do a partial mash which is what many home brewers do as the intermediary step between all extract and all grain brewing. The beers were good so it works for them. Their 5 Barrel system keeps cranking out a big variety of beers for their thirsty locals and tourists alike. I look forward to returning to South Lake soon, for more turns and more beers.

Also on the Southside of the lake on the California-Nevada border is the aptly named Stateline Brewery. Its prime location at the base of Heavenly Resort's Gondola makes it ideal for an Apres brewski. Unfortunately I'll have to check it out on my next trip as we ran out of time to make it there this time.

North Lake Tahoe

Fifty Fifty Tasting Flight 
If you are working on your dirty faced goggle tan on the north end of the lake you aren't too far from Truckee, CA, which is about as ski bum of a town as it gets and home to Fifty Fifty Brewing. This was my second trip here as I had stopped by quickly on my August cross country beerventure. I met up with Amanda who had moved here from our hometown in NY years ago to take advantage of the bigger mountains. She was happy to show me around the local brew scene. Julie was our bartender and set us up with a tasting flight. Todd the owner/headbrewer wasn't around (again, darn the luck and lack of planning ahead) but his time I got a peek into the brewhouse with assistant brewer Alyssa. They have a nice copper clad brewhouse in tight quarters but definitely much bigger than The Brewery at South Lake. Fifty Fifty is now distributing their beers as well and are getting aclaim for their barrel aged beers, know as the Eclipse series. If you are in the area in early December, and lucky enough to get a ticket, you can attend the Eclipse release party! Also keep your eyes open for their in the works expansion down the road. Amanda and I went through the beers and then headed back down to the lake for one more little treat on the Tahoe beer... err... bar scene.

Nice copper clad brewhouse at Fifty Fifty 

Base Camp Golden - 4.2%, 18 IBUs Nice refresher, touch of citrus from hops

Manifesto Pale Ale 5.4%, 32 IBUs standard pale ale,

Rockslide IPA - 6.7%, 70 IBU, West Coast IPA

Donner Party Porter - 6.7%, 30 IBUs, easy drinking porter, a touch sweet

Trifecta - 10.5%, 20 IBUs Belgian Triple, barrel aged and slightly sour, very nice

Totality Imperial Stout - 9.5%, 75 IBUs Great roasty stout, its the base beer for the Eclipse Barrel Aged beers

Farmhouse - 5.8%, 28 IBUs, Saison style w/ no spices added, great Spring session beer

2011 Eclipse - 300 gallons, once a year... one of seven barrel aged Imperial Stouts, not sure which one though!

Foggy Goggle Wit - 5.3%, 19 IBU, Orange Peel, Lemon Peel, Rosehip, Coriander and Rosemary

Consecrated Evil - 10% Dark Belgian, dark fruity sipper, gets better as it warms

Hot Dog! ...last stop in Tahoe

Ski porn: its how you warm up for the ski season every fall... these classic low budget films starring hot moves on and off the mountain get you revved up for the coming season year after year. One of the best is Hot Dog ...The Movie. So it would be just shameful to not stop in for a beer at the famous watering hole in the movie, Le Chamois at the base of Squaw Valley. I didn't get to ski Squaw this trip but its close to Amanda's house and was worth the small detour. It was a mellow midweek evening but I could see enough to get the feel for how it would be rocking out on a busy snowy night after a long day on the mountain. A frame exposed painted beams, photos of the who's who of skiing on the walls and that buzz you get from being in an Olympic village. Classic! As far as the beer goes you could get a shot Jaegermeister and Budweiser or PBR like most locals do but they also had some New Belgium Fat Tire for us beer folk looking for a little more flavor out of our beer. The warm Sake is also a local favorite!

That was Lake Tahoe... funny as it was close to the end of my ski season in the US. It feels strangely familiar as I sit here in Christchurch, New Zealand watching the Olympics on TV and the incoming winter storm that should set us up for some good skiing and riding later this week. Good timing ...being behind on the blog has some perks I guess. Back to the mountains again... where to for Apres in NZ?! I love doing research!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Sacramento Beer Week - Drinking with The Beer Wench

There is a pretty good chance if you live in the USA there is a Craft Beer Week near you.  Some are more famous than others such as Philadelphia's which set the pace years ago.  Others are newer as the idea spreads to smaller or less developed craft markets. Unfortunately I had to rush through Arizona and missed their beer week (see previous post).  I was also a week late for San Francisco's famous week of beer events.  However Sacramento Beer Week was scheduled just right.  I was too excited to go skiing and visit old friends in Lake Tahoe to spend the time needed to really dive into the festivities but I wasn't going to totally miss another one! There is probably one near you soon, check out's list here.

I also was keeping my ears open for ideas on how to best grow my beer blog.  It worked out that one of the top beer bloggers, Ashley Routson, aka The Beer Wench, was involved in several events that week and lucky for me one that night. A Bison Brewery employee by day and blogger, beer connesiour and beer mixoligist at night, her to the point, lively commentary is followed by over 10,000 folks via Twitter and is a source of knowledge and entertainment in the Bay area and all over the west coast. I tracked her down at a tasting event for Ace Cider and Bison Brewing Co. at Magpie's Cafe in Sacramento's R Street district.

Magpie Cafe's cozy dinning room, standing room only
I ended up arriving ahead of the brewers to a packed dinning room. Magpies is quite small and is well respected for their food, so getting a seat at dinner time isn't easy. I had a full belly already so I had to skip what looked like a delicious menu and got right into the tasting. Jen the manager and the bartender were very friendly and got me started on the beers. Knowing I had to hit the road again in a couple hours, I stuck with a few small pours. As I sipped my first brew the beer folks started to roll in. It was yet another night exhibiting the camaraderie among craft brewers. With Nico from 21st Amendment Brewing Co. (San Francisco) and Peter from Briess Malt stopping by to hang out with Dan, Mark and Ashley of Bison Brewery from (Berkeley, CA) and Nick from Ace Cider (Sebastopol, CA).

Only four taps but all craft along with a nice
bottle selection, focused on local and organic
Having promoted at several beer weeks in Syracuse and Albany, NY, I know they can be a fun but exhausting couple if not several days. A beer sampling at a supermarket followed by a beer dinner followed by a late night promotion really takes it out of you... and that's just one day. Being mid-week these guys looked a bit knackered. I'm pretty sure it wasn't their first event that day either. I introduced myself but let them sit down and eat before pestering too much. I just went ahead and tasted some more, tough I know!
Bison Brewing - Chocolate Stout 5%, Roasty, touch of chocolate and not as thick and heavy as some... you could definitely drink more than one
Ace Cider - Honey Cider, 5%, on the drier side. Earthy w/ a touch of honey flavor, I believe I was told this one had aged a few years
Ace Cider - Perry, 5% pear cider, slightly sweet, tasted like a Jolly Rancher candy

Ace Honey Cider
Not being too packed with beer fans it was great to get some time to chat with Dan about his strong conviction on using organic and sustainable food sources. He also talked about his love of brewing and lack there of while taking care of the business end of running a brewery. It was great to hear The Beer Wench's stories about her beer adventures while growing her blog, especially being a woman in a male dominated beer world. Craft beer draws more women than traditional beer biz but it's still mostly men. And just to show you can never predict which way an evening will go I ended up getting way more into the cider. Maybe I just needed a change after weeks of beer tastings. To accompany this Nick Diamond from Ace spent a lot of time talking over the ciders, the company, the growing market, distribution, etc and as a pleasant surprise his contacts in New Zealand where I would be flying to in just over a week! They were all very nice and we even hinted at getting together for a Sunday Funday brunch when I hit San Francisco before flying out... we'll see if we can make it happen but first back to the mountains to get some Spring skiing in Lake Tahoe!

As I continue to travel I like planning trips around suggestions. Send along or comment on your favorite beer weeks out there. Hopefully I can visit soon!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Brew U. - Davis CA, USA

Everyone has those days when you are fully into whatever it is you do for a living, yet there you are dreaming of doing something else.  Maybe it's doing what you do already but for yourself instead of someone else. Possibly you want to just take a break and visit that far away place you have only seen in pictures. I suppose some are just waiting on winning the lotto and quitting all together. A lot of successful businesses arise from hobbyists "going pro".  Such is the case with many home brewers.  This is where the craft brewing movement sprouted from a few decades ago. I was one of those people trying to find happiness by doing what I love for work. The problem was I was nervous about investing (or in my case, borrowing) the huge sums of money involved in starting a proper brewery, only to have it fail. One way to shore up your brewing knowledge is going through one of the many brewing courses or books available, or for the lucky ones with the time and money to spend, attend one of the brewing schools sprinkled throughout the world. The two most respected in the US are the Master Brewers Program at the University of California at Davis' Extension (classes full until 2015!) and the Siebel Institute in Chicago (also fills up way in advance but has smaller courses available). My first online course was through UC Davis and it was on my cross country to do list to drop in and see the place in person. 

Welcome to Sudwerks... much more than meets the eye!
Sudwerks beautiful brewhouse that specializes in German style brews
Just outside of Sacramento, Davis is a progressive University town.  The brewing school provides instruction from respected brewing minds, Charles Bamforth, PhD, and Michael Lewis ,PhD.  The students learn the science and technology of brewing in classes and then apply their skills on the brewing systems at Sudwerk Privatbrauerei Hubsch, which is a brewpub and distributing brewery in Davis.  
Beers during class break
 Luckily Sacramento and Davis are on the drive between San Luis Obispo and Lake Tahoe and I called up the University office to see if I could sit in on a class.  Melissa was very helpful and as an online alumni they were happy to let me check it out.  The day's topic was packaging and what types of cardboard and aluminium were used for beer thoughout the years and what emerging packages might be encountered in the future.  A topic about as satisfying as a heavily oxidized brew. (one beer geek point if you got the beer pun) And even though Charlie and Michael were not teaching that
Beers after class
day Professor John Krochta was a good host with plenty of knowledge to share. On the upside, being a Friday it was also one of the days the students set up a portable bar in the shipping dock and try out all the experimental batches they have been brewing the last few weeks. It's know as the "Dock Store" and locals can check it out too, Thurs-Sat. Check out the times here: Sudwerk Dock Store. It was a cool but sunny day as we sampled what might be the beginnings of the next creative beers from some of America's emerging brewing talent.  I felt pretty special to be there that day. Another neat thing was the collection of craft beer shirts on the group of students. Some from back home in New York where I started my journey, some from places I had been the last few weeks driving across the US, and others from overseas and far away.  Craft beer is definitely a male dominated field, so it was nice to see two females in the class of 30. There was also a small international contingent, mostly from far flung Heineken breweries in Panama and Russia.  Everyone was warm and welcoming, even though I was a complete stranger just dropping into class... as such things go when you are a traveler and a craft beer fan.

Hidden gem: Sudwerk's Dock Store!
Another pleasent surprise for me was that Sudwerks also distributes beer. They are not just a brewpub as I had thought in the past. Brennen, one of the brewers, walked me through a few of the beers. Trent gave me a tour of the facility which is a full blown brewery with ongoing expansion just like most craft breweries across the country. Add Davis to the growing list of places I need to spend more time in on my next visit.

Sudwerk Dock Store Brews
Marzen - Dry, Semi sweet
33rd St Friends - Vanilla Dunkel, just like it sounds, yum!

Sudwerks Brewhouse
Sudwerks Bottling Line
Unitanks at Sudwerks

Friday, June 8, 2012

San Luis Obispo - It takes a lot of beer to make good wine!

Daou Vineyards

Enjoying the views at sunset with vinyard manager Michael Accurso at Daou Vinyards outside San Luis Obispo

Time to fine tune the wine pallete!
As I headed out the door from Aunt Carol and Uncle Brian's to drive north Aunt Carol slipped me $40, "to buy yourself a bottle at the vineyard". Now what is The Beer Less Traveled doing at a vineyard you might ask?! Well as the old saying goes, "it takes a lot of beer to make good wine" so naturally I was going to find some good beer here.  I also should note I don't discriminate too much when it comes to wine... every 20th drink or so ends up being a glass of fermented grape juice and I enjoy the artisanship that goes into wine making. I've even made a few batches of fruit wine from our family acres in Upstate New York. I also can not resist the opportunity to stay on the vineyard overnight with the workers and see how it's all made.  Luckily my cousin BJ worked at Daou Vineyards over the past year and hooked me up with Michael Accurso the vineyard manager and Amy Kolberg who works in the lab at the winery. They opened the doors and showed me around and taught me a little more about the world of wine.  The newly expanded tasting room is gorgeous and is only rivaled by the views. Thanks to Jill in the tasting room for the wine tour as well. ...and Aunt Carol, your $40 was well spent on a bottle of Celestus!

Chardonnay '10 - 14.5%, 15 months in Oak, not too oaky
Grenache Blanc - 13.9% , Fruitier, a touch sweeter
Chemin de Fleurs '10 - 14.2% "Trail of Flowers" Semi dry, light tropical fruitiness
Celestus '09 - 61% Syrah, 28% Cabernet Savignon, 11% Petit Verdot, My pick!
Cabernet Savingion '07 - 82% Cabernet Savignon, 12% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot 

Awakening to a patchwork of olives and grapevines at Daou Vineyards, hard work and isolation has its rewards
Firestone Walker

Even though Mike makes his living on wine he is also a big beer fan.  Like I said it takes a lot of beer
to make good wine and there is living proof all over wine country.  Luckily for the vintners of
California's Central Coast they have one of America's most respected craft brewers right in their back yard. Being from the east coast Firestone Walker Brewing Co. wasn't really on my beer radar until recently. I had heard them mentioned for winning some medals but that was about it. Then at the 2009 Craft Brewers Conference in Boston I found myself in one of those moments where it felt like I was in the eye of the craft beer storm that had been sweeping America that last couple of decades. I was seated next to Dan Kenary from Harpoon Brewery and Nick Matt from FX Matt/Saranac Brewing (lobbying for Harpoon cans that coming Summer!) The panel was about the future of craft beer and included Larry Bell from Bells, Kim Jordan from New Belgium, Sam Caligione from Dogfish Head and David Walker from Firestone Walker. He was well spoken and I liked his insight and story. Then seeing their beer reach New York soon after they crept onto my must see list. Firestone Walker brewed its first beer in 1996 and hasn't looked back. 
I phoned ahead and set up a tour once I knew my eta. Mike was all in when I asked if he wanted to join me for some samples and a tour of the brewery. We arrived and had a few minutes to kill so we had a few samples while waiting. Laurie took care of us and got us through their session beers which were somewhat new to me since most of the far distributed beers are bigger flavored, higher alcohol brews. I like the fact that they don't try to sell the lighter beers 3,000 miles away as they don't travel as well as barrel aged porters might. Keeping it local and keeping it fresh, gets my vote. As we finished our samples Sara came out and outfitted us with some snazzy eye protection and took us out back for a tour.
Sara, our Cicerone Certified Tour Guide, showing off the kettle
We timed our visit perfectly or awfully depending on your perspective. It was the last day to see the "old" tour room as it was being renovated to make room for the brewery and moving across the street to a new visitors center and restaurant the next day. A week or two later I would have been one of the first to see the new layout but it was nice to see the old one in hopes I can compare it to the new one on my next visit. With the new addition they are hoping to brew 180K barrels in 2012, now that is some serious beer! They also were in the planning stages of a new beer fest. The region is used to seeing many wine festivals but lacks a good old craft beer fest.  Another item to add to my craft beer "to do" list.  

View from old brew house of new brew house at Firestone Walker
Sara was a great guide and as fellow Cicerone (aka Beer Sommelier) we were able to "geek out" as we went through the process and all the equipment.  It was also cool having a winemaker on the tour since Mike's knowledge of fermentation from a different angle brought out new questions on the process. Expansion was in full swing while we were there with the foundation for the new brewhouse being poured that week. I also got a close up of their unique barrel aged fermentation and blending process. Something born out of the Firestone connection with wine and the brewery's location in one of California's bigger wine regions.

Up up and away... running out of room at Firestone Walker 

About 20% of Firestone's DBA is fermented in oak barrels and then blended with the same beer that fermented in stainless steel. These guys focused on mostly one small range of beers when they started allowing them to fine tune their beers.  The payoff was owning that category at beer festivals raking in heeps of rewards. They are branching out these days more but their pale ale and barrel aging roots are well intact. Head brewer Matt Bryndilson has been named America's best brewer twice in a row now, and three times all together. A serious accolade considering the field of talented brewers across the nation and world.

James racking beer out of barrels... part of Firestone's unique brewing process

Hefeweizen - 4.7%, Light and easy drinking. Bavarian yeast lends a bunch of banana and clove flavor
Pale 31 - 4.8%, Fuggle, Cascade, Centennial and Chinook hops in great balanced pale, my pick!
DBA - 5%, British Pale style flagship brew, mellow by design w/ Kent and Styrian Goldings with 20% oak barrel and 80% stainless steel fermentation (see photo above)
Union Jack IPA - 7.5%, drier IPA with 6 hop varieties
Double Jack 2xIPA - 9.5%, on the maltier side
Velvet Merlin Oatmeal Stout - 5.5%, Balance w/ Chocolate and Coffee notes
Velvet Nitro Merlin Oatmeal Stout - 5.5%, same but more velvety mouthfeel
Velvet Merkin - 8.5%, Sweet Vanilla and tropical flavors from barrel aging Merlin
I can't decide if I like the original Merlin or the Merkin better... both fantastic, Pale 31 also got top marks!

Ain't No Party Like a Wine Coast Party

How could a day at a brewery and a winery get any better?  A house party with the winemakers! We ended the evening with some good homemade eats and all sorts of beverages. I shared a few of the beers from my travels and they opened up some wine. I can't say too much as notes are bit thin at this point but I know we cracked open a bunch of beers from my travels including New Belgium's 1554 and a Belgo IPA, a Funkwerks Saison and few others. I also have to look more into Tri-tip cut beef, Nara '05 & '07 wines, Left Coast Cellars, Chateau Margene and The Murder City Devils... there might have been some home brew, champagne and a few shots too! A big thank you to everyone in SLO for hosting and sharing their knowledge and appreciation for wine and beer, I learned a lot. I hope to return someday soon. Cheers! 

Beautiful wine, properly decanted