Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Boulder... TGIF!

Reminds me of my first day working at a brewery...
All day on the bottling line!
 Boulder seemed to be doing its best at avoiding me all trip.  I had made plans to go there my first full day in Colorado. When that fell through I though about doing in Monday... again, no dice.  Finally I dropped a day on the slopes in order to make the trip on a Friday.  Friday is a good time to be in Boulder... at least at the breweries!  I went classic to start the day with a stop at Boulder Beer Co. Colorado's first craft brewery, founded in 1979. (My favorite year) I had some of their beers back east but as always you get to try more than just the flagship, IPA or seasonal beer when you get to the tasting room.  Boulder should clock in around 40K barrels this year so not the biggest brewery but not a small one either. I rushed in and was about 2 minutes late for the tour... which basically means I missed grabbing a beer for the tour which
Barrel aging.. Mmmmm

Old fork truck. Classic brewery humor!
is 45 minutes of torture as you walk around the brewery watching everyone else enjoy theirs but I survived. It isn't like I am suffering from a shortage of beer this trip! On the tour they take you all over the place including the production floor, the lab and cooler, or beer heaven as I used to call it when I gave tours. Overall a very good tour. Being able to take a beer on the tour is definitely a plus! At the end they have half a dozen beers to sample and whatever you don't get on the tour they will let you try at the bar.  It was a friendly staff including Ethan, who being from New England originally, was able to chat Northeast beers as well as Colorado. My picks were their Ovivoid (6.8% Oak Aged Stout, the mystery beer in their variety packs now!), Killer Peguin Barleywine (10% malty Barleywine), Bad Moon Double Black IPA (12%, hoppy, roasty) and Mojo IPA on cask! (Balanced, hoppy, smooth) They also make some good mustard with their Mojo IPA!

Avery: BIG tour group for Friday Happy Hour!

Samples galore!!
In the theme of the day I was having a little too much fun and ran out the door with just a few minutes to get down the street to Avery Brewing Co. for their 4 o'clock tour.  Arriving at 4:05 I saw a large assembly of folks at the tasting room.  I flagged a burly brewery staffer that said grab a beer quick and jump on the tour!  I squeezed into a packed tasting room and up to the bar to be overwhelmed by a couple of dozen draft selections, many of which were not available outside the taproom.  A quick exchange with the bartender found me with a pint of their Lilikopi Kepolo Wheat (Passion fruit wheat, light, refreshing, a touch fruity and tart) It would be one of my favorite beers in Colorado.  I walked outside just in time to grab the tail of the tour walking down to the brewhouse.  I need to start leaving 10 minutes earlier! Now fate was on my side again... as I stood there listening to the guide give the normal tour I caught a glimpse of someone familiar.  Matt the brewer from Golden City that I met earlier in the week went walking by.  I flagged him down and ended up getting a behind the scenes tour with him and Jason who happened to be the burly brewer that I met briefly on the way in!  Life was sorting itself out nicely! Avery, about the same size as Boulder but younger, having started in 1993, is growing fast and when we found Riley manning their 40 BBL brewhouse it was filled to the brim. They are going to outgrow that thing pretty soon.  They also have a pretty new canning line and centrifuge to help filter beer faster. Nice shiny new stuff! After an informative lap around the brewery I ended up in the tasting room and Matt and I went through a ton of samples to TRY and taste most of what they had to offer.  It took a while but it was great as were the staff. My favorites were the Ellie's Brown (5.5%, good balance, session beer), Out of Bounds Stout Cask (6.3%, smooth, creamy, roasty), Ermita III (9.5%, Brettanomyces, slightly tart), Trogdor Dopplebock (Smoky, smooth, 7%)... ok honestly I could go on and on, they were all pretty good! This was my second Friday afternoon in a brewery in Colorado and I have to say a brewery tasting room is the place to be for happy hour!
Over 20 different beers to try! Yikes!!

15 Stouts on tap!
Going on recommendations I was really trying to go to Mountain Sun Brewery while in Boulder but between all the samples I needed a break before hitting the road again. Safety first! So I grabbed some awful Chinese food down the street and chilled for an hour before driving back to Denver.  Mountain Sun has two newer locations, Southern Sun also in Boulder and Vine Street in Denver.  Luckily Vine Street was pretty close to where I was staying so I popped in that evening to to see what they had on tap. Now I always say my favorite beer is the "one in my hand" (I'm not the first to say this) but I do tend toward the darker side of things in the winter. As if things couldn't get any better... it was Stout Month at their brew pubs!!!  I ended up meeting Tim one of the four owners. They have a new 12 barrel brewhouse at Vine St that is going online in the next month as soon as they sort out some red tape. The silver lining is they get to have a few guest taps from other local breweries in the mean time. As far as the beers go the stouts were fun and interesting, with lots of flavors, a few imperial stouts and many hoppy stouts.  These guys really love their hoppy beers.  My favorites were the Trixster (6.7% hoppy stout with great aroma), Colorado Kind Pale (Not a stout, their original flagship, all cascade hops, well balanced, 6%) These guys treated me really well.  In retrospect, all three breweries were top notch in the hospitality arena this day. Actually, almost everyone on the trip so far has been great. Craft beer is the best industry in the world to be in and  I am lucky and thankful to be a part of it!
Theme of the day... lots to sample!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Fort Collins... flexibility rules the day

Borrow one and pedal around town.
Employees get one after one year!
I've said this before and my day in Fort Collins was no exception, sometimes its best to be flexible when you travel and let the wind take you. The places you end up will sometimes pleasantly surprise you. This was my second beer trip to Fort Collins.  A place teeming with breweries, good beer and along with those breweries, naturally a bunch of brewery workers.   This is the kind of place all beer lovers should put on your list of places to visit.  It's definitely the mecca of Colorado beer and should be up there with places like Portland OR, San Diego, Vermont and 
If your looking for something extra try the back taps
Ashville NC for US beer destinations. I hoped for more than one afternoon there but that was all the time this trip would allow. With so much to do and so little time I started by contacting some ex Harpoon coworkers that moved west.  Tamar was working late but Rich was off at 2pm that day.  I met him in New Belgium Brewing Co's tasting room along with a few of his fellow cellarmen, Ted, Ross and Kevin. We sampled a half dozen beers including their Prickly Pear Saison (light fruit, med body and refreshing), the new seasonal dry hopped Pale Ale called Dig (great nose, balanced hoppiness), one of their original beers Old Cherry (a little sweet and a little tart at the same time, pours red from the cherries) and Cocoa Mole (cinnamon/Cocoa). 

Corrugated metal sign...

Corrugated metal sign...
must be a Ft Collins thing!
 Not wanting to overdo it in one spot I suggested we check out Funkwerks. Last trip I met one of the founders, Brad. He had told me there were a couple new brews going on this week and to stop on in. We grabbed a table in the tasting room and shared a few tasting flights.
Funkwerks... glassware does make a difference!
My favorites were the Caspercot, a which is their original Casper Saison ale with Turkish Apricots added (light on the fruit but a great blend with the fruity/spicy Saison yeast) and the Chai White (the chai is suttle until it warms up and again pairs with the Saison yeast well), They also had a Valentine's Day release called Roselle (Pours red from Hibiscus flowers, a little sweet but unique) These guys focus on one sliver of the craft beer spectrum and they do it well.

Ted from New Belgium, Owen from Oskar Blues
and I toasting with some Pliny The Younger
from Russian River Brewing Co

Attn meat lovers! Loaded sandwiches at Choice City!
This is where the "plan" took its first turn.  Brad asked if we were going to Choice City later for their 8th anniversary party which included some special tappings.  I hadn't planned on it, in fact I'll admit I had never heard of this place. Too much time doing and not enough planning left me with little info on Fort Collins' pub scene. This butchershop/taproom has been bringing a large selection of hard to find beers to Fort Collins for many years. An effort spearheaded by owner Russ' love of rare beers. He proudly showed me his personal cooler for aging his specialty cellar collection. He even had some Harpoon 100 BBL Series in there.  Every Wednesday they have fresh kegs to tap and $1 sliders... that is sure to get you over hump day! This day I was lucky to get both Pliny the Younger (Russian River Brewing's rare triple IPA hop bomb) AND a Coconut Porter cask (smooth, dark, sweet coconut) from Odell Brewing Co. Another advantage of a local brewery is that Odell's cask specialist Linsey Cornish was there to usher the new cask in and explain its production and attributes.
Cask Coconut Porter from Odells!

Turn number 2... not wanting to call it quits quite yet I followed Ross and
Chillaxin' by the fire, long day!
Kevin down the block to a fairly new place, Equinox Brewing. Its a laid back atmosphere, especially in the front room by the fireplace.  They have a couple of beer engines if you like cask beers.
Cask ale or cask-conditioned beer is the term for unfiltered and unpasteurised beer which is conditioned (allowed to settle and mature) and served by gravity or hand pump instead of pressurized gas. Cask tends to be less carbonated. Many breweries will add extra hops, spices or wood to the cask to add flavor to the beer. Cask ale is frequently referred to as real ale, especially in Britan.

Equinox Brewing just two blocks away

Not having much room left and hearing that their European styles were the best offerings I went with half pours of their ESB (nice balanced, easy drinking, amber) and Maibock (dry finish, great nose, smelled like it came from Germany).  I also got a sample of their Red Ale (malty, med body). If you get a little more time than I did in Fort Collins you can check out Odell's, and the Mayor of Old Town and The Forge for beer bars... and honestly you would still be scratching the surface. Just let the beer winds guide you, you won't be disappointed. Cheers!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Golden ticket...

Lots of "Rocky Mountain Spring Water"
The worlds largest single site brewery
Thank you for the nice tour Shelly!

            Golden Colorado is most famously know for being the home of Coors Brewing Co.  Golden is also home to a smaller lesser know brewery, Golden City Brewing.  I was going to name this post David vs. Goliath but honestly there isn't any competition between these guys. They are in two totally different leagues.  Having gone to college for Chemical Engineering (yeah Clarkson!) I really enjoy a large production facility tour. I had been to Golden about 12 years ago and toured Coors with my family and was just a few months shy of being able to indulge legally. Well not this time!  They do a nice tour and you can see most of the operation. I was most interested in the malting processes because most craft and micro breweries don't malt their own grains.  Shelly our tour guide was very informative but a little nervous due to the "brewery staff" jacket I was wearing. As an ex brewery tour guide I promised not to be annoying or interrupt her.  In the end her information was right on and she did a great job. I also love the labs at bigger breweries, it really shows how committed to quality they are. Coors also spreads the freshness word on their tours which I am a huge advocate of. (I guarantee I'll rant about this early and often)
The tasting room had a ton of memorabilia, it was like walking through a museum. I got to try a few lesser distributed Coors products that came out of their AC Golden research brewery. Batch 19, their pre-prohibition lager was pretty good, more flavor than their regular offerings.

Coors - 500 BBL Mash and Lauter Tuns

East meets West
GCB - 10 BBL Brewhouse and 30 BBL Fermenters

A short drive or long walk from the Coors facility is Golden City Brewing who proudly markets themselves as Golden's second largest brewery. To put this in perspective Coors has a football field sized room full of 500 Barrel Brew Kettles, Golden City has one 10 Barrel system.  I luckily went on a "slower" night and was able to chat with Derek at the bar quite a bit before I was able to sneak back into the brewhouse and chat with Matt their brewer. Bribing brewery staff with east coast brews seems to do the trick! If you go there in the Summer the place to be is their beer garden attached to the side between the owners house and this carriage house turned brewery. It is open most of the year for the die-hards that dare brave the cold.There are a few inside tables which were all full when I was there, not hard when only 20 or so packs the place.  I even met some Coors employees there enjoying the brews.  It was a fun lively group, full of characters, including Mayor Wayne! This guy ALMOST won the mayor's election last year. Nice guy, craft beer fan, foodie and outdoorsman... he has my vote! GCB had a nice selection on tap and my pick was the American Stout (dark, roasty and great hop aroma from Falconer's Flight hops).

Falconers Flight Hops: "Hopunion LLC Falconer's Flight™ is a proprietary pellet blend comprised of many of the Northwest's most premier hop varieties including the highly acclaimed Citra™, Simcoe®, and Sorachi Ace along with experimental hops and numerous other NW varieties." 

- Partial proceeds benefit the Glen Hay Falconer Foundation that awards two scholarships to The Seibel Institute every year to a Northwest brewer.

Rumor has it a fresh batch of Evolution IPA is hitting the taps in the coming days, there is NOTHING like a FRESH IPA, I wish I had time to backtrack! Mad Molly's Brown Ale (a nice malty English style Brown) was my other favorite.  If you go to Golden you have to make time to see both... I mean who doesn't have time to see two breweries, I am not asking a lot here folks.

It was time to get back to Denver and once again my buddy Mike "talked" me into another brewery visit. I got there just in time for last call.  Great Divide Brewing Co. is in downtown Denver and has a great selection of beers.  They are a mid size craft brewery and expanding rapidly. In August I was able to check out their new tanks. This time the tasting room had been expanded. I was only able to try a few of the 16 beers on tap but all were well made.  The Hoss' Rye Lager (Spicy, Dry, Hoppy Amber) and the Espresso Oaked Yeti (roasty, a hint of oak and lots of local coffee flavor) were my favorites.  It's time to get some rest so I can hit the mountains and get some turns in.  See you Apres Ski!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Denver Sunday Funday...

Beer list at Cherry Cricket

       When I travel two parts of my personality compete and when they are in balance usually I find myself in good places with good people having a good time. I tend to be a planner who embraces spontaneity.  Ideally I thoroughly research a trip and have as much info as possible as I hit the road but then I leave it up to the wind to drive me one direction or the other.  Luckily I have a handful of friends in Denver that enjoy good beers and they had a good list of places to eat and drink well.  One of my favorite pastimes is Sunday brunch and while I have been know to enjoy a good Bloody Mary, Mimosa, Irish Coffee or a dry hard cider (or all 4 aka the breakfast gauntlet, right Kyle?) I equally enjoy a good brunch beer. There are some great spots in Denver for breakfast or brunch. Last  trip I enjoyed Jelly and I have heard good things about Snooze too.  This morning I found our group recovering at The Cherry Cricket and the beer list did not disappoint. While you could get the normal mainstream beers they also had a dozen craft beers on tap ranging from lighter lagers to whites, plus several IPAs and stouts. Definitely something for everyone. I ended up getting their famous Green Chili and a Great Divide Nomad Pils (light, balanced Czech style Pilsner, bready with ample hops) followed by an Avery White Rascal (a nice light bodied, semi sweet, unfiltered white with orange peel and coriander)  Lighter choices that started off the day slowly and cooled the chili a bit. Fueled up, check!

Justin crafting a new recipe
        The next stop was my buddy Mike's (mug #35) favorite brewery, The Copper Kettle, winner of GABF gold for their Mexican Chocolate Stout.  This was my 2nd time there, Mike is pretty much obsessed with these guys and I can't come to Denver without him dragging me there, not that its that difficult! We walked in to find Jeremy behind the bar and Justin writing a recipe to showcase some new hop and malt samples they just received.  Sticking with the breakfast theme I started with their High Country Breakfast Stout (a perfect dark balance of local coffee, dark 
chocolate and bourbon soaked staves hide the 10% ABV well) What was going to be a quick stop turned into a couple of hours of sampling, ingredient discussions and snacking.  Our friend Jen showed up with some Chili Chocolate Cupcakes which prompted some Mexican Chocolate Stout samples (sweet and spicy just as you would imagine) to "confirm" the perfect pairing. Then mug member #2 showed up with some pulled pork sandwiches with a sauce made with their Black IPA (a roasty black IPA) and like deja vu we had to pair those up as well! This wasn't a planned stop, in fact it made us drop our plans to check out Boulder that afternoon.  Though switching plans to a small tour of the craft bar scene in Denver was not to disappoint!

            I can't forget to mention Falling Rock Tap House which I visited in August. With 75 on tap there are lots of great craft brews to be found, including hard to find Pliny the Elder from Russian River Brewing in CA.  I am told I have to go back to try the 'shrooms appetizer though. We'll see if I have enough time!

So much flavor at Euclid Hall
           On several suggestions and a desire to what else the city had to offer we decided to hit up Euclid Hall and Freshcraft two eateries with distinct personalities that share a passion for craftbeer and great food. Eulid has a dozen craft beers and an impressive list of  craft and import bottles. I went with Upslope's Foreign Style Stout (a nice medium bodied dry hoppy stout) I guess if you can't go to Boulder you drink a Boulder beer right?! (no pun intended I swear) The food there is a little edgy, which I don't mind. Maybe creative and adventurous is a better description. I wasn't very hungry but tried a few things out.  There are a half dozen house made sausages, the keilbasa with 4 mustards was my pick as a nod to my Polish heritage. The roast cauliflower salad was a home run with sweet and spicy marmelade, goat cheese, scallions and tempura bits that fit together perfectly.  And even though it wasn't my favorite the hop infused pickles were something unique I had to try.  You can also choose from Roast Duck Poutine, Pad Thai Pig Ears, Umami Oysters,  Bruleed Beef Marrow and Chicken Fried Quail and Waffles to name a few of their clectic delicacies.  The one thing that wowed me was that they have a Certified Cicerone, similar to a Sommelier for beer on staff. Having recently passed that test I know its no easy feat.  Ryan was very knowledgeable, and after hearing I was also one of the few hundred Cicerones in the world, shared some of Crooked Stave's limited release Surette (Farmhouse Ale, Chardonnay Barrel Aged with 4 types of Brettanomyces Yeast) A definite treat indeed! 
Nothing pretentious about Freshcraft
           On to Freshcraft which boasts 20 craftbeer drafts and a large bottle and can selection as well.  Its a more laid back place and their food focuses on local and fresh, made to order eats. With small, medium and large plates there is something for every appetite there.  The menu is less adventurous than Euclid but definitely delicious. I had a couple of veggie sliders and was a happy fellow.  It also might have been the beer making me happy. I was getting full but a half pint of Denver Brewing Co's Project X (A hoppy IPA that as the names suggests is hard to identify!) made it into my belly. And then a scan of the bottle/can list made me throw my Colorado only theme out the window.  One of my all time favorite beers, Maui Brewing's Coconut Porter (dry and roasty with just a hint of coconut).  I capped my night with one.  And the sun set on another full day of beerventures.  This is going to be quite the trip!
Great tap selection at Fresh Craft in Denver

Monday, February 13, 2012

Recharged in the Rockies...

240,700 miles and counting...
       There's nothing like a couple nights of good sleep, good eats and a few good hot showers to get you recharged after a marathon roadtrip.  To say I was worn out after 1600 miles in 2 days, including a snowstorm from Toledo to Chicago is an understatement!  The past couple days were jam packed with windshield time and short stops as there was little time to waste if I was to get back on schedule.

45 MPH is going to cut into
my brewery time!
          Running a couple of days behind I had to drop a few brewery visits from my trip but still snuck in a stop at Shoreline Brewpub in Michigan City, IN to trade beers with Mike Lahti from Figure 8 Brewing, an old brewery friend from my Vermont days with Harpoon. I'll have to comment on Figure 8's beers after I try them this weekend but Shoreline's Beltaine Scottish Ale lived up to its 2x GABF Silver Medal honors. Their Smokestack Porter was my favorite, not too smoky and delicious!

Ahhhh a beer rainbow!
Lahti being Lahti...
One of craft beers genuine "characters"
Fact: Iowa has the 2nd most
wind power in the USA
Nebraska Sunset

It isn't easy to just stop and rest when you get to a place so brimming with great beers to try.  Running on pure adrenaline I reached Larimer St. in Denver just in time to catch Antennas Up at The Meadowlark Bar.  Friends and family came out to greet me and I was able to indulge in a few Colorado beers to cap my arrival. Meadowlark is a great spot for live music and even though there isn't any draft beer they have a dozen craft bottles you keep your palate entertained. I hate to say it but delirious from the road and drawn by the CO flag on the label, I started with a Colorado Native, which Coors makes with all CO ingredients.  It was a well made lager as most large breweries have great quality products, even if the flavor is lighter.  I'll try not to discriminate against big brewers too much as this is The Beer Less Traveled and not The Craft or Microbrew Less Traveled! I quickly moved on to some "classic" craftbrews with an Odell's IPA (great balanced IPA), New Belgium Fat Tire (Love that roasty malt) and a Oskar Blues Lil' Yella Pils (easy drinking hoppy lager) to cap off the evening. After helping load up the band's gear I turned in for my first full night's sleep in days.

More to come from Colorado soon... Cheers!

Monday, February 6, 2012

The journey... ready, set...

In just over 48 hours I depart on a 30,000 mile (give or take a few) beer adventure.  Everyone asks, "Are you nervous? excited?" ...anxious I think.  The apartment is almost renovated and rented out. My car "should" make it across the USA, 240,000 miles and counting. I have my plane ticket and a New Zealand working holiday visa, and a couple of months to get a brewing job before the money runs out.  Writing material? ...with thousands of breweries along the way deciding what to tell is the tough part.  I leave lots of friends and family behind, but I'll make more friends and see more distant family along the way.  (and visitors/travel companions are always welcome to tag along, hint hint) After almost 7 years I leave a great job with Harpoon Brewery, who was just brimming with great beer and people to share it with. Then again most of that should be there when I return so no need to get nostalgic, there is lots to do, so let's GO! First stop is Valparaiso IN to meet up with Mike Lahti at Figure 8 Brewing who brewed at Harpoon in Winsdor VT when I lived there. Then through Kansas to Colorado where live music (Antennas Up), skiing/riding and breweries are on the agenda for 10 days.  Followed by a southern jug handle route to Lake Tahoe that takes me through Santa Fe, AZ (Grand Canyon and AZ Beer Week), and San Diego for some surf, more breweries, and my last warm sunshine before an endless winter. After 5 days of beer and snow in Tahoe the brewing magnets of Eugene and Bend Oregon beckon before I fly to Auckland from Portland. After that the journey is wide open! Be sure to check in every few days for an update on where we've been and where to next. Follow me on Twitter @beerlesstraveld (no second E) to get updates sent to your phone. Cheers! -Ed
Sharing beers with my friend Pat McCann (Left) in NYC
My "treasure" from my August 2011 Cross Country Beer Trip, 67 unique beers