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!