Saskatoon, Canada

AlcoholTourismSaskatoon

You wouldn’t think of Saskatoon, lying in the middle of the plains in Saskatchewan province, Canada, as a destination city.  It’s a small city which becomes unimaginably (to us) frigid in the winter.  Fortunately, last year and this year the University of Saskatchewan needed to hire a locum anesthesiologist during the summer, so we got to do a working holiday during the best part of the year for the city.  Although I was on call, I could take Susan around to the breweries and distilleries in town.

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LB Distilleries is in a warehouse district north of town is produces a wide range, though it seems aimed at a more general audience than us.

On our last visit, a wedding had just let out, flooding the tasting room with people and making us beat a hasty retreat.  Black Fox Farm is down Valley Rd. southwest of town.  It’s a small family operation just as we like. They have a great lineup of liqueurs as well as some good but expensive gin and vodka.  They were preparing for a festival when we visited, and had a couple from Calgary who produce hand made shoes and brought some along.  Susan found several that she liked and picked out a pair which was both comfortable and extremely attractive.

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We picked up a bottle of their Saskatoon Berry Liqueur, which is not only delicious but, obviously, hyper local.  The last non-brewery we visited was Crossmont Cidery, which was incredibly beautiful but reminded us of a high-end winery- not our usual scene.  The cider was unremarkable, so we bounced pretty quickly.

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The breweries range from extremely promising to just fine.  At the top end is Prairie Sun Brewing, which produces a great range including an rich chocolatey roasty porter called Toffee 5 and a very clean farmhouse ale- Crazy Farm Ale.

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Paddock Wood Brewing- Saskatoon’s oldest brewery- and 9 Mile Legacy Brewing- the newest- are fine middle-of-the-road breweries with some hits and some misses.

Saskatoon Brewery is housed in Ingredients,  a high-end food market, which you would never know from the outside.  Their lineup is not very imaginative but is executed well.  It’s not a comfortable place for a pint, though, so bring a growler if possible.  Fox & Hounds is evidently a brewpub, but comes across as a dive/frat bar which is overly expensive.  Great Western is a regional/macro brewery technically made in Saskatoon, but they don’t offer tours or have any particularly interesting beers, so we’re not going to count them.

We’re not sure we would suggest you go out of your way to visit Saskatoon during the summer, but if you’re headed even vaguely in that direction, you should spend a few days there.  They have the highest per-capita restaurants in Canada, an extremely walk-friendly city, and a very respectable alcohol tourism scene.

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Drinking as a Woman

In celebration of International Woman’s Day, Susan has some things to say.

Erik and I sat in the famous (but here unnamed) Southern beach tourist town.  We’d found the one brewpub on the island, and were settling in for our usual evening of alcohol tourism.

Erik ordered for us: one light (in color) beer and one dark beer.   As far as I can remember, we were pretty boxed in to these selections; the touristy brewpub had blown most of their kegs and these were just about our only option.  As the server placed them on our table, she smiled at me and said, “Maybe he’ll let you help him with these!”.  As I was trying to figure out how to articulate to her that we’d ordered two beers because there were two of us, she continued, “You might actually like that one!”, pointing to the lighter of the two.

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Oh, honey.

It was my first experience with the (hardly unusual, but neither universal) phenomenon that people might assume that Erik’s the stronger drinker of the two of us.  In fact, pound for pound, my tolerance is higher than Erik’s.

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The “pound for pound” thing is pretty critical here.

Other experiences I’ve had with these assumptions:

I bought a couple four packs of wine (as part of an actual science experiment; too much to go into here).  The guy behind the counter stated, “Looks like you’re getting some great coolers here!”

At our local beer store, I picked up a bottle and turned it around to see where the brewery was located and what information about the style they had available.  An employee who happened to be passing by said, “Are you looking for nutrition facts?”

As possibly the most egregious: I attended a small brew fest in Athens without Erik.  It’s one of my favorites; the money goes to charity, and while the selection is much smaller than at Classic City Brew Fest, it’s also much less intense and is usually a pleasant experience.   This time, I approached the first booth and started asking about the styles they had available.  “How hoppy is this one?” I wanted to know.

The guy at the next booth over jumped in.  “Have you had Sam Adams?” he asked.

“Which one?” I said, confused about what on earth Sam Adams had to do with whether the beer in front of me was hoppy.

“Any of them,” he said, and proceeded to mansplain to me about craft beer and what made a beer hoppy or malty.

I picked up my sample and left.

The thing is, this guy had met me before.  We’d attended several Brewtopia events together.  The difference is, this time I was unaccompanied by my husband, who looks much like a stereotypical beer drinker than I do.  This guy saw a small woman ask about the beer in front of her and assumed she knew nothing.  This despite the Brewtopia community comprising several badass beer-drinking bitches (hi, Lupulin Ladies!).

This stereotype that I’d encountered actually led me, for a while, to order darker, stronger beers than I wanted simply to prove that I wasn’t a “girly” drinker.

But WTF is wrong with being a girly drinker?

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Asheville Wedding

If you’ve never worn your bridesmaid dress to go drinking downtown, you totally should.

This is Susan talking, by the way.  Not that it really matters. I’m pretty sure the effect would be similar either way.

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A couple things that might be relevant here: 1. This wedding was held in Asheville, where the downtown drinking is pretty damn good in the first place.  2. This was a magical bridesmaid dress.  It (a) looked fantastic on every one of the five bridesmaids in question, and (b) has, in fact, been worn again since the wedding.

Years ago, Erik and I invited our friends Carl and Rachelle to Asheville with us.  We’d recently discovered the town ourselves, and we were excited to share it with them.  We kind of created a couple monsters.  Carl and Rachelle visited the town countless times after that, as did Erik and I.  A few years later, when Carl and Rachelle got engaged, they chose Asheville as their wedding location.

“Susan, you HAVE to be a bridesmaid!” Rachelle exclaimed on the phone the day after the proposal.

In Asheville? Twist my arm.

The fabulous weekend actually started Wednesday afternoon, when we treated Carl and Rachelle to a Brews Cruise as our wedding present to them.  That Friday afternoon we had a bridesmaid lunch at Hana Sushi.  The question arose, “Who wants sake and who wants champagne?”  My friend and fellow bridesmaid Megan and I had a quick and silent conversation across the table before saying, almost in unison, “Can we not have both?”

Turns out we could.

The wedding rehearsal was that evening, at the beautiful St. Lawrence Basilica.

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The stern parish wedding coordinator said, “You will absolutely not bring any alcoholic beverages into this church for the wedding tomorrow.” Every member of the bridal party worked very hard to seem earnest and agreeable, and not catch my eye.  Every member of the bridal party also knew I had a flask full of Bailey’s in my purse for whenever Rachelle needed a tipple.

For medicinal purposes only, of course.  I am a healthcare professional.

That evening, there was a post-rehearsal dinner party at Asheville Brewing Company downtown.  We love ABC, especially since it’s basically right across the road from the hostel where we and most of the rest of the wedding party were staying.

Saturday morning the wedding party met up for hair and make-up.  This was the first time I’d ever been a bridesmaid, and I took full advantage.

Erik’s favorite joke that summer was, “Always a bride, never a bridesmaid.”  We’d been married four years at that point.

The wedding was gorgeous beyond words.  Erik and I didn’t cry at our own wedding, but we’ve cried at every wedding we’ve attended since; this one was absolutely no exception.

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The reception was equally fabulous; possibly the best moment was when all the bridesmaids agreed we were done wearing our crinoline petticoats and lined them all up against the wall.

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Actually, no, I’m being ridiculous.  This wedding was in Asheville; the best part of the reception was the beer.

Which brings me to that evening: after the happy couple fled their well-wishers and the bridal party did our duty of packing up the materiel, we arranged to meet up at some of our favorite Asheville haunts (the fact that Rachelle’s wedding gown might have garnered her free drinks didn’t NOT figure into that decision).  I sat drinking my beloved ESB at the beloved Green Man, enjoying the compliments on  my dress and hair.  Later, most of the party wound up at Lexington Avenue Brewery, sitting along the brick-lined window, five women wearing the same dress and enjoying the afterglow of our friends’ joy.

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To sum up: Asheville is great.  Asheville when you’ve helped your friends celebrate one of the happiest days of their lives is AMAZING.

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Colorado Surprises

We stood on the edge of a precipice. Looking down, a scar was cut into the countryside that ran for miles in either direction. In the distance, more gouges in the land could be seen. The next day, we encountered a posh brewpub in a dustbowl town of 20,000 residents. “This,” we thought, “is Kansas?”

When we imagined Kansas, we imagined the Kansas of the Wizard of Oz- flat, agrarian, boring. We were shocked when we discovered two delightful brewpubs along our route- in Manhattan and in Hays- as well as several wineries. Moreover, the countryside was nothing like what I imagined. Certainly not as rugged as Utah, but the western half of the state showed surprising character. Our journey from Georgia to Colorado- There and Back Again: A Travelogue of Brewpubs- was shaping up to reveal some surprising things about the country we have lived in all our lives.

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Although not nearly as dramatic as Central Park in NYC, Cherry Creek State Park is a short 20 minute drive from downtown Denver and sports an 880-acre boat-OK reservoir and 35 miles of trails.

It is, more importantly, an easy 10 minutes from CB Potts in Englewood, our first brewpub in Colorado. CB Potts featured a decent lineup, but their real distinction was the ram’s horn shape of their tasting flight. Witnessing a unique tasting flight holder continues to be an interesting aspect of our US brewpub experiences.

Colorado was, as expected, mountainous and filled with great beer. It is also the home to Celestial Seasonings, which is famous for its herbal infusions, most notably Sleepytime. Herbal teas are not technically teas, as they do not contain any actual tea leaves, and would be more properly termed “herbal infusions”. The practice of creating new infusions led the founders of the company to wander the hills around Boulder, CO, collecting the various herbs to use in their concoctions. We believe the addition of a dram of rum would add character to any great herbal infusion.

Our biggest surprise was learning that vikings had discovered America in the 11th century. Well, probably not, but there is a bloody great big rock with some Elder Futhark runes which make quite an impression. In spite of this lack of historical truth, Heavener Runestone State Park was lovely, with mossy stones and a fabulous view, and worth the side trip.

It is always surprising and exciting to be a tourist in your own country. We have made many delightful discoveries, and expanded our understanding of this place we call our land. Travel is an investment in yourself, and that is true even if you don’t leave your own country.

Colorado Trip Step 1

Colorado is often considered one of the great beer states. It ranks #3 in craft beer barrel production, and Boulder is often considered one of the cooler beer towns in the country. We made it the destination for our first ever dedicated Alcohol Tour, and it did not disappoint.

The first leg of our journey took us to Blackhorse Pub in Clarkesville, TN. Clarkesville has a terrific downtown, home of Austin Peay State University, surrounded by horrible sprawl. We visited immediately after the flood of May 2010, so most of the businesses surrounding downtown were flood damaged. Fortunately, the downtown region is on a small hill overlooking the junction of the Cumberland River and Little West Fork Red River. The Riverview Inn, while expensive, was the only show in town due to all the damage. The 0.2 mile walk to Blackhorse Pub was a nice bonus.

The Pub itself was cozy and relatively quiet, even on a weekend evening. The beer lineup was good without being outstanding. Clarksville itself, though, thoroughly charmed us with the cozy feel of the downtown area, neat local shops, and adjacency to the beautiful riverfront. We’ve gone back a couple of times since that trip, and would encourage anyone who likes cool small towns to check it out. Also try combining some of Blackhorse’s beer; we discovered the Scottish beer to be especially synergistic with their stout!

From Clarkesville, it was on to St. Louis and Kansas City!

The Volume Variable

Susan has always been aware of being an introvert as well as being highly sensitive, so she knew she was sensitive to particularly loud places. I didn’t realize it until we went to Hair of the Dog Brewing in Portland, OR. The room was large with minimal sound baffling, and there was an uproariously loud person at a table in the middle of the room. I remember it being quite disruptive to my experience, and then I realized I don’t care for loud or crowded places. This has strongly informed our alcohol tourism strategy and appreciation of different locales over the years.

Our favorite places to go are quiet, with good food and decent prices. If you have even a basic grasp of economics, you see the problem with this. If a place has good food, is not expensive, and does not have many customers, they won’t be in business for long. Numerous places we have enjoyed in Athens, GA over the years have gone out of business. So we acknowledge that customers are necessary for the places we like to continue to exist so that we can keep enjoying them. We don’t blame businesses for having people. We do blame them for having poor design or, most importantly, loud music.

A bunch of us were on the town in Decatur, GA one Friday night. We found a place and planned to settle in. We got one round and quickly discovered we couldn’t really talk to each other. When I asked the server if they could turn the music down, she said, “It’s Friday night, we have to keep the energy up.” We left- with our wallets. Maybe there are some people who are attracted to loud venues, but we haven’t met those people yet. As far as we can tell, all turning the music up does is drive away customers like us and force everyone else to shout to be heard.

Some venues don’t realize that sound baffling is a thing. Hanging flags, drapes, or other cloth-based material helps minimize echo and improve acoustics. Many Irish pubs employ little nooks, books on shelves, and flags hanging from the ceiling to help with sound. The Irish understand that people come to pubs for good craic, not to shout to be heard. I wish every venue we visited had a solid grasp of acoustics and considered how loud things can get. We would enjoy a lot more places in that event.

Ireland Housing

Last time we traveled the Emerald Isle, we stayed exclusively at hostels and B&Bs. B&Bs riddle the Irish countryside, even during the winter off season (though many were closed for the holidays). This time, we encountered reasonably-priced hotels, which suited us, much to our surprise.

 

 

 

Our first stay was in the Clontarf Castle Hotel. Modern construction emerges from the old structure of the castle to make a cozy, pleasant hotel. It’s high-priced, but not unreasonably so. The breakfast buffet is amazing, the rooms comfortable, and the pub generally quiet and pleasant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Clontarf, we headed to Donegal. Our first stop was the town of Stranorlar, largely on the basis of it having a pleasant riverside walk. After two B&Bs which were closed or didn’t take credit cards, we stumbled upon Kee’s Hotel. Initially, we dismissed hotels, since they appeared, from the outside, to be too fancy and hoity-toity. Kee’s, though, was awesome. It had a wonderfully cozy pub, affordable rooms, and a very fine breakfast. After that, we started looking more for hotels than B&Bs.

 

Our ultimate next destination was Galway for Christmas, so we made a stop in Sligo at the Riverside Suites. Immediately adjacent to the river but a little out of the way (easy to find and park), this was a wonderful hotel which suited us perfectly.

In Galway, we stayed at the Rock Lodge B&B, staffed by a pleasant hostess and offering very comfortable beds and a quite nice breakfast. Close enough to the Salthill commercial area, we had pleasant drinks and dinners there each night. A drive through Connemara was simply amazing- we had never seen country like it before. Filled with bogs, shining lakes, and little islands, this drive was one of our favourites.

From Galway, we traced the coast along the N67 to Ennis. There we stayed at the Auburn Lodge, an affordable and cozy single-story affair which reminded us a locally run event center in the States. Then, off to Dingle!

In Dingle we found the Dingle Marina Lodge and hunkered down for three days of blowing rain. We were given a large room on the top floor, and the pounding rain was both pleasant and startling. We managed to drive the Ring of Dingle, which was closed due to snow on our last visit. Dingle is also home to a surprising array of craft alcohol, which you can read about here.

For New Year’s, Susan rented us Nell’s Farmhouse, just south of Carrick-on-Suir. It was a wonderful, out-of-the-way but very cozy and well-appointed little abode. Flooding impeded our progress to and around it, requiring numerous detours on little local roads. The farmhouse boasted a hot tub, so we enjoyed an unexpectedly clear New Year’s Eve in the hot tub enjoying the stars.

After New Year’s, we went to the Wicklow Mountains and the park of Glendalough. This is a place we visited five years ago and loved. We tried to hike to Saint Kevin’s Cell, but managed to lose ourselves on the endless trails and never found it. The walk was still beautiful.

That night we found The Coach House Pub/B & B for dinner and a room. Unfortunately, the walls were quite thin and we were over the pub- loud revelers kept me up until well after 2am.

We hadn’t managed to visit the Jameson distillery when we were first in Dublin, so we swung by on our way back up north.

Returning to Donegal, we spent the rest of the time at Kee’s Hotel, making little day ventures out to the coast. It was a perfect, restful end to our adventure in Ireland.