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!

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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.

Top 5 (or so)

Susan and I love being analytical.  Particularly after a few drinks, we start dissecting things and enjoy the heck out of it.  The question came up once about what our favourites are.  We have tried our best to pick the top 5 brewpubs, breweries, beers, and international pubs.  We don’t have enough of a sample size for wineries, cideries, meaderies, or distilleries yet, but we are always working on it!

Top 5 American Brewpubs

Criteria: Consistently like the majority of the beer, good vegetarian food, quieter setting, decent service (not necessarily great), not expensive

Vermont Brewpub, Barrington, VT
Copper Creek, Athens, GA
Jack of the Wood, Asheville, NC
Sea Dog, Topsham, ME
Silver City, Silver City, WA

Top 5 American Breweries

Criteria: All beer to style, cozy enough and not loud, couple beers interesting

Burial Brewing, Asheville, NC
Quest Brewing, Greenville, SC
Rock Art Brewing, Morrisvile, VT
North Coast Brewing, Fort Bragg, CA
Catawba Brewing, Asheville, NC

Top Beers

Criteria: To style, some aspect elevates above (e.g. smoothness)

Pisgah Tripel, Black Mountain, NC
Twain’s Mild, Decatur, GA
Green Man ESB, Asheville, NC
Deep Draft Tripel, Denver, CO

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Top 4 International Pubs

Criteria: Consistently like the majority of the beer, good vegetarian food, quieter setting, decent service (not necessarily great), not expensive

JW Sweetman (Dublin IE)
Ape & Apple (Manchester UK)
The Brewer’s Arms (Christchurch NZ)
Winston’s English Pub (Saskatoon CN)

The Road to Minneapolis is Paved in Beer

We usually travel in May, since the weather the world over is pleasant and there are few crowds. This year, we didn’t want to travel because Susan was preparing for her black belt test in Yoshukai Karate. So we had to take our trip in June/July, which is exactly when everyone else is traveling. Have we mentioned we hate crowds? Where in the world could we go during the summer which wouldn’t be crowded with vacationers? We had visited Minneapolis during the winter (it was miserable), and were curious to know if it would be nice in the summer. Not only is it nice, but the route to and fro has plenty of good beverages to make it a pleasant one!

Our first stop out of Athens going anywhere northerly has to be Clarkesville, TN. A small college town with a great downtown and terrible sprawl around it, it houses a nice hotel (Riverview Inn) very close to a great brewpub (Blackhorse Pub) and a decent beer bar (off Strawberry Alley and 1st St- possibly gone now).

Blackhorse Pub was the first place we encountered the idea of blending beers. We were enjoying our Scottish and red ales and somehow hit on the idea of combining them. We enjoyed the result (symbiotic rather than additive) so much that we asked the server if we could have a pitcher of half Scottish and half red. She replied, “Oh, we do that all the time!”. On that inspiration, we were at Copper Creek once and mixed the X and Y and told our friend James. He and the bartender spread the word and a bunch of people started ordering the blend.

From Clarkesville it was on to Urbana-Champaign, IL, the home of the University of Illinois where I have done a couple of locum shifts. Urbana is a great beer town. Our usual stop is DESTIHL, the first one we ever encountered in the town and with an amazing lineup of beer. The place is a bit large and popularist for our usual taste, but the beer… all of them are to style and they do an amazing job with the high gravity beers.

We have passed through the Chicago area a few times en route to various martial arts events in Wisconsin. There are too many breweries to list in the area, so we encourage anyone traveling the midwest to flit near the Windy City and find themselves a cozy brewpub to occupy and enjoy.

Columbia Walking Tour

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Compared with North Carolina, South Carolina isn’t exactly a hotbed of alcohol production. In spite of that, Columbia has quite a few breweries in walking distance of each other, and a nice brewpub downtown. Susan has been living in Columbia SC for the past year due to employment opportunities, and we got to do a couple of walking tours of those breweries.

Susan is fortunate enough to live in spitting distance of two great pubs- The Kraken and The Cock ‘n Bull. Both have good draft lists, a great vibe, and proper pub food. From there it was walkable to Swamp Cabbage, Conquest, and River Rat Brewing.

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Swamp Cabbage had a good lineup and very nice outdoor space, with a family run atmosphere. They are still figuring out their firkin system, and hopefully some good recipes will be coming from that in the future.

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Conquest is definitely our favourite. Where else can you mix elderflower soda with a Berliner weisse? Their beer is good, the space is comfortable, and the bartender is knowledgeable and accommodating. River Rat seems like a more popular hangouts, with a large outdoor space and broad beer lineup. Growing up, my family went to the Colorado River lakes and I was the designed ‘river rat’ due to the fact that I was always jumping in the water. Although it seems aimed at mass appeal, their high gravity beers absolutely hit the mark, with the Winter Warmer ale and the Morning Stout as particular standouts. We spread some of grandmom Peggy’s ashes there as a tribute to their name and Susan’s time in Columbia.

No alcohol tour of Columbia can be complete without a description of Hunter Gatherer. We first discovered this brewpub on our trip back from New England. Susan has fallen in love with their ESB, and the place is consistently cozy and produces good food and beer. It is walkable to downtown Columbia and an absolute must if you visit.

Columbia impressively delivers on the walkable breweries, if you live in the right part of town. We definitely recommend them all, and encourage you to take a visit!

Denver, Again

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Our first within-country alcohol adventure was when we learned all about craft beer, driving to and fro Colorado. Naturally, a stop in Denver was called for. At the time, there weren’t very many small breweries in Denver (relatively speaking). We visited CB & Potts, a small brewpub chain and went to Pints Pub in downtown. From there we headed out to the rest of Colorado. For Memorial Day weekend this year, we visited our friend Megan, who has been doing an internship in small animal medicine and surgery in Denver. We practiced our nostalgia tourism and also got to experience some new, amazing places.

Susan wisely got us a room downtown, so we could walk almost everywhere we wanted to. Our first stop was back to Pint’s Pub. Although they brew their own beer, their main claim to fame is whiskey. We remembered being unimpressed with their beer, and that was repeated on this trip. The setting was nice- we do love us some British pubs- and it reminded us of our last Denver adventure.

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From there it was on to Lost Highway Brewing. Listed on Google Maps, it has apparently moved- one of our few failures navigating by Google Maps. Fortunately it was a quick jaunt to Alpine Dog Brewing, which had a truly impressive lineup. The stout and American barleywine were particular standouts.

In the evening we hit Deep Draft, which had a cozy fireplace and couch on a rainy evening. They too had a wonderful lineup, with the Belgian golden strong, coffee stout, and vanilla porter at the top of our list.

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We ended up at Vine Street Brewing for dinner. They don’t accept credit cards, so if you go be prepared. The food was great and the beer even better. The tripel was so good I went back the next night for it!

On Sunday Megan guided us to the Curtis Park area where there were a couple of cideries and numerous breweries all clustered together. Stem cidery was very much my favorite- quiet, good classic ciders, and they did swing dancing once a week! C-Squared cidery had a great lineup, particularly their ginger and lavender ciders (which Susan LOVED)- and they had them bottled for off-premises consumption.

I didn’t realize that Epic Brewing is based in Denver, and going to their draft house was quite an experience. It’s difficult to pick a standout out of their lineup- they were all so impressive! We also stopped by Our Mutual Friend which had a well done difficult-to-find English Mild, and Beryl Brewing. Beryl had trivia ongoing, which wasn’t too disruptive (an impressive skill, plus we had fun playing along amongst ourselves), and also had a great lineup, particularly their barrel-aged beers. They served their tasting flights on these silver filigree platters and had amazing wall art.

On our way out of town we went again to CB Potts, which had one of Susan’s favorite hefeweizens and a really amazing blonde. Denver’s beer and cider scene has grown tremendously since our last visit, but the places we once visited are still going strong. We would recommend all of the spots we visited, and there are still even more! Hopefully on a future repeat trip…