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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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.

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.

Ireland – Dingle

We visited the Dingle peninsula on our previous trip to Ireland.  It was snowed-capped and beautiful.  We started along the Ring of Dingle but turned back on account of snow.  Back then, it was pubs and B&Bs and little local shops.  This trip added breweries and a distillery to the mix.

West Kerry Brewery is a tiny affair adjacent to the Bricks Pub – Tig Bhric in Irish.  The Pub served aWest Kerry Brewery very nice pairing meal along with three of their drafts- a Golden, Red, and Winter Strong.  The Golden had a nice bready malt character and a light lemon hops character.  Susan felt it was slightly too hop-balanced to be a great representation of a Golden.  Their Red was wonderfully malty- distinct hazelnut and molasses flavors were more characteristic of a nut brown than a red for us.  The Winter Warmer was also delightful- fruit flavors dominated by plum and a good richness to the malt profile.  They had a special elderberry/flower dark ale which was fine, but the elder character was too muted for our tastes.  The pub music was quiet and, sadly, we were the only ones there.  Sadly, they do not take credit cards, so tourists be forewarned.

Dingle Brewery is located within town, close enough to walk from our lodging.  The day was beyond blustery, with the rain coming in horizontal from gale-force winds off the ocean, so we drove.  Somewhat amazingly, they only had one beer on tap- their cream Irish lager.  It was fine, but nothing remarkable.  We hope they expand their offerings in the future.

Dingle DistilleryFinally, the Dingle Distillery a little outside the west edge of town is only a few years old and contained in a drafty metal building.  The tour was lengthy and a bit wandering, but contained a few interesting tidbits.  Notably, that ‘pot still’ whiskey in Ireland refers to mixing malted grains with unmalted grains, using the enzymes from the malted grain to metabolize the starches in the unmalted grain.  As with all new whiskey distilleries, they do not yet sell whiskey- that requires barrel ageing, which takes time.  They do offer a gin- Susan liked it, I thought it tasted like soap- and a vodka, which was a bit harsh.  Hopefully their whiskey, once complete, will be delicious.

Overall, we’re pleased Ireland seems to be trying to evolve its beer and distillery production to be more local and unique.  We have to say, though, that the mega-companies just do SUCH a fine job in Ireland, it’s difficult to root as hard for the underdog as we do in the US.

Dingle Farms

Ireland – Dublin

Alcohol Tourism Belgian Beer Atlanta Aiport“Belgian Beer” said the auspicious sign immediately outside our gate in the International terminal of the Atlanta Airport.  A pint of Rare Vos later, we were set to begin the journey to Ireland.

We had both been to Ireland once alone and once with each other, for our 1 year anniversary.  This trip would mark our 6 year anniversary, 5 years since our last journey to Ireland.  On our last trip, we had a hard time finding breweries or brewpubs not associated with a major, large brewer like Guinness. Guinness was our first favorite beer, so we didn’t miss our beloved craft beer too much.  Wine seems to be unmade on this island, and the distilleries often did not have tours.  Let’s see if time has improved Ireland’s alcohol tourism prospects.

Our first pints, in the Clontarf Castle Hotel’s Knight’s Bar pub, had to be Guinness and a cider, though they didn’t have Bulmers on tap.  The next day saw us start at Grogans Castle Lounge.  We had heard about the pub from Drinking with Men by Rosie Schaap, who hailed it as a great place for a chat.  That night, and the next time we tried it Saturday afternoon, it was crowded to the point just beyond standing-room-only.  Maybe if you arrived at 10am you could get a spot to have a chat.  After that was JW Sweetman’s in downtown Dublin.  We had been to Sweetman’s previous incarnation, Messr Maguire’s, on our last trip and were delighted to score the same quiet, tucked away spot to have our drinks and meal.  Their Irish Red Ale was a bit hoppy for that style- more like an American Red.  The Weiss was our favourite, with a nice banana aroma and a wonderful creamy mouthfeel.

Alcohol Tourism Against the Grain DublinThe next day saw us in what can simply be described as a Wonder of the World- a pub on a college campus.  Maybe they have these outside of the South, but I cannot imagine the outcry if any Southern university were to put a pub on campus.  The Clubhouse at UCD was surprisingly lively, as the quiet and comfy lounge was closed.  Still, the concept is sound- let’s get on this one, America.

Our last alcohol stop was Against the Grain, an outlet of the Galway Bay brewing company.  Their beer was delightful- the milk stout and the wee heavy were absolute stand outs.  We managed to find an off-license (liquor store) which featured several dozen Irish craft beers.  We selected Kinnegar’s porter, Bo Bristle’s stout, Jack Cody’s Samhain, and Dan Kelley’s cider.  Each was quite impressive, rivalling the best American craft beers for their adherence to style and pleasant mouthfeel.  This bodes well for Ireland’s alcohol touring prospects this trip.

Blue Ridge Adventures

Last week, we went up to the Blue Ridge mountains in north Georgia with our friends.  We go to the cabins regularly.  Most of our time is usually spent relaxing, hot tub-ing, and drinking with our friends in the cabin.  There are decent wine offerings in north Georgia, but we don’t like paying for tastings (although we’re happy to buy a bottle if they waive the tasting fee).  Until recently, there were no decent beer offerings in north Georgia.  Fortunately, the times have changed.

The first beer-related enterprise we became aware of was Blue Ridge Brewery.  We went in relatively soon after it opened and were disappointed that it was a nice restaurant without their own beers.  They intended to get a license to become a brewpub, but year after year passed with no apparent progress.  Now, however, it seems like they are finally up and running.  Sadly, we didn’t learn this until after the rest of our adventures.  But it will now be on our short list to investigate.

Our first stop of the day was Grumpy Old Men Brewing.  Their motto is great, “If we don’t like it, we don’t drink it.  If we don’t drink it, we don’t sell it.”  The ambiaBlueRidgeGrumpyOldMen1nce was quite pleasant- mellow and friendly, and they had coloring books and pencils set out!  Like all Georgia breweries, they had to sell us the glass and then we could have tasting gratis.  With three IPAs on draft, it wasn’t exactly our favourite lineup, but they did have a nice seasonal milk stout.  It was a very down-to-earth comfy place we would definitely recommend.

A short stroll across town took us to Fannin Brewing Company.  The 1205151731inside area was not very cozy- it seemed designed as an outdoor sitting area type tasting room.  Their beer lineup, though, was amazing.  Almost each beer they had on tap was excellent, and they had a couple which we could not get enough of- the Hivekicker Wheat Wine and the Chocolate Rye Porter.  Sadly, we arrived late, but will definitely plan a repeat visit next time.

All in all, we are fairly impressed with the recent explosion of beer offerings in Blue Ridge.  North Carolina gets all the glory these days, but if you’re around, you should check out the north Georgia mountains.  It’s a great vacation spot, and now they have good beer!

Chattanooga: Room for Improvement

We had the opportunity to spend Christmas in Chattanooga, TN AlcoholTourismBigRiverthis year.  As usual, we stayed at a budget hotel slightly outside of downtown, but still walkable.  We’ve been through Chattanooga and eaten at The Terminal Brewhouse before, but had not done a detailed exploration of the area’s breweries.  Here is our review.  Tl;dr – good food, beer needs work.

The Terminal

Three levels of seating surrounding a well of brewing right near the old Chattanooga Choo Choo makes for a stellar setting.  Dinner is often crowded without being mobbed.  We have always found the food here terrific, and this visit was no exception.  We felt they MUST have gotten their taps switched somehow, though, because they poured what they called a Scottish but what we could swear was a Maibock.  The rest of their lineup is fine, but not remarkable.

Big River Brewing

Closer to the downtown river area, this spot seems largely a destination for tourists.  This doesn’t make it necessarily bad.  A broad lineup of 9 beers, they were fairly true to style.  There was nothing which really grabbed our attention, no standouts which we would really want a pint of.   The food was quite impressive.

AlcoholTourismChattanoogaBrewingChattanooga Brewing Co

This was probably our favourite spot in Chattanooga.  Very close to the hotel, right across from the baseball stadium, and near an up-and-coming part of the town.  Housed in a brewery which was closed down during prohibition, they have a nice lineup and a stand out Dunkelweis and Ginger Wit.

McHale’s Brewhouse

Supposedly a local little Irish pub which brews its own, our plan was for us to have a couple of pints, me drop off Susan at Mass, and then go back to the pub for some more pints.  All of the beer tasted slightly infected.  Incredibly, they allowed smoking in the bar area, which further messed up our palates.  We had one pint each and made a quick exit.  Do not go.

Moccasin Bend Brewing Co

Located in a cool basement space with exposed stone and brick, this quiet tucked out of the way brewery seemed very promising.  Unfortunately, most of the beers we tried had remarkable flaws in terms of off flavors.  Their Belgian Trippel had a ton of fusel alcohols and others were infected or oxidized.  They have since closed their doors.

Although there are a lot of breweries in and around Chattanooga, it seems like they have a little ways to go before I would suggest people make it a destination for good beer.  Head over to nearby Asheville or, our favourite place in Tennessee, Blackhorse Pub in Clarkesville!