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!

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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…

6 Surprising Things About Alcohol Touring in London

I have a confession.  I am an introvert.  As a traveler, that Alcohol Tourism - London Kegscreates some problems for me- my default is to not go out, not talk to strange people, and avoid crowds.  Fortunately, I have had a companion for the past 7 years who has helped me venture forth when we journey.  My trip to London last week was done alone, and it was scarier than I remember single travel being.  But I persevered to bring you, good reader, a drinker’s tour of downtown London.

1) Beer/Cider/Wine is Cheap

What?  This man has lost his damn mind, you must be thinking.  But hear me out.  I typically pay $6-8 for a pint of decent craft beer in a large American city (Atlanta, LA, etc.).  An American pint, which usually weigh in at 12 oz.  I could get a FULL pint (16 oz) of good beer in London for between 3 and 4 pounds.  Now, if you’re converting your American dollars to pounds, that’s not too great of a deal.  But if you are LIVING in England and earning pounds sterling with your hard work, then this is an outright steal.  Liquor, however, was about as expensive as it is in American cities.  I believe this is because taxation rates are based on alcohol concentration- liquor will have a higher tax rate than a 4-5% beer or cider.  Even wine comes off fairly cheap at 12-15 pounds a bottle at a pub.  When was the last time you paid less than $20 for a bottle of wine at a restaurant?

2) Cider is EverywhereAlcohol Tourism - Cider Tap

The southeast of England, of which London is central, produces a lot of apples.  Many of those apples aren’t in prime condition for selling, so instead they get turned into cider.  Every pub had at least one cider on tap, and I found my first cider-only pub in the world at The Cider Tap.  They had amazing variety- sparkling, still, dry through sweet- enough for you to entertain yourself on cider tasting all day long.  Unfortunately, the cider is ultimately not interesting or complex, particularly compared to American craft cider.

3) The Beer is UninterestingAlcohol Tourism - London Pub

I was tempted to say the beer is not good, but that’s not it.  The beer is fine… for a typical bitter or even APA.  But that’s it- the styles are so banal you would think they were cooked up by Budweiser.  Which, actually, is probably the problem- Londoners’ palates are so wrecked by the dominance of light lagers that they apparently aren’t interested in complex, flavourful beer. Every cask ale I drank at pubs and brewpub and brewery I visited were normal and boring for the style.  I expected more from a large, vibrant, international city.

4) The Beer is Uniformly HoppyAlcohol Tourism - London Fields

What’s the problem, you may be thinking.  As someone who can appreciate hops but is not all starry-eyed about them, this is a problem.  At London Field’s Brewery, they gave us a sample of porter and said, “If you think that’s sweet, you should try the stout!”  Neither was even malty, much less sweet.  And both the porter and stout were over hopped for the style.  As England’s southeast grows apples, they grow hops.  Which means, for centuries, Londoners have been able to experience fresh hops, and their palates have adapted.  See the problem they have with lagers, above, and you can understand how they are accustomed to only hoppy styles.  I tried to find a malt-forward style (heck, even a malt-balanced style) the whole time I was there and failed.

5) The Locals Are There to Drink

I had a chance to speak with the head brewer at Brew Wharf, and he said he was excited to even see people drinking his beer.  Apparently, Londoners are not particularly discerning regarding their beer- they seem to drink light lagers right along with local craft drinks, without any preference.  It seems that locals drink to socialize more than experience drink itself.  Which is fine but, again, surprising in a cosmopolitan city.

6) London is Scary

I don’t mean physical-safety scary.  I mean, for an introvert, the pubs were daunting as hell.  I walked into Brew Wharf and witnessed this wall of people in the bar, but almost no one sitting in the restaurant 10 feet away.  I actually asked the bartender if it was all right to drink and eat at a table in the restaurant and he looked at me as if I was daft.  London Field’s Brewery had only 20-30 people in the tap room, but there was no sound baffling and everyone was talking at once, raising the volume to impossible-to-hear-what-our-beer-guide-was-saying levels.  Every single pub I walked in to- even on a weeknight- was packed.  Completely packed.  So packed I couldn’t even make it to the bar to put an order in, much less find a place to sit and enjoy my drink.  For someone who loves English countries partly for cozy, quiet pubs, it was a disappointment.Alcohol Tourism - London Pub

So what did I learn?  I discovered that not all cities- even internationally cultured ones in Anglosphere countries- have evolved to appreciate alcohol as we do in the US.  I confirmed that Australia is freaking expensive, since I pay way more for a pint of beer in little Hobart, Tasmania than I do in downtown London.  And I learned one reason why I like to have Susan along.  To co-opt a quote from the newest Middle-Earth-located movie, “Perhaps it is because I am afraid, and she gives me courage.”

Alcohol Tourism - London Walking Route