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 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!

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…

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.

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