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…

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!

 

Travel Back In Time

Twenty years ago, the American beer scene was in chaos.  A handful of people who had been homebrewing with suboptimal ingredients were going commercial, and growing the idea of craft beer in the United States.  Nowadays, we benefit from their legacy with incredible craft beer, and more breweries and brewpubs than anywhere else in the world.  If you want to relive that spirit of innovation, go to Tasmania.

As we have already noted, the Tasmanians don’t go in for the traditional Beer Judge Certification Program styles.  “Dark ales” are close to porters, “wheat beers” could mean Belgian wit styles, hefeweizen, or American blonde ales.  A few “honey” ales attempting to be braggots, and an “apple ale” attempting to be an apple-flavoured brown ale round out the spectrum.

Tasmanian brewers are trying, and they are brave and adventurous, but they do not seem to be leaning on or using the massive brewing knowledge available in the United States.  As a small island state sometimes referred to as “Under Down Under,” it is possible Tasmanians feel disconnected from the greater beer community.  In comparison, a handful of mainland (or “big island”, as some Tasmanians call the rest of Oz) stouts compare quite favourably to American craft stouts.  Bellarine Brewing, 4 Pines, and Prickly Moses all produce excellent stouts, which makes one wonder: are the Tasmanians consciously rebelling against beer trends, and trying to start something even more extraordinary, or are they merely misled and disconnected from the craft brew community?

Cascade, HobartAlcoholTourismCascadeFlight

We have so much love in our hearts for Cascade, it’s impossible to separate our nostalgia from reality.  It’s what got us in to beer, the visitor center is so amazing we wanted to fly everyone there for our wedding, and we go back again and again.  The beer is good, they have a nice lineup, and they know their craft.  Even after our palates evolved, we still enjoy Cascade Draught.

Moorilla, BarriedaleAlcoholTourismMoorillaFlight

Winery and brewery and art house all in one!  The tasting room is amazing, with gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside.  We preferred their dark, and even bought a few to bring home.  Not a large lineup, but well crafted.  The wine we found to be fine, but overpriced for the taste.

James Squires Pub, Hobart

This was a new addition since our last visit, and quite nice.  Quiet when we got there, but with the potential to be rambunctious.  The lineup was aimed to please a more popularist consumer than we are.  Fine beer, just nothing too flavorful.

Iron House Brewery, Four Mile CreekAlcoholTourismIronHouseView

One of the first upscale breweries we have seen anywhere.  I believe there was a golf course.  Beautiful views, surprisingly comfortable space.  Their beer lineup was fine, but not remarkable.

Boag Brewing, Launceston

A tiny tasting area is set aside for dedicated tasters.  We got to build our own flight, and their beer leans decidedly towards the light lager range.  In comparison with Cascade, we found Boags to be just a bit more bitter and breadier.

Seven Sheds Brewery, Railton

Tucked away in a tiny little town, this brewery has the potential to have lots of character.  The lineup was just four beers, and their flagship Kentish Ale was odd.  Nothing struck us enough to buy for the road.
Tasmania’s beer scene has a ways to go before they’ve come up to the same level we experience in the US.  Their wine, however, is absolutely amazing.  When we visit Tassie, wineries definitely top the list.  Breweries are more a curiosity than a destination for us on Under Down Under.

Two Steps to a Great Brewery

Beer comes in an incredibly wide variety.  While there are many types of wine and mead, the flavour spectrum of wine and mead is narrower than that of beer.  This is one reason we Alcohol Tourism Beer Varietyenjoy beer as much as we do- Susan can enjoy her sours and I can enjoy my wood-aged beers, sometimes at the same brewery.  This means we’ve been to hundreds of breweries, and we have identified a handful of variables which we feel makes for a ‘good’ one.  It’s difficult to know any of these ahead of time, so you can’t exactly plan your trip around them.  However, you can make notes for future trips and other travellers!

1) Variety

I cannot emphasize this enough.  Whenever we hit a brewery which is _all_ hop oriented, or _all_ sour, or even _all_ Belgian, it’s just not as pleasant.  Note above where we talk about the flavour range of beer?  Why limit that when you decide what beer to make?  The most successful breweries have something for everyone, regardless of season.  During the summer, for god’s sake, please at least have an amber or brown, if not a porter or stout, for those of us who like the malt side of things.

2) True to Style

We’re kinda beer geeks.  As such, we know about the BJCP beer styles– not enough to be certified judges ourselves (at least, probably not…) – but enough to know when an Irish Red is a little too malty or a little too flavourful, or when a porter hasAlcohol Tourism Beer Types a bit too much burnt character, or when they’ve gone off the res with citrusy hops in an English bitter.  If you label something an APA, make it to style.  If you want to put a unique spin on it, that is great- just make sure to note that in the description.  If you want to go completely unique, fine, but at least give a base style or flavour profile we can work from.  But, ideally, make the beer to style.
It’s a short list, because it’s not that hard.  We understand there’s all sorts of elements like financing and marketing and the actual brewing process- that’s all important and great.  As a consumer, though, we just want these two things.  And it is absolutely incredible how few breweries get these two right.  Copper Creek in Athens is one of the best along these two points, as is Green Man in Asheville.  Copper Creek has only four beers, but they’re always made perfectly to style, and there’s something for everyone: a light-bodied beer for those who want something simple, a hop-focused beer, a dark beer (porter or stout on nitrogen!), and a miscellaneous, like a Scottish or a Belgian of some kind.  Every brewer can take a note from these guys.  Check them out if you have a chance!

Alcohol Definitions

Let’s talk in detail about drinks that can get us ethanol.  Ultimately, they rely on conversion of sugars into ethanol and carbon dioxide by yeast.  The differences are in the source of sugar, type of yeast, the process, and what’s added.

 

NE Trip Wine

Images of our collections from our NE trip.

Wine

Grapes serve as the source of sugar in wines, although you may see strawberry wine, peach wine, and similar fruits which can also provide the sugars.  The yeast is usually killed and then the wine filtered so that the product is stable over time.  The different types of wines (merlot, chardonnay, etc.), called varietals, are determined by the variety of grape used in their production.  Table wine is used to refer to wine that is blended and not necessarily from a single varietal.  Vermouth is a wine fortified with a spirit (like brandy) with various spices and botanicals added.  A wine maker is a vintner and a place that makes wine is a winery.

NE Trip BeerBeer

Grains such as barley (typically), wheat, and rye serve as the source of sugars.  The carbohydrates in these grains are too complex for the yeast to break down directly, so the grain must first be malted and mashed to produce fermentable sugars.  Not all of the sugar is metabolized, leaving the beer sweet.  Hops are added as a bittering agent to balance the beer.  Beer is either an ale or a lager, depending on the species of yeast used to metabolize the sugar and the temperature at which fermentation occurs.  The different types of beer (india pale ale, stout, Oktoberfest, etc.) are produced primarily by altering the type and amount of grain and type and amount of hops.  A beer maker is a brewer and a place that makes beer is a brewery.  A brewpub is a restaurant which makes their own beer.  A beer bar is a bar which focuses on having a large selection of craft beer on draft.

Cider

Apples provide the sugar for ciders.  It is handled similarly to wine.  Most ciders are blended from different types of apples.  Cider apples are often ones that cannot be sold directly to the public due to bruising, size, or other defect.  A cider maker is a cider maker and a place that makes cider is a cidery.

NE Trip MeadMead

Honey provides the sugar for mead.  Honey wine is sometimes used to describe mead.  Many meads have fruit or spices added to them, as the taste of simply fermented honey (called a show mead) is not to the liking of most Americans.  Meads that have fruit added are called melomels, meads with spice are called methegline, mead with a grain (like beer) are braggots, mead with cider are cysers, and mead with wine are pyments.  A mead maker is a maizer and a place that makes mead is a meadery.

NE Trip SpiritsSpirits

Alcohol drinks containing over ~18% ABV are difficult to attain by simple fermentation.  There’s only so many sugars the yeast can metabolize and only so much alcohol they can live in before they shut down.  For commercial spirits, the path to a higher ABV is distillation.  In distillation, the base alcohol source is heated, vaporizing the alcohol, which is then condensed and collected.  This minimizes the contribution of flavour from the base alcohol source.  Corn, grains, potatoes, rice, and many other sources of sugars have been used.  Ultimately, how the spirit is handled after distillation contributes the majority of flavor.  Covering all spirits is beyond the scope of this article, but generally vodka, gin, whiskey, brandy, and rum are the most commonly encountered craft spirits.  A spirit maker is a distiller and a place that makes spirits is a distillery.

All of these locations provide opportunities to explore your palate and create new experiences.  Different laws throughout the US and the world affect which of these you will encounter on an alcohol tour.  Knowing your options will expand your opportunities and improve your enjoyment!