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 Surprises

We stood on the edge of a precipice. Looking down, a scar was cut into the countryside that ran for miles in either direction. In the distance, more gouges in the land could be seen. The next day, we encountered a posh brewpub in a dustbowl town of 20,000 residents. “This,” we thought, “is Kansas?”

When we imagined Kansas, we imagined the Kansas of the Wizard of Oz- flat, agrarian, boring. We were shocked when we discovered two delightful brewpubs along our route- in Manhattan and in Hays- as well as several wineries. Moreover, the countryside was nothing like what I imagined. Certainly not as rugged as Utah, but the western half of the state showed surprising character. Our journey from Georgia to Colorado- There and Back Again: A Travelogue of Brewpubs- was shaping up to reveal some surprising things about the country we have lived in all our lives.

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Although not nearly as dramatic as Central Park in NYC, Cherry Creek State Park is a short 20 minute drive from downtown Denver and sports an 880-acre boat-OK reservoir and 35 miles of trails.

It is, more importantly, an easy 10 minutes from CB Potts in Englewood, our first brewpub in Colorado. CB Potts featured a decent lineup, but their real distinction was the ram’s horn shape of their tasting flight. Witnessing a unique tasting flight holder continues to be an interesting aspect of our US brewpub experiences.

Colorado was, as expected, mountainous and filled with great beer. It is also the home to Celestial Seasonings, which is famous for its herbal infusions, most notably Sleepytime. Herbal teas are not technically teas, as they do not contain any actual tea leaves, and would be more properly termed “herbal infusions”. The practice of creating new infusions led the founders of the company to wander the hills around Boulder, CO, collecting the various herbs to use in their concoctions. We believe the addition of a dram of rum would add character to any great herbal infusion.

Our biggest surprise was learning that vikings had discovered America in the 11th century. Well, probably not, but there is a bloody great big rock with some Elder Futhark runes which make quite an impression. In spite of this lack of historical truth, Heavener Runestone State Park was lovely, with mossy stones and a fabulous view, and worth the side trip.

It is always surprising and exciting to be a tourist in your own country. We have made many delightful discoveries, and expanded our understanding of this place we call our land. Travel is an investment in yourself, and that is true even if you don’t leave your own country.

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!

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.

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!