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…

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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!

Serendipity

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On our way to Buggerall, Nowhere.

 

We were driving to Buggerall, Nowhere, to visit Devil’s Backbone Brewing Company.  Fully half of their beers were IPAs, but their malt offering were well done, including a delightful shwartzbier and a Belgian strong.  According to Google Maps, it was one of the few brewpubs on our route.  The plan for the day was to drive 7 hours from Radford, VA to Gettysburg, PA, and stay next door to a promising brewpub.  En route to Devil’s Backbone, we spotted Wintergreen Winery and stopped in, picking up a brochure about Route 151.  Unknown to us, this valley had three breweries, a cidery, a distillery, and a half dozen wineries!  We wouldn’t make it to Gettysburg this day.

 

The first stop, after discovering Route 151’s alcohol bona fides, was Bold Rock Hard Cider.  Our   experiences with cideries is limited, just because there are so few of them (someone: fix this deficiency!).  Bold Rock was gritty and genuine, with a free tasting and a range of great ciders from sweet to very dry.  We were happy to walk away with a 6 pack of the Virginia Draft and a bottle of Crimson Ridge Vat No.1 and give Bold Rock a definite stamp of approval.BoldRockCider

 

Wild Wolf Brewery occupies an old, renovated school house, with wonderful water features and an expansive outdoor area.  With an 11-beer tasting flight, we were hopeful, but ultimately disappointed.  They reminded us of Terrapin in Athens- too many hops, not enough craft.  Blue Mountain Brewery was our last stop on Route 151, featuring an impressive 10 beer tasting flight.  Again, we were disappointed- the English Mild and the Barleywine both looked like Pilsners and tasted nothing like their stated styles.

 

Route 151 featured a promising array of alcohol tourism destinations, but ultimately did not fulfill that promise.  We suspect that the high-maintenance skier population has skewed the breweries, forcing them to produce Coor Light-like beers in lieu of edgy craft beers.  Still, the drive was wonderful and the experience was well worth it.  Tomorrow, on to Pennsylvania!

Wild Wolf Flight

Flight at Wild Wolf

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