Session #29: Traveling For Beer

travel

I just returned from yet another trip to visit beer destinations, in this case beer gardens in Queens and Brooklyn, an emerging trend there. So it’s fitting that The Session is all about traveling for beer. Our 29th monthly trip is hosted by Beer by Bart tourguides Gail and Steve.

Their chosen topic is “Will Travel For Beer,” which they describe as follows:

If you see the words “travel” and “beer” and instead of your best tourist sagas you think of work or logistics, we want to know your tips and strategies on the road. (Perhaps for getting prized bottles home.)

And if you haven’t done much travel for fine beer, either for work or pleasure, but you have a trip you’d love to do, tell us where you’d like to go seeking the experience and the community of beer. Who would you want to meet at your destination, who would your travel-mates be, and what would you most want to taste when you arrived?

Details please, whichever way you take this! You’re welcome to pull out the vacation slide show if you wish. By all means have a beer that reminds you of the trip, and describe it if you wish. This episode of The Session goes up on Friday July 3rd, 2009. Finish early and maybe you can go someplace for the weekend!

For me, beer and travel are inextricably linked. I can’t really imagine them being separated from one another. Travel is beer, at least for me. Of course, unlike most people I do this for a living — or try to — and so it makes sense that any time I go somewhere, even if it’s just a family vacation, I also check out the beer scene, what breweries are there, etc. I spent my honeymoon visiting breweries in the Pacific Northwest. Frankly, I don’t travel nearly enough but with two young kids it’s not always possible.

beer-world-map

I’m actually behind in putting up photos of all my beer trips, but time is short these days and deadlines are always looming, so I’m working on it. But there are still quite a few you can see at the old photo gallery. I’ve started moving them all over to a Flickr Pro account, where you’ll be able to more photos from all of the events, since I don’t have to worry about taxing my server there.

I’d say my favorite trip would have to be to the Traquair House Brewery located in Traquair House, Scotland’s oldest continuously inhabited home. You have to take two buses south from Edinburgh, and then walk about 2 miles from town to get to the house. It’s pretty remote and completely worth the effort. The house has secret passageways, a hedge maze and an unimaginably old brewery. My photos from that trip are on film, so one of these days I’ll have to scan those pictures. Until then, here’s a shot from the Traquair House website.

traquair

When Thursday Is Fryday

You probably noticed that last week I was in Boston for a day, judging the Longshot Homebrew Contest finals at the Boston Beer Co. brewery there in Jamaica Plain. After we finished and had a late lunch, the rest of the day was open. My only plan was to try some more beer and, hopefully, some more frites. As we were waiting for judging to begin, several people in the Samuel Adams marketing department had suggestions of places around town with great frites. Armed with several names, I had a mission. And that’s how Thursday became a Fryday.

At lunch, Todd and Jason Alström, from Beer Advocate, mentioned they had to go to Boston Beerworks where they were being interviewed and then afterwards would be pleased to join me on my fry crawl. Bob Townsend, from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (and my favorite new person from Georgia) also tagged along since he had time to kill until he was meeting a friend for dinner later. So the Frites Foursome hailed a cab and our adventure began.

Out first stop was Boston Beerworks, the one near Fenway Park. Todd and Jason had to meet Boston Globe reporter Joseph P. Kahn so he could interview them about Beer Advocate and their upcoming beer festival. The article was subsequently published yesterday, entitled The Beer Necessities.

The brewery is just inside the door.

New signs hang behind the bar announcing which beers they have on tap. Bob and I waited here while Todd & Jason were interviewed and had some beers and, of course, an order of frites. Here, you can see my review of their frites.

The unsubtle sign above the entrance door, in case you weren’t sure what you’d been drinking as you leave. Our next stop was the first recommendation, Eastern Standard. For some reason I only took a photo of the frites here, oh and their handmade chips, so here’s what it looked like inside.

After that, we stopped for a quick pint at The Other Side, a cool organic dive bar near my hotel.

No frites, but they had a pretty decent beer list, both on tap and in bottles.

The vibe was Toronado meets Santa Cruz Organic Cafe, with loft seating, local art on the walls and an impressive menu of unusual dishes all made with local and natural ingredients.

Our next stop was another recommendation, Brasserie Joe, a French bistro, also attached to a hotel, the Colonnade Hotel.

Another nice place, with a contract beer on tap made by Brooklyn Brewing (tasted like their Pilsner). The frites were appropriately Belgian-style, served in a silver cup lined with a checkerboard paper. After I took photos of the frites for their review, our bartender asked me what I was doing and then, bemused I suspect, brought us over some delicious hot bread and carrots in a horseradish-based sauce. Also, Dann Paquette, from Pretty Things, met us at Brasserie Jo and joined us on our crawl.

Our last stop on the fry crawl was Cambridge Brewing, where we were to meet up with Bob Townsend again and also where Andy Crouch would join us. Bob had ordered some frites, so I was able to try his. They were somewhat different than the ones I had the last time I was there. I had a great talk with Dann there, and he has some exciting things going on. I was dying to try some of his beers, so …

Our last stop of the evening was the nearby Hungry Mother, where I had an opportunity to try two of Dann’s beers. First, I sampled the Jack D’Or, a really wonderful beer. Pretty Things took a saison and really put their own stamp on it, Saison Americain indeed. I also tried the Baby Tree, his interpretation of quadruple. It was likewise outstanding. Between talking beer and philosophy with Dann and how good his beers are, I think Pretty Things may be my favorite new brewery. So far they’re only in Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania.

 

Dann Paquette, Andy Crouch and Todd Alström showing off Pretty Things’ Baby Tree at the Hungry Mother..

 

Longshot Judging

longshot
On Wednesday I flew to Boston to judge the finals of the Longshot American Homebrew Contest. This is the third year for the new contest, which Samuel Adams also did in the mid-1990s in a slightly different format. But the idea is the same. Homebrewers submit their beer, which is judged in regional competitions. The two big winners will then have their homebrew made commercially and bottled. There were 1300 entries this year which was whittled down to four, from which our job was to pick two. You can read more of the story at my post at Bottoms Up.


Jim Koch was at the head of the table, with six more of us there.


Tony Forder (Ale Street News), Bob Townsend (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) and me.


Todd Alstrom showing off one of the homebrew beer bottles.


The seven of us, to break any ties, afterwards in the back garden picnic area. From left: Jason Alstrom (from Beer Advocate), Tony Forder (from Ale Street News), Bob Townsend (a food & drinks columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution), Jim Koch (founder of the Boston Beer Co.), yours truly (on assignment for Celebrator Beer News), Julie Johnson (from All About Beer magazine), and Todd Alstrom (also from Beer Advocate).

Session #28: Thinking & Drinking Globally

Today is National Doughnut Day, among other things, and time once again for The Session, in fact our 28th such outing. This time our host is Brian Yaeger, who writes at Red, White & Brew. His chosen topic is “Think/Drink Globally,” which he described as follows:

In honor of Global Craft Beer Forever, I propose everyone writes about the farthest brewery (including brewpubs) you have visited and specifically the best beer you had there. Again, not your favorite or any old brewery you’ve been to, but the one that is the longest haul away, be it by airplane, car, ferry, rickshaw, whatever. (If you blog about beer but have never been to a House of Brewing, get on it!)

Then, the last part, since this exercise gives us an excuse to drink beer, do one of the following:

  1. if you brought home a bottle while visiting the brewery and have it secreted away, crack it open.
  2. if you don’t have any left from that visit but the particular beer is available where you live (or if not your fave from said brewery, another brand from it), go get one.
  3. otherwise, find a local beer of the same style and do a little compare and contrast.

Well it certainly isn’t to hard to figure out the farthest place I’ve traveled so far for a beer was to New Zealand. The whole family went there for two weeks last year around this same time, plus my in-laws, too. We had a great time, and stayed most of the time in a beach house north of Auckland in the middle of nowhere. And since a lot of New Zealand feels like the middle of nowhere, that’s really saying something. We explored caves, went on hikes, lounged at the beach and tried our damnedest not to hit anything driving on the wrong (for us) side of the road. There were sheep everywhere and the joke is that there are more of them than people in New Zealand, and it’s not hard to believe.

The last few days were spent in the capital city of Auckland, where there was more beer, I’m happy to say. Though, sadly, only a minority was actually worth drinking. I did an article on beer in New Zealand for All About Beer. There were several decent breweries, the best I tried were from Emerson, Epic, Galbraith, and Hallertau.

Of those four, I spent the most time at Hallertau, as they also sell bottled beers and owner Stephen Plowman and Luke Nicholas (who brews the Epic Beer line) and I opened a couple dozen ebers so I could get a good cross section of the islands’ beer. Here’s what I wrote about the place in All About Beer:

Near the edge of the city limits, in Riverhead, is Galbraith’s polar opposite, the Hallertau Brewbar & Restaurant. Opened just three years ago by Stephen Plowman, the restaurant is thoroughly modern in both décor and cuisine, with an emphasis on local ingredients wherever possible. The menu includes esoteric fare as well as new takes on traditional dishes, and everything tastes homemade and delicious. The brewing equipment, though much less modern, and looking as if designed by MacGyver, still manages to create some terrific beers. Plowman makes an interesting range of beers, and likes to play around with his seasonals. His regular beers include a Kölsch-style ale, an American pale ale, an Irish red and a German-style Schwarzbier. His seasonal offerings have included an Imperial IPA (big, hoppy beers are a veritable rarity in New Zealand), a Belgian-style Tripel and a Saison flavored with Manuka tips, a local shrub sometimes also called a tea tree.

But by far my favorite of his beers was an experimental beer he was making, and I bought a couple bottles of it to bring home and age. Here’s what I wrote about it at the time:

But Plowman’s most ambitious beer may also be his best. His Porter Noir is a barrel-aged beer, which may be the first beer in New Zealand to use Brettanomyces. He brewed a strong Porter (6.6% abv) and aged it in local Pinot Noir barrels for four months before bottling. In the bottle, Brettanomyces was added and left to condition for another six months, before being released for purchase. It’s a wonderful beer, with rich, complex flavors of thick figs, raisins and the like, with strong Brett horse stable character. I can’t say for sure whether or not the people of New Zealand are ready for a beer so vastly different from their popular, but insipid, draught style. But ready or not, here it comes.

The second time I tried it, with Vinnie Cilurzo, from Russian River Brewing, here’s what I found:

Dark in color and a very thick tan head. The nose was marked by characteristic barnyard aromas with just a touch of malty sweetness. The nose was slightly less pungent than the sample I had in New Zealand, but Vinnie and I both declared it to be quite tasty. The Brett character married quite nicely with the nutty, malty porter flavors.

So let’s see what a year has done to it. The Bretty barnyard is still there, possibly even stronger, at least as I remember it. It’s still very malty but seems more complex to me as well, with all sorts of aroma and tastes mixing about on the nose and on the tongue. Dark fruit and some spiciness predominate, but there’s more there, too. I don’t know if Plowman is making new batches of this beer, but I certainly hope so, it’s definitely one of the most adventuresome being made in New Zealand.

I realized that I never posted photos from the New Zealand trip because I was saving them for the All About Beer article, but it’s been a year now, so I think it’s okay to post some of them now. So here’s a gallery of beer-related photos and also some non-beer related photos, in case you’re curious about what else we saw when we were there. [Note: the photos have no captions because I didn't have time to put them in before leaving for Monterey. I'll try and put them in Sunday after we get back, so check back Monday if you want to have more information about what's in the photos.]

New Beer TV Show … Maybe

A company from Sacramento, California — The Idea Factory — was in town Monday and Tuesday shooting a pilot for a new television show about craft beer. They’ve already done several successful cable shows, and their work can currently be seen on the Garden Channel, the DIY channel and Discovery Health.

The host is brewer Jennifer Talley, who is from Squatter’s Pub in Utah. Idea Factory producer Peter Holmes saw Talley in a video she did for her brewery and thought she’d be a good host, making the show both about brewers (and brewing and beer) and by brewers, which I think may be the first time for a television show. In talking with the producer, their initial pitch will likely be made to the Food Network or similar cable channels. And I think that makes sense, as there is significant time devoted to beer with food in what they filmed already.

They started out with Talley interviewing Shaun O’Sullivan at his 21st Amendment Brewery & Restaurant. In the afternoon both O’Sullivan and Talley visited Magnolia and sat down to talk with owner Dave McLean over some food and beer. Then on Tuesday they filmed at Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa. They filmed at both the new production brewery nearby and at the brewpub. Later Bruce Paton, the beer chef, cooked some food and he sat down with Talley and Russian River owners Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo to talk about the pairings while they enjoyed both the food and beer.

While it’s obviously hard to say too much until it’s been edited, the raw footage I watched seemed pretty good. Everybody I met involved with the production from the producers, the cameramen and make-up all seemed professional and did a great job. Plus, they were all very genuinely nice people. The participants seemed natural on camera and it had the feel of a conversation you’d want to listen in on. The passion that many of us feel for craft beer (and food) comes out pretty easily and this was a good illustration of that principle in action. We all love to talk about beer. The only question remaining: is the rest of America ready to listen?

I wish them luck and it would certainly be great to see a show about craft beer that’s done by people who actually know what they’re talking about. So keep your fingers crossed. I’ll post updates as I learn more, but I imagine this is a long, slow process.
 

For more photos from the beer show tv pilot shoot, visit the photo gallery.
 

Off to Portland

I’m up waay too early to catch a flight to Portland for the 20th annual Oregon Brewers Festival. I get in at 8 a.m. and then it’s off to the Rogue Public House for brunch before the parade to open the festival at Noon. This is probably my second favorite festival of the year. Time permitting, I’ll try to post photos from the various events surrounding the festival and the festival itself, of course, each day.

John White’s Final Trip

I was at the Celebrator offices Monday night, doing a tasting of wheat beers for the next issue, when the sad news came in that John White, the tireless supporter of great beer passed away at 62. I never met the man, but know plenty of people who have and sang his praises. He ran the White Beer Travels website, a terrific resource for beer travelers and also beer-themed travel adventures known as “White Beer Travels Beer Hunts.” According to the website, White passed away on July 2 and a service celebrating his life was held on the 9th in his hometown of Grimsby, England.

Carolyn Smagalski has a moving tribute on her website, Bella Online, entitled “Tribute to a White Knight.”

John White with Michael Jackson in 2004.