Road Trips and One Night Stands

Summer is upon us, so it’s time to catch up with some ‘beer destinations’. No matter where  you’re heading out to on holidays this year, it won’t be hard to find decent craft brew. At the end of 2013 there were 2,822 breweries operating in the US, including 2,768 craft breweries subdivided into 1,237 brewpubs and 119 regional craft breweries. In Canada, those numbers might not yet be 10% of the US, but we are closing in on it. BC is still booming, laws have changed in Alberta to allow smaller breweries and brewpubs there, finally in Ontario, some sort of reform is happening that will hopefully help craft breweries there with wider distribution, and both Quebec and Nova Scotia have healthy craft beer scenes, as do many US states. Here are a few U.S. spots (and a number of U.S. beers) I managed to visit (and taste) in my wanderings this past season.

Chicago, Illinois

Of course Chicago is home to Goose Island, the famous little brewery that grew. Not so little now, their brews are well distributed throughout North America, but still visit the brewery if you get a chance. Honkers Ale (4.3%, 30 IBU, English style bitter) and the more recent Goose IPA (5.9%, 55 IBU) are instant classics, but check out their vintage ale series with bottles of Sofie (6.5%, 20 IBU, Belgian style Saison) and Matilda (7%, 26 IBU, Belgian style pale ale). Of course, their many brews can be found around town at discerning establishments.

IMG_4556If you only have time to visit one beer centric bar in Chicago, then I recommend Howells & Hood.  They have 114 unique craft beers, served from 360 taps at 3 separate bars. Yes, it is a big place, with a lovely, large patio to boot. A goos spot to check out the local beer scene.

Revolution Brewing  opened in the Spring of 2012 but has already made a name for themselves. Their Bottom Up Wit 5%, 14 IBU, a Belgian style witbier made with coriander and orange peel was a great thirst quenching starter, crisp yet silky smooth, wonderfully balanced, light and effervescent.

I opted next for a Nitro flight of tasty treats:IMG_4549
Colorado’s Left Hand Brewery Sawtooth Ale, 5.3%, 27 IBU, amber ESB, a balanced & bitter brew. Wisconsin’s Central Waters Mud Puppy Porter, 5.5%, deep, dark & delicious, randy, robust, smooth Back to Colorado for Oscar Blues Old Chub, 8%, a smoky Scottish ale, wee sweet malts, but hints of coffee and chocolate too, a big, malty brew.
Chicago’s own Off Color Brewing‘s Scurry Dark Honey Ale, 5.3%, 18 IBU, honey & molasses control the sweetness in this obscure German style (Kottbusser), but enough hops to dry the finish and even out this interesting brew.  All of these beers defineately benefited from the nitrogen carbonation, adding a creamy texture and an overall smoothness to the mouthfeel of each beer.

I went to Pennsylvania’s Victory Brew Co. for my night cap. At 9.5% Golden Monkey is a big and bold ambrosia. Rich yet sparkling, a complex brew channeling the Belgian Tripel style. Considerable depth of character, hints of spice and candi sugar, quite drinkable considering it’s strength. Yummy finish.

I’m always looking for bottles of local brew to bring home with me when I travel, but downtown Chicago does not seem to have many liquor stores. Perhaps that’s because a number of cool, small grocery stores, like the Potash Market, carry a fairly decent beer selection, much of it local. A couple of Illinois brews:

Hailstorm Brewing Co. Fleur de Cerise, 10.3%, a tart cherry Saison with Brettanomyces. Tasty yes, big complex flavour, yet subtle and balanced. This is only one of almost a dozen interesting and dynamic beers this year-old start up is brewing, many of the higher gravity persuasion.

Tighthead Brewing Co. Boxcar Porter, 5.6%, 42 IBU, this is a classic robust porter with tones of coffee and hints of chocolate. A beautifully roasted middle, creamy tan head, lovely more-ish finish.


St. Paul, Minnesota

IMG_4452On top of the hill overlooking the Xcel Energy Center sits the Cathedral of St. Paul on Selby Ave. Climb the hill and follow Selby west and you’ll find a number of bistros, pubs, restaurants and The Happy Gnome. This is your go-to spot, on this side of the twin cities at least, featuring a strong selection of local brews and from those beyond the border of Minnesota. 77 craft drafts are available, and for someone like myself searching out the local, the new and the different, I had a lot to choose from. Better do flights to taken in as much of the local scene as possible.

Flight 1:

1. Lift Bridge Farm Girl Saison (Stillwater) 6% a farmhouse ale at its finest, spicy, funky and dry.          2. Tin Whiskers Wheatstone (St. Paul) 6.3% wheat ale, clear, crisp, some malt sweetness, honey hints. 3. Lift Bridge Chestnut Hill (Stillwater) 5.5% nut forward amber ale using walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts. 4. Summit Union Mild 3X Ale (St. Paul) 7.2% a strong blend of UK hops and US malt, delicious.           5. Fulton The Worthy Adversary (Minneapolis) 10.1% deep dark Imp stout toes the line to big flavour.

Flight 2:

IMG_44541. Indeed Day Tripper Pale Ale (Minneapolis) 5.4% nice bitterness with citric and spicy hop notes.       2. Summit Frostline Rye (St. Paul) 5.8% spicy malted rye vs. floral, citric hops, perfect seasonal blend. 3. Bent Paddle Bent Hop (Duluth) 6.2% a fresh golden IPA, earthy nose, zesty bitterness, dry finish.     4. Bent Paddle 14° ESB (Duluth) 5.6% classic English style, toasted malt, piney hops, good balance.       5. Lucid Ora (Minnetonka) 6.5% smooth amber ale, with a depth of malt, hops kept in balance, smooth.

Flight 3:

1. Clown Shoes Space Cake (MA)) 9% an incredibly monstrous Imperial IPA, big, bad and beautiful!    2. New Holland Dragon’s Milk (MI) aged in oak, roasted malts meet a hint of bourbon, good friends.  3. Surly Furious (Brooklyn Center) 6.2% legendary local brew, hop forward, malt balanced, more-ish!    4. New Belgium Slow Ride IPA (CO) 4.5% tropically fruity blend of hops, aromatic, full flavoured.        5. Stone Vertical Epic 12.12.12 (CA) 9% Belgian style strong dark ale right on the money, full bodied.


New York, New York

heartlandWhere to start in New York? First off, the island of Manhattan is only about 14 blocks across at its widest. So, pick a direction and get walking. That’s what we did one gorgeous morning heading south from Time Square. We had a liquid breakfast at the Heartland Brewery, a brewpub chain with several locations in NYC, offering a light selection for our palates to start the day on from Cornhusker Lager (5%), Harvest Wheat (5%) to Red Rooster Ale (5.7%) and Indiana Pale Ale at 6%, the most flavourful of the lot.

Not far away we found The Ginger Man, an excellent bar offering many draft and cask conditioned ales. We got there as it opened, so had our server’s full attention as we asked about the latest on their 72 taps from new and local brewers. We started off with his recommendation, a pint of Peekskill Eastern Standard IPA, 6.8%, a beautifully hopped west coast IPA, tropical aromatics over a solid malt base, pine and citric notes, bitter, refreshing and dry. We then sneaked in a flight of heavy hitters before hitting the pavement.

1. Dogfish Head Raison d’Etre, 8% a deeply Belgian brew made with beet sugar and raisins, yummy.  Ginger Man    2. Almanac Dogpatch Sour, 7.5% barrel aged wild ale made with cherries, lip smackingly good & sour. 3. Heavy Seas Peg Leg Imperial Stout, 8% creamy, rich, full body, roasted, coffee, splendidly dry.         4. Stone Smoked Chipotle Porter, 5.9% spice here balances against a deep chocolatey smoked malt.

Such a lovely spot and the menu looked good too. We headed out but did return for a night cap around midnight. The place was packed, jumping from one end of the long bar to the other. Regardless, we were found a corner ledge on which to set down our glasses and late night snack and all was good with the world.

IMG_2691It just happened to be a Saturday and there was a market all the way along Broadway from 42 Street to Union Square. There was fresh produce, cheese and meats, flea market stalls interspersed with handicrafts and of course a number of bars along route. We stopped at Craftbar on Broadway for a lovely bottle of The Willows Family Ale (7%) a wild, sour ale made in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Hazy golden yellow with a big off-white head and citric aromatics, hints of brett, lemon, peach, some malt sweetness, but a long balanced sourness that makes this quite thirst quenching. Craftbar features an outstanding selection of draft and bottled brews from excellent US and European breweries.

We continued our wander down into Greenwich Village where we happened upon happy hour at Blind IMG_2699Tiger where it was shoulder to shoulder packed! A stalwart of the NY craft beer scene since 1995, it is a very popular establishment with over 30 rotating taps, 3 hand pumps and an extensive bottle selection. We went for the real ales: Kuhnhenn Fluffer IPA, at 4.7% is very much a session ale, with citrousy nuances and intense, yet well balanced hops. On the other hand was Flying Dog Double Dog Imperial IPA (11.5%), at 85 IBUs was a kicker! Huge aroma and flavour, big malt based beer but flush with citric hops and a deep complexity. It went so well with the sharp, aged cheddar we picked up along Broadway in the market. But strong! Whoa!

IMG_2710We cabbed it from the Village to Avenue C, the long walk and the Flying Dog having taken its toll, to Alphabet City Beer Co. What a cool little place! It is a beer store, with several large fridges lining both sides of the store as you walk in, full of wonderful brews from across the US and around the world. But in the back are several very large and long bench/tables for sitting around, sharing and tasting some of the 12 beers available on tap. You can also get growlers to go from a selected list. This was the perfect spot to end our night. I don’t remember exactly what we had, but the conversation sure was lively and centered around beer. Of course, New York City is full of great beer bars and restaurants, all one has to do is go for a walk.

I did manage to pick up a few travelers while I was there: Maine Beer Company‘s Zoe Amber Ale (7.2%) presents a complex malt bill, notes of dark chocolate & raiIMG_4167sin with copious amounts of citric and piny hops. Brewery Ommegang is a legend in its own time. Long established in Cooperstown, NY, they were one of the first to embrace Belgian beer styles and traditions that over the years they have made into their own. Hennepin Farmhouse Saison (7.7%) is a fine example. Spicy and complicated, brewed with grains of paradise, coriander, ginger, sweet orange peel, it all comes together in this crisp, rustic ale, some malty notes, big head, lovely & complex aromatics. No Apologies Double IPA (8.3%, 93 IBU) from Blue Point was another good find. Small batch brewed, firm malt base, big hop presence from nose to tongue, a bold brew, caramel notes, dries nicely in the finish.


Boston, Massachusetts

IMG_4085Another grand old American city that is good to walk around. In search of oysters and stout, we encountered some new beers and old ghosts. Not far from the downtown core is B&G Oysters, a little place, but specializing in seafood and they also know how to pair a local stout with their selections of local and east coast molluscs. The Harpoon Brewery is a long established waterfront brewery, a maker of fresh, craft beer since 1986. Boston Irish Stout (4.3%) is long on flavour, mild coffee & roasted malt notes, silky and smooth, balanced with a deep black malt bitterness. And it goes very well with oysters!

Steering away from the Common, we vaguely head towards the ball park and find The Lower Depths IMG_2626Tap Room on the way. With 24 beers on tap and a large bottle list, there is lots to choose from here. As usual, I try to stick to the local: Mayflower IPA (6.1%, 77 IBU) has a powerful hop profile, with a big malt base, accented here by being delivered through a hand pump, punchy aromatics, definite more-ish finish. Notch Session Pils, a 4% refreshing Czech style, sunny golden, clean, crisp and bitter, highly carbonated. Bukowski’s RIP Series “Ham on Rye”, named after Charles Bulowski’s 1982 novel, is actually a 5.5% delightfully smoky rye marzen, contract brewed for their sister bar, Bukowski Tavern. This was a delicious brew, making me want a ham on rye and a visit to the tavern. But before we depart, an Enlightenment Transcendence is in order. A Massachusetts farmhouse ale, warm fermented, double dry hopped and put to bed with wild yeast, this 6.2% brew is tantalizing. Funky brett, zingy citrous, dry yet fruity, spicy, hoppy and crisp right through to the finish.

IMG_2644Bukowski Tavern is a  classic dive bar, long skinny room, once a diner I suppose, a long counter running along one wall. Pictures of the man and his words are painted on every wall. I order a Jack’s Abby Smoke & Dagger (5.8%) and take in the scene, as the place is packed full of interesting characters. A beer book is provided at each table describing the 22 drafts and many bottles they have by style. Smoke & Dagger is a black beer, somewhere between a smoked porter and a German schwarzbier, beechwood smoked malt, coffee and sweet chocolatey malts combine to deliver a lovingly complex and roasted brew.

Our last stop was back on the other side of the Common, at Tavern in the Square (right across from the Boston Garden). Heavy Seas Riptide White IPA (7.2%, 45 IBU) This beer fooled me at first by looking and tasting so much like a Belgian witbier, but the hops come shining through in the nose, and a nice bitterness keeps the spices in place, fruity, yeasty, yummy. And it turns out it is fermented with Belgian wit yeast. Cisco Grey Lady Ale (4.5%) is another witbier, hazy Belgian, herbal nose, floral accents, spicy and thirst quenching. Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale (8.5%, 38 IBU), this saison has a big citric nose with hints of yeasty goodness, some sweet malt tones, while pepper and grapefruit dance on the tongue.


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

IMG_4081   Everybody I’ve talked to whose been to Philly have all visited  Eulogy Belgian Tavern Philly have all visited Located in an historic block near Independence Hall, Eulogy has the best beer selection in the city, featuring 400 domestic and international beers on 30 taps and in bottles. Owned by a family from Brugge, you will also find classic Belgian pub fare here, paired with the proper beer. I had a nice chat with the bartender as he served me an Ommegang Dubbel Ale (8.2%), this abbey ale features licorice root, star anise, orange peel, coriander and cumin, all in a bodacious blend that makes this a rich and aromatic brew. Of course, there is a large selection of classic Belgian ales, I just went for a ‘local’ Belgian style.

The other spot to check out if your downtown is the Reading Terminal Market, an extensive market featuring local & exotic IMG_2604produce, fresh meat, seafood, poultry, Amish delights, handmade baked goods and confections and a great beer bar called Molly Malloy’s. With 24 beers on taps, all available for take out in growlers too, there is a lot of choice for the happy shopper looking for refreshment. Or, if you prefer, check out the Philadium Tavern, a classic old time neighborhood sports bar (near the hockey rink) for pitchers of Yuengling Lager and endless chicken wings, in this perfect dive bar.


Denver International Airport, Denver, Colorado

We all get stuck in airports from time to time. Missed flights, postponements, cancellations, late IMG_4450connections, they all can be quite frustrating. I seemed to travel through Denver a lot this past season, with sometimes a few hours between flights, so I had the opportunity to check out what the pubs, restaurants and fast food joints in Terminal B had to offer, beer wise that is. My favourite is Lounge 5280, on the upper level in the middle of the terminal. This is a great spot to escape the maddening crowds and relax with a nice selection of Colorado craft brews. But you’ll find that almost every vender caters to the local and features Colorado made beers. Even tiny Etai’s Bakery Cafe, who make decent Mexican fare, offer an interesting list. Or check out Aviator’s Sports Bar & BBQ, for excellent southern style bbq (pulled pork, brisket, smoked chicken, you name it) and a large selection of draft and bottles all made in the mountainous state. Even New Belgium Brewing has a location where you can check out their fine selection of brews. Canadian airports could learn a lot from Denver International, or many other US airports, whose retail marketers make sure you get a taste of something local whenever you travel through.




My next blog with be on Canadian destinations, where expansion and innovation are the key elements to success in our ever growing craft beer scene in Canada. Cheers!