Thursday, December 21, 2006

Peaks Brew Pub (Port Angeles, WA)


After a day of driving around Olympic National Park and seeing the fall colors in October, my wife and I come out in Port Angeles looking for gas, food, and maybe a beer. At a gas station with a surprising number of free roaming cats, I asked if there was a brewpub in town, and was quickly directed two blocks away to Peaks Brewpub.

Olympic National Park 
Walking in, Peaks Brew Pub looks like your average small down bar with pull tabs for sale to a line of bellied up locals. But, that quickly changes when you look up at the extensive beer list. I started with the Spruce Juice since it looked like the most interesting name and our stop was supposed to be short since we still needed to make our hotel in Seattle yet that night. The Spruce Juice was more than a pleasant surpriseit was really fantastic. Went on to the October Red, which was also good. By this time, Wanda, our waitress, had sent her husband Ed, the brewer, over to talk to us. Over two hours later we finally left for Seattle with directions of how to do the ferry to shorten our drive.

In between, we sampled a range of beers, including Rogue Brutal Bitter, Flyer's Porter, Port Townsend Scotch Ale on cask, and a bottle Ed opened for me called Snipes Mountain Roza because I said I liked barleywine.  In between, we learned about the NW, Port Angeles, brewing in a small town, their son playing football, and even how Spruce Juice, a spruce spiked Belgian ale, had won best beer at a local festival even though its name was spelled wrong on the ballot: they won because of write-in votes.

Ed is the epitome  homebrewer, brewing what he wants because he likes it.  If you want the tour, push your nose up to the glass in the back room, newly remodeled (pictures on the website) and ready to increase production. And, Ed and Wanda's bar is a lovingly decorated hodge podge of various beer items that gives it a real homey feel.  Driving away, I told my wife I was tempted to move to Port Angeles just because I wanted to be a local and stop in with my own "Hey Ed." Hope I can get back again some day.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Prairie Rock Brewery (Schaumberg, IL)

Closed. Last visit 11/11/05

On our yearly trip from the Twin Cities to Purdue for annual home football game, we usually stop in Schaumburg for the night and eat dinner at Prairie Rock. 

Generally, they have six or so beers on tap. The last couple of years they seem to have settled into the same beers with just one or two seasonals changing. My ratings for our first time in 2003 are all pretty high, but successive trips have gone down hill when I'm ordering drafts. Not bad, and as good as the RAM Restaurant & Brewery down the street.  We've always had good look finding fairly cheap hotels in Schaumberg when travelling to Chicago or Indiana, and RAM and Prairie Rock make easy beer stop.  Food is what attracts us mostly. We order the beer cheese soup and four cheese pizza, and both are excellent. Only thing we've had there. When we stop, it's for this. 

Overall, it is a beautiful pub in a old (or old looking) brick building with very high 2 or 3 story ceilings and large wooden cross beams. Restaurant lacks some ambiance but easy to talk and the service has always been good. Bar is small and smokey. On this recent trip, it was also a meat market--which might account for the beer change. When I was at the bar, only one other person was drinking beer and at least half of the drinks going out with Sex on the Beach, JaegerBombs and such. Young, dumb, and desparate for the most part. Left for the Ram just so I could stop listening to some schuck hitting on the obviously bored hot girl. And the smoke go to me, but I've become spoiled lately with smoke free bars. 

Good stop in you're in Schaumburg, especially if you keep your expectations in check and sit in the restaurant.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery (Portland, OR)

Overall, I'd say this is an above average Rock Bottom. It's downtown in the historic Yamhill distirict. We were there to buy our Duck supplies across the street at the U of Oregon store. Beavers can buy at the other end of the block. We hit happy hour on a Monday night and had cheap appetizer size entrees, cheap beer, big screen TVs everywhere, and lots of people laughing. Joint was alive and a lot of fun. Mostly a young crowd, many were business types with ties pulled loose at the neck. Train just outside the window, so take the public transportation down to the area and save the parking fee for the day (though the Duck store did validate us).

Elliott Bay Brewing Co (Seattle, WA)

View of Seattle across the bay just
before Elliott Bay stop


Elliott Bay Brewing was literally a quicky on the way to the airport to fly back to Minnesota. Very cool looking long skinny pub; bar and kitchen on one side and the booths on the other. Old brick building in a nice looking neighborhood, though I don't know it's name. Looks like a trendy, artsy area.

Very busy at lunch, so the locals are going there. Service was fast and attentive in spite of how busy it got and the bartender even answered a few questions for the obvious note taking beer tourist. And, the samples were free, which hasn't happened in a while, especially when there's nine on tap.

Bartender said there's a new location opening up in Highline which is near the airport, so we'll hit that one next time. Beer was good to very good all around, though not as good as I expected from samples at GABF last year. Worth the stop.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Horse Brass Pub (Portland, OR)

Oct 2006

Horse Brass Pub was my last stop of a long day of tasting, so I might go back some day and give it a full shot. When I do it will be in the afternoon so as to avoid the thick smoke, though it was only 8 pm. I know I'm often in the minority here with my beer drinking bretheren, but I don't get the point of paying $5 a pint or $7 for a 10oz glass of great beer when I can't even smell it over the smoke.  Decided not to rate either beer from the bar because I'm not sure what was there.

With that said, the selection is awesome and pretty much everyone I asked along my week long trip said to hit the Horse Brass for the best beer. Between the guest beers, regs, and the rotating casks, it is beer heaven. What I drank, was well served and well cared for. Food looked good, even some vegetarian options which was unexpected from the look and attitude of the place.

HB web says they are a smoke friendly pub and that adults should have a choice. I think it's a much smarter choice if smoker's can choose to smoke outside so that the rest of us actually can actually choose to not drink or dine in smoke. But, with so many good bars in Portland, maybe nonsmokers and those allergic to it like myself shouldn't waste the time or money here.

Main Street Ale House (Gresham, OR) aka 4th Street Brewing Co

10/13/06.  Presently known as the 4th Street Brewing Co.

Main Street Ale House is not a bad place if you're invited to hang out, but I think they are suffering from a lack of focus. Twelve beers on tap, all mainline macro with a couple exceptions. The Eager Beaver IPA was pretty good and the Black Roots Blonde was pretty good for being the number two light offering. Nothing was really spectacular of the group.

Waitress kept trying to explain the various styles to me, not getting from the notes in front of me that I was a geek. Unfortunately, she didn't understand the styles. They were serving a saison and a berliner weisse as well, nice styles, but the berliner wasn't served with syrup (menu even said it was) because the waitress couldn't find it so the beer was crazy sour. Waitress said it was going off tap because it wasn't selling and that she didn't like it.

The decor was similarly off with the nice shiny brewery behind the bar, a very open cement floor, fireplace, oddly placed tables and booths, a cabinet of German beer steins, and odd colors. Just felt put together but not with a consistent purpose, just like the beer line up. Just seemed like they were worried about appearances rather than quality, and not doing a good job. Completely dead at lunch on a week day, so the downtown crowd isn't coming in either.

So, good selection, service was nice, but the beer and the place just couldn't pull it all together. We stopped because we ate dinner down the street, so came in for a rack of samples. Glad I didn't go any further out of the way than I did.

Rogue Ales (Newport, OR)

We made a wrong turn to the Rogue Ale House and found
one of the best sunsets we've ever seen.  

Rogue Brewer's on the Bay is in an old boat dock converted to brewery, bar, and restaurant. Kinda fun walking through the brewery up to the bar. View from the restaurant into the harbor is good, and we saw some sea lion butt going under out the window. Fun place with lots on tap. Tables on the "patio" are outside in the brewery, which would be a lot of fun on working day. Tables and lights were kegs cut in half and put together for fixtures, consistent with the Rogue attitude discussed below.

We drove up the Oregon coast for the day and held out for dinner at Rogue.  Mistake for us. Starved and nothing was vegetarian (even the cheese soup) except standard pub grub, so we ended up eating cheese bread and onion rings; adequate but nothing special.  Service was helpful but spotty.

The tour was a lot of fun and worth the trip.  Rogue is very much about getting the beer done right regardless of how it looks, so the mish mash brewery was interesting to see. Free beer on the tour, and lots of info and they were working hard to make sure we had a good time.

Beer is what you'd expect from Roguegood and lots of it: Mocha Porter, Honey Orange Wheat, Russian Imperial, and OC on my tasting list for the stop. Good day though a bit pricey.

We spent the afternoon in Newport and had a great time with the sea lions on the dock and hanging out. Ended up with dinner at the Rogue Public House after an absolutely spectacular sunset. Public house had spent grain pizza which was much better than the food on the bay.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

McMenamins Six Arms (Seattle, WA)

McMenamins Six Arms is a literal corner bar; I almost walked by it in the twilight. Old brick building, cramped bar with a rail to separate the restaurant tables. Lots of signs around about keeping minors out of the bar, which were at every bar, so must be a Washington thing. The place was decorated for Halloween: blinking green-chested skeletons over the bar and webs on the TVs. We had the tater tots with ranch dressing, really good bar food.  Had them Cajun at a later McMenamins and the were even better. Not a bad stop if you're in the area (like at Elysian down the street), but I wouldn't go out of my way for this place alone. Standard bar, nice atmosphere, ok beer and decent food. Fun stop.

Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery (Bellevue, WA)


Rock Bottom Bellvue is in the heart of a business district down the street from the Sheraton business hotel we were staying in. Big and well run RB with the basic restaurant and light wood bar on the first floor and the Top of the Rock Lounge upstairs, which was full and had more TVs.

Sitting down at the bar, I got very quick and attentive service even though I was just getting a beer tray of samples. Eight beers on tap that night I was there, and all were pretty good. Stay away from the Liquid Sun and Nisqually Nut Brown, Euro lager and nut brown respectively. But for a downtown location, the Hop Bomb, Harvest Ale, and Humpback Pale Ale were all very respectable, well hopped beers. Being my first night in northwest since I was 10, I was happy about this--travelling from Minnesota, if the local yuppie suit and tie crowd were drinking this many hops, the places pushing the limit should be very cool in the days to follow (which was true!).

Seattlites are an interesting breed. I mentioned yuppie post work with his tie pulled down was there, many others looked like an L.L. Bean explosion. Kinda a rugged yuppie. And, lots of laughing, which was true in Elysian earlier tonight. Food, beer, friends, and laughs are loud and strong. Any place where my own head turning loud laugh is 2nd or 3rd in the room is ok by me. Just seemed like they enjoyed other, all with a very relaxed atmosphere.

While maybe one of the best RBs I've been to, it's still just a sports bar with fake silver metal molded ceiling and the slightly above standard RB beer level--high end macro with a couple interesting ones worth the trip.

McMenamins Highland Pub & Brewery (Gresham, OR)


First night in Portland and headed right McMenamins Highland Pub & Brewery down the street from our hotel. Didn't get a pic because it was too dark, but I triedthe neon lit front didn't hold up to Vegas but easily cast a shadow over the Taco Bell in the same strip mall.  Not exactly a classic pub, though when you walked in the decor was ok. Dark wood bark, high back booths surround the outside wall of what was probably some big square dry cleaner or something at one time. Very different feel from the Six Arms in Seattle the day before; this is more like a local fancy dive in my small home time in Iowa rather than a chain, which is a compliment. Though the place has the same industrial chic: painted ceiling and exposed duct work, which is supposed to be classy, but I assume is just a cheap way to decorate a restaurant.

We had the PJ's Famous Pizza Bread, which seems to be the local thing because I didn't see it on any other McMenamins menu. It was alright, but I can see why it isn't so famous that I would have heard of it in Minnesota. Just cheese bread basically, though above average. Tater tots were much better. Waitstaff was trying hard and acted busy, but the place wasn't very full.

Standard McMenamins on tap and a couple of others. Not bad, but still the basic above macro not too exciting micro chain standard. Though I can see why they are in business--great branding with coasters and flyers for several other McMenamins on the table (which happened at every one we did).  This one is definitely not one to go out of the way for, but was better than Taco Bell or a standard restaurant since we were there anyway and didn't feel like heading into the heart of Portland for a pint.

Big Horse Brew Pub (Hood River, OR)


From the outside, Big Horse is very clean and sharp converted house. Going up the stairs to the right of the pub is a small park and memorial with a flower garden that yielded some very nice pics for my wife. Walking in the pub, it looks a bit more like the old house it is. One small TV above the pool table, kitchen right there so the waitresses must have strong legs carrying it all up to the next floor. Bar is at the top of some rattly carpeted stairs; hard left, and there's the top floor view of the Columbia Gorge. Get there early (filled fast for lunch on a Sunday) to get window seat.

Mt Hood
Big Horse gets high food ratings for exceptional veggie offerings. The Veggie Sub with fries was excellent. Vegan veggie burger, avocado, sauteed mushroom and onion, pepper jack cheese on a crusty bun. Fries good too. Waitress tried to sell the dinner as big, but it was actually well portioned. Enough so that we split the nachos afterwards, which were the most unique nachos ever. Light amount of cheese on top of six inch corn tortillas instead of chips with lots of black beans, jalapeno slices, green onions, sour cream, and a hot and spicy sauce that made the dish. Both very good and not McOversized.

The beer stop alone was a fun surprise. I hadn't scoped this place out, and literally saw the sign up the hill while going through the intersection to head up the Hood River valley for a morning of exploring. Damn glad we did. I reviewed the Russian Redneck, bourbon barrel aged Imperial Stout that was very fantastic. But, all of the beers were very good across the board, not a stinker among them. And, fun names like Vernon
the Rabbit Slayer IPA. Hoppy beers were their best, including Vernon, but the Jack Straw Harvest Ale was probably the most interesting. Had the Russian Redneck not been on tap, I would've gone for a Jack Straw. It's a pumpkin ale, and before groaning, add to it oats and raisins. Very unique seasonal that is easily the best pumpkin beer I've had because of it's complexity. spice and subtle pumpkin.

Service was good, attentive, mostly, though the waitresses worked really hard when the place got full and they were running up and down the stairs. I didn't get my second pint, but since I forgot my purchased pint glass on the table I'm not sure I needed it after the generous sampler tray and an imperial. The waitress did run out the front door to make sure I got my glass back. "A" for effort.

Head to Hood River, experience Mt Hood and the area (we drove the Fruit Loop through fruit farms and wineries), and head back to Big Horse for a great stop.

McMenamins Kennedy School (Portland, OR)


It looks like the history of the Kennedy School is covered well in the previous reviews, so I'll focus on what found unique about the Kennedy School and McMenamins in general.

The Kennedy School itself is a fun place, quite beautifully done, especially the bar in the old cafeteria with an entire wall of windows to the outside patio with fireplace. They extend the metaphor a little bit with the Detention Bar, etc. I really like that the McMenamins chain takes old buildings and restores rather than replaces, preserving the history and community. While we were there, we walked by a Celebration of Life in a side room and a Victory Garden restored on the other side of the parking lot as an educational garden.

Later, when chatting with a bartender at the next place I visited, I mentioned that I had just come from the Kennedy School; he gave me a beer snob eye roll, one I might give to someone who has just found the new great place called Rock Bottom. But in the end, he was intrigued by my point of view enough to give me a mind opening Hmmmm.

I agreed that the beer at McMenamins (I visited three between Seattle and Portland) is adequate to a bit above average for the best beers; however, because of the attitude McMenamins takes towards saving structures and fitting into local communities, that this is what capitalism is meant to be. Every McMenamins had tater tots for us to eat, as well as other in common beers and food items, but then the rest was local adjustments, down to the price of our tater tots changed with each place we went to, which we paid the most for them at the Six Arms location. McMenamins is a chain, but it's a chain with heart that could show so-called compassionate conservatives how capitalism works when community is at the center of making money.

Concordia Ale House (Portland, OR)


Loved Concordia Ale House, but it was a little too clean to be a dive bar (which I like).  It has a sort of "unconcerned" look to the decor. Tables, bar, all practical and meant to function, but they obviously work to keep it clean and neat. Counted 22 taps--I drank ST. Bernardus ABT 12, Ninkasi Fresh Hop, Walking Man Knuckle Dragger, and Bend Brewing Hop Head in my brief stop. Not a bad stop. I'm planning a trip to the Northwest with a friend, and this is at the top of my list to show him. Didn't get to the three coolers of bottles behind the bar.

Bartender was attentive and friendly, teaching dominoes to a waitress, but never missed seeing when my glass got to the bottom. The boss was at the other end of the bar and was complaining about the sunny days and the resulting lack of business. Evidently, rain means friends in the pub in Portland, which explains all the pubs and coffee shops.

I didn't eat, but the food looked very above average pub grub. One guy stopped in for a take out order and didn't have a beer--never a bad sign.

Take the time, make the stop.

Amnesia Brewing Co (Portland, OR)


I'm a big believer in asking locals for advice, especially beer and pizza.  In this case, both Alan Sprints after our tour of Hair of the Dog and James the bartender at Concordia Ale House recommended a visit to Amnesia Brewing.

And for good reason—love this place. Looks like a converted garage in the middle of a neighborhood. Everything seems built by hand inside, brewery in the back, bathrooms and bar built on one end to separate the brewery from the restaurant. Patio outside. Great music: underground grunge. The lyrics of one song were something like "next time you see your mother--SATAN, SATAN, SATAN." Went well with a chandelier with a rabid snow monkey creature reigning over stuffed squirrels running along branches or the mounted life-size My Little Pony head on the wall.

Beer was all good with the Summer Ale being the weakest.  Hoppy seems to be their specialty with both IPAs and The ESB being top of the line. The porter seemed a bit thin, but adequate. We ordered a Tofurkey hot dog just because we could and enjoyed the novelty if not the taste completely.  Small menu but several veggie options, so I was happy. Who knew Tofurkey would go well with hops, in this case the Copacetic IPA.

Great place, fun time.  Beer is better than average, but it's similar to one of my favorite placesThe Triple Rock Social Clubin that the attitude and atmosphere of the place kicks the beer and food up a notch.  

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Pike Pub & Brewery (Seattle, WA)


Very first stop on my first trip to Seattle, so headed downtown touristy right off the bat. I'm a vegetarian, so only watch the fish toss w/o a purchase upstairs. Around the corner and down is The Pike Pub & Brewery. Walking in it is clean and well lit, but painted black in an industrial chic look. Random decor, including poker playing dogs on one wall. Big tourist shop in the front with T-shirts. Ok atmosphere with a few TVs around for sports.

Pete of Fish Philosophy fame

Three levels going up and the center piece is the brew tank on the second, smack dab in the center of the action with a brewer working behind the gated off area. Looked like the grain mill was upstairs or outside with a chute dumping directly in through the shops on the next level up. Pretty cool lookingand shiny. Great smell of a batch at full boil walking in the door, so that was nice.

Good news, all the beers were pretty good; the Weiss being by far the weakest. After a full sampler, I had drafts of the Scotch, XXX Stout, and Tandem Doubleall worth the effort, my favorites in reverse order listed. Went for the artisanal cheese plate of all local cheeses and honey. Good, but not enough bread and a bit expensive; however, that's par for all high end cheese plates. Ordered some of the steak fries as well since we'd just come from the plane, which were fine but nothing mind blowing. Good prices for the most part, especially for being in Pike Place. Parking across the street was expensive and small, located in the bowels under the street. Fun visit overall though.

Elysian Brewing Co-Capitol Hill (Seattle, WA)


Cool beer decor walking in the door--gives the impression that they really focus on the beer at Elysian Brewing, which the sampler and a couple of pints proved. Banners naming Elysian large brewpub of the year at GABF in '93, 03, and 04 hang above the glass where you could see the brewhouse and a brewer hard at work in the early evening.  We hit Elysian based on some pretty good samples at GABF two years ago, and I wasn't disappointed.

High ratings across the board, every beer being to style and fun to drink. Perseus Porter on nitro was the clear winner tonight, deserving a much higher rating than the bottle we had later. The Nightowl Pumpkin Ale is easily the best pumpkin ale I've had to dateexcellent beer that happens to have pumpkin in the center that amplifies the beer. Very fun and interesting to drink rather than having a pumpkin pie liquefied in a glass. Bete Blanche was great too, liked drinking it, but the only beer that didn't seem to fit the style as a Belgium tripelseemed to have some hefeweizen qualities. Odd, but very good. More time in the bar and I'd order it before their flagships The Wise ESB and The Immortal IPA, which were both good as well.

I liked the Greek mythology theme running through the beers, coasters, etc. Elysian Fields, besides being one of the extended pubs to the original Capitol Hill, is the "abode of the blessed after death." Which makes Elysian heaven or paradise in Greek mythology and all the regular beers reflect the theme. As an English teacher and sometimes poet, I appreciate it. Not the defining characteristic of a pub, but one I really enjoy. Added to this was a very light, fun atmosphere, clean and rustic with beat up wooden floors and high wooden ceiling, and a woman laughing with friends that gave my own thunderous laugh a run for its money. Really sounded like the locals were having fun.

Here's the reason for the high food ratingI actually had to choose between several very excellent vegetarian options, including a veggie pulled BBQ sandwich (never seen that before except in full veggie/vegan joints). We painstakingly decided on the Eggplant Parmesan sandwich with multicolored tortilla chips with hot and tasty chili arbol sauce. Easily a place I'd go just for food w/o beer as a consideration (which never happens for me but it could, I suppose). We were only in Seattle for two of seven days in the NW, but really wanted to come back but didn't make it because of logistics. Absolute top of the list to hit this and the other Elysian pubs on the next trip.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Angry Minnow Brewpub (Hayward, WI)

The Angry Minnow was a quick stop on our bus tour of Wisconsin, so no time to eat. But the Minnow is in a beautiful old brick building that was just screaming to be converted into a brewpub. Dark wood inside and a old comfortable feeling to the place. We sat on an outside patio surrounded by brick arches. Extremely pleasant on a fall evening. I've tasted their beers at various festivals and the draft versions didn't change my mind much--all good but not great beers. My favorite has consistently been the River Pig Pale Ale, which is quite enjoyable to drink. It was quiet with all locals when we stopped.

El Mariachi's Mexican Restaurant and Muskie Captital Cantina (Hayward, WI)

Old Hayward was the dinner stop on our bus tour, and driving up to the pub you see the giant muskie of the fishing museum. Might have to come back for that some day; the outdoorsman quality is apparent walking into the restaurant with animals large and small adorning the walls. Clean, well lit place decorated in a Timber Lodge theme. Since we were in a large group, the locals seemed pretty interested in us. Nice family dinner sort of place. Lots of steaks and fish. I ate some appetizers, deep fried and good, from the plate of a friend. Being a vegetarian, not a lot to eat here. My fault for being a veggie in the muskie capital.

Beer was all good, but nothing mindblowing. Good, solid, center of the road beer that's easy to drink a lot of, which we did. The American Pale Ale and Muskie Cream Ale were my favorites. While not a fan of cream ale, this one was a bit more assertive than itshould be for style and made it fun to drink.

Hereford & Hops Restaurant & Brewpub (Wausau, WI)

Hereford & Hops Wausau is sadly closed according to its BeerAdvocate listing.  

This was a very pleasant surprise on our bus tour. I had stopped at another H&H a couple of years ago, and didn't have a negative image of the brewpub but not overly impressed either. The H&H in Wausau changed that for me. 

Very clean, upscale appearing place when you walk in the door. The seemed a bit unprepared for our large group (30+) in spite of expecting us, but quickly recovered to be fine hosts as the beer flowed and we participated in a very informative brewery tour. Didn't look at the menu much, but shared a awesome blossom with someone else. Very good, as good as Outback who is famous for it. 

Great selection of beers from a fizzy Razberi to a deep black Schwarzbier. The Schwarzbier and ESB were especially strong beers. If I lived in Wausau, I'd be happy drinking either for life. Excellent job. Plus they keep a few beers in rotation, and the brewer had a adventuresome spirit so only more good things are to come. Besides Fitger's, this was the only place of 11 brew pubs that I took another growler home. 

Funny name, good beer. Check it out. (October 2006) 

On my second visit (June 2007), I found nothing that change my rating of this place. Good service, but I was the only one at the bar, so that helps. And, every beer was good and I filled my growler with Schwarzbier again. Cool pub in central Wisconsin that is worth the effort.

Blue Heron BrewPub (Marshfield, WI)

Before stopping at the Blue Heron BrewPub, I hadn't heard much about it. Overall, a very cool place in the Parkin Place. Beautiful renovated building you can read all about on their website. Lot of time and work invested to make this place look nice. Sit at the bar and drink staring at the brewery. Slightly upscale feel, and a menu with a wider selection for vegetarians. I had the Grilled Vegetable Pita, which was quite good. Think I'd go for a pizza next time, but not disappointed at all.

According to a friend along who frequents this place a few times a year, the Mudpuppy Porter is their bread and butter, and it's easy to taste why. All of the beers were good, but the Bourbon Barrel Cherry Stout stole the show. Sip and enjoy a very woody, chocolate and cherry stout with almost oily winelike smoothness. Excellent and approaching OMG on this one. Take a friend--hits like a hammer. Enjoy.

South Shore Brewery (Ashland, WI)

We showed up here late after a long day, and then felt old. I think we were in time for the local youngsters starting the meat market. Still a nice place, but I would probably enjoy it more in the afternoon sipping on a pint. I didn't order any food, but some friends ordered pizza and seemed to enjoy it thoroughly. Free popcorn was fresh, buttered, and hot. Big place in a historic building and lost of nooks and crannies to sit and hang out.

Overall the beer is good to middlin'. Had a pint of the Rhoads Scholar Stout, which was a perfectly fine brew, but not what I hoped for by buying the expensive $5 pint rather than one of the others. All the farther I got.  We stayed overnight in Ashland, which is really cool in the morning light during a dawn walk. Historic downtown and nature is a good draw, one I hope to avail myself of again someday and give South Shore another shot.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Thirsty Pagan Brewing (Superior, WI)

We stopped for a tour of Thirsty Pagan with a group of homebrewers, drank samples and drafts, and were on the road again. Very interesting place. Lots of cool brewerania on the walls from a local collectorHamm's beer, Northern Brewing signs, neon, etc.

Situated in an industrial part of town, it's not a place to impress yuppie friends. The brewery is behind a break wall and smaller than some of the more serious homebrewer set ups I've seen. In fact, it feels like a buddy who just went nuts decorating his basement and it turned into a brewery. Looks fun and I intend to return some night to see what it's like with the locals. Their food specialty seems to be a Chicago-ish styled pizza that the local homebrewers were eating with clear enjoyment. If you're look for good beer in a "blue collar know your name joint," Thirsty Pagan is a great place for an unpretentious pint.

Sunday, September 3, 2006

Von Kopp Brew Shop (Pine Island, MN)

I've been driving by Von Klopp for years since the sign along Hwy 52 says wine kits and cheese curds, I've never stopped. Only when a fellow homebrewer pointed it out as where he gets all of his supplies did I realize that it's a brew shop.

I needed a few incidentals and didn't want to drive the 10 mi to my own brew shop, so stopped here on the way back to the Twin Cities from Rochester. Not bad. A very eclectic shop, but a good supply of beer making materials, and so far, all of my friend's beer has been good and he's received sound advice from the shop.

The kits are commercial, which was interesting since I had never seen onemy shop makes its own. It seems to be a much better wine store, including a small field of grape vines planted to the north of the shop. Also, it has lots of specialty cheese, nic nacs, touristy trinkets, etc. And, a lot of traditional German beer steins, including the "world's largest" which held 9 gallons or something and an inscription that read (in German) that "he who can drink all of this is a real man." Sorry, that was the only one not for sale, but lots of very nicely crafted drinking vessels if you're into that sort of thing.

Friendly help, but not pushy. I rated selection low for beer; however, if you're looking for wine-like things for beer—like french oak wood chipsthis might be a good place if you're having trouble elsewhere.

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Wolf Pack Brewing Co (West Yellowstone, MT)

This was one of the weirdest pub hunts ever. My wife and I ordered the Wapiti Wheat Hefeweizen and Embalmer's Eisbock samples to start ($1.50 for six ounce samples for all beers except the Eisbock was double). Both were exceptional. My wife ordered a ($8) pint of the Eisbock and it was well worth itwish I had gotten more of it.

Emboldened by the good beer, we ordered a margherita pizzaa bold move in Montanabut the beer was good, so it seemed ok. We both agreed that it was the worst pizza we've ever had: doggy, tomatoes were old, cheese was a little too strong to be good. Ugh. Ordered french fries to cover, which were very good. Crispy and incredibly well seasoned, somewhat like potato oles at Taco John's (which is a compliment for us), we'd go back for just the fries alone if in town.

Then I tried the other beers. The pilsner, and, especially, the Patriot Pale Ale had very off flavors and poorly done. The Storm Castle Irish Stout was good and fairly well done, but not superior. None matched the first two beers at all.  Overall, this was one of the best and worst stops on this vacation. If going to Yellowstone, show up during the day for this pub (open noon to 8 p.m only because of Montana law, according to the door), order food safe for the backcountry, and, when you find a beer you like, stick to it.

Jasper Brewing Co Brewpub & Eatery (Jasper, AB)

Jasper Brewing is right on the main street coming into town via Jasper National Park, an absolutely beautiful drive through Banff NP past the Columbia Ice Field. We asked how to get to the pub from a local shopkeeper, which responded with another recommendation for better food though she didn't know what the beer was like. The food was good, though was ate french fries since there wasn't anything else vegetarian on the menu. The sampler came with 5 or 6 oz pours of all six beers. The Honey Bear Ale and the Rockhopper IPA weren't good and I didn't finish the samples. The rest were ok with the 6060 Stout being easily the best, a good Irish Stout that still lacked a bit in the body.

If you're interested in walking on a glacier, taking a magnificent drive in the Canadian Rockies or hiking in the less crowded Jasper NP, a stop at Jasper Brewing is warranted, but I won't go too far out of the way just for the beer. But, if you want to be there anyway, it was a pleasant stop with lots of touristy stores and opportunities in the area.

A block north and a block west was Jasper Liquors which had a great beer selection in a walk in cooler. I meant to go in the Wine Cellar next door, but walked into the smaller one by accident and walked out with a case of beers.

Montana Brewing Co (Billings, MT)

For a quick stop off the freeway in Billings, this was a worthwhile.  My wife and I had been in Yellowstone NP for the day and were very hungry when we arrived. Montana Brewing Co is set in an historic building that was the Montana Power Co in 1887, the first electricity in Billings. Very beautiful old white building that towered above the patio for the bar. We sat inside and ordered chips and salsa to start. Good chips w/ two types of salsa, one standard and spicy, the other mango based. Our pasta dish was also tasty with more spice than I expected in Montana.

The sampler of beers was only five bucks and we got seven different beers, all respectable, and GABF winners according to the menu. Of the beers tasted, Custer's Last Stout was good but a little thin, just like the barleywine. By far and away the best beer was the Sharptail Pale Ale, a strong well balance pale ale that bordered on but did not quite cross over to an IPA. Light, refreshing, and well hopped with an excellent aroma. Waitress was friendly and fast, but didn't know much about beer.

Definitely stop by if you pass by Billings.

Brewsters Brewing Co & Restaurant (Calgary, AB)

Brewster's is a Canadian chain that does a pretty good job. In the downtown location, it's pretty much a sports bar with several large and small screen TVs on the walls. We watched a preseason Canandian football game, which was fun even though we didn't know the teams. Overall, clean, fun, and possibly a meat market for younger types at night.

With no veggie options except pizza and nachos, we opted for the Brewhouse Nachos, which were very good. Waitress was friendly and fairly fast, seemingly knew a bit about beer. No air conditioning, which probably isn't much of a problem in Calgary, but it was the day we were there. Very hot. On a cool evening, the fireplace inside the door would've felt better.

All the beers were well done and very respectable. The standard Canadian style Original Lager was crap, but it's supposed to be, just like a standard American ale/lager in an U.S. pub. But all of the other beers were very drinkable. Stand outs included the Flying Pig Lager that had a nice clean hop bite balanced w/ a bit of malt. An unexpected surprise. The Blueberry Wheat Ale was well done and my wife had a draft that came with real blueberries in the bottom. Unlike most fruit beers that taste like syrup poured down the center, this fruit taste was well integrated, which, in my experience, is difficult to do with blueberry.  The Shaughnessy Stout was my favorite, an Irish Stout that was very smooth, a little thin, but very solid.

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

4th Street Liquor & Wine (Calgary, AB)

The guys at 4th Street Liquor were very helpful finding beer when I simply asked "What shouldn't I miss?" Ended up taking a variety pack from Big Rock brewery that I would have missed. According to the staff, Big Rock is credited with turning beer around in British Columbia.

Also a nice range of beers not available in Minnesota from St. Peter's (England) to Innis & Gunn (Scotland) to Fruli (Belgium) to Tree Brewing (British Columbia). While the selection doesn't match the 1000 beers of my local liquor store, it is very good compared to what I've found elsewhere in Canada.

All of the beers I sampled were fresh and tasted good going down. Most of the beer was in a walk in cooler, so it is well taken care of.  Also, 4th Street Liquor is only a few blocks drive from the downtown Brewster's Brewpub in Calgary.  Nice combination stop on the way to Banff that affords an excellent chance to pick up some quality quaffs for the cooler while visiting the parks.

The Grizzly Paw Brewing Co (Canmore, AB)

On the gondola to the top of Sulpher Mountain, my wife and I rode to the top with a local who worked in the souvenir shop. Her description of Grizzly Paw was to my point: only tourists who don't know better go therelocals never do.

We had lunch there right when it opened before heading out to check out the natural sceneryit has sort of a Hooters/sports bar feel: under dressed waitresses, big patio, and everything is shiny. Didn't see the brewery. I had a veggie burger that sounded great, but was very bad.  My wife's food was ok, but we never returned in spite of being in town for five days.

The beer isn't worth the trip either. The Brewing Badger Light was the worst, no surprise in a pub line up, but this was nearly undrinkable. The rest were very hard to tell apart, similarly bad with little distinction between the light beers. The best of the lot was the draft Root Beer that my wife ordered. Never got past the samples to have a pint of anything else.

It's the only brewpub in town, so stop if you have to. I did.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Olde Peninsula Brewpub & Restaurant (Kalamazoo, MI)

Olde Peninsula was a good experience. I hit it early, right when it opened on a Friday morning on the way out of town. The atmosphere was nice, but 11 a.m. is a bit dead to check that out. The pub looked a little TGIFridays w/ period stuff on the walls. Not bad.  Food was good. Several vegetarians options for me, which generally means it's a little upscale and used to serving a few non-meat eaters. The vegetarian pizza was very good, but not out of this world. Salad was weak, but I didn't mind.  Beer is adequate, but nothing I'm going to drive  out of the way for. If you're in town, go to Bell's Eccentric Cafe if it's open; otherwise OP will do in a pinch.

Bell's Eccentric Cafe (Kalamazoo, MI)

Bell's Eccentric Cafe was a full beer geek stop after a long drive through Chicago (from Minnesota) to stop for the night. The building is brick and not overly furnished. Some nice beer pieces on the wall, but almost has the feel of a buddy's decorated basement: comfortable and easy to drink all night in. Except, it isn't air conditioned, and even w/ many of the people outside listening to the band, it was very hot in spite of being 8:00 at night when I arrived. A visit at a time other than summer might be better, but the beer is well worth the sweat.

Being from Minnesota, I get the standard Bell's beers, but I miss out on many others. I started with a Belgian Dubbel--Hell Hath No Fury, a high alcohol malty Belgian that went straight to my head. Very good. Followed that w/ Two Hearted from the Firkin, which was also excellent and a fine treat to have Bell's on cask. vFinished the tasting with barleywine, simply known as Old Ale, a high alcohol but extremely smooth beer that I sipped for a long time.

Staff was extremely helpful, and really knew how to handle and pour a beerthe kind of love of presentation that makes drinking feel like an event. Food looked good. You order at a window and get it yourself. Many people were eating, but I was a bit late and the kitchen had just closed.

Conjure up an excuse to drive through Kalamazoo for any reason, stop and hit Bell's.

3/17/13: While posting this BeerAdvocate review to the blog, I perused the Bell's website on the cafe and it seems that the number of beers on tap and the range of food offerings have increased significantly since my visit nearly seven years ago.  I definitely need to find an excuse to hit Bell's again.

Kraftbrau Brewery (Kalamazoo, MI)

Closed according to BeerAdvocate.  

Stopped at Kraftbrau en route to Bell's across the street (their parking lot is easier to see than Bell's which is behind the brewery). A band was playing, but they waved the $10 cover so that I could have a beer--maybe because I simply turned around when I saw the stiff cover and decided they had nothing to lose by letting me in.  
A very cool old brick building sticking straight up on the corner of the lot. Looks like other stuff used to be around it, but this is the last one standing. Inside has a close, dark, closeted feel with a small stage opposite of the bar. 

The place seems to be more music than beer, but the beer was ok. Nothing stood out as stellar, though the Amber Ale was very smokey and almost tasted like a Rauchbier, which I didn't mind but it might have scared many of the regular patrons. Unless the band was just pulling in a lot of macro types, all I heard at the bar was "give me something light." The hefe seemed to be doing well and was the heaviest thing going out for most of the drinkers. All the beers were drinkable, which was good because it was hot and didn't seem air conditioned at all. 

Ok stop for the samples and to see a new variety of brewpub.