Sunday, August 19, 2007

Boscos Restaurant & Brewing Co (Nashville, TN)

This Boscos is just outside of the downtown Nashville area past Vanderbilt University with other shops, restaurants, and stores associated with an off beat neighborhood. Seems to be far enough from the Broadway tourist district to be comprised mostly of locals, at least that's how it seemed near happy hour. The shiny brewhouse is up on the second floor and the whole place is well decorated, and, most importantly today, the air conditioning is very cool in the Southern heat.

Most of the beers were very good with one a couple of klunkers. The Bombay IPA was a clear favorite of mine, a very well done American IPA, and evidently a local favorite since many people were ordering pints of the same.  The Stout and Isle of Skye were close behind.  Both wheat beers I tried were under par but serviceable.   The Bombay was going on cask at 5:30 and all the regulars were there for a pint (cask rotates--one a night when offered), but I wasn't able to handle another pint before heading to other pubs yet that evening.

At least 5 veggie options on the menu, including a bean and goat cheese tamale which I was talked out of by the bartender for a thin crust California pizza, which was very good.

Overall, a great stop, friendly with lots of personality for a place that's a mini-chain.  The wait staff seemed more interested in talking to each other than the customers on occasion, but not bad. Boscos is well worth the stop.

Blackstone Restaurant & Brewery (Nashville, TN)

Hit Blackstone right after Boscos, which was a good stop, so didn't really know what to expect at Blackstone. Walked into the dark bar/restaurant area in spite of being bright and sunny outside to the green slate main bar in a horseshoe with the brewery behind glass and open to the street. Seemed elegant and airy. Bartender immediately got to me in spite of having her hands full with every stool taken. Of the beers, nothing was really bad--but not outstanding either. Very consistent and well brewed beers, whereas Boscos has a couple of better beers and a couple worse than Blackstone. Of all of them, the kolsch, Chaser Pale, was the best done in my opinion, and I don't really like kolsch generally, so this exceptionally bright and clean ale was a pleasant surprise. The rest were all similar in quality from the Hefeweizen with a good yeasty bite and clove nose to their very drinkable and roasty St. Charles Porter. All in all a good stop. Well done, but not a lot of variety, doubt it would be my local if I lived in Nashville, but nothing wrong at all with a couple of pints on a hot afternoon.

Beer Sellar (Nashville, TN)

First stop of the night life tour of Nashville down by the river in the tourist district near Broadway. Street was lively, but the Beer Sellar seemed a little slow on a Friday night--but it was early though. Looked to be about 45 taps and a fair range of local beer including Yazoo, Blackstone BBC, Abita and Schlafly, but also a lot of the usual suspects like New Castle, Dos Equis, Blue Moon, etc.

The bar is downstairs, a cool, cellar-like environment in an old buidling with rock walls and a wood beam ceiling.  Nice long inviting bar and the bartenders seemed to know their craft fairly well. Both of my beers were well served, fresh and clean. Got Abita Purple Haze on tap for the first time, and extended my Blackstone collection from earlier in the day.

Seemed liked the place could become a meat market later on with kids a lot younger than myself, so I moved on.  Good place to learn about beer and have a couple, though I learned the next day that Flying Saucer is probably more of the real beer geeks destination--a lot more beers and a much bigger range to tantalize someone who's drank it all.

Broadway Brewhouse Midtown (Nashville, TN)

Good music in this very large place on Broadway in the middle of the tourist district, but not as crowded as Big River down the street.  There seemed to be more local people in Broadway, as opposed to the stuff shirts in Big River that caused me to walk out (and recognizing every beer on tap from drinking the chain elsewhere a year ago).

Broadway Brewhouse has a great selection of beers, many local, though I didn't get a clear count. I had a Terrapin Rye Ale on draft, well served, but not as good as I had read about.  Highland Gaelic was next, which is well worth the effort--a very good amber ale.

Had a veggie burrito that was odd but turned out well.  Seemed a bit cold at first but it really grew on me. The cheesy southern styled sauce with the standard rice and black bean burrito was a nice twist for a new flavor.  However, a local at Blackstone said to eat at the Mojo Grille, so that's why I held out.  Non-veggie items may be better, but I don't do that.

Overall, a nice stop if I'm there but won't work overly hard to ever get back. Served the purpose that night. Again, the crowd seemed young on a Friday night and bent on other things that just beer, but everyone around me seemed to be drinking well.

Flying Saucer Draught Emporium (Nashville, TN)

If I lived in Nashville, I think I'd find a place with in walking distance of the Flying Saucer and start working immediately on my UFO Club membership immediately to get my plate on the wall.  Big place with a decent crowd by noon on a Saturday.  Dozens of taps and three pages of beers to choose from--selection is not an issue.  I found a dozen beers that I had never had the opportunity to drink, and those I was able to do were well served with the bartender pouring each beer correctly to style.  Very fun.  They even have thematic draft samples to give budding beer geeks a taste by style or country or by whatever you make up. I was confused why there were so many waitresses standing around in their skimpy beer goddess outfits, but many of them were serving at the beer festival later in the afternoon (my reason for being in town).

Stopped in mainly for food before the Music City Brewers Festival and had my hopes reasonably low after visiting another of the group (they don't like being called a chain--says so on the menu --they're a "family" of like minded beer businesses).  After a mediocre Highland Kashmir IPA (the rest of the Highland beers during the week were superior), I moved on to BBC Jefferson Reserve Stout, light for the style but solid and oaky, a very excellent and well poured bottle of Old Stock Ale 2007, and a draft of Unibroue Blanch de Chambly for the road.  Good set of beers that made the festival a bit rough with the front load, but hard to resist since I knew I wouldn't have a chance to stop at FS later.

For food, I settled on the Goat Cheewe Pizza Slice that was very excellent and about the size of 1/3 a standard large pizza--pricey but awesome.  I'd come back for just this. Few other veggie options at all.  Later in the day the selection and few food items caught up with me, so I paused for an hour or more during the festival.

Great stop and the local beside me said it rotates often enough to always get some thing new. He should know--he and several members of his family had done a full 10 UFO rounds at 200 beers a round (just like Old Chicago, swipe the card, but more selection). If Hooters ever got great beer, it would be just like the Flying Saucer.

Calhoun's Microbrewery (Knoxville, TN)

Made this a quick stop while waiting for a friend to get off work.  Of course, I pick a BBQ rib joint to hang out--vegetarian. No veggie choices, SURPRISE, but what I pieced together from side menus was good.

As for the beer, Calhoun's is a part of a chain of associated restaurants, and the beer tastes chain-ish. The Summer Wheat was light and thin, but the Cherokee Red Ale was a malty Irish Amber with a mild hop bite that was more than drinkable in spite of the racist name.  Otherwise, not much except the Tuckaleechee Porter.

Not a place I'd ever return to unless I had a group of carnivore friends looking for a meat fix that happens to come with slightly better than mainstream beer.

Downtown Grill & Brewery (Knoxville, TN)

Hit downtown for lunch and found the Downtown Grill & Brewery full of locals for a noon meal on a Monday. Very lively and full at midday. Sat at the bar and got really good service, and a rack of samples.  My lunch was good.  Some veggie options, and I ordered the Cheese Quesadilla with Portabella mushroom. Sad I didn't return for another one after eating at La Costa, a supposedly upscale restaurant, the next day.

An odd bar with a large uncomfortable lip, but the drinking made up for it.  All where solid to drink, including the lightest, the Downtown Blonde Ale which was a kolsch. The Downtown Nut Brown and the New World Porter were the strongest of the group. Woodruff Brewing Co seems to be the name of the brewery, which serves some beers locally in other bars under the Woodruff name.  At La Costa, I had the Oro--which was so bad I nearly didn't finish it and was glad when the second Woodruff beer there was out.  I don't think it was the brewer on this one--I think La Costa is a wine beer that doesn't clean its lines and doesn't move enough beer--very poorly handled beer, especially considering that the Downtown brews were all clear and consistent in their quality.

Brew kettle is smack dab in the middle of the two story restaurant, but was unfortunately not up and running yet at noon on Monday. Really puts the beer dead center in the bar, and emphasizes the brew pub difference. I like places that do this and make it front and center for beer education. Sounds like they may be at capacity since they don't really have many seasonals, just the regulars plus contract. The Alt was the seasonal and the bartender said it was well liked locally (I thought it was ok).

Good stop in Knoxville, and if I find myself in Kville again, it'll be the first place I hit.

Preservation Pub (Knoxville, TN)

I was planning to drink Preservation Pub a bit longer--a really good extensive beer selection in bottles and several drafts including Stone, Rogue, local beer, plus good standards.  Hole in the wall beer bar in the downtown Knoxville area on the Market Square. Nice pub, but no food except free pizza from a local place they have sent over and all you need to do is add to the tip for the delivery guy.

I had a Highland St. Terese's Pale Ale, which was the best of the Highland beers I had had during the week, though the other Highland brews were very good as well.  Went for dinner across the square, and didn't make it back is all--tired.  Nothing to do with the bar.  I would gladly return.

Bluegrass Brewing Co-East St. Mathew's (Louisville, KY)

I've been drinking Bluegrass Brewng Co's brews at Great Taste festival in Madison off and on for years, and have fairly high rankings for their brews. So I was pretty excited to finally get to Kentucky to hit the place in person. Unfortunately, I was disappointed.

Just didn't feel like a very friendly place. Maybe it was me or I didn't hang out long enough, but I felt like the outsider sitting alone with locals staring at me w/o comment, which doesn't often happen in many brewpubs in spite of how often I do this. Also, the service was slow, and though I intended to eat here (lots of veggie items beyond standards), I settled up for my rack of samples and left shortly for Cumberland.

Now a great beer can go along way to forgive atmosphere or attitude.  Unfortunately, I only found one beer--the APA that really matched my expectations. T he rest were all good--from the Summer Wheat, El Jefe Hefeweizen, Nut Brown Ale, and Dark Star Porter.  All good but not excellent.  I had read something similar on BA, and found it to be true.  Also, at a later pub stop, a local there made a comment the BBC is having "problems."  She didn't elaborate but clearly wasn't surprised by my experience.

Cumberland Brews (Louisville, KY)

Cumberland Brews was a really great stop at this tiny pub not far off campus in a artistic/alternative area of Louisville.  Nice local neighborhood that has lots of off beat cafes, music stores, etc.  A brewpub with one row of tables with just enough room between them at the bar to walk and have chairs by the bar.  I've seen numerous homebrewer set ups that are the same size or bigger. It's just behind the bar and in the store window for all to see.  Not sure how they keep up with demand--guessing they work a lot.  Friendly place, good service, and a unique feature in the menu in which all of the waitresses backgrounds, hobbies, interests, goals, etc were outlined is a small paragraph for each.  Different and I liked it.

Nitro Porter was very good, along with the Nut Brown.  The Summer Wheat was one of the few wheat beers I liked on this trip because it had a clean wheat bite and taste. The Cream Ale was more of their domestic clone, so that's maybe why the wheat beer, which seemed to be the domestic clone in many pubs, was better here.  Also on tap was a very good Pale Ale and a Meade, though the latter needed some work yet.

Several vegetarian options on the menu, and Ihad the Veggie Burger on the recom of the bartender. Generally I would avoid the veggie burger, but in this case it was a combo of a falafel patty base with a portabello mushroom and pepper jack, guacamole and cheese--things I love in isolation and are great together on a burger bun.  Choice two that I want to have next time is the Cumberland Framers Potato Skillet--local veggies, potatoes and cheese baked together.  Next time.

As I add this BA review to my blog six years later, this is the the one pub from this trip that I think about occasionally and long for a return.  Truly hope that I am able to return some day.  Sadly, the skillet doesn't seem to be on the menu yet, but the veggie burger has in its original form, plus several other options that look good to try.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Front Street Brewery (Davenport, IA)


Very cute bar with free parking across the street. Old brick building with a real homey feel and playing some really nice jazz to sit and drink to in the afternoon. Also, the only non-smoking place I hit in the Quad cities. Very comfortable, and the bartender was friendly and a good server who knew the beers fairly well.

However, my overall of impression of the beer was low. Two locals seemed to have the same opinion and ordered mixed drinks. The Old Gold was excessively cloudy and the Raging River amber ale was astringent and tasted like hard water. Other beers, especially the Hefe, lacked body. The Bucktown Stout had a bit more body and was my favorite of the lot, though that's not a high opinion. The pretzel with nacho cheese was  better than at a ballpark.

Near the end of my short visit, a former local, now retired to Arizona, was stopping in with a friend for old times; according to him, the place has changed over the years, losing some of its character and quality of beer. Overall, it seems like a really nice place with lots of potential that's maybe not being exploited.

John S. Rhodell Brewery (Peoria, IL)


John S. Rhodell is a pub in a downtown, rejuvenated river front area next door to an Irish pub that seemed to be doing good business as well in the late afternoon. Rhodell is a clean, well kept bar that's full of locals. The clientele seemed a bit upscale for the honky tonk motiff after work drinkers in ties mostly. Friendly; I got lots of enthusiastic advice as to what to order. It is also a brew on premises and the small kettles are in the back, and the brew club was later that night as several people were trucking in bottles. Didn't see a separate brewery for the stock, so not sure where the pub beer is brewed and didn't have time to ask.

As for the beer, it was a good stop and worth getting off the freeway a mile or so. Parking across the street from the bar and free. The Honey Pilsner was clean and bright with a pleasant after taste, and the Belgian Farmhouse was peppery, strong bodied and interesting. The Oatmeal Porter was solid, smooth, and medium bodied with a slight coffee taste. Only the Angry Angus didn't strike my fancy; it was too bit astringent and seemed off balance to me. My final beer was a draft of Summit Hop Head IPA, which lived up to its name. A clean pale ale with lots and lots of nose, a dry finish and a little grassy in the taste.

Overall, a strong brewery in Peoria and a place, if I needed to spend a night in Illinois for some reason, I might set up shop here to explore a few more of their brews or the bottles behind the bar. Compared to the Quad Cities earlier in the day and the beer in Bloomington/Normal that evening, this was a very good stop and easily the best of the day except for maybe Bent River.

Illinois Brewing Co (Bloomington, IL)


I had a hard time finding this pub. Center Street twists and turns in the downtown, but just look for the local civic center and walk across the street.

The bar itself is a random collection of cheap breweriana and bikini clad posters, wood floors and a wrap-around bar a mirrored far wall. Feels a bit like an overused college bar. Serviceable staff with a very nice and good looking waitress with a tatto covering much of her back, who was the highlight of the stop.

The beer was mediocre with the Big Beaver Brown Ale being the best, in my opinion, but still a bit thin for being a brown ale. The Killer Bee Cream Ale had a bitter, astringent taste that was off for the style. Overall, the set of beers is on the lighter endthe brown and an IPA the strongest of the beers. Also, the guest beer was PBR and the guy beside me was drinking Miller Lite from the bottle, so guessing the style selection serves the customer base.

Overall, an ok stop since I was there and wanting to find a brewpub. The pizza was fine, though a bit like Tostino's and the conversation was similar.  Place has a real hole in the wall feel, including a range of customers from middle-aged dead-end to borderline goth plus a few hipsters hitting a shots before going clubbing. I was there early, so maybe it changes later with music. The downtown area and Bloomington/Normal are on the edgy side of urban areas in spite of being near the university (and I lived in LA for six years).  Even my motel in Normal came equipped with it's on local police on bicycles. An interesting stop that I haven't quite figured out yet.  Please play it safe if you head down here later in the evening.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Bent River Brewing Co (Moline, IL)


Feels like going homenorthwest Iowa in farm country—small town bar except brew tanks and fermenters are crammed behind the bar. Coming in the back door, I walk right into the brewery. Overall feel of the place is a bit run down, or not completely refurbished from an older place—like I said, homey. Good lunch crowd, many seemed to know each other and all seemed very loyal to BR.  At Great Taste a week later, I saw a lot of BR t-shirts sported, so a good following.

Bartender was very friendly and helpfuloffered to switch samples out for the four at a time I wanted.  Fourteen on tap with a full range of styles. Brewer Rick ended giving me several additional samples as well and doing a very good job of selling his product.

All of the beers were solid for the most part. I didn't like the Replica Ale, but that's not a regular brew but a part of the state organization group brew, so that doesn't matter much. The Pale Ale is regular and dry hopped version were both good, though I preferred the standardscleaner and better balanced. The UnCommon Stout was voted best beer in the Quad Cities and the guy beside me was a very enthusiastic supporter of it and at least two other people came in and got growlers while I had lunchthough I wasn't crazy about it myself.  Adequate but not great.

Veggie burger was on the menu of general pub fare, but I wasn't  in the mood so got the cheese quesadilla—did the job but not mind blowing.

Overall a fine local and I'm curious what the evening atmosphere is like. Seems like Bent River is working hard to do a good job, and generally is; it's a brewpub with serious potential that will continue to improve because of their attitude.

Blue Cat Brew Pub (Rock Island, IL)


Blue Cat is in an older building down by the river and across the street from a riverboat casino. The place is refurbished to urban chic painted ceiling, exposed duct work, stone tile bar, etc. Nice atmosphere but a little sterile. Good crowd after lunch and the menu looked tantalizing with some veggie options and upscale pub fare.

The brewhouse is enclosed behind glass on the other side of the bar. A brewer named Bernard was working and gave me some background on their beers. Looks like they good with the standard five plus a seasonal which was a peat smoked scotch ale that is brewed and aged for the local highland games every year.

Overall the beers were a bit thin and not to my liking. The Coriander and Orange is obviously going for the spice of a wit but the mouthfeel was too light even for an American wheat beer. Others suffered similar problems. The Mississippi Mocha Stout was a passable coffee stout. The Scotch Terrier was good, but you really gotta love smoke and peat for this onea bit much for me in spite of liking big flavor to compensate for my under-performing taste buds.

Blue Cat has some solid beers and a decent place to hang out. Not exceptional but a good local pub. My expectations were high from tasting at the Great Taste of the Midwest in Madison over the years.  But, like other breweries, the one-offs served at a festival don't always match up to the everyday taps.  If in town though, I wouldn't go out of my way; I might stop at Bent River, but probably not here. But, if there for other reasons, a perfectly ok place to drink.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Herkimer Pub & Brewery (Minneapolis, MN)

The last time I was here in 2001, Herkimer was having some problems. Two beers were on tap, the food was mediocre at best, and seemed very overpriced. The prices haven't come down much, but the beer has clearly improved and I've heard the food has as well. They are making progress.

Inside is well maintained, clean, somewhat open and sterile when empty, but has lots of room for weekend uptown crowds. The patio is in the alley behind concrete barricades, but the people I saw in it seemed to be having a good time. The two beers I had, Toolies Weiss and the Alt Bier were both good but not great. The weiss seemed a bit out of balance, but refreshing and fairly well done. The alt had a slightly astringent taste in it, but was adequate as well.

If someone invited me to Herkimer, I'd go without hesitation. Perfectly fine and the menu looks like it has a couple interesting vegetarian options that weren't there before, so that would be worth a try with a couple of new beers. But, I doubt I'll go too far out of my way to get to Herkimer myself.

Granite City Food & Brewery (St. Louis Park, MN)


Pretty much the same as most Granite City barsclean lines, upscale look, though the St. Louis Park version seems to be above average. The waitress Cassie was very helpful and a budding beer geek. The Hefe on tap right now for the summer season was more than respectable and an enjoyable pint. Didn't have time for food this round, but the place was doing good business well past the lunch hour in the early afternoon during midweek. As with all GCs, the selection is limited to their mainstays and a seasonal. Town Hall Brewery tomorrow is putting out more seasonals in one day than GC does all year--not bad if you find yourself at here but it will not be a mind blowing beer stop.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Bugsy's Sports Bar & Brown Street Brewery (Rhinelander, WI)

10/1/06 and 6/9/07

Bugsy's is your basic sports barjust happens to have four beers on tap from mild to milder, all written on a Bud Select imprinted board. TVs all around (one big screen) and half dozen or more pool tables in the next room over from the bar. Ads with Miller girls in skin tight referee shirts were more prominent than the beer list, but they were trying hard. The service was excellentsolicitous even, the bartender filled our classes for us from our pitchers at the bar. She wanted to sell more pitchers of course, but a magic glass that automatically fills is fun too. I ordered a pizza that was thin, hot, and tasty. Not mind blowing good, but it was good local pizza. If I found myself in Rhinelander for some reason, I'd stop in for a couple pints and probably eat there again. However, I wouldn't go too far out of my way. It's better than a regular small town sports bar and looked like it might be a fun place to hang with the locals. (October 2006).

On my second trip (June 2007), there's seems to be trouble in paradise. Only one beer on tap and it wasn't very good and downhill from others I had last time. At the beer festival in Eagle River, I was told several times from different sources that some of the employees of Bugsy's have left for a place down the street and that was to blame. Not sure. Seems like a nice place, the pizza was more than adequate. Just sad to have a bad stop for beer when I passed over another place on the way.

Das Bierhaus (Menomonie, WI)


Jaimie, the very nice bartender, who's effusive personality just oozed the excitement of a new endeaver told me the pub opened in January to the public, but just released their first home grown German ales last week. The official grand opening is June 30th.

Walking up to the pub, it seems like it had had an earlier lifewhich it did. In the bar, there's a collage of transition pictures that shows the transformation of the once meat locker turned machine shop reborn German beer garden. Outside, the outline of the former name can be seen out front, if you look. Inside, German beer garden decoration with table clothes and various German lagers, of which three are on tap: Spaten Munich, Bitburger, and Munich Lager from Hofbrauhaus. Lunch just started to be served and dinner is specific hours after 4:00, but they seem to be getting up to full speed.

The beers were hit and miss, but show real promise, so I decided to not review them separately and let someone else do it later as they become more stable. The Pilsner was quite good, and this from someone who doesn't like the style that much. Clean, crisp beer that is a smooth lager with apple notes, and significant but appropriate hop spice and nose. Well balanced and smoothnot a throw away light beer that the pilsner or golden ale often is to give the Bud and Miller Light crowd something to drink. This is a well done, drinkable beer. The Marzen on the other hand was murky and not ready for prime time and the Hefeweizen Dunkel was better but not up to speed yet either.

And, while there are some problems, the owners are clearly giving a tremendous effort, literally building the bar from scratch from the concrete up. Based on the strength of the Pilsner, I would say the pub has tremendous potential and should be given a chance to get through their growing pains. At least, I will return at some point to give them another opportunity to impress me more.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Sweeney's Saloon (St. Paul, MN)


First time at Sweeney's after hearing about the Dale Street legend. Very cool inside and the high walled patio with large, mature trees overarching can't be beatespecially when the giant fireplace was lit.

Tap list was goodI had Summit ESB, Bell's Oberon, and Surly CynicAle during the course of the night and drank the best of the menu. All were fresh and tasted like they were well handled; however, the beer was in plastic on the patio, but what ya gonna do besides not show again. Chatting with an old friend who just flew into town, so didn't even check out the bottle list. Cajun french fries were good, but nothing spectacular.

I think I need to try another night other than Saturdaylots of "look I'm 21" types dressed up for a night on the town, sloooooow service but it was busy (but not that busy). If someone else is choosing, it's a great little joint with more than adequate beer; if I'm choosing, I'll drink down the street at Muddy Pig or The Happy Gnome with less atmosphere and much better beer.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Brickskeller (Washginton, DC)

Closed on BeerAdvocate.  A new bar has moved into the location with a similar beer menu: Bier Baron Tavern.  Anyone familiar with the old Brickskeller will recognize many of its features in the new bar, as well as the attached hotel.  Still like losing an old friend.   

The Brickskeller has to be an almost Mecca-like stop for any true beer lover. This is my third visit over several years and have had several very good nights at The Brick. While the prices can be a bit high and on the weekends the clientele is clearly on the younger side than me, it's a fun place. 
Downstairs is always open, bottles only with no taps. I tend to sit at the bar to get faster service, though it's not that bad at the tables--in fact, I think it's improved a bit this last trip. Peirogies are good, but we don't really eat there much anymorewe eat pizza around the corner at Pizzeria Paradiso.

On the weekends (I have never have really understood when/why the top is open), the tap bar has about a dozen taps with a cask ale weekly but it was out by Friday night when I was there. I order taps up here, having an opportunity at several that are hard to find. If you want bottles, either go downstairs or don't order a bottle conditioned beer. The bottles come up through a dumb waiter w/ rope pulley, so the bottles are a bit shaken up. Staff seems stablebartender Kim was the same person who served me three years earlier in the downstairs, and she remembered me. This recognition led to litany of candid recommendations and a high point in my beer history.  

One of the best things about Brickskeller is the relatively cheap (for downtown and Dupont circle) attached hotel. The first two floors are just over $100 and have bathrooms, and I hear are nice. I stay on the third floor for under a $100 with a shared bathroom. There are three bathrooms, two just renovated three years ago when we were there. I've had four nights at Brickskeller drinking 6 to 8 beers (thus why Kim remembers me) and all I have to do is crawl upstairs. No air conditioning, so don't do this during the summer and bring the cash card. 

Great place to go, but I tend more towards RFD and Birreria Paradiso if I'm not staying at Brickskeller that particular trip. A must go if you've never been, potentially fantastic drinking sets, hotel on sight, and a donut shop called the Fractured Prune around the corner that is awesome for breakfast after closing the tap room at 3:00 a.m. 

Just a couple blocks from the Dupont Circle station on the Red Line. Cheers.

RFD, Regional Food & Drink (Washington, DC)


Sister bar to the Brickskeller, this has a very different feel and attitude. Across the street from the MCI center, it is much more of a sports barI watched the world series on big screens there a few years ago. With that, the atmosphere changes a lot. I've had several great nights, drinking a range of beers with friends and family. A couple of other times, it's been so loud that it's uncomfortable to sit for long. I sit at the bar when possible, though it's often full. When there in a group, we tend to get a table a couple rows back from the bar to have good views of the big screens.

Excellent tap list and there's always something interesting. Special beers on the list also have some very fun scores in my past. My best beer ever was at RFD several years agoa 17 year old bottle of Liefman's Goundenband, aged at the brewery and the bottle only cost $17.95. Sublime.

While I've occasionally skipped the Brickskeller, I've never missed hitting RFD for a stop just to see what's on the specials list and new on tap. One exception was the time that I was leading a group of students to watch the Presidential inauguration and our first meal in down was a Mexican restaurant a half a block away; I could literally read the specials on the sidewalk board and ended up with nothing stronger than hot salsa.  Always several new beers not on my list of just over 3000 beers. Food is good, but we often eat at Fado's down the street or go to Chinatown through the entrance gate and have some good food thereplace called China Garden with a green sign is 1/2 a block and excellent.

Birreria Paradiso @ Pizzeria Paradiso (Georgetown, Washington, DC)


I'll let you decidein a full evening I sampled on tap:

Clipper City Heavy Seas Below Decks Barleywine on cask
Stone Ruination India Pale Ale
Brasserie La Binchoise Special Noel
St. Bernardus Wit
Petrus Speciale
Weihenstephan Korbinian
J.W. Lees 2006 Harvest Ale

And, one of my very favorite Quattro Formaggio pizzas anywhere. In short, my new favorite place in DCor, at least the place I'm going to put at the top of the list for the next trip, which is the same thing.

If you haven't visited Pizzeria Paradiso, you're missing out. At this point, my beer obsession (wife's term) makes it hard for me to eat anywhere that doesn't have great beer as a prerequisite. Pizzeria Paradiso on Dupont Circle was an exception, and at least Brickskeller was around the corner. Then I heard about Birreria Paradiso. Just take the orange or blue line metro to the Rosslyn station. From there take the 38B bus (get a free transfer on the way out of the metro) and get off at M Street and Potomacthe bus stop is literally outside the front door of Pizzeria Paradiso. Go past the nice restaurant staff to the downstairs to the Birreria Paradiso.

Then have a seat and don't move. We took the end of the bar directly inside the door, and that was the night. It looked nice upstairs and many of the people with us seemed to be waiting to return upstairs. Many of these folks asked for and received good advice as to what to drink and no one seemed disappointed. There also seemed to be some rather smart folks working on math that I haven't seen since I was a physics major in college. Plus locals hanging out as well with a smattering of beer geeks. Again, this is just me, but since I can drink the beers on tap downstairs and order food, not sure why I'd leave. So, we didn't. My wife very nicely tolerates my beer hunting; in this case she not only loved the place as well, but wants to return with me. We were told that a second keg of J.W. Lees was being aged for two yearsmight just fly out for it.

The thing that really sets the Birreria apart from RFD and Brickskeller was the attention to serving the beer well. While the other two bars have very knowledgable staff, our bartender Thor, a self proclaimed beer dork, is one of the best beer stewards I've ever had the pleasure of being served by. It fact, the night felt more like evenings I've had at 't Arendsnest in Amsterdam or The Exton Drafting Room in Pennsylvania places each famous for their beer service. Go, now, talk to Thor, have a great time with well tended beer that is served properly. What else can a beer geek ask for. Granted, I was there one (short) night and only talked to one server, so mitigate my response as you wish; I'll judge for myself if I'm being overly effusive after my next tripand there will be a next trip.

Note: In the summer of 2008, I visited Brasserie Beck where Thor had become beer manager and continued to do a great job.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Market Porter (London, UK)


I lost track of the number of recommendations I got for Market Porter.  Unfortunately, the first time I stopped, it was just after 11 p.m. and everyone was rolling out the door to go home for the night. Oops. So I stopped in the next day, New Year's Eve day, and hung out at the bar for a couple of hours.

I started with Meantime, mostly because a Meantime rep told me to go to Market Porter for more of their beers. 20+ engines around the dark wood bar; I didn't really count, and never got past having beer from the firkins. I have a hard time passing up stuff I don't recognize, so Acorn Brewery and Daniel Thwaites were next, and then Moorhouse's Pendle Witches Brew and Harvey's Best Bitter. All good and very well served, as advertised. Looking at the website today, even more are offered and constantly rotatinggood place to survey the British beerscape.

Sitting at the bar, I met Jim, who very nicely looked up the number for my next stop, the Royal Oak.  Jim offered to let me use his mobile to call the Royal Oak, which I sheepishly had to admit I didn't know how to dial a UK number; so he called for me to confirm that the Royal Oak was indeed open for an afternoon visit. Later, I had a great talk with John and Laura about beer, politics, and culture. Market Porter was an excellent afternoon that truly matched my expectations of what a pub should be: friends and strangers engaging in good conversation over beers. In addition to the bartender having an exceptional beer knowledge, so were the people at the barreal beer people who knew and appreciated excellent brew. While I don't mind sharing the good beers news, it's nice to say things like "IPA" and "CAMRA" and not have to define it.

With such a short trip (5 days) and a lot of touristy stuff to do plus an unfortunate bout with a norovirus bug the first few days, I didn't have much time to just sit and enjoy a pub. Market Porter was basically my main time in a pub that I wasn't rushing off to see a giant clock or fireworks, and it didn't disappoint in the slightest. You can't go wrong stopping early (or often) at Market Porter.

Royal Oak (London, UK)


Checking out the Royal Oak was very rushedunfortunately, I needed to move on after an hour or so to meet Gloria at The Black Friar and get a place for the NYE fireworks by the London Eye. But still, my stop was memorable. The other reviewers give a good description of the Royal Oak, so I won't duplicate the information.

It is a bit hard to find, but worth the effort. I got here at all thanks to Jim sitting beside me at Market Porter. Walked into the local neighborhood snugly situated around the bar and side tables, or so it felt. It may have helped that Jim waved me over right when I walked in. One afternoon in London and I felt at home drinking in a local pub.  Not too busy on a Saturday afternoon, but I'm not sure how long they were going to be open on New Year's Eve yet.

 I went on the recom of Royal Oak being a Harvey's tied house. I had cask pours of Armada, Christmas, and Old Ale. Christmas was by far my favorite and a real treat drinking it on cask. Harvey's is hard to get in Minnesota, and the occasional bottle can be expensive. I needed some food to go with my quickly downed ales, so I ordered bread pudding which was rich, creamy and buttery. I grew up with bread pudding, but being of Dutch heritage, my family's version of bread pudding evidently isn't the same as the Brit's. A nice treat to go with my beer stop.

One of Jim's friends was Richard, who had a grey beard like a lion's main.  We chatted about the Great British Beer Festival as he had worked at it with CAMRA for years.  Richard also poured a bottle of St. Sylvestre 3 Monts for the bar, including his new American friend.  This beer camaraderie quickly led to interesting conversation about CAMRA, double IPAs and their purpose, Bunker Bierhall (sadly, he was the distributor for the beer I couldn't finish), and more that added a warm layer over my whole experience at the Royal Oak.

Just wish I had more time...

The Black Friar (London, UK)


If in London, just go and see The Black Friar, and you'll find out what's so cool about this place. Incredible decorationunique and beautiful mosaic designs on the walls and ceilings from the early 1900s makes it simply a joy to drink in. My wife and I got in just before last call on New Year's Eve, about 7 pm and had an Adnams Broadside and a London Pride. Beer was adequate  fresh, and well presented but not the main attraction.

New Year's Eve fireworks by the London Eye
While admiring the incredible features of the pub, a nice Irish man chatted me up about the various features of the pub as compared to others he's visited. Back at the table, he came over with a small CAMRA booklet that lists bars across the UK with similar historical significance and architecture. He was as passionate about the pub as many of us are about our beerseemed like a cool hobby, if you live a bit closer to the UK than I do in frozen Minnesota.

We went to The Black Friar on the recommendation of a London BA that I had cold contacted ahead of the trip. Beyond helpful, not only did we get a pint but I don't think we would have gotten the timing right to get on the Westminster Bridge for the display.  Nor, would we have known that bars in London close early on New Year's Eve.  As it happened, we had only a small amount of drama when I couldn't get back on the bridge after a potty break, a consequence of a couple of pints and a small bladder.  A one-stop tube ride under the Thames and I found Gloria again, and we passed the time talking to a guard from the Iranian embassy and his family while waiting four hours for the midnight fireworks.

My last day of 2006 was an afternoon at The Market Porter followed by feeling like a regular at the Royal Oak and ending with a draft in The Black Friar, possibly the most beautiful pub I've raised a glass, and a spectacular fireworks display over the London Eye.  In short, a day that is my best argument for beer travel.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Belgo Centraal (London, UK)


We show up at Belgo Centraal for dinner on a Saturday, which, as tourists, we should have come earlier in the trip, but I got a flu bug on the flight over, so it wasn't until the end of the trip that I was up to multiple beers and a big meal. The line looked long and the bar was packed, but the wait was about half of the 45 min they told us it would be. BC has a sorta industrial chic look, lots of shiny metal and exposed heating ducts upstairs. The whole place, including the one room bathroom with opposing stalls and single hand washing area w/ friendly attendant, felt a bit like a night club, but not everyone was young and under dressed.

At the bar, I ordered a Brugs Tarwebier, a very good wit, and my wife a Huyghe Fruli on tap. Both excellent and well served. Bartender was effusively apologetic for having to change the keg for my beer, but it was worth it. We were just thinking about what to drink next when our names were called for a table.

So, we're told to wander downstairs and immediately we see the open kitchen and monk-dressed waiters and waitresses. Many of the tables are like giant picnic tables with groups set beside each other, though I noticed that a bit of space was left between groups who weren't together. My wife and I sat at a table for two around the outside of the main seating section, which we preferred. Still tight and close, like sitting at most Cheesecake Factories, but there's a much better sense of privacy in spite of being close. In the states I generally hate being that close because it's impossible to sit without hearing conversations and generally invading each other's space, but it wasn't a problem here.

We ordered the Bouchee aux Champignons Sauvage, a puff pastry filled with wild mushrooms and button onions that was covered in an Orval and truffle cream sauce. Very spectacular. A salad was the only other vegetarian option, but when the one option I have is so awesome, who cares. Better than I expected really, since the place specializes in mussels, which a third to half of the tables had at some point. Service was very good in spite of being full, except my Orval was a bit slow in coming when I wanted to drink it with the meal.

For dessert, I had a bottle of Hoegarden Grand Cru, which was a good choice as well. My wife left for the hotel since I was heading to a brewpub across the street, Bunker Bierhall.  I turned to people watch while finishing my beer and it was a wide variety of young and old with a myriad of languages, quiet dates and raucous laughter. Very fun place and well worth the visit. I was informed later by some Brits while sitting at Market Porter that the 12% suggested tip on the Belgo bill is truly optional and need not be paid. Not that it bothered me much to pay it since it was a fine experience. So, five beers and a shared entree was about 30 pounds, so it is a bit pricey. We ate at the local grocery store Marks and Spencer most of the trip, so no worries to splurge for this one.

Belgo Centraal was a wonderful experience and highlight of our trip to London.  I recommend it to anyone heading to England.

Bunker Bier Hall (London, UK)


If you're going to stop at Bunker Bier Hall, I recommend doing it before going to Belgo Centraal across the street. Brewpubs are few and far between, so this was the only one I had a shot of doing on my short trip to London, but I'm glad I didn't go far out of my way.

The downstairs bar was dark and seedy, and a lot of young, hipster types, mostly drinking cocktails and malternatives. Only about a third of the people I saw were drinking beer. I wasn't expecting much after reading the reviews, but the bartender warning me that the Soho Red is more of an ale scared me--rightfully so. I sat and drank the astringent red with little body for a bit and decided that it wasn't worth the effort to finish, so left it sit on the table and walked out. Guessing that if I had tried some of the lagers, I would have had a better experience, but at three pounds a pint, it adds up fast with the poor US currency rate, so $6 dollars seemed too high a price to test my theory when we were running low on pounds near the end of our trip.

Oddly, at the Royal Oak, I met Richard, who said he is a rep for Freedom beer, and that he was sad to hear my negative experience. From the discussion, it seems that Freedom is working hard to improve and brew good beer. Maybe the lagers are better; maybe I had a bad night. My very short experience was not good, but probably also not a fair test. I wish them luck.

4/18/13 update.  Website is down and one source said this brewpub is closed.