Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Bulldog Uptown (Minneapolis, MN)


Finally made it over to The Bulldog Uptown. The last time I was here it was the old Mud Pie restaurant  which survives as a menu item as the vegetarian mud pie burger. The veggie burger was good, but not as good as my memory.

The place was crowded and busy for the 1/2 price Belgian night. A range of good Belgians plus a few others that made it well worth the effort to get there. Koningshoeven Quad was on tap, and my first--a treat if you've never had it. St. Feuillien Brune and Triple were my other highlights of the night. All beers were listed and well explained on a sheet for the customer to peruse and make good choice from the explanations. I was able to point my friends in the right direction from the specific descriptions.

I will definitely go back for the well handled and served beer. While not my all time favorite place, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it or return in the future when the opportunity arises, especially for a specialty event.

12/3/12: Since this initial visit, I've been back to The Bulldog Uptown several times.  My evaluation is still the same.  They have a fine selection, good food and provide a nice evening with friends.  I don't go too far out of my way to get to The Bulldog Uptown, but will happily drink there when suggested.

Buster's on 28th (Minneapolis, MN)


Since the only beer I had on this visit was Samichlaus, it may not be a fair review and I'll update at some point in the future. Also, we only ate the seasoned french fries for the meal. With that said, both were excellent.

The Samichlaus was well served and fantastic. At $11 a glass, you can decide for yourself whether or not this is reasonable.  However, since the purpose of the trip was to drink this wonderful world class beer for my birthday, I considered it a bargain. The french fries (eaten while the beer warmed, though it was served too cold) were excellent as well.

My wife and I are considering coming back to watch a football game on the small TVs scattered around the cozy bar.  It feels like a real neighborhood bar, including the bread coming from the bakery next door.  Good stop if you're in the area.  If you're new to beer, they have flights of all of their tap beers, which is nice and not always available at beer bars.

Worth Brewing Co (Northwood, IA)


A friend of mine and I road tripped down to Norwood, Iowa on a Saturday afternoon simply for the pleasure of drinking at the smallest commercial brewpub in the US: Worth  Brewing.  At least, that was the billing on the podcast in which I heard owner Peter Ausenhus talked about his family brewpub in Iowa.  Growing up in a similarly small town in northwest Iowa, I was really interested in what a brewpub in a rural farm town would look (and drink) like.

Put simply, it is "worth" your time to pull off of I35 for a pint. We went in the middle of the afternoon in hopes of it not being too busy and to chat with Peter, which we did. We drank everything on tap and chatted about his upcoming release, business pressures and family emergency in progress while he was working his pub. The dedication is takes to run a business and a life with him and his wife amaze me. I would stop to drink for this alone. On top of it, the beer is good too. All of Peter's beers were of very good with the Brown Ale and the Smoked Rye Porter being my favorites.  We ordered some snacks, which were excellent as well, but you'll need to find dinner some place else since appetizers is all that's offered.

Talking to a couple of the locals, it seems that they are terribly proud of their local watering hole. In addition, from the friendly banter, it actually reminded me of being in my home town bar where I grew up listening to my dad and his friends chat over beers--except at Worth, the beer isn't crappy.  Get off the freeway and have a pint at Worth Brewing. Check out the hours first, since they are only open Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fish Tale Wild Salmon Pale Ale (Fish Brewing, Olympia, WA)

Golden amber ale that is too thin in the mouth and nose to be a pale ale. Nose is noticably absent of a distinct hop aroma and has a rather uneven, hard water smell that continues into the taste. There's a bit of malt in the base, but is very thin, watery and overshadowed by the mineral taste. Below par.

Domaine DuPage French Style Country Ale (Two Brothers Brewing, Warrenville, IL)

Struggled to put the light brown head on top and it disappeared almost before I stopped pouring it. Pleasant, lightly spiced nose that is somewhat promisinglight peppery spice follows into the taste. A bit sweet and malty to support the spice. Good balance, but not spectacular. Warmed up fairly well, but didn't open up. Overall, not bad. I'd try on tap if I saw it, but probably not buy another bottle.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

MacKenzie Pub (Minneapolis, MN)


After not ever going to the MacKenzie Pub, in spite of being downtown for various activities, I went two nights in a row: Surly and Furthermore nights. If downtown, I tend to go to Rock Bottom down the street, but McKenzie's is a good alternative.

Very simply, the range of taps is adequate and it's a nice place to sit. The crowd seemed to be younger and hipper than me, but that doesn't take much.  I did find a couple new taps that I had never had (besides the S and F that I was there for), which new stuff is my reason for going to a pub.  If someone suggested MacKenzie's for a place to meet before ashow, I'd accept in a heartbeat, no problem.  I'd even order food again, which the pizza I had was very good and there are several other vegetarian choices to explore in the future.

Overall, a good choice. A very nice bar that's well decorated in an old brick building that has a lot of character and has good beer choices that were all well served. Not a problem going here, especially for future beer activities that guarantee new beers.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Anniverary Ale 2008 (Sierra Nevada Brewing, Chico, CA)

Sierra Nevada always make a good beer and this anniversary ale is no different. The taste is a bit grassy in the mouth for me, but the NW hop is clearly in the nose. The grass lingers rather than a clean hop bitterness. Bought of six pack and just fine that I did, but I won't buy another one.

Storm & Averij (Brouwerij de Molen, Bodgraven, Netherlands)

Very beautiful beer in the glasstall, fluffy white head that lingers for a long time over the golden body. The nose is tremendousspicy, peppery notes blended with biscuity malt and hops. Dry hop noted on the bottle is clear, though the Premiant hop is not a smell I'd recognize. Taste is very good, but doesn't quite live up to the nose. Grainy and bitter with a smooth, oily coatingand those are compliments. Alcohol is apparent in nose and in the taste, and even more in the impact. Great beer and fun to drink, though the style guideline doesn't seem very useful to metoo hoppy and yeasty in character to be pilsner or American anything. The Dutch aren't as found of categories as we are, and while the brewer is clearly learning some lessons from American brewers here (think Dogfish Head in style), it is what it says on the labelDutch Ale.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Chocolate Stout (Fort Collins Brewing, Fort Collins, CO)

A black, brown ale that is opaque. No head after a short period, but what started with fluffy and light tan fell away completely. Singular roasty nose that is clean and light, which continues well through the mouth plus a smooth grainy taste in the center (oatmeal??). Sweet initially with a dry finish. Good, solid stout that is smooth because it's just a little light in the mouth. Good choice. I'd get it again.

Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà (Rome, Italy)


For those reading other sites, this is also known as the Football Pub, which is soccer on the TVs.  My wife and I were in Rome for Christmas, and our very memorable visits to Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fa were all positive except the last time.  The owner of the pub is also the owner of Bir & Fud next door.  Both are open later in the evening, so don't show up until the locals head out to dinner.  We were never able to match the rhythm of the country, meal time or otherwise.  However, they were open on Christmas, which was our best day there.

Our first two visits were great and our bartender worked very hard to find us beers we liked, so he chatted up the various options.  My favorite beers were Olfabrikken Porter, Drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze, and Kulmbacher Eisbock--all on tap.  I had a couple Italian beers as well, but those weren't as memorable but interesting.  Noel from Birrificio Bacad'o was our favorite. There were about a dozen taps and all were well poured and fresh. Our bartender was a photographer and helped us find a new battery by walking us down the street to a store because the directions too difficult in the ancient Roman streets.  Just amazingly friendly help.

Unfortunately, our last visit didn't go as well. We met the owner Manuele the first night, but we weren't able to come late enough at night during the rest of the trip to see him again because our hotel was inconvenient.  I mispronounced Manuele without the ending vowel syllable, so a local couple and a different bartender made a rude joke at our expense.  Rather than stay, we headed to Bir & Fud for dinner instead, bu the mood was blown.  In retrospect, I was more upset than I needed to be since Manuele and the other bartender were absolutely fantastic earlier in the week.  Manuele not only answered my email before the trip, but emailed after we got home to check on our stay.

Another odd thing about Italy. Here, the bartenders put the glass under the tap, open it up and let a large head pile up, settle and re-pour  which means betting a beer is slow process--but eventually well poured.  At other pubs, a few poured straight down the side with little head.  Don't expect the equivalent of a top rated American beer bar because the choice doesn't quite match.  However, for Rome, it's a real beer place in a wine wasteland.

Bir & Fud (Rome, Italy)


Bir & Fud is owned by the some person as the football pub across the street. We went over because that's were the food was. This was the only sit down dinner we did in Italy and it was fantastic. We just ordered pizza, but the waiter's recommendation for a potato appetizer was excellent as well.  The bar serves only Italian brews, so it was a good place to taste the best in the country.  Birrificio Troll Palanfrina was one of the memorable beers, made of chestnuts for the holiday season.  Interesting, very nutty, and, honestly, the only chestnut beer I've ever had.  Evidently, chestnut ale is an Italian tradition.

Bir & Fud is must do for the beer geek who wants a sit down dinner in Rome. It was a bit pricey, but well worth it.  I never got a feel for when to eat in Rome, so we were always too early. We actually went twice, though the service was better the first time when the owner sent us over. The next time it was different and harder to come by.

While I don't mind adjusting to the customs of another country, a beer menu with breweries and names would have been great, even in Italian, to be able to see what's on tap.  It's an upscale place, so I understand not wanting to have a beer board; however, a list on a menu wouldn't hurt.  I would think in a wine-centric country, such explanations would help the local clientele as well. Regardless, a great stop and one of the best food and beer experiences I've ever had.

12/10/12 update:  While I haven't been back to Bir & Fud, a quick look at there website seems to confirm that they are still doing a good job.  The beer list is front and center on the website and seems expanded from my visit in 2007.  Here's to beer in Italy.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bitter Brewer (Surly Brewing, Brooklyn Park, MN)

This light golden-orange beer with a white head packs a punch of hops. Clearly bitter, and, like many of Surly brews, calling it a style is a bit of a misnomer. Anyone who really likes English Bitter listed on BeerAdvocate as a style will be surprised by this one. For me the nose is a great invitation of twangy hops, but the taste is a bit too much. The bite is acrid, and tough, but not in a totally bad way. It's well brewed to be just that--but it's not fun for me to drink, and the malty base and body are too weak to match up to the hops, which linger ad infinitum and build uncomfortably over the course of the beer. With that said, I can see why those very things would be a positive for a lot of people.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Dogfish Head Alehouse (Falls Church, VA)


Very good stop at the Falls Church Dogfish Head, starting with and Alehouse 75--a mix of 60 and 90 min IPAs: I may have found a new favorite. Really an amazing blend, which I, on general principle, am against blending beer with anything  including other beer beyond a black and tan. Follow upped with a bottle of Burton Baton, another mixed ale of English brown ale with the 90 min that's then aged: fantastic beer and worth the trip to DFH to get it. In fact, I'm on a quest to get more of it asap.

Food at Falls Church was significantly better than at Rehoboth Beach, so it is a different place. The extremely knowledgeable beer geek waiter was hanging out chatting beer with us in between serving his other tables. Wish we had had more time to hang out until it slowed down. Alas, time is rarely the friend of a beer drinker.  Excellent pub to check out DFH mainstays and off-centered ales, especially if a trip to Rehoboth Beach isn't possible.

Brasserie Beck (Washington, DC)


Brasserie Beck is all that you've heard: a very incredible, high end Belgium beer bar. To drink Belgian beers, I've never seen such an array of pure Belgian ales in the states. The manager, Thor, who I met as a bartender at Birreria Paradiso nearly two years ago, is the best beer bartender I've ever had for a drinking session and he is doing a great job at BB.

Thor wasn't around today, but today's bartender was friendly, knowledgeable and adjusted adroitly to not only  with me but happily found drafts for those who walked in dumbfounded by the choices of this beer destination. I ended up with four drafts of well served, unique beers. A fine afternoon at the rail.

Drawbacks: very high end as an establishment.  Walking by the lunch crowd, the meals looked fantastic--works of art.  I ended up ordering frites (Belgian/Dutch fries served with mayo and other condiments for those not acquainted) with three types of mayo blends.  I'm not sure how, but the mayo blends were fantastic--weird statement, but true.  I ordered the excellent frites because I really like authentic frites and I'm a vegetarian, so it was pretty much the only option. The bartender worked to give me several food options through recommendations and adjustments. If you're into mussels or a foodie, this is your place.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Maple Nut Brown Ale (Tommyknocker Brewery, Idaho Spring, CO)

While I don't doubt the "pure maple syrup" on the label, the taste is more of molasses, thick and sugary with the malty backbone of the nut brown. For me, very cloying and overly sweet body builds uncomfortably. The maple doesn't blend well with the base beer either with a light, watery mouthfeel. Sounds good on the surface, but not much to dig down in to.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Cape Wine & Spirits (Lewes, DE)

A bartender at Dogfish Head sent us over hear to pick up DFH on the way out of town.  Picked up $9 bottles of World Wide Stout that was two years old--exceptional beer at a very good price.  Also grabbed some Stone Ruination and Old Guardian as well.  All beers were in fine shape and there was a great range of beers overall.  I was a bit concerned about the bright fluorescent lights all over the place, but it didn't affect the quality of any of the beer we bought; however, I did grab bottles from inside a box for the world wide stout and from the shade on the shelf. But, that's just me.

Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats (Rehoboth Beach, DE)


I've reach beer mecca. Over the course of the last several years, my wife and I have tried to get to Dogfish Head and have never been able to plan the drive out to Rehoboth Beach.  Finally, on a trip to DC, we rented a car and headed out on a Saturday morning to check out the home of off centered ales for ourselves.

And, we weren't disappointed.  Pints of 60 min IPA, India Brown and Raison D'etre were all fresh and well served by our friendly bartender.  In addition, their more exotic ales on tap, Theobroma (Aztec beer) and Palo Santo Marron (Paraquayan wood aged), are beyond belief to have two such cool beers on tap at the same time.

Not a lot of vegetarian options on the menu, but the pizza was very good and the onion rings were better than ok.  Neither matched the beer, which is a high bar, so order up some food, and drink more DH--don't waste time when you're drinking at mecca.

Pub opens noon-ish, as it says on the door, so don't rush down. Hit the beach or the bar next door for an early beer (cheese plate and DH on tap were both great).  A nice walk on the beach is a great idea give you some time before needing to drive home.

Gordon Biersch Brewery & Restaurant (Washington, DC)


I haven't been in this Gordon Biersch in years, but it's worth the visit just for the tall marble columns that are the main feature of the restaurant. Very cool, light, open atmosphere and it's easy to get too from the Gallery/Chinatown metro stop.  It's just across the street from the Portrait Gallery and the International Spy Museum.

As always with GB, the beer is well brewed, but not very exiting.  The summer beer, Sommergold was light and overly grainy for me, but cleanly brewed. The Schwarzbier was a bit light for the style, but very refreshing in the heat of a DC summer. Clean and slightly roasty, the smooth, dark lager was better than I expected.  For beer, RFD a few blocks away is a stronger choice, but I like the food at GB better.

On this visit, their service was proven exceptional by an attempt to have a pineapple pizza.  Pizza is usually a good vegetarian option and my recent favorite is a twist on an old favorite: Hawaiian without the dead pig.  The first pizza was burned accidentally, so the manager apologized and bought me my Schwarzbier. Nice, but not necessary. The replacement pizza followed very shortly, and it was a Canadian bacon laden pizza--not an option, though it looked perfectly cooked. Third time's the charm and my perfectly done pineapple pizza arrived.  When the bill came, the pizza was also free--so, two beers and a meal cost me a bit over $5 officially.

District Chophouse & Brewery (Washington, DC)


My wife and I had stopped here after a show several years ago, and ended up watching the finish of the Terps in the NCAA baskeball tournament and ultimately becoming Maryland fans.  Earlier in the evening we had eaten at an upscale restaurant called 701 down the street before attending Romeo and Juliet at the Shakespeare Theater.  After a fantastic experience with the bard, we headed to the Chophouse to rinse away the snootiness of the 701 meal.  Hanging out with enthusiastic Terrapin fans put our choices for the evening in stark contrast, convincing us that we are pub people.  Now, 701 is our code word for anything or anyone that looks too snooty and upscale to be enjoyable.

We like to return for the nostalgia of our epiphany and the convenient beer near the heart of DC, in spite of being vegetarians in a place with few veggie options besides onion rings, which are good but greasy.  This trip I tried the IPA, which was adequately hoppy but very grassy in its overall impression.  The bartender was very engaged with some local customers discussing the merits of various pro football players. He refilled my beer with the same mediocre IPA, which was fine but generally I'd like to change from pint to pint--or at least be asked.

Overall, a good restaurant, especially if you're a meat eater (according to friends in the area), but not a pure beer destination.  Go to RFD down the street for a greater range of beer, and keep this place for a steak and the snug, dark wood atmosphere that would be nice with a group of friends at a table.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Rome Brewing Company (Rome, IT)

Note on BA 12/20/2012: This brewery is now closed.  Read on--I'm not surprised.    


This ended up being one of the hardest pub runs I've every made, as you'll see below, but it ended up with interesting, if mixed results. 

My wife and I tried to get to Rome Brewing Co twice during the week and it was closed both times. However, that could've been our fault since Italians tend to eat and go out and later than we do.  Not sure if RBC closed over the holiday period or hadn't opened yet for the day when we showed during the early evening (5 pm once, nearly 7 pm another time).  It's very easy to get to from the metro--just a couple stations past the stop for St. Peter's Basilica, but it feels like it's out of the touristy area.  Finally found it open by showing up past 9 pm, though I was the only person in the bar at that time.  Again, a bit later, it filled up quickly with Italians, which leads me to suspect it was my fault for being too early during the previous attempts. 

Walking in, RBC has the feel of a English dark wood bar with a couple of small tall tables, and the rest was cozy booths that were almost nitches.  More room upstairs where the bathroom is. Seems like a friendly place with staff greeting many of the people walking in the door.  And, it had a nice atmosphere that quiet for talking with a friend. 

First pint was 5.80 Euro, which seemed a bit pricey to me, but it was an American styled pale ale, seemingly with cascade, so maybe that was it.  The rest were cheaper, but I moved to half pints.  The beer was very hit or miss.  My first beer, the pale ale, was clearly the best, followed by the porter, though it had a bit too much diacytal in it.  The remaining two were very much under par. The Red Ale seemed flawed, though the Strong Ale simply tasted like several versions of "doppio malto" I had tasted in Italy (cheap, high alcohol, thin beer that’s often passed from person to person between youths walking in a group or by homeless), so it probably failed my expectations more for a Strong Ale than it would Italians.  From the menu, I got the impression that the American brewer that had made RBC famous had moved on and they were doing their best with an replacement. 

Service was friendly and prompt by European standards, and the waitress handled the beer with care. Two other employees were sitting at the counter the entire time I drank, one seemingly a manager type, who ignored me and my empty glass.  So, evidently I could only be served by the one waitress.  No idea why and I didn't really ask, so again, maybe this is something I didn't understand about the culture/situation.  I was very hungry, but didn't feel comfortable ordering nor was I asked if I wanted food, so not even sure what they served, though what others were eating looked good. The manager type said thanks for coming and have a safe night in English on the way out, so that was nice. 

An odd thing about the service was the pours. Glasses were clean and rewashed with a spray jet that seems to be standard in Italian beer bars.  However, the waitress held the glass at nearly a 90 degree angle with the tap jammed into the side of the glass, tipping it upright at the last moment for a respectable head.  Water was poorly drained before pouring on at least two of the beers. 

The adventure actually started after I left the bar.  When I got off the metro, as a matter of habit, I asked when the last train going the other way left--the answer was I just got off the last train--at 9 pm.  Evidently, it was closed for the night for maintenance.  However, the nice metro worker explained that I needed to take the MA1 bus back since it took the exact same route back to Termini station as the metro.  I figured I might as well get beer out of the trip, drank my four beers and headed to the bus stop about 10:30.  I saw MA1 busses heading further out of town, but none my direction.  So I asked a random bus to help me, but he put me off around the corner and said to take MA1 from that stop, which never came while bus after bus went by out of service (deposito).  By this time it was after midnight and all the regular buses on the board had stopped running.   A nice Italian man who spoke no English (and me even less Italian) told me to take the "cinco, cinco"  Nightbus to Termini.  I only understood this when he wrote 55 in the dust of a dirty parked car in front of us.  He also kindly made sure I got off the 55 Nightbus when we reach Termini station.  But, I had just missed the last train heading south to our hotel by a few minutes, so I then took a 20 Euro cab and got home just after 1 a.m.  

So, nearly five hours and 40 Euros later, I had added four beers to my list.  Tough night, but not altogether unsuccessful.  While being touristy in Rome, it's hard not to notice the lack of diversity.  On the way home, I found the local diversity riding the 55 Nightbus.  While more of an adventure than I wanted for a mediocre beer trip, the insight into another side of Italy was enlightening.   While I've read of Italian xenophobia, especially in the north, seeing its impact first hand was eerily disturbing.  Oddly, this has become one of my favorite vacation learning experiences and one more thing I owe to the beer hunt.