Friday, July 29, 2011

Sour Apple Saison (Epic Brewing, Salt Lake City, UT)

Pours very effervescent with tiny, tight bubbles flowing quickly upward through the glimmering gold beer to form a ever so slightly off white head that builds high and collapses and lingers across the top of the beer. Taking in a deep smell, the sour apple registers in the back of my mouth w/o taking a sip. Not overpowering, but clearly present and pleasant. As it warms, the sour apple overtakes the saison yeasty notes a bit, but not overly so. Understated but a clearly fruity beer with some spicy notes and a bit of alcohol coming off the top. Like drinking apple champagne, disappearing completely off the back of the tongue. Very enjoyable and a fine start to the fruity portion of the Epic brews. As it warmed up, the taste soured a bit and seemed a little off. Much better colddrink this one fast.

Brooklyn Local 1 (Brooklyn Brewery, Brooklyn, NY)

Big, bubbly white head that lingers a half inch thick in the glass after a big pile  sitting on top on the pour over an old gold ale that brightens to a dull yellow. Banana, cloves, fruity esters and a hint of pepper in the nose. Very clean and a pretty yeast smell. Pepper and spice notes strengthen in the taste and build in the nosealmost like a preview. Significant carbonation intensifies the flavorsespecially the spice. Extremely well balanced and bouncy. Fun beer that I will savor through the night.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Hopmouth Double IPA (Arcadia Brewing, Battle Creek, MI)

Draft poured on site with a nice, appropriate sized off white head that lingered a bit down the side. Amber ale with copper and gold highlights. Big, grassy smell right off the topsmells almost like a fresh hop alebig fruit and citrus, grapefruit, hoisted on top of a strong, biscuit malt backbone (Maris Otter in description). Clean and simple base with a big hop on top that's a bit out of balancebut it's a DIPA. Full hop bite on the back side with a slightly pine and a woodsy resin finish. Nice, but grassiness and back end astringency builds too much for meunless you really like chewing on your hops as you drink.

B-Craft Black IPA (Arcadia Brewing, Battle Creek, MI)

Nearly opaque black beer with ruby highlights in a strong back light from the summer sunset for my draft on site. Thick, light brown head with extremely tight bubbles. Clean and clear singular hop in the nose with a burnt biscuit and heavy malt underneath. First taste is burnt, charcoal tasting, but, oddly, no smoke. Heavy handed on the patent malt or similar? Very nice. Hops kick in quickly, and the light spice and floral of the nose turns into a clean, spicy bite on the tongue. Well balanced and fun. Roast/burnt qualities mellow as this 8.5% IPA warms and is still refreshing on a hot summer night.

Kolsch Style Beer (Round Barn Brewery, Baroda, MI)

Burnished copper color surrounded with gold on the edges. White head disappeared quickly. Light spicy and apples notes in the nose on top of a solid bready malt and light corn. Lightly floral and pleasant. Mouthfeel is satisfying and fills the mouth with a clean malt and subtle hop spice. Definitely not a watery thin Kolsch that often happens in pubs that do the style. Light but not wimpy, and enjoyable. Not a fan of Kosch as a style, but perfectly happy that I have a few bottles of this one.

Bottle bought from Union Pier tasting room.

Thirsty Trout Porter (Dark Horse Brewing, Marshall, MN)

First draft on site at Dark Horse, and it's a pretty good start. Poured in a pint glass right up to the rim with very little head, yet it lingers a bit. Solid coffee and malty roast in the nose with a bit of light hop as well. Very easy drinking, even in the heat of the summer swelter: mouthfeel is chewy and light at the same time; malt, coffee and roast settle and linger in the mouth; some hop spice on the tongue. Nice beer that would be better on a cooler day or with a bit more AC in the bar. This pitch black 7% porter is more than worth the effort but moved on for the next pint.

Dark Corner (Dark Horse Brewing, Marshall, MN)

Copper brown ale when back lit sun with an off white to brown, thin head. Big biscuit and caramel in the noise with a solid hopfloral and spicy. Mouthfeel is light, almost watery, instead of the chewy I was hoping for when the bartender said it was an Imperial Brown Ale. Tastes like a buffed out Newcastle. Strong caramel on top of biscuit in taste. Smell and taste identicalsimple and clean. Good in the heat, but I would be disappointed drinking this at home.

Amber Ale (Round Barn Brewery, Baroda, MI)

Here's an example of how a change in location can make a difference. Tried the draft sample of this beer at the tasting room just off I-94 and liked it a lot, including a clean and clear hop presence in the nose. In the bottle, the dark red and brownish highlighted beer has a flat nose: a bit of malt and a light spice, and wet cardboard??? Sour taste with malt and some of the hop and, seemingly, not very fresh. Got this from the tasting room, so hard to believe that it wouldn't be up to date. Maybe a bad bottle, and since I've got two more, I'll revise the review if it changes.

Arbor Brasserie Greff Blonde (Arbor Brewing, Ann Arbor, MI)

Served in a tulip glass, the beer is an opaque dark brown to maroon in color--not black--with a tall, pretty light brown head. Nose is sweet and sourstrong but pleasant brett and malty sweetness underneath. The mouthfeel is light and grainy with lots of malt backbone. Sour cherry and lactic acid in the mouthwarm and settles nicely. Dry twang off the back of the tongue. Billed as a Rodenbach style and is in the ballpark if you don't know Rodenbach really well. Extremely pleasant and fun find early in my night in Ann Arbor. Draft clearly better than the sampleglad I tried it. Bartender said the draft was good but the bottle was betterm so I bought one for later.

Grizzly Peak Pale Ale (Grizzly Peak Brewing, Ann Arbor, MI)

Extremely light, watery pale ale that was straw colored, translucent and had a irregularly bubbled almost white head. Grassy nose with light citrusstale, off aroma. Some grass in the taste as well. Watery and flat off the back of the tongue. Very week on taste. Reminded me of my under-attenuated early attempts at homebrew. Disappointing brew overall.

Dark Horse Brewing (Marshall, MI)

Entrance to Dark Horse
Mug club as decor
Not sure what I was expecting when I showed up at Dark Horse Brewing. On a road trip, stopped in Marshall specifically to try Dark Horse on site after years of sampling them at Great Taste and once at the Michigan Guild festival. Lines at the Michigan festival were always crazy long, so samples were limited. But, I'm been a pretty consistent fan of the Double Crooked Tree when I can get it. Finding that the brewery is a rustic looking building in a small mall named Dark Horse (including tattooing and groceries, if need be) wasn't what I pictured. 

Walking in, one thing is obvious: the mug club is extremely popular. Entire ceiling, walls, windows, all had handmade ceramic mugs hanging with numbers and sometimes names on the bottom. Very homey feeling. Clearly a pub that does well on the support of the locals. Full on a Thursday night for dinner, but thinned out a bit around 8 pm. DH reminds me of local joints near my small farm town in Iowa--not fancy and where everyone meets. I did like the glass washer on the bar used for every pint--mug or glass. They really seem to care about the beer and everything was well served. I had dinner--a veggie pizza made in the back and cooked in a mini oven. Fresh made, good, but nothing overly special. 

Overall, a nice place to have a well served pint. Since I've had the flagships of DH, I stayed away from the regulars and had lesser known (to me) Dark Corner and Thirsty Trout. Both strong, but not up the reputation I had in my head. Didn't have time to check if Crooked Tree is as good locally as when I had it in bottles. If in Marshall, I'd make the attempt to get back here, but would probably have pizza at Arcadia instead.  If I lived in Marshall, I would definitely have a mug.  

Reviewed on: 07-28-2011 18:09:39

barVolo (Toronto, ON)


Stopped for a few pints at barVolo and had a very nice time. Service was very good and attentive while my niece and I sat and chatted through the late afternoon. Good selection of taps with a range of the better Canadian beers, including the two double IPAs that I had: Black Oak's 10 Bitter Years and Taps' Biggie Chokeslam. A few outside drafts thrown in, but basically a really good local craft bar. Small, but nice atmosphere with just the noise of patrons talking in the background. My only complaint is the tab added up very quickly. A bit pricey, but good if you're looking for the best local beers served well.

Arcadia Brewing (Battle Creek, MI)


I didn't recognize Arcadia  from the pic on the BA site because I had to walk in the back due to construction work on the street in front of Arcadia. Follow the detour, and no problem. 

Walk in and there's an immense wooden bar with an angled rectangle jutting out into the floor space of this historic building. Brewery looks pretty big and is behind glass opposite of the bar. Maybe should've waited on dinner and had a pizza from the wood stove in the corner. Oh well.  

Hot in the bar, but with the heat wave outside, it's hard to imagine that any place is very cool today. I had a couple drafts--Hopmouth and B-Craft Black IPA. Both well served and delicious. Tried the homemade ale cheese with crackers, and, except for a personal taste of being too strong on the mustard, it was good. 

Arcadia has a friendly atmosphere with families, young and old all hanging out in the restaurant portion next to the bar. Attentive service. A very good stop that I would repeat if I found myself in downtown Battle Creek again.

beerbistro (Toronto, ON)


In simple terms, beerbistro is the best beer dining experience I've had. At the end of the meal, I told my niece that this makes me understand what Europeans sit and eat meals for two to three hours at a time. 

As a vegetarian, the choices on the menu were limited, but that had little effect on the evening. Started with Potato Truffle Perogies. Amazing complexity for a perogie! Sweet tang from gueze and sheep's milk cheese, I would guess, creamy and full flavored. Just amazing. Drank a Black Oak Summer Saison with the meal, as recommended by the waitress and the pairing guided on the menu. While the beer was good, but pairing worked really well. For an entree, we shared a Blue Mushroom Pizza. Meaty texture from the mushrooms and a tang from the Quebec blue cheese. Again, complex and elegant taste. Got lost in ordering a beer for taste at this point already, but still great. For dessert, we tried three of the beer scream ice creams. In order, we preferred the Vanilla Bourbon swirl, the dragon stout & skor bar, and finally the rocky road with coffee porter. Excellent finish on the meal. 

For the beer dessert, we ordered a bottle of Cantillon Grand Cru 2008. Excellent aged bottle, a rare and fun treat that few bars accomplish for their patrons. While the night wasn't cheap, I was glad to have paid the price for such a rewarding evening of discussion, food and beer. In spite of it being upscale, it never felt snooty. Friendly and relaxing. If you haven't--you must--at least once.

Reviewed on: 07-28-2011 19:39:27

C'est What? (Toronto, ON)


After a hot morning of being a tourist at Casa Loma, we took the subway right down to C'est What? In the extreme heat of the weekend, the extremely cool downstairs location of C'est What? was very welcomed. Tried all of the samples, and all were pretty good. Big Butt Smoked Dark Ale was my favorite of the set. Very good food as well, especially the vegetarian choices for a pub. I had the falafel sandwich with fries and wasn't disappointed. Great stop that was very welcomed. In addition to their own beers, they have a wide range of guest taps, so a very good stop if you want to taste a range of local beers and are short on time.

Reviewed on: 07-28-2011 20:03:35


Arbor Brewing (Ann Arbor, MI)

Sour Brown @ Arbor Brewing in Ann Arbor

First stop of a Ann Arbor drinking run, and it would be my first place to return to if I got the chance. Tried eight samples and then got a draft of the sour brown Brasserie Greff. All were strong brews and the place at the bar was pleasant. Brewery in the back of the bar surrounded by the restaurant. Didn't have a chance to look at the food menu, but plenty of others were there having a meal. Service was attentive and positive--bartenders seemed to be real fans of the place and were very knowledgeable.

Reviewed on: 07-28-2011 21:26:36

Blue Tractor BBQ & Brewery (Ann Arbor, MI)


I liked everything about this stop--except the beer. Nice wood interior, like a BBQ joint, with plenty of folks around on a Sunday evening. Bar was pretty cool with an ice strip across the front for sitting your beer on. No one was doing that, but it looked cool. 

But, the beer just didn't match up. All were ok but seemed to have flaws in each. I thought maybe the Hopicidal Maniac would be a stand out, but it didn't work out. Didn't get a chance to try the food, so maybe that's what keeps the place a float. Not a destination for beer, but as long as I was in the neighborhood, thought I'd find out for myself. And, I did.

Reviewed on: 07-28-2011 21:46:57

Grizzly Peak Brewing (Ann Arbor, MI)


Heading into Grizzly Peak, it looked promising since the place was packed on a Sunday night. Got to the bar, and it was a mess--stale beer and a left over meal and no bartender to be seen. Just had a pint of the pale ale, which was far below par. The whole place felt factory like--and there was a lot of complaining going on by the wait staff.  Fighting about something. Weird. Bad vibe for me, but there seemed to be a lot of people that were enjoying themselves, so I left and headed down the street rather than spend more time here.

Reviewed on: 07-28-2011 21:54:37

Saturday, July 16, 2011

825 Stout (Epic Brewing, Salt Lake City, UT)

Pours inky black with a light tan head. Singular roast smell wafts up immediately, and along with bready, earth notes. Nice. Roast is clear in the first sip as wellenough the I thought it to be an Irish stout. BA lists it as an oatmeal stout, which the smoothness of the brew lends itself to it but it seems to be misnamed a bit, maybe. Slight dark fruits underneath the coffee taste. Clean and dry off the back. More than adequate stout.

Forgotten Flem Farmhouse Ale (Brau Brothers Brewing, Lucan, MN)

Light straw gold color with a whisper thin white head on top with a hint of lace as it drains. Slight spice in the nose with a bit of biscuit and pepper. Simple, slim smell but nice. Improves as the temperature warms but the nose becomes a bit metallic. Bottled conditioned with a second yeast gives is a strong carbonic bite up front. Caramel and malt backbone for the beer is there but not strong with a light spicy yeast note. Mouthfeel is a bit watery. A straight forward saison that is clean and well done, but not overly complex.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Brainless on Cherries (Epic Brewing, Salt Lake City, UT)

Bright red beer that shimmers in the light very nicely. Light acidic cherry in the nose, clean and subtle with slight alcoholic esters over the top. Not hot, but clearly some alcohol off the top. Body is light but palatable, and the bright fresh cherry taste in the center is clearly the best part of the beer. Clean and little syrupy, a tasty beer for the night. Unfair, but hard not to compare to New Glarus Belgian Red. NG beer is far more complex, but the Epic beer fresh is far better than average fruit ales. Good for a try but not going to be a standard in the beer fridge.

10/15/11. Just had the same beer on tap at the Blue Nile, and, when it warms up, this beer reaches a new level. The blend of the beer is much improved between draft and warmth. When cold initially, it seemed very much the same as I remembered the bottle, which makes me wonder if I drank the bottle too fast last summer.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Dog & Pony Tavern (Bar Harbor, ME)


After sampling beers at the Bar Harbor Brewing sampling room, we headed over for a pint at the Dog & Pony Tavern before dinner at Lompoc Cafe. The person pouring at Bar Harbor suggested we try  Atlantic Brewing's IPA and it was on tap at the Dog & Pony that last time he had been there.  

Unfortunately, the sought after IPSA was out, so I substituted Atlantic's Coal Porter instead: a good Porter with a full flavor. Next pint I tried a Black IPA from Otter Creek, which was exceptional. Both were well served, clean and fresh. 

With 14 taps, the range in the pub is not extensive (no Meadhall in Boston), but a nice mix of macros (PBR), regional favorites (Long Trail and Shipyard) and local micros (CASCO and Atlantic). With limited taps, they have different beers set up inside and outside on the patio. The bartender got one from the back bar that I wanted since it wasn't busy, so that might be an issue when more people are there. 

We ordered an order of french fries, which showed up in a silver pet food bowl and was just cool--fries were good on top of it. Rest of the menu seems to be what I started to call basic NE pub grub: mac n cheese, burgers, chowder, deep fried apps, etc. Not an extensive menu, like the tap list, but a clear indication that they are trying to do a good job with limited space and resources. 

We were there late afternoon, and it was quiet with light chatter, and quite comfortable inside the pub by the main bar. I can see where it might get a little noisy later at night, but our stop was a lot of fun. 
After dinner, we walked by the pub and it seemed pretty lively with a lot of people enjoying the partially covered outdoor space.  Good pub to check out, especially for a pint or two of a local brew.

Monday, July 11, 2011

CynicAle (Surly Brewing, Brooklyn Park, MN)

Updated review:
Out of the can, needed to be poured hard to raise a fluffy off white head on the beer which dissipated rather quickly. Fruity esters off the top with spice and yeast. Pleasant and not overwhelming at all. Peppery notes in the taste with a clean, almost acidic bit is the part of this beer I like best. Like many Surly beers, this has assertive characteristics for the style but it comes into balance in the end. The gold flecked amber color of the beer promises a bit more backbone; however, it always seems a little light in the mouth. Today, it's a hot summer day, so it's refreshing. Often, I think it's a bit thin for the taste.

Overall, a very nice saison-ish beer that I continue to buy on occasion. Earlier review seemed a little harsh, especially since I seem to return to it more and more. Of the Surly beers, CynicAle is one worth repeating and getting a four pack several times a year. A great go-to beer or one to share at a party. Not as brash as Furious or Surly brews, but a very solid beer that has its place in my fridge.

Initial review on BeerAdvocate:
Presentation: can poured into a pint glass from Dennis Brothers Liquors

A: Cloudy amber ale with a white head that fell quickly.

S: spicy, peppery, and has a kick to it.

T: continued spice, light fruits, alcohol there but not overwhelming, and has a sharp bite to it.

M: light and airy, but not thin.

D: easy and gone to fast.

Overall: a good beer, but maybe not to style for a saisonsaison on roids would be closer, but that's the direction of Surly. Not my favorite of the Surly beers but an excellent beer nonetheless.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Gold Sovereign Ale (Summit Brewing, St. Paul, MN)

First heard of Gold Sovereign on the Summit tour, but it was sadly not on the tasting list. Out for a local sixpack. Very light straw gold color that is extremely reflective and pretty in the tulip glass I'm using. White head dissipated immediately leaving malt and spice in the nose. Clean, refreshing bite in the taste with a lingering spicy bite. While light and clearly not brash enough for some beer geeks, it had a solid yet ephemeral taste in the mouth with pleasant aftertaste with a lingering hop presence. I wouldn't eat or mix this with much elsemight ruin it. Needs to sit in the mouth and allowed to assert itself. Glad I got the six pack to enjoy a few more.

Salem Beer Works (Salem, MA)


With the exception of once stopping at the OK Corral in Tombstone, AZ, or possibly a buffalo burger (pre-veggie) at Wall Drug in South Dakota, Salem is the biggest tourist trap I've ever visited. However, our quick stop for an eye roll at the witch museum and the confusing search for the "memorial" quickly led us to the Salem Beer Works for a quick and friendly lunch stop before getting back on the road.

Our made to order pizza was a pie of gouda over white sauce on a spent grain crust surprised our waitress--and then us as to how good it tasted.  I also enjoyed some of the themed names for the beers like Black Bat and Witch City Red. But, good if not great beer finished off our trip to Salem.  Like Beer Works on Canal Street, one beer stood out and here it was an interesting and funky leftover barrel aged Belgian Imperial Stout.  If a stop to see the witchcraft kitsch of Salem is a must, including the Salem Beer Works is a decent plan to break the spell.

Bauer Wine & Spirits (Boston, MA)


Not far from the Hynes stop on the green line, Bauer Wine & Spirits is a great little bottle shop a couple of blocks from the Sheraton and several other hotels off Boylston St.  Wished I would've hit it it earlier in the trip instead of the on the last day. Great range of beers and a large refrigerated section so it doesn't have to be chilled from room temperature in the hotel room. I went back to the hotel with BrewDog, Green Flash and Stone, including my first bottle of Old Guardian 2011 for the year. And, they have a friendly grey cat who came out to say hi during my purchase. 

Meadhall (Cambridge, MA)


I was able to stop twice at Meadhall; the first time because it was close to the subway on the way back and the second time because we knew it was close to the subway and would be a great place to get out of the heat. I'm always scared to go to a beer bar with such a large selection--something is generally old or bad. It was very fun to have every beer we ordered at Meadhall was fresh and well served in its own glass. 

Half of Meadhall's taps
I was especially impressed by the tap organization--each brewery's beers side by side with each other.  Neat and inspires ordering another.  Makes it really easy to check what they have for a single brewery without needing the tap list. The paper list was out of date and rather useless. When you arrive, I suggest that you sit with a view of the chalk board. 

First stop was after eating at CBC down the street, so didn't try the delicious looking french fries. Second stop was on the 4th of July, and no food until 2:30 pm; and then, it was only burgers, dogs and chips for a "4th" grill out in the bar. Being veggies, nothing but the chips worked for us--so we left to eat at CBC after a nice beer stop at Meadhall. 

I would definitely recommend it for the beer and would stop again. Besides the odd food selection on the 4th, the service  was slow sitting at the bar on both occasions, in spite of not really being very busy either time. Another caveat: Be careful believing the style listing on the beer board--one I had was clearly placed incorrectly and I would argue with the definition of a several others.

Sea Dog Brewing (Bangor, ME)


Stopping in Bangor on the way to Bar Harbor, this was an easy stop after seeing Paul Bunyan and stalking Stephen King's house for a facebook pic. I've had a few bottles of Sea Dog before, so wasn't expecting a lot but hoped the food was good with the view on the patio.

The view of the river from the back patio was relaxing and nice. Our waitress was evidently having a very bad day because the service was awful and even the trainee following her sympathized for us. Everything was slow and took forever.  The sampler tray was a bit warm and flat by the time it showed up, and the DYI pizza didn't turn out well either. Adequate at best.

We we drove by another Sea Dog later in trip--we kept on driving.

Finback Alehouse (Bar Harbor, ME)


For being in the middle of the very touristy downtown Bar Harbor, Finback Alehouse does a pretty good job. Came here for three reasons: first, it was a very close blockish walk from the dock for the lighthouse boat tour; second, it had Black Bear Microbrewery and no one else seemed to carry them; and third, the multiple mac and cheese offerings fit well with our vegetarianism in a seafood rich area.

Because of extremely dense fog, we extended our stay in Bar Harbor by a full day--and consequently returned for the second shot at the mac n cheese. No website, so I can't look up what we exactly had, but both versions of the baked comfort food were great and one order is fine to share for lunch. I think it was gouda and brie in the first, but we took out the bacon for a pepperjack version on the second and liked it a bit better, each with bowtie pasta.

Over both visits, I tried all three Black Bear offerings--and all were adequate, middle of the road beers that won't scare the touristy types coming in there. Ended with a Long Trail Double Bag, confirming that while I think I should like this beer, it's only ok. All were well served, fresh and fast.

The Great Lost Bear (Portland, ME)


Was planning to spend the day in Portland drinking in several places, but due to unforeseen circumstances (fog in Bar Harbor postponing our tour boat a day), we didn't get to Portland until 9 pm instead of noon. Oops. With only enough energy for one place, we took a cab to The Great Lost Bear. Hard to compare without hitting other places, but we were very happy with the Bear as our only stop in Portland (and Becky's Diner for breakfast on the way out of town).

Well served and in the proper glasses, our waiter brought us each an Allagash beer from the extensive draft menu. Ended the night with Clown Shoes Hoppy Feet, which was a great Black IPA. For food, the waiter steered us toward a house made veggie dinner, the Fresh Grizzly Burritto with rice, beans, cheese and veggie chili. We had started with cup of veggie chili (something we found in several NE bars, which I would love to see in the midwest more). Both were really great and topped off the night after a long day being tourists and not having time to eat.

GLB clearly lives up to their reputation as a great beer bar. Our waiter was knowledgeable and helpful choosing the beers, and also talked us to a meal we enjoyed. After a week of travelling and eating out, we really appreciated a very honest, straight forward waiter who gave us a clear, informed opinion of beer and food when asked. Not shying away from making a statement instead of being a cheerleader for whatever a patron picks is a rare quality that we appreciate.

We liked Portland and plan to return to it and The Great Lost Bear.

The Other Side Cafe (Boston, MA)


NOTE: According to BeerAdvocate, the Other Side Cafe has closed since we visited it.  

Great little veggie/vegan bar around the corner from the Hynes stop on the green line. We tried it for dinner on a Friday night because it was close to our hotel, veggie and good beer friendly. Odd, we waited outside for a bit since they said they had reached their occupant capacity, but it seemed quite empty inside when we were seated. Too bad, but others had left because of the short wait and the full patio. Too bad they are losing business for a seemingly confusing rule. 

Great atmosphere--for us--alternative, punk, divey-not sure what to call it. A relief since we were staying at the Sheraton down the street. Friendly and open atmosphere, though the service was a bit slow. They seem to have a wide range of clientele with the draft list ranging from PBR to Stone Ruination. Food was good, and, as always, it's refreshing to have choice between more than two items on a meat-centric menu. Reminds me a lot of Triple Rock Social Club in Minneapolis, another favorite of ours. 

So, skip the touristy bars and restaurants on Boylston St, and give your business to a nice local bar.

Reviewed on: 07-09-2011 19:34:17

Beer Works-Canal Street (Boston, MA)


After a day on the Freedom Trail, we headed to Boston Beer Works for a beer break before walking over the bridge to Bunker Hill.  We tried only a couple of beers because of time and that we had sampled several of the standard beers of the chain at Salem Beer Works a few days earlier.  All were adequate brews with the India Pale Porter as the stand out beer on Canal Street.

Similar to Salem, each place had ok beer with a single beer that was just a bit better than the rest. Nachos were too big and ok as well. A welcomed break just off the Freedom Trail, but a bit pricey. Best feature was that for some reason there was a very cooling breeze down the street that made the patio very nice, in spite of it being fairly warm walking in other parts of the city that day. So, great patio dining if that's something you enjoy.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Spiral Jetty (Epic Brewing, Salt Lake City, UT)

A light, golden colored IPA that didn't hit me in the face enough that I really understood it was an IPA until looking at the label. Even though hints of amber give it a fairly nice color, the mouthfeel is light and disappoints right away. The alcohol level is fairly high for the lightness6.6%. A part of the Classic series of Epic's brews, it is understated to say the least. The earthy hops are nice, but not enough to excite the nose. Nice peppery, almost saison-like yeast characteristics. Interesting, but compared to their Hopulent IPA, just not in the same league. And not just because of the hop levels; simply not as strong of a beer. Maybe a nice transition for someone getting used to hops to say he or she is drinking an IPA. Not bad, but I won't be seeking it out again.

Bru Rm @ BAR (New Haven, CT)


For some reason, based on press, I had a better opinion of Bru Rm @ BAR than I should have. I didn't look at my database carefully, so didn't notice that I was unimpressed with Bru samples at GABF. Live and learn--use the list.

To my surprise, the height of the evening was the Watermelon ale that we picked as a first draft. Nothing was any better, and one beer--AmBARale--was so seriously flawed that it was amazing that it was even being served. I couldn't even finish the beer. The Chinook Pale Ale redeemed them a bit, but was little more than adequate.

Pizza looked great coming in the door--seemingly their specialty. It was good, but the the burning of the bottom was intense even for the type of oven used. Don't get me wrong; I like wood and coal fired pizza, and understand some high heat scorching will occur. It seemed to be an assumption that a portion of the pizza will be lost and that we should eat around it--according to the evidence of tables around us.


The Cask Republic (New Haven, CT)


After a disappointing stop at Bru Room @ BAR down the street, we headed to The Cask Republic to hopefully improve on the evening beer hunt. We found some pretty good beer--and couldn't stand to stay there.

My wife and I spent the day being touristy while driving from Boston, so ended up in New Haven rather late on a Saturday. By the time we got to TCR, it was closer to 10 pm and the volume of the bar was unbearable. We drank in spite of the noise. In an earlier life, I was a bouncer in a college bar and understand why the level of noise increases as the night goes at a dance club.  But this is a beautiful, dark wood bar with great beer--and no dance floor.  No reason to be that loud.  My wife went outside to answer a phone call--and two college students just opened the door, listened, and turned around immediately, saying that it was way too loud. Wish I had been that smart--but I didn't go to Yale. It took the entire next day for the ringing in my ears to go down.

As for the beer, excellent selection and well served. Very impressive and fun. Thus, my extremely mixed feeling about The Cask Republic. Had we gotten into New Haven in the afternoon and hit TCR earlier, we might have liked it a lot. As is, it's a painful memory that I suffered for too long for the sake of a good beer.

I received a very nice note from the owner of The Cask Republic, addressing my concerns. I both respect and appreciate his concern and effort to improve, so I'm adding it to the review. While the gist of my review stands, TCR is a place that I would most definitely return to drink, given the opportunity, especially if it was at a quieter time of day. Maybe not as clear as I would have liked in my initial review, the beer quality at TCR is excellent and is well served--a much harder and important factor than the cosmetic issues of volume and service.

Hyde Park Brewing (Hyde Park, NY)

Val Kill, home of Eleanor Roosevelt

When asked how I have tried a large variety of beer, I joke that beer just magically "appears" on trips (usually after researching several websites).  In this case, Hyde Park Brewing did simply appear across the street from the home of FDR. After a morning of tours and contemplation of the New Deal, we headed to Hyde Park Brewing for lunch before heading to Val Kill down the road. 

Home of FDR
The Sunday morning brunch menu looked good, but we ordered safe with the pizza, which was a bit better than good. Six beers on tap, more or less German inspired . All were solid beers, clean and well done--no flaws in the lagering. The Von Schtupp's Black Lager was smooth with enough depth of taste to make it interesting. 

Not sure how far out of my way I'd go for Hyde Park Brewing, but it was a great no-brainer stop while visiting a very beautiful, historic area.

Three Penny Taproom (Montpelier, Vermont)


This stop was one of my best missteps ever. After doing the very touristy but interesting tour of Ben and Jerry's down the road in Waterbury, we tried to hit the Alchemist in town--not open until 3 or 4 pm. Without daylight burning we continued down the road and I used BA to find the next closest pub or bar for lunch; Three Penny Taproom sounded familiar (could be the monthly ad in BA mag, I guess), so we stopped.

Started with a DFH Burton Baton, and then went local with Hill Farmstead's Everett and Double Galaxy. Not bad for a lunch stop (thanks to my wife driving instead of drinking). Really would've been nice had our hotel been here overnight instead of the next stop. Oh well. Next time.

For lunch, we had a simple but amazing cheddar cheese sandwich, which may be the best cheese sandwich I've ever had. Just a spectacular fresh taste and done perfectly. Spent the rest of the trip lusting over local cheddar and never matched it.

If near (or not so near), stop. Next time I'm in Vermont, this is home base. And, all of this goodness is in spite of suffering a recent flood and rebuilding their bottle stock and business. Good luck to a truly great place in recovering from this set back.

Moat Mountain Smoke House & Brewing (North Conway, NH)


Finding a hotel in a brewpub is too good to resist, so we didn't. Took a while (a lot of phone call tag), but eventually reserved a room in the upstairs above the bar. When the reservation was made, we were told to talk to the bartender when we arrived. Paid the bartender like a tab and we had a room, which was cozy, clean and was a great location.

After settling in, we headed to the bar for the night, which started really strong. Hoffman Weiss was good and my wife liked it right away, and the appetizers were fantastic. Vegetarian chili with Thai peanut sauce--unusual, but really fun. And the NE Hushpuppies with maple syrup were the best food of the entire trip. Very cool. Nachos looked really good from a far, but were only mediocre up close and personal.

From a sampler, the remaining beers were all good but nothing really stood out, even the barleywine. Not many places will have a barleywine this time of year, so we were excited at first. It seemed under attenuated or something similar. Just a bit off.  Decided to try a local brewery Tuckerman's Headwall Alt and couldn't finish the beer because it was so bad--so switched to Smuttynose IPA to finish the night. Not sure if the Tuckerman's was the beer itself, or if the line had gone bad--the beer has slightly better reviews online, so maybe it was my experience.

So, overall, a good stop but very mixed. In part, the start was very strong, and above expectations, and then it went downhill quickly. Not a place I would go out of my way to repeat, but if your heading up to the White Mountains, it's a reasonable room in a good place. Also, since we're vegetarians, we might not have taken advantage of the "smoke house" enough to rate the food properly. The staff was friendly and gave a great recom for breakfast at a restaurant named Peaches down the street on our way out of town.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Cambridge Brewing (Cambridge, MA)


Arquebus summer barleywine
In simple terms, Cambridge Brewing Co was the gem of our trip to Boston and New England. Referred to locally as CBC, it is one of the few brewpubs I've even come across that competes with my beloved Town Hall Brewery.

There's a wide range of styles with ten beers on tap, and all were solid to very good. In the top of the line up, exceptional beers. On my first visit, the Double Entendre, a barrel aged Belgian Strong Brown Ale, first enticed me to get a draft after the samples.  And, then the Arquebus, described as a summer barleywine, was mind blowing. My wife and I returned to CBC twice to drink the Arquebus, which I alternated with The Audacity of Hops DIPA that replaced Double Entendre in the week between stops. Arquebus was a truly magnificent beer--matching its description to a tee. Light and drinkable at 14%, it was refreshing and challenging in spite of the 80+ degree heat on the walk from the subway.

Beyond the beer, the food was excellent and offered several choices for vegetarians. I had the homemade veggie burger twice, and the middle trip was the Sunday brunch and I devoured one of the best breakfast burritos I've ever had. If I lived locally, I would lean towards hitting the brunch--it was my favorite. All of the food was pub grub in style, but clearly a notch of above in presentation and quality.

If you're Boston, Cambridge brewing needs to be at the top of your beer hit list.

Pour Judgement (Newport, RI)

Castle Hill Lighthouse, Newport, RI

We hit Pour Judgement because it was the best beer place on our Rhode Island route heading out to the Castle Hill lighthouse. What started out as a stop of necessity turned in a pleasant trip through some local beers.

Nothing terribly crazy but it was all well served, including Coastal Extreme's Summer Ale and RI Blueberry and Heavy Seas Loose Cannon, an IPA from Clipper City. All complimented very well by the black bean burger with fries. Eighteen 8 taps to choose from should make for some hoppy Newport residents. Not a mind blowing bar, but a great local stop in a very touristy area.

Note: Clipper City Brewing has been re-branded as Heavy Seas Brewing.

Rock Bottom (Boston, MA)


Stopped here for lunch in between the Sam Adams tour and my stroll to Harpoon for their afternoon tasting room hours.  Perfectly adequate lunch: a veggie patty melt with onion rings, a more unique veggie burger offering than most pubs. Beer flight was fine and the Saison the best of the lot; however, unfortunately, that's not a high compliment.  My biggest disappointment was that this Rock Bottom doesn't actually brew itself, so the range was basic and unexciting. According to the bartender, it's the only Rock Bottom that doesn't brew on site.  Sigh.  Not bad, just not interesting. If you are starving and standing in front of Rock Bottom Boston--it's fine; but, don't go out of the way for this one.

John Harvard Brew House (Cambridge, MA)


I've been to the JHBH in DC and wasn't very impressed, but the location right by the mythic Harvard is a much better pub. Showed up right when they opened after touring (lurking about, actually) the campus. The bartender was chatty and beer knowledgable, providing great conversation to go along with the samples.

The Demon DPA (Double Pale Ale) was a very well brewed pale ale--clean and hoppy with a resiny spine to hold it together--to compliment the rest of the line up, including one cask. Surprisingly, the Harvard Square Helles was my next favorite, in spite of not being fan of the style in general. Very clean and balanced beer that I'm sure is popular with students; however, it's nothing to shy away from as a beer geek.  Always a good sign when a pub can do a light beer so clean. I didn't check out the eats in order to save room for a more vegetarian friendly restaurant later in the day.

Overall, a surprisingly pleasant stop.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Bukowski's Tavern (Boston, MA)


I was able to hit Bukowski's twice in my trip to Boston. Staying down the block at the Sheraton, Bukowski's was my plan for a fast start in the city. First draft, I went for "The Buk," a house pale ale made in collaboration by their staff and Wormtown Brewing, according to the bartender.  After that, pints of Oscar Blues' G'Night Imperial Red Ale and Lagunitas Olde GnarleyWine insured that I got out of the beer blocks quickly.  Both very good.  Bukowski's has an impressive offering for the relatively small number of taps.

Ordered dinner--mac and cheese--which looked awesome on the list and was mediocre at best.  Mac and cheese seems to be a east coast staple, which I tried at several pubs during the course of this vacation. This was the worst by far but the competition was a very high standard of cheesiness.  A week later when we returned to Boston from road tripping New England, we were tired in the hotel, so I ordered the vegetarian meatball sub to go, which was much better. While waiting for the sub, I had a Cisco The Grey Lady witbier that was well served and refreshing.  However, I noticed that the overall tap offering was much lighter and not as much fun as the weekend before.

Overall, Bukowksi's is a great local pub and a place that I enjoyed a lot for an initial stop. When I asked the bartender for a local place to drink some more, he seemed to prevaricate and gave no recommendations. Maybe he was unaware of the perfectly fun The Other Side that I later found less than two blocks away or other Boston beer stops.  In the end, every beer was well served and they do a good job of presentation and handling, which is the most important thing.