Thursday, July 26, 2012

No! We're in Newark

"No! We're in Newark" was the impatient response to his little girl's question while walking along the concourse. Jersey jokes aside, Newark isn't my destination, but might as well enjoy it, if possible.

Brief research on the Concourse C map showed that the Samuel Adams Brew Club was just a gate from where I needed to be. Airport beer is notoriously bad, usually suffering from poorly cleaned lines; yet, I persist in trying to find good beer in bad places.

Like today, the excitement of starting a new trip overwhelms me and I want to log my first beer. Today it's Sam Adams Boston Ale, which, surprisingly, isn't listed as a draft in the database. And, when I saw they were serving in the specially designed Sam Adams glass (and that they have outlets to recharge the iPad), it was clear I was going to spend my down time in Newark here.

Surprisingly, the beer is fairly well served. Clean white head falls with a serious lace and bubbles nicely from the etching on the bottom. Smooth caramel malt with a supporting hop earthiness. Perfectly good pint of Sam Adams.

George noted that the booth I'm in smelled more than a little bit of spilled and spoiled beer, the nachos at the next table looked like melted cheese wiz, and the $10 (w/ tip) price was maybe a bit high. But, the Samuel Adams Brew Club makes for a nice stop between flights and a cute picture.

Bound for Brussels

Presently, I am on United Airlines heading to Newark for my first leg of my journey to drink Brussels. I've elicited chuckles using the phrase "drink Brussels" but that is precisely what I intend to do--almost exclusively: this is an unabashed beer trip.

Here's what I hope to hit in the next week: Bosteels, Oud Beersel, the Lambic Discovery Center, Het Anker, Cantillion and Boon. Ending in Lembeek is a nice touch and was a matter of luck. Boon is only open to individuals to tour on Wednesdays at 3 pm.

Which segues nicely to my first conclusion for doing a Tour of Belgium. It's hard to get into breweries. Many don't do tours or do them very rarely, and others only do large group tours. For example, Duvel has a 15 person minimum and then the tours where closed when I checked back after a week at GALA in Denver. Huyghe responded with the same 15 person minimum.

The above list consists of those that do tours daily (Cantillion), on a regular basis (Het Anker, weekends), periodically (Boon) or me getting lucky with a nicely worded email (Bosteels). The Bosteels rep very kindly found me a single spot on a German language tour and I'm very much looking forward to the experience.

In short, combined with a personal rule of never driving in a foreign country with even a single beer, it's extremely difficult to get to Belgian breweries further a field without help. While I'm sure the Delerium Cafe and The Kulminator will quench my thirst for Belgian brews outside of Brussels, I can really see the value of doing a planned beer tour with a group that has efficient and chauffeured access.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Firehouse Brewing (Rapid City, SD)


As one of the only brewpubs in South Dakota, I've had Firehouse Brewing on my list for a long time.  I love the concept of a place built in an old firehouse, but the love affair ended there.  BA reviews are lukewarm at best and it seems like beer isn't necessarily the primary focus when looking online. With a fair amount of experience researching breweries, I've started to get a pretty accurate feel for a place ahead of time.  Plus, the guys at Monks in Sioux Falls said that I could find better places in Rapid City.  While part of the fun is being surprised, my beer-sense was spot on for this trip.  

As a walked into Firehouse at 8 pm on a  Sunday night, it was full to the brim and had a waiting list.  I hawked a seat at the bar after 15 minutes of lurking about and ordered a sampler of all of their beers.  Inside is clearly an old firehouse and a great brick building with a stamped tin ceiling in spite of the TGI Friday's decor.

The four ounce samples in low ball glasses were generous, but I didn't finish many of them.  Smoke Jumper Stout lead the pack with a drinkable smoked stout, and Smokin' Betty, another smoked beer but an amber this time, was a close second. But the rest dropped off precipitously.

    The bartender was friendly and helpful, but the sampler had no order or place mat to keep track of the beer.  I wrote down the beer names from the white board on the wall behind me and re-ordered them with the bartender's help to match my notes.  
Firehouse is a classic tourist trap brewpub in the vein of others I've been lured into before. In heavy touristy areas, my theory is that the beer suffers because there are no/few locals to serve and the quality falls as a result. Oblivious tourists will eat and drink there no matter what, so no reason to improve--just keep serving it up. We experienced this at Oak Creek Brewing in Sedona, Arizona a few years ago on a trip to see our niece Regan. And, I repeated the optimistic error at Estes Park Brewing outside of Rocky Mountain National Park, another pub where the traffic is to the detriment of the beer, just a few days before my stop at Firehouse. 

At Firehouse, the menu boasts the best food and brew in the Black Hills; I don't know about the food, but head to Spearfish and Crow Peak for the best beer in the area. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Soaring Wings Vineyard and Brewery (Springfield, NE)

Soaring Wings tasting room at the top of the hill.  

After lunch with my mom and sister at Pizza Ranch for the 4th of the July, I spent the night with the folks in law in Sioux Falls before heading down early to drink Omaha the next day en route to Denver.  To my surprise, my mother in law Jo had a beer recommendation for me.

On a recent trip, Jo and her sister Truede stopped at Soaring Wings Vineyard for a bus tour and the guide boasted that the beer was very good as well.  They liked the wine and she wondered if the beer bragging was true or not.

Springfield is a short drive from Nebraska Brewing Co in Papillion, and very quickly I was in the corn and gravel roads.  According to my mother in law, the owner was a former military pilot that was making wine and beer in his retirement. Nice facility at the top of a hill with a view of the area. 

The tasting room deal is five samples for $6--wine or beer in any combination.  I tried four beers and ended with a wine recommendation from the friendly and seemingly knowledgeable server.  The recently retired marine at Nebraska Brewing had said the DIPA was ok, so made sure to save a sample.  Of the four brews, the Blackbird, vaguely labeled a dark stout, was the best, but that's not saying much.  

All of the beers suffered from a common brewing error that I was having difficulty pinning down, but there was definitely a problem.  And, the Hop Zeppelin was possibly the first Double IPA that I didn't finish.

Ended with wine since the beer conclusions were clear.  Based on a recommendation from the server, I tried the Chambourcin Special Reserve 2009. Heavy legs in the glass. Pretty, deep, two tone red. Good but I like my local Cannon Falls wines much better. I'm not a knowledgeable wine drinker, but this seems to be simply average.

As I was leaving, one of my fellow tasters was wearing a Pleepleus shirt.  We had a nice chat from the inside beer joke from the now defunct Three Sheets show.  Overall, a fun stop and an interesting beer hunt, but I won't be going out of my way for Soaring Wings again.

Friday, July 20, 2012


This week there was an odd confluence in my pursuit of beer.  I hit two 5000 milestones: total commercial beers sampled and total all time page views.

I knew I was going to hit beer 5000 some time this summer, but thought it would be in Belgium.  Evidently, the Denver road trip was more productive than predicted.  My beer notes started in 2000, so it took a bit over a decade with fifty plus festivals and over two hundred brewery visits.  Because I didn't try to count down to the exact beer, I'm unsure which beer was the magic number; however, I think I was at Firehouse Brewing in Rapid City, SD.  Unfortunately, it was one of the worst brewpub stops--ever.  My guess is that beer 5000 was Chukkar Pale Ale, which also happened to receive my lowest rating: 1, undrinkable.  Oh well--they can't all be world class brews.

On a bike tour in South Dakota with my nephew Ben a few years ago, we did a century ride (turned an 88 mi day into 100+ on our own) on the wrong day because the weather was too rough on the actual day of the official century ride.  We asked if we could still have a century patch (and if it counted) and the volunteer responded "Your money, your rules" and handed us each a patch. I decided it counts and I've adopted this experience as a  mantra to reduce some of my more overly uptight attitudes in life.  So, in Brussels next week, I'm making whatever great beer I'm drinking number 5000.

For the page views, I'm surprised that 5000 came so quickly.  I started in November and the page views have been steadily climbing except for a dip in February during speech season.  Posting on a regular basis seems to contribute, but recently page views accumulate in spite of a low posting rate while on vacation.  Approaching 200 posts, the amount of information on the blog is building and making it easier for people to find.

I'm still trying to transfer over three hundred beer reviews and a hundred plus onsite brewpub visits that I've written on BeerAdvocate over the years.  In process but hope to post them this fall on a semi-regular basis in between this summer's visits.  For the BA transfers, I'm back dating all of them to when they were originally written so that a reader can put the information into proper time context.  As a result my blog will eventually appear to be far older than it is: my money, my rules, so I'm not going to worry about it.  :).

Reflecting on the milestones, I've really enjoyed this journey into beer geekdom and glad to have readers to join the ride through what I hope is still the beginning.  I'm having a great time and plan to continue to be an overenthusiastic drinker and writer for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Eighteen (Avery Brewing, Boulder, CO)

Picked up a bottle of Eighteen at Top Ten Liquors in Woodbury recently.  Ironically, I drank Nineteen a few days ago on site at Avery during our trip to Colorado.  While I try to keep up on beer happenings, I do lose track of some of the details for breweries not local.  Buying a anniversary ale a year late would fall into that category, but that will teach me to trust the Top Ten bottles a bit less--especially those on sale.  I should know better, but life happens.  It's just beer and it's still Avery.

Eighteen is (was) a dry-hopped rye saison, but the hops are missing in the nose this late in the game.  Light white head falls quickly over the cloudy, ruby ale.  Rye and yeasty spice are clear in the nose and pleasant.  Taste is heavy, flat and a bit muddled, but guessing time has taken the shine of this ale.  Still pretty good and fine for tonight.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

5 O'Clock Shadow (Grand Teton Brewing, Victor, ID)

Pours with a dark tan head that's two tone with brown as it swirls.  Head falls quickly over a a nearly pitch black beer with ever so slight ruby highlights along the edge.  Very clean, singular roast in the nose with a little bit of chocolate. Roast and chocolate follows in the taste with a sweet maltiness. Bitter roast finish that lingers a bit--almost too much.  My notes say I had a draft on my wife's birthday at Grumpy's, but I don't remember much about it.  I was either entranced by my wife or the beer didn't make much of an impression.  Gloria likes schwarzbier and there's no note that she liked it. 

In the final analysis, it's a good beer but the roast is out of balance with the smooth lager characteristics.  Had this beer twice and that's going to be enough.  If you like a a heavy roast, give it a shot.  If not, find another dark lager.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Nebraska Brewing Co (Papillion, NE)


Nebraska Brewing is on the outskirts of Omaha in Papillion, Nebraska in a big mall across the street from Dick's Sporting Goods. This is definitely the best brewpub I've visited that's in a mall. Brewpubs in malls tend to be on the Granite City variety--technically a brewpub but not very inventive. NB is clearly not in this category.

Long dark wood beer is inviting and the brewery is well displayed behind glass. Hard working brewery staff with work apparent in the brewhouse, including putting on labels on bottles by hand at one of the big tables on the slow afternoon.

For lunch, I had the four cheese spent grain pizza. Cheese combo is good on top of the thin, grainy crust. Fresh grated parmesan if you want that works very well. Offered a personal and full size, which is much appreciated. Not the best pizza I've ever had, but very good and hits the spot today nicely.

At the bar, a marine was on his second day of retirement and enjoying a sandwich with "death sauce." Evidently the super-hot habanero death sauce can come on wings and other items. I did not try it myself since I had a long day ahead of me.

From stickers on one tank and flags on the wall, the bar seems to be a local for many from the military base. When asked, the bartender didn't really categorize NB as a military bar, but many of the regulars stop in on the way home from the base and there's clearly a supportive relationship between the bar and those that serve our country.

I can see NB's famous Melange a Trois and Fathead Barleywine in bottles, so will go home with those for sure to end a very nice first stop in Nebraska. Added Black Betty as a last minute impulse buy. Of my samples, I really liked Hop God, which is basically a Belgian IPA. Listed as a trippel crossed with west coast IPA, Hop God has plenty of hops that are supported by a yeasty Belgian funk to make it very interesting.

Easily my best stop of the day in Nebraska, I wouldn't hesitate to return to Nebraska Brewing.

Hop God (Nebraska Brewing, Papillion, NE)


Stark white head that looks creamy in the tulip glass. Hazy gold to amber. Peppery spice in the nose, very Belgian yeasty. Hop is clear but under the spice. Strong hop bite on the tongue, but smoothed by the Belgian characteristics, especially the vinuous and oily traits. Nose opens up as it warms, the body lightens and the yeasty characteristics become more assertive, and, to be expected, the nearly 10% alcohol becomes more apparent in the taste. Good a several temperatures, this is a great beer to sip.

Monk's House of Ale Repute (Sioux Falls, SD)


On 8th street in the downtown area of Sioux Falls, Monk's is down near where I think the defunct (and not great ) Sioux Falls Brewing was years ago. As a kid, I remember heading to Lewis Drug just over the river, but that downtown was something to just drive through on our way to the Empire or Western malls.

However, my folks-in-law said as kids they would go to downtown Sioux Falls because that's where all of the big stores (some names I didn't recognize) were located. By the time I was a kid in the 70s and a teenager in the 80s, it seems the Empire and Western malls were up and running so that I don't remember the hey day of downtown at all. Now, the renovated old buildings make downtown a destination again for bars and restaurants and the Falls are around the corner to visit--truly worth a stop if you are near by, especially frozen and lit for Christmas.

Opening in December of 2007 (according to the bartender), I have a hard time getting to Monk's since I tend to come home on holidays when they are closed. Today is the 4th of July, but the small crowd is enough to be pouring drafts to a few locals and me. Twenty three taps from my count and several pages of bottles, this is definitely the place for beer in Sioux Falls (and maybe the midwest outside of the Twin Cities). I noticed while finding the bar again that a JL Beers has also moved in downtown, but a negative experience in Grand Forks with JL meant I didn't even swerve in my quest for Monk's.

Let's start with the name. Monk's House of Ale Repute. Very clever and I just enjoy saying that I'm going there for the pun. Very gorgeous bar of distressed metal and a pleasant, not-too-dark space that's conducive to chatting. Friendly atmosphere and clients, I've always had a chat with someone at the bar in my sporadic stops. There's a TV in the corner, but this pub isn't built to be a sports bar--beer and good conversation are clearly the point. I vaguely remember that they built it all by hand when they opened and the place has expanded into a larger sitting area and a patio (empty today in the triple digit summer heat). Not overly large, Monk's is a cozy local that serves up some great beers.

Taps include some solid classics like Delirium Tremens and Duchesse de Bourgogne and western favorites like Deschutes and Grand Teton with a few locals like Crow Peak and Brau Brothers mixed in. However, the bottle list is extensive and loaded with quality beers in a wide range of styles. I was sitting next to Jim, who introduced me to the owner Jerry Hauck. Jim argued that Monk's is the best bar between Denver and Chicago, and was willing to bypass the Twin Cities.

While chatting, Jerry and I agreed that the Twin Cities has a real advantage of distribution options plus just sheer volume of potential customers when looking at a pubs like the Muddy Pig, Happy Gnome, The Republic, Town Hall Tap or Blue Nile as a comparison. But for being in Sioux Falls, this is an outstanding selection, especially for some beers from the west that aren't often found in the cities. Jerry did acknowledge that he thought his bottle list is second to none, and I would agree. However, since my time is always limited, I've never gotten past two or three beers from the tap line that I don't have on my database (a compliment all by itself).

In chatting with Jim and Jerry, they very nicely updated my beer schedule on my drive to Denver via Omaha and Rapid City (to and fro, respectively), giving me several places to consider that I had not found in my research. Very knowledgable beer folks and a pleasure to take advice from tonight.

Jerry even divulged some new information that Monk's is going to build a brewery in the back space that he used to sell organic furniture (natural wood used from mill). While some of the plans are understandably vague at the moment, he hopes to add brewed on premise beers around December. Asked why he was adding a brewery (besides the fun of it), he said "for the fun of it".

Expanding a bit more, the motivation to have a well run brewpub in Sioux Falls seems to also be a factor. According to Jim, Sioux Falls Brewing had been very good when it opened in the late 90s and I remember reading some good reviews and that they had won several medals, which had gotten me to go there; it was obviously not good when I tasted it in 2003. Since SFB went out of business, there hasn't been a brewpub in Sioux Falls except Granite City (which we argued whether or not it's really a brewpub with the fermentus interruptus system of shipping wort from Iowa to finish locally). Regardless of your GC opinion, there isn't a brewpub in town of the quality of a Town Hall that is constantly bringing locally inspired brew to a loyal clientele. I wish them luck and hope to sample some original Monk's beer in the future.

Monk's is truly an outstanding bar and not to be missed if thirsty in South Dakota. While I don't know if it's the best beer bar in the midwest, it most definitely gives nearly every bar I know from Denver to Chicago a run for its money. Do yourself a favor and stop in at Monk's House of Ale Repute.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Lost Continent Double IPA (Grand Teton Brewing, Victor, Idaho)


Second draft for my 4th of July stop at Monk's House of Ale Repute. Almost white head on a clear, two-toned amber ale in a tulip glass. Again, a pretty lace (in a well cleaned glass) which funnels a strong grapefruit, tropical fruit and pine resin into the nose. 8% ABV is hidden in the nose, but a light peppery note betrays it on the tongue, which is assaulted by spice and sweet malt and an oiliness that coats sweetly. Very fun Double IPA, and, from memory, seems to be a bit brighter on draft. Not exactly news that a draft surpasses a bottle, but there seems to be a significant boost to the hops for this particular beer (or the bottles I've sampled were not up to snuff).

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Pursuit of Hoppiness (Grand Teton Brewing, Victor, Idaho)


Served well in a tulip glass at Monk's House of Ale Repute. Dark amber ale with an off white head. Clean and a nice lace. Listed on the menu as 100
IBUs using Summit, Chinook and Nugget hops. Nose is full of hops and lives up to the advertising. Some grapefruit and citrus, but more earthiness with some serious spice. Hops and some alcohol hotness on the tongue that doesn't linger heavily, so a nice ale on this very hot triple digit day. Listed as an 8.5% amber ale, this is a great hoppy beer that has enough malt to give a different feel from drinking an IPA or DIPA.

Still learning to use the iPad on this trip, so I was a little slow taking the pic. Beer is half gone, but definitely worth a second draft. I didn't have time for it today, but would definitely give it another shot in the future.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Boatilla Amber Ale (Big Bay Brewing, Shorewood, WI)

After tasting Big Bay recently, I let this one sit in the fridge for a while--not looking forward to it.

In the glass, it's pleasant enough--hazy orange ale that glows yellow with the afternoon sun. Dirty white head piles high on the pour.  Nose is light with some nice hop spice if you look for it. Mostly a sweet bready malt with a mineral note. Sweet though light mouthfeel has caramel and toffee notes with a light hop twang. Again, the mineral taste.

Not bad, but not a beer that I will buy again unless it's the best option in the bar.