Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Express de Lyon (Paris, FR)


Our stop at the Express de Lyon is indicative of my early days of beer hunting.  Rather than heading to a destination for the sake of the destination, as I do more often now, this was a stop of opportunity while in the midst of being touristy.  We spent the morning at the Chateau du Vincennes, a true 12th century medieval castle to start our fairy tale July trip to Paris with our nieces.  En route back to the heart of Paris, we had to pass through the Gare de Lyon and took the opportunity to eat lunch.
French Double IPA Rothen Skull

One of our few sit down meals in Paris, I had a fromage (cheese) and mushroom omelette with frites (fries) on the side.  The clearly fresh made mustard was fantastic on the fries.  Reports all around were enthusiastic about our next to the street dining at a French cafe--living the cliche and having fun doing it.  

Hard to get, I started with a draft of Brew Dog Punk IPA.  While I've had a couple of good beers from Brew Dog, I haven't been as impressed as the fan boy media would make out the iconic brewery.  My present theory is that this brewery is pushing the envelope for England; however, they haven't developed the finesse and sophistication of hop usage that is required for the American market. Next, I tried a French double IPA by Brasserie de la Vallee de Chevreuse, according to my notes. Again, not as elegant as I would normally prefer, but the delight of drinking a French Double IPA was worth the trip.  

Express de Lyon would be just another restaurant with a few good taps in most beer beer locales. Even in a developing market like Minnesota, it would barely show on the radar of geeks. However, in France, the dearth of good beer bars makes it one of the better places to go.  At this point of our vacation, I'd been in Belgium for a week and France for several days and the hop demon had grown restless. Express de Lyon was a welcome respite from tourist attractions, street food and beer low on hops.

Wynkoop Brewing (Denver, CO)


First night of GALA the weekend after the 4th of July and we head to Wynkoop for dinner between tech rehearsal and the opening concert.  Love the downtown Denver free bus that runs along the 16th Street Mall that kept us out of the rain and got us within a two block walk of the bar.

We've been to Wynkoop enough times that I've lost count--bellied up to the bar more often than any pub outside of the Twin Cities.  I have notes from 2003, 2005 and 2008, doing the the tour during one of those visits.  Eight bonus pints from the ticket stubs of our first Great American Beer Festival (GABF) helped us learn a well worn path through the LoDo District.  My wife is a big fan of Wynkoop's B3K Black Lager and I drink whatever is new and hoppy, making Wynkoop a sure bet for a great start to any Colorado vacation.

Today's visit only confirms Wynkoop's status. I started with the Brewjolais (brew-szha-lay) Nouveau. Described as sour brown, it was light and wine-like with the filling body of Flemish brown and a solid sourness that's clear but not overpowering.  Excellent and a hit with a range of drinkers in our party.  Added another new brew to the list with the London Calling IPA on cask, which was a fine English Ale.  After a sip of my wife's B3K, I ordered my own draft to savor this smooth dark lager.  I could live next to Wynkoop's and be quite happy.

In between, we had dinner. Time has really helped Wynkoop's food. Veggie options used to be limited and perfectly adequate--nothing that I remember getting very excited about. We had developed a habit of drinking at Wynkoop and finding fool elsewhere.  However, last night we were blown away by our dishes. First was the Veggie Green Chili that came with fresh soft toritillas for dipping (and we doubled checked that it is vegetarian and not just veggies).  So good and just enough heat to make it interesting.  We also shared the Mac-n-Cheese with Gratineed Cheddar and Asiago sauce with bread crumbs.  It was baked and a took a little while to show up, but very worth the wait and being late to our show--our fault, not Wynkoop's.

We also had a great conversation with a local couple sitting next to us the bar. One was a regular volunteer at GABF and it was interesting to learn some of the behind the scenes going ons of the fest. Plus, we chatted about more local beer places to hit up in the future, which nicely confirmed some of my drinking choices for the week.  Friends we brought to Wynkoop overwhelmingly approved and enjoyed the food and beer, even those that aren't committed beer geeks.  Wynkoop is a must stop in Denver.  I'm already looking forward to my next trip.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Bryant Lake Bowl (Minneapolis, MN)

According to my notes, 2002 was the last time I logged a beer at Bryant Lake Bowl.  I think I've been there since--just no new beers on tap for me. My recollections of BLB walking in the door again was of an adequate tap list, memorable pad thai and a night of fun but frustrating bowling due to some lanes, though pitchers of Summit smoothed out the rough patches.  Last night's Friday night gathering of Sibley friends was a revelation.

Finding a truly amazing beer for the first draft helped the night along: Bourbon Barrel Aged Bell's 9000.  Boozy bourbon wafts above a dark ale with an original gravity of over 1.100.  Big beer with a complex taste of wood, chocolate, vanilla and sweetness that's smooth, elegant and slightly overbalanced from the high alcohol.  A real treat by itself, but it also happens to be the "batch" beer that I was missing.  Before last night, I've been able to sample, 5000, 6000, 7000, 8000 and 10,000.  Better to be lucky than good, I guess, but frequently good bars will tend to make one lucky as well.

The food is also fantastic.  My wife had the mock duck rolls, which she reported as very good--good enough that I didn't get a sample.  I did the pad thai with mock dock and my recall on this dish was spot on.  Dan ordered medium compared to my hot, which Lori compared and said mine was significantly hotter, as expected; my bald head was sweating slightly, but it wasn't stupid spicey--just nicely at the limit.  Plus, I had purposely ordered a double IPA, Bell's Hopsolution, to counterpoint with high hop: an excellent combination that I would love to repeat.

My wife was surprised at how loud it was sitting in the restaurant, but, evidently, she's always been there late at night or not on a Friday.  With a full house and a waiting list for the bowling lanes, I was hoarse after our three hour dine and drink session with friends.  Not an uncomfortable volume for our group of six and everyone could participate in the conversation, but it did take a bit of effort to speak.

For entertainment, in between the other drafts, I had a little beer you may have heard of...Surly Darkness.  With a half a dozen additional beers that I would happily drink, Bryant Lake Bowl has seemingly upped its beer game.  I saw on an RSS feed that BLB did have a Bell's event tapping earlier in the week, so maybe we picked a good night is all.  But, I intend to test the theory in the near future and not wait so long to return to Bryant Lake Bowl.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Stone Brewing Tour (Escondido, CA)

A Twins fan working at Stone--it's a small world after all. 
Before a late lunch at Stone, we signed up immediately for the tour.  We arrived at least an hour before opening to get in line to sign up for the tour and hung out in the slightly chilled morning with other acolytes.

Smiley Cal between the fermentation tanks
Our perky guide with Stone's
"this is what beer is made of" display
Double checking online, Stone has changed it's policy recently.  The free tour is now $3 for adults, but someone can be sent as point to conveniently buy same day tour reservations for your group.
View of the brewery from the bar
Good stuff in barrels to age
Stone is trying to reduce the pile up and adding a special beer and glass for the price.  Interesting upgrade and this system would have allowed my cousin and her husband to join the tour at the last minute since they couldn't show up early on the day we visited.
??? Not sure.  But cute.  
Working the fermenters while
we're on vacation
I didn't take any notes, which may be evident.  And, it's been so long now since we did the tour that I don't confidently remember enough to provide details.  Sorry.  I had fun and learned a bit about my favorite brewery--smiling the whole time.
High speed centrifuge for clarification  
Lab.  Points to the advancement from the cowboy
days of yore at the Lost Abbey site.  
Go, drink, have fun.  It's Stone.  In the future, I'm looking forward to staying at the Stone Hotel that's planned across the parking lot, repeating the tour and dinner, and drinking my fill until I'm forced to stumble my way through a short walk home.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Clown Shoes (Ipswich, Massachusetts)

Clown Shoes Tramp Stamp
A query of our waiter at The Great Lost Bear in Portlane, Maine, about a previously unheard of brewery during our 2011 New England road trip yielded a strong recommendation for Clown Shoes Hoppy Feet, a black IPA.  I was impressed enough to buy a range of bottles at The Ale Jail recently.

My week of Clown Shoes brews, in order:

Tramp Stamp Belgian IPA.  Interesting name and label. Inappropriate, just like a Belgian IPA.  Maybe that's the connection.  Very pretty amber ale with a creamy off white head.  Nose is light with yeasty esters and hop.  And the flavor is strongly hoppy with resin, orange and a hop bite.  Very well melded and elegant for such an inelegant name.

Pimp Double Brown Ale.  Big, dark brown ale with strong molasses, chocolate and a hop punch that balance a chewy sweetness.  As it warms, dark cherry floats over to the surface of 10% ABV hotness.  Could fall in love with this beer over and over again.

Clementine White Ale.  Orange and spice nose is pleasant which flows into a fruity taste.  Belgian yeast flavors blend well with the Summit hops, adding a punch of west coast style grapefruit.  Interestingly good but not great.

Third Party Candidate.  One beer that doesn't have a link on the website.  Says 50% Eagle Claw Fist Imperial Amber and 50% Loopy Oatmeal Red Ale on the label.  Creamy light brown head that yields a big hoppy nose with a strong caramel backbone. Promised hops show up in force on a surprisingly thin body, possibly heavily attenuated from the 10% ABV.  Evaporates on the tongue, leaving a heavy trace of hop.

Chocolate Sombrero Mexican style Chocolate Stout.  Light brown head piled up massively no matter how I poured it.  Glad I put it in a large Belgian glass.  Slight chili and vanilla in nose, but not aggressive.  Tongue explodes with creamy dark malt, big time almost dark chocolate and the ancho chili hits cleanly later on but isn't overpowering.  Vanilla and cinnamon hides in the back, which I might have missed if not on the label.  Second best chili beer I've had behind Stone's Smoked Porter w/ chipotle that I had on draft at The Republic last spring and reminds me a lot of a mole sauce we like at Taqueira la Mexicana on the south side of Chicago.

When I visit a new brewery--and it's not working out--I always wonder how the people running it seem to not be able to see problems that I, just an overly enthusiastic amateur, can easily taste.  Clown Shoes is the flip-side of this scenario--people who know beer that decide to create better beer.  From an article on Drink Craft Beer, Clown Shoes contract brewed through Mercury Brewing and it's recipes are the inspiration of liquor store owner, Jesse Dooley and his employees.

In short, the Clown Shoes process is to sample a particular style's range, brainstorm improvements to test batch, and then drink the results until epiphany dictates the one that goes to the big leagues.  Love this model, which, from my tasting notes above, I think should put an end to any doubts about the effectiveness of contract brewing.

Clown Shoes is producing some great beer, and when I saw a post that four new brews are in state, my first thought was to head down to get me some.  Unfortunately, my schedule didn't agree and I've yet to add more Clown Shoes to my list.  However, I will correct this error at my earliest opportunity.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Cadillac Ranch, Mall of America (Minneapolis, MN)


Met the family at Cadillac Ranch for a get together before some shopping.  Not an obvious beer stop--CR has a much larger range of mixed drinks.  I'd never heard of it, but evidently it's a pretty big chain restaurant.

Inside it looks like an upscale honky tonk, including an antler chandelier and red velvet trimmings.  After dinner, several of us took a turn on the free mechanical bull by the back bar.  Sign a release and you'll be tossed off onto a padded floor in no time--I was!

I thought I'd try the Cadillac Ranch Ale, but asked first if it was contract brewed locally.  Nope.  She thought it was Killian's Red, so I passed.  Substituting a draft of the beer-of-month of Leinenkugel's Snowdrift Vanilla Porter, I found it well served: slight roast to go with the dark maltiness;  vanilla is light, but there more on the tongue than the nose; smooth, creamy and easy to drink.  For a chain restaurant, the ten taps are a decent array of macros and regional craft beers.

Food was better than I expected.  We shared the margherita flat bread and the spinach artichoke dip that's served with flatbread.  Not overly large servings; they were perfect to split the two.  Oddly, the online menu at their website doesn't match what we were given, even though there are links for each location.

Service was friendly and no problem for us to sit chatting well after the meal was done.  Nice to have a decent beer back up at the Mall.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Stone World Bistro (Escondido, CA)

Canopy entrance to the fantasy brew of Stone World Bistro
Last December, my wife and I finally made the pilgrimage to Stone Brewing.  When asked, I routinely proclaim Stone to be my favorite brewery in America.  
Front bar where we waited for the tour. Brewery behind glass. 
Not alone in my fan boy status, but I have been with Stone since the beginning.  We toured Stone when they were in the location that is now Lost Abbey.  Tour is a strong word.  We saw the brewery behind a portable tap, drank samples and went home with several bottles, an Arrogant Bastard glass stating that "Fizzy yellow beer is for wussies" and a growler of their RIS before it was famous, a great beer haul that they drinking of is another post.
Souvenir shop, tasting room and tour start.  
This trip was nothing short of spectacular.  For beer, a multiple 5 out of 5 world class rating visit is unique.  With too many beers to drink, even with my lovely wife as DD and my own prodigious limits, I ordered a sampler tray to expand my on-site listing to include the IPA, Pale Ale, Smoked Porter, and other good but not top of my scale pours. 
Iconic gargoyle to left of main bar
Drafts included one of only three Vertical Epic beers that I've ever had on tap, 11.11.11, and two beers that fight for my all time favorites: Sublimely Self Righteous and Ruination IPA.  With drafts taking a toll on my reasonable judgement, I went home with a book, The Craft of Stone Brewing Co, and a growler of the double dry hopped version of the 15th Anniversary Ale.  Beervana and worth every effort to get here.  When the hotel is finished next door, I'm looking forward to getting on a jet plane to my to my beer haven.  
Cousin Mark walking from garden back in the bistro
The beer alone would make the trip, but I'd show up for just the food as well.  In case you missed the magnitude of this compliment, due to my beer obsession, few restaurants not doubling as a beer destination catch my attention.  I had a tempeh burger with so much heat that even the fabled hoppiness of Ruination IPA couldn't cut it. I shoulda gone with medium.  Gloria had a veggie pot pie that was so good that it's the top of my list for my next visit.  Pot pies are rarely vegetarian, so this comfort food is sorely missed.  Great veggie options plus local ingredients make Stone a hands down foodie hot spot. 
Bar view opposite of brewery glass wall towards garden
Just a week before my 46th birthday, it was an afternoon of drinking epiphanies and catching up with SoCal friends and family: the very purpose of my favorite social lubricant.  
Mark, me, cousin Barb, and friends Chrissy and Chris. 
Gag pic for friends making Mark look small
and my souvenirs in hand. 

Friday, November 2, 2012


When I started blogging, I worried that I wouldn't have enough to write about.  With one year of writing just a few weeks away and a bit over 250 posts, there seems to be enough beeriness in my life to expound upon. Presently, I'm sitting on 66 rough drafts of various bars and beers that I've had in the past few months.

Which means I have to be a more discerning writer--or devote more time.  And, the latter isn't practical at the moment.  

When I grade student papers, there's always a decision to make.  Students want a number on every piece of work, and, if the world agreed that this was important enough to pay for an appropriate student to teacher ratio, I would love to work in detail with every student on every assignment.  The reality is that the student doing the work is what's important and my limited time for feedback must be used for best effect.  

In the same vein, tasting notes on beers can distract me from writing up other experiences.  While I would like to put everything online, I need a new approach.  Special beers that are above and beyond will still need to be reviewed.  I've got a bottles of Surly Syx and Melange a Trois by Nebraska  Brewing in the fridge that need to be thoughtfully sipped.  Just tonight I acquired a bottle of Utopias 2012, so my imbibing of this unique brew must be shared.  But the rest need to be bypassed, combined or incorporated briefly into other posts. 

When I want to know what beer is good or not, I go to two trusted sources: BeerAdvocate or The Bitter Nib by Al, aka Feloniousmonk.  BA has a range of reviews from geeks to neophytes, and Al writes the most entertaining and accurate reviews online.  Others are doing a great job of documenting beer in real time, and I want to focus on developing my own contribution to the beer world.

So I will diligently drink my homework, applying my growth and learning to local watering holes, travel adventures and peak experiences.