Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Left Hand Brewing (Longmount, CO)


Our merry band of beer drinkers stopped first today at Left Hand Brewing in Longmount.  I like Left Hand but am not the number one fan of the brewery.  However, Left Hand consistently brews pretty good beerjust nothing that I've fallen in love with.

We settled in and shared several samples at the large high top tables that fit our entire group.
Possibly the coolest bathroom stall divider of all time
I started with the Blackjack cask porter that was good but I preferred the Wake Up Dead Russian Imperial Stout, as did my wife.  These were the highlights event though we tried Milk Stout, Chainsaw Ale Double ESB, Haystack Wheat German wheat, Polestar Porter, and Octoberfest Marzen Lager. Overall, the beer was as expected: well brewed, all good but falling short of great for me.

Fun stop with the bathroom being a weird highlight. The stall doors were made of different types of barley put into the frame like sand art.  While a very odd conclusion from bathroom art, it's caring for the details that shows how much pride a brewery has in itself, which often transfers to the beer. Left Hand is taking care of business, and, by the full tap room, locals are very happy with them.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Estes Park Brewery (Estes Park, CO)


I've had several people recommend Estes Park Brewery to me over the years.  Unfortunately, our string of great Colorado breweries came to an end here.

Of the samples we tried, the Trail Ridge Red and the Renegade IPA were perfectly passable beers.  The rest were below par. One of the best tasting brews was a combination of porter with the raspberry wheat, never a good sign when mixing beer is an improvement.

Because of my earlier recommendations, we waited past lunch time to eat at Estes Park while spening the bulk of the day driving around Rocky Mountain National Park; my patience and hunger were only adequately satisfied by a cheese pizza.  Disappointing but fine. On this Saturday afternoon, the place is lively and full of locals. Seemed like a fun place to come with a group of people.  If I found myself in Estes Park for the scenery or other reason unrelated to beer, I wouldn't fight going back to Estes Park Brewery.  However, I definitely won't go out of my way for it, again.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Avery Brewing (Boulder, CO)


Another Friday night stop on our tour of Boulder, Avery should be a list topper for every beer drinker: iconic, widely-distributed Colorado brewery the consistently delivers great beer.

However, if you're expecting a taproom that rivals Stone World Bistro because of the big name, you'll be disappointed.  Instead, Avery is a small, crowded local with an extensive selection of their beers to try, well beyond anything I've been lucky enough to find in stores over the years.

On this stop, we jumped right in with a Lilikoi Kepolo.  Lilikoi is passionfruit and we remembered having a fantastic lilikoi beer at Kona Brewing years ago; I didn't think this one matched up, but Gloria liked it. Excellent drafts of Nineteen and Dry Hopped Salvation followed.  Drinking these on-site-only variations defines the very purpose of drinking local.  We finished with Samael's, a 15.6% ABV beer that could've been a wonderful end to our evening in Boulder (or wouldn've been if not for sharing snifters) if we hadn't hit Avery early on our tour.

Any fan of Avery would do well to plan a little time at the tap room to sample their extensive list, including the regulars that are distributed plus several extra special beers just for showing up.  As warned on the website, the taproom isn't big and most of the seating is outside, so dress accordingly if the plan is to settle in.  Food and smaller draft samples are available so that the excitement of so many options doesn't overwhelm.    

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Asher Brewing (Boulder, CO)


Our hosts Cheryl and Susannah from Boulder brought us to Asher Brewing, a local haunt that's a certified organic brewery. Lively on a Friday night, it was raucous with friends and pets outside the small pub and others playing games in the back by the barrels aging.

Started with samples: $2 per, so $12 for the set. Pricey but craft and organic come with a price, and usually more when combined.
Fun and games by the barrels in back
My favorites were Tree Hugger Organic Amber, Green Monstah Organic Strong Ale and Green Bullet Organic IPA, which I followed up with a draft.  I was excited to try the Grenade Organic Double IPA, but was disappointed. Chatting took precedence over beer notes, but overall the brews were cleanly brewed with a fresh, full flavor.

A beer conundrum that I haven't been able to figure out is why I have never had an organic beer that is exceedingly better than my non-organic favorites. The basic argument is that superior ingredients should yield a superior product. Yet, I have yet to sample an organic beer (or set of beers) that proves that theory in spite of a strong desire to like them.  Limits of organic ingredients?  Unsure, but Asher's beers are like most organics that I've tasted: good, well brewed but not amazing. Asher isn't my new favorite pub, but it was a great night with friends and an excellent local that I would happily frequent if I lived in the neighborhood.

Stranahan's Whiskey Tour (Denver, CO)

Stranahan's tasting room

From my former students who live in Denver and other sources, I've only heard good things about the Stranahan's Whiskey tour. Their popularity would support my evidence, so sign up well in advance on the website.  I was quite excited since this was my very first distillery tour.  Akin to brewing, much of the basic information is similar but it's still fun to play and learn the differences.

Stranahan's is owned by the same folks as Flying Dog, starting as a side project in the Blake Street location. Now, it has moved to the former brewhouse of the defunct Heavenly Daze Brewery and Grill with the new restaurant called the Rackhouse Pub.

We were about 30 min early for the first tour at 10 am, but the doors were open and they let us hang out in the tasting room on a massive leather couch that's so big, I felt like a little kid sitting on it.  Barrel theme for the tasting counter and standing tableseven one with a saddle.  Hanging out, the angel's share of the malt whiskey permeates the room, heightening the senses for the actual tour.

This first distillery in Colorado started with 5 barrels a week and now is up to 45 barrels of all malt whiskey. Lots of distilling details that I will let the reader find out on the tour of how they turn an 8% nut brown ale base into 110 proof whiskey.

For me, the barrel room is the most interesting.  Stranahan's whiskey is aged five years max in the barrel and they are two years from an expansion because they are short of five year stock. However, the good news is they already own the block around the distillery, so they have room for a planned future expansion. A misting system regulates the humidity of the cellar to keep the $30,000 worth of whiskey in each barrel in proper condition. Stacks of the beautifully aging barrels were just fun to walk through.  All of the Stranahan bottles are filled by volunteers with free beers (2), pizza and a bottle as payment; locals can add themselves to the long list of volunteers.

The very friendly tour guide led us through samples of whiskey, teaching the niceties as we sample straight up and cutting with water—an enlightening and interesting tasting that was clearly designed to make sure the whiskey was fully appreciated by the many tour members who would soon be buying bottles for home.

Overall, especially when combined with lunch afterwards at the Rackhouse Pub, this tour is worth the effort of the advanced reservations and the short trek from the downtown area.  We drove since we were making the transfer to our hotel in downtown Denver, but there's public transportation that can get you there with a bit of walking.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Rackhouse Pub (Denver, CO)


Rackhouse Pub is directly attached to the Stranahan's distillery, so a very natural choice for dinner before or after a tour. In the space of the defunct Heavenly Daze Brewery, the one BA review of Heavenly Daze sounds like Rackhouse is a retro-fit of the previous incarnation.  The long black bar and big screen TVs provide a nice dimly lit place to drink.  We chose the cut down copper kettle booth just because it was fun.

I started with a Ska Modus Hoperandi because of its rep and cool name; sadly, I was disappointed with it, though not because of how it was served.  It just seemed a bit light in the glass.  We were very happy with our Quattro Formaggio pizza for lunch that paired well with a Great  Divide Belgian Yeti. Only detraction was that the music was a bit loud for us middle aged folk.

A bit out of the way to go for just the Rackhouse Pub, but the
combination with a Stranahan's tour is unbeatable. Due to time constraints, we didn't take the time to hit the nearby Breckenridge Brewery tasting room or Renegade Brewing, but I've noted this as a possible future combination, especially using the downtown Denver public transportation to shorten the trek.

Dry Dock Brewing (Aurora, CO)

The Brew Hut
Dry Dock Brewing from the back looking
towards the taps near the front door

First round with one of my favorite views
Gloria and I are in town for GALA, but we got a hotel in Aurora to have an evening at Dry Dock Brewing before the singing started.  Brewing TV did an episode on Dry Dock before Northern Brewer came out with their Dry Dock brew kits.  Between that and hearing about the start of the pub on Basic Brewing Radio, having a pint here was at the top of my drinking list for a trip to Denver.

Today, Dry Dock is the fully expanded version of a tap room of original business on site: The Brew Hut.  From the bar, it looks like a pretty cool brew shop, but closed at the moment.  Great idea to have the two side by side to support the making and drinking of very local craft beer.  Dry Dock is still very much a tap room with limited hours and free popcorn is your only sustenance.  Eat ahead of time, bring it along (saw a group with Chinese take-out) and come for the company and the beer.  My favorite feature of the pub was a self serve water station to stay hydrated without bothering the bartenders. JL Beers needs to take a lesson from Dry Dock.

I started with the Double IPA, which was very solid.  The Urca Vanilla Porter was a strong, extremely sweet porter full of vanilla, like a beer milkshake.  My favorite of the night was the U.S.S. Enterprise IPA that reminds me a bit of Masala Mama from my home pub Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery.  These and a couple of other drafts made for a mellow start to an exciting week in Denver.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Denver Beer Tour (Denver, CO)


Ale House at Amato's
After a fantastic week of music with One Voice Mixed Chorus at GALA, an intrepid band of beer drinkers within the choir stayed an extra day to taste Denver. We started by taking the free MallRide to the northwest end of 16th Street to shorten our walk to our first stop across the river.  Here's a map of our path for the day.

We started at Ale House at Amato's because it opened earlier for lunch than anything else downtown.  Plus, the walk across the river in the late morning was a fun start to the day.  Two former students, who were in the midst of packing to move to DC, paused filling boxes to have lunch with us.  It's great when the timing of life works works in one's favor.  Because we had a long day ahead, I splurged and enjoyed the Fish n Chips but Gloria thought the flatbread, while good, was a bit weird.  Overall, the foodies in the group were fairly happy with it.  Great local beer selection, which allowed me to taste new beers: Yak and Yeti Himalayan IPA and Bristol's Edge City Imperial IPA.  Solid start.

Great Divide patio
Walking back over the river, the next stop was the famous Falling Rock Tap House.  I've been to Falling Rock before, but only during GABF.  Far less crazy on an early Thursday afternoon, we settled in the comfortable coaches.  A collaboration beer between Falling Rock and Pikes Peak was my high point: a Double Belgian IPA; pale, lager yellow but with a serious funk bite.  Sadly, Falling Rock was a tough stop for us.  One member fell off the several inch drop off and hurt her ankle and another member didn't notice her wallet fall into the deep coach (we returned for it later).  Great beer place in spite of our confluence of troubles.

Falling Rock Tap House
On my last GABF, I did a pub crawl with BeerAdvocate that included Great Divide. With BA, we not only got the VIP tour, but they didn't let us pay for any of the beer.  This was my first opportunity to pay back the kindness and my group of hop heads didn't mind.  My top beer of the stop was a Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti that was very worth the effort.

Even though the main brewing is done in Maryland now, Flying Dog still has a tasting room in Denver.  Hard to find (go around the back of the building for the address), we finally got into the tasting room for my favorite puppy in the pound: Double Dog.  Plus, I really liked the Wildeman Farmhouse, a funky farmhouse ale that was brewed for the famous beer bar (and personal favorite) In de Wildeman in Amsterdam.

A bit of ironic humor at
Flying Dog tasting room
Needing sustenance again, we finished at old reliable: Wynkoop Brewing in LoDo.  We love it and generally start, and this time end, every trip here. Tonight we returned for the amazing Mac & Cheese and the fantastic Veggie Green Chili, the latter being a particular treat for this vegetarian—didn't even know I missed it until this week. Added the ColoRojo Double Red to the database tonight, a fine ale to finish the day and the week.

In short, drinking in Denver is a bucket list day for any beer geek.  Taking a slow pace today, our tour is simply one of many options in the downtown area, much of which can be facilitated with efficient public transportation.  We just learned GALA 2016 is returning to the fabulous music facilities of downtown Denver and this beer geek can't be happier.  To quote the great philosopher Ferris Bueller, "It's so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend it."

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Chicone's Liquor Mart (Hudson, WI)

One of three beer coolers brimming
beyond the stacks of macrobrew
One of the bonuses of living in the Twin Cities is being able to drive to Hudson to pick up beer that's not distributed in Minnesota. I've pick up Dogfish Head before their retreat from this part of the country and a drive over the river was my go to source for Stone before they finally moved into Minnesota.  Also, during speech season, when I work Saturday's for three months in a row, trips to Hudson are necessary to replenish the beer fridge because of MN blue laws.

There are two choices in Hudson from my experience: Casanova Liquors and Chicone's Liquor Mart. Both are better than good; I've switched back and forth over the years, but I slightly prefer Chicone's, especially after some of their recent changes.

New single bottle case
My main reason for going to Chicone's is that they generally are a good bet for picking up New Glarus Belgian Red (or Serendipity this year), my wife's favorite that I stock continuously. Normally, I would go to Chicone's for Belgian Red and a few standard six packs from a smaller selection; Casanova's would be for more variety in spite of a higher cost. However, on my latest trip, I was hunting Serendipity and found a re-vamped store. Chicone's seems to have added variety to its coolers, repacking them a bit more efficiently.

Plus, they've created an extensive single bottle case to take home mixed six packs.  Despite (or maybe because of) my 5000 plus beers I've tried, I'm becoming more conservative in my choices, tolerating a mediocre or worse beer less than I used to early in my beer quest.  A large variety of out-of-market singles makes the risk of a new brewery palatable.

The high point of the single bottles were both New Glarus: Black Top, a Black IPA, and the Thumbprint series IIPA, a double IPA.  Not a surprise and fun additions to my New Glarus collection. Tommyknocker Hop Strike Black IPA and Perkulator from Dark Horse were just fine, but a bottle each was good enough.  I added two breweries to my tally as well: Milwaukee Brewing and 3 Sheeps. I won't be going out of my way for either of them, but some times new for the sake of new is enough.

I just like dedication to the beer quality of Chicone's and, more importantly, having the entire beer stock in coolers (except single bottles) gives me confidence in what I buy. Just like any store that sells a fair amount of macrobrew, every beer drinker needs to be wary of how long the beer's been on the shelf (pass up on the summer ales in December, etc); however, between their normal movement of stock and extensive refrigeration, I have no complaints about my purchases over the years. Chicone's is one of my go-to beer stores and, happily, it just got better.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Gluek's Restaurant & Bar (Minneapolis, MN)

My wife had an OVation gig nearby at the Graves 601 Hotel but I had some time between dropping her off and the performance, so a pint seemed like a good idea when I fortuitously walked by Gluek's. Sitting at the end of the bar near the door, the house beers were directly in front of me.  Ordered an IPA, which was tapped out, so started instead with a Gluek's Red: dark amber to brown with a dirty white head; mineral, caramel and wheat bread in the nose; sweet caramel on top of a chewy breadiness with the mineral note in the background. Perfectly adequate amber ale but not a new favorite. However, this Cold Spring Brewery made beer is better than drinking a Leinie's Red.
Gluek's Red with tap list

I occasionally tell a story to prove that I have the coolest wife in the world, which includes Gluek's. It was May 17th, 2000 and my buddy John, who had been KISS ARMY since he was a kid, invited me to a KISS concert at the Target Center. We started the evening at Gluek's to get primed for the show, drinking with the idea that we had an entire concert before going home.  However, the bar, full of KISS fans, started to buzz with whispering that the concert was postponed until the next night. A trip outside to see the Target Center marquee confirmed that the band was trapped in Chicago by weather. I called Gloria from the bar pay phone and said we'd try to sell the ticket since the show was postponed to our 15th wedding anniversary.  My very cool wife said I'd been looking forward to this for a while, my first big time rock concert, and that I should go.  After confirming her opinion in the next morning and planning a weekend celebration for the anniversary, John and I repeated the night at Gluek's and had a memorable time of head banging at the "farewell" KISS tour.

I remember the food at Gluek's being good in preparation for the concert, but I didn't have time to confirm that memory today. I had a draft of Surly Furious to test the beer serving with a more familiar beer.  Well served, maybe a half a step short of 100%, but I don't have any real problems with the drafts I sampled.  Music was too loud sitting near the door, but then it changed to a guy running trivia.  Interesting trivia set up: no cell phones, internet, and a team member had two minutes to bring up a piece of paper with the answer on it.  A throwback that seemed appropriate in a local landmark since 1934.  A beautiful old bar that has seriously expanded drinking options to a perfectly respectable beer list since my last visit.  I'd be happy to find myself at Gluek's again, hopefully returning a bit faster than last time.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Liberty Village Wines & Spirits (Stillwater, MN)

Heading to Stillwater last Saturday night, the beer fridge was uncharacteristically low and I forgot to get something local before getting on the freeway.  We saw Liberty Village Wines & Spirits just off Manning Avenue on the way to the party.

We stopped to pick up a six to contribute to the festivities.  Ended up taking two 4 packs of Surly: Overrated and Cynic.  One hoppy for me and the like minded and one for everyone else.  However, I had a hard time choosing and had several different beers that I was interested in.

Fine choice for a seemingly small place in a shopping center dressed as a cheesy faux village.

In addition to a full wall of beer coolers, Liberty Village had something unique.  They put together six packs of craft beer by style. Almost went home with the Double IPA pack but kept walking in the interest of time.  Liberty Village is a better than adequate stop with a large cooler to protect that craft beer investment, plus it's presence is clear evidence of craft beer's ever expanding horizon.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Review of Beginning Homebrew DVD

Beginning Homebrew pics from their website
A few days I ago, an email for Beginning Homebrew DVD was in my inbox.  I'm on innumerable email lists and other beer related sites, so I didn't think anything of it.  Reading closer, it was a request to review the DVD as a beer blogger.  First time I've had such a request, so it was pretty cool when I realized what it meant. The video is posted for free online temporarily at their website in honor of AHA Big Brew for National Homebrew Day.  So (with full disclosure that this is a prompted request), here we go.

In short, I found the advice to be sound and easy to digest, filled with pretty much all of the standard necessary advice for a novice homebrewer.  Plus, it fulfills one of the major requirements of learning how to brew: watch someone else brew.  Plus, on the website there's a brewing flowchart and a free E-book download that's a supplement to the video. Between the video and the online support, I'm quite convinced that a perfectly good batch of brew will be had with these directions. Probably the strongest part of the video is that it takes into consideration that different levels of commitment and resources available to a new brewer, and offers multiple suggestions for various parts of the brewing process.

I had a few minor issues with the video that I think could be improved upon to help neophytes.  First, some of the directions lacked clarity on brew day realities.  One thing, I'd consider moving the yeast section further up in the video to highlight the preparation.  Or, at least make a note in the flow chart that the yeast preparation can/should start earlier in the brew day so that it is ready for pitching when the wort is cooled.  Also, while the video shows how to pour in extract properly and gave examples of various types, using a bulk container for the actual demonstration rather than a more standard bottle or can seemed like an error to me.

Next, the video portion of the Getting Started section seemed to undercover what would be involved.  I can see where this would be a writing choice to not overwhelm a new brewer.  More information is listed in the E-Book, but it's not really explained in the video.  It feels to me that the clarity of what would be needed to actually get started is somewhat murky.

Finally, when I starting homebrewing, I found that the devil was in the details and that my anxiety came from those steps in the process that are rarely discussed in materials I've seen.  These would include how to pick and make sanitizer, and how to properly apply it to difficult objects like the bottom of the kettle lid (a use a spray bottle to coat it).  Plus, while covered, I think preparation and handling of the brew water could use more information; however, this may be more of a personal obsession since I am trying to gain more control over my brew water as an intermediate brewer.

Overall, Beginning Homebrewing does a good job for the novice brewer to get started and complete a batch or five.  My review above seems overly critical, but the video really has sound advice that is well written, delivered and easy to follow.  I suspect that a brewer who moves beyond those initial batches and needs some intermediate help will quickly need more advanced information for sources like Basic Brewing, which is inevitable regardless of where one starts.  But, this video will definitely get a new brewer started just fine.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Tips for Drinking Paris

Notre Dame at night.  Picture by Gloria
Summer 2012

Of the Ten Tips for Drinking Belgium, many of them apply to France.  We spent the vast majority of our time in Paris on this trip, plus a couple of day trips to Versailles, Chateau du Vicomte and Giverny.  On a future trip, I'd organize drinking a bit differently.

1. Hotel refrigerator. Evidently, there's no ice in France. Hotels don't have ice machines and asking for it only yields quizzical looks.  Nor can it be found in a grocery store. One desk clerk suggested I buy a beer at the bar across the street and ask nicely. All of us have been the road warrior drinking in the hotel room with an ice bath in the sink for the evening's brewsdoesn't work here. Didn't try in Belgium, but assume it would be similar.  On this trip, finding an apartment to rent with a kitchen or a hotel with a fridge will be important.

2. Pick a home near a bottle shop or beer bar. Between research and experience, there's not a lot of beer bars with an extensive selection of local or EU brews. More often, it's like Express de Lyon with a small but quality range of taps and bottles. Unlike Belgium, good beer doesn't just appear easily. A hotel or apartment within walking distance of Brewberry or La Cave a Bulles would be real treat to stop for a beer and take one home for the above mentioned fridge. I wasn't able to visit La Cave a Bulles, but Brewberry is in the Latin Quarter, a lively neighborhood that seemed like a good place to end the evening after being a tourist. For this two week stay in Paris, we rented an apartment on the Isle de St. Louis and had croissants for breakfast and quiche for dinner, all from the local bakeries.  Or, we picked up beer and ingredients from the family market on our street to make a homemade dinner with the nieces.  We relished pretending to live in real neighborhood rather than our first ring vanilla suburb of home. Next time, I would like to include an easier beer stop in that fantasy lifestyle.
Eiffel tower and Parisian skyline from Arc de Triomphe.  Picture by Gloria.  

3. Plan ahead in late summer. Most tourism books warn of businesses being closed in late summer because many French go on holiday this time of year. In Paris, Brewberry was closed for most of August (and maybe part of July if I read the sign correctly). The bakery below our apartment closed the day after we arrived and Brewberry only opened on our last night in town. Cecile of Brewberry mentioned that La Cave a Bulles was closed as well, so there goes two of the best options in town for those of us with professions that limit us to summer travel.
Paris Metro.  Picture by Gloria

4. Ride the rails. Paris probably has the fastest, most efficient public transportation system that we've ever used.  If there is ever an argument against urban sprawl, Paris is it.  Except for taking the train to Versailles or the airport, we rarely waited more than four minutes for a subway train take us to our next location, even late at night or farther away from the city center.  When I took our nieces to the airport, the train was re-routed, but there were numerous bilingual attendants that helped us navigate the direction signs.  If the first two recommendations aren't possible, the subway can help facilitate a beer hunter looking for a draft.

5. Ask for a flask of tap water. It works better here than in Belgium for some reason, so it's easier to stay hydrated.

If these work (or don't!), let me know. If I missed a trick, please comment for my next trip.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Falstaff Bar a Bieres (Montparnasse, France)


When we checked into the Hotel Renoir of Montparnasse, we were mostly concerned that our room had air conditioning after suffering through the hottest weekend since 1994 (according to the hotel clerk in Antwerp the day before). So, even though I noted a beer bar across the street, it took us a day to get to it.

On BeerAdvocate, two Falstaff's are listed in other areas of town, plus I've seen more in our travels. This Falstaff isn't on BA.  The one we visited is on Rue du Montparnasse in Montparnasse, and was a very pleasant stop in spite of being a chain.

Gloria started with Carolus D'or on draft and I had Leffe Royale, a 7.5% blonde that I've seen advertised around town but have never tasted or heard of until our France trip. Both were well served and fresh. We asked the waiter for a recommendation for a French beer on their bottle list and ended up ordering Gavroche, an amber ale from St. Sylvestre. A solid beer with some strong characteristics but not one I'd buy again.

Dinner, however, was a hit. We ordered the Penne aux Fromage and it was spectacular. Really loved the meal, and, surpringingly, it went well with the Carolus D'or.

Thirteen beers on tap from Guinness to La Trappe Tripel to Lindeman's Framboise make it a fine beer stop in a fairly barren Parisian beerscape. 120 bottles listed by country, though I didn't peruse the list thoroughly. We have plans to eat near Brewberry in the Latin Quater for our last night in Paris, but, if needed, I wouldn't hesitate to go to Falstaff again.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Bier Academie (Paris, France)


From our apartment on the Ile de St. Louis, Biere Academy is the closest and I had high hopes of a good bar with an easy walk for a daily night cap. Recently added on BeerAdvocate, it had no reviews yet and should note be confused with the Academie de la Biere.

On a Saturday night, it was completely dead and we took a seat at a table and ordered a couple of beers. The Lindeman's Faro was good, but the Huyghe Artevelde seemed very off. I tried to order safer for the next one: Delirium Nocturnum, but it seemed to not be 100% either.

And after a week in Belgium, I was disappointed that nothing was served in its proper glass. Overall, a huge waste of time and money, and I will not be returning at all.

La Taverne de Cluny (Paris, France)


Gloria and the girls' flight should be landing now, so I'm having a draft at La Taverne de Cluny near the Cluny Museum before heading to our meeting place behind Notre Dame Cathedral.

The drafts are of standard fare with La Chouffe being the most interesting. The taps include Lindeman's Framboise, Leffe Blonde and Maredsous Bruin before going macro with Stella Artois, Kronenburg 1664 and Carlsberg.

"Kings" of Notre Dame at Musee de Cluny.
Picture by Gloria

The draft I had was adequately served by a gruff bartender. If at the Cluny Museum, it's a close and a good bet for a decent beer. Note that there's a different price for the bar versus sitting at a table. Since I prefer the bar, it's no effort to save some money.

After the girls went home, my wife and spent an afternoon at the Cluny Museum without returning to the tavern.  The Cluny was well worth the effort, especially after hearing the story of the "kings" of Notre Dame, statues torn down from the facade of the church during the revolution that were later found in a Parisian backyard.  Seeing how high the statues are on the side of Notre Dame, I understood for the first time the inestimable power of a revolutionary spirit bent on destruction.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

O'Neil Maitre Artisan Brasseur aka Brasserie O'Neil (Paris, France)

La chope of L' Ambree

Frog & Princess didn't open until 5:30 pm, so I wandered around to find Brasserie O'Neil. It's happy hour, which means 40 cents off per La Chope (big mug) of beer. Honestly, I'm not sure what sort of beer I'm going to find in France after a week in Brussels, so I'm hopeful in ordering a mug of L'Ambree. Amber ale is the only explanation on the menu.

L'Ambree is an amber ale that looks, not surprisingly, light in the glass, almost watery. Gentlemen beside me ordered the blonde, which looks very watery. However, the taste is more robust and has a decent mouthfeel. Caramel and fresh bread in the nose with a very light hop spice if you dig for it a little. Light caramel pervades the taste that's followed by a minor hop at the end. Not a beer to travel a long ways to drink, but a perfectly adequate amber ale that's cleanly brewed.

I assumed that if Belgians were nervous around hops that French would be terrified. But, part of the hopping in L'Ambree is from the fact that the area around Brasserie O'Neil and the Frog & Princess is an expat British neighborhood with a lot of dress shops and pizzerias. The bartender here is clearly French, but the person that helped me at the Frog & Princess was assuredly an expat working at a British styled pub.

Brew kettle is right in the front window of the bar with copper piping bringing the steam through the bar to the roof I suppose. From the piping, my guess is that the mash is a floor lower. The bar was empty when I showed up, but filling up with a Friday night, after-work crowd. Dark wood and brick bar, not dissimilar to many British or Irish pubs.

Not everyone in the bar seems to be drinking the amber, so I'm going to take the hint and try the La Brune. On a the back of the menu, I found more detailed descriptions. La Brune is listed as as an ebony ale; in the mug, it's more of a dark brown with ruby highlights from the evening light. Tan head drops quickly with no lace over a clean, mild roast and malt nose. Thin mouthfeel but enough substance for a brown ale rather than the description's stout label. A brown ale with stout-like qualities, again, is a perfectly fine ale, though it's not going to impress many beer geeks.

On the menu, flammekueches looked good, but the bartender was going off shift, so decided to eat my first crepe of the trip on the corner stand, a grand marnier soaked piece of heaven.  Brasserie O'Neil is an ok stop if you're desperate for a full pint, happen to be nearby or need a meal with English translations (more or less). In my case, I'm a glutton for punishment sometimes and just have to drink it myself. Today the beer is fine and I got to watch some heavyweight 100+ kg Olympic judo in the process. Oddly, the experience comes with some inner city rap and hip hop.

I returned later in the week with my wife and two nieces to try the Flammekeuches. But first, I ordered the La Blanche to drink this time. Fluffy white head over a hazy orange wheat beer. Head falls away quickly over a strong orange peel and spice nose. Not complex, but it has a pleasant aroma. Fruitiness continues in the taste with a slight carbonic bite. Again, not fabulous but brewed cleanly, a comment with which my wife agreed from a sip while she drank her draft of brune.

Flammekueches are a pastry dish from Alsace that means "baked in flames."  I had the Gratinee, which is the Classic (creme fraiche, onions and bacon) plus Gruyere cheese. Minus the bacon, of course, as I'm almost a vegetarian. Comes to the table looking like a thin omelet with burnt edges. Digging in, it is a light pastry crust with the sweet onions counterpointing the slightly sour taste, which I assume is the creme fraiche. Excellent and wish I had time to try this local cuisine again.

While completely eclipsed by Brewberry on our last day in Paris, Brasserie O'Neil served the purpose of a beer geek in need while touristing in Paris.  While no where near world class, some local flavor and an easy visit to a unique Parisian neighborhood makes it worth the effort.