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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Impromptu Hair of the Dog tasting

So on Tuesday night of this week, Brewslut and I headed over to Brass Rail Deli to get some KBS and Oak-Aged Pumking on tap.  Unfortunately, the Pumking was already kicked, so we had to "settle" for KBS.  My good beer friend, Dan, was also there, and he asked me when I would like to drink a bottle of Hair of the Dog bourbon barrel-aged Adam from the Wood.  "Ummm... how about tomorrow night!" I answered enthusiastically.

So last night the four of us (Dan, Kristen, Brewslut and I) polished off the aforementioned HotD beer as well as four others that have been aging (or festering... however you want to look at it) in my beer cellar: vintage '08 and '09 Doggie Claws, '09 Fred from the Wood and '09 Cherry Adam from the Wood.  Truly a nice line-up, indeed!


We started off with the BBA Adam from the Wood, which was by far the best of the evening.  I would have liked to cap off the night with this one, but Dan was anxious to try it, so I didn't put up a fight.  While this version was definitely less smokey and earthy than the traditional Adam, these attributes were replaced with a lush vanilla and tangy bourbon character that made this beer slide down my throat quite effortlessly.  This is definitely a beer to savor.  Unfortunately, we shared a 12oz. bottle four ways, but I enjoyed this one more and more with each passing sip.

Up next was Cherry Adam from the Wood.  While I enjoyed this one, it ultimately didn't live up to my full expectations.  I felt it didn't offer a lot of cherry character, which I was anticipating due to its namesake.  There was a tinge of soy sauce in the flavor as well, which typically does not agree with me, at least in the context of beer.  Still, it was quite smooth and subtle for such a high ABV beer and I am glad to have had the opportunity to try a bottle of this rarity.

Fred from the Wood was next up on the agenda.  If memory serves me correctly, I'd already had the '08 vintage of this (thanks Dan) a while back.  This '09 vintage was definitely brighter and sweeter than its elder counterpart.  The woody notes were quite subtle overall.  This was the perfect beer to place in the middle of our roster as it was much lighter than the previous two and ultimately more hoppy. 

We ended with Doggies Claws, one of my favorite barleywines on the market.  We decided to start with the '09 and work our way backwards.  Released from the depths of its dark and foreboding muddy body, the '09 vintage offered a complex nose of leafy hops, sweet caramel and tangy alcohol notes.  Doggie Claws definitely straddles the line between an English (traditionally maltier) and American (traditionally hoppier) style barleywine, but one this is for sure - this is a delicious beer any way you slice it!  The '08 was surprisingly a bit disappointing, or at least certainly not as fine as its more youthful heir.  The nose, as Dan pointed out, was a bit oxidized.  However, the flavor still delivered a pleasant experience overall, although it was Brewslut's least favorite of the evening.  She pointed out that it smelled like "split pea soup."  (For more of her amusing descriptions of beer aromas and flavors, check out one of my past blogs by clicking here.)



To read more about past Hair of the Dog travels, check out my previous blog, Tripping the West Coast-tastic - Part I: Seattle and Portland.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Pizza Boy Brewing Company update

Just a quick message to let you all know that Pizza Boy Brewing Co. is up and running with several "Test Batch" beers on tap at Al's of Hampden.  I stopped in last week and enjoyed a Citra dry-hopped lager on the hand pull and it was quite tasty.  According to the most recent tap list at http://www.alsofhampden.com/, all three beer engines are active, with two DIPAs and a hoppy pale on at the moment.  Additionally, there are two beers on tap - a Belgian pale and a lager.  So stop in to see what Al has been brewing!

Editor's note: Stopped in again on Thursday, December 22 and Al had THREE of his beers on the beer engines: a Warrior/Galaxy DIPA, a Warrior dry-hopped DIPA, and a cherry wood Belgian Pale.  I had a pint of the first and third mentioned above, and they were both very good.  The DIPA was nicely balanced with a pleasant nose.  The pale was intensely bitter with a huge Belgian yeast presence.  Al later told me that all of the bitterness came from the cherry wood and NOT from hops.  This was definitely an interesting take on a Belgian pale.  So stop in soon and try some of these.  I've been told that two more new beers will be going on around New Year's Eve, and they are sure to please the masses!  I'm definitely looking forward to more new beers from Pizza Boy!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

French Canada - Part I: Oui oui, eh?

Thanksgiving 2011 marks the fourth anniversary of our annual beer excursion with our good friends Deuane and Carolyn.  Each year, we select a mutually agreeable beer destination and pack our bags for a few days of libations in a foreign place.  For our first trip, we chose the great state of Michigan, a first for Brewslut and myself, with its bevy of amazing brewpubs such as Founders, Bell's, Dark Horse, Short's, Right Brain, etc.  The following year saw us heading south to Asheville, NC, a small town steeped in arts and music with a kind of neo-hippie culture that appealed to me.  There is also no shortage of fantastic beer in Asheville.  Last year, we trekked to the college town of Athens, OH, that centered around drinking the amazing beers of Jackie O's, a relatively new brewpub on the U.S. beer map.  We got an amazing personal VIP treatment from Brad, head brewer at Jackie O's, including a tour of the cellar and a tasting of several sour beers that were still aging in barrels.  We also got to visit a brand new place in Zanesville, OH, called Weasel Boy Brewing Co. that I completely fell in love with for its quaint yet retro "Grandma's living room" atmosphere.  Their beer was pretty bangin' too!

Which brings us up to speed for our 2011 as we embark to Montreal, Quebec, our first trip outside the good ol' U.S. of A.  Day one (Thanksgiving Day) saw us venturing north toward Saratoga Springs, NY, where we crashed at a Best Western Plus.  After a relatively good night's sleep, we enjoyed a quick free continental breakfast of eggs, cereal, bagels, juice and coffee before we continued onward to our destination.

Our first stop in the city limits was Benelux, a small brewpub with a very urban atmosphere, where we met Tico, a homebrewer-turned-professional brewer who is also friends with Deuane and Carolyn.  The two beers I ordered were the Cactus IPA and a tasty Wheatwine, although we were able to sample pretty much everything from their tap list, because we all ordered different beers and tasted each others' selections.  Everything we had was solid to very good, and according to Deuane, Tico has stepped it up a bit compared to the old brewer and is brewing some interesting beers as of late.

Pleeps posing with my Wheatwine

Our next stop was L'Amere A Boire, a modern, multi-leveled brewpub that had a cafe-type atmosphere.  Deuane had informed me that their best beer was a Czech pilsner, and it was on tap, so I tried it.  It was quite good - crisp and hoppy, just as I like them! 

After a brief visit to L'Amere A Boire, we were ready to check into our townhouse.  Upon entering, I was extremely impressed with the upscale accommodations.  The three-level townhouse boasted 1 1/2 baths and two spacious bedrooms (Brewslut and I stayed in the upper loft area).  There was also a modern kitchen, fireplace, plenty of seating for guests, and a large dining room table.  Check out some pictures below!





For dinner, we decided to order some take-out across the street at a Vietnamese restaurant.  Brewslut and I each ordered chicken curry and shared an extra-large Pho (noodle soup) as well as a pair of spring rolls.

Perhaps the impetus for the trip was Dieu du Ciel, arguably the premier craft brewery in Quebec.  We had originally planned to rent the flat upstairs, but decided to go the route of the spacious townhouse instead (good thinking, Deuane).  We met Tico and Deuane's other friend from Montreal, Troy, only to find the place packed to the gills.  While we waited standing near the bar elbow to asshole with the other patrons, I enjoyed a 10th anniversary Peche Mortel, an special anniversary version of perhaps the brewery's flagship beer.  It was quite delicious, I must say.  After a good thirty to forty minutes of standing, then procuring some bar stools in the corner, we finally secured a small round table near the entrance.  We all squeezed around the table and enjoyed some nice conversation despite the cacophonous flurry of voices and dreadful techno music surrounding us.  Unfortunately, the place was too dark and too busy to get any pictures.  However, I did get to try the standard Peche on nitro, which I think I enjoyed a bit more than its stronger anniversary counterpart.  We discussed returning again the next day when things calmed down a bit (similar to our Founders experience on our inaugural trip to Michigan), but it wasn't in the cards and we ended up not returning.  However, better things were on the horizon.

Our next destination was Wices Et Versa (aka Vice Versa), a fantastic beer bar, perhaps the finest within the city limits.  I found this place to be similar to The Old Fashioned, an awesome beer establishment in Madison, WI.  Wices Et Versa is to Montreal as what The Old Fashioned is to Madison in that they feature Montreal beers exclusively on their beer menu.  Boasting some thirty-odd taps, Deuane thought that something from every Montreal brewery was represented.  (Later, we found that Hopfenstark was not on the tap list, unfortunately).  I enjoyed a hoppy IPA that reminded me of Stone Ruination but not quite as prickly on the palate.  Since I am on hiatus from reviewing beer, I did not get the name of the beer or the brewery.  M'wah!

After a few beers at Wices Et Versa, we headed over to Chez Claudette for a late night snack, and our first venture into "poutine" - a junk food delicacy (is that an oxymoron?) consisting of fresh-cut fries, cheese curds and chicken gravy.  While this is considered the "classic" version of poutine, several other variations are available, such as vegetable, sausage and onion, etc.  While the fries were quite good and the cheese curds were fairly squeaky and tasty, Brewslut and I found the gravy to be too thin and salty for our tastebuds.  Still, it was nice to try some local junk food.


After a good night's sleep, we went downstairs to the new coffee shop below the townhouse to get some coffee.  Deuane had gotten up early to get some Canadian bagels, which aren't as doughy as traditional New York bagels, and also don't need to be toasted. 

We typically have a tradition of purchasing a "shitty" beer at a convenience store on the way to our destination and drink it as our inaugural beer of the trip in the hotel room.  This is a tradition that we started on our second trip (to Asheville, NC).  Bud Chelada was the first, followed by Tilt Red and Tilt Purple (enjoyed on our way to Athens, OH, complete with video footage of an angry black man venting about white people responsible for getting caffeinated malt liquor banned).  This year, it was a honkin' can of Steel Reserve, an 8.1% high gravity lager brewed by Miller.  With such catch phrases as "slow brewed," "select hops for extra gravity" and "extra malted barley," I knew this was going to be a winner.  First whiff reminded me of creamed corn, an aroma befitting of the Thanksgiving holiday.  With tongue planted firmly in cheek, I poured my share of the beer into a stemmed wine glass.  While I've definitely had worse, I don't think I'll be revisiting this one any time in the near future.  I also picked up a 24oz. can of a local Rochester, NY, beer called Dog Bite Lager, but that will be discussed later.

Mmmm... adjuncts!  And check out all that swill in the background!
 After forcing down a wine glass of Steel Reserve, we decided to take a walk around the neighborhood and ended up at Le Saint Bock earlier than we'd anticipated, because their web site indicated they opened at 1pm but in actuality, they opened at 11am.  So, we decided to stop in early for cheese and beer.  I enjoyed a Goldings Pale Ale and American IPA, while Brandi and Carolyn loved the sweet stout with marshmallow garnish.  However, my favorite was a fine cask conditioned ESB that was spot-on and damn tasty.  The hot French waitress was nice eye candy to boot! 


I'll have some marshmallow with my stout, please!

Up next was a trek outside center city to Hopfenstark, a small brewery that we later found actually sells more beer in the U.S. than it does in Canada!  We had an awesome time talking with owner and brewer Fred and his friend, Bridgette.  I bought a shirt here, not just because I wanted to support the brewery, but also because I was surprised that all of the breweries didn't have much in the form of merchandise.  Even Dieu du Ciel, with its vibrantly colored, unique and artsy labels, didn't really have merchandise.  Oh well.  The beers were all solid to exceptional, especially the fantastic bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout that Fred offered to us that wasn't on the menu anymore.  We also enjoyed Captain Swing, a 9% barleywine that was quite stealthy in its strength.  Additionally, we sampled a fresh-hopped version of Post Colonial IPA, one of Fred's flagship beers.  One of my favorites was a tasty hybrid beer that was a smoked wheat saison with excellent drinkability, tons of flavor and quite refreshing.  Fred told us that he used a wheat malt base for the beer, added smoked malt that he smoked himself and tossed in a Saison yeast.  What resulted was a delicious, refreshing beer with a moderate smokey character and "poundable" drinkability.  Needless to say, I could have stayed there all night.  It was amusing to watch the Clint Eastwood movie "A Few Dollars More," the sequel to "A Fistful of Dollars".  I'd describe the decor of this place as Grandma's basement, with an old antique-looking dining room table with large, plush upholstered chairs, quite ornate but weathered a bit.  The bar appeared to be a large wooden plank with sparse amount of stools.  I just felt so comfortable at this place, and the fact that we had a great conversation with Fred and Bridgette made the experience all the more enjoyable. 




Stay tuned... Part Deux is coming soon!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Stout King of PA

When I started drinking beer several years ago, I first began to test the waters with "safe" offerings: wheat beers, nut brown ales and pilsners.  Then, once I got my first taste of hops, I moved into pale ales, then IPAs and finally DIPA territory.  So where do you go from there?  The dark, foreboding style we've all come to know and love: the stout.  I'm not talking about that flimsy Irish guy named Guinness.  I'm talking about full-flavored, rich and robust stouts that go perfect with your breakfast!  So, without further adieu, I hereby officially bestow upon Matt Keasey of Spring House Brewing Co. the moniker "Stout King of PA".  Here's why...

His first stout offerings (Kerplunk and Planet Bean) were great right out of the starting gate, but over time he tweaked each of them, and they got better and better with each subsequent release.  Planet Bean has now pretty much reached legendary status among coffee stout fans all across PA and beyond (check out the beer reviews on BA - they stretch across the country)!  Brewslut likes to mix these into a concoction she has dubbed "Kerplunkenbean".  Not sure I spelled that correctly, but it is quite delicious nevertheless!

Then came Big Gruesome, an insanely delicious and aromatic Peanut Butter and Chocolate Stout that begged the question, "Who put their peanut butter in my chocolate?"  Conversely, one could also inquire, "Who put his chocolate in my peanut butter?!"  Either way you slice it, this was an amazing beer.

Right now, you can enjoy two of Matt's sickest creations: a Chocolate Mint Stout and an Imperial Pumpkin Stout.  The former smells and tastes like a liquefied York Peppermint Patty, while the latter is a bold and spicy Autumn treat that will make your Jack-o-Lantern grin ear to ear. 

So do yourself a favor and hustle down to Spring House's Taproom in Lancaster, PA and sample these two delicious stouts before the are gone.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

L'Eggo my San Diego!

You know, I used to hate the beach.  That was, of course, before I’d ever been to the West Coast.  One of my oldest friends from Elementary school, Marc, has been living there for years.  After finishing his tenure with the U.S. Navy many years ago, he realized his love for San Diego was such that he decided to stay.  Marc and I were close friends between fourth and sixth grades, and then he moved to Bloomsburg (not a million miles away from Shamokin, but far enough when you are a kid without a driver’s license or the Internet).  After he moved, we continued to write letters to each other, and we occasionally visited one another over the weekend.  We remained in touch throughout high school, but then when I went to college and he enlisted in the service, we lost touch.  It wasn’t until many years later that we got back in touch via Myspace, when he informed me that he was residing in San Diego.  One of the first things he did was invite Brandi and I out to visit and stay at his apartment.  I had never been to California before, so naturally we took him up on his offer.  To my surprise, we were the first people to do so!  I must say that the first time our plane touched down in San Diego, I looked out the window to see the palm trees outlining the runway lights, and it just struck a chord with my inner soul.  I stepped off the plane and felt at home.

Then I found out how much it cost to live out there, and I came back to reality.  Lucky for me, I was very much into craft beer when I first visited San Diego, and I must say that it has since become my personal beer Mecca!

As soon as we got off the plane and picked up our rental car (a sleek black VW Beetle), we B-lined it right over to South Beach Bar & Grille, home of the tastiest fish tacos on the planet!  We were lucky to visit on "Taco Tuesday," so all of their delicious tacos were only $2.50 each.  And let me tell you, they are worth their weight in gold.  They also happen to have a pretty solid beer selection, so I was able to wash down my FOUR tacos with a pint of fresh Sculpin!  We're in San Diego for five minutes, and already we've peaked!  I mean, where do you go from there?!  If these pics don't make you start salivating, I don't know what will...


Across the Street from South Beach is the Newport Pizza & Ale House.  Their "no crap on tap" policy is still proudly enforced, I'm glad to report.  The names of their pizzas are quite comical as well, with Ron Jeremy being my favorite (a pizza with a lot of meat).  The place is small and kind of dingy, but we always make it a point to stop in for at least one beer, because they always have several great selections and the bartender is always cool.

The ceiling at Newport Pizza and Ale House.

Perhaps the thing I was most excited about our trip to San Diego this time was the opening of the new Pizza Port location in Ocean Beach, which is less than a five minute walk from Marc's apartment, where we were staying.  After we left Newport Pizza & Ale House, we took the short walk to the new Pizza Port and each opted for a sampler.  Mine included the following brews: O.B. Chronic (a hoppy amber); Jetty IPA; Tarantulas 2.0 (a black ale); and Bacon & Eggs (a "breakfast" porter). 


The brewpub is set up like their other brewpubs in Solana Beach and Carlsbad, with a surf theme and lots of big picnic tables scattered across the open floor plan.  There was a small deck too, which we were happy to occupy during both of our visits.
 
Pleepleus enjoying Brewslut's Cream Ale.
After chilling at South Beach, Newport Pizza and Pizza Port, Marc had an old Navy friend (who also happened to be in town) pick us up to meet at Coronado for happy hour.  Unfortunately, Idiot IPA was not on tap, so I settled for the lesser Islander IPA, which is still good but not as good as Idiot, of course.  Marc is a regular here, as well as a mug clubber, as he works at the Naval Base on Coronado Island.  So needless to say, he frequents Coronado's brewpub quite often.


 After enjoying a quick beer at Coronado, we hit up a place that Marc had recently been enjoying, The Regal Beagle.  His Navy pal Mark was also visiting San Diego during our visit, and he was generous enough to buy several rounds over the next few days.  I opted for an AleSmith Old Numbskull on tap.  It's not one of my favorite barleywines in the grand scheme of things, but it's solid.  When you order food here, they give you a TV character's name on a napkin and when your food is ready, they call the name over the loudspeaker.  So when you are there, expect to hear random names such as Arthur Fonzarelli, etc. which makes for a fun visit!

There's also a great little beer shop not too far from Marc's neighborhood called Olive Tree Marketplace.  It's part gourmet market and part beer store, actually.  The first time we stopped here (a few years back), they were very new and the beer selection was solid.  In recent years, they definitely stepped up their selection considerably.  They even have a "Beer Club," of which Marc is a member, and card-carrying members get bottle discounts and first dibs on rare, special releases.  If you visit here, expect to find offerings by such West Coast giants such as Alaskan, Avery, Deschutes, Firestone Walker, Grand Teton, Hair of the Dog, Midnight Sun, Russian River, as well as all of the San Diego breweries, plus some fine Belgian offerings by the likes of Cantillon and many others.  I picked up a heaping mass of Midnight Sun stuff, including Arctic Rhino Coffee Porter and Kodiak Brown Ale, as well as the obligatory bottle of Alaskan Smoked Porter.

During our last visit to San Diego, we missed out on a tour of the Stone brewery, unfortunately.  This time, however, we made plans to take the tour.  We got to the Stone Bistro a little early, so we perused the merchandise area and had a beer and snack (some tasty hummus) at the bar prior to the tour.  Also, the tour guide was one of the best we've encountered.  I could tell she was actually "into beer" prior to getting a job at Stone.  Her breadth of knowledge was also apparent in talking with her after the tour concluded.  She got a job at Stone because she loved beer; she wasn't just someone who had a good personality and needed a job.  So that was nice to see.  Brewslut took tons of pictures on the tour, and it culminated with a sampling of four of Stone's flagship beers: Levitation Ale, IPA, Smoked Porter and Arrogant Bastard (all of which I had before, save the Levitation Ale, for some reason unbeknownst to me). 


Bottling Arrogant Bastard bombers
One of the places that has eluded us on previous trips to San Diego is Alpine Beer Company.  Now, it's no secret that Alpine makes some of the finest hoppy ales... well, on the PLANET!  They offer a veritable laundry list of amazing hoppy beers: Nelson, Duet, Pure Hoppiness, Exponential Hoppiness.  All are amazing beers.  The aforementioned Nelson, brewed with Nelson Sauvin hops (a hop variety indigenous to New Zealand), was perhaps my beer of the trip.  I enjoyed this on draught at the brewpub.

Too many beers to try!
 Two doors down from the brewpub is Alpine's tiny production brewery.  I recently learned that Marc's friend, Cy Henley, was now working at Alpine as an associate brewer after a stint with Ballast Point.  We actually met Cy on our inaugural trip to San Diego through Marc when we visited Ballast Point's Brewer's Mart location.  I sampled some of his homebrews, and let me tell you, they were all as good, if not better, than the Ballast Point beers I had during that particular visit.  So needless to say Cy knows his stuff.  At any rate, we enjoyed a rather lengthy conversation with Cy and the other Alpine employees, mostly about music and concerts, although I had a few beer-related questions as well.  All in all, it was a fantastic visit, and probably my favorite beer of the trip was fresh Nelson on tap. 

Mmmm... fresh Nelson on tap!
We scoped out our master list of San Diego breweries, brewpubs and beer bars, and came up with one of the various Oggi's locations, which was on the way from Alpine and very close to Alesmith.  So we decided to stop in for a beer or two.  Known also as "Left Coast" (the brewers of Black Magic Stout and Hop Juice), I had heard of them before and even reviewed Hop Juice, a beer that I am on the fence about.  Still, we figured we'd stop in since we'd be driving right by.  Oggi's has a particular sports bar feel, with lots of televisions scattered about.  It also screams "chain," unfortunately.  I craved something light and refreshing, as it was uncharacteristically humid in San Diego on this particular day, so I opted for California Gold, a sessionable cream ale weighing in at 4.5%.  While I found it to be an average beer in the grand scheme of things, it nevertheless hit the spot.  Brewslut and I also shared an aforementioned Black Magic Stout, which I had anticipated to be an Imperial, or Russian Imperial, Stout.  Unfortunately it turned out to be an Irish Stout, or Foreign Export Stout, depending on your preference.  Again, not bad but just an average stout that falls somewhere squarely in the middle.

After a short visit to Oggi's, we decided to stop by AleSmith's tasting room for a few samples.  However, when we arrived, they were closed.  Apparently, they are not open on Thursday.  Oddly enough, I had their hours written down on my list of places to visit, but I guess I wasn't smart enough to consult the list prior to driving over there.  Oh well.  No fifty cent samples of Speedway for me this time!  M'wah.

Victory at Sea.  Sculpin.  Dorado.  Some of the best beers I've had from San Diego are brewed by Ballast Point.  They have two locations in San Diego: the official tasting room and Brewer's Mart, the latter of which has more experimental beers and also sells homebrew supplies.  Last time, we only had time to hit the Brewer's Mart.  However, on this particular visit, we made time to visit both sites.  Brewer's Mart had two very good ales brewed with peppers: one was a version of their Calico Amber and the other was a pale ale brewed with Serrano peppers.  Both were very tasty. Pleepleus agrees...


 Since we were only in town for a few days, we obviously tried to cram in as much beer as we could.  But alas, some tough decisions had to be made.  One was skipping O'Brien's (arguably the best beer bar in San Diego) in lieu of Toronado, which we hadn't been to yet.  When we visited San Francisco (home of the original Toronado) back on our epic 10th Anniversary California beer tour, we liked Toronado so much that we visited twice!  We had heard very good things about the San Diego location, so it was a no-brainer.  O'Brien's would have to wait until our next visit.  Cleaner, friendlier and more spacious than its San Franciscan counterpart, Toronado San Diego boasts an equally impressive tap selection and quite a mammoth bottle selection.  For example, I eyed up several bottles of Lost Abbey Cable Car, which were available for $40 each.  Where else are you going to find that?  (Well, maybe on eBay, where you can land a bottle for around $200... assuming you are drunk enough to pay that much!)  Anyway, Brandi and I were standing at the bar perusing the beer menu, while Marc scouted and secured a table near the back of the establishment.  While we were ordering our beers, I felt someone nudge me on the back of my knee (in middle school, we used to call this giving someone a "deadleg").  I though to myself, "Well, Marc is sitting back there and Brandi is in front of me... and I don't know anyone else in San Diego."  So I turn around, and to my surprise, there stood Cy and one of his homebrewer buddies.  I think Cy was already half in the bag.  After a quick exchange and introduction to his friend (Andy, if memory serves me correctly... of course, I was drinking all day, so I may be wrong), we found a bigger table to accommodate all five of us and enjoyed some general beer banter.  However, our visit to Toronado was short-lived, because Cy invited us back to his house for some beers and vinyl listening.  His long-time girlfriend used to work at O'Brien's but now is a manager at Pizza Port Ocean Beach.  I actually remembered her from our first visit to O'Brien's back in 2008.  We hung out on the back patio, and Cy broke out vintage bottles of Alaskan Smoked Porter and Hair of the Dog Fred and some other choice nuggets, as well as a growler one of Pizza Port's tasty IPAs.  Afterwards, we moved inside and enjoyed listening to some vintage vinyl and talking about everything from music and beer to dogs and East Coast life.  If we didn't have such an early flight back to PA in the morning, we could have easily stayed up all night drinking and talking with these awesome people.  It was one of the highlights of our trip!

Unfortunately, our visit to San Diego was all too brief this time around, but we plan on visiting annually.  There's just too much great beer out there to pass up!  Until next time...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

One year ago today... Colorado trip!

Today marks the one year anniversary of my bucket list concert... Rush at Red Rocks!  It was something I had to do before I croaked.  I unearthed this (rather lengthy) journal entry from our trip to Colorado for the above-referenced concert spectacle, which also happened to include a ton of beer tripping all over the fine state of Colorado.  So, in celebration of the first anniversary of the concert I absolutely HAD to attend, here is a slightly edited version of my journal from the trip.  Enjoy!

8/11/10 – Harrisburg, PA > Atlanta, GA > Denver, CO > Boulder, CO

Headed over to Deuane & Carolyn’s house after the East Pennsboro School District strike rally (fun stuff) at around 6:30pm for dinner and a growler of Spring House Smoked Porter.  Great eggplant parmigiana dish with fresh Amish bread and cheese.  Blackberry pie for dessert.  Turned in early (around 10pm; Brandi stayed up until 11ish) because we had to get up at 4am to get to the Harrisburg Airport for 5am for our 6am flight.   I got up about 10-15 minutes early.  Must have been excited.  Deuane drove Brandi’s Civic to the airport and dropped us off.  Got checked in rather quickly and efficiently and had enough spare time to grab a quick breakfast sandwich and apple juice at Subway, which was right on the concourse.  Our plane was on time… surprisingly!  We had about an 80min. flight to Atlanta, GA or so… plane flew very smooth and effortlessly, which was pleasant, especially for so early in the morning.  Had a drink and a snack on the plane (soda and pretzels).  We were towards the front of the vessel, so we unboarded in a flash.  Had about a two-hour or so layover in Atlanta.  Had Chinese for lunch at 10am… spicy tofu and chicken with mushrooms over steamed rice and a Diet Coke.  Got back to our gate and the plane was running a bit behind due to security checks, safety inspections, etc.  They said 5 minutes but it was more like half an hour.  Bigger plane this time and a bit more rocky at takeoff and landing.  Same snack as the previous flight.  In-flight movie was The Bounty Hunter with Jennifer Aninston, but I didn’t bother.  Instead, I caught up on Ghost Rider.  Got through a good chunk of it on the flight from Atlanta to Denver.  Woman next to us was friendly and pleasant, asking us some questions, etc.  Said she used to be a flight attendant, and that she was going to CO to visit a friend and go white water rafting.  Sounds fun!  Took a little longer to get off the plane, as we were second to last way in the back.  No hurry, though.  It was around 12:40pm Mountain Time… gotta love flying westward!  We jumped on the escalator down to the train to take us to the luggage claim.  Got our bag fairly quickly, which was a shock!  Then we jumped on a shuttle bus to get our Enterprise Rental car.  Got a sea blue Hyundai something or other, small but comfortable.  Service was great, although they talked us into buying $90 insurance because CO is known for Halestorms… ha!  We’ll see.

We set the Garmin for Boulder and set our sights for Boulder Brewing Co., or course.  First beer destination of the trip.  Had an absolutely fantastic barrel-aged pale ale brewed with a hop variety with which I was unfamiliar.  Simply delicious… got two of ‘em!  Also had a meal there… not sure which one, but I had a veggie burrito with mashed taters in it…. Pretty tasty.  Brandi had a salad and veggie chili.  Next stop was Twisted Pine, a small brewery not far around the corner from Boulder.  Cool little local-type place, not too big, but with ample outside seating.  Got a pint of Hoppy Knight, a black IPA, while Brandi opted for a sweet stout.  Both were satisfactory, though not exemplary.  They were handing out free samples of food, as their menu was getting unveiled the day we visited.  Grilled cheese, soft pretzels, odd hot dog concoctions with peppers and pineapples.  Before we left, I had a sample of Billy’s Chilies, which was a refreshing wheat beer brewed with 5 or 6 chili pepper varieties, including habanero and jalapeno.  Surprisingly very tasty and not too over the top.  Very drinkable.

Next stop, Avery, one of the big boys.  Located in a warehouse-type park, much like breweries in San Diego.  Got seats at the bar (at all the places today, might I add) and had a cool barkeep with a Scottish accent and tats.  Got a fantastic coffee stout, which was brewed with a local coffee company’s beans by way of a “toddy” instead of actually brewed into the wort, etc.  Awesome!  Also got a small IPL, or India Pale Lager, which was tasty as well.  Brandi had a citrusy IPA and a hefe.  Afterwards, we made a quick pit stop to Borders in one of those crazy outside mall towns so she could get a book for the rest of the trip, as she finished Thumbsucker on the way to Denver.  I still have half of Ghost Rider, so I’m good!

Final stop of the day was Mountain Sun, a heady brewpub in the downtown area decorated with Dead memorabilia, tapestries and other psychedelic decor.  There was also a head shop next door, where I purchased a Zappa sticker for my car.  Booyeah!  Anyway, the place was packed for a Wed. night, and we had to wait for a bit to get a table.  We weren’t too hungry, but I wanted to sit down and take some notes.  Had a nice conversation with two younger local guys who told us about some good beer destinations and hiking spots.  Can’t forget about Oskar Blues!  Had their flagship IPA while waiting for a table, and it was average.  Finally got a table and just got some tasty tomato and lime soup, which also had black beans, plus a small plate of fresh cut fries.  Nice snack.  I also got a small pour of their FYIPA, which was more citrusy than the other offering and definitely tastier. 
By this time, we had been up for about 19 hours and had had enough.  We made the quick 20 minute drive to the Crossland Motel in Thornton.  Hit the sack!

8/12/10 – Denver, CO

Got up and ate breakfast at Subway… again.  No wi-fi, so we had to book our room later.  Set the Garmin for Denver, CO.  First stop, Breckenridge Brewing Co.  Got the sampler, favorite was the Imp. Pils, shared a beer with Brandi, the Vesper French-style farmhouse ale.  Pretty solid.  They had wi-fi at the brewpub, so we booked our room for Colorado Springs.  Saw an older guy wearing a Primus T-shirt sitting at a table with two other guys, so I started talking to him about the concert, which was tonight, and said we were thinking about going.  He said they were doing a live podcast of the show and that we should go.  We discussed and decided to go because tickets were only $45 and when would we see another show at Red Rocks?

After Breckenridge, we visited Bull and Bush, which sported one of my favorite brewery logos I’ve come across in our beer travels: a baby boy and girl inspecting the front of their diapers to assess what they “have”: a bull or a bush.  Hilarious!  Brandi got a shirt.  Food was very good… shrimp tacos were delicious.  Beer was average to good; nothing spectacular, but solid.  Had their Man Beer, an English style IPA.

Hit Great Divide next and managed to get a tour of the facilities just in the nick of time.  Short tour but fun.  Met a brewery employee, Aaron, who talked to us about beer, music, etc. for about 30-40 minutes.  Gave us tons of free samples, free swag (stickers, etc.) and even a six-pack of Yeti.  Nice!  Great beer all around.  Glad we get them in PA.  Reminded me of Troegs… the tasting room, people and good beer.  Stayed for 2 hours.

After our enjoyable two-hour visit to Great Divide, we stopped by Falling Rock Tap House at the recommendation of Deuane for a quick pint and to check out one of the best beer bars in Denver.  Very cool place with a great server.  Talked for a bit about good beer.  Got a Ska Brewing Modus Hoporandi IPA which was pretty solid.  Reviewed it for BA.  Didn’t stay too long because I wanted to hit the record store (Twist and Shout; we actually drove past it and it looked more like a CD-based store).  Turns out the bartender said it was probably the biggest selection of used vinyl in the city.  Works for me!

Next stop was Twist and Shout, a pretty large record store I decided to visit upon the recommendation of the bartender at Falling Rock.  Perused the rock vinyl, as per usual, with the assistance of Brandi and came up with about $50 of records, the majority of which were in the $2.99 to $3.99 range.  Got some Alice Cooper, Aerosmith, Wings Wild Life, Bill Joel Cold Spring Harbor and even an Armored Saint album I didn’t have.  $50 seems to be the magic number!

Stopped for a quick Wendy’s drive thru meal before the Primus concert.  Grabbed four grilled chicken snack wraps and began our 50-minute-ish drive to Red Rocks!  Not sure I wanted to have my first Red Rocks experience be any other band than Rush, but overall I’m glad we went to the show.  Nice weather, amazing view and overall good sound.  Missed first opening band, Dead Kenny G’s (great name) and Gorgolo Bordello was entertaining and pretty good, but played too long and were one-trick ponies.  I would describe them as Irish folk reggae ska with an Irish flair.  Band had like 8 members from all over the world, including drums, bass, percussion, a female singer, accordion, fiddle and two guitarists, one of which played classical guitar.  Interesting blend of instruments, though.  Finally, Primus hit the stage around 10pm and played until midnight.  Lots of Cheese and Frizzle tunes with a Tommy the Cat encore.  Pretty good show, just not into them as much as I used to be in my college years and early twenties.  Glad we went though.  How many shows am I gonna see at Red Rocks in my lifetime?  After the show, we got out surprisingly fast and back on the highway for about a 75-min. drive to Colorado Springs.  Wish we would have decided to go to the concert BEFORE we booked the room on priceline.com, but whatever.  The drive was fine.  Got to our Super 8 in Colorado Springs near the Air Force base and crashed hard.

8/13/10 – Colorado Springs

Woke up at 9:30am and went down for our free continental breakfast, which was pretty much a joke.  Two kinds of cereal, warm OJ, milk and packages of danishes and mini chocolate donuts… breakfast of champions.  Had a large bowl of Cheerios, coffee and a very small fruit Danish.   I’m watching my figure!  First stop of the day was Bristol Brewery.  They also brew a spin-off called Black Fox, which is a Belgian-inspired line of beers operated by one of Bristol’s associate brewers.  We each got a sampler and snacked on some pretzels.  Dog-themed brewery.  Pretzels in dog food dishes.  Cool.  Talked to one of the employees, an older man, for a bit and asked some questions.  Hooked me up with two additional samples for no charge… a wet hopped IPA and their flagship IPA on nitro.  Both pretty good.

Afterwards, we headed to Phantom Canyon Brewing Co.  This was one of the only times we had to pay for parking on the entire trip.  Inside, the brewpub was really nice and bright with lots of wood and a unique wood decor bar with splashes of color.  Sat at the bar, and the bartender was very friendly and attentive.  Decided to get lunch here, because the guy from Bristol said their food was very good.  Had fantastic fish tacos… probably the best I’ve had outside of San Diego.  Beer was pretty bangin’ too.  I had a half pour of their Peated Porter and also Phantom IPA, both on cask, then Brandi and I shared their 1941 New Yorker Beer, which was an old school lager.  Enjoyed all three quite a bit.  Brandi said this place reminded her of Harbor Brewing in MI.  I agreed, though the beer was better here.

Last stop in CO Springs was Trinity Brewing, where they were kicking off the weekend lager festival with a special event and tapping of a new chili beer (which we were too early for and couldn’t stay to sample).  Had a mug of their Awaken coffee stout on nitro, which was pretty good, though a little thin.  Had some other small samples.  Staff here was great.  We talked to several of the bartenders and some patrons at the bar.  We’d been lucky during the entire trip to be able to sit at the bar everywhere we went.  I love sitting at the bar, because you really get a sense of the beer culture and residents of the area you are visiting.  Gotta love talking to the locals and bar staff!

Drove from Colorado Springs to Garden of the Gods, a place where a few locals recommended we visit.  Stopped in the visitor center/ gift shop and got a postcard for mom and mailed it.  We tooled around for a few minutes and then drove through the park, which was only a few mile drive.  Took for pictures and made a few stops on the side of the road.  Sent mom a nice postcard.  Really beautiful place with red rocks and lovely vegetation and trees.  Glad we stopped.

After our brief visit to Garden of the Gods, we drove back to Denver, which was a fairly good haul, especially given the heavy Friday rush hour traffic on I-25.  Took about 95 minutes or more to get to Denver.  We decided to get Indian food for dinner, since I’d been craving it for the last few days.  We referred to the Garmin for recommendations, and there appeared to be several in the immediate area.  First stop was a bust… simply couldn’t find it.  Luckily there was another place up the road less than a mile away.  Or was there?  Couldn’t find it either.  Drove around the large parking lot until we gave up and went to Beni Hana’s for Japanese cuisine.  I had lemon chicken hibachi and Brandi had a few sushi rolls.  Good but a little pricey overall.  After dinner, we headed into the heart of Denver and decided to hit Vine St. Pub, which is an official tap room for Mountain Sun Brewing Co.  This time, I opted for a Deschutes Obsidian Stout on nitro, since they boasted a fairly impressive guest tap list.  Brandi had a half pour of Mountain Sun’s Raspberry Wheat.  Basically, we just chilled at the bar for a bit and then headed to our hotel for the evening, which was only a short distance from the airport due to the fact that we were picking up Spade fairly early at the airport the next morning.  I’d also like to point out that this hotel (Crown Plaza) was leaps and bounds nicer and had many more amenities than our previous two meager rooms.  The lobby alone was a sight to behold, with a huge volcano-like waterfall, lush foliage and upscale decor.  The lobby also boasted a nice-sized bar area and restaurant.  Our room also housed a comfortable king sized bed, to which we are more accustom!  No free breakfast here, though, but the free breakfast at the Super 8 really wasn’t worth its price tag… free.  Needless to say, it was the best night’s sleep we had on the entire trip, and was a nice way to end our hotel jaunt before being demoted to an air mattress for the next few days at Ryan’s bachelor pad.

8/14/10 – Spade joins the fun; Denver, CO > beer, beer, beer > Ft. Collins, CO

After a good night’s sleep at the Crown Plaza, we made the short drive to the Denver airport to pick up Spade in the good ol’ Hyundai.  The pick-up was easier than I had anticipated, partly because he was flying in on Saturday, so I thought traffic would be crazy.  Good for us, the whole transaction was pretty damn smooth.  Our plans for the first half of the day included meeting Spade’s good high school friend, Melissa Herb, for breakfast and a quaint little vegetarian eatery in Denver, where she now lives with her husband and 19-month-old (or as Matt said, one-and-a-half) son.  Melissa also has the unique distinction of being the first girl I ever went on a date with (well, three dates, and the number hasn’t gone up since then) as friends.  Spade took her to the Lourdes prom back in 1990 and I remember seeing the picture and commenting that I thought she was attractive.  So we had a few typical high school friend dates, like a movie, mall trip, etc.  I thought it was funny that she remembered I made her a cassette tape copy of Boston’s first album, and one of the songs skipped.  She listened to it throughout college.  I hadn’t seen her since 1990, right before she left for college, so it was cool seeing her after all these years.  Spade, Brandi and I all ordered the special, which was a scramble with fresh veggies, eggs, cheese and what not.  We also had coffee with sugar (not fake) that was challenging to get out of its glass container.  After breakfast, we dropped Melissa off at her doorstep, which was only a few minutes away by car.  We then programmed the Garmin for our first beer destination of the day – Left Hand Brewing.  This turned out to be one of my favorite stops of the trip for a few reasons.  First, Spade was with me, and as Brandi pointed out, we are the original “toxic twins” – a moniker she relegated to Dan and I as of late.  Add beer to the equation, and Spade and I become like a two-Lion Voltron.  Or something like that.  Second, we learned that our bartender was not only originally from Harrisburg, PA, but he was also going to be attending the Rush concert at Red Rocks on Monday!  Lastly, we got a great tour of the brewery (no free samples, though).  I had their RIS which was above average, though doesn’t hang with the big boys, in my opinion.  I also had a pint of their Sawtooth ESB on cask.  I just had a hankering for a quaffable ESB that day, and it hit the spot.  Spade had a few pilsners and some samples, I believe, while Brandi had a flight of four samplers.  We had a great time talking about Rush and drinking good beer.

After a great visit to Left Hand, we headed up the street to Oskar Blues for an obligatory Dale’s Pale Ale pint and a half pour of Gubna.  Picked up a Gubna T-shirt for Mugs.  We decided to get some appetizers, and both were tasty – nachos with beer can chicken and hummus with veggies and pita cracker-like bread.  Yum.  After a while, I noticed a pinball machine in the other room, and it looked like there was another arcade-type game in there.  Upon further investigation, I was pleased to find they had an original Asteroids game AND an Arcade Classic multi-game machine with 60 different classic arcade games from the 80’s!  Even though I am opposed to charging $.50 per game for these old school gems, I couldn’t resist getting change and playing games of Mappy and Dig Dug.  Man, I miss these old games.  Barcade Philly can’t open soon enough!

After Oskar Blues, it was time to head to Ft. Collins and rendezvous with Ryan Freese, the oldest son of Tom, who plays bass in my Beatles tribute band, Number Nine.  Luckily for us, we decided to arrive at Ft. Collins when we did, because the three breweries we wanted to visit all closed early.  Fortunately, we were able to get to New Belgium for three free samples before they closed at 6pm.  Unfortunately, we could not tour the facility, and they were closed on Sunday and Monday.  So this was our only opportunity to visit, so I am at least thankful that we could get there.  It was pretty packed with people, and we enjoyed our samples, although I think they are over-rated compared to other Colorado breweries, such as Avery and Great Divide.  Still, I like the fact that Fat Tire (their flagship brew) is readily available pretty much anywhere in CO and widely available in the western states.  Good for them!  Our next stop on the “wham bam thank you ma’am” mini-tour was O’Dells, my favorite of the Ft. Collins breweries.   We had to buy tokens for full-size beers, so since they were closing in 40 minutes, we opted to each purchase a single token.  I was also smart enough to get a few samples at the bar, and they were happy to oblige.  We got a table outside and chatted for a while and enjoy our beers.  We apparently had just missed a band, though.  Bummer.  At any rate, we finished up at O’Dells and headed over to our final destination of the day – Equinox.  They weren’t too crowded, but we opted for a table since there were four of us.  We each had one beer, and I can’t even remember what I had, due to the fact that it was a bit of a whirlwind visit and I didn’t even take notes on the beers at all three of these places.  We finished up and left to head back to Ryan’s, because we were getting up early (6:15am) for our hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. 

8/15/10 – Rocky Mtn. National Park

Woke up early at Ryan’s for breakfast before heading out for a 10-mile hike in Rocky mountain national Park.  Today was a free park day, apparently across the country at all national parks, so we saved probably $20 park entry fee.  The drive was a little over an hour from Ft. Collins to the park entrance, then a short distance to the actual start of the hike.  I wasn’t sure if I could hack it, and I was concerned I’d lag behind, but I surprisingly held up quite impressively.  Spade was actually the lagger.  Obviously, the scenery was simple amazing and awe-inspiring.  We don’t have mountains like this back on the east coast.  This is a long way from the culm banks of Shamokin, PA!  We got to see a family of Elk in their natural environment.  We also saw a pack of mountain goats eating at the side of the road before we got to the entrance of the hiking site.  Awesome!  Anyway, our destination was Sky Pond, which was a 5-mile hike from the entrance, then 5 miles back to the car.  The first stop for a snack and water was a beautiful lake with an amazing view of the majestic mountains.  Rainbow trout darted throughout the pond, occasionally coming up to grab bits of floating food.  There were several fisherman dispersed throughout the area, although everything in the park is catch and release.  We enjoyed the view for a bit and then moved on.  There’s really not much more else to say about this experience, other than the pictures will speak a thousand words.  Rocky Mountain National Park exemplifies the purest form of beauty in nature.  After hiking for 10 miles and six hours, needless to say we were in dire need of a rest (and cold drinks), so we stopped outside the park for Life Water and Cliff bars, the latter of which I just discovered on this trip and will be consuming on a regular basis now.  Healthy and yummy!  We headed back to Ryan’s to chill and shower up before going to meet his musician friend, Aaron and his wife, as well as their two beautiful dogs, Moxie and Scout.  We can remember the dogs names, but not his wife!  Oh well, 75% ain’t too shabby.  We shared some beers and some delicious-looking guacamole dip that I would have dove into had I not just eaten dinner.  In addition to the Yeti I brought along, Ryan shared some of his homebrews (a new hobby of his), which were actually quite good, I must say.  He had a chocolate stout and a Belgian witbier.  Later that night, he also shared a wheat beer brewed with grapefruit, which was my favorite of the three.  I liked it better than the O’Dells wheat beer Aaron shared with us.  After chatting in the kitchen for a bit, we decided to retire to the basement for an hour-long (give or take) jam session.  Aaron and Ryan play together in an acoustic guitar and bass duo, so Aaron had plenty of musical gear in his basement-turned-practice area.  I generally played drums for most of the evening, and we did a few originals and some covers, which ranged from Johnny Cash to Red Hot Chili Peppers.  Spade joined in for a few tunes on guitar (funny version of Tom Petty’s Runnin’ Down a Dream) and we jammed together on drums and bass for the first time since perhaps the Piranha Armada gigs I did with him about 7 years ago!  After that, we went back upstairs for about another half an hour, then retired to Ryan’s for more beer, including the aforementioned Grapefruit Wheat homebrew, then headed to bed to rest up for the impetus of the trip… RUSH!!!!!

8/16/10 – Ft. Collins; Day of the Rush concert

Got up fairly late today, most likely due to being ass-tired after the 10-mile hike the previous day.  After the shit, shave, shower routine, we headed to one of Ryan’s recommendations for our late morning/early afternoon meal at Rainbow, a vegetarian restaurant near the Old Town section of Ft. Collins.  We sat outside on the patio, which was pleasant.  Our server was great and very friendly.  The menu was fantastic, and I opted for the falafel and soup du jour, which was a tomato-based vegetable bean soup.  Brandi got a tofu dish with a salad and Matt got the special flatbread with fresh veggies and a spinach salad.  Good coffee too.  After our brunch, we headed over to Wilbur’s liquor store to pick up a few six packs for the concert tonight.  Got two mixers and found bombers of Alaskan Barleywine and Smoked Porter!  Very happy about that!  After Wilbur’s, we made our way over to Old Town and parked for about two hours and walked around, visiting various shops.  Picked up a nice postcard for mom and mailed it out.  We had a quick drizzle shower while Spade headed across the street to Starbucks for a quick bathroom visit.  Unfortunately, he had some toilet issues and clogged the shitter.  With no plunger in sight, he slowly backed away from the establishment and didn’t tell the staff.  Luckily, he purchased a coffee before hand, which made it ok, since he was a paying customer.  Afterward, we also hit a place for a quick $2.50 Happy Hour pint before heading back to Ryan’s to chill and eat before the show.  More to come later.

Ryan made a great dinner of seasoned tofu, couscous and veggies, which was delicious and filling.  As we were eating, it began raining heavily and a fierce wind picked up steam with each passing minute.  I was a bit nervous, not only about the impending hour-long drive to the venue, but also fearful that the show might be cancelled or postponed.  We left Ryan’s around 5:30pm, and the rain was steady but not threatening.  As we headed out of Ft. Collins, the steady rain transformed into a pretty serious thunderstorm with high winds and almost horizontal rain.  The highway filled up with water quickly, making it difficult to drive the speed limit.  Add to this the after-work traffic of a typical weekday and you run into some problems.  For about a 15 minute stretch, it might have been the worst rainstorm in which I’d ever driven.  Fortunately, it died down as we approached Morrison, and the bruised and sullen storm clouds began to subside.  The traffic up the hill to the venue was very heavy, so Ryan jumped out and grabbed a few beers for the remaining ride up to the venue.  Spade, Brandi and I enjoyed the beers we purchased at Wilbur’s, which Ryan drank his homemade concoction of Vitamin water and vodka.  Ooofa!  We chilled in the parking lot for a bit before the show, chatting about Rush shows past, enjoying some more beer as well as the amazing view.  I was glad I’d brought my hoodie and wore jeans and sneakers to the show, because the air was chilly in the post-rainstorm evening.  I had been anxious for the show since we purchased tickets however many months ago it was, but my enthusiasm had been building up with each passing day in Colorado, and it reached its zenith as we were standing in the parking lot with tickets in hand and the impending doom of inclement weather had passed.  Perhaps there IS a God, I thought… and he actually likes me!  We headed up to the entrance of the amphitheater (after visiting the port-o-potties) and finished up the last of our beers (and vodka) on the way.  Our seats were near perfect, in my opinion; only slightly off-center on Geddy’s side, and pretty much smack dab in the middle of the seating chart.  If I had to go on record, I’d say we were maybe toward the back of the first 1/3 of the seating at the venue.  Great view of both the stage and its surroundings, and much better than a few nights before at the Primus show.  We didn’t have long to wait, and rush took the stage perhaps 10-15 minutes after the scheduled start time.    As the lights went down and anticipation grew, I turned to Spade and gave him a huge, as this was surprisingly the first Rush show we actually attended together.  Despite physically being at many of the same Rush shows in the past, this was the first time we had tickets together, side by side.  I knew it was going to be a special show… my favorite girl to my right and one of my oldest and dearest friends to my left, and my favorite band of all time directly in front of us and perhaps the most beautiful venue on the entire continent of North America. The weather was in our court, the Gods were smiling… it was going to be a perfect show.  Light go down, and the opening video starts to thunderous applause.  Unfortunately, a few minutes in, there was a problem with the screen and they lost power.  Nooooo!!!!  After a few glitches in the screen, it turned completely blue and there was no sound.  What?  Aw man!  Then, Alex appears on stage sans Geddy and Neil, and patiently waits for the two tardy members to make their way onto the stage, at which time Alex begins the opening riff to The Spirit of Radio.  After a few minutes into the song, the video screen issues are sorted out, and although I’ve heard better Spirits in my now twenty Rush shows, the energy was electric.  The first few songs were a whirlwind, mostly because I was just taking everything in and realizing what was going on.  This was my bucket list show… something I HAD to do before I croaked.  At any rate, we knew the setlist since we also attended the Camden, NJ (Philly) show, so no new surprises, of course.  Subdivisions is always one of my favorites, and I never get sick of it.  Set two was really special, since Spade and I are huge fans of Moving Pictures (who isn’t?) and they played the classic album in its entirety.  I was really feeling Red Barchetta and Witch Hunt.  The Camera Eye was also great, despite a small boo-boo by Alex after a miscued drum fill from Neil, at least that’s how I heard it.  Geddy’s bass solos during YYZ were particularly tight on this night, and his bass tone was awesome.  As a matter of fact, the sound in general was superb at Red Rocks, even though Spade and Ryan though the guitar was a bit too loud sometimes.  After the final strains of Vital Signs, I knew the show was coming close to the end, but they still delivered great renditions of 2112: Overture and Temples of Syrinx, as well as the brand spankin’ new Caravan and a personal favorite, Far Cry.  Overall, it was an amazing show, if not only for the fact that it was Rush at Red Rocks.  Was it the best Rush show I’d ever seen?  Hmmmm… probably not, but it was perhaps the most special.  Sometimes life doesn’t suck, eh? 

8/17/10 – The trip home

Sitting in Newark, NJ now after a relatively event-free flight from Denver.  Actually got free food on this flight (salad with a chicken wrap and mini Hershey bar), plus soda and coffee.  Didn’t watch the movie again (some Queen Latifah affair).  Instead, I caught up on reading Ghost Rider, which is still keeping me interested.  How can it not, right?  After landing in Newark, we grabbed some Japanese airport food (chicken teriyaki for both of us) and made our way to gate 99.  So here we are sitting and waiting to board our puddle jumper bound for the capital of good ol’ PA.  I hope Carolyn remembers to pick us up tonight!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Tripping the West Coast-tastic - Part I: Seattle and Portland

In late June of this year, Brewslut and I ventured out west with my mom to visit Seattle and Portland, two cities I've been wanting to visit for quite some time.  Both are renowned for beer culture and an inordinate amount of breweries and brewpubs.  If I'm not mistaken, Portland has the most breweries/brewpubs per capita than any other city in the United States.  Impressive to say the least!  While we barely scratched the surface of what was available to the beer geek community, we did get to hit some of the basics.  Below is a sort of journal entry approach to our trip to Seattle and Portland.  Enjoy!
 
Pike Brewing Co.
 
 
While the three of us meandered around trying to find the Pike Place Market (the famous tourist spot in Seattle where they throw fish around), we stumbled upon Pike Brewing Company, which, unbeknownst to us, was in close proximity to the market.  We also happened to get there during happy hour, which was an added bonus.  The brewpub had a very open feel to it, with high ceilings and a view to the brewery above.  A very cool space, indeed! 

I enjoyed a cask IPA, which was pretty tasty (sorry folks, no review).  The had a solid lineup of several classic beer styles, as well as a few guest taps.  The walls were decorated with tons of breweriana, including lots of vintage serving trays that I'm sure were worth a lot of money to collectors.  This was a quick stop, unfortunately, but nevertheless it was ok because we hadn't even planned on visiting.  But since we just stumbled upon it, we HAD to stop in for at least one beer, right?  


 Diamond Knot

Now that's my kind of dog!
We stumbled upon Diamond Knot’s brewpub while visiting a lighthouse park and Puget Sound, which was about 20 miles or so north of Seattle.  They didn’t open until 11am, so we killed some time walking up the shore of Puget Sound and checking out the lighthouse grounds.  We also had some coffee next door at a small grocery store / deli / breakfast stand.  Not sure what it was, but they were open and they sold coffee.  Score!  Diamond Knot immediately struck me upon our entrance due to the nautical theme of the d├ęcor and its cool use of those old time metal divers’ suits on their merchandise.   

Diamond Knot tap handles.
Perusing their beer menu, I also noticed a beer that was a collaboration with Michael Wilton of Queensryche, as well as another beer that made references to the Iron Maiden song, “The Number of the Beast,” with its images of the devil, 666, etc.  Being a lifelong metalhead, I thought this was pretty cool.  In talking to the bartender (who was awesome), she informed me that the brewers were all into metal, and that the head brewer’s favorite band was… wait for it… Rush!  She said he even flew to Toronto a few weeks back to see them on the Time Machine tour (I’d seen them four times on this particular tour).  She also said that the brewery was just a few miles up the road if we wanted to visit.  As tempting as it sounded… I know right?  Talking about beer AND Rush to a brewer?  If my mom wasn’t in tow, I would have definitely stopped for a visit.  But we had a busy day planned of tourist stuff that unfortunately got in the way of our “beerlanthropy.”  Oh well, we are already talking about doing a full-fledged Portland and Seattle “beer-cation” in a year or two, so I’m sure we’ll hit up Diamond Knot as well as a slew of other places we missed this time around.  At any rate, I enjoyed the Industrial IPA and also purchased a T-shirt with the aforementioned deep sea diver emblazoned across the chest. 


 Also, the urinal in the men’s bathroom was rather unorthodox, to say the least.  I asked the bartender where the bathroom was located, and she pointed the way, but also added the statement, “You’ll want to take your camera.”  I must admit that I have never heard anyone utter these words when I asked for directions to the bathroom.  But I’m glad I took her advice, because the urinal was an actual keg die-cut into which urine could be deposited.  But the real charm of the urinal came when I discovered that it was, in fact, a used Anheuser-Busch keg!  Classic!

Coolest. Urinal. Ever!
Deschutes


Deschutes was definitely at the top of my list for this trip, so how fortunate was it for us that the night we decided to visit happened to coincide with their 23rd Anniversary party?  Talk about a stroke of luck!  What did that mean?  A full tap list including all of their flagship beers, IPA on cask, a special sour ale, and… oh yeah… Black Butte XXIII on TAP!   


The place was obviously a mob scene due to the anniversary celebration, so our wait for a table was about an hour or so.  But hey, when beer is available, it’s not like you’re even waiting for a table!  So we perused the merchandise displays and enjoyed our beers (cask IPA for me and a sour for Brewslut).  I’m really glad we picked Deschutes for dinner, because the food and service was fantastic.  My mom even said it was probably her favorite meal of the trip.  Brewslut and I enjoyed these awesome vegetarian burgers made from red beets and walnuts that were creative and certainly tasty.  My mom got the artisan mac and cheese made with several kinds of cheeses, including a smoked cheese.


I had a sample, and it was indeed awesome.  Aside from my cask IPA and a sampler flight of their hoppy offerings, I was lucky enough to get a Black Butte XXIII on tap.  For whatever reason, I didn’t take notes on this beer, but I assure you… this Imperial Porter was fantastic!

 Hair of the Dog

We had planned to visit HotD on Saturday after breakfast, which I was really excited about.  This was one of the places that was high on my list of “absolute cannot miss” brewpubs for this trip.  When we pulled the car up to the entrance, I could tell something was awry.  As I got out of the car, I noticed a sign placed in the window of the door, which read: “Closed all day Saturday for Private Party.”  My heart sank for a moment.  Was I not going to be able to have a fresh Blue Dot?  Would I be denied one of their infamous “From the Wood” beers?  I was seriously hoping that they would be open on Sunday, but there was no hours listed on the door.  Lucky for me, I found out later that they did, in fact, have Sunday hours.  So I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized that I could make it to HotD!  And I’m glad we made it! 

Inside Hair of the Dog's taproom.
Blue Dot was on, as well as a brewery-only release called Greg, which was brewed with summer squash and no hops.  Also, I noticed a little beer called Adam From the Wood on tap!  When I ordered a glass, the bartender kindly informed me that it had just kicked.  Strike two!  M’wah.  However, my mood quickly changed when she told me that a vintage 2008 Fred from the Wood would be taking its place momentarily.  BOOYEAH!  And let me tell you, it did not disappoint!  Easily one of the best, smoothest barleywines I’ve had to date.  Not only was the bar staff awesome, but we had a great conversation with a local patron about beer to boot.  I could have sat there all day and got into some of their vintage bottles for sale, but we had other things on the agenda.

Cascade Barrel Room

Not too far from HotD is the Cascade Barrel Room.  Cascade is known for making some fantastic sour beers, including their popular Kriek, which is available in PA (I’ve seen bottles at Al’s and Brass Rail).  Brewslut was definitely more interested in stopping here for a visit, due to her interest in all things sour (except my mood, which can turn sour on occasion… see my earlier HotD comments).  We didn’t have a lot of time to spend here, so we got sampler flights.  To be honest, I can’t even remember what I had, although I did have one of their IPAs.  Brewslut opted for pretty much all sours and wild ales.


Stay tuned for Part II of our West Coast jaunt... San Diego!  I'm telling you, it's the best city in the United States... the best, Jerry... the best!  

Monday, August 8, 2011

Vermont's Finest... BEER: Part II

Sunday

Got up in time to enjoy our free continental breakfast and headed over to Winooskie Beverage, a great beer store not too far from the hotel.  Picked up a ton of Maine Beer Co. stuff, including Zoe and Lunch!  This is a fantastic beer store with an awesome selection of local beer, and it's definitely worth a visit if you take a beer trip to Vermont.   

Our first stop in Burlington was The Farmhouse Tap & Grill, a highly rated beer bar that Dan had read about on BA.  I enjoyed a Hill Farmstead Edward pale ale and Brewslut and I shared a delicious cheese plate.  This place has a great tap selection with an emphasis on local Vermont-produced craft brews, and a delicious menu of soups, salads, appetizers and entrees all made with fresh, local ingredients. 

Our cheese plate at The Farmhouse.
Burlington is home to Vermont's oldest craft brewery, aptly named The Vermont Pub and BreweryGreg Noonan, one of the Craft Brewing pioneers, opened the doors of the brewery in 1988 after lobbying the state legislature for three years to allow pub brewing in Vermont for the first time since Prohibition.  We got there fairly early in the day - and between meals - so we got seating at the bar rather easily.  We all opted for the samplers here, because I had heard very good things from Dan and wanted to go for quantity over quality.  Lucky for me, I got both, because the beers were all solid.  My favorite of the bunch was the Dogbite Bitter, an ESB.  Their Hefe and Pale Ale were both very good as well.  Check out all of my reviews from our visit on my BA profile.


After a memorable visit to Vermont Pub and Brewery, we headed over to American Flatbread, where I enjoyed an awesome veggie pizza and probably my favorite atmosphere of any place we visited on this trip.  This place is also the taproom for Zero Gravity Craft Brewery.  I really loved the sunken dining area, high ceilings and exposed brick walls, not to mention the amazing pizza!  Oh yeah, the beer was solid to boot.  Check out my reviews for Schoen Dorf, a Dortmunder Lager, and Conehead, a Wheat IPA.  Despite my appreciation of the decor and vibe of this place, we regrettably only snapped one picture of the decor. 

Bricks made good ovens for pizza!
Following our beer-filled afternoon, we needed a bit of a break, so we headed over to Waterbury to take the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream tour.  This was the reason Kristen went on the trip, I think.  She looked like a kid on Christmas morning.  We went through the thirty-minute tour and received a free sample of the new Jimmy Fallon-inspired ice cream flavor, Late Night Snack, which was quite tasty.  I also got a mocha almond something-or-other cone outside and a smoothie for Brewslut.  It was a fun tour and provided a pleasant deviation from our beer drinking activities.
After the tour, we stopped in a Laughing Moon Chocolates in Stowe, on the recommendation of Bodan.  We didn’t buy anything (Kristen got some truffles), but did sample their salted caramel, which was tasty.  I also got a cup of coffee, because I needed my afternoon caffeine fix.    

The Von Trappe Lodge
Afterward, we swung by the Vonn Trappe Lodge, which just so happens to have a small brewery that produces German-style lagers.  Brewslut and I split a sampler, and the Dunkle was our favorite of the lot, though all were of good quality. 


In addition to the house-made beer, they also boasted a fine bakery on premises, an upscale lodge and much more.  I was tempted to get a loaf of bread, as it looked mighty tasty, but I passed.



Outside, some longhorn cows were grazing and I was enamored with them.  I snapped a few pictures too.   They almost had to drag me away from them.  You know me and animals.  This place was beautiful and definitely warranted more time than we actually spent there, but unfortunately we had plenty to squeeze in, so we bid the Von Trappe family adieu.


We ended up in Montpelier for a quick visit to Three Penny Taproom, where I enjoyed a pint of Hill Farmstead Florence, a fantastic Saison.  Since their bar menu was extremely limited and we were all pretty famished, we decided we needed sustenance.  I was eyeing up a vegetarian spot across the street, but unfortunately they closed at 8pm and it was a few minutes after eight.  M’wah!  So we went across the street to a Culinary institute where students double as chefs, but alas they were also closed.  So we found the nearest Irish pub and landed a table during a fairly busy evening due to the NBA Finals being televised.  While the beer selection was limited (or lacking, actually), I had what might have been the tastiest vegetarian burger EVER… a black bean and rolled oat burger with avocado and other awesomeness on a fantastic bun.  Man, it was delicious!  I woofed that puppy down with a side of tasty sweet potato fries and man, did it really hit the spot!  Afterwards, we stopped in at Three Penny Taproom to purchase some merchandise, and I picked up a really cool NOT brown warm-up jacket for *cough* fifty shekels *cough* but hey, I’m on vacation, right?  I also had some funny dialogue with a group of locals about man tits and other debauchery.  Good times indeed!  Exhausted from the long day, we retired to our hotel outside of Montpelier, the capital of VT.  The Best Western Waterbury-Stowe was a really cozy mountain-themed hotel.  They even have an agreement with Green Mountain coffee, and had Keurig coffee makers in each room.  Score!  Good coffee for free!  They also had a pretty bangin’ free breakfast and a great gym that I was happy to utilize at 6am prior to our departure.   

Monday

Pleeps enjoying some of Brewslut's RIS @ City Steam
Unfortunately, our long weekend was coming to an end.  Brewslut and I had to get back to Annville by 7pm for dentist appointments (double M’wah) but we were able to squeeze in a lunch stop in Hartford, CT at City Steam.  We had stopped here on our Kate the Great Day trip last February/March, and I had really enjoyed their Acapulco Gold, a dank, hoppy pale ale.  Unfortunately, it was not on tap during this particular visit, and neither were the IPA nor the DIPA on the menu… triple M’wah!  However, they had Luscious Wheat, a West Coast-style wheat ale, as well as a Russian Imperial Stout on tap, and both were solid.  This is a huge place and certainly gets a solid lunch crowd during the week.  I would have loved to stop at Willimantic, but unfortunately it was not on our travel route.  Still, we were able to pack a bunch of amazing beer-related activities into one long weekend, which made for quite a memorable trip.  We will definitely make plans to visit Vermont again soon!

Cheers Vermont!