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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Beers-giving 5: The Journey to Charleston, SC - Part II

After a longer-than-anticipated visit to Coast (due to waiting for the stout to kick and the barleywine to go on), we headed over to the new Westbrook Brewery.  When we pulled up to the front of the building, I was quite surprised to find a pretty huge, modern-looking facility that was in stark comparison to Holy City and Coast.  This place reminded me of one of the mid-sized breweries in California, both for its functionality and atmosphere.  We immediately could tell that they plunked down some serious dollars for this brewery!

Westbrook Brewery
We bumped into the trio of guys from Coast, but they were just about ready to leave and move on to Holy City, their next stop on their birthday crawl.  It was fairly crowded in Westbrook's tasting room, but we were able to snag the vacant seats recently left by our departing friends.  Perusing the tap selection, it appeared there was plenty I wanted to try, so we went with two sampler flights.  My flight included the following: IPA, Nelson Sauvin Rye Pale Ale, the previously-imbibed-and-thoroughly-enjoyed Citra Rye Pale Ale, and finally Mini Growler Imperial Stout, a collaboration with Evil Twin Brewing Company.  For those of you not in the know, Evil Twin is the mastermind of Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, brother of Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, founder of Mikkeller. Born in Denmark, the brothers each went their separate brewing paths and opened two distinct breweries.  Without going into too much detail, Evil Twin latched on to Westbrook, who does some bottling and canning for Evil Twin; hence this collaboration beer. 

Inside Westbrook Brewery.
We arrived just in time to take a tour of the facility, which was quite impressive (as you can see from the pictures) for a start-up brewery.  While I always enjoy touring a production brewery, our guide was not the most knowledgeable guide by any stretch of the imagination.  She responded to many of the of the questions asked by the tour group with, "That's a good question" or "I'm not sure."  When we got to step inside the barrel room, someone asked what was in the barrels, and she looked at one and said, "Well, this one says 'quad' so I guess a Quadruple IPA."  Despite her lack of knowledge, it was still a nice visit, and we were quite impressed with not only the facility, but also the beers.

Mountain of cans!
Hill of kegs!
In typical fashion, I picked up "one of everything" for Deuane and also purchased several bottles for future use and "beer cellar decorations."  In addition to its usual offerings, Westbrook had a nice variety of specialty bottles, including Bearded Farmer Saison, the aforementioned Mini Growler, a Greman Lichtenhainer Weiss (think pale, sour and smokey wheat ale), and a Belgian Tripel aged in apple brandy barrels.  I can't wait to tear into some of these bottles in the near future!

Wall of barrels!
A sea of six packs!
We had decided to visit EVO Pizza, another Deuane-recommended establishment, for dinner and drinks, but unfortunately they were closed when we arrived*, so we had dinner just up the road at Taco Boy. I was happy to scarf down some delicious shrimp and fish tacos and wash them down with a tasty michelada made with Dos Equis.  Brewslut got the same, except she opted for chicken tacos. 
*Editor's Note: I absolutely despise when restaurants close for two or three hours between lunch and dinner.  M'wah!

Micheladas made with Dos Equis Amber (Brewslut) and Lager (me).
While the food was quite good and the michelada was indeed refreshing, our service was lackluster.  It took forever to get our check and almost as long to get our change.  Chalk up another M'wah!

Afterwards, we were off to The Charleston Beer Exchange to (hopefully) purchase some more bottles.  To be honest, I totally forget what we purchased here.  I think we only got a total of about six bottles, but it was a great place with an amazing selection, especially if you like obscure Belgian beers (not me, really, but I appreciated the diverse selection).  It reminded me of a cross between Capone's and Bruisin' Ales.  The clerk was very friendly too, so I gave him a bottle of Mad Elf to enjoy for the holidays.  He also gave a good recommendation to the next stop on our itinerary, The Griffon.

Since The Griffon was only a few blocks away, we left our car outside the Charleston Beer Exchange and walked down the scenic street to our destination.  This place could be described as a dive bar with a very good beer selection.  Inside, The Griffon also has the distinction of having around $10,000 of one dollar bills stapled to the walls by thousands of visitors over the years.  I asked the bartender if they had that factored into their insurance should the place ever burn to the ground!  All in all, this was quite a unique place.  I decided to give Lazy Magnolia's Timber Beast DIPA a shot, as I've only ever had its flagship beer, Southern Pecan, on a previous occasion.  I must admit that I didn't have high expectations, but I must say that this was definitely a solid DIPA.  I'm not sure if I was just craving a DIPA or what, but this beer just hit the spot.  It was fresh, balanced and had plenty of hop flavor and aroma to satisfy my craving.  Brewslut tried an Amber Ale from Palmetto Brewery, a Charleston production brewery that we were unable to visit due to limited hours and no tasting room.  I suppose it was a good thing, because Brewslut wasn't impressed... no, no, no, no no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no... she wasn't impressed at all.  This was a one-and-done spot, and the evening was winding down, but we still had one more place to hit before calling it a night.

Lucky for us, Liberty Taproom was pretty much right across the street from our townhouse.  We arrived just in time to get on the Happy Hour train, which was about to depart for the evening.  I ordered their house IPA, which was decent, but at only $2.50 during happy hour, it was a bargain. Brewslut opted for the house Porter, which was also on special.  We also got an order of grilled wings and followed up with Hawaiian chopped salads for dinner. This atmosphere was your typical Sports Bar feel with dozens of televisions blaring college football games and even more loggerheaded sports fans causing a ruckus every time a twenty-year-old kid scored a touchdown, sacked a quarterback, or performed just about any other mundane sports act, it seemed.  We especially appreciated the attractive-but-overly-annoying young lady at the table next to us with the excruciatingly high-pitched voice.  It was enough to make me order another beer.  I closed out the night with a Brrr from Widmer Brothers, a winter seasonal.  It reminded me of toasted bread and had very little hop presence, unfortunately.  I had wanted to try it based on the name and also after having some stellar IPA selections from them as of late.  However, this beer was nothing to write home about.  Still, kudos to Widmer for the name of the beer.  Afterwards, we retired to the townhouse and watched the fantastic A Mighty Wind.

The following day, we decided to return to Closed for Business for Sunday brunch. We arrived to find a young couple sitting outside on a bench waiting for the doors to open.  It was just 11am, and they said, "We're here for brunch and waiting for them to open."  After standing there for five minutes, Brewslut decided to try the door on a whim.  They were indeed open.  Apparently, the oblivious young couple hadn't even tried the door when they arrived.  Um, yeah.  Once inside, we sat at a small two-person table, but quickly moved to the cozy fireplace seating (pictured below).  I decided to try something adventurous, so I ordered an oyster omelet with home fries.  Despite enjoying mussels and clams, I had never been much of an oyster fan.  However, the lightly breaded oysters made for a very flavorful (and textured) omelet indeed.  Brewslut and I also shared some delicious home-made banana bread with walnut cream cheese. We enjoyed the coffee quite a bit, too.  For beer, I went back to my old faithful (on this trip, anyway), Westbrook Citra Rye Pale Ale.  Brewslut had a Holy City oyster stout.  We talked a bit more to the staff this time around, as we had less on our agenda for this day. 

Inside Closed For Business.
After brunch, we swung by Charleston Beer Works for a quick one, which was right down the street from Closed For Business.  We caught them as they were just opening for the day, so the place was empty.  Overall, this was you typical Sports Bar with televisions and a decent tap selection that boasted some good local brews.  Since the Schwartz was with me, I ordered a Dark Helmet, Westbrook's cleverly-named Schwarzbier derived from the classic Mel Brooks film, Space Balls. Brewslut also opted for a Westbrook offering, its White Thai, a twist on a classic Belgian Witbier.  This place wasn't offering much in the form of ambiance or conversation, so we finished our beers quickly and headed to our next stop, a rare non-beer destination - a record store! 

As much of a beer geek as I am, the only thing in my life that tops beer is music.  I had to coerce Brewslut into swinging by Monster Music and Movies by assuring her I'd only be "about an hour."  She opted to stay in the car and catch up on some Kindle reading.  As promised, I was out in an hour (or so) with some cool vinyl in tow.  When visiting a city for the first time, I always try to seek out the best record store in town (assuming there is one, as records are virtually extinct.  Hell, most music mediums have fallen by the wayside in light of recent iTunes downloads and the like.  All I have to say is, "Fuck that shit!")

After my little detour to Monster Records, we were off to Smoky Oak Taproom, which turned out to be a real diamond in the rough, as far as we were concerned.  The place wasn't much to look at (yes, another Sports Bar), but we had an awesome server and the tap selection was perhaps the best we'd encountered thus far on the trip.  I opted for another Westbrook offering, a saison named Bearded Farmer, then followed it up with a favorite of mine, Foothills People's Porter. Brandi got New Belgium's Lips of Faith Peach Porch Lounger and finished with Your Black Heart, a Russian Imperial Stout by Odempseys, a brewery that was new to us both. We needed a light snack, so we shared an order of chicken tacos that were quite tasty.  Afterwards, we'd decided that we could have hung out there much longer, if only for the fantastic tap selection.  There were certainly five or six other beers that I would have liked to try, but alas it was time to move on. 

After a short drive, we landed at Oak Barrel Tavern, where I ordered another Westbrook Dark Helmet and Brewslut, a Bells Christmas Ale.  The tiny establishment was decorated nicely, with cool barrel tables and a short bar.  We talked to Matt the bartender for a while, and it turned out he used to live in Harrisburg for several years and even knew several of my friends and bandmates.  Though Oak Barrel's tap list was short, it was still decent, and we ended up purchasing a bottle of Evil Twin's Imperial Biscotti Break, a beer we were denied last year during Philly Beer Week, when Eulogy was having difficulty with their tap line.

Right up the street was Gene's Haufbrau, another dive bar with a pretty good local tap selection, where I enjoyed a Westbrook Covert Hops (black IPA) and Brewslut a Holy City Porter over a game of Yahtzee.  We also enjoyed watching an inebriated middle-aged woman mack on her boyfriend while waiting for a cab.  People watching at its finest, folks!  And with that, we retired to the townhouse to get a good night's sleep before shipping out at the ass-crack of morning and heading back to PA. 

We kept our stops to a minimum, but we did manage to stop for lunch at Rosa's Italian Restaurant in Hopewell, VA, where they had Legend Brewing Company's Brown Ale on tap.  That was a nice surprise, as I figured we wouldn't have another beer until we got back to PA, where we were planning to meet up with Deuane and Carolyn for a quick recap and some more... yep, you guessed it... beer!  Until next time...

Friday, December 21, 2012

Beers-giving 5: The Journey to Charleston, SC - Part I

For those of you who have followed The Pour Travelers for the past two years, then you most likely are aware of the fact that Brewslut and I take an annual beer holiday with our good friends Deuane and Carolyn. Over the last four years, we have enjoyed visits to Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Quebec. This year, we had planned to visit Charleston, SC. Unfortunately, our plans were altered when Deuane's father (who had been ill for some time) took a turn for the worse on the eve of the trip and they were unable to join us this year. With heavy hearts, Brewslut and I forged on as a lonely duo and, for the first time in five years, experienced Thanksgiving evening without our beloved travel companions.

Since we had planned to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with Carolyn's family, in light of the unfortunate events we decided to get an early start and head down to Fayetteville, NC, about two-thirds of the way between Annville, PA and Charleston, SC. Brewslut performed the bulk of the driving duties, with me taking over only an hour or so outside of Fayetteville.  We secured a hotel from trusty (we LIVE by this site when traveling, folks!  "Name-your-own-Price" is the proverbial shit)!  Once we arrived at the hotel, we imbibed in our first beer of the trip - Bud Light Lime-A-Rita!

I can't help myself... I like big cans!
OK...OK... yeah, I know!  Perhaps some back story is necessary at this juncture.

It had become our tradition on these annual trips to share a "shitty" beer, if only for the sole purpose of our own enjoyment. (See our previous blog about last year's trip to Quebec to familiarize yourself with this tradition and for a list of past beers.) This year, Brewslut and I raised a hotel glass of Bud Light Lime-A-Rita in honor of our absent traveling cohorts. Unfortunately, we had to share this giant can with only each other instead of the four of us. But you know what?  It actually wasn't that bad.  It tasted more like a margarita than an actual beer.  In that respect, this beer was FAR superior to the Bud Light Chelada beer we imbibed a few years prior.  So this year, we kicked off the trip with class!

Pleeps gettin' in on some Lime-A-Rita action!
After "enjoying" our can of Lime-A-Rita, we headed out to scout for some good local beer.  We settled upon Carolina Ale House, a local sports bar chain with a surprisingly decent tap selection.  Plus it was literally the only place open on Thanksgiving night.  They were having a Thanksgiving buffet that had seen better hours.  Brewslut said it looked like they were just about ready to take the slim pickings back to the kitchen for disposal.  She was correct in her assumption.  So, we settled on an Asian chicken salad with ginger sesame dressing, and I must say it was pretty damn delicious!  While it wasn't turkey, filling, sweet potatoes, baked corn, and pumpkin pie for dessert, it definitely hit the spot.  I washed down my salad with a Carolina Pale Ale from Carolina Brewing Company and followed it up with Freedom American IPA from Natty Greene's Brewing Company, the latter with which I was not familiar.  I must say it was nice to be able to keep notes on my new iPhone and check in my beers with Untappd rather than the "old school" chore of actual pen and paper.  Consider me now on-board and up-to-date with the latest technological trends.  After our final beers, we retired to our hotel for some much-needed rest.

Our Holiday Inn boasted a free hot breakfast buffet, so we took them up on the offer and filled up before our commute into Charleston.  After the three-and-a-half drive from Fayetteville to Charleston, our first order of business was to find somewhere to get a beer!  Much to my chagrin, we were greeted by downtown Charleston with a wall of traffic spanning about two miles. Our destination was South End Brewery and Smokehouse, located in the heart of downtown Charleston.  Brewslut started with an odd choice for her - Love Me Two Times Blonde.  Perhaps her affection for The Doors influenced her decision.  She followed up with more familiar territory with a pint of Pict's Stout, a dry Irish Stout with a low ABV.  As for myself, I imbibed in a pretty solid seasonal, aptly named Winter Wheat, and followed it up with the less than stellar Pinckney Pale Ale.  South End was a nice enough place, but it was your typical brewpub that caters more to tourists and casual beer drinkers.  While the Winter Wheat was above average, their tap selection ran the gamut of your typical pedestrian styles: a red, blonde, dry stout, wheat, pale, etc. We did share a plate of nachos, which were quite tasty, though.

Dig the Doors font on the "Love Me Two Times" tap handle!
Inside South End Brewery & Smoke House
After we left South End and were walking back to our car, Brewslut noticed a sign for Wet Willie's and recognized the name from an episode of Three Sheets (hosted by Zane Lamprey, whose mascot is none other than a little monkey named Pleepleus)!  So we stopped in to see what all the fuss was about. Wet Willie's boasts a variety of homemade frozen daiquiris and margaritas, including a few made with 190-proof grain alcohol!  Ooofa!  Since "the Dude abides," we settled on a frozen White Russian, which I must admit was pretty damn delicious.  But since we were on a mission for beer, we decided to share the frozen treat rather than each order one.  Still, with drink names like Attitude Improvement, Call a Cab, and Monkey Shine (Pleeps really wanted one of those - a banana daiquiri), it was hard to settle on just one.  

Inside the eclectic Closed For Business.

After our cool treat, we were off to Closed for Business, one of the places I was most excited about visiting.  Coincidentally, this eclectic beer establishment was featured in the then-current issue of Beer Advocate magazine, which bolstered my excitement for this trip.  During our visit, I had my first taste of Westbrook Brewery's fantastic Citra Rye Pale Ale.  I must admit that I hadn't heard of Westbrook prior to the trip until Deuane mentioned some of their beers to me merely days before we departed to Charleston.  Good thing he did, because pretty much everything I sampled from Westbrook was solid to superb.  But more on Westbrook later.  Brewslut opted for the special $4 pint, which happened to be Thunderstruk Chocolate Porter from nearby Asheville, NC's Highland Brewing Company.  We had visited Asheville with Deuane and Carolyn three years prior (pre-blog, unfortunately), but unfortunately we never made it to Highland's brewery.  With such a great, diverse tap selection, I typically never order the same beer twice in a row.  One that comes to mind was Shut the Hell up, a 3% ABV Simcoe hop bomb that I thoroughly enjoyed during our visit to The Alchemist back in the summer of 2011.  Well, I was really feeling the Citra Rye Pale Ale on this particular day, and decided to order another one! 

After enjoying our first of two visits to Closed For Business (more on the second visit later), we were off to Holy City Brewing Company, a place I'd not been familiar with prior to Deuane's recommendation.  We arrived to find the brewery was situated in an industrial park similar to many of the smaller breweries in San Diego.  The brewery itself had a very warehouse-esque atmosphere, and the brewery opened right up into the tasting room, where you could purchase sampler flights as well as take-out bombers.  We each got a sampler flight which included four beers: Pecan Dream, Pluff Mud Porter, Pilsner, and Oyster Stout.  My favorite of the lot was easily the Pecan Dream, although all of the beers were solid.  Brewslut quite liked the Oyster Stout.  In addition to the fine beer, there was also a cool little trio with acoustic guitar, bass and drums performing right inside the tasting room.  We met some folks wearing Pittsburgh Steelers and Yuengling attire who were coincidentally NOT from Pennsylvania.  Go figure!  Holy City is also dog-friendly, and it was cool to see a few dogs running around and having fun too.

Sixtel anyone?
I also introduced myself to Chris, the head brewer and co-owner, who was finishing up his shift.  Again, I hooked him up with some Tröegs, as well as Joel, another one of the co-owners, who was gracious enough to donate two bombers of the fantastic Pecan Dream to a worthy cause (i.e. ME)!  Brewslut bought a cool girl-cut shirt, and I purchased a growler of Pecan Dream.  We could have easily stayed here much longer, but our stomachs were calling and craved something other than liquid nourishment. 

Holy City's brewery opens right into its tasting room. Note the wet floor!

We ended our first day in Charleston at Mellow Mushroom, a small chain of "kind," "groovy" (or any hippie culture colloquialism you prefer) restaurants with an expansive beer selection.  We had eaten at Mellow Mushroom during our trip to Asheville with Deuane and Carolyn a few years ago, and we enjoyed it quite a bit.  We were quite famished after a long, hard day of drinking, so we ordered chicken salads and split a tasty Thai-style pizza.  However, I was disappointed that they had literally ZERO local South Carolina beers on tap during our visit.  For shame, indeed!  So we finished the day on a heavy note: New Holland's Dragon's Milk for me and North Coast's Old Rasputin for Brewslut - 10% and 9% ABV beers, respectively.  That'll teach them!

Pleeps needs a nap!
On the way back to the townhouse, we made a detour in order to swing by Piggly Wiggly, a southern grocery store chain and another recommendation from Deuane, to check out the beer selection.  We'd heard about the Piggly Wiggly (it was referenced in the movie Driving Miss Daisy), but we had no idea what was in store for us.  This particular Piggly Wiggly boasted 60 taps of different draft beers, including a lot of local and regional selections.  I picked up a few bombers of Foothill's People's Porter for the ridiculously low price of $3.49 each.  We also got a variety of growler fills, including Westbrook Covert Hops black IPA and Holy City Category 2 IPA.  I also grabbed the last bottle of Founders Frangelic Mountain Brown.  Score!

We capped off the day by watching Blades of Glory starring Will Ferrell and Jon Heder.

After breakfast the following day, we headed off to Coast Brewing Company, the only brewery in Charleston with which I was familiar prior to the trip.  I'd enjoyed their phenomenal Blackbeer'd Imperial Stout (as well as the Jack Daniel Barrel-aged version) at a stout tasting hosted by our friend Adam Korsak way back in 2009. Prior to that, I'd only ever tasted Coast's fine HopArt IPA, courtesy of Deuane, which I found to be quite tasty.

Note the "rules" at the bottom. NOTE: Rules are made to be broken!
This place was definitely my style, in that it pretty much had no particular style.  Coast's brewery set-up is a conglomeration of brewing equipment, pallets of bottles, wooden barrels, unusual decorations, and mismatched tables and chairs.  While some people may frown upon a brewery for not being particularly tidy, to me it proves that they focus on what's really important: the beer!  Now don't get me wrong, I revel in witnessing huge, impressive breweries with gleaming fermentation tanks, well-stacked wooden barrels, and a labyrinthine bottling lines.  I mean, come on... I work at one!  But there's just something about these little rag-tag breweries that appeals to me.  We always end up having the best conversation at places like this, and Coast was no exception.  A few minutes after we arrived, three guys on a birthday beer crawl crept into the brewery, and immediately we started talking about beer.  I was ecstatic to learn that the Angry Mash Oatmeal Stout was about to kick, and they would be replacing it with Old Nuptial Bourbon Barrel-aged Barleywine!  In light of this announcement, we voted unanimously to all stay until the stout kicked and the barleywine went on.  Needless to say, it was absolutely delicious; so delicious, in fact, that I got a growler to take home! 

Barrel-aged Blackbeer'd perchance?

After hanging out for a while and enjoying some beer chat with the three travelers, the brewer, and server, we perused the merchandise and picked out a cool brewery T-shirt depicting a pirate on the front and the Coast logo on the back.  I also shared some Tröegs love and hooked up the brewer with some Troegenator, Flying Mouflan, and Mad Elf.  Lucky for me, he reciprocated with a bomber of Rye Knot Brown Ale and a 2009 Jack Daniel barrel-aged Blackbeer'd!  Deuane was right... it pays to travel with gifts when you visit breweries!

Coast Brewing Company: an orderly mess!

Lots of eclectic goodies decorate Coast's brewery.
It's unlike me to end a blog during the middle of a day, but at this point, this is already pretty lengthy, so I made an executive decision to split this particular beer escapade into two parts (hopefully).  Stay tuned for Part II!


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Too legit to quit!

No, this isn't a blog about MC Hammer.  I just wanted to let everyone out there in beer-land know that I am now officially a legitimate published beer writer!  In its recent holiday edition, Philly Beer Scene published an article I wrote about Tröegs Flying Mouflan in the"It's Named What?" column.  The magazine's editor was looking for some information about the origins of Flying Mouflan and asked me to provide some quotes or anecdotes that could be used for the article.  I guess I let my creative side get the best of me, and I delivered a finished piece that they enjoyed and decided to print verbatim in the magazine.  I based the story loosely off a video that had been produced prior to my employment at Tröegs about Flying Mouflan that was used in conjunction with the QR code found on the marketing materials for the beer.  I basically took the main gist of the video and ran with it.  Check out a link to the article below.  You can also watch the original video here.  Enjoy!