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Friday, August 18, 2017

San Diego 2017 - Part 7: Let's wrap this shit up!

Aaaah, the last full day of our trip. Traditionally, it's a day that elicits many emotions. On one hand, I'm sad to be leaving our favorite city and friend with whom I only get to visit infrequently. On the other hand, I'm typically anxious to get back into the routine of daily life at home. In all honesty, I do get a bit homesick after a while. Plus I miss playing my drums and (believe it or not) going to the gym. (During one long 11-day trip to San Diego, we actually joined a local gym and went 7 times!) Of course, I'm never in a hurry to get back to work to plow through the inevitable 250 emails waiting for me in my in-box. That's never fun. And on yet another hand (yes, I know... three hands? Well, some people think I have three hands because I'm a drummer), I get a bit nostalgic and tend to reflect back on the rest of the trip (as well as other trips), discussing with Brewslut our favorite (and not-so-favorite) beers and breweries, as well as fun stories and people we'd encountered along the way.

For our final day, it was only fitting that we revisit our favorite place in San Diego: Ocean Beach. So, it was one last hurrah at OB for the Pour Travelers until next time. First on the list? Pizza Port OB, of course! We decided to start our day off with one of PP's famous lunch special deals: a pint of house beer, generous tossed salad, and slice of cheese pizza for $7.00. Or if you aren't too keen on "food's food," you can substitute another slice of pizza for the salad.

Last visit to Pizza Port OB.
On this particular visit, I went with the Norsewoman IPA, one I hadn't had. This was another top-notch San Diego-style IPA from Pizza Port. Despite the haze craze making its way westward, I have a feeling that PP will continue to churn out these classic West Coast works of art for many years to come. I know it's what keeps me coming back!

Following the IPA, Brewslut and I shared a pint of Gimme Samoa, a delicious coconut porter. The toasted coconut really shined through in this beer, but it also boasted a nice, full chocolate character, which complemented the coconut flavor nicely. Samoas, of course, are classic Girl Scout cookies made with chocolate, caramel and, obviously, coconut. According to my trusty friend, Wiki, Samoa cookies account for 19% of annual Girl Scout cookie sales, making it the second best seller behind only - you guessed it - Thin Mints. And rightly so. Still, this beer was fantastic and served as a sweet little dessert after our lunch specials.

Pleeps says, "Gimme some more of Gimme Samoa!"

We decided to swing by Kilowatt again (our third visit this trip) to see Luke, who was working an afternoon shift that day. One could easily visit Kilowatt a few times over the course of a week and still not sample everything on tap. The tap selection was about 24 deep, which is quite ambitious (and thus impressive) for a newer brewery. We decided to conduct more sampling of a variety of beers. Here's the run-down of what we tried this time:
  • S3 Green Apple - sour apple Berliner Weisse variation of S3 (Super Sour Series).
  • Coconut Chai - coconut porter with chai tea. Kilowatt seems to dig chai tea. 
  • Snappy Cat - citrusy American-style pale ale.
  • S3 Pomegranate Sour - pomegranate Berliner Weisse variation of S3.
Tap handles at Kilowatt spell out Ocean Beach California.
I'm glad we really got to dig into Kilowatt's vast tap selection over the course of our three visits. We put a nice dent in the 24-odd taps, and they turned out to be one of our favorite new places. The OB tasting room kind of reminds me of a black light cellar where college kids used to party in the 70s. They even have a bowl of community 3-D glasses outside the restroom area so you can enjoy some psychedelic "mood lighting" and other trippy effects while you urinate or... well, the other one.

Take advantage of the 3-D glasses when you visit the bathroom... trust me!

After saying goodbye to Luke, it was off to Council. This was another place I'd forgotten about... until we got there. I remembered the name, but as soon as we arrived, I was teleported back two years to our last trip. I had one of those "oh yeah!" moments. Since we didn't remember much about Council (except for the place itself once we got there), we figured we might as well get a few sample flights. Here's the run-down:
  • Hazeas Corpus - New England-style IPA with Mosaic, Citra and Amarillo hops.
  • Questionable Advice - Another hazy NE-style IPA with Citra and Nelson hops.
  • Beatitude Pineapple Tart Saison - "mixed fermentation" tart saison with pineapple.
  • Royal Blood - Imperial red ale hopped with Centennial, Zythos and Columbus.
  • Bully Drop - Triple IPA hopped with Mosaic, Simcoe and Nelson
  • Pirate's Breakfast - Imperial oatmeal stout with coffee and chocolate notes.
  • Woofle Dust - American golden sour ale aged in foeders with apricots. Love the name!

Although Council has been brewing a wide variety of beer styles since first opening in 2014, it recently launched a new label called "The Magic Factory," which focuses on wood-aged beers. The Woofle Dust, for example, is a Magic Factory beer. I definitely dig the name, and this beer was easily one of the best of the lot.

Overall, the beers here were solid, although nothing was in the running for a "best of the trip" award. Still, it was great to revisit this place seeing as it kind of got lost in the shuffle last time. I look forward to seeing first-hand how the Magic Factory program will have evolved by the time we visit again.

Fun with blocks at Countil. Possible name for a bacon sour?

Societe, on the other hand, is one of our favorite places of recent visits. There's nothing forgettable about this place. I love how they've created this faux old-time European town filled with unique personalities, which are portrayed by their many disparate beers. Societe's "town" is filled with such characters as The Butcher, The Widow, The Pugilist, and (my favorite) The Harlot, among dozens of others. Love it!

Outside the "town" of Societe.

For our third visit to Societe, we arrived to a warm, friendly greeting from one of the bartenders and a regular customer upon setting foot inside the tasting room. I decided to capture the moment with a selfie. It even made my Instagram feed. Here's the shot.

Greeted like a regular customer at Societe!

They intuitively must have known I was famous. Who am I kidding? It was probably my goat shirt.

It's a pleasure to see how Societe has grown since we first visited shortly after they opened for business in 2012. I recall commenting on how large the space was compared to other start-up breweries. Upon looking through a window into the production area, I said, "Wow. they definitely have room to grow." Fast-forward five years, and Societe's growth is evident by the number of fermentation tanks that now occupy that once-empty cellar. I've also noticed their beer on tap at quite a number of beer bars as well as guest taps at other small breweries.

I started off with a short pour of The Bachelor with Tahoma. The Bachelor is Societe's single-hopped IPA, and there are many variations. This particular iteration featured Tahoma hops, a variety with which I was unfamiliar. The profile for this American hop variety boasts notes of lemon, grapefruit, cedar, pine, spice and pepper. After a few sips of this IPA, the dryness and spice of the cedar definitely nudged its way through the citrus and pine notes prevalent in the initial flavor.

Meet Societe's cast of characters.

We also sampled The Coachman, session IPA or as Societe calls it, "a really small IPA." The bartender also hooked us up with some of The Heiress, a solid Czech-style pilsner that was mighty tasty. Many breweries opt not to brew a pilsner, mainly because they are so difficult to brew successfully. I'm a sucker for a good pilsner, so I applaud any brewery who can produce a great one. Societe definitely has its shit together, and we've enjoyed everything about this place since first setting foot inside five years ago.

Inside Societe's tasting room.

Our next two destinations were situated in the dreaded downtown area, not far from the baseball stadium. At first, I was hesitant about visiting this area during the day, but ultimately decided that we'd give it a shot, largely because there was no game on this particular day.

First on the agenda was Half Door, one of two new breweries that had opened since our last visit. Inside, Half Door feels like a traditional European pub from simpler times when neighbors gathered at their local watering hole to discuss their daily lives over a pint. The decor echoed these simpler times, and I felt I'd been transported back to England or Ireland at the turn of the century (not this past one, the other one). The tap handles fit the vibe nicely, as all were antiquated doorknobs opened with skeleton keys like you used to see in your grandparents' house when you were a kid.

Full pints at Half Door.

I kicked things off with a half pour of Hoban House, a 6.5% NE-style IPA with hints of pineapple, peach and tropical fruit. This was a winner in my book. It was soft, velvety, flavorful and aromatic without being overly bitter. Equally impressive was the Bean Bar Mocha, a nitro golden ale with chocolate and coffee added for a creamy, roasty flavor brewed in collaboration with the local Bean Bar coffee roasters. I really want to see the "golden coffee ale" trend pick up some steam on the east coast, as it seems fairly prevalent out west. We'd first encountered several similar beers during our venture to Portland last summer. I'm definitely on-board with more of these kinds of beers!

Pleeps gets his IPA on at Half Door.

On the other end of the spectrum, Necessary Evil was a tasty sour wheat ale with raspberry and passion fruit. I'm always down for a low ABV sour beer with fruit, and this one didn't disappoint. Bearleener, another light sour, was a straight-up tart, refreshing Berliner Weisse with plenty of lemon acidity. This was an exemplary interpretation of the style, which is one of Brewslut's very favorites. After sampling these four fine selections, it seems like Half Door has both hoppy beers and tart beers dialed in. The hoppy beers were more up my alley, but I recall leaving Half Door adequately impressed and in a happy state of mind.

Just around the corner from Half Door was our last brewery of the day, Resident. I always feel a bit melancholy when I know we're at the last brewery of the trip, but this time I just felt a wave of calmness envelope me. I was loud and busy (after all, it was Happy Hour when we arrived) but I kept things laid back during this final stop. Perhaps all of the beer had slowed me down and bit and gave me an opportunity to reflect on the past few days.  Speaking of reflecting, this photo captures the sun shining through an adjacent window and splashing across the beer chalkboard directly onto the bartenders head. I just like the way it looks.

Light streams down in bright, unbroken beams...

With that said, I must admit that I didn't have very high expectations about Resident. The place was loud; not only did the sound of booming patrons' voices fill the room (again... Happy Hour), various TVs blared a variety of sports competitions. They also featured quite a bit of guest taps. Not always a bad thing, but in our travels I've found that sometimes this can be a tell-tale sign that the house beer, well, isn't very good. Still, it was our last brewery of the trip and I was going to stay positive. "Staying positive" is a trait I'm working to perfect in my advanced years... without much success, of course.

But enough of my yakin'! Let's talk beer.

First up was Die Gose, a straight-up sour German wheat beer with a citrusy tang. Everybody makes a gose these days, just like every brewery now has a NE-style hazy IPA. While I like both styles, I'd love to see more gin barrel-aged beers and blonde coffee ales, personally. I guess it's good to stay ahead of the trends as well as follow them, as there are certainly more than one type of consumer out there. Next was the excellent Vacation Coconut IPA, featuring tons of coconut and pineapple notes courtesy of real toasted coconut as well as Citra and Amarillo hops. This beer just hit the spot at that precise moment in time, and it turned out to be one of the most memorable beers of the trip. This beer was a slam dunk! And I'm not talking about a dunk from the tall white kid in high school who just barely can touch the rim. I'm talking about the backboard glass-shattering dunk you see in Game 7 of the NBA championships by Shaq.

Our final beer was Walk of Shame, kind of an ironic beer with which to end such a great trip. Well, not the beer itself, just the name. Speaking of blonde coffee beers, this one is a version of Resident's Perky Blonde Ale with coffee and cacao nibs added. To refrain on the type of extensive verbosities (is that a word?!) used to describe the last beer... I freakin' loved it! Sorry. Sometimes I just need to embrace my Polonius-like nature. Brevity ain't the soul of wit... otherwise, why are Bill's plays so damn long?! To put things into better perspective, Yngwie J. Malmsteen once uttered these wise words: "How can less be more? That's impossible. MORE is more."

Pleeps looks like he's ready for the Walk of Shame.

And with that said... 

Stick a fork in me, San Diego. It's been real.


One of the nasty side effects of traveling to San Diego is having to fly to get there. I have a love/hate relationship with airplanes, airlines and airports. On one hand, I love the convenience of flying. On the other hand, I hate the inconvenience of flying. But if you want to get anywhere in this world (i.e. travel), then you best just shut up and deal with it. Otherwise, you ain't goin' nowhere. 

I was glad to see the Stone tap room so close to our gate at the airport. This made me immediately thirsty, so we took the bait and entered. They only had a handful of beers on tap, as this was one of the smaller Stone taprooms at the airport. When we landed in San Diego this time, we just missed grabbing a beer at the much larger Stone site at the airport. There must have been twenty taps, but alas they had just closed.

I found it fitting to start my morning (it was around 9:30 a.m.) with a beer called Who You Callin' Wussie. This beer turned out to be a solid, crushable German-style pilsner with a crisp, hoppy flavor profile... just the way I like 'em! I know in the past Stone has criticized other breweries for making "fizzy yellow beers" and calling them out as "wussies," so I thought this was a funny name for its own "fizzy yellow beer." I've kind of been on the Stone hate train as of late, but I couldn't resist an airport beer. Plus we completely skipped over Stone this time around, opting for newer, smaller breweries that had opened in the last two years since our previous visit. With that said, this beer (a 20-ounce, no less) delivered and provided just enough of a depressant to allow for a nap on the plane.

Astronaut or suffocation? You decide.

Believe it or not, I actually was able to catch some zzz's on the flight to Charlotte, NC (half an hour tops, which is good for me). However, the majority of our time was spent chatting with the guy sitting next to us in the aisle seat. This made time on the plane fly by (no pun intended). After we landed, we had just enough of a layover to seek out a beer at the airport. Enter local brewery Sugar Creek. Our new friend also had some free time before his flight, so he was nice enough to offer to buy us each a pint. Can't turn down free beer! Sugar Creek Pale Ale was a pleasant, straight-up citrusy American pale ale that went down with ease. It was nice to have a taste of the Carolinas, even if we were just swinging by momentarily.

Is the glass half empty or half full?

And with that, folks, ends another chapter in the Pour Travelers' San Diego adventures. You know we'll be back in two or three years because we can't seem to stay away from this amazing place. Until next time...

Friday, August 11, 2017

What's New in Baltimore?

Aside from our recent trip to San Diego, we hadn't had the opportunity to spend a generous amount of time in Baltimore for a few years. Given its relative close proximity to Central PA and easier access (i.e. no Schuylkill Expressway) than Philadelphia's airport, we typically tend to fly out of BWI for our vacations. We were able to swing by a new brewpub called Brewhouse No. 16 as well as Max's Taphouse the day we flew out to San Diego, but that was about it. However, this weekend commenced a month-long run of no band performances and witnessed our return to Baltimore to catch Dweezil Zappa at Rams Head Live. We'd seen Dweezil there several years ago, but hadn't returned since. Needless to say, a ton of new breweries had popped up all around the city, so we had our work cut out for us. Coincidentally, Frank Zappa (Dweezil's dad) was born in Baltimore, so it was cool to make that connection. So, let's dig in and find out what's new in Baltimore, shall we?

We kicked off the weekend at Peabody Heights. The brewery itself has an old school, blue collar vibe and seems to be situated in an industrial area. For some reason, I felt like I was in Pittsburgh during the 1970s. Not that that's a bad thing, because the Steelers were the NFL team of the 70s. However, I'm not much of a sports fan, but those who are might appreciate the connection.

Upon examining the tap list, we noticed several breweries listed. However, these weren't "guest taps," but rather various off-shoots, or "sister breweries" of Peabody Heights. With that said, Peabody Heights is a self-professed "craft beer incubator" that not only produces a variety of house beers, but contract brews for such entities as The Raven, Full Tilt, Local Option and a host of others. I found this to be a pretty cool concept. Aside from the standard offerings from Peabody Heights proper, the tasting room also featured small-batch beers from Old Oriole Park Beer (classic pre-Prohibition beer), Public Works (four beers are produced under this label, which donates a percentage of its proceeds to job training in the community), and Goonda Beersmiths (a separate nano-brewery run by two of Peabody Heights' employees).

View from my barstool at Peabody Heights.

While they didn't offer a set "sampler flight," they did have 5oz. pours available for $2 or $3, depending on the beer. So we each put together our own customized flight. Here's the run-down on everything we sampled (all are Peabody Heights unless otherwise noted):
  • Flick - DIPA double dry-hopped with Citra, Galaxy, and Nelson Sauvin. I liked enough to purchase a 4-pack of pounder cans to go. 
  • Knuckle-Buster IPA (Public Works) - malt-forward traditional IPA. 
  • Trap Trap Trap Trap Trap Trap (Goonda Beersmiths) - DIPA brewed in collaboration with Wet City featuring gooseberries and black limes as well as El Dorado and Kohatu hops.
  • Sleeping with the Fishes - Imperial stout brewed with coffee, chocolate and fish peppers.
  • Cranberry Beret - Hefeweizen with cranberries. Nice Prince reference!
  • Mr. Trash Wheel's Lost Python - session IPA hopped with Citra, Motueka and Mosaic.
  • Mocha Obscuro - Imperial stout; winning homebrew recipe from the brewery's first-ever homebrew contest. 
Cute little samples!

Although I was enjoying a great conversation with the bartender, who turned out to be a fellow drummer, about Zappa and music in general, things were about to turn sour. Much to our dismay, a flock of "Woo Girls" were starting to file into the brewery for what was apparently some kind of birthday party. You know what I'm talking about when I use the term "Woo Girl," folks. These women parade themselves about town and participate in obnoxious birthday gatherings typically featuring an over-enthusiastic, self-absorbed young lady wearing a tiara or a sash, or - even worse - BOTH, in public. Unless you're the Queen of England or you've just been crowned Miss America (and don't even get me started on that charade), under no circumstances should a women EVER be seen in public wearing a fucking bedazzled headpiece! I could hear Brewslut's eyes rattle as they rolled back loosely into her skull, and the expression on her face had turned to a slightly annoyed grimace. That was our cue to start packing it in. I grabbed my 4-pack of Flick, paid our tab, thanked the bartender for a nice chat, and with that, we headed off to the next brewery.

Monument City Brewing Co.

We stumbled on a pretty cool event at our next stop, Monument City. They were holding something called "Cask Your Ballot," whereby customers purchased a ticket for $8 and received samples of five different cask-conditioned variations of an ale. Customers were then asked to cast their votes for their favorite of the lot. Pretty cool concept! For this particular venture, Monument City featured five different variations of its 51 Rye Ale with various additional ingredients such as fruit, spices, hops, etc. The base beer (an IPA) takes its name from the percentage of rye malt used in the mash (51%, obviously). The resulting beer combines the earthy spice of rye malt with citrus hop notes.

That's some sweet cooperage right there!

Here's the run-down of all five beers included with the ticket:
  • Peaches & El Dorado
  • Grapefruit & Honey
  • Orange & Rosemary
  • Strawberry & Basil
  • Blackberry & Ginger
Obviously, these are all pretty self-explanatory. Brewslut and I both cast our vote for the Orange & Rosemary version, which we felt was the most refreshing and had the nicest aroma of the lot. While the orange character was subtle, the rosemary was really pronounced both in the flavor and aroma. I almost voted for the Peaches & El Dorado version, but ultimately the rosemary won me over.

Cask your ballot!

We finished up our visit by sharing a full pour of Among the Pines, a DIPA brewed with five hop varieties for an earthy, pine resin-esque flavor. However, it was perhaps a bit too malty for my particular taste, albeit still enjoyable while sitting outside on the ramp up to the entrance. I'm usually one to sit inside (as we did during our cask tasting), but the weather was so pleasant that we decided to enjoy the fresh air.

Outside at Monument City.

Across town in Fells Point, we returned to Max's Taphouse, one of the premier craft beer bars in the country. It's the Toronado of Baltimore... when in town, you gotta stop in for at least one beer. This place has a long-established reputation for its impressive, well-curated tap selection. Even veteran, somewhat jaded beer drinkers such as ourselves should have no trouble finding at least a dozen or so beers on tap worthy of imbibing on any given occasion. After careful consideration, I decided on Union Craft's Duckpin Pale Ale, which was dry-hopped with Citra and Nelson and dispensed via beer engine. Not too shabby. I'm also not sure why I chose this, because we were planning to stop at Union the following day. I suppose I was craving something cask conditioned. Brewslut opted for Burley Oak's Bay Breeze J.R.E.A.M. (so many acronyms!), a sour ale with lactose conditioned on cranberries and pineapple. This was tart, fruity, and super-refreshing. For some reason, Burley Oak is a brewery that has eluded thus far. After trying this beer, I believe a visit in the near future is in order. Not sure where Berlin, MD is, so I'll need to consult my trusty and plan accordingly. 

Next, I spotted a gin barrel-aged Grisette from Portland, ME's Oxbow Brewing called Moon Rocks. I've recently become infatuated with gin barrel-aged beers since our trip to the other (or should I say left coast) Portland last summer. We'd been to Oxbow a few times and they make solid stuff, so I went for it. This was pretty enjoyable, although I still feel that the gin botanicals work better with hoppier beers, or sweeter beers such as a Belgian Tripel. Still, this was a nice dry, bubbly saison with hints of juniper and coriander. The wife decided on Pacific Ocean Blue, a gose from a brewery called The Libertine. This sucker was quite pungent and cheesy, like a cave-aged feet fungus. Perhaps that's a bit too evocative (i.e. nasty). We weren't familiar with this particular brewery, but a quick Google search revealed that it is situated in central California and specializes in barrel-aged wild ales using unusual yeast strains. Well, this beer definitely utilized an unusual yeast strain! It was overall a bit too cheesy for my personal tastes, but I think Brewslut liked it. Hungarian Beaver Cheese, perchance? Not as such.

The Moon ROCKS, man!

Brewslut finished up at Max's while I ducked out to visit a nearby record store called Soundgarden. One can never have too many records, right? Well, in my household, it depends on who you ask. I enjoy the hunt as much as the catch, and I was thrilled to find three Zappa LPs in excellent condition, two of which were only five bucks each. Score! I picked up a couple other random, less expensive titles as well. Meanwhile, one of my many Rush buddies, Wayne, had joined on as our third wheel, meeting me at the record store before we headed over to Rams Head Live for the concert.

I could write an entire separate blog just about the concert, but we'll leave that for another time. All I'll say is that it was fantastic! However, I must express my extreme disappointment regarding the beer selection at Rams Head Live. The last time we saw a show there (coincidentally, it was also Dweezil), they boasted a selection of beers from Fordham & Dominion, a Baltimore-based brewery. Unfortunately, Rams Head has since been bought by Live Nation and thus downgraded their beer selection to AB/In-Bev swill such as Goose Island, Shock Top, and Stella. Not surprising in this day and age of constant brewery sell-outs. Even more disappointing was the fact that the bottle selection was the same as the limited tap offerings. I could only shake my head in disgust and return to my place on the floor to wait for the show to begin. Sadly, I broke down and bought a $10 plastic cup of Goose Island for myself and Brewslut, but not without a stiff middle finger pointed in the general direction of Rams Head. Fuck you, indeed!

After the show, we convened across the street at Leinenkugel's Beer Garden for one last beer of the evening. Although the tap selection was a bit more diverse than Rams Head, it was still lacking local craft beer. After a minute or so, I finally settled on a pint of Cold Brew Coffee Lager from Saranac and we occupied the outside beer garden area for a while to chat about the show and Rush, but also to share childhood and family stories with our relatively new friend, Wayne. But all too soon the evening was over and we had to retire to our hotel for some much-needed sleep.


Since check-out time at our hotel was 11 a.m., we arrived at our next destination about half an hour early. Diamondback Brewing's tasting room is situated is a large commercial building that appeared to the campus of a sizable child daycare facility. Parking our car, both Brewslut and I were quite perplexed. We wandered around the parking lot for a bit, trying several doors that all seemed to be locked. We even tried walking around the side of the building (the wrong side, as we'd soon find out), only to be greeted by a "NO TRESPASSING" sign. Defeated, we returned to the car and noticed an establishment across the street called Barracudas Locust Point Tavern. Sweet! "Sounds like they might have beer," I thought. I was correct. They also had a restroom, which I was in dire need of visiting.

We we arrived, the inside was pretty empty; most folks were enjoying brunch on the patio. I asked our server about Diamondback, and she set us straight. But we still had about fifteen minutes or so to kill before Diamondback opened for the day, so why not have a beer? Sadly, Barracudas didn't have any draft beer available, but they did have a decent selection of local craft brews. We were able to find two beer that we'd never had before from two breweries we'd never tried before. Score! This was a pleasant surprise, as I thought I'd have to order a DFH 60 Minute or Bell's Two Hearted... not that there's anything wrong with that. I just wanted something local.

Enter Beyond the Realm of Light, a DIPA from Baltimore's own Oliver Brewing brewed in collaboration with the band Summoner and Magnetic Eye Records as part of the "Long Live Rock & Roll Series" Upon further investigation, I was surprised to learn that this brewery had been around since 1993! I must admit I wasn't sure what to expect, but man, this was a solid DIPA! Brewed and heavily dry-hopped with an assortment of exotic hops including Southern Cross, Ella, Galaxy, Pacific Gem, and Motueka, this heavy-hitter concealed its 9% ABV masterfully and boasted a rich, yet well-carbonated body and plenty of juicy hop goodness. I was all-around impressed with this offering.

Beyond the Realm of Light DIPA.

Equally impressed with her selection, Brewslut selected Nanticoke Nectar IPA from RaR Brewing out of Cambridge, MD. Its flagship beer, this IPA boasts a sweet English malt backbone with citrus hops that segue into a more assertive grapefruit and piney flavor. This was a great introduction to both of these breweries, and I look forward to trying other offerings from each in the future. I also need to check out Magnetic Eye Records in more depth, because my first glance at its website revealed some amazing album cover art that, if matches the music, will be right up my alley!

Back across the street at the daycare center, we finally unearthed the entrance Diamondback. I knew we were getting close when I saw this:

And then this:

I'm not sure what it was, but I felt an immediate connection to this place and knew I was going to love it. My instincts were right. Starting off on the lighter side of the spectrum, I began with Omar, a creamy, juicy American pale ale brewed with flaked and malted oats, and dry-hopped with El Dorado. Already off to a good start. Loved it! Brewslut ordered an 8oz. pour of Lens Crafter, an IPA hopped with Melba and Vic Secret featuring notes of pineapple, passion fruit, and grapefruit. Both beers were stellar.

My vantage point at Diamondback.

For my next beer, I decided on a full pour of Green Machine, which I'd had back in June at Max's before we our flight to San Diego. This beer Diamondback's version of a NE-style IPA. Dry-hopped with Citra and Ella for a juicy, citrus-forward flavor with a hint of ripe mango. Now what's not to love about that? Green Machine is an all-around stellar beer!  

The Green Machine. Kids my age will remember.

By this point, I wanted to try everything else. Dirty Vegas was up next, an IPA hopped with Topaz and Mandarina Bavaria. Upon further research, I found that Diamondback brewed this beer in honor of one of its biggest fans, some guy named Bruce who is a legend at Max's for being the first person to taste 2,500 different beers. Pretty sweet! This IPA finishes dry with citrus, apricot, and grassy notes. Finally, we ended with Cold Taxi, a dry-hopped lager, because why not? This Zwickelbier, or unfiltered lager, boasts a crisp mouthfeel, smooth texture, and what Diamondback calls "immense crushability." Dry-hopping with Ella and Vic Secret unveils plenty of tropical flair without a lot of bitterness.

Magic... Under Where? No... up HERE!!!

Overall, we loved the beers and vibe at Diamondback, and Megan proved to be a kick-ass "beer slinger," as they call her. We had a nice conversation with her and another customer about lots of stuff, but mostly beer. It's these types of conversations that keep us traveling around the country in the name of beer. I picked up a 4-pack of Green Machine and Megan was kind enough to throw in a few bonus cans of Two Lights and a Right, a Belgian-style IPA with blackberries. Can't wait to share these with Team D(r)INK in a few weeks! Sadly, after finishing Cold Taxi it was off to the next spot.

By the time we arrived The Brewer's Art, our free breakfast had long worn off and the pangs of hunger began to unfold. It's brunch time, kiddies! And we were in the right spot. We had been to The Brewer's Art on just one other occasion, many years back (before my blog days) when Brewslut and I spent a weekend in Baltimore. Back there, there wasn't much in the form of local craft breweries save for Pratt St. Ale House (a brewpub that still exists) and The Brewer's Art. There were some great beer bars like Max's, but breweries were scarce back then.

On tap at The Brewer's Art.

I decided to go light, so I gravitated to Choptank'd, a 4.2% ABV table saison. Light and refreshing, it complemented by brunch nicely. Brewslut, on the other hand, dove right in and ordered a pour of Zombie Buffalo, a Belgian brown ale aged in Buffalo Trace barrels. You can't get much farther apart on the beer spectrum than with these two disparate beers. For brunch, we enjoyed sharing a rye soft pretzel with "everything" spice, sweet potato brioche French toast with bourbon peach maple syrup, smoked fish hash, and local peach coffee cake. Not bad for $20 per person.

I'm sorry, but you've been Choptank'd.

After our delicious brunch, it was time to move on to our next stop. Things were hoppin' at Union Craft when we arrived. Lots of folks sat outside enjoying the weather, while many people also occupied the tasting room inside. We decided that this would be a one-and-done stop for us since we went a little overboard at Diamondback. Hey, it happens. So we went inside and got in line.

Waitin' for beer.
Union was in the midst of celebrating its 5th anniversary, so for my solitary beer, I had to go with the 5th Anniversary S.M.A.S.H. (there's that acronym again... you remember what it stands for, kiddies?) Pale Ale. This particular variation features Marris Otter malt and Chinook hops for hints of spicy grapefruit rind and pine supported with a rich, nutty malt backbone. The wife settled on the nostalgically named Fraggle Rock, a strawberry rhubarb gose that was pretty damn delicious. The color of the beer even reminded me of a Muppet. This proved to be a refreshing summertime thirst quencher.

Baltimore loves its Big Wheels.

No sooner did we sit down on a bench inside the tasting room when we bumped into our beer friends from back in PA, Brian and Alexis, who had just been across the street at the brewery we'd be heading to shortly (more on that in a bit). They joined us on the bench and we exchanged some chit-chat about both topics: music and beer. I mean, what else is there?

Chalk totem poles at Union.

By the time we'd arrived at Waverly (literally right across the street from Union), I already knew that my companion would be driving home. I was feeling the third sheet begin to wrap around my weathered noggin. Besides, I'd have over an hour to recover in the car ride back to PA. So we settled on one beer each during our visit to Waverly. Inside the tasting room, it was kind of a rag-tag setup, with a variety of seating options including a sweet red vintage wrap-around sofa in the back room. As much as I wanted to sit there, we left it for a larger party, which coincidentally emerged a few minutes after we'd arrived. According to its website, nearly every inch of the tasting room is made using recycled or reclaimed materials. You can read about this in more detail here. The walls were also adorned with some pretty cool, colorful local pop art. The Star Wars fanboy in me thought this particular one showcased some serious bad-assery:

Hey look... we're At-At Waverly Brewing Co.!

Based on the recommendation of Brian and Alexis, I chose Shelfies the Beer, a hazy NE-style pale ale hopped with Azacca, Citra and Columbus. While I give the nod to Diamondback's Omar, this beer was still very enjoyable. To be honest, I was kind of confused by the name of this beer, but some research revealed that Shelfies the Show is a beer review team based out of Baltimore, and this beer is a collaboration with these dudes. Brewslut opted for Local Oyster Stout, a collaboration with The Local Oyster. This roasty stout features the shells and meat of real Maryland oysters. Nicely done!

I'm great at taking Shelfies.

All in all, it was a productive overnight jaunt to nearby Baltimore. We discovered several great new breweries, saw an amazing concert, got to hang with a few friends, and I even was able to add to my record collection! 

Back in PA, I suppose this segment can serve as an epilogue of sorts. Of course, every trip down this way seems to end at Pizza Boy. We had both been wanting to try the brand new LegenDAIRY variation, the OJ (White Bronco) version. Man, these lactose milk sugar milkshake whatever-you-want-to-call-them IPAs are awesome! Brewslut and I loved the last one they did called LemonDAIRY, and this new orange version was equally impressive. All I can say is, "Keep 'em coming, Al and Terry!"

We also sampled the brand new Brewery Pilsner, a straight-up traditional German-style Pilsner. This is pretty spot-on for the style. I've often said there's something artfully simple about a pilsner. You can't hide behind anything. It's just barley, hops, yeast and water. Anyone can chuck 10 different hops into a lackluster base beer, or throw something into a barrel for 6 months and see what sticks. But to brew an exemplary is a monumental achievement. I will definitely re-visit this one next time. We also had a few snips of another newbie called Whatever Forever, blonde ale with Brett... lots and lots of Brett! This sucker had a bone dry finish with a huge smack of Bretty barnyard funk. Conversely, Super Tight is a crushable 3.2% ABV dry-hopped golden ale with a big citrus and grape-like aroma. There's always lots of stuff brewing at Pizza Boy, and I'm glad I've been able to visit more often these days.

So that's what's new in Baltimore, folks. Until next time...

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

San Diego 2017 - Part 6: Revenge of the Herbs

Dano and Jen had decided to organize one of their famous dinner parties on this particular evening, so we decided to keep things local and not stray too far from home base. Cy (from Amplified) and Luke (from Kilowatt) would also be joining us for a multi-course feast prepared (mostly) by Jen.

Pariah was one of those other breweries on Cajon Blvd. in North Park we stumbled upon when they were closed. We'd just been to Eppig the day before. These breweries were next door neighbors situated in a small plaza just off the main drag. As a name, Pariah intrigued me and also connected with me on some level. A pariah is an outcast, or in Lehman's terms, a "black sheep." I've always considered myself to be the black sheep of my family, if not for my unorthodox way of doing most things in life (holding a writing implement, wiping my behind, my approach to drumming, etc.) then certainly for my religious beliefs (i.e. none). Needless to say, I felt somewhat of a kinship with Pariah. Hopefully the beer would be good.

Inside Pariah's tasting room.

Keeping in line with its namesake, Pariah offered a motley bunch of slightly off-kilter beer styles (aside from the IPA) that comprised an eclectic flight for us to share. Here's the deal:
  • Dank Drank IPA - Their take on the classic West Coast IPA. They employ a technique called "hop-bursting," a topic on which they don't really go into detail. This was a dank one, indeed.
  • Off White Wit - Belgian-style witbier poured through a Randall with mission figs and blackberries. The base beer is inspired by Thai style Boba Tea and brewed with orange blossom honey, jasmine green tea, fresh lemongrass, sweet orange peel, and fresh ginger. 
  • Erotic Night #IWCBD - 9.5% ABV strong ale brewed with Petite Syrah (grapes... I had to look it up), orange blossom honey, lavender, and star anise. The hashtag is the abbreviation for "International Women's Collaboration Beer Day."
  • Dorcha Extra Stout - foreign export stout brewed with a proprietary locally roasted coffee, carob molasses (cross between molasses and honey), and organic, fair trade cocoa nibs.
Among the outcasts at Pariah. Actually, it was just us.

The beers were solid for a place that had just opened its doors in February 2017. I'm always pleased to find a brewery that knows what it wants to do right from the get-go. It seems like these guys have put a lot of thought into its beers and ethos, which both Brewslut and I have come to appreciate over our years of beer travel. I can't tell you how many times we've been duped into stopping at a brewery, only to find mediocre beers named "Red Ale," "Pale Ale," "Brown Ale," etc. with pedestrian, worn-out descriptions for its beers. When we find a place like this, I just have to sit back and smile.

The small "light beer" tap handle dispensed water. #winning 

Further down (or up, depending on where you're standing) was another new place for us. North Park seemed an unlikely location for Barn Brewery. Outside, the place looked like - you guessed it - a big barn, complete with an iron weathervane. Inside, the building boasted an exposed wood beam construction with a massive brick fireplace, and working barn doors. Their focus on beer and fare echoed its "down on the farm" vibe. This place was casual and the bartender was super-friendly.

Down on the farm! At the entrance to Barn Brewery.

Although Barn featured a small but respectable selection of house-made beers, it rounded out the wall with several guest taps featuring primarily CA-brewed beers. However, we were there for the house beers. I settled on Rooster Call, a straight-up West Coast-style IPA, which was just what I was in the mood for at this precise moment. This was a no-frills, balanced yet hoppy IPA with a fragrant, citrus-forward nose with some pine resin mixed in for good measure. It's everything a West Coast IPA should be. It's not a palate-numbing hop bomb or over-the-top attempt to bludgeon your tastebuds into oblivion. It's beers like Rooster Call that drew me to the style in the first place. I would hold this beer in the same esteem as Bear Republic Racer 5, Stone IPA or Lagunitas IPA. Good company, indeed!

Brewslut opted for Little Saison, a light, refreshing 4.2% ABV farmhouse-style ale. Barn seems to have a penchant for brewing farmhouse-style ales (aka saisons), and rightly so. It certainly fits with their vibe. To lift a quote right from Barn's web site: "We try to honor the spirit of the farm workers who historically drank saison ales to get through the long work day by crafting our own modern variations on the style to help you unwind after a long day."

The food also sounded great here, but it would have to wait for another visit, as we were saving room for the epic, multi-course meal being prepared by Jen and Dano (though mostly Jen).

Monkeying around with Pleeps at Barn.

In San Diego 2017 - Part 2: Welcome to the Flavordome, I'd referenced meeting a sales rep from Bitter Brothers. We tried to swing by on an earlier date, but unfortunately they were closed. This time, we were hopeful we'd get to try some of their beers. When we parked the car and rounded the corner onto the sidewalk, we discovered a good sign... literally.

Lookie here. Beer!

Bitter Brothers was open for business! In retrospect, I'm really glad we made it here, because the beers were stellar and we had a great visit. Some of the beers (at least one in particular) turned out to be favorites of the whole trip. But more on that in a minute.

I like orange.

We decided on a sampler flight, not only because there were so many sweet-sounding beers on the menu, but also because Corey (the sales rep we met at Flavordome) told us to show his business card to the server for a complimentary flight. That was mighty nice of him! Here's the low-down:
  • O Brother Where Tart Thou? - Golden sour dry-hopped with Mosaic.
  • White Peach Family Tart - Peach Berliner Weisse. Oh my freaking goodness was this amazing! Definitely one of our favorite beers of the trip, and a contender for best sour beer of the trip. We really need to start having "Best Beer" awards for each trip. 
  • Little Brother - Session IPA rife with citrus and tropical fruit. Pretty sure this one will be champion some day. Homestar Runner dot net... it's dot commmmmm!
  • Hazy Blue Line - NE style juicy IPA... another in the long line of beers playing the "haze game" this trip. This one was pretty bangin'!
  • Black Sheep - coffee porter brewed with local coffee from Arcidiacono.
Pleeps is ready to dig in!
Everything we sampled was enjoyable and well-done. Bitter Brothers seem to have all its ducks in a row. It was hard to pick a favorite, but we both agreed that the White Peach Family Tart was something very special. Since our sampler flight was free and the bartender had been so friendly and talkative, I felt we had to at least order a pint of something. Enter Sibling Rivalry, an aptly named IPA from a brewery called Bitter Brothers. This one is brewed with loads of Pacific northwest hops including Simcoe and Centennial for a citrus-forward smack of grapefruit and orange. While this was a very good IPA, the malt backbone was a bit too hefty for my liking. I enjoyed both the Hazy Blue Line and Little Brother more, as these are more in my flavor wheelhouse for IPAs.

No sibling rivalry for Pleeps, who's an only child.

We had time for one final stop before heading back to Dano's for our dinner party. On our last trip, we had enjoyed Acoustic Ales quite a bit, not only for its music-centric imagery and tasting room atmosphere, but also for its well-crafted beers. I also like the fact that they don't utilize "Brewing Company," but rather came up with something a bit more clever in "Brewing Experiment." 

"We're goin' acoustic!" - Ffej, circa 1992, SAHS talent show.

Inside, the place was just like I'd remembered it. This time, the room was void of patrons save for one older guy currently bending the ear of the much younger bartender. I could sense that the bartender was happy to see us. Soon enough, I noticed a tattoo of Ronnie James Dio (if you don't know who that is, I feel sorry for you) adorning the arm of the bartender. We immediately struck up a conversation about the late, great vocalist of Rainbow, Black Sabbath and his own eponymous band. This led to the older guy regaling us with a story of how he was an amazing metal guitarist back in the day and "could have made it." Once he overheard my Dio comments to the bartender, he informed us that he, in fact, wrote the song "Stand Up and Shout" (the opening track from Dio's fine Holy Diver album), but that Ronnie had stolen it from him. "Ugh," I thought to myself. "We're dealing with one of these guys." Everybody knows one of these kind of guys. They can't shut up about themselves, and somehow always seize the opportunity to derail a conversation and segue into a story or anecdote that makes him seem much cooler than they actually are. My, what a vivid imagination this guy had. A few free words of advice: lay off those drugs. Oh yeah, and please shut the fuck up. Thanks.

Pleeps hangin' with his bud, Kopi Luwak.
OK, now that that's over, let's talk about beer. And, of my, did we have some fine ones during our visit. First up was a 9.5% ABV heavy hitter, Unplugged Kopi Luwak Stout, an imperial oatmeal stout brewed with Belgian milk chocolate and Kopi Luwak coffee. This beer was killer: decadent, coffee-forward, viscous; basically everything I long for in a coffee stout. In case you're wondering what Kopi Luwak coffee is, it is generally regarded as the "most expensive coffee in the world." This is due, in part, to how the beans are... let's use the term "harvested." Kopi Luwak coffee beans include part-digested coffee cherries eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet (basically an Asian rodent). Yes, you read correctly. Defecated. Most folks know that word is a nicer way to say "shat" (past tense, of course, for shit). I've been in the know for quite some time about this particular type of coffee. I believe I first encountered this phenomenon many years ago with AleSmith's Kopi Lowak variation of Speedway Stout. Learn more about Kopi Luwak coffee here.

Brewslut opted for something lighter and went with the Kiwi Sour with tart cherry. Since I was having such an awesome conversation about music with the bartender (Yngwie's guitar teacher had since left, probably to go home and spiral further down his self-imposed ass-canal of defeat), I talked Brewslut into sharing another beer with me. Enter Willow Wolves, an IPA hopped with Nelson and Simcoe. This was a pleasant and fragrant IPA with hints of citrus fruit, melon, and white pepper and punctuated a day well-spent. I could have stayed here for at least another hour and talked shop with this guy, but we had to get back to Dano's. After all, we were the guests of honor, right? 

Back at Dano's, it was great to get some hang time in with basically everyone we know from California. It was super nice of Jen to put together a well-thought out and executed "Ffejetarian" menu with mostly veggie dishes and salmon as the main course. It was probably my favorite meal of the trip, not only for the tasty vittles, but also for the great company. Thanks to Jen for the great photos lifted from her Facebook page. This is just a sampling of what we consumed for dinner!

Dinner is served!

Roasted salmon with butter, lemon and herbs.

Tomato party!

Afterward, we shared a variety of beers including the Pizza Port sampler 12-pack of pounder cans I bought as well as Electrocution IPA from Amplified (Cy) and some rare Lost Abbey treats (Luke) including Agave Maria, a tequila barrel-aged strong ale, which we'd never tried before. We capped off the evening with a screening of Revenge of the Nerds, a movie over which Dano and I bonded at an early age (certainly too early for us to have been introduced to the wonders of "hair pie"). Perhaps some other things happened that night. Who knows? Will said things happen again? Maybe on our next trip. We'll see. Until next time...