Search This Blog

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Texas Road Trip: Day 9 - Did I forget to mention... forget to mention Memphis? Oh yeah, and Nashville, too!

 Day 9 - Little Rock > Memphis, TN > Nashville, TN

We enjoyed our day in Arkansas, but it was time to move along. Day 9 of the trip saw us traversing pretty much the entire stretch of Tennessee. I HAD to get back to Knoxville for a second visit to Xul... but more on that later. 

Entering into Memphis, the town hearkened more to fat, bloated Elvis rather than the swiveling hips, pelvis-thrusting younger Elvis in that it was kind of beat-up-looking. I'd heard more about the Nashville scene than Memphis, but we were passing through and thought it prudent to have a looksie around. Our first stop, WiseAcre, sealed the deal that yeah, maybe Memphis has at least one legit brewery. Pulling into the parking lot just around opening time, we were both pretty impressed by the size and scope of the brewing facility. The walkway into the brewery passed adjacent to a neat beer garden, complete with busts of various historical figures that, in some way or another, influenced the brewery's founders.

I had fun reading WiseAcre's beer descriptions, too. If you get a chance, look them up. Being an old-school English major with a creative writing bent, I always appreciate some clever wordplay. We spent a good chunk of time here, because the beers were great, the brewery was visually stimulating, and the staff were super friendly. My first impression came with a beer called Jean de Lis, which was described as an Ice Pick Style Lager. There's a first time for everything, right? Turns out this unique lager is hopped with a distinctive variety grown in France (of all places!) called Strisselspalt, which lends subtle spicy notes as well herbal and floral aromas. Additionally, the beer itself is flavored with Meyer lemon and black tea, and both of these flavors seem to gel with the hops nicely. As if all that wasn't weird enough, this beer contains lactose. Not sure I ever encountered a lager with lactose. Again, first time for everything! 

I decided to roam away from floral and herbal to the smoky side of the spectrum with Dr. Gibbler , a traditional German-style Rauchbier. Readers of this blog know that I am in a very small minority of beer drinkers who love smoked beers. This clean, crisp, straw-colored lager boasted a moderate smoky flavor (think a combo of campfire and bacon) with some sweetness in the backend. 

Staying on the lager train, I opted next for a pour of a Japanese Rice Lager called Irusu. If you desire a crispy beer, a rice lager is the answer. The term "crispy" has certainly become a buzz word in the craft brewing scene over the last few years, and this beer style exemplifies the "crispy boi" movement. 

By this time, I was craving some hops. Enter Adjective Animal, a double dry-hopped DIPA boasting a "wasteful pile of hops in the kettle," - their words, not mine - and another "huge tongue beating heap of hops" in the whirlpool. Lot of flavors are floating around the palate with this one: orange, tangerine, papaya, pine, grapefruit, and mango. Overall, it's a very tropical-forward DIPA featuring a blend of Denali, Citra, Falconer’s Flight, and Centennial hops. Nicely done!  

Oktoberfest: Gemütlichkeit

Up next was our second - and last - stop in Memphis. Grind City looked promising on the outside, but ultimately this brewery wasn't anything to write home about. Although it might not be fair to judge a brewery on a single beer, sometimes we don't have the luxury of sticking around for a few hours and trying 5 or 6 beers. So, as it turned out this was a one-and-done stop. 

I kept things light and went with a pint of Poppy's Pils. Described as a light American pilsner, this one appeals to the prescription drug addicts, I suppose. Overall, it was pretty pedestrian and didn't entice us to stick around or seconds. Not that it was bad per se; it just wasn't memorable (except for the name, of course), so we decided to make it a short visit and get moving to Nashville. 

Still, it was a nice enough place, very bright and clean with a nice deck area outside. The pictures turned out nice! I was pretty excited to get to Southern Grist and Bearded Iris, both of which were high on my list for this trip. 

When we arrived at Southern Grist, our first stop in Music City, U.S.A., it was uncomfortably crowded and seating was limited. It seemed as though someone's 30th birthday party was happening when we walked in. The tables were messy and cluttered, and we were ready to just stand and enjoy our beer. Although the scene was chaotic, we managed to snag two open seats at the bar after a few minutes, then eventually made it to a table once it quieted down a bit. Turns out the birthday party group were about to embark on a tour of the brewery, so the cacophony of thirtysomethings died down considerably once the tour started. Thank God, because we'd heard nothing but good things about this brewery. We decided to hunker down here for a while and, as expected, the beers were solid across the board. 

Up first was Southern Crisp, an unfiltered Pilsner hopped with one of my faves - Nelson Sauvin. I really enjoyed this beer, and it got our visit off on the right foot, especialyl after the potential debacle we'd just avoided once folks from Annoyingville made their mass exodus.  

Next up was a beer I just had to get based solely on its name. [Insert Juicier Pun] - yes, that's the name of the beer! - is a juiced-up version of Southern Grist's popular New England DIPA. The key difference here is that this one is double dry-hopped with Galaxy, Mosaic and Citra. 

Lastly, we enjoyed a pour of Pineapple Upside Down Cake, a New England Milkshake IPA brewed with lactose, vanilla, and pineapple. Hopped with Azacca and Huell Melon, this fruit-forward treat provided a pleasant blast of tropical air in the land of honky tonks and Elvis. It's been a while since the trip, but I'm fairly certain we took home a 4-pack of this one. 

Another must-hit brewery in Nashville, Bearded Iris didn't disappoint. Turns out, one of their brewers (possibly head brewer) is originally from nearby Grantville, PA (home of our Hollywood Casino). The bartended we ended up chatting with was also from the Harrisburg area and was brought up on Tröegs, specifically Nugget Nectar if my memory serves me correctly. 

I had to start with Homestyle, the brewery's flagship IPA. This juicy, single-hopped IPA is packed full of Mosaic for a pretty complex hop character. It's also not a hazy, which I appreciated. This one is just a great fridge beer that you can throw back whenever you need a good hop fix. 

I hadn't had a stout all day, so I went with a pour of Slender Baker. This rich Imperial Stout features toasted coconut, cacao nibs, caramel, lactose, and vanilla for an enjoyable pastry experience. It wasn't mind-blowing like the Xül stout I had at the beginning of the trip, but it certainly hit the spot. 

Back to hops, this time with Daring Duchess, a DIPA blending Michigan-grown Cashmere hops and and Citra Cryo into a full-flavored, highly drinkable hoppy ale bursting with tropical mango and fruit punch. 

The bartender at Bearded Iris tipped us off to another brewery in town called Smith & Lentz that allegedly brews some tight lagers. Sold! So we carved out some time to swing in for two rounds. Since we were pointed in the direction of this brewery because of its lagers, I opted to start with a pour of Kellerbier, a "young" version of its German Pils (only 10 days cold instead of 6 weeks). Tettnanger hops give this beer a pleasant lemony aroma with some herbal undercurrents. Although the texture is pretty soft, it finishes dry and crisp on the palate. This was a joy to drink! 

For my last beer, I opted for Together Forever , a West Coast-inspired IPA hopped with Mosaic and Citra. They beefed up the hop bill with a hand-selected lot of Columbus Cryo hops to add punchy notes of citrus zest, mixed berry and a hint of dank pine, the latter of which I always look for in a West Coast IPA. 

Before leaving, I had to pick up a 4-pack of its house Helles Lager, called Mariachi Static, which I enjoyed at home. 

But we're not home yet! Just one more day to go, which includes a return to Knoxville, TN, then back home to PA. Until next time...

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The Year in Beer 2021: Top 10 new-to-us Breweries

OK kids... here it is! With COVID restrictions easing up quite a bit in 2021, we were able to visit an unprecedented number of breweries this past year. More on our annual statistics at the end of the blog. For now, here's our picks for our ten favorite new-to-us breweries we visited in 2021. While there's no specific equation used in determining our final list, we did take all of the following into consideration: beer quality, atmosphere, service, and general awesomeness as well as our initial and lasting impressions. 

However, this year's task was even more daunting since we visited so many new breweries. I had to whittle down my initial list of 25 breweries, which put me at around 14. Then, Brewslut and I discussed which should be listed as "honorable mentions". It wasn't easy, but it had to be done. 

With all of this taken into consideration, we present to you the Pour Travelers’ Top 10 New Breweries Visited in 2021 (in alphabetical order).

1. Crooked Crab - Odenton, MD - First visited in August 2021

We visited Crooked Crab on our way to a nearby pool party, and I'll be honest; I didn't have high hopes for this place. Turns out it left quite an impression on us! From a variety of excellent beers across the board to clever beer names, evocative artwork, top-notch branding, and an extremely friendly and knowledgeable staff, Crooked Crab checked off all the boxes of a great brewery. Favorite beer? We tried many but the most memorable was Stay Krispy, a Japanese Rice Lager that I took home with me. 

2. DSSOLVR - Asheville, NC - First visited in November 2021

Drinksgiving 2021 was as epic as you can imagine with any trip to this east coast beer mecca! This place was in our top 3 of Asheville, and all three of those breweries also made the top 10 list for 2021. The ratio of world class breweries per capita in this small town is staggering. I tried four completely disparate beers while visiting DSSOLVR: a Japanese rice lager, a dark English mild, a pumpkin spice vanilla cheesecake sour, and a BBA Imperial Stout with sea salt, maple, coconut and coffee. The beers were all exceptional. As an added bonus, this place is metal as fuck. I have to like a brewery A LOT to buy a shirt, and this one is still in regular rotation. 

3. Eurisko - Asheville, NC - First visited in November 2021

Another one from our Asheville "Big 3," this place hit our radar a few days before we embarked on Drinksgiving 2021 by way of our beer bud, Taylor, who went to brewing school with one of the owners. This place has the distinction of the only brewery we visited twice during this trip. Describing itself as "a place both wonderful and strange," Eurisko was just one of those places that I didn't want to leave. Exotica IV, a Sabro-hopped double milkshake IPA might have been my favorite beer of the trip. It was insanely good... so good, in fact, that I'd have bathed in it. Well, maybe not, because then I wouldn't have been able to drink it. But you catch my drift. 

4. Human Robot - Philadelphia, PA - First visited in February 2021

If you'd have told me 10 years ago that there would be a brewery in Philadelphia making the best lagers outside of Europe, I'd have laughed in your face. Well, that time has come. It's kind of fitting that we first visited this place - easily my favorite brewery in Philly - on Valentine's Day. Folks, I'm telling you... the honeymoon ain't over with this place. We've since stepped foot inside this brewery many times over the last year and a half since our inaugural visit (which, by the way happened by accident). Long story short: We were having a beer a few blocks away at Punch Buggy Brewing, and the owner asked if we liked lagers. I said yes. He said, "Are you going to Human Robot?" I said, "What's that?" He said, "It's a brewery about 4 blocks away." I said, "Um... we're going there next!" The rest is history. Seriously people, this place absolutely rules. To put in it perspective, the last two times we were in Philly for a weekend, we visited on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Yeah, it's THAT good!

5. Nepenthe - Baltimore, MD - First visited in March 2021

We first visited Nepenthe on the day after my 47th birthday. Although the term "nepenthe" dates back to ancient Greece, it's likely taken from this quote by Edgar Allan Poe (who is buried in Baltimore): “Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!” We've since been back a few times and it's likely our favorite brewery in Baltimore. Beer aside, their food is fantastic and their artwork is dope (if you like colorful retro sci-fi monster movies). 

6. Sapwood Cellars - Columbia, MD - First visited in August 2021

Oddly enough, we ended up at this fine brewery after a recommendation from one of the bartenders at Crooked Crab. Since we liked his brewery so much, we figured we'd probably enjoy one he recommended, too. So, we altered our plans accordingly and headed to Sapwood Cellars. While they do the hazy thing well, they also dabble in everything else. We really enjoyed Molé'd, an Imperial Stout with dried chili peppers, amburana wood, cacao nibs, and vanilla beans. Brewslut bought a sweet tank top. They also host some cool food trucks and other vendors, like a cool plant bus (a converted school bus that's now a garden). Brewslut bought a plant. 

7. Southern Prohibition - Hattiesburg, MS - First visited in July 2021

Prior to our Texas road trip, I had received reviews of Southern Prohibition from several friends in my beer circle, and all of them were quite glowing. Not only was this brewery a highlight of that particular trip, it was also a highlight of 2021. Since only had about an hour and fifteen minutes to spend here, we made every sip count. First off, the two bartenders (one, a young male college student and the other, a young twenty-something woman), were amazingly friendly and talkative. As for the beer menu, I wanted to try everything. They even had a collab with Ingenious on tap! Southern Prohibition was a favorite of Pleeps as well. He absolutely loved the Sherbet Sherpa Banana Split. 

8. Urban South - New Orleans, LA - First visited in July 2021

Another one from our Texas Roadtrip, Urban South just blew us away. We weren't familiar with this brewery prior to our visit, but I'm glad we included it on our agenda. With a penchant for eclecticism, Urban South is firmly planted on the American end of the brewing spectrum. Think hazy, hop-drenched and lactose-infused IPAs and "glip-glop" beers (our friend Justin's term for thick, heavily fruited sours) and you can paint a pretty vivid picture of the types of beers Urban South serves. At the end of the day, all of the beers we tried were fantastic. Also, if you like the 1980's and bright, colorful geometric shapes, then you'll enjoy the tasting room. 

9. Xül - Knoxville, TN - First visited in July 2021

Xül Beer Co., the new kid on the block in Knoxville, came with high praise from a bartender we'd just encountered the previous night at Cascade Taproom in Bristol. It turns out it was a pivotal moment in our trip, because Xül was one of those rare places that just blew me away on every level. As a child of the 80's, this place was right up my alley. Given her vast depth of movie, TV, and pop culture trivia knowledge, Brewslut called out the fact that Xül (pronounced like and actually spelled Zuul) was in fact the gatekeeper in the movie Ghostbusters. The brewery itself has a very "retro modern" look that reminded me of a car dealership you might have seen on an episode of The Jetsons. And Xül gets bonus points for having an umlaut in its The beer, you ask? Friends, let me tell you: Xül ain't fuckin' around. I still get wet thinking about the mouthfeel of Beyond the Lines of Reason, an Imperial Stout conditioned on mounds of fresh and toasted coconut across multiple additions. Simply put: "This fuckin’ beer rules." - Untappd user ffejherb, July 22, 2021

10. Zebulon - Weaverville, NC - First visited in November 2021

This brewery came with high praise from my elder beer brother, Deuane. As a matter of fact, he was confident that it would end up on our year-end list of favorite breweries visited in 2021. He's seldom wrong, and he was definitely correct in this assumption. Just north of Asheville and owned by a husband and wife, Zebulon Artisan Ales is specializes in farmhouse style ales, wild ales, sours, and historical recipes. The English Bitter I had here transported me to a tiny pub in rural England. I can't wait to get back to this place. We'll be staying much longer next time!

Honorable Mentions

These places were so good, I had to at least give them all a shout-out. I mean, narrowing down a list of 170 breweries to just 10 was extremely difficult... kind of like picking a favorite Rush song! So, kudos to these places as well.

Cursus Keme - Asheville, NC - First visited in November 2021

One of the most aesthetically beautiful places we visited in Asheville. I already included three breweries from the Asheville trip; otherwise this place would have made the list! This place had not one but two doppelbocks on their short list of Belgian and European-inspired brews, one of which was smoked... and you know me and smoked beers!

Equal Parts - Houston, TX - First visited in July 2021

Our Texas road trip was the summer of the pilsner, and this brewery's amazing German pilsner named Löggerbier was, without a doubt, one of the best pilsners I had on the entire trip. I think I drank more pilsners on this trip than most fair-weathered lager drinkers consume in a year. While Equal Parts is crushing lagers, they also do quite well in other categories, like fruited sour hazy Double IPAs and Imperial Stouts. 

Ingenious - Humble, TX - First visited in July 2021

Ingenious would have made the Top 10, but I felt weird including this amazing brewery since we're close friends with the owner. It was a joy to finally visit Ingenious after three years... not to mention getting to hang with our friends Justin and Nate. This place is easily one of Texas' envelope-pushing breweries. Hazy IPAs? Check. Fruited sours? Yup. Milkshake IPAs (dubbed FroYo)? Tons of 'em! Mammoth barrel-aged beers with lots of adjuncts? You bet yer sweet ass! I hope we get to visit again someday. 

Right Proper - Washington, DC - First visited in February 2021

A smoked doppelbock. A dark, robust saison fermented with a house yeast blend. A mixed-culture Foeder beer blended with a dry-hopped Farmhouse Ale. You'd think that'd be enough, but add a Fried Tofu Bowl into the mix for dinner and this place won my heart. I even got to visit again when I attended a Mastodon/Opeth show in November 2021. 

So, how did we fare in 2021? I'd say we crushed it! All in all, we visited 170 new-to-us breweries across 14 different states (7 of which were uncharted territories), compared to last year's paltry amount of 76 and 2019's slightly higher number of 79. I'm no mathematician, but I'd estimate that's more breweries than the previous two years combined. Brewslut wasn't able to join me at two of the new breweries, but otherwise my she and Pleeps were with me for the entire ride. With that said, we've got our work cut out for us in 2022, and I doubt we can top that number. But... who knows? 

Here's hoping that the state of the world improves in 2022 and will allow safer beer travels for everyone. Cheers!

- The Pour Travelers

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Texas Road Trip: Day 8 - 20,000 miles to an oasis

 Day 8 - Texarkana, TX > Little Rock, AR

We said our goodbyes the night before, as Justin had to work in the morning. Well, we said goodbye to old Major, Justin's trusty little pug who's still kicking it at 15+ years old. We packed up the car and began our three-day journey back to PA.

It was a lengthy four-and-a-half drive to our first stop of the day, which was in Texarkana, TX, for lunch and our first brewery on the way home. Unfortunately, it wasn't worth the drive... although in all fairness it was "on the way" to Little Rock, AR, and broke up the drive nicely. Besides, a man's gotta eat, right Bobandy? Plus I always wanted to visit Texarkana because I dig the R.E.M. song of the same name. Thanks Mike Mills. Twenty thousand miles to an oasis, indeed. 

Pecan Point opened in October 2014 as Texarkana's first brewery. Located next to the historic Perot Theatre, the small brewery serves small batch beers brewed in-house as well as guest taps, rotating wines, and custom cocktails.

Inside, Brooklyn-based architect Justin Scurlock peeled back the layers of the building's history to reveal its original structure, where customers can enjoy an intimate dining room experience or a more traditional beerhall vibe in the bar area. 

Outside Texarkana's Pecan Point.

Sadly, Pecan Point was the furthest thing from an oasis, I'm afraid. I'll be honest; I didn't have high hopes for this place, as it looked like a cookie cutter brewery with your typical blonde ale, cream ale, porter, IPA, etc. But the place looked nice enough with an open floor plan, plenty of seating, and a friendly staff. We parked at the bar and perused the beer and food menus. 

Trusting my instincts, I suggested to Brewslut that we share a sampler, which is always a safe way to test the waters of a questionable brewery. I have a funny way of sniffing out a subpar brewery. Well, folks, my Spidey Sense was tingling at this place. We settled on the following flight:
  • Twin City Pilsner
  • Swampdoodle IPA
  • Grim Porter
  • Bell's Dairy Milk Stout
Sadly, all four beers fell squarely between lackluster and undrinkable (mostly the latter). Even Brewslut, who typically "takes one for the team" since I do the vast majority of the driving (all of the driving on this trip, actually), couldn't mute her olfactory senses and plow through the remaining beer. 

Pleeps looking rather tentative at Pecan Point.

By design, I suppose every beer trip we take has to have a "worst brewery". If so, then Pecan Point easily gets my vote for this trip. Beer aside, we both got chicken salad sandwiches, which were passable but not great. I hate to be so critical about a brewery, but if you ever find yourself in Texarkana on your way to Little Rock and are thinking about stopping here, just keep driving. 

After another two hours or so on the road, we landed in Little Rock, Arkansas, at our first-ever brewery in the Natural State (whatever that means): Stone’s Throw. I'm glad we took Deuane's advice and went "the back way" home instead of re-treading our original route. Not only did we get to hit a couple of great little breweries, we crossed off another state on our "brewery bucket list". While we only got to three different breweries, we made our time in Arkansas count. 

Welcome to Stone's Throw!

Stone's Throw was founded by four friends who met at a local homebrew club called the Central Arkansas Fermenters. Bringing their collected brewing knowledge together, the four friends turned two old Little Rock buildings into successful neighborhood nano-brewery taprooms, both of which are just a - wait for it - stone's throw away from Little Rock's vibrant neighborhoods and local attractions. Of the two locations in town, we visited the Stifft Station Taproom. The other location is situated in downtown Little Rock. 

Once we got cozy at a table and perused the beer options, I decided to go with a flight of four different beers. I started with Amadeus Vienna Lager, which is a reference to some old musician named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I think he played piano and wrote pop songs of the day. All kidding aside, I actually had the opportunity to visit Mozart's "Geburtshaus" in Salzburg, Austria, when I went to Europe with the German club. (True story: I had my very first beer at the Hofbrauhaus in Munich, Germany!) Though he was born in Salzburg, he spent the majority of his professional career in Vienna. See where this is going? One of Stone's Throw's year-round offerings, Amadeus features a healthy dose of Vienna malt and Noble hops to create a traditional copper-colored lager with caramel notes, a hint of toasty malt and a tinge of grassy, herbal hops around the edges. 

Pleeps is always a stone's throw away from good beer!

Up next was Cover Crop IPA, a classic American IPA brewed with a few twists, the first being the addition of rye in the grist. Rye, one of the world's most widely-used cover crops, lends a hint of spiciness in the backend. Columbus and Cascade - two tried and true American hop varietals - brings in plenty of citrus notes to tie it all together. This was nicely balanced and flavorful, and the rye spiced things up a bit.  

I was in a hoppy mood, so I made sure to include a pour of Ancestral IPA. This one is brewed in the more hop-forward West Coast tradition. More assertive than the Cover Crop IPA in its bitterness, I'm not sure I liked it better. Rounding out my flight was Barrel Aged Anni Stout, Stone's Throw's anniversary stout aged in bourbon barrels from Little Rock's own Rock Town Distillery. All in all, it was an enjoyable flight and enticed me to try something else before we moved on to the next brewery.  

Enter George Bros. Historic Arkansas Ale. This beer just sounded too interesting to pass up. Here's the story, courtesy of the folks at Stone's Throw:

Little Rock’s first brewers were German-born Alexander and Henry George who operated a biergarten in the mid-1800s on Rock Street. For the museum’s 75th anniversary, Ian Beard, Theron Cash and Leah Lambert of Stone’s Throw Brewing drew on their own research and that of our Arkansas-made team to come up with a tribute beer similar to a 19th century George Bros. brew. The George brothers came from a warm region of Germany which suggests that their beer would have been similar to Belgian-style farmhouse ale. Additional research revealed which brewing ingredients would have been available to the George brothers. With the addition of wild Arkansas yeast harvested by Grant Chandler (Lost Forty Brewing) from plums in Dunbar Community Garden, this 75th anniversary ale is an Arkansas-made ale of historic proportions!

All in all, everything here was solid and enjoyable. Stone's Throw was a fine introduction to the Arkansas craft beer scene, and it felt great to add another notch in our brewery bucket list. This would be our last "new state" of the trip, as we'd head back through Tennessee (one we'd just added earlier in the trip), leaving 18 more unexplored states for the Pour Travelers to traverse... hopefully some day soon. 

One last sample for Pleeps at Stone's Throw!

Our next stop, Little Rock's Lost Forty, was our favorite of the four breweries we hit on this particular day. We arrived right when their brewing shift must have been changing over, because a brewer came out with a big grin on his face, grabbed some beer to take home, and made some type of "life is good" comment to us and some nearby patrons. I can relate, because working at a brewery definitely has its perks, and I always say that my worst day at Tröegs is better than my best day at my last job (which, by the way, was in the Telecom industry). This guy was happy as a clam. 

The brewery takes its name from an historic forest, which stands on 40 acres of Arkansas's last truly virgin soil in Calhoun County. I don't know much about Arkansas at all (perhaps the only thing is that Bill Clinton was governor of the state prior to his presidency), but this place just felt like Arkansas. It's hard to explain. We'd never been to the state prior to this visit, but I'd wager you'd be hard-pressed to find a brewery more uniquely Arkansas as Lost Forty. 

My first beer, Easy Tiger, set the tone and reeled me in right from a get-go. Described as a Mexican Lager, this GABF silver medal-winning cerveza is an easy drinker, boasting aromas of toasted malt and fresh-baked bread with a hint of citrus zest. 

Pleeps was loving life at Lost Forty.

I followed up with a pour of Rockhound IPA, which seems like one of the brewery's flagship beers. Citrusy, resinous and aromatic, this one falls more on the "West Coast" side of the IPA spectrum with a balanced caramel malt character underneath waves of grapefruit and tropical hop notes. 

I decided to stay on the IPA path for the remainder of our visit. Up next was Dig the Ride IPA, which - if memory serves me - was my favorite of the three. This one packs a hefty citrus profile with a tinge of honey sweetness, but finishes on the dry side with traces of dank herbs and citrus zest. Squirrel Sailor, on the other hand, was closer to a NEIPA and akin to orange juice with a hazy appearance and heavy on tropical fruit. Great name, by the way. I couldn't help but think of our pet squirrel Dig Dug frolicking through a sea grass in our yard back home in PA. 

All in all, this was a fantastic visit, with memorable beer, atmosphere, people... and food, too. Yes, the vegan crispy cauliflower wings were amazing! I loved everything about this place and always hope that every brewery we visit can check off all the boxes. Lost Forty did it with ease.

Last but not least, we had time to swing by one final brewery in Little Rock. Flyway, a stone's throw from the banks of the Arkansas River, is situated in the Argenta Arts District part of town and operates on a 10-bbl brewhouse. This small brewery prides itself ourselves on preserving its local land, resources and inhabitants, sourcing local ingredients, and maintaining its small, independent DNA. 

The brewery's name is derived from the Mississippi Flyway. Running from central Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, it's the largest bird migratory route in North America... right Deuane? With this in mind, Flyway invites folks to "come be a part of the migration." 

Bunch of bird brains at Flyaway, I'd say!

Kestrel Kolsch was an enjoyable, true-to-style Kolsch with a light but crisp body and just a tinge of citrusy, grassy hops to keep things interesting. My next beer, Saison Avifaune, is - according to the brewery - "an expression of this season that we'd love to share with you." Flyway believes that each particular season offers its own unique pace, weather patterns and characteristics. I found this saison to be a pleasant snapshot of this specific time and place, with notes of fresh bread, straw, bubblegum, and orchard fruit. 

While we were here, we had a long conversation with a guy who was also visiting Little Rock. Talked with a local at the bar for about an hour. While the details are a bit cketchy, I think he said he was from Minnesota or Wisconsin or one of those cool states up north. Maybe I'm wrong. That's what happens when you wait until March to write about something that happened in July... especially when beer is part of the equation. Nevertheless, he was quite friendly and talkative, and made the time pass in a pleasant manner, which is always the sign of a positive brewery experience. And with that, it was time to stick a fork into Day 8. Stay tuned for our final descent into PA and the end of our epic summer trip. Until next time... 

Friday, January 28, 2022

Texas: Day 7 - Still Hoppin' Around Houston

Day 7 - Houston, TX

We didn't cover as much ground on our second full day in Houston as we did the previous day, but we managed to hit a few solid breweries. Up first was SpindleTap. Open since November 2015, the brewery's name is a pun on Spindletop, an oil field located in Beaumont, Texas, that was critical in the development of the oil and gas industry in Houston during the early part of the 20th century. I suppose it's a fitting name, as everyone knows we get most of our "black gold" from the Lone Star State. I mean, "Texas Tea" is a popular slang term for oil. With that in mind, the vibe of the place naturally screamed Texas pride and oil, which is evident in its use of a derrick (i.e. oil tower) as part of its logo. 

SpindleTap also boasts a pretty sick outdoor entertainment complex they've dubbed SpindlePark, a three-and-a-half acre addition to its taproom where visitors can play a variety of sports and games including baseball, kickball, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, volleyball, corn hole, and disc golf. They even have a 9-hole mini-golf course! Sadly, we didn't get to check out SpindlePark as I wasn't privy to its existence until after we'd visited. 

Spindletap beer selection.

The bartender on duty was friendly and knowledgeable, having come from another brewery whose name escapes me at the moment. Regardless, I dug into a pour of Frostbite, a West Coast-style IPA hopped with Cyro Columbus, Centennial, Cascade and Simcoe. Aah, the classics! With a wintry mix of pine and grapefruit, this beer is hoppy enough to give you the frost heaves on a warm summer day. Geez... that sounds like some kind of disease you pick up around the holidays if you live in the New England region. Anyway, I say bring on the Westies. This was was pretty solid overall, so we decided to stick around for seconds. 

We decided to share a pour of something called Ingrained 1, which sounded interesting. Touted as an Imperial Stout, this 11.5% behemoth is a blend of a Russian Imperial Stout aged for 25 months in Woodford Reserve barrels, a Wee Heavy aged for 14 months in maple bourbon barrels, and an imperial chocolate milk stout aged on Madagascar vanilla beans. Obviously, there's a lot going on here. Overall, I got a lot of chocolate, roast and boozy warmth up front with some dark stone fruit and smooth vanilla sweetness in the finish. While it didn't "wow" me like some other similar beers, it was nice to share this one with Brewslut and Pleeps. You know how he loves his imperial stouts! 

Up next was Equal Parts, my favorite of the three new breweries we visited on this particular day. Founded as Sigma Brewing Company, the brewery operated under this moniker for the first three years of its existence. Feeling the name Sigma didn’t acknowledge the brewery's commitment to its local community and its internal co-workers, they hired a brand strategy company and came up with Equal Parts, a name that conveys ownership of staff and patrons alike. Make sense? Good. 

I kicked off with a pour of an excellent German pilsner named Löggerbier. This was, without a doubt, one of the best pilsners I had on the entire trip... and that's saying a lot, because this was easily the trip of the pilsner. I think I drank more pilsners on this trip than most fair-weathered lager drinkers consume in a year. Everything you could possibly want in a pilsner was present in this beer: spot-on carbonation; a white fluffy head almost three fingers high; that classic Noble hop character (think herbal and citrusy with a whiff of freshly mowed lawn); and a crisp, clean, refreshing finish with just a touch of that mineral-like yeast that I love about the style. Yup, this beer is a winner! 

Pleeps likes pilsners too.

Since we were off to a good start, we decided to stick around for a while and dig in to the tap selection, which was quite varied. Up next was Sour Spirit Journey, a hybrid style described as a "fruited sour hazy Double IPA." This one checks off a lot of boxes. 

Up next comes a beer with a little lesson in Latin: Mutatis Mutandis Mocca Vol. 1. A Latin phrase, Mutatis Mutandis translates to English as "with things changed that should be changed". It's a beer series whereby each release is meant to stand on its own; however, the brewery's goal is to create two beers that build upon each other when blended. Volume 1, named "Mocca", is a collaboration with Xela Coffee Roasters and features a blend of barrel aged porter and stout, Xela Second Ward blend coffee, cacao, Vietnamese cinnamon, and vanilla.

Pleeps is gettin' jiggy wit it!

I couldn't leave without trying the West Coast IPA. Sigma IPA is Equal Parts' homage to the West Coast hop bombs of yesteryear. Brewed with a trifecta of classic hops - Centennial, Citra and Simcoe - this was a citrusy, piney delight with a fairly dry, bitter finish and a sturdy malt backbone. Bring on the Westies!  

Up here in space... I'm looking down on you...

When we arrived outside our next stop, True Anomaly, parking proved problematic. Adjacent to the brewery, there is a paid parking lot with ludicrous pricing. Turns out it was some kind of private paid parking lot, so we skedaddled out of there and found a place on the street. 

With a tagline like "Drink Boldly," it's no wonder this place digs science and space. As a matter of fact, the four guys who started True Anomaly all have backgrounds in fields of science, including space-suit development, mission management, and - I kid you not - rocket science! So I suppose it does take a rocket scientist to brew beer... at least for True Anomaly. 

Pleeps is a true anomaly, indeed!

For our one-and-done visit, I opted for a pour of Scout, a Mexican-style lager. Unfortunately, this was kind of a whirlwind visit since we spent some extra time at Equal Parts. From what I can recall, this was a solid interpretation of the style, with sweet corn notes, a hint of citrus and grassy hops, and a clean, refreshing finish. Light and easy-drinking... what more could you ask for in a Mexi lager? 

Chillin' at True Anomaly.

We still had plenty more beers to enjoy at Ingenius, so we made our way back to the brewery to meet the gang and partake in lots of tasty, inventive styles recommended by Justin and Nate. After all, we did drive to Texas just so we could finally hang out there. Two visits was definitely in order, wouldn't you agree?  

Dumb Dumb: Blackberry Milkshake - Sour smoothie style conditioned on blackberries, vanilla beans, and marshmallow fluff. The Dumb Dumb series (named after those little round lollipops from back in the day) seems to be a home run for Ingenious. This one was quite tasty although it's pretty tough to beat the Peach Cobbler version, which is pretty freakin' amazing. 

Pleeps got the royal treatment at Ingenious!

Vanilla Cream Ale - Cream ale conditioned on vanilla beans. Think of a beer version of cream soda. That's definitely not a bad thing. 

Justin also busted out an extremely limited bottle of Maple Bourbon Blueberry Crumble. This Imperial milk stout is aged in maple bourbon barrels and conditioned on blueberries, dark chocolate, and Vietnamese cinnamon sticks. We enjoyed bottle #17 of 60, so... Whalez, bro! 

Justin kept the barrel-aged stuff flowing with Just Peachy, an English style barleywine aged for a year in peach brandy barrels and old Fitzgerald bourbon barrels, then blended with vanilla beans, peaches, and peach ring candy. Anything with peaches gets my britches in a tizzy, and this one was enjoyable, although not quite as amazing as the Dumb Dumb. Still, a barrel-aged peach barleywine? Yes, please!

Pleeps likes hugs!

Last but not least, we enjoyed more Barrel Aged Imperial Peanut Butter Cup . However, this time I added a "topper," a dollop of beer frozen to a frothy consistency, which floats on top to keep the beer colder and offer a "float" kind of experience. I'm generally not a fan of peanut butter in my beer, but this Imperial milk stout conditioned on chocolate, peanut butter and cacao nibs is pretty impressive. Aging this sucker in Four Roses bourbon barrels really pushes it over the cliff. 

After that, it was back to Justin's for more beer and even some brown liquor, which is never a good idea after a full day of drinking. Stay tuned for our next episode, which points us in the direction of home. Until next time...

Friday, December 17, 2021

Texas Road Trip: Day 6 - Gettin' down in H-town!

Day 6 - Houston, TX

Before embarking on our Houston brewery crawl, Justin and I picked up some breakfast to take back to the house before our Uber arrived. But first, he drove past Simone Biles' gym so I could see it up close. I was also shocked to learn that Simone actually lives in the same development as Justin and his family. Somehow I neglected to make the connection when I got Justin's address and it was located in Spring, TX. So, why am I mentioning this? Well, here's a fun fact about me: I freaking LOVE women's gymnastics. I like men's gymnastics too (I mean, can you do an iron cross?!), but I'm a balance beam freak, and the dudes don't do that, so I tend to gravitate to the ladies. I first became enamored with the sport when Mary Lou Retton scored a perfect 10 on her vault at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles to clinch the gold medal in the all-around competition. But I really got into gymnastics around 1996 when the U.S. Women's team won the gold, which was largely due to Keri Strug landing her vault on one leg after injuring her ankle during her previous vault. It is, in my opinion, the greatest moment in sports history, and I'm even getting teary-eyed just thinking about her sticking the landing and getting carried off the floor by Bela Karolyi. 

Perhaps that's for a totally different blog, though. Let's get back to beer, eh? 

Welcome to Saint Arnold!

Our first full day in Texas began with a lengthy visit to the elder statesman of Houston's craft beer scene: Saint Arnold. I'd first heard of this brewery many moons ago from Deuane, who shared a few bottles with me shortly after we'd first met. However, I didn't really know much about the brewery other than they were around since the 90s. Turns out the brewery has been around for a while; so long, in fact, that it's the oldest craft brewery in Texas. Saint Arnold shipped its first keg of beer in June of 1994, which is kind of at the tail end of the Proterozoic eon of craft beer's timeline. 

View of the brewing facility from the beer garden.

We decided to just chill for an extended period and enjoy the vibe of the beer garden, which was quite scenic and comfortable. The beer garden and its adjacent restaurant both opened in 2018, and it boasts some pretty sweet views of the surrounding metropolitan area as well as the brewing facility, which is right across the street. I kicked things off with a pour of H-Town Pils, a classic Bohemian-style pilsner. This beer is rock solid, and I typically find that the more seasoned breweries tend to brew traditional styles better than their "Millennial" counterparts. While that's a fairly broad assessment, it still rings true on most occasions. Verdict? H-Town Pils crushes it! I'd also like to note that I'm glad to see the dimpled mug coming back in vogue. I recently brought my vintage Troegenator mug out of retirement and it's quickly becoming my go-to beer vessel... especially for lagers. 

Pleeps gettin' huggy with a dimpled mug.

Up next was Art Car IPA, an American IPA featuring a variety of hops from the Pacific Northwest. With its blend of tropical fruits, sweet malt backbone and moderate bitterness, this one straddles the line between classic West Coast and NE-style hazy. I followed this up with Fancy Lawnmower, dubbed a "true German-style Kölsch." In all fairness, the only "true" Kölsch beer is brewed in Cologne, Germany (much like champagne produced outside the Champagne region of France). I didn't make up that rule, but someone did. Still, this one was pretty crisp and refreshing with a sweet malty body and citrusy hop character. Kölsch yeast, an ale yeast that ferments at lager temperatures, lends a slightly fruity finish. 

We shared a few sips of a pretty tasty Russian Imperial Stout before moving on to our brewery tour, which Justin suggested we do since he'd never done it. While traipsing around the brewery with our tour guide and a handful of other visitors, I sipped on a pour of Pub Crawl, an easy-drinking pale ale. Brewed with a simple malt bill of 2-row pale and Maris Otter (a traditional English barley), Pub Crawl is hopped with tried-and-true Centennial hops for a blast of grapefruit as well Amarillo and Galaxy to bring in some additional citrus and tropical fruit notes. It's finished with London 3 yeast, a fruity and slightly sweet strain that's typically used in New England hazy pales and IPAs. This classic pale ale with an American twist could fit snugly on either side of the Atlantic. 

The tour was pretty interesting, but in all actuality most brewery tours are essentially the same. This particular one was pretty impersonal and it felt like I was just hanging out with some dudes, which was cool. But we did get a good look around the place, which I always appreciate even though I spend 40 hours a week at a brewery (and that's just for work). Obviously, we spend a large portion of our recreational time at breweries as well. So when folks usually ask me if I'm visiting for business or pleasure, I respond with a simple, "Yes." 

One final thought about Saint Arnold; I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the artwork, which is pretty amazing. Inspired by the abbey of Saints Apostles (which later was dubbed the Abbey of Saint Arnold), the interior of the restaurant area features wooden beams designed to mimic Saint Arnold’s pointy hat, while ornate metal chandeliers allude to some of the European cathedrals Brewslut and I visited on our honeymoon trip to England and France. But perhaps the coolest thing about the space are the six alcoves each depicting colorful murals painted by local Houston artists. Saint Arnold gave the artists free reign over their own space, so each of the alcoves offer a unique interpretation of the Saint Arnold story. Here's a glimpse of one of the murals: 

One of six murals at Saint Arnold.

Up next was Holler, and I quickly learned that this brewery is all about lagers. Sure, they brew a wide spectrum of beers, but they have a definite penchant for bottom-fermented beers. I was excited to see a slow-pour (i.e. side handle) faucet here, a phenomenon I'd only just discovered at Human Robot in Philadelphia. Some beer drinkers believe it improves the head retention and texture of a beer (especially Euro pilsners and lagers in general), while others generally dismiss it as merely a gimmick (Randall, anyone?). If you'd like to dive down a cool little rabbit hole, check out this article for more on slow pours. 

Holler for Houston, yo!

Naturally, I ordered something on the faucet, which happened to be Czech My Phone, a Czech-style pilsner. This one was pretty floral and sweet, and therefore not quite as crisp as I was hoping. But it still had a nice noble hop character and went down easily. I kept to the bottom fermenting beers here and opted for a pour of Patio Daddy-O, a lager hopped with one of my favorite varieties, Nelson Savin. I've been encountering a lot of these "Southern Hemisphere Pilsners" as I've seen them described at a few breweries in recent months, which is due to the utilization of hops from Australia or New Zealand. Others call them "dry-hopped pilsners." Either way, these are usually hopped-up, Americanized versions of classic lager recipes. All in all, I was glad to see a brewery truly embracing the lager culture. I'd say about 6 or 7 of the available twelve beers were lagers, and I wish I could have tried them all. Oh well, I guess we'll have to wait until next time!

Meanwhile, Nate joined our tricycle and we became a 4-wheeled ATV for the remainder of the day. Nate, whom we first met through Deuane back in our Brass Rail Deli days, had recently transplanted to Houston to take up a cellarman job at Ingenious after working at Pizza Boy for a few years. So in addition to getting some hang time in with Justin, we'd also have the opportunity to visit with another friend from PA. Before we left, we got some cold brew coffee on tap and headed to our next stop. 

Remember a few blog posts ago about our day in New Orleans and how Urban South was one of our favorite breweries of the day? Well, it turns out that they also have a location in Houston, which was a pleasant surprise. While the beers here were similar to what we encountered back in New Orleans, the space wasn't quite as charming. Of course, it was still bright and boasted some pops of color here and there, but the space just felt a bit more stark and white overall. I thought the dangling roller skates above the bar were cool, and reminded me of Modern Times in San Diego. Since we enjoyed Urban South's fruited sours, we stuck to "gloop glop" beers, as Justin calls them. 

First up was Strawberry Daiquiri, which is part of Urban South's "Double Spilled" fruited sour series. Brewed with twice the amount of fruit as its standard "Spilled" series, this one tasted like fresh, juicy strawberries pulverized into liquid form. I think there may have even been some miniscule seed remnants in a few sips. I wouldn't doubt it, since they use a boat-load of fruit for these beers. (NOTE: They even have a "Triple Spilled" series, which probably means they probably use a metric shit-ton of fruit, which is even more than a boatload if my math is correct.) 

Pleeps is down with the gloop glop too.

For our next beer, we opted for another from the Double Spilled series. This time, it was the Pineapple, Blue Curacao, Sprite-Smoothie Sour. Fizzy and spritzy with lots of dank, ripe pineapple and a dash of Blue Curacao (an orange-flavored liqueur used in a variety of tropical cocktails), this was the greenest beer I've ever encountered outside of St. Patrick's Day; not "green" meaning "young" but "green" as in the color. And it's not just some boring shade of green; this beer glowed like some kind of alien liquid ooze found on a distant planet in some 60's technicolor sci-fi B-movie. While this beer definitely tasted more like a cocktail, I was impressed by its envelope-pushing blend of flavors. 

We finished up with a pour of Milkshake IPA: Tangerine Vanilla One-Off. It was definitely a "one-off" beer, because I couldn't really find any other information on this other than its ABV, which is 7.5%. Gushing with creamsicle flavor and juicy to the core, this beer was a little bristly but quite enjoyable. While we were here, we also got to chat with the brewer a bit, who I believe is an acquaintance of Justin's. I'd imagine most of the brewers in town at least know each other. All in all, this was a fun stop on the itinerary for the day, but it was time to move on to the next brewery. 

Pleeps loves cans.

Up next, we stopped in at Brash, a cool brewery that's been around since 2015. Justin mentioned that I'd likely dig the vibe of this place and he was right! Brash is metal as fuck. Well, perhaps it's more a mix of metal and punk, but either way it's a pretty dope space. Pleeps was a little scared at first, but once he realized there was beer inside, he loosened up. Aside from beer, the folks at Brash and I seem to have a lot in common: music, an odd sense of humor (evidenced by some signs you'll see a little later in the blog), classic arcade games, and Satan. I have a feeling that these guys aren't afraid to tell you how they feel about shit, so in that respect I think Brash is a fitting name for this brewery. The space itself felt kind of like a holiday camp but for bad kids; you know, the ones who brought in butterfly knives and throwing stars to show-and-tell and used to raid their parents' liquor cabinets when they left the house for a few hours. 

I stayed on the lager train for my first beer at Brash, which was the evocatively named Snapcrackle, an extra crispy Czech pilsner. "Crispy" is quickly becoming a trendy way to describe lagers these days, especially pilsners. It's kind of like describing a stout as "chewy." True, beer is obviously a liquid and can't really possess these traits, but these adjectives can nevertheless help paint a vivid picture. With that said, I found this beer to be a little light on the crisp-o-meter. I also detected a trace of diacetyl, which is commonly found in lagers. It didn't deter me from getting a second round, though. 

Pleeps likes his pilsners extra crispy.

I couldn't leave without enjoying a pour of Abide, a White Russian-inspired imperial stout, which prompted me to blurt out one of my favorite lines from The Big Lebowski: "Careful man, there's a beverage here!" Chalk up another thing we have in common: a love for the greatest Cohen Brothers movie of all time (and that's saying a lot, because there are lots of great ones). 

As I mentioned, there are several funny signs strategically placed around Brash's camp. Here are a few that prompted me to snap a picture. Enjoy!

They'd probably let you stab hippies, though.

On and on...

I think Bube's Brewery needs this sign.

We had time for one final one-and-done stop. Astral opened its doors in March of 2019 and specializes in a variety of hop-forward ales including crisp, bitter West Coast hop bombs and hazy NE-style IPAs. Upon perusing the beer menu, I couldn't resist ordering a pour of Brain Police, yet another beer inspired by a Frank Zappa song. This one is a hazy IPA hopped with Mosaic and, appropriately, Zappa hops. Yes, Zappa has a hop named after him despite the fact that he didn't drink alcohol or do drugs. He did, however, consume lots of hot dogs as well as cartons and cartons of cigarettes during his lifetime. Regardless, he's got a hop variety named after him, and it's an interesting one. Grown exclusively by CLS Farms in the Yakima Valley, it's a 100% neomexicanus aroma hop that comes from - of all places - mountains found in New Mexico. But let's backtrack. What exactly is "neomexicanus"? Unlike the more familiar "humulus lupulus," turns out it's a genetically distinct, wild-growing sub-species of hop found in the dry mountain regions of New Mexico. With aromas hinting at passionfruit, mint, and "Fruity Pebbles" cereal, this is a unique hop variety to say the least. So, there's your hop lesson for today, kids. 

Well, I suppose that about wraps things up for our first day in Texas. It was great to hang with some friends we don't get to see too often, and don't worry... you'll be hearing more about us all in the next installment of the Pour Travelers as we continue to traipse around the greater Houston area. Until next time...