Saturday, April 30, 2011

Colorado Brewery Pilgrimage 2011 - Part II

After a good time in Fort Collins it was time to make our way to Boulder via Longmont. The first stop on our list was the Tasty Weasel, the tasting room at Oskar Blues. Even after a leisurely breakfast at the Longmont location of Lucile’s and nine holes of disc golf, we still showed up a little before they were to open. After waiting around until after the time when they should have opened we tried what appeared to be the main door, found it locked and tried another door. While it was unlocked, the person inside seemed startled and from the quick look it appeared to open to the production area of the brewery. It looked like we were going to have to give up until a guy in a truck pulled up.

I'm not sure it actually runs, but it is pretty sweet.
The guy explained they were closed due to the holiday (Easter), apologized and then offered to let us in for a pint anyway. Not being ones to say no to such a kind offer we took him up on it and followed him in the back door, through a very cool lounge area and into the tasting room.

We might never have left if they had actually been open.
 As it turned out the nice guy in the truck was Dale, yes, founder-of-Oskar-Blues Dale. Like most brewery folk we’ve had the pleasure to meet Dale was happy to answer all our questions, give us samples of as many of the beers as we wanted and generally make us feel incredibly welcome. Not only that, he took us into the brewery where brewmaster Dave was hard at work.

If you look past our happy, shiny faces you'll see Dave atop the tank.

Not wanting to overstay our welcome after we got back to the tasting room, we finished our pints and headed down the road to the brewpub outpost of Oskar Blues, Home Made Liquids & Solids.

Once inside we almost made a mistake by taking seats at the bar. The stars were apparently still shining on us this day however and we decided to take a table in order to be further away from the live music. I say this because our waiter turned out to be the bar manager, Nate, who upon noticing our beer geekiness, offered to pick a variety of beers off their menu for our tasting and followed it up by sitting down and talking about each of them.

After a thoroughly enjoyable time, we finally drug ourselves away from Longmont and completed our jaunt down the road to Boulder.

Our hotel being located near the center of town we took the opportunity to stretch our legs, walking to Johnny's Cigar Bar where we took advantage of a small Easter Sunday crowd and having the smoking lounge all to ourselves. Cigars, beer, cards, mixed drinks, dice, we might have stayed all night if not for the need to get some dinner.

The closest brewpub was Walnut Brewery, which we had been to before. While I wouldn't say they have outstanding beers, they do have solid beers and just the type of filling food we were hungry for. However once our bellies were full the day caught up to us and we made an early night of it.

As Monday dawned it was time to start thinking about the end of this pilgrimage and a return to the real world. After another solid meal at Lucile's, Boulder location, we headed back to Denver and spent the last few hours relaxing with beer and shuffleboard upstairs at Wynkoop.

Another successful brewery pilgrimage! Guess that means it's time to start planning the next one.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Colorado Brewery Pilgrimage 2011 - Part I

Our first brewery pilgrimage in darned near two years returned us to one of our favorite drinking states – Colorado. Getting to Colorado meant flying into Denver but beyond a departure day visit to Wynkoop we passed on the obvious and spent our time in and between Fort Collins and Boulder.

Since we were last in Fort Collins Equinox Brewing, in the Old Town area, and Funkwerks, occupying the former Fort Collins Brewing building, opened up. Equinox offered a solid line up of beers, a nice patio and the closest I’ve ever come to a bar fight. Funkwerks, for anyone in Portland reading, was reminiscent of Upright with their beer offerings (although they don’t do any open fermentation).

Our return visits to New Belgium, Odell’s and Fort Collins Brewery, whose new location was just a couple blocks away from Odell’s, proved that they are still going strong. The New Belgium tour was considerably more extensive than before, the Odell’s tasting room larger and with a more polished look than five years ago and Fort Collins Brewing looking quite at home in their much larger new home.

There was more than enough to keep us busy for the day and a half we spent there, including a great breakfast at Lucile’s Creole Cafe, complete with beignets and gianormous, warm biscuits topped with house made jam for the sweet lovers or flavorful sausage gravy, and a non-beer adventure to the Swetsville Zoo.

Check back soon for more details and pictures from the rest of our pilgrimage.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Firkin Fest 2011 – Portland Style

Just about a month ago you heard me talk about my fourth Firkin Fest in Minnesota. Yesterday was my first Firkin Fest in Portland, at the Green Dragon. The two were vastly different in number of firkins and number of attendees but this one held its own.

Going into the festival I was skeptical how far my $30 ticket and the eight six-ounce tasting tickets that came with it would take me. However with only a three hour window to drink I figured that might end up being just about right and leave me in a better place than the all-you-can-drink style of festival. As it turned out there were only 22 firkins rather than the 30 the event had touted so between Mag and I we were able to sample the majority of offerings.

Top Three Beers
Beer festivals are about the beer, but there are always other aspects that can make or break the experience. This one had two that made it memorable.

#1 – Having a brewer/owner pouring his beer
One of my favorite parts of the day was talking with Ted Sobel, owner and brewer of Brewer’s Union Local 180. The lack of brewers or very knowledgeable brewery representatives pouring at festivals has been one of the most disappointing things about festivals I’ve been to in Portland to date. For reasons I’ve yet to understand, there are generally clueless volunteers manning the kegs. I don’t mean clueless as a slight against these folks, as I’ve volunteered myself, but clueless due to the OLCC rules outlawing drinking while pouring. So if the person pouring hasn’t had the beer before, or this particular version of it, they are little help other than their ability to convey liquid into the sampling vessel.

#2 – Glass sampling glasses
I understand that glass glasses pose a multitude of hazards that the widely used plastic handled mugs don’t but c’mon, does it not occur to anyone how vastly different the experience is when drinking quality beer out of glass is? Plastic is for keggers full of non-discerning folks who will happily slurp up plastic glass after plastic glass of BMC. Give craft beer lovers some credit, and an appropriate glass to sample out of.

All in all, I’m happy to say it was $30 and three hours well spent.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Two More Down

The list of places to check out got two places shorter (at least temporarily) as we took advantage of a free Saturday evening to focus on a slice of Northeast. Sitting only half a mile from one another, relatively established The Mash Tun (est. 2005) and newcomer Grain & Gristle (even newer to than we are!) were the designated targets for the evening.

Of the two, The Mash Tun won me over for beer offerings. All five house taps sounded good, but I was particularly enamored with the Master Bitter and Nightfall Dark Ale. The bonus came in the form of a basket of perfectly cooked tots with a side of buffalo sauce. (All of the aforementioned items just $3 during daily happy hour to boot.) As much as I enjoyed it, I fear making it back here on a regular basis isn’t going to happen. The Alberta Arts District is a hopping place and I can imagine that if anything is going on, navigating through the foot and car traffic would be a nightmare, not to mention how difficult parking would be.

The tots may have been good, but Grain & Gristle upped the ante on the food front. The cured meat board, which included braunschweiger, was tasty, but it was the airy, nearly foot high pile of pork rinds that blew me away. Lucky for me, my companions were satisfied with just a piece or two each, leaving the bulk of the salty pork goodness for me. Unfortunately, I wasn’t nearly as excited about the tap list. The Firestone Walker Velvet Merlin was the only beer that held any interest for me. With that said, I can’t knock them on their beer selection after only one visit. I suspect they go through kegs quickly so another day may find me in a quandary as I stare at a board filled with beers I want to drink.

All in all, it was a successful outing. Hopefully you had an equally enjoyable Saturday night.