Filtering by Category: Brewse Cruise
After many a summer spent traversing our fine country in pursuit of quality craft beer, I've visited dozens upon dozens of craft outlets. And after a few, patterns began to emerge. From the tiniest neighborhood brewpub to the biggest production brewery, these spots share a passion for the craft, a celebrated love for the geek and a curious fascination with cycling, amongst other commonalities. We hop heads are a dysfunctional family of sorts, all drunk uncles gripping our 4oz tasters with ear-to-ear smiles. It's a good life.
So, grab a growler, print out this PDF and spice up your next sudsy outing with a little Brewery Travel Bingo. The first player to reach BINGO wins a round... or a branded carabiner. Whatever floats your boat.
Memphis Beer Week, Memphis, TN
Last week, I took a road trip down to Memphis with my girlfriend and our pup, who are relocating down south for work. And... the trip *happened* to coincide with the second annual Memphis Beer Week! What are the odds??
We all know that Memphis is a charming southern city on the banks of the might Mississipp. The music, the culture, the cuisine -- it's all world famous. But did you know they're also host to a budding craft beer scene? True story.
According to Memphis Made Brewing Company co-owner Andy Ashby, three craft outlets have opened in just the last year. Despite a relatively slow start, the local beer community is beginning to thrive in the sleepy Delta town. A ton of businesses are getting in on the craft craze, stocking bottles and kegs of hometown brew, adding lines for grocery store growler fills and hosting tap takeovers, meet the brewer events and beer dinners year round. "Memphis has been a little slow on the trend," Andy explained. "Trends tend to start on the coasts and move in, and we're in the middle of the country. But people really have a taste for it now." 'Bout time.
Here's my quick list of where to go and what to drink, if you happen to find yourself in this tasty little corner of the US. Cheers, y'all!
What to Drink:
- High Cotton Brewing
Just about everything I tried from this little microbrewery was well made and very creative. Highlights include the Belgian IPA and the Biere de Garde, which makes good use of its refreshingly fruity funkiness.
- Wiseacre Brewery
These guys output some great canned options, including a hoppy, bright IPA and a lighter, biscuity Pils that top my list. Their tap room, the first in Memphis, is sunny and inviting. Bring your pup and kick back for the afternoon with a cold one in hand.
- Ghost River Brewing
The O.G. of the Memphis brewing bunch, this pioneering craft outlet opened way back in 2003 and has been churning out brew ever since. They specialize in European styles and are known for their award-winning Riverbank Red, a traditional Irish-style red ale, and their refreshing, German-hopped Golden Ale.
- Memphis Made Brewing
N.K.O.T.B. Memphis Made Brewing Co. gets the award for friendliest little brewery under the Memphis sun. The guys can be spotted making deliveries around town, stopping in to say hello and grab a sip at the Growler or another local fave. The Bent Note IPA is nicely balanced and the richly spiced farmhouse ale, the Junt, is good on a hot day. Their newest brew, the Southern Julep, is a Belgian-style brown ale brewed with fresh mint and aged with American oak. Grab your hat and get ready for the Derby, folks!
- Yazoo Brewing Company
Ok, so these guys are technically based in Nashville, but they were all over Memphis Beer Week just the same. And thank goodness, because they are so, so, so damn good. Check them out, for serious. The Hop Project line of IPAs are of particular interest... because they taste amazing.
Where to Drink:
- The Growler
A brand new bottleshop and taproom in an adorable little neighborhood called Midtown. Flights, pints, growler fills and soon-to-be sandwich bar run by a couple of passionate beer nerds -- my kind of place.
- Central BBQ
As a write this, my mouth is watering. Come for the BBQ nachos and ribs, stay for the well curated selection of thirst-quenching local brews, all served with a smile.
- Tamp & Tap
I totally fell in love with this downtown cafe. For a New Yorker with a mean coffee addiction, locating good coffee in a new town is top priority, and this place has excellent drip, espresso and cold brewed iced coffee. And what else? A fantastic supply of local craft brews with enough bottles and taps to keep you kickin' for hours.
- The Green Beetle
This tavern, which dates back to the early 20th century, is a classic dive bar in the best sense of the term. Warmly lit, with doors flung open to the street and Memphis Grizzlies basketball pumping through the speakers, this joint has a surprising number of craft-devoted taps. A great place to catch a game or grab a bit of southern fried goodness.
- Local Gastropub
Ok, so this place is a little cheesy and a little chain-y, which isn't my normal bag. BUT, in my defense, the food is awesome and they offer a Tennessee-brewed flight special for cheap. Worth a try if you're overcome by a powerful thirst while visiting the touristy part of town.
Carton Brewing Company, Atlantic Highlands, NJ
One frigid, hungover Sunday in March, upon strong urging by a certain Augie Carton, I made a blurry trek into New Jersey to check out Atlantic Highlands' Carton Brewing Co. As you might remember, these folks sponsored our January trivia night and killed it on the Springsteen round. But of course.
Their delicious, hand crafted brews range from simple sessionable perfection (Boat Beer) to wild, high gravity experimentation (Regular Coffee). The brewery itself is tucked away on a quiet little street in a tiny town within a mile of where many of the Carton crew were born and raised -- true hometown heros and a very inspiring story. It's no wonder that Augie and the rest of the Carton team are so dedicated to brewing on premises -- their brewery is only a stone's throw away from the tasty water source they all know and love.
"It's the difference between being local and claiming to be local," Augie explains. "It's knowing the water."
The tour begins downstairs in the brewery. Jesse showed us around the place, a brick, 100+ year old building that dates back to a New Jersey far removed from the likes of Snookey and Bridgegate. The original building, they think, was once used to store the tents of traveling revival groups who camped on the shore each summer, spreading the Methodist gospel. Now, however, the building stores a slick 15 bbl brewhouse and a cozy upstairs tasting room that brims with thirsty locals each weekend.
The brewhouse is small but functional, running at full capacity to churn out just enough beer to satiate the tri-state masses. The "Tippy," Carton's pilot system, produces brewery only batches, giving the brewers the space to experiment with new recipes or to learn about the potentials of individual ingredients through the "School of" series, educational beers that focus on a single hop strain. It's worth visiting the brewery just to get a sip of one of these limited Tippy brews.
Deeper into the building, down a twisting basement stairwell, lurks the barrel room -- a real sight to see. Of particular note are the Laird's Apple Jack barrels housing Pumpkin Cream Ale, infusing the spicy-sweet, bubbly brew with notes of sweet apple cider and boozy liquor. The Laird distillery -- the oldest continually operating distillery in America -- is also just a few miles down the road, adding yet another layer of local flavor to the Carton family.
I was struck by how the Carton team's passion for great beer co-mingled so closely with their intense hometown pride. This is craft beer at its best -- a drink for the people, by the people, produced to facilitate conversation, community and lots of love. Bravo.
Upstate New York, once the country’s hops capital, is now overrun with apples, soy, corn and other cash crops. During Prohibition, Farmers from Syracuse to Saratoga were encouraged by changing cultural attitudes and economic incentives to rip out their vines and plant anew, further inhibiting the brewing industry and contributing to big beer’s dominance throughout the 20th century. Fast forward to today: the price of corn is at a three year low, our apples are trucked in from Central America and yet New York is experience a craft beer boom to rival any other state in the country.
Enter cider! Following the lead of neighboring breweries, Highland’s Bad Seed Cider is making good use of the current agricultural landscape, quenching a cultural thirst for sustainable products and boosting a rundown local economy by turning crops into handcrafted artisanal spirits and cider. Last Fall, I grabbed a couple of gluten-free friends and traveled upstate to visit the cidery. I was interested in calling attention to Bad Seed's commitment to working in concert with craft breweries to increase the consumer’s ability and desire to drink local, and I wanted to see how they made just great, beer-inspired cider.
For cider makers Albert and Devin, a couple of farm boys who grew up together on the family orchard, getting The Cider Act passed by the state senate means everything. The Cider Act would allow Bad Seed to take advantage of tourism in the same manner as craft breweries, providing tours and tastings to interested folks on weekend trips Upstate. Though they recently signed a distribution deal with Manhattan Beer, passing The Cider Act would allow the boys to fully enjoy the same exposure as the rest of the taps at the bar.
Good news for cider fans -- Bad Seed Cider will be available in NYC this month! Ask your local bottle shop to stock up on some of their beautiful Belgian bottles. Let's welcome Bad Seed into NY's craft state community in style.
Who decides to visit Maine in late November, a time when temperatures drop to Planet Hoth levels and tourist hot spots lay barren and empty, dreaming of the warmer months? What kind of maniac plans a birthday weekend away to the coldest corner of the country? This guy.
For beer lovers, Maine is a veritable mecca. The state is known for phenomenal craft beer -- from Alan Pugsley's legacy of English-style open-fermented ales to innovative and deliciously aged Belgians to hopped-up ambitious young brews. Drive through adorable downtown Portland and you're bound to see at least a dozen brewpubs, beer bars and full fledged production breweries, churning out barrels upon barrels of the good stuff for tourists and locals alike.
Click through the photos below for a peek into my Maine adventure and start scheduling your own visit today (a summer trip is highly recommended...).
Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, NY
A few weeks ago, my dad turned the big 7-0 and like the golden child I am (yeah, right…) I organized a giant surprise family getaway weekend to Cooperstown, New York. Why Cooperstown? The man had religiously watched 70 complete, start-to-finish MLB seasons and had never visited the Baseball Hall of Fame, despite living within driving distance for the last 15 years. Unbelievable! Really, a travesty. Thus, the idea for a big birthday blowout celebrating both the end of summer and the boys of summer seemed appropriate. My brother joined in and set up a fishing trip on Lake Ostego, my mom rented a couple of lakeside cabins for the whole brood and we were off, heading five hours North on dusty back roads to the town that once produced the bulk of our nations hops: Cooperstown, New York.
As always, my beer geekdom trumps most everything and I knew I just had to incorporate a stop at Brewery Ommegang into the birthday weekend. “He’ll love it!” I assured my mom, conveniently leaving out the fact that Brewery Ommegang is famous for their delicious line of rich Belgian-style ales (Dad’s a tried-and-true lager lover from years back, occasionally branching out to a pale ale on a special occasion with much coaxing, but definitely not a witte guy). “Who doesn’t love a brewery tour??”
The answer? No one! I called up to the brewery to inquire about getting a private tour and hooking my dad up with a cake at the café for a pre-tour lunch and they were more than accommodating. At lunch, my niece and nephew scarfed down the pomme frites as the adults daringly ventured outside their beer comfort zones, sipping on the new Game of Thrones inspired Take the Black Stout (my sister-in-law embraced her nerdiness and took home a whole case) and enjoying the spicy Hennepin Saison and smooth, malty Rare VOS Amber I recommended.
After lunch, we gathered in the tasting room, a beautiful little nook abutting the café. Brewery Ommegang is more of a campus than your standard brewery – no back lot, industrial park, 30 barrel outfit, this operations has grounds. The surrounding rolling hills are dotted with hop vines grown by nearby Cornell University in an effort to combat the region’s debilitating blight. The café itself is a veritable estate, with a busy retail shop, a tasting room and a large restaurant with giant, communal tables. As soon as you walk through the heavy wooden doors, you’ll immediately know why HBO contacted Ommegang to propose their Game of Thrones partnership – it just makes sense. The place was packed but we managed to pony up to the bar and grab our adorable little tasting glasses, reading them for the six pours to come: Witte, a creamy and lemony Belgian white ale; BPA, an excellent 6.2% ABV Cascade-hopped take on a pale ale with a Belgian twist; Rare VOS, a rich amber with a hoppy bite and dry finish; Hennepin, a deceptively strong and deliciously bubbly Saison; Abbey Ale, a Trappist Dubbel flavored with dark cherries which blew my dad’s red wine-loving mind; and the aforementioned Take the Black Stout, a creamy Belgian-style stout brewed with four different dark malts, star anise and dried licorice root. Needless to say, we were well satiated and ready for a nap at that point.
After the tasting, we stumbled outside to meet Sarah for our private brewery tour. The two-building brewhouse is a big barn-like structure lined with giant metal silos. Sarah led us around and filled our wobbly minds with knowledge, filling us in on Ommegang’s brewing processes and vision. Ommegang was founded in 1997 by Cooperstown locals Don Feinberg and Wendy Littlefield, famed owners of Vanberg & DeWulf import company. As a startup company, Don and Wendy took on family-owned Belgian brewery Duvel as investors, allotting them 40% of the company. Later, as demand outdid supply, Duvel offered to purchase the struggling brewery in full, buying out the remaining 60% ten years ago and gifting Ommegang the state of the art brewhouse and café my family full enjoyed that very afternoon. Duvel continues to parent the company and their reach is impressive – Brewery Ommegang is available in 46 US states, Canada, Mexico and US Virgin Islands. While their emphasis is on traditional Belgian styles, Ommegang’s brewhouse features a small pilot system and a team of chemists excited about developing new brews and improving the old – innovation, of course, is the cornerstone of craft beer.
The coolest thing I learned that day? All of their beers are bottle conditioned. Whether you’re enjoying your Hennepin in Hawaii or Cancun, that sucker’s carbonation is 100% au natural. That’s some serious quality control.
We left the brewery full, happy and just a tiny bit more knowledgeable about Belgian beers. I can’t wait to introduce my dad to more rich strong ales that mirror his beloved Cabs and my sister-in-law continues to geek out about her GoT purchase. We made it back to the cabin safely, thanks to my amazing designated driver girlfriend, and were present and accounted for at the Hall of Fame the next morning. Birthday mission, consider yourself accomplished.
Victory Brewing Company, Downingtown, PA
Craigslist is a funny beast. It has been proven to successfully lead its follows to an overpriced apartment, a couple of creepy roommates, a like-new Ikea shelving unit or a casual encounter. And sometimes it can lead a person to a private tour of Victory Brewing Company lead by co-founder Ron Barchet.
To make a long story short, my friend Emma was selling some vintage lamps or something arbitrary on Philly's Craigslist and was contacted by an interested buyer who happened to have a @victorybrewing.com email address. She inquired, found out it was Ron Barchet's wife and, as a good friends should, told her about my blog. Next thing I knew, I was on a Chinatown bus heading South towards the city of brotherly love.
While the Downingon, PA facility isn't currently offering pubic tours due to 24/7 production, Ron and his wife welcomed us to the sprawling operation with open arms, dousing us in free pints and showing us personally around their impressive property. The taproom itself is worth the trip -- its a giant space, filled with beautiful custom woodwork and bits and pieces of retired copper brew kettles shipped over from Germany. It's also -- and more importantly -- filled with a ridiculous amount of taps pouring the freshest one-offs, limited batches and flagship styles Victory has to offer!
Ron immediately greeted us with a firm handshake. Before I knew it, the pints started flowing and a crisp and perfectly balanced Swing Session Saison was in my hand. This Belgian Pilsner, bright with carbonation and spicy with black pepper and lemon zest, went down fast and easy -- a true session beer. Ron began telling me about his background and unlikely path towards brewing (a common story in this industry). He opened Victory with his best friend since 5th grade, Bill Covaleski. The two began homebrewing in the 80's, and several years later, Bill convinced Ron to quit his day job in finances and join him in the pursuit of great beer. The goodnatured, faithful friend agreed and went off to an apprenticeship with Batimore Brewing Company. It was during that short stint in Baltimore that Ron fell in love with traditional German brewing. He then took a trip to Germany and completed intensive training at the Technical University of Munich at Weihenstephan, initiating a strong German partnership that continues to this day through hop exchanges, equipment trades and a wealth of shared brewing knowledge.
When Ron returned, joined Old Dominion Brewing Company in Virginia, expanding their production exponentially and increasing his skills as a brewmaster. Bill was in Baltimore, adding German styles to their repertoire and learning as much as he could about the business side of brewing. After a few years making beers for other folks, Bill and Ron decided to return home to Pennsylvania to open their very own brewery. Starting as a brewpub outside of Philadelphia, Victory Brewing poured its first pint in February of 1995 and has been turning out a growing lineup of great brews ever since.
Since expanding, Victory has relocated their main production outfit to some buildings adjoining the brewpub and is in the process of moving their major brands to a new piece of acreage down the way. The brewpub facility is used to produce one-offs and specialty beers, as well as to house the bottling plant and barrel storage warehouse. The automated, winding bottling line is impressive and extremely efficient, paying testament to Ron and Bill's business mindset. I was particularly struck by the barrel aging room, where Bill giddily told me about the the retired Chardonnay, Heaven Hill Bourbon and red wine barrels infusing their delicious remnants into richly decident gallons of Storm King stout and Golden Monkey Belgian ale. Barley wine, too, like the patiently aged bottle Ron dropped off at my table while I had my post-tour lunch. Nicest guy ever? Probably.
If you're headed to Philadelphia, I heartily recommend paying Ron and the rest of the Victory team a visit. Victory is one of those craft breweries that manages to balance a dogged dedication to the small/traditional/independent craft beer ethos while also enjoying distribution in 29 states, a strong brand presence and growing sales. Their new 40 acre space will host both an expanded production facility as well as a gathering space where Ron hopes to have live music and events. We can't wait to get in on that. Cheers, Ron!
Uinta Brewing Company is one of those little boutique-y breweries that you want to love before you even taste their beer because they're small and earnest and 100% wind powered... so it's a good thing their beer lives up to it! The odds are truly against these guys -- Utah closely monitors the distribution of higher ABV beers so instead of bucking the law like our friends at Epic, these guys have decided to make do with the laws God (er, his followers...) gave them. In accordance with my theory that creativity often flourishes under constraint, Uinta's line is straight forward and sticks to sessionable style codes while still producing some tasty styles and interesting flavor notes.
The brewery, stashed away in an industrial office park near downtown SLC, features an inviting taproom with wooden tables, a circular bar and a selection of sandwiches ordered deli-style with golf pencils and a notepad. I was dissapointed to learn that Utah doesn't allow flights because of some BS "vessel per customer" law -- an unavoidable bummer, especially in a low ABV brewery.
Their naturally lower ABV beers are a notch above their attempts at an sessionable IPA or coffee porter. The Wyld Extra Pale, at 4.0% ABV and 29 IBUs was the best of the litter. Lemony on the nose with a subtle floral hop aroma, it's medium-bodied with a piney beginning, some caramel malt and a citrusy but fairly dry finish. Playing it a big close to the chest and definitely drinkable and good with a meal.
I revisited SLC in May and was able to catch a fresh batch of Sum'r Ale, which lived up to everything I had read about it. The use of Sorachi Ace hops give this refreshing brew a bready, buttery quality that pairs nicely with a warm day/a bbq/watching my nephew play baseball while trying not to get caught drinking beer in a public park in Utah. The nose is all soft lemons and rich biscuit -- like a light lager with the subtle sweetness of a true golden. Well done, Uinta.
If you're in the area, I'd say swing by Uinta's facility before heading to Epic to get your feet wet. Oh and it's pronounced U-IN-TAH. You're welcome.Addendum: Now that Uinta has broadened their distribution channels, I've been enjoying and recommending their delicious higher ABV brews all over New York. Their Hop Notch IPA kills it and packs an amazing hoppy punch - don't pass this one up if you spy it on draft at the local pub.
Gilded Otter Brewpub, New Paltz, NY
A Sunday trip upstate led us to the Gilded Otter brewpub in New Paltz, NY (but don't click on that link, because their website is horrendous). The "Garden Party" featured 8 three ounce pours on an adorable little pizza peel thing. They include six of their own craft brews, one Black & Tan and one additional glass of Doc's cider to finish it off.
The place was all quant and nice and I liked that the brewing equipment was right there in the center of the restaurant instead of hidden away in some back warehouse you have to creepily peer through windows to see. We were surrounded by some serious looking copper boiler kettles, too.
The beers, truth be told, were lacking. The Huguenot St. American Lager, at 3.8%, was mild with no bite -- super bisquity with a strong yeasty finish. Not my thing. The IPA was similarly disappointing and only 5.2%. It's lame gravity was matched by its lame hop profile, with a little bit of pine and no kick at all. I felt similarly about the Amber and the Scottish Ale -- low gravity, bland and malty. The stars of the party, if you will, were the cream stout and the pale, which were nice and drinkable. The Stone House Cream Stout had a pretty head and a smooth, roasty body (6.2%), while the Rail Trail Pale Ale had crisp floral notes and lots of fresh grapefruit on the palate (5.2%).
If you find yourself upstate on a rainy sunday, get a pint of the stout and forego the Garden Party -- it's not worth the price of admission.
Epic Brewing Company, Salt Lake City, UT
Reasons Why Epic Brewing Company Rules: A Brewse Cruise Essay
- They're they proudest, most perfectly irreverent brewers of high gravity ales and lagers I've ever met.
Does Epic care that its Mormonistic (is that a word?) state strictly monitors and limits the ABV of beer sold in bars, grocery stores and even state-run liquor stores? No, Epic doesn't give a fuck. They are the first brewery since prohibition to exclusively brew beer above 4.0%. And they've been successfully handing it to the man since 2010, distributing the majority of their product out-of-state while also selling an amazing variety of cold (state-run liquor stores prohibit the sale of cold beer) bottles from their tiny brewery shop in downtown SLC.
- Their hand-crafted, inventive line is primarily sold in 22oz bottles.
Because you really ought to be serious about drinking this stuff. And you also really ought to share.
- Their brewery features a sandwich shop the size of a closet.
As soon as Utah's ATF laws changed to allow breweries to sell their own draft beer as long as food was also consumed, Epic installed a tiny sandwich shop in a narrow hallway. They list about a dozen snacks on a chalkboard and it's manned by a guy who looks eternally bored and claustrophobic. All so you can now enjoy a post-tour sample.
- They age their Brainless® on Peaches Belgian-Style Ale in imported French Chardonnay casks.
Are you impressed yet?
- Said Belgian-Style Ale is incredibly well-balanced and somehow drinkable, despite its 10.7% ABV and oak conditioning.
Yeasty, sweet fruity notes give way to a complex mixture of hay and a little sour zing at the end. I'd recommend letting it open up like wine, maybe even decanting it. It also ages well and each release it a little different (and marked by the brewery).
When I visited Epic, the tour guide was really nice and informative and gave us an in-depth behind the scenes tour of the single building brewery. Apparently, it used to be even smaller before they bought out the Thai place next door to install their warehouse. Unbelievable. By far the best brewery experience in the great Salt Lake and worth a visit. Fingers crossed for New York distribution.
Dogfish Head Brewing & Eats, Rehoboth Beach, DE
Who doesn't love Dogfish Head? Their quirky, charismatic and somehow resolutely humble founder, Sam, practically singlehandedly brought craft beer to the forefront. He's the kind of guy that travels all the way to Egypt to collect wild yeast, names limited edition brews after dead blues musicians and continuously hops IPAs for 120 minutes. What an adorable wack job. I might be a little bit in love.
[While this appears to be a picture of my girlfriend, it's actually a picture of the back of Sam's head at the table behind her...]
I've been to Dogfish Head Brewing & Eats Brewpub in Rehoboth twice and to the actual brewery in Milton, DE once. Although both are pretty awesome, I'd check out the brewpub if you had to pick one -- it's a bit more accessible and you get the same amount of hands-on sights and beverage selection, including their full line of spirits. The food at the brewpub definitely lives up to the beer, which is really saying something. And there's always something special on cask.
What to drink? I'm a big fan of their seasonals -- Festina Peche, Aprihop, Punkin Ale, Chicory Stout, etc. I find that they seem to be the most balanced, fresh-tasting and consistently interesting of the batch. Sam can get a little wild with his experimentation and I tend to get lost along the way. But the seasonals are 100% worth it every time.
The first craft beer I remember consuming was a Festina Peche. Maybe that's why I hold the little delicate Summer Berliner Weissbier so dear to my heart. Maybe its the juicy peachiness that first fills your mouth, or the tart, fruity zing that lingers on the back of the palate, or even its light, saison-like champagney mouth feel. Either way, I knew from that first sip that this was unlike any other "beer" I had ever tried. From that moment forward, I put down my 40oz of Ballantine, purchased a mini-fridge off Craigslist and scoured the Brooklyn streets for more. And six years later, I'm still drinking it.
So, beerded fellows, visit Delaware, hit the outlets and finish your day with some good eats and inventive brewing ala Sam.