Beerded Ladies

water + hops + malt + yeast + blog

This website is devoted to craft beer reviews, sudsy events, brewery tourism, stunning beertography, bad puns, offbeat beer pairings, dispatches from behind the bar and general beverage snobbery where we can apply terms like "biscuity" and talk about hop profiles.

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Filtering by Tag: Beer Tourism

Brewse Cruise: Maine Squeeze

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...).

Brewse Cruise

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.

A family toast featuring bother Billy.

A family toast featuring bother Billy.

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.

The brewery grounds.

The brewery grounds.

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 brewhouse.

The brewhouse.

The pilot system.

The pilot system.

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.

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 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.

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Brewse Cruise

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.

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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!

Brewing up some PA goodness in the backroom!

Brewing up some PA goodness in the backroom!

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.

Ron Barchet gives us a detailed tour of Victory's brewhouse.

Ron Barchet gives us a detailed tour of Victory's brewhouse.

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.

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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!

50 States of Beer: Florida

Jai Alai IPA, Cigar City Brewing Company 

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Flor-i-dah! I almost for-got yah!

Ah, the Sunshine state. Who doesn't love a good trip to Disney World? A rousing visit to see the grandparents? An airboat journey through the Everglades, where a quietly stern man named Bubba propells you and your drunk family through the alligator-infested waters. Oh that's just me? Okay, okay. On to the beer!

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The Brewery

If I had to review a Florida beer, it'd better be a Cigar City brew. Lucky for me, I was able to acquire a few cans through online craft beer outlet LetsPour. The stuff has gotten quite a reputation amongst the geekiest of beer geeks, and I was ready to dive in.

The award-winning Tampa Bay brewery was founded by Joey Redner (son of infamous Tampa "Strip Club King" Joe Redner... but that's another story) and began operating in 2009. In a 2010 CraftBeer.com article, Redner describes his local boy brewing dreams and tells the story behind the brand's peculiar name.

Back when my dream was still just a dream, I concluded that my hometown of Tampa hadn’t always done the best job exporting its unique history and culture. I wanted to educate people about the town I loved as much as I grew to love craft beer. I made up my mind that spreading the word about Tampa and its Cuban-American heritage and its past as the world’s leading producer of cigars would be an integral part of what I’d do at Cigar City Brewing.

Redder sure poured all that love and pride into his beer.  Today, Cigar City occupies a 15 barrel brewhouse in a 6,600 square foot warehouse space in Tampa's Carver City-Lincoln Gardens neighborhood. In addition to their production facility, Cigar City offers brewery tours and runs a tasting room where thirsty visitors can pick up a pint or grab a growler filled with one of their many styles. There's like twenty different beers! And that's not even counting one-offs! Unreal.

 

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The Beer

The Jai Alai IPA is one of Cigar City's flagship brews. The citrusy IPA is named after the great Spanish sport of Jai Alai, in which somebody has this plastic sicle thing and they kind of play a high speed game of catch with it, or something like that. My Trinidadian grandmother loves watching it and other old people love betting on it from little rooms perched above the court. Either way, the sport's namesake beer is goddamn delicious.

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Pouring a foggy honey orange with a creamy, frothy head, the Jai Alai is all tropical and citrus on the nose. This stuff is super juicy -- pineapple, mango, passionfruit, awesome. But don't be fooled by the fruit -- at 7.5% ABV and 70 IBUs, this is no casual beach sipper. It comes in juicy on the palate, too, with a burst of grapefruit hoppiness giving way to sweet malt. The finish is smooth and the hops stay fresh and juicy throughout -- no pine or resin on the back of the palate, which is exactly how I like it. If all IPAs could taste like the Jai Alai, I'd die happy. And drunk. And obese.

Moral of the Florida story: grab a can of Jai Alai IPA, bet on some Jai Alai with my grandmother and enjoy Cigar City's incredibly diverse line of delicious craft beers. 

Next up is Georgia! Because that's the way the alphabet goes! Hurray!