Saturday, 5 March 2016

DRINKING NOTES FROM A BIG COUNTRY (PART 5) - DENVER DECEMBER 2015




DRINKING NOTES FROM A BIG COUNTRY (PART 5)

 

Mile High City

Last stop on the December 2015 US tour was Denver Colorado. Nicknamed the Mile High City this place was probably the stop I was most looking forward to on my tour of the US. With a reputation for a cracking craft beer scene, I didn't need to look too hard to find some places I was excited about checking out. So with just one night to explore, a fist full of dollars and my drinking boots on I set out for my one man pub crawl!

For a December night at one mile altitude in the northern states the weather was incredibly mild. Only a week beforehand I had walked through Central Park in New York with it feeling more like Autumn than Winter and here I was again needed little more than a thin jacket to stave off the evening chill. As such I decided to walk the mile or so to the first pub and walked past a conference centre with a rather interesting display outside...

Readers of past blogs may understand my excitement about finding this guy!

 

I Remember When I Found out About Chemistry

First stop of the crawl was Euclid Hall. This trendy and very busy establishment had one of the most interesting ways of dividing the enormous beer selection I've ever seen. Standard approaches might categorise beers by price, style, origin or depth of colour but this place divided them by complexity! What's better is the names of the categories ranging from Arithmetic (The low alcohol, sessionable easy drinking styles), to Algebra (slightly more complex styles), to Geometry, Trigonometry, Calculus and their most complex range - Quantum Mechanics!

I instantly fell in love with the place and it's ingenious system of beer listing. It did mean if you just fancied a rather bland lager then it was easy to pick and if you happened to be in the mood for an Imperial Stout brewed with Cacao and space yeast you knew which page on the menu to turn to!

I decided to start the night simple with a Kolsh and headed off shortly after. This place just got too busy for a solo session.
 
 

It Does What It Say's on the Tin

Second stop was a place called Freshcraft and it really did live up to it's name. They had some great music on (ranging from Bob Dylan to Modest Mouse) and a great selection of craft beer. I was peckish by this point so I also tucked into some tasty mac'n'cheese (I can't say this without doing a ridiculous American accent!). I tried a collaboration brew between Freshcraft and SKA brewing, a double IPA, perhaps somewhat obviously dubbed 'FreSKA'. This was a great beer and the intense hoppy nature was balanced well with the malt backbone and cut through the grease of the bacon topped mac and cheese perfectly.

I also tried a couple of fruity twists on some classics - these being Modus Mandarina by SKA brewing (using mandarins of course) and a twist on one of my favourite beers - Ballast Point, Skulpin 'grapefruit' IPA. I passed on trying a beer called IBS, for some reason it didn't appeal and I wasn't sure if they named it that just for shits and giggles...

 The Mandarina was great but the prize for the punch in the mouth of citrus goes to...

 

Nine Hundred and Ninety Nine Beers on the Wall, One Hundred and Ninety Nine Beers...

 
Next stop on the tour was the Falling Rock Tap House. With dozens of taps including hand pull beer engines serving up local cask ale I couldn't resist but stay for a couple. I tried the Local brewery Great Divide's noble efforts in the Titan IPA and the Hibernation. Both excellent and what I'd come to expect in terms of quality from American craft beer.

I didn't bother counting the number of bottles on the walls but if this place ever has an earthquake it's going to be a messy day in the office!

   I'll Have Mine with Extra Vampire Repellent!

Last stop on the tour (by this time I was peckish) was Mario's Two Fisted Pizza Place. There are not many light night Pizza joints which serve craft beer whilst you wait and have a live music lounge next door with leather trench coat clad aged rockers who seem to have happily traded their bus passes and false teeth for a shot at the Karaoke big time! And to kick it off I loved the description of garlic on the menu. How this place managed to cram 'Dive Bar', 'Pizza Joint' and 'Craft Beer' under one Karaoke rocking banner. Some how this place managed it and it was a top spot to finish the night.

Just had to tip. Just had to!

 

Shipping Out

Overall I was so pleased to have had the chance at a brief tour round Denver's beer scene but felt like I barely scratched the surface. I'm already thinking about good reasons to justify a return visit! I loved driving round with the mountains on the horizon and a generally cool use of open urban spaces which I love to see. On my way out I spotted these guys which struck me as a novel use of old shipping containers and brightened up the place to boot.


 

Saturday, 27 February 2016

DRINKING NOTES FROM A BIG COUNTRY (PART 4) - PITTSBURGH DECEMBER 2015




DRINKING NOTES FROM A BIG COUNTRY (PART 4)

 

The Steel City

It's taken me a while to post this I know, but a return to Pittsburgh this week has propmpted me to pick up where I left off last year with the tale of my first trip, just before Christmas break and the interuption to my blogging routine...

Following on from the weekend in New York I headed alone to Pittsburgh to continue the business trip business. As ever I spent what little free time I had hunting down some craft beer.

Prior to travelling I was chatting with my dad about the plans and the blog and he was adimant that there was nothing to look forward to in Pittsburgh. Having travelled here about a decade ago he seemed still bitter at the lack of availability of beer, let alone good beer, and with various repeated quotes of "Buy beer? But it's a Sunday" or "Sorry, it's after 10pm" I decided it was my mission to prove him wrong. If I can hunt out a pint in the middle east then I was confident I could find a vibrant craft beer vibe in Pittsburgh even if I was only planning to be there for two days.


Kindred Spirits

On the first morning in Williamsburg, outside of Pittsburgh, I had similar issues to the other small town I'd been to in the states (Beaumont) in finding a cab driver to pick me up from the hotel and take me to what passed as a workplace for the day. Eventually one arrived, a most friendly chap by the name of Keith. Given the seemingly overwhelming shortage of adequate transportation options to hand, I was keen to keep hold of Keith as a primary means of getting about as I had quite a bit of distance to cover and wasn't keen on hiring a car (all that driving on the wrong side of the road business...). So over the various trips and the course of two days and nights I spent many an hour chatting to him. This semi-professional musician-come-taxi-driver had fallen on hard times and was trying to break back into a once successful music career. He was forever keen to share his story and his music with me on the ride, which was extreemly technical and he was clearly gifted, although his jazzy-techno-pop style productions weren't quite to my taste.

Over the two days I knew him, Keith shared stories of the various highs and lows that had befallen him and I enjoyed the conversations we shared with many a roaring laugh. A road warrior with a nomadic soul much like myself, I admired him for his incredible up beat attitude in the face of the hard times he was facing. "You gotta work hard" he'd say, "because nothing comes to dreamers but a dream" and "If it's not working, you gotta try something new", "Ya know, most people don't evolve they revolve, just trying the same thing over and over". Keith earned enourmous respect from me and an generous tip for his efforts over the two days which hopefully helped him have a good Christmas.

On the second night in Pittsburgh I had the night free and headed to town. Naturally, Keith was giving me a ride in but suggested, since we had time, that we take a minor detour to Mount Washington for a view of the city. How could I refuse?



 

The Rust City

It's unusual for the various factories I visit to be sited in particularly picturesque parts of the world but the factory I visited outside Pittsburgh took the biscuit for being in one of the most depressing looking locations. Leaving Pittsburgh and driving through the suburbs I appeared to pass from 'Shining City' through 'Quaint Americana' then past 'Run Down Suburbia' and finally into 'Post Apocalyptic Hollywood Set'!

The city itself is famous for the incredible number of bridges it sports (apparently 446!), unfortunately, like the steel industry which once bolstered this city and the population of it's outskirts, most of these bridges are falling into decline.

Difficult to get a good shot of the bridges from a moving car...
 

Fatheads

Thankfully I did have one night free to explore Pittsburgh's craft beer scene and, as ever, a little research on the internet beforehand gave my a fighting chance of discovering a decent beer scene on my journey and I even stumbled across a blog dedicated specifically to craft beer in Pittsburgh. Run by Jason Cercone, Breakingbrews.com covers all sorts of beer news from around Pittsburgh. There's even a podcast which I found very enjoyable to listen to in those days in Saudi Arabia prior to the trip, dreaming of beer to come.

I arranged to meet Jason in Fatheads bar in Pittsburgh. I was pretty excited about the prospect of their home made beer (although brewed off site) and to try one of the 'headwiches' (a sandwich as big as your head, ofcourse!). I'm not sure whether it was having recently come from Texas or just the anticipation I'd built up salivating whilst perusing the incredible selection of options, but I was a touch dissapointed when the sandwich arrived. I went for a pulled pork effort and whilst I by no means could have fit it in my mouth or even hold it single handed, I was expecting it to be a touch bigger.

The beer, however, more than made up for it and I spent the night chatting to Jason and Angelica from breakingbrews.com. The couple were extreemly friendly and it was nice to see how the beer scene in Pittsburgh and the surrounding area was bringing in an income for them.

Jason was kind enough to take me for a pint after in Piper's Pub. This self styled 'English Pub' even had beer on cask. It also had a great selection of interesting tap handles on display.

A most American tap handle.
 

Bridges and Headwiches

Overall I found Pittsburgh a great stop on my tour, full of friendly people and some great beer! Sat here again now finishing off this post I can honestly say I'm glad to be back and am looking forward to another Headwich and a pint of Fathead's Headhunter IPA with it's hints of stone fruits and heavy lingering bitterness.

A Headwhich and a Headhunter for me!
 


 



Friday, 8 January 2016

DRINKING NOTES FROM A BIG COUNTRY (PART 3) - NEW YORK AND BROOKLYN DECEMBER 2015




DRINKING NOTES FROM A BIG COUNTRY (PART 3)

 

A Morning at Meatpacking

On day two of the New York tour Laura and began in the morning by heading down to Chelsea Market, in the meatpacking district. This trendy indoor market has arisen in the bones of an old biscuit factory. With many remaining features of the original industrial interior still firmly in place, it gives the impression that some of the pipework and machinery was just more hassle than it was worth to remove. Strangely this gives the place a unique character and 'modern-post-industrial-retro' feel (if such a thing exists, if it didn't it does now).

We had breakfast amongst the scrap metal with some incredible pancakes from Sarabeth's bakery and felt set up for the day before heading off to explore the rest of the market.


A view into the bakery from the main corridor with redundant pipework adding a character I struggled to capture in just one photo.

 

The High Life

After a spot of Christmas shopping we continued the theme of rejuvenated industrial assets by heading off in search of The High Line Park. The High Line is a park built on an elevated section of a disused New York Central Railroad. The park extends for a mile and a half and offers a great elevated view of the city. I loved the idea behind this park. As with the market it showed that new life can be brought to old, run down industrial eye sores without knocking them down and starting again. We walked the full length of the park on what felt more like a Spring day than Winter and loved every minute of it.

Mud not blood on the tracks - First elevated to avoid pedestrian collisions, now boot leather is the only way to travel this line.


The High Line offers some great views from above street level

A Bridge to Brooklyn

After the thirsty work of walking a mile and a half we made our way to Brooklyn to visit the Brooklyn Brewery and have a wander around the area. The North side of Brooklyn has supposedly undergone a rise in popularity. It seemed like a cool but sleepy place on a sunny Sunday afternoon and was we enjoyed some great street art and a fantastic view of Manhattan.

Manhattan from Brooklyn

A Piss Up in a Brewery

The main reason for heading to Brooklyn was to check out the Brooklyn Brewery. Their Brooklyn Lager is probably one of the most famously exported craft beers from the states and I was keen to see the brewery and taste some of their less widely available efforts. We were not disappointed! The brewery was open for tours and tastings and there was a busy tasting room with a great selection on draft and regular small group brewery tours.

The tasting room operated the usual token system with some of the rarer or stronger beers requiring two tokens to buy which made them a bit pricey by comparison but the whole experience was great. We went on a brewery tour and were shown around both the brewery itself and the bottling line by a very friendly but very hung-over member of staff. Apparently it had been the Brooklyn Brewery Christmas party the night before and if anyone knows how to organise a piss up I suspect it is this lot!

The tour was funny, informative and had a good balance of brewery history, science and some well rehearsed gags. The whole tour lasted about half an hour and I think the guys showing us round were glad they'd done it a number of times before as they managed to sail through it in auto-pilot. I'd say without breaking a sweat but the poor lad giving the tour was dripping by the end of it. Those post epic session beer sweats sure are a killer! After enjoying the tour we headed back to the tasting room to work on the following day's hangover.

Where the magic happens

Tasting room. We may have had more than just a taste.

Ooh Mammy!

After the brewery it was time for a bite to eat. Whilst wandering around we stumbled across Umami Burger. This place had craft beer and with a name like Umami, just cried out 'Gourmet Burgers'. The burgers were fantastic, the staff were the friendliest we met anywhere in New York and we had a couple of pints of Sculpin IPA by Ballast Point Brewery. This is a beer I've had a few times in tins and is an excellent  modern American IPA and the draft version did not disappoint.
 


Just off shot the maple bacon sweet potato fries... Ooh Mammy!


The saddest thing about Umami Burger was that we shared a burger between two as we really wanted to head to another place we'd heard about which turned out to have food which was nowhere near as good as Umami.

I won't mention the place we went to but we had slow roasted pork (service took so long I did wonder if they failed to prepare it in advance!) the rest of the dish was cold.

Not sure how it was possible to ruin such a great looking dish

Best thing about this spot was the communal benches which always makes me think of German Beer halls and allows for easy meeting of neighbours and encourages hearty quaffing of beer and slapping of leather clad thighs. In this case it didn't seem to boost the atmosphere and just as we were planning on leaving the bloke sat next to us actually apologised for making too much noise. I didn't have the heart to tell him that not only had we not even noticed his presence up until that point but that his general bar presence was about on par with the coat rack. We were, of course, polite but giggled about this on the way home.

Something else we giggled about on the way home

Blinded by the Lights

After our outing in Brooklyn we headed back to Manhattan and jumped off the subway at Times Square. This most famous of intersections is often referred to as 'The Cross Roads of the World' apparently... I must admit I just didn't get it.


Times Square 5th December 2015

We later went on to check off a few other touristy glitz by heading to the Rockerfeller Centre to see the tree, the Christmas glitz and the ice skaters. 

Giant balls at the Rockerfeller Centre

St. Patricks Cathedral

One For The Road

A final pint in Rattle and Hum, a great little rock bar with plenty of craft on tap, and we were ready for a stagger back to the hotel. I had a dogfish head 90 minute IPA. Not a local brew but a fantastic drop I'd been looking forward to trying ever since reading about the history of Dogfish Head Brewery which went some way to inspiring me to start this blog!

One more cup of IPA for the road

 

They Won't See us Waving from Such Great Heights

The last morning in New York was a bit of a rush but we swiftly rushed to see the 911 memorial and the relatively new One World building which now stands on the site. At 561m tall it is the tallest skyscraper in the western hemisphere and the 6th tallest in the world. The view from the top was stunning and after a very brief trot around the observation deck we rushed back to the hotel to pack and head to our separate airports (I flew on to Pittsburgh from Newark airport and Laura flew back tot he UK from JFK.) Both our taxi's got us there in time and, deservingly, got a nice tip.

I was actually in good time for my flight until the security decided they had detected explosives in my laptop and after a rather impolite interview with the police and explosives experts I persuaded them that despite the engineering background, the job in the chemical industry and having spent significant amounts of time in the middle east I was, in fact, not a terrorist! A fairly intimidating experience but one to laugh about afterwards. Thankfully they didn't resort to a cavity search! 


Couldn't stick around to finish watching the sunset. But it was a sublime sight from what we saw.

 

Next Up...

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Thanks for bearing with me! Christmas has meant that most of this blogging is catch up.