Roeg's Picks for 2014

So I haven't actually "Blogged" in a while, although I had every intention of catching up.  But that hasn't stopped me from actually trying new beers (actually the number of beers and trips has made it hard to keep up with blogging).  So I wanted to take a moment and acknowledge my favorites from 2014.  Here it goes:
Best Brewery
  • Cigar City, Tampa, FL: Great time with my beautiful wife.  Nothing better than that, including the beer.
  • Brew Dog, Scotland: How many of these great taprooms could I visit in a week? Not enough.
  • Hill Farmstead, Greensboro Bend, VT: Where else would someone drive 5 hours (each way) to stand 2 hours in line for growler fills? 
Best Brewpub
  • Portsmouth Brewery, Portsmouth, NH: Been visiting for 23 years, and I'm not stopping now.  Nothing better than nachos with an Old Brown Dog (unless its their Really Old Brown Dog).
  • Peekskill Brewing, Peekskill, NY: Rate beer said it was New York's best, and I would have to agree.
  • Bluejacket, Washington, DC: Hang out for 4 hours to sample over a dozen beers? How awesome is that!?!

Best Tap House
  • Spring House Taproom, Lancaster, PA: No better place to hang out and chat.
  • 7venth Sun, Dunedin, FL: If I wasn't on my own over committed schedule, I would have spent the day here.
  • Green Bench Brewing, St. Petersburg, FL: A great place to stop off after the game.
Best Regional Bar

  • Prohibition Pig, Waterbury, VT: Best place to stop for bar-b-que and all the great VT beers.
  • Cajun Café, Pinellas Park, FL: What a surprise! Great food and the latest selections from the western FL beer scene.
  • Great Lost Bear, Portland, ME: A must stop for food, cask beers and Allagash row.
Best English Pub
  • The Baum, Rochdale, UK: CAMRA's pub of the year, the only reason I didn't stop at another Brew Dog pub.
  • Devonshire Cat, Sheffield, UK: Only a short train ride from Derby, it was a hopping spot when I visited.
  • Victoria House, Beeston, UK: Huge menu, friendly people, and great beers.

Best Belgian Café
  • Monk’s Café, Philadelphia, PA: World famous place to get mussels and unique beers.  I love their tie to Russian River Brewing.
  • Teresa’s Café, Wayne, PA: New to Draft magazine's top 100 list, it was a great place to stop in with family.
  • Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, PA: With or without the tour, this place is great.

Best German Bier Hall
  • Bier Garden, Portsmouth, VA: A great hole in the wall, you could hear them freshly beating the chicken schnitzel in the kitchen.
  • Brauhaus Schmitz, Philadelphia, PA: Classic downtown Philly hotspot.
  • Wolf’s Biergarten, Albany, NY: Family favorite for brunch or dinner.

Best Gastropub
  • The Jeffrey, NYC, NY: A gastropub named after me, try the house made beef jerky.
  • The Birch Bar, Norfolk, VA: Great food items with a rare bottle club that patrons could come and share.
  • Peg’s Cantina, Gulfport, FL: Romantic location with phenomenal food.

Best Sports Bar
  • The Ruck, Troy, NY: Good food and great beer, with lots of TVs to watch whatever is on.
  • Fathead’s Pittsburgh, PA: Great Pittsburgh fans that welcome a visitor in a Flyers jersey.  What? I hate the Capitals too!
  • World of Beer, Albany, NY: Many locations and tons of sports.

 Best Multi-Tap Bar
  • Red Light, Red Light, Orlando, FL: Great taps.
  • Sunset Grill, Allston, MA: Great taps.
  • Church Key, Washington, DC: Great taps.

Best Bar for Bottle Selection
  • D’s Six Packs and Dogs, Swissvale, PA: Go get a Chicago Dog and a six pack for the hotel room.
  • Beer Run, Charlottesville, VA: Great place for breakfast, as well as looking for great VA beers, including 3 Brothers Resolute.
  • Madison Pourhouse, Albany, NY: Good draft selection, plus hard to finds beers such as Founders KBS.

Best Bottle Shop
  • Pinocchio’s Beer Garden, Media, PA: Always finding something new, with a pint of beer in my hand.
  • Oliver’s Beverage, Albany, NY: Great place to kill an hour as I peruse the choices.
  • The Beer Store, Southampton, PA: A bar to hangout at, letting you to stretch your legs as you look at the bottles.

Best Mail Order Beer
  • 20 West Wine & Spirits: Great selection of the Midwest favorites, including Three Floyds Zombie Dust.
  • Quality Liquor Store: West coast selection are outstanding.  I particularly enjoyed the Cascade Apricot.
  • Best Damn Beer Store: Epic's Big Bad Baptist and Cascade's Noyaux and Sang Royal.

Best Beer Event
  • Extreme Beer Festival, March 22nd, Boston, MA: By far the best beer festival to find "hard to find" beers. 
  • Friday the Firkinteenth #29, Philadelphia, PA: A personal tradition, 3 separate opportunities in 2015.
  • Russian River Event #7, March 10th, Monk’s Café, Philadelphia, PA: What could be better than Pliny the Younger for charity?  I'm a giver!

Best Local Bar
  • Ruck, Troy, NY: Best food, best sports and a great selection of beer.
  • Bier Abbey, Schenectady, NY: Close to work and home, my favorite place to pop in for a taster.
  • Madison Pourhouse, Albany, NY: Personable service and a great selection of top notch bottles.

It was a great year.  I can't wait to see what 2015 has to offer. - 17005


Having a Vermont Fantasy

My buddies and I have different kind of Fantasy Football League, 2 teams each where one team is essentially the backup squad.  It allows for everyone to have a ton of players each week, and gives us an excuse to chat during games.  What makes the league extra special is the fact that my son participates, and he loves sticking it to each of us during the year.  Last year we met at Amherst Brewing and had a great time.  This year we chose a VT destination, followed by excursion around the state as time permits.  So with Jacob as the road DJ, we picked up Christopher and headed across the Green Mountains (behind some very safe under the speed limit VT drivers) to the Harpoon Brewing (http://www.harpoonbrewery.com/breweries/windsor).

Harpoon may be Christopher’s favorite brewery, and it is located in a beautiful location along the CT River.  We got set up, ordered our food and got right to business.  I got the poutine (Christine would be so proud) to share, and Jacob got his chicken fingers w/fries.  Oh yeah, the beer came in 6oz samples, so we had the whole draft to sample.  They had the newest 100 Barrel series was Cambridge Uncommon, a pale ale brewed with Czech malts.  The seasonals were tasty; Maple Tap Imperial Porter, Imperial Pumpkin and Gingerbread Hefeweizen.  My favorite though was the Boston Irish Stout on nitro; a dry stout that was perfect for sipping.  This year in my draft I got great RBs and TEs, decent WRs and the leftovers for QB.  Oh well, we’ll have to see how that pans out.  We finished quickly (no messing around with this group), so we headed north to grab more food (and beer) at the Three Penny Taproom.

The Three Penny is the best beer bar in Montpelier, and a perfect place to hang out and catch up on events.  I got the cheese plate (awesome choice), while the guys split a smoked trout pate and a kimchi pizza (delicious).  As always, the beer selection was fantastic.  I got the Lawson’s Finest Super Session IPA, their third batch with Sorachi Ace hops.  They have a limited, but rare, bottle selection, but since the drafts are so good and you can’t buy the bottles to go, I had to pass.  We still had a stop or two to make, but Chris had to shove off, so we said goodbye and started our way back home (with a few additional stops).

I would have loved to go to Hop Jam, a Beer Focused Music Event being held near Waterbury, if I was flying solo, but that would have been too much for the day.  Instead we stopped at the best beer corner in the Northeast, Route 2 and Stowe St, to sample some more brews.  So we stopped at the Reservoir (http://www.waterburyreservoir.com/), bumped into some Eagle fans (they’re everywhere), and sat back to kibitz.  I was stoked to find Hill Farmstead’s Earl, an Oatmeal Stout brewed with coffee that was delicious (no more IPAs, I’m ready for some maltier).  Next we strolled across the street to the Blackback Pub, and got to do a bit of a taste test.  The Queen City Yorkshire Porter was perfect, while Amager’s Rye Porter was robust, but so chewy.  Finally, we stepped down the street to the Prohibition Pig, hoping to grab some of their excellent Bar-B-Que for dinner.  Alas, there was a ½ hour wait, so while we decided what to do I sampled their Back to the Grind Coffee Stout (a little upper with the downer).  Instead, we headed over to Ben & Jerry’s and enjoyed a large amount of ice cream for the ride home.

We headed back, stopping at Fiddleheads to see if they had anything new on draft.  The place was packed so we had to park across the street at the Shelburne Vineyard (not to tempt the wives too much), and the pizza smelled great (but we were now on schedule to get home), but they had nothing new on tap.  No worries, they had their Mastermind Double IPA in cans so I could take home and enjoy later. We made it home the hard way thanks to Garmin.  Jacob and I had a ball, now let’s get the season started! - 16352
“You are much more likely to make your man a sound drunkard by pressing drink on him as an anodyne when he is dull and weary than by encouraging him to use it as a means of merriment among his friends when he is happy and expansive. - Screwtape


Everywhere but Waterbury

The VT Brew festival is this weekend, and I had been shut out from getting tickets when they originally went on sale.  So instead, I took Thursday off for a road trip, planning a visit to some of the other great beer spots in the state besides Waterbury.  So I picked Hill Farmstead (or HF, one of the most respected breweries in the world) (http://www.hillfarmstead.com/) as my destination and planned many stops along the way, fed Carlos (hang in there boy, it might be a long day) and got on the road around 6AM for my adventure.

I had chosen Thursday to get a shot of getting some bottles of Lawson’s Finest Liquids (LFL) (http://www.lawsonsfinest.com/) at the Warren General store.  Garmin took me on a new route (at least for me) over Route 73, a beautiful ride that offered great vistas of the mountains, rivers and lakes that was just spectacular.  I made it to Warren by 9AM, and was rewarded with bottles of Super Session IPA and Vermont Spruce Tip IPA.  The sales limit was a total of 3 bottles for each customer, so it really pays to bring a wingman along with you on these trips.  I stopped by Mad Taco in Waitsfield, but apparently it only opens early on the weekends.  So I headed up to my next destination, Montpelier.

It was still early, so I went beer shopping.  I found a 4-pack of Heady Topper (their limit per customer) at the Montpelier Discount Beverage store, and bottles of Grassroots Arctic Saison and Arctic Soiree at the Hunger Mountain Coop.  I also got some delicious homemade corned beef hash at the Coffee Corner (again, Mad Taco wasn’t open yet).  But I was waiting for Three Penny Taproom (http://www.threepennytaproom.com/), a Draft magazine top beer bar for the past 4 years, and I was rewarded for the wait.  First I was able to try HF’s Walden, an American Blonde ale that was a great start to my actual beer drinking for the day.  Next was LFL’s Sip of Sunshine, a collaboration with Two Roads from CT, with a 98 rating on Beer Advocate and their beer-du-jour for the VT Brewer’s Festival.  A great stop, but I had to run to make it to my primary destination on time.

HF is one of the world’s great breweries, with 15 of the top 250 beers on Beer Advocate’s listing.  But they are located almost an hour north of Montpelier, and if you aren’t staining overnight in the area it really makes for a long trip.  I got there when they opened and was about 25th in line.  That equated to almost a two hour wait (disappointing), but the people were nice (I even saw several from the Warren store earlier in the morning), and they allowed you to buy samples for those waiting. Why did it take so long? Growler fills, 3 per person in line.  Oh well, their lineup was amazing.  My growlers all rated 100s on Beer Advocate; Abner, Society and Solitude #4, and Susan.  I was also able to sample HF Nordic Saison, Edward, and Everett and Grassroots Legitimacy IPA. As a bonus I picked up the Nordic Saison and Peleg in bottles.  A great stop, but I was getting hungry and it was getting late, so I headed over to a new brewpub in Morrisville that everyone told me I had to stop at.

The Lost Nation (http://lostnationbrewing.com/) in Morristown was right on my route home (well, sort of) and offered a great pitstop.  It has an indoor taproom and an outdoor Biergarten.  Sid hi to a group that I had met at Warrens first thing in the morning, and went to get some food.  They offered mussels steamed in their Gose beer to go along their sampler.  Their Gose is by far my favorite beer of theirs, but their Three Penny (presumably a connection to Three Penny Taproom) Lost Galaxy White IPA was good too.  I ate and ran, but on my way out of town I went past the Rock Art (http://www.rockartbrewery.com/) tasting room.  Since I’m not one who typically squanders an opportunity, I made a power u-turn on Rt. 100 and stopped in.  I bumped into a few folks from HF there too (us beer geeks get around) and chatted while I enjoyed my sampler.  My favorite was their Apricot Saison, although their A River Runs Gruit was a novel beer too (no hops, just other herbs).  But it was now later, and I had one more stop to make before I got back to NY.

Fiddleheads (http://www.fiddleheadbrewing.com/) in Shelburne is a relatively new brewery located adjacent to a pizza parlor (it smelled awesome).  I had hoped to score either of their most sought after brews in cans (aka the Heady Topper method); their Imperial IPA Second Fiddle or their Coconut Porter Hodad.  Alas, the release of their latest batch was being delayed until Saturday to sate the VT Brewer’s Festival crowds.  No worries, I got to try their Arts Riot Kolsch and bring home a medicine bottle growler of Brett on the Dance Floor.  The place was right next to the VT Teddy Bear Factory, so perhaps I can figure out way to turn a family outing into a return trip.  I made it home safe and sound with a thankful Carlos (Daddy, what took you so long.  Well Carlos it was that damn line at HF.), and a lot of souvenirs.

With a trip that took almost 13 hours and covered roughly 400 miles, this may seem a bit excessive to some folks.  But since I got to add 31 new beers to my tally (including 19 bottles to enjoy at home), a beautiful day away from work and the opportunity to make some new beer friends, it was well worth it to me.  I missed an opportunity to hook up with my friend Josh, and a few folks from work let me know to count them in on my next trip, so I can’t wait until my next journey.  Burlington anyone? - 16118
“Let us drink for the replenishment of our strength, not for our sorrow.” – Cicero


Drinking with the Mouse

The second half of our trip was all centered around my conference in Orlando.  We checked into the hotel and the conference, and in the pouring rain (and a pretty nasty fall) we headed over to the House of Beer (http://www.hobflorida.com/) to see what they had to offer.  A great draft list, and some bottles, but since we were pretty hot we decided to get something to slake our thirst.  A Schofferhofer Grapefruit Hefe-Weizen on draft was perfect, a 2.5% thirst quencher that seemed to be made for the heat of FL.  The next day we were headed over to Epcot, so we grabbed some seafood close to the hotel and made a early evening of it.

My conference was at the Swan & Dolphin, next to Epcot, and the schedule had me attending a session only at 5:30 PM.  So Jenn and I had the day to ourselves, and Epcot is one of our favorites.  The Soaring ride (an opportunity to “fly” down the coast of CA) is the biggest attraction, but this more grown-up themed amusement park features great food and drinks around the World Showcase.  Since I had to be coherent at the end of the day, I couldn’t follow one of the drinking guides (http://www.disneydining.com/drinking-around-world-showcase-guide/).  But no worries, the showcase is about meeting people from the countries represented, eating, and drinking.  Canada is probably best represented with Unibroue, but we started off with France, getting a quiche and cheese plate to go with Jenn’s dessert and my Kronenburg 1664.  Morocco offered Strawberry Daiquiris and Estrella Damm Barcelona.  Japan had the drum show, Pokemon cards, and a frozen Kirin beer (ice cold Kirin with frozen beer foam floated on top, did I say it was hot?).  The US had a Napa Smith Hoppagedon Imperial IPA waiting for me, and Germany had a Riesling for Jenn.  Dinner was in Mexico, where the passion fruit margarita and the tacos de carne were to die for.  I made my session, rode a view rides, and enjoyed watching their Illuminations fireworks show.  It was a great day, but now the real business began and my fun was going to be limited to the evenings.

Wednesday was lectures and a down day for Jenn.  I picked her up at the Outlets, well actually at Dick’s Last Resort where we enjoyed a Sam Adams Rebel IPA while showing off my beer book (some people are really too interested).  We went to Margaritaville at Universal City Walk, getting over the $17 for 2 hours of parking shock, and enjoyed the visit.  I got a Volcano burger with a margarita sampler (more tequila on this trip than I’m used to).  I had to do it, since the margaritas had great names like “Last Mango n Paris,” “Who’s to Blame,” and “Fins to the Left.”  I next took Jenn to Redlight Redlight, the premier beer bar in Orlando that has been on Draft magazine’s top 100 Beer Bar list for the past 4 years.  This is my kind bar, sipping on local beers while listening to Judas Priest.  Our waitress Christine told me that they don’t offer samplers, but they did offer1/2 pours, so I was able to try a few.  I started with a Funky Buddha Hop Gun IPA and a Due South Category 5 IPA, 2 great beers from 2 breweries that I first visited at the Extreme Beer Festival last March.  Next was a pair from Swamp Head, Dark Water Black IPA and Saison Du Swamp.  Finally, I tried their own brew Columbus Gold on cask.  I appreciated the effort, but they still need to work on it.

Jenn went to Sea World on Thursday seeing baby dolphins, sea turtles and penguins, while I had a full day at the conference.  I stopped by Big River Grill and BJs Brewpub (http://www.bjsbrewhouse.com/), but didn’t find much.  Jenn and I went to dinner at Cricketers (http://cricketersorlando.com/), my favorite British pub in the area.  Ever since Jenn had gone to the UK with me, she’s been a sucker for Chicken Tikka Masala while I’m a big fan of Shepherd’s Pie.  Both were excellent, and the Tennents (my father-in-law’s favorite beer) was tasty too.  Next we stopped next door at the World of Beer (http://worldofbeer.com/), a great place to relax and hang out (coming to Albany on June 16th).  We sat outside enjoying the house beer, a Bavik C’Est La Vie!, a Belgian Tripel brewed specifically for WOB.  It was a great way to spend our last evening in Orlando.

We wrapped up in the early afternoon, and headed over to lunch at Sea Dog Brewing (http://www.seadogbrewing.com/).  We each tried different version of the clam chowda (mine was better with sweet potatoes and Portuguese sausage), mahi-mahi sandwich, and a beer sampler.  Next we went to swelter at Downtown Disney.  Luckily for me, the House of Blues had beer to go, so I enjoyed a Florida brewing Devil’s Triangle IPA in a plastic cup while I searched for shade between stores.  For dinner (I hate eating at the airport) we went to the Nona Tap Room (https://nonataproom.com/) which offered good food and good beer close to the airport.  I said goodbye to FL with a Cuban sandwich and a Brew Bus Double Decker Porter.  This place also had probably my favorite beer of the week, a passion fruit Berliner Weisse, 5 Rabbit’s 5 Lizards.  I enjoyed this last stop that gave Jenn and I time to reflect on the week, as well as new stories to talk about.

We enjoyed the flight home, watching the Red Sox get revenge on the Rays 3-2 in extra innings (live MLBTV on the plane is AWESOME!) even though that punk David Price plunked Big Papi.  It was great to get away with my beautiful wife.  She spent a lot of time worrying about and shopping for the kids, but we were able to reconnect with her one on one.  A special thanks to my folks for giving us the opportunity to get away together, it surely was a blessing. – 15869
“Yes, sir. I’m a real Southern boy.  I got a red neck, white socks, and Blue Ribbon beer.” – Billy Carter


Sweltering Gulf Coast Beercation

I had a chance to go to FL for a conference, and my folks offered to watch the kids so that the kids could go with me.  So we added a few days over Memorial Day weekend to check out the Tampa area, a place that had famous beer stops as well as some new up-and-coming destinations.  So we had an easy direct flight from Albany, picked up the rental car (a short lived VW Bug, more on that later), and headed up to Dunedin for lunch at the Dunedin Brewpub (http://www.dunedinbrewery.com/).

Dunedin Brewpub has a solid selection of brews, a cool beachcomber vibe, and great food.  Jenn got the fish tacos (a trend that was to last all week) with a Hemp & Orange Wit, while I had nachos with smoked chicken and their 79 Shilling on cask, brewed with vanilla.  It was really hot, so we enjoyed the AC (they do AC really well in the South) and several glasses of water before we headed out to explore around town.  My buddy Jeff had suggested to stop by 7venth Sun Brewing (http://www.7venthsun.com/), a little stop with some fantastic beers.  The folks were cool and informative, talking about other new pubs in the area.  They are known for their Time Bomb Session IPA, a full-flavored, easy drinking IPA that was 4.5% ABV and brewed with Citra and Nelson hops.  Jenn liked their Graffiti Orange Creamsicle Wheat, but my favorite was their Or It Gets the Gose Again, a Cucumber Gose that was perfect on this hot day.  It had a huge nose of cucumber, but almost none on the tongue.  Awesome!

We drove out to Clearwater Beach, seemingly with everyone else in the area.  The traffic was terrible, and instead of fighting to find a spot here we went just a bit south to Sand Key Park.  It was beautiful, but real hot, so I changed into my bathing suit and hopped in to the Gulf.  While it was great to get wet, it still was steaming.  When we got back on the road, the car must have developed an oil leak because the oil light was on solid.  The car rental company had us drive the car 15 miles to the airport to trade it in.  We made it (barely), but we were now out of whack.  Luckily for me we had passed by RateBeer’s best beer restaurant in FL for 2013, Cajun Café on the Bayou (http://cajuncafeonthebayou.com/).  This place was on a creek, reportedly full of turtles and gators, and had great Creole and Cajun cuisine.  They also prided themselves for great local beer, and we were both thirsty.  So Jenn got her Creamsicle beer again (she really did like that one), while I tried a collaboration with Green Bench and 7venth Sun called Second Stage, a deliciously sour Berliner Weisse that was 2.8% ABV.  I loved the selection of fruit beers and sours that were available since they we brimming with flavor, low alcohol, and perfect for thirst quenching on hot days (did I say it was hot?).

I chose a Mexican restaurant in Gulfport for dinner, Peg’s Cantina (http://www.pegscantina.com/), and we had reservations to sit outside in the garden.  The place brews their own beer, and I felt right at home after ordering a sampler to go with our chips and dips (salsa, guac, and creamy chipotle) and my Mahi tacos.  To keep with today’s theme, I loved their Codename Shakefield Berliner Weisse, although their Derailleur Imperial IPA was damn good too.  For Jenn, she got the sangria (awesome!) to go with her Yardbird burrito, essentially a chicken BLT in a wrap.  We were glad we had reservations because the place got packed.  We were enjoying the evening so much, we didn’t even take pity on those waiting for a table.  I got the key lime pie (what else in FL) while Jenn went for the brownie ala mode.  It was the perfect ending for the day, but we needed to get to bed to get ready for the next day.

I had gotten Jenn to the Sox vs. Rays game the next day, and we had high hopes for the day.  The Rays ballpark is cool, with an outdoor pool for some Devil Rays (I always like the old name best).  The people were friendly and the food was good. Unfortunately the Red Sox lost their 10th game in a row, losing 8-5 and having several players ejected from a shoving match.  Jenn had enough at that point, so we walked back to the hotel, stopping at Green Bench (http://greenbenchbrewing.com/), Cycle Brewing, and the World of Beer on the way back.  Green Bench specialized in saisons and IPAs, and both were available in different varieties.  They also offered other folks beers, the most notable was Rapp’s Bacon Smoked Berliner (sour bacon?) that raised a few eyebrows.

Jenn let me pick our dinner stop, so we headed north to Cigar City Brewpub (http://cigarcitybrewpub.com/) to sample their beers and enjoy the food.  They are affiliated with the brewery, but brew their own beers (sort of like Portsmouth and Smuttynose).  My favorite was the Gin and Juice, a beer brewed with juniper berries, but they were all top notch.  Jenn enjoyed her swordfish tacos while I got the Ropa Vieja, a Caribbean flank steak that was so tender it makes my moth water just thinking about it.  I even got a bottle of their Alexander and the Grapes to go, an Imperial IPA brewed with Muscat grapes.  Although the Red Sox let us down today, it was still a lot of fun.

The next day we packed up to head over to Orlando, but I had one more essential stop to make: Cigar City Brewing (http://cigarcitybrewing.com/).  Cigar City is one of the premier breweries in the country, and their range of brews is astounding.  Their taproom is topnotch, offering about 15 different drafts and bottles to go.  Although I love their fruit beers and their barrel aged projects, my favorite today was their Puppy’s Breath Porter, a bold interpretation of the style.  They also offered some cans from the Brew Bus, a group that brew their own and offer tours of FL breweries.  It was a great stop, but our adventure needed to continue, so we thanked the staff and got on the road east.

So ended the vacation part of our FL excursion.  I love the Tampa coast, and besides our car mishap and the Red Sox choking, it was a great trip.  I’d love to come back someday. – 15834
From man’s sweat and God’s love, beer came into the world.” – Saint Arnoldus


Passing the Torch

My friend Jim Mahar announced that he was retiring the other day, bringing to a close a legacy that was known for introducing the Capital region to outstanding craft beer.  In July 2003, a new website called Beer Advocate rated Mahar’s the #1 beer bar in the country.  And no one could argue; their selection and commitment to introducing beer enthusiasts (aka beer geeks) to new brews through their continuing rotation of taps, out-of-state road trips, and unique parties such as their Shebeens.  I tried 6327 beers at Mahar’s over 15 years (over a beer a day for those that like those kinds of stats), finishing up #5 on the all time list (way more than half the number #1 beer drinker, Dave Harding).  Mahar’s was far and away the best bar in town, and depending what you are looking for it was arguably the best beer in the country.  So as I look at the local beer scene, I’d say that the torch has been passed to some outstanding beer bars, each offering something special.  My experiences this past week only proves the point:

·        I met some friends over in Troy for dinner the other night, and stopped into the Ruck to see what they had on draft.  A college bar with great wings, multiple TVs to cover sports, and a great tap selection.  This week I got a collaboration brew between Adirondack and Olde Saratoga on cask, a Chocolate Raspberry Imperial Porter.
·        One of my previous bosses decided I needed some mentoring, so he took me out to lunch to the Bier Abbey in Schenectady.  They have 30 rotating drafts, publish what they have on tap on Facebook, have a great bar staff to go along with a fantastic BLT.  I was able to get a De Struise Pannepot Reserva on draft, #213 on Beer Advocate’s Top 250 list, to go along with some sagely advice.
·        Stopped by Oliver’s Beverage in Albany to see if they had any new special offerings.  The Brew Crew at Oliver’s always bring in the latest stuff that you can get in the area, although the good stuff is typically snatched up pretty quickly.  Today they had bottles of Thirsty Dog Wulver, a bourbon barrel aged wee heavy that was #201 on Beer Advocate’s Top 250 list.  I got a four pack; one to savor, two to give and one to cellar.
·        The Madison Pour House was built in Mahar’s old location, and they really did a fantastic job.  Its very similar to Bier Abbey in terms of beer selection, but it’s second floor allows in a lot of light and the pasties are sure tasty.  I supped on a Harviestoun Olde Engine Oil Zymatore Blend 1 (wonderfully sour) while perusing the limited bottle selection.  Turns out it was limited in number, but strong in quality.  I picked up a bottle of Founder’s KBS (#5 on Beer Advocate’s list and rated a perfect 100) to cellar, and then was told they had a limited number of Bell’s Black Note Stout (#24 on Beer Advocate’s list and also rated 100) for special customers.  Apparently I qualified and got a bottle.
·        Capital City Gastropub is a relatively new location, and I decided to check it out for an evening snack.  My cheese plate was perfect, served with apple butter, to go along with an easy drinking stout, Port City Revival, on draft. Quiet and quaint, this is definitely a place I’ll need to take Jenn one evening.
·        The City Beer Hall is located close to the Times Union Center in downtown Albany, and it is definitely hopping on a Saturday night.  I got a ½ pint of Chatham’s Maple Amber on draft, and decided that this would be the destination for a future outing.

Jim Mahar was a pioneer in offering fine beer, providing insight on what to try based on a person’s palate (what do you normally drink?) as well as sharing his own preferences.  His suggestion to “ask for cask” has become a mantra for many of us, and helped inspire me to seek out new destinations as part of my trips to England.  Good luck on retirement Jim, and I hope that we can still share a pint together (Coniston’s Bluebird Bitter on cask, perhaps) somewhere in the future.  There certainly are plenty of places to meet in the area. – 15658
“I thought of giving it all away, to a registered charity.  All I need is a pint a day.” – Paul McCartney


Colonial Strolling

It may have taken two separate vacations to do it, but we finally were able to hit all of the major attractions in the area (i.e., Yorktown Battlefields, Jamestown Settlement, Busch Gardens, etc.).  But there was only one place that we made sure we visited both trips (and no, the Outlets don’t count) and that would be Colonial Williamsburg.  I love a special few downtown shops, and strolling along Duke of Gloucester Street, whether you’ve paid to explore the exhibits and talk to Colonial folks in full garb or not.  So for our last full day we decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and go for a stroll.

I have two favorite stores downtown, the Peanut Shop and the Cheese Shop (http://www.cheeseshopwilliamsburg.com/).  At the Peanut Shop you get to try each of the fun flavors they offered.  We went with the Hot Southern Jalapeno and the Hot Wasabi (obviously my choices, do they really need to use the word hot in the names?), before I made it to the best selection of bottled beer in the area.  I concentrated on some VA selections (e.g., Legends Teach’s Oyster Stout, Devil’s Backbone Eight Point IPA, and Old Dominion Raleigh Tavern Wmsbg Pale Ale) before shamelessly sampling the cheese and stuffed olives (an early appetizer).  It was time for lunch, so we headed across to the street to the DoG Street Pub (http://www.dogstreetpub.com/).

DoG Street has an excellent food and a wonderful beer selection.  We started with their Welsh Rarebit (they didn’t have that at the Cheese Shop) before I got the soup and salad combo (London Particular (aka pea and ham) Soup and Roast Beef Sandwich).  I got an unofficial sampler (smaller pours of the beers I wanted) that was highlighted by Heavy Seas The Big DIPA on cask.  Other draft highlights included Perennial Hommelbier, Port City Tartan and Saucony Creek’s Hop Suplex.  I love the atmosphere and the selection, and even though it doesn’t have folks dressed in colonial dress, it has better beer and shorter lines.

The weather was great, much warmer than when we visited with my father-in-law last year, so we looked forward to our stroll.  We chose not to purchase the tickets to get us in the venues this time, we weren’t spending the entire day and we were looking forward to being outside after our long, cold winter.  We enjoyed the flowers in bloom and people watching.  I stopped by a couple of the stores and restaurants (90 minute waits, I recommended to a few gents to try the DoG Street pub).

We walked down to the Capitol Building and stopped by Raleigh’s Tavern and bakery for some treats.  They had a procession go by with a fife and drum, with little kids following behind with muskets on their shoulders.  At Josiah Chowning’s Tavern, we went around back to sit and talk under a pergola while sharing their colonial sampler; Alewerks Dear Old Mum, Liebotschaner Cream Ale and Smartmouth’s Alter Ego.  It was a perfect way to soak up the atmosphere and reflect on the week.  Jenn wanted to do a bit more shopping (one last opportunity) and I wanted to walk through William and Mary College on my way to my final beer spot for the week.

We had visited Green Leafe Café the previous year for my birthday dinner, and even though the food was much less than spectacular, the beer selection was excellent.  I chatted at the bar with the owner, sharing with him my beer book, while enjoying a St. George’s Larry’s Lemonade, a great example of a Radler.  The owner was generous with sharing different brews.  I loved the Foothills Jade IPA (hope to get a bottle of it when we are down at OBX this summer) and the Smartmouth Cowcatcher, a delicious Milk Stout on nitro which just emphasizes the creaminess of the style.  I was also pleasantly surprised when Jenn texted me that she was done shopping (I wasn’t quite done sampling), so we headed back to the timeshare to start packing.

We had a great day, enjoying the weather and reminiscing about our week (and last year’s vacation too).  We had chosen to go back to Williamsburg to spend the week with Jenn’s dad, and were somewhat disappointed that he couldn’t make the trip with us.  However, we did have a great week together as a family (and with my sister-in-law Cathy too) and with all the beer selection that this area has to offer, I’d love to come back again. – 15626
“The mouth of a perfectly happy man is filled with beer.” – Egyptian Proverb


Blue Ridge Beer Run

I really do dread outlet malls, as much as Christmas Tree Shops, antiquing, and public speaking.  So when Jenn said she wanted to go to the Outlets with her sister, I took the opportunity to head north and check out some fine beer stops.  So with Jacob working the music, we got on the road early enough to hit Beer Run (http://beerrun.com/) for breakfast.

Beer Run was recently placed on Draft magazine’s top 100 list, a predominately breakfast spot with a fantastic draft and bottle selection.  Jacob got a biscuit, while I went for the Campbell’s Scramble; two local eggs, scrambled with Pepper Jack cheese, Yukon Gold potatoes, all-natural bacon & topped with house Pico de Gallo (and Sriracha sauce for me).  I went with a Starr Hill / Terrapin GAVA Joe Belgian-style Espresso stout (great for breakfast), followed by a Blue Mountain Big Blue Barrel Aged Double IPA on draft.  I got a few bottles to go; Epic’s Smoked and Oaked, DC Brau’s The Citizen (cans are cool), and Three Brothers Resolute (going to cellar this one). 

It was raining, and we tried to do something educational.  Monticello is Thomas Jefferson’s home, a wonderful architectural masterpiece that our President spent years modifying and updating to try out his ideas and theories.  We didn’t get tickets in advance (big mistake), and couldn’t get on the tour of the house for 3 hours.  So we watched the instructional movie, and went through the walk-thru museum.  What struck me the most was the consistent apology that despite his enlightened viewpoints, he still owned (and fathered children with) slaves, only freeing 6 in his will.  Oh well, we’ll definitely come back some day with advanced purchased tickets.

We fought the rain and headed west to the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Blue Mountain Brewery.  Blue Mountain is located in a beautiful setting, features many barrel aged beers, and has tasty food.  I went with Spicy Thai wings (tasty, but not spicy) to go with their sampler.  My favorite was the Maggie Maibock, although the others were tasty too.  They offered a Buy 2 get 1 free special for their big bottles, so I picked up their Uber Pils and 2 Mandolin Tripels.

Our next stop was Devil’s Backbone, the 2013 Small Brewing Company of the Year.  While the folks at Blue Mountain were really nice, the manager at Devil’s Backbone was a bit of a butthead.  Oh well, the German pretzels and beer sampler were both good.  I loved their Schwartzbier and their Azrael, a Belgian Strong Pale Ale that was awesome.  I thought we could cut across the state to get home, but Garmin assured me that the best way to go back I-64.  But we had one more stop to make, Rate Beers top restaurant in VA for 2013, Mekong (http://mekongisforbeerlovers.com/).

Mekong is a Vietnamese restaurant, which is one of my new favorite styles of food, and they had a great beer selection.  I got a bowl of Pho tai; rare slice beef, flat rice noodles, onion, scallion, cilantro, and bean sprouts with Sriracha sauce.  Mekong will be opening their own brewery this summer called The Answer (any Allen Iverson fans out there?), and they already did a collaboration with Cigar City called Good Morning Mekong, an Imperial Porter brewed with Kopi Luwak (Beer Geek Weasel anyone?) and rated a 95 on Beer Advocate.  It was delicious.  The bartender loved my beer book, and proceeded to provide different samples to go along with my two free glasses.  I tried the 3 Brothers Rum Barrel Belgian Dubbel on draft from Harrisonburg, as well as Richmond’s Hardywood Park Bourbon Barrel Aged Sidamo Coffee Stout on nitro.  If you like Vietnamese cuisine (or are willing to try) and you are passing through Richmond, this place is a must stop.

I finished my bowl (quite filling) and made it back to the time share.  I figured out it was a 310 mile round trip beer run.  It was a little far, even for me, to go for several beers.  But I got to spend a day with Jacob, see some beautiful scenery (amongst the torrential downpours), discover some new brews and make some new friends. – 15598
“Filled with mingled cream and amber, such hilarious visions clamber, through the chambers of my brain, quaintest thoughts, queerest fancies come to life and fade away; What care I how time advances; I’m drinking ale today.” – Edgar Allen Poe