CategoriesFitnessGearTastes

Testing the SOS Hydration Mix

Hydration is the difference between a good ride and a low-down, cramp-filled, no-good sufferfest that will make you regret ever getting on a bicycle (or running, or kayaking, or whatever it is that you do). I largely have my regimen set, but I’m always on the lookout for the Next Big Thing. That’s why I was excited when SOS Hydration contacted me about testing their electrolyte mixes.

SOS Hydration sent me a sampler of two each of several of their flavors, including berry, citrus, mango, coconut and watermelon.

Putting SOS Hydration to the Test

I took a little time to crunch the numbers to try getting the liquid-to-’letctrolytes ratio just right.

My typical loadout for a hot summer ride is three bottles:

  • One 20-ounce one (exactly like the nice one SOS Hydration sent me) with a single Trace Minerals Magnesium tab in it. That 4-gram tablet contains 150mg of magnesium – which I’ve discovered is critical for me – along with 175 mg of sodium and not much else.
  • Two 25-ounce bottles each packing 1 Trace Minerals magnesium tablet and a Nuun Hydration Sport tablet.

To be somewhere in the ballpark with SOS Hydration, I’d need 1 5-gram sachet in the small bottle and two in each of the big bottles. Let’s break down the comparison between my two big bottles of Justin Formula versus the SOS Hydration bottles. Oh, and I’m also going to list my go-to Gnarly Hydration mix that I use for particularly hot days and races. All serving sizes are 10 grams. (I’m only hitting the electrolytes that are most-important to me rather than the whole laundry list. I also don’t really care about calories.)

Magnesium Sodium Potassium Sugar
Justin Formula 175 475 150 4
Gnarly 96.6 250 100 7
SOS Hydration 67.2* 660 190 3

*I calculated based on two things: The USRDA of magnesium for guys my age, which is 420mg, and the SOS Hydration label that said that each sachet has 8% of the USRDA of magnesium. That comes out to 67.2mg for two sachets, well short of the 100mg claimed on the comparison page of the SOS website.

 

That’s not the only discrepancy I noticed. It also appears that the SOS is comparing two servings/sachets of their mix to one Nuun tablet. I didn’t check the numbers on Skratch, which is the only other legit hydration mix for athletes in the table. Pedialyte, Gatorade and coconut water don’t belong, and I’ve never heard of WHO ORS.

My main takeaway from the chart is that SOS is really salty, and it lags in magnesium. Through trial and error, I’ve found that potassium isn’t a difference-maker for me.

So how would it perform?

Testing on the First Ride

I had my three bottles all frozen the day before the ride, and my plans to use my road-plus Lynskey Urbano for a 50-miler want to hell. It had to get some attention from the good people at Bicycle Haus.

That meant it was time for a summer mountain bike ride! Hot weather makes desert mountain biking a real bear, and I had a nasty sunny morning to deal with.

I headed to South Mountain since it had been awhile since I’d been there. Right from the get-go, I could tell this ride would be pretty tough.

Aside from the heat, there are no casual, easy rides on a singlespeed hardtail. They’re demanding bikes that flog their riders pretty hard.

sos hydration test
There’s never an easy ride on this thing.

And I just wasn’t feeling it after the first five miles.

I slugged generously from my icewater-filled Camelbak and my two bottles of SOS Hydration mix. My first impression was that this is some seriously salty stuff. There was more than a hint of the Dead Sea to it.

I’d planned to ride at least 25 miles. But I turned around about 13 miles into it to head back to my car. I stopped at a trailhead to drink the rest of my SOS mix, then I refilled them with the sachets I’d brought along.

My ass was well whooped after this short ride. It was a nasty day, to be sure.

So I had to give SOS a more regular test.

Round 2 – Apples to Apples

With my Lynskey back in action the next weekend, I set my course for San Juan Point, which is about a 53-mile jaunt from my house. It’s also a ride I do often, so I have plenty of data to compare SOS and look for any major observations in performance.

I still hadn’t acclimated to the saltiness of the SOS Hydration mix.  But I did find that I liked the coconut and watermelon flavors best. I wonder if I like the watermelon so much because real watermelon contains big amounts of magnesium, which makes this guy happy.
sos hydration test
I had a pretty solid ride that day, especially since I’d bumped up my tire size from 32C to 38C. The big tires cost me very little time, only about 8 seconds slower than my personal best on a 3.1-mile climb. The very next weekend, though, I set a new PR that was 20 seconds faster with my usual mix.

As per usual, I drained my three bottles (all filled with SOS) and had to refill. Those were the last of my sachets, so I finished my ride with a bit of Gnarly mix. By that time, though, all the serious work was over.

Wrapping Up the SOS Hydration Test

It appears that SOS works pretty well. Aside from that one especially unpleasant mountain bike ride, it wasn’t a liability.

Still, I’m not a fan of the taste and I’d like to see more magnesium in it along with less salt.

I think it would also be a good idea for SOS to double-check the numbers in its comparison chart to make sure they’re measuring similar serving sizes. They should also include more serious competitors, like Gnarly, EFS and CarboRocket Half-Evil. That’s serious stuff that you’ll see at the big races.

And that might be the problem with SOS: It positions itself not just for sports nutrition, but also for hangovers and illnesses. Casting a wide net might cause some of the finer points of more-athletic use to get overlooked.

There’s also something else to note: There is literally no one-size-fits-all formula for every bike racer, marathoner or (insert sport here). This makes me extremely skeptical of their research claims. I know I said this a few sentences earlier, but it bears repeating: The same formula will not work for every single person.

We’re all individuals, and the ratios in SOS Hydration might be exactly what you need. If it fits you and you like the taste, you’re good to go.

CategoriesTravelAccommodationsTastes

Visiting Seattle with a Kid

Back in September, I took my first trip to Seattle with a kid. Well, not just any random kid – my own, of course.

I’d last been to Seattle in around 2005-ish with my now-wife. We walked all over the place, found all the tasty food and searched for good beer. As walkable as Seattle is, it would still present some different challenges with a 4-year-old along for the ride (and walk!).

If you’re thinking about visiting Seattle with a kid or three, let me share a few recommendations.

travel to seattle
Getting there is part of the fun for us.

Where to Stay

Hotel prices in Seattle are kind of obnoxious. We also try hard to avoid huge hotel chains. We wanted to be somewhat near the Space Needle since many cool things radiate out from that area.

My wife found a reasonably-price-for-Seattle place called Hotel 5, which is almost as cool as one of my other favorite hotels. It couldn’t have been friendlier or more comfortable. The lobby had all sorts of games, ranging from chess to (free) old-school arcade games. They also have a decent free breakfast — nothing fancy, just oatmeal, hardboiled eggs, pastries and the like. They also have a small cafe there that sells various fancier breakfast items, coffee and bar food (later in the day).

It’s a good location that’s pretty close to public transit stops and the Pike Place Market. I can’t say enough about the comfortable rooms and the overall friendliness of the staff. It’s a perfect place to stay in Seattle with a kid.

How to Have Fun in Seattle with a Kid

I realize your mileage will vary on this point. But my 4-year-old is a seafood fiend. She even helps me cook it at home by sprinkling the seasoning. When she walks into Nelson’s Seafood at home, the people there know her by sight and say “are you here to see the fish with eyes?” (She’s partial to whole fish.)

So you can imagine her delight at the seafood markets at Pike Place Market. At one point, she was looking at a pretty gross-looking fish on ice, and then it moved! Turns out the pranksters there planted a fake fish and have it rigged up so they can make it move whenever someone comes in for a closer look.

seattle with a kid
One of the any awesome playgrounds in Seattle.

But there’s plenty of other cool kid stuff aside from looking at fish. There are some epic playgrounds — some that compare favorably with even those in New Zealand — scattered all across the city. The playground at Seattle Center is a grand scale of challenges that will keep kids of all ages occupied. Mine also made several friends during her visits. There’s also the Cascade Playground, which is a lot smaller. But it will definitely keep a preschooler happy, especially since it’s a hotspot for dog walkers.

We had mixed results at the Pop Culture Museum. My little person loved the interactive area where she could play guitars, keyboards and electronic drums. She was also completely nuts over the sci-fi movie exhibit, where she was able to name every cool display from Star Wars. And the other costumes and displays also blew her away. She wasn’t so into looking at old guitars.

seattle with a kid
I’ve had so much trouble finding the right drummer that I’m trying to grow one at home.

The Seattle Aquarium was a hit that kept the little person occupied for several hours. From jellyfish to seahorses to octopi to sea otters, she enjoyed herself. My advice would be to get there early like we did. It gets crowded, so having 30 minutes or so where it’s nearly empty makes it a better experience.

We also took a little side jaunt on the ferry out to Bainbridge Island, which I found to be a very posh Sedona-on-the-water sort of place. We put in plenty of miles walking, which included foraging around for wild blackberries. It looked like we missed most of the prime season, so I was left rooting around for what the birds lefts behind. But it was still fun.

Where to Eat

I’m going to be honest here: If Seattle food is as good as Portland food, we weren’t able to find it quite as easily. That said, we had some wonderful meals there.

La Teranga, another find of my wife’s, served Senegalese food. It was my first time having it. Literally everything I tasted blew me away. There are three tables in the place, but it’s worth the wait. We had Thibou Djeun (a fish dish) and lamb mafe, along with a drink made out of baobab tree fruit called bouye juice. It was much thicker than a juice, and also one of the more unique flavors I’ve experienced. I’m not even sure what comparison to draw.

food in seattle
Delicious Senegalese food!

We all also loved the Skal Beer Hall in the Ballard neighborhood. We’re all big fans of charcuterie, and the little person particularly loves havarti. Everyone went away happy. There’s also the cool atmosphere as a bonus.

Oh, yeah. The little person also enjoys donuts. I made it a point to find her a few local donuts to try. We, of course, tried the local Hot Pot chain. Their plain glazed scored highly with the little person. But Tempesta, a tiny coffeehouse, makes a far better donut. Their coffee is also tasty, but the skew more toward fun coffee creations with a bit of sweetness.

A Little Bit of Fun for the Parents

Two of the things we always like about cities in the Pacific Northwest are beer and coffee.

Let’s start with coffee. This is clearly the city that built Starbucks, but you’re missing out if you don’t hit the local places. I could write a whole post just about coffee and beer, so I’m going to name some top spots for you to put on your list. To give you an idea of what it takes to get on the list, here’s my test: I order a real espresso drink, usually a cortado or a cappuccino. No whipped creme, no sprinkles, no pumpkin spice.

seattle with a kid
Having a donut with Lufthansa Lu.

That said, I recommend you check out Ghost Note, Monorail Espresso and Street Bean. Each has something that’s a standout about it. Ghost Note has a relaxing atmosphere and a barista who takes coffee very seriously while also being friendly about it. Monorail is tiny enough to walk past, but they use the space they have to also be very friendly while making serious espresso drinks. Street Bean stands out to me for its mission to help “street involved” young people in Seattle. All of these will serve a top-quality espresso. I also like Ghost Alley, even though I opted for a seasonal cold brew recipe there.

There be Beer Here

Then there’s beer. A quick note on visiting Seattle with a kid – or anywhere in Washington: Apparently, an archaic law on the books results in some places not allowing minors into the premises. Still others install some sort of a weird wooden bar as a barrier, and minors aren’t allowed beyond it. It’s truly strange. But just know where a brewery stands on this before making a long journey out to it before being turned away.

We are primarily about stouts and IPAs (preference to West Coast and hazy styles). We eschew blondes, most lagers, reds and other more mellow stuff. There is really one big winner from all the breweries we tried, and that’s Stoup. They had literally everything right: great beer, a food truck, a friendly atmosphere, and even stuff for the kids to do. We happened to drop in during fresh hop season, so they had a variety of seasonal IPAs that were mind-boggling. Their selection rotates often, so you won’t often see the same beer. I advise getting a flight.

We agreed that Stoup was our favorite beer place in Seattle.

I also enjoyed Flying Lion quite a bit. I would’ve spent a lot more time there had it not been for a little person completely crashed out asleep at that point. Not many places do cask-conditioned ales, so that was a nice treat. I also loved the old warehouse vibe, and the entire place smelled like cedar. It was so comfortable and easygoing that I wanted to take it home with me. My standout aside from the cask IPA was a blood orange IPA.

Then there’s Optimism, a no-tipping establishment that is sprawling and fun. It has plenty for kids to do, but they could probably take the decibels down a notch. They’re also a Bring Your Own Food sort of place, and they provide utensils. To be honest, Optimism is a bit undistinguished from a beer point of view (their IPAs tasted way too similar to each other), but as a concept, I can’t help loving it.

Point A to Point B

Seattle is awesome at public transit. The bus system, monorail and subway are easy to navigate. It’s a pedestrian-friendly environment. And there are ferries for little desert kids like mine who aren’t used to waterways that are navigable!

seattle with a kid
Taking a ferry to Bainbridge Island

We used Uber for getting to the hotel from the airport and back, and on only one other occasion (the trek for Sengalese food — well worth it).

Seattle with a Kid — Do It

How much did our little person like Seattle? She already wants to go again. We didn’t have to really go too far out of our way to entertain here. She found adventure in every street and on every bus ride. It’s hard to go wrong.

CategoriesTastes

We All Need to Stop Being Wusses and Eat Crickets

Americans need to stop being wusses and eat crickets. This hit me as I finished off an Impossible Burger. Or rather, an Impossible Slider.

I was at a burger place in Scottsdale for lunch, and the Impossible meat was on the menu. And holy cow! The Impossible items were actually less expensive than their cownterparts! (I promise there won’t be many more puns.)

eat crickets
The Impossible Burger is pretty good! But it’s not the food of the future.

The Impossible slider was damn tasty. The patty was a bit thin and came with plenty of condiments. Many a carnivore would’ve wolfed it down without noticing anything amiss.

And that’s good. A meat substitute that actually tastes good. But here’s the problem.

The Jury is Out on the Impossible Burger’s Health Benefits and Sustainability

The Impossible Burger’s list of ingredients won’t impress anyone. It’s highly processed, as well. So there’s some disagreement about the health benefits.

And I see conflicting reports on whether manufacturing it is any more environmentally friendly than beef. I could see farmers who raise free-range, grass-fed cattle making a good accounting of themselves versus the Impossible Burger. The Guardian has a pretty solid article covering this and many other aspects of the Impossible Burger.

What About Animal Cruelty?

There are plenty of vegans out there who are vegan because of their concern about animals. And I get it. The big factory farms sound awful, and that’s why some people are trying hard to go for free-range or cage-free options. That’s also commendable.

eat crickets
GIF by Spoon University

And that’s why I think we should eat crickets. Frankly, nobody gives a shit about crickets. People pay other people to spray their houses to kill them. It’s hard to muster concern about cruelty over what’s usually regarded as a pest and barely even lives three months total.

You Want ME to Eat Crickets?

Yes, I do. I’ve done it myself (I’m sure you’re not surprised, considering what else I’ve eaten!), mostly in the form of protein bars. Right now, the EXO brand is my favorite even though they’re overpriced.

There’s a place near me that serves cricket tacos now and then. And I really want to get a hold of some. My schedule rarely ever lets me get to that neighborhood at the right time, though. It would be a nice addition to my long list of fun and unusual foods I’ve eaten.

Look, crickets are nutritious. They’re easy to grow sustainably. And plenty of people worldwide eat insects. But no, Americans are too good for that, right?

eat crickets
Weird Al needs no captions.

I hear a lot of you people squawking about all the ecological ills the planet faces right now. What are you going to do about it? What are you willing to do?

If you eat crickets, you will overcome the initial revulsion. And you’ll become an important data point to the bean counters who measure what you buy: You’ll say "doing something for the planet matters to me. And I’ll eat crickets if it can help." (This is important for all eco-friendly products and actions: You might not save the world individually, but collectively your purchasing choices are a powerful way to move corporations to take action by offering eco-friendly products and packaging.)

Go buy a cricket protein bar someplace. I don’t care which one you pick. Eat it. Maybe try a few different ones. If even just 1 percent of the people who read this tries a few cricket bars, you’re gonna make a big statement.

Quit being a wuss and eat crickets.

CategoriesTastes

Where to Drink Sahti in Finland

I didn’t go to Finland to drink sahti. But tracking down the traditional Finnish beer made a nice side quest during our visit a few years ago. 

If you’re beer-curious and plan to visit Finland, here are a few reasons you should search for a snort of sahti.

sahti
Brewing a traditional sahti (photo from distantmirror.wordpress.com).

You Like Tracking Down Stuff Even Locals Don’t Know About

During my visit, Finns preferred mugs of whiz-colored lager to earthy-brown brews served in a small silver cup. It’s the stuff a Finn’s mothball-scented grandpa drinks, not the young and hip.

So you won’t find sahti flowing like wine (sorry, but I can resist a “Dumb and Dumber” reference). Be prepared to do some digging and investigating, unless there’s been a sudden hipster resurgence.

I found the Lammin Sahti Oy brand in a kitschy farm setting at Zetor near the city center. And my order surprised the bartender: I explained that trying local/regional food and drink is part of the reason I travel. I guess not many foreigners know about sahti.

You might also find sahti at Bryggeri Helsinki. 

You Like the Smell of a Forest, and Wouldn’t Mind a Taste

My first sip of sahti was like tasting liquid forest — pine, wind, cool air — thanks to its main flavoring ingredients of juniper and rye. The small pour had barely any carbonation.

sahti
Sahti – the taste of the forest in a metal cup.

The bartender served it in a silver vessel that looked like a cross between a ladle and a cup. It’s dark and has a very homebrew look to it. You brewers out there know what I mean!

Oh, it’s also about 8 percent ABV.

Because Fake Sahti Isn’t Even Close

I’ve tasted several sahti-inspired ales in the U.S., including Samuel Adams Norse Legend or Dogfish Head Sah’Tea. They’re barely distinguishable from a brown ale — boring. To be fair, the brewers don’t label them as authentic versions.

And that’s the cool thing about travel: It gives you a chance to taste things you’ll never encounter at home.

Alvar
A glimpse of the beer menu at Alvar in Turku – some fine selections, but no sahti.

You Can Brew Your Own Sahti

Live somewhere with access to juniper? Then you brew your own. This recipe is promising if a bit large; some recipes don’t scale down well, but experimentation is part of the homebrewing fun. And of course, trying the real stuff will give you a better bench mark to judge your brew. 

Also, the story that goes along with the recipe is pretty cool. It’s definitely less scientific and sterile than commercial brewers in the U.S.!

An Extra Hint

I confused a lot of bartenders by asking for "sah-tea." It’s pronounced "sock-tea," like tea brewed in a sock. You can also add a bit of gravel to the "k" syllable. Yes, this seems like a small detail. But it can make the difference in finding this elusive beverage. Some even seemed annoyed by the mispronunciation once they realized what I meant. 

 

CategoriesTastesTravel

Costa Rican Craft Beer in 2018

Costa Rican craft beer just wasn’t a thing during my first visit nearly 15 years ago. That’s changed, with a wide variety of breweries stretching beyond the ubiquitous Imperial lager. But how good is Costa Rican craft beer?

Well, most of it is good enough to finish. But none of it is good enough to make Costa Rica a beer destination. For now, Curitiba, Brazil, retains its rank as my Latin American beer capitol. Of course, I was in a generous and festive mood during my visit. So I probably added ¾ of a star to every Untappd review. And I found that stouts were the best of the Costa Rican craft beer I tried. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s take a step back to talk about the different brews and places where we enjoyed them.

costa rican craft beer
A nice and varied Costa Rican craft beer menu at Stiefel Pub.

Stiefel Pub

I was particularly excited about Stiefel. It was close to our hotel, too. It’s more of a locals’ sort of place. Laid back with decent food (casados) and a good selection of Costa Rican beers. The beer list rotates. The staff is patient with those of us who are kind of crappy at speaking Spanish.

I was shocked to see that they had a mead on tap – not a hard-hitting Game of Thrones sort of offering, but a nice sparkling beverage that tasted more like a radler or shandy.

costa rican craft beer
I really wanted to love the Costa Rica Beer Factory, but the beer and service didn’t quite match the atmosphere.

Costa Rica Beer Factory

We had this one pegged as the pioneering local trying hard to be the Big Thing. First the good stuff: It’s such a cool building – a great place to hang out. The extensive craft beer menu set my expectations high.

But when they’re out of most of the selections that interested me the most, that’s kind of a letdown. The server didn’t seemed to know his stuff beer-wise (he didn’t realize that half pints were on the menu, tried to get me to order fruit beers after the IPAs I wanted were out).

On the other hand, the food was solid: bacon-wrapped, chorizo-stuffed dates for the wife and me, chicken fingers and fries for the little person. So go for the food and the atmosphere … and hope they sort their beer problems out before your visit.

costa rican craft beer
Wilk Craft Beer nails it all – food, atmosphere, service, beer. It sets the standard for Costa Rican craft beer. Don’t miss it when you’re in San Jose!

Wilk Craft Beer

This place killed ‘em all like a Metallica album -- by far my favorite Costa Rican craft beer bar that we found in San Jose. The tap list is extensive and weighted heavily toward regional craft labels. It also encompasses a wide variety of styles from stout to mead. The tacos are also delicious, and they play a decent variety of music at a low enough volume to allow you to chat with your drinking companions.

And hey, there’s a place to grab ice cream next door. A perfect place for craft beer! They also have some foreign selections.

We also visited a place called Lupulus Beer Shop. We didn’t have anything special there. It has dark, relaxed environment that might go better with patrons that don’t have a squirmy 3-year-old with them.

OK, now onto a few of the specific beers. I’m not going to list them all – just the standouts. If you want to know more, you can also visit my Untappd profile.

A Sampling of Costa Rican Craft Beer

Puerto Viejo Stout (Costa Rica Beer Factory)

More on the bitter dark chocolate side, which I prefer. Heavy body to it for its percentage.

Talingo Stout (Casa Bruja Brewing Company)

Best Costa Rican stout I’ve had. Sweet and viscous.

Barba Peluda (Primate)

A solid stout with plenty of chocolate.

costa rican craft beer
Here’s the beer list at Wilk.

None of these will make me book a ticket back to San Jose for more Costa Rican craft beer. But it’s nice to know that it’s not all lightweight lagers now. Maybe next time, I’ll be able to get a hold of a nice hazy IPA. And maybe some of those awesome spices that grow in Costa Rica will find their way into the beers – I’m particularly thinking that cinnamon could be used to good effect.

CategoriesTastes

Costa Rica Coffee in 2018

costa rica coffee
Some Costa Rica coffee turned into tasty beverages at Cafe del Barista in Arenjuez.

You’ve probably heard that Costa Rica coffee is ridiculously good. That’s true to a certain extent: You can walk into just about any establishment, pour yourself a mug of brewed coffee that’s been sitting around for hours, and still not need to put any cream or sugar into it.

Espresso is another story, and espresso-based drinks are my bag. I judge establishments by their ability to make a cappuccino – and I like the new-fangled style that has latte-style microfoam and arrives in your hand at drinking temperature. This sort of thing is pretty rare in Costa Rica. Most of the caps I had were too hot, which made them bitter. Many of the baristas nailed the foam pretty well.

Anyway, let’s take a stroll through the places where I drank some coffee and espresso. (Note: I usually only drink coffee four days a week. But I seriously indulged myself for all 10 days of my trip.)

Cafe Milagro in Manuel Antonio

Cafe Milagro in Manuel Antonio and Quepos is well-known. It’s not just a coffeehouse, but a full-service restaurant that keeps going well past dark. It’s a great place to grab a fish sandwich.

costa rica coffee
A cappuccino at Cafe Milagro

They also serve a tasty brewed coffee, probably my favorite of the type that I drank in Costa Rica. Their cappuccinos are so-so.

The short craft beer – or cervezas artisenal – list, is a nice feature for visits later in the day. Not extensive, but still a good start.

Downtown Coffee Roasters, San Jose

Downtown Coffee Roasters is in a pedestrians-only section of San Jose. And it is by far the best place to get espresso. Their cappuccino is absolutely perfect – right temperature, foam and taste. They also do a fine nitro cold brew -- I actually drank both on the same day, and you can imagine the result of that much caffeine. But I regret nothing. Would do again, 12/10.

I know this is a shorter write-up than some of the others. But Downtown Coffee Roasters was my favorite, and there are only so many ways I can say that. 

Doka Estate, Alajuela

I was a little skeptical of a coffee plantation tour. It sounded like boredom to me. But we wanted something to do that afternoon, so I went along with it. And I was proven wrong.

costa rica coffee
My not-so-inner 12-year-old couldn’t stop laughing at this statue.

It was very cool to see the amount of care and energy that goes into a drink so many of us love. There’s also a good bit of innovation. Ray, our tour guide, was engaging and knowledgeable -- and he let us try some of the tasks. Hands-on activities are always good! I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I’ll say that it’s worth your time, even if you think you know coffee.

Speaking of which, the tour included samples of four different types of brewed coffee. And I plunked down an extra $3 for a shot of espresso. It was a good shot – nice crema, which is always a good indicator. The Doka plantation is too far away to drop in for a casual morning cup, but it was still a nice place to sample some drinks.

Cafe del Barista, San Jose (Aranjuez)

I had some high expectations from the vibe at Cafe fel Barista. I expected them to be as good as Central Coffee Roasters. They were not. They were a cut above Cafe Milagro, though. Be careful if your Spanish is rusty: They serve spiked coffee drinks, too, at all times of day. That’s how the wife wound up with her crazy concoction.

costa rica coffee
The menu at Cafe del Barista

The cappuccino was pretty good, definitely more of a modern style with the latte-style foam. For me, it was a bit too hot and a bubbly. Still one of the better ones I had in Costa Rica, but not a match for Downtown Coffee Roasters.

CategoriesTastesTravel

How I Fly with Craft Beer Without Spilling a Drop

Whenever I travel, I’m on the lookout for craft beer that I can’t find at home. Often, I want to take some home with me. That was the case when I visited Curitiba, Brazil. I found a thriving, varied craft beer scene that was a welcome surprise (and seriously, Curitiba is now one of my favorite cities). The question is, how can you fly with craft beer without turning the inside of your luggage into a sticky mess? I have one tried-and-true method, a second iffier method and now a third new system that I look forward to testing.

The Sock and Shoe "Fly with Craft Beer" Method

I found some great bottles at Clube do Malte in Curitiba. My method for getting them home safely was to slip each bottle into a sock, wrap it up in a plastic bag and then stick one bottle each in a shoe. Being a fairly low-maintenance guy who doesn’t bring a lot of clothes when he travels -- well, that limited the number of bottles I could bring.

fly with craft beer
A visit to Club do Malte in Curitiba is a must.

Both those bottles in the shoes survived the flights from Curitiba to Sao Paolo to Houston to Phoenix.

The "T-Shirt and Pray" Way to Fly with Craft Beer

I had two more bottles to bring home from Curitiba. Those, I wrapped in t-shirts and plastic bags. I used rubber bands to secure all the goods and hoped for the best. I was worried the whole time about these two bottles, but they also made it.

I’ve used this scheme more than a few times, and it’s always worked. But it’s not exactly good for piece of mind. And you only need a bottle to get crushed once to make your day suck. I’m convinced that I’m running on borrowed time using the t-shirt method. My wife has a perfect record for flying with craft beer, and I suspect this – or something like it – is the way she does it. Still, it’s the dicey way to fly with craft beer.

fly with craft beer flexi-growler, beerpouch
The Craft Beer Depot in Nelson, NZ. Definitely a place that should have Flexi-Growlers!
A "Capri Sun" Pouch to Fly with Craft Beer

Some clever characters formed a company called BeerPouch, and then begat a work of art called the Flexi-Growler. And just like I said a sentence ago, it’s a Capri Sun package for beer. But stronger, thicker and bigger so that you may fly with craft beer without a second thought. This is perfect in the age of taprooms that are willing to fill growlers.

And that stack a lot flatter than glass bottles, and can’t get squashed like a can or a crowler.

I’m ordinarily not this effusive about a product I haven’t yet tried, but this just makes sense. It also appeals to my interest in sustainability – according to the BeerPouch website:

Pouches of this nature are well known to require a fraction of the carbon footprint than found in a comparable sized bottle or can. The BeerPouch uses far less energy to manufacture, fill, ship, and store beverages than virtually any comparable package.

fly with craft beer, crowler, beerpouch, flexi-growler
The Aegir brewery in Flam, Norway. If you find craft beer in a place that remote, chances are you’ll want to fill up some growlers.

Speaking of the BeerPouch website, let’s not judge the product by the website. Because that website is terrible in literally every way that’s possible for a website to be terrible. May they soon sell so many Flexi-Pouches that they can afford a web designer who knows SEO, UX, design and all that other good stuff.

The best news for me is that they’re working on smaller versions: Sixty-four ounces is a bit much for my wife and me. But taking home a few different 32-ouncers from a vacation is exactly the ticket for us.

So, what’s your solution when you have to fly with craft beer?

CategoriesTastes

48 Hours in Atlanta – Business Travel Edition

I recently had a chance to spend 48 hours in Atlanta. Since it was strictly for business, I didn’t have much time for recreation. Any fun I had would come in the form of a tasty beverage following a meal following a session in the hotel gym.

This was my first time in Atlanta; a co-worker described it as a generic southern metropolis. I was extremely pleased to find out that this is not actually the case. With very little time or effort, I found local flavors all within walking distance of my hotel (it’s fair to admit that my walking distance might not be yours – on a recent trip to New Zealand, I averaged more than eight miles of walking every day).

48 hours in Atlanta
Mexico and Korea collide in all the right ways at Takorea.

If you ever travel for business and wind up in Atlanta, especially in the Midtown area, here are a few places you should visit in Atlanta in the hours before or after your work activities.

Takorea

I am generally the last person to hop on the fusion of cuisine. It took me years before I gave a Vietnamese-meets-Mexican place near me, and I felt foolish once I discovered how much I liked the food – even if it wasn’t exactly authentic.

With that experience in mind, I made a snap judgment on this Korean-meets-Mexican place. Good move. The Uber Bop bowl at Takorea was loaded with banchan, pork, an egg and just the right amount of spice. Finishing it was a challenge, but I gladly accepted. You might also do well with the bulgogi quesadilla.

I also found a fairly impressive list of local beers, both on draft and in cans/bottle; the server recommended the Blind Pirate Blood Orange IPA, which went nicely with the heat from the Uber Bop. The service is also very friendly, but in a genuine way rather than "the corporate suits will fire me if I’m not sugary polite" manner. In short, I’d take Takorea home with me in a second.

48 hours in Atlanta
I always look for a real cappuccino when I travel. And no, Starbucks doesn’t count.

The Dancing Goats Coffee Bar – Midtown

I love it when a barista gets excited about making a cappuccino. What that means is "everyone has been asking for sickeningly sweet drinks, and now I’ll get to show that I have some real barista skills without tons of sugar getting in the way."

That was the reaction I got both times at The Dancing Goats. Both times, the cappuccinos were of solid quality. They were definitely a quantum leap past a Starbucks cappuccino. I’d place them in the top 20 percent of caps I’ve had, but they wouldn’t get into the top 10 percent. That’s still a solid performance.

I wouldn’t recommend their donuts since they’re a bit on the dry side. Dancing Goats is roomy and has reliable wifi sans password. And yes, they have water for the taking and the staff is very personable and talkative (as long as it’s not the morning rush).

48 Hours in Atlanta
Brewery perfection: The Torched Hop


The Torched Hop Brewing Company

After arriving, checking in and getting dinner, following Google Maps to The Torched Hop was my first priority. This is nothing less than an absolutely perfect local brewery – from its open, airy space to its mix of brewed-onsite and guest selections, it’s the sort of place that would be my Number One choice if I lived in Atlanta.

You can check my Untappd profile for evaluations of everything I tried in my flight and beyond. I’d have to say, though, that the flagship Hops-de-Leon IPA was my favorite. The biggest surprise was the Holy Citramony; I’m typically not a lager fan, but this IPL was carbonated perfectly and actually packed with hops.

The service is largely DIY: I would go to the bar when I wanted something. There did appear to be table service and desserts, but I didn’t take advantage of either of them. Maybe next time.

CategoriesFitnessGearTastes

Riding Hard with Fuel100 Electro-Bites: A Review

For the first time in a few weeks, I did a long mountain bike without a stash of Fuel100 Electro-Bites. I’d run completely out of them, so I dug back into my extensive stash of gels.

And here’s the weird thing: My latest ride wasn’t that much longer than the previous weekend. The temperatures weren’t that much hotter. My route actually had a little less climbing. Yet I spent the rest of my Sunday feeling pretty whooped.

Could that be the Fuel100 Electro-Bites versus the gels? That’s a tough conclusion to attribute to just a difference in on-bike fuel. But there are some things I can definitely, conclusively, unequivocally tell you about Electro-Bites.

Fuel100 Electro-Bites
A convenient size with just the right amount of fuel inside.

A Welcome Change from Gels

For years, gels have been the THE way to refuel on a bike. They’re pretty super for races. But it has its drawbacks: Gel from open packets tends to get all over the place. And honestly, I can only handle so much sweetness.

The more-savory taste of every variety of the Fuel100 Electro-Bites seemed to please my tastebuds far more than gels.

I tried all the varieties: Simply Salty, Salty Vanilla, Apple Cinnamon, Salty Vinegar and Pumpkin Spice. Each flavor has the same core taste, which is very earthy and salty. That makes sense considering that potato starch is the main ingredient. The vinegar and apple and pumpkin flavors are all pretty subtle. I actually didn’t wind up with a favorite flavor.

Fue100 electro-bites
Inside, puffy little savory nuggets await to keep you topped off with energy.

Aside from the flavor, the texture might be my favorite attribute. The Electro-Bites are small pellets that have a nice crunch, but they also dissolve pretty quickly. That means you won’t be chewing for a long time and you won’t be distracted; even though this product was developed by runners, that’s great for mountain bikers who want to pay attention to the trail.

An Idea for Improving Fuel100 Electro-Bites

Packaging is one of the best attributes of gels: I use electric tape to attach packets to my top tube and handlebars, making it really easy during races to grab one, eat it and stuff the empty pouch into a jersey pocket.

That’s a challenge with the Electro-Bites packaging. There are riders out there who are skilled enough to manhandle a package of Electro-Bites, eat them and still not slow down. I’m not one of them – so I’ll have to ponder some ideas to innovate on a way to carry them. I figure there must be some sort of flip-top container I could stash in my jersey or in a stem pouch.

Fuel100 Electro-Bites
Rolling out to the trails with my last remaining packet of Fuel100 Electro-Bites.

Bottom Line on Fuel100 Electro-Bites

My experience with mountain biking dates back to the days when dudes would rip up a PowerBar and stick them directly to their stem and handlebars. I don’t miss those days at all, let me tell you. We’ve been through a lot of innovation and evolution with fueling up during exercise and races, and I really like what Electro-Bites has done. I like the taste, I like the texture and I like that they work well – possibly better than gels. I know just about every other rider (especially those without sponsorships) is always on the lookout for the next big leap in sports nutrition, and Electro-Bites are a worthwhile entry to the list.

Their price isn’t even out-of-line with other products, with a six-pack going for about $13. Chances are you’ll need to order them from the Electro-Bites website since they’re still finding traction with retailers. If you put in the effort to order some, I think you’ll like them.

Speaking of that, I need to place an order to get more – and they’ll be a go-to for races and long rides for the foreseeable future.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received Electro-Bites for free from Fuel100 in consideration for a gear review. As always, this is not a guarantee of favorable coverage. The product still has to earn its praise honestly.

 

CategoriesTastesTravel

My Favorite Bars for Craft Beer – New Zealand Edition

new zealand craft beer
The tap list at the awesome Craft Beer Depot in Nelson, New Zealand.

If you like traveling and craft beer, I have a destination for you: New Zealand. The Kiwis grow all sorts of great stuff in their country — a sense of adventure, friendliness -- and heaping amounts of craft beer-compliant hops.

During our first trip to New Zealand back in 2010 or so, we discovered epic hikes, incredible scenery, ridiculous activities and very friendly people. Back in December, we returned with a little person about to turn two years old. That meant revisiting the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and looking into the crater of an active volcano was out. This would be more of a family vacation.

craft beer new zealand
One of the hoppier, harder-hitting IPAs I found in New Zealand.

The Kiwi craft beer scene was in its infancy last time, and it’s progressed to at least the tween stage at this point. New Zealand brewers are taking more advantage of their hops. They haven’t yet gotten quite as aggressive as the hop monsters on the US West Coast. And they don’t age everything in barrels fashioned from the nuclear reactors of sunken Russian submarines. That sort of fun will come in time, though.

Here are the stand-out breweries/pubs we visited as we drove from Auckland to Wellington (via Rotorua and a sheep farm in the wop-wops). These concentrate mostly on the venues themselves – I have brief tasting notes in my Untappd profile, though.

Rotorua — BREW Craft Beer Pub

In Rotorua, Croucher Brewing is kind of the big dog. They have a pub, but it’s a bit of a haul from where we were staying -- we wanted to walk. Fortunately, BREW serves most of what Croucher Brewing seems to offer. My personal favorite was the Croucher Grapefruit Warrior; if you love Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin, this is a beer you’ll dig.

craft beer new zealand
Dive into this box to sample the flavors of Lakeman Brewing Company. I found this at grocery stores throughout Wellington.

Of course, I had to try a few others. If you want something a little sweeter, you’ll enjoy the Double Trouble Imperial IPA from Tuatara Brewery (just so you know, a tuatara is a penis-less reptile).

They serve food at Brew Craft Beer Pub, too, and they even have paper and crayons for kids to color. Their burgers are super-satisfying, and they have a green-lipped mussel dish that is worth the flight to New Zealand. Avoid the pizza at all costs, though: I showed up starving after a long mountain bike ride, and that pizza did not hit the spot at all.

Wellington — Crafters & Co

If I could, I would clone Crafters & Co and bring it back home with me. It has a very nice vibe to it, with an enthusiastic, knowledgeable staff that is eager to talk about beers, espresso or anything else gastronomic with you. They seem to love working there.

For good reason. They have an ever-rotating selection of taps and bottles. According to my Untappd notes, I was enthusiastic about the Lakeman Brewing Co Hairy Hop IPA, and it puts the locally grown hops to good use. OK, one more nice offering at BREW: The Imperial Nibs from Kereru Brewing Company satisfied my craving for a darker beer. The bartender was sad that I missed out on the barrel-aged version recently on tap, but happy that he got to try it.

craft beer new zealand
Not only does Crafters & Co have a great beer selection, but they have one of my favorite charcuterie boards ever.

And here are two really huge bonuses: Crafters & Co has assembled a charcuterie board for the ages. I cannot entirely, positively identify everything that was on it, but I just don’t care. It was all delicious, and we devoured every last crumb. Also, the owners spotted Anneka and brought out a barrel full of toys to keep her occupied.

Nelson — Craft Beer Depot

You have to work a bit to find Craft Beer Depot. It’s behind a bunch of stores and down a little alley. You can sit outside at some old cable spools or on an old couch. People will bring their dogs, and it’s all good fun.

craft beer new zealand
The Craft Beer Depot in Nelson, NZ, isn’t easy to find.

I only saw one employee at Craft Beer Depot, who was a fellow American. She had some solid opinions about beer, and she’s more than happy to talk to people who really like their beer, too.

I made a few visits here – once to sit down and enjoy beer in good company, and another time to get some bottles to go. Here are the ones that stood out: the Funk Estate Bad Mama Jama imperial IPA and Perris Sky Juice IPA from Moa Brewing Company (odd, since I’m not a huge fan of the Moa beers that make it to the US).

New Zealand has definitely hopped wholeheartedly into craft beer. I can still taste a bit of UK-tinged restraint in many of its recipes, with just a few pushing the envelope into wilder flavors. The pubs and beer bars, though, seem to be pushing the brewers in that direction. And they’ve created a very nice vibe for enjoying beer and food. Great stuff!

 

CategoriesTastes

Where to Find Nitro Cold Brew – Updated April 2019

Right now, Starbucks is pretty pleased with itself over the nitro cold brew it’s pouring at select locations around the country.

Just don’t ask where those select locations are (hint: nowhere near you). I asked via their Twitter account and received possibly the most unhelpful tweet ever – in essence, call around and ask all 50 of your local Starbucks.

Now, if you know me, I don’t ordinarily go near a Starbucks. But I’m desperate for nitro cold brew. Since having my first taste of it in Portland, it’s been my holy-grail-white-whale of coffee beverages. With the creamy texture of a nitro-charged craft beer and the taste of super-smooth iced coffee, it’s hard to beat. It’s even spread into Costa Rica, where I recently had a super nitro cold brew.




But it’s not easy in Phoenix to find nitro cold brew. No sooner did Hazelrock launch theirs after months of delay did they go out of business. And not even Cartel Coffee Lab seems to be able to keep its nitro tap running. Where does that leave you in the Phoenix area if you yearn for a nitro cold brew? Here’s what I’ve found so far from independent coffee houses.

Chime in with your own leads!

nitro cold brew costa rica
A terrific nitro cold brew from Downtown Coffee Roasters in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Songbird Coffee & Tea House — This downtown Phoenix site pours nitro cold brew into a very nice glass similar to what you’d use for an imperial stout. The cold brew itself was a good example of the nitros I’ve sampled. It wasn’t the best, but it was far from the worst.

FiftyoneWest — This is an oddball coffeehouse that hasn’t decided whether to be a coffeehouse or a music venue -- and it’s honestly hard to do both, as I can tell you from being a musician and a coffee drinker. Anyway, the barista here screwed this nitro brew royally by putting ice in it. I can’t give a fair evaluation of the taste. If you go there, say "no ice, ffs."

Infusion Coffee and Tea — Here’s a terrific place to find nitro cold brew. All of the coffee drinks are excellent here, just as long as you don’t want them to use any alternative types of milk (sorry, anything but the cow just doesn’t work).

The Refuge Cafe — Here’s an interesting little spot. I understand it has some connections to a local Catholic church. Along with that, they also have a nice food menu. The nitro cold brew is solid here, though I’m not a huge fan of their espresso drinks. Very friendly place thanks to both staff and customers.

Press Coffee — Let me start by saying that Press totally violates one of my rules: They have more than one size of cappuccino. Yet the baristas largely know what they’re doing, so we’ll give them a pass. Press has multiple locations, too, and I believe all of them have nitro cold brew. I linked to the Apache location because one of their best baristas works there.

That’s all I have right now. Do you have any to add?

CategoriesTravelTastes

Twelve Hours in New York City

12 hours in new york city
A few out our window

New York City has never been high on my list of travel destinations. But I finally got out of the airport for a look around after years of putting it off and just using it for connecting flights.

The family flew into Newark on a cloudy Saturday, landing at about 2 p.m. We managed to cram a lot into the past 36 hours or so. Let me give you a quick rundown of just the first 12, with more to come in future posts.

First, we checked into the Millennium Hilton right near Ground Zero. We were quickly back out the door determined to hit Chinatown; we figured that would be a great place to find a late lunch. Sure enough, we ran across a few Vietnamese places. I was hoping to find either cha ca la vong or bun cha ha noi, two of my favorite items from nearly three weeks in Vietnam. Given how much New Yorkers love to talk about what a great food city they call home, I figured it wouldn’t be a tall order. Not a single one had either dish, but New Xe Lua looked promising. Sure enough, it had a great salmon caramel hot pot, plus a really nice com dish with pork chops, shredded BBQ pork and one of those egg/pork things that look like a slice of quiche. They also did a decent ca fe sua da. Anneka couldn’t decide what she liked best.

12 hours in new york city
Checking out some Vietnamese food

Then, we decided to march toward a few of the well-known local beer spots. Along the way, we discovered that New York City has some fine parks for the little people. Anneka had herself a blast – she hit the slides, did some stair-stepping and made a few new friends (even older kids seem to love her).

From there, we ventured toward the beer. But the Proletariat was too tiny and frankly, it’s selection too underwhelming. We reset our course toward the Blind Tiger (running across Seek & Destroy, mentioned a few paragraphs later). Also not super impressive, and not a good place to hang out with a toddler and an Ironman stroller. We set course to walk back toward our hotel and hope for the best.

12 hours in new york city
Anneka makes a new friend.

I can tell you at this point that New York City is not a craft beer city. Contrast that to my home city, whose shortcomings I love hanging in the wind – in downtown Scottsdale, I can walk from the outstanding Craft 64 to Sip Coffee & Beer House to Goldwater Brewing Co. to Brat Haüs to the Cornish Pasty Co, none of which is more than 5 minutes from the other. At any single one of those, visitors will have no problems finding outstanding regional, national and world craft beer (in the case of Craft 64, all the beers are from Arizona). I hear Brooklyn is somewhat better on this count, but I can’t confirm that yet.

New York City seek & destroy
A terrific vintage shop in New York City

So, we walked back south. As we strolled, we came across a very fun place called Seek & Destroy Vintage Clothing Story. My description, if Seek & Destroy hired me to write their advertising copy, would be "Seek & Destroy Vintage Clothing/Bondage Gear/Halloween/Military Surplus Store." I could spend hours there, and probably drop some decent money. This place would be great around Halloween time.

We continued our march, with Sarah noticing a place called Rice Cream Shoppe. I figured this was probably some sort of vegan/rice ice cream sort of place. But no! It’s a rice pudding shop, which is far better! They had at least 20 varieties of rice pudding and various toppings (including carob chips, which I’m nuts about). It was a great dessert that wasn’t too cold for a chilly night, and made neither of us feel like pigs.

Rice Cream Shoppe New York City
The Rice Cream Shoppe in New York City

From there, we continued to the hotel. I made a quick stop at a nearby Whole Foods hoping to take advantage of its beer selection. I had a quick chat with an employee, explaining that I’m from out of town, and would like suggestions for single bottles from regional breweries. He was friendly and helpful, but Whole Foods had few good choices. His first and most definite selection was Flower Power, a nice IPA from Ithaca Beer Co. I’m enjoying that right now, and I mean "enjoy." It’s a fine beer with an aftertaste of pear. I’d bet there’s Cascade and Simcoe hops in it. He also sent me home with Brooklyn Brewing’s Sorachi Ace. I’ll let you know about that one in a moment.

Five Minutes Later

Meh. Tastes kind of bubblegummy, but not in that Belgian yeast sort of way. Probably a characteristic of the Sorachi Ace hop. Not badly brewed or anything -- no off flavors that would indicate that the brewers don’t know their stuff. Just not a recipe I dig that much. Oh, well.
So, that’s 2 p.m. to midnight, first day in New York City. Not bad!

CategoriesAdventuresTastesTravel

Four Cheap Things to Do in Jeju, South Korea

Travel guidebooks sometimes call Jeju “the Hawaii of South Korea.” Though it falls short of Hawaii’s scenery, I really liked it. It has everything from a city of nearly half a million people to outdoor recreation. Also, this list of cheap things to do in Jeju will show you how to have fun without spending a lot.

Here are a few of my favorite parts of a visit to Jeju, along with one spot I regret missing. There is plentiful transportation; city buses run often, and taxis offer a reasonably priced option for quick trips around the city.

Seongsan Ilchulbong Cheap things to do in Jeju
At the base of Seongsan Ilchulbong

Cheap Things to Do in Jeju

Hike: Mount Halla (aka Hallasan)

A visit to the island’s highest point will give you a great view of the entire island. I enjoyed views of the many smaller volcanic cinder cones that dot the landscape. Along the way, I passed through forests populated by roe deer. Be sure to get an early start — there’s a 1 p.m. cutoff time to climb all the way to the summit. Hallasan not a technical hike, but the longest trail is 6 miles. There’s a 1,600 won fee to use the trails, which is about $1.50 U.S.

Climb: Seongsan Ilchulbong

This volcanic tuff cone pops up along the seashore and draws flocks of tour buses. The climb to the top is short, steep, and very crowded. But it’s worth the trip. On the way down, I found a second path that leads to the shore. There, you can try fresh raw seafood like abalone and octopus fresh from the water. The admission to climb Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak was 2,000 won, or about $1.70 U.S.

cheap things to do in jeju
Pick your spot for a makeshift tripod and make some photo magic,

Go Underground: Majanggul Lava Tube

A few miles south of the seashore, there’s massive lava tube designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Not all of Manjanggul-gil, Gujwa-eup is open to visitors, and those familiar with caving may be shocked at how developed it is. Still, the sheer size makes it worth mentioning on my list of cheap things to do in Jeju. A few features inside are well lit, and people handy with their camera settings can capture some images worthy of framing. I prefer my caves and lava tubes less developed, but I still enjoy any chance to go underground. The admission fee will fluctuate according to exchange rates, but it was less than $2 during my visit.

Imbibe: Boris Brewery

Travel guides say Modern Times is the best-known brewery at the moment. “Best-known” and “best beer” are two different things. Had I known about Boris Brewery, I would’ve bypassed Modern Times (the beer there is simply awful). The latest venture by brewer Boris de Mesones, Boris Brewery earned a bronze medal at the Australian AIWA international beer competition and a silver medal at the European Beer Star. I like hoppy brews, so I’d suggest trying the two India Pale Ales on tap.

If you’ll be in Jeju anyway, be sure to check out Jeju Loveland. I also have a blog post all about it. Enjoy!

CategoriesTastesTravel

48 Hours in Utah

In the mountains near Logan, Utah.

Believe it or not, I did not cause a single person to spontaneously combust during my visit to Utah. I understand why this might be a concern – after all, I am a long-haired, heavy metal, craft beer character. And Utah. Well, take those three things, and spin them 180 degrees.

Still, I enjoyed my visit. Here are a few completely random observations about a two-day stay in Utah, which took us from Salt Lake City to spend two night in Logan before returning to Salt Lake City for the flight home. We were there for Sarah to run her first post-baby marathon, which was the excellent, well-run, super-scenic Top of Utah Marathon.

Driving a Prius Kind of Sucks

This is less about Utah and more a general observation. We both loved the Prius gas mileage. The steering, breaking and acceleration, however, were absolutely porcine. Possibly even bovine. If Subaru dials its hybrid XV Crosstrek in for better gas mileage (and a halfway decent name), it will have people like us volitionally selling our current Subarus and getting into hybrids.

utah
Ogden – a weird little Utah town.

Ogden is a Weird Little Town

I don’t know quite what to make of Ogden. The first person I saw there was a shambling homeless dude who was not firing on all cylinders. The town seems to have a homeless problem, which for us culminated in a dude stinking up the entire first floor of the Grounds For Coffee. This coffee shop, by the way, has some weirdness of its own. One day, the barista cranked out some quality cappuccinos for us (attention, espresso snobs – they only offer one size). Two days later, the barista did a pretty half-assed job -- possibly because she had a crowd of local hipsters clamoring for her attention. I dunno. Personally, I’d poke my nose in and see how big the crowd is. If there are more than two people in line, I’d cross the street to the friendly Pearl Milk Tea Club.

Ogden, though, has some cool old buildings that have been gentrified silly. They are home to trendy, spendy shops. Nothin’ wrong with that. I also have a place called The Barrelhouse that I need to mock: On a chalkboard listing its craft beers, it listed Stella Artois. People, this is Europe’s Budweiser. It is made by the tanker ship load. It is not in any way “craft.” That’s like saying Justin Bieber is kvlt.

How could we NOT pose for this photo?

The Mountains are Cool

The drive to Logan (Utah) is dotted by some moderate-sized mountains. They look brown and dry, which reminds me of The Remarkables, those beautiful, stark, cinematic mountains you may have seen in Lord of the Rings -- or lining the adventure sports capitol of Queenstown, New Zealand.

Logan is Exceedingly Pleasant

On the surface, Logan is a 21st century Mayberry – a walkable city center, little farmer’s markets, awesome old-school brick houses. Ahhhh, Americana. Yet you can find a yoga class (not on weekends, as easily) and a decent coffeehouse in the form of Ibis.

utah
A bike shop got creative with its old tires.

It has trees. It has rivers. It has a beautiful park or three. And even a place where you can acquire freshly harvested bull semen. OK, maybe that’s not so Mayberry -- or is it, Otis?

But Logan Have Three Problems (As Borat Might Say)

Food, blight and a – ahem, how shall I put this? – fermented beverages.

First the food. Here’s the honest truth: For the better part of 24 hours I didn’t want to eat anything. My prime suspect is HuHot Mongolian Grill. I woke the morning after it, and my stomach wanted nothing. Every food commercial on TV and every smell made my stomach feel like it was full of live frogs. I only got better after a handy purchase from the pharmacy, which led me to Jack’s Wood Fired Oven. There, a pepperoni pizza with smoked cheddar cheese led me back toward normalcy. Sarah didn’t exactly give rave reviews to an Indian place she tried, even though Anneka approved enough to attempt snagging a platter of naan from a nearby table (cute babies can get away with nearly anything).

utah
Some hard-partying Logan residents were here. Jones Soda – scandalous! But at least it’s not caffeinated.

So, blight. I mentioned all the awesome, cozy-looking houses earlier. But walk away from the nicer areas, and there are some areas that just look flat-out abandoned. Some businesses seemed more closed permanently than closed for the day. Lots of empty buildings, and more than a few boarded up.

And onto fermented beverages. OK, I get it – this is a very Mormon city in a very Mormon state. But the archaic beer laws got repealed years ago. And if not beer, let’s talk about all that honey that makes everyone around here swell with pride like a tick gourging on a moose’s rump. Turn some of that into mead! If Superstition Meadery in Prescott is proving anything, it’s that people will love mead once they try it. What’s not to love about wine made out of honey? And if the local honey is that awesome, do those hard-working bees some justice!

That wraps up my ramblings of Utah. I’d like to stay a little longer – but some mead or craft beers would make my return far more likely. As-is, I think Colorado is a better bet for a guy like me.

Hey! I have other stories about being in Utah. Check ’em out!

 

CategoriesAdventuresTastesTravel

First Impressions of Toronto

toronto
A few moments from landing in Toronto.

On paper, I’m nothing you’d expect from an Arizonan. I have an instinctive grasp of hockey. I’m a member of the local curling club. Really, I should be from Canada.

But I haven’t even been to Canada in more than five years. That changed with my first trip away from the Southwest since this spring. I’m here to attend Mindcamp, a conference for creative professionals.

I got here the day before the conference starts just to allow cushion for things to go wrong. So far, the trip has been a mixed bag on that end. My first flight on WestJet (which will get a blog post of its own) was a great success. Unfortunately, my allegedly unlocked phone and international calling plan are hardly living up to the name – yet another time when T-Mobile has disappointed me. I also goofed up my check-in for the Holiday Inn Toronto Downtown Center; that was my fault, though I was able to change my reservation in less than 10 minutes.

toronto
My room at the Holiday Inn.

I spent my first evening roaming Toronto. Being a craft beer fan, I had my radar pinging for a likely hangout. I wound up walking down Church Street, which lives up to its name with a series of elegant mini-cathedrals. They are just the tip of what makes Toronto’s architecture interesting; there’s a lot of classic gothic-inspired architecture right alongside some swoopy, modern lines that would be right at home from Sydney to Tokyo. Speaking of which, I can see the CN Tower from my room on the 22nd floor.

toronto c'est what
Testing craft beer at C’est What

Here’s a quick summary of my more interesting finds:

  • C’est What – A terrific beer bar that offers a mix of its own recipes, along with craft brews from around the region. I saw lots of interesting adjuncts from hemp to cacao nibs to ginger. And one of their guest taps, the Dereliction, was rated at more than 200 IBUs! (It was delicious.) They also take their food seriously, and aim for locally sourced ingredients. My poutine was pretty terrific, and the service was very personable and knowledgeable.
  • Loblaw’s – This appears to be a grocery chain, and it’s probably something locals take for granted. But I could’ve disappeared in the seafood section alone. It’s where I’m planning to have my first breakfast, for sure.
  • Toronto Railway Museum – I wish this had been open when I found it. But it was way too late, I guess. It’s built into an old wheelhouse which it shares with Steamwhistle Brewing and some retail stores. There’s also a tiny mini-railway out front along with some locomotives. Beautiful use of existing structures.
  • Daily Sushi Japanese Restaurant– It’s a few doors down from my hotel. I had a nice sampler plate of that chef’s recommendations. The waiter was also kind enough to bring me some tempura squash on the house.
toronto
An old locomotive silhouetted against the Toronto skyline

My snap judgment on Toronto is that it has an upwardly mobile, confident, prosperous feel. I don’t find it quite as friendly as Vancouver. The Starbucks outnumber the Tim Horton’s, and damn if I can find anything resembling a for-real coffeehouse on par with Stumptown, Intelligentsia or anything of that ilk. If you put me down somewhere random in Toronto and didn’t tell me where I was, it would remind me of a power-washed Chicago -- even though the drivers and cyclists are far more courteous here. It just has that big Midwestern city flavor to it. I do love its cosmopolitan diversity, though. It’s the melting pot that the U.S. claims to be.

Next up, I take the bus to Orillia for Mindcamp!

 

CategoriesTastes

Maverick Coffee in Scottsdale – A Quick Review

maverick coffee
A look at the barista work area and menu.

When I was in Australia and New Zealand, I discovered flat whites and the joy of savory snacks along with coffee. Here in the U.S., flat whites are a rarity. And most of your coffeehouse snacks lean on the sweet side; the antipodean cafes, though, recognize the value of a spinach-mushroom-feta muffin.

If you live near the southeast corner of Shea Boulevard and Scottsdale Road, though, Maverick Coffee has you covered. You’ll get just-about-Australian coffee experience thanks to owners who are Australian. There are a few tweaks versus what I experienced (most notably, the cream and sugar are out for customers to use, where it seemed like all the Australian coffeehouses added them upon request).

maverick coffee
A look at some Maverick Coffee drinks.

Maverick Coffee serves flat whites, and also a super-nice drink called a piccolo. I guess a lot of shops would call it a cortado … but a lot of the different names are about splitting hairs, and there are fewer absolutes than anyone wants to admit. If you’re less into espresso drinks, Maverick Coffee also makes a terrific Chemex.

Now, about those Aussie meat pies on the menu – they’re delicious. The brownie is sludgy and moist, just the way I like a brownie. And even if you’re a coffee fan, trying the iced white tea sometime. Maverick Coffee also sells little bags of nuts called … Nut Sacks!

maverick coffee
“That’s right, Star … bucks. I AM dangerous.”

And parents, you’ll like this: There’s a room toward the back with a sliding wooden door. You’ll find games and books for them to enjoy (and there are books for regular ol’ grown-ups, too). This is a nice family-friendly feature.

The seating in the main part of Maverick Coffee is also comfortable, with couches, low tables and high tables, plus plenty of power outlets. The lighting is comfortably dim (and the fixtures are super cool and retro-industrial). I also like that the music isn’t overwhelmingly loud.

Mwpid-img_20150710_150850974.jpgaverick Coffee also keeps and icy jug of water for customers to chase the coffee – which is also very Australian. I didn’t see any restaurants in Australia or New Zealand that didn’t have a “serve yourself” water setup; I like that a lot better than A) waiting for a server to refill my water or B) servers filling my water when the level is down a half-inch.

Scottsdale, count yourself lucky to have Maverick Coffee.

CategoriesAccommodationsTastesTravel

San Diego: Beyond Mission Beach and the Usual Suspects

San Diego
San Diego Airport looks like an airport should.

So what do you do in San Diego when you’ve been to Horton Plaza, the Gaslamp District, Mission Beach, Sea World and all the other usual suspects?

Well. Let me tell you. We all packed up for three nights near San Diego, and we were determined to do a few things that were – while not exactly unknown – at least a bit different from the usual "Arizonans Go to San Diego" trip. Here’s a breakdown of our trip.

San Diego
The Coffee & Tea Collective is for people who like espresso in their espresso.

THURSDAY

We arrived into the shiny Terminal 2 at San Diego International Airport. It was a quick shuttle run over to the Avis counter, where we had a Subaru Legacy waiting for us. Car rental rates in San Diego are really reasonable – something like $115 for us to have the car until Sunday.

Soon, we were on our way north. Sarah had business in San Diego the next day, but all the downtown hotels were booked at absurd rates thanks to the Wookies, Hobbits, Minions and other creatures that were in town for Comicon. We checked into the Comfort Suites San Diego Miramar – just by sheer coincidence, it was across the parking lot from Shozen BBQ, a Korean BBQ restaurant. We ordered some bulgogi, and the friendly staff stuffed us with marinated, grilled-at-the-table meat and banchan (I believe Koreans are the Italians of Asia – the meal isn’t finished if you can walk away from the table unassisted).

Inside Ballast Point Brewing Company
Inside Ballast Point Brewing Company (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We had to walk a bit of the meal off, so we waddled further across the parking lot to San Diego Games and Comics. Sarah and I aren’t really much into that sort of thing, but I always find the staff and customers at gaming stores to be fun people. San Diego Games and Comics upheld that perception, and we walked out with a Firefly boardgame (Firefly is simply one of the best shows ever, and cursed be the Fox suits who canceled it).

Afterward, we felt like beer. Amazingly, the nearby tasting rooms close a bit early. That left us with Ballast Point Brewing Company – Miramar, which was just a few miles away. We arrived to a far larger and more elaborate building than we imagined; some of the fermenters looked as large as ICBMs! We ordered tasters of a bunch of their more interesting brews (consult my OnTappd profile for some highlights). We had a great server, and enjoyed the overall ambiance – energetic, but not too noisy for our little person -- who remained asleep the entire time.

On the way there, we also noticed the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum; I wanted to stop sometime, but we never got around to it this trip. But if you like aviation, it looks like a very fun place.

San Diego
The Ironsmith crew works it.

FRIDAY

Sarah’s business was Priority 1 for early Friday. We parked and parted ways – I loaded Tiny into her carriage and set off on-foot throughout downtown San Diego. We passed a coffee shop that was attached to a cat shelter (I didn’t drink the coffee since I just didn’t the feeling it would have very good coffee) and a who’s-who of comic/sci-fi characters: Sam & Frodo, Imperator Furiosa, many to-me-unknown anime characters, and so on.

San Diego
A sweet breakdown of espresso drinks.

My Find of the Morning, though, was definitely the Coffee & Tea Collective (East Village/Downtown). What a cool place! First-rate cappuccino; taps for cold-brew, kombucha and tea; an airy, open atmosphere; and a staff that I really liked. Now, I can imagine people who like coffee that tastes like ice cream will leave the Coffee & Tea Collective in a huff – they don’t sling syrupy, sugar-filled drinks. But if you know the difference between a cortado and a macchiato, this is your place.

A few hours later, Sarah was ready to head north. I got some time behind the Subaru Legacy’s wheel – both of us are Subaru owners, with both of ours being the 2006 vintage. We grew to appreciate the read-facing camera. The controls were all familiar enough, once we figured out the difference in the cruise control apparatus. I still am unclear on the paddles on either side of the steering wheel – and honestly, the brakes on both of are ours (Forester and Outback Sport) felt more progressive, and our acceleration feels less abrupt.

But enough of that. I felt like taking a little break before getting into Carlsbad, our final destination for the day. I made a guess on an exit; fortuitously, this exit dumped us out right in the middle of Encinitas. From there, we happened on three places the we really liked:

  • The delicious Ironsmith Coffee Roasters. Excellent cappuccino and tea – and they even have flat whites! Try a chocolate chip sea-salt cookie, too. Ironsmith caters to all sorts: You can get a lovingly crafted espresso drink, or a toothachingly sweet creation that more confection than coffee.
  • Ecotopiia, which sells some awesome goods made out of eco-friendly materials. Sarah picked up a few hemp-cotton dresses, and I got a few hemp-cotton t-shirts (I can never have enough of them). I’d love to have a store like Ecotopiia near me.
  • Sonima Wellness Center is a wellness center, so it has some tasty foods along with its fitness room. I’m still a little skeptical of a $9 smoothie – but the caramel-coconut brownie is the real deal. Dates are its main ingredient, and it’s one of the best vegan foods I’ve ever had. Plus Sonima Wellness Center is a nice place to sit down for a few moments.
San Diego
A nice place to get a great snack.

We were then on to La Quinta Inn & Suites San Diego Carlsbad. We took some time there for some exercise, plus watching the US National Team play in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Then we were out for dinner and brew. We had a hunger for seafood, which led us to Fish House Vera Cruz. I had a delicious grilled ono, and Sarah had a skewer with a good five different species represented – all were cooked just right. Fish House Vera Cruz could probably stand to update its list of early 1980s-style side dishes, but its seafood is pretty darn timeless.

san diego
How good does that sound?

We were in a beer quandary next: the boisterous, chaotic mess that is Pizza Port, or the more laid-back 83 Degrees? The latter’s list didn’t blow us away, so we wound up on the patio at Pizza Port – inside, it’s simply too cramped and loud to enjoy yourself at all. Sarah volunteered to get us some samplers. Moments after she sat down, the staff announced that they were closing the patio. So we didn’t get our usual leisurely time to linger over the beers, and that’s too bad. They were absolutely wonderful, and I would’ve liked some Untappd time with them. But no – the staff was too eager to herd everyone off the patio. We didn’t stick around for a second round, and just called it a night. Next time I go to a Pizza Port, it definitely won’t be this location.

SATURDAY

This was a beach day. Little Traveler got her first dip in an ocean, which wasn’t exactly her favorite thing ever. I’m sure she’ll grow to like it better as she gets older.

carlsbad beach
Baby’s first time at the beach!

After that, we were off to have a look at Oceanside. Honestly, Oceanside is nothing special. We talked around for awhile, had lunch at Bull Taco, and left. Bull Taco has other locations – go to one of them rather than Oceanside.You’ll like nearly any taco on the menu, and the huge selection of hot sauces will also help.

It was still early, so we picked a brewery tasting room. This time, it was Iron Fist Brewing Company. I didn’t love every beer, but some were outstanding (again, connect with my untappd account for the highlights). And the atmosphere and staff were everything you want in a brewery tasting room. Iron Fist Brewing also has food trucks to provide some solid food to accompany the craft beer.

san diego beer
Delicious samplers at Iron Fist.

We spent some time relaxing at the hotel before heading back to Encinitas for some walking around and the promise of dinner. Warning: Things in Encinitas – and all the other beach communities – close early. We didn’t really want pizza, but wound up having a perfectly nice pie at URBN Coal Fired Pizza.

Part of our nighttime experience was seeing these weird lights in the sky. Being the aviation aficionado that I am, I was still unable to identify what I was seeing. If you’re an Encinitas local, can you explain? They were visible from the time were arrived in Encinitas (around 9:15) until we left (past 11). My best guess is drones or some sort of tethered balloons with lights on them.

San Diego Beer.
Hanging out at Culture Brewing Company.

SUNDAY

Well, we just reprised a few stops in Encinitas before pulling over near Solana Beach for a few moments. The highlight there is Culture Brewing Co; I had tasters of a nice IPA made with Nelson Sauvin hops and a sweet, roasty stout. You’ll also find food trucks at Culture. I wish I’d found them a few days earlier, but they never appeared on my brewery searches.

We ran out of time for the Flying Leathernecks Museum, but that just gives us a to-do for the next time we’re near San Diego. I hope you’ll borrow a few of these ideas for your own future trip to San Diego.

 

CategoriesTastesTravel

Destinations for Adventurous Eaters

One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to eat something completely off-the-wall. Some foreign destinations make that easy thanks to immigrant populations that influence local cuisine, unusual flora and fauna and historical necessity. Here are some great places in Australia, New Zealand and Iceland where I’ve used my tastebuds as crash-test dummies – and I know other adventurous eaters will have fun at any one of these.

Australia for Adventurous Eaters

Being close to Asia gives Australia some wonderfully spicy treats. Though you can get many Asian flavors in any major U.S. city, it’s still worth diving into any Indian, Thai or Indonesian restaurants you can find.

ADVENTUROUS EATERS
One of the many delights waiting for adventurous eaters in Australia is the black sapote, aka chocolate pudding fruit.

But it’s Australia’s abundant wildlife, one odd import and its fruit that will interest adventurous eaters. It’s not at all unusual to see salt-water crocodile, emu and kangaroo on the menu. At the Australian Heritage Hotel in Sydney, I found all three as pizza toppings. Less common is camel, which I found turned into schnitzel at the Wharf Precinct in the Northern Territory outpost of Darwin.

Let’s say you’re a vegetarian. There’s still plenty for you in Australia. See, the country’s really not all desert. The province of Queensland is incredibly lush. There, you’ll find the Cape Trib Exotic Fruitfarm a few hours north of Cairns. The Cape Trib Exotic Fruit Farm hosts tastings, where you’ll learn about and sample a pretty overwhelming array of unusual fruits – takes notes and photos if you want to remember them. On my tasting list was black sapote, dragonfruit, jackfruit, sapodilla star fruit, mangosteen and soursop. And I’m leaving out many.

Can Adventurous Eaters Bear Finland?

The food in Finland is pretty agreeable stuff that won’t challenge adventurous eaters. You’ll see more game meat on the menu than in the United States, and there are kitschy places offering “viking” style foods. As you might imagine, good seafood isn’t hard to find.

There’s one place that might interest adventurous eaters, though: On the island of Suomenlinna, I found a place called Panimo serving bear sausage. They also had some decent craft beer there – I remember the IPA being particularly good.

Exotic Options in New Zealand

Travel writers have slammed the culinary efforts in New Zealand. That amazes me. It’s home to some great local lamb and outstanding seafood. And it’s certainly a great place to find unusual flavors. Like Australia, Asian immigrants have brought the spice. But even aside from that, adventurous eaters will find plenty of fun.

adventurous eaters
Look for Aggys Shack a few steps away from Lake Wakatipu.

During a bus ride from Nelson to Franz Josef Glacier, our driver told us all about the possum pie at the Sandfly Cafe in Pukekura. Despite his assurances that it’s “easy to eat,” I was the only one to get a personal-size pie stuffed with stringy bits of possum. It’s not great nor revolting – but it’s fun to say you’ve eaten possum.

On the South Island, whitebait is another local favorite – and possibly a test of a traveler’s willingness to try anything. They’re recently hatched freshwater fish, usually mixed in with egg. Whitebait is fairly pricey, probably because it’s fairly labor-intensive to catch them.

Finally, Queenstown is a great stop to try unusual bites. There, I discovered that Aggys Shack, Fish & Chips is the only place I’ve ever seen where you can order a whole smoked eel. Skip the fish & chips (even thought they’re also tasty) and pick the eel and a nice order of fresh green-lipped mussels. Sitting on the shore of Lake Wakatipu while eating mussels and eel from Aggys Shack is a great eating experience.

Iceland for Wild Eaters

Talk about a harsh, barren place: According to Wikipedia’s statistics, less than one percent of Iceland’s land area is arable. The rest is lava flows and glaciers. That makes for some gastronomic ingenuity.

Take hakarl (pronounced “howker” – and be sure to check out the link so you can see video of me eating hakarl, and find out what I did with the leftovers). Early settlers in Iceland were so pressed for food that they had to discover ways to make the toxic flesh of the Greenland shark fit for eating.

Here’s what they did – gut the shark, bury it for a few months, exhume it, cut it into strips, let it hang a few months more, and enjoy. The result is rubbery and smells like cat urine. This is an ultimate “been there, eaten that” food for adventurous eaters.

adventurous eaters
Some Greenland shark putrefying Icelandic style.

Then there’s the excellent smoked trout available just about everywhere in Iceland. What makes it unusual? Well, it’s smoked over fires produced by burning dried lamb dung.

There are also certain places where Icelanders eat pickled rams testicles and entire sheep heads with the eyes still planted in the skull.

Larva and More in South Korea

People who are not adventurous eaters are really frightened of kimchi, the famous, spicy fermented cabbage that seems to be South Korea’s best-known food. I even know people who can’t stomach bi bim bap, that delicious bend of marinated meat, vegetables and rice.

I’d hate to see what happened if they ever tried boiled silkworm larva. This little delicacy is available from sidewalk vendors all over Seoul. I bought a cup to share with my very lucky wife. The taste was a combination of leather and liver. But the worst part was that the larvae absorbed the water they were cooked in.

Each sizable larva exploded when I bit down, squirting larva just in my mouth with an audible “plup” sound. We only ate half our bowl, but it was still fun doing it. I’d prefer them fried, like in the photo above.

So, what about you? What are your favorite places to dig into weird foods? Have you tried anything I’ve mentioned?

An earlier version of this story appeared on the now-defunct Yahoo! Voices site.

CategoriesTastes

The Latest Scottsdale Craft Beer Hangouts

Scottsdale craft beer
There’s plenty of Scottsdale craft beer destinations to serve you something tasty.

There’s a new craft beer place popping up every few minutes in Scottsdale. Or it at least seems that way. Right now, I can think of five in south Scottsdale alone, and another in central Scottsdale. So, let me tell you a few of my observations about them -- and pitch in with your own thoughts or suggestions for Scottsdale craft beer bars I may have missed. (I’m leaving the super-delicious Fate out of this because they’re not exactly new anymore -- but damn, they had a mint-grapefruit IPA that I loved.)

Craft 64
The minds behind Craft 64 know what they’re doing. They have wood-fired pizza, big salads, charcuterie and legit desserts (I’ve hounded the staff at Papago Brewing for years about dessert, to no avail). So you can have a full meal, a light snack or a dessert to go along with your craft beer. The beer menu is focused mostly Arizona beers, which is great for out-of-town visitors who might not get a chance to sample so many in one sitting; Craft 64 doesn’t brew its own, but that may come in the future. The staff has also been very friendly on all three of our visits.

Oh, and there’s no live music or overly loud noise to get in the way of a nice conversation. This could be the Scottsdale craft beer house that gets most of our business.

Scottsdale craft beer
It makes me so happy that the former Famous Pacific Fish Company has been revitalized as a microbrewery.

Two Brothers
Like so many others who found their way to Arizona, Two Brothers Tap House and Brewery originated in Illinois. It set up shop inside the former Famous Pacific Seafood Company, an open, two-story brick building with a great ambiance. The Outlaw IPA is terrific, and the Night Cat is the most surprising-in-a-good-way wheat beer I’ve ever tasted.

On our first visit, the server was knowledgeable, fast and friendly. The second time around, the entire staff seemed thoroughly disinterested. It took forever to get a beer, and they were out of many of the selections we wanted to try. And the kitchen was already closed, so no dessert to go along with the stout. Blah. I’ll give it another shot, of course, because another viable Scottsdale craft beer house is always welcome.

Union Barrelhouse
I’m really not sure how to feel about Union Barrelhouse. It has a huge craft beer selection, good food and at least one super-tasty dessert (one of the better takes on a half-baked mound of cookie dough). But the service can be really slow and indifferent. I haven’t recognized a single staff member during my multiple visits. That’s not a great sign.

Union Barrelhouse does have some good beers on tap, but avoid the Oil Can Porter. It had a really unfortunate blue cheese flavor that just doesn’t belong in any beer on this planet.

Scottsdale Beer Company
This new addition slid into the same plaza that once had some national chain brewery that went under and got turned into yet another Culver’s. I want to say it was a Rock Bottom. But anyway, onto Scottsdale Beer Company. Nothing I had set my world on fire – we did a sampler flight of all the higher-strength hard-hitters. Even the more allegedly hoppy ones of the bunch had more of a grainy taste. If I had been taste-testing without knowing what they were, I would have rated none of them above a pale ale.

The food was good, though, and that counts for something. They also had some fine guest beers, and the server knew her stuff. Scottsdale Beer Company has potential, but it’s not there yet.

Sip Coffee & Beer House
This new Scottsdale craft beer hangout is close to greatness. It serves coffees and teas in addition to the brews, which is very nice. And the selection generally has some winners – this is where I discovered the wonder of the Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin IPA.

But Sip Coffee & Beer House needs to stay open later, and it must, must, must get some dessert. Dry muffins don’t count. I also like the people here. I’m willing to keep coming back, but I’d love to see its few shortcomings get a little attention.

Goldwater Brewing Company
Just a few steps between Sip and Union Barrel House, a new Scottsdale craft beer brewery is set to open. I’m not sure what to expect from Goldwater Brewing Co., but the place looks great. There’s always room for more, and I for one look forward to meeting these new craft beer overlords.

I left Bad Water Brewing out because I haven’t been there, and I’m not likely to go. Their beers (listed under the “Products” heading of their website, which is incredibly bad word choice) sound too bland … saisons, lagers, a 5.5-percent IPA? What’s up with that? That’s a pale ale, folks.

Coming in a future episode, I’ll break down what’s what with craft beer on the west side of the Valley – it’s really picking up out there!

CategoriesTastes

6 Great Desserts Worth Traveling For

great desserts
The famous Boston cream pie. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An earlier version of this blog post about great desserts appeared on Yahoo Voices. Since Yahoo Voices is no longer among the living, I updated and resurrected it – because … dessert! Be sure to chip in with your favorites in the comments.\

I recently wound up at a Cheesecake Factory for a work function. And it’s not quite right to go to a place named after cheesecake and not try some.

A slice of milquetoast chocolate-coconut cheesecake and a boatload of calories later, I wondered who’d stolen the flavor from my dessert. It was so bland that I had to pine away for the great desserts I’ve eaten while traveling. If you’re planning to travel, scan this list and see if you’ll wind up near them. If you do, be sure to drop in for some seriously fine desserts.

great desserts
The chocolate bread and butter pudding at Cornish Pasty Co. It is a quantum singularity of deliciousness. This one has a side of creme anglais – you can also get it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Finale – There’s obviously more to Boston than baked beans. Or even Boston cream pie. If it’s great desserts you want, get to one of the three Finale Desserterie & Bakery locations. Try a sampler platter – there are too many goodies on the menu to pick just one. My dining party outvoted me, but I would’ve gone for the Retro Chocolate platter. I didn’t mind our sampler platter – I just thought it contained a few tame choices and too many things with berries: When I eat dessert, I load up on the chocolate. The chocolate lava cake was the standout.

Mungalli Creek Dairy – I blame this little dairy in the remote Atherton Table Lands of Australia for ruining all other cheesecakes for me. Ever since trying the Sicilian cheesecake (whole-milk ricotta, orange glace, flecks of dark chocolate, cinnamon cookie crust) at Mungalli Creek Dairy, every other cheesecake I’ve sampled disappoints me. Maybe there’s something about making cheesecake from the milk of cows that are wandering around. Just getting there adds to the adventure – it’s a few hours away from Cairns near the town of Yungaburra. And it will involve a trip through the hills on a narrow country road.

great desserts
A porter, an IPA and a mostly demolished brownie with raspberry ice cream at the Aegir brewery.

Patagonia Chocolates – Queenstown, NZ, is mostly known for its adventure sports. A few more places like Patagonia Chocolates could also put the scenic city on the map for great desserts. For me, the star at Patagonia is the ice cream. The banana split flavor isn’t what Americans might expect since it lacked strawberry, focusing mostly on banana and chocolate flavors. I was only in Queenstown for a two days, but made three stops at Patagonia for ice cream.

Sufistin Kaffihus – It takes about 15 minutes by bus to reach Sufistin Kaffihus from Reykjavik. And it’s worth all the uncertainty of wondering which stop is the right one for those of us still flummoxed by the Icelandic language. The chocolate-coconut cake there was worth every calorie – it was sweet enough to be a proper dessert, but not so cloying that it was a chore to finish the last bite. It was also fairly light despite its richness. It was all about balanced sensations and letting the individual ingredients shine through. Sufistin doesn’t have a Web site – but you’ll find it near The Viking Hotel in Hafnarfjörder.

great desserts
The super-awesome Sufistinn Kaffihus on a summer day in Iceland.

Ægir microbrewery – There’s a lot to praise about this brewery in Norway – first, it looks like a historic stave church. Inside, you could imagine vikings trying to drink each other under the table. The beer is excellent, too. But this is all about great desserts, so let’s talk about the chocolate brownie … we had it drizzled with some raspberry sauce. A scoop of raspberry ice cream topped it off nicely. It pairs very well with any dark beers on the tap list (the lineup changes frequently).

Cornish Pasty Co – When I want a serious dessert, I go to the nearest of the three Cornish Pasty Co. locations in the Phoenix area (there’s also a The Cornish Pasty Co. in Las Vegas). I usually get a chocolate bread-and-butter pudding if I want a big dose of chocolate. Otherwise, I go for a banoffee pie – never heard of it? The Cornish Pasty Co. version is a collision of bananas, caramel, graham crackers and made-right-there fresh whipped cream. There are other desserts, too, but these are my standouts. Hint: Only the hugest appetites will be able to manage eating a pasty and a dessert.