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?

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.

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!

 

Mead – The Coolest Thing in Prescott

mead
You’re right near the mead – just walk to the photo’s left. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the last five years, I’ve predicted that mead will be the next big thing. I’ve expected it to lure craft beer and wine drinkers alike.

But damn, it hasn’t happened. Few people know what I’m even talking about – if you’re one of them, mead is a super-tasty beverage made from fermented honey. It can be tart, it can be sweet, it can be dry, it can even be sour. It can be knock-you-on-your-ass strong, or far gentler than a typical wine. It’s arguably the world’s oldest fermented beverage, too.

mead
This guy knows how to drink mead.

Am I discouraged? Nope. Because, if Superstition Meadery in Prescotthas anything to say about it, the Age of Mead is finally at hand. Besides having a mead named Best in the World, Superstition Meadery has also opened what might be the perfect tasting room in the basement of a row of buildings on Gurley Street.

I didn’t take any photos – I didn’t have a decent camera. Here’s the picture: It’s dimly lit and comfortable. It’s a perfect place for conversation. You can get flights, glasses and bottles. The menu is absolute perfection: small snacks like charcuterie, cheese platters, a chocolate platter and what amounts to a gourmet grilled ham and cheese. This is exactly what I want with mead. I wish every craft beer bar had items like this.

mead
Meadmaking in progress at Superstition Meadery. (photo by The History Tourist)

The staff is knowledgeable and opinionated, steering mead first-timers and longtime fans equally well. I had a delicious flight of five: the lightly hopped and saffron-infused OM; the dark, hard-hitting Safeword; Maple Stinger; my favorite, the stupifyingly delicious Sweet Mesquite; and one whose name I don’t remember. Unfortunately, neither the Superstition Meadery website nor Facebook page list what’s currently being served. Sweet Mesquite is so good that it gives my personal previous favorite mead, Viking Blød, a pretty good run for its money (I just love the slight note of cola I always taste).

This brings me to two minor quibbles. The first is about the Superstition Meadery website. I would love to get into that thing with one of my designer friends to team up – one of us to re-write the content (first, purging that page written in all caps) and the other to make a consistent, easy-to-read look and feel to each page. Oh, and there should always be a list of what’s being served in the tap room – for reference, if nothing else. I also see there’s occasional live music in the tasting room. I’m one of those who believes in separating music from enjoying beverages with friends. When I want to listen to live music, I’m rockin’ hard, and I am not in a frame of mind to enjoy the nuances of a fine beverage and a plate of chocolates. So if you’re like me, visit early in the evening.

These complaints are super-minor. And consider this: No other city in Arizona has a meadery. And this is by far my favorite tasting room. It has atmosphere, excellent service and super snacks to go along with award-winning mead. Go to Prescott, and be sure to visit Superstition Meadery.

The PERCH Pub & Brewery – First Visit

The PERCH Pub & Brewery
Hanging out at The PERCH Pub & Brewery.

I just got my first look at The PERCH Pub & Brewery in Chandler. Sarah and I went there for dinner and some nice craft beer. The bottom line: A very welcome addition to downtown Chandler, which is an area on its way up thanks to places like this. Sorry I don’t have very good photos – if I knew how cool that place would look, I’d have brought a real camera.

Here are a few specifics to give you an idea of what to expect if you visit The PERCH Pub & Brewery.

  • First off, The PERCH Pub & Brewery doesn’t brew its own; though it’s website mentions "in house brews," I didn’t see them on the list. I hope that comes in the future. For now, the beer list is split between craft beer from local breweries and beyond. There’s Guinness for the un-adventurous. It’s a good beer list. And here’s something: When you order a stout, it doesn’t show up at
    The PERCH Pub & Brewery
    Birdies at The PERCH Pub & Brewery.

    the table cold. It’s just slightly cooler than room temperature, perfect for getting the most out of the flavors.

  • The atmosphere might be the most interesting and distinct of any brewpub in Phoenix: A few huge bird cages filled with parrots, macaws, love birds, parakeets and other feathered critters make for a very cool vibe. Seating is mostly outdoors, with a second-story balcony area overlooking a downtown Chandler that keeps looking better all the time.
  • The idea of serving smoked burgers is a good one. But I’d recommend letting the burgers spend a little less time in the smoker. They’re a bit overcooked and drier than they could be.
  • Our server was excellent – prompt and personable. He knows his craft beer, and he seemed to take a lot of pride in The PERCH Pub & Brewery. Always a good thing when the employees buy into the concept and like being there.
  • Beware of the bathroom situation. There’s generally a long line. I opted for some portable toilets outside; I think there’s more construction going on, and I’d expect The PERCH Pub & Brewery to have additional restrooms in the
    The PERCH Pub & Brewery
    Catching a nap at The PERCH Pub & Brewery

    plans. You can only rent craft beer, you know!

  • The PERCH Pub & Brewery could use some dessert. I can’t knock them for not having every single thing I want from the get-go. Better to start off with a smaller menu and work your way up from there. I do hope dessert is in the future -- it just goes well with craft beer.

The PERCH Pub & Brewery is a great new reason for craft beer fans to visit Chandler. I prefer it to San Tan Brewery (which is walking distance away), though I think San Tan still has the edge in food right now. That could easily change. I just happen to like what The PERCH Pub & Brewery offers in atmosphere, and I like its craft beer list better.

 

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Where to Drink Craft Beer in Chicago

craft beer in chicago
From taps to t-shirts, Revolution Brewing sports an agitprop look.

During my last visit, I had a hard time finding a good place to drink craft beer in Chicago. Well, two years brought a lot of change.

Last time, I interrogated a transplant from Colorado working at a Rock Bottom just north of the Loop. He directed me to Haymarket Pub & Brewery, which was a winner. I was determined to find something new when I dropped in during muggy mid-July.

I did well enough to give you my list of where to drink craft beer in Chicago. This list is by no means complete: I didn’t have a car, relying only on my feet augmented by some travel on the El. There’s more out there, but this is what you can find in range of Chicago Loop. Be warned: I am an enthusiastic, durable and fast walker. And I’ll admit that I cheat on the last selection – we took a commuter train to Geneva (about one hour) to meet my brother.

craft beer in chicago
Two years made a huge difference in the Chicago craft beer scene.

The Pour House
I headed north from my spot on the The Loop, just south of the river. My first mission was coffee (a dire failure that continues to a problem in Chicago – but that’s for another time). I skirted east of Goose Island and wandered some of the low-rise areas. That’s where I found Old Town. It struck me as a slice of Portland – a lot of the cool factor, but without the undying love for the local MLS team.

There, I passed the Pour House and its 30-foot-long row of taps. The atmosphere is a bit aloof and white-linen for my taste. But the beer menu impressed me. I also like the option to get 6-ounce tasting portions. That allowed me to try Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale (Alltech Lexington, Kentucky), Daisy Cutter IPA (Half Acre Brewing, Chicago) and Two Brothers Outlaw IPA (Warrenville, Ill). The Old Town Pour House menu breaks the selections down by type, which helps you find your favorites. Visitors like me just might enjoy a section that lists selections by geography – at least for the local/regional selections.

The Outlaw was the best of the bunch, yet Daisy Cutter was the standout. That’s because it’s the best example I’ve seen of a new variety gaining momentum – the session IPA. It’s only 5.2 percent, very low for an IPA. But the hops punch hard without overwhelming the malt. That’s no small trick for such a low percentage.

The Pour House’s standoffish vibe aside, it’s a great place to drink craft beer in Chicago. The tasting sizes and selection make it a winner.

Revolution Brewing
After my visit to Revolution Brewing, I found out how much people seems to love this brewery. For good reason – this is where you should drink craft beer in chicago. It has a great pub, excellent service, super beer (with plenty of creative spins) and a killer agitprop design aesthetic.

It can get crowded on weekends, especially since most of the first floor is only for those ordering food. But I prefer upstairs, anyway. It’s a little quieter and more laid-back.

Let’s get to the brews. I had an Anti-Hero IPA and a Black Power oatmeal stout. OK, so I’ll just have to say these beers rank right up there with the best of their genres. Anti-Hero can stand toe to toe with Oskar Blues Gubna, though I’d say it’s a hair less sweet and a bit more piney. Black Power doesn’t quite have the silky texture of a nitro-charged stout. It’s thick and moderately sweet, but far from cloying. It’s more roasty than chocolatey.

Sarah had some sort of Belgian ale. I gave it a taste, but not enough to form a big impression. I was working my way through Black Power at the time.

So back to Chicago’s apparent love for Revolution: We got soaked in a sudden cloudburst when we walked from the El to Revolution. We bought Revolution t-shirts and changed into them immediately. And wore them the next day. As we walked Chicago, random people stopped us to say how much they love Revolution – from the barista at Intelligentsia to a guy at the train station. Revolution, you are doing something right!

Geneva Ale House
Our final stop takes us to The ‘Burbs, leafy green and tranquil. And another rainstorm! This time, we get indoors at the Geneva Ale House just in time.

And there’s a Revolution brew I can’t resist: Gravedigger Billy, a barrel-aged Scottish heavy. Apparently, Revolution hooks local pubs up with some rarities … the beer geek’s version of the video game nerd’s Easter Egg. It averages a 4.3 Untappd rating. That’s way too damn low. It’s lightly carbonated, heavy as hell and saturated in whiskey overtones. It’s pretty much my perfect malty beer.

I followed that up with a Two Brothers Hop Centric. Its hops are more floral than piney (I prefer the pine) – and it hits a nice balance of malty and hoppy. It’s a very good example of a double IPA with not a note out of place. But nothing about it burned into my taste buds like some IPAs I’ve had. It won’t disappoint, but it won’t turn your beer world upside down.

As for the Geneva Ale House, we caught it during a quiet time. It was a relaxing place to hang out and catch up with my brother and sister-in-law (who loved Grave Digger Billy as much as I did). The service was attentive but not obtrusive. I wouldn’t mind trying the food during my next visit. It’s probably too far away to be considered a place to drink craft beer in Chicago … but I just can’t omit it.

One for the Future
Ahhh, Twitter, my friend! This is where I stumbled on SlapShot Brewing the week after I returned to Arizona. I didn’t have to feel bad about missing something cool – Slapshot hasn’t opened yet. And maybe it’s because I love the movie so much … but my gut tells me good things are gonna go down at SlapShot, and it will takes its place as a great place to drink craft beer in Chicago.

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Craft Beer Around the World – My Favorites

Aegir IPA craft beer
Travel the world and get your craft beer on!

Drinking a locally brewed beer is high on my list of things to do when I travel. It’s right up there with an epic hike, eating a (sometimes revolting) regional delicacy and running a 10K. I’ve had beers all across the United States, and from 44 degrees latitude south to near the Arctic Circle.

So, where are my favorite spots? Here they are. And be assured, I tried to get away from the same ol’ same ol’ and show you at least a few places that aren’t on your map yet. Let’s go!

Australia
Let’s get this out of the way: Foster’s is not Australian for beer. During my 2009 visit, the Aussie craft beer movement was still in its infant stages. We found succor in Sydney at the Redoak Boutique Beer Cafe. I learned about Redoak from the lone grumpy Australian I met in Katoomba. Sourpuss that he was, Redoak is proof that he knew his beer. I still remember its oatmeal stout with its hint of butterscotch. I wasn’t yet a huge India Pale Ale fan yet, but I’d bet Redoak Boutique Beer Cafe has a good one. And it’s slick, elegant hangout. It would be my first destination next time I arrive in Sydney.

craft beer
Beer lovers bond at the Ant ‘n’ Bee in Tokyo.

Japan
There’s more to Japanese beer than Kirin and Saporro. Head to the Ropongi District. Evade the barkers trying to lure you into their loud, expensive nightclubs. Go down a staircase, and bask in the Ant ‘n’ Bee. During our visit, one of the waitresses radiated ecstasy from her recent visit to the American Craft Beer Festival. But she proved that Japan has its own craft beer pride. She hooked us up with a selection of regional brews, including a cask-conditioned stout, a strong ale and a harvest beer. The selection rotates – but chances are, you’ll still be able to get an order of incredible アントンビー六本木 Ant ‘n’ Bee fries to go with your brew.

New Zealand
The climate in New Zealand can grow anything edible. Including hops. Since my visit, craft beer has boiled over down there. I found Dux de Lux to be the top choice. You can find a Dux De Lux in Queenstown or Christchurch. It’s hard not to love a beer called the Black Shag Stout. But surprise! It was the Ginger Tom that stayed in my memory banks. The ginger-infused ale inspired me to put a ginger twist on my homebrewed India Pale Ale … which is currently the favorite among those I’ve forced to drink my homebrew. How’s that for a lasting impression?

Aegir Bryggeri craft beer
Just add Vikings!

Norway
In Flam, Norway, you’ll find Ægir Bryggeri. It couldn’t possibly be cooler if Vikings had chiseled it by hand from a solid block of kryptonite. There’s the architecture – based on a centuries-old stave church. There’s the dessert,  a gooey brownie with ice cream and fruit compote. But none of this means anything without great beer. The India Pale Ale will please any hop lover. The Sumbel porter is also terrific, and then you can be ready to try the seasonals. How does a Cardinal Double Chocolate Chili Stout sound? Well, it’ll be even better when you get to swill it at the Ægir microbrewery.

South Korea
Craftworks Tap House in Seoul is the total package – top-flight craft beer and awesome food. It’s a respite for those who long for a touch of Anglo-influenced cuisine. Myself? I can’t get enough bi bim bap, banchan and bulgogi. If you’re up for quesadillas and bangers ‘n’ mash, this is your place. I had the Geumgang dark ale and the Moon Bear India Pale Ale. Despite the craft beer status, they don’t have quite the alcohol percentage of North American brews. Still flavorful, still well executed, and still far better than anything else you’re likely to find in Seoul.

craft beer
Page 1 of the beer list at The Happy Gnome.

United States
I live in a big country. And its pint glass overflows with killer craft beer. Since it’s my home country and it covers so much space, I’m going to give you TWO recommendations.

Alright, let’s start with the west. North of the hurlyburly that is San Diego, you’ll find Carlsbad. It’s no sleepy little town, but it’s far more relaxed than its neighbor to the south. It’s also the home of Pizza Port (there are other locations, too). I found this by accident – a nearby seafood restaurant had a long wait for a table, and I wandered in. And discovered a wonderland of craft beer, all from Port Brewing. Port has the distinction of being the only brewery that’s whipped up a pilsener that could get me excited. And it’s SoCal, so expect hard-hitting India Pale Ales, some Belgian fun and some stouts in the cooler months. The pizza ain’t bad, either. The place is also chaotic, fun, unpretentious and friendly.

Let’s go further north. In St. Paul, Minn., look for The Happy Gnome. It doesn’t brew its own. But it has assembled a collection of regional brews that will astound. The northern Midwest makes a good show, with stuff like Dragon’s Mill from New Holland Brewing; Pahoehoe blonde ale made with coconut water; and the hefty Scotty Karate from Dark Horse Brewing. The food is also excellent (game hen, coconut-beet risotto!), with dessert being a particular standout. The Happy Gnome creme brulee was worth every calorie.

Oh, hell – I changed my mind. I’m adding a third location. If you ever visit the Phoenix area, send an email my way. I’ll arrange to meet you at Papago Brewing. If you don’t like something in one of its 20-some rotating taps or in its huge refrigerated case, go drink some Budweiser or equally swilly Stella Artois. This week, I had an oak-aged Belgian quad from Sierra Nevada that blew me away. It’s in no way unusual to have something so awesome at Papago Brewing.

More on My List
There are places I didn’t visit, for one reason or another. But I will next time I’m in the area!

Boris Brewery (Jeju, South Korea)
I somehow missed Boris Brewery during my stay in the Hawaii of South Korea. Don’t make the same mistake. Word is, Brewmaster Boris knows how to make an India Pale Ale. This is a local favorite near Jeju City Hall. I like that the menu has Korean bar food. Do NOT make the mistake of going to Modern Time. That used to be Boris’ place, but it has taken a nosedive since his departure as brewmaster.

Monkey Wizard (Riwaka, NZ – near Nelson)
I must’ve looked so forlorn; both times my bus passed the Monkey Wizard (know known as Hop Federation), it was closed. How could I not want to drink craft beer at a place a called Monkey Wizard? Barley wines, Belgians, stouts … and a picturesque setting equal a great place to drink a pint. Oh, and there are magnificent hop field nearby. I can imagine that Monkey Wizard Brewery is tapped into the local hop sources. I can only guess how that impact the taste of its craft beer creations.

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Brooklyn Brew Shop Home Brew Kits – Tasting Update

 

my first beer
A Brooklen Brew Shop pack. (Photo credit: tape)

Brooklyn Brew Shop doesn’t offer your typical home brew kits. It’s recipes are a little off-kilter, both in flavor and size. I’m used to beginner home brew kits that offer stuff like a plain-jane pale ale or a brown ale, usually in a 5-gallon batch.

So the Brooklyn Brew Shop home brew concept intrigued me: cool stuff like chocolate maple porter, jalapeño saison and smoked wheat in a compact, experimental-sized 1-gallon batch? I’m in!

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Craft Beer in the Twin Cities: Three Great Pubs

Page 1 of the beer list at The Happy Gnome.

It took a Facebook comment to remind me of what’s extra-awesome about craft beer. I’d just posted a photo of one page of the beer list at The Happy Gnome in St. Paul, Minnesota. An old buddy nicknamed Poot replied:

“I’ve only heard of like two of these. Breweries, that is.”

And it hit me – craft beer is one of the few things in the world that isn’t whitewashed homogeneous boredom. You can travel all over the United States and find craft beer you didn’t know about the previous day. You might seek something specific, like a Surly stout. But brews like Scotty Karate and John Henry Three Licker Spiker wait for you to run into them beak first.

Here are three places I had a brew in the Twin Cities, and what I enjoyed about them. I posted all of them to my Untapped account for all posterity and accuracy.

The Happy Gnome

Locals from the Twin Cities allege that St. Paul is the nerdy basement dweller to Minneapolis’ prom king. Yet The Happy Gnome is a fine craft beer destination that I was glad to visit. Even before you get to the beer, you can get some duck bruschetta or some quality crab cakes. And creme brulee for dessert? I’m game.

Having some laughs with Dan from Athena Custom Cycles at The Bulldog Lower Town.

The beer is a treat, too: Dragon’s Milk by New Holland Brewing Company was a study in how temperature can affect a beer. It came out cold, and with a medicinal artificial cherry note – but that dissipated as the beer warmed, leaving lots of malt and whiskey flavors. I also liked Pahoehoe Coconut Blonde by Two Brothers Brewing Company – I don’t usually drink blondes, but I had to try this since Two Brothers brewed it with coconut water; the effect on the Pahoehoe is subtle, but I could detect an unusual – but pleasant – texture and a hint of sweetness. The star of the show, though, was Scotty Karate by Dark Horse Brewing Co. Read the description in the photo, and you’ll have all the info you need.

Warning: Weekends at The Happy Gnome will be crowded and loud indoors. And you can’t get a seat in the dining room unless you plan to order entrees, which rubbed us the wrong way at first. The patio is nice, though, and The Happy Gnome staff and menu won us over.

The Grand Hotel

Hotel bars usually suck. They serve watery swill like Bud and Stella, with maybe a nod to craft beer like New Belgium Fat Tire. The taps and bottles at The Grand Hotel in downtown Minneapolis turned my prejudice on its ear.

We started with a Northwest Passage IPA (Flat Earth Brewing). It was floral and slightly piney it its hoppiness. It could hang with many a better-known and more-vaunted IPA from Colorado or California (but perhaps not Oskar Blues Gubna, which approaches Superbeer status). As the bartender chatted with us, we mentioned our love of barrel-aged brews. And he plunked a bottle of John Henry Three Lick Spiker Ale in front of us. Despite never before appearing on our radar, Three Lick Spiker earned our “Best of Trip” award. Dense, malty, black hole-dark -- it will leave your tastebuds in euphoria. Well, if you happen to like strong ales aged with oak chips from a bourbon barrel. Which I do!

Extra props: The bartender here told us not to miss The Happy Gnome during our visit to the Twin Cities. We salute you, sir!

The Bulldog Lowertown

Dan from Pallas Athena Custom Cycles suggested The Bulldog Lowertown, and it was definitely a winner. The noise level was moderate, the tater tot level was high and the beer list level was even higher. This time, I chose the Furious, an IPA from the somewhat polarizing craft beer kingpins Surly Brewing Co. They have a bit of a reputation among locals as a bit -- aloof (this surprised me since they were so friendly via email). Well, the Furious proved that Surly lives up to its hype. I love a crisp IPA redolent with piney goodness. And that’s what I got.

And for the record, I sampled nothing on this trip that I could get in Arizona. To the best of my knowledge, Three Lick Spiker might be the only one I might be able to find in my home city. Down with the same-old, and up with unusual regional craft beer finds!

Hey, you can follow me on Untapped to tag along through my craft beer adventures!

Traveler’s Overview: The Twin Cities

You’ll see a variety of architecture in the Twin Cities.

Wow, there’s something stinky on this Delta flight. Kind of like a bison pooped around seat 37D, and they used a dirty diaper soaked in Febreeze to clean it up.

This was the Facebook post that brought my trip to Minneapolis to a close. I was the last person off after nearly three hours stuffed in seat 41A of a 757. Other than the funky odor, I had no other complaints about the Delta flight. It was on time, and the crew was pleasant.

Let’s break down the rest of Minneapolis on the double, with more to come in the future:

  • Minneapolis and St. Paul are both good places to grab a regional craft beer. There are tons of local breweries, and they get adventurous with the recipes.
  • The Twin Cities has a first-rate “rails to trails” system. If the Phoenix area had a cycling infrastructure even half as good as this, the time I spend on my road bike would increase 10-fold. Cyclists would love a visit to this area. Well done, Twin Cities.
  • Like your ethnic food? How does copious amounts of Thai, Himalayan, Ethiopian and Chinese sound? I saw less Japanese or Mexican (the latter of which is less “ethnic” and more “default” to a guy from Arizona). The Twin Cities might be in the Midwest, but you won’t eat like you’re in the stereotypical Midwest.
  • Yes, this really is the land of 10,000 lakes. Whether flying or driving, you’ll see all sorts of bodies of water.
  • I noticed plenty of stylish and varied architecture – office buildings and homes alike.

In future posts, I’ll get more specific and tell you where I went, stayed, ate and quaffed. Let’s just say that I’ll give props to Minneapolis and St. Paul for being pleasant summer destinations. I’d recommend the Twin Cities for any quick getaway for anyone eager to escape the Southwest heat for a spell – especially if you’re a cyclist and willing to travel with your bike.

 

Craft Beer in Maryland – meet Growler’s

The taps at Growler’s of Gaithersburg have something for craft beer fans of every inclination.

When you’re in sleepy suburbia, a craft beer right from the tap can be hard to find. I thought I was out of luck – the clock had ticked past 11 p.m. And that meant Dogfish Head AleHouse was closed. We were already in the car and headed in its direction.

I worked the smart phone and came up with a likely suspect: Growler’s. I had a good feeling from the name, so we headed into downtown Gaithersburg in pursuit of some craft beer.

We found a two-story brick building in the otherwise shut-for-the-night street. Upstairs is where we the actions is.

And the row of taps convinced us we’d have some quality craft beer.

The Roof Razer IPA was first to catch my attention. Then a porter … and then, Quint Eastwood. I asked the bartender what it was. She answered by pouring me a sample. It tasted somewhat Belgian, but heavier in body and malt than a typical tripel. I could taste lots of ripe fruit, along with a hint of oak and leather. I had to have one.

Sarah went for the porter, which improved as it warmed up. I also had a strong cherry amber ale – sour beer fans will love it. But even non-sour fans (like me) will like the in-your-face flavor.

And there were several other selections that we had to leave untried … at least until next time.

One local said Dogfish Head AleHouse staff visit Growler’s regularly. I can see why. The Dogfish Head motto is “Off-Center Ales for Off-Center People.” Well, Growler’s is a match for Dogfish Head. (The friendly local was also raised in Ireland and loved to put on his best brogue when speaking to the bartender …”Give me friend a point, love!”)

Next time you’re north of Washington D.C., remember that Dogfish Head doesn’t have the only craft beer in town. And find time for a visit to Growler’s.

Follow Growler’s on Twitter.

Craft Beer Overview of Seoul, Jeju and Tokyo

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Beer lovers bond at the Ant ‘n’ Bee in Tokyo.

Asian beers don’t have a good name among American craft beer fans. From the watery sourness of Kirin lager to the fermented foot-funk of Hotachino Nest, craft beer lovers just don’t find what we want from Asia. But what happens when you travel to South Korea and Japan? Are there some gems waiting for the international beer traveler? Yes, count on it. But expect a few stinkers, too.

Here are a few craft beer places I found in South Korea and Japan. Be warned: Most allow indoor smoking. Some will find that a great throwback to the old days, while others will find it a great incentive to get in, get out and get to a shower and a laundry room.

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The Ty Harbor Brewery in Tokyo scored big for atmosphere.

TY Harbor Brewery (Tokyo)

Here’s a slice of American craft beer culture. David the Frenchman arranged our trip to TY Harbor Brewery. It’s a big airy space with a modern comfort food menu and suds that taste like they were brewed in Colorado. You can order sizes from small glasses to pitchers. The small glasses are great for trying the different flavors without feeling too full. I favor the imperial stout, but the IPA is also great. I’d like to see a bit more adventure rather than lagers and lighter ales – and with New Zealand on the right side of the International Date Line, TY Harbor Brewery should try some recipes with single-origin hops. As for food, I really liked the pork carnitas quesadilla.

Ant ‘n’ Bee (Tokyo)

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The beer list at the Ant ‘n’ Bee

Barge past the Ropongi District mayhem and find the staircase into the Ant ‘n’ Bee. Order some of the finest French fries you’ll ever taste – they’ll go well with any of the Japanese-brewed craft beer on tap. The staff is enthusiastic, clearly real beer lovers. One waitress had just returned from a visit to the Great American Beer Festival. Part of the fun was talking about the awesome American craft beer she discovered.

We sampled a cask-conditioned stout, an IPA, a strong ale and a harvest brew. The names? I took a photo of the menu to help remember these Japanese beers. The picture came out crappy, so I can barely read anything. Whether you like beer heavy on the hops or the malt, you’ll find what you want.

Modern Time Brewery (Jeju, South Korea)

We searched Jeju for more than an hour searching for Modern Time. What do we get out of it? A pallid, flaccid, weak, hefewiezenish brew with barely any hops … like Perrier filtered through a dirty jock strap.

Even my worst batch of homebrew packed more flavor (even the flavors of rotten lobster and burned electronics are better than nothing). This beer was good for making you burp, and for making beer lovers’ taste buds cry out in terror. You’ll find people online who praise Modern Time. Don’t ask me why.

UPDATE: Modern Time’s original owner chimed in – he hasn’t been brewer there since 2009 and he has a new craft beer venture called Boris Brewery. Check it out … and thank you, Boris, for the info!

Craftworks Tap House (Seoul, South Korea)

The expats behind Craftworks have made a tap house in the American craft beer mold. With it’s made-to-order craft beer and even bangers and mash on the menu, it’s a refuge beer lovers who needs a break from Korean food – all the banchan and bi bim bap. You’ll notice the brews don’t pack the wallop of American craft beer, though (aside from the Moon Bear IPA and its high dose of hops). Still, the Geumgang Mountain Dark Ale was flavorful. Overall, I’d like to see a bit more heft from its selection.

I also scored some nice souvenirs there – a t-shirt and mug bearing the Geumgang Mountain Dark Ale logo.

The Verdict on Asian Craft Beer

So there’s your overview of craft beer in Seoul, Jeju and Tokyo. I’m a little surprised that chefs haven’t figured out that beers with lots of hops link up nicely with spicy dishes from Korea. Japanese breweries are quite a bit more adventurous, with spiced, herbed and even fruity recipes. Overall, I give the Ant ‘n’ Bee the best rating for variety, with TY Harbor Brewery a strong second. Let me know if there’s something I missed. It’ll give me an excuse to go back!

On the List for Next Trip: Scotland and Wales

This great photo by Dave Dunford shows the majesty of Pen Y Fan.

It never fails – before the afterglow of my latest trip wears off, someone asks me "where are you going next?"

My official answer? "Hey, give me a chance to savor Korea and Japan -- if not the flavor of the boiled silkworms."

The truth is, I’ve already thought about my next trip. I’ve never been anywhere in the UK before, and as a soccer fan it’s definitely on my list. But where to go? Yes, London is the obvious choice -- which means it doesn’t really suit me.

But Scotland intrigues me. I can picture swinging further north and checking out some Glasgow hotels. There, I could take in Celtic versus Rangers if I timed it right. And I could finally bring my five-year quest to eat haggis to a final and successful conclusion (really, all my failed attempts to eat haggis are worth a post of their own).

What else might Scotland have for me? Well, the scenery looks spectacular. I’ve seen photos in FourFourTwo that really made me want to visit Scotland. Oh, and let’s not forget BrewDog, the crazy craft brewery that does insane things like release limited-edition beers stuffed into a squirrel carcass. Oh, and a little break from Arizona’s angry sun would be nice. Sometimes I forget that clouds and greenery occur naturally in other places.

Glasgow looks like a nice city for some strolling - with a warm jacket!

I could also head an entirely different direction -- Wales. Word is that it’s an up-and-coming destination with castles and hiking drawing visitors in. I’m sure I’d satisfy my itch to hear interesting new languages. I’ve heard bits of Welsh and really enjoyed its sounds and cadence.

And Pen y Fan looks like some incredible hiking. Better yet, the Pen Y Fan race in mid-July takes runners straight to the 2,907-foot summit in just 3.5 miles. A cool t-shirt or medal for finishing would put this right on the list with the Hi Seoul Marathon or the Miđnæturhlaup in Reykjavik.

No matter where in Cardiff I’d stay, it would be pretty easy to get to a Swansea City match to check out some Premier League action. And there’s still Cardiff City in the League Championship. Either way, I’m bound to catch some enthusiastic fans in a great atmosphere. Of all the hotels in Cardiff, though, I’ll admit the St. David’s Hotel & Spa wins some points for having the word "spa" in the name.

So, U.K., I might be headed your way soon. Save me some haggis and lobscows!

This post is featured by eurobookings.com, which helps travelers find hotels in Europe – at the lowest rate possible. Browse more than 140,000 hotels in thousands of locations in Europe and across the globe until you find the hotel that is right for you.

My Phoenix-Area Craft Brew Rankings

There’s some good news for Phoenix-area folks (and visitors to the area) who love craft brew: Sleepy Dog Brewing and Dave’s Electric Brewpub will open soon in Tempe. This bodes well for a metro area ranking low nationwide on craft brewers per capita. We’ve still got a long way to go, but Sleepy Dog and Dave’s Electric are welcome additions.

In recognition of their opening, let’s take a look at other craft brewers in the area. I’ve not included chains such as BJ’s, Gordon Biersch or Rock Bottom here because I want to emphasize local above all else. I’ve ranked them, and included some reasoning for their rankings. Enjoy!

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