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. 

 

Four Days in Denver

We recently escaped the summer heat to spend a few days near Denver. I wanted to go mountain biking, and we all wanted to stroll around as a family without getting flayed and fried under the sun. We also didn’t want to drive a lot, and we wanted to visit some friends living in the southwestern part of Denver.

By the time we weighed our options, we wound up with three nights in Golden, with the last night in Denver. Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind if you travel to the Denver area.

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Cool Hotels – Not Easy to Find Near Golden

Maybe it was because we picked the weekend of the Buffalo Bill Days Festival (which is a far bigger deal than we possibly imagined), but we just couldn’t find a place to stay right in the middle of Golden. This put us a few miles away, so we had to drive to the city center. That’s a huge bummer because it’s always better to walk – and parking in downtown Golden isn’t exactly easy.

Even early planning won’t help you avoid getting relegated to an anonymous chain hotel in the middle of a strip mall complex. You’ll find some B&B places if you book early – but I know not everyone loves B&Bs.

Denver Golden Railroad Museum
In front of a live steam engine that gives rides around the park. Unfortunately, there were no fist fights taking place on top of the cars while the train was in motion.

Railroad Museum is a Hit

Our 2-year-old had been consuming a steady diet of the train-themed cartoon Chuggington on Netflix. That made a stop at the Colorado Railroad Museum a must. And it was a pretty solid hit. She loved taking a ride on a narrow-gauge train pulled by a steam engine, and she couldn’t get enough of watching the model railroad.

And she was clearly paying attention: We showed her a lump of coal for the steam engine – and a month later while camping, she held up a black rock she found and asked if it was for the train. Clearly, the place made an impression. And you’ll like it even if you don’t have a kid. My favorite part was watching locomotives get restored in the roundhouse: There’s clearly some knowledge and skill at work at the Colorado Railroad Museum.

Beer Falls a Bit Short

Colorado is known for its microbrew culture. Think of all the awesome breweries like Oskar Blues, Avery and Great Divide that call Colorado home. I had high expectations and they didn’t exactly get fulfilled in Golden. Maybe it’s because I’ve developed an insatiable thirst for the juicy New England-style IPA, and that still-emerging style wasn’t prevalent.

I just didn’t get a hold of many brews that blew me away; the exceptions were a gluten-free IPA that tasted way better (at the Holidaily Brewing Company) than you might expect, and a barrel-aged Belgian (at Barrel & Bottles). You can check my untappd activity to see if there’s anything around Golden or Downtown Denver that will appeal to you. On the other hand, I did find a lot of enthusiastic and friendly brewery employees.

denver coffee
The Little Owl serves first-rate espresso drinks in downtown Denver.

And Where’s the Good Coffee?

Small towns like Golden often have great coffeehouses. And Golden does have nice coffeehouses that are welcoming and comfortable. But they don’t seem to have figured out how to make a decent cortado or cappuccino. Maybe it’s because the typical customer is coming in ordering quad-soy-extra-foam-eighteen-pumps-of-flavoring lattes. Whatever is going on, we had to go to Boulder to find a decent cappuccino at the Laughing Goat. And there was a perfectly terrific coffeehouse in Denver called The Little Owl.

golden bike shop mountain bike denver
Plus-sized wheels can just bite me.

Great Mountain Bike Culture

You will literally stumble over great bike shops in Golden that are eager to rent you a bike. For the most part, the rental fleets seem to skew a bit enduro rather than cross country. That, and my own procrastination, are how I would up with a Surly Karate Monkey sporting 27.5+ wheels from Golden Bike Shop. I suppose this bike would be great in snow, or on a fairly flat trail. But if you’re going to climb like 1,600 feet in five miles, you’ll hate this bike. Which I did. The only thing this bike did well was descend in a straight line.


The trails I rode were pretty decent; there’s a gradual climb out of town, and then a pretty steep grind to the top of a Mesa. From there, the trails circle the mesa with some options to cut across the center. If I’d been on my Santa Cruz Superlight, I would’ve had a way better time.

Do yourself a favor: Reserve your rental early.

If I visited this area again, I’d probably lean toward Boulder. It’s a much more busy, crowded area. But it might be worth it for better trails and a good chunk more options for those who also ride road bikes.

Back to the Dinosaur Days

I enjoyed a reunion with a great friend and former band mate – we decided to split the difference in locations and meet at Dinosaur Ridge in Morrison. So we had two adults, a toddler and a drummer to entertain – not an easy order to fill, considering a drummer’s lack of intellect and attention span!

We opted for the bus tour instead of walking the whole thing. We don’t mind walking, but we weren’t 100 percent sure what the route was like. This wound up being a good thing because the driver/docent/tour guide had a lot of great info. He even presented it in small words for the percussionist among us.

I won’t spoil any surprise – let’s just say that there’s a lot of enlightening info presented in a very entertaining way. You’ll come face-to-footprint with the past, and the whole experience is one of the better deals you’ll find. Eight bucks for the whole thing. Super cheap! (As Alfred E. Neuman might say.)

denver children's museum
It took awhile before she was ready to leave the pretend vet clinic.

A Little Museum Action

Our last official stop in Denver was the Children’s Museum of Denver. It is entirely possible that the little person would’ve stayed there until she fell dead asleep at an exhibit. The pretend vet clinic and fire truck were enough to be a hit, but there was also a cool bubble-blowing room that would keep people of any age occupied for a good long while.

(Side story: The fire truck area had a photo montage of A Day on the Life of a Firefighter. I recognized something missing, and asked my wife if she noticed what major firefighting activity was missing. She nailed it at a glance: They’re not hitting on women.

There was also a camping exhibit that had people of all ages pretty happy. In short, visitors to Denver won’t go wrong if they kill some time here with their little people.

What About Food in Denver?

2017-09-11_10-04-27Well, we can’t honestly say that any of the food in or around Golden blew us away. There was a nice, friendly sushi place called Maki that got everything right … but it was pretty much what you’d expect from a good sushi restaurant. Back in Golden, though, we found some great places. We literally walked by Ali Baba Grill in Denver, and were amazed at the quality of the gyro, babaganouj and hummus. They were also extremely friendly, which always helps. If I lived in Denver, I’d be a frequent visitor. Our last meal in Denver was at Maci Cafe – I could also eat here regularly, plowing through the panini selection. They also have a terrific nitro cold brew on tap, along with awesome coconut macaroons for dessert.

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!

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.

 

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!

Coolest Things to do in 2015

Coolest Things to do in 2015
GORUCK events are an up-and-comer that will be very cool in 2015. (Photo courtesy of GORUCK)

I won’t drink until I soil myself. I’ll cut back on snorting rat poison. I’ll quit inhaling high-fructose corn syrup by the troughful.

These are the spirit of New Year’s resolutions: things we won’t do anymore. Me? I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. I certainly don’t do "bucket lists." But I identify opportunities to do things that will make my life better. I scour the world looking for activities and destinations I’d like to do, get to as many as possible and then annoy everyone around me by not shutting up about them, ever.

So what would make my list for 2015? I’ve got a few for you that I’d do. I wish I could get to them all, but you know how that goes. Maybe a few of you can help out by standing in for me! And I’d also like to hear what would make your list.

One of These Crazy GoRuck Events

You’ve heard of all the mud runs, the color runs and all that hoopla. Now GORUCK, whose ads I’ve noticed on Facebook, is getting the word out about its series of events all over the country. They have something for everybody this calendar year, from 48-plus hours of mayhem that require you to move 80 miles all the way to scavenger hunts that are more about beer drinkin’ than bravery. The events started Jan. 9, with many more throughout the calendar year. GORUCK says these events offer a "slice of Special Operations training." I have a feeling these events will draw a lot of CrossFit sort of folks and more than a few ex-military types. So yeah, my long hair will likely stand out!

I have my eye on starting with a GORUCK Light event in Flagstaff, Ariz. this May (registration is now $50) and following up with a Challenge event near Tucson in September. Check the events list for descriptions, and to find one near you. If you’ve ever done one of these events, drop me a line – I’d like to hear about it and share the info with readers.

coolest things to do in 2015
Weightlessness inside a Reduced gravity aircraft (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lose Nearly All Your Weight With Zero G

We all know I’m a sucker for anything that flies. So the Zero G Corporation flights that simulate weightlessness would OF COURSE make my list. The flights start Feb. 14 in San Francisco for $4,950 plus tax. Eep. That’s a pretty hefty hit to the bank account.

Still, we’re just talking about floating around in the air like a freakin’ astronaut. No big deal. It was one of the coolest things to do in 1959 aboard the original Vomit Comet, and it is still one of the coolest things to do in 2015.

LaplandX Extreme Lapland Tour Still one of the Coolest Things to do in 2015

Northern Lights tour
Meet sled dogs and the occasional wall of ice during the LaplandX Northern Lights tour.

I’ve already yapped about this 7-day Northern Lights tour at length. But it bears repeating that you still have time to sign up before the fun starts on Feb. 16 in Finland. If you have about $4,000, I don’t think you’ll find a much better way to spend it.

I’m not going to be able to get to this one, so I’ll have to miss out on the icebreaker cruise, the sled dogs and the snow machine hijinks -- and the aurora borealis light show up there near the Arctic Circle. If you are LaplandX-bound, please get a hold of me afterward for a guest blog post. I want to hear all about this.

coolest things to do in 2015
This is not the Flanders you’ll see on the beer bicycle tour!

D’oh, Flanders!

I’ve been reading an awful lot about beer lately: Someone at work got me a book called "The Brewer’s Tale: A History of the World According to Beer" as a Secret Santa gift. The chapter about Belgian beers makes me want to get over to Belgium. And as you probably know, I’m a bicycle guy.

So that makes me think these 10-day Flanders Adventure Tours have to be one of the coolest things to do in 2015. Riders will cover 40-80 days on flat terrain every day, and they’ll hit eight towns and 10 breweries. You’ll see some of the big breweries, and some of those below-the-radar locals. The first tour starts April 10; check out the itinerary for dates and more details. Tour cost is $2,600 at the moment, which includes: nine nights hotel; breakfast and lunch each day; bike and bag rental; two tour guides (one Dutch-speaking); all brewery tours plus beer; sampling at breweries; and luggage storage before and after the tour. Not bad at all!

Drop Into the Mouth of a Volcano

OK, I’ve also mentioned this one before. But how can descending into the magma chamber of an extinct volcano – the only one known to exist intact! – not be one of the coolest things to do in 2015?

The fun starts on May 15 when Inside the Volcano starts running tours to the Thrihnukagigur volcano. It’ll cost you about $300, and will remain one of the most stupid-awesome things you ever do. Ever. Just get yourself to Reykjavik and be ready to do a short hike before you plunge into the volcano!

Where to Drink Sahti

The moment I arrived in Finland, I was trying to find out where to find sahti, a traditional local beer.

Just about every bartender looked at me like I’m a mental patient on the lam because I asked for sahti. I struck out everywhere.

At Panimoravintola Koulu in Turku, my question riled the barkeep the most. Then the expat Italian barkeeper at Alvar clued me in.

Looking for Sahti in All the Wrong Places

First, I mispronounced “sahti.” The right pronunciation sounds like “sock tea,” as in tea brewed in a sock. But you give the “ck” a bit of gravel to it, a kind of Hebrew slant on the syllable.

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

Second, I expected Finland was proud of its traditional brew. It’s made out of cool stuff like juniper and rye. It hits pretty hard. What’s not to love?

Well, Finland isn’t rooted in the past. They favor a good kebab, apparently, to a reindeer repast. And they prefer large amounts 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.

I don’t qualify as young, and I am too metal to be hip. But a guy my age asking where to drink sahti is an oddity. It’s also a bit of an under-the-radar quaff, almost like a moonshine. It tends to be small-batch stuff that the big brewers eschew.

I Finally Found Where to Drink Sahti

Back in Helsinki, I found sahti – the Lammin Sahti Oy brand – in a kitschy farm setting at Zetor near the city center. And my order  yet again 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.

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

A few moments later, I had a small silver vessel – a cross between a ladle and a cup. The sahti was dark brown and opaque. I took a sip.

And found that sahti tastes exactly like the forest smells. It reminded me of pine trees, wind, cool air. It’s strong, but not absurdly so – probably 8-10 percent ABV. There’s little carbonation, but I didn’t mind the flatness.

Why Isn’t Sahti a Big Deal?

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

The sahti-influenced ales – Samuel Adams Norse Legend or Dogfish Head Sah’Tea, to name a few – are not even in the ballpark. They’re alright, but they are far different from what you’ll get in Finland. You’ll probably like the real stuff better.

If you’re an exotic beer fan, don’t show up in Finland unprepared like I did. I assumed sahti would flow like wine. Do your research. Google “sahti in Finland” in a bunch of different ways. And make your game plan, and figure out what else to do while you search for sahti.

The late beer legend Michael Jackson (the un-gloved one) has a nice write-up about sahti, but some of it is outdated.

And pronounce it right!

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Cool Content – Top Finds from Other Blogs

English: oaken beer barrel in brewery Hanssen
Make a great beer awesome by aging it in an oak barrel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Should you drink your own pee? Well, not recreationally. In a survival situation. That’s main point of the lead story in today’s Cool Content Crypt.

This comes from the blog of survival wiz Cody Lundin, whose topic cuts right through the stream of other recent blog posts to earn a spot here. Cody, a fellow Arizona dude, differs from celebrity survivalist Bear Grylls – now that guy is ready to swill his urine if the beverage cart on a 60-minute flight rolls a bit late. Found out what Cody has to say. And be ready should you run dry of water on your next adventure. Or even if you think "it’s sterile and I like the taste" justifies anything.

Next up, DailyWritingTips.com offers some thoughts on the Most Overused Words of 2012. Lots of links there for those who want further reading. I like writer Mark Nichol’s disdain for the phrase "man cave." While I love the male-centric second-hand store on Cave Creek Road in Phoenix that bears the same name, I stopped thinking that having women around was bad when I was about 12 years old.

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Homebrewing with Brooklyn Brew Shop’s 1-Gallon Recipes

Homebrewing can take up some space, as you see in transferring a 5-gallon batch from the primary fermenter into the secondary.

I know, I know. This is a travel blog. I’m supposed to write about travel and adventurous stuff.

But homebrewing counts as an adventure. I’ve been into it for about seven years now. I’ve brewed everything from a delicious chocolate-coconut stout to a clone of Dogfish Head‘s Midas Touch that turned out … bad. Like “dead lobster floating in the fermenter” horrible. On the plus side, it was perfect for making seafood stews.

Anyway, I was just walking around at Whole Foods when I spotted a bagful of grain. It had the intriguing label “Maple Porter” on it. I’ve had a yen to make a maple stout, and I figured I’d pick up these grains to modify a 5-gallon batch of cream stout I have planned. I also noticed a book … The Brooklyn Brew Shop’s Beer Making Book. It had lots of cool-sounding recipes, so I said “yes, please!”

When I got home, I realized the bag of grains also had packets of yeast and hops in it. That is was a kit from The Brooklyn Brew Shop – the same people who did the book. And it was sized for a tiny one-gallon batch. Hmm, time for a deeper look.

I cracked the homebrewing book open and got the background. Turns out Brooklyn Brew Shop is the work of Stephen and Erica, a DIY-lovin’ couple. The New York Times has a nice account of their story. I like the friendly vibe of their book, which tells how – while low on space and money but high on flavor and adventurous spirit- they started brewing tiny batches.

Happiness is a bunch of big brew-it-yourself bottles.

I like ’em, I do. The people and the picobatches. I’m writing this the night after I brewed a batch (which I tweaked with some honey and toasted shredded coconut added to the boil). To frame this, I’ve lost count of the number of batches I’ve brewed, all have which have been partial mashes recipes. I modify every recipe with some sort of offbeat adjunct. So here’s my overview:

  • It’s a nice, compact way to get into homebrewing. Perfect for people worried about space. You can get their entire kit for $40 with a recipe, ingredients and some essential gear. I do believe you’ll need a brew kettle, though.
  • Homebrewing journeymen like me who have been reluctant to go all-grain will get a nice intro. For some reason, Brooklyn Brew Shop’s approach demystified the process. I’ve seen many other videos about all-grain brewing. But this … well, it made everything seem approachable.
  • The recipes are kick-ass. I have two hulking rosemary bushes in my yard. I pondered using them in a beer. Sure enough, the book has a nice recipe for me. There’s also a spruce beer recipe. The book is a Finnish sahti recipe away from being perfect. Hint, hint!
  • Tiny batches are cool. You can brew them as gifts for friends. Or to experiment with crazy flavors. Experienced brewers can lure buddies who have hemmed and hawed about homebrewing for years.
  • All-grain homebrewing produces a massive amount of spent grains. Think about making some spent-grain cookies – for humans or canines (dogs, to the layperson).

So the blow-off tube is venting CO2 like a fully automatic BB gun. A sign of a nice, active fermentation. I’ll post again after I have a  taste to test the carbonation. I’ll be sure to post again once the batch ages awhile.

Bottom line – Stephen and Erica have opened the hatch to invite more people into homebrewing. If you’re looking for a friendly entrance into the club but have been scared away by the bouncers of space and expense, Brooklyn Brew Shop has the answer.

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Craft Beer Overview of Seoul, Jeju and Tokyo

craft beer
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.

craft beer
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)

craft beer
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!

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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