Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy Festivus, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and Christmas from Passports and Cocktails

It's the holiday season, don't worry I won't be singing, and that means time to reflect for a bit and look forward to a new year of adventure. My travels have been lite on the back end of 2014 as we are still a day job and travel when we can family, but we spent a solid chunk of the first 10 months of the year on the road in the US. Katherine also had amazing experiences across the pond and south of the border. With trips already planned between us to New Orleans, Tampa/Orlando, Nashville and beyond, 2015 is shaping up to be another year of great drinking travel adventures.

This year has also given us a great opportunity to connect with many brewers, vintners, and distillers. I think the great thing about these encounters was that we were able to find out what made these folks tick. Since we set out to make a site about true local beverage makers you can encounter when traveling, the stories told to us had a real sincere vibe behind them. We never heard about taking over the world. What we heard were how a beverage was a reflection of a community, or how ingredients came from the farm down the street or the stream under the brewery. We set out looking to accomplish this very goal when we put put our heads together at the start of the year and received and wrote stories to match that all year long.

It's been a hell of a year, but now it's time to celebrate the holidays with family and friends. If you find yourself in the beverage aisle this season, make sure you check out the selection from the local establishments. If you have a hole in your celebration calendar and need a place to tip back some beverages, check out the local tap room schedule and celebrate with the beverage industry elves who work to put smiles on good adults faces year round. And if you want to know where to stop in for a taste of local alcohol in 2015, keep yourself tuned in here because we aim to work hard to find more breweries, wineries, and distilleries that are on and off the map. Maybe we'll even get our own TV show.

Happy Holidays and safe travels to all. We can't wait to drink with you in 2015!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Uncork Your Inner Wine Geek at Wente’s Winemakers Studio

Blending Wine in Beakers at Wente's Winemakers Studio Livermore California
Wine geekery at its best, blending wines in beakers.
Livermore has been a wine region for well over 100 years.  But what really made Livermore establish itself as a city was not its wine, but the opening of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 1952, which brought an influx of scientists and engineers into the area.  Livermore’s population actually quadrupled from 4,364 in 1950 to 16,058 in 1960.  With so many left-brainers running around the city who have a love of both wine and science, it should come as no surprise that Wente Vineyards, one of Livermore's wineries and the country's oldest continuously run family-owned winery, has found a way to mix Livermore’s wine culture with the love of all things scientific and geeky with their winemakers blending experience at Wente’s Winemakers Studio.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect from our winemakers blending experience.  While The Winemakers Studio website does allude to entertainment, I kind of wondered if I would flunk the class with my inability to properly ferret out the wines’ subtle aromas of green beans, plum, and cat urine.  Would my fellow students look down upon me for disliking the acidity burning the back of my tongue?  How would this whole hands-on seminar work?

Wente's Winemakers Studio Workspace Livermore California
Tell me you wouldn't be giddy about blending wine at this winemakers work space.
I walked into the small “classroom,” glass of white wine in hand, and squealed with joy.  The first thing that grabbed my attention was the individual work stations complete with both wine and laboratory glassware.  Each person would be working with their very own Erlenmeyer flask, graduated cylinder, and funnel in addition to the three wine glasses, one filled with red wine, another with water, and the third waiting empty.  Upon closer inspection I also found learning materials, a notepad, and a mechanical pencil for note taking.  My inner-nerd came rushing out for all to see.  On the back wall were seven wine barrels built into the wall, each with a shining stainless steel tap handle because Wente uses taps for wine pouring to make the wine last longer.  You’ve got to love engineers.

So many toys to play with, levers to pull, and wines to taste.
The Winemakers Studio classroom is small and the 90 to 120 minute wine blending classes usually have less than 10 students, so it is a very individualized and personal experience.  While the class is educational, it isn’t serious at all, but rather incredibly fun.  Since we were visiting Tri-Valley during the Christmas season and the Holidays in the Vineyards weekend, it was made that much more fun by the holiday decorations.  It also didn't hurt that our instructor Myrl, who previously held positions like Vice President, Chief Operating Officer, and Chief Information Officer in health and technology companies before retirement, was wearing his rendition of an ugly Christmas sweater.  You just can’t feel too serious if your instructor is wearing ribbon bows all over his shirt.  (Speaking of Christmas, a gift certificate for a winemakers blending experience would make an excellent gift for your wine-loving loved one.)

Examining the Meniscus Wente's Winemakers Studio Livermore California
Examining the color, clarity and meniscus.
Our wine blending class started with a wine tasting lesson, which was great because, while I love drinking wine and know what I like and what I don’t like, a sommelier I am not.  Everybody got their own wine tasting card with hints of what to look for to help the wine tasting experience.  First we held our wine glasses over white paper to examine the color and the ring, called the meniscus, to get a hint of the concentration and maturation.  Next we smelled the wine.  Myrl suggested sniffing twice, first to clear out the other smells from your nose, and the second to really take in the aroma of the wine.  Our cheat sheet had a number of different aromas to look for, like apple, jasmine, tobacco, mushroom, and the aforementioned cat urine (there was no Sauvignon Blanc in our class, so cat urine averted).  Next we tasted.  The trick is to sip, swish, and hold the wine in your mouth for over five seconds.  How long it takes for your mouth to water indicates the level of acidity.  A dry, chalky feeling indicates the level of tannins (a higher level of tannins will allow the wine to age and keep well).  We also tasted for the level of sweetness.  The mouth feel, likened to varying fat levels of milk, indicate if the wine is light, medium, or full bodied.  Then we swirled the wine for 30 seconds to open it up and tasted again to see how the wine changed with the second sip.  The last step was to answer the question, “do I like it?”

Wine Aroma Testers Wente's Winemakers Studio Livermore California
Testers to help tasters recognize specific wine aromas.
After learning the intricacies of wine tasting, the next step was to taste the seven different wines we would be blending.  Learning sure is hard!  Myrl talked to us about each of the wines as we tasted, where the grapes were grown, what the soil was like, and what the weather conditions were.  As we tasted we wrote notes about the aromas, flavors, acidity, and tannins.  We had the choice between four Cabernet Sauvignons, all from 2012 but different areas of the Livermore Valley, a Petite Syrah, a Petit Verdot, and a Malbec.  We needed to pick out the flavors we enjoyed as well as what the wines could do to help with flavor, aroma, or shelf life. 

Measuring Wine at Wente's Winemakers Studio Livermore California
Carefully measuring wine for my proprietary Passports & Cocktails blend.
Next came the blending.  This is where all the beakers came into play.  We came up with formulas of what would make our perfect wine.  Once we had our percentages, we filled our graduated cylinders with the appropriate levels of wine, enough to create a glass.  Then we tasted, trying to think of what would make our personal wine even better.  Once we had our formulas down pat, we adjusted our formulas to fill a full bottle and started measuring again.  Once our beakers were full, we carefully poured our creations through funnels into our bottles.  Then came the opportunity to play with even more toys.  We each got to cork and foil wrap our bottles with fancy machinery, and then labeled our bottles, listing out our percentages and doodling all over the bottles to our hearts’ content. 

Corking Wine Bottle Wente's Winemaker's Studio Livermore California
Testing out the wine corking equipment.
Since you get to take home your bottle of wine, make sure you bring a bag to check if traveling by air.  Livermore’s wine country is easy to reach from the Oakland and San Jose airports.  We flew into Oakland with Southwest Airlines and I brought wine diapers to safely transport our wine bottles home.

I have to say participating in Wente’s winemakers blending experience far exceeded my expectations.  It sounded like a fun way to spend an afternoon, but I really had no idea what geeky wine nerdom lay in store.  I’m pretty sure the only time smiles left our faces was when we were intently concentrating on pouring the correct amounts of wine into our beakers.  There are many wineries to visit in Livermore’s wine country creating fabulous wine, but only one lets you play mad scientist with wine.

Thank you to Visit Tri-Valley for hosting our visit to Tri-Valley, including our Wente’s Winemakers Studio blending experience, and making this post possible.  As always, all opinions are my own.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Cellar Door Experiences in Central Otago, New Zealand

Chard Farm’s Pinot Noir tasting.
Chard Farm’s Pinot Noir tasting.

Guest post by Petra and Shaun

Snow-capped craggy mountains, cold steel-blue lakes, and impatient rushing rivers are typical landscapes you would expect in New Zealand’s Central Otago region, home to the tourism hot spot of Queenstown.

Fortunately for wine-loving travellers, Central Otago is world renowned for its Pinot Noir, and also produces some great aromatic white wines. The hot summers and cold winters combined with minimal rainfall and free draining soils make for excellent grape growing conditions.

If you visit in summer, you’ll likely be treated to hot, dry, sunny days, with a scorched landscape all around. In winter, snow often covers the ground and the cellar doors with restaurants offer tables next to roaring fireplaces. Visiting the region in any season is a delight, and it’s great that the cellar doors (otherwise known as wine tasting rooms to US folks) are open year-round.

View over Central Otago’s mountains near Queenstown.
View over Central Otago’s mountains near Queenstown.
As New Zealanders, we have been lucky enough to visit Queenstown and the surrounding region numerous times. Every time we go there we end up taking numerous bottles on the plane back home, and so do the majority of the passengers.

So here is a list of our five favourite cellar doors within one hour’s drive of Queenstown. You’ll need a rental car to visit all these places, as public transport just doesn’t cut it. There are wine tours available with a pre-determined itinerary but we recommend going at your own pace and enjoying the journey (but just remember to allocate a sober driver).

Chard Farm (25 minutes from Queenstown)

Rules on the door at Chard Farm.
Rules on the door at Chard Farm.
Chard Farm Winery is our all-time favourite. We love all of their wines, but particularly their outstanding Pinot Noir – the Viper, Tiger, and Mata-Au varieties are all superb. Their aromatics are also divine, in particular the Gewürztraminer. The people running the cellar door are so friendly, you really feel like you’ve stepped into someone’s home. Chard Farm is located at the end of a rather hairy road along the Kawarau Gorge – it’s one car wide and has a cliff on one side and a sheer drop to the river below on the other side. More than one car has tumbled off the road, so be careful! But when you get there, it’s totally worth it.

Amisfield Winery (15 minutes from Queenstown)

The cellar door and restaurant at Amisfield is beautiful – think huge old wooden beams in a church-like building, a roaring fireplace in the winter, and of course amazing wine. The Pinot Noir is fantastic and we also love their Riesling. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner, and we recommend trying the excellent Trust the Chef menu – you get five courses to share, made from local, seasonal ingredients. You can also get the meal paired with different wines if you so desire.

Mt Difficulty Wines (50 minutes from Queenstown)

A wintry view from Mt Difficulty Wines cellar door and restaurant.
A wintry view from Mt Difficulty Wines cellar door and restaurant.
Mt Difficulty is located in the Bannockburn region of Central Otago, near the town of Cromwell. The view from their restaurant and cellar door is stunning, as it looks towards mountains and over the vineyards and stone fruit orchards on the flats around Cromwell. It’s well worth stopping in here for lunch and a tasting – you won’t be disappointed. Their Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris varieties are superb.

Gibbston Valley Wines (25 minutes from Queenstown)

Gibbston Valley Winery is located near Chard Farm and also alongside the Kawarau River. Their Pinot Noir is tasty, and the cheese on offer at the shop on location is delicious (and goes down very well with their wine). They also offer tours of their vineyard and wine cave, which is dug into the hill behind the winery. It’s fun seeing all their barrels with the current vintage aging away, and doing a tasting inside the cave. A word to the wise – this is a stop for tour buses, so if you’re wanting a busy winery experience this is a great place to go.

Northburn Station (50 minutes from Queenstown)

Northburn Station’s winery is part of a high country sheep station on the eastern shores of Lake Dunstan, near Cromwell. The cellar door is housed in a beautiful stone building with pretty views over a pond to the mountains beyond. Northburn’s Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc are a hit, and they also offer delicious platters full of local goodies (cheese, meats, olives, terrine, and more). Delicious!

The cellar doors will ship across the world so those amazing wines don’t have to remain only a memory once you return home. With its awe-inspiring scenery and fantastic wine, as well as plenty of other activities to keep you busy, a stay in the Central Otago region is a must for any visitor to New Zealand.

Petra and Shaun of The Global Couple
Petra and Shaun are two mid-20s New Zealanders who currently reside in Vancouver, Canada, but their hearts are in Southeast Asia and they would love to live there some day. On their travels they aim to understand and embrace different cultures, histories, customs, foods, and landscapes. Their blog The Global Couple is a collection of their travel tales and photography, but also contains travel tips, road trip itineraries for New Zealand and the US, and city guides.  Follow them on Instagram and Facebook.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Football and Ale Asylum...A Perfect Pair for Fall in Madison

Fall is the perfect time to travel to the Upper Midwest. The explosion of fall colors up and down the shores of mighty rivers and rolling valleys on its own is a reason to take a road trip. Apple and pumpkin patches are in full swing for family fun and delicious eating of fall favorites. Mosquitoes exit the landscape so outdoor fun can be enjoyed without having to take a bath in eau de Deep Woods Off. My favorite part of traveling to this region of the US in the fall though has to do with something in the air. A particular chill rears its head and signals something important beyond snow is on the way. That chill in the air means that it’s time for the stretch run for football in Wisconsin. And nothing goes better with football than having it in a city that creates top notch craft beer, Madison.
A wonderful snowy fall evening
Before exploring another great brewery in this city that we can’t stop going back to, let’s dive into why (football fan or not) you need to travel to Madison for a football Saturday. First and foremost, as we’ve chronicled before, Madison is one of the more underrated cities in the US. The city is filled with outdoor activities, unique shops and restaurants, and a real progressive spirit. In the fall the colors are out (and sometimes the snow as well) and fans of the Badgers bring an extra bit of spirit to the city.
Football weekends in Madison are 3 hours of football and the rest of the time is spent celebrating (win or lose) Madison. The tailgating scene is not spent in endless parking lots, but in peoples yards or in outdoor beer gardens. The stadium itself is built on a former Union Civil War training grounds and the core of the stadium was erected in 1917. This history and neighborhood fun is great, but the real treat is inside the stadium during a game, again for football and non-football fans alike. There are traditions across the country every Saturday that are bucket listers for football fans, but what you get in Madison is beyond anything out there. From a top notch brass marching band, to in stadium sing alongs to “Buttercup”, to red clad fans “Jumping Around” this Saturday destination should not be missed. Put that together with the gem that is Madison already, and you have one of the great sports towns to travel too.

And what makes a football weekend destination even better? AWESOME LOCAL CRAFT BEER!!! And during my last trip to Madison this fall I was lucky enough to take an extended amount of time with the team at the Ale Asylum Brewery. Ale Asylum brews their beer in “sanity” on Madison’s East Side. In 2012 Ale Asylum moved from their original location (which they had only been in for a couple years) to their new location with a full bar and great food menu as well. Why did they have to move? Because the popularity of Ale Asylum’s brews soared right from the start. In a place where beer is king, Ale Asylum finds themselves regularly on lists of the best brews in Wisconsin. Along with this growth in production, Ale Asylum has been able to expand distribution into Illinois as well as Wisconsin.
Ale Asylum, brewed in sanity
We popped into the Ale Asylum tap room on a Friday night for some pints of the good stuff. The tap room/bar/restaurant is huge compared to other breweries. It’s the size of a solid brewpub, but it definitely is not a brewpub as it is attached to a wonderful brewery and bottling operation. I had never been to the brewery before, though I had had some of Ale Asylum’s brews in the past. The room was comfortable and I was ready to have those pints.
The decision making process at Ale Asylum was hard. With 13 brews on tap, I needed a few extra minutes to decide. Since the temperature was nowhere near 20 (yes it was still fall), I wanted a brew to help warm me up a little bit. I dove into the Contorter Porter while my drinking partner for the night (my dad) went to town on a Madtown Nutbrown. Mom was there too but she was under the weather. So the man who influenced me to drink a few good beers instead of binge on swill and I toasted and started. The Contorter Porter was a great choice as it was so rich and the chocolate malt was just what this cold night needed. Some Porters can be a little bitter but the Contorter Porter was smooth as silk. The Madtown Nutbrown was described by my dad as the best brown he’s had and I would put it very high on my list as well. With a blend of 7 malts, you can really get a taste of nut in this brown. Some browns lack in caramel flavor, even though it should be ever present, but this one does not. The brown is a year round beer at Ale Asylum, though on this chilly day it seemed even more appropriate.
So many great options
We moved on to an Ambergeddon and a Hopalicious, a West-coast amber ale and American Pale respectively. Hopalicious is what many see as the flagship beer at Ale Asylum. Hopalicious has become my favorite aggressively hopped beer out there. Unlike other high hop brews though, the hops in Hopalicious are all about flavor vs. bitterness. This beer is hopped 11 times with Cascade hops and you get a hit of all of their citrus goodness. Not to be outdone, our Ambergeddon was hopped to the max as well. Unlike many amber ales, there was bold flavor and even some bitterness at the end. Ambergeddon had a real malty core as well. These 2 beers are what people think of when they think craft beer. There is nothing that any macro beer creates that comes anywhere near what these brews brought to our glasses and that’s why Ale Asylum is in such a positive position in the market.

Dad seems to be enjoying himself
Unfortunately for all of us the Saturday football weekends are over. Fortunately for all of us Madison’s Ale Asylum doesn’t only brew during football season. But if you do want to spend a weekend eating bratwurst and drinking great beer, head to Madison and make sure you check out Ale Asylum while you’re there.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving from Passports & Cocktails

For one day every year, Americans, if they are lucky enough, hold hands around the table and give thanks for the many blessings in their lives. We say if they are lucky because there are many people that are still less fortunate than the advertised American family eating a huge bird and napping with football on in the background. That’s not to say that those of us fortunate enough to celebrate with a bird and football should end that tradition, but as we give thanks for what we have we should always remember that we are lucky and we should pass that luck and fortune on during the holidays and throughout the year. Hopefully the more thanks we deliver can help our communities grow stronger and less people will have to make a decision between a Thanksgiving feast or food to feed their family for an entire month.

With thanks and luck on our side, we as travelers will never forget how fortunate we are to get out and see the world. Our team will never forget that there is a large amount of the population that doesn't have the means to see the world as we have. We hope Passports & Cocktails paints a picture of places here, there, and everywhere people can get out and see or put on a wish list to work towards. If it were possible we would love for the entire world to be able to travel to the unique destinations we have been so lucky to see. We give thanks for our unique opportunities and hope that someday travel for all can become a reality so we can all find out what people from other places are made of and get a better understanding of how they live.

All of us who are fortunate enough to have immediate family give thanks to them as well. Husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, children, etc.  Without them we wouldn't have the support system to really live a full life. But in the context of this blog, we are thankful for the new family we have gained over the course of the past year. We at this site have published 52 posts before this rambling mess of thankfulness. That’s one for every week of the year (yes we officially kicked off in January but it’s still a good round number). Our planning started a year ago to launch this site. We live in two very different parts of the US, have full time jobs, other websites, and families on top of this site. Before we launched we had never met in person, but we are thankful we did. Though both of us are supremely busy, we have the same aims and passion for what we are doing.  On the outside this is a website about travel and alcohol (doesn't get much better than that), but from within this site is a family.  We are thankful for the new family we have gained from the creation of this website.

On this Thanksgiving we also want to say a big thank you to all of you who have read our articles during the past year. For everyone who has shared our stories, shared your stories with us, invited us to your events, or just gave us a thumbs up, thank you! We are so thankful for you and hope that over the next year we can get out to meet even more of you and have a beer, wine, or white whiskey (nope, not a white whiskey, maybe an old fashioned). It has been an amazing year and our wonderful readers, Twitter followers, and Facebook fans have made it even more positive than we could have imagined at launch night in a frozen Madison, Wisconsin bar. 

This wouldn't be a Passports & Cocktails post without a little bit of alcohol in the midst of all these thanks, so in the spirit of Thanksgiving we found this great infographic by VinePair with a wine, beer, and booze pairing to fit every single one of your Thanksgiving dishes.  Looking through this list provides us with some great ideas that allow us to not only enjoy the Thanksgiving feast with our family and friends, but also a memory of all our travels and tastings.

Thanksgiving Drink Pairing Infographic

At Paso Robles' Castoro Cellars we discovered Tango, a white wine which would pair perfectly with the green bean casserole and apple pie.  At AlXimia in Baja we discovered Senda, a Zinfandel blend which would be perfect with the cornbread.  In our inaugural meeting in Wisconsin we tasted Capital Brewery's Mutiny IPA which would be a great not too hoppy match for the mashed potatoes.  At the Beer Bloggers Conference in San Diego we discovered some brand new beers like the Rogue Farms Marionberry Braggot from Oregon that would pair well with the cranberry sauce, or the Ballast Point Indra Kunindra Curry Export Stout from San Diego which would compliment the spices of the pumpkin pie.  And finally, we may just need to test how Kōloa Rum Company's Dark Rum pairs with the sweet potatoes with marshmallows before pouring some into the eggnog.

So again we thank you and wish you a very happy Thanksgiving.  Cheers!
Steve & Katherine

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Danish Beers: Mega Beers to Craft Brews

Roskilde Beer at Restaurant Vigen

Countries like Belgium and Germany probably pop to mind first when thinking of European beers.  But Denmark also has a huge beer culture.  Not only does Denmark have one of the largest beer brewing companies in the world, it also has a number of craft breweries around the country producing local Danish beer.  However, it can sometimes be difficult for travelers to find Danish craft beers since Carlsberg dominates the beer taps of Denmark.  When we traveled through Denmark we sought out some of the best places to enjoy Danish beer, both mega and micro.

Danish Beers in Copenhagen

The quintessential beer drinking experience in Denmark is to be had in Copenhagen along the Nyhavn canal.  In fact, drinking Danish beer along the Nyhavn canal is on my list of 10 things to do in Copenhagen.  There are a number of bars and cafes along the water serving Danish beer.  However, if you want to have a real local experience, and save some money, head to Nyhavns Vin & Tobak Kiosk and buy a can of beer to enjoy while sitting in the sun along the canal.  Most of the beers sold at the kiosk are Carlsberg and Tuborg, but there are some varieties of those brands that are not regularly served at the bars.  Romeo enjoyed a Tuborg Fine Festival, which was originally created for the English market in 1953 to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s coronation.  I chose a Gl. Carlsberg Porter Imperial Stout, a dark beer first brewed in 1930 featuring, amongst others, a flavor all Danes love, liquorice.  During our travels through Denmark we also tasted Carlsberg’s Master Brew and Elephant.

Enjoying Danish Beer Along the Nyhavn Canal Copenhagen Denmark

Another important experience for beer lovers visiting Copenhagen is touring the Carlsberg Brewery.  The Carlsberg Brewery tour illustrates in great detail the history of the family-owned Carlsberg Brewery and also provides tastes of Carlsberg’s original beer recipe during the self-guided tour and countless Carlsberg, Tuborg, and other Carlsberg-owned beers in the onsite Jacbosen Brewhouse & Bar.

Another fun place to enjoy Danish beer in Copenhagen is in the Tivoli Biergarten.   The Biergarten serves the standard Carlsberg and Tuborg beers plus has some foreign beers on tap like Edelweiss Weissbier from Austria, just in case you want to take a break from Danish beer.

Tivoli Biergarten Copenhagen Denmark

Since Carlsberg is brewed in Copenhagen, it was a little difficult to find craft Danish beer in Copenhagen.  But we did find one place in Copenhagen brewing craft beers, Told & Snaps.  Told & Snaps is a restaurant serving the classic smørrebrød, but they also distill their own craft snaps and brew their own craft beer.  Told & Snaps brews four beers: Pilsner, Classic, Organic Wheat, and Dark Lager. 

Danish Beers in Roskilde

While we loved all of Denmark, I felt a special affinity for the city of Roskilde.  One reason is because of Roskilde’s love for and celebration of their local beer.  While in other Danish cities it was sometimes difficult to find the local beer in bars and restaurants, in Roskilde all of the restaurants were serving local Danish beer and we also found a bar showcasing craft Danish beers.

Roskilde has two popular local breweries: Hornbeer Brewery and Herslev Bryghus.  Every restaurant we visited in Roskilde, including Gourmethuset Store Bors, Raadhuskaelderen, and Restaurant Vigen, served one or both of these breweries’ beers.  Even our hotel bar at Hotel Prindsen was serving Herslev Bryghus beer.

Herslev Bryghus Danish Beer at Gourmethuset Store Bors Roskilde Denmark

My favorite beer discovery in Denmark was Roskilde’s beer bar Bjergtrolden.  Bjergtrolden is a beer lover’s dream come true.  Bjergtrolden has a rotating selection of 14 beers on tap, both Danish and foreign.  Each tap is numbered and a menu board lists the corresponding beer of the evening.  The bar also features live music and a store selling an even greater selection of bottled beers.  I was so thrilled with this beer find we visited Bjergtrolden both of the nights we stayed in Roskilde. Some of the beers on tap during our visit were Hornbeer Hophorn, Hornbeer Vårøl, and Hornbeer Dunkelhorn, all brewed in Roskilde, Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast Stout brewed in Copenhagen, Crooked Moon True Rebel brewed in Copenhagen, and Stronzo Proud Blonde brewed in Gørløse.

Danish Beer at Bjergtrolden Roskilde Denmark

Albani Danish Beer Odense Denmark

Danish Beers in Odense

Unlike what I’m used to in San Diego where small craft breweries can be visited practically any day of the week, the craft breweries of Denmark are not as easy to visit.  If open to the public at all, some of Denmark’s craft breweries are only open for a few hours on select days of the week.  Our desire to taste Odense’s local beer is one of the reasons we chose to stay at Hotel Plaza during our visit to Odense, the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen.  When researching hotels I found Hotel Plaza has a small lobby bar serving local Danish beers.  During our stay we tasted Albani beer, which is made in Odense, including Albani Classic and Albani 1859.  Hotel Plaza serves some other Danish beers as well, including beer from Indslev Bryggeri and Ugly Duck Brewing Co.

Danish Beers in Aarhus

We were able to visit one Danish brewery, the Sct. Clemens Brewery in Aarhus.  This local brewery is unusually located in a chain restaurant, A Hereford Beefstouw.  Even though the brewery is located in a restaurant, it is still a fully functioning brewery, and we even witnessed one of Sct. Clemens’ brewers testing a new brew during our visit.  In addition to their standard beers, Sct. Clemens Brewery brews a beer of the month including a Christmas beer and an Easter beer.

Danish Beer Sct. Clemens Brewery Aarhus Denmark Sct. Clemens Brewery Aarhus Denmark

One of the great things to do in Aarhus is visit Den Gamle By, an open-air museum featuring buildings from around Denmark and from different periods of history.  One of these buildings contains Den Gamle By’s working brewery.  The Den Gamle By beer cannot be sold or served outside of the museum, so brewers dressed in period costume brew and serve old recipe beer to Den Gamle By visitors.

Danish Beer Den Gamle By Brewery Aarhus Denmark

Another place to enjoy a Danish beer in Aarhus is along the Aarhus Canal.  The Aarhus Canal was once covered by concrete, but the concrete has been removed and the canal is now lined with restaurants and bars.  The Aarhus Canal is a relaxing spot to drink a beer, but most of the bars and restaurants only have Carlsberg, Tuborg, and other big beer brands on tap.

Danish Beers in Ribe

Even the tiny town of Ribe, Denmark’s oldest town, has its own brewery, Ribe Bryghus.  We weren’t able to visit the brewery itself, though we did get to walk by and peek in the windows, but we were able to taste Ribe Bryghus’ Blond Ale and Brown Ale with our dinner at Weis Stue, a restaurant in one of Denmark’s oldest inns.

Ribe Bryghus Danish Beer Ribe Denmark

Denmark surprised me with its beer quality and selection.  While I was familiar with Carlsberg before we traveled to Denmark, I was unaware of the vast selection of beers being brewed by Carlsberg and Tuborg.  I was also surprised to learn that practically every city and town in Denmark has its own local brewery.  While it took a little extra work to try more than the standard mega-brewery beers, beer travelers to Denmark will be rewarded with a variety of tasty local beers which can be sampled in a diverse array of locations ranging from beer bars, to restaurants, to hotels, to canals, to museums, to amusement parks.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Regions that Must be on Your Beer Travel Bucket List

Photo Credit: David Wilbanks

Bucket lists come in all different shapes and sizes. Some people put together a bucket list of all the different sites in the world that they want to see (Eiffel Tower, Great Wall of China, Petra, etc…). Some bucket lists are full of adventure activities to mark off before passing time comes (skydive, climb a mountain, surf). For others it’s learning to perform an everyday task at an exceptional level like gourmet cooking classes or woodworking. For me, a bucket list is a combination of travel destination and the food or beverage that makes that place unique. My bucket list includes drinking Sake in Japan, eating salchicha argentina in Argentina, and drinking The Beirut Cocktail in Beirut.
Beer in the Alps, check!

Through our journeys we have also completed a bucket list or 2, because why not have different lists for different interests?! One of those lists was hitting the best spots worldwide for a beer. This was not a list of places with either great nightlife or places where beer is readily available, but a list of places to travel to that are known for their beer. People around the world enjoy a good beer at home or at a restaurant, but this bucket list would take us to breweries, beer halls, and holes in the wall. We continue to travel and showcase local breweries that you have to stop at when you are traveling, but for me these bucket list beer regions are places to go before your bucket is empty. Each one of these destinations not only produces some of the finest beer on earth, but the local culture is influenced by these fine lagers and ales and the people wear that culture as a badge of honor.

Staropramen brewery tour, check!
Czech Republic

My first beer (and 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc…) abroad was in Prague. That first sip of Budvar on a cold evening was a revelation. Unlike mass produced American beers, this beer from a large brewery had body and flavor. The people drank it different as well. Unlike our bar scene where groups of people cram in to bars and converse with only the folks they know, the Czechs had turned beer into a reason to celebrate with everyone and anyone. Common tables, “nastravi” shouted to the ceiling, and big hearty smiles make this beer capital a must stop on the beer bucket list tour….plus the fact that the “City of 100 Spires” is a magical place which made me realize that I must spend the rest of my life with my travel partner who brought me there. Magic and beer, shall I help you find a flight?
Pretzel and liter, double check!


What’s the picture you get in your head when I say Bavaria? I’m assuming the same one I had before I traveled there. Leiderhosen, pretzels, and giant steins of beer. Well, that picture is more truth than fiction. Bavaria is the capital of laid back in Germany. People in other parts of Germany travel to Bavaria like it’s a different country because it’s culture is so unique. And a giant part of that is its beer. From Munich to Fussen to Nurenburg beer is celebrated as part of the heritage of this region. A liter of beer is not just for binge drinking, but for catching up with neighbors or new friends just made. With an alpine backdrop, sausage to die for, and those large pretzels of your picture,  making a beer pilgrimage to Bavaria needs to be near the top of your bucket.
Lambic, check!
Unlike the previous 2 entries on our bucket list, Belgium brings multiple unique styles that are not only part of the countries unique heritage but also rarely attempted elsewhere. Trappist Ales and lambics are unique to Belgium and must be had in this chocolate , beer, and waffle wonderland. Like our previous entries the Belgians are not only happy to share a pint with anyone, but also to share a story and bits of their culture. Brussels has so many places to grab a bite and a unique tour of the places where these sours, lambics, and tripels and the smaller towns will amaze with hole in the wall bars that not only feature hundreds of unique Belgian ales and the proper glass from the brewery to drink them out of. With food, folks, and to die for ales beer touring Belgium is almost as spiritual as hiking the Camino in Spain.
Rocky Mountain Stouts, check!
We’ve spent a lot of time and site space on Colorado but that’s because the Rocky Mountain state deserves it. Colorado has led innovations in craft beer from being the first state to can real beer to having one of the breweries to attack a broader market and wake some folks up to the craft beer revolution. New Belgium’s Fat Tire was one of the first water cooler craft beers nationwide and when your state finally got it you were so excited to show it off in your fridge. Breweries spring up all over the state almost daily and that has a lot to do with the people in the state embracing the local scene. With clean Rocky Mountain water to use, breathtaking scenery, and some of the most laid back and entertaining folks in the US….Colorado must be traveled to for it’s beer from all corners of the state.

DisneyLand, The Golden Gate Bridge, Pebble Beach, awful traffic, Silicon Valley, and on and on and on. California is the most populous state and most touristed state in the union. There are so many places to see and things to do in California, but beer pilgrimage should be the theme of one of your stops in the Golden State. With some of the earliest craft breweries in the US like Sierra Nevada, Anchor Steam Brewing, and Karl Strauss, California not only had quantity but it has a rich pioneer tradition in the brewing industry as well. San Diego is widely accepted as one of the top 5 craft beer towns in America and the state is also home to one of my favorite breweries….the North Coast Brewing Company featuring the always flavorful Old Rasputin Russian Stout. Head to the beach, hang out with the beautiful crowd, the tech crowd, or the brewing crowd in California because brews (new and old) are some of the best in the world.
Wisconsin Beer and friends, check and check!
Home is where the beer is. There are few places that you will find in this world where people are as passionate about their local beer as the people of Wisconsin. The state of Wisconsin features more taverns than grocery stores and churches. Before prohibition every town featured a local brewer. After prohibition Milwaukee became the king of brewing (not the king of beers) in the US. After craft beer became a viable operation in the 80’s, local breweries came back pre-prohibition style. Hell, one of the most successful breweries in the state started with an IPO funded by tavern patrons around the state. Like their German ancestors, Wisconsinites not only want to tell you about the local news, but they want to rave about “their” beer (meaning whatever brewery is in their town). A trip to a liquor store in Wisconsin can be overwhelming in terms of local choices, and a trip to the brewery will not only be a history of beer lesson but also a place to try new, old, and experimental brews from across the entire style spectrum. It’s a 4 seasons destination that embraces, like Europe, the positives f their beer culture. If you are in a bar with your parents and under 21, you can have a beer with them, isn’t that how we all want beer to be viewed.
As we continue our journeys, we are excited about future beer bucket list destinations. The emergence of craft beer in North Carolina ,for instance, is not only amazing for it’s rapid expansion, but also really fun because like all of these other places there is a very unique culture in that part of the US. Having a new drink, or food, or experience while on vacation is how travel should be approached. But this bucket list should be attacked with full beer ferocity. Try the styles, frequent as many halls of beer as possible, and Prost with as many new friends as possible. Your taste buds will be glad you did….and you will probably never drink a bad beer again. Cheers!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Brandy Peak Distillery: Southern Oregon’s Oldest Craft Distillery

Brandy Peak Distillery Brookings Oregon

A tasty stop on an Oregon coast vacation is at Brandy Peak Distillery, a micro-distillery just north of Brookings.  Brandy Peak Distillery is southern Oregon’s oldest craft distillery and is family owned.  When we drove up the dirt road owners David and Georgia Nowlin almost seemed surprised to be getting visitors, as Brandy Peak Distillery is a bit off the beaten track.

R.L. Nowlin founded Brandy Peak Distillery in 1993 and the distillery is now run by his son David Nowlin.  David gave us a short brandy lesson and tour of the distillery before we got down to the business of tasting.

David Nowlin of Brandy Peaks Distillery

Did you know there is a difference between Brandy and brandy?  Brandy can only be spelled with a capital “B” if it is distilled from grapes.  Brandy with a lowercase “b” can be distilled from any kind of fruit and doesn’t have to be aged.

Brandy Peak Distillery’s most unusual feature is two wood-fueled distillers.  These wood-fired pot stills were designed by R.L. Nowlin and are still running today.  At the time they were installed they were the only two legal wood-fueled distillers in the country.  Using these special pot stills allows for a very carefully crafted product.

Brandy Peak Distillery Wood-Fueled Distillers

After viewing the distillers we headed back inside where bottling happens.  Brandy Peak Distillery’s craft spirits are hand-bottled and labeled.  Because the alcohol percentages vary amongst batches, the alcohol content is handwritten on every bottle.

After our short tour we moved on to tasting.  Brandy Peak Distillery produces five categories of spirits: pear brandies, marc brandies, grappa, single-barrel brandy, and blackberry liqueur. 

Brandy Peak Distillery

We tried the natural pear brandy, which I loved.  Brandy Peak Distillery’s natural pear brandy and aged pear brandy are made with ripe Bartlett pears and are both award-winning.  

Marc brandies are distilled from varietal grapes and we tasted the aged Pinot Noir brandy.  This had a more traditional taste that was a bit strong for me but was Rome’s favorite, as he is a brandy and whiskey drinker. 

Brandy Peak Distillery Award-Winning Brandies

Our final taste was the blackberry liqueur.  David explained that the blackberries come from the overgrown field next door to the property.  There are so many blackberries it seemed natural to turn them into a liqueur.  Oregon is known for its blackberries and I remember picking blackberries as a young child in my great-grandmother’s yard in Portland.  The wild sun-ripened taste of the local blackberries shines through in this liqueur.

Oregon is well-known for its quality beers, wines, and spirits, and it was fun to find this small, family-owned, off the beaten path micro-distillery crafting excellent brandies.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Alpha Beer Showcases Local Beer and Brewers in Chicago

As a kid growing up in the Upper Midwest, there was no destination as awe inspiring as Chicago. From the skyline to the traffic to the shabby looking trains, Chicago was the pinnacle of big city living set on the same lake that looked very different north of the Windy City. As an adult still living somewhere in the Midwest, Chicago’s mix of culture, food, architecture, and the arts still ranks it as a top destination for a getaway. But there was one thing that Chicago hadn’t (until recently) done well at all, brew beer.
It’s tough to fault Chicago for their choice of awful cheap beer from their northern neighbors as the city does everything else so well. There ( in my opinion) is nothing better than sharing a Chicago Deep Dish Pizza. The goodness from a cracker crust layered with cheese and sauce ON TOP is equaled by very few other creations. Chicago Dogs, with their combination of mustard, relish, onion, pepper, and pickle, are my favorite late night “4th meal”.  Chicago food, along with that iconic skyline and blue collar attitude, is some of the best (and most unique) in the world. But who wants to wash that down with an Old Style?

It makes me hungry everytime
I have set off multiple times in Chicago in recent years searching for some good local brews. This past summer, while walking through the wonderful Lincoln Park neighborhood, I thought we had finally found a spot that would quench our Chicago thirst. The establishment was a corner bar, with classic charm. We pulled up a stool and looked over the beer menu and were disappointed by a menu full of the regulars from St Louis, Milwaukee, and Chicago’s Goose Island Brewery ( I won’t get in to the whole argument of local not local with Goose Island, but I’m looking for the independent brewers).WHERE WAS ALL THE CHICAGO BEER?!
AJ Hudson's, a must stop for beer lovers
A few months later I finally found Chicago beer at AJ Hudson’s Public House (just up the street from the other Lincoln Park bar that we struck out at) at one of the best beer events that I have attended, Alpha Beer. Alpha Beer, the creation of The Local Tourist, is a world tour of beer from A-Z. This event is a tribute to Theresa’s (the founder of the Local Tourist) mother. Every Friday after work her mom and the passengers on her Metra train would bring a different beer for tasting to finish the work week to eliminate the Ground hogs Day feeling you get with drinking the same old same old every week. Theresa took this ritual and turned it into an event, not only for local and regional craft beer celebration, but also for an introduction to those people who may have otherwise stuck to the bigger brands. Bringing in as many local brewers to explain their craft and answer any questions attendees may have only reinforced the point that this wasn’t all about drinking 26 samples of beer, but also about understanding why drinking local tastes better and supports the community.

The lineup, sorry Z
Alpha Beer is a twice a year event (spring and fall) and just celebrated its 13th tasting. Event number 13 (which I attended) included selections from breweries in Chicago, out state Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, and beyond. The offerings from these breweries ranged from pale ale to maibock to pomegranate porter with a cayenne pepper finish. All of the beers on the list were offered in the bar as well as in the event room, making AJ Hudson's a must stop for beer lovers heading out for a night (or morning for Premier League matches) in Lincoln Park. 

What made Alpha Beer special compared to other beer events was the inclusion of brewers as well. 3 local brewers from Berghoff Brewing Company, Temperance Brewery, and Ten Ninety Brewing were on hand to describe their featured brews and answer questions for anyone. They also continued the tradition that we've found nationwide of drinking together and generally caring about each others product. No competition, just collaboration for the betterment of local beer. 

I had finally found and tasted Chicago beer. Yes I could have gone to any of the tasting rooms that have popped up all over town, but unfortunately I have yet to have time to do that. What Alpha Beer did was give me more incentive to fill in that Chicago void for me. Not every beer there was my favorite flavor, but they all did have flavor unlike the beer that Chicagoans have been subjected to since the Great Fire (the way cheap Milwaukee beer made itself regional since everything in Chicago had burned down). If you are looking for a reason to make an escape to Chicago in the fall or spring, make sure you check out the Alpha Beer schedule and get some tickets for a wonderful event. If you're going to the Windy City any other time of the year, say no to the big boys and wash down your deep dish with something local, because Chicago is finally brewing some great beer.

Note: I attended Alpha Beer as a member of the press and therefore entered for free, but as always the opinions expressed are completely my own.