Thursday, April 30, 2015

Local "Closing Time" Bites in My Favorite Cities

Wow, we've had lots of drinks over the last few years (74 different regions and lots of drinks in those regions). I'm hungry! No I'm not a food blogger and never could be because I usually don't understand much about the way food is plated. My normal reaction is "me hungry" and "mmm good", much like Cookie Monster if he just ate slabs of meat. But I do understand the difference I feel the next day after I grab a local bite vs. a fast food run at Closing Time (are you singing "One last call for alcohol" as you read that). Don't get me wrong, I have throughout my life (college and adult) had my fair share of Number 3's, hard shell, with a side of Nachos Bell Grande or Double Whoppers. In some unfortunate situations it's the only thing available and we all know that some food "needs" to be consumed after Closing Time.

With all that running through your heads, I'd like to change this post up a little as well (beyond being about food instead of beer, wine, or spirits). Our normal format is as a guide. We hit places you may not have heard of including towns, give you the lowdown, and hope that you'll stop on your travels and support these fine local craftsmen. We get great feedback from our readers and love to interact on social networks with many of you about these places and then move on to our next spot. What I'd love to do this time is give my favorite spots while picking all of your brains as well. I haven't been everywhere but I have a long list so I'd love for you (you beautiful boozy travelers) to chime in on our comment section. When you travel (or have a drink at home), what are the locally run spots that must be tried after a night of filling up on local suds? Do you have a place that cranks out great tater tots, nachos, pizza, or a combination of all 3? Let us know, because we'd love to move forward with a new phase of sharing and caring together (message board style) on the site.

So, let's eat!

Mostaccioli Pizza and BBQ Pizza from Ian's Pizza  (photo credit to pirate johnny)
Madison, Wisconsin- Ian's Pizza

I have to start where this blog started. We kicked off Passports & Cocktails with a meetup in one of the most underrated travel (and food) spots in the US, Madison. True I was raised in the Madison area, but I have spent most of my adult life traveling there vs. living there. The local booze culture is strong in Madison, as is the local food culture. One staple for late night eating in Madison is Ian's Pizza. Sure you can get a regular slice at Ian's, but it's late night and I already mentioned that I like tots and pizza, so why not add smoked brisket and grab a slice of brisket and tots pizza. Yup, it's real along with many mind bending stomach loving combos. They have branched from the original Madison locale to Milwaukee and Denver now but hit the original in downtown Madison and chat up all the folks in line, the line means it's great. And yes, nearly all of their ingredients are from local Wisconsin farms so you'll get the freshest ingredients on your slice.

The Weiners Circle Combo in Chicago (photo credit Lance Leong)
Chicago, Illinois- The Wieners Circle

I love deep dish pizza in Chicago, but after a night of drinks that pie from heaven above is just too filling. Enter The Wieners Circle! There are many places to grab a Chicago Dog in, well Chicago, but there is something special about the char on the sausage and the attitude from The Wieners Circle. There is nothing more fun for me than being put a little on edge when ordering a late night bite, and the employees at The Wiener Circle are as real as it gets. Be prepared when you order or be prepared to get an earful. The dogs are amazing ( I recommend a double char) and so are the people. There are great spots to get a drink all over the Lincoln Park area of Chicago and they are all within stumbling distance of The Wieners Circle, trust me. And for those who don't like a Chicago Dog (first shame on you), the char burgers look, smell, and from the mmm's at the picnic table next to us taste fantastic as well.

Granada from the Alhambra...with Kebab King No 1 lurking below.
Granada, Spain- Kebab King No 1

I love a good doner kebab. I believe I have had at least one in every city we've traveled to, and in some instances have just filled up all of my mealtimes with kebabs. But in Granada, Spain there is one late night kebab place that trumps all others, Kebab King. I honestly have not stopped thinking about the kebab I ate at the Kebab King. One of the things that makes Kebab King special is that there is a choice of meat. Don't get me wrong, I love a lamb kebab, but at Kebab King in Granada you also have a choice of chicken and veal (all halal). The toppings are also plentiful and there are vegetarian options. Many think of Granada for the Alhambra and it's location at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada's, but Granada is also a university town with a number of great places to grab a local drink including an Alhambra beer. Kebab King No 1 (or now No 2 as well) are what a kebab should taste like, and after a night of Andalucian partying I think you'll agree.

The beignets at Cafe du Monde are fantastic and disappear quick late at night, order 2 rounds 
New Orleans, LA- Cafe du Monde

As you can see, I love to put some meat into my system after a night of drinks, so I was actually a little skeptical about drinking all night and then throwing down some beignets. I remember hitting the 24 hour donut bakery when I was in college and not feeling that great the next morning. Something about the excess sugar booze. Well, I'm glad my brain doesn't actually control my food finding instincts (I'm sure it does, so thank goodness my wife was there to push forward).   All the hype about Cafe du Monde is true. Eating these sugary bombs after drinking is perfect. It's a simple order, beignets, beignets, and more beignets. The flavor is unrivaled and no matter how long the line is, it is worth it. The beauty of Cafe du Monde late at night is, with all of your new sugar energy, you are ready to take on a few more local cocktails on the walk back to your hotel. Double winner!

When the drinks are finished, the line begins for salt beef beigels at Beigel Bake (photo credit Ben Werd)
London, UK- Beigel Bake

London has about a billion late night choices for a quick tasty bite. Every flavor in the world is represented, but for my money there is one place you must hit after a night of pint tipping, Beigel Bake. This Shoreditch institution, serving up bagels 24 hours a day, sits in the heart of a great drinking area as well. There is nothing fancy about Beigel Bake which makes it even better in my book. The menu consists of your normal bakery items (breads, pastries, doughnuts), but the reason to stop in after a night of pints in the hot salt beef beigel. What you'll get is a fresh bagel with pickle, mustard, and tender salt beef. When I say tender, I'm talking as tender as any brisket you've had in America. The hot salt beef beigel form Beigel Bake may be the only reason I didn't miss a flight home from London, IT'S THAT GOOD! Even if you're not in East London, make plans to get there before nights end so you can have a beigel to end your night. Plus, like the other on this list, the line of people is always there and good for a whole bunch of laughs.

This one slid  (bad slider pun) in at the last second
I'll stop here. These 5 establishments pop right to the front of my head when I think Closing Time travel bites. Wait, I want to quick add if the city you're in has a White Castle (I know that doesn't fit but I just love a sack of sliders and chicken rings) you should hit White Castle too. OK, since that's out of the way it's on you the reader, what's your favorite/favorites? Where is this place, why do you love it, how late are they open? As we continue with our mapping project we'd love to add more pictures and descriptions as well. Get yourself on the map, we'll show you some love. I can't wait to try your favorite place for a bar time bite. Cheers!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Winery Tour Through Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe

A popular destination in Mexico’s Baja peninsula is the Valle de Guadalupe, one of Baja’s wine regions.  The wineries are easy to reach from San Diego, Tijuana, Rosarito, and Ensenada, so while the Valle de Guadalupe is a travel destination unto itself, it can also be visited on a one-day winery tour, which is what we did when we enjoyed an Ensenada weekend getaway

Finca La Carrodilla

Finca La Carrodilla is one of the Valle de Guadalupe’s newer wineries, having only been open to the public for less than a year.  Owner Fernando Pérez Castro purchased the property in 2012.  With the property came vines which are now 35 years old. 

What makes Finca La Carrodilla unique is that they practice ecological viticulture, creating organic wines.  Chickens help move the earth and eat the bugs.  The ground is tilled using an animal-drawn plow.  They even follow the biodynamic farming calendar. 

There are two types of stainless steel fermenting tanks used at Finca La Carrodilla.  Two are from Argentina and are the standard cylindrical shape which they use for white wine.  The other eight, acquired from Italy, Spain, and France, are unique because of their sloped sides.  The shape allows for more color and flavor. 

Visitors to Finca La Carrodilla can take a tour of the winery and see where the grapes are crushed, the fermenting area, the barrel room, and a room set aside for special occasions.  Wine tasting can be done either in the tasting room or outside on the winery’s lush rooftop garden which overlooks the vineyards and vegetable garden.

The labels on the wine bottles represent the stages of the day.  Our first taste of Finca La Carrodilla’s wines was of the Chenin Blanc with the sunrise on the label.  The Chenin Blanc is bittersweet, perfect for sipping on a hot day.  They also have Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tempranillo.  My favorite by far was the Tempranillo, which is aged for 12 months in oak.  We also tasted the Canto de Luna, a blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tempranillo, aged three months in American oak and three months in French oak.  Finca La Carrodilla also makes a special edition wine, a blend of equal parts Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, made in the old way.  Machines take no part in the wine-making process and the wine is fermented in special small containers.

Hacienda La Lomita

Hacienda La Lomita is the older sister to Finca La Carrodilla.  The winery has been open for five years and the owners originally bought the 11-hectare property for their summer home. 

Like Finca La Carrodilla, visitors to Hacienda La Lomita can take a tour of the winery in addition to tasting the wines.  As both wineries are owned by the same people, there are some similarities, such as the use of slope-sided fermentation tanks and the creation of a special-edition wine.  The winery also has some design similarities to another Baja winery, AlXimia

We tasted five of Hacienda La Lomita’s wines.  Blank Space is a Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc blend which is fruity but dry.  Cursi is a Grenache rosé which is also dry with an aroma of fruit.  Discreto Encanto is a young wine, a blend of Shiraz, Tempranillo, Grenache, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  We ended our tasting with Pagano, a 100% Grenache, and Sacro, a blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 60% Merlot. 

Vena Cava

We first tasted Vena Cava’s wines at San Diego’s ¡LATIN FOOD FEST!  I loved the wine, but I really wanted to see the winery of which I had heard so much.  Vena Cava is one of the more well-known of the Valle de Guadalupe wineries and is usually described first as the winery under the upside-down boat.

Vena Cava’s architecture is almost as much of a draw as its wine.  The building was made with reused industrial materials that blend with the environment.  The building materials include boats from the port of Ensenada.  The walls are a mix of soil and cement.  The wine tasting room is dim, humid, and chilly, the perfect atmosphere for wine.  The ceiling is an upside-down boat with circular holes that let in natural light.  Light enters the room through what look like bottle bottoms but are actually magnifying glasses.  Tasters stand around a long glass table as one of Vena Cava’s employees pours the wine.

Winemaker Phil Gregory believes wine should be easy to drink.  As one taster said, “wine should be complex, not complicated,” which perfectly describes Vena Cava’s wines.  The Sauvignon Blanc was dry and refreshing with mild acidity.  We had tasted Vena Cava’s Cabernet Sauvignon before but learned a little more about the wine-making process during our tasting.  The wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, but the grapes come from different vineyards.  Phil Gregory keeps the grapes from the different vineyards in separate barrels for 13 months.  He then analyzes them and creates a balanced blend.  We also tasted Vena Cava’s Big Blend, a blend of equal parts Petite Syrah, Syrah, Grenache, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  The aroma was that of plums, dark fruits, and cinnamon, and it was gentle on the palate.  The Big Blend is one of Vena Cava’s most popular wines.

Visitors to Vena Cava can make an afternoon of it.  Outside the winery are shaded picnic tables with a view of the valley and Vena Cava’s water feature, a small lake with a boat moored in the center.

The Valle de Guadalupe’s wineries can be visited independently, but it was nice to take a Baja winery tour and leave the driving in the hands of our Hotel Coral & Marina wine tour guide so we could sit back and enjoy the ride and the wine.

Thank you to Hotel Coral & Marina for hosting our weekend in Ensenada and making this post possible.  As always, all opinions are my own.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Florida Craft Brewers Battle Big Beer Over More Than Just Taste

In the past decade, the beer giants of America have taken a hit not only in sales but in image. The iconic brewers fun commercials (who doesn't remember the Budweiser frogs) couldn't save the brewers bottom lines from a revolution of taste sweeping across regions of the US. Beer was becoming something other than a thin pale interpretation of a pilsner, and people began to realize that a few extra dollars was worth it for the new options put before them. Because of this, big beer did what any corporate giant would do: they sold to international conglomerates, gobbled up some of the competition, and tried to squeeze the rest of them by taking over the distribution networks using laws written before the revolution began. Big beer became a bully instead of innovating and in Florida, where we just visited, the bully has been winning.

Let me throw out a few numbers to start: 20 million, 100 million, 5.5 million, 190, 110, and 100. What do those numbers represent? There are over 20 million residents in the state of Florida and over 100 million visitors to the state every year (making Florida the top tourist destination in the world). 5.5 million represents the populations of Wisconsin and Colorado (not combined), 2 of my most visited states but nowhere near Florida in terms of tourists (one stat had Colorado at near 60 million visitors). 190 is an estimate of craft breweries in Colorado, 110 is Wisconsin, and 100 is Florida. Oh boy now we have to do math, but that doesn't seem proportional at all. Correct (I like math by the way), those numbers are staggering. With one quarter of the population, those 2 states outbrew Florida not only in per capita drinkers (per 100,000 people over the age of 21) but in whole numbers of breweries.When you look nationwide at breweries per capita by state, Florida ranks 46th out of 50. I know Floridians, and they don't rank 46th in anything unless there's a reason.

Well, what's the reason and why are we counting with our toes instead of drinking beer? I drove around for an hour looking for local Florida craft beer in liquor stores (IN FLORIDA) so I felt the issue deserved a highlight or 64 (shout out to Florida growler fans). Beer distribution laws nationwide have been burdening craft breweries for decades (the 3 tier system forces breweries to go through a distributor instead of going straight to market with their product) though networks in other parts of the country have been easier to crack. Unfortunately for Florida, and unsurprisingly Missouri, the struggle to get to market has been made more difficult by the long standing influence of a big beer giant in the state. Yes that company that takes commercial shots at craft beer makers has been brewing beer in the Sunshine State for decades, Busch Gardens anyone? For decades they've dominated the distributor network and have done all they can to keep the little guys off the shelves. With friends in state legislatures and money to burn as well om lobbying, there is no end in sight when it comes to new rule making sand tighter squeezes on the Florida craft beer industry.

Like the manatee, Florida craft brewers are an endangered species that need all of our support
Beyond the difficulties that come with cracking the distribution networks, archaic rules about growler size also plague Florida's craft brewers. There is a general murkiness of not being able to sell beer in tap rooms without having to buy beer back from a distributor at a mark up  as well. You brew it, sell it at a razor thin profit margin, buy it back at an even bigger increase, and then sell in your tap room. Beyond that, breweries can only sell growlers of 32 ounces or 128 ounces instead of the popular 64 ounces that enthusiasts enjoy nationwide (this rule is about to be overturned in the Florida legislature, but that doesn't change the climate overnight). That's because with the bill comes amendments that could restrict tap rooms themselves, holy moly. In plain words, it is nearly impossible for a small brewer in small town Florida to operate in this climate (no not the humidity) and survive for any long period of time. And that has been one of our main goals as advocates for breweries, to highlight the throwback breweries serving great towns across the country, which makes all this Florida craziness relevant.

But how is all of this relevant to the traveling community? Take that 100 million per year number, Florida's tourist numbers. I'm not saying the growing fermented traveling community (beverage travelers?) will make any significant increase to those numbers, but what those numbers represent are a lot of people who can help make a difference to the local Florida economies. Rick Steves wrote a book entitled "Travel as a Political Act". The book is not a manifesto for creating revolutions in the places you travel. Traveling as a political act, is about broadening your horizons and leaving the places you travel to in better shape (even with your ultimately small footprint). There may be nothing more "political" than economic issues. The Florida economy is better served by local breweries employing local residents, using local agriculture, and recycling the money spent through Florida vs. a few large companies that operate everything in Florida taking the money overseas. And by frequenting tap rooms and local bars while in Florida, or looking for a Florida brewery label if you don't happen to be in a city that has a brewery yet (which is a lot) you take the first step towards your political act.

I know that looks like a simplistic view of the economy, but it's a start and there are ways to involve yourself beyond supporting local beer while you're in Florida. The Florida Craft Brewers Guild and local craft brewers are now and will continue to be in a fight with distributors and legislators influenced by those beer giants. They have set up crowd funding in the past and, with the influence their competition yields, will need support in the future. Keep your eyes on Florida, as this will be the model for other states as big beer continues to lose its market share.

Fresh Florida citris, palm tress, and local beer, I can't wait to go back for more
Oh yeah, the beer in Florida was found after that hour drive. 3 stops were made: 1 giant liquor store's version of craft beer was PBR, 1 giant grocery store's version of local craft beer was from Wisconsin (and brewed by a big boy), and the last stop was where we hit our jackpot. That jackpot was still outnumbered by beers from Colorado (don't get me wrong I love Colorado beer) but there was a nice small selection of Florida beers that perfectly fit the warm humid climate. A winter beer means something different in Florida, and that's why we need to continue to help keep these breweries local.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Meet the Brewers at San Diego’s Cueva Bar

Chef Oz (Osvaldo Blackaller) of Cueva Bar in San Diego
Chef Oz
San Diego County has so many craft breweries you could fill up a year of weekends traipsing around the County visiting them all.   Osvaldo Blackaller, also known as Chef Oz, decided to make it easy for his customers to discover new local breweries by bringing the brewers to them at his centrally located restaurant in San Diego’s University Heights neighborhood.  Guests of Chef Oz’s Meet the Brewers series can meet local brewers, try some great local beers, and pair those beers with some phenomenal food.

If you were going to quickly describe Cueva Bar’s cuisine, you would use the term Mexican, but Cueva Bar is not your standard San Diego taco shop.  Chef Oz grew up in Monclova, Mexico, a city in the northern Mexican state of Coahuila, where he first gained his love of cooking.  This heritage is apparent in Cueva Bar’s menu, and Chef Oz fuses his Mexican roots with flavors from Argentina, the East Coast, and the South.  The menu includes items like empanadas, flat breads, and tapas.  Chef Oz uses local products as much as possible, getting his meat and vegetables from Specialty Produce and his seafood from Catalina Offshore Products.

Rock Fish Tostada Cueva Bar San Diego
Rock Fish Tostada
We attended Cueva Bar’s first Meet the Brewers event which featured master brewer Simon Lacey from New English Brewing Company.  While guests can order off the regular Saturday lunch menu, Chef Oz puts together a special menu for the event which expertly pairs his dishes with the offerings of the featured brewery.  Guests can also order beer flights.

Meet the Brewers guests actually get to meet the brewers.  Master brewer Simon Lacey sat at the bar with all of us and was available to answer any questions.  Simon Lacey started his brewing career at La Jolla Brewery in 2005 before founding New English Brewing Company in 2007, located in Sorrento Valley.  Simon Lacey is originally from Cheshire in northwest England and his English roots are evident in his beers.  He started by brewing more traditional styles of beer but has since become more experimental.

New English Brewing Company Beer Flight San Diego
New English Brewing Company Beer Flight
The New English Brewing Company beers featured at Cueva Bar’s Meet the Brewers event were Schwarzbier Black Lager, Barrel Aged Brown, Troopers Tipple IPA, Why ? Not American Wheat Beer, Humbly Legit IPA, and Zumbar Imperial Stout.  With so many choices, we decided to go with a beer fight. 

The Schwarzbier Black Lager, a collaboration beer for San Diego’s Blind Lady Ale House, is a great tasting beer with the flavor of coffee and a bitter finish.  I am sometimes leery of barrel-aged beers because they can be too sweet and too strong for my taste.  The Barrel Aged Brown had the perfect balance for me.  While there was an immediate sweet caramel taste, it wasn’t too sweet or too strong.  The Barrel Aged Brown is aged in bourbon barrels, six months in first use barrels or eight months in second use barrels.  IPAs are another style of beer that I’m picky about, but I learned that Simon Lacey doesn’t completely subscribe to the west coast style of IPA, so while the Humbly Legit IPA is definitely an IPA with a bitter hoppy taste, it is not overly strong on the hops and flavors of spice and marmalade are also present.  The Why ? Not American Wheat Beer is a perfect session beer for warm weather with a very clean, crisp taste.

Stone Crab Cake Stuffed Piquillo Peppers Cueva Bar San Diego
Stone Crab Cake Stuffed Piquillo Peppers
We paired our beer flight with two of Chef Oz’s pairing menu items.  This was the second time I had eaten at Cueva Bar, so I had been introduced to Chef Oz’s food before.  Chef Oz is an expert at pairing flavors, so when he presents a dish, all components should be eaten together with a little bit of each flavor in every bite.  His stone crab cake stuffed piquillo peppers are the perfect example.  Piquillo peppers are stuffed with crab cakes (heavy on the crab) and served atop coleslaw, strong with vinegar, and a drizzle of chili oil.  If eaten separately, the coleslaw could be a little too strong and the stuffed peppers could seem almost a little lacking in flavor; but eaten together, as they are meant to be, the flavors are absolutely perfect.  The suggested pairing for the crab-stuffed peppers was the Why ? Not American Wheat Beer.

Pork Belly Chilaquiles Cueva Bar San Diego
Pork Belly Chilaquiles
I’m always on the lookout for my favorite Mexican breakfast item, chilaquiles.  Chef Oz’s pork belly chilaquiles completely satisfied my cravings.  The corn tortilla chips were nice and crunchy with spicy green salsa and melted cheese, and the pork belly was cooked to perfection.  The suggested pairing for the chilaquiles was the Troopers Tipple IPA.

We finished off our meal with a sweet treat, an ice cream float made with New English Brewing Company’s Zumbar Chocolate Coffee Imperial Stout.  This flavorful stout, my favorite of the beers on offer that day, was a collaboration with Zumbar Coffee & Tea, a local boutique coffee roaster.  The Imperial Stout was brewed with a blend of coffee beans roasted by Zumbar as well as Belgian dark chocolate.

New English Brewing Company Zumbar Chocolate Coffee Imperial Stout Ice Cream Float Cueva Bar San Diego
Zumbar Chocolate Coffee Imperial Stout Ice Cream Float
The next Meet the Brewers event is scheduled for Saturday, April 11, 2015.  Cerveceria Insurgente from Tijuana will be the featured brewery and beers will be paired with some of Cueva Bar’s favorite tapas.  There will be more Meet the Brewers events in the future, which will be announced on Cueva Bar’s website.

Meet the Brewers Events at Cueva Bar
March 7, 2015 - New English Brewing Company
April 11, 2015 - Cerveceria Insurgente
May 2, 2015 - Rough Draft Brewing Company
June 6, 2015 - Thorn Street Brewery
July 2015 (TBA)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

American History and Great Beer Collide in Weston, Missouri

Traveling, for a large part of the population, has become a dance between airports and freeways leading to big cities and large draw historic sites. One of the reasons for this is the lack of real "vacation" time or "PTO" making these easy to reach places with endless activity a no brainer when time is a crunch. As well as the easy access for larger places, a lack of advertising revenue and a carnival style barker shouting at the top of their lungs has taken some of the most historic small towns in the US off of the big travel map. Well, I would like to put my resume in as carnival barker for a small town in Northwest Missouri. The town is Weston, Missouri. Weston can go toe to toe (in the historic and charming categories) with any place that I've been to in a long time. When you're in Weston, not only can you fill up your vacation time, but you can also fill up your glass with some great local beverages.

Looking down Main St. in Weston, everyone must explore
Before I dive into a few round of local brews, let's take a look at the history of Weston itself. Like I said, Weston can go toe to toe with many places big and small (impressive for a city of only 1600 people). At Weston's pinnacle in the mid 1800's, it's population hovered around 5000 (which at the time was larger than Kansas City and nearby St Joseph). People made their way to this area because of the expedition led by Lewis and Clark. Their tales of fertile land and an abundance of animals for the fur trade started the boom. Weston flourished throughout the late 1800's as the second largest port on the Missouri River. The town housed a brewery and a distillery throughout the 1800's, as many booming towns did pre-prohibition. Buffalo Bill Cody was resident of Weston. Weston was also the largest cultivator of hemp west of the Mississippi until the prohibition of marijuana in the early 1900's. After hemp was outlawed, Weston became one of the largest tobacco growing areas, again west of the Mississippi.

All of that history and more (including the history of the slave trade and effects of the Civil War on the area) make Weston a historians dream town. When you put that together with the fact that the aesthetic's of the town have been preserved by adding many of the buildings to the National Historic Register, Weston becomes a dream for any traveler looking for laid back days and great local culture. Weston also has you covered when it comes to adult beverages. With a winery, distillery, and brewery all operational today, Weston is what I consider the model of a throwback small town that every town should aspire to be. Local restaurants, local lodging, local alcohol, and local hospitality combine for an economic powerhouse for small town America with flavors that reflect the spirit of Weston.

Thanks for the directions!
My trip to Weston centered around the town's brewery, the Weston Brewing Company (which is great because now I have more excuses to go back to the distillery and the winery). The brewery itself was founded in 1842. Like the rest of the town, the brewery has quite the history. A fire destroyed the original brewery in the 1860's, operations were on again off again after it was rebuilt due to financial constraints, and then after Kansas prohibition laws were passed in the 1880's the brewery was taken over by a Kansas brewer. After a tumultuous 40 years the brewery took off producing 20,000 barrels per year and actually being the sponsor for the first Kansas City Royals baseball team. The royal lager, or Weston Royal, had a falling throughout the Midwest in the early 1900's and was dubbed "the beer that made Milwaukee jealous". After the failed prohibition experiment, the brewery laid inactive until a short run in the 90's.

Awesome stone cellars, reminded me of a Czech Brewery tour we've taken in the past.
10 years ago the operation was fired up again and has been going strong ever since. Weston Brewery is unique. The brewery has 2 buildings (a restaurant and tap room/bar) that are all connected by underground tunnels and cellars. The cellars themselves are original and were dug for lager fermentation. Outside is a great patio and beer garden as well. Honest to goodness this brewery is an absolute gem before you even try a sip of beer. I'm not trying to be an over dramatic idiot when I say this, but you could really picture people in the underground cellars and bar enjoying a cold lager 100 years ago. I even roll my eyes when I type that, but when you go you'll see.

A fantastic lineup!
The beer itself has to be good to operate in a small town for a decade in modern society. The lineup was varied and creative. From left to right in the picture above the brews were: Royal Lager (an easy drinking light lager), O'Malley's Cream Ale (we in the Midwest love our cream ales, it's golden, a little sweet, and rich), Drop Kick Ale (a British amber ale made for Sporting KC soccer club), Carrot Apple Ale (WOW, this creation is orange in color but it has flavors all over the board and a creamy finish), Row Hard Root Beer (I said it was a creative lineup. Fermented root beer, I wish I would have had it on ice cream...fantastic), and O'Malley's Stout ( I have never described a stout as easy drinking, this one was easy drinking. All the stout flavor, none of the heavy tiredness after)

Cream Ale outside in March...yes please!
I obviously sampled all of them and (like many of our small town brewing friends) enjoyed every drop. There is something special about beer brewed in less than mass production, but when we walk into the breweries that support towns off the beaten path the beer seems to have an extra smoothness to it. Weston Brewery fit that same bill, and with the added history and uniqueness of the brewery itself, I immediately fell in love with this place. My favorite brew was the cream ale. The night I was at the brewery was a perfect 75 degree Midwestern spring evening without a hint of a breeze. The cream ale's smooth finish without any over the top bitterness was absolutely perfect for the weather that night. It was truly a great beer and if you can find it outside of making a trek to the brewery, I suggest you pick some up (but you need to go to the brewery too).

Of course I hit some KC BBQ after the brewery, how did my beard hold up though...wait what?
The Kansas City area (which Weston is a stone's throw from) is one of my favorite places for food and beer in America. I wish I could have KC BBQ stuck in my beard every day (that's just gross, the beard part). KC has made huge strides over the last 15 years to position itself as one of the hot spots for tech jobs and young talented professionals. That means a lot of people moving to and visiting the area, and to those of you living in the area or traveling to this hot spot on the plains I implore you to take the short drive up the river to Weston. You'll love the history, and the beer is perfect for washing the sauce out of your beard (still gross)!