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!

Bavaria

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!
Belgium
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!
Colorado
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.

California
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!
Wisconsin
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.