What Exactly is “Craft Beer”, and Why Should the Term “Indie Beer” Become A Thing? (And Why The Hell Does It Even Matter?)


Cali Beercation, Day 3 – The Redwoods & Anderson Valley

Day 3 was our day with the most driving and the least number of stops. But Ben and I agreed that it was our favorite day out of the whole trip!

We stayed in Oregon the night before and drove into California. Our main mission for the day was to drive on Avenue of the Giants through Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and to figure out as we drove where to go next.

We drove past a beach early in the day at the beginning of our trip and snapped a few photos. Ben’s not one to cooperate for pictures (unless I get him drunk, and even then, he’ll oblige, but make weird faces or “fish hook” my mouth, ruining all my pictures). Because it was Ben’s suggestion to pull over by the beach for a few photos, I hastily and happily snapped a few while I had Ben in a rare cooperative photo moment. When I got back in the car, I found that my hair was the thing that wasn’t cooperating. It was channeling the horrendous Donald Trump combover. Not. A good look. Oh well! The rare and elusive Ben Farrar was captured on film! So I guess I can’t complain! 


Neither Ben nor myself had ever seen a giant redwood tree in person. We’re pretty giant people ourselves. Ben is 6’6” and I’m 5’11”. In 500 years, when we have kids, they’ll undoubtedly be giants. I don’t think either of us is very easily impressed or taken aback by nature. The last time I was in awe of nature when I saw the stately, rigid snow-capped mountains and the magnificent view at the Garden of the Gods in Colorado.

We were driving and knew we were getting near the forest. Our eyes were peeled looking for the first tree. They didn’t need to be. It was almost as if it jumped out at us. We literally both gasped in shock. And suddenly, we were enveloped in redwood trees, driving slowly with dropped jaws and constant exclamation of our disbelief.

We pulled off at the first spot we could. I feel like at that moment, getting out of our vehicle, was like a moment of awe in one of the Jurassic Park movies when someone stopped to get out of their vehicle, awestruck at the first sight of these larger than life dinosaurs. That’s exactly how I felt. And these trees were fucking dinosaurs… They can grow to be 2,000 years old.



Ben and I wandered into the forest like children, looking up, trying to take it all in. I’ve never felt so small. I found a fallen tree and tried to climb on top of it. My long legs could barely reach to get me atop the moss-covered trunk. It just seemed to stretch for miles.




I really can’t adequately explain how beautiful it was. I snapped some photos that do it far more justice.


We stopped several times at little pull-off spots to explore more. The entire drive was right through the dense forest. I felt like I was in the movie Honey, I Shrunk The Kids. We were microscopic.


At one of the pull-offs stood a giant tree with a hollowed out center. It seemed like lightening may have struck it and burned out the center at the base because the inside walls were charred. I took some pictures of Ben standing inside and then asked him to take some of me. I went to walk inside and the sheer size of this tree and the fact that I was entering something not man-made that towered above the earth literally scared me! I’ve never reacted that way to a thing in nature before.


Experiencing the redwoods was Ben’s favorite part of our whole trip.

Continuing to drive through the last stretch of redwoods, we did nothing but look out the windows in awe.

As we left Avenue of the Giants to drive on the 101, the scenes changed, but the drive was no less beautiful. I love California!

Ben and I needed to figure out where to go next.

Last year on our Cali trip, we had visited Anderson Valley Brewing. After we left, I received a tweet from their brewmaster, Fal Allen, who I didn’t know at the time. (I later Googled him and found out that he’s a beer badass!)

I’m pretty active on social media, and I promote my blog on every avenue. I’m not sure if he saw that I was a blogger or just that I was a beer geek who had just visited. But he tweeted me that next time I came in, to let him know and I could taste some fun not yet released and barrel-aged beers. I think I tweeted back that I was vacationing from the east coast and that I likely wouldn’t get to return.

Ben asked if I’d want to visit Anderson Valley again, and I said yes. He said I should reach out to Fal on Twitter to see if checking out some fun beers was still a possibility. I figured I had nothing to lose in asking, and didn’t really have any expectations.

Fal tweeted me back and said that he was around and said that I should stop in. So Ben and I set out on another beautiful drive through the rolling hills of beautiful northern California through wine country. The winding roads would have been better suited to my Volvo C30 than they were to our giant rental SUV! It was a fun drive, regardless.

We got to the tap room, which is in a separate building on the same property, and both ordered a beer. I tweeted a photo of my beer there, hoping that Fal would pop over and say hello and maybe chat with us for a minute or two. I had no clue we were set for hours of fun here!

And so my favorite part of our entire beercation started.

Fal walked in from the brewery a few minutes later. “Here. I brought this for you,” said Fal after he walked up to me, holding out a 22 ounce bottle of Huge Arker, a bourbon barrel aged imperial stout.

“Wow,” I immediately thought. That’s incredibly generous to give to someone you’ve never met. And this is what I love about the world of beer.

He asked Ben and me what we had tried so far. We told him we were on beer number one, and he humbly said he’d get us samples of everything as he headed behind the bar. He came back with a tray full of every beer they had on tap and sat down with us.

I told him that I’ve been obsessed with their watermelon gose ever since I tasted it last year at the brewery, when it was a test beer only on tap at the brewery. I explained that weeks before visiting last year, I had told Ben that I wanted to brew a watermelon gose. I said that I thought the combination of salt and watermelon was just itching to be explored, and I couldn’t believe that no brewery had tried one. I told him that tasting his was the highlight of my Anderson Valley visit last time.

I continued that I was ecstatic that the beer was just released in 22s the other month, and I immediately went to seek some out.

We tasted more and talked about his recipe ideation.

This couldn’t get better, I thought!


“Do you want to go on a tour of the brewery?” he asked. (You know what the answer was!) So we grabbed a beer and walked out of the taproom and into the brewery. He showed us their beautiful copper brewhouse. He explained that they used to polish everything, but at some point, decided to just stop. I thought it was fitting. These aren’t the shiny copper kettles at the pristine Sierra Nevada in Mills River, NC. Those kettles wouldn’t really fit in in Boonville. The brewhouse had its own beauty in the darkened copper with specks of green. They were almost like the majestic redwoods that had earned their place over time to be there.



We walked to another building that housed the bright tanks and some other equipment. “Your beers are empty,” proclaimed Fal. “We’ll fix that.” And we were treated to cans of Briney Melon (that beautiful watermelon gose!) that were canned that day. Cans! I can’t wait to get cans of this in NC so I can have some all the time! And they’re the prettiest cans in all of craft beer, in my opinion!



“Do you want to see this barrel room?”


“Do you want to see this other barrel room?”


We tasted beer from the barrels. Our glasses were never empty, and our taste buds couldn’t have been happier.

We walked back over to the tap room with Fal with some other fun beers to try. I remember at one point telling him he didn’t need to crack open those cool beers for us. He politely protested. “No. You guys are my VIPs.” He went on to explain that his girlfriend has Celiac’s Disease and can’t have wheat. We were sharing beers with him like we would share with the best of friends, cracking bottles that you save for special occasions.

We talked more about their funky experimental beers as we tasted some great treats, and he told us the story behind their Horse Tongue Wheat beer.

We chatted about the culture of youth today, and the fact that I bet my youngest sister had never used a pay phone. Boonville has their very own language known as Boontling. Fal told me that a pay phone in this language was called a buckey walter. We’re drinking AND we’re learning!

Boontling was an elaborate jargon developed in the relatively isolated community so that the locals could talk amongst themselves without being understood by others when others were present. The slogan “Bahl Hornin’” can be found on Anderson Valley’s bottles and cans. It means “good drinkin’.”


I never expected we’d be received with such incredible hospitality there. It’s not hard to see why this was my favorite part of our whole vacation. Fal Allen embodies everything I love about craft beer. This isn’t just a drink. It’s a culture. A way of life. Anderson Valley Brewing is incredibly lucky to have such a down to earth and hospitable ambassador of their brand and brewmaster. I’m a fan for life. And I like to think that I made a new beer friend that day. Thanks for your insane generosity and for being a perfect example of everything I love about the craft beer culture and community, Fal.

Day 3 was a day of few visits. But with the argument of quality over quantity, there’s no comparison to how great that day was. It’s for sure a day I’ll never forget.



Beercation, Day 2 – Tillamook, OR: De Garde & More

We started day 2 of our beercation by driving west from Portland toward Tillamook. Our taste buds had been begging us to visit De Garde Brewing, and we were only an hour and a half away from there. So we mapped out a few other spots near De Garde and set out to explore for the day.

Ben was feeling a lot better. I got him some hotel toast and a banana for breakfast that morning, and I nommed on those amazing Voodoo Doughnut treats I got the night before. We chugged some Pedialyte and some water (hydration is key!) and set out to our first stop.

Pelican Brewery   

In the oceanside town of Tillamook sits a brewery with a pretty impressive resume of award winning beers. They brew some classics and quite obviously, do it very well. The tap room sits above and overlooks the brewery floor. There’s a small menu, and lots of that pretty well-known Tillamook cheese on it.It was a nice little stop. And we still had a little time to kill before De Garde opened, so while cheese was on our mind, we decided to stop by the Tillamook Cheese Factory, a few minutes down the road.

Tillamook Cheese Factory 

The building was big, but the parking lot was enormous! I couldn’t imagine that entire lot being filled with people visiting a cheese factory! But people do love cheese!

You take self-guided tours through the facility. It’s always cool to see some behind the scenes production. We ended our tour with a few samples and shopped for a few minutes in their massive gift shop that was full of local food items. I’m a sucker for those kind of stores, and somehow managed to get away with only a bottle of local buffaloberry honey and a bit of fudge. And for some reason, Ben thought it would funny if I bought a stress ball that was shaped like a brick of their wrapped cheese.  I now am the proud owner of a “cheesy” conversation-piece…

We left the cheese factory and grabbed a quick caffeine fix at a coffee roaster across the street before heading to De Garde to ensure we got there when they opened.
De Garde Brewing

Any time someone brings a De Garde bottle to a bottle share, you’d better believe all eyes are on that bottle. These are beers designed by beer geeks for beer geeks.

I saw a list online the other day that was one of those “You Might Be Too Big Of A Beer Geek If…” lists. Only going on “beercations” for vacations, flying Southwest to check your beer boxes as free luggage, and shopping for a home with suitable space for a beer cellar as a main priority were all ones I checked off on that list. But the owners of De Garde take the cake for the geekiest of beer geek things ever.

They literally researched the wild yeast in various coastal areas and chose where to live and build a brewery based on the local wild yeast character in the air. If that’s not fucking geeky, I don’t know what is.

Their tap room is pretty small with a few barrels as small tabletops, but there are a few other rooms off of the main room with a bit of extra seating. You can check out some beautiful foeders from one of these rooms. The space has some fun, earthy decor, and you could comfortably hang here for hours.

I don’t know what their typical crowd looks like, but in the almost hour we were there, there were only ever 2 or 3 more people in there aside from us and the bartenders. I like it like that. I expected it to be chaotic.

We each had a different American wild ale on tap (Grand Blanc – 4.75 and Foeder d’Or – 4.25) and split a bottle of The Purple (4.75). We bought a few bottles each of the beers they had available to take home. It made me sad to leave such a great place, but we had more breweries to explore.

I hope we meet again, Tillamook.
Block 15 Downtown Pub Brewery

 We met someone along the way who had mentioned Block 15 in Corvallis, and it was “on the way”, as we started to set south, so we figured, “Why not?”

We arrived to a crowded restaurant, put our name on the wait list, and each grabbed a beer at the bar. We felt like sardines in a can standing in the large restaurant with that crowd, so we ventured back outside of the restaurant to where there were a few picnic tables seated out front. It was pretty cold, but the 11.25% ABV Super Nebula Imperial Stout was warming us up!

“Hanger” (you KNOW it’s a real thing) started to set in, and we realized that the over an hour wait time wouldn’t cut it for us. I go from hangry to cold hard bitch in like 3 minutes flat. Google told us that Block 15 had a production brewey and tap room with snacks nearby, so that’s where we headed.  Quickly.

Block 15 Production Brewery and Taproom 
It was really busy here as well, but miraculously, we found 2 seats at the bar right away. We ordered a small meat and cheese tray and a beer cheese pretzel. Their snack game is on point! We drank some more fantastic beers here, grabbed a crowler and a bottle to go, and ventured to our last stop of the night.

It’s also notable that this location actually will fill kegs on the spot for people to take home!  I had never seen that before!
Ninkasi Brewing 

This Eugene, Oregon brewery is beautiful. It’s great in the dark. The lights are inviting, and the tall entrance beckons you to enter. Once inside, the ceiling is a couple stories high. A huge glass window shows you the enclosed courtyard, complete with a hypnotizing upscale, modern fire pit table. The beer geek in me was concerned for the rapidly rising temperature of the beers of the guests sitting there. But it does make for some beautiful scenery and photos. And this is why the beer gods made Instagram.

Ben and I were exhausted at this point. It was a long day, and that Pacific time zone had us in a time warp. We didn’t get to try much here, but it was worth the stop to check it out. It was time to check into the hotel and get some rest for what day 3 and California had in store for us!

Cali/Oregon Beercation, Day 1 – Portland, OR

Another beercation has come and gone. Cue the sad emoji with tears welling in his eyes. Thankfully, I took lots of selfies (er, pictures!) to remember our trip by! And you know I sent myself home some tasty souvenirs.

Last week, Ben and I set off on an 8 day long adventure (really just 7 days, as our last day was just a travel day), leaving our home in North Carolina to fly to Portland, Oregon. From there, we drove west and into Northern California, and then down into So Cal. Here’s my beakdown! And because you all know how lengthy my stories can get, I’ll break it down into bite-sized pieces with a separate blog post for each vacation day. (You’re welcome.)

(Note that my Untappd ratings will sometimes appear in parentheses beside noteworthy beers.)

Here’s Day 1! – Portland, Oregon:

Ben and I had never been here before, and the beer and food scene is supposed to be incredible. So we figured we’d tack this on to our now annual California beercation. It was rainy and cold when we landed, but armed with pages of printed beer blogger notes, and with lists from some helpful foodie friends (Thanks, Alex!), we were ready to take on whatever Portland had in store for us!

Unfortunately for Ben… the food poisioning that had graced me with its presence last weekend had decided to finally pay him a visit. We were able to visit one spot together before Ben retreated to our hotel room, never to discover more of Portland.

Cascade Barrel House   

A great spot to kick off vacation! We got there right as they were opening, so it wasn’t crowded. They were playing some weird Mexican music that was a little bit much. I don’t assume that’s the norm here! One of the bartenders must have just been feeling it that day.

They’re really well-known for their sour beers, and have a really impressive resume of good ones. Ben opted for a vertical of Figaro, and I was really intrigued by their “live from the barrel” beers, so I went with one of those. It’s essentially a cask beer that pours from a permanent tap in the wall.

They also have a small menu, and Ben and I both got a cup of beer cheese soup that was unique, but tasty. I like to start a beercation with a “slow and steady” small snacks philosophy. Rather than to inhale a big meal and be too full to continue the day/night drinking, I love ordering small snacks at several stops. (Really, it’s just an excuse to eat all the food from all the places.)

My favorite beer here was Vlad the Imp Aler, an American Wild Ale. Absolutely delicious! This beer hasn’t seen production for years now. I had the 2013 on draft, and it exceeded my expectations. (4.75.)

I also spotted what looked like a big Crock Pot sitting near the taps and asked about it. The slow cooker was modified to incorporate stainless steel coils, and they actually use it to hold and serve a beer they do a mulled cider treatment on, heating the beer and adding mulling spices to it. I was so intrigued by this and would have ordered one next, but Ben was quickly feeling worse and worse. So I took him to the hotel and set off on my own Uber-chauffeured adventure.

The Commons Brewery


This is just a block away from Cascade. They brew some nice farmhouse beers, and they house a separate business that provides food, the Cheese Annex! Not much is better than a big ol’ board of stinky cheese paired with a “barnyardy” farmhouse ale. So obviously, that’s what I got.

The Commons seemed like the local spot for people to grab post-work beers. I wish I had tried more beers here, but I wanted to save time for other spots. I finished my Urban Farmhouse Ale, their flagship beer, polished off some cheese, and headed on foot for the next spot, wanting to visit as many places as possible.

Basecamp Brewing


About a 10 minute walk from The Commons, Basecamp Brewing sits on a dimly lit street. I appreciated the outdoor/adventure decor, including a canoe hanging from the ceiling. But I could have skipped this one and had time for something else. We’ll leave it at that! I was bound to find at least one of these spots on my vacation. I’m glad it was only one. I’d be curious to visit again. Just because the first time wasn’t what I wanted it to be doesn’t mean that the next visit will be the same!

Hair of The Dog           

Redemption! THIS is what I needed. Especially after that 20 minute walk through the world’s longest rape alley while travelling from Basecamp. Uber-ing it the rest of the way for sure!
Hair of The Dog is known for their original, creative, and unusual beers. This is the beer geek hangout, for sure. (I sat beside someone from Draft Magazine, not discovering that until I saw their Instagram post shortly after mine.) It was pretty crowded, but it’s a moderately big space.

They actually sell the most expensive beer in the world, Dave, a 29% 1994 barleywine available at the brewery for on-site consumption only, at $1,500 a bottle. It’s apparently still drinking very well! But I can buy a LOT of amazing beer with that kind of money. So no Dave for me!

They also do some crazy things like fermenting some beers in a concrete egg! These are the “from the stone” beers. I’m curious to try more of these. They had an unfiltered double IPA named Blue Dot From the Stone that I tried. I wish I had tried their regular Blue Dot (fermented in stainless steel) beside it to pull out the flavor impact the concrete egg had on the beer.

I also tried Bart, a fruit beer with pears, and Doggie Claws, a fresh American Barleywine, and both were great. The mac and cheese I had alongside those didn’t disappoint either! The woman sitting beside me had an enormous piece of cheesecake that I NEED to order next time I’m there. I seriously regret not getting that as well!

Deciding to have an Uber drop me off at my first stop 20 minutes from where my hotel was and trying to walk and Uber to all of the places wasn’t the best idea with the limited time I had and lack of daylight. If I had taken our rental vehicle, I easily could have kept going, trying less beer along the way, of course. But I could have visited more breweries. I didn’t feel like Ubering 20 minutes back to the hotel to get in my vehicle to drive 20 minutes back to where I wanted to be. And I had already walked to the places I could reasonably walk to. So I opted to visit one last spot.

Voodoo Doughnut

I almost skipped stopping here to go eat at Toro Bravo, a Spanish Restaurant that my friend who visits Portland annually called “next level shit”. But that mac and cheese at Hair of The Dog beckoned. (Next time, Toro Bravo!)

So doughnuts OBVIOUSLY made sense as my last stop. And I don’t even like doughnuts! I could get super fresh free doughnuts any time at my old job, but I don’t think I ever grabbed one!

Doughnuts just aren’t a food I crave. But I figured it wouldn’t hurt to check out what they hype was all about. And I assumed Ben may not be up for breakfast the next morning, so a doughnut could work for a quick vaycay breakfast for me!

THIS is some next level shit! Voodoo made a doughnut lover out of me!
First of all, the neon voodoo doll shaped doughnut sign (complete with giant pretzel stick through the heart) at the corner of the building is a damn work of art that begs you to enter. The Uber driver who dropped me off here told me there’s usually a line running outside the building (at 9:00 at night!), and said I was lucky there wasn’t tonight. There was still a line inside. But that gave me time to eye fuck the shit out of those glorious doughnuts revolving around on different tiers, each at different speeds, in a cylindrical glass case of glory by the cash register. There’s also a pretty tasty looking giant doughnut hanging on the ceiling alongside chandeliers, and lots of other fun things to check out




I grabbed 2 doughnuts. A bacon maple bar and a Memphis mafia doughnut, a banana fritter topped with peanut butter, chocolate, peanuts, and chocolate chips. TOTALLY would have paired AMAZINGLY with a banana fluffernutter smoothie from Sheetz! Just saying!😉

They were enormous, and the best doughnuts of my entire life! These weren’t your cheap doughnuts. That maple was quality stuff. And the fritter was to die for. I’m not even a huge banana fan! I’ll definitely visit Voodoo again.

I didn’t bite into them until the next day. So I scheduled another Uber to pick me and my doughnut box up. From there, I had a directionally and GPS challenged Uber driver drop me off at a drugstore so I could get supplies for my poor sick husband. Tons of Pedialyte, some huge bottles of water, some cough syrup for myself, and doughnuts in hand, I set up my last Uber ride for the night, armed and ready for what tomorrow had to throw at us!

Stay tuned for the rest of my beercation blog posts!

Bullets2Bandages Bottle Openers

There’s one thing I’ve been passionate about long before beer came into my life. (Don’t worry; we’re still going to be talking beer here!)

I’ve always had a great love and respect for our nation’s military veterans. Both of my grandfathers were in the Navy, and at one point in my life, I actually entertained joining myself.

I grew up hearing my Pappy Wilson’s crazy stories of pranks he’d pull while aboard his destroyer. (He had some good ones! I think one involved lighting things on fire and dropping them in the ships’ trough-like toilets, so it would float down and light people’s butts on fire…) And I was (and still am) obsessed with anchors because I was always sorting through my pap’s extra naval uniform buttons. (I apparently was a simple child. It didn’t take much to entertain me!)

My other grandfather, my Pappy Jackson, was a man of few words. A Genesee from his fridge was the first beer I (accidentally) tasted. I always loved to write, and my pap got me into a patriotic speech/writing contest through his VFW post. I kept winning and having to present my speech over and over again, and it was great to spend time with my pap and the rest of those ass-kicking old vets!

And inevitably, I ended up marrying a Marine. With two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, I’m thankful to have him back and in the civilian world!

So what does all of this have to do with beer?

One day, while obsessively posting and checking out all things beer on Instagram, I came across a company called Bullets2Bandages when I saw an eye-catching image of a .50 caliber bullet bottle opener they had posted. They often posted images of Marine Corps inspired bottle openers, and one day, I decided to check out their website to see what this company was all about. I knew I needed one of these bottle openers for my husband! Because. Beer. And because. The Marine Corps.

I was fortunate enough to get to chat with the guys from Bullets2Bandages, and I found out that it was a company started in 2011 by two former officers in the Navy, Erik and Cole, who were looking for something to do when they got out.

They stumbled upon the idea of first making bullet necklaces when a 9mm round fell out of Erik’s gear and onto his dog tags. He posted a picture to Facebook and people wanted to know where they could get one. They had planned on only making a handful for what they thought would be a one-off fundraiser for a charity called the Travis Manion Foundation, honoring of one of their fallen friends who was killed in Iraq.

Things took off from there and Erik and Cole realized they had the makings of an actual business on their hands.

What I love about Bullets2Bandages is that their goal is to support veteran charities. They’ve donated at least 15% of their annual profits to veteran charities each year. In 2014, they actually donated more than 60%! Very badass.

They work a lot with the Travis Manion Foundation, and have donated thousands of medals for their 9/11 Heroes Runs. A full list of their charity partners is on their website.

Despite their start in jewelry, B2B now primarily makes bottle openers, and they’re made out of spent ammunition. And of course, they’re made in the good ol’ U.S.A. You can purchase openers as they exist on their website, or you can customize them.

They’re, of course, popular with military audiences. They get a lot of custom orders for Marine Corps Birthday Balls. And they’re pretty popular as groomsmen gifts, too.

And obviously, I had to ask the California-based Bullets2Bandages crew about some of their favorite beers and breweries. Modern Times made the “If I could only drink beer from one brewery for the rest of my life” list, and their Booming Rollers IPA was a favorite staple.

Stone’s “Enjoy By” IPA series and Black IPA series made the list, too. Other favorite breweries were Green Flash, Ballast Point, Council, Ironfire, Alpine, Knee Deep, Figueroa Mountain, and Firestone Walker. (Solid list, guys!)

All this talk about great CA beer is getting me excited for my annual Cali “beercation” in a little less than a month! (Yeah!)

There’s really not much I love more than beer. Our nation’s veterans are one of those few things I love more. I’m thankful that I grew up knowing some very inspiring veterans. And I’m extremely grateful for those veterans who are inspired enough to give back to fellow vets.

When I come across a veteran owned company that supports veterans charities AND has some badass beer geek things, what can get better than that?


Happy New Beer! – Janee’s 2015 “Year In Beer”


Saxapahaw, NC

One of my favorite stories starts here.

It’s about time I talk about one of my favorite places in North Carolina, which will lead us to my hands down FAVORITE brewery, in North Carolina.

You KNOW that I’m a storyteller. The struggle for me to keep it short is real! Here is part one of two.

When Ben and I were preparing to move to North Carolina, finding a nearby brewery was obviously a priority. We were looking at homes in Burlington (between Greensboro and Durham), where we would be working. Priorities = finding local brewery > finding and purchasing a home. With the help of the good old Internet, we found something that piqued our interest.

A new brewery was set to be opening shortly after we moved to NC – Haw River Farmhouse Ales.

Being a marketing geek, I default to judging a brand by its cover. Their website excited me! Something told me this would be a good spot for us. (Check it out here! Haw River Farmhouse Ales)  

The brewery had just completed a Kickstarter fundraising campaign, but was in the process of wrapping up one outside of Kickstarter called “Barnraisers”. I figured, “Why not?”, signed up for it and contributed.

We moved from PA to NC in June of last year, and a couple weeks later, decided we would scope this new brewery out, even though it wasn’t open yet. We typed Saxapahaw, NC into our GPS, and our lives were never the same…


Saxapahaw, as you may have guessed by the sound of it, is no thriving metropolis. It boasts a population of less than 1,700 people. But this place just has something special.

It happened to be a Saturday when we came into Saxapahaw to check things out. We drove about 20 minutes from our house into what seemed like the middle of nowhere. We rounded a bend in the road and saw the sides of the road covered in parked cars that stretched for as far as you could see. We had happened upon the weekly “Saturdays in Saxapahaw” festival.

Knowing the brewery was near, we parked our car in a ways away alongside the road and just started walking to where everyone seemed to be. You could hear a cover band in the distance playing some folk music.

We took a path to a hillside where a tiny wooden stage with an ampitheatre-like back wall sat on the edge. People covered the lawn and sat with food and coolers. We sat down for a few minutes to check it out. A family came up to sit near us with a bunch of food in Sheetz bags, and Ben and I (both working for Sheetz at that time) instantly felt a little more at home.  

 We got up to explore the area below the stage where vendors and food trucks were set up. This place just oozes “local”. There was a stand of farm fresh fruit and vegetables, a stand with local jellies and jams, a couple with local crafts and baked goods, and also a super crafty handmade soda stand that caught my eye, having been a crafter of fun beverages myself in my last job.  

 We walked over to the soda stand to grab a drink, and were happily surprised to see that the sodas were crafted by Haw River Farmhouse Ales. If we couldn’t try the beer yet, I’d certainly settle for another artesian beverage!

I told the people working at the stand that I had just moved from Pennsylvania, and that I was a “Barnraiser” and looking forward to trying the beer. It was Ben and Dawnya, the owners of the brewery. I think I had gotten a soda with jalapeno in it, and another with lavender. Both were excellent! I couldn’t wait to see what they could do to a beer!

We left the festival area and crossed the road to a beautiful little area seated on the Haw River. We scoped out the spot where the brewery was. It was unmarked, as it charmingly remains today, seated at the base of a beautiful, large building that is a flawless merging of raw, rustic style with a touch of modern industrial appeal. It seemed like the building just belonged perfectly there. I can’t describe it any other way.  

 We discovered a rustic ballroom, The Haw River Ballroom, right beside the brewery. We agreed that, had we not gotten married and had our reception at a brewery in California, this would have been the place for it! It has so much character and charm! It’s also a local concert venue.

To the right of the ballroom in the same building are these gorgeous lofts with glass facings and an integrated industrial feel. We were sad that we had just purchased a home. (We felt a little better after seeing the price tags, though that view is worth it!)  

 Directly above the brewery on the next level was a sign for The Eddy Pub. At this point, Ben and I were hungry. (And we’re ALWAYS thirsty.) So we decided to give it a shot.  

 Holy shit… This place was Heaven. I think I actually told Ben that I was pretty certain that this is the food they’ll serve in Heaven.  

 The menu is fresh and inspired. Almost everything on the menu is locally sourced. And they have a balcony patio dining area where I’ve seen some of the prettiest sun sets of my life over the river. Everything about this place is just incredible.  

 All of Saxapahaw just almost has this magic about it. It’s a cohesive, soft, unassuming, but absolutely breathtaking place.

We left dinner and decided to walk down the other side of the big building to check out the other storefronts. At the very end is the Saxapahaw General Store. This is another incredible find. They have aisles of all sorts of local things. Local coffee, chocolates, nut butters, gourmet breakfast bars, candles, honey, fruits, vegetables. You name it.
(And they have a kitchen here where they produce dishes that are a very close second to The Eddy Pub’s!)  

Before we left Saxapahaw, forever changed, we strolled down by the river. A very small ampitheatre with stadium concrete benches is tucked in there in front of the ballroom, beside the river.

On our next visit, we discovered a little coffee shop (Cup 22) tucked in a level above the brewey. They gave me a free slice of pie with my coffee. (These Saxapahaw people kick ass!)

And pretty recently, a butcher shop, Left Bank Butchery, opened up in that same long building at the corner where the storefronts start. Like all other things Saxapahaw, their offerings are out of this world fantastic.

Saxapahaw was the first place in NC to make me feel like this state was my home. I couldn’t wait to return, and I eagerly awaited my first taste of my local brewery’s beer.  

 Stay tuned for part two of the story to see how Haw River Farmhouse Ales became pretty much my favorite thing on Earth!

Janee Farrar… Certified Cicerone®!

Merry Christmas to me! My goal for this year was to become a Certified Cicerone®, and I found out last night that I’ve joined the ranks!

It had been about 5 and a half weeks since I had taken the test (around the same time frame when I found out my results last time!), so I had been checking my phone for the email alllllllll day, thinking it had to be coming. The results come out of the Cicerone Program offices in Chicago, so they have an extra hour on this eastern time girl.

Last time, I got my email a little after 5 pm.

(The OCD in me was obsessively calculating!)

Five o’clock had come and gone, and it was time for me to get things in order for a work event at a restaurant with a cask tapping that started at 6.

I was at the restaurant and decided to glance at my email before I got things started. I guess my inbox hadn’t refreshed for a bit, despite my incessant checking, because several new emails popped up. I knew I was looking for an email from Chris Pisney. And there it was…

“Oh, fuck”, I uttered to myself.

I needed a second to prepare myself before I opened it. I decided right away to screenshot my inbox and send the picture to Ben before I calmed myself down and opened it.

When I added the image to the text, I spotted out of the corner of my eye an email 2 spots above tthe email from Chris Pisney…

An email with Certified Cicerone® logos!!!!!

I still hadn’t even cracked open my email! But this meant that I passed!

So I called allllll the people! I knew some others (distributor reps./friends) who had taken the test with me, and called them to tell them to check their inboxes! I know myself and at least 2 others (Hey, Bri!) passed!

I really couldn’t ask for a better Christmas present. I’m a Certified Cicerone®! Mission accomplished.
Now… what next?!

Attempt Number Two

Most of you know I just made my second attempt at becoming a Certified Cicerone! I wanted to give you a brief update on how I feel things went!

Also, if you’d like a better breakdown of how the test works, you can check out my previous post after my first attempt here. The Certified Cicerone Test

While I’d love to share EVERY question asked on the test that I can remember, especially the essays and video portion, I can’t. We sign a waiver before we take the test stating that we won’t share specific details. 

We’ll start with the tasting portion because we get the answers at the end of the test for that. The first 8 beers are cut and dry, black and white. There’s no chance for partial credit on these questions. Four beers with off flavors in a control beer and four style determination questions. I aced those. 

The last four questions didn’t go as well. You can get some partial credit, because these involve explanations. I got one fully correct. These last four questions are weighted more heavily as far as scoring goes. So my counting on an improved score is probably out the window. This was a hard tasting. Others who were taking the test for a second time agreed. 

I know I can do better on this portion of the test. Unfortunately, I just made some mistakes. Some common “off flavors” are actually appropriate to a certain extent in particular beer styles. I knew what I was tasting on the first beer in that set could be appropriate, but I overthought it and added something to it. I just overanalyzed it.
The good news is that my old score was passing, and they’ll use whichever score was best. The night before the test, during my practice tasting, I easily picked up a flavor I typically struggle with. And I got that off flavor right on the test, too. I struggled last night with a flavor that’s typically VERY easy for me to pick up, and I failed to pick that up on the test the other day in one of the last questions. At least my nose is consistent!

Onto the written! I knew a lot more of the content, and confidently answered most of the questions. Probably 95% of these are fill in the blanks with no word bank. I left probably 7 blank that I thought I’d return to later to just guess on, because I was drawing blanks. When I returned to them at the very end, I knew the answer to every one!

I know I did well on the short essay question. It’s largely objective and this one involved a beer and food pairing with a complex dish. I think I got anywhere from an 85%-100% on that. I spun off of a classic pairing, and I’m confident. I got to pair something with my favorite beer style, which was fun!

And I nailed the video portion! I had the exact same question I had screwed up on big time before.

And most importantly for how much it impacts the written score, I NAILED all 3 essays!

I missed a style ABV range by 1% and I missed the highest SRM range by 2 degrees I think. My top ABV was too high, but my starting ABV was right on. The quantitative aspect of that essay was the only part I know I didn’t get fully correct. But I hit the ranges with the exact starting quantity for all of them, and came very close on the ranges. They break down how that essay is graded in chunks. I think quantitative measures was worth 20% of that question. And I’ll bet I get awarded a 12% for those answers.

That gives me a 92% on that essay and a 100% on the other two. (This is realistic optimism speaking here.)

I need to get an 80% or higher to have passed the written portion (and to become a Certified Cicerone!). 

I thinkkkkkkk I did it…

It usually takes about 6 weeks to get the results. That means that I should find out the week of Christmas! (Or HOPEFULLY before.) Gah!!!!! Waiting is the worst. Fingers crossed, friends!

This girl is ready to trade in her Certified Beer Server pin for a new, sparkly Certified Cicerone one!

And now… we wait!

In The Beer Business & The Importance of Telling My Story

With a blog title like “WeBeerlongTogether”, you had to have known that it was only a matter of time before I joined forces with beer in my career path, officially giving beer authority of most of my waking hours. (And we all know I dream about beer, too, so there’s really no escape.) It’s been  4 months now.  And I don’t think I’ve ever been happier.

After training, It was ten incredibly long weeks of 70-hour work weeks, living in hotels while myself and six others rolled out our beer to brand new territories covering the whole state of North Carolina as well as Eastern Tennessee.

I was fucking exhausted. I was literally waking up in the morning, selling beer all day, running to an event, and then sometimes another event right after it. And then I would get back to my hotel or my house, sleep, and repeat. But you know what? I didn’t have a single bad day at work. (Well, except for when I found out I failed my Certified Cicerone test…)

Rolling out beer to an entire state and a half and meeting a zillion new people a day who you have to build relationships with and constantly impress was incredibly exhausting. But it was even more incredibly rewarding.

I found myself smiling and being excited all the time. Seriously. I loved getting a hard sell. I loved getting an easy sell because people were honestly remarkably receptive to Devils Backbone coming into NC.  I loved learning from the distributors. I loved pushing a few of them to learn about us, too. Hell, I was still learning about us! (As I still am!) And I really enjoyed changing people’s minds when we gave samples of our beer to bar patrons.

These are my people. And this is where I belong. Devils Backbone has me drinkin’ the Kool-Aid.

I remember not long after starting this new job, a beer geek friend from back home asked me if he could still expect unbiased blog posts from me now that I was in the industry. I gave him my definite and resounding “Yes!”

I’ll give you all the long version, which is a resounding “yes” as well. (And you should know by now that even my short versions of things aren’t exactly brief. So, buckle up! It’s story time.)

I remember very clearly, during my last week in eighth grade (That’s right! It’s THAT kind of long Janee story!), our school guidance counselor (We’ll call her “Mrs. K.”) came to meet with our small class of 10  one last time. She had a survey for us all to fill out, and I suppose she wanted to impart her “guidance” on us one last time before we left our small school to head into the real world of high school. 

We had completed our surveys and were going over our answers out loud. The final question was read. “True or false? You can be anything you want to be if you put your mind to it.”

We all answered in unison, “True.”

“Wrong,” said Mrs. K. “Just because you want to grow up to be a doctor doesn’t mean that you’re smart enough to be one.”

Some of us started to argue, and Mrs. K. said, “Well what if you’re in a wheelchair, and you want to be a football player?” 

And just like that, our time with our beloved, chain smoking, absent-minded guidance counselor was up. I’m sure she continued on to lead, counsel, and inspire many…

I think we were all pissed. I knew she was wrong. I believe that with all of my heart and more importantly, my head, still today. If you want something badly enough, you’ll make it happen.

I would love to have Mrs. K. know that my husband’s friend lost both of his legs and, after that, decided he wanted to ride a bicycle across the United States. And he did. I really hope she’s not continuing to tell kids that the answer to that question is still false.

My takeaway from the story here is to be your own unstoppable person and to have your own voice. You can do anything you want to do if you want it badly enough and work hard enough to get it.

With that being said, what do we have if we don’t have a voice?

You will always hear my story. This my story with beer. That includes the good and the bad. That includes the Certified Cicerone test failure. And hopefully, it will include the Certified Cicerone test success soon! 

I take the test again on November 10th! (ONE WEEK AWAY!!!) That means I’ll likely find out right before Christmas if I passed. So pray to the beer gods that this time will be a success!

Back to the point of transparency, when I interviewed for my job, my post on Budweiser’s Super Bowl commercial from this year came up. “You’ll be working side by side with people who distribute this beer. Budweiser essentially puts food on their table. Do you forsee that being an issue?”

I’ve had the incredible pleasure of working with a lot of people from a lot of different distributors. Devils Backbone works with Bud houses and with MillerCoors houses. These people are great people. Some of them won’t touch a Bud. Most of them will. And for some, that’s all that they drink.  

I’ve openly chatted with a few of these people about that blog post, in hopes to be transparent, to gain trust and hopefully, respect in the long run. It made me sad to hear that the few I talked to about the Budweiser ad were really hurt by the ad.

I walked into a restaurant with a distributor rep. named David from one of our Bud houses the other month to talk to the restaurant’s new beer buyer. After we introduced Devils Backbone to him, David was asked about the other brands the distributor could provide as the buyer explained that he wanted to migrate his inventory to be more craft beer focused. I enjoy these conversations, and often engage in support of some brands I love.

Goose Island was a brand that was mentioned, and the beer buyer said he wasn’t interested.

When David and I got back into his vehicle, he asked, “Why do you think he wasn’t interested in Goose Island?”

I think we both knew that the answer was because Goose Island is owned by AB InBev (Budweiser). AB InBev acquired  Goose Island several years ago, and they continue to purchase craft breweries. These breweries inevitably lose value in the eyes of some consumers.

This is the beer world we live in. We live in a world where buyers and distributors and brewery reps. alike are generally pretty cognizant of the world around them.

These distributors for the most part really want to see the good craft breweries excel. This is the future of their business. And that Budweiser commercial mocked all of those craft breweries. 

I’m glad I got the opportunity to be transparent and honest with a few distributor representatives about what could be a touchy subject. 

With that being said, I’ll continue to fight the good fight against”yellow fizzy shit”.  I won’t hold it against you if you’re drinking it. But expect that I’ll occasionally  challenge you. If that means putting a Devils Backbone Gold Leaf Lager into your hands, then awesome. If that means  introducing you to Shock Top (an AB InBev brand), then I’ll do that, too. And if that means cracking open a  vintage  barrel aged bottle I’ve been saving for year, then cheers, friend.

The world would be a boring place if we all just played it safe and didn’t challenge or  believe in anything. My goal has always been to never stop learning, and to share my love of beer with anyone willing to listen.

And now, you get to take the journey with me from inside the industry.

My new additional goal is to give you a picture of what that looks like.

I want to share with you that the three tier system isn’t just a necessary evil, as it often can be looked upon from the outside. There will always be advantages and disadvantages. (More on that later!)

I  want to talk to you about industry prejudices.

I want to let you know that relationships are one of the most important things in life, and I want to let you know how important these relationships are in the beer industry.  I spent an entire day  stocking  mostly Budweiser products in convenience stores  as I rode around with a distributor sales rep. in the market one day. One day when an account asks him if he has any good lager brands, hopefully the sales rep. will think of me and offer that account some Devils Backbone Vienna Lager.

I want to talk to you about industry camaraderie and how  fun it is to run into other brewery reps. in the market who share a mutual love and respect for beer.

I want to tell you that most of these encounters are great. And I want to tell you that for the one or two encounters outside the norm that have been bad, I’m actually thankful. We’re all ultimately competing  for  the same  space for our products. If you want to throw fuel on my sales fire, be my guest!

And I want to tell you how awesome it is to get to  do what you love every day. A few people in the industry have told me this exact same thing – If ever you come home from work and think you had a bad day, just remember, you get  to work in beer.

Stay tuned for what’s to come, friends. Cheers!