“Happy New Beer”! – Janée’s 2016 Year in Beer Recap

It’s time to say goodbye to 2016! (Bye, Felicia!) 

But first, let’s take a look back at the beer stats, “beercations”, festivals, new brewery visits and more that make up my 2016 review of my year in beer.

Let’s start with the number of new breweries I’ve visited this year! This year… drumroll please… 

I visited 56 new breweries this year! This is 1 more than last year, which is really impressive, considering that any brewery I’ve set foot in before doesn’t count for this list. In 2016, I averaged more than 1 new brewery visit per week.

Here’s the list!:

1. Ponysaurus, Durham, NC -1/9

2. Cascade Brewing Barrel House, Portland, OR- 2/3

3. The Commons Brewery, Portland, OR- 2/3

The Commons Brewery

4. Basecamp Brewing, Portland, OR – 2/3

5. Hair of the Dog, Portland, OR – 2/3

6. Pelican Brewing, Tillamook, OR – 2/4

7. de Garde, Tillamook, OR – 2/4

8. Block 15 (Downtown Pub Brewery), Corvallis, OR – 2 /4

9. Block 15 (Production Brewery), Corvallis, OR – 2/4

10. Ninkasi, Eugene, OR – 2/4

11. Fieldwork, Berkeley, CA – 2/6

12. Barrelhouse Brewing, Paso Robles, CA – 2/6

13. Firestone Walker, Paso Robles, CA – 2/7

14.Firestone Walker Barrelworks, Buellton, CA – 2/7

Firestone Walker Barrelworks

15. Phantom Carriage, Carson, CA – 2/7

16. Smog City, Torrance, CA – 2/7

17. Karl Strauss, Costa Mesa, CA – 2/8

18. Bagby Beer Company, Oceanside, CA – 2/9

Bagby Beer Company

19. Modern Times, San Diego, CA – 2/9

20. Toolbox, Vista, CA – 2/9 

21. Council, San Diego, CA – 2/9

22. Bhramari Brewhouse, Asheville, NC – 3/27

Bhramari Brewhouse

23. Hi-Wire Brewing Big Top, Asheville, NC – 3/27

24. Free Range Brewing, Charlotte, NC – 4/14

25. Legion Brewing, Charlotte, NC – 4/21

26. Switchback Brewing, Burlington, VT – 5/19

27. Burlington Beer Co., Burlington, VT – 5/19

28. Hill Farmstead, Greensboro Bend, VT – 5/19

29. Prohibition Pig, Waterbury, VT – 5/19

Prohibition Pig

30. Liquid Riot Bottling Company, Portland, ME – 5/20

31. Allagash, Portland, ME – 5/21

32. Maine Beer Company, Freeport, ME – 5/21

33. Sunday River Brewing, Bethel, ME – 5/21

34. New Belgium Brewing,  Asheville, NC – 6/25

New Belgium Asheville

35. Zebulon Artisan Ales, Asheville, NC – 6/25

36. Joymongers, Greensboro, NC – 6/26

37. Bond Brothers, Cary, NC – 7/3

38. Neuse River Brewing, Raleigh, NC – 7/3

39. Brown Truck Brewery, High Point, NC – 7/10

40. The Veil, Richmond, VA – 7/12

41. Brew Gentlemen, Braddock, PA – 8/14

42. Horse and Dragon Brewing, Fort Collins, CO – 10/4

43. Vail Brewing, Vail, CO – 10/5

44. Casey Brewing, Glenwood Springs, CO – 10/5

45. Avery Brewing (new location), Boulder, CO – 10/5

Avery

46. Crooked Stave Barrel Cellar, Denver, CO – 10/6

47. Lowdown Brewery and Kitchen, Denver, CO – 10/6

48. Black Project, Denver, CO – 10/7

49. Weldwerks Brewing, Greeley, CO – 10/7

Weldwerks

50. Wiley Roots Brewing, Greeley, CO – 10/7

51. De Steeg Brewing, Denver, CO – 10/7

52. Westbrook Brewing, Mt. Pleasant, SC – 11/5

53. Durty Bull, Durham, NC – 11/17

54. Dovetail Brewery, Chicago, IL – 11/19

55. Goose Island Production Facility (W. Fulton), Chicago, IL – 11/20

56. Goose Island Barrel Warehouse (N. Sacramento), Chicago, IL – 11/20

This all brings my grand total of breweries visited to 217. Not bad, considering that I didn’t even start keeping track until 2014! (Anything before that, even if it’s somewhere I know I went, doesn’t count. Because rules.)

And here are some stats from this year, courtesy of Untappd! Looking at this is always fun every year. (Note that I’ve really scaled back on religious Untappd check-ins. Sometimes, it’s just more fun to drink without that worry.)

Total Beers in 2016: 1,363 (70 less than last year. Again, keep in mind that I scaled back my Untappd check-ins.)

Total Unique (new to me) Beers in 2016: 957 (61 less than last year)

New Beer Ratio: 70% of the beers I consumed were ones I had never tried before (only down 1% from last year).

Average Beers Per Day: 4 (The same as last year. Again, I go to lots of bottle shares! Lots of these are smaller pours. But thanks for your concern!)

My Top Venue: Aside from my house, it’s once again… Haw River Farmhouse Ales!

My Most Consumed Beer for 2016: I have no clue how I pulled this off, but it was Pliny the Elder. Damn! *high fives self* (It was Major Arcana from Haw River last year. Lucky me again!)

And obviously, you know we went on some beercations this year. Aside from “beercations”, we live in a really great state for beer, so it’s easy to just take a day trip or an overnight trip to badass places like Asheville, NC, where we hit up the second annual Funkatorium Invitational Festival at Wicked Weed.

Here are the beercations!:

Oregon/California:

We hit up Oregon and California in February. We go out to Cali every year to pick up beer from The Bruery’s Reserve Society and The Rare Barrel’s Ambassadors of Sour programs. This year we added Oregon to the trip and made a week of it! De Garde was more that we ever imagined, and Toolbox was the new favorite by a landslide in California.

Vermont/Maine:

In May, it was Vermont and Maine. We can thank Sam and Julie for getting married in Maine for us going on this trip! Hill Farmstead was definitely the favorite brewery stop of this trip. 

Colorado:

In October, we went to Colorado for our first experience with GABF! (No, Gram. This isn’t a drug.) The Great American Beer Festival is a must for a beer geek. 

The events surrounding GABF were even more fun. Give me a Denver Rare any day. And the people we met? You can’t really top Garrett Oliver, Ray Daniels, Lauren Salazar and Patrick Rue. That in itself made for a stellar trip. I completely geeked out. 

My hands down favorite brewery of the trip (and of all my 2016 brewery visits) was Weldwerks! And our favorite beer was without a doubt their Barrel Aged Mexican Achromatic! (I can’t confirm or deny if I may have cracked our one and only bottle to ring in the new year last night.)

Chicago:

And in November, our friends, Misti and Charles, won the Prop lottery and invited us to be their guests in Chicago for the release at Goose Island. 

I almost missed the trip after my discovery on my 3rd wedding anniversary a couple days before our flight that I have horrific acid reflux. Thankfully, I recovered just hours before I needed to leave! And I may or may not have been enjoying some amazing deep dish pizza a couple hours after we landed. (Take that, acid reflux! NOTHING comes between me and Chicago deep dish!)

And that ended a crazy 2016 for us.

It’s also worth mentioning that in April, I found out that the brewery I work for was being sold to Anheuser-Busch InBev. That was a tough pill to swallow, and I don’t think anyone who knew me expected that to be easy for me. 

Our COO had approached me after the announcement, which I greatly respected and appreciated. He lightheartedly asked me what the next blog post was going to look like. And he encouraged me to share my story.

It wasn’t the year at work that I expected it to be, but everything happens for a reason. 

So, what’s in store for 2017, you ask?

For starters, I’ve decided to hold off a bit on taking my Advanced Cicerone exam. I love being a Certified Cicerone, and one day, I know I’ll join the ranks of the Advanced Cicerones. But for the time being, I want to focus on a few other things before I tackle the at least 8-12 months of studying I feel I’ll need to pass. 

Also, I’m really excited to announce that I’ll be putting a lot more time and effort into my blog in 2017! Beer and marketing are giant passions of mine, but my love for marketing truly grew from my love of writing. I entered college many moons ago with the intended major of journalism, but changed it, not wanting to be a news writer making pennies and being influenced by the media’s agendas. 

My blog has always been an avenue to what makes me most happy in life, and it’s time to venture further down that road. Maybe we can call that the “forgotten road” of 2016. It’s time to take it. 

And speaking of taking steps to make myself happier in life, I’ve saved the best announcement for last…

(No. Get that having a baby shit out of your head. And sadly, if you were thinking “puppy!”, you’d be mistaken, too. For now.)

Ben and I have begun working on our own brewery! Ben SLAYS some homebrew. And we’re incredibly fortunate to have such a supportive network of friends/fellow beer geeks who already have had amazing things to say about Ben’s beer. We’ve wanted this for a very long time. 

Together, I truly think we can do anything. (This isn’t a mushy head in the clouds sentiment. This is a Walking Dead Rick and Daryl kicking all the asses statement.)

Ben has a great entrepreneurial spirit and is an inspired brewer, and is just a really damn smart guy. (Don’t tell him I said that.) This guy works his ass off, and when he puts his mind to something, it’s as good as done.

And I’m passionate and driven, and definitely have a fun and challenging road ahead to build our brand and sell the shit out of some beer. If I can make a multi-billion dollar corporation (love you, Sheetz!) millions of dollars improving efficiencies, making fun beverages, and engaging consumers in my old job, then I can return to badassery with my own business.

So, 2017, I’m ready for you! Happy New Year!

And if you want to see how 2015 treated me, check out my blog post from last year’s “Year in Beer” here!

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! 

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

Wrong.

“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.

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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!

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“Do you want to see this barrel room?”

“Yes!”

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

“Yes!”

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’.”

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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.

 

 

Happy New Beer!: Janée’s “Year In Beer” for 2014

Another year has come and gone. And you know what that means… It’s time for a recap, lists, some statistics, and maybe even a New Year’s Resolution!

Here’s my “Year In Beer” for 2014:

In 2014, I visited a grand total of 106 breweries!

What breweries did I visit? Well I’m glad you asked!

1. All Saints Brewing, Greensburg, PA – Jan. 4

2. South Street Brewery, Charlottesville, VA – Jan. 12

3. Champion Brewing Company, Charlottesville, VA – Jan. 12

4. Marzoni’s Brick Oven and Brewing, Hollidaysburg, PA – Jan. 21

5. Railroad City Brewing, Altoona, PA – Jan. 31

6. Otto’s Pub and Brewery, State College, PA – Jan. 31

7. Troegs Brewing, Hershey, PA – Feb. 6

8. Flying Dog Brewery, Frederick, MD – Feb. 7

9. The Gamble Mill, Bellefonte, PA – Feb. 22

10. Four Seasons Brewing, Latrobe, PA – Mar. 1

11. Full Pint Brewing, North Versailles, PA – Mar. 1

(11.5) Rust Belt, Youngstown, OH – Mar. 11 (Worth listing, but I didn’t count, as it’s a brewery’s tap room not housed with the actual brewery.)

12. Hoppin’ Frog,  Akron, OH – Mar. 1

13. Great Divide, Denver, CO – Mar. 12

14. Jagged Mountain, Denver, CO – Mar. 12

15. Crooked Stave, Denver, CO – Mar. 12

(15.5) Breckenridge, Denver, CO – Mar. 12 (Worth listing, but I didn’t count, as it’s a brewery’s tap room not housed with the actual brewery.)

16. Pikes Peak, Monument, CO – Mar. 13

17. Bristol Brewing Co., Colorado Springs, CO – Mar. 1

18. Red Leg, Colorado Springs, CO – Mar. 13

19. Phantom Canyon, Colorado Springs, CO – Mar. 13

20. Fort Collins, Fort Collins, CO – Mar. 14

21. New Belgium, Fort Collins, CO – Mar. 14

22. O’Dell, Fort Collins, CO – Mar. 14

23. Funkwerks, Fort Collins, CO – Mar. 14

24. Equinox, Fort Collins, CO – Mar. 14

25. Twisted Pine, Boulder, CO – Mar. 15

26. Avery Brewing, Boulder, CO – Mar. 15

27. Epic, Denver, CO – Mar. 15

28. Trve, Denver, CO – Mar. 15

29. Renegade, Denver, CO – Mar. 15

30. Strange, Denver, CO – Mar. 15

31. Blue Mountain, Afton, VA – April 9

32. Small Batch, Winston-Salem, NC – April 10

33. Red Oak, Whitsett, NC – April 11

34. Carolina Brewery, Chapel Hill, NC – April 11

35. Three Notch’d, Charlottesville, VA – April 13

36. Elysian, Seattle, WA – April 24

37. Gordon Biersch, Washington, D.C. – May 9

38. Brewer’s Alley, Frederick, MD – May 11

39. Devils Backbone, Roseland, VA – May 26

40. Blue Mountain Barrel House, Nelson County, VA – May 27

41. Church Brew Works, Pittsburgh, PA – June 7

42. Roundabout, Pittsburgh, PA – June 7

43. Hop Farm, Pittsburgh, PA – June 7

44. Three Brothers, Harrisonburg, VA – June 13

45. Happy Valley, State College, PA – June 20

46. East End, Pittsburgh, PA – June 28

47. Penn Brewery, Pittsburgh, PA – June 28

48. Hitchhiker, Pittsburgh, PA – June 28

49. Natty Greene’s, Greensboro, NC – July 3

50. Lynnwood Brewing Concern, Raleigh, NC – July 5

51. Sub Noir Brewing, Raleigh, NC – July 5

52. Trophy Brewing, Raleigh, NC – July 5

53. Boylan Bridge, Raleigh, NC – July 5

54. Bull City Brewing, Raleigh, NC – July 14

55. Fullsteam, Raleigh, NC – July 14

56.Pig Pounder, Greensboro, NC – July 25

57. Foothills, Winston-Salem, NC – August 9

58. Hoots, Winston-Salem, NC – August 9

59. Double Barley, Smithfield, NC – August 17

60. Deep River, Clayton, NC – August 17

61. Raleigh Brewing, Raleigh, NC – August 17

62. Steel String, Carrboro, NC – August 17

63. Haw River Farmhouse Ales, Saxapahaw, NC – August 17

64. Shenandoah Valley Brewing Co., Staunton, VA – August 23

65. Redbeard Brewing, Staunton, VA – August 23

66. Queen City Brewing, Staunton, VA – August 23

67. 2 Witches, Danville, VA – August 23

68. Ocean City Brewing Co., Ocean City, MD – September 4

69. De Lazy Lizard Brewing Company, Ocean City, MD – September 6

70. Backshore Brewing Company, Ocean City, MD – September 6

71. Crank Arm, Raleigh, NC – September 12

72. Nickelpoint Brewing Co., Raleigh, NC – September 12

73. Gizmo Brew Works, Raleigh, NC – October 2

74. Lonerider, Raleigh, NC – October 2

75. Liberty Steakhouse and Brewery, Myrtle Beach, SC – October 18

76. Gordon Biersch, Myrtle Beach, SC – October 18

77. Marietta Brewing, Marietta, OH – October 25

78. NoDa, Charlotte, NC – November 1

79. Birdsong, Charlotte, NC – November 1

80. Heist, Charlotte, NC – November 1

81. Sycamore, Charlotte, NC – November 1

82. Lenny Boy, Charlotte, NC – November 1

83. Triple C, Charlotte, NC – November 1

84. Ass Clown, Cornelius, NC – November 1

85. D9, Cornelius, NC – November 1

86. Fortnight, Cary, NC – November 8

87. Brueprint, Apex, NC – November 8

88. Draft Line, Fuquay-Varina – November 8

89. Aviator, Fuquay-Varina – November 8

90. Fonta Flora, Morganton, NC – November 21

91. Wicked Weed, Asheville, NC – November 21

92. Burial, Asheville, NC – November 21

93. Twin Leaf, Asheville, NC – November 21

94. Funkatorium, Asheville, NC – November 21

95. Sierra Nevada, Fletcher, NC – November 22

96. Oyster House, Asheville, NC – November 22

97. Wedge, Asheville, NC – November 22

98. Lexington Ave., Asheville, NC – November 22

99. One World, Asheville, NC – November 22

100. Hi-Wire, Asheville, NC – November 22

101. Asheville Brewing, Asheville, NC – November 22

102. Highland, Asheville, NC – November 23

103. Pisgah, Black Mountain, NC – November 23

104. Lookout, Black Mountain, NC – November 23

105. Triangle, Durham, NC – November 28

106. Appalachian Brewing Co., Harrisburg, PA – December 19

That includes brewery visits in 8 states, plus the District of Columbia.

If you’re looking to visit any of the breweries, I’ll be posting all of the reviews I didn’t get to within the next few months. But feel free to shoot me a message if you’re looking to make a trip and need some advice if I haven’t gotten to the review yet.

It wouldn’t be New Year’s Eve without some statistics on the entire last year. Here’s my personal thanks to Untappd for allowing me to be a contributing “Untappd Supporter” who has access to all these fun and crazy stats!

Total Beers in 2014: 1,189.

Shit. A brewery tweeted me yesterday that it looked like I drank more beers than they did, and that looks to be true! Note that my typical rule is that I need to have at least a 2 ounce pour to log the beer. Why 2 ounces? This is a common pour size at festivals. And my personal rule for someone tasting a certain beer for the first time is the “3 Sip Rule”. Give a beer 3 sips before you pass judgement.

Total Unique Beers in 2014: 902.

(This is the total number of beers I tried for the first time in 2014.)

New Beer Ratio: 76%

Three out of every four beers I drank in 2014 were beers I’d never had before.

Average Beers Per Day: 3

What’s that?… It was an APPLE a day?

Maximum Number of Breweries Hit In One Day:

8 in Charlotte, NC

My Top Venue: The Knickerbocker Tavern in Altoona, PA

Called it.

And My Most Consumed Beer for 2014: Flying Dog Dead Rise Old Bay Summer Ale

Here’s what’s on the radar for 2015!:

There are lots of exciting things on the beer blogging radar for next year.

I’ll continue to visit breweries and offer my honest reviews. On deck for this coming year so far for my big trips is a trip to SoCal in March and a trip to Chicago in April.

I hope to go to Savor in D.C. again in June. Last year was our first time there, and it was an awesomely amazing beer and food pairing event, as well as a great opportunity to meet a lot of cool people in the industry. There, we attended a beer and donut pairing salon directed by “Dr. Bill”, Stone Brewing’s Craft Beer Ambassador and resident Certified Cicerone.

Ben and I will also be building our beer cellar in our new home. Finally. I think our guests are a little sick of sharing the guest bedrooms with all of our beer!

We’ll definitely be brewing some good beers.

I’m planning to attend my first ever Beer Bloggers’ Conference in Asheville in July.

And as for my New Year’s resolution? I really don’t do resolutions. It seems to me that most New Year’s resolutions entirely fail or just fall off the radar by March. And this girl is on track and determined. So call it a resolution if you will. I’m going to be a Certified Cicerone by the end of 2015.

Just the thought of that gives me goosebumps! Eeek! So excited!

Here’s to an even better 2015.

Blog Fuel: Flying Dog Roasted Peanut Brown Ale from the 2014 Holiday mixed 12-pack.

Asheville Beercation

A few weekends ago, Ben and I FINALLY visited Asheville for the first time since moving to North Carolina 6 months ago!

But let’s step back a minute before I get to those breweries…

At the beginning of the year, I set a goal for myself to visit 52 breweries within the year. That was a goal to visit one brewery a week, if you broke it down. Well… I underestimated myself… I hit the 52 mark on July 5th, almost right at the half year mark!

Each brewery I visited deserves to be highlighted, and I’ll get to those all soon. (ish.)

Having reached my goal so early, I of course wanted to set a new goal. I didn’t think doubling the goal was a realistic option. Choosing 100 as my goal sounded like a nice, even number, but I didn’t think that could be obtained either. Ninety sounded better to me, though I didn’t know how I would make it happen with work becoming busy, and weekends becoming sparse for both Ben and myself.

Ninety it was.

So guess where the Asheville trip starts. And guess where it ends. It starts at 90. I hit 100. And I doubled my original goal for the year by hitting 104 at the end of the trip!

If you’re planning any sort of a beercation, it’s beginning to look like my blog will have a fairly substantial listing of reviews! Obviously, I’m a little fish in a big ol’ sea of beer and breweries, where new breweries pop up all the time. Money gets me to these places, and my job makes me money. So unless I win the lottery, I won’t be retiring early to visit every brewery in the country quite yet.

Now, let’s talk Asheville!

Talking about beer is one of my favorite things (duh), only to be trumped by other beer activities, like actually drinking it. So it stands to reason that there are others out there who share my passion and want to talk about it, too. I reached out to a bottle share group I’ve become a part of on Facebook, and I’d like to thank them all for their recommendations. Special thanks to Kale, who really helped me out. Also, a special thanks to Jerry, an Untappd friend who took the time to email me his notes on his last trip there with his girlfriend.

Beer friends are the best friends!

Asheville has the most breweries per capita of any place in the United States. If you check out almost any list of great beer destinations in the U.S., Asheville’s on it.

Ben and I left work a little early on Friday to beat the traffic. (Okay, who am I kidding…? We left early “because beer”. The answer to half of what we do.)

First stop. #90 – Fonta Flora – (Morganton, NC) This was recommended as a stop on the way, and it was well worth it. It has a rustic, earthy, and cozy feel to it. There’s a decent-sized bar, and tables and chairs to sit at, too. We opted for the bar. They had a really nice variety of some fun beers. It’s always nice to walk into a brewery and see something aside from your standard IPA, Porter, Amber and Stout. One look at their website will tell you all you need to know, boasting things like a local carrot IPA. Any brewery that goes the extra mile and takes extra effort to use locally sourced ingredients to support their community deserves some extra credit. This is just beer you need to try. I had the Echoview Estate Ale, which was a fantastic Belgian Tripel (4 stars), and the Bloody Butcher Witbier (3.5 stars). I wish we could have stayed longer, but onto Asheville!

We left our downtown hotel to hit the night’s breweries by foot. This is EASILY attainable, as there are plenty of breweries within walking distance. I downloaded the Asheville Breweries app (Thanks, Jerry!), and it gave us a good idea of what all was nearby.

#91 – Wicked Weed – I knew this would be a good stop. There’s a big restaurant on the main level, and the brewery and tap room are in the basement. We were hungry travelers at this point, and opted for the restaurant. (The tap room had a cooler vibe with its giant glass windows peering into the brewhouse, and its dim lights and cellar-ey type feel. Next time, that’s where we’ll start.)

The food menu was small, but it all looked great. It was jam-packed in there, so we didn’t want to order big dishes and wait longer, despite that they still seemed to be getting food out quickly. I had a side of home fries that was made with traditional potatoes and sweet potatoes, and had huge chunks of delicious bacon. It really hit the spot.

I had a pumpkin beer called Pumpk-Anne that was tasty before we left for the next spot.

Any time I trade beers with other beer geeks, Wicked Weed seems to be the most coveted NC beer requested. They’re known for their hop-forward, non-apologetic, big flavors. They boast big sours and take risks, and they pay off.

Fun Fact: The name “Wicked Weed” comes from a quote from King Henry VIII where he called hops a “wicked and pernicious weed”, saying that hops were destined to ruin beer. Hops weren’t an original ingredient in beer, and didn’t really start to become prevalent for use in beer until around 1500.

Beer as we know it today (much to King Henry VIII’s dismay) must include these 4 ingredients: water, barley, yeast and hops. The old (and original) style of beer made without hops is called Gruit. It usually contained bog myrtle (or sweet gale), horehound, heather flowers, and other herbs and spices.

Fraoch Heather Ale from Williams Brothers Brewing in Scotland is one of the best examples of this style. Other breweries like Dogfish Head have brewed similar styles and other ancient ales, but opted to add a small amount of hops.

A local brewery here, D9, also does an ancient ale, keeping it on track with the absence of hops, but souring the beer.

I could go on further, but let’s get back on the Asheville track!

#92 – Burial – This was the one that came most recommended. It’s definitely a hole in the wall. It’s a decent-sized, long, rectangular room with a small bar on one end, some sparse tables and seating in the middle, and the brewhouse on the other end. There was a fooseball table thrown in the mix there, too. Somehow, there was a bit of hipster ambience. Maybe it was the small sphere lights strung in sporadic arches coming down from the ceiling by the brewhouse. Or maybe it was just the hipsters…

I had the Farmhouse Drunken Noodles. (A beer. Although the foodie in me wants to challenge a chef to create a dish with that name.) It was amazingly complex, but somehow simple at the same time. Very ginger. Lemongrass aroma. Lime finish. It was the first beer I really cared to write notes on, so it stood out to me in a good way. (4 stars).

Also, the tap handles here were shaped like knives. Pretty fitting for a brewery named Burial.

We didn’t stay long, but again, I’d like to go back and try more.

#93 – Twin Leaf – This place was warm and inviting. Maybe it was just the little, adorable Maltipoo happily tiptoeing around on the bar in its sweater vest to greet each new guest. (ServSafe certified and don’t even care.) That little dog could have lapped up my beer and I wouldn’t have had a problem with it! (Sober Janee may have thought differently, but I digress!)

It was a guest’s dog, so don’t plan on visiting that brewery dog there when you stop by. But it’s definitely a pet-friendly spot.

The bar was long and spacious, and there were tables as well, overlooking the brewhouse. I had the Dark Matter Oatmeal Stout (3.5 stars) and Wee Nipper English Mild (3.5 stars).

#94 – Funkatorium – The Funkatorium is a brand new facility that houses Wicked Weed’s barrel program. Sour beers have a special place in my heart. Actually, in my stomach. But that’s not the point.

It had a finished and refined feel to it. The attention to detail from their beers bleeds through to the taproom as well. It was dimly lit. A chalkboard wall with a tap list behind the bar fantastically mimicked the bottom of a wooden barrel.

The barrel house attached to the tap room was even more impressive. It just seemed to go on and on. It really was one of the most impressive barrel rooms I’ve ever seen.

This was tied for my favorite in Asheville. We sat at the bar. I scanned the beer menu and knew exactly what I wanted to drink first. It takes a very intriguing pumpkin beer to capture my attention at the end of the pumpkin beer drinking season. And this one did it – Pompoen Pumpkin Sour, aged in rum barrels. (4 stars).

Pernicious Sour Blonde was another good one.

This was the last stop for the night, so we bought 4 bottles for the short trek back to the hotel!

#95 – Sierra Nevada – (Fletcher, NC) On Saturday morning, we had a brewery tour scheduled for Sierra Nevada’s brand new facility! They call this location the Mills River brewery.

The entire facility is BREATHTAKING. Copper is everywhere. Everything is refined and somehow simply ornate. It’s the most beautiful brewery and brewhouse I’ve seen. I was constantly in awe. It’s huge!

The brewery tour was nice. They’re big on sustainability at Sierra Nevada. They consciously hand-picked every element down to the parking lot pavers and large outdoor water collection containers that resemble foeders for things like recycling water.

At the end of the 90 minute tour, we were taken to the beautiful tap room to try 6 of their beers. They’ve been sharing their beers with people out of the Chico brewery for many years, so they’ve had lots of practice and experience getting things done right. Each beer was presented in the appropriate glassware for the style, and special care was taken to pour the final beer, Narwhal Imperial Stout, early on in the tasting to allow the beer to warm to the appropriate serving temperature before it was time to drink it.

Narwhal has long been a favorite of mine. Ben and I buy a 4-pack every year. We occasionally drink one, but most of them are being saved for a vertical tasting whenever we feel like cracking some open with friends. The brewery sells the barrel aged variant, which we’ve never been able to find until now. We grabbed a few bottles of that, along with a few other more elusive bottles, at the gift store before heading to the next stop.

#96 – Oyster House – This really came off as a restaurant that just happened to house a small brewery as an afterthought. The whole place is really small and just doesn’t strike you as a place that has the passion for beer that some of these others do.

We grabbed a small snack and both had the Moonstone Oyster Stout. (3.5 stars).

#97 – Wedge – This was an interesting place. It’s a weird mélange of stuff that makes this one something different.

Ben and me at Wedge! One of few photos he cooperated for! :)

Ben and me at Wedge! One of few photos he cooperated for! 🙂

It sits right on the side of some railroad tracks. There’s an outdoor space between the tracks and the brewery where most people congregate. It almost had a tailgate-like atmosphere, with people playing cornhole out there, and a group of others who had their collapsible tailgating chairs and a very small table set up. There’s a long, narrow patio with clear vinyl enclosures to keep it warmer there when the weather cools down. You could tell by the crowd of people, and one older man sitting outside reading a beer book, that this is a place with something special.

We walked into the building, ordered some beers, and walked out onto the patio with a bowl of free peanuts to break down the beers.

These were the best and most solid beers of the trip! It was my other favorite brewery. We had the Belgian Abbey Ale and the Community Porter, both of which I rated an excellent 4.5 stars. This would undoubtedly be a regular hang out spot for me if I lived closer.

(It’s noteworthy that the future second brewery for New Belgium will be nearby and right across the railroad tracks.)

We ditched the car back at the hotel to finish our tour walking for the rest of the day/night.

Next stop? The Local Taco. (Not a brewery! A girl needs to eat occasionally, too!) We needed a good base for the rest of the day. A little snack at Oyster House and the peanuts from Wedge weren’t going to be enough to fuel us much further.

We were craving some tacos, and we found the right place. I truly don’t even remember exactly what we ate here, but I know I’d go back in a heartbeat! They had some beers, but nothing I hadn’t had before. Something there just screamed “margarita”.

I had one that the bartender recommended with hibiscus flower and elderflower liqueur and it was outstanding. I’d go back there just for this drink! It made for a beautiful Instagram shot.

#98 – Lexington Ave. – This reminded me more of a commercial place. It’s big inside, and has a big island bar near the entry with more tables and booths everywhere else. It had a restaurant feel. The food looked good, but those tacos were sitting happily in our tummies still.

We shared a flight of 6 beers. I only rated one, and I rated it 3 stars…

Moving on!

#99 – One World – This one reminds me of a speakeasy. You walk down a really dark alley to get there. It’s a little unnerving. A man at the top of a stairway directs you down the stairs. The lighting doesn’t improve much when you actually get into the downstairs brewery, but I suppose this all fits for the speakeasy style.

The L-shaped bar was small, so we sat at a little table. I had the Whale of a Tale Extra Pale Ale.

I didn’t love it, and I didn’t hate it.

Then, we took off to hit up a well-renowned beer bar.

Thirsty Monk (& Top of The Monk) – Thirsty Monk is considered by many to be one of the best beer bars in America. We set off for the Downtown Belgian beer bar location, knowing that the bar had several levels and that the Belgian beers were not on the main level. We walked to where we thought the entrance was and were greeted by a doorman.

In the state of NC, if you opt to sell mixed drinks as a bar, there’s a weird law that it has to be a “members only” club. We first ran into this situation at a place called the Rusted Bucket in our new hometown of Burlington. It deterred us until we found out that most places charge a buck to become a member, you sign in, and that’s that!

So we followed the motions, signed the book, and walked through a door and up a set of stairs. We had a seat at the bar, and realized that we weren’t at the beer bar! We had stumbled into the Top of The Monk, which is coincidentally hailed as one of the best craft cocktail bars in the country.

I was a little bummed we had accidentally ended up here at first, taking our time away from precious beer, but one look at the cocktail menu changed my mind, and one sip of my drink told me we had made an awesome mistake. It’s the best cocktail bar I’ve ever set foot in, and probably the best crafted cocktail I’ve ever consumed.

I had the Pumpkin Pisco Sour. It contained white grape brandy, fall spices, fresh lemon, pumpkin reduction, pie spiced syrup, egg white, Madagascar vanilla, and Angostura bitters. Phenomenal.

After that, we walked downstairs and into the door of the Thirsty Monk, where we really had intended to go. The Belgian beer bar was downstairs. We made our way down there, enjoyed a few great beers, and left for the next brewery.

They had a great selection, and we’d have loved to have spent a lot more time there.

#100 – Hi-Wire – We had some good stuff here. The Ringmaster’s Reserve Series Barrel-Aged Russian Imperial Stout was really well done. (4 stars). I was lucky enough to score a few of the last bottles (22 ouncers) of this limited release beer. I’m going to age some, and maybe use a bottle for a beer trade.

Ben also picked up a 6-pack of the special release Strongman Coffee Milk Stout. It’s packaged really well in an attractive and sturdy 6-pack carrier. The marketer in me gives them credit for making this stand out well as a limited release. It’s a little hard to accomplish that with 12 ounce bottles and to get the point across that it’s something special. Well done.

This is a place I’d expect to visit again and find some gems at.

#101 – Asheville Brewing – Ninja Bread Man Porter, which is a gingerbread variant of their Ninja Porter was awesome! (4 stars). The building was packed at the time we rolled in, and we had to wait for seats at the bar to open up. The building is big, and houses lots of tables and a restaurant. I was told that their pizza is great, but with the crowd, we opted to just grab a slice at a less popular and less crowded place across the street from our hotel.

We induced ourselves with a good food coma, and went to bed to recharge our batteries for the next morning.

On Sunday morning, we hit up our new favorite restaurant in Asheville breakfast! For the second morning in a row. You KNOW it’s some good stuff when a foodie visits a place like Asheville and opts to go for round 2 and re-visit a restaurant. Biscuithead. Just hearing the name after having eaten there makes my stomach growl, begging to be filled with more biscuits!

Southerners love their biscuits. I married a southerner and moved down south with him. You can imagine the number of biscuits I eat just by being married to the guy. I like to think that I know a good biscuit when I see one. I’ve been pretty well-trained over the years.

These biscuits are enormous. And there are FLIGHTS OF GRAVY. Flights of gravy! And for all you condiment lovers… there’s a GLORIOUS toppings bar with flavored butters and jellies for those biscuits. Ben often calls me the condiment queen. Clearly, I’m in Heaven.

I had the fried green tomato biscuit which was topped with brie and poached eggs. I tried out a bacon-pepper jelly and a serrano butter (if my memory serves me right) from the condiment bar. So good! And I had a side of bacon. This shit was glorious…

So a million calories (well worth it!) later, we ventured to our first brewery of the day.

#102 – Highland – This place is huge. It’s very warehouse-esque. There are long tables everywhere inside and a long bar up against the wall. Several shipping containers complete with windows sit inside the building, and contain what I imagine are some offices for the staff.

We grabbed some drinks from the bar right as they opened, and sat down at the end of a long table to enjoy. I had the 20th Anniversary Scotch Ale. (3.5 stars).

We heard the phone ring behind the bar and overheard the bartender saying, “No. We’re all out of it.” The phone rang again, and you could tell he was answering the same question. The phone kept ringing and customers kept coming in asking if there was any Cold Mountain left.

You know a beer is kind of a big deal when it has a following like this. It was apparently released a day or two earlier. There wasn’t any left at the brewery, but the bartender had been letting people know that it was locally distributed and that they could hope to find some at some nearby bottle shops.

We scored at Total Wine on our way home later that day. I’ve since tried it, and can see what all the hype was about. This was a really well done winter warmer. I’m usually just not a big fan of most winter warmers, but I would drink this one often.

#103 – Pisgah – (Black Mountain, NC) This was my favorite non-Asheville brewery of the trip. I was told about the bottle release of Chocolatized Imperial Stout and hoped to get there in time to buy some. The brewery gods of limited release beers apparently loved me and smiled down upon my beer cellar on this whole trip. There were a few bottles left! I think I got 4 of them. I had it on tap at the bar, too. (4.5 stars). If I had a piece of vanilla bean cheesecake with it, I could have died happy right then and there.

The Tripel and the Porter were also great choices.

It’s not a really big taproom. But they have a stage in the corner where they have concerts pretty often. Old Crow Medicine Show was apparently just there.

#104 – Lookout – (Black Mountain, NC) Number 104! Goal for the year is officially doubled! It’s a small place with a tiny bar. They seem to do a lot of small batch beers. My favorite was the Beer-BQ Smoked Ale at 3.5 stars.

And that does it for our first trip to Asheville! We have a few breweries we missed on this trip that we’ll have to hit when we go back. And I know we’ll be hitting some repeats from this list. And Biscuithead…

 

Blog Fuel: Karl Strauss Red Trolley. This is the beer that made me fall in love with Karl Strauss. I tried it for the first time at the Carlsbad brewery when I was in Cali visiting Ben before he went to Afghanistan. It’s literally the reason we flew out to the west coast and got married at their brewery!

Melange 3. An excellent bottled blend of beers from The Bruery. They mix 3 different bourbon barrel aged strong ales to make it! One just happens to be an all-time favorite, Black Tuesday. Another is White Oak Sap, a fantastic wheat wine. And the other is their Anniversary Series beer. It’s super-boozy, but always a nice treat.

Off Color Brewing Troublesome Gose. It’s always a great idea to keep something approachable in the fridge. This one has a great, but subdued enough, malt backbone that allowed me to pair it with a sriracha-marinated grilled chicken salad with lime vinaigrette.

COLORADO BEERCATION – Part 2

Colorado – Day 2
We woke up in Denver and headed toward Colorado Springs for some morning beers. I don’t often find myself in awe of my surroundings, but the drive to our first brewery was unlike any other drive. The sun was shining bright as those mammoth mountains stood with snow-capped peaks, far better than any postcard could do justice. You couldn’t help but be in awe and be thankful for beauty like that.

me at the Garden of the Gods
It’s really no wonder that a place like that inspires such great beers.
#16. Pikes Peak, Monument, CO – Mar. 13
What a great place for our first beer of the day. Again, the scenery is ever-present surrounding this brewery, and it’s pretty perfect for a brewery named after a mountain. It was a great little place with a bar and some tables. It was 4 days before Saint Patty’s Day, so the bar was decked out in typical holiday décor.
The bartender told us about their annual Saint Patty’s Day leprechaun contest. Apparently, lots of people get dressed up as leprechauns, and they pick the bestPikes Peak beer one to be their leprechaun for the ENTIRE YEAR. The bartender told us that this person ends up being an honorary employee for the year. The catch is, every time this person has an event or has to work at the brewery, they have to wear their leprechaun gear! (Or so the bartender told us… But I’m pretty sure this is the full truth!)
Oh, and last year’s leprechaun has to get the new leprechaun a gift. One of the years, the old leprechaun got the winner a 50 pound bag of potatoes. The bartender told us that the potatoes were being passed out to people as they left. Fifty pounds is a LOT of potatoes!
Anyway, onto the beers! I tried 4. One, I didn’t rate. Oops! And the others were a 3.5, 4, and 4.5. Winners! My favorite was a seasonal they brewed just for Saint Patty’s Day – Pike O’ The Peak 2014. It was an Irish Red. And I’m pretty sure that’s the highest I’ve ever rated an Irish Red. Well done!

 
Not a Brewery, But Absolutely Noteworthy!:
After we left the brewery, we needed some caffeine. We had a long day ahead of us and we needed our morning jolt. We walked into Wesley Owens Coffee Shop, and I walked out a changed person. Changed. Person. I just wanted a great cup of coffee. I told the woman working that I had never been there and asked for the best thing on the menu. She told me to go for the Red Tea Latte. Tea? red tea latte“Wah,” I thought. I needed more of a buzz to wake me up from my other buzz! I like tea. But I wanted coffee. But the barista confidently insisted that I NEEDED to try it if I tried one thing. So I ordered it, ignoring the literally freshly roasted beans that were calling my name.
So I see her making this drink, and I’m confused… (Let’s be honest… It doesn’t always take much to confuse me.) She was using an espresso machine. And there was no tamping. “Whaaaaat?!” Of course, being a coffee geek (who is still ALWAYS learning), I’m asking questions. It turns out, this drink is actually made using rooibos tea leaves that are finely ground to an “espresso” grind. (Roobios tea that is finely ground is sometimes called “red espresso”.) The finer grind allows for more surface area for the water to become more saturated with the flavors, just like it would with espresso ground coffee. There is no need to tamp, as tea leaves are intended to be steeped. Channeling or under-extraction aren’t factors here, as they would be in not tamping espresso.
After the barista pulled the shot of tea, she put it into a cup where she added some honey and some cinnamon, and then added steamed milk topped with foam and a final dash of cinnamon.
This was probably one of the best handcrafted beverages I have ever experienced! And part of my job is creating handcrafted beverages for a living! Mind. Blown. (Check out their Red Tea Latte!)
Because rooibos tea is herbal, there was actually no caffeine in my drink. But the honey helped give me the little boost I needed. True tea that comes from tea leaves is naturally caffeinated. Herbal teas are the only true non-caffeinated teas, as these “teas” don’t actually come from tea leaves, but rather from the flowers of other plants. (Decaffeinated teas are natural teas where most, but not all, of the caffeine has been removed.)
From here, we left to hit our 17th brewery of the year.
#17. Bristol Brewing Co., Colorado Springs, CO – Mar. 13
spent grain chipThe beer here was nothing spectacular – all 3’s and 3.5’s on my list. I tried six different beers, and the Laughing Lab Scottish Ale and the Winter Warlock Oatmeal Stout Ivywildwere my two favorites. One impressive and unique feature was the homemade spent grain chips they served, free of charge. I honestly didn’t expect them to be good, but after the first one, I couldn’t stop eating them! They were served in a silver dog food bowl with a sticker of the “Laughing Lab” dog on it.
The location of the brewery is what really stood out to me. This brewery resides inside an old elementary schoolhouse. It was a really neat place to check out.
The schoolhouse is called Ivywild School, and it houses a community marketplace. We ordered sandwiches from The Meat Locker Deli inside the school, which were Bristol Brewingdelivered to us at the brewery’s bar. (It was excellent food, by the way.) The bread used on our sandwiches came from The Old School Bakery, also residing in the schoolhouse. (Again – excellent.) There was an espresso bar/whiskey bar called The Principal’s Office where I got my post-beer caffeine fix via an outstanding $4 2 ounce iced Sumatra espresso shot. Well worth it! And there was a tiny market area called Hunt or Gather, where I bought some local honey.

 

 

#18. Red Leg, Colorado Springs, CO – Mar. 13
Red LegRed Leg Brewing is a veteran owned and operated brewery that opened a little less than a year ago on the 4th of July. My husband is a Marine and was excited to check it out. I think I tried everything they had to offer, because my Untappd account tells me I had eight beers there! 3.5-4.5 stars on Untappd. The favorite at 4.5 was the Devil Dog Stout – pretty fitting for having a Marine for a husband!
They had a decent variety – a pils, wit, IPA, two brown ales, two stouts, and an amber. The décor was pretty fitting also. There was a wall on the side that had different colored wood blocks to form a digital camouflage effect and there were framed photos of their beers in tasting glasses in front of an American flag and with little green Army men.
We left the brewery to go meet up with Ben’s friend at his home in Colorado Springs. Seth had the pleasure of being Ben’s roomie in California and Afghanistan. (Sorry, Seth!) We spent a good chunk of the evening at Seth’s house and met his wife and adorable kids! Then, we ventured out with them to our last brewery of the night.
#19. Phantom Canyon, Colorado Springs, CO – Mar. 13
This was a pretty decent sized brewpub with some really tasty food. I only had two beers here – the Baron Saturday (Belgian Brown), which I didn’t rate, and the Fat And Lazy, a sour that I rated an uncommon 4.5. Although I enjoy all types of beer, you’ll sometimes find that I stray away from rating some Belgians.
Belgian yeasts can often produce banana esters. And I shit you not, I have this banana-sensitivity super-sense. (This is a legitimate thing. But I do get the occasional weird look when I tell people about it.) I’ll occasionally drink beers where no one else can detect banana, and I’ll find banana in it. Some BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) judges actually bow out of judging certain beer categories because of this hyper-sensitivity. This is why I prefer not to rate anything I sense with this flavor.
(Also noteworthy is that banana flavors or esters can sometimes be unwanted off-flavors produced by ale yeast. These unintended flavors can come about when beer has been fermented at too high of a temperature.)
Additional fun “Janee and banana” facts: Number one – I don’t even like banana flavor. Number two – I still eat several bananas a week because of the health and nutritional benefits. And number three – The most popular beverage I created for work is banana puree based. Go figure.
Blog Fuel: Amstel Light (for off-flavor taste testing!) and Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout.

COLORADO BEERCATION – Part 1

Colorado. Was. Epic. First of all, it was beautiful. Breathtakingly beautiful. Ben had been there once before and had told me that once I visited, I would fall in love with it. I’ve always been a warm Coloradoweather, beach-loving, sun-loving vacation-taker. The only “cold” place I ever care to vacation to is Alaska. Living in PA, winters are a bitch. And this winter, we spent weeks in sub-zero temperatures. And winter always overstays its welcome. I was sure Ben was wrong about me loving Colorado.

But I was wrong. The weather was gorgeous! It was a sunny 60-some degrees for the first few days we spent there, even though it cooled off a bit by the end of our trip. I could almost feel the snow-capped mountains laughing at the silly Pennsylvanian for expecting cold misery.Colorado

Pennsylvania mountains are beautiful, but Colorado mountains… Wow. Just wow. They make Pennsylvania mountains look like teeny little green rolling hills. The few photos I took do Colorado mountains no justice. It’s won’t be my last trip there.

But let’s talk Colorado breweries.

Eighteen breweries in four days. Take that, liver.

Ben and I both did separate research on where we wanted to stop, and we had several lists and a rough plan about what our days would look like.

We arrived in Denver around 5:30pm and hit the ground running, despite the 3 hour time difference and the huge increase in elevation. Because I have so much to say about each brewery, (shocker) I’m breaking down blog posts by day.

Here’s part one of four! (Hopefully I can keep it to just four!)

#13. Great Divide, Denver, CO – Mar. 12Great Divide

I’m a huge fan of Great Divide. Their Yeti series were probably their first beers I was exposed to, and they were all winners. They’re far less accessible on the east coast. The taproom has 16 beers on tap, and I would have had each and every one if I could have. They have a nice space, although it gets crowded quickly. There was a brick oven pizza food truck outside that looked badass, so we ordered a small pizza to snack on in the taproom. (How can a legitimate brick oven in a FOOD TRUCK not be badass?) Verdict? Amazing! It was the Basic Kneads Pizza food truck. Good stuff.

I got a small sampling of 3 beers. I was impressed with the glassware they had for flights, and would find this to be the case at a good many of the Colorado breweries. They were smaller snifters that maybe held 5-6 ounces each. I tried a few beers I had never had on the east coast. They were Orabelle, which is a Belgian Tripel, the Denver Pale Ale, and the Colette Farmhouse Ale. All 4-4.5 stars. This wasn’t a shocker. I expected great things and I got great things.

Jagged Mountain#14. Jagged Mountain, Denver, CO – Mar. 12

Our next stop was Jagged Mountain, which I had never heard of before. It houses a considerably bigger taproom with an “L”-shaped bar and lots of seating at tables. They also had a local food truck outside. There was a folk band playing when we got there and it was a really fun atmosphere. I sampled 2 beers – The Spearhead Saison, which was decent, and the Vallecito Rum Barrel Aged Belgian Strong Ale. I was curious about the rum barrel aged beer, but I wasn’t in love with the pairing of Belgian and rum. It still got 3 stars from me.

 

 

#15. Crooked Stave, Denver, CO – Mar. 12

We hopped in a cab to go to this next stop. When the cab pulled up to the address we had given him, we definitely thought we were in the wrong spot. There was just this huge building with zero signs that said anything about Crooked Stave. Our cab driver assured us this was the correct address and dropped us off. We walked into this huge building to discover it was almost like a little indoor warehouse market. It housed a restaurant, a bakery, flower shop… and straight through, the brewery. I could have spent hours exploring the rest of the market (which is called The Source), but beer called. And I always answer.

I had never heard of Crooked Stave until about a month before our trip. I was talking with one of our coffee vendor contacts for work who happens to be a big beer geek, too. He’s from the west coast and told me if I checked out one place, it had to be Crooked Stave. He’s friends with some of the guys over there. If we had pre-planned a little better, we would have gotten a tour from them, but we really weren’t sure where and when we would be at each place, so it didn’t work out, unfortunately.

Crooked Stave is a great producer of funky sours and Brett beers. Most beer geeks know that sours are the new big thing, some calling “sour” the “new bitter” in reference to the popularity of the acquired taste. But some probably don’t know that sours have actually been around for thousands and thousands of years. (I’m sure I’ll do an entire post soon all about sour beers at some point.)

Again, this brewery had awesome tasting glasses – little snifters for 3 ounce pours. They had some branded available for purchase, so we got 2 to take home.

I managed to get my hands on 2 Crooked Stave beers in New York while on a business trip a week before Colorado, and both were excellent beers. (Oddly, we found out that Crooked Stave doesn’t distribute/sell to the state of New York. So how the beers got there I haven’t a clue!)

I had the Ferus Fluxus American Wild Ale collaboration with Upslope Brewing, the Colorado Wild Sage Saison/Farmhouse, the Vieille Happy Leaf with Lemon, Hibiscus and Ginger, and the Vieille Artisanal Saison with Cranberry and Spice. If those all sounded unique and awesome, it’s because they were.

Photo Credit: Crooked Stave Facebook page

Crooked Stave’s coolship being installed

What I liked most about the brewery was that they had a coolship sitting high on a platform above and aside from the bar! Ben looked up and noticed it after we had a few beers. I’ve never seen a coolship in a brewery, and in the remaining breweries of the 52, I highly doubt I’ll see another!

A coolship is a large shallow vessel that is used to cool wort. Wort is what we call the beer pre-fermentation. The wort needs to be brought from temperature in the high 100’s down to around 75 degrees before the yeast can be pitched (or added to the wort). There are a few ways to cool the wort rapidly. Most breweries employ heat exchangers or copper coils where cold water runs through the hot wort to cool it down. Ice baths are sometimes used in very small scale homebrewing. And sometimes a portion of water is left out of the recipe to then be added cold to aid in the cooling of the wort.

Coolships employ the oldest method of rapid cooling and they work by utilizing a large surface area where the wort is poured in and can remain at shallow levels, allowing for the surrounding air to quickly cool the wort.

They used to be made of wood, but Crooked Stave’s modern coolship is made of stainless steel, like some other modern ones that exist today.

Coolships can also be used to allow for spontaneous fermentation, but I read that Crooked Stave planned to just use it for rapid cooling initially.

 

(#15.5 Breckenridge, Denver, CO – Mar. 12)

Another “honorary half”. This one was just a brewery’s taproom where the brewery was not on-site, so it doesn’t count. We’re reviewing anyway!

For a brewery to get a thumbs up from me, they have to either have several very well done beers or at least one beer that is outstanding and memorable. Breckenridge just doesn’t do that for me. I know some others may feel differently, but for me, everything I’ve tried from them is just ok. The Agave Wheat is the best I’ve had from them. Nothing stands out to me or makes me even say, “Wow. This is well done.” They seem to play it safe, and don’t have much outside the box. The incorporation of agave nectar into their wheat beer is probably the “edgiest” stuff I’ve seen from them. They do have some small batch beers and a barrel-aged program, but these were M.I.A. from the tasting room, which tells me about all I need to know. Thankfully, there were many other breweries left to impress me!

And that ends it for day one!

 

Blog Fuel: Railroad City Hefeweizen. Very sessionable beer. Great for a long holiday weekend of drinking!

Catching Up: Pre-Colorado Breweries

Oh, hey! It’s me again. My poor blog has been neglected for a few months. But if you follow me on Twitter or Untappd, you knew I was alive and well! (Or maybe you had some doubts after my 60 Untappd check-ins last weekend. But more on that later!)
Since my last check-in, I might be a few brewery reviews behind… We’ll call “a few” 26. I’m now up to 35! Not too bad!
So first things first: Breweries 10, 11 and 12. Before I departed for my Colorado “beercation”, I hit up a few breweries. Let’s check them out!

#10: Four Seasons Brewing, Latrobe, PA on March 1.Four Seasons

They just opened in November, and you can tell these guys love beer and love what they do! They have a small tasting bar in their brewery where you can sample their current beers or fill up your growlers. There’s no bar seating, which is pretty common for a newer production brewery. We knew this and figured it would be a 5 minute stop to sample and grab a growler, but it was an inviting place, so we were actually there for a while.
We talked to a few employees there who poured us some samples and gave us and a few others a small tour. They told us they’re already working to purchase some new equipment to keep up with the demand for kegs of their beer. I tried their Dark Side of the Pint Oatmeal Stout, Get Down Brown, and their High HOPeS IPA, all of which were well-done, though the IPA was my favorite.

They sell some really fun etched-glass growlers and glassware and they have local art displayed (and for sale) on their walls. (My favorite pieces were of a can of PBR and a Storm Trooper.)

The space they have is very open, and one of my favorite things about our visit was when one of the guys giving us the mini tour told us that he loved the open space because some of the brewers bring their kids into the brewery because there’s a lot of space for them to throw a ball around and just play while they work.

(Note that I don’t have kids and am quite far from being a “mushy” person who melts over children, but for some reason, it absolutely melts my heart to see brewers bring their children into their breweries. Again, brewing is such a labor of love and takes such patience. It’s like being a chef and bringing your kid into the kitchen to teach him how to bake cookies for the first time. Fucking adorable.)

#11: Full Pint Brewing, North Versailles, PA on March 1. Full Pint

Ben and I stopped here and met a few friends before hitting up an Avett Brothers later concert that night. If you’re going to check out this brewery, good luck figuring out how the hell to get into the building! Just keep trying doors; it’s worth it!

This is a great tap room with a sit-down bar, tables and food, attached to the microbrewery. The wall housing the taps behind the bar is adorned with hundreds of brewery stickers from all over. The food looked fantastic, but we didn’t get the chance to try anything. We saw what looked like fresh basil being chopped, and it’s always refreshing to see good, fresh food being prepared at a place where food probably isn’t the primary source of income. I’m definitely a bit of a foodie, and you can tell that someone here clearly is, too. Definitely trying the food next time!

Now, for the beer: They probably had about 8-10 beers on tap, and I tried seven. My favorite was the Rye Rebellion (4 stars on Untappd). At 11%, this double stout is a winner. The Paw Paw Berliner Weisse was a close second with an upfront sour punch.
We also got a little mini “tour” of the brewery. A good stop.

(#11.5: Rust Belt Brewing, Youngstown, OH on March 11.) Rust Belt

11.5? Every so often, we go to check out a brewery’s tap room, only to find that the brewery isn’t actually at that exact location. As it turns out, Rust Belt’s actual brewery is about a block away. Ben and I sat at the bar at the tap room questioning what this meant in my brewery count. Verdict? Any “brewery” I wandered into where this was the case (no actual brewery on-site), I would classify as an “honorary half”. This means that I’ll note the visit, but we technically don’t count it toward the total. If I rack up 6 “honorary half” visits, it doesn’t add up to three. It sadly equals zero. Doesn’t make sense? Well, math was never my strong point.

Nothing too outside the box here, but all solid beers. They had four beers on tap, and obviously, I tried them all. Frackin’ Porter was my favorite. All 3.5-4 stars on Untappd, which is in the realm of “good stuff that I’d order again”.
As a side note, though I’d love to individually (and thoroughly) rank every single beer I drink, it’s a little bit much to be ranking each beer on appearance, smell, taste, mouthfeel, and overall impression when you’re sampling beers with others and trying to be social! I’m forever verbally doing this! But this is why my go-to rating system is Untappd. It’s easy and accessible. Ben actually refuses to use Untappd like I do. He claims that if he drinks a beer, it should be memorable enough for him to know he loved it rather than to have to reference a list. Personally, I don’t trust my memories when I’ve tried hundreds and hundreds of beers! “Have I tried this before? Oh, let’s check Untappd and see!”

#12: Hoppin’ Frog, Akron, OH on March 11. Hoppin Frog

Ben and I were arriving to Akron later in the evening for our flight to Colorado the next day, and we knew we were pushing it on time to get to this one. We saw on their website that the tasting room closed at 11, and we got there right around 20 till. We hurried in and took two seats at the bar just as the bartender was announcing last call. Whew! Just in time.

It was “Tower Tuesday” where they infuse two of their beers with various ingredients in the towers. I saw the beer, Salted Caramel Coffee Karminator, and knew it was the one I wanted to order for last call. First of all, salted caramel is something I always say “yes” to. Always. Coffee? Um, yes, please! One sip, and I was in love. I would have given this beer ten stars on Untappd if I could have. With confidence, I can tell you that this is one of my ALL-TIME FAVORITE BEERS. Outstanding. I’m not sure if any Tower Tuesday beers ever make it to the bottling line, but this would be toward the top of my wish list if ever it was bottled. It’s an imperial doppelbock, and I think that was the best choice for this infusion. The lager lets the flavors speak for themselves and come through clear, and the choice to make it a doppel gave this beer the alcohol kick to stand well with the infusion. I’m sure the Karminator without the coffee bean infusion is a great beer on its own, and I’m anxious to try it sometime.

Being a lover of coffee and salted caramel, I immediately made arrangements to stop by the local Pearl Coffee the next morning to pick up some of those flavorful beans. I’m usually into beans that can stand strong with their own intrinsic flavors, but you KNOW I can’t say no to salted caramel. I would love to do a small batch of homebrew aged on these beans during a secondary fermentation as opposed to an infusion (which I’m assuming occurs for only a few hours to a few days). I’m curious to know how the salted caramel flavor would hold up in the beer when it sits on the beans for a few months. I love the choice of a doppelbock, but I’d be interested to check this out in an Irish stout. This would make for a drier beer that would really let the coffee and its flavors stand on their own. It would have a lower ABV with a natural bitterness that would ensure that the bitterness from the beans didn’t get lost. I highly doubt I could create anything better than Hoppin’ Frog’s beer, but it’s always fun to reimagine a beer.

The other beer I tired at Hoppin’ Frog was the D.O.R.I.S. the Destroyer Double Imperial Stout. Another easy 5 stars. Fantastic.

I wish we had hours to spend there trying other beers, because great beers like those don’t just happen by accident. I’m guessing I would have uncovered some other phenomenal brews. We did take home a pumpkin ale that I’m really excited to try. They were out of bottles of the barrel-aged pumpkin, or one of those would have come home with us, too.

I can’t say enough great things about this brewery from my 20-minute experience. I will, however, say that I have seen Hoppin’ Frog bottles before and passed them by every time. The cartoon frog on their bottles always seemed a little rudimentary to me, so I never gave the beers a shot. My brain is sometimes hard to turn off “marketing mode” where we make decisions (and money!) based on appearance. Lesson learned. Drink all the beer.

Oh! Aaaaand… I may have heard that Hoppin’ Frog is going to try their hand at some sours soon! Hoping this is true because I’m all in! With 21 GABF and World Beer Cup awards under their belt, I’m excited to start trying more of their beers!

I’ll leave you with those reviews to contemplate so you can anxiously await the next post on my Colorado beercation! I can’t wait to write about that trip and relive all of those phenomenal breweries with phenomenal beers!

Also, I hope you’re okay with sitting through some more life updates, because my beer experiences are about to be greatly impacted by these new life events! (And no, I’m not pregnant. Although I did have a friend ask me if  my Untappd check-in talking about my “secret great news” was because I was pregnant. I doubt there will be a celebratory beer for THAT occasion!)

Blog fuel: Goose Island Halia, Flying Dog Mint Chocolate Stout and Crooked Stave Vieille Artisanal Saison. Halia is my favorite of these, but ALL are GREAT choices. Halia is a farmhouse ale aged on peaches and it’s refreshingly tart. Flying Dog’s Mint Chocolate was an experimental beer that just made it to bottles for Flying Dog’s Brewhouse Rarities. I don’t usually describe stouts as “refreshing”, but the mint does that for this beer! And the Vieille is a solid saison from an absolutely outstanding brewery.

Another Saturday, Another Brewery

Brewery #9: The Gamble Mill, Bellefonte, PA – Feb. 22

I don’t really sit still well. I’ve been a very social person for most of my life, and staying in on the weekends is something that I rarely do, mostly by design. So late Saturday afternoon, I got home from helping my sister judge a competition for most of the day. With no plans for the last part of the day, Ben and I quickly decided to mark another brewery off the list.

Photo credit - The Gamble Mill

Photo credit – The Gamble Mill

The Gamble Mill is a pretty cool brewpub we had been to a few times before, and it’s just about an hour away from us, near State College. The building was an old mill that was condemned and then restored, and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Gamble Mill has two parts. There’s the Microbrewery, which is essentially just the brewpub, as the brewpub is on the second floor, and the brewery is on the first, and isn’t accessible to the public. The second part is what they call the Restaurant and Tavern. We’ve always sat in the Microbrewery section.

The decor is very rustic and warm, which makes for a great getaway on a winter evening in Pennsylvania. The bar utilizes a big chalkboard to call out their draft list and specials, which is something I always like in a brewpub, tasting room, or any bar for that matter. There’s also a stage area where they host live music on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Their beer selection hasn’t varied much in the few times I’ve been there, but they list a good many beers on their website that probably rotate occasionally. I chose the Woolly Bugger Belgian IPA and was impressed! There was a great blend of German, Czech and American hops, and the fruit notes really came out in the aftertaste. Well done! I really love that they list the key ingredients used in each beer on their website, too! (As I work on honing in my tasting skills, it’s always great to get validation!)

Ben and I always want good beer. But the real determining factor in our trip that evening was the great food. There are tons of farms and local food sources in Pennsylvania, and I wish more restaurants and brewpubs utilized local, fresh food sources like Gamble Mill does.

I had the Amish burger, which comes with sharp cheddar cheese, bacon, lettuce and tomato. And I got some BBQ sauce for it, too. I paired this with the Duncan’s Oatmeal Stout, which complemented the cheddar really well. I love a good, medium-done burger, and I rarely get just that! It’s almost stressful ordering a burger, because I know it won’t come out the way I want it most of the time. But Gamble Mill got it right on, and it was cooked to perfection. I’m pretty sure I inhaled it! The next time I go, I want to try their veggie burger made with spent grains!

It wouldn’t have been very “Ben and Janée” of us to just be done and return home immediately, so we left Gamble Mill for nearby State College.

Photo credit - The Deli & Z Bar

Photo credit – The Deli & Z Bar

The Deli & Z Bar is an awesome stop for great beer and great food, and we went there next. The restaurant seating at the smaller tables is the best there is, with super-comfortable, oversized, plush, almost living room furniture-like chairs. Their draft selection is ever-changing, and they occasionally get in some limited production release beers that are difficult to find.

People sometimes ask me what my “favorite beer” is or what the best beer I’ve ever had is. That’s not an easy question to answer! But one of what I consider to be in my top 5 was on draft at The Deli & Z Bar – it was a barrel room collection release from Voodoo Brewery. The Gran Met aged in Laird’s Apple Brandy Barrels. I loved it so much that I asked Ben to age his Old Ale in apple brandy soaked oak chips. (It’s currently aging, and I can’t wait to try it!)

I can always trust that The Deli & Z Bar will have some great choices for me! Last night, I had a Lagunitas Brown Shugga’. I hadn’t tried it before, and it was deceitfully flavored to mask the 9.9% ABV. There were about 5 other beers I had wanted to try, but my liver can only take so much!

The Deli & Z Bar host a “Meet the Brewery” series on Wednesdays in February, March and April. I’ve never made it to one, but I’m hoping to check out one of the nights soon.

After our pit stop at The Deli & Z Bar, we went to another favorite, Zeno’s Pub. Zeno’s boasts a “world-class” score of 98 on Beer Advocate. It’s kind of a hole in the wall basement, almost dungeon-like setting, but one look at the beer selection tells you they mean business. They have over 30 beers on tap and an astonishing bottle list, often boasting some more hard to come by bottles for the area, like Lost Abbey, The Bruery, and Port Brewing.

I had a terrific Redneck Riviera Red on Cask by Voodoo. The bartender (who may have been a manager or the owner), noticed that the cask beer was actually a little too warm. I told him it was still great, and without hesitation, he asked me if I liked English Bitter Ales, to which I said, “Definitely!” And he poured me another beer he told me he thought I’d like – Shepherd Neame’s Spitfire Premium Kentish Ale, which was another great choice.

We ended the night with a quick trip to The Hopshop, which is right next door to The Deli & Z Bar. The Hopshop is a good local bottle shop. These are few and far between in Pennsylvania, as our beer laws are among the most archaic of all 50 states. (More on that in another blog posting, I’m sure!) We grabbed a few bottles we had never tried before, and threw in a few tried and true winners.

It was a good night for beer!

Beer consumed while writing this post: The Bruery 6 Geese-A-Laying, a Belgian Dark Strong Ale. It’s part of the 12 Beers of Christmas series they produce. They brew a new one from the series every year. The 12th and final beer will be released for Christmas 2019. I only discovered The Bruery in their 5th year of existence, just in time to get some bottles of 5 Golden Rings. Every beer in this series is age-able through 2019 so that every beer can be sampled together on the last year. Very fortunately, we’ve been able to come across at least one bottle from each year. It took a lot of work (and yes, a lot of cash) to find the Partridge in a Pear Tree! I look forward to that day in 2019!

The First 8 Breweries

I have some catching up to do on my brewery visit blog check-ins! As you probably already read, this year’s goal is to visit 52 breweries (one for each week, basically). Some of my posts will be reviews and stories from these visits.  Because I already scratched off 6 before I started my blog, I wanted to share my thoughts on those breweries and the 2 I visited this week!

First of all, let’s highlight some of the different categories of breweries that exist (just for fun!):

Production Breweries – These breweries produce beer, sometimes have a tasting room, and package their beer for mostly off-premise sales.

Brewpubs – These are combination restaurant/breweries that sell 25% or more of their beer on-site. (If a brewpub distributes more than 75% of their beer off-site, it is re-categorized as a Microbrewery, according to the Brewers Association.)

Microbreweries – These breweries produce less than 15,000 U.S. barrels of beer per year, with more than 75% of their beer sold off-site. (One U.S. barrel = 31 gallons of beer. Microbreweries produce a little less than half a million gallons per year, to put it into perspective.)

Regional Breweries – Produce between 15,000 and 6,000,000 U.S. barrels per year.

Large Breweries – Produce over 6,000,000 U.S. barrels per year.

Nanobreweries – The Brewers Association has no precise definition of a Nanobrewery, but these are generally considered to be breweries (production or brewpub) that produce no more than 3 U.S. barrels of beer per batch. (The East coast’s greatly revered Dogfish Head started as a nanobrewery on a 10-gallon system, just like the one my husband brews on.)

Contract Brewing Companies – These are businesses that hire another brewery to produce their beer or to help them produce additional beer. There is sometimes a stigma associated with contract brewing companies, but I don’t feel negatively about them, and neither should you. It’s essentially giving a precisely crafted recipe to someone to produce for you. Though some people perceive this to be less authentic, myself, and a lot of other beer aficionados and industry beer geeks have no problems with it.

Any visit that falls under one of these categories counts as one of 52!

I have great respect for anyone who gives brewing (and opening a brewery, for that matter!) a shot. Some do it better than others. That’s how everything in the world works. I give credit to anyone who tries, and I admire those who learn, improve and persevere. I’m visiting nanobreweries, large breweries, and everything in between. Some breweries are still learning. Others have been around the block a few times.

One day, maybe I’ll be a consultant as a Certified Cicerone (or hey, maybe even as a Master Cicerone!), and my opinions will be refined by extensive knowledge and certifications. For today, you guys just get good old Beer Geek Janée and her ever-growing knowledge and of course, always present opinions!

Not all beers are created equal. So it goes without saying that not all breweries are created equal, either. Keeping in mind that my opinions are just my opinions, let’s start!

#1. All Saints Brewing, Greensburg, PA – Jan. 4. Ben and I headed out toward Greensburg for my friend’s birthday festivities later that night, and as usual, we decided to plan some extra time for beer. We hit up House of 1,000 Beers first, which was an excellent choice. Then, we departed for the nearby All Saints Brewing. Their brew house was beautiful, and there was lots of room for expansion here in the warehouse-like building. The tap room was almost hidden in the large warehouse. I had an Archangel Nitro Pale Ale that was decent and a Hallowed Pumpkin Ale that I felt was just mediocre. I’m a HUGE fan of all things pumpkin. Some of my pumpkin favorites include Southern Tier Pumking and Southern Tier Warlock, Dogfish Head Punkin, Flying Dog The Fear, and my husband’s award-winning “Old Lady” Pumpkin Ale. I’m a pumpkin snob, and it takes a lot to impress me. All Saints wasn’t a bad little stop. I’d like to go back sometime to check out some of their other beers to see what else they have to offer.

#2 and #3. Ben is from Southern Virginia, so we travel to see his (our) family down there once every few months. We usually end up hitting at least one brewery on the 6+ hour drive back home. This trip was no exception.

South Street Brewery, Charlottesville, VA – Jan. 12. I’m a detail-oriented person…  I’m big on presentation. (The lengths I go to on Thanksgiving to make dinner a great presentation are ridiculous.) I’m analytical, and tend to be an over-planner. I like things to be done right. With that being said, I can’t overlook one big aspect of the bar here… The fireplace. It sounds completely ridiculous and insignificant. The brick and timber of the brewpub made for an impressive, rustic atmosphere, so it seems like a giant fireplace would suit it well, right?

Breweries generally take great care to produce something you hope tastes great. Most of what we perceive as taste comes from our sense of smell. With so much time dedicated to perfecting the taste of your beer, why would you take no care to ensure that you’re serving this labor of love in an atmosphere that is conducive to great tasting? I ordered an Espresso Porter because the smell of burning wood was so intense, and this was the only style of beer they offered that I knew could hold up to the smell. All I tasted was smoke. What I tasted was decent (as smoked porters are often purposefully produced), but what I tasted wasn’t the beer.  I had NO feel for what the beer was actually intended to be. This is a detail I can’t overlook. It made me sad. It’s literally like taking hours to cook an amazing turkey dinner, only to burn the turkey to a crisp after all that hard work, ruining the taste. Epic. Fail.

Champion Brewing Company, Charlottesville, VA – Jan. 12. After our visit to South Street, this was a breath of fresh air. (See what I just did there?) The atmosphere was open and industrial. I noticed the Cicerone Certified Beer Server certificates on the wall, and instantly felt at ease. The bartender was super-friendly and knowledgeable. Beer is an experience! Actually, it’s like a sporting event. It’s a lot more fun to watch your team when they’re kicking ass and when you’re in the company of kick ass people. These people give a crap about their beer, and it shows! I tried the Stickin’ In My Rye, Tart Berliner Weisse and the Chocolate Cherry Stout. All well done. I feel like this is going to be a great brewery to watch and to keep on my radar. I look forward to stopping there again soon.

#4. Marzoni’s Brick Oven and Brewing, Hollidaysburg, PA – Jan. 21. This is the closest brewery to our house, at only 1.5 miles away. We visit Marzoni’s often for a quick beer, and often to grab a bit to eat, too. Their brick oven pizza is really good, and we love their regular bartender, Dani. My favorite regular brew on tap is their Stone Mason Stout, which I had that night. The other year-round beers aren’t mind-blowing, but they’re decent. I always look forward to their seasonal beers. Not all of them hit it out of the park (or even get on base, for that matter), but the ones that do, do it well. The Weizenbock has always been a favorite of mine, but their recent 10th Anniversary Ale gave it a good run for its money. There was also briefly a Pumpkin Stout that I really enjoyed, but it must have been a very small batch, because I had it the day it came out, went back for more the following day, and it was gone! They recently opened a second restaurant location and got a bottling line and started selling six packs at both locations.

#5. Railroad City Brewing, Altoona, PA – Jan. 31. Though I live in Hollidaysburg now, I was born and raised in Altoona, Hollidaysburg’s neighboring city. Railroad City has only been open for about 2 months. They’re a brand new local nanobrewery. They only sell growlers (and sometimes 22’s) on site at their small brewery. Their tasting room has 3 taps. It’s a buy and fly brewery that is open on select weekends for a few hours at a time. They usually end up closing early and/or running out of growlers due to high demand.

Marzoni’s is all Altoona residents had for a long time, so it’s great to see people flocking to support their new local brewery. My husband had visited the brewery a few weeks earlier, and asked if I could go over and pick up their just released Hefe on this day, as he was stuck working a little late. I told him all the growlers were at home (which would make the trip a lot longer for me), and he told me to just get a new one. I knew better than to go without a growler. When I got there, they had already run out of growlers.

It’s early on, and demand continues to exceed supply. It’s kind of fun to hear that they have a new beer out and to rush over to try to get it before it’s gone. They did have “emergency” cartons that another brewery had told them about that are specifically produced to hold beer for a few hours before immediate consumption. When I got home, I forgot to put the hefe in the fridge while I waited for Ben to come home. Hefeweizens aren’t really beers that warming up does favors for, so I’ll have to try it again when I can get my hands on it! My favorite beer of the handful I’ve had of theirs so far was surprisingly their Gingerbread Ale. I’m not really a fan of gingerbread, and I didn’t expect to like it. But I’m pretty sure I drank the whole growler myself without sharing it with Ben. I’m excited to see what their first year has in store for Railroad City.

#6. Otto’s Pub and Brewery, State College, PA – Jan. 31. State College is only about a 40 minute drive from my house, and Ben and I just decided to go to knock a tried and true brewery off the list after my epic fail on the warm hefe. They’ve grown a lot in the past few years, moving to a much larger building and introducing some 750ml bottles. I love that they use local ingredients from nearby farms and bakeries on their food menu. The food is great there. I had the Blau Burger when we visited and tried the Elderberry Stout for the first time. Good choices and a good pairing. I’m sure we’ll be back there for more in the not too distant future.

Janee at Troegs#7. Troegs Brewing, Hershey, PA – Feb. 6. I’ll have to preface this brewery visit with this somewhat unrelated thought: So, my job is pretty awesome. I’m really lucky to work for a great company that has the kind of fun culture we have. (To make Fortune Magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list, along with the likes of Google, they have to be doing something right.) A very small team of us from my department was in Hershey for work last week. We’re a bunch of food and beverage geeks, and we love checking out innovative and fun food and beverage businesses, both for work and for fun.

See where this is going? We stopped at Troegs for a brewery tour while we were in Hershey. On the way to Hershey, I read a tweet from Troegs announcing that they were releasing their Barrel-Aged Troegenator Doublebock. Impeccable timing. The beer gods were smiling on me. So of course, I bought a bottle. My general rule is that if someone took the time to barrel-age something, it’s probably a solid beer to begin with. I always say yes to barrel-aged.

Troegs has a great brewery, and they’re especially huge on the East coast. People freak out when they’re able to find the highly sought after Nugget Nectar. If you see it on tap anywhere around here, you can expect that the keg will kick in a matter of days.

It’s shocking (and almost a sin) that I hadn’t been there before, as practically every PA beer-loving friend I have has been there. Multiple times.

#8. Flying Dog Brewery, Frederick, MD – Feb. 7. Flying Dog is one of my favorite breweries. (And that says something pretty big!)Gonzofest 2013

Ben and I had planned to take a half day of work on February 3 to drive the 2 plus hours to the brewery for their one day only release of their Barrel-Aged Gonzo Imperial Porter, exclusively available for purchase at the brewery. But the worst snow and ice storm of the winter caused Flying Dog to cancel the event, to be rescheduled for the 7th. Ben wouldn’t be able to get off work early then, but still had planned to head to Maryland when he got off work around 4, in hopes that they would still have beer left. I was really bummed because my work trip conflicted with the new release date.

Again, the beer god were smiling on me. I love my job, and my bosses. Flying Dog was a little off route on our way back home on Friday, but they made the stop there so I could pick up my beer!

The culture that surrounds Flying Dog is great.  I truly believe that passion surrounding a brewery shines through their beer and makes it rise above the rest. “Good people drink good beer” is their tagline, and it’s one of my favorite used by a brewery.

The founder of Flying Dog was close friends with well-known counterculture journalist, Hunter S. Thompson. The artist who illustrated Thompson’s works is the artist who does the artwork for Flying Dog.

Much of Flying Dog’s inspiration comes from Hunter S. Thompson. Flying Dog even has their own beer and music festival on the brewery grounds (complete with food trucks) that they named Gonzofest in honor of the Gonzo style of journalism Thompson created. Check out the picture of Ben and me at Gonzofest from last year!

Barrel-Aged Gonzo

That sums up my brewery visits for the year so far! Stay tuned to see what’s next.

Note that in writing about my job, my opinions and stories are my own, and don’t necessarily represent the viewpoints of my company. Just a friendly reminder!

At the end of every post, I’ll be listing the beers I consumed while writing. (Keep in mind that my writing sometimes spans the course of a few days!) Here are my “blog fuels” for this post: Flying Dog Barrel-Aged Gonzo Imperial Porter, Brouwerij Oud Beersel Oude Kriek Lambic, Port Brewing Board Meeting American Brown Ale and Evil Twin Femme Fatale Noir Black IPA.