Brewtravels- Burlington, VT

Vermont is basically New England’s craft beer mecca. I traveled there last weekend to visit family and friends. Though I surprisingly didn’t make many plans of visiting breweries, I did get a chance to check out a few local places to drink and hang out and see music.

After getting stuck in traffic with tons of cars with skis and snowboard strapped to the roof, I made it to downtown Burlington. I met up with a friend working at Manhattan Pizza and Pub, which doesn’t sound very “Vermont” at all, but I didn’t let the name fool me. The Friday night special is $5 Heady Toppers and $5 foot long cheesesteak subs, which was exactly what I wanted after the 6 hour (stupid ski traffic) drive up. Of course, I took plenty advantage of this $5 Heady Topper special, but I did also enjoy the 20 taps of additional deliciousness. Their tap list included local VT offerings from Fiddlehead, Switchback, and Citizen Cider, which are unavailable to me in CT, as well as some of my favorites like Maine Brewing Co.’s MO, Founders Breakfast Stout, and Lagunitas Sucks.

It would sadly turn out that the only place I would be able to find that coveted Alchemist IPA would be at bars. I searched a few liquor stores throughout the weekend and was left empty handed (well not really, I picked up a few different beers, of course).

heady

Saturday night was the big Winter Is A Drag Ball at Higher Ground in South Burlington. The venue reminded me of The Outer Space in Hamden, as it had two multiple venues in one. The “Sailors and Mermaids” theme was a huge hit. I rocked a sweet pirate outfit, but it was pretty tame compared to some of the other ensembles, ranging in descriptives from sequined to scantily (or both!). A tribute band to Prince’s Purple Rain kicked off the show in the main room, with acts from local performers taking place onstage throughout the night. Dancing, drinking, and people-watching galore. Not a bad beer selection for a rock club, either. I went for Switchback’s unfiltered pale ale for most of the night, save for a pint of Magic Hat’s local seasonal Maple Chocolate Porter. Not much of a fan of the latter, but it was worth a try since I think it’s only available around their brewery. There’s only so many sweet flavors I can tolerate before my teeth hurt though.

The under-the-sea themed decorations were awesome too, especially the jellyfish chandeliers.

jelly

I found more of them as I walked around Burlington outside!

A few hours (and beers) into the night, I also decided that I needed to get my face painted like David Bowie. So I did.

bowie

For the post partying hangover cure, I got brunch on Sunday at Luenigs on Church Street, with some killer pumpkin french toast on brioche with mascarpone, candied bacon, and of course, plenty of maple syrup. Although their bloody mary selections looked tasty, I opted for the local cider on draft, from Citizen Cider in Essex Junction. I’m not that big a cider fan myself, but the light, subtly sweet bubbly cider was definitely a great breakfast libation.

After exploring downtown Burlington and picking up some wool socks, chocolate, and cheese (I love when my activities coincide with the name of a Ween record!), I stopped for a snack and a pint at Vermont Pub and Brewery. I enjoyed the Dogbite Bitter on cask, which is a really great ESB, that was excellent on cask. Perfect temperature with a slight malty sweetness. It’s brewed with East Kent Golding and Fuggle (possibly my favorite hop varietal, mostly because I like the name, don’t judge me…) The pub also collaborates with other breweries- their current collaborative offering is with Magic Hat Brewing and is a sour IPA brewed with passion fruit.

It was a short trip but I definitely plan on heading back, especially in the summer, because the thought of drinking craft beer on Lake Champlain sounds AWESOME right now with 6 inches of snow on the ground.

Now here are some dog pictures.

doggy

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BrewTravels: Cleveland, OH

Cleveland, the Rock and Roll Capital of the World. Also home to some great breweries and places to eat and enjoy these brews. I visited this fine city a few weeks ago to visit a dear friend of mine. Here are some of the things I ate, record stores I went to, and beers I drank.

On route to Cleveland, I had a layover in Philadelphia, which gave me plenty of time to sit down with a Chocolate Love Stout from the Pennsylvania brewery Yards. I had this in lieu of another cup of coffee when I arrived at the airport at 8:30 AM. Dark, malty, a great winter brew. Jet Rock, the bar at the airport that I had this at was actually really awesome and had a ton of craft beer on tap. Totally a great recommendation if you have a layover there.

When I got to Cleveland, the first food stop was the Happy Dog. Basically for $5 you can get either a meat or vegan dog with anything you want on it. Seriously. Anything. I went for the pimento mac and cheese, ginger sesame coleslaw, black truffle honey mustard, bacon balsamic marmalade, and topped with a fried egg. YUM. I tried the peanut butter cup coffee porter from Ohio brewery Willoughby Brewing, which was good but didn’t really sit well with all those hot dog toppings. I have yet to find a truly great peanut butter beer too, although this one comes pretty close.

3Floyds has limited distribution in Ohio, so I jumped at the chance to find one of their beers on draft at the Happy Dog. They had Gumballhead, the American wheat ale apparently named for an underground comic book cat. It’s definitely the kind of wheat beer I would expect from 3Floyds- full of flavor, with flavors of late summer fruit like peach, orange marmalade, and other citrus notes.

I closed up with a pint of Fat Heads Bumble Berry Honey Blueberry ale. One of the best blueberry ales I’ve ever had by far. Refreshing, but not overly sweet from the honey. It’s a great beer to finish off the last few warm days before autumn begins.

In the evening, I toured Great Lakes Brewing Company. They are celebrating their 25th anniversary as a brewery this year, and have grown exponentially in this time, currently producing 125,000 barrels a year and distribute to 13 states. Their beers are award-winning. The Great American Beer Festival Gold Medalist, Dortmunder Gold, is a favorite at bars all over Cleveland. I tasted the Oktoberfest amber lager, Edmund Fitzgerald porter, and Eliot Ness amber lager. The porter was definitely my favorite, followed by the Eliot Ness and Dortmunder Gold respectively. Both the Dortmunder and the Eliot Ness use Mount Hood hops, but Eliot Ness has a greater variety of malts, including Munich, one of my favorites.

I later went for a pint of the seasonal imperial red ale, Nosferatu. Definitely a nice change from the Oktoberfests and Pumpkin ales of the autumn. Big and hoppy, with an awesome ruby red color.

Inside the brewery, they were working on the popular Christmas Ale, which is brewed with honey, ginger, and cinnamon. Needless to say, it smelled amazing inside there. The Christmas Ale is apparently a popular and sought-after beer in the Cleveland area. As soon as it’s released, people rush after it to enjoy it.

Great Lakes also recently attempted a Sumerian-style beer. I am fascinated by ancient ales and was interested to see how the Cleveland brewery went about this one. First they collaborated with a team of professors from the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. They brewed the beer as close as possible to the way it was made 4,000 years ago, foregoing stainless steel fermenters for ceramic vessels recovered from Iraq, heated over a manure-fueled fire. The beer itself was spiced with cardamom and coriander, and sweetened with dates. The Sumerian beer was unfortunately not available for tasting and won’t be seen around the brewpub anytime soon, however.

My next day in Cleveland involved a trip to Melt, a self-described “bar and grilled”, with grilled cheese sandwiches that can only be described as EPIC. I went for the Parmageddon- which is potato and onion pierogies with napa vodka sauerkraut and sauteed onions sandwiched between two huge slices of bread with cheddar cheese. My drink of choice was a “beerita”, a margarita made with Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA. Really interesting drink! The hoppiness of the IPA balanced out the sweetness of the margarita really well and I didn’t even mind the salt rimmed pint glass.

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Oh yeah. As if this place doesn’t need to be any better, it’s also got a ton of KISS-themed stuff everywhere.

Now That’s Class is a great punk rock bar, with skate ramps in the back room and plenty of cold Schlitz tallboys. After all the cheese and deliciousness I had consumed however, I kept my beer drinking light with a Southern Tier Hop Sun wheat ale. I ventured over for a monthly “noise lunch”, where musicians sign up and create noise music based around a given theme. This month’s theme required musicians to interpret art pieces through their music. It was really great, and unlike anything I had seen before. That’s just one example of the wonderful music and arts scene around Cleveland. In some ways, it reminds me a lot of Brooklyn but less snobby and expensive to live in. Very welcoming for new musicians too.

Speaking of music, there are so many great record stores in the area. My Mind’s Eye was my favorite, where the only Black Sabbath albums in the store were from the Bill Ward-era. Blue Arrow was great too, especially because it doubles as a cat rescue organization in the back. Loop is another shop that does double duty, which is a coffee shop downstairs and a record shop upstairs. I picked up Skeletonwitch’s Forever Abomination on clear and green speckled vinyl (for $7!!), Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, and the Doors Strange Days.

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Speaking of music, at any point that I was in a car during my trip, we generally rocked out to the sweet sounds of one of my favorite college radio stations- WRUW from Case Western Reserve University. I unfortunately missed their annual Studio-A-Rama concert (this year featured Mikal Cronin as the headliner), but I will always support this awesome station and listen online whenever I can at home! A lot of cool local-Cleveland bands and talk shows, and a ton of variety on the airwaves. It’s worth checking out whether you live out there or not!

Other notable places: The Beachland Ballroom (where I had a beer-y Mary with tomato juice, vodka, and Newcastle!), Barrio (which is kind of like a taco version of the Happy Dog where you can pretty much get anything you want on your taco), the Five O’Clock Lounge (where I won a dance contest at the Secret Soul Club), and Nano Brew (which has a bicycle repair station at the back of the bar!). And of course, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum! Seeing all the Rush stuff was a RUSH to say the least… But seriously, it’s probably one of the coolest museums ever.

Thanks to Adam Spektor, host of the Spektrum on WRUW and all the new friends I met while visiting! Can’t wait to come back!

Brew(Piwo)Travels: Poland and Slovakia

I don’t often get to travel, and I have not been to another country aside from Canada until now. However, this past month I traveled to Poland to visit family. I made it a point to sample as many beers as possible while there and figure out which ones are best and what the beer scene is like there. Since it’s so close, I also visited Slovakia, in the old town section of Kosice where my father’s father’s family is from.

I have to admit, beer is not Poland’s strong suit. Obviously, vodka is the drink of choice there. I definitely consumed my share of vodka as well, and surprisingly did not hate it. My favorite was Zubrowka, the bison grass vodka. Not just because I liked the buffalo on the label. It was smooth and easy to drink, which I generally consumed in a shot or mixed with apple juice and a blade of grass.

Now for the beer. The two most-common beers seemed to be Tyskie and Zwyiec. I have had Zwyiec here in the states. After having it in its’ native land as well as America, I have come to the conclusion that in the States, it is way too expensive for a simple lager. However, that said, Zwyiec is not a bad beer when in Poland and it is found pretty much anywhere. Tyskie is common as well; I’m not sure which one I liked better.

For beers at a bar, I liked the Ksiazce Cimene best. It was a dark ale that tasted similar to a bock- malty, somewhat sweet, and easy to drink. I had this in the old town section of Krakow, which was my favorite place that we visited. The nightlife is bustling and there are plenty of places to eat and drink. I liked that there were so many places to go outside, so you could enjoy a drink while watching everything going on in the main square.

I did get a chance to try some Polish craft beer, though. I went to Browar Wojkowka, which is a brewpub not far from the city of Krosno. I was curious about craft brews from Poland, as I noticed their water tasted quite different from much of the water in America. However, there were not many noticeable differences, at least not negative ones. I sampled their 4 brews: a witbier, a pilsner, a milk stout, and a pale ale. I liked the milk stout best. I thought it was so good that I needed to bring a bottle or two home!

More often, I spent time drinking beer at a house rather than a bar, and I drank what I could find at the local store. I found a bottled craft beer from a brewery called Rebel, which was a honey ale and a really interesting beer. I have not had a honey beer with this much flavor. Not sure if I liked it or not because of such a strong honey flavor. I have had a hard time finding more information about the brewery. As far as my research has shown, they are a fairly new brewery and seem to be a subsidiary of Browar Cornelius. I found a review of one of their other beers, a bohemian pilsner, here. My favorite canned beer was called Lech, which had a surprising packaging to me. Although it was more of a lager than an ale, and definitely not a bock, there were rams on the label.

In Slovakia, I had to try a pilsner since it was so close to the birthplace of the classic Czech style pilsner. I had a Staropramen unfiltered that was especially delicious, paired with a dinner of sheep’s cheese gnocchi.

I also found my birthday cake this year:

It really was a great trip, and I would love to explore more about the beers, especially the smaller craft brewing companies. Although they haven’t erupted like they have here in the US, I think that in a few years or less there will be many more smaller breweries throughout eastern Europe.