03 Jul 2009 @ 10:34 AM 

Out trip ended in Boston. I used to live in Boston. In fact, Boston is where I learned to love beer, so a return to Boston is always welcome. It’s a good thing we were there for several days, or I wouldn’t have been able to hit all the places, new and old, that I love.
Rock Bottom: Fresh Beers
Our first stop was the Sunset Grill and Tap (beermapping). The Sunset is my favorite bar in the entire world. Really. For truly. For two years in Boston I lived a block away from this place. When I was unhappy with my roommate situation and didn’t want to be in the house, I spent every night at the Sunset for something like 6 months. My bachelor party was upstairs at their sister bar Big City. I cannot ever express my undying love for this bar. So! I’m not really qualified to give any sort of subjective review of this place. It’s like another home to me. So, I’ll just have to talk about the beer we got while we were there.

On a Tweet tip (whether he knew it or not) from Jason Alstrom, I started off with the Great Divide 15th Anniversary Double IPA. My wife, against her better judgment, I think, had a watermelon beer (can’t remember which one: not BBW, not 21st Amendment – no idea) that smelled exactly like watermelon bubblebum from 8 yards away. I can’t really speak to it. It was stunning. I hope she’ll say more about it in comments. The Great Divide was fantastic. Clearly oak aged in a bourbon barrel, it was smooth and big and hoppy and incredibly well-balanced: my favorite thing in an IPA.

My second beer actually ended up being my wife’s second beer. I tried Dogfish Head’s new release: Sah’tea. Here’s what I’ll say: Like every single one of their offerings, I’m glad I tried it. It was this amazing bouquet of chai spices with a mead-like sweetness, and a combination of big fruity and bready flavors. It is pretty much unlike any other beer I have ever tried. Will I have another one? Unlikely. I’m really not a fan of sweet beers. My wife, on the other hand, has talked about going to buy some bottles to make her friends taste.

I finally finished off with something that pretty much stopped me dead in my tracks for a while. I wish I could tell you what it was (and time my jog my memory) what I can tell you is that it was listed at over 150 IBUs at which point my palate said: Enough is enough! It was ALL astringent hops. It is my only memory of the beer. In fact, the only thing that got me going again was a brief trip over to Deep Ellum.

Deep Ellum (beermapping) didn’t exist when I lived in Boston. Their location was once the diviest bar in the area. I can’t tell you how surprised and happy I was to walk into this place and see it well-designed, homey, and comfortable. On a Thursday night it was packed and we had to stand in back of the people sitting at the bar to get drinks. My only complaint was that if you weren’t sitting on something, there wasn’t really a place to hang out without being in some sort of traffic. It’s a small price to pay for ability to order a Cantillon Iris 2005. I can’t review it. It was lovely and amazing. The very fact that I could order it made me happy beyond belief. I really wish my Belgian bars here in NC could see the kind of rotating stock selection and actual reasonable prices clearly available at Deep Ellum.

The next day brought us to a stop at the Cambridge Brewing Company (beermapping), which has also seen a serious upgrade since I lived in Boston. Will Myers has done absolutely magical things here and while the tap list wasn’t 19-long like it was during the Craft Beer Conference, it was still impressive, with a stunning array of Brett fermented and experimental brews. We met friends for dinner. The service was a little slow, but we took it for being a busy Friday night. My wife enjoyed the Arquebus which was nothing short of phenomenal. Here’s the description from their website:

Our 2009 release is at once light and drinkable yet it boasts significant body, and it is almost syrupy smooth in texture without being cloying. Arquebus’ deep golden mien contains beautiful, complex notes of peach and apricot fruit, wildflower honey, toast and coconut oakiness, and soft, tannin-hinted, white grape notes. Malolactic fermentation in the barrel adds a hint of acidity to balance the sweetness of this beer’s finish.

Seriously wonderful, and shockingly clean for a still beer. I had a Reckoning, which didn’t turn out to be nearly as sour as I had expected it, though still dry and refreshing. The aroma far overpowered the flavor, which I felt was brief. I followed this up with an Imperial Skibsøl paired with my chipotle/steak dinner. Phe-freakin’-nomenal. I’ve had two smoked beers at CBC this year and both of them have been stunningly well-balanced. I cannot recommend this beer enough, especially paired with food – the smoke in my chipotle intermingled with the smoke in the beer was nothing short of magical.

Day 3 in Boston brought us to Rock Bottom: Boston (across the street from where we saw Blue Man Group) and Boston Beer Works, Canal Street (which was right down the street from our hotel).

Confession: I’ve never been very impressed with the Rock Bottom location in downtown Boston, and part of that may be a little colored by the fact that I had downright poor experiences with it prior to it ever becoming a Rock Bottom, back when it was the disaster that was Brew Moon’s downtown location. I will admit to being pleasantly surprised. We just grabbed a sampler and left, but the atmosphere was much better than I remember, the service was quick and friendly, and the beers were much better than I remember. Certainly, I had to make it through a sample portion of Lumpy Dog Light which is mediocre at best, but their IPA was downright pleasant, and the wife and I had a great time hanging out before heading over to Boston Beer Works for dinner.

Now, I have always had a good relationship with Boston Beer Works, based solely on their location outside of Fenway. When the Canal Street location opened, I spent some time heading up there because of the pool tables they have (had? I didn’t check.) upstairs. We stopped in for dinner on the way to a friend’s house for a party. I’m always amused when waitstaff feels the need to tell me what beers on their menu are like in terms of other beers: “This is a light lager, which is going to be kind of like a Budweiser, and this is our stout. It’s sort of like a Guinness.” Girl. Don’t sell the beer short. We ended up with what she referred to as, “The two most unique beers on the menu.” My wife ordered a Cherry Bomb, which was (I believe) a farmhouse-style ale – maybe a saison – fermented with tart cherries. It was lovely. Crisp and not at all cloying. I had the Yawkey Way Wheat which the waitress described as a “salt beer.”

“They put salt in it?”

“Ohhh yeah.”

“How much salt?” I asked her.

“A lot.”

In the past, Yawkey Way Wheat has been a Berliner Weisse and it took until I got home and thought about it to realize that the brewer had actually just changed it up a little and made a Gose. It’s a shame the waitress didn’t sell it to me like that. Regardless, it was wonderful. The salt was present, but not overpowering, and the beer was crisp, and tart, and really wonderful. I would drink it again in a heartbeat. If you’re in the Boston area, go find this before it’s gone. It’s not often you’re going to find a Gose on tap in the States.

As ridiculous as it sounds, I feel like we didn’t have enough to time to hit nearly everything that I wanted to in Boston, and I will admit this is far more than I got out to during the CBC. I don’t think that, unless you’re living there, there’s really a good way to experience the beer culture that is in and around Boston. Hands down, fantastic beer city.

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Categories: brewpub, new beer, travel
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 03 Jul 2009 @ 10 34 AM

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 29 Jun 2009 @ 12:56 PM 

Overall, the trip I took this past week wasn’t specifically meant to be a beer trip. There were weddings, there were parents and grandparents, there was work, and meetings, and an academic conference. There were lots of things that you, the casual internet reader, needn’t be bored with.

The last time I went to Quebec City, I was 10 or 11 years old. I only have two solid memories of the experience:

1. They had a 2-story McDonalds.
2. They had a zoo.

This trip was decidedly different. It was primarily a sober trip, for reasons that I won’t get into. In short, we spent a lot of time near the excellent Centre de recherche du CHUL – the Children’s Hospital.

Still, as it turns out, there was beer.
Avec limes
Our hotel turned out to have a pleasing selection of beer on their menu. They had, in bottles, Unibroue’s La Fin Du Monde and Blanche de Chambly, as well as a wide selection of Canada’s finest light lager offerings: Labatt’s, Moosehead, Molson, et al. On draft, they had offerings from a local microbrewery Microbrasserie Archibald (beermapping). I was able to sample La Chipie (an APA listed as a “rousse”), La Matante (a blonde), La Bris du Lac (a Helles Pilsner), and La Joufflue (a wit, listed as a “blanche”). I found the Bris du Lac and the La Matante to be rather unremarkable, pale lagers. They were well-made, but I’m not a blonde lager kind of guy, usually. I wouldn’t order them again if the other offerings were available. La Chipie was really interesting. I’m not sure I would have called it an APA before seeing it listed that way on the website. It had a nice hop aroma, a good hop bite at the end, and a big round malty sweetness to it, but “rousse,” meaning (I think) “redhead” made me think “red ale” which stuck my mind on an Irish Track that the maltiness, and especially the color, fit quite well. La Joufflue was good – crisp and cloudy, heavy on the wheat, and lightly fruity. What really struck me is that they all had a very similar flavor that I was having a hard time placing. I chalk it up to them either using the same hops across all their beers, the same yeast, or a flavor profile in the water.

We also had a little time to walk around the old part of the city, which is beautiful. It’s worth the trip up to QC just to take a walk on the old city wall. It’s just gorgeous.

On our way down, we stopped for lunch at L’Inox Maîtres Brasseurs (beermapping). It’s a beautiful little location in a strip of restaurants with outdoor seating. From what we could tell, they offered two things for food: hot dogs and nachos. We got hot dogs. As it turns out, it’s not really fair to call them hot dogs. What we we received were thin Alsace-style sausages inside baguettes with dijon mustard. They were fantastic. We didn’t get a chance to try more than one beer, since the waitress brought us a pitcher of their blanche (with lots of limes). We had more stops that we wanted to make, so didn’t want to get TOO tipsy. I am happy to report, however, that the blanche avec la citron vert was perfect on a sunny afternoon. Refreshing and clean, light fruit hints, no banana or clove to speak of. One of the things that I noticed here, sitting next to us in the shade, were two elderly women – obviously locals – just chatting it up over a couple of pints of ESB. It was a really great picture, and great to see.
Mmm.. Faro
Our next (and, sadly, final) beer stop in QC was done off of a tip via Twitter from @OldQuebec who clearly has some good search term filtering going on. We stopped by Pub Saint-Alexandre (not yet in beermapping, but submitted), a beer bar down in the old port. They had 200 beers on the menu, none of them American. The list of countries was impressive, but to be fair, outside of the usual suspects (England, Belgium, Canada, Germany), the contributions from other countries were largely their version of mass market light lager: Tsing Tao (China), Cruzcampo (Spain), Mythos (Greek), Moretti (Italy), Asahi and Sapporo (Japan), Corona (Mexico), Steinlager (New Zealand), Sagres (Portugal), Swiss Mountain (Switzerland), Carib (Trinidad). On the other hand, it was also the first place I have ever been able to order a bottle of Faro, and I enjoyed every sip of it. It’s well worth checking out – you can see their beer list on their website.

One thing worth noting about both of the beer places that I went to was that it was ‘pay as you go,’ with no option to open a tab (as far as we could tell), which is fine if you’re prepared with cash. We knew our stay was short, so we were on plastic and it meant running the credit card after every beer, which was a little transaction-intensive over the whole day. Be ready.

More later in the week, as we return to the States. [continued here]

 08 May 2009 @ 9:39 AM 

Lemme tell you a story.

Every restaurant, bar, and brewpub knows the importance of good waitstaff and bartenders, but I’d like to underscore this with personal experience: my personal story as a consumer and NOT as an enormous beer geek with a huge ego.

I currently get paid by UNC Chapel Hill. Every Friday that I can, I like to take myself out to lunch. Since it’s closest to campus my usual stop was the Top of the Hill. Great burger, decent brewpub (even if they all share a similar character that I can’t, for the life of me, pin down), and a revolving door of stunningly beautiful waitstaff who can’t be bothered to tell me the time of day. I don’t know why. I’m unobtrusive, I tip really well, and sometimes I want to talk about the beer. How bad is that? (I should note: The assistant brewmaster recognizes me on sight, says hi, and talks beer with me – even did at the CBC. It always makes me smile. Great guy.)

After a while, I got a little irritated with waiting for the waitstaff at TotH and decided that, long lunches be damned, I was going to head down to the Carolina Brewery. Mind you, this requires me to go get my car, go find a place to park at the brewery, have lunch, then drive back and walk in from my parking garage. I cannot, in any way, eat my lunch in under an hour there. In order to do this, I have to come into work early or leave late… at least in theory.

I still go back to TotH occasionally, but not often. Why? Because the Carolina Brewery makes me feel loved.

Of course, there’s still a revolving door of waitstaff and bartenders. After all, it’s a college town. You can’t keep people around for that long. Since the 2nd or 3rd week that I’ve been going there, when I walk in the door I am generally greeted with, “Erik! What’s up?” (The exceptions are when there’s somebody new behind the bar.)

Why on earth would I want to go anywhere else?

On Tuesday night, I was out at a different bar enjoying a few lovely Belgian beers when I ran into my normal Friday lunch bartender. He was watching a show across the street at the Cat’s Cradle, and had come over to the bar I was in for a drink. He was wearing a Carolina Brewery Flagship IPA t-shirt. “Hey! Erik!” He introduced me to his lady friend, we shot the shit. He asked me if I knew what the pint night at Tyler’s Taproom was that night and then gestured to his t-shirt with pride. “See you Friday!” he said as he left the bar.

Brewpubs, take note: This guy is a model representative for his brewpub. They couldn’t ask for a better employee, and it should be rewarded. Happy, friendly, interested in his customers and proud and knowledgeable of the beer that they serve. It makes me a loyal (and frequent) customer.

Hell, I can’t wait to go to lunch today.

What about you? What makes a great bartender/waitstaff in your estimation? Where are they?

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