Eric's Beer Blog

My online journal for beer (and other drinks) tasting, brewing, tourism, and general musings.

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Location: St. Paul, Minnesota, United States

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Beer trip: Washington

We went to Washington for the Nationals' home opener (got to boo Dick Cheney as he threw out the first pitch, quite ineptly). Of course we went to our favorite Washington restaurant, Dukem. It's Ethiopian cuisine, one of our favorite types of food, and it's the best in the area (though there are many who would disagree, Washington having dozens of fine Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurants). As far as beer goes, if you haven't tried Ethiopian beer, you'll want to do so. My favorite is Hakim Stout, a really good export stout, though the Harar lager is worth tasting too-- it has a nice hint of honey.

But before dinner we had to go to my favorite D.C. bar, The Saloon. It's on the rapidly gentrifying U St., near Ben's Chili Bowl. The Saloon does not have the most impressive beer list in DC (that would probably be the Brickskeller or its cousin R.F.D.), though it's very good and contains beers not to be found anywhere else in town (like Urbock).

What the Saloon has is atmosphere. Not to mention the best bartender I've ever known, Robert. There are lots of regulars and they are very friendly. There are no TVs at the Saloon and the music is not loud. It's all about chatting, with Robert, with Commy the owner, with fellow patrons. This is a place with a character all its own. Witness the following aphorisms, all of which can be found on the main page of the Saloon's menu:

"We do not sell any martini's" (large, in bold face!)
"If for some reason you do not like beer... try our Hot Spiced Wine or Wine Breeze."
"Good Company for a beer: German Apple Schnapps" (and indeed, it is.)
"Please, No Beer for an Empty Stomach: Pistachios $3.00"
"Have a few sips before you order your food-- you might make a better decision." (Commy is quite serious about this, and will generally not allow you to order before you've had half a beer or so)
"Speak softly: Others might not be interested in what you are saying."
"No standing at the bar please."

There are also similar signs around the bar and the rest of the place. It's a unique place.

The beer is generally German (on draft; there is an extensive selection of Belgian beer in bottles) and often stuff you don't normally see elsewhere. The food is standard pub fare, though if you're lucky, the owner might bring you some ethnic specialties.

I miss the Saloon....

Next up: next weekend we're going to Chicago, with a stop first at Three Floyd's Brewery!

Beer trip: New York and Indianapolis

In trying to find the Brooklyn Brewery, which it turns out doesn't have a brewpub and thus was closed when we went there (on a weekend), we ended up at Mug's Ale House, a very fine bar. I can't remember all the beers we had, but most were local stuff-- despite New York's deserved reputation for not really being a good beer town, there is more and more locally made beer in the metro area. The Brooklyn Brewery makes a lot of very fine beer, and several of the other beers we tried at the Ale House were very good. I should have taken notes....

We then went across the street to a fine Polish restaurant, where we enjoyed kielbasa and pierogies for cheap-- entrees at this place were 7 and 8 dollars (with side dishes included). Crazy!

We flew from New York back to Indianapolis. The next day, we were to fly to Washington, D.C., for the Nationals' home opener. So it didn't make sense to drive back to Bloomington for 1 night. We got a hotel room at the airport and went out to dinner at our favorite Indy restaurant-- Brugge Brasserie. A Belgian restaurant and brewpub in Indiana. Hard to believe, eh? But not only does it exist, it is very very good.

The food is great-- especially if you like mussels (I don't). I do enjoy the pommes frittes, which you get with your choice of delicious dipping sauces. And the crepes are excellent ('course, it's hard to mess up crepes).

And then there's the beer. All Belgian style beers. All very good. When I went for the first time, I was disappointed that there weren't more beers available. No such worries this time. The new ones for me were: first, The Black, a dark (duh) beer, great head retention, a big winey, fruity nose. Daniela smelled blackberry jam, I thought I noted chocolate notes. A wine-like, intense, thick and delicious beer.

Next, Saison d'etre, Brugge's take on the catchall Saisson style. A nice cloudy straw color, lots of banana in the nose, along with (Daniela put her finger on it) fresh asparagus (!). You might think that such a scent would be unpleasant in a beer, but it wasn't out of place in this one. A fairly sweet, light, and pleasant beer.

Then, finally, the Quadripple (the name a takeoff on Brugge's Broad Ripple neighborhood ). This beer is alleged to be 11.5%. Some anise in the nose, along with evident alcohol. The alcohol is not overwhelming on the palate, however-- the malt sweetness masks it well. My notes are a bit foggy by this point, though I reported not being too blown away by this beer. The Black was definitely our favorite.

More beer travels: Maine

As I sit here sipping a Dogfish Head Aprihop Ale (truly one of the sublime delights of the season), I'm catching up on my recent beer travels. At the beginning of April, we went to Maine, Connecticut, New York, and Washington, D.C., in a span of 2 weeks. Just prior to that, I had gone to Atlanta and Macon, Georgia, for a weekend.

First, let me dispense with the Georgia part of the trip. As is the case with Memphis, Georgia is not generally thought of as a beer mecca, but there are things worth seeking out there. Of note are the Sweetwater Brewing Company in Atlanta, makers of damned fine beer and awfully nice folks (I've spent several days "working" there in exchange for beer, a practice which in their earlier days was probably more widespread than it is now), and Manuel's Tavern, an historic bar near the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library (see this).

After a hellish trip back from Atlanta (flight delays), we set off for Maine, to do some wedding planning. Of course, no trip to Bar Harbor would be complete without a visit to our friends at the Bar Harbor Brewing Company, Tod and Suzi Foster (no relation). Suzi happened to be in Europe while we were visiting, but Tod was kind enough to chat for a while and to let us taste his two newest beers, which will be released this summer. I should mention that those who are coming to our wedding will have the chance to taste all the goodness that Tod and Suzi produce, since Bar Harbor Brewing is the sole provider of beer at our wedding reception.

I've somehow lost my tasting notes on these beers, so I'll have to go on my month-old recollection. The first new beer is a blueberry ale. It's almost mandatory for Maine brewers to have a blueberry beer (though Sweetwater in Atlanta makes what may be the best one I've ever tried), so it was not really a surprise that BHBC decided to wade into this market.

Their blueberry beer is based on the Harbor Lighthouse Ale, an English mild which also forms the base for their ginger and peach flavored ales. Blueberry beers don't especially excite me, but this is a very nice one. The blueberry flavor is subtle and the beer is not too sweet. It's light, refreshing, and will taste very good on a hot summer day.

Then there's the as-yet-untitled "special amber." This beer was envisioned as a barleywine, but apparently it didn't quite end up with high enough gravity. But the finished product was yummy and Tod liked it. So "special amber" it is. It is about 8% alcohol as I recall, and one certainly notices the punch, though not so much as to be unpleasant. It has a very lovely deep amber color and lots of malty sweetness. Despite only coming in the trademark large bottles, it's definitely a sipping beer.

Of course we also had some of the out-of-this-world Cadillac Mountain Stout, the best selling and most acclaimed beer BHBC makes. I've written about it before. It is the beer I'd most like to be stranded on a desert island with. In fact, if I could be guaranteed a lifelong supply of it, I'd volunteer for desert island stranding, I think...

A few pictures of the Maine trip can be found on our other blog.

Memphis Trip (from March)

Ugh. I tried to post some stuff regarding our trip to Memphis two months or so ago, but my web browser repeatedly crashed. After 2 or 3 attempts where all my beer writing disappeared into the ether, I gave up. But in the spirit of spring cleaning, I'll try to clean up some beer related clutter.

First, Memphis. Memphis is not really known as a beer town-- Elvis, yes. Barbecue, you bet. But you'd probably imagine that the non-Budweiser beer selections would be pretty slim. And for the most part, you'd be right.

But Memphis, where I lived for 5 years, does have its redeeming beer qualities. And foremost among them is Bosco's. Bosco's began with one brewpub in Germantown (a suburb of Memphis), though it now stretches from Nashville to Little Rock and has 3 locations (the original Germantown one having closed down).

What has always really impressed me about Bosco's is that it really created a market for good beer in Memphis. When Bosco's first opened (a few years before I moved to Memphis) it served mostly what I call "entry-level" beers-- a cream ale, a lager, an amber, etc.

But as time went by and it built up a clientele, the beers became more and more serious. A fine IPA. A porter. Stouts of various kinds. Scottish ale. Wee heavy. 90 schilling ale. And so on. In the fullness of time Bosco's began to feature cask-conditioned ale occasionally. Now each location taps a cask every weeknight at 5:00. All bar patrons for the hour or so before get raffle tickets with each pint of beer. At 5:00 a Cellerman is chosen by lot. The Cellerman helps tap the cask, gets a commemorative glass, and enjoys a free first pint of the cask. Then each year there is a Cellerman of the Year party for all the previous year's winners. One lucky cellerman gets an all-expense-paid trip to the Great American Beer Festival.

It's a great idea that more brewpubs should adopt.

Anyway-- no trip to Memphis would be complete without spending some quality time at Bosco's. It happened to be St. Patrick's Day when we were there, so we drank some yummy Irish style stout. I also tried just about all of Bosco's other beers-- a couple of great IPAs, a Scottish ale, maybe a porter. My memory was a bit hazy the next day, and now nearly 2 months later, it's hard to recall. But a good time was had by all.

Bosco's practically had a seat with my name on it for a number of years. And it's always good to visit, even if all the bartenders I knew have moved on.

Oh, and by the way-- we ate a lot of Memphis barbecue while we were in town. The Rendezvous, Corky's, the Cozy Corner, the Germantown Commissary. Yum.