Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Upstate New York

F.X. Matt Brewery

On December 5, 1933 the Noble Experiment that was Prohibition ended at 12 midnight.  At 12.01am the first beer to be released was the Utica Club Pilsener Lager from the F.X. Matt Brewery Company in Utica, NY.  The brewery started in 1888 by German immigrant Francis Xavier Matt and is still run by the Matt Family today.  This traditional German lagering brewery today produces thier own range under the Saranac label.  It also produces a number of beers under contract, most notably a large proportion for the Brooklyn Brewery, NY.

Before Prohibition, the F.X. Matt Brewery was producing a number of modern-day craft syles including a Porter and an English-style IPA.  Through Prohiition they survived making a range of softdrinks, which they still produce today.  They are also producing conventional craft beer styles such as the Pommegranite Wheat, Pumpkin Ale, Pale Ale, Rye IPA and a great seasonal Imperial IPA at 9%abv which had a huge malt backbone and a very balanced yet aggressive hop character.

Beer can desguised as WW2 grenade.  Release by F.X. Brewing during the war.

The current brewery was commissioned in the 1950's (a brave move post WW2 amongst the prevelant anti-German sentimant).  The lagering capacity of the brewery is quite large.  The most unique difference in the brewhouse here was the Mash Filter.

At one stage, F.X. Matt brewery was one of only 40 or so breweries still operating in the U.S.A.  There was a time where they feared they would have to close, however, the continued on and refused to compromise on quality.  Testamant to this is the number of 'craft brewers' who choose to have F.X. Matt brew many of thier staples and seasonals!  One little known fact is that F.X. Matt brewed that once popular Australian invention Two Dogs alcoholic soda!

Nick Matt, grandson of Francis Xavier, sits as the CEO of the Brewers Associaion and was more than happy to show us around the brewery.   His nephew is CEO of the brewery today.  Great beers from a brewery that will be around for a long time to come!  Thanks Nick for giving us so much of your time.

Nick Matt                                       Francix Xavier Matt

Ommegang Brewery

Close by to Utica, in Cooperstown, is the Ommegang Brewery.  Partly owned by Duvel, the beers coming out of this brewery are remarkable.  On tap at a local restaurant we had the Wit, Belgian Pale, Rare Vos Amber and the Saison.  In bottle, the Three Philosophers and the Ommegedan, a Belgian Strong Ale with brett.  Great beers as you would expect of the Duvel Moortgart Brewery in Belgium.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Brooklyn and NYC

We arrived in Manhattan, NY late in the afternoon on Tuesday.  A long flight from Seattle, a downgrade from some reasonably cheap/clean hotels to a mammoth backpacker hostel, a hot New York summer and a sultry subway meant it was Beer O'clock! 

We headed out to a nice neighbourhood bar near the corner of Amsterdam and 106th (across the road from Mama's Pizza...think the bar was actually called 'Amsterdam 106' may have been 'Amsterdam Dive).  They had a good tap line-up, mostly east coast and international.  But it had a good vibe and the brews were tasting great.

We had heard alot about New York bars.....Blind Tiger, Rattle & Hum, Manhattan it seemed would be the place to see how sharp big city folk would present a beer bar.  Our side trip to Brooklyn Brewery was just that...a side trip.

Our first scheduled brewery visit was late in the afternoon of our first full day.  We decided to check out Brooklyn city first.  We had expected something a little different from what we found.  Instead of gangster rappers shooting each other out on the streets, we found an up-and-coming neighborhood, dog friendly bars and cafe welcoming childrens-prams (Monday to Thursday only thank the Lord).  Its no surprise that real estate was going through the roof and a funky restaurant and bar scene was spreading.

Walking down Court Street we stumbled on Cody's Ale House Grill, it was our first surprise.  A nice old bar with a lot of character and friendly staff.  Staff here say consumption of craft beer over the bar is above average for the area, about 65%.

From there we head for the oldest bar in town, but not without a visit to this cool bottleshop and the growler station.

PJ Hanley's was built by Norweigen settlers in the 1800's.  It was good to see they also had a good tap range of craft beers.  There was a few Coors and the like, however this was a mainstream pub with a great beer garden. 

There was plenty of advice going around about where we should head next.  We decided on Bar Great Harry.  Mo our bartender was a top lady and knew her stuff.  Had some really good taps and bottle list.  Enjoyed a Mikkeller Jackie Brown off tap and a tasty Southern Tier Oak Aged Unearthly.

Brooklyn Brewery was next, and we were well lubricated for it.  Steve Hindy, Owner had given us some time to tour in the afternoon.  The brewery had started a while ago in the 80's when there was not much else in the area.  Many locals credit them with the beginning of the turn-around for the Brooklyn area.

Cat on Malt: Brooklyn Brewery

We were fortunate enough to have Brewmaster Garrett Oliver who took us through a couple of the beers: Seasonal releases Local 1 and Local 2 and the Black Chocolate Stout.

A big day was finished off (and quite quickly) at Spuyten Duyvil in Brooklyn.  A nice space with a cool beer garden out the back.   Not much to say here, as we dont quite remember!

Day two of New York meant another visit to Brooklyn.  Sixpoint Craft Ales a small but rapidly growing micobrewery.  Shane Welch, Brewmaster and Founder took us through a tasting of the beers.  The stand out was the American Brown Ale.  We had a nice burger at Prime Meats (recommended) and headed to a local neighbouhood bar called The Gate.  Not quite the bar you would take some happy tourist snaps in, but friendly none the less and a good beer selection and a beer garden situated right on the corner facing onto the street in a typical Brooklyn neighbourhood.

Barcade was our next stop, a very cool concept.  Walls were lined with 1980's and early 1990's stand up arcade games including the Budweiser Tapper!  Again a good selection and definitley a recommended destination.  Dog friendly if that helps (actually saw two dogs running through the bar sniffing each others butts!).

The night finished up at an iconic Manhattan beer venue, Blind Tiger.  A very well done beer bar catering to a young professional crowd but without the heart & soul of the places we visited in Brooklyn. 

Our last morning in Manhattan was spent enjoying a few pints at Rattle & Hum another beer bar institution.  I would suggest anyone visitng NYC for the beer bar scene to check out the classics but make some time for  Brooklyn.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sleepy Seattle

Pikes Pub & Brewery

We had less than 18 hours in Seattle, a 5:00am wake up call, a lot to see and drink and very little time.  Our first stop was Pikes Pub & Brewery, a cool downtown brewpub with some great inside spaces.

Polished copper kettles and pipes winding their way around the restuarant and hanging over the bar set the mood for some drinks.  Luckily it was happy hour, food included, and we moved through a few pitchers.

The Tandem Double Ale was a real stand out, a dark ale made with Belgian yeast and typical Belgian spices.

The rest of the night was a series of mishaps and long cab rides yet we managed to find a few good brews.

At Hale's Ales we found a brilliant Saison.

At Brouwers Cafe we got stuck into a few, a nicely laid out bar with a giant range of international and local beers on tap and in the bottle.

'Adam' by Hair of the Dog Brewing Company (Adambier) was a stand out. 

Our stay in Seattle was brief, but we managed to squeeze in a few good beers.  It was a shame most things were closing up by 10pm on a Monday night. 

Next stop, the city that never sleeps...New York!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Holy City of Portland

Welcome to Portland, a city whose claim to fame is that one in every two beers consumed is a craft beer!  Our focus in Portland was to the bar scene.  We had done a number of breweries on the West Coast and Colorado, but it was now time to cut loose with no host to maintain any amount of dignity in front of.

Our first stop was a brand new beer bar just opened in a funky neighbourhood.  Apex had a large selection of draught beers, a pretty sick bicycle rack and a good sized beer garden.  It was previously a gas station and the open doors from the bar lead out to the beer garden providing a cohesive vibe between the two.

Our host in Portland, Matt Sage from Bridgeport took us out to Goschie Hop Farm, one hour south of Portland.  Gayle Goschie, 2nd generation hop farmer, showed us the ins and outs of hop farming.  Recently the big boys have cut back their buying which has brought craft beer needs to the fore.  In the last few years, Anheuser Busch have reduced their buying from this farm from 320 000 pound to 90 000 pounds.  We saw probably 100 bails of 200 pound tettnang hop flowers sitting in a warehouse waiting to be dumped.  It is no coincidence that Gayle will be turning her hop growing efforts to suit the need of the craft beer market.

Bridgeport Ale House was a long awaited experience.  So far we had visited bars attached to breweries and a number of neigbourhood bars with a casual approach to beer.  Bridgeport Ale House had a refined atmoshere, solid brews and a good food.  Favourite was the IPA served directly from the tank.  Check out the specially made hop jack below (designed to maximise some seriously limited space in the brewery).

The second day included a number of bars...things did get a little sketchy, but i know we started of at Henry's 12th Streeet Tavern...somewhat of an institution..not of the beer bar variety (though the 100 beers on tap did satiate our requirements).  This was more of a fancy downtown hotel bar, lots of cocktails and some decent pub grub (check out the onion rings below!)

Probably the best pub we found was Horse Brass a traditional english pub a short cab ride out of downtown.  In addition to a great selection of local brews, this quaint timber-laden bar had a good selection of internationally acclaimed brews such as Weihenstephaner and Affligem.  The passionate and knowledgable staff didnt make it hard to pursuade the uninitiated to jump from local to global.  We even shouted some locals a bottle of Duchesse de Bourgogne.  I am ashamed to say, the West Coast IPA had worn a little thin by now.  

Our next stops was, we think, one of the true evolutions of bottleshop retailing, Belmont Station.  A bar where you could enjoy a good slecection of beers with some nice snacks...and right next door, a bottle shop with a more than reasonable selection (over 1000), many of which were in the fridge.  Customers were allowed to select any beer from the bottleshop and drink it in the bar.  The staff were very helpful and the range was not just American...they had a damn fine Belgian collection. Staff were knowledgable and very helpful.

Green Dragon, which has recently been bought by Rogue.  A farily small operation with some open seating good drinking areas.  Sadly, since the buy-out, the brewery only brews one beer (of which we didnt have....were were in and IPA mood).  However, time was short and the news of 12, 000 naked cyclists through the streets of Portland was causing a bit of a tingle. 

The third day was a visit to Deschutes, a great example of the Portland Brewpub beer scene.  Here (as well as Bridgeport) the scene is not just about the beer.  The food, the wine, cocktails, decor, music, coolness.  It seems anybody who is anybody in the brewering industry needs a flagship venue.  A favourite food and beer combo was the Deschutes Porter with Elk Meatballs served with dumplings, in gravy and sour cream. 

Altogether Portland had a lot to offer and the four days we had alotted (two or three days more than most cities) were not nearly enough to cover all the ground in this vibrant beer scene.

A good website to check out if you are Portland bound is http://www.taplister.com/

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Welcome to the Rogue Army

There is a certain kind of awesome macho-ness about boats, BBQ's and big beers.  Newport has it all.  The Rogue Brewery has been somewhat of a highlight on our itinerary mainly because of its relatively wide availability in Australia. 

Jim Cline, Vice President/Manager, met us at the bar where we were enjoying our first beer for the day, the Rogue Morimoto Imperial Pilsner (8.8%abv).   The original Rogue Brewery has been put together with around 13 different types of wood salvaged from a local lumbar yard.  Nothing quite matches up.  Scattered throughout the traditional brewing equipment you will find converted dairy and medical equipment.  None of it bought brand new.

Rogue is by no means the biggest brewing operation we have seen so far.  Every beer in their range comes from this 100 barrel brew house.  But they are arguably the furthers reaching American craft beer into the Australian market.

Tasting highlights  on draught were the XS Imperial IPA, Yellow Snow IPA, Morimoto Pilsner, the hot dogs (smothered in minced beef and black beans) and the oysters...first boiled, then BBQ'd and boiled again in garlic and butter.

We also visited the Rogue distillery and tasted some fine whiskeys and gins.  Though the whiskeys are only aged for a short time on new American white oak, only a fraction of the evaporated spirit is used, 5-7 gallons out of the initial 150 gallons.


No visit to Rogueland is complete without being sworn in to the Rogue Army...and this was no exception. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sierra Nevada

The drive from Santa Rose went pretty quick thanks to Johnny Cash, a random stop for some chewing tobacco and some beef jerky.

The destination today was the Sierra Nevada brewery, one of the largest privately owned craft breweries in the States. Sierra Nevada developed the  definitive style the 'American Pale Ale'.

They have a superbly well rounded range and for a brewery their size it is amazing they still use fresh hop cones for every beer.

Above:  Fresh hop flowers being poured into the kettle.

We met with Terence Sullivan-Assistant Brewmaster and Field Educator for a behind-the-scenes tour. He spoiled us with many tastings directly from the tanks including:

* Draught Pale Ale (a mini version of the classic Pale Ale)
* Vienna Lager
* Chico IPA
* Black IPA
* Brown Barely Wine

They are always playing with seasonal/experimental beers and it was no surprise to see so many oak barrels tucked away for aging and future blending.

The entire site seems to be built around achieving high levels of quality. These guys have installed 10,000 solar pannels, which produces a whopping 83% of the electricity used on site! They have even been given an award for producing ZERO waste for an entire year! As if that isn't enough they have created the only bike that could have all the BeerAmbassadors give up driving completely. A 12 man bike with kegs and taps and a designated driver.

From the Old to the New

San Francisco to Santa Rosa

The morning started with a ferry ride from Oakland to San Francisco and one of the first proper coffees in ten days.. Magic.

First up we took a step back in time and visited the Anchor Brewery. A fairly large operation of an almost Willy Wonker character.

Ancient copper kettles covered in all sorts of taps and hoses and dials, some of which are no longer required, but still used, for traditions sake.

The hop room was fantastic, all cones no pellets. And a massive open vat fermenting room used for their flagship product the Steam Ale.

Other than being the pioneer for Steam Beer they also have the oldest continuously brewed, American examples of Porter and Barley wine.

This is pretty much the birthplace of U.S. craft brewing.  We had a quick chat with Mark Carpenter - Assistant Brewmaster, who had been at the brewery for decades!  He had recently visited Oz and had just made a beer called the Humming Ale using the NZ Nelson Sauvin hop....a good solid beer which represented the hop variety very well. 

After checking the Apple store for the elusive iPad (sold out...again) we went on to have lunch with Jaime Jurado (Trumer Pils) and his colleague Lars Larson (Master Brewer - Trumer Pils). We slammed down some fine fish taco's and a couple of Burritos which punctuated a serious discussion about beer academia. It doesn't get much more serious than fish taco serious.

The guys from Trumer Pils were brilliant hosts and we thank Jaime,  Lars and Darren Moser (also of Trumer Pils). 

Anchor is the symbol of the birth of U.S. craft beer, our next stop, Russian River in Santa Rosa, is recognised at being at the forefront. A range of 18 taps (only one guest beer), Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary, which we hope to have at the brewery in Chico tomorrow).  One seasonal and 16 house brews means that the 17 two Oz. tasting flight is a long and tasty way to learn.

Pliny the Elder lives up to it's name as a giant amongst the West Coast IPA's. And their Belgian Strong Dark, Salvation, is smooth and well balanced.

The food was true beer food....some better than others. A damn hot batch off chicken wings nearly knocked us all out!! Eating pools of hot sauce while drinking super hoppy beers while eating these didnt help!

They did some basic pizza cut into small pieces called Beer Bites with a salsa dip...interesting and a good beer food to share. They are known for their calzones and pizza's but we had to restrain ourselves for fear of overload on carbs. The antipasto was a bit lack luster, nothing more than a selection of pizza toppings thrown on a plastic plate.  Not a worthy for Pliny the Elder.

Above: Antipasto plate at Russian River

We have had some great food over here. Some beer bars have had better fare than others. What is increasingly obvious is that food shares the limelight.  A good example is Magnolias in San Francisco.

Below: Charcuterie and cheese plate at Magnolias

Monday, June 14, 2010

Rest & Recovery

At last!  A day without drinking....well by that we mean, well, I dont know what we mean.  But none us are drunk, which is a good sign!

Our livers were due for a day off, and luckily Jaime Jurado, Director of Brewing Operations, The Gambrinus Company (Trumer Pils and more) had set aside his day to show us the highlights of San Francisco and surrounds.

After finding that the Apple store in downtown San Fran had sold out of iPad's (our tech support guru Jason was going to buy two) we made our way across the bay to visit the Trumer brewery in Berkeley.  The entire site takes up one whole city block, yet there is still an intimate feel and great love for the beer brewed here.  This brewery is dedicated to making one beer only.  Everything is crystal clean, super efficient and quality driven.  Jamie puts the term 'Craft Brewery' into perspective.

We visited a few local bars including the Lucky 13 (where Barney enjoyed a Tripel Karmeliet on tap) and Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon in Jack London Square.  The night was capped off with dinner at a local seafood restaurant and a few bottles of wine (as our livers needed a rest).  However, temptation got the better of us, and we finished the night on an Odells Woodcut No 3, Oak Aged Crimson Ale.  Highly recommended....if you can get it!!!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Colorado and the Rocky Mountains

The Rocky Mountians...a place of , endearment, mystery.....and for the un-initiated Aussie....destruction.

We rolled into town,  Barney had been on the Xanax, so all were relaxed.  First stop, Odells Brewery.  Doug Odell took us on an intimate tour of the brewhouse and an exclusive tasting of barrel aged brews.  These guys are experimenting with some funky belgian yeasts including Brett and are getting some great results with barrel aged beers.  Not only are they pushing the boundaries for beer, but are also trying to minimise thier impact on the environment.  Check out the solar panels below which at peack covers 30%-35% of production demands.

Stand outs were the Sabotuer Brett Barrel Brown, Woodcutter No. 2 Barrel Aged Belgian Golden and the Rice King Ale.  Damn fine beers!

Next was New Belgium....we hear it would be a life-changing experience....this was confirmed by the slide on premises, which took you from the upstairs bar to the lower ground toilets!  Started out with a few imformal drinks at the bar, and the standard tour.  We had the rare privelage of meeting with Lauren Salazar and Chris Keogan, two guru's of New Belgium.  Lauren took us through some barrel tasting of thier sour beers.

I cant tell you how much awesome stuff we tasted, but it included a rare batch of apple whisky.  Needless to say things got a bit hairy and we started the night looking like a Hey Hey skit.

After the Burritos, I cant really be clear on what happened.  But  the next morning, Jason, Tom and Barney awoke to the absence of our friend Miro.  After calling the hospital and local jail and finding no trace of Miro, we set south for Denver.  On the way we received a call from a man with a husky voice saying that he had just woken up at a local Mexican's house.

Luckily we all got the flight in Denver, though Miro's cab fare cost about $200.

Most importantly we out-drank Chris Keogan from New Belgium Brewery, but then again he is only an Irishman!!!