Category Archives: Beer

Heading Home

To condense over a week’s worth of stuff into a short sentence:

I visited a bunch of breweries, a couple of wineries, and some friends.

Check out this view from my friends’ backyard, just outside of Reno:

Deserts are cool.

Deserts are cool.

On my way across Nevada (I’m taking the interstate back to speed things up a bit), I passed this sign (I didn’t stop to take the picture; I figured, correctly, that someone had already posted it on the internet):

I find your lack of trees disturbing.

Tonight, I’m in Salt Lake City. As I discovered on my last adventure, Utah does, indeed, have good beer. But they have weird laws about them. Still, I was able to find a brewery, Red Rock, and sample some of their delicious beers – and I even brought one back to my hotel, one of the few Russian Imperial Stouts I’ve seen apart from Old Rasputin.

There are quite a few breweries here, actually, so I’ll have to come back sometime.

Tomorrow, I don’t know where I’m going, apart from eastward. So much depends on weather.

California

On New Year’s Day, I drove through Nevada. I wanted to make it all the way to Livermore, California in one day – possible, but a longer drive than I’d gotten used to. Instead of my usual leisurely pace of about 6 hours in a day, I was looking at 12. Nothing I haven’t done many times – just not this trip.

Area 51 has a gas station.

Area 51 has a gas station.

This put me on top of the Sierras well after sunset.

It’s cold on the Sierras. It’s dark. It’s empty. So of course, despite being pressed for time, shaking from what I thought was exhaustion and fatigue, I had to stop for just a few minutes.

The stars, when seen from that altitude, with the air clear from being cold and dry, can only be believed if seen. I’ve looked at pictures, too, of course, but none of them come even close to capturing the sheer awesomeness of the night sky from a high mountain range with no Earthly light to drown them out.

I stared into infinity.

Fortunately, it had the courtesy to not stare back, or they’d have found my cold, stiff body by now.

On the other hand, I can’t think of too many better ways to go.

Spoiler: I survived and made it to my friends’ house, where I promptly infected everyone there with a cold I didn’t even know I had until later the next day.

So I haven’t been doing much, this last week. Quick trip to the pit known as Stockton and to Lodi, which is much nicer than CCR would have you believe; I wouldn’t mind getting stuck there. One trip to San Ramon to a place with really, really good beer – but mediocre food, and way too many TV screens.

So many TV screens, in fact, that I made a discovery. I’m sure everyone reading this already knew about this, but remember, I don’t watch sports and I don’t have cable. So the only way I could be exposed to this atrocity was by sitting at a sports bar, which I also tend to avoid.

The discovery?

There exists a GOLF channel.

There is a channel, on cable, devoted entirely to GOLF.

I do believe that this is one of the signs of the apocalypse. Of course, as I write this, we’re watching a TV show where paint is drying – but that is less boring than the golf channel.

But I have the antidote, if only people will listen to me. And this is it:

There is desperate need for a Drinking Channel.

Think about it. We already have golf channels and fishing channels and probably channels devoted to grass growing. The Drinking Channel would be WAY more interesting than any of these. They could go into how various fermented and distilled beverages are made. They could spotlight a different brewer, vintner, or distiller every day. There could be bartenders making their favorite drinks, much as the cooking channel does with food. They could follow around some guy who’s trying to visit every brewery in the continental US.

There is NO downside with this.

“But it will promote drinking!” I hear from that little voice in the back row.

Why, yes. Yes, it will. That’s why there’s no downside to this.

Well, okay, one downside: Cable TV will soon go the way of the video rental store, and this is also a good thing. There could still be a Drinking Channel on the internet.

If I weren’t so lazy, I might even consider working for them.

Another Year, Another Beer

Now, look. I know some people have to travel with kids. I mean, sure, one of the reasons I like to hang out in casinos is there aren’t that many kids around being obnoxious. When I do see them, usually they’re being controlled by their parents lest they wander out onto the casino floor or into a bar and see adults actually having fun.

But then, sometimes, I espy a vile abomination such as this one.

One's bad enough, but now they're cloning them??!

One’s bad enough, but now they’re cloning them??!

After seeing the horrible visage of the mouthless one (twice, even though I was sober), I really, really needed a beer or six. Fortunately, there was Triple 7.

Beer at the bar. Bar beer. Beer bar.

Beer at the bar. Bar beer. Beer bar.

It is, as I post this, already 2014 back home, but here in Nevada there’s still over an hour to go, so I’m still in 2013.

New Year’s, of course, is traditionally a time of introspection, retrospection and whatever you call looking to the future spection. It’s also a time for getting drunk.

Because I’m a contrarian, I’m not drunk tonight. As for the other stuff, well, I’ve had a lot of time to think while I’ve been on the road, just me and the music and the scenery. I’ve thought about my triumphs and failures, wins and losses, and I thought about how I might work on improving myself in the coming calendar year. What I could do to make myself a better person, be more sociable, have more fun, do more things, be kinder to children and be a positive force in the world…

….nah, fuck it.

Too much like work.

Too much like work.

Hey, you got Chicago in my Vegas

So today I made a dangerous discovery.

That discovery is that there’s at least one brewpub in Las Vegas that is open and serving beer all day, every day. And all night. 24/7, as they say. I still don’t know why that expression annoys me, but it does.

Don't ask me why it's named Chicago. It's not cold, windy, or smelly.

Don’t ask me why it’s named Chicago. It’s not cold, windy, or smelly.

This is dangerous, of course, because I’m not one who believes there is a proper time of day to drink beer. It’s not just for breakfast, you know. Nor is there a proper time of day to not drink beer.

Oh, and did I mention the place also has a cigar lounge?

Why, again, do I not live in Nevada?

Oh, yeah, because I’d be broke in a week. Or possibly dead.

Many places here are open 24 hours, incidentally. There are, as far as I can tell, none of those silly laws about when you can or cannot buy or consume beer. Virginia has silly laws like that. Bars have to close by 2 am, if I recall correctly, and shops can’t sell beer between midnight and six am (though they may have changed that law recently – I don’t have to buy it at those hours because I’m usually stocked up). Haven’t run across much of anything like that in Vegas. Places seem to open and close when they feel like it. It makes finding snacks at 4 am much easier.

Anyway, I had a good day at the blackjack table. Good enough that I decided to try some Kobe beef. Well, not real Kobe beef from Japan, but the same kind of dead cow, only the cow, when it was alive, lived in Idaho. I’m not sure it lives up to the hype, but further research may be necessary.

Tomorrow, I’ll see if I can visit more brewpubs. I was here in August, but I got sick, which kind of puts a damper on the whole “tasting” part of beer tasting.

North Vegas

Had to get this pic as I was leaving Page:

Because I'm actually 12.

Slot. Canyon. Hummer. Adventures.

Sign me up!

Anyway, lots of long stretches of nothing today. Nothing, that is, except freaking amazing scenery.

Like this.

Like this.

And this.

And this.

And then, approaching Las Vegas, I saw the city shrouded in mist (okay, it’s probably smog. But I’ll call it mist.)

I'm now *breathing* that stuff.

I’m now *breathing* that stuff.

This afternoon, I found a hotel near a brewery. Though that’s rarely worked out for me before, I’m not one to learn from my mistakes. Fortunately, it’s a good hotel and a good brewery: Tenaya Creek. I was there during a brief visit to Vegas this summer, but it was so good I had to go again.

As an aside, Tenaya Creek doesn’t do food, so first I stopped at a taphouse (even closer to the hotel; both these places are in walking distance) called Aces & Ales. Amazing, absolutely stunning, beer selection – but my primary focus is, of course, visiting actual breweries.

Tenaya Creek does what a lot of places in Vegas do: they have video gambling at the bar. If you’re gambling, your drinks are “free.” I put “free” in quotes because like every other game in Vegas, it’s horribly slanted in favor of the house. And the more you drink, the more money you put into the gambling machine. Science proves this.

So, basically, I had the most expensive beer EVER.

Worth it.

Turn the Page

Rumors that I pick my daily stops for their pun potential are completely unfounded. Maybe.

But let’s first go back to Alamosa, where a weather report indicated that the overnight temperature would be dropping well below 0°F, which the temperature should never do. Ever. There are warmer places on freaking Mars right now.

But this was my dashboard as I was about to drive out of town:

NOPE

Nope.

Yeah, I just have one thing to say to that:

Yeah, that’s a great big tub full of NOPE.

Once I got out of that accursed valley, though, temperatures rose to a balmy mid-20s.

I passed through Pagosa Springs, Colorado, too early to do anything but take pictures of this too-hipster-for-words brewpub:

I'm sure you liked this one before it was cool.

It’s too small to see here, but Kermit the Frog is desperately trying to escape from the upper window.

I did, however, manage to make it to this one in Cortez, Colorado by lunchtime (at which point, by the way, the temperature had climbed up into the mid-50s):

Oh look, a brewery in Colorado! How rare! Not.

Never did find out what those orange cones were for.

I hung around this also unbelievably hipster town (I’m sensing a theme here for Colorado) for an hour or so, because at that point I really needed to a) stretch my legs and b) apologize to the glowing yellow thing in the sky for calling it “the accursed daystar” and thank it for making the temperature a little bit less NOPE.

The rest of the trip today took me through Ute and Navajo country once more; you may recall I went through it last year. In fact, this route took me right past the Four Corners monument, though I didn’t feel the need to stop there again.

On the road to Page, I encountered some more awesome scenery.

Clearly, I wasn't the sole visitor.

I hereby name this place the Valley of Lost Soles.

Upon reaching Page, which is a small town just south of the Arizona-Utah border, I looked for a place that would sell me some Navajo frybread, which is as good a reason as any to be alive and have taste buds. But there wasn’t any. Instead, I found something far, far more dangerous – a sushi bar within walking distance. Okay, well, the sushi part wasn’t so dangerous, but it was also a bar bar. And they had sake. And absinthe.

I don’t remember much after that, but apparently I made it back to the hotel, and the reason this post is later than usual is I had to wait until I only had one screen to look at.

I’m pretty close to Vegas, now, less than a day away. Unfortunately, my reservation there doesn’t start until Sunday afternoon. I still haven’t decided whether to find another place in Vegas for one night, or maybe stay somewhere else. You’ll find out tomorrow. Later today, I mean.

Remember the Alamosa!

A couple of days ago, my friend Elizabeth commented thus:

Probably, the best thing about crossing Kansas will be that, when you are done, you can say…. wait for it…. “I’m not in Kansas anymore.” Sorry if I stole that one from you but, hey, you’re better than that, right?

No, Elizabeth. No. I am NOT better than that. I was totally going to use that and now I can’t. Nor can I think of anything involving Toto, scarecrows, tin men, or yellow brick roads.

Still, this morning, I got the hell out of Dodge.

After a bit of the flat flatness that I was expecting out of Kansas and eastern Colorado, I started getting treated to views like this one:

The Rocky Road?

Plains, plains, plains, plains, MOUNTAINS.

Ended up in a town in Colorado called Alamosa.

I’d never even heard of Alamosa, so I had no real idea what to expect. Imagine, then, my joy when I discovered this, in downtown Alamosa:

Not that brewpubs are uncommon in Colorado

And the heavens opened and seven angels sang…

They know how to make beer in Colorado. I hear even Coors used to be good before it went national. Had lunch there, sampled a few of the brews, and found them pleasing.

Anyway, it turns out Alamosa’s a small college town along the Rio Grande (yes, the Rio Grande stretches up into Colorado), and it sits in a valley that’s about 7500 feet above sea level.

Water boils at about 198F at 7500 feet. I guess that doesn’t stop them from making beer.

No worries about water boiling tonight, though – the forecast calls for -10F overnight. So no, I won’t be leaving the heated hotel room. Not even for beer.

Missouri Loves Company

Yes, I was up early enough to see a sunrise.

Look! A picture! Of a sunrise!

This morning, heading west from Cape Girardeau, I saw a column of flaming red light in my mirror. Sadly, it wasn’t Cape Girardeau on fire, but rather the rising of the accursed daystar. Unfortunately, the picture doesn’t really do it justice. But the column of red light isn’t a camera artifact; it was actually there in the sky. I’m just guessing, but I think the effect was the result of sunlight refracting through, or maybe reflecting off, atmospheric ice particles. Or both.

It was certainly cold enough to have atmospheric ice particles.

I made it to Springfield today, and called it quits there because I found a microbrewery.

Maybe Missouri isn't that bad after all.

An oasis of beer in a desert of Coke.

This place had a small, but wide, selection of beers – it wasn’t all IPAs like you find at some places. In fact, there wasn’t an IPA. The nod to the hopheads was in the form of a California-style American Pale Ale, which was actually pretty good. Personally, I thought their Doppelbock was most awesome, but it’s a seasonal beer for them.

Another reason on the plus side of traveling in the winter – breweries are more inclined to make darker beers.

As we all know, every state has a place named Springfield. It’s probably why The Simpsons named its town Springfield. I looked for a monorail, but didn’t find it.

What I did find was that Springfield, MO, among whatever other claims to fame it might have, was the birthplace of Route 66. That is, the push to make Route 66 an official thing in the highway system came from some dude in Springfield. I’m sure it only went through this city by pure coincidence.

So, of course, being a road geek, I had to stay in a Route 66 themed motel tonight.

I want the car.

It’s a cheap motel along Route 66. How could I not?

According to the motel‘s ever-changing sign, ELVIS (in all caps) stayed here in 1956. And on a cold, windy night, if you listen really, really hard, you can hear… the wind. So I don’t know if that’s true or not.

Route 66 itself, of course, was decommissioned in the 1980s, but it’s got enough history attached to it for localities to hold on to the past, however irrelevant it might be today. The Interstates made Route 66 obsolete, and even if it still existed, it wouldn’t be the Mother Road that it used to be. Most people see roads as a means of getting from one point to the next as quickly as possible, which is fine as far as it goes, but it means that a lot of the reason to travel on 66 disappears: the businesses and services dedicated to travelers.

Such services now cluster, lonely and bright and incorporated, around interstate exits. Such is change.

Still, one day, for historic reasons, I’d like to travel the length of the classic route, just to do it. Well, one of the classic routes, anyway. Like every other road, it was subject to numerous shifts and reroutes over the course of time.

This trip is not that day – when I do that, I’ll want to start in Chicago and go all the way, and plan it so I’m following as much of the original route as possible.

Of course, I’ve already been on portions of it; you may remember my post after leaving Winslow, Arizona a couple years back – that’s an example of a preserved section of 66 going through a town.

Still no snow in the forecast for the next couple of days, so I’m going to keep heading west. Now watch there be a blizzard.

All Dried Up

I meant to leave home at the solstice yesterday, for purely symbolic reasons, but I couldn’t get my crap together fast enough.

Also shamelessly stolen

Symbolic because of this.

No matter, though – I got to my friend Mike’s house outside of Roanoke in time for us to go into the city and get some kick-ass barbecue and beer.

Neither place was a brewery, but that’s never stopped me before. I did sample a couple of brews the BBQ joint had on tap and, uncharacteristically for me, I ordered an IPA. I don’t usually like IPAs because a) they’re too hoppy and b) they’re too popular. But all of the beer snob sites assure me that the Next Big Things in Craft Brewing are sours.

Compared to sours, IPAs are nectar. Sours are just that – sour. I was sampling some sours at a brewery in Richmond one day a couple months ago, among their other selections, and by the time I was done there, I was just buzzed enough to hand the sample glasses back to the bartender – all empty except for the three sours, which I’d dutifully tasted, made faces at, and left most of behind – and reply to her question about how I liked the beers with, “Great, except for the sours. I just can’t drink something that tastes the same going down as it does coming back up.”

Really, I’m not usually that rude. I still feel bad about it.

But it’s true.

Anyway, so, I guess some IPAs aren’t that bad after all. And some of them make a fine accompaniment to real Southern barbecue.

Then we caught the first part of a blues act. This 17 year old ginger kid was seriously singing the blues at this other bar in Roanoke. I really don’t know how you get to be that good at the blues when you’re 17. And ginger. Well, at least we know that, unlike Robert Johnson, this kid won’t be able to sell his soul – being ginger and all.

. . .

This morning, after seeing that there’s a fairly clear forecast across the middle of the US, I just pointed my GPS at Vegas, told it to avoid highways, and drove through the incredibly cool (as long as you don’t stop to listen for banjos) Appalachians, in Virginia, a bit of West Virginia, and Kentucky.

Now, since one of my purposes here is to see the countryside, I decided that when it started to get dark, I’d find a place to stay. It’s even harder to see the country in the dark than it is from an interstate.

This landed me in a little city called Monticello (yes, named after a famous landmark from home) in south-central Kentucky.

And then I discovered the true horror of south-central Kentucky:

This is a dry county.

Not that I’d planned on drinking anything tonight. It’s the principle of the thing, dammit.

I think I found the one decent restaurant in town, incidentally. Well, decent except for the no-alcohol thing. The place had a horse for a logo, which I trust was because this is Kentucky horse country and not for the same reason that a lot of barbecue restaurants have pigs in the logo. I’m pretty sure the whinnying sound I heard when I bit into the steak sandwich was my new phone making unfamiliar noises.

I’m going to try to get an early start tomorrow, get out of this hellpit* as soon as I can. No idea where I’ll end up tomorrow night.

Hopefully not Arkansas.

. . .

*the hotel is actually quite nice. It’s just that ALL dry counties are automatically hellpits.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

I’ve come to the conclusion that if you don’t care for Mexican-style food, you should stay the hell away from New Mexico.

Me? I love the stuff. After being entirely unable to find tonight’s designated brewpub (Second Street Brewery), I drove around until I found a different brewpub, Blue Corn Cafe and Brewery. Good beer, if a bit too much emphasis on IPAs, and excellent food.

It was important to me that I find one brewery or another, because tomorrow, I leave the water desert and enter… the beer desert. No breweries in the Beertabase near my route for a few days.

First thing this morning, though, the route took me near Four Corners – the one spot in the entire country where four states come to a common point: Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.

That concept always struck me as kinda cool but mostly silly. After all, the state boundaries are largely arbitrary in that region; most don’t follow anything real like rivers or mountain ridges. But I’ve spent most of my adult life working for and with surveyors, so from that perspective, I wanted to see it.

The official corner, complete with tourists.

Which means that I finally managed to set foot in Colorado (a stopover at the Denver airport twenty years ago does not count).

Two things, though:

First of all, the site not only divides four states, but two nations: Navajo and Ute. The Navajo maintain the site, and they’ve got booths set up in all four states for a massive marketplace. And the stuff they sell is pretty cool – some of the usual tourist trap crap, but also some very awesome art and jewelry.

But the greatest amusement value, for me, is that it’s in the wrong place.

The geographical coordinates, based on Wikipedia (which as we know may or may not be correct, but the point remains that the point’s off), are: 36°59′56.31532″N 109°02′42.62019″W. While the longitude is fairly close (it was never meant to be based on Greenwich-standard meridians, which are the ones used on maps these days), the latitude should have been exactly 37 degrees north.

Without getting too technical, though, I’ll first say that the corner is the corner – the surveyed point takes precedence over any theoretical values; this is a principle that holds true for most surveyed lines. And considering that the latitude line was surveyed around the turn of the last century, before any kind of GPS or modern survey techniques, I’d say they were damn good.

See, surveying a straight north/south line – a longitude line – is pretty simple, once you know the longitude of a given point (which is itself tricky – it requires an accurate timepiece and knowledge of where certain celestial bodies should be at a given time) you just survey a straight line north or south. Simple in principle – though it still requires good survey skills.

In contrast to the mathematical trickiness of determining longitude, determining latitude is fairly simple: you set up a level instrument and take the angle from horizontal to celestial north, which is close to but not spot on the North Star, Polaris. (Or the south celestial pole if you’re in that other hemisphere.) That angle is your latitude – if you’re at sea level, which is useful for sailors. Takes skill, sure, and there are complications, such as local elevation above sea level (which itself is fairly arbitrary on a world with tides). With a quick search, I couldn’t find the actual elevation of Four Corners, but it’s very roughly a mile above mean sea level (based on signs in the vicinity that proclaim a 5000 foot elevation).

Okay, I’m getting too technical after all, but just one more point: while a latitude line appears straight and horizontal on a Mercator map projection, when you’re on the ground surveying the thing, every so often you have to bend the line to approximate a very large radius curve – it’s not a “straight line” from the perspective of spherical geometry. The only latitude line that’s truly straight (ignoring the curvature of the earth) is the equator. Look at the 37th parallel from a point on the 37th parallel, viewing east or west, and there’ll be a very slight curve to the north.

So, all things considered, it’s pretty damn close. We could get it much, much closer with modern GPS surveying techniques, and you’d find that spot to be located about a third of a mile away. But again, it doesn’t matter – because the surveyed boundary takes precedence over the theoretical one.

Surveying isn’t a glamorous profession, even though at least two of the U.S. Founding Fathers (Washington and Jefferson) practiced it, but they have some pretty serious responsibility in a country where land boundaries determine so much.

Okay, enough about that. Back to important stuff.

When I was going through my Beertabase, I discovered another unique thing in New Mexico: an abbey brewery. Common in Europe (some of my very favorite beers are from Belgian monasteries), you don’t get a lot of that in the U.S. As far as I know, this is the only one (if there’s another, I’ll find it eventually). And it was close to my route – close enough to the route, but remote enough from other places, that I knew that if I didn’t visit the [warning: audio on the linked page seems to start automatically] Monastery of Christ in the Desert on this trip, I might not ever make it there again.

Just in case it’s not clear, that is not the building where they make the beer.

So I drove 16 miles along a single-lane, rutted, gravel road, past some of the most amazing scenery I’ve encountered, and then had to walk the final 1/3 mile or so to the gift shop.

Where I discovered that they don’t actually sell the beer there.

In fact, disappointingly, I think they contract with some other brewery to actually make the beer – but from what I understand, it’s still under their supervision, and the trip was totally worth it, so… no regrets.

I probably should point out that I’m not Catholic. In fact, I’m not religious in any conventional sense – unless you count what Ben Franklin supposedly said: “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” But you don’t have to be religious to appreciate the scenery, setting, solitude or serenity of the place.

I even got to meet one of the monks, at their gift shop, where I made some small keepsake purchases (including a little book on abbey-style brewing around the world). Anything to support the Cause (that is, the Cause of promoting craft brewing regardless of the religious or political affiliation of the brewers).

On the way from there to Santa Fe – a good hour’s drive – I stopped in a local convenience store and picked up a six-pack of their Abbey Ale. Haven’t had any, yet, but I will.

I’ll just leave you with one more pic to give you a better idea of the setting.

Yep. Totally worth my car’s ruined suspension. (Just kidding – my Subaru can take way worse than that)