Monthly Archives: May 2014

A Rodenbach Grand Cru in the Fridge, Or a Six-Pack of Lesser Beer Down the Hatch?

Addendum (24 August 2014):

When I read the theme for September’s edition of The Session, it seemed an ideal occasion to share something I had written earlier this summer. September’s Session topic, My First Belgian,Session Friday - Logo 1 comes to us courtesy of Breandán and Elisa of Belgian Smaak, a blog dedicated to Belgian beer and chocolate.

While the piece below isn’t, technically, about the first Belgian beer I ever had––that honour goes to the several Tripels I mistook for Pilseners on my first night in Bruges in the early 1990s (hey, I was young)––it is, tangentially, about my first sour beer. Hopefully the piece will serve as encouragement for those who are still sitting on the fence about these intriguing beers.

* * *

To age a sour beer, or not to age it? How long will a sour beer keep?

Say you’re at your local bottle shop and standing in front of a shelf and spy a few Belgian sours that have been marked down. Should you buy them?

Recently I received a note from one of my readers asking questions along those lines. After re-reading my response, I thought that some of it might be useful for other readers. What follows is a slightly altered and expanded version of the response I sent XYZ, posted with his permission.

*Note: I employ the term “sour” in the broadest sense, without making distinctions between Flanders Red, Oud Bruin, Gueuze, Lambic, Gose, Berliner Weisse, or any sour that would fall vaguely under the rubric of “farmhouse ale” or North American wild ale. Though united by their sourness or tartness, the different processes associated with each style produce beers that are entirely unique. Not all of these beers are suitable for aging.

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dear tempest,

my local bottle shop has a deal on bacchus sour ale, $3.99/bottle, which they say is very low (they say it’s usually $8 a pop, the internet says it’s usually $6 a pop). these are probably at discount b/c they were bottled late fall 2011. tried a bottle, seemed tasty, but maybe i was in a good mood. how well does sour ale keep, is this a good deal or should i pass on buying more and go straight for the duchess or the petrus pale ale at $1-2 more a bottle? or should we destitute graduate students give up on the pretensions of one fine beer a week, and go for six shitty buds instead? which produces a better dissertation? which produces a faster dissertation? does that distinction matter?

yours, XYZPetrus Oud Bruin (brouwerijdebrabandere.be)

Dear XYZ,

As soon as I saw the word “dissertation,” I put two and two together – which, as I’m sure you know, equals five. Notes from Underneath the Weight of a Dissertation. I’ve been there.

Anyway, Bacchus: I haven’t actually had the Bacchus sour yet. As far as the price goes, it compares favourably with beers such as Duchesse de Bourgogne and Petrus. In terms of bottle age, I’d be inclined to take the chance––certain sour beers can be reliable candidates for cellaring. I don’t have much experience in this field myself, but I have laid down a few Gueuzes for the long term, and once managed to save up three different vintages of Goose Island’s Sofie for a vertical tasting. (Tasting notes here.) Incidentally, a few weeks back I had the pleasure of tasting two vintages of Choc’s Gose from their Signature series: a 2012 and a 2013. I hadn’t thought of Gose as a style that age would flatter, but the 2012 had developed fuller, more complex flavours and a more intense but nuanced sourness. How – or whether – these flavours will develop over the long term, though, is anybody’s guess.

Before I go any further, here’s a caveat and an anecdote. First off, the caveat: sour beers tend to be lower in ABV (alcohol percentage); typically, beers lower in alcohol won’t stand up to cellaring as well as, say, barley wines or imperial stouts. But even at their lightest – a Lambic or Gueuze, for example – sour beers are the product of an interesting cocktail of “domesticated” and “wild” yeast (most predominant being Brettanomyces), usually acting in concert with bacteria (such as Lactobacillus and Pediococcus) that would contribute otherwise undesirable aromas and flavours to other beer styles––acetic acid, or a lactic or citrusy tartness, for example. What’s interesting, though, is that different strains of Bettanomyces yeast and different kinds of bacteria will express themselves at varying stages of the aging process, adding nuances along the way. Introduce a bit of barrel aging, and you have a whole new layer of complexity. If you want a baseline for comparison with a “similar-but-different” variety of farmhouse beer, here’s an interesting article from Draft Magazine on aging Saisons.

And now for the anecdote. It was early spring and, like you, my dissertation held me firmly in its clutches. In need of a much-needed break, I went to the bottle shop with a close friend who was also in the process of expanding his appreciation of beer.HarvestStrawBalesSchleswig-Holstein (commons-wikimedia-org) Both of us had plenty of experience with wine and spirits, but we weren’t quite prepared for what awaited us in that small bottle of Gueuze on which we had just dropped northwards of twelve bucks. BrockhausEfronEncyclopedicDictionary_b35_043-0 (Wiki-Commons)Man, it smelled rankly pungent. Bandaid! Old hay! Horse blanket! Barnyard! It even smelled vaguely like washed-rind cheese. And it tasted, well, sour. And somehow not quite right. At any rate, we didn’t taste much of the beer, for by the time we had smelled it, we were already plenty convinced that this bottle of beer had given up the ghost. Back we went to the bottle shop.

Why am I relating this anecdote? Well, the Gueuze in question was vintage-dated, and had a few years of age on it. The only thing I knew about these kinds of beers at the time is that they were supposed to develop with age. But bandaid and barnyard? I protested loudly, and demanded a refund. The folks at the counter suggested – very diplomatically, given the circumstances – that perhaps this was a style of beer that would take some getting used to. To no avail.

Eventually, though, I learned that Gueuzes and Lambics (and the various other sour beers I’ve tasted since) have their own distinct charm. But it took some time for me to appreciate these beers and their potential for aging.

So buy those Bacchus sours. Taste one now, and lay one down. If you have the extra cash, get the Duchesse and a Petrus and do a tasting with all three. If you had to pick one over the others – and I suppose the issue of choice is a component of your question – I’d go with the Duchesse, but only because it’s one of my favourite beers. If you’ve had the Duchesse already, the different beers that Petrus offers are, for the most part, excellent too.Rodenbach-Grand-Cru (belgianbeercafe-net-nz) You can’t go wrong with Rodenbach’s Grand Cru either – even as a destitute grad student. Even better: splurge on a Rodenbach Vintage if your bottle shop carries it and crack it when you’re done your dissertation. And while you’re spending your hard-earned graduate stipend, don’t forget about some of the excellent producers of sour beers and farmhouse ales that have sprung up on this side of the pond, such as Crooked Stave, Stillwater Artisanal Ales, Jester King, Prairie Artisan Ales, and Jolly Pumpkin, just to name a few.

Which brings us to your final set of questions: the relationship between drinking fine beverages and finishing that dissertation. I don’t know what you’re writing about, but I’d be willing to wager that one Rodenbach Grand Cru in the fridge is worth far more than any number of Buds in your gullet. The Rodenbach might cost more than a flat of macro brew, but hey, that’s what being a pretentious grad student’s all about – assuming, of course, that you uphold certain pretenses. So drink the better beer when you can afford it. Doing so might not produce a better dissertation in the end, but chances are you’ll feel happier basking in the glow of an imperial stout buzz when your writing stalls than you’d feel after downing a 6er of Bud and trying to fill that blank page with sage thoughts.

Better versus faster: the only good dissertation is a done dissertation. I’m sure you’ve heard that before.

Cheers,

Tempest

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Related Tempest Articles:

A Twist of Sour: New Belgium’s La Folie and Verhaeghe’s Duchesse de Bourgogne

Three Vintages of Goose Island’s Sofie

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Images:

Petrus: brouwerijdebrabandere.be

Harvest Straw Bales in Schleswig-Holstein: Wiki Commons

Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary: Wiki Commons

Rodenbach: belgianbeercafe.net.nz

© Franz D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Wyoming’s Craft Beer Scene: A Snapshot from a Moving Vehicle

Cheyenne arrived after about fourteen hours on the road. It was Saturday evening, but the streets were still and quiet for a state capital and county seat.IMG_9810 We threaded our way into the center of town, stopping for the night at the Plains Hotel, a National Historic Landmark built in 1911 and redolent of more prosperous times.

In an earlier piece introducing this particular Tempest road trip from the southern center of the U.S. to the southwest of Canada, I posed a rhetorical question: What happens when you leave town on a long road trip without having done any research on the various brew scenes dotting your route? Cheyenne on this particular evening and Laramie on the following morning proved to be fitting, if contrasting, responses to this question.

The Plains Hotel is emblematic of a town trying to formulate a contemporary identity as many of its downtown architectural gems built around the turn of the twentieth century lie vacant.IMG_9833 “Whether it’s high-energy rodeo or the culture of high tea! Cheyenne has it all. Enjoy great shopping or take in the flavor of the west with our Frontier Days.” So declares one of the city’s official websites. At any rate, the town’s visual iconography favours buckskin and horses over high tea, followed closely by the railway of a bygone era. To be sure, Cheyenne is still a busy railroad junction, but the city’s former train station and railway depot – now home to one of the few craft beer-serving taproom/brewpubs in town – is a symbolic center that gestures nostalgically to a prosperity and vitality that had long since boarded the train and headed west. IMG_9837

On this Friday evening in April, 2014, Cheyenne evinces a palpable grittiness I haven’t felt since I visited Edmonton’s storied Strathcona Hotel in the White Avenue section of town, or took in a live-music show at the Ivanhoe in Vancouver’s Main and Terminal area before it was swept up in the highrise and condo real-estate boom. Long-haired, pierced and tattooed twenty-somethings leaned against seemingly abandoned buildings, shrouded in smoke. Everywhere the strains of harder-edged music. The first stage of gentrification? Probably not. That role has accrued to brewpubs and taprooms, I note sardonically. But that’s another and much longer story of urban renewal and its controversies.

Tonight – for better or for worse, depending on whether you’re a critical urban geographer or an intrepid twenty-first-century beer writer in search of a drink – I’m in a city that hasn’t experienced much in the way of late twentieth-century or early twenty-first-century urban renewal. Which means that the brewpub and taproom scene is, well, virtually non-existent. Or maybe just inchoate. The Freedom’s Edge Brewing Company was in the process of moving when we were in town, and the Shadows Pub and Grill was, inexplicably, out of all but one of their house-brewed beers.Shadows PubGrill The one they did have available – Big D’s Pale Ale – was pleasant if unassuming.Odell Cutthroat Porter (odellbrewing-com) Fortunately, though, the brewpub had outside offerings on tap, like Odell’s Cutthroat Porter, which went well with their hearty and reasonably-priced Bourbon Creek BBQ Burger. Indeed, burgers seem to be the brewpub’s strong suit, so if you wind up in Cheyenne in the mood for a burger and in need of something to wash it down, you could do worse, especially if you don’t mind a little NHL hockey on the screens dotting the bar.

Easter Sunday in Cheyenne translated into a dearth of caffeine options, so we saddled up and headed westward into the mountains in search of our A.M. java fix.IMG_1338 The interstate swept ever higher into the Rockies, the ubiquitous and intricately-latticed snowdrift breaks along the road hinting that these regions see more than a casual dusting of winter snow. About an hour later we found ourselves in the midst of a crisp and milky-hued late morning in Laramie, a high mountain plains town nestled between the Laramie and Snowy Ranges. Laramie is notable for its path-breaking stance on equal rights for women – in 1870, a resident became the first woman to cast a legal vote in a United States general election. The city has also attracted an unwanted notoriety as the site of the 1998 torture and murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming. That was several years ago now, but Laramie still conveys the impression of different demographics coexisting warily along parallel tracks.

Like the river and the county in Wyoming, Laramie takes its name from Jacques La Ramée (rendered alternately as La Remy),J LaRemy (geni-com) a French-Canadian fur trader who disappeared mysteriously in the woods round about 1820 or 1821 out on a trapping expedition. Until the completion of the first transcontinental railway in 1868, Laramie was a staging post along the Oregon Trail. It was, by some accounts, a rather unruly place. By 1880, Wyoming was a territory, but the town’s first mayor lasted a mere three weeks, declaring Laramie “ungovernable” before stepping down.

Today, Laramie’s Main Street area is adorned with brick facades fronting buildings from the area’s frontier hey-day, just like in Cheyenne. But unlike Cheyenne, Laramie’s small but vibrant downtown proved to be an ideal place for us to rustle up a decent cup of coffee on this fine Sunday.Coal Creek Exterior (website) Just off the main drag cutting a north-south axis through the center of town and brushing up against the train tracks, we happened upon Coal Creek Coffee Company, a café that draws an eclectic mix of young couples out for a morning stroll and students who had colonized tables with their books, clearly intent on a long afternoon of study.

While paying for our coffees and pastries, I inquired about local brewpubs and breweries should I find myself in the area again. The server directed my attention to a door that someone had just opened onto an adjacent room. Welcome to Coal Creek TAP, a then-five-week-old nano-brewery attached to the coffee company, open for business from noon on Easter no less. A serendipitous find indeed. And, with its white-tiled bar area, textured ochre walls, and subdued natural light, a very comfortable place for an early afternoon refreshment.IMG_9855 Colby, the assistant brewer, took us through their fine offerings, which included a well-rounded Belgian amber with fruity esters and a caramel-toast malt profile, a nutty and chocolaty brown ale with a hint of smokiness from the roasted malts, and a rich and flavourful double IPA featuring El Dorado and Simcoe hops.

Alas, we could linger in neither Laramie nor Wyoming, for we had arrangements to stay with a friend that evening in Logan, Utah. Had we have had more time, though, here’s a brief list of what Colby recommended: Altitude Chophouse and Brewery (also in Laramie), which took a gold medal at the 2014 World Beer Cup for their Altbier; Snake River Brewing in Jackson, WY, a two-time recipient of a GABF medal for Small Brewery of the Year and Wyoming’s oldest brewery; and Wind River Brewing Co. in Pinedale, WY, which also garnered a 2014 World Beer Cup medal for its porter.

So there you have it: if passing through Wyoming on the I-80 from east to west, stop in Cheyenne for a satisfying burger, but don’t expect a craft beer mecca. An hour further up the road and into the mountains is where the craft beer action begins. I’m already looking forward to our next road trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Grand Teton Sign (Jackie and Leon)

Odds and Ends

If you visit Cheyenne, the Plains Hotel is a reasonably-priced accommodation option in spite of its opulent appearance – cheaper, in fact, than the anodyne chain motels that line the I-25 and the I-80 on the outskirts of town. A further word on that opulent appearance: the lobby has been carefully restored, but not the rooms. The trade-off for beds in the form of V-shaped valleys is a location about as central as one could ask for.

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Historical information on Laramie: Albany County Visitors’ Guide, Albany County Tourism Board, 2013.

Images:

Plains Hotel Lobby: F.D. Hofer

Wrangler Hotel and former railway station: F.D. Hofer

Plaza in Cheyenne: F.D. Hofer

Shadows Pub and Grill: www.shadowspubandgrill.com

Cutthroat Porter: www.odellbrewing.com

I-80, Wyoming: F.D. Hofer

Jacques La Remy: www.geni.com

Coal Creek Coffee Company: www.coalcreekcoffee.com

Coal Creek TAP: F.D. Hofer

Grand Tetons: Courtesy of Jackie and Leon Lee

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Tempest’s Tankard Ratings and Austin’s Best Brews

Welcome to Tempest’s final post in the Austin craft beer series. In this segment, I unveil my “Tankard” ratings so you can easily find both the finest beers and purveyors of those brews when you visit Austin. If you’re looking for more specific aspects of Austin’s vibrant scene, click here for brewpubs, here for breweries, and here for taprooms and bottle shops.

Austin Map (tourtexas-com)

Austin is awash with fermented beverages, which can make drink decisions both intriguing and intimidating. For the purposes of this segment, I’ve decided to suspend my usual injunction against ranking beers so that you can get a sense of which beers stand out from what’s already a very solid field.

Against Ratings

One of the reasons I’m wary about introducing rankings and ratings to my beer features and brewery profiles is because even though I recognize the value of ratings in certain cases, I’m cognizant of the extent to which environment and other factors exert a sometimes imperceptible influence on my perception of a beverage. None of the ratings I offer here is cast in stone. If I were to try all of these beverages blind or under otherwise different circumstances, I might reach conclusions that are at odds with my initial impressions. (It’s happened before – label and brand expectations can play an unconscious and often underappreciated role in our judgment and evaluation.) Sampling a horizontal flight of, say, Pilseners from a variety of producers will affect my perception – and hence my evaluation – in a different manner than if I were drinking them in isolation, or alongside a number of styles. If I were to taste a beer, wine, saké, or spirit today as a component of a structured tasting and then drink the same beverages tomorrow as an accompaniment to a memorable dinner shared with close friends or family, my impressions may well diverge in subtle but potentially significant ways: Same beverage, different locale and different time of the day.

Tankards, Tankards, and More Tankards

Tankard - Classic PewterWith those caveats aside, I offer my tankard system in place of more common rating systems. Rather than trying to include every beverage I sampled during my stay in Austin, I’ve devised a rating system that highlights what I think are among the best beers, breweries, brewpubs, taprooms, and bottle shops a city or region has to offer. Since I’m not particularly enamoured of reducing aesthetic pleasures to numbers, I’ve ruled out numerical rankings. Instead, I’ll award “tankards” to some of the beverages I evaluate. Not unlike the Michelin star system used for dining establishments, only the most impressive beverages receive tankards.

A few points:

1. I’ve heard great things about several brews from Austin in particular and Texas in general. If one of the generally-accepted standouts is not listed here, it’s either because I haven’t gotten around to trying the beer yet (the most likely scenario – the Jester King Atrial Rubicite resting in my cellar is a case in point), or because the beer wasn’t in season (I was in Austin in early winter, and missed some of the weightier beer releases), or because the beer didn’t deliver on its reputation (which is not beyond the realm of possibility).

2. If a beverage does not receive a tankard, this does not necessarily indicate that the beverage is subpar. Now, if I were to include a catch-all category comprising all of the beverages that receive no tankards, this category would include drinks ranging from run-of-the-mill to quite good. In other words, if someone at a barbeque or dinner party offered me a beer at the higher end of the range, I’d have no problem tipping back my glass.

3. Occasionally, breweries, brewpubs, and taverns find their way into these listings if they merit a special trip.

4. With the exception of breweries, brewpubs, taprooms, and bottle shops, listings are in alphabetical order.

5. Entries with an asterisk (*) represent beverages I’ve tasted in a place other than at the brewpub or brewery – usually at a taproom, sometimes in the comfort of my home.

How Does It All Shake Out?

  • One tankard: A very fine beverage. A cut above and a few ounces taller than other beverages.
  • Two tankards: An excellent beverage. Worth searching out, preferably at its place of production or, if that’s not possible, then at a taproom or liquor store.
  • Three tankards: Exceptional. An absolute aesthetic pleasure, one that blends the Kantian sublime with Proust’s literary account of aromas and the gustatory delights of Babette’s Feast. A beer that could find a place on any hypothetical Top-25 list I’d concoct.

TankardTiledX3Tempest’s Austin Faves

One Tankard:

Flix Brewhouse. Brambler Sour. Barrel-aged for fifteen months; blackberry purée added prior to kegging. Broadly in the Flemish red style, with bright sour cherry, horse blanket funk, wood notes, and a vinous character reminiscent of Cabernet Franc. A mild nutty caramel note counters the sour pepper-lemon flavours, while a buoyant cherry/blackberry acidity predominates throughout.

Jester King. Boxer’s Revenge. Farmhouse/Wild-Fermented Beer (aged in whiskey and wine barrels). Sour caramel, allspice, and pine needles. Rich and citrusy palate with pungent oak-Brett. At 10.2% ABV, watch out for this sour beer’s left hook.

*Live Oak. Hefeweizen. Sampled at The Brass Tap, Round Rock. Fine example that does a good job of walking the clove/banana tightrope, but a touch light in the mid-section. More malt richness would make this a stellar beer.

IMG_9550Pinthouse Pizza. Bearded Seal. Dry Irish Stout. A bit potent for the style (6.1% ABV), but with a deft blend of freshly-roasted coffee beans, espresso, and café au lait.

*Real Ale. Hans’ Pils. Pilsener. Canned. Clean, crisp, and dry; an austere northern German-style Pils with that characteristic bitter hop note the Germans call “herb,” which combines dry, bitter, astringent, herbal, and spicy into one difficult-to-translate flavour/sensation package.

Rogness. Tenebrous Stout. Raspberry Seasonal. Rich but restrained; harmonious integration of fruit, malt, and yeast character.

Uncle Billy’s. Humbucker Helles. A Munich Helles featuring bready malts with a mild toast accent. Rich and full-bodied, with soft notes of citrus and grassy hops rounding out toasty and fine-grained malt.

____________NXNW - Growler-Logo

North by Northwest. Brewpub. Compelling diversity of traditional and experimental beers, with food and ambience to match.

Sunset Mini Mart. Bottle Shop. A local institution and an absolute gem, especially considering that it’s nominally a Citgo gas station convenience store.

Two Tankards:

The ABGB. Industry. Pilsener. Hops are a quiet force in this beer, floral-perfumed and spicy. Well-rounded on the palate, with a dry, crisp finish.

*Argus Cidery. 2011 Bandera Brût. Sparkling Hard Cider. Cinnamon-spiced apple with prominent, hay-like Brett character, and pleasantly acidic.

Jester King. Ol’ Oi. Sour Brown Ale/American Wild Ale. Rich, complex, and with great depth. Combines caramel with aged balsamic vinegar notes.

*Real Ale. Sisyphus. Barley Wine. Bottled. Extended Tempest review here.

North by Northwest. Holiday Ale. Grab one when it’s released, but hold onto it for a few years. The best ones I sampled had one to two years of bottle age. Three years out and the beer develops interesting Oloroso sherry notes.

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Craft Pride. Taproom. Excellent selection of beers from Austin and from Texas more generally. And that’s it. But this is not a bad thing, especially with several dozen taps dedicated to the finest Texan beer. Knowledgeable serving staff. Great woodwork. Be sure to check out the well-curated bottle shop next store. IMG_9575

Jester King. Brewery and Taproom. The hype is much-deserved. A predominantly sour and wild-fermented lineup that is both well conceived and well crafted. But you probably already knew that. Side note: Great flat-crust pizza next door at Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza. Maybe you didn’t know that.

Three Tankards:

*512. Pecan Porter. Sampled at The Brass Tap in Round Rock. What’s not to like about rich and buttery pecan-maple accents in a well-crafted smoky porter? Roast notes and creamy coffee on the palate, balanced by a vivacious mineral carbonation. Finish is as long as a total eclipse is black.

The ABGB. Hell Yes. Munich Helles. Rich but crisp and refreshing; clean bready malts with a touch of honey and a subtle grassy minerality. The embodiment of finesse.

*Austin Beer Works. Sputnik. Coffee Imperial Stout. A Texas stand-out. I had mine at Craft Pride. Freshly-ground coffee aromas, Tia Maria, dark caramel malt, and an infinitely chocolaty rich roast on the palate.

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ABGB Glass 2The ABGB. Beer Garden/Brewery. Exquisitely balanced beers, whether lagers or hop-forward and higher-ABV offerings. Urban beer garden with an amicable vibe; beer hall with a spare, industrial-warehouse aesthetic.

Postscript:

If you’ve been to Austin, what stands out for you? Feel free to share your favourite beers, breweries, brewpubs, taprooms, and bottle shops by clicking “Leave a Reply” above.

Images:

Austin map: www.tourtexas.com

Pewter tankard: www.germansteins.com

Tempest’s tankard: F.D. Hofer

Pinthouse Pizza: F.D. Hofer

NXNW: courtesy of NXNW

Jester King brewhouse: F.D. Hofer

The ABGB beer garden: theabgb.com

Tempest Hits the Open Road: Dispatches from the Beerways of North America

Stillwater dawned blue-skied, the late spring heat held in check by a gentle southerly breeze. One last sweep of the house to make sure we had everything for our trip.IMG_5863 Warm clothes for the mountains. Coolers for the beer and wine we planned to haul back. And passports. Vancouver beckoned, far away.

After dispatching a set of keys to a friend and fellow homebrewer who had agreed to tend the Kölsch and Scotch ale I had fermenting in the garage fridge, we set off on our road trip to celebrate an important anniversary with family and friends. In between lay some twenty-five hundred miles of asphalt joining high plains, mountain passes, desolate wasteland, and verdant farmland. That, and a few breweries, brewpubs, bottle shops, and taprooms.

North Americans have long maintained an infatuation with the open road stretched across limitless horizons and punctuated, occasionally, by saw-toothed mountain ranges – a fascination with the long-distance journey that predates both the automobile and the transcontinental railway.IMG_9879 With naught but two weeks for our entire trek, though, we had to roll. Plenty of distance, but a dearth of time. Time trumped our desire to tarry with the wind-hewn mesas of Utah, or the trout streams, woods and sequestered mountain valleys of Montana and nearby Yellowstone. Distance – this broad expanse of a continent telescoped somewhat by Eisenhower’s postwar Interstate system – remained absolute, as if to spite a modernity countersigned by the automobile. Massive slabs of granite thrust at angles a mile into the sky remain impressive, even at seventy miles per hour.

Beer Travel on a Shoestring Temporal Budget

Time and distance also had a predictable effect on how I approached the beerscape of the various regions we traversed. Several thousand miles took precedence over carefully-orchestrated beer travel. The result? Brewery and brewpub drop-ins that were pleasantly haphazard – a welcome change from the (albeit enjoyable) brewery visits I’ve arranged since starting work on A Tempest in a Tankard. This time around, the absence of advance planning allowed me a bit more freedom as a critic – an interesting issue I’ll address at length in a future piece. And it left the door open to serendipitous discoveries unclouded by the prejudices and pre-selections that invariably accompany the planning of itineraries.

What happens when you leave town on a long road trip without having done much research on the various brew scenes dotting your route? After a week of exploration around the time of 2013’s GABF, I have a good sense of what flows from the taps in Denver, Boulder, and Fort Collins. The same goes for Oregon and Washington, mainly because a fair number of their beers enjoy wide distribution. But what about places like Idaho? Sure, I can name a few breweries, but their beers rarely find their way into my stein.IMG_9826 What would we find if we were to just roll into a town like Cheyenne, Wyoming, without knowing what the city or region had to offer? And British Columbia? I grew up in Vancouver’s shadow, but haven’t spent much time in that rainy city since its beer scene began to burgeon.

A Beer at the End of the Line: Cheyenne

Oklahoma and Kansas blended together, the horizon interrupted only by farmhouses, small towns, cattle, and bluffs planted to slow down the wind.

And the wind. Relentless and virtually unhindered, save for the ant-train of cars and eighteen-wheelers snaking their way westward along the I-70, the wind was a constant wall scouring the land, bending trees in an eternal northward bow.

Arrow-straight the I-70 unfolds until, near the state line separating Kansas from Colorado, the road curves back and forth to form a wry smile and a wink. An ironic commentary: still several leagues to travel before any obstacle other than critters or wayward livestock will block your path. But the terrain starts to rise, imperceptibly. And imperceptibly, the landscape takes on a more rugged countenance, scored by gorges and canyons delineating the ubiquitous and lonesome ranch lands.

The wind has abated and we pull off the road, like so many before us, to rest under an afternoon sun that has baked the ground beneath us golden.Oregon Trail - 1907 (Wiki) But unlike those intrepid wagon-train travelers who passed to the north of us a century-and-a-half ago along the Oregon Trail, we doze off serenaded not by the susurrus of the prairie grassland. No, great-great-grand children of the Industrial Revolution and contemporaries of the Information Age, we catch snippets of sleep laced with the pre-recorded National Weather Service forecast broadcasting itself in its strangely-intonated digital monotone, mingling with the purr of engines and the hushed whisper of tires flowing along the asphalt stream yonder.

Just as the fog in that poem, dusk comes on little cat feet. Less so the Front Range of the Rockies, looming up in the distance beyond the glass and steel spires of Denver, shrouded in a veil of cloudy twilight. After hours of westward travel, we thread our way along the seam that separates the foothills from the plains spreading all the way to the Great Lakes, destination Cheyenne. IMG_9861

But where’s the damn beer?

~ Stay tuned ~

Images:

Vancouver’s English Bay: F.D. Hofer

Western Idaho portion of the Oregon Trail: F.D. Hofer

Storefront, Cheyenne, WY: F.D. Hofer

Oregon Trail Map (1907), from Ezra Meeker, The Ox Team, or the Old Oregon Trail, 1852-1906: Wikipedia

Wyoming Welcome: F.D. Hofer