Monthly Archives: June 2014

Of Road Trips and Aleways: Impressions of Idaho and Montana between Wyoming and British Columbia

In my first 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 kinds of pleasant surprises, serendipitous finds, and outright disappointments await when you leave town on a long road trip having done minimal research on the various brew scenes dotting your route? Wyoming provided the backdrop for my subsequent piece, and the route from Wyoming to the mountains of southern British Columbia takes center stage here. The return trip from Vancouver will round out the series.

Caffeinated, satiated, and with growler filled, we set off from Coal Creek’s combined café and taproom in the direction of Logan, Utah. The road west of Laramie skirts the northern edge of Elk Mountain,IMG_0158 climbing ever higher toward the Great Divide as rugged mountains give way in dramatic fashion to a high desert landscape lit up at night by petroleum refineries and natural gas extraction operations.

Travelers along the I-80 can be forgiven for their initial confusion when they spot not one but two signs marking the Continental Divide, for the I-80 traverses one of a handful of endorheic basins in North America, the Great Divide Basin. Before the Union Pacific Railroad cut clear across the basin, travelers venturing west along the Oregon and California Trails had to tack hard to the north toward the Wind River mountain range, so forbidding was this barren highland desert punctuated by ravines and solitary shrubs. But the Red Desert afforded one of the lower passages across the Continental Divide, and less than half a century after the Union Pacific Railroad joined east and west coasts in 1869 came the storied Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental automobile route running from New York to San Francisco.IMG_1345 The Lincoln Highway Association’s Official Road Guide of 1916 admonished travelers to pack camping equipment west of Omaha in addition to shovels, axes, chains, jacks, tools, tire casings, and inner tubes. Firearms were not necessary, but nor were new shoes recommended.

Our route to Logan took us off the historic transcontinental highway at Granger, WY, but not before passing some of the largest trona mining operations in the world among the orange-hued buttes and mesas west of the divide. What is trona and why is it relevant, you ask? First, trona is the source of soda ash, a mixture of sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, and water. Wyoming’s Green River Basin just so happens to contain one of the most accessible deposits of soda ash the world over. Beyond that, soda ash just so happens to have a significant connection with the brewing industry. In addition to uses in glass manufacture, fiberglass, electronics, and pharmaceuticals, it finds its way into a vast array of household goods such as tooth paste and hydrogen peroxide. Sodium carbonate is also a major component of Five Star Chemical and Supplies’ detergent used by many a professional brewer and homebrewer to clean mash tuns and brew kettles: PBW.

IMG_1387Back on the road, the spartan olive-green sagebrush scenery was slowly yielding to the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest near Bear Lake, and a series of hairpin corners and switchbacks quickly lifted us up into mountains where snow and icicles still clung to streams rushing along the side of the road. On the other side of the Bear River Range, the winding road descends through verdant forests before opening out onto Logan, UT, with its temples rising up prominently in the valley below. We stopped for the night with an old friend, but owing to the fact that this was Sunday evening in a predominantly Mormon town, we would not be going in search of any Uinta, Wasatch, or Epic. Instead, we polished off a selection of 10-Barrel Brewery beers that our host had brought back from a recent trip to Boise,raster gradients vector foreground and headed north the next morning with a recommendation to track down a Kettle House Cold Smoke Scotch Ale when we eventually got to Missoula.

En route and hungry for lunch, we stopped in Pocatello, ID, perched at the foot of a vast agricultural plain unfolding beyond the Portneuf Valley. Even before its official founding in 1889, Pocatello was a stage and freight stop that attracted a sundry mix of pioneers and gold miners traveling the Oregon Trail, earning itself the title of “Gateway to the Northwest.”

Not far from the Idaho State University campus and a stone’s throw from Pocatello’s nineteenth-century downtown, Portneuf Valley Brewing Company finds itself tucked away among brick warehouses from a similar time period, occupying the site of the old East Idaho Brewing Company established back in 1902. We stepped into a cozy interior of exposed brick and well-worn wood floors and were welcomed by a friendly server. So far, so good. But then came the beers.

Portneuf’s website announces itself as the sole brewpub in Pocatello. But herein lies the problem of being the only show in town. Founded in 1996, Portneuf is a local institution. But not only does the brewpub appear to be oblivious to the strides the craft beer industry has made in the past several years; even worse, almost all of Portneuf’s beers suffer from some discernible––and major––flaw. One can’t help but wonder whether Portneuf’s founders have stepped back from the day-to-day running of the brewery and turned the keys of the brewhouse over to inadequately trained brewers. Verdict: the food is ample and reasonably priced, if conventional. But save your hard-earned beer money for other establishments along your route.

And so, after a quick tour of the leafy precincts near the campus, we continued north through expansive farmlands shielded by the ramparts of the Snake River Range to the east before again crossing the Continental Divide into the isolated peaks of southwestern Montana.Tamarack - Logo Pressing further on, we passed fishing lodges along roads that hugged crystalline streams cut deep into narrow valleys, arriving in Missoula just as the pale sun had set. We checked in to the Tamarack Brewing Company with the intent of sampling a few beers over food before moving on, but found out that all of our subsequent destinations had closed, or were about to close. (Quick tip: even though Missoula is a vibrant and progressive college town home to a respectable number of breweries, brewpubs, and taprooms, most places shut down surprisingly early).

No matter. Tamarack, a convivial location peopled by a mix of students, outdoorsy types, and hockey fans, was open late. As a matter of fact, the hockey connection is a deep one at Tamarack: we learned from the gregarious bartender that Lanny McDonald, former Calgary Flame and proprietor of one of the best hockey moustaches of all time, owns a stake in the Lakeside, MT, brewery that supplies the Missoula location.

Though much better than Portneuf, Tamarack is still hit-and-miss. Hoppier beers are your best bets here, along with the refreshing Sip and Go Naked Apricot American Wheat. Try the Rye IPA, with its fresh pink grapefruit, honey, pineapple, and rye-pepper aromas and flavours, or the Hat Trick IPA, with its floral, grapefruit, pine resin, and tropical fruit character suggestive of Simcoe and Amarillo hops.

The next morning, we stopped off at Worden’s Market Deli, an excellent place to grab a sandwich and coffee before perusing the well-curated selection of wine and beer. Provisioned with bread, cheeses, sausages, and a few cases of local beer, we set our sights on Coeur d’Alene in the Idaho Panhandle. The drive through the mountain passes of the Bitter Root Range was scenic enough, even in the driving sleet; Coeur d’Alene, situated on a pristine lake of the same name and surrounded by dense coniferous forests, all the more.

Tricksters - Logo (FB)It was here that we found the elusive Trickster’s Brewing Company hiding in an industrial park on the western edge of town. In indigenous cultures, particularly those of the Great Basin encompassing the region between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains, the trickster typically takes the form of a coyote. By turns cunning, foolish, or both, the trickster is, in some stories, the Creator, while in others the trickster is a prankster or a clown, or even messenger between the sacred and secular realms, often possessing powers of transformation.

At Trickster Brewing Company, Matt Morrow, a transplant from Tulsa, OK, is plenty adept at the alchemic art of transformation. Together with his assistant brewer, Miles Polis, Morrow turns the raw ingredients of beer into harmonious North American concoctions that sometimes bear the mark of the shape-shifter.IMG_9876 Take, for example, their golden-amber West Coast Classic Pale Ale, which bears all the pine-and-grapefruit traits of the Pacific Northwest, but with an orange-marmalade character and Maris Otter-like malt profile more suggestive of Albion. Trickster’s other North American styles are well-executed, but my personal favourite was their seasonal Soul Warmer Porter, an almost opaque ruby-black brew favouring the chocolate and coffee aromas of mocha, and intermingling cocoa with plum and an earthy roasted malt note. Smooth on the palate, the beer opens with licorice and black coffee, reveals a touch of spicy hops down the middle, and finishes with an emphasis on bitter-sweet chocolate.

IMG_1419Alas, the trickster was not able to conjure any food, so we continued west and slightly north in the knowledge that a home-cooked dinner was waiting several hours away beyond the Grand Coulee Dam of eastern Washington, and the Okanagan Valley wine region of British Columbia.


Up Soon: The Return Trip. A few breweries in Vancouver, a quick stop near Seattle, a brewpub and stellar taproom in Boise, Idaho, and well-provisioned bottle shop in Fort Collins, CO.


Further Reading and the Briefest of Beer Reports

On the Lincoln Highway, see Brian Botko’s Lincoln Highway News. The Lincoln Highway Association’s website is also a good resource.

If you, like us, were wondering why we passed two markers for the Continental Divide, check out this Wiki article, which also has a link to endorheic basins.

On soda ash and its myriad applications, see the company website of the OCI Chemical Corporation and that of FMC Green River.

Pocatello’s official website traces the history of the city from before its gold rush days to the present.

Of the beers that our host in Logan, UT, hauled back from 10 Barrel Brewery’s Boise location, the O.G. Wheat IPA was the most impressive. Worth seeking out.

The beers in Missoula’s Bayern Brewing taster pack––a Pils, a Hefeweizen, an Amber, and a Maibock––were solidly brewed, but all lacked a certain intensity and complexity of flavour that could set them apart from other beers brewed in the same style.

Kettle House’s Cold Smoke Scotch Ale was pleasant every time I opened up a can. It’s not nearly as complex as the best Scotch Ale out there, but at 6.5% ABV, it’s almost sessionable.


With the exception of brewery logos and beer labels, all images photographed by F.D. Hofer.

© 2014  Franz D. Hofer. All Rights Reserved.

Across Calatrava’s Bridge: Four Corners Anchors Revitalization of West Dallas

Chuckle if you will, but judging a double-header of Imperial Stouts and Barrel-Aged Beers is a taxing proposition. My friend and I were in the Dallas area for the weekend to serve as judges for the annual Bluebonnet Homebrew Competition,FourCorners - Cart (fcbrewing-com) and this judging assignment was our last of the weekend. Plenty of the burgeoning Dallas craft beer scene remained for us to explore, but our saturated senses were calling for a long time-out. After a brief discussion, we settled on Four Corners Brewing Company. Both their motto, “All Day Ales,” and their approach––sessionable beers that range between 4.5% and 6% ABV––seemed perfectly tailored to this balmy spring afternoon.

An endless landscape of warehouses and sundry remnants of West Dallas’s heavy-industrial past unfolded before us as we rolled along the route from the judging location in nearby Irving. This area was originally settled in the 1850s by French and Swiss immigrants who aimed to establish a socialist utopia, but that experiment gave way in relatively short order to a decidedly dystopian wave of industrialization around the turn of the century.

Cement factories came first, followed by chemical factories and oil refineries, each industry giving rise to hard-scrabble working-class towns on the periphery of Dallas. Before incorporation into Dallas in 1954, the area laboured under a general lack of amenities such as running water and paved streets. To make matters worse, for nearly half a century dating from 1934, the RSR Corporation operated a secondary lead smelting plant that laid waste to the environment with its processing of used batteries. Several thousand inhabitants suffered from elevated bloodstream lead levels as a result. Such was the lot of these historically underserved and, by now, predominantly Hispanic and African-American communities until the area qualified as an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund Site in the mid-1990s. A clean-up effort ensued, and by 2005, a completed Five-Year Review deemed the site “protective of human health and the environment” and fit for “the safe redevelopment of residential and commercial properties” (EPA, 2014).

FourCorners - Callatrava Dallas (fdbrewing-com)Tire shops and garages now populate many of the low-rise brick storefronts lining the thoroughfares of these communities, but the first signs of a tectonic shift are beginning to make themselves felt. Immediately to our east rises perhaps the most visible symbol of this transformation: a finely wrought arch etched against the foreground of the Dallas skyscrapers, its pearl-like luminescence and avian grace bearing the inimitable stamp of renowned architect, Santiago Calatrava. We stop short of Calatrava’s recently completed Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge and pull into the lot in front of the colourfully appointed warehouse enveloping Four Corners Brewery.

Inside the taproom, my friend and I joined a group of convivial patrons for a few drinks as I waited for co-owner and head brewer, Steve Porcari, to finish his Sunday rounds.FourCorners - Local Buzz Tap (fcbrewing-com) Porcari and co-founder, George Esquivel, got their brewing start after seeing a TV ad for a homebrew competition organized some years back by Sam Adams. They bought and brewed the kit, but never entered that first effort into the Sam Adams competition. Little did they know back then that this inaugural batch would become the basis for their Local Buzz, a refreshing brew that now incorporates honey from Burleson’s Honey Company in Waxahatchie, TX.

Like all of Four Corners’ beers, Local Buzz features a striking label with bright colours and boldly rendered pictograms. Four Corners’ design aesthetic pays hommage to a Mexican game similar to bingo, Lotería,FourCorners - Loteria Mexicana (Wiki) in which the caller announces the cards to the players by way of riddles and associations. Four Corners’ beer labels evoke local linkages in an analogous manner. Red’s Roja reflects the plethora of tire shops that dot the neighbourhood, while La Bajada, adorned with a defiant gesture, renders tribute to the working class neighbourhood in which Four Corners finds itself.

The iconography of La Bajada recalls the resilience of the neighbourhood inhabitants who built the dike system along the Trinity River to control the once-catastrophic floods.IMG_9795 On a different reading, though, the visual vocabulary seems to bespeak the tensions that accompany the penetration of fashionable arts and culinary scenes into long-established communities. The Trinity Groves urban renewal project backed by Philip Romano of Macaroni Grill fame was the first lot cast in the rejuvenation of West Dallas. Four Corners followed suit in 2012, setting up shop in an 11,000 square-foot repurposed big rig factory in the heart of this erstwhile marginalized section of the city.

Along with Romano’s “restaurant incubator” concept that forms the backbone of the Trinity Groves development, Four Corners serves as a magnet enticing people across the bridge. But will those who come from more affluent parts of Dallas disrupt the fabric of West Dallas’s established communities? Such is the dual-edged nature of urban revitalization. How will the proposed development of West Dallas integrate neighbourhoods such as La Bajada and Los Altos?

The people behind Four Corners consider themselves to be part of the answer to these pressing questions. Esquivel, one of the partners in the Four Corners venture, has a stake in this emerging neighbourhood, having grown up in nearby Oak Cliff. Collectively, he, Porcari, and Greg Leftwich, the third of Four Corners’ co-founders, want their establishment to serve as a catalyst for measured change and economic stimulus in this once-neglected neighbourhood brought closer to the Dallas metropole by Calatrava’s bridge. FourCorners - Brewery (fcbrewing FB)Tasting Notes

Four Corners is in the business of producing flavourful, balanced, “everyday” session beers. For them, 8% ABV is straining the upper range of the scale, and only a few of their seasonal beers bump up against this threshold. Relates Porcari, in a city recently tuned into the dual trends of barrel-aged offerings and out-sized “status” markers such as high IBUs and high ABV, Four Corners’ commitment to a lineup of sessionable beers has, on occasion, presented challenges in terms of finding tap handles at local bars. A shame, really, for as I’ve argued elsewhere, beer doesn’t have to be big or “extreme” to be worthy of our attention––and I think Four Corners’ beers merit our attention.

At the lighter end of the colour and ABV spectrum we find Local Buzz, the aforementioned honey-rye golden ale with fresh floral aromas of honeyed grain, subtle hints of pepper, and a surprising scent reminiscent of a cross between fresh cucumber and gooseberry. The grain-accented beer is crisp, with a spicy-herbal hop character that melds well with the rye and ensures that the beer finishes refreshingly. A fine beer for a warm day.

FourCorners - Block Party Cans (fcbrewing FB)Clear dark ruby and pecan in appearance, the Block Party Robust Porter comes across with plenty of mocha and coffee aromas layered with sassafras, cherry-plum yeast esters, and a hint of citrus-grapefruit suggestive of North American hops. At 40 IBUs, this off-dry beer is firmly but not overly bitter, with the hop notes of the bouquet joining forces with a toast, burnt caramel, and roasted coffee malt profile.

The Notorious OAT is a late winter seasonal stout that is as harmonious as it is intense. A hefty grain bill contributes 7.2% ABV along with aromas and flavours of roasted barley, toasted toffee, butterscotch, malted milk, maple syrup, and a wisp of smoke. Its relatively high level of carbonation for the style provides an effervescent accent to the licorice-like earthiness and light-roasted coffee, the latter of which provides a smooth bittering undercurrent that carries through the pleasant roasted grain and maple finish.

Clocking in at 8% ABV, Celebración Belgian Strong Ale is the strongest of Four Corners’ seasonal offerings.Celebracion Tap (fcbrewing FB) Spices take center stage in this beer that exudes complex aromas of ginger, nutmeg, a dash of cinnamon, orange blossom, chai tea, and mild caramel. The effervescent mélange of chai, molasses, gingerbread, caramel, and Christmas cake make this an ideal winter warmer that is, nonetheless, light-bodied and deftly articulated. I asked Porcari what kinds of spices go into the beer. Just one pound of ginger per barrel, he answered. The combination of Belgian malts and Belgian yeast does the rest. Eminently in line with Four Corner’s pragmatic approach to beer-making, I thought, even if more than a few of these might put a premature end to my afternoon drinking session.

Odds and Ends and Further Reading

IMG_9797The rooster logo: Cristi Brinkman, the artistic designer behind Four Corners’ beer labels and tap handles, translated the brewery’s name into a weather vane with the obligatory rooster perched on top. The cock’s crow is still endemic to the neighbourhood.

Peter Simek’s “Trinity Groves: The New Dallas Starts Here,” D-Magazine (January 2013) traces the outlines of the urban development controversy unfolding in West Dallas while detailing the interests and stakes of the various constituencies involved.

A section of the West Dallas Chamber of Commerce’s website narrates the history of the area from the early 1800s through the present.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s document, “RSR Corporation Superfund Site, Dallas, Dallas County, Texas: EPA Region 6, Congressional District 30” (updated June 2014) provides a brief encapsulation of the environmental contamination and clean-up of West Dallas.

Image Credits

“Palatero” push cart: Courtesy of Four Corners Brewing Company

Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge: Courtesy of Four Corners Brewing Company

Local Buzz tap handle: Courtesy of Four Corners Brewing Company

Lotería Mexicana: Wikipedia

Lotería-like beer labels: F.D. Hofer

Four Corners exterior: Courtesy of Four Corners Brewing Company

Block Party in cans: Courtesy of Four Corners Brewing Company

Celebración Tap Handle: Courtesy of Four Corners Brewing Company

Rooster Logo: F.D. Hofer

© 2014  Franz D. Hofer. All Rights Reserved.