Travels with Cindy

San Francisco to Carmel on the Pacific Coast Highway

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Driving a convertible along the Pacific Coast Highway. That’s all I cared about for the second half- the California half (see earlier post for the Alaska portion)- of the trip I took with my Mother who others call Cindy. Regular readers know how much I love to drive, and I was not even discouraged when I found out that leasing a stick shift was not an option. (Unless you go with a vintage car- old Mustangs, Triumphs, Alpha Romeos and such- starting at $5K for 3 days.)

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I found an relatively inexpensive VW Beetle Convertible through Hertz (~$300 for 4 days) and was elated- until a friend in San Francisco sent me news that the Pacific Coast Highway south of Carmel had fallen into the ocean after all the rain they’d had. So. With an abbreviated coast to see and already being a frequent traveler to San Francisco myself for work, I decided to let Mom call all the shots for this part of the trip.

Here was her wish list:

1. Watch the sea lions at Fisherman’s Wharf.
2. Eat fried oysters.
3. Visit Alcatraz.
4. Drive over the Golden Gate Bridge.

And here is how it went:

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1. As we approached the sea lions, the scent of their natural evacuation process was so strong that we decided to just get a photo in front of the statue and watch from afar.

2. I didn’t really get the oyster wish. Is the west coast known for fried oysters? Fried anything? But it was my Mother’s desire- so of course I did what I could. I asked a friend and lifelong local where were to find the best fried oysters. He told us to go to the Swan Oyster Depot. Turns out they only have raw oysters. But we ended up having such a great time that my Mom didn’t mind at all.

3. The ferry ride to Alcatraz  should be its own destination. They serve alcohol on the boat- not that we had any. No – truly – we did not. But I keep track of these things. Alcatraz is on a steep rock, as you probably know. If you have trouble getting around, as my Mother does, you get to take a painfully slow (walkers were passing us) but adorable golf-cart-train all the way to the top. This is the way to go. Once there, they provide an excellent tour with good stories, including about the inmates in the cells facing the city who could hear party revelry across the bay on weekends from their tiny cages. Ouch!

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4. The Golden Gate Bridge. We drove over- twice! Let’s face it- bridges are thrilling to cross. We did it once on the top of a tourist bus, and then again in our Beetle convertible. On the way to… you guessed it. Russian River Brewery.

You know I had to get in that beery destination in. And the 3.2% Endurance is a driver’s dream.

After that we visited some wineries in Sonoma, which is much more our speed than Napa. More rustic, less attitude, less corporate feeling. On Mom’s list was a winery I went to years ago and had brought back one of her and my Dad’s favorite wines that we drank together on his 70th birthday trip in Camden, Maine. She has been looking for it ever since, but could not get it. Well- it was there! We helped ourselves to some at Ledson Winery, and arranged for some to be sent home.

By then we were hungry, and I was delighted to discover that our hotel was up the road from an In-N-Out Burger.

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I don’t care much for burgers or fast food- but my Mom is from Ohio, where part of the DNA is craving cow in all forms. I told her how lucky we were! People rave about this burger and travel from all corners of the world to get it! Let’s go! I texted a friend to find out what to order: the Double-Double, Animal Style. That’s just fun to say. We were excited and ready to love it! Here is her reaction:

Unlike Peter Luger, a meat place that somehow manages to surpass its hype, it was disappointing. Sorry In-N-Out fans- she hated it. I confess I would not go back either. The burgers were greasy, the fries nearly raw, and the taste nothing special- especially after a Craigie burger. My many friends who are fans of this place are so devoted- in such denial that not everyone loves it- that they believe she is overjoyed in these pictures. What? No. No- this is my Mom’s “ick” face. She’s such a sweet person that maybe you cannot see displeasure in her- but trust me. We went out to dinner elsewhere after this.

Summer of Love Anniversary

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Did you know it’s the 50th anniversary of this special year? I also turned 50 this year. My parents claim to have missed the wilder part of the 60s. But I was adopted. Do the math- SOMEONE was having a good time that year! I like to believe I am the product of this uninhibited, rowdy, deliriously affectionate time. And then raised by rational, drug-avoiding people. The best of both worlds!

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We were meeting some friends for dinner, so what did we do on the way? We got a snack, of course. At Zuni Cafe. It is so much more fun to travel with an eater and drinker than – um – other kinds of people.

My Mom still talks about this as her favorite place to eat in San Francisco. Well, this and the impromptu evening where we were too exhausted to leave the hotel and ate in the lobby of the Marriott. Where they knew how to make her favorite cocktail- a chocolate martini- AND they had a lovely local IPA. This is California, after all.

Monterey and Carmel

Things kind of changed at this point. We had spent over a week together and were not just still speaking, but experiencing that gravitational pull that happens when you realize you travel really well with someone. (see Mongolia with Vera post.)

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When the chocolate croissants arrived warm in the basket and the Bloody Mary was made with beer we knew we would be returning the next day to this little Carmel restaurant La Bicyclette. We only wished we had found it sooner.

Pacific Coast Highway

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I thought my Mom would be disappointed that we couldn’t take the PCH all the way to Big Sur. As I read the guidebook entry to her of alternate views, I mentioned the 17 Mile Drive around Pebble Beach golf course. I explained why I thought the toll was worth it. Silence. I looked up to see her eyes welling- crap! But it wasn’t for something so silly as not being able to drive further south. Instead, she was remembering that she and my Dad, avid golfers since they met in college in the early 60s, had always wanted to play this course- or at least see it. They never did. Oh yes indeed – we were going to drive all over it!

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Every stretch of the PHC has gorgeous views. But frankly, unless you have a helicopter following you taking pictures, the purpose of the open top of a convertible is rather lost. The best views (and scents and sounds) of this wild coastline are visible along the plentiful pull-over parks and stretches.

The secret thrill of the convertible was not along the ocean at all- but instead within the Red Wood forests. And thank goodness we drove among these green giants on a weekday during shoulder season, because looking up while driving (as I often did) meant a lot of swerving and breaking along the dizzying switchbacks. We gasped a lot- but at the views straight up, not my driving. Do this!

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Salinas and John Steinbeck Museum

John Steinbeck and my inner old man are good friends. The Wayward Bus. The Grapes of Wrath. East of Eden. When I mentioned the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas (via another redwood forest drive) Mom was game!

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We loved the exhibit- it has a lot of maps and clever word-play, which John would have approved. At the end was a bookstore, of course. This clever place has an area where they sell vintage books- and here is where one can buy his works in hardback. Secretly my Mom selected Travels with Charley (our favorite part of the exhibit- plus we shared a dog called Eliot for 15 years, each of us for half his lifetime- and we were feeling it). She presented it as we left.

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She downloaded it so we could read it at the same time. My Mom prefers to read on her handheld device. Okay? It’s lighter than a paper book, has text size she can control, and is backlit- so she can see it. I get this.

Mother’s Day

Are you surprised that the next day- and the last of our two weeks together- was Mother’s Day? I know what my mother likes to eat, and I had researched where to take her in Monterey.

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She adores Prime Rib. “Mooing” is her doneness request to servers. She never gets it rare enough. My Dad loved steak too- and as we ate our (for once!) perfectly cooked slabs we were remembering our visit to Peter Luger’s in New York for his 60th birthday.

Which led to other memories- and with the wine expanding the joy of our time together and also the impending sadness of separating the next day- we finished the evening, and the trip, with a thought we expressed many times over the years: a shared wonder of the three of us finding each other.

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A Tree and Beer Awakening in an English Town (UK)

Introducing Charlbury

After driving almost two hours to Charlbury from Heathrow Airport in a rented manual transmission Fiat 500, I was still so focused on shifting with my left hand and not careening into cars coming at me on the right that I almost forgot to look around. But as I crested a hill, I saw a dark blue sign with white lettering that announced, “Oxfordshire” and thought it familiar. But why? I’d never been here.

Cue Vicar of Dibley music, because -according to locals- this road is in the opening credits inviting the viewer to the idyllic pretend (but kinda-sorta real) village of Dibley. (A 90s Brit-com starring Dawn French and written by Richard Curtis (Black Adder, Mr. Bean). It pokes endearing fun at rural life, gets away with jokes about Jesus, and makes scatological humor seem high-brow. As only the English can do. You might also thank it for the annual Blessing of the Animals so popular now in Boston churches.) Yeah, that town.

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This map is on the tote bag my hosts, Nick, Alice, and Evvie Millea, gave me. I love it- because it really has everything in Charlbury!

In real life, Charlbury manages to be even more beautiful than a bunch of TV producers could possibly stylize. Imagine pink light reflecting off old ochre stone walls, the scent of lavender and honeysuckle, the twitter of birds and the gurgling of the local river, the warm welcome of an old friend and his family- is that a horse I see peacefully grazing in a nearby meadow? And – just when I thought I’d reached the sensory tipping point-  church bells rang out and my eyes welled. Because… delicious real ale on top of all this was still to come!

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Cricket Grounds converted for one day annually into a Real Ale Festival.

I had been invited to give a chat at the 20th annual Charlbury Beer Festival in the Culture Club Tent about some of my beery travel adventures. My best stories involve impromptu love and the type of adventure not suitable for a family audience, and I didn’t really think anyone would be interested in my other travel stories, so I brought 17 pounds (according to the airline scale) of American craft beer to give away and made sure to interrupt myself often to give them out. I think, at one point, there may have been 20 people listening to my escapades- tops. But I was excited to be there because I really wanted to see what made this festival so great. I’d been hearing about it from Charlbury friend Nick Millea, Map Curator at Bodleian Library at Oxford, at various cartography gatherings for over a decade.

Tree, Interrupted.

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This is My Home Tree (above)

I visit a tree on my commute to work. I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts and work in Boston. Weather permitting I walk the four miles (about six and a half kilometers) to my office, and the last bit is truly the reward- a visual wonderland that is Boston’s Public Garden. There are many lovely trees there: some look like they’re dancing, others bowing, some a row of giant green gum drops. But MY tree is a Dawn Redwood I have named Spaghetti. It’s a hybrid- or a mutt, depending on how you look at it. It’s part conifer (needles instead of leaves) part deciduous (the needles drop each autumn). Spaghetti has an exposed bundle of wet-pasta-looking roots that change color from dull brown to brilliant purple and glowing orange after a rain.

An unaddressed thought had been simmering in my head: when I travel, I will fixate on one tree in the back of my mind for the duration of the visit. It’s not conscious; but when I saw the grand wooden candelabra of a tree in the center of St. Mary’s graveyard in Charlbury on my first walk from my hosts’ home to the festival grounds, I knew I had found my tree-o’-the-trip. A voice in me somewhere greeted this Yew before I had time to think- and it said, “Oh- there you are. How lovely to see you.”

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Later during the festival, as part of the Culture Tent Talks organized by Ed Fenton, I listened to Professor Stafford read from her book: The Long, Long, Life of Trees. She chose to read from a chapter about the beloved Horse Chestnut- about the one Anne Frank watched, and greeted, outside her window in Amsterdam. It recently came down in spite of attempts to save it. So they planted a new one. I think I have been marking my memories of places I visit by the trees I greet without realizing it. How wonderful to become aware of this tendency at a beer festival, of all places!

The Festival

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Apparently rogue golfers are a thing here.

You may think you’ve been to a beer festival before. Montreal, Bruge. Osaka, Rome? I’ve done all those. But trust me- you really haven’t been to a beer festival until you’ve acquired… a knitted beard.

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Or knitted beer glass holder. For hands-free exploring!

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The only thing this beer festival has in common with an American version are the lines. They last all day, but at least you get half pints instead of two ounces, so you can do other things besides get right back in line again.

And there are LOTS of other things to do. The international Aunt Sally competition (something about throwing sticks- a book has been written about it), a kids’ tent with live snail races, a tea & cakes tent, a wine & gin area, plus Pimm’s (yes really!) food venders including Venezuelan street food (my fave), the local Women’s Institute tent (see knitted beards above, and my new beer holder!) and  live music on stage- truly a real festival. In fact, literally a Real Ale festival.

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John Bramwell (front man of Mercury Prize nominated band ‘I am Kloot’ – a big name in the UK and Europe), and Dave Fidler.

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Jennie Grierson (volunteer in the foreground who also directs the youth band and singers) and John Hole facing camera (in charge of cider)

This is a long day. It starts at noon and goes until 10:00pm (or 22:00, as the locals say). There are various schedules and events, including a prize for the first beer to kick. It turns out I had had the winning beer the night before at the Rose & Crown (one of four- that’s 4 – pubs in tiny Charlbury) called Gin & Juice by Welsh Tiny Rebel Brewery with Nick’s lovely wife Alice who had a cider.

In my official beery chat I talked about meeting locals when I travel to get the best beery information, and my method did not fail me. Two handsome chaps (I can use that word in the states for at least another month- traveler’s privilege) joined me for pints after the festival at the Rose & Crown and suggested beery places in Bath when I mentioned I was headed there the next day.

Work and Play

The next morning was spent dismantling tents, picking up litter, and generally returning the grounds to pristine condition. There is something quite satisfying about this; my visit would not have been the same without the service portions of helping to set up, serve beer and cider, and clean up. I had my trees in mind, after all.

Around noon, I got back in the stick-shift and zoomed off to Bath

And found another tree. At the top of a hill in Bath in the round center of a roundabout called The Circus is a cluster of trees so large that from afar it looks like one giant tree, with its reach forming a perfect circle within a circle- it is surrounded by round buildings to truly create – a circle. Seen from above it would be a large green dot with a pale grey ring around it and another yellow one around that. No telling where one tree ends and another begins. I used this as a geographic anchor; apparently so did Jane Austin.

In Bath, I found a beer that loves trees too. Big Hug Brewing – a tree hug in a bottle. A portion of the purchase goes to My Green Squares, a project that protects the rainforest one square foot at a time.

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“American Beer Lady” – That’s Me

Shortly after I returned to Boston, this email arrived from Nick:

Kris

[Y]ou may (or may not) be aware of the cultural significance of the Sex Pistols’ Manchester Free Trade Hall gig in 1976. It had a massive impart on the UK music scene, but there were only 44 people in the audience that night at what is a massive venue. Everyone who subsequently became anyone in the music business has always claimed to have been in the audience. That now amounts to hundreds of individuals. Your talk appears to be having a similar impact in Charlbury. The number of people who have approached me over the last couple of days telling me how brilliant the American Beer Lady’s talk was has been phenomenal.

Me: Blushing

Dear Charlbury,

If you’ll have me, I’ll be back.

Love, Kris

 

 

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No, I Did not Take a Cruise: Alaska Ales

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True beer explorers know better than to book a package tour. After all, if a brewery has been around long enough or is large enough to warrant a stop on a tour, chances of finding something new are unlikely. And the same goes for a cruise.

I don’t know what it is about Alaska, but more than anywhere I have visited around the world, the universal response to revealing plans to travel there was the same: “Oh are you going on a cruise?”

No. No we are not. It’s hard not to be a bit condescending about it- but- really? How am I supposed to explore anything from a boat unless I’m steering it? Especially beery destinations. Come on now.

Anchorage

My parents always wanted to visit Alaska, but we never made it while my Dad was alive. So after he died I pushed it up a bit in the urgency of places to go with my Mom.  As traveling companions, we have an understanding. She lets me know her top priorities (in Alaska for example, seeing whales in the wild and Denali National Park by plane) and I plan the rest (usually beer focused). It works for us.

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It works so well, in fact, that is was HER idea after a long day of travel from Boston to Anchorage to go to Midnight Sun before even checking in to the hotel.

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It’s a stand-alone building. The brewery is on the first level, and upstairs is an open space called the Loft- where the kitchen and bar are, plus a deck. She was tired- she looked at the daunting, steep stairs to the second floor and her expression made me think I ought to fein fatigue and whisk her to the hotel. When around the corner came a brewery person who opened the door to the odd closet that turned out to be an elevator for the stair-challenged. Night changer! My Mom looks like a fit mid-seventies former beauty queen. No one would never guess she has MS. She still doesn’t use a cane- but the longer the day the more that the wear on her stamina compounds. The lift was a wonderful surprise that shifted the tenor of the evening. She was newly energized- ordered small tastes of the fruity sour, the pilsner, and a grainy lager. The beer was good, and the food exactly what we wanted- hearty and warm, with lots of arrangements of meat and cheese to choose from.

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Bonus: my Mother was wearing a new Pink Boots Society fleece (it’s under the coat, above) The server recognized the logo. She told us that the owner is a woman and part of Pink Boots as well. Groovy!

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The next day we were up early, as happens when traveling from east to west. I wasn’t sure where else to search for beer in Anchorage itself, and we had plans to drive to Denali after lunch. So I texted a friend in Vermont. You’ve probably heard of his brewery. He said to forget any more beer in Anchorage and go to the Bubbly Mermaid instead where they serve only oysters and champagne. (I would love to add the link but they’re only on FB, which I do not use.)

fullsizeoutput_4e42It did not open until 11. We were up so early that we drove around town to explore. We found a public salmon-watching park, a map store, an Italian cafe. Where we perched, like a couple of seagulls watching a picnic, across the street from the Bubbly Mermaid. We waited for it to open. I confess that we stalked it.

As soon as they put out the sandwich board, we shot across the street. What did we think- that a line would appear from around the corner? I don’t know, but later a colleague from the Anchorage office of my firm told me she moved downtown from the outskirts specifically to be closer to this place. Word.

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The outside is typical Anchorage- strip mall exterior, film-set interior. As in, the inside wears a costume. The bar is made to look like a boat (maybe it was?), plank floor, French cafe details like wall-size mirrors and the music of Edith Piaf and Madeleine Peyroux playing in the background. The champagne is as good as you want it to be- choose from $10 a glass on up to $50- and probably more. But it’s by the glass! There are three oyster options: raw and relatively local (four that day), cold- like smoked oysters and mussels with capers, lemon, and dijon served on the half-shell, or hot- like Rockefeller and some intriguing Asian options.

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As the only customers that early on a weekday morning, we got to talking with Lisa- one of the owners. She is from Sydney, Australia. She may open another location in another country. I will seek it out if she does.

Denali National Park

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We decided that flying over Denali (or “flight-seeing” as they call it) should not be booked ahead. You are stuck with the trip if the weather is cloudy. Our trip was during the shoulder season, so competition for seats was unlikely- we took the risk. We drove two hours from Anchorage right up to Talkeetna Air Taxi’s office in a town of the same name (the town Northern Exposure was based on), booked a trip that would leave an hour later, and headed across the street to Denali Brewing Company to prepare ourselves with the appropriately named Mother’s Ale. (Our trip was planned to end on Mother’s Day.)

While not beer related, I confess to playing this video over and over. If all of the planning had been left to me, I would never have taken time to see this. Which just goes to show you: listen to your Mother.

Juneau

There is no road to Juneau. Your choices are to arrive by plane or boat, and luckily “cruise season” was still three days in the future. It was as if we had this captivating, magic town all to ourselves. We sensed an anticipatory dread and energetic excitement that all tourist destinations have at the start of the season.

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We arrived in the morning, and my Mom needed to rest. So I set out to explore on foot. I walked by a closed corner distillery that said they were having their grand opening in a week. Damn- just missed it! I continued to find Stump Town coffee and incredible Vietnamese breakfast at the Rookery Cafe. Then headed back to our cool hotel, Silver Bow (they make fun of cruising people with subtle signs; it’s cute). As I walked by the close distillery I saw- what? Wait- are there people drinking cocktails in the distillery? Yes!

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Always armed with beer gifts, I walked in apologetically and asked about the distillery. The owner, Brendon Howard, immediately offered me one of his house-made gin and tonics. It was already 10:00am, so why not? It was after he delivered the lovely drink that I brought out the can of Heady Topper. I take this beer everywhere. In Texas they had no idea what it was. In DC they knew but are also so well connected it was no big deal. But here- in Juneau Alaska- this Heady Topper got the most blown away, surprised, lottery-winning look I ever saw. He jumped. He smacked his head. The two other customers (a woman who runs kayaking tours all over the world and her mother- go figure) took note and we all started talking. Meanwhile Brandon quietly went about writing something- here it is. The label for a pint of experimental gin- as a gift.

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See why I would never go on a tour?

Well, except that Juneau is home to an exceptional brewery that I would guess is on lots of tours. It’s also the place where I found my favorite beer of the entire trip. Alaskan Brewery. 

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I had arranged for a pre-season whale watching boat trip with Captain Harry of Weatherpermitting. Initially it was four people; on the day of another two arrived. That’s six people on a boat. Following whales. Do this.

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On our way to the harbor Mom and I were running quite ahead of schedule, so we asked our cab driver (no need to rent a car in Juneau, by the way) who was called Chris and had two different colored eyes (I mention this because I have only seen this in Huskies- perhaps it’s an Alaskan thing?) to take us to Alaskan Brewery which was on the way.

The tasting room at Alaskan is pretty robust- we could have just had a few samples. But instead we got the $20, seven-tastes plus a special history talk session in a special room. And we were the only ones. We got to know Kelsey (above, right), who had found out moments before that her sister was going to have a boy. She told us about the early beginnings of the brewery, and about the inventions that come from necessity when being inaccessible by road- like the spent-grain burning contraption that provides both heat and power to the brewery (patent pending). Wow.

And I met Icy Bay. Oh my. It was love at first sip. And bless my Mother, when I took every opportunity to have one of these wherever I found it afterwards (Seattle airport, Juneau airport, on all Alaskan Airlines legs) she did not judge. Maybe because she also found her favorite beer of the trip there. We tried everything Alaskan had to offer, and a lot of other beers over the two weeks. And in the end, her favorite beverage was also from Alaskan. The Smoked Porter aged in bourbon barrels. Yes really! She was pissed when she found out she won’t be able to get it again. And it takes a lot to get my Mother mad.

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So indeed- we had that tasting before getting on a rather small boat and watching whales. Good thing we’re not prone to sea sickness.

Little known Juneau fact: There are so many bald eagles in Juneau that the locals refer to them as grand pigeons. They truly are everywhere. They hang out. You will take pictures of the first few- and then abandon the camera.

Above right is my Mom tasting a sour at Midnight Sun. As you might guess from her face. Oh but she liked it!

Up next: Second half of The Trip up next- California. Teaser: I took my Mom to Russian River. And In-N-Out Burger.

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Airports

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I recently read a book that included a rant about airports based on uncomfortable seats at the gates …. what? Who waits at the gate? Airports are all about the bars and the passengers who hang out at them. I’d probably hate airports too if all I did was sit at the gate. But instead I pad my arrival time, and especially my connection time if I’m going through a place that has beer not available in Massachusetts, to make sure I have a chance to check out the beer options. Over the years my quests have become increasingly rewarding, and some of them are even worth sharing.

This post is a work in progress that I will update as I travel. Airports are listed alphabetically by city name.

But first, a nod to impromptu romance:

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Flirting in the Sky – Boston to San Francisco

Check out what some clever person decided to offer on cross-country Virgin America flights in the photo above. Of course it’s terrific to find 21st Amendment on an airplane list- but even better is the option to send one to another seat.

The Airports

Boston’s Logan International Airport, Massachusetts, USA (BOS)
Terminal E, upstairs and before security

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I usually prefer to drink after security, but on this particular day I was at the airport for my Global Entry interview, which takes place in an office next to Dunkin Donuts near baggage claim. I was an hour early and found this internal pub called Dine Boston Restaurant at the dead end of a hall on the departure floor. Not only did the Green Monsta hit the spot, the hummus plate was the best one I’ve ever had in the states, with fresh artichoke and house-made pita. Apparently the menu is a collection of different New England chefs’ best dishes. What they’re doing at the dead end of the airport is beyond me.

Keep in mind that the terminals in Boston are not connected, which means once you’re past security you are stuck with the beer in that terminal. Logan does have more beer options than this, but as I tend to fly out in the early mornings I rarely get to explore them. (Not because I am opposed to breakfast beer, but because they’re not open yet.)

Chicago O’Hare, Illinois, USA (ORD)
Terminal 2 self-serve Connect to Chicago; Terminal 3 Publican

At O’Hare you can walk to any terminal after going through security. This is particularly helpful if you are flying out of Terminal 1, since it doesn’t have any worthy beer options yet.

As you walk to terminal 3- which is your destination since the opening of Publican- you get to try a gimmicky self-serve craft beer station on your way through Terminal 2.

It’s a bit tricky, because it’s not actually self-serve. You have to buy a card from the bar tender at the horse-shoe shaped bar sitting off to the side that corresponds to how much you want to taste. The tastes are pre-measured, so you can help yourself to all four options or a full glass of just one. You’re not supposed to keep the card, but apparently my crestfallen look was convincing.

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The downtown Chicago Publican is a true “homage to oysters, pork, and beer” yet my expectations were not high for the airport branch. But as you can see by the menu, this stop is worth adding hours to your Chicago layover.

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Gatwick, England (LGW)

30 June 2017 update: sadly the sushi place no longer carries craft beer, but the bar next to it, Jamie Oliver’s Italian, does.

Gatwick was recently called out for being one of the worst airports in the world for delayed flights, and my experience is consistent with that reputation. But it’s nice to be stuck here. Judging from a three hour delay to Amsterdam in the summer of 2015, I can tell you they have worked on making it a great place to wait. You can access everything once you are beyond security.

 

It has, among other places, this conveyer belt sushi restaurant. The turnover is high (because everyone’s flight is delayed so they’re stuck eating) which means the sushi is made constantly. I didn’t see any fish sit for more than a few minutes, and you can order individual fresh pieces of whatever you want. They serve a delightful Belgian-made saison called Kagua (that says “authentic Japanese craft beer” on the label). It’s just right with sushi.

Reykjavik Airport, Iceland (KEF)

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This small airport is undergoing a renovation of it’s dining areas and promises lots of Icelandic options in the near future. For now, you have two options. Sit at one of the dozen or so seats at the bar if you can snag it or buy your bottled beer at the mini grocery just beyond the bar. Both places serve two good brands of beer: Borg Brugghus (love the IPA!) and Einstok. You are free to carry your beer around the airport.

San Francisco International Airport, California, USA (SFO)

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In the public space between International A and Terminal 1 is the San Francisco Airport Commission Aviation Library and Louis A. Turpen Aviation Museum. The stacks, filled with aviation history and a few maps, are on the second floor. You can access them by appointment so plan ahead. The rest of the area is filled with exhibits open to all, including these showing what people used to drink on planes.

 

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Dig the cocktail glass with its practical wide base and stem to make it more likely your drink will stay in the glass instead of on your lap during turbulence.

Tampa, Florida (TPA)
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An actual brewery making beer at the airport. Cigar City has a wee 1.5 barrel brewhouse to make a beer only available to passengers. They have other Cigar City offerings as well, and oddly some macro options. You know which one to get.

Above, Cigar City Pilot Brewer Hans Groberg gives me a peek of the brewery

Tokyo, Japan
Narita Airport (NRT)

I do not often fly first class, but when my connecting United flight from Mongolia through Tokyo’s Narita was cancelled, they booked me in first class on the replacement flight. In the airport, that meant I got to use the United Lounge, which has this:

 

Okay so it’s not craft. And let’s face, it- this machine probably has displaced at least one worker. But- look at that head! Perfect every time. I know- because I poured eight of them. I only had 20 minutes to revel in this technology, so I didn’t let anyone else use it. I handed the beers to people passing by. This is probably why they don’t let me fly first class very often.

Also in Narita (different trip) is a conveyer belt sushi joint. I could not resist. (See Gatwick)

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Yebisu also makes a stout, which I preferred- although I had to get it from a bar where they allowed smoking inside. Blech.

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Ulan Bator, Mongolia
Chinggis Khan International Airport (ULN)

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When a storm in Tokyo prevents your flight from leaving Mongolia, and the entire airport is smaller than most high school cafeterias, what are you going to do? Look closely! The tiny cafe has cold beer in the fridge behind the counter. I was disappointed to see American Budweiser. But then, on closer inspection, and right beside it, was – could it be? – yes! Authentic Budvar. I do not remember how long the delay was, nor did I care.

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How to Take a Road Trip (Montréal)

Montreal Sign

I’ll bet you think you know how to take a road trip. Get in the car, enter the destination in your device, drive. Right?

Wrong! I mean, yes that will get you somewhere. But to really have an adventure- to make the trip part of the reason for going- I have a few suggestions.

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It helps if you like to drive. And if you have access to a fun car with a stick shift to zoom around in. This is not required, but trust me, it can make or break the fun factor. I love to drive, and while I may appear to be calm, my inner golden retriever wags her tail and hangs her tongue out enthusiastically hoping for an open window every time I get in my car. Word.

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Take the most interesting route, not the fastest. I was heading to a Québécois corn roast called an épluchette de blé d’Inde (say that out loud because it’s fun!) and wanted to bring a really good beer gift. My friends put this thing on every year. It’s a lot of work, they let me stay over, they tolerate my laughable French, and it’s always a blast. I wanted my gift to say, “You guys rock! Please invite me next year!”

So I decided to pop in the Alchemist in Waterbury, Vermont to pick up some Heady Topper. That day they also had Crusher and Focal Banger. Score.

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Know your border rules. Unlike me. Growing up in New York, I have been crossing this border since I learned how to drive- well before we needed passports to do it- yet I did not know I wasn’t supposed to bring more than two cases of beer. I had (ahem) more. At first the border guard said I would have to leave the beer behind (ever see a Golden Retriever cry?) but then she just sort of …. forgot about it. Maybe because I told her I was going to an épluchette- in French? Because I told her I was bringing Heady Topper? Because I might have actually cried? (Not really! At least, I don’t think so…) Whatever it was, after I paid the duty she said I could go. I tried not to run back to the car. I controlled my squeal of glee until I was out sight. And then- sunroof open and French blaring on the radio- WOOOHOOOO! Some of the best thrills are the ones we don’t see coming.


Your journey should continue once you reach the city you were aiming for. Explore your surroundings even when you’re at a party. My hosts live in Montréal beer central. Sure they can walk to Dieu du Ciel, but they are just a few blocks from the innovative cooperative brewery called MaBrasserie. Several different breweries share this space, the tanks, and the tap room. It’s a great way to try super-fresh beer from a variety of approaches and styles- all in one place. I sampled some scintillating brews from Isle de Garde (an IPA “allemande” which I assume means they use German hops), Grendel (Cream APA with a head like a proper Guinness in Dublin), and Boswell (a “Pale ale américain” which I was initially dubious of but which, as my menu margin notes indicate, they nailed).

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I headed back to the maize roast via Brouhaha, another friendly gem for craft beer seekers, for a ridiculous Saison Voatsiperifery. A sandalwood dream. If you’re into that. And I am.

Plan your route back with the advice of your hosts.

I had originally meant to hit Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier because it’s a one-stop best of Vermont showcase, but my hosts alerted me to a place I did not know about. It would not add any driving time yet would add to my new beer experiences. I drove east from Montreal along the northern side of the US border and first stopped at Dunham Brewery to see if my old friend Eloi was there (he was not, but I did get to try the Cyclope Dzeta) and then found, after the prettiest 9 miles of the entire trip through canopies of trees like this one:

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the new Sutton Brouërie. It was full but not frazzled. I sat at the bar, which also overlooks the kitchen, and enjoyed the show while getting inside information from the bartender.

I would have missed these worthy ports of call if I’d had rigid plans. Of course, this meant using a map. Yes- remember those paper things? Phone service is too expensive north of the border, and using a map is a great exercise in truly experiencing your surroundings instead of taking commands from a box. For once in a long time, I felt like I was the boss of my car. And they still have free maps at most rest areas!

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It was time to head home, but I still had a bit of the explorer in me. I knew that Notch Brewing’s new tap room had opened in Salem, Massachusetts but hadn’t had a chance to try it yet. Check!

Information

Alchemist
100 Cottage Club Road, Stowe, VT USA

MaBrasserie
2300, rue Holt, Montréal

Brouhaha
5860, Avenue de Lorimier, Rosemont, Mtl

Brasserie Dunham
3809 rue Principal, Dunham, Quebec

Sutton Brouërie
(You can stay there,too!)
27 principale SUD, Sutton, Quebec

Notch Brewery & Tap Room
283R Derby Street, Salem, MA USA

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