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One Night in Istanbul (Turkey)

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Istanbul may not be the first place you think of to search for beer, but when Turkish Airlines offered a 30 hour layover on my way to Hamburg for a much lower fare than any other airline, I jumped at it and started my beer hunting plan. I also watched Kedi, read Fare cover to cover, and ignored the news. NB: An overnight requires a visa, easily obtained online for $20.

img_3353And in fact the first thing I saw when I emerged from my hotel was the first of many well-cared for cats (kedi) outside of a salon.

My cab driver from the airport was both Turkish and Australian- we talked about Melbourne where he grew up and I had had a lot of beer (see earlier post). When I told him my plan for the evening (to essentially walk around by myself with my loosely mapped out beer pursuits) he recommended doing pretty much anything but that. Of course I did it anyway. But I also arranged for him to pick me up the next morning at 7:00am. It felt good knowing someone would realize it if I weren’t there!

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He drove me over this famous stretch of fishermen along Galata Bridge. Even overcast, it provided a beautiful view of Istanbul- both the European and Asian sides of the city. I asked him how to say “thank you” and he tried three times to teach me the five syllable phrase before giving up and saying “you can say sol for short.” “Sol sol sol!” I replied.

I checked into my hotel and began my search of Kantin, a restaurant featured in Fare with a firey red-headed owner (red hair being something, like one-off beers and cartographic book signings, I’ll walk the extra kilometer for. Or three.) I found an excellent Kolsch and lovely view and dance party at Populist (home to Torch Brewing), a crowd of young people all joyously belting out a song I’d never heard at Joker #19, and a mystery beer at Beer Hall. But neither I nor any cab driver or local could tell me how to find Kantin. Apparently it moved last year but forgot to tell Google or any local drivers.

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Enough! I felt like something was missing but popped into a Tekel Shop for a Gara Guzu to drink alone in my hotel room. Sniff.

On the way to my hotel, almost across the street in the opposite direction from where I started out, I saw backlit books. A library? A classroom? I peered over the wall to a courtyard- lordy, it was a bookstore.

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It was a beautiful evening. Did I mention that? Too early to tuck in for a solo beer. And when I looked over the side of the bookstore courtyard, I saw people at little tables. Drinking Turkish tea. And beer.

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Book stores are a weakness of mine the way that Oxycontin is to others. Not making a joke- I become impulsive. I make bad choices. I rationalize spending like this: If I don’t have coffee for three weeks on the way to work- this book is free! My attraction to book stores, especially ones with- I almost can’t write it for believing such wonderful places exist and half believe they’ll disappear if said out loud- craft beer. My obsession has all the marks of addiction, but only hurts my wallet and may make my brain healthier.

Once inside and surrounded by books in English as well as Turkish, and believing I had already stumbled into the most magical place in Istanbul- I spotted a brown cardboard box. It was facing me, calling to me in small print: “Maps of Istanbul”. What? How did you know I was here to bring you home? Inside the cardboard box was another box- glossy and black, and inside that a rare, gorgeous, and affordable (at least in my thinking of that moment) book. Of maps. Of Istanbul.

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The secret bookstore is called Minoa. I bought the book and a beer and sat outside. I lovingly turned its pages and read of Constantinople, of Istanbul, even of the locations where Anton Melbye (the painter whose show I was heading to in Hamburg- next post!) drew and painted from various vantage points as he broke from his precise Danish teachings and brought emotion to his work. To my right was a couple flirting quietly over tea. I ordered a real Turkish tea and asked my waiter how the locals drank it. “With sugar- I will bring it.” I ordered a craft beer back, of course. Once the tea cooled enough for me to pick up the glass, I sipped the intense bitter yet honey-sweet heat. Oh now I get it.

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When the tea was finished, look at the surprise on the saucer!

While fully aware of what an ugly American I was about to sound like, I asked my waiter if I might buy the tea glass and adorable saucer. He said he’d check, and came back apologetically suggesting I try the markets in the morning. Completely self-conscious, I thanked him and said, “Worth a try it’s so cute!” and forgot about it.

I had a final beer and continued to read my new book before asking for the bill. It arrived, along with both waiters and a little bag.

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“You may not buy the tea glass. Because we give it to you.”

 

 

Here are the details:
Minoa (bookstore, bar, and cafe)
I can’t find a website; this Tripadvisor review is the closest I could get: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g293974-d10207315-Reviews-Minoa_Bookstore_Cafe-Istanbul.html
Suleyman Seba Cad, Park No. 52A
34357 Besiktas Istanbul Turkey

Populist (Torch Beer)
http://thepopulist.com.tr/tr/ana-sayfa.aspx

Joker No: 19
Again with the TripAdvisor review site, as they don’t seem to have one: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g293974-d7706043-Reviews-Joker_No_19-Istanbul.html
Besiktas Cd No: 19
Besiktas, Istanbul, 34435, Turkey
+90 212 227 9395

Beer Hall
I thought I’d found a website but it brought me somewhere odd. So TripAdvisor again: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g293974-d10227112-Reviews-Beer_Hall-Istanbul.html
Visnezade Mahalessi, Suleyman Seba Cd. No: 46, 34357
Besiktas, Istanbul Turkey
+90 212 219 6530

Gara Guza
This is more a local brand of beer to look for than a place. It’s fairly easy to find in Istanbul, and good. In the airport, seek the upstairs bars- there is one that carries this in several varieties!

NB: Other airlines that offer one-night layovers include Icelandic Airlines (Rekyavik), Aer Lingus (Dublin- I did this once heading to Prague), and TAP (Azores).

 

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A $1,600 Beer (Or- a beer worth a trip) Brazil

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I have a personal judging scale for beer. It goes like this: I sniff it, I take a sip. I decide whether I will finish the sample. And then I consider- would I drink a whole glass? If it’s a real competition I think- would I pay for it? Seek it out again? (As in, drive across state lines.) And finally- would I get on a plane for it? (Note that nowhere in that beer judging description was there a “check social media or beer forums to validate or second-guess my taste” step.) Which I suppose is a funny thing to point out in a blog about beer. So warning- consider the source! Because I am going to tell you about a buy-the-plane-ticket beer I found in Brazil.

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I went to Brazil for a cartography conference. The International Conference on the History of Cartography, which takes place every other year in a different location. It was my first time in Brazil so I tried to learn some Portuguese but as usual figured out just enough to ask questions yet not enough to understand the answers. I read a bit about craft beer starting to take off in Brazil- but the breweries are all in places far away from the Belo Horizonte-based conference. I resigned myself to a week of non-beer imbibing.

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Brazil is known for this- cachaca. Like rum, but distilled differently. Not my thing but gladly accepted as a gift. Context makes it delicious.

A few days before I left for the conference I read somewhere – and I wish I could remember where- about a brewery called Evora. I decided to visit. Which turned out to involve significant obstacles. A 30 minute taxi ride away from my hotel to a residential neighborhood where no cabs would be around to get me back; the guy behind the desk at my hotel told me quite forcefully not to go; no wifi or cell service to call a cab or Uber (even if I could speak the language) once I was there. So as I turned in for the night I made other plans to explore the hip Savassi neighborhood.

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But I woke up the next day determined – after all, would I ever be here again? Since when am I an intimidated traveler? How could I travel all the way to Brazil and not visit a single brewery? No- I would go! After practicing how to insist on my plan to the hotel’s naysayer of the previous evening, he was not even at the desk that morning. I easily convinced his more accommodating replacement to ask one of the cab drivers parked out front to drop me off and pick me up three hours later from one address. (I did not meet a single English-speaking cab driver in Brazil, by the way. But if you’ve been to China, you know what to do.) This took a bit of back and forth- it was arranged. I grabbed a beer present, and off we went!

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Evora is in a house on a hill in a residential neighborhood with a locked gate at street-level. The building numbers are not in order, so even the local savvy cab driver had to ask for directions. He let me out of the car facing a locked gate with no one else around. And drove away.

[Older readers- picture the scene in Madeline Khan’s debut movie “What’s Up Doc” where she is left at an intentionally wrong address- thinking she is at a secret party. And the taxi speeds away…] If you have not seen this movie- do. Your life is not complete.

As I watched my driver turn the corner out of site at the end of the street, I still had not found a way to open the gate. I said “hello?” as loud as one does among a bunch of homes on a quiet street- nothing. As a mild pre-panic warmth went through me and I imagined standing in that same spot for three hours hoping the cab would really come back, my eye caught a small blue bell and I pressed it. A head popped up at the top of the hill, and a buzzer released the painted metal mesh door. I was in!

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Just as I swelled with relief that I was in, I saw a fast furry flash coming towards me from the left- a massive dog! Before I could freak out he was greeting me in that way that dogs do with humans they intuitively trust.

Who needs language? I was at ease from that moment on. All doubt, all fear left me. There is something of home in this place.

I went around back to the tiered informal patio to find people preparing to hang a pop-up art show. They were the only others outside. It was a brilliant blue sunny day. I sat on one of the half kegs that serve as chairs, pulled out my sketch book, and pointed to a beer on the menu – the house lager. I figured in a country known for serving lagers it was a good choice to start with even if I am biased against them- having grown up in the states where they’ve been ruined. Lagers are hard to do well. Nowhere to hide. It was a bit of a test- and I was pleasantly surprised. Crisp and quaffable with no off flavors. Subtle floral aftertaste. Reminded me of the pilsners of southern Germany with a bit of Czech Saaz lingering. Nice!

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It was good enough for me to ask questions – which made the server quite enthusiastic. In between his broken English and my non-existent Portuguese I learned that some test batches of beer are made there, but most of the beer is brewed at a different production facility. That day they had a few on tap- including a Tripel he was keen for me to try (I usually do not care for them- too sweet for me).

These were solid, well made beers. But nothing to get on a plane for. I was enjoying that perfect early buzz- taking in the sunshine and the azul sky, watching the art show as it was mounted along the outdoor walls- maybe I was glowing. My glass was empty and the server pointed to another beer on the menu. I like to follow server recommendations and accepted before I read the description: a Rauch IPA. What? Gross! The very idea was almost a buzz-kill. Plus it was a bottled beer- ?.  He poured it for me.

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Beer drinkers- remember with me. Think back to that first sip of a truly special beer. When your head tries to catch up with your mouth; when your mind is racing and your lips are smiling and all previous experiences are eclipsed. It’s a lot like falling in love. Well except for the mouth part. And you think- did that really just happen? You look around to see if the rest of the world is hip to what’s going on. You want to tell someone, but are conscious of that being silly. You stammer. Your eyes well. And you drink some more. Oh. Yes.

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I did not see it coming. This part is a blur- I’m pretty sure I said something inappropriately gushy because the server went to get the brewer (who I did not realize was there) I launched into further gushiness. We talked for a while. He let me write on the chalk board when he saw my sketch book.

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Between my literal beer buzz and the high of unexpected pleasure I was flying. I talked to all the people hanging the show, met the artist, and bought one of his paintings. I took pictures of everything and drew a few myself. The brewer recommended a local dish called Tropeiro, an absorbing combination of beans, cornmeal, a fried egg, and pork cracklings- and I devoured it, wiping the last drops off my elated face as I was told that the taxi had returned for me.

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The first thing I asked the driver was if we could do the trip again in a few days.

Which we did.

Evora’s posted hours are more like office hours than brewery hours. Which should have been a clue. My first visit was on a Friday afternoon- lots of people around. I didn’t realize it at the time- but the owners were just being nice to me showing up in the middle of the day while they were working. My second visit- to pick up my artwork and more beer- was in the middle of the week and the place was quiet. No regrets! I drank more amazing beer, got more bottles to take home, and picked up my art. And- got a local’s welcome? Local cheese was involved. And a special last beer.

Which is to say this beer – the Rauch IPA- must be drunk in context. It is extraordinary on its own- a gold medal in any competition. (Heads up, 2018 World Beer Cup!) But to get the full experience you can’t just have it anywhere- you must come here – to Brazil. There is something extra – some mysterious enhancement to the flavor when you drink it with a rescued and grateful dog, an expressive young artist, a sincere and passionate brewer, a sky this blue, a new lover… it’s a sensory overload rush in every sip. And there you have it. A beer worth getting on a plane for.

Below are the details of this and other places to find beer in Belo Horizonte. If you go, they’re all good- but only one is worth the price of the plane ticket from Boston.

Evora (Their website is annoyingly only on F book, which I will not promote)
R. Carlos Frederico Campos, 170 – Ouro Preto
Belo Horizonte – MG, 31310-400, Brazil
Twitter: @cervejariaevora
Instagram: cervejariaevora

They suggested I go to this place, which had okay beer. http://www.cervejariasatira.com.br
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This place was in walking distance of the conference and had perfectly good beer.

And finally, the best bar to gather – where professional map geeks from Amsterdam, England, Colombia, New Zealand, China, Sweden, and more- drank ALL the beer each and every night that week, is a place that is everyone’s fantasy: A book store that is also a bar. Cafe con letras.

(No photos because of course everything that happened there stays in our heads, not on our phones. I hope.)

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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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