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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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Beer Crush (Philadelphia)

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It started innocently enough. There I was, walking around Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market– overwhelmed by rich food scents and visions of neon and oysters and meats of all kinds thinking that the one thing that would make all of it perfect would be a beer. But counter after food stall- soda. juice. water. No beer. Everyone seemed so happy. How could they be without beer to go with their hearty meaty lunch sandwiches? Something was missing.

And then I saw it. A few people standing in front of a row of tap handles with a bar behind them. Molly Malloy’s. I checked out the bar- no seats available. That’s when I noticed that the guy next to me was getting his beer to go.

I rubbed my eyes. Am I still in the US?

YES! More people were gathering around, so when I saw that the first beer on the crafty draft list was an “India Cream Ale” I ordered it. To go. I know I know- the plastic cup and the straw is campy. But you know what? Sometimes you gotta go with the locals.

And that’s how I met Ben.

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It was really terrific walking around the food stalls, openly, with a beer. It’s the thrill of going against the hyper-restrictive and puritanical American alcohol culture. The giant smile on my face probably spooked people more than the beer. And I caught myself nearly holding the beer in the air.

It took a few minutes for me to realize it. But the beer was fantastic.

That’s when the stalking began.

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I went back for more St. Benjamin’s, dragging other people away from the Craft Brewers Conference to try it, (all to raves and ‘thanks for showing me this!’) to the point that the bartender just brought me a pint of it when he saw me. Nothing like becoming a predictable regular within a week, especially considering all the special beery events and truly so much incredible beer everywhere in the city. But I could not stop going back for more Ben.

Simultaneously, I became obsessed with Benjamin Franklin, the man. As in, I developed a crush on man long dead.

Philly happens to have a museum devoted to him! Not surprisingly for the man often quoted as saying, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy” – some of the exhibits are beer related. His tankard, his rules about work (water at work, beer later- which was new at the time. Yet his particular exhibit did not tame my ardour.) I read his autobiography.

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Part of a video at the Benjamin Franklin Museum showing colonial workers drinking beer. He liked water at work to keep a clear head. It caught on, dammit.

Can you guess where I was and what I was drinking while reading this book about tavern history in Philadelphia? (below)

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And then it hit me. What am I doing? Why visit a museum and do all this reading when St. Benjamin’s is a Philadelphia brewery- I must go there!

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The bones of the structure of Ben Franklin’s house outside of the museum. And the only sun the week of the 2016 Craft Brewers Conference.

Uber could not find it at first. Because the tasting room had only been open a week.

But suddenly- I had arrived!

I tried to calm down and sampled some of the other St. Ben beers.

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Simple, elegant, and open interior of the St. Benjamin’s tasting room. The food is good, too.

While I waited for Belgian brewer Yvan de Baets of Brasserie de la Senne– who shared my new passion and planned to join me- I met a delightful couple at the bar. They were adorable, and locals to Ben (lucky devils) and we hit it off.

Yvan arrived. We ate, drank, and bought a case of the India Cream Ale (Inca) in cans to take back to Cambridge with us. Very happy. And then one of the brewers, Christina Burris, came out to meet us. A woman! Woohoo!

She insisted we have a tour. And the adorable locals joined us. It was a memorable and unexpectedly splendid evening.

As I write this, I am enjoying an Inca in my St. Benjamin’s hoodie, smiling about the great pleasure of discovering and loving a beer that I didn’t find though a website, an app, or a recommendation. Just my taste buds and Harvey Butler luck.

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Ben and me. We get each other.

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Super Sips of 2015

Instead of picking a single best beer of 2015, I give you my favorites in the contexts of enjoying them. Partly because I was not very good about posting my sipping experiences last year (first resolution to break in 2016: post every other week!) and partly because there is no such thing as a favorite, or a best, beer. Only a favorite experience that raised the level- no matter how good the beer already was- to a higher plane. In no particular order, my list of super sips of 2015.

Best Beer in front of my Fireplace
Bog Iron Devil’s Footprint, a Mezcal barrel aged braggot.

Brian Shurtleff brewed this and gave me a bottle when I visited the brewery in Norton. It’s ridiculous. (Please excuse the adorable glass- I use it exclusively between Thanksgiving and Christmas.)

My new fireplace and a warming beer.

Best Beer Sampler
Russian River in Santa Rosa, California

I had to be in San Francisco for work, so I figured I’d just pop up to the famous Russian River Brewery. But it turns out that Santa Rosa is rather far from San Francisco. I decided to arrive early on a Sunday, and thought about renting a car- but who wants to drive after visiting a brewery? I checked into Uber- but it would have been over $200. So I asked a local- Carl Sutton of Sutton Cellars in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Fran, and he knew right away. “Take the Golden Gate 101. It drops you off a block away.” Great! On Sundays it takes over two hours. What.

It was an ordeal, especially because I did not realize that the particular Sunday I chose was Father’s Day- which meant adding a two hour wait once I arrived at the brewpub. Around the corner, I found a delightful place to wait called Third Street Aleworks. I watched my place in line with the app Russian River gave me, and happily sipped away. Good thing I did not have too much, because the sampler at Russian River has 18 – yes 18- (plus a bonus that day) tastes.

Knowing I was not likely to return, and that a bus would deliver me safely back, I ordered a second sampler. Strive to avoid regrets- that’s what I was thinking.

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Best Beer to Share with a New Friend
Horal’s Oude Geuze Mega Blend 2011 at ‘t Waagstuk in Antwerp, Belgium with Claudia Asch

It was nearing the end of the 2015 ICHC (International Conference on the History of Cartography), and while I enjoyed seeing lots of old friends, I had not met any beer geeks. Until I found Claudia.

My first beer with Claudia Asch was a well-cellared gem.

There were several other wonderful beers shared in Antwerp that week with my map geek friends:


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Best Beer Brewed by a School
Cum Laude at the University in Antwerp that hosted the ICHC. It was exactly what I was craving after nearly two weeks in Europe- not too sweet, a show of hops but not over the top, refreshing. Just right. And yes, the school has a brewery!

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Best Beer Enjoyed at a Brewery
Brusseleir at Brasserie de la Senne in Brussels

I arrived in Brussels by train from London on my way to a conference in Antwerp, so technically I had another train to catch. But Yvan de Baets, brewer/owner of Brasserie de la Senne, offered a ride to Antwerp via a visit to his brewery. Who would say no? I had never heard of this beer, but one sniff sent me somewhere both familiar and nostalgic. I was walking in a blooming flower garden in England, and someone was baking scones in the distance- the finish was faint licorice.

I will not provide details of Yvan’s reaction to my description, but apparently I nailed it.

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Best Beer on a Boat- Europe
A beer Regine brought from Germany enjoyed on the deck of a houseboat in Amsterdam. Truly one of the best beers I have ever had, although I do not know or care what it was. See previous post to understand! But in truth the picture says it all.

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Best Beer on a Boat- United States
A beer shared with old friends while sailing around the San Juan islands off the coast of Bellingham, Washington. Again, I do not remember the name of the beer- but it was memorably delicious.

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Best Graduation Beer Brewed with the Graduate
Berry Stout brewed with and for McKain Webb-Lakey (with sous-brewer brother Will) to celebrate her graduation from Berklee College of Music.

When McKain’s Washington-state based parents asked me to watch out for their daughter while she was in school in Boston, I assumed they meant make sure she got a solid craft beer education. She did.

Brewing berry stout

Graduation label

Best Beer in a Hidden Restaurant
Every beer paired with the food at Luksus in Brooklyn. Get over leaving Manhattan and hop on the G train.

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Best Beer with Mom
There were two this year. A Grizzly Paw overlooking Lake Louise in Banff, Alberta and Traveler IPA at the Alibi Room in Vancouver, BC. Yay Canada! Her favorite beer was the Hibiscus Wit at the Alibi Room.

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Best Beer at a National Park Brewery
Did you know that both Jasper and Banff National Parks have on-site breweries? We liked the Rye Shwartzbier at Jasper the most.

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Best Beer in Front of Someone Else’s Fireplace
Local beer from the bottle shop in Golden, British Columbia while peeling apples for apple crisp at the buffalo ranch where we were staying.

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Even if beer isn’t your thing, you should visit this part of the world. Here is why.

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Emerald Lake

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Best Beer for Breakfast
Bell’s Golden Rye Ale at Little Goat Diner in Chicago.

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Best Birthday Beer(s)
Everything at BFM‘s annual Brassins Public in Switzerland

When your birthday falls on one of your favorite brewery’s annual open house, you should do whatever is necessary to get there, right? And when other friends decide to converge there as well- the beer just tastes better and better.

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Best Beer Surprise at the End of a Journey
BFM La Meule in Fribourg, Switzerland

After failed GPS routes and darkness descending, stumbled on a balcony bar overlooking the lovely town. I do indeed have traveler’s luck.

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Best Beer Gift 
The Cambridge Center for Adult Education has a long history of culinary and other cool culturally enriching classes. I teach several courses, including Beer & Art History- and give my students this tasting glass at the end. CCAE is a non-profit entity, and I donate my time to teach. Because I love it! Check it out.

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What were your favorite sips of 2015? Wishing you all a 2016 full of fabulous imbibing all over the world.

 

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Sensory Magnification (Amsterdam)

Amsterdam houseboat. Thanks Airbnb.

Home for a few days: Amsterdam houseboat. Thanks Airbnb.

I had initially planned to go to Amsterdam on my own. Just three days- mostly to make sure that I visited at least one new (for me) country in 2015. I wanted the experience to be special, so instead of a predictable hotel I rented a houseboat. (above) You should do this.

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I researched craft beer destinations, read about the “Nine Streets” neighborhood (where the houseboat is anchored), and bought my Van Gogh Museum ticket online. (You should also do this- although be prepared for glares from those in the line that circles the museum as you walk directly to the front- and the guards move the rope for you to enter.)

And then, I had a brilliant idea. I decided to see if my dear friend Regine could join me. She was going to miss the conference in Antwerp (see forthcoming post) for the first time since we met at the International Conference on the History of Cartography (ICHC) in Budapest in 2005. We first met after a tour of the exhibit Margaritae Cartographicae at the National Széchenyi Library. We were both inspired to order beer and watch the sunset against the parliament buildings and Danube. We’ve been friends ever since.

It was short notice, she is working on her dissertation, she has a little boy. But she still said yes!

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Sausage, cheese, and beer at t’ Arendsnest

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Much of our sipping was confined to the boat. I mean- why leave it? We had coffee and local pastries in our pajamas on the top deck in the mornings, waving at the tourist boats that passed by as if we lived there all the time. In the evenings we drank wine from the local shop or the beer she brought from her hometown of Hamburg. After exploring canal streets, shopping for flowers and tasting lavender and honey goat cheese- we accidentally stumbled on the best known craft beer bar in Amsterdam, serving only Dutch craft beer, called t’ Arendsnest (the eagle). It was around the corner from our boat.

There is a bar inside, but if you can- sit at one of the few tables outside by the water. The food menu is essentially sausages and cheeses. We loved the lavender sausage and the two year aged cheese with crystals that crunched against our teeth. Later (it was so good we returned the next day) we had the smoked, almost raw (if that’s possible) beef sausage. The great discovery, after trying many samples to find a beer she liked and finally taking a sip of my rye IPA, was that Regine is a hop head! When the super folks at t’ Arendsnest discovered this, they gave us a couple of bottles of their off-menu “homebrew” which is part of their “Fat Five” series.

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Picnic on the deck of the houseboat with hand-carried craft beer from Hamburg.

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Regine discovers she is a hop head!

 

We both brought guidebooks, and Regine’s German version had something mine did not: a section on Amsterdam’s secret gardens. Apparently these gardens are hidden behind homes and accessible only to the surrounding residents, but some of them open a door to the street on occasion and allow people to wander in. All of the ones in her book were inaccessible though. After the fourth street, just as I began to get grumpy, we found a secret passage. A Hofje! We nearly tip-toed through, not wanting to disturb the magic air.

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Other than a glass of rosé in the Miró gardens, and an espresso in a lovely rose-laden café with real candles burning on the bar and every table in the middle of the day, we had one meal off the boat. And what a meal!

Regine passed it on her walk from the train and said it looked good, and the Airbnb host listed it on his “top 10 local places”- what further recommendation did we need? We called for a reservation for an outside table only two hours before we planned to eat- and got it. Our view was better than a painting- the sun glittering on the water and dappling the trees, a perfect breeze, a lovely aroma in the air. They brought us a couple of house elderflower vermouths as an aperitif, and the perfection was sealed. But was it the eel and crawfish velouté, the fish sampler (above), the foie gras “sandwich”, the two bottles of flinty white wine we shared that made this such a spectacular meal? Of course it all helped- but in truth, the boat, the museums, the food, all the imbibing, and the magic that is Amsterdam- were intensely magnified because I shared it with my dear friend. We could have been anywhere.

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One of our strolls brought us to the Begijnhof, a well-kept garden connected to a church. Since the middle ages, single elder women (not nuns) have lived in these private homes and tended to the church and gardens. As we walked by, arm-in-arm, we paused to look at the quiet, elegant homes. Regine said, “The one with the green door.” We smiled and continued to the street, imagining our golden days in Amsterdam.

 

Evening view from the boat

Sundown from the deck of the boat.

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Bespoke Boutique Beer (Sydney, Melbourne, Wellington)

The most recognized opera house in the world
“I don’t fancy boutique beers.”

So said a man on a barstool in Sydney when I asked about local craft beer.  I thought it was brilliant. Finally- a better word than “craft” to describe small-batch, hand-made, artisanal beer. The other word I had been thinking about lately  was “bespoke”- which technically is closer to “custom” but in most FT contexts seems to have taken on a broader meaning- anything made with exacting standards, focusing on quality over efficiency, and uncompromising in materials, methods, and expertise.  What craft meant before it was highjacked by tax laws.

Vera and me at the parma place

Pardon the six-plus month interruption, dear readers. Clearing up some health issues. Suffice it to say that on the up side, I got to wear some cool wigs of all sorts; on the down side my taste buds were temporarily broken. All is right again! Where were we? Oh yes- in Australia with the newly-minted beer geek Vera. (See last post) Here we are – sharing a sampler and a pint.

The walk from Coogee Beach to Bondi Beach

Vera lives in Sydney, but this was the first time she was approaching her own town as a beer hunter. Our fist stop was her local, which happens to be called The Local.

The Local, Sydney

Sampler at The Local

It’s a small bar with a solid selection of Aussie beers. We had several by Bridge Road, which ended up being our brewery of choice by the end of the night- especially the Nieuw Bruin aged in cognac barrels. And while I learned to say things like “fair dinkum” and “dodgy as” we hit Bitter Phew (best play on words), Four Pines, Nomad, Young Henrys, Batch, the roof deck of the Sweeney Hotel for a Goat Mountain tap takeover, the Royal Alfred (excellent homemade dumplings and plenty of Doctors Orders), Lord Nelson, Quarrymans, Frankie’s Pizza, and a fabulous bottle shop called Oak Barrel.

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At Nomad, Brooks Carretta, the brewer who is from Italy’s Birra del Borgo and also trained in the US, treated us to Sideways Pale and Jet Lag IPA. Assistant brewer Jack Thompson created Vera’s favorite- Long Trip Saison.

 

 

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I have a habit of crashing breweries that are technically closed. Every time, the welcome is warm and I leave humbled. When Vera and I opened the door with the large and quite clear “closed” sign (we did bring a beer present!) Batch brewer Topher Boehm gave us a beer before he even knew we’d brought him one. Cool logo, eh?

 

Young Henry's

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At the Sydney Fish Market, we picked up a couple of craft bottles (they leave an opener on a chain at the check out so you can consume your beer on the picnic tables with the oysters you just bought).

 

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I am a sucker for rye in beer. It’s finicky for brewers, but the special tang it gives a beer is like no other. So when I first saw the sign outside Quarryman’s Hotel (not really a hotel- there are a lot of places like that here) touting the Payment Rye IPA, I was excited. But the fine print said the release was actually in the future, in fact the exact date that I would be returning from New Zealand to the states. With a six hour layover in Sydney. Plenty of time to leave the airport for a beer, right? While at Quarrymans, we enjoyed many beers- so many we started to draw hearts on the menu to indicate our favorites. Like the Bacchus Russian Imperial Stout aged in Shiraz barrels. I have a picture of us kissing the glass, but not everything should be posted on the Internet. Know what I mean, jelly beans?

It wasn’t all about beer. I got my State Library of New South Wales Special Collections library card (that’s how you get to see maps) and learned what an interrobang is- the love child of a question mark and exclamation point that serves as the SLNSW’s symbol. Strolled the Botanical Gardens, put my toes in the water at Bondi Beach (Vera, part fish, went for a swim), and had some ridiculous food and wine at The Duck Inn.

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Then it was off to Melbourne. We met Vera’s friends Jacquie and Runil at Mrs. Parmas (which I was told could not be missed by a former Mountain Goat brewer and fellow Bruges traveler). “Parma” is local for parmigiana, as a cooking technique. I think. The food was fine; the beer list absolutely special. Vera and I had it pretty posh- staying in a 29th floor penthouse apartment with people who keep a Porsche and a Lotus. The best part was that when we went anywhere with them, we had to take two cars because each car only holds two people. They offered to let me drive- and as much as I would have loved to, the combination of driving on the left + expensive car + beer is not a winning one.

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Mountain Goat had a special event on the one day we could have visited, but we made up for it with stops at Cookie Bar (far above), SlowBeer (immediately above), The Royston (across from Goat Mountain) Two Birds, Junction Station, and Dr. Morse for splendid hot chocolate and chilled local Vermouth from Yarra.

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Two Birds is a woman-owned brewery. They have a beer garden in the center of the brewery (below) with a live DJ spinning vinyl. We drank Taco and raved. If you only visit one brewery in Melbourne, make it this one.

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At this point of the trip, I headed to Wellington, New Zealand and Vera went home to Sydney. She planned to pick me up at the airport for our Quarrymans rye beer release layover excursion in a few days.

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The Wellington beer scene is quite organized. I crossed the street from my Airbnb pad and found this map (above) at the first bar I walked into. It’s a beer map of Wellington. I hit most of them over the next few days, in addition to visiting the Te Papa Museum, eating excellent local seafood (like octopus dumplings) at Bin 44, and learning more about cricket than I ever meant to.

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Imagine my surprise when I walked into Hashingozaki to find my local Cambridge Pretty Things collaboration with Yeasie Boys on draft. It was delicious! Cambridge is about as far as you can get from Wellington. Dann and Martha seemed as surprised as I was.

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The General Practitioner (beer list above), a lovely bar in a former physician’s house and office, has a serious list and good food. The Little Beer Quarter (above right) recommended Mike’s APA. Apparently he’s a local who fills the kegerators with his homebrew- it was so good I started looking for Mike’s name everywhere I went.

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When I entered the Fork & Brewer, I saw what looked like a homebrew setup half way in the dining area. This was a place for me. Kelly Ryan dashed across the room in a flash, mid-brew and doing three things at once. In the middle of juggling all that he let me try Big Tahuna IPA pulled from the bright tank. Let’s just say- he’s not just a pretty face.

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Of all the beers I tried (I stopped counting at 75- it just doesn’t sound good) the one I looked most forward to was the rye IPA that was scheduled to be released at Quarrymans in Sydney the very day I was returning to the states. Everything was ready- I was allowed to leave my luggage at the airport, Vera picked me up right on time, we got rock star parking in front of Quarrymans. Which was our first clue.

It was 10:00am, and Quarrymans was closed. They opened at 11- when I needed to be on my way back to the airport.

But Vera would not be deterred! After almost three weeks of beer geeking together, she ran at the window like a crazed bird when she saw something move inside and started pounding. I wasn’t sure if I should help or bolt- especially when we realized the thing moving inside was a cat. As I was still deciding, a nice chap came to the door- and in one breath she got it out: my-friend-was-here-last-week-and-came- back-during-her layover-just-to-try-this-beer and we’d be-so-grateful-if-you’d-let-us-in. And do you know? They did! It wasn’t even chilled yet- they’d meant to serve it in the afternoon. They set up a jockey box, tapped it, and the four of us were the first to try it.

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Thanks ever so much Adrian Evans and Josh Hover!

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People always ask me what my favorite beer is. I used to respond that it’s about more than a great beer, it’s the context in which you drink it.

But now I just say: Quarrymans Rye IPA on October 18, 2014 in Sydney.

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