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)

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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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Strong Wind Milk (Mongolia)

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A Mop in the Road

About 150 kilometers west of Mongolia’s capital Ulan Bator (“UB”), the road abruptly ends in a cement blockade flanked by two arrows alerting drivers to go around. This is not a fork in the road- it’s more like a mop. Instead of discrete paths, there are criss-crossing strings of dirt trails that widen and shrink depending on the amount of recent rain and eventually peter out completely. With another 200 kilometers to go before our destination, it remains a mystery how our driver knew where to go. Even with his expertise though, our four-wheel-drive vehicle had to be towed across a river- twice.

The optimum vehicle in Mongolia is a horse.

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Vera and I found a map store in UB.

Upon arrival to Mongolia, our van had to wait for cows to get out of the way to leave Chinggis Khaan airport. Not seeing any fences, I still wonder how they keep them off the runway.

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My new riding boots, purchased at the State Department Store, marking me as a “barny” for the horse trek. I learned from one of our (15 year old) traveling companions that a barny is someone who does not know how to do something but dresses the part. Busted!

In Search of Beer

My Aussi beer traveling companion Vera (see Australia, October 2014) met me in Beijing and together we arrived in Mongolia for a two week horse trekking adventure. And, of course, we also planned to explore the imbibing culture. We found two places in UB for beer: MB Beer Plus (above left), which had a brewery on site that makes drinkable German-style lagers, and the rooftop bar of our hotel (Best Western Tuushin, above right) that served a rather flavorless mega-brewery tipple called Ghinggis Beer. We preferred the MB Plus (but wished for a more clever name) and noticed in the pub the same tension that is everywhere in UB: an identity crisis. Mongolian words in Cyrillic letters leftover from socialist occupation, but no Russians; permanent cement walls around portable gers, luxury glass and steel structures with narrow strips of manicured grass next to dilapidated cement buildings with tangled forgotten gardens. But no matter- the drink of this country is not beer, it’s airag. And we hoped to find that in the countryside.

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We discovered, to our delight, that our 14 other traveling companions who signed up for this National Geographic Adventures trip were also imbibers. They insisted on a stop for cases of wine and bottles of scotch and vodka. This in addition to the bar that NG bring along and sets up for glampers every evening.

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As we continued west, the landscape transformed. Power lines, signs, fences, and western buildings disappeared. Roaming clusters of animals- goats, horses, yaks, and even camels appeared- often in the middle of the road.

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Wind Animals

And herein lies the secret to Mongolian beverages, and Mongolia in general: the animals. They live symbiotically with the last nomadic population on Earth. If Mongolians are the land and the sky, then it is the animals that weave them together.

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Even a brief language class emphasized animals. It began with the usual hello (sain baina uu, pronounced “san ban oh”, or the shorter “san-oh” for hi) and thank you (bayar laa, pronounced “buy-air la” with a sort of rolled r, but different).

And then- consistent with the importance given to them- our handsome teacher Boynaa taught us animal names. Yak is sarlag (pronounced sar-log, with the same tricky r of “bayar laa”), goat is yama (pronounced “yamma”), sheep is honi (pronounced “hoin”), and horse- the most revered- is mori (pronounced “mer” as in mermaid, with a rolled r). Even the songs we sang around the fire at night were about horses.

 

The National Beverage

I tried my first fermented mare’s milk, airag, when we met the head lama at the Erdene Zhu monastery in Karakorum. Sipped from a bowl that is shared with others, it was room temperature and both sweet and tangy. I would realize as the weeks went on that all airag is a bit different- depending on many things: the season (this year had been particularly verdant, with animals still eating lush grass and blooming flowers where last year it had already snowed), how long ago the mare had been milked, when she foaled, and so on. Airag has terroir.

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Our first ger visit began with a lesson on yak milking- something Mongolians do every two hours. Our hostess, the lovely Ankhaa who smiles from her eyes, wore a dell that had clearly been used for this task before and was stained with milk.  As with all things related to animals, it was intentional. The aroma from prior milking helps to calm the yak as Ankhaa approaches. Smell, an animal’s keenest sense, is so important to Mongolians that they sniff instead of kiss or hug when they greet each other.

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Yak’s milk cheese hangs to dry inside the center of a ger.

The liquid of animals is part of every bit of Mongolian life. Yak milk is used in milk tea, for yogurt, butter, several kinds of cheeses, and even a distilled vodka. Slightly alcoholic mare’s milk is fermented as daily nourishment for everyone, including children. It welcomes guests, is shared by Nadaam winners (including the horse- he drinks it from a bowl held for him, has his head sprinkled with it, and then the same bowl is passed to the rider to drink from), it is offered to Shamans and the ancestors they channel, and it is part of the offerings to ancestors at ovoos (mountain top shrine-like piles). Upon climbing sacred Mandal Mountain to reach the ovoo, and leaving my evil ancestor there (as one does), I offered three ladles of airag to help seal the deal.

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Small bucket with airbag for the Mandal Mountain ovoo.

Our NG hosts were vigilant in their warnings that we did not have to drink airag as it tends to mess with western guts a bit. Some of my traveling companions did experience some worrying in their colons, but my stomach liked it just fine.

Ger Etiquette

Gers have rules. They are easy but important: Enter right foot first; do not touch the threshold; head left and walk clockwise- guests sit on the left and family on the right; never walk through the two poles in the center; no crossing legs or lacing fingers; if offered anything at least touch the bottom of the vessel in thanks; do not use the left hand for eating. Once seated, the best part begins. All sorts of things are passed for consumption, usually in threes. Tos (a sweet cross between a custard and a porridge made with yak butter), milk tea (made with yak milk), a pile of bread or hard cheese or fried dense dough- all served with sweet fresh yak cream on top similar to clotted cream only (gulp) even better, airag (handed back for a top off after each person), a snuff bottle (admire it, take some if you like, and hand if back), and vodka- just distilled before your eyes and still warm if you are lucky. I got lucky.

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Just distilled from yak’s milk and still warm: fresh vodka with breakfast.

Compared to Mongolian hosts, western “hospitality” has a long way to go. Mongolian homes are truly open- to the point that when they return to their gers from somewhere and find strangers settled inside, eating their cheese and drinking their airag, they rejoice that they could give them comfort, and then join them. This notion put many of us to shame. Imagine a whole world like that.

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When we left Ankhaa’s home, I decided to try the traditional form of departure and leaned into her neck near her thick shiny hair and inhaled deeply. She had the most beautiful rich smell of milk and mother, of land and sky. You could not bottle something this loving and sincere. You have to live it. She graciously did not remark on my own bug spray/three days without a shower odor.

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I plan to call my neighbors, strangers to me now, and invite them over for some of the Mongolian vodka I brought back. And with a nod towards Mongolia, I will discretely sniff them when they arrive.

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My horse for two weeks, the “cowly pretty” Vachement Jolie.

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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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