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

Emerald Lake

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.

Hofje

 

 

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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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Alice’s Drink (London and Oxford)

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Detail of Captain John Narbrough’s 1670 manuscript map of the Magellan Straits

LONDON

I visited London with the specific purpose of crashing a map lecture by Tom Harper at the British Library. It was not the only reason, but it was up there. I also planned to interview a globe restorer who recently wrote a lovely book called Globes. To see the Indigenous Australia exhibit at the British Museum, take the Tate-to-Tate ferry, sit in a box at the Royal Opera House to watch Falstaff. I cancelled my one beer adventure days before my departure because Meantime was purchased by SABMiller.

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Top floor view at Tate Modern, where they serve The Kernel IPA

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Yet I find beer travel to be inevitable. There I was in Tate Modern‘s top floor cafe, having just strolled through a collection that I kept comparing to the new Whitney‘s assemblage, when I turned to face the counter to order my coffee. Truly- I meant to order an espresso. It was before noon and I had a full day of walking London ahead of me. And who would have guessed that a major world class museum would carry a local small batch beer? Fortunately this is happening more and more often. The bottle selections were just beyond the server’s head at eye-level. Very clever.

My inner voice- an old man I call Sid- reminded me that vacations should be enjoyed in every way. My shoulders relaxed and I smiled involuntarily and probably a bit too broadly. “I’ll have The Kernel IPA please.” Not being American, the server did not raise her eyebrow, nor did anyone else. And so my impromptu beer tour of London began.

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My device was abuzz with advice. Stuart O’Dell of Teign Cellars in Newton Abbott made a quick trip to London to point out the finer brews of Craft Beer Covent Garden (I had already discovered the original Craft Beer Clerkenwell) including Soundwave by Siren. I was not completely surprised to learn from Shaun Hill that Siren’s brewer Ryan just joined Hill Farmstead, because everything I tried of theirs was more than good- it was special. Like your first Cigar City Humidor Series IPA is special. Or Shaun’s Flora. Or Yvan De Baets’ Brusseleir Zwët IPA.

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The Rake

Over the next week my tasty tour also led me to The Rake (above) which has a wonderful summer camp feel, Jerusalem Tavern where I ended up meeting a bunch of cool women drinking St. Peter’s cask beer and supporting a sculptor’s kickstarter campaign, the Holborn Whippet where a customer kept her dog on the counter and shared her beer with him, and a vermouth bar called Mele e Pere which is reviving the culture of sipping vermouth in London and soon will carry the elixirs of Carl Sutton.

 

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O’Dell informed me that The Kernel Brewery is open only on Saturday mornings, but definitely worth a trip. I had planned to spend that day in Oxford, but decided I had time before my train. I took an Uber (my one taxi experience was an expensive and rude disaster) to a funky area called Spa Terminus. A long row of what look like industrial garages house all kinds of artisanal shops- some also points of production- such as Monmouth Coffee Company, Little Bread Pedlar, and Neal’s Yard Dairy.  It’s got a groovy feel, and the aromas will keep your nose quite happy. I wanted to move there, although I did notice a threatening number of baby strollers.

What kind of person drinks beer at 9:00am on a Saturday? (Other than a beer traveler on holiday and people buying bottles.) Apparently single dads. The only other two drinking customers plopped their kids down at the interior picnic tables, handed them gaming devices, and ordered full beers. Who am I to judge? I ordered the Table Beer, a 2.9% tasty wonder, only because I had to be able to read the train schedule to Oxford and get off at the right stop.

OXFORD

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This is a cake. No really- completely edible.

 

On the 4th of July, I donned a red, white, and blue skirt- my subtle nod of approval for the recent Supreme Court decisions and President Obama’s moving lead of Amazing Grace– and struck out to visit maps at the Bodleian Library, where CAMRA member, Charlbury Beer Festival organizer, and author of The Gough Map Nick Millea is in charge of the map collection. Being a beer person himself, he gave me great tips on where to eat (King’s Arms, where I had aged cheddar and pickle on oat bread) and drink (Turf Tavern). As I strolled into town from the train station, I went into the first bookstore I saw, found a few gifts to take home, and went to pay for them.

Me: “Wow.”

Large hairy male cashier busting out of an Alice in Wonderland costume, complete with blond wig: “I get a lot of that.”

I had accidentally discovered a party. It was the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, you see. And Alices were everywhere. I barely remember reading it, yet could not help but get caught up in it. No fewer than 22 venues had events, from readings and races to food fairs and a Hatter’s Cocktail Party. The lawyer in me loved “Alice’s Evidence” at The Story Museum, followed by dancing and the auction of the impossibly balanced cake above.

The trip was already worth it because of the maps and beer- stumbling on Alice’s Day made it unforgettable. In a fun yet weird science fiction sort of way.

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The Turf Tavern is a bit tricky to find. You will have to turn a corner at the end of a long passage- just like Alice- before you find the casks that say DRINK ME.

 

BACK IN LONDON

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My final beer stop was Camden Town, known for off-the-chart ridiculously delicious Helles. And for not playing well with others- but what do I know? Melissa Cole invited me- so off I went bearing beery presents from Russian River. The Helles (both filtered and unfiltered versions) was even better than I had hoped- so clean and refreshing, especially after a week of unintentional hop imbibing. (Isn’t that supposed to be an American thing?) And the company – lots of industry folks – was warm and welcoming.

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I even managed to meet a transplanted New Zealander, Stu from Yeastie Boys, who actually remembered my tweet about the beer he made with Dann and Martha of Pretty Things that I found at Hashigo Zake in Wellington. (See earlier post)

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Finding myself stuck in Gatwick airport for several hours waiting for the plane to the next leg of my trip (Amsterdam; post forthcoming) and having exhausted the Weatherspoon options, I found this quirky but surprisingly good beer at the sushi conveyor belt restaurant upstairs. It’s called Kagua. The fine print says it’s a Japanese craft beer. Brewed in Belgium. Huh? Regardless, it was terrific with the sushi. Between the sushi and the beer I could not find it in me to remain upset about my delayed flight. Very smart, Gatwick!

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And now for proof that I really did more than drink in England:

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Interior stacks at the British Library. Looks a bit like the Beinecke, eh?

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The ball attached to the Royal Opera House contains Yinka Shonibare’s fantastic ballerina- whose head is a globe made by Bellerby.

 

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Inside the British Museum

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Globe restorer Silvia Sumira in her studio.

 

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Inside the Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

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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.

friends

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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A Beer Geek is Born (Perth, Australia)

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Vera’s first beer at Little Creatures

Meet Vera.

Looks nice, right? She used to be a regular person. Well, a regular ER doctor who grew up speaking five languages- but she didn’t have any bizarre obsessions. And I assumed our overlapping evening at La Fine Mousse in Paris a couple of years earlier was just a wonderful one-off. (See Paris post).

Until we visited a special brewery together.

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Friendly service at the Hotel Subiaco

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Sampler by the sea under a tent at Black Salt

At the start of my three-city tour of her home country, we met in Perth on the left parenthesis (as I like to call the western coast) and stayed in the lovely home of her friend Margareta in Subi. We began direct from the airport sipping Aussie craft suds at an old haunt of Vera’s from when she lived there years ago called the Subiaco Hotel (lately of a facelift that had me longing for some comfy wrinkles) and at a new place she spotted on one of her beach runs called Black Salt Brewpub. (Both above) Most importantly, it would later turn out, is that my first beer in Australia was a Feral Hop Hog. Fresh, balanced, almost juicy- it set a high bar.

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One of many examples of “Kangaroo Paw” in Kings Park.

We did a few normal things- had brunch with her friends, toured a couple of museums, walked through King’s Park. I picked up a copy of Cloudstreet. Later that same day we visited Little Creatures, The Monk, and Sail & Anchor in Freo (as Fremantle is called). Little Creatures reminded me of Stone in San Diego: a lovely visit to an amusement park of beer.

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The beer is great, but the studied attempt at ensuring a particular experience was distracting. And just like at the end of every Disney ride is a store full of momentos, I confess that’s where I picked up the best beer gifts (other than beer) to take home. We enjoyed dropping off the first Wormtown Be Hoppy can (beer gifts I brought from the US) at The Monk and had a memorable Rye the Hop Not on engine by Mash Brewing at Sail & Anchor.

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In Perth’s CBD (Aussie for “downtown”) by word of mouth, we found Northbridge Brewing and the rooftop Mechanic’s Bar, where I drank my first canned Aussie beer, Mountain Goat of Melbourne, and admired a fine cocktail list.

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On the deck of Mechanic’s Institute Bar.

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Between showers in Perth’s Central Business District (CBD)

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Inside Northbridge.

Compared to my usual beer travel, so far it had been pretty tame.

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Behold: Tasting paddle at Feral Brewing.

Until the morning when Vera suggested that we miss a planned visit to Rottnest Island, home to the cutest, happiest marsupials on the planet, so we could be sure to arrive at our first brewery stop in the Swan Valley at the moment it opened. I became suspicious. But given that morning rain was likely to keep the adorable critters in hiding anyway, it seemed like a good idea. The first stop was to be Feral Brewing.

And that’s where Vera’s geeky fate was sealed.

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The Swan Valley is essentially wine country, and as you get closer to the center spliced by the Swan River the signs pointing to wineries become more frequent. There wasn’t a sign to help us find Feral Brewing until we were practically pulling in the lot. There it sat, a large building away from the road with a big cleared area in front, some grass, outbuildings, chickens poking about. A wildish farm.

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But there was no mistaking the smell of mashing in that welcomed us. They didn’t mind that we were ten minutes early. By this point we had a routine. We asked for a tasting paddle and shared it, going one by one back and forth comparing our impressions and taking notes on our favorites. Feral has a set panel, but Vera noted most of the beers on it she could find in her hometown of Sydney. They sent us to a table with the full beer menu (15) and invited us to make up our own panel and then order more if we like.

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We are dazzled.

So we chose these:
White Hog
Karma Citra
Watermelon Warhead
Funky Junkie
Knuckles
Fantapants
Barrel Fermented Hog

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Vera’s nose in action!

Feral is one of only a handful of truly exceptional brewery visits in my experience (BFM in Switzerland, Montegioco in Italy, Mont Salève in France being others) where not only were we made to feel welcome (no contrived lines, an unfortunate trend in the US that self-proclaimed beer aficionados deign to wait in) but every beer was notably complex, fresh, different, and delicious. Made with love. It happened to both of us, Vera and me. We were on the fourth beer on the paddle when we declared our love for the creator of such beautiful tastes! Man or woman, young or old, beautiful or ugly- we were smitten. And our regard deepened as we continued sampling so that at the end of our visit, when we finally met one of the brewers, we were like a couple of silly Beatles groupies. It was at this point when our savvy server came up to us with two glasses of a “little something special” off menu for us to try. Cue swooning. And then brewer Will Irving handed us two bags full of beer, graciously posed in our selfies, and sent us off with hugs.

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Brewer Will Irving joins a selfie!

Although it wasn’t fair to them- nothing could compete with Feral that day- we managed two other breweries in the Swan Valley. Mash, which was more like a cafeteria catering to families, and Homestead, which was quite elegant set on the Mandoon Estate Winery, and where we ended up tasting some delightful old vine zins in addition to beer. (Both below)

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Inside Mash- home of the Why the Hop Not rye beer!

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Super elegant Homestead Brewery on the Mandoon Estate.

With the conversion of Vera to full-on beer geek complete, and a farewell impromptu tasting in Margareta’s kitchen to relieve our luggage of so much beer, we were all set to continue our adventure as joint beer travelers to Sydney and Melbourne.

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We had to make a dent in the stash before packing off to Sydney.

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Yes, we are indeed.

Up next – Sydney!

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