Tag Archives: Beer

How to Take a Road Trip (Montréal)

Montreal Sign

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

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


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.


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.


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).


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:


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!


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!


100 Cottage Club Road, Stowe, VT USA

2300, rue Holt, Montréal

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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Alice’s Drink (London and Oxford)


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


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.


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


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.


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.


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.



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.




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)



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!


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


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


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



Inside the British Museum


Globe restorer Silvia Sumira in her studio.



Inside the Maritime Museum in Greenwich.




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Note Bien: Travel Tips for Your French Beer Trip


A few things I learned that will make your beery trip to France even better:

1. If you haven’t already, learn to drive a stick. I rented the cheapest car I could- $100/week for a great little VW Up! (exclamation point is part of the car’s name.) The least expensive automatic was $500/week.


2. Don’t forget, in your rush to rent your car and fire up the GPS, to get Euros at the airport. Like me. The first road from the airport is a toll road, and it doesn’t take American cards.

3. There are wild boar warning signs on some highways- neat!

4. Listening to the radio on long stretches is a great way to work on your French. And implant the Carrefour jingle in your head forever.


5. It’s really fun to say “enchanté” when you meet people. I love that. No matter how much French I learn I still blush a little because it feels like I’m saying “enchanted to meet you.” Just try to say it without smiling. Impossible.


6. Bring beer presents from the US for people in the bars and breweries you’ll visit. They weigh a lot, but the room and weight will be displaced by the beer you bring back anyway.


7. Don’t shake hands. The French kiss- twice. (The Swiss three times.) It’s great!


8. Offer to ferry beer from one brewer to the next. It was fairly common for brewers I met to not have tasted the beers from their own country. Daniel Thiriez started my trip off with this idea and it quickly caught on.


9. Budget for serious tolls. My first two hours on an “A” road was €15; another stretch was almost €30. If you have time, take the “E” roads- they’re quite beautiful, if indirect, and free!


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November 5, 2012 · 6:54 am

La Fine Fin (Paris)


There are beer bars, and then there are beer destinations.

What’s the difference? For me- in addition to spectacular, well thought-out beer lists and passionate people, you always leave a beer destination with a good story.


Like in 2005 when Mike Gallagher of the Brick Store Pub in Decatur, Georgia pulled out a then-unknown, off menu, 2004 Abbaye de St. Bon-Chien to toast my next morning move to Boston. That bottle opened my eyes to what beer can be, and also began an odyssey (some say obsession) of travel and beer adventure. (And now I help blend it at the brewery!)


The stories aren’t always so happy. I went to the Kulminator in Antwerp and made the mistake of speaking French to the owner who apparently doesn’t care for the language being used in the Flanders part of Belgium. (Either that or I unknowingly swore at him- entirely possible given my language skills.) He huffed away and wouldn’t look at me the rest of the time. Even the cat hissed at me. I had to order my $100 bottle of off-menu 3 Fonteinen Hommage from his wife who was clearly embarrassed. It was delicious though!


There was a strange momentum building up to my visit to this special place. My GPS had died the day before and I still managed to drive directly into the city and get a parking spot right outside the place I would be staying. (I used a map. Crazy!) The lovely couple I stayed with turned out to live around the corner from the bar. Other friends converged in their flat where we drank all the beer I couldn’t fit into my suitcases, and we then brought a few beery presents with us and descended on La Fine Mousse.


There are many stories from that wonderful evening, my last stop on the French beer voyage- but the best one is this: Paris now has a beer destination!

Bravo and merci to the three owners pictured at the start of this for creating a world-class beer list, a truly special space to enjoy it in, and for generously providing fodder for fabulous beer stories: Laurent Cicurel, Cyril Lalloum, and Romain Thieffry.


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October 31, 2012 · 5:40 pm

Beer People


What I love most about beer travel is finding the people I am already inevitably connected to. Whenever I meet another craft beer person, we download (in conversation) the beers we prefer and the people we know in common. Then we excitedly go through beers we think the other would like, places we think the other should go, and new beer people for each to meet. And so the beer world tightens.

Meet Bernard- in my mind the beer mayor of Strasbourg.


But first, a quick drive-by shot of my approach. These are some of the kilometer after kilometer beautiful autumn-glowing vineyards of Alsace.


I found Les Berthom on RateBeer, which I use as a first stop whenever I plan a beer voyage. The last I checked, only 20% of the people posting reviews of places are American, so I trust the worldly perspective. Les Berthom is a fine beer destination with friendly, helpful staff. The beer list was quite good for France, but didn’t include anything I can’t get in the states. So- upon of texted advice once again of Laurent Mousson, I moved on to 12 Apôtres.


At first I thought I wouldn’t stay. There weren’t seats at the bar. It’s really just for service, which for a woman traveling alone is always a bummer- although common in Europe. I actually asked for directions to another bar- which Bernard gave by drawing a map. (A real beer map! Yes it is in the collection.) I struck out to essentially go around the corner and got caught up in the lovely streets of Strasbourg, the moon, a pretty scarf in a window that I had to have… and ended up back at the douze, as I like to call it.


As has become a well-adored ritual in my life, Bernard then began to tell me about his beer list, the beer I should try given my mission in France (the Perle, described on a full page of the menu as shown here by fellow customer Pierre-Jean), and then the people and places I should look for on the summer trip I’m planning to Bamburg. We discovered the beer people we knew in common. I recommended places in the US. In the business world this is called networking. In my world it’s the fun part!


October 25, 2012 · 7:29 am