Category Archives: out and about

East Coast One

After arriving in Manhattan, my friend Ed took me to Molly Wee’s, which is somewhere near Madison Square Garden. While I probably could find it walking in the city, I couldn’t tell you where it is. New York is like that for me; familiar but mystifying.

While the selection was rather slim, it was my first chance to relax since I’d gotten on a plane 8 hours earlier. Stuck between everything I would expect, and nothing, I went with Samuel Adam’s Oktoberfest. It was a solid, reasonable beer, malty and it had a kind of workmanlike quality that I was going to rely on whenever I was limited in my choices. Sam Adams seems to have established itself pretty strongly, at least in the Yankee areas I were in, as the solid premium beer of choice.

Fortunately, my next stop was Brooklyn, where the awesome author of the Gift Donkey began to show me around. New York was quite warm, so she walked us through the neighborhood,  passing by the bad Korean place, the crazy local dive bar (“you will get weird looks when you walk in”)  and the Williamsburg expressway. On the porches people hung out, having overloud conversations about giant bugs or strange boyfriends, or maybe both. We stopped at Mugs, a badly lit place that had a six page menu; four of beer, and two of food.  Oh yeah, this was going to be my kind of place.

Many of the beers were belgian ales, many of which I recognized, and I was a little discouraged because I wanted to try something I hadn’t before. Then on the chalkboard sign that wasn’t even illuminated as well as a grade school stage play, I made out, Brooklyn Lager on the menu.

Well, I’ve never had that before! Gimmie.

The Brooklyn Lager was decent, but I admit I was hoping for a little more. My own fault, though, for picking a beer that is meant to be so unremarkable. Spoiled by the Hopswork lager? Maybe. 

So next up was Sixpoint’s Incubus. I had no idea what I was getting when I ordered this, and found myself confronted with a yellow, hazy beer with a banana nose. The head on it had large bubbles, giving it a foamy, airy quality that made the nose stand out. The beer wasn’t very challenging, but it was still pretty tasty, and by now I’ve been up for seventeen hours. Which is my way of saying; my notes and my memory both fail me. I forgot to take pictures, and was all done in, so should this be less than accurate, please forgive me.

One clear winner

The beers I tried from Phillips Brewing were steadily awesome. While I was not fond of the dark IPA, Black Toque, I am not fond of that style. Bitter malts, coupled with bitter hops means there is a strong desire to not drink that beer on my part.

But (and what would this post be without one?) the Longboat Double Chocolate Porter tasted lovely, like milk chocolate only in beer form. It was velvety without being heavy, and a great beer. The Amnesiac IPA was one of the better balanced double IPAs I’ve had, and the Blue Buck sustained me in bars where my other options were Molsons or nothing.

I haven’t seen Phillips’ beers down in Portland, and I hope that changes soon.

A brief aside: I don’t see many beers from Canada in my section of the US. Why is that? I can find beers from German, Belgium, England, even Italy and Japan! Canada is right there! Seems like those microbreweries would send things our way. I can only assume that for some strange reason the laws for transporting alcohol between Canada and the US are stricter than the ones between the US and other countries.

Finally, one place I was told to check out but found very disappointing was Spinnakers. We got a sample of all their beers, and they seemed timid. It’s weird to describe a beverage that way, but it felt right; the beers all erred on the side of safety. The double IPA was balanced, but are double IPAs supposed to be? There was a scotch ale that was decent, but because it was cask conditioned, the carbonation element was missing, and I felt that I would’ve been better if the carbonation had been present. The last phrase in my notes is: the dunkel is good, but not pint worthy.

That’s not a good sign for a beer, nor a brewery.

But I don’t want to end this post on a sour note! I had a nice time in Canada, and drank at some excellent bars, getting to try some fantastic beers. Sure, it took me a little while to find my way, but the barkeeps and waitstaff were really helpful.

Big Bad John’s was one of those crazy places where they only play country music that’s at least 20 years old and everyone tries to leave a piece of their history there–business cards, pictures, bras.

The Sauce listed Heroic Drinkers on their wall; Belushi, Yeltsin, and a memorable quote from Tallulah Bankhead, “My father warned me about men and booze… but he never said anything about women and cocaine.” I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be warned or inspired.

Smith’s pub not only had a great selection of beers (most of which were potent enough that I forgot to write about them, but I do remember some were belgain inspired concoctions from Qubec) it had some kick ass chicken strips. Mmm…chicken strips.

There was also a kick ass place on Simcoe street called the Bent Mast which is rumored to be haunted in a friendly way. The food was tasty and the service was great, and though I didn’t see any ghosts, it had the vibe of a good place that meant to stay that way.

The tipping point

Upon arrival in Victoria, we needed a beer. All that time on the ferry staring at nature and having the sun shine down-I’m sure you can imagine how necessary a beer was at this point. Fortunately, the Swans Hotel was just down the street, serving Buckerfield‘s ales. From my limited time there, it seemed as though the brewery was attached to the hotel itself, which makes me think that the next time I visit Victoria, I should just stay there.

I might never leave, which has its own pluses and minuses. Sure, I’d miss the glory that is Victoria, but I’d get to become a brief fixture at a great pub, sipping gently on well crafted beers all day.

Note to self: do this someday.

I started off with the Arctic Ale, which was the seasonal; it was crisp, light and with a fruit essence to it–my notes suggest cherry.  Finally, some yeast experimentation! Sure the malts had the overriding flavors, with a biscuity taste that didn’t stay around long enough to be welcomed, but I knew that I was on the right track.

Next, I had their IPA, which was a different animal; there was a definite floral push, and I’d go so far as to say even a rosy  quality to it. There was some actual hop bitterness to the beer, but again it didn’t linger to become unwelcome. This beer felt really balanced and very drinkable.

Next, it was down to the Canoe brewpub for their Beaver Brown ale, which had a dense mouthfeel for a brown. There was a hint of orange to it, before coffee rises up near the end to keep the beer from getting cloying. Delicious! I don’t know why, but my luck at finding interesting brews had definitely turned.

Vancouver part two

It was on the third day that I finally wised up. In a dark lunchtime pub, I daringly tried Russell’s Lemon Wheat Ale. I did so not expecting much, but very pleased with the results. This was a wonderful mix of lager malts and lemon tang, that after a day of riding a bike around Stanley Park was perfect.

But where to go next? How am I going to find other pubs with interesting beer selections?

It’s simpler, of course, than I’m making it out to be. Our bartender Billy, with silghtly bulldog cheeks and a salt and pepper grizzle and moustache was happy to tell me where to go next: the Black Frog, Irish Heather, and Malone’s. None of these pubs were brewpubs, but they were havens in a city were I was having trouble finding selections beyond lagers.

It was at the Black Frog I had Big Rock’s Traditional Ale. I had no idea what the heck I was getting when I’d ordered it; I got it because another bartender had suggested it to me, but he couldn’t tell me what the style was. I was treated to a pleasant nut brown ale in a bar that everything from a Melvin’s 45 to a monkey doll riding a T-rex. Also a doll; I doubt I would’ve been able to enjoy a beer with an actual Rex around.

Walking in to the Irish Heather for a moment I felt that the pretension there would drive me out. It felt disturbingly modern, with huge windows in the front, no seats at the bar, quotes from Samuel Becket etched into the glass of the door leading to the bathroom. Fortunately, the waitress was disarmingly charming, and easily set a relaxed tone for the place. I had Tin Whistle’s Killer Bee-which was another honey ale, and wasn’t very distinctive. I selected it because I’d had so many of the beers they offered, but that wasn’t the pub’s fault; I just drink lots. After that, I had Whistler’s Pale Ale, and like so many pales I had, it tasted more like an amber than like a pale. It’s not an easy distinction I know; the line between amber and IPA, but with all the beers I as drinking heading toward the malt sweetness instead of the bitterness of the hops, I was getting a bit worn out.

This was also my problem with Steamworks‘ IPA; it tasted like a decent pale ale, but couldn’t be called an IPA except by stretching. The hop bitterness just wasn’t present, not in the nose, nor flavor. I know I’m from a part of the country that really, really likes their hops, but I can still appreciate an IPA that’s in style. Now if they’d just make one….

Foam Scraper

While I write up posts on my trip to Canada, I have some filler from my trip to Seattle…

I’m sitting in the Pike Street alehouse, waiting for a server to quit looking at the trouncing UW is getting from U of O and notice me, thinking about the decades that have seen people like me coming to Pike street in various conditions and looking for who knows what to fill their dreams. But since I’m by myself I begin to relish my own memories of times spent in this neighborhood. Of course, the previous dreamers didn’t have access to the ales of Pike Ale, and even when they did, they had to put up with things like this:

As someone who has destroyed my fair share of foam on beers (using my pinky finger) I almost understand what’s going on here.

Almost. See; I was ruining my beer to get more beer in there. They were just ruining beer.

Makes me glad to live in more civilized times.

Boundary Bay Brewing

As I head North, things gently seem to shift. My last US beer stop is the Boundary Bay Brewing pub in Bellingham, which seems to be a refurbished warehouse, now brewpub. It’s got that mishmash of style made from scarred floors, refabricated walls leading to awkward bathroom hallways and a balcony which most certainly housed a dour, sweaty forman once, that says: I’m an old building that has seen some years. Please relax and enjoy me.

So I got a scotch ale and my girlfriend the sampler, which I steal sips from. There are photos, but I am unable to upload them now…perhaps there will be a big picture post in the near future. We agree on the ESB and the Oatmeal Stout is a standout for me, while she enjoys the IPA, which I thought was too bitter. The scotch ale I have is very tasty, and goes well with my lamb burger and chips-though I order a pilsner to finish off the meal. But what I notice is that there is a lot of malt here; perhaps milder beers chosen to pair with their grub? I do not know.

Canada awaits!

Away from the Geek Riots

I’ll be short of pictures and posts for the next little while, as I’m on the road. Right now, in Seattle at PAX where fans of games of any and all types come to play, chat, meet up, freak out, and generally cause a good natured ruckus. Sometimes I have to get away from the groups though, and fortunately for me getting a good beer isn’t difficult, especially if one is willing to walk a little.

Just up the street is the awesome Elysian brewpub, where yesterday I tried at least three different beers, but the one that I remember is the Hubris imperial IPA. It was very smooth, with the usual bitter aftertastes of most IPAs mellowed out of it.

Today, at Von’s I had the Old No 8, billed as ‘The world’s strongest beer’. A cheerful exuberance based on the alcohol I’m sure because there’s certainly much stronger than this 8%er. I wasn’t informed as to what to what they style was, but one sip told me it was a Belgian dubbel; not quite alcoholic or complex to be a tripel, was my deciding, but still quite good. 

I also had Maritime Pacific’s Old Seattle Lager, and found it to be a fine counterpoint to the strong beer I ‘d just had. I’m sure it would be a great drink for those times when I’ll be working off the sweat of Left 4 Dead sessions, whereas I’d probably take the Old No 8 when I started some of the marathon board games they have here. You don’t always want to start playing Risk sober.