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Kentucky Bourbon? Nah, Kentucky Beer!

Against The Grain

As a beer drinker I'm never hard to please. I enjoy most beers to a certain degree and visiting brewpubs is usually a positive experience. Every individual brewery has something to write home about, little idiosyncrasies that make them unique and fun. Every now and then you find something real special and it's usually somewhere you didn't even intend to go or didn't even know existed. For me, that place is Against the Grain Brewing in Louisville, Kentucky.

Man, just about everything in this place oozes skill. The venue is located on the outer echelons of Louisville Slugger Field perfectly accessible from the Main Street on one side and the stadium on the other. It is a brewery, a smokehouse and a superb beer drinking spot. Contrary to the usual brewpub food of bog standard burgers and botched salads the brewery smokes all their own meat. The quality is top notch. What better place to smoke meats than in a bluegrass brewery in the beautiful barbecue land of Kentucky.

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If the meats don't sway you then the beer will. The brewery makes so many different beverages but only has six beers available at any one time (as far as I'm aware). Even the ones they like, they alter. I'm no beer expert just simply a beer enthusiast but I'm confidently announcing that their 'Pile of Face' IPA is one of the best beers in America. Our server, Stevie P, who was clearly a beer geek like myself revealed that even though I liked it I shouldn't get too hopeful because the guys at the brewery regularly alter the recipes of the beers and alternate the hop varieties! Therefore the beer will always taste different.

Judging by the nature of the place I had a feeling that the brewery was run by a bunch of comedians with a penchant for doing things differently. I wasn't wrong. Directing myself to their website (www.atgbrewery.com) and reading through the owners' biographies it was clear to see why I was drinking a beer named 'Pile of Face' that was listed just above 'Sam's sweet BA Dunkel Dunk!' On reading the attributes of the four bearded buddies who brew beer, Adam has been there since the beginning of the universe, Sam has been sent from the future, Jerry was hatched from a silicon-based stone from the planet Phaart and Andrew is a hardened criminal! I guess this must be the perfect combination of personalities to make the best IPA's one could wish for.

If that wasn't enough to make you want to visit then to top it all off they have a drink called 'Bieretics' which is salted and smoked in their own smokehouse. Can't say I've had many smoked beers in my time and this one was certainly interesting! If you ever find yourself in Louisville, Kentucky it would be a travesty not to visit Against the Grain.

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Who's got a fat head?

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Fat Head Brewery is just one of over seventy breweries in Portland. The whole city is soaked in beer. Microbreweries, nanobreweries, brewpubs - you name it and Portland has it. It's difficult to choose where to visit, there are plenty of breweries on the outskirts of town but there are also a whole load of them in the central area too. After visiting one of the 55 food trucks that are permanently stationed in the city and amusing ourselves at the largest bookstore I have ever been to in my life we wandered the streets and decided to go into the first place we found that made beer. That place happened to be Fat Head Brewery.

As one would expect, the logo is a cartoon image of a guy with a fat head (who looks incredibly familiar to me). When we got to the bar we immediately got into a conversation with 'Sharon' - a punter. She was incredibly enthusiastic about beer and breweries and told us all of the ones that we should visit in the city whilst also suggesting beers we should try from Fat Head.

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Feeling slightly uneasy whilst sitting in front of 12 taps that all had a plastic figurine of a fat head staring at me I looked at the extensive beverage menu: coffee stout, IPA, session ales, lager, apricot ale, cinnamon ale! The flavor combinations seemed endless. Not feeling particularly frivolous I wanted the 'Sunshine Daydream Session Ale.' At 4.9% and an IBU of 60 I knew what I was getting and I knew it wouldn't last long! It was so easy to drink and to be honest it tasted a bit like a daydream in the sun...whatever that tastes like. Being more adventurous than me, Haley had a tangerine shandy and whilst I initially turned my nose up at her choice it actually tasted pretty good. In England, people dunk biscuits in tea for a cheeky snack. This drink was like dunking tangerine segments into your favorite ale for an even cheekier snack!

We poured the beers into our fat heads for around an hour and then we left for beer-y-er pastures. All in all, lots of fun. Wish I had had an IPA though.

Beer-o-meter: 8/10

Chizu - Cheese in Japanese

Chizu is a pocket sized establishment in central Portland, OR. We had read about it before arriving in the city and we were eager to visit. Essentially it is a bar/eatery that serves cheese, wine and beer all encompassed by a Japanese theme. It's Japanese in the sense that everything in the place is minimalist and it is covered with miniature origami birds. Additionally, Portland receives a lot of visitors from Japan who often pick it as a second city to visit after checking out San Fransisco. The brainchild behind Chizu is the man who also owns The Cheese Bar; a cheese shop in west Portland that has over 200 cheeses. I guess he saw a good business opportunity based on the clientele and therefore Chizu was born.

Having now been to Chizu I can confidently declare that it indeed is pretty fun. It's the sort of idea that would work in Portland because the city is so hip it hurts. Hipsters like ideas, specialty food, local product and beer and Chizu has the lot. If Chizu was opened in downbeat country town it would fail worse than a failure who has failed to notice that he had in fact failed. You take a seat at the tiny bar in front of a wide selection of cheeses behind a glass case and pick up a menu that lists all of them on it. It's not restaurant, it's not take out its simply gourmet with a casual feel. You can either choose your own cheese plate and accompanying beverage or you can ask one of the very friendly and knowledgable staff to assist you in making a taste sensation.

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Our cheesemonger (who turned out to be a relative of Benjamin Franklin!) was excellent. I picked the cheese and she provided the customer experience whilst preparing our cheese board with a selection of dried fruit, salted nuts and crostini. Attention to detail goes into the layout of the boards and just enough cheese is given so that you get a few good bites but not so much that it's overwhelming. Considering the potentially high brow connotations that one may have with the eatery the prices were very reasonable - we had four cheeses washed down with two ciders and we paid $25. The fruit and nuts were part of the deal. I think that's a steal.

If we ever go back to Portland, we'll definitely go back to Chizu.

Loleta - Cheesemaking Without the Fuss

We left the giant trees of the Redwood forests in Northern California to make our way to Willits to see a friend who was working at a place called The Grange Farm for Adaptive Agriculture. Intrigued towards what we were going to find on an adaptive agriculture farm we decided to brainstorm what it might be like. In order to brainstorm we needed fuel to think. Therefore, cheese.

We decided to stop at a dot on the map named 'Loleta' which apparently held a small cheese factory within the limits of the town. We peered out of the windows of the car at rural Humboldt county, green and lush pastures aren't necessarily what one thinks of when conjuring up an image of California but this was certainly the case amongst these parts. The vibrancy of the fields reminded me of my home country, England, with its rolling hills and farm buildings.

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The shop was on a side street opposite a derelict building with smashed windows, it hardly seemed like a good location from the outside. However, when we went in we could clearly see that it was a popular location. First opened in 1982 I think the factory must look the same today as it did 35 years ago. The shop had a simple cheese case that was filled with what I like to refer to as 'solid no frill cheese!' There was a large selection of Jack, Cheddar and Havarti that was infused with different flavors and each cheese had a respective sample to try.

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Filling our faces with cheese I looked up to the picture on the wall and saw an image of Guy Fieri from Diners, Drive-in's and Dives when he visited the establishment a few years ago. He was stood with Bob Laffranchi, the owner of Loleta Cheese. Guy Fieri was quoted as saying 'it was the real deal'. On a side note I think Fieri's spiked hair would make an excellent spot to place cheese and pickled onions for a party!

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Being on a strict budget we decided to by the end piece of a Monterey Jack for our 'make it yourself and eat it out of the trunk on the side of the road' picnic. The end pieces were ridiculously cheaply priced at $2, it would have been rude not to buy one. As we set off on our merry way we saw the cows that made our cheese possible. We thanked them udderly...

Beer, BBQ and Boots!

The hour was late and we hadn't planned our day very well. We had left Banff in the morning with the sole intention of reaching somewhere in central Washington state by the evening. After several longer stops than we anticipated we found ourselves at a campsite just off the highway in Ellensburg, a college town with a decent amount of charm. We didn't have a lot of food left in our 'big green food box' and we didn't feel like cooking at the campsite anyway so a trip to the town for a meal was on the cards. Being on a strict budget we didn't want to spend much but we still wanted to eat real food. We drove through the town looking at the various selections of restaurants available. Nothing looked particularly fun or inexpensive and then we saw 'Rodeo City BBQ.' Now, I didn't think Washington was known for its barbecue but this place looked authentic!

Walking through the front door into the restaurant was like walking back in time thirty or forty years. The pale walls were decorated with pictures from Ellensburg's rodeo past and low saucer style lights hung low from the ceiling emitting a dim glow that gave the place a 'lounge feel.' The room was filled with comfy-looking booths with upholstery that had rodeo themed material woven into them. It was cute. We were greeted by an older lady (who turned out to be one of four generations all working in the same place!) and she took us to our very own booth with menus that boasted the written statement 'the west at its best.'

The menu was packed top to bottom with barbecue food but I went straight to the beer selection to see what was being offered for the parched and the thirsty. They had three draught beers - a lager I can't remember because I didn't have it, a stout by the name of 'Irish Death' which seemed too heavy for BBQ and a seasonal which was called 'Iron Horse IPA'. The IPA was from Ellensburg and it sounded interesting so I ordered one and then the waitress stumped me when she said 'do you want a glass or a boot?' Thinking I hadn't heard her right I repeated 'a boot?!' 'Yes, we serve beer in cowboy boots made of glass if you want?' came her reply. Realizing I hadn't misunderstood her, I laughed and assured her that I definitely wanted my beer served in a cowboy boot. What could be better than drinking beer from a boot at a rodeo BBQ?! Hell, I would even drinking Keystone Light if I got it served to me in a boot...well, maybe not, but still...a boot!

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Cutting a long rodeo story short we feasted on cornbread, tri-tip barbecue meat, beans and pulled pork all washed down with the tangy liquid from an iron horse. Comfort food at its best ready for an uncomfortable night sleeping on gravel!

Beer-o-meter rating: 9/10

Boot-o-meter rating: 10/10