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Lagunitas - Big but still humble?

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There's no denying it, Lagunitas is huge now. It has just sold half of it's company to Heineken to try and branch into the global market which means it can no longer be described as a craft brewery. Internationally speaking, Lagunitas is still a fledgling but on the national stage it is one of the most well known beer brands in the country. The brewery is massive and trucks line up ready for distribution near and far.

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Whilst Lagunitas is said to have effectively 'sold out' it still very much feels like a craft brewer. The quality and variation of their beer is excellent and the prices at the brewery are totally reasonable considering its popularity ($5 seasonal's!). It entertains a large brewpub with swathes of outdoor/indoor seating and regular live music from well known artists (Deer Tick, Blind Pilot) to help wash down the large variety of beverages on offer. Familiarity with most of their regular line lent me towards two of their seasonal ventures (Stoopid Wit, Fusion 39), a stout and 'Aunt Sally' which I had never tried. Without delving too much into the individual beers, Fusion 39 is an interesting tipple that's certainly worth a try but for me the Stoopid Wit is spot on. Lagunitas, with their catchphrases and made up words describe this drink as a 'Belgian-ish Wit-ly-esque-ish-ness brew.' Whatever you want to call it, its a summertime drink and it's bloody good.

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Sitting there in the summer sun under the shade of an umbrella, listening to good quality live music and watching people mingle on the 'mingle tables' it's clear to see why the brewery scene has exploded. From a brewery as large as this all the way to the smallest nanobrewery the object is for punters to enjoy the experience. And people were certainly enjoying themselves here. Providing Lagunitas keeps making great tasting beer then I don't see its expansion as such a bad thing - somebody has to be at the top of the pyramid!

Stoopid Wit-o-meter 9/10

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

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

Kootenai River Brewery

We left the amazing mountains and crystal blue lakes of Banff to return to the good old US of A with its incredible terrain, vibrant cities and worrying political system. We were heading west towards Washington and the start of cheese country but first we needed to make a trip to Northern Idaho just to see what it was like (and to snare a cheeky bevvy!)

Having no phones and an iPad with limited connectivity we generally just stop through towns and hope for the best. This time, the best happened to be a brewery found in Bonners Ferry. We parked up alongside the river next to a pristine, light blue Chevy from a time period long before we were born and walked through the wooden doors.

The first thing I thought was that it was big. Bigger than it looked from the outside. A large selection of merchandise greeted us immediately as we walked in with a bar that stretched the entire length of one wall. Ample indoor and outdoor seating was available but we decided to place ourselves at a small table situated in between the bar and the brewing vats. Perfect spot for a pint.

With respect to pints, these were the cheapest pints you could aim to find. $4 for a 16oz and $3 for a 12oz. When you are on the road and under a limited budget with only a small amount allocated for drinking alcoholic beverages then this is a steal. Lots of the drinks referred to animals - Osprey Pilsner, Grizzly IPA, Two Tails Pale Ale which is what you would expect from rural Idaho. I asked the girl at the bar what their signature drink was and she shrugged her shoulders and said 'I dunno, people like Osprey.' It was blue and bright outside so I ditched my IPA boots and picked a Pilsner she recommended. Sometimes Pilsners lack flavor, this one didn't. I took a swig, flapped my bird wings and soared off into the distance. Haley, my better half, decided to go for Two Tails Pale Ale but in 12oz size. A fun size glass for a fun size girl.

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Whilst waiting for the bevvy I noticed a chalk board on the wall that said 'Today's soup - Beer Cheese Soup.' I immediately had to have it. Beer is an incredible idea, cheese is an incredible idea so a combination of the two always sounds good. I boldly ordered a bowl of it and waited for its arrival, filling the time with sips of Osprey Pilsner. We had driven all the way from Banff to Bonners Ferry and all we had eaten was a croissant. I was a starvin' Marvin, whoever he is.

Along came the soup. It was thick, it was creamy, it was beery, it was grey-brown in color. It would look totally unappetizing in a nice restaurant. But this was no restaurant, this was a brewery that made beer cheese soup and it was fit. Fit, fit, fit!

Osprey Pilsner beer-o-meter - 7/10

Beercheesesoup-o-meter - 9/10!

Cruisin' in The Black Hills

Everywhere you look these days you can see evidence that the small brewery/craft beer scene has exploded in recent years. Statistics show that in the US, 3 breweries are opening per day and the market is still far from saturation point. What does that mean? It means a hell of a lot of beer is produced by people who love beer and the result of this is great diversity in flavors and styles.

One such brewery heading the scene in South Dakota is Crow Peak, based in Spearfish. On sipping their Canyon Cream Ale a few days previously we decided to make a trip through the Black Hills to Spearfish to see what the brewery was all about. We arrived at 11:05am which is kind of early for beverages but we were pleasantly surprised when we saw that the door was open. Expecting to be the first ones to arrive, we walked through the double doors to be greeted by people already sipping a special brew and filling up growlers! The room was one vast space with a huge ceiling accompanied by a bar stretching the length of one wall.

On perusing the colorful chalkboard menu and being told by other punters that we should try the Tart Cherry Porter (which sounded excellent) I decided to go for a Black Hills Cruisin' Session IPA. You can't beat a good IPA at 11am! The idea of having a bevvy at such a tender hour was not as appealing to Haley so she decided to have half a Canyon Cream Ale that we had been drinking from cans a few days earlier!

The gal behind the bar, a relaxed 'nothing fazes me' mid-westerner poured our pints and we got into a chat about travel. She had been to most states in the US and her choice of transport was a motorbike. We told her our travel plans and she recommended that we travel to Stanley in Idaho because it's located amongst the beautiful Sawtooth mountains and it has a good brewery!

On enquiring about the building we found out that this neighborhood brewery had moved premises from across the street to deal with expansion a few years ago and it seemed to be thriving. One can even go across the street to buy some BBQ and then bring it into the brewery to eat it with a pint!

The IPA was excellent and only mildly hoppy which is good, especially so early on in the day. I also got the opportunity to try the '11th Hour IPA' which is their signature drink and it was really good stuff. Maybe we should move to South Dakota simply because the craft beers are great. Excellent brewery, excellent drinks and friendly people!

 

Beer-o-meter rating: 9/10

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Snake River Brewery - Sufficiently Replenishing Beer

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When you are walking the last few stretches of a 9 mile hike into the Teton Mountains one definitely needs a reward. Whether you are parched from trekking in the summer sun, happy that you have been revitalized in the fresh air or simply celebrating the simple fact that you didn't get beaten up by a bear, one is looking for a palate pleaser!

We threw off our hiking boots, ditched the unused bear spray and headed for Jackson Hole where the Snake River Brewery was waiting for us. It appeared out of the dust like a mirage which gave it connotations of a western town. In reality the haziness was due to the building site across the road from the brewery but we kept up the pretense just for fun. The building was a huge, pale-painted cube with 'brewery' written vertically on the corner. It looked inviting.

On entering the brewpub I noticed the plaque on the wall which said 'est 1993' which is plenty of time to perfect the art of small craft brewing. We selected a table upstairs on the deck and the waitress took us to our table up a spindly staircase past the gentlemen who were busy brewing beverages with hops flying everywhere. Pretty cool.

The menu had a varied selection of beers including a fair few IPA's (as you would expect) as well as also boasting lager, stout, IPL and Hefeweizen. We were only having one pint because we had a long drive back to Yellowstone so I bit my finger nails and fiddled with the spikes on my cowboy boots (wishful thinking) trying to decide what to get. In the end I opted for and fully invested in a 'Belma Pale Ale' made exclusively with Belma hops and Haley got a 'Jenny Lake Lager' which was described as an Amber colored beer made with German yeast and German malts. The Belma was great! It was tart and bitter without going wildly over the top and also fruity which is exactly what I needed to perk me up after walking 9 miles. Haley drank her pint quicker than me (a rarity!) so she must have been a fan. She said that if Jenny Lake was actually made of lager then she would drink the whole lake. She didn't actually say that but it sounds like something she would say! All in all a great day out, cheers Wyoming!

 

Beer-o-meter rating: 8/10 (9/10 after a long hike)

Sipping in the South Dakota Sun

When you have had a long day at work it is compulsory to go home, crack open a nice beverage and drink it enthusiastically. When you have spent the day walking around a National Park, getting covered in mud and soaked in torrential rain, it is compulsory to sit in a windy campsite, crack open a nice beverage and drink it enthusiastically.

I reached for the beer I had just bought. The yellow can read "Canyon Cream Ale" in writing that could only be described as the "Dusty Saloon" font in Microsoft Word! "Brewed with Local Honey" written down the side of the can peaked my interest, especially considering this was my first ever beer from South Dakota.

I cracked open the can and before I had even tasted it I was delighted... It was filled to the brim! "Filled up?" I hear you say, "Isn't that what you expect?!" Well, this beer was really filled up. Whenever I usually open a can of anything there is a full sip-worth that is missing at the top. This Canyon Cream Ale from Crow Peak Brewing, was filled to the BRIM!

I'll let you into a secret, it tasted bloody awesome. It's an ale but it's light as a feather and the honey is subtle but present which gives the beer an overall mellowness. It was just what I was looking for after a long day of hiking. Even the wife liked it so it must have been good!

...Onwards to the brewery in Spearfish, South Dakota!

Just found this one resting on top of a Badlands mound! 

Just found this one resting on top of a Badlands mound! 

Good Thunder - Thunderously Good!

If you have ever been in a tent during a storm in the middle of nowhere , then you will have undoubtedly heard wild cracks of thunder that cause you to believe that the gods are wielding hammers and deciding the fate of the universe. Although at first it can be terrifying, once you sit back and relax you find it to be heart-poundingly exciting. This comparison is not unlike lots of people's approaches to washed rind cheeses. On first impression, most people recoil in horror at an orange (sometimes sticky, sometimes wrinkly) rinded cheese only to be pleasantly surprised and even heart-poundingly excited when they cut one open and try a piece. 

Good Thunder is a great name for a cheese. It's a good cheese and it hits you like thunder. Good Thunder is the name of a town with approximately 600 people near the town of Blue Earth, Minnesota. It's a little washed rind square which is soaked in Surly Bender beer a few times during it's production. It may look like an insignificant little square on the surface but underneath the surface lies a bright, chalky, dense cheese that tastes amazing! 

Cheese-o-meter rating: 9/10

 

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Trois Pistoles - Petted by a Canadian whilst watching the footy!

And so the beverage bashing begins. Although, you can’t bash a beverage and truly enjoy it so perhaps alcohol analyzing would be a better word. But now that sounds too in depth….

Whatever. I was out in search of a beverage to watch with the football. Beer and football just go together, there is no science behind it and yet I’m certain that it is written in some ancient text somewhere that you just simply cannot have one without the other. England were playing in a highly tense, patriotic but let’s not fight kind of match against Slovakia in which we had to do well not only to keep a respectable position in the group but also to beat Wales! Therefore I was on the hunt for something strong and bold that would reflect my football team’s performance (like I say football and beer are linked). 

I’m no beverage expert but I have a wide palate so I had an idea of what I was looking for. After a short peruse round the beverage section I spoke to the gentleman in the shop, let’s just call him ‘Dave’ because that is his name! Dave knows a lot about beer, you can just tell. After a short amount of deliberation, Dave recommended ‘Trois Pistoles’ a dark, Canadian beer that looked incredibly inviting. I felt the weight of the 750ml bottle and looked at the label in which a black horse was jumping over three spires. I squinted at the 9% alcohol content and the fact that it was brewed with spices and immediately knew this was the beer for me and for the game. I thanked Dave and put the beer on the table at home (after paying for it of course!) in preparation for the televisual feast I was about to witness from my home team. There was no need to refrigerate this beauty, it could just sit there until the game began, looking all noble with it’s fancy cork.

Fancy cork!

Fancy cork!

The game began, the cork popped off, England had possession and the beer tasted great! Trois Pistoles is an easy drinking beverage for a dark ale. It’s all encompassing on the palate, it’s fruity and the aftertaste is brilliant. If the game was going to be as good as the beer then I was going to be in for a treat! The only thing that slightly worried me was that the beverage was a little more mellow than I had expected and ‘mellow’ is not a term you want to describe England’s performance in a European Cup. 

I didn’t finish the beer until the 72nd minute of the game, including the 15 minute break where I shouted abuse at the half time commentators. There was no pausing the game to go to the fridge to get another beer with this dark ale, it was simply perfect for the occasion. I spent the last 15 minutes of the match biting my nails, hoping that we didn’t let a random goal in and end up getting eliminated. England were unimpressive, didn’t create much and the game finished in a 0-0 draw. On the other hand, Trois Pistoles or ‘Three Pistols’ was delightfully delightful and not a bit like England’s performance. Perhaps beer and football aren’t so closely linked after all…

Note to self: Write to the England manager requesting he gives the boys a Trois Pistoles before the game in order to spruce them up.

Beer-o-meter rating: Bloody good, 9/10, cheers Dave!

Meant to be together?!

Meant to be together?!