travel

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.

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!

Rogue River Dairy

Once you reach Southern Oregon everything seems to be named Rogue. The Rogue River Farm Stand and Dairy can be found not far from the meandering Rogue River after a long winding drive through Rogue State Forest. There is something about the word rogue that is pretty cool. A rogue to me is a mischievous swindler, a lovable bad guy - the Honorable Sheriff of Nottingham, Captain Jack, The Black Mustache....

So anyway, we were bumbling through backcountry Oregon feeling like rogues in search of Rogue River cheese. Our initial intentions were to go to the shop and cheese making facility in Central Point but because we got there so early the place was closed. Therefore we decided to continue on to the Dairy and Farm Stand in Grants Pass and I'm glad we did! When we arrived there were no cars in the parking lot and all we could see were cows - I guess Sunday is a quiet day for eating cheese. There was a milking parlor to the left, calves to the right and a pretty lawn with three picnic tables donning respective Rogue Creamery umbrellas to provide some shade from the hot sun. We hadn't even entered the shop and I already wanted to have my lunch there.

After viewing the outdoor premises we decided to venture inside. We were greeted by a lady stood behind a humble counter offering selections of Rogue cheeses. She was real friendly and directed us towards the cheese curd samples for the day; the lavender cheese curds were particularly good! The lady was one of only six (seven?) staff that work at this organically aimed establishment including all the herds people and merchandisers which surprised me considering the popularity of their product. I knew that the company had just started moving towards robotic milking and the lady (can't believe I didn't get her name) told me that despite the robotics costing an extremely large amount that they have greatly improved production. I was amazed to discover that each cow has a chip in its ear which automatically knows when the cow needs milking. Providing I have the information correct, the cow walks up to the milking barrier and if the chip sends a message that the cow has a full udder then it opens and allows the cow in to be milked! The milk is then transferred to Central Point to be made into cheese.

We tried the Caveman Blue and the Oregonzola (both wonderful) and then we discovered that they make grilled cheese sandwiches or as I prefer to call them - 'cheese toasties!' There were two to choose from so we decided to get one of each! The first was a 'Sebbie' that consisted of a delicious melting cheese made with a local chocolate stout and the second was a 'Classic' which was made with Caveman Blue and honey. We took 'em outside and ate them under the shade of the umbrellas on the lawn. The whole time we were eating, a cow was staring at us as if to say 'you've got me to thank for that sandwich' and I would totally agree (with a little help from Rogue River Creamery of course!)

Rogue River is a relatively new company and they are expanding fast. They export nationally and internationally. It's really not surprising why. If you forgive the pun, their cheeses, like their cows, are outstanding in their field and I have a special regard for their line of blues. Every blue cheese I have had from Rogue has been incredible - my favourite still being the smokey blue which is the best smoked cheese in the west!

Thank you Rogue River Creamery.

Thank you cows.

Searching for Grizzlies with Huckleberry Wheat!

We were on the tail end of two great days in Glacier National Park and we still hadn't seen a grizzly bear. We didn't exactly want to come face to face with a 500lb claw ball but we still wanted to see one nevertheless. Our best shot was to go out at dusk in the car and scour the wilderness. In order to do so it was essential to have both the binoculars and a beer with a picture of a bear on it.

We headed into the local store not only in pursuit of a beer but a beer with 'a picture of a bear on it' - not easy to do in most large retail establishments! However, this was bear country so I was hopeful. I looked at the selection of singles in the cooler. There were four beers and surprisingly one of them pictured a bear! I picked up the chilled bottle and read 'Huckleberry Wheat.' I wasn't impressed. I generally don't like wheat beer or fruit beer so a combination of the two seemed like a bad idea but a bear's favorite fruit are huckleberries so I took it to the counter!

The kit for finding bears! 

The kit for finding bears! 

I chilled my Huckleberry Wheat and headed for a ranger event in which we had the privilege of attending a talk called 'Native America Speaks' - an hour of singing and information from a very inspirational character called Jack Gladstone about his life and the history of the Blackfeet Tribe. He sang a song with his guitar about 'a bear that stole the chinook.' Yet more bear related material leading us to believe that this was our night.

The scene was set. It was dusk. We had our huckleberry wheat beer from the Great Northern Brewing Company, we had been singing songs about bears who stole the wind and we had our binoculars. In order to find a bear I had to feel like a bear. We drank the Huckleberry Wheat and shivered, not because it was cold but because the taste wasn't to our liking and we began to search the mountains from the road for signs of bears.

We looked for some time and we still couldn't find one. To be precise we couldn't find anything, not even a chipmunk. I couldn't understand it, it was dusk, I was feeling native and I had my 'bear goggles' on! Rather sullenly Haley began the drive back to the campsite and I was left contemplating why fruit beers always leave a weird taste in your mouth when all of a sudden a bear ran across the road in front of our car! It was brown and it was fairly big! Could it have been a grizzly?! Or was it a lighter colored black bear? It all happened so quickly. He lumbered across the road 50 yards before our eyes and disappeared into the bushes! We were both super excited! Perhaps the bear was feeling sorry for us because we didn't enjoy the beer and he had heard of our search. Maybe he had decided to give us a quick glimpse to make us feel better! What a sight to see! The beer was ok but the bear was great!

Beer-o-meter rating: 5/10

Bear-o-meter rating: 10/10

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Banff - Cliffs, Colorful Lakes and Cheeky Wolves!

The lady in the AAA shop back in Boston told us that we should definitely go to Banff. She said that it was one of the best places she had ever visited and that we simply had to go. She was no stranger to travel herself having meandered through nearly all the states in the USA and the more she spoke to us the more we felt as though we needed to make a detour to visit this haven! Her enthusiasm was infectious: she told us of incredible mountain vistas, ample opportunities to hike the hundreds of miles of trails within the region and of the abundant wildlife that called the National Park home. By the end of our fifteen minute conversation we had already decided that Banff sounded like a place we had to visit. And so we added it to our route.

To put things into perspective, Banff is a the name of a town within Banff National Park which is itself part of a huge network of five National Parks. When looking at an ariel view of the map it appears as a huge splodge of green straddling British Columbia and Alberta. The area features glaciers found amongst the rugged crevices of the northern Rocky Mountains and when they melt they provide streams and waterfalls which turn into amazingly azure glacial lakes. Wildlife in Banff is diverse and truly wild. Grizzly bears, black bears, cougars, wolves, coyotes, marmots and eagles can all be found here as well as numerous other small animals.

Having set off from Glacier National Park at 7am we were within the park boundary by 12pm. We set up our backpacking tent which takes a whole five minutes to assemble and headed to the town of Banff to explore. Put plainly, the town of Banff is brilliant. First and foremost it is a year round tourist town as it caters for a huge influx of summer visitors/hikers as well as the winter skiers. Everything in the town has been planned to perfection. The buildings are immaculate and built from local wood and it's incredibly clean. The main street has a bustling vibrancy to it that is amplified by the huge variety of accents and languages you can hear. People fly from all over the world to visit this place and it was not difficult to see why. Not only can you wander around this pretty place adorned with hanging baskets and pubs but you can look to the sky and see massive bare rock mountains towering over the town that light up in the sun like a shining shiny thing!

After completing our laundry (not particularly enthralling but not too many opportunities when camping!) and making a trip to the liquor store to check for local beverages (found a great one from Grizzly Paw Brewing!) we headed back to the campsite to cook and to finally get a shower after days of primitive camping!

The next day was one of the best days on our trip so far. We had planned a 9 mile hike from Lake Louise which is one of the most famous glacial lakes in the region. We arrived early before the crowds, packed the bear spray and approached the lake. The color of the lake left us pondering whether it could be such a natural phenomenon. It's bright blue, cloudy but electrifying. The only way I can describe it is as toothpaste blue, whatever that means. Whilst still gazing at the lake we began our climb to Lake Agnes, yet another glacial lake via Mirror Lake. The fresh air of the pine trees that encompass the whole area filled our lungs and the more we climbed the more we wanted to stop and take photos of the incredibleness!

Passing the two lakes (Mirror Lake being exactly like a mirror, so reflective that it could be the very one Narcissus became obsessed with!) we headed for the two peaks of Little Beehive and Big Beehive. One relatively strenuous climb later which involved stopping to watch a marmot going about his daily routine we reached the top. We dropped our packs and took in the panorama that opened up before us. At 7,400ft we were high enough to see everything we wanted to see! We peered over the edge of the cliff, Big Beehive was not named lightly - the drop was sheer on every side with the rock mottled and uneven like the sides of a beehive.

As we made our way back down to Lake Louise, clapping loudly every so often so as not to have a surprise interaction with a bear we marveled at the vast array of wildflowers on either side of the trail. With the sun beaming down on us we were ready for a cheeky beverage and we hastily made our way back to the campsite to see out the remainder of the day.

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But the fun didn't end there. Later on at dusk as we were sitting in our easy chairs Haley saw something creeping towards us. I turned my head to look and saw a wolf sneaking up on us from about 20 meters away! We both stood up quickly and the wolf made its exit (albeit after hesitating!) through the woods! A little scary but fantastic!

The lady in AAA shop was not wrong, Banff sure is a great place!

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Note - We only took pictures of our hike with the camera as I didn't take the IPad so we don't have them available to add to the post yet! And we only have one flip phone between us so that ain't gonna take no photos! 

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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)