Kalamazoo Trippin’ – Bell’s and the Beer Exchange

First things first ladies and gentleman, a huge thanks to beeritors who’ve visited the site in the last week – I had taken an extended break from writing to get things in order here in San Francisco and it was a pleasant surprise to have so many folks read my last post. I was tremendously honored and hope that moving forward people continue to enjoy the combo of awkward prose and poor photography that has made this popular so far!

Exhibit A - I thought this would be an interesting shot... Yeah.

Moving on, the story for this morning consists of a long drive across Ohio wrapping past Lake Erie and up into the heart of Michigan. Here’s the map for those of you curious as to how we made our way. This was state 27 I’d never been to before (I’m guessing) and I was starting to get the hang of being somewhere I’d never been before, which is to say I was learning to get less upset when I got lost by being an idiot.

For those of you in the know, and those of you who cleverly looked at the first photo, it should be obvious that we were on a beeline for Bell’s Brewery. Bell’s is one of those places that belongs in the travel plans of beer geeks and non-beer people alike. While I tend to ignore the opinions of the latter, they do exist and they should check out Bell’s for the Eccentric Cafe stained glass alone.

Exhibit B: I am an amazing photographer.

And for people more like myself, you're here for this.

But we’ll return to the beer list in a bit, first we must away to the tour of the premises and the photos that once again prove I could have survived with a considerably less expensive camera. The tour starts in the Eccentric Cafe with a rounding up of all the nerds and lenses, then quickly wanders out the back door to a parking lot. I forgot to take photos of the lot, so those of you with nice things to say about my amazing framing of cars and their spaces will have to wait until next time. In the meantime we made our way into one of the breweries there, the aptly named Brewery 1.

Beer is made here. You may kneel and worship if you wish.

Enough fermenters to hold about 300 barrels of beer in this room IIRC, so almost 100,000 bottles of beer. Just waiting.

The tour goes through some of the history of Bell’s from founding to present day. The trip from 1985 to 2011 only takes about 15 minutes to listen to, and is filled with tremendous stories which is another reason Bell’s is great for everyone. There’s some history and cool links on this page on the Bell’s website, as well as one of my favorite brewer photos of all time. I can only hope that someday I am able to look like an awesomely disoriented beer Indiana Jones and pull it off – step one is the beard. Below are some photos of the other side of the room, occupied by the other half of the fermenters and a sizable barrel rack that made me jealous.

And more beer, all the better for me to drink.

Not gonna lie, the barrel rack was a semi waiting to happen.

And after all that there was even more to be seen – another room contained most of the actual plumbing that powered the brewhouse and I grabbed a shot there before we got to hang outside again and chat about the brewery and ask questions. I had a beer brought with me on the tour from the cafe and so I just sipped along and listened to other questions rather than interject my own. Plenty of fun facts to be had from more than 25 years in operation and I had enough beer waiting for me inside that I decided to form my own opinions on the brews rather than ask copious questions.

I must be weird, photos of Hot Liquor Tanks and plumbing really do it for me.

I'm guessing this was a Wild One barrel from reading the Bell's website, I just love the markings.

Now I’m going to jump to the evening of our visit to Kalamazoo before I do any talk of the beers we tried, because we visited the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange and it was too awesome to leave out. For the uninitiated the KBE brings together the stock market and beer, for a drunkenly confusing combination that works in a mysterious but satisfying way.

Kalamazoo Beer Exchange Menu - courtesy of dr4ward.com

Each beer has a price based on how many are ordered each 15 minute period of the evening, and occasionally the market crashes bringing every beer down to $2/pint. Needless to say we sat for a long while and drank our way through the menu, which happened to be part of Michigan Beer Month. So let’s get to it:

Bell’s Two Hearted – The staple IPA of the midwest by which all others are judged. This reminds me of the original grouping of IPAs, meeting the style head-on and quite tasty. Being a person who leans toward malty beers I appreciated the biscuity quality, though it was quickly covered by strong hop. Definitely not my style, but still quite enjoyable and drinkable. Up there with Blind Pig among my favorite IPAs regardless.

Kalamazoo Stout – A tremendously good stout, lovely and dark with huge dark chocolate notes on a whiff. Background of dry fruit and sweets make for a fun smelling adventure, and I tended to sniff before each sip for a kick. A nice foamy head that didn’t give in after the pour and solid lace all the way down the pint made for an awesome half hour of drinking. Among my favorites in Michigan.

Brewery Vivant Farm Hand - I really enjoyed this light and crisp Saison from Vivant. I would visit them a few days later, and was glad to get to try some of their beer on draft before hand. Quite nice and floral, with the amount of hop I like in my saisons, which is minimal. Fruity esters and a mildly sour bite made for a reminder of time spent in Belgium two years earlier.

Short’s Soft Parade – A nice pour from a local bottle shop and poured into a pint glass. Surprising amount of up front fruit smell and flavor, with a decent malty backbone. Fun to sniff and sip, and completely covers the high alcohol content. A cute pink color and surprising flavor profile make for an enjoyable bottle, not something I would go for a six-pack of though.

Unknown Brett Cider – I could use some help here, this was on tap at KBE and made in Michigan by a cider maker that had a few unique ciders available. It was a super dry cider made with brettanomyces and other sour elements that made for a uniquely medium high alcohol content and lack of sweetness. I enjoyed one glass, but didn’t go back for a second because of the distinct drying effect. I’ve gone through my notes but can’t find it anywhere, so maybe someone can give me a lead!

All in all Kalamazoo was tremendous fun, and we spent the day bouncing from Bell’s to the Beer Exchange and a local bottle shop to make sure we got to try everything. We had entered the middle distance sprint portion of the trip, and we were only going to start moving faster in the days to come. Lots of fun to be had, and plenty of pedal to the floor in our future. Cheers!

Great Lakes is .. well .. Great

After a day-long break to visit Mill Run and Fallingwater we made our way back onto the road and across another state into Ohio. Things had been getting progressively flatter over time but we had finally started moving north and away from the prairie. With Michigan ahead we started on our way knowing that it was going to be a daunting week, including some of the largest breweries on our trip and some of my personal can’t miss spots. But before we get to all that, the business at hand consisted of finishing off the midwest in style.

The man has undeniable style.

And so we made our way into the Great Lakes brewpub and found ourselves on yet another Willy Wonka style adventure through a factory pumping out dreams. Great Lakes was opened by the Conway brothers in the late 80’s and has the honor of being Ohio’s first microbrewery. They’ve been creating award-winning brews ever since, and we couldn’t stop hearing their praises as we got closer to Cleveland.

They have big tanks, and fill them with good beer. What are you doing with your life?

As we jumped onto the tail end of the tour group we walked into the main production facility, adorned with posters teasing us with the treats that were to come later. (Hint: the treats were beer) A quick walk took us inside and we started  winding our way through the brewery with quickness. While keeping up I snapped a few more shots to make sure I caught as much of the inside as I could – my lack of skill will be shown in the next few photos – you’ve been warned.

Lack of Photography talent confirmed

Bam! Tools.

Past the workshop and through the malt storage the history comes flying your way. With 25 years in the beer game Great Lakes has as much or more cred than your average microbrewery, and keeps a constant flow of 5 year-round beers coming. The brewpub across the street plays host to a multitude of experimental and rotating specialty beers, a system that serves a ton of OG brewers well. Production keeps up at the large brewery on one side of the street, and creative minds keep pushing the envelope on the other side. Somewhere between the pervasive smell of malt fills every crease and crack in the asphalt. And of course my nose. Which I love.

The kettles are big, like bigger than yo mama. No, seriously.

The way things stay in motion I end up in the brewhouse before I know it, staring down the barrel of some large-scale kettles and a control panel managing every little detail. Large cups of coffee keep the crew on point, just like every other workplace I’ve ever seen. Through a set of glass doors beside the huge kettles is the company bar, conveniently placed for tour-goers to purchase a few small tastes of the local favorites. We made our way through tastes of a few beers, but due to state limits had to indulge ourselves further later in the afternoon which I’ll come back around to. In the meantime, here’s the taps on offer at the time, including most of the year-round glories.

Classy, Tasty, Liquid.

The tour finishes shortly after a visit to the taproom, adorned with memorabilia from some of Ohio’s oldest and most revered breweries. There are cases filled with old cans and bottles, as well as posters and serving trays to remind of the death of the small breweries induced by Prohibition and the big beer boom. Meanwhile you stand a mere hundred yards from where the phoenix rose from Ohio ashes in the form of the Great Lakes brewpub. It’s a humbling thing to stand amidst the memories of a brewery started from scratch decades earlier to stand against a tidal wave of fizzy lager that was washing over the country faster than anyone could have predicted. It was a feeling I had felt before, and would feel many times again before the trip was over.

Oh and there's a sweet lab too.

So let’s move onto the beers and how we got a hold of them. Each one of course has it’s own flavors and style, but the thing that struck me most about Great Lakes beers was the sincere old-school feeling that most of them deliver. They all taste distinctly of nostalgia – crisp, clean, and classic. Starting with the lagers:

Dortmunder Gold – The beer reflects the color of dark straw, and is clear as a bright morning. A quick whiff doesn’t give a ton of information, but does hint at a gentle hopping and some yeasty notes that are a bit different than expected. Overall a nice solid brew, and one that I could go through quickly in my fridge.

Eliot Ness - A Vienna Lager with malt presence that overpowers the hop smell that might sneak across enemy lines. A creamy brown lager with significant head that sticks around long after pouring. A touch of hop finishes the flavor and refreshes the palate just enough to prep you for the next sip quickly. As balanced as an Olympic gymnast on one arm on a balance beam.

Edmund Fitzgerald - A porter that fits the gap between the hoppy and clean beers on the Great Lakes roll call. Dark and reeking of coffee and chocolate the beer pours beautifully with a solid inch of head. Incredibly smooth and flavorful at the same time the beer presents a conundrum – you can drink it all day without stopping, but you might live to regret it. Let’s be honest you’re going to anyway so go for it.

Burning River – A pale ale with soul, presenting the interesting balance of hop and malt that predominates the midwest. While West Coast and East battle it out the Midwest is quietly but quickly co-opting all the hop flavors each side embrace as their own. The result is a copper ale that leans toward pale with impressive pine and citrus aromas that lull you into a pleasant moment of relaxed sipping.

Commodore Perry – A solid representation of the IPAs pf the midwest but overall underwhelming compared to the prior brews. The notes are all there, from a light color to a strong hop presence, but they don’t seem to meld that way most of the other recipes do. A medium straw color and nice hop smell give way to a flavor that doesn’t quite mesh but satisfies nonetheless. A significant beer, hovering at 7.5% ABV the alcohol is noticeable and while not distracting it is significant enough to slow down drinking a pint – probably a good thing.

So what are you still doing here – if you live in the midwest you can probably get a hold of a plethora of Great Lakes beer near you – and if you don’t you can spend your days longingly dreaming of what you’re missing. Or you can hop to one of the other articles and check out what might be nearer you – We did visit 44 states and 2 provinces you know… Either way if you’re in the Cleveland area and you don’t take a tour through Great Lakes you’re doing it wrong, and you won’t find forgiveness here. Seek out great beer and report back, I’ll be here waiting. Cheers!


Our Interview at Abita – Brewmaster Mark Wilson

Pittsburgh Part Two : Churches, Lagers, Ales, and More

We had sampled nearly everything that East End Brewing had to offer over the course of a few hours, and decided it was time for dinner. After some basic Yelping and being unable to find anything that excited us food-wise we decided to  head straight to our next brewery for some grub.

Sometimes I do my drinking in church... well most times.

Church Brew Works is exactly what it sounds like – a former church that has been renovated and converted to a brewery. The building is a bit intimidating when you approach from the front, a large brick building that maintains all of the Christian iconography and decor. Little adjustments have been made here and there, and I have to have respect for a crew that took this place and turned it into my kind of house of worship.

It's the little things.

We made it inside and checked out the main room – it’s expansive as you would expect from a former church, and the layout points all eyes straight toward the brewhouse where the altar used to be. We asked if there was a table for two, but they weren’t sure when one would be available so we grabbed two seats at the bar instead. One wall consists of a long bar and stools, almost from the entrance to the pulpit so we grabbed a seat directly in front of the beer menu and one of the taps.

The handles are appropriately ornate and shiny.

We started off with a plate of fries and asked what the server would recommend we try on the beer list. He told us he liked the Hefeweizen but didn’t really drink much beer, and so would send someone else our way. After a few minutes the other server came by and let us know she would try one of the year-round beers to get an idea of what they usually have on offer. That seemed like a solid idea, and so I went with the Dunkel on tap and our trusty co-pilot ordered their Celestial Gold.

The Church Dunkel was a medium brown color with lots of carbonation and a tremendously sweet nose. The smell hit me from a few feet away and consisted of caramel and sugar. The flavor was pretty cloying, and it was hard for me to finish the pint so we traded halfway through our respective drinks as co-pilot was struggling with hers. Celestial Gold is listed as a pilsener and hits the notes you would expect a noble pils to hit. It’s light and bubbly with maybe a finger of head and a faint aroma of hop. There was a bit of a papery flavor, which I think is what put off my partner, as that is one of her pet peeves we’ve found with lighter beers. I noticed it less, but it did have a metallic aftertaste that I thought was prominent. All in all a solid B- but not something I would seek out on their menu.

There was a layer of glass between us and the tanks, explaining the aliens in the bottom right corner.

For whatever reason the seasonal menu didn’t sound appealing to us, so we decided to go ahead and finish off the year-round menu posted on the wall. I went with their Pipe Organ Pale and she opted for the Millenium Tripel.

Our food arrived a few minutes after our second pint, and so I had a burger to pair with my Pale and she had Pulled Pork with her Tripel. The Pale was a light red, almost copper color with a mild smell of piney hops and a hint of malt sweetness. It was a bit thin on the first sip, though not as thin as other Pales I tried recently so maybe that’s a thing in this area, and I’m overly used to West Coast style full body. Smooth and drinkable through the whole pint, but far from my favorite Pale Ale because of the missing hop flavor and thin body. Living in San Francisco has undoubtedly spoiled me.

Coolest brewery ceiling?

The Tripel was a different story altogether, and unfortunately our least favorite of the night. It’s main discernible smell was acidic and green apple/lemony while the first sip was dominated by a sweetness that overpowered most everything with a still very present acidic quality. Not sure if acetaldehyde was created by overused yeast or we got a strange keg, but something was off. Would like to try this one again if I’m back in Pittsburgh to compare/contrast.

After our meal and pints we were ready to call it a day  of tasting and make our way home to save strength for the following day’s drive. But then we were invited to Penn Brewery by our hosts to grab a beer and chat for a while at their outdoor tables. I have a confession here – Penn Brewery was the only place we had been warned away from in all of Pittsburgh. We were told the beer was awful, the brewery unattractive, and it was located on the wrong side of the tracks. On the other hand, we knew a group of folks who would be drinking there and it was likely we were going to be able to sit outdoors which sounded good considering it was still about 80 degrees at 8 or 9 o’clock at night.

So over a bridge, almost into the wrong lane, around a few corners, and to Penn Brewery we went. I left the camera behind but I’ll break down the brews here.

Kaiser Pils – The first beer on the list was a solid pils, and I preferred it to the one I had at Church Brew Works earlier in the day. Well filtered and with a big noble hop smell I got excited after the first sniff. The flavor was solid and paired nicely with our fried appetizers by being clean and crisp. With no off flavors present I was optimistic moving forward after what I had heard before.

Penn Gold – An awesome Helles-style lager this one would have been my favorite if it weren’t for the next beer we drank. A mildly sweet smell that has a pleasing background hop scent is complimented by a smooth German malt profile and golden straw color. Perfectly balanced and easy drinking.

St. Nikolaus Bock – Somehow there were a few left-over kegs of this elixir at the brewery, and I wasn’t complaining. An excellent doppelbock that pours a medium brown with amber edges and smells divinely of roasty and toasty malts. The main flavors are sweet and malty with a moderate ABV and clean finish that keep it drinkable. I imagine this to be amazing in the winter, and it was damn good in the summer.

Penn Dark – Last but not least the eponymous offering from Penn Brewery is a solid dunkel lager that deliver roasty flavor, smooth mouthfeel, and a clean finish that add up to a quality lager. Easy to drink and fun to drink make for a not to be missed pint, and though I finished here I would recommend it or the Gold as a great jumping off point for the brewery’s other offerings.

As we were packing up we were talking about the brewery, and apparently within the last year they’ve had some shake-ups within the brewing crew, and it seems to have worked out in their favor. The beers coming out of this lager brewery were all solid, and as a fan of the art of lager brewing this was a fantastic stop on our trip. Similarly to L’amere a Boire in Montreal this was a lager brewery our host recommended that stood out immediately because of the brew quality.

So what’s the takeaway? First, go to Pittsburgh – the beer is good and the beer is cheap which makes for fun exploring. Second, no matter what you hear go try things for yourself – allow yourself to be surprised and don’t get cynical. Third, if you’re traveling and you have to sacrifice a few hours of sleep for a few hours of fun you damn well better. There’s no point in taking a once in a lifetime trip and avoiding the once in a lifetime experiences.

Cheers!

East End Brewing – Monkey’s Uncle

No my good camera isn't around anymore, yes I kept a lot of bottles from the trip.

Monkey’s Uncle is a big beer. Very big. 10% ABV and tastes like it. But it’s more than just a strong beer trying to get your attention with it’s boozy qualities. This is a weizenbock with personality and charisma, as indicated by the badass pipe and fez combo the label shows off.

East End Brewing produced this bad boy sometime prior to summer 2011, and there were bottles left on their PA shelves when we passed through town. As was our tradition on the road we tried to let it sit for a few weeks before sharing it with hosts in a city miles away from where we acquired it. Rather that would have been our tradition if we had followed those guidelines, but instead we drank it down with folks right there in Pittsburgh.

It was served into pint glasses after a day or so in the fridge, probably around 40 degrees at pouring but I let mine warm for about 10 minutes before I started in on it. The pours were golden colored, a more opaque version of that hazy hef straw color that makes the liquid appear almost syrupy. Each of the four glasses had an inch or two of white lacy foam on top, and it smelled fantastic. Fruit and alcohol smells swirled together to make a sweet and intoxicating bouquet. The weizen notes of clove were there, but the alcohol smell was tempering them somewhat.

The smell did not betray the taste, as it has strong and imposing flavor like you would expect from a weizenbock. The alcohol gives way to the wheat body of the beer, which makes for a smooth feel on the way down. The bite of the beer comes mostly from its sweetness resting lazily on the back of my tongue, forcing a slow drinking mentality which is good considering the ABV.

This is a brew that would be great at a tasting event or as a slow sipper for a night when you don’t want to go with a standard high ABV brew like Barleywine or IIPA. It’s also unique as one of the only styles of high alcohol wheat beer that I’ve seen commercially available. It could even be used as a transition point for someone who likes wheat beer to move toward high gravity brews. All in all a solid entry into the thin Weizenbock field, and one that I would drink again.

Pittsburgh – The city that can’t be punned – Part One

Pittsburgh was a damn good time. We stayed for two days and visited three breweries without missing out on the city or the other bars in the area. One might say we had finally hit our stride on the trip, and were moving quickly enough to make it to each city we wanted and still hit all of the beer spots as well.

The sign outside welcomes you to the premises, along with a small keg on the sidewalk. Easy to miss but worth the search.

Pittsburgh is known for its hard-nosed attitude and strong working class folks. East End Brewing epitomizes that solid working class attitude, churning out quality brews at a rapid pace from Pittsburgh’s self-described micro-est brewhouse. We made it to growler hours to sample their wares and were not disappointed – the list included 8 beers on tap and a few sodas as well. I’ll break them down here along with some photos of the brewery.

The day's pours along with growler prices.

 

Let’s go in list order, since I lack creative spark.

Big Hop IPA – This is a good beer. The shortness of the previous sentence is intentional because I’m not sure there’s much to say about a solid IPA that hasn’t been said. It’s a nice orange color, smells and tastes strongly of hop, and hits all the notes you want it to. If you like IPAs you’ll like Big Hop – plus the frog is awesome.

Bam! Handle Porn.

Monkey Boy Hefeweizen – This was my favorite East End beer of the tasting, and I drank it first. In all honesty it probably was the combination of a hot day outside and the beer being quite tasty that put it at the top. It was moderately hazy and smelled tremendously of fruit – banana in particular but just very estery. The first sip was immediately refreshing, and the rest of my 6 oz. (guessing) made me forget the long hot drive through PA. That’s the sign of a good brew to me.

Fat Gary’s Brown - The name isn’t necessarily a selling point, but this nut brown ale was mild and smooth with a little extra malt flavor that leaned toward caramel flavor. Reminded me a lot of Downtown Brown from Lost Coast which was a go-to beer when I first moved to San Francisco. Solid B+.

Lots of beer from a little space - it can be done.

Black Strap Stout - Roast. Malt. Black. Coffee. Surprisingly thin. Those were my thoughts in order drinking this one. Second favorite on the list, which surprised me considering the temperature outside. A solid stout taste does it for me and ignores the time or weather apparently. The thinness was actually nice, though I usually like more body, and was surprising considering how dark the beer was in the glass.

Joining the rush of breweries working with wood - me likey.

Best Dressed Chicken - Billed as a bitter this one was a bit hoppy for my expectations. An enjoyable pint though, and and interesting color on the pour. Somewhere between orange and brown but almost red held in front of my phone’s flash. Probably what I would go for if sitting at a bar wanting a middle of the road beer that wasn’t too hoppy, wasn’t too malty, but had good flavors. Unfortunately it’s a rare release under their session label.

Brewery wide angle - From left to right : keg storage, brewhouse, fermenters/brite tanks, pallet storage

Pedal Pale Ale - I’m a whore for anything bike-related, and Pedal Pale fits the bill. A dry, single-hopped pale ale that smells sweet and tastes floral it hit the spot nicely. I still prefer pale ales that toy with the interplay of hops, especially since the malt bills are usually bland, but I would dig one of these after a long ride.

Tartanic 60 Shilling – A mild, low alcohol, brown ale that tastes significant for how little alcohol there is. The malt comes through, though not strongly, and the body is light and crisp for a dark beer. My personal preference in dark beer is for something pushing toward the 4.5% range at minimum for body, but this is a nice sessionable ale (and is brewed under their session label) that would make for a nice 6-pack to watch the game.

Kegs are re-usable, and now the beer filling this one has probably improved.

BlueberRye Ale – I’ve gone ahead and linked to BlackberRye Ale as I couldn’t find the blueberry version. This drank like a light rye ale with a bright pink color. The blueberry is definitely there but more as an accent than a strong flavor. I think using fresh fruit is a great approach, and I’m generally not pleased with syrup beers so this was a pleasant pint in that respect. However, the berry flavor and rye seemed a bit at odds, and I only tried one taster glass worth. That being said, my co-pilot dug it and had a few pours so to each their own.

As we finished our tasting at East End a local guy came in looking to pawn off some chicken wings form a stand he had set up a few blocks away. That kept us in the tasting room even longer, gnawing on wings and drinking an extra pour of our personal choice from the list (Hef for me, Blueberry for her) It was just another little taste of the community in Pittsburgh that supported the local craft scene and it was awesome.

We stood at the counter and drank with a few local business people getting refreshed after a bad day, a local delivery driver, the chicken wing salesman (soda only) and the man behind the bar keeping everyone in good spirits and handling growler fills often. We we energized and ready to make it to our next Pittsburgh stops, Church Brew Works and Penn Brewing. One was old school quality beer, and one was upscale mediocre, but that’s a story for another day.

Heading South to North Country

After an overland journey through the lesser traveled parts of NY state and Pennsylvania we arrived at North Country Brewing, a smallish local pub in the downtown area of Slippery Rock. We sat down at the bar early enough to meet a few regulars and bartenders, who immediately proved to be familial and fun. The vibe of the entire place was country, but with less of a Cracker Barrel interior and more authentically interesting history and décor.

Told you so

The building started life as the county morgue and the staff swear you can see and hear the spirits late at night, particularly in the restrooms that used to house the bodies for preparation. A certificate of haunting lends further credence to the claims, though I’m not completely sold on a group that certifies hauntings. The brewery itself is visible through a plate glass partition in the main entrance hallway, and is of a significant size for the pub. However, in fairness, there are a large number of tables in the restaurant compared to the bar area, and the restaurant was a fixture of the downtown area.

It's a small town, so property is at a premium.

In a small downtown with little to nothing happening while school was out of session, we fit right in at the bar full of folks searching for good beer.  I started slowly enough with Northern Lite, a golden beer with light body and flavor that was recommended for folks who aren’t tremendously adventurous with their beer selection. While it might not have been up my alley, the wisdom behind brewing this kind of ale in an isolated pub like this one is undeniable. If people want to drink something that is light and crisp and you don’t have this type of beer on tap they’ll go across the street where they can find a cheap macro. The right thing to do is brew this type of light beer with proper quality and hope to sway them toward the solid local beers available.

Hopefully one isn't enough, and they gain an adventurous streak after a beer or two!

I want to digress for a minute to rant about why small pubs like this need to invest in their atmosphere and why it matters to me. As a proponent of craft beer in almost every situation I think it helps me make a good case for craft beer when the presentation in a place is spot on. Here at North Country it was obvious that the pub had ceased to be the local spot to drink and had become the go-to for entertainment in this small college town. By offering live music and a solid menu it grew beyond the confines of a local brewery and embodied the town’s spirit. The outside area hosted college age kids who wanted to relax in the sun, and the indoor tables were filled with families celebrating birthdays and a night on the town. The bar held regulars clamoring for specialty brews, and the front door led you directly into the path of the evening’s musical entertainment. This is good for craft beer. This is good for communities. This is good for the business. This is good for people like me who want to prove that craft beer is an awesome influence around North America. /end rant

The aforementioned outdoor area

Back to the beers – I moved down the list with a fair amount of haste and landed on their Firehouse Red. A malty treat after the light beer before it mellowed nicely as it warmed and had just enough balance from hop to dry out the sweet malts. Solidly tasty and gone before I could think about my next drink I asked for a bit of advice. Which beer would they recommend if I wanted to keep it malty? The Breakfast Blend Mild was on offer and hit the spot nicely, another balanced beer with a low enough ABV that it didn’t put me on my ass. The brew poured very light brown, almost the color of light malt syrup, and had that faint waft of candy sweetness that I admire in malty beer. (My milds tend to come out a bit heavy, probably because I let them ferment too long) While my favorite might still be the Ruby Mild from Magnolia on cask this was a tremendous beer to find as I love good milds. I took a few sips of my Co-Pilots pints as well, all tasty but not what I was after at the moment. 

Satisfied with my tasting and ready for a quick nap after a 2 hour drive and only McDonald’s available for lunch we headed over to the local parking lot for a quick snooze. It wouldn’t be long before I would be back on the road again and headed into our next stop… But that’s a story for another day. Good drinking until then.