Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sudsy Travels

I've had the good fortune to travel for work several times in the past 3 months. I've been to the Philly area, Minneapolis, and Richmond (twice). Every time I know I'll be traveling, I do two things:
  1. Book my travel
  2. Locate highly-respected beer establishments near the client office and/or my hotel provides regional directories of breweries, brewpubs, and beer bars that have come in extremely handy many times. There's also a beer mapping project that I've used a couple of times, but it is not as thorough as the BeerAdvocate directories. It needs your input!

Pennsylvania has the most bizarre beer distribution laws I've heard of. The state license for liquor store beer sales stipulates that "...sales must be made in original containers of no less than one case of twenty-four (24) containers or seven (7) ounces. "Twelve packers" are acceptable, but the single containers of beer products must be at least twenty-four (24) ounces. Single containers holding more than 128 ounces are acceptable. In most cases, single container sales involve kegs of beer or beer products." However, if said establishment sells prepared food and has enough seating, it can sell beer by the bottle (or 6-pack). This has resulted in a handful of liquor stores that have an entire section dedicated to food/eating. (Picture Gomers and QT all in one.) So, while in Philadelphia, I ventured out to The Foodery. If you're in a car, I highly recommend not going to the south location. Great selection, but I circled the area for about 10-15 minutes before parking in what might have been an illegal fashion, so I could run in and get some beer.

Helpful Hint - if you pack beer in a suitcase, also buy a giant roll of bubble wrap. Broken beer bottle + clothing + suitcase = messy.

And while you're in Philly, Victory Brewing is only a 20-30 minute drive away and worth the trip. The drive is beautiful and the brewpub is just as enjoyable. The food is tasty (I had a crab, corn and poblano pizza - delish) and the service was on par. They had about 20 beers on tap, including some Belgian styles, IPAs, light lager, pils, stout, smoked porter, and various others.

Richmond, VA
There isn't a whole lot to offer in terms of a great beer selection, but there are choices. There's a brewpub in the trendy Shockoe Slip area named Richbrau. It's okay; their beer is good, but not remarkable, and the food was pretty bad. Just down the street from Richbrau is Sine Irish Pub which, for an Irish bar, has a great beer selection. They have a few Virginia beers on tap as well as some craft brews (Victory, Brooklyn, etc). I haven't eaten there, but the food always smells great and the presentation is excellent. And their fish & chips plate is humongous.

My favorite spot, however, is Capital Ale House. It's a nice place downtown, with a very large dark wood bar surrounded by booths and tables. The front of the restaurant opens to Main street for some people-watching, but good luck tearing yourself away from the massive beer menu. Both times I've gone on Tuesdays, where they offer a branded brewery glass with your beer. This time around was Magic Hat. In my visits, I've had (all on tap) Jever, Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale, Magic Hat's Lucky Kat IPA, and Green Flash West Coast IPA. The Green Flash blows most American IPAs out of the hop-infused water. I like it better that most I've had. It's extremely dry and hoppy, with pronounced Simcoe and Columbus flavors. Grapefruity and citrusy and a little piney, its 95 IBUs won't let an IPA-lover down. Definitely not for someone who doesn't like bitter beer, but perfect for anyone who is on the pursuit for that hoppy IPA that isn't loaded with malty sweetness.

They have two bars - one upstairs and one down - and each has a different tap selection. I find it a bit customer-unfriendly that if you want a beer that is at the "other" bar from which you're ordering, your server won't get it for you. They tell you to go down/up to the other bar, get the beer, then tell the person at the bar your name and to add it to your tab.

And finally, Minneapolis. I didn't have a lot of time while there but was determiend to make a trip, however brief, to Minneapolis Town Hall. I was with a co-worker who only likes Boulevard Wheat and Blue Moon, so I was fully prepared to pay through the nose for a cab to & from the hotel. I wanted to go to Surly as well, but it was hard enough convincing my coworker to go to MTH (and, as it turns out, he drank three hefeweizens and talked about how good they were for a week).

The beer was good and sitting in the beer garden at the "four corners" intersection on a beautifully sunny day made it that much better. I started off with a Masala Mama IPA which was just about what I expected it to be - a solid American IPA that is highly drinkable - appropriately hoppy and moderately malty. I ordered the sampler next, which included a sample of the Masala Mama. I asked if I could sub their seasonal Minnesota Mild for the IPA and, surprisingly, they told me no! The server suggested I get the seasonal sampler and he would bring me a taste of the Mild. I agreed and was glad I did. Their Mango Masala Mama was fantastic! Dry, hoppy, and tropical - but not sweet. A good fruit beer for those who don't like fruity beer.

On the way to the hotel, I picked up some cans of Surly CynicAle and fell in love. The peppery vanilla saison was amazing and like nothing I'd ever tasted. Bull E Vard recently raved about Surly, and I can certainly understand why. If their other beers are as interesting and different as these, and it sounds like they are, I'm anxious to try more.

While I don't want something complex and multi-faceted every time I have a beer, it's always fun to try something new and different. It's an upside of my travels, adding something to look forward to break up what are always very long days.

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