It’s terribly easy to write about Portland’s breweries and beer culture. Another easy sell on my part is Bend. Rounding out the top 3 is Hood River and the breweries along the Columbia River Gorge. 1) There’s a great handful of them. 2) Their beers are truly world class. 3) It’s insanely beautiful. 4) It’s an easy drive from Portland and whenever we get devoted beercationers at Inn Beervana, we always recommend the day trip.
Along the south bank of the Columbia River Gorge—generally perceived as a kiteboarder’s, hiker’s and wine-lover’s dream come true—we are witnessing a new farm-fresh industry take root. Whether you’re gluten-free, an adventurous beer drinker looking for the “Next Big Thing” or simply a devotee of full-flavored liquid artistry, the Hood River Valley’s newest craze is in the pomme of your hand. Following the late summer harvest and accounting for fermentation times, count on cider season in early autumn.
As an added bonus, the Gorge Cider Society has created a handy Columbia Gorge Cider Route site and map to this always-expanding exciting destination.
Sometimes I give myself little challenges. Sneak a certain impertinent word into a story. Sneak it into three stories. Spin gravitas out of pop culture. Or give myself the task of writing a travel story about hitting all the breweries in an entire country. In a weekend. I ruled out Liechtenstein because it doesn’t have breweries. It has A brewery. But, since I was already living in Amsterdam at the time being, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg made perfect sense. And I know just a few basic phrases in French and German to have gotten me around the Luxembourgish countryside that led to this story in All About Beer.
So I’m in Pittsburgh with a whole day to explore and drink up the culture. My primary beer stop was Church Brew Works, a righteous brewpub where parishioners, I mean patrons, break bread and hoist pints in a deconsecrated church. The other beer I really wanted to try wasn’t actually brewed in Pennsylvania, but I’d read it was newly available there. If Church Brew Works’ beers are a little slice of heaven, the other one would be a little slice of pizza. Mama Mia’s Pizza Beer. It’s a homebrew recipe using real pizza and ingredients that is contract brewed and bottled and, well, I just had to know. My hunt took me to beer bars and Italian restaurants, none of whom had heard of it. An internet search led me to a place that carried it and I GPS’ed my way to a beer distributor’s warehouse (different than the state-run liquor stores) where they had said pizza beer but they would not sell me a bottle. Instead, if I wanted it, I had to buy the whole case of 24 bottles.
In the end, I had 23 friends back home who were more than happy I went through the effort, but I wish I had a resource like Ganong’s new title, The Field Guide to Drinking in America: a Traveler’s Handbook to State Liquor Laws.
It’s the subtitle that gives this book from local Portland author Ganong its prime practicality. If you’re over 21, you’ve likely learned the ins and outs of your home state’s liquor laws. You know what time the bars close, where you can drink (slash: where you can’t), and if you can find your beer, wine, and spirits under the same roof or not. But when you’re traveling (which means, by default, when you’re drinking someplace farther from home), deciphering the regulations often causes some headaches. For example, how much does it suck being in Colorado, home to even more great breweries than Oregon, but not being able to find most of the beers you’re trying to track down because they’re above 3.2% alcohol by weight (yes, ABW, which is roughly equal to 4% ABV) so what you’re left with is specially-brewed/watered-down for Mountain State markets Colorado and Utah.
I’m not alone in these discoveries. A point made in the book’s intro about the head-scratching, state-by-state laws enacted following Prohibition, “Many a surprised traveler has been caught off guard by an unexpectedly early last call, a sad and liquorless Sunday, or the choice of 3.2% beer or nothing at all. Almost everyone has a story about this.”
Tips and factoids, including a handy-dandy list of “What you can do” and “What you can’t do” in each state that drink-seeking travelers would pick up from the Field Guide:
Vermont: You cannot purchase a second drink if you have not finished your first nor participate in a game or contest that encourages excessive drinking. (Sorry UVA underclassmen.)
Alabama: This Southern state has some of the restrictive liquor laws in the union (they one they’d probably like to secede from again). Of its 67 counties, 25 are dry, though not completely: private clubs are allowed to sell to consumers and each one has at least one wet city.
Louisiana: God bless Louisiana and it’s 24/7 bars and open container laws and drive-thru daiquiri huts.
Tennessee: More than a third of its counties are dry but that only prevents the sale of alcohol, not the bootlegging of it. Interestingly, those dry counties “tend to have higher DUI arrests than wet counties.” The Jack Daniels Distillery, the oldest in the USA, is in dry Lynchburg. Unlike when I visited, now visitors are able to buy a commemorative bottle of JD’s sour mash whiskey but only at the gift shop. Fun bit of trivia: Mountain Dew was invented in Knoxville and originally featured the character “Willy the Hillbilly” firing his shotgun, possibly at another moonshiner, with the tagline, “zero proof hillbilly moonshine.”
Colorado: You can’t buy Santa any beer over three-two to persuade him to add you to his Nice list, nor can you beg for booze.
Incidentally, readers might even pick up some points of interest about their home states. I learned that here in Oregon, I cant bring an unfinished bottle of wine home from a restaurant and that I cannot use a beer bong in a bar (or surf while drunk, not that I’m able to surf stone-cold sober).
Niki Ganong will be at Belmont Station’s Biercafe on Saturday, May 2 from 1-3 p.m. selling and signing copies of her book. She’ll also conduct a tasting of IPAs from across the country. Come sample her selection of some of the country’s best IPAs — including Boulevard’s just released The Calling IPA.
In my attempt to make this site a fairly comprehensive archive of published stories, I’m going to slap a bunch of hyperlinks in this post to round-up the “Beer Traveler” column I get to do for All About Beer Magazine. The one currently on better magazine racks around the country is on festive holiday markets in awesome European destinations. Christmas, on the whole, is much less commercialized overseas. Dry cleaners don’t paint Santa Claus getting his reindeers’ coats dry cleaned on the windows. They don’t pipe x-mas carols by pop stars cashing in on the season over their P.A.s. And you won’t find a single egg nog latte at any cafe that isn’t a Starbucks. But you do find outdoor markets–weather be damned–in city centers from France to Belgium to Germany to…Spain.
Before that I wrote one based on my experiences in and around Copenhagen during CBC (Copenhagen Beer Celebration). As a fun counterweight, I included Oklahoma City. OKC is essentially the CPH of the USA, right?
Earlier, I tackled the surprising yet obvious connections between Berlin and Los Angeles. No wonder they’re sister cities. And verily, they’re both supporting some hometown beer cultures again.
To kick off 2014, we explored cask ale destinations for Real Ale lovers in North America: NYC and Victoria, BC along with Central Oregon, Baltimore, Cambridge, Mass., and NC’s Triangle.
OK, this is getting too long. So I’ll include just one more. Dinosaurs! Yes, I managed to pull off a travel story in a beer magazine by unearthing some beer towns for dino-enthusiasts. Oh yes I did.
Ohboy has it been awhile since I’ve partaken in The Session (July, 2013 #73 to be specific), but I have a new blog and a new take on beer travel, both as a result of just having lived in Europe for a year as well as having a beer travel guidebook coming out in 3 weeks. Fittingly for this edition of the monthly beer blogging Session, Maria and Brian Devine over at the Roaming Pint ask:
Why is it important for us to visit the place where our beers are made? Why does drinking from source always seem like a better and more valuable experience? Is it simply a matter of getting the beer at it’s freshest or is it more akin to pilgrimage to pay respect and understand the circumstances of the beer better?
Why go out of your way to visit breweries when, if you’re me, there’s a growler filling station in the supermarket directly across the street next to a beer aisle that’s roughly 30 yards long? Because drinking beer is not a solo sport. It’s also not the type of sport I prefer to armchair quarterback. Like John Fogerty, I wanna exclaim, “Put me in, Coach.” I think, collectively, we like visiting breweries because we all want to be where the action is in center field.
As a beer lover, there’s nothing more sacred than supporting your local brewery, except, perhaps, going on a beer trip to explore and support someone else’s local brewing establishment. It connects you to that place in a way visiting some other “must see”s don’t. Meet me in St. Louis? That arch thing is pretty cool, that’s like lemmings jumping off a cliff; you only go because everyone else does. Touring the Budweiser factory is certainly a worthy expenditure of time but, allow me to make this crack, getting to sample Bud afterward is hardly a reward. No, instead go to the Schlafly Tap Room or, better yet, the Urban Chestnut taproom. You’ll get much more than a pint of Hopfen IPA, you’ll get a taste of what the locals are like (at least the ones who don’t work for AB-I). On the flip side, I recently (finally) made it to Brussels and to its most famous brewery among the geek set, Cantillon. You don’t really meet locals sipping Gueuze at the bar but knowing that you’re among the billions of critters adrift in the air you’re breathing that are responsible for making that world-class spontaneously fermented ale is momentous. (The fact that I met Jean-Pierre van Roy and his son Jean van Roy didn’t hurt.)
Ultimately, beer is more than beer. It’s people, it’s place, and it’s personality. And just like you can read a beer review and gather what it’s like to try it but it’s better to crack open a bottle or can and experience it for yourself, the exact same applies to drinking said beer where it was made. Why settle for reading the marketing spiel about the birthplace of your favorite brew printed somewhere on the label or six-pack carrier when you can submerge yourself in the entire experience. The smell of malt lilting in the air as you approach a production brewery never gets stale. Magpies aren’t the only ones who like bright, shiny objects; the way one’s eyes light up upon seeing the overhead lights bounce of the stainless top of a mash tun rings true for every devotee of flavorful suds. And, if you’re lucky, you might get to shake the hand of the man, woman, men, or mixed nuts responsible for making that liquid, fermented dream come true. Sure they appreciate it when you buy their beer from a bar or bottle shop wherever you live, but they really love it when you take your valuable time to make that pilgrimage to thank them in person.
I’ve been to hundreds of breweries and I never tire of it. And I always look for someone wearing rubber boots in the tasting room because a big part of enjoying beer is sharing, or listening, to stories whether they involve beer or not.
“Beer” and “Traveler.” Inherent in each word is a sense of adventure. Where does the beer/travel begin? Where will it take you? Will you enjoy it? Will it be relaxing or will it challenge you? Ideally, you go into each with expectations, yes, but also with an open mind. Furthermore, once they’re done, those things have somehow changed you, shown you something exciting and enjoyable, and affected the way you participate in future beers/travels the next round. Best of all, there’s always a next round/go-around. That’s what I signed up for when the company my wife works for offered to relocate us to Amsterdam. New travels and new beers. New adventures and opportunities.
This installment of my column (AAB vol. 35.2, 2014) is 90% guide, 10% impressions of our new if temporary home in the Netherlands’ world-famous city of Amsterdam that’s still trying to develop a world-class beer culture. If I may quote myself from this story: “To be honest, I expected that this country—one that shares borders only with Belgium and Germany—would have a robust brewing culture. There is absolutely some great beer being made here, but you have to really dig deep to find it.”
Overall, it’s a beautiful city with some watering holes that are downright gezellig. My top recs for tasting rooms, breweries, and other spots to taste the local flavor will be missed once we head back home.