Sunday, December 1, 2013
Chicago is one of the most iconic cities in the United States. A hard-nosed, Midwestern town at heart, Chicago has become synonymous with greatness and success. Its identity is entrenched in the hard-work ethic of its denizens and supplemented further by the superior quality of its music and sports scenes. Whether it's legendary jazz and blues performers like Muddy Waters, Nat King Cole, and Benny Goodman, '70s and '80s staples Styx, Survivor, REO Speedwagon, Cheap Trick and, of course, the eponymous Chicago, or more modern acts like The Smashing Pumpkins and my personal favorite Disturbed, the city of Chicago has consistently produced all-time greats--songs and singers instantly recognizable to even the most casual ear.
Perhaps even more renowned is the Chicago sports scene, which has generated not simply some of the greatest franchises around but some of the all-time greatest teams of recent memory. Though the lowly Cubs suffer from one of the longest championship droughts in the history of sports, the White Sox have picked up the slack with a World Series title in 2005, the Blackhawks have two Stanley Cups within the past few years, and of course there's Jordan's Bulls. Oh, and the '85 Bears--often considered to be the greatest NFL team of all-time...but definitely not because of their rap skills:
With such a rich history, it should come as no surprise that Chicago would also serve as host to one of the greatest breweries in existence: Goose Island. Beginning as a brewpub in 1988 before growing into the more recognizable brewery seven years later, Goose Island serves as brewing exemplar, producing a panoply of amazing beers, a few of which have attained "whale" status among the realm of craft beer fans. Though its best-known brews are the more traditional 312 Urban Wheat, Honker's Ale, and India Pale Ale, the Goose Island Beer Company also makes some of the most sought after beers in the country. Its Christmas Ale is an annual tradition that many fans look forward to but, without question, the gems in the Goose Island portfolio are the stouts. Big John (A- on BeerAdvocate with over 1,100 reviews) and Night Stalker (A- with over 1,400 reviews) represent the non-barrel aged American Double / Imperial Stout style, weighing in at a hefty 11.50% and 11.70% abv respectively.
Then there are the Bourbon County stouts. The Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout enjoys a perfect score of 100 on BeerAdvocate with 2,600+ ratings and it sits at number five on BA's Top 250 Beers List. Having just recently enjoyed this beast, I can say that I was duly impressed but found that I actually prefer the regular Bourbon County Brand Stout. At number 13 on the aforementioned list (not sure how it's not higher than that) with an equally perfect score of 100 and over 5,170 reviews, this absolute behemoth of a stout just keeps getting stronger. An abv of 14.50% in 2011 was impressive but it has since risen to 15.00%, adding an even more powerful punch to its already potent presence.
And we haven't even touched the Belgians yet!
It goes without saying that I was thrilled to have the opportunity to visit Goose Island during my trip in 2011. After a morning of sightseeing that included standing above the city of Chicago on a few inches of glass at the Willis Tower, we headed over to the Goose Island Clybourn brewpub for an early lunch and, of course, a few beers. Or what turned out to be more than a few beers. Below you will find the beer menu that was handed to me pictured both left and right. It was then and remains to this day one of the most awe-inspiring, intimidating collections of beer I've ever stared down.
If you're at all familiar with my reviews then the odds are that you know that I love sampling different beers. Some people find one or two styles--or even one or two specific brews--that they stick with, rarely venturing from the tried-and-true. Me? I'm a glutton for trying anything new or different. It's helped me to develop my palette to the point that it's at today and it's helped me to determine what I like and what I don't like to a phenomenal degree. I've also stated quite often that I love trying everything that a place has to offer whenever possible.
I gave a valiant effort to achieve that at Goose Island but came up short--well short--of the mark. Ordinarily, I would view that as a failure and a negative thing but, in this rare instance, it proved to be a positive both for me and for them. The reason I was unable to try everything was simply this: every beer that I did try was so delicious that I couldn't bear the thought of leaving even a single drop behind. That, coupled with the fact that we would be heading over to our first ever game at Wrigley Field immediately after lunch, helped me to decide to tuck my tail between my legs and walk out the door defeated but ultimately sated and elated.
Looking at the menu, it becomes immediately apparent that Goose Island pays careful attention to detail. The very first line near the top shows that a plethora of information is provided for each beer including the style, abv, and glass shape and volume. Poring over the list a bit more carefully, you'll find an amazing array of glassware available to the drinker for the various beers. I tallied a whopping NINE different styles, each of which was chosen to accentuate the nuances of the beer being poured therein. Think about it: when was the last time you were at a drinking establishment that offered almost a dozen different types of glasses? If you're lucky, they'll have a chalice, snifter, or tulip glass to accompany the pint glass and imperial pint. That's usually it! Grand Pilsner, Stange, and Willi are not your typical options and I'd wager that, depending upon the beers available, Goose Island has even more varieties available.
Now, at first glance, the categories that the beers are divided into seem a tad pedestrian--almost puerile in their simplicity. The first one in particular struck me as being particularly emblematic of this but then I thought about it a little more carefully and I realized that, for the non-craft beer fan or the inchoate craft-drinking neophyte, it's actually perfect. If you were there with someone who had never had any of those beer styles before, how would you describe the brews without drenching them in details that will go unappreciated? At the most basic, fundamental level, you'd probably use words like: refreshing, malty, roasty, hoppy, and sour. Hoppy and malty might make more sense to someone who's actually had a few different beers but refreshing and sour certainly get the descriptive point across succinctly and sufficiently. Craft beer veterans would know instantly what session and Belgian beers would offer given the characteristically low alcohol content and light body of the former and trademark yeast notes of the latter.
All of the amazing beer glassware aside, the only one that I cared about on that day was the four ounce sampling glass! Pictured above is the first of a few samples that made their way onto my table. Referencing the aforementioned attention to detail, the tasting card furthers the trend with proper beer tasting instructions and style definitions printed right on the paper! Though the Beer Guide might have been better served to be printed on the beer list to help inform the drinker's selection, I suppose that, in a way, it's the server's job to help steer the customer towards their preferred suds. I know that our waitress was incredibly helpful and I would imagine that, for someone with a ton of questions, she would have proven to be an invaluable asset.
In total, I wound up trying fourteen new beers and purchased two additional brews to bring back home with me. I had already tried the Summertime and Goose Island India Pale Ale at the 2010 Brewfest but managed to sample the other ten beers on draft from the first page (I was staying away from the vintage bottles because of their cost and the fact that I'd have to drink an entire bottle on the premises!). The 312 Urban Wheat and Golden Goose Pilsner hold the special distinctions of being new beer numbers 699 and 700 with the Honker's Ale coming in at 701. By the time I got around to the back of the page, I knew that I was going to hit a wall at some point. Belgian beers have a tendency to fill me up more quickly than other styles and I'm flat out not a fan of sours so I knew my options were limited.
I ultimately chose the Belgians that sounded the most variegated and interesting, including the Fleur, Citrine Bombshell, Tingly Tongue, and Matilda. Given that it was late-spring, I was in the mood for something light and fruity, which worked out great between the gorgeous pink Fleur and Citrine. The berry and hibiscus married well within the former, providing a sweet, tart landscape for the floral aromas to drift across. The Citrine was bright and citrusy without being overly so--something that many beers fail to achieve. I believe this was the first beer I had ever tried that was brewed with blood orange flavor and I loved it. I was equally excited about trying the Matilda as that was my first encounter with brettanomyces. For anyone who has ever had the yeast strain, you know that it is an unrivaled experience in terms of its complexity and counterintuitive deliciousness. My favorite by far though was the Tingly Tongue. An outright assault on the palette, this amazing brew featured powerful pepper and chili notes in the nose and the flavor with the latter being balanced out by the mild background sweetness of the orange peel. It was and still is one of my all-time favorite beers and is one that I wish was commercially available on a regular basis. The only thing that has come close is the Pepe Nero that I purchased, which, thanks to the In-Bev distribution channels, is readily available to the consumer.
I could wax poetic about all of the other brews as well but there is beauty in brevity so I will say simply this: Goose Island's Clybourn location is one of the best brewpubs in the country and easily, far-and-away the best in its region. Period.
Goose Island Clybourn is the perfect place to enjoy a slew of solid suds as well as some well-crafted cuisine that pairs well with the aforementioned brews, accentuating them and highlighting the best of both. With a variety of drinking spaces within the same establishment, you'll be comfortable whether you're bar hopping with friends or there for a few drinks with your family. And the beer? Without question, Goose Island produces some of the best in the world--beers that I would be proud to send to a global competition as representatives of what American craft beer should taste like. I give Goose Island Clybourn an A+, my highest grade. It comes with my highest recommendation and stands as an absolute, must-visit place if you're even remotely a fan of craft beer. And if you aren't then you should definitely visit because their beer will convert you.
Beers in bold received a grade of A- or higher.
312 Urban Wheat
Golden Goose Pilsner
Green Line Pale Ale
Smoke Apple Wood Helles
Kilgubbin Red Ale
Lake Effect Winter Ale
For more information about the Goose Island Clybourn brewpub including the awesome Goose Island MBA (Master of Beer Appreciation) program, please visit their official website here.
Friday, November 15, 2013
Beer and baseball. Two words that seem like they were destined to fit together--inextricably linked in their respective histories and American identities. I looked forward to enjoying both during my first trip to Chicago back in 2011. Needless to say, I started off with a bang visiting the Founders Brewing Company and Three Floyds Brewing during the first afternoon of our trip. When we arrived at our hotel in downtown Chicago, my wife and I knew that we had to finish off the evening strong with a solid brewpub.
Visiting any metropolis can be a stressful ordeal, particularly if you're driving; it can also be extremely cost-prohibitive. Fortunately for me, my wife and I are just fine with staying at affordable hotels rather than shelling out tons of cash for a four star experience. We wound up staying at the Best Western Plus River North Hotel on West Ohio Street and I'd highly recommend the spot for anyone traveling to Chicago looking for a safe, comfortable base of operations. Generally, when we travel, we spend very little time at the hotel we're staying at. Usually we're there just to sleep and grab breakfast in the morning before heading out either for the day or for the next leg of our journey. Since we were going to be staying in Chicago for a few days we wanted a place that offered a little more. With its own parking lot and swimming pool, as well as its proximity to restaurants and other attractions, the Best Western served our purposes and then some.
After getting settled into the hotel (and not wanting to have to take the car out to pay for parking again), we decided to head out for a stroll towards the Rock Bottom Brewery & Restaurant on Grand Avenue. Everything was fine until these apocalyptic storm clouds rolled in seemingly out of nowhere. We managed to get to the brewpub and inside just before the heavens opened up, releasing a deluge of biblical proportions. It was one of those storms that had even the veteran waitstaff skittish!
Inclement weather aside, our first impression of this Rock Bottom was that it was a very classy spot. Almost too classy given our attire. I think there might have been an event going on in the upstairs section but I felt very self conscious in my shorts and shirt looking at the well-dressed folk milling about. We were also concerned about having a stroller but the hostess quelled both fears immediately. She, along with everyone else we interacted with, was warm and inviting--making us feel right at home. Our waiter was not only well-informed about the in-house beers, he was equally enthusiastic about them--a point that I find critical in separating the great brewpubs from the rest of the pack.
We ordered our samplers before I even had a chance to check out the beer menu. When I finally pored over the front-and-back list, I was stunned by the diversity and complexity of the styles that were offered. There were of course the ubiquitous American Amber / Red Ale, Witbier, and American IPA but these often-pedestrian brews were rubbing elbows with some rarely-seen brethren. There was a Helles Bock (also known as the Maibock style--typically a spring seasonal beer that's lighter in color and body than their Bock cousins but comparable in terms of alcohol content), a Kölsch (not as rare but still a delicious offering that is moderately hopped with a dry finish akin to a delicate white wine), a Schwarzbier (a black lager with a light body that defies its appearance and a refreshing quality not often associated with similar-looking beers), and, of all things, a Rauchbier--one of the most polarizing styles around! They were out of the latter, which was fine by me because I'm not a huge fan of smoked beers. Though I can appreciate the nuances that separate one smoked beer from another, the leather/bacon/liquid smoke aspects tend to become too much after the third or fourth sip. Instead, I was able to enjoy an Oatmeal Stout--one of my all-time favorite styles of beer.
What makes the aforementioned variety so special isn't simply the diversity among the beers but also the timing of their appearances on the beer list. We were in Chicago in May, which is typically the time that you'd see the first five styles listed. If you're lucky you'll find one dark beer--a watered down Porter or nitro Irish Dry Stout at best. Instead, in conjunction with those revitalizing lighter styles I was able to enjoy what is typically a late-autumn/early summer assortment of darker beers. I'm definitely curious about what their winter menu looks like and, given the awesome quality of the spring one, I'm sure it'll be amazing.
So, though some people shy away from brewpub chains, it would definitely be a mistake to do so here. The food, atmosphere, environment, and beer are all great AND affordable--a rare combination within the urban confines of a huge city. With so many things to see and do in the Windy City, you're bound to work up a thirst and an appetite for some solid Midwestern beer and cuisine so, if you're in the area, definitely hit up the Rock Bottom Brewery.
Many brewpubs offer adequate food with uninspired beer lists but Rock Bottom Chicago breaks free of the chains of banality and offers an above-average eating and drinking experience. The food and beer are both very good and, given the location, are solid deals. I give it a B+ and recommend visiting if you're in Chicago.
Kolsch Style Ale
Belgian Style White Ale
India Pale Ale
Specialty Dark (Oatmeal Stout)
Fujo Black Lager
For more information about this particular Rock Bottom Brewery & Restaurant location, please visit its official website here.
Friday, November 1, 2013
|Small pond just outside of the 3 Floyds Brewpub|
in Munster, Indiana
Few beers ever achieve the level of notoriety that Dark Lord has reached over the past decade. Not only does it appear three separate times within the Beer Advocate Top 250 list (all three entries being within the Top 125 of said Top 250), it has its own day dedicated to its release! There are not many beers that have that level of hype even among those with highly anticipated annual/biannual releases like Dogfish Head's 120 Minute IPA and Worldwide Stout and Samuel Adams' Utopias. A festival is held in honor of this devastator of palettes--destroyer of beer-drinking light weights and foppish fanboys of inferior beers alike--commemorating its release and celebrating the enjoyment of one of the most sought-after, decadent stouts in all the land.
For the rest of us mere mortals who are unable to attend the coronation of our Dark Lord, there is the Three Floyds Brewpub located in Munster, Indiana. I was fortunate enough to have visited it immediately following my trip to the Founders Brewery in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A mere two and a half hour drive southwest from Founders, the Three Floyds Brewpub represents the second half of the most potent, incredible one-two beer road trip punch that I've ever encountered. Add in Goose Island to the mix--a thirty mile drive north--and you have what is easily the single most prolific triad of breweries one could hope to hit up on a beer journey.
|The beer list at Three Floyds|
Upon entering the brewpub, I was struck immediately by the funky feel that the place had. It felt like one part craft beer mecca, one part low-key, local bar, and one part zany, no-holds-barred party spot. The decor certainly belied the latter with a bunch of psychedelic artwork and colors at seemingly every turn. Still, it felt like a great place to eat and drink and the general buzz seemed to confirm that.
I was a little put off at first by the dirty beer menu and then disappointed further by the unavailability of certain beers and the fact that others were not available for sampling (NOTE: this was back in 2011. I believe that at the present time you can sample everything that they have on tap pending availability). Other than that, the only remaining drag was a Houdini waitress who kept pulling a disappearing act in between taking our order and bringing us the beer/food. We would've loved to have ordered more of the former but, with how long it was taking just to get things like napkins and other drink refills, we would've been there for over an hour and a half simply for lunch.
Negatives aside, the food was phenomenal and the beer was just as good. We were able to sample six different brews, five of which would be considered among the best that Three Floyds has to offer. They were all full-flavored, full-bodied beers that each demanded the attention and consideration of my palette at all times. The standouts for me were the Dreadnaught IPA and renowned Alpha King Pale Ale along with the Toplyss Wych, the latter of which was a Baltic Porter--a style of beer that I typically am not a fan of. In true Three Floyds fashion though it was brewed with equal levels of care and craft and was thus a treat.
|The Dark One Himself: Dark Lord!|
I consider Three Floyds Brewing to be among the best our great nation has to offer featuring at least a half-dozen beers that warrant a world-class ranking. The fact that many of these are available for sampling and purchase at the brewery/brewpub in Munster, Indiana--roughly a half an hour south of Chicago, makes this a must-visit location for any beer fan. The few negative aspects of my visit are not enough to damage the unparalleled quality of the beer or the great drinking environment that the Floyds have created for themselves at their brewpub. As such, I give Three Floyds Brewing a grade of A and thus dub it a place of high distinction. If you're anywhere near Chicago you'd be remiss not to swing by Munster and check out both the brewpub and retail offerings therein.
Pride & Joy Mild Ale
Robert The Bruce Scottish Ale
Alpha King Pale Ale
For more information about Three Floyds Brewing please visit their official website here.
Monday, October 14, 2013
In May of 2011, my wife and I took what would prove to be one of our most enjoyable road trips. Over the course of a week, we visited a total of eighteen different breweries and brewpubs along with adding four new Major League Ballparks to our list. We hit up a number of memorable locations but the one that had me giddy like a child visiting Disney World was the Founders Brewing Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Anyone who has had a Founders' beer can speak immediately to the high level of quality and craftsmanship that is placed into each brew. Brewers of such legendary beers as the illustrious KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout)--number four on Beer Advocate's Top 250 Beers list--Backwoods Bastard (a delectable Scotch Ale aged in bourbon barrels), and the highly-sought after CBS (Canadian Breakfast Stout), Founders has developed a cult following among craft beer fanatics, especially those seekers of rare brews. I, myself, am among the latter eagerly awaiting the release of KBS each year and hoping to procure even a single bottle (if I'm lucky!).
Prior to my trip to the brewery, I had enjoyed some of the best that they have to offer including the aforementioned, notoriously-difficult-to-obtain KBS and Backwoods Bastard, along with other more readily available releases like their Breakfast Stout, Dirty Bastard, and Curmudgeon. Though I favored the darker, more complex beers I also developed an appreciation for the hop sensibilities of the brewery through offerings like their Red's Rye PA and Centennial IPA. Regardless of what I would ultimately try at the brewery, I was confident that I would enjoy it.
There was an electric feel to the air as we pulled into the parking lot; rarely do I get that excited about visiting a new place. Though unfortunately not visible in my lone photograph of the brewery, there was an inviting, open feel to the place. Just left of the photo's border was a slew of seating and large, glass doors that opened into the brewery's tasting room. As I stepped in through the main entrance, I was floored by how spacious the taproom was. An awesome vibe permeated the place as I approached the bar. While I awaited the bartender's attention, I took notice of a stage set up in the corner of the room. It became readily apparent that this was the place to come for a good time in Grand Rapids.
|Founders' Devil Dancer Triple IPA|
Now the lattermost is not officially recognized as a beer style (it is technically an American Imperial IPA) but at a hefty 12% abv and 112 IBU, Founders' Devil Dancer certainly deserves a category unto itself! Few beers delve into such extreme territory but, for hop heads, this is one that is sure to please. It was the only one that I sampled in a larger size (I enjoyed a goblet at the taproom and, upon arriving home, sought out the bottle pictured above for consumption). Needless to say, though every beer was excellent, the Devil Dancer was exceptional and stood out as yet another shining example of the capable hands and minds crafting the beers at Founders.
My visit to the taproom was a short albeit fruitful one but I was bummed that I didn't get to enjoy the other awesome things available. For one, I've been told that the food is excellent (despite the fact that the Grand Rapids location isn't technically a brewpub but rather a tasting room with food available). For another, I would've loved to have partaken in their Mug Club. Unfortunately, living on the East Coast, it didn't make sense for me to sign up but, if you're anywhere near Grand Rapids (::cough Chicago ::cough::) then you'd be wise to take part in the awesome experience. Among the perks of being a Mug Club member are discounts like a dollar off of every beer, every day, a personalized mug, and, perhaps best of all, discounted entry to some of Founders' special events including the Founders Fest, Harvest Party, and Black Party.
Overall, Founders is, in my humble opinion, one of the best breweries in the United States and, without question, the best of what they brew can stand up to many of the most highly acclaimed beers in the world. I'm grateful for what I can get my hands on here in New Jersey but I am consistently jealous of those positioned in better geographical proximity to the brewery than myself because of all of the amazing special events they have in Grand Rapids. I hope someday to return to the brewery because, despite being an eleven hour drive from where I live, it'd be worth the trip just to sample some more of their rare and exclusive brews.
Founders makes some of the best beer I've ever had with twenty out of the twenty-three beers I've had earning an A or better. Their taproom in Grand Rapids, Michigan is a perfect place to enjoy incredible craft beer. With great food and local entertainment available in a comfortable, welcoming setting, you simply cannot ask for more out of a drinking experience. Based upon the taproom and the inimitable quality of Founders' beers, I give the Founders Brewery my highest grade of A+. This isn't simply a "can't miss" location but a "must visit before you die" brewery.
Founders Pale Ale (B+)
Founders Solid Gold Extra Pale Ale (B+)
Founders Porter (A)
Founders Empire Strikes Bitter (A)
Founders Session Noir (A+)
Founders Oatmeal Stout (A)
Founders Imperial Stout (A+)
Founders Apricot Swarm (A+)
Founders Devil Dancer Triple IPA (A+)
For more information about the Founders Brewing Company please visit their official website here.
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Of all of the breweries that my wife and I went to during our trip to Philly back in 2011, Yards was the one that I was looking forward to the most. Situated merely a few minutes north of Penn's Landing, near to but not oppressed by the looming shadows of both I-95 and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, the brewery sits on its own little slice of highway paradise. Its gruff brick exterior belies a typically Philadelphean image yet what lurks within those thick walls is a craft beer lover's dream.
With a bar top made from recommissioned bowling alley lanes and former doors reincarnated as bar tables, the tasting room is at once chic but wholly welcoming. There's a solid local flavor coursing through the humble space but, as a neighbor visiting from the north, I certainly did not feel any cold shoulders being thrown my way. Again, though, the vibe is unique. You'll see the prototypical blue collar guys hanging around while the younger crowd enjoys a few games of pool and shuffleboard while snacking on food that you'd be more likely to find served on a free range rescue paper menu in Williamsburg. Seriously--check out the spread that's offered in the tasting room: http://www.yardsbrewing.com/visit-yards/tasting-room
If it's not the recreation or the high quality grub that draws you in then the beer certainly will. When we were there last, patrons were given a free sample as they walked in the door with flights available for purchase at the bar. There are few things more welcoming at a brewery than a free sample making it into your hand before you've even gotten the lay of the land!
With that said, Yards definitely isn't your average frat party hangout. They were the first fully wind powered brewery in the state of Pennsylvania and they consistently engage in environmentally friendly, ethically conscious endeavors that you can read about here and here, respectively. They pay an equal amount of care and attention to their beers--something that has not gone unnoticed by their ever-growing legion of loyal consumers.
Yards' beers tend generally to fall within traditional English and American styles, which, at first glance, might come across as boring or pedestrian; nothing could be further from the truth. What tradition they employ goes towards crafting some of the most well-balanced, tasty suds in the Northeast. Where their innovation comes into play is with their stouts (including some bourbon barrel aged, cask conditioned, and nitro infused offerings) and with their Ales of the Revolution--deemed "beer time capsules" by their brewers. Simultaneously tossing a nod backwards towards our country's Founding Fathers and forwards towards the future of craft beer brewing practices, the aforementioned Ales of the Revolution were inspired by original recipes that date back multiple centuries. Putting their own unique, modern twist on the beers, the brewers at Yards have managed to create a slew of delicious brews that are like drinking history in a bottle.
The Signature Ales make up the balance of Yards' typical line up of beers. Lighter in body given their respective styles, they still pack a punch in terms of flavor. If you're new to the world of craft beer or are transitioning over from lighter macrobrews then these brews would serve as excellent examples of what great craft beer can be without slamming you repeatedly over the head with intense, extreme, over-the-top ingredients, alcohol content, and body.
If there was one word that I would use to describe the Yards Brewing Company it would be balance. Their beers strike a balance between the past and the future, the traditional and the innovative, and the safe and the bold. Their tasting room exists simultaneously as an environmentally aware space of innovation and a typical welcoming watering hole. The food and beer are juxtaposed against an intermingled crowd that defies any single classification other than: folks who know good beer and a great place to drink it when they see it.
Yards Brewing is one of my can't-miss locations and, as such, I give it an A. The beers are clean, crisp, and high quality brews and you can enjoy them in a truly awesome space. There's not much more you could ask for in a brewery and so it comes very highly recommended.
What's more, they have an awesome website that's really worth exploring when you have the time. As always, I'll provide the link below.
India Pale Ale (Hand Pump & Draft)
Extra Special Ale (ESA)
Philadelphia Pale Ale
General Washington's Tavern Porter (Revolutionary Ales)
Thomas Jefferson's Tavern Ale (Revolutionary Ales)
Philadelphia Pale Ale (Cask Conditioned)
Extra Special Ale (ESA) (Cask Conditioned)
For more information about the Yards Brewing Company, please check out their official website here.
Monday, September 16, 2013
|Partial (!!) beer haul from my latest beer road trip|
With so much road tripping under my belt (I've planned and driven for the majority of a dozen trips of 1,000 miles or more including six spanning 3,000+ miles each (three 3,000 milers, a 4,400 mile one, a 6,600 mile one, and a monster 8,500 mile trek!), I've taken it for granted that everyone is used to embarking upon and preparing for such ventures. I'm also used to covering a lot of ground on these trips (the 4,400 and 6,600 mile trips were ten days each--the 8,500 mile one was only fourteen!) while still maximizing the number and quality of the experiences that I have along the way. I've been goofed on for "rushing" through these trips but my wife and I have felt that way only once when we drove over 3,600 miles in just under five days to and through the gulf coast states of the southeastern U.S.
After speaking recently with my friend Dave and helping him to plan out his first big beer road trip, I realized that plotting out a solid itinerary for a trek is probably a lot different for the majority of people than it is for me. I love fifteen and sixteen hour driving days but have come to realize that most folks take a more relaxed approach to road trips, opting to stretch them out over longer time frames to reduce the number and duration of long drives. Coming up with entertaining or rewarding destination points to break up said long drives is critical but again varies from person to person. Back in '06 when we embarked upon our first cross country road trip, I decided to have us stop at the capitol buildings in Iowa and Nebraska just to give us something definitive to shoot for and to allow us a chance to get out and to stretch our legs. I fell in love with the experience and wound up either incorporating new state capitols into all future trips or to make them the sole purpose of a few select journeys.
That fateful trip in 2006 was also the first one for me that had beer as a focal point. My wife Heather and I stopped at and took tours of the Coors Brewery in Golden, Colorado as well as the flagship Anheuser-Busch location in St. Louis, Missouri. We enjoyed a few craft beers along the way but it wasn't until our honeymoon a year later that microbreweries/brewpubs became a focal point of our travels (the Kona Brewing Company holds a special place in my heart since we visited it during our time on the Big Island). I kick myself now looking back at the incredible adventure that we took in 2008 from Staten Island, New York all the way up to the Alaska Highway in northern British Columbia and then back down into Washington state and along the northern United States, because I missed out on the chance to try beer from so many places--some of which I might never return to (the Dakotas standing out chiefly in my mind).
It was only within the past three or four years that beer graduated from an ancillary element of our road tripping to the star attraction. Since 2009 when we visited the Samuel Adams Brewery in Boston, we've journeyed to scores of breweries and brewpubs--something I touched upon in two 2011 entries documenting that particularly prolific year, located here and here--and our approach has evolved a great deal. I've learned through trial and error what works best and what doesn't and, with a broader wealth of knowledge regarding beer and its distribution, I've learned to maximize my road trip experience. With any luck, this entry will help you to do the same and will allow you to enjoy the fruits of your labor even after you've returned home!
(I'm a sucker for enumeration so, for ease of reference at the end, I will number each section moving forward and will arrange things in the order that I think will be most efficient when you're planning your own trip.)
HOW TO PLAN A BEER ROAD TRIP AND MAXIMIZE YOUR ENJOYMENT
I. KNOW WHERE YOU WANT TO GO
Choosing a location is obviously the most important part of planning your trip. If the goal of your trek is a particular brewery--say, Founders, in Grand Rapids, Michigan--then plan around that spot. I rely on Mapquest for all of my pre-trip map-work and would recommend starting there as well. Put your destination into Mapquest (Google Maps, or whatever else you use, preferably on the computer and not on a mobile device as this will make things easier later on) and see how far away it is. In my case, Founders was twelve hours away when we made the trip. A few years earlier, that would've been a day's drive but, with a toddler, there was no way we'd be able to do it in a straight shot; factoring those things into your trip will help things to move much more smoothly once you're on the road.
Once you have the map open, zoom in a little and scope out what cities you'll be passing by or through along the way. Consider whether or not you'd be interested in stopping off along the way either at other beer-related spots or simple tourist attractions. A great way to break up a long drive is to have a few quickie locations prepared. Though this a point I will delve into in greater detail later, it's worth broaching now: make sure that you're aware of how many beer stops you're making along the way! Remember that if you're going to be taking a tour and doing a tasting that it will likely be closer to a two hour diversion rather than a quick on-and-off affair. Also, be aware of how much you intend to drink along the way as this will clearly impact the safety and quality of your drive. NEVER EVER DRIVE DRUNK--EVEN A LITTLE BIT!
II. LEARN ABOUT THE LOCAL CRAFT BEER SCENE
It's important to be knowledgeable about your destination before you go so that you'll be able to enjoy it more fully and so that you won't come home with any regrets. The Internet is rife with resources that you can use but sometimes the sheer panoply of options can become overwhelming. As a result, I'd recommend sticking to the following three choices: Google, Beer Advocate, and your local beer guy/gal. Googling even something as simple as "Grand Rapids beer" will help to get you going and at least put you on the path towards your final itinerary. Better still is utilizing a more focused resource like Beer Advocate. If you're a beer fan already and are not a member of BA's free website then I'd highly recommend hopping over and signing up. For one, the site gives you access to a plethora of beer reviews as well as forums where you can ask other BA users for information. My buddy Dave did the latter and was given a ton of solid information about can't-miss beers and breweries for his particular trip. He also did the third thing on the list by speaking with Tim Hearne, our local craft beer guru, who was able to guide him even further along his way.
III. CHOOSE WHAT YOU WANT TO DO
At first glance, this might seem like an inane or unnecessary point but knowing exactly what type of experience you want will help you not only to choose your locations wisely but to get the most out of each one as well. To streamline this part of the discussion, I'll lay out the various location types below and discuss each individually.
Your typical macrobrewery might be low on quality when it comes to the beers it produces but it's often equally as high on the quality of the experience it offers its visitors. Four of the best tours of any kind that I've ever taken occurred at the Guinness, Coors, Anheuser-Busch, and Miller breweries at their respective locations. You can expect a top-notch tour with paid tour guides, multimedia experiences, a solid overview of the general brewing process and production, and a small selection of samples at the end. If you're looking to get hammered off of free beer then this probably isn't the choice for you but if instead you're looking for a solid introduction into beer in general and the opportunity to try some commercially available beer on the cheap then by all means include a macro in your itinerary.
These will arguably make up the majority of your list of destinations. There are a few things worth considering though when you're incorporating a number of micro/craft breweries into your trip. The first and most important one is the tour. I've been on dozens of brewery tours and I can tell you that, when it comes to microbreweries, if you've been on one you've practically been on them all. A few individual breweries have stood out because of unique elements that set them apart from their other craft brewing brethren but, by and large, a standard microbrewery tour will take you on a short walk through the facility, explain the brewing process in greater detail than a macrobrewer would, possibly offer some hands-on demonstrations (usually in the form of hops and malts to smell/taste/touch), and ultimately conclude with a tasting.
Here's the most important thing to consider with microbreweries: How much time are you willing to spend there?
If you want to visit five breweries and all of them require a tour in order to receive your samples then you have to consider whether you're willing to commit upwards of six hours or more in total as well as to deal with the potential redundancy of having the same or similar tour experiences multiple times. This is why it's critical to do your homework in advance! If you're interested in the facilities themselves then by all means hit up the tours but if the samples are the key reason that you're there then you might be better served by looking at microbreweries that offer a taproom.
MICROBREWERY TAPROOM/TASTING ROOM
Part of the draw of going to microbreweries is the opportunity to sample a variety of beer for minimal to no cost. Oftentimes, when you do have to pay, you're given a souvenir tasting glass that you can take home with you thus sweetening the pot a bit. However, whether there's a nominal fee or not, you'll ultimately be limited in the number of samples you can have. Of course, you can get around this by going there with a non-beer drinker/pregnant woman (don't judge!) and taking advantage of their samples as well but that's not always a possibility.
If you're anything like me, the most important part of the trip isn't just trying beer but trying a lot of different beers--as many as possible in my case. This is where a taproom/tasting room can serve as the ultimate sampling experience. Once more invoking the Founders location, I was able to try almost a dozen different beers at their taproom--far more than I would have been able to indulge in with the average microbrewery tour. Of course, my recent trip to Cigar City in Tampa trumps that when I tried twenty different beers in a single session but I was also sharing them with my wife, which detracts a little from the stature of that number.
The only downside to the taproom/tasting room is that you're paying for your samples. I lucked out at Founders because the bartender wound up not charging me for most of them but even having to pony up the cash at Cigar City for all twenty was well worth it and a far better deal than having to order all of those brews by the pint. So if your goal is to try a number of great beers and possibly be able to take some home in can, bottle, or growler form, then the microbrewery with a taproom/tasting room is likely your best bet.
The brewpub is an oft-overlooked beer destination because many people think of it as being more of a restaurant/dining experience than a drinking one. In some cases though I find the brewpub to be the superior drinking experience for reasons I will explain shortly. The most obvious benefit of the brewpub is the ability to eat while you drink. Staying hydrated and keeping your belly full will help you to drink more without suffering the debilitating effects of the alcohol as rapidly as you would on an empty stomach and without water. Both food and water are readily available at a brewpub but either or both are not necessarily available at the other aforementioned locations. Some taprooms will offer food or feature food trucks (Cigar City and Brooklyn Brewery are great examples of the latter) but you might find the experience of eating at a bar that's not really laid out for food service not to be an optimal one.
As great as brewpubs can be, there are obviously some downsides. The most notable one is cost. A brewpub isn't just a brewery--it's a restaurant and a business in its own right. They have higher costs associated with the running of their operations than a brewery does because they have both the brewing requirements and the culinary ones as well. As such, a trip to a brewpub is easily the most expensive one you'll have among the categories I've outlined. Then again, you can just as easily drink at a brewery and then go out to eat somewhere else and the combined cost will be the same. With that in mind, a brewpub offers you the chance both to eat and to drink at the same location.
|A picture of Goose Island's beer menu--one of the|
only ones ever to defeat me!
An independent brewpub will likely feature only a handful of taps of which most will be your typical American Amber / Red Ales, Hefeweizens, Porters/Stouts, etc. Occasionally, you'll find a spot that deviates considerably and offers a more variegated list but for the most part you'll have only a little bit of variety as well as a seasonal offering or two. If you're lucky, you'll find an independent spot like the Flossmoor Station Restaurant & Brewery that offers a broad array of beers but usually it's the brewpub affiliated with a bigger brewery that will give you the widest variety and will serve as your greatest chance of trying multiple beers. Goose Island in Chicago has by far one of the most expansive beer lists and was one of only a few that I wasn't able to sample everything from in a single sitting.
I find brewpubs to be a great place to get a feel for the vibe of the local beer scene. Most breweries' employees are somewhat myopic in nature and, though they're aware of the local competition, they elect instead to focus more on their own company's products. At a brewpub, if you get a great waitress or waiter who is interested in the beer, there's a good chance that you'll be able to learn something about what's available in town, what's preferred, and what's to be avoided. Chances are, if something is championed or maligned by a resident, it's worth following that advice!
Ultimately, don't be afraid to visit a brewpub and not order food. Make it clear up front that you're there to sample some beers so that the server isn't ticked off when it comes time to order. Plus, I've found that establishing yourself as a beer vagabond of sorts will often net you some additional samples either of things that aren't included in a flight or of things that aren't ordinarily sampleable by the public!
IV. KNOW WHEN YOU WANT TO GO
Once you start laying down the foundation for your trip in terms of locations, it's important to consider the time of year that you'll be visiting. Nearly every brewery offers at least a seasonal beer or two and, consequently, what's offered is usually related directly to the given season. Though the variety of seasonal beers is pretty expansive, there are a few rules of thumb that are ubiquitous regardless of the brewery:
If you're into lighter beers then you should travel in the spring or summer.
Most breweries will make maibocks, fruit beers, summer ales, and special pale ales/India pale ales in the warmer months because they're lighter and more quaffable than their darker relatives.
If you're into pumpkin beers/Oktoberfests then you should travel in the late summer/early autumn.
The release of pumpkin beers (arguably the fastest growing style in terms of popularity) seems to come earlier and earlier each year. Mid-to-late August is usually the earliest they'll start popping up with September being the optimal time to go. October is great as well but the closer it gets to Halloween, the higher the likelihood is that the pumpkin ales are being phased out for the winter seasonals.
If you're into darker, heavier, and/or stronger beers then you should travel in the late fall/winter.
My favorite non-IPA styles are all darker in nature and thus come out later in the year. Most winter seasonals will include spicy brews like winter warmers but there will also be a healthy assortment of porters and stouts to choose from as well. Brown ales often bridge the gap between fall and winter and are often available throughout both seasons.
If you have very particular likes and dislikes when it comes to beer then you should definitely consider what your preferred styles are and plan accordingly!
V. DO YOUR DUE DILIGENCE
Though it can be a pain to visit a number of websites and/or to place a multitude of phone calls, in the long run doing so can save you a great deal of time and aggravation if done in advance of your trip. Unfortunately, I speak from experience when I say that making a trip based upon assumptions will often yield dissatisfying results. Heather and I once drove all the way out to Pottsville to visit Yuengling only to find out that they were closed. It was Memorial Day weekend so I thought for sure that they would be open yet, when I got home and looked online, I saw that they're closed five or so weekends of the year for pesticide spraying (ew) and, of course, that was one of them. Again, here are some things to consider:
Is the spot you're going to family-friendly?
It's easy to forget when you have kids that not every place is child or family friendly. It's worth a quick phone call to a brewery or brewpub to find out whether they have the proper accommodations for little ones (ranging from changing rooms for infants to high chairs for toddlers) and whether or not they allow strollers. My buddy Dave learned this the hard way when he went to the Hoppin' Frog brewery in Akron, Ohio only to be told that he had to leave because his infant son was not allowed in the brewery. They claimed that it was due to insurance reasons but there's a good chance it was simply because the drinking vibe there was not conducive to having children present. Know before you go!
Is the spot you're going to open on the day/at the time you'll be there?
Once again speaking from experience--recent this time--I was bummed to find out that the brewpub I had planned on visiting in Tallahassee wouldn't be open at the time we'd be in the city. I know I looked into it and, initially, we were supposed to be arriving in the evening but we wound up getting there during the early afternoon a day in advance, but I completely whiffed on making a note that they opened at five in the evening instead of the traditional eleven or eleven-thirty in the morning. Few things suck more than arriving to a spot that you've been looking forward to visiting only to find the lights off and the doors locked.
Consider any time zone changes
If you're traveling far enough then the odds are that you'll encounter at least one change in time zone. When you're heading west it's not that big of a deal because you'll gain an hour but if you're heading east then it's definitely something worth factoring in. It would be a huge pain in the ass to see 8:30 on your clock when you arrive at a spot that closes at 9 only to find out that it's actually 9:30 local time and you missed out.
Is the spot you're going to currently open?
There's certainly a risk element involved with going anywhere but it doesn't hurt to stay on top of things while you're on the road if you have the capabilities to do so. Case-in-point would be recent disasters at both Dogfish Head and Stone Brewing. Unexpected emergencies forced each location to shut down temporarily, disrupting production as well as resulting in the cancellation of tours. Though the likelihood of such an occurrence happening is pretty low, it couldn't hurt to pop onto Facebook or Twitter and check out the pages of the locations you'll be going to for any updates about their schedules.
Is the spot you're going to currently open?
Though this might seem redundant, it's worth paying attention to things like Yelp reviews, particularly for brewpubs, as well as the dates of other reviews because they might indicate things that a general Google search might not. I've looked up places before, read reviews, even Googled their hours--only to find out that they're no longer open for business. This is where the due diligence comes into play. Yelp reviews will also often identify that a particular location has either changed names (in the case of the Big River Brewery in Nashville, Tennessee, which became a Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery location) or is under new ownership. The latter point might not seem all that important unless you're going to a particular spot based upon reviews or recommendations. If a place gets four or five stars but the reviews are from 2011 and it has since come under new management with disastrous results then you would be saving yourself a negative experience simply by paying attention to the most recent feedback about the brewpub/brewery. (It's worth noting though that it's rarely a brewery that is affected by this and almost always a brewpub since the former rarely changes ownership hands unless they're bought out by one of the big beer companies.)
TAKING BEER BACK / DRINKING ON THE ROAD
VI. CONSIDER HOW MUCH BEER YOU'LL BE BRINGING HOME WITH YOU
One of my favorite parts of going on a beer road trip is getting out of your local distribution area and exploring completely new regions (if the trip is long/far enough). It's exciting for me to try beers from states that I've never had beer from and to see what's popular in other locales (Pennsylvania, for example, is a blue collar state and so almost all of the breweries and brewpubs (barring those in Philadelphia, which is a little nearer to being white collar) reflect the beer tastes of such a crowd. Lagers rule the land and there's less experimentation/variety with extreme ingredients than in other more liberal states.) As such, it's important to realize that it's all but impossible to try everything that a given city/state has to offer on a single trip. With that said, it's certainly worth bringing some beer back with you once you head home.
Now, how much beer and the type of beer container those brews will accompany you in will be determined by your drinking style. I'm all about maximizing quantity and savoring quality so I'm more inclined to buy a variety pack or to go for a bunch of loose bottles and cans than I am to snag growlers and six-packs. Others will find a single beer that they love and will choose to load up on that. Again--how you drink your beer will ultimately determine whether or not you come home with a few dozen different things (see the picture at the start of this entry), an assortment of six-packs and cases, or a few sealed growlers.
Regardless of the type of container (bottle, can, or growler), recognize that there's a definite space limitation that you'll be facing, particularly if you're traveling with children. My wife and I managed to fit all of the beer pictured above and more into our Toyota Echo along with our two children, their strollers, our bags of clothes, souvenirs, and whatever else we needed for our recent 3,000+ mile trip. It was a squeeze but we made it work. If you're traveling in a van or a more spacious vehicle (or without children!) then space might not be an issue but it's still something to consider, especially if you want to bring home cases of beer or a number of large growlers.
VII. FIND A WHOLE FOODS!!!
I cannot stress how awesome of a resource Whole Foods Markets are for the traveling craft beer fan. Simply put, they are the best location to pick up a huge variety of beers. The ones that sell beer have a local section that highlights some of the best beer from the region, which could mean the city, the state, or surrounding states. Obviously, the biggest limitation is the number of locations that they have but check to see if there's one in or around where you'll be traveling. You'll thank yourself later when you're enjoying a ton of beer from the place you traveled to! I first realized the beer buying potential of Whole Foods when I went to the one in Lake Grove, New York near John Harvard's brewpub. I then made it a point to travel specifically to one in Milwaukee where I was able to load up on midwestern/northern beers that were unavailable to me back home.
On my most recent trip, I had three Whole Foods locations on my agenda: one in Nashville, Tennessee, one in Birmingham, Alabama, and one in Florida (I originally planned to go to Tampa but audibled to Orlando because of scheduling adjustments made along the way). I came away with nine different beers in Nashville and another thirteen in Alabama representing a multitude of states (including Alabama and Mississippi, which are notoriously difficult to find beers from). The scary part is that that was only a fraction of what I could've purchased had I the financial resources and the physical room the pay for and accommodate those beers. I'm glad I went to the one in Orlando because I was able to get a huge variety of beers including some from California and Colorado that I can't currently get by me in the northeast. I can't wait to do a review of the Ghost Face Killah and I can't believe I was able to get my hands on it down there!
VIII. HAVE A DESIGNATED DRIVER
It should go without saying that it's a terrible idea to drive under the influence but thousands of people still do it every day. If you're going to be going on a beer road trip then make sure that at least one other person will not be drinking so that you don't have to worry about harming yourself or others. Tired eyes are almost as bad as those heavy with drink so if you're beat then don't be afraid to hand the wheel over to someone else!
IX. LEAVE SOME BEER BEHIND
Unless you're really regulating how much beer you'll be having or are a light drinker in general, it's not a good idea to try to drink all of the beer that you'll encounter on your trip. I made that mistake once in 2011 when, over the course of a nearly twelve hour day of drinking, I consumed over 100 ounces of craft beer. The only reason I did this was because I knew my wife would be a willing driver but, even still, I felt understandably and utterly awful that night and the next day. It took me a few trips before I felt comfortable leaving some samples on the table.
If you're self-conscious about leaving beer behind then consider trying this: pick out the two samples that you liked the least and condense the remainder of all of the other beer into those two glasses. One or two mostly filled tasting glasses doesn't look as bad as ten partially filled ones!
X. DECIDE BETWEEN HAVING BEER THERE AND TAKING IT WITH YOU
A place like Goose Island is great because they have a ton of beers to choose from as well as an awesome selection of beer to go. If you want to try a bunch of stuff but don't think you can have it all in one sitting then look at what's available to take with you and divide your list accordingly.
XI. KEEP A LIST OF WHAT YOU TRY
I can't tell you how many people I've shared my beer list with (1,962 different beers and counting!) who almost immediately tell me that they wish that they had started their own list at some point. I tell them all the exact same thing: it's never too late to start one. In fact, the sooner you do start one the better because, if you're really that big of a beer fan, you'll eventually start keeping a list of one sort or another and then you'll be kicking yourself even more for not doing it when you finally thought of it.
Keeping a beer list also adds to the enjoyment of your beer road trip. There's a certain thrill inherent in starting out with that blank piece of paper (I'm old school with my trip lists--paper and pen all the way, baby!) and seeing it slowly fill up with beer names. Though I've covered what could comprise a solid beer list extensively in an earlier entry, it's worth touching on a few points quickly here. Whenever I travel and have beer, I always jot down the name of the brewery, the name of the beer, the style, and the abv. In most cases, all of that information is available either on Beer Advocate, Rate Beer, or both but in some cases it's not and I always kick myself when I neglect to take note of the information only to find that it's not listed on the beer's page.
Another way to handle the data-keeping is by taking pictures of the beer menu(s). I do this when I first sit down this way if I forget to write down something later, then there's a good chance that I've already gotten it stored digitally either on my phone or on my camera.
Ultimately, the beer road trip can be the pinnacle of travel if engaged in properly. Know your limits both in terms of the quantity of beer you can handle and the number of miles you can log in a given day. Factor in how much beer you expect to have during the trip and how much you'll be enjoying afterwards. Keep a list and pay attention to the differences in beer styles, within the same styles, between regions, and even between locations of the same chain (such as Rock Bottom in Nashville versus the one in Chicago). Finally, above all things, just enjoy some good beer!
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
|Sign above the bar at the Tomoka Brewery |
in Ormond Beach, Florida
|The view from inside Echo as I drove us along|
the beach in Daytona
Beer-wise, we had achieved every goal that we had laid out for ourselves on the trip. I was able finally to try beer from Tennesee, we ate at a few stellar brewpubs, and I picked up a ton of beer along the way. Fortunately, though, the road tripping gods smiled upon me and, the night before our final full day in Ormond Beach, something told me to look up "Ormond Beach brewpubs." I was pretty familiar with the area having spent some time there in January of 2012 and I knew that there were no breweries of any sort in the area. Still, I decided to go with my gut and Google it anyway. Lo and behold--a result popped up: the Tomoka Brewery. They opened the next day at three so Heather and I decided to make it our last dining out venture before heading home.
Now, this review and my experience at Tomoka are both unprecedented. With regards to the latter, the brewery opened a mere seven weeks prior to our arrival. I've never been to a spot that new before and, reviewing-wise, I've never promoted such a young location--one that, at the time of my visit, hadn't even gotten its liquor license to sell its own beer! Still, I was left so impressed by my experience that I felt compelled to review them anyway in an effort to encourage others to visit them so that they too could be blown away.
Opened in July 2013 by Jennifer Hawkins and Peter Szunyogh, a talented pair of upstarts with a knack for the culinary and brewing arts, the Tomoka Brewery is situated along E. Grenada Boulevard--the main thoroughfare that cuts through Ormond Beach. Located less than five minutes from the beach and, depending upon traffic, a ten minute drive from I-95, it's in an ideal spot for locals, beach-goers, and road trippers alike. The interior is welcoming a cozy without being cramped. There were plenty of tables that comfortably seated my family of four but I can see it getting a little tight on a Friday or Saturday night when it likely gets packed.
What made me excited about going to the brewery were the reviews about the food and the selection of beers. At the time of my visit on August 29th, Jennifer and Peter were still awaiting their liquor license and thus could not sell their own beers though they were able to offer other breweries' products. Electing to stick to a Florida-only lineup, they feature an ever-changing array of statewide breweries that range from Key West to Tampa and on up to the Gulf Coast. The breweries that they've featured have been outstanding but the beers that they've chosen in particular are stellar. We were able to enjoy TWO Cigar City beers (the inimitable Jai Alai IPA as well as their Invasion Pale Ale) along with a slew of other beers from breweries I had never heard of before.
Now, most brewpubs that offer taps other than their own brews tend to stick to the tried and true macrobrews (::cough cough:: Tun Tavern in Atlantic City) but what makes Tomoka stand out is its adherence first to promoting its local beer culture and also the ability still to maintain a diverse array of beers. Looking at the photo above of the two samplers that Heather and I got, you can see that, despite the beers all being from Florida at the height of summer, they run the length of the color spectrum.
|Some whimsy for your dining/drinking pleasure!|
Ultimately, we decided to try the Caprese salad and an order of beer battered mozzarella sticks as appetizers. The salad featured plump tomatoes whose firm, juicy texture was complemented by the soft, springy mozzarella. The combination of the basil, balsamic vinegar, and fresh extra virgin olive oil brought the flavor profile to another level. I almost felt transported to some lavish Mediterranean locale!
The mozzarella sticks--typical pub grub if ever there was any--blew my mind. The beer batter coupled with the fact that the fresh mozzarella was fried right after we placed our order created an intense crunch bursting with rich but not unctuous flavor; there was no oily oozing that often accompanies poorly made or frozen mozzarella sticks. Instead, these bad boys were rife with a savory feeling reminiscent of the best mac and cheese you've ever had--the type that comes with breadcrumbs on top to add that extra textural level. Delicious!
Based upon how good the mozzarella sticks were, we decided to order a round of onion rings. These two were fried to order and were delectable. There's something about beer battered goodies that transcends them beyond mere comfort food and into an otherworldly realm of awesomeness.
The star of the show though was the pizza. I had read that the spanokopizza was the way to go but I couldn't pass over the carnivore. We opted for the the imperial pale ale tomato sauce, pepperoni, and oven-baked beef meatballs. Without question, it was one of the greatest pizzas I've ever had the pleasure of enjoying. Stuffed as I was, I managed to put away half of the pie simply because I could not keep my hand from bringing it to my face. And if by chance Peter is reading this, let me tell you that your carnivore pie beats anything I've ever had from Goodfellas on Staten Island or L&B's famous pie in Brookliyn by a MILE.
Again, this was an unprecedented experience for me getting to visit a place still in its infancy so what I would typically judge a brewery/brewpub by has to be adapted a little here. I can't in good conscious give Tomoka a grade on the quality of its beer simply because it really wasn't its beer so instead I'll include it to a lesser degree based upon the selection. Given the comfortable, inviting setting, the absolutely phenomenal food, the great array of taps, the extremely reasonable prices for both food and beer, and the great vibe given off by the owners, I'm giving the Tomoka Brewery a grade of A*. The asterisk represents a caveat and a projection.
The caveat is that, at the time of my visit, there were only two employees at the brewery (Jennifer and Peter) and I know that once this place really takes off, they'll need some additional help. The projection pertains to the perceived quality of their beer. I'm operating purely on a hunch but I can't imagine Tomoka's own brews to be anything short of amazing given how tremendously awesome their food is, how well they manage their place, and the attention to detail that they pay to everything from the beers that they offer to the items that populate their menu. I haven't had the beer and thus cannot vouch for it outright...but I'm sure it will be excellent. Thus, I highly recommend visiting the Tomoka Brewery.
And if you live in the Ormond/Daytona area, go and support your local craft brewers! The Florida scene is up and coming and it's through places like this that it will transcend to the national scene. Good luck to the Tomoka Brewery!
For more information about the Tomoka Brewery, please visit their official website here: http://www.tomokabrewery.com/Tomoka_Brewery/Home.html