Imbibe Hour

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Imbibing through Europe again. Traveling Denmark and Germany and the drinks in between Part 2 of ?

Copenhagen Airport - Googled Image taken from Internet
I did not take this photo.
Before I headed off on this trip I met up with a good friend of mine who had some rather big news.  He not unlike myself was heading to Europe as well, although while I was off for a vacation he was making a big change.

"Me and Valerie made up our minds, we're moving to Barcelona."

"The hell!!??"

I was sitting down with my good friend at the Quarry House Tavern, a good simple watering hole that I pick as a meeting place for us both on occasion. A solitary place of middle ground, it's sort of between our houses in the area.  I grab something Belgian, or perhaps a local on tap brew, he nestling his Guinness in his hands is satisfied.

This came out of nowhere, but I could sense his unbridled enthusiasm and his eagerness to move on, son in tow, quit his job, it was what they wanted.  He even decided to write about the transition which you can read on his blog here at this link: 6 Degrees of Anticipation.

"Wow" I said, crinkling my hands around a tulip of St. Feuillien, glancing around at the younger singles who have time to pass and less heavier stuff to deal with than us it seemed.

"Funny you say that, I am heading off to Copenhagen and Berlin soon"!  I mentioned.

"Copenhagen huh"!  he said.  "Yeah I been there...." his thoughts trailed off slightly with me wanting yet another glimpse into anything that he could tell me more about this place.  Perhaps a cool spot, a neat piece of scenery, a real great tip..  he beckoned with one simple note that he didn't hesitate, as if it was the most important thing I should know.  Without missing a beat, the first thing that formed out of his lips to say to me was:

"That place is expensive as hell."

So there it was, stuck in my head all that time.  The commute to Dulles airport, making sure I didn't forget to pack anything, keeping the ideas of the trip in mind, but with that all, the time had past.  It was October 1st, and there we were, in a daze, jet lagged, in the wrong time zone, was it October? what day of the week really was it?  All I knew was that it was about 8 AM and we were to wait here for Katrine to come pick us up, with maybe her son, and somehow our trip would begin.  But I should hang on to my wallet.

The first footstep even seemed memorable once we entered the airport.  Copenhagen's airport is spacious. Wooden.  Architecturally impressive.  Filled with glass and open skies to see.  Half the time walking through it seemed like we were in a museum.  Chestnut colored planks of wood everywhere, I wanted it in my house.  Interesting inviting chairs and places to sit down in.  This place looks better than my living room I thought.  It's also no surprise that Copenhagen's airport ranks as one of the top airports for travelers in the world, for numerous reasons that become obvious once you step foot in it for the first time.

It is truly beautiful.

We entered customs, my head still glancing down to wood planks, that I wish I could pilfer for my living room floor.  A simple customs officer sat behind a glass cabinet, perfectly angled.  A few simple questions for us both, and then one more.  His demeanor while extremely professional, without a touch of malice, faint uniform pressed intricately through a collar, was my first experience dealing with someone from Denmark.  One last question, almost said with a smile,

"Have you ever been to Denmark before?"

In all my life, this has NEVER been a question asked by ANY customs official in any foreign country I have ever stepped into.  It was almost as if they were asking me to enter the kingdom of make believe.

"No" I said, beaming with huge enthusiasm, as if I somehow just won some great prize, trying hard not to make the smile on my face seem too large.

"Enjoy your stay", and with that his hand reached out, handed us back our passports, and we walked past, to a perfect set of plexiglass doors, that pulled sideways in a silent but glorious ballet like movement, to welcome us to the land, and which we saw, the beginning of this country and its citizens.  In all my life I have never had made an entrance to a country quite like that.

Still, we had to wait for our friend.

It was at this time I noticed, I should probably take care of one of my standard desires, and that is to have a cup of coffee.

I don't drink regular coffee, per se... I actually drink espresso.  This isn't some chi chi foo foo habit, in fact I never drank coffee at all growing up, but that all changed when I spent a month in Portugal with a good friend and his family.  I picked up a cup of espresso with sugar in my late 20s and that habit has never stopped.  When this habit is not taken care of, BAD things can happen (Physically and mentally).

"I see there's a Starbucks over there, so I am going to go take a look and maybe grab a shot," I mentioned to my wife.  We were going to be sitting I was sure for awhile, after all Katerine had to deal I am sure with traffic or whatever, and we still had lots of time before she was to arrive.

I walked over to the Starbucks menu, to look for the cost of a double espresso.  Something I order every day, often twice (one in the morning one in the afternoon) to keep my mind at ease while I work.  Where I live the cost of a Starbucks double espresso with tax is $2.48 US dollars.

I took a glance at the menu, and stayed out of the line, not a large one mind you, but it was good to get away from consumers who haven't had their morning cup of joe yet.  I had to make sure I was reading the menu correctly, it was however nicely presented.  One side had the items, and the prices were in 2 columns.  One contained Danish Krone, the currency of Denmark.  The other contained the price in Euros.  Denmark is an EU member, but it does not use the Euro in the country, it uses it's own currency called the Krone (which translates as crown).

My eyes had to double check to make sure I was understanding what I was reading.  Denmark's language barrier really isn't that bad for native English speakers.  English is often spoken, and its often presented throughout the country.  Krones are not similar in terms of value to say US dollars, the denominations are higher, so I wasn't used to seeing items to gauge their value at first by looking at things that might be 100, 500, 1000 krone.  I looked again at the Euro column, something that I could quickly calculate a US dollar value.  The price for a double espresso in Euros ... was ... roughly....  six Euros.

6 Euros?!?!?  That's nearly 8 friggin BUCKS FOR AN ESPRESSO WHAT THE HELL MAN?!?!

I could suddenly feel my wallet burning...

I came back to the bench where my wife was keeping an eye out for our luggage and waiting.  "Where's your coffee?" she asked.  "Forget it I don't need it."  I fumed.  "Does this mean I am going to hear all day how bad a headache you have on this trip?" she said.  "Don't worry we'll figure something out." I retorted.

* - * - *

We waited a little bit for Katerine.  Come to think of it I didn't think of backup plans so much if she didn't show up, but that's what an adventure is for.  Eventually we knew to probably look for someone with a child, and suddenly a woman appeared pushing the biggest stroller (pram) I have ever seen in my life.  Strollers I discovered in Europe are larger, with these giant Humvee style wheels.  You can keep and store everything in them.  Katerine had everything she could need in there, blankets, bottles, groceries, napkins, probably even a giant battle axe for Magnus too.

"Katerine!" my wife said.  I recognized her as well after a quick look I remembered her features from the time we once met in the DC area.  She was with her son Magnus, a true viking blonde young looking warrior, a little cranky, but also full of spunk.  He was fairly quiet at first, but that was all to change.

It made sense that we should head to her apartment and get centered, so a quick trip on the subway line and some transfers and we should be on our way.  I had concerns about having Katerine taking care of us along with a two year old.  I assumed this was going to be too much for her to handle but one thing I quickly discovered is that if you are an unemployed single parent Denmark is where you want to be.  More on that later...

While standing on the subway/train platform I noticed it was overcast and raining pretty good.  It was gray, and a little cold, and more so quite wet.  This however couldn't dampen my enthusiasm on first arrival, but it also reminded me of the second thing that spilled out of my friends mouth when I asked him about Copenhagen.

"The weather sucks!  It's always cold gray and raining." he said.

My eyes peered into the observance of the population as well while sitting on the train.  Danes looked different than Americans.  They were dressed in dark woolen like jackets all the time, scarves as well, and the populace seemed to be bathed in colored darkness.  They unlike us Americans though, didn't look huge.  However, their somber appearance seemed to blend into the gray skies and puddles like a greased oil painting as if it was a perfect match for the scenery that we traveled through as the raindrops hit the side car windows.

Speaking of huge my mind boggled at how the hell was that stroller going to get on the subway?  Katerine did obviously get here with it, a feat I thought that would be impossible using public transportation back home in DC.  That's when I learned the other great thing about Copenhagen.

It has an amazing transportation system that is one of the best, if not THE BEST I have ever experienced anywhere.

The train pulls up, youth and adults pile in and out seamlessly.  The doors are large, and there is a section that opens what seems like the parting of the red sea, to let anyone with a stroller or bicycle walk on to the train.  There is even room for bike and strollers on the buses!

Boy they know how to do things right here I thought.  Suddenly the large stroller didn't seem out of place.  The streets and sidewalks are often large cobblestones, which makes sense for large wheels to go over them.  Ah... Danish design... but it was more of a reality to see how Europe does things differently.

We ended up in the Østerbro neighborhood where Katerine lives.  A side street, bicycles parked EVERYWHERE, led us to the entrance to her front door.  It was small.  It was cozy.  It was a place she purchased years ago, and it was an old building.  The 220 volt outlet was barely hanging on the wall. sporadic lighting was dotted around the rooms, the tiniest kitchen I had ever seen, the wood floors... god I would never stop thinking of wood on my visit to Denmark, the wood was worn and filled with decades of past tenants scuffs and wears, uneven planks of cut timber, and history of the feet that crossed its path.  It was small, full of history.  It was old.  The walls painted simple cream white, to make the wood more obvious it seemed.

It was perfect.

We dropped our bags off, and we were fighting to stay awake.  Jet lag is just a fact of long distance travel.  It's the first 24-48 hours that are the worst.  You put up the good fight, and in the end are rewarded with a long sleep, but you have to be pummeled and hit what feels like a marathon of punishment as the sun and day still exists before you.

My wife already had ideas once we dropped our bags.  There were museums and sights to see, which would fill up our time.  Fine with me, but first we needed lunch.

We were simply taken care of by the goodness that Europe brings to the table.  Bread.  Does any other place in the world make bread better than Europe?  No... and no nobody in the US comes anywhere close.  We sat down at a tiny table, Magnus on hand, as a giant piece of duck pate was spread across the rye loaf like an ocean wave.  I took some myself, while watching him gobble his down ferociously in amazement.  I tried the same, took one bite... and its richness went straight to my arteries and deprived sleep brain.  I am going to have a heart attack right here I thought.


Danish Museum of Art and Design
For the remainder of the evening and afternoon we would head out to a museum my wife wanted to see and some other sights.  She wanted to see the Danish museum of Art and Design, which contains a lot of classic furniture.  We've actually taken some real nice fondness for this type of furniture since we bought a mid century modern house a few years a go.  We bought a few pieces of Danish styled furniture through the years that really fit well with the aesthetics of our home, and of course my wife was looking for ideas.  Plus it seemed interesting.

I was barely staying awake.

How long have we been up now straight? 30 hours?  When was the last time I had a drink?  I lost track.  I stopped caring what day of the week it was.

The museum was true to name. There was lots of furniture.  Some of it honestly really dam nice.  There was lots of chairs.  Funky chairs,  Swiveling chairs,  Weird ass shaped chairs.  Womb chairs.  Chairs that were wood.  Chairs with string and rope.

This is some... well... uh... ok it's a lot of chairs.  Then as these thoughts crossed my mind, the walking through the neighborhoods and seeing Nyhavn (the quintessential Denmark tourist stop, only a trap if you eat at the overpriced cafes and restaurants there), still filled with scaffolding since it was now past tourist season, my mind was saying....

You have been up for 40+ hours and you need to sit down.

What time is it?  Oh it's only 5:30 PM.

Boy I have a lot of time to kill, never mind my stomach doesn't understand what time it is supposed to be eating.  After all, dinner hopefully is coming soon.

After witnessing chair after chair, the perfect chair, a thought crossed my mind, the one that happens just before your sleep deprived brain tells you, you are going to pass out...  A thought that was horrifically a constant torture reminder while visiting this museum.

I ... really... need... to sit... the fuck.... down...

Here are all these historical chairs.. and my sleep deprived brain... and I can't sit on them...

If that's not torture I don't know what is.

I was desperate to catch my breath. While walking through this treasure of angles and linear degrees of comfort, I finally found an employee as I noticed only a few of the chairs had signs that said or translated into any persons language, do NOT sit here.

"Can I sit on these chairs?"  to which the employee said... OH YES YES absolutely, just not the ones that are on tall stages or have signs. he said back.  We strongly encourage you to experience them, in their design and aesthetic and feel, he said.

Oh Valhalla thank god!  My aching tired, sleep deprived muscle of a brain was BEGGING me to take lounge upon these incredible creations.  It was like Goldilocks in the bears house.  This one's too hard, this ones too soft, this one baby... is just right.  And when you have been up for more than 40 hours with no sleep... these chairs will make you catatonic.
The museum has also historical period pieces of wood carved items that are extremely ornate.  It's a museum worth checking out if  you are into design, furniture and the like.

We sauntered out finally after my wife had finished reading every placard on the wall, and seen everything there was inside.  We caught the local bus right outside, and headed home.

When was the last time I had a beer?  I thought to myself...  Why can't we have bike lanes everywhere back in DC I thought?  I could get to work so much more easily on my bike than I did if I lived in Copenhagen.  Here the bikes have their own traffic lanes, and even stop signals, and the paths go everywhere.  There are more bikes than cars, and everyone seems to be on one.  This was just a sight to behold.  I ride 7.5 miles to work back and forth on my bicycle to D.C. and back to Maryland where I live.  I do have some bike paths, but there are areas where there aren't any, and sharing the road is often dangerous.  If that's not bad enough, sometimes it seems like we are at war with automobiles and the attitudes of some others.  In Copenhagen you don't even have to worry about any of that stuff it seems.

"I thought I should tell you something, that I think would be a good treat for dinner tonight." said Katerine, while she kept an eye on Magnus, who was actually very well behaved in a large museum.  Often I felt I was going to have tackle him before he knocked over a priceless antique or something, but he did fine... mostly.

"I was going to make for you what we Danes call Christmas lunch, it's not really the time of year for it, but I think you'd like it.  It's sort of a combination of breads and courses over the evening."

We absolutely said yes, and awaited the thoughts of what might come.  We were served a healthy dose of smørrebrød, which is something I had read about and was very keen on taking in for my visit.  It really is something that at first glance looks real easy to prepare.  All you need is some good amounts of quality breads, and great items to put on them I figured.

I really love the simplicity of this.  As a food nut I get into preparations, and spices, and textures and all the like.  It's often work, and fretting over how much or how little of something I added, or if something was overcooked.  Not here with this dinner, the ingredients just do the talking.  Pickled herring, a simple cut hard boiled egg a spread called remoulade? (other times just great flavorful butter), incredibly chewy and flavorful baked pieces of rye bread.  The dill... oh god the dill, my wife and I LOVE dill, so much so that we practically cry every year trying to grow it in my herb garden and it NEVER takes (our climate seems too hot for it we think).

This is great example of simple form and function in the kitchen, so much so I am going to make it for Christmas Eve myself for family.  I was looking at pictures of this before I left fascinated by the look of smørrebrød.  Bright green leaves, cured type fish of herring and/or salmon, it's veins and curves glistening, topped with the brightness of egg white, splashes sometimes of dill, watercress, and those incredibly flavorful breads.  I had picked out a couple well reviewed restaurants and lunch places that served this, then also looked at what an open face piece of bread costs at these places.

Once again my wallet caught fire.

But here we were, sitting around a crowded table, bottles of wine at the ready, a somewhat fidgety  two year old, plates awaiting, eagerly wishing more.  We were told there were traditionally several courses.  Ravenously hungry and totally out of it, I thought it would be just what I needed.  I find myself at times when I am jet lagged often having one last meal before I go to bed so I can get my body on a regular pattern.  What I always remember, is that I can't hold on to my food because my body physically starts shaking.

We were served a second course of smørrebrød, and before I could grab a piece of herring, I nearly dumped my wine glass on the table reaching for it in a quiver. Luckily I just caught it before hand while my wife nervously looked on.

After the second course, and was it 3rd? 4th? glass of wine I had, I suddenly realized something.  I was feeling full.  Wait a second, how is this possible?  I had what 2 pieces of bread and I am getting full?  How is this happening?

It was true though, I remarked "Boy this is tasty, how many courses are there usually?"  Katerine replied back, "Sometimes about 5-8".  "Gee I am actually... kind of getting stuffed strangely."  To which my wife also said, "Yeah me too!", as we said with some nervous laughter.

How the hell can you eat 2 pieces of bread and be this full?!  but that was what was happening.  How in the heck are we going to finish this meal I thought looking at my wife who had the same sleep deprived look on her face, and same whimpering drawl that felt too ashamed to not say, please no more...

Plates kept coming, and as good as it was, we couldn't take it in the state we were in.  I closed my eyes while Katerine assembled in a clatter in the kitchen for maybe 10 seconds.  I think 5 minutes passed after I opened my eyes, and I am not sure what happened.

We were not going to survive this I thought...

Finally Katerine announced with much bridled enthusiasm, NEXT COURSE!!  Boy we were being treated well, so much so we were going to die.

SCHNAPPS!!

Oh dear god no...  Finally I am not sure if it was me or my wife who said it first, but someone, or maybe it was both of us at the same time who just said, "I CAN'T DO THIS ANYMORE!!  NO MORE DRINK AND FOOD!"

Katerine burst out laughing.  At first I was really concerned if we were on the same friendly ground, after all I never turn down good food or drink, and we were invited guests.  We were extremely thankful to have room and board, and not sleeping on a wet sidewalk somewhere instead. But the hours, the convulsing, the wine, the belly stuffed inexplicably with a bunch of herring, we needed to go to bed.  We also had lots to do tomorrow to get on schedule, as did Katerine.

"It's so funny" she laughed, to which my wife and I weren't sure if she was serious or not.  Without missing a beat she simply said, "See now you actually sound like Danes!".

We were fitting in perfectly.

I think we got in 4 plates, and just polished off the last bottle of wine.  I realized I never had a beer yet, but I was to go hunt for some tomorrow.  "Oh I have some in the fridge" Katerine said, to which I replied great I'll have one tomorrow.  Probably two.  Right after I nestle a jet lag induced hangover, I'll be right there.

But for now, our first day was concluded.  Somehow I got myself into a shower, it's a very blurry memory, and passed out into a restful quiet slumber.  The rain drops nestled the windows, as the circles and wheels of leaned up bikes pressed themselves against the side concrete grey walls of the buildings outside, as if they were to hug beside me and nestle me into sleep.  It was an unbelievable first experience, and it would continue tomorrow.

It was like sitting in the perfect chair.

And tomorrow.... there would be beer!

Night night all!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Imbibing through Europe again. Traveling Denmark and Germany and the drinks in between Part 1 of ?

Beer Hunting in Denmark and Germany
On the hunt
One thing I've always loved about finding good drink and mostly beer of late, is how the ability to travel can put you into some great opportunities.  I have always wanted to go to Germany, but aside from planning my own excursions and an excuse to go I needed a reason other than to just maybe slam beers in Bamberg, or the Franconia/Bavaria regions.  And oh yeah... someday.. I am going to do that...

Enter family.  A member of my family who is an artist, was offered a space at the well known Bauhaus Archive to show her work.  My entire family was going to be there for the show, so what a perfect excuse to show up.  I always wanted to go to Germany since I was the only member my my family who before this trip, had never been there.  My mother was born there, then later moved to live in the United States shortly after World War II.  My sister, had been several times, my Dad tagged along with my Mom in retirement to other areas to see some obscure family members.

But not me.

Thoughts of grabbing and experiencing some of the culture of my family's heritage got me excited. There was going to be much language practice, I was going to finally have real German food in it's right place (which I found eating here growing up in North America ok, but not really exciting and sometimes downright awful), and more importantly... boy was I going to drink a lot of beer.  The time I was to be there ironically, was the period of Oktoberfest.

THIS VACATION IS GOING TO KICK ASS!!!  I screamed from the heavens!

However, with all things that involve travel you have to make plans. Time was booked off for both me and my wife, cat sitters were found (luckily), and then the reality sets in.  This costs money.

Enter opportunity once again.

While figuring out when and where and how long to stay, my wife noticed that flying into Copenhagen was cheaper than Berlin.  What a minute I said.. Isn't that Denmark?  We found out we could take the train from there to Berlin as well, something my wife and I have done in Europe often and love.  There is no better way and enjoyable experience, than riding trains through Europe as we have in the past.  But where would we stay?

My wife remarked, that she had an old college friend, a Dane who always wanted to see us if we came to visit.  I thought FREE ROOM in Copenhagen!!  THIS WE MUST DO!!

In my excitement of visiting someplace I never had before, once again the beer hunting and fooding took over.  Denmark... my fingers tapped furiously into the Google search engine, beer, then to dining... We honestly and seriously thought about making a reservation at NOMA, then it occurred to me that we probably need a time machine to make a reservation, and also thought spending another entire plane ticket flight just to eat there couldn't be justified.

Wait a minute... Denmark has beer!  Denmark has beer that I have never drank before!  It has great bars and beers shops!

I hit up a common grocery store chain in Denmark and looked up many delights and made notes, then it hit me, once I was done planning my thorough attack at killing Copenhagen's beer scene down to a "T", I was going to hit... the motherload of all beers.  There was the Mikkeller bars, the foreign shops.. then it dawned on me, while my wife came up to me explaining what we were possibly in for.

"I just wanted to let you know, that Katrine said we can stay with her", said my wife.

"Did you know the Mikkeller bars server Three Floyd's beers over there!"  I said.

"Her place is really small.." as my wife said realizing my mind was elsewhere.

"Holy crap look at this taplist they have here!"

"It might a bit cramped".

"That's ok, we can handle it, hey man look at these licorice stores they got here."

"She has a 2 and a half year old son...."

"BUT I CAN GET A BOTTLE OF CANTILLON BLÅBÆR FOR SALE THERE!!!"

"Are you even LISTENING TO ME...?!?!"

This is what I got really excited about.  Cantillon releases a blueberry lambic known as blåbær, once a year.  There is only one place in the world you can get this incredibly rare, and highly sought after beer.

It's in Copenhagen at a store called Ølbutikken.  The beer was going to be shortly released there just before I was to arrive.  Coincidence.. no this was DESTINY.

I was going to slay this dragon come hell or high water.

I returned back to my wife's semi furious gaze and let the reality set in.  One thing I have learned is that often your life partner doesn't share the same passions you have, but that's ok.  More importantly they understand things that make others happy.  We do have great enjoyment in same things, but when we travel it's for me food and drink, for her its sights, museums, and the like.

A small apartment, a 2 year old, and the sounds of Copenhagen rustling, the bike paths, the canal, it all seemed to wash away into a fog.

Yup this was going to be an adventure.  We booked it, and we got excited.

I thought I'd write about this travel experience for it was the most interesting and fascinating and some degree most frustrating trips I had ever been on.  There was alot I learned about my family, and also about myself in doing so, and of course, there was an incredible amount of good drink.

I'll be updating this blog with the day to day excursions of how the trip panned out.  It was without question an experience I'll never forget.  And of course I made sure to tell me wife...

and no I am not going to go see that dumb fucking statue.

YOU'RE LATE!! Favorite Beers from the Imbibe Hour in 2013

What the heck day is it?  Time goes by so fast you forget what you're up to.  Drink chasing, loose ends to tie down,  you lose track of everything.  Finally got back to the idea of writing and had quite a few ideas around the old woodshed, even thought yeah I'll have to get my fav beers idea going for 2014 soon..  Then I realized... I never even posted my favorite new beers in 2013!!

How could I have forgotten to put this up here?  In the end though when I think back to those old winter days, which are coming here shortly, I was horrifically sick with the flu.  So perhaps I didn't want to relieve that memory of 3 weeks of being bed ridden, and not shaving for a month.  I had a good excuse for growing a beard cause I had no strength and couldn't be bothered while hacking up 600 pounds of phlegm every morning.  It of course is long gone, mostly because I hated looking like a homeless person and certainly don't want to look like a walking stereotype of some beer geek.

So here it is!  My favorite new beers of 2013, so enjoy!  And yes there will be one for 2014... and I expected to be sick as a dog in January too.

Cheers and see you in 2014!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Drinking in Paradise, island of Kauai offers more than just scenic beauty.

Manawaiopuna Falls
 It's not every day in my life that I get to see or do something special.  Familiar terrain, the common pace of life, the work routine while sustainable becomes all too ordinary and often boring. In order to break out of this mold I tend to do things that give me experiences that have to be different to all my senses.  Food and drink has provided a good outlet for that, and I discovered early on that it is more enjoyable when traveling.

So what better way to experience such a change to my senses than going to what people described to me as paradise.  Where was paradise?  I asked a few good friends I knew.  Many had said it's in Hawaii, but more specifically on the "Garden Island" as it is known called Kauai.

Kauai is one of the smaller islands of Hawaii, with a population of about 70,000 people.  It is filled with gorgeous scenery from an intense wet climate, birds and flowers full of color that you wont see anywhere else, and then surrounded by a gorgeous ocean and numerous beaches that feel like walking on the softest corn meal you have ever set foot on.


Repeated words and phrases kept coming up when I spoke with people about the place.  "Best Island".  "Paradise on Earth".  "Utopia".  "Intensely Green".  "Perfect".  Sounded like a perfect place for a vacation I thought, but what about the drink?  I of course also thought about the food (which by the way I strongly suggest you stick to lunch and street side trucks and shacks where it excels far beyond waitered table service but that's another story...), but was there good drinking also in paradise?  I am happy to report that there is.

The irony though when you first visit Kauai, is that the last thing you want to think about is food and drink.  Your senses are immediately drawn to what you see first as smells and taste take a backseat.  I also noticed that island culture here is really drawn to outdoor activity.  People are up early and in the water doing everything imaginable, surfing, snorkeling, fishing, kite boarding.. you name it.  It seemed like the last thing people wanted to do was care about food and drink.  But not our hero.  Why can't you have the best of both worlds?  And in many ways you can.

Shortly after I landed I found myself shopping for beer.  What irony and priorities huh?  
After a few short local trips it didn't take me long to find out that there was not much selection, but was happy to find that Deschutes is distributed here and was quite common.  Deschutes is one of my personal favorite breweries.  They are from Oregon and their beers are not available where I live. How nice it is to have with ample chances to get Inversion IPA and Mirror Pond while palm trees, lush beaches and perfect weather days surround you everywhere?  Pretty darn good I say, in fact I even found their winter seasonal here, but drinking a winter seasonal in this warm place during December probably would have ravaged the tiki gods and punished me in ways that I couldn't imagine.  It just seemed very wrong so I stuck with the IPA.

Besides some occasional beer found in markets, the island believe it or not actually has two breweries.  One of them is Kauai Island Brewing Company who is just outside the town of Hanapepe.


Pakala Porter
I tried several of their beers, and they pretty much pass the test for enjoyment. One of the things the brewery offers here is a pretty good selection of styles ranging from Ambers, Browns, Fruit Ales (using local Lilikoi fruit), Porter and IPAs.  Captain Cook's IPA was easily my favorite of the bunch, and while not a beer geeks wet dream, the beer has a very distinct and wonderful bursting tropical nose.  The tropical smell from this brew seemed so perfect for the islands setting.  Pakala Porter is also quite decent as well, with lots of coffee roasting rich qualities.

Not to be outdone also, is Kauai Beer Company, which is located on the Eastern area of the island in Lihue.
Kauai Beer Company's lineup
It's actually very close to the airport, so if you get a hankering for some beer right when you land, this is short drive up Rice St not far away.  The place has a classic brewery tasting room welcoming vibe, with lots of open seating, large flags hanging from the ceiling, a window that shows the breweries workings from behind the bar, and a gorgeous large piece of Norfolk pine that accents the bar.

Unlike Kauai Island Brewing, Kauai Beer Co. focuses on German styles of beer and specifically lagers.
 There are only about 5 beers in their lineup, with 2 guest taps, but it is the Munich Helles styles that the brewer here has done their best work in.  While the brewery does make a Marzen and Schwarzbier that go for malt caramel and roasty qualities, their simple take on Munich Helles with beers like Helles Swelles and Lihue Lager are just done so well.  A decent dense malt bill, with light toasty white bread finish and bakery aromas and aftertaste showcase on the palate.  They make for easy drinking and could even convert regular macro drinkers over in my opinion.

Still drinking in Kauai does not exclusively mean beer.  On a trip to a local market, an interesting product was on the shelves, a dark glowing blue labelled bottle that appeared to look like Blue Nun wine.  Going out of your way for Blue Nun in Hawaii?  Hell no!  Kauai has a local meadery called Nani Moon Mead that makes tropical honey wines.
Mead is essentially a wine like beverage derived primarily from honey.  The honey used at Nani Moon is local to the island, with many of the other ingredients being local tropical fruit, cacao, and other spices.  I tried two products one called Cacao Moon, a mead made with local cacao, vanilla beans and macadamia nut blossom honey.

Excellent vanilla notes, with some chocolate character however, it's honey character and mix of flavors seem to clash a bit for my personal tastes.  A better option I enjoyed was the Winter Sun which is made with local wildflower honey, starfruit, and lilikoi.
It pairs really nicely with food as I grabbed some local shrimp, shoyu poke, and super fresh ripe avocado.  A bit of marinating on the grill, and then just simple avocados which were in season (they were incredibly fresh and perfect), it worked as a nice fruity wine for dinner.

But life would not be complete for an island drink adventure if there was no rum.  Luckily Kauai provides this as well.  The Koala Rum company uses tall cane sugar from the islands and currently has 5 rum products.
Their coconut rum is quite appealing, not overly sweet or saccharine tasting, but comes with a great toasty and creamy flavor.  The real treat however is Koala's dark rum, which has incredible tasting flavors of coffee and bitter dark chocolate.
It was one of the more unique rums I have had, and was quite impressed how flavorful it was to just drink it neat.  Tourists and locals joined us in the tasting room with a good feel and sense of camaraderie.  "I work about 10 minutes away, and been living here for 6 years, I've never heard of this place." said one woman at the counter.  "Well come in anytime you like and have a shot with us!" said the young man behind the counter.

Now that's one great work schedule if you ask me.

So if you can pull yourself away from majestic sea turtles, helicopter tours, and suntanning on the beach, you can find inside some real treats on this Garden Island.  After all, as we shared stories of island beauty with sips of rum, beer, and mead with others in between, what better way to experience paradise?  Truly the best of both worlds.





Saturday, September 14, 2013

Goose Island Migration Event comes full circle for me, or how I finally slayed the green dragon and the journey to get there.

Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout being served
I haven't written anything in some time and I was wondering if there would be a good opportunity to talk about drink having been busy writing and doing more reviews of beer and other drinks online than actually just blogging.  However, an unforeseen event event came to town recently that provided me a real good opportunity.  Sure there have been a myriad of beer events that I have been to in the past several years, but this event hearkened back to reminders and desires of when I first really started taking beer more seriously and started noticing that there was truly something special going on.

I received an email mentioning an event called Goose Island Migration week that was to take place in Washington D.C. from the well known Goose Island brewery.  Long story short, a few local places and favorite beer stomping grounds of mine such as Churchkey and Meridian Pint were going to have some nice Goose Island beers to be purchased, including many that are highly rated, coveted, and no longer being made. 

I have been lucky to have had many of these beers from Goose Island, a combination of diligent hunting, willful spending, and to some degree just plain dumb luck.  Many of them have also been featured on my YouTube ImbibeHour Channel.

I always loved beer but 3 years ago, a discovery of Bourbon County Brand Stout changed my life.  There was this brewery taking one of my favorite spirits (bourbon) and making beer from it's barrels, and the results shocked me.  More so, they made a beer that would become an iconic piece of history, a barrel aged bourbon barrel beer from 23yr old bourbon barrels that used to hold Pappy Van Winkle bourbon whiskey.  It was simply called Rare Bourbon County Stout.


Here is where the story flashes back.  Before the advent of so called "craft" beer, and the explosion it has taken since then, Rare was a beer that was only on a few enthusiasts minds.  Since that time, craft beer and beers like Rare have exploded in popularity.  In short Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout has become an iconic legend.  I remember that while I didn't seek it out at its release, I thought $40 dollars for a bottle of it seemed ridiculous at the time, around the time I made the video above.  Forty dollars?  Heck I could buy actual real good bourbon for that much, maybe even a couple of Weller's.

Fast forward to now nearly 2000 reviewed beers since, I still thought of this beer.  Even with all the great ones that came before it to this day, I kicked myself in the head thinking I really missed out on a great opportunity.  Could a, should a, would a, done it.. grabbed that iconic green bottle when I had a chance.  I even realized that 40 or so dollars for that beer, was in my opinion, an insane bargain.

I felt this was one of those multitude of beers I would never get a chance to have then out of nowhere Goose Island came to town..

Bourbon Count Brand Vanilla Stout 2010.
Nestled in the back of my head was a trip down memory lane.  The Goose Island brewery came to town bring gifts of lore,  King Henry, non existent versions of regular Vanilla Bourbon County Stout.  Other beers showed up, along with Cherry Rye, and other classics including Matilda, even a brett version of Matilda. 

The other popular mainstays were also here, and you could easily try them.

2010 Vanilla had to be first for myself, having missed it in the past along with Rare. The classic bourbon county brand stout flavors still remained, thick and lush, with a nice creamy texutre.  Molasses, chocolate, coffee, oak, and warmth, all the classic notes of a well aged barrel aged beer were here.  However, it did seem like the vanilla was muted on the nose, and missing quite a bit in the taste.

Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout
At this point I was already pretty darn happy about what I was experiencing.  Other beer fans I knew were at the event and we basically were all enjoying ourselves quite a bit, but there was the buzz that we all knew that Rare had to be around the corner.  Indeed it was, more of an afterthought than a surprise as most of us saw the staff while waiting out in line with a box of Rare being carried into the bar.

There was no way I was going to be able to have an entire bottle for myself, although if I could, believe me.. I would.  Small pours were handed out by the staff so that at least everyone who came, could get a taste.  So what's the verdict?

A mixed bag.  The nose is exquisite unlike any other whiskey barrel aged brew I've had.  The nose screams of toasty oak and large tobacco notes, with the woody angles going from cedar, to barrel char, and with the woody sensations giving a cigar box quality.  It's one of the most perfect examples of a whiskey barrel aged beer I've had.  Then the taste follows nicely on all the right places, but then on first quaff, my mind raced with the library of hundreds of other beers I had before this one for comparison and one thing became obvious.  Even while getting to enjoy the delicacy of this beer, I felt I was still too late to the party.  In short, Rare felt past its prime, and I had missed it's pinnacle, but at least I got to slay the green dragon as I liked to call it.

I thought I would take some time out and talk about what it takes to get to this point, and more importantly the advice on going after best desirable beers, since this event really reminded me how much I've changed over the years, and the beers that have followed since then.  Taking these points into consideration will make your experience truly more enjoyable.

Seek and enjoy the chase.

The experience of tasting beer over a long time is a fascinating journey, and it is full of many highs and lows, but the vast majority of the results are very positive.  Everything comes around full circle, and there was no perfect example of this than my 3-4 years of wanting to try and eventually taste Rare Bourbon County. The desire for the ultimate beer, or the perfect tasting beer, is never ending.  Often it's the anticipation of what will might happen that is even more exciting than the actual taste.  Some feel that this beer or that beer is the perfect beer, end of story.  But it should never be that simple.  If it was why would you want to bother with any other beer?  You could just drink that one all the time?  Perhaps that's how you do feel and that's fine, but there's a very big world out there worth exploring.  I've also met others on this journey who have had way more beers than I have, such as upwards of 10,000.  They're still out there looking, and believe me they aren't stopping anytime soon.  They, like me, are having too much fun.

Everybody is Different

I know that not everyone likes the same things as I do.  Some people at the event I know said they were floored, others agreed with me and felt the beer was past prime.  Others commented they felt the texture was sublime, where I felt that was one of the beers weakest qualities.  That's the thing about opinions, nobody is right and nobody is wrong.  We all like and get different things.  Take this into consideration and find out what you like, which leads me to the next point.

Listen to Yourself

There I said it.  I know.. contradictory right?  You're reading this article, and I was tempted to say dont listen to anybody, when I .. am TELLING you what to do.  What I am getting at is you have to be your own judge and be honest with yourself and your palate.  Really just pay attention and not be influenced by others, or ratings.  Places like BeerAdvocate and the like are great, I use them all the time and as I mentioned I am a supporter, but they are not the be all end all to what are the best beers.  You should look at my channel and places like BeerAdvocate as guides. Some you will find more useful than others.  They point you along the way and give you directions, but it's up to you to decide which way to go.

Do your homework

There is a wealth of information about beer and what it is on the Internet, but you need to cycle out the noise from what are legitimate reputable and reliable sources.  Understand beer more than just hops, malt, water, yeast.  Look at true beer organizations, and what criteria they have.  Taste a variety of different beers.  On average I personaly review 2-3 new beers every day that I have never had before.  It keeps me on my toes and I look forward to it.  It's fun. In fact I don't even consider that work, it's pure playtime.  Don't just randomly go on to some website and say what are the best IPAs I should have?  It's never that easy.  So do your homework, beacuse homework is rarely this fun!

Baby steps

This sort of follows the previous point.  You are going to enjoy beers like Rare, and other big important beers more, if you go out and try easier to access beers of the same type, or preferably simpler but just good beers like it and many of them.  The simple reason why is you will have a bigger background to draw your experiences from, and the experience will become richer.  Seek a great opportunity sure if you have the chance, but build yourself up for the big dance.  Start off slowly and work your way up.

Live in a good beer region/town/city

Yeah I know, it sort of smacks of a bit of bias and uprooting but there are some huge advantages if you live in a region that has a lot of good beer because of either great shops and/or breweries.  Variety is the spice of life, and living somewhere where there is a lot of choice in great beer is going to make you appreciate it, and diversify your palate.  Also you will run into other people like you at breweries and bars that share your same passion and make connections.  If you don't feel you live in a good region, plan a weekend trip to one, or take a vacation.  Do whatever it takes.  Homebrewing is also a good alternative.  Can't find beer you like often?  Make your own.

Get to know people in the industry

For this one, it will really help in your journey to appreciating good beer.  Visit breweries that you like and strike up conversations with the staff, and the brewer.  If you have a favorite place to shop in, get to know the staff even outside of beers you want to taste.  Find a decent bar and frequent it often and know the people who work there (and tip well!).  All these industry types will lead you to better beer and give you tips on where to find or access it.

Embrace luck

I don't know how else to say this but the enjoyment of rare beers is just sometimes dumb luck.  I don't know why or how but it just happens.  You will find yourself in search of beers you think you'll never find, and then somehow it just shows up in your lap.  A perfect example was that at the Goose Island event, some guy sitting next to me didn't even know it was going on.  He just walked in and showed up to go to a bar for a drink.  I've just randomly been in some of my favorite bars, and then suddenly on the menu was a gem.  It just happens.

Don't beat yourself up

The one thing I've discovered so far on this journey into great beer is that there is a lot of good beer to go around.  In fact the reality is there is TOO MUCH good beer around.  I hear lots of complaints online from people who said they can't get the latest hyped up beer release, or couldn't get to a bar event when the keg kicked.  Understand that there is always a next time, and there's always another beer out there.  Don't get angry, and be patient.  It took me 3 to 4 years to just even try Rare, and anybody who knows me knows.. patience is not my strong suit.  For others that night at Churchkey it might have been even their first big beer, and that's nothing to get angry about.  Plenty of people I know have had beers that I have desired for a long time.  You don't deserve it more than the next guy.  There is always another beer out there .  You'll be ready.  So order/grab something else and move on. 


Sharing a beer with Goose Island Brewer Dave Tohtz
Being back to seeing Rare again brought back a lot of memories.  The experience was truly unforgettable, more so because it just completed a long cycle.  It was also really amazing to know that for some people, this might have been the very first important beer they ever tried at this event, and they just might be starting on a new journey I know far to well.  I hope they'll have just as much fun as I am having, and enjoy the ride.


The Goose Island Migration Event is touring other cities, look out for it and make sure you go.
  • Philadelphia | Sept 24-27
  • San Francisco | Oct 1-4
  • St. Louis | Oct. 15-18
  • Austin | Oct. 29-Nov 1


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

With Summer comes the good fruit. With the good fruit comes a whiskey cobbler

My own personal take on a whiskey cobbler
It seems it has been awhile since I did a posting, but I really felt the time was right for one.  The time had to be right for the right time of the year, the right drink, and the right conditions.  With Summer all of that came into focus as the farmers market filled with seasonal berried fruit.  As others thought of pie and desserts, I could think of only one thing.  Taking those fruits to make a classic whiskey cobbler.

Cobblers are actually a real old cocktail, and there are numerous variations on them.  There are gin cobblers, sherry, and of course whiskey cobblers, that are all a mix of a few basic ingredients.  A base spirit, some type of sweetener,  water or club soda to top off, and most importantly fresh fruit.

I got inspired to make this drink after a trip to my local farmer's market, and also reading up on some ideas from my cocktail library.  I had a stash of real fresh blueberries, cherries and raspberries, and even still some strawberries which were still hanging on for the season.

I came up with a recipe as follows in the video below, watch it to learn how I made my own variation on this drink.  It's fruity bouquet and refreshing taste is perfect for summer, and it works well with my favorite style of whiskey that being bourbon.  The orange curacao adds a nice mellow sweetness with the citrus angle as well, and the key to making a good cobbler is using FRESH FRUIT.  The sweetness will be just perfect.

Here is my recipe:
  • 3 Cherries (pitted)
  • 4 Raspberries
  • 4 Blueberries
  • muddled into a cocktail shaker
  • 2 oz. of whiskey (a 90 to 100 proof Bourbon)
  • 3/4 oz. of Orange curacao
  • 1 oz. of water
  • Shake vigorously and pour into a rocks glass filled with ice.    Garnish with fruit and a cocktail pick and serve
CHEERS!


Thursday, March 14, 2013

The hunt for one of the most desired beers on the planet, The chase for Pliny the Younger

In the realms of great beer, there is one brew made out in Santa Rosa California that is highly coveted and released only once a year in beer pubs.  That beer is a very large hopped IPA called Pliny the Younger from Russian River.

The problem is in order to get a glass, you have to travel to only a few select places to get it.  California which is the home of Russian River brewing company, offers a few places to get it.  I've also seen Pliny Younger in Denver.  For our hero who was always curious about this beer, there was one option that was a little bit more economical sense wise if I was to get my hands on this so called coveted "nectar of the gods".

Philadelphia PA often has kegs of it, and one of my favorite beer bars was holding a much publicized event to taste the beer.  I took a day trip (and early day trip) to Monk's Cafe, to wait in line with many beer fans and also to get a sampling of many other Russian River brews.

Taking an adventure to try one of the most coveted beers in the world I found out takes a lot of planning.  When I thought about everything I was doing, I couldn't believe I had to go to this much effort just to try one beer.  However, I was very glad I did, since when I arrived 2 1/2 hours early before the bar opened, there were already 20-30 people ahead of me in line.  20 minutes later, the line snaked around the block with hundreds of people, many who I am not so sure were even able to get a glass once the bar opened 2 hours later.

I had to document this event for my channel being a big beer drinker and fan, and it turned out that the journey was probably the most memorable thing about it.  There's always one thing about good drink, it's sometimes the chase which is more exciting than the actual reward.

Watch the video below to see how I made this day trip, which started promptly at 6:30 AM in the morning for a long drive to Philadelphia.  Cheers!