Imbibe Hour


Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Imbibe Hours FAVORITE beers in 2014

2014 was once again filled with lots of good and memorable new beers for me.  It always surprises me the amount of incredibly good beer that is out there year after year.  As for the beer slayer in me, I was also lucky to get in a lot of travel, which gives me the opportunity to be surrounded by many beers I never have access to.

There was also quite a bit of online West coast purchases last year as well, and interestingly enough I almost wanted to get a Bourbon barrel scotch ale in my favorites this year, as it seemed there were many that I had this year.  Still as good as those beer were, there didn't quite always make the cut in greatness.

So here it is in the video below, my favorite beers of 2014.  Cheers and Enjoy!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Imbibing through Europe again. Traveling Denmark and Germany and the drinks in between Part 4 of ?

Cantillon Blåbær Lambic at Ølbutikken
I awake once again,  It's the morning and the jet lag is at this point gone with the trials and pains subsided of sleep deprivation, but I feel my place of time is lost.  I look outside.  The sky is gray... the pavement is ... gray... the rain comes down again.. it is... gray... the colors are.... gray... where in the HELL is the sun I ask myself in this country?  I turn to my wife... "are we in Seattle or something?"

"What are you doing in bed?!  Get UP!  We have plans to take care of!" she said to me.

Ah yes I said to myself, for today was the day I almost forgot.  Today was the day to go search for that elusive beer, the one that is seemingly on the mind of many beer fans. One that is quite obscure and one that deserves special attention, sold only once a year in Copenhagen, from Belgian brewery Cantillon.  It is simply... Blåbær.

"Yes today we go get Blåbær!"  I said with big satisfaction. "It was like I dreamt of it!" I remarked with a shit eating grin bigger than a Chesire cat.

"No actually you didn't dream of it" my wife said with an annoying look, hands on her hips and poised as to why I still hadn't gotten out of bed.

"What? What do you mean I didn't dream of it?  I had dreamed I tasted it, then we went to some other places like Mikkeller along the way too, and it was great!"

"Yeah you did that yesterday remember?!" at this point she was getting frustrated.

"I did?! you mean this was real?!"  I sat up in bed stunned while Magnus flummoxed his lego pieces and tossed them around with reckless abandon.  "Oh my god this really happened!".

It turns out, when I sat up I realized I had already slayed the dragon the previous night.  In between times, we managed to make our way down to Ølbutikken and also the passing Mikkeller bar to partake in the glorious beer suds that this city and country offered.

"You were right!  Absolutely right! Wow I remember the journey like it was yesterday."

* - *- *

Somewhere between our cavorting and travelling we made an effort to make our way down to Ølbutikken where Cantillon Blåbær was to be sold.  There were a few things that were also on the radar though that got taken care of first.

"Where's the licorice!?" I said to myself.  It was a food item I really wanted to explore here while we visited.

I remember reading about how there were really good licorice shops and that it was very popular in Denmark.  A quick Google search popped up one maker who had a series of shops of what one might even call "artisan" crafted licorice.  His name was Johan Bulow and he makes a product simply called Lakrids.

We set out to try and find his store, and discovered after getting easily lost that we had to actually go underground, into a basement department area to find it.

The result was incredibly satisfying, if not a big hit on the wallet.  Licorice here is not what you think it is back in the United States.  Forget about Twizzlers and ropes of over sweet plastic.  The items here are of a completely different vein.  Chocolate coated, numerous fruit flavors, dustings with other sweet confections, and of course an old classic that is quite jarring to many North Americans which he made that I fell in love with, simply black and salted.

Licorice seemed to be everywhere we looked as well and we picked up several different makers.  So far after having tried many others in various price ranges, the Johan Bulow items were becoming favorites of ours but they were all really good. We did seem to prefer them over the other cheaper brands.

Licorice didn't just seem to be candy, it was also in other products and most surprisingly, it was in beer.

I found quite a few local breweries, and lots of beer that had licorice as an ingredient.  Most of them were stouts, and to some extent darker beers such as brown ales.

You can actually see me review a licorice beer here along with some Blåbær and Copenhagen highlights below.

Getting back on course though was needed.  The plan of attack was set in motion.  We headed to the Vesterbro neighborhood which was also home to the Mikkeller bar.  The path to be traveled would take us past Mikkeller but we would definitely have to go to find Blåbær first.  There was one address though on Vesterbrogade street which was along the way for Mikkeller that had me a little confused.  They do have a bottle shop in Norrbero, but this address was not the bar on Viktoriagade.  I wondered if this might be another bottle shop and it could be worth checking out some goodies.

I arrived in a staircase apartment like entrance completely confused after I got buzzed in.  Still I figured I was here so I might as well check it out.  I opened a door to what was obviously an office situated in a loft, beer posters on the wall, benched tables, and lots of neck bearded workers sitting behind laptops.

It was one of those situations of awkwardness, the one where you think you are making probably the wrong decision, but think that a slim chance is worth checking out.  Then you open the door, and you have the error of your ways staring you back in your face, and then you have to explain yourself.

"Can I help you?"  a nice gentlemen said in very good English.

"Uh... hey... I was looking for a possible Mikkeller bottle shop?"  in which I knew I was already at the wrong place and interrupting a bunch of people who had work to do, than to deal with some beer guy who at times wasn't aware of how to get around Copenhagen sometimes.  

I had actually stumbled upon what appeared to be one of the companies corporate offices.  The staff was actually very nice, and they mentioned that there was no beer here to be sold, but that the bar was just around the corner.  Uh I knew that.... just not and smile I said to myself,,,

"Oh thanks!  I'll be on my way, I'll probably see you there too!", to which they replied with much thanks.  Turns out I would run into these group of merry workers again, but more on that story later.  The hunt for Cantillon Blåbær would now continue.

The store that sells it is not far from the Mikkeller bar, but the plan now was a full on hit for the bottle shop Ølbutikken where the item is sold.  One thing I had to keep myself aware of was there was a "very" good chance though, that the beer may not even be there.

The beer is released once a year at the shop, and sold as a special release with lots of demand for beer fans.  That release happened about 2-3 months before I had arrived.  I had sent a couple of emails to the store owner before the trip, and was told that he did keep some bottles for future customers who could not attend the release in person and take a bottle home.  There was though some very important stipulations about purchasing this beer from the store.  First, only one bottle could be sold to a customer, and secondly, the bottle had to be consumed on the premises when you bought it. You were not allowed to leave the store with a full bottle.

I had no issue with this at all, in fact it's a great way to make sure that the beer is available to more people who want it.

Finally, the destination was staring me in the face.  A giant black letter sign lead me to the basement of a store, with a nice thick wooden bench and rows of bottles on shelves and coolers sitting around.  Inside I was already loving the variety and the availability of beers I normally can't get my hands on.  Still I had to stay focused... FOCUS ... look for Cantillon!

A cooler off to the corner contained some decent Belgian beers, and there was a particular top shelf filled with various Cantillon bottles.  Classic Gueuze, Kriek, Brucosella, Iris, and a few others.

But I didn't see any Blåbær.

So damn close I thought.  But I wasn't going to give up so easily.  It was time to introduce myself to the shop owner and inquire about this mysterious beast.  I spoke with the proprietor of the store, a younger guy who seemed like a very enthusiastic beer fan.  We had chatted a few times in email, but he said he actually had some problems setting up email and his Internet connection in the store.  "You're actually lucky I just got this setup today! It's actually working!!"  he said with a huge excitement under his breath.

"Well that's great, but do you have any Blåbær?"  I nervously asked.

"Of course it's in the cooler over there!"

"Huh?!"  I swear I looked it up and down, but then he pointed to the bottom far right corner of the rectangular door, the spot where discerning beer hunting eyes often fail to look over and over again, the place that disappears often in the recesses of the mind of a beer shopper like me, barely lurching over the tips of your feet where your eyes don't reach.

There it was.  In the corner were about a dozen maybe 16-18 bottles.  Their dark blue and almost gray like appearance almost made them invisible, and they were not close to the glass.  It was almost as if they were hiding from me.  The beer came in two sizes, a large 750ml and a smaller 375ml.  This was a great option, I would have killed a larger bottle but I knew it would cost more and I had more beer to drink at the Mikkeller bar I wanted to check out as well.

When beer hunting and slaying, know your plans, and stick to your guns.

My wife is also a big Belgian lambic fan.  She is often not a fan of beer in general but really likes these styles of beers having spent a semester in Brussels during college.  To her the beer doesn't taste like regular "beer-beer" as she likes to refer to it.  I would buy a small bottle and we would share it.  It would allow me enough to judge it, and leave room for more beer to consume down the street at Mikkeller, and save a little bit more money as the bigger bottle was more expensive.

Speaking of price, this was not cheap either.  Once again things in Copenhagen were not just an easy pinching, and this 375ml beer cost me with conversion rate close to $28 US dollars.

The sale was rung and it was going to happen.  Two glasses were given, the proprietor popped the cork, a perfect sound not excessive, and no gushing, a great start.  I slowly carried everything, sat myself at the table and readied myself to document the experience.  Before I even tasted this beer, first giving it a look and examining it's bouquet, I realized I probably made my first mistake.

I should have bought the bigger bottle....

One sip confirmed it...

I REALLLLLY... should have bought the bigger bottle...

People like to hype up rare beers, and to some extent it is justified and other times it isn't.  This of course also had me concerned about whether this beer would live up to expectations.  Still I've had several of Cantillon's products luckily and they are wonderful brews, so I was looking for some of that magic, but had also read that other people didn't care for this beer either.  

Even with all these thoughts in my mind, I always go into a new beer with no expectations.  It could be amazing, or it could be ordinary, or it could be downright terrible.  Luckily for me, the experience was the former.

The first thing that struck me about the beer was it's appearance.  A slow decant and simple pour showed off one of the most impressive colors on any lambic I've seen.  It was a perfect ruby gem red.  Shiny.  Virtually no hues and just a little bit of pink fizzy head that dissolved to of course nothing, to let the beauty of this color shine.  It literally looks like you are cradling a ruby gem in your hands.

The aroma and bouquet provides a plethora of fruit experiences.  Classic earth funky tones come with blueberry, cherries, raspberries, even a peach like fuzz note on the nose.  

Then there is the taste.  Drizzled lightly sweet balsamic vinegar over fresh fruit in a glass, poured over peaches and blueberries, with big earthy notes of fresh tiled soil and almost fungus mushroom quality.  Great sweet acidic like tones, complex flavors but wonderfully balanced.  Light mouthfeel with some playful carbonation.

It's easily the best blueberry beer I've ever had to date.  

My wife who grew up in Maine around wild blueberries was enjoying herself as well.  She really enjoyed it too, as she got caught up on the free WiFi in the store over her email.

It was at this point I wish I could drink more of this, but the die was cast.  The hardest part about drinking a brew that is amazing is the experience comes to an end.  There is a pathos knowing that this experience will never again happen, amongst the joy of having an amazing drink.

We then made our way to the Mikkeller bar down the street.  A fantastic spot, with a downstairs like entrance, subway tiles that cling to the wall, and a giant chalk board with the latest menu beer items ready to be slayed.

Mikkeller - AK Alive
Oh yes this is going to be good.  Interesting saisons and wilds given were ripe for the taking, and then they even serve beers from 3 Floyds here.  Dear lord this is like nirvana.  There was even more than just that, as I glanced over a bunch of silver dollar sized rye bread pieces for sale, their green watercress tops licking at my face and attention.  "Hello there!" said a young familiar Dane, a guy who I had already met earlier who finally got away from his desk, and was now off his shift.  "Yeah this guy came in earlier!  Hope he likes the beers!"  Guess I was making a name for myself already, as a big tattooed bloke poured me a saison.  I didn't take long while glancing around that the ambience here was different from many of the other spots we had visited in Copenhagen,

This place is filled with Americans.  It was hard not to notice.  So this is where they all end up huh?  Why can't I escape these people when I travel?  But then it again it was a fun familiarity as well all recounted our trial and tribulations adjusting to a new place.  "I can't figure out how much money I took out of the ATM!"  bellowed this hilarious guy from Kentucky, wads of Krone bursting from his hands eager to be spent.  Another bearded young bloke, who wouldn't be out of place at any craft beer bar, neck beard included then asked me, "HEY have you ever had any Two Hearted!?"

why yes young man... yes I have.... oh boy have I ever had lots of that excellent brew.

This was all taken in as the staff free of charge poured us a bottle of AK Alive, suds and brett funk enveloping the room in a hazy cloud, passed hand in hand, glasses clink at the ready, merriment unleashed.

Another great treat about this bar is the giant chemistry flask the size of a watermelon, filled with a cherry like wine, that was cheap, simple, and easily devour-able..  one that my wife enjoyed and partook in while the conversation ebbed and flowed all late afternoon, Danes still stuck at work... us tourists drinking and plundering their wares...

This ... is ... so awesome...

"Yeah that was really cool! wasn't it!?"  I remarked to my wife who was probably wondering about my sanity at this point.

"And oh yeah we also went to that really cool bar, ya know!  The oldest one in the country!"  Katrine had taken us their as I recalled with much vigor.  Founded in 1723, it's interior is warm, inviting, filled with love and stories that I wish the walls could tell us.  The beer selection though was rather pedestrian, but was served with care, and what did look like locals who were very old who had been coming here for ages.  Simple Tuborg Classic was offered, it might have been even from a beer engine (cask), and simply hit the spot.  Even Katrine's pram fit in the place, with Magnus fitting in well.  

"That was so AWESOME!! when we did that too!!"

By this point my wife had that look on her face, the one that was hovering over me as I was still nestled between the sheets in rapture of beer and drink bliss.

"Can I ask you a question?" she said matter of factly...

"Why yes darling... say... anything..."

"ARE YOU STILL FUCKING DRUNK?!  Cause we went to that bar on the FIRST day we arrived DON'T YOU REMEMBER ANYTHING THAT HAPPENS?!?"

Oh.... .. I guess when you put it that way... I uh... kinda remember it a little differently.

It's one thing when memory is so detailed... but the days go by and times seem to be a blur...

She was right though.  Cantillon and Mikkeller was the previous night.  Our first evening we arrived, Katerine took us to a real cool bar spot, and there I was awake, luckily with no hangover, but with a sense of completeness, and heavenly in rapture of the memories while still nestled and nuzzling the bed sheets.

"Yup that was great".

"Good I am glad you enjoyed it."  At this point my wife seemed at least content with my memories.  But before I could hit the pillow and take in another great morning of coffee and tasty wares, she had one more thing to belt out.

"Now get your ass out of bed we got 15 minutes to catch the train to go to Helsingnør!"



* - * - *

POST NOTE:  The above events did occur, but not in the exact times as the blog chronicled (which is mentioned).  Also my wife didn't really yell at me... but believe me she can...  also we really were late for that dam train...  more on that later...

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Imbibing through Europe again. Traveling Denmark and Germany and the drinks in between Part 3 of ?

I feel like a million bucks! I said to myself as I awoke from a blank induced long sleep.  I was just about ready as I heard the thump thump of the morning call.  Ah Magnus the alarm clock has gone off and the beginning of the day is to be taken advantage of.  I awoke to the morning rush of a toddler ready to eat, a couple of wooden block play-toys being rumbled across the hard floor, and some whining Danish words.  Perfect timing, as my wife and I had not much time here and lots to explore and we definitely wanted to get out and going.

I pulled the blankets off like an orange peel, slowly sauntered to the bathroom once my wife finished and made her way to see Katerine.  One pant leg nestled tightly, a quick glance out the window to check the weather report...  yup cloudy and slight drizzel,  I then made my way to the breakfast table and awaited the morning news.

"I have got our day all figured out" my wife said enthusiastically.  "Oh ok sounds good" I replied, as my eyes gravitated toward a bread basket, cheese, and a French press container of coffee.

"We'll make our way to this park!"

Uh huh... (beer).

"Then we'll see if this museum is open."

Yeah... (beer).

View of Copenhagen from the Rundetårn
"Then there's the tower, and that gives us time to check out this area which I wanted to see"

K.... (beer, food,)

"then we go here...  that should give us time for lunch and some shopping, which you can figure out"

I just nod uh huh yup sounds great we're rolling... where is the sugar anyway?

It's often like this when I travel with my wife.  Everything is planned before I even get out of bed.  I roll with the punches, and make a note of anything before hand if it's something I really want to see and do, but for the most part when travelling together it works out perfectly.  My mind drifts towards drink and food, aside from the fact my wife digs the eating spots I pick, dragging her to the beer spots and shops is not something I wish to put anyone through if they are not really into beer.  She doesn't mind some of it, and does like some beer, but she is not into drink like I am.  No I am not a beer geek.  And yes I have been called one, but my life and tastes dictate more than just that.  But if Blabaer and a plethora of new beers are around the corner, it's going to be hard for me to stop thinking about it.

I sometimes think about what she must go through with me and my beer journeys.  However, someone perfectly summed it up here, so I'll leave it at that.  I am probably not as crazy as that guy for the record... but I did drive my wife crazy dragging her around Montreal so I could get some decent bagels.  "If you don't stop talking about these dam bagels, and just get them, I will murder you right here.. " she said to me once.

We were sitting down while Katerine was working to get us breakfast.  It was quite obvious that the morning meal in Denmark is different than it is back home.  First off I could barely figure out where the fridge was since it was so small.  It was ground level, which was perfect for Magnus so he could walk in at eye level, and grab his own glass of milk.  Pretty cool.

The table was simply filled with bread, cheese, and sandwiches to make at your own pleasure.  I loved the simplicity of this, the fry pan never went on, and there was no bowl of cereal to spill (although it could be done).

I was pouring myself coffee, while Magnus occasionally sat with his toys and nibbled here and there.  He was a typical two year old, but was very well behaved.  We also noticed that he was easily entertained at times with his toys, which compared to most toys parents buy their kids back home didn't require batteries for starters.

While taking some coffee, I was hoping that Katerine would at least get a break from us on top of the usual dealings of a busy two year old.  I always get nervous in situations where hosts are handling a lot even though Katerine was extremely grateful to have us visiting.  We would be heading out on our own as I mentioned to Katerine and I asked what she was up to.

“Oh well Magnus has to go to daycare shortly.  So I just take him every morning and drop him off.”



You’re unemployed and the state gives you free daycare?


Well I also have 2 years of unemployment, but the state handles it.

(me with my jaw dropping)  Really?


And you have a 2 year old?


I turned to my wife, “So can we move here?”

It turns out that there is an interesting flipside to Denmark’s high taxes, which includes a bonanza of social services that are available to its citizenry.  Health care, day care, unemployment insurance, maternity leave, free tuition at universities, it is quite fascinating.  Katerine like some Danes is looking for a job while occasionally doing some temp work.  There was no sense here at all, or with any other Danes that they are just “trying to game the system” or milking it, but are in a cycle that happens to many in the country.  But man if you are unemployed with a kid, Denmark is the place to be I say…

If I am reading this right and from what I saw, Denmark has an economic model in which a good portion of the population go through a period of job unemployment and transition.  The model is called “flexicurity”, where if I understand this correctly, a portion of the working populaces jobs are overturned so that others can move up the ladder or into the workforce.  The flipside is there is a longer social safety net for those who are removed from the labor pool, giving them enough time when the cycle goes around and they can get rehired.  About 25% of Danish private sector workers change jobs each year.

I think that’s the theory and how it is supposed to work… “In theory” of course.

I find this absolutely fascinating, and more so having a harder time believing that this actually works.  Unemployment is higher in Denmark than it is in the United States, but what would you care if the government then seems to provide you everything?  I grew up in Canada, and it has social services which are far better than the United States, but it has nothing on a Scandinavian country like Denmark in comparison.  Heck in the United States we’re still struggling over health care even now.

But somehow this is how their society functions.  Where does the money come from?  They got lots of oil right?  Right?  I dunno..  But when you take one look around and see how people are living it’s no wonder Danes like to remark they are the happiest in the world.

Before we headed out Katerine had already put out more lunch meat, spreads, and bread on the table.  “You must pack a lunch!”  she blurted quickly while trying to get Magnus’s shoes on.

My wife and I hadn't thought about this, and I know often in Europe lunch can be the biggest meal of the day, but we were just normally going to grab a bite during our lunch period while out on the town.  That’s pretty much what we do anytime we travel.  So taking Katerine’s word, we grabbed the aluminum foil, made a few metal tin softballs and headed out.


Copenhagen’s pulse is astounding.  It’s a city that breathes and moves in a fashion unlike any other I have witnessed.  It’s incredibly clean, the buses, trams, subway, rail cars all seem to arrive on time, the wet populace gets around on bike paths with the sounds of a slithering wet snake moving at high speeds.  The city has a quiet hum, there aren't a lot of car horns, just a lot of soft wet footsteps splashing against the cobblestone gray pavements.  Even walking around many of the areas, there didn't seem to be anyone loitering around.  There were no panhandlers, street kids, homeless people?  I couldn't even find any.

It’s a pretty ridiculous assumption that Copenhagen doesn't have homeless people, or things that happen in any city, drug problems, crime and the like.  But speaking of crime, I never even saw any cops or police cars once we left the customs desk at the airport.  What the heck did they even look like? I probably couldn't tell the difference between them and a bus driver at this point.  Sure there’s some graffiti not unlike most cities, but if anything people stealing bikes appeared to be the biggest problems.  I would look at all these granny bikes, rides that half of America wouldn't be caught dead riding or let alone owning one, with the most sophisticated locking systems for frames, wheels, and so on all over.  Your bike truly is worth its weight in gold in this city apparently, and they make this city run like a well oiled machine.

We worked up an appetite checking out much of the area and the surrounding boroughs.  Flat, easy to get to, well connected, walking a lot really stoked up our hunger.  I had already done a minor beer run in the few grocery stores I passed.  Even here it was the most reasonable, but large prices still stood out.  Shops and windows my wife and I walked by sort of had us in disbelief, but none so much as the furniture store we just had to take a look at.

Once again my wife saw a couch and mid century like modern furniture in a nice corner window store of a building.  So of course… we had to go in… right…  who am I kidding?

“Like we look like the kind of people who are going to actually buy this stuff right?” I joked with my wife

“I just want to take a look” she said. "Besides we have bought this stuff once before hmmm??"

“Yeah that’s what you always say”.

A well dressed Danish blonde woman came out and said in perfect English if we needed any help, her designer shoes cascading and with a slow click on the perfect hard wood practically pointing right at us.

“No we’re just looking” my wife said.

It was one of those classic downtown to joint edge stores, the ones that exist in trendy neighborhoods filled with young singles who have more money than they know what to do with or something.  The ones where the price of an item is on some tiny folded card, or little cute wood block, apparently made as small as possible so that it won’t detract from the furniture’s appearance or something.

“I’ll be waiting outside,” I said to my wife after I looked over everything in the store in about 5 minutes with a circular walking motion.  Which really translated into “The hell I am buying anything in this place so I aint wasting my time looking around at it” kind of response.

My wife came out shortly afterwards and remarked with a sly smirk on her face, “That tiny end table was $2200 dollars”.

“Yeah… no kidding…”  (groan)  “I am sure it would probably cost another $1000 to ship it to our house… makes sense to me…”  I sighed.

Who in this country is buying this stuff, or can afford it?  I kept asking myself.

The feeling of cost never seemed to escape us shortly after we arrived.  All the food places I had marked out on Google maps in my preparation, many we passed along the way seemed like nobody was eating in them.  Off season?  Lunch plate items seemed to translate into 20, 30 dollars per person for just simple items.  We found a great market, with awesome shops, and a smørrebrød place I was keen on.  But one look at the costs and we just sort of wondered how the heck do people survive here?  Gone were my smørrebrød places, walking to cafes with killer Danish pastries in the morning with coffee, no seafood dinners in the Southern end of the city I was so highly excited about.  It all went up in a puff of smoke before my eyes.

“Let's eat our sandwiches,” I quickly remarked as I pointed to a park bench that looked comfy to my wife.  “That's a great idea” she said.

We sat in a park bench, and admired that we didn't seem to be alone in our solitary lunch of wrapped ham and cheese.  As I looked around, I saw many a tinfoil carrying people eating sandwiches.  Families on park benches, women pulling them out of their purses, kids and parents bunkered down around wrappings.  It seemed like this was par for the course for Danes when it came to eating out.  We were fitting in nicely.  Sitting with the Danes in a sandwich break seemed like a communal bonding experience, making for one tasty ham and cheese sandwich.

After more cavorting and sightseeing, we made our way back to Katerine's place.

"It's so good to see you again!  Would you like a beer, I have some?!"

"Oh hell yes" I said, even though my bag was filled with a few interesting beers I was keen on digging into, the old adage never escaped my brain,,,


Katerine provided me with a well known brew from Carlsberg that I was not so aware of that they make called Tuborg Classic.  It's a pretty easy drinking brew, commonly available, but I have never seen it locally where I live from them unlike their regular brew.  It's surprisingly reminds me very much like Yuengling stateside but better.  Inoffensive, nothing crazy impressive, but a solid drinker.  Sort of the Danish go to of Sam Adams Boston Lager, in my opinion that's what I think.

Katerine had much of this and I started pounding these with reckless abandon, since after all... there was a job do to here for me and I was not going to do it half ass.

Still there was still many goodies of my own design I was destined to jump into. One that I grabbed was a Limfjords Porter.  This porter has one of the ingredients that I was quite surprised to find in many beers.  That ingredient simply was black licorice, a treat that seems to be pretty common in Denmark, and that perhaps they take pride in.  (Although when I landed in Germany and told people about Danes and licorice they had different ideas about where the best was made... Germany... Holland... pick your battles...).

The heck you say there isn't enough great tasting beer to go around.  Limfjords manages to maintain a mild porter quality with just a hint of black licorice.  Tongue stained?  Not so much.

A simple haul at a grocery and a specialty store.
Good Belgians too!
Denmark's other non mass produced beers seemed quite abundant.  There were beers from Nørrebro Bryghus, Svaneke rounded out some other interests as well.  We settled down with a simple meal, and Magnus' fascination with some Lego and a carving knife.

"Can I have the knife?" my wife asked Magnus with the touch of delicateness that only a fine woman can wield.

Magnus almost stopped in a trance and handed her the blade, transfixed by her gaze and delicate words.  The acknowledgement of the English language was not lost on this young warrior.  English is much used in Denmark and taught in schools, even Katerine spoke English around Magnus the entire time we were around.  It was obvious many times that he sort of knew what we were saying at times, but never once in English did he respond to us.  However, his touch and gaze gave us a wink and comfort that somehow we were both on the same wavelength.  We understood each other, in this crazy beautiful world.

"It's like he knows what we are saying!"  my wife mentioned to Katerine in astonishment.

"I am going to put together some of these Lego sets!" I said to Katerine, delicately proportioning the oversized younger blocks into an aeroport that could mimic a tarmac longer than the biggest bike path in Denmark.

However, as much as we enjoyed ourselves, my wife could see I was getting anxious, and we didn't have much time left in town either.  I told her we absolutely had to go to Ølbutikken tomorrow, to see if I could find a bottle of Cantillon Blabaer.  She agreed, and she knew this meant a lot to me, but for now we nestled into bottles of wine, and fists of Tuborg Classic as the rain never seemed to end.

I had other stops along the way too... but the hunt would have to continue in earnest tomorrow.

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.


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...."


"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.