Imbibe Hour


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Vermont is a scenic paradise! The beer is not bad either...

Riding around Berlin Pond in Vermont
It was with some tongue and cheek qualities that I write that headline for this blog posting, if somewhat late after the fact.   Anyone who put the words Vermont and beer in the same sentence should already know that it's one of the biggest beer destinations in the country if not the world.

I had in mind a plan for a vacation, or as I like to call them beercation, in early August.  In my travels I always like to involve good food and drink and I made the effort to spend a bunch of time doing that.  The other part was to do a bunch of cycling, hit the trails, work off the beer gut, and drink as much incredibly good beer as I could.

I would like to report that I succeed heavily... aside from maybe the gut thing...

East Montpelier up Snow Road
First lets talk about the cycling and what Vermont offers for it.  In three words scenic pure beauty.  The second part is something I discovered and really respected.  Big inclines... fast down-clines, and thin air because of high altitudes.

In short if you are a flatlander (one of the good ones) like me showing up it's quite a challenge, but the views are all worth it.  I was staying in the Waitsfield VT area which is in the center of the state, and came across a website that offered many central trails and routes as ideas for rides.  It's this one here: Central VT bike routes .  With that I set off excited, but realized I was in for a real challenge.

I did a simple Berlin pond loop earlier and noticed that my crossbike (I have named her Cynthia), could do well, but the gravel and bumpy roads and thin air was doing a number on my lungs.

By the time I headed to East Montpelier it was evident that taking breaks was gonna have to happen. The good thing is there are plenty of reasons to stop and just take in the vistas, if not to pick your spleen off the ground from the tough climbs.

Typical Vermont trail road
Summer in Vermont is just unbelievably scenic.  The hillsides exude green spaces like no other, cascading with backdrops of the mountains,  Crystal deep blue skies accent it in the middle perfectly, rolling vistas and a blue green sandwich combine for incredible views.  There are no distracting billboards, there's even very little litter as well.  It is unspoiled and feels completely untouched.

By the time I made it to Barre for my highest ride though I thought I was going to die.  Strangely on these bike tours I was doing, I saw NO other riders doing them.  Two wheeled riders, cyclist and motorcyclists are everywhere in Vermont.  For a motorcycle rider, you have numerous twisties and little cars.  For the cyclists the same appeal.  Many of the main highways are just easy enough to ride on with no fear of getting hit.  It just seemed when I went off road.. I was alone, and I thought... am I crazy enough to do this shit?

Still there is something to be said to be stuck in the middle of nowhere overlooking the mountains, and nobody to be in your way.  It does feel like you have it all for yourself.  The rides in Barre, Montpelier, and Norwich were hard, but there is plenty of simple riding to do just on the main roads.

Lake Champlain trail outside Burlington VT
One of the popular and most impressive is a trail that was part of an old discontinued railroad bridge that cuts right down the middle of Lake Champlain.  The Island Line Trail, is a trail that actually goes right in the middle of Lake Champlain, it's all flat, and is like riding on the middle of a wide open lake surrounded by the Adirondacks on one side and the Green Mountain range on the other. This is also a real easy trail if somewhat long, you don't have to be a serious rider to do it, as I saw many families and their kids taking the scenic ride.  Simply flat out stunning views and scenery.

Even with all this riding hey... I am not just here to sight see ya know!  While every vacation is beercation like I say, nothing says beercation like being in Vermont.

Lawson's Finest Liquids - Sip of Sunshine IPA
 One of the biggest draws in Vermont is that it contains some of the most highly rated and sought after IPAs in the country, mostly from brewers like The Alchemist, Lawson's Finest Liquids, and Hill Farmstead just to name a few.  Take one of the most popular beer styles and stick it all in one small place and you don't just have beercation... you have beer nirvana for some.

After much research I decided I was going to stay in the Waitsfield area to be near Warren which contains the Lawson's brewery.  It is also not far from many trails, and gives easy access to the towns of Montpelier and Waterbury for more beer choices as well.

Beer hunting is fine, but there's ways to go about it than just spending a bunch of time waiting forever in line, or chasing hyped (depending on your opinion) beers.

It was evident that after a few days there was more than enough great beer to go around.  I do like IPAs, but I am not crazy or obsessed with them as some people are.  However, due the styles popularity and the demand for the ones that come from many Vermont brewers, IPAs dominate the landscape.  Good news.. they are excellent.. bad news.. you want something else your choices are really limited.

Lost Nation's - Rustic Ale
Still there's plenty of ways around this.  One place I have liked often and visited in the past was Hill Farmstead, mostly because of their saisons.  I went and visited to pick up a few bottles, but also realized going to this packed brewery was not always the most convenient way to try some of their beers sometimes.  Still you can't beat the views and quiteness somedays.  Their beers are all over restaurants and bars in the area.  If you really want to try their beers, don't go to the brewery, just go to the plenty of places in nearby towns and cities and check out their taplists.  You'll save yourself some time.  Another place I discovered that made great beer was Lost Nation.  They didn't just make solid beers, and some cans to take home, they made a variety of decent different styles.  They were a big highlight for me and I strongly recommend you check them out.

Nevertheless, the Hill Farmstead brewery has expanded and is in a great scenic area of Greensboro.  Sometimes the crowds can be a bit big, but one tip someone told me was to visit not too long before the close to avoid large crowds.

The Alchemist Focal Banger at Mad Taco
The Waitsfield area turned out to be more convenient than I imagined.  Stores and shops for delivery of Lawson's and Alchemist products were nearby, even after the early morning crowds left and took their cases home back across the border.

Same with restaurants as well.  The Mad Taco offers a fantastic tap list, and simple basic and well made food.  It's also dirt cheap as I feasted on Pork Belly tacos so much I practically overdosed on them.  Dining options in the area are far and few between, but manageable, and I found myself at Mad Taco often so much that I pretty much had just about everything on the menu.

More importantly was the fantastic place I stayed at called the White Horse Inn.

Get your fridge ready for beercation!
An amazing breakfast was presented every morning from a seasoned pastry chef.  Timely and clean rooms and excellent hospitality.

The chef bakes so much he leaves cookies and little nibbles all over the Inn for you to snack on.

Did I mention they also provided me a fridge for my beer cation needs?  I needed this more for the purchases at the stores I visited in the state and travels along the way than for the beers bought in Vermont proper.  Heck the White Horse Inn servers Lawson's and Alchemist beers to begin with!

More so Vermont offers everything you want in a beercation.  Spectacular beer, and spectacular scenery.. it's even better when you can combine it both.

Till next time .... cause you know I am coming back!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Imbibing through Europe again. Traveling Denmark and Germany and the drinks in between Part 6 of ?

For once the weather forecast in Denmark seemed to hit the mark.  We awoke the next morning, getting our bags ready, one last foiled sandwich wrap from Katerine to go, and a train to catch to Germany awaited.  The sun was out, hardly a cloud in the sky.  "Well so it does show up here in this country once in awhile huh?!" I thought. The one good time the light will shine on this great country and we happen to be leaving it.

We were scheduled to head to Germany through an early morning departure Friday, change trains in Hamburg, and arrive in Berlin late afternoon.  We said our goodbyes, reminisced, and I made sure to of course, pack the few beers for the trip and ride.  One thing I always remembered when travelling in Europe, was that you could drink on the train ride, and it was a great way to enjoy a tasty beer.

If there is one thing I love and miss about Europe while living in the United States it is taking the train through the country.  It's efficient (most of the time, Romania being a very clear exception in my experience), relatively affordable, and just a great way to get around.  Looking at the map though I was a bit confused perhaps of our route.  Our train was to go to Hamburg, and the only land direct way I could see with Denmark's connected islands and flat geography was to head West from Copenhagen towards Kolding, and then take a sharp turn South through a small border perhaps passing by nearby Flensburg in Germany.

This was not to be.

We settled into the train at our assigned seats, and took stock of our neighbors.  Fairly quiet so far, but two gentlemen got on and stuck out like a sore thumb.  Two big Danes got on with bags in tow, large patched heavy metal badged jean jackets, ripped disposition, and shimmering bald heads.  My first reaction and concern was they might actually be skinheads... ugh.. this could get ugly.  My analytical disposition is always going into overdrive in situations like this, but if anything I knew that this couldn't be the whole story.

Checking around the guys just seemed to be having a good time, they smiled to all the passengers who came and went of all races, and I noticed that instead of hatred they were filled with a love and talk of metal music.  I was to be surrounded by some other metal head brethren.  "Look honey! METALHEADS!!"  I tried not to point to my wife and be like some jerk but I couldn't help wanting to somehow be part of their conversations.  Perhaps we could swap stories on what we thought of the last Soilwork album or something, or if the Tool album will be released someday, but with a language barrier in the way and the possibility one of these guys might get pissed and take a swing at me being some arrogant Yank I may just want to just listen first.

It was mid to early afternoon as we hit through the sunny countryside.  What a gorgeous day it was. As the green landscape passed by, the odd canoe in the water it seemed from a distance, it became quickly yet beautifully familiar.  I was getting thirsty, but also a bit bored.  My thoughts turned to a cold one, but I never want to be the first on a train to pop a brew cause I am never 100% sure it's allowed.  Luckily my Danish metalhead clan quickly made me aware of this rule within 15 minutes of arriving.

Shortly after they arrived, one guy rammed his iron ringed skull fist into his duffelbag, and with a fury pulled out 2 plastic solo cups. Then he pulled out a big box of bitters, a container full of Underberg, I am talking.. the equivalent of a case of these things, as they got their chasers going and then pulled out a 2 liter of Absolut vodka.  And then they began drinking...

"Well ok, this seems legit!" I said to my wife but I could only partake in one brew on the train, I had a full day, but pacing was everything... unlike my horned brothers sitting across the isle.

I grabbed a Kriek I had found in Copenhagen from Girardin, a Belgian producer.  I of course for this trip had planned my own solo cup, a curved plastic wine glass which works beautifully in instances just like this one.

I found a great stash of Belgian brews while in Copenhagen and was ready to partake in them.  However, shortly after trying the first one we had come to what appeared to be the end of the road.  Actually it wasn't so much the end of the road, but the end of the railway line as the train made it's last stop in Denmark at Rødby, with only the small body of water between us and Germany/Puttgarden on the other side.

"So are we going to be wearing life vests now?" I asked my wife.  With a gleeful smile she knew what was coming as she had read about how the journey was supposed to continue.

 The passenger train actually goes on a ferry.  The train tracks went right to a harbor and onto a ship underbelly, with its line continuing right inside the boat.  All passengers are then asked to disembark the train with any proper safe belongings, and then enjoy the 45 minute ferry ride to Germany on the other side.

I am always nervous about boats, because I get horribly sea sick.  If it's really choppy weather and water, it's a disaster every time.  I have had lots of practice at this because growing up my father had a sailboat, and still does.  I spent many a youth on that boat, doing things as a "family together" should be (sic) which meant me being forced to get on that thing and barf a lot.

However, some things help.  If the boat is big, or the weather is calm, and more importantly if it's motorized I am usually good to go, no problem.  A large ferry such as this one fits the bill nicely, so I wasn't that concerned (but maybe just a little).  Sometimes it has not helped.  When my wife and I honeymooned in Croatia, we had to take ferries through the islands from the mainland to Hvar and later to Korčula.  For the Hvar to Korčula trip, the ferry was a tiny motorized catamaran, and it was seriously windy and choppy seas.  The ferry bounced like an out of control carnival ride.  It was pure 45 minutes of torture for me and I nearly hurled into a plastic bag which was the only thing I had that would of "assisted" in such an accident.  This was while the on-board movie being played on televisions around me was, no joke... "The Perfect Storm".  All of this was happening while groups of small kids kept jumping and climbing over my seat constantly.  I am NOT making this up...

Somehow I lived, and somehow my wife is still married to me.

I easily lived through this ride as well, with the gorgeous clear skies continuing, sailboats in the water, calm sea breeze, and lots of people travelling and going who all looked in great spirits.  I lost sight of my metalhead brothers, but I think I saw them at the bar.  Which reminded me more importantly... It was truly time to savor another tasty beer.

We sat out on the open deck and I cracked open a bottle of De Cam, a very tasty lambic/gueuze brewery out of Gooik Belgium whose beers are pretty much "nearly" impossible to find in the United States.  This is how to live baby! I said to my wife.  She was very excited of the journey so far, the big winds coming off, and the sights as she snapped more photos.

We had to return to the train as we were now approaching the German side.  It finally dawned on me that I was at once going to be in Germany for the first time ever, we would be in the land of Euro for once and leaving the Krones behind. Still I would have to leave not without making a classic cultural faux pas, one of those awkward situations which gets lost in translation that still has me scratching my head when I think about it today.

I had finished my beer and of course wanted to recycle my bottles.  Did I say bottles I meant cans too?  Did I have more than one beer? I am not sure, but the point is my wife and I wanting to be proper and not slobby American tourists were trying to figure out where to put our recyclables.  I looked all over the ship and couldn't find any blue bins, or places to put them.  The only thing I did see was a bin on the ship deck that people were putting stuff in, but I never saw people place the recycling away.  If anything people were leaving their cans and bottles just lying around and not picking up after themselves on their tables, ledges, chairs, everywhere.  It looked like the aftermath of a frat party.

"What is it with these people?" I thought, "why can't they put this stuff away?"  Everyone was leaving all their garbage behind. "What do I do?" I asked my wife.  We couldn't figure it out and she said just put them in that bin over there.  I think that's trash though? I said.

Why was this so hard I thought, how hard was it to put up signs telling us what to do, heck I was looking just for logos or something blue on the ship.  I sheepishly took the bottles and cans and dumped them in that bin.  As the passengers were leaving, others went up to that bin.  One guy another passenger looked in and started shaking his head, and pulled out the 3 recyclable items I just put in there, all well conversing with his friends about what he just found, and no doubt probably saying something like, those stupid frikking Americans.

In the end I think what happened, was that you left the recyclables out, and ship cleaning staff picked them up.  I guess??  I have no idea... like I say this whole incident completely baffles me.  It's all one of those things where we as individuals through language and culture just want to do the right thing but somehow end up upsetting each other for no reason at all.  But in the end... it's all just trash.  No big deal.

We returned back to the train and headed to Hamburg.  We had to disembark and transfer, it was to be my first time experiencing Germany, the land where my mother grew up, the place were most of my family had already been before.  A land I was real excited about visiting.  My wife had been before to Berlin back in 1994 of the Spring during college.  She was happy for me but I also was very aware of her experiences there which she remarked saying she didn't always enjoy.  There was excitement but also those thoughts kept coming back sticking in my craw.

The train pulled out, we got off, I stepped on the platform in Hamburg.  We were back in a somewhat bustling city, in the main train station.  There were lots of people running around, I noticed a sizeable Turkish population which gave me great memories of visiting Istanbul.  It was crowded, there were cops all over the place, It was... loud as hell it seemed.

This was my first impression...  I sat a little slack jawed, I knew about the country, I understood a little bit about it's history (yeah ok more on "that thing" later), and as always I brush up about foreign places as much as I can before arriving.  You make yourself as prepared as much as you can, but now matter how much you study, now matter how much you try, that very first step and your first glance your eyes see, you are never fully prepared.

I stood around, listened... and looked and surveyed the scene briefly.  I turned to my wife a bit stunned and unexpected.  I said...

"This is not Denmark..."

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Imbibing through Europe again. Traveling Denmark and Germany and the drinks in between Part 5 of ?

Train station in Helsingør
The breakfast went down quick.  Everything though as expected went like clock work.  We ran down the street, bolted to a bus stop.  It was there on time.  Then the bus raced out as Friday morning commuters bustled in.  Speeding away, we were dropped at the Østerport station to figure out how to get tickets for the train to Helsingnør.

"Well that was easy", I remarked but my wife who was furiously looking at the time knew our train was coming shortly and we had to quickly get tickets.  We had maybe 10 minutes.

"Well that shouldn't be a problem.. let's go to the ticket office."

As always when traveling, you often rely on the friendly desk counter, a human interaction, the ability to meet your fellow human being face to face to give you the answer that you need.  A simple stroll to the front desk would do, and as we knew from experience being here for awhile everyone spoke English pretty well.  We find the ticket office... it's about 9 in the morning... and..

it's closed...


on a Friday morning... in a train station... with hours on the door that say it should be open like... what 8:30.

"what the hell?!?"

Katerine had mentioned later when I told her this story that one thing that had been cut in public areas were services.  I just figured that in a major train station on a Friday there might be just one... just ONE human being working there.  Hours on the door said the times they were open, which meant... right now... but as always in Europe like I've always said... opening hours are only a suggestion.

"Well it's time to play spin the wheel then on the kiosks... lets go!"  We hit the electronic machine and were trying to figure it out with maybe 5 minutes left before the train was to arrive.  It was like being on a game show,,, spin that wheel!  Ok English... YES that one.. ok first question easy!  Push that button!  3 minutes before your window closes... tick tock tick tock...

With a few backwards and forwards screen selections, our lucky new credit card for Europe at the ready, we got it done...  clock time...

1 minute...

RUN!!!!  and of course don't drop anything, get your receipts, and then figure out how much you paid later with the conversion... heck this short ride could have cost us $400 bucks... who knew?  (it of course didn't)..  but you can not keep a good plan down from us!

The train would head North from Østerport station, and arrive in Helsingnør where the plan was to visit a famous castle named Kronborg, or as it also known as Hamlet's Castle.  My wife had the idea for a small day trip, and then a museum later.  I was perfectly fine for this as another day of beer drinking/visiting could come later.  Some new scenery and some other interests was totally the right thing to partake in now.

We ran on to the platform... clocks everywhere I seemed to notice.  Very quiet strangely, a few people.  Everything in this country seemed to shuffle and work orderly, but sometimes it also appeared very empty.  I thought back to the kiosk how we could at least find any combination of times and schedule for the train we wanted, but had to navigate a certain way.

It was eerily quiet.  Where was the bustle?  The hustle? the noise even?  The excitement?  Is this Friday?

It occurred to me while I stood for only about 30 seconds before the train came that this country had an almost Orwellian like feel to it.  There were almost no surprises, or at least very few ones and they seemed like they could easily be explained.

The train pulled up, we got in, and headed to small town Denmark for some sight seeing.

The town of Helsingnør is tiny, but we wanted to explore the castle first.  The train station is small, and as soon as you get out, the Kronborg castle appears just to the North which you can see easily.  You certainly wont get lost, and you can't miss it. However, our first impression wasn't the castle from a distance, nor the water that separates Denmark from Sweden, but a piece of artwork that was hard to miss.

I quickly nicknamed it... the Frankenfish.

Sitting just outside was this statue of a fish made out of trash.  The trash was surprisingly colorful, and made me wonder if it were items that were recovered from the actual nearby waters.  It was really cool, I love public art things like this, I wish more cities had them.  This one was particularly creative, large, visually appealing up close and even from a distance.  Another passerby took a glance and seemed horrified, not sure what to think.

Kronborg castle known as Hamlet's castle is the main attraction and draw for the town.  Shakespeare referred to this famous castle as the setting for his play Hamlet, and for centuries one of the most famous plays still gets performed here.  The castle also has history going back to the 1400s, as a strategic location where for years the country collected taxes for any passing ships known as the Sound Dues, thus making the surrounding town a magnet for international shipping, and extremely wealthy.  Also every year actors perform Hamlet here on location, festivals are held, and many famous actors have graced its presence.

We worked our way into quite a cavernous tour.  They were broken into themes, One was about the early history of the castle, guided by a Swedish historian which we took.  Another was about the history of the play of Hamlet, accompanied by of course a tour guide draped in poofy pants and garb of the era.  Still on this somber rainy day, our enthusiasm remained, and there is lots to explore, including my favorite THE SLEEPING VIKING WARRIOR WHO WILL AWAKE SOME DAY AND KICK YOUR ASS!!  Otherwise known as Ogier the Dane.  So fucking metal....  \m/...

We had a blast.  It was also during times between tours in the courtyard I found a surprising rare animal.  A free Wi-Fi connection.  While we waited between tour times, my email and Untappd check-ins were coming in at a furious place about the Cantillon beer I had the previous day.

"I am so friggin jealous" one follower wrote, another wrote "HOW MUCH DOES IT COST!".  Beer fans can't keep boundaries and enthusiasm down, and rightly so I might add!

 The castle was poked and prodded from as many angles as we could, another rainy day, tankers coming through the old strait that separated us from the municipality of Helsingborg, only by an icy breaths touch.  Turns out there is a side that is appealing to Swedish citizens to Helsingnør that surprised me.  Katerine told me that many Swedes come to Helsingnør because the tax rate on alcohol is cheaper and flood the town to buy lots of cheap booze.

Really?!  As a good imbiber this had to be inspected and verified with a walk through the small town's shops.

We made a break from the castle to check out the small berg.  It was obvious that stores were advertising prominently in places for their alcohol selection.  However, compared to what I saw in Copenhagen the selection wasn't considerably different, or for that much fact, even cheaper from what I saw previously. What I will remember though is that for one fleeting glimpse the sun was breaking out.

Holy shit, it's the sun! What is this rare beast that I haven't seen in such long as it suddenly squeaked in between the small nooks and crannies of this small town?  It did seem like it was toying with us, but it made an unbelievable scene between the alley ways, colored painted walls, and wood angular frames of the houses nearby.  It made this place look beautiful. Then there was the hunt for lunch,

My god what was that glorious smell?  We were still taken back by the costs of food, and coveted our packed sandwiches still through small little quiet streets, and few citizens present.  There were though a few out, one who was also quite enthusiastic, but it was the memorable walk into what looked like a small market stall, filled with fresh baked bread and cheeses that took our breath away.  Oh my god the aroma that came from this place was indescribable.  Fresh baked bread and dough punctured the air, and the ripe smell of soft warm cheese and earth was smashing you straight in the face.  We still didn't purchase anything, once again... sticking with our grocery manufactured aluminum foil wraps of goodness to get us by.

We made our stamp of approval, and took our next adventure to one of the most impressive places I've ever visited.  I've been to many museums in my life but have never seen one as spectacular as Louisiana located in the area of Humlebæk.  A quick distance between Copenhagen and Helsingnør stands this incredible museum.  While I haven't been to many grand ones in my life, I have been to some spectacular ones, and this place by far, is just a mind blowing experience in it's design aspects, location, and presentation of art that I have ever seen.

A wonderful building nestled on the coast, it is full of sculptures, excellent paintings, hallways that cascade with light and wood beams that mimic the forest surroundings.  The location and rooms are in themselves works of art them selves, and provides a sensory melancholy viewing experience that just can't be duplicated.

Walking around outside and finding the numerous amount of sculptures and even hidden artworks is like a fine treasure hunt of modern weirdness, quirky, and wicked finds that you wont find anywhere else in the same way as your ordinary museum.  Exhibits of course come from time to time, and while we visited we got to see quite an interesting one.

We entered the exhibit, neutral white for the template of course then ready for the artists colors ready to put their stamp of approval on.  Or in this case, a chance for the artist to unload the dump-truck.

Situated in the museum, and cascading room to room, where piles of rocks and gravel.  It was an indoor expression I guess of "land art" perhaps, within the confined spaces of what should have been something very familiar.

Holy crap what is this?  The rooms were filled to the brim with gray stones and gravel, an almost lunar landscape and a cutting stream that ran between the exhibit punctuated the rooms from end to end.  It was very hard to figure how this was planned, but it obviously was in some fashion that seemed hard to fathom.

This was a piece called Riverbed, that was made by Olafur Eliasson.  A homemade inside outside version of a neighboring brook or perhaps desolate area, one that rips your eyes with it's whitewashed and bleached appearance, it breaks your ideas of normalcy, perception, and beauty.

It was also a complete blast to walk through.  Normal doors were crunched with 3 feet of gravel, forcing you to actually duck between rooms to see the continuing piece at times.

"Wow" I said to my wife, I can honestly say I have never seen anything like this before, and as a younger brother of an artist, having watched my sister go through art school, gone to numerous openings, I have seen lots of obscurities.

The museum as far as I am concerned is an absolute MUST see, if you are visiting the country.


We made it back to Copenhagen to spend one last night with Katerine and Magnus.  We had to take her out to dinner, there was no way we were not going to thank her for her hospitality and at least give her a break in the kitchen.

It was a little later that we set out, I forget why, perhaps because we were packing, but we ended up searching quite a bit for a restaurant, Magnus in his pram ride in tow. our stomachs ready.

We found a good busy place nearby (Cafe Bopa), lots of outside tables, very busy, which were good for Katerine to sit aside with her pram, and an unforgettable experience involving Magnus that I must retell here in its full glory.

Magnus was a little restless, he was out running around a bit, and playing with two other slightly older kids with a soccer ball.  This sort of had me nervous, since it was dark out, and I felt we were loosing sight of him at times.  Still it was a good way for him to burn off energy, and give Katerine a break.  This way at least he would get good and tired, after all we all love our kids but you just want them to sleep so we can have some quiet adult time.

My wife and I looked over the menu, noticed it was filled with a kind of French bistro like items, Cassoulet, Steak and fries and so forth.  I nestled a Bohemian Pilsner, but she wanted wine and couldn't figure out which one to order per glass.  The great waitress we had, actually came out with a few ounces of each three in tumblers for her to try on the house.  Excellent above the call service, especially for Europe might I add...

While we had an appetizer of sorts, and waited for our mains, Magnus came running back to the table. Without missing a beat, he grabbed one of the white wine tumblers, probably thinking it was apple juice while Katerine was distracted, and took a big two handed gulp.

These are the moments that you know in life you will never experience again, so you dare not miss  them.

It wasn't long until we realized what was happening, and that meant we were too slow and powerless to stop it before it started.

A clunk hit the table as Magnus clumsily put the glass back down. No! Katerine said, but it was too late.

The look on his FACE.. after that sip was unforgettable.  His eyes literally BULGED out.  He stood there completely motionless, in utter confusion, as if paralyzed by a combination of stupid and just out right fear.  All that energy and fidgityness suddenly evaporated as he stood completely motionless like a frozen statue for once, in a state I have never seen before.

My wife and I just burst out laughing really hard.  I can only imagine what must be going through that kids head right now.

"Well someone I think is going to sleep well tonight!"

"Yup sorry kid that is not apple juice!"

I am sure this is going to be a story Magnus is going to here later in life, over and over again from his elders.  That story... remember way back when... sort of thing.  I guess we got him started off young like a true Dane you could say.

It was our last time in the country, and we were getting on a train to Germany tomorrow.  The forecast actually called for once a clear sunny day, but we would not get to experience a full one in the country anymore.  After tonight the journey and good drinks were going to be held elsewhere, but sorry Magnus..., you wont be coming.

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...