Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Vancouver day one

My flight is quite early, at 10.30 am. Thankfully the airport isn’t as far out of town as in Denver. Twenty minutes is all I need to get there.

I’ve got TSA pre again. Yippee! Not that I’m complaining, but I still wonder why. Is it a lottery or is there some sort of rational procedure?

I’m doing the eating brekkie close to the gate thing again. This time at a brewery-owned pub: Rogue Ales Public House. But I’m foregoing my usual side of Jack Daniels. I don’t even have a beer.  The relatively early hour isn’t the only reason. I’m not feeling too great. Too many strong beers over too long a period yesterday.

Breakfast is a standard two eggs and bacon-centred dish. Bacon is exactly what I need at a time like this. And lots of coffee. Lots and lots.

The weather has turned vile: cold, windy and a little snow. Great. I’ll be making the hop to Vancouver in a little propeller aircraft which means I have to walk over the tarmac. It isn’t pleasant.

For the first half of the journey, cloud veils the ground. It suddenly clears and a knife-sharp view of the coastal plain, backed by the Cascade Mountains, emerges. For once I’ve a window seat and I snap merrily away.  As we near Vancouver, clumps of timber clot every waterway. Never seen that before.

The airport is fairly central and I’m soon at my hotel, Auberge Vancouver. It looks very posh. When I open my room door, my flabber is once again gasted: I’ve got another suite. Even nicer than the last in Denver, with its ridiculous views of the harbour and city. And there’s my box of books sitting on the counter. What more could I ask for?

My talk isn’t until 7 pm but Jeff Longland, one of the home brewers who helped organise it, is picking me up at 1 pm. We’re visiting a few breweries before kickoff.

We head for a part of town that used to be called Brewery Creek and is once again home to several breweries. We start at Main Street Brewing which, appropriately enough, is housed in a former brewery building.

The tasting room is simple, but functional: plain white walls and wooden tables with a bar area separating it from the brewery. It looks brand new, which in pretty much is, having been open less than a year. I'm excited to see four beer engines. (It's sad what gets you excited at my age. I found some fascinating turnips yesterday.) I opt for a Sessional IPA from one of them. I’m not making the same mistake as yesterday: too strong for too long.

The hate shit-balls thrown at Session IPA baffle me. Tasty beers you can enjoy drinking without fear of permanent brain damage. I'm as big a pisshead as the next bloke. And he's Josef Stalin. (Or is it Winston Churchill? I often get those two confused.) But sometimes a change of pace is a good idea. Or a liver transplant.

We have a quick tour of the brewery, which is shinily impressive and was made not far away. They’ve already had to buy more fermenters to keep pace with demand. No oak barrels this time but lots of lovely new firkins. I'd take one home with me, but it wouldn't fit in my bag.

A few more people turn up, including Tak who’s recently started brewing at Parallel 49, the town’s biggest brewery. After Molson.

We’re soon heading down the road to Brassneck, which is only a few blocks away. It’s quite a different sort of place, though also quite new at just about a year old. The tasting room is very much about growler fills, which make up a big chunk of sales. There is no bottling.

Seating is at the rear, a separated from the brewery by a collage wall of scrap wood. Great look.

In the brewery at the side and rear, things are much more cramped than up the road. And it isn’t filled – though filled it is – with the usual stainless kit. They’re three open fermenters and a wooden vat. Dead cool. I’ve seen neither in a North American brewery before.

The odd firkin lazes between the fermenters. In the cold room there’s one filled with 1987 Boddington’s ELM and another with 1923 Courage Stout. Wonder where they got those recipes?

Before trawling up at The Cobalt, where I'm eventing, we drop by Pizzeria Farina, conveniently located right next door. It’s a classy and simple, pizza joint. Not bad pizza at all. And they sell decent beer. What more could you ask?

The Cobalt is an old hotel with a colourful past, having long been home to "exotic" entertainment. It's now a grungy pub/music venue. It reminds me a bit of the Esplanade in St. Kilda, though without the glue-like residue masquerading as a carpet.

The event is in a side room called the Boxcar. It doesn't look quite finished. And isn't heated. On the upside, there is a screen and a projector, which is all I need. And three pins of beer. Two versions of Barclay Perkins East India Porter and one of Boddington's ELM.

When it's time for me to do my talking thing there's a pretty good crowd - 60 or 70 - which packs the place out. It's an easy talk to give. I've done it a few times before. And I wrote it out of my head. I bounce off on a couple of tangents not really part of the talk as written. I usually do that, when I have time. I've a stack of good beer-history stories.

A few of us continue on to the Alibi Room for more beer and a bite to eat. I'm surpised that my hotel is close enough to walk to. Which is what I do when they throw us out.

A Laphroaig is again my late-night travelling companion to the land of dreams.

Buy my book.

The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer.

Rogue Ales Public House
7000 NE Airport Way
Portland, Oregon.
Phone: +1 503-282-2630

Auberge Vancouver
837 West Hastings Street,

Main Street Brewing
261 E 7th Ave,
BC V5T 0B4.
Phone: +1 604-336-7711

Brassneck Brewery
2148 Main St,
BC V5T 3C5.
Phone: +1 604-259-7686

Pizzeria Farina
915 Main St
BC V6A 2V8.
Phone: +1 604-681-9334

Cobalt Hotel
917 Main St,
Phone:+1 604-685-2825

Alibi Room
157 Alexander St
BC V6A 1B8.
Phone: +1 604-623-3383

Monday, 24 November 2014

last few hours to get 50% off my Lulu hardbacks

there's also 30% off my paperbacks until the end of Monday (24th November) with this code:


But this code will get you an amazing 50% off hardbacks over the same period:


I notice a couple of you have done what I would have - bought the whole Mega Book Series: Porter!, Mild! plus, Bitter! and Strong!.

Barclay Perkins Bookstore

Some people have mentioned that Lulu wouldn't let them ship to a US address. If you're in the right bit of Lulu it shouldn't be a problem. Just make sure you're in the Lulu US bookstore.

This code may only work in the US Lulu bookstore.

Portland day two

It’s another leisurely start to the day. I quick continental breakfast downstairs followed by some lazing around my hotel room. I’m such a slob.

I’ve arranged to meet David Hauslein in the early afternoon at BeerMongers. It’s a combined bottle shop and bar in a light industrial building.  David’s already there when I arrive and recognizes me. Maybe it’s the box of books I’m carrying. We cosy up to the bar and set about the serious task of getting some peeve down our necks.

It’s not a huge place. A few tables, some seats at the bar and fridges full of beer lining the walls. A smattering of customers here and there. Today’s event – at Hair of the Dog – isn’t until 4 pm, leaving me time for a decent session beforehand. Possibly too much time.

On the TV Holland are playing Mexico – and losing. Everyone is a little bemused at why I’m so happy Holland are getting stuffed. I’d even want them  to lose if they were playing Arsenal, and that’s saying something. Because, to quote Terry Collier, “I hate Arsenal”.

After a couple of hours of beer and beery chat, David drives me over to Hair of the Dog. Where Alan Sprints, who’s organised the event, is waiting for me. It’s another industrial type building, half of which is dedicated to the tasting room, the other half to the brewery.

Alan gives me a spin around the shiny thing room. Though it’s not as full of those things as many breweries I’ve been to recently. No, here there are loads of wooden things. Quite a large number of oak barrels, most of which seem to be filled with one form or other of Fred.

There’s a wide variety of barrels, all around hogshead size. What look like second-hand wine or bourbon barrels, Aardbeg ones from Islay and even brand new ones stamped with the brewery’s logo. Barrel-ageing is obviously a big deal here. And by here I mean both Hair of the Dog and the USA.

Snuggling up to the oak casks are piles of dull and dented golden gate kegs in a couple of sizes. I’ve seen a lot of them this trip. I suspect that they’re being used as firkin substitutes.

The line up of beers for the event is pretty impressive:

1804 Barclay Perkins TT
1848 Barclay Perkins TT
1931 Ushers Brown Ale
2014 Blue Dot
1839 Reid’s BPA
1846 Truman XXXXK
1848 Younger 100/-
1916 Whitbread KKK
1860 Truman XXX (on cask)

All but the Blue Dot are from my book. Which I’ve started selling even before my short, impromptu talk.

It’s another decent-sized crowd and they seem to enjoy my historical blether. Not sure how long it lasts again. I can keep on going for hours if no-one stops me. I love the chance of speaking uninterrupted. I rarely get that at home.

I shift most of the books I brought. It’s a nightmare estimating how many to bring. I had to order an emergency extra box to be delivered to Vancouver. Took a bit of a hit on the shipping cost, but that’s better than running out of books with a couple of events still to go.

I hang around for a while to chat and drink. Obviously the latter. When else will I get a chance to drink KKK? I never dreamt anyone would make a commercial beer called that.

Things are getting blurry. At some point we had back to the city centre, to Bailey’s Taproom. I’m beginning to regret my early start. I polished off two bombers in my hotel before setting out. That may have been a mistake.

I suppose I walk home. It’s not far.

No need of a Laphroaig eye-closer tonight.

Tomorrow I’ve a short flight to Vancouver. Hope I remember to wake up.

Intrigued by my book? Then buy the bloody thing.

The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer.

The BeerMongers
1125 SE Division St,
Portland, OR 97202.
Phone: +1 503-234-6012

Hair of the Dog
61 SE Yamhill Street
Portland OR 97214
Phone: +1 503-232-6585

Bailey's Taproom
213 SW Broadway,
Portland, OR 97205.
Phone: +1 503-295-1004

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Get my Lulu hardbacks for half price

30% off my paperbacks until the end of Monday (24th November) with this code:


And an incredible 50% off hardbacks over the same period with this code:


Your only chance to get my Mega Book Series cheap: Porter!, Mild! plus, Bitter! and Strong!.

Barclay Perkins Bookstore

Some people have mentioned that Lulu wouldn't let them ship to a US address. If you're in the right bit of Lulu it shouldn't be a problem. Just make sure you're in the Lulu US bookstore.

Portland day one

Today’s flight is a little later, almost noon. But, the airport being miles away, I need to get up reasonably early. If only to catch breakfast in the hotel, which is free. No need to eat at the gate, which also saves time.

It takes me a while to find the United check in. Which is odd as Denver is one of their major hubs. Somehow I’ve missed a whole long row of bag drop offs. I blame the cold. In turns my brain to that thing that’s sort of ice and sort of water. What’s it called? . . . . . Slush, that’s it.

I’ve got something called TSA pre. It means a slightly less humiliating security experience. You don’t have to strip off quite as many pieces of clothing and disassemble your baggage. No idea why I got it, but I’m not complaining. Security checks irritate the arse off me.

With an hour or so to strangle, dismember and bury in a forest before boarding, I hunker down at the closest bar. It’s called Pour La France! and has a weird French theme. You’d never have guessed from the name.

“Double Jack Daniels, straight up.”

The bar is fringed with the like-minded. Loading spirits before boarding.

Airport bars are remarkably sociable. Knowing you’ll part soon and never meet again, why not take a punt on a chat? I don’t indulge myself this time, but watch others strike up conversations and smoke them to the fag end.

I mosey over to my gate at boarding time. Remarkably, my United flight is again on time. On my last book-flogging trip every single one was late. One very late.

This flight isn’t total sardine time, but still pretty full. I indulge in a couple of whiskies. There’s no in-flight entertainment: how else can I entertain myself in-flight?

My bag thunks onto the belt pretty promptly. Before I know it I’m cabbed and hotel-bound.

As the taxi crosses the Willamette River into downtown, I notice something odd. Portland looks like a city. A proper city, with shops and stuff. And those fleshy mammally, two-legged things I like chatting with. Human beings, that’s the word. I’m liking Portland already.

We pass a city square lined with ethnic food trucks. I’ve fallen asleep and this is all just a wonderful dream. Isn’t it?

Bags dropped, I head for a nearby shop to get water. And in this case, beer, too, as Oregon doesn’t have stupid laws. For a corner shop, the beer selection isn’t bad. The prices are a shock. In New Jersey, bombers started at $6 or $7, heading north into crazy territory, before reaching totally fucking crazy do you think I’m a complete fucking idiot land. Here I can pick one up for under $3. Robbing New Jersey bastards.

There’s a Deschutes brewpub just a few blocks away.  I don’t feel like going far because it’s dead windy. On the way there I bump into a massive book shop, Powell's City of Books. It covers a whole city block. Another sign this is a cool city.

I slip in and search for the beer section. Easier said than done. The place is meganormous. But not particularly well signposted. After a few minutes of wandering I find it. Not bad at all. A stack of beer books. I’d give you a number, but do you think I’m the sort of sick obsessive that counts everything? *

Deschutes is pretty full, but I’m able to get a seat at the bar. Oh, look – they’ve got Fresh Squeezed IPA on cask. No long deliberation this time. It’s rather nice, in a citrusy US sort of way. And a bit too drinkable. Before I know it my first pint is almost gone. Just as well it’s only 6.4% ABV.

They’re missing a trick, many US brewers and publicans. People drink well-kept cask more quickly than keg beer. And drink more of it. I’d be trying to push it to boost sales volumes.

Though I notice a reassuring number of casks when I take the obligatory snaps of the shiny things**. It’s a recurring theme in breweries I’m visiting. As with oak barrels, most have some. Maybe I was a bit hasty is saying they were missing the barge.

I order an Elk burger. Never had Elk before. It’s also rather nice.

Three pints of Fresh Squeezed disappear in 40 minutes. No greater compliment than that from me. I'd happily drink another three. Which is one of the reasons I leave. Plus I’d like to visit more than one brewery today. Gotta keep to my quota.

Fat Head's Brewery is just a few blocks away. It’s a bit of an industrial barn with a pretty decent-sized brewery behind glass.

Buuut . . . . . they’ve a cask Stout. A Julie Andrews (or is it John Coltrane?) of a beer for me. It’s quite nice. Did I ever tell you of my youthful dreams of cask-conditioned Guinness Extra Stout? Not whimsical musings, things that pinged around my brain whilst sleeping.

It’s getting late, as my ramblings reveal. Time to ramble homewards, remembering to grip the camera better.

Laphroaig is my lullaby once more.

* You’ve hacked my webcam, haven’t you?
** “This is boring, Ronald. Didn’t you take any pictures of people. It’s all brewing stuff and buildings.”

Please buy my wonderful book.

The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer.

Pour La France!
B Gates
Center Core
(303) 317-9472

Powell's City of Books
1005 W Burnside St,
Portland, OR 97209.
Tel: +1 503-228-4651

Deschutes Brewery Portland Public House
210 NW 11th Ave,
Portland, OR 97209.
Tel: +1 503-296-4906

Fat Head's Brewery
131 NW 13th Ave
Portland, OR 97209
Tel: +1 503-820-7721

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Incredible Lulu books offer still on

30% off my paperbacks until the end of Monday (24th November) with this code:


And an incredible 50% off hardbacks over the same period with this code:


An unmissable deal - a great chance to get the whole Mega Book Series: Porter!, Mild! plus, Bitter! and Strong!.

Barclay Perkins Bookstore

Some people have mentioned that Lulu wouldn't let them ship to a US address. If you're in the right bit of Lulu it shouldn't be a problem. Just make sure you're in the Lulu US bookstore.

This code may only work in the US Lulu bookstore.

Denver day two

This was always going to be a quiet day. I've arranged to meet up with Todd around midday, leaving me the morning to myself.

I'm feeling a bit knacked, but need to get before 9:30 for breakfast. As it's free and includes bacon, no way I'm missing out on that. Fed, I go back to bed for another couple of hours kip. Why make life hard for yourself?

Todd messages me that he can't get away from work until later - can I meet him I Hogshead at 4 pm? No problem. I'm sure I can amuse myself for a few hours. What to do in Denver? I consult Google Maps and BeerAdvocate, then remember Falling Rock. It was mentioned last nigh as the town's top beer bar. And I'd spotted it from my airport taxi. Not that far away, lots of beer - a total no-brainer.

I notice something when I leave my hotel. It's effing freezing. It feels like it's about to start snowing. I though the cold weather wasn't due to sweep in until after I'd left. Evidently not. Wind, there's lots of that, too. I'm starting to wish I'd listened to Dolores and brought warmer clothing.

What's that hitting my face? Snow. It's bloody snowing! Brilliant. When I arrive at Falling Rock, I'm frozen.

"Hello, Ron." Someone says as I walk through the door. Which is slightly disconcerting. It's the owner. He was at my talk yesterday. Thankfully. Not some random crazy.

I settle into a seat at the bar and we chat a little. He notices me looking admiringly at a Hammonds Ales sign.

"It's one of only two in the US." He tells me. "Michael Jackson was impressed when he was here. He used to drink Hammonds beer when he was starting out as a reporter. He recorded an interview here and insisted on having the sign in the background."

It's a cosy enough bar. The bar counter runs the whole length of one wall and the rest of the space is filled with booths. Breweriana is everywhere. Mostly in the form of bottles and tap handles, but there are also sign, mirrors and trays. I can never get enough of that stuff.

Some random dudes wander in and order beers.

"What about some shots?"

"Yeah, why not?"

Why not, indeed? It is effing snowing outside. I'd join you, but I left my crazy head back in the hotel. I'm stuck with the vaguely sensible head.

For once on this trip, I'm taking notes. Here goes:

Odell's IPA
A classic US IPA - citrus, lemon zest, lemon, grapefruit. Slips down very easily for 7% ABV.

Comrades Super Power IPA
Similar flavours to the Odell's, but bitterer and just 7.6% ABV. Bit more grapefruity.

Boulder Shake Porter
Looks like it's on nitro. It really does taste like a chocolate milkshake, as the barman said. Slightly weird, but drinkable.

Great Divide Oatmeal Yeti
This stuff is effing black The head is pretty dark, too. A stack of roast going on - fairly acrid. Some hops going on, too, but the bitterness mostly seems to come from the malt.

After a couple of beers, I need some food. I'm split between the buffalo burger and the Texas burger on a bed of jualapenos. In the end I go for the buffalo burger and ask for it with a bed of jualapenos. They're happy to oblige.

My favourite item on the menu is the Elvis Presley Memorial Combo.

"Two 1/2 pound patties cooked rare, topped with bacon, American cheese, 1/3 pound of pastrami, grilled onions, Swiss cheese, a fried egg guacamole & mayo on a big-ass bun. Served  with onion rings, fries and a defribillator. Price overinflated, just like Elvis. $46.40."

After a few hours, I head back to my hotel. It's now snowing way harder than is pleasant. More like specks of ice. Whipped by the wind makes them prick my face like needles. Lovely. I'm not used to this sort of weather. It didn't freeze last winter in Amsterdam. Which is why there were so many bloody mosquitoes this year.

It takes ages to get a taxi to go to Hogshead. Probably the change in the weather. It's caught a few people unawares. I see someone on a bike wearing shorts and another strolling down the street in a tee-shirt. Must be a random Geordie.

Todd, Steve and I share a few pints of cask beer. They sold two firkins of the Lovibond Mild yesterday. Not bad at all considering the size of the pub and the fact that they were selling several other cask beers. We get talking with a young baker. She's here because of her name, which is the same as one of the beers they brew: Julie Brown. We chat a while about the dreadfulness of American factory bread. She tells me of the revival in bakeries making proper bread. There are many parallels with the beer scene.

After a couple of hours Steve heads home and me and Todd drop by Lucky Pie for dinner. It's a combined pizzeria and beer joint. That sort of odd combination doesn't seem odd anymore in the US. Good beer is popping up all over the place. Like Copenhagen.

My hotel is within walking distance. But frostbite is nibbling at my grillox when I get there. I warm up in the hotel bar which, of course, also has plenty of beer options.

Tomorrow is just a travelling day, with Portland as my destination. Can't wait.

This is the reason I was in the US: to sell my book.

The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer.

Falling Rock Tap House
1919 Blake St,
Denver, CO 80202.
Phone: +1 303-293-8338

Hogshead brewery
4460 W 29th Ave,
Denver, CO 80212.

Lucky Pie Pizza and Taphouse
1610 16th Street Mall,
Denver, CO 80202.
Phone: +1 303-825-10

Friday, 21 November 2014

30% off my Lulu paperbacks, 50% off my hardbacks

The 30% discount on paperbacks has been extended until the end of Monday (24th November) with this code:


But there's an incredible 50% off hardbacks over the same period with this code:


That's an amazing deal. I'd advise not just getting Porter! but the whole Mega Book Series: Mild! plus, Bitter! and Strong!.

Barclay Perkins Bookstore

Some people have mentioned that Lulu wouldn't let them ship to a US address. If you're in the right bit of Lulu it shouldn't be a problem. Just make sure you're in the Lulu US bookstore.

This code may only work in the US Lulu bookstore.

Denver day one

I've tried to make this tour as easy as possible. Which is why my flight is at the very reasonable hour of 11 am. Why make myself get up in the middle of the night if there's no need to?

Though I've already got my boarding card printed, I show up pretty early at the airport. Why? General paranoia - I had a bad experience checking in with United at O'Hare airport in Chicago - and I plan getting breakfast there. There's always somewhere serving breakfast in an airport.

Once past security, I check a map to see what my dining options are. There's something called a grill that looks my best bet. But that's at another set of gates which is a train ride away. I'd rather stay closer to where I'm going to board, so I check out the nearby options. None sound very promising. First one I get to has a sign outside saying "Breakfast being served". A glance at the tables confirms that they have the egg and bacon style stuff I crave.

It's called Africa Lounge. That's why I hadn't been very hopeful of finding a fry-up. The name seems to only refer to the décor, which is kitschily African. I don't give a toss as long as I get my bacon fix. What to drink with it? Coffee, obviously, to wake me up. Orange juice for some vitamins. A double Jack Daniels because, well, I can. And that's what I usually tuck into in US airports. I order a second when I'm half-way through my food.

The plane is packed. I'd already had emails offering me $250 if switch to a later flight. No chance. At the gate they asked again a few times. The flight is uneventful so I liven it up with a couple of whiskies. I realise now how far out of my way Denver is - it's a 3.5 hour flight.

I've been to Denver before, back in 1989 when I was still working in the airline industry. The airport doesn't look familiar. Then again, afer racking my brain for many minutes, all I can remember of the city is a steak house close to my hotel where I ate in a couple of times. It was much like the one where Homer Simpson attempts a steak-eating challenge. A 24 oz steak - did I really eat that? I was a strange person when younger.

As my taxi bumps along the freeway towards town I realise it's a different airport. This one is much further out of town. Not that I expect I would have recognised the old one. I've been through so many recently that they're all blurring into one.

The weather isn't bad. A pleasantly mild 15º C.

I'm stopping at what looks like a pretty nice hotel, the Magnolia. It's right downtown, in a former bank. Sadly, the city centre is as bland and dismal as I remember it.

After opening my room door I pause for a while, jaw scraping the carpet. I've got a suite. It's bigger than most of my friends' Amsterdam flats. The kitchen is double the size of the one I have at home. Unfortunately, I don't have much time to appreciate it. It's already 4 pm and today's event is at 6. I've just time to nip to the 7 Eleven to buy some water and to discover that ordinary shops don't sell beer in Colorado.

Hogshead is already pretty full when my taxi drops me off outside. So full, that there are punters seated on the patio. It's warm enough for that. They've brewed a couple of my recipes: 1865 Lovibond XX, some of it in a wooden firkin, and a cask-conditioned Stout based on Barclay Perkins 1928 OMS.

Jake Gardner and Englishman Steve Kirby greet me when I enter. How did they know it was me? When I see my handsome face smiling out from a poster advertising the event, I understand why.

I'm impressed by the number of handpulls - seven in total. Steve tells me that 60% of their beer is sold in cask form. Or is "proper beer" as he calls it. I'm not going to disagree with him. I love me some cask. So I get stuck into some straight away. Really good stuff - properly conditioned, served through a sparkler and not too cold. I could drink it all night. Sorry, I do drink it all night.

After a while Todd Alström turns up with a pile of BeerAdvocate magazines. It's good to see him again. We always have a good laugh. There's a decent crowd again - must be at least 50.

By the time it's showtime, I've had time for a few pints. I speak better with a properly wetted throat. We attempt to use a PA, but it's picking up a radio signal that annoyingly chatters away behind me, like an unappreciative audience. It's a small, if crowded, room, so I do it the old-fashioned way: shouting.

After my 20-minute spiel (or was it 30? I find it hard to estimate, I get so caught up in the sound of my own voice) about the beers and historic brewing in general, it's time to get down top the serious business of selling books. Pretty quickly they're all gone and my money box is overflowing with dosh.

They've a food truck and I tuck into a barbecue sandwich. Just what I needed. I've had nothing to eat since my whiskey-accompanied breakfast.

A few of us stay behind after closing, shooting the shit and supping the cask. It's all great fun.

Tomorrow I've a free day in Denver. Todd has offered to share a few beers. Can't say no to that

This is where I either beg or order you to buy my book. You can choose which you want to listen to. Please buy my book. Buy my book you tight bastard.

The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer.

Africa Lounge
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport,
17801 International Blvd.,
Seattle, WA 98158.

Magnolia Hotel
818 17th Street,
Denver, CO 80202.

Hogshead brewery
4460 W 29th Ave,
Denver, CO 80212.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Seattle day two

I begin my day with a stroll to a nearby coffee shop for, er, coffee. The crusty-ish vibe of the place reminds me a bit of Amsterdam. Before all the yuppies moved in. Hang on. I'm probably one of those yuppies, aren't I?

I've an 11 am appointment at Pike Brewing. I'm meeting Charles Finkel, founder of said brewery, and Joe Walts of Narrows Brewing in Tacoma. I've an event there later today to which he'll be driving me.

As it's not far from my hotel, I stroll down there, taking in a little more of the city. The streets leading down to the sea are unfeasibly steep, like those in San Francisco. Thankfully it's only the last section of the roads. The rest of the city is reasonably flat. Unless, like me, you're used to dead flat.

Pike Brewing is just past Pike Place Market, a throbbing mass of indoor market halls strung out between 1st Avenue and the waterfront. I'm really tempted to have a quick look around. I love indoor markets. And outdoor ones, for that matter. But I'm running a little late. I don't want to take the piss.

A polite young waitress asks me if I want to eat. "I'm here to meet Charles Finkel" She sits me down and goes off to look for him. I'd heard about the legendary collection breweriana. It doesn't disappoint. Every kind of object you can imagine: trays, poster, postcards, mirrors, glasses, bottles, bottle openers, statues - you name it. There's scarcely and inch of wall space not covered with some beer-related object. Dead cool.

I've plenty of time to investigate as the waitress doesn't immediately reappear. It's taking a while. Eventually she comes back and hands me a telephone. Charles is on the other end. Due to an organisational cockup, he's not on site. We have a brief chat and he seems a really nice bloke.

Joe hasn't arrived and I wait for him at the bar with a glass of Stout. Seems silly to sit beerless in a brewery. Definitely not the sort of thing I'd do. He apologises when he finally arrives. Heavy traffic has made his journey from Tacoma take much longer than anticipated. People coming into town have clogged the motorways.

We get shown around the brewery - the brewhouse shoe-horned into a tight space between the bar and restaurant - by a very enthusiastic and friendly guide. She tells us it's one of only two gravity-fed breweries in the USA. Downstairs where fermentation takes place, there's more room, though it's fairly well filled with all the shiny stuff you'd expect in a modern brewery. And, inevitably, there are oak barrels. Though also piles of golden gate kegs. Which I guess they're using as substitutes for casks.

Once we've given the brewery the once-over, we retire to the museum room to sample a set of samples. I'm amazed that Kilt Lifter, a Scotch Ale, is their biggest seller. I thought it was various shades of Pale Ale that sold best over here.

We would eat here, but it's getting late. The event at Narrows Brewing is scheduled for 3 pm. And we need to drive to Tacoma.

"We can order some food in when we get to the brewery, if you like." Sounds good to me.

We have a great view of Mount Rainier as we speed southwards towards Tacoma. It's a massive snow-clad volcano looming over everything. Tacoma is a fair distance from the centre of Seattle - about 40 km - but fortunately the roads are pretty clear.

Narrows Brewing is in the west of Tacoma on the, er, narrows. It's part of a marina complex that was once a saw mill. When we arrive Joe is relieved to see a barbecue stall outside. No need to order in food. I get a brisket sandwich with a side of cornbread. Really good stuff. The cornbread is incredibly dense, more like cake than bread.

There's time for a quick tour of the brewery before showtime. The equipment is very new and very shiny, but doesn't completely fill the space. There are fewer fermenters than you would expect. Lack of fermentation capacity is why we didn't do a collaborative beer. The explanation is simple: the building is timber framed and can carry a limited amount of weight, which limits the number of fermenters that can be installed. A 30-barrel fermenter filled with 30 barrels of beer is a fair old weight.

On the way into the bar I spot some familiar pictures of a bridge. One collapsing and I suddenly twig where I've heard of Tacoma Narrows before: it's the suspension bridge that twisted and tore itself apart in 1940.


There's a panoramic view of its replacement from the bar. Sadly my photo of it is too crap to use.

Narrows are releasing an Old Ale. It's a blend of Winter Ale which has been aged for a year in wine barrels with a fresh version of the same beer. They also threw in some Brettanomyces claussenii for that authentic aged flavour. I'm giving a short talk on Stock Ale, a topic dear to my heart.

There's a decent crowd of 40 to 50 by the time I stand up to speak. Not sure how long I speak. Once I open my mouth time seems to stand still, at least for me. Doubtless it's stretching to infinity for the poor bastards who have to listen to it. I get a couple of laughs, which is usually a good sign. And no-one throws anything at me, other than questions. I'm becoming surprisingly comfortable with public speaking. Not sure why. By nature I'm the shy, retiring type.

When the last question has been fielded, Joe takes a group of us down into the basement, where he has a few oak barrels full of maturing beer. Judging by how many of these things I've seen of late, the demand for barrels must be shooting up. I wonder if brewing will eventually soak up all the supply of second hand casks?

We share a few beers and a chat then Joe drives me back to my hotel. It's still pretty early. Which means I've time to drop by a Vietnamese restaurant I spotted earlier for a spot of Pho. It really hits the spot. I love me some Pho and I'm not disappointed. They even have some decent beer.

Once again a tot of Laphroaig gently pushes me into sleep's embrace. Goodnight Seattle. Tomorrow it's Denver.

Buy my book. Even if you already own it. You may misplace or have knicked your first copy.

The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer.

The Pike Brewing Company
1415 First Avenue,
Seattle, WA 98101
Telephone: (206) 622-6044
(206) 622-8730

Narrows Brewing Company
9007 S 19th St,
Tacoma, WA 98466.

local pho
2230 3rd Ave
Seattle, WA 98121
Telephone: (206) 441-5995

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Seattle day one

I'm just back from my latest spin around the US. Nine days in the Pacific Northwest and Denver promoting my book. And, of course, meeting people, drinking and generally having the sort of good time only beer can facilitate.

It went pretty well. Like clockwork, really, despite a fairly complicated schedule, including four cities, three internal flights and an international train journey. I may finally be getting the hang of this stuff. I've learned from my previous trips. One thing in particular: don't eat in Golden Corall. Unless you like throwing up all day (I don't).

We'll start at the beginning, with me heading to Schiphol in a taxi.

When you fly to the US, you get a extra security grilling at the gate. I dread it. On my first two trips stateside this year they plucked me out, took me off to a separate room and subjected me to a minute examination of my baggage and a near strip search. They let me keep my trollies on, but that was it. It's a lovely way to start a long journey.

I've had a couple of calming whiskies at the bar, but I'm still apprehensive as I approach the security check. Try not to sweat, I'm telling myself. If only I really had that much control over my body. At the end of the process they attach a little sticker to the back of your passport. The agent looks at my collection and says with a wry smile:

"I see you've been through here a lot this year. And received special attention."

"Yes, I'm getting used to being strip-searched."

He smiles and waves me through. It's a good start.

The flight takes a northerly route over Iceland, Greenland and northern Canada. An icy wasteland of bleached beauty. At times it's hard to tell if the white expanse below is cloud or ice, save when a rocky mountain top pierces the white blanket. For once I wish I'd opted for a window seat. The bloke next to my snaps away for much of the journey. I'd have done exactly the same.

We arrive in Seattle at noon, leaving me three hours before my first appointment. Just about enough time to get a taxi to my hotel, orientate myself and get another taxi to the meeting point, Reuben's Brews in Ballard, a suburb to the north of the city centre. I've arranged to meet a few people there before heading off around other nearby breweries.

Reuben's Brews is tiny by any standards. It resembles a small car repair shop. A rollup garage door emphasises this impression. Despite its tiny size, the brewery also houses a tasting room which spills onto the parking spaces in front of it. I'm barely out of the taxi when I'm greeted by Don, who has soon pushed a pint of Alt into my hand. Ah, the first beer of the trip and my first in the Northwest. It slips down a treat.

The other appointees trickle up and soon we've a small crew assembled, sitting between the fermenters and the mash tun. After a while we stroll down the street to Stoup, another slightly larger brewery only a couple of blocks away. It has a similar look, with a roll up door behind which are a few tables and chairs. It's large enough for you not to be sat amongst the fermenters. A mostly young crowd fills it up pretty well. Like most breweries I've visited recently, a row of oak barrels lie sleepily between all the shiny stainless steel. Does everyone barrel age now?

Our next destination, while still in Ballard, is slightly more distant so we drive there. Well, I don't do any actual driving. I sit in the passenger seat while someone else does all the work. This older brewery is different. For a start Maritime Pacific Brewing has a proper pub at its front, with a full kitchen. Though rather than a brewpub, it's a production brewery with an attached restaurant/bar.

It being Friday evening, it's unsurprisingly busy. Though the owner, George Hancock, takes time to show us around his kit, which is completely separated from the pub. It's a pretty decent size, with fermenters reaching up towards the ceiling. Inevitably, leaning against one wall is a rack of oak barrels.

Back in the pub, I drink a cask Double IPA enthusiastically. Rather too enthusiastically, given its strength. Cask is once again displaying its greatest advantage over keg: drinkability. Weird how many people say American-style IPA doesn't work on cask. I hold the opposite view: it really lifts them.

As I haven't eaten in a while, and despite my body thinking it's the middle of the night, I indulge in deep-fried battered bacon strips. I can feel my arteries clogging with every bite.

Maritime isn't quite the end of the night. Don drives me over to the other side of town where a brewery has just started up in part of the former Rainier complex. Rainier having been the local regional brewery, named after the volcano that looms behind the city.

Machine House, run by two British expats, concentrates on cask. Five handpulls stand to attention on the bar and there are no haunched keg fonts to be seen. My choice is easily made - they've got a Dark Mild. No way I'm going to pass that up.

The industrial origins of the building are plain to see. It's stripped down to the point of being Spartan, but that might just be because it isn't quite finished yet. It hasn't been open long. Rough and ready, I'd call it.

And that's it for the evening. I'm amazed I've managed to stay up until 11 pm. And that my body doesn't think it's time to get up rather than go to bed. A nightcap of duty-free Laphroaig puts me in a sleepytime sort of mood and I glide peacefully into the land of nod.

Here's the book I was tarting. Please buy it.

The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer.

Reuben's Brews
1406 NW 53rd St,
WA 98107.
Phone: +1 206-784-2859

Stoup Brewing
1108 NW 52nd St.
Seattle, WA 98107-5129
Phone: +1 206-457-5524

Maritime Pacific Brewing
1111 NW Ballard Way,
Seattle, WA 98107.
Phone: +1 206-782-6181

Machine House Brewery
5840 Airport Way S #121,
WA 98108.
Phone: +1 206-402-6025