Beer on the Road: Reading & Lancaster

 

Business and personal travels took me to Pennsylvania, specifically Reading and Lancaster. I had been to Lancaster on other adventures but Reading was new. Providence had provided and I would have time to explore some of the local beer. I am glad to say I have some very favorable reports to log.

Beer Reconnoiter

This is the first time I've spent any time in Reading PA, at least enough to explore the local beer scene.  I use an iPhone app called BreweryMap (it also has a web version) to quickly learn the landscape for the local breweries.  I have found this application very useful when visiting a new location. Bring up the app and it will show you all the breweries in the vicinity. Move the search area around, touch the "search this area" tab at the top of the screen and pins will pop up showing you local breweries. Touch the information icon and up pops the list of useful information such as current beers, telephone number, website and even address useful for finding your way to the brewery. I also find the favorite beer-geek-tool — Untappd — very useful for this as well and did use it to find local venues and recent beers being served there. I'm assuming that if you're reading this you already know about Untappd.

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Spirits in Lancaster

This large room serves as tasting rooms for both Thistle Finch Distillery and Wacker Brewery in Lancaster PA

Reading PA

Chatty Monks

 Brian & Matt - ready for some beer at Chatty Monks

Brian & Matt - ready for some beer at Chatty Monks

Good fortune, Chatty Monks popped up at the top of the list, had excellent Beer Advocate ratings and was within an easy drive or healthy walk from my hotel. I engaged a couple colleagues to join me and we were off. While not a big place, the beer — as you would expect by the name — very much had a Belgian-style focus. They had a quite decent menu with a range of styles. Being it was my first time here, I chose a flight of three five-ounce pours — Revelation Dark Ale, Belgian Blonde, and Belgian Dubbel. All were quite good and true to style. So good, I ventured on for a full pint of the Endoplasmic Reticulum IPA at 7% ABV and 77 IBUs — venturing away from their solid Belgian-styles. Again very good with some very interesting hop notes on the finish. 

 Chatty Monk beer menu

Chatty Monk beer menu

Besides the beer, the other qualities that would bring me back to Chatty Monks was their staff. They were very engaging and friendly, quick to offer a sample when questioned about a particular beer. Not always do I go for the background music of a place (see Adroit Theory article), being a product of the Beatles era and nearly set in my ways, but it suited my boomer tastes just fine with eclectic selections ranging from Led Zeppelin to Gary Clark Jr. The food was definitely above average pub food and I would be quick to recommend the tuna tacos.

West Reading Tavern

After a full day of sitting and listening to a variety of presentations, my butt could stand little more. I had a couple of hours before the evening banquet and Untappd told me of two places nearby with excellent beer. I had time for just one and it was right next door to Chatty Monks. A brisk 20-minute walk later I was at West Reading Tavern. Untappd reported that they had Hardywood Gingerbread Stout on draft (94 pts on Beer Advocate). I knew this brewery, having had several of their beer at Savor 2016 and also picked up some bottles in Harrisonburg VA on another trip. The beer I'd once had was the bourbon barrel version and was obviously more complex than the regular edition, but it was a great beer in its own right. It was a nice neighborhood bar with locals bouncing in and out. With a friendly and engaging bar staff. I finished my 10-ounce tulip and I was soon trekking my way back to the hotel for the evening banquet. The other place I'd hoped to get to, but did not, was Mike's Tavern. Untappd informed me that they had Rodenback Alexander (98 pts on Beer Advocate), a Flanders red ale that has been on my wish list. A bar too far and one I will have to leave till my next time in Reading.

Lancaster

Lancaster Brewing

 Lancaster Brewing been menu

Lancaster Brewing been menu

I had visited the Lancaster Brewing brewery and restaurant a couple of years ago. At the time, their flagship beer was their milk stout — big, creamy and a touch sweet. This is fitting being that they are in the heart of Amish country. The brewery facility and the restaurant are located in the historic Edward McGovern Tobacco Warehouse, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, in Lancaster, PA. A great place for a 21-century brewery.

This trip we had lunch and a beer at their tap room. Their beer selections seem to have grown and become more complex since I visited last. My tastes have become more complex since then as well, instead of having their signature milk stout I opted for their Imperial Jo Milk Stout, (I'd been in that mood lately) logging in at 8% ABV. It was a good beer, I enjoyed it, but unfortunately I only had time for one.

The room was bright and clean as were the faces that served us. If in Lancaster, this deserves a stop and a beer.

Wacker Brewing & Thistle Finch Distillery

 A Wacker Brewing flight

A Wacker Brewing flight

Again, going to the trusty BreweryMap app, I discovered that Wacker Brewing was within easy walking distance from our venue. We had some time and the desire to explore the town, so off we were toward Wacker. An interesting note, for me anyway, is that my paternal grandfather's nickname was Wacker. I don't any more than that, it just was. I didn't know it until we later did a tour of the building, but this was once a tobacco warehouse, too — like the Lancaster Brewing building. Sturdy of build and character. As usual, I did the flight which was comprised of all six of their offerings (see beer menu pic below).

In the same building as Wacker Brewing was Thistle Finch Distillery.  A somewhat symbiotic relationship of mutual benefit, they even shared the tasting room with separate bars across from each other. We were about to leave when we noticed the distillery tour about to start. We walked all of twenty feet and joined the tour. It was during the tour we learned that Lancaster at one time had a bustling tobacco industry. As smoking preferences shifted from cigars to cigarettes, the Lancaster tobacco business fell out of favor, too. Now, many of the those fine warehouses have been converted to other uses, such as breweries. They offer a variety of rye whiskies, a gin and vodka. Well, we didn't pick up any other fine spirits, I did grab a couple of the Bittermilk Bitters that were offered for sale there. I'm experimenting with the addition of bitters to certain beers and found these had some interesting ingredients such wormwood and being aged in bourbon barrels. I knew these were unique to the area so I didn't want to pass up the opportunity.

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Wacker Brewing

The beer tasting flight is composed of all six of these beers on tap

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Thistle Finch

Rye whiskey is their signature spirit but they also produce gin and vodka

Checkers Bistro

 Checkers Bistro and Avery Vanilla Bean Bourbon Barrel Stout

Checkers Bistro and Avery Vanilla Bean Bourbon Barrel Stout

While walking around Lancaster, enjoying the beautiful day and town, it came time to think about lunch. We passed by Checkers Bistro, walked in to check the menu and atmosphere. We were impressed. The menu was upscale, both food and drink. We opted for the Checkers Apple Salad, which must be one of their signature menu items, and I had the Peking Duck Tacos with Chinese Barbecue Duck, Wonton Taco, Guacamole. I mention this because the food was excellent.

The beer menu was not extensive, but balanced in styles, chosen to pair with their foods, and offered choices from local breweries and across the country. Being attracted to big beers, I asked for the Bourbon Barrel-aged Vanilla Bean Stout by Avery Brewing Co. Bottom line, excellent food, beer, staff and decor.

Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant

 Iron Hill Brewing

Iron Hill Brewing

Next was lunch at Iron Hill Brewery in Lancaster. My first visit to an Iron Hill Brewery was in 2014. Little did I realize at the time, but there are a series of these scattered across Pennsylvania, New Jersey and one in Delaware. I counted 12. There were several sporting events taking place in Lancaster during our stay and when we were looking for lunch, so were they all. The place was packed, but amazingly it didn't take long to be served. 

Still on a stout rampage, I asked for the Iron Hill Brewing Russian Imperial Stout. Really exceptional. According to their poster near the entrance, this is their most awarded beer. The food was very good, all around. As I'd mentioned, we had visited another Iron Hill venue three years ago and I don't remember being as impressed by their beer then. I was this time.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, I had an wonderful beer and spirit laden adventure in a couple of beautiful Pennsylvania towns. Beer has come a long way, with craft breweries and artisanal distilleries popping up in many towns across the country. And the liquids are good and getting better as these shops mature and get better at their craft. Hand crafted beer, spirits, even bitters — life is good.

Roadtrip: Millstone Cellars

 

Nested in the rolling hills of northern Baltimore County Maryland, Millstone Cellars makes for an excellent day trip and musing while enjoying well crafted ciders, meads and cysers.

In October 2016, my family and I visited Millstone Cellars in Monkton, MD, north of Baltimore. With the beautiful fall weather beaconing we needed a road trip and Millstone had been on my mind for some months. I had heard their story at least a couple of times from various beer podcasts I listen to regularly. I later asked them about some of these interviews and here are two: Beer Sessions Radio (08.23.16) and Cider Chat 

Millstone Background

MillStone is about discovery and re-creating. It began in 2003 when Curt Sherrer acquired an old grist mill. In 2011, after careful restoration, the mill was brought back to life to function as a classroom for rediscovering traditional, rustic ciders and sharing that knowledge with the curious at heart.
— Millstone Cellars - History

It was A Beautiful Day

It was a beautiful day with perfect weather for a ride in the country. My son and his wife were seeking a road trip and I'd mentioned my desire to get to Millstone at some point. It was decided, and we were off for a ride in the country. Monkton is just north of Baltimore MD with roaming fields and forests, horse farms and new and old towns and buildings. The Millstone building is an old mill, as you would expect, that had been purchased by the family some years ago. Wondering what to do with this grant old stone mill, someone decided to make ciders would be a good idea.

While the mill has been renovated, it still needs some work but that even added to the ambiance. Still, it is grand building and has its own story to tell. Their website offers a study on The Water Mills in Monkton if you are interested in the history of the mill.

We decided to take in the guided tour of the mill and a tasting their ciders. I don't know much about the creation of ciders but do love the way wood works it's way into barrel-aged beers. Barrels were everywhere — in just about every available spot — and for good reason, all of Millstones products are barrel-aged using barrels from a variety of previous lives — bourbon, rum and other spirits.

My interest was peaked when I discovered some of the ingredients they use as curious flavor enhancers, a few of which I learned to identify in dendrology class back in forestry school. Spruce, spicebush berries along with more common grocery store supplies like ginger, rhubarb, raspberries and some familiar beer staples — hops. 

As you walk through the mill, you notice the barrels were marked with chalk-inscribed notes of its contents and all-important dates. The sunlight played across the floor and walls of stone, wood and plaster. Various works from local artists were displayed throughout added to the playful nature of the old mill. At the end of our tour we were invited to their tasting table. Some of their ciders and meads were available for testing — some not, adding to our curiosity. I have tasted spruce tip beers before and enjoyed some, particularly the Dogfish Head Pennsylvania Tuxedo. We didn't get to taste their spruce infused mead so as a birthday gift we purchased a bottle and walked off to their back room to further enjoy our bottle, the views, warming sun and great company. Off to the side of the main mill structure, they have added portions of another rustic building, with open sides for taking in the landscape. A few couples were enjoying the tasting room, making me think this was a regular resbit for local fans. As a beer aficionado, I had to grab the hop infused cider to take home for future exploration — merely research mind you. All of their bottles come in clear 750 ml glass with a wax sealed swing top. A classy touch for these well crafted concoctions. 

Millstone Cellars is a farmhouse cidery that crafts all oak barrel aged dry ciders. We focus solely on the production of rustic style ciders, cysers and meads, heavily influenced by the native yeast, microbes and local growing conditions. We source all of our ingredients within 150 miles of our cidery as well as growing and foraging our own. We strive to distill and preserve all things that make our region and climate unique, then present it to you in a bottle of cider.
— Millstone Cellars

Conclusion

The day waned and our hunger grew. Asking about local dinner options, our tour guide recommended The Manor Tavern. If you do get to Millstone Cellars and are looking for a fine meal afterwards, it is highly recommended. A road trip to Millstone Cellars is a great way to spend an afternoon. The road getting there is half the fun. The ciders and meads, the old mill all work together in crafting a synergistic experience.

 

Beer on the Road: Adroit Theory

 

Holiday Get-Away

During the Christmas holiday, my wife and I took a couple of hikes near Harpers Ferry WV. We usually like to plan a First-Day Hike on New Years Day and have been doing this for the past three years. After the Holiday bustle and too many cookies, we need to get out for some intentional moving. Taking-in nature and working our legs is always good therapy. As usual, it often includes a good meal and a beer or two.

Savor 2016

Adroit Theory Brewing has been on my beer-travels list for a few months after experiencing some of their beer at Savor 2016, in Washington DC. I later listened to Mark Osborne (owner) and Greg Skotzko's SAVOR 2016 Seminars talk on Advanced Beer and Cheese Pairings. SAVOR is an excellent evening of tasting beer from around the country but nearly as valuable are the salons where experts talk and even demonstrate (see Cooper's Dance: Wood and Beer) topics on beer. If you've missed the event, you can go to the SAVOR website and listen to any of these salon presentations.

Adroit Theory is tucked away in a small northern Virginia town of Purcellville VA. The ride from Harpers Ferry WV to Purcellville is a beautiful experience. Two lane country roads, large spreading wineries — one after another — small towns and incredible views.

After becoming initially aware of them at SAVOR, they had my attention. I later discovered some of their beer at the Midtowne bottle shop in Harrisonburg VA.

Time at the Taproom

After listening to their seminar and seeing the art work on the bottle labeling, a couple of things become clear — these guys come from the dark side. Their entire brand has an intentional occult flare. To be honest, that bothers me a bit. Beer names include: Black Celebration, Black As Your Soul and Love of the Damned. So, I had to get past the branding to enjoy their incredible beers. I've talked with some beer-geek friends who can't get past the gargoyles on Stone Brewing packaging to try their beer. He will have a real difficult time with Adroit Theory. And the beer is the second point. They really take their beer seriously. All of them are just a bit different. As they say out loud, "We make esoteric beers with an emphasis on barrel aging."

They offer 3 ounce tasters and 10 ounce tulips of all their beers on tap, plus they can fill growlers (yours or theirs — nice touch). While there, I had a taster of Love of the Damned, an old ale brewed with port must and Lux Bourbon, a wheat wine aged in bourbon barrels (I still had a two-hour drive home), plus I purchased a couple 750 ml bottles to take home. Any of their beers I've tasted have been exceptional.

Closing

 If Dogfish Head is off-centered, I'm not sure how you would describe Adroit Theory. They are a small brewery, doing big beers with a unique touch. They are a bit out-of-the-way but worth the detour (or intentional journey) if you're in the area. I will be on the look out for their beer when I get back to Harrisburg or near Purcellville. 

Adroit Theory Brewing Company is a new nano brewery specializing in esoteric brews with an emphasis on Barrel Aging. Located in Purcellville Virginia in Loudoun County. Industrial-chic taproom (open Thursday-Sunday) with craft beers at the bar & growlers for takeout.

Beer on the Road: Harrisonburg VA

 

Harrisonburg VA is in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley. It is a beautiful community that I have come to enjoy and visit over the last few decades. During that time the beer scene has grown there as it has just about everywhere. Harrisonburg now has three breweries or at least an outpost — Pale Fire Brewing, Three Notch'd Brewing and Brothers Brewing. Three Notch'd has a taproom in Harrisonburg VA with the brewery in Charlottesville VA. As I travel there, I'm able to take in a bit more each time. Last year I wondered over the the Brothers Brewing taproom and sampled some of their offerings. This year, while I didn't have time to visit another of the breweries, I did have time to stop by the Midtowne Bottle Shop.

I like a place that recognizes itself as a bottle shop. It is concise, simple and you have a good idea what you're getting.

THE TAKE-AWAY ON MIDTOWNE

If you are a local or James Madison University student (of age) this is probably the place you will want to go to pick up beer. That is, of course, unless you go directly to one of the three breweries already mentions. If you are a visitor to the area and looking for some good local beers, this is a one-stop-shop to get some of the Harrisonburg beer but also some of the other regional beer that doesn't have a supply chain that reaches to your neck of the woods. Some that I brought home were from Hardywood Brewing (Richmond VA), Adroit Theory (Purcellville VA) and Champion Brewing (Charlottesville VA).

 

 Midtowne Bottle Shop, Harrisonburg VA

Midtowne Bottle Shop, Harrisonburg VA

THE DEPOT

 The Depot Beer Menu

The Depot Beer Menu

That evening we had a great dinner in Staunton VA at The Depot. The food was great and the beer selection was good with a healthy mix of local, regional and nationally distributed craft beers. I tried the Goodwood Brewing Bourbon Barrel Stout. The menu was one that required reading a few times to decide what you were going to have. One of the specials that caught my eye was the Polyface Farm burger. I'm not one to usually order a burger, more like seafood or something chicken. I'd read Michael Pollen's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals a few years ago and the Polyface Farm was highlighted. It was delicious and I had accomplished my burger goal for the year.

Set amidst the stunning Shenandoah Valley in northern Virginia, ‘Polyface Farm’ is led by the “the world’s most innovative farmer” (TIME) and uses no chemicals and feeds over 6,000 families and many restaurants and food outlets within a 3 hour ‘foodshed’ of their farm.
— Polyface Farm

 

 

Beer on the Road: St Louis to Rolla

I have the pleasure of traveling to various cities around the country a few times a year. And as a dedicated beer geek, I take the opportunity to research, explore and experience the local beer scene as much as my discretionary time will allow. As a result of some of these adventures, I document these trips in a series I call Beer on the Road.

Savor 2016: A Premier Event

Just before my June 2016 trip to Missouri I had attended Savor 2016 in Washington DC. For those that may not know, this is a major beer and food event hosted by the Brewers Association. I attended Savor 2015 and was able to seek out breweries in regions I would be traveling to later in the year. Last year those designations included Seattle and New Orleans. At Savor I was sure to taste and talk to the guys at the breweries from those towns — those included the NOLA Brewing. While in NO I was able to take an Uber to the NOLA Brewing Co taproom to expand my tasting experience first hand.

Note: An excellent way to learn more about all things craft beer is to attend one of the Savor salons. Since you can't attend all of them, the Brewer’s Association makes it easy for us by recording and making them available for downloading and leisurely listening. 

 Urban Chestnut, Savor 2016

Urban Chestnut, Savor 2016

This year at Savor I stopped by the Urban Chestnut Brewing (among many others) table knowing that in a few days I would be in their town of St Louis. I certainly was impressed with their beer. I didn't know anything about their beer or operations as they don't ship to Maryland. I'd mentioned to the fellow pouring that I would be traveling to his fine city in just three days. He informed me that they have two breweries not far from the St Louis airport and have restaurants at each. I knew where I'd be having lunch soon after my arrival

Urban Chestnut Brewing - The Grove

I had an unusual occurrence during a recent trip to Missouri, besides the flight into St Louis, I had a free day to explore. 

After gathering my bags and rental car, poking the Urban Chestnut info into my navigation app. I wasn't sure which of the two Urban Chestnut locations I should visit, knowing I only had time for one. The Midtown location was their original and according to their website, has only a limited food menu. The Grove location is a former paper company built in the 1920s, with more food options. I choose The Grove.

 Urban Chestnut The Grove, St Louis MO

Urban Chestnut The Grove, St Louis MO

Upon arrival to The Grove neighborhood of St Louis I soon became aware that I would be opening the place having arrived just before 11am — but noon according to my body. I was their first customer of the day. Walking up the stairs I was faced with a huge, bright and empty bierhall (beer hall). It was filled with brewery banners and large wooden benches for patrons to enjoy their food, beer and good company. Even at first glance, I liked this place.

 Urban Chestnut, The Grove, St Louis MO

Urban Chestnut, The Grove, St Louis MO

I noticed the kitchen opening in the corner and asked the gentleman how their setup worked — really, it wasn't obvious. He informed me to start a tab at the bar and then come back to order my food. Done! Being that it was early and I had a some stops to make before continuing on my travels, while the heavy German beer styles certainly looked appealing, I decided some of the lighter beers may be more appropriate and choose the witbier that was recommended by the barkeep.

Now back to the food. The menu was simple and to the point, mostly German meals (e.g. German port sandwich or Schnitzel) to accompany the beer styles. I have to say I'm a sucker for anything with a fried egg laid on top of it and opted for the Strammer Max — Smoking Goose City Ham, Gruyère de Comté (unpasteurized cow cheese) & farm egg with onion jam on rye toast. And it was delicious! And with the witbier, it was awesome.

 Strammer Max at The Urban Chestnut

Strammer Max at The Urban Chestnut

Unfortunately, my stay here had to be short. This is a place that if I ever find my way back to St Louis I will drink in as much as I can — literally. One more thing, where can I find an excellent bottle shop to find good local beers to share with my colleagues later in the week, but also to take back home to explore in more leisurely settings. I'd discovered two shops highly recommended on the Beer Advocate website for St Louis. The bartender recommended one of these and that it was a short drive away. He also was quick the recommend some excellent local breweries. Off to the Craft Beer Cellar in the Clayton part of town.

Craft Beer Cellar

The Craft Beer Cellar is in Clayton, a posh section of town. CBC was full of local beers and others that don't ship my way. I picked up three bombers (Katy an American brett saison, Cat Spit Stout, Brew Cocky double IPA) from 2nd Shift Brewing (a STL micro brewery) and Two Frenchmen, a Biere De Garde (a beer style I've learned to love) from Heavy Riff Brewing. I always travel with six padded and sealed wine bottle bags for just such occasions. You’ll have to check in to my Untappd account to learn the results.

Schafly Bottleworks

 Schlafly Bottleworks, St Louis MO

Schlafly Bottleworks, St Louis MO

Schafly is a brewing company that ships back east and I've come to enjoy a variety of their beers. The Schafly Bottleworks was a few minutes drive and I had some time before getting on the road to Rolla.

 Schlafly Bottleworks, St Louis MO

Schlafly Bottleworks, St Louis MO

This was a production brewery, with all the stainless steel and t-shirts to prove it. They offered a compelling 5 x 5 flight (5, 5oz beer samples). So I lingered for a few moments more. They do serve food there and have a beer garden just outside the facility. There was some bustle but I had plenty of room to spread out. The beers were good and I tested some that I hadn’t had before or simply caught my attention, like an IPA with an experimental hop variety. 

Time to hit the road to Rolla.

The Road to Rolla

Rolla is about a two-hour drive to the Southwest from St Louis. Green, leisurely and mostly straight. Upon arrival, our local host had already prepared the hospitality suite with a couple coolers of excellent local beer — one was dedicated to only IPAs. I knew I'd never be able to sample all of what was available, but I was going to enjoy the task of learning some new breweries and some local offers of some familiar ones. Boulevard, Schafly, Urban Chestnut, Perennial Artisan Ales, 4 Hands, Piney River, 2nd Shift  — St Louis brews some awesome beer. And I has a chance to try a bunch over the week.

 The Public House Brewing, Rolla MO

The Public House Brewing, Rolla MO

Public House Brewing Company was the site for one of our dinners that week. I have to admit, I ate at a Buffalo Wild Wings. When in Rolla MO after 9pm you don't have many choices. I learned something that evening. While you may think of this restaurant chain with multiple options for standard light American lager, they also like to bring attention to some good local beers. Knowing I would be going to Public House in a couple of days, I decided to do some early recon work. The Revelation Stout was very good.

 A friendly greeting - The Public House Brewing, Rolla MO

A friendly greeting - The Public House Brewing, Rolla MO

The Public House Brewing is a great stop if you're in the area and need some relaxation, good food and beer. We had a buffet setup for us so I can't attest to the rest of the menu but what I had was good eating. The brewery is also associated with the St James Winery which sits just next door. You can sit in The Garden and enjoy beer, wine or any cocktail of choice while playing bocce. The atmosphere that evening was beautiful and the beer matched the mood.

 Bar decor - The Public House Brewing, Rolla MO

Bar decor - The Public House Brewing, Rolla MO

I had already had their stout so wanted to very the range by having a Rod's Cream Ale and the Elusive IPA. Their other choice was the Hide and Seek Hefeweizen. I love a good hefeweizen but typically find the American versions short of their German cousins. Just my opinion.

The Beer Geek Suitcase

I travel to other states on average ten times a year. This includes personal trips to neighboring states and regional business trips. As a self-proclaimed beer geek, I make it a habit to seek out places to eat that have good beer selections (local selections are preferred), brewpubs, and premier bottle shops. So I usually do my homework with the help of BeerAdvocate, RateBeer, BreweryMap and Untappd.

The other thing I've learned, and it seems obvious to me but from conversations I gather not so much, is to carry the proper tools of a semi-pro beer geek. That would include a bottle opener, which is really a small item to include in your toiletry bag or hang from your backpack. This has come in handy on more than one occasion.

The other item I keep in my suitcase are wine bottle protectors. These form fitting bags are shaped to hold wine bottles (or 22 oz bombers) with bubble padding and a ziplock seal at the opening. They are available on Amazon for about $16.50 for a two-pack. I carry six. 

I have brought back as many as ten bottles in my suitcase, some in these bags and some wrapped in dirty jeans. I have never had a bottle break or leak either way, but I definitely feel better knowing that bottles in one of these bags have a better chance of protecting my clothes from spilled liquid and the embarrassment of pulling a suitcase from the airport luggage carousel reeking of beer.

One other note, I normally only travel with bottles because cans seem less secure to me. However, during this trip I orchestrated a bottle swap with a colleague and he brought cans. I did secure the cans in the wine bags and had no problem at all.

Bottle Swap

As I have written about before, beer geeks have a way of finding each other out. Inevitability, any conversation will eventually circle around to beer and usually stay there for some time. Some people will connect, some will not. Those that do, you will know, share the beery passion with you.

As mentioned, I am able to travel the country to participate in several regional committees each year. Beer geeks doing what they do, are always looking from elusive beer that doesn't ship to our local.  My colleague from New Hampshire was more than willing to bring some fine beers from New Hampshire and Vermont. In return, I carried the Hoplar Imperial IPA bomber (90 pt BA) from Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Richmond VA and a Chardonnay Barrel Belgian Ale Fall Migration (89 pts BA) from Evolution Craft Brewing in Salisbury MD. I discovered Hardywood while having lunch in Washington DC not long ago. And since they do not ship to Maryland, I went looking for the closest outlet and found a shop in DC that did carry them while on my way to the Savor event. Okay, I got two, one for the swap and one for myself. Hey, a beer geek, remember!

Beer on the Road: Albany

Beer Reconnoitering

When I travel to a new town I try to do some research ahead so I have at least a few places I want to visit. One of the best sources is BeerAdvocate website, searching "Places" by city. I typically have a few goals, one is to bring back some bottles of beers that don't ship to my area. BA says that the best places in Albany to solve this issue was Oliver's Beverage Center.

Oliver's Beverage Center

By the time I arrived at Oliver's I had only 15 minutes before closing, so I needed to be efficient. I was not disappointed, they had all the good stuff on display as I walked in, but I was looking deeper. Having been reading about aging beers I focused on some barleywines and imperial stouts by recognized great breweries such as Sierra Nevada. I also was able to pick up a few from local breweries I didn't know but styles I've enjoyed. Plus, the bottles just looked good with the cork-and-cage. Stay tuned for a future writing on the success of my choices.

The Merry Monk

 The Merry Monk, Albany NY

The Merry Monk, Albany NY

An establishment with the name of all-things-Belgian-beer it has to be good. Plus, the BA for The Merry Monk told me it was a place to have my first meal and beer. The pub food was beyond the classic choices. I ordered the hand-made salmon burger with roasted brussels sprouts and was not disappointed. 

The beer was excellent, many local belgian-styles like Ommegang. Oh I'll have a Ghent Bhent from Chatham Brewing from Chatham NY. A flight is always a favorite method to maximize tasting opportunities. Ommegang Rare Vos and Abbey Ale, Burly Monk by another local Common Roots Brewing in Glenn Falls NY and finally the night cap was a Vicaris Winter Ale by Brouwerji Dielewyns in Belgium. Simply beautiful. And to boot, my hotel was within a fine-minute walk.

Olde English Pub

 Olde English Pub, Albany NY

Olde English Pub, Albany NY

Of course the best way to find great beer in an unfamiliar town is from a trusted fellow beer geek living in the area. 

So at our hosts recommendation we went to the Olde English pub, which is nicely tucked away into an old house that's been converted to an English style pub. Dark and warm, a friendly old pub with a painting of Churchill over the mantle watching your every move kind of charming. They had wonderful array of English beers, many that I've not had before, and some old favorites such as the Samuel Smith collection. I had a new beer that I knew of but not tried, Morland's Old Speckled Hen. The beer of the evening was Fuller's London Porter. Deep, roasty, full of malt-forward flavors. I'm too use to the American hoppy versions of the style, but the English varieties are a welcome diversion that I want to try more of.

The Albany Pump Station & Evans Brewing

 Albany Pump Station & Evans Brewing Co, Albany NY

Albany Pump Station & Evans Brewing Co, Albany NY

Then we walker around the corner to Evans Brewing and Albany Pumping Station. This was a huge old warehouse brick building that was once the old pump house that would pump water from the Hudson River to the top of the hill where it could be distributed for use in the city of Albany. It now serves as the location for Evans Brewing and have done an incredible job turning into a beautiful eatery and brewpub. The group settled on the Kick-ass Brown which according to the banners draped on the walls had won a Gold metal at the Great American Beer Festival.

The Ruck in Troy

 The Ruck, Troy NY

The Ruck, Troy NY

The thing about being a beer geek is that we have a way of finding each other. It's perhaps a bird-of-a-feather kinda thing. But its a beautiful thing with much merit. Life lesson: if you have not declared your beer geek status, go now, shout it out loud where ever you are. So I'd mentioned to a colleague with family in Vermont that I was hoping to find some Hill Farmstead beer, but understand that they don't leave the state. The night before he had dinner with his sister living in Albany and she knew of this place — well you can guess the rest. The Ruck in Troy NY, was just ten minutes up the road was serving Hill's plus they had vertical tastings of both 2013 and 2015 Goose Island Bourbon County Stout and Sierra Nevada Bigfoot barleywine 2014 and 2015. Yes!

It was all I'd hoped for. If I lived in Troy we would be best friends. They were pouring the Hill's Double Galaxy DIPA plus the Conduct of Life pale ale. I had to experience both Hill's and the BCS vertical, but the Bigfoot samples were a bridge too far. Hey, I have a liver to think about. I wish I had more time to spend here and take in more of their incredible beer selections. It was obvious they take beer seriously. But alas, I had to meet friends for dinner and I was already late. If I'm ever back in their neighborhood, I will be sure that there is more time for The Ruck.

The Pearl St Pub

 Pearl St Pub, Albany NY

Pearl St Pub, Albany NY

Dinner was a capricious decision and as we walked down Pearl St the Pearl St Pub caught our fancy. Well the salmon BLT was thick but the beer choices was thin. The Davidson Brothers brown ale was a good beer, but to be fair, it didn't have a chance just having the Bourbon County Stouts. 

So I left Albany with many great beer memories but still so many beery places that must be left until next time.