Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A trip to Denver & Fort Collins, CO

For the last 6 years or so, my Father, brother and I have not lived in the same state. They reside in Minnesota while I am in Illinois. As a result, we do not get a chance to see each other outside of the Xmas holiday and the rare trip to Minnesota or Illinois (often occurring once a year at most). When these trips happen, they often include our better halves.

While we do love our better halves, we all agree that time apart from them is a good thing (time apart 'makes the heart grow fonder' blah blah blah). With that thought in mind, we opted to plan a guys only trip to hang out, catch up, and enoy some good beer.

Guys trip destination #1 - Denver.

Being a family of beer fans we know that Denver, and neighboring cities, have a high concentration of good breweries. We also knew that we would not be able to visit all of them during the four days we'd be in Colorado. We opted to canvass Denver and Fort Follins. We had also considered Boulder, but everything I read led me to believe they were still recovering from flood causing rain that hit Boulder the week prior to our visit.

In all, we visited the following breweries during our stay in Colorado:

Instead of going on about each of the breweries, allow me to share some of my favorite photos taken at each of them.

Great Divide Brewing Co.

Wynkoop Brewing Co.

Denver Brewing Co.

Epic Brewing Co.

New Belgium Brewing Co.

Odell Brewing Co.

Funkwerks Brewing Co.

Oskar Blues Brewing Company

  • Favorite tour: Without a doubt New Belgium offered the best tour. The amount of love that their employees have for where they work is palpable. In addition, their brew houses, 'church of fermentation, and their packaging building are all incredibly impressive. Personally, I have never seen a brewery as large of theirs before. Our visit to New Belgium was truly eye opening.
  • Favorite beer: a tie between sour cherry Old Chub (Oskar Blues), Woodcut # 7 (Odell), & habanero Ten Fidy (Oskar Blues)
  • Greatest surprise: How much I enjoyed the Wynkoop's Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout. 
  • Favorite brewery: Odell Brewing Company. Their beer garden/patio is quite spacious, their beer is fantastic, and their brewery is beautiful. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Bloomington, Indiana - one great beer town

Bloomington, Indiana is a town that most people may not associate with beer. With Munster (3 Floyds) and Indianapolis (Indy breweries listed here) leading the way for beer in Indiana, it is easy to ignore the contributions that Bloomington continues to make to Indiana's beer industry. Luckily, early last month I was able to visit Bloomington to visit family and pay a few of Bloomington's breweries/beer outlets a visit.

My Bloomington visit started with Indiana's second largest brewery, the Upland Brewing Company, which calls Bloomington home. (1)

Besides the 20+ beers they release throughout the year,  Upland has become known for their sours. Their sour lineup runs the gamut from lambics, a barrel aged flanders red (aka Malefactor), a gueuze, and a wild dark ale (aka Dantalion).

Upland's brewpub
My visit to Upland was quite enjoyable. It began with the acquisition of a few bottles of Sour Reserve and a bottle of Malefactor. This was followed by a chance meeting with and gifting of beer from the brewery I work at to Caleb Staton (Upland's head brewer). This was followed by a Caleb led tour of the Upland brewpub for my wife, sister in-law, and I. After the tour ended, we enjoyed an Upland beer sampler (that my wife ordered before tour) and samples of this year's cherry lambic. All were quite enjoyable. 

Upland's barrel room
Upland's sampler
Later that same day, my family and I visited a new brewery called Salt Creek Brewery. Salt Creek Brewery exists in a repurposed auto mechanic garage with bits of cars, license plates, etc all over the inside and outside of the brewery. 

As for the beer, there were twelve different beers on tap at the time of our visit. They ranged from a schwarz beer, a pale ale, to a pumpkin ale. I enjoyed them all but I think they are still trying to get their feet under them.

Salt Creek sampler

A few days later, my wife took my on a tour around Bloomington (it's where she went to college). During our walk we came upon a brewery in the making called Function Brewing. We also came upon a bar called The Tap.

At the time of our visit, the folks at Function Brewing were doing some in-house construction work on their floors and walls of their space. I spoke with one of their team members about their plans, and I was informed that they are going to be a brewpub and they hope to open before the end of the year. I am looking forward to hearing more about them as they get closer to opening.

The Tap was a lovely bar that just opened late last year and already appears to have quite a following. Granted, my wife and I stopped in during the early afternoon (i.e. there were not many people at the Tap during our visit), but our bartender expressed a great deal of beer knowledge, appreciation, and the belief that Bloomington is a town that really appreciates craft beer.

Tap list at The Tap the day of our visit

Beerwise, Bloomington is definitely a beer town on the rise. It has a lot of up-and-coming breweries that are making great beer, and a populace that is embracing local craft beer. Should you ever be in the area, consider spending some time in Bloomington enjoying the breweries mentioned above as well as the Bloomington Brewing Company.

Fun facts from my Bloomington, IN trip:
  • During the tour we learned that Upland's sours are brewed at the brewpub
  • Our favorite beers from the Upland sampler were the porter and the pale ale. 
  • Caleb, Upland's head brewer, spends most of his time brewing at the brewpub
  • Caleb felt the cherry lambic was too sweet
    • I thought it tasted great but I am no lambic expert
  • The wine barrels used by Upland are from an Indiana winery (Oliver Winery I think)
  • Upland is considering coming to Chicago


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Day trip to Western Michigan

Michigan is known for many things – cars, it’s sports teams, the UP, and (in the last few years) it’s brewers have begun to make Michigan a beer destination. Late last month, a few chums (Eric, Justin, Nick) of mine and I opted to make a day trip to Western Michigan to visit a few breweries. We had been planning this trip for a few weeks. Specifically, the planning began soon after two of us were lucky enough to be able to procure a ticket for Founders’ KBS release.

Besides Founders, we also wanted to stop by the Livery and Greenbush.  Both the Livery and Greenbush have been on my ‘to-visit’ list for some time. I was really looking forward to having the opportunity to visit both.

Out of our group of four, I was the lone person that had been to Founders before and I was looking forward to this Founders visit more than the previous ones. The reason for this was a networking contact that Eric had gotten in touch with at Founders (we’ll refer to him as J). The two of them (Eric and J) had arranged a collection of activities for our visit. Eric did not share any of the plans beyond a tour of Founders and a cookout at J’s house so the rest of us had good reason to be excited about the trip.

We arrived at Founders at around 11a local time. After parking our car, we rendezvoused with J at a Founders bay door. J let us in and led us to the taproom (which was not yet open). Once inside, J had us all get wristbands and then he told us to order a beer and have it put it on his tab. It was the first in many instances of great hospitality by our host.

After acquiring a beer, all of us went out to the Founders taproom patio and took a seat at a table near the entrance to the taproom.  We then spent a half hour or so talking about baseball, J’s time with Founders, and how J found his way to Grand Rapids. After acquiring a second beer, Eric and I opted to exchange our KBS tickets for KBS before we began a tour of Founders brewing facility.

Now, in all of my previous visits to Founders I could only look through Founders’ windows and gaze at the shiny steel and space from outside. Even then, Founders’ space and equipment looked large. I can tell you that the view from inside of Founders looks much, much bigger. Case-and-point, the photo below. Said photo shows me standing next to a 550 bbl fermenter (note – 1 barrel is approximately 31 gallons). Founders is planning on filling a nice chunk of their north cellar with more of these gigantic fermenters. NOTE - a time lapse video of Founders' north cellar construction can be found here.

Super small me next to a 550 bbl fermenter

After the above picture was taken we made our way to the packaging hall, but not before we passed by fermenters that contained 2014 KBS. I think it was the first time I had ever held the bottled version of a beer while walking past the fermenting version of the same beer. It was an odd, but great feeling.

In Founders’ packaging hall we saw their bottle fillers (both the 12 oz and 22 oz), the machine that makes their boxes (fun fact – it’s a prototype that was never put into production), and where their canning line will go. Perhaps this is my mechanical engineering mind speaking but I thought it was all beautiful stuff (especially the Krones machines). The bottling machines were shiny, large, complex, and it all contributed to the act of putting beer into vessels.  I may have shed a tear in the pack hall.

Founders' bottling line

Founders' box constructor

From the packaging hall we walked into a neighboring room where their keg machine is.  Fun fact – Founders fills half barrels and quarter barrels. 

From the kegging area, we walked to their brewhouse and learned that they are adding onto it (more info on Founders expansion can be found here).

Founders' brewhouse

The brewhouse visit concluded our tour, and so we decided to go to J’s house and return to the taproom afterwards (at which time we hoped the crowds would have reduced in size).

At J’s house we enjoyed some homemade brats and cookies. We also were introduced to this lovely wife and got to see a part of his recently purchased house. We also gifted J w/ some beer from our brewery, including a keg of a recently packaged beer of ours. We would have put said keg on immediately, but fresh All Day IPA was on and that is not something that we could say no to.

J had invited some of his fellow co-workers from the packaging department to the cookout so that we could have a chance to meet each.  I was happy to learn that they are as relaxed as the packaging people where I work, and they were all funny and easy to talk with.

After the cookout we returned to Founders where we had a bit more KBS, I had my photo taken with Jeremy Kosmicki , and we bid J adieu before we departed Founders for Benton Harbor and the Livery. It was tough ‘closing’ the Founders portion of our trip, but I am really confident that we/I will be back again soon.

The Livery was an enjoyable stop but we were not able to tour their facility due to the time of our arrival, and we did/do not have a connection there. Fortunately, we did enjoy a few of the beers that they had on tap. Of the ones I tried, I enjoyed the English pale ale the most. Unfortunately, none of their acclaimed sours were available (we were told they would be available in a few weeks). While we were not able to take any of their sours with us this time, we left with a good reason (among others) to return in the future.

After departing the Livery, we made our way for Greenbush Brewing Company. I had never been to Greenbush before, but I had recently read that they were going to begin distributing to Chicago. So I was interested to try what would be coming our way. 

Greenbush photo #1

The first thing you notice about Greenbush is how beautiful it’s building is – large windows, gentle lighting, and an old, wood bar. Also, the beer that they had available ran the gamut from a pale ale and a porter to a weizenbock and a tripel brewed with Vandermill cider. Such a great variety of beer, and not a bad one in the bunch. Chicago is a very lucky city to be on the receiving end of their beer. I am looking forward to visiting Greenbush again.

Greenbush photo #2

Like all good trips, this one felt like it went by too quickly, but I know that I’ll make it back to Michigan for more beer and more memories in the future.

I hope it goes without saying, but for those of you who do not live in Michigan, do yourself a favor and plan a trip to the lovely MI. You will not be disappointed.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Ticketed beer events

Image found at

A few weeks ago, Founders had an online ticket release for the opportunity to purchase their much sought after KBS. Founders chose to use Brown Paper Tickets (bpt) to sell said tickets. Within minutes, the bpt website came to a halt and crashed. Numerous people were enraged that their opportunity to purchase KBS tickets had been lost (see the comments on Founders facebook page to get an idea of how enraged people were). Some people blamed Founders (example comment 'I know ive decided to stop buying founders. ') and others blamed bpt (example comment 'Brown Paper Tickets totally hosed this sale.'). What I did not see/read were people realizing that the popularity of Founders, KBS, and beer as a whole, as the reason for the headache that was the ticket release. 

Now, I do not fault Founders at all. To me, they are one of the best, if not the best brewery in the world. They put out great beer, fantastic people work there, and every visit I have made to their brewery has always been well worth it. Secondly, they can only make so much beer. I am sure they would like to make more beer, but doing so takes money, space, planning, and time. All of which are things that may not always be available. Which brings me to my objective statement for this post - you, the (fe)male beer fan, will not always be able to get every beer you want. It is difficult to come to terms with that (I still get miffed when I miss a beer release in my local market). But the sooner we realize that  KBS, Dark Lord, etc are just beer the sooner it will be easier to cope with being denied a beer release ticket. 

In the last few years beer has become so very popular that acquiring a beer release ticket has become difficult. On the one hand, I am happy for this revival. The more popular that beer is, the more beer options there will be in each of our local markets (hopefully), and the more breweries that will pop up to help fill the 'local beer' void. In short, the more popular that beer becomes, the more beer that will (hopefully) be available for all of us to enjoy. Sadly, this also means that some people will look to make a quick buck by selling beer or beer release tickets. Those people are the ones that I wish would be eradicated out of existence. 

In a matter of weeks 3 Floyds will release tickets for what is, arguably, the biggest annual beer party in the Midwest - Dark Lord Day. I wish you all luck in acquiring a ticket but I hope that if you are denied a ticket, that you will keep in mind that it is just beer, and that there is a lot of other great beer out there. If that doesn't work/help, feel free to vent to me via this blog and we'll get over it together.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Out of the silence

Howdy gang!

As you may have noticed this blog has been a little quiet the last few months. I chalk that up to a few things: my wedding, the holidays, and my acceptance of a new job at a local brewery. Now the wedding and the holidays are one time and annual things, but my new job is more physically demanding than any other job i have held before, and i could not be happier.

I assure you that this blog is not 'dead'. Instead, please know that I will continue to update this blog albeit less frequently than I did in the past. At this time, my goal is an update a month. If I am able to meet that goal on a regular basis, I will try to increase the frequency to once every other week. Regardless, the important thing to know is that this blog will continue, and it will be better than it has been in the past!