The Year of Traveling Fermentationally

It all started with a list.


About this time last year, as my lady-friend Sara and I enjoyed a lazy winter weekend, we began to spontaneously jot down places we wanted to go.

I had decided that this year, my thirtieth on this spinning marble, I’d stop worrying so much about seeing everything, and focus on seeing anything.

The list, in this admittedly primitive form, was hardly exhaustive, but my portion wound a common thread—(mostly) American cities, some of which I’d never been to and would enjoy navigating over the course of a couple days, ducking myself and ourselves in and out of places that piqued my interest. Mostly, that meant drinking fresh, local, interesting, delicious beer in some of the best bars, brewpubs and breweries with the people I love.

In hindsight, that was a pretty good plan.

Here’s how it all went.

D.C. | Philadelphia | Baltimore | Hartford | Chicago
New York | Kansas City | Colorado | Durham | Boston | Minneapolis | Las Vegas | Virginia Beach | Next Year

Washington, D.C.

I highly recommend being a tourist in your own city.

Right, proper.

The District has long been my home, but there always seems to be something new here that makes me feel like I’m discovering something too good not to share. Most of these revelations revolve around beer: new neighborhood bars, new beers, new taprooms, new bottle shares, new trends I feel compelled to pontificate about, new beautiful breweries, new places to drink two boots of delicious German beer at the same time, new places to drink boozy milkshakes while watching a baseball game, new local brewery bottle memberships, new favorite cocktails to enjoy a half-pint with, new methods of ingesting protein while tossing back a few, new ways to rediscover the simple pleasures of old.

There are all sorts of new things happening in D.C., all the time.

It’s amazing I ever leave.

Philadelphia

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had a conversation like this:

“Oh, did I mention? I’m going to Philadelphia this weekend.”
“Great, I’ll send you my list.”

I haven’t updated the list in some time. (Next year.) That’s certainly because I’m one of the lazier people on planet Earth when it comes to giving advice. But it’s also an indication of why I love my other hometown: when it comes to food and drink, the city’s embrace of constancy is unrivaled.

So here’s a link to a Google map of a nine-bar beer tour you should try,
followed by my list.
  • The Sidecar is my local when I go home. Go, drink there.
  • Frankford Hall for the German biergarten feel.
  • Standard Tap for one of the best selections of saisons on the East Coast.
  • Barcade if you want to sip on suds while playing some arcade games.
  • Johnny Brenda’s for great food and music and general awesomeness.
  • Brauhaus Schmitz on South Street close to the river if you wanna do the whole stein/boot thing.
  • National Mechanics has an awesome cocktail menu and is great for Sunday brunch.
  • North Bowl is a fun bowling/beer joint in North Philly right by Standard Tap.

Enjoy. (Feel free to let me know when you’re in town, too.)

Baltimore

For whatever reason, I only spent a couple of days drinking beer in Baltimore this year, but they were fantastic.

The annual Belgian Beer Festival at Max’s is one of the finest on the East Coast, if not the world. You can ask me what I drank that day, but, in the full light of day, all I can remember is what I logged into Untappd before I stopped caring, which didn’t take long:

There were more. I just can’t remember what they were. I’m not sorry.

So, yeah, that was a pretty good day.

Hartford

Over the past two years, this sleepy Connecticut borough has basically been my professional home away from home. Hartford’s reputation of mundanity at best, heinousness at worst is, sadly, not that far off.

Most of my Hartford beer consumption occurred within this unholy trinity:

  • the bar at the Marriott, both downtown and a few miles out of town in Farmington (where the barkeeps, sadly, know my name);
  • the Black Bear Saloon inside Bradley International Airport (where they also know my name);
  • the closest possible brewpub to the office (where they probably knew my name once, before I had to start venturing somewhere else).

But given the time, I’ve been able to uncover the city’s hidden beer gems — of which there are a few, sprinkled around the city’s core, which is normally deader than your local morgue.

There are some highlights, I swear.

The Half-Door, for example, combines a fine draft and bottle list with local clientele and a dedication to providing great beer at friendly prices, and was one of the coziest bars I drank in all year. once I decided to get outside the sleepy, uninteresting downtown, I found a good number of respectable watering holes, like Plan B (soon opening in D.C. — worlds colliding!, or something) and The Spigot, both offering plenty of hearty conversation with real people who enjoy themselves a good beer and don’t spend their lives getting hung up on their travails.

Like spending nearly every single day of their lives in Hartford.

Chicago

Oh, Chicago.

I love Chicago. I love spending time in Chicago, and I love to do it — in Feburary and December — when nobody else wants to. I love drinking beer in Chicago. I love eating food in Chicago. Everything that I like about eating food and drinking beer in Philadelphia is duplicated in Chicago, in greater quantity, and spread across a larger amount of land.

Go on, drool with me.

February’s adventure with the lads was beer (and…cider and food and whiskey and spirits and more food) nerdery at its apex. We spent more time at the actual conference than I would have imagined. But the real purpose of the trip was four days of experiencing all the beverages that we could within a mere few days inside the Second City.

Traipsing through snow-covered Chicago sidewalks in canvas sneakers for miles in order to get talk to John Laffler at Off Color, who welcomed us in without hesitation, graciously sharing both his beer and his knowledge with a bunch of dudes from across the country. Making sure Bill didn’t have frostbitten feet while we sampled different Malorts at Haymarket. Supping Mexican tallboys between huge bites of shortrib torta at Xoco. Drinking the freshest Goose Island on the planet Earth at Clybourn. Double-fisting golden ales and barleywines inside Revolution’s comprehensive taproom. Pounding 3 Floyds Gumballheads while washing down pounds of beef at Kuma’s. Drinking $2 Labatts and laughing at the too-old IPAs on the bottle list at Delilah’s until past last call. Pulling an all-nighter so I could drink more Three Floyds while watching Arsenal blow another big match at The Globe. Drinking Bell’s drafts between tiki drinks at Three Dots and a Dash. Spending time with Lisa trying not to get blown off the roof of Marina City and ordering banquet beer at the bar inside MillerCoors headquarters between bubble hockey thrashings from John. Eschewing cocktails for Jolly Pumpkin drafts in Ukrainian Village. Buying out the local shop’s stock of radlers, keeping them iced down in the hotel sink and finishing them between naps. Loading up on way too many bottles at Binny’s, so many that I’m still not sure how we managed to get them all back to D.C. alongside all these wonderful memories.

Later in the year, I starting taking a few shorter trips to Chicago on business — which meant shoving as much time as possible filling in gaps that I missed in February. The Map Room, Half Acre, Farmhouse, Fountainhead.

There are still plenty of gaps to fill. See you in 2015, Chicago.

New York

I definitely enjoyed my share of beer in New York City this year, but I was usually too otherwise occupied to remember them. I was sweating profusely watching Arsenal squeeze out a result, or riding the Cyclone with a belly full of Nathan’s, or killing time between trains at Penn Station, or enjoying the company of friends and colleagues you only get to see once a year, or simply finding a moment to eat dinner and breathe. I certainly drank beer while doing these things, but they’re all lost in a whirlwind of New York minutes.

Kansas City

Looking back, I have to agree with Bill’s opinion here:

Go ahead, think “midwest” and “beer city,” and I suspect that Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and maybe even Madison come to mind before the “Heart of America” sitting on the Missouri River.
The Heart of America, far above the boulevards.

He’s totally right, but despite its obvious flaws — an amalgam of various different towns that have been incorporated throughout the decades is unsurprisingly impossible to navigate with anything but a vehicle — Kansas City is a place where the good beer flows freely.

We spent plenty of time on this trip enjoying the work of the good people of Boulevard, which not only showed us great hospitality inside their brewery, but also managed to put together a fine program of beer for their first ever Boulevardia festival. The city’s also got a ton of great places to enjoy a beer: I particularly enjoyed Bier Station’s subway motif, but drinking Saison Brett and Pappy at The Belfry or Fantome at Beer Kitchen or anything in any restaurant that serves burnt tips. They’re all great reasons to return.

Aspen and Denver

For the last two summers, I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a week or so in Aspen for work. Like last year, the welcoming people at Aspen Brewing were still the first people I shared a beer with when I got into town. But this year, I found the best possible office to set up shop in: Hops Culture, where I ordered rare bottles of Trinity, bantered with locals about marijuana dispensaries, and watched as the United States, yet again, broke my heart.

Fortunately, I scheduled some time at the tail end of my trip to soothe those wounds — at Crooked Stave, I spent an evening drinking every beer they offer. Basking in a saison splendor, those thoughts of De Bruyne and Lukaku slashing through Tim Howard’s resolve at Arena Fonte Nova faded. Quickly.

Durham and Williamsburg

The stretch of highway between Washington and Durham is a lonely one, occasionally pocked with gas stations that Tobe Hooper should’ve scouted.

Similarly, my terminus on this trip was a city that feels more abandoned than occupied. We walked around the town on a Saturday morning; the city is one of buildings which feel underused and of a populace that has deserted it. Those who venture inside, though, find the treasure. Delicious burgers topped with pimento cheese and bacon jam, breweries you can walk to, and a downtown that’s ripe with spaces for soulful artists and restauranteurs.

On our way out of town, we drove in and around of Duke University, which served in stark contrast—who would possibly want such manicured landscapes at the expense of something so authentic?

Similarly, Williamsburg is a town of contradictions, where you can celebrate the history of colonial America inside “taverns” that don’t sell beer. Fortunately, we managed to find one that actually lived up to the implicit promise of said noun.

I certainly enjoyed my mead; I just wish there had been more.

You know, in the taverns.

Boston

Or, probably the most challenging thing I did this year.

It’s a Sunday afternoon. The Red Sox are in town. Fenway. Classic.

It’s a hot day, the sun beating down on us like there’s a magnifying glass harnessed somewhere in Cambridge, fixated solely on Kenmore Square. We spent last night at a wedding, a festive affair which involved me driving between Danvers, Salem, and sordid places inbetween. I’m very much looking forward to spending some quality time in the bleachers with a Fenway Frank in one hand, and a ice cold beverage in the other. Earlier in the morning, I had reserved parking at a garage on Lansdowne Street, figuring it was the closest area to the stadium, and that it would be the fastest way to get from point A to beer in my hand.

We made it.

It was not.

We arrived at the stadium far too close to first pitch. The authorities don’t (…can’t?) close down Lansdowne Street. By this point, it is full of half-drunk Bostonians, apparently eager to hop in front of a moving vehicle.

This is what I need to navigate.

I move slowly — so slowly, it feels like the car isn’t even moving. No gas; just forward momentum, gravity, and sweat. Another driver figures that their best chance to get through is to follow directly behind, so there’s now a sea of people in front of me, a driver riding my tailpipe like an overeager porn star, and the garage is down the block. I get to what appears to be the turning point; no, that’s just a mirage. The garage is down the block. After what feels like an eternity, we make it. I park the car, we get in, and we didn’t come back until I enjoyed a few ballpark beers, a couple more at Bukowski’s, and the sun had set over the diamond.

I earned it.

Minneapolis

I love Chicago. But Minneapolis is its own slice of Midwestern heaven.

Our big summer vacation this year was a week in Minnesota’s northern woods. It was serene, relaxing, and certainly full of its own beer adventures — visiting bottle shops and purchasing singles from Minnesota breweries like Summit, Lake Superior, Lucid, Third Street, and more; enjoying the cheapest racks of High Life you’ll ever see and learning all about “3.2 beer”—the real beer showcase was the day and a half we spent in Minneapolis before returning to D.C.

Surly. Fulton. Fresh saison at Target Field. Butcher and the Boar. Republic.

One regret: not trying the much-ballyhooed self-serve station. Next time.

Las Vegas

I was up.

Then I was down.

In between, I ordered heinously overpriced but sought-after craft beer from an iPad inside a bar at the Venetian and spent hours upon hours at blackjack tables at the Bellagio, the Wynn, and the Riviera being served frequent complimentary Budweisers by middle-aged cocktail waitresses.

Far, far, far, far too many Budweisers.

They were delicious when I was winning.

Vegas, baby. Vegas.

Virginia Beach

Go-karts and oysters and dozens of bottles of spectacular beer — collectively donated by one of the greatest bunch of beer nerds that have ever gathered in one place at one time — and whiskey and beach football and more large format bottles and ribs and sausage and roasts and burgers and hair of the dog beer cocktails and myriad other bachelor things, all of which was a wonderful brotherly preface to the amazing wedding of two amazing people, a ceremony at which there was more beer and discussion of said beer.


Anyway, about that list.

There are still dozens of cities in the queue, silently asking me to explore all they have to offer — beer or otherwise. Luckily, 2015 should be just as fruitful, travel-wise, as the year that preceded it. Sara and I already have a big trip to London and Reykjavík on the books. I certainly will be heading back to all my usual business haunts. Us boys have long been itching to go visit Portland, Maine, and this year’s Craft Brewers Conference is in Portland, Oregon.

I’ll try to send more postcards this time around.

Here’s to another year of good beer, great friends, and wonderful adventures, for all of us.
Cheers.
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