Thursday, March 18, 2010

Day Four Report Part 2: Even Lobsters Love Guinness

We made it to Geary's with a bit of time to spare. Curtis was our friendly tour guide. We start the tour with a fresh-as-it-gets glass of Hampshire Special Ale - straight out of the tank!

This tour was by far the best of the trip. We took a leisurely 45 minutes to stroll through the brewing process. Here's bottling. . .

We got to check out the yeast doing it's work in the vats. . .

Curtis gave us every opportunity to ask questions and by the end I felt like I was ready to tote my own brewing kit home and get started. Really fascinating though was the story of the brewery business. Anyone who's been around a while can tell you the story of craft beer. Back in the 80's it was a sad time for American beer. There wasn't much taste to it. (Couldn't that be said for most stuff in the 80's?) Since prohibition, when there used to be breweries on every block in most cities, most never rebounded and instead we had mega companies like Coors and Budweiser adding as much water as possible to make beer as cheap as possible.

The two entrepreneurs to break the trend were Jim Koch, Sam Adams founder, and D.L. Geary. Both brewer's companies started taking off. Then each made a critical decision. Jim invested in marketing, Geary in really nice brewing equipment.

The rest is history. Sam Adams beer is now shipped all over the country and you're lucky to find Geary's at your specialty liquor store. Both beers I really appreciate, but there's something about Geary's flagship pale ale that is just so crisp and flavorful. It is now my go to beer for bringing to parties.

And now for something completely different. . .

Allagash! A Belgian-style brewery right down the street from Geary's. Starting off with a tasting we were led around the brewery (for the first time in safety goggles) to check out their process. I'm a big fan of wit beers, made with wheat instead of barley and it was nice to have a beer so totally different then the other 60 or so we'd had up until this point. (The list was starting to get mixed up in my head.)

Allagash started making Allagash White, Dubbel, Trippel, but now they even do crazy stuff like Belgian-style Porter. (I'm sure the monks would scoff at this.) They encourage their staff to experiment and when a batch isn't quite right for shipping to stores they'll send out an email to their listserv and have a special edition beer sale for one day. Usually its all gone in a few hours!

After all this drinking we were in need of some food . . . and more beer. We headed into downtown and what is apparently a popular hangout, Gritty McDuff's. Solid pub food, a round of beers, including Scottish Ale, of course and friendly people. A little tipsy, I was dropped off at the Portland office of my non-profit and the rest of the crew sobered up for the drive home.

Yes, all good beers come to an end. With 77 tastings under our belt (perhaps literally now, too) I knew that the journey wasn't over. We had just hit up one small corner of the country, there were more beers to be downed. Along the way, we'd discovered that good beer is about good brewers. Its about place, and pride in one's craftmanship. It's about experimenting and taking risks.

And yes, it's about getting drunk. - Cheers!

Rick Steve's Radio Show

It's turning out to be an annual event that I get on Rick Steve's radio show. If you don't know Rick Steves, get to know him. His books Travel as A Political Act and Postcards from Europe are good intros, and if you're on your way to Europe anytime soon, his guidebooks are the best. He has his own PBS show and an NPR show.

So how it works is that they record a whole bunch of shows over a three day period a few times a year. They send out to their listserv the guests and topics and ask you to submit a question. If they like yours they'll let you know what time to expect a call. Then you get to be on the show!

Last year I got a call while I was down working in Connecticut. I got on the Mexico City show and got to ask a quick question, heard a long answer and then said goodbye. This year we ended having a discussion about my travels in Mexico in general - cheap cooking classes, a collection of short stories by women I read that inspired me to connect with people and male machismo. Turned out to be a good several minute talk.

So I'm unsure which show I'll be on, but all the more reason to make sure you're listening to every episode!

There's still time to be on yourself. Check here for the recording schedule for today and tomorrow and comment to get on. (You'll get a free book for participating.)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Day Four Report Part 1: Must all good beers come to an end?

Our last day of the trip, we nailed out of the ballpark. We started up early, and got some great recommendations from the Quimby House owner. He was an obvious lover of Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park and gave me the best route to see the park despite the many winter road closings. His farewell was warm, if not a bit confused sounding: "Thanks for visiting Bar Harbor . . . in the Winter."

We set off on an hour drive through the park. Not all of us had hiking boots, so serious trail blazing was out of the question, but we caught some beach time. I remembered doing star-gazing at this same beach as a kid and trying to swim in the water, which apparently doesn't get above 50 degrees in the winter. I don't even want to imagine what it's like right now.

Still beautiful though. . .

We next started driving back down to Portland, and decided to map out the rest of the day. Should we rush and get more brewery tours in? Hang back maybe hit up a pub or two?

Our Good Beer Guide says you have to call ahead for Geary's tour, so we make some phone calls. I got put on hold for a while for Geary's waiting for, what turned out, the secretary to call a brewer and ask him to come in to do a tour. "How's 3:30 work for you?"

We looked at the clock. We could make it happen . . .

Free Lonely Planet Book

Lonely Planet has a great deal going on right now. Buy any book and get the California Trips Guide for free through March 19th. Lonely Planet probably makes the most comprehensive traveler-centered guides I've ever used. I haven't checked out the California Trips book yet, but I've been thinking of buying the New England Trips book which features a Fall Foliage Tour, Literary New England and the White Mountains Loop. Now's the time!
Click here for more info on the deal.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Day Three Report: Mt. Desert Island is reached

Day three was a bit of a missed connections day. Puritanical values still hold sway in New England, or perhaps it's just labor laws, so many places were closed for Sunday. We unsuccessfully attempted a few breweries, but ended up at a homey bar on the waterfront munching on free popcorn and beer that actually cost money for once. . . at 11am.

By the time we made it to Bar Harbor we were thirsty again, so after several failed attempts at closed storefronts, we swung into Geddy's. Geddy's just happens to be the biggest tourist trap restaurant on the island. It also happened to be open.

They also served me the biggest surprise of our trip - a bad beer! Puffin Pale Ale was absolutely disgusting, or should I say tasted like Bud Lite. Well, same thing. The waitress overheard my complaint and kindly brought me a new beer. The beer still remains a mystery. We don't know who the brewer is and I while I do remember seeing Puffin Pale Ale t-shirts at the Kennebunk Brewery, there doesn't seem to be anything on their website indicating they brew the stuff. Perhaps no one's interested in taking credit for this crappy stuff.

Full of beer, we went and bought more beer at the liquor store. Then we spent a good while hanging out at our luxurious Quimby House Inn. I think we were the only folks staying there, if you don't include the crazy cat that liked to hang upside down off the banister.

We soon got tired of drinking and headed over to the Jack Russell's Steak House and Brewery. Their beer was from the Maine Coast Brewing Company and the four beer sampler was so delightful, we decided all to get one. Some beers and apps later, we were ready to crash. This vacation was getting to be hard work, having to remember one beer from the next!

Monday, March 08, 2010

Beer Tour 2010 in Photos

Beer Tour reunion (all are invited) at my place, coming soon . . .

Friday, March 05, 2010

Day Two Report Part 2

We drove straight to Shipyard as soon as we got into the city, making the 3pm tour by a minute. Shipyard's tour was free and started off with a Jibber-Jabesque video, followed by a quick tour of the facilities. It was big, not Redhook big, but larger Smuttynose for sure. We also spied boxes for the other beer they brew - Peak Organic, Seadog, etc. (These guys really do brew every beer in Maine!) The last 20 minutes were in the tasting room, where we got generous samples of four of their beers, which it turns out we mostly drank down in Kennebunk.

Our tour guide was pretty awful commenting at some point that she doesn't really like beer and drink wine. But the beer was free. We also learned some interesting stories. The master brewer for Shipyard learned in Britain and brought back a recipe for non-traditional English bitter ale. Shipyard is the only brewery licensed to brew the recipe and they can't even put their logo on it. That's why there's a big ol' wort-hog on the label and no sign on Shipyard. It's damn fine beer and thankfully can be found back home at my local liquor store.

Next stop was Sea Dog Brewpub whose mascot is an awfully cute puppy with a sailor's yellow rain-hat. Their restaurant is a chain; there's a few locations in Maine and their South Portland location certainly felt a bit chainy and was located in a strip-mall, surrounded by a parking lot.

The beer there was certainly geared towards the masses. The beer list was pretty extensive with 10 different beers in the tasting for just $10. Some struck us as silly (Blue Paw Wheat Ale and Rasberry Wheat) and others were well done (Owls Head Light Ale and Old East India Pale Ale). The spinach dip was superb however and happy hour specials were just $3 a pint.

On to Sebago. You might think we couldn't drink any more beer, but oh, we could. We found ourselves a little unable to eat, but we happily downed some excellent beer. Chris and Adrian had the Stout aged in a bourbon cask, while Colleen and I opted for something lighter: Hefeweizen and Runaround Red.

While posting a gorgeous picture of the stout on facebook I noticed an update from a friend that lives in Rhode Island and whose couch I, once upon a time, crashed on for a summer.

"Jodie Goodnough is in Portland. Maine, I've missed you so."

I called. Our conversation was something like this:

Hey are you in Portland?
I'm in Portland.
No way.
What are you doing?
Eating dinner.
Where? I'm eating dinner.

I looked up to see Jodie in the doorway. She was downstairs at the same restaurant.

So I guess we picked the right place to end the night.

UMass - Mexico City Time Warp?

I've been in Amherst recruiting at UMass this week and at times I feel I'm in a Mexico City timewarp. The warmest way to get to the Campus Center where I had a table was to go through the Student Union, up and down stairs and round a twisted way of hallways. At one point the hallway goes by an open area with a mural and statue. . .

much like the winding walk I would do to transferring between the pink and blue lines I would do everyday in Mexico City. Half way through the crazy hectic tunnels you'd pass an Aztec altar they unearthed when they dug the subways out.

And the mural is reminiscent of those that cover public spaces all over Mexico City. This famous one of Diego Rivera's is in a museum, but the Mexico University campus has several that look just like UMass.

So neither are exact reflections, but pleasant suprising reminders of an ancient city and a pleasant vacation.