I like cans because they are almost infinitely easier to store and display than bottles. But, try as I might, I just don’t feel all fancy-schmancy when I drink from one. Well, problem solved. I found a plastic do-it-yourself beer stein that works with standard 12oz beer cans.
It lets me feel like an aristocrat and gives me a convenient handle (because, let’s face it, I’m lazy). I can also use it for off size cans but it just doesn’t look quite right.
Same goes for bottles.
But, hey… I got three more bottles/cans this trip so it’s all good right?
One of the perks of my job is that I get to travel a lot. Sometimes I get to go to places like The Netherlands or Los Angeles. More often though it’s to places like McAllen, Texas; Glynco, Georgia; or Artesia, New Mexico. Sometimes I get lucky and find a craft brewery or two in these places. More often they are just a good place to get beer that is distributed to or within the state that I’m visiting so I can bring them home.
My last trip was to McAllen, Texas. This is a Mexican border town in the Rio Grande Valley region at the southern-most tip of Texas. Do you mean Corpus Christi? No. Keep going south. Oh, you must mean Laredo? No. Keep going south. Mexico City? OK, not that far south. But it’s pretty far down there. The first thing I do when planning for a trip is to see if I can find a craft brewery and a good beer store. At first I thought I found a brewery, but it turned out that it had already closed down. That didn’t bode well for the rest of the search. The best I could find was a bar that had a good selection of craft beer and a store that had good reviews for craft beer selection. The hunt was on.
I got to McAllen late Monday afternoon and didn’t have to be at work until Tuesday morning. So, the first stop was Feldmans Market Center that had a reasonable rating on BeerAdvocate.
Although they had a reasonable selection of craft beer, almost everything was sold only in 6 packs. They specifically had signs up all over the place requesting that people don’t break up their 6 packs. As I’ve mentioned before, 6 packs are the bane of bottle collectors. I can’t afford to buy a whole 6 pack just to get one bottle. I need places that allow you to take single bottles. So, Feldmans was a bit of a rough start to the trip. They did have an interesting brand of beer called Clown Shoes. But it was $12 for a 22 oz bottle and the week was still young so I gave it a pass. I did manage to get 5 bottles at Feldmans. So, at least I wasn’t going to be so overloaded with bottles that I would have to try and drink some in my room at night just so I can take the empty bottles in a carry on bag.
The next phase was more challenging. I wanted to get to a good bar that might have some different bottles on tap. That meant getting my traveling group to want to do the same. I recommended a place that I had found online and no one seemed interested. Tuesday night I was ready to suggest the place again but someone else in the group decided they would help find a craft beer place (because that usually turns out great) and found a place that they thought would be great. Off we went to Grain to Glass.
Giving proper credit to the person that found it, it was a pretty good place with a descent selection and staff that knew their beer well enough. They even had growlers. Unfortunately from a bottle collecting standpoint growlers are only good for me if they are filled with beer by the brewery. Otherwise it becomes a cataloging nightmare. In addition growlers are really only economically valid if you plan on refilling them often. Buying a growler at $8 and then spending $20 to fill it makes for a pretty expensive beer as a one time shot deal. I will make an exception if someplace really impresses me. But I just wasn’t floored by this place. It wasn’t bad. Just not stellar. They lacked a bit of atmosphere demonstrated by the “no handguns allowed” sign on the front door. I still managed to get some new cans from Four Corners Brewing. I like their cans for the interesting pop tops.
Most important, I notice a beer on the list from Clown Shoes called Blaecorn Unidragon. This is one of those cases where the description of the beer is so good that I’m willing to pay more for the 22 oz bottle. unfortunately it was $25 for the bottle at the bar. I wasn’t ready to pay that much considering I just saw a Clown Shoes beer at Feldmans for $12. This is the kind of decision where my cheap nature clouds my instincts and I know full well that I’m going to regret it down the line.
Continuing the journey of the evening, the group I was with were really more serious session drinkers and the trip to the “fancy” beer place was for my benefit. From Grain to Glass we moved onto some more straight forward places like Tilted Kilt, the Thirsty Monkey, and a place called El Divino that had an interesting mix of decor ranging from portraits of Jesus to portraits of Mr. T with Christmas tree icicle ornaments as earrings.
All in all it was not my kind of night. It was too crowded and too noisy. But I did manage to score yet another can from Four Corners.
Before you know it, I find myself at Thursday, 4pm. I’m done working for the day and have to fly out Friday morning. I’m ready to hit Feldmans again to see if the Clown Shoes beer they had was the Blaecorn Unidragon that I’d been jonesing for since Grain to Glass. I had a sinking suspicion that it wouldn’t be. But I had to find out. So, off I went. On the way there I was stuck in traffic next to a low end looking liquor store called Holiday Wine & Liquor.
They didn’t look like much on the outside (bars on the doors and windows even when they are open is not usually a good sign). But, they did have the word “beer” on the building and I was stuck in traffic anyway. For once I followed my instincts and went inside. Turns out this was exactly the kind of store I was hoping Feldmans would be. They had a great selection and allowed people to break up 6 packs. Score! I walked out of there with another 11 beers. So, now I’m feeling cocky and hoping to top off the trip with the Blaecorn Unidragon bottle. Unfortunately, the Clown Shoes beers that Feldmans carried were not even close to what I wanted. Hmmmmm.
It was still early and the group I was with had a late and really large lunch. So, they wouldn’t be looking to go to dinner any time soon. A quick check of Google Maps indicated that the bar I had been wanting to check out all week long was only a 5 minute drive from Feldmans. So off I went to Roosevelt’s at 7.
I was a bit worried looking at it from the outside. It looked a bit high brow and more like a fancy restaurant than a craft beer place. But, as soon as I walked in the door, I knew I was home. The manager was friendly, everyone there knew their beers really well and the atmosphere was more my speed (no need for a “no handguns allowed” sign). I was really hopeful for the Blaecorn Unidragon and asked to see the bottle list. It wasn’t there. Fuckashitpiss! With hope heading into a death spiral, I asked the manager if they had any and he said “it isn’t cold, but you can get one to take with you if you want”. Score! Finally.
I was so happy that I didn’t even mind paying $20 for it. It was still cheaper that Grain to Glass and I gained finding Roosevelt’s at 7 in the process. Things were now really going my way in what I expected to be a crappier trip for bottle collecting. Of course, that’s when the trouble usually begins. Turns out they had another Clown Shoes beer that looked really tempting. So I ordered The Good, The Bad, and The Unidragon, which turned out to be another version of Blaecorn Unidragon only available in Texas, with malts grown in Texas. That’s the kind of thing that makes for good bottle collecting. I didn’t want to order my one beer and run, so I ordered The Good, The Bad, and the Unidragon and sat around chatting with the manager and having the best time yet in McAllen. As I was nearing the end of my 22 oz beer, a bartender walked past me and asked if I was taking that beer on all by myself or if I was sharing with a group. If that doesn’t raise a red flag there is something wrong with you. I’m wondering if he’s referring to the $20 price of the beer when I take a closer look at the label and notice that this beer has 14% alcohol by volume (ABV). Are you kidding me?! That more than most wines! OK, the race is on. I need to finish this beer, and make the 7 minute drive back to the hotel before the full brunt of this alcohol hits me. I felt bad dashing out the way I did, and worse about guzzling a $20 beer, but there is no way I’m driving back in any state that would risk a DWI (or even a DUI for that matter). Fortunately, I made it out of there and back to the hotel just fine.
Total score for the trip: 17 full bottles/cans, 4 empty cans and 1 empty bottle. Not a bad haul for a relatively unknown area. But the adventure wasn’t over. See my previous post to find out what happened on the way home.
I knew this day was coming. I just thought it would be a little more spectacular and devastating. When I travel for work, I do all I can to bring back new bottles and cans from that place. I have posted before on my Travel Techniques that essentially boil down to wrapping bottles in clothes and putting them into a checked bag (full bottles can’t go in a carry-on bag). Every time I collect my bag at the airport I’m expecting to see it roll out in a big puddle or hear squishing sounds associated with a broken bottle. After my trip to Texas (that I will write about next), I was pleased to find my bag dry and noiseless as usual. But, on the way home I thought I might just be able to smell beer in the car. When I got home and started to unpack I was greeted by the usual “we searched you bag because you have a lot of weird liquids in there” tag from my good friends at the TSA.
Notice the ugly dark and still wet beer stain on there? It was accompanied by a distinct wet, beer-soaked clothing smell. Fffffffffuuuuuuuuuuuuuudge! Well, I always knew this day was coming. Now the hunt was on to find the smashed bottle without cutting my hand into ribbons. One by one I pull out dry clothes and only slightly damp clothes. Nothing yet. All of the cans are in tact and in good shape. Every bottle is unbroken and I even start double checking to make sure they are still full. I’m now down to the last bottle packed in the sleeve of my jacket (which is definitely wet wet). I feel the top of the bottle and slowly pull it out. The damn this is unbroken but really really close to empty.
The best I can figure out is that the cap of the bottle failed and everything game out during the flight. The bottle had a really odd “dented-ish” cap that looked too symmetrical to have been an accident. I just assumed that it was a new kind of cap.
So, although I lost a beer to the journey, I didn’t get the mass destruction that I thought I would get. What’s more, I can still drink what’s left in the bottle and keep it for the collection. This was certainly the best disaster I could have hoped for.
Craft beer festivals can be both good and bad things for me. They are fantastic because I get to try a lot of new beers, discover new breweries and interact with the rest of the craft beer world. However, they take place in a limited time window which makes me drink something like the equivalent of a 6 or even 9 pack of considerably high ABV beer in a marathon session of 3 oz samples. Believe it or not, I’m not usually up for getting quite that intoxicated. I would rather these events lasted longer so I could space out the drinking a little more and focus on interacting with the brewers. In addition, I tend to have a hard time finding bottles at these events. There is sometimes a spot where one can buy limited release special bottles. But, even if the event has a setup like this, the bottles end up costing an arm and a leg. What venders usually have are 6 packs for sale. Unfortunately, 6 packs are the bane of bottle collectors. I always want 6 different bottles rather than, what to me is, 5 repeats of the one bottle I wanted in the first place.
So, when Mrs. UsedHair and I found out about the DeLand Craft Beer Festival, we deliberated a bit on whether or not to go. Beer won out in the end and we made the trip up there to check things out. It was a fantastic event with outcroppings of tents squirreled away in back alleys and buildings along with an entire city block of yet more tents.
Most important, we discovered a story unfolding. We talked with City Island Ale Works who let us taste their Roggen Squadron rye beer with an awesome Star Wars themed name.
They just announced that they will be opening their own brewery so I will be able to visit them soon. We met Black Cauldron Brewing who will soon be opening a joint tap room with Broken Strings Brewery (there is certainly a story there if I can get one of the owners to sit down and tell it). We sampled beer from Mermaid Juice who will soon be progressing from serving only others craft beers to also serving their own craft beers. Then there was Sanford Brewing who will be opening up pretty close to where I live in April. They had quite the showstopper of a celery beer with a splash of Bloody Mary mix. I can’t wait to get more of that in April. Finally, there was Musquito County Brewing that was founded in 2013 and is now on the cusp of opening up their tap room.
Of course, there were other breweries there as well. But, the clear story is that there is about to be a huge craft beer boom in Central Florida and I will be right there to see it all happen. It’s like waiting for the next Star Wars movie all over again. I just can’t wait.