They can take our lives. But, they will never take our beer bottle

I get a lot of my bottles and cans on the road. Be it in McAllen, TX; San Diego, CA; Wheeling, WV; Johnson City, NY; or even down the street at a local brewery… I often have to get a full or empty bottle home in a way that’s significantly different than putting a grocery bag in the trunk and driving it home. Sometimes you have to go that extra mile to keep your beer bottle. So, I figured that today I would share some of my techniques so you can all laugh at me and tell me how I could do it better.

Step 1: know if you can take the beer.

This is less of an issue than it once was. In my earlier years of collecting, I would get strange looks from friends and coworkers as I would slyly put an empty bottle by my feet on the floor or tucked into a booth corner.  This is because I had previously made the mistake of asking if I can take the bottle with me and been told that they legally have to say no. But, if I had simply walked out with the bottle they wouldn’t have noticed or cared. I have lost bottles to this, but not in a long time. Most places now will ask if I want a bag to carry the bottles in, or even offer to rinse them out.  Speaking of which…

Step 2: clean your bottle/can.

If you know the place you are at is good about you leaving with the bottle or can, I recommend rinsing it out. Unfortunately this can lead to a wet vessel that can still slime up the rest of your stuff (your backpack, shopping bag, car, etc.). It’s particularly difficult to get all the water out of cans.  The problem can be pretty well addressed by rolling up some bathroom paper towels and sticking them inside. It takes some care to get the paper towels back out again, but it’s worth the effort.

Rinsed and dried beer can… ready for travel

Step 3: put them somewhere smart.

I’m very cautious and responsible about drinking and driving. But, even as a passenger in someone else’s car, putting an empty bottle in someone’s cup holder can cause the wrong impression if one gets pulled over. There are also open bottle laws that vary from state to state. Again, what I’m doing doesn’t break those laws (they pertain to bottles that are being consumed in public) but best not to create any situations that could be misinterpreted. The problem here is that bottles or cans in the trunk of a car tend to roll around and/or get broken/crushed by other things in the trunk. I’m fortunate enough that most of the cars I’ve been in for those situations have a sunken wheel well to hold a spare tire. These things are great for holding bottles/cans without allowing them too much movement.

Empty bottles where they won’t roll around too much

That covers most of the problems not already covered by my tips on flying with bottles and cans.

Do you have any traveling tips to share?  Any questions that I should try to cover?  Let me know. Chances are, I’ve dealt with it at some point along the way.

A cold beer, and another one

What is the ideal temperature of a beer?  That’s the kind of question that can start a fight among some beer drinkers.  For the most part, it depends on the style of beer.  Some beers are better warm, some cold.  But, for the most part, I really prefer that they aren’t simply room temperature.  This can cause problems on the road.  For growlers on the road, this becomes an even more important issue.

Growlers are bottles that breweries use to be able to sell you beer that they have on tap. The good news is that you get to take a beer home with you that you can’t buy at the local liquor or grocery store. The bad news is that you have a limited time to drink that beer and it MUST stay refrigerated. Often, a hotel I’m staying at will have a small refrigerator and I can have a few beers a night from the growler without any real problem. Sometimes, however, there is no fridge in the hotel room. The last time this happened was when I was in Wheeling, WV. What do you do with a 64 oz bottle of beer that has to stay cold for several days?

Growler of Wheeling Brewing beer in an “ice bucket”

What I do is to take a garbage can and fill it with ice from the ice machine. This works for a surprising length of time. It also works if you have regular bottles that you want to drink. But, that leads to a different problem. How do you keep bottles of beer in an “ice bucket” without water from the melting ice destroying the labels?  My approach has been to wrap the bottle in a washcloth, stick the whole bottle/cloth combination into a gallon ziplock bag and then put it in the ice. In the morning I start with a full bucket of ice.

Full ice bucket first thing in the morning

By the time I get back to my hotel room, well after dinner, there is still some ice in the bucket and the beer is cold. I will admit that ziplock bags are better at keeping liquids in than at keeping liquids out.  Sometimes, I come back and find the bottles floating in a pool of water inside the bag.  It’s still the best solution I’ve found yet.  Let me know if you have a better idea.  I would love to hear it.

Ice bucket after dinner, still with ice

Is the beer in an ice water bath at an ideal temperature for drinking?  Who knows?  All I know is that it’s a good temperature for me.  I’m not really that exacting a person when it comes to making sure my stouts are at 55° F or that my lagers are between 42° and 48° F.  Anything below 70° F works for me.

We are not alone

In my last post I let loose the secret of where to find craft beer in Wheeling, WV.  In that post I promised to spin a yarn for all you little chitlins about the Wheeling Brewing Company.

Wheeling Brewing Company

They are “the” craft beer brewery in Wheeling, West Virginia. They are not the only brewery in the state of West Virginia by a long shot. But, they were the only brewery in driving range of my trip.  That doesn’t take away in any way, shape, or form from just how cool they are. In fact, I can sum up their coolness in one picture.

Pachinko machine at Wheeling Brewing

That’s right. They rock so hard that they have a Pachinko machine.  Say what you want about West Virginia.  But, everyone I met there was super friendly, and the one brewery that I made it to was just as hip (if not more hip) than most of the breweries I’ve been to anywhere else.  Wheeling Brewing Company had fantastic beer, great food, and a super cool atmosphere.  You just can’t ask for more than that.

Wheeling Brewing Company decor

But wait… there’s more! While I was talking with one of the owners, he mentioned that there had been a rash of people visiting them lately that collect beer bottles and cans. In fact, one of them left a super cool magazine called Beer Cans & Brewery Collectibles.

Beer Cans and Brewery Collectibles magazine

It seems awfully focused on cans, with a hearty mix of both antique and new cans.  Cans are definitely an every growing part of my collection. It’s still about 300 cans to 1300 bottles.  I’m still definitely going to have to check this magazine out. There could be a whole community of people out there that do what I do to some degree or other. I didn’t realize there were that many other crazy people out there.

I promise to investigate this further and report back on what I find. Many thanks to Wheeling Brewing for showing this to me. It took every ounce of morals I had not to steal the copy that they had (I thought about it, oh yes). But, I behaved myself. And I walked away with the most important thing. A growler of Wheeling Brewing beer.

In the next post I want to talk about collecting techniques. Specifically, when you get growler (oh, say of something like a Wheeling Brewing beer) on the road and you don’t have access to a refrigerator, what do you do? Can you guess?


Winner winner chicken dinner!

Ever feel like a Winner winner chicken dinner? That link takes a while to get there, but it’s worth it. Trust me kids.

So, I get many of my bottles on travel and I tend to get them back in a checked bag. My previous record was 21 bottles when I traveled to the Netherlands. I wasn’t sure I would be able to top that one as I was really close to the weight limit on the bag.

My last work trip took me to Wheeling, WV. The best airport to fly into in order to get to Wheeling happens to be Pittsburgh, PA. So, I had a rare opportunity to get bottles in PA and in WV. I was all atwitter with anticipation. But, I knew I wouldn’t have much time for bottle shopping in Pittsburgh as I was not traveling alone and we were merely driving through on the way to West Virginia.

I got off the plane in Pittsburgh and convinced the person that I was traveling with to seek out Bocktown Beer and Grill for lunch.

Bocktown Beer and Grill

They had interesting and good (the two are not necessarily the same) food, so my fellow traveler did not have to suffer for my quest.

The first thing I noticed when I walked in was a beer cooler full of single bottles. Therefore, the first question I asked was “are these bottles beer store prices or bar prices?”  The answer, for better or worse, was a little of both. If I drank them in the bar, they were full bar prices. If, I took them home unopened (my real objective) I could get them for 25% off the bar price. That’s still pretty expensive. But, I knew I wasn’t going to get a better chance at beer buying in PA. So, I sucked it up and got 18 bottles. I knew I was going to drink some at night during the rest of the trip and I didn’t (to be quite honest) really expect to find that many beers made in West Virginia.

I’ll regale you younglings with the tale of the fantastic brewery I visited in Wheeling in my next post. The important tidbit for this post is that one of the owners there filled me in on the best place in Wheeling to stock up on West Virginia beer.

Kroger grocery store

That’s right kiddos. The Kroger grocery store in the whopping 2 blocks that is downtown Wheeling happened to have a kick ass selection of West Virginia beer.

West Virginia beer display

I was able to find another 12 beers. Go me! But… For those of you that can do math, that’s 30 beers on this trip. I really didn’t want to drink more than 6 while I was on travel. Believe it or not, I love beer but I’m not a lush. Drinking 6 in my hotel room at night after going out to drink in other places for dinner is more than pushing it for a 4 day trip.  So that left 24 beers to try and get home in a checked bag. That’s 3 more than the record that almost topped out the bag weight. Pretty ambitious.

I did have one thing going for me. The beer in The Netherlands was all in bottles and the bottles were all pretty thick glass. Both of those factors add a lot of weight and volume to the equation.  This time I had a goodly amount in super light weight aluminum cans. I was ready to face this challenge! Step 1 was to get all the beer into ziplock bags in case any broke or got pushed out by the high pressure of the air travel combined with a bad cap.

Beer in ziplocks for travel

Step 2 was to wrap them all in clothes and pack them as well as possible.

And, to make a long story short (too late)… not only did I make it home with all the bottles and cans intact, but there was room and weight to spare.

24 beers and room to spare
Way under the 50 lb weight limit

I not only beat the last record. I also demonstrated that I should be able to break it again on the next trip. Welcome home to a full case worth of beer dragged home in a checked bag.

24 record breaking beers checked in a bag

Enough is too much!

Sometimes in life you have to say “stop, stop, stop… enough it too much!” Am I talking about collecting in general?  No such luck (sorry Mrs. UsedHair).  Rather, I’m talking about the constant arranging and rearranging of the bottles so that I can keep everything grouped together by specific breweries.  Lets look at an example.

When I came across my first bottle of Fat TireNew Belgium did not distribute to Florida. The single bottle was a cool and unique find. Then, in 2013, they started distributing here and even came out with some nice commemorative bottles to mark the occasion.

New Belgium commemorative Florida bottles

Then they started releasing more 22 oz (bomber) bottles.

New Belgium more bomber sized bottles

And then they released a bunch of regular sized bottles.

New Belgium regular sized bottles

This is all well and good. And I really like adding new bottles to the collection. But, they keep adding more and more new bottles.

More New Belgium bottles
Even more New Belgium bottles

I like to keep all my bottles organized by brewery. So, every time I want to add in these new bottles I have to shift tons of other bottles around on my shelving to make room. If it was only one brewery (like this example) it wouldn’t be a huge deal. But, with the number of breweries I deal with (532 at last count) it can turn into a nightmare that looks a little like this.

Moving bottles around
More moving bottle around
Even more moving bottles around

I can’t begin to tell you the number of times that Mrs. UsedHair comes into the office to find me staring at the walls just searching and searching for a bottle that I need to move somewhere and just can’t find. It’s maddening!

So, I have decided that enough is too much. I will no longer move hundreds of bottles just to try and keep everything together by brewery. Rather I am going to add bottles in as space allows and start logging bottle location by wall and shelf. For example, the wall by my desk is wall 1. The third shelf down on the wall by my desk will be wall 1 shelf 3. It’s not a perfect locating system, but it should help immensely.  Tracking things like this and giving up on rearranging should reduce not only the time that I spend shuffling bottles around, but also the amount of time that I spend standing around trying to figure out just where the hell individual bottles are hiding on my walls. I will be free, dammit! And, as Mrs. UsedHair so wisely pointed out, the only person likely to care (in the long run) is me.

Statistics are like bikinis

I have a background in Cognitive Psychology that comes with a smattering of statistics. Apart from the phrase “correlation does not imply causation”, I think the most important statistics I learned was a quote from Aaron Levenstein. “Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital”.

With an ever growing collection of bottles and cans, I have to keep track of them somehow. The easiest thing for me is to keep everything an Excel sheet. This is the sheet that tells me when I reach 1400 bottles and cans or 500 breweries. The number of bottles and cans is a suggestive statistic. I think a more vital statistic is the number of “unique” beers.

Across different sizes of cans/bottles, having classic cans, collectible artwork, etc. I have 8 different items in the collection that are “Pabst Blue Ribbon”. So, they count as 8 for the total of bottles and cans, but as only 1 “unique beer”.

Long story short (too late), I reached 1,500 unique beers today. Actually, I passed it and have logged in 1,516 unique beers.  But I can’t celebrate each one, so we’re looking at 1,500.  If anyone else gets a kick out of statistics, here is where the full stats sit right now:

Beers Added 1,576
Repeats 43
Size Difference 17
Still to drink 65
Cans 296
Bottles 1,280
Unique Beers 1,516
Breweries 532
Classic Cans 44

I’m right on the verge of some other milestones as well.  1,300 bottles and 300 cans are both right around the corner.  And, 1,600 beers added is waiting next in the wings.  The collection gets more impressive all the time.

So, what is the lucky 1500th unique beer? That would be Mothman Black IPA from Greenbrier Valley Brewing in West Virginia.

Greenbrier Mothman Black IPA
Greenbrier Mothman Black IPA

The can itself has a great description of the West Virginia Mothman legend.

Mothman beer description

I like that this brewery embraces their West Virginia heritage. They have beers describing  Mothman, The Hatfield/McCoy feud, and even Sasquatch.

Greenbrier beer selection

I didn’t realize Sasquatch was a West Virginia thing. But, who am I to argue with the brewers. I hope that the beers I get when I hit 1,600, 2,000 or 20,000 unique beers are as unique as the Mothman Black IPA.

The shores of the cosmic ocean

As a kid, watching the original Cosmos TV series, I was truly inspired by Carl Sagan and his ability to not only make science something I could understand, but also something that I desperately wanted to be part of. So, when I started thinking about college it was only natural that I seriously considered studying astronomy at nearby Cornell University where I might just get to take a course or two with the legend himself. That plan never really worked out. But, it put a desire in me to go to Ithaca, NY. As a teenager with no car, looking at a town an hour away seemed as though I was standing on the shores of the cosmic ocean. Looking out at the stars and wishing I could make the journey. Now, a one hour drive seems so common that going to Ithaca from Johnson City is little worse than heading to the grocery store. It is, however as distant as I’m willing to go and still consider something a hometown brewery.

When I started collecting bottles many years ago, Ithaca Beer Company Apricot Wheat was one of the few craft beers one could get in a typical grocery store. Years later, the Apricot Wheat beer bottle has changed in appearance.

Ithaca Apricot Wheat then (left) and now (right)

But Ithaca Beer Company is still going strong, and they are well worth a visit. They have a great big brewery, tap room, and restaurant that sits on a street that they apparently got to name.

Ithaca Beer Company
Ithaca Beer Company Sign
Ithaca Beer Drive

Outside, they have stacks of kegs and great big brewing tanks.

Ithaca Beer Company stacks of kegs
Ithaca Beer Company brewing tanks

Inside, crowds are bustling about having a great time and patiently waiting until the frosty weather improves to a point where the outdoor area becomes a little more friendly.

Busy day inside Ithaca Beer Company

Also inside, they have great beer in all manner of sizes.

Ithaca Beer in a variety of sizes
Flight of Ithaca Beer

Critical for my particular mission is that they have a good selection of beer in regular 12 oz bottles. So, this was one place I didn’t have to get a giant growler of beer that I was going to have to drink in a limited amount of time. In fact, I still haven’t finished all my bottles.  If you look close at the picture below, you can see that Flower Power and Embrr are still full.

Ithaca Beer Company bottles from last trip

So, that does it for the hometown brewery series. any breweries left that I talk about require leaving the cosmic shores and traveling out into the vast ocean of breweries elsewhere in the state, the country, the world, the galaxy, or even the universe.  I’ll let you all know as soon as I come across a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster.

How local is local?

Technically, the next local brewery should be The Farmhouse Brewery in Owego, NY.  But I have already posted a story about them and don’t really want to duplicate stories. So I’m moving to the next brewery along.

I commute from Seminole to Orange County every day to go to work.  I even drive for 45 minutes to an hour to get to things to do on the other side of Orlando.  At what point do I have to say that what I’m doing isn’t local?  Or, can I just consider Central Florida local?  These questions are a little simpler when you live pretty damn close to the middle of a state.  But the Southern Tier of New York State is right on the Border of Pennsylvania.  What if I had to go to Sayre, PA for the next brewery?  Is it “local”.  I only had to drive 40 minutes to get there.  So, I’m going to call it that because… reasons.

Bluestone Brewing Company in Sayre, PA is pretty new, even by the standards of other local breweries.  However, they are really entering the game strong.

Bluestone Brewing Company

The owners constructed their own building rather than taking the popular route of taking over old manufacturing sites that I’ve seen at so many other breweries.  Once inside, you can see the effort they went through to provide just the right atmosphere.

Bluestone Brewing Company antler chandelier
Hop scented hand soap

They even have an elk head displayed that was shot by, of all people, the owner’s grandmother.

Elk head at Bluestone Brewing Company

Last, but certainly not least, they have a great selection of beer.

I had great food, got a great growler, and didn’t really have to drive that far for it.  I’m going to stick with my initial assessment and call this a local brewery, because… damn good reasons.

I’ve gone from Johnson City, to Binghamton, Endicott, Owego, and even Sayre, PA.  That really only leaves one place left that I can even remotely call a local brewery.  Any guesses who/where it will be?  I’ll give you a hint.  You can find their beer all over the North East and I’ve even seen it in stores as far away as Florida.


Winter is coming

In Game of Thrones, the Starks live up to their names.  They are serious about what they do, they do it really well, and they aren’t interested in BS of any kind.

In the frigid northern wasteland that is Upstate New York in winter, lies the Winterfell of breweries.  The North Brewery in Endicott, NY is not interested in fancy decor, fancy food, or fancy pants.  They brew beer, and they serve beer.

The North Brewery

Most of what you will find in the front of the brewery is brewing supplies for sale or bottles of their beer.

The North Brewery decor

However, they are not completely without humor as attested by a sign prominently displayed on a box.

The North Brewery funny sign

I freely admit that I’m kind of poking fun at these guys a bit.  But, really, it’s all about the beer.  And, like the Starks of Winterfell, these guys are just plain awesome at what they do.  They even actually start to show some humor in the naming of their beers.

A Galaxy not so far away

I know, I know. I could have started the series with this post and timed it to be on Star Wars Day. But, I really wanted to start the series in Johnson City.

Today’s brewery is Galaxy Brewing Company in scenic Downtown Binghamton. A mere block away from yesterdays Water Street Brewing Co. neither brewery seems to mind and both seem to be doing well. Binghamton University is fairly big and I’m sure there are enough college students to go around.

Galaxy Brewing Company

This is one of the many breweries that I’ve had to wait to get to because they weren’t quite open yet on my last trip home. They are definitely open now and they really get into their space theme at Galaxy with funky decorations, naming the beer, and even in labeling their bathrooms.

Galaxy Brewing Company interior
Galaxy Brewing Company funky decor
Galaxy Brewing Company bathroom label

They also have great beer and excellent food.

Galaxy Brewing Company flight

Like many other breweries, there was a glass wall where you can see the brewing equipment.

Galaxy Brewing Company brewing equipment

So that’s 3 breweries so far in the Triple Cities.  How many more will there be?  Tune in tomorrow as the hometown adventure continues.