How to prepare for a trip

I thought it might be nice to show a different side of the process today.  I’m getting ready to take a trip to Phoenix, AZ and that means that I have to do some prep work to figure out which breweries I want to try to get to while I’m there.  Here’s what I do.

Step 1:  Get a list of breweries in the area from BeerAdvocate.  There are 33 breweries listed on this page.  Definitely have to start culling down.  If you look close, 2 of these breweries are Gordon Biersch and one is a BJ’s Brewhouse.  Nothing against these places, but they are national chains and I can visit them anywhere.  They get culled down right away.

Step 2: Go to the website of each of the breweries on this page.  Check out the beer selection and try to cull out places that don’t look like they are either closed or not open yet.  In this case, the very first brewery on the list (Cartel Brewery) comes up with a dead website and is listed as permanently closed on Google Maps.  Better to find this stuff out ahead of time.

Step 3: How does the place come off based on their website?  Do they have a good beer selection?  Do they look like they might have some interesting twist that would make them good to talk about on the blog?  When you look at 30 or so brewery websites, it can get extremely repetitive.  Even I can lose interest after a while.  So, I try to find distinguishing things like odd beer styles or something that makes the brewery stand out.  In this case, there were two notables.  The first is The Perch Brewery.  On the down side, I can’t find any information whatsoever on their website about their beer.  Not a good sign.  But they have a collection of tropical birds that I’m sure will make for an interesting blog post. So they will sit high on the list.  The second place that stands out is Helton Brewing.  First, they have a 1 year anniversary party on a night that I will be in Phoenix. That’s a good sign.  Second, they have a really interesting video on their site that tells me they have a fantastic sense of humor.

Step 4: Does each place serve food?  This is a way for me to sneak in extra brewery trips (or sometimes any brewery trip at all) when I’m on travel.  I tend to travel with other people.  If I have a list of breweries that also serve food, I can suggest them when the group is looking to go to dinner. For this trip, I am traveling alone.  But I’m attending a conference and sometimes a group at the conference will want to go to dinner.  Same trick applies.  Not having food doesn’t take a brewery off the list or count in the rack and stack phase.  It’s just something that I can reference when I need to find a place fast that has food.

Step 5: How far is the brewery from the hotel?  If I’m stuck on a trip without a rental car, this step is critical as I’ll only be able to hit the breweries super close.  However, I will have a car for this trip.  So, it’s more of a lower key decision maker.  Do I want to drive 20 minutes to get to brewery A or 15 minutes to get to brewery B?  In other words, does brewery A looks so much better than brewery B that I’m willing to drive more.

Step 6:  Double check Google Maps. BeerAdvocate is a good site.  But, they aren’t perfect.  Often going to the general area where the hotel is in Google Maps and simply typing in “brewery” will show a few additional breweries that I would otherwise have missed.  I still have to be careful here as I can still find places that don’t look open yet, such as Grand Avenue Brewing Company.

Step 7: Get advice.  In the case of Phoenix, I know a good number of people there and can have them chime in on the list that I’ve made.  They may have insider information that I’m not aware of.

Step 8: Rack and stack.  Time to go through my list and prioritize.  I don’t like to take anything off the list at this point.  Just put them in some sort of order.  This way if I’m (for example) hanging out with people in Scottsdale or Tempe, I can look at what is close by and see what I have on the place in my handy dandy list.

So, what does the actual list look like for Phoenix?  Why, it looks much like this at the moment:

Pearch Brewery – 232 S Wall St, Chandler, AZ 85225
http://perchpubbrewery.com/
26 minutes from hotel – Have food – Have tropical rescue birds! – Interesting styles such as cinnamon honey nut brown and grilled lemon cream ale
Mon-Fri 11am -1am Sat-Sun 9am-1am

Helton Brewing – 2144 E Indian School Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016
http://heltonbrewing.com/
7 minutes from hotel – Have food – 1 year anniversary party May 20 – Funny beer fairy video on website – good selection of beer
Tue-Fri: 3pm-10pm, Sat: 12pm-11pm, Sun: 12pm-8pm, Mon: Closed

Sun Up Brewing Compnay – 330 E Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85014
https://sunup.beer/
10 minutes from hotel – Have food – Wide selection including interesting names like May The Schwartz Be With you and interesting styles like Barrel Aged Plum Barleywine
Sunday – Thursday 11:00 – 11:00, Friday – Saturday 11:00 – 12:00 midnight

Pedal Haus Brewery – 730 S Mill Ave #102, Tempe, AZ 85281
https://pedalhausbrewery.com/
16 minutes from hotel – Have food – Really interesting beer selection including Japanese style rice lager
Mon-Thu: 11am – 11pm
, Fri-Sat: 11am – 1am, Sun: 11am – 10pm

Wren House Brewing – 2125 N 24th St, Phoenix, AZ 85008
http://www.wrenhousebrewing.com/
6 minutes from hotel – No food, but allow deliveries – Historic building, “scour the earth for recipes”
Fri-Sat: 12pm-11pm, Sun: 12am-9pm, Mon: 4pm-9pm, Tue: 12pm-10pm

Beer Research Institute – 1641 S Stapley Dr, Mesa, AZ 85204
http://www.thebeerresearchinstitute.com/home.html
23 minutes from hotel – Have food – Interesting name, not sure it’s more than just a regular brewery
Fri-Sat: 11am-12am, Sun-Wed: 11am-10pm

Goldwater Brewing Co. – 3608 N Scottsdale Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
http://www.goldwaterbrewing.com/
18 minutes from hotel – No food – Interesting looking, brewing equipment off to the side of the bar – good selection (have a scotch ale)
Fri – Sat: 12pm – 12am, Sun: 12pm – 8pm, Mon – Tue: 2pm – 10pm

North Mountain Brewing – 522 E Dunlap Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85020
http://www.northmountainbrewing.com/
22 minutes from hotel – Have food – Good selection of beer including belgians and scotttish ales
Fri-Sat: 11am-11pm, Sun: 11am-9pm, Mon-Wed: 3pm-10pm

Arizona Wilderness Brewing – 721 N Arizona Ave, Gilbert, AZ 85233
http://azwbeer.com/
21 minutes from hotel – Have food – Wide range of styles – Hard to tell anything else from website
MON-THURS: 11AM-11PM, FRI-SAT: 11AM-1AM, SUN: 11AM-10PM

Helio Basin Brewing Co. – 3935 E Thomas Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85018
http://www.heliobasinbrewing.com/
10 minutes from hotel – Have food – new brewery – featured in beeradvocate, but styles don’t range much
Tue – Thur: 3pm – 11pm, Fri- Sat: 11am – 11pm, Sun: 10am – 9pm, Mon: Closed

McFate Brewing – 1312 N Scottsdale Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85257
https://mcfatebrewing.com/
13 Minutes from hotel – Have food – Pretty sure I’ve been there before when they were Fate Brewing – Don’t have any growlers or bottles
Sun-Thurs 11am–10pm, Fri-Sat 11am–Midnight

Four Peaks (8th St) – 1340 E 8th St #104, Tempe, AZ 85281
https://www.fourpeaks.com/#/beers/mainstays/0
15 minutes from hotel – Have food
Mon-Thurs : 11AM-Midnight, Fri : 11AM-2AM, Sat : 9AM-2AM, Sun : 9AM-Midnight

Huss Brewing Co. – 5042 N 2nd St, Phoenix, AZ 85012
http://www.hussbrewing.com/taproom/
14 minutes from hotel – apetizery food
Fri-Sat: 12pm-10pm, Sun: 12pm-8pm, Mon-Thur: 3pm-9pm

Mother Bunch Brewing – 825 N 7th St, Phoenix, AZ 85006
http://motherbunchbrew.com/index.html
11 minutes from hotel – Have food – reasonable beer selection
Mon-Thurs: 11a – 10p · Fri: 11a – 12a · Sat: 10a – 12a · Sun: 10a – 10p

Papago Brewery – 7107 East McDowell Road, Scottsdale, Arizona 85257
http://papagobrewing.com/
18 minutes from hotel – Have food – Only 2 of their beers on tap, rest is other breweries
Sun-Thur: 12pm – 12am, Fri-Sat: 12pm-2am

Sleepy Dog Brewing – 1920 E University Dr # 104, Tempe, AZ 85281
http://sleepydogbrewing.com/
15 minutes from hotel – Have food – OK beer selection – not a lot of info
Sun-Mon: Closed, Tue-Wed: 4 pm – 11 pm, Fri: 4 pm – 12 am, Sat: 2 pm – 12 am

The Phoenix Ale Brewery – 3002 E Washington St, Phoenix, AZ 85034
http://phoenixale.com/
8 minutes from hotel – Not sure if food or not (strange Central Kitchen link on website) – Only 4 beers (IPA, Pale, Hef, Watermelon)
Mon-Sat: 12pm-7pm, Sun: 12pm-6pm

Sonoran Brewing Company – 3002 E Washington St, Phoenix, AZ 85034
http://www.sonoranbrewing.com/
8 minutes from hotel – no food – looks like only 2 beers – deliberately nearly no information about anything on their website (like hours of operation or anything useful)
Mon-Sat: 12pm-7pm, Sun: 12pm-6pm

Uncle Bear’s Brewery – web site not working, not sure if operational
17 minutes from hotel

Grand Avenue Brewing Co. – No information on hours of operation, only a nearly empty Facebook page. Think they are not open yet.

Some places were just made for a 360 camera

I’m in Pittsburgh having flown there straight from Queens.  The work is still flowing, but I find myself with an afternoon to myself in which I’m not so tired I can barely think.  This is it!  This is the day to get out to breweries.  Talking to someone at the work site, I hear tell of a church that has been converted to a brewery.  Sounds interesting.  Then, I have a talk with an Uber driver about breweries in the area.  He knows nothing about beer, and even less about why people would visit breweries.  But, he’s heard of a brewery that was converted from a church.  OK.  Now I have to see this place.  It becomes priority numero uno on brewery afternoon in Pittsburgh.  From outside, you wouldn’t even know The Church Brew Works was a brewery without looking at the sign.

The Church Brew Works exterior

When I walk through the doors, I immediately remember architecture from all those times from my youth when I actually went to church.

The Church Brew Works entrance
Stairs leading to upper level seating

Ahhhh, North East Church architecture.  But, then I walked into the main part of the church.  Holy made for a 360 camera Batman!  So much to see here!

OK. I’m calling it. The Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh was specifically designed for 360 pictures. #theta360 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

Wow!  I couldn’t even sit down and get a beer at first.  I had to walk all over this place and get pictures of every nook and cranny.

Brewing equipment at alter of The Church Brew Works
Serving equipment behind bar area at The Church Brew Works
Motorcycle made of bottle caps
Big rock? Fossilized dinosaur poop?
Stuff to buy
Entrance half of The Church Brew Works
Alter half of The Church Brew Workds

Ahhh, but you’re talking to me again as you’re reading.  You’re saying “but, is there more to this place than just pictures?”  Turns out there is.  I just wanted to get the pictures out of the way first as the place was just so visually stunning and photogenic.

I sat down with one of the brewers (Brian) and had a really good discussion about the story behind the brewery.  Of course, my first question had to be “Is the theme based on a highly religious background on the part of the owners?”  Turns out it is not.  The parish was going through a lot of movement and restructuring in the area and the building itself came up for sale.  The owners saw the potential that lead me to walk all over taking pictures before I even sat down for a drink and they leaped at the opportunity.  It really seemed to pay off.  I highly recommend reading the history page of the breweries website as there was a lot of painstaking work that went into the specifics of how this place looks.

Brian also had some interesting perspectives on brewers.  Specifically, he had an observation that many brewers seem to have one of two different training styles.  Many brewers are artists at heart.  Their training is in the art of brewing and they tend to focus on exploration of new and unique styles and flavors.  Then there are the brewers that have a primarily engineering background (like Brian).  They are often chemists at heart and like to focus on perfecting existing styles and flavors.  Brian’s passion is in the flavor that water adds to beer.  The flavor in water comes from stuff that isn’t H2O itself such as minerals.  When he is home brewing in small batches he likes to start with distilled water and then create flavors of water that complement the style of beer he is brewing.  Fascinating!

And, of course, I did manage to get a bottle while I was there.  They had a fantastic Belgian Tripel.

The Church Brew Works 2000 Tripel

If you are ever in Pittsburgh, you NEED to get to this place.  It is quite an experience.

That means what now?

When last we left our intrepid anti-hero, he was living it up with a trip to Queens, NY.  From there I went straight on to Pittsburgh.  I don’t mean that I went home and then flew up to Pittsburgh the next week.  I mean that I had an interesting conversation with the travel agent in which I booked a flight from Orlando to Queens, then from Queens to Pittsburgh and no flight back to Orlando because I wasn’t sure when I would be done working in Pittsburgh.  I’m sure I’m on some sort of government watch list for booking that set of flights.

Anywho… I get to Pittsburgh, I’m tired, and I need dinner.  I want to stay close to the hotel, but I have a rental car (for the first day only) and can’t resist finding a brewery a bit further out.  My research said that my best bet was to go to Heidelberg, PA and check out Insurrection AleWorks.

Insurrection AleWorks

Despite a long walk down a hallway, the actual tap room area is not all that large.

Post from RICOH THETA. #theta360 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

But, as I’ve mentioned before, the size of a brewery is never indicative of how good they are.  The food at Insurrection was exactly what I typically look for.  A menu full of odd things that I just won’t find anywhere else such as Jamaican Hot Chocolate Habanero wings and a list of cheeses with such oddities as Rattlesnake.  As I would soon find out, the Pittsburgh area was going to be a mecca of interesting foods everywhere I turned.  I was even able to find bizarre and delicious food at an airport sports bar.  I’m sure I gained about 10 lbs on this trip.

But, I’m sure you’re asking in your head (because you’re like that, don’t try to tell me you’re not), what about the beer?  Isn’t this a beer blog?  Well, hold your horses, I’m getting there.  The beer menu had a wide variety of styles and I was able to put together an eclectic flight that I’m sure would make some purists somewhere cry.  But, what caught my eye for my collection was a beer called восстание.  A challenge I often face in collecting is tracking all of the beers in the collection.  In this case, I was wondering how my poor spreadsheet that I’m hoping to turn into a full blown database is going to handle Cyrillic.  Just in case, I ask the server what восстание means in English so that I can enter a backup name.  Turns out it means “insurrection”… you know, the name of the brewery.  Crazy.

So, the collection is one growler stronger, I have beer to drink in the hotel after long shifts of work, and I’ve started a trend of fantastic food.  The trip is definitely off to a good start.

My goodness the thoughts in your head right now.  You know I can hear you bitching already, right?  “But were you able to enter Cyrillic into Excel?”  Yes, crybabies.  I was able to put Cyrillic into Excel.  Now go have a beer and calm down.