A glorious fact of life that makes this blog possible for me is that I travel a lot as part of my job. about a year and a half ago, I went to San Diego across two work trips and did a series of posts about a brewery run on my last day there. The story at the time focused on a one day journey specifically in San Diego. But that definitely wasn’t the only set of breweries I went to on those two trips. Some of the most memorable brewery visits for me are the surprise trips where I stumble upon a brewery. Despite all my research of San Diego before my trips, I never really thought to look into the area where much of my actual work was being done. I was working with the U.S. Border Patrol on this set of visits, and we met each day at their sector headquarters in Chula Vista, CA. After working there a few days, one of the agents mentioned that there was a brewery literally only one block away from the headquarters office. So, of course, on the way back to the hotel that very same day, I had to stop in at Novo Brazil Brewing Co.
There was almost no indication from the road as to what the place was (which explains why I missed it on the previous days). And inside was mostly brewing equipment with a small-ish tap room area.
It was a great brewery with quality beer and several unique styles. I was especially pleased that I was able to get a bottle of their Brazilian Style Ale for the collection.
Although Novo Brazil had a goodly amount of equipment, they definitely didn’t seem big enough that I would expect to see anything from them clear across the country in Central Florida. But, guess what I discovered at my local beer stop yesterday?
Crazy… just crazy. I don’t know how they got to such a wide distribution so fast (especially in the San Diego market that is absolutely jam packed with breweries), but I couldn’t be happier for them. I hope I see a lot more from them at my local beer shop. I also hope I keep seeing more from other breweries that didn’t strike me as being the type to make it to national distribution levels. I want to experience déjà brew again and again.
The side trip that Mrs. UsedHair and I took to Atlanta resulted in us taking an odd route to our normal travel destination. Hence, we wound up on Interstate 20 traveling through an unknown (to us anyway) area of South Carolina somewhere around dinner time. The area didn’t look like it was going to offer us much in the way of non-fast-food dining options so my hopes weren’t that high. But, I’m very much a “just in case” kind of guy. So, I pulled out my phone and did a search on Google Maps for food options. To my surprise one of the places that seemed to be right in our line of fire was the Old Mill Brewpub. A quick look at their website checked off two important criteria. They would have food that Mrs. UsedHair (notoriously picky eater) would like, and they did serve their own beer. That was enough for us.
Walking up to the place, the entrance certainly had a standard appearance.
But, it always pays to look a little more closely to find the oddball stuff that gives each place it’s own personality.
After walking down a nicely decorated hallway, you get to the main tap room area.
I, and I know this will come as a complete shock, really like collections. So, I was definitely drooling over their tap handle collection.
I have a tendency to get food with a local flair, so I had to got the most southern US burger I could find. It has pimento cheese, fried green tomatoes, and pepper gravy. The only thing that would have made it more southern would have been to put grits on it. I also, of course, got a flight with 5 out of their 6 current beers.
This was no cut and dry selection of beer. Between the Cookies & Cream Milk Stout and the Hoptimize Strong Ale, I had a hard time figuring out which beer I wanted to walk out of there with. In the long run, the Cookies & Cream Milk Stout won out. I did find it interesting that their growlers and pint glasses have stickers for labels rather than something printed. But, the growler is a very unique style, so I’m still very happy to have it in the collection.
Sometimes I find myself struggling to get to great new places. Then again, sometimes they almost find me. This trip was an extremely happy accident.
Most of the time, I travel for work and slip my own activities in where I can. But, once in a while I get to travel for myself. On our way to somewhere else, Mrs. UsedHair and I decided to make a stop for a day in Atlanta. First up for the day was just a bit to the south of Atlanta in Senoia, GA. We are huge Walking Dead fans and we decided to take a tour of the town that people will recognize from the show as “Woodbury”.
On the tour, we found out a number of interesting facts. For one, the town of Senoia, GA is very much an East Coast version of Hollywood and has been used is a much larger range of film and TV shows than just The Walking Dead. There is also an area of the town just around the corner from the picture above where many Walking Dead shots that take place in neighborhoods (such as the pudding house) are shot. I think the one that took us most by surprise is that if you turn your body 180 degrees from where the picture above was taken, you see…
Yup. That’s Alexandria from the Walking Dead. Giant rusty wall and all. We had no idea both locations were so close together. We learned a lot, had a great time, then moved a little north for our next phase of the day’s adventure. We don’t really watch the news and soft drinks are fun to consume, but hold no super thrill for us. So we had no interest in visiting CNN the World of Coca-Cola that seem to be such touristy draws for so many others. We prefer the odder things in life.
Fortunately, someone pointed out to us that there is a nature trail just south of Atlanta called the Doll’s Head Trail. The trail was made on land that used to be highly littered and, apparently, there was still a lot of debris around the trail for some time after it’s construction. People started taking the debris and making super creepy decorations out of whatever they can find on the trail. It’s super critical to the culture of the trail that the decorations are made only from things that are found on the trail and there are signs everywhere asking that people not import their own decorations.
But, the Doll’s Head Trail closes at dusk. And, as the last picture shows, we were really pushing it and were worried that we were going to get locked in for the night. It was time to head on down the road into Atlanta proper and move on to my choice of places for the day. Nice and close to the highway we would have to hit in the morning (and the hotel where we would spend the night) is Torched Hop Brewing Company.
The first thing that struck me as we walked in was the hop decorations hanging from the ceiling in the lobby (and how much I would like for the ceiling in my bottlecollection display to look the same way).
In fact, most of the decor at Torched hop seemed to be well made and pretty intricate.
Turns out someone there likes to make their own alcohol infusions. I only wish I was going to be there longer so I could have tried one. As it was, Mrs. UsedHair and I were getting tired from the long and adventurous day. Fortunately, they had growlers, so I was able to abscond with a 32 oz of It’s 8 O’clock Somewhere Milk Stout, so the collection did not suffer this day.
Time for my last stop in Pittsburgh. I dove deep into the historic Deutschtown neighborhood for this venture. The historic feel was punctuated by an old, yet seemingly still functional, Heinz factory across the highway.
But, this visit was not about ketchup. Oh no. I was here for the beer, make no mistake. And my destination was certainly no hole in wall with a tiny sign that you had to search for. Due to the somewhat congested nature of the building layouts, you don’t see it from very far away. But, when you get to Penn Brewery, you definitely know it.
Before I even went inside, I got a camera full of interesting information just walking around their cobblestone biergarten with… I don’t even know what to call them. They look like archway tunnels or caves that have been closed off at one end. Although, now they have been set up as drinking/dining areas.
Whatever they are, they are really cool. The rest of the cobblestone biergarten was also interesting.
I ordered myself a plate of pierogi, the Mash Paddle Vs. Hipster beer and settled down to take in the atmosphere and chat with the bartender. I found out that the building was not just a historic landmark for being an old building. It was actually a brewery that had started up in 1884. Penn Brewery apparently still has lagering caverns still in use from the old E&O Brewery days. I’ll bet the odd outdoor areas used to be an entrance to those cavers.
As I waited for my pierogi I wandered the inside and got some additional pictures.
I also checked out the ratskellar where you could see brewing equipment that started in the basement and was situated under the brewing equipment you could see by the bar.
Penn Brewery was absolutely worth the trip, and I managed to score a 2013 bottle of St. Nikolaus Bock Bier that they had squirreled away.
Wow! I just realized how far behind I am with some of the visits I’ve made. In case anyone hasn’t noticed, I travel A LOT. So I have a lot of breweries to write about. Still to come are trips I’ve made to Portland, Baltimore, and New Mexico. On top of that, I have a lot of local-ish breweries to get to. There is a lot on my plate (42 breweries to write about at last count). So, hopefully, I’ll start churning out a reasonable amount of new content to keep up with the pace. I recently spent a significant amount of time organizing all of the pictures and videos I’ve accumulated (which reduced the amount of time I had to write, see how that works). Seems I have a few visits that slipped through the cracks. Let’s make sure they get the attention they deserve.
Remember when I went to Pittsburgh and wrote about The Church Brew Works and Insurrection? Well, that was not all there was to that trip. Somehow I got pulled onto other stories. But there are some Pittsburgh stops we still need to look at.
The story so far. We had a rental car for the first day of the trip (which got me to The Church Brew Works, Insurrection, and Penn Brewing), but then we were on our own. We were staying at a hotel with a shuttle to the airport and we were working at the airport. No need for a rental car for most of the week long trip. The down side of that situation was that we were limited to eating within walking distance of the hotel. On top of that, we were working crazy hours at the airport and we were exhausted by the time we got back to the hotel every night. I was sure I would never find enough breweries, brew pubs, or even good craft beer bars in the area to keep me satisfied during the week and I just didn’t have the energy to go exploring. However, on the way back to the hotel on the first night, we saw a sign within walking distance that said “Industry Public House“. Seemed worth checking out.
They did have “Industry” beers listed on tap. I asked if they brewed on site (as I couldn’t tell if the equipment behind the glass was brewing or distilling equipment) and they were very up front about letting me know that their beers are brewed by Full Pint Brewing. I definitely appreciated the honesty, and Full pint is a great brewer. So, no complaints on my end and certainly nothing to be ashamed of on their end. I was also impressed with their drink listing which included an indication of how full the keg was and a link to Untapped so that you could see what people were writing about.
I am a 5 year old at heart, so I got a kick out of seeing my name pop up on the board when I tracked my beer. Obviously, I got the Hot Blast Habanero Pale Ale, because I like things hot, hot, hot. Before you get all bent out of shape because these systems are showing up all over the place, keep in mind (as I stated at the beginning of the post) that this happened a while back. It was new to me at the very least.
Normally, I’m all about the beer. But, this place had so much more going for it. They also had a list of whiskys and bourbons about as long as my arm and smoke infusers on site. You picked your whisky/bourbon and your flavor of smoke (e.g., apple wood) and they smoked your whisky/bourbon right before bringing it out to your table. I’m not normally a whisky kind of guy (or a heavy smoke flavoring kind of guy for that matter). But I had to try it anyway. I got a Southern Comfort with a cherry wood smoke added. It really was pretty good.
And to top it all off, they had some of the most unique food options I’ve seen in quite some time. That lead to Industry becoming out nightly stop all week long. The first night, I got some wild boar bacon. The second night, I got sausage croquettes with a whiskey sauce and butternut crisps. The next night, I got the roasted duck pot pie. On the last night there, I got the kimchi shortrib burger and the bourbon bread pudding. The saddest part is that I only scratched the surface of what they had available.
I once had a similar week-long work trip where the only place to eat near the hotel was a Waffle House. I can absolutely say that having Industry so close at hand was a far, far better experience. And I did mange to get a “growler” of that Hot Blast Habanero Pale Ale. Although “growler” is a strong term considering what they gave me was really a 12 oz mason jar.
OK younglings. We’re on to my last stop for the Phoenix trip. For my last day of the conference I chose to go to the brewery that was closest to my hotel (walking distance even) because that’s always when I’m pretty shot and don’t feel like going on much of an adventure. I got in touch with the Phoenix cadre and had those that could make it show up at Mother Bunch Brewing for dinner and drinks. As I walked up to the brewery, I was not really struck with an overload of impressions one way or the other.
Once inside, it was much of the same. Apart from the mural featuring a nun, Mother Bunch looks pretty much like a lot of other brew pubs.
I know full well that there is a great story behind this brewery. There always is. You just need to find it. One of the most difficult things for me, as a blogger who is always on travel, is to get access to the right people at breweries to have meaningful conversations. I could call in advance and try to set up interviews. But, I rarely know exactly when I’ll be able to get to a brewery (If, in fact, I can really know if I’ll make it to that brewery at all). So much of my trips is random adventure seeking on the side as far as brewery visits go. My paying job always comes first. Every once in a while, I catch a break and the adventure finds me. At The Perch Brewery I had a great conversation with a local, regular customer who ended up introducing me to the right person to get me the interview with their head brewer. At Mother Bunch, my big break came through an avenue I’ve not experienced before. As I was walking around the brewery taking pictures, a group of people from the conference recognized me and asked just what the hell I was doing. Once I explained the blog to them (and gave them some coasters), one of them indicated that the unassuming looking woman sitting at the bar happened to be the one of the owners/brewers (Julie Meeker). He then introduced me to her and she agreed to an interview. As I expected, there is a lot more to this brewery than you see on the surface. Check out the interview to hear the full story.
Here are some better pictures of the da Vinci like mural depicting the brewing process. I was not able to get a great picture of it, but if you stand just the right way, the sight lines from the “grain to glass” on the wall closest to the camera should match up with the sight lines on the pint at the far end of the hall.
I also found out (if you can believe it) more interesting information from Julie. The name Mother Bunch comes from the character of an alewife and storyteller in early chapbooks. Also, the mural with a nun features Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th century nun who was the first person to document the use of hops in beer in Germany. Mother Bunch is definitely about celebrating the role of women in brewing history and in the present craft beer community. I couldn’t agree more.
So, my last-night-of-travel-fatigue-laid-back brewery visit turned out to be one of the one of the more adventure packed stops on the trip. I’m glad I was up for it. I had a great meal with the Phoenix cadre, got a growler of Mother Bunch – Kiss my Kottbusser for the collection, and then walked back to the hotel to crash.
I often come to expect what a brewery will look like based on what I know about it. My friends in Phoenix wanted to meet up at Goldwater Brewing Co. in downtown Scottsdale and then go somewhere for dinner. There are some key phrases there that create expectations in my mind. First, it’s a downtown brewery (downtown real estate tends to be pricey). Second, it does not have food. These lead me to believe that Goldwater was going to be a pretty small brewery. As I pulled up in front of the brewery, these expectation were met with a small storefront space and a small (although really cool) tap room.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying in any way shape or form that a small taproom is a bad thing. I actually really like the quiet and intimate environment that a small taproom provides. I was perfectly happy to meet my friends in this great taproom that had a large and interesting variety of beers. I got myself a pint of the Desert Rose cactus ale and some spicy jalapeño popcorn and then talked to the bartenders about Goldwater Brewing while I waited for my friends to show up. The Desert Rose cactus ale description on the menu said that the beer was “20 years in the making” and I had to find out just what that meant. Turns out it was the very first beer that one of the founding brewers made as a home brewer 20 years ago and he had been brewing it ever since.
Eventually, some of my friends arrived and the first thing they asked was “did you see the rest of the place yet”? I shot the bartender a hurt look that intended to say “why didn’t you tell me there was a rest-of-the-place?” and said to my friends “what rest of the place?” Turns out Goldwater Brewing has three levels and two taprooms! Let’s take a walk through to see just how big this place is.
I had been hanging out in the main tap room. Now, we picked up and moved to the second tap room called the Goldmine Basement Tap Room where you can get specialty and barrel aged beers.
The basement taproom is really interesting as it was once a shooting range. There are concrete tubes down there where people would practice shooting. Goldwater was even nice enough to leave a target hanging in one of the tubes.
Now, Goldwater uses these tubes to hold taproom equipment that just happens to fit really well.
The cool factor of Goldwater Brewing definitely shot up about 1000% at this point. And it was pretty high to begin with.
Quick side note. I learned something on this trip. Know what you’ll find in every pretty much every building in Arizona? A water cooler.
I’ve been told that it is illegal to refuse anyone water in the state of Arizona, although I was not able to verify that. But, you will definitely see water coolers everywhere.
But I digress. I had a great evening hanging out with a group of my Arizona buddies and walked away with a crowler of Goldwater Brewing 2 Year Anniversary Barley Wine. This visit was definitely a win.
I have done all the legwork to prep for my trip to Phoenix and the big day has finally arrived. I land at 12:30 pm (Arizona time) and can’t check into the hotel until 4 pm. What, oh what, am I going to do with my time while I wait? Fortunately, I’m a man with a plan. I get my rental car and head straight to the brewery that looked best for getting pictures. Those that know me know that I am an animal lover. However, those that really, really know me know that I’m not really a bird person. I’ve had dogs and cats who’s owners claim to hate everyone just saunter right on up to me and have a grand old time. Birds, on the other hand, just don’t seem to like me. Except for cockatoos. No idea why that particular exception exists. Parrots and parakeets bite at me. Cockatoos put their head down and get close to the bars of the cage so I can scratch their neck. But I digress. Regardless of my personal attitude towards birds, The Perch Brewery in Chandler, AZ is a definite must see and a place that I had to bring the 360 camera.
Turns out I made a fantastic choice for the first brewery to hit up on my trip. Not only did they have a great beer selection, they also had some really interesting food choices. I got the “Pig Wings” which are beer marinated pork shanks, dry rubbed, fried, and then grilled. They look like chicken wings and taste incredible.
But the real treat was still to come. Even though I came to The Perch to see the wildlife, I found out that they are super serious about being a cutting edge brewery. I got a chance to speak with one of the brewers who showed me their stone fermenter. The Perch has the only stone fermenter in Arizona, and there are less than 10 stone fermenters anywhere in the country. This is going to give The Perch a great opportunity to play around with some really unique flavors. My only regret is that their first batch wasn’t going to be ready until just after I had to leave Arizona. What a shame.
After all that excitement, I scored what I’m always there for. I got a growler of their Belgian Peach ale to add to the collection.
Believe it or not, bottle collecting and breweries are not my only hobby. I also quite enjoy getting myself out into the wilderness from time to time. No camping or anything, but I do really enjoy a good nature trail. Phoenix presented some definite possibilities. But, being May, it also presented 104 degree temperatures in the heat of the day. The only way I was going to get to a nature trail was if I got up pretty damn early and got out there before the heat of the day. Good thing for me that didn’t really interfere with any of my other Saturday plans. I wanted to hang out with friends who certainly weren’t dumb enough to go out in the heat or get up early on a Saturday, and I wanted to visit breweries that most definitely weren’t open on a Saturday morning. So, there was nothing standing between me and heading off you know, to a distant land. An hour’s drive from downtown Phoenix was the Hieroglyphic Trail.
Up in yonder canyon, at the end of the trail, you can still see petroglyphs left by the Hohokam Indians. Yup… I know… you don’t need to say it. Petroglyphs on the Hieroglyphic trail. Somebody somewhere was confused.
I’m used to Florida nature trails that are flat, flat, flat. Climbing up to the petroglyphs was an interesting challenge. But, then I got to enjoy the nice down hill walk back. I was better able to pay attention to the wildlife around me and even spotted a cactus that looked like it had boobies.
I didn’t see much in the way of wildlife (outside of nasty, nasty insects) while I was on the trail. But, as I was driving away I saw a bunch of cars pulled over to the side of the road gawking at a snake. They asked if anyone was willing to chase it away so no one would run it over. I got out to take a picture and it diligently ran away.
The hour drive to the trail, several hours on the trail, and an hour back to Phoenix. Somehow, I managed to time things just right to be in brewery land right around 11am when they were all opening up. But, what is the right brewery to stop at when you’ve spent all morning in the wilderness. Believe it or not, there is a definite correct answer to that question. It’s Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.
There is a big tree decoration in the center of the main brew pub.
Beyond that, the wilderness decor is pretty low key. For the most part, it looks quite a bit like a brew pub.
I had worked out my wilderness mojo for the day, so I was definitely good with seeing brewing equipment instead of boobie cacti and snakes. There were still lot’s of wilderness themes coming my way in the beer names.
I got myself a Baboquivari Belgian Blonde named for the Baboquivari Peak Wilderness Area. I was getting ready to start asking to interview someone to get more information, when the first of my friends started getting active for the day and asked me to join them for lunch… in 10 minutes. I weaseled my way into 20 minutes and took the time to get myself a growler of Aravaipa Abbey Dubbel to enjoy later in the hotel. Before I left, I stopped into the smaller tasting room and discovered that I could have had a much larger selection of bottles and crowlers.
C’est la vie. I’m really glad I got to squeeze in the trip here, even though it was far too short.
All of the research that went into the Phoenix trip is paying off in spades. My own need to get out into the desert to see some petroglyphs combined with the crazy schedules of my friends has resulted in a lot of travel around the Phoenix/Tempe/Scottsdale area. As I try to fit brewery visits in around everything else, the research list lets me know which of the closest breweries at any given time might be worth a visit. I went to lunch with a group of friends, shopped for bottles to take back in my checked bags (ask any unfortunate soul that’s been stuck with me when I do this, it takes forever) and I think I have time to squeeze in a brewery before meeting up with friends again for dinner and, of course, another brewery in the evening. Then again, I have a trunk full of 2 cases of beer and it’s 101 degrees. I have to really debate as to whether I should take my limited time to return to the hotel with the beer before dinner, or squeeze in the extra brewery and risk ruining the beer in the car.
A quick check of the list and Google Maps shows that the closest brewery with the maximum potential is Pedal Haus Brewery in down town Tempe. The phrase “down town” can be scary or not depending on how large the area is. Somehow, I didn’t picture down town Tempe, AZ as being a huge mass of monstrosity buildings that is often accompanied by my least favorite inner-city crap-fest, the lack of parking. But, despite the general lack of monstrosity buildings, there was no parking to be found out of the streets. The cheap bastard in me was going to have to suck it up and shell out for a parking garage and then walk to the brewery. It does make me feel better that the parking garage is cooler than street parking and the beer in the trunk is probably much safer. But having to walk is not good when I have a very limited amount of time to begin with. Along with the lack of parking, I’m now envisioning a potential congested down town area brewery with extremely limited space. In my head I’m picturing a hole in the wall with a small bar, a few tables, and little in the way of decor. I’ve rarely been so happy to be so wrong. As I approached Pedal Haus Brewing, the first thing I came across was a little park with some cool rabbit statues.
Then when I get to the brewery itself, it’s huge. There is a domed area out front that I walked through to get to the main building.
Inside the brewery is just as impressive. There are light fixtures all over the place that turned out to be re-purposed brewing equipment.
There were plenty of barrels for aging.
And a bizarre offshoot room with crazy lighting that seemed to have a funky bee hive feel to it.
Let’s take a walk through the place, shall we?
But here’s the best part. The manager, Michael, sat down with me to answer some questions. Pedal Haus Brewery has been open for about 2 years and currently operates on a 100 barrel system that is located exclusively at the tap room and restaurant area. A 100 barrel system is pretty big, but they don’t yet have plans on mass distribution. They hope to reach that point, but starting up the canning/bottling process is a major expense and they want to be sure they are well prepared. They chose the down town Tempe area because they like the cultural feel of the area, and because the owner, Julian Wright, is well known as a cyclist in the area. The main style focus for brewing goes to eclectic European styles.
So, the trip was a big win for me. I got to squeeze in an extra brewery in a busy day, got to experience a place with a truly distinct style, had my million and one questions answered, and walked away with a growler. Sometimes a little extra effort goes a long way.