Continued….After a gorgeous week in Skaneateles, seeing family and friends and a great weekend at the Buffalo International Film Fest with even more of our extended family, the time has come for us to move. (It was cool to meet Charlene Amoia, who played Wendy the waitress from How I Met Your Mother, at the film festival; she was very kind.)
With the rest of the month to get to LA for our next film fest, our destination is set but the next four weeks are wide open and we can do whatever we want and go where ever we please. It’s beer and adventure we seek, stop one: Pittsburgh.
Walking around in the afternoon sunlight, it’s still warm and the roar from the stadium as the Pirates almost beat the Cardinals is cacophonous, while we cross one of the cities many bridges en route to the Penn Brewery.
The Penn Brewery is an old German style brewery with excellent true to form proper German Brau. I’m in heaven, the soft Bavarian pretzel served with hot cheese is undeniably perfect and so is the bill: $11 for four beers and die brezel (pretzel in German).Pittsburgh, you’ve won me over. After spending a few more hours walking the cosmopolitan streets, sneaking into a fancy hotel to use the bathroom, and finding a burrito, we’re back in the car heading west into the darkness.
Our accommodations on this fine October Monday evening are an impressively congested and busy Ohio State welcome center. Ohio rest areas are interesting, some are really clean and well appointed, a bonus on this night there is free wifi, allowing us to watch Netflix, unwind, and pretty much pretend that the back of our car is a hotel suite. Unlike an actual hotel suite the on-the-hour Ohio State Trooper patrol scanning our license plate is an ever-present reminder that we’re indeed sleeping in our car, surrounded by other vagrants and squatters. I didn’t know Ohio was the epicenter of the war on terror….
Morning comes early and opens up to a gorgeous day that includes stops in Columbus, Dayton, and Indianapolis. In Columbus, we saw the murals, went to the gym, and used the restrooms at the library. Dayton wasted our time, but Indianapolis was really attractive and lovely. Unfortunately, we couldn’t spend as much time as we wanted in Indianapolis, next time….although, as I’m writing this, the “next time” for Indianapolis has already come and gone, so it’ll be the next- next time, we’ll drink you in, or have a drink in you.
Speaking of drinking, it’s an Indiana CVS where we’re surprised to find such low prices on tequila, the true elixir of living well, so we avail ourselves of the wares. Recalling another evening spent in the Hoosier State, it was during The Long Bike Back film shoot, where outside of Elkhart we dined in a brew pub where pitchers of beer were cheaper than pints. It’s fuzzy, but I remember my pitcher being full of Arrogant Bastard and I was drastically hung over on the bike the next morning.
After a lovely morning hanging out at the Gateway Arch and spending the afternoon working from a Starbucks in a Target Café, we’re chewing up miles like a goat in grass through Missouri en route to the college town of Columbia. Fortunately there is a brewery in Columbia, which is good news because “goddamnit, I haven’t had a beer since Pittsburgh”! Julie, the steadfast and tireless co-pilot, heeded the call from my hop seeking heart and found the Flat Branch Brewery for us to have a pint.
Securing a safe spot at the bar, we watched the Pirates get beat by the Cardinals, which was cool because earlier in the day we strolled by Busch Stadium as crews were prepping for the game.
The beers in our glasses were good. The Amber Chili Ale stood out from the others. Very pepper forward, I’ve had chipotle peppers in my beer but never a chili. Turns out Flat Branch combines Anaheim peppers and stove roasted Poblanos to their malty amber, which makes this interesting beer somewhat complex. I’m glad we shared it, not that it was gross or overly spiced like the Thai chili beers we suffered through in San Diego at Ballast Point……that’s right, those beers were beyond challenging and almost undrinkable. The Amber Chili Ale is not for me, I like beer to be an enjoyable unchallenging experience, save for the times when there are double digit ABVs or super high IBUs because that’s dedication to the brewing process, sometimes I feel these flavor additives are just walking a fine line between clever and stupid. I brought up Ballast Point, so I will finish my thought about that with a little break in this timeline and do a flash forward, so for the next few sentences we’re going to leave Missouri in October 2013 and head to San Diego in February 2014, we’ll return to Missouri and our westward ho’ in a moment.
Interlude to February 2014
Living on the road in California is not a bad way to spend an east coast winter, renting beautiful homes in surreal places like the Mojave Desert and the central coast, in between stays in the car along the Pacific Coast Highway and Big Sur, I couldn’t imagine a better way to experience being alive. We spent a wonderful weekend in San Diego, drinking some of the best beer we’ve ever had and for our last night in this beautiful city we chose to go to the Ballast Point brew pub, amazing beer is everywhere around this place, there are 80 breweries in San Diego county alone.
Sitting at the crowded bar curious by their offerings and familiar with their year round brews, we boldly take a shot and mistakenly order the Thai Chili Ginger Wahoo White. A 4% “white-ish” ale that was overbearingly Chili forward, with a spice that rendered it too painful to drink. I’m a fan of bold flavors but this was over the top. I’ve witnessed my dear Julie, who was raised in Buffalo on chicken wings (she’s a Duff’s girl for your edification) where medium is Hot, medium-hot means really goddamn Hot, and hot is piss your pants, cry to your grand-mom, your ass is gonna be on fire Hot, eat an entire plate of Hot wings and even she had a difficult time getting through this Thai Chili glass.
Next up was the 7.9% Weeping Cat, which was a combination of three different yeast strains, featuring coriander, maple syrup, and white and green peppercorn. I wasn’t nearly drunk enough to find this Franken beer tasting good. While I applaud the deft hand of the brewers in pushing the limits of their creativity and the willingness of our palates, these beers came across as too strange. Thankfully next in front of us was the 9.6% Dorado Double IPA and by the grace of what remains holy and sacred, this brew was malt forward with an excellent hop character that came through despite being a little muted by the previous two beers utter taste bud annihilation. Overall I love Ballast Point and they are high on the list of excellent beer makers, but these experiments are exactly just that, experiments, if anyone likes these beers, please tell me I’m crazy and should keep my opinions to myself. But, these test/dare/experiments should come with a warning, buyer beware and not in some kitschy cute way, it should say, “Seriously these are experiments and you might hate it and want your money back.”
Back from the future in Missouri, still at the Flat Branch Brewery in Columbia, and I’m now drinking the Porter, which claims to be an abbey porter and I suppose it could be, I’m not getting a Belgian yeast or a Dunkel vibe from this “Abbey” porter but I do notice some cola and fruit pectin and I’m enjoying it.
Set to spend a night on the highway, the rest stop looks pleasant and peaceful, but the Missouri rest area bathroom set up is bizarre to say the least, the toilets are normal but the hand wash situation is straight out of an Arthur C. Clark novel. You must hold your hands just right under the mirror so a motion detector can sense it should spit some water out of the spout that is merely enough to moisten your hands before a water soap combination dribbles out, followed by a brief break to scrub your hands until a spastically quick rinse cycle occurs, followed immediately by a stream of cool air. Invariably the rinse session doesn’t last long enough to clean all of the congealing soap off and you get to wait through an additional course of water, soap/water, pause, rinse water, air. By the way the water is also non-potable. Gross. When we parked, we were the lone car in the lot and within an hour we had neighbors, frankly it seemed as though a small city emerged, the place was packed! At this point we’re feeling Missouri is more like Grand Central station than American’s farmland or home to conservative talk radio morons.
A quick repeat of the irrelevant future bath rooming and then it was off to Kansas City, a place my jazz schooling had me dreaming about. With exercise and proper cleaning at the gym, an awesome but brief walk through the city and outdoor market, it was the Boulevard Brewery that pulled us in.
Turning up and coincidentally sneaking into the brewery bar at the end of a tour, one of brewers noticed us and graciously gave us a private tasting of all of their beers, each one better than the next. Boulevard is a world-class brewery, to me, their beers are top notch. The distinctive flavor and early-ish day drinking excursion is really comforting and making both of us feel exceptionally welcome in the mid-west, the folks are warm and kind, albeit inquisitive, but genuine.
Kansas is where the country started to transform from rolling farmland, the prairie has now splayed out in front of us like a brown untouched ocean. Oddly enough we stop to gas up in a quaint town called Manhattan and locate a protected area called the Konza Prairie and take an unexpected awesome hike in this remarkable open space. I’ll leave out the details and explanation for a future photo spread. After another hundred miles, passing through Eisenhower’s (and more important to me Astronaut Major General Joe H. Engle’s) hometown of Abilene, it was Salina where we found a delicious Mexican meal and made reservations for a hotel in Denver for the weekend.
After enduring howling winds and a thunderstorm we are relieved to watch the sunrise over i-70. While adding some washer fluid at a truck stop, we ran into the same couple from dinner the night before, it turns out they are from Philadelphia and driving for the first time across the country, they were going as far as Durango and were currently seeking a “good cup of coffee.” I had to break the news that good coffee doesn’t exist west of the Mississippi until you get to the West Coast. Which for the most part is 100% true, especially at 7:47 am in the middle of nowhere Kansas at a Love’s Truck stop, where the burned carafe of Taster’s Choice is a pitiful far cry from the deep rich city roast us east-coasters are accustomed to.
We continued on and the wind put up a helluva fight, brutalizing our gas mileage, but we eventually make it to Denver and the breathtaking front range of the Rockies. It’s a Friday night, and the start of the Great American Beer Fest…..to be Continued