Friday, March 29, 2013

Beer and There - Beyond Asheville: Flagstaff, Arizona

I just got back from a week's vacation in the southwest. We started out visiting some friends in Albuquerque and ended up visiting some friends in Phoenix and in between we enjoyed time in Flagstaff, Sedona, and Jerome.

As you might imagine Matt and I checked out some breweries along the way. In Albuquerque, our friend took us to several and most of them were quite good. There was only one we really didn't like. It was a great time.

Our next stop was Flagstaff, AZ. We knew nothing about the town before driving across the desert toward an impossible mountain and it turns out that it is an awesome little mountain/college town not entirely unlike Asheville.

We stayed at a quirky hotel right on Route 66. I would have liked it to be quirkier but it was just fine. We were also walking distance to all four of the breweries in the small town. We tried three out of the four. I'm not really sure why we never made it to the fourth because it was right next to the sushi place where we had dinner but I think we were tired and the time zone difference was finally catching up to us.

We had a favorite, though. Since it was right on the walk between our hotel and downtown we stopped there more than once in our two nights in Flagstaff. It is called Mother Road Brewing. Their tasting room has a sweet warehouse feel and the staff was awesome. We sat at the bar the first night and talked with the bartenders. They only had four beers on tap but the quality was outstanding. I love a place that concentrates on making a few beers extremely well than trying to make hundreds of styles that each taste average. My two favorites were their Gold Road Kolsch, which went down very easy, and the Lost Highway Imperial Black IPA. Gold Road was crisp and refreshing but had enough body that it didn't taste like a corporate beer. Lost Highway was super hoppy but with chocolate malts that enhanced the experience.

I do want to give an honorable mention to the little town of Jerome, Arizona. We were at Bar of Soap here in town doing laundry before our trip and a couple people recommended that we check it out. It is pretty crazy. There is one tee-tiny road going up a very steep mountain and it is the only way up and back. Because it looked over the desert you could see Mount Elden by Flagstaff in the distance. The reason it was recommended was because Caduceus Wine Cellar is there - owned by Maynard from the band Tool. On the plane out west we watched the movie Blood Into Wine about the winery. Very good movie.

We enjoyed the winery as well and while we don't often drink wine we enjoyed the tasting that we had. Caduceus uses all Italian grapes for their wines which we know we like and they are all very robust and flavorful. We might have brought some back with us.

I love that Asheville as such a rich beer culture. I also love that this whole country has such a rich beer culture. No matter where you go you can find amazing craft brew places.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Drink Seasonaly: Devil's Britches from Highland Brewing

Yesterday someone asked me the question:

"What is your favorite beer?"

How in the world does someone answer that question? I guess a lot of people have a go-to beer or a favorite style. For me it seemed like trying to pick a favorite child.

I thought about it for a minute but I didn't really have a definitive answer I could provide. So I answered the only way I could.

"I like seasonal beers."

Seasonal beers, for those who aren't familiar with the term, are batches of beer breweries make that are only available for a limited time. Typically these are styles that fit the current weather or are brewed for holiday seasons.

Many of the local Asheville breweries create seasonal beers throughout the year, but the one I think has nailed it is Highland Brewery. Arguably Asheville's biggest brewery, at least before some of the big guys move in, Highland does brew some of the area's beer staples. Their St. Therese's Pale Ale is a refreshing beer that is available year round. Gaelic Ale is also an easy drinking red that you can get just about anywhere. But I believe Highland's best work is their seasonals.

Anticipation is palpable as far away as Atlanta for the release of the popular winter beer Cold Mountain. I also love their Oktoberfest, Clawhammer. Last year, in late spring, Highland introduced an amazing pale ale with hops that tasted like sunshine called Little Hump. I honestly couldn't get enough of the stuff. I bought bottles from the store and ordered pint after pint in any bar I found it in. I have been assured that it is going to be back this year and that it was a staff favorite last year. Turns out it was also award winning last year.

Highland has done it again with their late winter/early spring seasonal available right now called Devil's Britches. Like all of their beers, this one is named after local mountain. Devil's Britches is a rich red IPA brewed with a couple of hops varieties that I had never heard of - but both are named for Greek Mythology (Apollo and Calypso) so I can't find anything wrong with them. The result is a malty beer with hops that don't try to knock your taste buds off your tongue with each sip.

And yes, when I realized that I wanted to blog about it, I went and got a bottle out of the recycling bin to get a photo of it. These are the sacrifices I make for my art.

Because it is a seasonal this beer won't be around for ever. I'm finding myself ordering it out at every chance I can get knowing that might be my last opportunity. If you like malty beers with a little kick of hops but not too much, you might want to check it out for yourself before it is gone.