Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Great Anniversary Tasting Tour, Pt. 3

And now we come to the final installment of the Anniversary Tour. We spent the night at the Best Western Plus in Eureka. The room was comfy and convenient to the activity/pool/breakfast rooms. The only downside was the noise from the room above. Every floorboard seemed squeaky and creaky, kind of a strange thing for a motel. We heard every time someone got up in the night. But when you are on vacation and plan on sleeping in, it doesn't matter as much.

I was very impressed with the activity area. Part was enclosed, part was not. Part was covered, part was not. The floor was concrete, the ceiling was wood beams and such. There were patio furniture arrangements and tall propane patio burners to keep the temperature comfortable when the mist rolled in. Bright lights beamed down from fixtures (no dim fluorescents). Not only was there a pool, but there was a pool table. I was pitiful, never having played before. I finally begged off, letting my husband play against himself. This was MY kind of backyard patio!

After tooling around a little and enjoying yet another Starbucks (did we ever go to the same one twice?), it felt like we could make an early lunch at Eel River Brewery.

It's kind of neat how the breweries pick a geographical icon to make part of their logo, helping you remember the place, showing their pride in the place, making the art unique, and generally keeping the feel of the whole thing culturally local. I like that. Off hand I can think of: Sutter Buttes Brewing, Yuba City, the old water tower; Eel River, Fortuna, the old arched bridge that we crossed over to get into the town; Mad River, the leaping salmon; Redwood Curtain, the coastal redwoods (which only grow in the Pacific Northwest)... what significant figure would you put on a hometown brew you ran?


(We had hunted up Humbolt Brewing in Arcata, since that was one we had not been able to get to many years ago when we came (also for our anniversary!). But when we found out they had sold the brewing operations to an out of state company, we weren't interested anymore.)

Eel River taproom had two options, to eat inside or out, in a pretty picnic-looking area. We chose inside, with a good view of the brewboard. We decided to go with the individual sampler order route, and chose the Amber Ale, Porter, Triple Exultation, Ravens Eye, Onyx, Brown Ale, Cali Pale Ale, and Fortuna Fog.


They were all very good! All my notes have details like, "Best!" "Good!" "Rich" "Keeps up with other porters!" Of course, with so many tastings in a couple days, my main goals were to come across that specially good brew that pops up sometimes, and to decide which brewery was consistently good with its offerings. I think, after visiting Eel River, that I can confidently buy a variety out of the cold case knowing that it will be good. Noteworthy were the Onyx, which was Cascadian dark ale, and the Ravens Eye, a Russian Imperial Stout that compares favorably to North Coast's Old Rasputin.

Since we drove on home after this, via Hayfork (who would have thought such a vibrant little community would exist out in the middle of the mountainous nowhere?), you might think this was end of the tour. But no, I'm going to stick on a place we visited last weekend after a visit to beautiful Burney Falls.

You might imagine all kinds of reasons the town of Weed got its name, but they will probably be wrong. It is actually the last name of the man who founded it, a lumber guy. Since another kind of weed is sort of well-known in the general vicinity of the area, the Mount Shasta Brewing Company plays it up, rather than down. (why wouldn't they use the iconic image and aura of the famous and beautiful Mt. Shasta? Well, when I see that, I think of Shasta Cola.) They don't use the image of the plant so much, but they do have burlap marijuana sacks in their decor and brag to get your legal weed here!

The brewery was retrofitted from a historic creamery, giving lots of ambiance. You feel like you have stepped into an old feed store that someone has turned into their beer garage/den/lodge/pub. The brewing room is at one side and the bottling room is at the other. I'd love to come back when both are in operation. I think there would be a lot of going back and forth between the two and a lot to see.

This flight was amazing!


Since there was so much, we decided to share it, me generously offering all but a taste of the IPA to my husband.

I couldn't believe how good these were; each one was better than the next! When I started out, and I found the Golden lager not only drinkable, but something I would actually buy, I knew I was in for a treat. We worked our way through the regulars and then the seasonals. The Amber Ale was good enough that we bought a bottle of it. The Vanilla ESB deserves a special mention. I would never have put the two together, but it worked. It was like vanilla cream soda... but... beer. Unfortunately, it was only on tap, and we weren't prepared to buy a growler at that time.

Another special note was the Jalapeño Golden Ale. Forty pounds of jalapeño peppers will do a magnificent number on a barrel of beer. If you enjoy hot peppers and you like beer, trust me, you'll like pepper beer, and this is some of the best.

So that ends the Great Anniversary Tasting Tour. I hope you enjoyed it and are inspired to seek out the microbreweries in your area and get a taste of what they have to offer!

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Great Anniversary Tasting Tour, Pt. 2

Before we left home, I had looked up the various microbreweries in the Eureka/Arcata area and I found one that was fairly new, Redwood Curtain Brewery. They did not bottle; it only was served in the taproom. It was during that Happy Hour time between Tea and Supper, so we found the place and went in. It was in a peculiar location, sort of a newer metal-building strip mall type place. Everything inside looked clean, tidy and attractive. But sort of industrial. Not the cozy pub that I'd prefer, but ahh well.

Definitely worth a side trip if you are in the area. And the tasting reminded me of a past realization of how each breweries wares are connected in their flavor palate. They may be wildly different styles, but there seems to be an underlying connection between them all. And the description of each underlined that. "...with our proprietary yeast strain."

The confusing thing about this tasting thought, was the numbering on the board. At one point I thought I was tasting a different one and trying to make sense out of it, and then felt foolish when I realized it was something completely different. Look at the board and see if you don't agree!

The most interesting one was the Flaming Sombrero, AKA Rauchbier. The smoked malt really infused this. I'd probably return if in the area; though the beer wasn't in the "best" category, it was certainly good enough, with enough choices. There were no logo pints, so we bought one of the cute "half growlers" full of Imperial Golden Ale. The logo is sort of strange, pretty, but just sort of, well, not right, somehow. Maybe too symmetrical and hard to figure out on the first glance. One fat double-headed tree with a hole cut in it? Two trees lined up? Any other ideas? And while I'm at it, "Curtain?" Just doesn't seem like the sort of word that goes with "beer" or "brewery" or "taproom." It has connotations of something closed off, like a kitchen window, or a shower curtain.


By now, being ready for a meal again, we checked into the motel and walked up the street to Lost Coast Brewery. It had been several years since I had been there, and had been tremendously impressed with their many-glassed sampler. I was newer to the game though, and was curious to see how they stacked up after seeing all the world class beers I'd had since.

Viewing the menu, I realized that I already was familiar enough with the ones I liked, and I wasn't interested in trying some of the others again. So we tried another tack--food pairings.

This was sort of like a tapas thing with four smaller items and four beers. It was actually quite a bit of food, even with the two of us sharing. And the small samples paired with them were the right way to go. The food was delicious and matched the samples well. I think we were both impressed with the red pepper jelly. It was something more tasty than either of us would have thought. I'd never had that, but would now be willing to try a jar sometime.

In hindsight, we zipped through more tastings in a day than was fair for judging each one well. But you work with the time given you!

Stay tuned for Part 3!


Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Great Anniversary Tasting Tour, Pt. 1

What's a nice way to celebrate an early November anniversary? Hard to think of a more enjoyable outing than a drive over to the coast, through dark green conifers splashed with the occasional fire of deciduous trees turning fluorescent yellow, purplish red and neon orange on a windy mountain road. And when the destination includes a few microbreweries yet unvisited, well that's even better.

We headed west on Hwy 299 towards Eureka/Arcata on the most beautiful fall day. Since this is mostly (supposed to be) a food column, the main subject will be the eating and drinking, with occasional nods to the scenery, etc.

Our first stop was at the Mad River Brewery in Blue Lake. I'm not sure we would have found it without the GPS; either that, or Nuvi just sent us winding around the loopty loops of the residential and older commercial sections for fun. Mad River products are only available in limited varieties and locations in my area, so I was interested in seeing what all they made.

The taproom was small and well-appointed, with a nice homey feel. I knew they had limited food options, namely snacks, but I didn't realize the snacks were like what you'd get at a convenience store; chips, nuts, candy, etc. We hadn't eaten yet and didn't want to kill our lunch appetite on that kind of stuff, but not enjoying drinks on an empty stomach, decided to order a limited sampler and share it.

We skipped the Double IPA because we already knew what it tasted like, very enjoyable, really, a killer ale when you feel up to the robust and rich IPA flavor. They were all quite nice. There were so many samples we tasted on this trip that I am not going to tediously describe each one, but focus mainly on the noteworthy ones. My husband was pleasantly surprised by the Jamaican Red, since he usually does not enjoy the reds. I agreed; it was very good. The biggest surprise was the porter. It was rich and complex, toasty and just right for snuggling up to on a cool fall evening. We left with our pint logo glass to add to the collection. Now that we were properly primed for lunch, we headed for our next stop, Six Rivers Brewery in Arcata.

I had never even heard of Six Rivers Brewery before I started investigating via the Internet for likely pubs. I found out that they do bottle their beer, but the market is pretty well limited to local and the Bay Area. It was set up on a knoll, giving a nice view out across the west to the edge of the coastline. It was painted an unfortunate shade of baby blue, which made me think of all those sky blue Chevy pickup trucks sold in the 70's and the shower rooms of municipal swimming pools. The inside was attractive, with lots of wood, familiar and obscure beer signs, centerpiece bar and full light from the picture windows.

It's too bad that when I think of Six Rivers Brewery, the things that come immediately to mind are, in order:

The flies. Even if fly control had been a complimentary fly swatted upon being seated, it would have been preferable to having them crawling on the glass beside my head, crawling on the floor in a square of sunlight, and flying around the table waiting for my party trick of clapping them to death with my hands.

The service. It was sort of spotty, but the worst came when some of the sample glasses started to empty. The server began clearing them out of the wooden rack in front of me. I'd never had the waiter try to remove sample glasses when I was only halfway through the flight! But the worst was that when I asked her to just leave them until I was finished with them, she insisted on taking them, and continued coming back for more each time one was empty. She also attempted to remove my husband's pint while there was still a sip left until he stopped her.

The food. Ok, it was my fault for agreeing to a plate of deep fried various appetizers, but I was in a weak moment. But even then, it could have been better. Some were good, but some were not. Such as the onion rings that were overcooked and also only had a thin paper onion ring inside the batter shell.

I did not realize when I ordered the whole flight that not only were there 10 of them, but they were about 5 oz each! So I needed my helper here.
We worked our way through the samples, and also through the sample appetizer platter. The IPA was good, tasted to type, well-balanced, probably the best of the lot. I was interested in the raspberry lambic, since I was curious for the taste of that style, but didn't want to buy a bottle. It was very fruity, tangy, a nice sour taste. The Peach Bavarian Wheat surprised me. I'm not normally a fan of fruit beers, but this one had a great natural peach taste, delicate and not overpowered with the mild wheat beer background. Couldn't finish the pumpkin.

So, it was very interesting and educational, and the pint logo glass is very pretty, but I wouldn't search a bottle out in the store to purchase.

Stay tuned for the next two samplers in our beer tour!


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Bottling Day!

There is something compelling about the idea of filling all those bottles with my brew and stamping them with a professional-looking crimped pry-off lid. Besides the crafty pleasure of it, it also meant the end of the different processes and the beginning of just "wait and see."

But before I could get started on the fun part, I had to do the dull and tedious part. I had to wash and sanitize all those bottles. The bottles were actually quite clean already, but I didn't know their history, and I was not willing to do or not do ANYTHING to jeopardize this first batch! So I used my super duper brew equipment cleaner, Five Star PBW. Turned out a couple bottles had a residue sludge in the bottoms, and sure enough, that slid right out. So I washed, and then I rinsed, and then I rinsed again. And then I filled them with sanitizer, which was, thankfully, no-rinse, and set them upside down in a laundry basket to wait. (Note to self; investigate bottle washers)

I boiled the lids and set them aside. My eager assistant lent his back and carried the carboy to the counter. I siphoned off the brew, mixing it with the priming sugar.

There is nothing like a good siphon! A couple of pumps and everything is flowing.


I filled, and I let my assistant do the capping.

Having a helper really made this part go smoother. I didn't have to worry about needing another hand all of a sudden. We got the batch bottled and capped, and now we have to wait. If it ends up being tasty and good, you'll hear all about it. But if it is nasty, then we'll all just forget about it until the next batch!