Monday, June 30, 2014

Beer & Loathing in St. Louis: Part 2

For those just coming into this post for the first time, please read Day 1's exploits HERE.  This write-up came about during a trip for Limited Release for the Barrel Aged Abraxas release at Perennial Brewing.  I might have been reading Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas at the time...

Chapter 4: Urp

The black-out curtains worked well, until that single burning ray of sun reached my eyes, singeing me and raising sparks of flame and pain in my retinas.  Afraid I would spontaneously combust like a Hammer Horror vampire or a drummer for Spinal Tap, I rapidly burrowed deeper into my hotel bed cocoon.  Too much, too soon!  I had peaked my first day in St. Louis, with nothing left for the coming day.  I had not run the marathon...I had run wind sprints!  My late night had ended with a troubled and fitful sleep, filled with strange dreams of riding past an endless Anheuser-Busch complex with Hunter S. Thompson in a convertible.  Behind the wheel was Ron, pedal down, eye red-rimmed and frightening, the size of dinner plates.  I was frantically cautioning them not to stop in Bat Country.  The copious amounts of red meat and alcoholic toxins fueled an epic thrashing night of what Rob calls "The Meat Sweats".  Sitting up slowly now I took stock.  Head, though seemingly swollen and filled with thick cotton batting, was still attached to my neck.  Good.  Eyes--I didn't want to think about them.  Not open them.  Stomach, queasy, but holding in there!  Limbs--floppy and made of rubber.  Weak like those of a newborn kitten.  "No problem," I thought, "I can do this!"  I had lasted as long as my hard-living and hard-drinking colleagues, and there is no way they could be doing better than I!

Staggering about like a lurching zombie from a classic horror flick, I met up with Rob downstairs at the hotel breakfast cafĂ©.  In a show of possibly poor judgement, my compatriots had apparently gone back down to the casino floor after I had wandered off to bed the previous night.  Food was far from my mind, but the necessity of a strong caffeine bolus to get me started up again prompted me to make this trek.  Once I had some coffee in my veins the shaking subsided.  Watching Rob gustily devour his enormous mound of fried chicken atop a mountain of waffles, my stomach writhed and slithered about in my chest like an enraged eelpout.  It was dicey for a while there.  Our service was very slow, making the clock-less time of the casino drag even more strangely, disorienting and odd.  Ron eventually joined us, showing off his own particular brand of zombie shamble.  In between rolling hops and dips of my suddenly soaring stomach, I managed to stuff in a small amount doughy biscuits and slippery gravy.  Perhaps not the greatest of plans, but my brain didn't seem to be functioning correctly.

Chapter 5: Return to Perennial

Properly fed and caffeinated, our humbled trio drove slowly back to Perennial Brewing to set up our cameras and equipment to record the third day of the Barrel Aged Abraxas release.  This was our mission, our quest, our driving force for traveling to St. Louis!  Having had a taste of the event (and that wonderful beer) from the previous evening, we thought we knew what to expect.  It had been busy and somewhat crowded but not as insane as Darkness Day or Dark Lord.  We arrived about 45 minutes before the tasting room officially opened.  Already exhausted staff bustled about making last minute preparations before the crowds returned.  We set up cameras, moved heavy boxes of priceless Abraxas, and even interviewed a few of the helpers.  Safe inside the shelter of the taproom, we watched a growing line of beer enthusiasts forming outside--a lengthy snake of thirsty humanity.  Ominous clouds rushed in, dark and tortuous, promising wicked rain.  

Inside I met my St. Louis counterpart: Eric Hildebrant.  An extreme beer geek, hooked into the local community, and blogger for STL Hops.  Perhaps this seemingly friendly alter-ego was my Nemesis for the trip?  Did his easy smile hide a wicked doppelganger with a nasty desire to take over my life and connections upon my return to Minnesota?  No, that would be crazy.  Wouldn’t it?  I would keep a sharp eye on him from now on...

Outside the treacherous clouds worsened.  Shadows fell upon the land, plunging the poor folks outside into a deep despairing darkness.  One of my best friends, Bryan, his girlfriend Megan, and friends Charley and wife Elizabeth, were out in that deadly weather.  With a crash, the bottom dropped out, instantly drenching the restive waiting line with a torrent of cold rain.  I hoped my friends were under cover.  

Within a few more minutes, the doors were opened and the crowd crushed into the small taproom, seeking refuge from the deluge outside.  The bar was filled in seconds, the mob, as a single entity, reaching for the precious dark Abraxas.  We struggled to film this madness from several angles, while still trying to get some of the beer for ourselves!  After throwing a few elbows, groin kicks, and Judo flips I was able to get my glass.  Two seconds later, they were out.  27 minutes and the keg was empty!  The humidity was nearly unbearable in this press of rabid humanity.  The overhead metal piping dripped with perspiration, as did all of us.  In the oppressive heat we sipped on 12% ABV thick and sweet spiced, barrel aged Imperial stout.  Not the most refreshing of beers for the heat, but so tasty that it was worth our trials.  When the keg had kicked they put on the Mint Imperial Stout Barrel Aged 17, to tempt us with more heavy ale.  Our friends were miraculously able to find seating and I finally had time to relax with them.

This day was also the release of Side Project Saison du Fermier.  Side Project is just that: a brewery within a brewery, where head brewer Cory King of Perennial does his own wild and barrel aged beers on a much smaller scale.  The release on tap of this saison started about an hour after Abraxas ran dry, encouraging all of us to stay longer.  Two lines, one for picking up Abraxas and one for Side Project, coiled through the brewery like living, pulsating, sweaty THINGS made of hot and sweaty people.  I had tried the wonderful Saison the night before, but on this close and sweaty day the beer was the refreshing blast I needed to keep functioning.  

Later, as the crowds died down, Rob, Ron, and I were invited into the inner sanctum of the brewery.  Large stainless fermenters crowded the back brewery rooms.  Heaps of filled kegs and pallets of bottled Perennial beers were stacked everywhere with seemingly frantic abandon.  Several large wooden foedors had just been delivered and somehow Ron managed to talk Cory into getting inside one for candid photos.  Ron, who when drinking decides that everyone else should be keeping up, handed me a full glass of an amber viscous substance that tasted of burning and my upcoming doom.  As we set up cameras and I interviewed Cory about his brewing, I kept setting the glass down or forgetting it in different places.  The glass would appear again in my hand as if by magic!  A small group of us got to share a bottle of last year’s Abraxas side by side with this year’s beast.  Both were amazing, but this trial, in addition to my boomerang glass of George Dickel whiskey was starting to affect my judgement.  During this time Rob and Ron interviewed Rachel, Perennial’s resident PR goddess.

When I thought the afternoon could rise no higher, we were invited into yet another secret and mysterious area of the brewery.  This was the dark and cool barrel room, where hundreds of bourbon and wine barrels, filled with mystical beer, slumbered away in silent repose.  One could smell the spirits diffusing through the wood and feel a subtle dampness upon the skin.  I talked to my possibly evil Doppelganger back there under the dim Christmas tree lighting, trying too decide which of us would leave this room alive.  Cory pulled rare samples from barrels to serve us.  We awaited with upturned mouths, cheeping baby birds waiting for our mother to regurgitate half digested food into our waiting beaks.  That damnable whiskey found its way back to my waiting hand like some demented and ill mannered hound!  Just then a loud and discordant symphony of warning klaxons bellowed from nearly everyone’s cell phones, startling us out of this dreamy reverie.  Tornado Warning!  At least we were already in the deepest recesses of the brewery and as safe as we were likely to get.  Shrugging off the fear of being crushed beneath tons of brick rubble and large wooden casks, we continued our after-party.  I ended up getting a chance to interview Phil Wymore, previously of Goose Island and Half Acre, and now Brewmaster of Perennial.  During our interview he held his young son in his arms.  Phil managed to keep his cool and answer all of my obscure questions, while his son pulled hilarious faces at the camera the entire time.  All joking aside, the entire staff at Perennial treated us like kings and I will always remember their hospitality.

The Barrel Room!

Chapter 6: Don't Bogart my BBQ, dude!

All good things must come to an end--and ours was ended by voracious hunger.  While barrel aged Abraxas was certainly filling, it was nearly 4 PM and we were in dire need of true sustenance!  I thought I could hear the building rumble around us, but instead of rampant tornadic activity, it was only Rob’s belly crying out in complaint!  We pulled Ron away from his recording and sampling, kicking and screaming out obscenities.  We were on a mission to get some filling food and only one thing would do: St. Louis BBQ!  At the suggestion from nearly everyone we talked to, our quest led to Bogart's, a family run classic BBQ joint not far from the brewery.

After parking nearby, Rob and I took some pictures for posterity and Ron ran ahead to scope out the terrain.  We had heard that Bogart's often ran out of food by this time of day and were desperate for some smoked meaty goodness!  Ron came running back, face aglow with adoration and excitement.  

He is here!  Hurry up I need a picture with him!”  Ron gasped out.  He turned back and ran panting toward the restaurant.

We turned from our shooting and hurried up behind Ron.  Inconceivable!  It couldn’t be!  Standing next to an exuberant Ron with a pleasant and somewhat resigned look upon his face was Wallace Shawn.  Star of our childhood favorite, the Princess Bride, and more recently the voice of Rex in Toy Story, it was a strange and fortunate event to meet him at Bogart's!  We snapped a few shots and let him get back to eating with his family.  The three of us basked in the glow of celebrity proximity, residual blood alcohol levels, and a gratuitously large platter of smoked meats.  We ate with gusto, cramming our gullets full of protein while we watched the disappointing loss of the Triple Crown on TV.  

Chapter 7: A Civil Life
Sated for now, we headed out for another beery side trip.  This time we met up Bryan and his crew at Civil Life Brewing.  While 4 Hands is known as the “hoppy” brewery, and Perennial is the “artisan” brewery, Civil Life is the “session beer” brewery of St. Louis.  They focus on styles of beer under 6% ABV, mainly English and German styles.  With the Perennial Abraxas release this weekend, many more hordes of craft beer drinkers were in town and on the move, resulting in this being a very crowded place.  We met Bryan and posse, as well as Joe and some others from the Perennial event.  We took over much of the upper balcony area and shared many half-pints of fine lower alcohol beers.  Now this was the way to pace yourself!  With 4% beers I get full or have to “excrete” the beer before I get drunk.  Perfect!  I tried Eric’s Special Beer (ESB) named after my evil doppelganger-body-donor, Eric Hildebrandt.  It was wonderful.  Perhaps there was something in this special beer to help Eric take over my excessive lifestyle:  a genetic mutagen, slow poison, mind-control drugs?  It was so good that I would have to risk it.  

I went back downstairs, pushing past throngs of hipsters and ordered more beers from the Gary Oldman look-alike bartender.  I finished up with the Milk Stout--one of the best I’ve ever had!  I also met a few nice local homebrewers that I later would run into at NHC.  Strangely, instead of getting more paranoid after all the beers I’d had, I became more friendly and talkative than usual. 
Something in the ESB working at eroding my own will?  

It was not incredibly late, but we were full, dehydrated and drunk on life (and possibly beer), so we headed back to our base of operations at River City Casino.  We dropped off our equipment and headed down to the casino floor.  Again the wall of smog hit me and triggered my allergies almost immediately.  With a series of gagging coughs, weeping eyes and runners of snot dripping down my face, I tried to ignore it and moved on.  We lost more money on slot machines, many of them strange and incomprehensible to my slowly spinning mind.  Shiny!  Lots of beeping!  Around us were yet more septuagenarians selling away their pensions and spouses’ life insurance money on the repeated push of a button.  An air of desperation, sadness, and lost hope surrounded us.  I laughed in the face of my $20 spinning slowly down to nothing!  Ha!  Ha!  Nooooo!

Despite our encumbering lead-weight meat-meal from  Bogarts, we desired more food.  And beer of course.  The casino floor had both kinds of beer: Bud and Bud Light!  (The spectral hand of AB-INBEV cracked its knuckles and chuckled at our disgust.)  We discovered that the Beer House restaurant and bar in the casino actually had a decent tap list, but closed early.  We splurged on terrible (for us) nachos, wings, and rings.  If the beer didn't destroy my liver this trip, the food would likely cause my heart to burst from my chest like a violent alien fetus.  While eyeing my thudding and deforming chest suspiciously, Ron handed me the sizable beer list.  With excitement we discovered that they had 48 oz. mugs that we could take onto the casino floor!  Feeling like hobbits that realized beer came in pints, we all ordered one of these gargantuan beers.  The huge ceramic stein was difficult for me to lift with two hands and even more difficult to drink without spilling all over myself.  Rob’s bear-paw tipped his stein back like it was a half-pint back at Civil Life!  

Rob indulges his fetish for both kitties and sparkle!

We dragged our gratuitously sized mugs into the casino for some serious gambling.  Figuratively thumbing my nose at AB, I sipped at this growler-in-a-mug of Civil Life Brown ale for quite some time.  We joined a blackjack table, where I was thrust into the hardcore gambling life.  We had an ever rotating series of dealers, and a lady pit-boss that was rough around the edges and simultaneously hilarious.  At a table across from us a woman with a cackle to shame the Wicked Witch of the West would intermittently burst into this shrill and earsplitting sound.  Soon our entire table would echo this shriek in protest, and the poor dealers and staff would cringe.  Oh we were having fun!  My money slowly trickled away and Ron or Rob would stake me so I could continue.  I’d win small and pay them back, starting the process over again.  Our table included Angie, a fairly big winner who seemed to bring us some measure of luck, and certainly added some more fun to our game!  We ran through several dealers.  Keisha was great and at least entertained us when we lost.  Then came Amarr--that bastard!   He would give a little knowing smirk as we all lost big and then a small shrug of the shoulders to indicate that our luck had run out.  Later Keisha came back and stole more of our money, but killed us with kindness so it didn’t hurt so much. The smoke billowed about us like a second malodorous skin.  The shouts, bells and Witch-Cackle resounded through the casino floor.  I lost money but strangely felt OK with it.  I had payed for an experience and these were the wages of sin.  Oh, and I borrowed the money from Ron, so it totally didn't count.

48 oz and ghetto chiller...

Tired of hemorrhaging cash like a hemophiliac sticking his hand in a Cuisinart, we moved our party back to Ron’s room again.  There we drank some more Civil Life beers in their tiny medicine bottle growlers, listened to more music and discussed our epic day of debauchery.  To top this night of excesses, we cracked one of the best sour beers I have ever had.  This was the mythical Side Project beer called Fuzzy.  A very tart ale created with wild yeast gathered at Cory’s family farm, this beer was sharp, puckering, and incredibly complex with a lingering taste of fresh peaches.  Lucky for me, my compatriots are not sour beer fans, so I drank the lion’s share of this fermented wonder!  A fine way to finish this gonzo day.  1000 thanks to Cory and Perennial!  

Chapter 8: The Aftermath

We won't speak of the following morning.  But I had slowly, staggeringly, run the marathon.  We eventually gathered together to fill up our car with equipment, luggage and spoils of war.  We hunched briefly in the chill shadow of AB for a small segment for Limited Release.  We took some pictures at the Arch.  We had a quick lunch at the Shlafly Tap Room and sampled yet more beers.  Hair of the Dog and all that.  Then back to our respective homes, limping home, tired, overdosed on fine ales, gambling and too much meat.  In the end my nemesis was only ME!  There is no other moral to this tale.  Watch our old Limited Release episodes and keep an eye out for the upcoming episode to see us in action HERE.  A huge thanks to the fine folks of Perennial, and 4 Hands for treating us so well during this trip!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

30 Word Thursday--The Bride

Derelict building hunches amongst its condemned brethren
Lost areas of The City
Urban sprawl
Urban decay
Urban renewal
Ghostly bride peers out at the wreckage
Wistful for times long past

This week's 30 Word Thursday picture was taken during a recent trip to St. Louis.  The city is full of character, but many areas we drove through were broken down, decrepit and bombed-out.  I was in the back seat with my camera, and snapped this picture of the building.  Only later did I notice the creepy and somewhat ghostly figure of the bride in the window.  Mannequin?  Or spectral observer?  Check out the other 30 Word Thursday entries at Erin's Treasures Found Blog!  

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Beer & Loathing in St. Louis: Part 1!

Chapter 1: The Yeti; Strange Trip

I looked at my traveling companion with a sleepy eye.  Rob was a big, happy, bear-like man, perhaps hiding some Maori or Samoan blood in his family tree, and was also one of my oldest friends.  As my financial advisor and personal chef-to-the-stars, he was also indispensable for this trip.  We rode in our other friend Marty's vehicle, Rob scrunched into the back seat and making the old import list to the left and rear.  Marty navigated his heavily laden car seamlessly though the darkened streets of Suburban Minneapolis.  We called him The Yeti, as his image had never truly been caught on film, other than blurry fast-moving shots reminiscent of the Zapruder Film.  He is a survivalist, blacksmith, environmental scientist, and military man.  Our luggage nestled in the trunk with The Yeti's favorite axe.  Hey, you never know when you will need one!  While his favorite travels with him, he has a whole room full of axes in his country-side compound for unknown and unknowable uses... 

On the way to the airport I thought back to what had prompted this potentially foolhardy trip.  At a dinner of red meat and copious amounts of 5050 Eclipse Imperial Stout, Rob had convinced me to join him for what promised to be an epic trip of obscene proportions.  We would travel to St. Louis to film the release of the fabled Perennial Barrel Aged Abraxas--a white whale of a beer to rival Ahab's Moby Dick.  Having made a less than lucrative side career of such beer-travel with our other friend Ron, Rob worked hard to sell me on the deal.  I had only heard stories of their previous exploits, (and seen the footage from their Limited Release web show of course,) so I was intrigued.  Hopped up on Eclipse and copious amounts of meat, I agreed and the stars aligned to make it happen!

After arriving at the airport, unloading our luggage, and watching The Yeti screech away from the curb--avoiding unnecessary scrutiny and photographic evidence--we arrived at our gate.  Rob and I sat in the crowded airport, waiting with a mass of ragged humanity for our oversold flight from Minneapolis to St. Louis.  Hopped up on extreme amounts of coffee and lack of sleep, things took on a hazy and ominous cast.   In a quiet voice I asked him if he had managed to smuggle our needed supplies into his luggage.  This trip would require massive amounts of sustenance, but in recent years our ability to transport precious beer in carry-on baggage has been lost. 

"I was able to fit a couple bottles of Surly Darkness into my checked bag.  I just hope they don't open it up and remove the packing..." He whispered back, looking around himself surreptitiously. 

"That's all?  How are we supposed to stay properly fueled throughout this trip?  I knew we should have rented that convertible and packed the trunk full of beer!" I responded. 

Just then Rob grabbed my arm with his massive fist, looking across the gate with a paranoid look.  I turned my gaze to see what he was looking at and spotted Him.  Lurking amongst the traveling rabble was a man in an overly tight martial arts t-shirt sporting a Snidely Whiplash style goatee and twirly mustachios.  Perhaps it was nothing...but maybe Mister Mustache was studiously ignoring us.  In all great stories the protagonist needs a powerful antagonist.  An anti-hero.  A villain if you will.  Was this outrageous man with the villainous facial hair to be my nemesis?  Would he have the audacity to wear his shear evil right there on his pinched face? 

We boarded shortly, keeping a watching eye on our kung-fu villain.  We did not see any overt dangerous behavior.  I kept expecting him to pull out a monocle to polish, but if he had one, he kept it well hidden during our flight.  Our plane kept hitting pockets of wicked turbulence throwing the steward staff and some overhead roller-bags careening around the cabin like a demented pin-ball game.  I crossed my fingers and gripped my armrests until I felt they would tear free of their moorings.  I do not travel very well.  The main stewardess would periodically announce things over the loudspeaker with a subtle slur to her speech, showing evidence of either a stroke, or possibly of hitting one too many tiny bottles of booze on the flight... With a long bounce a loud rattle of plastic and metal shearing apart, we slid into St. Louis.  My villainous friend was nowhere to be seen.

Rob and I hustled our luggage into a waiting cab.  Upon hearing our destination, the cabby hesitated a beat and with dollar signs and sudden fear in his eyes he drove us far across the city.  We rode along glorious old-money boulevards and sprawling highways and byways.  We passed a huge complex of red brick buildings emblazoned with an enormous eagle.  Anheuser-Busch!  The enemy of craft beer?  Perhaps my nemesis was not to be a person at all, but a monolithic globe-spanning empire bent on winning market share and convincing people that cold is a flavor!  With AB's shadow looming over me upon the highway, this idea didn't seem far fetched.  Who else would want to silence our upcoming aria about the special release of a craft beer idol?  I would have to be cautious.

Come visit…Forever!

Passing bombed out brick buildings, razor wire with flapping beards of shredded plastic bags, junked out cars, and check cashing joints, we were nearly upon our destination.  We were dropped unceremoniously at a curb, near a large and mostly decrepit industrial building.  Thinking at first that our cab driver had refused to drive us deeper into the urban jungle and decided to dump us off quick, I made sure to grab all my bags fast.  While Rob paid our ludicrously high cab fare, I did finally spy a small sign for the Perennial tasting room upon a nearby wall.  Ah, safe indeed!  No problem other than walking through a borderline sketchy area with several thousand dollars worth of camera equipment--and rare Surly Beer!

Chapter 2: Perennial; 4 Hands

We met briefly with the staff at Perennial, all of whom were friendly and wholesome to a fault!  Ron was already there, awaiting our arrival and showing us the ropes.  We quickly learned how to dip bottles of precious Abraxas into hot wax!  A valuable skill for the future?  The brewpub is small and spare, clean and with artistic photos of the brewery upon the walls.  A small bar, one large table and several smaller ones provide limited seating.  Nestled in amongst the industrial sprawl of the building are apartments, a small salon, and the South Side Fight Club.  No one would talk about the fight club...

With a longing look back at Perennial and those unopened bottles of liquid black gold, we headed out for our next destination.  In another industrial area, past more battle-ground buildings was 4 Hands Brewing Company.  The brewery's sigil is four green clasped hands surrounded with leaves and resembling a hop cone, but eliciting a unnerving hidden Masonic message vibe when I looked very closely.

There, the three of us were greeted by a friendly bartendress and the owner, Kevin Lemp.  We were treated to high hospitality and drank many fine beers while filming segments for our magnum opus of beer journalism.  The Chocolate Milk Stout and Passion Fruit Prussian Berliner Weiss were incredible!  Behind the counter sat an ancient wooden warhammer, wrapped in iron spikes, making Thor's Mjolnir look like a children's toy.  I could barely lift this weapon, but Rob wrapped the handle with his massive paw and swung it about like a maddened atavistic Viking.  His normally placid eyes sparkled with mayhem and blood-lust.  Maybe I was wrong about his Maori blood...perhaps Old Norse?  Ron and I eased away from him and distracted him with more large beer samples.

We were given a personal tour of the back rooms and even upstairs in this old building to see the future expansion of the brewery.  With as much space as the lower level, the second floor will greatly increase their capacity for barrel aging beers.  But for now, it was a blank canvas.  A huge empty room with gaping holes in the wooden floor, daring one not to fall to a splintery death below!  They still have a bit of work to do, but this will be amazing!  Below, in the brewery, the heat and the noise was incredible.  We were able to interview the brewer Martin Toft, a good sport and a great brewer despite his suspicious lack of facial hair!  We shared a large plate of charcuterie from the world's tiniest kitchen and basked in the glory of rich food and an even richer group of beers.  Kevin, wonderful man that he is, sent us on our way with some parting words and some special beers.  Now this was how to start a beer adventure!

With that, it was time again to hop in Ron's rental car with all our gear and weave back (under the evil grinning shadow of AB) to Perennial for the release.  Ron, a professional race car driver, has a heavy lead foot and a propensity for taking turns using the hand-brake.  Arriving at the brewery, stumbling nauseously from the car, my vestibular system still spinning, I staggered past Fight Club and into the waiting tap room.  We were able to shoot past the gathering line of locals who had already received a ticket for their bottle of Abraxas.  Some were sharing mysterious bottles already--getting prepared for a beer that would blow their minds!  Rob and Ron set up their cameras, and I scurried about taking still shots of the brewery.  An air of frantic expectation abounded as staff hurried to prepare for the upcoming onslaught of beer geeks in search of their quarry. 

Ron took me aside for a quick pep talk.  "You are new to these limited release parties, and need to keep one thing in mind.  Think of this weekend as a marathon, not doing wind-sprints until you hurl!"

With those kind and true words, the flood gates opened and Perennial was flooded with beer aficionados of every stripe and color.  A hipster with curly mustachios and skinny jeans.  A couple of guys in business suits.  Girls wearing beer shirts.  Lots of larger men with varied beard styles.  Girls in summer dresses.  Babies and toddlers.  The crew of Limited Release.  After the initial burst of excitement to get a snifter of the fabled beer, things quickly relaxed and many formed an orderly line to gather up their precious bottles.  I was finally able to sneak forward to the bar and snag a glass of the elixir.  Barrel Aged Abraxas!  Deep black and viscous, like motor oil, with almost no head left on it.  The beer was sweet, alcoholic, with subtle spicing of cinnamon, chili, and chocolate.  At nearly 12% ABV this beast was dangerous and wonderful beyond mere words.  With language deserting me, I fell back to pleased grunts and coos of happiness.  This beer could mess you up.  Was this deadly beer itself my Nemesis?  Would this complex and boozy Black-Blood-of-the-Earth be the end of me?  With Ron's warning in mind, I decided that only time would tell…

Abraxas was fleeting, running dry quickly under the heavy pressure to drink it down.  I had to try some of Perennial's other beers of course.  For research.  The beers mostly had lyric and magical names like Aria, Saison de Lis, and Tart Hopfentea.  And then there was Plan B.  My tongue and mind reveled in these artisan ales, ranging from saison to sour to tea-infused.  Their IPA was aged with the remnants of Louisville Slugger bats!  Despite the promise, it did not knock me onto my buttocks. 

We interviewed patrons, all of whom were discerning and knowledgeable about the brewery and craft beer in general.  We did not unmask any potential spies and infiltrators from AB, though we asked probing questions to attempt it.  Our Abraxas sizzled minds were convinced that they were there at this crowded event, gathering data for their focus groups and marketing men to dissect, attempting to discover just what it is about "Craft Beer" that has taken the world by storm.  The shadowy fingers of the once local giant must be unwilling to release their death grip on the market.  They will forever be confused by us!

Chapter 3: Trouble!

Eventually we had to head to our hotel and get food to soak up our ingested liquid repast.  Just a short jaunt away from Perennial was the River City Casino.  With a bellow of  "We've got trouble, right here in River City!"  I entered this den of iniquity.  Arms laden with camera equipment, luggage and boxes full of beer, I flailed going through the rotating door.  My new 4 Hands coffee mug went flying in slow motion to shatter in a million jagged porcelain bits across the lobby.  But the box full of Abraxas was safe!  With an entrance like this I expected the music to stop, the lights to turn up and everyone to turn with a surprised look.  I was dead wrong.  There was nothing.  Perhaps all the denizens of this place were so jaded or deafened by the cacophonous sounds of the casino floor that they had ceased to notice the world around them! 

We headed for the fancy steak house in the casino for dinner, dropping half a Benjamin each for our overpriced meaty repast.  Not surprisingly, our waiter knew little about beer.  We all ended up getting gratuitous 50's cocktails to fit our Mad Men dinner fixings.  Rob sipped on a dainty martini, gripped like a tiny glass tea cup in his massive hand.  Ron had a gin and tonic.  I had a booze-laden Old Fashioned against my better judgement.  Rob and I each ordered the all meat sampler platter, and found both to be tough and overdone.  After sending them back in dismay, and starting to feel the Old Fashioned effects upon myself, we were entertained by our erstwhile waiter showing off video of Cher on his cell phone.  This night was just getting stranger and stranger! 

Booze in belly and cash in pocket we rolled out for the casino proper.  Eating, drinking and gambling!  Having become accustomed to smoke-free environments, the wall of cigarette smoke hit me like a tangible thing.  A haze of grey-white smoke swirled about us, enveloping us in it's carcinogenic embrace, welcomed us into the cavernous room, filled with death and despair.  The crashing, jangling, beeping babel of this place was obscene, yet strangely familiar and not entirely terrible.  We wasted some of our time and money on slot machines of lurid and strange design.  Dolly Parton sang to me sweetly as she stole my money.  The bizarre 1970's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory machine taunted me with strange throw-back images and clips from my it stole my money.  Alongside us were plentiful obese and elderly women working hard on developing lung cancer and gambling away their life savings. 

Stepping from this dark and cacophonous place, a last twirl of evil mist clinging to our bodies, we headed upstairs to convene in Ron's room for a finish to the evening's niceties.  Ron magically produced a deck of holed cards from somewhere and began dealing out hand after hand.  Not having been sated in our desire for good beers with the limited options below, we cracked in quick succession the bomber bottles from 4 Hands.  The Cuvee Ange was an unusual mix of blackberry, raspberry and wine barrel aged beer--perhaps a bit too sweet, but wonderfully complex.  We listened to obscure Pink Floyd songs and continued our debauchery!  The next beer was Volume #1, a miraculous bourbon barrel aged Imperial Stout with coffee and cocao nibs.  The labels on these beers were actually made of nearly paper thin wood!  And I lost some more at cards.  As the beer flowed and the world got shiny, we expanded our listening selections to include Steel Panther, and Rob showed us YouTube videos that we can never un-see!  We opened the appropriately named 3 Kings: a great tripel with coffee--strong and sweetish.  A celebration of We Three Kings of St. Louis!  And our final drink of the evening was the amazing Side Project Saison de Fermier--dry, tart, barnyard goodness.  

Three Kings!

Head spinning with lack of sleep, wicked demon alcohol, atrocious videos, and some of St. Louis' finest craft beers, I stumbled up to my own room for bed.  Less than a full day in this city and I may have met my match!  Pacing.  Pacing.  Pacing!  Ron's cautionary words rang in my head with the sizzling fuzz of too many strong ales: must run the marathon, not wind-sprints until you hurl!  

To Be Continued in Episode 2!

Author's Note:  This write-up may take slight liberties with reality.  The author happened to be reading Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas while on this trip, and the stew of poor sleep, alcohol and this over-the-top book led to what you have read.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Fermentation Temperature Control (Updated!)

(Updated 6/2014!)

I thought I'd break out of my recent beer review mode and get back to homebrewing (mainly because I finally got a chance to brew again the other day.)  I brewed up a second version of my award winning English barleywine, coming in at 1.104 starting gravity, and realized I'd need to work hard on getting the fermentation temperatures just right on it. 

Over the years I have found that recipe means less than fermentation control when it comes down to making a great beer.  There are lots of ways to get better control of your fermentation and I'll go over a few of them today.  First off some helpful hints. 

1) Most yeast put out fruity esters and higher fusel (paint-thinner) alcohols at higher temps, so keeping the beer in cooler temps will help retard that process.  Some beers benefit from those esters--take German Hefeweizen and some of the Belgian ales, so pay attention to your desired goal and the specifications of the individual yeast.  All of the yeast companies publish the optimal temperature ranges for all their strains on-line, so check that out before making any big decisions.

2) Fermentation is an exothermic process, meaning that those madly active yeast are putting off heat as they get going.  Factor this in with your plans for temp control.  Ideally I will start the wort at the lower end of the temp range I'm looking for and let the yeast activity ramp it up naturally.  This can cut down on the esters as well. 

3) Flocculation of yeast can be a factor.  Some yeasts flocculate (fall out of suspension) easily like many of the English strains, and do so easier when cold.  This can cause the beer to be under attenuated and too sweet.  Other yeasts like Belgian Saison stay in suspension almost too well and need a pretty high temp to stay active and finish the fermentation process.  I'll actually ramp the temp on those up slowly over a week or so to make sure they finish out. 

4) Keeping track of carboy temperatures can be difficult.  All of my carboys have one of those temp strips on the outside of them, but they are not the most accurate things in the world.  Inserting a floating thermometer into the wort will get you a decent temp, but every time you do it you risk infection of your beer.  For a bit more cash you can get a stainless steel thermo-well inserted into a rubber bung, then insert a temp probe into that--maintaining relative sterility.  Unfortunately the thermo-well does not work well when you are using a large blow-off tube (during the most critical time of fermentation.)


Most homebrewers tend to err on the side of too warm for their fermentations.  If you start with an average room temp of 68-70 degrees, then your fermentation runs the temp up a couple more degrees this will put most yeast in the upper end of their desired temp range.  In general, anything over 70 will likely result in some ester formation.  Keeping your wort cool is of paramount importance for creating the best possible beer.  There are many techniques for doing this.

1) Map out your home's temperature zones.  This has been my primary technique for years.  Take a thermometer and find your home's warm and cool spots.  My laundry room closet stays a pretty constant 68 degrees year round.  My basement is usually around 64 degrees, and if a carboy is directly on the cold tile it can drop to 62-63.  Keep in mind weather changes, as well as using home heaters or air conditioners, can change these measurements.  I have been known to start my fermentations in the basement on the floor, then drag the carboy upstairs into the closet to finish up once the main fermentation is slowing.  This does require man-hauling carboys around and can be dangerous (especially with three cats who like to trip people on the stairs...)  This method also may be difficult if one does not have a supportive spouse who allows carboys all over the home.  I'm lucky on this front, but even Sj reaches her limit sometimes.  Also if you are using a closet for this method, use a blow-off tube!  If you explode foamy beer and yeast sludge all over your wife's clothing you will either risk bodily harm, or possibly have to change hobbies.

2) Wet T-Shirt!  Not the kind you are hoping for.  One method I've tried is setting a carboy in a shallow water-filled tub and wrapping it with a wet t-shirt.  The wicking of water up the shirt and into the surrounding air acts to cool the surface of the carboy a few degrees.  Aiming a fan at it will increase the effect.  The downside to this method is that monitoring temps is tougher and results will vary depending on the humidity in the home.  Also it is a pain.  I did not have much success with this--the shirt dried up and the cats enjoyed cavorting in the water.

Big water tub and blow off tube!

3) Big water tub.  This is my newest attempt at control, and I'm trying it out for the first time on my barleywine.  The idea here is that the carboy rests in a large tub of water, acting as a heat sink.  Rather than only bumping up the temp of 5 gallons of wort, the heat of fermentation will also need to raise the temp of the surrounding 4-5 gallons of water, making for a slower and lower overall temperature rise.  I discovered that my temp strips are placed too low on the carboy and will likely be submerged if using more than 4 gallons of water...I'll have to see if this is enough to work.  The ambient temp in the basement is about 64 degrees, so this should help out with control.  If the wort is still too warm, you can actually add ice to the water if needed. 
{Addendum: Yup this worked great!  I've done it on two beers now and found I only needed 3-4 gallons of water at that ambient temp to keep tight control.}

4) Insulated cooler.  At NHC 2014 I observed the Cool Brewing fermentation cooler at work.  This is basically a large soft sided thermal cooler that your entire carboy or bucket fits into.  By adding 2 liter soda bottles or 1 gallon water jugs filled with ice, you can drop the fermentation temp in the bag by several degrees.  They actually had it hooked up with a digital thermometer showing external temp of 72 and internal temp of 50 degrees there.  These run about $57, so aren't cheep but are a step up from a big bucket and not as expensive, nor as space-occupying as a lager fridge. 

5) BrewJacket.  This is a new contraption that I saw on display at the NHC 2014 in Grand Rapids.  I have no idea if it works as advertised and would love feedback if anyone has used one!  This is a device that actually inserts a tube into the beer and pumps heat out of the beer, supposedly cooling it to 35 degrees below ambient temp.  They do also sell an insulated wrap for the carboy to make this more efficient.  This was a Kickstarter that completed funding and is up for pre-orders now. 

6) Lager fridge.  This the ideal set-up for temp control.  I have an old fridge out in the garage hooked up to a temperature controller which keeps the temp within 1-2 degrees of desired.  The temp probe will measure ambient temp in the fridge though, and not the internal temp of the carboy.  In that first few days of active fermentation you will need to keep a close eye on this, decreasing the set temp to below where you want it.  You can tape the probe to the side of the carboy surrounded by some insulating foam: that will improve results, but tape doesn't stick on moist, cold glass very well.  If you have a better/more modern controller that will fit a thermo-well, this will give the very best result. 

A well decorated lager fridge!

7) Walk-in fridge, fermentation room, glycol jacketed conical fermentor.  These are all the holy grail of fermentation, but probably excessive (rubs hands together evilly).


Sometimes you need heat added to your brew.  For instance: when my actively fermenting barleywine starts to slow down and temperature drops below the ideal range for the English yeast.  If I don't get that out of the cool water bath and either upstairs to warmer climes or add some other form of heat, that yeast is going to crash out before fermentation is done, leaving me with a cloyingly sweet under-attenuated beer.

1) Moving it.  Back to knowing the warm and cold spots in your house, ideally areas that are fairly stable. 

2) Fermwrap or Brewbelt.  I've used a brewbelt before, but the instructions tell you not to use them on glass, so I only tried it on a plastic bucket.  From talking with my friend Tim Roets, he has had bad luck with those, going through three of them.  More recently I've used a Fermwrap and love it!  Wrapped around the carboy and secured with electrical tape, this has to be used with a thermowell to keep the internal temp of the carboy constant.  It does a great job of heating--keeping you right where you want the beer, within about one degree.  I usually use this set-up once I no longer need a blow-off tube and the high krausen is dropping on my beer.  You want to start the heat before the temp of your beer really starts dropping.  I will often slowly ramp up the temp over a few days to make sure I get a full fermentation.  Most of the wacky flavors from hotter temps happen in that first few days, so getting to 72 at the tail end of fermentation shouldn't cause too much trouble. 

The Fermwrap in action, regulated by a digital temp controller inside a thermowell

3) Heat lamps.  I've read about crazy people hook light bulbs or heat lamps up to warm their beer, but have no personal experience with this.  Make sure the beer itself is protected from the light--that can potentially cause skunking.

These are the major ways in which homebrewers control temps, many of which I've tried with varying levels of success.  What have you tried?  Do you know of any other cool techniques that should be added?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

30 Word Thursday: Green

Aged bronze dignitary from a near forgotten age,
Stands watch over a bustling city square.
Behind, a goggle-eyed invader watches with envy.
A modern contrast in an ancient city.
This week's 30 Word Thursday picture was taken in Maastricht, Netherlands during our recent visit through  I was struck by this little alien that I saw peaking out in several places over the city.  On the one hand I was annoyed by someone defacing such a medieval city, but on the other it struck a strange chord in me.  Check out the other 30 Word Thursday entrants tis week at the Treasures Found Blog--and, hey try one out yourself!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Belgium Bloopers!

My write up on our trip to Belgium and The Netherlands is now over.  But I discovered some funny and random pictures hiding on my camera's memory cards and thought I'd throw them out there for others!  These are in no particular order, and often have little to no meaning!  I just thought they were odd or funny at the time.  I realized from these things that Europeans are a bit strange.  Enjoy!

"I'm crazy dude with a bird on my head!"

"Why, yes I do happen to have some Grey Poupon!"

Nothing sells dresses like a ton of slithery snakes!

I would have nervous sitting right under this guy...

How many beer geeks can you fit in one rotating door?

Brussels, where even the frites urinate on the ground!

"Here, let my ram my ovipositor down your throat and insert my alien fetus into your chest!"

If I hung this up in my exam rooms kids would have nightmares for weeks!

Feed Me!

"And for my next trick..."

Demonstrating proper technique!

And a fond farewell to you from Belgium!

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Restrooms of Europe!

Now that I have completed my mostly serious write up of my epic two week beer trip through Belgium and The Netherlands, I felt it was time to air some of the funnier stuff from the trip.  This particular post focuses all on childish potty humor, so please avert your gaze if this is not your thing!

Living in America we take certain things for granted:  Wheel chair access, traffic rules, universal access to health care, easy access to guns, etc.  In Europe things are different.  One item that struck me as unusual this trip was the bathrooms.  As a guy with a notoriously small bladder, taking part in a trip centered around drinking copious amounts of beer, my interest in the subject should be self explanatory! 

First off, nearly every bathroom we had in our hotels was a tiny little closet with barely enough room for my meager 5'8" frame to wedge into, and containing just a short toilet.  In every case one had to flush, open the door with your dirty hands, and go often across the hotel room to the sink.  Do Europeans just not wash their hands?  And not grow taller than 5 foot?  And not eat so much that they can't fit on a toilet?  OK, maybe that last one is true. 

I also discovered a strange mechanism for flushing in most toilets--a set of buttons, one small and one large.  It took me a couple of times before I realized these buttons must be for "I just had a wee and need a little flush" and for "I just took a huge dump and need this to actually go down," respectively.  Once I got used to this, I found this to be a great concept and useful for conserving water.  This is something we should do in America. 

Big dump, little dump!

Next up let's talk about public bathrooms.  When I travel in the States and need to drain the dragon, I know that there will usually be easily available places to do so.  This is not the case in Europe.  Restaurants usually had them, but don't take kindly to American hobos wandering in and defiling their restrooms.  I saw them at the train station, but it actually cost Euros to use the hopper!  This is why one can often see men urinating on the sides of buildings, and why one should avoid stepping in suspicious wet spots on the pavement.  The restaurants that do have restrooms usually have them upstairs or down in the basement.  One pub in Bastogne had the tightest spiral stair down to the bathroom that I have ever seen!  A freaky red horror light shone menacingly from below, tempting incautious drinkers to their deaths...

Watch your step and don't drink too many beers...

Our last day in Belgium, we took part in the Zythos Beer Festival: a huge gathering of mostly men flocking to drink a ton of amazing Belgian ales.  About 40 minutes into the festival I noticed that there was a bouncer near the back door exit to the port-a-potties.  Always looking for my next bathroom option, I discovered that they were charging 1.50 Euro to use the bathrooms!  That comes to about $2.50.  Lure several thousand beer geeks into a building where they will drink a huge quantity of liquid and then charge them to use the bathroom?  Somewhere an evil mastermind is chuckling wickedly while he shuffles stacks of Euros and pets his white fluffy cat.

Hurry up and stamp my hand--I have to pee!

As one can imagine, many men are cheep and would rather spend that money on beer.  As a result, there was a large contingent of urination going on outside the building.  While waiting for the tram home, I counted no less than 4 guys urinating in the same decorative hedge.

Gnomes do it...

"Don't you look at me!"

Trolls do it...

If this isn't disturbing, I don't know what is!  The teeth just make it worse...

Strangely, while human public rest areas were rare or absent entirely, nice spots abounded around Brussels for your faithful hound to drop a load.

That cartoon dog looks so happy!
Perhaps they should have some of these with people on them....

Proving that you never buy beer...only rent it!

This is the old toilet on the battlements of the castle in Ghent.  The "results" are dropped outside the castle walls!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Zythos, Vapeur and and End to Beer Trip 2014

Days 13 and 14 of our epic Beer Trip across the Netherlands and Belgium.

Waking up with surprisingly little aftereffects of the Night of Great Thirst, we had a quick breakfast and boarded our coach.  We drove for a bit and shared some of Hassan's Westvleteren 8 bottles (so he wouldn't have to pack them and get them home).  At least by this point we had tasting glasses from La Rulles instead of plastic or paper cups! 

In a small town in the countryside, we arrived at our destination before 11 AM: La Brasserie A Vapeur.  This is an old brewery from around 1902, whose claim to fame is that it is still run by a turn of the century steam engine!  Anchor Brewing can claim the name "Steam Beer" but this place has been actually brewing with steam for over a century.  We luckily arrived just in time to catch part of the mechanized brewing process.  Our group entered the old brewery building to a whistling, hooting, ratcheting mayhem of a great old steam engine.  Pistons scraping and whooshing out clouds of billowing steam, rotating belts and wheels all across the room.  The mash rakes in the mash tun were rotating, being run by the engine.  My camera (and Sj's glasses) instantly fogged up at the steamy onslaught!  I should have worn my steam-punk outfit!

When you do beer journalism and see a ton of modern breweries, it is hard to get excited about a brewery tour, but this was a truly unique experience for me.  Other than Cantillon, this is the coolest brewery I've visited in my life!  I took many a picture in the dark and steamy environs but not too many came out well.  After a time, one of the brewers took our group up a pair of rickety and narrow stairs to the second floor brewing area.  We saw the old coolship, but they are not using it any longer, the area now home to a family of swallows.  Ancient tanks and an only slightly more modern brew system were also up above.  Our tour guide spoke a bit of English, but mostly French so I understood only about a third of what he was telling us, but he was very friendly and helpful.  With all the easy falls, loose boards, flying pistons, and whirling belts, the place is dangerous!  No way would this brewery be able to do tours (or even be open for brewing) in America. 

Across the small road was a farmhouse building where the other functions of the brewery take place.  There is a large room in front filled with benches and long tables.  In the center of the building is a small kitchen and a tiny tap room, where they poured us glasses of their beer.  Another, smaller back room hosted the tiny shop, bathrooms and miscellaneous junk storage.  Everything here exuded an air of age and long use, conjuring up memories of my grandma Ruth's old antique store.  Wonderful smells of cooking food wafted from the kitchen, making my belly rumble.

I sampled both of their beers, the saison and the Cochon while there.  At first both are interesting with heavily spiced aromas and unusual complex flavors.  However, as they warmed, both showed severe flaws--sourness, hot alcohols, and other medicinal and even enteric flavors.  So, this was one of coolest breweries I've ever been to, but not in my top for actual beers.  The label art (and some of the wall art in the brewery) were done by a local comic artist and included disturbing images of naked pigs with human "anatomy".  I want to post a pic, but don't want my blog to get tagged as pornography, so I'll leave it to your imagination! 

This is the toned down American Export version of the label!

We eventually settled down for a large lunch in the front seating room.  Our group took up one table, but the rest of the place was filled with a loud bunch of French tourists.  The brewer tried to give a presentation in French, and was trying to translate to English, but the second he stopped speaking French the large group got rowdy and needed to be shushed down before he could go on.  He ended up just giving up on the presentation all together.  Before the lunch I had seen the chef out gathering up mash and wort from the current batch being brewed.  The food was great, and nearly everything was fairly local and involved beer in the recipe.  A fantastic soup using grain from the mash started the meal.  Hearty beer bread, ham, salami, beer pate, beer marinated salmon, was all heaped upon our plates.  The place was crowded though and we really had to fight to get in line.  Since we had a deadline and lunch had already started late we may have bulled our way to the front of the line a few times to get done quicker.  Before we left they brought out an enormous cheese board with over 20 different local cheeses (yes several made with or soaked in beer!)  Being lactose intolerant is a drag sometimes. 

We escaped the crowd as quick as possible, and actually left before desert.  Last on the coach was our guide Mike, bearing soft and yummy take-away tarts for us to eat on the bus.  A good tour guide always looks after his flock! 

We arrived at Leuvin after a bit more time on the coach.  We checked into our hotel as quickly as possible and headed out for the culmination of our Belgian beer trip.  Zythos Beer Festival is Belgium's answer to the Great Taste of the Midwest or GABF, drawing an international cadre of beer geeks over its two days.  A few of our group decided to explore the city instead of going straight to the festival--leaving it to us die-hards to head out there right away!  The hotel was a very easy walk to the bus station where they had free shuttles to the Zythos Beer Festival.  When we arrived at the station however, there was a great milling centipede of a line to get on the shuttle.  Since we were already a bit late for the game, Mike turned us around and promptly found us a cab to the festival.  We took a 20 minute ride, to arrive at a large festival hall outside the city limits. 

Entry to the festival was free and the entrance was the only area not filled to bursting with people.  Like the previous beer festival, tokens were involved, but this time one token got you a uniform pour of beer at each stand.  You did have to buy the 8 oz taster glass as well, and it wasn't until later that we discovered they had given me one from last year's event.  There were over a 100 different stands pouring beers at the festival, having anywhere from 1 to 15 beers at each!  Every place had a glass rinsing and scrubbing station.  The Belgians respect their beer and do not want you pouring their beer into the dregs of an Imperial stout or a sour!  My biggest complaint about most Minnesota festivals is not enough dump or rinse stations, so these guys have us beat!  The biggest issue for me was trying not to get drunk in record time!  Even when told to just give a little pour, every station would give you a full glass.  And nearly all of these beers were between 7% to 12% ABV!  So I ended up having to waste a lot of really good Belgian ale in order to try more things. 

I didn't bring my real camera to the festival, and almost every picture I took with my iPhone turned out blurry.  Oh, well you will have to use your imagination!  Some dimly remembered highlights from the festival, in no particular order since the whole thing was crowded and chaotic:

1) Silly looking people wandering around wearing Fluffy pink Delerium Tremens elephant hats. 

2) Silly looking people wandering around wearing Chouffe gnome hats. 

3) Getting to tell the brewer at Brasserie de Blaugies about trying his 20 year old Darbyste two nights before.  It turns out he had already heard the story and was very happy that it had held up that well.  We also tried his Saison d' Epeautre--which was probably the best beer of that style I have ever had in my life!  I got to try the borderline too hoppy collaboration with Hill Farmstead--La Vermontoise --there as well.

4) The universal shout that rings out at all American beer festivals from a broken glass is apparently universal.  With the large indoor space and strange acoustics there was a very strange reverb and sussuration from this that would rotate throughout the packed hall.

5) The De Struisse folks had over 20 beers on taps and could have supported their own festival!  Many were barrel aged, sours and crazy American styles.  The Gentleman Sour and the Beer Geek Wedding stood out for me above others.  They were already out of Blackberry Albert.  These guys are the Surly of Belgium! 

Seriously… look at all those beers!

6) The beers of Brasserie de Cazeau were so well balanced and perfect that they really stood out to me.  Tourney Noire was a beautiful Belgian Stout, and the elderflower saison was remarkable.

7) They charge 1.50 Euro to use the bathrooms!  At a beer festival!  Since men are by nature, cheap, this resulted in a horde of drunken dudes urinating all over outside the building.  While waiting for the bus home later I counted no less than 5 guys urinating in one large hedge at once.

8) I got a chance to try the Kriekenlambic (unblended but fruited lambic) from Girardin that had been snaked away from me at the Night of Great Thirst.  Not bad, but not sour enough!

9) Some brewers were absent--I didn't see Kerkom, and some of the lambic producers were not there.

10) Watching the complete emptiness and lack of a line at the In-bev booth was somewhat rewarding in a schadenfreude sort of way.

11) Hof Ten Dormaal was a surprise gem.  They had a peated whiskey barrel aged blonde ale that was extreme!  That one left behind smoke and tartness for ages...luckily this was one of the last beers I had in the evening!

All of our group did eventually make it to the festival, but we ended up leaving long before the end, mainly because our group had not had dinner yet!  Overall the festival was quite fun, especially once we figured out how everything worked.  I was sad that we were not able to stay another day for the Sunday session and try all the beers we missed the first day! 

After we arrived at our hotel, we were in desperate need of food to soak up all that fine Belgian beer.  We walked to Domus, a large brewpub specializing in creating mainly lager beers.   The place had several levels and like the Tardis, seemed bigger on the inside!  They had a very huge food menu, including a three course beer pairing menu made specially for the Zythos festival goers.  This was our final group event and all of the group made it to the dinner--some of us barely made it there in time due to missing the shuttle back to the hotel.  We ended up on the upper level, and poor Arthur had been there for quite a while already.  At least he had a head start on the beers!  I ordered the tasting menu--of course!  The food was excellent and the beers were surprisingly well made.  I would recommend this place wholeheartedly.  With some hugging and final tour toasts, we ended this fine evening and our official Beertrip was finished. 

The next day Chris, Hassan, Sj and I all travelled back home, but not before a couple of Belgian ales in the airport in a farewell toast to that amazing land of beer!

Thanks Mike Saxton for running a great tour and showing us all a wonderful mix of things on this trip.  For those who enjoyed these write-ups, the reality of doing these things is far, far more impressive!  Please check out for details of Mike's other trips--he does trips to Germany, Czech Republic, even Spain and Italy!