When I think about artists and their expressions,” said Tomme Arthur from Port/Lost Abbey Brewing, “I am reminded that art is in a constant state of evolution. Brush strokes get refined, subject matter improves and the essence of the artist and his perspective is suddenly brought to the front with amazing clarity.” Brewers, like musicians, are artists and as enthusiasts, we are always looking for the freshest and most creative “expressions.”
You don’t swill mass marketed beer and you don’t listen to Top 40 music. So this summer, when plotting your getaway, soak up the best of both worlds and head somewhere with a soul-lifting music fest staged adjacent to wellsprings of spirit-enhancing brews. Here are four such destinations that are melodically and zymurlogically in tune.
Located in the southwest corner of Colorado and tucked into a picturesque box canyon―there’s only one road into town and it dead-ends―Telluride is a perennial world-class playground. This former gold-mining town discovered that outdoor sports is the real goldmine. It’s a ski resort all winter long and from the moment the mountain town thaws to the last long day of warmth, it hosts an endless array of festivals celebrating everything from hot-air ballooning to plein air painting, to a gamut of music fests including jazz, Americana and bluegrass. Best of all, this year marks the 17th Annual Telluride Blues & Brew Festival.
Telluride, set into the San Juan Mountains, not the Rockies, has a small airport serviced by just a couple commercial carriers (United, Frontier, US Airways) but driving there makes for a breathtaking road trip. If it’s not ski season, a mountain bike or your own two feet are the best way to get around, or the gondola that soars up to Mountain Village, one of the ritziest enclaves in the country. Just ask homeowners Oprah and “TomKat.”
For all the pizzazz, a friendly local I met at a Blues & Brews past named Lordog (most locals are friendly and most go by one-word nicknames) says, “There three main staples for getting a beer in town and they go from dive to divier to diviest.” Up in the village, there’s Hop Garden (Mountain Village Boulevard), a biergarten with 10 taps at almost 10,000 feet. Down in town, the most craft-centric watering hole is Smuggler’s Brewpub (225 South Pine). The first of three locations including nearby Montrose and Grand Junction, Smuggler’s brews up the (excellently named) Rocky Mountain Rye served alongside meat, meat and more meat (ribs, steaks and the hearty Mountain Burger). The New Sheridan Chop House and Bar (233 West Colorado) on the main drag has been serving drinks at the same location since 1895 (when it was rebuilt after a fire, hence “new” Sheridan) from the same hand-carved bar, making it a must-see/must-drink. For more off-the-beaten-path imbibing, stroll over to the Cornerhouse Grille (131 North Fir Street) housed in an actual house. It’s no wonder Lordog loves their house burger. Here you’ll find local brews on tap such as Ska Brewing from Durango.
Of course, if money is no object and you’d rather not dine with any locals, there’s 221 South Oak (221 South Oak Street) where the $42 Elk Short Loin is to die for. Be aware the emphasis is on their wine menu.
Both to earn these hearty plates and to burn them off, other than shaking your beer-loving mash off at an all-day or three-day music fest, head for the mountains. “The first trail you should hike (if you are new to altitude and not in good shape),” says Lordog, “is Bear Creek. You can hike right from town and it’s around a five-mile loop. The scenery is unbeatable.” For a whole day out, point your boots toward Sneffels Highline, “especially in July for the wildflowers,” he says.
When it’s time to rest your weary head, the budget traveler would do well to check into the Victorian Inn (401 West Pacific Street, rooms start at $118) whereas those with five-star bank accounts would enjoy the new Capella (568 Mountain Village Boulevard, rates as high as $1115), the only stateside branch in this international chain of jet set digs. Of course, don’t overlook the Sheridan if you want to sleep with some history.
Come morning, “if you can’t get behind the wheel,” Lordog suggests you “breakfast at Maggie’s [217 East Colorado].” But if you’re able to motor, she’ll direct you to the Blue Jay Café (22332 Highway 145, Placerville) 20-minute drive down the valley. Since this is Colorado, the breakfast burrito comes with either a beefy red chili or a chickeny green chili, both legit.
Before you leave town, make sure to pop into The Sweet Life (115 West Colorado), a burger joint and sweet shop where many locals have flavors named after them, so be sure to order a scoop of “Lordog’s Candle Scramble,” no matter what’s in it.
And since this is a beer trip, whether you’re driving home or simply returning to the airport, if you head north to or through Montrose, stop in at the tiny Colorado Boy Brewery (602 Clinton Street, Ridgeway) and/or the even tinier Ourayle House down in Ouray (215 7thAvenue, Ouray). If heading south toward Durango, which itself is beercation-worthy, the towns of Dolores and Silverton have eponymous brewpubs.
From its abundant parks to its 18-mile Lakefront Trail to Millennium Park with its eclectic concert programming at the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the Windy City is home to many great―and free―recreational activities. Even the Art Institute of Chicago (Thursday evenings only) and the Lincoln Park Zoo are free. It’s no wonder the Craft Brewers Conference was held in Chi-town this year.
Beyond scarfing down Polishes and Chicago deep-dish pizza or pounding Old Style out of a paper cup at Wrigley Field, Chicago is a haven for fans of quality tunes and craft brews.
Chicago Blues was born from musicians such as Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy building on elements from the Mississippi Delta; Chicago brewers developed wood-aged beer by looking south for bourbon barrels. The proximate Bourbon Trail enabled Greg Hall at Goose Island to create Bourbon County Stout, which you can try at both brewpub locations, Clybourn (1800 North Clybourn) and Wrigleyville (3535 North Clark Street). Clybourn has 25 flagship and experimental taps where you might just try a bourbon-aged Extra Naughty Goose or Burton’s Maplewood Farm Maple Bacon Stout.
Craft Beer Institute president, Cicerone Certification program director and Chicago resident Ray Daniels says, “The new chef is a Certified Cicerone and the new brewer is very food-oriented [a Culinary Institute of America grad] so there are some very interesting things going on these days.”
About 30 miles south in Chicagoland, Flossmoor Station Brewery (1035 Sterling Avenue, Flossmoor) was another pioneer among barrel-aging and, time and vehicle permitting, is sure to offer tasty treats.
Speaking of tasty, forget pub grub, Chicago perhaps reigns as the gastropub capital of the U.S. The Publican and Hop Leaf lead by example. At the Publican (837 W. Fulton Market), Daniels says guests should expect to pay “top dollar, but they have a fantastic beer list and world-class food.” Sean Paxton, the Homebrew Chef, recently returned raving about an “insane” meal there consisting of beef heart, veal sweetbreads, seafood and charcuterie. When he finally got to the beers, his eyes glazed over like the house made nut caramel tart. The menu includes Cantillon Lou Pepe-Framboise ($5 for 750-ml) and nearby Three Floyds equally-hard-to-find Behemoth Barleywine ($35 per bomber).
For those who still want solid beer and excellent food but at a better value, Daniels suggests checking out Hop Leaf (5148 N Clark Street). While Paxton raves about their charcuterie as well, don’t overlook creative sandwiches such as the Duck Reuben and the “CB&J”―house-made cashew butter with fig jam and morbier cheese pan-fried on sourdough. When ordering beer from their taps or well-thought-out 16-page bottle list, don’t overlook the local Wild Blossom Meadery meads. As an aside, Daniels gives the thumbs up to the newest brewpub, Revolution (N. Milwaukee Avenue), its “innovative pub food, excellent beers and an extensive set of guest taps.” Other brewpubs include Moonshine (W Division Street) and Piece Brewery and Pizzeria (1927 W. North Avenue).
As for plain, straight-up watering holes, three spots are must-see/must-drink for lovers of the craft. The Map Room (1949 N. Hoyne) in Bucktown is the local preeminent beer bar, but Sheffield’s (3258 N. Sheffield) is a three-bars-in-one beer garden, and unlike the Map Room, has a food menu. And another hot beer garden is The Village Tap (2055 W. Roscoe Street). Not too many places offer craft beer by the pitcher like they do.
A good way to burn off a few of these liquid calories is by walking around a neighborhood. Erin Drain, manager of the South Loop location of wine store Lush (1257 S. Halsted Street) that boasts an diminutive but impressive beer bottle selection, says nearby Pilsen is ripe for exploration including “one of the best, original restaurants around: Honky Tonk BBQ” (West 18th Street). Between Pilsen and Bucktown lies über-hip Wicker Park. Drain points to its “great shops and restaurants and arts scene. Myopic Books [1564 North Milwaukee Avenue] is one of the best used-book stores in the city. Lots of couches and cats.” And in the heart of the hood, Dee’s Place (W. Division Street) a late-night soul restaurant with everything from ribs to fried okra. This new jazz-club themed place is BYOB and a mere block from D & D Liquors (W. Division Street) with a huge bottle selection.
Of course, depending on how late you’re there and how much local beer appreciating you do, you may need to hit the Twisted Spoke (501 N. Ogden Avenue). At this biker-themed joint from the Einhorn brothers (Cliff and Mitch) behind Lush, Drain stresses the need to order either the Elvis French Toast (it’s stuffed with bananas and peanut butter) or the spicy, cheesy “Chilla Killas” chilaquiles. And if it’s hair of the dog you’ll be needing, while they have about 170 bottles and 20 taps including local brewers Half Acre (4257 N. Lincoln Avenue), Metropolitan (5121 N. Ravenswood Avenue) and Two Brothers Brewing (in this case being Jim and Jason Ebel), which is 30 miles west in Warrenville.
Beer-wise, musically, gastronomically, socially —NYC’s got whatever floats your boat. So after starting your beercation with a free ride on the Staten Island Ferry with your favorite brew to toast the Statue of Liberty as you pass her —perhaps Brooklyn Local 1 (Belgian Strong Pale Ale)—start exploring.
Prepare to spend a day in both Manhattan and Brooklyn, as each offers a cornucopia of righteous establishments. It seems everyone has at least one friend in New York and fortuitously, one of mine has gone the beer geek route. Chockie Tom lives in Brooklyn and works in Manhattan as a bartender (and sausage cooker) at Wechsler’s Currywurst, a “German as fick biersnob haven,”so she’s got the best of everything. As for tackling the island, Central Park is great for walking around and visiting the Museum of Modern Art, but unlike Munich’s English Garden, there are no great biergartens. So make your way down toward Greenwich Village on just about any train.
Start in the West Village for happy hour at the Blind Tiger Ale House (281 Bleecker Street), replete with esoteric draft beers where you may find Stoudt’s Peppercorn Pumpkin or a cask of IPA from New York micro Defiant.
Ambling toward the East Village, be sure to make a pit stop at McSorley’s Old Ale House (15 East Seventh Street). Since 1854, the bar notes that notables “Abe Lincoln to John Lennon passed through McSorley’s swinging doors.” When the bartender asks you, “Light or dark?” he’s not asking your general preference but rather that you seriously have two choices, the light or the dark ale. What a great way to appreciate the variety that craft beer has brought us, not just in the past 30 years, but the past 150.
While there must be more restaurants in New York than anywhere else on Earth, Katz’s Deli (205 E. Houston Street) is a compulsory noshing experience at one of the oldest (1888) and best Jewish delicatessens. It’s tough deciding between a real salami or pastrami sandwich, or, y’know, try the tongue. And if you’ve never had a New York Chocolate Egg Cream theirs is aces.
Depending on how charged your battery is, New York is the town that never sleeps. So long as you’re in the East Village, say hi to Chockie next door for a late night currywurst at Wechsler’s and maybe a 0.2-liter stange (pronounced: schtawn-guh) of Reissdorf Kölsch or a glass of Berliner Weiss to go with the curry fries. Heck, if you make it to 4 in the morning, you can still soak up your pints or liters with Chockie’s top-choice drunk food “disco fries,” at Odessa (119 Avenue A at First Street)―gravy on waffle fries with mozzarella. “There are a lot of French fries in this town, man,” she says, but swears by Odessa’s.
Oh, if you do need some sleep, though New York is expensive, the beds are cheap-ish at the East Village Bed and Coffee (110 C Avenue), a cute but not cutesy B&B where rooms start at $115. Get some rest; you’ve got more music and beer to explore.
As for beering it up in the boroughs, Brooklyn is really the prime place to see how New Yorkers tie one on. Start by taking the L train to the Brooklyn Brewery (79 N. 11th Street) for happy hour on Fridays and weekend tours. Not only can you get the freshest pint of Brooklyn Lager or Pennant Ale ’55, but a Brewmaster’s Reserve should be available, whether it’s Manhattan Project (designed to taste like a Manhattan cocktail) or Cookie Jar Porter (designed to taste like an oatmeal raisin cookie).
Since you’re already in the Williamsburg neighborhood at this point, you’re steps away from Spuyten Duyvil (359 Metropolitan Avenue), “the best beer bar in Brooklyn as far as selection,” says Chockie. “The staff is knowledgeable with good seasonal offerings, and they have a great backyard.” And best of all, the owners opened a phenomenal barbeque spot directly across the street, Fette Sau. While they are all about the pork, they’re also all about an unceasing selection of craft distilled spirits and craft beers from across North America. Because while nothing tops smoky pork trips, Captain Lawrence Liquid Smoke pairs perfectly with them, or any of their other local taps including Chelsea and Greenpoint. Before leaving Williamsburg, stop in for a pint at Barcade (388 Union Avenue), brought to you from a couple of the guys who made the American Beer documentary, and play a game of the most awesome beer-themed arcade game, Tapper.
From there, it’s on to Park Slope. The Brazen Head (228 Atlantic Avenue), The Gate (321 Fifth Avenue) and the Beer Table (427-B Seventh Avenue) are each an aficionado’s wonderland because of their handpicked selections. While Beer Table has a smaller list, the rarities will astound, the small plates will sate and best of all, New York allows growler fills so the fun doesn’t stop at the tavern.
If timing allows, Chockie suggests hopping on the F train (from Manhattan or Brooklyn) down to Coney Island to catch the Coney Island Circus Sideshow (1208 Surf Avenue). Marvel at freaks like Donny Vomit, Serpentina and more then swallow one of the beers in their likeness from the Shmaltz/Coney Island Brewery at the Freak Bar.
To understand when Texans semi-joke about seceding from the union, it helps to know that Texas truly is somewhat of a breakaway country complete with its own culture and language. When applied to Quebec, this could not be truer, which is why the province came very close to actually separating from Canada in 1995. The capital, Quebec City, makes Montreal, which is 150 miles, er, 240 kilometers southwest, seem almost Anglican. It takes pride in being the fifth oldest Canadian city, but I’m sure they’d rather have an NHL team instead.
Fortunately, Canadians, and even French Canadians, love biere. Native writer Sarah Lolley says the local micro, Bar L’Inox, “is a hot spot but lacks the cozy charm that one normally associates with a microbrewery. In addition to four regulars, they brew several seasonals including Kremesse, a gruit made with coriander, orange peel and cardamom available all summer long (“from St. Jean Baptiste Day to the harvest”). L’Inox is right in the Lower Old City, “so you can’t beat the location.” It’s a good time to mention that the bulk of our visit will be spent in Old Quebec―Vieux Québec―an UNESCO World Heritage Site on the banks of the St. Lawrence River divided between upper and lower halves―Haute-Ville and Basse-Ville. Being hilly, walking it provides great exercise, but be sure to ride the funicular―a sort of elevator that travels diagonally―to Upper Town. Once there, lunch at Le Saint Armour (48, rue Sainte-Ursule),which is a bit of a splurge but much cheaper than the dinner menu, both of which are French haute cuisine at its tastiest. Start with the Duck Armangac Foie Gras, then if you like game, try the Red Deer Haunch with Apple Puree, Truffle Oil and Blueberry Sauce.
The best brewery to visit is La Barberie (310, rue St-Roch), oddly located beneath a highway overpass outside of the old city in the Saint-Jean Baptiste neighborhood. “Just when you think you’re about to get mugged,” jokes Lolley, “there it is.” Once inside, order a carousel (a flight to you and me) of their eight offerings. No food is served, but anyone in the cooperatively owned brewery will be happy to point out a good place nearby as there are bakeries, butchers and even chocolatiers throughout the neighborhood. Afterward, Le Croquembouche (235, Rue Saint-Joseph), named for the conical pile of profiteroles, is a boulangerie a kilometer away that’s not to be missed for enchanting French pastries.
For accomodations, Lolley calls Auberge St.-Vincent (295 rue St-Vallier East) “affordable and hip” and it happens to be the top-rated hotel on TripAdvisor.com. For “awesome and expensive,” make reservations at Auberge St.-Antoine (Saint-Antoine Street). Whether you choose the boutique or the luxury hotel, you’ll be in the old city and can easily continue to explore at night. Be sure to have a drink at Pub St-Alexandre (Rue St.-Jean). “In terms of good pubs, you can’t beat it,” says Lolley. Their extensive beer menu features 200 selections including many from Quebec such as St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout, and plenty of Belgians.
And if you need to fend off le gueule de bois (a hangover), swears “you’ve got to have poutine and they also do a great breakfast at Le Clocher Penchant [rue St-Joseph]in the St-Roch District.” Poutine is essentially the original disco fries (see New York).
Brian Yaeger is the author of Red, White and Brew: An American Beer Odyssey. He homebrews in San Francisco and if you have an intact bottle of Ring of Fire, beer mail him at byaeger on the communal sites or at firstname.lastname@example.org.