Category: Brewery Road Trip

Washington’s own DC Brau

This is my second summer in Washington, my first as a legal drinker. I remember looking into local breweries last summer and being underwhelmed. Due to local taxes and other restrictions, not many breweries operate in the District of Columbia. There are some brewery/restaurants like Capitol City Brewing Company, but many of them produce out of DC.

DC Brau Brewing Company, however, produces in the district and is on tap at craft beer-minded bars and in cans in around town. The year-old brewery has three flagships in cans:

  • The Public Pale is a nice pale, freshly hoppy and could pass for an IPA.
  • The Corruption IPA weighs in at 120 IBUs and packs quite the whallop. It still keeps a malty sweetness under the hopped strength.
  • The Citizen Belgian-style Pale is in the tradition of a typical Belgian tripel. It has fruit notes and almost an apple flavor in the palate.

The brewery is production-only, so whenever there are “Growler Days” for tours and growler fills, the brewery is packed. Some of my fellow SHFWire interns visited last weekend.

Our tour was led by co-owner Brandon Skall, who gave us a really nice look at DC Brau’s system. For the craft beer newbies he gave a tour that was basic enough to understand and for homebrewers and fanatics like me, he still was able to make it technical enough to be interesting.

For example, Skall said that the brewers add different additives to change the water profiles for each beer style. I’ve seen some breweries that do this and some that just stick with one kind of water, but I don’t think I’ve seen anyone this small being that precise to water style. Must be one of the reasons they consistently produce really quality flagships.

I also tried their Oak-Aged Penn Quarter Porter. It’s aged in Catoctin Creek whiskey barrels, which the brewers get “wet”; that means there’s about a bottle’s worth of liquid whiskey at the bottom of the barrel in addition to the 11 pounds of liquid naturally absorbed into the wood. They add the porter right on in without draining the liquid.

That sure comes through. It is really nice, the whiskey flavors coming through with just enough bite while still going down smooth like a porter. It has coffee and chocolate notes with a black body and dark brown head. It was limited edition and I got a half-growler, but if it is available again it is definitely worth checking out.

I’ll be looking for more local brews and checking out the DC beer scene the rest of this summer. There’s some great east coast distribution here, which is nice change of pace from the Midwest scene.


Scudder Brew Tour: There’s No Place Like Home

We may have arrived home last night, but our trip wasn’t completely over until we visited the hometown brewery of southern Illinois. We’ve visited brewmaster Chuck Stuhrenberg at Big Muddy Brewing before, but we couldn’t rightfully take a cross-country brew tour and not stop at the brewery in Murphysboro, Ill.

Big Muddy Brewing in Murphysboro, Ill.

Big Muddy has a number of beers both in bombers across the state and on tap around southern Illinois, producing 1000 barrels this year. In fact, they just got a distribution in New Jersey of all places.

Flagships include Saluki Dunkeldog dark amber ale and Big Muddy Monster India Brown Ale. The Dunkledog is named for the mascot of Southern Illinois University in nearby Carbondale, Ill. and is a dark brown ale with strong malt character with strong roasty-ness. The Big Muddy Monster — named for a local legend that stomps around the area of the nearby Big Muddy River — is an equally-malty brown with strong hoppy bitterness at 65 IBUs.

My personal favorite, however, is the 17st Amber Ale. Murphysboro is also home to world-renowned 17th Street Bar & Grill, an award-winning barbecue joint owned by pitmaster Mike Mills. For the restaurant, Chuck created the 17st Amber, a smoked ale that is done just right. It’s nice, light color is offset by the wonderfully thick, rich smoke. It’s only available in growlers at the brewery and at the pit in Murphysboro. In fact, Chuck gave a few kegs to Mike to take to a barbecue festival in Central Park, New York City and to an appearance on Good Morning America scheduled the day we stopped by.

Brewmaster Chuck Stuhrenberg of Big Muddy Brewing

We asked Chuck what new concoction he had going and he let us sample his new IPA, still in the fermenter. It is dry hopped with Cascade and Galaxy hops, giving it fresh, yet still nicely bittered hop character.

“That’s probably gonna need a few more weeks,” he said. “Probably going to call it Galaxy IPA.”

After our stop at Big Muddy we can officially call the Scudder Brew Tour complete. Dad and I had a great time and we appreciate everyone for following along. A huge shout-out and thank you must go to all the brewers, bartenders, tour-guides, managers and more who took time out of their busy schedules to chat beer with some homebrewers from Illinois.

At final count we covered 3,539 miles in nine states over ten days visiting 21 breweries. We collected 23 sample brews from eight of those breweries, lots of coasters and bumper stickers from more, and of course countless memories from the road. I believe I can proclaim myself grand champion of all road games and Dad wins “most likely to sustain a minor barstool injury”.

Either way we had a wonderful time and it was a great opportunity to spend a pre-Father’s Day summer vacation.

Back in Carbondale with our homebrews: my Hefeweizen and his APA.

Photos by Paul Scudder

This part of the summer may be over, by my brewery travels are not. Tomorrow I head to Washington, DC, where I’ll have a reporting internship for a national political wire service. There, I plan to stop by DC Brau and Churckey beer bar, among other stops. If you have any recommendations, let me know. Cheers!

Scudder Brew Tour: Final Push to Illinois

Our last day was possibly our most eventful. We drove late the night before to stop in Grinnell, Iowa for a lighter final day of driving. Due to a series of unfortunate events including a minor barstool injury and hospital visit, we ended up not being home until 12:30 a.m.

As a preface, I should say that after stopping at Upstream Brewing Company in Omaha, Neb., Dad complained about a sore heel. I had to drive to Grinnell and open doors for him at the hotel because of the pain in his foot. More on that later.

Millstream Brewing Co. in Amana, IA

We woke up early and drove an hour to Amana, Iowa. The seven Amana colonies are Iowa’s biggest tourist attraction. It is a 160-year old German community smack dab in the center of Iowa’s seemingly endless fields. Nestled in one corner of the historic town is Millstream Brewing Company, circa 1985.

They’re one of the oldest craft breweries we stopped at and have a very distinct focus of keeping their minds on the local consumer. The original 20-barrel fermenting tanks were handcrafted by a local welder. They make an Märzen-style Oktoberfest that sells out rapidly in the weeks before the colony’s huge German festival.

“We’ll go through about a month’s worth of beer over Oktoberfest,” brewmaster Chris Priebe said. “This place was built for the Amanas.”

Brewmaster Chris Preibe of Millstream Brewing Co.

Unlike many brewers we met, Chris was not a homebrewer before getting into the business. He has been at Millstream since the summer of 2000 but has been brewing since 1993, having been educated at the Siebel Institute in Chicago.

At Millstream, he makes a small series of mostly German-style lagers with a few other brews thrown in. When we visited, they were brewing the Iowa Pale Ale, a pale with a flowery nose and nice, calm hopping that was not overwhelming. It is by no means one of the hop-monsters we’ve seen elsewhere.

“We have people tell us they like our pale because it is not as hoppy,” Chris said.

One of their other flagships is the Schild Brau Amber, 2010 gold-medalist at the World Beer Cup. It’s a Vienna-style lager that’s aged for five weeks. It’s a light amber color with a nice smooth finish. We even bought a few bottles to bring home.

Front Street Brewery in Davenport, IA

On our way out, I noticed Dad limping a little bit.

“It’s feeling better than it was last night though. I may have you drive more today,” he said.

We drove on to Davenport, Iowa and stopped for lunch on the banks of the Mississippi at Front Street Brewery. Over lunch we tried a sampler of five of their brews. The house stout was currently unavailable so they had nearby Bent River Brewery‘s Uncommon Stout on tap. To finish out the sampler we tried a devilish (dare I say, blasphemous) concoction, mixing the stout with Front Street’s Cherry Ale.

On their own, Front Street’s Cherry Ale and Apricot Ale were nice. The apricot was unique and tangy, a light wheat without making the fruit overwhelming. Same with the cherry, it was a fine brew with a hint of cherry. When mixed with the stout, it all of the sudden became a sort of Cherry Coke drink. Dark with coffee notes from the stout while still having the light burst of cherry.

My favorite, however, was the Raging River Ale. It has a roasty nose with smooth English-style bitterness. It’s well-malted and well-made.

The Front Street Brewery at the Davenport, IA Freight House

We chatted with bartender Andy Skelton over lunch. Andy is a homebrewer as well and just wrapped up his second batch with his roommates. He told us that Front Street is on the verge of a move down the street to the historic Freight House in downtown Davenport, which the city is revitalizing with local markets and restaurants. We stopped by the new brewery and peeked in the windows. We’ll have to stop by next time we’re in the quad cities.

Before we left Amana in the morning, Chris, from Mill Stream, gave us a recommendation to stop at Great River Brewery. Because of time, we didn’t think we’d be able to add another stop in Davenport. On our way out of town, construction by the river made us take a detour through town. On the detour, however, we drove right past the brewery. So, as good brewery road-trippers, we pulled over to have a look.

Great River Brewery in Davenport, IA

The big, garage-style doors of the brewery were open wide with folks inside cleaning kegs while Darius Rucker music played on loud speakers. We couldn’t stop long, but we at least introduced ourselves and chatted for a short bit.

The tap room didn’t open until four, but it seemed like it would be a nice place. The woman cleaning kegs told us there’s no TVs, no food, just people talking and drinking good beer.

“People can order food or bring in their own, but we don’t make anything,” she said, adding that they do serve peanuts.

Soon we were back on the road, and Dad continued to massage his calf from the driver’s seat.

“The pain is starting to shoot up my leg,” he said. “You’re gonna have to drive the rest of the way home after this next stop.”

Our last road stop was at Rolling Meadows Brewery, a production-only facility located on a farm just outside Springfield, Ill. It’s down about four unpaved roads where GPS directions are unavailable and the roads only recently got real names.

Head brewer Dustin Regan labeling bottles at Rolling Meadows

Brewers Seth Koerner and Dustin Regan, as well as owner Caren Trudeau, showed us around. The farm consisted of a brewery building, a greenhouse, a small home, a vegetable garden, a hop garden and 40 sweeping acres of wheat. Rolling Meadows isn’t making all-estate or all-organic beers yet, but they’re doing as much as they can to get there as soon as possible. They’re growing wheat on the farm (it’s too cold in Illinois for barley) along with Cascade, Kent Goldings and Chinook hops and a wild hop strain on the hop field.

In the meantime, they are making three regular beers and a seasonal to distribute around the Springfield area. The Lincoln’s Lager is a crisp, smooth copper lager. It’s very natural with only hops, yeast and grain; right up Dad’s reinheitsgebot alley. The Abe’s Ale is a maple syrup brown ale with brown sugar, maple syrup and mollasses. It’s smooth with a nice malty finish at 9% ABV.

Wheat fields at Rolling Meadows Brewery in Springfield, IL

The Springfield Wheat, however, is what stood out to me. The whole trip (and whenever I try a wheat for that matter), I look for the very traditional, heavy hefeweizen without the banana and citrus of so many American styles. This hefe is the one I’d been looking for. It is crisp and clear with clove notes. It’s refreshing with only the slightest banana on the nose. Dustin said it ferments at 41 degrees.

After leaving the brewery, Dad went up the road to shoot some photos of the wheat field. He had a heavy limp the whole way up the road. I drove to meet him and he winced getting into the car. While I drove farther south he began researching on his phone.

After some self-diagnosis and phone calls to doctors and family members in the medical field, we feared a blood clot and turned the car back around to Springfield’s St. John’s Hospital. We got to the emergency room and served our time in the seemingly-perpetual waiting room.

After some blood tests and an X-Ray, the doctor diagnosed crutches and keeping off the injured foot. Apparently, Dad had hurt a tendon by putting it at a weird angle while sitting on a stool at the bar in Omaha. We’re calling it a “minor barstool injury” and have prescribed lots of porch time with the many samples we’ve collected on our journey.

I drove the rest of the way home, arriving in Carbondale shortly after midnight. It was a nice drive to think back on the whirlwind past ten days.

Earlier in the day, before we left Rolling Meadows, we chatted with Dustin about all the different places we stopped.

We mentioned Trailhead Brewing Company in Missouri and how we started off in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark. We talked about how Wichita Brewing Company in Kansas was fun because we saw that homebrewing really isn’t much different than what the pros do. We talked about all the things we learned about making German-styles from Prost Brewing Company in Denver. We talked about the food pairing of Thai Me Up in Jackson. We reminisced about the great people we’d met like Mike Kilroy at Firehouse Brewing Company in Rapid City.

“Sounds like quite an adventure,” Dustin said.

It sure has been.

We’re back in Carbondale, but stay tuned tomorrow for the final installment of the Scudder Brew Tour.

Photos by Paul Scudder

Scudder Brew Tour: The Road Goes On

The night before we left Jackson we had the opportunity to see Robert Earl Keen, a storytelling hero of mine, perform live in concert at the Jackson Center for the Arts. Our time in the Tetons was amazing, but as Robert Earl sings, “the road goes on forever and the party never ends.”

We struck out early, going from gray mountains and green trees to red and brown buttes to beige rolling hills of the western plains.

Wyoming State Brewing Co. in Casper, WY

Our first brewery stop was in Casper, Wy. at The Wonder Bar and Wyoming State Brewing Company. The bar has been “world famous” for decades, but has only been brewing for about eight years. According to their website, proprietor Al Swanson in 1942 allowed cowboys to ride up to the bar allowing them to buy a beer for both rider and mount.

While there were no equestrian customers when we stopped in, their three beers on tap were fit for any cowboy. They do not distribute except for at the Poor Boys Steakhouse and Parkway Place Hotel in Casper. What stood out to me was their Platte River Pale. It was neither as heavily hopped nor as strong as a traditional APA or IPA, but instead was lightly citrusy and smooth.

Crow Peak Brewing Co. in Spearfish, SD

We continued northeast, stopping up in Spearfish, S.D. for Crow Peak Brewing Company. We  were able to try some of their fine beers in their fine facility.

Vaulted ceilings made for a second-story outdoor deck and a large stone fireplace shaped like a growler. At the bar, locals drank out of beautiful ornate stone mugs, handmade by a local potter. When the artist passed away, the brewery retired the mugs, allowing them to stay at the bar for regular patrons.

Crow Peak’s 5 Decade Imperial IPA

Their Canyon Cream Ale was very nice, smooth, “light straw” color, crystal clear with pilsner malts and very light honey notes. The Spearbeer, my Dad’s favorite, was a good example of hop utilization. Its a light copper with Perle, Williamete and Cascade hops, giving it a slightly piney, flowery aroma and taste. My personal favorite was the Old Crowe Winter Ale, with strong toffee and caramel notes and 5.5 ABV.

Our next stop just down the road in Rapid City was South Dakota’s oldest brewpub, Firehouse Brewing Co. In an old Rapid City Fire Department station circa 1915, the building has seen a steakhouse and an English-style pub before its latest incarnation as a brewery. The inside still looks like a fire station, with firemen’s patches from all over the country adorning the walls. (Rumor has it that if you are a fireman and bring in a patch, you may get a free pint.)

Firehouse Brewing Company in Rapid City, SD

We showed up for a late dinner, ordered a sampler of their beers and asked for brewer Mike Kilroy.

“Yeah, he just came down,” our bartender said, pointing to a man across the bar. “He thought y’all stood him up.”

came over and Mike sat down with us, chatting us up while we tried his creations. We talked yeast (he uses good ol’ 1056 yeast, the same stuff I use), homebrewing techniques (he homebrewed before taking over at Firehouse in December), over zealous hop-heads (“Don’t bring up that IBU thing with me”) and in general had a great time.

While talking, Mike sipped on the Smokin’ Betty, an ale with very low smoke, but nice character of an English bitter. Dad and I really took to the Brown Eyed Girl, a solid brown with just enough deep roasted notes that made it stand out.

After the sampler, Mike graciously offered to show us around the brewery.

“Let’s go up and try some beers,” Mike said, grabbing a tasting glass for each of us at the bar.

Mike Kilroy, head brewer at Firehouse BrewingCo.

Firehouse is on a eight-barrel system, making all ales. Mike hopes for a lagering system in place later this year. He showed us that he’s basically using similar recipes that he did at home, just on a larger scale at the brewhouse. Firehouse only distributes in-house and at a couple local bars, but Mike still expanding, adding a new serving tank soon.

Mike also let us taste some of the brews-in-progress, including the Honey Badger German Dark (“Drink more than one…Honey Badger don’t care.”). It’s not done yet, but it has a really nice caramel with lots of honey, probably my favorite of the night. He also let us taste the Mail Order Bride IPA, with “unreal amount of hop” (18 pounds), and Blue Eyed Girl summer beer (clean finish, a little more honey) from the tanks.

Firehouse Brewing Company in Rapid City, SD

At the end of the tour we sat at the bar, ordered dinner, and had a pint with Mike. A great way to end a long day of driving: sitting at the bar with new friends, enjoying a cool evening.

We head on across South Dakota and into Iowa tomorrow. If you have any brewery suggestions, let me know in the comments below. Cheers!

Photos by Paul Scudder

Scudder Brew Tour: Beers of the Grand Tetons

Grand Teton Brewing Company’s Teton Ale

One of the great things about this trip is how flexible it has become.

Thai Me Up Restaurant & Brewery

We had originally planned only one brewery stop here in Jackson, Wy. On our way, however, we were given recommendations by the brewers from other parts of country on where to stop once we got to northwestern Wyoming.

One of those unplanned stops was Thai Me Up Restraunt and Brewery, a Thai restaurant in downtown Jackson that is making some really strong and interesting stuff. Part of that comes from their unique aging process. While many breweries are doing special aging in bourbon and whiskey barrels, Thai Me Up is thinking outside the barrel, if you will. They age some batches in Wild Turkey Whiskey barrels, but also are in the market for tequila and rum barrels to mix things up. Right now they have Darko, which is a 14% Russian Imperial Stout aged in cognac barrels.I asked why the unusual pairings, and brewer Jeremy Tofte’s response was simple.

Jeremy Tofte, brewer at Thai Me Up

“Well because everyone else is doing bourbon barrels,” he said.

Dad usually isn’t a big fan of high ABV beers, but here’s what he had to say about Darko and the other strong Thai Me Up beers:

I’m not a big fan of high alcohol beers mainly because they end up tasting like beer with ethyl alcohol added, but the Darko and  the 4X8 IPA were different. Both have a depth to the malt and hop character that compensated for the higher ABV.  These two beers were unique and paired nicely with the spicy Thai cuisine.

The other great thing about Thai Me Up is that, surprisingly, Thai food pairs great with very strong beers. The very spicy Thai makes their IPAs (they have four on tap) with up to 100+ IBUs seem not not as overwhelming. It’s an excellent pair that that we weren’t expecting.

Snake River Brewing

Just down the street is Snake River Brewing Company, where we went for lunch. After being led to our table upstairs by the hostess, Dad and I stopped for a moment at the bar to take a look at what was on tap. A man with a brewery shirt was sitting alone at the bar.

“Got a lot of good stuff up there. What kind of beer do you like?” he asked.

We replied with the general response. We’re homebrewers, so we know a thing or two about beer. We’re on a trip across the country and have been stopping at microbreweries along the way. The man then introduced himself as Chris Erickson, director of brewing operations, and offered to show us around after we finished lunch.

Chris talked about how the high altitude impacts how they brew. They have to boil at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours to get proper sugar conversion. Brewing in the mountain also has its pluses. Chris said that the clear mountain water from Jackson goes into the boil with little additives.

Chris Erickson, Director of Brewing Operations at Snake River Brewing

He also showed us their new canning line, where they’ve started the transition away from bottling. Out of a can, their pale ale has much more aroma than many hoppy beers in bottles. Chris said that the linning in crown caps erodes hop aroma faster than the lining in aluminum cans.

“We’ve bottled since day one for 17 years and we’re just now switching to 100 percent cans,” he said.

Their new Pako’s IPA is their first beer to be distributed only in cans. It now makes up 46 percent of their off-premise sales. Named in memory of the brewery’s mascot, a dog named Pako, it is dry hopped for nine days after being brewed with Simcoe and Columbus hops that make it pop.

Grand Teton Brewing Company

We also drove across the mountains to Victor, Idaho and stopped in at Grand Teton Brewing Company. Other than specialty German styles, they get their malted grain from Idaho farmers and distribute all over the Grand Teton and Yellowstone area.

For the beer nerds like us, one of the coolest things about Grand Teton Brewing is their horizontal mash tun. It spins like a laundry dryer machine on its side. It really stood out as something unique from all the other tours we’ve been on so far.

The horizontal mash tun at Grand Teton Brewing

I first tried their Teton Ale (a crisp amber just right for an afternoon in the mountains, pictured at the top of this post) at the Jackson Lake Lodge in the Grand Teton National Park. They’ve got a branding deal with the parks whereas they market some of their beers specifically for park-goers. Their big sellers including Old Faithful Golden Ale and Bitch Creek ESB are on tap at the historic Old Faithful Inn.

As long as we’re talking about specialty beers for the National Parks, while in Yellowstone, we saw a small exhibit in the visitors center about the enduring popularity of the park. Included was a bottle of Yellowstone Ale by Rogue Ales, a specialty brew whose proceeds went to the park.

Rogue Ale’s Yellowstone Ale

A short while later we saw a shelf full of these bottles at the General Store nearby. On the label:

For 139 years, Yellowstone has been a symbol of wildness, mystery and natural beauty. Each year, projects that would preserve its natural wonders and ensure that each visitor enjoys Yellowstone to its full potential never get funded. Please help us protect Yellowstone National Park — now and for the future.

In tasting it and after some online research we found out it is simply a clone of Rogue’s Dead Guy Ale. There may be some slight hop differences, but for the most part it appears to be the same. Nonetheless, kudos to Rogue for the effort to preserve America’s National Parks. (If you want to help the NPS, click here or visit a park near you.)

We are in Jackson through Sunday evening. Then it’s back home on a three-day trek through Wyoming, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois. If you have any recommendations, let us know in the comments. Cheers!

Photos by Paul Scudder

Scudder Brew Tour: Mile High and Beyond

Both Dad and I started our craft beer education in the winter of 2009-2010 in northern Bavaria. The area of Franconia has more breweries per capita than anywhere else in the world. The Franconians say the best beer in the world is made in Germany, the best beer in Germany is made in Bavaria and the best beer in Bavaria is made in Franconia.

Prost Brewing Company

When scheduling our brew tour, we saw one brewery in Denver that jumped out. A brewery in construction called Prost Brewing, near Coors Field. They had bought a brewery from Franconia, Brauerei Hümmer, and shipped the kettles and brewing equipment across the globe to Denver. They’d be making the kind of German lagers and traditional biers we remembered from Germany.

We emailed the brewer, Bill Eye, and scheduled a visit.

Prost is about a week from being able to brew, but they’ll have to wait a lot longer before the beers are ready. They’ll be lagering in traditional Franconian fashion, which means long time aging in the huge 72 barrel lager tanks in the Prost brewhouse.

“But when you do lagers in a traditional sense you get about a third the productivity of what you’d think because it takes so long,” Bill said.

Bill said he hopes to bring some of the bierkultur of Germany to an American audience. It’s not just about the Reinheitsgebot, “old-school” beers, but instead about the care taken in every pour.

“I love how you go over there and even the simplest lager and the presentation is great,” he said. “The English care, all the Europeans do. The English, the Germans, the Belgians.”

We left the traditional brews of Prost and headed north to Fort Collins for something a little more out of left field. New Belgium Brewing Company had been a must-stop pin on our map since we started planning. The biggest brewery we will visit (the third largest craft brewery in the country), there’s just something about New Belgium that drew us.

We choose wisely.

New Belgium Brewing Company

We arrived to the tap room before they opened and had time to explore the beautiful area around the outside of the complex. Once inside, we got to sit at the bar and sample some of the Lips of Faith small-batch series.

I ordered the Lost Abbey Collaboration Brett Beer, brewed with Brettanomyces yeast rather than traditional Saccharomyces. It was my first Brett. It was moderately like a traditional Belgian, pale and slightly tangy. Dad ordered the Cocoa Mole Ale. It was a dark brown with chocolate notes and shockingly spicy, like peppers. A great beer to try, not so much to sip.

We also tried the Prickly Passion Saison (sweet from prickly pear, earthy from passionfruit, wheat with slight banana notes from the saison yeast) and the Biere de Mars (a traditional, fruity biere de garde).

Our bartender, Bernie, talked to us at length about the beers and the cult-like following New Belgium gets. He said they expect 1,500 visitors per day in the tap room during the summer. He also impressed upon us that we needed to take the brewery tour.

“Day after day after day I get people who come to me, homebrewers and beer geeks, and say ‘this is the best brewery tour I’ve been on’, I’m not yankin’ your chain,” he said.

We had to get on the road if we were going to try to make it to Jackson, but after enough prodding, Bernie convinced us to take the tour. As soon as we hit the sweet-smelling brewhouse, Dad and I both looked at each other with a big smile.

We choose wisely, again. It was the best brewery tour I’ve ever been on.

New Belgium’s Brewhouse Two

Our tour guide Sarah (from South Bend, Ind., as it turns out) blended the commercial and basic information necessary on any big brewery tour for the casual beer drinker with very technical answers for the beer geeks in the crowd (me and Dad). Thank you Sarah, for putting up with our questions about hop efficiency, conditioning rates and yeast production.

I could go on and on about the tour in Fort Collins, but I’ll be brief: the tour also allowed us to try the New Belgium beers in a new way. At certain points along the way, we’d have tasting sessions with an unknown New Belgium beer. Instead of just picking up a bottle of Fat Tire, drinking it and thinking “oh, that’s Fat Tire, I know exactly what that tastes like”, the blind guessing game allowed me to take more time and sample the lighter carmel notes and roasty character without  knowing off the bat what I was drinking. A good exercise for the beer connoisseur.

Wyoming, USA

We then drove north into Wyoming and then west again into the mountains. Mile after mile of big open sky and stunning prairie vistas in every direction, always with the snow-capped Rockies glowing purple in the distance. We drove past buffalo herds and cow fields, antelope and sheep farms. We were in the agricultural heartland of the American west.

It is in this agricultural community that Pinedale, Wy. sits, the last real town on U.S. Highway 191 before Jackson. It’s also home to Wind River Brewing Company, which distributes in 16 oz. cans across the state as well as at the brewery (currently in construction on a new expansion) on 191 in town.

Wind River’s bar area was very much a locals bar. Rustic decorations, a leg lamp with a cowboy boot, Rodney Atkins singing “It’s America” on the radio, the whole nine yards. What’s more: the locals all came in to drink the great craft brews being served up by Wind River. It was much the same atmosphere that we saw in Hays, Kan. at Lb. Brewing.

Richie Strom, brewmaster at Wind River Brewing

After trying a sampler of their brews and having a bite to eat, brewmaster Richie Strom and his assistant Cooper were very gracious enough to show us their bottling line and brewing area. They had just finished a long, 12-hour day of canning their Blonde Ale (the crowd favorite), on a long assembly line. They can the Blonde (a light beer with a nice citrus aftertaste, reminded me of a Kölsch) and the Wyoming Pale Ale (very bitter, tastes like a there’s a big hop dump, but still with a solid amber color).

“Cans are a lot cheaper. They’re easier to recycle and it’s better for your beer,” Cooper said.

(As a side note, another big brewery back in Indiana cans their beers for another purpose. I’ve heard that one reason Sun King cans is because of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway does not allow glass bottles on the infield for the Indy 500.)

After meeting with the brewers, we hit the road, arriving at our little cabin in Jackson just after sundown. Looking forward to a full day of hiking and sight-seeing tomorrow. May even throw in a rodeo if the weather’s right.

The first leg of our journey is complete. I’ll post about the breweries here in Jackson after we visit them, then it’s back home through South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois. Let me know in the comments below if you have any recommendations for us!

Photos by Paul Scudder

Scudder Brew Tour: Kansas to Colorado

We started the day driving across the rolling green plains of eastern Kansas, smack dab in the middle of the American heartland. We headed from Lawrence, Kan. to Wichita, where the logo of Wichita Brewing Company & Pizzeria drew my attention.

Wichita Brewing

It features John Brown, the violent abolitionist renowned for the raid on Harpers Ferry, W. Va. and “Bleeding Kansas” in the year before the Civil War. The image of Brown comes from John Steuart Curry’s Tragic Prelude painting. Instead of a Bible and rifle, the brewery logo features Brown holding two frosty mugs of beer.

Dad and I stopped in and met Kyle Bonick, the head brewer. He showed us their 40 gallon Blichmann system, 11 plastic fermenting tanks and ten-tap system. Needless to say, they’re pretty small-batch.

“We’re a glorified homebrew system,” Kyle said.

V6 IPA with full-leaf cascade hop infusion

At the bar, Wichita brought two unique beer-drinking experiences. First they had a traditional English cask ale from a hand pumped tap. It was cloudy, dark brown and warm, but very malty, like a malted candy. A good sitting around beer. Next, I tried their V6 IPA, with a twist. The brewery offers a tea bag with full-leaf cascade hops for an extra hop infusion. Without the hops, the IPA was crisp, cold, refreshing. With the hop bag, it became more natural, and as it sat it became more flowery with the cascade flavor.

Gella’s Diner and Lb. Brewing Company

After leaving Wichita, we headed north again, through amber waves of grain being harvested by behemoth machines in the late May sun to Hays, Kan. Hays is a town of 20,000 with a quaint yet fairly slow downtown. It’s also home to Gella’s Diner and Liquid Bread Brewing Company, an award-winning brewery that knows their way around malt.

Brewer Gerald Wyman was out, but manger Brendan Arnold showed us around. They are running 750 barrels a year in a 10 barrel brewing system, all out of their historic warehouse-turned diner and brewery. They serve “slices” (16 oz. pints), “big slices” (22 oz. mugs), and “loaves” (64 oz. growlers).

Brendan said that they use local well water and instead of relying on hop creativity, they do great things with their malts. Their stouts have won three golds at the Great American Beer Festival and most recently, gold at the World Beer Cup. They’ve made 54 beers over the last seven years.

Everything, even the IPA and American wheat, are strong in malt and under-hopped. Nothing too fancy, just solid, reliable beer for solid, reliable people.

The “drink local” idea is crucial for Liquid Bread. For a market that has been used to Budweiser and Coors, having a world-class craft brewery down the street is rare. Yet while we were there a steady stream of folks came in for growler-fills of their favorite brews. More growlers were filled when we were sitting there than I’ve seen in big cities and more craft-beer minded markets.

Falling Rock Taphouse

We then drove on to Colorado, where we are staying the night. We stopped for dinner at Falling Rock Taphouse in downtown Denver, just outside Coors Field. It is home to over 100 taps and even more bottled beers, and came recommended by Micah at 75th Street in Kansas City. Always good to have a great selection of world-class brews to choose from.

Tomorrow we head to Prost Brewing in Denver, New Belgium in Fort Collins, and then on to Wyoming’s breweries and finally Jackson. If you have a recommendation for us, shoot me and email or comment below.

Photos by Paul Scudder

CLARIFICATION: Some readers were under the impression that I thought Lb. Brewing’s beers were plain or boring. This is not the case at all. I take the ideals of having good, well-prodcued traditional styles of beer very highly. I point to some breweries that make hit-or-miss oddities like bacon beer and oyster stouts, etc. I really enjoyed that Lb. Brewing had very simply produced quality batches of traditional styles. It’s an idea that’s showed up on Bierkultur before, when Brad Sanders wrote a guest post about Bell’s Brewery, Inc.