2015 BEER DISCOVERY TOUR, Portland OR to Portland ME and back…7800 miles later…
From late June to early July 2015 I was lucky enough to go on a cross country road trip with Gary and our nephew Devin. We drove my car from Portland Oregon to Portland Maine in just about three weeks. We took a ‘central US’ path East and came back taking a more northern passage. Regarding where we went each day, we made it to about 40 breweries and a handful of tap-houses, bars, and brewpubs to find local beers and food along the way. While the long distance driving was challenging some days (10+ hrs at a time), we really enjoyed the trip with it’s the ever-changing scenery and wonderful cities, towns, and people we met.
Before leaving on the trip, we gathered and then took a couple of cases of local specialty beers for our friend Rusty in Pittsburgh. The sucky part was that while we wanted the beers to not get ruined by the heat, we ended up unloading and reloading it a LOT as we stopped each night. This is a valuable learning experience, to stick to mailing stuff like beer and wine, don’t carry it with you in the future. We also picked out some of the more well-known breweries and decided to “play it by ear” as we went day to day as our planning wasn’t as sound as it could have been regarding what breweries were open what days/times. We had to adjust where we went as we needed, but that didn’t deter us from exploring. We found that there is a tremendous amount of excellent, and a few not so excellent breweries serving some of the best beers around. This includes the mid-west which tends to be “behind the curve” when it comes to what’s popular on the coasts regarding beer and culture.
As I can, I will post in-depth reviews of each brewery visited to include pictures and tasting notes (as I can transcribe them from my collection of notes and menus).
Here’s a brief rundown of each of the breweries visited over the course of the road trip and main takeaways:
24 June 2015
- Boise Idaho, Highlands Hollow Brewhouse
We stopped in Boise for lunch, so we had to pick something that was open at 11, and had their own beers to sample. There are a few breweries in downtown that were open for lunch on a week day and I had been to this place a few times before so I drove us there. Overall it’s a great local spot, not many out of town visitors go there as it’s not really upscale or trendy, but does have a decent selection of food and brews. Lunch was pretty good and the beers were decent. Nothing was super special and none of them was ‘bad’ to us.
After lunch, we headed south into Utah on the freeway but didn’t stop at any breweries en-route as there were none open (weekday afternoon) that we could find.
25 June 2015
- Odell Brewing Co., Fort Collins, CO
We traveled from Utah to Colorado in the morning, stopping at a couple of breweries in Ft. Collins first, then hitting a couple more breweries in the downtown Denver area in the afternoon and after dinner. Odell Brewing was one of the better surprises in Denver. It has a huge tasting facility with a big patio, live music, food truck, and really friendly staff. The tasters didn’t cost a whole lot, and we were able to get the beer quickly and find a spot inside (where it is air-conditioned) easily. The patio looked really awesome, and we wish we could have hung out for the live music that afternoon.
- New Belgium Brewing Co., Fort Collins, CO
The New Belgium facility is pretty close to the Odell location in Ft. Collins (10 min drive max). We did notice that the size and commercial feel is quite different between the two. While both cater to a more upscale crowd, we had to deal with a LOT of CRIpods at New Belgium, even if it was the middle of the afternoon.
The facility the brewery is located in is really huge and has a self-guided tour and a bar that you can order full pints or tasters at. The overall vibe is that of a marketing firm gone wild. Literally everything in the facility has to do with the brewery in a somewhat commercial/gawky way that is not really that ‘micro’ in feel. While the one-off (on site only) beers were decent, we wouldn’t ever go back due to the crowds, kids, and overall corporate feel left the bad taste in our mouths.
- Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, Denver, CO
This brewery is located in a recently renovated industrial complex called the “Old Ironworks” that has multiple restaurants and shops inside. There’s everything from a liquor store to butcher shop nestled next to each other with a two story open ceiling (super airy). There is centralized seating in the middle, but with the brewery you can’t take your beer outside its front entrance. There was a good range of customers from hipsters, yuppies, jocks, and beer fanatics like us during our visit, so they welcome everyone (except kids).
This is a mid-sized tap-room with a LOT of really good beers on draft that you can only get there. They offer lots of swag and other stuff for you to purchase as well. The overall vibe is ‘hipster’ with a bit of ‘locals-only’ vibe thrown in. We would definitely recommend visiting it for anyone going to Denver, just don’t try to go during peak hours, as it filled up quickly while we were there and the noise level does get pretty high.
TASTING NOTE: $3/taste, 22+ tasters available = $70 sipping if you do them all!
- Prost Brewing Co., Denver, CO
We went to this brewery on recommendation by one of our family members we visited there in Denver. We first had dinner at the Ale House at Armato’s just south of it on Central St. and walked the four blocks over to its location. This brewery is just west of Coors Field across the river in a newly renovated ‘up-and-coming’ neighborhood. It has a definitive ‘locals only’ feel with an outdoor patio and plenty of indoor seating. They make (6 at the time of our visit) German style beers with a decent range of accuracy in the flavor profiles. Their parking lot is gravel, so if it’s raining, you may have to do a little puddle jumping and watch out for the mud (as we found out).
Overall the German style beers were not bad, but nothing really stood out. Not sure we’d go back unless we had the time to do such with the amount of other great beers and breweries around town.
26 June 2015
- Left Hand Brewing Co., Longmont, CO
We left our hotel in Denver after breakfast, we headed north to Longmont on the freeway. It took about half an hour to get to Longmont. As we were driving into town, we realized the brewery is located on the outskirts of town in an industrial park area (not near downtown). They have a pretty large production facility and taproom to get your growler filled or do tastings at. The inside of the taproom, there is a pretty local feel (mom and pop like) and lots of interesting things to look at. The servers are super nice and will explain each beer or provide tasters of everything they offer as requested. They do have a lot of one-off beers that ranged from barrel-aged to slight variations on other current beers that you can only get there on site. They do offer pours of all of their distributed beers as well. We did enjoy the beer and other out of town visitors at Left Hand (talked to a couple from the east coast that was also on a beer-discovery tour of their own) and would definitely go back if the opportunity present itself.
- Oskar Blues Brewing Co. @The Tasty Weasel Taproom, Longmont, CO
The Tasty Weasel is the production facility at the back of another industrial complex about 15 minutes away from Left Hand Brewing. Signage is somewhat limited, so when you enter in the parking lot in front of the main building, you have to drive around to the back of the complex to get there. The front of the facility has a small outdoor patio and inside is a large seating area and bar. The location is dog-friendly (as we found out) and doesn’t seem to be much in the way of kids present, which we appreciated. The space is basically the front part of the brewery, and you can look back behind one of the doors separating the two spaces to see the workers in action. They do offer a large variety of one-off and seasonal beers that are only available at this location. They offer tasters of any beers they have, as well as full pints, growler fills, and cans/bottles to-go. They also have a lot of swag available for purchase and the overall feel is really low-key and welcoming.
- Avery Brewing Co., Boulder CO
The third brewery we visited north of Denver was Avery in Boulder CO. It took about 15 minutes to drive down from Oskar Blues and this location is also in a large industrial complex part of town. The only difference is that the industrial complex contains all Avery’s Brewing production. The facility does have a pretty good size restaurant, bar, and patio for you to enjoy. They provide a ‘self-guided’ tour along some walkways that are above the tanks inside the facility, as well as a large assortment of swag and bottle beers to buy and take with you.
At the bar (main floor), we ordered six tasters, and the servers use this really cool touch-pad that allows the customers to get what they want almost instantly. It was SUPER busy when we were there (happy hour timeframe) and we had to stand at a small table in the back. It was challenging to pick out the beers we tried as they had over 30 to choose from. What we did sample was pretty outstanding and they did have a large assortment of one-off’s and special/seasonal beers that were only available there to drink or get growler fills of.
Overall this location is pretty up-scale, with a lot of visitors from out of town. We did have to deal with a few kids crying and screaming nearby, so if that’s not your thing (even in the bar area), then stay away.
27 June 2015
- Empyrean Brewing Co., Lincoln NE
After the long day’s drive from Denver to Lincoln (8hrs), we went out for a quick drink before bedtime in the Historic Haymarket part of downtown. Lazlo’s restaurant and brew-pub has been one of the pioneers of micro-brewing in Nebraska (over 20 years) and they do distribute some of their beer in bottles. They changed the name of the brewery portion to ‘Empyrean Brewing’ a few years back, which I never really understood why they did this. Regardless, the food and beers have been consistent over the decades and you can’t really go wrong with them compared to other places nearby. The one caveat I have with this brewery, is just that, they haven’t really tried to improve their beer recipes over the years, and what they do have is pretty middle-of-the-road when compared to other regional breweries. They do offer tasters of all of their beers, and if you don’t find anything you like, you can always ask the bartender for a bud or miller lite. Another side note, they don’t really have any swag for their brewery, which sort of sucks (not even stickers), it’s really focused on the restaurant, the brewery seems to be secondary to the business.
28 June 2015
- Granite City Food & Brewery, Lincoln NE
Sunday afternoon in Lincoln, and yes, there breweries in town to try if you’re so inclined. The only bummer is that one of them is Granite City (located on West “O” st. at the mall), which is sort of “The Appleby’s of Mid-west Micro-Breweries…” They are a national chain of restaurants that centrally produces their beer and then ages it on site at each location. The great thing is that it’s always fresh at the bar, the bad news is that there are only really a few decent beers on their list. They do offer tasters and growler fills of everything, but don’t hold your breath. I had to remind Gary and Devin that they should “remember their audience” and keep in mind that if the beer is really mediocre, that it’s because that’s what ownership thinks customers want. Not surprisingly, the bartender agreed with us after we explained what we were doing in town and ‘looking for good beer’. The food at Granite City isn’t bad, it’s a small step up from Appleby’s. They don’t really have any swag either, so it was a bit of a disappointment for us overall.
- Ploughshare Brewing Co., Lincoln NE
This brewery was one of the super surprises of the trip. Being that I’m native to Lincoln (born and raised), I’m super thrilled that an actual micro-brewery with talented brewers has opened in Lincoln and is now providing a unique and wonderful drinking environment for locals and visitors (not to mention the 20+ thousand students blocks away). My only gripe is that they could do a better job of advertising (on social media especially) as it took a little bit of digging to discover this place. It’s located downtown just south of the UNL campus and has a good sized tap-room and production facility. They just started distributing (kegs) as we found out, so we are excited for them and hope they can keep up with the demand once the word spreads. The vibe there is super local and friendly, the bartenders will spend the time with you to explain what they offer, and they do have a range of seasonal and one-off’s to try besides their basic beers they do year round. Every beer we tried was within the range of expectations for those styles and there were a few stand-outs. Food wise, they are pretty limited with small plates and such, and we asked about any expansions of the food options, but they were not sure when that might ever happen as their a brewery and not a restaurant (bars and taverns don’t have to offer food to have a liquor license in NE). As with most other mid-west breweries we had hit so far, they were limited in swag (I think they had just one shirt in limited sizes and no hats which we wish they did).
- Modern Monks Brewery, Lincoln NE
Located in downtown as part of Misty’s Restaurant, Modern Monks is a pretty small production brewery with a limited range of available beers. We had dinner Sunday night there at Misty’s and while the food was really outstanding, the beers were pretty middle of the road to ‘just OK’. I wish that they would work on their flavor profiles as they could pair up their beers with the food in more interesting ways than just having a few generic beers on tap. Be fore-warned that if you don’t sit in the front bar section of the restaurant, you will get surrounded by families with kids and have to deal with CRIpods, which no one enjoys (my dad and step mom even commented that the kids next to us were really out of hand). Overall, the beer wasn’t horrible, considering it’s just made for that location only (growler fills are available I believe) and I applaud them for trying to make it work with this well respected local restaurant.
29 June 2015
- Boulevard Brewing Co., Kansas City, MO
We drove down from Lincoln (about 3 hrs) to Kansas City to visit Boulevard Brewing and get some KC BBQ at a local spot. We did take a little detour getting to the brewery due to some freeway construction, but that gave us a good glimpse at what KC neighborhoods are like and how run-down some parts of it are. The brewery takes up more than a city block, and has a swag room, tasting room, and hourly tours available every day of the week. The tasting room is pretty cool, it overlooks some of the production tanks and lines, however, it’s somewhat small and when there are tours happening (even on Monday noon), it fills up quickly. They do offer a full range of tasters of their distributed beers, as well as a lot of seasonal and one-off’s that they do on site only. They do have growler fills and bottles to purchase in the swag area (which was cool, not just their logo slapped on stuff, but other locally made stuff from KC). Overall, the beers were pretty good, nothing was out of place or bad. We did enjoy the conversations and meeting some new people that were visiting from out of town as well. I’d recommend checking them out if you’re ever in KC.
- The Saint Louis Brewery – Schlafly Bottleworks, Maplewood, MO (suburb of St. Louis)
After having lunch in KC (awesome BBQ) we drove east to St. Louis and met up with one of Gary’s old students from CR at the Schlafly Bottleworks brewery just outside of downtown St. Louis. We did run into a LOT of traffic getting into the downtown area and had to take a lot of side streets to cut across to get to the brewery. Again, we appreciated this as it gave us a glimpse at some of the neighborhoods and commercial areas of St. Louis that we wouldn’t have otherwise gotten. The brewery is a large industrial building (production) with a really big ‘shop’ with their logo slapped on a LOT of things, as well as a full sized dining/tasting room, guided tour area (separate seating for lectures and meetings), as well as a gigantic patio that is busy year round from what it seems. The food was pretty good, and we sampled the full range of beers that they had to offer (seasonal, one-off’s, and year-round distributed beers). Most of the beers were middle-of-the-road in quality, with a few outstanding options. We would be curious to go to the other location to check out the vibe and difference in food if we’re ever back in St. Louis.
30 June 2015
- East End Brewing Co., Pittsburgh, PA
We drove into Pennsylvania and made it to our friend Joel’s family farm and hung out for a few before heading into Pittsburgh where we met up with Rusty and Sara, our hosts for the evening. Rusty was excited to see the beers we brought for him and take us to some of his favorite spots in town. First we headed over to this little hole-in-the-wall, not-well-marked, sort-of-hidden little jem called East End Brewing. It’s a combination coffee roaster and brewery. It’s located in a somewhat unmarked commercial building and has a small parking lot out front. Their tasting room has no windows and is quite large, but split between the two different businesses, the coffee roasting/cafe and the tap-room. They do have some swag for sale as well as growler fills and pints on site. Their beer list changes pretty quickly, and they do have a few regular beers they consistently make. This is clearly one of the ‘up-and-coming’ breweries in town, and the people there were enthusiasts like us and happy to chat about the beers we were sampling. Overall, there were a few outstanding samples and none that were ‘bad’. Note that there is NO food on premises, they do have the occasional food truck from what I remember on the weekends, but I could be wrong there.
- Church Brew Works, Pittsburgh, PA
After we stopped for a drink at a local pizza joint they love, Rusty took us down to the Church Brew Works for dinner. This is an old cathedral that was up for sale and bought by the brewery a few years ago. They converted the main section inside to include their production tanks and storage areas, adding seating and wait stations, and amazingly enough left the entry area unchanged except for what is hanging on the walls and on the tables. They left all of the stain glass windows up, reused most of the pews as benches along the seating areas/walls, and the alter area is where the boil kettles now sit. Pretty cool and creepy at the same time. This restaurant and brewery, that when full of people, generates a LOT of sound, so it was a bit challenging for us to talk as a large group. The servers were clearly struggling to keep up (it was during dinner rush) and it did take a while to get our samplers of their beers. I would have to say that some of them were just ‘average’ to ‘ok’, nothing really stood out except their German style beers. Overall this is a one-of-a-kind brewery and if you’re ever in Pittsburgh, you should try to visit it.
1 July 2015
- Tröegs Brewing Co., Hershey, PA
The following day, we got up early, ate a little breakfast (thanks Rusty!) and said our farewell’s. We found out way out of Pittsburgh and drove to Hershey where went visited Tröegs Brewing Co. which is located right next to the main Hershey’s amusement park complex. Yes, the candy bar people have their own amusement park and welcome center. I didn’t know a whole lot about Tröegs prior to going to the brewery, Devin had made the recommendation and so we went. I’m super glad we did, the tap-room and restaurant are located inside the main brewing production facility in a large open space. The looks can be a little deceiving, as it’s not really a restaurant, but more of a cafeteria serving extremely good food. We sat up at the bar after looking at their ‘shop’ where they have tons of swag for sale and really cheap off-sale beers that they bottle. We were expecting the food to be somewhat ok, and ended up eating some of the best poutine and pork belly I’ve had. They do provide full range of tasters, pints and growler fills at the bar as well. The samples were excellent too good. There are a few seasonal one-off’s and all of their year round distributed beers. I would definitely recommend this brewery to anyone that is going through the area.
- 2nd Story Brewing Co., Philadelphia, PA
Once we left Tröegs, we drove into Philly and checked into our hotel for the night (stayed in the north end of downtown, so it was easy access to most things). We met up with our good friend Michael and did a walking tour of downtown, visiting a few of the historic sites before wandering over to 2nd Story Brewing for a quick sampling before going to dinner. A few years ago we tried this brewery and it was just ok, and the vibe was pretty commercial. We went with the notion that we will give them another try and we were glad we did. While the inside is still pretty slick looking, and the restaurant prices are way higher for the food you get, the beers have improved considerably and there were a few one-off’s that everyone really liked. The cool thing with this brewery is that you can see the production tanks above the bar area on the 2nd floor, thus the name.
2 July 2015
- Portsmouth Brewery, Portsmouth, NH
After a good night’s sleep in Philly, we headed north towards New York where we stopped for a slice of pizza in lower Manhattan, then drove through Times Square, then headed north to Boston. The traffic getting out of New York forced us to be later than we anticipated, so we ended up skipping Boston all together and headed up to Portsmouth New Hampshire en-route to Belfast Maine, which was our final destination for the night (1/2 way point of the entire trip). We sort of played this one by ear and were glad we did so. While we were off the main turnpike/freeway that we wanted to go north on, we had no choice as it was a couple of days before the 4th of July holiday weekend and traffic was backed up everywhere. The traveling across the North East using the back roads did provide us the chance to see a LOT of small towns and what life is like in the lesser known parts of the north east.
When we got to Portsmouth, we found the brewery quite easily (right off the main street downtown), and parked in a garage nearby. It seems that Portsmouth is a pretty popular little fishing village and is busy year round. The brewery is pretty big, focused on being a full service restaurant and the swag room is off by one of the side dining rooms. They did have a LOT of different things for sale with their logo, and the Smuttynose Brewing logo, which is their sister-company. The food came out quickly and the servers were super nice and knowledgably about their beers as well. The samples we tried ranged from pretty decent to just OK. After a long stretch in the car, it was a welcome break to have a good seafood dinner and decent beer before getting back on the road. In hindsight, we should have spent a little more time looking around downtown but we wanted to keep the momentum going.
3 July 2015
- Marshall Wharf Brewing Co., Belfast, ME
We made it safely up to Belfast and to the old mill/house that Gary’s son lives in with his girlfriend the evening of the 2nd, and spent the next few days doing some exploring of the local region. Eric was super happy to see us and show us around the area and the first thing we did was go out for lunch in downtown Belfast. There are only a few restaurants and shops in Belfast, it’s more of a fishing village then tourist trap. While walking around, we noticed a brewery (that they didn’t know existed) called Marshall Wharf Brewing, and we decided to wait until they opened at 11 to go in for some beer sampling before lunch. Boy are we glad we did. They are a small operation associated with a high-end restaurant that is located right next door. The brewery produces enough for local distribution (around the close towns) and provides growler fills, pints, and samples on site. They do a small assortment of experimental and strange beers as well as a few standard pale ales which I will get into later on in the full review. The workers there were super exited to talk to us about the beer and get our feedback on it. This is a total locals-only spot, and they do offer a few food items for you to snack on while you sip. If you’re ever by chance in Belfast, or passing through, you should stop and give them a try.
- Rock Harbor Brewing Co., Rockland, ME
We did a bit of driving around to some of the small towns near Belfast, and we ended up stopping in Rockland in the afternoon to pick up some stuff from a specialty store. We decided to give the Rock Harbor brewery a try since it was just down the street from where we wanted to go, but had been fore-warned by Eric that their beer was pretty mediocre. Unfortunately for us, he was right. The restaurant is pretty good sized, with a bar side for the adults. We ordered the tasters of their beer, and most were pretty one dimensional with the same hop profile and no real character. This was somewhat disappointing and the only real let-down of the trip up to that point.
4 July 2015
- Shipyard Brewing Co., Portland, ME
On July 4th, we decided to head down to Portland Maine and hit a few breweries that were open on the holiday. We ended up driving around town a little bit, checking out the waterfront, stopping for a donut, then going over to Shipyard brewery to do their tasters and check out their swag shop. Their parking lot is a bit small, so you may have to park and walk a little bit if they are busy. The tasting room is actually just a small room with a bar behind on the back side of the swag shop that has lots of things from Maine and not just their logo on stuff. This brewery does have a lot of beers that they distribute and you can sample all of them and a few of the one-off’s and seasonal’s, and you should note that the tastes are FREE, yes FREE AS IN BEER. They do provide growler fills for a low price. No food on premises, it’s just a brewery. We enjoyed the conversation with the bartender and other customers giving the beers a try.
- Gritty McDuff’s Brewing Co., Portland, ME
After Shipyard we went over to lunch at a really good restaurant a few blocks away called Duckfat. We then drove back down to the water front (the restaurant was on the north west end of it) as we made our way over to Gritty’s brewhouse and pub. Note to self, next time you decide to go into a major tourist trap on a holiday weekend, bring extra patience as people are stupid and can’t park for shit. After circling a few times in the car around the neighborhood, we decided to just park in a garage a few blocks away and walk. The streets were super packed and busy with people and it was somewhat of a festive atmosphere. We finally made it to Gritty’s which is sort of an old-school restaurant/pub that just happens to brew their own beer. They do have a swag shop next door to the restaurant that we stopped in to get some stickers and stuff as well as a few of their beers in bottles. The beers, well they were just ok. Nothing stood out, nothing was super duper awesome, but nothing was really bad. Perhaps we were just stuffed from lunch and a bit tired of driving already, but really the beers were middle of the road to just ok. Overall, we’d say skip this one if you’re in Portland and seek out the better breweries nearby.
- Allagash Brewing Co., Portland, ME
We decided to head out of downtown Portland and over to Allagash Brewing. It’s located on the north west part of town, and will take you at least 20 minutes to get too from the waterfront/old-town area. It’s located in a fairly large industrial park. Once we got there, we quickly discovered that it’s a pretty popular brewery location as we got the last spot in the parking lot. Note that they have no food, just beer and the production facility does tours, but these are not every day of the week. They do have a patio and a few people were braving the heat outside and hanging out. They check your ID at the front door and give you a token for the tastes. Inside the main tap-room, they have swag along the walls, and beer available in bottles to take home. I believe they do growler fills as well as drafts of any beers and tasters. Each token gives you the full lineup of their beers for FREE. YES, I said FREE as in BEER again. Amazing that they don’t charge and it was completely packed. We did end up discovering some amazing sours that they had in limited release bottles, which we bought 8 of (limit 2x person). The line-up of tasters was amazing. On-par with Crooked Stave in Denver. The server was really interested in talking to us as we told him about our journey to that point and he was excited we choose Allagash to visit on the 4th. Overall this is a MUST SEE if you’re ever in Portland, they really do care about their customers and the beer is excellent.
- Austin Street Brewery, Portland, ME
We found out as we were leaving Allagash (by picking up a little ‘brewery tour map’) that there were three other breweries located just blocks away from Allagash. Two of them literally just a block away across from each other. Austin Street Brewing was the first one we stopped at. It is a super-micro brewery with what looked like a three barrel system that they were producing their beers in. They didn’t distribute and only had a few beers available to sample. Unfortunately as they were so small, that the beers all had a ‘home-brew’/unfiltered and yeasty profile that made them somewhat lame. I’d give them a year and try them again in the future. The location itself is just a small garage space in the industrial complex with a picnic table out front and inside. They did have stickers and shirts which was a bonus.
- Foundation Brewing Co., Portland, ME
Located on the street side of the same building as Austin Street, Foundation Brewing is a little bit bigger, with a lot of storage/fermentation tanks and a number of more beers on draft. There were a lot more people at Foundation as well, considerably more than Austin St. (I would guess it’s overflow from Allagash) We found some seats inside, but it was considerably hot and humid, so we were a bit uncomfortable and ended up outside with most of the crowd of customers. The beers were decent, nothing super special, but nothing bad. The overall vibe is really local and they did a good job explaining the beers to us. They also had shirts and stickers available with growler fills.
- Lively Brewing Co. (Ebenezer’s Brewpub), Brunswick, MA
On our way back to Belfast from Portland, we stopped at Lively Brewing (Ebenezer’s Brewpub) in Brunswick. We had found that they were rated as one of the top beer bars in the US and we figured that it would be a good time to find out. We needed to get some dinner and it just happens that this was along the way. The building is pretty non-descript restaurant/bar with a back room with windows into the production area of the brewery. The bar side of the building does have a lot of bar iconography, posters, and stuff from all around the world, and their beer list of bottles is really decent. The food is pretty average (along the lines of standard bar food) and their locally produced beers were pretty decent. I’m not sure why this would be considered one of the top beer bars in the US, there are any number of places that have a LOT more on draft and bottle lists available, let alone the lack of quality food. I would vote skip this one unless you’re hungry and want some cheap food and decent beer.
5 July 2015
- Harpoon Brewery, Boston, MA
We left Belfast early in the morning of the 5th and went south to Boston to get lunch and check out Harpoon Brewing. We were lucky in that the traffic was pretty cleared up and we were able to find parking immediately right outside of Little Italy (North End). After some lobster rolls and walking through the neighborhood, we drove over to Harpoon. They don’t have a really big parking lot, so we ended up on the street and walking over. The production facility is HUGE, with a really gigantic tasting room. They offer a small set of food items and well over 30 beers to sample. The production facility is visible through windows along the main wall and the bar in the center runs the full length and you can take one of their daily brewery tours easily. We sat at the main bar and talked with the server and really enjoyed the range and contrasting styles of beers they produced. Most of what they offered was available in bottles (distributed), but they did have a handful of seasonal one-off’s only available there. The atmosphere is a little bit commercial due to the size and scale of the facility, but the staff was super friendly and we didn’t feel like we were giving our money to a big corporation. We left Boston and bid farewell to the east coast.
6 July 2015
- Great Lakes Brewing Co., Cleveland, OH
After reaching Rochester NY the night before, we hit the road again and stopped in Cleveland at the Great Lakes Brewery/restaurant for lunch. The brewery production facility is located across the street from the restaurant/bar. It was super busy when we got there, had to park a block away and walked over to the restaurant. They have a long patio the length of the block and inside there is a separate swag room with lots of interesting things to buy and a main restaurant room next to a bar room. The only table we could find was inside the bar, where we spent a bit of time sampling and eating lunch. There is a lot of old pictures and antiques around the building and this creates a great vibe to hang out in. The food came out in normal fashion and was pretty decent. The beer samples were interesting, but nothing really stood out. They offered all of their distributed beers and only had a few one-off seasonals available. If you’re ever in Cleveland, I’d suggest checking them out as it seems to be a pretty cool spot and their beers aren’t that bad. After lunch we hit the turnpike and headed west to Chicago.
- 3 Floyds Brewing Co., Munster, IN (suburb of Chicago)
We got to Munster IN outside of Chicago about dinner time and after checking in at our hotel for the night, we drove over to 3 Floyds to check them out. They are located in a pretty industrial area of town, not far from the main water tower in Munster. The brewery has a full service restaurant and a side-room for kegs and to-go orders. They do have some swag available there as well such as shirts, stickers and stuff. The restaurant doesn’t really seat that many people, so if you go during normal lunch or dinner time, be prepared to wait for a table. The bar itself is small and only seats a few. The beer samples are restricted to just the one’s they identify on the menu, and they do have a pretty large range of beers there. We had to ask for some small tastes of a few different beers not on the taster list. We ended up with a decent dinner, really good beers, and ringing in our ears. The one issue everyone had with the brewery is that they blare Swedish death metal (super distorted) throughout the entire restaurant. We couldn’t quite figure out why they were doing this, it clearly wasn’t creating a friendly vibe. We actually had to yell to talk to each other it was so loud. We were pretty burned out by the time we left and we decided to just head back to the hotel and crash out for the night.
7 July 2015
- Fulton Brewing Co., Minneapolis MN
After leving the Chicago area early on the 7th, we drove to Minneapolis for lunch and to try some of the breweries there. After checking in at our hotel, we drove over to the southwest of downtown area to meet up with another former student of Gary’s at the YardHouse in Minneapolis. They had a really decent range of beers and we got to sample a lot of other local beers that we otherwise would not have. Once lunch was over, we headed back downtown to Fulton Brewing to see if they were open. They are open for home games (Twins) and by chance one was being played that night. We found parking right in front and a table inside the main tasting room/bar area. They did have a patio that was filling up with baseball fans and the inside got to standing room only by the time we left. We had to stand at the bar at first to try ‘tasters’ of their beer as they don’t do flights (as we found out no one does in Minneapolis). Also, they provide only one per person at a time (regarding 1oz. taster pours). So, we convinced the bartender to pour them and bring them to us and we’ll finish them as quickly as he could pour them. Sort of sucked in that it made it hard to take notes, but regardless the beer profiles were good and strong for the types they provided. We ordered a few pints and hung out for a bit before moving onto the next brewery. The main seating area has windows that looks into the production area/tanks so you can watch them brew beer if you are there during the day. Overall this brewery is worth checking out if you’re ever in downtown Minneapolis.
- Surly Brewing Co., Minneapolis, MN
Next up in Minneapolis was Surly Brewing. It’s located SE of downtown in an industrial area (dead end street) with a HUGE parking lot, HUGE production facility with GIGANTIC buildings, brewing kettles (100’s of gallons), and a huge corporate shopping space, and dining space. I would estimate that they could seat over 300 people easily in the space it’s that big. The crappy thing is that you are limited on what tasters they can give you at a time and they don’t do flights of beer either. We ended up hanging out on the end of the bar at a stool and did a bit of people watching while we sipped a few pints. They do have some large kettles inside the main taproom, visible behind some large windows which looked really cool. Overall, the beer was decent that we tried (one-off’s, not the distributed stuff). Not sure we would go back due to the noise level and corporate feel.
So, it’s sort of weird that even if you get sat at a table, the servers will only take your food order. People have to get up and order your own beer at the bar. I don’t get it, but I suppose it has something to do with their business model or state/local regulations?
- Dangerous Man Brewing Co., Minneapolis, MN
We had heard about Dangerous Man while at Fulton brewing from the bartender that provided us the tastes. We decided that it was early enough in the evening to give it a try. We ended up driving back to north towards our hotel to check them out. It’s located in a neighborhood that has a lot of old homes and businesses on the main intersections. Cool local vibe from start to finish. We again discovered that if we wanted to try all their beers, that we had to stand at the bar and drink the 1oz. tasters as they brought them to us. The server didn’t know why none of the breweries we went too that day had tasting flights? We discovered that their beers were not only awesome, there were a few really tasty one-off’s that were not distributed. The tasting room has a LOT of tables, and is usually full of locals. The production tanks are located behind the bar, and they do offer growler fills (and pre-filled to-go), as well as some swag available for purchase (glasses, stickers, t-shirts, etc.). Ultimately this was the best surprise of the return trip, with really exceptional beers and super duper friendly staff that went out of their way to help us out, even with there being a lot of people waiting in line for beers.
9 July 2015
- Big Sky Brewing Co., Missoula, MT
We went from Minneapolis to Fargo/Bismark ND to visit family for a day. Once we started west again, we decided to push to Missoula, which meant 10+ hrs on the road across the northern plains. This isn’t the easiest of drives, but we made it early enough in the evening to try a few of the breweries in town. As we were staying out by the freeway on the west side of town, we decided to start at Big Sky Brewing. This is a large production facility and is easy to get to from town or from the freeway. Inside, they have a large open tasting room and a bit of swag available for purchase. They do growler fills only, and you are limited to a specific amount of beer per visit. Basically they give you a stamp card and you can only drink till it’s filled up. As there were three of us, we were able to purchase a full flight of tasters, even if we could only get them three at a time. The range of beers is pretty good, they distribute to the west coast, so we’ve had most of the available drafts on site. We didn’t stay long as we wanted to hit some of the other locations before they closed.
- Imagine Nation Brewing Co., Missoula, MT
We next went to this great new brewery closer to town. They have a small production facility on the back side of their tasting room. They have a large outdoor patio that was quite busy when we stopped by. The servers again were willing to provide us with tastes of their beer (no flights) as long as we stood at the bar. We were able to take some notes and found that their beers were pretty decent and expressed some willingness to explore different flavor profiles. The server was happy to talk to us about the local laws and regulations about the micro-brewing culture and business. It seems that the brewery doesn’t require a full liquor lisc. but in not having one, they are only allowed to be open until early evening, but they can do growler fills until 9pm. I would recommend this brewery to anyone visiting Missoula.
- Draught Works, Missoula, MT
Just a few blocks from Imagine Nation is Draught Works (within walking distance). We stopped there to do some tasters as well and discovered that they had live music going on and that meant a large crowd of people in the taproom. Luckily we found some seats on the end of the bar and ordered the tasters as we had at the previous breweries in town. We were offered all the 1oz. tasters at once, we didn’t have to wait for the server to pour them three at a time. The beers were just OK and didn’t stand up to the quality we had tried earlier that day. I would give them another try if I was to ever visit Missoula again.
- Flathead Lake Brewing Co., Missoula, MT
We went to the downtown Flathead Lake Brewery for a quick bite to eat and try their beers. They have an upstairs and downstairs bar/restaurant at this location and only the downstairs was open. We were able to get sat, get the taster samples and get dinner pretty quickly. They were happy to provide us with the range of tasters and the beers were decent, but nothing really stood out. They did have a few shirts and hats available as well as growler fills. Since we were running short on time, we didn’t hang out much longer than just eating food and trying the samples.
- KettleHouse Brewing Co., Missoula, MT
By the time we got to KettleHouse, they had actually closed and only had growler fills available. This location is along the rail road tracks and is quite large. It can hold a LOT of people, but it was completely empty when we went in. The server was sad that we were not able to taste their beers, but alas, you can’t win them all.
That brings us to the end of the story. We were going to stop in Spokane WA to do some tastings, but in the end, we just wanted to get home and do some recovery from the long drive.