Saturday, 5 March 2016




Mile High City

Last stop on the December 2015 US tour was Denver Colorado. Nicknamed the Mile High City this place was probably the stop I was most looking forward to on my tour of the US. With a reputation for a cracking craft beer scene, I didn't need to look too hard to find some places I was excited about checking out. So with just one night to explore, a fist full of dollars and my drinking boots on I set out for my one man pub crawl!

For a December night at one mile altitude in the northern states the weather was incredibly mild. Only a week beforehand I had walked through Central Park in New York with it feeling more like Autumn than Winter and here I was again needed little more than a thin jacket to stave off the evening chill. As such I decided to walk the mile or so to the first pub and walked past a conference centre with a rather interesting display outside...

Readers of past blogs may understand my excitement about finding this guy!


I Remember When I Found out About Chemistry

First stop of the crawl was Euclid Hall. This trendy and very busy establishment had one of the most interesting ways of dividing the enormous beer selection I've ever seen. Standard approaches might categorise beers by price, style, origin or depth of colour but this place divided them by complexity! What's better is the names of the categories ranging from Arithmetic (The low alcohol, sessionable easy drinking styles), to Algebra (slightly more complex styles), to Geometry, Trigonometry, Calculus and their most complex range - Quantum Mechanics!

I instantly fell in love with the place and it's ingenious system of beer listing. It did mean if you just fancied a rather bland lager then it was easy to pick and if you happened to be in the mood for an Imperial Stout brewed with Cacao and space yeast you knew which page on the menu to turn to!

I decided to start the night simple with a Kolsh and headed off shortly after. This place just got too busy for a solo session.

It Does What It Say's on the Tin

Second stop was a place called Freshcraft and it really did live up to it's name. They had some great music on (ranging from Bob Dylan to Modest Mouse) and a great selection of craft beer. I was peckish by this point so I also tucked into some tasty mac'n'cheese (I can't say this without doing a ridiculous American accent!). I tried a collaboration brew between Freshcraft and SKA brewing, a double IPA, perhaps somewhat obviously dubbed 'FreSKA'. This was a great beer and the intense hoppy nature was balanced well with the malt backbone and cut through the grease of the bacon topped mac and cheese perfectly.

I also tried a couple of fruity twists on some classics - these being Modus Mandarina by SKA brewing (using mandarins of course) and a twist on one of my favourite beers - Ballast Point, Skulpin 'grapefruit' IPA. I passed on trying a beer called IBS, for some reason it didn't appeal and I wasn't sure if they named it that just for shits and giggles...

 The Mandarina was great but the prize for the punch in the mouth of citrus goes to...


Nine Hundred and Ninety Nine Beers on the Wall, One Hundred and Ninety Nine Beers...

Next stop on the tour was the Falling Rock Tap House. With dozens of taps including hand pull beer engines serving up local cask ale I couldn't resist but stay for a couple. I tried the Local brewery Great Divide's noble efforts in the Titan IPA and the Hibernation. Both excellent and what I'd come to expect in terms of quality from American craft beer.

I didn't bother counting the number of bottles on the walls but if this place ever has an earthquake it's going to be a messy day in the office!

   I'll Have Mine with Extra Vampire Repellent!

Last stop on the tour (by this time I was peckish) was Mario's Two Fisted Pizza Place. There are not many light night Pizza joints which serve craft beer whilst you wait and have a live music lounge next door with leather trench coat clad aged rockers who seem to have happily traded their bus passes and false teeth for a shot at the Karaoke big time! And to kick it off I loved the description of garlic on the menu. How this place managed to cram 'Dive Bar', 'Pizza Joint' and 'Craft Beer' under one Karaoke rocking banner. Some how this place managed it and it was a top spot to finish the night.

Just had to tip. Just had to!


Shipping Out

Overall I was so pleased to have had the chance at a brief tour round Denver's beer scene but felt like I barely scratched the surface. I'm already thinking about good reasons to justify a return visit! I loved driving round with the mountains on the horizon and a generally cool use of open urban spaces which I love to see. On my way out I spotted these guys which struck me as a novel use of old shipping containers and brightened up the place to boot.


Saturday, 27 February 2016




The Steel City

It's taken me a while to post this I know, but a return to Pittsburgh this week has propmpted me to pick up where I left off last year with the tale of my first trip, just before Christmas break and the interuption to my blogging routine...

Following on from the weekend in New York I headed alone to Pittsburgh to continue the business trip business. As ever I spent what little free time I had hunting down some craft beer.

Prior to travelling I was chatting with my dad about the plans and the blog and he was adimant that there was nothing to look forward to in Pittsburgh. Having travelled here about a decade ago he seemed still bitter at the lack of availability of beer, let alone good beer, and with various repeated quotes of "Buy beer? But it's a Sunday" or "Sorry, it's after 10pm" I decided it was my mission to prove him wrong. If I can hunt out a pint in the middle east then I was confident I could find a vibrant craft beer vibe in Pittsburgh even if I was only planning to be there for two days.

Kindred Spirits

On the first morning in Williamsburg, outside of Pittsburgh, I had similar issues to the other small town I'd been to in the states (Beaumont) in finding a cab driver to pick me up from the hotel and take me to what passed as a workplace for the day. Eventually one arrived, a most friendly chap by the name of Keith. Given the seemingly overwhelming shortage of adequate transportation options to hand, I was keen to keep hold of Keith as a primary means of getting about as I had quite a bit of distance to cover and wasn't keen on hiring a car (all that driving on the wrong side of the road business...). So over the various trips and the course of two days and nights I spent many an hour chatting to him. This semi-professional musician-come-taxi-driver had fallen on hard times and was trying to break back into a once successful music career. He was forever keen to share his story and his music with me on the ride, which was extreemly technical and he was clearly gifted, although his jazzy-techno-pop style productions weren't quite to my taste.

Over the two days I knew him, Keith shared stories of the various highs and lows that had befallen him and I enjoyed the conversations we shared with many a roaring laugh. A road warrior with a nomadic soul much like myself, I admired him for his incredible up beat attitude in the face of the hard times he was facing. "You gotta work hard" he'd say, "because nothing comes to dreamers but a dream" and "If it's not working, you gotta try something new", "Ya know, most people don't evolve they revolve, just trying the same thing over and over". Keith earned enourmous respect from me and an generous tip for his efforts over the two days which hopefully helped him have a good Christmas.

On the second night in Pittsburgh I had the night free and headed to town. Naturally, Keith was giving me a ride in but suggested, since we had time, that we take a minor detour to Mount Washington for a view of the city. How could I refuse?


The Rust City

It's unusual for the various factories I visit to be sited in particularly picturesque parts of the world but the factory I visited outside Pittsburgh took the biscuit for being in one of the most depressing looking locations. Leaving Pittsburgh and driving through the suburbs I appeared to pass from 'Shining City' through 'Quaint Americana' then past 'Run Down Suburbia' and finally into 'Post Apocalyptic Hollywood Set'!

The city itself is famous for the incredible number of bridges it sports (apparently 446!), unfortunately, like the steel industry which once bolstered this city and the population of it's outskirts, most of these bridges are falling into decline.

Difficult to get a good shot of the bridges from a moving car...


Thankfully I did have one night free to explore Pittsburgh's craft beer scene and, as ever, a little research on the internet beforehand gave my a fighting chance of discovering a decent beer scene on my journey and I even stumbled across a blog dedicated specifically to craft beer in Pittsburgh. Run by Jason Cercone, covers all sorts of beer news from around Pittsburgh. There's even a podcast which I found very enjoyable to listen to in those days in Saudi Arabia prior to the trip, dreaming of beer to come.

I arranged to meet Jason in Fatheads bar in Pittsburgh. I was pretty excited about the prospect of their home made beer (although brewed off site) and to try one of the 'headwiches' (a sandwich as big as your head, ofcourse!). I'm not sure whether it was having recently come from Texas or just the anticipation I'd built up salivating whilst perusing the incredible selection of options, but I was a touch dissapointed when the sandwich arrived. I went for a pulled pork effort and whilst I by no means could have fit it in my mouth or even hold it single handed, I was expecting it to be a touch bigger.

The beer, however, more than made up for it and I spent the night chatting to Jason and Angelica from The couple were extreemly friendly and it was nice to see how the beer scene in Pittsburgh and the surrounding area was bringing in an income for them.

Jason was kind enough to take me for a pint after in Piper's Pub. This self styled 'English Pub' even had beer on cask. It also had a great selection of interesting tap handles on display.

A most American tap handle.

Bridges and Headwiches

Overall I found Pittsburgh a great stop on my tour, full of friendly people and some great beer! Sat here again now finishing off this post I can honestly say I'm glad to be back and am looking forward to another Headwich and a pint of Fathead's Headhunter IPA with it's hints of stone fruits and heavy lingering bitterness.

A Headwhich and a Headhunter for me!


Friday, 8 January 2016




A Morning at Meatpacking

On day two of the New York tour Laura and began in the morning by heading down to Chelsea Market, in the meatpacking district. This trendy indoor market has arisen in the bones of an old biscuit factory. With many remaining features of the original industrial interior still firmly in place, it gives the impression that some of the pipework and machinery was just more hassle than it was worth to remove. Strangely this gives the place a unique character and 'modern-post-industrial-retro' feel (if such a thing exists, if it didn't it does now).

We had breakfast amongst the scrap metal with some incredible pancakes from Sarabeth's bakery and felt set up for the day before heading off to explore the rest of the market.

A view into the bakery from the main corridor with redundant pipework adding a character I struggled to capture in just one photo.


The High Life

After a spot of Christmas shopping we continued the theme of rejuvenated industrial assets by heading off in search of The High Line Park. The High Line is a park built on an elevated section of a disused New York Central Railroad. The park extends for a mile and a half and offers a great elevated view of the city. I loved the idea behind this park. As with the market it showed that new life can be brought to old, run down industrial eye sores without knocking them down and starting again. We walked the full length of the park on what felt more like a Spring day than Winter and loved every minute of it.

Mud not blood on the tracks - First elevated to avoid pedestrian collisions, now boot leather is the only way to travel this line.

The High Line offers some great views from above street level

A Bridge to Brooklyn

After the thirsty work of walking a mile and a half we made our way to Brooklyn to visit the Brooklyn Brewery and have a wander around the area. The North side of Brooklyn has supposedly undergone a rise in popularity. It seemed like a cool but sleepy place on a sunny Sunday afternoon and was we enjoyed some great street art and a fantastic view of Manhattan.

Manhattan from Brooklyn

A Piss Up in a Brewery

The main reason for heading to Brooklyn was to check out the Brooklyn Brewery. Their Brooklyn Lager is probably one of the most famously exported craft beers from the states and I was keen to see the brewery and taste some of their less widely available efforts. We were not disappointed! The brewery was open for tours and tastings and there was a busy tasting room with a great selection on draft and regular small group brewery tours.

The tasting room operated the usual token system with some of the rarer or stronger beers requiring two tokens to buy which made them a bit pricey by comparison but the whole experience was great. We went on a brewery tour and were shown around both the brewery itself and the bottling line by a very friendly but very hung-over member of staff. Apparently it had been the Brooklyn Brewery Christmas party the night before and if anyone knows how to organise a piss up I suspect it is this lot!

The tour was funny, informative and had a good balance of brewery history, science and some well rehearsed gags. The whole tour lasted about half an hour and I think the guys showing us round were glad they'd done it a number of times before as they managed to sail through it in auto-pilot. I'd say without breaking a sweat but the poor lad giving the tour was dripping by the end of it. Those post epic session beer sweats sure are a killer! After enjoying the tour we headed back to the tasting room to work on the following day's hangover.

Where the magic happens

Tasting room. We may have had more than just a taste.

Ooh Mammy!

After the brewery it was time for a bite to eat. Whilst wandering around we stumbled across Umami Burger. This place had craft beer and with a name like Umami, just cried out 'Gourmet Burgers'. The burgers were fantastic, the staff were the friendliest we met anywhere in New York and we had a couple of pints of Sculpin IPA by Ballast Point Brewery. This is a beer I've had a few times in tins and is an excellent  modern American IPA and the draft version did not disappoint.

Just off shot the maple bacon sweet potato fries... Ooh Mammy!

The saddest thing about Umami Burger was that we shared a burger between two as we really wanted to head to another place we'd heard about which turned out to have food which was nowhere near as good as Umami.

I won't mention the place we went to but we had slow roasted pork (service took so long I did wonder if they failed to prepare it in advance!) the rest of the dish was cold.

Not sure how it was possible to ruin such a great looking dish

Best thing about this spot was the communal benches which always makes me think of German Beer halls and allows for easy meeting of neighbours and encourages hearty quaffing of beer and slapping of leather clad thighs. In this case it didn't seem to boost the atmosphere and just as we were planning on leaving the bloke sat next to us actually apologised for making too much noise. I didn't have the heart to tell him that not only had we not even noticed his presence up until that point but that his general bar presence was about on par with the coat rack. We were, of course, polite but giggled about this on the way home.

Something else we giggled about on the way home

Blinded by the Lights

After our outing in Brooklyn we headed back to Manhattan and jumped off the subway at Times Square. This most famous of intersections is often referred to as 'The Cross Roads of the World' apparently... I must admit I just didn't get it.

Times Square 5th December 2015

We later went on to check off a few other touristy glitz by heading to the Rockerfeller Centre to see the tree, the Christmas glitz and the ice skaters. 

Giant balls at the Rockerfeller Centre

St. Patricks Cathedral

One For The Road

A final pint in Rattle and Hum, a great little rock bar with plenty of craft on tap, and we were ready for a stagger back to the hotel. I had a dogfish head 90 minute IPA. Not a local brew but a fantastic drop I'd been looking forward to trying ever since reading about the history of Dogfish Head Brewery which went some way to inspiring me to start this blog!

One more cup of IPA for the road


They Won't See us Waving from Such Great Heights

The last morning in New York was a bit of a rush but we swiftly rushed to see the 911 memorial and the relatively new One World building which now stands on the site. At 561m tall it is the tallest skyscraper in the western hemisphere and the 6th tallest in the world. The view from the top was stunning and after a very brief trot around the observation deck we rushed back to the hotel to pack and head to our separate airports (I flew on to Pittsburgh from Newark airport and Laura flew back tot he UK from JFK.) Both our taxi's got us there in time and, deservingly, got a nice tip.

I was actually in good time for my flight until the security decided they had detected explosives in my laptop and after a rather impolite interview with the police and explosives experts I persuaded them that despite the engineering background, the job in the chemical industry and having spent significant amounts of time in the middle east I was, in fact, not a terrorist! A fairly intimidating experience but one to laugh about afterwards. Thankfully they didn't resort to a cavity search! 

Couldn't stick around to finish watching the sunset. But it was a sublime sight from what we saw.


Next Up...

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Thanks for bearing with me! Christmas has meant that most of this blogging is catch up.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015




Loco Motives

I'm in Rehab (Saudi Arabia) again this week and it's a great opportunity to reflect on the second part of my US tour, New York! After leaving Texas I caught the Friday night flight out of Houston. I stopped briefly in Charlotte, North Carolina airport and whilst waiting for my connecting flight and, having a thirst, managed to hunt down some of the local craft. In this case it was NoDa Brewing Companies offerings which lured me in with their "Hop, Drop 'n' Roll" (A classic American IPA) and "Coco Loco" (A complex malty number) both great beers an a treat to get some good local craft from a state I didn't realise I'd get a chance to sample anything from. 

A Hell of a Town

After a couple of beers in Charlotte I carried on to New York and met Laura in JFK airport and we shared a cab to the Empire Hotel in Manhattan, our base for the weekend.

The fare came to about $63 and we got some serious agro from the taxi driver when I handed over $65. Apparently by this point I still hadn't got the hang of the whole tipping thing.

It being late and us being hungry we headed out to the local pizza parlour which came highly recommended by the hotel. We ordered a pepperoni and I had a Negro Modelo. Not exactly craft or local but it's one I've wanted to try ever since I was in Taiwan and dreaming of Mexican Amber Lager. (A topic of a future post perhaps.)
The pizza place owner was basically Mr. Panucci from Futurama... "Pizza going out... C'MON!!!"


More Like a Goat than a Goat

The following day we headed down to the Museum of Modern Art after being lured in by a poster advertising a Picaso sculpture exhibition.

More like a goat than a real goat? Seems like one of those "wetter than water" type comments.

My favourite piece was this recently excavated fishing boat which had been shot at by hundreds of arrows. It was inspired by the story of a Chinese general. The legend goes that the general's army was running out of arrows so he took a boat filled with straw men and feigned an attack on the enemy. When the boat returned it was so pin-cushioned that the general was able to replenished the armies supplies. I loved this story because of the sheer cheeky audacity of the general.

Or it could just be a very abstract hedgehog..

There was also the papier-mâché star spangled banner for some reason.

A Walk in The Park

After the museum we headed down to Central Park. It was hard to believe that it still felt like Autumn in early December. The weather was mild and the trees were still flush with their autumnal plumage. We came across a talented group of lads managing to rob a crowd blind out of sheer peer pressure. They did eventually pull of some stunts but I estimate they made $1000 in donations in less than 30 minutes. This goes to show what the power of true entertainers can achieve. They did this by doing a couple of quick backflips and handstands and getting a bit of a crowd going. Then with well rehearsed lines and speaking in perfect unison to naturally amplify themselves to a crowd of hundreds, they whipped up the crowd into a frenzy with some gags and by celebrating every donation they got. Dozens of people offered them up and each was greeted with a "Hey Guys! I just got twenty dollars!", "From Who?", the rest of the lads would hail in time, "This girl" "Where's she from" and so it went on. They really built up the tension and managed to get hundreds of dollars in donations. President Obama may be interested in change but these guys were interested in tens, twenties and fifties! They eventually managed an impressive finale involving jumping over about half a dozen people in a line. Impressive in itself but not as impressive as how successful their little show was.

Not a bad little action shot

Solid Gone

After walking through the park we headed to the Natural History Museum. The museum has a staggering collection of dinosaur fossils and my incredible replicas which really to help to bring these magnificent beasts to life. I think My favourite was the triceratops but I'm not really sure there was so much to see. It wasn't hard to find Laura's favourite.

Being big fans of the jungle book I couldn't help but see the resemblance in this Fossil to the dancing bear Baloo. "Solid Gone".
After finishing the museum tour with a dazzling display at the Hayden Planetarium, we made a dash to see the full size blue what they have displayed which we were keen to see after seeing them a few weeks earlier in Sri Lanka (maybe I'll blog about that trip at some point). By this point it was getting late and was time to make a prompt exit through the before the exhibits started coming to life. This unusual phenomenon has been recently documented.

Saddle Up

With the sun setting and the Saturday night vibe starting we both agreed it was time to get into our drinking boots and head out to see what we could find. After a couple of Anchor Steam Beers in the reception we headed to The Pony Bar. We both got IDed on the way in with the bouncer giving us a friendly grin and simply stating "Business before pleasure". The Pony Bar is a lively place with over 20 taps. We tried a couple of the local efforts. First up was a Captain Lawrence Effortless Session IPA which had a slightly rough bitterness but was crisp and refreshing. Next I tried a Great South Bay Bourbon Barrel Aged Scotch Ale which can only be described as syrupy bourbony goodness! Laura had a Sierra Nevada Kellerwies Hefeweizen which was a little heavy on the banana and bubblegum notes for me but still very nice.

In Tacos Veritas

Next we headed for tacos at Cascabel Taqueria where we washed some great tacos down with some Dogfish Head Aprihop. The apricot notes in this beer are quite subtle given that they have actually added apricots. I can't help but think the same effect could have been achieved with just selecting the right hops for the job. Vic Secret is a great hop for adding apricot notes in my opinion although Mosaic does well too.

Mmmm... Tacos!

To Prop or not to Prop

Final place we headed to for the evening was The Ginger Man. At first impression this dimly lit joint was a great place to rest our weary legs and enjoy some good music. They had around 70 taps and with a selection like that we could have quite happily stayed for a few. After sitting for a while with no service I approached the bar and ordered a couple of beers. "Where are you sat?" asks the barman. I pointed to the table we had in the corner and was about to order when I was told "You'll have to wait for the waitress, I can't serve you unless you're sat at the bar."

Unfortunately this place wasn't the only place I've been that operated this ridiculous system of service whereby because we weren't actually sat at the bar we couldn't order beer. So I returned to my table to continue to wait for the tardy waitress to make her way around to us whilst the barman stood idle and after half an hour of waiting we eventually got our drinks. I had a Stone 'Enjoy by 25/12/15' which I have to admit is probably the best beer I have ever tasted. It was perfectly balanced and so crammed full of fruity notes I might as well have been munching down a packet of fruit pastels! I ordered a second pint and again marvelled at how the waitress seemed to be operating in an entirely different time-zone to the barman.

I realise this absurd system of having to be served by a waitress if not actually sat at the bar is to enable them to work for their tips. In this case it totally backfired as not only was the service so poor we sat most of the time waiting and not drinking. The horror on the face of the waitress upon realising we'd not tipped seemed to suggest she held this atrocity worthy of a trial for crimes against humanity at The Hague. She seemed deaf to the viewpoint that, in our view, she had actually significantly impeded our drinking and we would have drank more if she wasn't there at all.

A Candle Light Nightcap

I've a vague suspicion we might have stopped somewhere else for a night cap but this is as far as I'll take it for day 1 in New York. In day 2 we stopped off at the Brooklyn Brewery for a tour of their facilities and a few samples amongst a few other interesting places so keep an eye out for that post.

Sunday, 13 December 2015



Lone Star State

Sitting on my own in the airport at George Bush (first of his name) International Airport in Houston feels like an appropriate time and place to reflect on the adventure of the last couple of weeks. It's hard to believe that it has been only 12 days since landing in the US and that since then I've managed to grab a few local craft beers in five different states.

The whole tour has been an absolute blast and I'll talk about it in several digestible parts to give me a chance to collect my thoughts and give anyone reading this a chance to grab another beer between chapters. 

It seems quite fitting that I finish this tour where I started, in Texas, and I'm please to report, like all six airports I've been to in the states (I did a few connecting flights), it's not hard to find local craft beer on tap. I'm currently enjoying a St Arnold Christmas Special, a quite drinkable light ale which keeps the added seasonal spices at a suitably subtle level.

Houston We Have a Problem, a Drinking Problem...

Driving around Texas just gives you an idea of the scale of this country. I can't quite get over how much space they have here. The Texans for the most part came across as very friendly and quite excitable at times. When I first landed I was greeted with a hearty "How are y'all doing!". A brief look over either shoulder confirmed it was still just me stood there and I struggled to hide my confusion at the use of the somewhat plural greeting. I wonder if it comes from living in a state where it's often hard to believe it's all just one person stood before you.

A little research told me the craft beer scene here seems to be thriving and with a couple of nights to spare exploring I was looking forward to see what I could find.

The first place I checked out was the Hay Merchant in Houston. Arriving on a Tuesday night was a stroke of good luck as it was steak night and being Texas it frankly seemed rude not to. The thick slab of perfectly cooked steak came with a caramelised fish sauce which wasn't fishy at all but just packed bags of flavour and I wolfed it down before you could say Umami.

The tap handles in this place are amazingly varied and rustic

A quick glance down the beer menu, consisting of around 50 taps, it was staggering just how many draft beers were on offer and just how strong most of the beer on offer was. The weakest thing on the menu being 4.8% and with the average closer to 7% and I knew I'd need the steak just to soak up the booze. It's clear that the local taste for beer is heavily in favour of the strong hoppy styles. I sampled the Karbach Hopadillo and the St Arnold Art Car both hop-a-licious IPAs as the menu promised and at $5 a pint it was a welcome relief from some of the expensive beers I've had recently in other countries.

One Horse Town

Following the conclusion of a 2 day conference in Houston, myself and a work colleague headed over to Beaumont to visit an industrial site. After sitting through a safety induction (which seemed to focus mainly on handing in your guns before entering and not feeding the crocodiles whilst walking around the site) I knew I was in for another cultural experience. 

On the evening we asked the hotel to call us a cab and they handed us the card of the only taxi they knew of (everybody drives themselves everywhere here it seems). The business card stated "Just Call Wayne" and 15 minutes after following these instructions our carriage arrived. After getting in the cab I asked the Stetson wearing driver if he was Wayne. With a look of confusion he replied "No, I'm John, Wayne does the day shifts". I had to resist the temptation to suggest that he should therefore rename the taxi company "Just call John / Wayne".

Driving through Beaumont it seemed a sleepy industrial town and apparently has a population of 118,000 although quite what they all do on a night is beyond me. We headed to a place called Suga's (Imagine saying "Sugar's" in the style "Bubba's") which came highly recommended as the most happening place in town. As the two of us walked in and the patronage of the establishment doubled I couldn't help but wonder if they ever managed to fill the place which had easily enough seating for 200. In terms of local craft the barman offered up a bottle each of St. Arnold Elissa IPA (a more malty, East Coast version of the Art Car I'd had the night before), a St Arnold Amarillo Hefewiezen (which fruity hoppy character slightly distorted the style but made it far more to my liking) and a Shiner Bock which was fairly light bodied and bland for a Bock in my view but was a pleasant final bottle of the evening. 

At one point I commented to the barman that none of the beers were labelled with the alcoholic content and that in the UK that would be illegal, to which he just smiled and said "Welcome to Texas!" At the end of the meal (some fantastic deep south style seafood) the barman called a taxi for us. When John / Wayne showed up to give us a ride I really got the impression that Beaumont is just a one horse town.

A Wonder I Found the Place

On my last day in Texas I headed over to 8th Wonder Brewery with the promise of a tasting room and a brewery tour. This place is a little off the grid (a popular system of road layout in the US) and the taxi driver asked to use the satnav on my phone in order to navigate to the address. After a few minutes of driving through a rough looking industrial estate with some fantastic street art I finally reached my destination. It took most of my will power to not respond to the driver's request for a tip with a retort along the lines that he should have in fact tipped me for my navigational services. But smiling amiably I gave him a dollar for the trouble (it was only a $5 ride) knowing full well I might be jumping straight back in if the place ended up being closed.

Fortunately the place was not only open but heaving and as I walked into this converted industrial unit with it's innovative use of beer kegs for structural supports, cable drums for tables and butchered shipping containers for outdoor shelters I couldn't help but be impressed. It's a fantastic testament to the allure of this place that so many people had made the effort to venture to the area, so bereft of anything else worth seeing other than the graffiti.

8th Wonder's Outdoor area "Wonderworld"

The bar at 8th Wonder was serving a selection of beers brewed on the premises and, like many such establishment, were operating a beer token system to speed up service at the bar. Thankfully this helped the three capable bar staff easily deal with the crowd. Unfortunately the one solitary soul operating the beer token counter was not managing quite so well under the sheer demand for the branded bottle caps which passed for hard currency in this place. Fortunately for me I'm British and queuing without complaining for lengthy durations is undoubtedly in my genes and the roaring atmosphere and friendly fellow endurers of the line made the time pass far smoother.

I grabbed a Hopton IPA which smelt and tasted incredible with the cascade dry-hop it boasted certainly packing a citrusy punch. I also sampled the Alternate Universe, a German Alt Beer which was well balanced and definitely malt foot forward, and the Mission Control, a Brown Porter which packed a hit of coffee and toffee notes in. All in all the three beers were excellent and for $15 including the branded glass and with a food van serving pulled pork sandwiches out back I thoroughly enjoyed the visit and it more than made up for the disappointment of not getting to see the brewery itself.

Taco's Saved My Life

As I left the brewery I took in some more graffiti. I do believe that some good street art in the right places can help to brighten up the place. As the inevitable march to all live in concrete jungles continues it's important that the environment in which we live is attractive. 

"Anyone that knows me well will know how I can relate to any graffiti artist stating that tacos saved his life"

So Long and Thanks For All The Fish Tacos

So it's time to leave Texas now and disappointingly I've got to fly back to the UK via Saudi Arabia so any hopes of bringing some of these great beers back with me have been dashed. Thanks as ever for reading on, please comment post and share away and stay tuned as next I'll be talking about the other places I checked out on the trip including New York, Pittsburgh and Denver!

Saturday, 28 November 2015



What a Beautiful Day, We're Not Scared...

So it's the weekend in The Middle East and I've retreated to the island nation of Bahrain for a bit of R&R prior to flying to the states on Sunday night. Unlike Saudi Arabia, alcohol isn't illegal here and so with the sun shining, no sign of civil unrest and without much else planned for a Saturday afternoon I decided to hunt out any semblance of craft beer to be found.

A little Internet research told me I was probably going to be hard pressed on my quest as alcohol sales seem rather limited to hotel bars but I found a large mall containing an international supermarket so decided to try my luck. So I set out for the day with low expectations on what beer I might find, barely enough local currency to get me to the mall and no idea where the nearest ATM was.

Fortunately my concerns over the rather empty state of my wallet were relieved when I had just the right amount to pay the taxi driver. I handed over three notes coming to a total of 2 Bahraini Dinar and proceeded to the self proclaimed 'hypermarket' to see what I could find.

No prizes for guessing the children's book which inspired this post.


Splash, Splosh, Splash (the Cash)

As a side note, Bahraini Dinar is the second most valuable currency in the world and one of only three to be worth more than a British pound sterling. The top three, unsurprisingly, are all middle eastern countries (Oman at #3, Bahrain at #2 and Kuwait at #1). Small wonder then that it's worth issuing the currency in factional denominations - something I have never seen before anywhere else in the world.

Allow me to further digress with this quick travel tip - Always research in advance the value of the currency before heading any country you visit. Some friends I met on holiday recently recounted a tale of returning from the ATM having managed to withdraw a staggering 50p worth of Sri Lankan Rupees. My unfortunate acquaintance, having been sent back to the ATM for more money by his brother, realised he'd also left his card in the machine. The luckless brother's card had been re-swallowed by this point, never to be seen again. Suffice to say the beers were not on him that night.

A Half Dinar note (about 88p or $1.30 USD)

We're Going on a Beer Hunt

So back to the tale at hand... Having found the 'hypermarket' and what passed for the drinks aisle I can't quite express my disappointment when there was not a drop of beer to be found. Not even the titans of Coors, Budweiser or Heineken had managed to grace the shelves. I did, however, find a remarkable selection of non-alcoholic 'beers' or 'malt beverages' as they style themselves. It won't come as a surprise to say that not one tempted me to open my wallet, There was, however, one which caught my eye and reminded me of an story I often tell about my girlfriend, Laura.

The somewhat crude and simplistic story was a favourite of mine when introducing potentially gullible friends to her for the first time. I'd proudly proclaim that it was a little known fact that she was part native American Indian and that her seldom used cultural name literally translated means "Three Horses". When the inevitable question came as to how it was pronounced in her native tongue I'd relish in the delight of reciting it clearly... "Nag Nag Nag".

Laura isn't currently with me in Bahrain but I couldn't help but send her the photo and remind her how much I missed her nagging at times. Laura and I are due to meet up again in New York next weekend to check out the craft beer scene there so make sure to keep an eye out for that report.

Anyone for a non-alcoholic malted beverage? ... Neigh!

So the search continued and by this point trying to find a drop of beer in the middle east was feeling a bit like trying to find water in the desert. After leaving the 'hypermarket' I tried not to get too downhearted and looked for any restaurants or bars which might be worth checking out. I passed a TGIs and a Chilli's (both dry) and a myriad of other restaurants including this one which sold no beer and seemed to be named entirely for the purposes of taunting me:

At first I thought this was a mirage but IHOP soon turned to despair

Just as I was losing faith I came across an information counter which was kind enough to point out that the only places with alcohol licenses in the mall where the two hotels which shared the premises. The Meridien and the Westin.

A Narrow Gloomy Cave

So saddling my horse (there was no horse) to cross the desert (a rather bustling city centre mall) I headed to the Meridian. The entrance was a long thin corridor with an interesting art exhibition on display where an unknown and unrecognised artist had seemingly wondered the streets of Bahrain taking a photo every minute for 24 hours. As you'd probably expect the photos were rather hit and miss but I like the idea. 
At the end of the art exhibition was the Meridien Hotel bar. I couldn't believe my luck when I spotted the following sign at the entrance. Burgers and a hoppy beer? Yes please!
Hops on the House! Is this another Mirage?

My rising hopes of hops were soon dispelled as the 'hops on the house' advertised was a free pint of Stella (no alternatives available) which by this point I'd have been happy to settle for but unfortunately after sitting down in this place I found it the dingiest, smokiest most uncomfortable bar I've visited in years. It's been many years since the smoking ban in the UK and I found the thick, unventilated, pungent atmosphere too much to bear. What's worse there was no outside area to enjoy a burger and a pint in anything resembling fresh air. So, coughing and spluttering, I took my leave to try my luck at the Westin.

The Westin Hotel bar was called 'The Boudoir'. It was a modern, spacious and comfortable enough place and I passed several private curtained booths as I made my way to the bar. The curtains on the booths, I assume, predominantly cater for the more conservative middle eastern families, providing a degree of privacy to allow for the women to remove the veils of their Niqābs whilst eating out with the family.

The bar itself didn't have much to write about in the beer department other than a slack handful of standard lagers on tap. They did, however, have Paulaner in bottles. I'm not usually the biggest fan of hefe-wiezens but on this occasion it had been thirsty work hunting down something more flavourful than a generic bland lager and I was happy for the relief. Finally, I had my beer! I sat down with my hard earned pint and waited for my ride back to the apartment to arrive.

Beer in the Boudoir

When the bill came to 7 Bahraini Dinar a quick check on my phone told me this was only 15 pence short of the most expensive pint i'd ever bought at a whopping £12.35 or $18.50 USD!


Shut The Door and Back Upstairs

After enjoying my pint and pondering on whether the day had been a success or a failure I realised it had been another adventure what could be more important than that. I enjoyed the pint and afterwards retreated to the apartment for the evening to watch the sun set and the fishing boats leave the harbour for their evening of hard graft whilst care free local millionaires motor boated up and down the coast.

The apartment I'm staying in belongs to a colleague from work who's been kind enough to allow me to stay here for a few days whilst he's out of town. At first I was concerned he'd given me the wrong keys but eventually realised what I was doing wrong after following the instructions on the key ring.

Thankfully the instructions don't refer to some outmoded music hall tradition but to which side needs to face upwards when inserting the key into the lock.
Goodnight Bahrain

We're Not Going on a Beer Hunt Again (Until Next Week!)

Next week I'm in the states and hope to report back on far more beer related adventures. I'll also be taking a look into how the American cities I visit are managing their green spaces and hopefully meeting with people involved in transforming old spaces from wasted inner city concrete to gardens and parks which pull the local communities together. So comment, like, share, wave your hands in the air like you just don't care and, as ever, thanks for reading.

At this point I'd also like to thank Laura for her continuing support (being one of the few people who I can trust to give me brutally honest feedback) and my good friend Chris, who's help in setting up the website, designing the logo and generally giving me blogging advice has been invaluable.