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Thursday, February 27, 2014

North Carolina: Discovering Mountains

I've made it a point in my life to get out there and enjoy myself. Part of that is enjoying the landscape on Planet Earth. I enjoy driving through the farmland or prairies. I relish in the thought of driving up the coast with my windows down. I enjoy the bustling cities, crowded fair in the middle of nowhere, or stopping on the side of the road in the country just to look at the fields. I appreciate my surroundings.

This past holiday, I had the opportunity to take a long road trip from the Chicago area through the deep south to Florida. It was a memorable experience with breath-taking views and a full range of landscapes to keep me intrigued. From mountains to beaches, I went out of my way to experience it all. I've written about the exploring Kentucky caves, artistic finds in Chattanooga, strolling through Savannah, serenity in Bok Towers, a rainy day in St. Augustine, and eateries and pubs along the way. It was quite a trip.

We drove through Tennessee in the dark and rain at the start of our road trip and only experienced the twists and turns of the hillside driving in the dark. On our way back home, we made plans to stay near the mountains. With uncertain weather, and potential NYE festivities to enjoy we booked two nights in downtown Asheville.

The weather was great for a day driving up Mount Mitchell. After a couple of detours, we found ourselves going up, up, up. We stopped at every overlook peeking through our binoculars and taking pictures at each stop. We saw birds and trees. We were able to see down into the valley and up into the hillside without leaves obstructing our view. We saw other onlookers peering over the edge from faraway overlooks. Water froze as it trickled down the mountainside forming a crystal waterfall. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Hanging at Hunter's: One Year Down, Cheers to More

Last year, I had the pleasure of checking out Hunter's Brewing soon after they opened. I missed the rush of people and got to really sit and enjoy their brews. Since then, Mr. K and I have gone back nearly every weekend to check out their new tap selections and hang out in the the low-key atmosphere. The owner-brewers go out of their way to make visitors feel welcome.

Their welcoming atmosphere and amazing brew selection have paid off for Hunter's. They had a one-year anniversary celebration yesterday!

Since I wrote about Hunter's last March, they've kept the same feel, but have expanded to really root themselves into the community. They've expanded their tap list, released over 40 new recipes, kept some flagship brews, participated in local events, and forged relationships with local food trucks to add high-quality food to the experience.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Hometown Brews: Asheville Brewing Company

Asheville Brewing Company
77 Coxe Avenue | Asheville, NC

We made Asheville a stop on our way home from our holiday fun because of the great rep the town has. It's known for its art and brewing scene. We decided it was a great spot to spend NYE. The first night we got there, we walked around quite a bit. It was a straight drive from St. Augustine to Asheville, so we got there in time for dinner. The mountain air, and climate change from Florida, made the 30 degree temperatures bone chilling. The town was pretty dead that night before NYE. The restaurants were somewhat spread out once you got off of the main drag. 

We saw a theater and stopped for a cocktail at Storm Rhum Bar & Bistro. Storm had a limited menu, and I wasn't in the mood for anything on it. We headed out and kept going. We ended up at one of the breweries on our list, Asheville Brewing. We got a table right away. We got there just in front of the dinner rush. It was full the whole time we were there. Lots of people were regulars. They have a mug club. It was a fun spot to hang out.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Rainy Day in St. Augustine

It's been known to rain from time to time in the Sunshine state. While most showers are short-lived, there are days when there seem to be more showers than dry moments. What do you do in the oldest city in the United States when the weather doesn't cooperate? You stay inside. There are so many inside Old City attractions close enough together; if you don't mind getting damp you can see quite a few sights. I have five great ways to make the most out of a rainy day in St. Augustine.

History: Castillo De San Marcos

Location: On the waterfront. |  Website

This historic Spanish fort is a great spot to duck into when the sky starts turning gray. If it's raining already, run across the street from the main Old City. You'll dry up quickly. You can explore the fort and take shelter from the storm for hours. The fort has room after room that details the history of the fort. The rooms have exhibits with living quarters, information about the different periods (Spanish, British, and American), the construction of the fort, and artillery storage. You can examine the writing and pictures on the walls, walk through the halls, and climb up the stairs during a break in the weather. 

Tips: Catch a ranger tour if you can. They close at 5 PM.

Art Appreciation: Lightner Museum

Location: South of Flagler College | Website

This old Flagler hotel, Hotel Alcazar, houses an art collection that could keep you entertained for hours on a rainy day. You can really take the time to enjoy the paintings, statues, and furniture pieces all crowded into the rooms of this historic building. You can see the original architectural design as you walk through the ballroom, music room, and bedrooms. After you're done viewing the extensive collection, you can grab lunch at the CafĂ© Alcazar (open from 11 AM-3 PM). The dining area is in a space that once was hotel's large indoor swimming pool. The food is delicious and fresh. When they have a musician performing, the acoustics are amazing.

Tips: Take the time to really enjoy the collection. It's a bit crowded in spots, but it's worth the attention. Plan this as a morning/afternoon visit. The last admission is at 4 PM.

Sipping & Relaxing: Casa Blanca Inn

Location: On the waterfront, on the edge of the Old City. | Website

I like to sit on a covered patio and watch the waterfront when I can't be walking around. Casa Blanca Inn has an open, covered patio and an extensive martini list. They have decadent 'tinis, fruity 'tinis, tart 'tinis, and sparkling 'tinis. They have heaters on the patio to dry you up and warm you up on chillier days. If the patio is full, you can sit inside and chat with the bartender, read through the martini menu, and study the modern art hanging on the walls. It's not a cheap drink, but you get a full pour and a bit in the shaker to take with you. The view is great.

Tips: It's bar service only, and they don't have food. Go on a full stomach or plan on running to grab a snack after.

Tour & Drink: San Sebastian Winery

Location: East on King Street | Website

This winery is to the east of the Old City, so it's best to head out when the skies are just turning gray, unless you don't mind a bit of a walk in the rain. Climb up to the second floor to start the tour. You walk through various rooms where they give you a taste or two and tell you about the history of the winery and current operations. You get to see the barrels where they age the port and sherry. The tour ends with a view of the operations. Afterward, walk up to The Cellar Upstairs Bar and grab wine by the glass or bottle, or even a wine cocktail (like the delicious wine mojito). When it's not raining, they have a wonderful rooftop patio. During the storm you can sit at the bar or in the quiet seating area. If you're lucky, you might catch a band playing.

Tips: Head there for the afternoon; the shop closes and tours end at 6 PM. The rooftop bar is a great place to watch the sun set.

Dining: Taberna del Caballo

Location: Old City - Spanish Quarter | Website

When you can't get into the crowded Columbia for fresh-baked bread and ropa vieja, this spot will more than do. You might even catch a glimpse of a settler drinking a mug of ale after work. This quiet spot has great food and covered patio seating. You can enjoy the warm Florida weather, while being shielded from the rain. It's a good spot to share tapas or flatbread, or get a sandwich, salad, or bigger entree. You can enjoy sangria while listening to the relaxing sound of rain falling by candlelight. Not only is it more cozy than Columbia, the prices are great. We left full and satisfied.

Tip: Order a few small plates and share. You don't want to end up having to leave any on the table, if you can't take it on the road.

There are plenty of bars and restaurants in the Old City with live music and pub grub. There are sights that take no more than 15 minutes to see. This city is made for tired tourists. This list gives you an idea, but get out there and explore...if you don't mind getting wet!

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Pub Away From Home: Intracoastal Brewing

Intracoastal Brewing Company
652 West Eau Gallie Blvd | Melbourne, FL

When I mentioned I was going back home for the holidays, a childhood friend told me about a new nano-brewery that opened up in the Eau Gallie Arts District. I made it a point to check it out. It looked like a small tap room with bring your own food options and the occasional food truck. It looked laid back and sort of like our favorite local NWI watering hole, Hunter's Brewing. Not knowing if it would be full of frat boys or boaters, I added it to my list.

This brewery has a full, spacious taproom. It looks bigger on the inside. It has a long wooden bar, high ceilings, and a window into the brewing operations. Everything is really clean. Behind the bar, the taps float like magic from a water-filled pipe. I felt like I was in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. They integrated driftwood into the decor which went well for its riverside location.

They have board games and long tables set up to add to a community pub feel. The owners are up front and even introduce themselves to get your tab started and make you feel welcome. The bar chat is about movies, sports, and life. I prefer that to the craft beer pro posturing. It's a great neighborhood pub. 

The brew list is clearly outlined on the large chalkboard, with a guest tap, and other beverages available (soda, bottled water, and wine). They have a range of merchandise with their very cool logo on it. They have shirts, can pint glasses, and 32 and 64 oz growlers. I wish I had a decal of the logo, but I did go home with a shirt. 

They have a full tap list ranging from light to rich and heavy brews. When I visited the menu included a Rice Blonde Ale, an IPA, an ESB, a Belgian, a Peach Sour, a cocoa hazelnut Porter, and a Milk Stout. We ordered a flight to try it all out.

It's crazy how much condensation was on the glasses and on the windows of the back coolers. I was definitely in Florida. I can't imagine what they spend on cooling in a year. But modern technology allows this sort of business to prosper, even in tropical climates. I'm glad they opened their doors, and I wish them much success. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Finding Sanctuary at Bok Towers

Bok Tower Gardens - National Historic Landmark
1151 Tower Blvd | Lake Wales, FL

I believe that we should live like tourists in our own towns. We should get out and see the sights, go out to the park, and visit a new eatery. We should treat each weekend like a vacation and take advantage of what our towns have to offer. We shouldn't wait for someone to visit to go to the museum or catch that show.

I wanted to make the most of my trip down south for the holidays. I wanted to plan activities with my family to get out and enjoy the warm weather in the Sunshine State. While I was planning, a childhood friend told me about Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales. It's this oasis in the middle of the state, developed in the late 20s as a sanctuary for the community. Edwards W. Bok commissioned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. to transform the Florida scrub into a lush and vibrant garden and wildlife habitat. It has a well-designed landscape, a historic mansion, and a large bell tower equipped with a 60-bell carillon. It is on the highest point in Florida (Iron Mountain), it has a long and rich history, it hosts notable events, and I'd never heard of it! So the day after Christmas, my parents and I treked out to Bok Tower Gardens. It was worth the trip, and it might become a standard to visit this beautiful space when I'm visiting family. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Coconut Curry Hefeweizen (New Belgium)

I busted out this 2013 Lips of Faith release for something a little different during this winter hibernation. I think they got what they were going for with this unique and flavorful brew.

General Thoughts
Look and Smell: This straw-colored brew was incredibly effervescent. The frothy white head clung to the glass. The layer stays on the first pour. It left thick lacing on the glass and had some coconut floaters. It smelled sweet with a spiciness to it. I picked up some cardamom and cinnamon, but it was more complex than that.

Taste: It was savory-sweet (coconut). It was thicker than expected, even for a wheat beer. It had the creaminess of the wheat, but just a light wheat flavor. It's like the spices cleaned the wheat flavors off of my tongue. It would pair well with lightly-seasoned hearty meats, chicken breast, and bland/light cheeses. Anything else would just add to the overpowering flavors. This was fine for a couple of sips, but I struggled to finish my half of the bottle. It just got to be too much.

From the New Belgium site:
The aroma is bold and big with coconut and curry tones and a hint of banana from the hefe yeast. With a vast spice list of cinnamon, coriander, fenugreek, ginger, kaffir lime, and cayenne pepper this beer carries a bit of heat but the alcohol soothes the finish. Coconut Curry Hefe will leave an inquisitive smile on the drinker’s mug.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

2011 Envious (New Holland)

I picked up a couple of bottles of this Cellar Series release a few years back along with the 2012 Blue Sunday, a nice refreshing sour. This was darker fruity release better suited for the cooler autumn months. The booziness could make it pass for a winter warmer.

General Thoughts
Look and Smell: This dark brown-black brew had bubbly toffee-colored head that settled to a ring. I smelled light fruit, brown sugar, and molasses. The booziness was there in the aroma.

Taste: Toasted oak flavors came through. It tasted like pear juice and black fruit. It was boozy. It was thick, coating my tongue. It reminded me of a good oaked port. It if it wasn't for the carbonation and toast grain flavors, I'd think this was a wine cocktail.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Kith and Kin (Hunter's Brewing)

I'd been waiting for Hunter's to release a barleywine. After much anticipationand, as soon as I got back into town from the holidays, I was able to have a glass.

General Thoughts
Look and Smell: This dark brown-red brew had a creamy tan head. It settled down to a slick on the top as I drank it down. It had a grainy and caramel aroma.

Taste: It had layers of complex flavors: dark fruit, grain, subtle hop bitterness, and caramel as it warmed. It was smooth; the flavors hid the booze. It was a great sipping brew. A wonderful winter warmer. I hope it ends up on tap again before this winter is over.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Ichtegem's Grand Cru (Brouwerij Strubbe)

This Flanders Red Ale was another fine brew from the Broken Barrel Tavern that I was trying to help clear from the taps. These types of sours differ from the Saisons and other farmhouse brews in their level of mouth-puckering sour flavor, malt notes (heavy syrup instead of light honey), and type of fruit flavors (more dark fruit than citrus or pear). Monk's Cafe (one of my favorite beers) is a great example of this style.

General Thoughts
Look and Smell: This dark-red brew had a white ring for head. It had a sharp sour aroma.

Taste: This brew had the perfect balance of mouth-puckering sour flavors and sweet sugar sweetness. It blended well. The sour flavors were natural dark fruit flavors, like Michigan tart cherries. In addition to the complexity of flavors, this had a thicker, more substantial consistency. I'd order this again.

Wayan Sour (Le Baladin)

I finally got to my holiday destination the day before Christmas. I enjoyed lots of family time and had a great time catching up with friends. We met one college friend at Broken Barrel Tavern in Palm Bay, Florida. I'd had the pleasure of meeting up with Mr. K's old friends on another visit and wasn't disappointed.

I haven't had a chance to try their mouth-watering barbeque or sample the smothered nachos, but their beer selection is out of this world. They have a great tap list and rare bottles. It's what Beer Geeks will be one day. On this trip I helped them clear out some of their rare sours. They were sours done right from Italy and Belgium. All of my notes are terse, I was enjoying the conversation.

We sipped our beers, talked about the history and future of 3D printing, and discussed life. It was fun to be around a like-minded person. It made me a bit homesick.

This Saison from Piozzo, Italy was delicious. It hit the spot. Le Baladin's website shows a mix of spiced, sweet, and hoppy brews. Brews infused with coffee and sours. This birreria started in 1996, when Le Baladin pub (1986) started brewing their own beer. They seem to take the craft very seriously, and that shows in this sour. I'd like to find more birra di Le Baladin. Lucky for me, it seems that they have a collaboration birreria with  Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head and Leonardo Di Vincenzo of Birra del Borgo in the Chicago Eataly. I missed the opening of the brewpub when I visited the NYC location, so I can't wait until the madness dies down and I can visit the Chicago location. In the meantime, I can pick up a bottle here or there from the Eataly market.

General Thoughts
Look and Smell: This gold beer had a white bubbly head that settled to a ring.

Taste: It was lemon tart and herbal. I hate to say it...but it tasted like Ricola. I mean that in the best possible way. The lemon and honey sweetness, blended cleanly with the herbal flavors. Made me want to scream from the Italian Alps!

From the Le Baladin site:
5 grains: barley, spelt, wheat, rye and buckwheat. 9 spices, of which 5 peppers, in a renewed mix. Fizzy and refreshing, with a light, slightly cloudy color. Its aromas are reminiscent of the countryside and sun-soaked citrus orchards, and perfectly combine with the notes of orange blossoms, pear and bergamot, present in the recipe.