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Bell’s Brewing Company – Best Darn Brew in Kalamazoo

The only bad thing about Bell’s beer is that we have to drive to Virginia to get it.  One of our all-time favorite craft breweries, no way we were passing up the chance to stop in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Since the brewery isn’t open for tours, we settled for the next best option – dinner at Bell’s Eccentric Cafe.

Bell’s Cafe is located in a rustic wood building with stained glass windows, and high ceilings lined with wood beams. A beer drinker’s sanctuary of sorts. The chalkboard tap list is surrounded by tribal masks, one of which resembles a Dr. Seuss character. There’s a casual quirkiness about the place, and an old fashioned vibe.  Fresh roasted nuts are served in paper boats, they offer a long list of old fashioned soft drinks, and the menu includes interesting updates to some old classics. The prices are reasonable, and the beers are sold in 12 oz, 16 oz, and 20 oz glasses.  If you read my SimplPlea for Half Pints blog, then you’ll know what a fan I am of smaller sizes!

My first beer was a limited release, draught only brown sour ale called The Wild One. Hands down one of my favorite beers ever. A tart, sweet, fruity beer aged in oak barrels and brimming with funky sour flavor from the wild yeast.  I also had the Oarsman, a golden wheat sour mash that was a light, crisp, fruity mild session beer, similar to a farmhouse ale with only a very mild sourness.

They also had a number of IPAs on tap, including the Oracle Double IPA (DIPA) Ale, a delicious strong, citrusy, malty, hoppy brew that clocks in at 10% ABV.  If you’re lucky, you might find this one in bottle form.

But no visit is complete without heading next door to their general store.  Lots of great Bell’s takeaways, including homebrew supplies.  Another fun brewpub – they rarely disappoint – and it was truly a great beer experience as the restaurant features quite a few small batch, draught only beers that you won’t find anywhere else.  So the next time you’re up Michigan way, head to Kalamazoo for some darn good brew by Bell’s Brewing Company.

Cheers Beers!

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Lunch at the Three Floyds Brewing Company and Pub

Our trip took us through Munster, Indiana, so we couldn’t pass up lunch a the Three Floyds Brewpub and Brewing Company.   This small craft microbrewery focuses on brewing smaller batches of top quality, unconventional craft beers that are primarily available throughout Indiana and the Chicago regions.

They’re also well known for Dark Lord Day, a “fantasy drinking event” held in honor of their Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout:

“A demonic Russian Style Imperial Stout, brewed with Intelligensia coffee Mexican vanilla, and Indian sugar this beer defies description, available one day a year in April at the brewery, Dark Lord Day.”

Three Floyds Brewing Company was founded in 1996 by two brothers and their dad, last name Floyd.  The brewpub later opened in 2005, and much of the pub food comes from their 3,000 square foot organic herb and vegetable garden.  Schedule your trip right, and take in a Saturday tour to learn more about the brewery and its history.

The beers all have bold eclectic names from various historical, medieval, comic book, cinematic, fantasy influences.  I had Robert the Bruce (7.0% ABV, 30 IBUs) –  a smooth, dark, roasted, malty scottish ale that was slightly dry, with medium body and mouth feel.  That’s my description, here’s how they describe it:

“A bold Scottish ale with a complex malty body derived from roasted and crystal malts balanced with just the right combination of hops. This ale pours a deep ruby color, has a sweet malty nose with layered caramel and roasted notes and a full body. Robust yet smooth, Robert The Bruce is a malt lover’s delight.”

We also tried the Alpha King (6.5% ABV, 66 IBUs), 3 Floyds’ flagship American Pale Ale – bursting with fruity, floral hop aroma, full flavored, and well balanced with the malt and the hops.  Here’s their take:

3 Floyd’s flagship beer, Alpha King is a big American pale ale that pours a deep amber with a creamy head. This ale is brewed with Centennial, Cascade, and Warrior hops giving it an intense citrus aroma and a crisp hoppy finish.

The pub is small and packed with locals, and the brewery’s artwork and image screams non-conformity – heavy metal spattered with pop art, overlaid with skulls and crossbones, with undertones of pop culture geekiness (e.g. Homer Simpson, Star Wars, and the projection of Japanese cinema on the bare walls).  It all adds up to a fun, quirky atmosphere for enjoying some finely crafted brews, paired with fresh unconventional food.

Cheers beers!

To the Land of Beer and Cheese – Madison, Wisconsin

We have a new favorite city and it’s Madison, Wisconsin!

The capitol building is gorgeous, and it’s the city centerpiece – as it should be.  Similar in appearance to our national capitol, each main road leads straight up to a majestic capitol view.

Madison also happens to be a fun, young, warm, friendly, cultural, clean and super fit university town and beer bar meca.  Seems like there are more bikes and runners on the road than cars, and every bar features a wide selection of local craft beers.  It’s Wisconsin for crying out loud – beer and cheese rule!

The Great Dane

After viewing the Madison episode on Brewing TV, we made The Great Dane Pub our first destination.  The Great Dane is a brewpub and a Madison landmark.  One side is a wide, spacious pool room and lounge area, and the other side is a more upscale bar and dining area.

Their flight features sixteen 4-oz pours, so there’s certainly a beer to suit every palette.  The styles include English IPAs to American Pale Ales, wheat beers, sweet and dry stouts, an English porter, pilsners, a maibock, an Alt, as well as three cask beers.  The stand out for us was a Tri-Pepper Pilsner, brewed with three different peppercorns.  Then dried peppercorns are crushed and added to the bottom of the glass, giving the beer a fresh (almost jalapeno-like) flavor and heat.

If you’re in a cheesy mood, the menu includes beer battered Wisconsin cheddar cheese curds (to die for!), macaroni and cheese bacon pizza (holy bajeebers!), and ground sausage sliders stuffed with Wisconsin cheese and prosciutto (gone to heaven!).

Great place, and everyone in Madison is very warm and friendly.  After chatting it up with one of the locals, we learned of a fantastic unadvertised beer spot that became the highlight of our visit.

Wisconsin University – Memorial Union Rathskeller

A student at the Great Dane tipped us off to the student union at the University of Wisconsin, which ended up being just a 10-15 minute walk from our hotel.  The Wisconsin Badgers are host to some glorious old buildings that resemble some at the Smithsonian in DC.  To top that, their Memorial Union on campus houses Der Rathskeller.

Der Rathskeller looks just like an old world gathering place for beer lovers.  And boy do they have good beer – Belle’s, 3 Floyds, New Glarus, and a great selection of german-style Wisconsin-brewed beers.  Must be a generation thing, but I don’t remember having a place like that at my university.

So here’s the drill….

  1.  Pick a beautiful evening and make sure you take a camera.
  2. Buy a pitcher of great beer.
  3. Go outside behind the Rathskeller and find a picnic bench overlooking the lake.
  4. Pour a beer, kickback, and watch the sunset across the lake.

That’s pretty much what every student at the University of Wisconsin was doing on that absolutely breathtakingly perfect Monday evening.  No last minute book cracking going on there.  Kayaks and ducks splashed in commeraderie; joggers flew by from every direction; frats convened on their house balconies; the air was amicable and the sunset was spectacular.  Even the stage was set for nightly live music.  But alas, we headed back through town to the hotel before dark, took some more photos, and enjoyed the sights and smells of the Madison nightlife before reaching the luminous blue lit capitol building just across from our hotel.

 

Bidding Adieu to Madison 

Before resting up for the next day’s journey, we stopped briefly in the hotel bar, which also had quite an impressive local draught beer list, and chatted with the bartender who bragged about Wisconsin’s extensive beer roots and the amazing array of beer bars that infiltrated this great city.  Specifically, he recommended another neighboring bar called the Old Fashioned that offers 125 Wisconsin beers in bottles and on draught.  Darn impressive for one state!  But since we reluctantly had to move on, we will plan on tapping further into Madison the next time around.  No doubt, there will be a next time, as we surely plan to revisit this unexpected gem of a city.

Cheers beers!

BeerVenture: New Glarus Brewing Company

New Glarus Brewing Company in New Glarus, Wisconsin has been on our beer bucket list ever since we saw them featured in American Beer – a super entertaining movie introduction to the top US craft breweries and brewers, incase you’re ever looking for some Friday night beer entertainment.

The New Glarus Story

New Glarus Brewing Company is owned and operated by Dan and Deb Carey – a married couple whose combined business management (Deb) and brewing (Dan) talents have created “one of the top 10 breweries in the world”.  The kicker?  New Glarus does not distribute outside the state of Wisconsin.  Pretty darn amazing considering this business originated as a gift from Deb to Dan.

You see, Deborah Carey single-handedly raised the capital and founded the brewery’s start-up as a gift to her husband – making her the first woman to found and operate a brewery in the US.  As president of New Glarus, she continues to be instrumental in the success and growth of the brewery, as she claims to do everything except brew the beer.

Dan on the other hand, is a master brewer who received his initial beer education in California then worked in a Munich brewery, and continued on to become production supervisor for Anhauser-Busch before entering into the start-up with his wife.  His beers have earned him an extensive list of awards and recognition, as well a case full of Great American Beer Festival medals.  He is truly a master brewer, and no one appreciates his brews more than the lucky natives of Wisconsin.

The Brewery

In 2006, Deb and Dave began construction on a state-of-the-art brewery that now sits high on a hilltop overlooking the small German-Swiss town of New Glarus.  The new building, which opened in 2008, is an artful reflection of the Swiss heritage that’s shared by the town and the brewery.

Self Guided Tour

The free tour is self-guided and leads visitors past the impressive copper mash tuns, ceilings lined with endless rows of metal pipes, giant fermenters, yeast propogation rooms, automated bottling lines, and a room full of brewery memorabilia, awards and bragging rights.  New Glarus is a pristine, high tech, efficient, well-planned brewing operation.  In fact, the place sounds like a well-oiled machine – quiet with little activity.  As we kept watch for oompa loopas, our speculations were soon deflated, as friendly humans occasionally emerged with a smile and a nod.


Tapping In

Step over to the taps and purchase a four beer sampler.  Between the hubster and I, two samplers covered the full tap list, which featured their year round top sellers and a few specialty brews.

  • Fat Squirrel – a nutty, toasty, malty brown ale.
  • Moon Man – a smooth and malty pale ale bursting with fragrant hoppiness.
  • Spotted Cow – this Wisconsin farmhouse ale is a light, full bodied, fruity session beer.
  • Stone Soup – a crisp and clean Abbey-style ale with spicy clove and ginger notes.
  • Golden Ale – an experimental trappist-style sour beer brewed in tribute to Orval.  This beer is brimming with wild yeast flavor – crazy good if you like super funky beer.
  • Wisconsin Belgian Red – a cherry ale brewed with a pound of cherries in every bottle.  This intense fruit beer is sweet and delicious with a tart cherry pie finish.

We even blended a small amount of the Golden Ale with the Belgian Red to create a mighty tasty sour cherry brew.

The Biergarten

Just outside the tap room is a scenic biergarten where visitors can take in the hilltop scenery as they savor their samples.

New Glarus Biergarten


Shop Around

The tour ends in the large gift shop and tasting room.  Shop around for t-shirts, glasses, local cheese and other Wisconsin souvenirs.  I recommend a “Real Women Don’t Drink Light Beer” shirt for the frauleins, and a stuffed Fat Squirrel for the kiddies.

The Beer Depot

Last stop – time to buy some beer!  Head down to the beer depot and pick out your beers.  Bottles can be purchased individually, by the six pack (four packs for imperial beers) or by the case.  Large bottles of the Raspberry and Belgian Red fruit beers are also ready for sale.  But keep in mind that most gas stations, grocery stores and liquor stores throughout the area sell New Glarus beer for virtually the same price in six packs and mix packs, so the advantage here is access to the harder to find specialty brews.

Worth the Trip

If you  have the opportunity to visit New Glarus, it’s worth the scenic trip off the beaten path.  Tour the brewery in your own sweet time, relax and enjoy some exceptional samples in the biergarten, and take home a collection of beers that are produced by a top ten world class brewery, but are only available in Wisconsin.

Hilltop View Overlooking the Town of New Glarus

Brewing TV – Episode 18: New Glarus Brewing Co. from Brewing TV on Vimeo.

Cheers Beers!

Des Moines BeerVenture: Court Avenue Brewing Company

Kudos to the Mid West Capitols

The first two days of our 2011 State Capitols and BeerVenture Tour led us through the heart of the midwest.  Let me start by giving the midwesterners a big shout out for showing so much pride in their state capitols.  Indianapolis, Indiana; Springfield, Illinois; and Des Moines, Iowa are all great cities to visit – full of culture, history, great dining, shopping galore, and clean, clean, clean.  They also show off their state capitol buildings as centerpieces within their cities – as they should.

I have to say that Des Moines, Iowa probably does it just a hair better than the rest.  This historical state building sits high within the city, like the Parthenon, in full view from the highway, and from the heart of downtown.  Topped with gold, this decadent building unfolds a long stretch of downhill stairs that showcases the city as much as the city showcases its capitol.

State Capitol Building in Des Moines, Iowa

Capitol View of Downtown Des Moines, Iowa

The Beer

After visiting the capitol, we followed those stairs right down to the Court Avenue Brewing Company (CABCO).  Judging from the busy Sunday crowd, Court Avenue Brewing is a hoppin’ place in downtown Des Moines.  A classic red brick bar in a classic red brick building, the atmosphere is casual and relaxed, like you’d expect from a neighborhood pub.  Walls are covered with large posters branding the house beers, and the brewing action is showcased with copper kettles and fermenters along the opposite wall.

As always, we started with a flight featuring eight of Court Avenue’s regular and specialty beers:

  • Two Rivers Light – a full flavored micro lager, easy and refreshing;
  • Belgian White – Belgian farmhouse ale – citrusy, crisp, and spiced with coriander and orange peel;
  • Blackhawk Stout – Dry oatmeal stout with smooth not so dry finish;
  • A smoked wheat – refreshing wheat beer laced with smoked malt flavor;
  • 21st Amendment Ale – A tasty rye APA fermented in local rye whisky barrels – my dad’s favorite, packed a nice boozy punch, but still smooth with pleasant and distinctive rye malt and whiskey notes;
  • Infatuation Belgian Flemish Ale – smooth, fruity, and mild sour;
  • Alt on cask – flavorful with a smooth and creamy mouth feel; and
  • 9.8 ABV Barleywine – fruity, boozy, sweet, and delicious.

CABCO also serves locally brewed root beer and Jamaican ginger beer.  Not a bad one in the bunch, and a quick glance at the ceiling lined with hundreds of ceramic mug club steins tells you they have a large and loyal following.  Easy to understand why – great beer, great food, great atmosphere in a great town.  Simple ingredients for a great brewpub.

If you ever find yourself in Des Moines, Iowa, first visit their gorgeous capitol building, then follow those steps downtown, take a seat on their outdoor patio or belly up to the bar and wet your whistle with a freshly brewed pint at the Court Avenue Brewing Company.  I can’t imagine a better way to enjoy an afternoon or evening in the midwest.

2011 State Capitols and BeerVentures Tour

We all have a bucket list – places we want to visit, people we want to meet, things we want to do before we kick the bucket. Right? My dad has one item on his bucket list, and it has since become an item on my bucket list too.

In the Beginning

When I was about 9 years old (just a few short decades ago), my dad decided to take on the challenge of visiting and taking a picture of every US state capitol. He has to be the one to take the picture. No one else can take it for him. That’s the rule.

As of two years ago, he had just over 20 state capitols left. Unfortunately, he’s not getting any younger, so being the dutiful daughter, and since I’ve kinda been involved in this whole thing from the start, I volunteered to help him finish his quest.

Since I cannot vacation just on state capitols alone, we started incorporating visits to brewpubs and breweries that are local to the places we visit. During our 2009 (ME and NH) and 2010 (CA, NV, ID, OR, WA) trips we been to Allagash, Redhook, Beer Valley, the Pike Brewing Company, Deschutes, Rogue, and a host of other beer bars and breweries. I’m not sure my dad bargained for that part of the trip, but he certainly had a good time, and now he keeps good beer in the fridge. So I feel gratified that my selfish endeavors have resulted in a win-win for everyone.

The Adventure Begins

Three days ago, we embarked on our 2011 State Capitols and BeerVentures Tour through the midwest, about 2,700 miles total. At the beginning of this trip, we had eleven capitols left, and when its over, we’ll have knocked out six more. In fact, at this point in our trip, we’ve already visited Columbus, OH; Indianapolis, IN; Springfield, IL; and Des Moines, IA. So that gives an idea of how far we’ve already come. Not a lot of time for beerventures…yet. But that’s about to change as we head north into Wisconsin and Michigan. So stay tuned for some exciting beerventure posts, because as of today, we’ll be knocking some of our favorite breweries off the ole beer bucket list!

Cheers beers!

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