Ramble On

Monday, December 29, 2014

Recapping 2014 - All Those Brewery Tours

A taproom highlight: beer pairings at Boulevard.
Since I first wrote the title for this post, I’ve come to realize that it’s technically inaccurate: although I count the total as 8 for the number of breweries I visited during 2014, only three of these stops included brewery tours – and clarifying further, since I usually visit Beaver Run Brewery (Dan’s homebrew operation) to help out with brewing chores, that one can’t really be counted as a brewery tour either.

What I’m saying here is that the post should be renamed “All Those Taproom Visits” or some such, and it definitely should make note of Mary’s patience for the five stops we made during the Bay Area vacation last spring.  But I will footnote that there were two or three more on that list that we should have added, and would have – if the point of the vacation had been to get me to taprooms.  That is a good idea that I will keep in mind for future trips back to California.
An old favorite - North Coast,
in Fort Bragg, CA.

The opportunity to make all those stops at the breweries in Northern California was good loop closure for me – back when we first made the trip from Cloverdale to Mendocino on California Highway 128, there were still only a few vineyards and breweries along the way.  Most famously there was Anderson ValleyBrewing Company in Boonville – a place that has really grown over the years.

Hop yards at AVBC.
We were there early enough in the day to have a lot of privacy to check out the grounds – it was pretty clear how popular the place must be from all the indoor and outdoor seating near the tasting room.  A couple of other highlights for me was the strings of hops planted randomly around the operation, and their commitment to sustainable operations. 

Home of Pliny.
We also visited the North Coast Brewery in Fort Bragg – another favorite from our earliest visits, and a place that has really grown since then.  Besides the opportunity to taste “Pliny the Elder” in person at Russian River, a final highlight was our stop at 21st Amendment during one of the touring days in San Francisco (thanks Brian!).

Brian, enjoying Hell or High Watermelon
at the 21st Amendment Tap Room.
As if all of this brewery fun wasn’t enough, in October I visited Cocoran Brewery in Purcellville, Virginia, as part of my ongoing research about hop farming in Virginia.  I got there early enough to have a good look around at the operation, then there was a big meeting with the Old Dominion Hops Cooperative.  After the informative talks, the brewery was opened for some tastings…and I indulged.
The barrels at Cocoran.

Finally, though, the Boulevard Smokestack Tour in Kansas City earlier this month was, without question, the best brewery visit of the 2014 lot.  I was in conversation with them all of Monday morning via Twitter, as my colleague Eric and I made our way from DC on different flights.  We managed to arrive with plenty of time to visit the tasting room, and conveniently, we were able to join the tour. 

Their hospitality was endless, it seems – they welcomed us with a couple of pours once we figured out we had some time on our hands.  Plus, there was a glass of “Tank 7” to enjoy during the tour itself, and of course, it ended with paired tastings of some of the beers on tap. 

The sign at Boulevard.
I’m fortunate that my friends at Bethesda Market carry a number of these beers so I have convenient access to them – it’s so convenient, I like to call the place “my local” – so, once I’d had a few of these choices right there at the brewery, I was delighted to find them right there on the shelves in Bethesda!

My homebrewing hobby is only three years old at the moment, but I like to think that these experiences provide a framework for some innovation in 2015 – not only in my mastery of new techniques and recipes, but also in my quest to maximize the types of local ingredients in the beers I make.  That’s the topic I’ll take on tomorrow when I post about my own experiments growing backyard hops – and those of some friends and neighbors in the Shenandoah Valley.    

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