August 15th, 2010
While biking through Portland, OR last fall we had the good luck of picking up an issue of Beer NW magazine. The mag was impressive with it’s nice printing, big photos and interesting articles, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that all the top names on the masthead were women! By the next day we had gotten in touch with them and met up with (former) staffer Katie Brown for a pint at Deschutes in downtown Portland. We also realized that we had already had beers with Art Director Annalou Vincent as she worked the taps at Upright Brewing. It would be six months and one article later before we would meet Editor-Extraordinaire Megan Flynn at Blind Tiger in NYC for a Rogue beer tasting. Megan went through the entirety of our Bike and Brew blog to cull the content for the article published in Beer NW’s Spring 2010 Issue. Take a look!
April 14th, 2010
April 5, 2010 – April 9, 2010
If we thought that biking 10 hours as day for 3 months across the United States was tiring, it was only because we hadn’t worked at a New York brewery yet.
Last week the guys at Sixpoint Craft Ales invited us down to Red Hook, where they kicked our butts into shape, having us mash in and then kick out (yes, we’re learning the lingo) grain, clean and fill kegs, fill and label bottles (for their specialty brews) and generally help keep their fast moving facility spic and span. It was an amazing opportunity, not only to learn more about the professional brewery industry, but to meet some pretty awesome people.
Even though Sixpoint is one of the most popular local beers in New York City, we were surprised to find out that almost every single drop is produced by only 5 people (along with a few others to handle sales and building maintenance). How do they put out so much beer with so few hands? A lot of long hours and a very efficient schedule. For our week, we pretty much stuck to a Monday through Friday 9-5, but on brew days, the guys often start at 6am and stick around until after 5pm so that they can keep the New York City taps flowing with as much Sweet Action, Righteous Rye, Bengali Tiger, Otis Stout, Gorilla Warfare, Vienna Pale Ale and Brownstone as possible. An exhausting schedule, even if it didn’t include shoveling thousands of pounds of grain, lifting keg after keg from pallet to pallet , and stirring by hand what amounts to the largest bowl of oatmeal you’ve ever seen.
You’d think that the last thing brewers Craig Frymark and Ian McConnell would do with their free time would be to make beer, but you’d be wrong. Owner Shane Welch knows that designing good beer is like cooking, sometimes you just have to try things out and see what happens, so he has provided the brewery with a first rate pilot system that everyone who works there can use to try out new recipes and experiment with new ingredients. While we were there, we saw them start up a new IPA, a mild, and an awe inspiring Saison made with imported French fennel sticks. Where do all these new creations end up? Well, in the case of many they end up in the office kegerator, where staff and visitors can taste and comment on the experiments. However, some one-off batches have taken the brewery in new directions. For example, the Grand Crüe, a 3-year aged Belgian Strong Ale is available in limited edition bottles, and a new stein beer, Dr. Klankenstein, made with super-heated basalt will be available at exclusively at the Modern (MOMA’s restaurant). The fennel stick Saison will be featured at a beer dinner at The Vanderbilt on April 27. They also brew a special order beer for the much lauded East Village spot Lil’ Frankie’s – Lil’ Frankie’s Pale Ale. They may be know best for their Sweet Action but it certainly hasn’t hurt them to keep those creative juices flowing!
The exciting events at Sixpoint don’t stop at beer-making though. Shane’s latest project has been to create a rooftop garden using broken kegs and leftover bathtubs as planters. Not Eating Out in New York’s Cathy Erway is helping put together some recipes with spent grains and the fresh garden veggies and herbs. Since we love the idea of merging great beer and food with local sustainability, we went gaga over their hop rhizomes, just starting to spout, along with squash, tomatoes, spices, and more. The plan? First, make sure these hard working brewers are well fed. After that, well, they’ll just have to see how the growing season goes. If the gardening goes half as well as the brewing, they are going to be VERY busy.
Stay up to date with what’s going on at Sixpoint Craft Ales:
March 23rd, 2010
February 12, 2010 – March 9, 2010
For the last month of our trip down under we made a home in Melbourne, setting out to learn why many consider it the hub of the burgeoning Australian beer scene. The city did not disappoint. Straight off the plane, it had same tinge of excitement as arriving in Portland, OR – as soon as we starting tweeting about our visit we felt the buzz of beer enthusiasts. Though the city doesn’t have the 40+ breweries that Portland does, we wouldn’t be surprised if in 10 years it does. It feels like an exciting time in beer here as new breweries are popping up and the demand for interesting beer growing every day.
Melbourne is a huge city – about 3,400sq miles (by comparison, Seattle is 142sq miles, Manhattan is 23sq miles), so we couldn’t see it all but we did manage to hit a few breweries and pubs.
Our first stop was at one of Melbourne’s most successful microbreweries – Mountain Goat. Started in the 90’s by two guys in their backyard, Mountain Goat grew and grew in popularity and they eventually landed in their current and spacious Richmond brew house. We stopped by for the Wednesday night tour and tasting, had a Steam Ale randalized with fresh Sauvin hops and kiwi fruit, and enjoyed the informative tour. Also, wish we had our bikes in town as there was plenty of space in the taproom for bike storage!
Just outside the city in scenic Healesville we visited the pristine White Rabbit Brewery. One of the newer breweries in the Australian scene, White Rabbit has just a single beer out at the moment- the Dark Ale. Luckily for them, they are owned by Little World Beverages (same as Little Creatures), so despite having only one beer on the shelves they seem to have lots of money and resources behind them. The brewery’s new building has plenty of room for the brew house, bottling line and tasting lounge with space to expand in the future. Currently brewing once a week they have the potential to increase to three or more brews a week – which they hope will happen as demand grows and as they start making other styles of beer. On tap during our visit was an experimental batch of their second beer – a wheat beer. It’s always nice to try something new and different when you make the effort to get out to brewery!
Over the hill and down the road we made another tasty stop at the Hargreaves Hill Brewing Company. The brewery’s Yarra Glen tasting room and pub is in a beautiful old bank building, where we sat outside on a perfect summers day and had samplers of their 6 beers (loved the ESB!). The original Hargreaves Hill brewery was actually destroyed in the Black Saturday bush fires last year. In the true spirit of the brewing industry, a bunch of the other Victorian breweries let Hargreaves Hill brew in their facilities until they were able to build a new brewery. They didn’t waste any time, and their new Lilydale facility became operational this past September.
Back in the city, on recommendation from local beer bloggers, we hit up Mrs Parmas- a classier version of your typical beer bar specializing in Victorian craft beer and unique versions of the classic Melbourne pub fair, the Parma. We tried a few beers there that we hadn’t seen other places, including some very impressive pale ales from Bridge Road and Red Duck. It was a really nice place, but we couldn’t help but notice that the crowd looked a little better dressed than us in our backpacker attire (lots of suits and theater-goers). At least we know that the beer that good beer is being treated with respect!
Unable to find much variety at the corner bottle shop, we set out on an mission to see where the Melbourne beer connoisseur goes to buy beer for in-home consumption. Our research lead us to two great stores - Purvis Wine Cellars in Surrey Hills (yes, one of the best beer stores in the city is a wine shop) and Slow Beer in Hawthorn. The two shops were different in many ways, but they both had the same goal – get the good beer out to the discerning public. Purvis is a larger shop, about half wine, half beer. They have a great selection of both local and imported beers, mainly from Australia, New Zealand, the US and Europe. With the help of Simon and Craig we tasted a number of local favorites (Red Hill, 3 Ravens, more Red Duck) and then walked away with our bags filled with different beers we’d hadn’t seen anywhere else.
Next, we hit Slow Beer, the newest bottle shop on the scene and the only all craft beer shop in Australia. As soon as we arrived co-owner Chris Menichelli pulled out a bottle of Murray’s Anniversary Ale #4 to parch our thirst. We couldn’t help but think that this must have been what Beirkraft in Brooklyn and Bottleworks in Seattle must have looked like when they were first starting out – small but teeming with exotic and locally brewed beer that people go out of their way to find.
Towards the end of our stay we took a roadtrip to the Holgate Brewhouse in Woodend, a small town just outside Melbourne. We had a sampler of everything on tap – they brew a wide range of styles, all enjoyable – but the most exciting for us was their new Roadtrip IPA. They brewed that after taking a roadtrip to Oregon and Washington and were blown away by the hoppy beers in the region, a feeling we can relate to!
Not far from Holgate in the town Daylesford we stumbled upon an awesome little café called Breakfast and Beer. We were super impressed by they selection of bottled micro brews, both local and imported. We had a few beers in their back garden while listening in on the locals discussing, of all things, American economics. Apparently we Americans are doomed- so the bike and brew crew is doing their part: click here.
Extra special thanks to Tracy’s OTHER friend Sarah who put us up in her amazing house AND was designated driver for our road trips.
February 10th, 2010
Even though we haven’t done much bike and brew specific things in the past few months, the twig is still with us. During one of our trips into Blenheim with our WWOOFing hosts at the blueberry farm, we found ourselves wandering around town trying to find one of the local breweries that we’d heard about – Renaissance Brewing Company . (In New Zealand, that’s pronounced “re-NAY-sonce”.) Our somewhat random visit turned out to be perfect timing. We arrived late in the day and asked if we could get a tour of the brewery. The only person who was still there just happened to be Brian Thiel, co-owner and operations manager at the brewery. He not only gave us a great tour of the place, he also mentioned that he could use a few extra hands at the Blues, Brews and BBQs festival happening the following weekend – the exact festival that we’d been planning to attend and had been trying to find a way to volunteer at. The serendipity was astounding.
After a bit of chit chat, we found out that Brian’s usual “keg monkey” – the guy who does things like clean kegs, clean out kettles, help bottle and prepare shipments, pretty much anything they tell him to do, most of it manual labor – was leaving soon to go to university. We told him that it was pretty much our dream job to be keg monkeys for the next week. I don’t know if he totally believed us, but he told us if we wanted to come in on Tuesday at 11am, we were welcome.
We had 2 weeks left in New Zealand, we had already seen a great deal of the country and we were running low on cash. Helping out at a brewery sounded like the perfect way to finish up our trip before heading to Melbourne. So we signed up to be keg monkeys.
It was AWESOME. Brian and the brewery co-owner and head brewer Andy Deuchars thought we were a bit nuts, getting excited about cleaning the beer filter and climbing in the kettle to shovel out spent grain, but it really was cool. After going on around 60 brewery tours in the last few months, it was exciting to actually be making beer. And bottling. And cleaning. Lots and lots of cleaning. Andy says there are 5 rules of beer making. Pretty much all of them use some combination of the words cleaning, sanitizing, or sterilizing. We followed Andy’s rules a T though, because he knows a thing or two about making tasty brews. While at the farm, we’d tasted as many different New Zealand beers as possible (doing penance for all the Speights and Tui’s we’d imbibed on the backpacker bus) and Renaissance was definitely one of the best. They make 7 different beers and we liked all of them. Not surprisingly, we are especially fond of their Discovery American Pale Ale, but we definitely wouldn’t turn down one of their award-winning Stonecutter Scotch Ales or the beer currently voted best beer in New Zealand (on ratebeer.com), their Elemental Porter.
Also, we DID end up helping out at Blues, Brews and BBQs. We poured beer, chatted up the locals and were given the power of the stamp – they let us give free beer to anyone we thought was cute that would let us stamp them with the Renaissance “R”. On their nipple. It was good times.
After a few days, we got the hang of many brewery tasks. We got to the point where we could operate the bottling line MOSTLY by ourselves and we were able to learn a bit about New Zealand geography while helping with their new website. Though there is still so much to learn, the world of professional brewing now feels like a world we can be a part of. It breaks our hearts to leave New Zealand just when we are really getting involved in things, but hopefully something serendipitous will happen in Australia. And hopefully we can use Brian and Andy as references! Cheers guys!
February 6th, 2010
After the backpacker bus, our New Zealand travels slowed down a bit. We did our second WWOOFing job, this time at a blueberry and plum orchard in Renwick, right in the middle of all the Marlborough vineyards. We spent 8 lovely days with our hosts, Jennie and Bob at Windsong Orchard, picked lots of blueberries, went to the farmers market with them 3 times and had some amazing food from the garden.
Our first night at the orchard, Jennie and Bob invited us over for dinner with the two other WWOOFers from Germany who were just finishing up their week. It was such a change of pace from being on a bus everyday and staying at different hostels every night, being out all the time. That night we had a home cooked meal, chatted about politics and then went to bed early in our own little blueberry cottage. We immediately fell in love with the place.
While we’ve heard a few horror stories about some WWOOFing sites where people get treated like indentured servants, we were very well taken care of at the orchard. We started our day at 8:30am, walked out of the cottage and about 10 steps right into the blueberry field (best commute ever!). We picked berries by the kilo into little buckets strapped to our waists for 4 hours (during which we listened to podcasts of Democracy Now, This American Life and All Songs Considered) and then we went in for our lunch prepared by our lovely hosts. We had things like fresh baked bread and homemade peach chutney and hummus and almost every day we had the option of artichokes. For breakfast and dinner, unless we all ate together, we got to cook up a storm with greens and herbs from the garden, all the plums and blueberries we could handle and any thing else we needed we just had to ask. Well worth our 4 hours of work.
We spent our afternoons doing whatever we wanted. Mostly we spent time reading and hanging out in the sun. We borrowed their bikes and did a few expeditions, one to a biodynamic winery called Seresin, another to the local swimming hole in the river. Every ride was nice – flat and grapevines as far as the eye can see.
Besides picking berries, we also helped sell fruit at the two farmer’s markets in town. It was very interesting learning about the ins and outs of the community from the eyes of the farmers. In the end, we couldn’t help but think that they had a pretty sweet life, spending their days doing work they love, living a healthy, educated life in a beautiful place. Makes you wonder why people live in huge cities doing jobs they don’t love…
Much love to Jennie and Bob and thanks for having us!
January 28th, 2010
Dec 22, 2009 – Jan 22, 2010
Getting on the Stray bus, one of many backpacker buses that does loops around New Zealand’s north and south islands, was like stepping into another world of travel. Unlike my previous travel experiences, where the majority of the day is taken up by figuring out where to go, how to get there, where to stay, what to eat and what to do once you’ve got that figured out, the backpacker bus turned New Zealand into a traveler’s playground. Though I’m a big fan of figuring things out on my own, I also loved letting go of that stress and just focusing on enjoying the scenery, the activities and the many new found friends.
Since it was a month of almost non-stop adventure, we’ll stick mostly to the highlights. When you feel like somethings been left out, just assume that we are:
A) at a barbeque
B) consuming cans of Tui and Speight’s (think along the lines of Coors, only with more flavor)
C) playing games of Shithead, Asshole or Bullshit (such nice sounding games…)
D) all of the above.
The trip started in Aukland with an awesome driver named Rob. We had about a dozen people on the bus to start, and the closer it got to xmas, the less people we had, which made things even more fun as we became a close knit group. We kayaked at Cathedral Cove, dug our own jacuzzi’s at Hot Water Beach, ran on the beach in Ragland and abseiled down caves Waitomo. Then I got in a big plastic ball with a guy I’d known for 2 days, we had water tossed in and we were pushed down a big hill. Only in New Zealand…
For xmas, we had a big dinner in Lake Taupo, played some frisbee at the beach and then Tracy had her very first Jagerbomb. Good thing we got that out of the way because they love that drink here! On Boxing Day we had the option of leaving on 7am to get on the bus and go on a 8 hour hike, or leave at 10am and go jump off a waterfall. We chose the latter. We spent the night in Tongariro National Park and won our first trivia night. Then it was off to Wellington, New Zealand’s second largest city, where we spent three days unsuccessfully trying to find a place to go dancing. It was a nice place though, we managed to see all the major sights (the Te Papa museum, the top of Mt. Victoria, the botanical garden, the cable car) in one day thanks to a random stranger who was nice enough to drive 6 of us around for a bit. We did NOT however, see any unicyclists competing. The city was overrun by single wheels for the world unicyclists championships, but we couldn’t find the venue for the life of us. Sigh.
After Wellington there was a beautiful ferry ride to the south island and a new bus driver named Nipples. One of the great things about Stray bus drivers (Rob being an exception) is that they all have silly names, and we get to use them and wonder how they earned them. Nipples was a great guy and he didn’t even freak out when we had to push start the bus after we got off the ferry. It was a long drive to our next stop, Abel Tasman National Park, but we did manager to hit a brewery along the way, Sprig and Fern, who had a very good IPA, and many beers on tap. The real hits though were the bulk spirits and the cider, called the Scrumpy. We also stocked up on some white wine from a Nelson winery (amid the many acres of hops that we drove through) before heading into the park for new years. New Zealand’s biggest band, Fat Freddy’s Drop was playing a show only 10k from our campground, and we got tickets. It was a great show. I just wish someone would have told us that getting a ride home might take a while…
After Abel Tasman, and the best weather that NZ has to offer, we worked our way down the west coast – where its rains pretty much every day – with our new driver Seagull. Seagull was an odd duck but he kept us in good spirits with his funny way of knowing, to the second, when we’d arrive at a given location. Our fellow travelers quickly turned into our good friends, which meant that even when we were checking out the “special” waterfall in the middle of the pouring rain, we were still having a great time. We walked on a glacier, we carved necklaces out of jade and bone, sang some karaoke, and then partied it up in Queenstown, drinking random concoctions out of teapots.
From Queenstown, we did the less traveled lower part of the South Island. We saw the famous Milford Sound (albeit, in the rain) and then got on a ferry down to Stewart Island, the REAL south island. There, we did a 3-day tramp through some amazing scenery and a lot of mud.
Heading back north with a fun driver named Chook (kiwi for Chicken), we stopped in Dunedin and did tours at Speight’s Brewery and Cadbury chocolate. Then it was back to Queenstown where we stayed for another 4 days. Queenstown kind of surprised me because of its reputation for being the party town of the backpacker experience. It is that, but it’s also just a beautiful city, surrounded by mountains and right on a lake. We did a breathtaking (in more ways that one) hike to the Ben Lomond Summit, looking down on the city on quite possibly the most beautiful day of the entire trip. Then we spent the evening playing celebrity and hanging out with our bus buddies. Most nights we did go out dancing, but the days were filled with Frisbee golf and picnics and swimming. It was kind of idyllic.
From Queenstown, we took a bus with Nat (a female bus driver) to Christchurch. It was an uneventful ride and Christchurch didn’t blow our minds, but it was a nice enough place to unwind after a month of go, go, go. Along with the different drivers, we had friends who came and went, and in Christchurch we had to say goodbye to the last of them. Even though we weren’t all on the same buses at the same time, I want to give a shout out to Team Awesome (as Seagull would say, you know who you are). You made the trip, well, awesome.
January 6th, 2010
12/21/2009 Monday morning our alarms went off at 6:30am and we begrudgingly packed up our huge backpacks for our journey back to Auckland. Our bus picked us up right on time at 7:45am, and we made the 6 hour journey back to the big smoke. It was sort of frustrating, having to go there at all, which is funny coming from two New Yorkers. Auckland seems like a nice enough city but its much more expensive to entertain yourself in a city then out in nature. We did see Avatar in 3D, the new James Cameron film they shot here in New Zealand. It was amazing!
Then we had dinner and a sampler at the Galbraith’s Ale House. Galbraith’s is an English style brewery, so there were many cask beers on tap which were served warmer and flatter than we’re used to (especially coming from Oz – the land of cold and fizzy beer!). They also had one very flavorful Belgium style ale. It was a tasty stop at our second NZ brewery. But all in all we are still missing our American beers. Show us the hops!
January 6th, 2010
The next few days we were the only WWOOFers at the brewery, which we thought would be lonely, but actually it was quite nice. We biked around more and did some reading. Finished up a few more New Yorkers to lighten the load. Saturday was an extraordinarily busy day, because Fleetwood Mac was in town for the weekend to play their last two shows ever. People were flying in from all over the world for the show and the brewery was on the route to the concert and thus the perfect stop on the way to the big event. We help stock the store and they sold beer almost as fast as we could label it. That night, they also hosted an Xmas party for a local company and a big crowd was there (we hung out in the kitchen to grab leftovers for dinner, but then just hid away in our cottage).
Once it was just us girls, Jill the co-owner really opened up to us about her life and future plans to travel. There was a moment when we realized that being there for a whole week may have felt like a long time at first, but then when we really got to know her we understood why the twig sent us there for so long. It was the only way we’d really get to know the people who work there.
January 4th, 2010
Friday at the brewery was an insightful day. We were labeling again, but this time working side by side with Ron, Jill’s husband and co-owner of the brewery. Being a smaller operation, it was cool to see how everyone chips in, be it washing dishes, labeling bottles, or restocking fridges. They finished up bottling the inaugural batch of their newest beer, Mike’s Organic Strawberry Blonde (which took a while to bottle because of a carbonation issue. We didn’t get all the details, but we learned that even the smallest glitch can add a whole lot of extra man hours in this hands on situation) and moved over to their hop loaded Pilsner. This switchover created a special blend that we got to try at lunch called “The Pilsberry” made from the combination of the two beers while they changed the lines over for bottling. We’d tried both of the beers on their own before and enjoyed them, but the combo was actually the perfect mid-day refresher.
The day went quickly and by lunch we were ready to go out and play. Tracy and I went on a little ride to nowhere in particular just to get some pedaling in and burn off a few calories before our next meal. Our buddy Paul had stayed at home to pack up his stuff, as he was moving on the next day. When we got back, we played some afternoon cards and tried to download a movie (to no avail). We had just started to feel a little out of things to do when two touring cyclist rolled up looking for beer and a place to camp. Tracy and I all but ran to greet them, excited to see who they were, what their story was, and generally get more information about cycle touring in NZ.
Shad and Rory, our two new friends, were Americans from Nebraska. One was a just out of the military, had been working for a bit to save to travel, the other was studying religion in Chicago. Their backgrounds were very different from ours and it was cool to meet some more crazy Americans in the middle of NZ. We spent the night having a few beers and chatting about cycling and traveling as they managed to polish off an entire loaf of bread and tub of nutella while we all sat around (impressive!) It seemed a bit ridiculous at the time but looking back to our own bike touring days, we would have eaten just as much and thought nothing of it.