Posted By on June 29, 2015

Flytrap Brewing Company CoasterIt was a two-fer-one road trip the last time out. Our first brew pub stop was at Blowing Rock Brewing Company, located in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. After a few days spent relaxing, hiking and seeing the sights we hitched up the trailer and headed east toward the coast. The truck, or at least the driver, was happy to be going mostly down hill for this leg of the trip.

Our destination: Wilmington, NC, a bustling college town on the Cape Fear River. You may recall a video we put together a few years back about Front Street Brewery, which is located just a couple of blocks from the river walk.

This time we’d be stopping at Flytrap Brewing Company, a young nano-brewery just over 8 months old as of this writing. When they first opened in October of 2014 my father sent me a news article about the brewery, but it kind of slipped my mind until our visit when my sister, Erika, brought it to my attention again and took us there for a sample of their beers.

The brewery and tap room are housed in a smallish white brick building on the corner of N 4th St and Walnut, but don’t let the size fool you. Flytrap boasts a 2 BBL brewing capacity — that means one batch is roughly 27 cases of beer, or about 12.5 corny kegs, for your reference — with four main fermenters on hand so they keep their taps charged with a unique variety of American and Belgian style ales, which are constantly changing, so you never know what the selection will be.

Samples2The day of our visit they had four Flytrap offerings and five guest beers on tap. Eddie poured us two flights which included Flytrap’s Hoppy Tripel, Rehder’s Red, a Saison and a Belgian Blond. All very tasty and unique, especially the Tripel, which was made with a generous amount of American hops. I would call it a Tripel IPA, if there could really be such a beer, and I guess there can. Hell we’ve got Black IPAs, Rye IPAs, all sorts of IPAs now. Why not a Tripel?

Cindy’s fave was the Rehder’s Red, though she appreciated the Hoppy Tripel too, she is partial to Belgian style ales and IPAs.

The guest brews on tap were pretty damn good too. The selection of guest beers changes up regularly just like the Flytrap original offerings, but our flight included Double Barley’s Touché IPA, Left Coast Hop Juice, Eel River’s Emerald Triangle IPA, and a couple of others I forgot to jot down.

Flytrap Brewery Tap HandlesThe atmosphere is very laid back, clean and cool. They have an outside seating area where you can grab some dinner from a featured food truck every Friday and Saturday, sometimes Thursday, between 7pm and 10pm, along with live music. Check Flytrap’s Calendar for more info.

Back inside you can always grab an appetizer or snack provided by The Veggie Wagon, a Wilmington local family-owned produce company sourcing from local farms and small batch producers. We had some Oven-Baked Multi-Grain crackers with a Jalepeño Jack Beer Dip. A tad hot but tolerable, and very tasty.

Snacks and BeersCindy wanted to bring the remaining dip back to the house with us but when she turned toward me after chatting with my sister the dip was long gone, so were the chips. I was probably gulping down the rest of a beer sample to quench the burn, but it was worth it. :)

In all we found Flytrap very enjoyable. A great atmosphere with impressive original ales and a friendly, helpful staff. Though the beers may change up very regularly I highly recommend a stop by this brewery and tap room if you’re ever in the area. Flytrap’s beers are well worth the stop, and you might just meet someone interesting to talk to.

I, for one, Cindy for two, will be stopping by Flytrap for a beer everytime I’m in town. Just to see what surprises they have on tap. I have a Flytrap coaster on my desk as a reminder.

Stop the Flytrap Brewing Co. Facebook page and keep up to date about what’s going on.

Posted By on June 15, 2015

Blowing Rock Cand and Growlers.

Blue Ridge Parkway near Blowing Rock NCWithout complaint the truck tugged and tugged, pulling our new Road Trips and Brew Pubs travel trailer up and up into the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina.

Our third brew-venture for 2015 brings us to Blowing Rock Brewing Company, a craft brewery nestled in the heart of this beautiful mountainous countryside.

Blowing Rock Brewing Company opened their doors in 2013 in downtown Blowing Rock, an historic little town not far from Boone. During the American Civil War Blowing Rock served as a safe haven for families of men leaving to join the Confederate Army. After the war many men returned and settled in Blowing Rock with their families.

As time went on the scenic mountainous beauty of Blowing Rock became a regular vacation spot for visitors from nearby areas, as well as travelers from afar, and remains one of the prime locations for vacationers and outdoor enthusiasts in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina.

The area is close to numerous hiking trails, scenic overlooks and drives along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Grandfather Mountain, The Blowing Rock, and assorted attractions, restaurants and wineries as well. Visit BlowingRock.com for more information on things to do in the area.

The town of Blowing Rock itself boasts nice little streets to stroll about, lined with little shops offering art, souvenirs, teas, chocolates, wines, cheeses and more. Winding your way down to Sunset Drive you’ll find our target for this trip, the Blowing Rock Brewing Company.

Ali at Blowing Rock Brewing CompanyWe lagged behind during a brewery tour, which they offer on Saturdays between 1 and 5pm, and met with Luke in the brewery as he was wrapping it up. When we told him about Cryptobrewology and what we’re all about he called to Ali, who was serving beer to patrons outside on the patio, and she brought us a couple of beers to drink as we talked.

Blowing Rock Brewing Co is an impressive example of what is possible with a solid plan, a good team and a great product.

In 2013, after several years of perfecting their signature styles and recipes, and building a team to work with in creating their product, co-owners Jeff Walker and Todd Rice opened the brewery in Blowing Rock, and within the same year opened the Blowing Rock Ale House & Inn on the same property.

A year later, as demand grew statewide for their beers, Blowing Rock Brewing Company opened a second larger brewery in Hickory, NC. Though preparation took a number of years, the success and rapid growth after the grand opening of their micro brewery speaks to the quality of the product as well as the dedication and efforts of the folks involved.

Luke stands near the brew kettle at Blowing Rock Brewing CoThe brewery in Blowing Rock consists of a 5 BBL brewing system where the Ale House series of ales and lagers is crafted and available on tap at the Blowing Rock Ale House and at other select locations.

The Hickory brewing facility is responsible for brewing the Legacy Series as well as four seasonal offerings. Beers produced at the Hickory location are canned and kegged here for wider distribution across North Carolina, including select beers for the Ale House not brewed in the smaller Blowing Rock facility.

After our chat with Luke we headed over to the Ale House just a few steps from the brewery, across the patio, where folks were dining and being entertained by Klee Liles performing a great solo-acoustic selection of rock and folk tunes. Good stuff.

The Blowing Rock Ale House is a first class dining establishment. It has a great atmosphere where you can enjoy creative dishes that accompany their unique beers. The porter-balsamic dressing served with many of their dishes is actually made with the Blowing Rock Big Chocolate Porter, and it is delicious.

Cold Beer sign at Blowing Rock Ale House, NCWe ordered a flight of their brews which included their Blowing Roclk IPA, Belgian Pale Ale, Double IPA, Extra Special Bitter, Big Chocolate Porter and Imperial Stout. All very good. Of course the Double IPA and Porter got Cindy’s seal of approval.

Our menu selections were light. I almost got the Bison Burger but wanted to leave room for our pudgie pie wraps later over the campfire, so I decided on the Grilled Flatbread which is made with their High Country Ale and drizzled with the Porter Balsamic. That was tasty. Cindy had the Baby Arugula Salad.

We sat in the main dining area, but there are a few other places to enjoy a meal and libations at the Ale House. There are picnic tables out front and on the side of the restaurant, as well as seating around back on the patio near the brewery.

Around the corner from the cozy bar area is a quiet, comfortable lounge where you wait for seating, enjoy a drink or peruse their growler and six pack offerings in the fridge if you want some beer to go.

I have to say that our visit to Blowing Rock Brewing Co. was a highlight of our trip. The people we met there are very friendly and helpful, the food is excellent and the beer is top notch.

Do what their beer can says, “Go to the Mountains.” It’s a great stop for any craft beer enthusiast visiting this area of the Blue Ridge Mountains in western North Carolina. Bring your hiking shoes. And don’t forget to take some beer home with you.

Visit the Blowing Rock Brewing Company website for more information on their breweries, beers, Ale House and Inn.

Posted By on May 22, 2015

Boxcar Brew Pub can-shaped beer glassesOur second road trip for 2015 found us sampling some fine micro-brewed ales and eating flatbread appetizers and salads at Boxcar Brewing Company’s Brewpub in lovely downtown West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Granted we live in West Chester so the only rubber we wore out on this trip is the soles of our shoes, and the wear was minimal. Boxcar’s brand new brew pub, which officially opened for biz in February 2015, is located at 142 East Market St and is only 7 blocks, a short 10 minute walk, from our doorstep. 7 blocks from a unique local brewpub? Bring it!

Some Cryptobrewology readers will recall this short video we did with the then co-owners of Boxcar, Jason Kohser and Jamie Robinson, during their 2012 Philly Beer Week Ride The Rails event. Jamie now owns the brewery and brewpub with his wife Kymberly.

Boxcar Brewpub occupies the building that was home to The Note, a used-to-was popular music venue in West Chester co-owned by Brandon “Bam” Margera of Jackass fame and Don Moore who has subsequently opened The Social Lounge. The Note closed it’s doors in January of 2014 and a little more than a year later Boxcar charged up their taps.

The one very cool thing about Boxcar is that they are the first genuine, homegrown West Chester brewery and brewpub. Yes, other breweries do exist in this town but they either did not originate here or were officially declared after Boxcar began operations.

Iron Hill is one example, but the Iron Hill chain of breweries and gastropubs first began in Newark, Delaware, in 1994, and the West Chester Location opened in 1998. A younger brewery in West Chester is Levante Brewing Company, I’ll throw them a link. Levante began operations in 2011, technically the year after Boxcar’s official announcement of their brewery. So it stands, and I declare it here: Boxcar Brewing Company and Brewpub is THE FIRST Original West Chester Brewing Company! Congratulations to them on making beer history.

By the way, I just noticed that Boxcar was missing on Wikipedia’s List of Breweries in Southeastern PA, so I added them.

Boxcar Brew Pub upstairs bar

Step Inside

Fairly unassuming from the street, once you step inside Boxcar’s new Brewpub you seem to walk into a different time.

Described on Boxcar’s website as having a “Speakeasy Feel,” there certainly is a cool old-time atmosphere about the place. It has an upscale kind of vibe to it.

It’s interesting how it makes you feel. As you look around at the cool vintage decor, rich wooden bar tops and sleek but classy tables and chairs you get the idea that cool, smart people hang out here.

There is ample dining downstairs, but take a walk upstairs and you’re really in a cool spot. Pick your seat for the night and a friendly server steps up to take your drink order and bring you a menu.

The upper floor is open at the back, so you overlook the large stage below from a balcony of sorts, complete with a variety of chairs and tables to enjoy your evening. It was quiet when Cindy and I stopped by but if you’re interested in a sophisticated dining experience without too much interruption you might want to avoid Thursday Game Night when people are playing MarioKart on the massive screen, unless you want to give it a go yourself.

Check out the Boxcar Facebook page for updates on events and other happenings at the brewpub and brewery. For the musically inclined, they host an open-mic night from 7-10 (sign up starts at 6) on Wednesday nights.

Boxcar-Downview

Food and Brews

Immediately we ordered a flight of beers so we could sample as many as possible, then we perused the menu and settled on a couple of flatbreads. Cindy had the Margerita flatbread, I had the Pesto with Tomato and Feta and a Caesar Salad. Food was served pretty quickly, and was very good. The flatbreads served as an absorber for the samples and subsequent glasses of our choice selections, which were served in cool beer can-shaped glasses. Of course we had to buy two of those.

Boxcar Brew Pub beer samples flightI must confess here and now that my first taste of Boxcar beers, during that Ride the Rails event in 2012, won me over. Cindy too.

The only offerings they had on hand during that rail trip were the “Original” pale ale, now their Passenger Ale, Boxcar Boomer Brown Ale, and a Mango Ginger Pale Ale. They were all winners. Cindy absolutely loved the Mango Ginger Pale Ale, it’s just so damn good.

There is something pure and clean yet perfectly unique and very tasty about Boxcar beers. I can honestly say that, in my experience, Boxcar beers stand out as very drinkable. “Approachable” some might say.

Seriously though, each beer is very well balanced, never over the top with any ingredient. The Mango Ginger Pale Ale has a little mango and ginger hints, which set it apart from the others.

The brewers at Boxcar know their craft and it shows. The IPA is killer, and even though I’m not a Shandy fan, it was good too.

Now, Cindy is partial to Belgian style ales, more specifically Trappist ales. Since I began shifting her taste buds from wine to appreciating a good IPA or other ale, she has really taken to Belgians. Her favorite of course being Raging Bitch, as mentioned in my last post. She’s practically a connoisseur of Belgian style ales, including Tripels. Of course she enjoys Chimay and others too. She absolutely loves the Boxcar Tripel, and so do I! It’s an awesome tasting ale.

I rave, the Boxcar standard offerings and Tripel we sampled are very tasty and well balanced beers, but to be honest the coffee-, or espresso- I think, stout we sampled that evening on tap just did not grab my attention. It was so clean there was almost no flavor to speak of, no bitter from black malt, and barely a hint of coffee. I love a good coffee stout, unfortunately this one didn’t bring it for me.

Hey, it’s all a mater of opinion but, stout opinions aside, Boxcar shines as a great brewpub to visit and enjoy some very fine tasting beers, good food and a very cool atmosphere.

You can find a link to their current menu and get more information at BoxcarBrewingCompany.com.

Posted By on May 7, 2015

Tow MIrror clipped to the Dakota!
Cindy and I hitched up our new little travel trailer to the faithful ol’ Dakota and set out on our inaugural road trip. As we rambled along the highway it dawned on me, Road Trips and Brew Pubs is back! And this is our first brew-venture of 2015.

Our destination: Brunswick Family Campground in Brunswick, Maryland. Brunswick lies about 30 minutes south-west-ish of Frederick, and our real reason for making this trip: Flying Dog Brewery.

During a phone call with the friendly camp owner I learned that there are quite a few breweries nearby, just over the Potomac River in Virginia. Microbreweries like Mad Horse Brewpub, Old 690 Brewing Company and Adroit Theory Craft Brewery to name a few.

With only one day to explore the area and also enjoy some time hanging around the campsite drinking beer we decided to limit our excursion to Flying Dog but we do plan on a future trip to visit those other breweries, so stay tuned for that. Meanwhile…

Big Doggie

With 86,000 barrels of beer produced in 2014 Flying Dog Brewery is obviously not a microbrewery, but a craft brewery. I got bit by Flying Dog some time ago, and was an immediate fan. The beer that got me was their Single Hop Simcoe Imperial IPA, amazing hoppy citrus aroma and huge flavor. In my opinion it rivals Heady Topper, but you know what they say about opinions. After tasting that brew I had to have more and Flying Dog has been one of the top breweries on my list ever since.

Cindy is also a big Flying Dog fan. Her favorite is their Belgian style ale, Raging Bitch. Which brings me to another aspect of Flying Dog that appeals to us, their label art.

BITCHIN’ ART

Ralph Steadman Raging Bitch Artwork for Flying Dog Brewery.Each label features original artwork painted by Ralph Steadman. A renowned British artist and illustrator, his style is unique to say the least, unforgettable and immediately recognizable. His imagery is often provocative, suggestive and maybe offensive to some. But artistic expression should not be censored because someone feels offended.

This is precisely why, in April of 2015, Flying Dog won a lawsuit they filed against the Michigan Liquor Control Commission who banned sales of Raging Bitch in that state in 2009 because they claimed it was, “detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of the general public.”

Goddamn, if the Raging Bitch label was the only such detrimental thing our country had to worry about we’d be in great shape! Steadman’s artwork for the Label, seen above, features a crazed looking bitch of a doggy complete with a nice little cuchi in her hind quarters there. Oh, and she has tits, don’t forget the tits!

Steadman also wrote the label prose for Raging Bitch, which reads…

Two inflammatory words… one wild drink. Nectar imprisoned in a bottle. Let it out. It is cruel to keep a wild animal locked up. Uncap it. Release it… stand back! Wallow in its golden glow in a glass beneath a white foaming head. Remember, enjoying a RAGING BITCH, unleashed, untamed, unbridled — and in heat — is pure GONZO!! It has taken 20 years to get from there to here. Enjoy!

Flying Dog Road-Dog Porter. Good Beer, No Shit.This censorship isn’t the first Flying Dog has had to deal with. In his artwork for Flying Dog’s Road Dog Porter, Steadman included the quip, “Good Beer, No Shit.” Colorado banned sales based on these words but the courts ruled in Flying Dog’s favor protecting their, and everyone’s, First Amendment right of Freedom of Speech.

And, though not technically censored, Flying Dog modified the artwork for their Doggie Style Classic Ale to appease retailers who refused to sell the beer.

Read more about the Raging Bitch ruling, and a comment by artist Ralph Steadman at Flying Dog’s Blog.

Back at the Brewery

Flying DogFlying Dog is located in an industrial park — and though that may sound a bit, uh, industrial — it’s not an unpleasant location. The grounds around the place are kept tidy enough, and when you pull into the Flying Dog parking lot you see a huge grain silo, and a big cool looking wooden structure emblazoned with their winged-dog logo. Personally I have no idea what this large mysterious structure is, maybe it covers another grain silo, or maybe it’s just there as a focal point to make your entry less industrial-park-like. Whatever it’s purpose, it serves it well.

We parked, and upon exiting the truck inhaled deeply the telltale waft of beer-making. Delighted, Cindy and I exhaled and strolled happily to the entrance, our taste buds eagerly anticipating the flavors in store.

We missed our opportunity for the brewery tour and would have had to wait another hour to do it, so we decided to have lunch and enjoy the samples, then buy some swag and head back to the campground.

Flying Dog Brewery flight of beer samples.Selections for our sampler flight included a limited release Earl Grey Black Wheat; Seasonal Numero Uno, Dead Rise Old Bay Summer Ale, Horn Dog, Kerberos Tripel and Kujo; and year-round offerings The Truth and Bloodline Blood Orange Ale.

Small wonder Flying Dog has been as successful as it has. The inventors of these fine ales and lagers know exactly what they are doing and it shows. Each of their brew-house offerings is so full of flavor, and true to style. Like the vibrant artwork that graces each label, the beer within is just as robust and colorful in taste and aroma.

GreenBowlFoodTruckPreviously unsure of what we might do for lunch we found our answer at The Green Bowl food truck which was parked near the entrance to the outside seating area. The Green Bowl Food Truck saved the day with a Bibimbap bowl and Mofongo bowl, served up pretty quickly too. I took the opportunity to check in on Facebook while I was waiting. Great food to accompany the great beers we were enjoying on that sunny day in Frederick, MD.

After enjoying our beers and finishing up lunch we headed back into the brewery’s taproom to buy some branded merch. Oh let’s see, some stickers, a deck of Flying Dog playing cards, more stickers, a t-shirt for Cindy, a mix-pack of beers, and a bag for the swag, which will come in handy for our weekly trips to the local growers market.

In all it was a great afternoon at Flying Dog, we’ll probably go again the next time we’re passing through. At the very least the dog bite is still working it’s magic on me. You simply can’t ignore the creativity, uniqueness and fearlessness of this brand, unleashed in 1990 from a Brewpub in Aspen, Colorado.

Congratulations, and thank you, to those responsible for bringing this wonderful, growing collection of beers to us all. And thank you to Ralph Steadman for pushing the envelope of creativity to bring us those awesome illustrations that grace the bottles we enjoy looking at while we’re drinking the “pure GONZO” brew within.

Posted By on October 31, 2014

Heady Topper Beer canIt may not be so hard to find for hop-heads in the know, and close to the brewery’s limited area of distribution, but for the rest of us Heady Topper is almost as elusive as Bigfoot. Alas, Heady Topper actually exists. Still we went on the hunt and succeeded in capturing a couple of cases of this big brew.

One day a fellow craft beer lover told perpetually-out-of-the-loop me about Heady Topper, the acclaimed Unfiltered Unpasteurized American Double IPA. He raved about how delicious “Heady” is and how hard it is to find. In fact it is not legally available for sale outside of the state of Vermont, where it is brewed by The Alchemist Brewery in Waterbury.

While Heady Topper is their main beer they do brew monthly specialty beers like Ouroboros, El Jefe, Focal Banger, Petit Mutant and others. The latter two are also canned in limited release and sold in special truck and tent sales. You can learn more about their special releases, future new brewery and get other updates at The Alchemist Blog.

Originally served exclusively on tap, Heady Topper has only been available in cans and in a wider distribution since 20011. Still, despite growing interest and demand, Heady Topper is fairly impossible to get unless you go to Vermont to find it. If you do, make sure you’re in the right place at the right time.

The Alchemist currently brews 180 barrels per week, canned and delivered to a relatively short list of restaurants, pubs and package stores in the Burlington, Stowe, Waterbury, Montpelier and Mad River areas. They provide a list of establishments where you can buy Heady Topper, but it can still be tough to get your hands on.

My wife and I had a trip to the Adirondacks scheduled, in a little town about an hour west of Burlington, VT. We had planned on taking a day trip to Burlington while there so acquiring some Heady Topper became a mission for us. The urgency of our mission increased drastically — especially for Cindy who has become quite the IPA fanatic — when we actually tasted Heady Topper at Manhattan Pizza and Pub in Burlington, VT.

We arrived in Burlington around 11AM on a Thursday. After a must-stop at Magic Hat for free samples and SWAG, we stopped for lunch at The Farmhouse Tap & Grill (Top notch, great beer selection!), then dropped in at the Vermont Pub and Brewery, where we learned a bit more about the man behind Heady Topper, The Alchemist, John Kimmich.

Kimmich actually started working for the late Greg Noonan as a waiter while he learned the craft of brewing from him, and was eventually asked to step up as Head Brewer. It’s a great story you can read here, told by Kimmich himself.

In 2003 Kimmich and his wife opened a brew pub under the name The Alchemist, where they began offering Heady Topper on occasion. Demand grew, even surreptitiously as some folks took the beer offsite illegally, initially unbeknownst to the owners. Kimmich then opened a separate brewing facility to brew a larger supply and meet a growing demand. During the same month, and mere days before the first cans rolled off of the canning line, the brew pub was destroyed by Hurricane Irene.

No official word if The Alchemist will open another brew pub, but I heard a rumor to that effect. Unfortunately the brewery is closed to the public, so no tours, but maybe that will change in the future. At the very least we can hope The Alchemist Brew Pub comes back, somewhere. It would be a great place to visit during one of our next excursions into the north woods.

Case of Heady Topper CansMaking off with The Goods
Stoked by the stories and the mystique of Heady Topper (and after actually tasting it!) we located the package store where we planned to purchase our prize. Cindy and I stood online for about 45 minutes, hearing more stories from other eager Heady-heads, before they opened the doors to the cooler.

This particular location receives 2 deliveries per week, Tuesday and Thursday, 100 cases each of those days. They release 50 cases in the morning and 50 cases in the afternoon. We arrived in line at 5:15PM, and they started handing out the beer at 6, first by the case and then, as the supply reduced, in half cases, then finally in four packs only.

For our first trip through we scored a half case each, then Cindy went back in and got in line again to snag another full case. Our mission a success, we locked our precious cargo in the back of the Cryptomobile (my Dodge pickup), hidden safely beneath an unassuming blue tarp.

We drove west out of Burlington and back into the dense wilderness, eagerly anticipating our first sip of Heady Topper around the fire pit at our secluded Adirondack retreat.

Heady Topper poured into glasses to see color and head.The Big Heady Topper Flavor
Heady is a big beer, but the secret to its continued success has everything to do with the amazing balance of malts, hop bitterness and dryness; the flavor is huge but not overbearing. Heady is so big that you almost don’t notice the 8% ABV, but it can sneek up on you so sip and enjoy what is has to offer.

A proprietary blend of 6 hop varieties offers quite a complex nose and flavor profile. On their website The Alchemist asks what we may identify, “Orange? Tropical Fruit? Pink Grapefruit? Pine? Spice?” Yes, and yes. The hop notes run far and wide, taking their turn with your senses as you inhale the aromas and let the beer drift across your tongue.

Clearly indicated around the rim of the can, The Alchemist recommends that we “Drink From the Can” for optimum flavor and freshness, but I chose to pour it into a glass so I could see the color and build an appropriate head to release more hop aroma. Along with a great flavor, Heady Topper is a nice looking beer too, pouring a slight pale yet fruity looking amber-orange color. I didn’t notice a huge difference in flavor or nose between the glass or a can, but hey.

In all Heady Topper is an excellent beer, for us it was well worth the trip and the wait in line at the store. The beers reputation is bolstered by a great story of a man who packed up his life to pursue his dream and found success.

More info can be found at Wikipedia.