Sunday, October 30, 2011

It's Guinness Time! October 30th Picture of The Week

He looks so angelic when he's sleeping :) 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Saint Louis Travel & Rock and Roll Race Write-Up

I'll be honest I wasn't real sure what to expect with Saint Louis in general but I really wasn't expecting much. Pretty much the arch was the only thing that came to mind (beside the Cardinals baseball team but being a Cubs fan you know how I feel about them!) I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the city!

I arrived in on Saturday morning and met up with Mel and BJ. We headed towards downtown and on the way needed to stop for lunch.

Imo's
This is a pizza place that is a Saint Louis institution apparently due to their unique cheese provel. (Not sure how you spell it but I am guessing that my guess is close and no it is not provolone.) The pizza is very thing crust - Mel described it very well as like a saltine cracker crust. The pizza was okay but certainly nothing to write home about. I ate it but do not think I would ever go back again.

After that it was off to our hotel to get checked in so we could go to the Half Marathon expo to collect our goods.

Crowne Plaza Downtown
I've already told you all about my affinity for the Intercontinental Hotels Group so the Crowne Plaza was a natural selection for this trip (especially since there isn't an actual Intercontinental in this city.) I had chosen this hotel before the race course was even announced and got lucky that it was about half a mile from the start, finish and expo! Woo hoo! Upon arrival they had a room ready for us and we were pleasantly surprised to find we were upgraded to a suite. Even better - we have an incredible view of the arch and even though we are a few blocks away if there was a baseball game going on we could see into the stadium for the whole thing!

There is a bar in the hotel (which is apparently open until 3am on weekends) but they have a lousy tap selection (just lousy Bud!) and we didn't check the place out because we wanted to go see the town when we decided to grab a drink. There is no hot tub at this hotel which is a bummer but overall this is a great place to stay.

Marathon Expo
After dropping off our bags we headed to the Convention Center for the Marathon expo to pick up our numbers etc. and check out what "goods" they had there. As usual Rock and Roll Marathons do a great job of merchandising. They had some fabulous designs on their shirts etc. and I am happy to report that they (as best I can tell) have stopped selling finisher shirts at the expo. (As we like to say at the expo the only thing you have finished is coughing up some money!!) The expo was a little smaller than I had hoped and pretty packed but all in all not bad. The shirts definitely leave something to be desired. They are very plain comparative to other race shirts.


BJ raved about gooey butter cake (which I had never had but Mel had and said it was fabulous!) so we headed out to Park Avenue Coffee for what some folks claim is the best gooey butter cake of anywhere. Along the way we wandered through a park area with some art which was very interesting.

We had beautiful weather and it was great to see so many folks out enjoying it. There are a lot of really pretty and interesting buildings to check out as well.

Park Avenue Coffee
After a stop right down the street at a very cute pet shop (where there were some cute dogs "shopping" that we enjoyed visiting with we arrived at our destination for some yummy goodness. I have to say they did not disappoint!  We ordered 3 different flavors of gooey butter cake to share: traditional, double chocolate and pumpkin. (We tried to order Turtle but they were out. Bummer!) The traditional and double chocolate were melt in your mouth delicious. I am sure the pumpkin was good too (Mel & BJ said it was) if you like pumpkin but I do not so I didn't even mess with that flavor. We all decided that it was a good thing that gooey butter cake is a Saint Louis thing and not down the street from any of us where we live because we might all be 300 pounds!

Square One Brewery & Distillery
You didn't think we'd spend a day wandering about the city and not find a brewpub if there was one did you?! Luckily this one was right down the street from Park Avenue Coffee. We found ourselves a table in the bar area and proceeded to order a sampler to contain one of each beer they have. This actually meant 3 samplers since each contains 4 beers and that's the number of varieties they had available. These sample sizes were 5oz samples which is larger than the standard size which was just fine with us!

We decided to grab a little snackage and ordered some pretzels, beer cheese soup and a scotch egg. The pretzels were decent, the soup was okay but nothing fabulous and BJ said the Scotch egg was really good though I was not a fan of it in general (it was my first time trying it and I don't think I'll have it again irrespective of where I am eating it.) The beers were really quite good with a wide variety including several IPAs, a pumpkin, a weiss, a stout and a few others. Had they bottled there was one or 2 I would have considered buying to take home with me. Definitely stop here to try the beer!!!

We then wandered back towards our hotel. We walked passed Busch Stadium which, in spite of the beyond lousy company it is named for, is a great looking stadium. I really look forward to coming here some day to catch the Cubs beating the Cardinals there for a game. Obviously the city is very excited with them playing in the World Series and all over town there are signs and such, the fountain is red, some statues have jerseys on... it's great to see so much excitement about America's Favorite Pastime.

Apparently Saint Louis is also the birthplace of Toasted Ravioli so BJ had some recommendations from folks as to where we should go for that. It was Saturday night so lots of places were so packed it was out of the question but we found a great place.

Trattoria Marcela
While this place looks small when you step into the bar and hostess area we found out that it is really rather large with a nice outdoor area as well. Since we didn't have a reservation and didn't want to wait until 8:30pm we opted for a table outside. (The weather was nice enough to make this doable.) We ordered the toasted ravioli as an appetizer to share and I will be honest - I loved it so much I wish I had ordered it as my main course! They brought out some bread with hummus which I found strange. An Italian place serving hummus just seems all sorts of wrong to me. Dinner was quite tasty as well and the portions are huge. But by far my favorite part was the Toasted Ravioli and I would go back just to have that again!!!

Solutia Rock and Roll Saint Louis Half Marathon
While Competitor Group is the official company that puts on all these races the main presenting sponsor of this inaugural race in Saint Louis was Solutia. The first impressions we had in the city of the race was that Solutia had done a really great job of signage throughout the city about the race and wishing the runners luck.

The race was set to start at 7:30am so we woke up way to early so we could all put a little fuel in our bellies and get ready to head out. The weather was about 50 degrees which is always a tough one for me to decide what the heck it is that I want to wear. I was thinking that the race was going to be a really bad one for me so I decided to go ahead and put the long sleeve shirt on underneath the short sleeve shirt I wanted to be showing since I figured that stopping to walk so I could toss my long sleeve shirt and put my short sleeve shirt on wouldn't be a problem. (Tip for any runners out there who are new to this - always check for cheap long sleeve shirts that after you wear a few times you don't mind tossing out. These are great for runs that start out cold and then you can just toss it when you are warm enough. I paid $4 or so for this shirt and had already worn it about 20 times in training runs so I had more than gotten my money's worth. And not to worry - it's not littering. The race volunteers pick up all the "discarded"and generally donate them to goodwill or homeless shelters etc.) Boy did I choose badly! (more later...) And as I pretty much generally do I ran in a tutu :) I chose to wear my Tutus for Tatas attire since I didn't run the Race for the Cure earlier in the month.


We got to the start line and near our corral. (That's one of the many things that the Rock and Roll Series does well - they do a lot of corrals to make sure people shouldn't be tripping all over one another.) They announced the race would start a few minutes late so we just hung out. It was a great area to start in - neat buildings near us and the arch in the foreground. After they played the National Anthem it was time to get started. They started letting corrals go and we started moving forward. Before we knew it we were up and it was our turn to be off and running.

I will spare the gritty details of 13 miles of running but I can tell you that I seriously goofed with my clothing choices because I was roasting by mile 3 but didn't want to slow down or stop to rearrange my clothes til about mile 9!!! The course was a very pretty course - in fact I would be willing to go out on a limb and say in the 15 half marathons I have run overall it was the best course as a whole yet! Good support on the route and lots of spectators which is always motivational! A few more rolling hills than I expected but no ridiculously steep ones which is a bonus. I finished pretty sure that I ran a personal best (we call them a PR) but hadn't worn a watch so I didn't know exactly what my time was. I would have to wait til I got back to the room to check.

After the race there was the usual snacks and photos. There was a beer garden by MGD that I simply could not bring myself to drink no matter that I was thirsty and it was free. The medals look fabulous! And frankly it's all about the bling ;)

Got back to the room and I got my big disappointment. While I was pretty sure I'd run a best when I logged on to look it up the online system didn't have a finish time for me. Apparently there was something wrong with my timing chip :( It logged my start and my 5K split but not my finish :( Mel said she saw me and she is certain I finished in front of her so when we looked up her time I knew I had run a PR because her time was better than my previous best time. Now I just really want to know exactly what my time is so I have that benchmark. They are looking it to it to try and piece it together with pictures etc. I sure hope that works out. On a happier note though all 3 of us (Mel, BJ & myself) ran PRs!!! That was cause for celebration!

Our traditional post race is that we run for shower time meaning first person to finish gets to shower first etc. So we all finished up our showers and headed out for some much desired lunch.

Morgan Street Brewery


Lucky for us this place was about half a mile from the hotel. We wandered in and got a seat right away. Great comfortable atmosphere and a pretty good looking menu. We of course ordered the sampler which included their pilsner, pumpkin ale, Oktoberfest, Honey Wheat and Decades their anniversary beer. All were quite tasty (as usual I didn't like the pumpkin) and we each picked our favorite pint to enjoy after the sampler was finished. The food was decent food nothing to jump for joy over but certainly food I would eat again. I had a burger and they have these unique sides instead of fries called Conniques which are deep fried mashed potatoes. Very interesting and pretty yummy.

After that we decided to wander over right to the arch so BJ could touch it (his requirement for the trip). It was a beautiful day so we were quite happy to be outside! We got some pictures outside and then wandered inside to check the gift shop. We had figured that there was a long wait to go up in the arch so we were okay with not doing that. Well thanks to BJ's keen observation we changed that plan! There was virtually no wait to go up in the arch so we decided to go for it. Tickets for an adult to go up in the arch are $10. The little elevator you get on is really quite small and holds 5 people. This is definitely not a place for someone who is overly claustrophobic. The elevator does almost a stair step movement to get up the arch - it's really a fascinating thing from an engineering perspective. It takes 4 minutes to get to the top crammed into the car like sardines.

At the top there are 16 (I think) windows on each side which offer a nice view. Definitely worth being able to say you did if you go to Saint Louis.

Then came time for our standard post run nap which was must needed at this point. Plus we needed to gather some energy for dinner :)

Mike Shannon's
Lately we have been trying to have a steak after our runs for dinner that night as a celebratory treat. We decided on Mike Shannon's because it was walking distance and had been recommended by someone. (We also try and go to a  local place instead of a chain and this fit that bill.) Walking in there's great decor of baseball bats, balls and photos. Sadly the food and service didn't meet the standards of the ambiance or price. The service was haphazard. For example when our bread was dwindling she came by and asked if we wanted more, when we said yes she took the basket (with 2 pieces left) but never returned with more. The visits to the table were very infrequent to see how we were doing or if we needed anything else. The steak was an average steak but nothing special with very little flavor. The sides we ordered were below average as well - the mac & cheese was plain and boring and the broccolini left a lot to be desired. Bottom line - skip this place and head elsewhere for your money because it definitely was not cheap and it certainly was not worth what we paid for it.

Ted Drewes Frozen Custard
We opted to go elsewhere for some dessert and Ted Drewes is another Saint Louis institution - this one known for their concretes (similar to a DQ blizzard). This treat was extremely tasty and very very well priced! I am not a big ice cream fan but I loved my Heath Concrete and would highly recommend that anyone in the area swing by there for a treat!

All in all it was a great trip to Saint Louis and one day I look forward to going back so I can go to Busch Stadium to cheer on the Cubs!!!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Guinness Picture of the Week - October 23rd

I will admit I took this one last weekend but it was so cute I had to share it.... Guinness loves going for car rides and especially loves the Jeep...
These were taken while Ken and I were working in the yard - I think in his mind he was on a great ride....




Sunday, October 16, 2011

Guinness Picture of the Week (October 16, 2011).... Mmmmmmm.... Cupcake

Since I was a slacker and didn't post a Guinnes Picture last week I"ll give you several today!
People sometimes say that dogs and people start to take on traits of one another... well here some support of that apparently. I am a major cupcake lover. I find them generally to be an ideal size treat especially since I am a HUGE frosting and sprinkles fan! When I travel I frequently try to bring Guinness something back with me. In the past I have brought him many of the fancy frosted dog cookies which are of course covered in "frosting" and sprinkles. Well to my surprise he has not been a fan of those :( However what I have found that he LOVES is the doggie cupcake from Sprinkles. Since I was in the area of Sprinkles the other day I decided to stop in and get him a treat. Well that plus the fact that if you "Like" the Sprinkles page on Facebook they will frequently post something that says along the lines of "The first 50 people to walk in and say 'X' will get a free 'X' cupcake." Since free is my favorite price and I was in the area I was all over the post this day. I do have to say I am underwhelmed by Sprinkles... the cupcake are frankly far from fantastic. Then again I feel the same way about Crave and more recently Rise here in Friendswood. Frankly New York does such a better job of cupcakes with Crumbs, Magnolia Bakery and Backed by Melissa. It's probably good that those aren't available here or I would be 400 pounds. But props to Sprinkles from Guinness because they are the only ones to bake a doggie version and he is a big fan!





Wednesday, October 12, 2011

United... Continental... whatever they are called... I am fed up!

Is anyone else as frustrated with Continental/United/whatever the heck they are these days? What a silly question - I know many people are just as frustrated as I am! How could you not be? Frankly the worst thing to ever happen to Continental was to merge with United.

I have recently had a bunch of issues with what used to be my favorite airline. In fact I go out of my way to fly them. As of late, however, they have been beyond lousy. I got fed up enough that I decided to write a letter to them. (Honestly I don't expect it to do much good but I believe that if you don't tell someone something is wrong how can you expect them to fix it.... so I am telling them.) So here's what I had to say....


United Airlines, Inc.
PO Box 66100
Chicago, IL 60666

Dear Continental & United Management,

I have been a loyal Continental customer for more than 10 years now. As of late I have suffered many disappointments with Continental/United.  I firmly believe that it is my obligation to speak-up and articulate my issues and not just complain about them because if customers don’t tell you what our problems are then how can you know that there are problems. As you can see I have been compiling a list for many months as I will outline below.

My family and some close friends made a trip to the Midwest in June 2011. On our outbound flight from Houston (IAH) to Cleveland (CLE) 5 of our 7 bags did not make the flight with us. We checked in nearly 2 hours prior to the trip so it was not due to any fault of ours. At the Baggage Services office they told us perhaps it was due to weight issues on the airplane and that is why our bags were delayed. So is this how you treat Elite members? My bags were clearly marked as Priority yet if I am to believe this baggage specialist then someone chose to take my bags off in spite of the fact that they were marked as me being an elite access member. Our bags did not show up until after midnight that night. We missed out on a formal dinner because we did not have the proper attire for the event.  I tried on multiple occasions to speak with representatives and also write several emails about my issue yet none of them were willing to help. Basically I got the brush off of “well sometimes it happens” and “since we got you your bags within 24 hours you have no basis of complaint.” (The reference number for this baggage issue was CLEC051845.)

On 14 August my husband Kenneth Ham (Also a long time Continental flyer, Onepass #MB283614) was flying from Houston to Dubai for his deployment in Afghanistan. (Ken is a Captain in the US Navy.)  His flight from Houston to Washington Dulles was slightly delayed. Upon arrival at Dulles Ken sprinted the three-quarters of a mile to the gate for his flight to Dubai – he arrived 5 minutes before it was time for the flight to leave only to find that the flight had left early.  He met many other passengers that were already at the gate.  Apparently, they decided to close the door 11 minutes before posted departure time.  Many of these passengers were servicemen with no checked bags who ended up stranded in Dulles.  This issue is compounded by the fact that flights from Dubai to Kandahar do not fly every day further complicating the trip.  The simple act of closing the door on time for a 15 hour flight would have saved a lot of time and money.  When he (and the other 21 passengers, some from Chicago who were in the same situation) spoke with the United representative about his options the agent was very rude and VERY unhelpful.   

On September 14th my husband and I were travelling from Bermuda (BDA) to Portland, Maine (PWM) by way of Newark. Upon arrival into Newark we discovered out connecting flight was delayed by more than an hour. After checking into the President’s Club I looked online and it showed the flight that was the plane we should be on had already arrived. This made no sense seeing how our flight was delayed. Upon asking at the travel desk the agent couldn’t make sense of it either. Apparently the flight that was listed as the arriving plane for our flight online was not the actual flight that was coming in for us to take. The flight with the airplane for us to take was a different airplane; however, no one (in the 2 different agents I spoke to) could find a status on that particular flight and where in the world it was. When I asked what was the cause of the delay the first 2 had no answer and the third sheepishly said, “schedule” which says to me a scheduling problem on your part. Additionally your flight tracker website never updated the time the plane was set to arrive in Portland.

On September 19th we were headed back to Houston from Portland, Maine via Newark. In Portland there was hassle getting on the airplane because the flight attendants had started allowing people to already change seats to sit together (because they had been separated) even though everyone was not on board. Then as the plane should already have closed the boarding doors one of the passengers claimed to have left his cell phone in the waiting area so we waited another 10 minutes for someone to attempt to track this down. I couldn’t help but think about the fact that you (Continental) wouldn’t hold the airplane for many people trying to make a connection to Dubai (many of these individuals servicemen and women like my husband) yet you will make the rest of us late (which we were) so someone can look for a cell phone. When we finally pulled away from the gate since we were late pulling out we had an additional 10-minute hold because we had missed our take-off slot and the air traffic tower needed to space out the planes.  While I appreciate your flight attendants et all trying to help the guy out I have been told that the reason the plane wasn’t held for my husband was that you won’t hold a plane for anyone but obviously this isn’t true.

Continuing on the above trip when we boarded the plane to Houston from Newark we pushed back from the gate on time only to sit on the tarmac for nearly 30 minutes with absolutely no explanation. Now I understand it could have been due to  “traffic” issues, perhaps we were last in a long line of planes waiting to take off, but we got no explanation of why we were just sitting there which to me is simply unacceptable.

One smaller issue I have had. On a recent trip a zipper was torn completely off my luggage. When I brought this up I was told that zippers are just part of the normal wear and tear that is expected and I was out of luck.  Given that I was quoted that it will cost at least $40 to fix this issue I find that unacceptable.
Add all of these very specific issues to the overall general issues I have been having with Continental and the Continental/United merger and I am left feeling disappointed in what I used to consider to a superior airline.  I am a Chicago-native so I really wish I could say that I think this merger has been positive for us Continental customers but to say that would be a lie in my experience.

To speak to the general issues I have….
·      I am disappointed to see Continental take-on United traits such as
o   Discontinuing any complimentary snacks or food in coach
o   Charging for “premium” movies and channels on international flights. What happened to all the entertainment options free on international flights?
o   Increasing the costs of beer etc. on flights
·      Frequent Flyer Program Issues
o   With the merger of the 2 airlines is has become highly unlikely that anyone who is not Platinum (and from what I’ve heard even some platinum members) to get many upgrades
o   It’s unfair of those of us who fly and accumulate miles to gain elite access that people can simply purchase a credit card and have the same access to elite check-in and security lines. (Don’t get me wrong I also use the Presidential Plus Chase credit card, which I use primarily for the President’s Club membership, but I also maintain my elite status without this.)
§  I was on a plane this weekend where more than half the plane was elite and most of them had simply got the credit card
·      General Merger Issues
o   I have asked repeatedly at the airports when we can expect the merger to be complete and no one knows
o   I’ve had it happen numerous times where Continental seems to have no idea what is going on because it’s supposedly a United issue or vice versa. So much for becoming one.
o   The fact that after all this merger stuff I still feel the need to address something to both Continental & United should be telling for you guys that you aren’t “getting it done” adequately in merging
Sincerely,

Michelle L Ham

CC:
Customer Care (Houston, TX)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Hop - Days 3 & 4


Our last full day in Colorado we didn’t have GABF tickets so our plan was to just wander the city and enjoy the day, some football and some beer.

Denver Diner
We started the day with some much-needed breakfast at Stacey’s favorite place – Denver Diner. It is a great somewhat old-fashioned traditional diner. No frills just great food.  We all hungrily dove in and then afterwards decided it was nap time! So we headed back to the hotel J

Ken & I stayed lounging through the entire Navy vs. Air Force game. (What a game!) But Kev & Stacey headed off to GABF. After the football game I decided it was time to go and make our rounds of the breweries that we could walk to. I plotted out options and we set off.

Denver Beer Company
First stop was the one furthest away in the direction we needed to go overall for our meet-up with the Goods later that evening.  This is a new brewery and I was quite excited to try it out especially since I had just learned that their Graham Cracker Porter won a silver medal at GABF. The ambiance is good – very minimalist – but sadly they didn’t have much beer left on tap. As I said to Ken I thought it was quite possible they would need to close for 2 weeks after GABF to make more! I was able to try
  • ·      Rise of the 5th Horseman Saison (aka Pretty Peach Princess)
  • ·      ATAK Buh-na-na Hefeweizen
  • ·      Ichabod’s Revenge Pumpkin’d Ale
  • ·      In da Hood Hop Swap IPA
  • ·      A lime chili beer (can’t remember the name and it’s not on the board)

For as unique fun as their names are I have to say I was unimpressed with the beer itself. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t come back to try it again, I just wouldn’t put it at the top of my list.


~~~~~~~~~~~BEER COUNT: 81 +/-60!~~~~~

Wynkoop Brewery
Ken was not in such good shape at this point (I think I had overbeered him over the previous few days) so I was shocked when he offered up that we should hit up this brewery on our way to our final destination for the evening. He pointed out it was on the way pretty much (as if I needed convincing) so off we went! Wynkoop is a brewpub but we weren’t planning on getting any food so we grabbed a seat at a small table in the bar. It was fairly busy for a Saturday afternoon between lunch and dinner hours.  I am sure you will all be shocked to hear this but I ordered the sampler. It’s a total of 10 beers so the gal said she would bring them out 5 at a time. No problem! At this point Ken is looking very rough so I told him not to worry that I would “take one for the team” and take care of the sampler. 

He was a trooper though and said he would try to do his part.  The beers we got to try were Wixa Weiss, Two Guns Pilsner, Light Rail Ale, Patty’s Chili Beer, Rail Yard Ale, London Calling IPA, Mile HIPA, St. Charles ESB, B3K Schwarzbier (had just one a GABF medal) and Cowtown Milk Stout. All of the beers were excellent but my favorite by far was the Cowtown Milk Stout.

 It was possibly the best beer I had the entire trip!! I could have sat there and drank that ALL DAY LONG! But we had places to go and people to see so we had to head out. On the way out I just had to take a picture with the ape they had in the waiting area.


~~~~~~~~~~~BEER COUNT: 81 +/-60!~~~~~

OLD CHICAGO
We were meeting up with the Buenos (Okay the Goods but they are the Buenos to me!) after their daughter’s soccer game so we tried to pick somewhere that had food, good beer and TVs for the college football that we wanted to watch. Old Chicago was the suggestion from several folks so we went with it. This place has good pizza but they need not kid themselves… it’s not Chicago pizza at least not in the way of Giordanos or Eduardos…. But it is tasty. They have a good beer selection though the waitress we had was useless when it came to any beer questions at all. There are plenty of TVs so we did get to see Purdue get slaughtered by Notre Dame, which made Bueno pretty happy.  Ken rallied and had a great time! 

All in all it was a good evening and I even tried 2 new-to-me beers from Boulder Brewing. I can tell you that we were going to be sad to leave the next day….

THE END OF “THE HOP”
Sunday morning we woke up and decided to wander about and see the capital building as well as the mile high markers. 

I found it interesting that there were a few with different dates so obviously there is some elevation change happening! 

We were amused by the squirrels, which were plentiful and apparently hungry! 

After wandering a bit we tried to go to a diner for breakfast (a different one than the day before – this one was a Triple D) but it was packed so we opted to gather all our stuff and head out to one last beer drinking stop on our way to the airport.

The Bull & Bush Brewery           
We had seen these guys at GABF and Ken was jealous of their jackets so we decided to check them out and get some grub too. They had an extensive menu and we both ended up with a breakfast/brunch item (available since it was the weekend). The portions were HUGE! Oh we also had the cheese dip appetizer which I HIGHLY recommend. Beers tried here included Big Ben Brown, Man Beer,  a stout and a pilsner. I would say the beers were above average though not exceptional. That said this is a stop worth making!

After that it was homeward bound… this was an amazing weekend. We had great beer, great weather, great scenery, great friends to hang out with and an all-around great time! Ken said he doesn’t know if GABF is something he wants to do every year because he prefers to just pick one beer and stick with it. I on the other hand want to make this a yearly pilgrimage!

Final tally….
~BEER COUNT of different beers not beers total: 87 +/-60!~

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Hop - Day 3


Amazingly we weren’t doing too bad when we woke up the morning of Day 3 though we did have to wake up a little earlier than I probably would have liked :) We had an event to get to!

BEER FOR BOOBS BRUNCH
Ladies of Craft Beer sponsored a brunch called Beer for Boobs at Freshcraft to raise money for Breast Cancer Awareness & Research. With the cost of the ticket you got some breakfast as well as the opportunity to buy some interesting beers to try. 

The food was quite good – chicken & waffles, breakfast burritos and potatoes – and was perfect for the morning after a night at GABF! I tried the Beermosa from a Nevada brewery as well as a special Oskar Blues beer which I can’t remember the name of. But settled on a Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout because as far as I am concerned this could be breakfast!!! This event was fantastic and I wish Komen Houston would see how a “cheeky” event like this can be so good for the cause. Unfortunately my experience has been that the Houston office is a little too square for out of the box ideas like this. Here’s to hoping that the DC Chapter will be more open to these kinds of ideas!


~~~~~~~~~~~BEER COUNT: 56 +/- 30!! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

GREAT DIVIDE
After the brunch we decided to continue our Denver Beer tour. We headed to Great Divide Brewery just a few blocks away but the taproom was beyond packed with a hell of a line (the tap room is quite small) but they had an outdoor area set-up where you could go and buy beer and sit and enjoy. That worked for us! We each had some beer and enjoyed the beautiful weather! Ken saved a bug from drowning in his beer and made friends with him... it was a very drunk bug! 

I look forward to going back to Colorado at a non-GABF time so I can check out their taproom!

~~~~~~~~~~~BEER COUNT: 58 +/- 30!! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

BRECKENRIDGE BREWERY – BALLPARK
Just around the corner was Breckenridge and I needed at least a snack to eat because I was hungry again. J You know I had to order the beer sampler and with that I got 2220 Red, 471 IPA, Ballpark Brown, Regal Pilsner, Thunder Stout and their seasonal Autumn Ale. I also asked if they could add on the Vanilla Porter and they were kind enough to indulge me J All the beers were good (I drank them all except the IPA which I naturally gave to Ken) but the most noteworthy to me was the Vanilla Porter because it was different than the average beer you find. I highly recommend giving it a try if you get the chance. I didn’t order a full meal but the chips and guac were very tasty!

After this Kevin, Stacey and Scott were headed off for more Brewery hopping because they didn’t have evening plans for GABF. (They were going to the Homebrew Members only session on Saturday.) Since Ken and I were heading to GABF that night we decided that we needed to go and get in a nap!!

~~~~~~~~~~~BEER COUNT: 65 +/- 30!! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

GREAT AMERICAN BEER FEST DAY 2
One thing that Ken and I learned from the first day of GABF was that it was really rather pointless to wait in the long line (even though it moved fast) because we could show up 25 minutes after door opening time and just waltz in. The difference of 10 minutes inside was worth not waiting in line for an hour or more. So we showed up a little after 6 and walked right in.  It was definitely a very different feel than Thursday night. Thursday was more actual beer fiends who love beer whereas Friday was more younger kids who just wanted to get wasted as opposed to actually experiencing the beers. We went in “normal people” clothes this day but I think if I go 2 days next time perhaps a second beer related outfit might be in order! We did both wear Saint Arnold shirts in support of our good buddies!


I went into Day 2 with a list of beers that were must trys for me – even if they had a line. (Most of these were recommendations from others from brunch that morning.)
  • ·      Banana Split Chocolate Stout from Thomas Creek – LOVED IT! It was dessert in a glass but not too overly sweet – just perfect!!!! I need to get me some more of this but can’t get it here!!! Grrrrrrrr!!
  • ·   Oatmeal Raisin Cookie from Cigar City – They did have a big line but Stacey said it was worth it to wait so we did. Ken of course got some sort of IPA and I got the Oatmeal Raisin Cookie which no kidding tasted just like the cookie!
  • ·      Bacon & Eggs Breakfast Coffee Imperial Porter from Pizza Port Ocean Beach – sadly they were out :(
  • ·      Hopitoulas IPA from NOLA Breweing – obviously for Ken and he loved it!
  • ·      Anything from Three Floyds in Munster – I tried the Munster Fest, a Marzen style beer, and was not over the moon about it. I found it average but apparently I don’t know what I am talking about because it won a medal in its category! Perhaps I just got a pour from a bad bottle….

Other breweries that I tried beers from included Hopworks Urban Brewery (Portland, OR), Pizza Port Ocean City (cracked me up their IPA is called “While the Wife’s Away), Shorts Brewing (Joyous Almond – a brown ale with lovely hints of almond, chocolate and coconut. It was a smooth well balanced beer that wasn’t too terribly sweet.), Snake River (again!), 512 (Austin) and FatHeads. I tried MANY MANY more than this but just didn’t take as many pictures this day so I don’t have documentation.

I also got into a very in-depth conversation with the guys from Goose Island. Being away from the area I did not realize that Goose Island had sold out to InBev until Kevin & Stacey told me. This infuriated me! How could a hometown brew sell out to the big evil conglomerate?!?! I was bound and determine to find out. So when Ken had to go to the bathroom (GABF is one of the only places I’ve been where the men’s line is soooooooo much longer than the women’s for the restrooms.) I headed to Goose Island to see what they had to say for themselves. I approached and there were 2 actual Goose Island guys there. (The reason I say this as if it’s noteworthy is frequently breweries have volunteers from the Denver area pouring beers.) I tried to be as nice as possible but flat out asked along the lines of “I no longer live in the area and sadly just found out that you sold out to InBev. What gives?!) The first guys was very confrontational and pissy. The second guy stepped in and was much more reasonable to talk to. Come to find out this guy is the head brewer. I won’t bore everyone with all the details (because many of you don’t give a rats rear about the evils of InBev and such) but if you want the full play-by-play let me know and I will be happy to share it with you. Bottom line is the guy admitted he was not happy about it. But he also said now he has more liberty (read money and ability to not be as efficient) to ply around and do “odd” and/or trendy things such as sours.  Oh heck… I’m going to write an entire blog entry on this Goose Island issue just as soon as I finish my trip reports because I am so bothered by the whole InBev – Goose Island thing! So hold on for that one and I’ll give you this whole story in its entirety plus some additional background on the issue.

On a happier note I got to meet Zane Lamprey and he is exactly like he is on his show J I do have to say I prefer “Three Sheets” to “Drinking Made Easy” though…


After GABF we decided that was all we had in us for the night so off to the hotel we went…. We had another day of brewery hopping ahead of us….

~~~~~~~~~~~BEER COUNT: 76 +/- 60!! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Hop - Day 2

We awoke in Fort Collins and just loved the weather so much that we simply had to go for a run! I know crazy right after a night of brewery hopping! Plus we had to make more room in our tummies for more beer!

After the run we headed out and about to purchase advance lift tickets for our Thanksgiving trip to Winter Park. If you are in Colorado before ski season Christy Sports has a great deal for 4 days of lift tickets (any 4 days not consecutive or 4 of 5) for $159. Catch is you have to be there to have your photo taken to have put on the pass. And I should say the prices I just quoted are for Winter Park – they have deals for other slopes in Colorado too!

SNARF’S
We debated and debated about what we wanted for lunch. Finally we decided on this sandwich shop based on the recommendation of someone at Christy Sports. To us it is a traditional type of sandwich shop you'd find in the North. Excellent food - no frills but extremely tasty!


ODELL BREWING COMPANY
First stop of the day for beer – Odell Brewing Company. This was the most recommended brewery in Fort Collins so naturally we had to stop by there. We lucked out and they were running extra tours for the day since it was GABF time. We snuck into a non-publicized tour as the last 2 attendees. Woo hoo! The tour itself is much less “formal” shall we say than the New Belgium one. But you literally walk right on the floor there and production is going on so it’s loud and you couldn’t hear the gal talking.  But we did get to see their brewing area, bottling line, cellar, kegging line and their centrifuge, which is a new technique. 

We also got to sample their Isolation Ale (their Winter seasonal) that hadn’t actually been released for the year yet. As I mentioned before I love winter ales so this was right up my alley! Perhaps what was most impressive was when we got out of the tour we were chatting with the gal there about which sampler we should purchase since there were 3 options. There were so many beers to choose from! No kidding between 15-20. She gave us free tasters of 2 of her favorites and then recommended we try the pilot and the classic samplers. (She was so sweet the 2 beers she gave us weren’t on the samplers. Apparently she could tell I like to try it all!!!) The samplers were quite impressive and included
·      CLASSIC:  Easy Street (Wheat Beer), Levity (Amber Ale), 5 Barrel Pale Ale, 90 Schilling (considered their Flagship – I HIGHLY recommend!),  IPA (I was not a fan but then again I don’t like IPAs. Since Ken loves IPA he’s the one to ask about that one and I am pretty sure he was a fan.) & Cutthroat Porter
·      PILOT:  Bird Seed Blonde, OomPah Oktoberfest, Nitro 5 Barrel, Town Pump Pail Ail, Fir Na Tine, Nitro Cutthroat Porter

Honestly all of the beers were very good and I would recommend trying any and all of them! You’ll notice I’ve quit describing the beers in depth and I apologize for that. Given the number of beers I tasted this weekend it’s hard for me to articulate on most of them anymore. I can tell you what I like and what I don’t like however!! I promise to try and do better in the future!

The brewery/tap house at Odell was quite nice to just lounge about as well. Lots of tables inside as well as quite a few outside. They have some small snacks (popcorn, crackers, chocolate etc.) and you can borrow their games to play as long as you are willing to give them your credit card as collateral. Given their amazing selection of beer and the “funness” of the place I could absolutely see us hanging out there on a regular basis if we lived nearby! Worth noting – here you could buy full pints in addition to the tasters. I forgot to mention about New Belgium that you can’t buy pints there – actually you can’t buy any beer to consume it’s only the tour beers that you can get.


~~~~~~~~~~~BEER COUNT: 26~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I decided at this point I wanted to start counting how many different beers I tried. Worth noting what is considered in this number is any beer that I tried in a sampler, pint or even just tasted off of Ken’s pint.

It as time to get on the road to head to Denver but since we lucked into an early tour at Odell we had a little bit of time to spare so…. Where to next was the thought on our minds?

LEFT HAND BREWING
Longmont, Colorado just so happened to pretty much be on the way to Denver and I am a fan of Left Hand so we decided to stop there on route. The brewery and Taproom is about 8 miles off the main highway. We arrived and noticed that the parking lot was pretty full. Walking in sadly it became clear that the staff there was not prepared for the onslaught of people that were there compliments of GABF being “in the general neighborhood.” (To be fair – all breweries in Colorado were probably slammed because since people come from all over the world for GABF any brewery within 2 hours of Denver was “in the general neighborhood.”) There were only 2 people working the taproom and they were beyond struggling to keep up. After about 10 minutes I managed to wrangle one of them to pour us a sampler. The taproom was nowhere near as big as Odell – about 4 tables inside, plus a bunch of seats at the bar (all full at this point) and a few tables outside. (Though it seemed like there was another room full of tables off to the back that wasn’t in use – why it wasn’t is beyond me.) We chose to site outside and enjoy our choices.  Samplers were quite reasonable - $1 per taster which was good size. Unfortunately the Double IPA that Ken wanted to try was out so instead we got:

·      Milk Stout on Nitro – cream stout with roasted malt served on Nitrogen; DELICIOUS! This drink is like a meal in a glass or could be a great substitute for breakfast! They use actual cream in there to give the beer it’s depth
·      Good Juju – Light Ale brewed with Ginger; Very interesting and light but I couldn’t drink too much of it because I am not a huge ginger fan (that said of course we emptied all our glasses here!)
·      400 Pound Monkey – IPA; As usual Ken was a fan I was not
·      Wake Up Dead – Russian Imperial Stout; Very big beer, very complex, enjoyed a bit of it but couldn’t drink a whole pint I don’t think
Since service was so difficult to get we decided that instead of trying to get a few more beers it was time to head to Denver and get checked into our hotel

~~~~~~~~~~~BEER COUNT: 30 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

CROWNE PLAZA HOTEL – DOWNTOWN DENVER
This hotel is perfect for GABF because it’s literally a half a block away from the convention center where GABF is held and it is very close to 16th where LOADS of restaurants and bars etc. are located. I am a very loyal Intercontinental Hotels Group customer (IHG is Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Intercontinental, Staybridge Suites,  Candlewood Suites and Indigo Suites.)  With all the travel we do by being a loyal customer I have found that we frequently get complimentary upgrades and this time was no exception. We got a lovely suite that had a separate sitting room with an extra bathroom. Since there are such a variety of hotels in the chain I highly recommend joining their loyalty club called Priority Club.


GREAT AMERICAN BEER FEST DAY 1!!!
Wow – where to start?
Walking into the Hall I felt like a kid in a candy store.  So many beers so many breweries…. This is Mecca for Beer Lovers.  Ken and I had to enter through a different line than Kevin, Stacey and Scott because they are Homebrew Association Members and we are not but we quickly met up with them.  Kevin, Stacey, Ken and myself decided to dress the part and wore our Oktoberfest garb. (Well to be fair – Stacey and I decided and told the husbands that they were going to!) I have to say that this added to the fun of the evening because we got lots of compliments and even some overpours as a result. You may be wondering what’s the point of the pretzel necklaces… the purpose is two-fold 1) as a palate cleanser and 2) to assist you in hopefully not getting too drunk too fast! You’ll see LOTS of people walking around with them at GABF. Many thanks to Stacey and Kev for this key tip to us newbies!


How GABF works for anyone who hasn’t been… there are breweries from all over the country in booths pouring various selections of their beers. You get a taster cup when you come in the door that has a 1oz pour line marked on it. That is all they are allowed to pour but let me tell you… you can still drink A LOT of beer that way! Throughout the festival you’ll hear large collective groans and ooohhhhhh kind of noises throughout the convention hall. This means some silly person has dropped their cup. They better hope it doesn’t break because they won’t replace it for you if it does :(


Some fun facts about this year’s GABF (according to my t-shirt that I bought there):
3 Days
472 Breweries
2,375 Beers
3,940 Beers in the Competition
2,900 volunteers
32,000 people
30 years – and still going strong
0 Larger Festivals in the Nation

You’ll notice a discrepancy between beers and beers in the competition. Many breweries will bring a special beer to be judged for the competition that they aren’t pouring because they simply don’t have enough of it. Medals – gold, silver and bronze – are awarded in a variety of categories. To win one of these is a HUGE achievement in the beer world.


I can’t even begin to tell you all the beers I tasted. Here’s where my beer count falls apart…. I would say I tasted 75 beers this night with an error factor of +/- 30… I drank a few from Sierra Nevada that I have not seen in the bottle before and they were quite good (Sierra Nevada also had some nice swag – posters, carabineer keychains, beer tasting booklets and pens). Other breweries I made at least 1 taste at include Figure Eight (Out of Valpariso, IN – right down the way from where I grew up. I can assure you I will be checking them out on my next trip back to Northwest Indiana), Lakefront Brewery (Milwaukee),  Metropolitan Brewing (Chicago), Goose Island (Chicago – but more about them in the bit about my second day of GABF),  Laughing Dog Brewing (ask Ken about the Laughing Dog tattoo application),  Napa Smith Brewery (A beer called Lost Dog – Stacey and I tended to gravitate towards beers and breweries that  had dog names when we saw them… I am sure you are all so shocked about that!), Oskar Blues Brewery (they also had some great beer can “necklaces” that held your taster glass quite nicely that they were giving away), Firestone Walker (They had a beer that had Ken’s favorite name! Of course he had to try that one!!!! What was even more hilarious was the gal pouring had no idea what it meant!!),  Uncle Billy’s Brew & Que (Austin), Snake River Brewing (Had their beers when we were in Jackson Hole before as well – I told the guys at the table that they saved my life because that was the trip I learned to snowboard and I was soooooooooo in need of beer when I got off them mountain and their brewpub was right there for me!),  Trinity Brewing Company (Colorado Springs; Our friend Brock – the owner of Saint Arnold – recommended that this was the one place we absolutely had to try. Ken loved “Slap your Mammy” a huge double IPA. On Brock’s recommendation I tried “The Flavor” a very complex and interesting black kriek as well as “Brain of the Turtle” which was a sour with some coffee and cheery notes. This is where I started to come around to the idea of sours.), Boulder Beer, Bull & Bush,  Pub Dog (Westminister, MD), Icicle (Washington State), Il Vicino Brewery (Albuquerque), Flossmoor Station Brewing Company (Illinois)… and definitely more. These are just the ones that I took pictures of the banners etc. And I know I did not take pictures of every banner where I drank beer. Are you getting the picture that there is a bit of beer at GABF? :)


I mentioned our friend Brock – he perhaps had the toughest ;) job… he was not only there representing Saint Arnold, he was also a judge. So he had to start drinking at 9:30am! I have to be honest – I wouldn’t want that job. There are so many great beers that I would have a heck of a time picking what beers were best! We did go by the Saint Arnold area and said Hello to our buddy Lennie. We were quite happy to see that many people were coming by to enjoy their beer. I’ve been telling Ken that when we move to Annapolis every extra inch of space in our cars will be stuffed with Saint Arnold since I have become so fond of it and we won’t be able to get it in Maryland!

Perhaps a highlight of the evening was that I got to meet Sam Calagione the Dogfish Head Founder & President. If you are a beer fan and you have not watched the movie “Beer Wars” you really need to. You will never buy a beer from one of the major crappy beer companies again. Sam is in this and quite the character. Was glad when I met him that he was just as I expected :) And a really nice guy!


At 9:45 after 4 hours and 15 minutes they hollered at us all that it was last call :( While it was a sad moment it was probably just as well! We got our last taster from the Pro-Am area (there’s a competition where a professional brewery partners with an amateur home brewer and enters a beer into a competition. Some of them were fantastic!) and headed out.

We need a bit of food so we trued to go to The Yard House but it was PACKED so we wandered further and ended up at a better non-chain place…

THE PARAMOUNT CAFÉ
Fantastic service, good food and a great beer selection. In fact they had a specialty list that the server was trying to sell 1 of all 4 bottles (because if he did he would get to go on a trip to a local brewery for work) so we helped him out by ordering 1. I had the bison burger which was quite excellent. At this point we all started to crater because we were tired…. So after we finished our chow we headed back to our hotel to get some sleep so we could get up and continue our beer festivities again….

~~~~~~~~~~~BEER COUNT: 53 +/- 30!! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Stay tuned for Day 3 of The Hop......

Monday, October 3, 2011

Beer Pilgrimage - Day 1 Recap & Reviews

Ken has decided that we should call this trip “The Hop” since individuals making the Pilgrimage to Mecca call their trip “The Haj.” I am on board with this thought because having a name for what I would like to see become a fairly regular trip adds to the entertainment value!

DAY 1
We arrived in Denver and had decided to go to Fort Collins for an evening to check out that scene. We checked into our hotel room before heading out in search of beer.

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS – FORT COLLINS
Decent location. Great room rate! Nice rooms. Free breakfast in the morning and cookies at night. The staff was very friendly. For Priority Club members you got to try and toss a few ping pong balls into some cups to win various things (like free water, extra points, a candy bar, room upgrade) which I thought was a really cute idea. Apparently I need to work on my beer pong skills though because I didn’t sink either of my 2 balls so I gave the last 2 to Ken and he didn’t either. Oh well!

We headed out to make a stop at the grocery store to pick up a case of water and some pretzels (more explanation on the pretzels later) and then went straight away towards our first stop. Driving through the city of Fort Collins we were struck by how much there seems to be to do there. It’s somewhat quaint but also very happening at the same time. Off to our first stop…

NEW BELGIUM BREWERY
Since this brewery is so well-known and so popular reservations are a must. (Since it was GABF week I made my reservations about a month prior and boy was I glad I did since it was super busy!) Upon arrival you check-in and get a “token” that you can turn in for a beer at the bar while you wait. We enjoyed our beers while wandering the taproom area and taking a look at the various bicycle part furniture and such.  The tour begins with a history of Fat Tire. (As well as a beer sample!) It’s a great story and I’ll give you an abbreviated version – the founder went on a bicycle tour across Belgium on a bike that had a little bit fatter of a tire than the usual road bike. On this trip he decided he wanted to brew Belgian beers and New Belgium Brewery was born. The first beer that was brewed by New Belgium was the Abbey Ale, the second was Fat Tire and the third was the Wedding Wit (brewed for his wedding of course) but the name was later changed to Sunshine because having a beer called wedding in a college town just didn’t seem like it would work so well!


We got a very in-depth tour of the brewery, which is quite a large facility. The brewery was founded on 3 principles
1.     Good Beer
2.     Sustainability
3.     Whimsy
The idea of sustainability is that they are trying to have as little environmental impact as possible and to give back to the community. New Belgium was “Green” before green became the new trend. They have the largest private solar farm in either the state or the country (sorry can’t remember which), they trap their methane off-gassing to re-use, all of their trim and doors are made from beetle killed pine and a whole bunch of other environmentally friendly stuff. Perhaps the neatest is that on your first year anniversary of employment you get a Fat Tire Bike. And you can tell that many (if not most of the employees do ride their bikes to work.


We got to see the bottling line in work and it’s quite an impressive operation. While at the bottling facility they brought out some bottle of freshly bottled “Snow Day” a winter warmer beer that will be replacing “Two Below” for the next few years.  TASTY! I personally enjoy winter type beers so I don’t mind when they are big and heavy but this beer is not overpowering so I think it is one that everyone could enjoy.


Along the way we also got to pour our own beer from the taps and then the last beer of the day was something that has become the new “thing” in craft beers – sours. New Belgium has been experimenting with this new sour beer trend and we all got to try this. I think it’s telling that they offered us all samples of this considering that they make no money on these sour beers even when they sell them – they basically break even on it. The beer is called La Folie. The beer flavor is just like you would think – sour but there is complexity to it and it hits you in different parts of your mouth. Ken was not a fan and I was on the fence on this. (I later found out that this sour was a bit heavier than some other sours so as the weekend progressed I tasted some of the other sours at various places and they are definitely growing on me!)


To finish out the tour we got the chance to partake in the whimsy part of the brewery foundation. The crew at New Belgium believes that you should always have fun and you can see this throughout the brewery. The last stop on our tour was a twisty slide that we were all invited to slide down. Naturally I was all over that!


While I will give you that New Belgium Beers tend to be good beers but rarely outstanding and different I love that they are consistently good beers. And this brewery tour was perhaps the best actual brewery tour I have ever been on so I highly recommend it!

GRAVITY TEN TWENTY & FORT COLLINS BREWERY
There is certainly no shortage of breweries in Fort Collins but I was in need of some food after our New Belgium tour since I hadn’t had a proper meal all day long and it was already a little past 6pm.  Practically a stone’s throw away was the Fort Collins Brewery and attached restaurant (the restaurant had come highly recommended). We got there a little too late to go into the Fort Collins taproom but luckily the restaurant was more than happy to help me out with a sampler. I can’t remember if I’ve said this before but in case I haven’t… I love beer samplers! I love to be able to try a variety of beers to see what each place has come up with!
I ordered the beer cheese soup that comes with some beer bread and butter. The soup was delicious – very cheesy with hints of ale and the addition of a little bacon on top was a great touch! The bread was phenomenal but not as phenomenal as the stout butter that it came with. This butter was so delicious that it almost tasted liked ice cream!! DELISH! Ken got a Cuban and I had a taste for a burger so that’s what I got. Both were very good. Beer-wise… I would not rank Fort Collins beers near the top of the pack but they were average. I had the Red Banshee (Red Ale), Z Lager (Smoked Lager) – this also happens to be what the beer cheese soup was made with, Chocolate Stout (Dry Stout) and the Doppel Bock.  Bottom line is DEFINITELY go for the food. If you are pressed for time and are trying to figure out which breweries to go to and can’t hit them all don’t put this brewery to the top of your list. (But if you’re eating there anyway then try the beers out!)


THE MAYOR
We had asked around at New Belgium and also asked our server at dinner where we should consider going for our last stop of the night since by the time we were done the brewery tap rooms were obviously closed. The suggestion from everyone was a new bar called The Mayor where they have 100 beers on tap. We went in for just 1 beer and were quite impressed with their selection. They have the taps organized by style and there is a computer projection on the wall above to tell you all the beers available. Didn’t check out any food but I have the feeling we will be back sometime!

So ends day 1…..