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Entries about beer

Columbus, Ohio

OHIO - PART II

sunny 30 °F

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Columbus is The Ohio State University. Maybe it is the number of times I have heard players emphasize the "The" when announcing their school on Monday Night Football. Regardless of the reason, it was our first stop when driving into Columbus.

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It reminded me a little of NC State, probably due to the color red that was everywhere. Students were on winter break when we arrived, so we didn't see many people walking around campus. I wanted to see the football stadium since it is one of the largest in the nation (Megan was more interested in finding a buckeye). The football stadium isn't the only large part to this campus, Ohio State has the third largest campus in the country. It took us a while to walk down to the football stadium.

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The stadium was pretty large, but the cool part was the river that passed right by the stadium. Across the river you could see the basketball arena. We rested our legs by leaning over the bridge and watching logs get trapped against the supports of the bridge.

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On the other side of the football stadium was a courtyard that had been planted with rows of buckeye trees. Apparently the first 22 were planted in a football formation, but all the others honored the top football players that had played at Ohio State. I took a picture of Megan looking for buckeyes that may still be remaining on the ground.

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We made our way back through campus to grab a quick bite to eat. The only restaurant that looked open was Wendy's, and they had the Bengals game on TV! I never get to watch the Bengals live in Raleigh, so we took our time with our bowls of chili to watch the game.

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Before the sun went down, we wanted to check out another section of town called German Village. As the name would suggest, German Village was originally settled by German immigrants. This area of town still has streets made of brick (with a trough in the middle for horse whiz and snow runoff). All the homes used traditional Christmas decorations. German Village was pretty, but the look comes with a steep price. A medium sized house was listed for over a million dollars!

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German Village has some traditional shops and restaurants as well. One restaurant in particular had caught Megan's eye on The Food Network's Man vs. Food for its Sausage Autobahn, an all-you-can-eat sausage buffet. German food mean German beer, so was I all for it. We stopped for dinner at Schmidt's Sausage Haus.

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Schmidt's was packed! Luckily we didn't have to wait for a table since we only had 2 people, but we got shot some dirty looks when we bypassed everyone in line upon checking in. After a quick glance at the menu, we both decided on the Sausage Autobahn. Schmidt's makes 4 types of homemade sausage along with a large variety of other traditional German foods, and it all looked delicious (I hadn't seen German food this good since we were in Sheboygan). While I took my time trying to get a little of everything, Megan took off at 100 mph down the Sausage Autobahn.

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After multiple returns to the buffet, I couldn't even look at another sausage. Unfortunately for me, Schmidt's has another delicious tradition—giant creme puffs. These creme puffs took two hands to eat and were jam packed with different flavors of creme, and they were fantastic!

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We ordered one extra creme puff as a gift for our Couch Surfing host in Columbus. We left Schmidts (slowly since we were so stuffed) and headed back through downtown. Our host for the night, Tom, wanted to meet us at a local bar near his house. Just like James (our Cleveland host), Tom was easy to talk to and had a ton of stories to tell us about Columbus. I talked to Tom about life in Raleigh and Cincinnati while Megan slowly drifted into a sausage-induced coma. After a couple of beers, we headed back to the house and crashed for the night. Tom was such a great host that he went late to work the next morning to take us out to breakfast at a diner around the corner from his house.

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The real reason for our trip to Michigan/Ohio was the Columbus Zoo. Megan knew that I absolutely love zoos and discovered that the Columbus Zoo is one of the highest rated zoos in the world (largely because of the work of director "Jungle Jack" Hanna). When Southwest offered $100 tickets to Columbus (I guess people don't like flying north in the middle of winter), it sounded like an awesome opportunity. We said goodbye to Tom and made our way to the zoo.

Despite the zoo's popularity, it was empty on Monday morning (I'm sure the sub 30s temperature didn't help either). We had the zoo to ourselves. Unfortunately, many of the outdoor exhibits were closed for the season, so we had to observe the animals in their inside enclosures.

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The zoo was pretty large, but it didn't seem too much larger than some of the other zoos I had visited. What made the Columbus Zoo so nice was the extensive detail put into all the enclosures. The aquariums were stunning and enormous. The reptile house and bat house were made to accommodate large groups of people. The manatee enclosure made me feel like I was standing on a dock in Florida.

Some of the more active animals were the gorillas and bonobos (a primate that looks similar to a chimpanzee). We were able to stand right next to the gorillas (they were eye level and only separated by a pane of glass). Two younger gorillas wrestled on the ground while the large male occasionally broke up the fighting. He also gave Megan a look when she sat down next to him!

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The bonobos had just been fed when we walked by their enclosure, so they were very active. Their enclosure looked like an elementary school playground, filled with slides and monkey bars. It was astonishing to see how quickly and easily they climbed around the enclosure (sometimes scaling the walls using only the tiny bolts that secured the glass). One bonobo was playing with a spinning seat by throwing objects into the seat and spinning it around until they went flying out. Even the baby was playing around by going up and down the slide.

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We wandered through the Australian animals, the African animals, and the South American animals, but about half of these exhibits were closed or could only view the animals indoors. The real action was in the North America section which had all of its outdoor exhibits still open.

We saw a wolverine lounging in a hole, bald eagles eating mice, and an arctic fox chewing on its enclosure. These animals were all very active, moving around their enclosures and playing.

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There are too many animals to even try to name all the ones we saw. Deer, bison, reindeer, wolves, foxes, antelope, goats, pigs—the list goes on and on. Megan did her best to look Canadian by posing with a moose holding her Tim Horton's coffee.

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The bears were some of the scarier exhibits. The polar bear was big, but it was nothing compared to the grizzlies that were sleeping up against the glass. These things were gigantic! After seeing these guys, maybe I should have been a little more nervous on our early morning hike in Glacier National Park!

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We spent nearly 6 hours walking around the zoo, and that's with no lines and some of the exhibits closed. I'm sure Megan was getting tired of me spouting off my ancient Ranger Rick knowledge (for those that don't remember Ranger Rick, it was a kid's animal magazine). Despite our tired legs and Megan's tired ears, we enthusiastically entered the last animal house. We had saved a special treat for last, the elephants (there was a baby elephant).

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I could have spent another whole day at the zoo, but we had to leave. Our flight back to Raleigh was leaving in a couple of hours. Sausages and animals, I don't know if I could have asked for more.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 12:30 Archived in USA Tagged animals beer colleges local_food Comments (0)

The 11 Countries of Epcot - A Bachelor Party in Disney World

STATE 23 - FLORIDA

sunny 100 °F

10 guys are looking for a destination bachelor party. Vegas? Too cliché. New Orleans? Done that. The beach? Did that too. How about a place that appeals to everyone? Disney World!

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10 guys piled into one van and hit the road to head south to Florida. The road trip is half the fun, and we definitely made the most of it. The first stop was the Florida visitor center. Florida is so proud of their orange juice (74% of all US oranges are grown in Florida), they give everyone as much as they can drink for free!

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Our next step was a quick drive further south in Jacksonville, the Budweiser Brewery (it is a bachelor party, you know it wouldn't take long for alcohol to enter the picture).

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Unsurprisingly, the Budweiser brewery wasn't too much different from the Coors Brewery in Golden, CO and the Miller Brewery in Milwaukee. Just like for the Miller tour, we had a person that showed us around the brewery and gave us the details on how Budweiser is made.

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Malted grains, hops, lager yeast, cold storage—the same basic process that beer makers have been following for centuries. Budweiser's main innovation is using beechwood in the fermentation process to help the lager yeast better process the sugars. After a quick run through the factory, we entered the tasting room. A couple of cold ones later (and 3 bags of pretzels apiece), we were back on the road to Orlando.

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So the plan for the bachelor party was to "drink around the world". Epcot has 11 countries, each recreated as authentic as possible (as authentic as a major resort can be). Each country is staffed only by native residents, has authentic food, traditional entertainment, and most importantly, authentic beverages. We pulled into Epcot, eager to start the bar crawl. First things first, we posed with the iconic "golf ball", Spaceship Earth.

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The countries are laid out in a giant loop around a lake. We chose to go counter-clockwise, starting with our neighbor to the north, Canada! It was only 10 in the morning, but our Canadian bartender didn't even flinch when we ordered 10 Moosehead beers.

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With beers in hand, we walked through the Canadian Rockies, past Niagara Falls, and through an Inuit village. About the only thing not authentic about our surroundings was the Florida heat. We paused inside the Canadian gold mine to drink our beer in the air conditioning.

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On our way out of Canada, we paused to see how many people could fit into a Canadian phone booth. We even had some anti-American talk when a group of foreigners claimed that we could have fit twice as many people in if we hadn't been "super-sized Americans".

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The next country was the United Kingdom (UK refers to the union of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, while Great Britain refers to the largest island of the British Isles containing England, Scotland, and Wales). Where else to grab a local brew but in an English Pub?

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We convinced the barkeeps to serenade us with the British national anthem, God Save the Queen. Interestingly enough, the words to the anthem change when a king rules the country, to God Save the King. It was tough to leave the comfy surroundings of the pub and head back into the sticky, humid heat.

The next country was France, which was located across a channel. Street artists and performers filled the center square, recreating the artistic backdrop of Paris. An acrobatic display was ensuing as a man balanced himself on a stacked table and chairs. A delightful smell made its way to our group, and we headed into the closest pastry shop.

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The pastries were delicious, and between our group, I think we sampled one of everything.

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While most of us stuck to a French beer, Erik wandered off into a French store, tried on the local garb, and left with a glass of French champagne (champagne refers to wine produced in the Champagne region of France, versus the more widely produced sparkling wine).

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We left the artful country of France behind, and entered the more gritty Morocco. Not passing the opportunity to get some Moroccan food, I grabbed lunch to eat in the open air cafe. The lamb, hummus, tabouli, and couscous were delicious, and the open air cafe was surprisingly cool.

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While enjoying the Moroccan beer, we noticed a long line forming along the waterfront. Someone informed us that Aladdin and Princess Jasmine were scheduled to make an appearance, so we jumped in line with the rest of the 9 year-olds to anxiously await their arrival. It might have been the beers, but Aladdin's joke to Ryan that "marriage is a whole new world" had us laughing pretty hard.

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After talking to Aladdin, I realized that Disney paid attention to even the most minor details. Aladdin and Jasmine never broke character for a second, responding to questions about Abu without missing a beat. The buildings, food, and entertainment were painstakingly authentic, and even the bathrooms were decorated in Moroccan style.

The next country was Japan, complete with temples and Japanese drummers. Several members of the group grabbed some sushi for lunch. Ryan, Greg, and I skipped the Japanese beer for a drink of hot sake (it didn't go well with the 100 degree heat).

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We took a break from the bar crawl to head back to the center of Epcot to ride a few rides. Disney has a "fast pass" system that allows you to grab a ticket for a ride and return at a specified time. This way you don't waste time waiting in line, but rather show up and jump on without any hassle. We rode "Soarin'", a simulated hang gliding experience through California. As you pass over the ocean, you can smell the salt in the air and feel the sea breeze in your face. You pass an orange grove and can smell the citrus. Flying over the forest, you can smell the pine trees. All this while hovering 40 feet above the ground in a mock hang glider. It was entertaining, but I'm glad we didn't wait longer than 10 minutes to ride it. After leaving "Soarin'", we passed my favorite Disney character, Figment.

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On our way back to continue the bar crawl, we passed the ride Captain EO. Captain EO is a 4D experience (a 3D movie with special effects that make you feel like you are involved in the scenes). Captain EO is a science fiction film that mixes a Michael Jackson music video with Star Wars-like action sequences. A couple members of the group begged the rest of us to wait for the next showing, so we made our way into the theater. The 1980s 3D effects left you with a headache, and Michael Jackson's acting was atrocious, but the overall movie was about what you'd expect. If anything, it saved us from the heat for another 30 minutes. One member of our group, Dave, decided to play in the fountains for a little extra refreshment.

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We walked back to the country loop to pick up where we left off. The halfway point around the loop was home, sweet, home, the United States. In America we watched a Revolutionary-era band perform and then ordered a round of Sam Adams. The effects of the beer flowing full effect, we convinced a cute American beer-maiden to take a picture with us.

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Our next stop was Italy, decorated in the more modern Italian style of Venice with only a hint of ancient Rome. Here the group had some gelato and Italian beer, and briefly posed in front of Neptune.

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We entered Oktoberfest in Germany next, and after breezing through the previous two countries, we took our time here. Some of us wandered through the German beer caves while others chatted with German bartenders. A German woman showed us giant beer tankards and das boot (as cool as they were, I was afraid to hold it for the $200 price tag). I grabbed a warm, German soft pretzel that went perfect with the Oktoberfest beer.

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We left Germany and headed into China. The smell of stir-fry and eggrolls filled the Chinese market. All of the workers at Disney had been overly courteous and accommodating to our large group, but the Chinese went above and beyond. They taught members of our group Chinese phrases and posed in multiple pictures. I'm not sure if they found us entertaining in our slightly intoxicated state, or they were genuinely interested in mingling with us. We grabbed another quick bite to eat, drank another beer, and continued on our way.

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Norway was my favorite stop. The bachelor party felt most at home in the Viking decorated Norwegian village. Cute bartenders convinced us to take the "viking test", which was to take a shot of Norse liquor without making a face. Jon opted for another pastry, the "Viking Horn". Our party hung out in the viking hall while we finished the Norwegian beers. Night was beginning to fall, but we only had one more country left, Mexico.

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It was ironic that the only country located entirely indoors was the one we visited last. Mexico was located inside an Incan temple. Locals were making trinkets by hand while intimidating temples loomed overhead.

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Some of the group went straight to the tequila bar, while the rest of us ordered margaritas. Nothing like ending a bar crawl with a hard liquor drink.

A few of us left the bar and went back outside to get ready for the fireworks show. Epcot, like the rest of the Disney parks, puts on an extravagant fireworks show every night. 30 minutes of fire, rockets, and floating displays mesmerized the crowd. It was impressive, but after the show, we hustled out of the park to catch the bus to go out in downtown Disney.

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The bachelor party was a load of fun, but some members of the group paid for that fun on the car trip back home.

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Posted by Mike.Flynn 13:10 Archived in USA Tagged beer brewery bachelor_party Comments (0)

3 Reasons to Visit Idaho Other than the Potatoes

STATE 21 - IDAHO

sunny 75 °F

When I (someone living in the opposite corner of the country) think of Idaho, I think of the Idaho potatoes. I have never met anyone from Idaho, and I've never been there personally, so there really hasn't been anything or anyone to educate me about the state. Well, I am going to set you straight (if you are as clueless about Idaho as I used to be). I am going to share 3 reasons to visit Idaho other than the potatoes (although there is a 1 in 3 chance your potato came from Idaho)!

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Western Idaho (along with eastern Washington) is known for its great tasting wines. Vineyard after vineyard passed by the first hour driving through Idaho. The slightly arid climate and hilly landscape give long period of sunlight during grape-growing season. The grapes have a concentrated fruit flavor, perfect for making wine (similar to the wine country in South Australia). Here is one of the vineyards we passed just after we entered Idaho.

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The hills grew larger, eventually forming mountains. Trees filled the countryside, and lakes filled the valleys. Western Idaho is very scenic. We turned north to head to Sandpoint, ID in the skinny northern section of the state. Few cars were on the road, and there were even fewer towns. Most of the area here is reserved for National Forests. This leads me to Reason #1 to Visit Idaho Other than the Potatoes: Lots of forests, trails, and rivers. It's an outdoorsman's paradise. As far as the eye can see, the land is unspoiled by humans, and the land that is being used is for growing grapes for wine!

We eventually wound our way into Sandpoint (couldn't miss it, the highway slows to 25mph when it forms the main street in town). It had the feeling of a small beach town. Most of the people were on foot wearing bathing suits or riding bikes. We parked the car and walked through the town. The town was only about 5 blocks long, but it was the biggest town I had seen since entering Idaho (most of the people in the state live in the southern end near Boise). It was relaxing, no one seemed to be in a hurry to go anywhere. A bluegrass band played some mountain music while people moved in and out of the shops.

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Megan and I went into one of the wineries in town to try some of the wine we passed by on the road. The winery was called Pend D'Oreille, named after the local Indian tribe that lived around the lake. They had a variety of wines, choosing not to focus one particular type of grape. Megan got excited when they had 3 different types of desert wine for her to try.

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We chatted with the bartender about being from North Carolina, and he kept our glasses filled. I could have sat in there all day, but we wanted to see Lake Pend Oreille and some of the trails in the area. We thanked the bartender and headed back out onto main street.

We walked through town towards the lake access. To my surprise, a giant beach surrounded the park next to the lake. No wonder it felt like a beach town! This was the closest beach for some of these land-locked Idahoans.

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It wasn't exactly hot outside compared to a North Carolina summer, but it was roasting for northern Idaho. Everyone was at the beach, playing in the sand and splashing in the water. People were riding skateboards and bikes along the walkway lining the beach. We both waded into the water, and then promptly got out (it was chilly!).

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We continued down the beach. People were grilling out and sunbathing, while kids dove off floating logs serving as a swimming barrier. Every person for miles was probably on the beach, and it was hardly crowded at all. The mountains rising over the clear, blue water was very pretty. Reason #2 for Visiting Idaho Other than the Potatoes: It is hard to beat the views.

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We followed a trail going around the lake. A few people passed us on bikes, but for the most part the trail was empty. We passed by some swimmers that were doing half mile loops in the lake (most of them we wearing wetsuits). Megan found the "biggest dandelion in the world", and proceeded to blow the seeds into the wind.

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The trail eventually went over a bridge, so we stopped to watch the sun set over the water. The lake and surrounding mountains were absolutely beautiful. The air was clean and refreshing. A train went over a nearby bridge, adding to the backdrop.

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We walked back into town to try the local brewery and get some dinner. Megan has come a long way, from disliking all beer to now enjoying a few of the darker varieties. It is my belief that she makes up her mind whether she is going to like something before she even tries it, so I challenged her to a blind beer taste test. I ordered a sampler of beer and had her blindly taste all the varieties in the brewery.

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She started going through the beers randomly, ranking them 1 to 5. The darker beers scored much higher than the hoppier beers, so it seemed that she genuinely didn't like the bitterness of a hoppier beer. Instead of randomly handing her beers, I started just handing her only the hoppy ones, just to see her bitter-beer face. It was hilarious. After taking a sip, she involuntarily shuttered and made a bitter-beer face.

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To make Megan feel better, I started making a bitter-beer face after every drink. Here is my bitter beer face.

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To try some authentic Idahoan food, Megan and I ordered the Idaho specialty, the magnificent spud. Megan opted for the french-fried variety, while I stuck to the homemade chip.

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Reason #3 to Visit Idaho Other than the Potato: It was one of the most relaxing days I've had in a long time. And the potato was pretty good too!

Posted by Mike.Flynn 13:44 Archived in USA Tagged mountains beer beach local_food Comments (0)

Portland—Where Great Beer Encouraged Me to Join the Army!

OREGON - PART II

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I am in Portland for a week-long Open Source Conference called OSCON held at the Oregon Conference Center (pretty cool building shown in the picture below). Basically, take a couple thousand of the nerdiest people in the country, confine them in an enclosed area, and let them discuss topics that use more acronyms than the US military. It is great to be able to speak geek with others (most of my friends and coworkers shy away from technical conversations), but after 10 hours listening to presentations and participating in group sessions, I was ready to de-geek.

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Geeks know a lot of useless information (like the max warp capacity on the Enterprise), but thankfully they also know a lot about good beer. I was able to score some great recommendations on where to go when the conference sessions closed down for the day. The first recommendation was Henry's Taproom in the Pearl District (the hip section of town with loads of restaurants, bars, and shopping). The hotel I was in was located a couple miles from the center of downtown. Portland has an awesome, free light-rail system that serves the downtown area. However, after sitting down all day, I preferred to walk across the bridge to see the city by foot.

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This was the view I had every evening as I walked to grab dinner downtown. Just like the view from the riverwalk in Milwaukee and the incline in Pittsburgh, the river accented the downtown skyscrapers nicely.

Henry's looked pretty crowded, so I killed some time walking around the Pearl District. The largest independent used bookstore in the world, Powell's Bookstore, is located around the corner. The bookstore is so large, it takes up an entire city block by itself! I decided to go take a look around, but navigating a bookstore this large proved a little difficult. There was row after row after row of book shelves, each one reaching to the ceiling. The bookstore was separated into multiple floors, and each room was color coded (although it didn't really help me to know which was the Rose room and which was the Orange room). I wasn't looking for anything particular, so I just meandered through the store.

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I wandered up to the travel section to read up on Washington, Idaho, and Montana, the next few states I would be visiting, when my stomach flipped. I realized that I was carrying my used paperback book in my backpack, and there was no way to prove it that it was actually mine. I had scoffed at the giant signs at all the entrances indicating that "ALL BAGS MUST BE CHECKED IN", and the clerk gave me a weird look when I just walked past him. I was screwed. I was going to have to buy my own book for the second time. I walked through the store trying to find an exit that was loosely guarded. I'm sure that walking quickly from exit to exit, starting to sweat profusely, with a giant backpack on my back only drew more attention to me. After circling the store for 20 minutes, I decided that I would just have to make a break for it. I took a couple deep breaths, and then walked toward the rear exit while trying to wear an innocent look on my face. I looked down so that I wouldn't make eye contact with the clerk at the register, and prepared myself to be tackled from behind as the security guard ran me down. I burst out the door, and breathed in the sweet air of freedom. I was ready for a beer now.

Henry's Taproom is the type of place where they have 100 different beers on tap. As if that wasn't enough, they also had a ring of ice built into the bar to keep your beer cold! It was awesome. I took a seat at the bar, looked at the beer menu, and decided on the Rogue Double-Chocolate Stout. I ordered a bratwurst with bacon and bleu cheese, and opened the freshly-liberated paperback. I ended up going through another 4 local porters and stouts they had on draft before deciding it was finally time to walk back for the night. Good beer, a delicious bratwurst, and a book that only had to be bought once was a great way to spend the evening.

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I repeated this process for the next couple nights (minus the terrifying Powell's Book Store episode). During the day, I scouted recommendations on good bars to try out for dinner. I ended up walking to a different part of downtown every night. One night I ate outside at the Green Dragon, while another night I ate a local brewery called McMenamins. Portland definitely had good beer figured out.

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The highlight of the entire trip in Portland was the night I attended the MLS game. The Portland Timbers were taking on Club Atlético Independiente from Argentina. I had tickets to stand in the section reserved for the Timbers Army, the animated supporters of the Timbers. I arrived 30 minutes before the game, got a beer, and got as close to the field as I could. The Timbers Army takes up the entire endzone of the stadium, and it was getting pretty crowded. The members of the Timber Army were dedicated. By the time I found a seat, everyone was already standing and doing the organized cheers. Everyone had green on, and nearly everyone had one of the Timbers scarves to wave around. Their energy was infectious, and I as I picked up on the cheers, I joined in the cheering and dancing.

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Here is a video of everyone dancing while singing the Tetris Theme.

The cheers didn't ever stop. The drums, trumpets, and cheer leaders went from one chant to another. It was loud 100% of the time, but that didn't prepare me for when the timbers scored. The place went beserk. It was pandemonium, everyone acted like they had just won the $100 million lottery.

Just as the crowd settled back into the normal routine of chants and dances, they scored again. Pandemonium again. The noise was deafening. The Timbers were up 2-0, and apparently life couldn't get any better. After each goal, a giant lumberjack named Timber Joey saws a section of a log with the largest chainsaw ever built. He then parades around with it while everyone cheers.

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No one left the stands until 30 minutes after the game ended. The players came over, applauded the fans, hoisted the cut sections of timber, and trotted off the field. The Timbers match had been a blast, and although I attended by myself, I never felt like I was cheering alone.

Portland had been a great time, but it was time to leave the beer, the geeks, and the city. I was off to Seattle to meet up with Megan.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 06:57 Archived in USA Tagged beer local_food professional_sports Comments (0)

The Bourbon Trail

STATE 17 - KENTUCKY

overcast 65 °F

Kentucky is a beautiful state, one that I absolutely love driving through. You get a taste of the Appalachian mountains before arriving in the rolling hills in the center of the state. Rustic barns and horse farms dot the countryside, and a multitude of rivers and lakes make this state a scenic wonder. Kentucky is the birthplace of many important men, namely Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, and ME!

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Kentucky is also the birthplace of most of the bourbon that travels across the world. There are more barrels of bourbon in Kentucky than there are people! There is so much bourbon in Kentucky, that some distilleries only distribute their bourbon internationally and totally skip the domestic market. Megan, Greg, and I aim to tour six of the bourbon distilleries located in central Kentucky, a pathway called "The Bourbon Trail".

Before we get started, a little foreword on bourbon itself. Bourbon is a special type of whiskey which can only be produced in the United States (in 1964 Congress named bourbon the native spirit). Bourbon is whiskey that is aged in a brand new, charred oak barrel, made from a mash consisting mostly of corn, and has no added flavors (the only flavoring after distillation comes from the oak barrel). How can there be such a variety of bourbon if they all have to follow the same procedure? Distilleries use different combinations of grains to make the mash (stuff that is fermented and distilled into moonshine), but the real magic comes from the oak barrels. A lot of the distilleries use barrels from the same manufacturer, but they vary the amount of time the whiskey is aged in the barrels, how the barrels are positioned in the warehouses, and the blends of different ages of whiskey to create the unique flavors.

We left Somerset (where my grandma lives) and drove north two hours to reach the first distillery, Wild Turkey.

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In college we called Wild Turkey the "Kickin' Chicken" due to the involuntary leg kick after taking a drink of Wild Turkey 101 (hence me doing the Kickin' Chicken dance in the picture above).

It felt a little weird to be waiting on the front porch of the distillery at 9am to start drinking straight bourbon, but we weren't the only ones. About 10 people sat around the small porch waiting for the doors to open. Megan opted for the seat of honor.

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A little after 9, the doors opened and we were directed to sign-in for the tour. It was a short drive over to the new distillery (in 2010 Wild Turkey built a new distillery to allow for increased production). Once we got within a half mile of the distillery, you could smell the bourbon. My mouth watered in anticipation of tasting it, while my stomach flipped with the thought of taking a shot. We pulled up to the distillery just as a grain truck was offloading a new shipment of grain.

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After a quick video about Wild Turkey, our tour guide began the tour around the distillery. We saw the yeast production room (nothing special there, it was just a room) before making our way into the fermenting room. At least 12 30ft tall fermenters sat in the giant room. The corn and grain mix is steeped and boiled to release the stored sugars and enzymes. Yeast is added to the mixture, which then feeds on the sugar to produce carbon dioxide and alcohol. This is the same exact procedure that a lot of breweries use to make beer, which is why the distilleries often refer to the liquid at this stage as beer mash. You could feel the heat coming off the fermenting "beer" as we stood above the fermenter.

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Since the room with the fermenter is not temperature controlled, most distilleries shut down during the hot summer months. The heat in the rooms is just too much for the yeast to work properly. I leaned over the vat and took a big whiff, and it nearly knocked me off my feet. There is no oxygen above the tank (with all the CO2 bubbling up) and you get a nose full of alcohol (it reminded me of the feeling after taking a stiff shot!). We left the fermenting room and walked to take a look at the still.

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The still is what actually extracts the alcohol from the fermented "beer". Sophisticated heating techniques evaporate and condense the alcohol from the mixture. You could actually see the clear alcohol running down the first still and going into the secondary still. This is "moonshine" or "white lightning", but instead of adding a piece of fruit to add flavor, the distillant is stored in oak barrels. We walked out of the distillery and over to the filling warehouse. Here barrels upon barrels waited to be filled. Greg tried to "wheeze the juice" from one.

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Here is a video of the barrels being filled.

From the filling room, we drove over to look inside one of the warehouses. These things were huge, and there were a lot of them. It takes around 3 days to create the mash, ferment, distill, and barrel the whiskey. The whiskey then sits in a barrel in a warehouse for at least 4 years, and often 6, 8, 13 years or longer.

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Inside the warehouse was nothing fancy, just racks and racks of barrels. In the middle of the warehouse, you could look up and see how high the barrels were stacked.

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Throughout the years as the bourbon sits in the barrels, it moves in and out of the pores of the wood through the charred layer. The summer heat opens the wood so that that the bourbon can penetrate, and in the winter the barrel contracts to move the bourbon through the other way. Over time, the flavors of the wood and auburn color is extracted. Wild Turkey has 6 different brands of bourbon, all of which use the exact same mash recipe and age in the same barrels. The only thing that is different is where the barrel is stored in the warehouse. Some zones in the warehouse promotes the bourbon to move more throughout the oak than others, and this is what creates the different flavors.

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After leaving the warehouse, it was time for the tasting! Wild Turkey allowed us to have 2 shots of whatever we wanted, so Megan, Greg, and I coordinated so that we could try as many different bourbons as possible. First we tried Wild Turkey Rare Breed, which is barrel proof (meaning it is bottled straight from the barrel without adding any water). Bourbon has to be at least 80 proof, but often distilled water is added to bring down proof. Rare Breed is not cut with water, but instead is very full flavored. We then sampled Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit, which only uses one barrel to bottle (it is not blended with bourbon from other barrels). This is one of the bourbons that had a specific location in the warehouse. We also sampled Russell's Reserve (Jimmy Russell is the master distiller at Wild Turkey, and this bourbon is aged a little longer than the others), Wild Turkey 101 (my favorite from college), and Megan tried the Wild Turkey American Honey (which isn't a true bourbon since flavors are added after it comes out of the barrel).

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On the way out of Wild Turkey, Megan stopped to feed the Wild Turkey some Wild Turkey.

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It was about a 20 minute drive to Woodford Reserve. We had about 8 hours to tour 6 different distilleries spread from Lexington to Louisville (about 3 hours to drive between all the distilleries), and the Wild Turkey tour took about an hour and a half. Needless to say, we were behind schedule. The drive to Woodford Reserve was beautiful. We drove through back roads lining horse farm after horse farm.

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Woodword Reserve was pretty scenic. Woods and horses surrounded the distillery, and their warehouses were covered in stone instead of wood.

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Woodford Reserve is the only distillery that charges for its distillery tour, so we decided to skip it to save some time. We walked through the gift shop (surprisingly the bourbon they sell on site was more expensive than the stuff I could get at the ABC store back home) and took a seat at the tasting bar. Woodford Reserve only gives a single shot of their bourbon, and there wasn't nearly the presentation we had at Wild Turkey. Still, the three of us went through all the steps to get a taste for the bourbon (my leg didn't involuntarily kick at all). After about 30 minutes of taking in the scene, we hopped back in the car to head to Four Roses.

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Four Roses had the look of a Spanish Monastery, distinctly different than the back country feel of Wild Turkey and Woodford Reserve. I had never heard of Four Roses, but I am not the most refined bourbon connoisseur. The lady that was doing our tastings informed us that Four Roses had been around for 100 years, but only until recently only shipped overseas (they are now in 47 states, all the contiguous states except Alabama). Four Roses was delicious, nice and mellow. We sampled a single barrel (bottled from only a single barrel), a small batch (bottled from a select number of blended barrels), and their yellow label. I will certainly be looking for their brand next time I buy bourbon.

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The tasting room had a series of charts and a mockup of the distillation process. We smelled the various grains they had on display (wheat, rye, and barley) so that we could identify them in the next bourbon tasting. Greg took the opportunity to try and educate us on the distillation process (everything that he had learned from the Wild Turkey guide). Greg's lecture was filled with lots of jokes and giggling, meaning either the bourbon making process can be humorous, or the samples were starting to take their effect.

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It was a 2 hour drive to the next distillery, which gave us time to eat our lunch and see a little more of the countryside. Once again, we took twisting and winding back roads. We knew we were getting close when the smell of bourbon filled our noses. We had arrived at Maker's Mark.

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The tour was similar to Wild Turkey's tour, just not quite as big. We found out that Maker's Mark rotates their barrels in the warehouses (the warehouses were all painted black to absorb more heat), which contrasted how Wild Turkey kept the barrels in the same spot throughout the aging process. Maker's Mark Bourbon is different from their second brand, Maker's Mark 46, in that additional charred oak staves are added into the barrel at the end of the aging process for an additional 46 days for additional flavor and color.

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At the end of the tour, we got to sample both of Maker's Mark bourbons.

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Maker's Mark's trademark is the wax sealed bottle. At the end of the tour, if you buy a bottle of their bourbon, you can dip it in the wax yourself. Greg wasn't passing up the opportunity, so he got first in line to dip a bottle. After putting on the apron and gloves, he stepped up to the wax and dipped his bottle. It was pretty cool getting to see the hand-dipped process.

They also sold the Maker's Mark 46 staves that had been soaked in bourbon. They smelled like bourbon, and they suggested you cut them up to use on the grill to add a little extra flavor. I bought 5 to use for the 4th of July.

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The next stop was the home of Evan Williams Bourbon, Heaven Hill Distilleries. Heaven Hill is the largest independently owned distillery, and the black label Evan Williams is the most popular in the US and across the world.

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Heaven Hill was set up a little bit differently than the other distilleries. Heaven Hill has a Bourbon Heritage Center, a museum-like visitor center detailing bourbon and how it is made. There were displays that allowed you to smell moonshine, bourbon that had been aged for 6 months, and bourbon that had been aged for 6 years.

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The had old stills on display and descriptions of how bourbon had affected the life of Kentuckians. The museum was definitely more kid friendly with interactive panels. Heaven Hill also offers a variety of tours, none of which were leaving within the next hour. Bourbon tastings are only allowed at the end of the free tour, so we instead sampled the Heaven Hill barbeque sauces. It was a shame we didn't have more time to wait for the next tour.

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We went outside and looked around the Heritage Center. Warehouses were in every direction, and you knew that they were all filled with barrels of bourbon. Each barrel holds about $10,000 to $20,000 worth of bourbon, and with a warehouse holding hundreds and hundreds of barrels, every warehouse had over $1 million of bourbon just sitting inside.

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The last distillery of the Bourbon Trail was Jim Beam, which was another 30 minutes down the road.

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The Jim Beam tour was more of a historic tour. Instead of taking you through the fermenting and distilling processes, you instead go through Jim Beam's house, see the family pictures, and see a toy distillery that actually works.

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The Beam family was one of the earliest bourbon distillers in Kentucky. As a result, they didn't stick to just one distillery. Cousins and brothers each opened their own distilleries, sharing the knowledge passed down along the lines. One of the Beams started Heaven Hill, and other Beams could be seen in the histories of the other distilleries. As we walked out of the house, the tour guide pointed out the pump that they used to use to get the water to make the bourbon. Greg teased that bourbon would come out now, and the guide told him to try it out.

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Although it looked like Moonshine coming out, it was still only water.

The tour continued to see the original still used by the Beam family and the original distribution method. The Beams would keep their the bourbon on site, and people would bring their own containers to buy the whiskey. The container was weighed after it was filled to determine the cost (50¢ per quart, 75¢ per quart for aged bourbon).

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The guide also pointed out the trees around the distillery. He said the one of the by-products of the distillation process causes the trees to turn black. The trees themselves aren't harmed, but occasionally Jim Beam has to polish the tombstones located in the cemetery across the street.

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We walked through one of the Jim Beam warehouses, and it looked very similar to the warehouses from the other distilleries. Jim Beam also rotates their barrels, but uses barrels from different zones to create certain brands. I knew what was coming after the walk through the warehouse, the tasting!

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Jim Beam didn't actually offer their Jim Beam whiskey at the tasting, but instead let us sample the top shelf brands. We got to try a Knob Creek single barrel (which was super smooth) and Basil Hayden Small Batch (which was also fantastic). The Jim Beam tour guide was very personal, and even offered suggestions on other distilleries to try out while we were in the area.

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Overall, I was very impressed with all the distilleries. They were all very open about how they make their bourbon and how their bourbon process may be different from other distilleries. No guide claimed their bourbon was the best or even their bourbon process was the best, but instead just promoted the idea that all bourbon can be appreciated. It was refreshing to not have to hear them slander one another, like I had to sit through when we went on the beer tours in Wisconsin.

We had one last stop before heading back to Somerset. Jim Beam sits right on the edge of Fort Knox. Fort Knox was built when Franklin Roosevelt outlawed American citizens from owning gold bullion and gold coins (everyone had to sell their gold to the Federal Reserve). Fort Knox is now the second largest collection of gold in the world (second only to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in Manhattan, which was robbed in one of the Die Hard movies). Fort Knox has held other valuables other than just gold, like the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta, foreign royalty jewels, and even a supply of morphine during WWII.

You can't actually go into the Bullion Depository at Fort Knox (for obvious security reasons). In fact, you are not allowed to even approach the gate or the fence without repercussions. Instead, you have to pull off on the highway that runs past Fort Knox to take pictures. The three rows of fences certainly screamed, "STAY OUT".

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Our run down the Bourbon Trail was over, but we had successfully visited six distilleries in one day. We even get an official t-shirt for completing the trail (which has yet to come in the mail)!

Posted by Mike.Flynn 05:56 Archived in USA Tagged beer museum tour brewery local_food Comments (0)

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