On Friday, Beer Blotter offered its 300th post! Over less than a year has elapsed since we first went public on BeerBlotter.com. We have a had a blast so far, and we look forward to much more ahead.
In almost 11 months, we have managed to put up more than 300 stories (this article is #302). From our editor’s first beer review of Lazy Magnolia’s Jefferson Stout to Mark Leavens’ review of sandwich board art over at Atlantic Crossing – we have come a long way.
While we look forward to big changes over here, we wanted to take a look into the past and discuss the three biggest, and most memorable, moments in our short history. We have visited Belgium, Holland, France, Canada, San Diego, San Francisco, New Orleans, Cleveland, New York, Washington DC, Portland, Chicago and more – all in that 11 month period.
These three moments stick out the most:
#3 — Beer Blotter Spawns From the New Orleans Beer Arrival & A Chicago Surprise
If you have ever visited New Orleans, you are probably aware that its almost impossible to find a good beer. You are almost assured of being stuck drinking some fruity concoction of a massive amount of liquor. Not anymore.
We visited New Orleans in the beginning of last November with little knowledge of any beer scene. But, we stumbled our way through bar after bar and discovered that craft beer does exist. In fact, we were floored with what we found; hope for a good future was established.
While we were in New Orleans, our editor was surprised with a no notice flight up to Chicago. It was her first visit – and a great opportunity to see an amazing world of craft beer. We visited the Publican, drank Three Floyds at the Map Room, bought a bounty of beer at Binnys and took in a Browns v. Bears game, before returning to New Orleans.
Upon returning, we decided to launch this site. Beer Blotter was born over a pint of Lazy Magnolia Jefferson Stout and NOLA Hopitoulas at the Avenue Pub. From that moment – 300 articles followed.
#2 — The Crew Visits West Flanders
The entire crew decided to throw down and take an excursion to Belgium, back in March. We planned the trip for a period of 12 months, holding epic Belgian beer tastings once a week until we left. As part of the trip, we decided to visit Germany, France and Holland as well.
Every day was filled with splendor. From the iconic bottle shops, to the revolutionary brewers, Belgium brought us to our knees. We saw Cantillon in Brussels, visited Moeder Lambis during its opening week, drank gallons at De Molen, sorted through bottles at Paters Vaetje, and gifted a Pliny the Elder to Hane at De Gans.
But, nothing was more epic than a one day visit to West Flanders. I had caught a pretty vicious cold that had put me out of commission for a few days, but I refused to allow it to defeat my trip to Westvleteren to catch Westy 12. I sucked it up, chugged some orange juice, bought some nose spray (so i could taste again) and we took off for West Flanders.
When we arrived at the Saint Sixtus Abbey in Westvleteren – my cold cleared up. Whether this was an amazing intervention of the almighty himself or simply an incredulous recovery – we will never know. But, it all came together as my first Westy 12 was placed in front of me.
From there, we trucked on to St. Bernardus, visited a brewer’s cottage in Woesten, drove to France to sample Escambeq’s best (with a brewer who could not speak English), drank De Struisse’s finest in a living room at De Zon and enjoyed splendid wonders from the private collection of Alvinne’s owner. I’m unsure that this day could ever be eclipsed.
#1 — The Closing of Water Street Brewing & Alehouse
The number one moment is not a happy one. But, it certainly had a profound effect on me.
For days I labored over visiting my favorite beer spot before it would shut its doors, for the final time. In the end, I didn’t go. The horror was too much for me to handle.
If you never got a chance to read the hardest post I ever typed, take a gander now. For purposes of brevity, I will not relive the words that came to mind when I head that Water Street Brewing would close down. But if you were around me for those few days – you know it was always in my mind.
Bars come and go – that is for sure. Some bars leave way too early; that was the case with Water Street. Because of a legal spat that keeps the former Water Street brewing space vacant to this day (we just saw the space this past weekend and its still not even close to re-lease), Water Street was forced into early retirement.
But, like all great combatants, Water Street may rise again. Their Facebook page has provided snippets of hope to those of us who yearn to have Queen Nina pour us another IPA. Recently, Nina announced that Strange Brewfest would return this year! This was an amazingly welcoming sign that Water Street is still alive and kicking – somewhere.
300 posts of Beer Blotter has brought us this far and we vow to keep it going. In the next month, we hope to have our new site running, filled with gobs of media and more user friendly resources.
Stick with us, please. We’ve enjoyed your company.
So, GQ eh? Well why the hell not? They are a bunch of dudes, dressing well, tossing around money – they have to do a beer thing. Its the new fad in looking cool, right? I mean that’s why you are all here. Of course, GQ is jumping on the bandwagon.
Luckily, for you I don’t believe anything I just wrote. Beer is freaking beer. Anyone can love it – as long as you are 21 (Message/Disclaimer!).
We do not discriminate against anyone throwing out their opinion on beer. We are regular people like you all. In total, we are a lawyer, a development administrator, and a learning assistant brewer at a small brewery. Just regular people. Just regular thoughts about beer.
But, when you put your opinion up on the web, its the rest of our jobs to police it to some extent, by listening, sparking dialogue and trying to build a community opinion. So, lets.
GQ published an article today on their website of the top 50 beers that everyone should try before they die. Important note: its not the Top 50 beers, just 50 beers you need to try. So we keep that in mind in discussion.
The list is teeming with small brewery american ales, epic belgian grog, and even a few mass produced “beers.”
Here is my reaction:
They had to add these 5, and we are damn glad they recognized!
Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout
Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA
Orval Trappist Ale
Russian River Pliny the Elder
If you have not had the pleasure of drinking each of these 5 beers, you really need to take action ASAP. These are standards.
Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute IPA rules the category of sweet IPAs and Pliny takes over the bitter category.
Orval is probably the first trappist beer you should try. They make only one beer for a reason – its damn good. Westvleteren 12 is a hard find, but necessary as the world’s most famous beer (thanks Michael Jackson).
Brooklyn’s Black Chocolate Stout should be your first foray into adjunct filled stouts. Its so delicious and almost no one can turn it away. Try your mom, grandma, nephew, or dog – guarantee they like it.
I am so happy to see that they added these beers, and didn’t expect it…..
Alesmith Speedway Stout
Struisse Pannepot Fisherman’s Ale
Great Divide Espresso Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout
Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier
If you can find Speedway Stout, buy it and drink it. It does not require aging, its perfect off the shelf. Problem : WA does not have Alesmith. Why? no clue, but I’m perplexed. Similarly, Espresso Yeti is incredible off the shelf. This is probably the best coffee stout out there, especially if you like a flavor explosion as opposed to subtlety.
Struisse’s Pannepot is just incredible. We sampled this beer before taking off for Belgium in March (2006 vintage) and then had some at the famous De Zon in Woesten, Belgium, which was the venue of an amazing bar visit. Its probably the best example of a huge mixing pot of Belgian flavors.
Cantillon’s Iris was one of 8 bottles we purchased at the Cantillon brewery in Brussels. I think its the best choice for this list because it personifies the lambic styling of Belgium.
If you like sausage or anything smoked for that matter – Aecht Schlenkerla is for you. This is the ultimate example of rauchbier. Lucky for us, we can get it almost everywhere in the US.
It kills me to know that GQ had these beers – because I have not and so badly want to…..
Leelanau White Ale
Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel Route des epices
Sam Adams Utopias
Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout
Russian River Beatification
Where to start? This list of rouge ales is so impressive. Alvinne is just an all-around great brewery. Alvinne is at the cusp of progression in Belgian beer, taking a more globally influenced attitude about making beer. We visited the brewery in March and fell in love with everything they make – for some reason I still have not had a Melchio, but I do have 3 rare Oak Aged Podge’s in the cellar.
Dieu Du Ciel is the best of Canada (sorry Unibroue). All their beers are mind boggling, incorporating interesting adjuncts into the wort. This one has escaped me, and its made with peppercorns. Need to try.
Leelanau is a brewing label brewed by Ron Jefferies of Jolly Pumpkin. If you read Notes of a Beer Nerd ever, you know that we love all that he does, and this spiced white ale needs to be obtained.
Utopias is a huge 30%+ monster of “beer” that we would like to try, so that it can be compared to BrewDog’s Sink the Bismark and Nuclear Penguin, which we tried courtesy of Davey at Alvinne.
These last two are the highest on my list. Kentucky Breakfast Stout is supposedly bacon and eggs coated in bourbon – why not? Their selection of Beatification was puzzling and angering at the same time. This means they skipped over more obtainable sour ales from Russian River, such as Consecration, Temptation and Supplication – and went for the only one I cannot obtain in WA. Damn you – but thank you for reminding me to find this beer.
Two quick “wish they would have went another direction” but the brewery should be on the list…..
Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold
So, I love Great Lakes. Its a familial love too, and i am certainly an apologist. But Dortmunder is just not a great choice. Again, I understand that they are trying to pick “best of” styles, and so Dortmunder is a great lager. But, still….. I would have added Christmas Ale, another incredibly unique beer made by Great Lakes that has a cult following.
Smuttynose got selected as the barleywine on the list. Bad choice. Dogfish Head, Firestone Walker, Mikkeller – all better barleywines. They could keep Smuttynose on here though for their Wheatwine, which is by far and away the best wheatwine I have ever tried.
Any other thoughts on the beers listed on the 50 to try? Leave them below.
52 Weeks: De Zon, Woesten-Vleteren, Belgium
No other place in Belgium to find a fresher Antiek or Struise.
Week 9 of 52 (We are through Week 12 – this one is late)
057 42 20 62
Rank: #2 of 12 (uniqueness gets the boost)
Neighborhood Pub/Time Portal
BEERS ON TAP (at time of visit) —>
De Zon, in a surprisingly not all that uncommon European business practice, has zero beers on tap.
BOTTLE OPTIONS: I don’t know for certain, but experience tells me that neither Brouwerij Deca, nor Struise Brouwers keg their beers. This pub is one block from Deca, and is therefore the unofficial brewery pub. Struise is a brewery with no brewery. They make a large percentage of their brews at Deca. De Zon carries many of each brewery’s offerings in the bottle.
FOOD OPTIONS: Well this is quite humorous, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Read on.
Though visiting In De Vrede and sampling the beers of the legendary Wesvleteren Abbey was without a doubt a top highlight of West Flanders Day, Beer Botter’s experience at De Zon was quite possibly the most hilarious and notable destination of the entire trip. Our experience here will forever live on in infamy.
Woesten is, at most, 8 km from Westvleteren. Struise is, without a doubt, one of Beer Blotter’s favorite breweries of all time. You can do the math, we were REQUIRED to go to De Zon. We knew, however, that the chances it would be open at the time of our attempted visit were very small. In De Vrede, in a stunning display of oddity, opens at the early hour of 10am, and you better believe that we were there when the doors opened. This meant that our foray into West Flanders would, for the most part, be confined to the daylight hours. As we had already discovered earlier in the tip, this is bad news when you are in Belgium and trying to drink beer.
Generally, beer bar owners in Belgium open and close their establishments at will. One could easily go to a bar at 10pm one night, have a great time, attempt to go to the same bar the very next night at the very same time and find that they are closed, completely randomly. This was a subject of much frustration on our trip, but 10pm is a reasonable hour of imbibing, mid-day on a Thursday, not so much.
Our attempts to view both the Saint Bernardus brewery and the Van Eeche brewery in Watou had already failed due to timing, so we were prepared for disappointment when we pulled up to the unassuming bar front in the tiny town of Woesten. Before even trying the door, quite possibly in a move to circumvent potential rejection, we trotted down the street to take a gander at the brewery. It looked much more like a beer distributor than a brewery from the outside. Various unrecognizable beers were stacked up to extreme heights all about the outdoor lot. It was like nothing I’d seen before at a brewery.
We figured we should get a closer look, but simultaneously, as curiosity grew within us, so did bravery, and an attempt at the De Zon door was made. For the love of Black Albert, the door opened and a bright heavenly light led us into the promised-land (promised-land, maybe, but that light thing…I just made that up!)
A rare moment of humor was found in Tim Webb’s guide when he described De Zon as a “Seventies time warp”. Humorous as it is, its god damn true. The inside of this place is small, smoke stained, old as all hell, and full of dog…
Most likely, many dogs have come and gone since this place last had a makeover, but the latest little yapper to frolic amidst De Zon was the first to greet us, after quite a few awkward moments sitting at the bar completely alone. We felt as though we had “broke and entered” into someone’s home and an uncomfortable feeling of not belonging washed over us.
We soon came to realize that we actually were in someone’s home! De Zon, as you can see above, looks like a pub in every way from the outside, once you enter, suspicions arise, and then by the time you leave you wonder how you ever were fooled into any thought to the contrary.
We were finally greeted in Dutch by the pub owner/inhabitant/dog whisperer, a woman in her 70s (or so) that was very kind, but as we came to find out, spoke no English what so ever. Now those of you reading who have never been to Belgium may not think that odd, and believe me, I’m not making note of it because I have expectations that everyone should be able to speak my language, but we were a good handful of days into our trip at this point and this was our very first encounter with someone that spoke absolutely no English. It was weird. I had expected it from the beginning of the trip, but it was still weird.
We fumbled a bit through the ordering process (and actually learned how to accurately pronounce De Struise in Dutch in the process), but we were eventually served beer, and that was an accomplishment of great ecstasy. I really wish you could hear our conversation with this woman in your head like I can. The words “De Struise” were said aloud at least…oh I don’t know…like 10 times each by all parties present. That was about the extent of our communication. We understood “De Struise”, the end. Could be worse things to bond over.
We were kindly served a bowl of nuts to snack on, a bowl full of nuts and…dog hair. I present the food options of De Zon. Yum!
At least we drank well. Bottles enjoyed: Brouwerij Verstraete’s (of Diksmuide, one of our favorite town names, pronounced like male genitalia and wet dirt all smashed together) Papegaei, a Belgian strong pale ale brewed at Deca, Deca’s Vleteren Dark Old Strong Ale, Struise Tsjeeses, a Belgian strong pale ale, and Struise Black Damnation, a Russian imperial stout. All were amazing.
Amidst our beer drinking, two joyous events transpired. First, a trip to the bathroom.
There was one hallway that split off from the bar area that was clearly the only possible home for the bathrooms. After a few steps down the hall it became apparent that the men’s room was behind the door straight ahead. A bit of confusion struck me as I opened the door and found daylight…an outdoor courtyard of sorts was behind the door. Had I misinterpreted the foreign markings for men’s room? Not unlikely, but a quick second glance at the door supported my initial decision.
I allowed the door to close behind me, and it immediately was evident, I was in the “men’s room” after all. Two urinals were fastened to the wall that marked the right hand side border of the patio. Quite possibly the greatest bathroom ever!
Next up, a visit from the perma-smoking co-owner/co-inhabitor/co-whisperer. This was clear not only due to the fact that he was in just as many photos tacked to the walls of the bar as our female host (who was so rudely interrupted from her sit and magazine read at the table directly next to us [awkward!]), but also due to the fact that he was greeted much less jarringly from the shedding dog at our feet.
Soon after his arrival, both hosts slipped through the non-bathroom door in the hallway that let into the house portion of the building. Smoking was soon accompanied by a lover’s quarrel, quite visible and audible through the door that was left wide open for our pleasure. At this point, we tried our very best to make a quick exit, which wasn’t easy, but we escaped relatively unscathed.
Thanks De Zon, you were…a…ma…zing!
That closer look at the brewery that we were earlier distracted from came directly after our departure from De Zon, and after our loss of a single tear out of pure respect for De Zon’s epicness.
The Deca brewery visit was very much worth it. We ended up acquiring some very rare versions of Black Damnation; III (Black Mes) and IV (Coffee Club). These were successfully transported back to The States for future enjoyment. Woesten = Great Success!