What’s a Bikes, Beer, and Airbnb Travelogue?

I recently learned that I was not selected to write a beverage column for a local publication. However, as the “close runner-up,” I wanted to post the sample column, and include a few photos, for my blog readers. It’s also a great tie in for my upcoming library program about last year’s vacations to Oregon and Asheville, North Carolina. Come to the Fairhope Public Library at 2 PM, on January 29th to see pictures, hear stories, and learn about my airbnb experience. Although we will not be doing any Day Drinking, I’ll be giving away some souvenirs during and after the program.

2014: The Year of Magical Drinking

On Christmas, I was pouring tastes and offering pulls from my bottle of Lucky Buddha, a beer my brother Mark brought for the festivities.

As I took a sip of “Enlightened Beer,” I pondered. Then I began to count my 2014 blessings. It really was a year of magical drinking.

Portland, Oregon (Or-y-gun)

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Ten days of vacation in a walkable, bike-able city like Portland is pure bliss. And that’s before we even had anything to drink. Portland’s called Beervana for a reason. We were within walking distance, less than a mile, to about ten breweries/tap rooms, six distilleries and a few micro coffee roasters. I’ve written about Oregon before, but here are a few places not to miss.

Base Camp has great beer and the best water dispenser. The water line empties into a keg that’s hanging on the wall and you tap your own water.

Cascade Brewing is a sours only brewery. These tart barrel aged beers use wild yeasts from the air, or left behind in aging barrels to help ferment the beer. The wild yeasts are unpredictable, and time consuming as many sours can take up to two years from barrel to bottle.

Oregon Brewers Festival 

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So many beers, so little space. Here’s my list of favorites with brewery, style, and a few choice words.

Anderson Valley, Summer Solstice, summer cream ale, Not your Father’s.

Boulder Brewing, Shake, Chocolate Porter, You can taste the cacao.

21st Amendment Brewery, Hell or High Watermelon, Wheat, a picnic in a glass.

While sitting with some people we met during the festival, drinking a Laurelwood Pale Pony India Session Ale, we witnessed a Portlandian moment. A man in a Darth Vader helmet was riding a unicycle and playing the bagpipes. He’s obviously doing his part to “Keep Portland Weird.”

As we were leaving someone was handing out samples of hop soda. The Proper Soda Company makes a crisp, refreshing, and thirst-quenching soda, and it’s made with cane sugar and hop extracts.

Where would a congenital below-knee amputee like me, go to get coffee around Portland? Why Stumptown, of course.

It was summer so I ordered an iced coffee, but this is Portland, where they’ve melded coffee and beer brewing techniques together. Stumptown’s cold brewed iced coffee is infused with nitrogen.

They also fill growlers of this nitrified coffee to take home. (Read my recent post on Fairhope Roasting here.)

Willamette Valley (Wuh-lamb-it, rhymes with damn it)

Susan and I left the city for the valley and stopped at the Sokol Blosser Winery. After sampling some very fine wines, bought a bottle of the 2013 Willamette Valley Pinot Gris, made in the Alsatian style with rich and spicy tropical fruits with hints of fig and grapefruit. We intended to take it home but on July 26, after a day of whale sightings and lighthouse climbing, we opened it on our balcony and watched the sun sink into the Pacific.

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Take a detour to Rogue Farms. There’s something special about seeing the hops budding and being near the ingredients that make it into my pint glass.

Asheville, North Carolina

Henry the VIII deemed hops “a wicked and pernicious weed,” when brewers began adding it to beer. The beers at Wicked Weed are amazing, full of hops and yet delicate as flowers. They have managed to fuse bitter hops with the grace of grains to create a complex medley of balanced brews. From floral aromas and drinkable session IPAs like “Feral,” to their dank, hoppy beast, “Freak of Nature,” a double IPA, the beers at Wicked Weed do not disappoint.

Do you know how fabulous it is to find a list of craft beers on tap at a concert venue? Asheville lives up to it’s nickname, Beer City, USA. The Green Man Porter was delicious, especially while singing and dancing, (well grooving) along to “Time of the Season,” by The Zombies, at The Orange Peel.

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On a trip to Birmingham (for the Y’all Connect Social Media Conference) I had time to visit the good people, at Good People Brewing. I sat at the bar and enjoyed my first Oatmeal Stout.

What’s better than a brewery and tap room? A brewery and tap room with the best BBQ two doors down. That along with some fine beers is what Avondale Brewing has got going on, especially with their saison. We ordered up some Saw’s Soul Kitchen and brought it back to the taproom. Trunks Up!

Gulf of Mexico

My sister Laurie was in town around the Fourth of July. Six of us piled into a Suburban to watch the Blue Angels air show over Pensacola Beach. I only had my five toes in the sand, but it was a hot day! For a tiny moment, a grain of sand in the hourglass of eternity, a Pepsi “made with real sugar” quenched my thirst.

Fairhope

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As the winning bidder for an Alabama Coastal Foundation Fundraiser, a group of us had a personal tour of Fairhope Brewing (celebrating their 2nd anniversary this weekend) from Head Brewer Dan Murphy. We were an inquisitive bunch and I seem to remember him saying something along the lines of it being one of the better tours he had given at the brewery. Dan walked us through the naming of each beer while talking up the tasting profiles of each ale. He gave us the scoop when he announced that the brewery was expanding their production and then showed us what was in store for the future. He had obtained several wine barrels to begin experimenting with sours.

The bottle of Lucky Buddha was returned to me, alas, empty.

Never one to let his little brother down, my brother Steve went to the fridge and poured me a glass of Blue Pants Chocolate Oatmeal Porter.

I can’t wait to sip what the future holds.

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Are you Board with the Same Old Brew?

Walking in the door of Fairhope Roasting Company, I was greeted by Roast Master Hanson Eskridge and Mackenzie Chandler, his marketing expert and logo designer. I wandered around, pumped a cup of coffee into a logo-ed mug, and got caught up with the personal and creative lives of my Southern Bloggers Jubilee friends.

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A graduate of Fairhope High, Hanson went off to “experience” college, and then headed north to pursue his passion to roast coffee. A talkative, animated, and single guy, Hanson worked at Bull Run Roasting in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Last summer he was back in Fairhope pitching his investment idea of a roaster, the first on the Eastern Shore, to Will Carlton. It turned into a “good combination” with Hanson as owner/roaster, Carlton the local investor, and Mackenzie, Will’s daughter, handling all the marketing.

Three roasts were available, and I sampled them all. Morning (light), Medium (Fairhope), and dark roast were all delicious, and I found myself going back for the Fairhope, as it seemed to have the viscosity of a stout, a beer style I’ve been enjoying lately.

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Hanson led us to the roaster, which is located in the more industrial wing of the operation. We heard the Probat 1989 roaster whir to life. If Hanson had a nickname for his roaster, he didn’t mention it, so I’ll refer to her as Brassy, as that’s the way she looks, and may be what she’s made of.

“Timing and temperature,” Hanson said are critical in the roasting process. As the gas-fired roaster reaches the correct temperature, it’s filled with Honduran beans. During the roasting, he pulled samples at intervals to show us the darkening of  the bean. During the early part of the roast, the aroma filling the air was not the familiar scent of coffee. It seemed a bit more dank, a little peanut like, actually. Then we heard Brassy. Not a “pop” but a tiny blast. Hanson called it, “First Crack,” and it sounded like damp wood burning in the fireplace. After he spilled the beans from Brassy, the more familiar smell of coffee vapors filled the air. After cooling in Brassy’s spinner, he transferred the beans in a high-tech Rubbermaid bucket to the grinding and packaging area.

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Fairhope Roasting plans on doing cupping sessions soon, according to Hanson, and they already have plans to purchase a sample roaster specifically for these sessions. Cupping sessions are like wine tastings. Hanson will take people through each roast taste by taste, and encourage feedback and discussion. Until then, he plans to post dates and times on social media when he’s roasting so current and future customers can see how the green bean is transformed.

I was surprised to learn that, like a peanut has a red shell, a coffee bean (it’s really a seed) has a chaff. During the roasting of 20 pounds, Hanson said he loses about 15% of the weight in chaff and water. We each got a bag of Fairhope Roasting to go, which was very generous.

Fairhope Roasting Company coffee is delicious, fresh, and available locally or you stop by their location at 361A Commercial Park Drive. If you want to learn more and sip some local roasts, Hanson will be at Mobile Green Drinks at Fairhope Brewing tomorrow from 5-7. The two companies have fused their brews and a Coffee Painted Black India Pale Ale will be available.

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In my mailbox at the library later that day was a manila envelope. At first, I thought it was something from a coworker. Then I noticed it was addressed to me. I still love sending and receiving handwritten mail.

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The couple at the flea market saw me eyeing it.

“It still works,” the woman said, adding that it originally belonged to her mother. Her husband showed me how it collapsed and even included a wedge to make sure the contraption didn’t spring open in transport. Patricia said she had no room for the ironing board now that she and her husband were full-time RVers.

“Thanks for the story behind the board,” I told her before slipping it under my arm and carrying it away like a surfboard. I didn’t think much about the scraps of paper that lingered on the bottom. Until she mailed the label to me!

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The Rid-Jid ironing board, also from Minneapolis sits open in front of my office window.  Yes, I also use it to iron my clothes. I even went out and bought the most manly looking cover I could find. As advertised, the board still does not, “wiggle, wobble, jiggle, joggle, slip or slide.”

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On Saturday morning I brewed Fairhope Roasting’s coffee through my new Hario V60 slow pour coffee kit. When I visited Stumptown Coffee in Portland, my appreciation for the taste of coffee, not the cream, truly evolved. Since then I’ve become a big fan of slow coffee. The slow coffee movement is where you, the drinker, control the ingredients, time, and temperature of the brewing.

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I didn’t roast the coffee. I didn’t make the iron or the board, but there is something satisfying in participating in these rituals with new tools and techniques that harken back to old ways. I brewed a quality, fresh cup of coffee from beans roasted locally. My shirts are ironed on a board made in the 1930s. Whether you use new, bright, and shiny, or antique, dull, and rusty, the way we get things done affects us emotionally and opens us to change. As I pour the coffee, press the wrinkles, or push the ink onto the page, I think about the people who  made the coldest day of the year quite personal, comfortable, and warm.