July 17, 2017 0 comments
In a world where over-the-top, hop-heavy beers are nothing out of the ordinary, it’s truly refreshing (forgive the pun) to come across a brewer who is adamant about staying true to style when it comes to traditional beers. Such is the case with Two Monks Brewing. I’ve had a growler-full of their German dunkel and was thoroughly satisfied—it was smooth, flavorful and malty—just what I was expecting.

On my first visit, the two owners were still prepping the tap room and getting their occupancy permits; tables, chairs and other equipment were stacked against the walls as they provided a growler-filling service to customers who stopped in.

On my most recent visit, they were fully open and ready to go, and there was a nice crowd checking out the beers on a Saturday afternoon. The wife and I stopped to get our Summit BrewPath passports stamped, so we sat down and looked at the beer list, which is not long, but features a nice assortment of styles—you should be able to find something you like here.

My wife, who generally prefers lighter fare, went with the Czech Pilsner, which she thoroughly enjoyed. I selected a pint of the E.S.B. and was totally won over—an excellent English bitter that was correctly hopped, full of flavor and extremely drinkable. On my next visit, it will definitely be my “go-to” beer.

Overall, Two Monks is a nice, comfortable spot to enjoy well-made beer; being just a stone's throw from Hoppin' Frog and the Brick Oven Brewpub, it's part of a nice East-Side Brewery Triangle that you must check out. I would only encourage the one owner to engage the customers a little more; when I asked him about their brewing system and complimented him on their beer, he seemed a little disinterested, and generally unenthusiastic about holding a conversation. Maybe he was just tired, but I've yet to meet a brewer who didn't enjoy talking about beer and bragging up his brews to anyone who will listen!

As an acknowledged “traditionalist” when it comes to beer, I can still appreciate some creativity and experimentation when those efforts are clearly identified as such. What does irritate me is when craft brewers offer a traditional beer style and then muck it up, either through inexperience, ignorance or a desire to make it “fit” today’s hop-heavy flavor profiles. Thus, we get an Austrian Pils that should be labelled an “American Pils”…or a German Oktoberfest that should be labelled “American Octoberfest.” That would constitute “fair warning”.

A perfect example is a recent 6-pack of Lager Heads Brewing Oktoberfest I bought. While they may have used German hops (this is what it claims on the label) they used too much of them to make it taste like a true German Oktoberfest; in fact, if I poured it in a glass and served it to most of my friends, they probably would guess it was an IPA. This is precisely why I am wary of buying a lot of “traditional-style” American craft beers—a lot of them have a problem with “truth in labelling”—though it’s due to bad brewing choices and lack of knowledge, not dishonesty.

Thankfully, it’s nice to know that places like Two Monks can still get it right. Hats (or hoods) off to them!

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July 16, 2017 0 comments
The docks and dining deck at The Landing at Ironton. Great beer & Food.
After a night in beautiful Bellaire, I packed up my gear and headed to Boyne City, Michigan—to claim a camping spot about four miles west of town, right on the shores of Lake Charlevoix. Boyne City is at the east end, and Charlevoix is at the western end of this big lake, near where it empties into Lake Michigan. Both towns are wonderful and great places for boating.

A lot has changed since my last time in Boyne City; two new, large tap rooms have opened and a small brewery has also made the town it’s home.  That the population of the town is only about 4,000 people should tell you something about its popularity as a summer vacation destination, and maybe how much the folks up here like their beer! It was safe to say that my visit occurred on the busiest weekend of the year, and every one of these beer destinations was packed.

Another great campsite - outside my tent door on Lake Charlevoix.
Sadly, I was not able to try the offerings at Stiggs Brewing Company, located just a block off the main street; though they have an outdoor serving area and a decent-sized dining/tap room (they were packed) I couldn’t even find a seat at the bar. I was assured by a friend I saw later that their beer was quite good, but that second-hand endorsement is all I can offer. They are located in a great-looking old Victorian-era building, with an attractive bar to match; I guess I’ll have to try again another time.

I did manage a couple of stops at the excellent 7 Monks Taproom. It’s a big place, with a nice contemporary d├ęcor, a very long bar and an awesome outdoor patio with a view of the lake. Being a big fan of Founder’s Rubaeus, I jumped at the “nitro” version they offered, which was smooth and creamy enough to be a dessert. I followed that with a very small salad and to accompany that, a pint of a classic Weihenstephaner lager.

The only problem was it wasn’t a lager, it was a Weihenstephaner weiss beer, which was evident from both its taste and its color. I brought this to the attention of the server, who immediately checked with her colleagues to investigate. Turns out the brand has very similar-looking kegs for the lager and Weiss - and it was just simple a mix up. Not hard to imagine with all those beers to keep track of. The staff corrected this right away and quickly brought me a golden lager. I found the fact that they did not even charge me for it (due to the minor inconvenience, I suppose) extremely hospitable and generous.

The boats - why I came here in the first place.
Later that evening, I decided to have dinner at the Boyne City Tap Room, which is operated by the same folks who operate the Bridge Street Tap Room in Charlevoix, as well as Lake Charlevoix Brewing Co. The beer selection is vast, and clearly described on a large electronic board that stretches above the bar. It makes for a nice display. I can barely recall what beer I ordered, I believe it was a Griffin Claw El Rojo Red Ale—this is probably because I was distracted by the prospect of having a delicious perch dinner. I love perch. By the way, the beer was good, too.

Service at both these places was extremely friendly, helpful and eager to please, but that’s what you expect up here. It was the same experience the night before, when I passed through Ironton, a small village about halfway between Boyne City and Charlevoix. There’s a three-dollar ferry there that provides a short cut across the lake’s lower arm (saves about 20 miles) – but the real attraction is The Landing, a great place to eat with an excellent beer selection of its own. I tried a Landings Lager—a nice, clean lager made with some wheat, brewed especially for the restaurant by Short’s in Bellaire. Crisp and clean, with a light body, I found that a couple of those, along with my perch sandwich, made for another perfect night. What a BeerCation.
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My campsite in Bellaire, Michigan. Looking out of my tent door.
Every couple of years or so I try to get up to NW Michigan to see some of my favorite vacations spots; being kind of a last-minute exercise this year, and that no reasonable accommodations were available, I was forced to go camping. This also meant that I would be traveling alone, since my wife does not camp out in tents. This also gave me an opportunity to volunteer at the Boyne Thunder Poker Run, a great performance boating event that raises thousands of dollars for a camp that serves children with cancer.

My first destination was once again Bellaire Michigan, home of well-known Short’s Brewing. Since my last visit, some of their excellent beers have become available in Akron, so I didn’t feel the need to stock up on the return trip. That said, they had an excellent range on tap—I got a sampler which included a Kolsch 45, Power of Love, Totally Noche, and a Bellaire Brown. All were great; the Totally Noche, which I might suggest is like a dark Dos Equis or a Modello Negro—was very good. The Power of Love was a fruit beer that was very rich and tasty…nice for dessert, at the end of a meal. I settled in after this with a pint of the Noche, and ordered The Old Man Thunder beef shoulder sandwich, which was awesome.

On a Friday night in July, every seat in all three
indoor rooms and the patio were filled.
What is so interesting about this place—aside from its location in a vacation wonderland and the great beer they serve—is that they just keep growing. The original taproom has expanded to encompass the buildings on either side, and now also includes a comfortable covered patio that overlooks Bridge St. out front.

Short's has also have opened a production facility in Elk Rapids (on Lake Michigan, closer to Traverse City) and are expected to brew 55,000 barrels of beer this year. As a result, rumors seem to fly every year that they are about to sell out to a mega-brewer (this year, it was supposed to be Heineken) but it’s just not true. Whoever said that quality is what speaks the loudest has it right.
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July 14, 2017 0 comments
One of the first pleasures of the season, I am happy to relate, was the release of Hoppin’ Frog Brewery’s Grapefruit Turbo Shandy, which is the first product of theirs to be available in a 12 oz. can. As I have previously noted, I am a big fan of the regular (lemon) Turbo Shandy, and would drink it by the bucketload if I could afford it. I first tried the grapefruit version on the first day of its release, and although I have always preferred lemon, I must admit it was very delicious. Being highly familiar with grapefruit radlers—like those offered by the Austrian brewery, Stiegl—I found Fred Karm’s product superior in most every way.

Having been to the Stiegl brewery in Salzburg a year ago, I was happy to relate my judgement to Fred Karm, Hoppin’ Frog’s owner – who explained to me that it was one of the beers after which he had patterned his grapefruit masterpiece. We agreed that the primary reason for the superiority of his product is that it has a lot more “product” in it to begin with; as a result it has a significantly higher ABV than the Stiegl radler, which is only 2.5% compared to Hoppin’ Frog’s 7.0%.

The key to both Fred’s Shandies is the fact that he starts with a great ale—something that you’d be happy to drink “as-is”—and then adds a very rich, all-natural tasting fruit flavor. As Men’s Journal said in a review of America’s best Shandy & Radler beers – “Ohio's Hoppin' Frog makes no beer in half measures…”  Amen to that.

I took a 4-pack of the Graprefruit Turbo Shandy with me on a recent trip to Michigan and the folks I shared them with agreed that it was one of the “best summertime beers” ever. If you can get your hands on some – try it out.

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June 11, 2017 0 comments

I decided it was time to jot down some quick notes on the continuing popularity of the Summit Brewpath – a local brewery trail and passport program developed by the local Convention & Visitors Bureau. Similar to popular programs run in other cities, the program lets beer lovers get a passport at 14 participating breweries in Summit, Medina, Portage and Stark counties, then collect stamps when they visit and have a beer. Once their passport is filled with brewery stamps, they can get a free “I completed the Summit Brew Path” T-shirt, and are also eligible for an entry to win a grand-prize overnight stay in Akron.

To say this was a great idea for local beer lovers and brewers is perhaps the understatement of the year. Initially, 5,000 passports were printed; when 4,000 went out the door out in the first two days of the promotion, another 5,000 were ordered. By the end of April, the bureau had been forced to order an additional 10,000 passports due to the incredible demand.

It’s a fun idea, and participating brewers have reported that about half of their customers are coming in to get their books stamped. Each book provides a short intro to each of the 14 participating breweries and a space for their unique ink stamp. A few other regional breweries are also profiled in the book, which look similar to a travel passport. The 14 participating breweries include Aqueduct, BrickOven Brew Pub, Hoppin’ Frog, Ohio, R. Shea, Thirsty Dog and Two Monks in Akron; HiHO in Cuyahoga Falls; Mucky Duck in Green, Canton in Canton; Royal Docks and Scenic in Jackson Township; MadCap in Kent; and Wadsworth in Wadsworth.

Akron continues to add new breweries on a regular basis, as the local beer business finally seems to be hitting its stride and gaining a higher profile. Clearly, the Summit Brewpath program has been a big boost to business—even presenting a challenge to some of the smallest brewers, who have sold out of some beers on busy weekends when lots of people show up to get stamped. Nevertheless, if you’re selling beer, that might be a good problem to have.

The passport program has also had a great social impact as well, as visitors from different cities and neighborhoods compare their stamps, talk about their visits and the beers they’ve tried. It’s an idea that’s been working well in Columbus, where the Ale Trail is in its 3rd year; in 2017, it expects to have 38 stops and print between 35-40,000 passports. For Akron, at one-fourth the population size, to have a program almost half as large, is a pretty good start. Cincinnati recently announced plans to develop an Ale Trail of their own, and the Ohio Craft Brewers Association launched a statewide digital trail for smart phones called Ohio on Tap in May.
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May 21, 2017 0 comments

In fact, most of the beer—or lager—as they would call it, is served perfectly cold. In this case, however, we’re talking about ale. And while English ale is not served warm, it would better be described as cool.

Of course, none of this came as a surprise to me during our recent trip to London. True English ales, hand-pumped out of a cask, are at their best when they are just slightly cool, so that more of their flavor has a chance to show through. This is especially true of the low-alcohol (around 4% abv) session ales, which are very light indeed. Served ice cold, they would clearly suffer as a result, and no doubt display all the character of a Coors Light.

Another note is that these ales, when pulled from a cask, are not nearly as carbonated as you might expect, especially if you enjoy English ales out of a bottle here at home. While not completely flat, the character is more like a bottle of beer you attempted to re-cap and put back in the fridge to drink the next day; there’s something there, but not like when you first opened it.

I will get into a little more detail in some follow-up posts regarding some specific ales and experiences—the pubs were mostly all delightful and the ales very good. We had a wonderful visit to the Windsor & Eaton Brewery after a visit to the castle and the staff were so entertaining and gracious as we sampled a variety of their tasty offerings. We did a lot of walking, which left me quite thirsty—as a result, when we reached a pub for a break, I often had a cold lager to start and followed up with ales afterwards.

As I expected, the long reach of American Craft Beer is making itself known in the UK; besides the ubiquitous BrewDog offerings, a few of the newer craft brewers were beginning to fall under the spell of “more hops, please” – and are also using some US variety hops. I can only hope this phenomenon is held in check, as I’d hate to muddy the traditional character of true English ales as a result of this bitter trend.

All in all, however - a great trip and a memorable experience.
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