Friday, May 14, 2010

How to Travel With Beer

Firkin Around...Any Beer Town, USA.
Many of you may have traveled to another part of the country and discovered a beer that you have never tried before. It may be because that brewer does not ship into your state or in some cases, the brewer does not ship beyond the borders of their own state.  You may have fallen in love with that tasty brew and wished you could get some home. After you hung your head and silently weeped, you resigned yourself to the fact that unless you come to these parts again, it's not likely you'll sample this brew in the comfort of your own home.

The United States Postal Service bans the shipping of alcohol via their systems.  Don't think of trying it through USPS.  This statement is listed on their website concerning hazardous items:
UPS website states:
 And FedEx has this verbose and stout policy: 
Licensee-to-consumer in the U.S.1
The shipper must be a licensed entity and the shipment must originate and terminate in one of the states listed in the Wine Shipping State Pairing Guide as a direct-ship, intrastate, off-site or on-site purchase state. When shipping via FedEx Express® and FedEx Ground® services, shippers are encouraged to obtain their customers’ business addresses, which typically makes it easier to obtain the required adult signature. For ground service to residential addresses, shippers are encouraged to use FedEx Home Delivery®. 1FedEx Express does not transport wine into, out of or within the state of Massachusetts.
Alas, wine wins out in the least. What's a beer lover to do? Take heart my friends.  With a little planning and some effort, you can enjoy that magnificent beer at your home, too. Fortunately we all have a friend in Southwest Airlines.  They allow for two items of checked baggage to 'fly free' so long as each is 50 pounds or less in weight.  And since they fly to great beer destinations like Colorado and the US Northwest, you can score some beer when you fly there, too. Click here for the skinny on Southwest's regulations concerning alcohol transport.

Think of it as 'gluggage'! 

Here's how to get started:
  1. Get yourself a cooler with wheels and a travel handle.  Coleman's 50 quart cooler fits the bill quite nicely.
  2. Your local shipping store or office supply should have the single bottle bubble wrap pouches available for purchase. If not, buy yourself a small roll of bubble wrap and some packaging tape.
  3. You will need a small box of the quart sized zipper lock sealing plastic storage bags.
  4. Finally, get a good quality luggage strap to use around the cooler to ensure the lid stays closed during transport.
I have found that a 12 fluid oz.bottle of beer weighs about 1.5 pounds, thus a six-pack will weigh around 9 pounds.  You will be able to bubble wrap and bag 18 bottles bringing your total to 27 pounds. Those 'bomber' sized bottles are around 2.5 pounds each, so you should be able to wrap and bag three of them for a total weight of 7.5 pounds.  The beer/glass/packaging weight will be around 34.5 pounds.  Since the cooler is 15 pounds, you'll be right at the 50 pound limit for a free bag. 

A Few Do's and Don'ts 
  • DO line the inside of the cooler with some large bubbled, bubble wrap for extra cushioning.
  • DO keep the bottles upright in the cooler. Saves room and no worries of cap contamination.
  • DO use a permanent marker to write your address and contact info on the inside of the lid.
  • DO use a luggage tag on the outside of the cooler.
  • DO Bring the coolers to the check in area inside the terminal where an official can inspect.
  • DO have the coolers transported to the plane by a baggage handler, rather than having the attendant place them on the conveyor. This will keep them from any overturning or violent shaking.
  • DON'T put ice in the coolers. It's not like you're going to have one when they come off the baggage carousel.
  • DON'T fret over extreme cold or pressures.  Remember, the cargo hold is pressurized and relatively cool. Fido travels down there too! 
You will find that the travel coolers will consume some weight that could have been a few extra bottles, as opposed to using cardboard boxes.  Fear not.  It will insure that your suds will be further protected through your travels.  In addition, the wheeled coolers with their telescoping handles will breeze you through the airport with your beer.  So if you choose to go with two coolers, then pack your one carry-on lightly, don't forget your toothbrush and a change of underwear!  If you're like me, the next time you cry over beer, it will be tears of joy when you see those coolers at your destination, on the luggage carousel, knowing that they are yours to enjoy

Firkin Flying 1st Class! 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Odell Brewing

Firkin Around...Fort Collins, Colorado.
Moving a child out of the dorm at Colorado State University at the end of the school year might seem to be a difficult task for some.  Even more daunting when you live 2000 miles from the school. Add to that high altitude  and a 10 inch drop of snow in the middle of the move (in May!) when you're used to temps in the 80's at sea level.  Starting to get the picture?  Still unsure this was worth the trip?  I never look at any of those things as problems.  I keep focused on the goal of returning our daughter home, safe and sound.  Oh yeah, along with a trip to the best place I can think of, Odell.

I fell in love with Ft. Collins from the start.  The fact that there were three craft breweries within a couple miles of the campus was enough to lure me, I'll admit.  But it is Odell that has become my favorite while visiting there.

The last time we visited they were in the midst of an expansion, turning their brewing facilities up a notch along with the tap room.  The expansion is now mostly complete and you'll hardly recognize the place at first, if you are familiar with the original layout.  Gone is the plain lot to the west of the original building.  It now contains a tidy parking lot with some super cool bicycle racks shaped like hops and the Odell logo.

Inside, you now enter a new welcome vestibule from the west side of the building that flows into the gift shop area.  It then continues to wrap around to the east side of the building where you will start to recognize the bar, the 90 Shilling refrigerator door and the seating area.  And speaking of seating, the new tap room looks as if it can handle three to four times as many guests than previous capacity.  There are tours of the brewery workings available.  You can see the magic of brewing up close and personal.

You can still sneak a peek into the brew house from the tap room as the door has a generous sized window for viewing.  The bar front is now more accessible and the friendly staff will help you through any of the selections you choose.  If you can't narrow your choice down to a pint, they will be happy to offer you one of the three different 'flight' selections they have available.

More than just beer.

For every four dollars you spend, you get a wooden chit worth that much in return for a single purchase of ten dollars of merchandise from the gift store.
You can select from hats, shirts or Odell bar paraphernalia.  They even have Odell glass growlers with their own coozie slings.  How convenient.  Not feeling the urge to purchase some memorabilia? You can donate your chit to one of the various charities that Odell sponsors.

We enjoyed a couple of their flights, especially the Co-Pilot Tray featuring:
  • cHOPper HOPper (American IPA) brewed by the CSU brewing science department with some help from Doug Odell
I know they are famous for trial or 'pilot' batches of ales, but after seeing the high ABV content on this flight, I had to chuckle at the pun 'Co-Pilot'.  I'm glad to have had a designated driver on this day.

If you ever find yourself in the vicinity of the Denver area (one hour drive), do yourself a big favor and make the trip up to Ft. Collins.  You will be rewarded with the best experience of brew pubs, craft breweries and even one macro brewer.  Make Odell your first or your last stop, but by all means make the stop.  Then you'll see what I mean.  Like the Grand Canyon, or Cooperstown, it's a hike to get there, but well worth the trip.
Firkin Fort Collins! 

Odell Brewing Company
800 East Lincoln Avenue
Fort Collins, CO 80524-2507

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Stairway to Belgium

Firkin Around...Downtown Sarasota, Florida.

*** Note: This pub has closed for business since this writing. ***

Belgium lives in an amazing bar in Sarasota Florida named Stairway to Belgium.  Tucked away in an upstairs building on Main Street in downtown Sarasota you will find this unique and delightful Belgian restaurant/craft beer bar.  They are only steps from Sarasota Bay with its beautiful vistas of the Gulf of Mexico.

Truly nothing else like it in Sarasota.

The first thing that strikes you about the place is the smallest shingle on the outside of the building that leads to a bold wooden door.  It beckons you to climb the "Stairway to Belgium".  Going up the stairs there are food and beer menus on the steps, left there for you to peruse.  The Pomme Frites (French Fires) and the mussels are two of the top attentions you will see.  Many of the food items on the menu are also cooked with beer, and are done very well indeed.  There are some exotic items, (to the American palate), such as the Flemish rabbit stew. It was cooked with a brown ale and was simply terrific. We also sampled a three egg seafood omelette that was equally delicious.

The tap room greets you as you push the large black door open at the top of the stairwell.  The dining area surrounds the stairwell lobby with some window views out to Main Street below.  Some colorful (artificial) flowers are in the flower boxes outside the window. But don't let that distract is the only unreal thing about this place.  The food is for real and the beer...oh, yeah, THE BEER! It's most definitely for real.

 The Beer Selection
Yes, folks.  Those are red velvet ropes in front of the coolers! The pages in the beer menu, list by style, an awesome selection of European and North American craft brews.  True to their name, there is a vast selection of Belgian styles, on tap and in the bottle.  There's enough to make a monk drool.  We sampled an unusual pineapple flavored Lambic and also a Belgian Strong Pale Ale.  We squeezed in an Abbey brown dubbel at the end of our meal, too.  There's such a depth of beer in their display, it will make you come back for more.  So if you have the need to scratch an itch for some fine style beer and ale, and you want to wash it down with some delicious Belgian food, look no more.  You can find them both right here.

The Firkin Creme Brulee! 

Stairway to Belgium (Upstairs)
1359 Main Street
Sarasota, FL  33781


Stairway To Belgium on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Cajun Cafe on the Bayou's 5th Craft Beer Festival

Firkin Around...Pinellas Park, Florida.
Bonjou! Koman sa va?  We are doing just fine, merci, down at the Cajun Cafe Bayou's 5th Beer Festival.

This started with a 'tweet' on Twitter and the word spread across the state, calling all the #FLAbrew tweeps to descend upon this Cajun restaurant and craft beer pub.  There were dozens upon dozens of beers and ales to sample.  Some great, zingy Cajun cooking was available with everything from sausage to jambalaya and cornbread with bits of craw fish baked right in! Mmmm mmmm! That's some good eating. Beer reps from Bluepoint, St. Somewhere, Cigar City, Unibroue, Sierra Nevada, Oskar Blues, Bell's, Dogfish Head, Dupont, Shipyard, Brooklyn, Dunedin, Victory, Left Hand, Boulder, Saranac, Lindeman's and on and on were available.  The Dunedin Brewers Guild were also in attendance.  You couldn't swing an alligator by the tail without hitting something good to eat or drink.  All for your entry price of $30.  What a deal.  And they even throw in a cool souvenir beer sampling cup.

Cajun through and through.

There are so many little things for the eye to take in.  You have to admire the old neon sign out front that gives top billing of 'beer' over 'lunch'.  This crazy quilt building of boards, corrugated metal and other assorted lumber was decorated so well you would have mistaken it for the real Louisiana deal.  It is no mistake though, cause it's as real as it gets.  It's cool and breezy throughout the outdoor seating and stage area, all the way to the back deck that overlooks the river. Plenty of places to sit and enjoy the sunshine, food and the beer. 

Bobby Tess and his live jazz band were on hand to really get everyone in the mood.  They were swinging through sets all afternoon.  The stage was in the grand outdoor room where a raffle was being held to benefit a doggie rescue center.  Many great beer related items were handed out to the winners, from glassware to posters and flags, and some mighty fine bottles of craft brew.  Mardi Gras beads were randomly flung into the crowd between the calling of raffle numbers just to see who was paying attention!

That's not a blender, it's a hops infuser! 
Beer and Lunch! 

Who iz de jester in dizz fo-to?

 #FLAbrew Crew
Slowly but surely, the #FLAbrew folks began tweeting each other out.  Eventually, we all got together and exchanged names and business cards along with our choices of beer and ale we had spotted throughout the building and tents. 

These are just some of the #FLAbrew crew.  If I missed your name, sorry.  I was drinking fine beer at the time!

Firkin Laissez le Bon Temps Rouler! 

Cajun Cafe on the Bayou on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Shamrock Pub

Firkin Around...Sarasota, Florida.

Sarasota.  My town.  Craft beer is here to raise your spirits and your pints.  Here is a wee bar with a wee bit o' history.

The Shamrock has been a tiny but humble part of the Sarasota turf for many years. Over 40 if I'm not mistaken. You can get a glass of wine or your favorite brew in this quaint pub on Ringling Boulevard.  There's plenty of brew signs, flags and beer memorabilia, along with a unique UK call box right in the middle of the pub.  The only call you won't be missing will be last call!  Two dartboards and a bar game, along with just a couple of televisions are there for your distraction between pints.  The conversation will keep you entertained as well.

Tullamore Dew
As my ramblings have taken me through bars across the land, I can tell you one of the measures of a good bar is the quantity and array of beers, both on draught and in the bottle.  But one of my favorite personal measures is if a bar carries one of the best blended Irish whiskey products you ever laid eyes or lips upon.  That my friends is none other than Tullamore Dew.  Uisge baugh.  The tears of Angels.  Lo' and behold, tucked up neatly on a shelf near the back of the bar, sat a crock of the delectable dew.  Though the bottle was empty, (no whiskey here), it made me glow that this bar had already exceeded my expectations.

Back to the beer selections.  There were two tap stations that dispensed about five draught beers apiece.  Good and varied selections, I would add, many uncommon to typical watering holes.  Mainly they were American craft beers, but true to their Irish roots, a nitro 'sheleigly' of Guinness was prominently on display.  A fridge at each end rounded out the bottle and can selections with everything from PBR up to some hard to find micro brewery selections.  Cripes, they even had a few cans of sparkling white wine in stubbly little pull top cans.  Our hostess, Aly, was friendly and a great beer enthusiast. An easy going conversation about good beer and good local beer establishments ensued.

Cozy, quaint and comfortable. Atmosphere and character abound.
Returning our attention to the interior of the bar, you notice among the many beer signs hanging are some large photos of old Sarasota.  The pictures are from the surrounding neighborhood; some from over 70 years ago.  There is one in particular of nearby Payne Park, complete with the old spring training baseball field.  These super sized photos give new meaning to the expression, "...if these walls could talk!"  Interesting bits and pieces of what it takes to run a bar are all around you.  Tap handles from spent (or perhaps incoming) kegs are tucked in the nooks and crannies along the bar-back.  Lots for the eye to take in and absorb in one sitting.

There is a door at the opposite end of the lengthy expanse of a room.  It leads out to the back of the building and also serves as an alternate entrance.  At times, The Shamrock is host to some of the latest musical artists the Sarasota Bay area has to offer.  I will be back to check that scene, for sure.  Prices for beers and ales are very reasonable. A tiny gem of a spot right in the downtown area, just off the beaten path.  Be prepared to be nicely surprised.

Firkin Begorrah ! 

The Shamrock Pub
2257 Ringling Blvd
Sarasota, FL 34237

Shamrock Pub on Urbanspoon