Tag Archives: microbreweries

My Favorite Foods

I am really surprised at myself for not thinking of writing on this topic before now.

Particularly considering that, with my mother who loved to cook and loved to eat even more, that I was exposed to good food growing up. But for whatever reason, this topic finally came to me recently and I felt I needed to explore it.

I suspect everyone has his or her favorite food, ranging from the exotic to the mundane.   For me, my all time favorite may seem rather simple to many but to me, it’s great—a juicy hamburger.

For as long as I can remember, I have always loved hamburgers. This was also my favorite food growing up. And one of my most memorable experiences as a child was the day I got to eat a hamburger not just for lunch and dinner, but for breakfast as well.

The occasion was we were on vacation and had stopped at a breakfast griddle (maybe a Waffle House or similar chain of the 1960s). Our family of six was seated at the counter and as the waitress asked each of us what we wanted to order, I confidently stated “a hamburger.” The waitress paused as an odd expression came on her face and then my mother piped up and said if that was what I wanted for breakfast, I should get it. And I did! Since we were travelling all that day, it was fairly easy for me to get a burger at lunch and dinner at the restaurants where we ate completing a perfect trifecta.

I was probably 8 or 9 at the time but still over 50 years later, I vividly recall that special occasion.

Pimento Cheese Burger Sliders

Considering this is my preferred food choice, I have had a lifetime of trying hamburgers all over the US as well as internationally with variations from just the ordinary to an extra-special gourmet burger. But of all the burgers I have eaten, my favorite continues to be a Huey’s burger, right here in Memphis, TN.

This is also the burger I most frequently have since my wife and I eat there at least once a week to enjoy a good beer and burger.

My second favorite food is steak (notice a pattern here). But not just any steak, a bacon-wrapped filet mignon from Charlie’s Meat Market that I cook my own special way.

I actually started buying these steaks (in various sizes from 6 to 12 oz.) at Charlie’s even before I got married so with me having been married for over 37 years, I have probably been buying these at the same location on Summer Avenue for almost as long as Charlie has been in business (Charlie’s also happens to supply hamburger meat to Huey’s, thus being the provider for my top two favorite foods).

While this is my second favorite food, I rarely order it out as I have found via costly experience that many restaurant steaks are just no where near as good as a Charlie’s filet that I cook on my own grill. With my wife not being the meat lover that I am, this is frequently what I cook for myself whenever she has a business or social dinner to attend.

My third favorite food is salmon but living close to the Mississippi River where catfish is much more prevalent, I don’t get good salmon all that often. The best salmon I get to eat is whenever I am traveling to a region that has access to a much greater selection of fresh seafood. And looking down the menu, a restaurant’s salmon dish is almost always the first entrée to catch my attention.

The seafood chain, Legal Seafood, always has an excellent salmon dish and whenever I get to eat there, it is usually a toss up between salmon and crab cakes, a very rich and delicious alternative that I never can get in Memphis.

But of all the places I have ordered salmon, probably my favorite is a brewpub in New Brunswick, NJ, Harvest Moon (a city where I teach at least once or twice a year).

Here I get to combine my love for great beer with the taste of really great salmon. And their salmon dish is different and unique every time I go (and always excellent).

Finally, my fourth favorite food is pizza, not just purchased at a restaurant, but also cooked in our own oven as one of my wife’s eclectic toppings on homemade dough.

Probably our most often purchased pizza is from Memphis Pizza Café but while in graduate school, I know I consumed a large quantity of Garibaldi’s pizza. Of late, I have had a number of Pyro’s Pizzas, which are thin personal pizzas (this particular one making its appearance at my private Super Bowl party).

Bosco’s is another fine pizza restaurant and since they also brew their own beer, is a favorite meal combination. This year, one of their specialty pizzas allowed me to indulge in two of my favorites, a cheeseburger pizza.

I tried to think of what would be my fifth favorite food to round out a “Top 5” list but nothing jumped out at me to the same degree as these four, the ones I usually think of first whenever hunger comes my way. While my food palate may not be as broad as many of my readers, it does encompass a number of ethnicities—Italian, Mexican, Indian, Thai, Indonesian—just to name a few, and includes chicken, fish, and salads (probably the healthiest choice).

Indonesian rijsttafel (rice table) in Amsterdam

So if you happen to be dining with me sometime and ask what I would like, you now know what my top four choices would be. So if you are interested in something else, you can always preface your question by saying beyond my top four, what would I like to eat?

Bon-appétit!

200 Beers

This weekend, I reached a beer-drinking milestone. The Flying Saucer has a UFO club that you can join and once you drink 200 different beers, you receive a plate (saucer) with your name, date of 2ooth beer, and a saying of your own choosing that is attached to the ceiling for all to see. And when you reach 200, they throw you a party to celebrate! So my wife and I each received our plates at a joint party.

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I actually reached this goal at the end of September but wanted to wait for my wife to finish so we could have our parties together.

Growing up, I can’t recall receiving a trophy or an award for achieving something. Our kids all have numerous sports trophies around the house. So for me, what better trophy to strive for than doing something I love?

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We gathered with 8 of our friends and family members to celebrate this milestone, some of which traveled many miles to join in the celebration. But getting here, in addition to drinking a lot of beer, took some time, a lot more time than I thought it would take originally.

It was in the summer of 2011 when we joined the club at the urging of one of our son’s school friends. At the time, our son’s friend and his wife were working on their 2nd plates. For just a nominal membership fee, we got a t-shirt and a member card to swipe whenever we picked out a beer to track what we had had.

Interestingly, we had been going to this restaurant for quite some time but never thought about joining the club nor were we encouraged to do so by anyone at the restaurant. But then again, we were in our 50’s when we first started going there and maybe we didn’t look like their typical UFOer.

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For someone who loves beer, it was easy at first to pick out three different beers—the maximum you could get credit for per day. I have written before about my fondness for beer and in particular, India Pale Ale or IPA beer. But soon, I had tried all of those and had to move on to other beers. Still with rotating taps, there was usually something new and interesting to try. To encourage you along the way, whenever you reached a milestone of 50 or 100 beers, you received discount coupons.

At 150 beers, you receive a hat for your continued effort (drinking). And this is where I hit a wall. It was not that I couldn’t drink more beer; it was just that most of the beers I had left that I had not tried were Belgian ales. And with that countries’ Trappists, Abbys, and all sorts of different styles, probably the most variety in the world, there were naturally a LOT of Belgian ales. While one of my brother’s favorite styles, for me, it is rare to find a Belgian ale that doesn’t have a taste of clove or isn’t a fruit Lambic. And clove or fruit is not what I want to taste in my beer. Being an IPA lover, hops are what I want to taste.

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I began to count how many beers I had left that weren’t Belgian and that I would want to drink to reach 200. Around this time, my wife and I would also swap beers. I’d get something light that I wouldn’t necessarily want and my wife would get something hoppy that she wouldn’t necessarily want. I don’t know if this violates the UFO rules; at least we were never told we couldn’t and the server never frowned whenever we swapped beers.  Besides, we still drank 200 beers.

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It was this last effort of swapping that helped us achieve our goal and bring us to this party. And considering it took us over 3 years (on average less that 0.20 beer per day), it was easy for me to come up with my saying for my plate. Inevitably, whenever I start a project, it always takes me longer than I think. I know my wife has heard me say that many, many times. So naturally, my plate is inscribed with:

“Took longer than I thought.”

When it came time for our big plate reveal, our server grabbed a microphone and got the attention of the entire restaurant. She read our names, our saying, and then everyone applauded. The plates were covered with a black cloth and a string hung down for us to pull off. Pulling the string proved to be a challenging task, as the cloth seemed to be sown to the plate. After several hard tugs, the cloth came down and then my wife revealed her plate.

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I know this photo is very fuzzy but then again, if you had had 200 beers, it might look this way anyway.

Will we go for a 2nd plate? Our server actually asked me that question. Now that we’ve achieved our goal, it will be nice to walk in and just order whatever beer we want without looking at a list or realizing we’ve already had that one and then have to pick another one. However, the discount coupons do offer an attractive incentive along the way with the enticement of that second party at 200 beers. But a second plate isn’t really necessary because, maybe not for perpetuity, but at least for as long as they are in business at that location, we will have that trophy hanging on their ceiling for all to see.

 

Beer Books

Normally I would wait until year-end to write a post about the best books I read in a given calendar year. But having finished reading my third book about beer this year, it seemed appropriate to combine just these three into a separate post.

Yes that is correct, I have read three separate books about beer this year. And beyond just the interest in a subject that I enjoy to partake in, they resurrected a personal interest as well. And it is these three books I would highly recommend to anyone who loves beer and has tasted and appreciates the difference between mass produced “big beer” and craft beer.

A Birthday present from my brother

A Birthday present from my brother

To start off, I am not ashamed to say that I have been a lifelong—at least since legal drinking age—beer drinker. And the first book I read this year was about the rise and fall of the King of Beers in the US—Anheuser-Busch—the beer I mostly drank in those early years.

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Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America’s Kings of Beer by William Knoedelseder, is a book I first learned about from listening to an NPR book podcast. It tells the story of the humble beginnings of Anheuser-Busch (A-B) and traces the story through the bloodline of six Busch generations and how they transformed the company into the world’s largest brewer. Having been one of the few breweries to survive the 13 years of Prohibition, it interweaves the family brewery story with the famous Clydesdale horses and A-B’s ownership of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team and tells how each of the Busch heirs played a part in the success or failure of the company. As the title indicates, the story concludes with the downfall of the empire and the sale of this iconic American brand to a Belgium beer consortium.

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While the A-B story focused on the rise and fall of the more than century-old largest brewer by sales volume, the second book I read about beer, Beyond the Pale: The Story of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. by Ken Grossman told a completely different but also entertaining story, one at the forefront of the craft beer trend. This book chronicles the start up of Sierra Nevada in 1980 by co-founder Ken Grossman literally from scratch cobbling together old used equipment and fabricating whatever else he needed. While A-B’s focus was on beer volume, Sierra Nevada’s focus was on brewing a consistent, flavorful beer that because of its popularity, just happened to become a national brand and one of the largest of its kind. This book caught my eye first because Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, their flagship beer, is one of my favorite beers and one of the first craft beers I tried. Having savored the book, I immediately went to their website to make plans to take their Chico, CA brewery tour the next time I was in San Francisco or to visit their second brewery opening in 2014 just south of Asheville, NC.

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Sierranevada.com

But after finishing this second beer book, my thirst was not satiated—pun intended—and I wanted to learn more about the craft beer industry in general. The third book, The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution by Tom Acitelli, is a book that I learned about in reading Grossman’s book. This book told the entire story of the craft beer industry, from the very beginnings of its revolutionary trend in the late 1970’s.

It well chronicled the complete history (with almost 40 pages of annotated citations) from just a few craft microbreweries to what we know as the industry today, weaving the tale through the eyes and stories of the major characters that deserve the credit for what the industry is today. Of particular interest was how their growth occurred and “Big Beer’s” reaction to their growth. Having read the story of big beer through A-B, I felt I was seeing the story from the other side, the little guys, the “David” having to fight for his very existence against the “Goliath” mass-produced beer industry. As I read their progress through the years in different parts of our country, I began to recall my own discovery of craft beer in the 1980’s.

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As I read each story, I enjoyed recognizing the beginnings of each microbrew that I have grown to love, Lagunitas, Avery, Brooklyn, Boston Beer, and Anchor. As I was reading about these revolutionary entrepreneurs having their own “epiphany” after tasting craft beer that led them to found their own brewery, I recalled my own epiphany, a memory stored far back in the recesses of my mind.

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I can vividly picture it in my mind now. I was sitting with my wife at an outdoor restaurant table in early October on South Street in Philadelphia. I had just taken my first sip of Samuel Adams Boston Lager and my taste buds couldn’t believe their delight in savoring every drop. It was like no beer I had ever tasted before (small wonder it is today the largest US legacy crafty beer). This first taste would prompt me to have many more and on a subsequent visit to Philadelphia, seek out their brewpub location.

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In fact, I am most thankful for the concomitant rise of brewpubs because they have become my absolute favorite restaurant to seek out. What better establishment to dine in than one that served their own beer, brewed on site, beer which could not be consumed anywhere else in the world and pair that with the foods I love, burgers, fresh fish, salads, and grilled steaks. I can’t even begin to number how many brewpubs I have been to not just in the US but when I have traveled abroad as well. On a recent trip to Seattle, thanks to my daughter’s help I dined in a microbrewery or brewpub everyday while there (some days twice in one day).

While Sam Adams introduced me to this unique American grown beer, it was Sierra Nevada that became my favorite go to craft beer (and thus my interest in reading Grossman’s book). While I can easily recall my first Sam Adams, I actually have no recollection of my first Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. It was at a time when craft beers were becoming more available and I was eagerly trying them all. But it is a taste that has stuck with me from day 1, whenever that was.

And while reading these books, it amazed me that the recipes that would become so loved and so famous often were happened upon through a trial and error approach to blending just the right ingredients and the right brewing process. It is this process, dear to the heart of any research scientist, that through serendipity can lead to such incredible and enduring flavors.

One last beer I must mention, certainly considered the granddaddy of them all (Albion excepted which is no longer brewed), is Anchor Steam. Many credit Fritz Maytag (descendant of Maytag washer fame) with having played a critical factor in the growth of the craft beer industry, to the point of being referred to as the godfather of craft beer. And besides Boston Beer, it is Anchor that many credit with their own “beer epiphany.” I can’t recall my first Anchor beer but it also holds significance for me, as I was able to tour its Petrero Hill brewery with my oldest son, who happened to live within walking distance of the brewery.

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And it was the wonderful brewery aroma we smelled from the front porch of his house in San Francisco that led us to take the tour in 2008.

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And it was a picture I took inside this brewery, the same scene featured on the front of this third book that convinced me it too was a must read.

Audacity

 

Bro Go

This past weekend I did something I haven’t done in a long time and something probably few people do: I spent the entire weekend with my brother.  My siblings and I have a unique relationship with each other, we actually like each other and like to spend time together.  And so Friday afternoon, I picked up my brother at the airport shortly after he arrived from Philadelphia.

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It was actually an unusual turn of events that ended up this way since it was supposed to be a weekend with my brother and two sisters.  Ever since our parents died, we have been getting together just the four of us at least once a year (with just a few missed years early on)—a challenge since we live in three different parts of the country.  We call this weekend for the four of us, “Sib Sab” an abbreviation for “sibling sabbatical”, a name our creative sister coined.  This was to be our second Sib Sab of 2013 since we had previously gotten together in May 2013.

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A bitter cold winter storm even before winter officially kicked off prevented our two sisters from driving over from Northwest Arkansas.  Fortunately the storm in Memphis was much less than expected so my brother was able to fly in although it was a bit of touch and go flying through snowy Cincinnati.

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The reason we had gotten together was a desire to talk, listen to music and drink beer (a passion he and I both share).  My brother’s birthday falls early in December and each year, I send him money to take himself out for lunch and a beer or two at one of his favorite restaurants.  We always talk about how nice it would be to get to enjoy those beers together so this year, we decided to do just that.  And both of us being scientists that make a lot of lists, we made a list of all the things we wanted to talk about so we wouldn’t forget and leave an important topic out.

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On Friday night I actually took this list with us to dinner so we could get started on our discussions (We later figured out I could take a picture of it on my phone so we wouldn’t have to carry the entire pad with us).

We both have a love for India Pale Ale (IPA) beer, a love I credit my brother with introducing me to and one in which I have written about before (IPA).  Since trying craft beers was to be a big part of our weekend, many of our meals were taken at brewpubs and the first night was no exception.

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The next morning over coffee, we started checking topics off our list by telling each other the latest news of each of our own family members.

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As we talked our sisters began texting us pictures of the accumulating snow outside their windows.  We soon realized our two sisters wouldn’t be able to drive over later that afternoon as originally planned.  So I suggested we Facetime them so we could at least digitally connect.  Since they were snow bound at their own homes, I Facetimed one sister while my brother Facetimed our other sister.

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With all four of us together, we discussed getting together for Sib Sab 2014 in warmer weather.

With those plans made, my brother and I switched our attention to beer (I considered using “All about beer” or “Brotherly Love” as the title for this blog until my brother came up with “Bro Go” for when just the two brothers get together).

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Our first stop was a new establishment that just opened up—in fact it was their opening day.  We got there about 1:00 PM, less than 2 hours after their first opening.  They boasted of 24 beers on tap and we knew we were in a beer heaven.

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Our next stop was for lunch at another establishment known for its large selection of beers.

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Fortified with food, we were ready to make our third stop at another new microbrewery, Wiseacre Brewing.

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For a couple of guys in their 50s (me being the oldest), we quickly realized we were probably the oldest patrons in the building.  But in spite of the noise level that younger adults must not mind, we enjoyed our beer.

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Our final stop of the evening was dinner at another fairly new establishment.

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With our list of topics on my phone, we were able to carry on our discussion after having enjoyed a day of trying great beers at four different locations.

The next day we started out with breakfast at a great local place.

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Since it seemed too early to start drinking beer right after breakfast, we headed back to the condo to check a few more topics off our list.  In no time, we were ready to head back to Growler to try more of their selections.  With beer in hand, we sat down and watched the Philadelphia Eagles play in the snow, the city my brother would be flying back to in the morning.  The snow was so heavy on the field; they had to go for two-point conversations after a touchdown, as the ball would be buried in the snow if they tried to kick a field goal.

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They were only open until 3:00 PM that day so we walked across the street to another restaurant with a large beer selection on draft.

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What scientist wouldn’t want to have a beer at a restaurant named this?  Since they didn’t serve dinner on Sunday night, they were closing at 4:00 PM, but it was just enough time for us to have another great beer.  We left there satisfied not just from the beer but the knowledge that we had closed down two separate bars in one day—admittedly it was in the afternoon but we probably had not closed down a bar (in the wee hours of the night) since college.

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That night was the eve of my brother’s birthday and so I took him out to eat at a Mexican restaurant, one of his favorite types of food, and of course, another beer.  Driving back to the condo, we got one last chance to see the beautiful Christmas lights near the condo.

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Back at the condo, we checked off the final topics on our discussion list

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and then as any proper scientist would do, additionally documented the libations we had also enjoyed there.

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While the weekend didn’t work out for the four of us siblings to get together, it was a most enjoyable time for the two “Bros” to “Go” for beer and brotherly conversations.  We had successfully turned the idea of celebrating that birthday lunch and beer together into an entire weekend event.  And we tapped off the weekend by making plans for the two of us to repeat for Bro Go 2014, in a much warmer climate.

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IPA

I must say that being an analytical chemist, I can’t help but think of isopropyl alcohol every time I see the abbreviation IPA.  But this post is not about that common laboratory chemical that also finds its way into our homes as rubbing alcohol.  No, this post is about the IPA one would find in a beer establishment—India Pale Ale.

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For all of my adult life, I have loved the taste of beer and have enjoyed trying many different varieties of brews.  Based on my tasting experiences, I had come to prefer certain styles of flavorful beers.  But it is my brother I have to thank  for pointing out the finer points of IPAs.  And since that time, an IPA is my first choice when scanning a beer menu; in fact, whenever we eat out, it is usually the list of beers I explore first before perusing the food menu.

IPA is not a beer for everyone—it is definitely not your Dad’s beer if his preferred brand was one of the major US breweries.  Anyone who has ever tried an IPA for the first time knows; it takes an acquired taste to appreciate this beer.

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But what would you expect from a beer that is measured in large numbers of IBUs—International Bitterness Units?  IPAs are often known by the varieties of hops and barleys used to brew them.  And because so many unique tastes can be achieved with these two ingredients, it is a popular beer for microbreweries to brew.

On a recent trip to Seattle, I had the opportunity to try a number of really good beers.  For a beer connoisseur, Seattle is an ideal destination with so many microbreweries concentrated in the area—one of my main reasons for wanting to take a vacation there.  My wife and daughter have each posted about some of the fun times we had on this trip on their own blog sites (MindfulMagpie and Krug the Thinker).  My post will focus on the beer I had.

Our trip was relatively short; we arrived on a Wednesday afternoon and left early on a Monday morning.  But I managed to hit a brewpub every day, and sometimes two in one day thanks to my daughter’s research before we got there and my wife’s willingness to eat many of our meals at brewpubs.

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The first night we walked to Rock Bottom Brewery and obviously I had their IPA.  What better way to end a long travel day than a good dinner and beer?

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The next day on our way to the Boeing plant and museum, my daughter found a microbrewery where we could eat lunch before our tour.  I recall that beer not being so great, but that is the price of constantly trying new beers; you won’t discover really great ones without encountering some dogs.  Then after the tour and before we went to a great dinner at Delancey, we stopped at another microbrewery, Scuttlebutt, overlooking the water.

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On Friday before we visited the Chihuly Gardens and Glass House, we lunched at McMenamins where I obviously tried their IPA.  Another great beer!

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For dinner we, went to the Tap House, technically not a brewpub but nonetheless an establishment high on my list with its 160 different beers on tap.  And what a surprise when we came down the stairs to find a sign that read “IPA Week”—heaven!

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For this special occasion, they had a separate beer menu just for the IPA beers.

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I sent this picture to my brother on the East coast and true to form, he immediately texted me back with his recommendations.  I can’t even recall which one (or two) I selected but the greatest thrill was as we leaving and taking my photo next to the IPA week sign, the manger invited me into the keg room.  I didn’t want to leave.

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On Saturday, we explored the Fremont area of Seattle.  While my wife explored the small shops and bookstores there, I prepared myself for my next brewpub, Fremont Brewing Company.

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Truly a beer garden that did not serve food, we bought sandwiches to take and have with our beers.  Whether or not it was the atmosphere, the wonderful company I had, or the gorgeous weather we had, this was probably the best IPA I had on the trip.  By the front door, there is a cheering section where customers sit and drink and cheer you when you come in the door and boo you when you leave, unless of course you take their picture as you exit.  My greatest regret leaving was knowing I couldn’t get this beer in my own town.  I would have to come back…

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Our last night in Seattle, we made it to yet another establishment that boasted 100+ beers on tap, the Yard House.  As usual, I perused the beer menu first before thinking about food.  Making my selection, I could sit back knowing I had accomplished one of my main goals in coming to Seattle—visiting lots of brewpubs/bars and having a huge selection of IPAs that I couldn’t get in my own home town.  My wife and daughter had been really good sports about eating in all of these brewpubs—I wonder if they would be willing to come back to Seattle to explore other microbreweries?