The Cross-Country Pub Crawl

Brian and Wife at Cooper Smith’sIt wasn’t planned. Originally, when I was thinking about the roadtrip, I envisioned a rolling herf. A sedan with a perpetual haze and rich smell of tobacco permanently infused into the vehicle’s upholstery. Well, that’s not quite the way things worked out.

It may have been our lack of luck in finding decent tobacconists in our travels. (Google maps, it seems, is unable to distinguish between convenience stores and cigar shops.) Or it could be that my co-pilot, Mr. “Monkey Poo” Harris didn’t like to smoke while he was driving. Either way, the air was a lot less hazy in that cabin than I expected. That isn’t to say we didn’t smoke some good cigars. We definitely did. But what stole the show was the brew pubs and their small scale microbrews.

It started out by accident. We pulled over in Hood River, OR to stop for lunch, and noticed a sign for the Full Sail Brewing Company and decided to stop in to have some good pub food and a beer. Once we were in there, we decided, what the heck, why not do a sampler? And then it happened again in Salt Lake City, UT. After that it became a mission. And then after a few more, we started keeping score. By the end of the trip, we had done samplers at seven different brewpubs in seven different states, and had ranked them from best to worst after several lengthy discussions.

So here’s where we went, what we drank and what we thought of it, beginning with the pub we liked the least, and working up to our favorite. Enjoy!

Squatters Sampler

#7 Sqatters Pub Brewery
Salt Lake City, UT
In spite of the great atmosphere and funny drink names (“Poligamy Porter”) the brews just didn’t cut the mustard. But it’s not entirely their fault, unless you blame them for opening up shop in a city (or state?) that doesn’t allow draught beer to have a higher alcohol content than 3.2%. So as you might expect, these initially promising beers had a very watery, unsatisfying finish. The beers we had here quickly became a yardstick by which we compared other breweries offerings.

5 Seasons Sampler

#6 5 Seasons Brewing
Atlanta, GA
It pains me that a local Atlanta brewpub ranked so low in our esteem. Between the ill-prepared, overpriced food (Four bucks for a small plate of cold edamame? C’mon! And those crutons were very stale!), poor service (our waiter was clearly hating his job) and uninspired beer, we had no choice to put this almost at the end of the list. Almost the end. The beer here, while nothing to get excited about, at least it wasn’t like drinking colored water. There is hope for this place, the two beers they were out of when we visited may be fantastic. And maybe that waiter will wake up and realize his calling isn’t food service.

Bluegrass Sampler

#5 Bluegrass Brewing Company
Louisville, KY
The funny thing about this brew pub is that the best beers they make weren’t available in the sampler! We had several great ones at an Irish pub next door, including a tasty stout that didn’t appear on the menu and isn’t listed on the website. Overall, these beers were kind of hit and miss. Aside from the tasty Bourbon Barrel Smoked Porter and the stout with the long name I’ve forgotten, the most memorable was the Dort which tasted very much like bananas. Very much. Mr. “Monkey Poo” Harris also was very keen on the Drunkelweizen.

Granite City Sampler

#4 Granite City Brewery
Sioux Falls, MN SD
This pub was another complete surprise. By the time we rolled into Sioux Falls, we were dead tired, and would have settled for any place to get a burger before hitting the sack. We walked in, and hot damn, it was a brewery. It was around this time that we realized that our calling on this trip was to sample and review as many beers as possible.

We were a little conflicted about putting this on the list, though. It wasn’t that the beer wasn’t good. In fact, it was all very tasty. The thing is that the establishment isn’t a pure microbrewery. It’s part of a chain. And in an effort to maintain a consistent quality in their beers, their wort/unfinished-pre-beer is shipped in, and the final stages of the process takes place locally. Mr. Monkey Poo is a bit of a purist, but I’m a bit of a slacker. And since I’m the one writing the blog, I’m gonna let ‘em slide on this technicality. They were very nice (the manager came out and talked with us at length about the beer and the business) and the beer was good. That’s enough for me.

I’d say more about the beers specifically, but I can’t seem to get to their beer list on the website! I can say that I don’t recall disliking a single one.

Full Sail Sampler

#3 Full Sail Brewing Company
Hood River, OR
I’m probably a bit biased, as an Oregon native from Portland, but there’s plenty of Portland beer available, so there’s no need to artificially inflate the ratings of an single Oregon beer. As with Granite City’s brews, the entire Full Sail line was very enjoyable, but there was clearly a star of the show. Since I’ve been away, a beer called Session seems to have become a very, very popular brew in the area. And I can see why. I tasted it and was immediately in love. Light, flavorful, crisp and refreshing. An excellent summer beer. I liked it so much, I bought a case of the little grenade-shaped bottles it comes in and drove it all the way out to Atlanta. And that’s saying something. There were only three beers I brought back with me, and the other two were Golden Valley’s Red Thistle Ale and New Belgium’s Fat Tire. That’s very good company to be in. (To be fair, Bridgeport is available out here, otherwise I would have brought that out here too. Though the porter isn’t, and I couldn’t find any… :( )

Funny thing about the “grenade” shape. One of those babies went off between Kentucky and Tennessee! My trunk still smells like beer!

Yazoo Sampler

#2 Yazoo Brewing Company
Nashville, TN
This taster almost didn’t happen. When Google maps lead us to an old warehouse with no signage in a sketchy part of Nashville (complete with bridges and rough looking vagrants hanging out under those bridges), we nearly left. When we walked in and there was no seating, we nearly left. When we discovered that they didn’t sell food, we nearly left. Fortunately, less sober heads prevailed and we worked out way up to the bar and snagged a table at the same time.

As you can probably tell from the picture above, the “samplers” we ordered were less like samples and more like a round of drinks for a sales department lunch. Immediately we had a warm fuzzy for the place, and it wasn’t too long before warm and fuzzy was all we had going on.

It’s hard to say a beer stood out here, they were all excellent. I know I really enjoyed their “Hop Project” super-duper experimental IPA (I forget the exact name), as well as the ESB and the porter. Heck, I just love that they make a porter. I don’t see a lot of those anymore, and it’s a tasty beer.

So there’s good news and bad news about this place. The bad news is that it looks like you can only get their beer in Tennessee. The good news (for me that is), is that it’s close enough for me that I’d consider a quick weekend trip up there to pick up a Growler or two.

If you happen to be passing through the area, don’t miss this gem!

CooperSmith’s Sampler

#1 CooperSmith’s Pub & Brewing
Fort Collins, CO
As soon as I saw they had chili beer on menu, I knew I’d found a special place. That’s right, chili beer. As in hot chilis. I know that probably sounds weird, but believe me it’s good. It’s good enough that it’s on their menu year round! It’s more of a distinct jalapeño flavor in the aftertaste than a noticeable flavor during the drink. Think of it like drinking alcoholic nachos. No, on second thought, don’t. Oh yeah, and I forgot about the Cherry ale!

As was the case with Yazoo, the sampler came out looking like the drink order for a group of Irish salesmen. (Kiss me, I’m Irish!) To be honest, I don’t think any of us remember a lot about this evening, other than loving the beer, and the staggeringly large list of available brews. According to the website, there are 14 different beers on tap; several of those being variations on the Pale Ale. That’s what I’m talkin’ about! I really wish more brewpubs did that. Why have one Pale Ale, when you can have three?

In addition to having one of the largest lists of beers we saw the whole trip, it had a great atmosphere and very accomodating staff. We sat al fresco even though the seating area was closed, drinking our many beers, watching college-aged skateboarders falling down stairways and tripping over their baggy crack-pants in the surrounding pedestrian mall. Good times. And to think we probably would never have gone there if New Belgium had been open when we rolled into town!

And with that we’re done. I’ll leave you the way my esteemed friend “Monkey Poo” Harris left us most evenings. Abruptly out cold. Cheers!

Monkey Poo Harris, Out Cold
“Monkey Poo” Harris has left the building…

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