Sunday, September 28, 2008

Fat Squirrel Pub Opens

Rio Rancho drinkers have a second option if they dare chance the police state that is Rio Rancho: Fat Squirrel Pub and Grille.

The pub is located in the old Turtle Mountain Brewing location on Southern Blvd., which is kind of a shame for Rancho residents since it is right down the street from Turtle's current spot, meaning they have to drive just as far to get to the only other bar around that has good beer.

The pub, predictably, has a pub style menu with the usual suspects present (think fish and chips and the like).

Decor is a far cut above the fraternity house basement feel that Turtle Mountain possessed in its day, though we all know if the beer list is good enough we would drink in a closet. I have never actually done this, though I do admit to waking up in a closet after sleepwalking following a particularly unsober night.

The beer list is well planned with a nice variety of styles represented by world breweries. There are 20 taps, with notables being Stone IPA, Fat Squirrel Pale Ale (brewed by Turtle Mountain), Red Rye and Steam by Turtle Mtn., and Spaten Oktoberfest. They also have a large bottled list that includes Saint Brigid's Porter by Great Divide. Great Divide is not well represented at bars in the area. I saw more at bars on the East Coast this Summer. The one complaint I have is that the beer menu is heavy on the Anheuser Busch mediocre beers: Shock Top, Landshark, Budweiser American Amber, Kona Fire Rock, Longhammer IPA.

The Fat Squirrel should be a welcome addition to the Rio Rancho beer community. If only someone would open a good beer bar farther north towards 550, Rio Rancho residents would not have to risk their livelihood driving so far because they want to have a quality beer or two.

Friday, September 19, 2008


September 20, 2008 is the date that Oktoberfest starts this year in Munich, Germany. But that doesn't really concern us here in Albuquerque, because we will be celebrating Septemberfest at Marble Brewery, which is closer than Munich so your chances of getting a DWI on the way home are less.

The event will begin at 12 pm and go on till 8, though I bet many people will be staying on long after. Twelve New Mexico breweries will be attending:

Abbey Brewing Co., Blue Corn Brewery, Chama River Brewing Co.
Il Vicino Brewery, Isotopes Brewing Co., Marble Brewery
Rio Grande Brewing Co. Santa Fe Brewing Co., Second Street Brewery
Sierra Blanca Brewing Co., Three Rivers Brewery, and Turtle Mountain Brewing

Hmmm, no High Desert. No Wellhead either, and they also sat out this year's IPA Challenge. And Silver City Brewing is like me in that it never leaves home to do anything.

I don't have the lowdown on the styles offered, but I would guess some Oktoberfest style beers will be served.

I do know that sloppy hippies will be twirling in the street because A. the side street will be blocked off, B. there will be two bands performing, and C. that's what hippies do. Get them in a public setting and eventually the dancing starts. Under the Bus and Three String Bale will each perform 3.5 hour sets, while Prudy Dimas will have a half-hour on the stage. I don't know if that time limit was set by the organizers after hearing Prudy's demo tape, but let's hope not.

The Chama River kitchen crew will be on hand grilling brats and burgers.

Twenty dollars gets you a five oz. tasting glass with Marble logo that can be filled five times. Marble also says that the twenty dollars gets you 12 "free" one oz. tastings. So if they are free, does that mean you don't have to pay the fee and can still get the one oz. tastings?

This fest sounds like Marble is raising the bar high above any previous beer event in Albuquerque, so shake off that hangover from Sierra's Hopfest and head over to Marble to support New Mexico beer!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Home Sweet Home and the Big Haul

The last day of the trip! Two weeks away from home is about as long as either of us can handle, so we were looking forward to getting back to our house.

The trip would not be complete, however, without a stop at one more Steve and Barry's store. Funny how our hotel was only a couple of miles away from the Crossroads Mall, where the Steve and Barry's was just waiting for us. No wonder she was so happy to stay in Oklahoma City.

I didn't mind going, since we would be in a mall. I am a mall junkie. Not for the shopping, but more for the architecture and the way the stores reflect the area of the country. This mall had a carousel and playland for kids in the middle of the mall. Say what you want about Oklahoma but every town we have been through there, large or small, has well maintained parks and play areas for children.

They also had the first Sonic "Drive-In" I have ever seen indoors. I don't know if the girls rollerskate through the food court with your order but I didn't see any. Sonic is funny because it has gained cult status on parts of the east coast, that is, the parts that don't have one. More are popping up there, and when they do it's a big event. Yeah, enjoy those tater tots everybody!

Of course today's malls are dominated by chain stores but you can always count on a few local eclectic stores. We spotted Gyros City, which you'd expect to be run by Greeks but an Indian couple owned the place. Also in the mall was the Eargazum music store, an instant classic. From the looks of the empty cases the store had either had a huge rush of sales or was going the way of Tower Records, Wall to Wall Sound and Video, and Wee Three Records.

All right, if we are going to talk shopping, it should be beer shopping, right? Tucked away in North Oklahoma City after an inconvenient stretch of red lights is Sam's Warehouse Liquor. Thankfully, it was worth it as Sam's carries Boulevard Brewing's Smokestack series of beers, which is to say their bigger and bolder beers. Boulevard is based in Kansas City, Missouri, but is not quite as well known as another Missouri brewery you may be familiar with. We bought the Double Wide IPA, which is the one beer of the Smokestack series that I really wanted, and also a Rogue Jazz Guy Ale.

I made the mistake of asking the yokel-ist of local yokels the best way to I-40 West. She made it sound like a foreign concept, "Hmm, I-40 West. I-40West?
"Yeah, I was on it, oh, just yesterday. It doesn't just end here, does it?"
"Hmmm, I-40 Wesssttt". We left before her head exploded and found our own way back.

I have been emphasizing the virtues of taking the back roads on road trips, and here I go again. We took I-40 Business through the town of El Reno, OK, home of the "Onion Fried Burger Day Festival" where they grill a 700 lb. hamburger. We had seen signs throughout the state advertising "onion fried burgers" and knew when we saw Johnnie's Grill that we had to try one.

Johnnie's Grill has seating for about thirty, and was about a third full when we went in. There is a lunch counter located right by the grill and we sat there
while we waited for our burger and fries. I took a few pictures of the interior but felt awkward as I was getting stared at the whole time. What was I supposed to say to get them to stop staring? "I enjoy your small town ways! I am recording these memories digitally, much as you would on your Kodak Disc cameras!" Instead, I turned my attention to the grill.

The onion fried burger start out with a pile of paper-thin onion slices on top of the burger that is cooking on the flattop grill. The cook then flips the burger on top of the onions so the onions cook and steam up into the burger. The result? Well, you can see it isn't the prettiest thing to look at but was one of the best burgers either of us have ever had. We almost forgot about the Subway we had bought ten minutes before. I'd like to forget about Subway forever. We don't eat a lot of fast food so Subway seems like a good alternative when traveling, but I always feel like I have a food hangover after eating it. "Ohhh, I never want to eat again!" But the burger was great, and the homemade chocolate pie was awesome too.

Shamrock, Texas is another Route 66 town that I have always blown by in the past, but this time we drove through the main part of town. The Tower Station is a gas station that was built in 1936, and is a landmark of Route 66. It is also the only thing worth seeing in Shamrock. The only beer I saw in the whole town was when I looked in our backseat.

I must have driven past Cadillac Ranch, just west of Amarillo, ten times before I ever noticed it was there. In fact, the first time I ever drove through Amarillo, my friend and I looked all over the city for the Ranch but never found it. No, we never thought to stop and ask someone for help. It makes more sense to drive up and down every street till you find what you are looking for. Anyway, Cadillac Ranch is in a field directly south of I-40. There is no way you can miss it. Me, yes. You, no.

Back in New Mexico. It wasn't easy getting from Amarillo to here, either. For the third time that I can remember, we were caught in a hail/rainstorm in that Bermuda Triangle between Amarillo and the New Mexico border. No wonder nobody lives in that area; it has the worst weather I have ever seen. One minute the weather was overcast and the road was dry, the next we couldn't see a thing and had to slow down to 5 mph. Of course, once we got about 3 miles over the state line, the sun came out and the rest of the ride was fine.

Finally, we have made it back! First item of business is turning on the air conditioner, second, taking inventory of the goods.
We have brought back at least one of, and some multiples of, the following:

Thomas Creek (SC): Vanilla Cream Ale, Class Five IPA\
Lagunitas (CA): We're Only in it for the Money, Hop Stoopid, Lumpy Gravy
Little Kings (OH): Cream Ale
The Duck Rabbit (NC): Brown Ale
Brooklyn (NY): East India Pale Ale
Boulevard (MO): Double Wide IPA
Clipper City's Heavy Seas (MD): Peg Leg Imperial Stout, Small Craft Warning Imperial Pilsner, Below Decks Barleywine (2006!), Loose Cannon Double IPA, Hang Ten Weizenbock
Victory (PA): Baltic Thunder Imperial Porter
Choc (OK): 1919 Pale Wheat
Cottonwood (NC): Endo IPA
Harpoon (MA): Glacier Harvest Wet Hop Ale
Terrapin (GA): Big Hoppy Monster Imperial Red, Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout, All American Pilsner, Side Project Roggen Rye, Rye Squared Imperial Pale Ale
Mendocino (CA): Talon Barleywine
Southern Tier (NY): Hoppe Double Pale Ale
Rogue (OR): Jazz Guy Ale
Hebrew (CA): Jewbilation Eleven Strong Ale
Diamond Bear (AR): Presidential IPA
Weyerbacher (PA): Double Simcoe IPA
Highland (NC): Kashmir Imperial IPA
New Holland (MI): The Poet Stout, Pilgrim's Dole Wheatwine

Thanks for reading along with us. I hope you enjoyed the trip!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

OK Really is Just OK

You excited? I've been letting the anticipation build for a few days now, and have decided it's time to recall the story of the DRIVE THROUGH ARKANSAS! Sure, it may seem boring, but I have driven through this state so many times I have accumulated many fond memories. From the $21.95 motel room in Brinkley with the vibrating bed and the TV that only showed porn to the freak ice storm that allowed me to travel 30 miles in 7 hours, Arkansas holds a special place in my heart.

If you are one of the millions who have done the drive on I-40 through Arkansas, you no doubt have seen all the billboards for wineries in the state. We never visited because they are a bit too far off the interstate to be convenient, but we did stop at a liquor store at the gateway to wine country. As expected, the beer selection was nothing. 7-11 has a better selection. They did have an amazing wine inventory, with an emphasis on local wines. The owners were so friendly and helped us pick out a nice white for my girlfriend's mom. I tried to re-create the experience at 7-11 when I asked the cashier for help in deciding on a malt liquor, but her expertise was in the Slurpee department.

Now this truly is one of those places that I look forward to when visiting Arkansas. Not for the beer variety, either. I think the most exotic thing they have is Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The reason is this: once upon a time, a naive traveler (me..did you guess?) was making a cross country trek. It had been a long day, and getting late in the evening. I pulled off at an exit that had the prerequisite needs posted on the blue amenities sign (cheap lodging, gas station, pizza place) and went into the convenience store to buy beer before I got my room for the night. I looked up and down the aisle but could only find soda. Yuck. I asked the cashier where they were hiding the beer and she said, "This is a dry county". "Oh," naive me said, "What's that mean?" "That means you have to drive another 60 miles to buy alcohol". I was tired. My body was set to get a room and relax. The decision was easy. "SEE YA!", I screamed as I raced away from the sickness that had overcome that poor county.

This place was an oasis for me, and though the selection wasn't great, it was BEER. The staff must have thought I was a nut as I walked in with a huge smile on my face and a spring in my step as I grabbed a 12-pack of Milwaukee's Best Ice. I try to stop in there for old times sake every time I pass through. There is a new competing store just down the street that carries Rogue and Diamond Bear(made in Little Rock)and I even convinced a local who was buying a case of Miller Lite there to try some Diamond Bear Honey Weiss since it is brewed locally. I bought some Presidential IPA and we got back on the road.

We actually had our destination for the night all planned out, with a hotel booked and everything, for Oklahoma City. The reason for this was we had passed an Old Chicago restaurant along I-40 when heading east on our trip and thought it would be better to stay near there on our way home and get good good beer rather than staying in a no man's land town near nothing. Old Chicago is a chain that mixes TGI Friday's decor and mediocre food with Flying Saucer or Yard House beer selections (but with fewer taps). We had been to the one in Denver when Falling Rock Tap House was closed and found it to have a great variety of beers.

As we got closer to Oklahoma City, following our hotel directions that took us off I-40 and put us on I-240, I came to the realization that we were quickly driving further and further away from where I remember Old Chicago being, which was right off I-40. But I had done a mileage search from the hotel to Old Chicago, and it said less than a mile...what was up? Well, luckily for us, it turns out that there is an Old Chicago right along I-240 as well, and our hotel was indeed just down the street, and right across the street from a liquor store. Just like I planned.

Our hotel had problems. First, they had us on the second floor when I had reserved a first-floor room. Not a big deal, it's just kind of a pain lugging all the stuff we lug when we stay at a motel. Then we realized they had put us in a smoking room, which again wouldn't be a problem, but it felt as if no air had circulated in the room for years. So we had to drive around to our new room in a whole separate building, but again on the second floor. This one was even better: the air conditioner was broken. I finally told the girl at the front desk I was with and that got us a room on the first floor, and quick. Room situation settled, we headed over to Old Chicago.

We should have stayed in the room with no air conditioning. It had a better atmosphere, and the tap selection was better. No, this place wasn't that bad, but it was far from the Old Chicago in Denver. I should have expected that, considering the competition from other beer bars is much greater in Denver. I ended up ordering a Spaten Optimator, which is a great beer, but not really a good match for the heat and humidity surrounding us. There was a tap we didn't recognize, and the bartender told us, "Oh, that's Stevens Point Belgian White. That's our local brew, from right up in Tulsa." Now, I know that Point Brewing is located in Wisconsin. The bartender may have known too, but I didn't call him on it. He seemed like a nice enough guy. My girlfriend had one of those "local" beers and while light on flavor, it was a better match for the weather than my choice.

Then Mr. Smarmy Pants waiter sauntered over to the bar and asked us, "So, are you enjoying your Blue Moon and Spaten Optimator this evening?" Apparently, he guesses the beers that bar customers are drinking, and in turn the customers are shocked and awed by his prowess. Us? Uh...not so much, especially considering the beer wasn't even Blue Moon. Nice try, though.

We just had the one beer there and got pizza to go. It, like the rest of this Old Chicago, was fine. Nothing great, but better than nothing!

Next:Wrapping it up

Monday, September 8, 2008

Drinking for a Cause

...not that we need a reason!

Sierra Nevada and JC's New York Pizza Dept. present the Sierra Nevada Hopfest on Friday, Sept. 19 from 5-9 pm.

The event will be held in the parking lot just east of JC's NYPD, located at 215 Central (N. side of Central between 2nd and 3rd). Tickets are $25.00 and may be purchased at JC's. The 25 bucks gets you samples from 15 different breweries and a keepsake 3 oz. glass to drink them from. The best part is that all proceeds go to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. You should buy two tickets just for that reason!

Sierra, of course, will be a major presence at the fest, pouring their Pale Ale, Porter, Stout, Anniversary Ale, Harvest Ale (I imagine it is the upcoming Autumn one and not the Southern Hemisphere out earlier this year), and for the first time in Albuquerque, Double DeBOCKel! This is a 9.4% monster of a doppelbock, but don't let the style scare you away- this beer has great drinkability without the thick sweetness that can be hard to get through, especially while the weather is still warm. Heck, I drank one of these while sitting outside in Atlanta, of all places, in August!

New Belgium, Pyramid, Steamworks, and Full Sail, among others, will be pouring their beers at the event. There will also be a table devoted to Belgian beers.

This event is labeled as "1st Annual", so let's go out there and make sure that it is successful enough to become an annual happening. This town has the fan base to support great craft beer events and we have a major player recognizing it. Remember, Denver put on a nice little beer fest 25 years that thing still around?

See you at the Hopfest!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

New Beers of the Week

You know your town is on the beer map when a brewery in Missoula, Montana is willing to ship their beers here!

Big Sky is the latest new brewery to distribute beers in our state. They are best known for their Moose Drool brown ale (5.3%), a solid, easy-drinking beer. I first had this beer in Minneapolis at a bar in the Mall of America. The place had the worst service, but that's what you get for going to a bar in a mall. The other Big Sky beers available are Scape Goat Pale Ale (4.7%), Trout Slayer Kristalweizen (filtered wheat beer, 4.7%), and IPA (6.2%). Haven't tried the Scape Goat or Trout Slayer but the IPA has a good hop punch that should be popular here. Jubilation has these beers for $7.99 a six-pack.

I've been waiting for this beer for a long time, and I saved up enough money, and it's finally here- Rogue's Double Dead Guy (9%). This beer should probably be classified as an American Strong Ale, but I have read about it being called a doppelbock which, strictly speaking, it can't be because bocks are made with lager yeast and this is an ale. People have been calling the regular Dead Guy Ale a Maibock for years, which also can't be true, but call it what you want. Jubilation has it for $11.99 per 22 oz. bottle. Thank you Rogue for not putting this in a ceramic bottle and therefore saving the consumer four dollars off the sticker cost. Younger's Imperial Special Bitter (7.1%) is a ceramic series beer, and is also on the shelves, this one spotted at Kelly's Liquors for $15.99. This strong ESB is named after Don Younger, owner of the Horse Brass Pub in Portland, OR. I didn't go there when I was in Portland because The name Horse Brass Pub made me think of a British or Irish style pub that has Bass, Guinness, Smithwick's, Harp, and Newcastle for their beer selection. Check out the beer list on their website for another example of how wrong I can be.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

West From Atlanta (and North, and South, and North...)

If you've been following the vacation stories thus far, you know that this was primarily a beer trip. But I'm traveling with my girlfriend, and while she is just about as enthusiastic about beer as I am, she has her own "needs". As in, she needs to shop for clothes. Being the good boyfriend that I am, I offered to stop in any of the Goodwill stores we saw along the way. She declined.

Her first stop was to be at H+M, a European chain that had a store in Atlanta. To get there we had to go to downtown Atlanta. On our way, we happened upon a Green's Liquors, which I wasn't even going to go in but at the last second decided to. Lucky for me- they had Hop Stoopid. This was the only place in the world (that we found) that had any left. We picked up some for us and a friend and continued on to H+M. No, let me rephrase that. We actually drove around the city for a hour, unable to find the damn place, until my girlfriend got so frustrated that she said, "Forget it. Let's get the fuck out of here." That was too bad, because I was really looking forward to going there, but I decided not to argue. Shopping is fun so far!

The premier shopping destination for this day was Scottsboro, AL, home of Unclaimed Baggage. We saw it in a show on "extreme superstores" and knew we had to visit. This store buys all the luggage that was lost by the airlines and resells it at drastically reduced prices. The fastest route there takes you up I-75 into Chattanooga, TN. Luckily for my girlfriend, there was another store on her list that happened have a location in Chattanooga: Steve and Barry's. This store is actually kind of cool in that all their clothes are $9.00, and the quality is very good.

As exciting as the chance to shop there sounded, sanity prevailed and I dropped her off at Steve and Barry's and sped away in search of beer. Instead all I found was a lame liquor store that didn't sell any beer. I always feel weird when I walk into a place like that because I have to either walk right out or feign interest in the alcohol selection. I never buy anything and I feel like the people working there think I am casing the joint out. I should have robbed the place for wasting my time, now that I think about it.

I did end up finding a huge thrift store where what looked like the official Chattanooga Freakshow was hanging out in the furniture section, watching a talk show on and old black and white TV. I would have gotten a picture but I was afraid they'd notice me and chase me zombie-style. I also found the biggest used bookstore I've ever seen, and I've been to a lot of them. McKay used bookstore is a mini-chain with locations in Chattanooga, Nashville, and Knoxville. The place had ten aisles that were about 50 feet long and stacked full of books. there was also a big VHS movie section (the only way to watch) and a CD and video game section. I bought Super Street Fighter for Sega Genesis for a dollar and left to collect the shopping queen.

The road to Unclaimed Baggage took us off the interstate and onto a US Route that sent us back to Georgia, then BACK into Tennessee, and finally into Alabama. There are some fireworks stores on the border of the two states that are so big that they must be keeping all of China in business.

So was all the extra driving worth it? Not so much for the shopping, but for the experience and the thrill of visiting a part of the country I've never seen. The store is expansive, and they have a great selection of women's clothes, Ipods, digital cameras and other electronics at good prices, so if you go there with a good amount of money you can pick up deals, but I buy stuff like dollar video games, not Chanel dresses. What was puzzling about the place was the fact that, for the merchandise supposedly being lost luggage, there were certainly a lot of repeat clothing items. And there were curious items like TV sets, at least 20 of them for sale. Who flies with a TV set? And not like good TV sets but the kind where you have to turn knobs to change the channel. So we didn't buy a TV, but we did leave with a book. We skipped the separate annex where housewares are located (gee, I hope there's room in my suitcase for this coffee maker...don't get those where we live!) because we wanted to get back on the road.

It was raining for much of the drive after Unclaimed Baggage, which was OK because US 72 wasn't showing us much scenery-wise. We did pass the space center in Huntsville that would have made a nice stop if we had more time. At this point, however, we had no idea where we were going to stay the night and the GPS' hotel finder told us there was nothing for a long time.

Torrential rains passed us and we entered mighty Mississippi, home of ONE brewpub in the entire state. The brewpub was too far away, but we did find this liquor store. The beer selection was worse than I had imagined. I used the "Sorry, thought this was a church" excuse to slink out after a five second gander.

Towns that held any signs of life besides a gas station were few and far, far between. Corinth, Mississippi did have some local color with their signs proclaiming "Mid-South's favorite homemade biscuit!" and this life sized Rosie O' Donnell.

I wish we had the time to drive roads like this the whole time while vacationing. The traffic is lighter, and though it may take longer, you get to see so much more Americana. At this point, though, all we wanted to see was a hotel. It didn't even have to be Americana owned.

We had to drive into Tennessee before we could find a hotel. Yes, for the third time that day, we were in Tennessee, this time about 30 miles east of Memphis, in Collierville. This was a nice suburban town where we found a clean motel, good local pizza, and a Schnucks grocery store. Schnucks is a chain from Missouri, and it was nice to see that they were giving floor space to a display of good beers. I told the cashier how much we liked the town and she said, "Yeah, this town is full of elite people. I live in the ghetto."


Next: Wrong turn, right place