Before traveling to Iceland I had heard that the food and drinks were both quite expensive. One thing to keep in mind though is that they don’t expect you to tip so it is not too bad. One reason the craft beers are more expensive is the alcohol tax that is higher on higher alcohol beers. So the double ipa and imperial stout are served in 200 ml pours at most places.
I visited all 3 bars on my list inside Reykjavik. Mikkeller was the most expensive as to be expected. Sometimes it was 1400ikr for a 200ml pour or about $12. Mikkeller does not serve local beers but Norwegian beers and other imports. The selection is nice and at least given the price they are used to giving you a splash to taste a few before buying. Ironically I ended up ordering a beer from the US because they had recently finished a tap takeover featuring breweries from the Midwest.
Other bars serving local beers were more reasonable depending on what you bought. Two Reykjavik bars focus on serving the beers of two Icelandic craft breweries. So while you can’t visit the breweries directly you can order flights (though they are so expensive I would suggest sticking with the pints). Microbar primarily serves beers from Gaedingur brewing and they had a very delicious west coast style ipa that very much hit the spot. This one was 1200IKR for a pint, which is about $9.50
Just down the street is Skúli craft bar, another local bar, this one primarily serving beers from Borg but also offering other guest taps as well. When I visited there my husband and I together had a delicious imperial stout (brewed by Borg), milk stout (from Mikkeller), and saison (also from Borg). The saison was nice and crisp herbal and fruity with thyme added. It had a light honey flavor on the back. This reminded me of some of my favorite saisons brewed in the United States and really hit the spot. Prices here made me appreciate the prices at Mikkeller in Bangkok. Needless to say I didn’t drink a ton of beer while I was there because of the prices.
I would absolutely suggest anyone who visits Reykjavik go to both Microbar and Skúli craft depending on the style you like. They are both very close to each other. Google knows where Microbar is but gets the location of Skúli a bit wrong. The best way to get to Skúli from Microbar is to go out the south entrance and turn right, then look to your left for the Skúli sign. Visiting these bars is also the best way for someone to try some beers from the smaller breweries without leaving Reykjavik. Elsewhere you will find plenty of mass produced lagers and occasionally beers from Einstok, one of the larger Icelandic craft breweries, including their toasted porter, white ale, and pale ale. Ironically it is probably cheaper to buy Einstok beers in the stores in the US but it is still nice to order a few while in Iceland. The pale ale was nice and lightly bitter, featuring plenty of English style hops.
Border X originally opened in Otay Mesa, very close to the border with Mexico. The beers are still brewed at that location but more recently they opened a satellite tasting room in Barrio Logan, closer to Downtown San Diego. I visited the Barrio Logan location recently to try their beers. I didn’t get to taste the popular Blood Saison because they ran out but I did get to taste the Hefeweisen, Abuelos pale ale, Abuelita’s chocolate stout, Horchata golden stout, and a coffee oatmeal stout they brewed in collaboration with Groundswell Brewing.
The hefeweisen was a nice cloudy yellow with a light citrus kick that blended nicely with banana and pineapple. Though it was largely to style, their version was a nice change to the typical, and very refreshing. The Abuelos pale ale was a solid fruity English style pale with figs added. The beer was lightly bitter and very smooth. This was the only hoppy beer available when I visited, so it might not be the best destination for hop heads looking for West Coast style brews.
The Abuelita’s chocolate stout had a deliciously smooth oatmeal stout body and bright chocolate flavors on the front. I found it less bitter than most stouts. The beer has a light vanilla on the back. The chocolate flavors were also very different than you see in most local brews because it uses the Mexican style of chocolate usually used in the chocolate drinks available in Tijuana and elsewhere. It reminded me of some of the better of such drinks I have experienced in Tijuana. This is certainly a standout beer that they brew.
The Horchata golden stout isn’t boozy at all despite being 10%. It could easily be confused with ordinary horchata. The beer was very smooth and sweet with the right amount of rice, vanilla, and cinnamon. The brewers create an extract of the vanilla and cinnamon themselves that gives it authentic and not fake-tasting flavors. The coffee oatmeal stout brewed with groundswell was a nice smooth oatmeal stout with light coffee in the back. It was very nicely balanced, though I slightly prefer the chocolate stout.
Though Border X isn’t a place to visit for hoppy beers because they didn’t have an IPA they are brewing some awesome stouts and word on the streets is the Blood Saison is also really good. Both the chocolate and horchata stouts were very impressive. I hope to visit them in the future to see how things are going. The tasting room in Barrio Logan has a similar feel to places I have visited in Tijuana with plenty of Mexican imagery on the walls.
Abuelita’s chocolate stout
Horchata golden stout
At the beginning of my recent trip I spent a few days in Washington DC. There was one brewery I could visit within the city itself but it was so out of the way without a car I skipped it (The brewery is called DC Brau). I was beginning to think I wouldn’t visit any breweries and then I realized that dogfish head has a few different brewpubs within a quick train ride from the city. I visited the closest Virginia pub and ordered a flight followed by some other specialty beers. Because I visited a brewpub I is not surprising that they only had one flight to choose from and a very expensive specialty flight option.
I stuck with the core beer flight. This meant I got to taste the wheat, 60 minute ipa, 90 minute ipa, Indian brown, raisin d’etre, and pumpkin ale. My husband also ordered a goblet of the chicory stout because it was not included in the flight. I also tasted the choc lobster in a pricy $10 goblet. The wheat was well done and to style offering plenty of added spices and Belgian yeast. The 60 minute was a light color and light body ipa with a mild citrus kick and some resinous hops that finished nicely with a light bitterness. It was miles different fresh from the source than anything I’ve had in a bottle.
The chicory stout was nicely balanced with a light smoke and light coffee flavors that blend nicely with some bitter chocolate. It is surprisingly light body and almost looks like a brown ale. This was a beer I didn’t expect to enjoy from the description but really liked. My husband was satisfied as well. The 90 minute was very fresh and surprisingly different even from the somewhat fresh bottles I had bought in DC. It is a combination of resinous hops and a syrupy honey like thick body that finishes with a boozy after taste. If I didn’t have two more bottles of the 90 minute in my hotel room I would have ordered a pint fresh right there.
The Indian brown had a nice sweet caramel back from brown sugar added with roasted malts and heavy hop bitterness. This was great most bitter of the bunch. The raisin d’etre is a strong dark Belgian made with beet sugar and green raisins added. The raisins left a strong after taste that lingers heavily and I did not particularly enjoy. My husband finished the taster and liked it surprisingly.
The pumpkin ale was mostly a light ale with a ton of spice added. It was easy to drink but didn’t have any particular quality to recommend it. I tend to prefer pumpkin ales with higher alcohol so they have more sweetness to balance the spice. Finally the choc lobster sounded like a good idea when they described it but neither of us was particularly impressed. It is a beer made with chocolate, basil, and lobster added. The basil and chocolate together gave it a cinnamon taste and it ends with a light salty taste. I much prefer the chicory stout to this. Though it improved somewhat when it warmed up it didn’t have the complex flavors I would expect for such an expensive beer. If all you ever had from dogfish head was in a bottle on the west coast you should absolutely check out the brewery if you are in the area. I enjoyed the IPAs so much that if I find them fresh in town I will probably buy some more.
Solemn Oath showed up on the list of breweries to visit outside Chicago proper when I was looking for a place to go and I always prefer tasting rooms whenever possible. Thankfully one of my hotels during the trip was close to Solemn Oath so it was easy to drop in for a few tasters. This visit was after going to Penrose brewing earlier that day, and the only things that interested me on the menu were the IPAs, the Oktoberfest and barrel aged stout. I got tasters of the Belgian IPA, IPA, Oktoberfest, and bourbon barrel aged stout.
I started with the Oktoberfest and was surprised by the massive amount of hop bitterness. Typically this style is made with zero hops so the existence of hops at all is a huge departure from the style. This would have been fine if the hops balanced with the rest of the beer but they stood out and gave the whole beer a powerfully bitter taste and a strong bitter after-taste.
The IPA had a lot of grapefruit flavor from the hops and overall seemed to be solidly balanced. Though it was also quite bitter, the hop flavors didn’t clash as much with the malts. It seemed like the same hops were used between all 3 (oktoberfest, IPA, and Belgian IPA). The Belgian IPA was also quite bitter and any spice from the Belgian yeast was overpowered by the same grapefruit hops and powerful bitterness. In all 3 of these brews it seemed the focus was on bitterness over aroma and they missed some areas where they could have really shined.
I ended with the bourbon barrel aged stout. This was an instant hit among my friend and my husband who both love dark beers. From what I got to taste of that one it had a nice full body and some solid sweetness along with the bourbon flavor but to me it seemed a little too sweet overall and not dry enough. Still, it was more impressive than the other before it.
Before I left I did get to taste some of the lighter offerings from the brewery thanks to some people near me who let me taste the pale ale. The lighter offerings seemed to be much more balanced than anything I tasted, so perhaps the brewer was experimenting with a certain variety of hops that wasn’t planned to result in so much bitterness. Those same people mentioned that Solemn Oath makes new beers regularly so the specific beers I tasted when I dropped by may not be the same ones you find if you come to visit.
32 North had a solid opening almost a year ago, with a great-looking tasting room and a good lineup of beers. Six months later, or soon after, their brewer quit, leaving them to scramble and basically start over. I visited them on October 15th, to see how things have developed, giving them a few months to get new brews ready with their new brewer and I am happy to report that they are back to the solid lineup they had going for them when they first opened. You can find my original post on them here. Some areas still need a little work but I am confident they will find a way to succeed going forward. I am writing this as if they were a completely new brewery because I expected that many of the beers I covered at the start would change drastically, and they did.
When I visited I tried the First Flight pale, Saison du Nord, Nautical Mile IPA, Pack Your Bags brown ale with cocoa nibs, Fly By Night milk stout on nitro, and Best Coast IPA. They also had a blonde, kolsch, and gose on tap and another pale ale. I went for the beers that I remembered as being the best previously as well as those that sounded the most interesting. My tasters were split into two flights and will be discussed in that order.
I started with the First Flight pale ale. It was mostly citrus with a mild spicy kick. Though it didn’t have any added peppers but it reminds me of beers with peppers. The beer has a nice golden color but I can’t help but feel the spicy kick kinda overpowers the rest, not a flavor that I expect from the hops. It was not too bitter and ends nicely with a floral hop kick. The beer was solid and drinkable but hopefully future versions will present the hops better. The Saison du Nord was a lightly fruity saison but nice and dry. It doesn’t have too much spice or pepper but enough to balance it out. A very impressive saison. It reminds me of the Collette from Great Divide.
The Nautical Mile IPA was a little bit stronger than the First Flight pale and still has that pepper kick but it is much milder and the flavor has more grapefruit up front. The beer has a beautiful orange color, and is quite smooth. No longer the tropical fruit flavor of the original. It is a solid IPA but the hop flavors are a bit different than I usually get from them. It has a medium bitterness on the back end. Like the First Flight this is solid but it feels like it could be better in future versions.
The Pack Your Bags brown ale with cocoa nibs was a very smooth brown ale with a mild bitter chocolate finish and a light body. Though I say bitter chocolate, this is not a bitter beer, but it isn’t a sweet beer either. This is closer to the Benchmark brewing style of brown than nut browns you see around town. The Fly By Night milk stout on nitro is no longer made with coffee. This is a super roasty stout with a mild sweetness from the lactose. Despite a 6.5% alcohol it is quite light body and nice caramel finish. It also has a bit of a roasted popcorn flavor on the end.
The Best Coast IPA seems to be the least hoppy of the bunch despite claiming to be the highest IBU of them all. Hops are very subdued and a bready malt seems to take over. Hops are very earthy and balance with the malts. The beer has a dark orange color. It is very different from the typical local but probably my favorite among the bunch of hoppy beers. The balance is its best positive.
The other thing they had at the opening that was quite popular was the peanut butter porter, which they will be bringing back for their one year anniversary coming up in a week (On October 22). Though it took them a while to get back to the promising start they had originally, I am now quite excited to see how they do in the coming year. I purposefully avoided the black cherry landfall because I have had enough of the gose in my previous visit but I will certainly keep an eye on the various options they have going forward.
Top 3 :
Best Coast IPA
Fly By Night Milk Stout on Nitro
Penrose was quite the drive from an already out of the way sub-area of Chicago. Getting to Penrose from downtown Chicago would probably take at least an hour on a good day on the toll roads. Still, I saw a number of sours on their menu and heard some great things about their brews so we took the drive out there. While I was there I tried the white IPA, Belgian IPA, Mandarina sour, Deminus Roux sour, and Lemongrass saison.
The white IPA had a solid lemon and pine flavor from the hops with a medium amount of bitterness on the aftertaste. I was surprised that the Belgian yeast was not very prominent. Compared to the light golden white IPA the Belgian IPA was a darker more orange color with more resinous hop flavors and strong bitter aftertaste. Though I was surprised by how bitter this was it was nicely balanced in that the hops went well with the malts and yeast.
The Mandarina sour was very dry and highly carbonated with both a light golden color and a very light body fitting to its 4% alcohol. It was very medium sour and had a light citrus kick. Comparatively the Deminus Roux was a darker amber color and the flavor came through with very strong grapefruit and a heavy bitter aftertaste. This didn’t seem particularly sour either but was dominated by the grapefruit flavor that was very reminiscent of eating fresh grapefruit. All of the bitterness seemed like there was quite a bit of hops in there though it may have been from grapefruit rind. This was a favorite of one of the people I tasted with but the grapefruit was too much for me.
Before leaving I ordered a taster of the Lemongrass saison hoping that it would satisfy me in a way that I hadn’t yet been by the previous four tasters. I was quite glad when I took a sip because it had all of the delicious funk I expect from a proper saison with plenty of bright spice flavors and a light lemon kick on the back. This was also quite carbonated and some in my group who were not familiar with saisons were a bit surprised by the flavors. I savored this taster all to myself as the best from my visit. If I happen to visit them again I will certainly look for more saisons.
Before visiting Munich for Oktoberfest I read a lot about it but nothing seemed to explain the feeling of it. Perhaps that is because most people writing about it had so much to drink that the details are fuzzy. A few specifically admitted that. Still after visiting Oktoberfest for a single 3 hour stretch I think I got a pretty good feel for it. I also wanted to provide some perspective from someone who expected to hate the beers and the extra benefit of a husband who I thought would be so miserable that he would make me leave early. He only drinks dark beer at home.
The awesome part about Oktoberfest is that they don’t charge admission. Which means there are no lines to get in just a constant stream of people migrating from the nearby train stations into the festival area. Imagine your county fair (San Diego County Fair feels pretty similar) without those annoying lines to get in or trying to park (or paying to park). If you are staying anywhere within the s-bahn lines it is a simple matter of transferring at the central station and taking one of the few trains to the right stop and walking in.
It really makes you wonder why more festivals don’t simply do away with entrance fees (and further makes me wish San Diego had decent public transit that connected all the different neighborhoods as well as Munich does). Once inside it is like any other festival. You have booths just selling food, others just selling souvenirs, carnival rides, (you have to be pretty drunk to think getting on these is a good idea considering how large the drinks are) and then the main attraction–the massive beer tents. There are tents for most of the major breweries around town and all but one require you to be seated to order a beer. This seemed stupid at first but then I realized how heavy the massive beer mugs are while empty let alone full.
Because I hate tourist traps I purposefully avoided going to the rowdy tents that are frequented by foreigners. This meant going straight for Augustiner (the tent most frequented by locals). I arrived at 11am or so and at first I thought we got there too early. Then I realized there are only about a third of the seats available for people to simply walk to and sit down. The rest are reserved far in advance. I wanted to sit at a table that already had people. My husband insisted we grab an empty table. This was good because we invited the first group of English speakers to join us. As much as I like Germans, festivals are no fun without conversation in your own language. And my German is horrible.
Even Augustiner has English menus. Right away I ordered a liter of the festival beer and my husband ordered a liter of the radler (also similar to a shandy), half festival beer and half sprite. He enjoyed the radler. We also ordered a pork knuckle. Thank God they didn’t make us order two. Those things are huge. Soon after our food arrived we saw a group of Americans about to sit at a table across from us. We invited them to join us and they did so gladly. We recommended the pork knuckle and they ordered a round of beer.
The beers were a whole 10 euros a liter, more expensive than the prices in town but it is a markup I gladly pay to avoid having to buy a ticket to get inside. The food wasn’t too expensive compared to the rest of the city. Everything is cash only. Many things were meant to be shared, including whole fish that when you pay by weight end up very expensive. I wasn’t expecting to like the festival beer. It didn’t blow me away or hit some beer pleasure spot but I didn’t have a problem downing a liter.
The festival beer is basically a 6% helles. Helles is the Bavarian version of a pilsner with less hop bite and more malt. The hops were more obvious when drinking the regular 4.8% helles the following day. Thankfully the malts used don’t taste like too much so it is a very drinkable 6% beer. The German hops are much more subdued so someone who doesn’t know what they taste like may not notice them at all. What makes the festival beer drinkable is how awesomely fresh it is. And at the Augustiner tent they are pulling it from large wooden casks.
The beer halls are basically massive tents with large wooden picnic tables pushed really close together so you can only fit between them on the short sides. As you slowly drink through your liter of beer you start to see how fantastic it is to be sitting at a table. In the three hours I was sitting there I drank one liter of the festival beer and shared a liter of radler with my husband, after he had one on his own. We also are the pork knuckle along with the potatoes it comes with. Pork knuckle has a crispy skin and otherwise is a bunch of delicious tender pork meat around a large bone.
I could have stayed all day but since I only had two days in Munich I left after 3 hours so I could visit some other places. I only was able to stand the full 3 hours because I had some fantastic conversations with the group that joined us. Also as the place filled up the atmosphere became more festive and it was certainly contagious. As you can see in the photos I didn’t bother buying the festival garb and I don’t think it makes much sense unless you plan to visit Oktoberfest more times in the future.
As a craft beer fan and a hop head the festival beer was surprisingly drinkable. As I will describe in a separate article I found the local helles beer to be quite tasty once I recognized the German hops. Any serious beer drinker should consider visiting Oktoberfest at least once. I don’t recommend drinking five liters like many people did, at least not at festival prices. In smaller bars around town you could get a liter of the local helles for around 6 euro 50, which was a better beer. Meeting with other travellers and bonding over beers is the core draw of the festival unless you like your family enough to travel with them and want to sit for hours with them over beers.
The lack of entrance fee was especially nice because I could simply leave when I had experienced what I wanted without worrying about getting my money’s worth. If you absolutely hate beer you can order other things but you might as well order a radler. Raising your glasses with the music and letting out a triumphant prost with the rest of the room is something you can’t easily replicate. I may not return to Oktoberfest but I won’t soon forget the experience.
While in Chicago I visited Revolution Brewing based on a recommendation from a friend. I wanted to visit the taproom but it was closed for a wedding. Sadly the brewpub gets very crowded and they don’t have much space for people who are just there for a few beers. It was also very loud and difficult to have a conversation. Thankfully they do allow you to order five ounce tasters, even if the service away from the bar is quite slow.
While at Revolution Brewing I tried their Anti-Hero IPA, Zyclhops, Rise (stout), and Eugene (porter). I thought the Anti-Hero IPA was a solid IPA offering a nice medium body with citrus, tropical fruits, and resin. It was a bit sticky sweet but overall a solid IPA. In comparison the Zyclhops was a double kolsch IPA with a heavy boozy after taste with a lot of noticeable alcohol. The hops came in with a lot of pine but it otherwise didn’t have much resemblance to an IPA. I did not finish the taster.
The Rise stout was quite bitter and smoky and not particularly smooth. This one also had quite a bit of pine flavor. As someone who likes stouts to be more roasty and smooth this one wasn’t hitting the spot for me. My husband wasn’t particularly impressed either. The Eugene porter was better, giving a nice mix of chocolate and dark fruit and a smoother overall flavor. It was closer to what I expect from the style.
Overall two of the four beers were enjoyable although the other two were so off-putting that I didn’t end up ordering extra tasters. The other reason I didn’t order more tasters was the slow service and my plan to visit another brewery later that day. Perhaps the specialty IPAs they had on the menu would have been more my style but I wasn’t feeling like staying longer. If you are planning on visiting Revolution I suggest that you go to their tap room if you can because the brewpub gets very crowded and is better for people going to eat.