When I planned my trip to Siem Reap Cambodia, the land of $0.50 draft beers, I wasn’t expecting to find a brewery. I didn’t even search for one until I was already a week into my trip, relaxing at my hotel in Penang Malaysia. To my surprise I found one right off the bat, because the brewery knew how to market itself as craft beer. Siem Reap brew pub is located a little bit away from pub street, where most visitors spend the evenings enjoying cheap beer. Thankfully Google knows where it is and it is fairly easy to find because of its large space and bright lights. They have five beers available, a blonde, a golden ale, a honey wheat, an ipa, and a stout (which the simply call a dark ale). I tried all five over two separate visits because the flight of tasters only includes four.
The blonde ale is crisp and delicious with notes of citrus and honey with detectable floral hops but nothing overpowering. Most drinkers might not notice the hops at all. The Golden ale is fruity and medium bitter and to me resembles a pale ale more than a golden ale. The beer has notes of banana, Apple, and spice with a strong bitter finish. Those who aren’t much into hops should skip this one. The honey wheat is smooth and not too sweet, and drinks like a good wheat ale with hints of honey. The spice notes typically from a Belgian yeast are present and balance nicely with the honey.
The ipa mostly has flavors of tropical fruit and apple with a light body and good balance. The Golden ale was almost more hoppy. The ipa is neither a classic British style nor northwest style nor West Coast style. After speaking to the brewer and learning that this primarily uses galaxy hops I was less impressed because it didn’t taste anything like what I’m used to with the hops. It isn’t terrible but I ended up drinking more of the lighter styles instead. The stout is medium body with molasses flavors dominating and supported by dark chocolate notes in the back. The molasses is a nice nod towards the local stout flavors but this beer is much more complex.
The Brewpub has a fancy feel to it with a pond in the center of the outdoor area and comfortable seating outside. Inside tables have white table cloths and folded cloth napkins. For a Cambodian brewery I was glad that they charged only $3 for a flight and the same for each individual pour of beer. This is a nice change from Malaysia where the imported beers are usually $8 to $10, though they are also a Muslim country and so alcohol is not as common. I found the beers at Siem Reap brew pub to be overall very impressive and much better than any craft beer offerings I’ve tried in the Philippines. Before heading home I stopped by the Philippines to try some craft beer to see how they improved. As you will read in my next post, a few breweries are making some solid beers in the Philippines as well. If you care about quality local beers when you travel be sure to stop by this brewery if you are ever in Siem Reap.
The San Francisco Bay Area is a large place and visitors often travel as far north as Santa Rosa to visit Russian River or as far south as Santa Cruz to visit Sante Adarius Rustic Ales or SARA for short. I chose to fly into San Jose for this brewery visit so that I had a fairly short drive down to Santa Cruz, or the neighborhood of Capitola where SARA is located. I also visited a newer brewery known as New Bohemia Brewing a short distance away. Both breweries complement each other nicely.
SARA is a cult favorite for their sours and farmhouse ales, many of which are bottled and released exclusively from the taproom. I happened to visit when they were releasing bottles of Lady in Grey and they also had bottles available of their Farmhouse Noir, a dark sour. I tried a number of different beers over two separate visits including the Chavez porter, Lady in Grey, Anais saison, Vanilla Joe, and 831 IPA. The Chavez porter is a very smooth and delicious beer with hints of vanilla and chocolate with a mild roast at the finish. This is the base beer for many of their adjunct versions including Vanilla Joe, made with vanilla and coffee. The Vanilla Joe was a delicious mix of coffee and vanilla and so popular that it was no longer available when I returned for my second visit. This was also my husband’s favorite beer.
The Lady in Grey is a delicious complex oaked blonde with a dry finish and bright fruit notes. I enjoyed this one and picked up a few bottles for myself and a few friends back home. The Anais is a super fruity saison with mild funk and an earthy finish. The 831 IPA is quite fruity with darnk pine at the finish. I found the IPA to be overly bitter at the finish, not from hops but from something else. This is an issue they have identified and should be fixing for future batches. I also got to try the Farmhouse Noir thanks to a kind regular who bought a bottle for us to share. I had already purchased some to bring home but it was not available on tap. Famhouse Noir was a delicious dark sour with just the right amount of tart finish and lots of fruit and mild vinegar. I look forward to exploring the flavors of this beer more when I open the bottle I brought back with me.
On the two different days I visited SARA had quite a few people even as early as 12PM. The first day I visited was a Saturday which also happened to be a bottle release day so people were lining up for bottles and hanging around for beers. When I stopped by the next day there were no lines and the crowd was a little smaller but still respectable. There is plenty of seating available for people to hang around for a while. Flights are not available but they serve everything in half pours or full pours and the servers do a great job of explaining the beer styles prior to ordering something.
As SARA attempts to re-create the Farmhouse styles from Belgium, New Bohemia puts a lot of effort into creating German style pilsner, heffeweizen, and Vienna lager. I tried the pilsner, IPA, Mole Stout, Double Duchess coffee porter, and black IPA on nitro. The pilsner is super clean and delicious with a medium body and light German hop kick to balance out the bready pilsner malt. I passed on the heffeweizen because it is the Bavarian style which I don’t particularly like (tending to taste of banana and cloves).
The IPA was super smooth and juicy with notes of tangerine and melon, with a nice amber color. This is in line with the modern style of IPAs with lower bitterness and more hop aromas and was very impressive. The mole stout was deliciously balanced with the coffee, chocolate, and chilies all blending together perfectly. The chocolate and chilies trade off at the finish and the beer is smooth all the way through. The Double Duchess coffee porter is thick and delicious with tons of coffee flavor and a mildly sweet finish. The black IPA is served on nitro and it does a great job of mellowing the hops further while offering a super smooth finish. The hops are given a chance to shine and like the IPA it isn’t overly bitter.
For a new brewery I was quite impressed by the delicious beers offered at New Bohemia, though the brewer has a ton of experience at other places prior to opening up his own brewery. There is a little something for everyone here and the large number of stouts available was quite nice to see. We originally stopped by for a flight of four tasters but returned later for more because they ran out of the Vanilla Joe at SARA so we had to have more Double Duchess instead. That is how delicious it was.
In my short trip to Austin I visited only two breweries, in part because I was currently on a break from alcohol (or about to start one) and also because some of the local breweries don’t offer tasters. But the two breweries I did visit were the most highly recommended and they were both delicious in their own way.
Hops and Grain
Hops and Grain is closer to downtown austin while Jester King is far out from the city. It is certainly much easier to visit Hops and Grain. Rather than a taster flight, they sell you a glass and you can fill that glass four different times for $10. It isn’t a bad deal per ounce but for someone who was wanting to cut back, wasn’t the best either. I was glad that they used a 10 ounce glass instead of a pint glass like I encountered at some other breweries. I stuck to some of the lower alcohol options and found most of them to be quite tasty. I tried the Zoe lager, the Alt altbier, the mosaic pale and the baltic style porter.
The lager was super smooth and had notes of peach and light floral hops with a bready malt finish. It was one of the better lagers that I have had. The Altbier was super smooth and flavorful with a nice German malt flavor. I don’t have much familiarity with the style so I can’t say if it was a good example of it. The Mosaic Pale was a very well done pale in the modern style with lots of fruity hops and low on the malt bill. It stands up to some of the best San Diego pale ales. The porter was roasty and very tasty with notes of rasin and dark chocolate.
The brewery is a great place to hang out when it is quiet but it can also get quite noisy during the middle of a busy Saturday. They do have some outdoor seating out front but because it is in the sun I didn’t go out there. Not only am I quite sensitive to the sun’s rays, so are beers. I was quite impressed by the beers that I tasted and wish I could have tasted more in a more traditional taster size. They are also walking distance from Mueller’s Meats, a great local BBQ joint that has lines but nothing ridiculous.
I also visited Jester King despite the long drive. It is probably a good 30 minutes outside Downtown Austin, which means driving along some windy roads to get there, many of them only two lanes. It is one of the biggest outdoor brewery locations I have visited. They do offer individual tasters of each of the beers but I was disappointed that they gave you full size glasses with each one, which meant it was a bit difficult for you to carry around a large number of tasters. Still, because they serve tasters I tried seven beers at Jester King.
I wasn’t too excited by the two smaller beers I tasted, the Petit Prince or the Audio Palette. They are both mainstays but seemed to be a little lacking in flavor for my tastes. Still it is worth trying them if you go so you can decide if you like them and want to buy bottles to take home rather than blindly buying bottles. Noble King was a solid farmhouse ale with light citrus and lemon notes and hints of spices. The Multifarious smoked stout was very smoky, and ultimately the only one we didn’t finish drinking. The smoke was a bit too much for us.
The Ol Oi sour brown was really smooth and not too sour with a really smooth oaky finish. I left with a few bottles of this because it was one of the more impressive dark sours I have tasted. The 2015 Autumnal Dichotomous was really smooth and slightly sweet, a very delicious farmhouse ale that hits my saison spot. I left with a few bottles of this one as well and look forward to seeing how they age. The last beer I tried was the Bufords Roadside Wares, a colaboration with Arizona Wilderness brewing. It was mildly tart with some dark fruit flavor and some acidic finish. It was a solid beer but I didn’t like it enough to buy any bottles especially because it cost a few dollars more than the others.
For a highly hyped brewery a long distance from the town I was glad I went out and visited Jester King. If I went out again I would skip some of the lighter alcohol beers in favor of the more complex sours and farmhouse ales. The ones I liked though were absolutely delicious, which is where I think the hype comes from. If you do happen to like their lighter beers you can find them in the local Whole Foods stores as well, though I didn’t compare the pricing.
Ol Oi Dark sour
2015 Autumnal Dichotomous farmhouse ale
I have written a lot about Plaza Fiesta, Tijuana’s fantastic beer haven where you can spend the whole day drinking and eating without having to go very far. I haven’t been to Insurgente, Mamut, Border Psycho, or Donkey Punch brewing so I figured I would try these while I was there. I also ended up visiting Norte Brewing and Baja Brew Labs based on recommendations of some guys we met at Fauna while were down there. So the question is, considering Border Psycho and Insurgente don’t open until 5PM and close on Sundays is it worth visiting them rather than just drinking their beers on tap elsewhere? Read on to find out.
We started our day at Mamut because Insurgente and Border Psycho weren’t open yet. Mamut had some OK beers but they were out of a few of the ones I wanted to try. Out of the four I tasted, only two were particularly good. The imperial stout and American pale ale were both pretty bland. The imperial stout had a strange metalic finish and didn’t taste like the style at all. The American Pale was a fairly standard old style pale ale that puts bitterness over hop aroma. However, the brett session ale was delicious and very fruity with mild amount of funk. The dry stout was also quite good offering plenty of roast and mild chocolate. I wish I could have tasted one of the two saisons that they were out of when I visited.
Mamut is more of a brewpub than a bar though it seemed everyone was there for the beer when I visited. They have plenty of seating at the bar and don’t blast loud music all the time like others.
This is the first brewery I visited that was literally bad beer, not just average, but un-drinkable swill. I only tried two beers but I only had a small sip of each before I walked up to the bar and told them that they were serving some seriously bad beer. I tried small tasters of the IPA and the Stout and neither tasted like any example of the styles I have had before and all had a very harsh aftertaste that should not be in beer. I tried to explain to the brewers that their beers were likely infected but they didn’t know what i was talking about. The other guys I saw in the brewery said the beers were OK and had tried a few other styles but I wasn’t about to try more after that. I really hope they get some help from some of the other breweries around because this would be a horrible first experience for someone and might turn them off of Plaza Fiesta entirely.
Border Psycho, like Insurgente, opens at 5PM on weekends and closes on Sundays. They have a fairly large lineup of house beers but I decided to start with four before ordering more. The IPAs weren’t too impressive. The imperial pale ale was smoother than the IPA and a little fruity but not very good. The IPA had a lot of herbal hops and a prominent ginger flavor that was a bit too strong for me. If you like ginger this might be one to try. Stout wise, the peanut butter stout was a solid version of the style that has become fairly common in San Diego. If you like the versions from Karl Strauss or Belching Beaver this is a good one. The imperial stout is tasty but the flavors are a bit heavy on black licorice so if you hate that flavor stay away. It is nice and smooth and otherwise a solid stout, one of their top sellers.
Border Psycho wins points for their quirky nature and the dildos and butt plugs used for tap handles but they have such a large number of taps for a smaller brewery and can’t get the hoppy beers to the level of Fauna or Insurgente. Fauna is still the best regularly available IPA in Tijuana besides Insurgente’s. I also did not order more tasters because they were playing a lot of death metal while I was there, and loud enough to be annoying.
Peanut Butter Stout
They treat their tasting room more like a bar, complete with loud music. Even after requesting that they turn it down that didn’t last long nor did they turn it down much. Their IPA was only available in bottles even at the brewery, which was disappointing because I wanted to try it fresh. Though I was glad to see that they had their own new xocoveza on tap and that I got to taste their delicious black IPA on tap for the first time rather than from bottles. I tried a few tasters, Born to be Mild, berry brown, colaboration bock, and xocoveza. The mild ale was smooth and tasty though I probably couldn’t taste it so well because of the other stuff I had before. The berry brown was nice with a lot of dark fruit flavors like an English IPA. Their Xocoveza was super smooth with subdued spices. I ended up ordering a pint elsewhere simply because I couldn’t stand the music anymore. I did have a pint of the black IPA before leaving though because it is one of my favorites.
Considering Insurgente is only open in the evenings and plays lots of loud music I would recommend just looking for their beers on tap at the other bars around the plaza. You can find plenty of different beers of theirs at many of the other bars that are open earlier. Paralelo 28 and Fauna are still my favorite places to hang around and drink. Another note about Insurgente’s location, they are just between Fauna and Madueno. They are the really small white place and don’t look like anything when they are closed. If they are open you will see the awnings raised and hear the loud music. They don’t have any signs indicating they are there, and even after asking a few locals you wouldn’t know where it was.
After visiting these breweries we went downtown for some other spots that were recommended to us, Norte Brewing and Baja Brew Labs. As we had already been to a ton of places I didn’t have much at either. Norte had a solid IPA that I drank a pint of, good and balanced with a medium level of bitterness. They are more of a bar feel but are good and relaxed. They are closed on Sundays and open at 2PM on weekdays.
Baja Brew Labs was just across the street and according to my new friends built their own brewing equipment. I only tried their imperial stout with coconut and ordered an 8 ounce but we happened to visit during a time when they were having a concert so there was pounding electronica on that was even louder than Insurgente. They are closed on Sunday and only open 4PM to late other days.
In summary, it seems like no matter when you arrive you should have a great time because Fauna is open the earliest of the various breweries in the plaza and serves some of the most consistently delicious beer in a relaxing atmosphere. I detailed the beers at Fauna and Paralelo 28 in a previous post but that is absolutely worth reading about because both have great house beers and often great guest beers. You aren’t really missing out on much if you arrive when Insurgente and Border Psyhco aren’t open especially if you aren’t a fan of loud music.