Brewery Review: Aslan Brewing Company, Bellingham, WA

I’m still working on my Indonesia recaps, so how about a little flashback? Back in February, Greyson and I traveled to Bellingham to bike, visit friends, and, of course, drink lots of beer. The brewery scene has exploded since I moved away from Bellingham, and I was excited to try the new-to-me Aslan Brewing Co.

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“In the pursuit of the perfect beer, we’ve brewed A LOT of different styles. On our pilot system in a little back alley warehouse, we brewed over 130 original batches. From that, we narrowed it down to our favorites, which we refer to as our Flagship lineup. We offer these Flagship styles year round, while our Seasonal styles are rotating to compliment the ever changing tastes & sensations of the current season. At the end of this page you’ll find our brew graveyard. These are styles we’ve brewed in the past that we more than likely won’t brew again. But, who knows? We may very well resurrect one from the dead!”

Aslan Brewing Co. has a beautiful space near downtown Bellingham with indoor and outdoor seating. It was really crowded the Saturday afternoon we visited, but because seating is family style (aka you share long tabels with other groups), we were seated fairly quickly. We weren’t planning on staying long, so we just ordered a couple of beers and chips with queso (they have a full lunch and dinner menu).

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I got the Midnight Couloir IPA and Greyson got the Ginger Rye IPA. (Descriptions from Aslan Brewing Co. unless obvious).

Midnight Couloir IPA (4/5)
A special style of IPA brewed to help raise awareness for our friends at the Northwest Avalanche Center (NWAC). Midnight Couloir is a very dark IPA with a robust bitterness and a dry finish. The confluence of rich malt with bitter, piney Northwest hops creates a very complex IPA perfectly paired with the colder months of the year.

Ginger Rye Ale (4.5/5)
This beer falls into the “specialty” category, but it’s based off an American Pale Ale and inspired by a delicious cocktail called the “Moscow Moose”. The ginger is present, yet subtle as is the rye. The wild card is the use of limes, which shine through on the finish. This is an adventurous beer and a staple of our brewery. (Note: I don’t usually like super flavored or “weird” beers, but this ginger rye was delicious! I don’t know if I’d want much more than the 10 oz pour Greyson ordered, but I liked it so much more than I was expecting to.)

After we finished those two beers, we decided that we weren’t done with Aslan Brewing Co. quite yet, so we decided to order a sampler. After much debate, we settled on:

*Dawn Patrol Pacific Ale* (5/5)
This beer is mild yet complex in its delivery. The hop presence is noticed by subtle flavors of pineapples that meld beautifully with the slightly spicy and minty character derived from the use of Rye malt. A somewhat recently pioneered style, this Pacific Ale is delivered unfiltered to accentuate its fresh farm to glass, unprocessed, organic qualities. (My favorite beer at Aslan Brewing Co!)
Blueprint Session IPA (5/5)
Named for one of our favorite Baker shred-zones, the Safety Line Session IPA keeps your unquenchable desire for hops satisfied while keeping your mind sharp. Even though the alcohol content has been reduced, the hop content has not. Expect great Northwest hop flavor that is not overwhelmingly bitter, but complex with an array of alpha acids that will surely ignite your senses.

Mosaic IPA (4.75/5)
When we got our hands on a contract for Mosaic hops we knew exactly what to do with them – make an insane IPA. We used Summit hops for bittering, then overdosed the beer with flavor, whirlpool, and dry hop additions of the freshest Mosaic hops that Yakima had to offer. The result is an intense IPA that will leave your taste buds wondering which way is up. Pungent earthy overtones with undertones of white grape fruit and spice.

Batch 15 IPA (3.75/5)
This hoppy creation is everything a Northwest IPA should be. It showcases the amazing resinous and piney characteristics of Simcoe, the crisp citrus of Citra, and the bitterness of Summit hops. Pouring a beautiful opaque orange, this beer is juicy, unfiltered, and delicious!

Northwest Red Ale (3.5/5)
To get a full flavored dark beer that drinks like a Pale Ale, we paired Crystal 120, Roasted Barley and Black malt with Simcoe, Centennial, Citra, and Summit hops. Notes of cherries, strawberries, and citrus dominate the palate, yet are balanced. The result is a dark beer that is surprisingly crisp, full of flavor, and easy to drink.
While we both really liked Aslan Brewing Co., Greyson didn’t love it quite as much as I did. (But I think that’s mostly because I learned to drink beer on Northwest IPAs and they will always remain my favorite). Aslan Brewing Co’s beers reminded me a lot of the beer at Silver Moon Brewing in Bend (my second favorite Bend brewery), while Greyson was more impressed by Knee Deep Brewing in Auburn.

If you’re visiting Bellingham and like beer, make time to visit this brewery. Aslan Brewing Company is a great place to spend an afternoon (rainy or sunny) in Bellingham. The brewery has a beautiful space, good food and excellent beer.

Weekend in Bellingham Part 2: Beer and Sunshine

Here’s Part 2 of my Weekend in Bellingham recap!

Saturday: 
We woke up after our night out ready for breakfast. Bellingham has a ton of great breakfast options. I love the Little Cheerful and Old Town Cafe, and HomeSkillet was highly recommended by local friends. After debating all of the options, we decided on the newly remodeled Horseshoe Cafe.

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Stacey, Jodi and I at the Horseshoe Cafe.

The Horseshoe has been around since 1886, it’s open late, and it’s attached to the Ranch Room, another great Bellingham dive. I remembered the Horseshoe being great for greasy, cheese covered potatoes and other classic hangover food. With the new remodel, it has classed up its menu a little. Don’t worry – you can still get cheese covered hash browns and black coffee if you want them! I tried chicken and waffles and a bloody Mary. They were both delicious.

It was a gorgeous sunny (!) day, and we wanted to be outside. After breakfast, Jodi, Greyson and I took Jodi’s dog for a walk on the South Bay Trail from Boulevard Park to Fairhaven and back. One of the coolest things that happened while I was living in Bellingham was the conversion of an underused building at Boulevard Park to an awesome, waterfront coffee shop. We didn’t stop at The Woods Coffee Boulevard Park this time, but it’s one of my favorite places to hang out, drink good coffee and watch the sunset.

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Looking at Bellingham Bay from Boulevard Park.

I really  wanted to take Greyson to Chuckanut Drive and Larrabee State Park. I was so excited that we got a sunny day to do so. One of my favorite things about the Pacific Northwest and Bellingham is that people tend to enjoy the outdoors rain or shine, but, there is something special about that first sunny day after a long stretch of winter rain. This Saturday was definitely one of those sunny days!

The drive out Chuckanut was gorgeous, and I let Greyson be the passenger so he could stare out the windows at the San Juan Islands. We arrived at Larrabee State Park, paid our $10 parking fee, and headed towards the water. While the parking lot wasn’t full, there were A TON of people enjoying the sun warmed rocks and water views. The tide was also fairly high, so no tide pooling for us this time.

I tried to find the spot where I had done some climbing in college, but I was unsuccessful. We scrambled around on the sandstone and I wished I had worn my approach shoes instead of trail runners. We explored the social trails along the water, sat in the sunshine and soaked up the gorgeous views until we got hungry enough to head back into town. We decided on a snack and some beers at Aslan Brewing Company. I’ll do a full review of this brewery later, but, spoiler alert, it was amazing!

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Before our dinner plans, Jodi, Greyson and I headed to the Up & Up Tavern (fun fact: the first bar I went to on my 21st birthday). It was remodeled and gussied up while I still lived in Bellingham, but now it’s even nicer. With the nicer atmosphere comes higher (though still way cheaper than California) prices. While I was in college, we were so mad when the happy hour PBR pitchers went from $2 to $3. Now a pint of PBR is $3! It’s still a great bar, but much less dive-y than it used to be.

We had plans to eat dinner at La Fiamma, but, apparently, so did half of Bellingham. The restaurant was so packed we didn’t even bother putting our name on the list. We headed over to Casa Que Pasa for their famous potato burritos (hint: get extra sauce). I’m guessing their other food is good, but, honestly, I’ve only ever ordered the potato burrito. Most of the smaller one is enough to fill up beyond full, and they make great margaritas. We basically rolled ourselves home after dinner.

Sunday:
So I didn’t actually take any pictures on Sunday – oops! I had brunch with my best girlfriends from the college dorms – Jodi, Morgan, Becca, and Becky (and Greyson, ha!) at Becca’s new house. It was a little gray and rainy out again, but that didn’t stop us from taking a walk around her new neighborhood and enjoying the gorgeous view. After hanging out and chatting for hours, Greyson and I headed over to Fanatik Bike Co so he could he see some Evil Bikes in person. Despite the fact that we walked in 10 minutes before closing on a Sunday (sorry!), the Fanatik Bike Co staff were all great, answering all of our questions, letting me throw my leg over a couple of bikes and telling us about their bike rental program.

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Photo from Edible Seattle.

We finished out our trip with a visit to BelleWood Distilling. BelleWood Acres honey crisp apples are my absolute favorite, and I was very intrigued to try alcohol made from apples. We tried their regular and honey crisp vodka, regular and reserve brandy, gin, and pumpkin spice liqueur. I loved the gin and honey crisp vodka, and I wish I could have figured out a way to take them home with me on the plane.

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Boulevard Park at Sunset

I had an amazing time visiting Bellingham last weekend! While a lot of things have changed since I moved away in 2008, many of my old favorites remain. I’m glad Don and the Beaver are still there, but I’m even more glad that the wonderful outdoor opportunities have been protected. Each year, new college students and Bellingham residents get to explore Lake Padden, Larrabbee State Park, the trails on Galbraith Mountain, Whatcom Falls, Mount Baker and more! I can’t wait for my next visit back, and I have Greyson convinced that a summer visit is essential.

Do you miss your college town? Was it a great place to live?

Brewery Review: Knee Deep Brewing, Auburn, California

Earlier this week, I mentioned that Greyson and I spent Valentines Day mountain biking near Auburn, California. Well, what’s a long mountain bike ride without a satisfying post-ride beer? Things were pretty busy in downtown Auburn, so we decided to check out the new-to-us Knee Deep Brewing.

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Knee Deep Brewing is located a ways out of downtown Auburn – near the airport. That worked out pretty well for us, because that meant plenty of parking where we could check on our bikes locked on the back of Greyson’s car (always a good feature for post-ride beers).

In addition to being thirsty, we were also very hungry. So when we pulled up and spotted the No Pho King Way food truck, I was stoked! It smelled delicious, but we wanted to get our beer situation sorted out, so we pulled open the doors to the HUGE Knee Deep Brewing tasting room, and saw this:

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While the space was large and there was plenty of seating, there was a HUGE line for beer. We decided on a division of labor, and I ordered food and Greyson stood in line for beer. I gave him the instruction “Lean more toward IPAs and less toward Belgians”, and I went back outside to order food from No Pho King Way.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I order from a food truck, I expect them to have pho. No Pho King Way did not. It’s not like they had pho and had run out because it was super busy, they just…didn’t have pho on the menu. Well, technically they did, but it was an old menu and they didn’t offer it any more. Working off the outdated menu, I ordered the two of us pho, pork belly tacos, and banh mi fries. (What? We were hungry.) The man working the counter seemed confused by my order. “We don’t have pho,” he said. Perplexed, I assumed they were out. I changed my order to vermicelli noodles with garlic lemon chicken. Next, I ordered the pork belly tacos. “We don’t have those,” he said. At this point, he realized that I was ordering off an outdated menu (to be fair to me, they were placed outside of the food truck) and I decided to settle for the noodles and banh mi fries. I was annoyed, but the food was really good so I can’t complain too much.

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The timing ended up being just about perfect; I got the food just as Greyson was getting the beers. When Greyson told the bartenders that we wanted more on the IPA side, he poured us a four beer sampler of different IPAs and pale ales. Also – the sampler was only $6 – great price for really good beer! The bartender also assured Greyson that this was the busiest it had ever been, and we had no problem finding seats – though it meant sharing  a long family style table with other patrons.

Here’s what we tried:

Breaking Bud IPA (4.75/5) (Photo and Description from Knee Deep Brewing)

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Old school meets new school in this fresh approach to the classic IPA.  At 50 IBU’s and 6.7% ABV, Breaking Bud features the restrained bitterness and alcohol of a classic IPA with newer tropical fruit hop flavors and aromas of Mosaic.  Also in the hop mix are Simcoe and CTZ, creating layers of mango, passion fruit, pine and dank.  A malt bill with a pinch of crystal malt and a hefty dose of flaked wheat keeps the beer crisp while adding flavor complexity.

Hoptologist Double IPA (3.75/5) (Photo and Description from Knee Deep Brewing)

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An American Double India Pale Ale that packs a punch when it comes to hops. The aroma and flavors will give you citrus and pine with a slight malt sweetness that finishes dry.

We also tried the Spring Sipper Double IPA (3.5/5) and the Aviator Series Pale Side (3.75/5). I really enjoyed all of the beers we tried at Knee Deep Brewing. Greyson and I both agreed that it was the most consistently good round of beers we’ve gotten at a brewery in a while. The tasting room is family and dog friendly with games and outdoor seating. I’m not sure if the No Pho King Way truck is there all the time, but, menu mixup not withstanding, the food was really good! While Knee Deep Brewing is a little off the beaten path, it’s worth the side trip.

 

Point Reyes Highlights

Greyson and I spent Christmas down in Point Reyes with his family. We didn’t have perfect weather, but we were still able to get out and hit most of the highlights.

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On Christmas Eve day, we headed to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, hoping to see whales and birds. Thanks to the 50 mile an hour winds, the ocean was too choppy to see any whales.

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Apparently the high winds also affected the birds. We saw way more birds hanging out on fence posts and low rocks than we normally do. Greyson let me use his nice camera with the big lens to get these bird photos – definitely not with my iphone!

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We also stopped by a completely deserted Drake’s Beach. Well, not completely deserted. There was a bachelor elephant seal.

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We didn’t end up doing anything on Christmas, other than jokingly participating in the Christmas Bird Count. I counted six different birds from the comfort of the  hot tub!

The day after Christmas was much calmer, so Greyson and I went to McClures Beach to look for whales. I hadn’t been to McClures Beach before, so we spent some time wandering around and looking for tide pools.

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There wasn’t anything interesting in the tide pools, so we made our way onto the nearby Tomales Point trail. The trail follows along the top of the bluff and I was able to spot 5 or 6 whales way off in the distance through my binoculars.

We also stopped at the famous Point Reyes Tree Tunnel.

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Greyson had heard about a biking museum that had opened up in nearby Fairfax, so we drove down there on Saturday. The Marin Museum of Bicycling and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame is awesome, and Greyson wrote more about it on his blog. You can read more about it here.

While we were in Fairfax, we hit up Iron Springs Pub & Brewery. I wasn’t super impressed by anything other than the JC Flyer IPA.

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Finally, on our way out of town on Monday we stopped by my favorite place in Point Reyes – Heidrun Meadery! We bought a couple of bottles, Alfalfa & Clover Blossom and Macadamia Nut. I also bought some Humboldt Wildflower honey. I wonder what is the predominant “wildflower” in Humboldt County?

Heidrun Meadery had their second batch ever of mead made from honey from their own bees based in Point Reyes. It’s not available in the tasting, you have to buy a separate glass to taste it. We decided to do it, because if you can’t drink a glass of sparkling mead at ten am on a Monday, what fun is vacation? I’m so glad that we did, because it was amazing! I wasn’t a huge fan of their first batch of local honey mead, but this one blew me out of the water. Seriously, if you are in the Bay Area, it’s worth the trip up to Point Reyes just to taste it! Well, and to experience the million other amazing things in Point Reyes!

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Gifts for Beer Lovers

It’s getting to be that time of year – that season where every blogger and website publishes at least one gift guide. There’s been some great ones that I’ve already found. I really like Scallywag Sprints’ A – Z of Active Christmas Gifts, Bearfoot Theory’s 33 Outdoor Travel & Adventure Gifts, Just a Colorado Gal’s Gear of the Year, and Jezebel’s Gifts to Make Your Life Seem Better on Instagram (fully tongue in cheek!). If there is one thing that I like almost as much as outdoor adventure, it’s beer. I’ve bought enough beer related gifts over the past couple of years that were loved by the giftees that I thought I’d share them with you. Here are my recommendations for the beer lovers in your life.

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Klean Kanteen Pint Glasses
There are two great versions of Klean Kanteen’s stainless steel pint glasses – the Vacuum Insulated Pint Cup and the regular Stainless Steel Pint Cup. I have a bunch of the regular stainless steel pint cups now, and they’re my favorite thing to drink out of – water and beer. You can also get the regular pint glasses in a 4 pack for $26 – a great deal! I’ve used a lot of insulated Klean Kanteen products, and they’ve always been awesome. The insulated pint glass is perfect for keeping your beer cold on a hot summer day.

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Photo from ActionHub

Pat’s Backcountry Beverages Carbonator Bottle Starter Kit
Sometimes after a long day of hiking, backpacking, snowshoeing, biking, etc., nothing sounds better than a cold beer. But often, beer ends up being left behind due to weight concerns. That’s where Pat’s Backcountry beverages comes in. Using the Nalgene-sized carbonator bottle kit, and beer syrup, you can brew your own beer in the backcountry. It’s a little heavy if your goal is a lightweight set up, but light enough to bring along on shorter trips. I bought this set up (beer syrup ordered separately, see Pat’s Backcountry Beverages website for ordering) for my dad and Greyson last year, and the beer is good!

Hydro Flask Stainless Steel Growler
One of the coolest things I learned from visiting breweries in Oregon and Nevada is that they’ll fill any growler (in California, the majority of breweries will only fill their own branded growlers). Between that and the rise of beer/wine/liquor stores with growler fill stations, an insulated stainless steel growler is a great gift. I have the Hydro Flask 32 oz growler, but they also come in a full size, 64 oz version.

Alibi Ale Works Pale Ale on Nitro

Brewery Gift Certificates
If you know their favorite kinds of beers, you can’t go wrong with a gift certificate to that brewery (or breweries!). Even if you don’t live near a cool brewery, consider getting a gift certificate for one in one of their favorite vacation destinations. A couple of my favorite breweries include Alibi Ale Works in Lake Tahoe, NV, Crux Fermentation Project in Bend, OR, Mountain Rambler Brewery in Bishop, CA, and June Lake Brewing in June Lakes, CA.

A Trip to a Beer Destination
If you have a slightly larger budget for this gift, consider a beer-related trip. There are some great beer related destinations out there that also double as great outdoor adventure locations. You could head to Bend, OR and do the Bend Ale Trail. Also in Oregon is the microbrew capital of the US, Portland. Just close your eyes, point, and walk in that direction for a few blocks. You’ll be sure to run into a great brewery. You could head for the very northwest corner of the continental US – Bellingham. It’s got a bunch of great breweries and amazing mountain biking. If you have a HUGE budget, there’s always Belgium or Germany! Note: I haven’t tried the Belgium or German beer tours, but they look awesome.

Solo beer touring in Portland this fall.
Solo beer touring in Portland this fall.

Those are just a few of my gift ideas for beer lovers! Beer drinkers – what would you like to get? I would love this Akinz “I Just Wanna Ride Bikes Drink Beer & Cuddle” tank top!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I receive a small percentage of the sale as compensation – at no additional cost to you. I promise to only recommend products that I use and enjoy!

Drink This Beer: Mammoth Brewing Company

A long time ago (like 2010!), I took a “Yay, you’re done with grad school” trip to Mammoth Lakes, California. We had planned to go mountain biking, but it had been a good winter and the vast majority of trails were still snow covered. We still managed to find things to do, including my first trip to Yosemite and my first trip to Mammoth Brewing Company. At the time, it was just the front room of a warehouse and the tastings were free. I fell in love with their delicious beer and friendly staff. Now they’ve moved to an amazing location with food, outdoor seating, and a great view, but they still brew awesome beer and are staffed by friendly, knowledgeable locals. Their tastings aren’t free anymore, but they’re cheap and the growler fills are still an amazing deal!

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Mammoth Brewing Company offers two different sampler choices – their “regulars” and their “seasonals”. They always have something I like in their seasonal selections, so I think it’s usually worth going for both sampler options. Since their seasonal offerings change so often, I’m only going to review their regulars below. All descriptions via Mammoth Brewing Company website, unless otherwise obvious.

Golden Trout Pilsner (4.25/5) 
Native to Sierra Nevada mountain waters, the elusive golden trout is a brilliantly colored prize for any fisherman. Grassy and crisp like a Sierra stream, this pilsner pours as gold and vibrant as the fish it’s named for. A Sierra-born beer worthy to be named for a Sierra-born fish. Vienna malts give Golden Trout a full body and flavor, while Saaz hops take it downstream to a softer, more floral place. Pairs well with Sierra sunshine.

Paranoids Pale Ale (3.25/5)
Paranoids is named after a double black diamond ski run on Mammoth Mountain; the slope is flat… only on a 40 degree angle! This is a classic American pale ale, featuring a piney citrus hop nose, a full malt body and a clean bitter finish.

Real McCoy Amber Ale (3.75/5)
A Mammoth Brewing Company original inspired by another original, the man himself: Dave McCoy, founder of the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area. Pilsner malt, dark Munich malts and Palisade hops combine to produce a smooth, velvety malt character and a balanced hop finish.

Double Nut Brown (4/5) This is basically the only brown I’ve ever really enjoyed, and I love it!
Few things satisfy like crawling out of a tent for a cup of coffee warmed over a fire in the Sierra wilderness, but Double Nut* Brown comes close. Its deep nutty flavor and mild sweetness begs you to stay cozily flannel-pajama-clad all day. Wake up and smell the beer. Double Nut Brown strikes a perfect balance between coffee, chocolate, roasty flavor and a clean finish, making it very flavorful and drinkable.
*No nuts were harmed or used in making this beer!

Wild Sierra Farmhouse Ale (2.5/5)
The Sierra spring is alive in this brew. Our twist on the Belgian farmhouse ales of the Wallonia region, we flavor this beer using local Piñon Pine needles to create a refreshing farmhouse saison. Wild Sierra is brewed with Pilsner malt, Rye malt, Vienna malt, lightly kilned Crystal malts and fermented using a blend of Belgian ale and Saison yeasts.

Epic IPA (4.5/5)
Fearless and bold, our Epic IPA earns its name vanquishing hops at a rate of no less than two pounds per barrel. And yet, this heroic outlaw still achieves a noble balance of clean bitterness, smooth malt, and citrusy hops, making it the perfect sidekick for your next wilderness tale. Not for the feeble-hearted, Epic IPA charges valiantly at your taste buds. Two pounds of Horizon, Citra, and Amarillo hops gave their lives for the greater good in each barrel of this gallantly balanced American IPA.

IPA 395 (4.5/5)This is probably Greyson’s favorite beer of all time. I love it too, just not as much as he does! It’s got the flavors of the Eastern Sierra – juniper and sage. Just smelling it is enough to transport me there. My recommendation is to drink it as cold as possible, preferably cooled in a snowbank or mountain stream.
It’s 5 o’clock Friday and your pilgrimage begins. Echoing the route of past adventurers, you press upward into the altitude. This is Highway 395. A celebration of the finest road trip in California, IPA 395 showcases mountain juniper and local sage, hand-picked from the 395 corridor. Brewed to evoke the spirit of a High Desert rainstorm, IPA 395 compliments wild Great Basin Sagebrush and juniper berries with sweet ESB and crystal malts and, of course, plenty of Centennial hops.

Other Eastern Sierra Breweries:
Mountain Rambler Brewery – Bishop, CA
June Lake Brewing – June Lake, CA

Bouldering in the Happy Boulders – Bishop California

I needed to be down in Bishop, California for work last week, so Greyson and I decided to go down on Saturday and make a weekend of it. Not that we ever need an excuse to go to Bishop, but the American Alpine Club was hosting a stop of the Craggin Classic there during that weekend. We were excited to check it out.We took our time driving down on Saturday, stopping to check out the fall colors and expansive views whenever we felt the urge – like the Mono Lake lookout.

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Coming over Conway Summit (north of Mammoth Lakes) I spotted a huge bird flying parallel to our car. It landed in a tree a few hundred feet off of the road, and we were able to pull over on the side of the road and check it out. I had my binoculars, and Greyson had his longest lens so we were able to see it pretty clearly. We debated whether it was a juvenile golden or bald eagle, and finally settled on juvenile bald eagle (with help from instagram). He or she was quite content to hang out in the tree, so we watched it for quite awhile before moving on.

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Photo by Greyson Howard.

We pulled up  in Mammoth Lakes for lunch, beer sampler and growler fill at Mammoth Brewing Company. I’ll have to do a full review of Mammoth one of these days, but they’ve recently started serving food. I had a brussels sprouts salad and some of Greyson’s black currant, arugula, goat cheese, gruyere, and balsamic flatbread pizza and both were to die for.

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We arrived in Bishop early enough to set up camp at Pleasant Valley Campground. Last time we stayed there, I got eaten up by biting ants and the campground was filled with RVs plastered in confederate flags whose occupants partied late into the night. We vowed not to come back, but the price ($14 a night) and location lured us in. We figured that the cold weather and off season (for everything except bouldering) would keep the ants and noisy neighbors at bay.

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Greyson re-stakes the tent in a windstorm, during a previous Pleasant Valley Campground experience.

One of the best reasons to camp at Pleasant Valley Campground is its proximity to the Happy Boulders.

Bishop, California is a bouldering mecca, and people come from all over the world to climb in the area. There are several well-known areas, and the Happy Boulders are arguably the most beginner-friendly. Not to say that there’s not a bunch of challenging routes for the hard core, but I was able to find lots of routes to play around on that fit my VB-V0 skill level.

The Mountain Project describes the Happy Boulders as:

“The Happy Boulders offer highly concentrated world-class volcanic bouldering with hundreds of worthy problems ranging from simple to impossible.

Long shadowed by the more well-known and publicized Buttermilks, more and more climbers are realizing the potential inside the Happy Boulders canyon. Most first-time visitors will be overwhelmed by the amount of projects they just gathered and will find themselves making time to return. Some say at the Happies your muscles will fail first, whereas in the Buttermilks its usually your skin that will be your reason for leaving. Regardless, it’s nice to have the options so close. Visitors experiencing Bishop in the colder months can find shelter and warmer temps here rather than the exposed and wind-swept Buttermilks.”

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The parking lot was fuller than I’ve ever seen it before, as the crisp November days make for awesome climbing. We were a little worried about the crowds as we hiked up the loose, kitty litter gravel to the boulders, but once we arrived we saw that most of the people there were crowded at a couple of classic routes.

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Photo by Greyson Howard

These routes are far above my pay grade, but it was fun to watch people climb them. The best was when the girl pictured above made the route look easy after two muscled, shirtless climber bros failed on it! I have no idea what routes or boulders I actually climbed (next time we’ll remember to bring the book!), but I had a blast. Everything I climbed was easy in the scheme of things, but I did challenge myself a few times. Greyson claims that I fist pumped and said “Yes!” when I got to the top of a particularly challenging route, but I’m not sure if I believe him.

One of the many cool things about Bishop is that it’s packed with truly awesome climbers to watch and learn from. I’ve said it before, but while mountain biking is number one in my heart and will likely stay there, the people I’ve met climbing and bouldering are the best. They are friendly, outgoing, encouraging and really just want you to send it!

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Another great thing about Bishop in general and specifically the Happy Boulders is the literally hundreds of routes within a short walking distance. When we got tired of working on a problem, or our feet and fingers needed a break, we just packed up and walked 10 – 100 yards until another boulder caught our eye. We also hiked to the top of the Happy Boulders area for the first time and caught an awesome view.

I’m pretty out of shape for climbing (especially finger toughness), so we called it a day during the afternoon and drove into town. We had to stop by Mountain Rambler for a beer and lunch. I had the Phainopepla Black IPA (phainopepla is a type of silky fly catcher, FYI), Greyson got the Sky Pilot Pale Ale, and we split a Picture Puzzler Session IPA. The chef was testing out a beer fondue recipe which we got to sample, along with some beer caramels. I hope they’re both on the menu soon.

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Bishop is a must-visit destination for climbers of any levels and I’d highly recommend the Happy Boulders as a place to start. They’re easy to get to, have something for every level of climbing, and a great scene. When you’re there, be sure to stick to the paths, stay out of the plants, and pack out your garbage. “Crush the problem, not the plants!”

Check back next week, and I’ll be writing about the other place we bouldered, the Buttermilks!

How to Get There: The Happy Boulders Trail is located on Chalk Bluff Road north of Bishop. There’s a gravel parking area with an interpretive sign and a trail marker directing you where to go.

Where to Stay: There’s camping at the nearby Pleasant Valley & the primitive Pit Campgrounds. Bishop also has a hostel, The Hostel California, that I hear is pretty cool, though I’ve never stayed there.

Where to Eat & Drink: Mountain Rambler BreweryTaqueria Las Palmas

Beer, Pickles and Donuts: Quick Portland Trip

I went up to visit my college friends for a Halloween cabin party in Washington last weekend. I ended up finding a super cheap flight to Portland, and my friend Michelle, who organized the weekend, happens to live there. I asked her if I could fly in a little early and catch a ride up. Voila, mini trip to Portland!

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I hung out in Portland on Thursday evening after my flight, during the day on Friday, a few hours Sunday night and during the day before my flight on Monday, so I was able to hit up quite a few places while I was there. Mostly, I focused on food and beer – specifically strong & bitter IPAs, pickles and donuts.

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My friends live in a super cute neighborhood (filled with gorgeous fall trees) that’s just a short bike ride/walk away from the awesome Mississippi and Woodlawn neighborhoods. When Michelle wasn’t showing me her favorite spots, I was able to borrow a bike and explore on my own.

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First up, the beer. If you haven’t been living under a rock, you know that the Portland beer scene is one of the best on the planet, especially if you like strong, hoppy IPAs. I was able to check out a few breweries while I was there and I really liked or loved most of what I tried. All descriptions from the breweries’ websites, unless otherwise obvious.

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Burnside Brewing Company

Sweet Heat, 4.9% ABV, 9 IBU. Apricot and Scotch bonnet pepper wheat beer. Spice level varies per batch. 2012 GABF gold medal winner. (4/5 – I don’t normally like fruity beers, but this was great! It reminded me of the spicy dried mangos from Trader Joe’s.)

Burnside IPA, 6.5% ABV, 85 IBU. Malt hop balance, Galena, Cascade, Meridian. Dry hop amarillo. (4.5/5)

Too Sticky to Roll India Red Ale, 6.2% ABV, 78 IBU. Quaffable yet chewy India Red Ale. (4/5)

StormBreaker Brewing

Opacus Stout, As dark and rich as the thick cloud formation it is named after, the light roast coffee flavors with subtle hints of chocolate really warms the soul. This creamy, full body oatmeal stout makes this the perfect beer to enjoy when sitting fireside with a blanket on our patio in those long winter months. (4/5)

Breakside Brewery – my friend Chris works at this brewery (check out the beer and bike blog he has with his girlfriend), and we tried a bunch of great ones that I forgot to record. Just believe me, this brewery is great. We definitely tried an IPA, a couple of sour-er beers and an apple ale.

Matcha Milk Stout, A full bodied stout brewed with milk sugar and matcha. Grassy and lightly bitter with a lingering sweetness. (4.75/5 This one came recommended by my friend. It’s not one I would have chosen on my own, but was probably my favorite beer I had this weekend.)

Ecliptic Brewing – the bartender at this bar was super friendly and gave me a ton of recommendations. Unfortunately, I didn’t visit until my last afternoon, so I didn’t get to check any of them out on this trip.

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Canopus IPA, The supergiant Canopus shines in the southern constellation Carina.  Brewed with a special blend of malts for a smooth body and a dry finish, Canopus IPA pays homage to the second brightest star in the night sky.  Sterling hops impart a crisp bitterness, and dry hopping with Simcoe and Centennial completes the ale with tropical and citrusy hop flavor. (3.75/5)

Trans Pacific Pilsner, This collaboration was brewed with The Garage Project Brewery in New Zealand. We met up with Jos during Oregon Brewers fest to craft this American/New Zealand Pilsner. This is a very hop forward pilsner with a dank hop aroma from Simcoe and NZ Nelson Sauvin hops. The malt flavors are creamy with a very crisp finish. (4.5/5)

Altair Fresh Hop Ale, Brewed to celebrate the annual Hop harvest! Altair a bright star in the Constellation Aquila the Eagle. Fresh Amarillo Hops were used making this beer. A light biscuit malt character is balanced with wonderful aromas of orange and slight tropical fruit. This beer was dry hopped in the fermenter. It’s a classic American pale ale! (4.75/5 The bartender found some of the last of this – I’m so glad I got to try it!)

Orbiter IPA, Orbiter IPA unites a constellation of “C” hops (Cascade, Centennial, Chinook and Columbus) to create a formidable IPA. Bright and  citrusy hop flavors shine in a medium body with caramel malt character. Dry hopped to amplify the hop aroma and flavor. (4/5)

I also had some amazing lemon lavender cider at Bushwhacker Cider. Lavender is one of my favorite flavors, and it was delicious in the lemon cider. It would be perfect for a hot sunny day on a patio – or, you know, the rainy cold evening we were actually experiencing. Bushwhackers seemed like a pretty cool place, but it was almost totally empty. We took advantage of that by hogging the free shuffleboard table the whole night.

I managed to fit in a few things other than brewery hopping. I had phenomenal short rib kimchi quesadillas at the KOi Fusion food truck.

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I bought some adorable book-related limited edition prints and hipster coloring books at Reading Frenzy. I checked out the ReBuilding Center – I wanted to bring home a souvenir, but couldn’t fit an antique light fixture into my carry on.

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I had three pickle plates (homemade and at Burnside & StormBreaker) and fried pickles (at Breakside).

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And most importantly, I finally tried a Voodoo Doughnut, and Old Dirty Bastard is the way to go. I also tried a couple of donuts at Blue Star Donut. I loved the blueberry bourbon basil.

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Finally, there was this creepy Doll Asylum for Halloween. I did not go in.

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I had an awesome time in Portland, and I can’t wait to go back and visit more breweries. Maybe I’ll even get a hike in!

 

Sierra Fall Essentials

The leaves are changing, the weather has cooled off, and I’ve started craving pie at every meal. It’s fall!Boots, scarves, tea, pumpkin spice lattes, etc – there are many things that people consider essentials for the autumn season. Here’s my list of must-haves for a perfect fall in the mountains.

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  1. Boots that can handle rain and a little bit of snow:During a normal year, most of the precipitation that falls in Tahoe comes down in the form of snow. The last few years have been anything but typical, and, fall is our rainiest season. I have these amazing Sorel Women’s Winter Boots for heavy snows, but I wanted something a bit lighter and more puddle proof for fall. A bunch of my New Englander friends clued me in to the wonder that is the Original Duck Boot by LL Bean. More commonly known as “Bean Boots”, these things are amazing. I have the 8 Inch Women’s Bean Boots. They keep my feet dry, are way lighter than my snow boots, don’t make my feet swampy like previous all-rubber boots and can handle a few inches of snow with ease. Since mine are unlined, I got mine a little big (I normally wear a 10.5, got the 11) and wear them with fluffy wool socks and sweater pants. I couldn’t be happier!
  2. Wool clothing: See above. I have a bunch of Smartwool Socks – including biking, running, hiking,skiing/compressionand fluffy, a pair of Smartwool footless tights (aka sweater pants), and a Smartwool Sports Bra.

LL Bean Boots and Smartwool Leggings

Bean Boots and Sweater Pants

I also have a great soft shell jacket from Icebreaker and a wool base layer that I got at the Patagonia outlet years ago. Why wool? According to Sierra Trading Post, “Wool is one of nature’s best insulating fibers and has been used to make clothing for centuries. Not only is wool extremely good at holding in warmth, it also wicks moisture and dries faster than cotton.” Wool is definitely worth the cost, and it smells way better than synthetic fabrics after sweating. Just a warning – I dry my socks in the dryer, but all of my other wool products get laid flat for drying.

  1. Something to keep my tea and coffee hot. I have and use a double walled, stainless steel bottle from both Hydro Flask and Klean Kanteen. I slightly prefer the Klean Kanteen, mostly because I think the lid holds on to less smells/flavors that the Hydro Flask Both do an excellent job keeping my tea and coffee hot for hours – up to 6!
  2. A raincoat: Living in Bellingham and Seattle for 6+ years, I’ve worn a lot of raincoats. I think that I finally have a favorite!

Patagonia Torrentshell Rain Jacket

The Patagonia Torrentshell is slightly visible in this picture of Yosemite Valley last October.

While not the lightest or the most packable, the Patagonia Torrentshell raincoat keeps me totally dry while still looking pretty cute. I was at a mostly outdoor work training last week, and it poured for much of Saturday. The Torrentshell kept me dry, warm and comfortable the whole time. This time, I wore it over my Patagonia Half Zip Fleece, but I have also worn it over a puffy vest or down coat for wet snowboarding days.

  1. A seasonal drink: While Negronis might be the drink of the summer, come fall, I’m drinking something different. I crave darker beers (like Great Basin Brewing’s Outlaw Milk Stout) and I start enjoying my ales over nitro – like thisAlibi Ale Works Pale Ale. When it comes to something a little harder, I like the Boulevardier(aka a Negroni that replaces the gin with rye). I bought a huge thing of Bulleit Rye at Costco, and we are enjoying slowly going through that.

Sierra Fall Essentials // tahoefabulous.com

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I receive a small percentage of the sale as compensation – at no additional cost to you. I promise to only recommend products that I use and enjoy!

 

Try This Beer: Tahoe Mountain Brewing Company

I’m doing really well on the beer drinking portion of my Summer Bucket List! During Labor Day weekend, I was able to check out a new to me brewery/tasting room in Truckee – Tahoe Mountain Brewing Company.

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Tahoe Mountain Brewing Company has a restaurant & brew pub a few miles away in Tahoe City, but they brew their beer and offer tastings, bottles, and growler filling in a slightly industrial area of Truckee (near Full Belly Deli!). I’d actually tried Tahoe Brewing Company beer at their restaurant a couple of times several years ago, but I was not impressed. Katie and I went once right after it opened and the food, service and beer all left something to be desired. I figured it was probably just due to being so new, and gave it another try 6 months later or so. The food and service were great, but I still didn’t like the beer!

After that, I just gave up. I recommended the restaurant with the caveat that I wasn’t a huge fan of their beer. Flash forward to now. Greyson has been insisting that I give the brewery another shot, and that we should try the taproom. On Sunday, I finally agreed and we drove over there in the afternoon. It’s not in the most scenic location, but the interior is nice, and we easily got seats at the bar.

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Photo from here.

Greyson and I almost ordered just two pints (one each of two types of IPA), but the bartender told us we could get a sampler of 8 beers. We decided to try that, and I’m so glad that we did! Now I am an IPA girl, through and through. Though I do enjoy pale ales, lagers, pilsners, stouts, porters, etc., nearly all of my favorite beers are IPA, usually on the hoppier side. I’ve never gotten into sour beers, saisons, Belgians – those varieties that have been trendy in the last couple of years. Tahoe Mountain Brewing has a lot of saisons, barrel aged sours – things I wouldn’t normally even try.

We decided to be more adventurous this time, and not just try the eight closest beers to an IPA. And you know what – my favorite beer was a multi-grain saison – Provisions! Other than one special IPA (Hop Dragon), the IPAs and pale ales weren’t my favorite. I think that was my mistake before – I had only tried the IPAs and pale ales that are normally my favorite, but Tahoe Mountain Company’s best beers are the lighter, more sour beers. Here were my favorites (all descriptions and pictures from their website):

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Provisions Saison: “A full-bodied, yet sessionable rustic multi-grain Farmhouse Ale.”

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Hop Dragon IPA: “Fear stalks the land as this big, bold West Coast style double IPA brings a monstrosity of aromatic hops.”

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Hot Pants Berliner Weisse: “100% Lactobacillus fermented wheat beer.”