This quickly planned (mostly unplanned) solo trip to the US was great fun. I tried a lot of great beers, ate some great food, met some interesting people and travelled alone for the first time.
I have to be honest, this was far from a planned beer holiday. My best friend of more than 20 years and his family had been living in the USA for almost two years and was coming back in a few months. I had said I was going to visit from the day they left and opportunities were running out. A quick call confirmed that the week of Thanksgiving was good, so it was on like Donkey Kong.
Then came the dilemma of planning this trip in about a month. I had to fly in and out of LA. The last week was reserved for Virginia with my friend and his family. Somewhere in the middle I also wanted to get to Columbus Ohio. Some American friends that I hadn’t seen for a few years were living there. Around that I just needed to get to those places and try some beers in between. So the plan went like this:
LA → The Bay Area → Chicago → Kalamazoo → Columbus → Quantico → Home.
This wasn’t my first trip to the US so don’t fret at some of the notable exclusions. Time was limited and I wanted to try new things (beers). I packed my backpack (carry on only for me) and set off.
LA: I step off a plane at 7:30 am. By the time I get through customs in a cab and to my hotel at Venice Beach it is 9am. I can’t check in yet. Not many bars open so I grab a coffee and walk along the beach from Venice to Santa Monica. On my way I spy the Venice Beach Alehouse. This had been on my list to visit, so I take note of its location and plan to return.
As soon as I am able to check in I do. After showering 15 hours of flight and a few hours of walking off me I head straight to the alehouse. Perched at the bar I enjoy many west coast brews including some from Ballast Point. I get chatting to a couple of people at the bar and despair that there isn’t enough room for one of the tasting paddles that are served in a skateboard.
Before I know it the afternoon is gone and I had to get to the rooftop bar at my hotel to see the sunset. This was exciting for me as I had never seen a sunset over the ocean. I grabbed a Dogtown Duck IPA and sat down to watch the sunset. I got talking to a couple of other tourists and had several more beers. Good thing to remember: eat during the day while you sightsee and remember that west coast IPAs have a little bit more %ABV than beers at home. Needless to say I had a great night but the latter half of it is hazy. Getting up to fly to San Francisco was a challenge.
The Bay Area: I manage to climb out of bed and into an Uber to LAX, consume a large bottle of water and board the plane to San Fran. I have been to SF once before and loved it. It is however a little expensive so I opted to stay across the bay in Oakland. I am very disorganised and once I get into where I am staying am shattered to realise that Anchor brewing isn’t open for tours the days I am in town. I decide I should have a beer and something to eat and regroup. I find a tiny little bar that has fantastic burgers and even better an extensive list of draught craft beers. While enjoying the first White IPA I have ever tried I get to work on Google. I discover that Berkeley has a Sierra Nevada bar called the Torpedo Room. I knew I wouldn’t be able to go to Chico, the home of Sierra Nevada, when I booked this trip. This was going to make up for that. I also find that Bay Area Brewery Tours are running a tour of local breweries the next day. I book it, enjoy a few more beers and then head to my accommodation to have a little more sleep, get changed and head out to the Torpedo room.
My plan is simple for the evening. Have a few beers and something to eat and get home at a reasonable hour to wake up fresh for the tour. I arrive at the Torpedo Room just in time to hear them call last drinks. I am shattered. Apparently my googling didn’t include me checking the trading hours. I ask the bartender what beer he would choose if he could only have one. He recommends the Harvest Wet and Wild. It is a beer brewed with whole hops found on a wild vine on a property in Chico. It doesn’t disappoint. I strike up a conversation with the guy next to me. A PhD student at UC Berkeley, he tells me a little bit about his fascinating research into bacteria that produce electrical charges. After making me feel completely inadequate on an intellectual level, he tells me that not far away is a Brewpub called Jupiter that has some good beers and also does decent food.
Once I muscle my way into a seat at the bar at Jupiter I peruse the beer list and decide to take it easy and stick to low %ABV beers. I immediately strike the Quasar Double IPA off my list. As good as it sounds, I want to be standing tomorrow for the tour. Once again I am surprised by how friendly people at a bar are. I get chatting to the guy next to me and we start talking about beers, America, Australia and everything in between. He insists on buying me a Quasar and as such I feel I should reciprocate and a few more follow. Before I know it I am quite drunk and it is quite late. Oh well, at least I remembered to eat this time.
Stay tuned for part 2