Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Birthday Brewery Tour

I've been wanting to post about my boyfriend's birthday trip for a little while now, but with Thanksgiving prep and all the posts I have lined up on the pie topic, it's been on the back burner. 

This is Rob. He turned 28 almost two weeks ago on the 20th. To celebrate we decided to go on a self-guided brewery tour that we've been casually planning for a while now. We like to go to breweries, sample beers, and get free tasting glasses as souvenirs. We are not hard to please.

As you can see in the beautiful visual aid I made for you below, all we had to do for the most part was drive in a straight line north to hit all five breweries. I wish I could say the plan all along was to go to all five, but the night before the trip I had a thought. I've heard that Erie is the third largest city in Pennsylvania, so I thought there must be at least a few breweries there. As long as we are going all the way to Voodoo in Meadville, we might as well hit one in Erie too. I found Erie Brewing in about five seconds and added it to the list. 
Let me tell you one thing about breweries that I noticed. They all open at completely different, odd times depending on the day. Erie opened at noon, Voodoo at 3pm, North Country at 11am, Shubrew not till 5pm, and I'm not sure when Timber Creek opens. All of these different opening times would require us to do some hopping around on the map. Maybe we'd hit North Country on the way north, then Voodoo, then come back down for dinner at Shu Brew. It's not exactly the ideal. Something inside of me really wanted to go to all of the breweries in latitudinal order gosh darn it.

Erie Brewing Company
Rob arrived at my house at 10am and we left almost immediately. "I added a brewery to the trip. I hope you don't mind. Happy Birthday!" I sang as I greeted him with a hug. He was not phased one bit by my last minute change of plans. This meant instead of stopping at one brewery on the way up to Voodoo we could go all the way to Erie, take our time and try to hit Voodoo right when it opened at 3pm. I loved this plan. He loved this plan. Golden.

Erie brewing was $6 a person to try all 10 or so of their beers on tap. I don't remember what kinds we had or which ones I liked. If you want a beer review, ask Rob. I do know there was a cherry ale that I liked. We also got to take home a free tasting glass with Erie Brewing's logo on it. This place is a brewery with a tasting room and that's about it... which is totally fine and pretty normal for a brewery. I believe they also offer tours, but we didn't opt in for that. While we were at Erie, we told the girl working that we were on the start of a brewery tour and she asked if we had ever been to Timber Creek. We hadn't, and since we had time to kill before Voodoo, we went there next.

Timber Creek Tap and Table
At Timber Creek the "tap" and "table" sections were separated. The "Tap" side was where the brewing took place. It was the smaller of the two sides of the large log building. One very cool feature was that in the floor of the tap area was a huge glass window revealing the brewing area below. Unfortunately the tap area was closed when we got there, but the "table" side was open and had all of the same beers from next door. I didn't have any beer at Timber Creek, but there was an excellent hot cider. I had two of those. We also got lobster nachos which I feel were just okay. This brewery seems like the restaurant and brewery are somewhat separate but equal entities. Usually you'll get one or the other. At Timber Creek Rob and I spent most of our time taking note of the inside layout and decor. It had a very modern, rustic feel, much like the home I hope to one day purchase or build. He loved the open layout. Again, not hard to please.

Voodoo Brewery
Voodoo was one of my favorite destinations, but we ended up staying there for the least amount of time for two reasons. One, we didn't realize there was a sampler option here until we had already ordered full sized drinks, and two because it was well after 3pm and we were only half way through our brewery tour. I really enjoyed the hipster-without-trying atmosphere. There were no menus, just huge walls full of chalk drawings and writing listing the food and drink options. There were doors on the ceiling (pictured below). The kegerators were antique refrigerators, and there was a wood stove in the corner. I just liked the atmosphere and the building the brewery was in. I didn't take the picture of the exterior of the building. It came from thebeercircle.com, FYI. Rob took the picture of the doors on the ceiling. I had a really tasty sangria while we were there, but only one so we could get back on schedule.

North Country Brewing
When we pulled up to North Country Brewing I immediately realized that I had been there before. I went last year when I was visiting my friend who was in grad school at Slippery Rock. It didn't occur to me that they were the same thing because when I first went it just seemed like a restaurant, not really a brewery.

One thing I will say is that North country does well in creating a strong themed atmosphere. The other day I tried to describe the theme of North Country to a teenage boy who had been there as "a kind of woodsy, elfish place." He disagreed with me, and had no idea where I came up with that, but I think the entire place is like being inside of a steam punk version of the keebler elf tree. Idk, you go there and tell me how you'd describe it.

I had the cider while I was there and Rob got a sampler of 12 beers for $12. It was a very good deal. We followed along each sample with a list of the names, and Rob made commentary on each and every beer. He also brought back a picture of the urinal for me. It's a keg on the wall. He's the sweetest. We also had soft pretzels which were delicious because they were fried, but the cheese was nothing special. There was a chunky, brown mustard that Rob insisted on taking a soup-cup-full of home. It was $3. I hope he ate it.

Shu Brew
By the time we were leaving North Country it was probably about 7pm. Rob had sampled well over 25 beers throughout the day and he seemed ready to go home, because he said "let's go home." He thought maybe we could come back the next day for lunch, but I knew we (as in I) would regret it if we didn't hit the fifth brewery of the day. It was ON THE WAY home and we were so close. Plus I remembered scoping out the menu ahead of time and thought it looked really good. It didn't take much convincing and we got to Shu Brew with relatively little trouble.

So here's the thing. I have been hearing about traditional ramen for a very, very long time. There was a movie called "Ramen Girl" with Brittany Murphy (RIP) on Netflix back when Netflix was almost all about the dvd rentals and had nothing good to watch on demand. It was a movie about a girl who was assisting in a Japanese restaurant - for some reason - and needed to master the art of true ramen, which is apparently very difficult to learn. That was the first time I realized that ramen noodles and ramen noodles were very different things. Then I also dated a guy who was really into putting chicken and eggs and stuff into his ramen noodles from the packet and I actually understood why. Then I believe I was exposed to one or two more pop culture references to traditional ramen, and I was like "where is this stuff and why can't I have any??" Lastly, there is this great show on Netflix called Mind of a Chef featuring David Chen, who is a culinary celebrity and apparently makes excellent ramen. The owner of Shu Brew said the ramen dish I had there was completely "ripped off" of Chef David Chen's ramen. So on top of this dish, starting at 11o'clock and going clockwise, is pulled pork, baby bock choy, pork belly, green onion, and kim chi all on a bed of noodles in broth. I truly thought the best part of the dish was the broth. The pulled pork was a little under seasoned and then I realized maybe the entire dish is meant to be eaten as a whole, so I mixed it all up. This also helped bc the kim chi was very spicy. Pork belly is always good, and I also LOVED the baby bock choy... so tender!

As far as the brewery aspect of Shu Brew, I have to say I thought the menu was more impressive than the beer selection. To be fair, we had been trying beer all day and we weren't as into it by this part of the trip. I had a pear mead, which is fermented honey, and I believe there is a beer ish taste because the hops used as a preservative. Actually I read that on Wikipedia, so maybe it's true, maybe it's not. I don't even remember what beer Rob got, but I know he got a burger that was half ground up beef and half ground up bacon. It looked good but it was a little small. He was about to order another entree, which I thought was insane, but then I was able to convince him to help me finish the ramen. It was so much food in one bowl.

For some reason I am pretty proud that we made it to all 5 breweries in one day. I would absolutely recommend this brewery tour to anybody regardless of your interests in beer. It's a great trip if you like or love beer of course, and if you do not drink at all, maybe it's not for you. But the beer wasn't even the most enjoyable part of this trip for me. Now that I think about it, I only had beer at the first stop. And even though I didn't rave about the appetizers we ordered at Timber Creek and North Country, I will say, both of their menus looked awesome. If we had the room in our stomachs I would have loved to order something off each one. We already have plans to return to North Country again soon. You'll probably hear about it! If you know of any other good routes for brewery visits, let me know!

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