Back at the Pub

They're here! They're there!So, what was it like?

Irish pubs were allowed to re-open, with COVID-19 precautions in place, on 29th July – and we were very much there. I’ll confess I would not have felt comfortable going to a pub or bar in the US or UK at this point, given How Things Are Going There, but since things seem more well-controlled here in Ireland, we opted to take the family out for an early dinner. We duly made our reservation and headed back to The Merry Cobbler for the first time since early March. We chose The Merry Cobbler for a number of reasons, though it’s not our nearest pub: first, we knew it was large enough to handle meaningful social distancing inside. Secondly, the food is fantastic, and, closely coupled, the not-just-Guinness (more on that in a moment) beer selection is most welcome. Finally, we wanted to support a pub with outstanding service, and the team there delivered, just as they had prior to lockdown – in fact, it was our last port of call in The Before Times.

Beyond the obvious lack of allowed spontaneity – we made sure to arrive just before our reservation time to maximize our allotted 90 minutes of pub time – what else was new?

There are directional guides on the floor to help drive more-or-less unidirectional foot traffic, and there are dedicated entrance and exit doors. The Merry Cobbler already has a series of snugs and separate tables throughout the pub, so that likely required less rework than many spaces might have required, but we had the section we opted for entirely to ourselves. It’s table-service only, and while that’s handy whenever we’re out with the family, not being able to wander to the bar to see what else is on tap is a minor quibble. To the credit of the waitstaff, they were very much aware of their taplist, so no worries there – and, really, in 90 minutes, unless you are very, very dedicated, how many pints are you likely to get through?

Hope!Speaking of pints, having a freshly-tapped Hope Hop-on For The First Time In Forever was absolutely glorious. And it seemed churlish not to also have a Guinness, given that they’d delivered the brand-new kegs only days before, and it was perfect, especially with the wonderful brownie. While it would have been nice to linger longer, that’s not much of an option with a smaller child anyway, so we had no difficulty sticking within our 90 minutes without feeling rushed.

I don’t think I’d chance a busy, crowded pub with a non-family group at this point, but a relaxing meal, seated far from other people, worked well. Obviously this is only going to work for a subset of pubs, and there are no easy answers there, but hopefully this is a small step forward, and COVID-19 cases will continue to go down, allowing more flexibility. But until there’s a working vaccine, it seems like it’s possible, with some sensible precautions in place, to support local pubs and breweries in person from time to time.

And as much as I’ve had the opportunity to try some amazing local beers at home that I might not have come across in a pub in Normal Times, it’s hard to beat a fresh pint in its natural setting. I hope to do it again in the not-too-distant future.

The Session: Where Are We?

We had to make our own entertainment in those daysIt’s a fair question.

Even if we weren’t in the midst of a global pandemic (and, beyond the obvious, the archivist/historian in me gets both very excited about the level of documentation of this ‘experience,’ as well horrified the thought of what it means for digital preservation librarians of the near-future), it’s probably time for a blog update. My new job and our new country were meant to be an opportunity to have a bit more free time (HAHAHAHAHA/please come work for me) as well as the ability to spend more time together as a family than Planet Amazon allowed, but hey, at least we managed one of those things, albeit without furniture. Let’s back up – but I promise, we’ll get to the beer.

We arrived in Dublin from Seattle at the end of January; the plan was to spend about 6-8 weeks in temporary accommodation, find a long-term rental and quickly sell our house in Seattle, then enjoy weekend trips around Ireland and the odd hop over to London for theatre. We achieved only the first and second of those milestones. We have, on the whole, been fortunate: our cats arrived with no difficulties, we found a house near schools that suited both our offspring (no small achievement when you are working with a 10-year age gap and a lack of secondary school places in Dublin), and got our first set of immigration ‘stuff’ done, all while I was flying back and forth to Basel for regular business trips. Side note – there are some good breweries in Basel – Volta Bräu and Kitchen Brew – and, oddly, a very good Mexican bar/restaurant. We moved out of our (furnished) temporary accommodation into our (unfurnished) rental with the understanding that everything in our sea shipment – all our furniture, clothes, books, PELOTON, electronics – would be with us in 1-2 weeks. And it duly arrived at the port and cleared customs, and then everything shut down. We were told everything was to be moved to long-term storage with no known target date for delivery, and to ‘make do.’ Of the inflatable furniture we managed to get before the machine stopped, we’re operating at about 35% capacity…not having a sofa is not something I envisioned, but again, everyone is, so far, healthy, we are not stuck in the US, which looks horrifying right now, so…it’ll make an interesting story, down the line.

HEY LADIESWith that long preamble out of the way, on to the beer – and beer has been part of one of the biggest positives of this entire situation. I managed one rather jet-lagged in-person meetup with the Ladies Craft Beer Society of Ireland the week we arrived (I’d made a previous visit in October, when I was in town on a pre-relocation work trip, and I knew I’d found My People), and then, as Circumstances Changed, we switched to weekly Zoom meetups. Ironically, I feel like I’ve made firmer friends faster with all the physical distancing than I might have otherwise; whether it’s commiserating over Zoom with drinks or just popping in to our Discord to chat about the weather (and what we’re drinking). We’re all going through this bizarre shared experience, and I couldn’t have found a better group of fierce, beer-loving women to bond with.

And what have we been drinking?  How much? How often? I will say that the inability to go to pubs has, in an odd way, fast-tracked our discovery of the Dublin beer scene. We were able to happily wander to The Old Spot or The Merry Cobbler, I’d most likely only be trying whichever local brewery happened to be featured that week; while I did get in one run with the Mikkeller Run Club chapter here and thoroughly enjoyed hanging out at The Underdog afterward, that would be only a monthly opportunity to sample their (excellent) taplist. With the lockdown, breweries and off-licenses quickly mobilized to offer delivery, and getting a weekly mixed box from Craft Central, Martin’s Off-license and Beer Cloud has made discovering new (well, new-to-us) beers The Thing We Do At Home (it’s also been our chief solution to our lack of furniture – the boxes are very handy). I don’t think we’ve been drinking more per se, but I have had the odd after-work whiskey more often than I would under normal circumstances, though again, this may simply be down to working 12-hour days without any breaks and the availability of Really Good Local Whiskey and/or Gin.

I already have some favo(u)rite local beers: Hope Beer’s Handsome Jack IPA, Pass If You Can Pale Ale and Hop-On Session are all wonderful, and Ballykilcavan’s Bambrick’s Brown is delightful. Eight Degrees Hill of the Serpent is one of the best Black IPAs around, and Mescan’s Belgian-inspired beers have really impressed. I’m trying the new mild (NEW MILD JOY) from Four Provinces tonight…for people who can’t leave the house, we’re spoiled for choice.

While I can’t wait to see everyone in person over a fresh pint in a pub, we’re firmly in the ‘can’t complain too much’ category; let’s hope it stays that way.

A Tardy Decade Wrap-up of Travel, Beer, Running, Etc.

As ever, I’m very much late to the party, but I did finally get around to looking back at my last 10 years of beer and travel. Apparently, I drink a lot of pale ales, porters and black IPAs when left to my own devices. And weirdly, as a runner, I keep getting faster and faster.

This was a thing back them2009
Travel: USA – Seattle, for soccer, little expecting we would eventually move there; Kentucky, for friends and horses, Rehoboth Beach
Running: My second Dogfish Dash – and first 10K; second Valley Forge Revolutionary Run
Beer: Nodding Head Ich Bin Ein Berliner Weisse,  Yards Brawler, Victory Uncle Teddy’s Bitter
Achievements Unlocked: Seeing Rachel Alexandra win the Preakness, Haskell and Woodward in person; blogging about it a lot
Other Notes: I miss Berliner Weisses served with syrup on the side, and not (usually) weirdly pre-flavored

2010
Travel: USA – Washington, DC, for the Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear, Rehoboth Beach
Running: Third Dogfish Dash, briefly lost then-5 yo at that year’s Revolutionary Run
Beer: Victory Yakima Glory, Yards Brawler
Achievements Unlocked: Getting an MLS team, having previously only had a supporters’ group with no team
Other Notes: You can see the back of my head in certain shots of the Sons of Ben documentary

With the Hammer O'Glory2011
Travel:
USA – NYC – yay, theatre! St. Louis – depressing family stuff, Rehoboth Beach
Running:
WHYY12K, another Dogfish Dash, first half-marathon
Beer:
Russian River Pliny the Elder/Younger; Urban Chestnut Zwickelbier; Pretty Things Saint Botolph’s Town
Achievements Unlocked:
Taking our Brooklyn-born kid to his first Broadway show (How to Succeed in Business…)
Other Notes:
This was a great Philly Beer Week year; also enjoyed meeting up with my favorite all-women beer clubs, In Pursuit of Ale and West Chester Beer Ladies

2012
Travel:
England – London, Avebury, Bath, York; Wales – Cardiff; USA – Rehoboth Beach
Running:
Another WHYY12K, another Dogfish Dash, second half-marathon, Broad Street Run
Beer:
Pretty Things Once Upon A Time X Ale – November 22nd, 1838; Troegs Scratch 68 – Zwickel Licker (Lew) &  Scratch 63 – Danny’s IPA; Westvleteren 8
Achievements Unlocked:
Visited the Doctor Who Experience before it closed; got a 7 yo to happily stand throughout all of Henry V at the Globe
Other Notes:
Tired Hands opened!  We certainly appreciated having the best brewery in the country (fight me!) a short walk away from our house, and we still miss it now. Tired Hands OoeyGooey, Zombie and Goblin were early favorites.

Carlsberg Brewery2013
Travel:
Denmark – Copenhagen, Aarhus, Billund, USA – Rehoboth Beach
Running:
Another WHYY12K, (yet) another Dogfish Dash, just missed an age-group placing for Get Your Rear in Gear 10K, another half-marathon
Beer:
Dogfish Head Nordicthern Europe & Birra Etrusca Bronze; Tired Hands Ancient Knovvledge, LiverPool; Barren Hill Tavern West Coast Oats & Burton IPA
Achievements Unlocked:
Thoroughly enjoyed the Carlsberg brewery tour & Danish beer in general
Other Notes:
Loved the Barren Hill Tavern, which had replaced the General Lafayette Inn with vastly better food and beer; still worry we killed Seamus Heaney, whose Beowulf translation is our favorite, by visiting Sagnlandet Lejre,
the likely inspiration for Heorot in Beowulf; his death was announced during our visit. Jerry Orbach died the day after I bought a rare autographed record, so there’s precedent here

2014
Travel:
USA – NYC, Colonial Williamsburg, St. Louis for more depressing family things
Running:
Navy Yard 5K (super-slow, very pregnant pace)
Beer:
Yards Brawler, Urban Chestnut Oachkatzlschwoaf
Achievements Unlocked:
Produced child, despite weirdness with Kell antibodies and being An Old, hence a short beer list for the majority of the year; got to take an entire 13 weeks of maternity leave and earned a lot of street cred at the office by doing my last few pre-leave conference calls while being induced
Other Notes: Made it back to Tired Hands and Barren Hill ASAP, post-birth; still did not see any ghosts; prior to that, saw Cabaret back on Broadway with Alan Cumming and Michelle Williams, as well as the OBC of Fun Home.

Last Barren Hill visit2015
Travel:
USA – Rehoboth Beach, Seattle
Running:
Navy Yard 5K (new 5K PR), another Revolutionary Run, Philly 10K, another ODDyssey half marathon, (my) final Dogfish Dash
Beer:
Conshohocken Brewing Company Puddlers Row ESB, Machine House Dark Mild
Achievements Unlocked:
Successfully endured marathon Amazon interviews after getting a call out of the blue
Other Notes:
Alas, Barren Hill closed not long after we moved away, though we made the most of our last visit

2016
Travel:
USA – NYC; England – Manchester, Liverpool; Canada – Victoria, Vancouver;  Ireland – Dublin – liked it a lot, but, once again, had no idea we’d be moving there
Running:
Hot Chocolate 15K, Brooks Trailhead 10K (first age-group placing!), Lake Union 10K, Beat the Bridge 8K, Beat the Blerch 10K
Beer:
Machine House Cambridge Bitter, Cloudburst Chocofloxx, Spinnakers Mitchell’s Extra Special Bitter
Achievements Unlocked:
Took 11 yo to NYC to see Hamilton with the full original Broadway cast; then took the family on a long weekend trip from Seattle to the north of England to see The Divine Comedy in Liverpool, semi-rhyming a trip I’d done previously from Northern California to Bristol for the same reason
Other Notes:
Kid in question became Neil Hannon-obsessed a mere two years after his first live experience, so my work here is done – as of this writing, he is doing the heavy lifting to indoctrinate the smaller child

Thor 10K2017
Travel:
USA – Los Angeles, Anaheim, Las Vegas, Portland, Philadelphia; Canada – Vancouver; England – London
Running:
Star Wars Rebel Challenge (10K & half marathon), Tenacious Ten, Beat the Blerch half marathon, Avengers 10K
Beer:
Karl Strauss Mosaic Session IPA; Ex Novo Cactus Wins the Lottery
Achievements Unlocked:
Became runDisney, and Disneyland in general, obsessed; discovered that Portland beer and food lived up to the hype; saw the OLC of Hamilton
Other Notes:
Had an excellent time at Gallifrey One

2018
Travel:
USA – Los Angeles, Anaheim, Honolulu, Ko Olina, Astoria, San Diego; Canada – Victoria
Running:
Tenacious Ten, Women of Wonder 10K, Goodlife Fitness Victoria half marathon (new PR – finally under 2 hours!)
Beer:
Figueroa Mountain Brewing Fig Mtn Light, Three Weavers The Messenger, Maui Brewing Puelo Pale Ale, Half Door Brewing Father Ted
Achievements Unlocked:
Aulani! Conference speaking! Surviving another year at Amazon, just; met Ron Pattinson IRL!
Other Notes:
Finally made it to Hawai’i and San Diego; still not sure why there is a better European beer selection in the middle of the Pacific vs in the Pacific Northwest

Yub Nub2019
Travel: USA – Los Angeles, Anaheim, Ko Olina, Philadelphia, NYC; England – London; Canada – Victoria; Germany – Munich; Ireland – Dublin; Switzerland – Basel, Zurich
Running:
Tenacious Ten (new 10 mile PR!), Lake Union 10K (new 10K PR!), Tunnel to Viaduct 8K (new 8K PR!)
Beer:
Noble Ale Works Nose Candy, Wild Card Table Beer, Maui Brewing Pineapple Mana Wheat, Vancouver Island Brewing Nanaimo Bar Porter, Gamorrean Ale at Oga’s Cantina
Achievements Unlocked:
Flew to London for a long weekend just to see Company in the West End; rage-quit Amazon; CO-PILOTED THE MILLENNIUM FALCON, saw Hadestown and Beetlejuice on Broadway (twice)
Other Notes:
I have been on a lot of planes this year

So, what’s next? Well, we’re off to Dublin in January for my new-ish job, so I expect to be spending a lot of time with the Ladies Craft Beer Society of Ireland, who have already provided a warm welcome; and – perhaps – I’ll start beer writing for pay again, something I didn’t have time to do while trapped on Planet Amazon. I’ll also hope to connect with the Dublin Mikkeller Running Club, as I loved the Philly group, and checking out the Disneyland Paris runDisney runs is also on the agenda (as is taking advantage of affordable European travel for theatre and opera).

See you soon, Europe!

2019’s Completely Subjective Favorite Beers List

another airport loungeI spent much of 2019 on planes, which was both lovely and exhausting; perhaps, in response, some of my favorite beers of 2019 were very straightforward, perfectly-brewed ‘basics’ – there’s a lot of pale ale:
 
Flying Bike Tangled Webb English Amber, 5%
Flying Bike is our local co-operative brewery, and, full disclosure, my charming and erudite spouse is on the board of directors (which sounds and is cool, but is also very much a volunteer gig with a lot of heavy lifting). They regularly brew recipes, albeit modified for scale, chosen by the members, from home-brewed beers entered by the members, though I believe this came about through the more usual ‘the brewer wanted to do it’ means. It was really a bitter, and it was great.  We’ll miss them when we move.
 
If I see a Matchless can or beer on the taplist, I automatically order it – they are wildly consistent, and while sounds like damning with faint praise, it’s far from it; their beers are fantastic, whether they are great pale ales, like this one, or excellent bitters, milds, porters – they are one of the few breweries whose hazy IPAs still taste like beer. Alas, we never made it to the brewery in Tumwater, WA, but they are very much available around Seattle, so they have become a constant in our beer fridge – in the best way.
 
Maui Brewing Company Puelo Pale Ale, 5.6%
While this beer is great in cans, which is how I usually find it, having it fresh on tap, in Hawai’i, with the scents, sounds and feel of the islands around you, takes it to another level. It’s an absolutely outstanding, perfectly-crafted pale ale, and enjoying it in a bar that’s open to the sea on one side and a television showing surfing competitions, something about which I have zero understanding but find oddly soothing, on the other, is bliss. I need to make it to their main location on Maui some day…
 
WIZARDRYPhillips Brewing Black Magic, 5.3%
I’d somewhat overlooked this beer on previous visits to Victoria, but having having it on tap at the taproom, once again, fresh from a properly-cleaned tap line, I’m convinced this may be one of the best beers in Canada. They leave its description somewhat ambiguous – it’s just a ‘dark ale’ – but I’d put it firmly in my ‘excellent dark mild’ category. Also, the taproom has an amazing little printer that outputs your custom flight, complete with descriptions. This hit me in all the metadata and structured-content feels.
 
Wild Card Brewery Table Beer, 2.7%
Many, many years ago, I lived briefly in Walthamstow, back when that part of London was far from approaching gentrification; I even had a creepy landlord who would let himself in, unannounced, to check that the mostly-female house-sharers ‘didn’t have boyfriends around’ – I later moved further out to East Ham, where I still had a tiny bedsit, but had normal landlords and easy access to The Who Shop, which has long since moved – but I digress. I made a quick weekend trip to London to see Company, and, having heard good things about Wild Card and being curious about what Walthamstow was like now, made the trek out to see it. Brewer Jaega Wise was on hand and was incredibly welcoming, as was everyone on the staff. I think I made it through most of their offerings at the time, and it was all wonderful, but I especially loved the flavor and freshness they managed to get out of such a low-key beer. Highly recommended.
 
Flying Bike Zwickel Especial Mexican Lager, 5.5%
Yes, another from Flying Bike – I did spend a lot of time there when not flying elsewhere – and another beer that was simply delightful. Imagine a zwickelbier with a bit more of a Vienna Lager character and you’ve got it; fresh, clean, but with a bit more of a toasty take – it was absolutely glorious with the mediocre Mexican food available in Seattle. I imagine it would be even better with good food, but there you are…
 
Cloudburst Brewing Hi Bill Hiii, 4.3%
Machine House Brewery makes the best cask ales anywhere in the area, hands down, and their dark mild is fantastic. Cloudburst makes amazing IPAs and a lot of unusual things, and they are always excellent – and so, they made a dark mild, calling out Bill, Machine House’s owner/brewer, with love. I had this one at Machine House, where it was a welcome guest ale, and all was well. Delightful.
 
Kennett Brewing Company Wee Wobbly Scottish 100 Schilling, 6.3%
We made it back to Philly! This was our first visit to Kennett Brewing Company, and everything was wonderful. I’ve already written about their relevant-to-my-interests hop-skeleton branding and subterranean taproom, but this beer was at the top of my list; definitely planning to head back on future visits.
 
Matchless Brewing Old School, 5.6%
Yes, more Matchless, and yes, another pale ale – but one very much worth your time if you are ever in the area. It was brewed for a local pizza place in Olympia, WA, and while we’ve only ever driven through Olympia, I can confirm it goes well with pizza – perfect for this use case.
 
Noble Ale Works Man’s Milk Stout, 6.1%
Noble Ale Works makes fantastic IPAs, which you already know, but I had to give my ‘favorite’ crown to the milk stout. We’ll be back in Anaheim next summer for Star Wars Celebration, and I hope to pop in again to try even more. Also, there is actual good Mexican food available for delivery to the taproom. Bonus points all around.
 
Honorable Mentions
Gamorrean Ale at Oga’s Cantina, 5.8%
Yes, this again. New Belgium brews it, it’s perfectly solid, but it’s all about the atmosphere in Oga’s Cantina. I can’t wait to get back to Batuu to FLY THE MILLENNIUM FALCON again. And again. And again…
 
Stoup Equal Play Equal Pay IPA, 7%
I first saw the USWNT play live in the 1999 Women’s World Cup, and I’ve been a fan ever since. Megan Rapinoe (and the rest of the Seattle Reign, the local professional women’s team) all train at my erstwhile gym – I had to cancel my membership in preparation for moving – and I’ve nearly stepped on her in the sauna multiple times, because I am clumsy, but she’s always been great about it. Given the local connections and support for the team, it was only right that Stoup Brewing created a beer to go along with their call for equal pay, though anyone who has watch them play vs having to watch the USMNT play knows the women deserve far more. Drink up.
 
So, that’s the list – happy 2020, and I’ll see you in Dublin…
 

Beer Travels: Kennett Brewing Company

It’s been nearly four years since we moved to Seattle (with our next move on the horizon), and in that time, there have been some fine additions to the brewing scene in our old Pennsylvania stomping grounds. While we had been to the Kennett Square outpost of Victory Brewing Company before, our most recent trip was our first opportunity to try Kennett Brewing Company, and they are a very welcome addition indeed, both on the beer and atmosphere fronts.

First, the location: the brewery is in a very walkable part of Kennett Square, and you can’t miss the hop-skull branding as you approach. The theme continues as you descent the staircase into their subterranean-feeling taproom, and I am nothing if not a sucker for a slightly gothy/folk horror setting. The artwork and branding is fantastic in that regard, and we probably purchased a few too many t-shirts and posters; my only minor quibble is that more women’s fits and sizes would have been nice, but there was otherwise a nice variety of options.

Of course, on to the beer, and this was why we really spent all the money on the merchandise – Kennett Brewing delivers. We had a reasonably large party (kids included on this occasion, and they were also well catered for with the food and drink choices on offer), so we got to try quite a few things. I absolutely adored the Ploughman Porter and the Wee Wobbly Scottish 100 Schilling [sic – I assume there’s a name-related pun in here in this instance]; the Jammy Jammy Bastard Pale Ale was equally delightful. Although our visit was in the heat of August, it felt pleasantly autumnal inside the taproom, thanks to a winning combination of great beer and top-notch creepy design work.

All told, a fantastic spot for a pint (or several), and a great expansion of the local beer community. We’ll be making a point to go back on future visits.

Beer Travels: Noble Ale Works

beeeeeer We’ve had the good fortune to find ourselves in Southern California relatively frequently over the past several years, and have discovered a few local favorites when we’re in the area – Three Weavers, Karl Strauss and Noble Ale Works. We had the opportunity to get to Three Weavers earlier in the year, and, more recently, to Anaheim’s Noble Ale Works. I’ll (eventually) get around to writing about the most welcome and ever-increasing variety of beer options in and around the Disney Parks (beyond the temple of pure joy that is Oga’s Cantina in Galaxy’s Edge), but if you’re in the neighborhood and need a break from the Mouse and/or your children, Noble Ale Works is a great option.
 
The taproom is only a few miles away from Disneyland, and reasonably accessible by bus, but we opted for a short Lyft ride. Although our driver had some trouble navigating the nondescript business park, once we saw the tanks outside, we knew we were in the right place. At present, it’s a smallish brewhouse and taproom with bar seating and some chairs around barrels, but it’s very welcoming and relaxed. There’s no food on offer, but there are regular food trucks and any number of great Mexican spots deliver, and as any SoCal trip is an opportunity to binge on said great Mexican food – Seattle just doesn’t cut it in this department – we opted for that.
 
Of course, we were primarily there for the break from the children beer, and Noble Ale Works delivers. I’d previously tried and really enjoyed (I know) Nose Candy, their award-winning session IPA, and it was fantastic fresh from the source. Man’s Milk, a milk stout, was also excellent (and one has to assume that their distribution area is small enough that they don’t need to have the TTB approve their beer names, though, that said, a lot of the names were real triumphs: I would *love* to get back to try their winter warmer, The Ghost of Jacob Barley, or Cinnamon Roast Crunch, another milk stout). They also had a standout IPA (NOT HAZY) in Big Whig IPA, and Nobility, the double IPA, was also top notch. All told, there was a nice range of styles and ABVs on offer, and in addition to tasting flights and pints, Noble Ale Works offers a 12-oz pour – something I wish more breweries were able to offer, especially for those times when you’d like to spend a little more time getting to enjoy a beer or two you discovered in the tasting flight, but don’t want to go 4 pints in. The 12 oz size is a perfect compromise.
 
While Noble Ale Works does allow children, the (currently) smallish space would have bored our pre-schooler and cramped our teenager, but as they are in the process of building out a bigger brewhouse and brand new taproom space, so that could change down the line – though, again, for those in Anaheim with kids, some adult beverages among (mostly) adults and well-behaved babies was lovely, especially as the beer was very much worth the trip.
 
Hopefully, we will get back to check on their progress before we’re in town for Star Wars Celebration 2020
 

Oga’s Cantina in Galaxy’s Edge

Reader, I loved it.

Yes, it was crowded, even with the required reservations, but the atmosphere in Oga’s Cantina is pure Star Wars, which, for me, is pure bliss, with the added bonus chuckle that those who wring their hands over KIDS IN BREWPUBS will find them standing at the bar here; they may not serve droids, but there are great non-alcoholic options for younger set, or, equally, those not looking to get bombed at 10 am, if that happens to be your appointed time. While there is limited seating, you’re unlikely to get it unless you’re with a very large group – we ended up standing at the bar on both our visits, which was fine for our teenager (who is, after all, taller and much more glamorous than I am), but a little tricky for our preschooler, who needed help to reach her drink.

And what did we drink? We went for funny drinks in souvenir mugs the first time around, so that meant the Hyperdrive (Punch It) for the aforementioned preschooler and the Yub Nub for me. While I’m not generally a huge fan of fruity cocktails, the Yub Nub was well-made and refreshing.

Fun fact: when we went back later in the week, the beer flights were no longer available as they had completely sold out of the racks; a regular pint was still an option, but no tasters. Our very helpful bartender (this is Disneyland, after all, and, as always, the Cast Members were all great) told us that they were not expecting them to be back in stock until September. On that visit they were also unable to serve the Bespin Fizz, which was a shame as I’d very much wanted to try it, but the dry ice powering the ‘cloud swirl’ of the drink was out of stock; appropriate enough, I suppose – Lando Calrissian himself had ‘…supply problems of every kind…’ – so even that is on-theme. But as for the beer itself, it’s from New Belgium, Sierra Nevada, Ballast Point and Blue Point, albeit with in-universe names; I quite enjoyed the Gamorrean Ale. And, small aside – I’ll have a separate post on beer in Anaheim in general later, now that I have some time to blog once more.

Other drinks we tried included the T-16 Skyhopper, which was Not My Thing, and The Outer Rim, which was more my style. Both offspring went for the Blue Bantha, which is Blue Milk with a tasty cookie. The texture is a bit different from the Blue Milk served outside the Cantina – it seemed a little ‘meltier’ – but the taste is the same, and it’s still effectively a frozen drink. We tried both ‘milk’ colors, green and blue, but all agreed we were very much Team Blue Milk.

DJ R-3XOf course, it’s really about the atmosphere, and while as of now you only get 45 minutes in Oga’s Cantina at a time (though you can now make your reservations in advance, rather than only on the same day), it’s a really fun 45 minutes. DJ R-3X has landed on Batuu and is now dropping some sick beats (and telling terrible Dad Jokes) while you enjoy your drink. I won’t do a complete rundown of everything in Galaxy’s Edge (I GOT TO FLY THE MILLENNIUM FALCON I GOT TO FLY THE MILLENNIUM FALCON I GOT TO FLY THE MILLENNIUM FALCON, WE MADE A LIGHTSABER AND A DROID AND IT WAS LIFE), I highly recommend the Datapad experience, which I thought I’d try for a few minutes, only to find myself going back alone later to scan crates and hack panels for the Resistance, though it’s possible I am the very specific target audience for this activity.

I am not wholly certain what Galaxy’s Edge is like for people who are not hardcore Star Wars fans since that is entirely beyond my experience, but if anything, it only whetted my appetite for the eventual immersive Star Wars hotel that’s coming to Disneyworld – if anyone would like me to compare their Galaxy’s Edge to the one on the left coast, I’m all (Mickey) ears!

My Brilliant Amazon Career, By The Numbers

farewell, old work laptopWhat was working at AWS and, later, Amazon’s mothership in Seattle like, you ask? As with any time at a huge corporation, especially one for which you relocated yourself and your family*, it’s complicated, but if you’re looking for pure metrics, which would be very Amazonian of you, have at it. Presented without (much) further comment, here’s a selection of my personal statistics – no seekrit project information or team details, obviously – over my not-quite 4 years:

  • 3 teams
  • 3 roles/5 job titles**
  • 7 managers
  • 18 direct reports
  • 3 laptops
  • 4 buildings
  • 9 desk locations
  • 121 PhoneTool icons (for the uninitiated, it’s A Thing)
  • 83.55% Old Fart (the internal tracking of employees hired after me – so I was in the most-tenured 16.45%)
  • 3 other offices visited, 1 in the US, 2 in other countries
  • 12+ master global taxonomies managed, with millions of terms in each and and in each local marketplace variation: Prime Video, Kindle, US Books, US DVD, US CDs, Digital Music, Audible, Handmade, Interests, some other oddities
  • SO MANY papers written: 1-pagers, 6-pagers, etc.

I’m excited about my next challenge to be named shortly, but am very much enjoying my needed break before jumping in – and finally having the chance to get back to beer blogging!

* This is something I can speak openly about – the relocation package and the team were great, even with our cats
** I was actually recruited initially as ‘Content Product Manager’ though that got superseded by more Amazon-specific internal titles over time – but I really liked that one, I admit

Annual Entirely Subjective Beer Roundup, 2018 Edition

Half Door Brewing, San Diego The year is not quite over – we still have our holiday trip back to Philadelphia coming up, which means I will get to have some of my beloved Brawler (fresh, no less), and perhaps some Tired Hands joy – but I did have quite a few beers that stood out this year (spoiler alert: many of them are porters – and there is a lot of good, often lower-ABV, beer in Hawaii). I also had quite a few mediocre IPAs, since that’s what’s more typically on tap around me, but I was fortunate to find each of these, either on my travels or via happenstance. As the year is drawing rapidly to a close, we’ll cut to the chase:

Young Danny Boy, ESB, 5.4%, – Half Door Brewing, San Diego, CA
I’d never been to San Diego before, and while I very much enjoyed the deservedly-feted Modern Times, I’d heard absolutely nothing in advance about Half Door Brewing. It’s in a lovely old house downtown that’s been thoughtfully re-used, and everything on tap was outstanding. While the ESB was my favorite, I also really enjoyed their Coleman’s Stout and Gimmick Ale Milk Stout (one of those beers that should not work, but really does) – and they even have a Father Ted-themed beer, a nod to their ‘Irish pub’ approach. I wish I’d discovered it before my last night in town, and would happily re-visit.

Barrio Lager, Vienna Lager, 4.5% – Thorn St. Brewery, San Diego, CA
Obviously you don’t go to San Diego and skip the opportunity to have great Mexican food at every opportunity and price point (especially when you live in Seattle, which has a dearth of acceptable, much less good, Mexican food), and I found this on tap at a fancier restaurant. It was fresh, clean and just right for the meal; a bit cracker-y, smooth and a perfect complement to some excellent food.

Chuckanut Fest Lager 2018, Festbier, 5.5%, – Chuckanut Brewery, Bellingham, WA
Chuckanut makes some of the best lagers on the left coast, and this beer is an annual treat. This year’s version was no exception. We didn’t make it to the brewery itself in the past twelve months, but I did manage to find this in good shape a few times during the fall.

Czech Pilsner, 6.2%, Buoy Beer Company, Astoria, OR
But wait, there are a few more good lagers in this part of the world; while they don’t exist in the numbers they do in and around Philly, there are some worth seeking out, and Buoy’s Czech Pilsner is one of those. Their Astoria brewpub is a wonderful place to visit as well. Everything on tap was really very good indeed, and I now regularly trek to the one bottle shop near-ish my office for Buoy’s canned beers, even though it means a heavy backpack and a long walk to and from the bus.

7-Spoke Brown Porter, 6%, Flying Bike Co-operative Brewery, Seattle, WA
Full disclosure: while I’m only a Flying Bike member – it’s a cooperative brewery, and members can participate in all sorts of fun ways, including judging upcoming recipes – my charming and erudite spouse joined their board this year. Despite that, I actually don’t make it there that often, but I always find something interesting on tap when I do. This porter was my favorite of this year’s ever-changing lineup. Alas, I can’t use my ‘influence’ to get it back any time soon, but it was delightful.

Seapine Mosaic Fresh Hop Pale Ale, 5.4%, Seapine Brewing, Seattle, WA
Fresh hop season is rightfully something to look forward to in the Pacific Northwest, and even some of the local IPAs that are only ‘fine’ the rest of the year are really quite tasty at that time of year. But it’s even better when it’s a beer that’s outstanding in its own right; Seapine’s offering this year was fabulous. Their Sea Witch Stout is also a favorite, but I seem to come across it nearly as infrequently as their fresh hop beers; I wish it were in wider circulation.

Fire of the World, Porter, 4%, Holy Mountain Brewing, Seattle, WA
Another porter! It’s quite possible every porter I found this year made the list, which is a bit sad. Holy Mountain is a brewery I go back and forth with; I love their ‘normal’ beers (their Black Beer is a low-key delight), but tend not to get along with some of their more adventurous creations; that said, I’ve tried fewer of those of late, so it’s entirely they have all been fantastic – like this porter, which was outstanding.

The Jacket, Porter, Matchless Brewing,  5.2%, Tumwater, WA
Again – more porter! I’ve never made my way down to Tumwater (which Google Maps tells me is near the WA state capitol, Olympia), but everything I’ve tried from Matchless has been wonderful, including their Make $ Mild. I have to give the slight edge to The Jacket, though. Wonderful.

LoBro, English Brown Ale, 3.6%, Burke-Gilman Brewing, Seattle, WA
Burke-Gilman Brewing is a new local brewery, and very pleasant it is, too – just off the Burke-Gilman trail, so easy to stop in while on a run, and welcoming to well-behaved children and dogs. They’re doing some interesting historical styles along with various other things, but this is one of their ‘regulars’ – and it’s excellent. A bit chocolatey, roasty without being heavy – very more-ish.

Dark Matter, Brown Ale, 5.3%, Hoyne Brewing, Victoria, BC
I seek this out whenever we are fortunate enough to make our way across the northern border, where we are treated to actual transport infrastructure, clean streets and sidewalks and a wide variety of beers under 6%. We didn’t make it to Spinnakers this year, but I did run past a Hoyne Brewing car during the Victoria Half-Marathon (notching up a new PR – finally under 2 hours), and the suggestion worked; it made a perfect post-race beer. We really must make it to the brewery some time.

Northwest Bitter,  ESB, 4.8%, Machine House Brewing, Seattle, WA
Everything from Machine House is wonderful – certainly the best British-style beers on this coast, for my money (and they do have a good chunk of it – I joined the Founders Club for their new Seattle Central District taproom). This beer was on tap to inaugurate said new taproom, and it was perfect in every way.

Pueo Pale Ale, 5.5%, Maui Brewing Company, Kihei, HI
While we have yet to make it to a Hawaiian island that is not Oahu, the Pueo Pale Ale on tap at Maui Brewing’s Waikiki restaurant was fresh as could be; one of the best pale ales I’ve ever had. Crisp, clear and refreshing, with just the right balance of floral hops and a grainy malt backbone, it was a very welcome mid-day surprise. Alas,it’s not one of their canned beers that makes it to the mainland, but it was well worth seeking out in person.

Meyer Lemon Sour, Gose, 5%, Honolulu Beerworks, Honolulu, HI
Yes, perhaps surprisingly, more Hawaiian beer. Honolulu Beerworks was one of our favorite places to relax; everything on tap was good, and even by Hawaiian standards, the vibe was relaxed and welcoming, with board games on the tables and warm breezes blowing in. This was another beer that was perfect for the occasion: soft and salty, but with a nice citrus kick – great for summer drinking.

Yards Brawler: An Appreciation

It’s hard now to cast my mind back and recall when I first became aware of The Session; it was relatively early in my beer blogging ‘career,’ that much is certain – beyond that, seven years ago? Perhaps eight or nine? I do know that back then, I had considerably more time on my hands: one child fewer, a non-Amazon job and a longish train commute, all of which meant that I could write more about beer. Even then, I only participated intermittently, but always enjoyed reading the other entries. As The Session ends its run today, I opted for the ‘One More for the Road’ choice – a blog post about a beer I love, but one that nowadays I only get to see in the rear-view mirror: Yards Brawler.

In the nine years we lived in the Philly area, a Yards variety back was always on hand as a go-to – even as the offerings, both local and from far away, became more exotic, we always kept that around for our Friday night pizza-and-beer ritual. When Brawler debuted (or, perhaps more accurately, re-emerged) in 2008, it quickly became a favorite – a flavorful, dark mild perfect for everything from tailgating before soccer with our fellow Sons of Ben to enjoying with a fancy meal at one of the endless variety of great Philly restaurants that understand having a top-notch beer list is key. Even though it was widely available – certainly not a white whale by any description, it was always one of my must-have beers at the annual Yards Real Ale Festival hosted at the brewery; it’s even more wonderful on cask.

When the call came out of the blue from The Major Online Retailer Mentioned Above to uproot everyone and relocate to the other coast, I thought that certainly I’d miss some local beers, but that we’d be back relatively often to visit, and that surely, something would fill the same gap in Seattle; it turns out I was quite wrong. In the three-plus years we have been here, only one or two local seasonal beers have approached Brawler for its laid-back perfection, and they are infrequently featured among the 7.5%+ (often hazy) IPAs crowding out other styles. Even when sampling other milds on trips to Britain, Brawler is my benchmark – is it as good? And now, while planning our holiday visit back to our old stomping grounds, carving out time to visit the new Yards Brewery is high on the list of priorities; the opportunity to have a fresh Brawler, steps from where it was brewed, is one that can’t be missed (and hopefully the weather cooperates).

In a US brewing landscape that has moved ever-more toward the extreme end of whatever spectrum is selling that month, Yards continues to make perfectly-crafted (mostly) English-style ales that require no strange additions or a high-octane ABV; they are very ‘Philly’ in that they embody equal parts self-assurance and lack of pretension. I wish it could still be my go-to beer here in Seattle, but it will certainly be the first and last beer I have every time we return to Philly.

While it’s only ‘until we meet again’ for Brawler, it is a good-bye to The Session – thanks to all who have organized and contributed over the years; it’s been a fantastic driver to discover new (and not so new) beer writers, and a very-useful prompt to GET SOMETHING WRITTEN when I really needed it. I’ll raise that next Brawler to all involved.